To mark the occasion of the season 4 premier of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I have decided to write down some of the general comparisons of the plot with English medieval society and history.
Game of Thrones is an awesome television show, based off of books written by George R. R. Martin, which my husband tells me are awesome (he has read them multiple times; I have not). The characters stir up emotion in the audience. You cry for the characters you like when they are killed and hate the evil characters with a fiery passion. With dragons, magic and living dead people the show is soundly in the realm of fantasy fiction. But there are hints of actual history alive in the show.
When the show opens, the first things we are treated to is the map of Westeros, a fictional country bordered on three sides with ocean and to the north with ice. The map itself is very similar to the map of the English Isle, if you remove the North, though Westeros seems to be much, much bigger. The Wall, where the men of the Night’s Watch protect the south from enemies coming down from the north, is similar to the boarder with Scotland, where for several hundred years skirmishes and battles broke out to keep the Scots from invading England, and vice-a-versa. London is located where King’s Landing is. The Isle of Mann is located where the Iron Islands are. Even the English Channel is similar to “The Narrow Sea,” and the cities where Daenerys Targaryen travels remind me of the different duchy’s of France, though the culture and language are more like the Middle East.
In Westeros each noble house is easily identified by their “sigil,” a badge worn on clothes or held as banners, which makes all the “bannermen” easily identifiable. They are easy to compare with both coats of arms and medieval banners. Even the sigil animals are similar to those used in Britain. England is a Lion, since the first Plantagenet king Henry II, while Scotland is a unicorn and Wales is Dragon. Edward IV used a sun, Richard III used a boar, Richard II was a stag. Stags, wolves, dragons, lions, and more animals are seen in Westeros. The “bannermen” are the lords who are sworn to uphold another lord’s cause in times of war, which is exactly what English nobles were expected to do throughout the medieval period.
While watching the show it is easy to see how the armor and fashion which are taking their cues from medieval England, as is the food, boats and litter carriages. The only character which wears clothing in a more modern style is Margaery Tyrell, as it is way too revealing and even Cersei Lannister complains about it showing too much skin. The citizens of Westeros have the same entertainments and work as medieval society, such as needlepoint, music and tournaments. They engage in warfare that is exactly like what was around during the medieval period, except without the “wild fire” that killed so many at the “Battle of the Blackwater.”
Most characters have a version of the English accent, some with an Irish or Scottish twang to it, and in the case of the beautiful, red-headed Wildling soldier Ygritte, my husband just informed me that my guess that she was using a Yorkshire accent was correct. Listening to the actual accents of the actors in interviews is enlightening, especially in regards to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who plays Jaime Lannister, because even though you hear no hint of it when he is acting, he is actually Dutch and talks with a strong Dutch accent when he is being himself. There are other accents of course, such as the German accent of Shay, Sansa Stark’s maid and Tyrion Lannister’s lover, as she is an immigrant to Westeros. Much like London, the highest variety of accents is in King’s Landing, because it’s a bastion of trade, immigration and class distinctions.
King Robert’s Rebellion mirrors the rebellion of Henry IV against Richard II, and the current warfare Westeros is going through is very similar to the Wars of the Roses. While Henry VI was not as unpopular, distanced and hated by the people as Joffrey, Rob Stark, the “King of the North,” is very similar to Edward IV, a younger man fighting because his father was killed (though in battle, not execution) and he believes he is the rightful king. Balon Greyjoy had called himself the “king of the Iron Islands,” and prior to 1485 the Stanley family had been the Kings of the Isle of Mann, with Thomas Stanley downgrading the honor to “Lord of Mann” so as not to offend his stepson, King Henry VII. In England there were fewer sides, but there were many battles and the interchanging of nobles, titles and the throne.
I am not sure how much of these similarities are intentional, but the more I start to ponder the more I find. Have you seen any that I have missed in this post? Please leave a comment and let me know!
If you haven’t seen Game of Thrones yet I urge you to give it a try. There is a reason it is so wildly popular, even though it’s a costumed drama that has no problem killing off its main characters and is heavy in both violence and sex. That’s because the plots, the characters, the sets, the special effects, the romance and the drama are unmatched. It airs on Sunday nights at 9pm EST, on HBO. If you can, watch it in HD because the costumes, sets and and visual textures can be missed in standard definition.
The show is based on a series of books, collectively known as “A Song of Ice and Fire,” written by George R. R. Martin. Five are currently available in bookstores, A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance for Dragons. There are two more novels to still be written and released. The show is currently midway through the third book. We should be seeing several more seasons before we learn who will finally sit on the Iron Throne.
You can purchase the books on Amazon.
For more information, please check out A Wiki of Ice and Fire.