When I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones, it was like being reeled into a fish hook. I was addicted to this fantasy land which involved the most bizarre situations. But little did I know back then, it isn’t all just fantasy. The author of the books on which the show is based, George RR Martin, once remarked ‘No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse’. And it is true. With a little bit of delving into history, we realized that many storylines and main characters of Game of Thrones have in fact been based on real-life people and incidents.
10. The Wall
We all know about the Wall, which separates the Wildlings and White Walkers from the Seven Kingdoms. But that isn’t really fiction. In an interview in 2006, George RR Martin had admitted that he visited Scotland and stood on Hadrian’s Wall and that is where the inspiration for the Wall in Game of Thrones came from. Hadrian’s Wall was erected by the Romans in order to keep the ‘barbarians’ away from ‘civilized society’. The barbarians lived in the north, which is similar to the White Walkers and the Wildlings who live up north in the Game of Thrones series.
9. Harrenhal and The Pontefract Castle
The Harrenhal scene where we see many people getting tortured remained etched in our minds. The once great castle had been reduced to a ruin and a living hell for those being tortured. The castle may have been inspired by the Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire, England. Both castles were enormous and majestic when they were built, and regarded as great fortresses. However, with time, the castles decayed and were abandoned. The prisoners from the Wars of the Roses were jailed or killed at Pontefract Castle, similar to Harrenhal.
8. Trial by Combat
The justice system was pretty bizarre in Game of Thrones. Trial by combat was an option given to the accused, by which a champion can be chosen by both sides and whoever dies, loses the trial. You’ll be surprised to know that this was, in fact, a real justice system used in the medieval times. If any two parties faced a dispute, it was solved through combat.
7. Tywin Lannister and Edward I
Every Game of Thrones fan hated Tywin Lannister, the cunning, unloving and downright egoistic character who only cared about the reputation of his family name. However, he is nothing when compared to a historically similar figure, Edward I. The King of England from 1272-1307, Edward I was once described as ‘valiant as a lion’. He was often a very cruel ruler and is said to have used falsehood to win his wars. The ‘lion’ is the symbol of the Lannister house.
6. The Wars of the Roses
The entire series of Game of Thrones is believed to be inspired by England’s 15th-century Wars of the Roses. England and France remained at war for the English crown during the Wars of the Roses, and saw five kings in 25 years. The two prominent royal houses- Yorks and the Lancasters- fought for three decades to claim the throne. The names would have seemed familiar to you. Let’s delve deeper into that.
5. The Yorks and the Lancasters and Starks and Lannisters
The names and the stories of these two prominent royal houses are very similar. The Yorks and the Lancasters were the two kingpins in the Wars of the Roses, and the Starks and Lannisters, while not exactly at war, had a major feud on the show. The Lancasters were very rich, just like the Lancasters. The Yorks lived up north, just like the Starks. The Wars of the Roses saw battles between these houses and others for over three decades, and the feud between Starks and Lannisters continues in the series.
4. The Red Wedding and Heworth Moor
It’s difficult to imagine that something as horrific as the Red Wedding, which sees the slaughter of so many main characters, is based on something that happened in real life. Often referred to as the ‘Skirmish at Heworth Moor’, the Nevilles wedding party were on their way back to Sheriff Hutton castle after a wedding which had irked the ire of Thomas Percy, John Neville’s brother. The party was attacked and many were killed. The wedding massacre is similar to Lord Frey’s assassination of the Starks, and another similarity is that the massacre took place at the Battle of Stamford bridge. The Red Wedding was also set at a bridge of sorts (the Twins Castle).
3. Joffrey and Edward of Lancaster
Joffrey Baratheon nee Lannister was one of the most sadistic characters on Game of Thrones. His character seems loosely based on Edward of Lancaster from the Lancaster family on which the Lannisters are likely based. Edward was rumored to be born from illegitimacy like Joffrey and was also fond of chopping off heads. According to the Ambassador of Milan, “This boy, though only 13 years of age, already talks of nothing but of cutting off heads or making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the god of battle or the peaceful occupant of that throne”. His age and his affinity for sadistic ways are what makes us believe Joffrey’s character was inspired by him.
2. Battle of Blackwater Bay and Constantinople Seige
The Battle of Blackwater Bay when Stannis Baratheon invades King’s Landing was a visual spectacle, and it is believed to be based on the Arab siege of Constantinople. A defining moment in the scene is when Tyrion Lannister, in a tactical move, lights Stannis’s ships on fire using ‘wildfire’, a highly explosive type of fire. This was similar to the strategy of the Byzantine forces, who used a similar explosive substance called ‘Greek fire’ to attack the Arabs who were trying to invade Constantinople in 718.
1. Ireland and England
One of the most talked about commonalities of Game of Thrones with real life is the map of Westeros. Notice the shape of Westeros, and then look at the map of England and Ireland. You will notice that Ireland when tilted upside down below England is the same as the map of Westeros. The historical feud between the two countries may have been the inspiration for the show.
It makes sense that history was George RR Martin’s minor in college because the research which has gone into the books is very extensive. He once said, “What I try to do is give it a little more of the feel of historical fiction than some of those other books had before it which have, I suppose, a more fantasy or fantastic feel“. It certainly set his books and the show apart, making it a global sensation.