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‘Game of Thrones’ — Telling the Truth with Fiction

Many historical roots are evident in the HBO megahit.

‘Game of Thrones’ — Telling the Truth with Fiction

Many historical roots are evident in the HBO megahit.

George R. R. Martin, a renowned history buff, has often said that the Middle Ages and the Roman Empire informed his creation of characters, settings, plot twists and more in his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s adaptation, Game of Thrones. Here are a few instances.

In Game of Thrones, Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) is one of the Wildlings who lives beyond the Wall. Courtesy of HBO | Helen Sloan

In Game of Thrones, Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) is one of the Wildlings who lives beyond the Wall. Courtesy of HBO | Helen Sloan

The Wall: While neither 700 feet in height nor created from ice and magic, Hadrian’s Wall sprawled more than 70 miles from coast to coast in northern England with the expressed intention of separating Roman Britain from the wild Scots (Wildlings). Built in the second century by 15,000 soldiers, Hadrian’s Wall was named for the Roman emperor who commissioned it. The structure originally stood 20 feet high and boasted forts and observation towers. The ruins remain a popular attraction in the United Kingdom.

The Night’s Watch: The Sworn Brothers of the Night’s Watch pledge their lives to guard the Wall. Throughout the fictional saga, each “crow” (including fan favorite Jon Snow) wears all-black clothing and must vow “to take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. … I am the sword in the darkness.” This military order calls to mind the Knights Templar (1119-1312), bands of fighting monks dedicated to protecting Jerusalem throughout the Crusades. 

The Unsullied: These warrior-eunuchs, enslaved in childhood for ruthless military training, become Daenerys Targaryen’s personal army once she offers them their freedom in Season 3, Episode 4. While the disciplined fighters resemble the Spartans of Greece in the sixth and seventh centuries B.C., Martin also has said that the Mamluks of Egypt and the Janissaries of Turkey — both active during the Middle Ages — likewise informed his depiction.

The Dothraki: Khal Drogo’s horseback-riding warriors share certain characteristics with the Mongols and their 13th-century ruler Genghis (or Chinggis) Khan, who united tribesmen throughout the steppes of central Asia while amassing territory from Baghdad to Beijing. Also earning a reputation for their prowess and brutality on horseback were the nomadic Huns, who thrived in the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries.

Illustration by Getty Images © ivan-96

Illustration by Getty Images © ivan-96

The Purple Wedding: Teenage King Joffrey Baratheon succumbs to poison during his wedding feast (“The Lion and the Rose,” Season 4, Episode 2). Around 1087, Count Eustace II of Boulogne, who came of age near his 17th birthday, died of poisoning or choking at a banquet. (Or perhaps grief or rage did him in; to this day, historians debate the cause of his death.)

The Red Wedding: In the most infamous hour of the series (“The Rains of Castamere,” Season 3, Episode 9), the so-called Red Wedding saw the bloody murder of Robb Stark; his mother, Catelyn; his wife, Talisa; and other followers of the King of the North. Angered when Robb reneged on a promise to marry one of his daughters, Walder Frey exacts revenge with the help of pro-Lannister allies. Martin said he based the slaughter in part on the Black Dinner of 1440, a similar event in Scottish history when a rival clan beheaded the sixth Earl of Douglas (age 16) and his younger brother following a festive dinner at Edinburgh Castle.