Game of Thrones, based on the novel series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, is a work of art that airs on HBO since April 17, 2011. It follows three story lines with a massive amount of characters, and it’s a fan-favorite across the globe. It has received widespread acclaim by critics.
Its frequent use of nudity, violence and sexual violence has attracted criticism, yet it hasn’t stopped viewers from watching the series. The show has won numerous awards and nominations, including a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Drama Series for its first four seasons, a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Television Series – Drama, a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in both Long Form and Short Form, and a Peabody Award. Among the ensemble cast, Peter Dinklage has won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance as Tyrion Lannister.
Such masterwork required an immense dedication and years of preparation. Writing fantasy myself, I cannot help but to be impressed of the world and drama Martin has built over the years. Therefore I looked into it, researched what the author has searched and found, oh so many interesting things! From the Greek mythology to the War of the Roses, passing by historical assassinations and massacre, Game of Thrones finds its inspiration for its rich plot and world in mouth-dropping historical facts, people, items and events.
Here are 15 real-life events that not only inspired Martin, but also is the basis for various storylines in Game of Thrones
15. Valyrian Steel Does Exist!
Valyrian steel is a metal that’s known to be super-strong and yet incredibly light, but making the metal itself is an art that has been lost. To create a new weapon, you need to melt down an old one, much like what happened to Ned Stark’s “Ice”. It seems George R.R. Martin based this metal on the ever-so real steel named Damascus, which was developed in India and the Middle East. It was well-known for its super-strong and super-sharp qualities. But the technique needed to create this metal was lost in the 18th century.
14. The “Purple Wedding” Is Based On A Historical Event
One of the satisfying deaths in Game of Thrones was enjoyed by viewers when sadistic King Joffrey drank poison during what’s been labelled, “the Purple Wedding.” After seasons of hatred for this psycho-brat king, it was about time he left that world for good. His death was based on a historical event: Prince Eustache, son of England’s King Stephen, died mysteriously in 1153, during a wedding. It is suspected he died from poisoning, but witnesses at that time believed he simply died from choking.
13. Khal Drogo And Hercules Shared The Same Death
Khal Drogo died too fast, and in a way that was way too banal for such an accomplished warrior. Yet, it echoes Hercules’ death, the invincible hero of the Greek Mythology, in a number of ways.
Hercules died when his wife, Deianira, gave him a tunic filled with the poisoned blood of Nessus, who had told her his blood held the power to make her husband interested in her again. Instead, it burnt Hercules to the point he begged to be burned alive. Daenerys kills Drogo by dressing his wound with a concoction that is supposed to heal him, according to Mirri Maz Duur. However, it only brings the warrior-king into a vegetable state, and Daenerys must find the strength to free him of his misery by suffocating him with a pillow. In both stories, the unwilling and unaware wife was used by a vengeful enemy to kill her husband.
12. Jon Snow’s Murder And Julius Caesar’s Assassination
Though it is not yet confirmed that Jon Snow is dead, and I wish he’ll survive with all my heart, his potential murder is similar in many ways to Julius Caesar’s assassination.
After forming an unlikely alliance with the Wildlings, Jon is stabbed by a gang of his so-called “brothers,” men he trusted, of the Night’s Watch.
Led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, thought to be good friends to Julius Caesar, the senators stabbed the Roman Emperor to death close to the Theatre of Pompey on March 15, 44 B.C. Caesarhad recently been declared dictator perpetuo by the Senate. This declaration made several senators fear that Caesar wanted to end the Senate, and that fear was the motivation behind Caesar’s assassination. Like Jon Snow, he was changing things, and it wasn’t welcomed among his men.
11. Greyscale Is Based on Two Real Diseases
Greyscale is a strange disease some GoT characters have, like Shereen (too soon, I know) and Jorah. It basically turns you into some kind of angry and aggressive rock-golem who’s forced to live in Valyria, away from the rest of the world.
Two diseases in our real world are similar to Greyscale – leprosy and fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. Leprosy causes skin lesions much like Greyscale, and during the Middle Ages, those who had this disease lived as outcasts, and seen as walking horrors, much like in the show. Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva is incurable and extremely rare. It causes damaged soft tissues to regrow as bones throughout a person’s life. As the disease progresses, patients are, like the Greyscale, “turned to stone”.
10. The Iron Throne And Tewkesbury Abbey’s Door
The Iron Throne, though not represented in the show as Martin imagined it, is an impressive piece of art, which holds the story of many soldiers’ last battle. I’m surprised it’s not haunted.
Built from the swords of the fallen men from Westeros at the hands of the Targaryens, the Iron Throne is a gloomy reminder of the sacrifices it took to get there. Tewkesbury Abbey, located in Gloucestershire, was founded in 1087, before it was built in 1102. It’s door leading to the Sacristy is made of armors. Armors that belonged to soldiers who, it seems, died in battle during the Battle of Tewkesbury, during the War of the Roses. It stands there as a reminder of the bloodied past, much like the Iron Throne.
9. “Valar Morghulis” Quote – Middle Age Origin?
Valar Morghulis, which means “All men must die,” is one of the most-used quote from GoT. It reminds the characters – and the viewers – that Death is going to happen, and everybody must die. The gloomy catch-phrase seems to be based off latin’s memento mori (“Remember that you have died”) from the Middle Ages, which were visual reproduction of death, like a skull between a flower and a hourglass. It served to remind people that their earthly goals of vanity and wealth were useless, in the end.
8. The Mad King Character Based On Henri VI?
“Burn them! Burn them all!” is apparently what Aerys Targaryen, known as “The Mad King” screamed when Robert Baratheon’s troops arrived towards the Red Keep to get rid of him, and that’s when Jaime Lannister swung his sword at his king, the man he was sworn to protect until death.
This event, prior to GoT, could well be based off a feast known as “Le Bal des Ardents” (The Burning Men Ball) that turned bad under King Henri VI. During a party held for a marriage, performers arrived and a guard approached with a torch to identify them. Sadly, the performers’ costumes were made of wax and linen before it caught on fire. Because of the material, the flames quickly spread and some of the artists died.
Aerys Targaryen could also be inspired by the real-life Emperor Nero, a man known to have let Rome burn as he fiddled while the city was destroyed. He was also suspected to have lit the fire. Like Aerys, Nero was mad. He killed one of his wives, before forcing one of his male soldiers to disguise himself as his dead wife.
7. The Unsullied – The Spartans Or The Mamluks?
The Unsullied is Queen Daenerys Targaryen’s army of castrated, highly-skilled, fearless warriors. Though their armors and weapons are clearly inspired by the antiquity roman soldiers, their origins are rumored to come from the prosperous Spartans. However, another theory seems to point out that, maybe, the Unsullied could be based on another army, the Mamluks.
If you’ve seen the movie 300, you’ll know that the Battle of Thermopylae pit 300 Spartans against 800,000 Persians in Greece. The Spartans were victorious (but almost all died), though their leader, Leonidas was later executed.
In the GoT novels, the battle of Qohorik is basically the same battle: few Unsullied versus an incredible amount of Dothrakis. This brings me to the conclusion that Spartans were the inspiration for the Unsullied’s backstory.
When it comes to the Mamluks, they were a Turkish slave-army during the Middle Ages, which defeated both the Mongols and the Crusaders. Because they were slaves, the Mamluks were low-profile, obedient soldiers, much like the Unsullied, which makes them good candidates to be the main inspiration for the army itself.
6. Theon Greyjoy’s Castration Is A Reminder Of Norse Culture
Theon is one of my favorite characters, and I’m just glad he’s starting to be himself again at the end of season five. However, before he got there, Ramsay Bolton severely tortured him, including a brutal castration. What you must know is that in viking culture (in case you didn’t realize yet, Greyjoys are Westeros’ vikings), and more precisely that of the Norse’s, male sexuality is very important.
In the Norse culture, the phallus represents virility, freedom, strength, independence and the ability to dominate. Their statues had giant penises, and most of their stories were about that precious organ.
Theon’s father denouncing his manhood after learning about his castration is reference to Norse culture.
5. GoT – Inspired By The War Of The Roses?
We know that George R.R. Martin was inspired by real historical events that occurred all through Middle Ages. But the event upon which the series seems to be based is the War of the Roses. During 15th century England, the War of the Roses was a series of dynastic civil wars that lasted three decades.
The war was a bloody and complicated fight between two important royal houses; York, represented by a white rose, and Lancaster, represented by a red one. The conflict did include rival claimants to the throne, weak or villainous monarchs, courageous princes whose lives were cut short, corrupted “protectors of the realm” and enemies across the “Narrow Sea.”
4. King Joffrey and Edward of Lancaster
Joffrey’s horrible personality is what made us all cheer when he died graphically. It brought us viewers, and a lot of GoT characters, relief. However, the evilness of Joffrey Baratheon was based on Edward of Lancaster, one of the principal figures in the War of the Roses.
Edward had a touch of madness, much like Joffrey, and he also appreciated the art of cutting off the heads of his enemies and put them on spikes. The Ambassador of Milanonce wrote, “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.”
Edward of Lancaster died tragically. He was stabbed to death by Edward IV of York, whom some consider was played by the character Robb Stark in GoT. Isn’t that a little bit satisfying?
3. The Red Faith Based on Zoroastrianism?
The Red Faith of Game of Thrones is the belief that the Lord of the Light, present in fire, is the one true God. Melisandre is the priestess we know most about, and Stannis is probably the greatest disciple of this faith. This religion is based on Zoroastrianism, a Persian faith.
In Zoroastrianism, just as in the Red Faith, fire is considered a medium for spiritual awareness and wisdom, and worshipers often pray in the presence of fire, or in fire temples. Like the followers of The Lord of Light, it also opposes a great struggle between the duality of good, referred as the “Lord of the Light” in the show, and evil, known as “The Other” in Westeros.
2. The Wall Is Inspired by Hadrian’s Wall
The Wall, this gigantic structure that represents men’s awareness of its demise when confronted with what lies beyond it is based on Scotland’s Hadrian’s Wall, as George R.R. Martin confirmit in 2000. “The Wall comes from Hadrian’s Wall, which I saw while visiting Scotland. I stood on Hadrian’s Wall and tried to imagine what it would be like to be a Roman soldier sent here from Italy or Antioch. To stand here, to gaze off into the distance, not knowing what might emerge from the forest.”
Hadrian’s Wall, built in 122 A.D., was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, which is today’s England, during Emperor Hadrian’s reign. It stood between the River Tyne, near the North Sea, and the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea. The Wall’s purpose was to separate the Empire from the Northern Barbarians, much like how the Kingdom of Westeros in GoT built a wall to prevent the Wildlings from entering.
1. The “Red Wedding,” A Tale Of Historical Massacres.
Seeing Rob still hurts me, years after I watched the scene that shocked and traumatized viewers all around the world, and which received a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. It also won the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. The scene is based on two unpleasant events from Scottish history: the 1691 Massacre of Glencoe, and the 1440 Black Dinner.
During the Massacre of Glencoe, in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, Captain Robert Campbell and his men asked for shelter with the MacDonald clan, and waited until their hosts were asleep to murder them. At The Black Dinner, the 16-year-old Earl of Douglas and his 10-year-old brother were lured to a feast to eat with the 10-year-old King James II of Scotland. During the feast, a black bull’s head, which is the symbol of death, was brought in and placed before the Earl. After, the Douglas children were dragged outside and brutally beheaded after a mock trial.
This said, it is also believed that the Red Wedding could be based on the Kojiki, a half-historical, half-mythological text that chronicles the rise of Japan’s first ruler, Emperor Jimmu. It seems that the Emperor consolidated his power, as it is told in the second half of the Kojiki, by murdering all of his political rivals at a feast. Like the Red Wedding, the start of the massacre was a song, which was sung by Jimmu himself.
To conclude, Game of Thrones is based on many historical facts, people and events. I wouldn’t be surprised that the end of the story is also hidden in a great moment of Medieval History. But the question is: which one could it be?