Game of Thrones: Facts and Fantasy

This post was written by Musarrat Rahman, who wanted to share her passion and knowledge about the award-winning HBO television series. 

Have you ever wondered how fantasy can originate from real-life historical events and centuries-old legends?

**Please be forewarned: Plot spoilers ahead.**

Game of Thrones. You might have watched the HBO television series, read the fantasy novels it was based on, or at least heard this name. What makes this series special is not just the epic fight scenes and scandalous drama unfolding, but the eerie similarities the series shares with actual historical events. George R.R. Martin’s saga about the death of a king and the fight between various rival political powers to obtain the rightful throne leads one to speculate about the significance of each scene. Martin himself describes the show as the history of Europe, especially the bloody battles fought over the succession to the throne of England, not to mention the numerous political factions that sparked revolutions across other parts of Europe. Even the names of the characters can give hints to their fate or even reveal secrets.

Take for example King Joffrey Baratheon, the beloved son of Queen Cersei and King Robert Baratheon (or so they say). Joffrey’s depiction sounds a lot like Edward of Lancaster (*cough* Lannister *cough*), the 13-year-old rumored-to-be illegitimate son of King Henry VI. Much like Joffrey Baratheon, Edward of Lancaster tortured and killed his enemies for fun. He shared Joffrey’s carelessness and lack of judgment when it came to running a kingdom. What was Edward’s fate? Similar to King Joffrey.

Images from Wikimedia Commons and HBO
Images from Wikimedia Commons and HBO

Martin claims that the feud between the Starks and the Lannisters in the series is inspired by the infamous York and Lancaster feud, which eventually led to what is now known as “The War of the Roses.” This war led to the deaths of so many but ultimately led to a stable line of rule with the Lancasters winning the throne, which later led to the rise of the Tudors. Some other inspirations could have been the climax of the Trojan War, or even the founding of Rome.

The House of Stark: the Direwolf sigil.

The founding of Rome, by the way, was based on the legend of Romulus and Remus, twin infant brothers who were abandoned at the river Tiber when their great-uncle usurped the throne but were able to survive because a she-wolf (aka lupa in Latin) had suckled them and woodpeckers fed them until a shepherd and his wife finally found them and raised them as their own sons. Remus and Romulus later grew up and garnered many followers. As soon as they learned the truth about their royal lineage, the brothers decide to seize their kingdom and help restore their grandfather to the throne. Once they got rid of their great-uncle, they decided to found a new city, but disagreed on the locations. Romulus killed Remus and eventually founded the ancient city of Rome (obviously his namesake). It just so happens that one of the prominent families in Game of Thrones, the Starks, have the direwolf as their family sigil. Each Stark sibling inherited their own direwolf to act as their constant companion and protector throughout the on-going conflicts between the feuding families over who would take control of the Iron Throne to rule all seven kingdoms.

Another scene that really stands out is the sacking of King’s Landing and the downfall of the Targaryens. It reminds me of the Bolshevik Revolution, and the assassination of the entire family of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. There was a lot of mistrust and discrimination against the marriage between Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell of Dorne, since Dornish people have different ideals and were generally more liberal than other parts of Westeros. This is similar to how some Russians viewed the marriage between Tsar Nicolas Romanov and Tsarina Alexandria Feodorovna. Since the tsarina was originally from Germany and was not of Russian background, she was rejected as a possible ruler in the absence of the Tsar.

Image from HBO.
Image from HBO.

Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, as the tsarina was originally known as at the time of her birth, was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England and Prince Albert of Hesse. Their royal bloodline was famous for carrying the genetic mutation known as hemophilia, which impairs the body’s ability to form blood clots or coagulation during the healing process. Tsarina Alexandria’s youngest son, Alexei Romanov, inherited hemophilia from his mother and suffered the physical manifestations of the genetic disease’s symptoms. Similarly in the world of Game of Thrones, there is the genetic trait of having immunity to fire, which is a genetic trait exclusive to those with the royal Targaryen blood. Daenerys Targaryen, daughter of King Aerys II (the “Mad King”) and one of the last survivors of the House of Targaryen, would soon rise to power over her brother because of this exclusive immunity to immolation.

The political upheavals that sparked the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917 led to the grisly murders of the entire Romanov family, thus ending the dynastic rule of the tsars in Russia and opening the doors to the communist regimes that would follow in later decades. In the Game of Thrones storyline, the savage rape and murder of Elia and her two young children were seen as one of the worst events in the history of King’s Landing, and led to the alienation of Dorne from the rest of Westeros. Yet, justice was never served for the perpetrators.

The Romanov Family
The Romanov Family

Even though many witnesses were present when the murdered bodies of Elia Martell and her daughter Rhaenys Targaryen were discovered, many rumors still flew that Aegon VI Targaryen, Elia’s youngest son, was somehow still alive. Years later, a teenage boy who claims to be Aegon VI and even resembles him, manages to convince people that he is the rightful heir to the Targaryen throne (though no one can neither confirm nor disprove it yet). This sounds a little like Anastasia Romanova, and how an imposter claimed to be the Grand Duchess even when her death was confirmed.

The last confirmed Targaryen family member who remains alive is Daenerys Stormborn, Khaleesi of the Dothrakis, Queen of Meereen, and mother of dragons. A very brave and heroic character, Daenerys vows to take back the kingdom that was her birthright and home. She receives visions of the past and future and works to reform many of the problems in Meereen, winning the support and love of the people. I’ve thought of Dany as a kind of Joan of Arc, in the sense that she doesn’t want to actually become Queen, she just wants to stand by what is right and restore balance to a power that has been misused.

St. Joan of Arc
St. Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc, a young teenage girl from a quaint little village called Domrémy-la-Pucelle, also had visions. Joan of Arc had several visions of God telling her to defend the French throne from encroaching British enemies. Joan of Arc eventually rallied the support and boosted the morale of the French troops and led France through several military victories during the Hundred Years’ War, She was captured at Compiègne by the allied English-Burgundian faction and handed over to the British. The pro-British Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, then declared at her trial that she was guilty of a number of charges, including witchcraft and heresy, and Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Yet despite perishing in the flames, Joan of Arc’s legendary legacy still lives on today and continues to be revered as a beloved saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

The similarities between Joan of Arc’s legendary life and Dany Targaryen’s story of restoring her rightful place at the Iron Throne seem an uncanny coincidence (if not an intentional one by George R.R. Martin himself). Dany, though not a saint, also had visions. Dany is loved by her people. Dany is immune to fire. Plus, Dany has dragons.

St. Margaret of Antioch
St. Margaret of Antioch

In Christian art throughout the centuries, Satan was often depicted as a serpent or a dragon. Two of the voices that Joan of Arc said that she heard belonged to St. Michael the Archangel, who is often portrayed slaying dragons in paintings (dragons are the manifested embodiment of Satan and the concept of evil), and to St. Margaret of Antioch, who also had an encounter with Satan in the form of a dragon and is often depicted in art with a dragon at her feet. These two saints are often depicted in art as standing on top of a dragon, to symbolize that they conquered these creatures, and thus conquered evil.

According to the narrative in Game of Thrones, Daenerys had willingly stepped into the flames of her dead husband’s funeral pyre after seeking revenge on the maegi woman who had used dark magic that had cost her the life of her deformed newborn son who had been born with scales. The Dothrakis discovered the next morning that Daenerys had survived the flames, unharmed. Surrounding Daenerys were three hatched dragons, the first in the world to be born in over a century and a half. Upon witnessing this spectacle, the remaining Dothraki people then fell to their knees and proclaimed their loyalty to Daenerys as their queen and leader. Daenerys then raises these dragons as though they were her own children, thus earning her the title “Mother of Dragons,” as though she had conquered the dark, evil magic that had stolen her husband’s and her stillborn son’s lives.

Daenerys and one of her dragons
Daenerys Targaryen and one of her dragons

It is possible that Martin took these multiple references just for character development, or he could have actually used these references to correlate with the actual plot of the entire fantasy series. It’s still much too early to tell. With “The Winds of Winter” set for release in bookstores soon, as well as the next season of Game of Thrones, I’m on the edge of my seat to put all my theories to the test as well as work on many more plot mysteries. Even if blood, gore, and incestuous love aren’t your thing, I recommend you give the series a try and see if it interests you.

For further reading, check out this site: http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/


Musarrat R. Author Bio Photo


Musarrat Rahman is a quirky public health professional and student with a passion for education, health promotion, and cryptozoology. She is a professional daydreamer and food addict just taking life one step at a time. ツ


Julianne Day Ignacio

A bonafide bookworm, self-proclaimed nerd, and cat-lover, Julianne is a born-and-raised Brooklynite who loves to listen to a good story and help others cultivate their storytelling skills. Julianne received her Master's degree in Media Studies and Certificate in Media Management from The New School. You can find her crafting new content and updating the social media outlets for Verge of Verse, snapping photos, or chilling out at a cafe or park as she writes about her discoveries and her adventures in the city.

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