So I really love HBO’s Game of Thrones. I know, I know big surprise from a self proclaimed nerd… not to mention the fact that everyone and their mother (Hi mom!!!) seems to love the show. HOWEVER I take my love to even more nerdly levels in that I’m fascinated by the historical influences on the show. George R. R. Martin did a lot of research on English / Western European medieval history (especially studying the War of the Roses in 15th century England) in writing his A Song of Ice and Fire book series, and it really shows throughout the works, but theres a lot more history at play here than I think even Georgie (I can call him that cuz we’re buddies…) intended. Whether its in the books or the show I think there’s a lot of subconscious history at play here which is incredibly interesting and adds a lot of depth to the series.
What interests me particularly here, however, is the history which manifests itself in the show. I’m interested in the show angle over the book angle for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the fact that I’m a show watcher. I first heard about the series from a friend in college, and intended to read the books until I learned that HBO was making a TV series out of them. In my experience books are always still good after seeing a film or TV adaptation first, but the reverse isn’t always true. For this reason I chose to watch the show first, and I only read the books after I’ve seen the material on TV. So I slant toward the show in all things Westerosi.
The other, perhaps more important factor in my love of the show’s history vs. the books’, is the fact that visual medians have so much more material to work with when it comes to hinting into the origins of things. It can be architecture, costume design, casting choices, makeup, accents… theres just a veritable cornucopia of material which the show can work with to clue its viewers in to things that a book cannot or does not need to use. We use visual cues to drop hints for a viewer in order to save time (there are a lot less minutes available to a director than there are pages to an author… as is clearly evident in the leviathans Georgie calls books). As such, if we’re trying to explain to a reader that a city has a Mediterranean climate, you can simply tell them that. You can explain what the weather feels like, tell them the city is by the sea, explain what kind of food is available there… all sorts of things which take time to lay out. In a show, however, you may use a shot of Italian architecture and olive groves to achieve the same goal in a condensed amount of time. In doing so, however, you immediately attach all the historical baggage which comes with those images (knowledge of the Italian Renaissance, perhaps, and the classical world with its dependence on olive based products and wealth) SO ANYWAY I’m going to focus on the show for this little project.
And by now you’re probably saying, “what project you jackass? You’re 500 words in and I don’t see any ‘project’ ”
Ok ok ok…I’m sorry. I suffer from delusions of grandeur… meaning brevity isn’t my strong suit… ANYWAY what I hope to do is take some of my favorite concepts and components of the show, and dive into some of their historical antecedents and influences. There is a lot of rich material in this series, both the things put into the original works by Martin, and the myriad of new material inserted for the viewer’s benefit by David Benioff and Daniel Weiss (and their incredibly talented team). For me, trying to decode the real world history behind this beautiful fantasy world of Westeros adds a lot of depth to the series and immeasurable enjoyment for me. I’m hoping that sharing some of my thoughts here will do the same for you.
Now I’m not saying I’ll get everything right. I have no idea what Martin was thinking when he wrote in any particular concept, and I don’t know what the HBO guys were thinking when they chose to set up and shoot a scene the way they did. I’m just going to make educated guesses on where I think certain things have their roots, and explain how I got to my conclusions. However, I’d love to have any discussion with anyone who things I’ve gotten something wrong or misinterpreted the source material. Moreover, if anyone has any topics that interest them in particular I’d love for you to share them with me! Whether you’d like me to try to dig some history up on them or had an idea of your own, I’m all ears. I just hope we can have some in depth, spoiler free (I’m a show watcher NOT a book reader remember) discussion on the origins and influences behind this world and this show that I get so much enjoyment from.