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Fantasy Counterpart Culture / Game of Thrones

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Many of the cultures in Game of Thrones have clear parallels with real-world ones:

  • Westeros has clear parallels to medieval Britain:
    • Word of God has confirmed the parallels between the Wall and Hadrian's Wall, the 80-mile-long barrier built to protect Roman Britain from the Picts. The Narrow Sea also approximates the English Channel and King's Landing roughly corresponds with London.
    • In terms of history, the First Men are similar to the Celtic Britons as the oldest human culture in the realm and their connection to the old gods and the children of the forest echoes legends of druids and fairy folk. The next migrants, the Andals, are similar to the Anglo-Saxons in bringing new cultural and political influences to the south. Then the Targaryens, like the Normans, conquer the entire realm and institute further political, cultural, and infrastructure reforms. The Targaryens are also a counterpart to the House of Normandy and The House of Plantagenet.
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    • The accents generally approximate England's own accent distribution, particularly in early seasons. For example Ned, a northerner, has Sean Bean's native Sheffield accent whereas Cersei, a southerner, has more of a London/RP accent. The mountainous region of the Vale tends to Welsh or Celtic accents and Dorne has Latin Lover accents.
    • The names Lannister and Stark are thinly veiled references to those of Lancaster and York, the two great warring houses in the Wars of the Roses in England, while the Joffrey, Stannis, and Renly branches of House Baratheon mirror the Lancasters and Yorks as rival branches of House Plantagenet. Martin openly said that the story is loosely inspired by the real life War of the Roses.
      • House Lannister bears resemblance to the House of Lancaster and medieval English nobility in general and, to some extent, the infamous Borgia family of the Italian Renaissance. Game of Thrones has often been compared to the Borgias and their schemes, mainly because of the Lannister characters. Their home, the Westerlands, bears a small resemblance to South Africa as well (lots of gold, lions, a huge mountain behind the main port city.) Furthermore, if the North is Scotland under William Wallace, then the Westerlands could be England under Edward Longshanks. The HBO show's version of Lannister armor combines features from The Renaissance, Feudal Japan, the Teutonic Knights, and the German men-at-arms of the Russian film Alexander Nevsky, which in turn were a reference to Nazi Germany, as is Tywin's dream about a thousand-year dynasty. The Medieval Japanese style to their armor was to make them look distinct, and is loosely implied to be a holdover from when they were close allies of the Targaryens — who, being from the eastern continent, also dress in very "foreign" looking Asian styles.
      • House Stark is a counterpart of the House of York, at least in name and its individual members' characterization. When you take into account political position, war glories and subsequent vulnerability, however, they borrow more from the reputation of the House of Lancaster (a junior branch of The House of Plantagenet)—who were deposed by the ruthless and (sometimes) quite dishonorable methods of the Yorkist faction. This mixing with Lancastrian and Yorkist tropes also characterize their rivals, House Lannister. This becomes more explicit come Season 6, where Jon Snow's ascension as King in the North (the same time it became clear he's not an illegitimate son of the main line, he's a Stark in the matrilineal line) after deposing the tyrannical rule of the Boltons harkens the propaganda of Henry VII's rise — a matrilineal relative of the Lancasters who established The House of Tudor. This fuels speculation that Snow will marry Danaerys, since how did Henry VII secure his rule politically after defeating Richard III? That's right, by marrying Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth of York. (In-series this is a little squickier, since Danaerys is Jon's aunt, but given that the Targaryens are all about incest, this probably shouldn't matter too much.)
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    • House Baratheon:
      • King Robert draws elements from Henry IV of England (a man that usurps the throne from a distant cousin with the force of arms as his sole right) and his successor, Henry V (a tall, muscular, popular warrior and battle commander, who dies early leaving an unfit child as his successor and lays the ground for decades of warfare). Not surprising since the War of the Five Kings draws inspiration from the historical War of the Roses and the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years War, the roots of both being in Henry V's reign. Robert also bears a good deal of resemblance to Henry VIII as King: a dynamic and charming young man who eventually goes into moral and physical decay as he gets older and eventually ends his life as an obese, paranoid failure. Not to mention an obvious parallel to Richard the Lionheart, a popular figure remembered by history as a warrior king. In reality a terrible monarch who cared very little for the throne of England and preferred fighting.
      • The three Baratheon brothers are a good match for the three Yorkist brothers. Edward IV (Robert Baratheon) a fearsome warrior who never lost a battle who was not as gifted in politics, while Renly and Stannis are inverted sibling order versions of George, Duke of Clarence (Renly) who revolted against his elder brother only to be imprisoned and sentenced to death by him and Richard III (Stannis) who claimed the throne by legal right and sought to declare his nephews as bastards and who likewise enjoys a highly sinister reputation.
  • In the current generation of House Baratheon, parallels could also be made for the Bonapartes or the Julio-Claudian dynasty of The Roman Empire, as a ruling family based on the influence of several siblings after the usurping of the throne of the biggest brother.
  • The Ironborn resemble hornless Horny Vikings, particularly the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles. Like the Norse, they are a seafaring society with a foreign religion from a harsh region that drives them to rely heavily on adventuring and raiding for prosperity, hence the Greyjoy motto, "We Do Not Sow."
  • The Vale is the most mountainous part of Westeros and has an ethnic mix of castle-dwelling Andals (i.e. Anglo-Saxons) and restive tribes of First Men (i.e. Celts) that likens it to Wales, which suits Ser Vardis Egan's Welsh accent. In addition, a mountainous region that is notoriously hard to invade and whose people keep to themselves militarily draws obvious comparisons to Switzerland.
  • The Riverlands are climatically and culturally similar to northern France and southern England, but its status as a crossroads surrounded by antagonistic regions means it's people are frequently drawn into turmoil in the same manner as Poles or Belgians. As such, the ruling House Tully has developed a penchant for forging marriage alliances to secure further power, similar to the Hapsburg dynasty.
  • The Reach is analogous in many ways to the south-east of England and to Aquitaine in southern France as the most populous and prosperous region of Westeros and the heartland of chivalry. House Tyrell also bears a strong parallel to the The House of Stuart as stewards who ascended to power following the demise of the previous rulers while their golden rose sigil is a near-exact replica of the red-and-white Tudor Rose.
  • If the people of the Reach are analogous to the people of Aquitaine, then stormlanders like Robert, Stannis, and Brienne of Tarth are analogous to the people of northern France such as Normandy and Maine: a similar but harsher people from a harsher climate. This is perhaps best exemplified by Renly's dissonance with his own family and his affinity for the Tyrells.
    • Furthermore, although much less pronounced than any of the other regions, the Stormlands as a whole are loosely like medieval Germany, though there’s a mish-mash of other factors: Like Germany, the Stormlands are the most densely forested part of the Seven Kingdoms (of the three major forests, two are located in the Stormlands, the third in the North; but while the North is vast, those two forests take up most of the Stormlands). Similarly, medieval Germany was densely forested.
    • The other similarities have more to do with their history, which is gleaned from the books, which is a lot like the Holy Roman Empire.
      • Before the Targaryen Conquest, the Stormlands under the Durrandon dynasty conquered the Riverlands (including the future Crownlands), as well as bits of the eastern Reach, and expanding further into the Dornish Marches. This Durrandon super-kingdom controlled essentially the entire eastern half of southern Westeros, and it held these lands for a full three centuries. They had over-expanded, however, because now they shared hostiles borders with all six of the other Kingdoms. Most kingdoms could handle having two powerful bordering kingdoms: the Westerlands border the Reach and are right near the Iron Islands, Dorne borders the Reach and the Stormlands, etc. The Reach gets away with having four powerful neighbors (the Westerlands, the Stormlands, Dorne, and the nearby Iron Islands to the north) because it’s the most fertile part of Westeros, has twice the population, and can field twice as many armies (though this balances out because they have twice as many hostile borders). The old Storm Kingdom’s westward expansion, however, meant it wasn’t just fighting its traditional enemies of the Reach and Dorne: now it had to defend its conquests against the Westerlands, the Vale, the North, and particularly the Iron Islands pressing from the west — nor did they have the numbers advantages the Reach did.
      • This is much like what happened to the medieval Holy Roman Empire – basically centered around Germany, but also trying to hold on to the eastern parts of France, northern Italy, fighting Slavs to the east and Vikings to the north. Its borders were so amorphous, and faced so many powerful rivals on every side, that its lands got chipped away over time. Similarly, about three generations before the Targaryen Conquest, King Harwyn Hoare led the Ironborn to conquer the Riverlands from the Stormlands. In the next generation his son kicked them out of the future Crownlands, while the Gardener Kings of the Reach from the southwest chipped away at their lands on the upper Mander, and the Dornish edged them back in the Marches. The remaining core territories of “The Stormlands”, ruled from Storm’s End, got taken over by the Baratheons during the Conquest, when a Targaryen general named Orys Baratheon married the daughter of the last Durrandon king. Other points going towards considering the Stormlands to be a fantasy counterpart to Germany are their long history of wars across a poorly defined border to the west with the Reach (which is much more clearly Fantasy!France).
      • One difference is that Germany doesn’t border Spain, but the Stormlands do have contested mountainous borders with Dorne (Fantasy!Muslim Spain) – though the Holy Roman Empire at its height did compete with Spain for control of the southern parts of France. Again, the similarity to a real life counterpart isn’t quite as pronounced as in other regions.
    • The Season 3 Blu-ray animated featurette on “The Stormlands”, narrated by Brienne of Tarth, does quickly explain how the Stormlands conquered the Riverlands but later lost it to the Ironborn - establishing that their backstory is also pretty much the same in the TV continuity.
  • In addition to their vaguely Hispanic accents (as opposed to the ubiquitous British/Irish spoken elsewhere), the Dornish are traditionally Hot-Blooded, sexually adventurous, and hail from an arid peninsula separated from the rest of the continent by mountains. In fact, Spain was a primary location for Dorne in Season 5. Also, just as medieval Spain was heavily influenced by the Moors, Dorne is the only part of Westeros to be influenced by the Rhoynar culture. Dorne also has similarities with Wales in that both were once independent realms that maintain an separate culture, have "marches" along their border, and are ruled by a prince.
  • The Dothraki are a loose conglomeration of Turko-Mongol nomadic horse-culture influences and actors who range from Indian to Hawai'ian in ethnicity.
  • Mirri Maz Duur's people, the Lhazareen, resemble the Semitic shepherd cultures of the ancient Middle East and even worship a "Great Shepherd."
  • Qarth is part ancient Carthage ("Qart Hadasht") for its wealthy mercantile center surrounded by desert and part medieval Constantinople for controlling an important sea lane. The set decor and motifs also feature eastern influences from ancient Babylon, Persia, and India.
  • The Free Cities seem to represent a hodgepodge of Mediterranean cultures. Braavos is a city of canals like Venice guarded by an expy of the Colossus of Rhodes called the Titan, Lorathi characters have German accents, Volantis is a powerful city obsessed with the legacy of a lost empire like Constantinople, etc.
  • The Valyrian Freehold and its successor states resemble Ancient Grome; Valyrian even sounds similar to Greek. On the other hand, the throne room of Dragonstone is in brutalist style, characteristic for the mid-20th century.
  • As independent city-states with a shared cultural heritage, Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen are reminiscent of Ancient Greece, but their clothing and cosmetics are more reminiscent of North Africa and their pyramids are a mixture of Mesopotamian ziggurats and Egyptian pyramids. Their strong reliance on slave soldiers also has parallels to the Mamluks and Janissaries who served the Ottoman Empire, and the Unsullied in particular receive training similar to the Ancient Spartans blown Up to Eleven. The cities in Slaver's Bay and Old Ghis are also reminiscent of the Phoenician city-states such as Tyre and Sidon, and their most powerful colony, Carthage, respectively - only swapped in time, so that the city-state (Ghis) that waged wars against another superpower (Valyria) is the original empire, and the rest are its former colonies.
  • The Wildlings from beyond the Wall mirror the Scottish/Pictish/Celtic tribes that gave the Roman legions so much trouble and lived beyond Hadrian's Wall, as they come from an inhospitable area of the land with pale skin and red hair being a common trait but names like Tormund, Ygritte, and Styr show obvious early medieval Norse, Dane, Svear and Geat influence and the costuming is clearly influenced by the Sami and Inuit cultures of the far north. Some aspects of their culture and egalitarian/libertarian views towards leadership and nobility also make them more similar to aforementioned Norse, Danes, Svear and Geats, and not to mention their love of axes and tribal organisation.
  • House Bolton:
    • They are basically a Northern European medieval version of Wallachia under Vlad Tepes of House Draculesti. Yes, that one.
    • And in a more obscure but very poignant way, the Swedish House of Trolle. They are both ancient houses, carry a ridiculously violent banner (the Boltons have a flayed man, House of Trolle a decapitated troll) and they betray their northern comrades who wish independence from the southern king at a feast, where the gates are looked and all of the rebels are put to the sword. Just google Stockholm's Bloodbath. And yes, Trolle does mean Troll.
  • House Targaryen being of Valyrian (i.e. "Roman") descent and having access to wildfire, an analogue of Greek Fire, makes them a bit Byzantine. Their preference for dynastic incest to maintain the purity of their bloodline, and their rulership of a land to which they have little ethnic relation and speak a different language, draws from Ptolemaic Egypt. They are also similar to the semi-legendary Tarquinius family, the ancient kings of early Rome. Besides the similarly spelt names and connections to a lost, ancient civilization, Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the final (and notably cruel) Roman king, kidnapping and raping another man's wife is seen as the event that triggered the eventual overthrow of the Etruscan kings and the establishment of the Roman Republic, much like Prince Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark.
  • Martin probably didn't intend this, but there are some echoes of Chinese history as well, especially in names like the Seven Kingdoms and the War of the Five Kings. Keep in mind, he has admitted to playing the video game version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms a lot.
    • A tall wall built to keep northern invaders out, and a commander at the wall who at a crucial point decides to let those invaders through the wall for the sake of the greater good.
    • Chinese viewers have also noted the similarities between Joffrey and 5th-century CE Liu Song dynasty emperor Liu Ziye, who took the throne at 17, already having a reputation for petty cruelty that only got worse once he was crowned, sometimes amusing,note  often not (he had many courtiers killed on his whim, and imprisoned his uncles out of fear that they would overthrow him). This led to him, too, being assassinated after less than a year on the throne.
    • The Targaryen conquest echoes the way the Qin dynasty created the first imperial Chinese state by conquering all the other kingdoms of the Warring States Period and putting them under their rule. The Qin, too, used an animal—horses—unknown to their foes to dominate them.
    • A more modern echo has one of the leaders of the rebellion against the previous, foreign-born rulers who wanted to run things afterward but didn't get to head off to an island offshore and sulk until the right time to come back to the mainland and take what he always thought was his. Stannis Baratheon ... and Chiang Kai-Shek.


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