Historical Periods

Mountain vs. Viper Duel Echoes Medieval History

In the seventh episode of the first season of Game of Thrones, Cersei Lannister speaks the line from which the series takes its name: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” Since 2011, a fever for Machiavellian treachery and ever-looming supernatural doom has moved beyond the usual fantasy-reading public’s borders, with a growing base of aficionados following the fortunes of the Lannisters, Starks, Targaryens and others. The show has, at…

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Hansel and Gretel: Cannibalism Part II

After a great famine had descended on the land, a starving woodcutter talks over the hardest decision of his life with his wife, the children’s “evil” stepmother. She persuades him to abandon the children; it is either that or starve. The woodcutter takes his two emaciated children, Hansel and Gretel, deep into the forest where he expects they will probably never find their way out. [This article is continued from here.] Hansel and Gretel come upon a gingerbread house where…

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Hey Good Looking, What’s Cooking? Cannibalism in the Middle Ages

In a stomach turning scene, Game of Thrones depicted the Thenn – a hybrid of the A Song of Ice and Fire Skagosi and Thenn – roasting an “arm of Crow”. In Game of Thrones, the Thenn, a free folk who came from the most northern regions beyond the Wall, are cannibalistic. They like to feast on their enemies. Did cannibals exist in the Middle Ages? Yes, they did: both in folklore and in fact. ** No doubt the couple…

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The Time Traveller’s Manual to a Medieval Wedding

The government has issued a safety advisory against attending weddings in Westeros. However, you are cordially invited to travel back in time to attend the greatest wedding of the fifteenth century. This event will blow your mind with its conspicuous consumption the likes of which you will probably never hear tell of in the modern world. Do you accept? Great. Make sure you rest up! This medieval wedding has ten days of partying and festivities – not to mention the…

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Dracula: Impalement, Punishment by Proxy of his Brother’s Lover?

What drove Dracula? Vlad the Impaler, commonly known as simply “Dracula,” was a Transylvanian noble man whose atrocities and military escapades were so notoriously savage that his legend lives on today when his contemporaries have been nearly forgotten. During his reign, Vlad killed 80,000 people, including the 20,000 he impaled on stakes at  Târgoviste  and placed in the path of Ottoman leader Mehmed II’s invading  army.   Dracula’s atrocities stood out in a medieval world where life was cheap and…

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More about Sigils

George RR Martin recommends some  history books on his website, so I decided to order a few. The Dictionary of Heraldry arrived the other day. I opened it up, and low and behold, the first few pages are filled with the seals of England’s oldest noble families: the Percys, de Veres, Stranges, and others.  These seals date back to the first centuries after the Norman conquest. What’s most interesting about these early seals is that they include the word “SIGILLUM” on…

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From Downton Abbey to Game of Thrones: Service and Death of the Great Household

Ned Stark, Robb Stark, and other lords are almost never without their men. Men such as Ser Illyn Payne and Jory Cassel, the captain of Ned’s household guard at Winterfell, served kings and nobles and lived in their households. Jory Cassel and other men in Ned’s retinue accompany Ned everywhere. Ned’s retinue is with him when he executes Will the deserter from the Night’s Watch. Jory is with Ned when the Starks find the direwolf puppies. Jory is also with…

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Sigils in Game of Thrones, Medieval Marketing

Game of Thrones famously employs “words” and sigils to represent houses. As we all know, House Stark’s words are “Winter is Coming” and their sigil is the dire wolf. George RR Martin lifted sigils, banners, and words directly from the pages of real-life history – although he did rename them and made them more transparent to readers. Badges, coats of arm, banners, mottoes all fall under the broad and extremely complex category of heraldry. George RR Martin was right to…

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Is Chivalry Death?

“Explain to me why it is more noble to kill 10,000 men at battle than a dozen at dinner?” Twyin Lannister rhetorically asks Tyrion when Tyrion disparages Tywin’s role in the Red Wedding.1  Tywin’s question embodies one of the central philosophical issues in Game of Thrones: did chivalry cause more harm than good? Tywin and Lord Frey’s actions possibly prevented thousands of deaths. By resolving the conflict with Robb Stark quickly, Tywin may have saved the lives of half his…

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Theon, the Castrated Viking

Please note: This article is sexually explicit in ways some readers may find offensive or distasteful. It presents disturbing mental images, which parallel events in the show, and contains mild sexually graphic artifacts. Balon Greyjoy and his daughter Yara (Asha in the books) receive a parcel, a “special gift,” and a mysterious letter, sealed by what looks like piece of skin and House Bolton’s flayed man sigil.1  The message informs Balon that Ramsay Snow is holding Theon hostage. Ramsay warns Balon to…

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