5 Times Game of Thrones Got Mythology and History Really Right

Ancient Winter is Coming!

Season six of Game of Thrones doesn't premiere until April 24 and George R.R. Martin hasn't finished Winds of Winter yet, but you can still get your fantasy fix here at About.com! Here are five ways Martin borrowed inspiration from ancient history and myth to create the wonderful world of Westeros.

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The Wall

The Wall, boundary of the North!. HBO/YouTube

Ever wonder where the Wall, the great northern boundary of the Seven Kingdoms, came from? Try Hadrian’s Wall, a 73-mile-long fortification constructed by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 122 C.E. to guard his British conquests. Sure, the real-life wall wasn’t built of ice and didn't loom hundreds of feet high like the Wall of Westeros, but it was still super-impressive. Martin recalls that he visited northern England in 1981 and stood atop Hadrian’s Wall, imagining what it must have been like for Roman soldiers stationed there; that moment served as the inspiration for the great Wall of Westerns.

Both walls guarded southern territories from northern “barbarians”; in the case of Hadrian’s fortification, manned by Roman soldiers, the alleged offenders were the tribes occupying what is now Scotland, including the Picts and Scotti. The fictional Wall, however, had the Night’s Watch, a specific group of men dedicated to protecting the boundary, which was aimed at keeping out the likes of the Others. 

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A fancy Bran (a.k.a. actor Isaac Hempstead Wright). Karma Tang/Contributor/Getty Images

Little Bran, the youngest Stark sibling, has gone on more than his fair share of adventures, but his three-eyed raven pal is rather mysterious. But when we delve into mythology, as often happens, the genesis of some of Martin’s ideas come to light. In Celtic myth, there was a hero Bran the Blessed, and guess what “Bran” means in Welsh? “Raven,” of course!

Just as Martin’s Bran has the magical ability of foresight, Bran the Blessed also had special skills. He owned a magical horn of plenty and, after his death, his severed head was buried beneath London to ward off invaders. And as the wise folks on Reddit note, Bran Stark was paralyzed after the Jaime Lannister tossed him off a tower, while Bran the Blessed had some crippling wounds of his own. 

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Royal Incest

The Lannister siblings were real problem children. HBO/YouTube

The Targaryen family, former rulers of Westeros, had the habit of marrying close relatives to keep the royal blood pure, to avoid mingling royal blood with polluted families. But this wasn’t a novel idea. That was a common notion amongst a number of ruling clans in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the ancient Egyptians.

For thousands of years, pharaohs often wed their sisters or daughters as a means of doubling up on the royal bloodline, though kings, of course, also had many concubines or minor wives, but their chief wives were really, really close blood relatives. Since the pharaohs considered themselves pretty much divine, they had to do as the gods did—i.e., marrying siblings!

Interestingly, during the Amarna period, Egyptian monarchs refused to marry off princesses of the royal house to foreign kings; conversely, though, pharaohs took tons of foreign brides for themselves. Did they think their girls were too good for their fellow monarchs? Probably!

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Brutally Murdering Baby Royals

The Mountain threatens the royal babies. HBO/YouTube

Before Robert Baratheon became king, he had to boot out his Targaryen rivals first. One of those was Daenerys's older brother, Prince Rhaegar, and his wife and babies. During the Sack of King's Landing, Gregor Clegane committed some dastardly deeds, raping and murdering Rhaegar's wife, Princess Elia, and then killing his two little kids, Rhaenys and Aegon. As awful as this was, he managed to eliminate Robert's rival heirs to the throne.

Warriors committing atrocities on infants is nothing new, though, if you're a fan of Greek myth. At the very end of the Trojan War, when the Greeks sacked the city of Troy, many of the Achaean warriors wrought havoc on the women and children they encountered. In particular, either Odysseus or Achilles's son Neoptolemus turned brutal and tossed Hector's baby son, Astyanax, over the walls of the city. Like Aegon, the boy was a potential heir to the throne of a revitalized Troy, if it ever got back on its feet.

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A War Over a Woman

Lyanna Stark started a battle for the Iron Throne, seen here. HBO/YouTube

Lord Eddard Stark's sister, the beautiful Lyanna, was the face that launched a thousand spears. When Daenerys's older brother fell for her at a competition, he gave Lyanna the prize of the day and later abducted her! Her brother and her betrothed (Robert, later king) went after her, kicking off a war that toppled the Targaryens from the throne.

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Helen of Troy was another beauty who caused a major conflict - in this case, the ten-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Helen either ran off with - or was abducted by - the Trojan prince Paris, causing her husband, King Menelaus of Sparta, to chase after her with all of his Greek pals. As a result of her falling in love with Paris, many on both sides died and cities fell.