How 'Game of Thrones' Plays With the Past

Game of Thrones S05E06 Still - H 2015
Courtesy of HBO

Game of Thrones S05E06 Still - H 2015

Complete fiction? Not quite. HBO's fantasy draws inspiration from actual war and conflict.

This story first appeared in the June 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Despite the medieval attire and feudal landscapes, Game of Thrones’ dragons, giants and ice zombies are a not-so-subtle reminder that HBO’s fantasy flagship is no historical drama.

But the series has a complex relationship with the past, with many of its most-dissected scenes and episodes taking cues from real-life events. George R.R. Martin, author of the show’s source material (book series A Song of Ice and Fire), often cites the Wars of the Roses as his inspiration. The agonizingly long 15th century conflict between two powerful families (the Plantagenets and the Lancasters) competing for the English throne included plenty of blood, backstabbing and political intrigue — not unlike Thrones’ rivalry between the Starks and the Lannisters.

To cite a few more specific examples: The series’ shocking Red Wedding, a banquet turned bloodbath, has roots in 1440’s Black Dinner, where King James II had Scotland’s powerful Douglas clan beheaded after a seemingly friendly meal. And Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys, an exiled orphan with a claim to the throne and a foreign army at her back, shares many similarities with Henry VII. He grew up in exile before returning to England with an army of French and Scottish soldiers to overthrow Richard III and establish the Tudor dynasty.

There are enough parallels to confuse a few viewers. Snoop Dogg raised eyebrows in May when he mentioned in an interview that he watches the show for "historical" reasons: "I like to know how we got from there to here, and the similarities between then and now."