Game of Thrones

There are seven kingdoms. Hundreds of noble families. Three dragons. One wall to keep out the terrors of the icy world beyond. And one iron throne that rules it all. Welcome to Westeros, the fictional continent at the heart of HBO’s hit TV show Game of Thrones, based on a series of novels by George R. R. Martin. Both the books and the show are beloved by tens of millions of fans all around the world, and have become known for graphic scenes of sex and violence. But the fantasy tale is based on real-life English history. As such, there are deeper themes beneath the blood and gore. In the end, it is really a tale about power — who has it, who wants it, and how easily does it corrupt?

Power

There are several ways that the characters in Game of Thrones seek and lose power. Some choose war and violence; others marriage and sex. Then there are those that look to the mysterious religions on the continent, which seem to wield a supernatural power of their own. One thing is certain: everyone wants more of it. Does this reflect the real world?

Violence

Westeros is no stranger to violence. It was conquered using dragons almost 300 years before the action of the series begins, and the current king has recently usurped and killed his predecessor. But even when they are not at war with one other, the characters can still be incredibly violent — and even the main players are often killed in brutal and unexpected ways.

Family

There are nine “great houses” (often large noble families) ruling over the various regions of Westeros. Although people are mostly loyal to their own family above all else, there can be betrayals — and there is almost always tension between brothers and sisters, parents and children. Illegitimate heirs add an extra layer of complexity. How important is family?

History

The past has a powerful force in Westeros — the wars and betrayals of years gone-by often re-emerge as grudges in the present. The story is also based on the real-life history of the Wars of the Roses, when two rival families battled for the throne of England in the fifteenth century.

Good and Evil

As in life, very few characters in Game of Thrones are wholly bad or wholly evil — everyone is a little of both. (Although some are definitely more evil than others.) When asked about the theme of his books, Martin admitted that this was his main inspiration. He quoted William Faulkner: “The human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about.”