Game of Thrones is all of these things, and though George R.R. Martin creates his world on a grand, fantastical scale, it recalls the time in English history that was full of bloodshed, betrayal and wary alliances (although when wasn’t that happening?). A time when two royal families, Lancaster and York, fought to wear the crown of England—the War of the Roses.
Death plays a major role in this series, as it did in the Middle Ages, when living past thirty was considered quite a feat, and when bearing a child could mean death to a woman, both noble and poor.
Knowing too, that “Winter is coming” places all the characters, and the viewers, in a constant state of fear. Life for these souls “is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Hobbes) What’s more is one cannot fathom what is worse, the politic of court life in King’s Landing, aka London, or the wilds of the North, ie Scotland.
And just like history, compelling characters—of whom there are many—pull you even deeper into the story. When the series began, it was a bit daunting to be confronted with such a vast array of characters: Everyone from the noble Ned Stark to the sinister Cersei, and my goodness, Martin wastes no time in plunging our burgeoning feelings for his characters right over a cliff.
I liken Cersei to Margaret of Anjou, French queen of Henry VI, a woman who tenaciously fought for her sons’ right to the throne, at the cost of many a life.
Ned Stark disputed Joffrey’s right to the throne because he suspected he was the son of Cersei’s incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime Lannister, not borne of her marriage to Robert Baratheon. It has been widely speculated that Margaret of Anjou’s son was not Henry VI’s at all, but was in fact the product of an affair with one of her courtiers!
So—great story-telling or an ability to use history as a realistic springboard? Perhaps a bit of both.