George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, although depicting a fictional fantasy world, is replete with parallels to European and Roman history, and the author will be the first in line to tell you about them.
These parallels are readily apparent in the recently released The World of Ice and Fire, which details lineages and circumstances of Westeros’ kings and deeper history, as well as the arc of empire that lead to the present day Targaryen-less Seven Kingdoms in Westeros. It’s a fascinating read, and recently Vulture sat down with Martin to dig deeper into the history behind the history.
Perhaps the most important thing to take away from that discussion was thus: The characters in A Song of Ice and Fire who know their history are the ones you REALLY want to watch.
Spoilers for all published books, Winds of Winter, and the show ahead.
For devout readers, Martin talking about history’s influence on the storyline isn’t anything new. Recently, however, further details on the events of The Long Night from The World of Ice and Fire have shed some light on possible ways that the characters in the book might turn back the Others. While talking with Vulture, Martin stressed the importance of those same characters coming to the same realization.
“But you know who does know a lot of [the history]?” Martin teased. “Tyrion.” Tyrion, who likes to make sure the royals in his vicinity have the benefit of a good education, might be inclined to share what he’s learned, but without his influence in King’s Landing, Cersei, the Queen Regent, is ruling blindly.
“That’s accurate to history, of course,” Martin said about Cersei’s unintentional myopia. “During the War of the Roses, the Lancasters and the Yorks were concerned about each other, and to an extent, what was going on in France, and to a lesser extent, what was going on in Spain and Germany. They knew Hungary and Morocco existed, but they didn’t really care what was happening beyond that. ’What the hell is south of Morocco?’ ’What is going on past Russia?’ They didn’t care.”
Considering how the events of A Dance With Dragons wind up, along with what we’ve seen from the released chapters of The Winds of Winter, Martin’s spotlight on Tyrion as a key figure in this regards is telling. If he manages to link up with Daenerys, will Tyrion be able to impart the warnings of history upon the Dragon Queen? Will he want to? Tyrion is understandably wary of queens and Daenerys is waiting for a betrayal that may never materialize.
It’s a tension that hangs increasingly over the series. Can the characters we love to read about actually ignore the game of thrones for long enough to save their own world? Martin has gone on record stating that A Song of Ice and Fire will have a bittersweet ending. What if failure and escape are the only option for Westeros? If history repeats, perhaps the true epic we are reading actually chronicles the end of history for Westeros.
Not just the world, but the narrative itself it seems, hinges on Tyrion’s knowledge of history!