How Scottish history inspired Game of Thrones

Rose Leslie in HBO's hit TV series Game of Thrones. Picture: Sky Atlantic
Rose Leslie in HBO's hit TV series Game of Thrones. Picture: Sky Atlantic
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THE Iron Throne is to be given a tartan trim. The Scottish inspiration behind Game of Thrones, the best-selling series of fantasy novels adapted into the popular HBO television drama, will be explored today in a sell-out event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

George RR Martin will explain how historical events from Scottish history such as Hadrian’s Wall and the Glencoe massacre inspired elements in his best-selling novels such as “the Wall” – a giant fortification designed to keep back barbarian tribes – and the “Red Wedding” in which a brutal massacre takes place while a royal family are enjoying their host’s hospitality.

Actress Emilia Clarke portrays ''Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones. Picture: Sky Atlantic

Actress Emilia Clarke portrays ''Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones. Picture: Sky Atlantic

The author, who lives in Texas, will be speaking to Stuart Kelly, a former Booker Prize judge and regular contributor to The Scotsman’s book pages, in an event which is also being broadcast live by BBC Arts.

Martin reportedly started work on the massive series of novels after becoming disillusioned as a screenwriter and considered them unfilmable. However, the books have now been adapted into a hugely popular TV series that has shocked audiences with its graphic scenes of sex and violence.

Among the most controversial episodes was the dramatisation of a chapter in one of his novels called The Red Wedding in which King Robb Stark, his pregnant wife and mother, along with his bannermen and men-at-arms are all massacred following a marriage feast. The event was inspired by the Glencoe massacre of 1692 when the Clan Macdonald of Glencoe were killed by their guests, the Campbells, who had earlier accepted their hospitality.

Mr Kelly said yesterday: “I’m going to be asking him about his relationship to Scotland. The Red Wedding is like Glencoe. You have got the domestic politics that are partly War of the Roses and the Greyjoys are like the Lords of the Isles.

“You have got the Wall and the barbarians north of it and he has gone on record to say that Walter Scott’s romances were a very important part in the development of this kind of world. This is Ivanhoe and chivalry, there are knights in tournaments disguising themselves and this is straight out of Scott.”

As the series of fantasy novels contain dragons there have been comparisons to the work of JRR Tolkien and Lord of the Rings, however, Martin’s novels are far more adult in nature.

Mr Kelly said: “He is like Tolkien in some ways and is utterly unlike Tolkien in other ways. What you do not have in 
Tolkien is violence, sex, politics and religion and what he thrives on is creating a world where there are actually motivating factors for people’s behaviour.

“It is a very realistic fantasy. I think he is an immensely skilful writer, the way in which the point of view changes between chapters, basically allows him to create a cliffhanger every 30 pages. That is why people are skimming through the books, setting the TV series aside.”

The TV series has been a huge success for the film industry of Northern Ireland where it has been filming for the past five years. However, the pilot episode, which has never been seen, was filmed at Doune Castle in Stirlingshire, where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was also shot.

Yesterday, Nick Barley, 
director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “George RR Martin’s work has caught the imagination of hundreds of thousands of readers around the world, and the TV series of Game of Thrones has won him even more fans.

“We are thrilled that he will be joining us in Charlotte Square Gardens in a rare UK appearance this week for two events, one to discuss his writing, and the second to explore the relationship between his books and the screen adaptation of his work.

“We are also delighted that the BBC will be streaming his first event live on the BBC Arts site so that his fans around the world can join us in Charlotte Square Gardens.”


Scotland gets its own Game of Thrones