Game of Thrones is roughly based on the storylines of A Song of Ice and Fire, set in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the continent of Essos. The series chronicles the violent dynastic struggles among the realm’s noble families for the Iron Throne, while other families fight for independence from it. It opens with additional threats in the icy North and Essos in the east.
Showrunner David Benioff jokingly suggested “The Sopranos in Middle-earth” as Game of Thrones’ tagline, referring to its intrigue-filled plot and dark tone in a fantasy setting of magic and dragons. In a 2012 study of deaths per episode, it ranked second out of 40 recent U.S. TV drama series (with an average of 14).
Main article: Themes in A Song of Ice and Fire
The series is generally praised for what is perceived as a sort of medieval realism. George R.R. Martin set out to make the story feel more like historical fiction than contemporary fantasy, with less emphasis on magic and sorcery and more on battles, political intrigue, and the characters, believing that magic should be used moderately in the epic fantasy genre. Martin has stated that “the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves.”
A common theme in the fantasy genre is the battle between good and evil, which Martin says does not mirror the real world. Just like people’s capacity for good and for evil in real life, Martin explores the questions of redemption and character change. The show allows the audience to view different characters from their perspective, unlike in many other fantasies, and thus the supposed villains can provide their side of the story. Benioff said, “George brought a measure of harsh realism to high fantasy. He introduced gray tones into a black-and-white universe.”
Main characters are regularly killed off, and this has been credited with developing tension among viewers. The series also reflects the substantial death rates in war.
Inspirations and derivations
Although the first season is a faithful adaptation of the novel, later seasons have significant changes. According to David Benioff, the show is “about adapting the series as a whole and following the map George laid out for us and hitting the major milestones, but not necessarily each of the stops along the way”.
Tom Holland of The Guardian believes that the novels and their adaptations base aspects of their settings, characters, and plot on events in European history. Most of Westeros is reminiscent of high medieval Europe, from lands and cultures, to the palace intrigue, feudal system, castles, and knightly tournaments. A principal inspiration for the novels is the English Wars of the Roses (1455–85) between the houses of Lancaster and York, reflected in Martin’s houses of Lannister and Stark. And the scheming Cersei evokes Isabella, the “she-wolf of France” (1295–1358); Isabella and her family (particularly as portrayed in Maurice Druon’s historical-novel series, The Accursed Kings) were also a main inspiration for Martin.