As Game of Thrones ends, a revealing resolution to its perplexing geography.
- The fantasy world of Game of Thrones was inspired by real places and events.
- But the map of Westeros is a good example of the perplexing relation between fantasy and reality.
- Like Britain, it has a Wall in the North, but the map only really clicks into place if you add Ireland.
A world of "goblin porn"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTQ5MDExMi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MjQ1MzM1MX0.7Nt6e30kVePubmQk9r-JGt5vIUuH9MuLuRzTNjcyAFI/img.png?width=980" id="acfba" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e869701dc1f5a1bc69363de4125f6c9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Known World, with Westeros top left. Image source: A Wiki of Ice and Fire / public domain<p>Warning: if you haven't caught up, mild spoiler ahead.</p><p>"Hell is other people talking about <em>Game of Thrones</em>," <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/14/i-dont-watch-game-of-thrones-which-makes-me-a-lot-more-interesting-than-you" target="_blank">writes Arwa Mahdawi</a> in <em>The Guardian</em> this week. A few days more, and the eighth and final season of the show she dubs "densely plotted goblin porn" — clearly, she's not a fan — will be over.</p><p>Meanwhile, hell is hard to avoid. When it comes to following GoT, I'm on Team Arwa (a.k.a. <a href="https://www.facebook.com/SLContentProvider/videos/10155869239233512/?v=10155869239233512" target="_blank">Team Stewart</a>) but even we have heard rumors about a sudden bout of genocidal mania, and Daenerys perhaps no longer being <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/05/13/why-least-parents-may-be-having-regrets-after-last-nights-game-thrones/?utm_term=.5be533887eb0" target="_blank">such a good baby name</a>.</p><p>Fortunately for map nerds, GoT's dense plotting also extends to its topography. Just like the series' peoples, protagonists and events — often borrowed from actual history, then slightly altered — its fictional map is more than loosely based on ours.</p>
Maps to frame fantasy<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTQ5MDEwNy9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDc2MDMwNn0.RWN-x_wlWjZm6N6SZ-m-M5JilodSGIOaRhsZ1XoRt30/img.png?width=980" id="a0a0f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c58983afcc622614e06589c42f56871a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The first part of Gulliver's Travels (1726) contained a Map of Lilliput and Blefuscu, showing the fictional islands positioned in the Indian Ocean, north-west of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). Image source: British Library / public domain<p>Fantasy locations have been a literary device at least since Plato spun his stories about <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/394-athanasius-kirchers-atlantis" target="_self">Atlantis</a>, back in the 4th century BC. From Plato only a description of the island survives, more recent tales of fictional geography came with a map: Thomas More's <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/51-a-colour-map-of-utopia" target="_self"><em>Utopia</em></a>, Jonathan Swift's Lilliput (and other islands visited by Gulliver), and Robert Louis Stevenson's <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/378-x-m-aarrrh-ks-the-spot" target="_self"><em>Treasure Island</em></a>. </p><p>The watershed fantasy map, the one that spawned a thousand imitations, is the map of Middle-Earth, <a href="https://www.countrylife.co.uk/out-and-about/focus-hand-drawn-maps-jrr-tolkien-launched-middle-earth-181987" target="_blank">created by J.R.R. Tolkien himself</a> (from the 1920s to the 1940s): as the endpapers to the <em>Lord of the Rings</em> trilogy, they framed the wanderings of the Fellowship, the movements of armies and heroes, and the deep history underlying the narrative. </p><p>"I wisely started with a map and made the story fit," Tolkien once quipped. George R.R. Martin did it the other way around: he envisaged the opening scene of the first book of <em>A Song of Ice and Fire </em>(the book series adapted as GoT) and built the tale — and the world around it — from there.</p>
Not just a badly drawn Britain<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTQ5MDExNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjAyNDMzN30.kyFri8hL3N-4bZbulzhawa0yDAONO_tfEi6eis1XOVI/img.jpg?width=980" id="c814e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2aa6bb52e9348162d213dc8a02da3ce5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Mighty Westeros side by side with tiny Britain. Image source: Imgur<p>Only then did he take on the mantle of the First Cartographer, and it's his hand-drawn maps that appear in the books. Another similarity with Tolkien, whose <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/121-where-on-earth-was-middle-earth" target="_self">fantasy world was inspired by real geography</a> was that Martin also drew his world with one eye on the map of Europe, and especially the British Isles. </p><p>Most of the action, in the books and the series, takes place on the continent of Westeros (there is a whole Known World out there as well). There's an obvious parallel with Great Britain in the Wall in the North: at 700 feet high and 300 miles long, it is a clear extrapolation of Hadrian's Wall (a mere 73 miles long, and never higher than 20 feet). </p><p>Westeros is much bigger than Britain, though: about 3,000 miles from the Wall to the south coast, about six times the distance from Aberdeen to London. But Westeros is not just a badly drawn Britain, nor a mirrored version of its land mass (two popular theories). Things click into place — literally — if you do the following: </p><p>Take Ireland, turn it on its head, inflate it by about a third, and stick it to Britain's bottom (via a new land bridge called The Neck). And hey presto, there's Westeros.</p>