We still haven’t recovered from the Red Wedding. It has been more than 10 years since the dreaded rhythms of ‘The Rains of Castamere’ heralded the most notorious massacre in Game of Thrones history, and we’re still shocked. But we were even more shocked when we learned that the explosive violence was inspired by real, bloody history.
Game of Thrones author George RR Martin often drew from true historical events in his stories, and this was very much the case when he chose to kill off dozens of Game of Thrones characters at the wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey. In particular, Martin drew from the Black Dinner of 1440 and the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe.
The author explained to Entertainment Weekly that the Black Dinner had a particular element of theatricality to it. This made it a perfectly bleak inspiration for what would go on to become the most famous scene in the best TV series of the 2010s.
“The king of Scotland was fighting the Black Douglas clan. He reached out to make peace. He offered the young Earl of Douglas safe passage. He came to Edinburgh Castle and had a great feast,” said Martin. “Then at the end of the feast, [the king’s men] started pounding on a single drum. They brought out a covered plate and put it in front of the Earl and revealed it was the head of a black boar — the symbol of death. And as soon as he saw it, he knew what it meant. They dragged them out and put them to death in the courtyard.”
The boar’s head element of this is incredibly dramatic and that sense of grotesque theater certainly played out in the Red Wedding. There’s the dramatic foreshadowing of the music, the pithy one-liners, and the stark (no pun intended) brutality. Part of what makes the scene so horrible is the joy on Walder Frey’s face, and how much everyone seems to be having fun with the killing.
As for the sheer murderous scale of the Red Wedding, which marked a goodbye to a huge portion of the Game of Thrones cast, that’s when Martin turned to the Glencoe Massacre. “Clan MacDonald stayed with the Campbell clan overnight and the laws of hospitality supposedly applied. But the Campbells arose and started butchering every MacDonald they could get their hands on,” he said.
And it was Martin who summed everything up best with his concluding note on his historical inspirations. He said: “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse.”
That’s the thing that resonates so strongly about Westeros. The dragons, the zombies, and the fantasy flourishes are pure fiction, but the focus on the vile things human beings do to each other is very real. It’s horrible, but also horribly fascinating to watch.
Of course, the House of the Dragon cast is giving us plenty more of that in the Game of Thrones spin-off, and we’re counting down the days until House of the Dragon season 2. Elsewhere, find out about the simple twist that fixes the Game of Thrones ending and, finally, learn what happened when we asked an AI to write a Jon Snow sequel.