With a new pop up Game of Thrones themed bar ‘Blood and Wine’ opening in Edinburgh in January to much expectation and fanfare, Scottish fans of the hit TV show will be able to get a taste of Westeros life without a bloodbath in sight.
And as a location, the atmospheric capital seems the perfect fit for the tavern, especially given the fact that the infamous red wedding scene from the show was based on real life events which occured a stone’s throw away in Edinburgh Castle, namely ‘The Black Dinner’.
The 1440 event at the castle served as a gruesome inspiration for the show. On the night of November 24th, a 16 year old Earl of Douglas, William Douglas and his younger brother David – young heirs to the powerful Douglas clan – were beheaded in the palace yard – in the presence of 10 year old King James II.
This, after an invite to dinner in the castle by then Lord Chancellor Crichton, who himself was involved in a power struggle with the Earl of Avondale and Sir Alexander Livingstone of Callendar for the title of regent.
At the dinner a black bull’s head was served – a sign of condemnation – and served up on a platter, before the king’s men were dragged out to the castle courtyard, where a mock trial found them guilty of high treason.
As George R R Martin himself noted, “The Red Wedding is based on a couple real events from Scottish history. No matter how much I make up there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse.”
The second inspiration, undoubtedly, that of the Massacre of Glencoe. When, in 1692, members of the Clan Douglas were received as guests by Clan Campbell. What was intended as a peaceful gathering transformed into one of the bloodiest moments in Scottish history. Despite the prevalent laws of hospitality at the time, the Douglas men butchered their hosts on the grounds that the Campbells had not acknowledged the new monarch.
Scotland may serve as inspiration for ‘The Lands of Always Winter’, more commonly known as that beyond The Wall. The Wall of ice that divides Westeros from the wildlings and white walkers is placed on the map of Westeros in more or less the exact same spot as Hadrian’s Wall is on the UK map. The Westeros map itself closely resembles England, with an upside down Ireland beneath it, with Scotland what lies ‘beyond’ the wall.
Indeed Martin visited the site prior to penning GOT, and recalled, “I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a Roman soldier… to gaze off into the distance, not knowing what might emerge from the forest.”
We can also draw references to Stirling Bridge in Game Of Thrones in the form of The Twins, the fortified dual keep river crossing of House Frey in the series – one where its importance lies in it being the only crossing point over the Green Fork for hundreds of miles in each direction.
Being the only bridge going over a major river – one which effectively cuts the land in half – mirrors exactly how Stirling Bridge cut off the Lowlands from the Highlands in Scotland. It is a decisive factor in Westeros, just as it was in Scotland – as the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 illustrates.
The Royal Regiment of Scotland, the famous Black Watch, which served until 2006, could have served as the inspiration for ‘The Night’s Watch’ – the protectors of the free people of Westeros and guardians of The Wall. With the regiment set up in 1725 following the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 to patrol the Highlands, its easy to see a connection. The force was known in Gaelic as Am Freiceadan Dubh, namely “the dark” or “black watch”.
And if we look at some of the islands that feature in the series, there are references to be seen within Scotland. Firstly, we have the Iron Islands, a group of seven rocky islands clustered far off the western coast of the mainland of the continent. The geographic location, and culture practised by the ‘Ironborn’ inhabitants, more than resembles the distinct Norse Gaelic culture which grew up in the Western Isles.
Secondly, we have The Summer Isles, which, in the series, are a large archipelago of islands locates south of Westeros. The birthplace of Greyworm (who serves Daenerys Targaryen), the islands in the book share their name with the real life Summer Isles, an archipelago lying in the mouth of Loch Broom, in the North West Scottish Highlands.
Interestingly, and most obviously amongst Game of Thrones references, the Islands lie off the coast of the area of the North West highlands called Wester Ross, an area known for its spectacular mountain scenery.
It is believed George R R Martin, when visiting the region, was so in awe of the landscape that it inspired him to steal the name for Westeros. If it wasn’t a visit to the region that served as an inspiration for Martin, some believe the name was taken from a certain Scottish band made up of twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid.
The Proclaimers 1987 hit ‘Letter from America’ has the line ‘The way you felt the day you sailed from Wester Ross to Nova Scotia’, and on listening to it, it sounds more like ‘Westeros’ than ‘Wester Ross’. Perhaps then Martin is a closet Proclaimers fan, and we have the twins behind hits like ‘Sunshine On Leith’ and ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ to thank.