'Game of Thrones': Five Inspirations for George R.R. Martin's Novels, From Tolkein to Scottish Massacres

Winter is coming to an end.

Game of Thrones Season 7 will have its premiere this Sunday. It's the penultimate season, with seven episodes, and the final season, to air in either 2018 or 2019, will contain six. So, while HBO isn’t quite ready to let go of its dragon-laden cash cow, it’s worth looking back on what inspired George R.R. Martin to write A Song of Ice and Fire in the first place. As series superfans know, the historical and fictional influences for both the novels and the show provide a well of hints for the big reveals we can next expect from Cersei, Jon Snow and all the rest.

Here are a few of the biggest inspirations for the dysfunctional world of Westeros.

war-of-the-roses King Richard III's Yorkist troops fight Lancastrians in the Battle of Bosworth Field, during the War of the Roses, August 22, 1485. King Richard III was defeated and killed by Henry of Richmond who became Henry VII. Engraving after Philip James de Loutherbourg. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The War of the Roses

The 15th century battles fought for control of England are likely the best parallel, real-world event to A Song of Ice and Fire. The War of the Roses involved feuding between royal houses (one of which was named “Lancaster”); mentally unstable kings; and some pretty brutal murders. Some fans have gone as far as to create one-to-one comparisons between the historical players and their supposed fictional counterparts in Martin’s books. Martin himself has dismissed the notion: “I like to use history to flavor my fantasy, to add texture and verisimilitude, but simply rewriting history with the names changed has no appeal for me. I prefer to re-imagine it all, and take it in new and unexpected directions.” After all, there (probably) weren’t dragons in 15th century England. And, as Martin has also pointed out, there is a significant problem with historical fiction: “I know how the historical fiction is going to end! A story on the War of the Roses can only end one way!”

the-accursed-kings Del Duca/Plon

The Accursed Kings by Maurice Druon

Martin has called this 20th-century historical fiction series “the original game of thrones.” Depicting the French monarchy throughout the 14th century, Druon’s seven books (published between 1955 and 1977) have been adapted into two French miniseries that in Martin’s words are a bit like a French I, Claudius. “The Accursed Kings has it all: iron kings and strangled queens, battles and betrayals, lies and lust, deception, family rivalries, the curse of the Templars, babies switched at birth, she-wolves, sin and swords, the doom of a great dynasty and all of it (or most of it) straight from the pages of history,” Martin wrote for The Guardian.

hadrians-wall Volunteers set out to light beacons along Hadrian's Wall at Steel Rigg , Northumberland,on March 13, 2010 to mark British Tourism Week. There are 500 individual points of light, at roughly 250-meter intervals, along the route of the 84 mile Hadrian's Wall Path National Trail. The Wall was built as a readily defended fortification which clearly defined the northern frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain. Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

Hadrian’s Wall

Also known as the Roman Wall, this 84-mile barricade, built by the emperor Hadrian in 122 A.D., ran east to west through northern Britain. It served as the model for the blockade, known simply as The Wall, that protects Westeros from the Wildings to the north in A Song of Ice and Fire. In a 2000 interview, Martin remarked on the experience of standing atop Hadrian’s Wall: “To stand there, to gaze off into the distance, not knowing what might emerge from the forest. Of course fantasy is the stuff of bright colors and being larger than real life, so my Wall is bigger and considerably longer and more magical. And, of course, what lies beyond it has to be more than just Scots.”

glencoe-massacre Members of the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement hold their annual Glencoe commemoration rally on February 10, 2013 in Glencoe, Scotland. The rally marks the anniversary of the Massacre of Glencoe when on the February 13, 1692 members of the MacDonald clan were murdered in their home by soldiers under the charge of Archibald Campbell, 10th earl of Argyll. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Two Scottish Massacres

The infamous Red Wedding is, according to Martin, based on two real-life Scottish events. In 1440, members of the rebellious Douglas clan were invited by King James II of Scotland to dine with him. As they ate, “[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.” The king then executed the Earl in the courtyard, and the incident became known as the Black Dinner. The other event, the Massacre of Glencoe, occurred in 1692. Thirty-eight members of Clan MacDonald were killed after they were invited to stay with Clan Campbell overnight; although the “rules of hospitality” dictated that the host should do no harm to their guests and supposedly applied, the feud between the two clans was strong enough for the promise to be broken.

fiction-books A picture taken on November 14, 2014 shows bookshelves in the renovated National University Library (Bibliotheque Nationale Universitaire or BNU in French) in Strasbourg, eastern France. The renovation works started in October 2010. FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images

Classic Science Fiction/Fantasy

Martin has named everyone from J.R.R. Tolkein to Isaac Asimov to H.P. Lovecraft as literary inspirations for his show. “It was all imaginative literature, or as my dad called it, ‘Weird Stuff,’” says Martin. “I never drew any sharp distinctions between science fiction and fantasy or horror. It was all good stuff.” British science fiction novelist Adam Roberts once compared Martin’s writing style to the “grimdark” subgenre of speculative fiction, characterized by a dystopian, violent or bleak worldview, “where nobody is honorable and Might Is Right.” He is, in other words, the “anti-Tolkien.”

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO, beginning July 16.