Today is the premiere of the third season of the wildly popular Game of Thrones series on HBO. I’m a big fan of the show, but I haven’t read the books yet, which is practically heresy for someone aspiring to write fantasy. As penance, this post is about the map of the continent of Westeros, where most of the action takes place in Game of Thrones.
For those who don’t know the series, it’s basically about various factions competing to claim the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, which is at King’s Landing. There are several regions, each ruled by a different leader from a different political house. We start the series following the Starks of Winterfell, but the series shifts to various protagonists, most of which are both good and bad. The morally ambiguous main characters make for a very compelling story.
Let’s go to the map!
This is just one of dozens of maps which were created by fans of the series, and I like it because it shows the political boundaries very clearly.
This map functions perfectly for the fantasy genre. When you look at it, you want to know more about these kingdoms, these cities, and the people who live there. It looks like a world in conflict, with so many kingdoms sharing borders and vying for power. Each kingdom has its own symbol and therefore its own character.
In the North is the Wall, and beyond that the land disappears off the map. What’s up there? They don’t know for sure (at least they don’t by the end of the second book/season). The map reflects the knowledge of the people who live there, so we as readers/viewers are in the same position as the people in Westeros, limited by the current technology in mapping and understanding the world.
This map is fitting for a book named Game of Thrones. It looks like the perfect place to set a Role Playing Game between different factions battling for control of the continent. Or even a board game, where players’ armies occupy spots on the map. Is there a Game of Thrones board game already?
Yes, there is!
As we look at the map of Westeros, we begin to think like the fictional leaders of these factions who are battling for political power. We gaze at King’s Landing from our perch in, say, the Iron Islands and think, “hmm, that looks nice. I think I’ll take it!”
Maps facilitate war. On a map, cities are just circles, like a space on a board game which your piece could move onto with the roll of a dice. A road connects your city to a foreign target, leading your army straight there, stripped of all obstacles which might exist in real life. On a map, a city changing hands from one kingdom to another just means erasing one name and writing another underneath it. Unfortunately, maps ignore the realities of human suffering which go along with the changes in political boundaries. There’s a disconnect between planning a battle in the comfort of one’s map room and actually waging that battle on the ground.
In my book, two kingdoms are at war and the cartographer of Tinggo has drafted battle maps to assist the army. The main difference is that the cartographer is also going to the front lines. For him, war will not be just an abstract movement of troops across a map, but an actual struggle between individual soldiers out for each other’s blood. If we did that in our own world, war planners might think more carefully before pointing to a spot on the globe and ordering an attack.
As for the fantasy genre, for the sake of our entertainment, I hope they never give up their warlike ways.