1. The Red Wedding
What happened in Game of Thrones: Oh, the Red Wedding! Who could forget? When, like, 25% of your favourite GoT characters were laughing and feasting and making merry, and then the bride’s brother stabbed a pregnant woman repeatedly in the stomach, and someone shot Robb Stark with a crossbow, and another guy cut Catelyn’s throat, and blood spurted everywhere. Such fun!
True-life horror – The Black Dinner, Scotland, 1440
So for the real-life version, imagine the Red Wedding but at a children’s tea party. The conniving grown-up guardians of 10-year-old King James II invited 16-year-old William Douglas, head of a super powerful Scottish clan, and his little brother David for a weekend of supposed fun and feasting at the castle. After the feast, the king’s men placed a black bull’s head on the table – which was like the “impending massacre” emoji of medieval times. Little King James begged for mercy but William and David were beheaded.
2. The Lannisters vs the Starks
What happened in Game of Thrones: War, betrayal, child marriage, beheadings, everyone looking at a head on a stick after a beheading: The battle between the Lannisters and the Starks has produced some of GoT’s most twisted moments.
True-life horror – The Lancasters vs the Yorks, England, 1455–87
These two rival families spent decades battling for the English throne in what’s known as the War of the Roses. One of the bloodiest battles happened in Wakefield, Yorkshire, climaxing in the death of just about everyone on the York side, including their leader, Richard. With definite echoes of the fate of Ned Stark, Richard’s head was chopped off and stuck on the gates of York for everyone to enjoy – especially hungry birds.
What happened in Game of Thrones: King Joffrey, fruit of incest, is without a doubt one of the darkest, most fucked-up people in the dark and fucked-up land of Westeros. Highlights of his reign include shooting a prostitute at close range with a crossbow, and ordering the beheading of his fiancé’s father right before her eyes.
True-life horror – Edward of Lancaster, heir to the English throne 1453–71
Prince Edward (who was also rumoured to be illegitimate) was by all accounts a bloodthirsty little tyrant much like Joffrey. By the age of 13, his hobbies and interests included cutting off heads, war, and randomly attacking his friends with his sword or lance just for lols.
4. The Wall
What happened in Game of Thrones: 300 miles long, 700ft high, frozen solid by the bitter winds of the icy north, and jammed full of sexually frustrated ex-cons, the Wall is one of the most grisly places in GoT.
True-life horror – Hadrian’s Wall
In 122AD, the Romans built an 80-mile wall across England to keep out the “barbarians” of what’s now Scotland. There were countless bloody assaults on the wall by Scottish tribes, but one of the most memorable was the Great Conspiracy in the winter of 367, when disgruntled Roman soldiers allowed northern tribes to cross the wall into England. Marauding bands of angry tribesmen stormed across the country, burning down villages, raping, killing, and pillaging the fuck out of everything.
5. The War of the Five Kings
What happened in Game of Thrones: Following the death of King Robert Baratheon, Westeros falls into conflict, with five men vying for the throne: Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Renley Baratheon, Robb Stark, and Balon Greyjoy. Endless carnage ensues.
True-life horror – The Hundred Years’ War, Europe, 1337–1453
This was a hideously bloody and drawn-out conflict between England and France, in which everybody felt they deserved to be king of France. There were endless battles on land and sea, blood gushed everywhere, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and one of the “highlights” was when 17-year-old Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. Good times.
6. The Dothraki
What happened in Game of Thrones: The Dothraki screamers, or “horse lords”, led by Khal Drogo, are a tribe of barbaric GoT warriors who thunder through Essos gang-raping, murdering, and, y’know, pillaging.
True-life horror – The Mongols, 13th–14th century
The Mongols were a nomadic tribe that rampaged across Asia and Europe spreading terror wherever they went. Legend has it that after they invaded China, the streets of the capital were left “greasy” with the fat and flesh of their victims. After they razed the city of Riazan in Russia, the Mongols ruthlessly killed all but a few survivors, who they allowed to escape carrying the terrifying message for all to hear: “The Mongols are coming.”
7. Mad King Aerys Targaryen
What happened in Game of Thrones: Mad king Aerys started out as a fairly pleasant ruler, but lost the plot and ended up as just another GoT raging psychopath. According to Jaime Lannister, “He loved to watch people burn, the way their skin blackened and blistered and melted off their bones.” But who doesn’t?
True-life horror – “The Mad King” Charles VI of France, late 14th century
Before Charles VI went mad, he was popular, charming, and successful. Then he got a mystery illness, during which all his hair and teeth fell out, and afterwards everything basically went south. His first “episode” involved him unexpectedly killing four of his own knights with a sword while they were all out walking on a lovely summer’s day. Later, he became convinced he was made of glass and insisted on wearing iron rods in his clothes to prevent anyone “breaking” him.
8. The cannibal wildlings
What happened in Game of Thrones: In the GoT series, the Thenns are cannibal wildlings who feast on “crows” – men of the Night’s Watch. In the books, the Ice River Clans hunt and feed on other wildlings.
True-life horror – The Sawney Bean Family, 16th-century Scotland
The Sawney Bean family were a cave-dwelling, cannibalistic Scottish clan with little to no chill. They had 14 children and 32 grandchildren, and their preferred method of procreation was incest. They made a living by hiding in bushes and jumping out on passers-by, hacking them to death, supping giddily on their blood, and stealing their possessions. Leftover body parts were thoughtfully pickled for later.
9. Bran and Rickon Stark
What happened in Game of Thrones: After the beheading of Ned Stark, his sons Bran and Rickon are stranded at Winterfell. When Theon Greyjoy storms the castle, he tries to murder the princes (although in fact they escape). The boys disappear, presumed dead.
True-life horror – The Princes in the Tower, 15th-century England
Edward, 12, and Richard, 9, were the only sons of King Edward IV. After King Edward died, the boys were looked after by their uncle Richard III (the son of the guy who ended up with his head on the gate), who locked them in a tower “for safekeeping” until Edward’s coronation as king. But somehow – and I mean this could happen to anyone – Richard III ~misplaced~ the boys, and had no choice but to try to become king himself. Maybe the boys were murdered by their uncle, maybe they just magicked away into the ether. Truly we shall never know.