A Song Of Ice And Fire’s geeky in-jokes

Feature Louisa Mellor 28 Jul 2014 - 07:00

From Monty Python to Harry Potter and the Dallas Cowboys, George R.R. Martin has hidden geeky nods all over the Game Of Thrones books...

You’ve heard the one about the Facebook employee who pledged $20,000 to charity in exchange for being killed off in the next instalment of A Song Of Ice And Fire. How about the lost bet that led George R.R. Martin to include a coded reference to an American Football victory in A Dance With Dragons? Or the many homages to other sci-fi and fantasy novels, writers, comics and TV shows woven into the character names and histories of Martin’s best-selling fantasy series?

With gratitude to the excellent detective work done by those cited below, here’s a collection of some of the geekiest in-jokes and nods from A Song Of Ice And Fire, including a few bonus ones from the Game Of Thrones TV series.

TV and Film nods

One of ASoIaF’s best-known in-jokes are the names of three members of House Bracken killed in an attack by the Hill Tribes in Game Of Thrones: Lharys, Mohor and Kurleket, all of which bear a striking resemblance to The Three Stooges, Larry, Mo and Curly, we're sure you'd agree.

Remember 1981’s Dragonslayer? George R.R. Martin does, having named it here as one of his top five favourite fantasy films. The name crossovers between the eighties film and Martin's novels are many, from Dragonslayer character Valerian (played by actress Caitlin Clarke, a moniker with no small resemblance to ASoIaF's Catelyn Stark), to Tyrian, and dragon Vermithrax, the last of whom popped up on the list of famous dragons recited by Viserys Targaryen in season one's Cripples, Bastards, And Broken Things.

Moving on to animation, a dedicated few have suggested a link between Greywater Watch, the castle belonging to Howland Reed - Crannogman father of Meera and Jojen and former confidant of Ned Stark -, and Studio Ghibli. Being built on a man-made floating swamp island, Howland Reed’s castle moves, making it notoriously difficult for ravens to find. The end result: Howl(and)’s Moving Castle. EDIT: Thanks to commenters Jo and Manicminer, the reference is likely to Diana Wynne Jones' 1986 book, Howl's Moving Castle, not the 2004 Ghibli film.

One from the TV show now, as we doff our cap to Reddit user NoMoreHodoring, who first noticed the similarity between a sword in the Iron Throne and that used by Gandalf in The Hobbit and the Lord Of The Rings trilogy - Glamdring. The sword in question is just left of centre in the back of the throne, should you want to check for yourself. This prompted more investigation of the multi-pronged Iron Throne prop in the TV series, and the discovery of swords resembling one used by Orlando Bloom's character in Ridley Scott's Kingdom Of Heaven and another identified as that used by Robin of Locksley in Robin Hood. Make your own mind up on whether the similarities are there, and if so, whether those weapons were included in deliberate homage to the previous films, or as an accidental prop coincidence (such as the one we're assured happened when a replica of George W. Bush's head was placed on a spike in Joffrey's execution gallery in season one).

And while our gut tells us that this is more wishful thinking, the similarity in name between Mance Rayder and a certain Star Wars villain who also started out as a white hat drawn to the dark side, has not gone unnoticed by many, prompting theories that the black cloak-wearing Mance may well have an "I am your father" revelation to make in future…

Comic book homages

Amongst the flayed men, yellow suns and direwolves, a green arrow, a black hood, and a few blue beetles may blend in unnoticed amongst the sigils of A Song Of Ice And Fire’s family houses. Unless you’re a comics fan, that is, and so recognise George R.R. Martin’s deliberate nods to the DC universe, (particularly to the Justice League).

House Bettley’s sigil features three blue beetles, House Sarsfield’s features a green arrow, House Banefort has a black hood on its heraldry while House Lothston has a black bat on a partly yellow background. While we're on the subject, could Martin be referencing 1997’s Schumacher-directed Batman & Robin in the popular Westerosi idiom “as useless as nipples on a breastplate”? Forum member Starky Stark believes so. That commenter's namesake - the Starks - could be seen to have an obvious link with Iron Man's Tony Stark, but the family name is also thought to be derived from House York, the real-life corollary of the Starks in the Wars of the Roses, which share multiple parallels with the politics of Martin's saga.

(Incidentally, speaking of sigil in-jokes, it's not a comic book, but worth mentioning that the black adder on that belonging to House Wyl is written as one word in Martin’s novels - Blackadder - and as such, has been taken by many as a nod to the 1980s BBC comedy of the same name.)

Monty Python

Baqq/Beans, a dice-playing Myrish sellsword who appears briefly in Prince Quentyn’s second PoV chapter in A Dance With Dragons has this to say about Daenerys’ army of Unsullied after the Siege Of Astapor: “That dragon queen’s got the real item, the kind that don’t break and run when you fart in their general direction.” Ring any bells? 

Python fans will recognise those last words as taken directly from the taunts of the French soldier in Monty Python And The Holy Grail (see below).

What’s more, Game Of Thrones’ linguist, David Peterson, revealed earlier this year that the same homage even made it into season four of the television series. Peterson, who created Dothraki, High Valyrian and other languages used in the show, revealed in the Making Game Of Thrones blog that “[In episode three of season four] there's a scene where the Meereenese rider is challenging Daenerys' champion. He's shouting and Nathalie Emmanuel [Missandei] is translating – but she's not translating what he's saying. He's actually saying a Low Valyrian translation of the French guy's insults in Monty Python And The Holy Grail. That was [showrunner] Dan Weiss's idea and it was so hilarious that I had to do it. He's actually starting out with, "Your mother is a hamster…". Peterson isn't kidding, if you listen carefully from around 0:30 in the video below, you’ll clearly hear the champion use the Meereenese word “mhysa”, or mother.

 

Nods to fantasy and sci-fi authors

There are countless examples of these in A Song Of Ice And Fire, in which George R.R. Martin has named a knight or ancestral house after another author, or in homage to their work. Many have been confirmed by Martin in interviews, many are too obvious not to be deliberate references, and a few are perhaps just wishful thinking on the part of fans. Here’s our pick of the geekiest.

- Martin named Lord Titus Peake, a briefly referenced character in the series, in homage to Mervyn Peake’s beautiful gothic Gormenghast trilogy, the first book of which is named Titus Groan, named for the heir to the Earl of Groan. Martin’s Titus Peake is the Lord of Starpike - a name as close to Steerpike, one of the trilogy's central characters, as you can get - and to top it all off, Martin also added an historical Peake named Gorman in his Tales Of Dunk And Egg.

- Martin paid tribute to his friend and fellow fantasy author Robert Jordan in both A Storm Of Swords and A Feast For Crows. Lord Trebor of House Jordayne of the Tor, mentioned by Tyrion in the earlier novel, is widely recognised to be a reference to Jordan, whose first name is an anagram of Trebor and whose work was famously published by Tor. House Jordayne's sigil is a quill and its official motto is "Let it be written". In the first Kraken’s Daughter PoV chapter in book four of ASoIaF, Martin writers of an “Archmaester Rigney” who “once wrote that history is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging”. Rigney being Robert Jordan’s real name, the reference to his Wheel Of Time series is unmissable.

- Riverrun, the seat of House Tully, also happens to be the first word in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, which begins “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Enrivons.” Is that homage or coincidence?

- A more mainstream reference now from the ASoIAF Wiki, and they don’t get much better known than J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard. Is it deliberate that Brienne defeats both a Harry Sawyer and a Robin Potter in the Bitterbridge Melee, after discovering their role in the bet to take her virginity, leaving Potter with a scar on - where else but - his forehead?

- George Martin has made no secret of his admiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings in the past, declaring himself “a huge Tolkien fan” and confirming “there are a number of homages to LOTR in my book” in this interview on Westeros.org. The ASoIaF author all but confirms in the above interview that the name and trajectory of unlikely hero Samwell Tarly is inspired by those of Tolkien creation Samwise Gamgee. Many have seen parallels between Samwell and Jon Snow’s relationship and that of Samwise and Frodo Baggins, and found it hard to ignore the existence of a Pyp in the Night’s Watch group.

Speaking of Frodo Baggins, is it a coincidence that the name of his father, Drogo, is the same as that of the Dothraki Khal who married Daenerys Targaryen, and the inspiration for the name of her largest and fiercest dragon, Drogon? Or that an island in The Reach is named Oakenshield, a surname familiar to readers of The Hobbit? Though the name of singer Marillion who meets his fate in Sansa Stark’s point of view chapters in A Feast For Crows appears to be a nod to the British prog rock band who took their name from a shortened version of the Tolkien novel The Silmarillion, this Wiki states that Martin says he’d never heard of the band before naming the character, making it another LOTR nod.

- Fans have also spotted several references to Dying Earth author Jack Vance in Martin’s series, including a number of character names from House Vance inspired by Vance’s short stories and creations. ASoIaF characters sharing names with those of sci-fi and fantasy authors Tad Williams, Roger Zelazny, David Eddings, Phyllis Eisenstein, Thomas B. Costain and H.P Lovecraft have all been noted too. Read more about them, here.

Cowboys and Giants

Finally, to that lost bet. Regular readers of George R.R. Martin’s Not A Blog will know that the man’s a keen sports fan, particularly of American Football teams the New York Giants and Jets. Said fandom led Martin to take a long-running bet with fantasy blog writer Patrick St. Denis that the Giants would always outperform the Dallas Cowboys. On the occasion that Martin lost the bet, his forfeit was to write St. Denis into A Dance With Dragons, which he duly did, but not without taking a swipe at the rival team. Patrick St. Denis became Ser Patrek, whose heraldry was in the white, blue and silver colours of the Dallas Cowboys and whose cloak was covered in stars – the team’s symbol. His fate? Poor Ser Patrek was killed by a giant, naturally.

It doesn’t stop there, the name of the Patrek-slaying giant was Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, shortened to “Wun-Wun”, a homophone, many have pointed out, for one one or eleven, the shirt number of celebrated New York Giants quarterback, Phil Sims.

Additionally, Belicho of Volantis, whose story of being undefeated for years until he was killed by a pack of giants is told by Tyrion in A Dance With Dragons, was reportedly named after Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots coach whose team enjoyed a series of victories in the 2007 series until the New York Giants stopped them. 

Those are our favourites so far. Feel free to extend the list below!

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