ByGenevieve Van Voorhis, writer at
Game of Thrones, ASOUE, and all things '00s. Twitter: @gen_vanvee Email: [email protected]
Genevieve Van Voorhis

Game of Thrones takes place on the fantasy continents of Westeros, Essos and Sothoryos, as well as the various bodies of water that connect them. The time period is reminiscent of the medieval era, but has never been specifically pinpointed. While Martin seems to be remaining mum on the "when does Game of Thrones take place" part of the equation, he has finally given us an answer as to the "where." From that, it might be possible to deduce the rest. Let's examine what we know so far.

Where Does Game Of Thrones Take Place?

Calling Martin's world "Westeros, Essos, Southoryos and the various bodies of water between" is a mouthful, and fans have long been itching for Martin to dub the location something a little catchier. Sometimes it's referred to as the Known World, but that doesn't provide quite as much insight into Martin's universe as one might hope. One fan left the following comment on Martin's most recent blog post:

"Basically, if you were to sit down with a Maester and ask him what planet he lives on, he would have an answer, right?"

To which Maester Martin replied:

"He would probably call it Earth.

Of course, it would not be that word, since he'd be speaking the Common Tongue, not English.

But it would mean Earth."

This seemingly nonchalant response is actually a big game changer for fans that like to spend the off season theorizing about their favorite fantasy series. We now know that the series takes place on Earth! Our Earth! The one we're on right now!!!

If Game of Thrones takes place on this very planet, then what happened to the continents and structures we recognize now? In order to answer that question, we'll have to consider the period of time in which the story is set.

When Does Game Of Thrones Take Place?

Given the lack of technology and antiquated social systems, Game of Thrones sometimes feels like historical fiction.* However, in his early career, Martin dabbled in not only the fantasy and horror that made him famous, but in a particular genre of science fiction, loosely called "future history." Unlike dystopian fiction, which is a social commentary organized around a fictional, imagined future society, future history merely imagines a time in the distant future, set after our own era. A Song of Ice and Fire is regarded as fantasy, but does that automatically mean it can't be future history, too? Rather than taking place before our own era, does Game of Thrones actually take place in the future? With this new statement from Martin, it seems more plausible than ever.

World Behrmann Projection Map [Credit: mapsopensource]
World Behrmann Projection Map [Credit: mapsopensource]

In The World of Ice and Fire, the anthology book from Martin, Elio M. Garcia and Linda Antonsson, which is considered to be canon, there is one brief passage that insinuates that our own world as we know it might be simply a long, long forgotten ancient history to the people of Westeros. The paragraph concerns Earth's weather patterns, which, of course, are curiously long in A Song of Ice and Fire. Seasons last decades or even lifetimes, but perhaps it wasn't always that way:

"Though the Citadel has long sought to learn the manner by which it may predict the length and change of seasons, all efforts have been confounded. Septon Barth appeared to argue, in a fragmentary treatise, that the inconstancy of the seasons was a matter of magical art rather than trustworthy knowledge. Maester Nicol's The Measure of the Days — otherwise a laudable work containing much of use — seems influenced by this argument. Based upon his work on the movement of stars in the firmament, Nicol argues unconvincingly that the seasons might once have been of a regular length, determined solely by the way in which the globe faces the sun in its heavenly course. The notion behind it seems true enough — that the lengthening and shortening of days, if more regular, would have led to more regular seasons — but he could find no evidence that such was ever the case, beyond the most ancient of tales."

The entire anthology is written from the perspective of various maesters, whom, as we know, are not always 100% reliable. The fact that this passage even exists seems proof of Martin's implication that not everything is as it seems, and that the history of Westeros might be even longer and more complicated than we ever imagined. Why else would this paragraph be included as an addendum to the section on the Long Night if not to plant seeds of doubt in our minds that time and seasons have always moved the way that they do at the time of the War of the Five Kings?

Does Game Of Thrones Take Place In A Post-Global Warming World?

It would have to be something literally Earth-shattering, or damn close to it, to throw the Earth off its axis and the seasons out of whack. In June 2015, Christopher Haubursin and Zack Beauchamp over at Vox were the first to suggest the Game of Thrones-meets-global-warming fan theory. According to their theory, the White Walkers are a metaphor for climate change, and the noble houses of Westeros are the various nations and leaders of the world. They write:

"Yet instead of uniting to combat the shared threat to human existence itself, the noble houses in the show spend basically all their time on their own petty disagreements and struggle for power. White Walkers are generally ignored; some nobles deny their existence outright...

Martin published his first short story in 1971, just around the time that environmentalism was gaining traction and scientists were coming to terms with the dramatic effect of civilization on the planet. The idea that Martin would weave global warming into his story seems more than likely, yet perhaps he didn't do it in the way Haubursin and Beauchamp suggest. Or at least, not only in that way. It's possible that the events of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire are unfolding in some future history, after global warming has all but destroyed Earth and life as we know it. It might not be that our modern technology hasn't been invented at the time of the War of Five Kings, but rather, it's been lost as a direct result of human action.

As uncontrollable and unpredictable weather wipes out the landscape and the majority of civilization, those few remaining survivors were forced to start basically from scratch. With no technology, few tools, and a limited collective memory, over time, people would forget all about that far away time, long before the Long Night.

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(Sources: George RR Martin via Livejournal, The World of Ice and Fire, Vox)


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