George R.R. Martin is a master of fantasy world-building - so much so that some people are more interested in learning about the history and lore of the Game of Thrones universe than actual historical events. Entire encyclopedias have collected stories from the past generations of Westeros, and some of those tales will inspire the upcoming HBO spinoff. While the adventures of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen may not count as real history homework, it is apparent that Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books take heavy cues from events that really happened.
Some of the best Game of Thrones characters are based on historical figures, and some of its grandest battles are practically shot-for-shot remakes of ancient conflicts. It’s true that some of the series’ plot points mirror historical events very closely, but one shouldn’t go looking in textbooks for Season 8 spoilers - George R.R. Martin always manages to twist even his more direct inspirations.
The Red Wedding is one of the most shocking moments in all of Game of Thrones, but fans who know their Scottish lore may have seen the slaying of Catelyn and Robb Stark coming. There are actually two direct inspirations for the Red Wedding to be found in European history.
While the Glencoe Massacre shares the same scale of carnage as the Red Wedding, the finer details of 1440’s Black Dinner more closely mirror George R.R. Martin’s writing. As he told Entertainment Weekly:
The Red Wedding is based on a couple real events from Scottish history. One was a case called The Black Dinner. The king of Scotland was fighting the Black Douglas clan. He reached out to make peace. He offered the young Earl of Douglas safe passage. He came to Edinburgh Castle and had a great feast. Then at the end of the feast, [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 - [a dark omen]. And as soon as he saw it, he knew what it meant... The larger instance was the Glencoe Massacre. Clan MacDonald stayed with the Campbell clan overnight and the laws of hospitality supposedly applied. But the Campbells arose and started butchering every MacDonald they could get their hands on. No matter how much I make up, there's stuff in history that's just as bad, or worse.
The faiths of Westeros are many, but none are as controversial as the worship of R’hllor practiced by Red Priests and Priestesses, like Melisandre. The tenets of the Lord of Light might read like something out of a fantasy series, but they borrow a lot from Zoroastrianism, one of the earliest monotheistic religions in human history.
Both faiths focus heavily on the importance of fire and an understanding of the universe as divided into binary terms. The Zoroastrians also have a hero-figure who is destined to take on the forces of evil in a climactic fight, but theirs is named Ahura Mazda instead of Azor Ahai, proving this isn't a complete copy-and-paste job.
The fictional city of Braavos may be located across the sea from Westeros, but it plays a major role in Game of Thrones. Most notably, it's where Arya learns the art of face-swapping and fighting. The infrastructure of Braavos is dominated by canals, which makes it pretty obviously inspired by the real-life city of Venice. But there’s more to the connection than waterways.
Like Venice, Braavos operates as an independent city-state. Whereas the politics of Braavos are dominated by the Iron Bank and the mysterious guild of the Faceless Men, Venice was ruled for centuries by a similarly nebulous group called the Council of Ten.
While the main conflict in Game of Thrones is based on the 15th-century conflicts of Europe, it isn’t tied to any particular time period. That allows George R.R. Martin to mix history up a little bit, bringing together historical concepts and figures that actually existed centuries apart. The Ironborn are a great example of this.
As a culture based entirely around reaping and pillaging, the Ironborn are clearly inspired by the Vikings, but the Norse sailed the seas hundreds of years before the Yorks and Lancasters began fighting. By bringing the vicious Greyjoys into conflict with the Starks and Lannisters, Martin gets to mash together historical empires that never had the chance to clash in real life.