It’s common knowledge that the continent of Westeros in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (adapted by HBO as Game of Thrones) is loosely based western Europe. I have often wondered how this world would be different if Westeros were based on an American rather than European model.
People often disagree on which kingdom represents what real-world land in western Europe. My general take, based on the series and Martin’s own words, is this:
The North is Northern England, with the Wall representing Hadrian’s Wall. That makes the lands beyond the Wall Scotland.
The Vale of Arryn is Erin, that is Ireland. Yes, I know that means its on the wrong side, but Martin invoked Ireland again in the Eyrie.
The Iron Islands I believe equate to Scandinavia, the source of Viking raiders. The cultural parallels should be clear.
The Westerlands is obviously southern England.
The Riverlands, I have to admit, has me stumped. Wales? Its place bordering the Vale and the North would seem to make it a Celtic analog.
The Crownlands are clearly London and environs.
The Stormlands, given the Germanic stag imagery and Robert Baratheon’s brusque drunkenness, I think represents Germany. The cold, disciplined Stannis invokes the other side of the German stereotype.
Dorne is clearly Iberia, Spain and Portugal.
The Reach, given its placement between Dorne and the Westerlands, I think represents France
What I was tempted to do was reimagine the setting with the United States rather than western Europe as the analog. This American fantasy approach is something I do a lot on principle, in a conscious attempt to escape the Eurocentrism that the success of Tolkien imprinted on the genre. At least three of my settings are consciously American in this sense, even though they incorporate inspirations from other cultures, like the Daumie nation of High & Hard who are based loosely on East Africa.
DUDE, IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE
Some GoT fans have, in fact, reimagined Westeros as North America, but they kept the north-south axis that dominates Martin’s European fantasy, casting Canada as the land beyond the Wall and Latin America as Dorne. To me, as an American, doesn’t jibe. The east-west axis dominates our consciousness. The West, not the North, is the wild land of the American consciousness.
This changes the core elemental dynamic of Martin’s work. The West is not known for icy tundra, but dry desert. The eponymous conflict between ice and fire, the winter and dragon imagery, doesn’t translate. In a reimagined east-west axis, this conflict would be between dry and wet, drought and rain.
So, I thought, the West would have to be the far bulwark of the Seven Kingdoms from the Land of Eternal Drought, a perilous desert. Rather than a Wall of ice, there would be a Moat dug from coast-to-coast, to keep out the desiccated dead and their Other leaders, the Pale Walkers. More sand than ice. The “crows” of the Waste’s Watch keep their vigil at the Moat. But, as the men of the West constantly remind us, drought is coming.
The Drought is an event that arises at random, brought on by the Dust King. It can last years, and raises huge dust storms that devastate the Seven Kingdoms.
Setting up the Drought and dust as one side of the symbolic conflict, rain and storms obviously become the other extreme. Thus, the dragons in my reimagined Westeros would breathe lightning rather than fire, much like the blue dragons of the Dungeons & Dragons RPG.
THE SEVEN KINGDOMS
I would want to keep this reimagined Westeros in a pre-Industrial setting, despite the heavily industrial mythos of the United States, with its trains and six-shooters. Perhaps, as a nod to this American mythos, there could be some primitive, muzzle-loading fire-arms. But, in order to keep the story in line, the politics would have to remain rooted in kingdoms and noble houses. To give it a more American feel, the names of some of the kingdoms, families, and locations would need to be tweaked. Certainly, the signifier “House” sounds more American if it follows rather than precedes the family name. Stark House rather than House Stark.
THE ROUGH REIMAGINING
So here are my reimagined regions of an American version of Westeros, The Song of Dust and Rain.
The West, ruled by Stark House, symbolized by a desert version of the Dire Wolf that (interestingly) actually once lived in North America. The West is a huge realm of prairies, a bit more arid and unproductive than the real-world American prairie. The Starks rule, not from Winterfell, but from Dry Bluff, a fortress atop a rugged hill at the western end of the King’s Road. The people of the West are proud individualists, a bit dour from living at the edge of the Land of Eternal Drought, from where Wildlings are constantly raiding across the Moat. Imagine Ned Stark as a trail-weary Western rancher, Sansa as a naive prairie bonny, Arya as a sort of tough Annie Oakley, and Jon as a tragic frontier anti-hero.
The Riverlands, traditionally ruled by Tully House, symbolized by the fish. This clearly should be the lower Mississippi valley in analogy. The Riverlands are a wild area, once ruled by Ironborn who raided down the Great River from the North, and later handed to Frey House of the West. More New Orleans than Wales in this reimagining, the Riverlands would have stronger ties to The Reach, which analogizes the aristocratic American South.
The Iron Bays, ruled by Grey House, symbolized by the squid. The Iron Bays would be the Great Lakes stripped of their Canadian terrestrial borders. The Ironborn are raiders, either by sea or down the Great River, which has a source very near Port Pike. Recently, the Ironborn have been ruled by Stark House of The West. The Iron Bays would be an analogy to the Rust Belt of the US, broad-shouldered toughs and gangster personalities. Imagine Balon Grey as a sort of Renaissance Al Capone.
The Vales of Appalay, ruled by Appalay House, symbolized by a falcon. Arryn is such a clear reference to Ireland that I feel a similarly clear reference to the Appalachians is merited. Rather than a Kingdom of the Mountain and the Vale, Appalay is the Kingdom of Mountains and Vales. And, the unhealthy and quasi-incestuous breastfeeding habits of Lady Lysa certainly resonate with the stereotypes of the Appalachians.
The Reach, ruled by Tyrell House, symbolized by a magnolia blossom. This is the courteous culture of the aristocratic South in the United States. Given the arid prairies of The West, The Reach is the breadbasket of this reimagined Westeros, and thus quite wealthy. Imagine Margaery as a Southern belle, Loras as a cultured Savannah cavalier, Olenna as a Charleston wit. Who wouldn’t want to see Olenna sipping a mint julep as she delivered one of her signature barbs?
Curina, ruled by Martin House, symbolized by the Sun. This is Dorne, which I am replacing with Latino southern Florida. The name is an amalgam of Cuba and Florida, with a -na suffix added to reference Dorne. Unlike the arid Dorne, Curina is wet and swampy, but still quite culturally distinct from the rest of Westeros.
The Stormlands, ruled by Baratheon House, symbolized by a moose stag. This is far northern New England: Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. One can easily imagine a brusque hinterlander Bobby B and a bleak Stannis coming from this kingdom.
The Newlands, ruled by Lannister House, symbolized by the lion. I had to rename Martin’s Westerlands, since they could not be in the West in this east-west American axis. I imagined them encompassing the commercial power from Boston to Philadelphia, taking in maritime Pennsylvania, but also southern New England, New York, and New Jersey, so I renamed it Newlands. It is the new land between where Drake House first landed in the Stormlands and where they eventually settled in the Crown Lands. As in the real-world United States, the Newlands are the center of wealth and finance in this reimagined Westeros. Imagine Tywin as a calculating Manhattan business elite, Cersei as a New York debutante, Jaime as a tormented urban enforcer, Tyrion as a New Jersey carouser who eventually finds his philosophical Philadelphian conscience.
The Crown Lands, ruled traditionally by House Drake, symbolized by the Dragon. Of course, House Drake was driven out by Robert Baratheon, but the globalist heirs of this Mid-Atlantic capital, Danielle and Vincent Drake, begin the story in Essos trying to build an invading army to retake the throne. King’s Landing, an analog to Washington, is where we see much of the politics play out, starting with Robert Baratheon bringing Ned Stark from the West to be his Hand. Imagine the Appalay intrigues of the ambitious hillbilly Peter Baelish and the subtle sarcasm of Lysene (British) eunuch Varys. The Sparrows would be an evangelical revival similar to the Great Awakening of the early 1800s.
Essos would still represent the Old World, but in contrast with America rather than Western Europe. Many of the same analogs would endure, with perhaps more of an Arab-African analogy built into Slaver’s Bay than a Mesopotamian reference. Danielle Drake is given eggs with lightning-breathing dragons inside at her marriage, and goes on to conquer several countries in Essos. Eventually, she is joined by Varys and Tyrion to ally with Curina and the Reach, lands in the Stormlands, and meets with Jon Stark of the West.