The Wall: From Hadrian to Westeros

The Wall: From Hadrian to Westeros

How History Inspired Fantasy

George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, adapted into the hit TV show “Game of Thrones,” is renowned for its rich worldbuilding. One of the most iconic elements of this world is the massive ice structure known as the Wall. While it may seem purely fantastical, the Wall has its roots in real-world history.

The Wall in Game of Thrones stretches 300 miles and stands 700 feet tall.


Hadrian’s Wall: The Real-Life Inspiration

In 1981, a decade before he began writing “A Game of Thrones,” George R.R. Martin visited Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. This ancient Roman fortification stretches 73 miles across the width of Britain, marking the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire.

[Insert image of Hadrian’s Wall]

Hadrian’s Wall, built in 122 AD, stretches across northern England.

Martin described his experience at Hadrian’s Wall:

“I stood up there and tried to imagine what it was like to be a Roman legionnaire, standing on this wall, looking at these distant hills. It was a very profound feeling. For the Romans at that time, this was the end of civilization and the end of the world.” [1]

This visit planted the seed for what would become the Wall in Martin’s fictional world of Westeros.

From History to Fantasy

While Hadrian’s Wall was the primary inspiration, Martin drew from other historical structures like the Great Wall of China. However, as he often says, “In fantasy, you take reality and turn it up to eleven.” [2]

The Wall in “A Song of Ice and Fire” is a massive exaggeration of its real-world counterpart:

  • Length: 300 miles (compared to Hadrian’s Wall’s 73 miles)
  • Height: 700 feet (compared to Hadrian’s Wall’s original height of about 20 feet)
  • Composition: Solid ice (compared to Hadrian’s Wall’s stone construction)


A size comparison between Hadrian’s and the Wall in Game of Thrones.


Purpose and Symbolism

Both walls serve similar symbolic purposes:

  1. Marking the edge of civilization
  2. Defending against perceived threats from the north
  3. Representing the limits of imperial power

In “Game of Thrones,” the Wall is manned by the Night’s Watch, an order reminiscent of the Roman legionnaires who once patrolled Hadrian’s Wall. Both groups face the unknown and defend against what lies beyond.

The Wall’s Legacy

The Wall in “Game of Thrones” has become so iconic that it’s now influencing how people view its real-world inspiration. In 2019, English Heritage appointed “Watchers on the Wall” at Hadrian’s Wall, dressed as the Night’s Watch members, bringing fantasy back to its historical roots [3].

English Heritage’s “Watchers on the Wall” at Hadrian’s Wall, inspired by Game of Thrones.

George R.R. Martin’s ability to transform historical elements into compelling fantasy has created a cultural phenomenon. The Wall is a testament to how real-world history can inspire and enrich fictional worlds, captivating audiences worldwide.

[1] Martin, G.R.R. (2018). Interview on the inspiration for the Wall. YouTube. [Link to YouTube video]
[2] Martin, G.R.R. (2019). Watchers on Hadrian’s Wall. Not a Blog. [Link to blog post]
[3] English Heritage. (2019). Game of Thrones-inspired ‘Watchers’ to patrol Hadrian’s Wall. [Link to English Heritage article]


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