• Saxon Era Gaming Mods and a Game of Thrones

    SAXON ERA GAMING AND A GAME OF THRONES


    The Last Kingdom

    As any long time player of the Total War series, or amateur historian will tell you, history often repeats itself. And as any devote follower of sci-fi and fantasy will tell you, fantasy fiction’s greatest contributor, aside from the inventive mind of the author, are historical themes that have played out again and again, often in the same geo-political regions of the world, particularly in low fantasy, medieval and dark-age Britain.
    In early June, HBO’s series Game of Thrones, which is based on the best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, surpassed the HBO series, The Sopranos, as the most watched cinematic series on television, in history. An element in this success was not only the communal desire of followers to be ‘up on affairs’ in this case with the going-ons of a fictional realm.
    It was also a long held fascination with the British Isles medieval history, which Martin naturally referenced as part of his inspiration, citing the inspiration for The Wall in the North, as Hadrian’s wall.
    There have, of course been many jokes about intercourse role-playing and renaissance fairs on sites such as Funny or Die, ever since. Throughout it’s history the Island of Britannia and it’s surroundings and time line have been the inspiration for fantasy, from J.R.R. Tolkein to Dungeons and Dragons.
    A Song of Ice and Fire takes place after a civil war that has placed Robert Baratheon as the new king of Westeros, a temperate land founded by the first men and the Andals and composed of seven kingdoms, yet one king. The previously displaced dynasty was that of the dragon, the Targeryons, which could be interpreted as the Welsh and Romano-Britons that were displaced by the Saxons. The kingdom falls into a war of the five kingdoms, after a hunting accident kills Robert. In fact, as a loading screen of The Last Kingdom will tell you, the the King of the Western Frankish Empire, Charles, was killed by a boar in a hunting accident, and the kingdom afterwards fractured. Such are these times.
    There were three major kingdoms then, and the Targeryon banner represents three dragons, literally in the books, those of Aegon the Conqueror, though it should be noted that a red dragon remains on the flag of Wales today, and that the patron Saint of England was George the dragon slayer. It is also present as the flag of Wessex in the game.
    And in this realm, the north is vast and harried by raiders, who are kept in check by the authority of the King through the Warden of the North, who had made his hall at Winterfell, south of the wall. This theme is all too familiar to the players of the Medieval TW expansion Viking Invasion, and the MTW2 mod The Last Kingdom, Arthurian: TW, as well as other mods set in the sixth, seventh, and eighth century in Britain. Post Roman Britain was immortalized with tales of heroism and major battles just south of Hadrian’s Wall, in Lothian, what was then the Kingdom of Gododdin, against Gaelic, Saxon, and Angle invaders, and it was this Dark Age that inspired the legend of a Romano-British king, a dux bellorum such as Ambrosius Aurelianus, or Arctorus, Arthur, in the French romanticism that had made such a figure and his legend famous. All things come to an end, and although the Gaelic and Briton kingdoms remained, long into the reign of the Germanics, the Roman resistance came to an end, and the Saxon, Jute, and Angle kings that had been colonizing Britain, were left to rule. Although the age that followed was not typified by a rule of law, in contrast to its barbarity, the Saxons in the south, and the Angles to the north, were in Britain to stay, and they would make their legacy not only in settlement, rapid settlement that displaced peoples such as Powys and Gwynned, but in Kingdoms, and these Kingdoms were meant to endure. Criticized for ghastly deaths and heart-stopping drama, pageantry and court, however Norman and high medieval in some instances, is just a façade to brutal feudalism in The Game of Thrones, a game of winning or dying, and there was little high medieval about the world Martin had created, outside of the aesthetic, which, although Norse and Saxon in appearance, is exaggerated by budget and their fan base (and the wealth of the Lannisters) and of course, technological, such as the crossbow used in patricide by Tyrion, late in the books.


    The Dread Fort that was then Nottingham (linguistics are adjusted for time period)

    Ealdormen are regional administrators who act on behalf of the king. The English system of knighthood was based on this feudal rooting. (And this treatment of criminals and other offenders to the lords)


    These are the higher class of the 'Halls.', well armed 'Sers'

    Saxon metal-working particularly shows in the seaming of Jaime’s armor, and the sword Oathkeeper, which is forged in a semi-pagan ritual in which the Lannister patriarch Tywin sacrifices a wolf’s carcass to the flames, and the gorgeous brooches of the time. Their traditions linger, and at one point at Craster’s Keep, an errant Night’s Watch man can be seen drinking out of Lord Commander Mormont’s ‘Old Bear’s’ skull, an early Saxon tradition. Some traditions, such as House Bolton’s, include flaying of men, and the bloody eagle is often employed. In the mod you can develop a reputation for such dark deeds.



    Taboo like this is often dealt heavy handedly, and the rulers are often more ruthless and pragmatic, than holding any illusions about god-given rights of battle and kingship, prancing about the country side in games of balance, and succession beyond that of inheritance. As Tyrion seriously replies in season 3 ‘Armies give men power.’ In the turbulent time depicted in TLK, petty kings must be either swayed through bribery, coerced, or beaten into fealty. All mechanics of the overhaul. Also it is the tale of legacy, and how fathers lost to battle or injustice, set their children forth on extraordinary journeys that end in the most unlikely of places.
    The series of books’ primary theme is the transition from the rule of the old gods, to a different, singular god, Rhaelor, Lord of Light. The North beyond the wall, the White Walkers and the coming winter, represent the darkness. Stannis Baratheon, the rightful heir to the seven kingdoms, and his priestess mistress are the incarnation of the new faith in the books. Examples of such a pagan transition period are not hard to find, nor cultural comparisons that heavily influence the power dynamic in the books. The earlier paganism in the books involves old pagan gods, with some paying particular reverence to druidic and forest traditions, that which would have endured under the Welsh, and the significance of a raven in visions, which appears to be a Norse mystical influence.
    Bran Stark’s name itself, is Irish for the large, black carrion birds of the British Isles. Other names, such as Walder or Eddard, have more Saxon influences, but Gaelic and Welsh remain strong influences on the naming traditions of the books, as well as Norman French.After a terrible massacre, the two, stunted Tyrion, and his ruthless father Tywin, as obviously Saxon as other names, are philosophizing about ‘why it may be more noble to kill ten thousand on the battlefield, than a dozen at dinner?’ The latter being an action approved for a bitter twisted man named Walder Frey (Norse/Germanic) at the infamous Red Wedding, by Tywin, the patriarch of the Lannister clan that rules in the south at King’s Landing, the capital of the realm.The Houses, represented by sigils, often coincide with history, for example the Tyrell Rose, like the Roses of York and Lancaster. And the heraldry is evident in their shields and armor.


    Mercia has been the dominant power over East Anglia before it's new-found independence.

    Norse and Germanic influences also cannot be ignored in the etymology of the names of the characters and Kingdoms, and a major sea-raiding menace in 845 A.D. a time with a similar geo-political climate, were the Norwegian and Danish Vikings, who made landfall at Deira, as well as the Franks and Normans to the south in Britanny, which earlier in history was indeed Brythonic. In the Last Kingdom, the raiding landfall of the Gaels of Dal Riada are replaced by the dragon ships of the Danes and Norwegians, which are a force to be reckoned with in the mod’s time period, leading up to the Norman conquest. Similar cold-blooded power-grabs could of course be found in such a period of religious transition, and with closer parallels geographically than one might think, in many respects to Game of Thrones. In my view, one such parallel is the early 600’s with the merging of the kingdoms Bernicia and Deira and the events this would set forth, for both this new kingdom Northumbria and the southern kingdoms of Mercia and East Anglia, which would function as a point of King’s Landing, since the first overlords of Britain congressed here, the political and cultural scenario that most closely fits the climate of The Song of Ice and Fire, as well as the fortunes of the scions of the mess that would be made.

    A more elegant and descriptive system from another engine.

    This story focuses around five historical figures, Aethelfrith, Raedwald, Edwin, and Oswald, and his brother Oswig. Aethelfrith’s rise to power as the pagan Angle king of Bernicia and Deira, combining the two kingdoms into one realm, began with a bloody wedding ceremony in which her relatives, and a major figure in Deira, Aetheric were killed, the wedding being to Acha, daughter of the Deiran King Aelle and father to Edwin, the legitimate heir and his nephew Hereric, who escaped to Elmet . Edwin escaped to the south in Cearl’s court in Mercia, after briefly spending some time in Gywnedd. Their banner? The Wolf.


    'Here comes the King of the North!!!!'

    These troops are axe and sword wielding landed men, like their higher class counterparts, Huscarls "Heads of the House."

    This was not the beginning for the Bernician king Aethelfrith, known and feared as ‘Fleseur’ or ‘Twister.’ By the Britons, and so merciless that he was compared to the Old Testament’s Saul, in 603 he had defeated a powerful Irish Dal Riada horde under Aidan MacGabrain bolstered by armies and territories in Ulster. The Dal Riada, who had long raided the coast of England, were very similar to the Song of Ice and Fire’s Ironborn, the house of Theon Greyjoy, who go through salt-water baptism rituals. Their house sigil, the kraken, would indicate a more Norse influence on the story.



    The treatment of prisoners as in other periods was incumbent more on the reputation of the ruler. At one point, Robb Stark, the king of the North, is furious, because two of his boy hostages have been killed in reprisal, when he had intended to ransom them. Relations could suffer due to ill treatment, such as Jaime or Theon or Ned, and ransom and using prisoners for bargaining chips in the conflicts was common in all of the major cultures. The decision to execute young Lannister prisoners rather than ransom them, results in worse relations and a falling out between the Kastarks, a contributing party in the war effort, in Robb Stark's army. A hard ruler such as the Danish Jarl could reject such a ransom for the greater interests of the war, and suffer the consequences. Mercy was a logistics concern for Harold Godwinson. Indeed Ivar himself was in legend, carried upon his shield, being crippled. The comforts afforded to Bran Stark, would be almost unknown in a Norse society ruled by the strong, but there are various attributions for his cognomen.


    Ice water challenge? There are many Viking and Saxon (Danish, Norwegian and Norman) equivalents of these former raiders who maintain the profession into the time period.


    Similar origin to their Danish enemies

    During the battle, Aethelfrith’s brother Theodbald was killed along with all of his forces, although the historian Bede, writes that Irish kings within Britain never confronted Northumbria again, so crushing was the defeat, just as the Iron Born remain on the fringes of the conflict for the war between the five kings. Although some sources indicate that Aethelfrith’s hositility towards Edwin had grown in degrees, it is likely that Aetheric, the King of Deira’s reign was ended through violent betrayal. Acha also met a sudden death, and Aethelfrith’s primary hall at Bamburough was named after his second wife.



    Nevertheless in 604, he combined the kingdoms, and gave birth to his son, Oswald. Aethelfrith also defeated Strathclyde and Rheged, Scot kingdoms to the west, as well as Arthur’s old kingdom of Gododdin, where five battles had previously been fought against the Saxon fore-bearers, in the Lothians, right along the Antonine wall. Like an aged lion, or the Lannister’s or Bolton’s intentions towards the surviving Stark children, he pursued both Edwin and his nephew through spies, bribery, and coercion, trying to force their adopted protectors to betray them. While he succeeded in the case of Hereric in the court of Ceretic, King of Elmet, through poisoning, Edwin soon established himself within East Anglia under the protection of King Raedwald. Raedwald was coerced and bribed into agreeing to kill Edwin, but his wife convinced him not to, as it would damage his credibility and honor. This status for honoring pacts, even small ones, within a certain period of time, is present for the factions in Rome II, as a transition between, steadfast, honorable, untrustworthy and so forth, and can have diplomatic repercussions.
    This system would be the equivalent of hostages or princess marriages in early TW titles, Medieval II and Medieval II: Kingdoms, and later in S2TW. Relationships and trust, or enmity and mistrust grow with a sword above comparative innocent's heads.It is also the classic example of adoptions in the Medieval titles and their mods like 865’s The Last Kingdom.
    This offers further hope for the series despite the diminished features of Rome II, in that dilemmas such as this could result in a character being adopted into your faction. An example of this would be an eagle landing on the right shoulder of a minor son, the dilemma being, should he be brought into the family as a result of such an omen? All TW fans are familiar with heroic captains, or ‘men of the hour.’ In Rome II, and Emperor Edition, dilemnas regarding controversial characters can result in them being adopted into your families general pool.


    Being promoted or adopted into the family tree, a feature that was absent from Rome II.

    In the series, this recently occurs with Roose Bolton’s bastard son, who is formally adopted into the gruesome family after a series of dishonorable but practical deeds. As in the mod Stainless Steel, such writs and titles can be easily put into writing an placed on the character in question, as will be the case with Attila: TW. Soon, Raedwald and Aethelfrith came to a head, the bone of contention being Edwin, and they clashed at the battle of the Idle, where Aethelfrith was killed. Edwin himself was appointed king of Northumbria, as its rightful heir.
    A King of the North, so to speak.The class system represented amongst the Saxon, Norwegian, and Danish factions, is the same as that of Game of Thrones, there are minor houses, such as 'Tarley' that compose middle class units with middle class armaments, as well as the highest houses, that represent the elite troops for all participating powers including the Irish ones. Along with this decision, was his conversion to Christianity, a lord of light, with the power vacuum being taken by other kings, specifically Penda. Aethelfrith’s sons, Oswald and Oswig, would be hunted in similar fashion to Edwin upon his death, and became great champions of Christianity themselves, before Oswald became a rival king of the pagan Mercian Penda. It is during this time that a king of all England, all Britain would emerge, in the form of Overlords, power struggles that would result in great kings of most of England such as Alfred.
    After his brother had been killed in battle by Penda at Maserfield, allied to the Welsh, particularly Powys, Oswig, as his successor as King of Northumbria defeated Penda at Winwaed, and became a Christian monarch over Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria, a Northumbrian Overlord of Britain. Or as Robert Bartheon earlier rages ‘Seven kingdoms, One King!.’

    Almost like Ser Gregor the Mountain and Oberyn Martell

    In an earlier pagan ritual that would suit Game of Thrones, upon Oswald’s death, Penda had his body dismembered and placed on stakes, or pikes, and similar edicts were issued by Margeret during the War of the Roses, involving lords or monarchs head on pikes. This was considered Christian martyrdom by the historian Bede.Of Bede, it could be said that monastic institutions often took in those who would otherwise be inconvenient to the society at the time, orphans and worse, for a second chance, as was the case with the Night’s Watch.
    In similar fashion, upon Penda’s defeat, he was beheaded, which was unusual posthumous treatment by the Christian Oswig, Oswald’s brother . Such symbolic justice is referenced in the books, as the book introduces Eddard Stark with the beheading of a perceived deserter, and the first book as well as season of the series, ends with that beheader’s beheading. This was the death knell of pagan Britain.
    It also heralded a long period of stationary Germanic and Danish kings, that would ultimately be undone by a Romance culture they had just taken five hundred years to displace entirely, as is strongly implied by The Last Kingdom’s setting and start date, with the King of England marching north to save the realm and battle a northern invasion, while yet another opportunist invasion was incoming from across the channel and sea in the historical avatar of William. This, readers may suspect, will be a theme in the continuation of the fantasy novels, as it was in history, with Daenaerys on the horizon, Stannis occupied, and King’s Landing going fundamentalist in a hurry..


    Kings of once pagan areas had a long series of succession of extremely pious Christian rulers, that continued until and after the Norman conquest. Piety is a positive factor in TLK, and there is a sub-modification called 'Baptized Normans.' For the Overhaul.


    East Anglia- The Probable inspiration for King's Landing. Although Mercia became the most dominant kingdom. The alliances keep the notion of England cohesive, while the Normans themselves are a playable ambition. London is under independent control at this time. Richard III used a white boar as his impromptu banner at Bosworth.



    The men brought to Anglia by the dragon ships



    The characters of The Last Kingdom are as intriguing and diverse as Game of Thrones. Truth, is often stranger than fiction, and this historical scenario is rife with details that make for great storytelling. Historical parallel characters have personalities, and those personalities are influenced by your decision-making in the campaign

    One of the most powerful legacies of the extensive constraints of Medieval II: TW modding, is the the dark, fatalistic world that the characters live in, a landed feudal society that's just recovering from the three hundred dark years that followed the fall of the Roman empire, and how their personalities can shape that world.
    It harkens back to a time where kings died on the battlefield, as was the case with the last Plantagenet in the War of Roses, and the intertwined family system that resulted in a part Lancaster, back on the throne. It is, as they say, the stuff of legend, and all of the parts of the English language storytelling tradition are present in TLK for Total War, from the War of the Roses, to Scandinavian influences like Beowulf, and the Normans who would impart a Romance influence on the language, lore and legend.
    With many of the personal interactions coming from history themselves such as feuding brothers, Medieval II and it's mods dramatically depict what battle and life was like for the ruling and peasant class in the world of Game of Thrones.

    Written by: Lugotorix
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. Boogie Knight's Avatar
      Boogie Knight -
      Great to read something exploring the parallels between the history of the British Isles and A Song of Ice and Fire, especially one also taking a look at The Last Kingdom mod. I've not yet tried that mod, but I think I might have to.

      Much of ASOIAF is inspired not just by British history but also high middle ages French feudalism, which was brought in part to Britain by the Normans but which very much retained its own unique flavour. This is another subject I'd like to learn more about, just need to brush up on my Medieval French language...

      Something that does interest me, and irk me a bit, is the way the differences in religion in Dark Ages Britain seem to be viewed quite black-and-white by most people. For instance, in ASOIAF the old gods tend to be worshipped mostly in the north and especially north of the wall. In Britain, those "north of the wall" by which I mean the Scots and Picts, were Christian long before the English (those "south of the wall") and made efforts to Christianise the "barbarian" English. The common image of the free-spirited Celt and the imperious, holier-than-thou Saxon is bizarre and incorrect. On top of this, despite the common depiction of Christianity verses Paganism in the wars between Saxons and Vikings respectively in retellings of the Viking Age in England, it was the Vikings during the short-lived Danish conquest who outlawed the last surviving practices and practitioners of Anglo-Saxon paganism. While English monarchs had embraced Christianity early, the people had not, and much of it survived until the early 11th century when they fell under Christian Viking rule. History is never quite as simple as people might like.
    1. MasterOfNone's Avatar
      MasterOfNone -
      Great write-up. I enjoy the history of the Dark Ages, especially - or perhaps I should say exclusively - in the region of my homeland, the British Isles (England, to be more specific). Alfred the Great and Good (to give him his full title) is someone from this period I admire a great deal. I'm also interested in the Nordic stories and histories.

      I also have an interest in Celtic (chiefly Irish) myth. Bran is one of those myths.

      Boogle, you are quite right about the Celts. This insular Christianity (as compared to the later conversion of the Saxons) is something I had to look into when creating the Viking Invasion II mod - the distinction is made therein

      So good to see TLK was not abandoned. I remember when the first 2D art previews went up. I will have to install it. How "finished" is it?
    1. Gigantus's Avatar
      Gigantus -
      The last Kingdom was finalized a good while ago (first release was in July 2011, last update November 2012), enjoyed working on it with danova. I recently provided a fresh torrent upload for the 3.06 full installation (included steam compatibility) as other download links were going dead.

      And before I forget, that was a great and detailed comparison - especially using two M2 mods to "illustrate" it.

      Recently there was a TV series titled TlK - suffice it to say that it wasn't as riveting as GoT but it had it's moments, too.
    1. MasterOfNone's Avatar
      MasterOfNone -
      Time passes quickly! Only seems like yesterday I was encouraging him on with it

      I'll have to check it out.

      Yes, I watched TLK. It's based on a novel, which is where the mod got its name iirc.
    1. gdwitt's Avatar
      gdwitt -
      No advertising of other sites or mods
    1. Navajo Joe's Avatar
      Navajo Joe -
      I enjoyed reading above, well written and the screenies helped move the story along, especially the parts on Arthurian Legend. I have always found Arthur interesting, whether it be Tintagel, Cornwall or Isle of Avalon, Wedmore or Caerleon, which also has the Roman Legionary Fortress.

      I must thank Gigantus for uploading TLK 3.06, been playing a Wessex Campaign for a little while now, really enjoying. I started to play the mod after watching the TV Series, which was fabulous.
    1. Prince Richard's Avatar
      Prince Richard -
      This is rife with innacuracies. What "Roman Defense" against the Saxons? Saxons properly started invading violently in 474 and the Romans left in 410.
    1. Lugotorix's Avatar
      Lugotorix -
      Quote Originally Posted by Prince Richard View Post
      This is rife with innacuracies. What "Roman Defense" against the Saxons? Saxons properly started invading violently in 474 and the Romans left in 410.
      They declined reinforcements and aid. The people remained. That's what gave rise to the Romano-British stories. In fact, Badon Hill is believed to have been fought against Saxons. That's a vast distortion. The game Attila starts in 395 and Hengist and Horsa are both present- and they deposed the pro-Roman chieftain where they began settling. What else?
    1. Cyclops's Avatar
      Cyclops -
      Some nice points, as mentioned GRRM uses British Isles history liberally with Andals sometimes playing the part of Celtic British in his pseudo history, but also echoing the Angles (and perhaps Vandals) as well.

      The Rhoynar have a Spanish feel to them of course (reflecting Iberian influences Partholon to the Silurians) and the Targaeryans don't bring feudalism to the Seven Kingdoms the way the Normans did, but their first ruler was a Conqueror.

      Quote Originally Posted by Lugotorix View Post
      They declined reinforcements and aid. The people remained. That's what gave rise to the Romano-British stories. In fact, Badon Hill is believed to have been fought against Saxons. That's a vast distortion. The game Attila starts in 395 and Hengist and Horsa are both present- and they deposed the pro-Roman chieftain where they began settling. What else?
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxon_Shore

      The late Roman defences along the channel both in Britannia and Gallia seem to have been manned by as well as built against the Saxons swarming in the area.
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