I only started watching Game of Thrones a few months ago. Having finally brought myself up to date, I am converted. Here are some of the reasons why. Lots of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it, my apologies.

The Geography

I was originally attracted to Game of Thrones when I discovered that southern Westeros was just a slightly modified, upturned and greatly enlarged version of the island of Ireland. King’s Landing is Galway, Casterly Rock is Dublin, and Oldtown is Belfast. Sort of.

There are also interesting similarities with Britain, with King’s Landing not so different, geographically, to London; and Lannister and Stark not echoing Lancaster and York. The Great Wall is clearly a nod in the direction of Hadrian’s Wall, just south of the Scottish borders.

Imprinted over this is a greater European picture. Game of Thrones is set in a region far greater than the UK and Ireland, reaching all the way from Scandinavia to North Africa. You can see traces of cultures throughout the series. The primary focus is English, with Northern and Southern accents plainly evident. Dorne is Spain and Essos is Middle Eastern.

The History

The Game of Thrones borrows nearly everything from the Middle Ages. These were violent times, and nothing is left to the imagination. The castles and keeps are from that period, as is the weaponry and clothing. The tortures, murders and battles are brutally medieval and fights for supremacy are truly Machiavellian.

While the North is a gloomy, dreary place, full of capricious attacks and Viking rampages, Kings Landing is altogether more Byzantine. The slave-kingdoms of the East echo an Islamic caliphate, with “Khaleesi” Daenerys married to the Khan of a Mongol-like horde. The celibate Night Watch watchers are a semi-religious cast: monks of a bygone age.

The Characters

The landscape and historical setting is greatly enhanced by its cast of heroes, pawns and villains. Foremost among them is Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage. Tyrion is wonderful – delightfully intelligent, cunning, debauched, humorous and empathic, while suffering damaging abuse and ridicule often from those closest to him. You can’t help but root for him.

Empathy with the misfits and marginalised is a common theme throughout the series. The girl Arya, who would be a boy; Brienne of Tarth, a grown up in the same vein; Bran the crippled boy on his mission to the north; the devious eunuch Varys; John Snow, the illegitimate son of Ned Stark – none of these are minor roles.

Then there are the shades of light and dark. While there are a few unredeemable monsters, many characters are more complex. Few heroes are whiter than white. Catelyn Stark’s treatment of John Snow is one example, as are the motivations of Littlefinger and Sansa Stark in the last series – both people stepping outside their assigned characters when events demand it.

The Stories

The older I get, the more I detest the straightforward story, because nothing in life is straightforward. Most of the time, it’s all incidental mayhem. The creators of Game of Thrones capture this perfectly. There is often an aimlessness about the journeys and unexpected tragedies are alarmingly commonplace.

But the stories, as they are, are compelling. John Snow’s seduction by Ygritte and his subsequent betrayal is heartbreaking, as is Ned Stark’s treatment by Cersei and Joffrey. Tyrion competently defends Kings Landing only to be disgraced by his father. The comeuppance of Theon Greyjoy, a man deserving of his fate, is almost too much to bear.

And you think the stories are going in a certain direction when – BAM – they turn into something altogether more ghastly. The Red Wedding, anyone?

A link to today?

Many science fiction and fantasy stories tell us more about today than they do about the times they were written. Game of Thrones is no different. It’s a modern tale in that it speaks to contemporary gender roles, despite an official insistence (by the likes of Tywin Lannister) on traditionalism. Arya and Brienne want more as women in a largely patriarchal culture. Homosexual relationships are seen as normal, if still somewhat secretive.

Ravens and the little birds of Lord Varys serve as a rudimentary Internet, and Varys’ character speaks to achievement by merit as opposed to noble background.

Unlike the Lord of the Rings, there is less racism. There is bad and good in all cultures. This is clearest with the Wildlings, as they flee from the terror to their north. The Night Watch acknowledge them as humans like themselves, with the misfortune of living on the wrong side of the Wall.

There is also an interplay between religion and atheism taking place that mirrors the outside world. Stanis Baratheon represents a world of religious fanaticism while other characters are more agnostic in their outlook. This, of course, is not an issue of this age alone, but in a world threatened by ISIS and Islamist fanaticism it rings a bitter note.

Final note?

I cannot wait until the start of series 5. I just can’t.