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Bad Worldbuilding in ASoIaF


Aldarion
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14 minutes ago, Ingelheim said:

The Unsullied are by far the worst worldbuilding Martin ever did. In general Essos is far worse in terms of realism than Westeros, but the Unsullied take the prize.

Eunuchs castrated while being kids would never develop to be fierce warriors.

If they have magical drugs that make people totally obedient and immune to pain, that is not really a problem.

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9 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

If they have magical drugs that make people totally obedient and immune to pain, that is not really a problem.

Sure, but that's the magic part.

Unsullied couldn't have grown into muscular adult males. Men who are castrated at a young age never develop a muscular build, they can't. They tend to be tall, but have very weak muscles (and get eventually quite fat), and aren't nearly as agressive as the average men because they lack testosterone

They wouldn't be good warriors by any means, let alone the best and most disciplined in the world.

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3 hours ago, Ingelheim said:

Sure, but that's the magic part.

Unsullied couldn't have grown into muscular adult males. Men who are castrated at a young age never develop a muscular build, they can't. They tend to be tall, but have very weak muscles (and get eventually quite fat), and aren't nearly as agressive as the average men because they lack testosterone

They wouldn't be good warriors by any means, let alone the best and most disciplined in the world.

So you think the Good Masters couldn't have had magical testosterone replacement to make powerfully built and strong eunuchs despite the fact that they also have magical obedience and pain killer drugs? 

The Unsullied are clearly a part of the fantasy element of that fantasy series, and not so much a realism element.

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4 hours ago, Aldarion said:

God can speak however he wants, but if there is any evidence of God(s) being around at all, there need to be visible consequences in worldbuilding.

That is clearly lacking in LotR, not so much in ASoIaF. It is also lacking in the real world, by the way, yet the lack of 'visible consequences in real world worldbuilding' doesn't dissuade the religious of the world from their (petty) superstitions.

4 hours ago, Aldarion said:

Martin lacks that, and it is clear he has no clue how to handle the divine or its manifestation in this world, religion included. Religions exist in Martin's world, but they might as well not exist for all the impact they have. Most of the characters in his world have what is essentially a postmodernist secular mindset, very far from what actual medieval people were like.

He isn't writing a medieval books series - and neither was Tolkien, whose characters are equally silly in the sense that there is no visible religion or piety at all in LotR. That is actually a deeply unrealistic part of the book as every society as complex as the ones portrayed in Tolkien's works would have had some kind of religion. But somehow they don't.

4 hours ago, Aldarion said:

So far, Daenaerys is the only character in the series that I can actually believe may be divinely influenced. If she is so influenced, that is.

I suggest you reread things. Every character who has a prophetic dream or vision or is guided by them might be influenced, in the end, by some kind of divine power.

4 hours ago, Aldarion said:

Aragorn did more to earn his kingship than all the kings and pretenders in all the ASoIaF books combined so far. He was raised by Elrond, somebody that has actually served under rulers and as a ruler, and thus largely knows what he is doing. He led Rangers for much of his life, keeping Shire and remnants of Dunedain of Arnor safe. He led forces of Gondor as Thorongil, destroying the fleet of Umbar and thus causing a major setback in Sauron's plans - without that move, who knows if there will have been Gondor by the time of the War of the Ring. Without Aragorn's guidance, Frodo will not have even reached Rivendell, let alone Mordor. Without Aragorn, Gondor will have fallen to Sauron and there will have been nobody to lead forces of the West to the Black Gate (or any forces to lead to the Black Gate in the first place), which will have directly led to failure of the quest to destroy One Ring.

He actually does stuff to help his kingdom long before he openly lays claim to the crown. So far, none of the characters in ASoIaF did that. Even Stannis only helps defend the Wall long after he had laid claim to the Iron Throne, and he is the only one who even thinks of helping. Jon Snow may qualify if he ever lays claim to the crown, but even that only after he has gained few decades of leadership experience.

I know what the character does, but none of that has any bearing on him being king. He is the king because of his ancestry, and for no other reason. And his ancestry - and nothing else - makes him great. Just as it makes Boromor and Faramir and Denethor great, albeit to a lesser degree because they are lesser men of Númenórean descent and not the last scion of the House of Elros.

In Tolkien's world nobility is real in the sense that it is what makes people noble and heroic and strong.

Aragorn is also always the king, never mind that he didn't push his claim. This is a work where royalty is real and powerful, and not given to the whims of the people. Aragorn's natural authority - something that goes back completely to his family tree and blood - is such that he wins every confrontation, even staring matches with Gandalf and Sauron.

It is true royalist literature, hammering home the view that true royalty will always be clear and visible, never mind where the king is, what clothes he wears, etc.

We have nothing like that in ASoIaF. In fact, George plays around with and mocks such, say, naive or childish conceptions of kingship. I mean, it is no surprise that 'the rightful heir' of the Baratheon dynasty is a completely unpopular prick who will never be accepted as king.

4 hours ago, Aldarion said:

And in Middle Earth, bloodlines actually matter in a way that is not true anywhere in Planetos except maybe Winterfell.

Which would be also a rather bad plot device, if true.

4 hours ago, Aldarion said:

Aragorn has more depth than 90% of major characters in ASoIaF. He has no character growth, but he does not need to have it - his character growth had happened long before the books and he is actually a mature person by the time the story starts, unlike ASoIaF where you have adult nobles acting like toddlers.

If you want to real 1,000 pages books where major secondary characters do not change at all - go along. But it is nothing I'll ever praise as good character design.

Obviously Aragorn would have worked much better as a character if the book had shown him evolve into a king just as Pippin, Merry, Sam, and Frodo changed and evolved as the story progressed. Wouldn't be that hard to write, but Tolkien obviously wanted a static king who doesn't have to earn his crown but is handed it by an angel of the lord.

Frodo rises so high in nobility and wisdom that he can lecture and shame Saruman in the end. Aragorn could always do that, because he is the king. The Frodo we meet in the beginning of the book could never even challenge Saruman.

4 hours ago, Aldarion said:

No, he is just going to add nonsensical nature dieties. And he is going to screw it up because he cannot decide if it is "divine will" or "just magic" at work.

He already has added such deities - and he doesn't have to spill out who or what sends prophecies. But obviously the reader is free to ask ... and also to wonder aloud what kind of metaphysical framework we can postulate on that basis.

I mean, the existence of skinchangers' second life alone proves the existence of the human soul in Martinworld (if skinchanging didn't prove that by itself). That alone doesn't confirm that gods and deities exist, but makes their existence more likely than in our world where we can be extremely confident that the human soul doesn't exist.

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29 minutes ago, SaffronLady said:

I have minor issues about "pre-storyline" character growth, but maybe I read too much shonen manga - where the majority of character growth either doesn't happen or happens on-screen - for my own good.

Issue with that is that a character who shows up as a pretty accomplished guy and then doesn't change then there is no character development there - even if we have an appendix where some of the past of the character is briefly summarized.

You can compare it to a novel where, say, the older Napoleon shows up and doesn't change (much). That we know he was an obscure island guy who rose to be a great general and emperor once doesn't change the fact that the character would have little to no development in the hypothetical book we talk about.

That doesn't mean you cannot have a book about an old deposed ruler or general who has a lot of character growth and change in a book where such a character reflects on his life and career, say.

But in ASoIaF we have no hidden king who behaves like a king and is treated with awe and deference as soon as people get a taste of their natural authority.

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So after reading one…of like 4 essay length paragraphs by @Aldarion on just one page (pg. 4) if this topic, I’ve come to a conclusion. 

@Aldarion : You don’t like ASOiAF that much do you? You prefer a series like Lord of the Rings right? 

Here, crucify me if you must, I’ll be direct : I think Lord of the Rings is a boring slog in which half the characters have 0 character growth, and the villains are compelling in now way whatsoever. I read all three books because I decided I had to. I had seen the movies, but in order to actually criticize the books, I had to read them. So I did. I barely made it through A Fellowship of the Ring, as it was maybe the slowest book I’ve ever read. I counted at one point : 15 pages of walking through a forest. Straight. And not just that, no character growth was happening either. Literally just a description of a forest for 15 pages. 

But nothing compares to my person nightmare. There is a scene upon Aragon and gang’s arrival in Rohan, in which Theoden (that’s the King’s name right) was still being controlled by…Wormstongue or whatever his name was, and Gandolf, Aragon, etc had to surrender their weopans to enter the King’s chamber. In ASOIAF this scene would last..at most 2 sentences. 3 pages. For 3 pages they surrendered rheir weapons to enter a King’s throne room. Do you know why? Because they were having a pissing contest, talking about how great there were, which Tolkein spends an INCREDIBLY long period of time doung constantly. I was told how great Aragorn was probably 700 times in these books. By the author. Not even really be the actions, often Aragorn was doing jack shit nothing while his praises were being sang. Now of coursec this wasn’t ONLY for Aragorn, I also had to be told how special the Hobbits were, how evil the Orcs were, how great the Elves were..for pages and pages and pages. 

Ahh good worldbuilding - When you have to tell your audience how everything is rather than showing them. And here I thought the golden rule of writing was “show not tell”. 

And, and please don’t quote the Simillatuon ot whatever ti prove me wring, as I don’t care if it isn’t actually clear in the text of the book I am reading - The world of the Lord of the Rings is even more static then the world of ASOIAF. Everything seems to have existed forever in a very certain way, and also it is “supposed” to be that way (cause Tolkein constantly makes moral decisions of how things are suppossed to be, something @Aldarion seemed to dislike in other parts of this forum). 

Listen, I studied history (and was rewarded with a degree for it lol). And yes, @Aldarion, ASOIAF is more accurate than Lord of the Rings to how things were. I think what you are affected by bad history. Mythical style/sugar coated history. You said that people like Eddard would be the “norm” for nobles in one comment. In what world? Certainly not Earth. Nobles did in fact abuse their power. Nobles did in fact treat the “small-folk” like crap. Again, what history books are you reading dude? The ones I read were full of shit JUST LIKE what happens in ASOIAF. In fact, in casw you don’t know (you should) GRRM just lifted a lot of the events in our books directly from history (particularly the War of Roses). Is he perfect in his WorldBuilding? No. But he is a hell of a lot better than authors like, yes, Tolkein, who’s world is incredibly black and white, and in casw you don’t get it, he’ll be sure to explain to you the morals you should have in the text repeatedly. 

PS. I like the Hobbits by the way. They were the only characters with any…character growth, and I just liked them. Good dudes (Movie Frodo also kind of ruined book Frodo if you ask me)

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I have one question, @Aldarion : Have you read the Expanse, and is its world building good? 

I’ll even tell you why I am asking. If yo answer the Expanse’s world building is bad, I think your problem is not “bad world building”, it is “world building that challenges my political-stances and my personal view of the world” (because the Expanse has spectacular world building, but I suspect you won’t like it anyways…cause it won’t appeal to those who believe in a conservative fantasy version of the world where the rich and powerful are super nice and good and “deserve” to be in power)

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Plenty of worldbuilding makes little sense in LOTR.  The absence of population, or political structures, in Eriador, for hundreds of years;  the non-existent economics of the eleven realms; the dwarven mountain cities that have no agricultural land; the Shire being 1890’s Warwickshire set in pre-history.

These things don’t matter that much, unless they become stupid.

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4 hours ago, Lord of Raventree Hall said:

 

Listen, I studied history (and was rewarded with a degree for it lol). And yes, @Aldarion, ASOIAF is more accurate than Lord of the Rings to how things were. I think what you are affected by bad history. Mythical style/sugar coated history. You said that people like Eddard would be the “norm” for nobles in one comment. In what world? Certainly not Earth. Nobles did in fact abuse their power. Nobles did in fact treat the “small-folk” like crap. Again, what history books are you reading dude? The ones I read were full of shit JUST LIKE what happens in ASOIAF. In fact, in casw you don’t know (you should) GRRM just lifted a lot of the events in our books directly from history (particularly the War of Roses). Is he perfect in his WorldBuilding? No. But he is a hell of a lot better than authors like, yes, Tolkein, who’s world is incredibly black and white, and in casw you don’t get it, he’ll be sure to explain to you the morals you should have in the text repeatedly. 

 

The Wars of the Roses were not too bad for the smallfolk, and most succession conflicts tended not to be.  No would-be monarch wanted to kill off his future taxpayers and soldiers.

Where things tended to turn really savage were Crusades, wars of religion, ideological fights, conflicts where neither side could gain a decisive advantage over the other, wars to rid territory of another people, wars of enslavement.  Leaders no longer saw enemy civilians as potential subjects, but rather, as subhumans.  

The Hundred Years War fits the type of war where neither side gained a decisive advantage, until 1450-53.  The English could devastate Northern and South Western France, and the French could devastate Gascony, without either side being able to force a win.  The confict between Imperial Spain and its allies, and the Ottoman Empire, in the Sixteenth century, was another such dreadful war, where the Ottomans and their North African vassals raided for slaves, and the Christians took savage revenge.  Likewise on the borders between the Ottoman empire and Imperial Hungary, and the Spanish and Dutch Netherlands.  And, or course, the Thirty Years War, and the Deluge, were perfect storms.

Martin bases his wars very much on that kind of ideological conflict, rather than the more limited fighting of the Wars of the Roses. Tywin Lannister resorts to extreme cruelty, very rapidly, and the Northern army responds in kind. Stannis is more restrained, but even his men burn villages as they march on the capital.  Nobody questions the right to carry out mass executions as reprisals, nor to pillage and burn. 

 

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4 hours ago, SeanF said:

Martin bases his wars very much on that kind of ideological conflict, rather than the more limited fighting of the Wars of the Roses.

I do think it is a wee bit strange a succession conflict turned into a war of genocide real fast. Don't the westerlords have their own misgivings about their lord's army going full kill maim burn in the riverlands? I know Clegane himself doesn't, but the west is big.

Or maybe they are just cowed by Tywin too much.

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6 hours ago, SeanF said:

The Wars of the Roses were not too bad for the smallfolk, and most succession conflicts tended not to be.  No would-be monarch wanted to kill off his future taxpayers and soldiers.

From what I know the ever escalating campaigns ended up involving the bulk of the population in the war one way or another, but it clearly wasn't a conflict of annihilation on the peasant level - unlike certain wars of conquest or punitive expeditions in border regions.

However, English societies devolved to the level of precautionary (royal) murders and collective punishment. Attainders were not common (almost unheard of) prior to the Wars of the Roses. Also you didn't have rival princelings butcher each other just in case. That is something that slowly normalized in the Tudor years again.

George's world is unrealistically fucked up in that sense. There is no long historical period of war and conflict prior to or after Robert's Rebellion, so the kind of toxic and destructive hatred we see in many characters make little sense. Tywin's attitude towards the Reynes is understandable to a point, but it should have been viewed as a monstrous crime. Robert's personal hatred of Rhaegar makes sense ... his attitude towards his other Targaryen cousins not so much.

Tywin's take on the Riverlanders feels very unrealistic as this is a united Realm for 300 years and Westerlanders and Riverlanders are, in fact, not enemies. There were no campaigns of conquest in this part of Westeros for centuries, so it would actually be expected that the fighting men on both sides would not look forward to butcher and rape innocent Riverlanders.

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32 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

Tywin's take on the Riverlanders feels very unrealistic as this is a united Realm for 300 years and Westerlanders and Riverlanders are, in fact, not enemies. There were no campaigns of conquest in this part of Westeros for centuries, so it would actually be expected that the fighting men on both sides would not look forward to butcher and rape innocent Riverlanders.

It always felt a bit odd to me as well.  There's a theory out there that the Riverlanders that were paraded in front of Eddard Stark may have been coached into exagerating what occurred to prompt the Crown into giving them military aid.  But it still doesn't answer why the Riverland Lords thought they needed aid against the Westerlands if they didn't reasonably believe that Tywin was behind the raids on their lands.  

I guess the takeaway is that Tywin believed he had to answer Tyrion's abduction by some sort of force to show that he wasn't weak.  Which I suppose fits in with his personality.  

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37 minutes ago, Lord Varys said:

From what I know the ever escalating campaigns ended up involving the bulk of the population in the war one way or another, but it clearly wasn't a conflict of annihilation on the peasant level - unlike certain wars of conquest or punitive expeditions in border regions.

However, English societies devolved to the level of precautionary (royal) murders and collective punishment. Attainders were not common (almost unheard of) prior to the Wars of the Roses. Also you didn't have rival princelings butcher each other just in case. That is something that slowly normalized in the Tudor years again.

George's world is unrealistically fucked up in that sense. There is no long historical period of war and conflict prior to or after Robert's Rebellion, so the kind of toxic and destructive hatred we see in many characters make little sense. Tywin's attitude towards the Reynes is understandable to a point, but it should have been viewed as a monstrous crime. Robert's personal hatred of Rhaegar makes sense ... his attitude towards his other Targaryen cousins not so much.

Tywin's take on the Riverlanders feels very unrealistic as this is a united Realm for 300 years and Westerlanders and Riverlanders are, in fact, not enemies. There were no campaigns of conquest in this part of Westeros for centuries, so it would actually be expected that the fighting men on both sides would not look forward to butcher and rape innocent Riverlanders.

It was an odd war in which, if anything, the upper classes were more brutal to each other than to the lower.  Edward IV more than once gave the order, “kill the lords, spare the commons.”  However, it makes sense to cut the head off the opposing snake, rather than hack at its tail.

Something similar happened in the closing stages of the conflict between Henry III and rebel barons, and the faction fighting under Edward II, which actually saw nobles being hanged, drawn, and quartered.

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20 hours ago, Aldarion said:

Martin lacks that, and it is clear he has no clue how to handle the divine or its manifestation in this world, religion included. Religions exist in Martin's world, but they might as well not exist for all the impact they have. Most of the characters in his world have what is essentially a postmodernist secular mindset, very far from what actual medieval people were like.

I think Stannis' story shows the influence that religion has on the story's events, doesn't it?  

ETA: and I suppose Cersei's story as well.  Even though she's not religious herself, she is being very affected by those that are.

Edited by Frey family reunion
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5 minutes ago, SeanF said:

It was an odd war in which, if anything, the upper classes were more brutal to each other than to the lower.  Edward IV more than once gave the order, “kill the lords, spare the commons.”  However, it makes sense to cut the head off the opposing snake, rather than hack at its tail.

Of course it makes sense eventually when you have a back and forth and back and forth about whose faction is in charge and an ever growing number of scores you have to even out ... but the point is that in medieval times nobility were actually sparing each other's lives and royal blood was sacred, etc.

In Westeros George pretends this is the case, too, with talk about nobles being captured to be ransomed, etc. ... only to nearly immediately move on to the butchering of women and children.

The savagery and lawlessness we see right now in the Riverlands is something you would expect after, say, 15-20 years into the Thirty Years' War ... but not after 1-2 years of fairly limited fighting.

5 minutes ago, SeanF said:

Something similar happened in the closing stages of the conflict between Henry III and rebel barons, and the faction fighting under Edward II, which actually saw nobles being hanged, drawn, and quartered.

Sure, but back then attainders and collective punishment weren't a thing. Edward III didn't kill all the kin of his stepfather nor ruin his family.

In Westeros it seems quite common that a king destroys an entire noble house when they seem to be rebellious, e.g. the attainders King Joffrey issues against effectively two thirds of the nobility of the Realm.

 

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13 hours ago, Lord of Raventree Hall said:

So after reading one…of like 4 essay length paragraphs by @Aldarion on just one page (pg. 4) if this topic, I’ve come to a conclusion. 

@Aldarion : You don’t like ASOiAF that much do you? You prefer a series like Lord of the Rings right?

I mean, it is possible to like more than one thing. And I think it's valid to point out areas which The Lord of the Rings, or indeed any other series, does better than ASoIaF, just as it is in turn valid to say we prefer some things from ASoIaF. The topic here is "bad worldbuilding in ASoIaF so obviously we're going to primarily focus on flaws in ASoIaF's worldbuilding.

But I do think it's worth noting that The Lord of the Rings isn't really a novel, in the sense of a fictional self-contained narrative (definitions of "novel" are wibbly). Or at least, it wasn't conceived as one. It's written as a legend, Tolkien's intention being to create a new mythology for modern Britain. As such, the relative straightforwardness of some characters, the apparent predestination of elements of the plot, the clear good/evil morality throughout most of it, some of the digressions, the songs, etc. are part of the point. That Aragorn arrives essentially fully-formed as a heroic character and undergoes little to no development is in some ways no more of a crime in the context of The Lord of the Rings than that Diomedes does the same in the Iliad or Beowulf in his eponymous text. That we now see some of these features as weaknesses is because we've adopted it into the novelistic tradition (in part becasue of its spectacular success) and analyse it accordingly.

I do also find it curious to denigrate Tolkien for long digressions on certain points when GRRM is also perfectly capable of overstuffing his books with apparently irrelevant detail. Both authors are capable of ignoring important stuff when it suits them. I do think overall that Tolkien is more on the money with his worldbuilding than GRRM, which is in part a function of their background: Tolkien was a scholar, and GRRM is a writer. GRRM is more entertaining to read, and his novels are certainly more in tune with turn-of-the-century storytelling, but I think one can't help but have less confidence in his underpinning knowledge. Where Tolkien doesn't address something in the worldbuilding, I have no problem assuming that this is because he's decided to ignore it; with GRRM I sometimes get the feeling that this is because he's confused, failed to understand something, or is straight-up ignorant of it. And there's no shame in that, particularly, except perhaps where you make a point of how accurate/realistic your storytelling is in areas where it isn't at all.

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On 11/14/2023 at 10:35 PM, Aldarion said:

Uh, your million dollar question makes no bloody sense at all.

It's a good question. You can't fail in a vacuum: there's got to be a target to fail against, and I doubt GRRM shares the same target as you. I guess your position is that deep realism is a universal target and opting out is automatic failure - but that's not always true either: e.g. the Impressionist painters got panned by critics of the time who judged the lack of realism (precise drawing, smooth brushwork) as automatically a failure. The painters themselves felt inspired to record reality, in their own way. Critical standards expanded.

George is not Monet & co., but fiction is an art, and artists do their own thing, and his thing for asoiaf so far includes snatching away chunks of realism as gleefully as he does the tropes.

There's a lot of realism left, proved by all the theories and insights that depend on it and actually work out really well.

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11 hours ago, SeanF said:

The Wars of the Roses were not too bad for the smallfolk, and most succession conflicts tended not to be.  No would-be monarch wanted to kill off his future taxpayers and soldiers.

Where things tended to turn really savage were Crusades, wars of religion, ideological fights, conflicts where neither side could gain a decisive advantage over the other, wars to rid territory of another people, wars of enslavement.  Leaders no longer saw enemy civilians as potential subjects, but rather, as subhumans.  

The Hundred Years War fits the type of war where neither side gained a decisive advantage, until 1450-53.  The English could devastate Northern and South Western France, and the French could devastate Gascony, without either side being able to force a win.  The confict between Imperial Spain and its allies, and the Ottoman Empire, in the Sixteenth century, was another such dreadful war, where the Ottomans and their North African vassals raided for slaves, and the Christians took savage revenge.  Likewise on the borders between the Ottoman empire and Imperial Hungary, and the Spanish and Dutch Netherlands.  And, or course, the Thirty Years War, and the Deluge, were perfect storms.

Martin bases his wars very much on that kind of ideological conflict, rather than the more limited fighting of the Wars of the Roses. Tywin Lannister resorts to extreme cruelty, very rapidly, and the Northern army responds in kind. Stannis is more restrained, but even his men burn villages as they march on the capital.  Nobody questions the right to carry out mass executions as reprisals, nor to pillage and burn. 

 

Death toll was 105,000 in the War of the Roses. I don’t suppose nobles made up a significant number of those deaths. 

Give me an estimate for the War of 5 Kings if you think it was so much more bloody. 

Just to give another example of a war of succession that I know was INCREDIBLY blood, the Three Kingdoms Period in China had some ridiculous death toll where huge percents of the population ended up dying. And I’d say do to the expansion of the war beyond just Stark vs Lannister could explain a larger death toll. 

Like was every real world lord like Tywin Lannister? Hell no. But those like him did exist. It would not be hard to pull someone just as violent as him from history. I don’t particularly feel lije doing tons of resewrch for this…but I did, for many papwrs in University, and horrific things happened…a lot in history, and the poor usually suffered the worst of it.  

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39 minutes ago, Springwatch said:

but fiction is an art, and artists do their own thing, and his thing for asoiaf so far includes snatching away chunks of realism as gleefully as he does the tropes.

Well said. 

I am reminded of M. John Harrison causing a storm, years ago, when he wrote about worldbuilding as the "clomping foot of nerdism". His extended commentary following the firestorm I think better explains his intentions. Back then, I was very much opposed to the basic idea, but over the years for me his clarified viewpoint has been more correct than not.

His allusion to a library of facts also reminds me of Borges's short story "On Exactitude in Science".

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