King’s Landing Was Always a Miserable Dump
Game of Thrones’ destruction of the capital of the Seven Kingdoms revealed a city of mean living conditions and rampant inequality.
Warning: If you haven’t seen last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, this article is one long spoiler.
In the midst of the recent hullaballoo about “The Bells,” the penultimate episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, something got missed in the confusion. The true star of the episode was neither a newly unsympathetic Daenerys nor her fire-breathing baby. The real focus was the city of King’s Landing itself, shown up close and in remarkable detail just at the moment when it, and its unlucky residents, were being scorched to smithereens.
Looking to real-life settings in Dubrovnik, Valletta, Malta, and Girona, Spain, the series’ designers have merely elongated and elaborated on existing architecture. They’ve added a knock-off of the Hagia Sophia and a vast overbearing fortress that’s a mash-up of the Alcazar of Segovia and France’s Mont Saint-Michel. The fantasy buildings aren’t far off the originals in spirit: It’s hard to look out on a wild sea from the delicate, lacy cloister at the summit of Mont Saint-Michel without feeling a little like Cersei looking out to the harbor from the top of the Red Keep. Meanwhile, anyone wondering what King’s Landing would look like transplanted to our world, and the present day, would do well to visit contemporary Istanbul.
This is a world that raised the Red Keep to skyscraper height and built a northern anti-Wildling barrier taller than any cliff, but which has scarcely bothered plastering a single internal wall or invented any heating better than an open fire. And while the Starks and their allies’ last-minute race to turn volcanic dragonglass into weapons is understandable, it does make you wonder why they couldn’t have been kinder to themselves and turned some regular glass into window panes to keep out the cold.
This, of course, fits with the series’ real-life templates. Europe’s medieval cities were notorious plague pits, and stayed that way for a long time. Until quite recently, residents of the dank, lightless back alleys of Dubrovnik’s old city were poor and rather looked down on by officialdom, something that apparently persists today just up the Adriatic coast in the (scarcely less striking) old city of Split. But while it might be painful to see a character previously portrayed as her world’s savior laying waste to the people she’s supposed to be liberating, Daenerys wasn’t entirely wrong to reduce King’s Landing to rubble. As we can now say having seen the city in its dramatic but sordid entirety: The place is a dump.