When Sports Illustrated debuted their cover art for their inaugural list of the 50 most powerful people in sports, I couldn’t help but get titillated at the sight of Roger Goodell sitting on the Iron Throne. As a devourer of Game of Thrones and the book series from whence it came — A Song of Ice and Fire — it seemed my two worlds of sports and nerdy medieval fantasy were finally colliding.
The thing is, I despise Joffrey Baratheon more than you do. I want nothing more than the Stark children to be reunited in the godswood of Winterfell, and I don’t think you really care. I pray to the Father, Mother, Smith, Maiden, Crone, Warrior, Stranger, as well as the old gods, the Lord of Light, and the Drowned God, that the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros see its peace restored. And I named them all from memory.
So when I dug deeper (or just clicked a link on SI.com’s homepage) and came upon the wonderful “Kingdoms of Sport” map fashioned after the world George R.R. Martin created, I declared the rest of my day a wash, and sat, gazing at this creation for more time than I’m comfortable sharing here. Now, I’m no maester, but as someone whose spent almost every day for the last seven months plowing through the ASOIAF series (I’m halfway through the fifth and most recent installment, A Dance With Dragons), I think it makes me somewhat qualified to doll out some critiques and insight into John Hendrix’s beautiful map.
[Minimal spoilers ahead, that is, if you’ve never been exposed to an ounce of material from the books series or TV show]
The first thing that struck me as all wrong was putting the UFC in Winterfell. Winterfell for thousands of years has been home to the Starks, descendants of Bran the Builder and the first men, whose sitting Lord is the Warden of the North. Before Torrhen Stark bent the knee to the Targaryens, the Starks ruled as Kings of the North. Lord Eddard Stark was the King’s Hand, his son Robb unbent the knee and fashioned himself a new King in the North and in the sports world; Dana White, however influential is no such equivalent. It should be noted I have a particular affinity for the Starks — their direwolf is my favorite sigil of any house in the realm, and the Starks are generally the most sympathetic, innocent, “woe is us” characters in the saga. Conversely, I have relatively little affinity for UFC, and find it an unsympathetic, cutthroat kind of sport.
That having been said, throwing the NHL up at the Wall and the lands beyond the wall, particularly The Lands of Always Hockey (ne Winter), was a pretty clever move.
Down in the Riverlands, Roger Goodell, No. 1 on SI’s list, lies in Riverrun, home of House Tully. House Tully is one of the great houses, but they get screwed over pretty fast in The War of the Five Kings and have relatively little influence. Their lord is Hoster Tully, a sickly old man. Their sigil is a trout, which is easily the wimpiest of all the great houses. Their words are “Family. Duty. Honor.” Ignoring the fact that the influence of House Tully in Westeros and the NFL in the sports world are wildly incongruous, the NFL seems staunchly against family, duty, and honor (see: the thousands of retired players suing the league for poor treatment of retirees).
“The Tube Lands” in the West make perfect sense. The Wardens of the West are the members of House Lannister. Except for everyone’s favorite imp Tyrion, the Lannisters are rich, conniving, and bloodthirsty for power (hell even Tyron is, but he’s WITTY). Their sigil is a lion of crimson and gold, and their words are either “Hear Me Roar” or unofficially, “A Lannister Always Pays His Debts.” Now, every person on SI’s list is basically rich, conniving, and bloodthirsty for power, but nobody is as good at it as ESPN. Likewise, the Lannisters are damn good at it. Queen Cersei gave birth to three children, all fathered by her twin brother Jamie, and passed it off to the realm that their father was her late husband, King Robert Baratheon. And now one of these incestuous monsters is the king, and he is an awful person, even for this series. They will almost always take the low road to gain power or attention, and they have a lot of money at their disposal to do so. Hmm…
Not much to say about Selig’s Landing or Stern’s End, those are pretty standard measure. Down in the South, Hendrix fashioned a “Higharden” where “Dorne” is supposed to be. Not a huge deal, he’ll just have to spend a little more time in the Sept tonight, praying for redemption.
Across the Narrow Sea from Westeros is Essos, an enormous land mass home to the nine Free Cities, the Dothraki Sea, the ruins of Valyria, Slaver’s Bay, and even further East, the Red Waste, the Jade Sea, the region of Yi Ti and cities such as Qarth and Asshai. Sound weird to you? Me too, and that’s why it’s where soccer and the Olympics went. Essos is foreign and scary to most peoples of Westeros, and they stay mostly unconcerned with matters there unless it involves trade. To most Americans like myself, soccer is foreign and scary and I stay mostly unconcerned with matters there unless it involves trade, like when that David Beckham guy came to America to play soccer.
One true shame is that this map didn’t include any mention of dragons or House Targaryen. While it’s true they haven’t had any influence on the realm since the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen was murdered, along with his son Prince Rhaegar and damn near everyone remaining in the family line, they have the blood of ancient Valyria, conquered Westeros with dragons, and are the most badass family in the whole damn world. Daenerys Targaryen hatched herself some dragons, the first the realm has seen in three centuries, and is looking to reconquer the realm in her family’s name, so they’re slowly making their way back. It’s hard to think of a sports world equivalent on the spot, but it would have been nice to see a Targaryen reference regardless.
Like I said, on the whole this is a wonderful creation, and I’m just being nitpicky. It’s an imaginative, creative take on the series and the sports world, and is a great companion to SI’s list.
Update: Sports Illustrated editor Adam Duerson, who oversaw the “Power” features, reached out to me on Twitter and clarified that there is in fact a Targaryen illustration in the magazine. It appears SI has not woken the dragon, so rest easy my Westerosi peeps.