It’s one of the most intricate and detailed TV shows ever made and it’s beloved the world over… but did you spot these fascinating Game Of Thrones easter eggs, callbacks and special spoiler-filled secrets?
George W. Bush’s head makes a cameo
Back in the pre-Trump era when Dubya was the most hated US President to date, the Game Of Thrones showrunners made an accidental political statement when they reused an old prop Bush head and stuck it on a pike next to Ned Stark’s recently detached noggin. Even though you could barely make out it was him, HBO was forced to edit the scene later and apologise, calling them move “unacceptable, disrespectful and in very bad taste”. A few seasons later, Maester Pycelle suggested that Lord Tyrion apologise for the infamous Red Wedding, calling it “Unacceptable. Disrespectful. And in very bad taste.”
Like fatter, like son
When Gendry (Joe Dempsie) finally met Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in season 7, their meet-cute intro was snarky and funny: Jon tells Gendry he’s a lot “leaner” than his father, famed fatty Robert Baratheon, to which Gendry shoots back and claims that Jon is a lot shorter than he expected. If you mentally rewind all the way back to season 1 episode 1 when Ned and Robert were reacquainted, you’ll remember that Jon’s father Ned tells Gendry’s father Robert: “You’ve got fat”. Always with the fat shaming in that family. Still, Ned didn’t exactly stay tall for long.
Special musical guests
There was no missing Ed Sheeran’s ill-advised cameo in season 7 – he might as well have been carrying a guitar – but Game Of Thrones has a history of entertaining musical guests. Coldplay drummer Will Champion could be seen banging the skins at the Red Wedding in season 3 (wisely, Chris Martin wasn’t invited) and Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody played a soldier in an earlier episode. Icelandic artists Sigur Ros played at Joffrey’s wedding, which was quite the coup, but as of yet, no one has requested that Bronn sing at their wedding – a Robson Greene cameo surely can’t be discounted for season 8.
The opening credits got a season 6 shout-out
The show’s iconic opening credits are referenced in the finale for season 6, when Sam (John Bradley West) finally arrived at the Citadel Library to begin his Maester training. A quick shot revealed a familiar looking item: hanging from the ceiling like chandeliers were several armillary spheres, or in other words, the swinging circular gizmos you see in the show’s credits every time that music fires up. Earlier in the episode you also get a quick look at the bookkeeper wearing wooden magnifying glasses, the same changing lenses which zoom into the action in the show’s opening sequence.
Gandalf’s sword is in the Iron Throne
Whether it’s an intentional easter egg or just smart use of old props, the show’s iconic Iron Throne holds more than a couple of secrets. Most notably, you can make out Gandalf’s sword ‘Glamdring’ from Lord Of The Rings making up part of the metalwork, while other eagle-eyed fans have spotted prop swords from Ridley Scott’s Kingdom Of Heaven and even weaponry from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
The Lyin’ Throne
Die hard book fans were initially not happy with the portrayal of the Iron Throne, which author George RR Martin wrote as being several dozen feet high – the actual throne is slightly less dominating. This controversy is addressed in a later season, when Varys speaks of the legend of the Iron Throne, saying it was made from “a thousand blades, taken from the hands of Aegon’s fallen enemies and forged in the fiery breath of Balerion the Dread.” Littlefinger replies, with his tongue in his cheek: “There aren’t a thousand blades. There aren’t even two hundred. I’ve counted.” So there. Now it’s canon.
Game Of Thrones x Monty Python
They occupy the opposite ends of the humour spectrum, but Game Of Thrones and Monty Python do have a few common connections. For starters, Winterfell Castle as it appeared in the pilot was actually shot on location at Doune Castle in Scotland, also known as Castle Anthrax from Monty Python & The Holy Grail. One of Daario Naharis’ first appearances also saw him deliver a post-decapitation kiss-off one-liner, albeit in a fictional language, that apparently translated as “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries.” True story.
Cersei saw Oberon’s grisly death coming
Everybody remembers the untimely end of Prince Oberon, when his eye sockets and entire skull were reduced to pulp under the pressure of the Mountain’s gigantic thumbs – truly it was a shocking moment. Anyone who follows Lena Headey’s Instagram account, however, must have been kicking themselves: a full two months before the grisly episode aired, Headey posted a playful picture of her with her thumbs in actor Pedro Pascal’s eyes in what was clearly Oberon’s death being foreshadowed in plain sight.
The Dragonslayer homage
Smarmy Targaryen Viserys got fans of naff ’80s fantasy classics hopeful for a pop culture crossover in season 1, when he got to listing his various ancient relatives and their dragons. Ears pricked up at the mention of “Vermithrax”, which was the name of the dragon in Disney’s 1981 Peter MacNicol sci-fi, Dragonslayer. As far as dragon shout-outs go it’s on the obscure side, but you can’t stick your neck out and drop Smaug’s name in conversation – the nerds would never let you hear the end of it.
George RR Martin: American football jock
The worlds of nerds and jocks are worlds apart and never the twain shall meet – except under the stewardship of George RR Martin. The Game Of Thrones creator is a huge American Football fan and worked various football puns into the books, including this tortured metaphor for the New York Giants beating the New England Patriots at the Superbowl: “a famous Volantene patriot whose unbroken succession of conquests and triumphs ended rather abruptly when he was eaten by giants.” Fan favourite giant Wun Wun is also so named because Martin’s hero, Giants quarterback Phil Simms, wore number 11 on his shirt. Shame they didn’t just call the giant ‘Phil’.
Twice the paycheque
Several actors on Game Of Thrones have been known to charge the show for Songs of both Ice and Fire, if you know what we mean – the show’s cast is so huge, casting directors must occasionally forget they’ve already hired cast members before. British comic Kevin Eldon has played two roles – a stage actor playing Robert Baratheon and a King’s Landing goldcloak – while Dean Charles Chapman played little Martyn Lannister for a few episodes before he was later recast as Tommen. You can even see Qyburn actor Anton Lesser as an extra in episodes before the character was a regular.
Archmaester Ebrose is working on something special
Jim Broadbent’s prissy archmaester let slip in season 7 that he was working on his life’s work: a book chronicling the wars following the death of King Robert the First. The title? ‘The Chronicles of the Wars Following the Death of King Robert I’. “What? You don’t like the title?” he says to his padawan Samwell Tarly, who suggests something a little more “poetic”. Something like, oh we don’t know, ‘A Song Of Ice and Fire’? These worthy tomes could end up being the very books on which the show is based. It was the clearest hint yet that Sam is acting as our narrator.
Littlefinger’s death wish
His demise was long overdue, but slippery Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) finally got what was coming to him in season 7, when Arya and Sansa outsmarted him and slit his throat. What was remarkable about his death, other than how deserved it was, was exactly how neatly Littlefinger’s end mirrored the death of Ned Stark in season 1. Soldiers from House Stark and the Vale both turn on Petyr Baelish as they once did Ned, and a knife is held to his throat, as per Stark’s final moments. What made it sweeter was that Ned’s betrayal was all Littlefinger’s doing, but his machinations could stay secret no longer now that all-seeing-eye Bran was on board.
Row, row, row your bloke
Way, way back in season 3, you may remember Ser Davos sticking the true heir to the throne i.e. the last true-born son of Robert Baratheon on a boat, to save him from death by Lannister. Gendry stayed on that boat, rowing off-screen for four whole seasons – he was gone for so long, fans started to worry what had happened to him. Then came the rowing memes. To the show’s credit, when Gendry was finally reintroduced in season 7, Ser Davos does reference the gag when he tells him: “I thought you might still be rowing.” If only the Wall at Castle Black could be broken as easily as the fourth wall!
Littlefinger is a soothsayer
The oily little oik excelled at two things: being able to talk his way out of anything, and being able to predict the future to an uncanny degree. Petyr Baelish actually managed to predict all the major deaths in the show’s fourth season, and in one sentence: “People die at their dinner tables. They die in their beds. They die squatting over their chamber pots. Everybody dies sooner or later.” Read it back: that’s exactly how the characters of Joffrey, Shae and Tywin Lannister die. What are the odds of calling a death on the toilet? Shame he couldn’t see his own ending coming, really…
Harry Potter references do not really sit lightly in the world of Game Of Thrones (there’s not much childlike wonder and wand-waving here) but the two series have, on occasion, shared a cast member or two. You may remember Osha, played by Natalia Tena, who was famous for playing Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter movies. Osha gets a none-too-subtle reference to the Wizarding World in one scene, where she’s purposely framed next to a very witchy looking broomstick.
R+L=J – The theory foreshadowed
Depending on which way you look at it, this is either the biggest series in the world foreshadowing its biggest twist several years in advance in an incredibly subtle way, or it’s just some random set graffiti. But, you have to admit, not much happens by coincidence in Game Of Thrones, so when you see the letters ‘R’ and ‘L’ carved into wood behind Jon Snow in season 1 – i.e. the initials of his true parents, Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark – you’re quite within your rights to put on your tinfoil hat and congratulate yourself if you saw it coming. Congratulations.
The Cthulhu connection
Pilou Asboek as Euron Greyjoy in HBO’s Game of Thrones (Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO)
When he’s not referencing American Football players, George RR Martin likes dropping references to HP Lovecraft into Thrones lore, in particular the mythos of Cthulhu. House Greyjoy and all of the Ironborn worship the religion of the ‘Drowned God’, which sounds a hell of a lot like old tentacle head. The Drowned God lives in a cave below the sea (like Cthulhu!), is the arch enemy of a God who lives in the clouds (like Cthulhu!) and bears the rite: “What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger”. That’s awfully similar to Lovecraft’s own text: “That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die.”
Red Wedding revenge
Maybe you missed this crucial detail while you were busy punching the air with joy, but the manner in which the perpetrators of the Red Wedding massacre were killed were ironic deaths down to the last. Robb Stark was stabbed in the belly by Roose Bolton, who was himself stabbed in the gut; Catelyn Stark had her throat slit by Walder Frey, whose own neck was cut by Catelyn’s daughter Arya; even the direwolf Grey Wind, who was killed by crossbow, got his own back eventually via Tywin Lannister’s undignified death by crossbow bolt.
How much did Shireen know?
Poor Shireen. Destined to die the most undeserved death in a show known for merciless killing, the daughter of Stannis Baratheon did provide one of the greatest moments of foreshadowing in the show’s history. When she was teaching Ser Davos how to read, the first word she teaches him is “Aegon” – which eventually is revealed to be the real name of Jon Snow, the king Ser Davos would one day go on to serve. Don’t look too much into the future, little Shireen. You won’t like what you see there.