Game of Thrones vs. real life: 5 ways fact is worse than fiction

By Anna Neistat, Senior Director for Research, Amnesty International

The long-awaited fifth season of Game of Thrones begins on Sunday, April 12. Broadcast in 170 countries, the show shocks viewers and generates controversy with graphic violence, especially against women.

Yet many aspects of real life around the world today are WORSE than the mythical Game of Thrones world of Westeros.

[spoiler alert: reveals plot lines up to the end of season 2]


Game of Thrones begins with Northern Lord Ned Stark executing a deserter. Since no character is safe in the show, he is then beheaded by the despotic King Joffrey seven episodes later. Despite several executions, Westeros pales in comparison with the 2,466 death sentences Amnesty International reported worldwide in 2014, up 28% on 2013.

This sharp rise is driven largely by Egypt and Nigeria, though the greatest number of executions happen in China. Methods of execution around the world include lethal injection and hanging, while beheading still happens in Saudi Arabia.

Read Amnesty International’s 2014 Death Penalty report.


Most examples of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment on Game of Thrones could have been inspired by real life. In 2014 Amnesty International documented various torture practices reminiscent of the Theon Greyjoy torture scenes throughout season two: the removal of nails (in Nigeria), mock executions (Mexico), or stripping victims naked and tying and pulling their genitalia with a string (The Philippines).

In 2014 Amnesty International warned of a global crisis of torture. It has reported on torture and other ill-treatment in 141 countries over the past five years, from beatings and rape to the use of dogs to intimidate victims.

The show’s torture scenes may have touched a nerve. 44% of people still fear they would be at risk of torture if taken into custody in their country, according to an Amnesty survey.

Find out more about Amnesty International’s Stop Torture campaign.


Game of Thrones is criticized for its depiction of women and sexual violence. Women are raped, forced into sexual slavery or subjected to other gender-based violence.

Several of the main protagonists find themselves sold or forced into marriage. In the very first episode, Daenerys Targaryen’s brother forces her into marriage to further his own ambitions.

Women’s rights fare little better in the real world. Violence against women continues to be a feature of violent conflicts, but not limited to them. In Algeria and Tunisia, legislation allows a man accused of rape to avoid prosecution by marrying the girl he raped – if she is under 18.

We do not know the true scale of forced marriage, but GirlsNotBrides says 700 million women alive today were married before turning 18. One country where forced marriage continues is Somalia, although the precise extent is unknown. In March, Amnesty International published chilling testimonies of Somalian women and girls with disabilities forced to marry older and/or abusive men:

“I was 13 years old. My family decided to give me to this man, I refused and ran away. My family sent strong men after me. They caught me, tied my arms and legs and threw me in a room with the man. He beat me since the beginning.”

But women and girls in Westeros and around the world are fighting back. Last week Amnesty highlighted Afghanistan’s women human rights defenders, who bravely continue their work in the face of threats, attacks and murder.

Find out more about Amnesty International’s My Body, My Rights campaign on sexual and reproductive rights.


No character can say anything on King’s Landing without being overheard by spies in the pay of political manipulators “Little Finger” or Varys, whose “little birds” tell him the “strangest stories”.

Today’s spies don’t have “little birds”, but they do have programs for mass surveillance of online and mobile communications like Dreamy Smurf, which UK intelligence agency GCHQ uses to activate mobile phones that are switched off and use them as listening devices. If government powers to collect billions of internet records a month go unchecked, the internet will have less privacy than King’s Landing.

Find out more about Amnesty International’s #UnfollowMe anti-surveillance campaign.


The medieval world of Game of Thrones is a brutal warzone with attacks on civilians, chemical “wild fire” and slave armies made of abducted children, not to mention dragons…

2014 was a catastrophic year for civilians in war zones, according to Amnesty International’s 2014 annual report. The report did not document the use of dragons but did highlight violations of the laws of war in at least 18 countries.

New evidence of chemical weapons use emerged last month. Eye witnesses in Syria told Amnesty International they have been subjected to chlorine gas attacks causing the horrific death of an entire family, including three young children.

Don’t let real life compete with Game of Thrones for horror, violence and cruelty. Take action and stand up for human rights across the world.

This blog was originally published on Huffington Post.