Game of Thrones, the award-winning HBO television series, is well into its sixth season, and continues to enthrall audiences across the world with its stunning visuals and fantastical story, which interweaves plot lines of a civil war, legendary creatures and power struggles. Set in a fictional world, during a post-Columbian era, the show relies heavily on its colorful costumes and lifelike props to draw in viewers. Of these props, the weaponry used in the show is perhaps the most important, with swords being the most representative symbols of the show.
The blades wielded by the Game of Thrones characters have become synonymous with the show itself, and hardcore fans across the world pay a lot of money to get their hands on replicas of the iconic swords, which each have their own special characteristics and names, like Blackfyre, Dark Sister and Longclaw. But, what makes these weapons so extraordinary?
A Mythical, Magical Metal
The secret behind the swords’ superiority is the material of which they were forged: Valyrian steel. This mythical alloy, manufactured in the ancient empire of the Valyrians, is noted to be exceptionally sharp and tremendously strong, yet lightweight, making it an ideal metal for a sword. Its rippled patterns make it distinctive from other metals, and because of these properties, the steel is quite scarce and very expensive. Yet what makes Valyrian steel swords most unique and powerful is the fact that they are forged with magic spells and dragonfire in a sword making process that was all but lost over the ages.
While the fictitious alloy was more than likely the result of imaginative thinking than the consultation of chemistry books, George R. R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series on which the show is based, drew inspiration from real-life ancient weaponry, more specifically Damascus steel, to dream up the material.
Similar to its imaginary predecessor, Damascus steel, which originated in South India before the Common Era, was primarily used to make long-bladed weapons which were reputed to be tough, shatter-resistant and able to be honed to a sharp, resilient edge.
Additionally, the blades possessed the distinctive rippled patterns which resembled flowing water. It is said that Islamic knights would look at these patterns before a battle to be reminded of the flowing waters of the rivers of paradise, and be reassured that should they fall, their place in paradise would be secured.
Of course, there were no fire-breathing dragons or wizardry involved in the forgery of these blades, and the metal’s properties weren’t as ideal as those of Valyrian steel. The material did give rise to a number of legends, however.
It was believed that a blade made of Damascus steel could effortlessly cut through a rifle barrel, or cut in half a silk scarf falling across the blade. Some even say that Damascus steel swords were the strongest blades used in the Crusades. Whether there is any truth to these legends or not, the swords were undoubtedly extraordinary for their time.
Also like Valyrian steel, the original method of production of Damascus steel was eventually lost, and the manufacturing of the patterned swords ceased around 1750.
Although Damascus steel blades may be long gone, these intricate swords have been reincarnated, albeit fictitiously, and can continue to be admired, thanks to the Game of Thrones series, which airs on Sundays at 9PM Eastern Standard Time on HBO.