From the Swamps to the Heights: Some Things In Westeros Just Aren’t Right.

Posted: April 19, 2016 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , ,

This post will be my last Game of Thrones post before Season Six! IT’S ALMOST HERE! YES!

Okay, I’ll calm down now.

As I implied, this post will be about HBO’s excellent adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire. If you’re not caught up, I will probably drop some spoilers.


Sansa: Spoilers are smelly. Like the swamp around Moat Cailin.
Tyrion: Did he say drop spoilers? I’d really rather he not say the word drop.

Season Six of Games of Thrones will be airing in a handful of days. Whew! (It bore repeating. That’s how excited I am.)

It’s been a long wait, made even longer by HBO’s decision to move the premiere three weeks or so later than the show usually airs. I assume they did that in the hopes that The Winds of Winter would have been published and consumed by voracious fans of the books who wanted to stay ahead of the show.

Sadly, GRRM was not able to hit his deadline, but HBO can’t delay any further. I’ve heard of some people stating that they will avoid watching the show until the next book comes out. I wish them good luck, that sounds like a hard row to hoe. But more than likely, they’ll watch the show.

And complain.

That’s what this post will be about: the complaints of a particular book reader. Me.

Although I rarely complain…

Normally I’m a huge apologist for the show.

I’m eager to justify bad decisions of the characters (and sometimes bad decisions of the show-runners) – it’s a thing I enjoy. I try to see alleged shortcomings of the show in a positive light. Don’t believe me? I wrote thousands of positive words about the Sand Snakes.

But since I should have been watching the show weeks ago, I thought I’d earned the right to enjoy a little bit of complaining for my final pre-Season Six post.

So what will I complain about? Look, it’ll be nit picky. But if you stick with me, you’ll have a chance to mock me. Because I’ve created perhaps the worst concept art ever as part of this post. I’m going to complain about some of the production visuals.

Now See Here…

Overall, I like how the show looks.

Even show-haters have to agree that the series looks amazing. (Except for maybe the jousting yard in Season One. That’s right, I said it.) But there are at least two locations that are so well described in the books, the difference between what the show presented and what the books gave a visual life to kind of surprises me.

As the title of the post suggests, I’ll be talking about Moat Cailin, the swampy castle that guards the southern border of the North, and the Eyrie, the mountain-hugging fortress of House Arryn which overlooks the bountiful kingdom of the Vale.

Moat Cailin

The kingdom of the North’s southern boundary is a narrow (relatively speaking) stretch of land called the Neck. It’s super swampy. The Kingsroad which runs from the capital to Winterfell crosses the Neck, and it goes through the ancient castle of Moat Cailin.

It might look run down, but due to its strategic control of the causeway through the swamp, Moat Cailin represents a formidable obstacle.

The Ironborn raiders in Season Two captured Moat Cailin, effectively cutting off Robb Stark’s forces from being able to return to the North by land. In the fourth season, Theon Greyjoy was able to convince the Iron Island garrison to yield Moat Cailin to the Boltons, in exchange for safe passage. They yielded. And then were flayed.

The show presented Moat Cailin like this:


I think they have a drainage issue.

It does serve its general purpose. It’s a castle in a swamp. It’s clearly sitting on top of the road, and getting around the fortress looks difficult. But it just misses out on some of the soul of Moat Cailin. And the swamp is wrong.

Moat Cailin in the books is not only old, it’s a ruin. It looks like hell. Once there had been twenty towers, but now there remain three (one tower  listing to the side like the Tower of Pisa.) The land had once been dry, but some time after the construction of Moat Cailin, a geological event caused the area to be marshy and boggy.

I just don’t like the visual of Moat Cailin as presented on the show. It doesn’t look like the remnant of a previous stucture and there’s not really three distinctive (and separate) towers. In my mind’s eye, Moat Cailin looked something like this:


Humor me, and pretend those are three dilapidated towers, in the fog, in the middle of a woody swamp. Humor me!

Okay, everyone take a moment to laugh. No, I’m not an artist. Obviously. Once we get that out of your system, we’ll move on.

Moat Cailin, as described in the books, is a defensive hardpoint for two reasons. The three towers are strategically placed so attackers have to march right up the causeway to get at them, and once at the towers they’d have no cover. Besiegers are vulnerable to archery from all sides.

It’s the Westeros version of any Tower Defense type game you might find on the iTunes app store, but with the game set forever on the easy setting.

The second reason: the castle is in the middle of a populated swamp. In the Neck live the crannogmen, who build hidden and secure dwellings in the marshland, and boat about. Although they’re descended from the same First Men stock as the other northerners, they are smaller in stature and tend to stick to themselves. (They allegedly have frog-like attributes because of their diet, which includes frogs…)

The little crannogmen are fiercely loyal to House Stark – Howland Reed, their leader, rode with Ned during an important battle that took place near the end of the rebellion. Anyone trying to siege Moat Cailin would be vulnerable targets of the crannogmen who could attack from the cover of the reeds and trees that grow in the Neck.

I grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, next to the Great Dismal Swamp. When I read about Robb’s army passing through Moat Cailin while heading into the Riverlands, I had a good idea in my mind what the Neck looked like.


This could have been from my backyard.

The visual of Moat Cailin on the show is of course superior in artistic quality than my concept art sketch, but my doodle at least has trees in the swamp surrounding the castle. On the show, there doesn’t seem to be any area for the crannogmen to operate and be hidden from sight, and that bothers me. I can ignore the fact that Moat Cailin doesn’t look quite right, but if they’d just added some trees to the terrain, it would have made a big difference to me.

In the books, the Ironmen who were occupying Moat Cailin were essentially trapped in the towers, risking being attacked by hidden snipers when they moved about. This helped influence the lower ranking invaders to mutiny against their commander and accept Theon’s offer.

On the show, the Ironborn kind of give off that vibe, but it’s not really clear. It makes them look dumb for occupying a castle in the middle of a swamp, and maybe not having brought enough supplies or established a supply line.

So I miss the sneaky frog-eaters. And their trees.

The Eyrie

Hard to pronounce (my boss insists on calling it “Ire”) the Eyrie is the seat of power of the proud Arryn family, who have ruled over the Vale for forever.

A narrow structure of seven towers, the Eyrie is a shining symbol of the Arryn’s authority and visible from anywhere in the valley.

In the first season of Game of Thrones, the Eyrie was presented as a large domed structure on top of some crazy Seuss-inspired plateau.


Time to ride right up the the Eyrie.

But some kind of dramatic geological event must have happened in season two or three, because the Eyrie that Sansa and Littlefinger traveled to looked inexplicably different.


Whoa. It’s now on an arch?

Maybe it’s the same Eyrie from a different angle? I don’t think so. For some reason, the production decided to change how the Eyrie looks. (Unless it’s not the Eyrie, but… it’s crazy that they’d be showing us something similar to the Eyrie, but not the Eyrie.)

Okay, as a concept, it fulfills the basic details. It’s a castle up high. Okay. But it doesn’t hit my concept of how the Eyrie should be situated.

I might be going out on a limb here, since it’s been awhile since I’ve read about Catelyn and Tyrion’s trip to the Eyrie in A Game of Thrones. And I’ve seen a lot of fan art that seems to have the idea that the Eyrie is built on top of a mountain (or in the case of the show, a plateau or mesa or whatever the proper topological term is.) But I somehow took a slightly different concept away.

The Vale of Arryn gave me the impression of an Alpine valley. One of the most famous mountains in the Alps is the Matterhorn, shown here:


Not the Vale of Arryn. Switzerland.

In the books, the Eyrie is built into a mountain called the Giant’s Lance. The castle itself isn’t all that large, and is described as a cluster of seven towers. There are internal structures, like the barracks and granaries and so on, carved into the mountain. It’s predominantly vertically oriented, whereas most castles are primarily oriented on the horizontal.

One well-described feature of the castle’s location: it should be alongside a waterfall called Alyssa’s Tears, whose waters turn into vapor before being able to get to the valley floor from prolonged contact along the surface of the mountain. It’s a long drop.

The Eyrie on the show just doesn’t hit that chord for me. It doesn’t even seem to be built into a large mountain. I guess. Maybe it is. It’s impossible to get a good scale on the structure, but either it’s a monstrously huge castle (wrong) or an itty bitty mountain (the mountain isn’t called the Imp’s Lance, it’s called the Giant’s Lance. It should be huge.) And I’m surprisingly attached to the waterfall. For one thing, if I was building a castle and had the expertise in building it into a mountain, I’d want to try and aqueduct over some water.

The notable architecture should primarily be a collection of seven towers. Granted, the animation in the opening credits shows several towers:


But, that’s not how I imagined things. The towers should pretty much communicate the architecture, not be seven towers that happen to be attached to a primary structure.

And, it doesn’t seem right that it should be on the very top of the mountain. The mountain’s tall. Like, really tall. Covered in snow and ice (which is why there’s a waterfall.) My impression was that it was built alongside the mountain, below the permanent snow line. Something like this:


Imagine that’s a mountain like the Matterhorn. And that blob on the center-left is a cluster of white towers. And those lines in the middle is a waterfall, being thrashed into mist on the rocks. IMAGINE IT!

Okay, I didn’t draw the entire mountain. Imagine it as looking a bit more dramatic, like the rugged and beautiful Matterhorn. Wow, I’m really not an artist.

It just needs to be high enough for a commanding view of the valley. Since the castle was built using white stone, it would appropriately be visible against the granite of the mountain, something the denizens of the Vale can see, shining in the sun.

In the books, with Winter approaching, the castle is left empty for the duration of the snowy season. It would be too treacherous to get to it via the mountain paths. Or to get down once the snows started.


I suppose the walkway in the first season might not be that fun to cross in bad weather, but I think I’d risk it rather than starve. The pathways look as wide as the horse trails leading up to it (see first Eyrie photo in this post for scale.) It’d probably be more treacherous if the ascent to the Eyrie hugged the mountainside in places, as I’d imagined:


Look at Legolas showing off. Jerk.

Is it a big deal that the Eyrie doesn’t look the way I imagined from the books? Probably not. Moat Cailin is probably something I’d be more apt to complain about, since I feel the visuals removes the crannogmen from the story. And I do love the crannogmen.

This presentation of the Eyrie on the show doesn’t really break anything. It just seems cheap to me. Like a matte painting. For all I know, the story will never return to the Vale and we’ll never see the Eyrie again. But it would be awesome if we return there this season or the next, and the castle had mysteriously moved again and is built up against the side of a mountain that looks as majestic as this:


As high as honor.

I understand that the show doesn’t have to be 100% faithful to the books. The art department does an amazing job, and at times I’m delighted when things don’t look as I’d expect, like the unique design of the Lannister helmets for example. So I guess I can overlook when well-described locales aren’t rendered faithfully. (That’s so big of me.)

Okay, I complained about some visuals on the show, ones that no one else probably has a problem with. And I demonstrated my lack of artistic talent, so hopefully it was entertaining in some fashion. Yay me!

Thank you for reading this post! And thanks to everyone who reads my posts regularly. Once the show starts up (in a few days) I’ll go on a Game of Thrones blogging hiatus. Rather than writing about the show, I want to watch it and read what people are saying. And recharge. And then I’ll start up blogging again. (Sorry about that.)

Here’s hoping for a great sixth season (hopefully to be soon followed by the sixth book.)

(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)

Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.) Images of the Matterhorn and the Great Dismal Swamp came courtesy of Google. Image of the Fellowship trudging through the snowed in mountain pass of Caradhras (while that spry elf walks on the snow like a boss) is from Fellowship of the Ring (obviously.)

I make no claims to the artwork (except for those awful doodles of mine) but some claims to the text. So there.

If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved

  1. Haylee says:

    You’re selling yourself short – you visually communicated your ideas well!
    I’ve always imagined the Eyrie (how do you pronounce it, I always thought it was eerie, because, well it is!) as very bleak and foggy with lots of sharp outcroppings of slate. Very much like parts of our Yorkshire Moors. I feel an area like the Alps would be too beautiful for it. But that’s just me!
    Agree about Cailin though – it’s definitely not swampy. I think it would have looked very cool if presented that way.
    Do you think it has anything to do with locations available (at least in the beginning)? I realise much of it is CGI but perhaps the grounded shots swayed the look somewhat.
    Anyway, FIVE DAYS! Hurrah!! Enjoy your blogging hiatus – I’m sure I’ll catch up with you on Twitter – I may have to avoid it until Monday evening though, just in case I don’t stay up to watch the 2am showing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words on my doodling skills. 🙂

      Your pronunciation of Eyrie as ‘eerie’ is totally correct. (In that that’s how I pronounce it too.)

      Thanks for being such a fan of my GoT blogging, I’m glad we found each other’s blogs. Looking forward to chatting with you about the show (once you get caught up on each new episode)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I agree it probably has a lot to do with locations. They certainly scout out landscapes, then build from there. They just didn’t have as much love from swamp trees like I did. The fools!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bagga2007 says:

    Since you will see it before me , because I have to wait for someone to watch it then upload it so I can download it, burn it then watch it, would love it if you could give me a heads up about if it’s good, etc. I’m really looking forward to this season as I thought last season there was a lot of setting up for this season. For the first time ever all stories are at very interesting points so whoever they go with first will be exciting. Will you be doing a review of each Ep or anything? I know podcast littlefell and the Joffrey of podcasts will be my main two podcasts about game of thrones. There are so many good ones that I might listen to others if I have the time and my mood improves. Think I’ll stop doing my stories until the season is over as there is too much to listen to and talk about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter, I will let you know if I think it’s good. I won’t be doing recaps, but there’s always a chance that I might write something during the season, but I usually take a break during the show.

      I’m looking forward to the Joffrey of Podcasts, but especially to A Cast of Kings, which is kind of my go-to one.


  3. bagga2007 says:

    In regards of the eyrie isn’t that the place that has the moon hole or whatever it’s called. My memory is poor due to my meds. I haven’t been able to work that out on the to show because it showed it as though the castle was sticking out over nothing. I might be getting mixed up. Funny enough , about the pronouncement of eyrie. A well known Australian author wrote a book a few years ago called eyrie. Saw him being interviewed on tvs here. First question was how do you say it and he didn’t know. The two of them spent five minutes talking about which way they thought you should pronounce it, just funny that the author didn’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your memory is pretty good on this, it’s called the Moon Door. I think they designed the later look of the Eyrie to be over an arch to explain the drop, but any tower can be constructed with empty space below it.


      Interesting that there’s a real debate on how to pronounce Eyrie. It is a real word, I think it means the nesting place of eagles. Aerie might be the same word, different spelling.


  4. I’ve only just started reading the books and only today read if Catelyn and Tyrion’s trip up the Eyrie, and I agree the show didn’t quite do it justice. The Eyrie is supposed to be a completely impenetrable fortress, with the climb much steeper and longer than the show makes it appear. That path looks like you could take a leisurely stroll up it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading my post, especially since you’re reading the first book (although I assume you’ve seen the show, or aren’t afraid of spoilers.)

      The Eyrie certainly has more layers of defense, with the approaches guarded by Sky and Stone (and maybe another little fort?) that were kind of situated above one another thanks to the pathway switchbacks going up the mountain.

      I originally tried to doodle that too… but I gave up.

      Nice meeting you, and thank you for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. jennnanigans says:

    Yes! Spot-on as always! Especially concerning the Giant’s Lance and Alyssa’s Tears.

    As a fellow swamp aficionado (familiar with the different flavors, from Everglades to Central Florida Wetlands to the Great Okeefenokee) SWAMP PEOPLE HIGH-FIVE!
    You’re right, Cailin’s design in the show is wrong. I always pictured it as more like the Everglades but continually overcast, mostly submerged with super high grass and the occasional hummock with trees on. The road is elevated dirt running through, in my vision. Heck, they even talk about ‘lizard lions’ which I took to be alligators and got excited about the ecological diversity of the show. How many high-fantasy worlds has gators?

    I pronounce it ‘Aay-er-ree,’ like a triplet, and do a hard ‘A’ at the beginning.

    There’s very little the show’s visual design gets wrong for me, other than Moat Cailin.

    I will say that the work they did on Sansa’s snow castle was PERFECT. They couldn’t have done a better job on that, as far as I’m concerned.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. bagga2007 says:

    I think they stuffed up Dorne, it was supposed to be a fabulous place to live but we hardly saw any of it. I had been so looking forward to seeing it but maybe they ran out of money.


    • They kind of restricted the action to Prince Doran’s secluded Water Gardens resort, instead of anything happening in the capital of Sunspear, so I didn’t mind too much, but the Water Gardens didn’t match my idea either. Good call, man.


  7. chattykerry says:

    Still not reading the posts but SO EXCITED!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s so great! Hey, just so you know, none of my posts spoil anything past season 5, and this post is pretty benign, talking about stuff that mostly happened in seasons 1 and 4.

      Once you start watching season 6, all of my stuff should be safe to read. Maybe you don’t want to read my trailer breakdowns if you don’t want any glimpse into the season.

      So excited too!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. HuntPants says:

    Excuse the crude comment I’m about to make about your doodle, but the mountain you drew looks like a penis wearing a button down shirt and tie, that has a pocket protector over stuffed with pens. With that said I love that doodle. It’s much better than anything I could do.

    Great post, as always.

    I also understand if this comment isn’t published. After all I am a 14 year old boy trapped in a woman’s body, or so my sense of humor would sometimes lead me to believe.

    I’ve had to wake up extra early all week so my brain is not at its most sophisticated.

    I think I’ve run out of reasons to justify my being so crass. so I’ll just stop now. On to the next (previous) post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Andy Fleck says:

    This is a great, thorough article… I knew there was something a bit off about the show’s depiction of the Eyrie, and you put your finger on it exactly. The scenes look like they were filmed in Scotland, whereas, as you say, Switzerland would have made more sense – less of the murk, rocky misty glens and moors and so on of the Scottish Highlands, and more of the pristine skies and sheer mountains of the Alps. Like yourself, I would have liked to see more of the frogmen in the series (though we didn’t see all that much of them in the books) – I always wondered if Martin had been inspired by the Lincolnshire Fens and East Anglia, which would have been a lot like the marshy landscape you describe before they were drained in the late middle ages… Anyway – great post. I’ll be sure to keep up with your GOT stuff (albeit only when I am up to date with the series!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, thank you for the comment, and the description of the Scottish highlands and the details of the East Anglia fens. I like considering the geographical details of the real world and Martin’s fictional one.

      Since we know Martin was inspired by Hadrian’s Wall when he conceived of Westeros’ impossibly stable northern glacier (constructed by giants), your suggestion the the fens might have inspired the Neck is a solid one.

      Looking forward to talking more Game of Thrones with you, I enjoyed reading your Mission Accomplished article about Daenerys and her various problems. (And how they relate to recent conflicts in the Middle-East.)

      You won’t see much new Game of Thrones blogging from me while the show is airing, I write about it almost like therapy to get me through the hiatus, but I might break that rule since so much of the upcoming season will feature fresh material, I might get kicked in the butt by my muse (or whatever) and have to post something.

      I’ll definitely by collecting topics to write about once season six (or series six if that’s how you call it) of Game of Thrones concludes.

      Thanks again for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Andy Fleck says:

        Well, I will look forward to the new Game of Thrones posts whenever they come. I appreciate your no-spoiler policy too, even when the new series is effectively a giant spoiler for the next book!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks! When I absolutely have to talk about the books, I try to sequester the spoiler on a post on my secret backup blog. I usually have a link to a special spoiler friendly page for people to chat in general. I am so happy that the show has brought in new people to Martin’s story, I don’t want to hinder their experience.

          Liked by 1 person

Speak Your Mind (Please) (Oh, first timers will be Moderated...)

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.