One of the biggest paradigm shifts in “Game of Thrones” came this season when Jon Snow, that pouty-lipped warrior who grew up believing he was a bastard, learned of his true parentage and, in so doing, discovered he was the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne.
But while fans of the show are now seeing these implications play out, those who’ve stuck to George R.R. Martin’s yet-to-be-completed series of books don’t know it yet. Those purists can, however, content themselves with a genealogical twist from the author’s own life: And it’s good for the Jews.
In a recent episode of the PBS series, “Finding Your Roots,” Martin learned that he was not, as he had always believed, the grandson of an Italian-American grandfather, but is in fact the grandson of a Jewish man whose identity is still unknown.
“It’s uprooting my world here,” a shocked Martin told the show’s host, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Unlike Snow, Martin may not have a claim to the Seven Kingdoms by way of the patented Targaryen “Blood of the Dragon,” but he is 22.4% Ashkenazi Jewish and so about a quarter Chosen.
In a reversal worthy of his novels, the man Martin believed to be his paternal grandfather — who was always cast as a villain in his family history for stepping out on his grandmother — was in fact, in at least one instance, the one being cheated on. Meanwhile, the mystery of exactly who his grandfather is persists.
It remains to be seen how Martin will navigate the news of his Jewish heritage, but he already has a bit in common with the Tribe. He’s a master storyteller who’s written some speculative fiction about Israel and from a distance, with his bushy beard and ever-present cap, may even register as Orthodox.
Martin has reported drawing heavily from Roman and medieval history in his fantasy work, so maybe this late-in-life revelation can color some of his later books. Could his forthcoming literary treatment of this season’s climatic siege of Winterfell have echoes of Masada? Can we expect a group of zealous warriors resembling the Maccabees to emerge somewhere in Westeros? We’ll have to wait for the long-delayed “The Winds of Winter” to know for sure.
You can watch an exclusive clip of Martin’s discovery below and the full episode on PBS’s new PBS Living streaming channel.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.