Dissecting the real-world accents in Game of Thrones
A girl may have no name, but she does have an accent.
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The voices in Game of Thrones are often as colourful as the characters themselves, and if you’ve ever looked in the bathroom mirror and given it your best “You know nothing Jon Snow,” you’re not alone.
John Fleming is a speech and dialect coach based in Toronto who teaches actors the ins and outs of accents and affectations. A Game of Thrones fan himself, he uses some Westerosi patois when he’s working with actors.
Sounding out Westeros
A map of Westeros — which looks suspiciously like Great Britain — will clue you in on who speaks with what kind of accent. The northern end of the fictional continent is, aurally speaking, analogous to the north of England, and so on.
“They’ve separated the seven kingdoms, to a degree, by dialect,” explains Fleming. “So all the people from Winterfell speak with a northern accent; something a little bit closer to Manchester or up in that belt between Manchester and Scotland.” Think: Ned Stark, Jon Snow.
“It works well geographically compared to the Lannisters,” who all speak with what’s called Received Pronunciation — the standard British accent associated with posh southerners.
While most GoT actors do hail from the U.K., many are masking their natural accents in favour of one that better fits their character. Here, Fleming helps us connect the dots between fictional characters and real-world speech.
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The outcast Lannister is a great example of an American putting on Received Pronunciation, says Fleming. Listen closely and you’ll hear him distinctively halt his speech after nearly every phrase.
Ser Davos Seaworth is played by Irish-born Liam Cunningham “who has a very thick Irish accent,” says Fleming. He is “one of the only people on the show who puts on a Geordie accent, which is from Newcastle … right up in the northeast, near the Scottish border.”
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, perhaps better known as Jaime Lannister, is Danish. He speaks “slightly American-tinged” standard English, with hints of his original Danish accent coming through.
Petyr Baelish, a.k.a Little Finger
Aiden Gillan plays the former Master of Coin and brothel keeper everyone loves to hate. “He’s Irish,” notes Fleming, “but in The Wire, he spoke with perfect general American, even a little bit tinged with Baltimore.”
He notes a possibly deliberate change in the actor’s pronunciation as the show goes on. “When he was in King’s Landing during the first couple of seasons, he spoke something that was quite close to Received Pronunciation. As soon as he left King’s Landing, you started to hear more of his Irish qualities.”
Fleming tells us actress Rose Leslie is actually Scottish nobility, who was educated in England. Her naturel speech is fairly English, “but she puts on that very quintessential northern English accent” for the role.
The Martell’s accent is “a little bit Spanish, and a little bit Arabic and so it gives it this kind of Northern African feel. It fits with the design elements they’re going with” for Dorne, Fleming says.
The continent of Essos
Outside of Westeros, accents vary greatly. The free city of Bravos, for example, is full of “tapped rs”, says Fleming. Yet in Meereen, “they don’t quite use accents that are of Earth. They play things a little fast and loose with accents over there.”
The man at the House of Black and White, Jaqen H'ghar, is played by German actor Tom Wlaschiha. Fleming says his German peeks out every now and then if you listen closely.
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