‘Game of Thrones’ and the Tasty Symbolism Behind Its Food

Prepare to get peckish as we look at Sansa’s lemon cakes, Tyrion’s drinks, and many feasts in ‘Game of Thrones’.
By  · Published on July 24th, 2017

Prepare to get peckish as we look at Sansa’s lemon cakes, Tyrion’s drinks, and many feasts in ‘Game of Thrones’.

Since the visual arts form first came to fruition, powerful and symbolic images of food have dominated the form. From Peter Paul Rubens’ depiction of the original sin to August Leopold Egg’s fallen apple in his “Past and Present” triptych, and to the more recent “The Snack Bar” by Edward Burra, it’s clear that art and food go hand-in-hand.

Whilst there’s certainly a big cultural and artistic shift between, say, Rossetti’s fruity portraits of Elizabeth Siddall and Jane Burden against HBO’s series Game of Thrones, the latter’s use of food is still just as meaningful. The very fact that George R. R. Martin’s original novels and the television series borrow and build on the symbolic messages of food popularized by such Pre-Raphaelite artists emphasizes audiences’ shift in visual form. The Victorians were obsessed with gazing at and ‘reading’ paintings; today, we are consuming more television and moving images than ever before.

As Game of Thrones enters its seventh and penultimate season, it’s a perfect time to take a look back at the show’s many drinks and meals in its most important moments.

Before looking at the show’s biggest moments, it’s important to appreciate the more subtle and less-noticeable use of food. Sansa’s lemon cakes, for example, serve nicely as an extension of the character’s personality. Typically imported, and therefore expensive, the sweet fruit connotes Sansa’s high status. However, they’re also bitter and hint at the disappointment that the Stark child faces. Meanwhile, the difference in food between the Dothraki’s horse and dog meat against the rich and exotic foods of the Lannisters connotes the political connotations food has throughout Game of Thrones.

It’s Game of Throne‘s many geographic regions that provide the array of symbolic foods. “King’s Landing, it’s very opulent,” says Set Decorator Richard Roberts,  “So we’ve mixed it with very exotic fruits, which we’ve ordered especially in, added a lot more color to food, and mixed some things like couscous with colored berries. Still meat and fish, but just to really heighten the colors, with a lot of food coloring in the bread, and saffrons and reds, a lot of pinks, and just made it as colorful as possible to look like it’s very exotic, opulent, no expense spared food.” Winterfell, on the other hand, is “far more basic.” The “bleak” meat- and vegetable-based foods represent the permanence of winter. Roberts takes this bleakness to the extreme for Castle Black. For the meat stew, Roberts says it starts off as “a dark brown, nice, rich gravy, so we gave it a gray, slimy, chewy look. So it looks almost like gloopy whale meat somehow. It’s all edible, but again with flour and food coloring to get the blacks and the grays in there, and we tried all sorts of grisly bits and pieces, without making it too revolting for the actors.”

Whilst the moments below are certainly neither small nor subtle, each scene inextricably ties food or drink to the action unfolding. And it’s the wine, or the plates on a table, that add to the impact of the moment.

Spoilers Ahead

5. Joffrey’s Death – Season 4, Episode 2: “The Lion and the Rose”


Poisoned with a glass of wine, the luxuries that come with a Lannister wedding play a central role in one of Game of Thrones‘ most wicked character’s death. Joffrey’s death-by-wine links him with his alcohol-obsessed uncle Tyrion; the drink is poison for some and vitality for others.  However, while the wine – and, indeed, the cup in which it’s held — is important, it’s Joffrey’s dramatic pigeon pie that provides most meaning. After taking a drink from the cup, Joffrey proceeds to whip out a large knife that is definitely a substitute for something else, and cuts the pie open. Setting a flock of doves free, the cut can be seen as a power move — one that shows his people he brings life to his land. Yet, as a quick close-up reveals, Joffrey has sliced one of the birds, a reminder that in order to free the birds he had to trap them. The contrast between the live birds as a political statement versus the pigeon as food acts as a subtle but effective metaphor for the manipulation taking place. As Margaery feeds Joffrey, we’re also reminded of who he truly is: a spoiled child.

4. The Red Wedding – Season 3, Episode 9: “The Rains of Castamere”


The Red Wedding’s set dressing is crucial to what makes the moment so shocking. Beginning with plates filled with food and cups with drink, an air of comfort and community pervades. The characters have joined together for a wedding, but it’s the meal that creates the perfect atmosphere for Lord Walder Frey. The contrast in knives being used to eat and kill is stark, while the big cuts of meat become a part of the war zone.

3. Tyrion’s Wine – Seasons 1-6, Game of Thrones


Tyrion’s wine drinking has provided Game of Thrones fans with enough subtle comic relief and words of wisdom to last them the whole of winter.  “Drinking and lust,” says Tyrion, “No man can match me in these things. I am the god of tits and wine… I shall build a shrine to myself at the next brothel I visit.” Tyrion’s infamous red wine-induced quotes are the reason his beverages are on this list. However, the constant presence of Tyrion’s red wine acts as a barrier to his insecurities. By always having a glass, or a bottle, near him, Tyrion is able to physically remind others that he is at the top of the hierarchy.

2. Cersei’s Landing – Season 6, Episode 10: “The Winds of Winter”


As she stands by her window watching the Great Sept of Baelor burn, Cersei takes a sip of wine. The scene follows Cersei’s walk of atonement, which stripped her of her power. The smug sip of the wine tells us that Cersei is back to the woman she once was.

1. A Hearty Meal – Season 1, Episode 6: “A Golden Crown”


One of the most disturbing scenes in Game of Thrones history is when Daenerys Targaryen ate a stallion’s heart as part of the Dothraki pregnancy ceremony. Daenerys needs to eat the heart in order for her unborn child to be strong. Yet, with the future Khaleesi rarely breaking eye contact with Khal Drogo, it’s clear there’s another reason she needs to eat it: proof of her strength. The symbolism of the heart foreshadows Daenerys’ path: she will follow her heart, while others will follow her.

As Game of Thrones rolls through its seventh and penultimate season, remember to keep an eye out on the hidden significance buried in the food and drink.

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Freelance writer based in the UK.