Four kings stand against one another in a battle for a kingdom that only one can win. What happens on the field of battle this day will change the course of history, and will define their lands for the next 1,000 years...
I wrote these words yesterday as a Tweet promoting the latest episode of the show, and almost as soon as I was done I couldn’t help but think to myself: History is so cool! I mean seriously, I typed up a synopsis of my show and then realized that I had basically just encapsulated Season Two of Game of Thrones. If a dragon had shown up on the field at Vouillé back on that day in 507, we would have had a hit TV show on our hands. Alas, there was no dragon, and instead of Joffrey, Renly, Stannis and Robb, the Battle of Vouillé had Clovis, Alaric, Gundobad and Theodoric.
And - don’t forget the most important thing - Vouillé actually happened. All those other guys were just actors on a sound stage.
To me, it’s amazing to consider that what we look at now as entertainment, as a storyline, was once a no-kidding, winner-take-all world where kings rode onto the field with their armies and fought, slashed, killed - and were killed themselves. It’s hard, in my 21st century mind, to imagine a battlefield where you had to stab, choke or bludgeon your enemy to death. It’s incredibly visceral, and raises all sorts of questions for me about how a person would prepare themselves for it, or perhaps worse, how they handled living for the rest of their lives after what they saw on a day like Vouillé, how they handled knowing what they did to survive. It seems to me like PTSD would be turned up to 11. I always wondered what it would feel like to hear someone yell, “Fix bayonets” and then go charging over a wall or out of a trench to actually try and stab another human being. Back up just a few centuries and there was no other way, no shooting a gun or using a drone. Every single battle was up close, personal and sharp. Were people just different then?
And this is where, for me, history turns away from Game of Thrones-style entertainment. With GoT you can watch the show and root for the good guys – or the bad guys, if that’s your thing – and only pay attention to the main characters and their plot arcs. History requires looking at everything to truly understand what was going on. You have to consider why people would follow one of these real-life kings in the first place, what motivated them, what made it possible for them to do things in 507 that almost no one in the world today, save for a few sadists and serial killers, has the temperament for. And once one battle was done, what would possibly keep a person going to the next one, and the next, and the next.
In 30 years, Clovis had at least eight different campaigns and god-only-knows how many battles. He fought to establish his kingship, he fought to expand his kingdom, and he fought to give his followers the loot and booty they would expect a strong leader to make available to them. Clovis existed; he forged France, and along with his wife, his allies, and his counselors, they established the basis of what the country, along with the rest of Western Europe, is to this day.
And that’s why history is intriguing and amazing to me. We live at the knife’s edge of history; we can explore different places and lay our hands on the same stones as those who came centuries before us. Jon Snow made for a great character, but I can’t visit the Wall or go to Winterfell. I can, however, visit the Tomb of Theodoric, walk underneath the walls of Avignon, or travel to the fortified city Carcassonne. I can see all of these places and things and, in my own way, commune with people who lived the stories. And that’s amazing.
So yes, four kings did stand against one another in a battle for a kingdom that only one can win. It just didn’t happen on television.