Navigate to Arts & Letters section

Why Is This Knight Different?

As HBO’s medieval fantasy Game of Thrones returns, imagining a Jewish version of the Seven Kingdoms

Rachel Shukert
April 05, 2013
( Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Keith Bernstein/HBO and Shutterstock)
( Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos Keith Bernstein/HBO and Shutterstock)

Game of Thrones has made its triumphant return across the Narrow Sea and is back on Sunday nights on HBO for Season 3. For fans of dragons, medieval warfare, and hilariously gratuitous nudity, this is very good news indeed.

As much as I love the show—except for all the Beyond the Wall zombie stuff which is a) boring, b) cold, and c) confusing because it’s impossible to tell anyone apart—I can’t watch it without thinking of Michael Weingrad’s great essay a few years ago in the Jewish Review of Books about the relative dearth of Jewish fantasy writers, and the lack of classic fantasy (in the Dungeons & Dragons sense) in the Jewish imagination. It’s a fascinating piece that draws a number of probing, thoughtful, and critically sound conclusions. Feudal societies on which the fantasy genre is built traditionally had little use for Jews except to burn them alive, to borrow money from them (and then convict them of treason as a way of defaulting on debts, the punishment for which was burning alive), or when someone needed a doctor (after which the doctor, regardless of whether the patient lived or died, could be accused of witchcraft, and thus burned alive). There was a lack of a cultural memory of pagan influence in the Jewish collective imagination, and there was a pragmatic dismissiveness about literary duality—Christian literature looks into the underworld and sees a seething miasma that operates in mysterious parallel to the knowable, godly world, Jews peer into the depthless fathoms below and see a cheap source of belly lox.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to imagine! So, knights of the realm and your ladies fair, allow me to present to you the ruling houses of the Seven Kingdoms of Jewish Westerows! (You know the Westerows. They used to play bridge with Grandma and had that son Marty, who still lived at home?)

HOUSE LEVYNSEN: “Hear Me Kvetch!”
The Levynsen colors are gray and lime green, or maybe chartreuse? Whatever it is, it doesn’t look good on anyone. Their sigil is the Shrugging Man. The family came to prominence more than a thousand years ago during the infamous Herring Wars, when the founder of the family, Miryam the Rainbooted, claimed victory over her rebellious nephew Kyle when he slit his own throat with a fish knife rather listen to another minute of what had been a 36-hour litany of complaints touching on everything from the construction on the Kingsroad to the condition of the silverware at the tavern at which she and her attendants had been forced to seek shelter, an event immortalized in the famous ballad: “The Sighs of Bubbe Mirel.” The Levynsen seat is the castle of Oyingstone in the Southeasterlands, where it is hot, my God, you can’t sleep at night it’s so hot. Their bannermen include House Schryer (“You Shouldn’t Know From This”), House Wexlyr (“I Wouldn’t Wish It on My Worst Enemy”), and House Mandylbaum (“Don’t Ask”).

The Gershowytz colors are white and plum. Their sigil is a single prune on a white background. They are known for a unique coming-of-age ritual in which the initiate is required to go for an entire week without a single bowel movement. In the 2,000-year history of the family, not a single Gershowytz has ever failed this test. Their seat is at Castle Enyma in the Colon Islands, where the head of the family rules from the famed Porcelain Throne. Their bannermen include House Portnoy (“Don’t Flush”), House Feldmyn (“Anything?”), and House Shukyrt (“Get the Plunger”).

HOUSE FYNEGOLD: “The Other One You Didn’t Like?”
The colors of House Fynegold are blue and a slightly different blue. Their sigil is two shirts, side by side, one with the price tag still on it. It was adopted by Ser Rychard Fynegold (“The Bachelor”) after the death of his beloved mother Mynni, replacing the hand clutched over a broken heart. (Some distant branches of the family still use this older symbol as their coat of arms.) House Fynegold rules over the Riverlands from their castle at Martyrdale. Their bannerman are House Greenbyrg (“Whatever Makes You Happy”), House Goldsteyn (“I Didn’t Want To Bother You”), and House Tytylbaum (“I’ll Just Sit Here in The Dark”).

HOUSE STYRN: “Cancer Is Coming”
The colors of House Styrn are brown and black. Their sigil is an unspecified dark mass somewhere in the central abdomen. Though powerful, they are a gloomy, fretful house who rarely venture from the North where they rule at their seat of Castle Maligna, to the relief of the other Houses who dislike their tiding of doom and trying to constantly explain that no, they just get earaches sometimes, it’s not a big deal. Their bannermen are House Guttmyn (“Get That Checked Out”), House Fynkel (“Do You Smell Burning Hair?”), and House Katzynbyrg (“Second Opinion”).

HOUSE KAPLYN: “Excuse Me, Are You Jewish?”
The colors of House Kaplyn are black and white. Their sigil is a disembodied hat and beard, floating on background of white. A priestly House (although they include several denominations among their branches and ranks), they spend most of their time in their seat at Frumington in a mixture of fervent prayer and aggressive fundraising. As they are not warriors, they have no bannermen and rely on support from other houses for their defense.

The colors of House Needyllmyn are yellow and red. Their sigil is a shield within a shield. They are a fearsome—some say paranoid—house, eager to pick fights with whoever they perceive to be their enemy, rightly or wrongly. These actions often seem ludicrous, even infuriating to the other, less reactionary houses. Their settlement at Zyon in the Westerlands is an impregnable fortress that never stops expanding, leading to multiple border disputes with their (equally irrational) neighbors. Their bannerman are House Arrynsyn (“Defend Our Land”), House Goldfarb (“No Compromise”), and House Kantrowytz (“You’re an Anti-Semite”).

HOUSE SEAGYLL: “That Was My Safety School”
The colors of House Seagyll are cream and crimson. Their sigil is a shield divided in half, with a surgical scalpel on side and a set of scales on the other, in front of a detailed drawing of Wall Street. Rulers of the Northeasternlands from their luxurious airborned seat Ivory Towers, they are by far the most learned of the houses, and also the most difficult to belong to. Children who fail to meet their rigorous standards are thrown from the Tower walls when their schooling ends. If they survive they may live in the wild as Freelings, allowed to pursue careers as musicians, writers, artists, and artisanal pickle makers, although always with the terrible knowledge that they have disappointed their forebears, a burden from which many never recover. House Seagyll’s bannerman are House Lyman (“Masters of Our Domain”), House Goldman (“Achievement Is Honor”), and House Sachs (“Be Grateful”).


Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

Rachel Shukert, a Tablet Magazine columnist on pop culture, is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great. Starstruck, the first in a series of three novels, is new from Random House. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.