It doesn’t hold water.

Westeros is Poorly Designed

Bring It.

But what I’m not fine with is the ridiculous demographic illiteracy of Westeros.

So I’m now gonna play party-pooper on Westeros. I exclude Essos because (1) there’s way less available information and (2) such information as does exist indicates if anything an even more preposterously unbelievable setting.

How Big Is Westeros?

A Moderate Continent

Here are three visual references I found for the size of Westeros:

How Big Are Armies?

Actually, It Doesn’t Matter

Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire nerds (henceforth just “Game of Thrones” or “GoT”) obsess about military mobilization rates. On its face value, this makes sense. GRRM gives us lots of information about army sizes. We routinely get figures referring to thousands of soldiers, and there seems like a real concern that we know who has more men or less men. Fans then take these figures, apply a reasonable “mobilization rate,” and extrapolate to a population. Here’s an example.

  1. GRRM Messed Up His Army Sizes- Westeros is allegedly based on Medieval Europe. You wouldn’t know it from the army sizes. We’ve seen or heard about dozens of battles with 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, or more combatants, sometimes that many on each side. For comparison, the historically decisive Battle of Agincourt probably had under 30,000 soldiers. The Battle of Hastings had 25,000 at most. The incredibly vast Battle of Tours, where Charles Martel turned back the Arab advance, may have had 60,000 combatants. But crucially: these battles were decades or hundreds of years apart, rarely involving the same armies. The Battle of Yarmouk, after which the Caliphate siezed the entire Byzantine East, had just 50,000 fighters or so, with the result that the Caliphate conquered the entire region. Crucially, it should be noted that contemporaries gave much higher numbers: the Byzantines were routinely asserted to be fielding 100,000 men, while Muslims were depicted as leading hundreds of thousands. Conveniently, the sum total of GRRM’s descriptions of armies would suggest that Westeros can field between 200,000 and 650,000 soldiers, depending on conditions. Those numbers are almost certainly too large, with too robust an ability to recover losses. Medieval armies were small, except in cases where they were extremely professionalized, like the Byzantine armies, or Charles Martel’s Frankish army. Holding a Medieval army together was very hard, as was supplying it. The frequency with which there are large armies in Westeros is just ridiculous. The most reasonable explanation is that GRRM is an unreliable narrator, as he is for land area: these armies probably are not as big as he claims in many cases, and losses probably are not as steep.

How Big Are the Cities?

Smaller Than People Think

King’s Landing does not have 500,000 residents. GRRM has stated that the city is larger than Medieval London or Paris, but smaller than Constantinople or ancient Rome. The GoT wiki suggests Medieval Constantinople had a million residents.

How Dense is Westeros?

The Great Debate of Medieval Demography

Everybody who does any medieval demography has seen the “Medieval Demographics Made Easy” website. It’s a neat resource. Unfortunately, it may be overestimating the density of Medieval populations.

What is Westeros Really Like?

GRRM Wants Too Many Things — So Do His Fans

If the Seven Kingdoms are Medieval Europe, then their degree of urbanization is comically overblown. On the other hand, if they’re as urban as we are to believe, then it’s extremely unlikely that we’re looking at a truly “Medieval” society. Consider this: if the urban population is what GRRM seems to indicate (probably about 2–2.5 urban and town dwellers total), but urbanization rates are near western Medieval levels, then the Seven Kingdoms likely have 48 million residents… which is just about half the Fan-Area-Estimate-With-Higher-Density population figure of 108 million.


Why Diversity Matters for World-Building

Westerosi Political Conflict Is Far Too Simple

GoT is often held up as having very complicated or intricate political intrigue. This is very silly. We’re dealing with a very homogenous world with few major threats. How can I say this? Simple: it’s far too easy to control.

Make Westeros Realistic (Again?)

Some Proposed Parameters

Now let’s do an “If I had done it” style thing. It’s easy to criticize, harder to solve. So let’s do some solving.

  1. Urban community sizes must be within plausible boundaries
  2. Exceptionally large urban communities should not, in general, be accompanied by very low overall urbanization
  3. Densities, however, can plausibly be anywhere from 20–40 people per square mile
  1. Urban communities- Larger than in historic Europe.
  2. Urbanization- No direct estimate. But given #2, presumably fairly high.
  3. Density- No direct estimate, but outside of the North, we do seem to have a pretty darn densely settled continent.

Westeros At Face Value

It’s Just Bonkers

Recall that we estimated that, at 30 people were square mile, a South America sized continent would have 207 million people. That’s a lot of people. For reference, most scholars estimate total global population in 1000 AD at between 250 and 350 million people. So there’s that. Westeros would include nearly as many people as all of Earth did at a comparable time.

Systematically Estimating Westeros

Playing With Parameters

Let’s make this all a bit more mathematically formalized! To estimate the population of Westeros, there are basically two viable methods. First, estimate the urban population, then extrapolate based on a reasonable urbanization rate. Or, second, estimate the total land area, then extrapolate based on a reasonable population density. You cannot do both methods at the same time.

Understanding the World

Our two best bases for estimating Westerosi population are land are and urban community size. Once we control for all the basic limits of Medieval demography and some baseline estimates of continent size and urban community size, we get population estimates for Westeros of between 25 and 50 million people.

The total population of Westeros is probably between 25 and 50 million people.

Getting more precise is very tough. For example, if we now constrain our two already constrained samples so that we force our bounded urban populations to be within our bounded land areas, we get just 3 remaining estimates. They place population at 17.25 million, 19.75 million, or 34.5 million. But that 34.5 million one is tough: it involves just 4% urbanization and 10/sq mi density.

We can see that Westeros is shoddily constructed from a demographically realistic perspective because there is no rational way to square even the most basic available data.


Westeros is an interesting setting for lots of reasons: characters, plot, writing, the fact that there’s a high-production-value HBO series, take your pick. There are lots of reasons for it to be popular or to capture interest. But what bothers me, as a really picky nerd, is when people think that it’s a particularly well-crafted setting. It is not. Westeros is shoddily assembled as far as political, cultural, or demographic realism goes. There is too much dynastic stability, too little cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversity, the basic size of the world seems to change to fit the immediate exigencies of the plot, the cities and armies are implausibly large in many cases, and even careful analysis makes it hard to determine even a wide ballpark for population. None of these criticisms matter in a setting not trading on its claims to a kind of “realism.” But for a setting whose market value in some sense depends on its “realism,” yeah, it’s an issue.



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Lyman Stone

Global cotton economist. Migration blogger. Proud Kentuckian. Advisor at Demographic Intelligence. Senior Contributor at The Federalist.