WARNING: Minor Game of Thrones spoilers ahead.
Like fictional epic fantasy drama Game of Thrones, Euro 2016 is an all-out contest between factions whose histories go back hundreds and hundreds of years. Now, their footballing fortunes will be determined in the fields of France as they go head to head to sit in the Iron Throne as European Champions. With a lull in the tournament action and Game of Thrones' 6th season just ending, it's time to have a little fun and assign a Westerosi house to each of the eight remaining nations.
France: House Lannister
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An ancient house, an ancient nation. For centuries the Lannisters have been the richest in Westeros, wielding incredible power and influence, despite seeing little in the way of actual payoff when it comes to sitting the Iron Throne. Sure, Tywin Lannister basically ruled the realm as Aerys Targaryen's Hand of the King, and both Joffrey and Tommen Baratheon (pure Lannisters, the both of them) have ruled supreme, but for all their money and influence, the Lannisters' actual time as head honcho has been woefully lacking.
The same goes for France. Through the decades, they've played wonderful football, boasted some of the best players in the world in Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, and more, but despite the sheer wealth of talent they've produced, they've only three major trophies in their history to show for it.
The past is the past though, and House Lannister currently has a chokehold on the Iron Throne. Les Bleus' golden twins Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann are whom the host nation puts their hope in to keep the trophy in France, while their less-glamorous (but just as capable) little brother Dimitri "Tyrion" Payet pulls the strings, making things happen and attempting to bring glory to the Lannister name, one way or another. A Lannister always pays his debts, and a Pogba always--well he always does something spectacular.
Iceland: House Mormont
A tiny house punching well above its weight, a tiny nation shocking the world. 10-year-old spitfire Lyanna Mormont instantly became a fan favorite with her Season 6 introduction in Game of Thrones, and Iceland were immediate tournament darlings after stunning the world to emerge from Group F in second place.
The Mormonts may not have many men to commit to the cause, and neither does Iceland, bringing more than 8 percent of its entire population along to cheer the nation of barely 350,000. Lyanna Mormont claimed each of Bear Island's fighting men are worth 10 mainlanders though, and it seems as if the same holds true for Iceland. They continue to roll against far bigger nations and more storied opposition, pulling off a historic victory over England in the first knockout round, and looking to do the same against tournament favorites France, in the biggest game of their lives.
As an added Game of Thrones bonus tie-in, Iceland's biggest (possibly literally) fan is Hafthor Julius Bjornsson. The 7-footer, better known as The Mountain, is Westeros' largest antagonist, who not only can threaten Cristiano Ronaldo, but also be impossibly adorable with a tiny Pomeranian. Get you a Mountain who can do both.
Italy: House Targaryen
"Fire and blood" are the words of House Targaryen, and nothing describes this Italian team more accurately. Led by incendiary manager Antonio Conte, Italy have risen from the ashes of their last two World Cup failures and they're the hottest nation in Euro 2016 right now.
It's been a rough couple decades for the Targaryen family. Forced into exile after Robert's Rebellion and Rhaegar Targaryen's subsequent death, Daenerys Targaryen lived in squalor and fear for years before her ultimate glow-up, fully embracing her queenly mantle as Daenerys Stormborn, The Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons. Her list of titles is longer than Italy's list of trophies, and it's certainly easier to recall her nicknames than it is to name some of Italy's current squad.
Antonio Conte brought together a ragtag team who have gone on to achieve more than anyone thought possible, steamrolling through the group stage and looking like they might just be an unstoppable machine. Like Daenerys, Conte inspires fierce devotion and loyalty from his charges, spurring them on to heights previously believed to be impossible. He doesn't have a trio of dragons, but he does have Juventus defenders Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli. That might just be good enough for Italy to be the final winner in this European Game of Thrones.
Germany: House Stark
Winter Is Here, and so are the Germans. Perennial challengers, Germany are once again among the favorites for the Euro 2016 trophy. Kings in The North (and the world) as World Cup champions, Germany's title credentials stretch back decades, just as the Stark history reaches all the way back to the First Men.
House Stark has fought back from tragedy (see: Eddard Stark, Red Wedding, threat of total house destruction) to rebuild, with the family now boasting a diverse set of skills that could just see them not only sitting on the Iron Throne, but saving the whole realm. From Greenseeing Wargs to highly trained assassins, to Kings in the North, House Stark's on the distinct uptick.
Germany underwent a serious period of rebuilding after complete stagnation after their Euro 2000 disaster, revamping their entire system from the ground up, ushering in a golden generation that has produced not only a World Cup, but a plethora of fantastic young players that form the backbone of their national team now. Their sturdy defense is yet to concede a goal in Euro 2016, and they have a number of different players able to carry them to victory at any given point. Up next though, they face their biggest test of the tournament yet as they take on the Azzurri, in a true battle for the ages.
Poland: House Greyjoy
While the 1970s were the most fruitful period ever for the Polish, winning the 1972 Summer Olympics and achieving third place in the 1974 World Cup, they've traditionally had to look on for years in envy as their more prestigious neighbors piled up the trophies, plaudits and riches.
For decades, the Greyjoys and their companions on the Iron Isles reaved and raided the coasts without truly ever achieving any notable victories, until the famously short-lived Greyjoy Rebellion against the Iron Throne that ended in Balon Greyjoy bending the knee to King Robert Baratheon, and being forced to give up his only remaining son, Theon Greyjoy, as a ward to Eddard Stark.
Things are looking up for both the Polish and the men and women of the Iron Isles though, with Yara Greyjoy partnering with her brother Theon to restore the Greyjoy name, and Kuba Blaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski and one of the stingiest defenses in Europe carrying Poland to the knockout rounds where they'll face Portugal. Former standard-bearers Lewandowski and Theon have been rendered all but impotent of late, but there's still fight in the two of them. And that means there's hope for both Poland and the Krakens of House Greyjoy.
Portugal: House Martell
Portugal came into Euro 2016 as dark horse favorites, before somehow putting on some of the most excruciatingly boring performances of the entire tournament. Led by Cristiano Ronaldo and laden with talent throughout the midfield, Portugal have plenty of flair, but lacked end product throughout -- with the exception of their 3-3 shootout against Hungary. They failed to put a shot on goal for 117 minutes against Croatia, leading many to consider gouging their eyes out to avoid being forced to watch their ineffective buildup play any longer.
The hipster's choice, House Martell of Dorne entered the show with a bang, with dashing Prince Oberyn Martell and his paramour Ellaria Sand becoming instant fan favorites before Oberyn met an unfortunate and extremely violent end due, mainly, to showboating and hubris. The Dornish storyline has since devolved into chaos, angering many, although Ellaria Sand and her daughters continue to drag the Dornish forward, just as Ronaldo spurs his Portuguese teammates on. To what end? Only time will tell.
Wales: House Blackwater
This is the point at which you might ask ... who? Knighted after the Battle of the Blackwater, mercenary Bronn made his name alongside Tyrion and Jaime Lannister, and has since seen his fortunes steadily improve. Going from a no-name sellsword to an anointed knight, Bronn's skill with a sword and acerbic wit made him an instantly popular, and the preferred companion for two of Westeros' most famous men.
Led by their very own folk hero, world's most expensive player Gareth Bale, no one (except perhaps the Real Madrid man himself) expected The Dragons to make it out of their group, much less to top a draw containing England, Slovakia and Russia. Thanks to some fantastic performances from their talisman though, Wales are in the knockout rounds, looking to continue the fairytale as they come up against a much more storied and favored opponent in Belgium.
Belgium: House Tyrell
House Tyrell's motto is "Growing Strong", and that's exactly what Belgium are doing in Euro 2016. Among the favorites to lift the trophy, they started their tournament in awful fashion, being dragged up and down the pitch by Italy. Belgium manager Marc Wilmots' tactical naivete and stubborn unwillingness to play a balanced team rather than utilizing players in their natural positions saw the Belgians looking out of sorts and far from the world-class Golden Generation they were meant to be.
Lord Mace Tyrell was leader of the largest and richest house in the Reach, but no more than a blundering figurehead whose ineptitude on the battlefield was only surpassed by his poor decisions. His mother, Olenna Tyrell, is the true leader of the family, plotting and maneuvering to make her granddaughter Margaery the Queen of Westeros, even after her failed marriage to the rebellious Renly Baratheon.
Like the Tyrells, Belgium bounced back from their initial loss, and have improved with each subsequent match. Their formerly bumbling leader Marc Wilmots has finally brought some real balance to the side, and their star players are finally playing like star players. They're defending well, attacking with a previously unseen ferocity, and they're having fun. Growing strong, indeed.
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