Maps are an amazing tool for our everyday lives – helping us conceptualize, understand and explore the world around us, both the areas close to us and those that are far. Needless to say, they have been absolutely critical throughout our shared history. But these tools aren’t only fantastic for our IRL adventures and navigational needs. They come in handy in our books, tv shows, movies, and other media, too. Want a few examples of this? Here’s how maps have been used in four hugely popular series. 

Game of Thrones

Out of all the different shows out there, Game of Thrones is probably the first name that comes to mind when you think of maps in popular television and film. The map of the show’s fictional world is one of the first things a viewer sees, showing up right alongside the very opening credits, and often serves multiple purposes throughout the series. 

One function is that it often foreshadows what’s to come, reflecting the geographical areas explored in each episode to generally help people watching keep track of where the action is happening at any given time. And if you’ve ever seen R R Martin’s screen adaptation, you know how necessary this is. It’s remarkably easy to get lost with so many different characters, areas, and factions shown, but the intro map prevents this from happening – as least, to some extent.  

However, GoT’s maps within the show go further than showing this objective reality. They also (particularly those belonging to Cersei and Daenerys) provide a glimpse into the queens’ intention and ambition about acquiring territory. The sheer size is both an immediate indicator that they imagine victory on a grand scale, and the regions included show off what areas they see as value versus the rest. 

Harry Potter 

HBO’s book-based fantasy series isn’t the only show or movie on the block to include maps as an essential element of storytelling. Harry Potter heavily features the things, too, albeit in a slightly different way. In this film series, this is primarily done through something called the Marauder’s Map – an item that shows not just every classroom and hallway of Harry’s wizardly school, but also secret passages and the location of everyone present on Hogwarts’ grounds. 

Acquired by Harry as early as in his third year, the Marauder’s Map has long served as a major leg up on his fellow students, teachers, rivals, and enemies alike. It has allowed him to make secret trips to Hogsmeade, to more easily work on his clue for the Triwizard Tournament, keep his Defense Against the Dark Arts classes more under wraps, generally maintain awareness about where friend and foe alike are at any given time, and more. 

In other words, this magical map functions to cement Harry as the main character and one of the most powerful wizards at Hogwarts. It gives him serious advantages across the board – access to information that most everyone else lacks pays off dividends throughout his years using it. But it also serves to further connect, compare, and contrast him to his departed dad, as he was one of the originators of the Marauder’s Map.

Pirates of the Caribbean

When one thinks of pirates in movies and tv shows, there’s usually a pretty concrete image in their head and one that’s generally pretty accurate. Ruffley, white blouses, eye patches, wooden or hooked false limbs, copious amounts of alcohol, loyal Pollys who just want a cracker – they all come to mind first. Maps are probably the next associated image, though, which proves on point in Pirates of the Caribbean

The movie features the Mao Kun Map – a navigational chart that’s supposed to lead seafarers to some of the top mystical and mysterious spots worldwide through the use of meridian arcs, landmarks, and even magic keys. Passed on, bought, and otherwise acquired by several people after its original owner, it landed in the hands of Will Turner and Hector, serving as a central key to moving the plot forward by leading them to Davy Jones’ Locker and World’s End. 

After this, the Mao Kun Map managed to find itself in the hands of Jack Sparrow. Used in the hopes of finding the Fountain of Youth by both Jack and Joshamee Gibbs, it becomes clear that the map is more than just a map. It’s also an indicator of power and, much like within Game of Thrones, a symbol of ambition both met and not. 

Lord of the Rings

Within books, films, and tv, maps are rarely featured for no reason. If one shows up, you can almost guarantee it’s intentional, and that’s not purely relegated to shows of queens, wizards, and pirates. It also frequently shows up (pun intended) in fantasy stories, and a particularly interesting example of this happens in Tolkien’s high-fantasy adventure Lord of the Rings

Unlike within the other entries on this list, though, these maps don’t function to aid the main characters. Frodo and his companions largely have little access to decent maps throughout their journey to protect the Ring and ensure the Dark Lord Sauron won’t ever get the chance to conquer Middle-earth. Most of their time wandering around the lands around them is guided purely by the group’s own know-how, Boromir, Aragorn, Gandalf, and with the help of others, they may come into contact with. 

Instead, J.R.R Tolkien’s maps are explicitly for the audience’s benefit. Comprised of three separate, large drawings of Middle-earth’s northwestern areas, these maps bring the entire area to life. Coasts, mountains, waterlines, and some terrain are represented carefully and scaled appropriately, making the world of LoTR feel just as real as our own. This has proved essential to the books and films’ worldbuilding, setting a more concrete location and world logic that some series may neglect. It also provides viewers and readers a reference they can refer back to, keeping track of the action as it unfolds.

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