“Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.”George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
A Game of Thrones takes place in the seven kingdoms of Westeros and describes the politics that occur as several characters vie for the Iron Throne using wildly dangerous and sinister methods. Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, is approached by his King – and friend – Robert Baratheon and asked to become the Hand of the King after the death of their mentor, Jon Arryn. Feeling as though there is something odd about his death, Stark agrees and takes his two daughters to King’s Landing with him. Upon his arrival, he is swept up in a web of betrayal, affairs, and plots all with the same goal of controlling the seven kingdoms. Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen is going to marry Khal Drogo in an attempt to garner support for her brother, Viserys’s claim for the Iron Throne. Beyond the wall, something maliciously cold awaits.
If someone ever asked me what the most intricately crafted series in the world was, I would say A Song of Ice and Fire. There are other answers, I will acknowledge and I would happily consider any of them, but at the end of the day, I will always return to my love for this series. Martin is an author that I admire for the care he takes with his work. He’s a perfectionist and this feels like something that Martin has always wanted to create. I know he gets quite a bit of pressure because of the time that has passed since the promised Winds of Winter but I want to focus on these books as what they are and maybe by the end of these reviews, you’ll understand why Martin deserves all the time he needs to finish his magnum opus.
At the heart of it all, this novel is a mystery and quite a simple one too. If you notice, the main premise of the story is meant to answer one central question: who killed Jon Arryn? Ned Stark goes to King’s Landing after his wife Catelyn receives a mysterious letter from her sister (Jon Arryn’s wife, Lysa) claiming that the Lannisters killed her husband. From there, we look at the viewpoints of several other characters, all aiming for a different goal but ultimately trying to garner some power in their own lives. This main plot includes everything Ned sees in King’s Landing, including his interactions with the royal family. The beautiful thing about this book is that it is a stunningly character driven plot. Each character has a morally ambiguous background except for Ned Stark. Ned Stark is the knight in shining armor who acts only by a moral code as strict and harsh as Winterfell’s winters. While the audience might think this is a story that rewards good and punishes evil, it equally rewards evil and punishes good. This story doesn’t allow the characters any missteps and that’s what makes it compelling to read.
Martin’s character development creates characters who grow from their choices and ultimately face every consequence of their actions. Not only that, but Martin’s story ultimately reminds us that characters can be misleading and have tragic endings whether they were meant to or not. He creates characters like Rhaegar Targaryen who was killed because he fell in love and made other morally gray choices and Robert Baratheon who started a war for a woman who, sadly, didn’t love him the same way. He pits them against each other when, in another world, they might have been friends. Martin knows how to exploit his characters’ worst impulses to the point that the audience believes them to be evil; he then knows how to shine a light on a small vulnerability that makes them human. In my opinion, he does this best (or maybe easily) with the Lannister siblings. Cersei is the cold and cunning queen whose one vulnerability is that she loves her children more than anything; Jaime is the kingslayer with a heart of gold; and Tyrion is the “imp” whose intelligence and humor is wonderful to read. The characters each have their distinct voices and when I’m reading a chapter about Jon Snow, I don’t feel as though I’m reading the same voice as Tyrion. To have this kind of genius is stunning to me and that’s why I ultimately love this novel.
Overall, this novel is a start to something wonderful. The beginning poses several questions where the answers only lead to more questions. The political intrigue throughout the seven kingdoms is fascinating initially but the development of the continent of Essos and and the Beyond the Wall storylines make this novel feel well rounded. The readers can almost imagine that this is a real place (which might also be due to the historical influences on the main plot lines) and there is so much lore to know about the novels. The world of Westeros is a fun one to get swept up in, just make sure you have the time to savor it.
P.S: There are a lot of names in my reviews and since I want to keep them short, I don’t really have that much time to go into all of the characters, if you’re curious as to who everyone is, I really recommend this video: Game of Thrones Family Tree.