A Game of Thrones
By: George R.R. Martin
In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning and in the frozen wastelands to the North of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the centre of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and as unyieling as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavours to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.
Despite finally catching up with GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire this year (read books three to five this year), I actually haven’t re-read A Game of Thrones in about five years. I meant to but with all the other books I had to read, I decided not to bother. I decided to re-read it again recently because I realised there were a lot of small hints and details here and there throughout the entire series that I had missed. Plus, the LJ community game-thrones was holding a re-read so I figured now was a good time to do so.
Like the other posts I’ve written on the series, the following is more of a commentary than a review of the book. MAJOR SPOILERS if you haven’t read ANY of the books in the series as I will be making reference to them throughout.
The one thing that truly struck me over the course of re-reading the novel was how fast-paced the story was. For example, one of Catelyn Stark’s chapters began with her taking care of Bran after his fall and never leaving his room and at the end of the chapter, you see her heading off to King’s Landing in search of finding out the truth about the assassination attempt on Bran. I miss this element in the later books (AFoC and ADwD especially suffered from this almost ridiculously slow pacing).
Knowing what happens later in the novels, re-reading this book made me rather nostalgic about the “simpler” days when the Stark family were still together (and alive) in Winterfell. Even with dealing with the issues of Danaerys Targaryen getting married, Robert partying away as the Crown hangs in debt and even Jon Arryn’s death seemed simple compared to the mess that came afterwards with the War of the Five Kings, the separation of the Stark children, the implosion of the Lannisters, etc, etc.
I’ve often said how scarring this novel was for me. As I mentioned earlier, I first read this book years ago around the time that I started expanding on shelf on fantasy. I heard a lot of people enjoyed this novel so I checked it out. Little did I know at the time that there was this shift going on in fantasy towards the more gritty, shades of gray, realistic sort of approach. So Ned’s death was just a shocker. He was set up as a major character in the novel and then…gone. Like the adapters of the HBO series said (was it Benioff or Weiss?), in this world, good people/deeds are not necessarily rewarded but rather punished. Re-reading the book years later, his death is still affecting (and years later, he’s still my favourite character) although now I finally understand that, aside from showing the fact that no character is safe in this world (and try as I might, I can’t seem to steel myself; I still find myself caring for a number of characters), Ned needed to die in order for his children to rise up because they’re the main characters. In many of the other fantasy or fairy tale stories, you always start off with the parental figure dying or going away or something in order for the main character to rise up.
But for the record, yes, he’s still my favourite character. Ned’s chapters have always been enjoyable to read because you learn so much about Westerosi history (especially recent history with Robert’s Rebellion) through him. I also feel bad for him because he really has no business being in the south and being the King’s Hand; it’s not in his nature, his personality and his beliefs in honour and duty does not mesh well with the politicking and the backstabbing and the sneaking that’s going on in King’s Landing. This of course makes him a poor contender when the time comes that Robert dies and everyone’s vying to stay alive and make a grab for the throne. He doesn’t want it, but he’s in a position of power, which makes him a contender either way. I’ve read some comments out on the web saying he was stupid for some of the decisions he made and I think it’s not stupidity but rather the fact that he did not adapt as quickly as he should’ve. He was aware of the dangers but through that he could still weather them through Robert or his position or his stature.
I also like Ned’s character because his story ties in a number of plotlines that have seemingly gone apart after his death and the start of the war. The main plotline I’m thinking of is that of Lyanna and Jon. What really happened to Lyanna at the Tower of Joy? What did she make Ned promise that kept haunting him to the end? And who was Jon’s mother? I remember Bran’s last chapter and how he had a dream of his father in the crypt; he told Maester Luwin that his father seemed sad about Jon. Ned’s death certainly marked the end of an age.
Another thought that has been cropping up concerns Rickon. He’s the only Stark child (other than Robb) who doesn’t have a POV. I remember there was a comment made in ASoS (because it’s the one I remember the most) how wild Rickon and Shaggydog were becoming. What I didn’t realise was that this was already happening in AGoT; Robb told Catelyn after Bran fell that “[Rickon] thinks everyone’s deserted him, so he follows me around all day, clutching my leg and crying.” Later on when Robb leaves Winterfell with his host of men to march south, Rickon refused to come down: “No farewell!” Then of course there’s Shaggydog biting and lashing out at people that they had to chain him up and only Summer and Grey Wind can calm him down. This is concerning if there’s to be a Stark reunion later on because Rickon clearly feels very alone and separate from the rest of the Stark children. Davos in ADwD is out to look for him (which is good because he’s the only one unaccounted for at this point location-wise) but I wonder what he’ll find when he gets to him…
Other things of interest: I miss Tyrion’s snappy dialogue and great chapters. While I understand why he is the way he is in ADwD (made a comment of it in my ADwD post), this Tyrion in AGoT was far more entertaining to read. I’m also picking up some earlier nuances with Jaime in this volume (the way GRRM described Jaime’s delivery of the line “The things I do for love”. I believe the word he used was loathingly). I’ve come to understand Sansa’s POVs more (did not like her at all the first time I read her chapters) and I think this was the only volume where I enjoyed Daenarys’s chapters/was interested in Essos.
Also, you don’t hear too much about it but I find the Robert/Lyanna storyline rather heartbreaking. For all of his drinking, eating, hunting and whoring, the one thing that seemed rather constant in Robert’s mind was how he didn’t have Lyanna: “She should be on a hill somewhere, under a fruit tree, with the sun and the clouds above her and the rain to wash her clean” and the way he touched her statue. He also thinks of her often, mentioning her almost every time Ned and he are in the same scene. Of course, Lyanna was also aware of his lifestyle so the question becomes whether he would’ve stayed faithful or whether he would’ve become bored of her. But the fact that he roused an army to fight the Targaryens after what happened to Lyanna…that had to be a sign that he truly loved her. I’m optimistic that he would’ve stayed true for her had she lived but yeah…I just hope one day GRRM will actually reveal exactly what that promise was and what exactly happened in that tower…
I’m still a little miffed that we don’t have a Robb POV but I guess it makes sense since Catelyn’s already with him a lot of the time and we already have a POV from someone his age with Jon. But at the same time, we didn’t really get to see his reaction to his father’s death (which, as I will mention in another post, was one of the nice additions to the HBO adaptation) not to mention see him as he struggles to take on the mantle as Lord of Winterfell (in his own thoughts, not through Cat’s).
Another thing I realised was that unlike later novels, this first novel doesn’t use a lot of repetitive statements. While part of this is because these statements only came up later (“You know nothing, Jon Snow”, “Wherever the whores go”, “If I look back, I die” (or however that one goes)) and also because people’s identities haven’t shifted yet, it just makes reading the POVs a little easier. The only person I can think of who had this repetitive statement syndrome was Ned, but he was being haunted by Lyanna’s last words.
And that’s all the thoughts I have for now about the novel. I will certainly make a post when I re-read ACoK but I won’t be re-reading that book until roughly around the premiere of season 2. I’ll leave my thoughts about the HBO adaptation for another post. But this re-read was certainly good for me as it jogs my memory about the details that were not included in the adaptation. Also, it helps me see how much has changed/remained the smae/whathaveyou between the first novel and the latest installment in the series. Plus, it’s just good to reminisce sometimes =)