“A Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin

I've always liked this cover best.

I’ve always liked this cover best.

Reading a book for the first time is filled with moments of wonder. If the story is gripping, you spend most of the time wide-eyed, reading quickly, as if the words already set in the book could somehow escape you. Approaching that book a second time does not dim the wonder but neither does the wonder consume you as on the first read. Things you glazed over in your excitement to know what happens next begin to emerge.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when I read A Game of Thrones a second time. I was surprised at myself that I missed the blatant foreshadowing at the beginning of the story—the direwolf dead with the horn of a stag broken in its throat. Martin even referred back to that scene a few times thereafter and still I failed to notice it. I was too mesmerized then. Too curious and reading too quickly to pay much attention to details.

This isn’t surprising to anyone who has read the books in George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, or watched the television show on HBO. The story centers on various characters spread across the kingdoms of Westeros and its neighboring lands. It is filled with twists and numerous cliff-hangers that will keep you both hooked and frustrated with GRRM since the character perspectives tend to switch from chapter to chapter.

Although I knew the ending and what would happen to the characters later in the series, I still anticipated the turn of every page. Again, I found myself staying up late, wide awake, and reading quickly to satiate my curiosity and desire for a happy ending though I knew better. I did not expect this of myself. I thought my second time through would be much calmer, as it usually is, but I was wrong.

Spoilers abound beyond this point:

Bran thought about it. “Can a man be brave if he’s afraid?”
“That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him.

What hook me to the story are the characters. A Game of Thrones is a strong, character-driven novel. Although it begins with a situation that ends on an ominous note in the prologue, the story is mainly about the characters and what happens to them. Bran, the fifth child of all Ned Stark’s children, is the first character perspective we are introduced to. With him, we begin in innocence. Bran questions his world to learn about what’s occuring around him. If we had begun with an older character, we would instead find ourselves taking a stance—accepting or rejecting that character’s beliefs. I think GRRM wants us to form our own opinions on the story’s world and politics instead of simply taking on the opinions of characters. I think that’s why he begins with Bran since he hasn’t yet formed an opinion of his world, being so young. By beginning with Bran, I think we are being told to keep an open mind, which is needed to navigate these novels.

“Tyrion felt sorry for the boy. He had chosen a hard life…or perhaps he should say that a hard life had been chosen for him.”

“A bastard had to learn to notice things, to read the truth that people hid behind their eyes.”

Jon is another great character. I couldn’t help empathizing with him. Although as a bastard he is forced to face the harsh reality of life and is seldom deluded by fancies, he allowed the lore of the men of the Night’s Watch to trick him into committing his life to serving on the Wall. Though, he didn’t have much of a choice once Ned went south to serve as the king’s hand since Catelyn doesn’t want him around. Despite his decision, I do have high hopes for Jon. Like everyone who has read the books and seen the shows, I too believe that Jon is the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen. There are many clues that point to this in AGoT not the least of which is Ned’s constant comparison of Rhaegar and Robert Baratheon, the two men who vied for Lyanna’s affections. Plus, Daenerys believes of her brother that he battled the Usurper (Robert) at the Trident and died there for the woman he loved. I wondered which woman she meant when I read that passage. I wondered if she meant Lyanna or Rhaegar’s wife, Princess Elia of Dorne (Elia Martell). But despite all that has happened to Jon (and will happen to him in the other books), I see him as a survivor. No matter what, he will prevail. I think his wolf signifies that. When found, Ghost was not with the other pups. I believe he was the first one born and his mother casted him away because he is albino. Thus, he is treated like a bastard. Of all the pups, Ghost was the only one that had already opened its eyes, which he had to do to survive. So like Ghost, Jon will do what he must to survive.

“Drogo had been more than her sun-and-stars; he had been the shield that kept her safe.”

I'm tempted to purchase this. I'm including it here because it helps to illustrate how Drogo overshadows here, among other things.

I’m tempted to purchase this. I’m including it here because it helps to illustrate how Drogo overshadows her, among other things.

Similarly, Daenerys will do what she must to reach the Iron Throne. I enjoyed watching Daenerys develop in this installment. She grows from a timid outcast in the shadow of her crazy brother Viserys to a queen confident and strong in her purpose. While rereading, I couldn’t help thinking of Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God whenever I read Daenerys’ parts. I find them similar in how at first they seem to need a man to lead them to their goal but in the end they find their way on their own. They both escape abusive relationships, grow to trust themselves, and end up killing a man they loved. I wasn’t sure if Daenerys was meant to lead when I first met her but I knew Viserys wouldn’t make it to the Iron Throne or lead an army (or so I hoped). He was unraveling from the moment we met him. Also, I think the prediction made about Daenerys’ son was really about her, unless her son is somehow resurrected (I haven’t yet completed A Dance with Dragons to know if this does happen). Daenerys was not meant to exist in someone else’s shadow so I don’t think she was truly meant to have such a powerful son. And I think that’s why Khal Drogo had to die. Not only did he overshadow her, he was a form of security that she yielded to. The way I see it: Daenerys usurped Drogo by unintentionally killing him and taking over his khalasar. Then, like a phoenix, she was reborn from Drogo’s ashes with her dragons as Khalessi, Mother of Dragons, leader of her own tribe. You have to admire that transformation—from a weakling to a powerful being. It’s awesome.

It’s easy to become emotionally vested in these characters because they are so believable. They are motivated by their fears and desires and they act according to their nature and the circumstances they are placed in hence the need to keep an open mind. This is not a story with black and white figures, those who a totally evil and those who are totally good. So it is not easy to take sides. One might empathize with a character because of the character’s plight or because of the character’s purpose. For example Tyrion, who no matter what he does is never respected by his father and is often mistreated because he is a misshaped dwarf. There isn’t much to dislike about him in this book unless you can’t stand sarcasm and you have strong morals and dislike the thought of someone bedding whores. In this installment, Tyrion mostly looks out for his own neck since that’s what’s at stake. Otherwise, it seems that he’s not given much to do since he’s a smudge that his family, except his brother Jaime, tries to forget. Later in the series, one can debate the morality of some of his actions and whether they show him as a good person or not.

The same can be said for Arya (another character I admire). She begins this book innocent but by its end, her innocence is stolen when she witnesses the execution of her father. It’s easy to sympathize with her—she’s a young, small girl on her own in the vast and ruthless kingdom of Westeros, and she witnesses various cruelties. But does that validate her later murders? Is it right for her to take the lives of those who have done her wrong or is it okay because those men have helped to “corrupt” her? Again, another character driven by desire, fear, nature, and circumstance. Still, I can’t help liking Arya. She is passionate, strong willed, and a total bad-ass. I have high hopes for her becoming a ninja assassin.

This a great infographic that details the characters' relations.

This a great infographic that details the characters’ relations. Click to see bigger version.

Another thing with GRRM’s characters is that it’s hard to part ways with them. The books tend to stick when you read them and it’s hard to remove them from your mind. Many moons later, you might find yourself replaying episodes or cursing GRRM for killing off a favorite character, which is an annoyance. GRRM has no sympathy for his reader’s emotions. He will leave a favorite character of yours hanging in a precipitous situation and jump to another perspective, not returning to the endangered character until pages later. A warning label should be placed on his books: “Don’t get close to characters. They might die dreadfully.” He doesn’t seem to bat an eye when it comes to killing off a character. If the situation calls for the character to die, it’s possible that the character will.

…Unless GRRM decides to resurrect them later. This is a fantasy novel after all so there are some instances when a character returns. Although, the means by which they return makes me consider them as more of a high-functioning zombie.

Overall, my reread of A Game of Thrones was almost as great as the first time but nothing can beat the first hit. I’m glad to find that the story hadn’t staled and that the plot was just as consuming though I knew what would happen. I plan to work my way through the series again but I’m going to take it slow. Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, is slated to be released in 2017 so my plan is to stretch this reread over two years so I finish A Dance with Dragons as close to that release date as I can get. This is probably an impossible task but I’ll read slowly and take long breaks between books.

A Clash of Kings (book 2) —>

Quotes from the book:

“…the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.” [Ned]

“A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.” [Ned]

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” [Tyrion to Jon]

“We all need to be mocked from time to time, Lord Mormont, lest we start to take ourselves too seriously.” [Tyrion]

“Know the men who follow you and let them know you. Don’t ask your men to die for a stranger.” [Ned]

“Minds are like swords, I do fear. The old ones go to rust.” [Grand Maester Pycelle]

“Folly and desperation are ofttimes hard to tell apart.” [Maester Luwin]

“A king should never sit easy.” [Aegon the Conqueror]

“The man who fears losing has already lost.” [Syrio Forel]

“There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.” [Varys]

“…love is the bane of honor, the death of duty…We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy.” [Maester Aemon]

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8 thoughts on ““A Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin

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