Review: The Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

21 Dec

In high school, I had a crush on this guy named Micah* and he was totally into George R.R. Martin. Micah and the nerds at school were freaking out over this new book, A Game of Thrones and talked about nothing else and I, desperate for Micah’s attention, decided to read it. For the most part, I was like, “What the fuck is this?” because I was deep in my Johanna Lindsey and Nora Roberts phase at the time. Then one day, he saw me reading A Game of Thrones at lunch while absently stuffing my face with a Taco Bell Chilito (seriously, what happened to the Chilito? It was my fave) that I had filled with crushed bits of Doritos Ranch (I was 90lbs at the time and didn’t think I was ever going to get fat) and he was like, “Oh, cool, you like George R.R. Martin too?” and it was the first thing he had ever said to me EVER and I almost fainted with delight and nervousness. I nodded like a deranged mime and he flashed me a peace sign and walked away. And I was pretty sure I had chilli grease and Dorito dust on my face because he never spoke to me again. I was three-quarters of the way through when he started dating this girl that I was WAY cuter than and I was like, “Fuck this,” and ditched the book (I picked it up again the next year to finish it and read half of A Clash of Kings).

And then the show came out and I thought to myself, “Ooookay, I don’t remember the book being filled with lots of skanky doggy-styling and incest and all sorts of naked craziness. I gotta pick the series back up.” And so I started from the beginning. Much to my surprise, it’s way better this time around, probably due to HBO providing eye candy and skanky nakedness for my noggin (I CAN HAVE THE SHOW INSIDE MY BRAIN). Light up your torches, bitches, ’cause it’s time to get fantastic with snarks and grumkins and dragons and direwolves!

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

HERE BE SPOILERS

The Plot as I Understood it (Pardon me, but this summary might be as long as the book itself) This epic book is told from the points-of-view of several characters (and there are many) integral to the plot and here they are:

The Wall The Wall is a big ass fence that protects the seven kingdoms of Westeros from whatever unsavory creatures lurking in the woods. For a lot of people, the creatures are nothing more than old wives’ tales and folksy superstition, but a group of tough guys called The Brothers of the Nights’ Watch at Castle Black are stationed at the Wall and sworn to protect the kingdom from whatever lies on the other side of the Wall. At the start of the story, a handful of the Nights’ Watch patrolling outside the Wall encounter some scary shit; people die and one of them runs away.

Ned Stark NED is the patriarch of the House of Stark which is located at Winterfell, far away from King’s Landing, the capital of Westeros, and way up North, where it’s hella cold. It’s so frickin’ cold at Winterfell that the family motto is “Winter is coming.” That’s it. Not “Pick up your big sword and hack away at shit til it dies,” but “Winter is coming.” Several years ago, Ned and the current king, ROBERT BARATHEON, were squires together for Lord JON ARRYN and became life-long friends. They were such good friends that Robert was supposed to marry LYANNA STARK, Ned’s sister, until she was allegedly raped and murdered by RHAEGAR TARGARYEN, the son of the old king. Before the start of the book, Robert, Lord Jon Arryn, and Ned took up arms against the last king, AERYS TARGARYEN, to whom everyone referred as “The Mad King.” Ned’s father and older brother Brandon (who was supposed to marry Ned’s wife CATELYN TULLY) die, but Ned and Robert win against the king, so Robert becomes the new king, Jon Arryn becomes his Hand (his point man), and Ned retreats to Winterfell with his new bastard baby JON SNOW to raise his family with Catelyn. Life has been relatively quiet for Ned and his family, except some weird shit might be happening on the other side of the wall because he had been catching some deserters from the Nights’ Watch (and executing them, as he’s supposed to do) and the last one he caught was scared as hell about…something. Folks say it’s just The Others getting out of control, but some of the more superstitious lot are convinced there are monsters and shit wanting to be starting somethin’. On top of that, Ned and his sons had just come across a dead DIREWOLF, which everyone believed to be extinct, and the direwolf had just given birth to six puppies, one of them an albino. The sigil (mascot) of Clan Stark is the direwolf and Ned Stark has six kids, so it’s fortuitous that they should come across six direwolves. Jon Snow, the bastard child, takes the albino himself. Folks argue that it can’t be good luck to find puppies fresh out of a dead mom, but Ned is convinced by his children to let them keep the direwolves and they take them home.

Ned is welcomed by his wife Catelyn who tells him that his mentor and old friend, Lord Jon Arryn, who was also married to Catelyn’s sister LYSA, has died unexpectedly and Lysa has fled back to the Arryn seat of Vale with their son Robert (named after the king, but Robin in the TV series to avoid confusion). Ned tells Catelyn that she should go to the Vale with the children to be with Lysa during this difficult time, but Catelyn says no and drops the bomb: King Robert and his entourage along with his wife CERSEI LANNISTER and their children are on the way and that means Catelyn can’t leave now. Ned is elated to see the friend he hadn’t seen in years—and WHOA, did Robert get FAT—but that happiness quickly turns to agonized brooding and misery when Roberts asks him to be the new Hand of the King, now that Jon Arryn is dead. Ned is happy in Winterfell and wants to say no, but Robert is his king as well as his friend, so he can’t. When Catelyn receives a super-secret missive from her sister that Jon Arryn may have been murdered with POISON, she convinces Ned that he has to become the Hand of the King and go to King’s Landing to find out who could have possibly murdered Jon Arryn. He agrees to take his two daughters SANSA and ARYA and to leave the boys with Catelyn.

Ned gets to King’s Landing and is quickly disillusioned by all the courtly intrigue and signs of excess that he sees everywhere he looks. Robert and his queen Cersei seem to hate each other and Robert is only interested in whoring, drinking, and killing shit. He bemoans to Ned that he never wanted to be a king and Ned himself should have taken the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, Ned does some amateur detective stuff and discovers that Jon Arryn was investigating some crazy shit before he was killed. Apparently, before he died, Jon Arryn had been visiting the king’s many bastards and asking a lot of questions. He had also been studying a large book filled with the histories of kings and queens as well as their progeny and their descriptions. Like “Robert Baratheon: black hair, blue eyes; son- Joffrey Baratheon: blond hair…” Ned takes it upon himself to retrace Jon Arryn’s last steps, takes a look at Robert’s black-haired, blue-eyed bastards, then at the golden-haired children he produced with Cersei, then thinks to himself, “Damn it, Ned, whatever could you be missing?! Why did this information get Jon Arryn killed? What did he find out?” Ned is also finding out that Robert has been a terrible king; he’s racked up massive debts in order to throw parties and tourneys and has basically passed on the leadership duties to the Hand of the King. Not that the king’s council is any great help: they’re a pit of gossiping, back-stabbing vipers (if vipers had daggers and hands with which to stab them). Some of them report directly to the queen, some of them want the throne for themselves, and some just want to watch the melee and chaos. Ned is the last honorable, principled man in all of King’s Landing and he is starting to realize with a generous heaping of an “oh shit” feeling that it’s likely to get him killed and his ass should have stayed in Winterfell.

Catelyn Tully Catelyn is super-pissed. She’s not overly fond of Winterfell to begin with because she grew up in Riverrun where there’s sun and happy times and lots of people with red hair; she’s even angrier that Ned would cheat on her with some anonymous “away at war” slut and add insult to injury by bringing home his bastard child to raise among his legitimate children. Granted, she is madly in love with Ned and that’s quite lucky, considering she was actually betrothed to Ned’s brother Brandon and Ned stepped up to the plate when Brandon died. But the gods must be conspiring against Catelyn because bad shit is starting to happen in droves. First, her brother-in-law dies and her younger sister goes into exile in the high mountains of the Eyrie with her sickly son in tow. Second, the king comes and demands that Ned take the place of Jon Arryn, her recently dead brother-in-law, as the new Hand of the King. Catelyn is super-not-happy about this, but she figures Ned would be the only one who could figure out who had murdered Jon Arryn since Ned would be right in the thick of it, so she persuades Ned to take up the position, leaving her and the children in Winterfell, with winter coming in to start some cold-ass shit. Third BUT CERTAINLY NOT THE LEAST, some asshole shoved her baby boy Bran out of a tower window and now he’s in a coma and probably going to die. On top of that, an assassin barges into Bran’s bedroom to kill him while Catelyn is watching him and Catelyn gets all cut up for her trouble. Luckily, Bran’s direwolf saves the day and tears out the throat of the assassin. When Catelyn finds out that the dagger that was going to be used to kill Bran belongs to TYRION LANNISTER, the dwarf brother of the queen, Catelyn realizes she has to start her own shit. She is a TULLY, damn it, and Tullys don’t stand idly by while people try to murder their kin. Oh, son, it’s about to get crazy up in here.

Sansa Stark Sansa is your typical teenage girl. She’s pretty, cares a lot about clothes and hair, fights with her younger sister about everything, and falls in love as easily as I burn through a ten-dollar bill. As Ned Stark’s eldest daughter, she has been raised from infancy to be a lady who will one day enter a politically advantageous marriage with one of her father’s allies. She’s a naive, romantic girl, so she thinks romantic love is just like the stuff she hears about in songs and stories. When the king and her father arrange for her to be betroth to Joffrey, the prince and heir apparent, Sansa is super-excited because Joffrey is OMG super-hot and rich and oh-so-gallant. She’s convinced that he’s noble and good and kind like her father. But that would make things too easy for the lucky, already privileged Sansa. Joffrey, of course, is the biggest snot-nosed, sociopathic, narcissistic, pettiest little jerkweed in all of Westeros (with the exception of VISERYS–but more on him later). Sansa just really wants to be with Joffrey because she wants to be a princess and live in a castle and have all his babies, but her stupid, tomboyish sister ARYA just has to muck things up. For instance, when Sansa and Joffrey go out for a walk and come across Arya playing with some commoner and Joffrey starts making fun of Arya’s friend, sparking Arya’s ire, Arya just had to grab Joffrey’s sword and throw it into the river just so Joffrey wouldn’t be able to hurt Arya’s friend. Oh, and Arya’s stupid direwolf just had to attack Joffrey and bite his arm so he wouldn’t be able to strike Arya and her friend. Stupid Arya. She ruins everything. And yet for all her petty teenage cares and rich-girl snobbiness, Sansa has a hidden cunning: girlfriend knows which side of the bread is buttered. Even after she finds out that Joffrey has the soul and personality of direwolf poop to be scraped off from the bottom of a stable-boy’s boot, Sansa plays it cool, pretending she still wants to marry Joffrey and doing everything she can to stay on the queen’s good side in order to save herself, especially after all the shit hits the proverbial fan. She’s pretty and looks guileless; no one will suspect her of anything. She is, after all, a mere slip of a girl. But under her carefully selected outfits and placidly beautiful face, Sansa is always thinking… and figuring out a way to get ahead and on top. Her wolf is called Lady.

Arya Stark Arya knows she’s not as pretty as her sister Sansa. She knows people call her “horse-faced girl” behind her back. She’s hopeless at sewing and making laces and… taking baths and combing her hair and wearing nice dresses. More than anything, she just wants to hang out with her older brother Rob and her bastard older brother Jon Snow, but since she is a Lord’s daughter, she has to learn how to be lady-like and preen and talk non-sense to people she can’t stand. Worst of all, she’s forced to go to King’s Landing with her father, the new Hand of the King, and her stupid bratty older sister Sansa, while her brothers get to stay at Winterfell and do… guy stuff. On top of that, Jon Snow is going to be leaving for The Wall and she’s likely never going to see him again—which is why he gives her a parting gift of a kickass sword that Jon calls Needle. When Arya gets to King’s Landing, she immediately realizes that she’s not GOING. TO. BE. HAPPY. AT. ALL. All the girls her age act like Sansa and only care about stupid things like ribbons and dresses and looking cute. While hiding from her governess and Sansa, she starts hanging out with the other kids, getting dirty and into all sorts of mischief. She even manages to get her father to hire her a fencing suitor who will teach her to become a kickass swordsman. As young as she is, however, even she can sense that SOME BAD STUFF is happening at King’s Landing and her father is in danger. She knows she has to be the strong and quick one to be able to warn her father so they can all go back to Winterfell safe and sound. It’s up to her to save them all, even if she has to smack Sansa senseless and drag her home herself. Her wolf is called Nymeria.

TYRION LANNISTER Let’s go outside the Stark family for a moment and introduce you to the arguably most beloved character of this series. Tyrion Lannister is a dwarf. His older (twin) siblings, JAMIE and CERSEI (Robert Baratheon’s queen) are both tall, preternaturally good-looking, and favored by their father TYWIN LANNISTER, the richest guy in Westeros. Tyrion, on the other hand, is “deformed” and killed his beloved mother on his way out of her uterus and the family has never forgiven him for it. Despite his shortcomings, however, Tyrion is easily the wiliest and smartest character in the series. As he tells Jon Snow who is FOREVER MOPING ABOUT BEING A BASTARD THAT NO ONE LOVES, if people are dead-set on setting labels on you, you just gotta own that shit. Nothing in the world will change the fact that Jon Snow is an ILLEGITIMATE CHILD just like nothing in the world will ever make Tyrion a normal-sized man. Tyrion tells Jon that his ONE advantage over everyone is his ability to absorb knowledge from everything he reads, so that’s why he reads all the time. He can’t fight, he can’t run, and he can’t overpower anyone, but he is smart enough to manipulate any situation to his advantage. After all, if he can’t be a tall and strong man, he might as well be a very smart one. He tells Jon Snow that he needs to find something within himself that he can cultivate and wield over everyone else so that he will be remembered for being more than Ned Stark’s bastard. And then he tells him to stop being a little bitch. Oh, and he really, really loves drinking. And whores. And nothing is better than drinking with whores. That is Tyrion in a nutshell.

Bran Stark is not the littlest Stark—that would be his youngest brother RICKON—but he is a precocious, playful, and curious little boy who just wants to be like his older brothers. At the start of the novel, Bran witnesses his father executing a deserter from the Nights’ Watch and he listens to his brothers when they tell him to keep his eyes open and not flinch when their dad’s sword cuts off the head of the deserter. He is only seven years old. Just like other little boys, Bran enjoys exploring the grounds of Winterfell and especially likes climbing trees and towers. In fact, he is very, very good at it and even though his mother CATELYN hates it when he climbs things like a monkey, Bran enjoys indulging this hobby and has never fallen. Ever. Dun-dun-dun. One day, Bran climbs up a trellis to an abandoned tower where he often plays and sees… something that he’s definitely not supposed to see. All of a sudden, Bran is falling, falling, falling… SMACK. And now Bran is in a coma. While he’s out in Oblivion Land, an assassin tries to take him out. Luckily, his awesome direwolf leaps on the killer and tears out his throat. When he wakes up, Bran is dismayed to find that the lower half of his body is now paralyzed and he will never be able to walk or climb or run ever again. Oh, and everything in Winterfell is just a big ole mess. His dad, along with his sisters Arya and Sansa, have gone away to King’s Landing, his bastard brother Jon Snow has been dispatched to the Wall, his mother Catelyn is away on a mission to warn their father of bad shit going down, and his oldest brother Robb is now the temporary Lord of Winterfell. And is no longer any fun. His brother Rickon cries for their parents all the time and follows Robb around and Bran is stuck in his room with only OLD NAN and MAESTER LUWIN for company. When he needs to go anywhere, HODOR, Old Nan’s mentally deficient giant of a grandson, has to carry him around on his back like a baby in a knapsack. NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME EVER AGAIN. GOD, THIS SUCKS. As if that’s not enough to deal with, he’s been having weird dreams about a crow with three eyes and himself running and running like the wind in the forest. What the hell is going on? When shit REALLY hits the fan, Robb leaves Winterfell to join their mother and seven-year-old Bran is left in charge of Winterfell. Oh, just great. Now he’s the Lord of Winterfell. Awesome. Best plan ever. His direwolf is called Summer.

Jon Snow is a whiny little fourteen-year-old BASTARD. And by that I mean he is the illegitimate child of NED STARK and some camp hussy he supposedly impregnated while he was out fighting wars (when he’s supposed to be SUPER in love with Catelyn and would never cheat on her). Maybe. I have my theories AND THE PEOPLE OF THE INTERNET AGREE WITH ME AND THAT’S ALL I’M GOING TO SAY ABOUT THAT. His last name is Snow because that is the last name given to the illegitimate children of Winterfell because he can’t use the last name Stark. Because he’s a bastard. Nevertheless, Ned treats him as well as he treats his other sons, but his step-mother Catelyn HATES HIS GUTS. Catelyn is not outright cruel to him in action, but is super-rude to his face and never hesitates to make him feel like crap. He knows he’ll never be the Lord of Winterfell like his half-brother Robb and that he’ll never belong anywhere. Which is why he mopes and whines all the time. When his father’s brother BENJEN STARK, a Ranger of the Night’s Watch comes down to Winterfell for a visit, Jon realizes that the best course of action for him would be to “take up the black” himself and become a Brother of the Night’s Watch. The Brothers don’t marry, don’t have families, protect the rest of the kingdom from whatever lies on the other side of the wall, and never, ever, ever leave Castle Black. Jon figures that if he joins the Night’s Watch like his Uncle Benjen, he’ll always have a “family” and a “home” to belong to. Unfortunately, when he gets to the Wall, he finds out that the people who usually “take up the black” are the dregs of society that no one wants to have around; there he finds rapists, thieves, drunks, wastrel younger sons, and other undesirables with nowhere else to go. And there’s no turning back. Ever. Fortunately for Jon, he’s a good fighter and LORD COMMANDER JEOR MORMONT takes a liking to him and requests for Jon to become his personal steward. Jon DOESN’T want to be a steward because he thinks he’s good enough to be a Ranger like his Uncle Benjen and everyone knows stewards are nothing more than nursemaids. Throughout the novel, Jon is torn between his vowed loyalty to the Night’s Watch and his love for the Starks who are suddenly in all kinds of epic trouble. Jon is told repeatedly to forget about his family outside the Castle Black, but he finds it hard to adjust to his new life. And it’s something else for Jon to whine and pout about. His direwolf is called Ghost (the albino direwolf with red eyes).

Daenerys Targaryen or Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, The First of Her Name, is the sister of VISERYS, quite possibly the only person in this entire series with the only legit claim to the throne. Daenerys and Viserys are the only remaining Targaryens after their entire family is massacred along with their father, the Mad King Aerys II and their brother Rhaegar, rapist of Lyanna Stark. During Robert Baratheon’s rebellion, Viserys was safe in their family’s seat of Dragonstone along with his mother, who was pregnant with Daenerys at the time. Their mother dies in childbirth and Daenerys and Viserys are spirited away by loyal servants across the Narrow Sea to the Free Cities. Viserys becomes known as the Beggar King and calls Robert Baratheon the “Usurper.” In order to shore up an army big enough to challenge current king of the Seven Kingdoms, Viserys uses his only bargaining chip, his sister Dany, whom he marries to a primitive, violent warlord king named Khal Drogo of the Dothraki. He’s like… the king of horses or something. Anyway, Khal Drogo’s got, like, thousands of men at his disposal and Viserys is convinced it’ll be enough to topple over Robert Baratheon. Dany is SO NOT OKAY with this plan, but it’s not like she can do anything about it because surely her brother knows what’s best and he’s taken care of the two of them for years (so she totally owes him) and he’s right that they should totally fight for the Iron Throne, but ewww, she’s the one who has to have sex with a Horse Lord who’s three times her size and he’s totally primitive and doesn’t even speak the same language as they do. On top of that, Viserys is getting more and more unbearable, whining about when Khal Drogo will give him his army so he can fight for the throne already. He’s really mean to Dany and disrespectful to her even in front of her new people and always says shit like, “You do not want to anger the dragon,” because he thinks he’s the last dragon ever. All Dany wants is some peace and quiet, maybe her own place or a home of her own, where she can just… hang out. Maybe next to a lemon tree or something. And not have to deal with dragons and horses and her awful brother and having sex with a giant and forcing herself to learn how to speak Dothraki. Ugh, what’s a thirteen-year-old girl to do?

To Sum Up Robert Baratheon is the current king of the Seven Kingdoms but he sucks at it because all he wants to do is drink, go wenching, and fight in wars. His wife the Queen Cersei hates him and thinks her son Joffrey (who is freakishly blond whereas Robert has black hair and blue eyes) would make a better king. The Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, who was the point-man of Robert, dies mysteriously, so Robert asks his old best friend Ned Stark, the Lord of Winterfell, with whom he defeated the Mad King Aerys Targaryen back in the day, to become the new Hand of the King. Ned doesn’t want to become The Hand, but he also wants to find out who killed Jon Arryn (he was mentor to both Robert and Ned), especially since Jon Arryn was apparently looking into some stuff (which pissed some people off) before he was killed. Robert dies during a hunting “accident” and his brother Stannis thinks he should be the rightful king because Joffrey is obviously not Robert’s son, but his younger brother Renly thinks HE should be king because Stannis sucks. Meanwhile, in the Free Cities, Viserys Targaryen, the lone surviving male of the massacred Targaryen clan, is trying to rally up some troops to overthrow the “Usurper” and claim The Iron Throne once and for all. In short, a bunch of people WANT to be king, but all of that noise won’t even matter in the long run because WINTER IS COMING and there are some monsters and creatures and grumkins from the other side of the Wall who want to join the party. And they’ll probably all die. Except Jon Snow. ‘Cause that’s just the way that shit works.

OH MY WORD ZOMG, I love “The Game of Thrones.” I’m not a huge fan of epic fantasy books and I especially hate when shit ends on a cliffhanger, but I’m totally invested and addicted to this series now. I just finished reading the fifth book “A Dance with Dragons” (and yo, there are dragons in it) and CANNOT WAIT for the sixth book. I ALSO CANNOT WAIT UNTIL GEORGE R.R. MARTIN CONFIRMS WHAT I’VE BEEN SUSPECTING ALL ALONG ABOUT THE PARENTAGE OF A CERTAIN SOMEONE AND I AM DYING. If you’re like me and you’re usually, like, “Ewww, dragons and magic and nerdy shit, not for me. Thanks,” you’d be making a big mistake if you don’t pick up this series just because you don’t think it’s your cup of tea. SISTER, this book is CRAZY EXCITING and HELLA DRAMATIC. There’s incest and betrayal and double-crossing and monsters and back-stabbing and best of all, this book features really strong, really smart female characters who don’t wait around for the menfolk to take care of shit: if anything’s gonna get done in these books, it’s the womenfolk who’s pushing up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty. There’s also sword fights and lots of sweaty hot men and SNOW MONSTERS and zombies! WTF. IT IS NUTS. You cannot read these books and not get emotionally invested with these characters, especially because George R.R. Martin tells the HUGE EPIC STORY through the eyes of many, many people and instead of getting confusing, it just adds to the multi-layered narrative because as a reader, you’ll get to see how one scenario plays out from the point of view of different people. It’s like one big soap opera that’s for everyone (except children because there are lots of violence and skanky doggy-style sex). PICK UP THIS BOOK AND READ IT.

And that’s all I gotta say about that.

Last 5 posts by bam

Silver Shadows: A Bloodlines Novel
Richelle Mead Silver Shadows: A Bloodlines Novel(20) Release Date: July 29, 2014 Buy new: $18.99 $14.11 24 used & new from $11.11
by

3 Responses to “Review: The Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin”

  1. pamelia December 22, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    “Pick up your big sword and hack away at shit til it dies” — I read this to my husband and we decided (with your permission only) that we would like to make this OUR family’s motto. :)
    I love these books too and really really really hope he can wrap them up before another decade goes by!

  2. bam December 22, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    With my permission. Go nuts! :)

  3. sherrysoule April 22, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    That was by far the best book summary of the series that I’ve ever read! Bravo! ;-)