Title: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R.R. Martin
I’m handling this review a little differently than most. I know I’m late to the game, but I also went into the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series with a bit of trepidation and wariness. Mainly in regards to the sexism and treatment of women. And to be sure, there are many women in Game of Thrones depicted as sexual tools; women who have no rights, and a hearty share of rape and sexual assault. There IS too much rape in this series, and as someone who is a survivor of sexual assault, sometimes this is a deal breaker for me. However, Martin’s female nipple obsession aside, I do feel that there is a hidden criticism of patriarchal society, feudalism and war hidden amongst the pages. Or, if there’s not, as a reader, I am going to create that criticism.
Do you know what can be hard? Being a progressive, intersectional feminist who enjoys all varieties of science fiction and fantasy, including the older stuff. Traditionally, these genres were not designed to be read by women. They are often filled with misogyny, female objectification and racism. Game of Thrones falls into this trap. There are some really cool aspects: this is highly creative fantasy, the world-building is incredible, the court intrigues and plot mysteries are addicting, but what I don’t understand and get annoyed about is the reliance on violence against women.
So why do I still plan on continuing with the series? Because I find it highly insightful to read Game of Thrones critically, keeping in mind its firm place in popular culture. Because some of the characters are incredible. Daenerys is tough and smart, Arya is a fighter. Jon Snow is…well, Jon Snow. And the stories of male violence that dominate so much of this story is something that needs to be discussed. Additionally, I always have a penchant for stories filled with twists, turns and surprises. A part of me hopes the series ends with Daenerys unleashing her dragons on the Seven Kingdoms, burning down every idiotic man in the process.
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
The next part of the discussion contains spoilers for the first book in A Song of Fire and Ice. Consider yourself forewarned!
I love digging up little details and analyzing them, and I have a feeling this first book in the series contains a boatload of foreshadowing. Here are some of my thoughts on what happened in Book 1, and what may be to come
The White Walkers. I don’t think it is a random fact that the White Walkers appear at the very beginning, in the Prologue. All of the attention right now may be on the inner turmoil and civil war in Westeros for the crown, but I have a feeling that will eventually be overshadowed by the return of the Others.
The wildlings are not as they appear. The wildlings are described as..well, as the name applies…wild people, cruel and savage. Descriptions of them are filled with superstition and myth. I would also guess we will get to know the wildlings much better in the future, for who they really are, not the mythology that surrounds them. I bet they are surprisingly normal people who are just trying to survive in a harsh landscape.
He remembered the hearth tales Old Nan told them. The wildlings were cruel men, she said, slavers and slayers and thieves. They consorted with giants and ghouls, stole girl children in the dead of night, and drank blood from polished horns. And their women lay with the Others in the Long Night to sire terrible half-human children.
The mother direwolf.The foreshadowing here felt as if it led up to the events at the end of this book. The deceased mother direwolf had an antler in her throat: the Baratheon sigil is a stag, and the Stark sigil is a direwolf. Did this scene foretell Ned Stark’s killing on Joffrey’s orders (Baratheon in name, if not DNA)? Or does it point to a future development, a downfall of the Starks at the hands of another Baratheon, such as Stannis or Renly?
A sudden silence descended over the party. The men looked at the antler uneasily, and no one dared to speak. Even Bran could sense their fear, though he did not understand.
Red Priests. The red priests are mentioned multiple times in the opening chapter for Daenerys, especially one in particular. Thoros of Myr, “a madman who shaved his head and fought with a flaming sword.” Thoros is mentioned once more towards the end of the book, when his name makes the list of traitors to the throne. It seemed out-of-place alongside Tully’s, Baratheon’s, and Tyrell’s. Who are the Red Priests?
Viserys. Boy, is he annoying! Although he may have been right about one thing, although not in the way he meant:
“When they write the history of my reign, sweet sister, they will say that it began tonight.”
Viserys says this the night that Drogo and Daenerys first meet. Except it won’t be his reign. I have a feeling that Daenerys will be the one worth writing about. And this was one character I was happy to see get the ax.
Starks. I really love the Stark’s, almost all of them – I have lukewarm feelings towards Sansa at the moment – and I am frustrated in both Catelyn and Ned Stark for trusting Littlefinger so easily and carelessly. But I really hope this quote from Ned Stark turns out true:
“The winters are hard,” Ned admitted. “But the Starks will endure. We always have.”
Tyrion. Despite his dalliances with “whores” (ugh, I hate that word which Tyrion uses ad nauseam), I have to admit to liking him. His kindness towards the Stark children shows a side of him he keeps well hidden – giving Bran a specially designed saddle, and his kindness towards Jon Snow at The Wall stand out. This is a guy that definitely plays the long game, and is not averse to playing dirty to get retribution. He’s filled with contradictions, which makes him an incredibly fascinating character.
“My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind…and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”
Okay, maybe I just like him because he reads so much.
Bran’s dream. There are many things I don’t understand about the dream Bran had right before he woke up. Are there seers in Game of Thrones? If so, Bran certainly seems like he is on his way to becoming one. In his dream he sees things that have happened while he was in a coma: the wasting away of his body into skin and bones, his mother in a cabin on a ship and the seasick Ser Rodrik, and his sisters’ grief on the Trident. The crow tells him to forget about the scene he witnessed between Jamie and Cersei, to “put it aside, put it away”, which he does forget upon awakening.
In his dream, Bran also sees shadows surrounding his family: one shadow dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound. Another armored like the sun, golden and beautiful. The third loomed over the others, a giant in armor made of stone, his visor filled with nothing but darkness and thick black blood.
I would put the Hound and Jamie as the first two shadows, but who is the third? Possibly Gregor Clegane, who is known as “The Mountain That Rides”. Whoever or whatever it is supposed to represent, it is bigger and scarier than the other two shadows.
Finally, the three-eyed crow – which has to mean something important – takes him beyond the curtain in the North, to look deep into the heart of winter. I can’t wait to find out more on what this means.
Now you know, the crow whispered as it sat on his shoulder. Now you know why you must live.
“Why?” Bran said, not understanding, falling, falling.
Because winter is coming.
What Arya overheard. I’m still mulling over the conversation that Arya overheard in the dungeons of the Red Keep. It is a conversation that is full of half-secrets. One speaker has the “liquid accent of the Free Cities”; I’m guessing this is Illyrio. The second speaker is likely Varys, based on the description. So does this mean that Varys supports the Targaryens? Or is he playing a scheming game? And who are his fifty birds?
Varys. Varys is another highly complicated, intriguing character. Just whose side is he on? Can you believe anything that comes out of his mouth (the same could be said for Littlefinger)? The Master of Whisperers is an extremely cautious and calculating man. At first, I took him at his word in his conversation with Ned Stark in the dungeons, but I am starting to second-guess that decision. This is a character that is designed to be untrustworthy, but for what end purpose?
I’ve never read anything by Martin…never seen his series: I’m intimidated by him!!
The series is quite a reading commitment! The books are all huge.
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