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A Game of Thrones Review - You Win or You Die

by George R. R. Martin

Published 1996

*Spoilers Warning*

I have to admit, I watched the successful and popular HBO TV show series before I even knew this was a book. I was so blown away and impressed with how detailed the HBO series was that I should have known it must have come from a book. I purchased the entire series of A Song of Ice and Fire because I kept hearing that there were details in the book that could help with fan theories of where the show is going and I got to begin with A Game of Thrones and enter the incredible world built by George R. R. Martin.


Book Summary:

Winter is coming. A Game of Thrones begins with two rangers beyond the wall encountering dead bodies and being chased by something unknown and terrifying that kills one ranger and has the other one on the run. We never learn what he saw because he is immediately executed by Eddard Stark for deserting his watch. After this, Eddard and his sons Robb and Bran along with his bastard son Jon Snow head back to Winterfell until they pass a dead direwolf with a litter of pups that they bring home for each of their children. At Winterfell, we are introduced to his daughters Arya and Sansa Stark along with his wife Catelyn Tully. They are warned that King Robert and his wife and children are arriving soon. We meet the Lannisters, Queen Cersei and her brothers Jaime and Tyrion Lannister. King Robert has come to ask Eddard Stark to become the King’s Hand, since the last has died. While Eddard doesn’t want to accept, he must since he hears from his wife that the King’s Hand may have been killed from a Lannister, but for what? During their stay, Bran was climbing walls of the towers when he sees Jaime and Cersei having sex. To protect their secret, Jaime throws Bran from the tower, which permanently cripples him and he forgets what he has seen. Yeah all this happens like right in the beginning so George R. R. Martin just kind of throws you in there.


On the other side of the sea, we meet Daenerys and Viserys Targaryens, the only surviving Targaryens who had to flee Westeros during Robert’s rebellion. Viserys struck an agreement with Khal Drogo, the head of his large Dothraki khalasar, to have him marry his sister Daenerys in exchange for an army to bring back to Westeros and take back the throne. At her wedding, she receives 3 stone dragon eggs as a gift. While Daenerys has always feared him due to thinking he was the “last dragon” left, the more integrated she becomes as the Khaleesi of the khalasar, the more she begins to doubt his ability to win back the throne. She becomes pregnant and is told that her child will become the Great Stallion, a great omen in the Dothraki culture. The more beloved she becomes, the more angry, jealous, and unhinged Viserys becomes. When storming in one night to threaten Daenerys and Khal to give him his army, he is killed, with Daenerys recognizing that he was not the last dragon.


The rest of his family has stayed in Winterfell to care for Bran, who was almost killed again when a mysterious assassin shows up with a dagger and fights Catelyn to end Bran’s life. Due to her fear that his may also be connected to the Lannisters, she comes to King’s Landing to share her findings with Eddard. She is told the dagger belongs to Tyrion Lannister so she heads back on the road to go back to Winterfell. On the wall, Jon has joined the Night’s Watch to guard the giant ice wall against the wildlings...and more. He befriends Samwell Tarly who becomes his first friend there. His uncle Benjen has disappeared after going on a ranger’s trip beyond the wall and learns that the wildlings are coming a lot more frequently as if they are running from something. Tyrion had visited the wall for a while and heads back to King’s Landing when he is found and arrested by Catelyn Tully and brought to the Eyrie to face judgement. Outwitting the court, he is released along with his new ally, Bronn to continue their journey to King’s Landing.


Back in Westeros, Eddard Stark has arrived with his two daughters, with Arya spending her days with her “dancing master” who taught her how to sword fight and Sansa spending her days with her betrothed, Joffrey Baratheon, the heir to the throne. He also learns that the previous hand was killed using poison and may have found out some information that got him killed which gets him investigating. After putting clues together, he discovers that Cersei killed the Hand after he discovered that her children are actually Jaime’s and not King Robert’s which means they are not heirs to the Iron Throne. When he threatens to reveal the truth to King Robert, King Robert is killed during a hunting trip, thus leaving Joffrey as king. Joffrey and Queen Cersei quickly arrest Eddard before he can spread the truth about Joffrey’s claim to the throne and he is beheaded as a “traitor” with the claim being he tried to claim the throne for himself. They keep Sansa in King’s Landing as a hostage still betrothed to Joffrey while Arya manages to escape King’s Landing.


Back at the wall, during a trip beyond the wall to look for the missing rangers, Jon and the members of the Night’s Watch find two dead bodies that they bring back to camp to study… until one of them comes back to life with bright blue eyes to kill those around them. Jon is able to kill it using his sword of dragonglass. Robb stark has declared war against the Lannisters after the news of is father’s death reach him. Winning his first battle, he manages to capture Jaime Lannister and hold him as prisoner against Lord Tywin, his father. We finish the story with Khal Drogo being severely wounded and close to death after Daenerys convinced him and their khalasar to head to Westeros and take back the throne. Heavily pregnant and fearing for her husband’s life, she agrees to let a witch help her bring him back from the precipice of death. This turned into a curse instead as it causes Daenerys to lose her child in exchange for Khal Drogo’s life who returns but is not conscious, mostly stuck in a comatose state. She decides to kill Khal Drogo to put him out of his misery and sentence the witch to death as well. She grabs the 3 dragon eggs and walks into the fire which should kill her, but at the end of the night as the flames die out, she is completely unharmed holding 3 newborn dragons as the khalasar all bow down to their Queen.


Final Rating & Thoughts: 10/10

I am in love with this book! This is actually one of my favorite series to reread and it’s because you can find something completely new every time you read the books. George R. R. Martin doesn’t write 700-1,000 page books just for shock factor, he makes sure that every single piece of content that is in his books has importance, whether it’s important for this book or to set up future conflicts. What I love about A Game of Thrones is it doesn’t matter if you have read the books before, watched the shows before, or have never heard of the series, the book immediately immerses you in this world that is just captivating from beginning to end. It offers just enough background and history behind each character and the different locations to understand what is going on and get you invested. It is so hard to even find a flaw in A Game of Thrones because George R. R. Martin is so meticulous with every detail in the book.


I should have seen Eddard Stark’s death coming but I really didn’t think George R. R. Martin would actually go through with it in the first book! He was a main character throughout the book and seemed like he would really be the main person to stand up against the Lannisters so I was shocked at how easily they got rid of him. I was also stunned at the truth about Cersei’s children, even though the truth was right underneath our noses the entire time. George R. R. Martin spent a lot of time describing the golden hair of the Lannisters that Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion all shared. He also made sure that anytime he had to describe Myrcella, Joffrey, and Tommen, he made some comment on their golden hair glinting in the sun. At first, I thought he was just a very descriptive author but when he also kept noting every bastard of King Robert’s having hair as black as ink, it was clear what truth the previous hand was trying to expose.


After rereading the series again, I also found some interesting tidbits that I think help explain some stuff from the show as well as just provide further insight into the characters. The first thing I found was way back in the beginning when they discover the dead direwolf. There hadn’t been a sighting of a direwolf in over 100 years and the first time they see it, it is dead with an antler sticking out of the neck as the cause of death. This was definitely foreshadowing of the Baratheons being the cause of Eddard Stark’s death. Only shortly after finding the direwolf and heading back to Winterfell do they discover that the King is coming to Winterfell which is strange considering he never likes to visit. His ask to be the King’s Hand could be seen as the demise of Eddard Stark because had he not gone to King’s Landing and made the discovery of the truth of Cersei’s children, his death would have been completely avoided.


Also, Bran was the first main character to know about the dangers lurking in the North. In the book after his fall, he is stuck in a comatose state before he awakens. During this time, he has a dream of a crow who tells him he needs to fly in order to see. During this flight, he looks to the South and sees the sadness behind Eddard, Sansa, and Arya Stark as Sansa’s direwolf Lady is sentenced to death. He looks to the North and sees Jon at the Night’s Watch. When he looks farther North, the book says, “He looked deep into the heart of winter, and then he cried out, afraid, and the heat of his tears burned on his cheeks… Now you know why you must live… Because winter is coming.” This is something that is actually left out of the series but I think really provides some insight ahead of time to show us that Bran is someone special and will be an important part as we discover more about The Others.


Overall, I would recommend this book to just about everyone. There is a reason why the HBO TV show is so incredible and it’s because it’s source comes from one of the best written novels I have ever read. George R. R. Martin didn’t just create a story, he created an entire new world. He has created multiple stories within that world which by the end of the series will all be connected in a way we would have never seen coming. Just the planning alone that goes behind a series such as this shows how ambitious he has been and it truly has paid off. A Game of Thrones is a favorite among fans for a reason.


For those interested in A Song of Ice and Fire, this is available for purchase on Amazon in Paperback or via Kindle.

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