“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
: A Game of Thrones, chapter 45, page 429, EDDARD
“A Game of Thrones” is the first book of the fantasy novel series “A Song of Ice and Fire written by author George R. R. Martin. Last year HBO launched a medieval fantasy television show called “Game of Thrones” based on the books. The highly anticipated first season of the show has been hugely successful and the fans are currently waiting for the second season that will premiere on April 1, 2012. Game of Thrones has been very well received by critics and viewers. It is an engaging and thrilling series, with pungent flavors of political intrigue, medieval sense of honor and glory, deceit and treachery, religious institution and its roles in politics, mythical creatures like dragons and sprinkled with shocking twists.
The story of Game of Thrones takes place in the fictional realm called Westeros across the narrow sea from a large land mass in the east called Essos. The major families of the series include Arryns, Baratheons, Grejoys, Lannisters, Martells, Targaryens and Starks.These families are in various ways part of three storylines which collectively become interlinked and create a massive string of sequential events. In the beginning of the book, a Baratheon sits the throne as the rightful king of Westeros as he defeated and almost annihilated the Targaryen family over the love for a Stark girl. However, as the events unfold, towards the end of the first book a civil war breaks out over the control of Westeros where these families play the major roles. To add to all this, there is rising threat of ‘undead’ creatures in the north, and the ambition of an exiled daughter of a murdered king, who is gathering an army to return to claim her father’s throne.
Even though George R.R. Martin draws his inspiration from Tolkien and often quotes him in various interviews, “A Game of Thrones” is a completely different kind of fantasy fiction compared to “Lord of the Rings” and is by no means in the same league as the famous “Harry Potter” series. The series fans think it lays a powerful groundwork for the reader that introduces them to a world of reality. Many series fan argue that it portrays human morality in more realistic manner than any other fiction. I grew up reading fictions or fantasies where right always wins over wrong, good triumphs evil. This is the first fiction that I have come across where none of the characters is absolutely good or absolutely evil. Every character of Game of Thrones has a dynamic personality and is often unpredictable. The story is told from the viewpoints of several major viewpoint characters. This reflects their complex mentalities, attitudes and sensibilities and helps the reader form a personal relationship with not just one major character, but several. Each character finds themselves on many different sides of conflicts than what the reader might expect. As situations and circumstances shift in the story, interests of the characters shift as well. This makes a reader think instead of a simple introduction to the heroes and villains which provides the opportunity to form a personal opinion. Often when two of the characters that one likes in the series clashes with each other, one finds himself taking a pause and pondering on whose side he wants to take. In Tolkien’s world, bad guys like Orcs are unattractive and wear black clothes; good guys are good-looking and wear white clothes like the elves. Unlike “Lord of the Rings” where everything is black and white, Game of Thrones deals between shades of gray. It’s about the capability of bad people to do occasional good things and good people to engage in bad acts. It points out to the audience that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people and vice versa. It also points out that there are consequences and it’s hard to tell who is going to pay for it. George R. R. Martin shows that the fight between good and evil (in contrast to Tolkien and cliché) is not necessarily between the combined forces of good and evil, rather the battle is fought within each individual, and not just one Gollum.
The “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings”’ screen adaptation has mostly received positive reviews while Game of Thrones poses a special challenge, because of the specific yet various type of narration in the book; including third person, limited knowledge of some of the third person narration and specially the fact that it switches from the point of
view of one character to another character. This makes the transition of different point of views harder to portray on screen. The novels emphasize on multiple view points and none of them have absolute moral superiority. It is not blatantly evident who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, and the reader learns very quickly that nothing might be what it appears to be. This makes it even more difficult to identify heroes and villains. Some complaints are made about the abundant presence of graphic sex and gore. While sex and violence are absolutely critical elements of the book, they’re never used gratuitously. They are essential to vividly portray that medieval glory was not simply about knights in shining armor and fancy sigils, but was stained in blood and gruesome violence, often causing innocent casualties as well as marred with debauchery.
The author reveals struggles for power between political families with incredible expertise and with his magnificent usage of imagery and literary elements creates a fantasy land in the reader’s mind where the reader can vividly think how the air might actually smell, hear the ravens and experience the ruthless winter. This makes the scope of an even vaster field like a television series seem limited. Viewers of TV series are used to having a clearly identifiable hero. Which is probably why Eddard Stark, the lord of Winterfell, was thought to be the central character in the series as it was played by a big name like Sean Bean, and he seemed to be the ‘rightful hero’. What many readers found foolish is the fact that some TV show followers threaten to boycott Game of Thrones because Eddard Stark was killed in the 9th episode of season 1. Some even found if objectionable that Eddard’s daughter Sansa Stark was shown to be the reason of Eddard Stark’s death. What they fail to realize is that what happens in the storyline are strictly the consequences of a series of events that are often not even related to each other, but as a combination causes a whole lot of mischief. Here the events flow like this – The Hand of the King Jon Arryn (second in command to the king) suspiciously dies of unknown causes. A treachery is suspected of the Queen and her family the Lannisters against King Robert, but there is no proof. Eddard becomes the Hand of the King and finds out about the incestuous relationship of the Queen and her brother. In a hunting accident, the King dies as he gets gored by a wild boar. Eddard Stark decides to move to take control of the realm as he believes the crown prince to be an illegitimate child. Meanwhile, Sansa hopes of becoming the queen by marrying the prince of the realm. It’s her greed of power and position that motivates her to betray Eddard Stark’s plan. Even after all this, the Queen gets Eddard arrested and plans to strip him off his titles and send him in exile. However, the newly crowned king, Joffrey, wants to create an impression amongst his new subjects and orders Eddard to be beheaded in front of the standing crowd without consulting his mother or other counselors. Therefore, many readers assume at each step each person made a conscious decision, and the death of Eddard Stark was the combination of the consequences to those conscious actions coupled with some ill fate and unfortunate events. The reader however is left with the question if the Lannisters were really plotting against the king. There was no proof of any involvement of the Lannisters in the death of either Jon Arryn or King Robert. Had Eddard not been trying to remove the prince from succession, the Queen would probably not have retaliated and had him captured. It is important to note that King Robert Baratheon had many other enemies including the old King’s daughter in exile and her allies who might have assassinated both of them. Whatever happened remains to be revealed in the later books, but as far as the first book goes, Eddard’s death was very important and necessary because as a consequence of this poor decision of the new king, Eddard’s son Rob declares war against the royal authority and proclaims himself the king of the north. And the story goes on.
George R. R. Martin reveals that initially the series was planned to be a trilogy. However, the fifth book of the series was released last summer and the current projection is that there will be seven books in the series. George R.R. Martin is found quoting Tolkien in explaining the expansion by saying that “the story grew in the telling”. And many readers do not mind that one bit, the only drawback – it took Martin almost twenty years to write five books. One can’t help but fear how long and painful the wait might be to finally find out what happens in the end.