In December, as I was exiting EY and preparing for three months of traveling followed by 27 months in the Peace Corps, I downloaded to my tablet a bunch of tv shows, including Game of Thrones (GoT). I had never watched it before, but I had only heard good things, and I have always loved the fantasy genre and complex stories. I had also heard that the books were great as well.
On my flight home from Colorado I watched two episodes, and I liked them. I had a lot of questions, and I didn’t understand completely what was going on or all of the characters, but I did like it, so on my way to Florida a few days later I watched a few more. That night (it was December 25) I decided that I should give the books a try, since people had told me that they were better than the show and I was really enjoying the show. I bought the e-books (all five of them, using a gift card I had received that month for my birthday or Hanukkah) and I started reading them on December 26. From that night onwards I was completely engrosses in Game of Thrones (the series is actually called a Song of Ice and Fire). I was addicted to reading it. It was all I did in my free time. I wrote my thoughts about the books in my journal. I talked about it with my friends. To keep busy on a long hike up a mountain with Catherine and Mel I began re-narrating the entire story to them. I finished the first three books within one month. I read books three and four a bit slower, but I finished the fifth book by March 22. I had finished all five books in less than three months.
Now that it is over and I need to wait years for books six and seven I have fallen into a mild bout of depression, so I feel it is only fitting to write an obituary here on my blog to this story I hold so dear. This blog post can also be considered a good old-fashioned book report. A word of warning to anyone who has not finished the books, is actively watching the television series, or is planning to do either: I am liable to reveal spoilers in the remainder of this blog post. I suppose I should also warn that this seems a bit rambling to me. I’ve been editing this for a while now and I never seem to like what I’ve written or the structure of this post.
The first question I can think of, or where I feel it is important to start, is with the theme of GoT. Of course I love the books because of the stories and the writing style, not the overarching themes, but I think that the author is mostly conveying through the story that men, when forced into submission, will rise up. The author probably sees that as an inherent aspect of human nature. There are literally hundreds of examples of this in the book from Tyrion murdering his father to the North rallying around Robb.
The real cosmogony event in GoT is Aegon the Conqueror descending on Westeros, conquering the seven kingdoms, and the King in the North bending the knee rather than fighting the dragons. And this resulted in an unending stream of rebellions, culminating in Robert’s Rebellion ending the Targaeryn dynasty. There is even evidence that Ned Stark’s father was already sowing the seeds of rebellion with the Vale, the Baratheons, and the Tullys before Rhaegar forced his hand by kidnapping his daughter. This all of course drives the main story line, but there are plenty of other examples. The Wildings beyond the Wall had been severely subjugated and rallied around Mance Rayder to bring them back into the fold. The Boltons always despised the Starks’ rule over the North and ultimately betrayed Robb Stark to make themselves the dominant family in the North. The Iron Islanders have always been restive and have risen up three times in recent history, twice under Balon and now under the Crow’s Eye. And of course this theme is very strong across the sea in Slavers’ Bay. Martin has two books left, and I am very curious to see how he resolves this, since any sort of peace brought about by a king sitting the throne in a strong position will only beg the question of when the next rebellion will be.
Supporting this theme throughout the book is the motif of honor and duty (I can’t believe I am actually writing about themes and motifs. I used to hate this stuff.). They are probably two of the most common words in the books. People are constantly considering their duty and honor, and people in the novels are constantly being judged based on their actions in regards to their duties. However, what I think, or at least what dawned on me while reading this book, is that duty and honor are simply words used by men to control the actions of other people.
Honor is simply a manner of control. When the government wants you to do something they cite honor. When a man wants you to make a sacrifice for him he will cite your duty. Women are expected to be dutiful to their husbands. And in the books duty and honor all flows upstream to the King (or Queen in the rare case that there is one). Simply by the fact that someone is the King they command submission over others and cite duty and honor to sway their actions. For their honor, people fight and lose their lives for their lords and kings they have never met. This is absolutely ludicrous, but it is very powerful in the books as well as in our own lives. Just think, Ned is a very likeable character because of his honor, but it very clearly causes him to lose his head. Yet we still like him, precisely because we, as a society, value honor. I think this is a tool of submission and control forced upon us by people who want power, and in the future I personally plan to question my actions and those of others and alter my mindset so that I am not allowing any false ideals of honor or duty to subjugate or harm me or other people.
In the first few books Jaime Lannister is made out to be a pretty nasty bad guy. But once you learn more about his intentions you realize that he is a pretty simple guy. He is one of the most “one-dimensional” characters in the book. He loves a sword in his hand and he loves his sister. He knows that honor and duty are a load of crap, which is why he knew he had to kill the Mad King. The King was going to burn King’s Landing and everyone in it to the ground. Jaime said duty be damned and he killed the King to prevent this travesty from occurring. Since losing his hand and growing closer to Brienne he has been changing as a person, but that story line is not fully developed yet and we will have to see what comes of it in the next books.
On to my favorite character…
Robb may have become the King in the North, but Jon Snow is really more his father’s heir than Robb. And I don’t mean that in a genealogical sense, just that Jon is more like his father than Robb was. Ned was very progressive, for a powerful medieval lord. He treated his people, his children, and his wife well. He visited his vassals and cared about them. He was not cruel to his enemies and was fair in dispensing justice. And he was honorable, of course to a fault. Robb had these qualities, but his personality developed around the war and his burdens. However, when Jon became Lord Commander he became very progressive as well, even more so than his father.
Jon realized that the Wildings were not enemies. They are just people too who are trying to survive (Tyrion too expressed the same thoughts). And they were grievously at risk from the Others. So he adapted his father’s idea of re-populating the Gift and he invited the Wildings themselves to re-populate it. He forgave the crimes of their leaders (he demonstrated cultural relativism by knowing that their actions were truly just in accordance with their customs, just as the Knight’s Watch killed Wildings in accordance with its customs). And I think most progressively, Jon is willing to use the resources available to him (mostly the full force of the Knight’s Watch) to help the Wildings, even so far as leading his men himself north of The Wall to rescue Mother Mole’s people. He even had that moment of carnal weakness, just like his father had with his mother, when he was with Ygritte.
At the end of Book 5 it looked as if his similarity to his father has caused him to meet the same fate as his father, but we will see if he is really dead or somehow comes back from the grave. Unfortunately, I really don’t believe the author anymore when he wants you to think that someone is dead since so many people that you thought have died just show right back up. Unless you see them buried and burned I wouldn’t count them as dead in GoT.
In addition to Jon and his father, the characters that I find the most interesting are Barristan Selmy and Davos Seaworth. Selmy has lived a life of duty, and it defines him. He thinks about his duty constantly, and how it can conflict with ethics. He is one of the few characters in the books who lives by his duty unwavering, while others around them betray for their own self interest. In addition there is Davos, who also has a very strong sense of honor, probably because he came from humble beginnings and owes a lot to his lord, Stannis, including the forgiveness of his past crimes. Along with Jaime, these are the two other “one-dimensional” characters in the books.
Questions, Mysteries, and Theories
Today I Googled “Jon Snow Mother” and I learned just how many theories there are about GoT out there on the internet. I didn’t dive too deep into it, but I do have some that I want to throw out there:
- Jon Snow is not Ned’s. I think he is probably Ned’s sisters, who died after Rhaegar kidnapped her and sparked the war (“Robert’s Rebellion”). By whom, how she died, and how they have hid Jon’s true parentage, is yet to be revealed. I came up with this theory when Ned was in prison and thinking about the hard promises he had to keep for his sister before she died. Jon is probably it. Ned probably had to keep it a secret because he could be Rhaegar’s son, so Robert Baratheon or the Lannisters would have had him killed if they found out. Also the author keeps writing that Jon looks more like a Stark than Ned’s kids do.
- Why did Valyria meet its doom? Could it be a Sodom and Gomorrah sort of reason?
- Who killed Joffrey? I think that Littlefinger explained to Sansa that the Queen of Thorns did it, but did she act alone? How did she get the poison from Sansa to Joffrey? Did it have to do with Joffrey switching the sword he used to cut the pie? What did Littlefinger have to do with the assassination, and what was his motivation?
- Coldhands is Benjen Stark. Coldhands is probably a wight. But rather than being murderous, he is helpful to those that he comes across, especially his nephew, Bran. Jon Snow has two dead bodies in chains in hopes that they become wights and he can talk to them, so I don’t see why Benjen Stark couldn’t have become a talking guardian angel wight.
- Rickon is on Skagos. I just remember them talking about cannibals on Skagos, and when Davos realized where Rickon is he thought about a place where men eat men for breakfast, or something like that.
Some More Thoughts
Beric and Catelyn
In Book 5 (or maybe it was Book 4) it was revealed that Beric Dondarrion, who had gained mythical status in the Riverlands, had finally died, after he had been “killed” so many times only to be revived by the magic of the Red God. I loved Beric’s band when we first met them with Arya and the Hound. His reappearance after the Hound kills him is probably one of my top three favorite parts of the books.
When Catelyn kidnapped Tyrion, Tywin’s first move was to unleash The Mountain on the Riverlands. Sow a little good old fashioned havoc to provoke Ned. The Hand’s (Ned’s) response was to subdue them with a force led by Beric Dondarrion. They were not successful, but as the war unfolded they continued on their quest for justice as an outlaw gang and gained quite the reputation. Whereas Melissandre, with Stannis, has her prophecies, Thoros with Beric has his kisses which bring people back to life. By giving the gift to Beric so many times he managed to somehow transfer this gift on to him, and Beric was able to revive Catelyn Stark. Although Beric is dead now I would like to see what happens with her. For most of Book 2 and part of Book 3 all I wanted was a Stark reunion. Maybe she can orchestrate one (they all think that they are all dead, but Robb is the only dead Stark child).
Bran is the Lord of Winterfell and the would-be King of the North. And he was one of my favorite characters. But the child that he is, lately he has been more into learning to walk again or fly (and Meera Reed). So he has been venturing north of The Wall to find the Three-Eyed Crow. I used to love the Bran character, but now this storyline has grown stale. They walked and walked and it was hard and harder. Then they made it and began his learning with the Three-Eyed Crow, which so far has taken a clichéd path. I hope this develops into something more interesting, but for now I’m much more interested in Davos’ attempts to lead Rickon from Skagos to the White Harbor.
What was the Catalyst for Everything?
I find myself thinking a lot about what was the catalyst event for the War of Five Kings and whose fault it is and how it could have been prevented. The fighting started when Catelyn kidnapped Tyrion, but it really didn’t become a war until Ned was arrested and Robb marched south. However, all of the bloodshed could have been prevented if Joffrey had let Ned take the Black, not executing him (the characters in the book claim this a lot). But even more so, Jon Arryn was murdered, which began all of the intrigue and forced the Lannisters’ hands. Curiously though, for most of the books, you think Cersei and maybe the council had Jon Arryn killed, but in Book 4 Lysa Arryn reveals that she did it at Littlefinger’s behest. What was his motive for Arryn’s assassination? In the end, I really don’t think it matters. Jon Arryn would never have been the Hand of the King (nor would Robert have been the King) if Rhaegar hadn’t kidnapped Ned’s sister. But even then, if Robert hadn’t rebelled, Ned’s father still may have compelled the Lannister’s to join his cause and rebel anyway. It all really just goes back to forcing humans to submit and serve. It just causes them to rebel, no matter when or where.
I think I will leave things here. I’m sad that it’s over, and obviously I am eagerly awaiting the next book. I wonder if it will be out before I leave Nicaragua? I really hope so. I may even re-read the books to pick up on what I missed the first time around. I’d really like to read about Dany’s time in Qarth, Ramsay Snow taking Winterfell, J’aqen Hagar, and Ned’s recollections of his sister’s death, all of which I “missed” the first time around.