Sometime this past winter I watched the first two episodes of Game of Thrones with my friend Melinda. She gave me a great introduction to the series, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue. Some of the violence and sexual politics left me unsettled. Then the third season aired, and I heard constant rumblings about exciting events. I gave season one anther shot and—bam! I was hooked.
Of course, Game of Thrones the TV series is based on the epic book series by George R. R. Martin. I felt confident watching the show first because I didn’t think I would ever take the time to read such a mammoth book series. After finishing the third season, however, my withdrawal was so acute that I changed my mind. Now I have conquered the first book, titled A Game of Thrones. It was actually helpful to watch the show first when it came to sorting out the huge cast of characters. Although the book has many additional scenes and characters, I was amazed by how faithful the first season is to the first book. During key moments I often recognized direct lines of dialogue.
Someone unfamiliar with the books or the show might be wondering why I changed my mind. I could tell from my initial viewing that Game of Thrones inhabits a complex fantasy world complete with its own history and geography. When I didn’t understand the complexities, I focused on the sensational moments. A desire to immerse myself in these details was my main reason for reading the book. I also knew that the series has a variety of strong female characters. Similar to Mad Men, I enjoy seeing how the women maneuver in societies that intend to limit their power.
After reading A Game of Thrones, I realized how much Martin focuses on marginalized characters. The chapters have alternating narrators, most of them connected to the Stark family. Jon Snow is Ned Stark’s bastard son. Bran Stark is crippled. Sansa and Arya Stark are merely daughters. Tyrion Lannister is a “dwarf.” Daenerys Targaryen is a would-be princess in exile. Even Lady Catelyn Stark is at the whim of the men in her life. There’s a lovely passage toward the end of the book about how Catelyn has always waited for men, from her father to her husband to her son. Ned Stark is a lord, presumably a powerful man, but even he becomes an outsider when the king summons him to the capital.
You could say that Game of Thrones is the ultimate underdog story. In this richly populated world, you get to root for all the underdogs. Queen Cersei is a fairly loathsome character, but she often articulates the story’s themes with her sharp dialogue. When Ned Stark threatens her with the king’s wrath, she responds, “And what of my wrath, Lord Stark?” She could be speaking for all the marginalized characters of the series. I look forward to seeing whose wrath will prevail.