NORMAN — Sixteen years ago, George R. R. Martin started the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. One year ago, HBO turned the first book of the series, “Game of Thrones” into a TV show. Martin’s fandom is long lasting and far reaching. People from all walks of life pop up with a love for the book, a love for the book and show, or just a love for the show.
How did this obsession start? Why is Martin a household name and why are the Simpsons making spoofs of the show?
Because Martin created a beautiful and fascinating world that obsesses readers and watchers alike with characters and events.
“Game of Thrones” is the first book and it introduces Westeros, a fictional kingdom ruled by one king and filled with seemingly thousands and thousands more who fancy themselves better kings than that guy. They all want the Iron Throne. The most uncomfortable sounding (and looking) chair ever.
The eponymous HBO series, now rolling out its second series to record ratings, has translated Martin’s creation into a darkly beautiful universe of backstabbing, medieval espionage, incest and a whole lot of brutal death. And it’s done so with an astoundingly nimble cast who can make you love a character in one scene, only to make you wish they’d be fed to a direwolf in the next.
But that’s the genius of Martin’s sprawling narrative: There is no black and white in Westeros. He achieves this moral murkiness with the ambitious strategy of alternating narrators. Each chapter is told third person from a different character’s point of view. Reading the same events through different lenses fleshes out characters you might once have formed a cut-and-dry opinion about.
Martin’s first novel focuses primarily on three storylines: the ever-roiling power struggle in the capitol city, King’s Landing, and two very different threats from outside of the kingdom’s borders.
The action begins with the Stark clan, an ancient ruling family of the North, currently ruled by the unwaveringly noble and brooding Lord Eddard Stark. Ned and his brood spend most of their time scowling, wearing very large but very tasteful furs and reminding everyone who will listen that “Winter is coming.” (Summer and winter in Westeros can last for years on end.)
But when Ned’s old war buddy, King Robert Baratheon, comes a-calling, it becomes clear that something’s rotten in Denmark. The king wants Ned to serve as his Hand (think vice president-cum-chief of staff) because, well, because the last one died, suddenly and suspiciously.
Thus, Ned’s move south into the hornet’s nest of power sets up one story arc. For the others, we must look north and east. The northern border of Westeros ends at, what is aptly called, The Wall. Beyond the wall is a vast land of snow and untamed tribes of wildlings. And with an impending winter, there may just be a few more unseemly things heading toward the Seven Kingdoms.
On the eastern shore, you have the journey of Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen, the only surviving children of the king Robert ousted, the Mad King Aerys Targaryen. Understandably, as entitled teenagers, they’d kind of like their throne back.
And here lies the true appeal of Martin’s creation. You throw all of these ingredients together and you get an explosive combination of trial, tragedy, bloodshed and betrayal. What’s best of all? There’s really no predicting what will happen. No character is safe from an executioner’s blade or a crime of passion. The characters you love and adore and who are really really good people can be easily beheaded the next chapter without any warning or mercy.
“Game of Thrones” magnetism is due in large part to its unpredictability. It’s much like life in that way. And also like life, the story’s sprinkled with ample doses of wry humor, unique characters and a creative world that is all its own.
Sometimes it’s hard to get behind. So many characters and so many names to keep up with. HBO’s show actually helped with that and drew in several new readers (who wouldn’t have touched the book otherwise).
Winter is coming, and you’ll want to be there when it does.