“Game of Thrones: Blood, Blades, Beasts and Brandon Stark, Among Other Things”

I love lore. And battles. And swords. What better world to immerse myself in than the flash-fire sensation Game of Thrones. Yes, I finally did it. I read the bloody book.

First, before I dive into this thing: I read Game of Thrones with a grain of salt.

I have a hard time with the whole “women are lesser, weaker creatures” bullshit, because, as a woman, it pisses me off. Even if it happens to be a part of a novel’s society, I hate the “a woman’s highest honor is marrying and giving her husband sons.” And the way so many of the male characters completely objectify women, specifically in regards to the novel’s themes of violence, sex, and rape – it all made me grit my teeth and wish I could cut out their tongues and certain other body parts.

Also the child marriage crap. Was that truly, one-hundred percent necessary? Because I’m not so sure.

I understand that it all happens to be a part of George R.R. Martin’s world, but I am tired of those same narrative themes over and over and over. There’s a choice that an author makes when it comes to content and there could have been A LOT more creativity with female characters on Martin’s part.

HOWEVER. Female empowerment is not lost here. We get Arya Stark – who I love dearly and would die for – and we also get Daenerys Targaryen – who I like less, but I don’t deny her own strengths – and I’d hate to say it but there’s Cersei Lannister as well – who’s a bitch, but I respect her cunning. I’m sure there are a couple others that I’m forgetting, but the character list is so fucking long I forgot my own name by the end of the book. With all that in mind, I appreciate that female courage and tenacity is somewhat at work here, even if not all of them carry swords.

Foremost, I figure I should talk about the Starks, because the Lannisters can go and fuck themselves, although they clearly already do. Here’s the thing: I’m a little biased towards the Starks. Winter is my favorite season, I love wolves, and I like a bastard brother who drinks at least a little respect women juice. Winterfell itself spoke to me: the mysterious Wolfswood, the dark crypt deep beneath the castle, the godswood with its ivory heart tree. All of it was so ancient, thanks to George R.R. Martin’s lush details and plentiful writing.

Now I will say this: Martin is no Tolkien. While his writing style mimics the great author – whether that is intentional or not – he lacks a definite splendor or majesty when describing these grandiose locations. His writing really wants to fulfill places like the Wall and King’s Landing, but it often falls a little flat and doesn’t wield a specific grace to depict this world, to what I believe to be, the absolute fullest. That is not to say that Martin’s writing wants for an abundance of agility or dignity. He has weaved a complicated web here, through his own style nonetheless, and I give a nod to him in that regard.

What was I talking about? Oh shit. The Starks. Right.

Eddard Stark. Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. His character was one that piqued my interest right from the off. He was drawn in such a way that I could imagine him as a real person, which I believe to be one of the marks of a true writer. I think it was Eddard’s internal struggle that really expressed that. I could see the battle being waged between his morals and his responsibilities, his duty to the throne and to his family. How that manifested itself throughout the story was fascinating. One of my favorite scenes, both as a reader and writer, was when Eddard executed the Night Watch deserter in the first chapter. The conversation he has with young Bran afterwards, pressing his son to understand why he had to be the one to do the killing, was beautifully done. It was so telling of Eddard’s nature and his integrity, his desire for Bran to grow up as someone honorable, someone not afraid to deliver justice so long as it was deserving. The conversation was also a rare moment of vulnerability for Eddard’s character. He wasn’t speaking as a lord then, he was speaking as a father.

Bran grabbed my attention too. His is a kind of innocent struggle, of life being interrupted and turned on its head. He is forced to grow up from a place on the sidelines, abruptly unable to fulfill the image of the knight he wanted to be. But anyone who survives a fall like that has their own vitality. Bran may be called the Broken, but his spirit remains wholly intact. His love for his family shines through the book, more than making up for his injury. Something that kept me restlessly waiting for his chapters to come up was his growing perspective on the world and on himself. I saw Bran challenge his childhood and question what he was capable of, which was a fresh, young thread to have through all of the death and fighting.

Arya Stark was the best part of reading Game of Thrones. I always become attached to characters like hers: headstrong girls stuck in society’s weaker expectations. I felt her frustration when she was forced into more “ladylike” activities, when she what she really longed for was to hold a sword and explore. Narratives like that never get old to me, because I feel like they are so important to represent. Arya was constantly fighting to break the mold that was being forced on her, something that nearly every woman can relate to. I loved seeing her strength and her raw tenacity interact with her childlike naivety, because she is quite young. I think the end of the book was an interesting climax to Arya’s character, when she escapes from the castle at King’s Landing. She’s on her own, trying to survive the slums and avoid the City Watch while she figures out what to do next. Her struggle to remain strong clashes with her innocence, because she is literally forced to grow up at this point. Arya’s family is scattered and her wolf is gone. It’s just her, like it’s sort of always been. I understand that solitude.

Sansa Stark is someone who I couldn’t be around in real life. I’m always turned off by characters like hers: vain, brainwashed girls who think their looks and getting married are their greatest achievement. However, as a writer myself, I give Martin a lot of credit. Sansa’s severe naivety is extremely well written. Her desires are all tightly wrapped around these valiant stories of princes and rescued damsels, tales and songs with happy endings. But throughout the book that framework unravels and you see the lasting effect it has on the way Sansa sees the world. Another one of my favorite scenes is when she and Joffrey stumble across Arya and her sister stands up against the prince’s cruelty. The way she screams for them to stop, because they are ruining it. She’s so deep in that pretty fantasy of hers that the realities of the world, of Joffrey, pierce her like knives. By the end of the book you see her start to question that fantasy and the world as she knows it, something that will likely change her for good.

Jon Snow is not a Stark. That’s something that is made very clear at the book’s beginning. Still, he’s not to be completely left out of the mix. He’s the classic loner. He’s the misunderstood, tortured soul in all black who spends his time with a wolf, always brooding and thinking about his bastard-ness. Normally, I love a good loner immediately. I’m a queer goth who has a wolf tattoo on her forearm, characters like Snow are automatically a part of my family.

And I liked Jon, I did. I felt like some of his chapters were repetitive, but maybe that was just because a life at the Wall is pretty repetitive. I had a great appreciation for his constant kindness, his willingness to stick his own neck out for others. Jon’s brotherhood with Sam was a welcome warmth in the darkness of the rest of the plot. However, the thing that eventually sold me on his character was his relatability. Now obviously a lot of his problems are fantasy-related, but he has this thread that runs true throughout the book. Even when Jon’s starting to feel welcome, to feel like he may belong somewhere, he’s still alone. Something either happens to remind him or he reminds himself that he’s different, that he’s just other. That could be called angst. Or anxiety. Clearly it’s Martin milking that loner card, but either way it’s a feeling that I and a lot of others can recognize. I do think Jon’s character could use a lot more development and as of now I’m interested to see where he ends up.

As a reviewer I am obligated to now move on to the Lannisters even though I don’t have much to say.

We’ll make this a short one. I have very, very little to say about Jaime. He’s a mean pretty boy who is quite close with his sister and dates power like it’s nobody’s business. The end. He did not stand out to me in the slightest, from a reader or writer perspective.

The same goes for Joffrey. He’s a mean mama’s boy who cuts up animals – and people – in his spare time. I’m interested in where his cruelty will get him, because let’s face it, a novel could always use a twisted character like his, but when he dies I won’t be shedding a tear over what could have been.

As a reader, Cersei is a cunning, vain bitch who will meet her end soon enough. But as a writer, I love her. Not all powerful female characters have to fight on the “good” side. I adore a decently written evil queen who poisons her husband and make a play for power. We need more characters like hers. A vicious, sneaky, powerful woman is still a powerful woman, after all.

Tyrion. His is the one character that I really go back and forth with. On one hand and like most of the book’s male characters, respecting women is really not in his vocabulary. But on the other, he’s funny. I love a character who doesn’t really give a shit what other people think of them, who uses humor and wit as their first language. I think Tyrion’s perplexing nature and shady alliances are decently written and very direct, so in-tune with Martin’s writing style.

Last and almost the least for me: the Mother of Dragons. I’m going to be completely honest, I don’t really like Daenerys Targaryen that much. Saying that, she does still have an interesting presence and development through the course of the novel. She starts out in a very serious state of vulnerability and abuse, caught under her sick brother’s thumb. The physical and psychological pain Daenerys suffers is disgusting to read about, but the manipulation behind it is well executed on Martin’s part. He disperses these little pieces to really implement the idea of this violence against her, like her brother’s “don’t wake the dragon” routine. Immediately it made me think of the mental abuse one can suffer under an alcoholic parent, or anyone who manipulates someone in a similar, personality-splitting way.

Daenerys is then married to man against her wishes. A man three times her age, I might add. (Seriously Martin, the book would not have suffered if that sex scene was cut out. She’s thirteen for fucks sake, there’s no need for that shit.)

It’s after she “warms up” to her new life among the Dothraki that she starts to realize her power and strength. Daenerys is still a cautious person, you see her question her past and her future in a quiet, subtle way. I think that speaks to the fact that she’s so young. But she grows bolder and bolder in each chapter.

When she gets pregnant, because of course Martin just had to go there, you see that childhood suddenly leave her behind and – despite the fact that she’s still a child – she seems like much more of a woman. When she loses the baby and her husband, that womanhood is even more reinforced. There’s little harder or life-altering than losing a child and the person you love.

It’s like I said, I may not like her that much, or the groundwork that Martin laid her on, but I’ve got to admire her character’s abundance of determination. The book ends with the hatching of her dragons, which was a very cool scene, I must admit. Who doesn’t love baby dragons? The breastfeeding was a little weird, but more power to her I guess. I’m curious to see if her personality grows, but I’m not really holding my breath over it.

I’m giving Game of Thrones a solid 6/10. I think some of its basis is problematic and not in a good way. Its characters could have been given more to work with, even if it’s only the first in the series. If a character falls kind of flat in the first book, it doesn’t bode well for the rest. But the world itself is something to be admired, and the alliances and politics are woven together very tightly in Martin’s telling style. I may not be anxiously awaiting the rest of the series, but I’m glad I finally decided to read it.

 

Tell me what you think of Game of Thrones in the comments below, also let me know what you think I should add to my summer reading list!

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