All screencaps from Fanpop user Invisible Tears.
In Shakespeare’s tragedies, there’s always this major turning point where someone has killed someone else and then events have to play themselves out, usually with everyone dead at the end. The turning point of A Game of Thrones happens before the book even starts. Jon Arryn, Hand of the King, dies, and as Eddard Stark comes to find out, his death was really murder.
The first 200 pages of A Game of Thrones sets this murder theory up. We also get a lot of introductions and character development in these pages. A lot of what happens in these first pages shape the characters into who they become several books down the line.
Lots of plot threads start here. Members of the Night’s Watch encounter White Walkers – ghostly zombie type creatures bent on murder and destruction. Eddard Stark learns of Jon Arryn’s death and King Robert comes to Winterfell to ask him to take the dead man’s place as Hand of the King. Jon Snow, Eddard’s bastard son joins the Night Watch on the wall and Tyrion Lannister, dwarf and brother to Queen Cersei accompanies him. We also meet Daenerys Targaryan, the last Princess of the Dragon as her brother sells her into marriage with Khal Drogo, a barbarian horse lord.
There is tons of back story that goes along with these events, that make these events more than simple plot points. The most important bit of back story involves Robert’s Rebellion. We learn that 17 years ago, Robert usurps the throne from Mad King Aerys II – Daenerys’ father. Robert also murders Rhaegar, King Aerys’ heir and Daenerys’ oldest brother, for kidnapping his betrothed and raping her a million times, which eventually results in her death. Robert’s betrothed is Lyanna Stark – Eddard Stark’s sister. So, Robert, Eddard, and Jon Arryn storm The Trident and take down the mad king. King Aerys II had also done a whole lot of other awful things, including murder Eddard Stark’s father and older brother and a bunch of other people just because he felt like it. Robert murders Rhaegar and his wife and their newborn baby. King Aerys’ queen manages to escape with her younger son Viserys and Daenerys, who is still in the womb. Robert becomes King and everyone lives not so happily ever after.
The horror of those events drive most of our characters throughout the series. Maybe Robert’s Rebellion was the turning point. Robert disrupted several generations of crazy inbred Targaryan rule. Perhaps the universe is not happy with this. Aerys was a psychopath, but he was the trueborn Targaryan heir. This might sound silly, but in many real life cultures, a king is god’s own avatar on earth. Kill that avatar and all hell breaks loose.
Anyway… Martin gives us eight different character perspectives in this first book and we get all eight of them in the first 200 pages. In my mind, the most prominent POV is that of Eddard (Ned) Stark. Out of all the batshit crazy characters you will meet in this series, Eddard stands out as a rock of reason. He can be harsh at times but is also compassionate when he needs to be. He loves his wife and children and is a hard but fair Warden of the North. Ned is an Everyman. He is the easiest to relate to even though sometimes his noble actions make you want to do a facepalm because you know they’ll bite him in the ass later. Ned is too trusting and too willing to think everyone else is like him – putting honor and duty above personal gain.
Part of what makes Ned such a likeable character is that we also see him from the POV of several of his children – Jon, Sansa, Arya, and Bran. They all love and respect him. Through his children we see that he is a good father as well as a good Warden. We also see Ned through is wife Catelyn’s eyes. Catelyn had been betrothed to Ned’s older brother Brandon before he was murdered by Aerys. As honor and duty demanded, Ned took his brother’s place and married his brother’s bride. Catelyn came to love Ned over the years and she is devoted to him, giving him five children and hoping for more. Through Catelyn, we see that Ned is also a good husband.
I have one note on Catelyn as a character. I don’t like her. Everything she does throughout the series is forever colored by her interaction with Jon – Ned’s bastard – in Bran’s sick room. In a major plot point, where we see for the first time that no character is safe from death or destruction, Jaime Lannister shoves Bran out a multistory window after the boy witnesses him and his twin sister, Queen Cersei, having their affair.
Bran lives, but breaks his spine and shatters his legs. He does not wake before Jon leaves for The Wall. Jon goes to say goodbye to Bran, and Catelyn tells Jon that it should be him lying broken in bed. Catelyn is kind of an asshole. And as the story progresses, we see that she’s really fond of rash actions without thinking things through. She can be selfish and petty, and this moment with Jon was a defining one.
Eventually, King Robert makes to move south back to King’s Landing and takes Ned, Sansa, and Arya with him. Robb, Ned’s heir, remains in Winterfell to lead as his mother grieves over Bran. Ned and Catelyn’s youngest child, three year old Rickon, just kind of wanders the castle. Disaster strikes the King’s party on its way south.
Arya, more warrior than lady, is caught out by Prince Joffrey at playing swords with a common boy. Joffrey, a rotten little shit, threatens the boy and Arya smacks him one as her direwolf bites the hell out of his arm. Oh yeah, all of the Stark and Snow kids have direwolves. Arya runs away. While she is eventually found, her wolf has run off. Queen Cersei demands the pelt of Sansa’s wolf in its place. King Robert does not refuse her and this more than anything speaks volumes about their relationship. If all this wasn’t bad enough, Prince Joffrey’s personal guard, Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, has run down the common boy and murders the fuck out of him. King Robert doesn’t give a shit.
Back at Winterfell, an assassin comes after Bran and Catelyn stops him by grabbing his knife by its blade, maiming both of her hands. She makes the decision to run off to King’s Landing to find out who tried to kill her son and whether or not Jon Arryn really was murdered. She leaves Robb in charge and in her absence, Bran wakes from his coma, unable to move from the waist down. He remembers nothing of how he fell from the window.
[Warning: Almost everything after this will be a spoiler for anyone who is only following along with the television show and is not reading the book! ~BK]
Catelyn makes it to King’s Landing ahead of Ned but is intercepted by Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, who had once asked for her hand and was refused. We will find out through the series that Baelish is the Benjamin Linus of Westeros – a creepy little fucker with preternatural powers of manipulation. He reunited Ned and Catelyn and oh yeah, tells them he knows who the dagger belongs to. It’s his. But he lost it in a bet to Tyrion Lannister – so really it’s Tyrion’s and Tyrion must have tried to kill Bran.
Way up north, Jon and Tyrion have reached The Wall and Jon officially joins the Night Watch. He’s angry because instead of a noble calling, he’s hanging out with the scum of Westeros who all had the choice of execution or taking the black. He has a rocky start with the other trainees but after realizing he’s being a dick, tries to help them become better fighters and earns the enmity of the arms master.
Finally, across the Narrow Sea, Viserys Targaryan, last male of his line, sells his sister into marriage with Khal Drogo in return for 40,000 of Khal Drogo’s barbarian riders to take back to King’s Landing and beat the hell out of King Robert. Dany is given dragon eggs as a wedding gift, along with a silver mare from her new husband. Here we also meet Ser Jorah Mormont, an exiled knight desperate for a royal pardon. Not a whole lot happens with Dany here, but her marriage shapes her character as she becomes a major player.
Phew. Damn. That’s a lot of plot and character for roughly 200 pages. What are your thoughts, feelings, impressions so far? Who do you love? Who do you hate? Who deserves a slap in the head *cough*Catelyn*cough*? Give us a shoutout in the comments and join me in our chat room tonight at 8pm Eastern (7pm Central) for an hour of chatting!