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Literature: A Game of Thrones
aka: Game Of Thrones

When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.
Cersei Lannister

The first book in George RR Martin's doorstopper A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, released in 1996.

After the death of Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, King Robert Baratheon travels to the North to offer the position of Hand to Eddard Stark, Warden of the North and his most trusted friend. When Eddard receives a letter from his wife's sister claiming that Jon Arryn was in fact murdered by House Lannister, the Queen's family, Eddard decides to become Hand of the King to protect Robert's life and the realm, even after an accident leaves his son Bran paralyzed from the waist down. Thus, he travels to South with his daughters, Arya and Sansa Stark, leaving his sons on Winterfell and sending his illegitimate son to the Wall.

Due to Switching P.O.V., the novel follows three main plotlines:
  • Honourbound Eddard Stark in the King's treacherous court trying to unravel the machinations behind Jon Arryn's death and House Lannister's motives. Meanwhile, his wife Catelyn foils a murder attempt on the already-crippled Bran, and ends up going after Tyrion Lannister, the queen's dwarf brother known as "the Imp," whom she believes is responsible...
  • Across the sea, Viserys Targaryen, last heir of the Targaryen dynasty who fled after the successful rebellion fifteen years ago, is plotting vengeance against the Usurper Baratheon who stole the throne and killed his family. To achieve that, he marries his sister Daenerys to a clan of Mongols known as the Dothraki, expecting an army in return. Viserys is a Royal Brat, but things are a bit different with Daenerys...
  • Jon Snow, bastard son of Ned Stark, decides to join the Night's Watch after his father leaves Winterfell, and defend the realms of men against whatever foes lie Beyond the Wall. For some eight thousand years, the answer to that question has been, "Not much," but today things are different: Rangers are lost, dead men begin walking the land and creatures known as "The Others" have been sighted. And the Night's Watch, an Army of Thieves and Whores, is only marginally ready to stop them...

There are eight POV characters, most of them from the Stark family: Eddard, Arya, Sansa, Bran and Catelyn Stark present the majority of the events in the Seven Kingdoms. Tyrion Lannister provides an insight into the villainous House Lannister, while Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen narrate the events beyond the Wall and across the sea respectively. Minor character Will provides the prologue.

The events of the novel were adapted in the first season of Game of Thrones.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Adipose Rex: Robert, much to Ned's surprise.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Jon shows his affection to Arya by mussing up her hair.
  • Arc Words : "Waking the dragon" starts as Viserys' Unusual Euphemism for his Unstoppable Rage but becomes synonymous with Took a Level in Badass by the end of the book.
    • And the House Stark words: "winter is coming". They basically mean don't get comfortable because things will go wrong. At the beginning of the book, the decades long-summer is wrapping up, the kingdom is prosperous and at peace and the autumn harvests are just starting. At the end the kingdom is ear deep in debt, a massive civil war is starting, the king is a Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk, the fields are burning and winter is coming.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning:
    • In Catelyn's final chapter, the various Stark bannermen reject the idea of suing for peace with the Lannisters or helping Renly (which would simply end up with the North being under the Iron Throne again) and instead declare Robb "THE KING IN THE NORTH!".
    • From a certain perspective, Drogo's "crowning" of Viserys.
  • Bad Dreams: Ned Stark suffers from nightmares about the events in Tower of Joy and the death of his sister.
  • Badass Grandpa: Barristan Selmy, Jeor Mormont, Tywin Lannister, Brynden Tully.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Subverted with the Stallion That Mounts the World prophecy. The Dothraki crones predict Dany's son will be the chosen one and Khal Drogo even plans to do what no Khal has ever done before (i.e. sail across the sea, which the Dothraki fear). The child, however, is slain in the womb by the vengeful Mirri Maz Duur.
  • Boot Camp Episode: The Jon chapters after he leaves for the Wall have him training, learning the ropes, doing chores around the Wall and establishing relationships with other sworn brothers.
  • Broken Pedestal: Sansa's admiration of Cersei crumbles when she sees what a cruel, manipulative woman she is. Joffrey is another example, though it takes longer; Sansa is so enamored with him that even as he's framing Arya for attacking him without provocation and had the Hound murder her friend, she can't think of him as evil.
  • Brother-Sister Incest:
    • Jaime and Cersei. All of Cersei's children are product of this relationship.
    • This is practically a rule for the Targaryens. In fact, Daenerys's marriage to Khal Drogo is thought of as strange by her, since she was expecting to marry Viserys.
  • The Caligula: King Aerys the Mad, King Joffrey I Baratheon. It's also clear that Viserys Targaryean would have been this had he ever become king.
  • Convenient Coma: Bran finds out about Jaime and Cersei's adultery, and promptly (with a little help from Jaime) goes into a prolonged coma, waking with Laser-Guided Amnesia about the whole thing. All this prevents him from telling Ned, who spends the rest of the book trying to dig up the very same secret.
  • Country Matters: Used fairly freely (especially by men about their wives). However, it's exclusively used for its technical meaning.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Mirri Maz Duur bides her time to get her revenge for her rape at the hands of the Dothraki, and eventually does so by killing Daenerys's unborn child in the womb. This is especially unjust, because Dany had rescued her from her rapists and the child was innocent. Dany doesn't take it well, and gets her own revenge by burning Mirri Maz Duur alive as a sacrifice to hatch her dragons.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Robert asks Ned if he is a good king. Honest Advisor that he is, Ned hesitates, but grants him that he was better than his predecessor Aerys.
  • Dark-Skinned Blonde: Dany's dreams of her unborn child Rhaego show him with her silver hair and Drogo's copper skin.
  • Deadly Deferred Conversation: Ned Stark promises his bastard son Jon Snow that they'll talk about Jon's mother after he returns to the capital, Jon's Uncle Benjen promises to talk about Jon becoming a ranger after he returns from a scouting mission, and King Robert tells Ned they'll discuss the exiled princess Daenerys after Robert returns from a hunt. Ned is unfairly accused of treason and executed, Benjen has been missing for two years and is possibly undead, and King Robert is manipulated by his wife into being killed by a boar.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tyrion, Tyrion, Tyrion.
  • Death by Irony:
    • Viserys demands the golden crown that is rightfully his and that the Dothraki have promised him. Khal Drogo proceeds to melt gold into a pot and empty it on Viserys's head.
    • Eddard Stark's first appearance has him beheading a man for deserting the Night's Watch. Ned himself is later beheaded as a traitor to the realm, right after having made a false confession in front of the whole city (with his own sword, no less). Taken even further with the fact that Ned Stark refused to harm Joffrey, even though he is trying to depose him, while Joffrey had no qualms about killing him.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Will, the POV character of the Prologue, who dies in the very next chapter. Eddard Stark is also this on a much grander scale.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Greatjon Umber is extremely hostile to his new boy-lord, Robb Stark, even baring steel against him in his own tent. Robb (and Grey Wind)'s reaction to this insubordination wins him Jon's staunch friendship and support.
  • Description Porn: In the prologue, Ser Waymar mocks Gared's incredibly detailed description of what modern readers would call hypothermia.
  • Diabolus Ex Machina:
    • Just when it seems like Daenerys will finally get a one way ticket back to Westeros and the Iron Throne, poor care for a minor wound results in Drogo's death and the dissolution of his khalasar.
    • Ned Stark is betrayed and arrested to prevent his naming Stannis as the rightful heir and plunging the realm into another war. He then is forced to make a false confession in exchange for his and his daughter's lives. He is unexpectedly executed.
  • Downer Ending: For one character's arc, setting up the conflict for the rest of the series. Eddard Stark's honorable efforts to give the Iron Throne to the true heir result in his execution and the realm being plunged into a brutal war of succession.
  • Driven to Suicide: Sansa imagines doing this will somehow shame the Lannisters for what they've done
  • Dying Clue: "The seed is strong." The dying words of Jon Arryn which he repeated after discovering that every child the Baratheons have ever had with Lannisters in recorded history have black hair... save for the three children of Robert and Cersei.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: In the prologue, Waymar Royce is depicted as a smug Upper-Class Twit, disliked by the men serving under him. However, when the Others show up, he takes charge and bravely (and futilely) fights them.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • Ned mentions that Jaime is the heir to Casterly Rock, but the Kingsguard are later said to forswear all titles as the Night's Watch do indeed, this becomes a major plot point for Jaime himself.
    • Almost certainly intentional, but after growing used to the series having many plots scattered between many characters, on a reread it can be a little jarring to realize the extent to which Eddard Stark was the main character for the first two-thirds or so of the book.
  • Enforced Method Acting: An in-universe example. During a major battle at the end of the book, Lord Tywin Lannister tries to lure Robb Stark's army into a trap by having one flank of his own army crumble under assault, with the pikemen to sweep in after the Northmen over-commit themselves. To accomplish this, he composes that flank solely of irregular troops and green recruits, gives command to his Psycho for Hire, and sticks in his hated son Tyrion for good measure.
  • Establishing Series Moment:
    • Those who don't get a handle on A Song of Ice and Fire from the above scene will probably have an intimate understanding of how this series works upon the execution of the likeable, well-meaning main character.
  • Exact Words:
    • A double-whammy from Khal Drogo. "No blood can be shed" in Vaes Dothrak, the Dothraki people's holy city, and Viserys repeatedly demands that Drogo make good on his promise to give him a "golden crown". When Drogo has had enough of him, he dumps a pot of molten gold over his head, killing him without spilling a drop of blood.
    • Joffrey tells Sansa that he that he will be merciful. He never said that he would spare Eddard. He gave him a clean death.
  • Fallen Princess:
    • Sansa and Arya at the end of the book.
    • Daenerys has been this her whole life, having been born after her family's dynasty had been ousted.
  • Fingore: The Greatjon got several of his fingers eaten by Robb's direwolf when he summoned the banners. He laughed about it and became Robb's strongest supporter after that.
  • First Episode Spoiler:
    • A major shock that kicks off the novel's plot at the end of Bran's second POV chapter: Bran Stark becomes paraplegic after being pushed out of the window of a tower when he discovers Queen Cersei in the act with her brother Jaime Lannister.
    • Many of the events of the book act as this for the series overall, namely the deaths of King Robert and Eddard Stark, Joffrey's rise to power, Littlefinger's betrayal and the birth of Daenerys Targaryen's dragons, all of which are quite well-known in pop culture, as they set up the plot for later books.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • There is some contention between certain characters over whether Jon Arryn meant to send his son Robert to foster with Stannis at Dragonstone, or with Tywin at Casterly Rock. As she reminisces about growing up in Riverrun, Catelyn also recalls play-kissing Littlefinger with Lysa; Cat didn't care for his attempts to use tongue, but Lysa did. This all foreshadows the eventual revelation in A Storm of Swords that Lysa conspired with Littlefinger to murder Jon due to her insane love for Littlefinger and to keep Robert from being sent away to the Lannisters.
    • "The Greatjon says that won't matter if we catch him with his breeches down, but it seems to me a man who has fought as many battles as Tywin Lannister won't be as easily surprised". In A Storm of Swords, Tyrion kills Tywin while the latter is on the privy—i.e. Tywin is literally caught with his breeches down.
  • Forging The Will: As King Robert is dying, he dictates his will for Eddard Stark to write. Robert says "to my son, Joffrey", but Ned replaces this with "to my rightful heir", as he had learned that Joffrey is not actually Robert's son.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In universe. It's said that the song about Robert's death because of a boar is really about Cersei. This fails to get past the radar, however, and leads to the singer being given a Sadistic Choice.
  • Good Is Dumb: Ned Stark spends a good chunk of the book proving this, making increasingly unwise decisions that lead directly to his own hardship and downfall. Perhaps the worst Honor Before Reason moment is telling Cersei and no one else what he learned about Joffrey's parentage, under the belief that she'd just flee. This leads directly to his men being slaughtered, him being captured and then executed.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Ned Stark's advice is often dismissed as just being Honor Before Reason, but there are often very good reasons for his choices.
    • He strongly protests Dany's assassination attempt and is called an honorable fool for it, but if they had followed his advice Drogo wouldn't have had any reason to care about invading Westeros, never would have run afoul of Mirri Maz Duur, and Dany never would have hatched the dragon eggs in his pyre. Dany and Drogo would probably have just led a simple life of horsemeat and the occasional raiding, raising their kids.
    • He doesn't back Renly's bid for the throne, but Renly's a diplomat with no combat experience in a situation that will require winning a war. Sure enough Renly does nothing but divide the forces against the Lannisters. He also does not have a rightful claim of succession.
  • Grim Up North
  • Helping Hands: After Jon hacks the arm off a wight, he notices it clawing its way up his leg.
  • Heroic Blue Screen of Death: Eddard went into a catatonic state after his sister Lyanna died in his arms.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jon and Sam, Robb and Theon, Ned and Robert, Tyrion and Bronn...
  • Hit-and-Run Tactics: Used by Bronn when fighting Ser Vardis Egan. The knight is slow because of his equipped armour, losing to Bronn's speed.
  • Important Haircut
    • Yoren cuts Arya's hair so she can leave the city disguised as a boy.
    • Dany's hair burns off after hatching her dragons.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Viserys Targaryen.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: The prologue is seemingly disconnected with the intricate machinations of the court and the upcoming civil war, but it sets up the true threat: the oncoming winter and the Others.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • Ned sees Robert slap Cersei hard in the face and Cersei replies that she will wear the bruise as a badge of honor. Later in the novel, Cersei slaps him, and he sarcastically repeats her badge of honor comment.
    • Tyrion tells Jon to embrace his illegitimacy and wear it like armor so it can never be used against him. Littlefinger later uses the same armor metaphor for Eddard Stark's honor. He thinks it can protect him but it just weighs him down.
    • Mirri Maz Duur tells Daenerys "Only death can pay for life" before performing the blood magic spell that kills Dany's unborn child and leaves Drogo a vegetable. Dany later repeats the words back to her as she prepares to sacrifice Mirri to hatch her dragon eggs.
  • Irrevocable Order: The dying King Robert tried to call off the assassination he ordered on Daenerys Targaryen, but some made sure his message didn't go through. While the assassination does fail, the attempt does a lot to motivate Dany to invade Westeros and retake the throne.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Robert, as Ned and Cersei remember.
  • Kangaroo Court:
    • Tyrion Lannister is the victim of the court of the Eyrie. After being kidnapped and taken to an impregnable fortress, he has to offer to confess in order to be let out of a cell specifically designed to make its occupant commit suicide, and then has to demand a trial by publicly shaming his accusers to avoid going back there. The trial in question would be judged by the six-year old son of the man he's accused of murdering (who already shows a fondness for having people executed), and presided over by the child's mother (who, in addition to being the one to accuse him of murdering her husband, is sister to his other accuser, and is quite clearly mad). To avoid this, his only option is trial by combat (he's a dwarf and his opponents are seasoned knights,) and when he demands a champion he is denied his first choice and has to ask for a volunteer from the rabble of soldiers and mercenaries employed by his accusers.
    • One strange example comes from an unambiguously heroic character, and is just one more example of what a Crapsack World Westeros is. After Gregor Clegane is accused of heinous crimes, Ned Stark hears the testimony of the victims (who could only describe Clegane in general terms and by reputation, rather than positively identify him), immediately sentences him to death in absentia, and sends men to execute him, without putting him on trial, giving him a chance to defend himself, or hearing any sort of counter-witnesses. The fact that all the accusations, along with worse things, are true softens any blows to Ned's character.
  • Karmic Death:
    • Viserys gets his own golden crown. Liquefied gold.
    • Mirri Maz Duur gets revenge for her mistreatment at the hands of the Dothraki by killing Daenerys' child in the womb. Since Daenerys had rescued Mirri and shown her kindness, and the child was completely innocent, Daenerys is enraged. She responds by burning Mirri alive as a sacrifice to hatch her dragon eggs, using the very principles of blood magic Mirri had taught her, complete with Ironic Echo: "Only death can pay for life."
  • Kneel Before Zod: Torrhen Stark bent the knee to Aegon the Conqueror to save the North. His descendant Eddard refuses to do the same for King Joffrey and it ends badly.
  • Loose Lips: Sansa Stark. Unintentionally helped the queen's plot against Eddard, which cost him his life.
  • The Magic Comes Back: Daenerys manages to resurrect the dragon race.
  • The Marvelous Deer: King Robert went hunting after hearing of a white hart in the Kingswood. Instead, he ran into a boar...
  • Meaningful Echo: "I did warn you not to trust me." Said by Petyr Baelish when the city watch he had promised to secure for Eddard turns on him.
  • Mildly Royal: Resoundingly averted as the class distinctions between people like the Butcher's Boy and the Prince are plot points.
  • Monster Munch: The prologue features three characters, two of whom immediately die at the hands of the Others, proving that they do exist after all.
  • Moral Dissonance: At one point Ned, while acting as Hand, sentences Gregor Clegane to death without a trial. No one comments on how messed up this is.
  • The Needs of the Many: Ned Stark is twice confronted with this.
    • Should he have Viserys, Daenerys and her unborn child killed to prevent them from invading Westeros? He chose no.
    • Should he proclaim Stannis Baratheon as the rightful king even if it invites civil war? He chose yes but eventually recanted after a Break the Haughty process.
  • Never My Fault: Sansa blames Arya for Lady's death, despite the fact that if she had told the truth about Joffrey trying to hurt Arya and her friend without provocation, Lady wouldn't have died.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: Zig-Zagged. The maegi Mirri Maz Duur magically kills Daenerys Stormborn's unborn son in utero, both for revenge against the father and because the unborn child is prophesied to be the Stallion That Mounts the World, an unstoppable city-smashing warlord. While it doesn't exactly turn out well for Mirri in the end, she DOES successfully prevent the boy from being born and fulfilling whatever his Super Special Destiny was supposed to be. However, Mirri's actions wind up resulting in the rebirth of dragons into the world, and Daenerys's march toward Westeros.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Ned has recurring dreams about the death of his sister Lyanna and of the mysterious promise that he made to her. Later on, after being thrown in the dungeon, he has a particularly creepy nightmare of the late King Robert mocking him for putting Honor Before Reason and endangering his family, only Robert's face begins to crack and then shatters, revealing a horrifyingly surreal image of Littlefinger.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Arya overhears a conversation between two of the major schemers when it comes to the fate of Westeros. It involves a plot to kill Ned, but her disconnected and fanciful-sounding description of events leads him to disbelieve her.
  • Not What It Looks Like: After the sack of King's Landing and the death of the Mad King, Eddard found Jaime sitting on the Iron Throne. This convinces him that the Lannisters were doing a power play. Robert disagrees and thinks Jaime was just tired. In A Storm of Swords, we find out Robert was right. Jaime's actions were more honorable than what people may think.
  • Off with His Head!: Happens quite a few times (the first proper chapter features Eddard Stark beheading a deserter from the Night's Watch), most notably to Eddard Stark himself for supposed treason and trying to usurp Joffrey's throne.
  • Out of the Inferno: The final chapter features Dany walking into her husband's funeral pyre and emerging naked but otherwise unharmed with her three dragons born in the flames.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage:
    • Ned and Catelyn, although they weren't at first supposed to get married because Cat was betrothed to his older brother Brandon, who died before the story started.
    • Another unexpected case are Daenerys and Drogo.
    • Sansa and Joffrey's engagement until he shows his true colors.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Sansa tries one of these to save her father's life and Cersei obliges, because he's an important hostage. Then Joffrey has him executed anyway.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Lysa Arryn's letter pointing to the Lannisters as the ones who killed her husband was a warning, telling them to stay away. Instead, it convinced Ned to accept Robert's offer of being Hand.
  • The Promise: Ned Stark promised something very important to dying Lyanna. What is this promise is still unknown.
  • Precursor Heroes: Eddard Stark, Robert Baratheon and Jon Arryn.
  • Princess in Rags: Daenerys at the beginning.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The aftermath of Robert's Rebellion. The Mad King is dead, Ned and Benjen are the only Starks left, and The Lannisters become powerful allies of The Crown as Lord Tywin wanted at the cost of his family's reputation.
  • Redshirt Army: Eddard's household guard.
  • Rule of Three: "...for the Dothraki believed that all things of importance in a man's life must be done beneath the open sky." Repeated three times in the narrative; at Khal Drogo's wedding, the conception of his child, and his death.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Ned and Brandon, Robb and Jon, Jaime and Tyrion, Robert and Stannis, Catelyn and Lysa, Sansa and Arya, Viserys and Daenerys.
  • Shoo the Dog: Arya had to throw rocks to force Nymeria to go away because she knew Joffrey wouldn't let her "insult" to him go so easily.
  • Shout-Out: a very minor character has a black adder on his coat of arms, another a green arrow and it can't be a mere coincidence if the Iron Men are so close neighbors to the Starks...
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: A minor example in the discovery of the direwolf pups in the first chapter. Jon persuades Ned that they're an omen as there's one for each of his five children, which only works because he's discounted himself (despite his desire to be treated as a trueborn Stark being his fundamental source of angst). Bran notices this and finds it very moving, but as they set off Jon discovers a sixth pup in the snow - a mute albino runt whose mother had abandoned it.
  • Take a Third Option: After the Battle of the Camps, the Northern Lords are confronted with declaring between an evil boy-king (Joffrey) or for a king who has support of arms but has no legitimate claim to the throne (Renly). Robb Stark notes that if they go against Joffrey they are essentially traitors even if their cause is just, while declaring for Renly goes against the line of succession, which is the basis for every Lord's inheritance in the Seven Kingdoms. What do they finally decide? Declare for Robb Stark as King in the North and secede from the Seven Kingdoms.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Arya & Sansa in their first appearance. Jon Snow also jokingly tells Tyrion to tell Robb that he can rest easy and take up needlework with the rest of the girls now that he's on the Wall defending the realm.
  • Those Two Guys: Sansa's BFF's Jeyne Poole & Beth Cassel.
  • Title Drop: The expression "game of thrones" is first dropped by Jorah: "It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are." Cersei also says it later when she warns Eddard Stark from going against her. It's mentioned several times throughout the other books.
  • Values Dissonance: An in-universe example: Viserys believes he sold Dany to Drogo and thus is outraged when Drogo won't pay him via retaking Westeros. From a Dothraki perspective, Viserys did Drogo a favor that should be repaid, but doesn't need to be repaid immediately, or when the recipient demands it.
  • Villain Ball: Viserys is so deluded by belief in his superiority that he totally underestimates the brutal barbarian horde that he believes should serve him and foolishly thinks that their rules of Sacred Hospitality will save him when he violates their taboos and threatens the lives of their rulers. Instead, they get creative.
  • Wham Line: "Ser Ilyn, bring me his head!" Said by Joffrey, sealing Ned's death even though the action is basically a declaration for war.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: See Wham Line. It looks like Ned will be able to take the black and see Jon again if he only confesses to his crimes...which is blown to pieces when Joffrey decides to execute him against everyone's better judgement.
  • You Should Have Died Instead:
    • Catelyn tells Jon this after Bran's fall puts him in a coma. It doesn't make sense, as Jon had nothing to do with Bran's accident, but she was just bitter with grief and wanted to lash out.
    • Sansa says it to Arya, telling her that they should have cut off her head instead of Lady's.

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A Song of Ice and FireFantasy LiteratureA Clash of Kings
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alternative title(s): A Game Of Thrones; Game Of Thrones
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