The first book in George RR Martin's doorstopperA 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.
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.
Brother-Sister Incest/Twincest: Jaime and Cersei. All of Cersei's children are product of this relationship.
A family rule for the Targaryens. In fact, Daenerys's marriage to Kahl Drogo is thought of as strange by her, since she was expecting to marry Viserys.
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.
Viserys demands the golden crown that is rightfully his and 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 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).
It seemed like Daenerys was finally gonna get a one way ticket back to Westeros and the Iron Throne but Drogo dies and his khalasar dissolves.
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.
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.
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.
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 Khal 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 told Sansa that he that he would be merciful. He never said that he would spare Eddard. He gave him a clean death.
Cersei and Jaime Lannister are screwing each other and all of Cersei's children are Jaime's.
Eddard Stark, a major POV character, and his friend, King Robert, die in this book.
Dragons return to the world.
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.
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 right to be king at the time, and you can't kick Joffrey off the throne because he's not the rightful king and replace him with someone else who isn't the rightful king.
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.
Tyrion tells Jon to embrace his illegitimacy and wear it like armor so it can never be used against him. Later, Varys uses the same armor metaphor for Eddard Stark's honor. It 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.
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 witnesses. However, Clegane had indeed committed the atrocity as well as many others.
Viserys gets his own golden crown. Liquefied gold.
Ned Stark refused to harm Joffrey even though he is trying to depose him. Joffrey had no qualms about killing him.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tragic Dream: Eddard keeps having dreams about his sister Lyanna's death and an unidentified promise he made to her.
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, but necessarily needs to, be repaid at some point.
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 getcreative.
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.