A Song of Ice and Fire is a bestselling Doorstopper epic fantasy series written by George R.R. Martin. The first book (out of a planned seven) was published in 1996 and most recently, Book 5, was published in 2011. In addition to the main books, there are a variety of spin-offs and related media, such as prequels and in-universe history texts.
The novels feature a large ensemble cast, narrated in chapters that relate action from the third-person limited perspective of alternating protagonists, some of them at times might be on the opposite side of a conflict. Some of the plots and subplots of the protagonists overlap with each other directly and indirectly, while others merely parallel the central action or counterpoint it in key ways. In general, there are three theaters of action in the books — the Wall, Westeros, and Essos — where a range of characters and factions gravitate around, slowly converging as the narrative of the series moves to the final act. Note that the wall of text below contains no spoilers—the backstory is that elaborate.
Most of the series is set on the continent of Westeros, a world where the seasons can last for years. Westeros was once a world suffused with magic. Beings like the Children of the Forest allied with the First Men against the Others, a race of inhuman ice beings, and banished them to the Lands of Always Winter, with a giant Wall of ice built and manned to repel them. More recently, the dragon-riding Targaryen dynasty, refugees from the doomed Valyrian Freehold on the continent of Essos, unified the seven kingdoms of Westeros under a single realm. But some time later, even the dragons died, and with their death, magic has faded for more than a century across the known world prior to the start of the series. However, there are rumors, whispers, and prophesies that someday, the dragons will return.
The Targaryens outlasted their dragons for a century or so after the deaths of their mounts but their dynasty was toppled by a rebellion led by King Robert Baratheon in an alliance that ultimately included Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell, Lord Hoster Tully of Riverrun, Lord Jon Arryn of the Vale, and Lord Tywin Lannister of Casterly Rock. In the course of their rebellion, their alliance was cemented by marriage, with Lord Eddard Stark marrying Catelyn Tully, and governing as Warden of the North. He has five children with Catelyn — Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon — and an illegitimate son Jon Snow, born while Ned was away at war to another woman he refuses to name. Lord Stark's household also includes Theon Greyjoy, a hostage raised in his household to check the ambitions of his rebellious father Balon. Prior to the rebellion Robert Baratheon planned to marry Ned's sister Lyanna, but her kidnapping by the Targaryen crown prince Rhaegar (and her subsequent death) was a contributing factor to the uprising itself. Instead, Robert married Lord Tywin Lannister's daughter Cersei, the eldest and most ambitious of her father's children. In addition to Cersei, Lord Tywin's two sons also have prominent roles in the series — Jaime, Cersei's twin brother, and one of the greatest knights of Westeros, who is currently serving Robert's Kingsguard, and the youngest child Tyrion, a dwarf who is The Unfavorite of his family. King Robert is also assisted by his own brothers in governing the Seven Kingdoms — Renly being one of the most prominent courtiers of the Seven Kingdoms, with close ties to the wealthy and powerful House Tyrell; and Stannis, the resentful middle-child who is disliked for his difficult personality, with his only friend being the former smuggler Davos Seaworth.
At the start of the series, a long summer lasting for more than a decade is nearing its end, leaving many observers to fear the onset of an even longer winter which would be hard enough even during the best of times. Unfortunately, what follows would not be the best of times. In the wake of Lord Jon Arryn's sudden and surprising death, King Robert Baratheon resolves to make Eddard Stark his new Hand of the King, the kingdom's second-in-command, in spite of the grudges House Stark bears with House Lannister, the king's in-laws. The Alliance that opposed the Targaryen dynasty, which governed Westeros in the previous decade, fractures in the course of the first three novels, plunging the kingdom into civil war — and isolationist regions like the Iron Islands and the southern principality of Dorne take advantage of the crisis to assert their own agendas. Across the Narrow Sea, The Remnant of House Targaryen — the vengeance-mad Prince Viserys Targaryen and his younger sister Daenerys — live in exile, planning to return to Westeros and restore their dynasty. They court their own alliance of exiles, mercenaries, and ambitious local states to build an army and eventually invade Westeros again, to bring them back to power. Naturally, the general instability of Westeros with almost every region in turmoil and civil war is amenable to their interests.
Unbeknownst to most of the players of this game of thrones, a much bigger threat than the instability of the government and potential invasion from Essos lies in the far North, in the Lands of Always Winter. The Wall was built to keep the Others from returning to Westeros and to this end, an organization called the Night's Watch was instituted to permanently garrison the structure in a network of castles that divides the Seven Kingdoms from the untamed far North. The decline of magic has led to the institution of the Night's Watch being deprecated and understaffed over the centuries. It was once regarded as a noble institute by all Seven Kingdoms but now that the Others are believed to be a Sealed Evil in a Can at best and a myth by most, only the North regards the Night's Watch as a noble and honorable calling. While younger sons and illegitimate sons of noble houses — primarily from the North — occasionally still join the Night's Watch voluntarily, it has mostly become an Army of Thieves and Whores who spend most of their time putting down rebellions by Wildlings, barbaric tribes who defy the customs of mainland Westeros and who periodically try to get past the Wall. This status-quo gets unbalanced thanks to reports of sightings of the blue-eyed Others, who have led attacks on many Wildling villages as well as ranging parties sent by the Night's Watch. The Others are cold, unnatural, and seemingly immortal beings whose powers allow them to convert the dead into wights, to serve as slaves in an inhuman army of the dead. This leads the Wildlings to band around Mance Rayder, King-Beyond-The-Wall and mount the largest wildling rebellion in the history of the Watch.
Should the Others return to full strength and get past the Wall, Westeros will be plunged into an eternal winter, a long night that never ends, and it won't matter then whose head wears which crown.
- Tales of Dunk and Egg - Novellas set 90 years before the main series. Three tales ("The Hedge Knight", "The Sworn Sword" and "The Mystery Knight") have been published, but Martin intends for this to be an ongoing series chronicling the pair's entire life together. These have also been adapted as graphic novels.
- The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones: A series encyclopedia, co-written by Martin, Garcia, and Antonsson. The book is framed as a history written by one Maester Yandel and presented to King Robert as a gift.
- A World of Ice and Fire (a.k.a. A Game of Thrones Guide): A smartphone app offering details on a multitude of events, characters, and locations written by Elio M. Garcia Jr. and Linda Antonsson, the admins of popular fansite Westeros.org. Basically, a way to present a few extra notes here and there that didn't fit into the print World book.
- The Lands of Ice and Fire: A book of poster-sized maps, including regions of the world that have yet to be explored in the novels.
- Fire And Blood: Expanding on the idea of The World of Ice and Fire, Fire and Blood is a history book focused on the Targaryen dynasty written from an in-universe perspective. Originally intended as one volume, it has since been split into two, with the first volume (covering history up to the death of the Targaryen dragons) being released in November 2018. The book features new content alongside text directly lifted and/or expanded from other releases (for instance, this book's account of Aegon's conquest is largely identical to the version in The World of Ice and Fire). Elements from this compendium were earlier published separately, and grouped on TV Tropes under the fan-title of Archmaester Gyldayn's Histories:
- The Princess and the Queen, or, The Blacks and the Greens: A novella written as an In-Universe history text, narrating the events of the Dance of the Dragons, a war of succession between rival Targaryen branches 170 years before the time of the main series. Published in the 2013 short story anthology Dangerous Women, edited by Martin and Gardner Dozois. The print novella was heavily edited due to length restraints in the anthology, only containing about 30,000 words out of 60,000 Martin wrote on the Dance of the Dragons at the time. Subsequent novellas were shorter and only had a few bits omitted here and there. Notably, TPATQ came out a year before the World book, so it was the first time fans were exposed to this new, expansive prequel era. All other prequel eras were at least summarized in the 2014 World book.
- The Rogue Prince, or, The King's Brother: A novella narrating the exploits of Prince Daemon Targaryen, including the events leading to "The Princess and the Queen". Published in the 2014 short story anthology Rogues, edited by Martin and Dozois.
- The Sons of the Dragon: A novella about the Cain and Abel reigns of Aegon I's two sons, first his weakling older son Aenys and then his brutal tyrant younger son Maegor, and the Faith Militant uprisings against both of them. Published in the 2017 short story anthology Book of Swords, also edited by Martin and Dozois (sadly, Dozois died a few months after it was published).
- The series was adapted for television as Game of Thrones which despite borrowing the title of the first book is an adaptation of the entire series, and between Seasons 1-4 adapted the first three books with reasonable faithfulness. The unusual circumstances of its conception and genesis (an adaptation of an as-yet incomplete series of novels), means that the later seasons have compressed books 4-5, and have now moved past the chronology of the published books. The show is set to finish before the author completes his books. Martin has been supportive of the project, writing the screenplays for one episode per season (for Seasons 1-4)note . He has also given Weiss and Benioff the outlines for the remaining books in the series, which will come in handy now that they have outpaced him.
- A video game, A Game of Thrones: Genesis, has dramatized some of the stuff that's All There in the Manual, covering the last thousand-or-so years of Westerosi history. It was joined by a negatively received video game, also called Game of Thrones. A browser-based online MMORPG called Game Of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms is also in the works.
- Another video game, this one made by Telltale Games and taking place in the TV series' continuity.
- A table top Role-Playing Game was licensed through Green Ronin and currently has three books released, a rulebook, a sourcebook, and a licensed adventure.
- A tabletop strategy game and two editions of a CCG have been published by Fantasy Flight Games.
- A cookbook, A Feast Of Ice And Fire and a map folio The Lands Of Ice and Fire have been published.
As the page for the novels is already considerable and ever growing, please enter the tropes found only in the live action series and video game on their own pages.