A Song of Ice and Fire: The Books behind HBO’s Game of Thrones

By Elizabeth Eckhart

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has gained immense popularity from the HBO television adaptation, Game of Thrones. The show has caused quite a frenzy, and even caused many fans to pick up the books in order to discover the fate of their favorite characters. What they may find in the novels, however, is a much deeper story than they ever knew existed.

While the show relies entirely on action and what viewers can see, the books delve deeply into each character’s inner thoughts. The chapters are told in third person from over 30 different points of view, and George R. R. Martin is a master at getting inside each and every one of their heads. In the books, popular characters such as Jon Snow, Daenerys and Tyrion are even more multi-layered than in the show – not only are they more complex, but often they are nastier than the generally morally correct versions viewers are shown on-screen.

Catelyn Stark, another primary example, is a popular point of view character in Martin’s books, but the show entirely removes her cold behavior toward Jon Snow, her husband Ned’s alleged bastard son. In the novels, she is resentful that Ned brought home an illegitimate child and is often cruel toward Jon, but the show softens her bitterness to a few measly remarks. With more time focused on her internal thoughts in the books, readers are able to become acquainted with her and have sympathy for her, despite her flaws, as is the case for several other characters as well.

It seems unlikely that HBO will truly be able to manage the growing cast of characters in the television format. After his third book, A Storm of Swords, Martin began to add so many point of view characters that he could not tell all of their stories within one installment. Only half of the characters appear in A Feast for Crows, and the other half appear in the fifth novel,  A Dance of Dragons. The events of the two books are simultaneous until the timeline catches up in the final chapters of Dance.

George R.R. Martin is known for making his fans wait years for his books, as long as half a decade, and many fear that the show (the fourth season of which is already done filming and set to premiere in the Netherlands on HBO tonight) will catch up to the events of the books before he is able to finish them. Especially since the wait for the sixth book, The Winds of Winter, is likely to be long as well.

Besides feeling the heat of the show’s progress, fans are also worried that that perhaps Martin himself will never finish the series, (he is after all, in his 60’s and above a healthy weight) in which case no one would ever find out who wins the game of thrones and rules the seven kingdoms. Show fans are busy worrying if Daenerys will ever make it to Westeros, but fans of the book are more concerned regarding the multiple additional mysteries that may never be resolved.

For example, Jon Snow’s parentage is a huge unanswered question in the series, and many fans suspect that he is not actually Ned’s bastard, but perhaps the offspring of Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned’s sister, Lyanna Stark, instead. Another unsolved mystery is the identity of Azor Ahai, the legendary hero who wields the sword Lightbringer (according to a prophecy). Under the influence of the red sorceress Melisandre, Stannis Baratheon believes himself be Azor Ahai, but many suspect Azor Ahai is actually Daenerys or Jon.

With the huge amount of character threads and plots that have arisen in Martin’s most recent book, it seems almost impossible for each character’s story to be tied up conclusively. Because of Martin’s tendency toward complexity, a clear “winner” of the Iron Throne seems unlikely, and perhaps the seven kingdoms of Westeros will be ruled independently, rather than having one true king.

Martin has stated that the ending he anticipates writing is “bittersweet.” Indeed, fans want concrete answers, but it is still unclear whether Martin will deliver them (after all, Martin is known for not catering to his fans’ wishes regarding plot). Much of his writing focuses on the journey rather than the outcome, but there is no question that the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series is a thrilling journey for its readers.

Elizabeth can be found on Twitter @elizeckhart.

Ebooks are available for each separate title as well as for the entire series (so far) in one:  A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons (part 1 and part 2) and altogether.