The 'Game of Thrones' Book Club, week 1: First impressions, and when I got hooked


I’m going to level with you, Shelf Lifers: I wasn’t immediately sucked into A Game of Thrones. I found the prologue perplexing, the shifting perspectives  difficult to follow, and — though I know this is a tiny quibble — the names a tiny bit irritating. (Why, George R.R. Martin, do you give your characters monikers that are thisclose to being regular, like “Eddard” and “Tommen”and “Joffrey”? Why not just call them “Edward” and “Thomas” and “Jeffrey,” especially since other characters are named things like “Robert” and “Jon”? Arrrg.)

I know that many people admire Martin’s prose for the way it zips along, managing to keep a huge, thick book relatively fast-paced. But for me, at the beginning, things were moving too fast. While I respected the fact that Martin’s sophisticated storytelling wasn’t trying to hold anybody’s hand, I would have appreciated a little more exposition. Alas, I found out too late that there’s an extremely helpful appendix in the back of the book that lists all the characters and their relationships to one another. If only I had read the comments you left on my first post more carefully!

Despite my initial ambivalence, I plodded onward, assuming (and hoping) that things would get better. And boy, am I glad I did. The turning point for me came about 70 pages in, when young Bran Stark [SPOILER ALERT] accidentally spies Queen Cersei and her brother Jaime having an, uh, intimate moment in a remote tower. The twist was lurid and shocking, exactly what I needed to jolt me awake and make me start paying closer attention.[/SPOILER] By the end of the chapter — “The things I do for love” — I was totally hooked on Thrones.

When a book is populated by a cast of dozens, it can be difficult to seize upon a favorite character. Even so, I’ve found that I especially look forward to the chapters that focus on Arya Stark. Sure, she’s a stock type — these days, what work set in a pre-feminist era doesn’t feature a highborn girl who doesn’t want to be a lady? — but even so, I’m loving her spirit and her playfulness. She also reminds me a little of Alanna, the heroine of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, which I devoured in middle school. I look forward to the moment where she hurtles into battle and proves herself handy with a sword… though since she’s only nine years old, it may be a book or two before that happens. Then again, seven-year-old Bran is apparently “almost a man grown,” so maybe Arya will be thrust into the fray sooner rather than later.

I’m a huge fan of Tyrion Lannister as well, partly because I’m drawn to witty misfits and partly because I can’t wait to see what Peter Dinklage does with the part — although now that I’ve read as far as I have, I’m wondering if they’re going to uglify Dinklage so that he fits Martin’s description a little better. This man is way too handsome to play someone who looks “for all the world like a gargoyle.” Oh, and I’m also getting a real kick out of smarmy, devious Petyr Baelish, a.k.a. Littlefinger. These two characters prove best how A Game of Thrones has what books like The Lord of the Rings are sorely lacking — a sense of humor.

Well, a sense of humor and a surprising amount of sex. The spoiler-tastic aforementioned scene, as well as Daenerys’ wedding night, were a lot more graphic than I would have expected; for some reason, frank writing about carnal relations and olde-tymey epics don’t seem to go together in my mind. I assume that I’ll become disabused of this notion the more I read. [Edited to add: Oops, I forgot to tell you how far to read for next week! We’ll be reading through p. 429 in the Bantam trade paperback; the last sentence of the last chapter in that section says, “Smiling, he plucked up the dagger and offered it to Ned, hilt first.”]

For the rest of you who also just read the first part of the book: What did you think? Are you, like me, wondering what that prologue has to do with anything? (My colleague Darren Franich tells me it’s going to be awhile before I find out; Martin, you dog!) Who’s your favorite character so far? And when did you realized A Game of Thrones had totally sucked you in?

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  • Jean

    I knew I wanted to keep reading after Jon watched Tyrion walk away and open a door with his shadow making him as tall as a king for a moment. A great picture of my fav character.Also the scene you mentioned where you learn no one is safe in this world.

    • JJ

      The whole “we want you to know that no one is safe in this world/series/movie” is such a cliche now. Right up there along with “this is a [character] who always breaks the rules.” Yawn. I don’t care if I know they’re safe or not. I just want to be able to care about them.

      • Jean

        There are so many great vivid characters, I dont think it would be possilbe not to find at least one to care about. I was somewhat indifferent to a few but as the series progressed I found myselfing anxiously awaiting their next chapter. That suffice?

      • John A

        This book was written in 1994. Well before such things became regular fare on television and in movies. Please keep that in mind when making such criticisms.

        That aside, you absolutely will be able to care about the majority of the characters. Which is saying something since there are dozens.

      • Daniel B

        Honestly JJ from your comment I don’t know if you would have the stomach for this novel – I think you would be emotionally traumatized by some of the events. There are very very very few characters in the series that I didn’t care deeply about, and the unexpected and shocking losses of some of them (and I stress that even with spoilers some of the losses will still be completely unexpected) was nearly as deeply felt as if I had suddenly lost a great friend or a member of my own family. There are many people who cannot read these books; I have friends who haven’t been able to do so, there’s no shame in it. But these novels are magnificent, as long as you are able to understand that this is a real world and even favorite characters can really get hurt.

        For what it’s worth, nothing happens that isn’t logical within the confines of the plot, even if it is completely unexpected – there are no moments where Martin just bitch-slaps the audience with something that doesn’t make any sense just for the sake of ‘hey look how awesome I am; I’ll kill anyone, even when it doesn’t make sense to do so’

      • Grignac

        @JJ, I think what You’ll find with the Martin books is that every character you care about is not safe. Your favorite characters experience, horror, deaths, triumphs, shocks, twists. etc etc. So many great moments in this series that prove that “Every character is not safe” is not a cliche for Martin but rather what makes this book series so real and good.

    • Robbi

      This was the place that hooked me as well. “When he opened the door, the light from within threw his shadow clear across the yard, and for just a moment Tyrion Lannister stood tall as a king.” I wondered there is any foreshadowing in this image as well? Tyrion seems a favorite of the author, as he has become a favored character of mine.

  • crispy

    It’s been a while since I read book 1, but I recall thinking many of the same things… except the names! I loved the names. And honestly, I thought the unusual names helped keep everyone straight.
    I knew I was sucked in when they found the dire wolves… so a bit earlier than the “Things I do for love” scene. I’m a sucker for orphaned animal characters.

  • Emoney

    Although I totally agee that Dinklage is way too handsome to play Tyrion, I have always, always pictured Tyrion as him, so I’m really looking forward to this show. And Arya will probably always be one of your favorites. Love her. I’m re-reading now in anticipation of the show.

  • wash

    Wow, I agree almost completely with your initial impressions. While I was enjoying the overall story, I did find myself nitpicking over some of the small things myself.
    Why bother changing the title given to knights from Sir to Ser? In a fantasy land, why make some of the trees the same as ”our” trees and then create new ones aswell. Why not just make everything new? Mostly these issues, for me, stemmed from things that seemed to be changed just because without any real reason for it. Like the names you mentioned.
    I don’t want to take anything away from the story which I do think is very good and I am thoroughly enjoying. I love that so many of the characters are conflicted and able to do good or evil depending on the situation.

    • wash

      Oh, I forgot to ask, what is our checkpoint for next week?

      • Hillary Busis

        Ah, thank you for reminding me—I’m reading up through p. 429 in the Bantam trade paperback. The post has been updated with this information.

    • Carter

      At first reading the different spellings for names and ser/sir feels like walking with a pebble in your shoe, but I think the idea is to make you feel like you’re in a different world but not change it so much that you can’t relate to it. Petyr instead of Peter, Jorah instead of Jonah, Lysa/Lisa, etc., having the names so similar to regular names and yet just a little different to make them stand out, makes remembering them easier for me.

  • J. Snow

    The 1st 100 pages of GoT frustrated me to the point that I read two other books before continuing. There was just too much going on with zero background given to anchor everything together. The appendix is great but you generally only find it after you’ve finished and the SC versions don’t come with maps.

    Glad I kept reading, on the fourth book now. Cannot wait for Dragons.

  • Eleanor

    it took me a while to get into it as well. but I kept plugging along because so many friend whose opinions I respect said that no self-respecting fantasy fan could possibly not have read this series. I think Jon and Arya are the ones who took hold of me (and the direwolves) and I’ve not been disappointed since. Except of course in how long the 5th book is taking :-)

  • Anne

    I’m rereading this with you. It took me a while to get into the book — whenever I introduce a new person to the series I tell them that they just have to make it through the prologue, and then it gets interesting. As much as I appreciate what the prolgue tried to do, I think it loses people (and may do so in the show as well…its just makes you think the book will be something else). I agree that the Bran scene is what really got be hooked, though I actually knew I would love the books with the direwolf scene. It just immediately gave the book heart, and I realized the characters would be just as important as the story and fantasy. On rereading, I love Tyrion more than ever, I forgot how annoying Sansa was (tho she is one of my favorite characters now), and just how far everything and everyone has come. And yeah, this is def one sexy book, especcially for the genre.

  • Bookman

    Can someone tell me the goal of this book? There is no one over-riding quest – this seems more like a soap opera than anything else. SPOILER ALERT – major characters get maimed or killed off, there is no vengeance, no reunions for families torn apart. A lot of trudging from one place to the next and back again. The author paints a vivid picture of the world – I just wish there was a point to the whole thing.

    • Ludwig


      How very droll.

      • Carlynda

        This forum needed sanhkig up and you’ve just done that. Great post!

    • Tamora Pierce

      Bookman, in my *personal* opinion, Martin uses the British Wars of the Roses as a launch point for the main story. If you recall that history, or much of contemporary history, characters do get killed off/maimed and there is no vengeance, nor are there many reunions. He’s just grounding in the real world, which made me like it all the more.

      • Lea

        I agree. I found several characters and their relationships to be evocative of historical people. Ned Stark and his wife evoked the Duke and Duchess of York, and King Robert reminded me of Edward IV, especially his marriage into a family no one wanted to see come to power and influence …

      • krishnascattering

        ndtooosmesticated October 29, 2011 Amazon always has great deals on books … you should check there!

    • Ax0r

      I’ve always pictured it as a story about a kingdom. It’s the PLACE that is the main theme, and goal, and character in this book. The characters are merely a way for us to interface with the unfolding history.
      There is no main character. There is no overarching goal, or supreme evil, or saving the world, or any of it. It just is.

      • Mirax

        Ax0r –
        I like your take on the place being the main theme. I’ve never thought about it like that, and I find the idea very intriguing. However, I do disagree about there being no supreme evil. I’ve always thought that the Others fill that role quite nicely, and the overarching goal is to save Westeros from them. The only problem is that almost everyone is so caught up in making their plays for power that the true threat is going unnoticed. I do agree that there isn’t really a main character, however. Just a ton of interesting, flawed ones. : )

    • Grignac

      @bookman, ***SPOILER*** The reunion of Arya with her family at Rob’s wedding in a later book is pretty amazing

      • J. Snow

        It isn’t Rob’s wedding.

      • Grignac

        Ahh yes, sorry, I got confused in my memory it’s the wedding to the woman that was supposed to be Robb’s bride. Still, the point was that family reunion is pretty awesome.

      • Bookman

        what later book are you talking about – I read all 4 books so far.

      • Grignac

        Sandor Clegane takes her away to return her to her brother Robb and collect a rich reward.

  • Crystal

    That was the same point where I bought in as well. I think you’re shocked into that buy-in…”he did WHAT?!?!”

    Tyrion is, by far, my favorite character. His morality is way screwy, but it still makes a hell of a lot more sense than Cersei’s. As for uglifying Dinklage (who needs no condescension for it to be pointed out that he is visually very appealing), is unnecessary to me. Tyrion is considered a freak of nature and referred to as an “imp” with a lot of it being due to his size. I’ve never gotten the true impression that he was revolting as people made out. I think he is seen that way because his head seems very disproprotionate to his body (common with this particular genetic issue) and he’s small. But that might be some of my personal prejudice as a reader that enjoys his character.

    • Mike

      Right on Crystal! I’ve always thought that Tyrion’s “grotesque-ness” was over-exaggerated by the other characters in Westeros for the same reasons you said.

      Favorite characters? Like most, I love Tyrion and Arya. But the beauty of the series is when I got to books 3 and 4, some characters that I hated at first have become some of my favorites as well. Keep reading!

      • Daniel B

        I know exactly what you mean. There is one character in particular that I hated and loathed in book 1 who I really started to like by book 3. One of the greatest redemption arcs ever. Never thought there’d be another Lannister besides Tyrion I could empathize with…

    • Iren

      Moi aussi je préfère beossr chez moi, au milieu de ma famille ; par contre je carbure plutôt au café (enfin, au cappuccino en poudre); et j'ai un "vrai" cartable, en cuir !Bonne semaine (ici on profite encore du soleil pendant les récrés)

  • Neoavatara

    That moment makes you believe this is not Lord of the Rings, or a multitude of other fantasy stories…

  • JJ

    I too just started reading this book. Not necessarily because of the series, which I won’t be able to watch any time soon because I don’t get HBO, but because I finally got my hands on a copy I didn’t have to buy. But I’m really liking it and feel it deserves most of the praise people heap on it. I too was a little annoyed with the prologue, though I can’t wait to find out what’s up with the Others. I too took a while to enjoy the revolving POV. I got hooked somewhere before you did, but couldn’t say quite where. I rather like Jon. Tyrion’s a given I can’t wait to see who’s side he’ll be on if any. I also really like the Lord Stark chapters. Danaerrys too. I feel like interesting things are going to happen to her. And I love the direwolves. I’m dying to find out [SPOILER]: what happened to Arya’s wolf. I feel like this series is a cut above normal fantasy. I haven’t been able to get into a fantasy novel recently because they all feel the same. I’m looking forward to reading more! The way I feel about Dinkelage is, well, he’s THE little person in Hollywood. Who else were they going to use? It looks as though the TV show has casted characters older than they are in the book. Not sure how I feel about this.

  • sparkles

    Characters I like.
    sun and stars : )

    • ks

      pretty much my favs too, I love a creepy guy-littlefinger fits the bill

    • Chase

      I agree. These are definitely my favourites as well. I didn’t think I’d be able to get into such a long book so fast, but I was enthralled from I think chapter 2. Amazingly, I’m not rushing to get back to any particular character either. I’m enjoying everyone at this point (maybe Cat less than some others, but I’m feeling quite protective of Jon Snow so I feel I can’t be blamed for a little bit of distance from Catelyn). Mostly I’m just excited to get back to EVERY character when their chapters come and see what’s going on with their lives.

      Amazing book! So happy I started reading it too!

      • Rean

        My parents have been trniyg to get me to watch Big Bang Theory for weeks now. I’ve tried telling them that no real nerd would act that way ( A pretty girl is interested in me! I better ignore her and scorn her advances! ). I’ve tried directing them towards the videos of the show with the laugh track taken out to demonstrate how un-funny, and usually creepy, the show really is. It’s a constant reminder of why Community never had a shot, which hurts every time they bring it up.

  • sabrina W

    i read book 1 in a week , i’m already 1/2 book 2 and i’ve already ordered book 3, can’t wait! this series had me at hello with the prologue, at once i thought this aint no kiddies fantasy, and then first chapter u learn the sole survivor of zombie attack gets the axe OKKK!!! but yeah if you’re not convinced by then bran’s curiosity will nudged u over the cliff and become a bonafide fan! i hadnt been this shocked in ages by something i read, as for characters, arya is my fav also always looking forward to her chapters, jon coz he’s on the wall, its hot up there! tyrion will def be a fan fav the guy is super funny conniving and well making do with what he has to come out on top! bran is a sweet little thing! daenyris well what can u say about her girl has fire in her blood, pun intended!!!

    • Auth

      I found it still interesting how some tginhs changed compared to the book. Many people probably didn’t notice that Sandor Clegane killed the butcher’s boy, that’s only mentioned, not shown. Also he does not have this evil smile and seems to oppose Joffrey passively, instead of doing everything he is told with rather sadistic passion! It might also have got lost that Jaime and Cersei are siblings, though they really emphasize the sweet brother/sister in the Lannister family to make sure people get it. Jaime is a much more sympathic character, in the books he started off much more as a jackass, besides throwing Bran from the tower in both show and book. For Danaerys they really emphasized the sex aspects. I also think I remember that Khal Drogo was rather reluctant about having sex with her initially, he differs somewhat from the series in this regard.

  • Bibi

    For me the absolute turning point was the “crowning”. After that, the book just took off. The end scene left me stunned. Love it, love it.

    • ks

      me too.

  • Robbi

    Things I wonder about. With Sansa’s direwolf gone, what will become of her? Will Jon Snow become a true Lord Snow? And what of Daenerys and her connection to the Dragons – is she the mother of the True King? (And for all of you who are FAR ahead in this journey – no telling, just nod sagely OK? Please? : < )
    As for the authors use of character shorthand, for lack of a better term, I disagree. I think some characters, in the hands of a lesser author, would be just that – caricatures of knights and swordsmen – but Martin seems to create, in even the most peripheral of characters, a well fleshed out image/personage in a few well chosen words.

    • nan

      It is so funny/cool/exciting to read posts like this. I’m about halfway through book four and so it’s fun to see someone just starting the series so full of questions! It’s such an exciting series and EW, awesome idea to do this book club thing. Very, very cool!! : )

    • Coltaine777

      Dany is the mother of dragons….that’s it

    • Chicii

      This is one of the first TV shows shot on the new ARRI Alexa crmeaa. Looks beautiful. That reminds me, have to go finish The Wire. Still my favorite TV show ever I think.

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