This book frustrated me for so many reasons. Some of that involved the blasé way in which rape was tossed in as a narrative element, the unnecessary use of incest-as-a-plot-device, the in-need-of-an-editor writing style that is overly clunky, the racism present in the handling of the Dothraki people… A lot of it really bothered me, and it’s all something that I’ll end up writing about at some point prior to reading the next sets of books (before my partner manages to relocate them to my home).

Anyway, still somewhat related to the infuriating writing techniques (and style) is the fact that this book felt like it was three totally different stories that were vaguely, if at all, connected to each other. A Game of Thrones really could’ve been three different books, if not three different series that were set in the same world.

The story follows, mostly, three story arcs: Eddard and the political intrigues of the King’s court, Jon and the Night’s Watch (and, once it was remembered 500 pages later, The Others), and Daenerys and the Dothraki journey to birthing dragons (unbeknownst to the people themselves). Though these people are linked to each other, they often feel as if they’re in totally different stories.

Eddard’s story is the core component of AGoT, with Robb and Catelyn taking up his mantel when he’s no longer around. The majority of the book focuses on House Stark and the intrigues of politics in King’s Landing, the ‘game of thrones’ that Cersei explains you either win or die trying. It stems from Robert’s Rebellion, one character exists at House Stark because he’s kept as a hostage/ward from Greyjoy’s Rebllion (Theon Greyjoy), and there are additional events that surround a lot of political intrigues that take place within King’s Landing.

Jon’s arc is entirely focused on the Night’s Watch and The Others. While he starts off his journey with Eddard (due to being his bastard) and is sent off to the Night’s Watch because Catelyn refuses to keep him at Winterfell once Eddar leaves. Other than that and a handful of unimportant mentions (Arya wishing he’d muss up her hair), he doesn’t really fit into Eddard’s story and is almost entirely separate.

Daenery’s arc is situated entirely in her marriage to Khal Drogo, their journey within the Dothraki lands, and her becoming part of their people (and then failing almost immediately). It’s heavily based on her dealing with Viserys’s abuse, on escaping that abuse, and falling in love with Drogo (though that part feels very off). Oh, and she’s also spending time bringing back dragons, though she doesn’t do anything other than carry around some stone eggs and snuggle them. Other than being mentioned in Eddard’s chapters (and having Aemon show up in Jon’s for no functional reason other than to ‘make him think’), Daenerys’s story is also nearly separate from the others.

All three of these arcs should’ve been a story on their own, and AGoT tries to take on far too much at one time. The time spent with Eddard (and Bran, Arya, Sansa, and Catelyn) often felt like it was one cohesive narrative; it felt interrupted by the inclusion of Daenerys and Jon’s arcs, even the with the few times that they coincided. It felt like a story that, in many ways, could’ve been a standalone novel, but it also showed that a series could’ve been made from it if done through a different structure (and without a lot of the details that ‘built the world’, such as slamming everyone in the face with house sigils over and over).

Jon’s story with The Others isn’t mentioned very frequently. It starts in the prologue, goes mostly forgotten (except for random hints of ‘myths and legends’ or ‘old stories and tales’), and doesn’t come back until about 500 pages later. It has zero connection with what’s happening elsewhere and really feels like it was shoehorned in to cause drama for Jon, when it really could’ve made a better side-series in the ASOIAF world, one where Jon and his fellow Hobbits help to develop defences at the Wall to protect against The Others and learn a lot more about them.

Daenerys, too, feels like she would’ve been a far more interesting side-series (or later series addition). Nothing she did was connected to the rest of the story, except for the exiled Jorah Mormont existing (who also connected her to Jon’s story on the smallest of threads, as the Lord Commander’s son), the fact that she’s a Targaryen and ‘should be’ the queen (and that was the ruling family that fell during Robert’s Rebellion), and that Master Illyrio – the man who gifted her with dragon’s eggs – is one of the nameless men that Arya describes seeing in her confused castle adventure (which is one of his few appearances, actually).

So how could Eddard’s story (and that of House Stark) been stronger as a standalone?

Actually have Eddard do more of what he was already doing: trying to figure out why Jon Arryn was murdered and help protect King Robert (even if he failed). Keep his story grounded in that w1ork, and keep the others’ stories grounded in helping provide additional evidence for things that happen that are relevant to Eddard (and might be more obvious or outwardly stated in later books).

Create a stronger connection between Tyrion’s story and that of the Starks: Tyrion seems to connect more frequently with Jon’s story because they spend time together at the Wall during Tyrion’s travels and Jon’s relocation (and, for five seconds, he has some interaction with one of Bran’s chapters). This isn’t entirely a bad thing because these are some of Tyrion’s best moments that build another side of his personality that nicely balances his ‘I hate my father and cope with this through lewd sarcasm’ persona, except for the fact that those moments don’t fit into the primary story. They don’t even really connect with the events where his story intersects with Catelyn’s.

Either Tyrion needs to focus in one area or another, but he can’t really fit into both; he could’ve been an interesting perspective to learn more about the knife that Catelyn took to King’s Landing. It would’ve been far more interesting to have him, not Littlefinger, be the person who captures Catelyn and Ser Rodrik Cassel, and keeps them away from the rest of the Lannister clan. Having him be more involved pre-battle would build up his central conflict, which really seems to be figuring out where he belongs.

If it was necessary to take him to the Eyrie, perhaps a better circumstance could’ve been that he goes with Catelyn willingly to discuss Jon Arryn’s death (allowing the reader to glimpse more details to this issue, since that’s supposedly a big issue that gets no resolution of any sort), getting wrongfully accused in the process by Lysa because of the letter that she’s sent to Catelyn and who she’s become, and then having the rest of the Lannister clan mistake his leaving being captured (or have someone note it as being a capture after Lysa throws him into the prison cell and sending a raven to Tywin or Jaime to indicate as much). Again, this builds up the conflict he seems to be having: an issue of loyalty and to whom (or, at the very least, with whom should he ally himself) much more cohesively than the chapters he gets, drawing him into the intrigues of the court.

Use Catelyn’s chapters to be about things she does instead of things she observes. Catelyn’s chapters are entirely under-utilised. There are minute hints spread throughout them, but they’re not made very clear or entirely obvious. Her interaction with Tyrion post-capture is awkward because she doesn’t interact with him at all despite the fact that she’s captured him, not once questioning him directly about the dagger. She gets all of her information from Littlefinger, which serves its own purpose in Eddard’s relationship with him (badly), but she never onces questions Tyrion during their travels. In fact, she doesn’t really do anything with him other than get attacked by wildlings. There’s no development.

Have her do something. Have her ask the pertinent questions, have her do more than get upset with her sister for releasing her prisoner and excluding her from the trial, have her realise something is wrong with her sister and try to figure it out. It’s clear that there’s something about Lysa that GRRM is trying to build into future novels, but AGoT really doesn’t make use of any of it other than to have a ‘crazy woman’ with ‘spoiled child’ ruling a region and causing some kind of drama (but not really succeeding).

Once she runs into Robb and goes to Riverrun, she takes on his perspectives while adding in a random moment of “Let’s have peace!” and getting made fun of for being a silly woman. She essentially is a narrator herself, so her chapters are frustrating moments of AGoT Inception.

Use Bran better for the Winterfell perspectives (and, if you wanted to include Jon’s story, as a connection). Bran has a hyper-focus on dreams and three-eyed crows. I’ve heard (from my partner) that ‘these are important in later books’, but they served almost no purpose for this novel. It really felt like more clutter in an already over-encumbered book. Also, once he wakes up, there isn’t much of an interaction with Winterfell; the focus is almost entirely in King’s Landing, making it seem like Winterfell should’ve just been an introduction to House Stark as they got forced into their no-win scenario.

Rewrite Sansa almost entirely. Sansa’s blame game literally doesn’t serve much of a purpose, even within the goal of trying to make her want to follow Joffrey and Cersei. The absolute most frustrating moments I had reading AGoT, especially as someone who was once a teenage girl and has worked with lots of teenagers (especially teenage girls), were when I was reading Sansa’s chapters. They were infuriating; I couldn’t see how she was the oldest daughter, how Arya was possibly younger than she’s said to be, how she could be written so poorly. She was meant to be shallow, but there are so many better ways to write a character that can be seen as someone who will follow leaders to their detriment, who acts entitled and is immensely shallow, and who acts against their own best interests without making them so unrelateable and unlikable at the same time.

Sansa’s good moments were only in relation to Sandor Clegane. The terror, and later the empathy, that she feels for him when he forces her to look at his face and tells her about his brother. When he helps her recognise how best to survive with Joffrey and seems sensitive to her needs, her responses were coherent to who she was. Those were her good moments, and those were moments that gave the reader much-needed information. They were both humanising for her and Sandor, but they were also helpful in understanding the world they both live in.

Don’t hit Arya with the ever obnoxious Not Now, Kiddo trope, especially when the very next chapter shows the same information being learned in a different way. Also, it would’ve been nice to see Eddard reflect on that moment and use it to his advantage in another fashion (even if he were to fail), rather than just totally ignore it. Doing this would’ve furthered Eddard’s characterisation (and connected it to everything people say about him, despite the fact he’s not really shown to be as intelligent, insightful, or strategic as he must be), it would’ve developed the relationship between Arya and her father (which was already growing in part to her being allowed to keep Needle and getting a ‘dancing instructor’ to teach her how to fight), and it would’ve helped Eddard’s goal of figuring out what is happening in King’s Landing. This felt incredibly under-used.

>>Note: So many people say she was incoherent, but she was written to be coherent enough that I think Eddard – who is supposedly really insightful – should’ve glimpsed that ‘the princess is pregnant’ and learning about Daenerys were one in the same. Her only real downfall was that she claimed to have seen monsters (which, you know, I still don’t feel is worthy of enough ‘oh, no, silly child and her imagination’ for Eddard to just shrug it off entirely in conjunction with other information).

Overwhelmingly, there’s a good story here somewhere with a lot of intriguing characters who have the ability to be connected in ways that build political intrigue without leaving the reader entirely in the dark (or even leaving some of the characters entirely in the dark while having them figure things out that were literally never mentioned or barely had associated clues to go with them), which is really what this story should’ve been about. But since it left so much open at the end without closing anything (or doing so in a really unsatisfying way by handing it to the reader on a platter without any build-up or hints), it just made it feel like there was too much here for GRRM to focus on.

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