It’s pretty obvious that, when you read a book, one of the most obvious elements is the writing. If the author creates a coherent story, if they spend a good amount of time on relevant details and building their worlds and developing characters, if they maintain logical consistency, how they use events that exist in the real world… There are a lot of things we tend to pick up on when we read novels.

A Game of Thrones is written using multiple-perspectives and third-person narration, which is something that can work. I’ve read numerous novels where this was done successfully, such as Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (so if you want to know what I think is a really good example of clear third-person narration in a multiple-perspective novel, I’d check that out).

One of the aspects that made this more difficult was that there were names thrown around in the narration that weren’t previously mentioned anywhere else; sometimes it was easy because they were obvious, such as how GRRM flipped between ‘Ned’ or ‘Dany’ in the chapters for Eddard and Daenerys, though it was still awkward that this was done because this isn’t typical of narration. Other times, it was awkward because he’d refer to someone as their first or last name in the narration when you’ve not spent much time with them.

When GRRM kept flipping between ‘Theon’ and ‘Greyjoy’ in the narration for Bran I, it forced me to have to stop and double-check whether or not they were actually the same person because it was done in a manner where a simple switch to a pronoun would suffice. He literally had just introduced Theon Greyjoy to the reader for only a moment before this happened, making it appear needlessly confusing. In later chapters, GRRM threw in names or nicknames for characters without linking it directly to them, and it turned into a few moments of trying to hunt down the information you felt you’d missed (and then realising that you didn’t really miss anything and had to try to start all over to immerse yourself in the world again).

Also, the use in multiple names typically happens in the dialogue. When the narration refers to Daenerys as ‘Dany’, nothing is being done with that other than making the narration awkward to read. Name changes in dialogue affect how we view relationships between people; it shows us the personality of the speaker, while also showing how they feel about the person they’re speaking to. It also helps to add emotion to the actions of the speaker, especially if their use of affectionate names contradicts the way they treat the person they’re speaking to.

If Viserys referred to Daenerys as ‘Dany’, it’d help characterise both him and his abuse of his sister. For example, if GRRM wrote Viserys using a nickname for his sister immediately before or during the abuse he made her endure, it would show the reader that he’s genuinely manipulative because he’s using tender moments to harm his own sister and to keep her under control. That would characterise him far more accurately than anything we receive throughout the novel; while it wouldn’t make him more likeable, it would make him relateable to people in our reality (and would also be a small comment regarding the ways that abusers use the people in their lives).

The same goes for Eddard. Using ‘Ned’ in the narration is awkward, but having Robert constantly refer to him as ‘Ned’ shows that they’re so close that Robert is able to affectionately refer to the incredibly serious and stoic Eddard by an informal name. This characterises both of them; it gives Eddard a soft side and can be close to people (including Catelyn), and it shows that Robert’s more likely to be less serious than Eddard.

The same applies to the Night’s Watch. With the Men of the Watch bandying about the nicknames they’re given (‘Lover’, ‘Pimple’, ‘Toad’, ‘Monkey’, ‘Lord Snow’, etc), it gives them a personality. For Thorne, it shows he’s an absolute horror to deal with for the boys because he’s apt to make fun of you for something and not let up on it; for the boys, it shows that they’re able to overcome what Thorne does to them and embrace it in a fashion that builds community. (However, nicknames also have to be brought up naturally, explaining who belongs to them and why. GRRM does this when the boys graduate to Men of the Watch, adding nicknames that haven’t been said earlier in conjunction with another character.)

When the characters refer to Jeor Mormont as ‘Old Bear’, it has multiple uses. It reminds them of who he is (both symbolically in reference to his personality but also literally in reference to his origins); it grants him an air of being strong, of being formidable in battle, of someone who is outwardly fearless when he’s faced with a problem. When the narration does this, it doesn’t have that effect; it just feels out of place or strange.

The relationship dynamics are told instead of shown. One of the things I most remember GRRM for is having said that you should show instead of tell, but it often feels like he’s bludgeoning his readers over the head with details and obvious signposts that show nothing but tell everything. There are very few moments of interaction that make the relationships feel authentic.

When Catelyn learns that Eddard is taking Bran to King’s Landing, she gets really upset over him; it’s almost as if he’s characterised as her favourite child, and she says that he’s the most tender-hearted and sweet of all her children. At no point has Bran shown these traits with anyone he’s interacted with, other than a direwolf pup; he doesn’t show this with his siblings, and he doesn’t show it with the people in Winterfell.

The character who does this? Who shows they’re more empathetic of people and understanding of the people around Winterfell because she’s characterised as being ‘underfoot’ and interacting with people of ‘lower classes’? Arya.

When Bran goes into a coma after being pushed from a tower window, Catelyn is there the whole time and almost acting like a zombie; it’s understandable that she’d be checking on Bran because he’s her child, but there is nothing there that show she’s going to be the kind of person to forego her duties in all ways to sit at her son’s bedside until he ‘comes back’ (or, for as long as she did, since she finally snaps out of it once attacked by the intruder).

It’s a weird thing to have Catelyn do at such an early point in the novel because we don’t have any information that characterises her in this way, we only know her from a few brief moments of convincing Eddard to be the King’s Hand due to her sister’s letter and a desire to ‘learn the truth’ of Jon Arryn’s death. She’s showing herself to be calculating, strategic, and honourable (to the realm); she’s showing that she has faith in her husband’s abilities and believes that he can help right these wrongs.

When she suddenly hibernates in Bran’s room, it’s not even functional within the narrative because it’s suddenly contradictory in the most awkward way with what little we know of her. It’s almost as if it was a stereotypical way of handling a woman grieving the serious injury of her child. A simple change could’ve easily been that she happened upon someone trying to murder Bran as she was coming to check on him, was attacked in the process of protecting him, and then ran off to King’s Landing to warn Eddard.

That provides consistent characterisation for the rest of her time in the novel, even when she edges toward peace at the end because she doesn’t want to lose her family, though I also find that the way this was handled was poorly done as well because it really didn’t connect with things that had happened to her; it didn’t connect with the fact that she had almost lost Bran, it doesn’t connect with her own injuries, it doesn’t connect with anything well. Even what she mentions, it’s weird because we didn’t see her reactions to those events; she just knows they happened.

There are a lot more obvious situations where this happens. Eddard feels inconsistently written; he’s said to be smart and strategic; he knows how to be diplomatic. Catelyn makes constant reference to this during Robb’s war, as she’s watching Robb lead this army to take down the Lannisters. She says this, but it doesn’t make sense when paired with Eddard’s chapters. He’s smart in some ways; he notices things that other people haven’t caught on to (like who Gendry is and who Joffrey actually belongs to). Yet none of his strategies work at all, which feels weird. He also fails to take information given to him by Arya and integrate it with the information about Daenerys that directly links up to what she said, which makes me wonder why he’s described as ‘someone who listens’ when he doesn’t actually listen. Littlefinger literally tells him multiple times not to trust him, and he decides to do it to his own detriment (despite the fact that Littlefinger literally didn’t give him many reasons to do so, even in the few times he desired to ‘help’ him, and everyone said he was ‘out for himself’, which Eddard even accused him of).

Characters seem to have a lot of information we don’t see them acquiring and have no idea how it actually affected them. Jon knows about Lady being put down, though he doesn’t mention who wrote to him about her; Catelyn and Robb are aware of Eddard’s death, but they’re not seen reading a letter that they received about this (or even acknowledging it before the meeting of the bannermen at Riverrun). It’s obvious that, yes, they probably received a bird carrying a note explaining what happened or a lot of the people fleeing away from King’s Landing in their direction are bringing rumours.

But it’d be better for both of these characters who have a lot more than just having an attitude of “I’m just angry about this.” It would allow for Robb and Catelyn to bond more over this; it’d be more of an emotional connection to all of the times that she has said Robb reminds her of Eddard. It would build something more cohesive than what’s available because it would show clear motivation for the war and what’s to come. It would enhance what happens to Robb at the end of the book, making it much more powerful.

If done as a small and intimate moment prior to the meeting with only Catelyn and Robb, it would further develop their relationship and characters. It’s easy to see that Robb’s immediate reaction would be anger; it would be to march on the Lannisters and take his revenge, but he’d then have a moment of uncertainty about whether he’d be doing the right thing or if that was something Eddard would respect. This is something that is characteristic of him, while his mother would be that source of strength who guides (but doesn’t push) her son to the best answer, to the best response. Even if she’s angry and upset, it would be so much better for setting her up for her speech that she gives about ‘choosing peace’ at the meeting instead of war.

Sometimes it works when you don’t see the characters immediately receiving information, but these moments continue to explain what that information is and where it came from. GRRM did this with Eddard, Robert, and the council when they all find out about Daenerys being with child and married to the Dothraki. It explains a large extent of the information, how Robert feels about it, and how they learned of it; it’s not done in that order, but it’s all there. Being at the start of the chapter, it makes the reader feel as if they were dropped into the corner of this meeting but as if they didn’t miss anything and aren’t lacking information. This is one of the few times he uses a scene like this well.

The use of euphemisms for gentialia and semen is so frustrating, and the sex scenes could honestly have been placed in the background. I hate these euphemisms so much. I hate having labia referred to as ‘the lower lips’, I can’t stand people calling penises ‘manhood’, I really never want to hear about a vagina being ‘her sex’, and the amount of ‘seed’ that was planted in someone really became absurd. They become more ludicrous because these are things that often make people shake their head and close their book momentarily. I started feeling inundated with ‘manhood’, when I would’ve happily read any other euphemism for a penis (‘member’, maybe?).

I also do not care about sex scenes, especially when they’re not nuanced; they’re generally really bad. (And the sex scene that could’ve been made with interest is Tyrion’s with Shae because it could address more than him just ‘being a monstrosity’; it could’ve addressed, through the detail, the ways in which sex is adapted to a person with dwarfism.

Honestly, that would’ve been far better than just a lot of talk about his cock, especially since Tyrion spends a huge chunk of his time getting made fun of or being mistreated for being a Little Person; this is a character whose best moments are coaching Jon in adapting to the Night’s Watch or helping Bran to ride a horse again. It doesn’t negate his moments of sarcasm and lewd responses, but it does add something to show that not all people are there making fun of him. (Add this, by the way, to my complaints about characterisation and use of scenes to add depth.)

Details were inappropriately used. GRRM either beat the reader over the head with ‘world-building details’, such as repeating a dozen times over which house sigil belonged to what family or describing the inane details of a battle scene that most readers are capable of imagining. I mean, honestly? Braveheart came out in 1995; I’m sure we can figure out what a war looks like without having to know every single placement of the soldiers. Also, I’m sure readers have the ability to keep track of sigils that are important and serve function. It’s easy to remember Redwynes are grapes because of their name; the same goes for Glovers and their gauntlet. We know the Starks are direwolves, Baratheons are stags, and Lannisters are Lions; it’s even pretty obvious that Mormonts are bears, and it’s simple to remember that the Tullys are a trout because of Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully. These are all the ones off the top of my head, and if the others made an appearance that was either relevant to the plot or directly linked to their names, it would’ve been easy enough. Instead, there are so many descriptions of these things, as if the reader could possibly forget them.

Yet, details that we need are missing. Details that give each person proper characterisation, that make their motives more clear (not obvious), that make them relateable and understandable are entirely missing from some people. What was it that tipped Eddard off about Cersei’s children being Jaime’sWho started Jon Arryn asking questions, since he’s not characterised as the curious type (by anyone at all)? How did Jon find out about the death of Lady, and why does he mention this? What’s the relevance to his story? How and when did Catelyn and Robb come to find out about Edddard? When Ser Thorne lists off the graduates, who is ‘Stone Head,’ ‘Lover’, or ‘Pimple’? (All names not previously made obvious, but all names that I looked up to know their connections.)

Those details are missing, among others. But, okay, thanks for sportscasting a jousting tournament with literally one important development that led to a really good scene (between Sansa and Sandor Clegane).

This really is the tip of the iceberg. The other issues I had were the casually tossed out statements regarding rape with very little commentary, the racism in how the Dothraki were written, the unnecessary use of incest as a plot device, Eddard’s entire existence as a punching bag, and the fact that there is way too much happening in these books. Those are all coming up.

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