Hello all! No I did not drop off the face of the earth, I've just had a very hard time contributing to the site with all the work I've had to do. I actually have 2 unfinished reviews (Mass Effect 3 and Kingdoms of Amalur), but have pretty much decided to leave them so, especially considering how long they have already been out.
But with Season 2 of Game of Thrones beginning this Sunday April 1st at 9 PM, I decided to do a blog post about it. Please note this blog contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the show's first season, as well as minor spoilers for later ones (I've read all released books). Don't worry, nothing major like deaths or plot twists, just the kind of stuff you would see by watching trailers.
When I was eight years old, my parents took me to see The Fellowship of the Ring in theaters on opening night. It was my first major introduction into the fantasy genre, and I honestly didn't know what to expect. I hadn't seen a single trailer, other than a TV spot a few days before we went. I was more than a little apprehensive, especially when, as we walked into the theater, I saw a massive poster of a terrifying orc.
I loved it. It was unlike anything I had seen. A massive, sprawling world with an actual history to it, filled with all sorts of mystical creatures, monsters, and best of all...magic.
A steaming plate of concentrated epic win (with a side of awesome sauce).
When you think about it, the biggest difference between historical fiction and fantasy is magic. Think about it, almost every fantasy series or story you can think of takes place in a universe that is perpetually stuck in the middle ages. They speak in old English, they have knights and kings, ad everything else we had in the 1100-1600s. Except they also have magic, and wherever you have magic, you have magical creatures (dragons, minotaurs, etc).
After seeing the first movie, I was immediately hooked on the genre. The next day my mom took me to the store and bought me the entire LotR set, as well as the Hobbit. I was already a pretty advanced reader at that age, so it wasn't too difficult. By the time the second movie came out, I had about 100 pages left in the third book.
During this time, I got into three other fantasy series. The first was the wildly popular Harry Potter and series, which is a modern fantasy-but fantasy all the same. The second was Inheritance (eragon), which is basically a children's LotR. The third was the dragonlance series, which are a great read for anyone who is likewise interested in fantasy. The core 9 books (three trilogies spanning three generations of characters) have since been expanded to a universe spanning dozens of authors and over 100 books. In my opinion the best of all three series.
Dragonlance's Queen of Darkness...That's ONE dragon.
Surprisingly however, it wasn't until the HBO adaptation that I had ever heard of Game of Thrones. The novel series the show is based on is actually called "A Song of Fire and Ice" by George R. R. Martin (yes, that is his name and it is an awesome coincidence), and the first novel is 'A Game of Thrones'. However, as it is the general theme of the series, I think it was a good call to name the show after the first book.
One episode in, I was immediately hooked. I finished the season (which I didn't start until after it finished it's TV run) in a weekend. The next day, I went and bought the first 3 books in the series at Borders. I read the first one, just to make sure I was following a consistent continuity. I honestly didn't have to though, because the TV series is pretty much a word-for-word representation of the books (with some events moved ahead or back to fit TV format).
Three nights ago I finished the fifth book, the last released of seven planned overall. And from where I stand now, A Song of Fire and Ice (or Game of Thrones) is the absolute pinnacle of the fantasy genre. And this is why:
First and foremost, the most important aspect of any series, in any genre, are the characters. Because honestly, who cares what's happening if you don't care who it's happening to? A great example of this is the film Titanic. In my opinion, that movie is vastly overrated, just because I found it so hard to care about Rose. Jack was pretty cool, but this was Rose's story, and I personally found her boring and unlikable.
Harry Potter has a wide range of characters, and each of them is, if nothing else, pretty well defined in their role. The problem is, aside from Snape, most of the characters are incredibly one dimensional. Sure, we occasionally see Harry's mean streak, and a little bit of Draco's soft side, but overall by the fourth book you get the feeling one can predict what is going to happen just because we know how each character is going to act.
Look at me...I'm sooooo cool.
A Song of Fire and Ice is different from most series in the sense that the story is told from the point of view of multiple 'main characters'. During a character's chapter, readers are able to see exactly what the character does, as well as what they are thinking. This gives additional insight into what makes these guys tick. And that's great because, these are some of the best characters ever written.
Bring it Harry.
From the honorable Ned Stark, to the pompous prince Joffrey Baratheon, there are LITERALLY dozens of characters, each fully realized with complex back stories, and motives that feel derived from the characters, and are not just a result of the plot. You could ask 3 different people to name their top 5 characters, and realistically come away with 15 names.
And when you have that many great characters, your going to end up with a great...
While I could read books about Tyrion Lannister fishing in a tug boat, reading about his adventure to the Eyrie is MUCH more exciting. The plot of A Game of Thrones centers on three major story arcs:
1. Ned Stark trying to hold the Seven Kingdoms together in King's Landing
2. Jon Snow joining the Night's Watch to defend against an ancient enemy
3. Deanerys Targaryen trying to regain the Iron Throne, which her house once held
Welcome to the Wall
Each of these arcs are mostly separate from one another during the first book/season, and yet they still depend on each other simply due to the connections between characters. Jon Snow is Ned's bastard son, and Ned's best friend the King was the one who took the throne from the Targaryens. Most important is that, each story is so engrossing that you will probably end up rooting for Ned and Deanerys, despite the fact that they are on separate sides. Imagine if while reading Harry Potter you couldn't decide if you wanted Harry or Voldemort to win.
In addition to these major plotlines, there are subplots which occur alongside the main ones, and often these grow to the point where they either have a major effect on one of the major storylines, or simply become PART of them. Fire and Ice as a series is based heavily in the politics of Westeros, the realm in which the series occurs. Almost all of the major characters are either part of, or at least important to one of the major houses, meaning they are eventually drawn into the titular "Game of Thrones".
"You win or you die..."
However, with a certain event in the first season (which I will get to later), author George Martin completely changes the game (pun intended), causing all the plotlines to simultaneously come together whilst firing them to completely different ends of the globe. What was once three major stories snowball into five, and six, to the point where the main story and all the sub plots are impossible to tell apart, because everything is so intricately interwoven, and yet occurring separately (and often without knowledge) from the others.
At some point, the series begins to feel less like a story, and more like an actual period of history in a Universe that doesn't actually exist.
Quick Note: In an infinite Universe (which we exist in according to most scientists), there are infinitely many galaxies. MEANING that at some point either in the past or future, everything that happens here (or in any story) actually happens. Not very relevant, but it blew my mind.
People love sex, and they love having sex. Why do we go to school? So we can make money, impress an attractive member of the opposite gender (or same-I'm not here to judge), and bone them until the day we die. Okay, there are other reasons-so we can afford hot escorts when our significant other is not within reach.
Sex is a major force of motivation in the real world, and everyone knows it. So why do so many series, not just fantasy, but of all genres, leave it out? I can understand doing it if it's a kid's series, but even more adult ones, such as LotR, are severely lacking in what I like to call the fuck-factor.
Even IF they can't depict actual sex, romance in general is an important part of a story, as it provides a level of intrigue that deal with characters on a more emotional level. Harry Potter had some romance, but not to the level you would expect...these are teenagers for crying out loud! Don't get me wrong, the last thing I want is a novel ABOUT romance, but there needs to be something there reminding us that these are real people, with real...erm...needs.
Tyrion Lannister would bring the party to Hogwarts
Game of Thrones has sex in spades. Hetero sex, homo sex, incest, hell they even imply some bestiality (thankfully never shown or described in detail). Sex is not only a major component of the characters' lives, it is actually one of THE driving forces in the story. In fact, a surprising amount of bloodshed could be avoided in this series if people just learned to keep it in their pants...kind of like real life.
4. Magic/Mystical Creatures
I've already discussed that magic is what makes fantasy, well...fantasy. But depending on the source material, magic may be handled completely differently.
In Harry Potter and Eragon, magic is the center of everything. From the moment it is introduced, magic is the focus of the entire plot. Harry Potter (the series) is about a SCHOOL for magic. And in Eragon, a young boy is trained to be a Dragon rider, who are the most powerful magic users in the world. Both series also don't take long to expose readers to all sorts of mythical creatures (both original and not). Hell, Saphira (Eragon's dragon) is arguably more important than the main character.
Lord of the Rings takes place in a very obviously magical world. Yet despite this, we rarely see any ACTUAL magic. Even Gandalf, the only main cast member who can use magic, is seen fighting with a sword more often than not. This is probably the most balanced example of balance in fantasy; it's everywhere, you just don't always see it.
Cause nothing bites like cold, hard, steel.
Game of Thrones begins with three warriors being attacked by mystical undead. However from this point on, there is no mention of magic, save for vague references to times well before the start of the series. Dragons are mentioned often enough, and we even see their skeletons at some point, but they've been gone for over a century. The series treats magic as the only way it could POSSIBLY exist in our world...more of an advanced mysticism than anything else.
However, make no mistake, this IS a fantasy series, with magic. We don't see any concrete proof of it until near the end of Season 1, when blood magic is used to heal a dying man. Even then, the less-than-successful attempt leads many to wonder if there is any TRUE magic. And then it drops a bombshell, as the first season and book end with the birth of the first dragons in a long time (I already said over a century and didn't want to repeat it).
Even after this however, the series is VERY slow to reveal the true nature of magic in this world. And this is probably the best way to do it. So many series treat magic as this all powerful force that can win or lose wars. In GoT, it is more of a shadow, a dark smudge in the corner of your eye. But it IS there...and it IS powerful.
However, there is something whose power goes beyond dragons, magic, and steel. Probably the most important part of the series:
5. Death (MAJOR SPOILERS)
People die. It happens. YOU are going to die. Deal with it.
So many series like to ignore this. Sure, people still do die in them, but rarely anyone of actual significance, and when they do, it's almost always some sort of heroic sacrifice.
Not so in Game of Thrones. Ask anyone who read the books or saw the show what is the most important scene. It is literally THE moment of the series, because (as mentioned earlier), it is the catalyst for most of what happens, at least in the political plotline. The moment where you realized how little of a fuck George Martin gives:
The death of Lord Eddard Stark
In a series without a main character, Ned was the closest thing we had to one. I already mentioned how he is the thread holding everything together, but he's more than that. He's a fearless warrior, a brilliant commander, a loving father, and above all, the most honorable man in the Seven Kingdoms. He was willing to die, but we all knew he couldn't, so no one was surprised when he decided to confess his 'sins'.
And then Joffrey decided to be the biggest douche in a land full of full to the brim with them. Even after he ordered Ned's execution, I was still certain he'd get away. Maybe Ned would say something to stop the execution, or maybe Arya would run to help him. But Ned stayed silent, and Arya ran into Yoren, who held her back.
And the blade came down.
Pour one out
This was a message. Yes, a message from Joffrey, that he wouldn't allow any treason. But more so, a message from the author; no one is safe. In a land where power is the only TRUE lord, anything can happen. No series would ever kill off a character as important as Ned, certainly not in the first of seven novels. But Game of Thrones isn't just another series, it's a series about what REALLY happens to people in these kinds of situations. This is a world where no true 'good guy' can win. If you want to survive in Martin's books, you have to get your hands dirty sooner or later.
Imagine an author writing a book about a man running for President. He writes so well that you actually care about him, and want him so badly to win. And then he does, and goes on to be a great leader. Now imagine if the author killed the President in his third year in office, on a drive through Dallas, assassinated by an angry veteran who is never once mentioned in the book before hand. No one would want to read it because it's such a depressing ending, and pretty much makes everything about the book irrelevant.
But that is exactly what happened to President Kennedy.
Sorry if you find that example offensive, but in real life, people die, often before they are supposed to. And that's the message George Martin is trying to get across, and it makes the story so much better because of it.
So there you go, five reasons why A Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones is the best fantasy series ever made. If there was one that comes close, I would say the Dragonlance series I mentioned earlier. Though it treats magic with the same heavy hand as say, Eragon, it has a much darker tone than most fantasy novels, leaving it a step or two below Martin's saga.
If for some reason you have read through this and you HAVEN'T watched the show or read the books:
1) What's wrong with you?
2) If you WERE planning on reading/watching but I spoiled something for you, you have no one to blame but yourself. Next time you see SPOILER written at the top of the page, show some fucking self-control.
3 (really 2.5)) If ANYONE comments about how I spoiled something for them, I will send you a PM full of spoilers from the rest of the series.