A Game of Thrones

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This article is about the novel. For the TV series, see Game of Thrones. For derivative works of the same name, see A Game of Thrones (disambiguation).
A Game of Thrones
US hardcover (first edition)
Author George R. R. Martin
Cover artist Steve Youll
Country United States
Series A Song of Ice and Fire
Genre Fantasy, political strategy, epic fantasy
Published 6 August 1996 (Bantam Spectra/US & Voyager Books/UK)
ISBN ISBN 0-553-10354-7 (US hardback)
ISBN 0-00-224584-1 (UK hardback)
ISBN 0-553-57340-3 (US paperback)
Followed by A Clash of Kings

A Game of Thrones is the first novel in A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of high fantasy novels by American author George R. R. Martin. It was first published on 6 August 1996. The novel won the 1997 Locus Award[1] and was nominated for both the 1997 Nebula Award[1] and the 1997 World Fantasy Award.[2] The novella Blood of the Dragon, comprising the Daenerys Targaryen chapters from the novel, won the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Novella. In January 2011 the novel became a New York Times bestseller[3] and reached #1 on the list in July 2011.[4]

In the novel, recounting events from various points of view, Martin introduces the plot-lines of the noble houses of Westeros, the Wall, and the Targaryens. The novel has lent its name to several spin-off works based on the series, such as several games.[5] It is also the basis for the first season of Game of Thrones, an HBO television series that premiered in April 2011. A March 2013 paperback TV tie-in re-edition was also titled Game of Thrones, but excluding the indefinite article "A".[6]

The title phrase surfaces at various points in the book and its sequels, first appearing when Ser Jorah Mormont tells Daenerys Targaryen, "The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are." Later, Queen Cersei Lannister warns Lord Eddard Stark in the godswood, "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." Stark thinks on her warning after his capture and transfer to the dungeon under the Red Keep; Lord Varys visits him there and inquires, "Why is it always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones?"

Plot summary[edit]

A Game of Thrones follows three principal storylines simultaneously.

In the Seven Kingdoms[edit]

At the beginning of the story, Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell—known to his intimates as 'Ned'— condemns and executes a deserter from the Night's Watch, with his sons as witnesses. On the return journey to Winterfell, Eddard's sons discover six direwolf pups, thereupon entrusted to them. Following the death of Lord Jon Arryn, previous "Hand of the King", King Robert Baratheon recruits Eddard as the new Hand. Eddard promises his wife, Lady Catelyn Stark, to investigate Arryn's death; Lysa Arryn, Catelyn's sister and Lord Arryn's widow, suggested that Arryn may have been poisoned by Queen Cersei and her family of House Lannister.

Before the Starks leave for King's Landing, Eddard's son Bran Stark witnesses Cersei's incest with her twin brother Jaime Lannister, who throws Bran from a tower to conceal the secret. Bran survives, but enters a coma. During his recuperation, an assassin attempts to murder him, only to encounter Catelyn; whereupon Bran's direwolf kills the assassin. Catelyn, on grounds that only dire intrigue necessitates killing a comatose child, visits King's Landing to warn Eddard, leaving their eldest son Robb Stark to rule Winterfell. Thereafter Bran awakens as a paraplegic, with no memory of Jaime's role in his fall.

At King's Landing, Eddard's daughter Sansa is betrothed to King Robert's son Joffrey. Joffrey takes Sansa for a picnic; while her sister Arya plays with a butcher's son, Mycah. When Joffrey threatens Mycah, Arya and her direwolf injure Joffrey. Before his parents, Joffrey claims that Mycah and the direwolf attacked him unprovoked, while Arya tells the true events and Sansa refuses to side with either. King Robert attempts to gloss the incident; but Queen Cersei sends Joffrey's guard, Sandor Clegane, to kill Mycah, and decrees that Sansa's innocent direwolf must be killed in place of Arya's, which Arya has chased away. Meanwhile Eddard assumes the rule, while Robert gives his time to sensual pleasures. Eddard discovers that the king has placed the royal treasury in debt, largely to the Lannisters. Ned meets the King's closest advisors: Lord Varys, an enigmatic eunuch; Grand Maester Pycelle, an elderly scholar; and Petyr Baelish, known as Littlefinger, the "Master of Coin" or Treasurer to the King.

Upon Catelyn's arrival in King's Landing, she is brought to Petyr Baelish, who identifies Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of Cersei and Jaime, as the owner of the dagger used against Bran. On the way back to Winterfell, Catelyn takes Tyrion to her sister, Lady Lysa Arryn. There, Tyrion demands trial by combat and regains his freedom when his champion Bronn wins the duel. In retaliation for Tyrion's abduction, Tyrion's father, Lord Tywin Lannister, wages war. He is soon joined by Jaime, who cripples Eddard. Thereafter Eddard learns that Robert's legal heirs are Jaime Lannister's children by his sister. He offers Cersei a chance to escape before he tells Robert the truth; but withholds the revelation when Robert is mortally wounded in a hunt. As Robert dies, his youngest brother Renly suggests to Eddard that they should take control of the throne before the Lannisters can act. Eddard refuses, and Renly flees Kings Landing with House Baratheon's guards. Eddard recruits Littlefinger to have the city guards arrest Cersei, but is betrayed by him, resulting in Eddard's arrest, the death of his men, and Sansa's capture. The Lannisters attempt to capture Arya as well, but she flees the castle.

With Eddard imprisoned, Joffrey is crowned King of the Seven Kingdoms. Eddard is persuaded by Varys to swear fealty to Joffrey in exchange for Sansa's life; but Joffrey orders his execution, and Eddard is beheaded before Sansa. Yoren of the Night's Watch then removes Arya from King's Landing.

As news of Eddard's arrest spreads across the Seven Kingdoms, his son Robb Stark masses an army and marches south, joining with Catelyn, to rescue his father and sisters; but upon learning of Eddard's death, goes instead to raise support from his maternal grandfather, Lord Hoster Tully. To reach Riverrun, he agrees to a marriage pact with House Frey. At Riverrun, Jaime Lannister is laying siege, while holding Lord Hoster's heir, Edmure Tully, as hostage. Upon hearing of Robb's march, Lord Tywin advances his army to meet Robb's. Robb covertly detaches his cavalry towards Riverrun, while his infantry, under Lord Roose Bolton, opposes Tywin's army. Tywin, joined by Tyrion and the latter's army, defeats Bolton's host, only to discover too late that they were a decoy. Robb's forces then take Jaime's army by surprise during the night, capturing Jaime himself. Jaime's host is scattered and Edmure Tully is liberated, joining the houses of the Riverlands to Robb's army. During "The Battle of the Whispering Wood", Jaime slays two of Lord Rickard Karstark's sons. Tywin withdraws to the castle of Harrenhal, while sending Tyrion to King's Landing to keep the young king under control.

Lord Renly Baratheon of Storm's End—the youngest brother of King Robert and Lord Stannis— wins the support of House Tyrell by wedding Lord Mace Tyrell's daughter, Margaery Tyrell. Declaring himself king, Renly masses a host of 100,000, and marches on King's Landing. After extended discussion, the House Stark bannermen and the House Tully bannermen proclaim Robb "King in the North".

On the Wall[edit]

The Prologue of the novel introduces the Wall: an ancient 700-foot-high (200 m), 300-mile-long (480 km) barrier of ice, stone, and magic, shielding the Seven Kingdoms from a Northern wilderness. The Wall is manned by the order of the Night's Watch: a set of warriors sworn to serve on the Wall for life, foregoing marriage, titles, property, and children. North of the Wall, a small patrol of Rangers from the Night's Watch encounter the Others, an ancient and evil race of beings thought long extinct and mythological. All the Rangers are killed except a single survivor (the deserter whom Ned executes at the beginning of the Starks' story). Jon Snow, the bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark, is inspired by his uncle, Benjen Stark, to join the Night's Watch; but becomes disillusioned when he discovers that it is little more than a penal colony meant to keep "wildlings" (human tribesmen in relative anarchy north of the Wall) in check.

At the Wall, Jon unites the recruits against their harsh instructor, and protects the cowardly but good-natured and intelligent Samwell Tarly. Jon hopes that his combat skills will earn him assignment to the Rangers, the military arm of the Night's Watch; but is assigned as steward to the Lord Commander of the Watch, Jeor Mormont, nicknamed "the Old Bear". He is angered until Samwell suggests that Lord Mormont is preparing Jon to take command, and makes Samwell steward to elderly Maester Aemon. Meanwhile, Benjen Stark leads a small party of Rangers beyond the Wall but fails to return. Nearly six months later, the dead bodies of two of the Rangers from Benjen's party are recovered beyond the Wall, and their corpses re-animate as wights, which kill six men while Jon and his direwolf, Ghost, save Lord Commander Mormont, who presents Jon with the Valyrian-steel bastard sword "Longclaw".

When word of his father's execution reaches Jon, he attempts to join his half-brother Robb against the Lannisters, but is recovered by his comrades and persuaded by Mormont. With Jon's loyalty secured, Mormont declares his intention to find Benjen Stark—dead or alive—as well as to investigate the disappearance of many wildlings and the dark rumors circling the King-Beyond-the-Wall: a deserter from the Night's Watch, known as Mance Rayder.

In the East[edit]

In the Free City of Pentos, Viserys Targaryen, the male heir of Aerys II of House Targaryen, "the Mad King" overthrown by Robert Baratheon, betroths his sister Daenerys to Khal Drogo, a warlord of the nomadic Dothraki, in exchange for use of Drogo's army to reclaim the Westerosi 'Iron Throne'. The wealthy merchant 'Magister Illyrio', hosting Viserys and Daenerys, gives a wedding gift to Daenerys of three petrified dragon eggs; and Ser Jorah Mormont, a knight exiled from Westeros, joins Viserys as an advisor. When Drogo shows little interest in conquering Westeros, Viserys tries to browbeat his sister into coercing Drogo; but Daenerys refuses. Initially, Drogo endures Viserys and punishes his outbursts with public humiliation; but when Viserys publicly threatens the pregnant Daenerys, Drogo executes him by pouring a pot of molten gold on his head, ironically giving him the "golden crown" promised in return for Daenerys. As the last Targaryen, Daenerys takes up her brother's quest to reclaim the Iron Throne.

An assassin seeking King Robert's favor unsuccessfully attempts to poison Daenerys and her unborn child; whereupon Drogo agrees to seek revenge. While sacking villages to fund the invasion, Drogo is wounded, and Daenerys commands a captive maegi (magician) to save him; but the maegi sacrifices Daenerys' unborn child to power the spell, which reclaims Drogo's life but leaves him in a vegetative state. As the Dothraki horde departs to follow a new leader, Daenerys smothers Drogo, orders the maegi tied to Drogo's funeral pyre, places her three dragon eggs on the pyre, and having entered the pyre herself, emerges unscathed with three newly hatched dragons at her breasts. The remaining Dothraki and Ser Jorah swear their allegiance to her as "The Mother of Dragons".

Viewpoint characters[edit]

Each chapter concentrates on the third person limited point of view of a single character; the book presents the perspective of eight main characters. Additionally, a minor character provides the prologue. Chapter headings indicate the perspective.

In the later books certain viewpoint characters are added while others are removed.


The novel has been published in multiple editions in hardcover, paperback, audio book and e-book form. In June 2000 Meisha Merlin published a limited edition of the book, fully illustrated by Jeffrey Jones.[7]


A Game of Thrones and the subsequent novels in the A Song of Ice and Fire series have been adapted in a HBO television series, a comics series, several card, board and video games, and other media.


A Game of Thrones has received much critical acclaim. Lauren K. Nathan of the Associated Press wrote that the book "grip[s] the reader from Page One" and is set in a "magnificent" fantasy world that is "mystical, but still believable."[8] Steve Perry told readers of The Oregonian that the plot is "complex and fascinating" and the book is "rich and colorful" with "all the elements of a great fantasy novel".[9] Writing in The Washington Post, John H. Riskind commented that "many fans of sword-and-sorcery will enjoy the epic scope of this book" but felt that the book "suffers from one-dimensional characters and less than memorable imagery."[10] Phyllis Eisenstein of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that although the book uses many generic fantasy tropes, Martin's approach is "so refreshingly human and intimate that it transcends them." She described it as "an absorbing combination of the mythic, the sweepingly historical, and the intensely personal."[11] John Prior, writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune, called Martin's writing "strong and imaginative, with plenty of Byzantine intrigue and dynastic struggle" and compared it to Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books, "though much darker, with no comedy or romance to relieve the nastiness."[12]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ a b "1997 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  2. ^ "2004 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  3. ^ Taylor, Ihsan. "New York Times bestseller list, 2 January 2011". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2011-05-16. 
  4. ^ Taylor, Ihsan. "New York Times bestseller list, 10 July 2011". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2011-07-04. 
  5. ^ See: Works based on A Song of Ice and Fire
  6. ^ "Coming Next Month". George R.R. Martin. February 13, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2013. 
  7. ^ Martin, George. "Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  8. ^ Nathan, Lauren K. (November 10, 1996). "`Game of Thrones' fit for a king". The Associated Press. 
  9. ^ Perry, Steve (October 13, 1996). "Writer leaves TV to create epic fantasy". The Oregonian. 
  10. ^ Riskind, John S. (July 28, 1996). "Science Fiction & Fantasy". The Washington Post. 
  11. ^ Eisenstein, Phyllis (August 11, 1996). "Near the frozen north, where dragons awaken". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  12. ^ Prior, John (September 12, 1995). "Chilling 'Decline' a feminist vision of confrontation between the sexes". San Diego Union-Tribune. 

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