Predicting Game of Thrones

***THAR BE MANY SPOILERS HERE***


Original Blog Post Links (where there's discussion in the comments): 
What Is This? - General Comments and Foreknowledge - A Game of Thrones - A Clash of Kings - An Aside about Typology - An Aside about Women - A Storm of Swords - A Feast for Crows - A Dance with Dragons - The Winds of Winter - A Dream of Spring - LitCrit



I read a very little bit of Game of Thrones when it first came out, the very first book ... less than 10% of it. I stopped because a) it was too rapey; b) the female characters weren't very realistic; and c) I haaaaaaaaate novels that switch POV all the time. The sum totally of what I remember from the book is a little kid gets thrown off a tower for something to do with incest, and the big important castle is built on a hotspring even though it's like always winter and never Christmas at it.

I forgot about it until it started getting bit in pop culture. I resisted reading or watching it, because it sounded extremely violent (which isn't my thing) and because I'm awfully tired of grimdark fantasy (although I really GRRM and GoT were among the progenitors of the sub-genre). But finally I got tired of being left out of nerd-chat and gave in. I knew it was supposed to have many shocking and unforeseen twists, so when I read the very first chapter, I texted one of my nerd friends (Kathryn) and said, "Ned's gonna die, right? Is that the shocking twist that everyone's always complaining about?" This turned into a game where I texted her (and then some of my other friends, and then posted on facebook) my predictions as I read through the books. I've compiled the texts from the first two books into these posts (adding in timeline as best I could afterwards; it's a bit messy), and then started keeping a better log going forward. I'm putting all my prediction and commentary together on this page, and will be posting additions to my blog as well as adding them to this page.

Where I was texting my comments I have edited them for clarity and flow (taken out the text-speech, turned things into actual sentences). Wherever you see something in [square brackets], that was a comment from whomever I was talking to, most often Kathryn, and sometimes Mike or Carmen or other friendly nerds. Generally I've edited their comment to the most direct question -- sometimes because I no longer have that part of the conversation, other times because we were also, at the same time, discussing baby poop.



From my first attempt at reading the books (which ended less than 10% in):
  • A castle has hotsprings
  • A child gets thrown off a tower for something to do with incest
  • Also women have a raw deal in this world

Before I began, I sat down to list everything I knew about the story from things that were ambient in the world:
  • Danerys, who is extra-blond, has dragons
  • Joffrey, who is a boy-king and maybe crazy, has a whiney voice and at some point dies
  • There are wolves and the actress who plays Sansa adopted hers and it was bad at acting
  • Cersei, who is also blond, is into incest
  • Jon Snow is somebody's bastard
  • Lots of people die with relative frequency and people are often shocked
  • There is a character named Arya and people like her
  • Sean Bean wears a lot of furs. I don't know who he is.
  • GRRM likes to kill his characters and torture his readers. Also, people think he writes too slow.
  • Somebody maybe dies at a wedding?
  • There is a Wall, which I think is basically Hadrian's Wall but magic, and it is serious business.
  • It's loosely inspired by the War of the Roses, and Lancaster/Lannister and York/Stark.

Things I realized I sort-of knew later on while reading (Adding as things come up):
  • When I read the word "Blackwater" I realized I had read that HBO spent a lot on special effects for something called "Blackwater." At that point in the book it was pretty clear the major battle was going to be there.
  • Around the end of GoT, I realized that for some reason I had conflated the actors who played Bran and Joffrey (publicity shots?). This has no specific practical implication; I think in general I didn't realize how many young characters there were in the book.
One of my nerd-interlocutors commented that I was really good at predictions. I think I have three advantages here:
  1. Wide reading in the source materials, including the SFF genre in general and epic and grimdark fantasy in particular; British history; and religious epics. I've been reading fantasy since I was old enough to read independently, just about everything I could get my hands on. I no longer read bad fantasy, and I've gotten more selective about fantasy that's really long but just good, not great -- but in general I've hit all the high points. I like British history quite a bit and studied the Tudors fairly intensively in college (adjunct to studying theology). I'm not terribly familiar with the War of the Roses but I'm aware of the broad outlines. Fantasy in general, and fantasy with religious systems in particular, always borrows broadly from the world's great religious and mythological epics (it's all very Joseph Campbell!). I have a BA and a masters in theology, and I taught comparative religion as an adjunct professor for a few years, so these things tend to stand out to me.
  2. Point of View switches throw me out of the narrative. My objection to them is purely personal -- they are a legitimate literary tool that can be used to great effect -- I just don't like them. In any book with POV switches, I get thrown out of the narrative, and I have put books aside because of it; I just can't get "into" them when they switch frequently. This is why I gave up Wheel of Time way before the rest of you, and the biggest reason I gave up Game of Thrones the first time around. So every time I start to get wrapped up in the story in GoT, the story stops and goes somewhere else and I come crashing back to reality with thoughts like, "Um, that's not how boobs work," or "Wow, that was some heavy-handed foreshadowing." I think I would notice a lot less of it if I could get more wrapped up in the narrative, as GRRM is a good storyteller.
  3. I'm reading suspicious, since this turned into The Prediction Challenge before I was 25% of the way through the first book! So I'm constantly looking for clues he's going to kill someone or be sneaky.

End of First Chapter
Big giant signpost in the form of a dead direwolf with five normal pups and one creepy albino pup, killed by a stag, which is obviously Ned and (a few pages later) obviously the Baratheons. NOTE TO READERS: NED GONNA DIE.

30%ish
I think Jon Snow is the secret son of Robert and Lyanna because otherwise this plot is dumb. No, wait, I changed my mind, I think it's Rhaegar and Lyanna so Jon can unite the warring sides of Tagaryn and Stark in the face of whatever greater, supernatural threat is forthcoming. (I suppose that'd make it creepy if he married Danerys but I'm only like 200 pages in so I assume more female characters are forthcoming.) Bran will become the great wizard obviously and Arya the unlikely female warrior.

Arya will eventually be forced to stab Sansa in the last book or two or else Ned wouldn't have warned her not to.

This book is like Jungian archetypes all the way down, I don't understand why people get so pissy about spoilers.

50%ish
When Jon finishes his hero's journey and finds out he's not actually a bastard (or else he is a bastard but a royal one and for some reason it doesn't matter … but I think he'll turn out not to be one and Rhaegar and Lynna got married for Reasons, because DEAR LORD IS THIS AUTHOR OBSESSED WITH BASTARDRY), Robb will be his knight, Bran his wizard, and Arya his unlikely female warrior who relies on speed. Presumably Sansa learns to manipulate people in the drawing room and gets less simpering or she wouldn't have POV chapters so she shall be the Diplomat.

Khal Drogo has to die and then Dany will probably invade things, elsewise there's no reason to give her an army and definitely not one she'd have to command through her husband; she can't run around with armies and dragon eggs if she has to drag a husband and ask permission, and this plot is going to run out of steam if she doesn't start invading things with this gigantic army. I suppose she would marry Jon, they make a Targaryn cousin marriage point in the first 200 pages and I initially thought Robert and Lyanna so Jon could marry her uncreepily. I know she ends up with dragons eventually. She has no constituency in Westeros but obviously a supernatural threat is coming they'll all have to unite against even if they don't want to.

[You are terrible for guessing and ruining plot] Well, it's fairly Joseph Campbell with all its Jungian archetypes, and he's putting lots of pistols on mantles to fire them in the third act.

Also clearly Sansa will be bad life decision theater for a while and maybe will do something un-Stark-like (i.e., lacking honor). She'll either be the Susan (from Narnia, who abandons God for sex) or the Diplomat depending on whether she defects or returns to her family. Haven't decided if Ned killing Sansa's direwolf means she's cut off from the Starks or just in grave danger but will later be redeemed.

Catelyn is boring but she seems like a catastrophe magnet. Half her family are maimed or dead by page 300.

This is basically an entire D&D party all having coming of age novels in one epic.

60%ish
I assume Robert's oldest bastard turns up with one of the Stark girls later on or Ned wouldn't have wasted an entire paragraph thinking about her and her age in relation to his own daughters.

75% done
Ned is kind of a dumbfuck.

Okay seriously dudes this bad at anticipating other people's strategies don't win wars. [Mike: He's HONORABLE.] This is a boy book.

END Game of Thrones:
Everybody who's king at the end of Book I is going to die, probably horribly. (Joffrey, Renly, Robb.) Robb is going to die, probably unhappily, you should never get yourself crowned in Book I. Especially when the series keeps expanding.

Catelyn will eventually do something magical, probably as a result of having one too many catastrophes, possibly rage-induced. [Tell me more.] She's had all these quasi-magical premonitions of events (note: such as that the antler in the direwolf was a sign), and everything she fears comes to pass, sort of like a Cassandra. If Catelyn stops to worry about it, it'll happen. I expect her magical thing will be in some fashion catastrophe-induced as she is a walking catastrophe magnet. [an interesting mix of terrifyingly accurate and dead wrong] She's very afraid of Robb dying so I expect he will die shortly. Also she is afraid of war so that's obviously upcoming. She is ODDLY UNCONCERNED with Rickon so I expect him to survive the next book.

Tyrion will probably continue to say sassy things. He announces dramatically at the end of the chapter that he never bets against his family, so I assume he will eventually bet against them AND KILL THEM.

Cersei will outlive Jaime, but they'll both die before the end. You can mostly guess how quickly people are going to die based on how non-standard their sex lives are, by modern standards. Sir Jorah's dishonor he blames on a woman coercing him into it, so he'll be allowed to be relatively honorable but eventually will be dishonored. Tyrion, who waits for enthusiastic, informed consent from his whores (Shae) and wants them to be informed in advance, will probably come through at the end as a hero. Shae seems like she's probably bad news or we wouldn't spend so much time on her. Unless Tywin is going to murder her, I guess that might be a reason. But I think she's probably bad news. GRRM is going to be judgy about whores.

Theon is smarmy and Bran doesn't trust him, so obviously he will be terrible.

[Kathryn: What was surprising?] I was moderately surprised that Khal Drogo didn't die in actual battle. But not surprised Dany miscarried. [Ned dying?] Not surprised, it was signposted in the first few pages and then Catelyn worried about it. Also Jon Snow is the protagonist and he needed more daddy issues. I was moderately surprised that GRRM skipped graphic descriptions of, like, Ned's death and a couple other things, but I guess just because I know the HBO show is very graphic. Little surprised Robb became “King in the North” but mostly because that means he'll die sooner than I thought.

Notes on GRRM: he does not know a lot about child development, teenagers, or pregnancy. Or how clothes are made. Not complaining, you can't know everything about everything. But it is a less-creepy book if you try to ignore the ages of the young characters. [Kathryn: They're aged up in the HBO show.] Yeah, Dany would be a lot more believable at 17.

GRRM is judgy about sexual relationships. People who attempt to coerce others or have disapproved-of sexual relationships will end up evil and/or dead (Joffrey, Jaime, Cersei, Verys, Littlefinger). People who wait for enthusiastic consent for adultery are good (Tyrion, Drogo, Robert) as are those who respect their marriage vows (Ned). The “rapers” with Jon at the wall are actually okay dudes because the girl was inside the window begging them to come in. Whores who sell sex will end up bad/evil/dead (Shae). Buying sex is okay as long as you're kind to the whores (Tyrion). Rhaegar will have to have NOT raped Lyanna (as Robert claimed he did) for Jon Snow to be Rhaegar & Lyanna's legitimate son; Lyanna will have had to have wanted it.

I'm a little unclear on why Dany gives a shit about the Iron Throne but whatevs. She escapes her horrible brother, lives among the horse people as a princess, and has never even been to Westeros. It'd be better if she didn't care until they (the Westeros council/king) tried to kill her more times.

I have figured out how A Song of Ice and Fire ends: Bob Newhart wakes up and it was all just a really weird dream.


Predictions:
As a general thing, I expect a plague. Maybe not in this volume but they've mentioned illnesses a couple of times in passing in a way that seems important, and GRRM seems to be building towards maximum chaos before introducing the supernatural winter threats.

I have a mental block on the title of this book and have to look it up every time.

Prologue:
This strangler potion is basically a margarita (sugar water, lime, wine, and spices).

I am disappointed that the main redhead (Melisandre) is apparently an evil religious fundamentalist. I always take these things personally. Her hair is even the same shade of red as mine, apparently.

15%:
Sansa thinking extensively about how ugly Tyrion is every time he turns up = eventual true love. Or at least sex. Sansa will learn further important Life Lessons about how pretty people aren't good and ugly people aren't evil, as Sansa appears to be all about learning how Appearances Aren't Reality.

Varys is playing some long game for the Targaryn. Giveaway is the Y in his name. Also I assume his penis was cut off in Essos.

Willingness to kill children appears to be the other major marker of someone's essential alignment towards good or evil (along with seeking consent for sex) … so Tyrion & Ned = good. Cersei, Robert, Joffrey = evil.

Yoren is surprisingly good at his job for someone who doesn't bathe. Arya is starting to admire him; therefore, I expect he will die by the end of the book.

I am bored of half these POV characters.

Melisandre is probably sleeping with someone. Maybe multiple people. I dunno why I think that, she just has too much power for no reason, I guess.

25%
Since Jon has taken a vow of chastity and Danerys is allegedly (ALLEGEDLY) infertile, my money is on super-virgin Sansa as the compromise queen who can unite the factions AND have children to continue the line.

Littlefinger survives at least five books.

Ever so slight sympathy for Theon Greyjoy, who is obviously still terrible, so that sympathy probably evaporates by the end of the book.

Stannis, as he is grim, humourless, and dutiful, will die, but probably not for a while yet. Renly I cannot really remember anything about except that he is not-Stannis, so I have no opinion on his survival.

Robert's bastard whose name I forget, who's running around with Arya, had the scene with the fire glowing on his helm, which seems to prefigure he'll become a heroic knight.

POVs I'm bored of:
  • Catelyn: Look, Robb's gonna die and you're not getting your daughters back. Get over it already.
  • Bran: Needs more Hodor
  • Davos: Why do I even care who you are?
POV's I am still interested in:
  • Daenerys: You're on a whole different continent but at least you're doing interesting stuff
  • Sansa & Arya: You're both treading water a bit and having terrible things happen to you, but at least it's not all battle scenes
  • Theon: You seduce me with your worldbuilding novelty, but I suspect you will become boring fast
  • Tyrion: Political maneuvering is better than endless battle scenes
Hodor eventually dies protecting Bran once Bran comes into his magic. Bran has a frenzy of self-flagellating remorse that leads to some bad decision that leads to more battle scenes in book six or seven, helping to set off the final confrontation, by which point Bran has new steely Hodor-related resolve.

Also Bran is NOT EIGHT.

28%
Varys's “Little Birds” are servants, mostly young ones. He shows up knowing things shortly after any time there's a scene with a nameless servant that nobody rapes in a Tyrion scene. [That I will tell you is straight-up correct.] Martin likes naming people so much. Namesless characters mostly seem to have a point for being nameless. Also my mother used to say “a little bird told me” a lot so it stuck out to me in the narrative and he repeats it INCESSANTLY. Also I am reading suspiciously because I am trying to predict things right.

also, and I have trouble keeping how old these people are straight, GRRM writes Arya and Sansa as significantly younger, more simple thinkers than Bran and Robb. it's annoying that well-educated Sansa is portrayed with less depth-of-thought than 8-year-old Bran

50%
Moderately surprised by Renly's mode of death

58%
OMG this is boring and long and has too many POV switches.

Jon is north of the wall and Brienne just fled with Catelyn, who is having Super Mom thoughts adding to my conviction that she is supernatural on behalf of her children.

Tyrion is being all chivalrous towards Sansa for not a lot of reason.

Ser Courtney Penrose probably comes up later.

Still do not understand why Danerys gives a fuck especially when she has so many other interesting life choices available.

60%
OMG Danerys seriously why do you give a fuck, take a different fucking country, you've never even been to Westeros, it's not that great.

I read Dolorous Edd as Dolores Edd and was consequently briefly confused.

Way to die Penrose. Although this is picking up a bit. Still do not understand why any of these people want to rule any of these places.


AEGON IS JON.

Melisandre's demon sex baby shadow was pretty good stuff.

And I suspect Melisandre is more powerful than before because of Danerys because like a chapter or two ago the fire spellcasters wherever Danerys currently is were getting more powerful because she woke her dragons. And Melisandre has light/flame/shadow type powers. Or possibly just everyone is getting more powerful because whatever is in the North is getting all unleashed

75%
Somebody's going to flay Theon and he's going to deserve it [Kathryn: why do you say that?] Lots of flaying talk in the Theon-loses-Bran chapter.

Also they mentioned Blackwater and I vaguely recall HBO spent a lot on special effects for a place called Blackwater, so I assume the book's climax will be there, eventually.

Jon meeting Ygritte is like NOTHING BUT PORTENTS. [Kathryn: Like?] Brandon the Daughterless/Bael ballad which probably predicts other stuff that will happen; Starks are all related to Wildings stuff; Jon wonders if Ned is really his father. WAY TO CATCH UP WITH THE REST OF US JON. Is Ygritte a love interest for Jon?

GRRM is obsessed with boobs, bastards, and redheaded women. Also lots of “realism” about bad and sad emotions but like none about real, non-empty honor, or affection, or loyalty.

I am really glad Bran escaped with the bog people and not the Walders Frey because they were too fucking annoying for 800 pages of misadventure. Also how else will Robb break this marriage agreement? [Kathryn: Why do you think that?] I don't know who he'll marry but obviously not a Waldette. They (the Freys) broke their oaths first so I assume Robb is in the clear to make non-Frey-related bad romantic decisions.

Also marrying a Frey doesn't seem like it gets you dead and I am banking on Robb being dead by the end of Book II. If they were that evil/powerful, they'd get POV chapters.

95%
I think I am about to be disappointed that Theon is Not Actually Dead. He failed to die very definitively in his death scene. Very Bran-like. Actually I'm a little concerned Theon won't die until the LAST BOOK because he sucks.

Also GRRM has started getting a little overly-clever with the whole Bran's dead-not dead thing with the miller's children

END of A Clash of Kings:
WEASEL BETTER FUCKING TURN UP ALIVE IN A COUPLE BOOKS (Weasel the toddler)

The thing is that GRRM never gives any reason any of these people -- any of them -- want to be king or lord or ser for ANY reason except ambition/daddy issues/duty, which works for some of them, but for a lot of them it's thin or pointless, like Stannis seems actively childish. It worked okay with Ned and his Duty since he comes in a grown man with a whole life of Duty behind him. But Robb? We never hear anything from Robb about, like, I've always loved Winterfell and its beauteous wintery woods and its people who feed me and stuff and therefore DUTY … he's just like "Oh, well, duty? I guess?" I think part of that is just GRRM's total elision of "small folk" and women from the narrative except as it serves the "noblemen having wars.” I mean, I have hardly any sense of the North except for Winterfell's castle, and then just a handful of rooms and a couple of serving people. I think it's easy to mentally fill in the blanks in the characters because we're all used to fantasy fiction, except that I get thrown out of the narrative by POV switches so I'm noticing it a lot … and I'm like, "Well, I'm filling Robb in with Aragorn son of Arathorn and whatnot but ... GRRM doesn't actually do any of that work" … as a result, if you stop to think, basically everyone's motivation is "BUT IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE MIIIIIIIIIIINE." Tamora Pierce, for example, almost always has a moment where her heroine contemplates why she actually wants to serve such abstract concepts as "the realm" or "duty" or "honor" or "my people" and she uses all those little scenes with "smallfolk" to build a picture of a place that people love and feel a duty towards. [Kathryn: Sometimes we see it with Cat] Yeah, also Bran is growing into it. But yeah, Stannis is really jarring for me as a character: he's a grown-ass, serious-minded adult with excellent tactical skills, who's busy having a big sulk about not getting to be king? Nope. Don't buy it.

I am not super-clear on what happened with Tommen* because there are six zillion minor knights and lords with names, some of whom matter and some of whom don't, and I'm not really clear on which minor guy flipped on him or whatever but anyway I gathered from context that he arrived SOMEWHERE safe eventually.

*I had to look up his name. I was like Timmon? Timon? No, that's Lion King. Tommas? Tommin? Apparently I give as many shits about him as Cersei does.

Sansa and Tyrion obviously being set up for romance, evidenced by Sansa thinking about how ugly Tyrion is every time he turns up, and Tyrion contemplating Sansa's purity and innocence. Kinda creepy, GRRM. Shae is a bad life decision that will come back to haunt Tyrion as she almost immediately became whiney and pouty when he gave her a house.

Davos made a passing reference to the dead being raised when he was in the boat with Melisandre; I predict zombies. In armies. [Kathryn pointed out there were already risen dead, the wights who tried to kill Jon when they didn't burn the bodies, which I was not thinking of but she was right. So zombies doesn't count as a prediction because it already occurred and I am dumb, but zombie armies does.]

Thought Robb and maybe Stannis and Joffrey would be dead by the end of book II, so I'm fairly surprised all three are still alive (especially Robb). Next book, right? We start killing kings soon?

I should have predicted Jon killing Qhorin Halfhand. Well sign-posted in the book, in retrospect both inevitable and obvious. I think it was a prediction-fail NOT to predict that one.

I am a tiny bit concerned Rickon might be a sociopath because of his direwolf's bad manners. But it's hard to tell because child development is clearly not GRRM's wheelhouse.

The battle scenes were very entertaining, those are hard to do well, good job GRRM. (Although that reminds me that I am finding it problematic that I have no map of these places in my head at all.)

Also, seriously Daenerys, do something more interesting with your life than trying to run Westeros. You do not want this country, it is terrible.



Following on a comment from a friend about how I am observant in interpreting the myths and songs as about the current story:
Yeah, Ygritte's storytelling was clearly just about setting up "types" for the current generation to fulfill. [explain.] There is this whole genre of bible study, "typology." It's all about interpreting Old Testament stories and prophecies as prefiguring Christ. [Various examples given, use your Googles. Isaac overthrowing the older brother Ishmael is a "type" for Christ overthrowing the Old Covenant. It's relatively out-of-fashion these days, partly because it lacks deep engagement with what the texts actually say in favor of forced parallels to a particular theology, but it's profoundly influential on Christian theology and Biblical interpretation as a whole, even when you'd rather ignore it.]
Anyway, whenever people in fantasy books tell old stories and legends it is almost always for the sole purpose of doing typology (or giving an unfulfilled prophecy for someone to fulfill). See, for example, all the prefaces in The Belgariad. Tolkein and CS Lewis were both SUPER-typological in their understanding of the Gospels, and they both wrote fantasy epics with the Gospels in mind. Both of them used past history in their epics to prefigure the heroism of the hero. Presumably that's how fantasy turns typology into such a trope, above and beyond the part where you don't tell past stories unless they're relevant to your present novel. Someone should pull a thesis or two out of this: Do the typological tendencies of SFF enter the genre primarily via imitation of Tolkein and Lewis, or are there other vectors? Is SFF in other western languages as fully typological as in English?



It's impossible to read Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire as a female reader and not have Opinions on this topic. My opinions so far are mixed. I commented on metafilter:

I'm reading GoT right now and one thing I have noticed, so far, is that the overdescribing of (non-consensual) sex tends to be like "and oooooooh it felt so good, sexy characteristics, etc." while the overdescribing of stabbings is like "and his overdescribed ropey guts fell on the muddy ground" and not like "Lord Stabbington felt SOOOOOOO GOOD as his dagger pierced the other guy's guts and gently probed around his insides."

The books have actually so far struck me as somewhat less sexist than I thought they might be, but they are definitely interested in the titillating nature of sexual assaults, while deaths are treated with more horror. The non-consensual sex scenes are frequently described in lushly sensual ways (that is, appealing to the senses), while the murder scenes are frequently described in stark terms that lay bare its horror.

Also, when Catelyn Stark first describes her sister she remembers her as a "slim, high-breasted girl" and no grown woman thinks about her sister in those terms. I mean srsly. I laughed out loud. Everybody in this book spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about boobs.

Also, all these men are deeply embedded in profoundly intertwined networks of relationships, but the women are just adjunct to the web of men and their relationships are defined through the men. Which is all fine and fair in terms of medieval public life, but where the hell is the women's web that runs through private life? Where are Catelyn's serving women? Where are the loyal laundresses? Where is the web of interconnecting women's palace gossip and betrayal and support? It's seriously like he left half the story out. I keep wondering, why does Westeros have such a monstrously unbalanced birth rate that there are like six men for every woman? I have generally found when he writes an individual woman she is interesting and relatively 3-dimensional (with occasional clunkers and howlers, but that's fine, characters are hard), but women as a group are largely ignored by the text, and absent from the world in a way that feel strange to me.

I think that's where my current, ambivalent stand remains: Women as a group are treated in sexist and dismissive and lazy trope and non-Bechtel ways; Individual female characters are often interesting, strong, and three-dimensional. So on the one hand when I read these books, I get annoyed at the sexual objectification of women and their diminution in the narrative. On the other hand, there are strong, admirable, complex female characters that women do not get to see a lot of in fantasy fiction. For example, fantasy fiction rarely includes interesting mothers. That's partly because fantasy fiction is archetypically about a quest, and mythic quest narratives very frequently involve a young man going forth to seek his fortune and become an adult and make himself worthy of love. There are now lots of female analogues to these quest narratives (Tamora Pierce, represent!) that are about young women coming of age, and those are wonderful. I love bildungsromans. But now that I'm a mother of two young children, I notice how rarely women are foregrounded in fantasy once they're mothers. Ned Stark as a father is not a new sort of character; men with children who go off adventuring in service of honor, country, and children are common to fantasy fiction. But Catelyn Stark? She's new.

One of the things I discovered when I had children is that motherhood makes you fucking fierce. I was a brave and headstrong teenager, but that was nothing -- nothing -- compared to how fiercely courageous having children made me. You discover you can do all kinds of things that didn't seem possible before, from the mundane (exercising) to the somewhat mind-boggling (running for office). Catelyn Stark and Cersei Lannister are fucking fierce, and they seem like they are the women they were before (Catelyn devoted to family, Cersei ambitious), become fierce and amplified in service of their children. Young Catelyn didn't ride to war with her husband; Mom Catelyn is at her son's side and serving as an emissary and kicking ass and taking names. (And, I predict, will eventually become supernatural to kick more asses on behalf of her children.) We don't know a lot about young Cersei (yet?), but we know she will do anything -- anything -- on behalf of her children. She isn't always right about what's best for them. She's a pretty terrible mother. But she will destroy entire kingdoms for them if she has to.

GRRM's women in general seem a bit Madonna/whore-ish, as is so often the case in fantasy fiction, but the women he foregrounds are interesting and complex enough for me to want to keep reading, and he creates women that we haven't seen very often before in the genre. I think there's a lot to talk about in terms of the problems with how he writes women, largely because these are problems that are endemic in the genre (and in a lot of other literature, and other narrative art) and that helps to silence women's voices and to diminish and marginalize women's stories and experiences and lives. Novels that ignore or get wrong half of humanity are much the poorer for it, and readers -- men and women alike -- are poorer for it too. Female readers are usually aware of this marginalization but used to reading around it; male readers (and writers) too often don't even notice it. It's important to notice it, and talk about it.

That said, I like Arya and Sansa and Danerys and Catelyn and Cersei as characters (not necessarily as people!). They are rounded and grounded, have internal motivations and personalities that are theirs, not entirely dependent upon the men around them. And, oh, there are mighty women in this world, and I like it.


A Storm of Swords
After reading the first two in quick succession, I had to take a good long break before starting Book III, which I hope will also make GRRM's tendency to repeat exposition less annoying. They're just so long, so full of detail, and have so many POV switches ... it wears me out a bit. The plot also seemed to stall in Book II in places. Having read several other books in other genres, I am now eager to jump back into Westeros. Stay tuned.




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