It is safe to say that George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has now reached the peak of its popularity, and it is also quite safe to expect that its popularity will only continue to increase, as the publication of the seventh, and perhaps final book, draws ever nearer. I attribute this fact to the worldwide popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones – a series I have never watched, and which I do not intend to watch, not until I have read Martin’s own final words on the fate of Westeros. While I do admit there are some TV shows, movies, plays, which do the books they stem from justice (and while I do not doubt that GoT is also one of them), I prefer the words to the pictures. What you are about to read are some of my musings on Martin’s incredible series, while I try to explain to myself that it’s not my fault I can’t put the books down, and try to puzzle out what is still to come.
WARNING: IF YOU HAVE NOT READ ALL FIVE BOOKS OF A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, PROCEED WITH CAUTION, THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD.
I read Martin in a quite maniacal way – either I let the book sit on my desk for days without any contact, or I take it with me to buy bread. When I’m not reading, I’m retelling major plotlines to myself, and keep figuring out some of the finer twists: I’ve spent two days convincing myself that Jon Snow is not Eddard Stark’s son after I finished the first volume. And when I am reading, there’s this pit deep in my gut that keeps waiting for the sudden lurch when Martin pulls the ground out from under me.
Whenever he does that, the whole story shifts: the Kingslayer without his sword hand, Jon Snow as Lord Commander, more than one Targaryen, the identity of Robert’s heirs, this is why you read Martin: you never know where he is taking you, and his honesty is fierce. Think of Tolkien: a series which opened so many doors and so many paths, yet one where all the major characters live to see the downfall of Mordor. Gandalf is even reborn! Try and imagine the death of Aragorn, if you dare.
There are many readers and fans out there who get upset every time a character they like dies: I personally have cried bitter tears when Ned Stark’s blood wet the steps of Baelor’s Sept, and I spat fury at the Freys whenever they were mentioned after the Red Wedding. However, I am completely on Martin’s side here: we as readers have no idea where he is taking us. Admit it, even after five books, you have no clear clue where this is all going, do you? You may think you do, and you may even have some of it right (I guessed that Jorah Mormont was the spy, and was very proud of myself for it), but the wonder of Martin’s genius is that he will keep surprising us up to the very last page.
What I’ve learned is that in Westeros (and not only in Westeros), death will come when you don’t quite expect it. The sudden and unmourned death of Cleos Frey drives this point home nicely: one moment, there he is, ridding down a riverland road, and the next, he is dead. All it takes is one sentence. And this is one of the reasons I enjoy Martin’s imagination so much: he dares to do whatever he dares to imagine, showing you that the writer is the most powerful force in all the Seven Kingdoms. His is the wrath you need to fear.