Ink to Film Podcast: Ep-78 A Game of Thrones (1996 novel)

Note: The Ink to Film Podcast is conversational and intended to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, if able, for tone and inflection. Our transcripts are generated using a transcriptionist but may contain errors. Please refer to the corresponding audio before quoting anything written here.

This episode aired on February 28, 2019 and was made possible by our generous patrons. 

Luke: Welcome to the Ink to Film podcast, where we read the book…

James: …and then see the movie.

Luke: I’m Luke.

James: And I’m James.

Luke: And this week, we discuss George R. R. Martin’s 1996 novel, A Game of Thrones

<music plays>

Luke: So, did you know that this podcast wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for A Game of Thrones?

James: I guess so, kind of.

Luke: Yeah? You know why?

James: Because it’s so formative for you?

Luke: Well, that’s definitely true. So, let me explain the steps here. A Game of Thrones is the book that made me fall back in love with fantasy. And fall back in love with genre fiction. After I had sort of moved away from it when I was in college. And falling back in love with fantasy was what made me decide to go for my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill. I probably would not have done that, had I not fallen back in love with genre fiction. And that MFA is the thing that led me to believe that I had anything to say about a subject like this. Because, you know what I mean, I studied storytelling and stuff there. You know what I mean? Following those steps, if I’d never gotten that MFA, I probably wouldn’t have started this podcast with you; therefore, this podcast wouldn’t exist without Game of Thrones, even though we haven’t covered it up until now.

James: Yeah. Well, it’s a behemoth to try to cover. But, for me it’s weird because, tracking my lineage of things that I enjoyed growing up, this jumped me into my grown-up phase, kind of. All these fantasy things tended to lean more, like, younger demographic for some people, and there were some, like, super-dense fantasy books that I’d read. And this was the bridging of those two things. I think there’s a huge reason why this is such a massive phenomenon.

Luke: And, like you said, how massive it is is one of the reasons we haven’t covered it until now. We’ve sort of devised a method we think is going to work, and that’s one of the reasons why we decided to tackle it. And then, also, because the final season’s coming up. And we realized that if we don’t cover it soon, we’re not going to get a chance to cover it in the position of not knowing how it ends, at least. Right? Or how the show ends. And I’m really enjoying getting this experience again. I think this is my third time reading the book. I’m sure you’ve read it a few more times than I’ve read it. 

James: No. 

Luke: So, what’s funny is that I’m not really much of a re-reader of novels. Now, this one I think I had read a second time through, and then I definitely experienced it through the show many times. But I think this is my third time reading it. And this podcast has sort of actually taught me to love re-reading in a way that I didn’t before the podcast. Because I’m able to get certain things out of it. And this definitely felt that way, revisiting it here. So, this novel is also really important to me on a personal level, beyond just my writing. Between my wife and I, we’ve had three dogs named after characters from this show and book. We met and bonded basically over Game of Thrones. It was one of the first things we talked about and shared that we both loved it. You know, in some ways, it led to me marrying her and having the life I have now. I have so much in me. There’s a taste of it on Instagram of, like, all the shit I have…all the swag, and you know, all the things I have. It’s on my alcohol on the shelf, it’s everywhere in my life, and it really…when I was thinking about it, it was kind of amazing to think about how much a story made up by George R. R. Martin has affected my life, right? And we’ve talked about this a little bit with, you know, Lord of the Rings, and other big, monumental projects for us, but this is the one for me that probably is the top spot.

James: It’s such a huge phenomenon that it’s almost cliché to say, but it’s genuinely my favorite TV show. You know, the books are incredible as well. I won’t say that they’re necessarily my favorites, but I absolutely love them, and I’ve read through them multiple times. And something I want to say right off the bat is re-reading, for the third time even, there are moments that I just get chills, knowing what he’s setting up, and seeing characters at their beginning and knowing where they’ll go. I constantly am getting chills and goosebumps just thinking about how unbelievably epic this story is. 

Luke: I was trying to figure out, how do I tackle this coverage? Do I try and remain objective in any fashion? And I said, “No, screw that.” So, for this coverage, I’m going to be basically authentically what I am, which is a superfan of these books. And, not only that, I’m sort of that guy who, you know, the book was better kind of person too. Especially for the series. Especially in the later seasons. But even some early on. So, I am a book-first person. So, I read the first four novels before the TV show was officially announced. I remember just desperately Googling “When does the next book come out?” Book five, after I finished book four. And that’s when I discovered there were talks of an HBO adaptation. So, yeah, the first four novels, reading it, I had all of my…I fell in love with it, having no idea it was going to be adapted. And, so, my love is always for the books first. Because that was my introduction to it. I read through four novels without having any of the actors in mind, without having any of that in my head. It was all just pure imagination. And, so, it holds a special place for me for that reason, too, because I don’t think there’s a lot of people left like that. Actually, there are a lot of people left like that. But comparatively, to the number of the people who saw the show first now, it is a smaller amount, you know?

James: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, that must have been a really interesting experience, because that’s not how I experienced it. Yeah. I wish that I had. I think…honestly, I agree with you in this case. Like, as much as I love the show, it’s kind of like, in later seasons, gotten to the point where you can tell that George R. R. Martin’s story structure and, like, what he sets up, isn’t their following light anymore. And that’s why I would say the first three or four seasons are absolutely concrete-solid. As far as my experience, I heard of it. Well, I heard of the books, and when it was being adapted, I heard of it. And I was like, “Tons of stuff gets adapted all the time. I’m sure it will be cool, and maybe I’ll check it out at some point.” I didn’t know how people felt about these books before…that’s something to ask you, actually. How would you say the fantasy community saw these books before they were adapted. Like, were they the end-all, be-all, like number one fantasy story, would you say? 

Luke: No. I don’t think so, but they were definitely hugely popular. I wasn’t as into the fantasy/sci fi fandom at that time. Because, like I said, I had fallen out of love with that sort of thing. So, I’m not necessarily the best person to answer that question. But from everything I’ve read, he didn’t hit #1 on the bestseller’s list until Book 4. All the other ones placed and did well, but it really…it took a little while for this series to really take off. I think, at the time, it was always sort of neck-and-neck with Robert Jordan, who we may cover at some point when Wheel of Time comes out. He’s another big fantasy author. In fact, he got…we’ll talk about it. But he got a Robert Jordan quote for his first novel, and that was really big in selling a bunch of copies. 

James: Wow, I didn’t know that. 

Luke: Yeah.

James: So, back to my experience with it. The first season came out. It was fully out. And the first episode of the second season was about to come out, and our mutual friend Jake was like, “Hey, man, have you seen this show?” And I was like, “No, I haven’t.” And he was like, “Okay, we’re going to watch the entire first season right now because the first episode of the second season comes out tonight.” And we watched for ten hours straight. And watched all of the first season, and then proceeded to watch the first episode of the second season all in the same day.

Luke: Wow.

James: And, so that was my introduction to it, and I was like, “Holy shit, this is a gamechanger.” All of my…Lord of the Rings, you grab your Harry Potters, you grab everything and you push it all together to this adult content, and then it’s like epic storytelling. This is always, I feel, like in the pipeline for me. I was just waiting to find it. So, then that led to me reading it. I don’t think I read the books until after the red wedding. So, I was a show watcher until after the red wedding, and then…so after Season 3, I was like, “Fuck it, I think it’s time to read all of these books.”

Luke: Yeah. If it’s not already obvious, this is my favorite fantasy series, and it contains my favorite fantasy novel, which is Book 3, A Storm of Swords. That is my favorite fantasy novel of all time and, at some point, hopefully we’ll get to the point where I can cover that. But it really…it’s hard to separate anything from the overall series to me. And there’s definitely weaker points and stronger points but, yeah, I think that’s my favorite fantasy novel. And I don’t know if that necessarily makes it my favorite novel of all time, because I tend to think of favorites in terms of the genres they’re in. Like, I have a favorite fantasy novel, I have a favorite sci fi novel. That kind of thing. But it’s definitely in that pantheon of favorite novels of all time. Mainly because I find it difficult to compare certain genres with one another, because it almost feels like apples and oranges. 

James: I feel like that’s a good policy. It’s so hard. If I just said one movie was my favorite movie, it would end up being false, because something else on another day I’d be feeling a different genre, and I would…

Luke: Right. So, how I want to tackle this. I want to go into some in-depth bio for George R. R. Martin. I knew a lot about him, but I researched a bunch for this episode. I find it all really fascinating from a writing point of view, because I always want to know the human behind the story and how this story came to be. And the journey behind their life, and all this stuff. So, just like we did with Tolkien, I think we’re going to start off by talking a good bit about George R. R. Martin’s biography, but what we’ll do is we’ll put a time stamp in the show notes for when we start talking about the book itself and move past the bio. So, if you really are interested in that, you can go ahead and read and skip down. The other disclaimer is, we’ve decided we’re going to approach this fully as people who are caught up on the show. This is going to be a retrospective look at Book 1/Season 1 with basically full spoilers. Now, we’re not going to go crazy with them, but what we might do is get into theories, stuff like that, which often relies on existing knowledge from later seasons. There are a few big things that I know we’re going to spoil, that were revealed in later seasons. So, yeah, my best advice is, if you haven’t caught up, catch up before you listen to this, I guess. Just to be safe. And there are a lot of podcasts out there with people experiencing it for the first time and giving more, just, honest reactions to it. That’s not going to be us. For us to try and do that, it would be fake. So, instead, we’re going to give our point of view as people for whom it is beloved material, and we’re just looking back at it with you, and hopefully we can have some really fun discussions about it.

So, when we were doing Lord of the Rings, we both talked about how it felt like coming home. It was a very…I think you said Harry Potter as well…and how it was a very familiar, kind of warm, place to be. And I had a funny experience with this, where it was a bit of that, but also that home was…was scary. And it’s dark and it’s emotional, and it’s not as friendly as Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Yet it still had that familiar feeling because I love this story so much. It was almost like returning to a sad memory of childhood. Or a memory tinged with sadness. Because seeing the Starks, particularly early on, was so happy, but then it’s also the weight of everything that happens to them is weighing on me.

James: That’s what I was going to say. Just being back in Winterfell and seeing them all young is that feeling, that warm feeling, and it very quickly…events start to cascade that you’re like, “Oh, is this…does it have to go down like that…this way again?” You know, “Does Bran really need to fall out of the window again, or can we see an alternate history where all this stuff doesn’t happen like this?”

Luke: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think before we get into the story itself, let’s start out with that bio. Are you ready for that?

James: Yeah, let’s do it. 

Luke: Okay, so George Raymond Martin was born in 1948, and he adopted Richard at an additional name at his confirmation at age 13, becoming George R. R. Martin. Now, I thought that was interesting, because I had always heard, and I think it was sort of the myth around it, that he merely adopted it as a marketing term. Now, maybe he decided to go by George R. R. Martin as his writing name for a marketing reason, but the R. R. itself was authentically his initials.

James: We talked about this before with like J. K. Rowling, and we kept talking about how these fantasy authors have these initialed names, and, I don’t know, I find it really interesting. I think that, if I ever write a fantasy novel, I’m going to have to...I don’t know, make it sort of a nickname or something. 

Luke: Yeah, I had a professor who used to joke that I should take on R. R. for my…so, Luke R. R. Elliott. You know, things like that. 

James: That would be so funny. 

Luke: Yeah. I’m not going to do that, but it was funny.

James: <laughing> You should totally do it.

Luke: So, during Martin’s childhood, he said repeatedly that his world consisted predominantly from First Street to Fifth Street between his grade school and his home in New York City. This limited world made him want to travel and experience other places, but his only way of getting there was through his imagination. So, he became a voracious reader. He also used to watch ships coming into harbor and imagine stories about where they’d been and where they were going. I’ve heard him talk about this in person before. So, Martin began writing and selling monster stories for pennies to other neighborhood children. Dramatic readings included. He also wrote stories about a mythical kingdom populated by his pet turtles. The turtles died frequently in their toy castle, so he decided they were killing each other off in sinister plots. He also became an avid comic book fan and later credited Stan Lee for being one of his greatest literary influences, even more than Shakespeare or Tolkien. A letter Martin wrote to the editor of Fantastic Four was printed in Issue #20 in 1963. It was the first of many he sent. Fans who read his letters wrote to him in turn and, through such contacts, Martin joined the fledgling comics fandom of the era. Writing fiction for various fanzines, he was the first to register for an early comic book convention held in New York in 1964, the first New York Comic-Con. 

James: So, I knew that he was very heavily involved in comics and loved Stan Lee, but I did not know that he…so he was kind of the originator of New York Comic-Con? 

Luke: Well, he was one of the first attendees. I don’t know how much he, like…he didn’t put it together or anything, but he was at the first Comic-Con. Which that’s already incredible, right?

James: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Luke: And he’s been a perennial figure at Comic-Cons ever since. 

James: I assume that it was very Star Wars-heavy. It was probably right around that time. Like 1970s?

Luke: That was 1964, so before Star Wars.

James: Whoa. Nineteen sixty-four? Wow.

Luke: Yeah.

James: Cool.

Luke: So, in 1970, he earned a BS in journalism from Northwestern University, and he went on to complete his MS in journalism in 1971. He was eligible for the draft during the Vietnam war, to which he objected, so he applied for and obtained a conscientious objector status and, instead, did alternative service for two years. So, Martin began selling science fiction stories professionally in 1970, at age 21. His first sale was “The Hero,” which he sold to Galaxy Magazine. Other sales soon followed. His first story to be nominated for the Hugo Award and Nebula Award was “With Morning Comes Mistfall,” published in 1973 in Analog Magazine. His first novel, Dying of the Light, was completed in 1976 and published in 1977. That same year, the enormous success of Star Wars had a huge impact on the publishing industry in science fiction, so when he sold the novel, he sold it for the same amount he would make in three years of teaching. So, he happened to publish his first sci fi novel the year Star Wars came out.

James: Good for him. That’s awesome.

Luke: That’s pretty amazing. So, he’s been doing it forever. Like, he’s been doing it a long time. 

James: I did not realize he was active since, basically, 1970. 

Luke: Yeah.

James: I thought it was like he’d been active since, like, 1980.

Luke: Well, his publishing history is really fascinating to me. To me, it’s like a story of persistence and productivity and bouncing back from things. So, you know, I think it’s a good thing to listen to for writers out there who often get caught up in the idea of, like, “My debut has to be the best thing I’ll ever write, and that’s going to make or break my career, and then after that it’s all downhill.” Because his is an example of a career that did not go that way. So, the short stories he was able to sell in his early twenties gave him some profit, but not enough to pay his bills, which prevented him from becoming the full-time writer that he wanted to be. Martin’s chess skills and experience allowed him to be hired as a tournament director for the Continental Chess Association that ran chess tournaments on the weekends. This gave him sufficient income and, because the tournaments only ran on Saturdays and Sundays, it allowed him to work as a writer five days a week from 1973–1976. Now, from ‘76–’78, Martin was an English and journalism instructor at Clark University, and he became writer in residence at the college from 1978–’79. While he enjoyed teaching, the sudden death of a friend and fellow author, Tom Reamy, in late 1977 made Martin re-evaluate his own life, and he eventually decided to try and become a full-time writer. He resigned from his job and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1979. 

Now, Martin is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, also known as the SFWA [Sif-Wa], which is still the leading active organization of writers in the country, and he became the organization’s Southwest Regional Director from 1977–1979. He also served as its vice-president from ‘96–’98. In 1976, at the 34th World Science Fiction convention, AKA Worldcon, Martin and his friend and fellow writer/editor, the late Gardner Dozois, conceived of and organized the first Hugo Losers Party for the benefit of all past and present Hugo-losing writers on the evening following the convention’s Hugo Awards Ceremony. Martin was nominated for two Hugos that year but lost both awards. The Hugo Losers Party became an annual Worldcon event thereafter. I went to Worldcon last year, and definitely it’s a big deal. And a lot of people get really excited to go to this thing. It’s become a massive thing now. Now, I don’t know how much of this stuff is still done this way, but I always heard that if you were a loser…if you lost a Hugo, you were invited to arrive, and if you were a winner, you could still come, but you had to wait like an hour or something. And there was also a certain point where it opened up to the public. I think when it originally started, it was literally just for the losers and their friends, and nobody else was allowed to go. If you won, you weren’t allowed to go. Stuff like that. 

James: I mean, that’s pretty cool. You’re excluding people, but to be in that prestigious group of losers is kind of fun. Even if you don’t win, there’s something…you’re going to have a great experience from it.

Luke: Well, you’re excluding the people who won…you know, they get to win. That’s their thing. So, that’s the whole thing, yeah…it’s like commiserating with the people who don’t actually get to win, right? I think it’s a great idea, and it’s so cool that it’s still ongoing and still a big thing every year. I would love to go to one of those, so I just dream of one day being able to make it to that.

James: To lose a Hugo?

Luke: Yeah, or you could just like know somebody who knows somebody who can get me in. <laughing>

James: I thought you were leading up to saying that you would love to lose a Hugo.

Luke: Well, nowadays, it is open to the “public,” but you have to have an invitation and all this stuff. So, it’s not just open to anybody. And…because it’s too popular.

James: Right. 

Luke: Yeah, it can be tough to get in. But, I mean, I would love to do it. So, Martin has said that he started writing science fiction/horror hybrids in the late 1970s to disprove a statement made by a critic that claimed science fiction and horror were opposites and, therefore, incompatible. Martin considered Sandkings, his 1978 [novelette], the best known of these. Another was the novella Nightflyers, in 1980, which was produced into a 1987 film adaptation called Nightflyers, with a screenplay co-written by Martin himself. Now, Martin was unhappy about having to cut plot elements in order to accommodate the film’s small budget. While not a hit at theaters, Martin believes that the film saved his career, and that everything he has written since exists in large part because of it. Now, there’s also a new SyFy adaptation of this, right?

James: Yeah, I think it was…either SyFy or SyFy and Netflix or something like that. They’re making a show, and I’m not even sure if it released yet. But I did just hear that it’s not going to get picked up for a second season, or it’s out and it’s not picked up…but I haven’t seen the original movie or the series. Have you seen either?

Luke: No. I’ve seen neither, and I haven’t read it. I know nothing about it. I am curious, though. So, in 1982, Martin published a vampire novel called Fevre Dream, set in the 19th century on the Mississippi River. Martin followed up Fevre Dream with another horror novel, this one called The Armageddon Rag, which proved to be an unexpected commercial failure, and he has said that it “essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time.” I think he got a huge advance from publishers and then did not cover hardly any of it. So, he sort of became blacklisted. 

James: Okay, that’s what I was going to ask. Yeah.

Luke: You start to become known as someone who writes a great manuscript that looks like it’s going to sell a lot but doesn’t. Which is a killer.

James: But can you just take less? Like, can you just take less money and still get published? Or does it not work like that?

Luke: It doesn’t really work like that is my short answer. So, Martin later got an offer from Hollywood when producer Philip DeGuere, Jr. wanted to adapt The Armageddon Rag into a film. However, the film adaptation did  not happen. But they stayed in touch, and when he became the producer for the revival of The Twilight Zone, Martin was offered a job as a writer. 

James: Now, this I know about. And have seen. 

Luke: So, working for television paid a lot better than writing literature, so he decided to move to Hollywood to seek a new career. After the CBS series was cancelled, Martin migrated over to the already-underway satirical science fiction series, Max Headroom. However, before his scripts could go into production, the ABC show was cancelled in the middle of its second season. Martin was then hired as a writer/producer for the new dramatic fantasy series, Beauty and the Beast in 1989. He became the show’s supervising producer and wrote 14 of its episodes.

James: Yeah, I know a little bit about his…he basically switched fields at one point. He started working in film and TV, and I find that to be really interesting, because I think that’s kind of a tough jump to be like, “Oh, I’m a novelist and I write novels that are published,” and then jump over to Hollywood producer, Hollywood writer is crazy. 

Luke: And all of these steps are leading to the creation of the Song of Ice and Fire series, so it’s all important steps in his career and his life. To me, looking back, you could say it was all leading to this, but I’m sure it was very harrowing at the time. You can read into all of this stuff huge amounts of frustration, thinking something is going to be amazing. I know that he’s talked about how he poured his heart and soul into The Armageddon Rag and then to have it be a flop was really disheartening for him. He didn’t think he was ever going to make it as a novelist after that.

James: So, you look at Game of Thrones, and you’re like, “Of course this is going to be a great TV show. Of course HBO picking this up is going to be…” But that show is not as successful without George R. R. Martin’s experience as a producer and as a writer, and him coming on and producing so heavily for the show early on. And helping along with the production. Obviously, Weiss and Benioff were making pure adaptation, for the most part.

Luke: Well, we should save some of that for our show episode next week. I want to make sure…we’re going to talk about the show at length, if you’re interested in that. So, in 1987, Martin published a collection of short horror stories in a book called Portraits of His Children. During the same period, he continued working as a book series editor, this time overseeing the development of a multi-author Wild Cards series, which takes place in a shared universe, in which a small set of post-World War II humanity gains superpowers after the release of an alien-engineered virus. It is an ongoing series to this day. And, in fact, in 2016, Martin announced that Universal Cable Productions has acquired the rights to adapt the Wild Cards novels into a television series. So, this is a shared universe. So, multi-authors come in, and he edits them. He still does this. And there are many, many books in it. And it’s basically superheroes but, from what I understand, a little darker. 

James: Have you read any of it, or…?

Luke: I’ve never read one. It’s something I do really want to read. In fact, I know a couple people who’ve written for it. And so I’m very excited about it. It’s a huge thing, so it’s one of those things I haven’t gotten into yet, and I know that it spans many years. So, it’s also kind of hard to figure out where to start sometimes. But, yeah, I am intrigued.

James: It sounds like it would be right up my alley. I need to check it out. 

Luke: Well, if they do the TV series, I’m sure that would be a good jumping-off point for us. 

James: Yeah. 

Luke: So, A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s all leading to this. In 1991, Martin briefly returned to writing novels. He had grown frustrated that his TV pilots and screenplays were not getting made, and that TV-related production limitations like budgets and episode lengths were forcing him to cut characters and trim battle scenes. This pushed Martin back towards writing books, where he did not have to worry about compromising the size of his imagination. Admiring the works of J.R.R. Tolkien in his childhood, he wanted to write an epic fantasy, though he did not have any specific ideas, other than he has said that his goal was to write something that could never be adapted to film. So, this eventually turned into his epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire, which was inspired by the War of the Roses, and the historical novels The Accursed Kings and Ivanhoe

James: Has he said out and out that those are all influences?

Luke: Yeah. When I heard him talk, I’ve heard him talk at a couple different things and watched some videos of him, and he’s said that basically you can steal from history all you want because it’s not copyrighted. So, he’s said that, I think the red wedding was based off an event called the black supper or something. It was like a real thing that happened in Ireland or Scotland. So, yeah…and the War of the Roses is all over these novels. And I love the idea of him reading these historical novels and then taking inspiration. But as you can see, the thought process of reading these historical novels, they’re all about strategic weddings and marrying off your children to other families to form alliances, and people having hostages and, you know, children getting murdered and just all this crazy stuff happening. And then you also read, like, Lord of the Rings, that is medieval but none of that stuff is really happening. And him thinking, like, I’m going to write a fantasy novel that incorporates all of this stuff that was actually going on in the middle ages and incorporates that into the fantasy world.

James: And not to mention the fact that he takes that macro look at these wars and these arrangements and all that stuff and takes it down to the character level. 

Luke: Yeah, and the skills honed from years of working on television, probably, where you have to be very focused. Yeah, it all came together. So, Martin originally conceptualized his A Song of Ice and Fire as being three volumes. But it is now intended to comprise seven. The first, which we are covering is A Game of Thrones, which was published in ’96, followed by A Clash of Kings in ’98, and A Storm of Swords in 2000. In 2005, A Feast for Crows, the fourth novel in the series, became his first New York Times #1 Bestseller for the series. The fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, was originally published in 2011, and it became an international bestseller, including the #1 spot on the New York Times Bestseller list and many others. It remained on the New York Times list for 88 weeks.

James: Yeah, I remember that coming out within a short time from the show, right? Like, it was either right before or right after…

Luke: No, Dance came out during the show. I think it was maybe right after the first or second season. I’d have to look at the years, but somewhere in there.

James: It would have been after the first season. 

Luke: Yeah. So, when Martin was between projects, to dive a little more into the genesis of the idea, in the summer of 1999, he started writing a new science fiction novel he called Avalon. After three chapters, he had a vivid idea of a boy who was seeing a man’s beheading and finding direwolves in the snow, which would eventually become the first non-prologue chapter of A Game of Thrones. Putting Avalon aside, Martin finished this chapter in a few days, and he was certain that it was part of a larger story. After a few more chapters, Martin conceived this book as a fantasy story and started making maps and genealogies. However, the writing of this book was interrupted for a few years when Martin returned to Hollywood to produce the TV series Doorways that ABC had ordered but ultimately never aired. So, he has said, the first scene, chapter 1 of the first book, the chapter where they find the direwolf pups, “Just came to me out of nowhere. I was at work on a different novel, and suddenly I saw that scene. It didn’t belong in the novel I was writing, and it came to me so vividly that I had to sit down and write it, and by the time I did, it led to a second chapter, and the second chapter was the Catelyn chapter where Ned had just come back.

James: I mean, that chapter, my God. We’re going to talk about some stuff, but…you feel the weight in that chapter, too. You’re like, everything in this is so important. You can feel that it all came from that chapter. It’s crazy.

Luke: Yeah. In 1994, Martin gave his agent, Kirby McCauley, the first 200 pages and two-page story projection as part of a planned trilogy with the novels Dance of Dragons and The Winds of Winter intended to follow. When Martin had still not reached the novel’s end at 1400 manuscript pages, he felt the series needed to be four, and eventually six, books long, which he imagined as two linked trilogies of one long story. The revised finished manuscript that began with Thrones was 1000 pages long, with publication following in ’96. Three hundred pages were removed from A Game of Thrones, which later served as the opening of the second book, which is A Clash of Kings. After the success of the Lord of the Rings films, Martin received his first inquiries to the rights of A Song of Ice and Fire series from various producers and filmmakers. So, I wanted to hit on that, too, a little bit because I think that’s interesting. Because it connects it to Lord of the Rings, right? Lord of the Rings was so popular, that’s one of the reasons we were able to get Game of Thrones.

James: Well, yeah, and the show wouldn’t exist without Lord of the Rings being that successful.

Luke: Okay, so that’s my bio stuff I have. I have some fun anecdotes about, like, the time I met Martin and stuff like that. But I think I’ll save those for other ones because we’ve already talked about him so much here. So, you can look forward to that in future episodes. But for now, if you’re ready, I’m ready to get into this story, man. 

James: Let’s get into it.

Luke: Okay, so we open with our prologue. We have our Night’s Watchmen out in the woods, and I wrote down that this book immediately starts with two things we’re told not to do. First off, it includes the prologue, which is a big thing there’s been some recent pushes against. A lot of editors and agents saying they don’t like them, you should usually just cut them. They don’t have anything to do with the rest of the book. Yeah, I would argue they’re talking about bad prologues. But they would argue that most prologues are bad. I don’t know. I would argue that the prologue serves as an opening for the series and the series’ sort of existential threat of the others. So, it serves a particular purpose in this story. The other thing that this does that we’re told not to do is it begins with dialogue. In general, that’s frowned upon, too. People hate when you start with dialogue and then…like you’re in the middle of someone having a conversation. You just open with dialogue. They find it to be kind of like a gimmick, right? It’s just funny to me. I love looking in and seeing all these rules being broken. It’s not to say they’re not good things to listen to. It’s also, this book came out in ’96, so we’ve had 20+ years of things to come afterwards to make us tire of certain tropes, certain things. So, maybe you’re seeing some effects of that. But you can also see a lot of new writers will make these mistakes because they’ll read A Game of Thrones and go, “Oh, this is how you open a chapter.” And so they just do it that way, reflexively. 

This prologue also introduces us to this world. It’s exciting. It demonstrates Martin’s extreme talent, in my opinion, at characterizing people in just a few sentences. Like Will, this hunter, who we know is a poacher who chose the black over losing his hand, and it’s said that nobody moved as silently in the wood as he. So, there are a couple little lines here and there that just make you feel like you know this character in such little amount of time. And I’m always in awe that he’s able to do that so effectively. 

James: He does this thing with detail that I think other people couldn’t pull off. I think other writers can pull it off if you’re like a master-level author, but he does this thing with detail that…and I’ve heard some people say that they got bogged down on his details. Like they get bogged down…he’s talking about colors of people’s gloves, and the mud on their shoes and things like that. But, to me, it’s like…I get pictures in my mind. I shut my eyes, and I get pictures. And he paints these pictures for me. When I jump into a George R. R. Martin book, most specifically one of these books, it takes me a second to adjust to it, but then something clicks, and then I’m just painting pictures in my mind.

Luke: Yeah, so some of that is sort of the hallmark of epic fantasy. You’re going to get the most immersive, detailed story out there. There’s no other genre…you could argue maybe some sci fi does this, especially space operas might get into it. But, yeah, where you’re going to get this much detail over this many pages with this many characters. Epic fantasy is one of the only things that can get away with that. And when you have a readership as wide and varied as Martin’s is, yeah, you’re going to get people who are going to bounce up against that, because maybe that’s the only epic fantasy they’ve ever read. You know, that’s not normally their thing. So, here we also get our first reference to direwolves. So, I love to look for ways that he sets things up. So, direwolves are so important in the first chapter, yet they’re first mentioned here offhandedly, like it sounds like howling that he thinks could be direwolves, or it talks about one of the few things they have to worry about when they’re out here are direwolves. Things like that. 

James: Well, I love that because it’s also all of the threats, and I think at one point one of the characters is, like, you can tell that he’s afraid of the Others but doesn’t want to say anything out loud because they haven’t been around forever, and some of the people who’ve taken the black kind of think it’s a myth at this point. 

Luke: Yeah. 

James: So, he’s not willing to say, like, “I’m scared that there’s an Other out here.” And they’re thinking, “Oh, it might be wolves.” 

Luke: So, Martin also loves to play—to toy–with expectations. And I find it brilliant. So, here he opens up with Ser Waymar Royce, who is this sort of full-of-himself, young, brash, inexperienced leader and Will, who’s this hard-bitten hunter and ranger and has seen a lot, and I think Garde, the other Night’s Watchman there, is much the same. An older guy. He’s lost both of his ears and the tip of his nose to frostbite. So, we expect that Waymar is going to fold, right? Like, he’s going to be exposed to be a sort of pretender, and these older, hard-bitten guys are going to be the heroes of this part of the story, or the people we’re rooting for. And I love how he totally inverts that in a way when the Others actually arrive. Because we see Ser Waymar actually be really brave. Now, maybe naively brave, you could say. But we see him actually say…he says, “Dance with me, then.” And he draws his sword, and Will is looking at him like he’s no longer a boy in this moment.  

James: I think it was like cockiness, too, though. 

Luke: Yeah, but it’s still a cool inversion, right? Like, he decides…because he knows he’s going to die, so he’s like, “I’m going to face them.” And we see Will cowering in a tree and not…and he has a moment where says, “It was my duty to call out, yet I didn’t, because I knew it would also be my death.” So, I love that inversion, because that’s not what I was expecting from this scene, as I was reading it. It was a nice little reversal of how I thought it was going to play out. And, yeah, I mean, the Others here are scary. They’re wraith…I’ve always taken them as more wraith-like in the books than they are in the show. Just how silently they move. How magical and sort of almost translucent a lot of their clothing seems to be. Glowy and shimmery. And I love that immediate mix of horror and fantasy, right? This shows you this is going to be a dark book, it’s going to be gritty, it’s going to be realistic, and it’s going to be a blend of horror and fantasy. Right from the jump.

James: This is also the first instance that we see the Whitewalkers or the Others, whatever we’re seeing here, have some sort of ability over the dead. Like, we kind of see the rising of Waymar. I mean we know a lot more, obviously, now, but when we start to hear Winter is coming and all of these things from the Starks, we know that’s potentially what they’re taking about. 

Luke: Well, and it creates a huge amount of…what’s it called…dramatic irony, or whatever, where you as an audience know something that the characters don’t. Right? Because we see all of these characters totally discounting the existence of the Others and going about their ways. So, we always know that there’s this looming threat that we saw first-hand in the opening prologue, and that they are all unaware of. Okay, so our first real chapter introduces Bran, and he is a boy who is on his way to see his first beheading at seven years old. We hear talk of Old Man’s Tales, and in fact she mentions half-human children born of Wildlings with the Others. And we realize that the man who is going to be beheaded is Gared, one of the other Night’s Watchmen who fled. But it was funny. We don’t get to hear him say anything. We just know because of the frostbite ears and the nose. So, we recognize that he’s the same person. It’s cool stuff. And I think that the Old Man prophecy is interesting…or, not prophecy…but Old Man tells all these tales, and so many of them have ended up coming true that…

James: I love him.

Luke: She’s almost like a soothsayer of some kind? You could think, maybe?

James: I go in for this stuff. This is…and I wanted to ask you about this. Because I feel like, for me, the political intrigue and the vying for the throne and stuff, I find it fascinating. I think it’s really great, powerful storytelling, but I go in for the…I’m there for the lore. I want the background, I want the lore, I want the magic. And, like, but I do acknowledge that doling it out in small amounts creates more interesting and deeper stories.

Luke: Right. Well, it’s funny, too, because we see Ned as such a pragmatist when he’s introduced, yet he’s using his Valerian steel…which is called a spell-forged weapon…so there’s proof of magic all around them, yet they still mostly deny its existence.

James: But I would say the Starks are, by far, the ones that are acknowledging it the most. Right?

Luke: Yeah, but even Ned pooh-poohs the idea of the Others when, I think Catelyn brings it up in the next chapter. 

James: But he’s an old gods’ guy. He knows that winter is coming means something more than just that it’s going to get cold. I feel like, right?

Luke: Right.

James: Or do you not think so?

Luke: I mean, I don’t know. I think he struggles with it because I think Ned Stark is, at his base, a pragmatist, and I think a lot of that stuff is just sort of old tales to him. I think he thinks of it as, if there were things like that, they’re just all gone now. Kind of thing. He believes he lives in a world where that’s no longer a threat. So, yeah, I think Catelyn is the one who buys into it a little more we see early on. So, there’s lots of great stuff here. We’re introduced to Bran for the first time. He’s our opening chapter of the Starks, at least POV. We meet Theon Greyjoy, who the first thing he does is laugh and kick the head of the beheaded guy, because he finds “everything a joke.” We meet Jon Snow and Rob, who are of an age, and that age is 14 years old. Which, by the way, everybody is younger in the books than they are in the show. 

James: Yeah, I think we have to talk about that. And, I mean, what do you think about the fact that all these characters for the book are like 13, 14, 15, 16 in age.

Luke: Or younger. Um, I think it’s a deliberate choice by Martin. And probably informed by him studying histories and reading about all of these young, young leaders in warfare and people who were 15 years old and 14 years old and doing all these incredible things. It’s like people grew up so much faster back then. And our modern perception of what a 12-year-old is is just so night-and-day different from what that was in that time period. So, he decided he wanted to include that in his fantasy. There’s so many arguments against it. People saying that fantasy is not medieval times and to conflate the two is kind of a mistake, and…you know, it all comes down to what stylistic choices you want to make, and he set out to write a story that was…had more in line with sort of the histories of the medieval period in Europe, and to reflect what he was reading about in the War of the Roses and stories like that. So, he decided to make his characters ages that he thought was appropriate for that kind of story. And it definitely creates a really contentious sort of situation where you’re trying to figure out, “How do I feel about these kids doing very adult things?”

James: My theory would be that, if you’re going to write most of your main characters in an age range like this, you’d be kind of going towards that audience. Because I feel like adults would want to read about adults as well, kind of. Right? Young adults, usually, but…not this young. So, it’s interesting because it seems to me like a modern audience member would kind of think of themselves at that age and say, like, “What was I like at 12 or 13?” And then, yeah. In my mind, honestly, and it just might be because of the show, I just age everybody up a little bit.

Luke: Right.

James: While I’m reading the story. Just like Daenerys being 13 is kind of tough.

Luke: Yeah. And that was a big change for me when I saw the show, because I wasn’t like that. I was very caught up in the book, so I pictured everybody to be those ages, which is pretty wild for a lot of this stuff. Um, I’m sure…he probably had to fight to keep it this way, because I just feel like a lot of editors and agents and so forth were probably going to tell him, “Oh, you need to age everybody up. It’s going to sell better for XYZ reasons.” And, yeah, also the worry that people are going to think it’s YA because it’s got such young point of view characters. It’s always a potential problem with having young point of view characters. If you don’t want the book to be considered YA. Which, I guarantee he didn’t for this series. But, yeah. I mean that’s the way it is in the books. So, let’s move on. We hear Eddard say the iconic line, “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword,” which is known as the old way. And he basically gives advice to Bran that leaders need to never forget what death is by removing themselves from it so much. And so this is our first introduction to Ned Stark and sort of his world view. And I was reflecting on how it seems…he seems to be such a hard man with kind of a brutal view of the world, yet we can tell he’s honorable, and we can tell he loves his family. And he does things for a reason. It’s very, sort of, stoicism…like it’s that philosophy. And he’s preparing his children for a harsh world.

James: Mmhmm.

Luke: And from our modern perspective, it seems like he’s sort of overdoing it, right? Like, you’re going to create these little hardened monsters out of your children because you’re telling them everything’s so dark, and you’re showing them beheadings and all this stuff. But we know that he’s actually preparing the Starks to weather what’s going to become just an absolutely brutal series of events for this family. And, so he is actually imparting the perfect wisdom to all of them at these young ages. 

James: And…I’m sure we don’t want to get too much into lore, but like the Starks…the reason that the Starks survived, and the reason that they’re the only kingdom that wasn’t conquered basically by the Andals was because they were so hardened by the winter, and they were so hardened and they stuck by their ways. So, for him to raise his kids in this way. Yeah, you can see everybody else’s kids throughout the story are much softer summer children, and he raised his kids to be…to persevere and to carry on and be the leaders that they’re eventually going to be.

Luke: So, next up we find the dead direwolf, which is found impaled by a stag’s antler, which I absolutely love how the symbolism is dealt with here. Because all the characters share a moment where they kind of look at each other like, “Oh, shit,” when it’s revealed how this wolf died. We don’t yet know what it means. So, it’s the reversal of sort of some of the other things that have been happening. Because the characters all know, “Oh, no, that’s a really bad omen for things to come.” But we don’t know why it’s bad. This is our real introduction to Jon to me. We see this bastard boy who is outside the family looking in, and we see him be sort of selfless, and he doesn’t count himself when they talk about how they’re going to save the pups, and these were meant for your children, and all this stuff, and he only can make it work by not counting himself, right? 

James: Mmhmm.

Luke: And he sets it all up, and he convinces Ned to let the wolves live, which of course are little puppies, and the dog lover in me is so warmed by this, and I want to see them all, you know…

James: Taken care of?

Luke: Taken care of and have these awesome wolves. And then I love the end of this chapter where there’s another one he finds, and it’s the silent one, the white one that he names Ghost, and it’s… 

James: It’s off on its own.

Luke: It’s off on its own.

James: Theon says something about how we should just kill it, and Jon’s like, “No, this one’s mine.”

Luke: Yeah, he says, “I think not, Greyjoy. This one belongs to me.” Yeah, it’s so cool. Then, also, the idea of prophecy is introduced really strongly here, and the idea that these were all meant for your children. And I love the way that…Martin does prophecy in a way that’s just, like, induces chills for me somehow. It’s the coolest way to do it. Because it’s not hammy. It really…it feels like it intersects real life and myth in a really cool way. I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it, and I don’t really know how he does it, but it’s so good.

James: There’s like this guiding hand of fate, I feel like, through the story. And them finding the direwolves is a big moment of that. But knowing what happens to each direwolf and knowing how everything ends up…well, I guess not totally, but…

Luke: Not totally, no.

James: But knowing kind of where things lead generally…I mean just specifically with what we’ve seen a little bit, with how late he goes down. And that’s kind of in itself a prophecy of…you think of the wolves as representing each of their owners, and it gets pretty prophetic.

Luke: Well, especially in these early chapters. It’s very…I would say in general, the books…the wolves are so much more important than they are in the show. Which, I know is a lot of budgetary stuff, which we can talk about when we get to the show. So, I just want to talk a little bit about Martin’s style here, because he…I remember when I first read these novels, I thought he was a British writer, because he writes in a way that is very evocative of old English, to an extent. So, when I found out he was an American, I was surprised. So, clearly, he’s doing this for a very particular purpose, to evoke a very particular feel. And it’s incredible how well he does it, in my opinion. He really nails this sort of idea that it’s almost Tolkienesque, it’s almost…I don’t know what it is, but he really nails the language and the style for this story.

James: Yeah, it feels like he really drew on that traditional fantasy structure, kind of.

Luke: Yeah.

James: And, well, like you said, the language.

Luke: Western fantasy, yeah. Yeah. So let’s move into chapter 2. It’s Catelyn, and she’s coming to see her husband by the weirwood. 

James: This is another reason why I feel like…why Ned is in keeping with the old ways. Because having the weirwood be important to him, it’s clear that he understands the importance of that, and he’s still connected to kind of the old ways through that, as well.

Luke: Yeah, I like that. I also love that, when she first shows up, he asks her, “Where are the children?” And she says where, and she says that he always asks her that. And I just…I don’t know, that’s all so good because it shows that…it demonstrates that Ned cares about his kids, they’re not just…he’s not just pumping out kids and, you know what I mean, he doesn’t care about them. He deeply cares about his children. It shows how tightknit this family is in many ways, and it also shows how aware he is of the dangers of this world. To where he feels like he always needs to ask her if she knows where the children are. I don’t know. I just love all that. 

James: It’s just him realizing that the dark times are coming. Something bad is going to happen eventually.

Luke: Well, and winter is coming…we can talk about it. To me, those words are essentially the scout motto, “Be prepared.” To me that’s…yeah, if winter is coming, the follow-up statement is, “Make sure you’re ready for it.” And that’s sort of what the Stark words mean to me. He has a family that’s prepared for the worst. And, man, I’m telling you, with what goes down against this family, you could not have a better motto to be your family motto than that. Because that’s going to prepare you to be the only sort of people who can survive what happens to the Starks. This is also where Catelyn is telling Ned for the first time that his childhood mentor, Jon Arryn is dead, and we learn about Cat’s sister. We also learn that Robert Baratheon himself, the king, is coming with a whole entourage to stay at Winterfell with them. And, yeah, it’s setting up. This is setting the main plot into motion. And the idea of the king coming on an unannounced visit with his giant retinue of retainers and knights and everything is just…you know, just a cool thing, and I’m excited to see it immediately. 

James: On my first watch-through of this series, I don’t think I realized the importance of Jon Arryn and his dad. And going back, obviously, it’s the main crux of everything beginning.

Luke: Right, because that’s why Robert comes. Because he’s coming to ask him to become the Hand of the King, which we learn quickly.

James: Knowing that they…once we find out that they were raised together, and Jon Arryn was kind of the same thing…he was kind of what Ned is to Theon…he’s his ward. So, knowing that and thinking how everything ends up with Robert Baratheon and the war, and…

Luke: It really makes sense that Robert would appoint him as the Hand, if you think about it, right? He learned so much from this guy growing up, now he’s going to rule. He brings him back on to be his right-hand guy, which is what the Hand is. And then it makes so much sense that he’s going to go to Ned. So, everything here just perfectly lines up with what’s happening in the story. 

James: Mmhmm. Catelyn is kind of thinking about what the antler buried in the throat of the direwolf was meant also. So, she was more worried about it than all the Starks…

Luke: Oh yeah. Ned’s trying to discount it. He doesn’t like to believe in superstition. Although he’s aware of it. So, next up we’re introduced to Dany and her vicious brother, Viserys. And, yeah, she was 13 in the book. So, keep that in mind for all this crazy stuff that’s going down with her. Definitely kind of squicky. It’s…you know, like I said, 13 was a different thing in medieval times, and…but definitely still young. And it’s made apparent that’s she is very young. But this isn’t a modern society with modern laws in place. It was a lot of child brides getting married off to form alliances and all this stuff. It was the way things were, and Martin wanted to put that into his books.

James: Obviously, she…he empowered Dany. He doesn’t just allow her to be the child bride, and so she eventually…she goes through some stuff, but she…

Luke: She has a huge arc in this story.

James: Right.

Luke: And this book and for future books, for sure.

James: So, seeing what he did with the idea of a child bride and seeing where ultimately it’s heading is also something to think about. The thing that I love about Viserys, and I love to hate Viserys, but the thing I love about Viserys is this waking the dragon thing. Where he’s constantly talking about his anger being…

Luke: Yeah. He sounds like, I mean this is like Joffrey-type stuff to me.

James: Yeah.

Luke: Like, they’re cut from the same cloth. It’s this entitled noble who thinks that they’re scary or intimidating but really is just a little shit. And, yeah, the idea of like, “You’re going to wake the dragon.” And then, I mean it’s your point…finish your point, I don’t want to make it for you.

James: Just the fact that Viserys is playing with powers that he’s not going to ultimately be able to control is telling of kind of what George R. R. Martin is going to do throughout the series.

Luke: Right. Well, I meant, specifically the phrase, “Wake the dragon,” and how that applies to what Dany actually does do. He says, “You’re going to wake the dragon, you’re going to wake the dragon,” and then she does wake the dragon. You know…just actual dragons. So it’s actually really clever foreshadowing there. We don’t even realize. She does have a dream. I don’t think it’s in this chapter, but she has a dream about waking the dragon, but it’s actually a real dragon, too? 

James: Mmhmm.

Luke: So, dreams are also very important in these books, and they’re very prophetic. 

James: You would think at some point everything that’s on the page in one of these Song of Ice and Fire books, you can just assume that it’s going to play a part in some way. So, everything’s a prophecy, every dream is a prophecy, every line that someone says that’s a little clever, like might end up… For example, the stuff that goes on with how Arya hates needles and she hates the needlework, and that eventually Jon gives her the sword. And it’s just like he was building to that moment where he could be like, “Isn’t this funny?” Or isn’t this ironic?

Luke: Now, he does also include false…like red herrings and false lines and stuff like that. And false lore. People lie to one another and make up things. And some of that’s to sort of, I think, keep us from being able to figure it all out just by reading into all this stuff. Because, otherwise, it would be obvious. Like, okay, he’s telling us this and this and this is going to happen. He also keeps things very vague, right? So, you don’t know how it’s going to be fulfilled. 

James: Yeah, and part of the fun is that kind of the mystery without it like being a mystery box type structure. It’s not like, “What’s happening, what’s happening, what’s happening?” And then ultimately it’s revealed and it’s not quite as satisfying as you would want it to be. It’s just really like he’s setting up these mysteries and, if you pick it apart, you may be able to find something, like a string that will lead you down a certain path. But it might also lead you down some dead end. 

Luke: So, the other thing I’m realizing he does great with these prophecies, right, is that they’re often very ominous and bad and foreboding, yet vague. So, when something’s vague yet clearly negative and clearly awful, like that fills you with a sense of dread. And sort of it feels inescapable in a way, as we start to see…as more and more prophecies come true, we realize that if you’re getting a bad omen and someone says something bad is going to happen, something bad is going to happen. We might not know what it is, but we know something sort of like the thing that was just said is going to happen. And it becomes really chilling in a lot of ways. I think that’s one of the reasons why they work so well for him and maybe less well in the hands of other authors where…I will fully admit that I do not always find prophecies very interesting in other works.

James: Yeah, you have to really buy into the world and the lore, otherwise, it can really feel monotonous sometimes.

Luke: So, basically the end of that chapter is her being prepared by Allyria’s helpers for the wedding to Khal Drogo. Next up, we are in Eddard’s point of view for the first time, and it’s as King Robert is arriving with Jaimie Lannister, Sandor Clegane, Cersei Lannister, the whole crew. I feel like…I was noticing how he was actually really clever in how he introduced names. Cersei is not called Cersei for a long time. She’s referred to as The Queen, as The Lannister Woman. Even Jaimie Lannister is just called “Lannister,” I think the first time he’s shown. 

James: Kingslayer?

Luke: Yeah. I don’t even know if we get Kingslayer here yet. I think that comes a little later. So, he really is smart about how he doles this out and, even so, a lot of people find this stuff to be very overwhelming, but he’s very careful about, “I’m not going to drop too many names on you.” So, you do get some weird situations where characters are just referring to each other as Lannister and stuff like that. And I’m like, “Why are you calling him Lannister?” Like, his name is Jaimie, or his name is Tyrion, or whatever. This sort of stuff does happen early on, but I think it was him trying  his best to keep the name overload a bit to a minimum and just remind you, like, this is a Lannister, this is what you need to remember. But, yeah, the difference in Robert…this is a man who is 6’6”, was a mountain of a man, and has since just put on a giant belly and kind of gotten overweight, but he’s still this huge, huge figure, and we know that he shares this past history with Ned. They embrace, and we see that he…we learn that he is a man of immense appetites, and we see that he’s a bit of a lecher. He’s talking about women in the south and trying to sort of entice Ned, who is very stoic. And he immediately wants to go down to the crypts to see Lyanna’s tomb, which Ned is very thankful for. Now, what’ really interesting is all of this stuff with the crypts, the first time I read it, was very like, “Okay, what is this really about?” It’s just a setting to set up some backstory that only feels vaguely related to what’s actually happening right now.

James: Mmhmm.

Luke: But, man is this stuff important in retrospect. And knowing everything that we know from the show, and we’re going to go ahead and spoil it…huge, huge spoiler. If you haven’t caught up, I’m telling you, don’t listen to this. But, yeah, that Jon Snow is actually Lyanna and Rhaegar’s child. Knowing that really informs this conversation in a way that made me appreciate it in a whole new way.  

James: Well, and I think it comes later, but like the conversation with Catelyn as well, where she…

Luke: Oh yeah.

James: Where she’s talking about the bastard, Jon Snow, and tell me who…but yeah, when did you figure it out? Like, when were you on board with Rhaegar and Lyanna? Like, when do you think that you started…because for me, honestly, it wasn’t until I started looking into things online that I really started to buy into it.

Luke: I’m not going to try and say that I…yeah, I wasn’t someone who was deep into theory crafting. So, what happened to me was I finished the fourth book. And I definitely had thoughts in my head swirling, going, “Who is Jon’s mother?” Clearly this is some important thing. And then I had different characters that had been given to me throughout the stories as potential options. Maybe it’s this person, maybe it’s this person. Is it Ashara Dayne or…who was it? Clearly, he’s lying about it. It felt like something was being lied about and that there was some mystery there. But yeah, it wasn’t until after I finished, I think Book 4, and I really got more into like…because I read the first four books back to back to back to back, really fast. I don’t know how fast, but it was fast for me. And for a lot of book. That’s when I started looking stuff up online and then immediately you find the R+L=J theory, which is like the first and most important theory of all Game of Thrones theories that has been confirmed by the show.

James: I think it’s going to be confirmed in the book. It’s just like a hook and a nod.

Luke: Yeah. I think it absolutely will. That’s something that…when they talk about the showrunners running off of Martin’s notes, this is the stuff they’re talking about. Like, those big things are definitely the same. Once again, we’re not going to talk about the show too much. Gotta fight. Fight the urge. Ned is talking to Rob, and Robert is saying, “You know, you should have buried her somewhere in the sun. She doesn’t deserve to be in a place like this. And Ned is saying, “No, this is her place. She belongs here. She’s a Stark.” Man, it takes on a new dimension when you realize that Ned knows that she truly loved Rhaegar and died giving birth to Rhaegar’s son, not Robert. So, Robert’s love feels much more like this unrequited crush he had on Lyanna. 

James: Well, they were betrothed, so it was like this unrequited…he was like…she clearly didn’t necessarily want it. And he was like, couldn’t be happier about it. And, like, fully loved her. But in like a possessive way.

Luke: But Ned knows that, even…betrothal or not…her heart wasn’t with Robert. It was with Rhaegar truly. So, he sort of…he’s kind of like, “Pump the brakes, man. Step back. She wasn’t really about that.” Without saying it.

James: Well, no, he doesn’t say it, but he also loves his…that’s his best friend. He also loves his friend and he doesn’t want to hurt him. So, he’s willing to let him believe whatever he believes. 

Luke: Right. This is where we get the “Promise me, Ned…” A room full of blood and roses. We talked about Howland Reed, who is mentioned here. He’s someone else who knows the truth. We hear about…this is the first time we hear about the Battle of the Trident and Rhaegar being slain. 

James: I want to see that in a show. 

Luke: Yeah.

James: If we do get any sort of spin-off, I would love to see the build-up to the battle. Although I would also love to see, just like old-school, like old Valyria stuff or something crazy like that.

Luke: Well, I think we’re going to see the latter. Martin has said that he believes all of this Robert’s rebellion stuff is covered thoroughly by the show…er, not by the show, by the books in sort of bits and pieces, and he would rather some mystery be lent to it by the different accounts we get through different characters, rather than go back and give sort of a definitive version of what actually happened.

James: I think that’s the best way to do it, as well, but just the battle would be amazing.

Luke: It would be cool to see. There’s a lot of really cool fan art out there people have done. Kind of showing this particular scene. But, yeah, also Robert’s hatred for Rhaegar and how he wants to kill every last Targaryen and how he thinks that this man raped her over and over and over again, and it was this…and Ned knows the truth. Knows that this isn’t what happened, and yet also has to bite his tongue, because he also knows that this would mean the death of Jon if he were to reveal it. 

James: Yeah, out of curiosity, do you think that Jon Arryn knew? 

Luke: No. I really don’t. I think the only other person who might know is Howland Reed.

James: Yeah.

Luke: Other than Ned. I think it’s Howland Reed and Ned Stark are the only two who know. And, I don’t know, there are some theories about who is that septon who married them because, like in the show, there was an image of a septon. But I don’t know how much of that is going to be true in the books. It’s tough to say. We also learn…this is where Robert officially offers him Hand of the King. Ned is not too excited about it, but he also isn’t totally surprised. He has kind of believed this is going to happen. This is also the first time we hear talk of Sansa and Joffrey being betrothed to one another, although Ned is pumping the brakes on that and saying it needs to wait a few years; she’s only 11. 

James: I love Ned’s like…he’s just always so…everything, and I think that this is leading to obviously ultimately what becomes of Ned…but everything that he says is the correct choice, for the most part. 

Luke: Yeah.

James: I think there’s like one major thing that he gets wrong later.

Luke: Well, he also is like…it’s a lot of stuff of him going, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this. But honor says I need to do it this way.” And, so to me, this is a very old world, old fantasy thing, and Ned is cut from that cloth, of the sort of fantasy hero that we see do this sort of thing. And that’s why, symbolically, for the series itself, that Ned ends up losing his head over this and over his honor shows very strongly how different a series this is going to be. Because it sets the tone and says, “Your classic fantasy hero who does everything honorably doesn’t win out in the end and demonstrates that honor is the only true path.” Instead, he loses his head over it.

James: I think that is a major selling point for a lot of people, just that you can’t predict what’s going to happen, and like if you do love a character, it may not go their way. Which is kind of…leads us to…we’re coming up to the final season, so it’s like, do people think this is actually going to end as happily as they want it to, or…

Luke: Right.

James: How’s it going to go down?

Luke: Well, and there’s also a lot to be said for how the series ends and how the book ends may be very different. 

James: Oh, I think it’s going to be much different at this point. 

Luke: Yeah, I do, too. We can talk about that in a future episode. I think that’s really interesting stuff. But I don’t know if we have time here. So, Jon is next up. Jon’s first chapter where it’s his POV, he’s drinking wine, he’s getting a little bit tipsy. It’s funny because he professes so much that he’s not actually upset about not being at the main table with everybody else, yet we can read between the lines that he actually is very upset about it. We also see his direwolf is already incredibly bonded to him. Obedient, eating table scraps…

James: Fighting other dogs.

Luke: Scaring off other dogs just by looking at them and not barking. Because he’s silent. Joffrey is introduced, but we see Jon look at Joffrey for the first time, and he immediately kind of dislikes him because he looks so bored by everything. I always found it interesting that Joffrey in the book…to me he’s described as this tall, almost modelesque-looking boy. Right? Like he’s so dashing and handsome. And so that always was at odds with what we end up getting in the show. Which we can talk about more later. 

James: Well, Rob…like him and Rob almost fight at one point. And he’s like taller than Rob. 

Luke: Yeah. He’s this big, tall…now, I don’t know how strong he is, but to me I always pictured him as kind of a scrawny, almost looks like a male model boy. Like teenager. And that was always my imagining of him, which is…you know what I mean. There’s a few characters like that. Where it’s like my imagining of them was so strong. Ned Stark, for example, is much younger in these books than we get on the show. But we can talk about those differences in the show episode. So, for Jon here, he’s also unimpressed by the king. Which, I love this detail. He sees the king, and he’s heard all these stories about Robert Baratheon who killed Rhaegar and this giant of a man and all this stuff, and he looks at the guy, and he’s like, ‘I’m not really impressed. This is just a guy who’s sweating and breathing heavy from walking up to the dais. He’s not that impressive.” And I love that it shows Ned, when he looks at Robert, he sees the man that Robert used to be. He sees…and many people do. They see…they know the history. But Jon has got that, kind of like the eye of youth, and he doesn’t see that. He sees the man that Robert is now. And you could argue that Ned’s inability to see who Robert has become, and that he’s kind of blind to that, is also what leads to a lot of this stuff. Because this is not the version of Robert that he knew as a young man. 

James: I think Catelyn out-and-out says that at one point, too. He says, “I know Robert,” and she says, “You knew Robert.” You knew who he was before.

Luke: Right. Yeah, and this is the start of that. This is the first I think we see a character really thinking that. Like, “Who is this guy? I’m not impressed.” Yeah. Really well done.

James: Benjen shows up.

Luke: Benjen shows up, yeah. Uncle Ben comes talking about the Night’s Watch for the first time. Both of them notice that Ned is behaving kind of oddly, and I love that both him and Benjen are able to sort of read between the lines that something else is going on here that has made Ned uncomfortable. Which also demonstrates how close Benjen is to Ned, right? That he can still pick up on this sort of thing.

James: I love thinking about…for some reason, whenever I think about these families, I think about them as wholes. Like, when Eddard had his brother Brandon and his father and Benjen, and they were all together just like the Starks are right now. And then you think about where the Starks are now, and if everything had gone as it was at the beginning of the show, just thinking about where everybody would be. Maybe Rob would be taking over, but…everybody has just…it goes off the rails so quickly.

Luke: Yeah. So, there’s a really telling moment here where Jon says, you know…I think Benjen says, like, “Come to me after you’ve fathered a few bastards yourself.” And very angrily, Jon says, “I would never father a bastard.” And the fact that he is one, that demonstrates that, despite his…how he may outwardly act, he has a lot of sort of self-loathing over this. And that’s the only reason he goes to the wall. Because he, in some ways, believes “I belong there.” Now, in the fullness of time, with the fullness of full spoilers, he is literally a Targaryen-Stark. You know what I mean? He is not a bastard. He is, you know, not only a Stark, but a Targaryen and has [as much of] the royal bloodline as anybody there. Now what all that means, and I think it’s really fascinating to talk about because, you know, a lot of these books deal in royal bloodlines, and also might makes right, because that’s the whole thing with Robert. Basically, he took the throne, and that’s the only reason he’s a king now, because he took it. 

James: Well, you gotta think about the character that Jon would have been, had he not been a bastard growing up. Had he not had…you know, had he not been treated the way he was. If he was this royal bloodline Stark-Targaryen.

Luke: It was formative, right?

James: Yeah. He’s the character he is in the story because of that. And that makes it so much more satisfying when we do get that reveal. 

Luke: Right. So, next up, Jon is sort of embarrassed by what he says, and he runs outside. And he meets Tyrion Lannister, who does a backflip, somersault…I don’t know. Three sixty nosedive onto his hands, springs up onto his feet. He does something wild in the book that he definitely doesn’t do in the show. And doesn’t do anywhere really later in these books. To me, this is a weird, leftover sort of moment from like an early version of this character, that I’m kind of amazed is still in this novel. Because it really doesn’t fit the character in my opinion. 

James: Yeah, he’s more of a jester, almost.

Luke: Yeah. He’s got that tumbler sort of…he’s actually super flexible and can spring around and all this stuff. We don’t see that anywhere else in the books. He’s not like that. So, it’s almost…yeah, I kind of wish this had been edited out. Regardless, it’s in there. We meet Tyrion Lannister, who has heterochromia. He has sort of shaggy hair, one eye of each color, he’s got a sharp tongue, and he has his first conversation with Jon Snow. 

James: Arguably, to me, one of the most important lines…or formative lines for Jon’s character talks about the difference between being a dwarf and a bastard. And how…

Luke: Yeah, “Never forget what you are, for the world will not. Make it your strength.” Yeah, exactly. That whole thing. 

James: I also like the part where he says that a dwarf is always a bastard, and a bastard isn’t necessarily always a dwarf. It’s kind of a moment for Jon to look at in perspective and think about where he is in comparison to somebody like Tyrion, even. 

Luke: Yeah. These two definitely have this sort of immediate kindred spirit situation, and we see that it’s their family names keeping them apart. But we also see that these two characters have a lot in common. Clearly, Jon has a lot he could learn from Tyrion. So, next we go Catelyn in bed with Ned. We get some conversation about how Ned really wants to refuse Robert. And it’s funny, because Catelyn is actually the one who pushes him into agreeing with this, because she says…she doesn’t know how he’s going to react, and she’s thinking about the symbolism of the broken antler and thinking, “Oh, you can’t refuse him because, if you refuse him, his wrath is going to bring down our house.” And we, obviously, might interpret it saying that she’s misreading these symbols, and she pushes him to do the very thing that is what causes all this to go down. But it’s also like…like I said, again, it’s this inescapableness to these prophecies, too. Like, nothing she could have done here would have changed it, maybe. I don’t know. Or she was always going to do what she was always going to do. 

James: Exactly. And the thing is, like, she may have been interpreting it incorrectly, but the thing to do in this situation, from Rob’s perspective—Robert Baratheon’s perspective—is to go get his best friend to be the Hand of the King. And, like, ultimately, that seems like the best idea here. Not knowing…

Luke: Do you think, if Ned had said, “No, I’m not going to do it,” do you think Robert would have respected that?

James: Yes.

Luke: Really? See, I was going to say no. I think he would have twisted his arm until he agreed to do it.

James: You think so? Like, what is he going to do?

Luke: I think this version of Robert is not somebody who takes no for an answer.

James: What is he going to do? Is he going to kill one of his kids?

Luke: Well, because he…no, no, no. He knows that Ned’s an honorable man, so I think he would have appealed to his honor until Ned would have eventually agreed to do it. 

James: Okay, I can see that happening. But what I’m saying is if Ned was like, “No way, no way in hell. You’ll have to kill me.” Like, Robert’s not going to do that.  

Luke: No. But Ned would never do that, either. That would be a violation of Ned’s character ultimately. So, yeah. If Ned really just tried to say, “I really don’t want to do this, Robert don’t make me.” Robert’s response is, “I’m making you.”

James: Yeah.

Luke: So, we also hear about this letter that is found. A secret letter left for Maester Luwin, who comes in. It’s for Catelyn Stark. It’s written in a coded language. It’s from her sister. And basically it says her sister believes Jon Arryn was murdered by the Lannisters, specifically Cersei. Which is a huge bombshell. And they have no proof of anything. It affects everybody…everything that goes on from here on out, right? And we know later, of course, that’s not true. That…

James: It’s Joffrey.

Luke: No. It’s, um, it’s Catelyn…I’m sorry. 

James: Oh, you’re saying Lysa. 

Luke: It’s Lysa.

James: Lysa Arryn, yeah.

Luke: Who actually killed Jon.

James: What I was trying to say is the person who sent the assassin was Joffrey. Later.

Luke: Yes, later. Later. Later. Later. But I mean, for this whole thing, like Jon Arryn’s death, that is pinned on the Lannisters at this point.

James: Yes.

Luke: Is actually Lysa.

James: Well, Lysa was doing it at the behest of someone else.

Luke: Uh, Littlefinger.

James: We think.

Luke: Littlefinger and her are plotting.

James: Right. 

Luke: I think it’s unclear. I’d love to re-read those chapters. But I think it’s unclear whether or not it was her idea or Littlefinger’s idea, or what. But…

James: In the show, it’s pretty definitive that…it was him. But, like you said, I don’t remember the chapters specifically enough from the books to say if it was definitive that it was Littlefinger. He was definitely there plotting with her, though, right? So, you would think he had a hand in it. 

Luke: Yeah. I wanna say…God, I wish I remembered that part better. It’s some combination of Lysa and Littlefinger. I’m just not sure who had the stronger…like, whose idea it was, who was more behind it and who just kind of went along with it. I can’t remember specifically.

James: Yeah, but the blame falls on Cersei and the Lannisters.

Luke: Yeah, they’re putting it on the Lannisters to drive a wedge between the Starks and the Lannisters, so we…we don’t even know we’re being manipulated into setting up this conflict between these two houses. Right? These two houses are being set at odds with each other. 

James: And it’s funny because we see the Lannisters as the villains, as the readers, early on.

Luke: Yep. And they are, in many ways. 

James: They are definitely a despicable people. But they’re not necessarily…it’s not their fault…

Luke: They’re not guilty of this. Although it’s funny because the way Cersei talks about it later, I think is kind of…sort of sounds very incriminating. So…but is she just saying, “They’re going to blame us for this, so we need to not let it happen.” I don’t know. I do wonder if Martin had it all figured out at this point, or if he actually didn’t know who was responsible for Jon Arryn’s death in this first book or not. I like to think that he did, but it’s possible that he didn’t actually know until a later novel. This is also the first time we hear about the Lady Ashara Dayne, and we hear about the history of how Catelyn never welcomed Jon into the family, which is really…I always thought so harsh. But also, like, I can kind of understand it. And she says she would have been fine with it if he hadn’t brought Jon home and made him, like…and made her have to raise him as a child. 

James: Yeah, I have to admit, my first read-through, I didn’t like Catelyn because of the way she treated Jon. But, like, I do understand it in hindsight. A little more. But it’s just like…I think it’s because we…like, I think you naturally are pulled to Jon because he’s such an underdog, and he has all this stuff that isn’t going for him. So, just to see someone else treat him that way, especially someone who is so nice to everyone else…

Luke: Right. And, man, just knowing that Ned sees all of this happening, and being unwilling to say anything because he has to protect the secret, and yet it’s sort of driving this wedge between him and his wife, and this lingering thing has been going on for years.

James: And I always feel…I don’t know if this is like a really uninspired thing, but I just love Jon so much, that everything that happens I’m thinking in terms of Jon. And it’s just like…time and time again it does it. I think even Ned says something about, “I’ll tell you something next time I see you,” or something like that, when they part ways. Which isn’t even…hasn’t even happened yet in our read yet, I don’t think. 

Luke: No, no, it doesn’t happen…

James: Oh, that’s the show. That’s the show. Okay, so redact that, but…But just in terms of the things that happen to Jon where…he would seemingly never know his heritage if it wasn’t for things that are going to happen later.

Luke: Yeah. This is also where they agree that Jon can go to the wall. Which, yeah, that is a big decision, I think, for Ned to make here, knowing Jon’s true identity. But I think, in his defense, he doesn’t foresee any version of life playing out and where Jon is able to, like, proudly again say that he is a Targaryen. Like, in his mind, Jon will always have to live his entire life thinking he’s a bastard, and that’s the only way he’s going to survive. 

James: And you said before, Ned doesn’t necessarily buy into some of the more spiritual, magical things that are going to be going on. So, he’s just fulfilling his promise to Lyanna. 

Luke: Lyanna, yeah. Okay, so next up we meet Arya. We’ve met her a little bit, but this is our first real introduction to her. Her point of view. We see her failing at stitching. We hear she hates needle work. Sets up her sort of contentious/semi-contentious relationship with Sansa. And we see her wolf pup, named Nymeria, which I just have to say is also the name of my dog. So, when I encountered that in the book, it was exciting for me. 

James: Well, what about Tyrion, too? 

Luke: Yeah, my other dog is named Tyrion. My corgi. Yeah, absolutely. Then, I had another dog named Arya. So, I’m all over the Starks in this book in general with my dogs. 

James: I think we should address those in the next episode, but there’s…you know, there’s so many houses, and in this book specifically, it seems like the Starks are really important. But I want to know kind of what house you identify with, and I want to talk to you about what I identify with. And who I like, even if I don’t identify with them. But we’ll save that for our next episode. 

Luke: I think that will be cool. We did that with Harry Potter, right? Where we talked about our houses. So, I think which house, for Game of Thrones, I think we should absolutely do that. So, we also then see Jon and Arya being very close to one another. We see sort of a sparring match is going on, and it ends in Joffrey taunting Rob, asking for live steel, but it’s forbidden by the master at arms, and then he is able to boast and leave. The one interesting thing that happens here is The Hound comes up and basically says, “Ah, let him have live steel.” You know, “Why are you saying no to the prince?” And, I remember when I first read it, I was like, “Okay, so Sandor Clegane is just really doing everything Joffrey wants, but my new perspective of this is The Hound going, “Yeah, let’s see Joffrey actually fight this.” You know The Hound can tell that Joffrey would lose to Rob with live steel. So, it’s almost like he’s setting it up for Joffrey to either get seriously injured or killed. He’s like, “Yeah, let’s let it play out.” Because, to me, The Hound is the ultimate nihilist at this point. He just doesn’t care about anything or anyone. And, in fact, I think he hates Joffrey, but he just doesn’t care, either. At the same time.

James: It’s almost like…because his character…we’re going to talk about it much more later at some point, but his character is, like, what is his honor? Like, where is he motivated by? We know it’s ultimately his brother, but…

Luke: He has no honor, and his sole motivation maybe is his brother, yeah…

James: And then there’s also maybe something with Sansa. Later.

Luke: Later on, yeah, yeah. So, the next chapter is Bran, and we learn about him loving to climb. Now, my main observation from this that I thought was cool is that this foreshadows his coming sight. Because he talks about how he loves to see everything from a different perspective, and how he loves to be invisible and be able to look down on everything, and it makes it feel like he’s in his own secret world. And I just love how this foreshadows what happens to him in his future sight that he gets…his greenseeing, or whatever. Man, that’s so brilliantly done, because it just seems like a cool observation of a kid who climbs, but it’s actually foreshadowing his character and why he is so taken by the idea of getting this future sight or greensight.

James: I love this story we get of Ned punishing him and making him wait near the weirwood, and then he climbs it, and he finds him sleeping up in the tree. When he was told not to climb. Love that story. And, yeah, I love Bran chapters. Just…it’s one of my favorite points of view.

Luke: So, this is obviously the infamous scene of him hearing voices, following the voices, winding up in the tower, and seeing Jaimie and Cersei having sex. And he’s found out by Jaimie, catches him, actually kinds of rescues him from falling, and then throws him out the window, with the line, “The things I do for love.” I also love how Summer, who is not named Summer yet, actually is an unnamed...Bran’s unnamed wolf…is howling the whole time he’s climbing and seems to know that something is going to happen, and then we know that he loses his shit and is howling like crazy as Bran falls.

James: Their connection is awesome.

Luke: Man. All of these direwolves’ connections to their people is so strong, but particularly this one. Yeah, it’s really cool stuff. So, the first Tyrion chapter is actually…I had forgotten what the first Tyrion chapter was. And it’s him…he is actually the first point of view chapter we get reacting to the news of Bran falling. And we see him go and meet with his siblings, and…oh, we also see him slapping Joffrey. Which I love. We see him slap Joffrey twice. Kind of stands up to Sandor, because he knows he’s not going to do anything to [him]. And Clegane basically saying, like, “The prince will remember that,” and he’s like, “Well, make sure that he does.” So, I immediately just loved Tyrion even  more here. Then, yeah, what really seals it, is he goes and meets the twins, and we see him being incredibly clever and figuring out that they’re behind this. And just from a glance knows that…he’s fishing, you know what I mean, when he puts out the news that Bran is projected to perhaps survive. And then that little glance they have tells him everything he needs to know about them being behind it. And, yeah, I just love Tyrion and how smart he is. 

James: Well, yeah, Tyrion’s a genius. And it’s always fun to be in the perspective of a genius and just see them scheming and what they’re doing. 

Luke: All right, we’re going to get through these rapidly because we’re going super-long. So, Jon is on his way to the room to say goodbye to Bran. And this is where we see Cat being just, like, uber-bitch to him in my opinion. And we know that she’s grieving, and we see her change her ways later. But for right now, she just is so cold to him. Does not want to let him in there to talk to Bran. And then, of course, the ending line of, “It should have been you” is just so harsh, right?

James: And this is why I didn’t like her character for the first…

Luke: Yeah, I can see it. 

James: I just didn’t like her. And I held a grudge, I’ll admit. For a long time.

Luke: Right. We see Rob and Jon embrace. So, we know that Rob and Jon are friendly, and then Rob says to him, “The next time I see you, you’ll be all in black.” And, of course, we know that they will actually never see each other again after this moment. 

James: But I love their relationship, too. Like the not-brothers but clearly close as brothers. And…

Luke: Yeah.  

James: And they’re the two older brothers looking out for the rest of the Starks, and like…like I keep talking about, this image of a Stark family that didn’t go through all these hardships just always sticks out in my mind. And it just creates the Rob and Jon relationship. They could have been like Ned and Robert. 

Luke: Right. Yeah, I totally see that. And then we also see his relationship with Arya. He gives her Needle. And gives her the first lesson, “Stick them with the pointy end.” And we know that Needle, in many ways, is one of the things that not only causes a bunch of trouble, with her seeking to do swordplay in the…what comes later. But then also how she ends up surviving and sets her down a path that she ultimately, you know, goes down. I think it all starts with the gift of Needle. Right? The gift of a weapon to her. All right, next up with Dany’s…back to Dany’s chapter. She…this is the wedding, right? And she has the dream. And then we learn that she and this Khal Drogo can barely communicate to each other. They can barely speak to each other because they speak different languages. This wedding is described as such a brutal way…there’s people dying everywhere. There’s people just like…rutting. I don’t know how else to describe it…like animals. I think, rightfully, people have looked at this stuff and found it to be a bit problematic. I can see where people are coming from with that criticism. I really admire Martin for taking risks and for dealing with, sort of like live-grenade type subject matter in many ways. And being able to pull it off in a way that I think is pretty good. And, I don’t know, He’s somebody I look up to, in that I think he does things a lot, in general, in the right way. Now, I do think there is a lot of conflation with the show that happens when people talk about the books. 

James: I was about to say that, actually. I had a moment of this.

Luke: Yeah, there’s a ton of that. And I think this…the way this chapter ends is a big example. So, this chapter ends with Khal Drogo and Dany consummating their marriage. She’s terrified of him. He gives her this horse that she loves, and that’s sort of the first real sign of affection between them, because she really loves this horse that he gives her. And then they have this actually really drawn-out thing where he’s sort of combing her hair, and she helps him undo his braid. It’s actually semi-romantic, I would say. Like, there’s still a lot of troubling things going on. She’s still super-young. 

James: And she’s a child. She’s being forced into this relationship, obviously.

Luke: She’s still being forced into it. But, there’s this whole thing where he knows…one of the only words he understands, and he keeps asking her…you know, “no” gets said several times. And then finally he asks her a clear question, “No?” Like, do you want me to stop…what he was doing…and she doesn’t…she says, basically, go ahead. And she gives him the go-ahead. And so she provides a level of consent. Now, you can totally debate on whether or not consent is even possible in this situation. However, this is a stark change from what we see later in the show. And that’s one of the things that I know a lot of book readers push back against, and then it’s also one of the things that I get frustrated with because a lot of people who have only seen the show think that this is exactly how it goes down in the book. And it’s really not. It really is quite different. 

James: And I didn’t remember this chapter ending like this, either. I was genuinely, like, “Wow, that clearly is a lot more…”

Luke: Consenting.

James: Consenting, as well as there’s clearly…

Luke: A romantic element?

James: It’s like sensual and, yeah. It’s clear that it’s not like the rape that basically you see in the show.

Luke: It really is. It’s quite different, and I’m going to be really interested to see what kind of stuff we can dig up about that and why it was changed. If there’s anything about, like, why it was changed to be the way it was in the show. Next up, we get Eddard. We’re back in with the Starks. And he is taken out on a ride with Robert. We learn that Robert is aware of Dany being there and having this wedding. It’s a threat. Ned doesn’t want the death of children on  his hands, and he doesn’t think Robert should order her death. We learn that he never really forgave them for what happened with the death of the Targaryens. That was a sticking point and one of the reasons why he returned to the north and hasn’t really seen Robert in many years. It’s basically that Gregor Clegane killed these two Targaryen children. And he just never forgave him for that. 

James: And this is kind of what I asked you earlier about. If you thought Jon Arryn knew anything, just because he was also pushing back against Robert’s rage against the Targaryens. 

Luke: I think it was just more like, you don’t need to be killing children. I think Jon Arryn was a good…we don’t ever see this character, because he’s dead at the start of it, but I think he was a good man. I think that’s the implication we get from him. All right, so next up we’re with Tyrion on the way to the wall with Jon. We see them sort of bonding again. I love this introduction. Tyrion is reading about the dragons. He talks about having dreams of the dragons. Which, I guess…like, I wanted to talk about this episode, but I think we need to push it for the next one, but I really want to talk about the Tyrion-as-a-secret-Targaryen theory. 

James: Yeah.

Luke: And we can talk about that in the next episode. What we do get is a lot of discussions about the different dragons, and I love thinking about Balerion being so large that he could swallow a mammoth whole. Which, you think about the gullet required for that, that’s a big fucking dragon. That’s like a Godzilla dragon almost.

James: Yeah, well, you’re talking about the fan art. And I’ve seen fan art of what people envision how big he would have been. And you can see the little tiny Aegon on top.

Luke: Which makes me hope…I hope we’re going to see just even bigger dragons for this final season. Bigger and bigger.

James: They’ve got to be bigger and better.

Luke: We see Wolf tackle Tyrion and jump on top of him…

James: Ghost.

Luke: I’m sorry. What did I say, “Wolf?” Yeah, Ghost the direwolf is the one who jumps on him. And it’s cool, too, because it’s like Tyrion is almost making a threatening…like he’s going just to touch Jon, but it’s not actually threatening, but we just see how protective this wolf is, which sets up what is about to happen. So much of this stuff is brilliantly done from a storytelling point of view. It’s interesting to hear them say that…this conversation basically ends with them both talking about how dragons no longer exist, and if…you know for a fact, confirmed by the show that Jon himself is a dragon, and then there is the potential that maybe Tyrion is also a dragon. And the idea of them talking to each other about how dragons no longer exist is…ah, it’s just so good.

James: I mean, the idea of the three massive characters being dragons…it’s just all crazy.

Luke: All right, next up we are with Catelyn. She has to make some new appointments. She’s furious with the idea of having to make new appointments. We see Rob step up and say, “I’ll do it.” Takes the mantle. We see him sort of being a leader. 

James: Because Catelyn’s still in mourning from…

Luke: She’s still in mourning.

James: Because Bran’s still out. He’s down for the count.

Luke: Yup. A fire breaks out. Rob leaves. Everybody leaves. Catelyn is alone with Bran. And it’s really interesting that she’s been like…she been not about these direwolves. She’s like, “They make too much noise, shut them up, shut the window. I don’t want to hear them.” You know, all this stuff. 

James: At one point, she says, “Kill ‘em.” I think.

Luke: Yeah, “I don’t care if you have to kill them. Just shut them up.” Yeah. And then the man comes who’s been hired to kill Bran. You know, “You ain’t supposed to be here,” or whatever he says. And she gets cut up in fighting…struggling with him to save Bran. And then, yeah, the direwolf comes in and tears out the guy’s throat. Which is the first awesome thing we’ve seen a wolf do, and we’re so like, “Yes!” And again setting up how protective these wolves are, and I love that from this point on, and we see in later chapters, she’s all about the direwolves now. 

James: And Summer, not named Summer yet, but Summer, like, licks the blood off her hands, showing that, like, he’s gentle towards her. And then he lies down on the bed next to Bran, protecting him. And it’s just all…

Luke: Oh, and that’s in the same chapter. Yeah. So, she wakes up, she talks about what’s happened, and she’s…she’s like a new person when she wakes up. She’s moved past her grieving. She says, “There’s nothing else I can do for Bran,” and then she says, “I need to be the one who tells Ned what happened…” That they’re trying to kill Bran. She understands if they’re trying to kill Bran, it’s because he knows something. And specifically something about the Lannisters. This is her sort of intuiting that the Lannisters are the ones behind it. And so she says she’s going to take White Harbor and go by sea and going to basically meet them at King’s Landing. All right, next up we’re with Sansa. Sansa, who is meeting with Arya. We hear talk about Mycah, the butcher’s boy, and how these are mysterious bruises that keep appearing on Arya that she doesn’t understand. We also meet Lady, who is described as the sweetest of all the wolves. And we get the introduction of Ser Barristan Selmy and Renly Baratheon, plus the headsman Ser Ilyn Payne, which is a really fun scene we don’t really have time to get way into, but we see her being clever. Sansa being clever and knowing who these people are. Next up, she gets to spend the day with Joffrey. She’s so excited. And he’s showing off to her. He’s got this fancy castle-forged sword that he calls Lion’s Tooth. And he’s taking her around, and they’re getting drunk on wine. And it’s very charming. And then, all of a sudden, they hear noises in the forest. They go to investigate, and it’s Arya and the butcher’s boy, Mycah, fighting with wooden swords. So, Joffrey, being Joffrey, decides he’s going to be cruel, and he’s going to challenge, basically, the butcher’s boy to fight him, even though he has a sword, and the butcher’s boy only has the wooden stick. And Arya sees the danger in this and comes up and smacks Joffrey in the back of the head. They fight for a little bit, with the stick. They fight for a  little bit, and then, yeah, Nymeria comes in, jaws a-clamping, and clamps around Joffrey’s arm. And then Arya picks up his sword, taunts him, and throws it into the river, and I immediately loved Arya. She catapults to one of my favorite characters. And I’m so excited. And then the “Oh, shit” of what is going to happen. And then, like, I will just say I thought something bad was going to happen. I didn’t know how bad it was going to be. And, oh my gosh, that leads into the next chapter, which we’ll just dive right into. Eddard…Arya’s been brought before the king. He’s furious, as he’s going…that she was brought directly to the king and not to him. He comes in, and they tell their two conflicting tales. Man, I hate Joffrey as he lies about everything that happens. I love that Renly cracks up laughing when Arya tells the story about the sword getting thrown into the river. And how he got bested by this tiny, nine-year-old girl, or whatever she is. And then Renly basically leaves because he knows that he can’t be here laughing at this whole thing. It’s going to be a problem. 

James: There was a funny moment where Robert is, like, “Take him out of here. He seems like he’s choking. Take him out of here before he coughs himself to death,” or whatever. He wants to cover up the fact that he’s laughing at his son.

Luke: Yeah, he’s like, “Surely you’re not laughing right now, brother.” Yeah, but it’s also that thing where, like, he is his brother, so he knows he can get away with a certain amount.

James: Right. 

Luke: Yeah. Very, very…cool scene, honestly. And it’s happening in the midst of all this, like, craziness. And, so then, Robert is basically saying, like, “You gotta find that direwolf. You gotta kill the direwolf.” 

James: Because of Cersei.

Luke: Well, no, actually…actually he’s not. He’s like, “You punish your daughter, I’ll punish my son. Let’s get this over with.” He doesn’t want any part of this. And then Cersei says, “What about the wolf?” And he says, “Yeah, you’re right, you can’t have…” And it’s really sad, but also kind of understandable. He falls back on “These are beasts anyway, this was going to happen at some point, Ned. You’re crazy for letting your kids have a direwolf.” It’s like in our lives if somebody had a lion as their pet. Like, yeah, you can’t have that. Not to say you should kill a lion, but you can’t have it as a pet. It’s not going to work out. That’s kind of how it is for them. He’s like, “You just can’t do this. So, you need to get rid of these wolves.” They can’t find Nymeria, though, and Nymeria has gone missing. They have search parties out, but they can’t find her. So, it looks like it’s going to be averted, and then Cersei really gets to insert herself into the scene and become what she is throughout the rest of the series by coming up and saying, “Oh, well, we do have a wolf.” And then, man, her basically ordering the death of Lady and just how unjust it is. Man, as a dog lover, it’s a brutal series of events.

James: Genuinely, I almost cried reading this.

Luke: Yeah, me too.

James: Borderline almost cried.

Luke: I felt myself tearing up. Yeah. And especially the scene of Ned with her and…and I’m getting choked up talking about it. Man, yeah, the scene of Ned with her and he says he’s going to do it himself.

James: I mean, so much respect to Ned for being able to pull it off. It’s crazy to be able to actually do that. 

Luke: Yeah, absolutely. And then I just love how he’s like, “We’re going to take four men, and we’re going to take her body back to Winterfell to bury her.” And he’s like, “The Lannister woman is never going to get this pelt.” And I love all of that. It’s just like such a silver lining on a terrible thing that’s happening, but you just love Ned so much for doing that. And then, yeah, we end on the reveal that Sandor Clegane comes back, and he’s ridden down Mycah, the butcher’s boy, and we think that he’s gotten Nymeria for a second. 

James: Yeah.

Luke: And that was like an, “Oh, shit, I’m going to throw this book” moment, where this can’t possibly be…it’s not, though. But it’s Mycah, which is also terrible, too, and…

James: And the craziest part is that he ran him down, too.

Luke: Yeah, this is like Sandor showing, “I don’t care anymore about anything.” He has no morality. 

James: Yeah.

Luke: It’s not even like he…

James: He didn’t just kill this kid. He, on his horseback, just ran this kid down and sliced him from on horseback.

Luke: Yeah, he just does whatever is ordered of him, because he doesn’t care. You know, Sandor is a fascinating character in his own way, but this is him at his lowest, I think, from what we see. And, yeah, man, the Starks are down right now and have been kicked. You know, Bran falling is a crazy moment that really kicks off this plot, but the death of Lady at, basically, Robert’s orders, and Ned…man, this is the thing that showed me that this isn’t fantasy like I’ve ever read before. This just doesn’t happen in any other series. Now, I know there’s been lots of grimdark written since, but this marks a turning point in my opinion in these kinds of stories, and…I’m no fantasy scholar. I haven’t read everything that was contemporary. I can’t definitely say there wasn’t anybody else doing this at the time. In fact, I think there were some others, but… You know, he’s the most famous for a reason, and I think it’s because he does it really, really well. And this is my introduction to this sort of thing. And, yeah, reading this is the kind of thing that made me go, “Oh my God.” The kinds of stories you can tell in genre fiction and fantasy fiction, it just blew the doors off for me. And, yeah, those doors are still blown off.

James: All right, well that sounds like a great place to wrap it for this episode. I wish that we had ten hours to cover this one part.

Luke: Well, luckily we got more episodes coming, so we can talk even more about this stuff, and really get into it. But, yeah, I have a feeling these are going to be episodes where there’s just so much we wish we could talk about. Hopefully you enjoyed that as much as I did, and listening to that. And, yeah, we really hope you come back next week when we talk about the first two episodes of the show, and we get into the background and the history behind that show, that adaptation came to be.

James: Yeah, I can’t wait to jump into that. It’s…I mean it’s fascinating. It’s the biggest show in the world. So, I’m looking forward to it. If you wanted to find us on social media, we’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all of those @InkToFilm. 

Luke: Yeah, and we wanted to thank Amanda Van P for being a Patreon supporter. And if you wanted to find out how to become one yourself, you can look up and see what sort of bonuses we’re offering. Like bonus episodes and all that good content. 

James: If you want to support the podcast in another way, you can leave a rating or review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Luke: And we wanted to thank Rameses B for the use of our intro and outro music. 

James: And thank you, Jennifer Della’Zanna, for providing our transcripts.

Luke: All right, man, I think we should just leave it here. No stinger this week, but we hope to see you back next time. Until then…

James: Thanks for listening.

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