A Game of Thrones Review: Chapter 1

In my last post concerning A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, I reviewed the prologue. In today’s post, I shall review the first chapter. Surprisingly, there’s actually one line of dialogue I like in this chapter. Unsurprisingly, however, there is only one line I like.

Of Human Plagiarism

The “book” begins,

The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer.

which is entirely derivative of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage: “The day broke gray and dull. The clouds hung heavily, and there was a rawness in the air that suggested snow.” I’ve already spoken at length about Martin’s use of the progressive tense, but his use of the perfect tense here isn’t much better; compare these two with that in mind.

The Technical Problems

The bad punctuation and overuse of progressive verbs persists through this chapter. I came across several commas that were double-spaced. I’ve discussed much of this already. Something that immediately struck me as strange, however, is that all the chapter gets for a heading is the name “Bran.” Each subsequent chapter is similarly marked with nothing more than the name of the point-of-view character. I’ve read other books that do this, but those books actually bothered to number their chapters, which A Game of Thrones does not do. Given the considerable length of the volume, this formatting choice serves no purpose other than to make keeping one’s place an utter pain. Martin seems to assume that anyone who reads his work has a wallet full of bookmarks on hand, because anyone who doesn’t is going to get frustrated quickly.

The One Redeemable Line of Dialogue

Considering what I’d read up to this point, I didn’t expect to find any redeeming qualities in this story, but I actually like the following passage:

“We hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die. … A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.”

I don’t condone the death penalty, but if a country is going to practice it then the person who passes the sentence should not be able to be detached from the execution. However, I didn’t get the feeling that Eddard was capable of feeling compassion.

On Religion

Regarding religion, there is a point in the chapter where Bran exclaims,

“Gods!”

I think a polytheistic culture would cite a specific god: one whose domain applies to the situation. It would make more sense to me if someone were to shout “What in Odin’s name?” “Frey, give me strength!” or something similar. By contrast, Bran’s exclamation is made like that of a Christian (“God!”), the only difference being that an “s” is tacked on to make it plural. The same thing can be seen when Theon Greyjoy says,

“What in the seven hells is it?”

This might have made sense, yet it seems to me that everything in their religion is nothing but Christianity made superficially plural by means of numbers and suffixes. And it’s the same with “The gods help you!”

Unlikeable Characters and Direwolf Pups

Bran just seemed like a little kid and I didn’t notice much else to his character. Jon Snow seemed decent, and I didn’t immediately perceive any reason to dislike him. However, I also wasn’t given any specific reason to care about either of them, let alone the rest of the characters. Most of the other characters were clearly sociopaths, particularly Theon, who laughed whenever anyone or anything had died or was about to die. It seemed to be the same with the other adults, and their unflinching willingness to kill the wolf pups (coupled with their apparent excitement at the prospect of doing so) was repulsive.

There might be some sort of compassionate argument for putting the pups out of their misery, but every line of dialogue is so cold that I can’t imagine that’s what they were thinking. That the only characters who had any objection or unwillingness to kill the pups were all children—that all the adults lack empathy or compassion—is an example of a very offensive, harmful, and untrue stereotype. Often kids actually grow in empathy as they mature into adults, but here it seems to work in reverse. The idea that adults are—or should be—cold and unfeeling is abhorrent.

“Childish” Empathy

The older children seem to be less and less compassionate the closer they get to being adults. Granted, Bran’s brothers Jon and Robb argue in favour of keeping the pups, but it seemed like they were only doing so for Bran’s sake and not because they share his compassion. Apart from the small child, everyone in the story is exceedingly cold. Perhaps this was meant to get the reader to empathize with Bran, but the fact that Bran is the only character with any degree of empathy only makes me dislike him for being a caricature of a sociopath’s view of children.

In Conclusion…

The first chapter was of a similar quality to that of the prologue. As an adult, I find the adults’ actions in the chapter extremely offensive, and I don’t even like any of the younger characters thus far. Not much happens in the first chapter, except that a man gets beheaded shortly before I quickly come to despise everyone concerned. I’ve read a lot of books, and never before have I finished the first chapter caring so little about the characters.

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