A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire (Book 1) Summary

George R. R. Martin

Extended Summary

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin is a fantasy set in Westeros. Fourteen years before the story begins, the Targaryens ruled Westeros after having conquered the Seven Kingdoms with the power of their dragons. When the mad king, Aerys Targaryen, raped Lyanna Stark, murdered her brother, and attempted to murder their allies, the Starks, Baratheons, and Arryns rebelled and overthrew the king. Afterward, Robert Baratheon was crowned king and Jon Arryn was appointed the “Hand of the King.” Meanwhile, Ned Stark returned to Winterfell, in the north, the seat of their power and where A Game of Thrones begins.

Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark of Winterfell is a responsible man who lives up to the words of his family: “winter is coming.” He fathered a child outside of wedlock but has claimed the boy, Jon, and raises him alongside his “trueborn” children, Robb, Sansa, Bran, Arya, and Rickon. They are all “summer children”—not one of them has known “winter.” Ned is teaching his children about the importance of carrying out justice. He has sentenced a deserter to death and carries out the execution himself because “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” As Ned and his retainers leave, they come across a litter of direwolves. There is one for each of his children, including Jon. When Ned returns home, he learns that the king and his court are about to arrive in Winterfell.

King Robert has traveled to Winterfell from his throne in King’s Landing because the Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, has died. He wants Ned to take Jon’s place. He also proposes that Sansa marry his son and heir, Joffrey. Although Ned and Robert were childhood friends, the latter has changed a great deal. King Robert is a fat man who does not take his responsibilities seriously. Ned is quick to forgive his king but feels suspicious of the queen, Cersei Lannister. Ned has never trusted the Lannisters because they did not join the rebellion against the Targaryens until it was clear it would succeed. Also, Cercei’s twin brother, Jaime, was sworn to defend the king with his life but instead killed him and has carried the name Kingslayer ever since. Ned would rather not take on this responsibility, but he is a man of duty and accepts Robert’s appointment.

Ned is shocked to discover how much influence the Lannisters have over the kingdom. Young Bran is even more shocked when he discovers Jaime and Cersei sleeping together. To keep their secret, Jaime throws Bran out of a castle window. Bran survives the fall but is in a coma. It is with great sadness that Ned leaves Winterfell, accompanied by his daughters, Sansa and Arya. Catelyn remains behind with her sons, Robb, Bran, and Rickon, but even she leaves by ship after she prevents an assassin from murdering Bran. Jon elects to travel north to the Wall to join the Night’s Watch.

The Night’s Watch protects the realm from the monsters and wildlings beyond the Wall, though most people dismiss these “grumkins” as fairytales. Still, it is considered a noble calling to join the Watch, and the men vow to abandon politics and their family—and to never leave their duty. The queen’s dwarf brother, Tyrion (called the Imp), accompanies Jon to the Wall. Although the Starks and Lannisters dislike each other, Jon and Tyrion begin to form a friendship along their journey when Tyrion informs Jon that “most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.” In Jon’s case, the truth is that the Watch is no longer a noble calling; men only join it to avoid imprisonment and death sentences.

The journey south is also full of disillusions. Arya is determined to learn how to use a sword; she asks Mycah, a peasant child, to teach her. When Sansa and Joffrey discover them, Joffery attacks Mycah. Only Arya’s direwolf, Nymeria, saves the boy’s life. However, when the queen sees her son’s ravaged arm, she demands that the beast be killed. Ayra’s wolf is nowhere to be seen, so Cersei insists that they kill Sansa’s direwolf, Lady, instead. Robert agrees in spite of Ned’s protests. Arguing that the man who “passes the sentence should swing the sword,” Ned kills the wolf himself; Joffrey’s protector, Sandor Clegane, kills Mycah. By the time Ned arrives in King’s Landing, he already doubts his admiration for Robert and is tired of the south’s squabbling...

(The entire section is 1787 words.)