This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.
Just outside the kingdom of Winterfell, Ser Waymar Royce, Will and Gared, three members of the Night’s Watch, investigate some mysterious deaths. Will previously found a camp full of dead bodies, but the bodies have now vanished. Royce is attacked and killed by supernatural beings called the Others, but he rises from the dead to kill Will. Gared flees.
Bran Stark is a young boy who watches his father, Lord Eddard Stark, execute Gared for abandoning his post as a member of the Night’s Watch. After the execution, Eddard’s two older sons, Robb and Jon, discover a gigantic dead direwolf and her six living cubs. The children adopt the pups as their own. Back at the Stark castle, Eddard’s wife, Catelyn, tells him that his friend Jon Arryn has been killed. The King, Robert Baratheon, is riding to Winterfell with all his knights and retainers to speak with Eddard about the problem.
In the far-off city of Pentos, Viserys Targaryen is making arrangements to regain power. Viserys is the son of the Targaryen king, who was deposed by Robert Baratheon 15 years earlier. He plans to marry off his 13-year-old sister, Daenerys, to Khal Drogo, a powerful warlord.
In Winterfell, Eddard welcomes Robert Baratheon. Robert and Eddard visit the grave of Eddard’s sister Lyanna, the woman Robert loved and wanted to marry. Robert makes it clear that he is unhappy with his wife, Queen Cersei Lannister. Robert offers Eddard the chance to take Jon Arryn’s place as the Hand of the King, his chief adviser and war commander. Robert also says that he wishes to betroth his son, the crown prince Joffrey, to Eddard’s young daughter Sansa. That night, Catelyn Stark receives a message that says Cersei Lannister ordered the murder of Jon Arryn, the previous Hand of the King.
Seven-year-old Bran is exploring an abandoned part of the Starks’ castle when he hears a man and woman talking. Bran peers through a window and sees Cersei Lannister and her twin brother, Jaime, having sex. When they discover Bran watching, Jaime throws him out of a high window. Bran’s back and legs are broken by the fall, and his parents fear that if he ever wakes up from his coma, he will be crippled for life.
Daenerys Targaryen marries Khal Drogo in the city of Pentos. She cannot speak his language, but they still come to an understanding and consummate their marriage.
Jon Snow, Eddard Stark’s illegitimate son, and Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of Jaime and Cersei, ride with a group of men to the northern Wall of Winterfell. Jon is going to join the Night’s Watch, a ragtag group of men who are exiled to the Wall to defend Winterfell against unknown threats. Eddard and his two daughters, Sansa and Arya, leave with King Robert for King’s Landing.
Lady Catelyn remains at home to nurse Bran. She is still tending Bran when an assassin comes to murder the boy. She fights the assassin, and Bran’s direwolf kills the man. Catelyn decides that she must travel to King’s Landing to meet Eddard and warn him about the plots against his family. When she arrives in King’s Landing, her childhood friend called Littlefinger tells her that the knife the assassin used to attack Bran actually belongs to Tyrion Lannister. Meanwhile, Eddard discovers that King Robert has bankrupted the kingdom with his constant requests for tournaments and lavish feasts. Littlefinger secretly leads Eddard to Catelyn, who tells him about the attempt on Bran’s life.
Daenerys Targaryen gradually adjusts to life as Khal Drogo’s wife. Her cruel brother, Viserys, accompanies Daenerys and Drogo on the long ride back to Drogo’s country. Daenerys is finally tired of Viserys’ mistreatment of her, and when Viserys attacks her, she makes him walk behind the company of horsemen in disgrace. Toward the end of the long journey, Daenerys learns that she is pregnant.
Bran has awoken and is having a difficult recovery in Winterfell. He is paralyzed from the waist down.
At Castle Black, Jon Snow meets Samwell Tarly, an overweight teenager who cannot fight. Jon befriends Samwell and protects him from the other boys.
On the road back to Winterfell, Catelyn Stark meets Tyrion Lannister and has him arrested on the suspicion that he ordered the attempt on Bran’s life.
A courtier named Lord Varys tells Eddard Stark that Jon Arryn was poisoned after he started asking too many questions about the Lannisters. Eddard is horrified to learn that King Robert has almost no true supporters in the capital city. Almost everyone who surrounds the king is secretly loyal to the Lannisters.
Wild men in the mountains attack Catelyn and the group of men who helped her capture Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion saves Catelyn’s life in the fight, and her attitude toward him softens somewhat.
King Robert wants Eddard to agree to help murder Daenerys Targaryen so that her unborn child will not one day threaten his kingdom. Eddard refuses and resigns as the Hand of the King. Robert tells him to return to Winterfell or risk execution. A short while later, Eddard and his men are attacked by Jaime Lannister, who wounds Eddard and kills his attendants. After Eddard heals slightly, King Robert apologizes to him and reinstates him as the Hand of the King. Eddard stumbles across some uncomfortable information about King Robert’s children, and Eddard concludes that Queen Cersei’s children are illegitimate. Cersei openly admits to Eddard that her twin brother, Jaime, sired her three children. Eddard advises Cersei to take her children and leave the kingdom because he intends to tell the king about her betrayal.
Catelyn arrives at Eyrie, the home of her sister, Lysa, the widow of Jon Arryn, the first Hand of the King. She finds Lysa in a mentally unstable state. Lysa imprisons Tyrion Lannister because she believes he has played a role in her husband’s death. After Tyrion’s champion wins a trial by combat, Tyrion is set free on the dangerous open road.
Daenerys arrives in the city of Vaes Dothrak to be presented to the medicine women, the dosh khaleen. Daenerys has to eat the fresh heart of a slaughtered stallion to prove that her child will be a strong ruler. At the feast after the ceremony, her drunken brother, Viserys, holds a sword to her pregnant belly and demands that Khal Drogo give him an army. Instead, Drogo melts some gold pieces and kills Viserys by pouring the molten gold on his head.
At King’s Landing, King Robert lies dying and names Eddard as the Lord Protector of the kingdom. When the king dies, Cersei proclaims her son, Joffrey, to be king and has Eddard imprisoned. Littlefinger betrays Eddard, and it is revealed that Eddard’s daughter Sansa also betrayed him unknowingly by telling Cersei his plans.
Jon Snow and other members of the Night’s Watch discover strange bodies in the woods. The corpses have clearly been dead for a long time, but they haven’t decomposed. Jon fights against one of the undead Others who invades Castle Black.
Robb Stark and all his bannermen ride away to King’s Landing to free Eddard from the Lannisters. Robb leaves Bran in charge of Winterfell.
An attempt is made on Daenerys Targaryen’s life, and when Drogo learns that King Robert has sent assassins to kill Daenerys, he decides to take all of his warriors and invade the Seven Kingdoms.
Tyrion Lannister recruits several armies of tribesmen to support him in upcoming battles. Tyrion meets his father, Tywin, at a roadside inn and learns that the Lannister armies have been winning battles all over the land. Tyrion’s tribesmen agree to fight with the Lannisters against the Starks. Tyrion and Tywin win a battle against some of the soldiers sent by the Starks, but meanwhile, Robb Stark and Lady Catelyn win another skirmish against the Lannisters and capture Jaime Lannister.
After sustaining a severe wound in battle, Khal Drogo lies dying. A healing woman named Mirri offers to do a dark magic ritual that will save Drogo. Drogo’s men begin to fight each other, and the camp is in chaos. Daenerys is dragged into the tent where the ritual is happening, and the dark magic kills the child she is carrying. When Daenerys wakes, she learns that the dark magic has saved Drogo’s life but left him in a permanent vegetative state. She smothers her husband to end his ruined life.
In King’s Landing, Arya Stark is disguised as a beggar child, and she watches as her father, Eddard, is publically executed. Sansa is still betrothed to young King Joffrey, who abuses her and enjoys frightening her.
The Stark armies gain ground. Instead of supporting one of King Robert’s brothers as successor to the crown, many lords decide that they will only follow Robb Stark, who they wish to crown as King in the North.
Daenerys builds a funeral pyre for her husband. As his corpse burns, the three dragon eggs that she places on the pyre begin to hatch. Daenerys and her dragons instantly draw the adoration and loyalty of many people, who will one day form her army.
The Others are supernatural creatures. They bring cold temperatures with them. When the Others kill Ser Waymar Royce, he rises from the dead and becomes a wight, an undead person.
Each ruling family has its own godswood, a place where the family may go to worship or to seek solitude. Catelyn Stark is not fond of the Stark godswood, which is a memorial to ancient nameless gods, but Eddard finds it comforting. Catelyn comes from a family who belongs to the Faith, a religion that worships a god with seven different faces. Jon Snow decides that he cannot pray to either the old or the new gods because they have not shown him any kindness. After his accident, Bran Stark takes great pleasure in being near the godswood and thinking about the old gods.
Characters pay attention to signs and omens. When the Stark children discover a dead direwolf in the snow and find that the creature was killed by a deer’s antler, people believe that the Baratheon House will destroy the Stark House, because the Starks’ symbol is a wolf and the Baratheons’ symbol is a stag.
The dosh khaleen of the Dothraki are women who function as shamans. They can supposedly foretell the future, and they predict that Daenerys’ child will be the leader who will unite the known world under one banner. Mirri the maegi performs a bloodmagic ritual that saves Drogo’s life by killing his unborn child.
Eddard Stark is kind to his sons and tries to explain the concepts of justice to them. He makes his sons take responsibility for the direwolf pets they take in, and he warns them about the possible dangers of trying to domesticate wild animals. Eddard routinely asks his wife about the children, and he is involved in their upbringing. Eddard is displeased that his 3-year-old son, Rickon, is afraid of a direwolf pup, because he feels that his children should overcome their fears as soon as possible. He encourages his quarreling daughters, Sansa and Arya, to put aside their differences and love each other as sisters should. He hires an expert swordsman to teach Arya to use her small sword when he learns that his daughter has an interest in fighting. Eddard knows that Joffrey will make a bad match for Sansa, so he tries to take her away from Joffrey and promises that he will find a more worthy husband for her.
Catelyn Stark loves all her children and constantly looks out for their best interests, but she resents her husband’s illegitimate son, Jon Snow. Catelyn does not want to have Jon around her children. When her own son Bran breaks his back and legs, she tells Jon that she wishes he were the one who was injured. Catelyn stays by her comatose son Bran for days, and she fights an assassin who comes to kill him. Catelyn’s hands are cut to the bone by the assassin’s dagger, but she manages to save her son’s life. When Catelyn’s oldest son, Robb, begins to command other men when the war starts, she takes special care to treat him like a grown man in front of his soldiers.
Jon Snow becomes a leader of the young men in the Night’s Watch. He overcomes his own tendency to bully boys who are less skilled at swordplay, and he teaches the common boys how to use their swords. When the sword instructor Ser Alliser pointlessly orders the overweight Samwell to be beaten bloody, Jon stands up to defend him. Jon takes care of Samwell and convinces the other boys to be kind to him.
Samwell Tarly’s father told him that he had to either join the Night’s Watch, or his father would kill him and make it look like an accident.
Tyrion Lannister frequently mentions how his father despises him for his dwarfism and deformity.
Catelyn’s sister, Lysa, calls her own 6-year-old son a baby, pampers him and openly discusses his delicate health and tender feelings. She still breastfeeds the boy.
King Robert Baratheon does nothing to advise or discipline his three children by Cersei, who are actually not his children at all. King Robert has many illegitimate children, and he provides for some of them but never visits them.
Although d–n or a form of it and b–tard, as it refers to Jon Snow, are used profusely throughout the book, a few words are used a number of times, such as variations of h— , b–tch (usually used to refer to a female dog) and s—. The following words are each used a handful of times or less: tit, c–k, a–, the f-word and c–t. After his sister’s marriage, Viserys calls her a whore and a slut instead of using her name.
The Others kill Ser Waymar Royce with their swords. Royce comes back to life as a wight, with a shard of his opponent’s sword still wedged into his eye. Royce chokes Will to death.
Bran Stark is 7 years old when he attends his first public execution. Eddard Stark cuts off a man’s head with his sword. Eddard’s teenage ward kicks the decapitated head and laughs.
Eddard’s older brother Brandon was strangled to death by order of Aerys Targaryen, the previous king. A knight named Ser Ilyn is mute because King Aerys had his tongue pulled out with hot pincers.
At Daenerys’ wedding, men begin fighting, and one of them is cut so badly that his intestines spill out on the ground. Several more men die in fights that break out at the wedding.
Years ago, the infant heir to the Targaryen throne was murdered by being thrown against a wall. Eddard was horrified by the brutality, but he recalls that Robert was pleased by the death of any Targaryen.
Catelyn fights off the assassin sent to kill Bran. She grabs the man’s dagger with both hands, cutting herself deeply. She manages to bite a chunk of flesh from the man’s hand before Bran’s direwolf attacks him. Bran’s wolf rips out the assassin’s throat, which sprays Catelyn with blood.
Sandor Clegane, a knight who serves the Lannisters, hunts down a 13-year-old boy and cuts him nearly in half with his sword. Clegane kills the boy because Prince Joffrey falsely said the boy injured him. Sandor Clegane tells Sansa Stark that his horribly scarred face is the result of his older brother intentionally rubbing his face into hot coals when he was a small child. Eleven-year-old Sansa watches men die while jousting in a tournament.
Old Nan says that the Others let their dead servants eat the bodies of children.
Many men suffer bloody deaths during fights.
When Bran Stark defies the men who want to rob him, an outlaw woman suggests that her companions cut off Bran’s genitals and stuff them in his mouth.
As part of an old Dothraki ritual, Daenerys has to eat the bloody heart of a freshly slaughtered stallion to prove that the child she carries will be a strong ruler. Later that night, Drogo kills Viserys by pouring molten gold on top of his head. Daenerys has the medicine woman Mirri burned alive.
Arya Stark runs her sword through a stable boy when he tries to harm her.
Joffrey orders his knights to hit Sansa in the face many times. He enjoys showing off her father’s head mounted on a spike.
Bran has heard rumors about women who live outside the Wall. Some supposedly have sex with the Others in order to have magical, half-human children.
Jon Snow is Eddard Stark’s illegitimate son. Snow is the surname of all illegitimate children in Winterfell. Eddard says that he dishonored himself and his wife by fathering a child outside of marriage.
Viserys Targaryen sexually appraises his 13-year-old sister, Daenerys, to judge how he may benefit from arranging a marriage for her. Viserys strokes and pinches his sister’s clothed breasts. Daenerys has always assumed that she would marry her brother because the Targaryens have always married their siblings to keep their bloodlines pure. Viserys tells his sister that he would gladly let a whole army of men rape her if he could regain his throne by doing so. After her marriage, Viserys grabs his sister’s breast hard enough to cause her pain.
Viserys believes that the Dothraki people practice homosexuality and bestiality.
King Robert talks about how the women in his city have very little modesty in the summer and how he enjoys watching them swim naked in the river beneath the castle. King Robert’s insatiable lusts are well-known and frequently discussed, and a major plot point hinges on Jon Arryn’s investigation of Robert’s many illegitimate children.
In one scene, Catelyn and Eddard begin a discussion immediately after having sex. Catelyn hopes that their relations will produce another child. While in their chambers, Catelyn receives a message that shocks her so much that she stands and walks around naked in front of the messenger, old Maester Luwin. Catelyn reassures her husband that this is not problematic because Luwin delivered all her children and has seen her body before.
Seven-year-old Bran witnesses the twins Cersei and Jamie Lannister committing incest. Cersei later admits to Eddard that she and Jaime have been lovers since they were children. Cersei says that King Robert did impregnate her once, but she had an abortion, and since that time she has avoided intercourse with the king.
At Daenerys’ wedding, Daenerys watches people engaging in the Dothraki custom of having group sex in public. Daenerys and Drogo’s consummation of their vows is not described, but they do engage in explicit foreplay. In the early days of their marriage, Drogo will only have sex with Daenerys if she is facing away from him. Daenerys is grateful for this position because it means that he cannot watch her cry. After a few weeks of this, Daenerys asks for marital advice from a former prostitute. After Daenerys learns a few new techniques and positions, she and Drogo both enjoy sex more than they had previously. Later on, Drogo has sex with his wife in public.
Rhaegar Targaryen repeatedly raped Eddard’s sister Lyanna before her death.
Littlefinger owns a brothel and hides Catelyn Stark inside it, so the Lannisters do not discover her. The scantily dressed employees of the brothel flirt with their clients.
Several of the teenage boys who work for the Night’s Watch were sent to the cold, remote outpost as punishment for being rapists. They are known by their past crimes and called “the rapers.”
Prostitutes are the subject of many off-color jokes from various characters.
Tyrion talks to Catelyn Stark in a sexual manner and makes comments about her body in order to shock her. Tyrion later jokes that he would like to die peacefully in his old age while receiving oral sex. Tyrion has sex with a camp follower named Shae.
The scene is not intended to be sexual, but Catelyn’s sister, Lysa, openly breastfeeds her 6-year-old son.
In Vaes Dothrak, women dance while dressed only in garlands of flowers. Drogo vows to let his men rape the women of the Seven Kingdoms.
Tyrion Lannister tells the story of how he lost his virginity when he was 13 to a peasant girl who was only a year older. He secretly married the girl, but then his brother revealed that he had arranged the entire relationship for Tyrion. The girl was a prostitute, and in order to break Tyrion’s attachment to the girl, his father had her brought to the Lannister castle and made Tyrion watch as she had sex with every man in the castle guard.
Characters discuss giants mating with mortals and say that it is easier for giant women to mate with human men, because when giant men have intercourse with human women, they split them open.
When the Dothraki begin to attack other people groups, Daenerys learns that they intend to sell all the boys and girls they capture. The children will be sent to brothels, where extra money will be paid for the boys. Daenerys hears a girl being raped and stops the Dothraki warriors from continuing to hurt her. Daenerys continues to save every woman she finds being raped and takes the women into custody as her slaves. Daenerys asks her husband to stop his soldiers from any further rape and encourages him to have his men make wives of the conquered women.
Alcohol: Characters drink wine and other types of alcohol. At age 14, Jon Snow is glad that no one is paying attention to him at a feast, because it means that he can drink as much alcohol as he wants.
Drugs: Dying and injured characters are given poppy juice to ease their pain.
Media tie-in: HBO launched a television series based on this book series. It debuted in the spring of 2011.
You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.