It’s been almost twenty years since I first read A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin’s first book in what was intended to be A Song of Ice and Fire, the trilogy. But as Twitter exploded with reaction over who took the throne in the TV series finale, I remembered how the book began.
I’m not what you might call an ASoIF superfan, but I liked the books well enough, especially the first one. For me, Martin’s strength resides in gutsy narrative curveballs like killing Ned Stark, who had seemed like the story’s main focus until he loses his head, and shocks like the Red Wedding. These twists and turns have also helped keep viewers of the show on edge and perpetually tuning in, since anything dramatic might happen.
But the first book of the now-intended-to-be-seven-book A Song of Ice and Fire starts on a relatively tame note, seen through the eyes of a child. After a brief prologue that plunges us into confusing violence wrought by the undead, we shift to the first chapter and the first perspective of this series of many narrators: Bran.
I dug out my old copy to confirm:
Just remembered that Bran had the first chapter and perspective in “A Game of Thrones” so well played I guess pic.twitter.com/rD5PugRFyh
— Kaila Hale-Stern (@kailahalestern) May 20, 2019
Through Bran’s childish gaze we experience Winterfell and Westeros for the first time. He rides out to see justice delivered with his father Eddard Stark and brothers Robb and Jon, and they discover the litter of direwolf pups.
A few chapters later, we return to Bran for the book’s first real shock and significant plot advancement, when a climbing Bran accidentally spies on the twins Jaime and Cersei locked in carnal embrace, and Jaime pushes the boy off the window ledge.
While some disgruntled fans after Game of Thrones‘ season finale were quick to point out that Bran was such an insignificant figure that he disappeared for a season, I was remembering how the book focuses us in on Bran from the very beginning—how our sympathies are first sworn to him.
It’s clear that Martin’s ideas for the book series have shifted considerably over time (an early outline from 1993 had such head-scratching ideas as a Jon/Arya/Tyrion love triangle). But I imagine he may have begun with some idea of who was going to ascend to the throne at the end of it all. Was this opening on Bran a wink to the audience all along that in the seven-year-old boy we were meeting first was the person who would ultimately succeed and win the game of thrones?
As you ponder the possibility, let me introduce one of my absolute favorite ideas of Martin’s. On the topic of writers and writing, Martin said:
“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”
I remember reading this and having it open my third eye about why and how people approach writing in such varied ways. And while Martin claims to be more of a gardener than an architect, there has to be a little bit of both in every writer. Was he laying down grand architectural foundations when he first embarked from Bran’s perspective?
We won’t know until we get the last book in our hands, but I can’t help but wonder if the final narration closes with Bran, as it all began.
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