Staggering at the tip of the Winterfell iceberg.
August 6, 2011 9:05 AM   Subscribe

One hundred forty pages into Game of Thrones, and I feel like an uninvited guest at a wedding banquet, floored by unfamiliar names and familial relationships and alliances. What do I need to know to get over the hump?

I've checked out reference sources here and here, but the level of detail seems overwhelming. Are there sites on the Web that present the characters and familial alliances in the form of a chart or graph? More importantly, realizing I may need to swallow minor spoilers, what features of the book, its characters and storyline should I know--and commit to memory--to proceed further?
posted by Gordion Knott to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't find the family trees at the end of the book until I got there. Then it was too late!
posted by gregglind at 9:12 AM on August 6, 2011

I googled "game of thrones family tree" and found this.
posted by martinrebas at 9:17 AM on August 6, 2011

Haha, oh, this isn't a hump. This is how to the whole series goes. Constantly introducing new characters without explanation until later. You'll get used to it, just keep going is my best advice.
posted by InsanePenguin at 9:18 AM on August 6, 2011 [10 favorites]

If you want a chart of the main characters which includes pictures of the actors who play them from the HBO show go here.

If you want a chart of just the houses and their relationships to each other go here.

But, like gregglind said, I too didn't discover the appendix with the family trees until I reached the end of the book.
posted by sharkfu at 9:18 AM on August 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, just keep going. You'll catch on soon.
posted by torisaur at 9:23 AM on August 6, 2011

I am several hours into the second book ( though I am listening to audiobooks), the further you read the more it becomes apparent the story works because of the twisted families. Most of the time if you can keep track of the main characters then all is well.
posted by adventureloop at 9:25 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agreed with InsanePenguin - just go with it. The characters you really need to keep straight will grow increasingly memorable as you progress, and well, if you never can tell an Osmund from an Osney Kettleblack, that's probably okay.

If it helps, though, I just came across this list of 13 "minor" characters you should remember from a particular episode of the HBO series (Lord Snow); glancing through it there are some rather minor spoilers in that it does clue you in to people who will continue to be relevant (and I'm not sure I would agree that they're all minor characters to the series overall), but it's also a pretty quick and dirty rundown you might find useful.

Just keep going - it's so worth it!
posted by DingoMutt at 9:28 AM on August 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you can keep track of whom the "minor houses" are sworn to (keyword: "bannermen") you'll be in good shape for the entire series. They start getting important in subsequent books.

The major houses are listed in sharkfu's linked excellent diagram. Houses like the Freys, the Boltons (!), the Umbers are key later on.
posted by supercres at 9:28 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been using Tower of the Hand's Guide to recap a chapter if I think I missed something. The site has a "scope" feature so in general it won't spoil anything for you.
posted by bcwinters at 9:30 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, this is good: "Great Houses" and "Minor Houses". I am sure spoilers abound there, though.

95% of the key events are the ones you will no doubt remember without trying. The remaining 5% you can slog through with limited recaps when they come up again-- these are the house/familial relationships, who went out on which minor quest, etc.

Plus, it makes the second read-through worthwhile!
posted by supercres at 9:32 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

FWIW, you're at an advantage in that you're starting the series with five of the novels already published - that way you won't have years between books* to forget various details. I've found Martin to be fairly good at organically reminding us of the really relevant details in each of the successive books, but as you note there are just so many details; it's impossible to keep track of them all over such a long period of time. Personally I'm re-reading Feast for Crows in tandem with the latest book, and am finding all sorts of stuff I had completely forgotten about ...

*Well, at least the first five. One you've finished Dance with Dragons, welcome to the club ...
posted by DingoMutt at 9:37 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Much of the series introduces characters refers and off-screen events by simply alluding to them at first before fully explaining. There have been a lot of times where I've gone, "wait? What? Who? What did I miss here?" only to have it explained a dozen pages later. Some amount of confusion is par for the course for the series, so I've found it's a lot easier just to keep pushing through it. As the scope of the series expands, there should be enough textual clues to remind you about who's who and what happened. If you stop every time something isn't entirely clear, you won't ever finish the book.
posted by lilac girl at 9:40 AM on August 6, 2011

I struggled through the book until something actually started happening around page 500, finished it, and realized that most of the first 500 pgs was background noise, or setup for future books.
Haven't gotten to book 2 yet, but I feel like it has to be more interesting.

I really think it would have worked better if the story had started with [spoiler] getting [spoilered] by [spoiler], and the rest been in flashbacks.

I might watch the show, or re-read book 1, to see what I missed, in better context now.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:51 AM on August 6, 2011

Keep reading. It does seem to be worth it all in the end.
posted by Lynsey at 9:54 AM on August 6, 2011

There's also Westeros, which is the original site full of spoilerish (and unspoilerish) information, including tons of detail on heraldry and houses.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:23 AM on August 6, 2011

In particular, this page can give you a lot of information about the various houses.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:24 AM on August 6, 2011

I find that a map of the physical world helps as well so I can keep track of what family lives where. There are many available by Googling, but I particularly like this one made by someone over at reddit.
posted by Dr. Zira at 10:24 AM on August 6, 2011

I don't think you're really supposed to get used to it, you're only with some of the characters for such a short amount of time that you don't really get to know them at all.

It's a literary device. Think Love American Style, but with dragons and wolves. It really isn't about the characters, it's about the story.
posted by Sphinx at 10:40 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I watched the HBO show first, then read the book second, otherwise I would have been confused as hell. I'm reading the second book now, and there's now way I would have been able to keep track of everything without having had the major relationships put in bold by my experience with the show.

I will say this at risk of offending a thread full of fans; the first third or maybe even half of the book is frankly, very poorly written. The writing gets quite a bit better as he goes on, and I think that might make things seem less like a sea of featureless names bantering in quasi-antique language.
posted by skewed at 10:45 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just to let you know, the family trees in the backs of the book often contain spoilers.

George R.R. Martin specifically said he gave some characters the same or similar names to make things more realistic. The world doesn't have only one Robert in it, naturally.

However, keep reading and the important players will stand out. Look at the appendices when you finish the book.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:19 AM on August 6, 2011

I haven't read the book(s) but I watched the series, and I regretted every single time I went to the internets for any sort of clarification. Spoilers are everywhere.
posted by ellenaim at 12:59 PM on August 6, 2011

I regretted every single time I went to the internets for any sort of clarification. Spoilers are everywhere.

I found Game of Thrones for Dummies to be helpful—a good recap of each episode without any spoilers of upcoming episodes. Each episode runs about 4–5 minutes.

GoTfD episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
posted by blueberry at 1:15 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

(sorry, forgot that the actual AskMe was about the books, not the show)
posted by blueberry at 1:16 PM on August 6, 2011

I haven't read the book(s) but I watched the series, and I regretted every single time I went to the internets for any sort of clarification. Spoilers are everywhere.

That's why Tower of the Hand is a great website. It lets you set your scope (both by episode and by book) so you can't get spoiled. By default, the scope is set Episode 1 -- No books read, so you can't get spoiled.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 5:16 PM on August 6, 2011

If that's how you're feeling after 140 pages and you're not enjoying it, my advice is to quit. I kept going for quite a while and it just got worse. You either revel in this type of thing or you don't, in my opinion. The people who insist that all fantasy-book-lovers and/or book-lovers MUST read them are just wrong. They're not for everyone, and don't let anyone tell pressure you into slogging through them. GRRM is a good writer, but these books are pretty much the opposite of what I actually like to read (without getting into, I don't know, Jersey Shore novelization territory).

If you are enjoying the storylines and are just having trouble with the names, then see all the other links above, and have fun reading. :)
posted by wintersweet at 5:37 PM on August 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wintersweet, just an anecdotal counterpoint - I thought the first 200 pages or so were kind of slow-moving and had a lot of detail to get bogged down in. A lot of people do, I've since discovered. After a while, things start happening and storylines split somewhat, and I was seriously hooked. So my advice would be to stick with it, but you're right that nobody has to read something they don't like. However, it's a slow-starter, but worth it, in my opinion.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:14 PM on August 6, 2011

I really got hooked at around page 130.
posted by NortonDC at 9:20 PM on August 6, 2011

You won't completely have everything straight in your head till the third read through
posted by Patbon at 6:02 AM on August 7, 2011

cmgonzalez -- I read the first book and a half, if I recall correctly, but I know I got past 200 pages. (Also, apologies for the typos in my first comment. I rewrote it several times but should have proofread it after that.) At any rate, I'm not trying to discourage anyone from sticking with it if they think they might enjoy it. :)
posted by wintersweet at 2:43 PM on August 7, 2011

I've often wondered to what extent the sets of 'people who couldn't get more than 200 pages into the Game of Thrones books' and 'people who really, really want to play Dwarf Fortress, but just can't' overlap.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:00 PM on August 7, 2011

Serious answer: I had to read the book at least 3 times. It does get better with familiarity.

On preview - exactly, Patbon.
posted by like_neon at 5:37 AM on August 8, 2011

The Reddit map linked above is good, but is best used in conjunction with this map of the regions.

I think I may as well give you a quick guide. There are no spoilers here.

The regions are:

-the North
--House Stark; main POV for first book
--seat: Winterfell
--on this map, grey
--sigil: direwolf; grey on white
--Eddard "Ned" Stark; his wife, Catelyn "Cat" (Tully) Stark; Ned's brother, Benjen, who is the First Ranger on the Wall; the children of Ned and Cat, Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon; Ned's bastard, Jon Snow. Ned's sister Lyanna was to be wed to Robert Baratheon before being kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen. This kidnapping lead to the revolt that took the Targaryens off the throne and rose Robert Baratheon to kingship ("Robert's Rebellion"). Jon Snow was conceived during the revolt, Robb was conceived immediately before Ned went to war. Lyanna died during the rebellion. Catelyn was engaged to Ned's older brother Brandon, before he died.

-the Vale of Arryn
--House Arryn
--seat: the Eyrie
--white (on map)
--sigil: falcon and crescent moon; cream and blue
--where Ned and King Robert grew up as wards
--now controlled by Lysa Arryn and her sickly son, Robert (book)/Robin (show)

-the Riverlands
--House Tully
--seat: Riverrun
--on this map, blue
--sigil: leaping trout on red and blue
--where Catelyn (Tully) Stark and Lysa (Tully) Arryn are from, and where Petyr Baelish was ward. Controlled by their ailing father, Lord Hoster Tully.

-the Westerlands
--House Lannister; where Cersei, Jaime, Tyrion, and Tywin (their father) are from
--seat: Casterly Rock
--on the map, red
--golden lion on red
--Tyrion, the dwarf, if the youngest and killed his mother (Joanna Lannister) in childbirth. Cersei and Jaime are twins, with Cersei a few minutes older. Cersei is married to King Robert, and Jaime is part of the Kingsguard, and thus gave up his inheritance and right to marry.

-the Iron Islands
--House Greyjoy
--offshore from the Westerlands
--on the map, yellow
--sigil: yellow kraken on black
--where Theon is from. Theon is currently a ward/hostage of Ned Stark because Theon's father, Balon, once rebelled; you should remember Theon.
--vastly different in culture from the rest of Westeros.

-the Crownlands
--allegiance to King Robert Baratheon
--seat: King's Landing
--orange, on the map
--Stannis Baratheon, the middle Baratheon brother, lives on Dragonstone, just offshore

-the Stormlands
--House Baratheon (given to the younger brother, Renly, instead of Stannis)
--seat: Storm's End
--yellow, on the map
--sigil: (crowned) black stag on yellow

-the Reach
--House Tyrell
--seat: Highgarden
--on the map, green
--sigil: golden rose on green
--where Ser Loras ('best buds' with Renly, gives Sansa a red rose in a tourney) is from. At one point in the first book, Robert mentions Loras' beautiful sister. You should remember both.

--House Martell
--on the map, light orange
--sigil: gold spear piercing a red sun (jokingly, the 'two weapons of Dorne': their spears and their blistering heat. Dorne is a desert)
--not yet important, except you'll often hear tell of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (the brother of Viserys and Daenerys), who died on the Trident (a great battle that essentially made Robert King), and his wife and children, who were killed in King's Landing. Rhaegar's dead wife was the sickly Elia Martell.

-the Wall
--built by Brandon the Builder, a famous Stark of legend
--home of the Night's Watch (to join is to "take the black")
--the first line of defense against the wildlings (think barbarians) of the North. Also rumoured to have been built to defend against more magical creatures (the Others/the White Walkers, giants, etc.), but none have been seen for a millennium.
--lead by Jeor Mormont, the father of Jorah Mormont (who is traveling with Danaerys). Jeor "took the black" so his son could come into his inheritance, as Jorah's wife had expensive tastes. Much like the Kingsguard, once you join, you cannot marry or inherit lands. The Kingsguard is white (white cloaks, white shields, white tower); the Night's Watch is black (all-black clothing, etc.). Jeor and Jorah are important.
--home to Jon Snow, Samwell Tarly, Benjen Stark, and Maester Aemon. They are important.

and finally

-the Targaryens
--no land (theoretically, still Kings of Westeros)
--only surviving members at beginning of the book are Viserys and Daenerys, as (King) Robert made sure to wipe out all other Targaryens in his rage. They are wandering around an entirely different continent. Their brother was Rhaegar Targaryen, and he had two children, Aegon and Rhaenys. Daenerys was born on Dragonstone, as their family fled the rebellion.
--the father of Rhaegar, Viserys, and Daenerys was King Aerys II, the "Mad King." Aerys' wife (and sister) was Rhaella. She died from the stress of giving birth to Daenerys.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:30 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

That's a good summary of the various kingdoms and houses.

One thing that is not necessarily apparent at first is how sparsely populated Westeros is compared to the other continent. You see all those dots and such on the map? Those aren't cities. There are only 5 cities in all of Westeros; King's Landing, Lannisport, Gulltown, Oldtown, and White Harbor. Only one, White Harbor, is in the North and that is the smallest of the five. Everything else is either a small town or a castle rather than a city, including important places like Riverrun and Winterfell.
posted by Justinian at 2:40 PM on August 9, 2011

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