So you watch Game of Thrones and maybe have delved into reading the five published books of A Song of Ice and Fire. At an average of a thousand pages each, the casual reader probably wouldn’t be able to survive a round of trivia on Quiz-Up. Luckily for the future George R. R. Martin scholars, there are some pretty serious A Song of Ice and Fire fans here at Sub-Cultured who want to help you on your first, second, and third re-read. Collectively we’ve probably read the whole series over 20 times and have spent hours discussing and analyzing our favorite theories and characters. It’s too much, we know, but it does mean that we’ve accumulated some good tips on how to digest the infamously dense series.
1) Get the Audio Books
To the purists who love experiencing books as word on a page, I’m one of you, I promise. But the audio books as narrated, nay, performed by Roy Dotrice (who had a small role on Game of Thrones as the pyromancer Hallyne) are an experience unto themselves.
The masterful actor gives each and every one of the 200+ characters their own distinct voices with accents to match their origins as well as melody to the many songs in the series. If the HBO adaptation disappointed you because of its deviations from the text, the audio books will bring the words and world just as alive as watching a multi-million dollar production. Plus, if re-reading the whole epic seems daunting, maybe 100 hours of audio is less so. Ok, maybe not. But the audio tracks will free your hands up to go about your life while taking in the saga in a new way. For a sample, check out the recording of the infamous fight between Gregor Clegane and Prince Oberyn.
2) Pick up the short stories and The World of Ice and Fire.
While waiting for the 6th book of the series, The Winds of Winter, stay in-universe with several novellas about some long-dead Targaryen royalty.
Tales of Dunk and Egg
So far this is a trilogy of short stories that take place about 100 years before the events of Game of Thrones and includes the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall and his Squire, the future King Aegon V (brother of Maester Aemon). The current novellas are The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, and The Mystery Knight, but Martin has promised that more are coming after the trilogy is published as a single collection later this year.
There are also two novellas, The Princess and the Queen and The Rogue Prince (both originally published as part of separate anthologies) about the oft referenced Dance of Dragons, a war between Princess Rhaenyra and her younger half-brother and future King Aegon. Both are “written” by Archmaester Gyldayn.
The World of Ice and Fire
These are all excellent additions to the canon, but the real cornerstone to any dragon-obsessed fan’s collection is the World of Ice and Fire compendium. While, disappointingly, it only includes sparse information about the houses of Westeros and lands beyond, the devotion the book has to the Targaryen kings and kin makes it a must-read for those who want to track the many instances of repeated history in the main series. Plus, the art is unbelievable.
3) Get a map
The next few tips will be devoted to developing your own theories and analyzing the most popular ones. For this, a map is essential. Westeros and Essos are huge continents. So some of what you hope will happen or could happen in a certain time frame is simply impossible because everything and everyone is so damn far apart. It’s taken 5 books to grow a rideable dragon and without one, it may take an entire novel for a character to get from The Wall to Dorne.
The Lands of Ice and Fire map collection is beautiful. I have the full map of Westeros hanging on my wall for quick reference and also because I’m a bit nuts. The collection came with maps of several major cities as well as a second world map, which tracks all the major characters’ movements in the first five novels. But you may want make marks of your own to do incredibly necessary things like tracking the estimated sightings of long-lost Nymeria’s wolf pack. There are so many pieces in this game to win the Iron Throne; keep track of them!
4) Check out this fan-compiled timeline
Obviously there is so much going on in Westeros at once that it can be difficult to keep in mind the fact that many of the point of view chapters in each book are happening simultaneously. There are often clues in the text, but we can only imagine how difficult it would be to keep track of the events of A Feast for Crows and A Dance of Dragons, which run on parallel timelines. Luckily for re-readers, you don’t have to! A Song of Ice and Fire‘s fandom is a huge and devoted community, and several fans were nice enough to work together to make an estimated timeline of every event from the first five books and available chapters from the sixth book available to us.
5) Remember these essential questions when developing theories: What characters know about it and what purpose would it serve?
Do you think Maggie the Frog will be revealed as Jon’s true mother? Have you theorized that character X is probably Syrio Forel in disguise? WHO IS COLD HANDS?
Listen, it doesn’t matter how wacky your theory is, but remember that these are novels, so twists and turns must serve some sort of narrative or produce a bit of character development.
For example, one of the most popular theories is that Prince Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark are the parents of Jon Snow. One of the many reasons that this theory is so solid is because it passes these two qualifications: it keeps up the “ice and fire” motif, it opens up a whole lot of possibilities for Jon and if it’s true, some living characters could definitely know about it. For one, the two Reed children, whose father was at Ned’s side when Lyanna died, are in the perfect position just beyond The Wall to let Jon know that everything he knew about himself was a lie (kidding!). And honestly, what is the purpose of revealing Jon’s parentage if he never finds out?
6) Join a Discussion Community
Maybe if, after every time you finished the series, you started from the beginning again, you’d catch every prophecy and clue and hint for things to come. We think that’s a little much. We love A Song of Ice and Fire but it doesn’t have to be the last books that you ever read. For that reason, different online communities are perfect. You’ll never remember everything, but re-reading with a horde of other fans will make the whole thing a lot more fun. We’re fans of the Reddit of Ice and Fire and the discussion boards from Tower of the Hand (which hosted a big re-reading event not too long ago)
There are some pretty serious writers out there who love dissecting the text way more than we’d ever be willing to! Below is a list of our favorite blogs
The War and Politics of Ice and Fire for some unparalleled in-depth analysis of military strategies and political moves.
ASOIAF University A collection of metas (critical essays or analysis), gathered from across tumblr
GRRM’s Blog Goes without saying that checking in with the big man is a good idea
The Great Northern Conspiracy Begin with this popular and in-depth theory, but beware how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Inn at the Crossroads Ok, not a critical blog, but one that has created detailed recipes for the dishes that are described in the books.
7) Pay attention to dreams and prophecies
Most readers are usually just as surprised as Ned was to find out that the main character in the first book was beheaded and then completely shocked to read the events of the Red Wedding two books later. However, as most people who have re-read the series are eager to point out (whether you invite them to or not), there’s tons of foreshadowing, including dreams and loaded conversations between characters, that should have warned you that something was going down at The Twins. Unfortunately, that means you probably shouldn’t skim through Bran’s 10th wolf dream, even if it means having to suffer through a description of Summer chomping down on a small animal for the 10th time.
What about you, ASOIAF community? Any advice for your fellow fans?