Geek’s Delight: The World of Game of Thrones
My current nerd obsession revolves around George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series and the current HBO miniseries adaptation of the first novel, Game of Thrones. Even for an obsessive geek-type such as myself, I amazed at how quickly I have become engrossed in the world of Westeros and the lands across the Narrow Sea. I’ve been reading the books voraciously and I’ve watched every episode of the series so far. I downloaded the House Stark sigil wallpaper from the HBO site, which I think looks pretty spiffy on my Ubuntu laptop. I follow the HBO Game of Thrones accounts on Facebook and Twitter. The GoT Twitter account even sent me a kind, albeit cryptic, welcome message: “Thanks for following. Don’t forgot – crowns do queer things to the heads beneath them.”
I didn’t find out who delivers that line until I read A Clash of Kings, the second book in the series, but the moment I got that message, I knew I was on to something special. I kept seeing another phrase from the books show up on Twitter: “Winter is coming.” I’ve lived in Western New York my whole life, so I just thought, “So? What else is new?” Honestly, though, even those words intrigued me. What did “Winter is coming” mean? I wanted to be let in on the secret. So, the week before the show premiered, I went out and bought the first book.
I was hooked instantly, which is funny, because I don’t really consider myself a huge fantasy fan, ordinarily. I’ve read and enjoyed The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series. As a kid, I loved looking at books about castles with diagrams and charts and then dreaming up my own designs. I wrote about the historical basis for the King Arthur myth for my senior thesis in high school. As a history major in college, I studied the Middle Ages, the Crusades, and the Renaissance, which are the major historical influences for most sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories. So, while I never really considered myself a fantasy fan, I’ve got an appreciation of the genre. However, I’ve never felt any special affinity to the genre (or an obsessive need to consume it) the way I do with space-based science-fiction stories. I hadn’t even heard of Martin’s books until I started hearing about the HBO adaptation, as is the case for a lot of people, I imagine. I liked what I saw from the previews for the series, everyone had been talking about it, and I’d been wanting to get into a new book series. Game of Thrones seemed like a good fit.
So, after staying up way too late, night after night, reading it (something I haven’t done for a while), I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” Not only was I reading the books and eagerly awaiting each new episode of the show, I was studying maps, family trees, and reading essays about the backstory of the series, like this one from Suvudu about Robert’s Rebellion. HBO publishes a great webpaper about the show, Game of Thrones, which comes out every day with more amazing stuff then I have time to read. One of my favorite things so far is this awesome (and spoiler-free) relationship chart of everyone in the show from HauteSlides:
A visual guide like this one is almost essential for someone who hasn’t read the books in order to help them understand the show, but for me it’s just another helping of awesomesauce piled on top of an already heaping plate of awesomeness. It also illustrates exactly why I am obsessed with A Song of Ice and Fire, and more specifically, the nature of the world the characters inhabit: its geography, history, culture, and all the minutiae in-between. Martin has done an amazing job building a world of incredible vastness and richness of detail, but he doesn’t hit you over the head with it. A lot of authors will give you huge chunks of backstory and explanation at the expense of pacing. David Weber, author of another one of my favorite book series, the Honor Harrington series, does this quite a bit, and he calls them “infodumps.” Martin is not one for infodumps. He parses information out in little bits, teasingly. You may come across a word or name, but you might not find out what it actually means for another hundred pages. If this sounds tortuous, it is. But that’s what makes me keep reading: I need to know the answers.
Luckily, it seems that I will have plenty of opportunity to keep exploring Martin’s world. The fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, will be published later this year, and HBO has already announced that it will be producing a second season of the series. Given the size and scope of the second book, it would not surprise me if HBO increases the length of the second season from ten episodes to fifteen or twenty. Meanwhile, I’m plowing through the books and devouring supplemental material, as well as enjoying the new episodes of the show as they air. I think the series is doing a marvelous job adapting the story for the screen and bringing the world to life.
My obsession with Game of Thrones certainly fits Chris Hardwick’s description of a nerd, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily unhealthy. It’s given me more exposure to a genre that I don’t normally pay a lot of attention to, it’s given me something to read and enjoy, and it’s given me something to discuss with others – Game of Thrones is literally is the show everyone’s talking about. I even started a Twitter hashtag meme – #GoTbands (Take The Black! Moon Door!) – that has yet to catch on.
So, if you made it to the end of this post, Tweet a Game of Thrones band name for me, so I know you think I’m obsessed, but you don’t care.