I love the HBO series Game of Thrones. I’ve read all of the Song of Ice and Fire novels, and not only is the television series a phenomenal adaptation of a very complex work, it’s also a very distinct form of entertainment that’s every bit as good as the books – maybe even better, though I’d need to do another reread to make that call.
I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan too (the books more than the movies, truth-be-told), and nothing will ever displace LotR in my geeky fantasy-loving heart, but there are a few areas that George R.R. Martin totally out-double-R’s J.R.R. Tolkien himself. One of those, naturally, is the fact that Martin actually put dragons in his massive fantasy series (Smaug in The Hobbit doesn’t count). Another, more significant one, however, is that Game of Thrones is about family and interpersonal relationships.
In Lord of the Rings, family certainly has its role, but only in the most impersonal removed manner. Even the fated romance between Aragorn and Arwyn is handled at arm’s length, and the familial backstories read more like Biblical genealogies than things that have any kind of bearing on the present. That’s not the case in Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire, where the characters are regularly impacted by the choices and actions of their ancestors going back hundreds of years – sometimes even more. For me, that’s one of the most fascinating and compelling parts of Martin’s work, that it’s ultimately about the way people’s families determine their lives and destinies.
If you need a refresher on who all those families are and how they connect to one another, you could do a lot worse than my recent article on UGO.com.