Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire - Words


A truly inspirational series, George RR Martin’s a Song of Ice and Fire books have been hailed as ground breaking and poetic fantasy. Having read the first in the series (A Game of Thrones) and currently engrossed in the second novel (A Clash of Kings) I can truly vouch that what I have read so far truly is amazing and any reader with the slightest interest in fantasy should defiantly give these books a go. If you don’t like reading, you can still be part of this epic story through the amazing HBO TV Series, Game of Thrones, the first series of which (containing the plot of the first book) has already aired and the second series of which will be on our screens soon!

One aspect of the books that I love so much is the detail that has gone into the Aristocratic Houses, of which there are a handful of High Houses with the rest serving one of these houses as a so-called bannerman. Another important element of these houses are their “Words” which are basically a maxim held by each house that explains a part of their philosophy and general outlooks. What I intend to talk about in this post is how the words mean so much more than just a general outlook and how in several cases they are closely tied to the plot surrounding the characters. I will be discussing four of the Houses: Stark, Tully, Arryn, and Lannister. House Baratheon may feature in a later post.

There may be spoilers in the remainder of this post.

The first house I am going to discuss is House Stark, the House from which a bulk of the characters originate. House Stark is the Northern House, the Lords and Ladies of the Northern People, with their words being the ominous phrase “Winter is Coming.” This phrase is a warming, speaking of dark times and the need to prepare for them. In the setting of “A Song of Ice and Fire” the seasons last for years and at the beginning of the book we are in the seventh (or so)  year of summer. The looming threat of Winter, a time in which the world will face years of constant darkness and bitter cold, recurs consistently throughout the novel and provides a wonderfully threatening undertone to the other events of the books. The Words “Winter is Coming” is reflected in Lord Eddard’s being forced into accepting the position of Hand of the King and moving away from his homeland of the North to tend to the King at Court in the Southern City of “King’s Landing.” As Lord Eddard then goes on to discover the conspiracies of the Court, especially where Cersei and Jaime Lannister are concerned, he begins to prepare himself for the worst: a bloody confrontation. However, despite his preparation, things do not fail to turn out horribly worse. The rest of his family continue to face darker and darker times as the events of the novels unfurl further, thus proving the warning of their words to be correct. However, even though we can accept that the metaphor of their words is accepted, Winter has yet to truly arrive, though I doubt anyone who has read A Game of Thrones would even consider that Winter will not reach Westeros eventually.

House Tully, the River Lords are represented with the symbol of a Fish and the words “Family. Duty. Honour.” supposedly these are in order of priority, with Family being the first thing a Tully ever considers. The most central character in the novel from House Tully is Lady Catelyn Stark (Stark by Marriage to Lord Eddard) and from her actions we can see how central these values are to her. Her devotion to Lord Eddard and her children, most notably Bran after his fall, cements her position as the mother figure of the novels. The way in which these words shape her life is that all three of these things contest for her attention, and it is down to her and her alone to chose which of them she must undertake. Lady Catelyn, however, follows the priority, as set down by her words, to the letter, being entirely devoted to her family in spire of everything else.

If House Tully is considered the House of Water, then House Arryn is, without contest, the House of the Air and the Sky, with its seat of power being the Eyrie, an impregnable fortress set atop a mountain. Their words are “High as Honour” and this is expressed in the actions of Lord Jon Arryn, who is deceased at the beginning of the books, having been slain because of his devotion to the virtues of truth and justice. Most ironically, his wife, Lysa Arryn (formerly Lysa Tully) notably discriminates against the virtue of honour in the way that she refuses to support her nephew when he goes to war against the people who murderer her husband. Lysa’s made devotion to her sickly son pulls her more towards the Tully words, the House from which she originates. However, she follows the Tully mindset in a fanatically and detrimental manner. Ironically, she and her son are the last remaining of House Arryn, and neither of them truly follow the words of their House.

Lannister, the House from which most of the antagonists originate is represented with the colour crimson, their animal is the lion and their words are “Hear me Roar” which is all about excess and grabbing everyone’s attention. Their words represent the desire to be in command and be the loudest and most powerful House there is. House Lannister fulfils this desire through one trait: Wealth. The Lannisters are the richest house in all the Seven Kingdoms and through this wealth they gain two of the qualities their words most reflect: power and excess. The characters of House Lannister also represent these two desires. Tyrion’s desire for power is reflected in his pursuit of knowledge and his excess is reflected in the amount of whoring he undergoes in very short spaces of time. Cersei’s desire for power is the iron throne itself, something she desires to dominate through the proxy of her son. Jaime’s power is his desire to claim martial victory over everyone, being the best knight that he can be. All in all, the Lannisters are ruled by two lustful vices, and their lust shapes them as a House.

From these solid examples we can clearly see how the philosophies of the houses has so deeply infiltrated into the mindset of the characters which originate from each house.


  1. Well said. One of the main reasons that I like A Song of Ice And Fire is because of the great houses. I love all of their rich history and everything that makes them so unique.

    Martin has slowly added other houses into the mix and I find them fascinating as well even though my favorite are still the starks by far.

  2. I can't say that I have a favourite house, considering that I love them all due to this wonderfully rich history and culture ingrained into them all. However, I find that I do love the Starks, though I wonder how much this is to do with the fact that they are the main characters. Regardless, they are a very well written bunch!

  3. You analysed the book? We have so much I.B. work to do, and you give yourself more?! LUNACY!

    But I did like your points. Well done. Liking the elements. Liking your neutrality. Liking you. As a friend. Nothing more.

    I'm going to stop now. xxx