Every Game of Thrones fan remembers where they were for Ned Stark's untimely demise, can hum the tune of "The Rains of Castamere," and can’t wait to find out Daenerys Targaryen's next move. But do you know the real inspiration for the Red Wedding? Or how to book a trip to visit Winterfell? 100 Things Game of Thrones Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die is the ultimate resource for true fans. Whether you've read all of George R.R. Martin's original novels or just recently devoured every season of the hit show, these are the 100 things all Game of Thrones fans need to know and do in their lifetime. Pop culture critic Rowan Kaiser has collected every essential piece of Game of Thrones knowledge and trivia, as well as must-do activities, and ranks them all from 1 to 100, providing an entertaining and easy-to-follow checklist as you progress on your way to fan superstardom!
About the Author
Rowan Kaiser is a video game and pop culture critic whose work has been published at The A.V. Club, The American Prospect, IGN, Ars Technica, Joystiq, and more. Follow him at @RowanKaiser.
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100 Things Game of Thrones Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Rowan Kaiser
Triumph Books LLCCopyright © 2017 Rowan Kaiser
All rights reserved.
"Game of Thrones"
"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." — Cersei Lannister
In April of 2011, HBO aired the premiere episode of Game of Thrones. It was watched by over 2 million people — solid ratings, but nothing to indicate that it was a major event according to simple numbers. But for fans of the book series it was based on, A Song of Ice and Fire, it was a huge deal. It also had the full attention of TV critics, who'd seen HBO redefine television through the 2000s but which found itself without a major hit heading into the 2010s.
The critics generally liked it, and the fans certainly supported Game of Thrones, but the show's meteoric rise over the next few years, to the point where it's regularly called the biggest TV show on Earth, with individual episodes earning record-breaking numbers of Emmy awards, has still been an incredible surprise.
There aren't any unicorns in Game of Thrones, but Game of Thrones itself may be a unicorn. A unique set of circumstances led to its creation and it hit television at exactly the right time as television was ready for it. There's no "next Game of Thrones," it is entirely unique, and when it's done, it's done for good.
So what is Game of Thrones? It's an adaptation, and an increasingly different one, of one of the most popular fantasy book series of all time, A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin. The changes between the books and the show have been one of the most interesting parts of seeing Game of Thrones air. But it's also become increasingly controversial, as the changes from page to screen became increasingly notable before the show's story passed the book's in the sixth season.
Game of Thrones is also now the pinnacle of the entire fantasy genre. From the publication of Lord of the Rings in the mid-20 century, through Star Wars and The Sword of Shannara in the 1970s, and on to Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time in the 1990s, heroic fantasy was heading in a certain straightforward direction. Then A Game of Thrones was published and changed that direction entirely. Amazingly, the same thing happened with movies and television. After the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, once again Game of Thrones came along and dominated the genre.
But Game of Thrones is also a television series on HBO. There, George R.R. Martin's Westeros has been reimagined by show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It may be a unique show in many ways, but it also comes from a tradition of the best network on television producing the most ambitious shows on television. Without The Sopranos and The Wire, Game of Thrones couldn't exist, and it fits in with them, as well as shows like Breaking Bad and Vikings and Shannara Chronicles.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Game of Thrones is a story. It's a fascinating, complicated story, with hundreds of characters in dozens of locations. All of them have their own histories and motivations, trying to do the best they can in the wars over the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. While Game of Thrones seems to start small, focusing on the Stark family and a handful of other people, it's traveled around the world to tell the stories of the woman-warrior Brienne of Tarth; the Greyjoy siblings, Yara and Theon; the Martells of Dorne; and former slaves in Slaver's Bay like Missandei and Grey Worm.
There's also a huge, complicated history behind the story of Game of Thrones. From the Targaryen invasion 300 years before the show begins to Robert's Rebellion just 15 before, history permeates Game of Thrones. Characters like Rhaegar Targaryen, Ser Duncan the Tall, and Queen Nymeria pass their influence through the series. Some of this is on-screen or in the books, and some is shown in supplemental sources, like the show's special features and books like The World of Ice and Fire. It's a huge world, which is one of its strengths and a source of consistent confusion.
Game of Thrones is all of these things at once. That's what makes it special. That's what made it the biggest television series on the planet. This is the magic that makes Game of Thrones great.CHAPTER 2
Season 1: The "They Can't Do That!" Season
"Ser Ilyn! Bring me his head!" — Joffrey Lannister-Baratheon
The first season of Game of Thrones is one of the great deceptions in television history. It is, like the novels it's based on, a remarkable shell game, a piece of sleight-of-hand that presents itself as one kind of story, only to reveal that it's something entirely different at the end. For much of the season, the setup is straightforward: Ned Stark tries to keep the capital stable, Dany and the Dothraki prepare to invade, and the White Walkers threaten from Beyond the Wall. Then Game of Thrones takes your conceptions of how stories should work and beheads them on the steps of the Sept of Baelor, then burns them at the stake for good measure.
That's not how stories are supposed to work! Sure, heroes can die — especially middle-aged ones, like Ned — but they die gloriously, not begging for their lives from a sadistic enemy. But Game of Thrones goes there — and TV storytelling would apparently never be the same.
The clever thing is that Game of Thrones worked to prepare viewers for eventualities like this long before Ser Ilyn Payne swung Ned's sword at the Sept of Baelor. The very first episode of Game of Thrones works similarly. It sets up grand conflicts: between the living and the dead, and between the Starks and the Lannisters. It says it's a fairly traditional fantasy story with clearly delineated good and evil, but then Bran Stark peers through a window he shouldn't have and Jaime Lannister shoves him — to his probable death — saying, "The things I do for love."
This created the model that Game of Thrones would consistently use for the next several years: set up a story you think is going in one direction and, with a shocking act of violence, upend it and take it in a different direction. TV doesn't just casually kill kids like that! (Bran, as we found out the next week, didn't actually die, but was permanently disabled.) What happened to Bran eventually happened to Ned, and far more permanently.
In 1996, this model of storytelling was a revelation in fantasy literature, and within five years and three books, firmly established A Song of Ice and Fire as the premiere (non–Young Adult) fantasy series around. Game of Thrones used a similar model: its initial season's ratings were fine, but a few seasons later, it was arguably the most popular show on television. In both cases, timing was essential. Fantasy novels in the 1990s were primed for a shift toward moral ambiguity and shocking violence, as discussed in the next chapter. Television was equally primed, but in a different way: Game of Thrones arrived at a perfect time to take advantage of the shock twist and hyperserialization (discussed in chapter 5).
It would be easy to credit Game of Thrones with popularizing the shock twist, but it was really a rising trend for TV when the show premiered in 2011. Its parallel genre-show-with-violence, The Walking Dead, premiered about six months before, while a teen soap like The Vampire Diaries had risen to prominence as television's "it" show based largely on its application of "surprise stabbings." The timing was perfect: HBO was in the process of adapting a novel series built on TV's hottest new trend.
And it worked: the buzz surrounding Game of Thrones' surprise twists helped propel it to consistently increasing ratings. Every single season finale was higher-rated than its premiere; every single premiere was higher-rated than the previous season's finale — something I've never seen with any other TV show. (This remarkable streak ended, just barely, with the Season 6 premiere being slightly lower-rated than the Season 5 finale.) If you wanted to know what everyone was talking about, you watched Game of Thrones. That started with the Season 1 premiere and was solidified by Ned's death.
But if you want to look at what was really revolutionary about the first season of Game of Thrones, you have to look closer than just "shock twists!" It was that Game of Thrones slowly destabilized what we expect from stories overall, by being complicated, by being inconclusive, and by killing the people who normally don't die.
One of the most shocking things about Game of Thrones when it debuted was how unapologetically complex it was. In many ways, this show was confusing as hell, with many early viewers feeling totally lost. HBO has done this before — The Wire takes about five episodes to really understand its linguistic rhythms and get what the characters actually mean, for example. But Thrones did this with history — there is a massive backstory to what's happening that the TV show just couldn't show. I used to describe the early seasons of the show as having about 75 percent of the conversation and action from the books, but only about 25 percent of the history and mythology — the books are just that dense.
And yet it worked. Some of this is performance-based: Peter Dinklage as Tyrion and Maisie Williams as Arya, specifically, captured the essences of their fan-favorite characters immediately, providing easy rooting interests for new fans. And the series was simply amazing to look at: superb direction, sets, locations, CGI, and costuming made it one of the most attractive shows on TV.
But the real key was the understanding that this was an already-existing story with an existing fanbase. While not every reader was enthused by the TV series, the commitment to authenticity deployed by HBO's production and marketing — like sending expensive Maester's kits to influential journalists, critics, and fans — won the bulk of fan culture to their side. Readers could function as instant experts for viewers with questions (sometimes too enthusiastically, to be fair), and a complex fandom ecosystem based on the divide between readers and non-readers sprang up. It wasn't perfect, and wars over "spoilers" continued for years, but it made certain that every time someone asked, "Wait, who's that guy again?" there was usually someone able to answer — thus allowing Game of Thrones to tell its complicated story with confidence.
The complication isn't just in number of names or subplots. It's also that the show doesn't tell a conventional story. Game of Thrones sets up a straightforward plot: Beyond the Wall, there are White Walkers, threatening us all. In Essos, the rightful heir to the throne is making deals to acquire an army to retake the kingdom. And in King's Landing, a good man heads into a swamp of moral ambiguity, seeking to save his kingdom. At a glance, these seem to correspond with evil monsters, good heroes, and a fascinating grey area in between, all headed for a giant collision.
Even halfway through the season, a conventional story still seems possible. Dany convinces Khal Drogo to bring his army across the ocean. A wight appears in Castle Black, making their threat obvious to the heroes there. And Ned Stark prepares to bypass the Lannisters by setting Robert's brother Stannis up as king, instead of the Lannister heir, Joffrey. Then it all goes wrong. Drogo is killed, partially by Dany's idealism, stranding her in Essos without an army. Ned's coup goes awry, leading to his death and apparent Lannister victory. And the White Walkers, well, they're still out there, but the show punts their investigation to a Night's Watch Ranging set for Season 2.
Even the grand mysteries of Game of Thrones' first season are left unresolved. Two big ones drive the early story: who poisoned Jon Arryn, and who attempted to assassinate Bran? Although the show points us toward answers — the Lannisters, in both cases — it doesn't actually conclusively resolve them. In fact, the show waits until the end of Season 4 to say who the poisoner was, and never goes back to the issue of who sent the assassin. Instead, Game of Thrones uses both of these to set other, bigger events in motion: Lord Arryn's death, of course, starts the entire series, while the investigation into the assassin's dagger leads Catelyn Stark to arrest Tyrion Lannister, thus starting the War of the Five Kings.
This is how the aborted fantasy stories work as well. Jon's death sets up the next phase of the story, with Ned as Hand — so Ned's death sets up the next phase, the full-on civil war of the War of the Five Kings. Likewise, Drogo's death exists not simply to prevent Dany from invading the Seven Kingdoms, but for her to find the cause of defeating slavery, build a power that's reliant on her and not her marriage, and grow into the leader she will become. Oh yeah, and acquire goddamn dragons.
It's also worth noting that while these resolutions don't necessarily satisfy the initial premise of the show — dragons versus zombies! — they do provide satisfying stories on their own. The first season for Daenerys is about her seizing autonomy, even when it has horrific side effects. And for poor, dear Ned Stark, the first season is about his failure to understand how power works in King's Landing, even if that leads to one son, Robb, and his daughters learning the lesson he should have in far more painful fashion.
Excerpted from 100 Things Game of Thrones Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Rowan Kaiser. Copyright © 2017 Rowan Kaiser. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Game of Thrones 1
2 Season 1: The "They Can't Do That!" Season 4
3 1990s Fantasy 9
4 Season 2: The "Now What?" Season 14
5 HBO Drama 22
6 Season 3: The Grand Tragedy 26
7 The Red Wedding 37
8 Season 4: The Bloody Climax 39
9 A Song of Ice and Fire 49
10 Season 5: In Which Things Get Dark 53
11 The Winds of Winter 63
12 Season 6: Brings Hope Back 67
13 George R.R. Martin 76
14 Season 7: The Beginning of the End 83
15 Daenerys Targaryen 84
16 Jon Snow 91
17 R+L=J 100
18 Tyrion Lannister 103
19 Sansa Stark 109
20 Arya Stark 117
21 The War of the Five Kings 122
22 The War of the Queens 126
23 Glossary of Thrones 130
24 Cersei Lannister 134
25 Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish 141
26 Lord Varys, the Spider 145
27 Who are Game of Thrones' Writers? 148
28 Who are Game of Thrones' Directors? 151
29 The Continent of Westeros 154
30 The North 157
31 House Stark and Winterfell 161
32 King's Landing and the Crownlands 165
33 House Targaryen 172
34 Robert's Rebellion 178
35 The Blackfyre Rebellions 183
36 House Lannister and the Westerlands 186
37 The Vale 193
38 House Arryn and the Eyrie 196
39 The Riverlands 199
40 House Tully and Riverrun 205
41 House Greyjoy and the Iron Islands 209
42 House Baratheon and the Stormlands 214
43 House Tyrell and the Reach 219
44 House Martell and Dorne 223
45 Beyond-the-Wall and the Wildlings 227
46 The Night's Watch 231
47 The White Walkers 233
48 The Night's King and the Long Night 236
49 Essos and the Rest of the World 239
50 The Dragons of Valyria 244
51 The World of Ice and Fire 246
52 Jaime Lannister 248
53 Stannis Baratheon 254
54 "Blackwater" 261
55 Tywin Lannister 266
56 Ned Stark 269
57 Bran Stark 272
58 Brienne of Tarth 279
59 Catelyn Stark 282
60 Who the Hell Is Lady Stoneheart? 285
61 George R.R. Martin's Original Pitch 288
62 A Feast with Dragons 290
63 The Wars of the Roses 292
64 The Accursed Kings 295
65 The Lord of the Rings 297
66 Know Your Direwolves 301
67 In the Credits 303
68 Who Sent the Assassin After Bran? 305
69 Tyrion, the Secret Targ? 306
70 The Costumes of Thrones 308
71 Ramin Djawadi, Composer of Thrones 310
72 "The Rains of Castamere" 312
73 David J. Peterson, Language Inventor 314
74 The Duels of Game of Thrones 316
75 "The Watchers on the Wall" 318
76 "Hardhome" 323
77 "The Battle of the Bastards" 325
78 Rhaegar Targaryen 330
79 Who the Hell Is Young Griff? 333
80 The Meereenese Knot 336
81 Jorah Mormont 339
82 King Joffrey 342
83 Melisandre and the Red God 345
84 The High Sparrow 348
85 The Faceless Men 350
86 The Brotherhood without Banners 353
87 Dunk and Egg, the Game of Thrones Spinoff 357
88 POV Characters 359
89 Sit on the Iron Throne 361
90 Take a Game of Thrones Tour! 363
91 Tommen and Myrcella 364
92 Who Is the Heir to the Iron Throne? 367
93 Margaery Tyrell 369
94 Robb Stark 372
95 Oberyn Martell 375
96 Telltale's Game of Thrones 378
97 Crusader Kings 2, the Strategy Game of Thrones 380
98 Ramsay Snow 382
99 Have a Beer with Brewery Ommegang 386
100 Hodor? 398