The Women and the Thrones

Game of Thrones

a television series created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, based on A Song of Ice and Fire and George R.R. Martin
HBO, DVD box sets, Seasons 1–2, $59.99 (also available on Blu-ray)

A Song of Ice and Fire

a fantasy series by George R.R. Martin:
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s Game of Thrones


About halfway through A Clash of Kings, the second installment of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, a refugee princess—she is fourteen years old but already a widow, has silver hair and purple eyes, and happens to be part dragon—stands exhausted before the walls of a fabulous, vaguely Babylonian citadel called Qarth. The last surviving scion of the deposed ruling family of a faraway land called Westeros, she has led a ragtag band of followers through the desert in the hopes of finding shelter here—and, ultimately, of obtaining military and financial support for her plan to recapture the Westerosi throne. Her first glimpse of Qarth leaves her bemused:

Three thick walls encircled Qarth, elaborately carved. The outer was red sandstone, thirty feet high and decorated with animals: snakes slithering, kites flying, fish swimming, intermingled with wolves of the red waste and striped zorses and monstrous elephants. The middle wall, forty feet high, was grey granite alive with scenes of war: the clash of sword and shield and spear, arrows in flight, heroes at battle and babes being butchered, pyres of the dead. The innermost wall was fifty feet of black marble, with carvings that made Dany blush until she told herself that she was being a fool. She was no maid; if she could look on the grey wall’s scenes of slaughter, why should she avert her eyes from the sight of men and women giving pleasure to one another?

However difficult it may be for Daenerys (“Dany”) Targaryen to make sense of the exotic city and its people, anyone familiar with Martin’s slowly metastasizing epic—it began as a trilogy in 1996 and now runs to five volumes of a projected seven, each around a thousand pages long—will find it hard not to see in the Qartheen decor a sly reference to the series itself. What drives A Song of Ice and Fire is a war story: clearly inspired by the Wars of the Roses, the series traces the internecine power struggles among a group of aristocratic clans, each with its castle, lord, “sigil” or heraldic arms, and lineages, following the not entirely accidental death, in the first novel, of King Robert I of the Seven Kingdoms. Robert had seized the throne from Daenerys’s father at the end of a previous civil war, thereby ending the Targaryens’ three-century-long rule. The civil wars that follow Robert’s death will stretch from Westeros—whose culturally diverse regions, evoked by Martin in ingenious detail, form the Seven Kingdoms—across the Narrow Sea to the exotic East, where Dany Targaryen, as we know, plans to make her own power play.

These bloody struggles take place in a world whose culture is, on the whole, familiar-looking—Martin gives the civilization of the Seven Kingdoms a strong medieval flavor—but whose flora and…

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