While a lot of you have read the Song of Ice and Fire series, or maybe just the first book, Game of Thrones, it’s realistic to expect that many of you haven’t. Whether it’s because fantasy’s not your thing or you are intimidated by the sheer size of these volumes, it’s no reason to let this great story pass by you.
Still, because not everyone who will be tuning in to HBO on Sunday will have read even a single page of author George R.R. Martin’s sweeping tale, some of what is in the series may be a little confusing. So to help you out, here’s a list of 10 things you should know that will help you understand a little more about the world of Game of Thrones.
1. The series mostly takes place in a fictional land called Westeros. In many respects, it may remind you of medieval England, where so many “knights and castles” stories that you’re familiar with have taken place. Indeed, even King’s Landing, the main seat of power in Westeros, is located in the southeast, just like London.
But, there are some key differences. In Westeros, the north is a land where it is always frozen and winter. About three-quarters up the length of the island is a wall that spans the width of the land, reaching 700 feet in height and manned by a brotherhood whose task is to protect the south from whatever lies beyond the wall. Game of Thrones will also venture to a land across the narrow sea where a nomadic horse people ride and live.
2. Game of Thrones is a fantasy story, but it’s not like Tolkien. It’s not what many think of as traditional fantasy. You won’t find orcs or dwarves, and, in fact, the story is very much about ordinary people. (It’s been likened to The Sopranos, but with swords instead of guns.) Yes, there are fantasy elements that appear, but they are always secondary to the main story.
3. The seasons are a little different than ours. The seasons are unpredictable and can last for a short while or much longer. As the story begins, it has been summer for years. Some of the characters have only known a time when the weather has been pleasant and have never known the hardship a winter brings. But, as we’re hauntingly told, winter is coming … and it could last a lifetime.
4. Most characters are out for themselves. They are working the angles, backstabbing (or chest-stabbing) and scheming. The dialog you hear may very well have more than one meaning and actions you see will likely have repercussions.
5. HBO will cover much of the first book, Game of Thrones. There are currently three other books in the series, with a fourth on the way this summer. The other books are A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows and the upcoming A Dance with Dragons.
6. Martin has said he believes the series will eventually be seven books. But many of Martin’s fans are exasperated and skeptical the series will ever be completed. The next book, A Dance with Dragons, has been nearly six years in the making. If you want some instant GoT cred, complain about how long you’ve been waiting for A Dance with Dragons.
7. The kingdom has been brought together and torn apart many times. The history of the fantasy land goes back thousands of years with many houses playing major roles over time. In King’s Landing, the king sits on the Iron Throne that was forged from the swords of vanquished enemies. It is intended to be a difficult place to sit and remind its occupant not to sit too comfortably.
8. Direwolves are mythical creatures. They are meant to be large, intelligent versions of wolves. In the books, they are associated with the House Stark and are large protectors. In the television series, they will be played by Northern Inuits, which are not nearly as large as Martin alludes to in the book. They are loosely based on a real animal — they’ve recovered remains of several thousand dire wolves from the La Brea tar pits, animals that resembled the gray wolf and were five feet long, weighing about 250 pounds.
9. It’s absolutely, positively not for kids. There will be adult situations, nudity and lots of violence and blood. Some of the details and scenes have been altered from the book. (For example, in the book, a female character is married at age 13. On TV, she will be older.) There are other themes that you probably don’t want to discuss with your kids. We won’t mention them here, but trust us — it’s definitely for a mature audience.
10. The 10-hour series will be pretty condensed. The series is going to consist of 10 episodes at roughly an hour apiece, but even at 10 hours, much will be missed. If you enjoy the series, as we think you likely will, consider going back and reading the book. And then start in on the rest of the series, in anticipation of what will (very hopefully) be a long running series.
If you have trouble telling the characters, houses and locations apart, here are a few resources to help you along: a wiki of the show that promises no spoilers until they’ve been revealed on television, a more exhaustive wiki that includes spoilers (from the great site Westeros.org) or this iPhone/iPad app that highlights people and places.