Themes: A Game of Thrones
In A Game of Thrones, many characters appear to be men and women of honor, at least on the surface. For some, it is no different than putting on a ring or necklace; you put it on when you want to look your best, but take it off when you need to get down to practical matters. For others, honor only becomes a burden when they forced to make a choice.
In the story, there is a chapter where a wise old man tells Jon Snow, a young boy who has just joined the order of the Night’s Watch, that it is easy to choose the honorable path when there is nothing at stake; however, when the choice is between love and honor, how many still stay put on the path of honor?
A lot of the characters in A Game of Thrones find the concept of honor impractical and detrimental to ambition. To them, honor might win you the loyalty of your men or the admiration of the common folk, but it will prove useless when it comes to seizing power. In order to seize power, they believe that one must employ the practical, even the underhanded. Early on in the story, Jamie Lannister of the Kingsguard and brother to the Queen states “Give me honorable enemies rather than ambitious ones, and I’ll sleep more easily by night.”
Family is a very important concept in A Game of Thrones; loyalty to one’s family is the keeps the Seven Kingdoms together. Each noble house constitutes one family; for example, anyone with the last name Stark would belong to Great House Stark. Smaller Houses serve and pledge fealty to these Great Houses, and all Houses, Great or small, ultimately pledge fealty to the King of the Iron Throne. During the course of the story, even devious or morally-corrupt characters display strong loyalty to their families. In a way, this is not unexpected, as there is an incentive for being loyal.
The Seven Kingdoms is a feudal society; therefore, being born into a noble family means enjoying all the privileges and power associated with one’s family. By protecting the family, one is also protecting one’s claim to that privilege and power; it is the rare man or woman who spurns the gifts they were born into. It is even in the family words of Great House Tully: Family, Duty, Honor. To the Tullys, the arrangement of those three words is important: duty and honor are important, but the family has to come first.
Youth & Maturity
With the various battles and wars in the Seven Kingdoms, it is uncommon for one to live a long life. This is especially so for the common folk, who are often at the mercy of the noble houses and their game of thrones. Life in the Seven Kingdoms can be harsh; children grow up faster than they would in our world.
Boys born into nobility begin training as knights as early as 7 or 8, and girls as young as eleven can be betrothed to a boy not much older than themselves. A boy of 14 can even lead an army on the battlefield or be crowned King. These children take on responsibilities and duties that may seem unbearably heavy to us, but such is the way of life in Westeros.
One of the themes often explored in A Game of Thrones is the change of one’s destiny or dream. A lot of the younger characters are thrust into situations or surroundings which require them to change their worldview and childhood dreams – it is most often a rude awakening and each character copes differently.
Bran Stark, one of the main characters, hopes to be a great knight one day, but his dreams are dashed to pieces when he sustains serious injuries during a fall. His bastard brother, Jon Snow, dreams of being a ranger for the Night’s Watch, but ends up a steward instead. Bran Stark’s elder sister, Sansa Stark, wants her life to reflect that of the romantic songs she’s heard over the years, tales that always come with handsome knights and beautiful ladies; she soon learns that life is not a song, and her worldview undergoes a dramatic shift as a result.
Sex and Gender Roles
A Game of Thrones largely takes place in a medieval setting, where men rule and hold power. The eldest son always inherits the title and lands of his father; if he should meet an untimely end, the next eldest son claims the inheritance. Women can hold no land or castle; the role they play is limited to one of taking care of their husband’s family and estate.
There are some women who struggle with these oppressive chains; they dislike being shackled by the expectations for their sex, and so try to navigate through Westerosi society in their own special way. Some do it subtly, keeping their femininity on the surface intact for the world to see, but who then plot and scheme behind closed doors, as power hungry as any ambitious man. Then there are those who do so in more direct and obvious ways, who strap on armor, wield sword and shield and engage their enemies on the battlefield alongside their male counterparts.
One of the main characters in the book, Arya Stark, has no wish to live the life of song and love that her elder sister, Sansa, dreams of; she sees marrying some noble lord and taking care of a family as a dream other girls long for, but it a dream that she has no desire for. Arya is far more interested in swordsmanship and exploration than she is in the traditional pursuits of femininity, but, because of her sex, she has never been given proper training, unlike her brothers who learned the arts of war and battle at a young age. Such is her tenacity and fiery temperament that her father eventually relents and hires a private instructor to teach her the ways of the sword.