Columns > Published on March 30th, 2012

A Recap Of... Game Of Thrones

With Season 2 of Game of Thrones bearing down on us like a rampant direwolf, what better time to refresh your memory about the first book in George R. R. Martin's mighty epic saga? A whole year has passed since the first HBO series glued our eyes to the screens and left us in no doubt that bridesmaids at Dothraki weddings have more fun than bridesmaids are generally supposed to. Because of that year-long gap, we at LitReactor felt a short rerun of what happened in Volume One was in order - to maximize your viewing pleasure and, more importantly, to make sure you don't confuse your Lannisters with your Starks (a crime punishable by death in most parts of the Seven Kingdoms).

So Brotherhood Without Banners, buckle your halbard, sharpen your axe and, before you mount up and embark on this perilous expedition, listen to these words and take good note:

When you play the Game of Thrones you win…

  …or you die.

'Game of Thrones'Book 1: Game of Thrones

Note: Martin tells the story through a host of characters, some major, some bit players. The names in bold indicate those characters to which Martin gives a point of view in each book.

At Winterfell, a stronghold to the north of Westeros, land of the Seven Kingdoms, Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark receives news that King Robert Baratheon and his Court propose to travel from King's Landing to visit. Longtime friend and battle companion of Robert, Eddard is the man who helped Baratheon overthrow the Targaryen reign over Westeros, a war which ended in the death of the then King - Aerys II - his son, Rhaegar, and Rhaegar's wife and children. Before the royal party arrives, Ned apprehends a deserter from the Night's Watch on his land. The man speaks of attacks by the Others - a race of supernatural beings long thought vanished. Ned executes the man - as is his duty - and on the same hunting trip discovers a dead direwolf. Her litter of pups are still alive and, as there are six, he gives one each to his five children by his wife, Catelyn and the sixth to his bastard son Jon Snow.

When Robert arrives, he makes clear the reason for his visit. His trusted friend and advisor Jon Arryn - known as the King's Hand - has died. He wishes Ned to take his place. Ned's wife, Catelyn, is concerned about the request. King's Landing is a place of politics and intrigue. But Ned accepts, as he feels bound by his long friendship with Robert to do. It is agreed that Ned will travel south with the Royal party and take with him his two daughters, Sansa and Arya. To consolidate the bond between the two families, it is arranged that Sansa will be betrothed to Robert's oldest son Joffrey.

Also in the Royal entourage at Winterfell are Cersei Lannister, Robert's wife, and her two brothers, Jaime and Tyrion. Catelyn's forebodings are justified when her son Bran, who loves to climb, scales the wall to a secluded tower and sees Cersei and Jaime making love. Jaime pushes Bran out of the open window, a fall which leaves the boy near death and unable to speak of what he has seen.

The Royal party leaves Winterfell under that shadow. But Tyrion, the dwarf, decides to head north. He wants to accompany Jon Snow to the Wall, a fortification which divides the seven kingdoms from the ungoverned lands where people called the wildlings live and, it is whispered, where the Others are beginning to return. Jon is to join the Night's Watch, the company of soldiers who guard the Wall.

During Tyrion's absence from Winterfell, an assassin attempts to kill the unconscious Bran with a knife belonging to the dwarf. Catelyn decides Tyrion arranged to have her son murdered. She has him arrested during his journey back south from the Wall and taken to her sister's castle, The Eyrie, for trial.

On Essos, the land across the Narrow Sea from Westeros, Viserys Targaryen, second son of the overthrown king, Aerys II, prepares to marry his sister, Danaerys, to a Dothraki warlord in return for the forces he needs to reclaim his throne. Their mother fled Westeros while pregnant with Dany, who never knew her father or dead older brother. As a wedding gift, Danaerys receives three dragon eggs.

In King's Landing, Ned discovers from Robert's Master of Coin, Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger), that his King is heavily in debt to various Braavosi banks. He also investigates the previous Hand's death, suspecting foul play. He finds out that his predecessor had uncovered Cersei's incest with her brother and that the three children Robert thinks are his are in fact the product of that liaison. When Ned tells Cersei what he knows, assuming she will abdicate, Cersei arranges a 'hunting accident' for her husband Robert and has Ned arrested. When Ned is brought before the assembled population of King's Landing to confess treachery - so that his daughters will be safe - Joffrey, already comfortable on the Iron Throne, overrules his mother and has Ned executed. During the tumult, Arya, Ned's youngest daughter, escapes from the city, but Sansa remains, a hostage and still betrothed to Joffrey.

When news reaches Ned's oldest son Robb of what has happened, war is declared between House Stark and House Lannister. Jon, also hearing of his father's fate, must decide whether to stay at the Wall or leave to join his family. Although life in the black is not all he had hoped, Jon has gained the loyalty of a group of his fellows, amongst them the fat, shy, bookish Samwell Tarly. This group prevents Jon from deserting. Jon has made an oath to the Night's Watch and not just that: two members of a scouting party are found dead, but when their bodies are brought back to the Wall, they rise from their coffins as Others and it is only due to Jon's bravery that they are killed. The Wall, dangerously undermanned, cannot afford to lose any of its sworn brothers.

Robb Stark commands troops loyal to the Stark cause with skill. While Jaime Lannister lays siege to his mother's ancestral home of Riverrun, Robb engages the other Lannister troops at the Trident, these under the command of Tywin Lannister, Lord of that House, father to Cersei and Jaime. Tyrion, his youngest son, has escaped execution via the Moon Door at the Eyrie and joins his father in battle. But Robb's attack is a diversion. He splits the Lannister forces, encircles Jaime's troops and takes Tywin's son hostage.

Dany's marriage to the warlord Khal Drogo is happy and she adapts well to the tough, nomadic life of the warlike Dothraki. But her brother Viserys, increasingly unstable, makes the mistake of dishonoring her in front of her husband and pays with his life. When Drogo is injured during the sack of a city, the now pregnant Dany asks a wise woman to heal him. But she is betrayed by the speywife, who takes her unborn son and returns Drogo to Dany alive, but in a state of waking death. Dany smothers her husband as an act of mercy and places the dragon eggs in the funeral pyre. She walks into the flames and emerges unscathed, with three baby dragons perched on her shoulders.

Battles: An epic conflict between the Stark and Lannister forces at Riverrun and the Trident.

Rapes and Murders: We learn of the rape of Eddard Stark's sister, Lyanna by Rhaegar Targaryen, the act which initiated the War of the Usurper and placed Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne. Eddard Stark loses his head at Joffrey's command and many of the Stark household and guard are killed in the aftermath of this event.

Mythical Beasts: The story begins with the adoption of the six direwolves into the Stark family and ends with the hatching of the three dragons, the first to be seen for hundreds of years.

Summary:  This story centers on the Stark family - Eddard, Catelyn and their children. At the beginning all of them are safe in Winterfell, by the end they are scattered across Westeros and Eddard is dead. Reuniting the family and obtaining revenge for the misdeeds of the Lannisters will be the theme which occupies the greater part of the rest of the series.

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But that's not all...

For those diehards who have read the books, or for those of you who haven't but don't mind some spoilers (although we've carefully not revealed the biggest surprises and plot twists) the opportunity lies before you to take a stroll, sword in hand, through the many intrigues, battles and summary executions of not just the second book - on which the coming HBO season is based - but also of books three through five. As before, the point of view characters are given in bold and, because we're nice people, we've added a short assessment of the high points and overall thrust of that volume of the story. Read on, enjoy, and whatever you do, don't upset the dragons...


'A Clash of Kings'Book 2: A Clash of Kings

A comet streaks across the sky above the seven kingdoms. Robert Baratheon is dead. In King’s Landing his eldest son Joffrey sits upon the Iron Throne, his mother Cersei Lannister by his side. But Robert’s brothers Stannis and Renly both lay claim to the throne. From his fortifications on Dragonstone, Stannis – humorless and brooding – plots with the priestess Melisandre. Under the horrified eyes of his faithful retainer Davos, Stannis casts aside centuries of tradition, replacing the ancient religion of the Seven with the worship of R’hllor the god of Fire. In return, Melisandre uses her unearthly powers to help him in his quest to remove his own brother from the battle for succession. Tyrion Lannister, uncle of Joffrey, dwarf brother of Cersei, moves about the new court of King’s Landing. Ignored, despised, Tyrion understands the danger posed by Stannis and his warfleet now gathering in the sea beyond the city.

Catelyn Stark, widow of Ned Stark, late Lord of Winterfell, who was executed on the orders of Joffrey, attempts to make common cause with the Baratheon brothers, but both are bent on ruling alone. She returns to her ancestral home of Riverrun, where a battle is brewing between her family and the Lannisters, supporters of Joffrey’s claim. But Catelyn and her son Robb hold an important hostage: Cersei and Tyrion’s brother – Jaime Lannister.

In the seas to the west, trouble also brews. Theon Greyjoy, once the ward of Ned Stark, has returned to the Iron Islands. Although his father Balon also plans to expand his empire, he gives his son a lowly role in the campaign. Theon determines to impress by returning to Winterfell, now lacking a proper guard, and capturing it. Catelyn’s two youngest children Bran and Rickon remain at the castle. Bran, crippled in a fall, is beginning to discover that even though he cannot use his legs, he may possess other powers, which relate in some way to the direwolf he has raised from a pup.

As for the other Stark children, Sansa, betrothed to Joffrey and now a valuable hostage for the Lannisters, waits in dread for the day she will have to marry the boy she now hates. Arya, escaped from the city, travels north, through a country now ravaged by war, sought by both her own family and the Lannisters. Her half brother Jon remains at the Wall, the great stone barrier between his people and the wildlings – ungoverned, people now beginning to mass under the leadership of Mance Ryder. Jon leads a scouting party into wildling territory in the company of his friend Samwell Tarly and discovers the wildlings are not the only threat to Westeros. The Others, weird creatures who cannot be killed by ordinary means, are also advancing on the Wall.

And to the east, Danaerys Targaryen sets off for the great trading center of Qarth with her faithful protector Jorah Mormont and the three fledgling dragons she hatched in the funeral pyre of her husband, Khal Drogo. The last of the House which ruled Westeros until Robert Baratheon’s overthrow, she hopes to find support for her own claim to the Iron Throne.

Battles: A ferocious sea and land battle towards the end of this installment as Stannis launches his bid to oust Joffrey from the Iron Throne. Both Tyrion and Davos play a major role.

Rapes and Murders: Plenty of both as the Hound and his brother the Mountain, both paid swords of the Lannisters, ravage the lands of the Reach as far north as the Trident. Major characters mostly go unscathed, if minus occasional body parts.

Mythical Beasts:  Danaerys is never without her dragons and they are fiercely protective of their surrogate mother. Robb’s direwolf Grey Wind and Jon’s Ghost both prove invaluable fighting companions.

Summary: The aftermath of Eddard Stark’s execution lingers well into this portion of the story. His discoveries about the true nature of the Lannisters fuel the righteous indignation of Robert Baratheon’s two brothers, Renly and Stannis. Battlelines are drawn, alliances (most temporary) formed. A new generation of leaders (Jon, Robb, Danaerys) find their characters formed by events, giving us hints about the parts they will play later in the story.

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'A Storm of Swords'Book 3: A Storm of Swords

Robb Stark now rules the north after holding the Lannisters at bay. But his victory was assisted by the House of Frey and in return Robb is betrothed to one of Lord Frey’s many daughters. Robb’s mother Catelyn knows it does not augur well when her son chooses to break this arrangement and marry for love instead. But she has greater worries on her mind. Believing her two younger sons dead, Catelyn is determined to free her daughter Sansa held captive at King’s Landing by the Lannisters. Her family, the Tullys, have a valuable hostage in Jaime Lannister, uncle to Joffrey who now sits on the Iron Throne. Catelyn frees Jaime under the guard of Brienne, maid of Tarth, hoping the Lannisters will honor their word and give her Sansa in exchange. Catelyn believes the Lannisters also have her younger daughter, Arya, but she continues to roam the lands around Harrenhall, disguised as a serving girl and witness to the cruelties of all parties in the conflict, becoming more and more hardened and vengeful by what she sees.

In King’s Landing, Sansa is relieved to learn she will not after all marry Joffrey, the boy king who had her father executed in front of her. A new alliance between House Lannister and the powerful Tyrell family will be sealed by Joffrey’s marriage to Margaery Tyrell. But Sansa’s relief is shortlived when she discovers that instead she is to be married to Joffrey’s uncle – the dwarf Tyrion. And far from being the hero of the hour after saving King’s Landing from Stannis Baratheon’s sea assault, Tyrion finds himself scarred across the face and his father Tywin claiming the victory as his.

Davos, faithful servant of Stannis, survives the sea battle at King’s Landing and returns to Dragonstone where he bears witness to the growing dependence of Stannis on the supernatural powers of Melisandre.

To the north, at Winterfell, Catelyn’s two younger sons are not dead as she believes. With the help of the marshpeople, Jojen and Meera Reed, Bran and his brother Rickon escaped before the castle fell to Theon Greyjoy. Crippled Bran must travel on the back of the giant Hodor, but in his dreams he becomes one with his direwolf, Summer. Jojen explains to Bran that he is a warg – a person who can unite their spirit with an animal. The party move northwards, heading to the Wall, hoping to be reunited with Bran and Rickon’s half brother Jon.

But Jon is beyond the Wall, his scouting party attacked and overcome by the wildlings, now gathered under the leadership of Mance Rayder. His faithful friend Samwell Tarly also escapes and sets off on a hazardous journey back to the Wall. But Jon remains, and on the orders of his Commander Quorhin Halfhand, infiltrates the wildling forces, claiming to have left the black. Grudgingly accepted, Jon learns the wildlings plan to attack the Wall. He also learns that the ones the wildlings call wights and the people of Westeros call ‘the Others’ are leaving the lands to the north and moving south, killing as they go.

On Essos, the land mass across the Narrow Sea to the east, Danaerys Targaryean has gathered an army, using her dragons as both bait and weapons. She marches on the cities of the slave coast, subduing Astapor and Yunkai and freeing the bonded as she goes. Finally she establishes herself in the city of Meereen, devoting herself to learning how to rule well. She is joined by Ser Barristan Selmy, an exile from the Lannister court, who brings her news of the war in Westeros.

Battles: The wildlings attempt to take the Wall.
Rapes and Murders: Several major characters die, on both the Lannister and Stark sides. Rapes and mutilations aplenty as the Riverlands are sacked by first one side then the other.
Mythical Beasts: Giants, mammoths, shadowcats. And the dragons again, of course.

Summary: Split into two because of its length, this book focuses on the struggle for power between the Starks and the Lannisters. There are terrible losses for both families, with the Lannisters gaining the upper hand, at least temporarily. Minor characters like Sam, Bran and Arya are given the chance to develop and mature. Bran in particular is developing powers which can only be described as supernatural.

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'A Feast For Crows'Book Four: A Feast for Crows

The Lannisters now hold power in the Riverlands – the central part of Westeros, with Cersei as mother of the new boy king Tommen governing King’s Landing. But Cersei’s increasing paranoia leads her to plot against Margaery Tyrell, Tommen’s wife-in-waiting, in favor of paying attention to other pressing matters such as balancing the city’s books. Her behavior estranges her brother Jaime who also learns of Cersei’s affair with their cousin Lancel while he was held hostage.

Sansa, escaped from King’s Landing with the assistance of her mother’s childhood friend and all-round slippery schemer Petyr Baelish, journeys to the Eyrie, mountain top home of her aunt Lysa. Far from welcoming her niece, Lysa – infatuated with Petyr – becomes convinced Sansa is her rival in love. Sansa’s younger sister Arya has also slipped from the grasp of the several factions who have sought her. Now adept at defending herself, she boards a ship bound for Braavos, across the Narrow Sea from Westeros and finds sanctuary in the House of Black and White, a temple associated with the training of assassins.

Brienne, Maid of Tarth, still loyal to Catelyn Stark, hunts for Sansa in the Riverlands, witness to the destruction wreaked there by the conflict. Winter is coming and war has prevented the smallfolk from bringing in the last, vital harvest.

Samwell Tarly leaves the Wall, where his friend Jon Snow is now Commander of the Watch. Jon orders Samwell to travel to Oldtown, to learn how to become a maester and, once trained, return to the Wall to act as healer to the Night’s Watch. With him, Sam takes a wildling girl, Gilly, and her new born baby boy.

In Dorne, the southernmost part of Westeros, Myrcella the daughter of Cersei has been made ward of Doran Martell, to forge an alliance between House Lannister and House Martell. Areo Hotah, Captain of the Guards, is witness to the unfolding plan of Prince Doran’s daughter, Arianne Martell and Arys Oakheart of the Kingsguard, to kidnap the little girl and break the alliance by declaring Myrcella Queen of Westeros.

And in the Iron Islands, a fresh battle for succession rages. Asha Greyjoy, sister of Theon, watches as her uncles Euron and Victarion Greyjoy vie with each other for the title of King following the death of her father Balon.

Battles: Smaller skirmishes, including a nailbiting finale to Arianne Martell’s attempt to kidnap Myrcella.
Rapes and Murders: Now the Riverlands are back under Lannister control, swords (both kinds) are back in their sheaths. Several torture scenes as Cersei plots and schemes.
Mythical Beasts: Not so much as a direwolf pelt in evidence as the story shifts from the Starks to other parts of the seven kingdoms. No dragons either.

Summary: This is Cersei’s book. Increasingly unhinged, she schemes her way to disaster, alienating all those who once loved her, her powerbase so huge that she gets away with the most blatant lies and deception. Jaime, her erstwhile lover, is on the opposite arc, developing a conscience and a distaste for his sister’s manipulations and appetites. It also signals a growing awareness in Westeros of the existence of Danaerys and her dragons with several characters declaring an interest in an alliance with her.

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'A Dance With Dragons'Book Five. A Dance with Dragons

Quentyn Martell – anxious, shy - travels to Essos on the bidding of his father Doran Martell to ask Danaerys Targaryen to marry him, according to an agreement made years ago between their families. But Danaerys, unaware of his mission, is under pressure to take a husband and consolidate her position in the Bay of Slaves. Her policy of freeing slaves and closing the fighting pits of Meereen are deeply unpopular and to add to her problems, her dragons have now developed a taste for human flesh. One, Drogon, has escaped and the other two must be kept in chains. Danaerys is also unaware that her nephew Aegon, believed to have been killed as a baby, is alive and also on Essos in the company of the fugitive dwarf Tyrion Lannister, whose nephew Tommen sits the Iron Throne and Jon Connington, once the Hand of Rhaegar Targaryen and now bent on restoring his former King’s banner to its rightful home on Westeros.

In the far north of Westeros, Jon Snow, now Commander of the Night’s Watch, finds his loyalties divided between the demands of Stannis Baratheon, who plans to march south and retake the northlands, and his duties to maintain the defense against the wights - unnatual creatures who move in the Haunted Forest beyond the Wall. He also has enemies within the Watch, as Melisandre, Red Priestess warns him.  Jon’s crippled brother Bran has passed under the Wall and now moves in the wastes beyond. His dreams of a three eyed crow are intensifying. After an attack by wights, Bran’s party is saved by cavepeople who take them to meet the sage they call the three eyed crow.

Although most believe Bran and his brother Rickon dead, word has reached some that the boys are alive. Davos hand of King Stannis, is sent to treat with Lord Manderly of White Harbour. But Manderly sees an opportunity to gain an advantage on the forces opposed to Stannis and sends Davos north to seek Rickon and bring him back to White Harbour.

Directly in Stannis’ route lies Winterfell, the place Jon Snow and his half brothers once called home. Vicious Ramsay Bolton now holds the castle and plans to marry Arya Stark, their sister and cement his position in those lands. Witness and victim of the brutality of Ramsay is Theon Greyjoy, Iron Born and once a ward of Winterfell. Theon knows the girl Ramsay is to marry is not Arya, but if he lets this information slip, both he and the girl will die. The real Arya continues her training as an assassin in the House of Black and White in Braavos.

While Theon attempts to keep his secret and the few of his fingers Ramsay has left him, his mad uncle Victarion sails for Essos and Meereen, determined, like Quentyn, to take Danaerys as a wife. He will have a fight on his hands for Danaerys who is not only courted by the noble Hizdahr zo Loraq, but is defended by Ser Selmy Barristan, once of King’s Landing now head of her Queensguard. Victarion’s brethren, the Iron Born are faring badly, with Asha, sister of Theon, being the first to try to withstand Stannis’ advance south.

In King’s Landing itself, Cersei Lannister, mother of Tommen, the boy King who sits the Iron Throne, has admitted adultery, incest and murder and now awaits her fate at the hands of the High Septon. Her daughter, Myrcella is the ward of House Martell where, under the eyes of Areo Hotah, Captain of the Guards, plans are forged to return Myrcella but also to send two of Prince Doran’s nieces to the city with her, to act as spies. Cersei’s brother and former lover, Jaime has ignored his sister’s plea for help, but still loyal to the Lannister cause, starts to restore order to the shattered Riverlands. But then he meets an old friend, Brienne of Tarth, who informs him she has finally found the other Stark daughter, the long missing Sansa.

Battles: Stannis is on the move, but his battles are fought offstage. A thrilling moment when the dragon Drogon descends upon the fighting pits of Meereen in search of lunch.
Rapes and Murders: Plenty of torture, courtesy of Ramsay Bolton.
Mythical Beasts: Lots of dragon action, a direwolf here or there, plus the giant Wun Wun.

Summary: It’s all about divided responsibilities and hidden heirs. Danaerys and Jon, at opposite ends of the kingdoms, must resolve similar conflicts between head and heart and play tricky games of politics. House Targaryen turns out to be very much still in play for the Iron Throne and much of the action also focuses on the fates of the various noble children who have been hostaged or lost as a result of the conflict.

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Bonus Eye Candy

For those of you up to speed who have read book 2, or want a glimpse of what the season will entail, check out our visual which lays out where all the main players are situated in our world, as well as what they'll soon be up to.

Again, SPOILERS if you haven't read A Clash Of Kings yet.

Westeros and the events and characters of 'A Clash of Kings' - Designed by Cath Murphy for, using the available map from

And there you have it, Brotherhood Without Banners. Let us raise a cup of mead, dance the fingerdance and bless the Seven. And should the nights grow dark and cold and the smallfolk whisper of White Walkers in the woods, we shall take cheer from the words of Brienne, Maid of Tarth:

‘Winter will never come for the likes of us. Should we die in battle, they will surely sing of us, and it’s always summer in the songs. In the songs all knights are gallant, all maids are beautiful, and the sun is always shining.’

About the author

Cath Murphy is Review Editor at and cohost of the Unprintable podcast. Together with the fabulous Eve Harvey she also talks about slightly naughty stuff at the Domestic Hell blog and podcast.

Three words to describe Cath: mature, irresponsible, contradictory, unreliable...oh...that's four.

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