‘Game of Thrones’: A to Z guide
Ahead of season seven, here’s everything you need to know about the ground-breaking fantasy drama
A is for A Song of Ice and Fire
Or the epic series of books by George RR Martin that Game of Thrones is based on. Readers have had an awkward relationship with the show in recent years, their initial smugness at knowing every twist and turn having evaporated as the TV show has blown past where the story is in the books. (The showrunners, DB Weiss and David Benioff, are now working from “broad strokes” Martin has given them.)
Readers have already been waiting six years for The Winds of Winter, the penultimate book in the series. On the plus side, as the TV series has gradually spiralled further away from the source material, readers will still be keen to see how things end for the many book characters that never found their way to the screen, such as (deep breath) Lady Stoneheart, Young Griff, Arianne Martell, Quentyn Martell, Victarion Greyjoy, Patchface and the “other” Mance Rayder.
B is for Bean
As in gruff and manly “Sean”, not “Mr” (although a cameo from Mr Bean would have a nice leavening effect at this point in the series). Sean Bean, aka Eddard Stark, was the big-name star of the first series of Game of Thrones, so it was a bit of a surprise when – spoiler alert – his head came off. That, as many critics have noted, marked Game of Thrones out as the kind of show where surprising things could happen . . . well, as long as the surprise is upsettingly violent. There have not, as yet, been any surprise parties or musical episodes (unless you count the Red Wedding, which did have music and was a “surprise” party in a way).
B is also for breasts. Breasts also happen on Game of Thrones. Of course, nudity is only ever used as a responsible storytelling tool and to draw attention to important themes and issues. The issue of breasts, for example.
C is for Cersei
Glacially beautiful, truly malevolent, but above all things a family woman, Cersei Lannister has been trouble since the start. Since we (and the steeplejack Stark kid, Bran) found her rutting with her brother, Jamie, her actions – whether specific, indirect or unsuccessful – have set much of the plot in motion while also giving her the most circuitous career trajectory in Westeros. First she was queen of the Seven Kingdoms by marriage to Robert Baratheon, whose death she finagled; then queen mother to her incestuous demon spawn, Joffrey (assassinated); again to her drippy spawn king Tommen (suicide); and now queen again, as we have run out of spare Lannisters. Along the way, her influence threatened, Cersei invited a fanatical religious order to take control of King’s Landing. This backfired spectacularly, with her body double’s walk of shame and ensuing mortifications. Solution: she blew them all sky-high. Misgivings? “No thought has ever given me greater joy.”
D is for Dothraki
Everything was fine for these violent nomadic plait-wearing nut jobs initially. Sure, they were sadists who were scared of the sea and roamed the planes killing everyone, but they had their dignity. Then along came a blond tourist from the west, Daenerys Targaryen, who, after a marriage of convenience to the grunting hunk Khal Drogo, appropriates their culture like a medieval, dragon-wielding Miley Cyrus and subordinates the dwindling Khalasar to her own personal vendettas (she wants to regain the iron throne lost to her da, the mad king Aerys II) and Westeroscentric world view. “Khaleesi” probably means “colonial oppressor” in the Dothraki language.
E is for Ellaria Sand
Of all the people you would not mess with in Game of Thrones, Ellaria Sand would be near the top of the list. She is the former lover of Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne, and mother to four of his many daughters. Now, after a slippery, lethal coup, she and her sand snake brood control Dorne and have added ships to Daenerys fleet, which is now sailing for Westeros. This alliance is more complicated than it seems: Ellaria arranged the murder of Myrcella Lannister, whose uncle is Tyrion Lannister – who is of course now Daenerys’s Hand. Expect most of this to be forgotten, though, as the humans of Game of Thrones have bigger, colder, deader problems to deal with.
F is for facts
The fan favourite Hodor said the word “Hodor” 72 times over six seasons. The phrase “You know nothing, Jon Snow” was wheeled out seven times, six by Ygritte and once by Melisandre, while we are told that “winter is coming” 15 times.
Given the amount of death in Game of Thrones it will come as little surprise that only two episodes have had nobody die on screen. Slightly more surprising is the YouTube video that claims to have tallied up all the deaths over the six seasons and come up with a total of 150,966, or slightly over 2,500 an episode. And while that may seem high, obviously the number spikes in episodes that contain huge battles. Or weddings.
G is for George RR Martin
A big-boned, large-bearded man with the sartorial style of a communist-party commissar, Martin is the author of A Song of Ice and Fire, and he hasn’t finished the last book yet. This drives many fans wild with rage and fear, as the elderly Martin trolls them by doing unlicensed wiring on his house and volunteering for dangerous stunts at the circus. “Don’t you worry. The top-secret conclusion to the whole Game of Thrones series is locked safely up here in my noggin,” he says, tapping his head. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m taking a break from writing to climb this rickety ladder to fix some loose roof tiles near that angry eagle’s nest.” No, George! No!
H is for Hand to the King/Queen
Who in their right mind would be a Hand? The whole saga of Game of Thrones begins with the mysteriously slain Hand to King Robert, and if Ned Stark, the loyal Northerner, hadn’t accepted this vacated post and also discovered the reason of the king’s suspiciously blond progeny, there’s a good chance he might have kept his happiness and his head.
Hand stands as a vexed honorific. “The King shits and the Hand wipes,” Jamie Lannister says, declining candidacy. (No wonder he eventually lost his own.)
Still, it’s the role that proves your mettle. Deputised by his father (himself a dab Hand), the overlooked dwarf Tyrion proved himself a canny operator before getting framed for regicide. Allied finally with Daenerys Targaryen, a circa-2001 Britney impersonator with an air force and limited negotiation skills, he earns her respect and gains a new position. She gives the guy a Hand.
I is for Ireland (Northern)
That’s where much of Game of Thrones is shot, and it is, for many Americans, also a magical place filled with strange local characters, confusing politics and a complicated past. For Northerners the production of fantasy television is the biggest industry since shipbuilding. They work there as their fathers and mothers did before them (back in season one).
J is for Jorah Mormont
Iain Glen has given Sean Bean a fine run for his gruff, manly money as Jorah Mormont. The exiled knight has fallen in, out and back in favour with everyone’s favourite dragonlady but seems done for after catching greyscale while battling stonemen with Tyrion in Valyria. His final command from Ms Stormborn is to find a cure for the disease – something that must exist, or how else could Shireen Baratheon, daughter of Stannis, have survived it? Here’s hoping Jorah does get killed off, if only so Glen can get a nice rest: he seems to have been brooding away in every single television series made in the past few years, from Downton Abbey to Jack Taylor.
K is for Kingslayer
Jamie Lannister has come a long way in the opinion of most fans of the show. His current popularity is pretty impressive given that he starts the first episode of Game of Thrones by having sex with his sister and blithely attempting to murder a child.
But he’s not all bad. It transpired that committing regicide when he murdered the Mad King actually saved the residents of King’s Landing from a fiery death, and there’s a good chance in the new series that he may not be very impressed by his sister Cersei’s attempting something similar. It seems likely that Jamie is being positioned for a major role in the series endgame. Our money is on him being the one who finally takes down the Mad Queen, giving him a full set of monarchy murders.
L is for the Lord of Light (aka R’hllor)
Worshippers of the Lord of Light believe in a dualistic fire god and are totally intolerant of those who worship the Old Gods of the Forest, the Faith of the Seven or the Drowned God. (You know, Protestants.) Basically they think that accepting these religions, or allowing nonreligious control of schools, is “political correctness gone mad”. There’s a lot to like in this belief system, to be fair.
On the plus side, worshipper of the Lord of Light Melisandre has de-aged herself and brought Jon Snow back from the dead (a good thing?). On the other hand she has also given birth to a shadowy demonic assassin and burned a child at the stake. (Probably wrong.) All in all, this is tricky territory for a liberal Irish Times journalist, so all I can say is that religion is a very complex thing and diversity is good.
M is for Melisandre
Even among the diverse faiths of Westeros, the religion that the Red Woman serves is considered a dangerous cult, and one that is gaining ground (see above). Fond of prophecy and visions, given to leechings and blood sacrifices, and not above dabbling in demon birth or reanimation, Melisandre worships the Lord of Light with a vigorous sexual appetite, an icy composure and attributes of purest contemptibility. Converting Stannis Baratheon to her faith in his efforts to gain King’s Landing, her advice and actions have been staggeringly unsuccessful in everything but her self-preservation. No wonder Melisandre seemed more surprised than anyone to have successfully resurrected the broody dead dreamboat Jon Snow.
Ever adaptable in her beliefs, she might have switched allegiances again, were she not threatened with execution. She is now exiled, but you most certainly haven’t heard the last of her, or her cheery Yeatsian proclamations: “For the night is dark and full of terrors . . .”
N is for the Night’s Watch
Members of the Night’s Watch take an oath of celibacy and spend their time fearfully manning a huge wall in fear of outsiders and angrily disputing the idea that the world is getting warmer. Yes, the Night’s Watch is basically Westeros’s version of “men on the internet”.
This particular contingent of moody nihilists apparently have legitimate reason to fear giants and wildlings and white walkers from beyond – although when I write this down like that these also seem like huge racial and cultural generalisations. I’m not convinced the people of Westeros should be taking advice from these fringy weirdos.
O is for the Onion Knight
Or Davos Seaworth as he is otherwise known, aka Liam Cunningham, or, to give him his Irish name, That Fella off Game of Thrones. The key to things he is good at is in his name. So as Davos he really knows his way around a ship, and as the Onion Knight he was excellent at smuggling onions behind enemy lines to Stannis Baratheon during Robert’s rebellion.
I know this is true because I read it in the new approved textbook for Leaving Cert history (Game of Thrones edition), which this year will officially enter the school curriculum as part of a cross-departmental Creative Ireland initiative, designed to boost jobs in the film- and sword-making industries.
P is for Petyr Baelish
The root cause of every problem in the land, he’s also known as Littlefinger, but that’s where the Donald Trump comparisons end. Because Baelish is really a rather ingenious schemer. He was basically the one who started the War of the Five Kings, and he has used the ensuing chaos – “chaos is a ladder,” as he once said – to elevate himself to a position where he commands the Knights of the Vale. Given his low birthright, you could argue that no one plays the game of thrones as well as Littlefinger.
There is a strong chance that he may try to drive a wedge between Jon Snow and Sansa Stark in the season ahead, and there have already been hints that he knows the truth about Jon’s real parentage. That’s precisely the type of information Littlefinger is likely to use to his advantage.
Q is for Qarth
Visit Qarth! The bustling trading city on the southern coast of Essos has it all: a cosmopolitan population, strong city walls, a vibrant food culture, respite from starvation in the Red Wastes, and nice ships with which you can potentially assault your homeland and restore your family honour. Yes, Qarth has featured a lot in palace dispatches of late, thanks to the brutal massacre of its ruling body, “the Thirteen”, but that needn’t stop you enjoying its delightful seafront eateries, taking in a show, leaving a wealthy merchant to die locked in a vault, or burning a nefarious warlock alive with your pet dragons. (Qarth hasn’t really been in Game of Thrones since season two, but you try finding a solid entry beginning with Q.)
R is for revenge
What else is there to fill the time in the Seven Kingdoms, a feudal society still a good millennium away from must-see television? (Well, there’s drinking, whoring, spectator combat and some very rudimentary theatre, but this is mostly how a revenger fills his or her downtime.)
The few remaining Starks have acquired a taste for it: Sansa, once buffeted between various appalling would-be husbands, recently brought her rapist and tormentor, Ramsay Bolton, to a grisly end, keeps access to reserve battalions, and holds herself like a destroying angel. Her sister Arya, once given to swordplay and reciting the names of her hit list, is now a fully qualified Faceless assassin, with moves taken straight from the early Shakespearian playbook: before dispatching the perfidious Red Wedding host Lord Frey, she serves him his two sons, baked in a pie. No doubt served cold.
S is for sexposition
Game of Thrones has given us many things, but none quite as culturally potent as its preferred model of dramaturgy. Noting that character backstories were often conveyed while naked performers cavorted in the frame, usually gratuitously, a blogger coined the term in 2011. It took off.
Sexposition is almost unique to HBO, a US subscription channel with a high threshold for violence, profanity, nudity and storytelling, and a roster of shows that combined the lot (Deadwood, The Sopranos). This trope hardly comes without grubbiness: on Game of Thrones female flesh is far more exposed than male; nudity clauses for supernumeraries seem non-negotiable; and when its cast has frequently been augmented by porn stars you have to wonder how far it will go for our titillation.
More delightfully, it has led to the finest “disambiguation” in all of Wikipedia: “Not to be confused with sex position.” In fairness, that’s an easy mistake to make.
T is for Targaryen
The former rulers of the seven kingdoms, keepers of dragons and deposed by Robert Baratheon’s rebellion. As family heritage goes, there is an awful lot to be thankful for if you find that you’re in the same fam as Daenerys. If you want fire-breathing aerial superiority from your ruling clan, then look no further. And, as Patrick Freyne long ago predicted that Game of Thrones would surely end as zombies v dragons, few would bet against the toastmasters in the coming winter war.
But family members seem to have a habit of going mad. So while Danaerys goes all Jeremy Corbyn with her socialist experiment, before going all Tony Blair with her war experiment, don’t expect stability from the leadership.
U is for unknowns
With just 13 episodes left – seven in this series, six in the next – there are still a lot of known unknowns, and probably quite a few unknown unknowns. Who is Azor Ahai, the legendary hero who will take on the White Walkers with a flaming sword? What will Sam discover in the libraries of the citadel? Will Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, get her revenge on Cersei? How much of a problem is Euron Greyjoy going to be for Dany’s fleet? What does Quaithe (the weirdo in the red mask) want and why does she keep appearing to Dany? Are the Faceless Men really finished with Arya? Who else will she get to cross off her list? And did she get baking tips from Hot Pie?
V is for Valyrian steel
Characters on Game of Thrones are always referencing their Valyrian steel swords before hacking people to death with them. I’d think there was some dodgy product-placement deal going on with the steelmakers of Valyria if Valyria hadn’t been destroyed in the Game of Thrones mythos (probably because of the sort of neoliberal outsourcing of steel production that destroyed the rust belt.)
Anyway, forged with spells and dragon fire, Valyrian swords are the sought-after classic Swatch watches of Westeros. It’s also probably no coincidence that V also stands for violence. Ramsay Bolton being savaged by his own dogs, Viserys being crowned with molten gold, Master Pycelle being stabbed to death by children, Renly being murdered by Melisandre’s smoky ghost baby . . . As a practising neurotic, I now worry about all these ways of dying.
W is for winter and almost everything else
“Winter is coming,” goes the refrain of Westeros, from the noble denizens of Winterfell to the wildlings north of the Wall. This is a cold, hard fact, as chilling to the whores of Petyr Baelish’s brothels as to the Master of Whisperers, Varys, whose command of ground-level information has made him indispensable to every ruling monarch, from the mad one to the slave abolisher and controversial Las Vegas residency performer Daenerys Targaryen. Winter is a big deal. Seasons in Game of Thrones are severe and capricious forces: the previous summer lasted nine years, and we anticipate an equally extended cold snap.
Those are very favourable conditions for White Walkers, the unstoppable legion of icy zombies with menacing blue eyes, who last held sway during the interminable winter of some millenniums ago, and whose vanquishing led to the construction of the Wall. See also Warging, the nifty ability to enter the mind of an animal and make it your surveillance drone.
X is for X-Men retirement plans
Appearing in a television sensation like Game of Thrones is a mixed blessing: sure, the (ahem) exposure can be good for a career, but become too heavily associated with your character and options can start to narrow (unless you’re Iain Glen). Jack Gleeson admirably placed his energies elsewhere after Joffrey, but otherwise it might have taken some time to decontaminate the role from the actor.
The X-Men, on the other hand, has proven a welcoming vehicle for Throners. Stark sisters Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) have now both found gainful employment in the Marvel franchise, with Turner playing the latest iteration of Jean Grey in X-Men: Apocalypse and slated for her own movie, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, next year. Williams also joins the fold in 2018 in New Mutants, as Wolfsbane, a Scottish werewolf. Between inclement weather, occasional resurrections and savage hairy beasts, they both have good training.
Y is for Yi Ti, a sophisticated civilisation in the far east of Essos
The city is mentioned several times but has yet to feature fully in the series. Few east Asian characters appear in Game of Thrones, with George RR Martin pointing out that Westeros is clearly a European analogue. This also raises the prospect of an expansion east for the writer and the series. Once he has concluded his European-style wars, could he or other writers begin an entirely new Asian-style story strand of Game of Thrones? He has already stolen their dragons. Maybe it’s time to give something more substantial back.
Z is for zombies
Okay, so you know the White Walkers? Scary-eyed ice chaps who live up north? (No. Not the DUP.) Well, when they’re annoyed they reanimate the dead and use them as their unearthly servants. (The Irish people are currently doing this with Fianna Fáil. ) In Game of Thrones these reanimated corpses are called “wights”, but they’re really zombies. And if I know anything after several seasons’ worth of foreshadowing, I know that zombies are eventually going to fight dragons and, then, after all the interminable scheming, prevaricating and climate-change denial, it will all be worth it. Probably. Hopefully.
God, I hope nothing happens to George before that last book.
Season seven of Game of Thrones begins on Sky Atlantic on Monday, July 17th, at 2am and 9pm