Returning to Westeros

When I was sixteen, my parents and I set off on a road trip up the coast of California to look at a few potential college campuses. Before heading out, however, we stopped at Barnes & Noble at the Grove so I could blow a gift card on a bunch of new books. (Reading in the car is a skill that I have sadly lost to time, and not just because now I’m usually the one driving.)

I got up to the checkout and dumped my stack of books on the counter – there was a theme. Given my age, it was probably a pile of Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Jennifer Roberson, and Melanie Rawn. The clerk took one look at my haul and said:

“If you like fantasy, you should read George R. R. Martin.”

He stepped out from behind the counter, and walked over to one of the display tables where the first three books in the Song of Ice and Fire series were laid out. After scanning the options, he picked up Game of Thrones and handed it to me. It was paperback, but the size of a hardback novel, and it probably weighed five pounds.

“It’s great,” he said, gushing about the complexity and the characters.  “If you don’t love it, you can come back here and complain.”

I did love fantasy, so I bought the giant tome, and took it with me on the road. By the time we reached San Luis Obispo, where we would stay the night, I’d already burned through the 720 page emotional rollercoaster, and just had to know what happened next, which meant forcing my father to find the nearest bookstore before going to the hotel. Though the books were unapologetically violent, filled with sex too graphic for my tastes (it doesn’t take much, of course), I was so obsessed with the story and the characters that those moments of discomfort were a small price to pay.

When we returned to L.A. I had settled on the colleges I would apply to, and had finished the third book in the series, A Storm of Swords, sobbing over the bloody and brutal ending. My parents probably thought I’d lost my mind. The worst part was that there was no indication at the time that Martin would ever finish the fourth novel, then untitled. I was so wrung out emotionally, that it took several days to recover.

And I never went back.

Despite having been completely absorbed by those books, when A Feast for Crows was finally published, it had been several years since the road trip, and I’d forgotten a number of details from the first three books. But I couldn’t bring myself to reread them, to go back to that dark, haunting place. With each book running 780+ pages, it wouldn’t exactly have been a short trip. Every time I thought about it, I also thought about how exhausting my weekend binge had been. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put myself through that again.

But now HBO has taken up the mantle, and is bringing Game of Thrones to the small screen. The buzz for this 10 episode season has been astoundingly positive, and I have a suspicion that GoT will be the new Walking Dead among my friends – Must Talk About TV. Since I don’t watch the zombie thriller, I would really hate to miss out on another show that has all of my buddies squealing, ‘OMG! OMG!’

So I will tune in April 17th, and see if I can handle the intensity of the subject matter any better now than I could at 16. The first three books still sit on my shelf – they’ve survived years of book purges, which probably means there’s a part of me that really, really wants to go back, whether I’m ready or not.


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