Book Crush: Review of ‘Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin’s a Song of Ice and Fire’
“Beyond the Wall” covers the series up until “A Dance with Dragons” and season one of the television series, Game of Thrones. This post contains no major spoilers. If you’ve only watched the show or haven’t finished the series you won’t be spoiled.
Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a book of essays about our beloved series. After the second season of Game of Thrones ended and I finally finished A Dance with Dragons, I was a mixed bag of emotions. I was happy to have finally completed the massive series, and sad that I had no more Game of Thrones to consume. But then I realized I could finally enjoy my copy of Beyond the Wall without a fear of spoilers.
I’m a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire series and the Game of Thrones show. After 16 years since first being published, the conversation still burns as bright as the fires of R’holler. The authors in Beyond the Wall take these conversations a step (or two) further. It’s thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining. Topics such as feminism, sexual violence, outcast/the other, fantasy realism, religion and more are all explored in this book of essays.
Not only does Beyond the Wall break down the world of Westeros and Essos, but it exemplifies, page by page, something that us fans have known for a long time, that A Song of Ice and Fire is not only a great work of fantasy, but also a great work of literature. In the foreword, R.A. Salvatore says, “A writer writes to get people asking questions more than to give them answers, and the ultimate achievement of literature is to begin a conversation. To read [Beyond the Wall] is to recognize the depth and breath of the conversation A Song of Ice and Fire has started.”
This book is filled with essays that analyze characters, events and scenes in a captivating and still very accessible way. If you were to look at my copy you would think it has been through the red waste and back. It’s dog-eared, covered in neon pink highlighter, and graffitied with barely legible scribbles, exclamation marks and notes that only I can decipher. Because of Martin’s POV chapters, you get an even deeper sense of the characters. However, there are essays that I’ve read in Beyond the Wall that gave me a better understanding of characters I thought I knew like the back of my (Quran Half)hand.
One of the more enlightening essays is “Art Imitates War: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in A Song of Ice and Fire” by Myke Cole. In this, Cole describes how Arya Stark and Theon Greyjoy are both suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in very different ways. Not only did I learn about PSTD and the Cooper Color System, but, for me, Cole also focused the lens on these two characters storylines. One of my favorite essays is by Matt Staggs, “Petyr Baelish and the Mask of Sanity”, which basically goes on to say that Littlefinger is a psychopath. Literally.
To say that George R. R. Martin writes strong female characters is an understatement. From Arya to Brienne to Cersei, all of the women are strong in their own way and all embody very different and complex representations of woman. There are several essays that delve into the women of Westeros (because one just isn’t enough). In Caroline Spector’s essay, she can condense in one sentence the role of women in ASoIaF by stating, “Martin has created a subversively feminist tale.”
You can’t talk about Game of Thrones without talking about magic and religion. The two worlds are connected; overtly like R’holler and Melisandre and in more subtle ways like the green-seers and old gods. The aptly titled essays, “Of Direwolves and Gods” and “A Sword Without a Hilt”, by Andrew Zimmerman Jones and Jesse Scoble respectively, explore the fascinating ways magic and religion are portrayed in ASoIaF and how it effects Westeros, Essos and its people.
Whether you pray to the old gods or the new, if you consider yourself a fan of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, you should read Beyond the Wall.