So, maybe you’re like me, and you’ve fallen hard for A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series. You’ve finished the latest installment, A Dance with Dragons, and have heard that the author is notoriously tardy with his sequels. This presents an obvious problem because YOU NEED MORE NOW, and it’s really unclear when The Winds of Winter will be released. Before you make like Ashara Dayne at the Palestone Sword, here are a few suggestions for how you can survive this current interregnum, as it were, and be better for it when the The Winds of Winter is finally released.
1. Read the sample chapters from The Winds of Winter
Thus far, Martin has released two complete sample chapters: Theon Greyjoy, who is currently a prisoner of Stannis Baratheon (and who appears to be, despite his current captivity, a heck of a lot more comfortable than he was as a guest of Ramsay Bolton), and Arianne Martell, on her way to join Lord Jon Connington and “Young Grif” (and somewhat chastened by the Myrcella debacle). There are also synopses of another Arianne chapter, a Victarian Greyjoy POV, and a Tyrion POV out there, transcribed from readings Martin has given at conventions and other events. Unfortunately, there are no dead Freys in these POVs, but there’s still plenty of action, especially in the Theon chapter. Find them all here.
2. Read The Tales of Dunk and Egg
These novellas (there are currently three, “The Hedge Knight”, “The Sworn Sword”, and “The Mystery Knight”, with more on the way) follow the adventures of a hedge knight, Ser Duncan The Tall, also known as “Dunk”, and his squire, “Egg” (who is, well, somewhat more than he seems), and take place approximately 100 years before the beginning of the novels. They provide a ton of context and back-story for the Song of Ice and Fire universe, particularly the Blackfyre Rebellions, and a glimpse into everyday life in Westeros during the reign of the Targaryan kings. Dunk is one of the truly sympathetic characters that Martin has developed in this universe, and while there a tendency to view these stories, at least at first glance, as somewhat less serious than the novel — due, I’d argue, to Dunk’s good nature, his somewhat dopey name, and the seeming lack of, you know, epic-ness of these short stories — The Tales of Dunk and Egg are still full of the danger, excitement, tragedy, occasional wit, and that certain je ne sais quoi that we associate with the novels, and which makes them enjoyable reads in their own right. There are also graphic novels of the The Tales of Dunk and Egg, which I’m told are quite good.
3. “The Race for the Iron Throne” blog
This blog is a self-described “political analysis of Game of Thrones,” but the scope is much larger than the book and television show. In fact, this is a fresh and engaging look at the “World of Ice and Fire” with a particular emphasis on government, law and jurisprudence, economics, and culture in Westeros and beyond. I’m particularly impressed with the author’s, and guest authors’, ability to cite and discuss real historical trends and events, particularly from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance, and explore how they compare to trends and events in the novels. In doing so, the reader is able to glimpse Martin’s inspiration, as well as explore the broader historical and philosophical meanings behind key aspects of the series. There are also chapter by chapter summaries and analyses, as well as recaps of episodes from the HBO series. If you’re interested in socio-political and historical inquiry, this site will be great for you while you’re waiting for The Winds of Winter.
This site is a great one-stop shop for all things A Song of Ice and Fire. There is, of course, the forum, which, if you’re like me, you’ve been lurking for a while now. It’s not like I was smart enough to came up with the theory that Alleras is most likely Sarella Sand — one of the notorious Sand Snakes — or even that “R + L = J”. (I did make a prediction that we would have a Ser Pounce POV … From the Wall, and, really, who can tell me I’m wrong until the whole series is done? Exactly.) But, seriously, I get the feeling that the forum is biggest place on the web for folks to discuss A Song of Ice and Fire, I learn something new and awesome whenever I venture there. I suggest you check it out as well. Aside from the forum — and the wiki, which is extensive and very helpful — “The Citidel” is a fantastic resource for those who want to drink deep and long, as it were. This section includes a list and discussion of prophecies, a gallery of all known heraldry, canonical and semi-canonical information, and a subsection called, “So Spake Martin”, excerpts from the author’s readings, talk, interviews, and correspondence with fans.
5. The HBO series
Like it or not, the HBO series probably did more to bring in new readers to the series than anything else. Sure, some of these readers wouldn’t know House Hollard from House Toland, or Bloodraven from Bittersteel, or even Sandor from Gregor Clegane, but they’re not likely to be desperately searching the interwebs for something, ANYTHING, about where Howland Reed is, or what sort of fantastic justice will Wyman Manderly serve to those dubious villains, the Freys and their Bolton allies. The show is, of course, excellent in its own right: a well-cast, well-written, semi-pornographic, and brutally violent celebration of the novels that is, with one exception (Jon Snow as a bumbling, Keystone Kops version of himself in the books), as true to the original storyline as probably can be. Seasons 1 and 2 are now available on DVD and Blue-Ray, and, last I checked, still available on HBO On Demand and HBO GO.
6. The EPIC RE-READ
Like most well-written stories, reading A Song of Ice and Fire a second (or third, or fourth time) really allows you pick up a ton of information you may have missed the first time around. Of course, it’s also nice to return to stories, characters, events you enjoy reading (or be able to skip ones that are frankly too traumatizing, even now, to read … ahem, Ned’s killing of Lady or The Red Wedding). More to the point, these books are the nucleus around which all this other media orbits; it’s almost absurd that any effort to occupy one’s time waiting for the new book wouldn’t include the EPIC RE-READ.
7. The EPIC AUDIOBOOK RE-READ
This idea, in truth, belongs to my sister and her husband, the latter of which has been down with A Song of Ice and Fire since the mid-to-late-90s. A few years ago, they started playing the audiobooks during roadtrips in the car — which I think goes to show that nerdiness is both hereditary AND transmittable through some sort of in-law-osmosis. A few months after I finished A Dance with Dragons, I started listening to the books on my subway commute, which almost eliminated the myriad frustrations associated with traveling from Brooklyn to the Bronx, and back again, on a daily basis. And, like the EPIC RE-READ, listening to the story allows you to pick up a lot of what you missed initially. Also, four out of the five audiobooks are excellently narrated by Roy Dotrice (who, also, cameoed as the Lord Hallyne, the pyromancer, in a few episodes of the HBO series). Dotrice’s characters are fantastic, and he narrates beautifully. The version of A Feast for Crows I listened to is narrated by John Lee who, honestly, I don’t like as much as Mr. Dotrice, but I do believe Dotrice has recorded his own version of Feast, so fear not partisans and purists.
8. Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, From A Game of Thrones to A Dance with Dragons
Beyond the Wall is a collection of essays, edited by James Lowder, that explore different facets of the “World of Ice and Fire,” as well as the social impact of the books. From the role of gender and class, to the use of violence, to the challenges of adapting the stories to graphic novels, to the cultural and historical trends and events that inspired specific and broader storylines, these essays provide a fascinating and diverse commentary on Martin’s work. I want to give a special shout-out to Myke Cole’s excellent essay, “Art Imitates War: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in A Song of Ice and Fire,” an eloquent discussion of PTSD and Posttraumatic Growth in the A Song of Ice and Fire. (I’m a clinical social worker who has worked with the effects of trauma, and Cole’s mastery of this topic, as a non-clinician, is impressive.)
In conclusion …
… This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of everything you can do to use your time effectively between books. There are other websites, blogs, books, podcasts, and apps that are swell. But above are the ones I’ve felt have been helpful for me. In the comments, feel free to add suggestions of you own! And, for the sake of the Seven, R’hollor, the Drowned God, the Old Gods, and those adorable Children of the Forest, DO NOT FANFIC. Martin is against it, I’m against it, you should be against it too. Don’t be a hero.