Season four of Game of Thrones starts tonight on HBO, and as the HBO ads remind us, “All Men Must Die.” This is especially true of men created by George R. R. Martin, who has a nasty habit of killing off everybody and their brother. When I first started watching GoT and reading the books, I was warned “don’t get too attached to anybody,” which still didn’t prepare me for the amount of bloodshed and pathos I was going to encounter in the series. Despite my best intentions, I also got very attached to several of the characters, and the comics offered a nice chance to start over with them all before Martin ripped my heart out of my chest.
The first nineteen issues of Game of Thrones (the entire run thus far, out of a predicted twenty-four) takes place during the first book of the series (the first season on HBO, if you haven’t read the books yet), before things really start going to hell in Westeros. I loved that book and season because it did such a wonderful job of setting up the world that Martin created, and the comics do the same. They focus a little more on plot than character development, which is a nice counterpoint to HBO, which has done more with the characters. I’m not going to do a detailed breakdown of the plot of each, because either you know it already or you don’t, and I’m not going to be the one to spoil it for you. Suffice it to say, the plot sticks very close Martin’s book.
The art in the comics is beautiful, and the characters are particularly well drawn. While some of them do resemble their HBO counterparts, the emphasis here was on drawing them to fit the descriptions Martin gave in the books. This is really clear when it comes to the Stark kids—it’s very obvious that Arya looks like her father and not her mother, and that Robb takes after the Tully side of the family in appearance, something that isn’t as clear in the television series but that I’ve always been sure Martin pointed out for a reason. The various settings all have a specific feel as well, particularly as the issues go on—the Wall is dark and colored in a monochrome color scheme of greys, whites, blacks, and blues, a sharp contrast to the light and brightness of the Dothraki sea.
On the whole, the comics don’t tell us anything the books don’t, but they do add another layer to the series as envisioned by HBO. If you’re a fan of the show and have been daunted by the length of the books, the comics are an excellent way of getting a little deeper into the world of Westeros. If you’re familiar with both, it’s kind of refreshing to go back to a time before Martin had invented so many characters that he had to split their storylines into two books (I still haven’t forgiven him for putting most of the characters I don’t care about into book four). And for those of you who were fans of HBO’s sex scenes? They’re in the comics, too. Learn from my mistake, friends: you may not want to read these on the subway in daytime with small children around, because kids are drawn to comics like flies are to honey, and their parents will not thank you for having to explain cowboy style to their kids.
Are they a must-read? Maybe not. But if you’re a fan of the books or the HBO series and you want to revisit simpler times in the world you’ve come to love, yes, they’re a fun read. And if you’re looking for a quick way into the series, this could be your in. It’s good as a stand alone and a good addition to the franchise, but if you’re looking for something entirely new, these aren’t the books for you. 4 out of 5 Lightning Bolts.
Interested? Take a look at the series over at comixology.com