How the prologue of “A Game of Thrones” hooks readers

Instant gratification and themes in action

Summary of prologue

A Game of Thrones doesn’t begin with any of its now-famous characters. It also doesn’t weigh things down with the Tolkien approach of explaining everything with an encyclopedic preface. Don’t get me wrong: it has some of the indulgences Tolkien was famous for. There’s a map, a signal to the reader that this is a Real Fantasy Novel™. And like Tolkien’s work, the book ends with an appendix. It’s a history of the main families of the continent.

Setups versus instant gratification

So, against this sprawling “game of thrones,” what’s the point of the prologue? Well, just like the book’s Lannister family, most prologues play the long game. The goal is to set up a distant conflict and a huge payoff later in the novel — or, in Martin’s case, in several novels. As many writers would say, it’s important to set these stakes up early, to explain the basics so the story makes sense.

Dramatic irony and foreshadowing

The prologue also shows us something the rest of the characters don’t know: that the Others aren’t a fairy tale or a ghost story. They’re real.

Building the novel’s theme

One of the recurring patterns in A Game of Thrones is a character’s idealism or naivety being shattered by harsh reality. The first time that harsh lesson is learned is right in the prologue, when the clueless commander comes face to face with an Other.

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