All five A Song of Ice and Fire books, ranked worst to best

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Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

2. A Game of Thrones (Book 1, 1996)

The Song of Ice and Fire books are full of magic, but Martin still hasn’t topped his first big trick. After a long book spent getting to know Ned Stark — a strong-backed, fair-minded hero who would win the day in any other story — Martin swerves well out from the finish line and kills him off, and we realize that this book we’ve been loving isn’t about what we thought it was about. It’s grimmer, denser and more daring for that.

Much like how Sean Bean has the lion’s share of screentime in the first season of Game of Thrones, Ned Stark has the most point-of-view chapters in A Game of Thrones, so it truly comes as a shock when Joffrey Baratheon — a little snit of a character with no point-of-view chapters to his name — is the one to end him. And there’s still a fair amount of book left after that! We quickly realize that Martin’s supporting cast is more than up to the challenge of carrying on the story from here.

A Game of Thrones is the most tightly focused of the Song of Ice and Fire books. The story hasn’t sprawled out too much yet, and we’re always aware of how every plotline relates to every other plotline. Even Daenerys Targaryen’s adventures in the Dothraki Sea are connected to the main action in King’s Landing. At the same time, we’re meeting a ton of characters and traveling to a lot of new places. Martin keeps feeding us new information at a pace that excites without overwhelming.

A Game of Thrones was always going to be an extremely hard act to beat. But Martin has managed it: