What A Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Life: Growing Up, Change, Trauma, and Enemies

What Game of Thrones can teach us about life
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in A Game of Thrones.
  Image source.

I thought I’d hate the TV show Game of Thrones. I’d heard it was full of violence and sex, and despite Steph’s frequent praise of both book and TV series, I couldn’t understand why women would enjoy it.

Fast forward a couple of months, and my boyfriend and I have caught up with all three series of the TV production, and I’ve finished the first book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series (entitled A Game of Thrones). My views have indeed changed. This post will focus on this first book, although I’ll probably make passing references to the screen adaptation.

What A Game of Thrones is About

A Game of Thrones can be compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy alongside other fantasy novels. It has knights, castles, war, barbarians, strange gods, made-up languages, and even dragons. However, it also has much more human aspects: love, arranged marriages, and divided families, for instance. I have to warn you too about the murder, conspiracy, incest, and rape that frequently feature.

It’s not a novel of enchantment and chivalry, but one of very real fears and worst-case scenarios. We are able to relate to the stories of civil war, the anxieties of debt and infection, and the question of knowing right from wrong. It’s realistic, minus the dragons.

Each chapter is dedicated to an individual character’s point of view, which allows us to gain a personal insight of the noble houses of Westeros that the series largely focuses on. We also follow several characters beyond “the Wall”, set apart from the civilised world, and the life of Daenerys Targaryen across the sea.

What A Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Life

Does Game of Thrones have life lessons we can relate to?
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister. Image from the Guardian.
Source: HBO

I enjoyed reading A Game of Thrones primarily because it made me think about my own situation and direction in life. I’m due to start working for a start-up company in Barcelona from September, and this will undoubtedly strike me as a major change. I feel that I will be ready for it, but I could do with some extra courage to help me get there. Reading A Game of Thrones was surprisingly helpful in this respect.

The novel holds a fantastic portrayal of courage, but we can also relate to other elements of the text. Below is a brief outline of ways in which we can relate to A Game of Thrones, although this is my no means extensive.

What A Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Growing Up

Due to tragic circumstances, Arya and Sansa are made to leave their home at Winterfell and mature at a far greater pace than perhaps expected. Their sources of comfort and support leave them, and they must find ways to protect themselves both mentally and physically. Similarly, Daenerys’s childhood is cut short, and with time she must also learn to rule and protect both herself and others. Daenerys does not merely adapt to her changed situation, but she becomes powerful enough to truly succeed. I can’t say if this continues beyond the first book of the series, but for now, at least, she is a female of admirable strength.

On Changing Ourselves and Others

Alongside the family suffering that the Starks face, Bran deals with great physical change. At first he feels forlorn, hopeless, and pessimistic towards the future, but he eventually finds courage in understanding that his situation could be worse. He also makes do with what he has rather than what he doesn’t have, and as a result finds himself capable of activities he thought confined to the past. His sub-story demonstrates that while staying in bed may keep us relatively save and secure, it prevents us from enjoying and learning from all the outside world has to offer.

Characters Facing Trauma

The younger characters of A Game of Thrones witness greatly unsettling and traumatic events that simply cannot be approached in a calm manner. However, they learn to overcome and, perhaps most importantly, accept what they have seen. In response to her dangerous predicament, Arya learns to defend herself. Bran, in a similar way, develops his knowledge of strategy and ruling in order to reinforce the tested strength of Winterfell.

Knowing Friends From Enemies

A Game of Thrones quickly shows that trust cannot be given out freely. It’s a novel in which allegiances change, support can frequently be bought, and friends can quickly become enemies. The characters that succeed (and more fundamentally, survive) are generally those that can distinguish their friends from their enemies. Some trials are fair, others are less so. Such characters are often more reluctant to trust others without sufficient ground, but they provide guaranteed back-up for the few they have faith in. Eddard and Catelyn Stark lean towards fairer trials of allegiance, while House Lannister often prioritises power over morality.

This is a novel that differentiates between wanting to act heroically and not always knowing how to do so. Despite the mythical elements of the series, we are exposed to so many feelings and emotions that we can truly relate to, alongside decisions and directions forward that we can learn from. The multiple points of view prove that all characters, no matter how villainous, have their own conflicts and baggage, but they also indicate that success and power can come from the most traumatic and challenging of experiences.

My Rating: 4 Stars
Recommended for: finding courage and strength, overcoming trauma and hardship

Buy A Game of Thrones on Amazon


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It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.

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