A Song Of Ice And Fire Has Become Game Of Thrones, And Thank God For That

Somewhere along the line, it happened. The name changed. George R.R. Martin's celebrated fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire more-or-less officially became known as Game of Thrones.

We can probably blame HBO; their hugely successful TV series Game of Thrones is what launched Martin's books into the public consciousness. Since the show's debut, A Song of Ice and Fire has been relegated to status as a footnote during a credits sequence, or a small note on the box.

Now we have board games, card games, video games of every stripe, and all manner of memes, merchandise and miscellany, all under the Game of Thrones banner. But how did this happen, and why?

The first book in A Song of Ice and Fire, titled A Game of Thrones, was published sixteen years ago. Since then, Martin has published four more books, and each entry has won him more fans. But everything changed with the arrival of the 2010 HBO series. That show, of course, was called Game of Thrones. It wasn't called A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones; it wasn't even called A Game of Thrones like the book. Just Game of Thrones.

Soon after that we got the announcement of several video games, the real-time strategy game Game of Thrones: Genesis and the upcoming Game of Thrones RPG based on the property. We've also got a Game of Thrones card game, as well as the hugely complex and diabolically fun Game of Thrones board game. The fact that the game in fact concerns characters introduced in the first three books doesn't matter; Game of Thrones is no longer a book; it's a brand.

Countless memes, blogs, joke merchandise, and fan-art collections almost all go under the Game of Thrones header. Even the awesomely-titled Blog of Ice and Fire has added a sub-header including both titles.

I think that the new title is an improvement. For a while, I wasn't so sure; back when I was pondering what a great Game of Thrones game would look like, I even said that I thought that the game should be "properly" titled A Song of Ice and Fire. I've changed my mind. People have latched onto Game of Thrones because it really is a better name for the series. Here are some reasons why:

  • It's cooler-sounding. Nothing is as much of a turn-off as a wordy, overcooked fantasy name. A Song of Ice and Fire sounds like it could be any clichéd fantasy book; it conjures images of the sorts of tales that those who aren't already fans of high fantasy generally avoid. Game of Thrones is much easier to say. Removing the "A" from the front was also a good call: the unnecessary article adds a surprisingly intense layer of self-serious dorkiness.
  • It's evocative. "Game of Thrones." What does that mean? It calls to mind all sorts of interesting imagery -- throne-shaped chess pieces moving about a board, kings fighting for control of a kingdom. Which of course is entirely true to the story at the heart of these books, because…
  • It's accurate. Sure, it could be said that Martin's books are about ice and fire. They're about dragons and the snow, the ice-covered great wall and the sands of Dorne. But that's not what they're really about -- they're really about a bunch of people conniving and manipulating one another in a bloodthirsty quest for power. While the first book may be called A Game of Thrones, the game itself plays out over all of the books, or at least, the first five. The overarching story is about a Game of Thrones.
  • It's part of one of the series' most famous quotes. "In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die." It's one of the most recognisable quotes from the whole series (perhaps behind "winter is coming"), and also the truest -- that's what's really going on here. A fight to the death for power. Musical albums often have what I call the "Money Line," where the artist sings the hidden lyric that contains the name of the album. (e.g. "Under the Table and Dreaming" or "Chutes Too Narrow.") This quote is the equivalent of that -- the line encapsulates the series and contains its title.

This isn't the first time this has happened with an overcooked fantasy title. People like to simplify things, and we've done it plenty of times in the past. Knights of the Old Republic became "KotOR," World of Warcraft became "WoW." As we watched the ongoing and just-resolved legal battle between Mojang and Zenimax over the term "Scrolls," who among us didn't say "Well, why do they even care? No one calls Elder Scrolls games The Elder Scrolls anyway."

It's true: If I'm at a party and I start talking about the latest Elder Scrolls game, no one is going to have a clue what I'm talking about. But if start talking about Skyrim, even the haughtiest non-gamer will be on the same page. The same goes for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which has a title so terrible that no one has quite figured out what to do with it: Do we call it Amalur? Or Reckoning? Or do we simply not talk about it at all?

The lovely iPad game Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was my favourite game of last year, but that doesn't mean I loved the title. It was purposefully ungainly, but it was a joke that lost its luster after the fifth or sixth time I had to type it. Fortunately, the guys who made it left that one word, the misspelled "Sworcery," able to stand in for the whole title.

Game of Thrones implies a much more interesting story than A Song of Ice and Fire.

It's never easy to name things. Everyone who's ever named a band or a website can tell you -- you sit forever, poking holes in your ideas, trying to imagine how this name will work in the real world, how it will sound five years from now. One of the things that often comes up when naming something is what people will call it for short.

The question is: Will this new title always be appropriate to the series? Sure, Game of Thrones encapsulates the first five books better than A Song of Ice and Fire. But will that always be the case? Without spoiling too much, I could easily imagine that at some point, these stories stop concerning themselves with kingdoms and lineage and start concerning themselves with a broader, more traditionally epic battle for survival. Or not. No one but George R.R. Martin knows what will happen in the final two books. Or, as it has been fretted, maybe he doesn't even know.

I think Game of Thrones implies a much more interesting story than A Song of Ice and Fire. The first one sounds like an intense story of political intrigue, the second one sounds like tired high fantasy. Whether the adopted title will always be accurate is something we'll only know once the final two books, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring are published.

For now, the merchandising machine is fully underway, and it's too late to turn back. The TV show's possibly great, possibly disappointing second season will be out in a matter of weeks, and I'm sure that a plethora of Game of Thrones-branded toys, clothing, games, and other tie-ins will follow.

The title of a series' first entry has somehow usurped the title of the series itself. The age of A Song of Ice and Fire has ended. Now is the time of Game of Thrones.


Comments

    Still prefer Song of Ice and Fire personally and will forever refer to it as such.

      What I don't like about the original name is that Ice and Fire is backwards. Normally, people would say "fire and ice" not "ice and fire", so the phrase itself feels clunky.

      It's also only really been given a side mention in the books so far, in a prophecy sequence with Dany. So while it might be accurate for her side of the story, the broader issue of Westeros really can be summed up as a "Game of Thrones". It just fits better.

        There is much and more in your statement that I agree with and ten and two examples I could provide of how GRRM is kinda clunky.

        Still a great series though.

        I believe it's "Ice and Fire" because it refers to the two over-arching themes of these books. One story about the Starks of Winterfell and the cold beyond the wall, the other is about the Targaryan dynasty (fire). Since we're introduced to the Wall/Starks as protagonists much earlier on, before dragons even come into the picture, the "Ice and Fire" seems more appropriate.

          Just to avoid spoilers for other people, I'm going to use ROT13 to explain my thoughts (proper nouns not capitalised for extra spoiler avoidance). For the record, I'm about halfway through the fourth book so anyone who hasn't read to that point might want to avoid translating this post:

          V qba'g cnegvphyneyl yvxr gur fgnex/gnetnelna gurbel orpnhfr gur qrnguf bs zbfg bs gur fgnexf yrnirf irel yvggyr gb ernyyl pbagvahr gb pbagvahr gur vpr cneg bs guvatf. Abg bayl gung ohg gur gjb ubhfrf unira'g ernyyl rapbhagrerq rnpu bgure lrg.

          Crefbanyyl, V guvax gung vg'f gvrq gb gur ybeq bs yvtug (gur tbq gung fgnaavf onengurba pbairegrq gb) naq uvf bccbfvgr. Gur ybeq bs yvtug vf qverpgyl gvrq gb sver naq gur ybeq bs qnexarff, be jungrire uvf anzr vf, unf orra yvaxrq gb gur bguref/juvgr jnyxref.

          Gung tvirf hf n qverpg pbasyvpg gung gvrf vagb zhpu bs jung jr'ir nyernql frra, vafgrnq bs whfg gjb birenepuvat cybgf gung unccra gb or tbvat ba ng gur fnzr gvzr. Vg nyfb rkcynvaf jul qnal jnf tvira gur cebcurpl gung vapyhqrf gur gvgyr qebc orpnhfr qentbaf ner gvrq gb gur ybeq bs yvtug, juvpu vf jul fgnaavf vf gelvat gb ungpu n qentba hfvat sver naq eblny oybbq, whfg nf qnal qvq (vs lbh nffhzr xuny qebtb pbhagf nf n cevapr sbe gur checbfrf bs gung cebcurpl, be vs ure aba-fnpevsvpr bs urefrys pbhagf).

    Reminds me of the Ace Attorney games.
    The first one proudly proclaimed PHOENIX WRIGHT (Ace Attorney)
    Then for the second game, it was switched to ACE ATTORNEY (Phoenix Wright)[Justice for All], but people still referred to it as a 'Phoenix Wright' game.

    I think people still say Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice as a 'Phoenix Wright' game.

      That is the best way of posting spoilers I have ever seen. Awesome!

    The board/card games existed long before the TV series was even scripted.

    I came in somewhere around book three, and by that stage I knew it as the Game of Thrones series.

      It was still "A Game of Thrones" with the "A" and even the expansions were still titled after the subsequent books, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, etc. The whole simplified "Game of Thrones" can directly be attributed to HBO's recent series, which retains "Game of Thrones: Season 2" because of brand recognition.

      Everything else eg the videogames are just piggybacking on this success. People like Kirk Hamilton just got suckered into it, especially as the later books deliberately downplay the 'game' and stress how insignificant it is in the big picture. Compare the amount of inter-family scheming of book 1 to A Dance with Dragons.

    It will always be "A Song of Ice and Fire" to me. It makes it sound like a proper fantasy epic (which it is; not LotR style, but an epic story in a fantasy setting nonetheless). The prologue of the first book, the very first introduction you get to the series, is why I still stick to ASoIaF - it casts the whole "Game of Thrones" part as being a side-story to the epic war to come.

    To confuse further the board game using the battlelore system is called battles of westros and is awesome

    I always refer to the books/show as "A Game of Thrones".
    Calling the show by the full title of the first book really would have been far too clunky, and would have been shortened unofficially anyway. And what would they have done with season two? Naming each season after its book would be awkward.

    If you think the new title is more suggestive of the overall plot in Martin's series, than you obviously havn't grasped the essence of the story at all.

      To be fair, he did write a paragraph about that:

      "The question is: Will this new title always be appropriate to the series? Sure, Game of Thrones encapsulates the first five books better than A Song of Ice and Fire. But will that always be the case? Without spoiling too much, I could easily imagine that at some point, these stories stop concerning themselves with kingdoms and lineage and start concerning themselves with a broader, more traditionally epic battle for survival. Or not. No one but George R.R. Martin knows what will happen in the final two books. Or, as it has been fretted, maybe he doesn’t even know."

      I'm 3/4 the way through the 4th book, but unless the 5th is a proverbial quantum leap away from the first 4, I can't really argue with his point. TBH when I was reading the first book, I figured that the Ice part of the title referred to Ned's (who you have to assume is the protagonist in *most* of the first book) greatsword, and figured Fire would be the name of the big bad's weapon.

        "I’m 3/4 the way through the 4th book, but unless the 5th is a proverbial quantum leap away from the first 4"

        It is. A Dance of Dragons has far more supernatural elements than the previous 4 combined and is the least involved with the 'game of thrones.' The author is ignorant. Watch the 90 minute long Google Talks interview with Martin and he goes on at length about the frustration of writing for people who think they know better, and spoil plot-points for other readers who'd never have figured them out normally, and the direction the series is moving in (away from the petty dynastic struggles of books 1-3).

      Whatever happens in the plot (I've read all the released books), the underlying theme always seems to be "the game of thrones".

        ROT13ing even though they're total guesses on my part (and probably wildly wildly incorrect)

        Keeping in mind i'm 3/4 the way through Feast of Crows:

        V guvax riraghnyyl gur frevrf jvyy pbzr gb n cbvag jurer gur Bguref orlbaq gur jnyy jvyy orpbzr fhpu n guerng gung nyy gur Jrfgrebfv xvatf, gur Vebaobea, naq rira Qnranelf jvyy unir gb havgr va beqre gb ryvzvangr gurz, erfgbevat havgl naq crnpr gb gur ernyz. Ng gung cbvag, boivbhfyl gur Tnzr bs Guebarf qbrfa'g nccyl nalzber.

          That's the impression that I'm getting. At least, my theory above about the name ties into that.

        Really? The Long Night, Azor Ahai, The Mother of Dragons, the lineage of Jon Snow, The Three-Eyed Crow, Greenseers, Wargs? The longer the series goes on, the more obvious how inconsequential and meaningless the 'game of thrones' really becomes. HBO named the series Game of Thrones for simplicity and stuck with it between seasons due to recognition. It's completely arbitrary.

    So kinda like the "Rambo" series? "First Blood" then "Rambo: First Blood Part 2" then "Rambo 3" then simply "Rambo". :D

    Cooler name but the further along the books go, the "game", as it applies to King's Landing, becomes less significant as the story moves away from the seven kingdoms of Westerosto the Eastern continent.

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