In Entertainment Weekly's interview, 'Game of Thrones' author George R.R. Martin: Why he wrote The Red Wedding -- EXCLUSIVE GRRM is quoted as saying:

I’ve said in many interviews that I like my fiction to be unpredictable. I like there to be considerable suspense. I killed Ned in the first book and it shocked a lot of people. I killed Ned because everybody thinks he’s the hero and that, sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it. The next predictable thing is to think his eldest son is going to rise up and avenge his father. And everybody is going to expect that. So immediately [killing Robb] became the next thing I had to do.

Indeed, in ASOIAF the death of key characters (on all 'sides') makes the work unpredictable to a reader lulled into a certain sense of security about the life and death of key characters in many other works (especially those that center on a single protagonist- e.g. Harry Potter). [I'm refraining from giving concrete examples to avoid spoilers.]

Is it possible that Valar Morghulis (all men must die) is a sort of meta-theme of ASOIAF and the nature of the world that GRRM has created as an author?

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    I think the meta-theme of ASOIAF is realism, despite it being fantasy. In real life people die, kill, love, hate, betray, have sex, and make mistakes. So do the characters in ASOIAF, which is why we all love it. It is not a magical fairy tale where there is a hero, who can do no wrong, and who always survives against impossible odds. The characters in ASOIAF are 3-dimensional and much more believable.
    – Dima
    Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 20:26
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    "Valar Dohaeris" would work even better: All people mentioned have to serve (the story). Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 20:34
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    @Dima while all of those things are true in real-life there is a certain standard mode of story-telling (in both fiction and non-fiction) from which GRRM departs which I feel like is about something more than realism (though it's definitely a piece). Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 22:20
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    @Dima I agree with Apeni's pseudoanswer below: that GRRM doesn't go for "realism" (which would mean actually writing about the life of the lowborn and peasants, and their many children, many of whom die in childbirth or of disease and poverty); instead, he actually goes for "cynicism/pessimism", as a reaction to the all too common Disney-like depiction of Heroic Fantasy, with brave knights against dragons or the evil black knight.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 22:48
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    @AndresF., first of all GRRM gives you a very clear picture of the life of the lowborn. The description of life in Flea Bottom, the description of the recruits of the Nights Watch, the Brotherhood Without Banners, various people the POV characters meet in their travels, etc., etc., etc. Second, why do you think the life of the nobles is any less real than the life of the peasants?
    – Dima
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 13:55

1 Answer 1


(Spoilering things that haven't happened on TV yet, even though this is about the books.)

I think valar morghulis is actually a bit too morbid to be considered an overarching theme of Martin's world. It's more accurate to say that Martin's world is based on the idea that "any man could die".

I may regret saying this the minute the next book comes out, but I don't think that every character in the story is going to end up dying before the story ends. Some will need to survive to bring the story to its climax and resolution.

What Martin is trying to do, instead, is to intentionally subvert many of the standard tropes of medieval fantasy. Martin is removing the built-in invulnerability that often comes with certain character types, and clearly indicating that he is willing and able to kill off characters when it advanced his story. But he's also willing to let characters survive when it fits his story; for example: Tyrion, Beric Dondarrion, Sandor Clegane, and

Catelyn Stark

among others. These are people that were in situations where we expected them to and/or actually watched them die, yet Martin kept them alive/resurrected them because it made the story better.

People often express this as Martin striving for realism, or cynicism. I think both of those are true but missing the point. Martin's world is apathetic and brutal. The "world", such as it were, didn't care that Ned Stark was a really good guy. He made stupid decisions and he died. Same goes for Robb -- the fact that he betrayed the Freys "for love" did not make a difference in the end. But the same goes for the cynical or despicable characters that also met a bad end, e.g.

Joffrey and Tywin

Those characters didn't die because they were good or evil, they died because of a combination of specific actions they took, actions beyond their own control, and a bit of bad luck. That's how the natural world actually works, and Martin seems to be trying to remind us over and over that no one is immune to the whims of nature. But that doesn't mean nature "has it out" for anyone, it just has no particular preference for which characters end up suffering/dying and which don't.


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