The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is an exceedingly massive world with an exceedingly massive amount of individuals within it. When a civilization exists in a massive world, individuals are likely to explore. The most interesting part of A Song of Ice and Fire is the fact that George R. R. Martin does not reveal anything about the world that the people inside the world do not know about. This, for example, can be seen in the exploration of the continent of Sothoryos, or lack thereof. Those few who have explored it throughout history either failed in their pursuits, or did not explore far as they were attempting to gather resources for their civilizations. This is why exploration is so important within the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. If the main characters are doing nothing but sitting around, the reader will never learn anything more about the world.
Take the land beyond the Wall in Westeros, for example. The reader would never know anything about what was happening beyond the Wall if it was not for Sam Tarly and Jon Snow; if they had not gone beyond the wall and performed the deeds they did, the reader would not know what the land that lay beyond was like. The same goes for Essos; the reason readers know what they do about Essos is because individuals like Daenerys Targaryen have marched around the whole of Essos, and met many different cultures and people along the way. The same goes with Arya Stark; it is because of her that we know so much about the most secret house in Braavos, and arguably the whole word. The following is a breakdown of what some of the main characters have done to contribute to the knowledge of selective areas, sorted by continent.
Exploration Beyond the Wall
Jon Snow is one of the finest examples of exploration in the north. Joining the nights watch was his dream, though he was only made a steward by the leaders of the Wall. This, opposed to the rank of a ranger, meant that Jon could not venture beyond the Wall and would have to do work within the Wall itself. Eventually, after killing a White Walker, he was permitted to go north with Mormont at the head of the force, which began his first bit of exploration in the north.
“Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy and let the man be born.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons
Eventually Mormont dispatched a few groups to scout ahead, Jon’s group being lead by Qhorin Halfhand. Their group discovered a huge settlement of wildling in A Song of Ice and Fire, which differs from the story the television show portrays. In the books, everyone but Jon snow and Quorin Halfhand were slain in the Frostfangs, while Jon and Quorin were captured. Eventually Jon killed Quorin and gained the trust of the wildlings, bringing Jon deeper into wildling territory, giving him the ability to explore beyond the Wall like no one before him had ever done with such ease. The stories that are usually told of rangers who go beyond the wall generally end with a lot of pain due to starvation, the cold, or attacks, or even death by wildlings, or natural forces. The true north is a harsh land, and Jon Snow was extremely lucky to be able to explore it with such ease.
Sam is an unfortunate story, to say the least. Though his being thrown into the far North was not a part of his plan, he still ended up becoming one of the luckiest men in the north, under Jon Snow of course. In A Storm of Swords, when the Other attack their camp, Sam and a few other men manage to escape the onslaught, and venture out into the cold, unforgiving land beyond the wall. They manage to find their way back to Craster’s keep, though there is an uprising in which Sam is forced to escape with one of Craster’s wives, Gilly. This also happens in the show.
Sam is then forced to travel through the land beyond the Wall, back to the wall with this woman. Eventually they almost make it back, but when they reach the village of Whitetree, they are attacked by White Walkers. The Walker who attacked Sam in the book actually happened to be Small Paul, a friend of Sam’s who helped Sam travel through the land beyond the Wall.
Sam may not have been cut out for the job of being an explorer, so thus when Jon was promoted, he let Sam escape from the life of an explorer and go south to study to become a Maester. Now he runs the Twitter account for the Night’s Watch, and makes really bad jokes.
…..and still gets distracted from his vows.
Exploration in Essos
Arya Stark becomes one of the books’ favourite characters. Not only is she an explorer in Westeros, as she hops around the continent with her hated ‘partner’ the Hound, but she eventually turns her face towards Essos as well. In the television show, season five ended with the beginning of this plot; unfortunately for those interested in this plot, the books are not much further along.
At the end of season five, one can see Arya getting on a ship to sail to Essos, specifically the city of Braavos. She manages to get a free ride from the merchant; how she does this is by presenting him with a coin and uttering the phrase “valar morghulis“. The coin was given to her by Jaqen H’ghar, one of the faceless men trained in the city of Braavos.
This more or less follows the same plot as the books, and after this scene, Arya begins her adventure of being one of the few characters from Westeros to explore Essos. Once in Essos, she is permitted into the House of Black and White to begin her training to become “no one”; better known as a faceless man. These are trained assassins, very deadly and very unforgiving. Arya has traveled all the way from her home in the North, to the docks which took her to Essos, and arrived in Braavos where she will be in the same city that both Tyrian Lanister and Daenerys Targaryen will also be. These two are also explorers of Essos in their own way, Daenerys more so.
Daenerys Targaryen is probably one of the most unique explorer characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. What the television show does not portray is the fact that Daenerys has been an explorer since she was a child. When she was very young, she actually had already been to Essos. A Targaryen, one of the noble families of Westeros, in Essos as a child. She lived in Braavos with her brother and Ser Willem, though she and her brother were driven out by rebellious servants when Ser Willem died.
The beginning of her exploration is a sad one, as it was not out of interest, or the love of new places.. Her and her brother traveled between every single free city, less two, and went from home to home, hoping that every time they stepped into a house, they wouldn’t be sent right back out a few weeks later when the glory of housing the Targaryen children wore off on their hosts. She was born on Dragonstone island, but shortly after the island fell to rebel forces and her and her brother had to be smuggled to Bravos. They stayed in one place for a long time, but when Daenerys was 13, she was driven out with her brother onto the road, and from then until when the television show begins to portray her along her timeline, she had already visited Lys, Pentos, Qohor, Tyrosh, Braavos, Myr, and Volantis. It is easy to forget that Daenerys is originally from Westeros, but even if she was from Essos, she did more exploring than the average individual from that area.
(Click the YouTube link, embedding has been disallowed)
“He has been our host for over a year, and he has never asked us for anything..” Note the suspicion and/or surprise in her voice.
Exploration in Sothoryos
Sothoryos is the third continent in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. Very little is known about it, as it is essentially filled with deserts and jungles, and thus no one dares venture too far into it. Though there is not much known about it, there has been some exploration of this mysterious continent that vaguely resembles Africa. In the books, tales are told about a Valyrian dragon-rider who attempted to find the southern-most boarder of the continent. This female ended up returning three years later in defeat, saying that she flew so far south and for so long that she decided to turn around and give up.
This is not the only story that involves the exploration of Sothoryos. The occupants of Slaver’s Bay occasionally explore the coast of Sothoryos with raiding parties, in hopes of finding small settlements to destroy and take slaves from. This is a tradition that goes back at least half a millennia, if not more, before the Doom of Valyria. Both the Ghiscari Empire (which was destroyed 400 years prior to the timeline of the books) and Valyria began the tradition of venturing into Sothoryos looking for slaves. Unfortunately, this is all the exploration that has been done on this mystifying continent, and leaves more than half the world of A Song of Ice and Fire clouded with mystery.
Exploration in George R. R. Martin’s world is a very important thing. One could argue that without exploration, there may not be any plot. To understand the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, the main characters seemingly need to do their exploring to convey the information of their knowledge of the land. If this does not happen within the books, readers are left with a result similar to that of Sothoryos. Because no main character has gone there, there is only lore left to go off of. George R. R. Martin could easily write stories about this continent, but he purposely adds this feature to add to the realism of A Song of Ice and Fire.
John Snow explores the unknown North. This is what he dreamed of doing, as he could do little else as a bastard child. He helps readers discover more about the lands of the Wildlings, as well as some more dangerous areas of the far North. Sam Tarly never wanted to do any exploring for himself, but he was essentially forced into it, and happenstance happened to put him in some very nasty situations which forced him to travel around beyond the Wall.
In Essos, Arya Stark gives the readers insight into some very secret areas of Braavos. Leaving her home in Westeros, and journeying East to learn how to become a faceless assassin not only lets her describe what she goes through, but also describe the area she is in as well. Arya is not unlike Daenerys in this sense; Daenerys is also exploring seemingly as a secondary result, which is being spurred on by a cause. In Daenerys’ case, in her youth, her and her brother had no place to go and simply needed a place to stay. Thus, over the course of a few years, they had traveled to almost all the free cities of Essos.
A Song of Ice and Fire has an extraordinarily vast world to explore, and George R. R. Martin lets readers explore it. He does not, however, allow them to explore it with their own eyes directly; he provides the views of the people within the world to give the readers the satisfaction they seek.
Written by: Michael Schroth
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