On A Song of Ice and Fire

An Unreliable World

History and Timekeeping in Westeros

By Adam Whitehead

In any setting with a complex history and mythology, it is common for the author to reveal and explore the backstory at the same time the main storyline is driving forward. This is true in A Song of Ice and Fire, where even as the central plot unfolds and we witness Westeros’s descent into the chaos of the War of the Five Kings and Daenerys Targaryen’s tribulations in the distant east, we learn more about the events that came before. We learn about the reign of the Mad King, the Targaryen conquest, the flight of the Rhoynar to Dorne, and the raising of the Wall to defend against the Others. Even as the story moves ahead, it also moves back, giving more depth and resonance to current events by showing how they were set up decades, centuries, or even millennia earlier. But we also learn that the accounts of time and history in the books are not to be trusted, with doubts raised over when events happened, or even if they ever happened at all.

Tracking the Years

One of the defining characteristics of the setting for A Song of Ice and Fire is that the seasons last for years at a time and are unpredictable: a decade-long winter can be followed by a substantially shorter summer. As well as introducing logistical difficulties for the characters of Westeros, it also causes problems for the tracking of history and time. In A Song of Ice and Fire, characters live in a world whose  …

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