I'm reading all five of the Game of Thrones books before the show comes back in April.
(Stop reading now. I'm gonna talk about who dies. And no, it's not everyone.)
I started reading the Game of Thrones books in 1998. I was just out of college and was eager to read something that wasn't assigned for the first time in four years. My friend was raving about them, and George R. R. Martin was a Medilldo like me. (No one, and I mean no one, can appreciate the grim humor behind "Winter is coming" unless you went to Northwestern.) I ploughed through A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. I read .75 of A Storm of Swords, got to the Red Wedding, said "Fuck this guy" and I put down the book and that was it.
Then, in 2011, HBO comes along with the TV version. I loved it - and I don't know what this says about me - I also loved knowing what was going to happen before it appeared on screen. Instead of watching the TV during the Red Wedding, I turned and watched my boyfriend. ("Why are you staring at me? Why are they bolting the door? What's up with the musicians? Oh my Goddddd.") (Evidently, I'm not the only one that's tremendously amused by this, because HBO put out a request for Red Wedding viewer videos to include in a promotion for the DVD release.) (Three parentheticals. I'm a professional writer.)
So I decided to get back on the horse and re-read the 2.75 books I'd already read and then read the 2.25 remaining in the series before the show returns in April. I started the project in October 2013, and took a couple of breaks here and there to read other books in between volumes.
A Game of Thrones: Finished Oct. 13, 2013
Awesome. Quick and enthralling. Almost verbatim to the first season of the show.
A Clash of Kings: Finished Dec. 1, 2013
It is, of course, impossible now to read the books without picturing the actors in the HBO show. A good thing, as it reduced the creepy factor that most of the characters are actually 14-year-old girls in the book.
A Storm of Swords: Finished Dec. 20, 2013
Oh, the book where George R.R. Martin pushed me too far. As it turns out, I wasn't so much put off by the Red Wedding (what's a little beheading among friends, apparently) as much as the fact it appears as though he kills off Arya. That is absolutely the last chapter when I stopped reading during GoT Project 1.0. Which is hilarious - because the very next chapter is when shit gets real and the arc of justice is true and awesome. My friend thinks the last part of this book is one of the most thrilling things she's ever read - and I have to agree. Every chapter is a holy shit moment, and I threw aside my Kindle and did a Super Bowl touchdown dance in my living room when Joffrey got poisoned by Olenna. And from what I've seen of the promotional photos for Season 4, it looks like the entire season is just going to focus on the final third of ASoS. It should be phenomenal.
A Feast for Crows: Finished Jan. 5, 2014
Here we go...the first of the "complicated" books. I had been warned that this one was a slog, basically a yanked out collection of chapters from what was supposed to be a mammoth omnibus of books four and five. I actually didn't mind it? Sure, there was no Tyrion and no Dany. But I love me some Jaime Lannister and the Ironborn didn't completely bore me. (Yet. See below.) I certain hope that with the HBO show, George R.R. Martin (like Beyonce or Madonna, I consider "George R.R. Martin" to be one name and he must always be referred to as such) has enough clout that if he wants to published a 1,800 page book, then you be you, bro. It's maddening that he had to split it up. I can't imagine the TV show will do the same. You don't just put Peter Dinklage on the sidelines for 12 episodes.
A Dance with Dragons: Finished Jan. 31, 2014
This one almost did me in. Part of it was trying to keep the timelines straight in my mind between what was happening in this book and what had already happened in AFfC. (Wait, is Ser Davos dead? Why the fuck am I reading this when I know this guy is going to die. Oh, wait, he doesn't die. Gotcha. Glad I spent half of two books thinking he was dead.)
But what bothered me more was the resurrection of Aegon Targaryen. This drove me INSANE. INSANE. The entire motive of so much of the bloodthirst and revenge in all five books is the murder of Elia, Rhaenys and Aegon - Innocent mother! Innocent child! A baby! - and then, nope, Aegon's alive. And sorry for all of you rooting for and invested in Dany taking over (which, let's be honest, girl has dragons) now there's a back-from-the-dead character that has a better claim on the throne. It's cheap. I finished the book last night and Googled "WTF Aegon Targaryen" which lead me down an entire conspiracy K-hole. (Aegon's a fraud. Jon Snow is a dead Targaryen. Jon Snow is an alive Targaryen.) I certainly hope there is some sort of something besides "Haha j/k, I needed to add another character to wrap this up" because that is some lazy writing. George R.R. Martin may be delightfully capricious - but I don't think he's lazy. We'll see.
I really also started having trouble keeping track of characters - which isn't good, especially for someone who just read all of these in succession. When Dany comes across Khal Jhaqo at the very end, I again had to Google which one of the ex-Blood Riders he was. (Oh, the rapist. No, the other rapist. Right.) Not exactly a stirring ending to a character's arc in the book when you have to look up who the person is that she encounters in dramatic fashion. Also: I'm over the Ironborn. Over them. Every time I clicked through the next chapter and saw the name "Victarion" I audibly groaned.
So! I'm caught up! And here are my theories as to who wins the Game of Thrones - subject to revision when the next book comes out in 2018, or whenever:
Stannis: Dead. Mance: Dead. Roose and Ramsay Bolton: Dead and dead. Asha: Dead. Theon: Dead. Victarion: Don't care, and dead. Melisandre: Dead. Jamie Lannister: Dead. Cersei: Dead. Varys: Dead. Aegon: Fake and dead. Littlefinger: Dead. Brienne: Dead. Benjen: Zombie. The Hound: Zombie. Bran: Tree. How'd all these people die? By the dramatic convergence of: Super Assassin Arya, Lady Stoneheart and Rickon. (Don't for a second think that kid is going to be OK and pleasant. Note how the behavior of the direwolves mimic the behavior of the Starks.) Sansa: Becomes a septa. I like Sansa, shut up. Sam: Uber Maester.
Dany wins the Game of Thrones by marrying zombie Jon Snow, who, yes, is a Targaryen. Between them, her dragons wipe out all the white walkers and he takes over King's Landing. The North Remembers.