The Song of Ice and Fire (GOT) Point of View
Since GRR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series has become so popular, there’s no reason not to make it a bit of a teaching moment. Students, the topic today is point of view, and more precisely, the limited omniscient, third-person point of view. This describes a point of view that lets the reader know what the point-of-view character in each chapter knows but no more than that.
Typically, third person novels are either omniscient or limited. With an omniscient point of view, the reader knows everything, or at least the reader knows everything that the characters in the book know. With a limited point of view, the reader only knows what the main character knows.
We might compare reading each of the ASOIF POV chapters to standing over that character’s shoulder during the action and also, getting a bit of a glimpse into the way that the character feels about the situation. In other words, the reader know what the character knows. However, the character may not know everything. Also, he or she could be an unreliable witness.
What’s Unique About the ASIOF POV Chapters?
The unique approach in these books is simply that George doesn’t make, as Jaqen H’ghar would say, a reader guess which character has the POV in each chapter. Instead, after a few chapters, a reader will pick up on the fact that the POV character gets his or her chapter named after them. For example, some favorite POV characters in ASOIF include Arya, Tyrion, Dany, and alas, Jon Snow (He just can’t be dead).
Most novels either use third-person omniscient or third-person limited. In other words, the reader either gets godlike powers to know everything all the time or only what one main character knows. The difference is that GRR Martin gives the readers a chance to get to know each character very well but only in that character’s POV chapters. These same characters can and do appear in other chapters, but those chapters are told from their own POV.
The prologues in this series vary from the main chapters. They also have point-of-view characters, but these characters are never seen again afterwards. Appearing as a prologue POV character is very dangerous in the World of Ice and Fire. However, appearing as a POV character in a regular chapter doesn’t guarantee protection. <GOT SPOILER ALERT> Ned Stark doesn’t survive the first book.</END SPOILER>
Advantages of Limited Omniscient, Third Person
This choice of POV really allows Martin to establish an emotional connection between each character and the reader. As we read, we really get to know each individual, the culture around them, and their attitude. It helps us empathize.
Of course, it also makes the book interesting because everybody is the hero of their own story. In Tyrion’s chapters, he’s brilliant, charming, and able to overcome a lot of adversity. However, he’s viewed quite differently by other characters in the book, and we can glimpse that in other POV chapters.
Also, each character only knows their part of the story or what they may hear from other characters or even passing ravens. This makes the story seem more realistic. People make judgements based upon limited information, and those judgements could be wrong because the information is bad. Any study of the science of modern risk management will reveal a similar trend in today’s companies, governments, and military forces.
What Do You Think About Martin’s Approach?
Personally, I think he’s pulled off a difficult job brilliantly. There are so many POV and non-POV characters. The interesting thing is that readers also discuss each type of character in that way. In some cases, pretty important characters, like Littlefinger, have never had a POV chapter.
Perhaps knowing exactly what is going on in Peter Baelish’s head would either spoil the book or our optimism that people are basically good. While I actually might be willing to risk a Littlefinger chapter, a Ramsay Bolton POV chapter might be one to skip! We don’t need to know what’s going on in the head of the Bastard of Dreadfort. We just need him gone and Jon back!