Eventually, as you read through Game of Thrones, you can’t help but skim. Out of nowhere, George R.R. Martin will list 20 new characters you’ve never met, tracing their lineage through his beyond-rich world that, I’m pretty sure, nobody but he can fully comprehend–except for maybe one other person. Jerome Cukier took it upon himself to map the relationships of GoT’s characters in one incredible, interactive infographic, spanning all five books of the series.
What you see is a circle of relationships. Each character is a circle within the circle, and the frequency of a character’s appearance dictates its size. Families are grouped together. And as death draws near to a character, their circle grows darker. To appreciate the story in full, go to the visualization, highlight each of five books, and press play. Quickly, you’ll see the circles grow like mitosis gone mad.
Now, there was only one way Curkier could possibly build this visualization: He had to cheat.
“I’ve counted slightly over 2,000 distinct, named characters in the books, and the visualization shows only 300 or so,” he tells me. “I only kept those who appeared in at least five chapters or who have been killed by another named character.”
Before the visualization could begin, Cukier had to map the actions of all these characters. He thought a few quick scripts could chart their appearances, but Martin is notorious for calling his characters by aliases. Curkier found 11 different characters called “Pate” and discovered 23 Jons (22 of whom were not Jon Snow). The only solution was to turn to fan sites and rip the data collected by a small army of GoT fanatics–the mechanical turk of the geek-o-sphere–and work that data into his own code.
When you press play on the visualization, all five books are fired at you in just over 90 seconds. It’s an all-out assault to your attention, and frankly, this quick summary is every bit as impossible to follow as Martin’s long version told over two decades. But even in this visual overkill, we can see something new in the series.
“Now the pace at which [events] appear is a bit frantic, but it gives an indication of when things happen,” Cukier explains. “In the books, tension builds for quite some time, then all of a sudden many characters will be killed.”
He also discovered that, however things may look inside the text, the story–at the character level–is still mostly a conflict between the Starks and the Lannisters, albeit with many other factions watching. Cukier also pointed out that, with maybe one very massive exception (I’m not spoiling anything!), the houses don’t generally murder from within. So in a sense, the brutal fantasy world of GoT is actually a lot more humane than real life.