Basically—here is the dark, mewling shame-baby that's been calcifying for years in my brain-womb (medical term)—I will read anything with a fucking fictional map in the front.

Ohhhhhh, how I crave a fictional map! Oz, Middle Earth, Narnia, Neverland, Fantastica, Tortall, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the one with the talking war-bears where everyone gets to have a magic otter that is their best friend... uhhh... Dinotopia... ummmmm... you know, all the other ones. All the main ones. I love that shit. So imagine my delight upon discovering that not only does each volume in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series have a fictional map in the front, IT HAS A FUCKING FICTIONAL MAP IN THE BACK, TOO. That's two fictional maps. Two. (Plus sometimes a third supplementary fictional map that I really can't get into right now because I need both hands for typing, if you know what I mean [MASTURBATION JOKE].)

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Now, I know that A Song of Ice and Fire has gone rather mainstream and de rigueur these days (more on that in one second), so it's not exactly a radical statement for me to openly read this shit on the bus, but just indulge me in one quick personal moment of liberation. Because do you know what time it is, shame-baby? ABORTION O'CLOCK. Flush. My name is Lindy West, and I will just read whatever I want on the bus.

Phew.

Okay. Down to business. So you've probably noticed that all the people you've ever met—even normals!—are feverishly reading these books right now. Maybe you feel confused. Maybe you are overwhelmed. Frightened. Maybe you don't know where to start, and maybe an oily, red shame-baby is sitting on your chest while you sleep and is staring at you with its horrible rheumy goat-eyes (I can relate, bro). So for you, dear friend, here is everything you need to know to speak authoritatively about A Song of Ice and Fire.

You Are Late

The nerds would like you to know that you are late. Recently, I jokingly scolded a friend on Facebook for not having read ASOIAF, and was reprimanded thuswise by an angry die-hard: "Don't worry [REDACTED], most people who give you shit about it are just bandwagon readers, anyway. I doubt a single one of those jerks had to wait for A Clash of Kings." Yes, hello. This is my wagon, and here is my band of jerks. If you don't mind, I am going to continue reading now. Sorry I like the same thing that you like.

Hella Hella Intrigue

Perhaps you are one of those horribly condescending garbage-people who assume—with no investigation—that if something is very, very popular it must logically be very, very terrible. God, shut up. ASOIAF is popular because it is basically what would happen if Bruce Willis were a wizard and he had sex with Sarah Palin and she gave birth to a baby and then they only let it watch Breaking Bad and then Professor McGonagall transfigured that baby into a book. Shit is exciting and stressful and GOOD, and that's why people like it. Good luck not dreaming about it.

Trigger Warnings

It's probably a good idea to stay away from these books if any of the following has ever happened to you: Rape. Incest. Twincest. Domestic violence. Throat ripped out by a wolf. Disemboweled by a stag. Disemboweled by a sword or ax. Disemboweled by a lance. Basically any disembowelment of any kind. Being flayed alive. Being taunted by a dwarf. Being taunted because you are a dwarf. Zombie attacks. Coming back to life as a zombie. Woolly mammoth attacks. Dragon attacks. Forced castration. Facial burns. Seasickness. Bored to death by heraldry.

Have a Vagina? You're Probably Getting Raped in It

Yup. But don't worry—sometimes you learn to like it once your handmaiden gives you some super-sexy Cosmo tips for How to Please Your Warlord Every Time. If that happens, congrats. To the rest of you, condolences.

Have Intestines? You're Definitely Getting Stabbed in Them

As far as I can tell, George R. R. Martin is under the impression that that's what intestines are for.

I Hope You Like Outfits!

Sometimes, George R. R. Martin will just stop in the middle of a battle to go on for 100 pages about enameled armor and filigreed shields and the sigil adorning everyone's (and I mean EVERYONE'S) doublet. Just go with it.

It's Really, Really Sandy in Dorne

Seriously, George, we get it. Everyone rides their sandhorse down to the sandhole to pick up their sandwives and eat their sand sandwiches washed down with sandmilk from the sandteat of the sandcamel. WE ARE FOLLOWING YOU HERE.

That One Guy Really Likes Drowning People

Again. We get it. We really, really get it. OH MY GOD, WE GET IT.

Brienne Is Not That Great-Looking

Please make a note of it. Or, if you don't make a note of it, just wait two pages because someone will tell you again. Brienne is basically Andre the Giant but with smaller boobs and a horse-mouth and a face carved out of last week's leftover ham. But that doesn't mean she might not cause your manhood to stir within your pantaloons to your great surprise!!! (You know who you are!)

I Can't Tell if It's Racist or Not

I mean, there are all kinds of barbaric and swarthy slave traders and such eating horse meat across the sea, but at least they're not evil. The most evil people in the books are the world's blondest Aryans. But even they're not evil, exactly. I think there are some black people here and there, but I'm not clear on exactly what it is they do or where they come from. Let's just say that the fact that I can't tell isn't a great sign, and epic fantasy doesn't exactly have a pristine track record in terms of racial sensitivity (I'm looking at you, Orcs).

For Some Reason, a Whole Lot of People Live in "The North," Even Though It Is Horrible There

Seriously, you guys? Move south. MOVE. What are you even talking about?

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WHY IS SAMWELL TARLY STILL FAT?

HEY MAESTER AEMON, COULD YOU CHECK SAMWELL'S THYROID OR SOMETHING BECAUSE HE HASN'T EATEN ANYTHING BUT AUROCHS JERKY FOR SIX MONTHS AND HE STILL WEIGHS LIKE 400 POUNDS.

George R. R. Martin Has No Sense of Humor

Which is fine. This shit is serious. (And, no, Tyrion's tasty bons mots do not count unless you've never heard an actual joke before in your life.)

Don't Get Attached

You know your favorite character? The one with the intestines? Yeah. You know what that means (see above). Dead as fuck.

Except for Every Single Person Who Dies Offscreen

They're still alive. I KNOW IT. I'M NOT GIVING UP ON YOU, SYRIO FOREL!!!!! recommended

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