The broken sword fell from nerveless fingers. Will closed his eyes to pray. Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat. (1 Prologue.109)
Power in <em>A Game of Thrones </em>often stems from violence. Basically, you can argue all you want with someone, but if that doesn't work, the guy with the more dangerous sword is going to win. And though we don't see very much of them, the Others certainly have some <em>bad</em> swords. What will any king be able to do against this sort of power?
"Please, Ned, guard your tongue. The Lannister woman is our queen, and her pride is said to grow with every passing year." (3 Catelyn 1.47)
Joffrey may have always been a bad kid, but the power he was given sure didn't help. (The secret is to threaten children with direwolves – that's what makes them good.) Same goes for Cersei: she probably started out proud, but the power of being queen makes her even more dangerous.
"Ten thousand, that would be enough, I could sweep the Seven Kingdoms with ten thousand Dothraki screamers. The realm will rise for its rightful king. […] They cry out for their king." He looked at Illyrio anxiously. "They do, don't they?" (4. Daenerys 1.34)
Ultimately, the game of thrones will probably be resolved by violence – whether its war or assassination (or a fun mix of both). But here we see that power can come from different sources of violence: either professional soldiers (the Dothraki screamers) or regular people rising up. Viserys thinks that he can combine the two into an unstoppable form of power.
He would have to remember that he was no longer in Winterfell, where only the king stood higher; here, he was but first among equals. (21 Eddard 4.49)
The system of nobility may be hard to understand, but here's a helpful hint from Eddard Stark: in his own area, he's the number two guy, second to the king. But once he's in politics in King's Landing, he's just another politician. Funny what a little change of scenery can do for a person's power.
"No," Ned said. He saw no use in lying to her. "Yet someday he may be the lord of a great holdfast and sit on the king's council. He might raise castles like Brandon the Builder, or sail a ship across the Sunset Sea, or enter your mother's Faith and become the High Septon." (26 Eddard 5.51)
Bran can't be powerful in the traditional way of knights and lords, Ned explains to Arya. So, no riding, no jousting, no fighting. But there are lots of other things that someone can do with power. In a book that's focused a lot on killing and murder, it's nice to be reminded that some people use their power for, you know, building things.
She did not know what was more satisfying: the sound of a dozen swords drawn as one or the look on Tyrion Lannister's face. (29 Catelyn 5.73)
Catelyn Stark is a woman (not a powerful status in this book), but she sure has power through her families. Here, even though she's no longer a Tully, she gets all these servants to acknowledge their allegiance to her family – and suddenly she has enough men under her command to take Tyrion Lannister hostage.
"I'm Arya Stark of Winterfell, and if you lay a hand on me my lord father will have both your heads on spikes. If you don't believe me, fetch Jory Cassel or Vayon Poole from the Tower of the Hand." She put her hands on her hips. "Now are you going to open the gate, or do you need a clout on the ear to help your hearing?" (33 Arya 3.62)
We see a lot of people in this book misusing power (i.e. killing people and getting away with it). Is that what's happening here, when Arya lays a little smackdown on some dumb guards? Is she just being a bully?
Ned's men had drawn their swords, but they were three against twenty. Eyes watched from nearby windows and doors, but no one was about to intervene. His party was mounted, the Lannisters on foot save for Jaime himself. A charge might win them free, but it seemed to Eddard Stark that they had a surer, safer tactic. (36 Eddard 9.41)
In <em>A Game of Thrones</em>, it's never as simple as who has power and who doesn't. Take this scene when Jaime's men confront Eddard Stark and his men: Jaime has more men, but Eddard's men are on horseback (which is an advantage); and Eddard's family has Tyrion hostage, but Jaime's sister is the queen. There are so many factors at play, it's impossible to determine who has the power here.
Arya screwed up her face in a scowl. "Jaime Lannister murdered Jory and Heward and Wyl, and the Hound murdered Mycah. Somebody should have beheaded them." (45 Sansa 3.32)
Arya realizes that power and justice don't always go together. So how do you go about getting justice if the power system doesn't allow you to, you know, go up and behead the villains?
"I will not let him die..."
Ser Jorah gave a bitter laugh. "Khaleesi or queen, that command is beyond your power." (65 Daenerys 8.44-45)
<em>A Game of Thrones </em>is also very interested the <em>limits</em> of power. Here Jorah points out that all human power is useless in the face of death. Now here's something to think about: if they can't really win against the natural forces of the world, how do you think they'll do when they're fighting against the coming winter? Uh oh.