Life - Nasty, Brutish and Short, Even for Characters You Like

I fail as a genre book geek. I confess that I finally caught up on the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. I read books one and two years ago and really liked them but never quite got around to book three. I re-read book one just before season one aired last spring. I decided it was time to catch up with books two through five in a marathon session - given the thickness of these tomes calling it a marathon session is quite appropriate.
If you like epic fantasy, but have missed reading this series so far, it really is very good even though very grim and bloody. I will add one caveat: if you get attached to the characters you like... you should remember that old saying about life being nasty, brutish and short.

There are a lot of characters. Even just tallying up the important ones is quite the undertaking. Morality in this universe is a thousand shades of gray (mostly dark) and the only characters that are completely innocent are some very young children and a mentally handicapped giant of a man. The plot - well - please keep in mind I'm trying to summarize well over 4000 pages into a single paragraph.

So, with that in mind: The king is dead! Long live the (insert quite a bit of horrific war, machinations and assassinations to seize the throne here) king? And while we're at it... The seasons are different than ours, winter might last a decade. So, winter is coming and everyone really should be trying to put away the harvest to prevent starvation instead of burning it down in war... But at least with the country-wide war there are far fewer people left alive to feed... Oh, and instead of spending all of the kingdom's strength and resources on fighting each other, perhaps focusing on the barbarians invading from the north (the barbarians fleeing from a nightmare of undead and the killing long winter in their turn...) instead might not be such a bad idea?  Not to mention the surviving daughter of the previously deposed king kicking up her heels just across the sea... Plus, just to add to the general chaos, magic went away a long time ago and now it seems to be trickling back into the world. And it's not generally happy, helpful magic.  It's more of the creepy, icky, run in blind terror for your life sort of magic. That's going to mess with the balance of things too. And now it's started to snow...

There are characters I hope live to get happy endings. Some of the other characters... may they get the endings they deserve. I did warn you not to get too attached to the characters...