Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Each house has its own official mottos and unofficial sayings, which embody the family's character, and numerous slogans, sayings and jokes surface throughout the story as characters remind themselves of their background and duties. For example, the “words” of the House of Lannister, “Hear Me Roar!”, play on the family sigil, which is a lion. But there is a recurring mantra that “a Lannister always pays his debts,” and that saying is the one that more adequately sums up the Lannister family and its members. It suggests of course the vast wealth the Lannisters possess, but the “debts” it refers to aren't strictly financial. It also refers more ominously to the Lannisters' guarantee that they will avenge any wrongs done against them, and so the words serve as a reminder to everyone that the Lannisters are not to be crossed. The Stark motto, “Winter is coming,” also acts as a warning, but of a different type. In the world of the novel, winter may last a decade, and this brutal time is guaranteed to happen as it is simply a regular part of the cycle of seasons. The Starks, being among the northernmost families, endure the harshest winters, and the words indeed remind them to be prepared for winter. But they also function more broadly as a warning that one should always be prepared for trouble in any form.


The people of Westeros are familiar with a variety of songs, and they often hire minstrels to perform them. Some songs, like “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” come up several times and in different contexts. Many of these songs are bawdy, others tell stories or recall moments in history, and generally act as a way to disseminate ideas and provide entertainment in a world without any kind of mass communication. Often, they also serve a functional or symbolic purpose in the plot. Olenna Redwyne, the “Queen of Thorns,” has her jester play very loudly in one instance so that the women’s conversation can't be overheard. In another scene, Samwell sings a song to comfort Gilly and remembers that his harsh father forbade the song because it sounded too soft and sweet, qualities his father also detested in him.


Numerous betrayals occur in the novel, and these betrayals often serve as turning points in the plot. Walder Frey feels betrayed by Robb’s decision to marry Jeyne Westerling rather than one of his daughters, which in turn leads him to plot his own betrayal. He ultimately conspires to have Robb, Catelyn, and many of the Stark bannermen murdered at what becomes known as the Red Wedding. Petyr Baelish, who has done a great deal for the Lannisters and been amply rewarded, betrays the Lannisters, unbeknownst to them, by planning Joffrey’s death by poison at his wedding. Shae betrays Tyrion by making false or exaggerated statements against him at his trial, prompting him to seek out a trial by combat. Additionally, Daenerys feels Ser Jorah and Barristan Selmy have both betrayed her by their dishonesty, and Daenerys is so hurt by Ser Jorah’s betrayal that she ultimately banishes him.