Throughout the novel, characters are often faced with decisions that match one redeemable trait against another. The Guardian outlines characters who are frequently "forced to choose between their love for those close to them and the greater interests of honour, duty and the realm." In Westeros, Ned ultimately decides to venture south with Robert, leaving much of his family in Winterfell. At the Wall, Jon wrestles with the predicament of joining his half-brother Robb in rebellion or staying with his sworn brothers in the Night's Watch. Daenerys has issue with the Dothraki treatment of those they conquered in Essos. These conflicts characters encounter oftentimes reflect inconsistent decision making. Catelyn initially is overwhelmed by grief and does not leave Bran's bedside while he is comatose, ignoring her political responsibilities, choosing family over duty. But soon after, Catelyn leaves Bran and her family for Kings Landing to inform Ned of potential Lannister treason, effectively displaying a more duty fulfilling role. Family, duty, and honor play major roles in conflicts that arise in the story arc, and qualities traditionally categorized as noble oppose each other in resolution. Character decision conflicts and consequence analysis are particular to how Martin wants to portray fantasy.
Martin characteristically deviates from the traditional fantasy model and clear-cut lines of good versus evil. Martin reflects: "I think the battle between good and evil is fought largely within the individual human heart, by the decisions that we make. It's not like evil dresses up in black clothing and you know, they're really ugly". This viewpoint characterizes the book and is evident in the actions of several different families which frequently have conflicts with each other. The Starks' and Lannisters' conflict is a central component of the novel, and the reader receives points of view from both sides. Likewise, Daenerys' storyline develops around the Targaryen's upheaval in Westeros, in which the Starks played a significant role. Martin argues:
Having multiple viewpoints is crucial to the grayness of the characters. You have to be able to see the struggle from both sides, because real human beings in a war have all these processes of self-justification, telling ourselves why what we're doing is the right thing.