He might have prioritized world building over characters in the first book. When you have so many elements in your story, it's easy to lose track of certain things. It could also have been him trying to make it clear, via Ned, that what works in the North doesn't in the South.
I think however that GRRM being a 'gardener' is both his curse and his blessing. It allowed him to change his story from the set goal he had, especially for characters. His story grew and changed. That IMO is a good thing. But all he did was keep planting seeds, widening the world and character pool to the point where there is too much to harvest now and he has no clue how to do it. And that's the main reason why he won't finish this series. He simply can't. He's old now, his memory isn't the best and he only has two more books to finish a story, which with all the characters and plots should realistically take way more than 2 books to wrap up. Too many POVs, too many plots, too many conflicts (several Targs conquering, The Others, every Kingdom has it's own plot).
And lets not forget that he's been doing so much on the side that has nothing to do with finishing his main series. He wrote side stories (Dunk&Egg), involved with history books, Fire&Blood, GoT the TV show and prequels, video games and conventions. Eventually his reputation will probably be that of a writer who bit off more than he could chew. After all there are plenty of writers who had book series and they managed to finish them off. And he's had plenty of time to do so. Too bad his publisher didn't put more fire under his ass.
I think my fave was the description of the Hound and Night's Watch.
I think the rampant pedophilia that 90% of the men in his books seem to be inflicted with would not have been possible with the show being produced in the West due to our laws. In other parts of our world however, that part of the story probably could be adapted. They were pushing it with LF in S4 (they really dialed him down previously considering how much he touches Sansa all the way back to the tourney). They really lucked out with aging up the kids and they were lucky Sophie Turner was an early developer who looked older than her age. Not that it excuses anything D&D did, like adding an attempted gang rape during the King's Landing riots that wasn't in the books.
I'm sure we all could. But the person touched most of the basics. Ned's children, Robert, Cersei, him being a judgemental ass. You could double that in words by just talking about Ned's 'political' conduct in KL.
Personally I was done with Ned long before he even reached KL. The incident at the Tridant was my breaking point. Anyone who kills an innocent is not a person worthy of my support. Honor my ass. His utter failure to watch his children is what started everything. Arya shouldn't have been playing with Mycah. Why was no one watching her? Allowing Sansa to be alone without a few guards with a boy who is an ass (hello he could rape her or beat her) and get drunk. Dragging your drunk and tired 11 year old daughter before everyone to be questioned and ask her to either betray her future family by telling the truth (great way to start a future marriage with a known asshole and witch of a mother) or betray the family she was born into by lying. Then your fat, drunk, abusive douchbag of a 'best friend' can't be bothered with children drama and his wife's nagging so he tells you to kill an innocent just to get it over with. The innocent being in this case was his own daughter's pet who didn't do anything wrong. And he doesn't think that would traumatize his daughter? Jesus Christ man.