A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire (Book 2)

by George R. R. Martin
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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1567

A Clash of Kings is the sequel to George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novel, A Game of Thrones . The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros have been united under one ruler for centuries. However, after Robert Baratheon dies, the lords of Westeros are quick to seize power for themselves. Robert’s two...

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A Clash of Kings is the sequel to George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novel, A Game of Thrones. The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros have been united under one ruler for centuries. However, after Robert Baratheon dies, the lords of Westeros are quick to seize power for themselves. Robert’s two brothers, Stannis and Renly, both declare themselves king. In the north, Robb Stark declares himself “king in the north.” At King’s Landing, a port city and the capitol of Westeros, the child Joffrey Baratheon sits on the Iron Throne, but how long can he and his advisors hold it?

Tyrion Lannister is the second son of one of the most powerful families in the realm. However, although he is very intelligent, Tyrion is reviled, even by his family, because he is a dwarf. Nevertheless, Tyrion has been sent to King’s Landing to control the king, to subdue Queen Cersei Lannister, and to defend the city against invasion. Tyrion takes action immediately. He begins by cowing his political rivals, especially his sister the queen. He seeks out “pyromancers” and has them increase production of “wildfire,” an extremely volatile liquid. He also sets every forge in the city to work building a chain, though he refuses to explain why. Finally, he begins sending letters seeking political alliance, offering Cersei’s daughter and son as hostages or potential matches in marriage. However, although Tyrion relishes the power he wields, he has surrounded himself with mercenaries whose loyalties can easily be bought from him. Tyrion is doing everything in his power to save the city, which is slowly beginning to starve as the war continues, but the common people blame Tyrion for their hardships.

The greatest threats to Tyrion may be his family, but the greatest threats to King’s Landing are surely Stannis and Renly Baratheon and their armies. As Robert’s oldest living brother, Stannis has the stronger claim to the Iron Throne, particularly since Joffrey is actually born of incest, but the lords of the south have rallied behind Renly, who is much more likeable than stern Stannis. Stannis, however, has a “shadowbinder” at his disposal, one that soon begins using magic to assassinate Stannis’ rivals. The first victim of her dark magic is Renly. When Renly dies, the majority of his bannermen switch allegiance to Stannis, who quickly prepares to attack King’s Landing. However, the Tyrell family remains independent, choosing not to support Stannis’ claim.

King’s Landing is not the only stronghold that faces invasion. Robb Stark, King of the North, sends Theon Greyjoy to meet with his father, Lord Balon. Their plan is that the Greyjoys will attack the Lannisters in the west. However, Lord Greyjoy instead chooses to launch raids on the north. Theon, trying to impress his father, decides to betray Robb and launches an attack on Winterfell. Though Winterfell is the seat of the Starks, Robb has left only a minor garrison behind to defend it. When Theon attacks, he is able to take over quickly. When the people of Winterfell name him “Theon Turncloack,” Theon soon finds that his victory is not as sweet as he expected.

Unfortunately, Robb is unable to return to the north as he is fighting battles against the Lannisters in the West. His primary opponent is the experienced general and talented politician Lord Tywin Lannister. To the surprise of every lord in the realm, Robb, his generals, and his direwolf Grey Wind have won every battle, but despite his victories, Robb is expected to lose the war. Robb’s army is situated near the Tully stronghold, Riverrun, and Tywin has settled in a nearby castle, Harrenhal, which many believe to be cursed. What Robb does not know is that his youngest sister, Arya Stark is also at Harrenhal. Arya has fled King’s Landing with Yoren, a brother of the Night’s Watch, an order that defends the realm from monsters and wildlings in the far north. When Lannister raiders attack Yoren and his men, Arya only just manages to escape. Before she flees, she saves the lives of three murderers: Jaqen H’ghar, Rorge, and Biter. She meets with them again at the Harrenhal, which Lord Tywin leaves under the control of one of his bannermen when he returns to the field. In return for saving him and his companions, Jaqen offers to kill three men for Arya. Arya has Jaqen kill two men before tricking him into helping her to seize the castle for one of Robb’s bannermen, Roose Bolton.

There are laws of succession in Westeros, but the kings seem to be more concerned with power than legalities. Renly explains that even the late king, Robert Baratheon, was a usurper who rebelled against the rightful king, Aerys Targaryen. Robert defeated Aerys, but one of his descendents still lives. Daenerys Stormborn has few followers, but they are loyal to her as she leads them across the continent on the far side of the Narrow Sea. She is the mother of three dragons, the first that have existed in the world for hundreds of years. Their presence gives Daenerys great power, but it also makes her a target. When she arrives in Qarth, there are traders, politicians, and warlocks that all seek to use her for their own ends. However, Daenerys realizes that none of them can offer her what she seeks. Still, it is clear that her dragons have changed the world: if nothing else, it seems that magic is returning.

This is what Bran Stark is learning. When A Clash of Kings begins, Bran is a child in Winterfell, a crippled boy that cannot walk, and he is learning that he is also a “warg.” Although Bran cannot walk, his consciousness merges with his direwolf, Summer, when he dreams. When Theon takes over Winterfell, Bran hides with his brother Rickon in the crypt. One night during his wolf dream, Bran sees Winterfell burning. When he and his companions emerge from the crypt, they discover that Theon has lost Winterfell to the treacherous Ramsay Bolton, the bastard son of Roose, who has not only defeated Theon but who has also set fire to the Starks’ ancient stronghold. Bran and his companions, the Reeds, decide to travel north while Bran continues to explore his powers.

Magic is indeed returning to the world, which is certainly clear to everyone that lives in the far north of Westeros. Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned Stark, is a brother of the Night’s Watch, a military force that defends the realm from atop their massive Wall. Most men believe that only wildlings exist beyond the Wall, but the Night’s Watch knows that the dead have begun to walk. Rangers are disappearing and the wildlings have disappeared, so Ser Jorah Mormont, the Lord Commander of the Watch, decides to lead a band of brothers into the north to learn what is happening. When he finds a strong hill to defend, he sets the majority of his men to fortifying it while sending Jon Snow into the deep north with Qhorin Halfhand. Quorin and his company die on their mission to find out what the wildlings are doing, but Jon manages to survive, convincing the wildlings to accept him as a deserter. The wildlings do consider him a deserter, but in his heart Jon remains true to the Night’s Watch.

The climax of the novel comes when Stannis’ army attacks King’s Landing. Tyrion’s preparations work perfectly. When Stannis’ navy enters the bay next to King’s Landing, a chain is raised behind the ships before soldiers attack with wildfire. However, in spite of his preparations, Tyrion soon discovers that he is losing the battle. His troops are deserting their posts, and he finds himself leading sorties against the invading army. Tyrion loses himself in a fury of battle, but the men are following him. Eventually, one of the queen’s knights tries to kill him. Tyrion suffers from a vicious lash to his face and passes out as he sees his squire kill the knight. When Tyrion comes to, he realizes that he is in King’s Landing, but not in a cell. Lord Tywin Lannister abandoned his battles in the north and marched to King’s Landing. Thanks to a freshly forged alliance with the Tyrells, the Lannisters manage to hold the throne as Stannis’ armies retreat.

However, things do not work out for the best for Tyrion. His father takes over as the Hand of the King and Tyrion, who relished the power he carries, is now defenseless against those who would plot against him. Tyrion has never been handsome, but he now carries a terrible scar on his face, making him more monstrous than ever before. Tyrion has held King’s Landing for the Lannisters, but Stannis remains alive, as do the northmen under Robb Stark. The Greyjoys are raiding the western shores of the realm too. The Lannisters now have new allies in the Tyrells, who make arrangements to marry their daughter to Joffrey. Although this “clash of kings” has finished, the civil war over Westeros continues. Consequently, the Lannisters are thrilled with their victories, but the Night’s Watch is more concerned with preparing for winter. They know that a long winter is coming, one in which the dead walk and prey upon the living.

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