[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings End Notes

a-clash-of-kingsA year ago, I wrote a short post on just how I came to fall in love with A Song of Ice and Fire. I had had enough of the relentless optimism of other fantasy series and 18 year old me craved something darker and edgier. The simple fact that people died and suffered graphically in this series made it feel more real to me, all those year ago. Having finished re-reading A Clash of Kings almost half a decade after I first did, is an interesting experience. The violence and sheer brutality of the series that once drew me in like a fly to a rotting carcase now horrifies me. I’m still very much interested in the series but not for the same reasons I once was. Martin’s famed deconstruction of the fantasy genre isn’t the major factor drawing me to the series any longer; now it is my emotional investment in the characters. As a book, I think A Clash of Kings is one of the more eventful in the series; certainly, I feel it outstrips A Feast For Crows, A Dance With Dragons and even A Game of Thrones in that regard. However, as I recall noting in the book’s prologue discussion, I don’t want to make the mistake of confusing ‘things happening’ with quality.

A Clash of Kings is a book where certain characters really set themselves apart and become the fan-favourites we know them to be. I would argue that this book is the kindest to Tyrion; even with how things end for him, no other book puts him in his element and lets him run free quite as much. Tyrion was already an extremely entertaining character in A Game of Thrones but by the end of Clash he established himself as more than just ‘interesting’ – he was a complex, deeply flawed character. Re-reading his chapters very frequently threw up moments of frustration where the blessing of hindsight turned a little sour; a lot of Tyrion’s most triumphant moments, on hindsight, turned out to be moments that would eventually lead to his downfall and knowing that certainly took a good part of the vicarious pleasure we experienced, out of it. Yet, the fact that the Tyrion behaves exactly as we would want to in his situation is a big part of what makes him popular and the fact that just doing what we would want to do, as opposed to what we know we ought to do, gets him into so much trouble, is what contributes so greatly to the depth of Martin’s world. With that said, however, Tyrion’s interactions with Shae will make any Tyrion fan want to tear their hair out.

The other character that really blossomed in Clash was Sansa Stark. Sansa gets a great deal of stick for her inadvertent role in her family’s downfall in A Game of Thrones and to be fair, not all of it is undeserved, but only the most heartless fan will withhold sympathy at her plight in Clash. Emotionally and physically abused throughout, we begin to see the character’s strength emerge when it is most needed. There is an innate goodness and compassion in Sansa Stark that keeps her sympathetic even when she is out of her league politically or she does things we know to be mistakes. There is also something deeply refreshing about seeing a character keep that compassion and silent optimism even when they have progressively less reason to do so. Sansa’s character arc is far from done at this part and I’m aware that in the future she loses some of the naiveté that gives birth to her ‘goodness’ but for now, I still find it a nice change of pace from the otherwise rampant cynicism of the characters.

Clash also introduced Theon Greyjoy as a POV character and whatever you say about watching Tyrion and Sansa make their mistakes, you will have to multiple that ten times over for Theon. One of the more remarkable things about re-reading Theon’s chapters is that the guy had so many chance to save himself and get out but at each step, his myriad of psychological issues kept him from saving his own skin and abandoning his ever-sinking ship. I find Theon’s character to be one of Martin’s most compelling and breaking down the whole host of conflicting, motivating factors is one of the best parts of reading his chapters. Yet, we will not be seeing Theon again till A Dance With Dragons and at that point, his survival will be surprising at first and then increasingly unfortunate.

Of the rest of the characters, I guess special mention ought to go to Jon and Daenerys. I’ve never been huge fans of either – I find Jon a little too bland and Dany rather self-righteous and annoying – but while Jon’s arc was the more meaningful of the two, I enjoyed Dany’s more. In Clash, we saw Dany tested yet again; she begins the book in absolute shambles but ends it ascendant. She grows into a leader but it is only in A Storm of Swords and A Dance of Dragons that we will really see what kind of leader she becomes. Meanwhile, Jon’s transformative journey doesn’t really begin in this book but his arc does introduce us to the icy wilderness north of the Wall and even though it is easy to forget, that will ultimately be where the series’ final showdown will occur. I seem to recall that A Storm of Swords is a book dominated by the Big Three (Jon, Tyrion and Dany) and I am very much looking forward to Jon’s arc in it.

Among the disappointments, so to speak, are the other remaining Starks; Catelyn, Bran and Arya. Each had their share of eventful chapter but there were punctuated by long stretches of nothing. For Catelyn, while she was witness to Renly’s assassination, she also had long stretches of rather depressing mourning. None of this mourning was unexpected or inexplicable but nevertheless, going through that much grief and sadness doesn’t really make for easy, fun reading. Likewise, Arya saw a Faceless Man function up close but large swathes of her chapters were literally made up of the worst kind of suffering – between Gregor Clegane and the Bloody Mummers, there was hardly any reprieve from the very grim realities of warfare. It offered a lot of world-building but little additional value on a re-read. Last but not least, we have Bran. Bran’s chapters introduced us to the concept of warging and the Reed children but they were also filled with long descriptions of the dour life at Winterfell and Bran’s own unhappiness at his disability. Each character’s arc will only improve from here on out, however – although it will be a good while before Bran’s chapters get fun.

So with that, we leave A Clash of Kings behind and sally forth towards A Storm of Swords!

[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Bran VII

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Here we are: the end of A Clash of Kings! It’s been a long, often irregular journey over the last year but on the bright side, The Winds of Winter is nowhere in sight! *cries silently into pillow* Before we talk about this chapter, let’s just take a second to reflect on the fact that it is a Bran chapter at all. It’s no big deal to us now, but we should remember that the majority of people reading A Clash of Kings for the first time, Bran and Rickon are supposed to be dead, so reading a Bran chapter at all is a big deal. Yes, yes, there was a metric ton of clues that Theon had not got them but you didn’t know for sure that they were alive until this chapter. That alone makes it a pretty impactful way of ending the book but it’s also a neat way of closing out the opening salvo of the series; we began in Winterfell before the War of the Five Kings, with the Stark house venturing forth from its dour homeland and we end Clash with the Stark homeland ravaged by war and uncertainty and the Stark castle razed to the ground. Even as Martin provides some hope in the form of Bran and Rickon, he does it while simultaneously showing us the shattered remains of Winterfell.

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[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Jon VIII

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When we last saw Jon, he had just discovered where all the missing Wildlings had gone – Mance Rayder had been slowly gathering them into his almighty army of illegal immigrants. Jon, Qhorin and a few others had left immediate, only to be spotted by the eagle. This chapter is a doozy, catching up with the ragged bunch as they try to get away from ever-watching eyes. There’s a sense of inevitability to the chase; no matter when tricks Qhorin uses to escape Rattleshirt’s band, the eagle sees everything and so it just becomes a matter of time before they are caught. Jon’s capitulation threw me off the first time I read it; it was clear that he hadn’t betrayed the cause, but it wasn’t clear that he wouldn’t change his mind over a period of time. I think that very much remains part of his character’s inner conflict right until his ‘death’ in A Dance With Dragons. This chapter, the penultimate in A Clash of Kings, is great; it’s fraught with tension and ends with many questions left unanswered and leaves Martin in a great place for Jon’s story in the next book. Having said that, a lot of the chapter is made of little details or resolved plot threads about which I won’t have a lot to say.

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[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Tyrion XV

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Continuing with our theme of final chapters, we catch up with Tyrion who will shortly awaken to find that his world, or King’s Landing at least, has moved on without him. He is no longer the Hand of the King and, since he wasn’t around to promote himself, his contributions to the war effort have been largely ignored. In a weird way, Tyrion’s current situation is both a slap in the face and a blessing in disguise. Were Tyrion a little less fixated on keeping his place in court and a little warier of the threat Cersei, Pycelle and the rest of his enemies posed, he would have used this opportunity to silently slink off and live out the rest of his life somewhere else. As of the end of this chapter, Tyrion has no real duties – he is not Hand of the King and certainly no one expects him to fight on the front lines and as such he has no reason to stay in King’s Landing but as we will see in this chapter and over the course of the ever approaching A Storm of Swords, it isn’t easy for Tyrion, especially, to go from the heady heights of being the Hand to becoming just another non-descript noble. It won’t be the sole factor that leads to his undoing but it’s certainly a major contributing cause.

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[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Theon VI

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The fall of Winterfell is such a pivotal moment in A Song of Ice and Fire that it’s incredibly hard to overstate its importance in the grand scheme of things. The actual fall arguably took almost half a book ago when the castle was lost to a band of not-so-merry raiders but this chapter nonetheless represents a point of no return, not just for the ancient stronghold itself but also for its original owners. We will naturally talk a great deal about the implications of this chapter at the end of this discussion but lest we forget, this chapter doesn’t feature only Winterfell’s final fall but also Theon’s. This chapter, Theon’s last in A Clash of Kings, is also possibly his last ever – the creature he becomes later on is largely unrecognizable and is certainly far removed from the Theon Greyjoy we’ve seen thus far. Theon is easily one of Martin’s most complex characters, in no small part due the sheer number of influences compelling him to act in different ways. In each of his chapters in this book, it has felt as though his character has been forced to compromise and reconcile values that have come into evermore conflict – both internally, as evidenced by Ironborn’s pragmatic cruelty versus the Stark’s honourable loyalty, and externally in the more literal conflict between those factions. Theon, instead of picking one side or the other, continued to try to reconcile the irreconcilable and in doing so made a series of a profound misjudgements that led him to his current position – forsaken, paranoid and doomed.

 

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[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Sansa VIII

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We continue our run of last chapters, this time with Sansa. The Battle of Blackwater has concluded and it is time for the spoils of war to be distributed. These spoils aren’t necessarily so much the physical goods captured (since this was a defensive war for the victors) but more the distribution of political capital for the Tyrells who will soon be making their grand debut on the main stage of the Westerosi side of the ASOIAF conflict. Sansa herself finds herself somewhat on the margins in all this. Joffrey has moved on – though tormenting Sansa will remain a fond hobby of his – and with him followed most of his court. With the grand Tyrells strutting around, Sansa is no longer the hot topic that she once was and this suits her just fine since it gives her time to think about her escape from King’s Landing. Little does she know, she will be given the key to that escape from a less than reliable source by this chapter’s end. As with the other previous ‘final’ chapters, I will spend some time wrapping things up with Sansa for A Clash of Kings before looking forward to her role in A Storm of Swords.

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[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Arya X

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We catch up with Arya for the first time in a long while. She’s still at Harrenhal and her life has not really changed for the better since the Weasel Soup incident. Harrenhal has found itself under new management but that new management is depressingly similar to the old – given that Roose Bolton is in charge that should come as absolutely no surprise. This will be Arya’s final chapter in A Clash of Kings, the chapter in which she breaks out of Harrenhal and the readers are filled with hope that she can somehow, against all odds, make a successful escape to Riverrun. Alas it is not to be and worse (or better), in the process of breaking out of Harrenhal, Arya will once again take human life. This is notable because it will be done without the help of Jaqen H’ghar and, as opposed to her panicked stabbing in the Red Keep’s stables, in full possession of her mental faculties. I will end this chapter’s write-up with a quick round-up of Arya’s journey in this book and what lies in store for her in A Storm of Swords.

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