A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) | Study Guide

George R.R. Martin

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A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) | A Clash of Kings | Summary


About the Title

The title A Clash of Kings refers to the civil war that is raging throughout Westeros, later known as the War of the Five Kings.



The civil wars in Westeros continue to escalate. Young King Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne in King's Landing, opposed by Stannis Baratheon, the elder of the surviving Baratheons. Stannis's claim, however, is being challenged by his younger brother, Renly, who has the support of many of the Westeros lords, and by Robb Stark, who has been named King in the North by his supporters.

Caught in the chaos of the burgeoning wars are the members of the Stark family. Arya Stark has escaped from King's Landing and is on the run, while her sister Sansa remains a captive of the Lannisters. Catelyn Stark continues her desperate attempts to protect her family by counseling Robb on the battlefield. Young Bran and Rickon are the sole members of the Stark family still at Winterfell.

Meanwhile, in the icy wastes beyond the Wall, Jon Snow, Commander Jeor Mormont, and a band of men from the Night's Watch investigate the threats posed by the wildlings and the Others. And on the continent of Essos, Daenerys Targaryen continues her quest to retake the throne she believes is rightfully hers.

Throughout the Seven Kingdoms

Stannis Baratheon has proclaimed himself king, feeling it is his right as the elder of Robert's two brothers. He is encouraged in his ambitions by Melisandre, a red priestess of the god R'hllor. She has had visions of Stannis's future and believes he is the legendary hero Azor Ahai reborn, meant to save them all from the darkness and death of the long winter.

As King in the North, Robb Stark is attempting to grow his own numbers. He sends Theon Greyjoy to secure the support of his father, Balon Greyjoy, lord of the seafaring people of the Iron Islands. But Balon is disgusted by his son, whom he feels is no longer true "Ironborn" after spending so long as the ward of the Starks. He tells Theon he intends to move against Robb himself and places Theon's sister, Asha, in charge of the main fleet. He orders his son to lead a smaller group to create a diversion. Theon, upset by the loss of his father's respect and angered by his diminished status, begins considering ways to win back both.

Robb also directs his mother, Catelyn, to Storm's End, seat of House Baratheon, where Stannis Baratheon is preparing to move against his brother Renly. Robb hopes Catelyn can broker an alliance between them so that the Baratheons and the Starks can join forces against the Lannisters. Catelyn arrives during a parley between the two brothers. Stannis reveals what he has learned about the incestuous relationship between Cersei and Jaime, which invalidates Joffrey's claim to the throne. Renly does not believe him and holds firm in his own desire to be king. Stannis then tells Renly to strike his banner and yield, or die.

Renly Baratheon refuses. He has the loyalty of many of the Westeros lords and has assembled his own Kingsguard. His most devoted knight—and his bodyguard—is Brienne of Tarth, a woman skilled with weapons and any man's equal on the battlefield. Renly also has the support of Lord Mace Tyrell of Highgarden, whose daughter, Margaery, he has taken as his queen. Back in his tent, Renly tells Catelyn that if Robb will "bend the knee," Renly will allow him to retain his land and even the title of King in the North. As Catelyn considers this, word comes that Stannis is moving against Renly in the morning. Catelyn tries once again to convince him to band with Robb and Stannis. Before he can reply, a living shadow, birthed by Melisandre, enters the tent and slits his throat before Catelyn's horrified eyes.

Catelyn and Brienne, both fearing they will be accused of Renly's death, flee to Catelyn's home in Riverrun. Once there, Catelyn learns that her uncle, Edmure Tully, intends to lead an army against Tywin Lannister. He also plans to send Lord Roose Bolton of Dreadfort to win back the old castle of Harrenhal, which Tywin Lannister has recently taken control of. After Edmure departs, Catelyn hears that Storm's End has declared for Stannis. Unknown to anyone, a second shadow, birthed by Melisandre and bearing a resemblance to Stannis, had entered the castle just prior to its surrender.

In King's Landing

Obeying a directive from his father, Tywin, Tyrion journeys to King's Landing to serve as Hand to Joffrey Baratheon. He is accompanied by his "companion" Shae, a camp follower given to him as a gift by Bronn and for whom Tyrion develops deep feelings. Tyrion quickly gathers crucial information and advice from a variety of sources, including Varys, the master of whisperers. He also learns from Cersei it was she who arranged Robert's death, by arranging for her cousin Lancel Lannister to get the king drunk during a hunt. Tyrion can do nothing about this but vows to "do justice" in King's Landing, provide help to its people, and strengthen the city's defenses.

Tyrion Lannister is resented by both his sister, Cersei, and Joffrey, whom Tyrion has always treated as the spoiled, sadistic creature that he is. He continues to intercede as Joffrey's capricious rule puts the kingdom in jeopardy, and he tries to protect Sansa, whom Joffrey beats whenever she displeases him. Cersei, in turn, has always detested Tyrion. To now have him in charge infuriates her, particularly because she knows Tywin will likely put his despised son in the role of Hand simply because, unlike Cersei, he is a man.

After he hears of Renly Baratheon's death and the fall of Storm's End, Tyrion realizes that Stannis's forces will soon march on King's Landing. He knows the Tyrells will refuse to switch their allegiance to Stannis Baratheon after Renly's death and sends an offer to them to marry the now-widowed Margaery to Joffrey. He also plans to bring the Martells of Dorne to his side by arranging a marriage between Myrcella Baratheon and Trystane, Prince Doran Martell's younger son. Both offers are accepted. He makes other unusual preparations as well. He orders a massive iron chain to be forged and secretly charges the Alchemists' Guild to create large batches of wildfire, an explosive so dangerous it is almost never used.

At Winterfell

As events unfold across Westeros, Bran and Rickon are the only Starks left at Winterfell. Bran Stark is still adjusting to his crippled legs and is carried most places in a basket strapped to the back of the stableboy Hodor, a strong, gentle young man with the mind of a child.

Bran constantly dreams of a three-eyed crow and of being a wolf. Osha, the wildling, tells him to listen to these dreams, as the gods may be trying to talk to him. Later, he realizes that when he dreams as a wolf, he is entering his direwolf Summer's mind and can control the animal's actions.

As acting Lord of Winterfell, Bran tries to respond to the needs of his bannermen and picks up important intelligence from them when they come to the castle with requests. He learns that Roose Bolton's son Ramsay Snow, also known as the Bastard of Bolton, is gathering men at his home of Dreadfort. Ramsay is also said to commit depraved acts with his equally abhorrent servant Reek, including hunting people down and flaying them when they are captured. Bran also receives updates on the Lannisters and suddenly remembers Jaime pushing him out of the window.

At the annual harvest feast hosted in Winterfell, Bran meets Jojen and Meera Reed, who have come in place of their father to reaffirm the fealty of House Reed. They stay on with Bran, and Jojen reveals he has greensight, the power of prophetic dreams. He urges Bran to listen to his own dreams and tells him he himself has had visions of Winterfell being swallowed by the sea.

Bran receives news of some of Robb Stark's triumphs but also learns that Ramsay Snow has captured a loyal Winterfell supporter, Lady Donella, on her return from the harvest feast and has forced her to sign away her lands. Ser Rodrik Cassel, Winterfell's master-at-arms, hunts Ramsay down, kills him, and returns to the castle with Ramsay's servant, Reek.

Shortly afterward, those at Winterfell hear of an attack on Torrhen's Square, the castle of one of Robb's strongest allies. Ser Rodrik Cassel leaves to provide assistance, but the attack turns out to be a ruse to draw him away. Theon Greyjoy appears at Winterfell with a small army, tells Bran he has taken the castle, and orders him to yield. His demands are reinforced with violence. Reek and Osha both tell Bran they will help him stand against Theon, and he accepts their offers. Shortly afterward, all of them but Reek disappear from Winterfell.

Theon quickly realizes he is in trouble. His attack on Winterfell, designed to earn his father's respect, flew in the face of Lord Balon Greyjoy's orders. The castle is isolated and hard to defend, the people at Winterfell despise him, and with the Stark boys missing he is swiftly losing face. He and Reek go out in search of the boys and later return with two small bodies, flayed, mutilated and burned beyond recognition. This only causes the people of Winterfell to hate him more.

Theon's sister, Asha Greyjoy, arrives, advising him of the folly of what he is trying to do and advising him to abandon Winterfell. Theon refuses to listen, and Asha leaves. Reek assures Theon he will raise an army and rides off. As he departs, Theon recalls how, on Reek's advice, he had murdered and brought back the bodies of two other young boys when he had not been able to find Bran and Rickon.

Theon continues to attempt to hold Winterfell through fear, because there is certainly no loyalty remaining. Even his own army is turning against him. Suddenly, the Bolton forces arrive, but not as Theon's saviors. They are led by Reek, who turns out to have been Ramsay Snow, Bolton's bastard son, in disguise. Ramsay takes Theon prisoner and sets fire to Winterfell.

When the fires die down, Bran and Rickon emerge with the Reeds, Hodor, and Osha from the crypts where they have been hiding. As they leave the ruined castle, they decide to split up for safety's sake. Rickon leaves under the protection of Osha. Bran goes with the Reeds and Hodor.

Back in Riverrun, however, Catelyn Stark hears only that her youngest sons are dead and that Winterfell has fallen. In her grief and fury, she wants to kill Theon and all the Lannisters. She goes to the cell where Jaime Lannister is being kept, still a prisoner of the Tullys. She gradually gets him drunk, and he admits to fathering Cersei Lannister's children and pushing Bran Stark out of the window. But he also tells Catelyn he was not a part of the later attempt on Bran's life and that the dagger was not Tyrion Lannister's but Robert Baratheon's—which means Petyr Baelish had lied to her. Finally, Jaime begins revealing details suggesting the Lannisters had not been the traitors they appeared to be during the Sack of King's Landing. But Catelyn, still filled with rage, pulls out a weapon to kill him.

During the Battle of the Blackwater

Tyrion has done all in his power to prepare for the attack on King's Landing. Eventually, warships enter the harbor at Blackwater Bay, and Tyrion's genius reveals itself. Decoy ships from the king's navy explode, the wildfire in their hulls creating a fiery holocaust. As the attacking ships attempt to retreat, the massive chain Tyrion forged is raised at the mouth of the harbor, trapping them. Despite this, the battle begins to turn against King's Landing. Tyrion himself goes out to fight and is gravely injured. Then, when all seems lost, Tywin Lannister arrives with the full force of Casterly Rock and Highgarden alongside him and crushes Stannis Baratheon's army.

After the victory, Joffrey Baratheon asks Tywin Lannister to once again take on the role of Hand, effectively ousting Tyrion. Joffrey also agrees to marry Margaery Tyrell of Highgarden, making her queen as a reward for Highgarden's support. In the process, he disavows Sansa Stark, saying he cannot marry a member of a traitorous family. Sansa is relieved but still worries for her life. She holds out hope that she will eventually be able to escape from King's Landing and is reassured in this hope by Ser Dontos, a knight she once saved from Joffrey's fury. He tells her he has planned the time of her escape—Joffrey's wedding night—and gives her a hairnet he says she must be sure to wear on the day of the wedding.

On the Fugitive's Road

Since the death of her father, Arya Stark has been on the run. She is protected by Yoren of the Night's Watch, who was in King's Landing recruiting men for the Wall and who spotted her in the crowd during Ned Stark's execution. Yoren tells Arya to take on the guise of a boy until he can return her to Winterfell. Among the other recruits are Hot Pie, Lommy, and a boy named Gendry. Gendry is thought by some to be the bastard son of King Baratheon, although Gendry himself is unaware of it. Also attached to the small band are three Night's Watch prisoners: Jaqen H'ghar, Rorge, and Biter.

While taking shelter in a deserted town, the group is attacked by raiders from House Lannister. Yoren is killed, but Arya and her companions escape. Before she leaves, however, she throws an ax to the three caged prisoners, allowing them to free themselves.

Arya's freedom doesn't last long. She and the others are soon captured by Ser Gregor Clegane, a savage knight for House Lannister, nicknamed "the Mountain," and are held for days in a small village. Clegane's men—Tickler, Polliver, and Raff the Sweetling—torture the villagers and kill Lommy Greenhands. As Arya's bitterness grows, she creates a list of those she hates and wants to kill. The Mountain and his men are on the list, but at the top of the list are Cersei Lannister and Joffrey Baratheon.

Clegane takes them to Harrenhal, presently being held by Tywin Lannister. Arya is put to work as a steward. While there, she encounters Vargo Hoat and the Brave Companions, brutal sellswords also called "the Bloody Mummers," whom Tywin uses to terrify his enemies. Accompanying the Brave Companions are the three criminals Arya helped free, including Jaqen. Jaqen comes to her and offers her three deaths—one for each of the prisoners she saved. She provides two names, whom Jaqen quickly dispatches, but then names Jaqen himself. To get her to agree to unsay his name, he promises to help her free some northmen whom she heard had been captured and teaches her how to overcome the guards.

Unknown to Arya, a second rebellion is already underway, led by Roose Bolton. The captured northmen were actually "plants" designed to provide help on the inside. Between Arya's own attempts and the attack by the Boltons, Harrenhal is retaken from the Lannisters. Jaqen prepares to leave but first visits Arya once more. To her amazement, his face shifts and changes as he speaks to her. He tells Arya that if she wishes his help in the future, she must travel across the narrow sea to Braavos. He gives her a coin and tells her she will be able to find him by using the coin and the phrase valar morghulis—all men must die.

Soon after Jaqen departs, Roose Bolton arrives. Upon realizing that Arya was involved in the freeing of the northmen, he makes her his cupbearer. Arya, however, hears that he is about to turn over the castle to Vargo Hoat. She decides to escape with Gendry and Hot Pie, having discovered that Riverrun, her aunt Lysa's castle, is not far away. After Arya murders a guard, they flee.

Beyond the Wall

Far away from the uprisings in the Seven Kingdoms, Jon Snow, Commander Jeor Mormont, Samwell Tarly (who is being mentored by the Maester and handles communications), and 200 members of the Night's Watch set out on their expedition into the frozen wastes of the land beyond the Wall. They eventually take shelter at Craster's Keep, a ramshackle hall owned by an old wildling who is a friend of the Night's Watch. He is also a despicable creature who marries his own daughters and sacrifices male babies to the Others.

At the keep, the Night's Watch learns that the wildlings are uniting under Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall and once a member of the Night's Watch. Qhorin Halfhand, a high-ranking member of the Watch, chooses Jon to accompany him on a scouting party into the mountains. During their search, they encounter wildlings who have been sent to spy on them. Jon is assigned to execute them, but he discovers one of them is a woman, Ygritte. He secretly frees her instead. Before leaving, she informs Jon that Mance Rayder would likely accept him into the Free Folk if he wanted to join them. He later shares what he had done with Qhorin, who agrees that Mance Rayder would indeed accept him—an option that may prove useful.

That night, Jon has a dream, seen through the eyes of his direwolf, Ghost, that shows thousands of wildlings massing for an attack. Jon informs the rest of his party, and Qhorin decides they must warn the main contingent of the Night's Watch. He sends some of his men ahead, but he and Jon are captured by the wildlings. Qhorin tells Jon he must do whatever it takes to convince the wildlings he wants to join them so he can serve as a spy. Jon tells their captors he has no love for the Night's Watch and wishes to join the free people. Ygritte, part of the band who has captured them, vouches for him. The wildlings command Jon to kill Qhorin to prove his loyalty, and knowing this is what Qhorin expected, Jon complies. The wildlings take him to meet Mance Rayder.

On the Continent of Essos

Across the narrow sea, Daenerys Targaryen is leading her people through a desert to the east, following the path of a red comet. They take shelter for a time in an abandoned city that Daenerys names "Vaes Tolorro," or City of Bones. She sends her bloodriders—men appointed for their bravery and for their loyalty to her—on scouting expeditions to find help and support.

One of the riders returns with three citizens from the city of Qarth: the merchant Xaro Xhoan Daxos, the warlock Pyat Pree, and the shadowbinder and prophetess Quaithe. Accompanied by Jorah and some of her bloodriders, Daenerys returns with the representatives to their city and asks the Pureborn of Qarth, rulers of the great city, for help in regaining her kingdom. They refuse, and Daenerys asks to see the warlocks.

Daenerys is taken to the House of the Undying, home of the elite warlocks of Qarth. She is told to enter the building alone, which she does, taking only her young dragon Drogon. As she travels through the halls and rooms, she sees disturbing visions of her past and her future—images of Khal Drogo, of a man with a wolf's head having a feast, and of her brother Rhaegar Targaryen. Rhaegar is speaking to a woman holding a child, saying, "He is the prince that was promised ... his is the song of ice and fire."

As the visions begin to fade, the Undying appear and attack Daenerys. Drogon sets them on fire, allowing her to escape. The palace burns down, and Daenerys is attacked outside by Pyat Pree. Her dragon and her bloodriders rescue her.

The destruction of the palace turns all Qarth against Daenerys. Xaro offers to marry her as protection against Pyat Pree and the warlocks, but she realizes he is really seeking control of her dragons. When Daenerys refuses him, he tells her to leave Qarth. She tries to seek passage on a ship but is refused. On the docks, however, she is approached by two men, a muscular eunuch named Strong Belwas and an older man named Arstan Whitebeard. They tell her they have been sent by her old guardian Illyrio Mopatis with three ships to bring her and her people back to Pentos. Although she is suspicious of them, she has no other options and agrees.


Visions, Portents, and Prophecies

To some extent, every character in A Song of Ice and Fire believes in the power of prophecy, using dreams, signs, and visions to make decisions or to determine how they should act. Unfortunately, because signs are often unclear and interpretations are subjective, the prophecies lead to as many poor decisions as good ones. Readers, too, are left to draw their own inferences from these visions, which become maddening and often misleading clues as to what may or may not happen as the story progresses.

A key symbol appearing throughout A Clash of Kings is the red comet. Visible by day and outshining the moon at night, it has a long red tail that cuts across the sky. It is interpreted differently by each person who sees it—usually to confirm their own beliefs, to justify or inform their actions, or to validate their fears. The simplest explanation for the comet's appearance is that it signals the end of the 10-year summer in Westeros and the coming of the long winter. But in Storm's Landing, Melisandre and Stannis Baratheon's wife, Selyse, insist it is a sign heralding Stannis's role as the savior of Westeros. Joffrey, noting that the comet has appeared on his name day, believes the comet indicates his reign will be a mighty one. The wildling Osha interprets the comet as the blood and fire to come, while Old Nan, the Stark nurse, sees it as a sign that dragons are returning to Westeros. And Daenerys Targaryen, on Essos, believes the comet signals her rise to power. She begins following it across the desert to find what she hopes will be her destiny.

Bran Stark's visions are also woven throughout the narrative, tied to the "third eye" that he is learning to control. In A Game of Thrones, he saw images of his mother in the middle of a gathering storm, his father pleading with a king, and his brother Jon "sleeping alone in a cold bed, his skin growing pale and hard."

Unfortunately, neither Bran nor the reader can be certain of what any of these visions mean, but they seem to foreshadow tragedy and create a strong sense of foreboding. Jojen Reed—a "greenseer" with the ability to see the future—also tries to warn Bran of danger, telling him, "I dreamed of the man ... they call Reek. You and your brother lay dead at his feet." But readers learn that even Jojen's visions cannot be trusted, because the dead boys he sees are really the miller's sons, murdered by Theon Greyjoy to hide his failed attempts to find the boys.

Daenerys Targaryen also looks to visions to direct her course of action. In addition to the red comet, she is exposed to a series of troubling images in the House of the Undying. Many are cryptic—some reflect Daenerys's life, and the meaning of others will only become clear as the story progresses. Among Daenerys's visions are a blue-eyed king that casts no shadow raising a red sword in his hand—probably Stannis Baratheon, whose shadow left him to murder Renly Baratheon. She sees a warrior on a horse, who may be the warrior her stillborn child would have become. She also sees a dead man with a wolf's head at a feast of slaughtered corpses, which readers later realize is an image of the Red Wedding. Perhaps most importantly, Daenerys sees an image of her brother Rhaegar and a child whom he calls the "prince that was promised" and the one whose song will be "a song of ice and fire." Echoing the series title, this particular prophecy has given rise to a great deal of speculation about who the baby is.

The prophecies of the red priestess Melisandre, however, are those with the most disastrous results. Stannis Baratheon and his wife believe her visions to be infallible—perhaps because the future she predicts is the one they desperately desire. They are, therefore, willing to do almost anything she demands, including destroying temples to the old gods and even murdering those they are told should be sacrificed. But Melisandre may be inadvertently misinterpreting the visions she sees in her flames to confirm her belief that she has found the promised savior Azor Ahai. Her belief is based on the following prophecy: "A warrior shall draw ... a burning sword ... it shall be Azor Ahai come again." So determined is she to attribute this role to Stannis that Melisandre even creates a false sword for him to wield. Her machinations, however, later have horrific consequences for Stannis, his family, and those loyal to him.

Prophecies and signs, therefore, become treacherous tools, to be listened to at one's peril. As Tyrion Lannister humorously says later in the series, "Prophecy ... looks ... useful, but the moment you trust ... it, it kicks you in the head."

Defying Gender Roles

George R.R. Martin is often praised for his strong, complex female characters. Covering the spectrum from passive to powerful, the women of Westeros and Essos are every bit as essential to the story as their male counterparts, and often more formidable. They defy feminine gender roles in diverse and sometimes surprising ways. Martin has explained this approach by saying, "I try to write women as people ... Strong and weak ... noble and selfish."

Martin has also stated that he wanted to "explore the ramifications" of being a woman in a patriarchal society, a society he based on the social and political structure of medieval Europe. In medieval European society, titles and land could only be passed to male heirs, and women were treated as "assets," groomed to be married off to ensure an alliance or achieve peace between countries. They were expected to be pretty, passive, and submissive, trained to defer to their fathers and husbands in all matters. Some of this thinking remains in A Song of Ice and Fire—Catelyn Stark and Cersei Lannister were both pawns in arranged marriages, and Sansa Stark, Myrcella Baratheon, and Margaery Tyrell are all being used as bargaining chips. But this superficial adherence to the norms of the existing social structure masks some of these women's strong resistance to, and departure from, those expectations.

Sansa Stark begins as the most traditional character on Martin's female spectrum. She has been well schooled in "being a lady" and believes her goal in life is to become a desirable match for a powerful—and, ideally, brave and handsome—man. She is certain her wishes have come true when she is betrothed to Joffrey Baratheon. But by the end of A Clash of Kings, Sansa's romantic notions have literally been beaten out of her. Her father has been betrayed and murdered, her handsome prince is a depraved monster, the royal court has proven to be a nest of vipers, and even the savior who goes on to rescue her from King's Landing in the next book is a drunk and a liar. Her illusions gone, Sansa realizes being a "lady" leaves her vulnerable and powerless, and she slowly begins to change.

Both Catelyn and Cersei had learned Sansa's lessons long before. Although they followed the traditional path by submitting to marriages arranged by their fathers, both are also strong, intelligent women with ambitions of their own. In Catelyn's case, those ambitions are more traditional—almost all her actions and decisions are made for the sake of her family. Cersei is also devoted to her children, but that's where the resemblance to Catelyn ends. She is hungry for power and furious that she cannot have it because of the gender expectations society forces on her. She is cold, cunning, and calculating. She is also consistently amoral, using whatever means necessary to gain the authority and independence she craves. When her marriage to Robert Baratheon proves to be an empty one, she does not hesitate to continue an incestuous relationship with her brother. When Robert becomes a weak and ineffective king, she plans his death. When Ned Stark threatens to reveal the illegitimacy of her children, she accuses him of treason. She then puts her own son on the throne and sets herself up as Queen Regent, effectively ruling the kingdom—until her father puts Tyrion Lannister in the role of Hand and frustrates her ambitions once more.

A Clash of Kings also focuses on female characters who do not conform to traditional gender roles in any way. Arya Stark has resisted the feminine mold she was being forced into from the time she was born and in this book literally transforms herself into a boy—Arry—as she searches for a way back home. She exhibits few of the traditionally female traits of nurture and compassion, instead demonstrating an urge to fight, and even a willingness to kill, when necessary. Asha Greyjoy's spirit is similar to Arya's, but because the Iron Islands do not follow the laws of the green lands, her ambitions were not repressed. While her brother, Theon, was a ward of the Starks, she easily stepped into the role of heir to her father. She is now captain of the 30 longboats in his navy and has been put in charge of the attack on Stannis Baratheon. When asked about family, she brandishes an ax and a knife, calling them her husband and child.

Brienne of Tarth is another female character who challenges stereotypes. Unattractive, almost masculine in appearance and awkward in social situations, she never fit the role of a "proper lady." She was even rejected by the three men with whom her father tried to arrange a match. But like Arya and Asha, Brienne has the soul and skills of a warrior and chooses the unlikely path of becoming a knight. Even in this role, however, she is mocked by the other knights but remains determined to live according to what she feels is her true self. In this way, she echoes the struggles and triumphs of many of those who are marginalized in their own society.

Daenerys Targaryen may be the ultimate game changer in terms of gender roles. By the end of A Clash of Kings, she has changed from a passive and abused 13-year-old girl, yielding meekly to her brother's demands, to a powerful queen and the mother of dragons, leading a host of warriors to regain the throne she believes is rightfully hers. Confident in her intelligence, her strength, and her sexuality, she embraces all aspects of her womanhood and refuses to define herself according to anyone's rules or expectations. Feminine and compassionate, she can also be ruthless and destructive, as evidenced by her torching of the House of the Undying. She refuses to be anyone's victim.

Tyrion's Quest for Respect

Tyrion Lannister is described as "a dwarf ... struggling to keep pace on stunted legs. His head ... too large for his body." Tyrion's deformities earn him the nicknames "Imp" and "Halfman," and he is ridiculed or ostracized by most of those he meets. However, he is somewhat sheltered from the cruelty of others by his family's wealth and social power.

Tyrion has learned how to protect himself. He uses his wit, intelligence, and barbed humor as weapons and has become a keen observer of human nature. He can see the flaws in his own family, judge individuals on their merits rather than on family or political ties, see through most deceptions, and sympathize with others who, like himself, have been marginalized or mistreated. He becomes a confidant to Jon Snow and even devises a means to help the crippled Bran Stark ride a horse again.

Unfortunately, Tyrion has always been detested by two of the people whose respect he desired most: his father, Tywin, and his sister, Cersei. They are repulsed by his deformities and blame him for the death of Tywin's wife, who died giving birth to Tyrion. Tyrion has long since stopped caring about Cersei's love, recognizing she will always dislike him and that she herself is really not worth caring about. But despite himself, Tyrion has spent a lifetime trying to at least gain the respect of his father.

In A Clash of Kings, Tyrion makes almost superhuman efforts to finally accomplish this goal, but his efforts are undermined or misinterpreted at almost every turn. When Tywin sends Tyrion to serve as Hand to King Joffrey—though only because his brother, Jaime, has been captured and Tywin himself is needed on the battlefield—Tyrion sees this as an opportunity to prove himself worthy of his father's esteem. He promises to "do justice," not only in advising the young prince but by attempting to make life better for the people of King's Landing. Through clever strategies, he identifies and replaces untrustworthy members of the small council and tempers Joffrey's harsh and capricious justice. He also tries to feed the starving people of the city by opening the kingswood for hunting and sending knights out to forage for them.

Despite Tyrion's efforts, the situation in King's Landing is too dire for his actions to have much effect, and the lives of the people there continue to deteriorate. And because Tyrion is considered the "power" behind the throne, he is held accountable for all that has gone wrong.

Perhaps the most brutally unfair outcome of Tyrion's time as Hand comes at the end of A Clash of Kings, with the Battle of the Blackwater. Tyrion's defense of King's Landing is ingenious and even succeeds for a time. And when the sheer number of soldiers threatens to overwhelm them, Tyrion displays tremendous courage, grabbing a sword and entering the battle himself, eventually enduring grave injuries.

However, all of Tyrion's brilliant strategies and heroic actions accomplish nothing. As he recovers from his terrible wounds, he realizes the person who tried to kill him was likely acting on orders from Cersei. He also finds that his father, Tywin, had arrived toward the end of the battle with his own army and turned the tide. Now Tywin is being called the savior of King's Landing, with no one even remembering the role Tyrion played or realizing that his strategies probably weakened the enemy enough for Tywin's forces to overcome them. Tyrion's efforts have left him worse off than he was when he came to the Crownlands and no closer to earning the respect he has so desperately been seeking.

Sansa and the Hound: Romance versus Reality

George R.R. Martin creates some unsettlingly complex characters in his series and continually confounds readers' expectations with them. Even the most despicable characters may be presented in a way that elicits compassion. Martin accomplishes this through the following approach to characterization: "To get inside [the characters'] skin, I have ... to feel a certain ... empathy for them."

One of the most fascinating results of this approach is the relationship that develops between Sansa Stark and Sandor Clegane, known as "the Hound," in A Clash of Kings. It creates compassion in the reader for Sandor, who is first presented as almost a caricature of evil—a scarred brute of a man who murders Arya's innocent playmate on Cersei's orders and continues to kill without remorse or regret.

From comments made about the Hound, and through Sansa's interactions with him, the reader gradually learns more about the experiences that shaped the man. His scarred features are the result of his brother, Gregor, shoving his face into hot coals when they were children. Because Gregor was their father's favorite, his brutal treatment of Sandor was overlooked and continued to go unchecked. Sandor was left feeling isolated and betrayed, with a deep-rooted anger, a desire to hurt others as he had been hurt, and a crippling fear of fire.

Sandor leaves home after his father's death, which he suspects was at the hands of his brother. He becomes a member of Joffrey's Kingsguard, where his base urges can be of use. He refuses to take on the title of knight, because his brother was the one who left him with no respect for what he sees as the hypocrisy of knighthood. But even in this new role, he is treated badly—Joffrey calls him his "dog" and mocks his appearance. Nonetheless, Clegane attempts to be loyal, committing any atrocities ordered by the young king or Cersei.

His experiences make him the perfect foil for Sansa, with her romantic notions of courtly love, chivalrous knights, and handsome princes. During a tournament, the Hound becomes enamored of the girl when she cheers his victory but is later angered because she is unable to look him in the eye due to his disfigurement. He mocks her romantic notions of what true knights should be and calls her a "stupid little bird ... singing all the songs they taught you." He asks her to sing him a song about knights and fair maids—while mockingly holding a knife to her throat.

Despite these encounters, Sandor continues to care about the girl and becomes fiercely protective of her, warning her of the dangers and deceptions in the court. Later, during a riot at King's Landing, he saves her from possible rape and murder. When Sansa tries to thank him—which she feels is the correct thing for a lady to do—he responds, "What do you think a knight is for, girl? ... Knights are for killing." When Sansa protests by saying, "True knights protect the weak," he tells her, "There are no true knights, no more than there are gods." Horrified, Sansa tells him he is awful, but Clegane only comments, "I'm honest. It's the world that's awful."

Sansa quickly learns that Sandor is correct. Her handsome prince is a monster who beats her; the royal court is a web of betrayal; Ser Dontos, the knight who is promising to rescue her, is a drunk. The monstrous Sandor Clegane is the closest thing she has to the knight she has dreamed of. Similarly, Sandor has fallen in love with a young girl who most closely embodies the romantic ideal of a lady he professes to disdain. Neither of them, of course, realizes the truth.

But even the Hound has his limits, and although he fights well during the Battle of the Blackwater, the horror of the wildfire breaks him, and he decides to desert. He stops by Sansa's chambers, drunk and weeping, and offers to take her with him, saying, "I could keep you safe ... No one would hurt you again, or I'd kill them." Sansa refuses but offers to sing to him as he once asked her to. When she touches his face, she can feel tears on his cheeks.

By giving Clegane this backstory and showing both his pain and his capacity to care deeply for someone, Martin has created a sympathetic villain. It is a motif he will use throughout the series—most notably with Jaime Lannister and Theon Greyjoy—to illustrate that no individual is all good or all bad and that even the most seemingly irredeemable of characters may deserve compassion.

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