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 Storm of Swords | Summary


About the Title

A Storm of Swords is a reference to the wars raging throughout Westeros and to the scores of murders and betrayals in this bloodiest and most violent of the books.


At Dragonstone

A Storm of Swords picks up immediately after Tywin Lannister's victory at the Battle of the Blackwater. At his home seat of Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon is brooding over his defeat. Melisandre, the red priestess of R'hllor, tells him all of Westeros must unite under him to be saved from the coming darkness. She also tells Stannis that to ensure his destiny, he must sacrifice Edric Storm, his ward and one of King Robert's bastard sons, in a ritual of fire. Stannis refuses, instead using leeches to draw blood from the boy. As he casts the engorged leeches into the flames, he names each of the remaining false kings: Joffrey Lannister, Robb Stark, and Balon Greyjoy.

In the North

After confronting Jaime Lannister in his cell at Riverrun, Catelyn Stark frees him in return for a pledge that he will go to King's Landing and arrange for the release of her daughters. Brienne of Tarth, who despises Jaime as "the Kingslayer," is sent along as his guard.

As the two travel together, Jaime develops a grudging respect for Brienne's integrity, intelligence, and skill with a sword. Before they travel far, however, they are captured by Vargo Hoat and the brutal Brave Companions, who have transferred their allegiance to Roose Bolton. Fearing they will rape Brienne, Jaime tells Hoat that Brienne's father will ransom his daughter with sapphires if she is returned unharmed. Vargo considers this but then tells Jaime he also intends to send a message to Tywin Lannister—and hacks off Jaime's sword hand.

Delivered to Harrenhal and still suffering from his wound, Jaime reveals to Brienne the truth of what happened at the sack of King's Landing over 15 years before. Jaime had indeed been part of the Kingsguard for Aerys II but also witnessed Aerys's slow descent into madness. As the opposing army approached King's Landing during Robert's Rebellion, Aerys secreted wildfire throughout the city, planning to kill the city's half-million inhabitants and leave Robert Baratheon king "over charred bones and cooked meat." Jaime murdered Aerys rather than see the horror unfold. This revelation changes Brienne's perception of him.

Jaime meets with Roose Bolton. Roose is disgusted by what Vargo has done to Jaime and expresses concern that Tywin Lannister will hold him responsible for Jaime's mutilation, because Vargo Hoat is in Roose's employ. In exchange for his freedom, Jaime promises to absolve Roose of the crime. Roose agrees but says that Brienne is to remain as a "prize" for Vargo Hoat. As Jaime leaves Harrenhal, however, he dreams of Brienne defending him against ghosts of dead members of the Kingsguard and returns to rescue her.

At Riverrun

Edmure Tully, Catelyn's brother, has returned to Riverrun from battle and is incensed to hear she has released Jaime. Robb returns as well, and to Catelyn's surprise he forgives her, saying he understands that "love's not always wise."

Robb then reveals he has married Jeyne Westerling of the Crag. Wounded while attacking the Westerling stronghold, Robb had been nursed to health by Jeyne, who also comforted him when he heard of his brothers' deaths. By marrying her, however, Robb has broken his oath to marry one of Walder Frey's daughters.

As Robb and Catelyn try to determine what must be done to regain the loyalty of the Freys, Lothar Frey, one of Walder's sons, arrives to arrange a reconciliation. He says that Robb must apologize to Walder Frey in person at his home seat at the Twins and Edmure must marry one of the Frey daughters.

At King's Landing

Margaery Tyrell of Highgarden travels to King's Landing for her wedding to Joffrey Baratheon. After arriving, she and her grandmother, the Tyrell matriarch Lady Olenna, also called the Queen of Thorns due to her prickly nature, lunch with Sansa Stark to learn more about Joffrey's nature. After some hesitation, Sansa finally tells them the truth—Joffrey is a monster.

Tyrion Lannister, meanwhile, is still recovering after the Battle of the Blackwater. He learns that Tywin Lannister, as Joffrey's new Hand, has undone most of Tyrion's appointments and initiatives and trivialized Tyrion's role in the defense of King's Landing. Tyrion angrily demands that his father at least acknowledge him as a son and make him heir to the family holdings at Casterly Rock. Tywin refuses, saying the creature who killed his mother coming into the world and continues to shame the family with his whores will never be Tywin's heir.

Joffrey's small council meets to consider how to strengthen their alliances. Petyr Baelish offers to marry Lysa Arryn, who once loved him, and deliver the Vale to Tywin. Tywin then learns that Lady Olenna wishes for Sansa to marry a Tyrell, which could potentially make the Tyrells rulers over the southlands and the north. To prevent this, Tywin orders Tyrion to marry Sansa instead. Tyrion protests that the girl has been through enough, but the marriage proceeds. Tyrion promises Sansa he will not touch her until she is ready.

Oberyn Martell of Dorne arrives in King's Landing, representing his brother Prince Doran, whom Tyrion had promised a seat on the small council. Tywin, however, has no interest in honoring the pledge, because of an old enmity between House Tyrell and House Martell. Oberyn, in turn, nurses a deep animosity toward the Lannisters and Ser Gregor Clegane, whom he believes were responsible for the murder of his sister, Elia Martell, and her children during the sack of King's Landing. But Tywin extends the man basic courtesies, and Oberyn keeps his anger in check.

At the Twins

When Catelyn, Robb, and their retinue reach the Twins, Robb's wolf, Grey Wind, becomes agitated and is locked away. Catelyn, unnerved by the wolf's reaction, urges Robb to quickly ask for food and drink to secure "guest right," ensuring that no harm can come to them. They are approached by Roose Bolton, who tells them more about the fall of Winterfell but assures them his son Ramsay has retaliated and is holding Theon Greyjoy hostage.

Walder Frey appears and angrily insults Robb Stark and his family, despite Robb's apologies. But then, to the surprise of all, Walder offers Edmure Tully the most beautiful of his daughters as his wife. The wedding takes place, followed by a great feast, and Edmure and his bride are taken to their chambers.

Soon after they leave, the wedding band begins playing "The Rains of Castamere," a chilling ballad describing the destruction of one of the great houses of Westeros. The song is a signal, and to the horror of the Starks and Tullys, the musicians pull out crossbows, the Freys unsheathe their swords, and the feast becomes a massacre. Roose Bolton stabs Robb through the heart, and Catelyn Stark's throat is cut after she kills a hostage.

In the camps, rigged tents assigned to the Stark soldiers collapse and are set on fire, and most of Robb's men are killed or captured. Robb's wolf is killed as well, and its head sewn on to Robb's body. Catelyn's naked body is thrown into the river. The rebellion of the north is over.

Back at King's Landing

Just prior to Joffrey Baratheon's marriage to Margaery Tyrell, news comes to King's Landing about the massacre at the Twins. Tyrion Lannister learns that Tywin masterminded the bloodbath, conspiring with both the Boltons and the Freys. Now, with the Starks virtually eliminated and Edmure Tully held hostage, most of Westeros is under Lannister control.

The day of the wedding arrives. Lady Olenna offers Sansa Stark condolences for the loss of her family, while adjusting the black hairnet Ser Dontos had told Sansa to wear. During the wedding feast, Joffrey humiliates Tyrion, ordering him to be his cupbearer and asking him to be his "champion" as dwarf entertainers joust on the backs of pigs. Tyrion suffers through the taunts and brings Joffrey his wine. But after he drinks, Joffrey begins to choke, and he points to his uncle just before he dies. Cersei, screaming for her guards, calls for Tyrion's arrest.

Sansa, meanwhile, has slipped off to meet Dontos, who takes her to a ship where Petyr Baelish is waiting. Petyr tells her he had arranged the assassination and Sansa's escape along with Lady Olenna. The old woman had seen no reason her granddaughter couldn't be queen without the hideous Joffrey as husband. Petyr tells Sansa he will protect her, because he loved her mother and Sansa could have been his daughter.

Tyrion's Trial

Shortly after Joffrey's murder, Jaime Lannister returns to King's Landing. Tywin is outraged when he sees Jaime's mutilated hand, but he has already sent Ser Gregor Clegane to kill the Brave Companions and take back Harrenhal. Jaime seeks out Cersei and finds her mourning the death of their son. He comforts her but says he doesn't believe that their brother would kill Joffrey. Cersei angrily sends him away.

Plans are made for Tyrion's trial, which will be judged by Tywin, Mace Tyrell, and Oberyn Martell. Tyrion hopes for another trial by combat, but because Cersei's champion would be Ser Gregor, no one is willing to be his champion. As the trial proceeds, a long string of false witnesses condemn both Tyrion and Sansa. Later, Oberyn visits Tyrion in his cell and tells him Cersei tried to buy his vote as well but he refused. A formidable fighter and an enemy of the Lannisters, Oberyn says he will be Tyrion's champion.

Tyrion's fate is sealed when his beloved Shae is brought forward as a witness and accuses Tyrion of Joffrey's murder. Tyrion invokes trial by combat, and Oberyn steps forward as his champion. During the battle, Oberyn critically wounds Gregor with a poisoned spear. But before he can finish him, Gregor drags Oberyn down, admits to the rape and murder of his sister, Elia, and smashes Oberyn's head against the stones. Tyrion is returned to his cell to await execution.

Jaime, meanwhile, sits in on the small council and hears Tywin's plans for redistributing wealth and power in Westeros, which includes legitimizing Ramsay Snow and making Roose Bolton Warden of the North. Tywin also promises to send Ramsay a girl purported to be Arya Stark as an additional prize. After hearing this, Jaime goes to Brienne of Tarth and tells her the girl sent by his father to Roose Bolton is not Arya. He charges Brienne to find and rescue both Stark girls, saying, "Sansa Stark is my last chance for honor."

Jaime also works with Varys to arrange Tyrion's escape. As he frees his brother, Jaime reveals that Tyrion's first wife, Tysha, was not a whore—that Jaime had lied at his father's insistence. Enraged, Tyrion punches Jaime and then tells his own lie and says he had indeed murdered Joffrey. Tyrion escapes through a secret passage, stopping first in Tywin's room, where he finds Shae naked in Tywin's bed. He strangles her, grabs a crossbow from the wall, and finds Tywin in the privy. Tyrion raises his crossbow and kills him.

On the Fugitive's Road

Presumed dead by both her enemies and family, Arya Stark plans to follow the Trident river to her aunt Lysa's home at Eyrie. But she and her companions are soon intercepted by the Brotherhood Without Banners, a renegade group of soldiers that once served King Robert and now tries to protect the smallfolk of the country. Their leader is Beric Dondarrion, who had been killed in a confrontation with Ser Gregor Clegane but was brought back to life by the red priest Thoros of Myr. Another member of the Brotherhood is Harwin Strong, a former Winterfell guard, who recognizes Arya.

On the way to their hideout, the outlaws spot and capture Sandor Clegane and accuse him of multiple crimes. To that list, Arya adds the death of Mycah, the butcher's boy. In a trial by combat, Sandor wins and is set free. But Lord Beric Dondarrion decides to hold Arya captive until they can ransom her for resources needed to continue the Brotherhood's work.

Arya escapes but is recaptured by Sandor Clegane, who wants to return her to Robb Stark and win a place in his service, because "even a dog gets tired of being kicked." Hearing that Robb is on his way to see Walder Frey, they head toward the Twins. Just as they reach the castle, the slaughter of the Red Wedding begins, and Sandor drags Arya away.

With other options gone, the Hound decides to ransom Arya to her aunt Lysa at the Eyrie. They stop at an inn, where they are attacked by two of Ser Gregor's men. A fight breaks out, and Arya stabs one of the men repeatedly. Sandor himself is wounded and is too weak to continue. He asks Arya for the mercy of a quick death, but she leaves him to die slowly. She decides to travel across the sea to Braavos to seek Jaqen H'ghar, booking passage on a ship by showing the coin he gave her and uttering the phrase valar morghulis.

At the Eyrie

After escaping King's Landing, Sansa is alarmed to find that Petyr Baelish is not taking her home but to the Eyrie, her aunt Lysa's mountain castle. Petyr immediately marries Lysa Arryn, and Sansa attempts to settle into her life there. But then Sansa's resemblance to Catelyn attracts Petyr. He kisses her, and they are spotted by Lysa, who is already on the brink of madness.

When they are alone in the Great Hall, Lysa accuses Sansa of trying to seduce her husband and drags her toward the Moon Door, which opens onto a 600-foot drop to the rocks below. Before she can push Sansa out, Petyr arrives and angrily orders his wife to release the girl.

Desperate not to lose her husband, Lysa reminds Petyr how she had poisoned her first husband, Jon Arryn, at Petyr's request and then accused the Lannisters of the murder. Petyr takes her in his arms and tells her he has only ever loved one woman—Catelyn. Then he shoves her out the Moon Door.

At the Wall and Beyond

Bran Stark, Jojen Reed, and Meera Reed continue to head north toward the Wall. Jojen tells Bran he needs to find the three-eyed crow and learn to control his gifts, because "winter is coming" and Bran will be needed.

North of the Wall, Jon Snow has been brought before Mance Rayder, King-beyond-the-Wall. After hearing that Jon killed Qhorin Halfhand—which Qhorin had ordered Jon to do to gain the trust of the wildlings—Mance Rayder accepts him into the Free Folk. Then Mance Rayder receives word of a slaughter at the Fist of the First Men, where Jon and Qhorin had left Commander Jeor Mormont and 200 men. Wildling scouts have found the bodies of 100 horses but none of the Night's Watch, a sign that the men may have been killed by the Others and reanimated as wights. Mance Rayder, knowing he needs to move his people to safety, involves Jon in a plan to scale the Wall, attack the Night's Watch from the south, and then open the gates to allow the wildling army through. Jon realizes he must warn the men at Castle Black.

Samwell Tarly, meanwhile, is one of the only men still alive from Mormont's expedition. Although Commander Mormont and about 50 of his men had escaped the attack at the Fist, most of the survivors mutinied when they returned to Craster's Keep, slaughtering Craster, raping his wives, and killing Commander Mormont. Before Mormont died, he told Samwell Tarly to return to the Wall and report on what happened. Samwell leaves with Craster's wife and daughter Gilly, who has given birth to a son.

On their way back to Castle Black, Samwell and Gilly are attacked by wights but saved at the last moment by Coldhands, a terrifying figure who sits astride a great elk. He looks like a wight but has the manner and bearing of a man of the Night's Watch. Coldhands takes Gilly and Samwell to the north gate beneath the Wall where, he says, he is expecting Bran Stark. Samwell finds the boy for him, and Coldhands offers to help Bran find the three-eyed-crow. Bran, Jojen and Coldhands make Samwell promise to tell no one they are alive, and Samwell and Gilly head to Castle Black.

Jon, in the meantime, has escaped from the wildlings and returns to the Wall, learning from Maester Aemon about the fall of Winterfell and the death of Commander Mormont. While Jon struggles with his grief, the wildlings attack, 40,000 strong, and Aemon tells Jon he must take on leadership of the Watch. Jon mounts a strong defense, but the numbers are against them. Soon, Janos Slynt arrives, sent by Tywin as a possible new Lord Commander of the Watch. Slynt, one of the men who betrayed Ned Stark and now supported by Jon's old nemesis, Alliser Thorne, accuses Jon of treason for the death of Qhorin Halfhand. The two say Jon can only redeem himself by executing Mance Rayder.

Jon returns to Mance Rayder's camp, expecting to be killed, but Mance Rayder, a former Brother of the Watch, understands his actions. Mance Rayder also says that his only goal is to save his people from the Others and be granted a haven south of the Wall. If this request is granted, he will stop his assault. Before Jon can relay this information, however, war horns are heard in the east, and the army of Stannis Baratheon arrives, scattering the wildlings and taking Mance Rayder captive.

Stannis settles in at Castle Black and calls Jon before him. He tells him Melisandre believes the wildling attack to be a sign of the return of the Others and that he will allow the wildlings south of the Wall if they will swear fealty and accept R'hllor as their god. Stannis Baratheon also tells Jon that Melisandre has foreseen a great battle and believes Jon will play an important role in it. Stannis offers to legitimize Jon and make him Lord of Winterfell. But Jon, too, would have to accept R'hllor.

As Jon considers the proposal, the men of the Night's Watch hold an election for a new Lord Commander, with Janos Slynt and Alliser Thorne as the main candidates. Samwell Tarly, knowing either man would be a disastrous leader, masterminds a plan to elect Jon. Jon wins by a landslide.

In Essos

On their journey back to Pentos, Jorah Mormont suggests to Daenerys Targaryen they change their plans and travel first to the city of Astapor. There they can buy an army of the Unsullied, legendary slave warriors even stronger than the Dothraki.

When they arrive at Astapor, Daenerys meets Kraznys mo Nakloz, one of the "Good Masters" of the slave city who deals in the Unsullied. Daenerys is horrified by the soldiers' brutal training and treatment—all have been castrated. She proposes buying all 8,600 men, offering her three ships and a dragon in exchange. But the moment the deal is brokered, she commands the Unsullied to take the city. She then frees her soldiers, who swear to follow her as free men.

Daenerys now decides to journey to the slave city of Yunkai and liberate the people there. Aware of the defeat of Astapor, Yunkai hires two sellsword companies, the Storm Crows and the Second Sons, to protect them. Daenerys meets with the leaders of the sellswords, offering to pay them more than the Yunkai. They refuse outright, except for Daario Naharis, one of the Storm Crows, who offers her his own services and those of his men. Daenerys's forces attack that night, and her soldiers easily win the battle.

Daenerys now continues to Meereen, another slave city, realizing she must conquer it before her huge army starves. In the camps, she is attacked by an assassin, whom Arstan Whitebeard kills. Arstan then reveals he is really Barristan Selmy, the celebrated knight whom Joffrey had removed from the small council. Jorah warns Daenerys not to trust Selmy, because he was once in the service of Robert Baratheon. But Barristan reveals that Jorah himself was sent by Robert's small council to spy on her, though Jorah protests that he switched allegiance to Daenerys long ago, Furious at what she sees as their betrayal, Daenerys dismisses them from her service. She then realizes they might be better used to crawl through the sewers of Meereen and open the gates to her army, hoping they will die in the attempt.

Daenerys's ploy is successful, the city falls, and both Barristan and Jorah survive. Daenerys forgives Barristan, but her anger at Jorah remains unabated. She sends him into exile and decides to learn to rule by staying in Meereen as its queen.


The Redemption of Jaime Lannister

When readers first encounter Jaime Lannister, he is accompanying the royal entourage to Winterfell. Seven-year-old Bran Stark looks up to Jaime, but shortly afterward, Jaime pushes the boy off a window ledge after Bran sees Jaime and Cersei Lannister in the middle of lovemaking. Jaime's offhand comment as he does so is: "The things I do for love." His action, as well as his apparent lack of remorse, immediately slots him as the villain in A Song of Ice and Fire.

But George R.R. Martin does not deal in heroes and villains. Instead, he has said, "I've always been attracted to gray characters rather than black and white characters." He points out that an individual can commit a despicable act at one point in time, be heroic later on, and still be essentially the same person. Questions concerning this duality of human nature—of redemption and character change—are what interest him most.

Jaime Lannister allows readers to explore these ideas in depth. Once again using multiple points of view to provide incomplete, misleading information and then unexpectedly revealing details, Martin shows that initial impressions of Jaime are simplistic at best.

In early scenes with Jaime, readers see him only as the man who pushed one innocent boy from a window and is committing incest with his sister. He is also spoken of—usually behind his back—as the Kingslayer, who, as Barristan Selmy says, "profaned his blade with the blood of the king he had sworn to defend." That label has dogged him for 15 years, compromising his reputation and earning him the contempt of people whose respect he values. Yet there are small signs, even early in the story, that these labels and actions do not completely define the man. He was, after all, once a loyal member of the Kingsguard. And his devotion to, and love for, his despised brother, Tyrion Lannister, suggests that he may not entirely be the heartless monster he appears.

In A Storm of Swords a series of events reveals that Jaime is more complex, and perhaps more noble, than anyone realizes. After his release by Catelyn—who frees him in exchange for his promise to rescue her daughters from King's Landing—Jaime begins his journey to the Crownlands under the vigilant guard of Brienne of Tarth. On their journey Jaime develops a grudging respect for her, and when they are captured later by Vargo Hoat and the Brave Companions, Jaime shows compassion and concern by telling her to "go away inside" when he realizes the men intend to rape her. He then risks his own safety by inventing a false ransom offer to save her from harm.

Later, Jaime reveals to Brienne his true motives for killing Aerys II—to save the people of King's Landing from a deadly inferno of wildfire the Mad King was planning to ignite. Brienne realizes that far from being a traitor, Jaime may be one of the bravest men she has ever met, jeopardizing his own reputation and honor to save thousands of lives and then keeping the king's secrets by never revealing the reasons for his actions. Newly compassionate, she even begs Jaime—who made his revelations as he grieved over the loss of his sword hand, not to give in to despair—to live for the sake of his family and seek revenge against those who harmed him.

Jaime's next steps toward redemption occur when he saves Brienne twice, first returning for her after his own release from Harrenhal and then again when she has been wrongfully imprisoned for the death of Renly Baratheon. But his most telling moment comes when he charges Brienne with finding Catelyn Stark's two daughters and says, "Sansa Stark is my last chance for honor." Even the monster who tried to kill a child seems to hope he will have a chance at absolution.

The Forging of Leaders: Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen

At the beginning of A Song of Ice and Fire, neither Jon Snow nor Daenerys Targaryen appears to be a key player in the game of thrones unfolding in Westeros. Jon, only 14, is the illegitimate son of Eddard Stark, while Daenerys is a meek 13-year-old who has never even seen her homeland. But by the end of A Storm of Swords, both have become powerful leaders: Jon as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and Daenerys as Queen of Meereen and the commander of a great army in Essos.

Both Jon and Daenerys, however, began life as outsiders and outcasts. As the bastard son of Ned Stark, Jon had no real place in either the Stark family or in Westeros society. The surname "Snow" indicates his illegitimate birth, and although bastards can sometimes rise to positions of respect and power without being granted the family name, Jon Snow has little reason to believe this will be true in his case.

Daenerys is an outsider, too, although she is from a noble family and the daughter of a king. Her outsider status is a result of her exile from Westeros after the death of her father, King Aerys II, during Robert's Rebellion. But because she left the country as a baby and has no memory of it, she has little sense of what her ancestry could mean. It is her brother Viserys who keenly resents his stolen birthright and who is obsessively focused on regaining the Iron Throne.

The events that set both Jon and Daenerys on the path to power are entirely unintended. Jon, realizing he has no real place at Winterfell, decides to join his uncle Benjen as a brother of the Night's Watch. Daenerys is wed by her brother to Khal Drogo, an act meant as nothing more than a payment for the use of Drogo's warriors. Daenerys has no say in the arrangement and, as the Khal's wife, will not benefit from it.

In both cases, Jon's and Daenerys's new situations have surprising impacts on their lives. Once again facing disdain and ostracism, this time at the Wall, Jon is forced to rely on his wits, his strength, and his skill with weapons to survive. He becomes a friend and mentor to his fellow recruits and soon shows himself to be a natural leader. His abilities are noted by both Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and Maester Aemon, who begin grooming him for something greater.

Daenerys, in the meantime, adjusts to life among the Dothraki and finds to her surprise that her role as Drogo's wife and the Khaleesi of his tribe suits her. In fact, it awakens strength in her she did not know she possessed. She defies her abusive brother and watches dispassionately when his anger and threats inspire Drogo to pour molten gold on his head. She then finds that her role is awakening the dragon within her, and she becomes as focused on regaining the Westeros throne as her brother was.

Daenerys convinces Drogo to support her, but when he dies and her dragons are born, she does not hesitate to take on leadership of the Dothraki herself. She begins to travel across Essos, freeing the enslaved and confidently taking on sellswords, slavers, and warlocks to build the army she will need to retake Westeros. Before she is done, she is hailed as Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Shackles, and Mother of Dragons—a far cry from the young girl who meekly did her brother's bidding.

Jon, on the other hand, is still not seeking leadership. It is being forced upon him. After Commander Mormont is killed by his own men while he, Jon, and others are scouting beyond the Wall, Maester Aemon tells Jon he must take over the defense of the Wall when the wildlings attack. And when Stannis Baratheon appears and tells Jon that Melisandre sees a key role for him in the coming battle against the Great Other, Jon again is forced to consider a leadership role he does not seek. But the final shift from boy to man comes when the Brothers must choose a new Lord Commander. Jon wins by a landslide, and his future as a leader is upon him.

Tyrion's Despair

A Storm of Swords traces Tyrion Lannister's descent into anger and despair. This transformation from one of the books' most intelligent and compassionate characters to a furious madman capable of murder and patricide is the reverse of what is seen with Jaime Lannister. Jaime is a "villain" finding redemption. Tyrion is the good man driven to horrific acts.

The change begins after the Battle of the Blackwater, when Tyrion learns that his father, Tywin, and Petyr Baelish have taken credit for the rescue of King's Landing, ignoring Tyrion's own role in the city's defense. He also learns that Tywin has undone most of the changes made during his own time as Hand and that the small council is as corrupt as it ever was. The fresh scars on Tyrion's face seem appropriate, reflecting the new scars to his psyche.

Yet despite Tywin's dismissal, Tyrion still wants his father's approval and seeks him out, hoping for at least some acknowledgment of the role he played. But Tywin responds that only "mummers and monkeys require applause." Tyrion is further humiliated when his father presents Joffrey Baratheon and Jaime Lannister with swords made from prized Valyrian steel—despite the fact Jaime can no longer wield a sword—and offers nothing to Tyrion. It is as though Tywin is saying symbolically he has only two heirs worthy of his attention, neither of which is Tyrion.

Tyrion's role in his family and at court continues to deteriorate, plummeting at Joffrey's wedding when he is unjustly accused of the young king's murder and thrown in prison. A parade of false witnesses is trotted out during his trial, but the blow that nearly destroys him is when Shae, one of two women he has ever loved, is brought in as the last witness and accuses him along with the others. Her accusations seal his fate, and he is condemned to death. The prospect of death, however, is less painful to him than Shae's betrayal, which creates in him an even deeper despair.

Tyrion's last link to family is Jaime, who arranges his rescue and passage on a ship to the free cities of Essos. As he frees Tyrion, Jaime tells his brother the rescue is part of a debt he owes him, revealing to Tyrion that his first wife, Tysha, was not a whore and that he had lied at the insistence of their father. Instead of comforting Tyrion, this news finally breaks him. The brother he loved, the one family member he had trusted, had been part of one of the greatest betrayals of his life. When Jaime asks for truths in return, Tyrion lashes out in fury and calls him a "poor stupid blind crippled fool." He tells Jaime that Cersei Lannister, whom Jaime loved, has been sleeping with countless other men. He reveals that Joffrey, Jaime's son, was the twisted person who had arranged the attack on Bran Stark. And then he delivers the final blow, a lie: "And I am the monster they all say I am ... I killed your vile son."

Jaime leaves, speechless and despairing, and Tyrion completes his escape, murdering both Shae and Tywin before he leaves. He has been transformed from a benign outsider in his family to its most dangerous enemy.

Varys and Littlefinger: Shadow Players

Although the five kings of Westeros see themselves as the power players in the battle for the Iron Throne, readers soon become aware that two other individuals are really controlling most of what happens in both Westeros and Essos. One is Varys, the master of whisperers and spymaster for the Iron Throne. The other is Petyr Baelish, known as "Littlefinger" in reference to the small strip of land on which his home seat is built. Both achieve their goals by working in the shadows, staying relatively unnoticed, and offering "help" when it is needed.

Readers can never be quite certain what goes on in the minds of these two men, because neither is a point-of-view character. But it is clear that they are two of the cleverest men in the kingdoms. Both have a powerful network through which they gather information: Varys uses children he calls his "little birds" and is an expert in disguises and playing parts. Even his subservient eunuch persona seems, to some extent, to be a ploy. Littlefinger, on the other hand, gathers intelligence by gaining the trust of people who shouldn't trust him and from debriefing the whores in his brothels, all experts at eliciting information from their clients.

Both men have clearly been instrumental in some of the most dramatic developments in both Westeros and Essos. Varys, for example, was a member of Aerys II Targaryen's court and part of the group who spirited the infant Daenerys and her brother to Essos. Even as he did so, he convinced those in power he had switched his loyalty to Robert Baratheon back in Westeros. Later, he is the one who convinces Ned Stark to admit treason to save his own life and that of his daughters and to delay a war between the Starks and the Lannisters—a plan that would have worked had Joffrey Baratheon not decided to execute Ned instead. Finally, he has been a confidant and support to Tyrion Lannister, supporting him as he sets up his government when he is in the role of Hand and helping arrange his escape after he is imprisoned. But even Tyrion doesn't know what to make of the man, saying Varys is either his best friend or worst enemy.

Like Varys, Littlefinger presents himself as a humble man whose only purpose is to serve. His actions, however, have been more obvious and dramatic than Varys's—at least to the reader, if not always to other characters. Petyr implicated Tyrion in the attack on Bran Stark and, later, in Joffrey's death. He befriended and then betrayed Ned Stark to cement his ties to the Lannisters, telling Ned, "I did warn you not to trust me, you know." He arranged the marriage between Joffrey to Margaery Tyrell and then plotted with Lady Olenna to have Joffrey murdered. He offered to marry Lysa Arryn, ostensibly to help cement the realm, but then parlayed that marriage into control of the Vale.

The biggest distinction between the two puppeteers, however, seems to be motive. Readers never see any evidence that Varys is seeking position or rank for himself. In fact, at one point, Ned Stark asks him whom he truly serves, and Varys replies, "I serve the realm, and the realm needs peace." Whether this statement can be trusted, however, is open to question. Varys also says that "Littlefinger serves Littlefinger," and this seems to be the case. Having worked his way up in the small council, Littlefinger's every action has been to advance his own career and gain increasingly more impressive titles. He will betray anyone and do anything to climb the next rung on the ladder of power.

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