Literature / A Clash of Kings

"Crowns do queer things to the heads beneath them."
Tyrion Lannister

The second book in George R.R. Martin's doorstopper A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, released in 1998.

Joffrey Baratheon sits on the Iron Throne, but rumors that he is not the king's legitimate heir are spreading throughout the Seven Kingdoms. Everywhere, a king vies for a throne. Robb Stark, called the Young Wolf, battles to secure independence for the North and revenge for his executed father. The Baratheon brothers, Renly and Stannis, each march upon the Iron Throne with a different claim, while on the Iron Islands, Balon Greyjoy prepares a new rebellion, setting his sights on Winterfell. Robert Baratheon's death has set the stage for the War of the Five Kings.

While kings march across the Seven Kingdoms and the people of King's Landing grow more and more malcontent, Jon Snow and his sworn brothers of the Night's Watch travel deeper beyond the Wall, searching for the so called King-Beyond-The-Wall. Across the sea, Daenerys Targaryen begins her journey as a khaleesi, having to nurture and protect her dragons from those who would take them...

There are nine POV characters in this novel, with Stannis Baratheon's Maester Cressen narrating the prologue:

  • Tyrion Lannister, the Hand of the King, and Sansa Stark, the king's betrothed and hostage provide insight in Joffrey's decadent court.
  • Catelyn Stark follows the negotiations between the kings on the march and the tidings at Riverrun.
  • Smuggler-turned-knight Davos Seaworth gives the events on Stannis's side of the battle.
  • Arya Stark, now hiding herself among commoners, shows bits and pieces of the ravages of war and the suffering of the smallfolk.
  • Theon Greyjoy and Bran Stark narrate the events on the Iron Islands and the North.
  • Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen continue to give us glimpses beyond the Wall and across the sea respectively.

The novel was adapted as the second season of HBO's Game of Thrones.

This novel provides examples of:

  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Theon Greyjoy takes Winterfell.
  • Attempted Rape: A rioting mob tries to gang-rape Sansa but she is rescued by Sandor Clegane.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning
    Balon Greyjoy: "No man gives me a crown. I pay the iron price. I will take my crown"
  • Badass Boast: Two in succession, one doubling as a Shut Up, Hannibal!, when Stannis refuses to fight in single combat for the castle of Storm's End.
    Stannis: “Do you take me for an utter fool, ser? I have twenty thousand men. You are besieged by land and sea. Why would I choose single combat when my eventual victory is certain? I give you fair warning. If you force me to take my castle by storm, you may expect no mercy. I will hang you for traitors, every one of you.”
    Ser Courtnay Penrose: “As the gods will it. Bring on your storm, my lord—and recall, if you do, the name of this castle.”
  • Bad Moon Rising: A red comet is on the skies of Westeros from the epilogue of the previous book. It is widely considered an omen, but everyone interprets it differently.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Theon starts feeling this as he has no choice but to kill people he grew up with during his time in the North.
  • Blinded by the Light: Jamie can't even look at Catelyn's lamp after being kept in the dark for so long.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: Ser Mandon Moore covers Tyrion's back during the Blackwater Battle, then he tries to kill him.
  • Bodyguard Crush:
    • Jorah Mormont starts showing shades of this towards Daenerys.
    • Implied with Sandor and Sansa
    • Brienne to Renly
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Teased when Theon flirts with Asha before he realizes that she's his sister. She's just playing along with it to see what kind of man he's grown into, and isn't particularly happy when he gropes her, but enjoys teasing him about it afterward.
  • Captain Obvious: When they find Renly's army engaged in a melee, Catelyn notes that her guardsman Hal Mollen likes pointing out the obvious.
  • The Cavalry: Renly's ghost and the joint Lannister-Tyrell forces that came to rescue King's Landing during Stannis's siege.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: The Flayed Man's host pulls this twice in the same chapter. They betray Ser Rodrik and slaughter the men he has brought to retake Winterfell. Then, when Theon allows them inside to thank them, they burn Winterfell to the ground. Not to mention The Brave Companions cutting a deal with Roose Bolton to take Harrenhal Seems to be a Bolton standard.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Renly's armor.
  • Comet of Doom: The red comet is interpreted differently based on superstition, but in reality it heralds the return of dragons into the world.
  • Cruel Mercy: Played with. Sansa, not wanting Joffrey to have Ser Dontos murdered for showing up drunk and half-naked to his nameday joust, plants the idea that it would be crueler to strip him of his knighthood and for him to live as a fool rather than having him executed.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Rodrik Cassel's men attack Ramsay Bolton and his servant Reek. Reek was actually Ramsay, who had traded clothes with the real Reek and sent him out riding. The men killed him and kept "Reek" alive to bear witness to Ramsay's crimes.
  • Diabolus ex Machina
    • Renly's death by Stannis' shadow. Though this depends on your view of Stannis and Renly.
    • Ramsay Bolton turns up at the end of the book and destroys Winterfell with an army he's managed to recruit from the Dreadfort.
    • The Lannister/Tyrell alliance routs Stannis' army.
  • Dramatic Irony: When Arya, in the guise of Nan, Roose Bolton's cupbearer, wished that the princess to whom Elmar Frey had been betrothed would die, neither she nor Elmar were aware that she herself was the princess in question.
  • El Cid Ploy: In the Battle on the Blackwater, the "ghost of Renly" is actually Garlan Tyrell wearing his king's armour to inspire the allied troops and confuse the enemy.
  • Feed the Mole: Tyrion shares his plans with three people he suspects are in the employ of Cersei. However, he told each person something different, and when Cersei confronts him, her response inadvertently reveals the source of the leak.
    • Tyrion takes similar action several times throughout the book, since in King's Landing there are probably an infinite number of moles to be fed.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Hallyne the Pyromancer, an alchemist, tells Tyrion that their increased efficiency at creating wildfire is because their spells are more effective than they have been—they have not, in fact, been so efficacious since the days of the last dragons, hinting at the relationship between dragons and magic in the world.
    • Theon sees a rickety bridge on his return to Pyke that he can't believe he used to play on as a child. His father Balon falls off this bridge in the next book.
    • Daenerys sees a vision about her father Aerys, completely gone mad, who is ranting Let him (Robert) be king over charred bones and cooked meat. In A Storm of Swords, Jaime tells us he was planning to burn the city with wildfire, and that's why Jaime killed him. She also sees the Red Wedding, and possibly Quentyn Martell.
    • The story of Bael the Bard foretells Bran & Rickon's survival by hiding in the Stark crypt.
  • Ghostly Chill: Renly notes the sudden chill with some curiosity just before Stannis's shadow stabs him.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Qhorin Halfhand lets Jon Snow kill him in a fight so he can win the trust of the Wildings.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Maester Cressen, who sought to poison Melisandre. Since her Blood Magic allows her to foresee any attempt to harm her directly, she was aware that Cressen would attempt to kill her with poisoned wine. She whispers to Cressen that he can spill the wine instead of sharing it with her but he refuses. They both drink; Cressen dies but Melisandre is protected by her magic.
  • Hope Spot: Theon Greyjoy is facing a battle he cannot win, when Maester Luwin reminds him that he can surrender to Rodrik Cassel and join the Night's Watch to save his life. Theon considers this, and seems to be on the verge of agreeing when Ramsey Snow and his men betray and kill Cassel, meaning Theon has no-one to surrender to.
  • I Have Your Whore: Cersei tries to do this to Tyrion. Too bad she took the wrong girl...
    • Followed by an I Have Your Son bluff from Tyrion. (He does actually have her son Tommen, but it's still a bluff since Tyrion would never really allow Tommen to be hurt.)
  • Irony: Jon is surprised to note that while the experienced members of the Great Ranging are slowly getting more and more unnerved on the trek, self-professed coward Samwell is actually getting braver.
  • Iconic Sequel Character: This is the novel that introduced Stannis, Davos, Melisandre, Asha Greyjoy, Jaqen H'ghar, Brienne of Tarth, Ygritte, Margaery Tyrell, Qyburn and Ramsay Snow. It also has the first appearance of Wyman Manderly who would become a major fan favorite in A Dance with Dragons, as well as Aeron and Victarion Greyjoy who become POV characters in A Feast for Crows.
  • It's All About Me: Stannis and Renly. When both Baratheon brothers attempt to claim the throne back from the Lannisters, they decide to attack each other rather than their common enemy. Catelyn notes that "somewhere, Cersei was laughing." In fact, when Tyrion informs Cersei, she's so happy that she dances with him.
    • More notably with Renly, who quite simply wants the Iron Throne for himself and was willing to kill his brother for it. Stannis' motivations are left unexplored until A Storm of Swords, when he confides in Davos that he feels he has a duty to Robert and the Kingdom to claim the throne himself as Robert's true heir, rather than let a false king (whether Joffrey or his brother) sit the throne just because they can.
  • Kill the Poor: It is mentioned offhandedly that Joffrey's proposed solution to beggars and starving poor people in King's Landing is to kill them. He at one point brings a crossbow to the castle walls and uses it to shoot at the people outside the gates begging for food.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Theon made a crack to his uncle Aeron about how Robb's direwolf Grey Wind and Asha's ship Black Wind sounds similar.
    "Stark's is grey. Greyjoy's is black. But they're both windy."
    Theon's uncle said nothing to that.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: Ygritte tells Jon about Bael the Bard's song. It would have some importance in Jon Snow's backstory.
    • It also hints to where Bran & Rickon are hiding.
  • Lying to the Perp: Tyrion uses this to work out which of the Council members is spying for Cersei, after narrowing it down to Littlefinger, Varys, and Grand Maester Pycelle (he's fully aware that none of them are trustworthy, but he and Cersei are at daggers drawn by this point). He gets ample dirt on each of them but works out that it's Pycelle he's after.
  • Near-Rape Experience: During the Battle of the Blackwater, after running away from the flames, Sandor Clegane slipped into Sansa's room and waited for her. He did indeed intend to rape her, but stopped himself and ended up taking nothing more than a song.
  • Near Villain Victory: For a given value of "villain". Stannis is on the verge of victory at the Blackwater before the Tyrell host shows up to ride to the rescue. Though this allows the Lannisters to remain holding the Iron Throne.
  • Nemean Skinning: Dany wears the skin of a white lion Drogo killed to cover her baldness after she hatched her dragons.
  • Not So Different: During Renly & Stannis' parley, Catelyn points out that they are both usurpers who are trying to take the thrones from their nephew. Stannis counters by telling her that Joffrey is not the rightful heir to the throne. Renly, however, doesn't believe him.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Sansa uses this to save a drunk Ser Dontos from Joffrey's wrath by noting that it's bad luck to kill someone on your name day and it would be "crueler" if he were made into a fool rather than executed.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: During the starvation, the hungry, poor people of King's Landing after King Joffrey deliberately provokes them by telling the Hound to kill anyone that gets between him and someone who threw shit at Joffrey.
  • Pretty in Mink: Downplayed with Ser Axell Florent who Maester Cressen noted "remained homely even in russet and fox fur".
  • The Promise: Jaime promises to Catelyn he will return her daughters.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The tactic of the Lannister forces, particularly under Gregor Clegane.
    Farms, villages, castles, septs, barns, it made no matter. if it could burn, the Lannisters had burned it; if it could die, they’d killed it. They had even set the woods ablaze where they could, though the leaves were still green and wet from recent rains, and the fires had not spread. “They would have burned the lake if they could have,” Gendry had said, and Arya knew he was right.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Balon Greyjoy's assault on the North seems to be of questionable strategic value, but since his primary goal was to pay back the Starks for putting down his previous rebellion and killing his sons, it succeeded admirably.
  • Rule of Three: Jaqen's life debt to Arya plays out as a "wasting the first two of your three wishes" plot familiar to lots of genie stories. Jaqen promises her he will take three lives in exchange for saving him along with two other prisoners. Arya uses the first two names to have cruel men killed, but they are unimportant in the grand scheme of things or even Harrenhal itself. The third name turns out to be Jaqen H'ghar himself, forcing him to help her liberate the Northeners imprisoned in Harrenhal so that she would take back the name.
    • Even the third "wish" turns out to be wasted, since the Bloody Mummers have already decided to betray the castle to Roose Bolton and brought the Northmen with them specifically to aid in taking it.
    • Each of Daenerys' visions in the House of the Undying.
  • Sadistic Choice: King Joffrey Baratheon is very fond of these. When he punished a minstrel for mocking his parents, he gave him the choice of keeping his fingers or tongue.
  • Shameful Strip: Joffrey orders his Kingsguard to strip Sansa when Robb humiliates the Lannisters in battle, and has her beaten into the bargain. Thankfully, Tyrion intervenes (no point spoiling the hostage).
  • The Siege: The Battle of Blackwater at the end of the book has Stannis's army (reinforced by lords who previously supported Renly) attacking King's Landing. A combination of Wildfire and the timely arrival of Tywin's forces saves the city.
  • Surprise Incest: Played with in-universe by Asha Greyjoy when she comes on to Theon, who doesn't recognize her after having not seen her since she was a little girl.
  • Those Two Guys: Hot Pie and Lommy, until Lommy dies.
  • Title Drop: Daenerys has a vision when visiting the House of the Undying in which she sees her brother Rhaegar say of his son, "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire." The phrase "ice and fire" is also used in the Reeds' loyalty oath to Bran.
  • Trojan Prisoner: The 'prisoners' Arya 'rescues' turn out to be this, as Vargo Hoat has changed sides.
  • Vetinari Job Security: Tyrion who dislikes Littlefinger for falsely accusing him of hiring an assassin to kill Bran to Catelyn Stark, finds it hard to move against him since he had proven so useful to the Lannisters by betraying Ned Stark and that as Master of Coin, most of the customs and mint managers were his appointees and he had spies everywhere. While he does curtail some of his influence, Littlefinger manages to come out on top when he takes an opportunity to treat with the Tyrells, an idea of Tyrion's, and parlays that into reaping rich rewards after Tywin enters the city.
  • Vision Quest: The House of the Undying; Daenerys is drugged and left to navigate the Oh Look, More Rooms! Bizarrchitecture of the building, and has several Psychic Dreams as she does so. In reality, it's a Mobile Maze she's supposed to get lost in and/or be driven mad by, as the Undying Ones want to feed on her.
  • War Is Glorious: The (apparent) mindset of Roose Bolton. After Stannis' loss at the Blackwater, when it seems the Lannisters are clearly winning the war, his lieutenants ask him whether they should change sides. He more or less remarks that he'd rather that the war lasts as long as possible, since he likes the current situation more than the peace that preceded. This turns out to be Obfuscating Stupidity on his behalf, he just wants to further bleed the Northern army before backstabbing Robb
  • War Is Hell: Daenerys has a vision in the House of the Undying of a woman being gang raped by 4 midgets. It's a metaphor for what the war over the throne is doing to Westeros.
  • Wasteful Wishing: Arya wastes the chance to kill anyone on petty tormentors instead of enemy commanders. Interestingly, she does consider killing Lannister commanders at first, but decides against it when she remembers her father telling Robb and Jon than a man should kill his true enemies face to face, without using deception or intermediaries.
  • Weaponized Offspring: Melisandre gives birth to a living shadow which slays Ser Cortnay Penrose.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?
    • Tyrek Lannister disappears during the riot in King's Landing and he's never seen again. Jaime makes out some interesting theories about him in A Feast for Crows.
    • Sansa's friend Jeyne Poole is noted to have disappeared only later to be found forced into prostitution.
    • Bran's last chapter has him see a dragon fly over Winterfell as it burns. He was warged into Summer at the time and "The smoke and ash clouded his eyes" just before he sees it, and it disappears right afterward, and Bran-as-Summer does occasionally use odd turns of phrase (such as describing a chain as a "metal snake") so Unreliable Narration is possible, but the reader is never given any reason to believe that Bran's wolf dreams are anything other than the objective events experienced by Summer. So was the dragon real, a flowery way to describe the flames or the red comet, or something else? Perhaps a combination green dream and wolf dream? It hasn't been addressed.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Arya is called on helping the Bloody Mummers take over Harrenhall, because they're even worse than Lord Tywin's thugs.
  • When She Smiles: When Tyrion tells Cersei that Stannis has marched on Storm's End instead of the capital, he remarks how beautiful she really is when she is truly happy.
  • Wishing for More Wishes: Less a "wish" in the magical sense and more of a "boon." Assassin Jaqen H'ghar is honor-bound to kill any three people Arya Stark names. When Arya asks him to help her free some prisoners, which would require killing many more than the one name she has left, Jaqen tells her that this was not the deal and asks her for the third name. She gives him his own name and orders him to kill himself, and he agrees to help her if she will rescind the request.
  • The Worf Effect: Melisandre and the Lord of Light are quickly shown to be nothing to trifle with in the prologue when Melisandre survives a dose of the strangler, a poison that can kill in seconds.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Jon lets Ygritte live.
    • Subverted with the Kingsguard. Poor Sansa.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Ramsay Bolton managed to go from fleeing for his life disguised in his servant's filthy clothes to capturing and sacking Winterfell through what amounted to a series of clever improvisations.
  • 0% Approval Rating: Tyrion is shocked to learn that even though none of the smallfolk of King's Landing like the Lannisters, they hate him most of all. All the problems with the city are mostly due to Cersei and Joffrey, but Tyrion is the face of the new status quo due to the timing of his arrival (which makes him appear to be more of an Evil Chancellor than Cersei, who was present during better times under Robert), his poor treatment of Janos Slynt and Pycelle (who appear to be good and earnest men to anyone outside the Red Keep), and his entourage of violent mountain clansmen.