A Compelling Thorn: Final Thoughts on George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings (by Bethany)

a-clash-of-kings cover image

I kicked and screamed my way through the last two hundred pages of A Clash of Kings, and guess what I did when I finished? I immediately picked up A Storm of Swords and began scanning through it – not reading it exactly but flipping through the pages to see who the point of view characters will be and reading the character lists in the appendix. I like this series almost exactly as much as I hate it. I am forcing myself to take a break from Martin’s world for a while, but I’m still desperate to know what happens when winter comes (and no, I don’t want you to tell me).

It’s becoming harder and harder to tell who is alive and who is dead in this novel. Hints of some kind of resurrection process have been present since Book 1 – generally concerning the “wildlings” north of the Wall – but now it seems possible that even Renly may have come back from the dead, and he lives all the way down in Highgarden. Renly was killed in the first half of the novel in the presence of Catelyn Stark and Brienne, one of Renly’s guards who happens to be female. In the book I understood Renly to have died from an assault of some kind (I visualized an arrow) that came from an unknown assailant in the distance. In the TV series (more on this in a moment), Renly is killed by something that resembles the smoke monster from Lost – which also resembles the creature (or substance?) that Melisandre gave birth to (I swear this happens earlier in the TV series than in the book). Melisandre is part of Stannis’ court, so we can assume that the killing was done on Stannis’ orders or on his behalf (in neither the book nor the TV series is anyone especially curious about who committed this murder). Later, during the battle that takes place in King’s Landing at the end of the book, some of the knights report having seen “Renly’s ghost” fighting among the other knights. So one of the many, many speculations I am carrying around in my head right now is whether being killed by Melisandre’s black smoke baby is what makes it possible for someone to come back to life.

Somewhat more interesting is the widespread news in the last quarter of the novel that Bran and Rickon Stark are dead. After Theon Greyjoy declared himself Lord of Winterfell, they escaped with Osha – their ‘wildling’ companion, plus Hodor and two other children who were fostered at Winterfell. Theon mounts a search, returning with the bodies of two children, whom he covers with tar and hangs from the battlements at Winterfell, declaring them to be Bran and Rickon. This news travels fast around the Seven Kingdom (the birds that deliver messages in this quasi-medieval world are faster than the DSL at the boarding school where I used to work – but that’s a story for another day), and Catelyn Stark is soon on the warpath, while Robb sends his knights out to bring Theon back to him. Because I like to flip ahead to see which chapters will be told by which characters, I knew that the very last chapter would come from Bran’s point of view, so I was considering several options: 1) that Bran (and presumably Rickon) was not dead – that the corpses belonged to other children; 2) that Bran had been killed and come back to life, 3) that Bran had come back as a ghost, or 4) that Bran’s consciousness had somehow entered his direwolf’s body – which is something that happens sometimes in Bran’s dreams. The correct choice (spoiler alert!) turns out to be #1 – the least interesting option in my opinion. However, I’ve scanned the character lists in A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows and know that Bran and Rickon are listed as “presumed dead” in both installments – which could lead to some interesting plot twists (and more absolute torture for Catelyn Stark, who may be one of the most aggrieved mothers in literature).

I have watched all but the last two episodes of Season 2 of the TV series, and either the series is veering from the book more than it did in season 1 or I am even more of an inattentive reader than I thought. One of the reasons I’ve always eschewed fantasy novels is that I have a terrible time visualizing characters, places, and situations that do not look like the real world. My imagination is good in some ways, but not in this one. I know for a fact that I missed details in this novel that will be important in the remaining books. However, I do think the TV series is starting to take some liberties. First of all, Daenerys is barely present in the book – she gets a total of maybe five or six chapters in all of the 969 pages. She does undergo some interesting experiences – including a rite of passage of some kind in the city of Qarth, in which she has to enter a house and find her way around and decide which doors and staircases to take. In the book, I sensed that George R.R. Martin had been reading Joseph Campbell and realized that he had to get the “belly of the whale” part of the mythic archetype into the story somehow – and I also enjoyed this scene, though I didn’t entirely understand its implications. In the series, Daenerys has been present more often than in the book (she’s in Qarth, trying to find someone to give her some ships to invade Westeros and surrounded by people who want to marry her and/or steal her dragons, desperate to figure out whom to trust) but so far she has not entered the creepy house.

In the book, Catelyn Stark visits Jaime Lannister in his prison cell and learns the truth about how and why Bran fell from the tower back at the beginning of Book 1. However, in A Clash of Kings, Catelyn – and her ‘sworn sword,’ Brienne – actually breaks Jaime out of his cell and takes him as her personal prisoner, presumably to use as a negotiating tool in her struggle to get Bran and Rickon back from Theon Greyjoy (at this point in the book, Catelyn has received word that Bran and Rickon are dead – in the TV series she doesn’t know this yet).

This is not a very insightful review, I know – I am a neophyte in the world of fantasy literature, and my mind does have a tendency to wander when books get slow (as this one often does) – plus I probably made my task harder than it had to be by watching the series concurrently with reading the book. I’m still trying to piece together the ‘who, where, when, and why’ of the series (both versions of it) and therefore don’t have much to say on an analytical or subjective level. But it means something, I think, that the first thing I wanted to do when I finished was pick up the third book in the series and start reading it right away. I’m going to force myself to stay away until at least mid-June, but I have a feeling that this series is going to be a gigantic thorn in my side – albeit a compelling one – until I finish it.

This entry was posted in Authors, Fiction - Fantasy, Fiction - general, George R.R. Martin, Reviews by Bethany. Bookmark the permalink.

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