"Captain Vylarr," [Tyrion] called, "I want those taken down on the morrow. Give them to the silent sisters for cleaning." It would be hell to match them with the bodies, he supposed, yet it must be done. Even in the midst of war, certain decencies needed to be observed. (4.Tyrion.110)
Tyrion's got a point. There are laws to war, and those laws are meant to limit the harm done by armed conflict. Of course, having rules of conduct and actually following them are two different things—as we shall see.
"Was there ever a war where only one side bled?" [Catelyn's] uncle gave a shake of the head. "The riverlands are awash in blood and flame all around the God's Eye." (8.Catelyn.99)
Even if their side wins the war, they will pay their death and destruction tab same as the other. In fact, war is often lost by the first lord who first admits he can't pay his tab anymore—and the Lannisters' unofficial saying is, "A Lannister always pays his debts."
Riding out in front of the wagons on her horse, Arya saw burnt bodies impaled on sharpened stakes atop the walls, their hands drawn up tight in front of their faces as if to fight off the flames that had consumed them. (10.Arya.24)
Many characters talk about the war as a distant event, but Arya is actually living through it. She sees the bleeding and burning Brynden alluded to, and her chapters give the reader an in-your-face look at how the war harms beyond the confines of the battles.
"Got no such man here," Yoren shouted back. "Only some lads for the Watch. Got no part o' your war." He hoisted up the staff, so they could all see the color of his cloak. "Have a look. That's black, for the Night's Watch."
"Or black for House Dondarrion," called the man who bore the enemy banner. (15.Arya.62-63)
Yoren certainly isn't the first character to argue he has no stake in this war, and he certainly won't be the last. Yet the consequences of the war will reverberate within each character's story, regardless of his or her personal stake in it. With that said, it might take a few books before those reverberations reach Dany or Jon Snow.
They are still unblooded, Catelyn thought as she watched Lord Bryce goad Ser Robar into juggling a brace of daggers. It is all a game to them still, a tourney writ large, and all they see is the chance for glory and honor and spoils. They are boys drunk on song and story, and like all boys, they think themselves immortal. (23.Catelyn.104)
The "song and story" here would be the modern day equivalent of movies and video games that promote war glorification. You know the idea: War is exciting and will make you a total man-bro… or whatever.
"The kettle is close to boiling. So many thieves and murderers are abroad that no man's house is safe, the bloody flux is spreading in the stews along Pisswater Bend, there's no food to be had for copper nor silver. Where before you heard only mutterings from the gutter, now there's open talk of treason in guildhalls and markets." (42.Tyrion.98)
One of the many effects of war explored in A Clash of Kings is its drain on resources. Soldiers need to be fed, armed, and armored, and don't even get us started on the catapults and horses. But these resources don't emerge from a magical void, and the drain they cause has created serious inflation issues.
The smallfolk were hiding themselves behind closed shutters and barred doors as if that would keep them safe. The last time King's Landing had fallen, the Lannisters looted and raped as they pleased and put hundreds to the sword, even though the city had opened its gates. This time the Imp meant to fight, and a city that fought could expect no mercy at all. (53.Sansa.21)
Ser Desmond had brought twenty casks up from the cellars, and the smallfolk were celebrating Edmure's imminent return and Robb's conquest of the Crag by hoisting horns of nut-brown ale. (56.Catelyn.2)
Is this a war or did Riverrun just win the World Cup? The us-versus-them mentality of the war means victories are celebrated in a way not too dissimilar to sporting events. But does the victory's cost in death make it all the more worthy of celebration, or all the more haunting that such a celebration occurs?
The battle fever. [Tyrion] had never thought to experience it himself, though Jamie had told him of it often enough. […]. "You don't feel your wounds then, or the ache in your back from the weight of the armor, or the sweat running down in to your eyes. You stop feeling, you stop thinking, you stop being you, there is only the fight, the foe, this man and then the next and the next and the next, [...]." (62.Tyrion.15)
We receive few glimpses of what life and death are like on the battlefield, but Tyrion's account is vivid. While he may not have the word for it, we would say his experience suggests a switch to more of a mechanical mindset.
By the time the outburst died down, the Lord of Highgarden had been seated at the council table, and his sons had joined the other knights and lordlings beneath the windows. Sansa tried to look forlorn and abandoned as other heroes of the Battle of Blackwater were summoned forth to receive their rewards. (66.Sansa.28)
While the knights populating the Seven Kingdoms profess their oaths of chivalry and honor, let's not forget that they fight because the rewards for winning are great, including titles, lands, and economic security.
"What was I to do? [Joffrey] called for Lord Eddard's head in front of half the city. And Janos Slynt and Ser Ilyn went ahead blithely and shortened the man without a word from me!" [Cersei's] hand tightened into a fist. (4.Tyrion.62)
To be fair to Cersei, that is a bit of a quandary. In the Seven Kingdoms, the king has final authority on matters of sentencing and punishment, but the King's Law says anyone who joins the Night's Watch is forgiven his crimes. So what happens when the king's punishment and the King's Law conflict with each other? Which one wins? Is the King the legislator of the King's Law, or also bound by it? By the time anyone could properly consider these questions, poor dead Ned's head had already fled his body.
The Lord of the Tides was of the blood of ancient Valyria, and his House had thrice provided brides for Targaryen princes; Davos Seaworth stank of fish and onions. It was the same with the other lordlings. He could trust none of them, nor would they ever include him in their private councils. (11.Davos.12)
Class in the Seven Kingdoms is not one based on merit, hard work, or rising above an adverse situation—instead family and birth determine the value of an individual's place in society. Now, that may seem a bit backward, but can you consider any instances in our society where we follow a similar principle?
"Yes you were. You were a lord's daughter and you lived in a castle, didn't you? And you… gods be good, I never…" All of a sudden Gendry seemed uncertain, almost afraid. "All that about cocks, I never should have said that. And I been pissing in front of you and everything. I… I beg your pardon, m'lady." (20.Arya.95)
Before learning Arya's social status, Gendry was paling around with her like she was another homie—or, whatever the homie equivalent is in Westeros. After he learns, his entire attitude alters. What changed? Nothing about Arya. Rather social norms demand Gendry treat her differently.
Ser Cleos ran a hand through his thin brown hair. "Even with a peace banner, we were attacked twice. Wolves in mail, hungry to savage anyone weaker than themselves. The gods alone know what side they started on, but they're on their own side now. Lost three men, and twice as many wounded." (21.Tyrion.60)
But what has a greater influence on our actions: social ideology or survival instinct? This quote suggests the answer is survival instinct, since these former soldiers have gone nuts on peaceful travelers. But this is just one piece of evidence found in the novel, and the jury, for us, is still out.
"While [Stannis] lives," Renly admitted. "Though it's a fool's law, wouldn't you agree? Why the oldest son, and not the best-fitted? The crown will suit me, as it never suited Robert and would not suit Stannis. I have it in me to be a great king, strong yet generous, clever, just, diligent, loyal to my friends and terrible to my enemies, yet capable of forgiveness, patient—" (32.Catelyn.99)
Just in case you thought all Seven Kingdoms peeps were zombies to the feudalist social structure—there are people in the novel who openly question why things are they way they are. Sure, Renly has the most to gain by asking the questions, but hey, he still asks them, so we're counting it. For more on this, check out his page in the "Characters" section.
"And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth and meat and mead at my table, and pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you into dishonor. I swear it by the old gods and the new. Arise." As she clasped [Brienne's] hands between her own, Catelyn could not help but smile. (40.Catelyn.59)
Knights seem to do an awful lot of dying, but did you ever wonder what they got out of their service other than a sword through the gut? This quote explains how knights are taken care of when they don't have to fight a war or police the peace. Unfortunately, there's very little peace in it for them these days.
"Theon wants me to yield the castle," Bran said as the maester was fastening the cloak with his favorite wolf's-head clasp of silver and jet.
"There is no shame in that. A lord must protect his smallfolk. Cruel places breed cruel peoples, Bran, remember that as you deal with these ironmen. Your lord father did what he could to gentle Theon, but I fear it was too little and too late." (47.Bran.37-38)
For that matter, the smallfolk seem to do a good amount of dying, too. So what does this social setup do for them? Just like in medieval feudalism, the local vassals protect the peasants from raiders and invaders. Thought it seems the lords of the Seven Kingdoms have been slacking on this responsibility lately.
"Just as if I was one of those true knights you love so well, yes. What do you think a knight is for, girl? You think it's all taking favors from ladies and looking fine in gold plate? Knights are for killing." (53.Sansa.46)
The knight job serves a social function that—when you think about it—is pretty nasty, but arguably necessary. To hide this nastiness, the society fancies up the exploits of knights with romantic tales and pageantry. Of course, these types of stories went out of fashion after the Middle Ages. Right?
"Only fools like Thoren Smallwood despise the wildlings. They are as brave as we are, Jon. As strong, as quick, as clever. But they have no discipline. They name themselves the free folk, and each one thinks himself as good as a king and wiser than a maester. Mance was the same. He never learned how to obey." (54.Jon.17)
The wildlings employ a communal society where everyone is viewed as an equal, but Qhorin believes this social structure is where the wildlings fall short. Given what you've seen with kings running the show, which society do you think is more on point?
"Their birth protects them," Cersei admitted, "though not as much as you'd think. Each one's worth a good ransom, but after the madness of battle, soldiers often seem to want flesh more than coin." (61.Sansa.15)
Society's upper-class members are generally valued because of their ability to use money to help society function or, in this case, make excellent ransom victims. But Cersei notes that during the heat of battlem their social value becomes equal to everyone else's. Perhaps this passage is suggesting that war is the great equalizer, in a horrible kind of way.
When at last she slept, she dreamed of home. The kingsroad wound its way past Winterfell on its way to the Wall, and Yoren had promised he'd leave her there with no one any wiser about who she'd been. She yearned to see her mother again, and Robb and Bran and Rickon… but it was Jon Snow she thought of most. (2.Arya.44)
Arya's entire story is centered on two conflicts: First, she needs to survive; second, she wants to return to her family. For Arya, family is not just a source of comfort and support. It's also a means of survival since she's, like, ten years old.
Do they miss their brothers and sisters, too? Bran wondered. Are they calling to Grey Wind and Ghost, to Nymeria and Lady's Shade? Do they want them to come home and be a pack together? (5.Bran.4)
Actually, it's not just Arya. The war between the Starks and Lannisters stems from both families wanting to reunite their families. Heck, even the Stark direwolves can't keep it together. The family structure is simply doomed in the Seven Kingdoms.
Her brother Viserys, Khal Drogo who was her sun-and-stars, even her unborn son, the gods had claimed them all. They will not have my dragons, Dany vowed. They will not. (13.Dany.17)
Family is so important to most characters that when they lose one, they often create a surrogate family to compensate. Dany names her dragons after members of her family, symbolizing the role they are filling. This surrogate family is very similar to Jon Snow's relation with the Night's Watch.
[Theon] shouted for a thrall to clean it up. Half my life I have waited to come home, and for what? Mocking and disregard? This was not the Pyke he remembered. Or did he remember? He had been so young when they took him away to hold hostage. (25.Theon.177)
Family is a source of comfort and survival, but it is also one of prestige and social class. When Theon is not welcome at Pyke, you'd think he'd just say, "Forget it then; I'm out of here." Yet for him to obtain his dreams, he requires his family's support. The vassals will not follow him as an individual but will only support him as a member of the Greyjoys.
Stannis pointed his shining sword at his brother. "I am not without mercey," thundered he who was notoriously without mercy. "Nor do I wish to sully Lightbringer with a brother's blood. For the sake of the mother who bore us both, I will give you the night to rethink your folly, Renly." (32.Catelyn.88)
Of course, the bros before not-bros rule isn't followed by everyone. Renly and Stannis both want to pursue their individualism by becoming king, and in order to do that, they must remove their family competition, a.k.a. each other.
"You take this business too hard, [Theon]. It is only that your lord father does not know you. With your brothers dead and you taken by the wolves, your sister was his solace. He learned to rely on her, and she has never failed him." (38.Theon.50)
Again, Theon's major paradox is that he cannot gain individuality without his family since social mobility in the Seven Kingdoms depends on the family right. Unfortunately for Theon, his sister, Asha, is the current family fav.
[Stannis] gave a shake of his head, like a dog shaking a rabbit to snap its neck. "Only Renly could vex me so with a piece of fruit. He brought his doom on himself with treason, but I did love him, Davos. I know that now. I swear, I will go to my grave thinking of my brother's peach." (43.Davos.92)
And my brother's peach is totally not a euphemism. Killing a family member is considered a huge taboo in Westeros society—again because of the importance the society places on family.
I cannot blame them, Catelyn thought. They do not know. And if they did, why should they care? They never knew my sons. Never watched Bran climb with their hearts in their throats, pride and terror so mingled they seemed as one, never heard him laugh, never smiled to see Rickon trying so fiercely to be like his older brothers. (56.Catelyn.3)
Many of the partiers have sworn loyalty to either the Starks or the Tullys, yet their loyalty is to the families. Catelyn seems to think that they do not know, nor do they really care, about the individuals making up that family.
"Would you ask a mother to sell one of her children?"
"Whyever not? They can always make more. Mothers sell their children every day."
"Not the Mother of Dragons."
"Not even for twenty ships?"
"Not for a hundred." (64.Daenerys.21-25)
Dany calling herself the "Mother of Dragons" and not the "Queen of Dragons" is also significant—it suggests that she views her power coming from her being the matriarch of her family. She cannot sell even one of her dragons because to do so would be to cut her power in third.
Outside, they made their farewells. Rickon sobbed and clung to Hodor's leg until Osha gave him a smack with the butt end of the spear. Then he followed her quick enough. Shaggydog stalked after them. The last Bran saw of them was the direwolf's tail as it vanished behind the broken tower. (70.Bran.95)
Okay, if you thought there would be a happy ending for any family in A Clash of Kings, guess again. No families manage to reunite and arguably the families are worse off than when the novel begins (possible exception: the Lannisters). While families provide protection and purpose, it looks as though several characters will have to find new forms of both to survive the novels to come.
Don't bother, sweetling, Tyrion thought, swirling the wine in the cup. He cares not a whit about carvings. The eyes he boasts of are his own. What he means is that he was watching, that he knew we were here the moment we passed through the gates. (4.Tyrion.140)
By entering Tyrion's thoughts, the narrator gives us a glimpse into how words are manipulated in the King's Landing court. In many ways, this rhetoric is the kind we use in our literature studies, where an image symbolizes something very different, with an ear for the language.
[Theon] did not think the captain approved, and that was amusing as well, watching the man struggle to swallow his outrage while performing his courtesies to the high lord, the rich purse of gold he'd been promised never far from his thoughts. (12.Theon.15)
Many of the upper-class members of society manipulate the lower-class people to get what they want out of them. Some do it with promises of rewards; others with threats of punishment. Theon is perhaps the bluntest of manipulators as he just waves a giant bag of money around.
Pycelle was lost. "But that is from the grayscale that near killed her as a babe, poor thing."
"I like my tale better," said Littlefinger, "and so will the smallfolk. Most of them believe that if a woman eats rabbit while pregnant, her child will be born with long floppy ears." (16.Tyrion.28-29)
Littlefinger may be the master manipulator of Westeros—he knows how to take truths and add just the right amount of fiction to have people think what he wants them to. Of course, while he's letting others in on his game, Tyrion's taking notes.
The memory brought a wan smile to her face. Such an obvious ploy, that, yet deft for a boy of fifteen. Robb knew how ill-suited a man like Greatjon Umber would be to treat with a man like Renly Baratheon, and he knew that she knew it as well. (23.Catelyn.20)
Ah, but did he know that she knew that he knew she knew…? Robb may not be a master manipulator yet, but this fledgling attempt shows the boy is growing into his role as a Seven Kingdoms' politician.
"Do all maesters lie so poorly? I told Varys that I was giving Prince Doran my nephew Tommen to foster. I told Littlefinger that I planned to wed Myrcella to Lord Robert of the Eyrie. I told no one that I had offered Myrcella to the Dornish … that truth was only in the letter I entrusted to you." (26.Tyrion.128)
Tyrion shows just how adept he is at the game of thrones. By giving each member of the small council different information, he's weeded out his sister's informant. As a maester, Pycelle isn't supposed to support anyone but the king, showing how powerful duty is when compared with manipulation at King's Landing.
I rely too much on Varys, [Tyrion] reflected. I need my own informers. Not that I'd trust them either. Trust would get you killed. (42.Tyrion.19)
But who manipulates the manipulator? One of the problems Tyrion faces is that he can never be sure he isn't being played in the same way he is playing others. In many ways, Seven Kingdoms politics is like poker—that is, if you don't know who the sucker at the table is, then the sucker is you.
Again she turned to the right-hand door. When she pushed it open she faced yet another small antechamber with four doors. I am in the presence of sorcery. (49.Daenerys.29)
Either sorcery or the Qarth version of the Winchester Mystery House. It's really difficult to tell if the sorcery or magic featured in the novel is truly supernatural or simply manipulation in the form of a magic trick.
The High Septon stepped forward. "Your Grace, the gods hold bethrothal [sic] solemn, but your father, King Robert of blessed memory, made this pact before the Starks of Winterfell had revealed their falseness. Their crimes against the realm have freed you from any promise you might have made." (66.Sansa.19)
While kings and queens profess to follow the ethics of their religion, the Septon bends and twists the commandments of said religion to fit the political necessity of the time, namely giving Joffrey an excuse to wed Tyrell's daughter.
When the drawbridge was lowered, a chill wind sighed across the moat. The touch of it made him shiver. It is the cold, nothing more, Theon told himself, a shiver, not a tremble. Even brave men shiver. (67.Theon.40)
Theon shows that manipulation is a two-way street in this quote. Many instances of manipulation show people manipulating others, but here Theon is manipulating himself by believing that what bothers him is simply the wind.
"Ser Rodrik had you five-to-one."
"Aye, but he thought us friends. A common mistake. When the old fool gave me his hand, I took half his arm instead. Then I let him see my face." The man put both hands to his helm and lifted off his head, holding it in the crook of his arm.
"Reek," Theon said, disquieted. How did a serving man get such fine armor? (67.Theon.115-117)
Just when you think Varys or Littlefinger would win the coveted Most Manipulative Maestro prize, along comes Ramsay Snow from behind to win the gold. Ramsay was willing to pretend to be a servant, be thrown in jail, and kill two children to serve his political ends, and he succeeded no less. He's not only horrible; he's horribly effective.
"In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. 'Do it,' says the king, 'for I am your lawful ruler.' 'Do it,' says the priest, 'for I command you in the names of the gods.' 'Do it,' says the rich man, 'and all this gold shall be yours.' So tell me—who lives and who dies?" (4.Tyrion.147)
This riddle is the key to understanding how power works in A Clash of Kings. There are various political and social institutions vying for power, and they need to convince people of their power to gain power over other guys. Of course, it's more complicated than that, but we wouldn't want everything given away in the first four chapters, would we?
Tyrion cocked his head sideways. "Did you mean to answer your damned riddle, or only to make my head ache worse?"
Varys smiled. "Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less."
"So power is a mummer's trick?" (9.Tyrion.101-103)
A man like Petyr Baelish, who had a gift for rubbing two golden dragons together to breed a third, was invaluable to his Hand. Littlefinger's rise had been arrow-swift. (18.Tyrion.106)
One might be tempted to say that Littlefinger's power comes from money, but it's more than that. Instead, Littlefinger's power comes from his ability to manipulate the financial system to create more money. Since few people in the Seven Kingdoms seem to have this power, Littlefinger's gift becomes rarer and more powerful.
It pleased [Dany] to hear that the Usurper's dogs were fighting amongst themselves, though she was unsurprised. The same thing happened when her Drogo died, and his great khalasar tore itself to pieces. (28.Daenerys.58)
While loyalty is all well and good, it is the perception of power that really keeps the society in line. When the figurehead is gone, this creates a vacuum as others strive to claim the power for themselves. We saw this with Robert's death, too, and we'll see it time and again throughout the series.
A few voices raised a cry of "Joffrey! All hail, all hail!" as the young king rode by, but for every man who picked up the shout, a hundred kept their silence. (42.Tyrion.26)
In some ways, the smallfolk know they grant Joffrey the power to rule them, and they're good with it as long as they are kept safe and fed. But when those two things become less certain, well, let's just say it leads to a lot of questions being asked in hushed voices.
The council had extended [Tyrion's] curfew; it was death to be taken on the streets after the evenfall bells had sung. The measure had restored a degree of peace to King's Landing and quartered the number of corpses found in the alleys of a morning, yet Varys said the people cursed him for it. They should be thankful they have the breath to curse. (45.Tyrion.25)
Heavy is the head, right? One of the disadvantages of power is that things will go wrong. And when they do, everything wrong becomes your fault. Just ask any U.S. president ever.
[Arya] was alone with the dead men. They deserved to die, Arya told herself, remembering all those Ser Amory had killed at the holdfast by the lake. (48.Arya.168)
Arya's path to power is a little more direct than other types of social power we've been considering—hers comes from a law of kill-or-be-killed. And kill she will.
"To lead men you must know them, Jon Snow. I know more of you now than I did this morning."
"And if I had slain her?" asked Jon.
"She would be dead, and I would know you better than I had before. But enough talk. You ought be sleeping. We have leagues to go, and dangers to face. You will need your strength." (54.Jon.29-31)
Qhorin understands that Jon will be a leader among the Night's Watch one day, so he's teaching him how to wield that power properly. Here's hoping Jon is taking notes.
That shamed them well enough. A knight mounted, helmetless, and rode to join the others. A pair of sellswords followed. Then more. The King's Gate shuddered again. In a few moments the size of Tyrion's command had doubled. He had them trapped. If I fight, they must do the same, or they are less than dwarfs. (60.Tyrion.38)
Being a dwarf has led Tyrion to lack power in the arm wrestling or sword fighting departments. But his ability to read and understand people has given him a power to motivate others to act as he wants. In other words, in not possessing one type of power, Tyrion has developed another.
"When it comes to swords, a queen is only a woman after all." (61.Sansa.32)
The institution of royalty grants some people the power to rule over the Seven Kingdoms. Individual kings and queens, on the other hand, are just people—and as such, they have the same deadly allergy to being stabbed with a sword as anybody else.
Cressen tried to reply, but his words caught in his throat. His cough became a terrible thin whistle as he strained to suck in air. Iron fingers tightened round his neck. As he sank to his knees, still he shook his head, denying her, denying her power, denying her magic, denying her god. (1.Prologue.186)
We don't know what Martin has against prologue narrators, but he offs one in every book. Just getting us into that mortality mood, we suppose.
"There's one," Tyrion said quietly. "Deem. Tell the captain it would not be taken amiss if that one should happen to be swept overboard before they reach Eastwatch."
"I'm told those northern waters are very stormy, my lord." Ser Jacelyn bowed and took his leave, his cloak rippling behind him. (9.Tyrion.65-66)
Death comes in many forms in A Clash of Kings, but one of the most prevalent is as a move in the political game. You can think of it like a game of chess with the only difference that the pawns don't scream quite as loudly when they're taken off the board.
Their captors permitted no chatter. A broken lip taught Arya to hold her tongue. Others never learned at all. One boy of three would not stop calling for his father, so they smashed his face in with a spiked mace. Then the boy's mother started screaming and Raff the Sweetling killed her as well. (27.Arya.12)
In movies and television, there is one unbreakable rule when it comes to writing death: You cannot kill children. Ever. Okay, not really, but you know what we mean. The death of this child—and such a violent death no less—knocks us out of our comfort zone and serves as a potent reminder that death can come to anyone, at any time in these novels. Just like in life.
"No your father did," Joff said, "but I killed your father. I wish I'd done it myself. I killed a man last night who was bigger than your father. They came to the gate shouting my name and calling for bread like I was some baker, but I taught them better. I shot the loudest one right through the throat." (33.Sansa.20)
In Seven Kingdoms's society, killing someone is the mark of manhood. Remember how much King Robert went on about how awesome war was? Here, Joffrey is bragging about killing someone, but in a society that praises violence, it's not such a wonder that he views murder as a means to gain acceptance and praise.
"My people," Edmure answered. "They were afraid."
Only my sweet brother would crowd all these useless mouths into a castle that might soon be under siege. Catelyn knew that Edmure had a soft heart; sometimes she thought his head was even softer. (40.Catelyn.100-101)
Doesn't Edmure know that you've got to be cruel to be kind? By being benevolent, he arguably has sentenced these starving people to a crueler death if the castle is put to siege. On the other hand, doing nothing would likely have led to their deaths, too. It's two different equations, but the answer seems to be death either way.
Bones, Catelyn thought. This is not Ned, this is not the man I loved, the father of my children. His hands were clasped together over his chest, skeletal fingers curled about the hilt of some longsword, but they were not Ned's hands, so strong and full of life. (40.Catelyn.155)
Death doesn't just take from those who died—Catelyn's time with Ned Stark's corpse suggest that the true loss is for the living. It's the living who have to suffer with the loss for longer, after all, since the dead are, well, dead.
"Belike we shall all die, then. Our dying will buy time for our brothers on the Wall. Time to garrison the empty castles and freeze shut the gates, time to summon lords and kings to their aid, time to hone their axes and repair their catapults. Our lives will be coin well spent." (44.Jon.78)
Always look on the bright side of life, right? These guys totally know they are going to die, but at least they can choose to give their deaths a purpose of their choosing. Death is inevitable and final in A Clash of Kings, but that doesn't mean it is necessarily valueless.
"Once I had served his purpose, the man had no further interest in me, so he put me out. When I asked him what I should do now, he answered that he supposed I should die. To spite him, I resolved to live." (45.Tyrion.127)
Another character finds purpose in death, or rather, his purpose in opposing death. Varys used the power of death to spur his resolve, eventually making him one of the most powerful people in the Seven Kingdoms. You go, Varys.
"That was his duty. He never liked it."
"Is that what he told you?" Clegane laughed again. "Your father lied. Killing is the sweetest thing there is." (53.Sansa.43-44)
What a charmer the Hound is… For someone like him, survival of the fittest is the name of the life game; killing means you win and the other guy loses. Game over.
The stone is strong, Bran told himself, the roots of the trees go deep, and under the ground the Kings of Winter sit their thrones. So long as those remained, Winterfell remained. It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I'm not dead either. (70.Bran.99)
We're going a little sentimental here, but Bran's conclusion suggests that even amongst death life goes on. And with all the death prevalent in the novel, life seems all the more valuable, even for Bran who had considered himself broken beyond repair for most of the novel.
[Sansa] remembered the splendor of it: the field of pavilions along the river with a knight's shield hung before each door, the long rows of silken pennants waving in the wind, the gleam of sunlight on bright steel and gilded spurs. The days had rung to the sounds of trumpets and pounding hooves, and the nights had been full of feasts and song. Those had been the most magical days of her life, but they seemed a memory from another age now. (3.Sansa.11)
When we last saw Sansa, she was a young lady with a love of story and song, and she thought her life would play out like a princess's should. But that life is for the princesses in other castles. While she fondly remembers the days when life looked like a fairy tale, reality has well and truly crept into her life.
They are not strong, [Dany] told herself, so I must be their strength. I must be their strength. I must show no fear, no weakness, no doubt. However frightened my heart, when they look upon my face they must see only Drogo's queen. She felt older than her fourteen years. If ever she had truly been a girl, that time was done. (13.Daenerys.12)
In A Game of Thrones, Dany was a queen, well a khaleesi, but she had her husband Khal Drogo for support. With Khal Drogo dead, she must lead her people by herself, no small task for a fourteen-year-old girl. When we were fourteen, we had to learn geometry and that was enough for us, thank you.
[Sam] managed a wan smile. "I may be craven, but I'm not stupid. I'm sore and my back aches from riding and from sleeping on the ground, but I'm hardly scared at all. Look." He held out a hand for Jon to see how steady it was. (14.Jon.43)
Even characters with little bearing on the story, like Sam, are part of the coming of age trend in Westeros. All he had to do was travel to lands unknown and confront the likelihood of a frozen afterlife as an ice zombie. No bigs.
The longer he lived, the more Tyrion realized that nothing was simple and little was true. (18.Tyrion.116)
A key moment in any coming of age theme is when a character learns some great truth about the world that he or she was previously blind to. Tyrion is twenty-five years old in A Clash of Kings, but he's still figuring out how things work, so we'd say he's coming of age, too.
"Craster is his own man. He has sworn us no vows. Nor is he subject to our laws. Your heart is noble, Jon, but learn a lesson here. We cannot set the world to rights. That is not our purpose. The Night's Watch has other wars to fight." (24.Jon.196)
Jon is being groomed by Lord Commander Mormont to lead the Night's Watch. First lesson: A commander can't fix all the wrongs in the world, even when that wrong is as awful as Craster. We're starting to think this coming of age thing isn't going to be easy.
"A knight is what you want. A warg is what you are. You can't change that, Bran, you can't deny it or push it away." (36.Bran.52)
Another motif that pops up often in coming of age stories is the acceptance of things you can't change. Bran's been coming of age for two novels now, but he still hasn't managed to accept that he has been crippled. To be fair, it's a heck of a thing to accept.
Theon thought of seeking out the bodies of the two men he'd slain himself to see if they had any jewelry worth the taking, but the notion left a bitter taste in his mouth. He could imagine what Eddard Stark would have said. Yet that thought made him angry too. Stark is dead and rotting, and naught to me, he reminded himself. (38.Theon.18)
Theon's coming of age hits a bit of a snag in A Clash of Kings. He has two father figures in his life, Balon Greyjoy and Ned Stark, and both have a different understanding of what it means to grow into a man. Theon's mind is stuck between both, and as such, he can't come of age in a way that would please either father figure or himself.
The longsword was a lot heavier than Needle had been, but Arya liked the feel of it. The weight of steel in her hands made her feel stronger. Maybe I'm not a water dancer yet, but I'm not a mouse either. A mouse couldn't use a sword but I can. (39.Arya.20)
Arya's coming of age features her trying to figure out what kind of person she should be. She keeps comparing herself to various animals and things: a mouse, a wolf, a ghost, and a water dancer. She is basically trying on different roles to see which one fits best.
[Dany] hated it, as her brother must have. All those years of running from city to city one step ahead of the Usurper's knives, pleading for help from archons and princes and magisters, buying our food with flattery. He must have known how they mocked him. Small wonder he turned so angry and bitter. (41.Daenarys.22)
Dany's coming of age allows her to look back on past events and view them in a more mature light. Her brother, Viserys, was a jerk to be sure, but Dany's difficulties in Qarth help her understand why her brother became such a bitter person, showing how she has grown since Viserys's brutal death.
[Dany] had reclined too long on satin cushions, letting oxen bear her hither and yon. At least when she rode she felt as though she was getting somewhere. (64.Daenerys.6)
Dany's coming of age story leads her to the conclusion that she should be true to herself. Yeah, we know that's a bit cliché, especially for a coming of age story, but hey, another way to look at it is as classic. And there's a reason the classics never die.
Joffrey frowned. Sansa felt that she ought to say something. What was it that Septa Mordane used to tell her? A lady's armor is courtesy, that was it. She donned her armor and said, "I'm sorry my lady mother took you captive, my lord." (3.Sansa.106)
Notice that Sansa's only defense is a passive one—that is, she can't actively defend herself from Joffrey's abuse, but must act in a way that deflects it. As we'll see throughout the novel, women are not expected to act but rather be acted upon in this society.
[Robb] pushed a fall of hair out of his eyes and gave a shake of the head. "I might have been able to trade the Kingslayer for Father, but…"
"… but not for the girls?" [Catelyn's] voice was icy quiet. "Girls are not important enough, are they?" (8.Catelyn.60-61)
In the Seven Kingdoms, women aren't as valued as men, and this seems especially true the higher up the social ladder you go. If Robb were to trade Jaime for his sisters, his men would think he was given a bum deal.
His father slid his fingers under the necklace and gave it a yank so hard it was like to take Theon's head off, had the chain not snapped first. "My daughter has taken an axe for a lover," Lord Balon said. "I will not have my son bedeck himself like a whore." He dropped the broken chain onto the brazier, where it slid down among the coals. (12.Theon.158)
But it's not just women who have gender roles to play. Men have them, too, and Theon's father thinks that role does not include any dainty jewelry. Burn.
Cersei sniffed. "I should have been born a man. I would have no need of any of you then. None of this would have been allowed to happen. How could Jaime let himself be captured by that boy? And Father, I trusted in him, fool that I am, but where is he now that he's wanted? What is he doing?" (21.Tyrion.115)
Here, we see that Cersei is as much a victim of gender roles as Sansa. Cersei cannot defender her home in the active manner as would be expected of a man, which is frustrating for her because she feels she could be a total wrecking ball.
The press had begun to open up. "Ser Colen," Catelyn said to her escort, "who is this man, and why do they mislike him so?"
Ser Colen frowned. "Because he is no man, my lady. That's Brienne of Tarth, daughter to Lord Selwyn the Evenstar."
"Daughter?" Catelyn was horrified. (23.Catelyn.59-61)
Enter Brienne to shake up the gender roles. She can throw down with the best of them, and this threatens the men in the crowd. After all, if women can start fighting, then where does it stop? Will men be required to sew on buttons? By the gods, not buttons!
Catelyn studied the faces. The Father was bearded, as ever. The Mother smiled, loving and protective. The Warrior had his sword sketched in beneath his face, the Smith his hammer. The Maid was beautiful, the Crone wizened and wise. (34.Catelyn.3)
The gender roles of the Seven Kingdoms expand into its religion. Notice that the aspects of the Seven that stand for war, fighting, and doing stuff are given a male persona. The aspects with more passive abilities, such as love, are given female personas. It's ultimately a chicken-or-egg question: Does the religion assign these gender roles because the society does? Or does the society do so because of its religion?
"Brienne, I have taken many wellborn ladies into my service over the years, but never one like you. I am no battle commander."
"No, but you have courage. Not a battle courage perhaps but… I don't know… a kind of woman's courage." (40.Catelyn.55-56)
But what is a woman's courage? It's interesting that Brienne is a woman, but because she has associated with a man's gender roles, she can't put quite put that courage into words. This shows that while gender roles are subjective, they do have an impact on how we think of others.
Xaro sighed. "You ought to have wept." The Qartheen wept often and easily; it was considered a mark of the civilized man. (41.Dany.13)
The Qartheens have such a different take on gender stereotypes then we usually see in this book. This shows that views on how men and women should act are not universal but rather subject to the uniqueness of culture—and in Qarth, to man up, you've got to break down and cry.
On the ground the sleeper sat up beneath his furs. Jon slid his dirk free, grabbing the man by the hair and jamming the point of the knife up under his chin as he reached for his—no, her –
His hand froze. "A girl." (52.Jon.31-32)
The wildlings keep showing that gender roles vary from culture to culture. In wildling society, women serve in jobs generally associated with manly men, including hunting, fighting, and standing guard.
"We were so much alike, I could never understand why they treated us so differently. Jaime learned to fight with sword and lance and mace, while I was taught to smile and sing and please. He was heir to Casterly Rock, while I was to be sold to some stranger like a horse, to be ridden whenever my new owner liked, beaten whenever he liked, and cast aside in time for a younger filly. Jaime's lot was to be glory and power, while mine was birth and moonblood." (61.Sansa.30)
Ultimately, the different values the Seven Kingdoms place on certain gender roles leads to very different fates for Jaime and Cersei. While the two are twins, they were fated to very different lives and all because one-half of one chromosomal pair decided to pull a switcheroo.
"This," [Sam] said reverently, "is the account of a journey from the Shadow Tower all the way to Lorn Point on the Frozen Shore, written by a ranger named Redwyn. It's not dated, but he mentions a Dorren Stark as King in the North, so it must be from before the Conquest. Jon, they fought giants! Redwyn even traded with the children of the forest, it's all here." (7.Jon.11)
There isn't a history book of Westeros floating around out there, so instead you'll have to patch together the history of this land, using these little tidbits of information. In a way, it's the same thing the characters have to go on.
When last he'd seen Lordsport, it had been a smoking wasteland, the skeletons of burnt longships and smashed galleys littering the stony shore like the bones of dead leviathans, the houses no more than broken walls and cold ashes. After ten years, few traces of the war remained. (12.Theon.47)
The history's cyclical nature isn't just something for the far reaches of the past. Here, the war came and destroyed, but the people of Lordsport managed to turn it around in ten years.
"It may be as you say, blood of my blood," Dany replied gravely, "but he shall have a new name for this new life. I would name them all for those the gods have taken. The green one shall be Rhaegal, for my valiant brother who died on the green banks of the Trident. The cream-and-gold I call Viserion. Viserys was cruel and weak and frightened, yet he was my brother still. His dragon will do what he could not."
"And the black beast?" asked Ser Jorah Mormont.
"The black," she said, "is Drogon." (13.Dany.24-26)
For Dany, the dragons serve as a resurrection in many different ways. Since there are three, she sees them as a kind of return of Aegon the Conqueror's dragons—a good omen seeing as she aims to conquer the Seven Kingdoms, too. Yet she also views them as a surrogate family, an emotional resurrection of those she has loved and lost.
"And much of the stock [of wildfire] we made for Aerys was lost. Only last year, two hundred jars were discovered in a storeroom beneath the Great Sept of Baelor. No one could recall how they came there, but I'm sure I do not need to tell you that the High Septon was beside himself with terror." (21.Tyrion.10)
But what was King Aerys storing wildfire all over the city for? Doesn't seem like stuff you'd want just lying around… In terms of history, the wildfire seems like the kind of thing you wouldn't want coming back as a blast from the past, either.
Winter comes for all of us, Catelyn thought. For me, it came when Ned died. It will come for you too, child, and sooner than you like. She did not have the heart to say it. (23.Catelyn.108-109)
Songs and story preserve the history of Westeros. While Brienne seems to think it preserves the past in all its glory, Catelyn knows that the songs are a pale imitation of the past for those who lived it.
[Arya] remembered Old Nan's stories of the castle built on fear. Harren the Black had mixed human blood in the mortar, Nan used to say, dropping her voice so the children would need to lean close to hear, but Aegon's dragons had roasted Harren and all his sons within their great walls of stone. (27.Arya.27)
The past doesn't exactly die in Westeros; it more lingers. Simply the history of Harrenhal has caused people to feel uneasy about living in the place—the past has tainted the castle for its present residents.
"Your eunuch must have told you, there is small love for the Lannisters in King's Landing. Many still remember how your lord father sacked the city, when Aerys opened the gates to him. They whisper that the gods are punishing us for the sins of your House—for your brother's murder of King Aerys, for the butchery of Rhaegar's children, for the execution of Eddard Stark and the savagery of Joffery's justice." (42.Tyrion.102)
The people of King's Landing remember the last time someone sacked their city. In fact, it was Tyrion's father, Tywin Lannister, who led the campaign. So guess what? They're none too keen on Lannisters now. Seems reasonable.
Finally Tyrion said, "A harrowing tale. I'm sorry."
The eunuch sighed. "You are sorry, but you do not believe me. No, my lord, no need to apologize. I was drugged and in pain and it was a very long time ago and far across the sea. No doubt I dreamed that voice. I've told myself as much a thousand times." (45.Tyrion.129-130)
The past is vitally important to understanding the present, and this is made all the more complicated by the fact that the past can be a hard thing to grasp the truth of. Take Varys. He can't tell if what he heard was reality, yet the experience has determined his life course for years. And Varys's life course is arguably determining the course of the entire Seven Kingdoms, making this a big thing to hinge on a maybe.
"Your Bael was a liar," he told her, certain now.
"No," Ygritte said, "but a bard's truth is different than yours or mine. Anyway, you asked for the story, so I told it." (52.Jon.102-103)
Ygritte brings up a good point: One person's lie is another person's history. We're also wondering what other differences we'd find in the wildling history books…
Their faces were stern and strong, and some of them had done terrible things, but they were Starks every one, and Bran knew all their tales. He had never feared the crypts; they were part of his home and who he was, and he had always known that one day he would lie here too. (70.Bran.42)
The past offers two-fold protection for Bran. First, as the crypt, it physically protects him from Theon Greyjoy's wrath. Second, as an ideal, it protects him by giving him a sense of self and purpose, two things he has been vitally missing since his tumble from the tower.
I must rest, Maester Cressen told himself. I must have all my strength come dark. My hands must not shake, nor my courage flag. It is a dreadful thing I do, yet it must be done. If there are gods, surely they will forgive me. (1.Prologue.133)
Cressen's technical duty is to serve his lord and the realm as they need him. But his love for Stannis and the belief that Melisandre has an evil influence on him have caused him to forego his duty. Or perhaps he believes killing Melisandre is his true duty?
Tyrion was a little drunk, and very tired. "Tell me, Bronn. If I told you to kill a babe… an infant girl, say, still at her mother's breast… would you do it? Without question?"
"Without question? No." The sellsword rubbed thumb and forefinger together. "I'd ask how much." (9.Tyrion.144-145)
Bronn's duty is to Bronn. More specifically, Bronn's duty is to his bank account. Lords? Honor? Morals? They just get in the way.
Once the maesters in their Citadel had proclaimed the first of autumn, wise men put away a portion of each harvest… though how large a portion was a matter that seemed to require much talk. Lady Hornwood was storing a fifth of her harvest. At Maester Luwin's suggestion, she vowed to increase that to a quarter. (17.Bran.61)
Think it's just peachy being the lord? Maybe it is if you like to micromanage. Bran's duty as Lord of Winterfell is to manage his vassals so they can meet the population's needs, including food and protection.
Fate drives me south and south again, Catelyn thought as she sipped the astringent tea, when it is north I should be going, north to home. She had written to Bran and Rickon, that last night at Riverrun. I do not forget you, my sweet ones, you must believe that. It is only that your brother needs me more. (23.Catelyn.21)
Catelyn's duty is to family, but in this novel, that duty is pulling her in a bunch of directions at once. On the one hand, she wants to see Sansa and Arya rescued, but on the other, she wants to be with Bran and Rickon during this difficult time. And on the third hand, she wants to be with her father when he dies. And that's a lot of hands.
"Why should men fight and die for you?"
"I am their lawful prince," Theon said stiffly.
"By the laws of the green lands, you might be. But we make our own laws here, or have you forgotten?" (25.Theon.174-176)
Theon believes an ironborn's duty is to serve him because he is thinking about duty in the Winterfell sense—but on the Iron Islands, you have to earn the right for people to die for you.
"I have no quarrel with Renly, should he prove dutiful. I am his elder, and his king. I want only what is mine by rights. Renly owes me loyalty and obedience. I mean to have it. From him, and from these other lords." (32.Catelyn.28)
Actually, Stannis kind of has the right of it—according to Seven Kingdoms tradition, the younger brother does have a duty to the older brother. But Renly's argument is that Stannis would make an awful king. So isn't Renly's duty really to the realm and not his brother? Again, different obligations compete with each other.
Knights are sworn to defend the weak, protect women, and fight for the right, but none of them did a thing. Only Ser Dontos had tried to help, and he was no longer a knight, no more than the Imp was, nor the Hound… the Hound hated knights… I hate them too, Sansa thought. They are no true knights, not one of them. (33.Sansa.52)
Sansa thought a knight's function was to do all the stuff mentioned above, but the knights of the Kingsguard feel their duty is to do what the king says. All that other stuff is, ah, just the small print.
"The greater part of his foot remains at Bitterbridge." Varys abandoned the brazier to take his seat at the table. "Most of the lords who rode with Lord Renly to Storm's End have gone over banner-and-blade to Stannis, with all their chivalry." (37.Tyrion.16)
So much for their honor bound duty to Renly's cause… Guess they figured their duty was transferable.
"So many vows… they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It's too much. No matter what you do, you're forsaking one vow or the other." [Jaime] took a healthy swallow of wine and closed his eyes for an instant, leaning his head back against the patch of nitre on the wall. (56.Catelyn.136)
And Jaime nails it. The crux of duty in A Clash of Kings is that it's too much. We see this with Catelyn, Renly, and a bunch of other characters. If all duty is created equal, then how do you choose? And if it's not created equal, then how do you know?
The light was already fading in Qhorin's eyes. "… sharp," he said, lifting his maimed fingers. Then his hand fell, and he was gone.
He knew, [Jon] thought numbly. He knew what they would ask of me. He thought of Samwell Tarly then, of Grenn and Dolorous Edd, of Pyp and Toad back at Castle Black. Had he lost them all, as he had lost Bran and Rickon and Robb? Who was he now? What was he? (69.Jon.101-102)
Jon thought he had this duty thing down: Be honorable, defeat your enemy, and follow orders. But orders have forced him to kill a fellow brother of the Night's Watch. How does that fit into the duty puzzle? Ugh.