Study Guide

A Clash of Kings Mortality

By George R.R. Martin

Mortality

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.

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