Study Guide

A Clash of Kings Society and Class

By George R.R. Martin

Society and Class

"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.

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