Study Guide

A Clash of Kings Warfare

By George R.R. Martin

Warfare

"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)

Harming civilians as a wartime strategy generally conjures images of the Dark Ages or Robin Hood opening credits, but it has been used in more modern wars, too. Fun fact: When war comes to town, it's never pretty.

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.

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