Let's Read A Song of Ice and Fire XVI

A Clash of Kings conclusion! 800-970!

Here it is. The end of the second book. I have an extra large update to commemorate the occasion, as well as some thoughts about the book as a whole and other bits and bobs as they come in.

I'm going to say, if Martin had wanted this to be a trilogy, this book wouldn't have made a bad midpoint. It's pivotal, and the last few chapters really put the excrement to the proverbial fan. A Game of Thrones was a large introduction, but this is where the story really starts. The distance the excrement gets flung by the fan, to belabor the metaphor, makes a trilogy pretty much impossible from the outset, leading us to our current predicament of wondering when things will wrap up. I'm glad for that, though.

Anyway, on to what happened and what I'm thinking about all of this. Enough viewpoint characters get enough chapters, however, that I'm going to go full on chapter-by-chapter so I don't have things get lost in the process. So let's begin with Theon.

Theon: Well, Asha Much-Cooler-Than-Theon Greyjoy is present here, so that's helpful. And Theon's nightmares don't seem to be pleasant. Fear of the dead is unbecoming. Except they're not really dead, and anyone with brains in their head (okay, only the reader and Theon really) knows that. Asha doesn't, and even she thinks Theon made a stupid decision. I mean, she's right about hostages. But that would only work if he had actually found them. Once again, covering his ass.

As a result of his capture of Winterfell and his idiocy regarding the Starks, Theon gets a group of reinforcements numbering ten. Ass. Nibbled. Big gain, that. He sends Reek off when Reek informs him he might be able to get two hundred more. Honestly, when I read this chapter, I too expected Reek to just bolt for it. That would have been the beginning of gnawing on Theon's ass. But the real bite hasn't happened yet.

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Also, the reader gets clued in to the fact of Bran and Rickon's survival. Good time to relieve that tension for the reader, at least.

Sansa: Our Lady of Stark has a brief chapter here where the main point is to get her in the same room as Cersei for the duration of the battle. There's some prayer, and that's all well and good. There's some seeing the menfolk off to fight, and that's fine too – Joffrey has Sansa kiss his sword, so we get our not terribly amusing phallic moment out of the way too. Sansa's much more interesting when she's talking to Cersei – they disagree so fundamentally. "No true knights," Sansa says at the end of the chapter, would ever harm women and children. How little Sansa has learned from existing in these books that the stories about true knights and the actions they perform do not line up one at all.

Davos: Alas, we must bid goodbye to our good Onion Knight. I liked this guy. I thought he would be part of bringing Stannis down, what with what he had seen of Melisandre. Speaking of, her being left behind seems like a small detail here, but was very clearly important in a few chapters later on. She stays behind, where the bastards are – my theory feels good right now

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Davos leads the charge for the fleet of King Stannis, and it is pretty much wrecked. Tyrion was smart – he gave up the pitiful little fleet Joffrey had and used it instead for wildfire kamikaze attacks. Good use of the fleet, honestly.

And the chain. A chain boom was not what I expected. For good reason – I'd literally never even encountered the concept until this chapter. Like, I'm looking at the Wikipedia article on booms right now and learning about them. Neat. And I have to say, probably the single largest individual contribution to the defeat of Stannis thus far.

Goodbye, Onion Knight. May your injuries cause as much tears as the laceration of one of your bulbous cargo does.

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Tyrion: A short chapter, but worth noting for a few reasons. Tyrion protects his nephew, though Joffrey is hardly worth it. He orders Sandor Clegane back down to the banks. Bad idea. Tyrion has a strange habit of continually putting the Hound in places where fire is around. This is not the smartest move on his part. Lastly, he ventures down to lead the sortie himself.

Sansa: Sansa's point of view, Cersei's chapter, really. Cersei means to be found dead if her side loses, and every highborn lady around dead with her. She gives a pretty good speech on the weapons available to women, and then gives a bit of her life story. Lady Macbeth had penis envy, but even Lady Macbeth's penis envy is envious of that of Cersei Lannister.

What's interesting is that for all that envy of masculine modes of and access to power Cersei still operates within the constraints set forth for feminine behavior. She and Sansa are more alike than they know, because neither is as yet willing to cross that line. Arya is, and neither Cersei nor Sansa take that kind of transgression lightly. They're actually the most ferocious guardians in the book of the dichotomy between feminine and masculine behavior. I wonder if Sansa will see this and recognize her similarity to Cersei, and if so when she might move to differentiate herself. She's determined that she'd rather be loved than feared, but that's not quite enough differentiation.

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If nothing else, this chapter makes crystal clear why Cersei and Sansa have been kept close together.

Tyrion: Not terrible in battle, but still not where Tyrion is really at his best. The betrayal by Ser Mandon Moore came as something of a surprise. Not too much, seeing as how he's part of Joffrey's Kingsguard and there's not a one of them who wouldn't take out Tyrion if it were in Joffrey's interest (or his mother's interests for Joffrey).

Sansa: It looks like all hope for the Lannisters is lost in this chapter. Cersei leaves and Sansa's left trying to comfort the frightened. She leaves to her chambers too and finds Sandor Clegane, who drunkenly asks a song of her. It's not the one he wants, and she still can't look at his face, sounfortunately for Sansa she doesn't get taken to freedom with him. It's implied he'd planned to rape her, but he doesn't do that, at least. Ser Dontos, however, brings her news after the Hound has left – the battle is won by the ghost of Renly – Renly's shade. I'm guessing the work of Melisandre, right now.

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Sansa is surrounded by morons. Poor dear girl, it'd be a mercy for her to leap from a window or something and not have to deal with any of that any longer. But Sansa's more about endurance, of constancy in the face of adversity – a very standard medieval characterization for the idealized woman. She's going to endure. She might not be very quiet about it in private, but in public she will be like Griselda and, as Chaucer's Clerk words it, "neither grucche ne stryve" in word or deed against the Lannisters and their thoughts.

Daenerys: Another day, another attempt on Dany's life. How tiresome this must be getting for her. She's convinced Mirri Maz Duur is the betrayal of blood. I'm not as certain as she is, but I'll add her to my list and take Dany's word for it for now. On the plus side for Dany, Belwas and Arstan have arrived and are willing to give her use of three ships.

Dany takes these for the sign of the three heads of the dragon. Again, I'm not so sure. I'll put them in as her view, though. For one thing, we've still gotten nothing from Quaithe that I can determine. It seems off to me somehow. Just going to have to see.

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Arya: The great escape from Harrenhal is begun. Arya gets to kill a guard, and she learns a little but not a lot from Roose Bolton. Most important, of course, is that Bolton will be leaving Harrenhal – and that means any protection his presence might offer Arya is going to leave too. She's resourceful and clever and gets Hot Pie and Gendry to join her. With luck, Nymeria will find her and rejoin her in the next book.

Sansa: Arya's direct action and Sansa's indirect action are always pretty delightfully contrasted when their chapters are next to one another. Joffrey gets new members of his Kingsguard, Tywin takes the role of the Hand of the King, and one of the prisoners stands loyal to Stannis – quite loudly – until the end. Ser Loras of Renly's Rainbow Guard joins Joffrey's and Renly's bride gets traded over to Joffrey as well. Poor Joff, it seems he only really gets the leftover loyalties of those loyal to Robert and Renly, and nobody who truly cares for him.

Sansa gets her wish, and Ser Dontos promises one month's time until freedom. We'll have to see about that – he hasn't got much of a rΓ©sumΓ© for me to judge on beyond being a drunkard.

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Theon: The ass-biting resumes in this chapter. While Reek returns and butchers the force massed to take back Winterfell, it's not so good for Theon. Reek is Roose Bolton's bastard, and he's a right bastard about, well, everything. Theon's Winterfell is sacked and all his men killed, even his horse. Him… well, nothing said for certain. Going to guess he's held prisoner – the ass-biting I called doesn't feel quite complete yet.

Also, Reek wants the Freys. Why I don't know. Guess I'll find out.

Tyrion: Not much here but a severe facial disfigurement, realization of the nature of the betrayal, and the conclusion drawn that he's pretty much only got Pod for an ally now. Tyrion is not in a good spot.

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Jon: Well, Jon's freeing of Ygritte helps him out here, in that she helps ensure he's able to do what Halfhand commands him to do – join the wildlings. What exactly he'll be able to do among them is, admittedly, still a puzzle. He's got to find something, or figure out what the something is that Rayder's up to. Whatever it is, Halfhand seems to have thought it important enough that Jon had to be seen as a traitor to the Watch. This is not Jon's best day.

Bran: Well, we end here at Winterfell as Osha takes Rickon and Shaggydog in one direction while Meera, Jojen, Hodor, Summer and Bran go in another. Safer that way, appearently. Winterfell has been sacked and abandoned, everybody dead – except Maester Luwin, who's only mostly dead.

They hid in the crypts – clever. Bran has been gaining control over the wolf dreams, and he sent that dream to Jon. An interesting development, that. This'll be the last we see of Winterfell for a while, and that's probably a good thing for the structure of the story.

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General Impressions on the book:

I'm still gripped by Martin's prose. It can be a bit purple at times, but there's a lot of good work happening in the prose. Despite the third person narrator, the narrative voice morphs ever so slightly to match the viewpoint character of any given chapter. I wasn't entirely convinced of the chapter-by-chapter switching of viewpoints back when I started the first book, but now I have no doubts at all.

What's interesting is the ways in which each viewpoint character's story is developed, and how in some cases the viewpoint is less about the viewpoint character and more about another. Catelyn's chapters are often the Robb Stark show, though not always and certainly less so in the end. It's almost as if the narrative arc of this viewpoint is tied into the idea of power, motherhood, and kingship – can the mother of the king be a force of power in her own right? Catelyn believes so.

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Davos the Onion Knight is a fascinating case in that he's a viewpoint character who in his way embodies the values Sansa seeks in a true knight. He's loyal and a good man. His death by wildfire seems fitting to the world, then, when nothing good lasts in Westeros.

A Clash of Kings is an action movie in prose form, and it works. As a story, it appears not to work as a standalone – with the exception of Tyrion's rise and fall as Hand as the central pillar of plot. He has nearly twice as many chapters as any other character. Jon, Sansa, and Arya come closest, with any two of them in combination able to just exceed his chapter count. This story hinges on the deaths (and metaphorical rebirths) of several characters: Tyrion the Hand rises, falls, and will have to be born anew. Arya undergoes several changes of identity. Davos dies of wildfire. Bran is dead to the world. Theon is not dead – I think he's just captured – but that all amounts to the same thing to his father. Jon has his second thoughts about the wall, and he's now been put in the position of having to become dead to his brothers, to be reborn among the wildings.

That's what this book really is about. Death and rebirth. As I said before, this book is where the story really begins. And it does a good job of keeping the reader engrossed in the action. Solid book.

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Thoughts on the direwolves:

It occurs to me since Bran's wolf dreams began, that the direwolves aren't really characters in their own right, but extensions of the Starks. Their names really give us a lot about their human companions.

Grey Wind – Robb named his wolf Grey Wind, which is probably the most abstract of the direwolf names. The grey obviously refers to Grey Wind's coat, but it also seems to refer to Robb's own uncertainty that he is living up to his father's example. The speed connoted by the wind also gestures toward his swiftness in battle.

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Lady – Lady is an aspirational name for Sansa. Sansa has only ever wanted to be a lady. Lady's death, of course, is a sign that the aspiration should also die. Sansa's current predicament throughout the book further works to crush that aspiration. Sansa is resilient, however, and she will adapt to new realities.

Nymeria – I don't remember if it's been explained in the book so far, but I looked it up with my hands over my eyes so I could figure out where Nymeria's name comes from. A warrior queen. Yeah, that's Arya pretty much to a T. She's all about being a woman utilizing traditionally masculine power for her own ends.

Summer – the second most abstract of the names, it speaks very much to Bran's eternal optimism. It was also a good clue that Bran was going to wake up in the first place. Summer is always renewed. A winter is a period of dormancy and death, but summer brings back life after every winter.

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Shaggydog: Shaggydog is on the one level very clearly the name a small child would give a direwolf. It's a big, shaggy dog. Very straightforward, direct, and literal. Rickon doesn't have much of a defined character at this point, but what he is so far is direct and straightforward. He tells you what he wants when he wants it. Shaggydog's behavior, like Rickon's, is also the least tamed and controlled. Rickon's too small, too young yet, and as a result Shaggydog is barely tame. As Rickon grows older, however, Shaggydog will be perhaps the physical manifestation of Rickon's anger and other feelings.

Ghost: Well, this one's obvious in a few ways. Ghosts and Snow are white. Jon's a bastard, a ghost within the Stark family. He and Arya alone look like Ned, as if they were his ghost alive in the flesh. Jon joins the Night's Watch, effectively becoming a ghost to the realm he seeks to protect. And now he's had to take up with the wildlings, effectively becoming a ghost even to the Night's Watch.

Things of importance:
* Winterfell is done for now.
* Stannis is beaten, but not defeated.
* The Hound is out on his own.
* Jon has joined up with the wildlings.
* Joffrey has new marriage arrangements.
* The remaining kings and queen: Joffrey Baratheon, Robb Stark, Stannis Baratheon, Balon Greyjoy, Daenerys Targaryen.

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Predictions pulled out of my ass:
* The Red Robin Wedding – Joffrey and Margaery. Some dying's going to happen there.
* Melisandre needs the bastards to fuel her magical shadow births, maybe?
* Another viewpoint character will die in the next book – there seems to be a trend of that.

Dany's Threes:

Three heads: Three identities. Mother of dragons and child of storms are obvious – the third, though… the one she seeks is Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Too obvious, though. Not the third head.

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She thinks: the three ships she's naming after the great dragons. I class this as unlikely.

Three fires: life, death, love. There's the obvious fire of Drogo's funeral – the fire of life. The other two will come. No predictions as yet.

Three mounts: To bed, to dread, to love. Drogo was to bed. She will have another to dread, and if the Jon Snow as secret Targaryen and match to her thing works out he's the one to love.

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Three treasons: For blood, for gold, for love. Viserys feels okay for gold at the moment (the golden crown being a symbol for the power, wealth, and army he desired), and I think Ser Jorah might betray her out of love. For blood, Dany seems to have a good idea.

She thinks: Mirri Maz Duur for blood.