Thu
Sep 10 2009 10:40am

No true knights: George R.R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings is the second in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Sensible people would read them in order if they normally read chapters of a book in order.

What I want to say about this volume without spoilers is that again Martin manages very well to have satisfying volume completion and satisfying character arcs within the volume—slightly less well than in the first book, but still remarkably well considering how difficult it is. Also, the cover of my edition says “The epic battle is joined,” which is just so wrong I don’t know how anyone could have typed those words in connection with this book, never mind got as far as putting them on the cover. The new edition replaces them with “The New York Times Bestseller” which has the virtue of being something nobody can argue with. There are indeed battles in A Clash of Kings, but no epic battles, because one of the interesting things about it is the way it’s not that kind of book.

So, as it’s a clash of kings, let’s start with the kings.

This book begins with Stannis, who we didn’t see at all in the first book, and Martin gives us two new point-of-view characters to see him with, first his Maester, Cressen, who dies in the prologue (never agree to be a POV character in one of Martin’s prologues unless you’re feeling suicidal) and Davos the Onion Knight. Stannis Baraethon is a stern unloveable upright honourable man who adopts the religion of the Lord of Light because that will get him what he wants. He was a constant offstage presence in the first book, and here we see him through other people’s eyes. Davos is a surprisingly colourless character—he ought to be good, a smuggler risen to be a knight, with the last joints of his fingers in a bag around his neck—but I don’t much care about him. Similarly, I don’t like Stannis and I hate his new god.

Stannis defeats his brother Renly by evil magic. Renly is playing at being king, he has the south at his feet, he’s having a tournament when we first encounter him. We see Renly through the eyes of Catelyn, who is sent to try to make peace between him and Robb, and she sees as ridiculously young, and then she sees him killed. It’s fitting that his ghost—actually his lover Ser Loras Tyrell—is part of what defeats Stannis’s army in the end. This whole interplay of Renly and Stannis is done brilliantly—the whole idea of Renly’s men ready to defeat Stannis and then discovering that Renly is dead and they have to support Stannis, however reluctantly, and then the way it backfires.

We hardly see Robb. He sends Catelyn off because he doesn’t want her around, and we have no point of view with him for the rest of the book. We hear, distantly, about him winning victories, and we hear (though we don’t know it yet) about the idiocy he’s committing that’s going to lead to the events at the end of A Storm of Swords. Also, if only he’d listened to his mother about not sending Theon to the Iron Islands!

Joffrey is seen through Tyrion and Sansa’s eyes. He’s clearly vile—his sadistic mistreatment of Sansa is horrible, and he’s just what you’d expect from the spoiled rotten product of incest. It’s interesting to see themes starting to repeat. Tyrion is Hand, and he’s trying to run the country from King’s Landing with the help of the small council, excatly as Ned did in A Game of Thrones. Tyrion’s story here is one of struggling to get the better of Cersei and Joffrey, and he manages it better than Ned, only to be undermined at the end by Cersei and by his father’s arrival. Sansa has a horrible time being beaten up by Joffrey’s knights and hoping vainly for rescue by his fool. She remains an idiot but she’s not actively treacherous in this book, and she sings a hymn to the Hound, so I like her a bit better.

Balon Greyjoy is Theon’s father, and Theon is given a point of view. The first time I read this I only vaguely remembered Theon from A Game of Thrones and was horrified at what he did. Also, I mentioned that Martin doesn’t have any unsympathetic points of view there—well, that changes with Theon. Theon betrays everyone including himself, and I wouldn’t mind if he was flayed for a very long time, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving person. Martin does him brilliantly, and the Iron Islands too, and the whole set of things that have made Theon who and what he is. Asha and the rest are honest Vikings, Theon is something different because of being fostered at Winterfell, and he’s much the worse for it. The whole fall of Winterfell plot continues to undermine standard expectations. The saddest part is not Theon’s attack nor the Bastard of Bolton’s destruction, nor Bran and Rickon going into hiding—though Martin leaves us in doubt as to what has happened to them for a very long time—it’s Arya finding out about it and realizing she doesn’t have a home to go to.

Arya’s story here is brilliant—despite the fact that really not much happens in it. She escapes with the Night’s Watch and then alone, she lives in Harrenhal under two regimes, she escapes Harrenhal at the end. She learns how much she doesn’t know, she grows up a lot, the whole bit with the three deaths and Jaqen is amazing, and the realization that Roose Bolton may be nominally on her family’s side but he isn’t a nice person is very well done.

Bran finally gets to have something to do here, other than just provide a point of view in Winterfell. He starts to have dreams of being Summer, and become a warg, seeing through Summer’s eyes. This makes something quite different of the wolves, and it really works. Bran also attaches Meera and Jojen, the Crannogmen, and ends up going off north with them and Hodor the simple-minded giant.

Catelyn drives me mad here. I’m sorry, but she should go back to Winterfell where her little children need her, not moon around crying and trying to make everyone be friends and lay down their swords—not going to happen, lady, and you should grow up and notice what kind of book you’re in. Rickon’s four and Bran’s nine and crippled, and they definitely need her more than her dying father or Robb. Also, she hardly makes any real effort to free Sansa or find out what’s happened to Arya. “Family, duty, honour,” doesn’t mean hanging around at Riverrun. 

Jon’s story is quite separate from everyone else’s here—he goes North from the Wall across the wilderness and ends up forced to betray his oath in order to follow orders, and become one of the wildlings in order to find out what’s going on. His whole story is expedition and exploration, there’s no further sighting of anything uncanny, and really it’s all set-up. But his ending is splendid, climactic and cliff-hanging.

Daenerys’s story here is even more detached—she’s on the other side of the world—and she doesn’t really get very far. She has some dragons, they’re growing, she crosses a desert and goes to Quarth, she kills some warlocks and meets some people Illyrio has sent—one of whom is probably Ser Barristan Selmy in disguise. Clearly Martin is going to bring Daenerys “home” to Westeros at some point—it’s not really her home, she’s never been there, but she’s the Targaryen heir. In A Game of Thrones I felt her story was integral even though distant, here I felt she’s much more marking time. I do like the way the dragons being back is making magic work better—for the alchemists in King’s Landing and the red priests.

There are a lot of tangled plots going on here, and yet nothing is confusing and everything is clear and comes together well—everyone behaves just as they would. The climaxes—the battle at King’s Landing, the destruction of Winterfell, Arya and Bran (separately) setting out again, Sansa freed from Joffrey, Jon joining the wildlings and (perhaps slightly less successfully) Dany finding some ships, fall well together and one after the other, giving the book a sound solid shape.

On to A Storm of Swords!


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

28 comments
Kadere
1. Kadere
There are indeed battles in A Clash of Kings, but no epic battles, because one of the interesting things about it is the way it’s not that kind of book.

No epic battles? What book are you reading? The Battle of Blackwater is HUGE! It's probably the biggest battle we've had in the whole series so far! I mean come on!
Jo Walton
2. bluejo
Kadere: It's a battle, and it's a definitely big battle, and it's interesting... but it doesn't really matter on a grand scale whether Joffrey or Stannis wins. It's not an epic battle between good and evil, light and dark, winter and summer, ice and fire. It's not a battle people are going to be singing about in a thousand years.
Elio García
3. Egarcia
I do have to agree slightly with Kadere. The Battle of the Blackwater is epic in the sort of big, sweeping conflict sense; but the traditional epic fantasy sense, I suppose not. Some of it just knocks my socks off, though. One of my favorite passages from the four novels is this exchange:

'Hundreds of Stannis Baratheon's boldest were doing just that. Tyrion saw one great fool of a knight trying to ride across, urging a terrified horse over gunwales and oars, across tilting decks slick with blood and crackling with green fire. We made them a bloody bridge, he thought in dismay. Parts of the bridge were sinking and other parts were afire and the whole thing was creaking and shifting and like to burst asunder at any moment, but that did not seem to stop them. "Those are brave men," he told Ser Balon in admiration. "Let's go kill them."'

And a minor correction: it's Ser Loras's older brother, Ser Garlan, who wore Renly's armor and performed such feats. He's not famous like Loras is, because he's not a gloryhound and doesn't have the same sort of PR savvy, but we'll be told in the next book that he's a better swordsman than the exceptional Knight of Flowers.

Tut, tut -- more Catelyn abuse! She hardly hangs out at Riverrun at all (a single chapter days after her previous one), spending most of the novel away from it doing her son's bidding in an attempt to help him win his war; the surest way of protecting her family that she knows, given that she can't force Robb to bring the war to a peaceful conclusion. Do Bran and Rickon need her more than Robb? They're safe behind their castle walls (or would have been, if Robb hadn't ignored her pleas not to send Theon -- and what would have happened to her had she _had_ gone north? Captured by Theon, and then probably be the Bastard of Bolton, who'd probably force her to marry him, rape her, and then leave her to starve to death after using his marriage to lay a cockeyed claim to Winterfell), and he's in the middle of a war where he has too many lords eager to fight and settle scores; she proved her value in negotiating the Frey alliance, in advising him in other ways, and that was probably where she was most useful.

What could she do to find out anything about what was going on in King's Landing with her children, in any case? Robb was the one in charge of negotiations for their return and she couldn't sway him; as we see later, Robb sets impossible terms and has pretty much given up getting his sisters back any time soon.

The only way for her to get her daughters back that is open to her at this stage is to do as Robb forces her: go and try to arrange an alliance with Renly, who's better positioned to besiege King's Landing and perhaps extract her daughters along the way. A fool's errand in the end, but not for want of trying on her part.

I don't know, if there's anything controversial in her behavior, it must be her final chapter ... in which she does indeed do something pretty directly aimed at getting her daughter back. I'm surprised you haven't mentioned it (or Jaime or Brienne), because it's a fairly pivotal scene as far as all three characters are concerned; but perhaps it fits more naturally into the discussion of A Storm of Swords.
Elio García
4. Egarcia
(Oh, well, and then two chapters after she gets back, with a battle shortly to happen and her dying father in his bed... not really fair, IMO, to suggest she should have taken off just then.)
Kate Nepveu
5. katenepveu
I'm reading this and I'm reminded that I stopped reading the series after this book because there were getting to be too many people to keep track of.

(Hah. Hah. Hah.)
Kadere
6. Superquail
I think it is interesting how the word "honorable" can be accurately used to describe both Stannis and Eddard Stark, when you couldn't imagine two men the books have treated differently. Eddard is loved and respected, and Stannis is rather grudgingly tolerated, but both of them have very strong codes of ethics that they adhere to rigidly - and that turns out to be a serious flaw.

Why do we like Eddard and dislike Stannis?
Kadere
7. Superquail
Another thing I want to point out is how well GRRM uses fairy tale elements in this series.

When Arya is at Harrenhal, the "three wishes" from Jaqen make up a very familiar framework. Even Arya acknowledges this when she considers the third wish to be the most important. And the way she basically "wishes for more wishes" at the end is just classic.

I also enjoy all the references to "Old Nan's stories." We only ever here one of them, and it isn't complete, but we get a sense that the stories this old lady has been telling really informed the way the Stark children view the world.
Kadere
8. Jeff R.
@6: Probably because Eddard's code forced him to try and save the lives of innocents (Tommen and Myrcella) while Stannis' would not have.
Kadere
9. Superquail
@8: What is highlighted in Eddard's attempts to protect both the "foul products of incest" and the last Targaryen is Eddard's compassion, which Stannis doesn't seem to have. But it's Eddard's compassion that ultimately gets him taken down. Is Stannis not just would Eddard could have become if he had been just as honorable, but more cynical? Eddard has only been in King's Landing for a short time before he gets completely eaten up by the intrigue. Stannis has been in King's Landing since Robert took over and he has been exposed to the machinations of Littlefinger and Varys and Cersei and Tywin and Jaime, and has seen what happens if you show any weakness in front of such people

Stannis is not cruel for the sake of being cruel. He has a set of standards for what he thinks is Right (with a capital R!) and he has not the imagination or the personality to stray from that. But I couldn't help but agree when Littlefinger said to Eddard that Stannis would make a terrible king.
- -
10. heresiarch
"Catelyn drives me mad here. I’m sorry, but she should go back to Winterfell where her little children need her, not moon around crying and trying to make everyone be friends and lay down their swords—not going to happen, lady, and you should grow up and notice what kind of book you’re in."

I sympathize with the frustration that engenders, but isn't that a bit of a meta-criticism? How is she supposed to know that there are five more books, and so there's no chance in hell this will end now? That's like thinking (AFFC Spoiler) Brienne is a moron for wandering around looking for Arya in Westeros because {i]we know Arya shipped out for Bravos. It's not the character's fault.

Superquail @ 6: "Why do we like Eddard and dislike Stannis?"

They're both obsessed with doing the right thing, but they approach honor and propriety very differently. Stannis is mostly concerned with what the law demands for him, what is his right. Eddard is more concerned with what the law demands from him, with what is his duty.
Kadere
11. Eli Bishop
I'm going to stick up for Stannis and Davon as really interesting characters - just not involving in the same way as the other leads.

Stannis sure is impossible to like, despite being basically right about his claim. Renly is frivolous and reckless, but he understands that Stannis would be a terrible king, for much the same reason that Ned was an ineffective Hand: smart in the wrong way, inflexible, lacking people skills. But I really felt for Stannis, as for Ned; he's terribly alone and he thinks he's the only one who's trying to do the right thing, even though - unlike Renly - he doesn't seem to feel very good about himself at all. (It's possible that my sympathy for him says more about my own character flaws than about Martin's writing. There's someone in this book to fit everyone's neurosis!)

Ned Stark has a warmth and wisdom that Stannis lacks. Is it partly because he's got a functioning marriage and he's raised children? Those both require one to learn something about realism and humility. Stannis does have a child, but he keeps his distance from her, and seems to regard her as a reminder of his weaknesses to be overcome (maybe the same reason he keeps a brain-damaged Fool for whom he has no affection). It makes sense that the "children" he has with Melisandre are nothing but projections of his bitter will, for which he denies responsibility.

There's not so much to say about Davos. Martin seems to have written him deliberately as an archetypal simple man, maybe too much so. But as a foil for Stannis, he really breaks my heart. He loves and admires his boss, owes him his life, and sees how badly the guy is about to screw himself. He knows his loyalty and honesty aren't likely to be rewarded, in fact he more or less expects to be killed every time he gives his honest opinion to the king. It's kind of beautiful and painful to see how he manages to connect with the king at those times - Stannis's brittle anger softens, he admits he may be wrong, and you see a little flash of love, except he still has this bitter edge that you know will still probably win out.
Elio García
12. Egarcia
Davos is a much more pragmatic Ned in that way, and perhaps in some ways superior to Ned. He's one of my favorite characters from A Clash of Kings, actually.
Kadere
13. Eli Bishop
(Sorry, I feel compelled to run on... I'm really happy that you're doing these rereads! Have managed to avoid getting sucked back into the books myself, so far.)

Jo briefly mentioned Loras being Renly's lover. Non-mainstream sexuality is one of the things Martin handles very subtly and very well. With just a few lines of dialogue here and there, he makes it pretty clear that the sexual norms of the aristocracy in Westeros are much like those of aristocracies in general. The powerful can do pretty much as they like, as long as they respect the political requirements of marriage and reproduction. There's a cultural stigma on gay (male) sex, but it seems to be treated more as a weird foible or a sign of not being a "real" man - not exactly beyond the pale, but a good excuse to express contempt for someone if you want to. The norms of the "smallfolk" may be different, but we don't see much of them here.

Renly is comfortable in his own skin, and seems to have reached an arrangement with his bride, who surely knows the score. Is Stannis a closet case? His marriage is dry, he's tightly wound, he believes in norms above all, he doesn't seem too thrilled about Melisandre's sexual magic - Martin gives us some support for this reading, but doesn't let it be that simple.

I'm not sure how much we've seen of the Blackfish at this point, but he's an interesting contrast with both of those guys. IIRC, it's strongly implied that he's gay, but it's unclear whether he really has a private life at all; we just know that to his house's chagrin, he refuses to get married. People in this world are expected to separate love, desire, and marriage, but not everyone will do that.
Kadere
14. Lsana
There are three characters I want to say something about:

Catelyn: She has a hard choice, it's hard to say whether she made the right one or not. Bran and Rickon do need her, as she acknowledges, but so does Robb. Robb is currently surrounded by people who believe that he is more or less the Second Coming. Which of his lords do you think is going to tell the Young Wolf that he is full of it and too overconfident in his plans? The only one who will tell Robb that he's wrong is Catelyn; it's a pity he didn't live long enough to realize it. Catelyn, at least in this book, does pretty well at balancing the line between being Robb's subject and being his mother. He needs her as both.

Theon: Yuck. In my mind, he is by far the worst of the PoV characters, combining the worst aspects of the two societies he experienced. He combines the "pillage, burn, rape, murder" ethic of the Iron Isles with the "I am the Prince, therefore you bow to me" attitude he learned at Winterfell. He's a complete sociopath who never demonstrates any empathy with or compassion for anyone else. Yeah, there are reasons for the way he is (I've got to imagine that it sucks spending half your life with the metaphorical noose around your neck), but reasons aren't excuses. I want to see him die horribly.

Renly: I don't hate him quite the way I hate Theon, but of all the claimants to the throne, he's the worst. Joff and Stannis each believes himself to be the rightful king. Robb and Balon are trying to revive ancient kingdoms that did once belong to their families. Renly has neither of those excuses. He through the country into Civil War more or less just because he wanted to. Maybe he would have made a good king, but that's hardly the issue: the war that he started made things much worse on everyone. Cressen has the right of him: he's a little boy playing dress-up, and paying no attention to the reality he's creating.
Eli Bishop
15. EliBishop
Lsana: I pretty much agree about Renly, but another way to look at him is that he's one of the only characters who acknowledges that all these traditions are largely arbitrary. (The others are Tywin, who doesn't see why people make more of a big deal about a few murders than a huge freaking war, and the Hound, who refuses to give lip service to chivalry.)

Westeros was conquered by the Targaryens; they set up a succession and various alliances; eventually someone had to get rid of the Mad King (although everyone still disapproves of Jaime for actually doing the deed); Robert came out on top for no great reason. Who's to say there's any rightful king? Short of actually letting the peasants have a say in their own lives, Robb's way seems like the only one that really makes sense: give power back to the regional kings. Anyone who's trying to claim the Iron Throne at this point has to be either a deluded ideologue or a cynical power-seeker. Renly admits he's the latter, and thinks it's all a game, but as far as he's concerned the game was already started by others and he's just backing the one he likes best - himself.
Elio García
16. Egarcia
Lsana,

Did Renly make things much worse for everyone? I'm not sure. In the grand scheme of things, his real role was really just a drop in the bucket.

And the war he _started_? I'm not sure how that follows at all. The person most likely to be said to have started the war is probably Littlefinger.

I think Renly did look set to be the most promising of the kings -- despite his flaws, he seems to have served as master of laws conscientiously, and he seems to have had an awareness and facility for politics that Robb, Stannis, or Joffrey did not have.

Yes, no doubt he loved the idea of being king, of the pagentary and fame of it, but I do believe he would have ruled pretty well. Doubtless he'd end up a hopelessly decadent tyrant in his later years, of course, but to start with, definitely a step up from Stannis and Joffrey.
Kadere
17. Superquail
Renly is an interesting guy, but I think the Queen of Thorns had the right read on him when she said that he liked to dress up in pretty clothes and have tournaments and he thought that qualified him to be king.

When he has that conversation with Catelyn where he talks about how Robert didn't really have a "right" to the throne and that the only thing that really determines who is king is the one who has the power to force other people to accept him, he was making an excellent point. When Catelyn said that instead all the great lords should convene a council and choose their king, he laughed at her.

Power may be arbitrary, but he had a specific kind of arbitrary in mind, and even with that he wasn't able to hack it.
Elio García
18. Egarcia
The fact that Renly was able to raise the largest army of them all, that he was able to read the political situation correctly where Ned had it hopelessly wrong (how different things would have been, if only Ned had listened to Renly!), that he was clearly capable of diplomacy, that his sense of strategy was sharp (Tyrion praises the thought behind his slow progress -- it's not because he's lazy or just wants to have a great time, but because he wants Tywin and Robb to duke it out awhile and make it that much easier for him to snap them both up) -- all tossed away because of an aged misandrist who's got a beef with her oaf of a son and the young man whose coattails he's riding (and a one-armed blacksmith who knew him when he was six years old.)

Dude can't get a break.

I think the problem for Catelyn is that everyone would have laughed at her suggestion -- I don't believe Robb would have agreed with it either. Certainly not Stannis or Joffrey (or Tywin) or Balon. It was the wisest thing, but the realm was determined not to be wise, and if that's the case, Renly was going with the flow.

As to not able to hack it, well, in what sense? You have to admit that Melisandre launching a shadow baby out of her womb was well beyond the scope of what anyone in Westeros could imagine happening, so it's no great surprise that he wasn't able to plan for that particular contingency.
Andrew Mason
19. AnotherAndrew
bluejo@2:

but it doesn't really matter on a grand scale whether Joffrey or Stannis wins. It's not an epic battle between good and evil, light and dark, winter and summer, ice and fire. It's not a battle people are going to be singing about in a thousand years.

I'm wondering about this use of 'epic'; is it distinctive of the fantasy world? It seems to me that the battles in traditional epic don't have to be between good and evil, etc. Did it matter on a grand scale who won at Troy? And if the battle between Aeneas and Turnus mattered, it was because of the destiny of the winner rather than because of anything that would have been apparent at the time. If people are still singing about these things thousands of years later, it's because the poets made them worth singing about.
Elio García
20. Egarcia
AnotherAndrew,

I am reminded of Daniel Abraham's posts on the results of the "epic fantasy symposium" he organized with several other authors. He touches on the definition of epic in a way that may be relevant to your remarks. See here.
Kristina Blake
21. kab1
woah. totally, totally missed that part about Renly and Loras. I was questioning Margery's maiden status before her wedding to Tommen, but yeah, that explains why the Tyrell's are so firm about her maidenhood.
Kadere
22. Lsana
Egarcia,

Renly raised the largest army by marrying the Tyrell daughter. They happen to be the house that can raise the most men. A smart move, but by no means proof that he's a political genius. He had no support from anyone other than his own vassels and the vassels of his wife's house.

Renly doesn't seem all that interested in dealing with reality that doesn't conform to his interests. He honestly believes that Stannis is going to bring his navy to support Renly's takeover. No one with the slightest acquaintance with Stannis could seriously believe that, unless his wishful thinking was stronger than his grasp of reality.

Finally, Renly is setting up the country for perpetual civil war. Robert's rebellion was in response to specific illegal acts by Rhaegar and Aerys, and at the end of it, the closest male relative to the Targaryens not descended from Aerys ended up on the throne. Renly's "I can have the throne because I'm strong enough to take it" leaves open the distinct possibility that in another 5 or 10 years, someone else will decide he is strong enough to take it from Renly...

And yes, I would say that it definitely mattered that Renly decided to declare himself. If he had supported Stannis instead, Robb probably would have too, at which point it becomes pretty much everyone vs. the Lannisters. Lannisters don't win that one.
Elio García
23. Egarcia
I don't know, convincing people like the Hightowers (famously reticent to lend troops to anyone's war efforts, and powerful enough to make it stick) strikes me as more than just a good marriage swaying things. Having men like Randyll Tarly -- the best soldier in the realm, we're told -- follow him without too much complaint (and be loyal enough to him and Lord Mace to not swarm over to Stannis as so many others did) seems notable as well. And how was it that so many of those soldiers were happy to fight for Renly, seeing his "ghost" on the battlefield? He won hearts and minds, as they say. He had the same gift as Robert had, and we know how far Robert's gifts took him.

Who had more, really? Robb couldn't convince his aunt to support him, Tywin's friendless until after Renly's death and Littlefinger's embassy to the Tyrells and then the tide turns, Balon's friendless, Euron's deliberately friendless. Renly's the only king with any real sense of diplomacy.

As far as Stannis goes, I think you're reading more into his remark. I think he brought it up to make his hand seem stronger, and with the hope Catelyn wouldn't question it. She did, and yes, he then goes on to admit his brother hasn't joined him yet -- but then he points out how overwhelming the odds are against Stannis becoming king, so he's not really here nor there from his perspective. He certainly doesn't spend too much time gawping when he learns his brother has laid siege to Storm's End.

The "might makes right" theory ... as Renly says, in a certain sense they had to gin up Robert's claim... a claim which did rest on might makes right, in the end, because if it hadn't, Viserys would have sat on the Iron Throne, no?

I don't know. Historically, some kingdoms did fall the way you suggest, and others did not. If Stannis stepped aside and Cersei's children were invalidated (as we know they would have been with cause, and as they would have been with some ginned up reason even if there wasn't cause), Renly would have served as heir. I'm not sure people would have been that freaked out, in the end.

Finally, Renly supporting Stannis leading Robb to join in... I don't know. Maybe? But when the Greatjon stood up and shouted about not wanting to be ruled from some flowery seat or by some man who meant nothing to him, a whole lot of lords -- both in the North and in the riverlands -- agreed. There was a very deep dissatisfaction with all the claimants, Stannis included (Stannis especially, maybe; he is unlovable to an extraordinary degree).

Again, if only Ned had paid attention to Renly, so much tragedy would have been headed off. There was Renly actually arguing for the best of the realm, which was Ned as Lord Protector of the Realm in control of the situation and the Lannisters at bay. Clearly, he thought pursuing the crown was also for the best of the realm. Stannis was never an option -- too rigid to rule well, as Littlefinger intimated when he said how much blood there'd be if Stannis sat the throne.
Elio García
24. Egarcia
Let me add that Ned Stark did not argue against Littlefinger's prediction that Stannis meant war. I think he believed it probable. In the War of the Five Kings, Renly seems to be the only person who seems capable of pulling things back together with the least possible loss, and making it stay together. Maybe convenience isn't a great way to determine who ought to be king, but given the situation, maybe it ought to have been.

But still. Too bad Ned didn't listen to Renly.
Kadere
25. Superquail
"Ned Stark did not argue against Littlefinger's prediction that Stannis meant war."

One of the things I actually like about Littlefinger is that he seems genuinely interested in maintaining a minimum amount of bloodshed. He doesn't get caught up in honor, or who has the "right" to be king, or any of the ideological aspects of rulership. Instead he focuses almost purely on the practical.

Now Littlefinger is a sleazy bastard with totally inappropriate sexual feelings towards Sansa, but I think he's right about some things.
Kadere
26. earthlingdave
I must admit I haven't been able to finish Book 4. Anyone else have trouble getting past it?
Tristan Safyre
27. TristanSafyre
"Tyrion is such a great character—a highborn dwarf who wants to prove himself, who makes wits do instead of height. Who does that remind me of—but Tyrion isn’t at all like Miles Vorkosigan. He isn’t driven by honour and love of family, his father despises him, he has a thing for whores, he mocks honour and chivalry. Tyrion has a quip for all situations."

Tyrion, to me, is by far the most interesting character in all the books. Alhough his father truly hates him for the things that he unwittingly caused and is (their mother dying to give birth to him, and being a grotuesque dwarf), we see some respect that Tywin Lannister has for his son when he makes him the Hand of the King.

What he does as the Hand of the King though, is amazing. The way he wins Varys over (although the reader can't be sure if anyone can win Varys over), and the way he wins over the City Watch, are incredible given the fact that he is so shunned by society.

His relationship with Shae is sad and rather interesting to read as well. Tyrion shows compassion for women as all men do, but his love can only be shown with whores, because of his...shall we say complexion? Stature? Size? Ugliness? His own father Tywin and his brother Jaime do not help either, although Jaime's hiring of Tysha to wed Tyrion is well intended. Tyrion, as much as he loves Shae, always has the reminder that Shae is a whore, but as a reader it is hard to believe that Shae's "love" for her "giant of Lannister" is based on the profits she is reaping from that relationship.

Tyrions handlings of Maester Pycelle and others of the Kingsgaurd are immensly courageous and noble, given the fact that he is a Lannister.

Littlefinger is one of the most dangerous players as well, and seemingly just as clever as Tyrion. So as to not throw in any spoilers, I will stop here.

The book as a whole is fantastic, but there are some characters that really hurt me to read about. Sansa and her pitiful weakness and Daenarys shameful helplessnes to her brother Viserys are some of them. As Daenarys grows though, I start to fall in love - in a way - with who she becomes. And she makes for an amazing ending to A Game of Thrones.
Kadere
28. nancym
Tyrion and Arya are by far my most favorite characters. I am so involved with them, in a way that I haven't felt when reading in a long time. Good going, GRRM!

But I have come to hate Martin, too. Such as the fall of Winterfell, and poor Bran & Rickon- well, when I came to that part I threw the book across the room, cried, and didn't touch it again for days.

This series has me completely ensorcelled.

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