Nobody expects sequels to be good; however, when a sequel turns out to be great— ridiculously great—it’s something to behold. George R. R. Martin accomplished that rare and difficult feat when he published the second installment of his A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Clash of Kings.
When confronted by its sheer amazingness and its relation to the first and also acclaimed installment, A Game of Thrones, one may find themselves questioning what makes the second book in Martin’s epic series so…epic. Luckily, we at Bookstr have found answers to that question. To celebrate its publication anniversary, we give you the 5 best parts of ‘A Clash of Kings’ and why they are great.
Tyrion Lannister’s Witty Rise to Power
Underdog characters are always entertaining; especially, those that are highly competent. Tyrion truly came into his own from the very start of the sequel. After serving time in a mountainous prison, being captured by mountain clans, and suffering injury in battle, he was surprisingly named ‘temporary’ Hand of the King so his father could keep the Lannister war machine running.
Tyrion did not hesitate to make his presence known in the Seven Kingdoms’ capital. Let’s just say, his methods were cunning, practical, and, in every way, badass. From smart insults at his sister (the Queen Regent), outmaneuvering his political enemies, and preparing Kings Landing for the biggest assault since Robert’s Rebellion, Tyrion put his money where his mouth was and proved he was among the most capable people in Westeros.
Arya’s Journey and Independence Streak
From where A Game of Thrones left off, Arya got the crap end of the stick; with her father’s death and her whereabouts suddenly becoming hostile territory to anyone named Stark, Arya’s neck seemed awfully close to the chopping block from the very start of A Clash of Kings; however, her luck slowly improved as the plot progressed (though not on Tyrion Lannister levels). Under the custody of Yoren, the recruiter for the Night’s Watch, she began her slow voyage back to the North’s safety.
As is typical in A Song of Ice and Fire, safety quickly departed when her band was attacked by part of the Lannister force. With Yoren killed, Arya was impressed into the service of none other than Tywin Lannister, the man her brother Robb was currently fighting against. Rather than lose her cool in his midst, she laid low and befriended a Braavosi man with a knack for killing people, no matter how powerful or well protected they were.
She also befriended the surviving Night’s Watch recruits Hot Pie and Gendry, who were also captured by the Lannisters. Though Arya was still far from reaching her objective of returning to the North and her family, by the end of A Clash of Kings, she had gone from dependent royal troublemaker to fearsome, adaptable, master of disguise (the prerequisite for her eventual induction to the Faceless Men of Bravos).
The Introduction of Ser Davos Seaworth
For the first time in the series, we were introduced to a character who had overcome the caste system of Westeros. By the start of A Clash of Kings, Ser Davos Seaworth was Hand of the King to Stannis Baratheon (though one can debate on how legit Stannis’s rule was); however, he did not come from nobility. His career started with smuggling, though fortunately, his illicit activity proved advantageous for the victorious side of Robert’s Rebellion.
With a solid connection to Stannis Baratheon (despite some fingers lost), Ser Davos proved himself a valuable consultant for the late king’s eldest brother. As we saw with Tyrion, there’s something savvy about witnessing a character serve in a position they were truly meant for. In A Clash of Kings, the loss of Ned Stark was filled doubly by Ser Davos Seaworth and Tyrion Lannister. What’s more, Ser Davos served as the perfect capable match against Tyrion.
The fantasy genre just wouldn’t be fantasy without dragons. Even someone like George R. R. Martin (who aimed to bring realism to the genre) couldn’t resist the compulsion to add dragons into his story; however, he didn’t go all out, spewing dragons every which way. No, that would have lowered the value they had in the story.
A Clash of Kings began the slow satisfying burn of Daenerys’s rise to power, and the slow growth of her scaly infants. Though we still had a long wait ahead for them to turn into living weapons of mass destruction, they made the last Targaryen both valuable and vulnerable as she journeyed through the mysterious eastern realms of Essos.
The Foreshadowing of the Blackwater
One of the best parts of reading a book—especially one as rich in words as A Clash of Kings—is picking up on the little things and wondering how they will all come crashing together in the climax. The Battle of the Blackwater stands among A Song of Ice and Fire’s greatest battles, but that’s not solely because of the “battle” aspect.
The whole rest of the novel leading up to that fateful moment was full of slow and steady preparation on the part of the two primary opposing sides: Tyrion and Cersei Lannister vs Stannis Baratheon, Ser Davos, and Melisandre (the infamous Red Priestess). The setup of the hidden wildfire cannisters proved to be one of the most satisfying bits of foreshadowing in the book, culminating with a literal BANG. A Clash of Kings capitalized as much from setup and intrigue as it did with action.
A Clash of Kings is one gem of a read; it stands as the perfect example of what a ‘great’ sequel should do for any series. Rather than doing a repeat of the first book, it built on the characters, themes, and stakes already established, and left readers both satisfied and hungry for the next installment. Though it’s been twenty-two years since A Clash of Kings was unleashed, we—as fans—can still look back and appreciate how that first sequel furthered our love for Martin’s story.