Study Guide

A Clash of Kings Introduction

By George R.R. Martin

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A Clash of Kings Introduction

Want to discover if you are the hero of a fantasy novel? Take our quick hero quiz to find out:

  • Are you a perfectly moral boy or girl—mostly likely a boy, sorry ladies—with traits like honor and courage?
  • Do you stand against an evil so great that Nazi Zombies pale in comparison?
  • Do you have a special skill that allows you to oppose said Nazi-Zombie force?
  • Has a ragtag bunch of social misfits from all walks of life joined your cause for… reasons?
  • Have you been required to travel a great distance from your home village in order to accomplish some task or find a MacGuffin of Magical Awesomeness?
  • Do you seem oddly invincible, able to fight against entire armies and come out more or less intact?

If you answered yes to most of these, then congratulations, you are a fantasy hero, a gig which comes with protagonist perks. Although you'll struggle against impossible odds, ultimately you will be successful in your task, save the world from the forces of evil, probably get the girl, and likely star in the sequel as icing on the cake. That is, unless you live in a place called Westeros.

Had Eddard Stark taken our hero quiz, he would easily have passed. In fact, most readers of A Game of Thrones assumed he was the hero of the story. But then they reached the end of the novel, witnessed Ned's untimely beheading, and screamed something to the effect of, "What the heck? What's happening here? Has the world gone mad?" And those readers had to wait almost three years to discover how a fantasy story could keep on keeping on without that central hero to follow.

In 1999, they got their answer when George R.R. Martin published A Clash of Kings, the second novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Finally, right? Fans turned out in droves to support the book, and A Clash of Kings found itself sitting pretty on the New York Times's Bestsellers list more than one hundred times. And following in its predecessor's footsteps, A Clash of Kings also won the 1999 Locus Award for Fantasy and was nominated for the Nebula of the same year. Boo ya.

This installment in Martin's series didn't just nail it on the page, though. When it was its turn to receive the television treatment (the novel served as the basis for the second season of HBO's Game of Thrones), the season won six Emmys. And in both 2012 and 2013, it was the most pirated TV show, which feels like a fitting honor for a series that features so many ruffians and sneaks.

A Clash of Kings is far from the final book in this epic fantasy series, though—several books follow it. And while Martin is notorious for taking his time with his writing, this just gives us time to savor each of his epic books, our excitement growing until we feel we might burst if we don't find out what happens next already.

We won't leave you hanging, though, Shmoopers. And now, without further ado, let's dig into A Clash of Kings and see what we can find. After all, winter is coming.

What is A Clash of Kings About and Why Should I Care?

Don't let all the war, political scheming, and fancy-fantasy names fool you: A Clash of Kings is a coming-of-age story about finding one's place in the world. Whether that world sports magic and knights or airplanes and smartphones, we feel that's something everyone can relate to.

After the events of A Game of Thrones, the Seven Kingdoms fractured into civil war, dividing countries, families, and loyalties. As a result, the lives of many characters are forever altered, and whatever place in the world they once had is now lost. Consider a few choice samples here:

  • Tyrion, social misfit and libertine extraordinaire, becomes the Hand of the King and is suddenly responsible for keeping his family safe.
  • The ever-maternal Catelyn loses her husband and her family scatters across Westeros.
  • Ten-year-old Arya Stark is separated from her family and becomes lost in the big old world.
  • Daenerys also loses her family—see a pattern here?—and without Khal Drogo's strength to back her up, she has to take charge of her life as well as the responsibility of her people's safety.
  • In an ironic twist, Theon Greyjoy returns to his family only to find he has no place among them; his father believes his son has become more Ned Stark's son than his own.
  • Finally, Jon Snow travels beyond the Wall to discover the world is a bigger, more diverse place than he's ever imagined—and a more complicated one to boot.

What you might have noticed about these characters is that not all of them are children. We tend to think of coming-of-age stories as literature meant for teenagers and about teenagers. But adults just as often find themselves searching for a place they belong, especially after traumatic events, such as war or death, have altered the course of their lives. As this cast of characters suggests, we're always coming-of-age no matter how old we get.

So A Clash of Kings finds a variety of characters—young and old, rich and poor—struggling to either find or return to a role in the world where they can feel secure and of value. That's something we think everybody can relate to at one point or another in life, and a pretty good reason why we should care about this novel.

A Clash of Kings Resources


Across the Digital Sea
Here you'll find the Internet home of George R. R. Martin, a land with a bounty of information on the author's most recent projects.

Not a Blog?
Despite the name, we know a blog when we see one. And this is definitely a Martin blog.

Fiefs and Fandom
A premiere fan website dedicated to all things A Song of Ice and Fire. It lays claim to the "only author-approved" MUSH (Multi-User Shared Holodeck), a multiplayer online game where users are both players and creators simultaneously.

All Fans Must Wiki
A Wiki of Ice and Fire concentrates enough facts and theories on Martin's world that it has its own gravitational pull.


Premium Cable, Premium Show
Chances are decent even your mom watches HBO's show—for the dragons and Jon Snow.


Welcome to the Spoiler Zone
David Orr reviews the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series up to A Dance of Dragons. Enjoy his excellent analysis, but be warned: spoilers ahead, big time.

Red Versus Blue
This review of A Clash of Kings features two reviewers providing two different opinions. Which will you agree with?

Adaptation Nation
Many fans decry any changes in the movie versions to their beloved novels. Changing the tune, Charlie Jane Anders points out ten changes the HBO show made that improved on their A Clash of Kings source material.

Hook, Line, Sinker
Sam Jordison decides to start reading contemporary fantasy and chooses Martin's beast of a series. May the literary gods preserve him.

Family Matters
Jo Walton's review of A Clash of Kings reads like she is describing her family to us, both the relatives she loves and those she wouldn't invite to Thanksgiving Dinner.

Do You Believe in Magic?
Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson consider the very subtle form magic takes in A Song of Ice and Fire. No magic words and expensive special effects here.


Face Time invites Martin to answer questions posted by his fans on Facebook. Of course, he can't answer all of them…

Buy Seven Gods, Get One Free
Martin and the producers of Game of Thrones consider the religions of Westeros. It's a DVD extra worthy of the old gods and the new.

The Interview is Coming
Grace Dent discusses with Martin how fantasy allows him to escape to other worlds.

All Men Must Dialogue
Martin discusses his career, writing philosophy, and the difficulties and joys of writing the A Song of Ice and Fire series. This interview is, in a word, comprehensive.

Epic Hairdo Meet Epic Beard
Conan O'Brien interviews Martin, and they discuss how afraid you should be if you find yourself a character in a Martin novel.


GOT Theme?
The Game of Thrones HBO theme song presented in all its glory. Trust us, you'll be humming it all day.

Lannisters Always Pay Their Debts
"The Rains of Castamere" serves as the Lannisters' theme song for the show. This fan favorite appears in the novel's world, telling of Tywin's destruction of House Reyne. Check it out.

Winter is Coming
The theme song of House Stark sure does have some wintery sounding violins in it.

Mother of Dragons
Daenerys's song comes with everything you could want in a theme song. Unless you want synthpop, that is. Then you're out of luck.


Hardcover Cover
This U.S. hardcover edition features Joffrey sitting pretty on the Iron Throne. Let the reign of terror begin.

Heavy is the Head
Look familiar? This popular mass market cover tells you everything you need to know about the novel: There is a crown, and some guys will clash for it.

You Once Were Lost…
But now you totally know where you are, thanks to this handy map of Westeros.

Lannisters Versus Starks
This fan art shows the forces of Stark against the forces of Lannister about to go toe-to-toe.

Coat of Claws
The heraldry of the five kings has animals and colors aplenty.

How to Trace Your Dragon
We can't leave Dany out. Her heraldry features a three-headed dragon because, well, duh, right?

Who, What, Where, War?
If the back-and-forth of the war left you confused, this handy-dandy map shows who goes where and for what battle.

Boy Band of Westeros
So… the Weststreet Boys? This fan art depicts the five kings surrounding the Iron Throne.

Epic Win
John Howe paints the craggy shoreline of Iron Islands exactly as we picture it when we read. How about you?

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