A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2)

by George R. R. Martin | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0553579908 Global Overview for this book
Registered by erinacea of Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on 9/4/2016
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Journal Entry 1 by erinacea from Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Sunday, September 04, 2016
This is the only book (outside of the usual Discworld reading project) I finished in August, which means I've completely failed my one-book-per-week resolution. (On the upside, I had just enough buffer left to make up for the missed week and I still haven't decided whether to include rereads after all, so there's still some leeway for the year as a whole.)

On the other hand, I did start a new job last month and the adjustment period always is particularly exhausting, and I think that counts as a mitigating circumstance. In fact, I was a bit surprised this book (started near the end of July) only took me 1-2 days longer than its predecessor which I'd read while still unemployed.

As mentioned in my previous review, a lot of my prior knowledge gleaned from a wiki spree was used up while reading the first book. There were two instances where I remembered a situational spoiler when a particular plot point came up, but apart from that, my remaining spoilerific knowledge that was relevant to this book amounted to knowing who'd survive to play a role at later plot points. To be fair, that's pretty important information, though.

As before, the prologue was told from the perspective of a character who spoiler, highlight to read was introduced at the beginning of the chapter and didn't survive its ending. I wonder if this might become a pattern.

This book was a lot more violent than its predecessor, involving several outright battles as well as a number of what in today's society we'd call "war crimes". For some reason, despite the constant reminders about the approaching long and cruel winter, nobody appears to be worried about the consequences of burning the fields, killing any livestock and causing the peasants to flee and abandon their farms. (I still don't understand how Westeros could possibly survive such a harsh winter given the limited storage life of most food items and the abundancy of pests even without outright destroying a large part of its fields and forests in the final harvest before the onset of winter.)

The (aptly named) Clash of Kings also introduced (or expounded more page time on) a number of characters I grew to hate. I particularly loathed Stannis and his "red woman" and their "god of lights". (More objects of my hatred mentioned below.)

I liked my previous way of grouping my impressions by POV character, so I'll continue doing that: (Coloured white to hide any spoilers, highlight to make them visible)

Arya
At the end of the previous book, Yoren caught Arya and cut her her hair, so it wasn't much of a surprise to find her hiding amongst a group of Night's Watch candidates. (Though I didn't expect a group of that size!) I'm very fond of the trope of women disguising themselves as men, so I was really excited about this sub plot while it lasted.
I was surprised to meet Gendry here (Robert's bastard, though it took me a while to remember the connection). I wonder who told Yoren to take him (most likely Littlefinger or Varis, both of whom like to play different sides). Given that Gendry himself has no idea why he was picked, I wonder what his future's going to be. (Who am I kidding? This is GoT, so he'll probably be hunted down and killed, leading to Arya spiralling into despair and guilt in a repeat of Mykah's murder in book one.)

When Jaqen H'ghar made his offer, I remembered the tidbit I'd read on wikipedia about Arya's ploy of listing his own name, but I was nonetheless impressed by the way she pulled it off. I liked how the book portrayed both her feeling of power and her guilt as a consequence of the murders. Also in general, her progression with respect to killing people is certainly interesting (and fully believable): her first kill happened out of self-defense and desperation, later she had Jaqen kill her tormentors, then she stood by and watched the guards being killed at her responsibility, and in her final appearance in this book she makes the conscious decision to kill another guard herself.

Will Arya ever get Needle back? (She does know the name of the man who took it, which I suspect will be relevant.) It's clear she's going to try to make for Riverrun, but will she make it? Will her companions? And most importantly, what'll happen when she inevitably runs into Nymeria?


Bran
I'm unsure about Bran's future, so when he was pronounced dead, I was surprised (mostly because I expected the murder not to happen off-page) but believed it. I was relieved to learn that (at least for now) he and Rickon are still alive. I also appreciated the implication of Maester Luwin asking Osha to perform a mercy-kill without spelling it out to the children, both because it's simply a grim reality and because its the last kindness the old man can do for his young charges. Very touching. On that topic, I also admired his strength in pretending to believe Theon's subterfuge to protect Bran and Rickon.

Catelyn
In this book, Catelyn's main function was to give the reader a glimpse into what happened with Robert's brothers arming for war without introducing yet another throwaway character (though Martin could have told part of the story from Davos' point of view). I feel like I was supposed to admire her attempts at mediating between the antagonistic brothers, but her impact was too little for this to actually work. Again, it felt mightily convenient that she just happened to be present when Renly was murdered. That was something that came out of nowhere! I know it was supposed to but I still don't understand what exactly happened there. It's only a gut feeling but I tend to believe Cat's observation that the shadow was Stannis'. What I wonder is whether Stannis consciously participated in whatever magic made this possible (making his contrary statement a lie) or whether Melisandre played on his subconscious desires (for his own good, of course).

It feels unfair that Catelyn is now grieving both her husband and her sons, while the latter two are actually still alive. Then again, I'm sure she'd prefer this state to them actually being dead. I have to know what Catelyn did no Jaime! Did she kill him (doubtful with Sansa still at Cersei's mercy)? Castrate him? Otherwise maim him? Or alternatively, did she plan to do any of these but was interrupted before executing the deed?


Daenerys
Unsurprisingly, Dany is still looking for allies in her plan to conquer Westeros. The biggest suspense in her plot arc revolves around the visions she witnessed. I'd better jot them down because I'm bound to forget otherwise:

three fires must you light ... one for life and one for death and one to love
So the first one already happened, right? She did that mainly to hatch the dragons. Drogo's funeral pyre and Mirri Maz Duur's death were just a side effect. The second one might refer to burning down the temple of the "undying ones", but that was caused by her dragon's fire breath and I suspect they're going to cause a lot more fires than just two more.

three mounts must you ride ... one to bed and one to dread and one to love
Okay, the first one was her silver to her wedding night. A ship also counts as a mount, and if her dragons grow to the necessary size, she's certainly going to ride them. Dread could refer to war... or Asshai, where I suspect she's headed next. As for love, I don't know.

three treasons will you know ... once for blood and once for gold and once for love
Dany already reasoned out herself that the first one probably was Mirri Maz Duur seeking revenge for her people's slaughter. I could see Ser Jorah betraying her at some point and either gold or (unrequited) love could both be motivations.

A tall lord with copper skin and silver-gold hair stood beneath the banner of a fiery stallion, a burning city behind him.
At first I thought this might have been a vision of the past, of Mad King Aerys who liked to burn things down, but of course his banner was the three-headed dragon. The Lannisters are all blond, but the banner doesn't fit them either. Maybe a vision of an alternate universe in which her son Rhaego was alive? (The description would certainly fit him.)

Rubies flew like drops of blood from the chest of a dying prince, and he sank to his knees in the water and with his last breath murmured a woman's name.
There are so many princes, could be anyone of them. Relevant to Daenerys would be both her brother (in a vision from her past) or a future lover.

mother of dragons, daughter of death
Why death?

Glowing like sunset, a red sword was raised in the hand of a blue-eyed king who cast no shadow.
The glowing sword makes this sound like Stannis, who I believe has blue eyes, and for all I know his involvement with this strange god of his could lead to losing his shadow. Even more so, if it's just a metaphor. Or it could refer to the white walkers who are also described as having blue eyes and who, being dead, might not have a shadow, but they're afraid of fire...

A cloth dragon swayed on poles amidst a cheering crowd.
A general impression of a puppet show? Or people cheering for the return of the Targaryens?

From a smoking tower, a great stone beast took wing, breathing shadow fire
A vision of the past or future when dragons roam Westeros again? The shadow fire disturbs me, though.

mother of dragons, slayer of lies
What lies? Somehow I hope she'll learn about what really happened to cause the rebellion that led to Robert becoming the "usurper" (mostly so I can) and do the right thing and let it all come to light.

Her silver was trotting through the grass to a darkling stream beneath a sea of stars.
That could be anywhere, at any time. Don't see how it's at all relevant.

A corpse stood at the prow of a ship, eyes bright in his dead face, grey lips smiling sadly.
One of the ships sunk during the Pyke wars? (Though I don't know how that would be relevant for Dany.) Or maybe something she'll see in Asshai; she might even have to entrust her voyage to an undead captain at some point.

A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness
This is a very peaceful and harmonic image that makes me think that, whatever else may happen in the books, ultimately there will be a happy ending. Does it mean the Wall itself is going to melt, or is the flower "merely" a harbinger of spring after the lengthy winter everyone is expecting? When combined with the story told to Jon in this book, the flower (probably a winter rose) is most likely a symbol of love, too, which fits well with the other prophecies.

mother of dragons, bride of fire
Fire makes sense, but why its bride?

*whine* I want to know more!


Davos
Davos might, in theory, be an interesting character (ex-smuggler with sarcastic views on his king's choices) but I somehow didn't warm up to him. I would prefer him somehow escaping the inferno, but I don't know him well enough to really care. His main purpose was to give an insight into Stannis' behaviour and outlook, and I regret to say that my highly negative opinion of Stannis Baratheon also coloured my lukewarm reaction to seeing yet another chapter from Davos' POV.

I really wish Stannis would have been a more interesting character. His strict morals make him stand out (even the Starks pale in comparison) but from the start it was obvious that nobody liked him much (including his subjects) and that he didn't even care. Worse, his willful attitude also harmed his strategic choices, so that ultimately he was forced to resort to cheating to have any chance against his brother at all. Now that could have made for a fascinating inner conflict but since I only got to witness the actions from afar, it only left me disgusted.


Jon
In a book hardly poor in plot twists, the most shocking one (to me) happened in Jon's final chapter. I'm actually somewhat surprised that despite his being such a popular character I never came across any mention whatsoever that he'd become an outlaw due to being forced to turn traitor. I guess that's what this amounts to, at least. At least this explains how someone as honour-bound as Jon Snow ends up leaving the Night's Watch - because he's essentially on the run. Qhorin Halfhand must have known that with himself dead (and by Jon's hands, too), Jon would have no way to prove to anyone that he acted on his superior officer's orders! I wonder whether he considered this possibility all along when he picked Jon as part of his party.

I expected his decision to spare Ygritte's life (while morally highly commendable) to backfire badly, but it looks like once again karma brings its own reward. I wonder whether, now that he has to set aside his oath anyway, he might end up choosing her (or another girl) as a romantic partner.


Sansa
While I still don't like Sansa much, I now feel really sorry for her. Other characters may suffer worse hardships but being completely isolated in a nest of vipers is a harsh fate to bear, and that doesn't even mention the need for Sansa to act nicely towards her father's murderer. I liked how her earlier adoration of Joffrey (always undeserved, in my opinion) is contrasted with her later disgust and hatred of him. That said, I felt that Joffrey's cruelty towards his fiancée went over the top, to the point of not being entirely believable. Her terrified reaction to her first menstruation, on the other hand, was harrowing and absolutely plausible.
Despite the change in circumstances, she's still the young highborn lady she was raised to be and has to struggle with even thinking about attempting to run away. I sort of liked that even when she realized her own naivety, she continued to act the same as before, both because it's such an ingrained behaviour and because she had no idea how else she possibly could act. I found it refreshing that once her manners and niceties had become a mere mask, it became some sort of armour because the others were so used to this façade that it was possible for Sansa to hide her real thoughts behind it.

I'm worried about the Hound's interest in her. In the last book I found Littlefinger's comments (about how she's so pretty and reminds him of her mother) terribly creepy, and now the Hound also appears to have taken a liking to her (enough to entrust her with his childhood secret), which might have been a good sign if we hadn't seen before what atrocities he's capable of. Sansa has few enough people she can trust (no one, really), so I'm worried she might decide to lean on the wrong people.

I couldn't help noticing that not only Sansa's idealistic view of knights and royalty has been completely shattered, but that the few people who have helped her in this book are in some form or other people she would have previously looked down upon: Tyrion the dwarf, Ser Dontos the fool, and the disfigured Hound.


Theon
I loathe Theon, I utterly despise him. I hated him from his very first appearance back in the first book when he kicked a decapitated head like a football and laughed. Thus, when I saw that he was one of the POV characters, I was deeply unhappy about it - and I didn't even know yet what was in store.

Despite my preferential opinion of the Starks, I grudgingly admit that Theon's feelings of having been slightened at Winterfell are at least subjectively valid and that he owes his birth family more loyalty than he does his captors. Irrationally, I am far more upset about Theon's attitude and behaviour than his betrayal. Caught between a rock and a hard place, he had to decide for one side, so he has a good reason for the latter. But he didn't have to be such a dick about it!
I hated the way he treated the captain's daughter and also the way he flirted with the "unknown girl" (though I rather like Asha!) though that at least took place on an equal basis.

When he captured Winterfell, for a short time it looked like he was at least efficient about it. When Bran and Rickon fled, it was understandable he had to try and track them down. Despite Jojen's prophetic dream, I was still doubtful Theon would kill the boys, not because I thought him incapable of doing so but because it would earn him the everlasting hatred of everyone within the castle he was trying to rule. So when it turned he actually had killed two children and proudly displayed their corpses, I was horrified. The worst part was that he'd acted out of wounded pride rather than because either of them could be a danger to him.
I finally lost what little remained of my respect for him when it was revealed that he'd in fact killed two other (entirely innocent) boys and passed them as the Stark heirs in an attempt to defend his shaky authority. (I still wonder why Reek thought to bring the sack of clothes with him. Did he expect the need to dress up someone else as the princes?) This decision cemented my opinion that Theon was not just cruel, selfish and power-hungry but also an abject and utter fool. What did he think would happen when eventually the boys would be discovered to still be alive?!

This other guy suddenly turning up to burn down the castle was confusing but I was so glad to see Theon go down that I can't muster the energy to worry about Ramsay Bolton, though I probably should.


Tyrion
Tyrion is still my favourite character. Once he becomes the (acting) Hand of the King, it becomes clear that in addition to his other character traits, he's also a good strategist and fully capable of making difficult decisions in complicated circumstances. Ironically, I really appreciated that especially the common people strongly disagreed with his decisions because I feel that's an extremely realistic outcome in this situation. I think I like Tyrion because his struggles (against people's expectations, wanting to be loved and trying not to care) are fundamental, human ones. Other than most of the other characters he's smart enough to know that despite his shortcomings he's got it easier than any of the common people. He's compassionate enough to try to help, yet retains a healthy self-interest so as to use his status, knowledge and power to live a good life. I can't help but admire that.

I did not expect him to actually ride out into battle at the end. I'm not entirely sure why he did. Because someone had to? Because it was the right thing to do? Because he wanted to play Jaime's role for once? I strongly suspect he didn't actually expect to survive, and I've no idea what the longterm consequences (apart from a hideous facial scar) of this decision are going to be.

I have a bad feeling about Shae. I suspect she's either going to die or turn against him at some pivotal point. I think it's obvious (and Tyrion even acknowledges it) that Shae's mainly interested in his money, but it appears he's a romantic at heart.
Maybe that's his true appeal: that he's a fairly complex character: suspicious yet trusting, both cynical and lonely, vengeful and kind, aloof and pragmatic, and all in all very relatable.


One thing I noticed only in hindsight was that the first book hardly mentioned any magic at all. The second book breaches the idea of a non-magical fantasy world as early as the prologue and continues to pile on examples of astounding magical feats (most of whom revolve around the Red Woman). I don't particularly like the sheer impossible extension to the characters' weapon arsenal this offers as I prefer to understand how & why something happens. However, following the alchemists' explanation linking magic to dragons it makes sense why all of this happens now: it's not just Martin choosing to introduce his world slowly and deferring the use of magic into the second book, it's actually a result of the actions Daenerys took at the end of the first book. Her birth of dragons at least contributed to Melisandre becoming more and more powerful, which in turns means that even though Dany currently is travelling away from Westeros, she's already closely connected to many of the major events (Renly's murder, Stannis' ascent, the use of wildfire at King's Landing) taking place within its borders.

I'm getting somewhat worried about the "red wedding". I don't know when it'll happen (from the title I suspect A Feast for Crows, which still is a bit away) but I know just enough to be worried. Major spoilers, read at your own peril! I previously had only known about the bloody event in general, but the information gleaned on the wiki (which, not knowing the characters, I couldn't place at the time) together with the recent plot developments led me to the terrible conclusion that the eradicated family are going to be the Starks (and possibly Tullys). This was recently confirmed to me by someone in a an unrelated conversation when someone mentioned that "there are no more wolves in Westeros". Now I don't care much for Robb or Rickon or, if it comes to that, Catelyn or Sansa, but the idea of losing Bran or Arya is painful. On the other hand, I (think I) know that Jon is still alive at the end of whichever the most recent book was and that Sansa is going to be married to Tyrion at some point (however that'll happen) and I doubt even the Freys would manage to ally themselves with the Lannisters and kill Tyrion's wife in the same fell swoop, so maybe some of them will survive? On the second other hand both Jon and Sansa won't carry the Stark name, so maybe in this respect they don't count? Then again, and this is me being incautiously hopeful, neither would Arya if she ever were to marry, and Bran might be incapable of fathering children, in the first place. But having all four of them survive hardly counts as killing all wolves. *sobs*

Still, looking forward to the next book (A Storm of Swords, part 1)

Journal Entry 2 by erinacea at Friedrichshain, Berlin Germany on Friday, November 25, 2016
Now that I've seen the second season of the tv series, I'd once again like to compare the two stories. This doesn't strictly belong here but to me, it's part of the literary critique.

Now I'm not someone who claims that a movie has to be 100% faithful to the source material. There are plenty of excellent reasons to change parts of the plot: to make the story more compact, to place a different focus, because an actor drops out, or simply because film and novel are different media.

That said, in some aspects of the story the series veers completely off course, in ways that affect the way the viewer perceives the characters. I'd like to take the time to have a closer look at the more relevant changes and try to figure out the reason behind each change and how it fares in comparison to the book.

As some of the changes may have impact on later events (at least in my speculations), this may be spoilery for the entire story (up until book 5). To be safe, I'll colour all spoilers white (highlight to make them visible).

Major plot changes

Daenerys
Though the main points and characters are still the same, Daenerys' plot was largely rewritten.
Skipping Vaes Tolorro and having Daenerys' khalasar camp in the desert instead makes sense. It's too unimportant a location to try and find a place to film it. Other than in the book, however, when Daenerys sends out her outriders to explore the area, not all of them come back alive. I suppose this was done to remind the viewer about Daenerys' enemies. Ser Jorah mentioned the other khals but having one of her riders beheaded (though it doesn't really make sense they'd send back such a fine and healthy horse) drives the point home. However, the scene left me really confused. According to the man's crying lover, it had been Rakharo who was killed; yet I am fairly sure that he's actually the guy returning from Quarth later on. But if so, who was the other guy? And what happened to the third one? Were the other two Daenerys' other blood riders? (Though to be fair, the first season didn't explain the importance of a khal's "blood of their blood", so maybe it's simply not such a big deal in that universe.)

Then, at the gates to Quarth, there's a lengthy scene where the leaders of Quarth explain that they can't possibly let Daenerys enter because it would be dangerous (fair enough) and they haven't even seen the dragons yet. What I don't understand is why Daenerys didn't show them her dragons; after all, they had every reason to expect her to bluff. I'm guessing that the script writers figured that Daenerys' refusal showed her to be a proud and independent woman, when to me it made her seem unreasonable and childish. In my opinion, showing them the dragons they wanted to see would not have made her weak but increased their respect and consequently Dany's standing!

But the biggest change happened when the warlocks murdered half of Dany's (and Xaro's) guards and stole her dragons! I guess having Dany seek audience with the Undying Ones and wander through a labyrinth wasn't nearly dramatic enough. While I disagree with the extent of the change to the plot, I did love the outcome: instead of wandering for hours through endless rooms, Daenerys merely faces two illusions that are all the more powerful for being answers to her heart-felt wishes: the Iron Throne, conquered and ripe for the taking, and Drogo and her child, both alive and happy to see her. Both times, it's the sound of her dragons screeches that reminds her of her more immediate goal. Watching her turn her back on these enticing visions to continue her search for her "children", that made me really admire her. I also loved Pryat Pree's (thankfully short) explanation for kidnapping the dragons and subsequently luring Dany towards them: because the presence of dragons strengthens the warlocks' magic. That was also mentioned in the book (though in a different place) and is actually a really good explanation that initially felt like drama for drama's sake. For some reason, Pree had not expected the dragons to be able to spit fire (or for Daenerys to command them), which is how she manages to defeat him and free her dragons.

Finally, Dany locks Xaro and her handmaiden Doreah into an impassable vault (death sentence: slow suffocation, I suppose) to punish them for their betrayal. This is something I don't agree with. The only person Dany killed before was Mirri Maaz Duur who pretended to be able to heal Drogo and instead killed her unborn child. Somehow, neither Xaro nor Doreah's betrayal compares to that. The way I understood it, Xaro wasn't even in on the warlocks' stealing the dragons (they killed his guards, too) and I can't really fault Doreah for seeking safety when she believed her mistress would never return.


Verdict: Ramped up for a maximum of drama. I understand where some of the changes come from but don't agree with all of them.

Catelyn

The changes to Catelyn's story line (which overlap with Robb's and Jaime's) are nowhere as extensive as Daenerys' but they do affect the way Cat (and Robb and Jaime) are perceived by the audience.

I'm in two minds about how I feel about Littlefinger suggesting that Catelyn should free the Kingslayer in exchange for her daughters. On the one hand, it feels demeaning that Cat wouldn't have gotten that idea on her own. On the other hand, she has a lot more reason (albeit misplaced) to trust Petyr for the bargain to be upheld than Tyrion or Jaime. Also, I do think that Cat is too shrewd to free Jaime for a mere promise without the desperation added by the news of Bran and Rickon's deaths (who by the end of season 2 are still believed to be Theon's prisoners). At the same time, it appears that her reason for freeing Jaime was the realization that he was going to be killed by Lord Karstark, so if she wanted Littlefinger's bargain she had to act quickly. For some reason, she completely fails to mention that fact to Robb, though.

I loved the changes the series made to Catelyn's conversation with Renly. Her success in managing to convince him to ally with the Starks makes the knowledge of his impending death all the more tragic. The killer shade was really well-done and the connection to Melisandre/Stannis a lot clearer than in the book. (Though they conflated Renly's camp with Storm's End, which is otherwise not mentioned and confused me quite a bit.)

It's a bit unclear why they had Jaime escape (killing two people in the process) only for him to be immediately recaptured. This achieves two things: a) it gives Lord Karstark a stronger motivation for wanting revenge (Jaime deliberately murdered his guard, which is more heinous than one knight killing another in battle), and b) it depicts Jaime as a bit of a psychopath, coldbloodedly killing a man he had a pleasant conversation with seconds ago. Maybe they figured they'd portrayed him too positively up to then?

It also confuses me why Catelyn would even bother to let Jaime swear an oath (at sword point or not, though this is not shown on screen) immediately following a conversation in which he boasts that vows are pointless and he does what he pleases. My own explanation now is that she counts on Littlefinger's promise more than any of the Lannisters.


Verdict: Numerous changes to Catelyn's motivations, though it's unclear yet how that'll play out in the long run.

Minor changes

Arya

The changes made to Arya's arc don't affect the plot as a whole, though they do have a (positive) effect on her characterization.

I sort of disliked that Arya got her idea of praying her enemies' names from Yoren because it seems like her thing, you know? I did recognize his story, though I don't remember if it was Yoren in the book or someone else telling their story to Jon.

I did like that it was made explicit how the goldcloaks knew where to find Gendry and how to recognize him because that confused me when reading the book. I also liked that Lemmy (who also died in the book) was mistaken for Gendry because he nicked the helmet. Arya "identifying" him was a nice touch, though a trick I've seen before (in Schindler's List, though it's probably pretty common). Having the Lannisters attack the group in the open did shorten the battle, but that's okay. Yoren got a chance to prove himself as a badass, though I missed the significance of them attacking the neutral Night's Watch. (Was that even mentioned?)

I also appreciated that Arya and the others were captured immediately because I feel there's far too much running away and never getting anywhere in her plot arc. The same holds for the torture taking place at Harrenhal rather than some random house and for the questions. Focusing on the Brotherhood over gold makes the torture more of a political thing than mainly driven by greed. I'd heard mention of rats being used for torture (well-known method of torture) in the series, though I had expected Ramsay Bolton to be involved, so I was still shocked to have it happen here. When Gendry was called, I was afraid for him because the script writers had changed so many other things that his death was a clear possibility.

But most of all I adored Arya's role as Tywin Lannister's cupbearer. Again, they're conflating two incidents (in the book Arya was Roose Bolton's cupbearer) but this allows us a closer view of Tywin. So far he actually appears to be a decent guy. Though he knows that Arya's keeping secrets (and he's trying to pry them out of her), I got the strong impression that he admired her tenacity and resourcefulness. He even likened her to his own daughter. It's unclear whether Littlefinger recognized her, though I suspect he did and is keeping that particular knowledge to himself for his own reasons.

She gave Jaqen different names than in the book (the circumstances also being different) but they're both reasonable (more so than in the book, to be honest) and her decision of using blackmail to help them escape (instead of bailing out some northern prisoners) also seemed reasonable. I'd been looking forward to Jaqen's transformation sequence but even when they cheated by having it happen while his back was turned I wasn't too disappointed, because it all worked out well.


Verdict: I approve of all the changes they did related to Arya. Together, they condense and simplify her arc. Surprisingly, she doesn't lose screen time because of this but instead gets extra scenes which strengthen her character and also provide insight into other characters.

Jon

While Jon's arc starts and ends similarly, there are some switches in the agency of characters, e.g. who makes certain decisions that cause events to play out (more or less) like in the book.

It's not at all surprising that Jon wants to go with Qhorin Halfhand, though personally I prefer the version where he's being volunteered because Qhorin's heard of him. Nice touch of Sam stepping in offering to take over Jon's duties in support of his friend.
The biggest difference compared to the book is that Ygritte plays a much bigger role. Instead of Jon nobly (but stupidly) letting her go, Ygritte uses his moment of weakness to tackle him and flee. While he manages to catch up with her, he ends up being lost (though he pretends not to) and, with Ygritte in tow, stumbles around trying to find his Brothers again. Instead Ygritte lures him into an ambush, which is how he ends up a Rattlebones' captive. Ygritte convinces Rattlebones to spare his life to present him to Mance. I'm okay with strengthening Ygritte's character, but it has a side effect I am less pleased about:
Since Jon got separated from his group before Qhorin could instruct him, his commander instead tries to set him up as traitor by yelling at him, pretending to hate him and ultimately starting a fight in which Jon is forced to defend himself and ends up killing Qhorin Halfhand. Understandably, Jon is shellshocked about this, but Rattlebones appears to trust him now. While this change works okay if you know what's going on, I feel it would be really confusing/misleading for someone relying on the movies alone. Also, poor Jon will now justifiably feel like a true traitor (not knowing that Qhorin intended to die this way) whereas in the book he always had the mantra that he was following his commander's orders. I worry that this has a huge impact on the character...

I am completely fine with Sam, Grenn and Edd (?) digging up the dragon glass instead of Jon because the main point is for Sam to have the dagger when he needs it. The Others appearing at the end took me by surprise. (I think that only happened at the start of the next book.) I am a bit confused why their leader (?), who looked awesome btw, didn't attack Sam. I got the distinct impression that he saw/sensed/whatever him. It's not like Sam's easy to overlook...


Some changes to Jon's arc I was okay with, but there are others I dislike.

Tyrion

Tyrion's arc was for the most part unchanged, though they changed some significant details.

I am really confused about where Tyrion hid Shae. There's never any mention of using a brothel as a secret hideout (I thought she lived at the Tower of the Hand) but somehow Cersei still arrived at the wrong conclusion about Tyrion's lover's identity. Who is this other whore? She's had a number of scenes so far, but her continued presence confused me. Also, what about this lion's necklace Cersei mentioned? I can't remember Tyrion ever giving any whore some jewelry...

I approve of all the changes they made for the Blackwater battle. The wildfire explosion happened differently than in the book but given the geographical limitations (how to ensure that the viewer wouldn't expect the city to burn down) having it happen out in the harbor was perfect. Eerily beautiful, too.

Tyrion's speech rousing the men to battle took too long considering the interspersed cuts of the battering ram splintering the gates, but the secret tunnel made a bit more sense than opening the gates shortly before the approaching army arrives. As suspected, they didn't go through with trying to giving Dinklage a convincing nose wound (that would have to be kept up for the remainder of the series!) but the broad scar is pretty good, too, though nowhere near as ugly.


Verdict: Though some changes were immensely confusing, others make a lot of sense.

Trivial changes

Cersei

As in the first season, Cersei gets a few extra scenes that are mainly used to make her seem more likable. I loved the scene where Cersei comforts Tommen and then is about to poison him when her father defeats the attackers. Her desperation, fear and sorrow are palpable. Whatever her flaws may be, there's absolutely no question she loves her children.

Verdict: I approve the extra scene.

Joffrey

I liked that Joffrey looked so frightened during the siege on King's Landing. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to add cowardice to his list of vices (possibly) but all I felt was pity for a boy who'd gotten in over his head. There were plenty of other opportunities to hate the boy. I don't remember if he ever tortured any whores in the books, but this sadistic display of power does fit his character.

Verdict: While some of the additional scenes are disturbing, I approve of their inclusion. Also, that's some pretty amazing acting. He may not at all look the part but after this display of talent, I agree with this particular casting choice!

Robb

Not a POV character, I know, but he got a few scenes of his own.

A significant change is the inclusion of Lady T (no idea how to spell her name), the nurse that Robb ends up marrying. By the second time the two had a flirty conversation, it became clear to me that she was replacing Jeyne Westerling, and on the whole, that's a change I approve with. Actually seeing the girl, admiring her courage, intelligence, morals and beauty makes the viewer much more likely to side with Robb in his decision to set aside his fiancée he never even met. This gives us a chance to get to know the Young Wolf and the focus on love over honour makes him much more relatable to a modern audience. Catelyn's protests have no chance. It's interesting how the book (telling events through Cat's eyes) took such a different, more conversative view.

Verdict: Good changes that make Robb's dilemma and decision more relatable.

Sansa

While Sansa does speak up on Ser Dontos' behalf, it looks like Littlefinger's planning to get involved more directly with Sansa's "rescue". When Sansa is swarmed by the mob, the movie makes it very clear that she was about to get raped when the Hound rescues, though I'm not convinced she realized that as she worries (and has nightmares about) being killed instead (rather than afterwards). Conversely, the Hound does not threaten to rape or kill her which was at least implied in the book. In general, they're painting him in a rather more positive light than in the books, though he's still violent and openly admits to loving killing.

Verdict: Slight modifications only, that make sense within the story.

Stannis

Stannis is not a POV character in the book and at least in this book we only see him through Davos' eyes, but he got a few scenes of his own that provide additional information to the character.

One thing I absolutely did not expect was to see Stannis fuck Melisandre (who's much more attractive than I imagined). Though this was implied by a few characters in the books, I didn't think Stannis actually would do this. According to the movies, Melisandre's shadow child (the one sent to kill Renly) was actually sired by Stannis rather than child birth a particular icky way of summoning a demon. Near the end of the season, Melisandre tells Stannis that a) the war will take years (though I keep losing track of time, this probably matches the books) and b) that he'll give up honour and all convictions he holds dear. This is highly intriguing and not something that was ever raised in the books.

Verdict: I approve of these bonus scenes, even though (or possibly because) they force me to reevaluate the character.

Theon (and Bran)

Though not a change, I liked the additional change where Theon is about to send a warning to Robb before he changes his mind and joins his father instead. It's such a small change but immensely powerful.

Though understandable given the medium, I thought that burning the bodies (as opposed to dressing the boys in Stark clothes) made it more obvious that Theon was hiding something. Maester Luwin finding out early about the deception weakened that particular plot point a bit (though not much given that, other than in the book, Theon decided not to inform everyone about Bran and Rickon's deaths) but it goes a long way towards explaining his compassion for Theon when surrounded by Ramsay's troops.

By the end, Theon seemed rather deranged, which was not the case in the book. Other than in the book, it's Theon's own men who betray him (presumably, I'm not entirely sure what they were planning) rather than Ramsay tricking him. I'm not entirely sure what to make of Dagmer's negative influence on Theon. In the book, Reek played a similar role though Theon ended up making his mistakes on his own. In the movie, I felt more like he was being egged on.

"Reek" doesn't make any appearance and neither do the Frey boys, Meera or Jojen. Seeing how Rickon and Bran are only accompanied by Hodor and Osha, this makes me wonder a bit whether a) they'll stick together, b) only Hodor will accompany Bran (essentially leaving Bran to make all decisions on his own), or c) they'll pick up more company along the way.


Verdict: The plot point surrounding Bran and Theon is missing a few characters, which serves to simplify the story a bit.

Summary

In general, I feel the second season took a few too many liberties with the story, though there were also a lot of changes or additional scenes that work better in a visual medium and/or enhance the plot or characters. Something that disturbs me a bit is that while the books manage to avoid glorifying battle and killing, showing death as something ugly and dirty, I got the impression that the camera sometimes revels in acts of violence. The Blackwater episode in particular was aesthetically pleasing in a rather disturbing way.

The actresses for the new female characters are exceptionally well chosen. I really like Melisandre and Ygritte and I absolutely adore Margery: She was such a pale character in the books, largely because we only saw her through Cersei's eyes (who dislikes her). But in the movie, she's pretty, charming, clever and very, very ambitious. A highly interesting character, as are the other two.

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