After a painstaking summer of long flights and long walks and quick, quick bedtimes, I’ve finally completed A Clash of Kings, the second book in the “A Song of Fire and Ice” saga, better known by its inaugural book, A Game of Thrones.
I know, I know. Super timely.
But I felt the need to blog my thoughts after finishing this book. I had a similar response after finishing the first book, but it was a bit amorphous. I was having a lot of the “it’s not you, it’s me” feelings, or the “am I missing something” thoughts after Book One. So this time I focused a bit more, and it turns out, over two thousand pages later, that my initial thoughts might have been right. It might not be me. It might be you, Game of Thrones. And while I’m not going to call all of the people who swear by you “liars,” well, if the foo shits…
But I’m still a bit amorphous on the whole thing. I need to talk my way through it, to purge a bit, if you will. And it’s a little too much to put into a Goodreads review, so I just stamped a 2-star review on that bad boy and I’ll try to flesh it out a little bit here. And if the fans want to get super angry with me and point out that I totally missed that reference on page 737 of Book Five, well then fine. You’re probably right. But I know I’m not alone in missing many of the obscure references.
So… uh…, spoilers ahead, and all. For a book that came out two decades ago. Which was turned into a season of a TV show a half-decade ago. No, you know what? You’re reading a blog about a book. If I spoil anything, that’s on you.
To start with, why the hell am I just now reading a two decade old book that was turned into a season of a TV show a half-decade ago? Well, I sort of had this idea that I wanted to read the books before seeing the show. Because I’m damn sure not going to read this drivel AFTER I’ve watched the show. Of course, this decision was made before the TV Show went ahead of the books, and that the books might never get finished, so the TV shows are now the de-facto, definitive version of the story. By the time all of that became apparent, I had already purchased the second book and it was taking up space on my bookshelf.
I read the first book twice. Well, I started it twice. I only finished it once. I actually started A Game of Thrones long before the TV show came out. I heard about this highly-touted new-ish series and asked a couple friends if they wanted to read it with me. My guess is the TV show had been announced but not premiered yet. Otherwise, I’m not sure how I would’ve known it was highly-touted. I’m not exactly up on the most recent books. For instance, have you heard that they’re making movies of Marvel characters now? Oh, and there’s some sort of seven-year wizarding school that brings all the boys to the yard.
My pop culture references are just as up to date as my reading list.
Anyway, my two friends said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” In one of their defences, the last time I had talked her into a new fantasy series, it was Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time,” a series that at last count, had around infinity pages, and that doesn’t even count the Brandon Sanderson completion of it after Robert Jordan died. By the way, I stopped that series after Book Five and my friend continued reading until the bitter end. So I don’t necessarily blame her caution when I approached a brand spanking new set o’ books.
The other friend that said no was just being a dick, I assume.
On my first attempt at A Game of Thrones, I made it about a hundred pages. One-hundred painstaking pages. Trust me, I did my due diligence. Every time a place was mentioned, I looked back at the map. Okay, I thought, there’s a wall that’s suspiciously in the same general spot in Westeros as Hadrian’s Wall is in Britain. So the evil, uncivilized Wildlings that live beyond the Wall and portend the end of the world is coming are basically the Scots. Okay, that checks out. .
And from the first few chapters of the book, I can tell that the Wall, and the evil Scots er, Wildlings, are going to be the primary focus of this series. Plus some winter and some games and some thrones, perhaps.
And when the second or third chapter didn’t make any reference to the Wall, I was okay with it. According to the map, Winterfell was a little south of the Wall, and I’m guessing those wolves they found are gonna help defeat the dastardly Scots. I’m sure we’ll get back to the main plot any time now. And if this fucktard can’t figure out if his name is Ned or Eddard, who am I to question him?
Then came a chapter in a completely different part of the map with some characters that hadn’t even been referenced yet, but that’s fine. I can find King’s Landing on the map. And I know it’s based on the War of the Roses, so if there are some York’s, there must be some Lancasters. And some dragons, because the real War of the Roses had dragons. And wights and midgets and Targaryans…
Wait, are the Targaryans the Plantegenets?
And yeah, I know the wights are called white walkers, but they’re just wights. I’ve played D&D. I’ll grant you your stupid way of spelling “Sir,” Mr. Martin, but using a homonym and putting the word “walker” after it doesn’t mean you invented it.
Speaking of the Targaryans, I know precisely where I finally gave up on my first read-through of A Game of Thrones. The first chapter from Daenerys’s point of view. Why? Because her shit takes place of the fucking map. If it was just a once-off, like the character is boarding a ship in a far of land en route back to Winterfell or King’s Landing or any one of the numerous other places on the wonderful map at the front of the book, I would have been fine. You know that wonderful map that you put at the front of your book? The one that looks suspiciously like England? The one that I’ve spent as much time with as your actual verbiage in the first hundred pages? Yeah, that map. Daenerys wasn’t on the fucking map. Why the fuck are you gThe one where I’ve spent at least as much time as I have in the actual verbiage of the individual chapters. I mean, the map is quite clearly England, so I can only assume she’s in France, waiting to cross the narrow channel.
And it was very clear that Daenerys, who hadn’t been mentioned anywhere prior to any point, was going to be spending her entire time completely off the map. And not, like, in France. She’s in fucking Asia with the Mongols. And she’s moving from spot to spot over there. Why the fuck are you going to put a map at the front of the book if there are sizable chunks of the book that don’t take place on the map? And you’re expecting me to follow her decisions on whether to go this direction or that, to this city or that port, via this desert or that grassy plain, but I can’t join her in this inner monologue because I have no fucking idea where she is!
So I put the book aside. I thought about throwing it away, or selling it to a used book store. Hell, I thought long and hard about burning the damned thing.
But instead, I just put it back on the bookshelf. The TV show would fail and I’d never have to think about it again.
Famous last words.
Sometime after the first season, I decided to give it another go. Both of my friends who had no interest in joining me on my first sojourn had since read the whole fucking thing. Now they’re the snooty ones who are posting thinly-veiled spoilers to the TV show watchers. “Oh boy, that Red Wedding’s going to be an absolute blast!” “Oh, did that surprise you? Maybe you should read the book.”
Yeah, I TRIED to read the book, mother fucker, and you wanted nothing to do with it until you could lord it over the masses.
Anyway, I finally decided to give the book another try. Only this time, I went in the complete opposite direction of my normal “read before watch.” Instead, I watched the first season, then read the book to see if I could make more headway. And, I’ve got to tell you, it really helped! It helps to put faces with names. I mean, Peter Dinklage is fucking brilliant. So being able to see his smirks and hear his sarcasm in my head whenever I read Tyrion’s actions and dialogue make me much likelier to get through whatever current scene he’s in. Even moreso in the second book, when everyone underestimates him, and I’m like, “Hey, Tywin, quit whining about Jaime. You’ve got Peter fucking Dinklage on your side.”
The other reason watching the TV show before reading the book helped is that George R. R. Martin, um, how do I put this… isn’t all that clear in his writing. Seriously, even when I was reading a scene I remembered from the TV show, I couldn’t fucking figure out what was going on half the time. I specifically remember the scene where the dragons are born. I knew the dragons were being born because I had seen it on TV. But if I were reading it without that experience, I would have no fucking clue that anything of the sort was happening. There was all sorts of stuff about fire. She was walking into the fire. I thought maybe it was metaphorical, because her husband, Aquaman, had just died. Maybe it was a cleansing fire or something. But no, it was a real fire, with real dragons being born. You just have to dig really, really deep into the words to guess that. I’m glad I had seen the show, otherwise when I started A Clash of Kings, I’d be like “Whoa, where the fuck did those baby dragons come from?”
I wish I had some individual passages to point out how confusing George R.R. Martin’s writing can be. Perhaps the precise paragraph where the dragons might or might not be being born. But as soon as I was done with the book, I burned it. I sent it through a shredder. I wiped my ass with it. I threw it from the highest parapet into the depths of Hell itself.
Okay, all I really did was sell it to the used-book store. It’s the same general idea. I knew I never wanted to see it again. It might have been as painful as the four years it took me to read Les Miserables, but the battered copy of Les Miserables is a much starker badge of honor upon my bookshelf. Nobody’s going to look at me like a martyr for making it through George R.R. Martin like they do about Victor Hugo.
And really, the two books are similar. Nobody would read Les Miserables if not for the really good musical. Hell, had I known that Eponine was really a tiny side role, not a tragic martyr, I still might’ve skipped it. So fuck you, Cameron Mackintosh, for making such a lovable character. And while I’m at it, fuck you, Victor Hugo, for not being able to get to the fucking point. I mean, really, Victor? Fifty pages on the Battle of fucking Waterloo in order to advance the plot one page? Thenardier steals teeth from corpses at the end. There, I did it in one sentence. Scoreboard! Maybe if you had fit Les Miserables into the five-hundred or so pages that would’ve been plenty, then asshats like George R.R. Martin wouldn’t automatically assume that you need to write 1,000 pages to be considered a real author.
Sorry, where was I? Oh, right. I was writing about how brevity is wonderful and that writers should not be prone to frivolous, tangential excursions from the point. Okay.
So yeah, I sold A Game of Thrones to the used-book store and decided to never look into Westeros on the printed page ever again.
So where did my version of A Clash of Kings come from? Well, you know how women forget about the labor pain? And drunks forget the hangover? Pain becomes more distant in the rear-view mirror. So six months later, when my wife needed an extra ten bucks to get free shipping on the Amazon order, I obliged her with a “Throw that second Game of Thrones book on there.”
It then sat on my shelf for three years, as I waited for a time when I would have enough time, and enough will to live, to tackle the next thousand pages. This summer proved that time. And now, after four months of focusing on one book, of a continuous struggle of “fuck, I really need to finish this shit,” I’m pretty much at the same place as I was in 2012. I’m fucking done with this series. I cannot envision a time when I will want to put the rest of my literary
So yeah, get ready for my review of A Storm of Swords in about five years.
But this time, I decided to do it right. Read the book before I watch the show. See if I can follow what’s going on. Good news is that I was able to figure it out. Even after many years, I could still envision Sophie Turner and Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage. To say nothing of the dragons that I had seen born on TV, but not in a book. So in a scant four months, via many long airplane rides and even more long walks, I made it to the end.
I was even able to follow the plot a little bit. Arya was pretending to be a boy, then she wasn’t. She went north, then was captured, then led a rebellion in her new city because nobody knows who she is. She had some companions, the only one of which I remember was Hot Pie. I imagine at some point they explained why he was called Hot Pie, but it was probably in a passage where they explained the nicknames of seventeen other characters. But you have to wait four hundred pages to figure out which ones survive and/or get mentioned the most.
Arya still isn’t reunited with her wolf. I guess that’s a plotline to be picked up in book three. Or maybe book four. When she sent the wolf away, about a third of the way into book one, I assumed the wolf would show up at the end to save them all. But it was left to linger, almost forgotten about. So I assumed it would pick up in book two. It’s hinted at a lot, but nothing happens. I guess I’ll find out in book three. Or four… Or five.
Not that I’m going to read those books. Maybe the TV show will answer my questions.
Sansa was still in King’s Landing for, like, the whole fucking book. She seems particularly unconcerned at her sister’s whereabouts. And even though their parents sent emissaries to deliver a message, evidently they didn’t bother to look for the daughters, because nobody on either side has any clue where Arya was. Or maybe the emissaries did look but were told a cover story. I don’t really remember.
The Baratheon brothers were fighting each other. I thought for sure that Renly was going to beat Stannis, because Renly’s storyline introduced a character that was being given way too much backstory, so clearly she’s going to be a major character. See above: “Pie, Hot”. But then Stannis has a priestess that sends a shadow out of her hoo-haw that kills Renly. Then Brienne, the new character, joins Mrs. Stark.
And then they make up some bullshit about how the Vagina Monster can’t cross city walls, but I don’t know. It seems a little deus ex machina if Pussy Demon can kill anybody and a little deus ex machina to have some bullshit barrier to not make the books end immediately. But whatever.
Oh, and there’s a major battle at the end. Something with ropes in the bay and fire. I can’t really explain it. Tyrion was on one of the boats, all of which burned and sank, but he somehow ended up back home. Oh, and he has a whore he really likes.
Oh, and Theon wants to bang his sister. And might or might not have killed Bran.
Did I miss anything? Did I totally misunderstand something? Probably. I could look it up. I haven’t traded it in for store credit yet. But I wouldn’t necessarily be able to figure it out the second time, either.
Because, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll spell out my review. George R.R. Martin is a very opaque, obtuse, unclear writer. Did I just use three words that mean the same thing? I did. And if George R.R. Martin were reviewing this blog, he’d wonder why I was so brief. The thesaurus has at LEAST ten more synonyms I could’ve thrown in there. You’re not going to fill ten thousand pages THAT way.
But it’s not just about using ten words when two will do. It isn’t only a case of meandering to get to the point. He’s also unclear when he gets there. I referenced the Waterloo portion of Les Miserables earlier. Yeah, it’s a fifty page diversion that barely advances the plot at all. However, when it finally does advance the plot, it only takes a few pages. And it’s clear as day. There’s Thenardier, and there’s Marius’s grandfather. And here’s their conversation, completely contained on pages 357 and 358. The conversation doesn’t start twenty pages earlier and contain thirty-five flashbacks and descriptions of the interior of the castle and that one whore that Tyrion lost his virginity to, before finally returning to the next sentence in the conversation, leading to a somewhat obscure ending.
For instance, take the chapter where Theon wanted to sleep with his sister. He didn’t know it was his sister, although it was obvious to the reader. One or two references would’ve been plenty, but dude is hitting it HARD. Describing in graphic detail what he’s going to do to her. Even though she claims to be pregnant and uninterested. The first exchange was insulting, the second one was skeevy, and by the seventh time, in a ten-page span, it’s like, dude, take a hint. And the “dude” I’m referring to is Martin, not Theon.
And then we’re led to believe Theon’s killed Bran. I knew he hadn’t because I looked at all of the upcoming chapters and noticed the last chapter was a Bran chapter. After pretty much every chapter, I would scout out the next few chapters, just to see if I would ever get back to a certain character or story. Although really, all I wanted to know was how much closer I was to the end. Just like when I’m grading papers. Twenty left, and then I grade one and have to count again. Let’s see, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen… Hmm… Let me read one more and see if the count changes to, like, three left.
But had I not been impatient to be done with the book after a summer of sluggish progress, I don’t know that I would’ve realized that Bran wasn’t really dead. Sure, we never saw the body. And in the last Theon chapter, he realized he was on the wrong path, then turned back to look in the other direction. Then all of a sudden, everyone in all of Westeros thought Bran was dead. His head was on a pike. Odd to not show that scene, but whatever. I’m sure there’s a rape scene that needed vital page-space.
I think there was supposed to be a hint to the reader, even the patient reader, that Bran wasn’t really dead. At the end of a ten-page, mostly inner-monologue Theon chapter, wherein he’s just, in general, looking around all of Winterfell and commenting on lots of things, he looks at the heads on the sticks. And thinks, “The miller’s boys had been of an age with Bran and Rickon, alike in size and coloring, and once Reek had flayed the skin from their faces and dipped their heads in tar, it was easy to see familiar features in those misshapen lumps of rotting flesh.”
That’s it. That’s the only reference in the entire book, until the last chapter, that Bran is alive. This was baby dragons all over again. Had I not cheated, I would’ve had no fucking clue that Bran wasn’t really dead.
So that’s really what it comes down to. Too fucking confusing. And sure, there are times that Martin, like any good writer who wants the readers coming back for more, is intentionally obtuse. But I feel like, even when he’s trying to be straight-forward, his wordiness and writing style lack clarity. The English language has rules for a reason. And when you have two people engaged in conversation, each person is supposed to get a new paragraph every time they speak. There are a few times in A Clash of Kings where two people are speaking in the same paragraph. With scene descriptors in between! At other points, there will be five men in the room and the dialogue tag will read, “he said to him.” Umm.. Who said to whom?
A number of people have told me they stopped reading the book because there were too many characters. And while that’s a valid criticism, I don’t feel it’s the number of characters as much as it is how they are used. There are name dumps with seventeen different people listed in one paragraph. Ser Fucktwat walks in with his retinue of Jim and Fred and Bobby and John and Paul and George and Ringo and Stick-up-ass Boy, followed by Velma and Ricky and… well, you get the point. Then, a hundred pages later, Bobby’s doing something and I’m left wondering if this is the first time he’s been introduced or if I’ve just been a lousy reader. And then, ten pages into his next appearance, it’s mentioned that he once worked with Fucktwat, who is no longer known as Ser. And then I have to decide if I need to re-read the last ten pages now that I know who he is. And inevitably, I will say no, and then, a hundred pages from now, when Velma shows up, I’ve not only forgotten about her time with Fucktwat, but also that Bobby has since showed up.
But there’s no context clues to help us. That’s on the writer, not the reader. If Bobby is the one that we’re supposed to remember, give him something noticeable. Like Hot Pie. Or Stick-up-ass Boy.
But if it was just about crappy writing, I wouldn’t be devoting 4,000 words to this, right? Here’s the problem: plotwise, George R.R. Martin is awesome. As frustrating as he is to read, the characters are intriguing as fuck. Which makes it worse because, dammit, I really want Arya reunited with her goddamn wolf. And I guess her family, too. But it’s mainly Nymeria that I’ve been waiting for fifteen hundred pages to see again.
So maybe I should just watch the TV show now? Did I really feel I was missing anything when I watched season one? There really wasn’t anything I picked up when reading the book after watching the season. And I doubt I gleaned tons more by reading book two before seeing season two. At some point, when you’re years behind, you lose the smug satisfaction of knowing what’s going to happen before it happens on the screen, right? I’m the one avoiding spoilers. We were recently talking about the new X-Men movie in the lunch room and someone referred to Sophie Turner as “Sansa, the Queen of the North,” to which I responded, “Aw, fuck. Robb’s gonna die?”
And I seem to think that something is going to happen at the Red Wedding.
So maybe that’s it. Maybe I’ll just try to get caught up on TV. I’ll decide after I get around to watching season two. Cause, dammit, watching ten episodes of adult TV in between the constant stream of “Vampirina” and “Muppet Babies” at my house is tough. I hope I don’t forget everything that happened first. Maybe I should just head on to book three. Audio book this time? I spend two and a half hours in the car each day. I should get through that fifty-hour audible file in.. let me see…
Holy shit, fifty fucking hours? For one book? All of a sudden my four months doesn’t seem so bad.
But still, the way Audible works, fifty hours costs the same as eight hours. I bet my economics textbook would have something to say about that. If I can ever get around to reading it.