Plot Overview: A Clash of Kings
A Clash of Kings follows the same format as its predecessor, A Game of Thrones - the readers witness events unfolding in Martin's beautifully crafted world through the viewpoints of a huge cast of characters.
The book picks up where A Game of Thrones ended. In the first book, King Robert Baratheon's death sparks off a civil war, in which three men declare themselves kings - Prince Joffrey Baratheon, Renly Baratheon and Robb Stark. Joffrey is Robert Baratheon's eldest son, so as Robert's heir, his appears to be the most legitimate claim. Renly Baratheon fled King's Landing after his elder brother's death, and crowns himself King after marrying Princess Margaery Tyrell, a move that puts the full power of the Tyrells behind him. The northmen, furious at Joffrey and the Lannisters for having Eddard Stark executed as a traitor, crown his heir Robb Stark King in the North.
A Clash of Kings opens with another man declaring himself as King - Stannis Baratheon of Dragonstone, younger brother to the late Robert Baratheon but elder brother to Renly Baratheon. He has sent his most loyal knight, Ser Davos Seaworth, to try and recruit the bannermen of House Baratheon, but they will not rise up to join his cause. The old maester of Dragonstone advices Stannis to find common cause with Renly and Robb, but Stannis refuses to even consider it.
Stannis and most of his bannermen decide to forsake the gods of the Seven Kingdoms for Melisandre's god, R'hllor or the Lord of Light. Stannis then comes up with a plan: he will spread the message throughout the realms that Joffrey and his siblings are the results of Cersei's incestuous affair with her brother, Jaime Lannister. This was the secret Stannis and the late Jon Arryn had uncovered in King's Landing and he means to use it to discredit Joffrey's rightful claim to the Iron Throne. When Davos tells Stannis that he has no proof for his accusations, Stannis decides that he will need to get a hold of one of Robert Baratheon's bastards to prove that a true Baratheon, even a bastard, has black hair; Joffrey and his two siblings all have the blonde hair of the Lannisters. Stannis decides to take Edric Storm of Storm's End into his custody.
And so Stannis lays siege to Storm's End, his younger brother's castle. Renly has a far larger army, but Stannis brings Melisandre with him to even up the odds. Renly laughs at Stannis' plans, but Melisandre uses black magic to slay Renly in his tent. The only two witnesses to Renly's death are Brienne and the Lady Catelyn Stark, who both escape from Renly's tent before the men from his army can accuse them of murder.
Most of Renly's bannermen switch allegiance to Stannis, but not all do. The Tyrells of Highgarden are chief among those who do not take up Stannis' cause. With a more substantial army behind him, Stannis continues his siege on Storm's End but when it looks like the siege is going to take up too much time, Stannis once again relies on Melisandre's black magic to slay the castellan of Storm's End. The new castellan surrenders to Stannis and Edric Storm finally falls into his custody.
Stannis then takes his host and marches on to King's Landing. He leads a large portion of the grounds troops to the capital while he gives command of his fleet of ships to Ser Imry Florent.
Catelyn and Brienne have by then escaped to Riverrun where Catelyn learns of Robb's victories in the west. They also learn that an attempt was made to rescue Jaime Lannister, but her brother Edmure foiled the attempt. Brienne wants to exact vengeance on Stannis for killing Renly, but Catelyn successfully persuades Brienne not to go on the suicidal mission. When Brienne offers to serve her, Catelyn accepts. Catelyn then pays Jaime Lannister a visit in his cell. They exchange information, but also trade insults. Frustrated at his arrogance, Catelyn calls out for Brienne, and Jaime's fate is left hanging as Brienne hands Catelyn her sword.
There is another man in the Seven Kingdoms who has kingly ambitions - Balon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands. His son, Theon, lost ten years to Winterfell as Eddard Stark's ward, returns to Pyke bearing a message from Robb Stark; in the letter, Robb offers Balon a king's crown in return for assisting him in the war against the Lannisters. Balon has other ideas, however. He launches raids against the western shores of the North, giving the main attack over to his brother Victarion and his only daughter Asha. Theon decides to leave Robb's service and seek his own glory by taking part in his father's campaign, but is very disappointed and angry when Balon only gives him a small fleet of ships to harry the shoreline. Envious of his uncle's and sister's part in the attack, Theon decides to go after a much bigger prize instead - Winterfell.
He manages to capture Winterfell with just a small party of men, on account of the castellan of Winterfell bringing most of the castle's able-bodied men to the Stony Shore to deal with the rest of the ironmen. Theon endeavors to treat the castle-folk of Winterfell well, but having once being Lord Eddard Stark's ward for ten years, he receives a cold welcome. The only two Starks at Winterfell, Bran and Rickon, soon manage to escape the castle. Theon spends a whole day searching for them without success, but thanks to a devious plan from one of his henchman, he returns to Winterfell with two dead bodies. The castle-folk are furious at Theon for killing Bran and Rickon. When his sister Asha comes to Winterfell, she too is critical of his actions, and states that killing the two Stark boys will only make him a bigger target for the northmen. Theon is outraged that Asha has only brought him ten men to bolster his already small force, but Asha tells him that holding Winterfell will be impossible. She offers him the option of following her back to her newly-conquered castle at Deepwood Motte, but Theon refuses.
When the castellan of Winterfell finally returns with a host of a thousand and more men, Theon is about to consider taking the black and joining the Night's Watch as a way to save himself but he finds unexpected allies in the form of Dreadfort men-at-arms, who launch a surprise attack against the northern host. The Dreadfort forces are successful and Theon lets them into Winterfell, thanking them for their assistance. However, the Dreadfort men have other plans - the leader knocks Theon unconscious and calls for his men to raze Winterfell to the ground.
Bran and Rickon, meanwhile, have been hiding in the Stark crypts all this while. With them are Osha, Hodor and the two Reed siblings, Jojen and Meera. When the group finally decide to emerge from the crypt, they find Winterfell burned and broken. They are soon joined by Bran and Rickon's direwolves, and the party scavenge for food and survivors. They find Maester Luwin, badly injured and dying. Before his death, Luwin tells Osha that since Bran and Rickon are Robb's heirs, they cannot travel together. They take Luwin's advice and split into two groups: Osha takes Rickon and heads for the kingsroad, while Bran, Hodor and the Reed siblings head north.
Meanwhile, the fates of the two Stark sisters after their father's death are a stark contrast to each other.
Arya Stark travels with a group of men and boys, led by Night's Watch Brother by the name of Yoren. Arya pretends to be just another boy joining the Night's Watch, with only Yoren knowing her true identity. Yoren is taking take the group to the Wall, and plans to stop at Winterfell along the way to drop Arya off. A small group of city guards from King's Landing catches up to them and demands that they hand over one of the boys, an apprentice smith by the name of Gendry. Yoren refuses to give up the boy and sends them back to the capital empty-handed. Yoren then decides to take his party off the kingsroad and head for Gods Eye. However, Yoren and many of the men with him are killed by a raiding party led by one of the Tywin's lieutenants, a Ser Amory Lorch. Before Arya flees from the fight, she throws an axe towards the three men who were tied to one of Yoren's wagons: the prisoners are meant for the wall, but Yoren kept them tied as he thought they were too dangerous. Without seeing whether the prisoners escape, Arya, Gendry and several other boys safely escape from the area. They travel on, heading towards Gods Eye, but are soon taken prisoner by another group of Tywin's men, led by Ser Gregor Clegane.
Gregor has other prisoners as well, gathered from the villages in the Riverlands that he has pillaged from. He takes all of them to Harrenhal, where Tywin's army currently resides. Arya works as a lowly cleaning girl, and one day, comes face-to-face with one of the prisoners that she saved during the fight with Ser Amory Lorch's raiders. The man's name is Jaqen H'ghar, and for saving his life and the lives of the two other prisoners during the fight, Jaqen tells her that he will help her kill any three men of her choosing. The first two men she chooses sit low on the Lannister totem pole; when Arya realizes that she needs to take out more important men, she takes such a long time to think of a third name that Lord Tywin departs from Harrenhal, leaving the huge castle to Ser Amory Lorch.
One of Lord Tywin's mercenary bands, the Brave Companions, returns to Harrenhal with captured northmen. When Jaqen refuses to help Arya free the northmen, she asks him to kill himself. Jaqen persuades her to change her mind, and she says that she will, if he helps her free the northmen. He does, and when they free the men, it turns out that the northmen were working with the Brave Companions to wrest Harrenhal away from Ser Amory Lorch. Jaqen then tells Arya that he has fulfilled all three of her wishes and undergoes a remarkable transformation which sees his face physically changing in appearance; he then gives her an iron coin and tells her that she can use it to find him if she ever finds herself across the Narrow Sea. Harrenhal then falls under the control of Roose Bolton, one of Robb Stark's bannermen. Arya is elevated to the position of Roose Bolton's cupbearer. However, after learning that Roose Bolton intends to give the castle over to the leader of the Brave Companion, a cruel and vicious man, Arya decides to head for Riverrun. She finds Gendry and Hot Pie, the only other surviving boy from Yoren's group, and the three of them escape from Harrenhal with swords, food and horses.
In the ensuing trial by combat, Bronn defeats Lysa’s champion. Lysa releases Tyrion unwillingly, and Tyrion and Bronn head towards the Lannister’s ancestral stronghold, Casterly Rock. Along the way, they are ambushed by a pack of savage mountain clansmen. Tyrion convinces them not to kill him by offering to reward them with Lannister steel weapons and armor; they agree and follow Tyrion out of the Vale.
In King’s Landing, Jaime Lannister, on hearing of his brother’s capture, loses his cool and flees the city, but not before killing several of Eddard’s men. Eddard breaks his leg in the encounter with Jaime; when he recovers, Robert makes him King again. King Robert then goes hunting while Eddard tries to do his duties as best as he can.
Shortly thereafter, the King returns from the hunt, grievously wounded after being gored by a boar. On his friend’s death bed, Eddard cannot find it in his heart to tell Robert the secret that he’s uncovered, that Prince Joffrey, Prince Tommen and Princess Myrcella are not Robert’s children, but Jaime’s. However, before his death, Robert proclaims Lord Eddard as Lord Regent and Protector of the Realm until Prince Joffrey comes of age.
Eddard then confronts Cersei, revealing the secret of her three children being Jaime’s instead of Robert’s and offers her the chance to flee King’s Landing with the three royal children. He then makes arrangements to convince the 2000-strong City Watch to arrest the Queen and her children if they decide not leave King’s Landing.
Sansa Stark, however, remains in King's Landing. She is treated as a hostage by Cersei and her husband-to-be, King Joffrey Baratheon. Joffrey often orders his Kingsguard to beat her for saying things he finds displeasing, so Sansa has learned to utter lies when speaking to Joffrey. The only Kingsguard to ever come to her defense is Sandor Clegane. Despite her situation, Sansa's heart remains pure and noble, and she even manages to save the life of a perpetually-drunk knight by the name of Ser Dontos by convincing Joffrey to turn Dontos into a fool for the King's court rather than have him executed. Sansa's action spurs Dontos to bravery; even though he is no longer a knight, Dontos starts concocting a plan to help her get out of King's Landing and back to Winterfell. When Dontos reveals that he has hired a ship to help her escape the capital, Stannis is already at King's Landing gates. Tyrion has closed the river to all ships currently docked at King's Landing so Dontos tells Sansa that he will only be able to whisk her away after the battle.
And it is battle that the defenders of King's Landing, though outnumbered, prepare very well for. Tyrion, coming to King's Landing to rule as Hand of the King until his father can assume the role himself, has not only dispensed much-needed justice in the capital, but also planned her defenses. Against his father's wishes, he brings his personal whore, Shae, with him to King's Landing. He plans to keep Shae well-hidden, but is dismayed to find that Lord Varys immediately learns of Shae's location in the city. Lord Varys, however, promises to keep Tyrion's secret safe.
Tyrion always manages to stay one move ahead of Cersei, and he often comes up with bold but decisive plans, one of which is to win the Tyrells over after Loras Tyrell leaves Renly's army due to Renly's death; unlike most of Renly's bannermen, Loras does not go over to Stannis. Tyrion, sensing an opportunity to get the full power of Highgarden behind Joffrey's cause, sends Petyr as an envoy to the Tyrells, to seek their alliance for the upcoming battle with Stannis.
The Battle of King's Landing sees the combined forces of the Lannisters and Tyrells smash Stannis' army apart. As a gift to House Tyrell for allying themselves with the Lannisters and the Crown, Joffrey breaks his betrothal to Sansa and takes Prince Margaery's hand in marriage instead. Sansa is extremely happy that she now no longer have to marry Joffrey, but Dontos tells that Cersei will still want to keep her as a hostage. He also tells her that the plan for her escape is now set and that he will be taking her out of King's Landing on Joffrey's wedding night.
Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, there sits another player in this game of thrones, the last survivor of a once-mighty house, who intends to claim the Seven Kingdoms because she sees it as hers by birthright -Daenerys Targaryen.
After the death of her husband, Khal Drogo, Daenerys is deciding where to go and what to do next. She decides that the red comet in the sky is a portent of her return to Westeros, so she takes her small group of Dothraki in the same direction the comet is pointing. Many die on the way, but eventually they come to a beautiful ghost town. They take shelter there for a while, until one of the scouts Daenerys sends out comes back with three representatives from the great city of Qarth.
Daenerys then makes her way to Qarth. When news begins to spread that The Mother of Dragons is in Qarth, many come to pay homage to Daenerys and her three hatchling dragons. They bring her many gifts, but it is not gems and jewels that she wants - she wants soldiers, and she wants ships to sail them to Westeros. She sells off many of the gifts to pay for an audience with the rulers of Qarth, but they turn down her requests for men and ships. Daenerys then decides to ask the warlocks of Qarth for assistance. When they try to steal her life, her black dragon burns the warlocks' ancient dwelling to the ground.
Daenerys then decides that she has overstayed her welcome in Qarth and begins looking for ship captains who will take on her, her dragons and her Dothraki as passengers. While in the quay, an assassin tries to take her life, but the attempt is foiled by two strange men: a fat man by the name of Strong Belwas and an old man who is Belwas' squire, who goes by the name of Arstan. These two men come bearing good news - Magister Illyrio in Pentos has hired them to bring Daenerys and her dragons and all her men back to Pentos, and the two of them have hired three ships to do just that.
While the clash of kings is going on in most of the Seven Kingdoms, there is another story being told. A party of experienced men from Night's Watch, three-hundred strong, have ventured far north of the Wall, to find out what the wildlings are up to. Through the help of a somewhat reliable ally, and information gleaned from a wildling prisoner, they discover that the wildlings are searching for something in the Frostfang mountains. While the rest of the men wait for the wildlings in a strongly defensible spot, three scouting parties go on ahead to gather more information on what the wildlings are searching for.
Qhorin Halfhand, legendary ranger from the Night's Watch's Shadow Tower, chooses Jon Snow as one of the members in his five-man scouting party. They come across a three-men wildling scout party, and kill two of the wildlings but before he can kill the last wildling, Jon realizes that the wildling is a woman. Qhorin tells Jon that they cannot take the woman with them, and he takes the rest of the men away to let Jon do what he must do with the woman. The wildling woman, Ygritte, seems to accept her fate, but Jon Snow finds that he cannot kill her. He tells her to run off, and she does.
Later, through a series of unexpected incidences, the scouting party has been reduced to just two men. Qhorin and Jon try to outrun the wildlings, who have been alerted to their presence and are chasing after them, but eventually find themselves cornered; Ygritte, the wildling woman Jon had let go earlier, is part of the wildling group. Qhorin reminds Jon of the plan they had come up with for just such a situation. Jon is reluctant to do it, but he plays his part anyway. He yields and asks the wildlings to take him in; they tell him to prove his prowess by killing Qhorin. Qhorin too, plays his part, and gives Jon a hard fight until Jon's direwolf, Ghost, joins the fight. Jon then manages to kill Qhorin, and the wildlings accept him into their fold. When Jon asks Ygritte whether they were all going back to the Frostfangs, she tells him that there is nothing left for them in the Frostfangs, and that the wildlings are marching towards the Wall.