1. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”
“So power is a mummer’s trick?”
“A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”
This conversation between Varys and Tyrion occurs immediately after Tyrion has replaced Janos Slynt with Jacelyn Bywater as the commander of the City Watch. Varys poses Tyrion a riddle about which is strongest, political power, religious power, or economic power. The riddle leads them to discuss the nature of power and how it gets exercised. Varys puts forward the view that the perception of being powerful, rather than any absolute measure of power, is what makes someone powerful. Tyrion expresses some skepticism about this notion, but Varys insists that although it makes power sound illusory, illusions can kill.
The quotation makes explict an issue that runs throughout the book, namely characters’ efforts to manipulate their and others' images for gain. Theon, for instance, wants people to fear and respect him, so he acts in ways that he thinks will make him appear intimidating. Stannis wants to be recognized as the rightful king, so he helps spread the rumor that Joffrey is born of incest. (Of course, this point is true, but it is not generally perceived as being true.) While the novel seems sympathetic to Varys’s argument that power depends on perception, it also shows the difficulty of controlling perception, and thus the difficulty of wielding power effectively. Ironically, the character who seems to be most loathed by his subjects, Tyrion, winds up exercising power more skillfully than anyone else in the novel. The novel thus suggests that while there is definitely a relationship between power and perception, it is a thorny, complicated one that few people can manage well.
2. “Kings have no friends,” Stannis said bluntly, “only subjects and enemies.”
Stannis makes this remark to Catelyn at the parley with Renly, after she says that Robb, the King in the North, holds out his hand in friendship to everyone. At its heart, A Clash of Kings is a story about people grappling for power and authority, and this quotation presents one of the costs of that struggle. The desire for power, it suggests, leaves no room for love or friendship. Stannis intends his quip simply as a dismissal of Robb’s gesture, which he sees as naive, but it has a particular relevance to his own situation. Stannis has the most legitimate claim to the Iron Throne, but he has trouble rallying supporters, as people find him personally distasteful. He claims to be uninterested in whether people like him so long as they obey him. Having alienated so many potential supporters, however, Stannis finds his path to the throne a difficult one. His hardness and ambition have left him with a few subjects and many enemies.
This desire for power above all else appears in multiple characters. Joffrey, who is currently the ruling king of Westeros, faces a similar situation in that he views others only as subjects or enemies. Theon, too, sacrifices all else for his ambition. Though he was raised among the Starks and grew so close to the family that Robb considered him like a brother, his ambition caused him to throw away that bond and try instead to claim Winterfell as his own. Notably, the only king in Westeros who does appear to have genuine friends is Robb Stark, and he was elevated to his position almost democratically, as the Northmen selected him.
3. “Winterfell’s not in the south,” Jon objected.
“Yes it is. Everything below the Wall’s south to us.”
He had never thought of it that way. “I suppose it’s all in where you’re standing.”
“Aye,” Ygritte agreed. “It always is.”
This conversation between Jon and Ygritte, which occurs after Jon and Stonesnake capture the wildling woman, refers to the importance of perspective in determining what one considers the truth. Ygritte gets Jon to see that the view of reality a person takes depends on that person’s subjective perspective. The novel itself illustrates this point many times, as characters take radically different views of incidents, developments, and especially other people as a result of their personal biases. Catelyn, for example, sees the Lannisters as essentially evil. So deeply does she feel this that she views Littlefinger’s suggestion that Tyrion plotted Bran’s murder as unquestionably true. Only when she hears Jaime's perspective does she see that her view may have been incomplete and incorrect. The novel demonstrates the importance of perspective by telling its story through point-of-view chapters following different characters. There is no omniscient narrator to tell readers what the real state of affairs is. Instead, the novel shows readers how the world looks from a variety of perspectives, and leaves readers to evaluate those perspectives in order to uncover the truth.
4. “There are no true knights, no more than there are gods. If you can’t protect yourself, die and get out of the way of those who can. Sharp steel and strong arms rule this world, don’t ever believe any different.”
The Hound says these words to Sansa just before he leaves her at the end of the novel. The quotation is tied to one of the book’s central themes, the importance of accepting hard truths. Sansa wants very much to believe in an idealized version of the world based on songs and stories. A central component of many of these songs and stories is the chivalrous knight, who is courageous, virtuous, and protects those weaker than himself (and who is often handsome). Sansa often longs for a knight to come rescue her, but here the Hound here tells Sansa that this sort of knight, and by extension her romanticized view of the world, is a fantasy. Knights, he suggests, are above all trained killers. They don't protect the weak, as Sansa would like to believe, but rather destroy them, and in the Hound's formulation, they are right to do so. What he implies is that if Sansa wants to survive, she must give up her fantasy and see the world as it really is. More than that, she must be willing to fend for herself, as she cannot count on anyone else to protect her.
5. The stone is strong, Bran told himself, the roots of the trees go deep, and under the ground the Kings of Winter sit their thrones. So long as those remained, Winterfell remained. It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I’m not dead either.
This quotation ends the novel. Bran leaves Winterfell with Hodor, Summer, and the Reeds, and as he looks back at the castle, he sees that while it may have taken a beating, it still stands. The quote draws a direct parallel between Bran and his family's home, and it foreshadows that both Winterfell and Bran will ultimately be restored to their former strength. Bran derives this realization from the knowledge of himself he has gained over the course of the novel. He thought his life had more or less ended when he lost the use of his legs, as his disability meant giving up his dream of becoming a knight. But he has gradually come to understand that he can transcend his physical state and that he need not be defined by his injuries. The most influential factor in Bran's realization is the telepathic bond he now shares with his direwolf, Summer, which quite literally allows him to escape the limitations of his body by inhabiting another. Bran has consequently realized that his life still has value, even if it isn't the life he would have chosen for himself. The book's final lines ecapsulate this sense of resilience, and the parallel drawn between Bran and Winterfell implies that perhaps it will be Bran who restores the Stark home to its past glory.
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