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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Though the action of the novel takes place across numerous settings that can feel far removed from one another, several characters nonetheless pass through abandoned settlements on their journeys. Daenerys, for example, camps in an abandoned city, Jon passes one abandoned village after another north of the Wall, and Arya and the Night’s Watch recruits come across several abandoned homesteads before their disastrous battle in an abandoned town. In the world of the novel, most of the action apart from battles takes place either in cities or in bustling castles. The abanonded settlements, then, form a sharp contrast to these spaces in which daily life normally unfolds. They emphasize how fragile social life is and how easily civilization can crumble into turmoil during times of war. In that sense the motif works to reinforce the theme of the chaos of war throughout the book.
Between Craster and his daughter-wives, Theon and Asha, and Cersei and Jaime, incest or the possibility of incest occurs time and again in A Clash of Kings. In fact, incest haunts the novel to such a degree that it would not be an exaggeration to say that the entire civil war plot turns on it. The discovery of Joffrey’s incestuous parentage—and thus that he is not the legitimate king—led to the death of several characters in Game of Thrones, and it continues to play a major role here. Stannis hopes to use the accusation of incest as a way of turning public sentiment away from the Lannisters, and it continues to be a criticism lobbed at the royal family even after their victory at King’s Landing. An incest taboo is often seen as a basic condition of civilization. By depicting the repeated flouting of that taboo, the novel suggests that the world we see in the book exists precariously on the threshold between civilization and primitivism.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, information cannot spread any faster than a raven can fly, and there is no such thing as a press or other social institution committed to uncovering truth. The lack of rapid, reliable information means that rumor has great power, and characters regularly spread and speculate on rumors. Some rumors, such as the claim that Robb and his men eat their enemies, appear obviously preposterous, while others, like those regarding the movements and whereabouts of armies, may have some basis in fact. The challenge for the characters comes in discriminating trustworthy rumors from sheer fiction. Stannis’s claim about Joffrey being the product of incest and therefore not the rightful heir to the Iron Throne seems plausible to many characters but can hardly be accepted without some more compelling evidence than Stannis’s word. Evaluating the truth of this particular rumor is of the utmost importance in the novel, but few, if any, of the characters in the novel have the means to confirm or refute it. In this way the novel shows what terrible problems the lack of dependable information and the pervasiveness of rumor can create.