In Tyrion’s chapter we see Tyrion’s genius for politics as he manages to do both what’s best for himself and for the people of King’s Landing. His move to humiliate Janos and replace him with Jacelyn may seem like a small incident at first glance, but it has important ramifications. Janos is Cersei and Littlefinger’s man, so by denying Janos the lordship at Harrenhal that he had been promised and forcing him into the Night’s Watch, Tyrion provides a weighty check against his sister’s power. The gold cloaks of the City Watch will no longer be Cersei’s private army, but Tyrion’s. And Tyrion does not do this merely for himself: the residents of King’s Landing have come to detest Janos and his men, so replacing him with a more honorable figure may help to calm the restless city. Tyrion needs to surround himself with people he can trust, but he also needs to act for the good of the city, and putting Jacelyn in charge of the gold cloaks allows him to do both.
Tyrion’s conversation with Varys reveals the role that perception plays in the power games taking place in Westeros. Earlier, Varys posed Tyrion a riddle about whom a sellsword (a mercenary) should obey—his king, his priest, or a rich man. Tyrion points out that the riddle shows that the man with the sword is the most powerful of all. Varys says, however, that power runs deeper, since the sellsword got his sword from someone, and he asks who killed Eddard Stark: Joffrey by giving the order, Ilyn Payne by carrying it out, or someone else. The discussion leads them to conclude that power rests on perception, that if people believe someone is powerful that person is, in fact, powerful. But this conversation is heavily ironic. As a eunuch and a dwarf, respectively, Varys and Tyrion are men that other characters look down on, but both have demonstrated their power in this very scene, Tyrion by replacing Janos with Jacelyn and Varys by revealing that he knew Cersei’s plan all along. This irony suggests the danger of the misperception of power: while someone who is thought to be powerful truly is, that does not mean that someone thought to be powerless truly lacks power.
Davos’s section also touches on the importance of perception, as Melisandre promotes the image of Stannis as a prophesied hero and Stannis begins a public relations war with his letter about Joffrey’s birth. Davos, himself a man who cannot shake the public perception that he is a low-born smuggler, sees the danger in how Stannis’s remarks and actions will be viewed. It is risky for Stannis to make such a bold assertion about Joffrey without providing proof, and the masses, or “smallfolk,” as they are called, will not like the idea of Stannis waging war against their traditional gods. Stannis, however, asserts that it does not matter because he has power in the form of Melisandre, whom men fear. Whereas Tyrion and Varys discussed the power of perception, Stannis tries to exploit it.
With Arya’s chapter, the book juxtaposes the somewhat abstract and theoretical discussion of power between Tyrion and Varys with the real consequences of the struggle for power experienced by the common people. Away from the castles and the high lords, the inhabitants of the regions where the battles are taking place suffer greatly, as the warring groups have wiped out their crops and villages. The articulate conversation between Tyrion and Varys contrasts sharply with the speech of the wounded woman, who can only say one word—“please”—over and over. This juxtaposition suggests a disconnect between the intellectual view of the war taken by those who are removed from it and the visceral experience of those actually living through the war. Both the wolf that Arya sees and Yoren’s ominous remarks about the danger of the road ahead suggest that the suffering of the common people is not about to stop.
A somewhat enigmatic figure in Game of Thrones, Theon becomes much clearer in A Clash of Kings, where he appears as point-of-view character for the first time. Robb trusts Theon like a brother, but the novel makes it apparent from the outset of Theon’s chapter that Theon has bigger ambitions than merely helping Robb. Arrogant and calculating, Theon intends to use Robb’s request for help as a way to seize power and glory for himself. For all Theon’s grand goals, however, his father views him as weak and untrustworthy, more a Stark than a Greyjoy. Balon is cruel, to be sure, but by having him doubt his son, the book makes explicit a question that readers may have already asked themselves: where do Theon’s loyalties lie? Theon grew especially close to Robb during his time at Winterfell, and he was never mistreated by the Stark family. The book underscores the importance of the answer to this question by revealing that Balon plans to take advantage of the civil war in Westeros, which will force Theon to make a decision about whose side he supports.