A Clash of Kings opens up with someone dying. This pretty much says all you need to know about the series.
Robb Stark has been proclaimed King of the North; Stannis Baratheon is claiming himself the rightful heir to the Iron Throne; younger brother Renly is claiming it, because “well we usurped the last rulers, so why can’t I usurp people?”. Balon Greyjoy has suddenly decided he should be king as well; the Wildlings are starting to gather an army beyond the Wall, and poor Dany is wandering around, trying to convince people that she needs an army, and no, they can’t have her dragons.
Also, Joffrey still exists, which basically sucks for everyone.
Martin does an excellent job of weaving in action with political and underlying religious conflict. The northmen worship the old gods; the majority of Westeros have temples set up to the seven; and Stannis has converted to the worship of R’Holl, god of light, to gain help from the sorceress Melisandre. Once again, the characters simply leap off the pages, and Martin knows just how to divide your loyalties. After all, it’s easy to find yourself rooting for the Starks, particularly Bran; but Tyrion is a likeable jerk, and Dany just wants to get her throne back and be a good queen to her people. (And dragons. She has dragons. That’s a big thing, dragons.) And the entire time I read, in the back of my mind, I can’t help but think, “Yeah, but the crazy horrible people are going to win, aren’t they? It’s going to be that kind of series, isn’t it?”
Who knows? George R. R. Martin, but he’s too busy being a literary hitman to tell us right now.