HBO’s Game of Thrones has drawn critical and audience acclaim, but it’ll be a long ten months until we get to see any new episodes. However, because the show is a tirelessly faithful adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, literary viewers can simply pick up the second book, A Clash of Kings, to continue the story. And judging by the Amazon rankings, many have done just that.

But what if you desperately want to know what happens next, and don’t have the time (or the patience) to flip through almost 800 pages of tedious fantasy? In that case, this article is for you. We couldn’t get away with this for something like Dexter or True Blood, which differ from the source material.

If season 1 was any indication, Season 2 of Game of Thrones will be essentially the same story as A Clash of Kings (with perhaps a few cuts made in the name of time or budget).

So without further ado, here’s what you can expect from Game of Thrones next year. It goes without saying that

The following contains MANY spoilers!!!

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The Five Kings

The central conflict in the second season will revolve around no less than five different claimants to the iron throne: Joffrey Baratheon, who currently rules in King’s Landing; Stannis Baratheon, Robert’s younger brother who claims the throne after accusing Joffrey of being illegitimate; Renly Baratheon, Robert’s youngest brother who is both more charismatic and better-armed than Stannis; Balon Greyjoy, the Lord of the Iron Islands (vikings, essentially) who rebelled unsuccessfully ten years ago, and Robb Stark, who’s fighting the Lannisters to free his sisters from captivity and return to Winterfell to rule as King in the North.

Daenerys Targaryen is traveling across the eastern continent with her small band of loyal men and freed slaves, and three newly-hatched dragons, trying to secure an army to invade Westeros. Meanwhile, Jon Snow and an expeditionary force of the Night’s Watch travel north of the Wall to investigate the White Walkers, scout out Mance Rayder’s army, and learn what happened to Benjen Stark. Young Arya Stark is traveling north, posing as a boy in Yoren’s party bound for the Wall.

King’s Landing

Tyrion Lannister arrives in King’s Landing to serve as Hand of the King in place of his father Tywin. He acts immediately and decisively to refill the crown’s strained coffers and build up the city’s defenses. His actions, while prudent and frugal, earn him the ire of Queen Cersei and most of the peasants as well, who are starving after the destruction of so much of the surrounding country.

Tyrion constantly plots to hoard his own power against Cersei’s, making Littlefinger Lord of Harrenhall, imprisoning Maester Pycell, and putting in his own commander of the city watch. He commissions the construction of a gigantic iron chain and large quantities of “wildfire,” a napalm-like substance made by alchemists. He treats with various lords and knights to win their support and keep them from joining with Renly or Stannis.

Sansa Stark continues to suffer in her captivity. She is still betrothed to Joffrey, who constantly abuses her through his thugs in the Kingsguard. Sansa plots with disgraced knight Ser Dontos to escape. Cersei continues her tryst with her cousin Lancel Lannister.

The Iron Islands

Robb Stark sends Theon Greyjoy to treat with his father Balon, in the hopes of winning him and his men to his cause. Instead, Theon abandons Robb, never having forgotten that he was a hostage as well as a ward, and prepares to help his father rebel once again and conquer Westeros. Upon returning to the Iron Islands, Balon sends Theon, his daughter Asha, and the rest of his navy to raid the northern coast and punish the Starks for putting down the previous rebellion.

Dragonstone

Stannis Baratheon stews in his castle, furious that his younger brother Renly has declared himself king. His wife’s foreign priestess, Melisandre, performs cruel magic that convinces most of Stannis’ bannermen to change religions to The Lord of Light, eventually turning Stannis himself to the new faith. The only holdout is Ser Davos Seaworth, a former smuggler and Stannis’ most trusted advisor. At the urging of Melisandre, Stannis prepares both naval and ground forces and marches to war. He besieges Storm’s End while Renly is away, and prepares to meet his brother in battle.

Read on for more on Storm’s End, The Eastern Continent, North of the Wall and the King’s Road!

Storm’s End

With the support of a gigantic land army, Renly marches slowly eastward to defeat his brother and then invade King’s Landing. While traveling, he creates his own court and lords, with a new kingsguard including his secret lover Loras Tyrell and Brienne of Tarth, the warrior-maid. Reny marries Loras’ sister Maergary Tyrell (played by Natalie Dormer, the first new cast member of Season 2) and declares her queen.

Robb sends his mother Catelyn to win Renly’s support, and both of them meet with Stannis outside Storm’s End. No terms can be reached, and the two sides prepare for a massive battle. The morning before the fighting is set to commence, Catelyn and Brienne witness a shadow warrior slip into Renly’s tent and murder the would-be king. Fearing retribution, both women flee to Robb’s host.

Most of Renly’s scattered bannermen declare for Stannis. Storm’s End remains defiant, so Stannis sends his smuggler-knight Davos and the priestess Melisandre into the castle’s harbor. Davos witnesses Melisandre give birth to the same shadow creature that killed Renly, and the castle’s commander is murdered. With Storm’s End in his possession as well as a huge force of ground soldiers and ships, Stannis prepares to  invade King’s Landing.

The Eastern Continent

Daenerys leads her small host and her dragons further east in search of support to win back the iron throne. They suffer a torturous march across the desert, eventually finding safe refuge in an abandoned city. Daenerys sends messengers to the various cities in the east, declaring herself “Mother of Dragons,” and considers the invitations of various merchants and lords.

Eventually, Daenerys and her follows travel to Qarth, where merchants entertain her but do not pledge any fighting men. In a desperate bid, she asks the warlocks for help, who implore her to seek the council of their immortal masters. She enters the House of The Undying, seeing a series of terrifying and confusing visions. Eventually, she meets the actual Undying, a council of corpse-like mages, who subsequently try to consume her. One of her dragons kills them, and burns the house as well, allowing her to escape.

Daenerys flees Qarth, fearing the wrath of its citizens and the warlocks. Her fears are justified when an assassin tries to murder her, but is thwarted by two mysterious strangers: Strong Belwas, a warrior/eunuch, and his elderly but skilled squire, Arstan Whitebeard. Both were sent by Illyrio Mopatis, the merchant of Pentos who arranged her marriage to Khal Drogo. She accepts his invitation to return to his protection and resolves to travel back to Pentos.

North of the Wall

The Night’s Watch marches north in search of wildlings, Mance Rayder, Benjen Stark and undead monsters. They make camp at Crastor’s Keep, whose unsavory master is friendly to the Watch. After that, they reach the Fist of the First Men, an ancient stronghold, and send scouting parties to the surrounding wild.

Jon Snow is assigned to Qhorin Halfhand, a skilled warrior and respected member of the Watch. They travel to a mountain pass to scout out Mance Rayder’s huge force of wildling soldiers. Jon’s force is cornered, so Halfhand commands him to “desert” and join the wildlings, in the hopes of returning to Lord Mormont with accurate information on their numbers and intentions. Jon is forced to kill Halfhand to prove his desertion.

On the King’s Road

Arya Stark, now disguised as Arry the orphan boy, join’s Yoren’s force of boys and soldiers bound for the Wall. Their party is cornered by Lannisters, but Arya escapes with King Robert’s bastard son Gendry and some other boys, stopping to free Yoren’s prisoners first. It’s all for naught though, as they’re shortly caught by Gregor Clegane and forced into service at Harrenhall. No one finds out Arya’s true identity, and though her mother hopes she’s still captive at King’s Landing, most presume her dead.

In Harrenhall, Arya becomes a serving girl. She meets with Jaqen, one of Yoren’s captives that she freed, who has joined with a band of mercenaries. He grants her his service as an assassin for freeing him, and she asks him to kill two of the Lannister men in the castle. For her third and final target, she selects Jaqen himself, and barters with him to help her free a group of Stark captives.

With Arya and Joqen’s help, Harrenhall falls to the Starks. Joqen gives Arya a strange coin and instructs her to find him in Braavos if she wants his help again. He then shifts his face to change his identity and flees.

Read on for more on Winterfell, The Battle of Blackwater and Riverrun!

Preparing for War

Tyrion continues his scheming in King’s Landing. In order to secure the Tyrells of Highgarden to his cause, he promises to wed Maergary, not Sansa, to Joffrey to become queen. He also sends Cersei’s only daughter Myrcella south to Dorne to marry one of their heirs, and sends her younger son Tommen away in case King’s Landing falls. Tyrion continues his relationship with his prostitute Shae in secret, against his father’s wishes.

Sansa remains a captive at the mercy of Joffrey’s vicious taunts, terrified after she gets her period and is therefore ready to marry. After a minor slight in the presence of the boy king, he order her beaten and stripped in front of a crowd of angry peasants. Sansa finds an unlikely savior in Tyrion, who takes pity on her and stops Joffrey’s knights from attacking further.

Winterfell

The crippled Bran Stark is left to rule Winterfell in his brother’s absence. He meets with his father’s bannermen as they declare their loyalty, including Jojen and Meera Reed, who help him interpret his strange dreams. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Theon Greyjoy slips into the castle and captures Winterfell, holding Bran and his younger brother Rickon hostage.

When Bran escapes with Rickon, Jojen, Meera, the servant Hodor and the captured wildling Osha, Theon gives chase. He returns later with the dead bodies of the Stark boys and hangs them on the walls of the castle.

A force of Stark bannermen lay siege to Theon in Winterfell, who cannot hope to keep the castle with his small force. A group of traitors led by Lord Bolton’s bastard son defeat the Starks, then turn their swords on Theon’s men as well and capture Winterfell themselves. They burn the castle and take Theon hostage.

Bran, Rickon and their companions emerge from the Winterfell crypts. It turns out that Theon slaughtered two innocent peasant boys when he couldn’t find the Stark heirs, and Bran and Rickon are incorrectly presumed dead. Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor head north, while Osha and Rickon head west.

The Battle of the Blackwater

The conclusion of A Clash of Kings is a spectacular battle outside King’s Landing, where Stannis sends his army and navy to invade the city and claim the throne. Joffrey’s forces are hopelessly outmatched, forcing Tyrion to act with cunning to hold out as long as possible. He draws Stannis’ navy up the Blackwater River with the Lannister’s small fleet, then sends a rain of wildfire at them with catapults. Several of the Lannister ships are also filled with wildfire, and both fleets are crippled as the river burns. Tyrion then commands his men to raise the massive chain, trapping the invading navy in a fiery inferno.

It still isn’t enough. Stannis’ ground forces and the surviving sailors cross the burning wreckage to assault the city directly. When Sandor Clegane flees the fire, Tyrion himself leads a band of soldiers to engage the forces outside the city wall. Tyrion fights valiantly and manages to kill several soldiers, but is betrayed by Ser Mandon Moore, who tries to kill him in the chaos. Despite grievous injury including a disfiguring facial wound, Tyrion is rescued by his squire Podrick Payne.

Sandor Clegane appears at Sansa’s chamber, drunk, and forces her to sing for him. He flees King’s Landing and does not return.

As all seems lost, Tywin Lannister rides to the rescue, hammering Stannis’ ground forces from behind. He’s joined his army with Loras Tyrell and Renly’s remaining loyal followers, who resolve to punish Stannis for his “treason.” Stannis is defeated, and his few remaining forces retreat to Storm’s End to regroup.

Riverrun

Catelyn Stark flees with Brienne to her childhood home and her dying father. When she hears of the  fall of Winterfell and her “murdered” sons, she breaks down in grief. Catelyn and Brienne visit Jaime Lannister, who is being held captive in the dungeon. She makes Jaime an offer he can’t refuse.

Once again, small changes will probably be made to the story of A Clash of Kings in order to make Game of Thrones flow better on screen. The Battle of the Blackwater in particular may be too large and costly to show in its original form, and Jaime’s story will likely extend into the third book to give actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau more screen time.

Feel free to let the spoilers fly in the comments section – and consider yourself warned.

Game of Thrones returns to HBO in spring 2012.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelCrider