The War of the Five Kings is a major military conflict that erupts in the wake of the death of King Robert I. In essence, the war is a three-way battle for the Iron Throne fought alongside two independence movements. The five kings in question are Robert’s heir, Joffrey Baratheon, Robert’s two younger brothers, Stannis Baratheon and Renly Baratheon, Robb Stark, and Balon Greyjoy.
Upon Robert’s death, his heir, Prince Joffrey, takes the Iron Throne, but the revelation that he along with his brother and sister are bastards born of incest between Queen Cersei and her twin brother, Ser Jaime Lannister, leads both of Robert’s younger brothers, Stannis and Renly Baratheon, to claim the throne for themselves. Stannis sees himself as the rightful heir by right of blood, being Robert’s heir with the removal of Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen due to their being bastards. Renly claims the throne on the basis that he would be a better king, despite being second to Stannis in the lawful line of succession.
Meanwhile, Robb Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Lord Paramount of the North, is declared the King in the North by his lords bannermen in the wake of the execution of his father, Eddard Stark, on false charges of treason. Robb had been in command of a host marching south to free his then-imprisoned father and to relieve a Lannister attack on the Riverlands. As the King in the North, Robb declares that the North and the Riverlands (ruled by his maternal grandfather) are now a sovereign kingdom no longer subject to the rule of the Iron Throne.
With the attention of the North and the Iron Throne diverted, Balon Greyjoy, Lord Reaper of Pyke and ruler of the Iron Islands, seizes the opportunity to declare the Iron Islands independent once more. He then styles himself King of the Iron Islands and launches raids in the North while most of its defenders are south of the Neck.
Course of the conflict
Tyrion Lannister’s abduction
That bit of theater will haunt our family for a generation.
―Tyrion Lannister to Cersei Lannister, speaking about the execution of Ned Stark by her son Joffrey.
The stage was set for the war when Catelyn Stark seized Tyrion Lannister at the Crossroads Inn and accused him of the attempted murder of her son, Bran (based on claims told to the Starks by Petyr Baelish the Master of Coin). House Lannister, led by Lord Tywin (Tyrion’s father) summoned its armies and marched on the Riverlands with 60,000 men. Ser Gregor Clegane led an auxiliary force and began striking at bannerhouses supporting Catelyn’s father, Lord Hoster Tully, in reprisal.
The death of Robert Baratheon
King Robert attempted to defuse the situation but failed, and soon after died. Immediately upon hearing of his brother’s death and having failed to win the support of Eddard Stark, the Hand of the King, in securing the throne for himself, Renly Baratheon fled King’s Landing with his lover Ser Loras Tyrell (heir to the Reach) and rode hard for Highgarden. Prince Joffrey immediately claimed the throne upon Robert’s death; however, Eddard Stark had learned from research by Jon Arryn (the previous Hand, who was assasinated) that Joffrey and his siblings were not Robert’s children at all: they were bastards born of incest between Queen Cersei and her own brother, Jaime Lannister. Lord Eddard had a proclamation written by King Robert which named him Regent, but was ignored by Queen Cersei, whom Eddard had unwisely forewarned of his knowing the truth about her children.
When Eddard tried to take Joffrey into custody as an imposter, Joffrey, forewarned by Lord Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish, had Eddard arrested instead. Unfortunately for Joffrey, he was unaware that Eddard had already sent a letter to Robert’s brother Stannis, telling him that Joffrey was not legitimate and the crown belonged to Stannis by right; he was also unaware that Renly knew as well and was gathering his supporters. On Dragonstone, Stannis likewise claimed the throne and began gathering his supporters.
War in the Riverlands
Ser Gregor will head out with five hundred riders and set the riverlands on fire from Gods’ Eye to the Red Fork.
The Lannister force separated into two armies of 30,000 men each. Ser Jaime Lannister led one force with the aim of capturing Riverrun, the principal stronghold of House Tully. Jaime smashed the Riverlords at the Battle of the Golden Tooth, and followed through on his victory by laying siege to Riverrun. Lord Tywin Lannister led the other force himself, Jaime’s victories allowing him to move north west through the Riverlands unimpeded.
Receiving news of his father’s arrest and a demand that he come to King’s Landing and recognize Joffrey as King, Robb Stark mobilized the armies of the North and assembled a host of 20,000 men (due to the urgency of the situation and the vastness of the North, he could not wait for more). He marched to the relief of the Riverlands. Lord Tywin moved to the east bank of the Green Fork of the Trident to intercept the Stark force. Even winning the support of House Frey and its troops could not bring Robb’s forces up to parity with the Lannisters, but it gave Robb an advantage in transportation and local intelligence. Robb sent 2,000 men to pretend to attack Tywin’s army. As planned, this small force was defeated at the Battle of the Green Fork, but it delayed the Lannisters long enough for Robb’s main army to slip past them and into the Whispering Wood near Riverrun. There, Robb staged a feint to draw Jaime Lannister and a portion of his army into the woodlands. During the Battle of the Whispering Wood, Robb inflicted a significant defeat upon the Lannisters, destroying Jaime’s host and capturing the Kingslayer himself.
Receiving word of Jaime’s defeat, Tywin realized that the Starks and Tullys were now free to unify against him, potentially bringing much greater numbers to bear against his smaller force. He retreated to Harrenhal, the formidable castle on the north banks of Gods Eye, intending to fortify it and use it as a base of operations to conduct raids in the Riverlands.
The rise of Kings
By this time, news of Renly and Stannis gathering armies had reached both the Stark and Lannister camps. Both men had claimed the Iron Throne: Stannis as the legitimate heir after his brother’s death, and Renly on the claim that he could be a better king than his brothers. Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Eddard Stark confessed to treason and recognized Joffrey as the King in an attempt by the Small Council to reach a truce with the Starks and allow them to deal with the Baratheons. Eddard was convinced to do this to protect his daughter, Sansa, who was held in King’s Landing as a hostage. However, in an unexpected move, Joffrey ordered Eddard’s execution instead of allowing him to join the Night’s Watch. Eddard’s death caused the vengeful Northmen to reject the authority of the Iron Throne. After considering joining forces with one of the Baratheon brothers, the Northmen and the Riverlords chose the path of independence, rejecting the authority of the Iron Throne all together and swearing fealty to Robb Stark as the King in the North.
King Robb Stark followed up on his success at Whispering Wood with several minor skirmishes against Lannister forces intending to drive them from away from the Red Fork of the Trident, to free the lands and holdfasts of the Riverlords who had recently sworn allegiance to him. He met little serious resistance, as the Lannisters were already in the process of withdrawing their forces to Harrenhal in the western Riverlands to regroup. Barely days after Joffrey was declared King, the faction backing his rule only held the Westerlands, the Crownlands and King’s Landing, and a small strip of the southern Riverlands. Meanwhile, Robb Stark controlled the North and most of the Riverlands, Renly Baratheon controlled the Reach, and the Stormlands were divided between the Baratheon brothers. Meanwhile, the other three kingdoms; the Vale, Dorne and the Iron Islands; had not yet declared their support for any one side in the conflict.
King Joffrey appointed his grandfather, Tywin Lannister, as the new Hand of the King. However, due to the precarious situation of their forces, Tywin decided against going to King’s Landing and instead appointed his son Tyrion as acting Hand of the King. His task was to keep the King under control and prevent him from committing another mistake such as Eddard Stark’s execution, and to prepare King’s Landing for an assault by the Baratheon forces in the south.
Robb Stark invades the Westerlands
The Lannisters have been running from us since Oxcross.
With Tywin encamped at Harrenhal, which was too strong a fortress to attack directly, Robb instead launched a limited invasion of the Lannister homelands in the west. He launched a surprise attack on the new Lannister army gathering at the village of Oxcross, where new conscripts were being trained to replace the Lannister army group destroyed at Whispering Wood. Robb destroyed the green Lannister army group in the resulting Battle of Oxcross, killing Ser Stafford Lannister in the process. The victory left the Westerlands lightly defended. Robb went on to win a minor victory at the Battle of the Yellow Fork and force the surrender of the Crag. With the Lannister homelands under attack and a Baratheon attack on King’s Landing imminent, Tywin had a difficult choice to make: to ride out and meet Robb’s forces in battle, abandoning their strong defensive position at Harrenhal, or to fall back on King’s Landing and help defend the city from Stannis. Tywin eventually decided to ride west because of the threat Robb’s forces posed to his own stronghold at Casterly Rock; however, this was later revealed to be a ruse, as Tywin was actually bringing his Lannister forces back to King’s Landing. Tywin had already authorized secret negotiations with House Tyrell to begin following Renly’s death, in the hope of winning an alliance with them and their powerful army.
While Robb Stark took part of his forces to invade the Westerlands, most of the day to day fighting of the war continued in the Riverlands. All of the territories between Riverrun on the Red Fork of the Trident River and Harrenhal at the north shore of the Gods Eye lake to the south were a war zone facing raids and counter-raids by Stark-Tully and Lannister forces. Much of the Riverlands was devastated in the fighting. This culminated in the Battle of Stone Mill, in which Lord Edmure Tully preemptively attacked a Lannister army led by Gregor Clegane which was massing to cross the Red Fork. Edmure inflicted two to one casualties and the Lannisters withdrew. Lord Tywin’s younger nephews Willem and Martyn Lannister were also captured. However, while this was a tactical victory, it was a strategic failure: Robb Stark’s actual grand strategy had been to invade the Westerlands in order to lure the Lannisters back away from King’s Landing, then lure them into a trap so that Gregor’s army could be surrounded and destroyed. Instead, Gregor’s army was temporarily defeated but left mostly intact, allowing the Lannister forces in the Riverlands to regroup and then leave Harrenhal to rush to the defense of King’s Landing when Stannis Baratheon later attacked. Robb Stark blamed Edmure for not waiting to lure Gregor into a trap to the west; even though Robb gave him no clear orders that this was his intention.
The death of Renly Baratheon
Stannis Baratheon and his younger brother, Renly Baratheon, both claimed the Iron Throne of Westeros. Stannis had a small army at Dragonstone and was influenced by Melisandre, a Red Priestess of the Lord of Light and a powerful sorceress, while Renly amassed the strength of his bannermen in the Stormlands and those of the Reach by marrying Margaery Tyrell, daughter of Mace Tyrell.
By this point, Renly’s faction was the most powerful in terms of sheer numbers; he could call upon over half the bannermen of the Stormlands as well as the armies of the Reach, the most populous region of Westeros. However, Renly refused to take decisive action, relying on his popularity to draw more supporters to his cause while his enemies destroyed one another. Renly was receptive to an alliance with the Stark-Tully faction, and indeed sympathized with their cause, but insisted that Robb recognize Renly’s continued sovereignty over the North, in return for an alliance against Joffrey and the Lannisters. Unfortunately for the Starks, Renly was assassinated before any deals could be made.
During a failed summit between the rival Baratheon brothers, Stannis gives an ultimatum to Renly to pledge his loyalty before he attacks (in return for Stannis giving him back his position on the Small Council), but Renly defies and disrespects him, unconcerned due to the small size of Stannis’ army. Melisandre gives birth to a shadow which later enters Renly’s tent and kills him. While the Reach army leaves for Highgarden on the orders of the Tyrells, Renly’s Stormlords swear fealty to Stannis as the remaining legal head of House Baratheon. With a formidable army of stormlanders and the Dragonstone fleet now at his command, Stannis prepares for an invasion of King’s Landing.
Riot in King’s Landing
They’re starving, you fool! All because of a war you started!
―Tyrion Lannister to King Joffrey Baratheon
During the course of the war the streets of the capital city began to overflow with many starving refugees escaping the war. Both Tyrion Lannister and Janos Slynt warned Queen Cersei that if something was not done with the starving refugees there would be a mounting discontent with her son’s rule however the Queen ignored their warnings. The King and the Royal Court had gathered in the docks to see Myrcella Baratheon being shipped to Dorne. On their way back to the Red Keep, the refugees and commoners of King’s Landing hurled insults at King Joffrey, and ultimately, hurl cow excrement into Joffrey’s face. Despite being accompanied by only a few dozen guards facing hundreds of peasants, Joffrey impetuously shouts orders for his soldiers to kill them all. A general riot then breaks out and spreads throughout the city, with the royal party barely making it back to the castle in one piece. With most of the regular Lannister army in the Riverlands fighting in the war under Lord Tywin Lannister, the scant two thousand City Watch guards had a difficult time containing the riot, and the chaos that reigned throughout the city. In the end the riot was put down but many peasants and City Watch guards were killed during the riot along with the High Septon who was torn limb by limb by an angry mob.
Rise of the Kraken
The North is ripe for the taking.
While the Lannister and Stark forces were fighting in the Riverlands, Theon Greyjoy traveled to Pyke, the Iron Islands capital, and his family castle, to negotiate with his father, Balon Greyjoy, under Robb Stark´s orders. At Pyke, Balon Greyjoy told Theon that he would proclaim himself King on the Iron Islands once more, and attack the North. He then asked his son on which side he was: his or the Starks. After much soul-searching, Theon Greyjoy chose to declare loyalty to his father. Balon Greyjoy would attack the coasts of the North, with his navy. Yara Greyjoy would lead most of the fleet, while Theon was given only one ship, the Sea Bitch, and was supposed to attack small fishing villages. Theon Greyjoy then changed his plan and sieged Torrhen´s Square, and then attacked Winterfell against Balon’s orders. Bran Stark yielded before him, and Theon proclaimed himself Prince of Winterfell.
However, Bran and his younger brother, Rickon, soon escaped with two of their household servants and their direwolves, and were unable to be found by Theon. They managed to sneak back into the crypts of Winterfell, though Theon has convinced most of his men they are dead by hanging two children’s burnt corpses atop the walls of Winterfell. Her sister Yara arrived with just twenty men and warned him that everyone in the North wanted him dead because of his killing the Stark boys, and that he was too far from the sea to supply or reinforce his position. She told him to come back to the Iron Islands with her, but Theon refused to give up Winterfell.
After Yara left, a relief force of five hundred men, led by Ramsay Snow of House Bolton and sent under the orders of King Robb Stark, laid siege to the castle for at least one night. Theon Greyjoy attempted to rally his men to defend the stronghold and die fighting with an inspiring speech; his First Mate, Dagmer Cleftjaw betrayed him, and Theon’s small force presumably handed him over to Ramsay, who had been sent with an offer of mercy to the ironborn if they handed over Winterfell and Theon. Dagmer mortally wounded the castle’s Maester, Luwin, as he had Theon dragged away from the courtyard. As soon as the Ironborn delivered Theon to him, Ramsay broke his promise of mercy and had all of them flayed alive.
Winterfell was sacked and put to the torch shortly afterwards by Ramsay Bolton, while the dying Luwin moved to the Godswood. The majority of the castle and outlying town still stands. In secret, Bran and Rickon Stark managed to escape the castle, along with two servants and their two direwolves.
The Battle of the Blackwater
Stannis’s army and fleet launched an assault on King’s Landing; it came to be known as the Battle of the Blackwater. The initial attack was blunted when Tyrion Lannister sprung a trap, detonating a boat filled with wildfire in the midst of Stannis’s fleet as they passed into Blackwater Bay. The devastating explosion destroyed many ships and men. Despite these heavy losses, the surviving ships were able to put ashore thousands of troops, led in person by Stannis, who actually briefly managed to scale the walls with some of his men and attack the defenders. Sandor Clegane and Tyrion Lannister himself led several sorties outside the walls that destroyed the Baratheon siege equipment, but the badly outnumbered garrison were then encircled and attacked by Baratheon troops, leaving the city virtually undefended.
Just when the city seemed about to fall, however, the armies of House Lannister (under Tywin, in contrast to his stated intention to attack the Starks) and House Tyrell (under Ser Loras) arrived and slammed into Stannis’s flank, sending them fleeing from the field. Stannis was forced to return to Dragonstone with only the tattered remnants of his army and fleet. House Tyrell have now formally declared themselves for the King on the Iron Throne in return for a marriage pact between the King and Margaery Tyrell, giving King Joffrey Baratheon a massive numerical advantage over any of his opponents.
The decisive Lannister-Tyrell victory coincided with several political blunders made by Robb Stark. First, Robb lost the support of House Frey when he married Talisa Maegyr for love, rather than honoring his marriage contract with Lord Walder Frey’s daughter. Not long after, the men of House Karstark deserted him after he had their lord (and his kinsman) Rickard Karstark, beheaded for murdering innocent prisoners of war. With almost half of his field army gone, and his enemies having more than doubled in numbers, Robb’s faction was suddenly in great danger.
The fall of Kings
The Red Wedding
Robb Stark subsequently withdrew his forces back to the Riverlands. He liberated Harrenhal, but the Lannisters had simply withdrawn and gave no battle. After the death of his maternal grandfather, Robb marched his army back to Riverrun, but faced a bleak situation. The Lannisters meanwhile focused on consolidating the south with their new Tyrell allies, content that time and resources were now on their side.
Robb Stark’s army was ultimately lured into a trap at the Twins where he was betrayed by House Frey and House Bolton, who had switched sides to the Lannisters. Having determined that he might be able to re-gain the initiative with a successful attack at Casterly Rock, the seat of House Lannister and the capitol of the Westerlands, Robb was negotiating to win back the Freys’ support for the offensive, needing their levies to have the needed men for the attack; Walder Frey pretended to agree to the marriage of his daughter and Edmure Tully. After the wedding service, the Frey and Bolton bannermen slaughtered many of the Northern and River lords as they were dining in the Twins, while others ambushed the Tully and Stark bannermen outside.
The Freys and Boltons not only betrayed their liege-lords, but the Freys broke the solemn Guest right by attacking the Starks after formally accepting them into their castle as guests, and on top of that, during a wedding. Robb Stark, his pregnant Queen Talisa Maegyr and his mother Catelyn were murdered in the massacre, which subsequently became known as the Red Wedding. The entire Northern army led to southern Westeros by Robb Stark to fight in the war was annihilated, with the few survivors captured as political hostages including the head of House Tully, Edmure Tully. However, a small number of Tully bannermen, led by Robb’s great-uncle, Brynden Tully (also known as “The Blackfish”), managed to escape.
Aftermath of the Red Wedding
The destruction of Robb Stark’s army and his death at the Twins marked a major turning point in the war, with the allied houses of Lannister and Tyrell achieving a major victory over their largest and most numerically significant enemy. Joffrey Baratheon’s faction now physically controlled nearly all of the Seven Kingdoms; the only exceptions were the Iron Islands, parts of the North controlled by the ironborn, the Vale of Arryn (which remained neutral), Dorne (which was also neutral) and the strongholds of Storm’s End, Riverrun and Dragonstone. As a reward for their betrayal of the King in the North, Roose Bolton and Walder Frey were named Warden of the North and Lord of Riverrun, respectively.
However, the victory didn’t mark the end of the war, as Stannis Baratheon and Balon Greyjoy continued to claim their respective crowns in opposition to King Joffrey. While Stannis remained free and determined to fight to reclaim the Iron Throne, his army of twenty thousand had been broken and wittled down to four thousand, his fleet only counting thirty-two ships. The Stormlords who had rallied to his side had either died at the Blackwater or were trying to curry favour with the Lannisters for a pardon; the Stormlands descended into war as the survivors started to seize the lands of the dead and those who remained loyal to Stannis. The ironborn, who had partially occupied the North, still commanded great sea power and Balon Greyjoy refused to bend the knee to the Iron Throne, though his standing forces were suffering considerable casualties against the Boltons. Meanwhile, the outlaw band known as the Brotherhood without Banners (who were followers of the Lord of Light and, therefore, supporters of Stannis) remained active in the Riverlands, as did the Blackfish and his rebel Tully bannermen at Riverrun. Added to this, the majority of the Houses in the North and the Riverlands held nothing but hatred for the Boltons and the Freys, due to their betrayal of their king and the deaths of many of their kinsman at the Red Wedding. The Lannisters, anxious to maintain control in the capital, gave little support to the Freys and Boltons besides their titles, which only served to shift the blame for the Red Wedding further onto them.
At the same time, the Iron Throne emerged from the conflict weakened. Its debts to foreign banks such as the Iron Bank of Braavos were still far from being repaid and, if the debts should default, the Bank would turn its support to other people who could guarantee the repayement of the loans, such as rebellious claimants like Stannis Baratheon. Indeed, the Iron Bank was later convinced to fund Stannis after his Hand of the King, Ser Davos Seaworth, argued that, upon Tywin Lannister’s death, there was no viable successor to guarantee their interests and repay the Bank’s debts. Also, tensions continued to exist in the alliance between the Lannisters and the Tyrells, a relationship which is beneficial to the latter but necessary for the former, especially due to the casualties the Lannisters suffered in their various battles with Robb’s army. The Tyrells’ popularity has also been rising in parts of the Kingdoms such as King’s Landing, where they have been guaranteeing the food supply.
Things have steadily been getting worse for the Lannisters, whose position as the ‘strongest’ House is weakening every day. Tywin Lannister revealed to his daughter Cersei that the gold mines beneath Casterly Rock had run dry and the Westerlands did not produce as much riches as they used to, making the debt crisis look even worse. Concerned over the growing power of Daenerys Targaryen in Essos, Tywin also sought to gain the support of House Martell, the ruling house of Dorne; the only kingdom that successfully resisted Aegon the Conqueror; by offering Prince Oberyn Martell a seat on the Small Council. However, this gesture of diplomacy was impeded by the hatred the Martells hold for House Lannister as a result of the death of Elia Martell, the sister of Oberyn and Doran Martell, the ruling Prince, during the Sack of King’s Landing.
The Purple Wedding
During his wedding to Margaery Tyrell, King Joffrey Baratheon was killed by poison. His uncle, Tyrion Lannister, who had been regularly humiliated by Joffrey and was holding his wine glass before his death, was accused by Queen Regent Cersei Lannister of the murder. Tyrion was arrested and was put on trial for the deed. His wife, Sansa Stark, was also seen as having planned the murder as Joffrey’s abuse of her was common knowledge. However, Sansa managed to flee King’s Landing with help from Petyr Baelish.
Joffrey was succeeded as King by his younger brother, Tommen Baratheon. Joffrey’s death was actually beneficial for the Lannister-Tyrell faction: he had been an unpredictable, incompetent and universally hated ruler whose impulsive, sadistic decisions nearly always worsened the situation. Tommen, by contrast, was a shy, gentle-natured boy who could be counted on to delegate matters to wiser advisors, such as Tywin Lannister and Margaery Tyrell. After his coronation, Tommen reappointed Tywin (his grandfather) as Hand of the King and also granted him the title of Protector of the Realm, making Tywin the true ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Tommen was also betrothed to his brother’s widow, Margaery, in order to keep the loyalty of House Tyrell, whose troops were needed to control the Kingdoms and whose gold was needed to pay the Crown’s debts; his early friendship with Margaery, despite their age differences, helped ease some of the tension between the Lannisters and Tyrells.
A tenuous rule
The trial of Tyrion Lannister
During his trial, Tyrion was faced with many accounts of his confrontations with King Joffrey, such as slapping him after the King’s Landing riot to prove his guilt. Tywin Lannister was willing to give his son a way out if he plead guilty and joined the Night’s Watch so that his other son, Jaime, would accept to be his heir again. However, the perjury of Tyrion’s lover, Shae, who claimed that both Tyrion and Sansa planned Joffrey’s murder led him to refuse the deal and, after a brutal declaration to the court, he demanded a trial by combat. Cersei chose Ser Gregor Clegane “the Mountain” as her champion while Tyrion was approached by Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne to act as his. Oberyn’s true objective was to have revenge on Clegane for the rape and murder of his sister, Elia Martell, during the Sack of King’s Landing. Although Oberyn managed to severely wound and poison the Mountain during the duel, he was himself killed, sealing Tyrion’s fate.
The death of Tywin Lannister
Before his execution can take place, Tyrion Lannister is freed from confinement by his brother Jaime. Before escaping the city with Varys, Tyrion kills the current Hand of the King, his father Tywin Lannister, leaving the rule of King’s Landing in an uncertain position.
In the aftermath of Tywin’s death, many high lords who own their alliegance to the Lannisters travel to the capital for the deceased Hand’s funeral and, according to Jaime Lannister, to witness that he is really dead. Among those who attend the funeral is Tywin’s younger brother, Kevan Lannister. In the wake of his brother’s death, he has been appointed as the new leader of the Lannister armies. In addition to the nobles, Tywin’s death brings new forces to King’s Landing: the religious Sparrows enter the capital, something Kevan laments (as well as the fact that his son is one of them) since they never would have dared come when Tywin was still alive.
With her father’s death, Cersei seizes control of the Small Council, announcing that she will speak in her son’s name until he comes of age and that a new Hand of the King would not be appointed. Although Lord Tyrell and Grand Maester Pycelle both offer to serve as acting Hand, they are rebuffed by the Queen. She names her ally, former Maester Qyburn, to serve on the Council as Master of Whisperers to replace Varys (who was seen as the one who had allowed Tyrion to escape from prison) and appoints Lord Tyrell as the new Master of Coin. However, when she attempts to appoint her uncle as Master of War, he rebuffs her, telling her that he doesn’t recognize her authority and wants to hear of his appointement from the King. He storms out of the Small Council and returns to Casterly Rock, leaving Cersei’s hold on power all the more tenuous.
In order to cement their alliance with the Tyrells, the Lannisters rapidly married King Tommen to Margaery Tyrell, his brother’s widow. This was not to the liking of Cersei, who felt her power waning every single day just as Margaery’s influence over her son grew. In addition, the Iron Bank (despite having secretly aligned with Stannis against the Lannisters) called in ten percent of the debt owed by the Crown. Lord Tyrell, as Master of Coin, told the Small Council that they could only pay half of that amount. Despite his offer that the Tyrells could provide the funds and be repaid in due time, Cersei refused and sent Lord Tyrell to Braavos to negotiate directly with the bankers for better terms.
Tensions in the south
The death of Oberyn Martell had dire consequences for the Lannisters; indeed, Oberyn was the younger brother of Doran Martell, the ruling Prince of Dorne, and he had been popular in the Dornish principality. The Lannisters having now killed not one but two of his siblings, the allegiance of the Dornish prince was no longer guaranted to them despite a marriage alliance between Trystane Martell, Prince Doran’s son, and King Tommen’s sister, Myrcella. Rather than increase the Lannister influence in Dorne, Myrcella’s betrothal instead gives the Martells greater leverage, since although she has been treated kindly by the Dornish, she is essentially a good-faith hostage for the Martells.
Ellaria Sand, Oberyn’s paramour, was determined to gain vengeance for her lover’s death, even though Oberyn’s death, which was in a trial by combat, was not considered murder, and Oberyn himself had volunteered to fight for Tyrion. She was joined in this desire by Oberyn’s bastard daughters, the Sand Snakes, all trained as warriors and all sharing the Martells’ hatred for the Lannisters. They were also supported by a good part of the Dornish population. However, Prince Doran, despite being angry and saddened at the death of his brother, did not want to risk a war with the Lannisters, knowing it was one they could not win. He refused to even consider going to war, despite Ellaria and the Sand Snakes seeking his support. Instead, the Sand Snakes planned to use Myrcella as a tool to gain revenge and to start a war with the Lannisters. They sent her necklace to King’s Landing as a warning to Cersei Lannister who sent her brother, Jaime, to get their daughter back.
When Jaime and his companion, Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, arrived in Dorne, they managed to infiltrate the Water Gardens and tried to take Myrcella away. However, the Sand Snakes attacked at that moment, intending to capture Myrcella themselves. While Obara and Tyene fought against Jaime and Bronn respectively, Nymeria tried to leave with a captured Myrcella but they were cornered by the Prince’s Guard, led by Captain Areo Hotah, before they could escape. Prince Doran had forseen the attempt to capture Myrcella and had ordered Areo to be ready to rescue the princess. The Sand Snakes surrendered, and so did Jaime and Bronn. They were all taken into custody along with Ellaria, who was also arrested. Though Bronn was poisoned during the fight, the Sand Snakes showed him mercy and provided him with the antidote. However, during a discussion with her alleged uncle, Myrcella refused to leave Dorne, despite Jaime’s warnings that she was no longer safe.
Prince Doran negotiated peace between the Iron Throne and Dorne over Jaime’s action by allowing Myrcella to return to King’s Landing on the condition that his son accompany them: if the alliance was to survive, their betrothal was to stand. In addition, Trystane would be given Oberyn’s seat on the Small Council to provide Dorne with a voice in the governance of the realm.
War for the North
After the Red Wedding, Roose Bolton was appointed Warden of the North until such time a son was born to Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark, the rightful heir to Winterfell and the Stark lands and dominions in the North. However, the ironborn held the majority of the once Stark-held lands and it was up to Lord Bolton to reconquer them. Despite the fact that he was officially supported by the Iron Throne, Bolton knew that Tywin Lannister would not do anything to help him against the Greyjoys. With the ironborn in possession of the fortress of Moat Cailin, his army remain trapped south of the Neck. Knowing that his bastard son Ramsay had captured Theon Greyjoy, he planned to use him as ransom and exchange him for Moat Cailin. First, however, he needed to return north: Bolton and a small company of his men, including Locke and his new wife Walda Bolton, smuggled themselves into the North and made for the Bolton seat at the Dreadfort. There, Bolton discovered that his bastard had badly mutilated and broken Theon Greyjoy, using him as a plaything more than a hostage. Angered, he was nevertheless interested to hear that Bran and Rickon Stark were still alive. Realizing that the continued existence of the Stark boys would harm his hold over the North, Bolton sent Locke to hunt them down and kill them, although Locke was killed by Bran in the ensuing confrontation. He also instructed Ramsay to head south and reclaim Moat Cailin.
After a failed attempt by Yara Greyjoy to rescue her brother from the Boltons, Ramsay headed south to Moat Cailin with a Bolton army and Theon, who entered the ironborn-occupied keep with the Boltons’ peace terms. When Ralf Kenning, the ironborn commander refused to surrender, his men turned on him and offered themselves up. Ramsay ended up flaying the Ironborn garrison as a message to the remaining Greyjoys. His army later met up with his father’s and Roose rewarded Ramsay’s actions by legitimizing him as a Bolton. With the fall of Moat Cailin, the Bolton army has returned north and the ironborn have begun to leave their positions. Roose subsequently leads his reassembled forces further to the North, to claim the Stark ancestral seat of Winterfell, which has been burned but not destroyed.
However, despite the Boltons’ success in imposing their rule, a major threat lay further to the north, at the Wall. Facing threat from a wildling army under the command of Mance Rayder and with rumours of an even greater threat coming from beyond the Wall, the Night’s Watch sent word to all the high lords of Westeros to send aid. Only one answered: Stannis Baratheon. Now backed by the powerful Iron Bank and having partialy rebuilt his army, Stannis headed north to the Wall and defeated the wildling army, taking their leader prisoner and saving the Night’s Watch from destruction, and the North from invasion. With this victory, Stannis planned to march south to capture Winterfell and gain the support of the disgruntled Northern Houses against Lannister-backed Bolton rule. However, despite his attempt to rally the Northmen against the Boltons, he was rebuffed by most, such as Lyanna Mormont, the Lady of Bear Island, who refused to recognize any king who wasn’t a Stark. His failed attempt to convince Jon Snow, Eddard Stark’s bastard son, to be legitimized as Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell, left him without a Stark in his midst to win over the Northmen.
As Roose Bolton set up his seat of power at Winterfell, he also recognized that he wouldn’t be able to hold the North if the other lords rose up against him. This was made clear when Ramsay was sent to recover taxes from Lord Medger Cerwyn, who remained staunchly loyal to the Starks. Ramsay flayed Lord Cerwyn, his wife and his brother before the eyes of his son, and returned to Winterfell with the taxes. Chastising his son for being too brutal, Roose told him that he had planned a marriage for him now that he was a legitimate Bolton: a marriage to Sansa Stark, the heir to Winterfell who was hiding from the Lannisters in the Vale under the protection of Lord Petyr Baelish. With Sansa as Ramsay’s bride, the Boltons’ hold on the North would be strengthened. In addition, Baelish and Bolton both know that the weakening power of the Lannisters (as a result of Tywin’s death) was no longer a sure guarantee for their power and that they needed to secure new allies to maintain what they have gained thanks to the war: Baelish proposed an alliance between the North and the Vale, for protection against their enemies and to react against any Lannister retaliation once they learnt that Sansa has wed Ramsay.
Baelish returned to King’s Landing on the orders of Queen Cersei, where he informed her that the Boltons planned to marry Sansa to Ramsay. He also told her that Stannis has left Castle Black and was marching on Winterfell. Cersei was reluctant to send an army up north, despite her fury at Bolton’s betrayal, because the weather had started to turn and winter had finally arrived. Baelish requested permission to lead the knights of the Vale, who were trained to fight in winter conditions, to the North. Once Stannis and Bolton had bled each other, he planned to destroy the remaining forces and take the North. Cersei approved his plans and promised to appoint him Warden of the North once the battle was won.
As Stannis marches on Winterfell, winter finally hits and the snows trap his army somewhere between the Stark castle and Castle Black. As the weather starts to weigh on his soldiers, supplies and horses are lost to the winter. In addition, the Stormcrows, a mercenary band of five hundred men, desert. Stannis nevertheless refuses to heed his Hand, Ser Davos, and return to Castle Black for the winter, claiming he would not run as he had at the Blackwater. Melisandre suggests sacrificing his daughter, Shireen, to use the power of royal blood to bring about a thaw which would allow them to move forward to Winterfell. However, Stannis refuses to sacrifice his daughter.
Due to the deep snows, Roose Bolton chooses not to send an army to attack Stannis, as he would be unable to move it fast enough. Instead, he decides to remain at Winterfell and wait for Stannis to come. A siege in winter would force his troops to freeze, starve and mutiny. However, Ramsay doesn’t agree and demands twenty men to sabotage Stannis before he even reaches Winterfell. Ramsay’s sabotage works, and Stannis’s few remaining supplies and hundreds of his three thousand horses are destroyed. In desperation, Stannis agrees to sacrifice Shireen to bring about a thaw. He sends Davos, who would have objected, back to Castle Black to demand the Night’s Watch’s help and allows Melisandre to give his daughter to the flames. Shireen’s sacrifice brings about a thaw which allows Stannis and his army to march on Winterfell.
As Stannis prepares the final march on Winterfell, one of his soldiers informs him that half of his men, including all of the sellswords, have deserted in the night, taking all the horses with them. Later, Selyse is found hanging from a tree from an apparent suicide, and Melisandre has left the camp and ridden for Castle Black. With seemingly no one by his side, Stannis gives orders to prepare to assault Winterfell.
With Winterfell in sight, Stannis prepares to give siege, though the Boltons have pre-empted this move by meeting him in open battle with cavalry. Severely undermanned and without mounted troops of his own, Stannis bravely leads his troops into a final battle that results in the total defeat of his forces. Injured, Stannis seeks refuge by a tree, but is confronted by Brienne. She demands justice for Renly, and Stannis confesses to killing Renly with a shadow. His spirit broken, Stannis simply asks for Brienne to mete out her justice.
Several regions of Westeros, notably the Riverlands, have been hit by the devastations of the war and the excesses of all sides. This, combined with the violation of guest right at the Red Wedding, has led many to be disillusioned with the rulers of Westeros. Stannis Baratheon’s support of the cult of the Lord of Light and the presence of two Red Priests in Westeros has led to the development of worship for the fire god from the east. Both Stannis’s forces in the North and the outlaws known as the Brotherhood Without Banners have taken up the new cult, the latter pledging to fight for the oppressed against their rulers.
As a reaction to these developments, a new religious movement has been rising in Westeros which seeks to return to the roots of their faith. These “sparrows” reject wealth and privilege, wearing only the simplest of clothing, and are composed mostly of disgruntled smallfolk. However, several noblemen have also joined up with the cult, such as Ser Lancel Lannister, King Robert’s former squire and Lord Tywin Lannister’s nephew.
The Sparrows begin to react against the rampant corruption in the organized Faith of the Seven, such as the High Septon’s frequent visit of brothels where he openly mocks the gods. They force the High Septon to perform a walk of penance by parading him naked through the streets of King’s Landing. When the High Septon tries to have their leader, the High Sparrow, executed for this action by the Small Council, Cersei has him arrested and arranges for the High Sparrow to be elected as the new High Septon. She later authorizes the new High Septon to rearm the Faith Militant, the military arm of the Seven’s religion, so that he could deal with the corruption according to his own will. She also tells him of her betrothed, Loras Tyrell’s, homosexuality, a great sin in the eyes of the gods. This is part of a power play between Cersei and the new Queen, Margaery Tyrell, who tried to convince her new husband to send his mother back to Casterly Rock to remove her from power.
The new Faith Militant attacks several businesses in King’s Landing, including alchol salesmen and Littlefinger’s brothels. They also arrest Loras Tyrell and refuse to let the King enter the Sept of Baelor when he comes to request his brother-in-law’s release. In anger at these events, Margaery sends a message to her grandmother, Olenna Tyrell, who comes to King’s Landing to deal with the situation. In a tense meeting with Cersei, Olenna threatens to withdraw House Tyrell’s support of the Crown, something that the Queen Mother cannot afford as the majority of the Lannisters’ strength comes from their alliance with the Tyrells. She convinces the High Sparrow to hold an inquest into Loras’s alleged homosexuality, after which he would be released. During the inquest, Loras denies the accusations and Margaery also denies then. However, Loras’s lover, Olyvar, is brought in and confesses to having committed homosexual acts with Loras. The High Sparrow orders Loras to be kept in custody and also orders Margaery’s arrest, to the shock of King Tommen and the Tyrells.
Olenna, determined to free her grandchildren, tries to bribe the High Sparrow for their release. When her attempt fails, she once again threatens to cut off King’s Landing from the Reach’s harvests, which would cause famine in the city. The High Sparrow is not swayed by her attempts to force his hand and tells her that, as a leader of the many, he had taught them that they no longer needed to fear the few. Olenna later meets with Petyr Baelish, who was in the city at Cersei’s request. He offers her informaion which allows her to destroy Cersei: news of her adulterous affair with her cousin, Lancel Lannister. The latter had already confessed this to the High Sparrow, who ordered Cersei to be arrested as well.
With Cersei removed and his wife under arrest, King Tommen fell into a depression, refusing the see anyone and secluding himself in his chambers. Grand Maester Pycelle sent a raven to Casterly Rock and offered the position of Hand of the King to Ser Kevan Lannister. He returned to the capital with haste and took over the Small Council immediately. He also refused overtures from Qyburn to see Cersei.