Plot Overview: A Storm of Swords
A Storm of Swords follows the same format as the first two books in the series - the readers witness events unfolding in Martin's beautifully crafted world through the viewpoints of a huge cast of characters. This time around, we bear witness to these events from the viewpoints of a main cast of ten characters, with the action spanning regions as far and varied as the beautiful (and dangerous) wilderness that lies north of the Wall to the fly-filled and immoral hell-pit that is Slaver's Bay.
The book picks up where the second book, A Clash of Kings, left off. In A Clash of Kings, the War of the Five Kings threatens to tear the Seven Kingdoms apart. Joffrey Baratheon sits on the Iron Throne in King's Landing, a cruel boy king who leaves the ruling of the kingdom to his mother and his council of advisors. Stannis Baratheon decries Joffrey Baratheon as the product of incest between Cersei and Jaime Lannister and, seeing himself as the late Robert Baratheon's rightful heir, declares himself King. Stannis' younger brother, Renly Baratheon, disregards the fact that Stannis is the elder brother and crowns himself King, using military might as his right to seize the Iron Throne - his host swells with the many swords he has won from his alliance with House Tyrell, through marriage to Maegary Tyrell. Stannis and Renly come face-to-face at Storm's End, but when Renly refuses to submit to his brother, Melisandre of Asshai uses her sorcery to send a shadow to kill Renly in his tent. Stannis wins most of Renly's bannermen over to his cause, except for House Tyrell, and marches on to King's Landing. Meanwhile, Robb Stark, the King in the North, shows his astute military prowess by winning battle after battle with the Lannisters; he even manages to capture Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer. Balon Greyjoy is the fifth king, declaring himself as the King of the Iron Islands. With Robb Stark's forces busy fighting in the south, Balon sends his ironmen to claim the North. His son, Theon Greyjoy, goes against Balon's orders and captures Winterfell. However, he does not hold it for long, losing it to Lord Roose Bolton's bastard, Ramsay Snow, who proceeds to burn Winterfell to the ground.
A Storm of Swords opens with the answer to Jaime Lannisters fate. In the previous book, he had been captured by Robb Stark and made a captive in Riverrun. In A Storm of Swords, Catelyn has freed Jaime from his imprisonment; in return for freeing him, she expects Jaime to return her two daughters, Sansa and Arya, to her. Catelyn charges Brienne of Tarth with bringing Jaime safely back to King's Landing. During their journey to the capital, Brienne and Jaime are captured by Vargo Hoat and his Brave Companions, who have left the service of Tywin Lannister and are now serving Lord Roose Bolton instead. Vargo brings Jaime and Brienne back to Harrenhal, now occupied by Lord Roose Bolton who took Harrenhal from the Lannisters; on the way to Harrenhal, Vargo cuts off Jaime's right hand. Upon reaching Harrenhal, Lord Roose Bolton shows his displeasure with Vargo's cruel act and decides to send Jaime on his way to King's Landing in order not to antagonize Jaime's father. Bolton, however, does nothing for Brienne, who remains Vargo's prisoner. Jaime heads for King's Landing but has a change of heart, and returns to Harrenhal to free Brienne.
When they finally reach King's Landing, Ser Loras Tyrell catches sight of Brienne and accuses her of murdering Renly Baratheon; Jaime consigns Brienne to a cell for her own safety. Jaime then returns to his post, as the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. During a meeting with his sworn brothers, he tells Loras to speak with Brienne about Renly's murder and offers to punish Brienne if Loras still believes that she is the one who murdered Renly. Loras comes back and admits that Brienne might not have been the murderer as he first thought. Jaime releases Brienne and thanks her for getting him back to King's Landing. He then gives her a Valyrian sword as a gift and allows her to leave King's Landing in order to continue her quest to find Catelyn's daughters.
Robb Stark, King in the North and King of the Trident, returns to Riverrun. He easily forgives Catelyn for freeing Jaime without his consent, which surprises Catelyn until she learns that the reason Robb has forgiven her is because he has done something that has just as many ramifications if not more: he has taken Jeyne Westerling as his wife. Catelyn knew then why the contingent from House Frey had abandoned Riverrun several days earlier. She knows Robb has made a colossal mistake, as marrying Jeyne means that Robb has broken his promise to marry one of Lord Walder Frey's daughters. She tells Robb that he will have to extend an apology to Lord Walder and will have to send terms to regain House Frey's allegiance.
As they wait for Lord Walder's reply, a grave consequence of Catelyn's freeing of Jaime without Robb's consent finally comes to light. Her action of freeing the Kingslayer earned her the enmity of Lord Rickard Karstark, who lost two of his sons to Jaime's blade during the Battle of the Whispering Woods. In retaliation, Lord Rickard Karstark has his men kill two of Robb's prisoners; one of them being Ser Kevan Lannister's son and the other a Frey with Lannister blood. Furious at the murder of two prisoners who were under his protection, Robb sentences Lord Karstark to death, executing Karstark with his own hands.
A small party of men from the Twins arrive at Riverrun, bringing Lord Walder's reply with them. Robb is happy to learn that Lord Walder has agreed to the new marriage alliance; all Robb has to do to regain House Frey's fealty is for Edmure to marry Lady Roslin Frey immediately and for Robb himself to make a face-to-face apology to Lord Walder. Robb, Edmure, Catelyn and the rest of his host then ride to The Twins, where Robb intends to attend Edmure's wedding before dealing with the ironmen holding Moat Caitlin. However, Lord Walder Frey has secretly allied with Tywin Lannister and the 'Red Wedding' has been orchestrated to bring Robb to the Twins, where he would be vulnerable. Lord Roose Bolton has allied with Tywin Lannister as well, and he is the one who plunges the sword into Robb's heart; Catelyn Stark is killed as well after she goes mad at Robb's death. Edmure is taken hostage.
The fates of Catelyn's two daughters after the events taking place in A Clash of Kings is also revealed in A Storm of Swords. Arya has escaped Lord Bolton's Harrenhal, but ends up being taken captive by Lord Beric Dondarrion's outlaw group, known as the Brotherhood without Banners. They do her no harm but intend to ransom her in exchange for gold. Sandor Clegane, having fled King's Landing after the Battle of the Blackwater, ends up being captured by the outlaws, as well. The outlaws accuse Sandor of many blood-thirsty crimes and force Sandor to take part in a trial by combat where he has to kill Lord Beric Dondarrion in order to prove his innocence. Sandor manages to strike the death blow, but Thoros of Myr resurrects Beric. The outlaws release Sandor but not before taking all of his gold. Sandor eventually returns to the outlaws in the hope of getting his gold back, but the outlaws refuse; they threaten him and seeing himself heavily outnumbered, he leaves. However, he remains close to the Brotherhood and takes Arya with him after he catches her trying to escape from the outlaw group.
Sandor, hearing that Robb is in The Twins for a wedding feast, takes Arya to the Twins, hoping that Robb will pay her ransom. However, Sandor arrives just as the Red Wedding reveals its true colors and Sandor flees the scene, taking a reluctant Arya with him. With Robb now dead, Sandor decides to travel to the Vale in the hopes that Arya's aunt, Lysa Arryn, will pay her ransom. However, when they stop at an inn, they come across three of Ser Gregor Clegane's men. Sandor gets into a fight with his brother's men and kills them but sustains several wounds. Sandor starts getting weaker and weaker from his wounds until he cannot continue riding; seeing her chance to finally escape, Arya rides off. She makes her way to a nearby port, where she buys passage to Braavos with the coin that Jaqen H'ghar had passed to her after she had escaped Harrenhal (as detailed in A Clash of Kings).
Sansa, on the other hand, escapes from one cruel trap only to fall into another. Joffrey has set aside his betrothal to her and agreed to marry Margaery Tyrell instead. However, Sansa is then forced to marry Tyrion. Tyrion is against the marriage from the start, but Tywin insists that the marriage take place since, with Robb dead, Tyrion can one day inherit Winterfell through his son. Tyrion treats Sansa kindly, but Sansa starts retreating into herself and speaks to her husband only out of duty. She accompanies Tyrion to Joffrey and Margaery's wedding feast, but flees the scene when Joffrey dies at the wedding after being poisoned. She runs to the godswood where Ser Dontos is waiting for her. Together they flee the capital, with Dontos taking her to a galley out in Blackwater Bay. Onboard the galley, Sansa comes face-to-face with Petyr Baelish, whom she had thought would be in the Vale. Ser Dontos demands for the gold he was promised to which Petyr responds by ordering his crossbowmen to shoot Ser Dontos. The bolts kill Dontos and Petyr then has the ship set sail to his tower on the Fingers.
Upon arriving at the Fingers, Petyr tells Sansa that he aunt Lysa is coming to the Fingers. He also gives Sansa a false identity as Alayne Stone, his bastard daughter. Petyr tells Sansa that the false identity is necessary so as to hide her whereabouts from Lord Varys in King's Landing. Lysa arrives at the Fingers and calls for Petyr to marry her immediately; although preferring to be married in the Vale, Petyr complies. The next morning, Petyr tells Sansa that he has informed Lysa about her true identity and that they are to head for the Eyrie next.
The Eyrie proves to be an empty place for Sansa. Lysa wants Sansa to marry her son, Little Lord Robert, a sickly boy of eight. Sansa agrees to the marriage but keeps her reluctance to herself. One day, Petyr kisses Sansa. This so infuriates Lysa that she summons Sansa to the Eyrie's High Hall. Lysa proceeds to unleash her wrath upon Sansa and starts pushing Sansa towards the Moon Door, a door in the High Hall that leads out to the white skies and cold wind. However, Petyr comes in the nick of time and tells Lysa that he loves only her. Lysa lets of Sansa and goes to hug Petyr. Petyr then confesses that he has only ever loved one woman in his life - Catelyn. He then pushes Lysa out of the Moon Door and quick-wittedly lays the blame for her death on her singer, Marillion.
Meanwhile, in King's Landing, Tyrion stands accused by Cersei of murdering Joffrey. Cersei suspects Sansa of being involved as well, but she is unable to locate Sansa's whereabouts. At the trial that follows, Cersei brings witness after witness to testify against Tyrion, each one more damning than the last. Her last witness is Shae, Tyrion's whore whom he arranged to be hired as Sansa's maid so that he could keep her close in King's Landing. Furious that Shae has decided to betray him, Tyrion calls out for a trial by combat. Cersei is delighted at the prospect, her champion being Ser Gregor Clegane. However, even Cersei is caught by surprise when Prince Oberyn Martell, who sits as one of the judges, volunteers to be Tyrion's champion. Oberyn sees it as the perfect opportunity to deliver justice; he arrived at King's Landing to take his brother's place on the King's small council, but he also came with the purpose of meting out justice for his sister and her children, who were butchered by Ser Gregor Clegane at the end of Robert's Rebellion.
During the fight, Oberyn manages to severely wound the much bigger and stronger Gregor with his poisoned spear. However, Gregor manages to grab hold of Oberyn and kills the Prince of Dorne with a brutal punch to the head. With his champion dead, Tyrion is judged guilty of Joffrey's murder and sentenced to death. Jaime, with Varys' assistance, frees Tyrion from his cell. Jaime, a somewhat changed man after traveling with Brienne and losing his hand, reveals the truth about Tyrion's first wife. The revelation badly hurts Tyrion, such that he resorts to a lie to hurt Jaime, saying that he murdered Joffrey even when he hadn't. Jaime leaves and Tyrion continues his escape with Varys' assistance. Before he disappears from King's Landing, Tyrion climbs up the Hand's Tower and first kills Shae for betraying him, and then Tywin, for the pain and humiliation he inflicted on Tyrion's first wife.
Joffrey Baratheon and Robb Stark both died while they were at wedding feasts. Balon Greyjoy's dies a more serene death, by falling off a bridge at his ancestral seat of Pyke. All three of these kings have died because of R'hllor's might, at least that is what Melisandre of Asshai tells Stannis Baratheon. She had three leeches suck the blood of Edric Storm, Robert Baratheon's bastard son that Stannis has brought back with him to Dragonstone, and then threw them into the fire - three leeches for three kings.
Having been defeated at the Battle of the Blackwater, Stannis Baratheon has returned to Dragonstone to lick his wounds. His trusted Onion Knight, Ser Davos Seaworth, has survived the Battle of the Blackwater and returned to Dragonstone. Having lost four of his sons at the Battle of the Blackwater and seeing Melisandre as the cause of their loss, Ser Davos attempts to assassinate Melisandre, but his plan is foiled when Melisandre predicts his actions even before he can carry them out. Davos is imprisoned but is soon visited by Melisandre, who forgives Davos and tells him that Stannis' loss at the Blackwater had nothing to do with her absence but the fact that Stannis had surrounded himself with unbelievers. Davos then remains in his cell until he is summoned by Stannis.
Stannis shares Ser Axell Florent's plan with Davos, a plan that involves attacking Claw Isle, seat of House Celtigar, the reason being that Lord Ardrian Celtigar bent the knee to Joffrey after the Battle of the Blackwater; he then asks for Davos' counsel. Davos calls the plans cowardly, saying that the old men, children and women who remained in Claw Isle did no wrong. Stannis agrees with Davos' honest counsel, and in return, he makes Davos his Hand. Melisandre of Asshai wants to sacrifice Edric Storm to R'hllor in order to summon the stone dragons of prophecy, but Stannis and Davos are against this and so Melisandre resorts to using the leeches filled with Edric's blood to get rid of the three false kings.
As the new Hand of the King, Ser Davos begins learning how to read, his teacher being Maester Pylos, the maester of Dragonstone. However, during his lessons he comes across a letter which disturbs him, one that the previous Hand never presented to Stannis - it is a letter from the Night's Watch, requesting that the five kings of the realm send more men to the Wall so that they can defend the realm against the King beyond the Wall and his vast horde of wildlings. Ser Davos keeps the letter and comes up with a plan. He forms an alliance with several men who have not gone over to Melisandre's R'hllor, and together they send Edric Storm away on one of Salladhor Saan's galleys, promising the boy that he is going off on a grand adventure. When Stannis finally decides that he needs to sacrifice Edric in order to win the war, Davos reveals to Stannis and Melisandre that he has already sent Edric away in order to prevent Melisandre from sacrificing the boy to R'hllor. Stannis is angry and is about to exact punishment upon Davos, but Davos asks Stannis to hear him out first and proceeds to read the letter from the Night's Watch.
* * *
In the icy wilderness that lies beyond the Wall, Lord Commander Mormont waits at the Fist of the First Men, waiting for his scouting parties to return, but none of them do. Death and chaos descend upon the men of the Night's Watch when they are attacked by the mysterious Others, a race of otherworldy beings long considered the stuff of legends, and the wights that the Others control. Most of the men are slaughtered, but Lord Mormont and a group of men charge through the ranks of the Others and manage to escape. Mormont has the survivors marching towards Craster's Keep. Along the way, Sam and Grenn run into an Other, but Sam manages to kill it with an obsidian dagger.
When the black brothers reach Craster's, several of the men stage a mutiny, killing both Craster and Mormont. The black brothers who were not involved in the mutiny flee for the Wall. Grenn tries to get Sam to flee as well, but Sam is too deep in shock and won't budge, so Grenn is forced to leave him behind. Several of Craster's wives see to Sam when he finally comes to and they hand one of Craster's daughters, Gilly over to him, telling him to bring Gilly and her newborn baby to the Wall. Sam does so but along the way, they are ambushed by wights. A mysterious man, riding on an elk and dressed in black like a man of the Night's Watch, arrives to rescue Sam and Gilly.
As the men of the Night's Watch continue to fight against Others and wildlings alike, Bran Stark, Jojen and Meera Reed, and Hodor leave Winterfell behind and make their way to the Wall; Bran has decided to find the three-eyed crow that has been calling to him in his dreams, who, according to Jojen, is to be found beyond the Wall. They spend days and nights going through the hills and eventually come to Queenscrowne, a village south of the Wall, where they stay overnight in a tower located on the village's lake. During their short stay, they catch sight of wildlings entering the village, but because the wildlings do not know that there are steps leading to the tower just underneath the water's surface (which Bran knew about), they manage to stay hidden inside the tower. However, Bran slips into his direwolf's skin, and through Summer's eyes, he sees his half-brother, Jon Snow, traveling with the wildlings. The wildling leader tries to force Jon to kill an old man they find taking shelter in the village, but Jon refuses to do so. The wildling leader is about to confront Jon, but Summer rushes in to attack, and the ensuing chaos allows Jon to steal one of the wildlings' horses, and he rides off into the night, escaping from his captors.
After leaving Queenscrown, Bran and his group travel to the Nightfort, the largest castle along the Wall. It has been long abandoned and the gate sealed with ice and stone. But Jojen insists that there is a way through the Wall within the Nightfort, as he has seen it in his dreams. Unable to find a way through on the first day, they decided to take shelter inside the castle's kitchens, next to a central well. During the night, a massive black shape comes out from the well; Meera throws her net over the creature and pokes it with her three-pronged spear; it turns out that that black shape is actually Sam Tarly. Gilly is the next to step out of the well, with her babe in hand. Sam tells Bran and the others that a mysterious man whom he and Gilly have dubbed Coldhands rescued them from the wights and brought them to the Nightfort, where Sam and Gilly had entered via a secret gate known as the Black Gate, a gate that can only be opened by men of the Night's Watch. Coldhands is unable to pass beyond the Black Gate due to the ancient spells within the Wall, so he has told Sam that the person he has been tasked to find is up in the Nightfort and that Sam is to bring that person to him. Jojen says that the person Coldhands is looking for is Bran. Bran decides to follow Sam, and so does Meera, Jojen and Hodor. They descend into the well, and Sam takes them to the Black Gate.
While Bran and the others have been traveling north to the Wall and Samwell has witnessed the death of Lord Commander Mormont and even killed an Other, Jon Snow has joined the wildlings. It was the last order Qhorin Halfhand had given Jon before Qhorin's death - to join the wildlings and learn everything he could about them in order to relay the information back to Castle Black at some point. The King beyond the Wall, leader of the vast wildling horde, is naturally suspicious of Jon, as are his other commanders. To stave off some of Mance's suspicions, Jon sleeps with the wildling woman, Ygritte; he feels guilt over breaking his vows of chastity, but in time, he grows to love Ygritte. Mance decides to send a small scouting force of a hundred and twenty wildlings to scale the Wall and probe the Night's Watch's defenses and places Jon in the group to test his loyalty. Ygritte goes along as well, and the two of them, plus most of the scouts, manage to survive a climb to the top of the Wall. Now south of the Wall, the wildlings intend to take Castle Black unawares, but due to a storm, are forced to take shelter at an abandoned village called Queenscrown. The wildling group's leader orders Jon to kill an old man they find taking shelter in the village, as a test of his loyalty. Jon refuses to do so, and the wildlings are about to confront and perhaps kill Jon when suddenly a direwolf appears and attacks the wildlings. In the ensuing chaos, Jon manages to steal one of the wildlings' horses, and rides off into the night, leaving his captors, and Ygritte, behind.
Jon rides non-stop to Castle Black, only to learn that Bowen Marsh has taken most of the garrison to investigate the wildling incursions along the Wall. Jon knows that the incursions are merely decoys and that the real attack will be at Castle Black. Under the instructions of the one-armed blacksmith, Donal Noye, Jon and the rest of the men prepare Castle Black defenses. They manage to successfully defend against the one-hundred-and-twenty-men wildling scouting party, but due to the attack coming from south of the Wall instead of the north, they suffer some casualties from the attack. Jon finds Ygritte dying from an arrow wound, and watches as she dies.
But another danger awaits them as Mance Rayder and his wildling host have finally arrived at Castle Black's doorsteps. Mance Rayder first sends a small force to attack the gate beneath the Wall, but Jon and his men successful stop the attack. However, when day comes about, Mance sends a much larger force against the Wall. Jon and the rest of the men atop the Wall manage to turn away the wildlings, but not before one of the giants smashes the gates to bits and makes its way into the tunnel beyond. Donal Noye, however, sacrifices his life in order to stop the giant. The battle between Mance's wildlings and the men of Castle Black continue day and night. One day, reinforcements from Eastwatch arrive, led by Ser Alliser Thorne and Lord Janos Slynt. Ser Alliser falls in with Lord Janos, who wants to hang Jon for joining the wildlings, despite Jon claiming that it was under Qhorin Halfhand's orders. They lock Jon up in one of the ice cells in the Wall until Maester Aemon writes to the commander of Eastwatch, explaining Jon's situation. Now unable to hang Jon, Janos sends him on a mission that he thinks is sure to kill Jon. Mance Rayder has called for an envoy to parley with him at the wildling camp, and Janos decides to send Jon, in the hope that the wildlings will kill Jon when they see that he has returned to the Night's Watch.
Mance and several of his commanders are indeed displeased to see Jon. In Mance's tent, Jon catches sight of the Horn of Winter, the legendary artifact that is said to summon giants from the earth and destroy the Wall when blown. Mance tells Jon that his host is being attacked by the Others and he proposes that the Night's Watch let the wildlings through. If the Night's Watch does not agree, he will blow the Horn of Winter and destroy the Wall. Before they can agree on anything, Mance's host is attacked by Stannis Baratheon's army. Stannis and his army landed in Eastwatch, and with the help of the Eastwatch men, took the ranger trails to Castle Black, catching Mance's army by surprise. The battle does not last long, and Mance and his wife, Dalla, are captured.
Stannis and Melisandre are at the Wall because Melisandre believes that battling the Others and the wights is Stannis' destiny, as foretold by an ancient prophecy. With Lord Commander Mormont dead, the Night's Watch hold a choosing for a new Lord Commander. By the ninth day, a new Lord Commander has yet to be chosen which angers Stannis who tells them that they are to choose a new Lord Commander immediately. Sam, who is now back at Castle Black with Gilly, sees Janos Slynt receiving more and more votes each day, so he hatches a plan to get the two men with the most votes, Ser Denys Mallister and Cotter Pyke, to withdraw in order to support Jon Snow. Sam's plan works, and Jon Snow becomes the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
* * *
In the East, Daenerys is riding one of the three boats that Magister Illyrio hired and sent to Qarth to fetch her back to Pentos. Ser Jorah convinces Daenerys that she needs an army of her own and so Daenerys has the captains sail to Slaver's Bay. They stop at Astapor, where Daenerys takes Ser Jorah's advice and buys Unsullied. The Unsullied are young eunuchs who are trained to be fighter; she buys all that the city can offer, trading one of her precious dragons in exchange, despite Arstan Whitebeard's protest. Daenerys, however, breaks the deal, and commands all three of her dragons and her newly-acquired Unsullied to kill the slave-masters of Astapor.
Daenerys next marches on to the next slave-city, Yunkai, where she not only faces the city's army but two mercenary companies, the Stormcrows and the Second Sons. Daenerys manages to convince the leader of the Stormcrows to defect over to her while she gets the Second Sons drunk by sending them a wagon full of wine. Yunkai's slave-army proves to be no match for the Unsullied and Daenerys conquers Yunkai.
Her next target is Meeren, another slave-city, but with far stronger defenses than Astapor or Yunkai. While riding amongst her own people, she comes face-to-face with the leader of the Second Sons, who escaped from the battle at Yunkai. Arstan Whitebeard proceeds to handily defeat the mercenary, which leads to Ser Jorah accusing him of being more than an old squire. Arstan then reveals that he is Ser Barristan Selmy, come to serve Daenerys; he also reveals that Ser Jorah has been sending information regarding her to Lord Varys in King's Landing. Furious at the two knights for lying to her, Daenerys decides to send them on a daring plan that involves going into Meeren's sewers from outside of the gates to enter the city and subsequently free the city's fighting slaves; Daenerys half-hopes that both knights will die in the mission.
But both Ser Barristan and Ser Jorah manage to survive and carry out the mission successfully, which wins Meeren for Daenerys with minimal loss among her men. When she has the two knights brought to her and tells them to tell the truth of why they lied to her, Ser Barristan is humble and admits it was because he wanted to see whether she had any Targaryen madness before pledging his service. Daenerys forgives Barristan and takes him back into her service. Ser Jorah, on the other hand, is stubborn and defensive, admitting that he only stopped reporting to Varys after Qarth. Daenerys is furious at his attitude and banishes him from her service.
With Meeren under her control, Daenerys is concerned by the reports she has heard about the unrest going on Astapor and Yunkai, two cities she conquered and hoped she had brought peace to. She realizes that she has to learn about ruling a city if she ever hopes to rule the seven kingdoms of Westeros, so she decides not to march on but to stay in Meeren and rule the city as a Queen.