- "That's what we are: ghosts. Waiting for you in the dark. You can't see us, but we see you. No matter whose cloak you wear: Lannister, Stark, Baratheon, you prey on the weak, the Brotherhood Without Banners will hunt you down."
- ―Beric Dondarrion
The Brotherhood Without Banners is an outlaw group working against Lannister interests in the Riverlands at the time of the War of the Five Kings, though their goal is to protect the smallfolk from any force preying on them, regardless of which King or Lord they support.
- Lord Beric Dondarrion, Lord of Blackhaven.
- Thoros, a Red Priest of the Lord of Light from the Free City of Myr.
- Anguy, a champion archer from the Stormlands.
- Gendry, a smith from King's Landing and unacknowledged bastard of the late King Robert.
The Brotherhoood Without Banners is formed in the aftermath of the Battle at the Mummer's Ford, in which the host assembled by Eddard Stark to arrest and execute Ser Gregor Clegane, under the leadership of Lord Beric Dondarrion, was ambushed. The survivors were trapped behind enemy lines, but led by Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, they formed the Brotherhood to harass Lannister forces. Over time, they began to feel that none of the factions in the War of the Five Kings, the Starks or the Lannisters, was looking out for the welfare of the smallfolk. Stark raiding parties would burn out farms in the Riverlands just to deny their resources to the Lannisters, and the Lannisters would do the same.
The Brotherhood therefore decided to fight for no "banner" of one king or another in the war, but to fight to defend the common people against raiding parties of soldiers who prey on the weak during the war. From the core group which was originally sent out by Eddard Stark - and contained some of his own household guards from Winterfell - the Brotherhood gained new members during the course of the war as it was joined by Stark deserters, Baratheon deserters, and simple commoners who wanted to defend their homes.
In short, the Brotherhood Without Banners are a rag-tag band of misfits who rob from the rich to give to the poor, making hit-and-run attacks then retreating back to the forests.
At Harrenhal, the Lannister torturer known as the Tickler interrogates prisoners from a nearby village and demands to know where the Brotherhood is, what they are planning and which villagers are collaborating with them.
After the poisoning of Ser Amory Lorch, Ser Gregor Clegane believes the Brotherhood Without Banners is responsible. Lord Tywin Lannister considers the name to be grandiose for a band of brigands and outlaws. Tywin is angered that the Brotherhood is operating behind the Lannister lines and harrying their forces with impunity.
Following their escape from Harrenhal Arya, Hot Pie, and Gendry are ambushed by the Brotherhood as they attempt to make their way to Riverrun. The trio are questioned by Thoros, who mistakes them for war refugees, and invites them back to a nearby inn for food and drink. The Brotherhood also captures Sandor Clegane, who identifies Arya.
The Brotherhood refuses to let Arya go, effectively making her their hostage. Meanwhile, Gendry chooses to join them.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, a group of soldiers, knights, and armed peasants known as the Brotherhood Without Banners forms to help protect the smallfolk in the Riverlands from the depredations of the war and abuses of military forces, particularly the Lannisters but also Stark forces.
The core of the Brotherhood Without Banners are formed from the force of 100 soldiers that Eddard Stark himself sent out under the command of Ser Beric Dondarrion to bring Ser Gregor Clegane to justice when news came that Gregor was raiding villages in the Riverlands. In fact, it was Tywin Lannister's intention to goad Eddard into confronting him in order to use it as a pretext for war, and he knew Eddard's strong sense of justice would prevent him from letting Gregor's depredations of the smallfolk go unanswered. Thus the Lannisters anticipated this response and laid a trap for the men sent by Eddard at the Battle of Mummers Ford, in which most of the force was destroyed. The few survivors were cut off behind enemy lines, and decided to form the Brotherhood to continue to harass Gregor's Lannister forces, still following Eddard Stark's orders to make the Lannisters answer for their crimes. Eddard supplemented Ser Beric's expedition with members of his own personal guard, thus several members of the Brotherhood Without Banners are the last survivors of his household guard from Winterfell who accompanied him to King's Landing. One of them, Harwin, was even present when Eddard and his sons found the six direwolf pups in the first chapter of the first novel. They continue to fight in memory of Eddard Stark, but after seeing the suffering of the smallfolk as both Lannister and Stark forces burned out villages to deny them to the enemy, they began to fight for the ideal of protecting the smallfolk from both Lannister and Stark soldiers.
By the second novel (the same timespan as Season 2 in the TV series), the Brotherhood Without Banners has become an irritant to the Lannister army at Harrenhal and Ser Gregor Clegane's men are trying to find the Brotherhood's leaders.
The "Brotherhood Without Banners" (or BWB) is also the name of George R.R. Martin's fanbase, particularly the part of which gathers around the Westeros.org forums. His fifth A Song of Ice and Fire novel, A Dance with Dragons, is dedicated to the Brotherhood Without Banners.
- The Brotherhood Without Banners at A Wiki of Ice and Fire (MAJOR spoilers from the books)