The War of the Five Kings is a major military conflict that erupts in the wake of the death of King Robert I. Robert's heir Joffrey takes the Iron Throne, but the revelation that he's a bastard 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, while Renly claims the throne on the basis that he would be a better king, despite being second to Stannis in a lawful line of succession.
Meanwhile, Robb Stark, Lord of Winterfell, is declared the King in the North by his lords bannermen, and some of the Riverlords in the wake of the execution of Eddard Stark, his father and Hand of the King to the late Robert, under 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 are now a sovereign kingdom no longer subject to the rule of the Iron Throne.
Both Stannis and Renly Baratheon have raised their own armies. Renly, as Lord of Storm's End, gathers the support the Stormlords as well as that of House Tyrell and their bannermen via marriage to Margaery Tyrell. Meanwhile Stannis gathers the support of the Lords of the Narrow Sea, sworn to Dragonstone, as well as that of Melisandre of Asshai, a priestess of the Lord of Light.
Robb Stark also offers an alliance to Balon Greyjoy, Lord Reaper of Pyke and ruler of the Iron Islands, offering him independence if he will join them against the forces of House Lannister. Instead, Balon chooses to declare himself King of the Iron Islands and conquer the North while most of its defenders are south of the Neck.
The current factions involved in the War of the Five Kings:
King Joffrey Baratheon claims the Iron Throne by right of inheritance from his publicly-declared father, the late Robert Baratheon. He holds the capital city of King's Landing and his claim is supported militarily by the powerful and well-equipped armies of House Lannister, as well as the lords of the Crownlands. As the king in control of the capital he is referred to as the King on the Iron Throne.
The Lannister armies became bogged down in fighting the Stark forces in the Riverlands, leaving the capital potentially vulnerable to assault by sea or from the south, but when Robb Stark led his troops west to attack the Lannister homelands, their armies were free to march to relieve King's Landing from assault by Stannis's army. His supporters were also able to negotiate an alliance with House Tyrell after Renly Baratheon's death.
King Renly Baratheon, the youngest brother of King Robert, claimed the Iron Throne by right of strength and conquest. He is supported by his vassals, the Stormlords and the armies sworn to House Tyrell, who can field the largest armies in all of Westeros. He is known as "the King in Highgarden" because of the alliance.
The presence of Renly's large army in the south forced Tywin Lannister to leave the bulk of his forces at Harrenhal, mid-way between Robb in the north and Renly in the south, to react against whichever of them moved on King's Landing first. Renly was in no great hurry, content to let Robb Stark continue bleeding the Lannisters in the Riverlands. Time was largely on Renly's side, and he could afford to wait longer to assemble as large an army as possible before ultimately marching on King's Landing.
However, Renly was killed by a shadow creature under the control of Melisandre, a priestess in the employ of Stannis. The Stormlands lords, and a few Reach lords went over to Stannis, but the Tyrells refused to support him. They were eventually convinced to join Joffrey's supporters through negotiations.
King Stannis Baratheon, the younger brother of King Robert and the elder brother of Renly, claims the Iron Throne by right of inheritance from his brother. Stannis power is centered on the island fortress of Dragonstone in the Narrow Sea and he is therefore referred to as the King in the Narrow Sea.
Based on intelligence received from Eddard Stark before his arrest and execution, Stannis claims that Joffrey and his younger siblings are not Robert's children at all, but instead the product of incest between Queen Cersei Lannister and her twin brother, Jaime. This makes Joffrey a usurper, pretender and bastard, and leaves Stannis as the rightful king. At the beginning of the war very few supported Stannis' claim to the throne even after sending a letter of Joffrey's true parentage to all the high lords of Westeros. Stannis was also furious that most of the lords of the Stormlands had supported his younger brother Renly's claim to the Iron Throne. A parley between Stannis and Renly failed, so Stannis authorised his priestess, Melisandre, to kill Renly through magic. The storm lords went over to Stannis, but the Tyrells withdrew their armies. Stannis was still left with a large enough army and fleet to attack King's Landing. Despite initial successes, the tide turned against him when the Tyrells allied with the Lannisters and attacked him. Stannis was forced to flee with only a small number of survivors.
King Robb Stark does not claim the Iron Throne at all, but has instead been proclaimed the King in the North by popular acclaim. He commands the combined military strength of both the North and the Riverlands and is engaged in fighting the armies of House Lannister, having inflicted a significant defeat upon them at the Battle of the Whispering Wood.
Robb's ambition is to secure independence for the North and Riverlands from the Iron Throne and to, if possible, seek vengeance and redress from Joffrey Baratheon, whom he holds responsible for the death of his father. Despite Robb's youth and inexperience, he has proven to be an enthusiastic and canny battle commander, winning every engagement he has fought against the Lannisters. He earned the nickname "The Young Wolf" for his ferocity in battle. However, the capture of Winterfell by the Ironborn has distracted his attention and the forging of the Lannister/Tyrell alliance now leaves him at a severe numerical disadvantage.
Despite tactical victories at the Whispering Wood and at the Battle of Oxcross, Robb lost the momentum of the war as well as losing the support of House Frey; when he married Talisa Maegyr, when he had promised to marry one of Lord Walder Frey's daughters; and House Karstark; when he sentenced their lord, Rickard Karstark, to death for treason. Determined to regain his momentum, Robb planned to capture the Lannister base of Casterly Rock and, to acquire the needed men, attempted to repair his alliance with House Frey by marrying his uncle, Edmure Tully of Riverrun, to Roslin Frey.
Robb and the entire Northern army were betrayed and massacred by the Freys and the Boltons at what has come to be called the Red Wedding, putting an end to his rebellion and to the North's dream of independence.
King Balon Greyjoy, likewise, does not claim the Iron Throne, but has declared himself King of the Iron Islands again. He has rejected Robb Stark's proposal for an alliance against House Lannister, preferring to carve out a Kingdom of the Iron Islands alone. He's motivated by his hatred for the Starks for the death of his two older sons during the Greyjoy Rebellion and the ironborn tradition of 'paying the iron price' - which dictates that a man must take his riches by force, not negotiation or payment. To this end Balon has taken advantage of the North's under-defended state: most of their strength fighting with Robb in the Riverlands, raiding the coasts, and capturing the castle at Deepwood Motte. Out of his own initiative, his son Theon has also captured the main Stark stronghold at Winterfell, but has refused to relinquish it despite the difficulties in resupplying a location so far from the sea. The Ironborn have now abandoned Winterfell, and Theon's location remains unknown, potentially causing problems for Balon.
The following factions have either not declared an interest in the conflict, or have already declared their neutrality:
House Arryn and the knights of the Vale have declared themselves neutral in the conflict. Lady Lysa Arryn, acting as regent for her young son, Robin Arryn, has stated that the Vale will hold its strength and not take part in the war, despite entreaties from her sister, Catelyn Stark, to join the Stark cause. Lysa is sceptical of Robb's ability to defeat the seasoned, more experienced Tywin Lannister in battle.
House Martell of Dorne has pursued a course of isolationism since Robert's Rebellion, and declared no interest or faction in the current conflict at its outset. Tyrion Lannister has attempted to woo their support by offering their youngest son the hand of Princess Myrcella Baratheon in marriage. They have accepted the offer, but have not formally entered the war yet on anyone's side.
The Night's Watch plays no role in the internal political affairs of the Seven Kingdoms, and are sworn to defend the realm as a whole, no matter who is on the Iron Throne or competing for it. As a result, they are neutral in the current conflict.
The outlaw group known as the Brotherhood Without Banners is active in the Riverlands and, so far, has acted against the Lannister occupation, though they haven't declared their loyalty to either House Stark or House Baratheon. The Lannister forces have responded to the Brotherhood's activities by further sacking villages and torturing and executing peasants with the hope of tracking down the Brotherhood's leaders and their collaborators among the smallfolk.
Though aware of some of the events in Westeros and considering the time is right for her to sail west and reclaim her father's throne while the enemies of House Targaryen fight each other, Daenerys Targaryen hasn't gathered the necessary resources to transport her followers, and dragons, across the Narrow Sea and so she remains uninvolved so far.
Course of the conflict
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. House Lannister 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. 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 the King's Hand, Eddard Stark, Renly Baratheon fled the city with Ser Loras Tyrell and rode hard for Highgarden. There, the Tyrell banners were called and began gathering, whilst Renly was crowned King of the Seven Kingdoms.
Prince Joffrey also immediately claimed the throne upon Robert's death. Lord Eddard had a proclamation written by King Robert which named him regent, but was ignored. 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. On Dragonstone, Stannis likewise claimed the throne and began gathering his supporters.
War in the Riverlands
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. Jaime followed his victory at Golden Tooth by laying siege to Riverrun. Lord Tywin Lannister led the other force himself. Jaime's victories allowed Tywin to move north west through the Riverlands unimpeded.
Receiving news of his father's arrest, Robb Stark mobilized the armies of the North and assembled a host of 18,000 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. 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 operations in the Riverlands. By this time news of Renly and Stannis gathering armies had reached both the Stark and Lannister camps. After considering joining forces with one of the brothers, the Northmen and Riverland lords 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 eastern Riverlands to regroup.
Robb Stark invades the Westerlands
With Tywin encamped at Harrenhal, which was too strong to attack directly, Robb instead launched an invasion of the Westerlands, the Lannister homeland. 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 totally destroyed the green Lannister army group in the resulting Battle of Oxcross, killing Ser Stafford Lannister in the process. The victory leaves the Westerlands lightly defended. Robb goes 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, 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 castle at Casterly Rock. Tywin had already authorised secret negotiations with House Tyrell to begin following Renly's death, in the hope of winning an alliance with them and their powerful army.
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 the red priestess Melissandre, while Renly amassed the strength of his bannermen, the Stormlords, and that of the Reach by marrying Margaery Tyrell, daughter of Mace Tyrell.
After a failed meeting, Stannis gives an ultimatum to Renly to pledge his loyalty before he attacks, but Renly ignores him. Melissandre gives birth to a shadow which later on enters Renly's tent and kills him. While the Tyrell army leaves for Highgarden, the Stormlords swear fealty to Stannis as the remaining head of House Baratheon, with his brother's armies at his command Stannis prepares his invasion to King's Landing.
Riot in King's Landing
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
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 asks 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. Asha 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. 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.
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.
Winterfell was sacked and put to the torch shortly afterwards, while the dying Luwin moved to the Godswood. The majority of the castle and outlying town still stands. It is unknown who is responsible for the sack of Winterfell. 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. The initial attack was blunted when Tyrion Lannister sprung a trap, detonating a boat filled with wildfire in the midst of Stannis's fleet, destroying a significant part of it. The surviving ships were able to put ashore thousands of troops, led in person by Stannis. Sandor Clegane and Tyrion Lannister himself led several sorties that destroyed the Baratheon siege equipment, but were almost overwhelmed by superior enemy numbers. 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 defeated Stannis's forces, sending them fleeing from the field. House Tyrell have now formally declared themselves for The King on the Iron Throne in return for a marriage pact, giving King Joffrey Baratheon a large numerical advantage over King Robb Stark.
The Red Wedding
Robb Stark subsequently withdraws 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 switched sides to the Lannisters. 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 and his mother Catelyn were killed 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.
Aftermath of the Red Wedding
The complete destruction of the Northern army and death of Robb Stark at the Red Wedding 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.
However, the victory did not mark the end of the war, as Stannis Baratheon and Balon Greyjoy continued to claim their respective crowns in opposition to King Joffrey. Most of Stannis's forces were destroyed at the Blackwater, but he himself remains at liberty with some surviving forces. The ironborn, who have partially occupied the North, command great sea power and have refused to swear loyalty to the Iron Throne, are a more significant threat that still needs to be addressed.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the War of the Five Kings is one of the major storylines which the narrative revolves around.
While it is popularly known as the War of the "Five" Kings, in a later book a character points out that this is somewhat inaccurate, as Balon Greyjoy openly declared himself King of the Iron Islands only slightly after Renly died, so there were never five kings actively fighting each other at one time. Nonetheless the name has stuck, and it does still refer to the fact that five kings were involved. For the TV series, however, it might be somewhat accurate, depending on when Balon Greyjoy's secession of the Iron Islands "officially" began. Renly was killed at the beginning of the fifth episode of Season 2. Balon explains to Theon that he intends to make himself a king by force in the second episode of Season 2, but this isn't followed by a polite declaration: the ironborn make a surprise attack against the North at the beginning of the sixth episode of Season 2, taking Torrhen's Square and Winterfell. Thus Balon briefly claimed the title of King while Renly was still alive, but the first the other factions knew about this was when ironborn raiders were at their doorsteps, after Renly died.
It is generally a four-sided war, between the Lannisters, Starks, Baratheons, and Greyjoys. Renly's brief time as a claimant, controlling most of the armies of the Stormlands and the Reach, did affect the strategic position of the Lannisters, but he didn't set out to engage them on the battlefield. Instead the Tyrells had cut of the Roseroad, effectively blockading resources and foodstuff from reaching the capital, and Renly was content to sit back and let the Lannisters exhaust themselves against the Starks while he built up his own strength to overwhelming levels, at which point he intended to march directly on King's Landing. Also while there are four "sides", this does not include political machinations and large territories changing sides, i.e. the Vale of Arryn or Dorne, and particularly House Tyrell of the Reach, which considerably tipped the balance of the war when they switched their allegiance to the Lannisters. Due to simple geography, of course, any one faction isn't actively fighting three others all the time. Simply due to the fact that they are located on opposite coasts of the continent the Greyjoys (off the west coast) and Stannis Baratheon (off the east coast) aren't actively fighting each other while he's on Dragonstone. Stannis does nominally consider the North to be in rebellion against him, but in practice, doesn't actively fight the North, because he's more concerned with retaking the capital city from the Lannisters. As seen in the TV series, the Starks do send peace overtures to the Baratheons, but Stannis refuses to allow the North to secede and take away vast territories which he feels are rightfully his. While the Greyjoys aren't actively fighting Stannis, they are not on the side of the Starks or the Lannisters, and are truly looking out only for their own interests.
- ↑ HBO viewers guide, season 2 map, special features - Areas of Control
- ↑ HBO viewers guide, season 2 map, special features - Areas of Control, Joffrey Baratheon entry
- ↑ HBO viewers guide, season 2 map, special features - Areas of Control, Renly Baratheon entry
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 HBO viewers guide, season 2 map, special features - Areas of Control, Stannis Baratheon entry
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 "You Win or You Die"
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "The North Remembers"
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 "Garden of Bones"
- ↑ "The Ghost of Harrenhal"
- ↑ "Blackwater"
- ↑ HBO viewers guide, season 2 map, special features - Areas of Control, Robb Stark entry
- ↑ "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things"
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 "Fire and Blood"
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 "The Pointy End"
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 "Baelor"
- ↑ "A Man Without Honor"
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 "The Prince of Winterfell"
- ↑ "The Old Gods and the New"
- War of the Five Kings at A Wiki of Ice and Fire (MAJOR spoilers from the book)