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"The Seven Kingdoms are at war with one another... false kings destroying the country... the Usurper is dead. The Starks fight the Lannisters, the Baratheons fight each other."
Daenerys Targaryen to Ser Jorah Mormont.[src]

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.

Previous

Greyjoy Rebellion

Concurrent

Conflict Beyond the Wall
Targaryen campaign in Slaver's Bay

War of the Five Kings
Beginning

298 AL

End

Ongoing

Place:

Westeros

Outcome:

Current pyrrhic House Baratheon of King's Landing victory

Combatants

Kingdom of the North

Seven Kingdoms

Seven Kingdoms

Seven Kingdoms

Kingdom of the Iron Islands

Leaders

King Robb Stark

King Joffrey I
King Tommen I

King Stannis I

King Renly I

King Balon Greyjoy

Battles
 

Course of the conflict

Opening moves

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.[src]

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).[3] House Lannister, led by Lord Tywin (Tyrion's father) summoned its armies and marched on the Riverlands with 60,000 men.[4] Ser Gregor Clegane led an auxiliary force and began striking at bannerhouses supporting Catelyn's father, Lord Hoster Tully, in reprisal.  [4]

The death of Robert Baratheon

King Robert attempted to defuse the situation but failed, and soon after died.[4] 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.[4] 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.[4] 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.[4] 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.[4] On Dragonstone, Stannis likewise claimed the throne and began gathering his supporters.[5]

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."
―Tywin Lannister[src]

The Lannister force separated into two armies of 30,000 men each.[4] 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,[6] and followed through on his victory by laying siege to Riverrun.[6] Lord Tywin Lannister led the other force himself, Jaime's victories allowing him to move north west through the Riverlands unimpeded.[6]

Green Fork

The aftermath of the Battle of the Green Fork.

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).[6] He marched to the relief of the Riverlands.[6] Lord Tywin moved to the east bank of the Green Fork of the Trident to intercept the Stark force.[6] 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.[7] Robb sent 2,000 men to pretend to attack Tywin's army.[7] 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.[7] 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.[7]

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.[5]

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.[8]

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."
―Robb Stark[src]
Battle of Oxcross

The aftermath of the Battle of 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.[9] The victory left the Westerlands lightly defended. Robb went on to win a minor victory at the Battle of the Yellow Fork[10] and force the surrender of the Crag.[11] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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[src]

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.[13]

Rise of the Kraken

"The North is ripe for the taking."
―Balon Greyjoy[src]

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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19]

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.[20]

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.[21]

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.[22] After the death of his maternal grandfather, Robb marched his army back to Riverrun, but faced a bleak situation.[23] The Lannisters meanwhile focused on consolidating the south with their new Tyrell allies, content that time and resources were now on their side.[24][25]

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.[26] 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.[27]

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.[28]

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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31][32]. 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.[33] 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.[34]

​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.[35] 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.[36]

Joffrey was succeede​d 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.[37]

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.[38] 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.[39]

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.[40]

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.[41]

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.[42]

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.[43] 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.[44]

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.[45]

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.[46] 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.[47]

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.[48]

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.[49]

After a failed attempt by Yara Greyjoy to rescue her brother from the Boltons[50], 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.[51]

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[52]. 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.[53] 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.[54] 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.[55]

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.[56]

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.[57]

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.[58]

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.[59] 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.[60] Shireen's sacrifice brings about a thaw which allows Stannis and his army to march on Winterfell.[61]

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. [62]

Religious strife

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.[63] 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.[64]

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.[65]

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 [66] 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.[67] 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.[68]

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.[69]

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.[70]

Current factions

Although two factions technically remain at large in the War of the Five Kings, one of them retain very little influence, to the point where the King on the Iron Throne is the de facto victor. Even so, the Greyjoys are still in officially in rebellion.[71]

The King on the Iron Throne

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Joffrey I Baratheon, the "King on the Iron Throne"

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.[72]

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[73], but when Robb Stark led his troops west to attack the Lannister homeland, their armies were free to march to relieve King's Landing from assault by Stannis' army.[74] His supporters were also able to negotiate an alliance with House Tyrell after Renly Baratheon's death.[75]

During his wedding to Margaery Tyrell, Joffrey was poisoned by an unknown party and died.[76] His uncle, former Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister, was arrested for the murder. Joffrey's lawful successor is his younger brother, Tommen Baratheon, whom nobles and smallfolk alike are already hailing as a worthy king at last.[77] After being broken out of confinement, Tyrion Lannister killed his father Tywin Lannister, the then-Hand of the King, leaving the rule of King's Landing in an uncertain position.[78] Ultimately, Tommen Baratheon is crowned as the new King on the Iron Throne, though the stability of his rule, which is already characterized by the power struggle between his wife and his mother, may soon be called into question.

The King of the Iron Islands

King Balon Greyjoy, likewise, does not claim the Iron Throne, but did declare himself King of the Iron Islands again.[79] He rejected Robb Stark's proposal for an alliance against House Lannister, preferring to carve out a Kingdom of the Iron Islands alone.[80] 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 took advantage of the North's under-defended state while most of its forces were fighting with Robb in the Riverlands: the ironborn raided the coasts and captured the castle at Deepwood Motte. Out of his own initiative, his son Theon then captured the main Stark stronghold at Winterfell and refused to relinquish it despite the difficulties in resupplying a location so far from the sea.[81] However, the ironborn finally abandoned Winterfell, and Theon was captured by House Bolton [82], although Balon is somewhat dismissive of Theon's predicament given the failures at Winterfell.[83] Not only has his daughter's attempt to rescue Theon been unsuccessful [84], but also Ramsay Bolton has taken Moat Cailin from the ironborn. Since this is the key to go in and out of the North, the whole Bolton army has reentered the North and taken Winterfell, forcing most ironborn out of the North.[85]

Former factions

Three of the original five kings have been slain and their factions in the war are now defunct.

The King in Highgarden

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King Renly I Baratheon, "the King in Highgarden"

King Renly Baratheon, the youngest brother of King Robert, claimed the Iron Throne by right of strength and conquest. He was supported by his vassals, the Stormlords and the armies sworn to House Tyrell, who can field the largest armies in all of Westeros. He was known as "the King in Highgarden" because of this alliance.[86]

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 Stark 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 and holding tourneys and feasts with his lords bannermen and sworn knights. 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 majority of the Stormlords, and a handful of Reachlords went over to Stannis, but the Tyrells and the majority of the Reachlords refused to support him. They were eventually convinced to join Joffrey's supporters through negotiations.

The King in the Narrow Sea

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Stannis Baratheon, the "King in the Narrow Sea"

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.[87]

Based on intelligence received from Eddard Stark before his arrest and execution,[4] 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.[8] 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 he sent a letter of Joffrey's true parentage to all the high lords of Westeros.[87][8] Stannis was also furious that most of the lords of the Stormlands had supported his younger brother Renly's claim to the Iron Throne.[8] A parley between Stannis and Renly failed, so Stannis authorized his priestess, Melisandre, to kill Renly through magic.[9] The storm lords went over to Stannis, but the Tyrells withdrew their armies.[88] 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.[89]

Although Stannis hoped to continue to press his claim to the Iron Throne, Ser Davos and Melisandre, in a rare moment of accord, convinced him that the threat of the White Walkers is greater than the War of the Five Kings.[90] Stannis then secured a loan from the Iron Bank of Braavos[91] and departed for the North to support the Night's Watch.[92] At the Wall, his forces have obliterated the wildling army that was about to crush Castle Black and taken the King-Beyond-the-Wall prisoner.[93]

The immediate threat dealt with, Stannis intends to turn his attention to the North. He hopes to march on Winterfell and liberate it from House Bolton, hopefully earning the loyalty of the Northerners.[94] To this end, he offers to legitimize Jon Snow (the closest thing to a Stark that Stannis can find) and make him Lord of Winterfell, but Snow declines in favor of his duties as the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.[95]

Stannis eventually marches on Winterfell, but snowstorms impede his way and the Boltons launch a sneak attack on his camp, depleting his supplies. In desperation, Stannis allows Melisandre to sacrifice his only child, Shireen, to the Lord of Light, in the hope that the road will be cleared. Though the weather conditions improve drastically, most are left demoralized and disgusted at Shireen's death, resulting Stannis's sellswords and almost half his army deserting him, and Melisandre fleeing back to Castle Black. Stannis subsequently loses the battle with the Boltons and is slain by Brienne of Tarth, putting an end to House Baratheon of Dragonstone.

The King in the North

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Robb Stark, the King in the North

King Robb Stark did not claim the Iron Throne at all. Instead, his initial goal was to secure the release of his father Ned Stark, who had been imprisoned on charges of treason against King Joffrey, as well as to rescue his sisters Arya and Sansa. Besides commanding the forces of the North, Robb was joined by the forces of the Riverlands, ruled by Robb's maternal grandfather Hoster Tully, although the Vale (currently ruled by Robb's aunt Lysa Arryn) remained neutral. Robb's goals further evolve when he is proclaimed the King in the North by his bannermen; his new aim being to secure the independence of the North and the Riverlands, as well as to possibly exact revenge following the execution of Ned Stark.

Despite Robb's youth and inexperience, he proves to be an enthusiastic and canny battle commander, his ferocity in battle earning him the nickname "The Young Wolf" (a reference to the sigil of House Stark).[96] In the first real test of his leadership, Robb uses disinformation against the Lannisters, not only making them believe his army is larger than it actually is but also tricks them into believing he is marching against Tywin Lannister's forces. Instead, Robb sends only a small diversionary force to face Tywin at the Battle of the Green Fork while sending the rest of his forces to face Jaime Lannister's army at the Battle of the Whispering Wood. Robb scores a decisive victory, destroying Jaime's army and capturing Jaime himself. Robb goes onto to win every engagement he fights against the Lannisters, including the Battle of Oxcross.

Despite his success on the battlefield, Robb loses the momentum of the war. Robb reluctantly tries to seek an alliance with Balon Greyjoy, hoping to use ironborn ships to launch an attack on King's Landing and sends Theon Greyjoy as an envoy. Instead, the ironborn launched raids in the North, and Theon betrays Robb and personally leads the attack on Robb's capital of Winterfell. Robb loses the support of House Frey when he marries Talisa Maegyr, breaking his vow to marry one of Walder Frey's daughters. He also loses the support of House Karstark when he executes Lord Rickard Karstark for treason. While Robb's forces dwindle and face more enemies, the opposite is true for his main enemies, the Lannisters. They gain a formidable ally in House Tyrell and their vassals following the alliance arranged by Littlefinger on behalf of the crown. Also, with Stannis' forces having been decimated at the Battle of Blackwater, the Lannisters are able concentrate on the Stark army.

Determined to regain his momentum, Robb plans an attack on Casterly Rock, capital of the Westerlands and one of the biggest sources of gold for House Lannister. To acquire the needed men, he attempts to repair his alliance with House Frey by marrying his uncle, Edmure Tully, the new Lord of Riverrun, to Roslin Frey. Walder Frey gives the appearance of accepting, and the two are married. However, unbeknownst to Robb, Walder Frey and Robb's bannerman Lord Roose Bolton have secretly joined with Tywin Lannister. At the wedding, Robb, his wife, his mother, and almost the entire Northern army are betrayed and massacred, putting an end to his rebellion and to the North's dream of independence.

Non-combatants

The following factions have either not declared an interest in the conflict, or have already declared their neutrality:

House Arryn/The Vale of Arryn

House Arryn and its bannermen appear to have natural allies in the Starks and natural enemies in the Lannisters. The current head of House Arryn, the young Lord Robin Arryn, is Robb Stark's cousin. His mother, Lady Regent Lysa Arryn, is Catelyn Stark's sister. Moreover, Lysa Arryn also claims that the Lannisters are responsible for the death of her husband, Jon Arryn. Ned Stark himself had deep ties to the Vale, having been fostered at the Eyrie. Indeed, at least some of House Arryn's bannermen had in fact called for the Vale to join Robb Stark's cause.

Despite all of this, 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 skeptical of Robb's ability to defeat the seasoned, more experienced Tywin Lannister in battle.

In an attempt to bring the Vale back under the authority of the Iron Throne and House Arryn into the forces against Robb Stark, Tywin Lannister sends Petyr Baelish, newly-made Lord of Harrenhal, to propose matrimony to Lady Lysa, as Littlefinger's new titles make him a suitable match for the Lady Regent of the Vale. Littlefinger, however, has his own plans in motion, somehow involving Sansa Stark: he marries Lysa but murders her shortly afterwards. An investigation into Lysa Arryn's death by the Lords of the Vale leads to the revelation that Sansa Stark is being hidden by Lord Baelish in the Vale, and that Lysa killed herself because she was jealous of Baelish's protection towards her niece.

The Lords of the Vale grant Sansa their protection and recognize Lord Baelish as the new Lord Protector of the Vale until Robin Arryn comes of age. Baelish has him tour his lands to visit his vassals and foster him with Lord Yohn Royce at Runestone to learn how to fight.

House Martell

House Martell of Dorne has pursued a course of isolationism since Robert's Rebellion, and declares no interest or faction in the current conflict at its outset. Tyrion Lannister attempts to win the Martells' support by offering their youngest son the hand of Princess Myrcella Baratheon in marriage. They have accepted the offer, and Myrcella is sent to Sunspear as a ward of Prince Doran Martell. However, House Martell still has not taken an official side in the war. After the Purple Wedding, with the ironborn still a threat and the rumors of a Targaryen resurgence across the Narrow Sea, Tywin Lannister offers Prince Oberyn Martell a seat on the Small Council, as he will need the support of the only House that has ever successfully resisted a Targaryen.  However, relations between the Houses of Martell and Lannister have been hostile ever since the death of Elia Martell (wife of Rhaegar Targaryen and Oberyn's sister) at the hands of Lannister bannerman Gregor Clegane; attempts to heal the rift have since been soured again by the death of Oberyn in a trial by combat against Clegane.

The Night's Watch

The Night's Watch plays no role in the internal political affairs of the Seven Kingdoms, having been 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. Several individual members of the Night's Watch do have ties to some of the combatants. For example, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont was once the Lord of Bear Island and thus a former bannerman to House Stark before abdicating; his sister Maege Mormont fights for Robb Stark. Jon Snow is the bastard son of Eddard Stark and thus Robb Stark's brother. Samwell Tarly is the son of Lord Randyll Tarly, who -- as a bannerman for House Tyrell -- fights for Renly Baratheon and later Joffrey Baratheon. All three choose to follow the Watch's policy of neutrality (though Jon Snow does heavily consider joining the fight alongside Robb before being persuaded not to). Currently, the Watch is playing host to Stannis Baratheon's army at Castle Black. Despite this and Stannis's role in saving the Watch from a wilding invasion, Jon Snow makes it a point to reiterate the Watch's policy of neutrality directly to Stannis.

The Brotherhood Without Banners

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 nor 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.

The Queen Across the Sea

Daenerys Targaryen is the last of House Targaryen, the house that ruled the Seven Kingdoms prior to being overthrown during Robert's Rebellion. Daenerys has thus staked a claim for the Iron Throne for herself and has begun building an army in Essos for this goal, hoping to use the War of the Five Kings to her advantage. Daenerys's bit to retake the Iron Throne was sidetracked by the Liberation of Slaver's Bay, which saw Daenerys work to forcibly dismantle the Essosi slave trade. Daenerys ultimately decides to remain in Essos, hoping to gain practical experience ruling the city of Meereen while ensuring that slavery is wiped out.[97]. She has also not yet received any open support from any of the power players within the Seven Kingdoms, though Varys does support the Targaryens in secret.[98] To this end, Varys recruited the now-fugitive Tyrion Lannister to the Targaryen cause,[99] giving Daenerys much-needed insight into the politics of the Seven Kingdoms.[100]

Turncoats and Oathbreakers

Several houses and individuals change or abandon their allegiances during the course of the war, altering the course of events and the possibilities of victory for the different factions:

The Prince of Winterfell

Initially sent as an envoy to his father, Balon Greyjoy, Theon Greyjoy breaks the vow he made to Robb Stark during his proclamation as King in the North and sides with his father in his plans to conquer the North and restore the independence of the Iron Islands. Driven by his desire to gain the respect of his father and his people and resentful of his status as a glorified hostage of House Stark, Theon successfully seizes control of the Northern capital, Winterfell, and installs himself as Prince of Winterfell. With this move, Theon seemingly gains the respect of his crew, but also deals, unwittingly, a major blow to the position of King Robb, as some of his vassals begin to doubt the Young Wolf's ability to lead the North to complete independence.

However, Theon's hold over Winterfell proves to be quite weak. With only a small crew and without the support of either his father or sister to support the Northern retaliation, Theon is betrayed by his own men and delivered to House Bolton, who make him a hostage for their own purposes.

The Stormlords

During the opening stages of the war, most, if not all, of the Stormlords declare for their liege lord, Renly Baratheon, Lord of Storm's End and Lord Paramount of the Stormlands. However, after Renly's mysterious assassination, noble houses such as the Estermonts, Tarths, Errols, Swanns, and Caron go over to the remaining Baratheon and new Lord of Storm's End, Stannis, being unaware that he orchestrated the death of his brother. This course of events gives Stannis the much needed land forces he requires for his planned assault on the capital of the realm.

However, after the Lannister victory in the Battle of the Blackwater, the Stormlords are divided between those who bend the knee to the Iron Throne and those who remain loyal to Stannis.

House Tyrell

Following the death of Renly Baratheon, House Tyrell refuses to declare to Stannis, and instead turn its forces back to Highgarden to await the further development of war. Having learnt of Margaery Tyrell's ambitions to become Queen, however, Petyr Baelish suggests Tywin Lannister to arrange a marriage between King Joffrey and Margaery. With the might of Highgarden - 12,000 infantry, 1,800 mounted lances, and 2,000 in support as well as half a million bushels each of wheat, oats, and rye, 20,000 heads of cattle and 50,000 sheep - House Lannister both repels Stannis' siege against the capital and solves the famine affecting its population, and becomes the most powerful player in the war.

With the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery, the alliance is about to be sealed and House Tyrell stands to become a major power behind the throne. However, Lady Olenna Tyrell, desiring to protect her granddaughter from the violent Joffrey, poisons him at the wedding feast. The Tyrell-Lannister alliance, however, doesn't shatter (as the true culprit remains unknown to the Lannisters and the Realm at large), as a new marriage is arranged: that of Margaery with Joffrey's brother and heir, Tommen. To further secure the support of House Tyrell, Lord Tywin grants Mace Tyrell a place in the small council as Master of Ships.

The Lords of the Reach

Like their liege lords of House Tyrell, the noble houses of the Reach such as House Tarly, House Hightower, and House Florent, declare for Renly Baratheon at the opening of the war and join him in his slow march on King's Landing. After the death of Renly Baratheon, most of the Tyrell bannermen follow Margaery and Loras Tyrell back to Highgarden. However, a few of these noble houses, such as House Florent and House Fossoway defy their liege lords and go over to Stannis Baratheon.

Following the Battle of the Blackwater, most of the Reach houses that went over to Stannis, save for the Florents, bend the knee to King Joffrey and are welcomed back into the King's peace.

House Karstark

As bannermen to and distant relatives of the Starks, House Karstark forms a large part of Robb's army. Lord Rickard Karstark's two sons are killed, the first in battle and the second when Jaime Lannister attempts to escape. Enraged at the death of his sons, Lord Karstark demands Jaime's execution. Fearing that Jaime's murder would end any hope of ever getting her daughters Sansa and Arya back from the Lannisters, Lady Catelyn Stark frees Jaime. Lord Rickard grows increasingly frustrated after the discovery that both Northmen and Rivermen imprisoned at Harrenhal have been put to the sword. He murders two young Lannister hostages imprisoned at Riverrun: Martyn and Willem to exact revenge. As this action was against the express orders of Robb Stark, Robb declares Lord Karstark guilty of treason and personally executes him, according the ways of the First Men. Afterward, the Karstark forces withdraw their support, severely depleting Robb's forces and forcing him to seek a renewed alliance with House Frey, which eventually caused Robb's downfall by betrayal at the Red Wedding.

House Bolton

A number of events pave the way for Lord Roose Bolton to decide that King Robb's cause is doomed to fail and ultimately betray his king the Red Wedding:

  • King Robb's refusal to engage in acts such as torture to gain information useful against Tywin Lannister.
  • The ironborn invasion of the North in general and loss of Winterfell in particular, which puts Robb's ability to hold the new Kingdom of the North into question. It remains unknown if the Sack of Winterfell carried out by Ramsay Snow is done under Lord Bolton's orders or if the Bastard of the Dreadfort acts on his own. In any event, the destruction of the castle is blamed on the ironborn, while Theon's status as a prisoner is kept secret.
  • King Robb's marriage to Talisa Maegyr, which the Northern lords recognize as a terrible political move.
  • The Lannister victory at the Battle of the Blackwater and the Lannister-Tyrell alliance, which makes House Lannister the most powerful house in the realm.
  • Lord Bolton being left holding Harrenhal, which places him in the ideal position to communicate freely with Lord Tywin. Locke's capture of Jaime Lannister also gives him the chance to further cement his secret alliance with House Lannister.

As reward for his betrayal of King Robb, Roose Bolton is pardoned for taking arms against the Iron Throne and is made Warden of the North.

House Frey

Lord Walder Frey plots with Roose Bolton and Tywin Lannister to betray Robb Stark and his liege lord, Edmure Tully, as revenge for the slight on his family's honor caused by the breaking of Stark-Frey marriage pact as well as the resentment for the derision House Frey suffers from other noble houses.[101]

For the "service" of slaughtering most of the Northern leadership as well as their forces, Lord Walder is awarded with Riverrun, the ancestral seat of the now-attainted House Tully, although the Freys have earned themselves the contempt and hatred of the Riverlords, who refuse to submit to his rule.

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.

In the TV series, it is first named in dialogue in Season 2's "The Ghost of Harrenhal", when Tywin Lannister says that people are calling it the "War of Five Kings". Apparently he was just speaking loosely and the formal name is still the same in the TV continuity, because Joffrey later prominently refers to it as the "War of the Five Kings" during his wedding in Season 4's "The Lion and the Rose".

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 off 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.

See also

References

  1. "Fire and Blood
  2. HBO viewers guide, season 2 map, special features - Areas of Control
  3. "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things"
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 "You Win or You Die"
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Fire and Blood"
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "The Pointy End"
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Baelor"
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "The North Remembers"
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Garden of Bones"
  10. "A Man Without Honor"
  11. 11.0 11.1 "The Prince of Winterfell"
  12. "The Old Gods and the New"
  13. "The Old Gods and the New"
  14. "The Night Lands"
  15. "What is Dead May Never Die"
  16. "The Old Gods and the New"
  17. "A Man Without Honor"
  18. "The Prince of Winterfell"
  19. "Valar Morghulis"
  20. "Valar Morghulis"
  21. "Blackwater"
  22. "Valar Dohaeris"
  23. "Dark Wings, Dark Words"
  24. "Walk of Punishment"
  25. "Kissed by Fire"
  26. "The Rains of Castamere"
  27. "Mhysa"
  28. "Mhysa"
  29. The Laws of God and Men
  30. The Stormlands (Histories & Lore)
  31. "Walk of Punishment"
  32. "The Lion and the Rose"
  33. "The Laws of Gods and Men"
  34. "First of His Name"
  35. "The Lion and the Rose"
  36. "Breaker of Chains"
  37. "First of His Name"
  38. "The Laws of Gods and Men"
  39. "The Mountain and the Viper"
  40. "The Children"
  41. The Wars to Come
  42. The House of Black and White
  43. High Sparrow
  44. Sons of the Harpy (episode)
  45. The House of Black and White
  46. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
  47. "The Gift (episode)"
  48. The Dance of Dragons
  49. "The Lion and the Rose"
  50. "The Laws of Gods and Men"
  51. "The Mountain and the Viper"
  52. Mhysa
  53. The Children
  54. The Wars to Come
  55. The House of Black and White
  56. High Sparrow (episode)
  57. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
  58. The Gift
  59. Hardhome
  60. The Dance of Dragons
  61. Mother's Mercy
  62. "Mother's Mercy"
  63. Breaker of Chains
  64. And Now His Watch is Ended
  65. The Wars to Come
  66. High Sparrow
  67. Sons of the Harpy
  68. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
  69. "The Gift"
  70. Hardhome
  71. "The Children"
  72. HBO viewers guide, season 2 map, special features - Areas of Control, Joffrey Baratheon entry
  73. "The Prince of Winterfell"
  74. "Blackwater"
  75. "Valar Morghulis"
  76. "The Lion and the Rose"
  77. "First of His Name"
  78. "The Children"
  79. "The Night Lands"
  80. "What is Dead May Never Die"
  81. "The Old Gods and the New"
  82. "Valar Morghulis
  83. "Mhysa"
  84. "The Laws of Gods and Men"
  85. "The Mountain and the Viper"
  86. HBO viewers guide, season 2 map, special features - Areas of Control, Renly Baratheon entry
  87. 87.0 87.1 HBO viewers guide, season 2 map, special features - Areas of Control, Stannis Baratheon entry
  88. "The Ghost of Harrenhal"
  89. "Blackwater"
  90. "Mhysa"
  91. "The Laws of Gods and Men"
  92. "Mockingbird"
  93. "The Children"
  94. "The House of Black and White"
  95. "High Sparrow"
  96. HBO viewers guide, season 2 map, special features - Areas of Control, Robb Stark entry
  97. "First of His Name"
  98. "The Wolf and the Lion"
  99. "The Wars to Come"
  100. "Hardhome"
  101. Several nobles look down on Lord Walder for the delay in the Battle of the Trident, showing up in the battlefield only when the battle was won by the rebels, as well as his custom to marry girls young enough to be his granddaughters.

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