Catelyn and a guard march south toward Renly. Although Catelyn wanted to stay with her father in Riverrun, but Robb sent her as his emissary. Unbeknownst to Catelyn, Robb wants Edmure to hold Riverrun while he takes his forces to the field. Catelyn's party eventually reaches Renly’s enormous camp. A tournament is under way that Renly watches with his new bride, Margaery, daughter of the powerful southern lord Mace Tyrell. Catelyn sees an unknown knight defeat Ser Loras Tyrell, the famed Knight of Flowers. This victorious knight is a woman, Brienne of Tarth. As a prize for her victory, Brienne asks to become a member of Renly’s Rainbow Guard. Renly greets Catelyn and provides her with large and luxurious living quarters for her stay. Catelyn reflects on how young Renly and his men seem.
Renly and Catelyn walk out together. Renly tells Catelyn that Eddard could have taken the throne but was too concerned about doing his duty to Robert to seize power. Renly shows Catelyn his army, which vastly outnumbers Robb’s, and suggests that Robb should bow to him. A messenger tells them that Stannis has laid siege to Renly’s forces at Storm’s End.
Jon and the men of the Night’s Watch arrive at Craster’s Keep, a crumbling homestead inhabited by a savage old man named Craster and his numerous daughters, who are also his wives. One of the young women, who is pregnant, asks Jon to take her with them, but he refuses. If her child is a boy, Craster will give it to the cold gods, and Jon realizes she means the undead Others. The Old Bear learns from Craster that Mance Rayder, a wildling who has declared himself the King-beyond-the-Wall, has been gathering people in the remote mountains to the north and means to invade the Seven Kingdoms. The Old Bear says that since the armies of the Seven Kingdoms are busy fighting one another, the Night’s Watch will have to find Mance and destroy him.
While looking over his new longship at the docks, Theon flirts with a beautiful, witty woman. She says that she is Esgred, the shipwright’s wife. Esgred agrees to return with Theon to the castle. On the way, Theon notices that the people of Pyke finally seem to be acknowledging him, bowing as they pass. Theon brags that he will inherit the Iron Islands and that his sister, Asha, poses no threat to him, since she is ugly and mannish. When they reach the castle, the servants greet Esgred as Lady Asha. She tells Theon that she wanted to learn what he was like before she revealed herself as his sister. Theon is furious and humiliated. At a feast that night, Asha embarrasses him further by demonstrating her skill with an axe, and she warns Theon that men will not follow him because he has gone soft.
Balon calls Theon and Asha into a council with his advisers. Theon offers ideas, but Balon dismisses him. Balon orders Theon to take a small group and raid the coastal villages, while Asha and Victarion, Balon’s brother, lead larger forces on a direct assault on the north, where they will take Robb’s kingdom.
Tyrion tells Cersei that Stannis and Renly are preparing to battle one another at Storm’s End. Tyrion sneaks a potion into Cersei’s cup of wine before they toast their good fortune. At the royal court the next day, with Cersei sick in her chambers, Tyrion tells Ser Cleos Frey to return to Robb with Eddard’s bones and new, obviously unacceptable peace terms. Tyrion orders Vylarr, the captain of the Lannister household guards that have been protecting Cersei, to take his men and accompany Cleos. Ser Alliser Thorne of the Night’s Watch arrives and tells the court about the encounter with the undead Others at the Wall. Everyone laughs at Alliser’s story and Tyrion appears dismissive, but he does give Alliser permission to take prisoners from the dungeons to staff the Wall.
Tyrion announces that Myrcella is to marry Doran Martell’s youngest son. Littlefinger asks him what is to come of his mission to get Lysa Arryn to marry @her son to Myrcella, and Tyrion reveals that it was a ruse, to Littlefinger’s irritation. Varys points out that Cersei will not consent to sending away her guard, but Tyrion says that it is part of a plan to sneak men into Riverrun who will free Jaime. That night, Tyrion and Shagga, one of his wild mercenaries, break into Pycelle’s chambers. Tyrion confronts Pycelle about being an informer for Cersei. Pycelle acknowledges it and admits that he poisoned Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King prior to Eddard Stark, because Arryn knew about Joffrey’s parentage. Tyrion imprisons Pycelle.
Much of the section focuses on the relationship between women and power, and Catelyn's chapter in particular highlights this relationship. Earlier in the novel, Catelyn tried to balance the competing roles of mother, daughter, and political adviser. Here, this balancing act begins to wear particularly heavily on Catelyn, as Robb has sent Catelyn away from him and her father to be his emissary to Renly. In other words, she is forced to put her roles as mother to Robb and daughter to her father on hold for the time being. Now forced into the incredibly difficult task of securing an alliance between Robb and Renly, Catelyn nears a breaking point. She wants desperately, but for only a moment, to become a woman as they have often appeared in fantasy novels: weak and protected. But she knows she cannot, so she masters her feelings and carries on with her mission. The novel also emphasizes the strength of women through the episode with Brienne, who proves herself to be the best fighter at the tournament.
Catelyn’s chapter also allows readers their first glimpse of Renly. Robb and Renly are both young leaders, but the section shows that they have little else in common. Robb has actually been fighting a difficult war with fairly meager resources. He has been strategizing and commanding. Renly, on the other hand, appears to be playing at war, parading around the still-peaceful south and holding tourneys for entertainment. Renly is clearly an amiable and popular man, but he seems to have little idea of the seriousness of what is going on in Westeros. And it is this inability to grasp the reality of the situation that leaves Renly open to Stannis’s surprise attack.
Jon’s chapter shows a woman at the opposite end of the power spectrum from Catelyn. The young woman who asks for Jon’s help is totally at the mercy of her male master. Craster exerts so much dominance over the women in his life that he forces his own daughters to become his wives. The young woman's pregnancy further underscores the troubled nature of her position. Jon reflects that the women vastly outnumber Craster and could easily kill him, but they have become so used to being subservient that they cannot imagine that possibility. The only alternative they see is to run away, to flee Craster and put their lives into the hands of other, hopefully gentler men.
The novel has presented Theon as an arrogant man who uses women and throws them away when he has taken his pleasure from them, and the folly of Theon’s attitude becomes apparent in his chapter. Asha, in the guise of Esgred, plays on Theon’s vanity and his cavalier attitude toward women, making him want her and think that she wants him as well. Theon is so besotted with himself and blind about Asha that he cannot even recognize that the townspeople are staring at and bowing to her, not him. Seeing the tables turned on Theon when Asha reveals herself is no doubt amusing, but the novel makes a serious point as well. Theon seems incapable of seeing women as anything other than sex objects or servants, and because of this attitude he gets humiliated. Asha uses his misogynist mindset against him and proves it to be a weakness rather than a sign of him as a strong, dominant man.
The novel also returns to the question of loyalty with the plans for the attack on the north, and Theon's behavior reveals a great deal about his character. Theon was a prisoner of sorts at Winterfell, but he did come to view Robb as a brother and stayed by Robb’s side during the battles against the Lannisters. For all Robb knows, Theon is working hard on his behalf in the Iron Islands. But Theon seems, at this point at least, to be more concerned about his own advancement and position than any feelings of allegiance to Robb. Theon and Balon do not get along, but they both aim to do the same thing, to take advantage of the chaos in Westeros for their own gain, rather than commit to any side. Theon appears to be motivated largely by insecurity as he seeks to prove how important he is to everyone around him. To that end, he subjugates every other impulse, and it is already clear from his interaction with Asha that it will not serve him well.
The seriousness of Tyrion’s struggle against Cersei also becomes more apparent in this section, as he moves to consolidate his power and eliminate hers. Tyrion manages the affair with his usual cleverness. He gives Alliser what the Night’s Watch needs while saving face in public, and he strips Cersei of her protection under the pretense of working to release Jaime. Tyrion also reveals his knowledge of Pycelle’s work as an informer for Cersei, removing yet another ally from his sister’s side. Both physically and politically weakened, Cersei, the acting head of the Seven Kingdoms, seems in danger of being made completely impotent by Tyrion’s schemes.