Tyrion shares another miserable dinner with Sansa. When Sansa starts to leave for her devotions in the sept, Tyrion offers to join her, but she declines. Tywin, Joffrey, and Cersei meet Tyrion to share a message from the Twins, and Tyrion learns about the deaths of Robb, Catelyn, and their bannermen. Tyrion gets into a heated argument with Joffrey, and he subtly threatens Joffrey’s life. When Joffrey loses his temper and insults Tywin, Tywin excuses Joffrey and chastises Cersei, then excuses her. When they are alone, Tyrion concludes that Tywin helped the Freys arrange the massacre. Tywin and Tyrion also discuss how to appease Oberyn Martell, who wants Gregor Clegane dead. Tywin intends to lie and say it was someone else who killed Martell’s sister and her children, but Tyrion isn’t convinced it will be enough. They also discuss the deal Tywin made with Walder Frey to murder the Starks and the strategic value of their deaths to the Lannisters.
Davos and King Stannis learn of the Stark massacre, which is now being called the Red Wedding. Now that the Starks are destroyed, Stannis considers his next move. He ignores all advice from Melisandre, until she suggests sacrificing Edric Storm, the bastard son of Robert Baratheon (Stannis’s older brother and the previous king of Westeros). Melisandre believes that sacrificing Edric to the god R’hllor will help turn the tide of war. Davos begs Stannis to spare Edric, but Stannis is steadfast. Davos speaks to Salladhor Saan, and it comes out that Davos has been secretly finding allies against Melisandre. After, Davos goes to his reading lesson with Maester Pylos, who shows Davos a letter from the Wall about the oncoming wildling invasion. Davos asks him not to mention it to Stannis.
The wildlings burn Mole’s Town, but Jon is satisfied that he alerted the Night’s Watch. Jon feels frustrated that the Watch has been abandoned by the Seven Kingdoms, concerned that his men are underprepared, and disturbed that the wildlings are attacking from the south. The wildlings attack at night, and after a long and bloody battle, a stairway collapses and a wildling leader, Styr, dies. Many of Jon’s comrades die or are wounded in the battle. Jon finds Ygritte struck by an arrow, and she dies in his arms.
Bran and his companions explore the Nightfort, an abandoned castle along the Wall. They are concerned that the castle is haunted, given its famously bloody history. It is revealed that Bran’s direwolf, Summer, may have been hurt in a battle against the wildlings, because Bran entered the wolf’s mind and caused him to enter the fray. They explore the castle, but find little. Meera tries to climb a wall, which makes Bran nostalgic for the days he himself was able to walk and climb. Hodor drops a rock into the darkness, and it falls a long distance before hitting a moist surface, so they decide to stay where they are. When they ready for sleep, Bran senses something in the dark. He tries to enter Hodor’s mind, but is unsuccessful. When the figure emerges, Meera stabs it. The figure is actually Samwell, who is frightened but unharmed by the stabbing. Samwell is with Gilly, and he explains that the mysterious Coldhands rescued them. Within the structure is the Black Gate, an ancient passage built into the Wall. By now they have discovered that Summer the direwolf is alive. They descend together into the bowels of the Nightfort, until they reach a magical door that only opens when Samwell recites his oath to the Night’s Watch.
In Tyrion’s chapter, we see the full extent of both Tywin Lannister’s skill as a tactician and his ruthlessness. As Tyrion discovers, Tywin had a hand in orchestrating the Red Wedding. From Tywin’s perspective, it’s a significant victory that cost relatively little. He’s rid of one of his most dangerous enemies, and in exchange he must marry some Lannisters to Freys and grant them some lands. The Tullys and their bannermen will have to refrain from retaliating because the Freys now have Edmure Tully as a hostage. Moreover, Tywin can assume the northmen will disband as their leader is now dead and they have no unifying force to rally them. Roose Bolton, who Tywin reveals helped carry out the massacre, becomes Warden of the North, so what northmen do continue fighting are Bolton’s problem to handle, as are the ironborn who have invaded the north. Tywin, meanwhile, can turn his attention to his enemies in the south and to Stannis Baratheon.
Davos faces a major conflict when he must decide whether to follow his conscience and save Edric Storm or do his duty as Stannis’s Hand. Stannis and Melisandre believe that sacrificing Edric will wake dragons that Stannis will then be able to use to conquer Westeros. Davos thinks the idea is ludicrous, and he is horrified that Stannis would consider killing an innocent child for this purpose. The situation puts Davos in an extraordinarily difficult position. Davos feels deeply indebted to Stannis for all he has, notably for making him first a knight and then elevating him to Hand. When he goes to see Maester Pylos and sees his son studying with Stannis’s daughter, who is a princess, and Edric Storm he feels proud that his son is in such company, which again suggests the debt he feels he owes Stannis. Moreover, Davos is characterized perhaps more than anything by his loyalty and gratitude, so defying Stannis is by no means easy for him. Yet clearly he feels this course of action to be morally unacceptable, meaning he will have to decide whether it’s more important to be loyal or ethical.
Jon Snow demonstrates his cool head and his commitment to the Night’s Watch during the battle against the wildlings, even as he’s forced to fight former wildling friends. Jon stays calm despite the oncoming threat and coolly gives orders to the inexperienced Night’s Watchman Satin throughout the battle. He also never waivers in his commitment to defending the Wall against the wildlings, even when he occasionally recognizes wildlings he knows. The only time he hesitates to kill wildlings is when he thinks he sees Ygritte, and even that hesitation is only momentary. Additionally, those thoughts of his that are revealed to the reader are predominantly objective observations of what’s happening around him. There is no lamenting of his situation, for example, or hopes that any wildlings, even Ygritte, remain unharmed. Instead, Jon remains focused strictly on defending the Wall. The exception comes when he finds Ygritte dying in the yard with an arrow in her chest. He tries to convince her that she’ll survive, despite the fact that she is clearly dying, and the sadness and regret he feels are obvious.
This section contains the last chapter written from Bran’s point of view in the novel, and it leaves his story without any clear ending for the time being. At this stage, it’s clear only that Bran is being called north to some unknown destiny, though we don’t know Bran’s destination or its significance to the broader saga. We know that Bran and the others with him are going to meet Coldhands, as Samwell and Gilly have named him, though we know almost nothing about the strange character. In fact, in many ways the ending of Bran’s story seems more like a beginning. As he passes through the Black Gate beneath the Wall, he embarks on a new part of his journey. It’s a reminder that the Ice and Fire series is an ongoing narrative, and not all of our questions will receive concrete answers at the end of the novel.