Arya is devastated to learn that Harwin is no longer loyal to the Stark family, and his companions are the Brotherhood Without Borders, an outlaw band. Once they were knights loyal to the Starks, but now they have no royal patronage and are wanted men. After traveling some distance, Arya realizes that they are not going to Riverrun to see her family, and instead the outlaws are taking her to Beric Dondarrion, the leader of their Brotherhood. Arya tries to escape, but she is caught and forced to continue on their way to Beric.
After the Others destroyed the Fist of the First Men, Samwell and a handful of survivors were forced to flee into the snowfields. Exhausted and feeling defeated, Samwell only wishes to collapse and sleep, or even die. His comrades urge him onward, until they are attacked by one of the Others, here called a “wight.” The cowardly Sam manages to draw his knife, which is made of obsidian, and he stabs the wight. Until now, the undead Others have seemed invincible to all but fire, but when Samwell uses the knife, the obsidian destroys the creature. Samwell and the others continue their torturous march to Craster’s Keep.
Tyrion joins a meeting with his family as they divvy up the spoils of war. Each member of the court receives land and property, but Tyrion is only made the new master of coin. Tyrion doesn't like the post, and he suspects that the Lannister family is destined for financial ruin. Meanwhile, Tywin wants his daughter, Cercei, to marry Willas Tyrell. Cercei vehemently objects to this arrangement, partly because of her ongoing incestuous affair with her twin brother, Jaime. Tywin ignores her objections. Finally, Tywin commands Tyrion to marry Sansa, which startles Tyrion.
Lord Rickard Karstark and his men are brought before Robb, Catelyn, and some of Robb's bannermen. Jaime Lannister had killed two of Karstark's sons in battle and he wanted Jaime executed, but when Catelyn let Jaime free he decided to take revenge by killing two Lannister allies that Robb and his men held as prisoners. The two were just boys. Karstark says it was vengeance, but Robb calls it treason and orders Karstark and his men executed. After failing to hear back from potential allies, Robb seems to lose hope that he can win the wars and keep his kingdom together, and then he ultimately executes Karstark himself. Catelyn has a conversation with Jeyne and tells her that Robb needs an heir.
Highwaymen attack Jaime and Brienne on the road, and Ser Cleos is killed. Once Jaime and Brienne deflect the attack, they start to bicker. Jaime grabs hold of a sword, and they duel. Jaime is astonished by Brienne’s fighting abilities, and soon they are wrestling on the ground. A second group of highwaymen surround and threaten them. They are the Brave Companions, also known as the Bloody Mummers, led by Vargo Hoat. After some coarse words, the Brave Companions cut off Jaime’s right hand.
The section gives us another indication of the importance of honor and alliances between families in the world of Westeros. Rickard Karstark is furious that Catelyn released Jaime without consent because he wanted revenge for the deaths of two of his sons. He suggests that getting revenge was integral to his family's honor, and to get that revenge he killed two Lannister allies whom the northerners had captured. Robb, on the other hand, makes it clear that Karstark's behavior was dishonorable as the two prisoners were unarmed and just boys. It's also damaging to Robb to have one of his bannermen undermine his authority by committing such an act without Robb's consent. Though he would prefer on a personal level to let Karstark go, he feels Karstark's behavior damaged his honor, and so he has no choice but to execute Karstark and his accomplices for treason. The move, while preserving Robb's honor, puts Robb in an even more difficult spot than he was already in. Now he will likely lose the support of the rest of the Karstarks, and his support from the Freys is already in jeopardy. Without maintaining these alliances, Robb's entire endeavor is at risk.
Several characters additionally learn that they will likely have to marry someone for strictly strategic purposes. To shore up his alliance with the Freys, Robb wants his uncle, Edmure Tully, to marry one of the Frey girls. The marriage would hopefully make up for Robb's breaking his promise to marry a Frey girl and would secure Walder Freys support of Robb's cause. Tywin, meanwhile, reveals that he has marriages planned for Cersei and Tyrion. He wants Cersei to marry Willas Tyrell for a few reasons: One, it will prevent Sansa from marrying him, and will thus prevent any alliance between the Tyrell and Stark houses. Two, it will help quash the rumors (which are true) that Cersei is carrying on a sexual affair with her brother Jaime. Finally, Tywin proposes that Tyrion marry Sansa. That marriage has one particular advantage: it would entitle Tyrion to Winterfell. With Robb having been declared a traitor and Bran and Rickon thought dead, whatever man marries Sansa will become lord of Winterfell.
Samwell, meanwhile, overcomes his cowardice in what is a significant step for him personally, and in the process he makes an important discovery about one of the vulnerabilities of the Others. Samwell is almost perpetually frightened of something, whether it's the Others or wildlings or any other threat. He is known among his brothers in the Watch as a coward, and in fact he regularly identifies himself as a coward. Yet as he and a few of his brothers come under attack from a lone Other as they make their way back to Craster's Keep, Samwell musters the courage to run at it with his obsidian dagger in hand. He plunges it into the Other and falls over with the creature, and when the Other quickly dies with its blood boiling around the dagger's obsidian blade, Samwell recognizes immediately that the Others must be vulnerable to the substance. Samwell tells one of his brothers to take the dagger because the brother isn't a craven like Samwell is, and the brother points out that no craven could have killed an Other like that.
Jaime and Brienne both gain a great deal of respect for one another in the course of their brief battle. For his part, Jaime is surprised to discover that Brienne is a strong and tireless fighter, and that she's excellent with a sword. Like most of her opponents, Jaime assumed that Brienne, because she is a woman, wouldn't be able to hold her own in a fight, but Brienne proves that prejudice wrong. Brienne, on the other hand, finds Jaime to be a much more skilled fighter than she had anticipated. She had heard of his prowess with a sword before, but even restricted by manacles and weakened from an extended period being held in a cell, he is still surprisingly quick and strong. For both, skill with a sword is a trait that they respect, as both make their livings by their swords. Since they are equally matched, both can't help but respect the other, even if they still dislike one another. The section ends, of course, with Jaime losing his sword hand at the command of the outlaw Vargo Hoat. While the repercussions of that loss remain to be seen, it is clear they will have a profound effect on Jaime.