The Brotherhood Without Borders travels through the ruins of villages and finally arrives at Acorn Hall, the home of Lady Smallwood, where they stay for a time. Arya does not like being treated like a little girl, but she eventually appreciates Lady Smallwood’s kindnesses, including a new set of clothes. They ask about Lord Beric, who is rumored to have been killed several times and in different ways, from hanging to stabbing through the eye. Arya also learns that her mother released Jaime, but she is not certain why.
Dearnerys meets the slaver Kraznys mo Nakloz, who describes the brutal background and training of the Unsullied. Speaking through a translator, Kraznys explains that the Unsullied are selected at age five, they enter a rigorous training schedule, and only one in three survives. The Unsullied are castrated and feel little pain. Daenerys expresses disdain for slavery, and Whitebeard tries to talk her out of buying slaves, but Daenerys recognizes the need for an army, no matter the cost. She continues the debate with Ser Jorah.
Bran hikes toward the Wall with his companions. Travel is slow and difficult because of the terrain. Meera tells Bran the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree. Jojen is convinced that Bran has already heard the story, but he has not. The Knight of the Laughing Tree is a mysterious knight who appears at a tournament and defeats a group of bullying contestants. Instead of demanding ransom for their loss, he commands the knights to teach their squires to be honorable. Bran dreams of visiting the legendary Isle of Faces, home to the magical Children of the Forest, who he imagines will grant his wish to walk again.
Melisandre visits Davos in his cell, and she explains the cosmic battle between her god, R’hllor, and his opposite, an evil god whose name can never be spoken. Soon after, a noble named Lord Alester Florent is also thrown in the dungeon, because he attempted to make peace with the Lannister family. He and Davos debate current events, and Davos restates his commitment to Stannis. Feeling hopeless, Alester weeps.
One starry night, Jon meets his direwolf, Ghost, and tells him to go back to the Wall. When Jon is summoned to speak with Styr, a principal wildling warrior, Jon explains more of the logistics of the Wall, particularly how the sentries take shifts and how many there are. When Jon returns to Ygritte, he finds her deep inside a cave. She tells the story of Gendel, a wildling who allegedly dug beneath the Wall and disappeared. Ygritte expresses how effectively Jon pleasures her.
In each of these chapters, there is a great deal of exposition as characters learn more about their new situations and puzzle through their problems. As the characters strive to understand their missions and gain their bearings, much of what takes place centers on their thoughts and observations of their environments. Arya observes the widespread destruction of war, Daenerys learns about the Unsullied and the Astaporean slave market, Jon learns more about the wildlings and Ygritte, Davos learns about Melisandre and her religion, and Bran listens to the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree. There is consequently very little action and no violence in this section, and these are some of the longest passages in which no one is physically harmed or killed.
Many of the chapters also serve as a chance for the reader to learn new information about Westeros and Essos and to dive more into the fantasy aspect of the series. For the first time, we read descriptions of Slaver’s Bay and hear the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree. We also hear Ygritte's story of the wildling who dug beneath the Wall, and Melisandre explains to Davos about her god. Since the focal character of the chapter is as unfamiliar with the region or history as the reader, the reader experiences their same feeling of discovery. In Slaver's Bay, Daenerys experiences a completely unfamiliar land and culture, and she learns about the brutal and shocking training the Unsullied undergo. In Bran's case, the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree is mysterious and fantastical. Melisandre's description of her god recalls mythology as much as theology, and Ygritte's tale sounds like folklore. These stories create an sense of foreignness in A Storm of Swords that adds to the mythical atmosphere of the novel, and that feeling of experiencing something so foreign and unfamiliar is one of the chief pleasures of fantasy.
As in other passages, the novel uses architecture to both house and entrap characters. Our first encounter with actual slaves occurs in a tightly regulated city, where Unsullied live in bondage and their masters roam free. Davos has a similar experience in the unlit cell of Melisandre’s dungeon, where he has no rights, no comforts, and an uncertain future. Like the many castles and forts in Westeros, the Wall means different things to different people. For Bran, the Wall is a destination and place of safety. To Jon, the Wall has always meant a home and a defense against barbarians, but now he begins to perceive the Wall from the outside, as a barrier from familiar life. Jon starts to recognize the negative impact the Wall has had on the wildlings’ lives. For Arya, Acorn Hall is a comfortable respite from the weary road, but she also feels confined. Acorn Hall offers solace, but it is clearly not home.