During a night attack, the Brotherhood Without Banners destroys a garrison of Brave Companions. The survivors are tried and mostly executed. Arya wonders how Beric survived the trial by combat. At first Beric claims he was only wounded, but it’s apparent from the condition of his body that he’s been revived from death six times. Gendry wishes to join the Brotherhood, and Beric knights him. Arya feels further abandoned by her friends, and she angrily parts ways with Gendry.
Bran and his companions arrive at an abandoned village and find a causeway that leads beneath an adjacent lake. They spot a rider they can’t identify, and they wonder who might be pursuing them. Hodor, who only ever says his name when he speaks, starts to say “Hodor” over and over, despite Bran’s attempts to quiet him. Finally Bran tries to enter Hodor’s mind and stop him from speaking. They spot a camp, but they can’t identify the group. Bran enters the mind of his direwolf, Summer, and tries to spy on them.
A group of wildlings has moved South of the Wall, with Jon among them. At a towerhouse, Jon and Ygritte debate their differences. Ygritte believes her Free Folk are a better people, because the world belongs to everyone, and she resents the people of the Seven Kingdoms, who divvy up and control their lands. They continue to move, until the wildlings find an old man and demand that Jon kill him. Jon hesitates, and when they accuse him and Ygritte of conspiring, Ygritte kills the old man. Jon uses the confusion to kill some wildlings and escape, but he is wounded in the leg, which slows his pace. He heads back to the Wall, but he feels torn between two lives.
Daenerys arrives at the city of Yunkai with her massive army. She meets with three different groups: the leaders of the Stormcrows, a band of mercenaries contracted to protect Yunkai; the head of another band of mercenaries called the Second Sons; and finally a representative of the Yunkai’i. She tells the first two that they have until the morning to decide whether to join her, and to the last she says the city has three days to turn out its slaves and surrender to her. Daenerys, meanwhile, has planned a surprise attack for that same night. But before they can launch the attack, one of the Stormcrow leaders, Daario Naharis, enters the camp and gives Daenerys the heads of the other two Stormcrow leaders. He swears his allegiance to Daenerys and pledges the support of his company. The surprise attack then begins. Daenerys remains in camp and asks Whitebeard about her late brother, Rhaegar. Her army is victorious, and Daenerys enters the city of Yunkai, where free slaves shout and call her “mother.”
The Brotherhood Without Banners make camp, and Thoros and Beric reminisce near around a fire as Arya eavesdrops. An old dwarf woman joins them and tells of her dreams and portents. She mentions something about a castle called the Twins and some sort of wedding. She meets a youth named Ned who claims to be the “milk brother” of Jon Snow, because Jon’s mother, Wylla, nursed him. Ned reveals that he is Edric Dayne, a lord, and that Wylla was his wet nurse. He also tells of his Aunt Ashara Dayne, who met Arya’s father Eddard and threw herself into the ocean “for love.” Later, the priest Thoros tells Arya of his vision that the Lannisters will burn the castle of Riverrun. Arya tries to flee, but Sandor kidnaps her before she can escape and carries her away from the safety of the Brotherhood party.
Both Arya and Jon attempt escapes from their respective situations in this section, with mixed results. As Jon’s ties to the wildlings, and Ygritte in particular, have grown stronger, he’s felt increasingly conflicted. He never seems in danger of abandoning the Watch permanently, but neither is it clear that he could turn on the wildlings. It’s clear that he likes many of them, including Mance Rayder, and genuinely cares for others, notably Ygritte. When they demand that he kill an old man to prove his loyalty during a scouting mission, however, it forces him into a decision between his loyalty to them and his desire to leave. He obviously finds the act of killing the old man repugnant, and once he chooses not to do it, it seems likely the wildlings will question whether they should continue to trust him. He uses the opportunity to flee, though he’s wounded in the process. Arya, on the other hand, has no hesitations about getting away from the Brotherhood. What she lacks is only the chance to do so. But Arya is still young and not yet able to defend herself, so when she flees she is essentially helpless to defend herself against Sandor, who knows she could be of value to him. Thus she escapes the captivity of one group only to be taken captive again almost immediately after.
The apparent resurrection of Beric Dondarrion is one of the few instances of genuine magic we’ve seen in the novel, and notably, it is tied to the god R’hllor, which is the same god Melisandre worships. Prior to Sandor’s trial by combat against Beric, Arya hears numerous stories of how Beric died. The suggestion is that these are all unfounded rumors since no man can die in all these different ways. But when Beric reappears after losing in battle to Sandor, and having suffered a blow so lethal that no one could possibly survive it, it’s clear that something supernatural has taken place and that the various rumors may have, in fact, all been true. Arya learns that it is Thoros of Myr, a priest who worships R’hllor, who has been resurrecting Beric each time. In the series, there have been few instances of genuine magic, and even fewer in this particular novel. But some of the most notable cases in which we see actual magic have involved Melisandre, who also happens to worship R’hllor. Whether this coincidence means anything is uncertain at this point, however.
The Brotherhood’s meeting with the dwarf woman that Arya overhears foreshadows a number of important events to come, though what exactly all the events might be and what their ramifications will be aren’t yet clear. The dwarf woman talks about these events she foresees very broadly and almost exclusively in metaphors. She says, for instance, that she saw “a burning heart butchering a golden stag.” The burning heart is the symbol of R’hllor, and the stag is the sigil of house Baratheon, so the event she refers to is Renly’s murder by Melisandre’s shadow assassin in A Clash of Kings. Many of the other events have not yet occurred, leaving the reader to puzzle out their meanings. Those meanings become evident, however, if the reader returns to the prophecies after reaching the end of the book.
Daenerys shows herself to be a shrewd strategist, both in conversation and as a military commander. In her meetings with the leaders of Yunkai’s hired mercenaries and again with the representative of Yunkai she allows the men to think what they want of her. She points out that she’s a young girl with little experience in war and lets their prejudices against women fool them into thinking they have the upper hand. Yet she can see that one of the leaders of the Stormcrows doesn’t agree with the two others and that they will spend the night arguing, that the leader of the Second Sons will bring all the wine she gave him back to his men and that the company will spend the evening drunk, and that the representative of Yunkai will think he has three days before they attack so the city will wait to prepare its defenses. Meanwhile, she has all along planned to attack the city that night and has simply been misleading them. As a result, she is able to take the city quite easily.
Bran for the first time uses his ability to try to control something other than Summer, and the attempt shows he’s becoming more proficient with his psychic skill but also has a great way to go. Bran has previously only slipped into Summer’s skin as an escape or to gather information. It’s never been a matter of necessity. Here, on the other hand, Bran finds himself using his ability in an emergency as he tries to use his ability to quiet Hodor. It turns out to be much more difficult than Bran had perhaps anticipated, however. Unlike Summer, Hodor has no spiritual or psychic connection to Bran, and when he feels Bran encroaching on his mind, he treats it like an invasion. Bran can feel his panic and discomfort, and because he has no deep connection to Hodor, he finds it hard to control him. What essentially takes place is a mental wrestling match between Bran and Hodor as both try to control Hodor’s body. But even though the attempt isn’t wildly successful, it does show that Bran’s abilities are improving, and it suggests that soon, maybe just with more practice, he will be able to slip his own skin and inhabit that of another creature at will.