Steelshanks Walton escorts Jaime from Harrenhal and back toward the House of Lannister with several hundred men. Jaime is anxious about returning home with a severed hand. After a draught of dreamwine, Jaime has a vivid and symbolic nightmare, in which all of the important people in his life play a part, including Brienne. Concerned for her safety, Jaime convinces Steelshanks to return to Harrenhal so they can rescue her. When they arrive, Jaime sees that Vargo Hoat has Brienne fighting a bear in a pit with only a blunted sword. Vargo Hoat’s ear is also mutilated, because he tried to rape Brienne, so she ripped his lobe with her teeth. Jaime leaps into the pit and helps Brienne, and ultimately Steelshanks’ archers shoot the bear to death. Seeing no point in a battle, Vargo Hoat lets them leave without a fight. When Brienne asks why Jaime returned to save her, he admits he dreamt of her.
Robb, Edmure, Catelyn, and 3,500 bannermen leave for the castle known as the Twins to celebrate the marriage of Edmure and Roslin. Robb leaves Jeyne behind. They struggle with rainy weather and a difficult river to ford. Catelyn insists that Robb name an heir until Jeyne can have a son. Robb thinks of naming Jon Snow his heir, but Catelyn doesn’t approve and suggests Jon Snow can’t be trusted. They argue until Robb walks off. In the following days, Robb continues to make battle plans, as he expects to win back his alliance with the Freys. When Catelyn asks how she can help, Robb tells her to stay safe, a passive role that Catelyn resents.
Samwell and Gilly arrive in the abandoned village of Whitetree. Samwell walks while Gilly, still in pain from childbirth, rides their horse. They make camp, feeling exhausted and miserable. Samwell sings a sweet song, and he remembers that his stern father detested the lyrics. Suddenly they are attacked by the reanimated corpse of Small Paul, one of the Night’s Watch, who has come back as a wight. Samwell tries to use the obsidian dagger, but it shatters on Small Paul’s armor. Finally Samwell is able to set him on fire, but outside he finds Gilly surrounded by wights. Out of nowhere a rider on a giant elk calls Sam, and when he and Gilly mount up with him, Samwell sees that he has black, frozen hands.
Sandor and Arya, who is now Sandor’s prisoner, travel a great distance. They reach a river, which Arya guesses is Blackwater Rush. Sandor conscripts a ferryman to take him across, but because he has little money, he threatens the ferryman with violence. The boat hits a fallen tree and a boatman falls into the river, probably drowning in the rapids. Sandor gives the ferryman a promissory note, which the ferryman calls worthless. After an argument with Arya, Sandor reveals that the river is not the Blackwater, but the Trident. While Arya guessed that Sandor was taking her to the Lannisters, he is actually taking her to the Twins, where he intends to ransom her to the Starks.
Making his way back to the Wall, Jon warns the people of Mole’s Town that an army of wildlings approaches. When he reaches the Wall, the first to identify Jon is Donal Noye, the blacksmith. Rumors have spread that Jon has defected, but Jon explains his orders from Qhorin Halfhand. He receives medical treatment from Maester Aemon and learns that Commander Mormont died in a scuffle at Craster’s Keep. Jon relates his intelligence, but also admits to breaking his vow by sleeping with Ygritte. Jon is informed that Winterfell was destroyed and Bran and Rickon are dead, but Jon does not believe the news, because he saw Bran’s direwolf not long ago and it knew him.
Jaime’s dream reveals all his fears and feelings of guilt. When it starts he finds himself under Casterly Rock, the ancestral home of the Lannisters, in a dark place that he fears. The voices of all the Lannisters over the years tell him it’s his place, as does Cersei, and the feeling of doom he associates with the place suggests he feels he is being condemned somehow by his family. The only thing that gives him relief from this fear is the sword he picks up, which makes him feel like he can defend himself. He also finds Brienne there suddenly with her hands bound and asking Jaime to free her, implying Jaime feels a measure of guilt for having left her imprisoned at Harrenhal. The ghostly forms that then appear are mostly Jaime’s brothers from the kingsguard, and when they all judge him for killing King Aerys, he desperately wants to explain to them why he did it. They don’t listen, however, and close in around him. The episode makes clear that, though Jaime believes he did the right thing in killing Aerys, he still feels guilty, and persecuted as well. To Jaime, these feelings are closing around him like the ghosts, and threaten to overwhelm him.
Jaime’s decision to return for Brienne shows that, in addition to feeling a growing respect for her, he has actually begun to care for her as well. Jaime is finally safe as he heads away from Harrenhal as he’s got a massive armed escort to take him back to King’s Landing and his family. Brienne, on the other hand, is at the mercy of Vargo Hoat, who is known to maim and murder people for pleasure. As evidenced by his dream, Jaime feels guilty for leaving Brienne behind, and he worries enough about her safety that he forces Steelshanks against his will to go back for her. To get Steelshanks to comply, he even threatens to lie to his father and say that it was Steelshanks who cut his hand off. When they get back to Harrenhal, Jaime goes so far as to jump into the pit with Brienne and try to defend her from the bear, despite the fact that he’s as helpless as she is in the situation, and comes near being killed in the process. Jaime clearly feels a desire to protect Brienne, even at the expense of his own life, which suggests that his regard for her now goes beyond simple respect. The exact nature of his feelings for her isn’t yet clear, but it is certain that he values her a great deal.
In Samwell’s chapter, Samwell demonstrates the progress he’s made as a fighter in his struggle with the wight, and we also meet a mysterious new supernatural figure. Samwell routinely mentions what a coward he is and implies at every opportunity that he is not a fighter. But in the course of the novel, he has experienced multiple battles, including the stand against the Others on the Fist of the First Men and the mutiny by his brothers at Craster’s Keep. He’s also fought one of the Others face to face and survived. These experiences appear to have toughened him somewhat, and here, Samwell actually stands his ground against the wight to protect Gilly. Even when the fight goes badly, with the obsidian dagger shattering on the wight’s armor and the wight then choking him, Samwell manages to fight back and ultimately kill the creature. It’s probably the most courageous Samwell has been in the series, and it’s certainly his greatest victory as a fighter. He quickly realizes, however, that there are too many wights to fight off, but luckily he and Gilly are saved by the strange figure riding a giant elk. This man appears to have some affiliation with the Night’s Watch as he’s cloaked all in black, and he’s clearly not human as his hands are black as his clothing and ice cold.