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Catelyn prays in a sept near Renly’s camp. She realizes that Eddard must have known about Joffrey’s incestuous parentage and that Bran must have discovered something about it as well. Catelyn brings her realization to Renly and asks him to stop the battle and call a great council with Robb and Stannis so they can uncover the truth. Renly refuses. As he prepares for battle in his tent, a shadow suddenly flits through and kills him. Renly’s advisors burst in, and thinking Brienne the murderer, attack her. As she fights them off, Catelyn tells them that Stannis killed Renly using dark magic, and Catelyn and Brienne flee.
The men camp at an ancient hill fort called the Fist of the First Men. Ghost refuses to enter the ringed fortifications. Jon follows Ghost into the forest, where the direwolf digs up a bag of knives and spear points made of dragonglass. They are wrapped in the cloak of a ranger of the Night’s Watch.
Luwin tells Bran and the Freys about Robb’s victory over Stafford Lannister. The Freys’ uncle died of wounds sustained in the battle, but the boys do not seem upset. Bran realizes that Jojen’s dream has come true. Bran asks Jojen to tell him more about his dreams, and Jojen tells him that he dreamed that the sea came and drowned Winterfell. Bran tells Jojen about his own dreams, and Jojen tells Bran that he is a warg. Rodrik returns to Winterfell with the captured Reek, Ramsay Bolton’s comrade. After marrying Lady Hornwood, Ramsay starved her to death. Rodrik’s men killed Ramsay, and Rodrik wants to kill Reek but needs him alive as a witness to Ramsay’s crimes. Rodrik fears that there will be a civil war in the north. Jojen tells Bran that he dreamed of the man called Reek skinning the faces off Bran and Rickon, and of Bran and Rickon in the Winterfell crypts.
Varys tells the royal council about Renly’s death and that there are so many rumors about what happened that the truth cannot be determined. Varys informs them that most of Renly’s forces have joined with Stannis, although the powerful Tyrell faction did not. Tyrion proposes that they betroth Joffrey to Margaery Tyrell, Renly’s widow, and thus secure the allegiance of the Tyrells. Littlefinger will go to the Tyrells to make the arrangements. Cersei acts sweetly to Tyrion and thanks him for all he has done, which makes him suspicious.
Theon and his men raid and destroy a coastal village. One of the men they defeated tells Theon that Robb will kill him for his treachery. Theon sees some of his men fighting over plunder, so he kills one as a demonstration of his authority. Theon tells one of his best captains, Dagmer Cleftjaw, that he is changing their plans and wants Dagmer involved in a potentially devastating sneak attack on the inland castles. Dagmer is to lay siege to Torrhen’s Square, which Theon says will draw Rodrik and his men out of Winterfell in defense. Theon implies that he will take Winterfell.
Tywin Lannister prepares to march his forces out of Harrenhal, though he will leave behind Amory Lorch and his men. Arya overhears numerous rumors about Robb and his supposed supernatural abilities. Weese slaps Arya, so she gives his name to Jaqen, though she regrets it when she sees Tywin and his men leaving, as she realizes they are the people she should have had Jaqen kill. She tries to find Jaqen to change her request, but she discovers that Weese has already been killed, his throat torn out by his own dog.
Catelyn and Brienne arrive at an encampment of Robb's and Edmure’s forces near Riverrun. She learns of Robb’s victory over Stafford Lannister and that Tywin is bringing his armies toward them. The men in the camp reveal that Robb got his men around the Lannister outposts by following a trail that Grey Wind, his direwolf, found. Brienne wants to return to Storm’s End and kill Stannis, but Catelyn convinces her to stay. Brienne pledges her loyalty to Catelyn, provided that Catelyn not hold her back if she has the opportunity to kill Stannis. At Riverrun, Edmure tells Catelyn about Tyrion’s plot to use the false envoys traveling with Cleos Frey to free Jaime Lannister. They broke Jaime out, but Edmure’s men recaptured him and he is now in the dungeon.
Catelyn tries to get Edmure to avoid fighting Tywin near Riverrun, but he tells her that he has a plan for their defense, one that involves Roose Bolton and his men. Bolton is to retake Harrenhal now that Tywin has left it, which will pin Tywin’s army between Riverrun and Harrenhal. Catelyn is skeptical but Edmure insists the plan will work. Catelyn learns that Tyrion has returned Eddard’s bones to her, and she orders them to be sent on to Winterfell to be buried in the crypts.
A Clash of Kings revels in plot twists, and in this section the novel takes one of its most dramatic and unexpected turns. Up to this point, it has seemed that Renly had the best chance of taking the throne. Beloved by the people and with seemingly inexhaustible resources, Renly has been slowly moving around the prosperous and fertile south, gathering ever more men to his cause. Moments before what would surely be a victory over Stannis’s forces, he dies at the hand of some mysterious entity and is removed from the so-called game of thrones. Even Catelyn and Brienne, eyewitnesses to the event, cannot say for certain what happened, beyond a sense that Stannis was somehow involved or possibly present in some fashion. Readers have been prepared for the idea that Stannis has a secret weapon in Melisandre, but Renly’s death is nonetheless a shocking turn that shows the novel's willingness to defy expectations.
The novel carefully explores the political consequences of Renly's sudden death in Tyrion’s chapter. The Lannisters had been counting on Renly and Stannis fighting one another, so the sudden removal of Renly from the equation alters matters considerably. Stannis’s strength increases enormously, and with it the Lannisters’ vulnerability. Tyrion, quick on his feet as always, proposes an ingenious solution to the Lannisters’ new problem: By betrothing Joffrey to Margaery, the Lannisters can bring one of the most powerful families in Westeros to their side, thus offsetting the apparent advantage Stannis has received. Renly’s death, consequently, shows how quickly circumstances can change in war, and how much influence unpredictable events can have on the course of military and political developments.
The element of the supernatural evoked by Renly’s death makes an even more vivid appearance in Bran’s chapter as it becomes clear that Jojen Reed does have some ability to see the future. The reader, by now accustomed to supernatural events occurring in the novel, may suspect that Jojen can genuinely foresee what's to come, but now Bran is beginning to be convinced as well as Jojen’s dream about Bran and the Freys appears to come true. But as Jojen himself says, his dreams should not be taken literally. Rather, they are metaphorical and require interpretation. Jojen tells this to Bran, but still seems to not quite understand it, as he worries that the sea will literally come to Winterfell, which of course few of the men at the castle take seriously. Interestingly, the novel puts readers in a similar situation with regard to Jojen’s dreams. After saying that his dreams should not be taken literally, Jojen describes his dream about Bran’s death. This description feels like very ominous foreshadowing, but at this point the reader knows the dream is not a literal foretelling, leaving it unclear what exactly the dream means.
Bran’s chapter also picks up an issue that Martin has been exploring with Sansa: the conflict between perception and reality. Sansa believes in the romantic songs about valiant knights, and she must slowly learn that, in the real world, people are much more complicated. Similarly, Jojen makes Bran begin to face reality. Bran insists that he wants to be a knight, but Jojen points out that he is a warg and that is what people will call him. Understandably, Bran has had a hard time accepting that his paralysis has closed off the possibility of him becoming a knight, but by having Jojen tell him what he truly is, Bran begins forming a concept of himself based in reality rather than his desires and fantasies.
Theon’s chapter further develops the vexing issue of where his loyalties lie and how he thinks of his own identity. It is perhaps hard not to see Theon as a traitor for attacking the north and preparing to march on Winterfell, but the novel goes to great lengths to point out that Theon has a mixed identity, neither fully of the north nor fully of the Iron Islands. This lack of a real commitment to a place or family cannot be said to be Theon’s fault. After all, Eddard Stark took Theon to Winterfell when Theon was just a child. Having never felt fully a part of any community, Theon acts for himself, seeking what gain he can by any means necessary. Familial and regional loyalties play a huge part in the life of Westeros, with characters sticking close to their loved ones and local lords, but Theon is cut off from those strong bonds. This alienation makes Theon’s actions unpredictable and forms a strong contrast to almost all of the other characters in the novel.
Arya again exercises her power to kill by having Jaqen murder Weese, but in doing so she also begins to realize that she should use this power in careful and deliberate ways. Arya's decision to have Weese killed is an emotional reaction to Weese's abuse of her—he slapped her, so she angrily responds by exerting the only real power she has at the moment. But as the Lannister army marches out of Harrenhal, Arya sees how foolish and immature her decision was. She could have brought the Lannister cause to a shuddering halt by having Tywin killed, but she was too caught up in her own personal grievance to recognize that fact. Arya sees, in other words, that if she wields the power of life and death, she must wield it responsibly, not haphazardly or impulsively. She must make decisions based on reason rather than emotion alone and think of the greater implications her decisions have.