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.