Until recently, Sansa Stark was betrothed to the cruel King Joffrey Baratheon, but due to some political maneuvering, Joffrey will now marry Margaery Tyrell. Sansa receives an invitation to dine with Margaery and the Tyrells, and she is anxious about this meeting, particularly because of the intimidating Olenna Redwyne, or “Queen of Thorns,” who will attend. When they dine, Olenna tells the jester to sing loudly so they can have a private conversation and not be overheard. Sansa reveals that Joffrey is abusive and cruel.
Before he died, Qhorin Halfhand gave a final order to Jon Snow to investigate the wildlings. Jon promised to pretend to abandon the Night’s Watch and join the wildling ranks. Jon already has a wildling prisoner, Ygritte, when he arrives at the massive wildling camp. Here he meets Mance Rayder, a former brother of the Night’s Watch who left to join the wildlings, whom he calls the “Free Folk.” The wildlings are deeply suspicious of Jon’s motives, and when they ask why he has betrayed his people, Jon cites his bastardry and alleges poor treatment by the Stark family.
These first chapters show the immediate aftermath of A Clash of Kings. The previous book ended with an enormous sea battle, Arya’s flight, and Catelyn’s dangerous bargain to trade Jaime for her daughters. The chapters review these events by having characters think or talk about their recent choices and predicaments. Many communicate their plans and motivations through dialogue, but others, because they are uncertain whom to trust, express their thoughts through inner monologues. As a result these chapters rely heavily on italicized “thoughts,” which allow readers to know exactly what the characters are thinking. There is also a deal of authorial exposition. The chapters thus serve more to orient the reader than advance the plot.
The Prologue, meanwhile, provides tone and foreshadowing for the rest of the book. Chett is grim and seditious, and his environment is cold and miserable. His past crime, murdering a girl for not sleeping with him, is repulsive. Throughout the novel, we must address ugly personalities and their unpleasant decisions. At the same time, Chett is a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, and his mission to protect Westeros from invaders is supposedly selfless. From the first page, we see that this world has two conflicting mentalities, the noble oaths of knights, and the selfish desires of wayward men. A great number of the characters in the book are self-interested and morally reprehensible, even if they're serving noble causes. Chett's thinking reveals this dichotomy. To complicate matters, Chett hears three horn blasts, which signify that the Others have come. The Others are undead warriors that are almost impossible to kill. In a world of nonstop violence, the Others conjure a frightening image of the dead returning from their graves. Chett’s vivid fear communicates to the reader that something far worse than a five-way civil war is coming, and not even a 700-foot wall can stop it.
The use of point-of-view writing is a functional stylistic device, and it also suggests a particular worldview. The events in the book form an endless labyrinth of complications and dead ends, and since readers can only see what the particular character that is the focus of the chapter sees, it allows the novel to build suspense. For instance, Jon has orders to join the wildlings, so he must convince them of his conversion. He's never totally certain whether they believe him though, and if they decide they don't trust him and choose to execute him, there's little he can do about it. Showing the gambit from Jon's point of view allows the reader to experience the same anxiety Jon feels while he wonders whether he has convinced the wildlings. But using limited point of view to tell the story also says something more broad about the way people experience the world. Everyone, the novel suggests, has their own subjective worldview. Jaime doesn't see himself as a villain, for example, though most other people do. To Catelyn, there is nothing more important than getting her daughters back, though to many of the Stark bannermen the girls are less valuable than to their cause than Jaime is. Two characters may see the same situation in very different ways because their understanding of everything is shaped by their personal circumstances and history, suggesting that nobody can know the whole truth about a situation but only what they observe through their own personal keyhole.
The episodic narrative is extremely important to A Song of Ice and Fire, not only in this book, but in all seven volumes. These chapters kickstart A Storm of Swords, but the various plots began nearly 2,000 pages earlier. On the surface, A Storm of Swords simply continues a long-form narrative. The various books conjoin as one long story, interrupted only by covers and copyright pages. The author may also be making a point about the nature of politics and armed conflicts. None of these subplots begin or end, they only morph into additional plots, or combine with other plots. When characters have good fortune, like Davos surviving the Battle of Blackwater, they usually face another problem, such as isolation on a rocky cove. When a passing ship offers to rescue Davos, he is uncertain whether to trust the sailors. When the sailors claim to also serve King Stannis, as Davos does, he is saved but may still die of exhaustion. These opening chapters reiterate a common theme in the Song of Ice and Fire series, that the world is constantly changing and change often brings new challenges.