Robb Stark returns from a series of successful battles and meets with his mother, Catelyn. Robb pardons her for releasing Jaime. He then confesses that he has broken his promise to marry a daughter of Walder Frey and instead will marry Jeyne Westerling. This choice alarms his mother because she knows it will anger the Freys. At first Catelyn’s brother, Edmure, is critical of Robb, but then Robb illustrates why Edmure’s strategies in the war were flawed. They worry about future military challenges and resolve to win back the support of the Freys.
Jon surveys the vast wildling army. When he meets with Mance Rayder, Jon is forced to reveal intelligence about the Wall and the Night’s Watch. Jon starts to doubt the efficacy of his plan, and he finds cultural habits among the Free Folk shocking. When his motivations are called into question, Ygritte insists that they share a sexual relationship. This claim satisfies the wildlings, but Jon has misgivings, because he vowed a life of chastity when he joined the Watch. Ygritte convinces him to sleep with her, which makes Jon further conflicted.
Sansa is fitted for a new gown for King Joffrey’s wedding. When she has a chance, she again warns Margaery that Joffrey is cruel and abusive. Margaery appreciates the warning but disregards it. Sansa thinks she will have to marry Ser Willas Tyrell, Margaery's disabled brother, and she convinces herself that this is a suitable and desirable union. She tells the knight Ser Dontos Hollard, who is shocked by the news and protests, insisting that the Tyrells only want Sansa for her inheritance. But Sansa is determined to make the marriage work.
For the first time in the novel we see Daenerys, the exiled Targaryen heir, and the scene that introduces her does a good job of quickly summing up her circumstances. Daenerys is a complicated character who has evolved greatly since Game of Thrones. At this point, she's become a strong leader, and she's looking for a way to raise an army so that she can return to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne. But Daenerys herself has no memory of Westeros. Her desire to conquer the Seven Kingdoms is based on family tradition and nothing else. Meanwhile, Daenerys lives a nomadic life, and she is no closer now to invading the Seven Kingdoms than she has been previously. When she first appears, she is floating on a ship without wind, an image that neatly embodies the state of her mission. She is static and essentially isolated, and despite having advisors, she's uncertain how trustworthy Whitebeard is and what Jorah's motives are. A continent away from the land she intends to control, Daenerys seems like a dreamer with unrealistic ambitions.
Some striking parallels between two unlikely characters, Bran and Daenerys, stand out in this section. Like Daenerys, Bran has been forced to flee his home and is basically a nomad. Both are still young but have been forced to grow up quickly because of the circumstances they find themselves in, and at this point, both are nobles only in name. Yet both have loyal supporters who travel with them and help them along, and who seem to think they have great destinies ahead. Those destinies appear to be intertwined with the supernatural powers they have and the animals they're connected to, dragons in Daenerys's case and the direwolf Summer in Bran's. Whether Bran's and Daenerys's stories will continue to parallel one another remains to be seen, but if nothing else it appears both will have to journey further from home before they get closer to their ultimate goals.
Almost all the characters focused on in these chapters experience similar feelings of estrangement and helplessness. Jaime, Tyrion, Davos, Catelyn, and Sansa are all in positions whether they're powerless to do exactly what they'd like, and their thoughts and feelings are often dismissed by those who have control over them. In fact, the conflict in these chapters is mostly psychological. While much of the novel is rife with battles, swordfights, torture and beatings, these chapters examine the major characters as they assess their options. Bran could move from his hiding place, but he risks getting caught. Jon could sleep with Ygritte and ensure his credibility, but he will break his vow. Daenerys could buy Unsullied soldiers, but she will have to participate in the slave trade, with uncertain ends. As the characters struggle with these choices, the reader sees what things they value most, whether oaths, family loyalties, or personal power.