Author : George R. R. Martin
In the Seven Kingdoms
It soon becomes apparent that while Cersei is skilled in the methods of intrigue needed to seize power, she is not very skilled in the actual day-to-day running of the kingdom. Cersei’s reign is marked by rampant cronyism as she tries to solidify her rule by staffing her councils with incompetent loyalists. Making matters worse is Cersei’s increasing distrust of the Tyrells, particularly Margaery, who wed the new boy king Tommen after his brother Joffrey died at their wedding. Increasingly paranoid over a prophecy she believes foretells the deaths of her children and herself by the hands of her missing brother Tyrion, Cersei develops a dependency on alcohol, despite her disgust at her late husband, King Robert’s alcoholism.
Her reign runs into problems from massive debt from before and during the war, compounded by her incompetent administrators’ inability to resolve the situation. Most of the debt is owed to the Iron Bank of Braavos and the Faith of the Seven. Cersei flippantly brushes off representatives of the Iron Bank, announcing that she is deferring their payment for the (indefinite) duration of the continuing rebellions. In response, the Iron Bank freezes all of the realm’s assets, refusing to grant new loans while calling in all outstanding debts, which leads to a banking crisis that nearly cripples the economy of Westeros. To settle the crown’s debts to the Faith of the Seven, Cersei agrees to the restoration of that religion’s military order, the Faith Militant, despite the large number of zealots that are gathering both in the city and in Westeros, many of whom believe the accurate charges of adultery leveled against her. Cersei does not have the foresight to realize that this is only trading one problem for another, as now that the Faith has armed soldiers at its command it feels less compelled to accept her authority.
Hoping to weaken the Tyrell influence over the court, the masses, and King Tommen, Cersei dispatches Ser Loras Tyrell to lead an army and force a quick (and she hopes foolhardy) end to the siege of Stannis Baratheon’s forces on Dragonstone. The island fortress is taken, but at horrific cost; Ser Loras is gravely injured by boiling oil during his storming of Dragonstone’s keep, and left clinging to life. Cersei tactlessly gloats about Loras’ horrific injury to his sister Margaery. Rather than lessening the threat from the Tyrells, this action drives Margaery Tyrell to actively pursue destroying Cersei, causing the Tyrell-Lannister alliance to crumble. A scheme to have the Faith put Margaery on trial for largely invented accusations of adultery backfires when the newly-powerful religious leadership arrests and imprisons Cersei herself on similar (and accurate) charges.
Cersei’s brother and ex-lover Jaime travels the Riverlands to re-establish order and royal control in the war-torn region. He has become somewhat estranged from his sister and newly concerned with his own honor, which he believes is tarnished by past misdeeds. He is also deeply disturbed about the state of the Kingsguard, with Cersei raising unworthy knights to the elite group. After ending the siege of Riverrun bloodlessly, one of the last holdouts against his family’s authority, he receives word that Cersei wants him to return and defend her in a trial by battle; however, Jaime learns from Lancel Lannister, who killed the late King Robert at Cersei’s behest, that Cersei was indeed having an affair with him as Tyrion had told Jaime when he escaped King’s Landing. Jaime also receives news of Cersei’s involvement in the siege on Dragonstone. This waste of loyal soldiers and betrayal of much-needed allies is the last straw for Jaime, who burns and ignores Cersei’s letter.
Brienne of Tarth’s quest for Sansa leads her all over the Riverlands, where she observes the devastation and villainy that the war has wrought among the smallfolk. She notices a boy following her, only to discover Podrick Payne, former squire to Tyrion Lannister. Since he has had no real training, she agrees to teach him, promising to send him to bed with blisters and bruises every night. She also meets up with Ser Hyle, a knight from her past who was with her and King Renly before he was murdered. He believes that she did not kill Renly and he joins her on her quest, witnessing her battle prowess when she confronts three outlaws. She also meets up with Lord Tarly, who despises her and insults her despite Ser Hyle’s praise of her battle prowess. Eventually she is captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners and sentenced to death by Stoneheart, a reanimated Catelyn Stark, who wrongly believes Brienne has betrayed her. Brienne is told she will be allowed to live if she agrees to find and kill Jaime Lannister. Refusing, she and some of her companions are hanged, and as the nooses strangle them she screams out one as-yet unrevealed word.
In the Eyrie, Sansa poses as Petyr’s bastard daughter Alayne, befriending young Robert Arryn, managing the household for her “father,” and receiving informal training in royal politics from him. During this time, Petyr appears to be carefully manipulating his murdered wife’s former bannermen, and his once precarious hold on the Protectorship of the Vale is beginning to seem less tenuous. He eventually reveals that he has betrothed Sansa to Harrold Hardyng, Robert’s heir; when the sickly Robert dies, Sansa will reveal her true identity, and reclaim her family stronghold of Winterfell, aligning it with the Vale in the process.
On the Iron Islands, Aeron Damphair calls a Kingsmoot in order to decide who would succeed Balon Greyjoy as king of the Iron Islands. Hotly contested by Balon’s brother Victarion Greyjoy and daughter Asha Greyjoy, eventually his brother, Euron Greyjoy, the exiled “Crow’s Eye”, is chosen as king due to his promise that he can control dragons with a recently acquired horn, which will help the islanders conquer all of Westeros. Asha wanted to make peace with the mainland while they were still ahead, and Victarion wanted to continue raiding, but Euron intends to conquer the entire continent outright. Asha and Victarion realize this is absurd, as the Ironborn do not have the numbers for this, nor are their forces skilled at land warfare, once they advance beyond the coasts. The fleet of the Iron Men attacks and captures the Shield Islands at the mouth of the River Mander, threatening House Tyrell’s seat at Highgarden. Victarion considers this mere show however, estimating that once the Redwyne fleet returns (from the siege at Dragonstone) they will once more lose the islands. Euron then sends his brother Victarion east to woo Daenerys Targaryen on his behalf, but a bitter Victarion, whose wife was raped by Euron (then killed by Victarion), instead plans to marry her himself.
In Dorne, Doran Martell is confronted by three of his brother Oberyn’s eight bastard daughters—known collectively as the Sand Snakes—who all want justice for their father’s death. They are not appeased by the prospect of receiving the head of Gregor Clegane, since it was Oberyn himself who killed him. They all want war, but in a different manner. They are inciting the commonfolk, so Doran has seven of the eight Sand Snakes confined to cells in the palace, even the very young ones, so that no one can use them against him.
A bold attempt by Doran’s daughter Arianne Martell and her lover, Ser Arys Oakheart of the Kingsguard, to crown Doran’s ward Myrcella Baratheon as queen of Westeros under Dornish law is thwarted by Doran. The attempt leaves Myrcella’s face scarred, and results in the death of Ser Arys, straining the new alliance with House Lannister and the Iron Throne, even as another member of the Kingsguard is on his way to Dorne with the head of Gregor Clegane, the knight who raped and murdered Doran’s sister Elia years before. Though angry with his daughter, Doran reveals to her that he has long had his own subtler plan for vengeance. Her brother Quentyn has gone east to bring back “Fire and Blood.”
In the prologue, Pate, a young apprentice at the Citadel in Oldtown, is studying to become a maester. He has stolen an important key to a depository of books and records at the request of a stranger in exchange for a reward. After delivering the key, the stranger double-crosses and kills Pate by surreptitiously poisoning him. At the end of the novel, Samwell Tarly arrives at the Citadel to begin his training where he meets a fellow apprentice who introduces himself as “Pate.”
In the East
Jon Snow orders Samwell Tarly to the Citadel in Oldtown via Braavos, where he can research the Others and study to become a Maester. Sam is accompanied by aging Maester Aemon, the wildling mother Gilly, her newborn babe, and sworn brother Dareon. The voyage across the Narrow Sea is underway before Sam realizes Jon swapped the sons of Gilly and Mance Rayder. The ruse was meant to protect the Wildling “prince” from Melisandre’s fiery sacrifice but also put Gilly’s son at risk, causing her much grief. Aemon gets very sick and they need to wait in Braavos for his health to improve, costing them their ride. Seeming to give up on his vows and companions, Dareon indulges in many harborside sins. After a Summer Islander tells Aemon about seeing the dragons firsthand, Aemon decides that Daenerys has come to fulfill a prophecy. Driven to help his niece fulfill her destiny, Aemon dies shortly after they leave Braavos. Brought together by their own grief, Sam and Gilly become intimate.
Arriving in Braavos, Arya Stark finds her way to the House of Black and White, a temple associated with the assassins known as the Faceless Men. As a novice there, Arya attempts to master their belief that Faceless Men have no true identity by both throwing all her treasures into the water (except her sword, Needle, which she cannot throw away due to Needle’s symbolization of all she lost and left behind) and posing as a girl called “Cat of the Canals”. Once a month (on the night of the black moon) she must tell her mentor, the Kindly Man, three new words and three new things. However, her former identity continues to assert itself in the form of wolf dreams, and also when she kills Dareon for abandoning the Night’s Watch and his sworn brother, Samwell Tarly. Sam and “Cat” meet briefly without knowing one another. The morning after Dareon’s murder, she admits to the Kindly Man that it was “Arya” who committed it, and is given a glass of warm milk as punishment. After drinking, she wakes up blind the following morning.
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