Ned is unwilling to allow a tournament to be held in his name because of the amount it will cost, but Robert pushes it forward anyhow. During this time, Ned investigates the death of Jon Arryn.
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Meanwhile, Catelyn Stark has Tyrion Lannister seized by knights and men-at-arms of her father's bannermen , accusing him of attempting to murder and crippling her son Brandon while staying at Winterfell which had actually been done by Jaime Lannister after the Stark boy caught him and Cersei engaging in incest.
Tyrion is able to escape when the sellsword Bronn defends him in a trial by combat at the Eyrie, but his father, Tywin Lannister , invades the Riverlands nonetheless, the province ruled by House Tully , Catelyn and Lysa's house. Meanwhile, Ser Jaime attacks Ned Stark outside of Littlefinger's brothel ; Ned previously resigned as Hand after Robert ordered him to consent to the assassination of Daenerys Targaryen.
Ned deduces that Robert's children with Cersei are actually bastards born of incest between Cersei and Jaime, concluding that the Lannisters did in fact poison Jon Arryn when he made the same discovery. Ned confronts the queen over it, and she does not deny it, noting that the Targaryens wed brother to sister for three hundred years.
Ned has a message sent to Stannis Baratheon informing him of this, as he has been revealed to be the rightful heir to the throne.
When Robert returns from his boar hunt, however, Renly takes Ned to him, revealing that he has been mortally wounded after drinking too much wine given to him by Cersei's cousin Lancel. Ned, knowing the truth of Joffrey's parentage, rewrites this to the "rightful heir.
Robert eventually succumbs to his wounds and dies. Renly, who previously urged Ned to support his own claim to the throne, flees the capital with Ser Loras Tyrell and 50 retainers, riding south hastily. Ned gives Robert's will to Ser Barristan, but Cersei tears the paper apart and demands that Ned bends the knee to her son.
When Ned refuses and threatens to use force to imprison Joffrey, Tommen , Myrcella , and Cersei, Janos Slynt instead has his gold cloaks turn on Ned's guards , and Petyr Baelish , who previously conspired with Ned, draws a dagger and holds it to Ned's throat, reminding him that he did warn him not to trust him.
The War of the Five Kings begins. A red priestess , Melisandre , who has been brought in after Stannis's wife, Selyse Baratheon , has fallen under her influence, burns the idols of the seven gods and declares Stannis the Prince That Was Promised , the champion of R'hllor, the Lord of Light , who will lead humankind against a great coming darkness.
Stannis's scribe, Matthos Seaworth , drafts the letter in the Chamber of the Painted Table that Stannis plans to send across the realm to declare his claim to the Iron Throne. Ser Davos Seaworth , Matthos's father and Stannis's friend, warns Stannis that Renly Baratheon has declared himself king as well and has not only the bannermen of the Stormlands backing him but also those of the Reach , ruled by House Tyrell. Davos advises Stannis to make peace with Renly but Stannis refuses to as long as Renly calls himself king.
Catelyn Stark is sent by her son Robb Stark to negotiate with Renly; though Robb sought to back Stannis's claim as he is the rightful heir, Renly has by far the largest army, numbering around , men , the full might of the Stormlands and the Reach. During this time, Catelyn attends a parley between Stannis and Renly in the Stormlands, where Stannis is surprised to find Catelyn by Renly's side since her husband, Eddard Stark , was a supporter of Stannis's claim.
Catelyn tries to convince the brothers to make peace since they share a common enemy , but Renly refuses to back down, and Stannis declares his ultimatum: the Iron Throne is his by right, and all those that deny it are his foes. Stannis tells his brother to come to dawn with his decision. Melisandre warns Renly to look to his sins, "for the night is dark and full of terrors". While negotiating in Renly's tent, Catelyn witnesses Renly's death by a shadow with Stannis's face, which had been magically conceived by Melisandre and Stannis when the two had sex at Dragonstone.
Catelyn flees with Brienne of Tarth , one of Renly's Kingsguard who also witnessed his death, as Stannis's fleet closes in. The houses of the Reach flee, including Ser Loras Tyrell , Renly's lover , and Margaery Tyrell , who had been wed to Renly, but the stormlords stay behind and pledge fealty to Stannis. Petyr Baelish , who had been sent to negotiate with Catelyn by Tyrion Lannister , seeks to form an alliance between the Lannisters , who back Joffrey "Baratheon" , and the Tyrells.
He appoints Davos as his Hand. The majority of his fleet is destroyed with wildfire by Tyrion Lannister, who serves Joffrey as acting Hand of the King in his father's stead, but Stannis is able to land his troops ashore near the Mud Gate anyway. Joffrey cowers in fear and returns to the Red Keep per his mother's urging, so Tyrion leads the counterattack against Stannis's forces.
Tyrion and his men sneak through hidden routes designed by the Targaryens and attack the Baratheon troops from a flank, but more Baratheon soldiers arrive anyway. The Baratheon troops nearly overpower the Lannister forces before Tywin Lannister rides in with Ser Loras Tyrell, who dons Renly's armor, and their combined armies.
Stannis is forced to retreat in order to survive.
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Joffrey's hold on the Iron Throne is secured. At Dragonstone, Stannis has lost faith in Melisandre, remembering the murder of his own brother Renly. He chokes and threatens to kill her but his confidence in her is rekindled when Melisandre shows him a vision in the flames with an eventually victorious Stannis.
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A surviving Ser Davos Seaworth is brought back to Dragonstone by a reluctant Salladhor Saan , who does not stay behind. Salladhor warns Davos that Melisandre has burnt men alive as sacrifices to the Lord of Light and has convinced Stannis of dark evils. Davos attempts to kill Melisandre after she eerily tells him of her prediction of Matthos's death, but is seized by Stannis's guards and locked in the cells beneath Dragonstone. Stannis visits his wife Selyse and confesses to having been unfaithful to her, but Selyse tells Stannis that she already knows and is fine with it, as any act done in the name of the Lord of Light is no sin.
Selyse, a fanatic worshiper of the Lord of Light, shows the jars of her preserved fetuses — Edric , Petyr , and Tommard — to Stannis, apologizing for failing to produce any male heirs like Melisandre "did" with her shadow. Stannis then visits his daughter Shireen , who has been permanently scarred from her cured greyscale , where he tells her that he lost the Battle of the Blackwater.
Shireen asks if Davos survived, but Stannis tells Shireen that Davos is imprisoned for treason, which saddens Shireen. Secretly, Shireen visits Davos in his cell, where she sneaks through books and helps teach the Onion Knight how to read, like his late son always wanted. Stannis later visits Davos and apologizes for keeping him locked away in the cell, agreeing to free him so long as Davos vows never to raise a hand to Melisandre again.
Stannis informs Davos that Melisandre has traveled to the Riverlands and returned with Gendry , a bastard son of Robert Baratheon - the last bastard son of Robert after Joffrey 's purge. Melisandre intends to sacrifice Gendry for his royal blood, strapping him to a bed and leeching him. Stannis throws the three leeches into the flames, naming the remaining three kings in the War of the Five Kings with each leech: Joffrey "Baratheon," Robb Stark , and Balon Greyjoy.
Stannis becomes divided between Melisandre and Davos, the latter of whom advises Stannis to not sacrifice Gendry, but Stannis is convinced by Melisandre to burn him alive as an offering to the Lord of Light. Realizing it is too late, Davos, who previously bonded with Gendry over their lowborn status, sets Gendry free and gives him a boat to row back to King's Landing. When Stannis and Melisandre discover this, Stannis angrily sentences Davos to death for betraying him, also revealing that Robb Stark is dead, having been betrayed and murdered at the Red Wedding by Roose Bolton and Walder Frey.
However, before he is taken away by the guards, Davos shows a letter to Stannis he found while reading Stannis's received letters with Shireen, revealing his literacy, though protecting Shireen by telling Stannis that he learned from his son Matthos before his death. Davos explains that the letter is from the Night's Watch at Castle Black and warns of the return of the White Walkers.
Stannis hands over the letter to Melisandre, who burns it and says that death marches on the Wall and that only Stannis can stop it. Melisandre then tells the just Stannis to keep Davos alive, saying that he has a role to play in the war to come, which surprises Davos. Ser Davos Seaworth is able to secure some minor houses across Westeros to support Stannis Baratheon , but none make a significant difference.
Stannis reveals to Davos that Joffrey is dead, having been poisoned at his own wedding to Margaery Tyrell , meaning that Tommen "Baratheon" now sits the Iron Throne. Davos urges Stannis to look east to hire mercenary companies like the Golden Company , but the honorable Stannis does not want to hire sellswords, which confuses Davos as Stannis has used blood magic in attempts to secure the throne. Stannis warns Davos that he is running out of time, which means Davos is also running out of time.
While reading letters with Shireen , Davos has the idea of trying to secure the financial banking of the Iron Bank of Braavos , which House Lannister and thus the false House Baratheon of King's Landing is in heavy debt to. Davos has Shireen write a letter to the officers of the Iron Bank in Stannis's name. Initially, they decline to support Stannis despite their reputation of funding the enemies of those who fail to pay back their debts, but Davos convinces them that Stannis is their best option to pay back the debts owed to the Iron Bank.
Davos later travels to a brothel, where he rehires Salladhor Saan to sail with Stannis and his newly purchased forces. Stannis marches north at last, where he relieves the Night's Watch against the wildling army at the Battle of Castle Black. Jon reveals himself as Eddard Stark 's bastard son and warns Stannis to burn the dead to prevent them from returning as wights. Stannis implores Jon to convince Mance Rayder to bend the knee so that the wildlings can march in his army against House Bolton , but Mance refuses.
Melisandre has Mance burnt alive with Stannis's permission, but Jon mercifully shoots an arrow into his heart. Stannis tries to convince Jon Snow to kneel before him and be legitimized as Jon Stark , Lord of Winterfell , but Jon is hesitant to break his vows to the Night's Watch.
He finally declines Stannis after he is chosen as the th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch , though he continues to house Stannis and his men at Castle Black. Ser Davos Seaworth tries to convince Jon that the best way to protect the realms of men against the White Walkers isn't by sitting at a frozen castle at the edge of the world , and thus marching with Stannis wouldn't be a violation of his vows since part of the oath is to act as the shield that guards the realms of men.
Stannis thinks highly of Jon and points out that fathering bastards wasn't Ned Stark's way. Stannis finally departs from Castle Black as the snows are picking up, forcing him to march on Winterfell. The march is hard on Stannis's army, however, which is largely unfamiliar with the terrain of the North and begins to starve, freeze, and weaken them. Melisandre tells Stannis that the best way to clear a path for Stannis is to sacrifice another to the Lord of Light with king's blood: Stannis's daughter Shireen.
Stannis initially refuses, however, disgusted. However, desperate to save his army and continue the march, Stannis reluctantly allows Melisandre to sacrifice Shireen by burning her alive. Selyse, her motherly love overcoming her fanaticism, rushes to try and save her but is unable to do so. Soon afterwards, Stannis is informed that half his army has deserted and is shown the body of his wife Selyse, who has hanged herself.
Stannis is then informed that Melisandre has been spotted riding out of camp. Realizing that he has lost, Stannis orders his remaining forces into formation and to resume their march onto Winterfell. Stannis marches and orders for siege preparations to begin, but Ramsay Bolton leads a cavalry charge against Stannis, beginning the Battle of Winterfell.
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The Bolton forces easily overcome the remaining exhausted Baratheon army. In the woods, Stannis is found by Brienne of Tarth , who sentences Stannis to death for his role in Renly Baratheon 's death. Stannis tells Brienne to go on and do her duty as she beheads him, ending the trueborn bloodline of House Baratheon. Though House Baratheon is in fact no more, King Tommen I "Baratheon" of the still surviving cadet branch House Baratheon of King's Landing continues to use the Baratheon name to legitimize his rule, thus leaving House Baratheon still legally intact.
Tommen keeps his mother Cersei locked away in the Red Keep as he is still under the spell of the High Sparrow. Jaime urges Tommen to apologize to his mother, which he does.