An army is gathering outside Winterfell, and Maester Luwin has come to advise Theon to yield. There have been no responses to the birds Luwin sent to Theon's uncle and his father. Theon insists that there's enough food in Winterfell to last out a year's siege, but he is so outnumbered that resistance is pointless. He orders Luwin to send more ravens, to tell Wex to polish his armor, and to have the garrison assemble.
He tells the assembled men that Ser Rodrik Cassel and the Stark bannermen will attack before night, but that he intends to stay and resist the assault. "Those who would stay and fight, step forward." No one moves for a few moments, but finally seventeen men join him. The ten men his sister had brought are not among them.
Black Lorren tells him that the people of the castle will join the side of the attackers once the fighting begins, which Theon already knows. He has a deterrent planned. He goes to the watchtower and examines the banners of the gathered troops. There are no Glovers or Boltons or Umbers among them, he notes.
Then words comes that Ser Rodrik wants "to parley with Theon Turncloak." The epithet stings, though it's accurate: His mission had been to get his father's ships to attack the Lannisters. He calls down to the messenger that he will be coming out by himself. Ser Rodrik is waiting for him in the market square, and spits on the ground when Theon addresses him, and reminds him that Eddard Stark "raised you among his own sons, the sweet boys you have butchered, and to my undying shame I trained you in the arts of war." He orders Theon to surrender. "Those who murdered no children shall be free to walk away, but you shall be held for King Robb's justice."
Theon presents his terms: "You have until evenfall to disperse. Those who swear fealty to Balon Greyjoy as their king and to myself as Prince of Winterfell will be confirmed in their rights and properties and suffer no harm. Those who defy us will be destroyed." Ser Rodrick replies that he has two thousand men to his fifty. "Seventeen in truth," Theon thinks, then says, "I have something better than men." He gives a signal, then watches Ser Rodrik's face: "He is not surprised, he thought with sadness, but the fear is there."
The anger is, too. Ser Rodrik calls Theon a "Viper," and declares, "I ought cut you down here and now and put an end to your lies and deceits." Theon replies, "Forswear your oath and murder me, and you will watch your little Beth strangle at the end of a rope." Ser Rodrik offers to take his daughter's place as hostage, but Theon refuses. "If this host is still in arms before my gate when the sun sets, Beth will hang." He rides back through the gate, above which Beth Cassel, a noose around her neck, stands between the small heads of the miller's boys whom Theon had killed in place of Bran and Rickon.
Theon goes back to Ned Stark's chambers, aware that the attack will still take place and that they are outnumbered. He has Wex bring his bow, and he goes to practice firing arrows. "If I hang the girl, the northmen will attack at once, he thought as he loosed a shaft. If I do not hang her, they will know my threats are empty. He knocked another arrow to his bow. There is no way out, none." But then Maester Luwin appears with a way out: "Take the black." Ser Rodrik, he tells Theon, will let him join the Night's Watch if he surrenders. Theon seizes on the idea and begins to persuade himself to do it.
He has almost made up his mind to follow Luwin's advice when one of his men appears: "More men came up, hundreds of them, and at first they made to join the others. But now they've fallen on them!" When he hears the description of the new men's banners, Theon knows who they are.
The flayed man of the Dreadfort. Reek had belonged to the Bastard of Bolton before his capture, Theon recalled. It was hard to believe that a vile creature like him could sway the Boltons to change their allegiance, but nothing else made sense.He goes to see this battle, followed by Luwin. The Dreadfort men had taken Ser Rodrik's men by surprise and are prevailing over them. It begins to grow dark and smoke from the burning inn hides what is happening. Then a column of horsemen emerge from the smoke and ride toward the main gate of Winterfell. It is led by a knight in dark armor and a red helmet. Three bodies are dumped before the gates: Ser Rodrik's, Leobald Tallhart's and Cley Cerwyn's. Maester Luwin falls to his knees in dismay and is sick.
Theon orders the gates opened for the Dreadfort men. The knight removes his helmet and Theon identifies him as Reek. But in fact he is the Bastard of Bolton, Ramsay Snow, who changed clothes with the real Reek, who was killed. He reminds Theon that he was promised a girl if he brought two hundred men, and instead he brought his father's garrison. Theon orders the kennel girl, Palla, brought out, but the Bastard wants Theon's own bedmate, Kyra. When Theon angrily protests, the Bastard backhands him with a mailed fist and Theon blacks out.
When Theon wakes up he finds that the Dreadfort men have taken Winterfell and are slaughtering his men. He sees Maester Luwin stabbed from behind. "'Save me the Freys,' the Bastard was shouting as the flames roared upward, 'and burn the rest. Burn it, burn it all.'" The last thing Theon sees is his horse, Smiler, running from the stables with his mane on fire.
In his delirium, Tyrion dreams of death and the dying. "My work, thought Tyrion Lannister. They died at my command." There are so many corpses that he thinks, "Why did I kill them all? He had known once, but somehow he had forgotten." There are silent sisters in gray moving among them, removing their armor and their clothes, and he tries to speak to them but realizes he doesn't have a mouth. "Smooth seamless skin covered his teeth. The discovery terrifies him."
When he wakes again he finds himself in his own bed under a heap of blankets and furs. He is sweating profusely. "Fever, he thought groggily." He tries to remember the battle, and when he sees Ser Mandon, fear causes him to wet himself. He calls out for help but no one comes, and he falls back to sleep. He sees Cersei and his father standing over him, but thinks it must be a dream because Lord Tywin is supposed to be off fighting Robb Stark. Others appear, such as Varys and Littlefinger. He hears them talking but can't understand the words.
He realizes that they must have won the battle. "We must have, else I'd be a head on a spike somewhere. If I live, we won." He can sense that he is regaining control of his senses. The next time he wakes, Podrick Payne is standing over him but runs off when he sees Tyrion open his eyes. He tries to call out but can't. Then he feels his face and realizes it is covered with bandages and plaster.
Podrick returns with a maester and asks if he wants something to drink. He sips through a copper funnel inserted through a hole in the plaster and bandages, but realizes that is is milk of the poppy and he's asleep before he can object. This time he dreams he's at a feast and his bravery is being celebrated. He kneels before Jaime and is made a knight. Shae is there, too.
When he wakes this time the room is cold and empty, and he feels the pain in his face and the right side of his body. He remembers that Ser Mandon Moore had tried to kill him and that Podrick had saved him. The room isn't his, and he gives out an angry moan. "They have moved me here to die." He dreams that he is in a seaside cottage with Tysha, his wife, but remembers how angry he was when he discovered the trick that had been played on him.
He wakes from another drugged sleep to see the maester's "soft pink face" over him, urging him to drink more of the opiate. He reaches and grabs the maester's chain and starts to choke the man. When the maester gets his breath back, Tyrion motions for him to remove the bandages on his face. The man protests, "You are not yet healed, the queen would...." That Cersei has had a hand in this infuriate him and he threatens the maester with a fist. Through the mask Tyrion orders, "Do. It."
The maester removes the bandages, and Tyrion feels the fiery pain as his faces is uncovered. The maester says it would have been wiser to keep the bandages on longer, but adds, "Still, it looks clean, good, good. When we found you down in that cellar among the dead and dying, your wounds were filthy." He tells Tyrion one of his ribs was broken and they were afraid he'd lose an arm because of the arrow wound in it, but "now it seems to be healing clean."
Tyrion asks the maester's name and learns that it's Ballabar. He asks for a looking glass, which the man is reluctant to provide. He also asks for wine. "No poppy." After two cups of wine, Tyrion feels ready to look at his face. There is a long gash starting under his left eye and extending to the right jaw. "Three-quarters of his nose was gone, and a chunk of his lip." He remembers Ser Mandon Moore extending his left hand and then a sword blow aimed at his head that he had dodged, though not enough to avoid the cut. "Cersei must have paid him to see that I never came back from the battle.... Another gift from my sweet sister."
He asks where he is, and learns that he is in Maegor's Holdfast over the Queen's Ballroom. "Her Grace wanted you kept close, so she might watch over you herself," Maester Ballabar tells him. He says he wants to be taken to his own chambers, but is told that the King's Hand has taken them over. He learns now that his father has been named Hand, and that it was Tywin's arrival with Lord Tyrell, the Knight of Flowers and Littlefinger that turned the tide of battle. "The smallfolk say it was King Renly's ghost, but wiser men know better."
Tyrion thinks who he can send for that he can trust, and finally asks for Podrick Payne. When Pod arrives, Tyrion tells him to send for Maeser Frenken, not Ballabar, and have him make dreamwine. He wants his own guard, and learns that Bronn has been knighted. Then he asks about Ser Mandon. "The boy flinched. 'I n-never meant to k-k-k-k-" All Tyrion wants to know for certain is that Mandon is dead, and when he's assured of that, he says, "Good. Say nothing. Of him. Of me. Any of it. Nothing."
They are trapped, and Qhorin Halfhand sends Jon for some brush to build a fire. He wonders if Ghost will howl for him when he's dead, the way Bran's wolf did when he fell. Only Jon and Qhorin remain of the five rangers in the party. Dalbridge, Ebben, and Stonesnake had been sent off on reconnaissance, and they had heard a horn that let them know that Dalbridge had been killed. Ebben had been dispatched back to Mormont and the rest of the expedition. Stonesnake's horse had been frightened by a shadowcat and broke its leg, so he remained behind to try to pick off the pursuers. "At every dawn and every dusk they saw the eagle soaring between the peaks, no more than a speck in the vastness of the sky."
One night Qhorin asks Jon to repeat the oath of the Night's Watch with him. Their horses are worn out, and Jon doubts that Qhorin's will last another day. Then Qhorin tells him, "If we are taken, you must yield." Jon refuses, but Qhorin says, "You will. I command it of you."
"If we are taken, you will go over to them, as the wildling girl you captured once urged you. They may demand that you cut your cloak to ribbons, that you swear them an oath on your father's grave, that you curse your brothers and your Lord Commander. You must not balk, whatever is asked of you. Do as they bid you ... but in your heart, remember who and what you are. Ride with them, eat with them, fight with them, for as long as it takes. And watch."Jon agrees reluctantly. Then Qhorin has him build the fight "bright and hot," and ride away with him. They reach a place for the night that is hidden behind a waterfall, and Qhorin takes the first watch. The next morning they ride through a narrow passage that they have to persuade the horses through, and Jon thinks that they have lost their trackers. But when they emerge they see the eagle perched on a tree a hundred feet above them. Ghost tries to catch it but the bird flies off.
When he sees the direction the bird took, he tells Jon that this is where they will make a stand. They hear a hunting horn and know that they'll be there soon. They see the wildlings appear on a ridge a half mile away. Jon counts fourteen, with eight dogs. Qhorin and Jon draw their swords. The wildlings halt ten yards away and their leader, wearing armor made of bones, comes forward alone. Qhorin addresses him as "Rattleshirt," which provokes the wildling. He is joined by a woman, one of the wildlings' "spearwives," who reaches into a sack and pulls out Ebben's head. Rattleshirt calls for the bowmen to aim.
"No!" The word burst from Jon's lips before the bowmen could loose. He took two quick steps forward. "We yield!"Jon goes down the slope to Rattleshirt, who says, "The free folk have no need of cravens." But behind him one of the archers removes her sheepskin helmet and says, "This is the Bastard of Winterfell, who saved me. Let him live." Rattleshirt, however, says he doesn't trust him, and the eagle "split the air with a scream of fury." Ygritte says the bird was a man before Jon killed him. Rattleshirt tells the spearwife, "Ragwyle, gut him." But she suggests they put him to the test first.
"They warned me bastard blood was craven, he heard Qhorin Halfhand say coldly behind him. "I see it is so. Run to your new masters, coward."
Jon says he'll do whatever they order him to do, and Rattleshirt orders him to kill Qhorin Halfhand. So Jon fights Halfhand, remembering, "You must not balk, whatever is asked of you." Halfhand almost overcomes him, and Jon "could feel his arms growing numb" when Ghost moves in and seizes Qhorin by the calf. Then Jon sees his opening and slashes at Halfhand's throat, cutting it with the very tip of the sword.
Jon thinks, "He knew what they would ask of me." He thinks of his companions on the Wall and wonders if he has lost them the way he lost his family at Winterfell. Rattleshirt still wants to kill him, but others remind him that he yielded and that he killed his brother of the Watch. Rattleshirt insists that he couldn't have done it without the wolf's help and that "He is a warg ... and a crow. I like him not." The others prevail, however. "These are a free folk indeed, thought Jon."
They burn Halfhand's body, and Rattleshirt claims some of the bones. Jon asks Ygritte if they are going back through the Skirling Pass, but she tells him, "There's nothing behind us.... By now Mance is well down the Milkwater, marching on your Wall."
Through the wolf's eyes, Bran sees the burning of Winterfell, "and in the sky he saw a great winged snake whose roar was a river of flame." He hears the barking of dogs and the screams of horses and men, but he and his brother stay hidden in the forest. In the morning, when the fire has died, they prowl through the ruins, frightening the crows away from the corpses. He and his brother find a dying horse and fight over it. He wins, and feeds first, then lets his brother feed.
Then he feels himself being pulled back into the darkness, as a voice whispers, "Bran, come back." "He closed his third eye and opened the other two, the old two, the blind two." Meera asks what he saw, and he tells her "It was Winterfell. It was all on fire. There were horse smells, and steel, and blood. They killed everyone, Meera." He drinks some water eagerly, and asks, "How long?" Jojen tells him that he has been away for three days. Jojen says that's too long, and when Bran insists that he ate, tells him, "The wolf ate.... Not you."
He asks for Osha, and she speaks to him out of the darkness. He tells her that he saw Winterfell burning, and she says it was a dream. But he insists that they have to go see if it was true. Osha is afraid that Thoren will catch her and flay her as he had threatened, so Meera tells Bran she'll go. Osha lights a torch, and Bran can see the tombs of the Starks. "And in the mouth of the empty tomb that waited for Lord Eddard Stark, beneath his stately granite likeness, the six fugitives huddled round their little cache of bread and water and dried meat."
Bran assures them that he has seen the ruins of the castle, so they prepare to go above. Bran is hoisted into the basket on Hodor's back, and they make their way past the effigies of the old Kings in the North. Osha goes first and is away long enough for them to grow uneasy. Finally she returns to say that something is blocking the door to the crypt and she can't budge it. Bran says, "Hodor can move anything."
When they reach the door, they take Bran from the basket as Hodor pushes and shoves at the door until finally it gives way. They emerge into the ruins of the First Keep. "Nearby some crows were pecking at a body crushed beneath the tumbled stone, but he lay facedown and Bran could not say who he was." Osha observes that they "made enough noise to wake a dragon," but no one has come to see what it was. And then they hear a sound, and Summer and Shaggydog appear.
They explore the ruins and discover Theon's men among the corpses, and one with the sigil of the Dreadfort. Summer gives a howl and runs to the godswood. They follow and find Maester Luwin lying prone by the pool under the heart tree. He is still alive and pleased to find that Bran and Rickon are, too, though he had known that neither of the boys Theon had killed was Bran because of the muscles in the legs. Bran tells him that they had doubled back and hidden in the crypt.
Osha wants to make a little so they can carry Luwin to get help, but he insists that he's dying. He tells Osha that the boys must be separated and taken to different places. He warns them that many of the people friendly to the Starks are dead, including Ser Rodrik. He tells Bran that he must be strong, and all of them but Osha to leave him now.
When she joins them shortly, she says Hodor should take Bran, and she will take Rickon. Meera and Jojen say they will go with Bran. They find some still-edible provisions in the kitchens. Bran watches Osha and Rickon and Shaggydog leave by the East Gate, then they go out through the Hunter's Gate. It is Jojen who decides which way to go: north.
Bran looks back at Winterfell and reflects, "It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I'm not dead either."