King Tommen is signing official documents as his council watches. Jaime is bored and sore, he has tried to use his left hand in a sparring match with Ser Addam Marbrand and got soundly beaten. Now he worries that Ser Addam will get drunk and spill the news that he beat the Kingslayer soundly in three matches.
Most of the papers Tommen is signing have to do with the aftermath of the death of Robb Stark: retribution against the Tullys, rewards for the Boltons, pardons for the Westerlings. Finally, Jaime leaves the signings in the supervision of his uncle, Kevan. Outside, he meets Steelshanks Walton who is accompanying "a skinny hollow-eyed girl wrapped in a heavy cloak." She greets him and says that perhaps he doesn't remember him, but they met "at Winterfell when King Robert came to visit my father Lord Eddard.... I'm Arya Stark."
It seems to Jaime that this girl is much older than the Arya Stark he met, but he doesn't comment on it. He says he hears that she is to be married, and she says her husband-to-be is Lord Bolton's son, who used to be Ramsay Snow, but Tommen has just signed a paper legitimizing him as a Bolton. As she departs, he wonders if she looks much like the real Arya who "was buried in some unmarked grave in Flea Bottom in all likelihood. With her brothers dead, and both parents, who would dare name this one a fraud?"
He passes the place where Gregor Clegane killed a stableboy in his duel with Prince Oberyn, and thinks that Clegane is paying the price for it, howling in agony as his wounds are being treated. Grand Maester Pycelle can't identify the poison Oberyn must have tipped his spear with when he wounded the Mountain. Tywin has ordered Pycelle to cure him, whatever it takes. He has promised Prince Doran of Dorne that Gregor will die, "But it must be seen to be the sword of the King's Justice that slays him, not a poisoned spear." News has also come from Dragonstone that Stannis has left the island with only a token guard, and that the Lyseni ships have left with most of Stannis's army. Tywin suspects that they are headed for Storm's End to try to rally support there, so he needs to keep the Dornishmen on his side.
Jaime goes to his quarters, where he finds Cersei waiting. She is upset because Tywin has dismissed her from the council and wants to send her to Casterly Rock, far away from Tommen, who is now to be married to Margaery. Jaime has no problem with the marriage: "Tommen's been lonely since Myrcella went to Dorne. He likes having Margaery and her ladies about." Cersei reminds him that Tommen is his son, too, and wants Jaime's support. He says he has always supported her, to the extent that he tried to kill Bran Stark. She replies that she didn't tell Jaime to throw Bran from the window. "If you'd gone hunting as I begged you, nothing would have happened. But no, you had to have me, you could not wait until we returned to the city."
Jaime takes this opportunity to ask Cersei if she was the one who sent the assassin to Bran's room, but she denies it. She says that even Robert Baratheon thought that Bran's death "would have been for the best. 'We kill our horses when they break a leg, and our dogs when they go blind, but we are too weak to give the same mercy to crippled children,' he told me." Her own children were present when he said it, she remembers, and jokes, "Perhaps Myrcella sent this man with the dagger, do you think so?" Jaime suddenly has the same realization that Tyrion had had: "Not Myrcella. Joffrey."
Cersei is puzzled, but Jaime explains that Joffrey had always wanted approbation from the man he thought was his father. "Tyrion almost died because of this bloody dagger," Jaime says. Perhaps he killed Joffrey to get even for that. But Cersei doesn't care why Tyrion killed Joffrey. The fact is, he's dead, and her daughter is in Dorne. "Tommen's all I have left. You mustn't let Father take him from me." She begs him to intercede with Tywin, telling him, "unless you stop him, Father is going to force me to wed again!"
Jaime's answer to this is to suggest she go tell their father that the only person she wants to be with is Jaime. She rejects this as insane: "Would you have us ripped apart, as Mother did that time she caught us playing?" The Targaryens married brothers and sisters, he insists, why not the Lannisters? "We are not Targaryens!" she yells at him, and he tells her to quiet down. She insists that they can still do it, and begins to try to untie his breeches, but he stops her: not in the Lord Commander's chambers, he says, even though, as she points out, they did it in the sept.
She turns on him when he pushes her away, impugning his masculinity and saying, "You lacked the courage to avenge Joffrey, why would I think that you'd protect Tommen?" What if Tyrion had killed all three of their children? Would he have acted then? His reply only makes her more angry: "Tyrion is not going to harm Tommen or Myrcella. I am still not certain he killed Joffrey." She calls him a "great golden fool" and suggests that Ser Ilyn should give him Tyrion's head as a keepsake.
She should go, he says; she's making him angry. And she retorts, "Oh, an angry cripple. How terrifying." It's too bad that their father never had a real son: "I could have been the heir he wanted, but I lacked the cock." And she mocks his own, hanging from his breeches. When she has gone, he thinks, "I've lost a hand, a father, a son, a sister, and a lover, and soon enough I will lose a brother. And yet they keep telling me House Lannister won this war."
He sends for Ser Loras Tyrell and Brienne. Loras admits that, after talking with her, that Renly's death may have happened as she says. He dismisses Loras and asks Brienne to stay. He compliments her dress, saying the blue matches her eyes and thinking, "She does have astonishing eyes." She returns the compliment about his white cloak. Then he tells her about the false Arya Stark being sent to wed Ramsay Bolton, saying he wanted to prevent her from "galloping off to rescue her." She worries about what will happen when Bolton discovers the truth, but he thinks he already knows: "Lannisters lie, remember? It makes no matter, this girl serves his purpose just as well" since all the rest of her family is dead except for Sansa, who has vanished.
Brienne says she doesn't believe that Sansa killed Joffrey, and from Jaime's responses she realizes that he doubts that Tyrion did it either. He smiles. "See, wench? We know each other too well. Tyrion's wanted to be me since he took his first step, but he'd never follow me in kingslaying." He
thinks Sansa did it and Tyrion is protecting her. When she insists on Sansa's innocence, he says, "There's the stubborn stupid wench that I remember." As always, she starts to correct him: "My name is...." "Brienne of Tarth," he finishes for her, and then says he has a gift for her.
It is the magnificent sword of Valyrian steel. He order her to take it, and to call it Oathkeeper. But, he adds, it "comes with a price." He wants her to find Sansa and keep her safe. "How else are the two of us going to make good our stupid vows to your precious Lady Catelyn?" She stammers in surprise, having expected anything but this from Jaime, "I ... I though...."
"I know what you thought." Suddenly Jaime was sick of the sight of her. She bleats like a bloody sheep. "When Ned Stark died, his greatsword was given to the King's Justice," he told her. "But my father felt that such a fine blade was wasted on a mere headsman. He gave Ser Ilyn a new sword, and had Ice melted down and reforged. There was enough metal for two new blades. You're holding one. So you'll be defending Ned Stark's daughter with Ned Stark's own steel, if that makes any difference to you."She starts to apologize, but he cuts her off and tells her to do whatever she wants. "I don't want to look at you anymore." She says, "Jaime...." But he cuts her off: "'Kingslayer,' he reminded her." She persists, trying to ask why he would protect someone who killed Joffrey. He thinks, "Because Joff was no more to me than a squirt of seed in Cersei's cunt. And because he deserved to die." But he says, "Sansa Stark is my last chance for honor," and dismisses her.
When she is gone, he opens the White Book and brings his entry up to date, including the loss of his hand and his rescue by Brienne.
Jon is in a literal cage, buffeted by winds, suspended over nothingness, after four days "in a cell five by five by five, too low for him to stand, too tight for him to stretch out on his back." Ser Alliser had told him he would die there in one of the rooms carved out of the base of the Wall and originally designed to store food. But Maester Aemon had informed Janos Slynt that he couldn't hang Jon, and had written to Cotter Pyke, who testified that Jon wasn't a turncloak. So he and Alliser Thorne have decided to send Jon to parley with Mance Rayder, who has requested the meeting.
Jon realizes that he has no choice: Rayder is likely to kill him, but so are Thorne and Slynt if he refuses the assignment. Jon asks what terms they are attempting to reach with Rayder, but Janos Slynt says, "Janos Slynt does not make terms with lawless savages, Lord Snow. No, he does not." Ser Alliser is more direct: "We're not sending you to talk with Mance Rayder.... We're sending you to kill him." So now, as the cage is being lowered, Jon realizes, "With Maester Aemon insisting on Jon's innocence, Lord Janos had not dared to leave him in the ice to die." But he knows that even if he kills Mance Rayder, or just attempts to kill him, the others of the free folk would take his own life.
He walks through the corpses at the foot of the Wall toward the camp, and sees a rider coming out to meet him. It is Tormund, who offers him a ride. Jon says he'd rather walk, and as they go Tormund congratulates him on the fight the Watch had put up. He asks about Jon's limp, and Jon tells him that it was from one of Ygritte's arrows. Tormund drinks from his waterskin to Ygritte's memory, which he offers to Jon, who swallows the fiery mead it contains and repeats Tormund's tribute: "To Ygritte, kissed by fire!" He thinks of Ygritte, "You died brave in battle, storming the castle of a foe. I'm going to die a turncloak and a killer."
Rayder is waiting outside his tent, and says, "You must be very brave or very stupid, Jon Snow, ... to come back to us wearing a black cloak." Harma Dogshead is with him and says they should kill him and send his body back up and ask for someone else. The skinchanger adds that he "can soar above the Wall, and see with eagle eyes," which, as Rayder says, means that they know how undermanned and ill-provided the Watch is. He tells Jon to come inside the tent and for everyone else to remain outside.
Dalla is lying under a pile of furs inside, attended by Val. Jon tells her he was sorry when Jarl fell from the Wall, and she replies, "He always climbed too fast." Mance says they will stay, as they know what he has to say. Jon realizes that he will have to kill him in front of them, just as Mance and Dalla's child is about to be born. Rayder is wearing his sword, but no armor, and Jon looks around at the other weapons stored there.
Then he spots "A warhorn, a great bloody warhorn." And Rayder confirms that it's "The Horn of Winter, that Joramun once blew to wake giants from the earth." He has had it all along. Jon asks, "If this horn is all the songs say, why not just sound it and be done?" It is Dalla who replies:
"We free folk know things you kneelers have forgotten. Sometimes the short road is not the safest, Jon Snow. The Horned Lord once said that sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it."And Rayder says that he had hoped not to use it, that his attacks would succeed. But even now, he says, "The truth is, you are too few and we are too many." He could continue the fight and eventually prevail, attacking on all fronts, he says, "but you'd bleed me, and my people have bled enough." But now there's something else to be considered: "You saw the Fist of the First Men. You know what happened there. You know what we are facing." The Others are growing stronger. He has brought his people to the Wall ostensibly to attack it, but in fact, "I've come with my tail between my legs to hide behind your Wall." If he sounds the Horn of Winter, the Wall may fall, and plenty of his followers want him to do that. But if the Wall falls, Dalla says, "what will stop the Others?"
So Mance Rayder asks the Night's Watch to open the gate and let them settle on the other side of the Wall. "If they do, I will give them the horn, and the Wall will stand until the end of days." Jon ponders the consequences of such a massive influx of people into the Seven Kingdoms and asks, "If we let your people pass, are you strong enough to to make them keep the king's peace and obey the laws?" But Rayder says they will make their own laws. "We will not kneel to you."
Jon knows that there is no way to persuade Slynt and Thorne to accept the offer. Rayder says that if it's refused, Tormund "will sound the Horn of Winter three days hence, at dawn." Jon also knows that if he returns without killing Rayder, Slynt and Thorn will take it as proof that he is a turncloak. He is pondering the options, which include destroying the horn here and now, when he hears the sound of another horn. He and Rayder go outside to see what it means.
Something is coming from the east. Jon asks if it's the Others, but Mance says they never come during daylight. He calls for his horse and his armor, and Varamyr the skinchanger summons up second sight to report that an army is approaching: "Men. Men on horses. Men in steel and men in black." Mance turns angrily to Jon, who vows that he has no idea what is happening. All around them people are preparing to fight. Jon reaches for Longclaw and then sees rangers emerging from the woods. "They wore black mail, black halfhelms, and black cloaks." They begin their attack on the wildling camp, as Jon assures Mance that he had no knowledge of it.
Mance admits that Jon may be telling the truth: "Those look like Eastwatch men. Sailors on horses." And then a scout rides in to tell him that more, "a host of iron men," are arriving. Mance leaves Varamyr to look after Dalla and to keep an eye on Jon. "The skinchanger was a head shorter than Jon, slumped and soft, but that shadowcat could disembowel him with one paw." It blocks Jon's way into the tent, where the Horn of Winter is.
But suddenly the skinchanger is screaming in agony, and Jon looks up and sees his eagle on fire. The shadowcat runs away, and Varamyr's wolves are fighting each other. Val runs from the tent to see what has happened, and asks where Mance has gone. Dalla has gone into labor, she says. There are war trumpets all around, and Jon knows that the wildlings have only horns, not trumpets. An army is emerging from all sides, and Jon sends Val back into the tent to care for Dalla.
As more and more men appear, "not only knights now but freeriders and mounted bowmen and men-at-arms in jacks and kettle helms," Jon tries to make out the banners they are carrying. Many of them are "yellow banners with a red device," and he doesn't recognize the arms. He sees Mance's horse on her hind legs as a spear penetrates her chest, and Mance disappears from sight. Someone is waving Harma's head on a pole. Then Jon begins to be able to make out the banners, "a yellow one with long pointed tongues that showed a flaming heart, and another like a sheet of beaten gold, with a black stag prancing and rippling in the wind."
For a moment Jon thinks of Robert Baratheon, but then he hears the name the soldiers are crying: "Stannis! Stannis! STANNIS!"