The plot of Winter's Bone begins to take off when Ree Dolly, a young girl with a mentally ill mother, two young siblings and a missing meth making father finds out that unless her dad shows up to court, the family will lose their land and home to the government, as her father put them up for bail. This starts her quest to find her father, dead or alive.
But no one else wants him to be found, especially Ree's other shirttail relatives that are responsible for his disappearance. As Ree gets more desperate, the more questions she asks of the wrong people. This leads to her being severely beaten. Her Uncle Teardrop steps in and saves her, but escalates the stakes at the same time.
The climax of the story comes when the wives of the men who killed her father take Ree to her father's body, and force her hold her father's arms up out of a freezing cold pond while the women sever his hands. In this way his fingerprints can prove to the police that he's dead, and Ree can save her home.
After the horror of that scene, the bail bondsman shows up with the bag of cash the drug dealers bailed him out with, giving Ree and her family a new lease on life.