A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3)

by George R. R. Martin
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1747

A Storm of Swords is the third entry in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire . In Westeros, the War of the Five Kings is over, and it seems as though the Lannisters have won thanks to their alliance with the Tyrells of...

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A Storm of Swords is the third entry in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. In Westeros, the War of the Five Kings is over, and it seems as though the Lannisters have won thanks to their alliance with the Tyrells of Highgarden. The King in the North, Robb Stark, has lost the north and his army is surrounded by enemies in the riverlands. The Greyjoys have taken the north but are willing to ally themselves with the Lannisters. Stannis Baratheon has lost all but a handful of his men and consequently has retreated to his seat, Dragonstone. The Lannisters have the most powerful army and they control the king, Joffrey Baratheon, as well. However, now that dragons have been reborn across the Narrow Sea, magical powers are returning. Stannis has his sorceress, Melisandre, at his seat in Dragonstone, and she casts spells to assassinate Stannis’ rival kings.

In the far north, the realm is protected from the wilderness by the Wall. Manned by the Night’s Watch, the Wall has protected the realm for thousands of years. However, for Jon Snow, it seems like the Wall is finally about to be defeated. The self-styled “King Beyond the Wall,” Mance Rayder, has assembled an army of wildlings and giants that ride on mammoths. Jon Snow is a member of the Night’s Watch, but he is pretending to have turned traitor in order to infiltrate Mance’s force. He breaks his vows to the Watch when he starts a relationship with Ygritte, who is considered lucky because of her red hair. Jon learns a lot, including that the true threat to the realm is the “Others,” or the undead. In fact, the wildlings only mean to attack the Wall so that they can escape the Others.

Ser Jorah Mormont, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, means to stop the wildlings and the Others with his own small army. Although the wildlings severely outnumber him, Mormont is counting on the Watch’s discipline to win the battle. However, before he can attack the wildlings, he is himself attacked by an army of Others. They overwhelm the Watch, and though Mormont leads a retreat, the Watch is severely demoralized. Soon after their retreat, members of the Watch mutiny against Mormont and kill him. Only a few brothers survive the attack and the mutiny, and they still must survive their return trek to the Wall.

Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys (Dany) Targaryen, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne of Westeros and the Mother of Dragons, is traveling by ship with her subjects. She is to return to Braavos and the merchant, Magister Illyrio. However, her most trusted advisor, Ser Jeor Mormont, advises that she stop at the slave cities to buy an army. Slavery has long been outlawed in Westeros, but Dany agrees that she must gather strength if she means to take the Iron Throne. She stops in Astapor to buy the “Unsullied,” an army of utterly obedient, castrated men. Though she is disgusted by the slavers, Dany agrees to sell all of her possessions and one of her dragons in exchange for every Unsullied in Astapor. The slavers agree. When Dany has bought the army, she conquers the city and moves on, leaving a council to rule in her absence. As she travels by land, Dany battles other slaver cities, but she slowly gains strength as she journeys west, doing her best to bring justice as well as victory.

In Westeros, it seems that justice has left for good. Arya Stark is an eight-year-old girl who anyone would take for a beggar now. Arya, younger sister to the King in the North, is on the run with two other children, a baker named Hot Pie and a blacksmith named Gendry. They have fled the service of Lord Roose Bolton and are trying to make it to Riverrun where Arya will be able to reveal herself to her mother, Catelyn, and her brother, Robb. However, they are soon taken in by outlaws led by Ser Beric Dondarrion. When the bandits learn Arya’s true identity, they decide to take her to Riverrun where they will ransom her. After all, these outlaws are loyal to neither the Starks nor the Lannisters. They are merely trying to survive the war.

Jaime Lannister, one of the finest swordsmen in the realm and brother to Queen Cersie, is trying to survive as well as he travels from Riverrun to King’s Landing. Though he was captured in battle by Robb Stark, the Lady Catelyn has freed Jaime hoping that the Lannisters would return her daughter Sansa in exchange. Jaime is guarded by Brienne of Tarth, a maid that wants to be a knight. Brienne may have few redeeming features as a maid, but she is a dangerous opponent when armed with a sword. When Jaime tries to escape, they are captured by the “Brave Companions,” a mercenary outfit that immediately cuts off Jaime’s sword hand. They return to take Brienne and Jaime to Harrenhal where Lord Bolton, a Northman, is housing his army. The Lannisters have won the war, but it does Jaime little good now that he is bereft of his sword hand. Worse, he is now in the capture of his father’s enemies.

Still, things seem to be much worse for Robb Stark. He has lost the north. Though he has promised to marry a Frey, he has instead married Jeyne of Crastamere. It does not help that his mother has released Jaime Lannister without his leave either. Robb’s lords are restless and to retake the north, he will need to cross the Twins, a river, through Lord Frey’s castle. Robb may be a king, but he will be forced to walk a delicate path if he is to satisfy all of his lords. To make amends with the Freys, he offers his most powerful lord, Edmure, who is his uncle and Lord of Riverrun, to wed Walder Frey’s daughter. However, though Robb does his best, nothing can prepare him for the wedding. In the middle of the wedding feast, the Freys attack Robb’s army and murder the King in the North, violating the ancient custom of “guestright.” It is a bloody move and the “Red Wedding” soon becomes notorious throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

Things are far from settled, but it is clear to Tyrion Lannister in King’s Landing that events are going well for his family. His father, Lord Tywin of Casterly Rock, has managed to defeat Stannis in battle and now he has outmaneuvered Robb politically. Tywin is a natural Hand of the King, though Tyrion, who was the acting hand while Tywin was in the field, misses the power he enjoyed. Now, he is in charge of the kingdom’s finances, but it does not bring him satisfaction. His primary task is raising money for Joffrey’s wedding to Margarey Tyrell, a daunting and thankless burden. His father also asks that he marry Sansa Stark, who is young, beautiful, and heir to Winterfell. Unfortunately, Sansa is a young maid that fantasizes about marrying a gallant knight, and she is horrified by Tyrion, a disfigured dwarf scarred by battle.

Life becomes more difficult for Tyrion during the royal wedding. It seems that Balon Greyjoy has died (which Melisandre takes credit for in Dragonstone). On the night of Joffrey’s wedding, he chokes. The knights and ladies of the court all blame Tyrion, who was standing next to Joffrey when he died. Tyrion soon finds himself locked away and on trial for regicide. Meanwhile, Sansa manages to escape from King’s Landing with Petyr, the former master of coin, which does not look good for Tyrion either. It is clear that he is to be found guilty and Tyrion elects for “trial by combat.” The Lannisters are represented by Ser Gregor Clegane, the “Mountain that Rides” and Tyrion is represented by Oberyn Martell, the “Red Viper,” who seeks to avenge his family against Gregor and his liege lord, Tywin Lannister, for crimes committed over a decade ago against his sister. The battle is grisly but Oberyn is killed just as he has all but slain Ser Gregor. Tyrion is thus found guilty and taken to the “black cells.”

In the north, Jon abandons the wildlings, though his leg is wounded during his escape. He returns to Castle Black, which is manned by a few elder men, cripples, and some children. Still, Jon rallies the Night’s Watch and leads their defense against Mance Rayder’s attack. Just as it would seem that the Watch is defeated, Stannis’ army attacks the wildlings. However, in the aftermath of the battle, the Watch is left to choose a new leader. Stannis begins making plans to protect the realm from the Others and to gain control of the realm from the north. Stannis hopes to position Jon Snow, the bastard son of Eddard Stark, who had been the lord of Winterfell and the Warden of the North, as a lord who could lead the Northmen against the Greyjoy invaders. However, his plans are ruined when the Watch elects Jon as their 998th Lord Commander.

With Stannis in the north, it seems as though there is no one left to challenge Tywin’s rule in the south. However, Tywin’s intrigues are disrupted when his elder son, Jaime, returns to the Red Keep. Jaime refuses to accept his inheritance of Casterly Rock and instead becomes Lord Commander of the King’s Guard. He soon after sets Tyrion free from the black cells. Tyrion leaves the cells, but instead of fleeing the city, he goes to the Hand’s Tower, confronts his father, and kills him. Meanwhile, in the East, it is revealed that new plots are underway. Petyr has taken Sansa to the Eyrie, where he hopes to wed Lysa Arryn, who rules the armies of the East. Petyr murders Lysa and begins to consolidate his control of the East.

In the Epilogue, it is revealed that Catelyn Stark died at the Red Wedding but she has been revived. A Frey travels into the wild to ransom a captured relative. However, when he arrives, Beric Dondarrion’s outlaws capture him, take his money, and hang him. When the Frey protests, the Lady Catelyn, now revived, appears and passes judgment on him for his contribution to the Red Wedding.

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