The War of the Five Kings is a massive war that engulfs nearly the entire continent of Westeros in a power struggle to claim the Iron Throne. As its name implies, the war was fought between five self-proclaimed kings, each claiming a right to the throne. These kings are Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Renly Baratheon, Robb Stark and Balon Greyjoy. The war begins in 298AL, right as the GoT series begins, and last two full years, spanning the first few seasons of the GoT series.
The entire war is centered around the illegitimacy of King Robert’s heirs, namely Joffrey, and his right to the throne upon King Robert’s death. It was Robert’s brother, Stannis Baratheon, who first became suspicious of the legitimacy of his brother’s heirs, whom he correctly suspected were actually born of incest between Cercei and Jaime Lannister. Stannis shared his suspicions with King Robert’s hand, Jon Arryn, who was murdered by poison soon thereafter. It was at this time that Catelyn Tully received a letter from her sister, Lysa, who communicated that she suspected her husband, Jon Arryn, had been murdered by the Lannisters. So, when King Robert approached Ned Stark and offered him to be new king of the hand, Catelyn encouraged her husband to take up King Robert’s offer and use his new power to investigate the murder of Jon Arryn. During the king’s visit to Winterfell, Bran catches Cercei and Jaime having sex; Jaime throws Bran from the castle walls to prevent the secret from getting out. Bran remains in a coma and it is suspected that it was merely an accident. After Ned leaves for King’s Landing, an assassin is sent to kill Bran, though the assassin himself is killed by Bran’s direwolf. Catelyn marches south to King’s Landing to inform Ned of the attack on Bran, and upon her arrival, she is told by Lord Petyr Baelish that it was in fact Tyrion Lannister’s knife that the assassin was found with. Believing this lie, Catelyn Tully has Tyrion arrested when she happens to cross paths with him on her return to the North. She takes Tyrion to the Eyrie, where he is held prisoner in the sky cells. Tyrion is eventually freed as Bronn Stokeworth represents Tyrion in trial by combat and wins. Nonetheless, the arrest of Tyrion infuriated Lord Tywin Lannister and mounted tensions between House Lannister and House Stark.
While in King’s Landing, Ned Stark continues investigating and learns that Robert has no true heirs; Cercei’s children are fathered by Jaime and not Robert. Ned confronts Cercei and offers her the opportunity to flee King’s Landing safely with her children before he tells King Robert of the truth he has learned. Instead, Cercei takes matters into her own hand and gives King Robert an extra potent batch of wine before he goes hunting. As a result, he is mauled by a boar and dies days later. Before his death, he rules that Ned take over as king until Joffrey is old enough to rule himself. Instead, Ned plans to transfer power to the rightful heir, Robert’s next oldest brother, Stannis. Needing support of the City Watch, Ned turns to Petyr Baelish to secure the men needed to expose the truth, but Lord Baelish betrays Ned and has him arrested for treason. King Joffrey assumes the throne and Ned is imprisoned.
LEADING UP TO THE WAR
Robb Stark is slowly marching his army south towards King’s Landing, winning battle after battle and gaining notoriety as a fearsome warrior. While marching south, Robb Stark needs to pass through a strategic crossing at the Twins, controlled by House Frey. In exchange for free passage, Robb Stark promises Lord Walder Frey that he will marry one of his daughters when the war is over. After crossing the Twins, Robb’s army arrives at Riverrun, and is able to defeat the Lannister host, capturing Jaime Lannister in the process.
Meanwhile, Stannis Baratheon’s army is consolidated at Dragonstone, located only miles off the coast of King’s Landing. Cercei fears that Stannis will attack King’s Landing before the Lannister army can strengthen its position and return to King’s Landing from the war it is fighting in the Riverlands against Robb Stark. Cercei presents Ned Stark, who is being held prisoner, with a proposition. If Ned will admit treason, acknowledge Joffrey as the true heir to the throne and command Robb to end the war, Cercei will allow Ned to join the Night’s Watch. Should he not comply, Cercei threatens to execute his daughter, Sansa, who is being held by Joffrey. With little choice, Ned falsely admits to treason and declares Joffrey the true king. Rather than honoring their arrangement, Joffrey has Ned beheaded, eliminating any chance of peace between the Starks and Lannisters. As a result, Tywin sends his son Tyrion to King’s Landing to act as Joffrey’s hand and to ensure he does not make anymore impulsive decisions that will weaken the position of House Lannister.
THE KINGS DECLARE
With the recent death of King Robert, and murder of the last two hands of the king, Jon Arryn and Ned Stark, Westeros is in a state of upheaval. Many denounce Joffrey’s claim to the throne and the rumors of Lannister incest grow louder. As such, four men proclaim themselves kings in the following order:
Renly Baratheon tries to convince Ned Stark to seize power while King Robert was dying, but Ned does not listen. With his lover, Ser Loras Tyrell, Renly flees to Highgarden, seat of the Reach, and gains the support of House Tyrell through marriage to Margaery Tyrell. With the armies of the Stormlands and the Reach under his command, Renly boasts the largest army of all the kings, over 100,00 men. While Robb Stark and the Lannisters battle in the field, Renly slowly marches towards King’s Landing, letting the other kings weaken each other’s armies.
Robb Stark is next to declare himself king and raises his banners in defiance of King Joffrey, House Lannister and the Iron Throne. Trying to grow his army, he sends his mother Catelyn to convince Renly to join forces with Robb, while he also sends Theon Greyjoy back to Pyke to try and persuade his father, Balon, to join forces.
Stannis Baratheon declares himself king after being convinced by Melisandre, the Red Priestess. She convinces him that he is the true heir and all others are usurpers. Residing at Dragonstone, his army is small, but he commands a large fleet of ships. Upon Melisandre’s prophecy that Renly will die and his army will join the true one true king, Stannis sails for Renly’s seat, Storm’s End.
Balon Greyjoy is the last to declare himself king, after realizing the unrest and war that is presenting him an opportunity to gain independence for the Iron Islands, something he tried once before, but failed during the Greyjoy Rebellion. Balon refuses his son Theon’s plea to unite with Robb Stark, and instead, plans to raid the North which is vulnerable and unprotected with Robb Stark and his men marching south on King’s Landing.
THE WAR BEGINS
As Robb Stark marches south on King’s Landing, Theon leads an army of his own to capture the defenseless Winterfell. Theon storms the castle and overtakes Winterfell with ease, declaring himself the Prince of Winterfell. He takes Bran and Rickon Stark as captives, as well as Meera and Jojen Reed. However, the Stark boys soon escape with the Reeds; embarrassed by their escape, Theon kills two other boys and claims that their burnt corpses are the bodies of the Stark boys. When Theon’s sister, Yara, arrives to Winterfell, she urges him to abandon the castle as a castle so far from water is of no value to the ironborn. Hellbent on proving his ferocity, Theon ignores his sister and remains at Winterfell. Soon thereafter, Northern reinforcements arrive and surround Theon and his small crew who are trapped in Winterfell. Then, Ramsay Snow of House Bolton arrives, and kills the Northern reinforcements, the first sign that House Bolton plans to betray House Stark with an agenda of their own. Ramsay then enters Winterfell and kills all the ironborn, except for Theon.
As Robb marches south, he wins several battles and deals many decisive blows to the Lannister forces. At the same time, Stannis Baratheon takes a small army to lay siege to Storm’s End, seat of his brother Renly. When Renly hears the news, he rides to Storm’s End to thwart his brother’s attempts. The brothers speak briefly and Stannis encourages his brother to join him as the true heir to the throne; Renly refuses and they go their separate ways, planning for battle the next day. But, that night, Renly is murdered by a black shadow summoned by Melisandre, and as she prophesized, nearly half of Renly’s army joins Stannis. However, the forces of House Tyrell do not join Stannis, but instead return back to the Reach. With Renly no longer a means to acquire power, Lord Baelish arranges an allegiance between the Tyrells and the Lannisters. This allegiance came not a minute too soon for Lord Tywin, who was losing battle after battle and found great value in Tyrell reinforcements.
BATTLE OF BLACKWATER BAY
After hearing of Stannis’ impending plan to sack King’s Landing, Lord Tywin marches his forces back to the capital, along with the army of Mace Tyrell. However, unsure whether his father’s army will return in time, Tyrion must construct a plan to defend King’s Landing from the imminent attack of Stannis Baratheon. Tyrion lines the waters of Blackwater Bay with wildfire, which engulf Stannis’ fleet of ships in flames as they approach. However, enough of Stannis’ army is able to land ashore and they are in position to take the city, just as the Lannister-Tyrell armies arrive and smash Stannis’ army from behind. Stannis loses almost his entire army, though he is able to escape and return to Dragonstone.
In the aftermath of the battle, it is planned for Joffrey to marry Margaery Tyrell and cement the alliance between Lannister and Tyrell houses. As reward for arranging this alliance, Petyr Baelish is rewarded with the castle of Harrenhal. Furthering the Lannister powerhold, and also attempting revenge against Cercei, Tyrion arranges to marry Cercei’s daughter, Princess Myrsella, to a prince of Dorne. All of Westeros south of the Riverlands is now under the control of the Lannisters and their allies.
At this same time, Robb Stark learns that Theon has killed his two brothers and burnt Winterfell to the ground. He decides to marry Jayne Westerling, breaking his oath to marry one of Walder Frey’s daughters, and in turn loses the support of his Frey bannermen. As things are falling apart for Robb, he still has Jaime Lannister as prisoner, but he loses that too when his mother, Catelyn, frees Jaime in hope that he will return to King’s Landing and free her daughter, Sansa. Robb decides to return north to free what’s left of his home, but he will once again need passage by the Twins, controlled by House Frey. Lord Walder Frey agrees to allow safe passage if Robb Stark will apologize in person and marry Catelyn’s brother, Edmure Tully, to one of Walder’s daughters. Robb agrees, and after Edmure is married to a Frey daughter, the Freys and the Boltons turn on Robb, killing him, his mother and his direwolf, as well as what was left of his army. The Red Wedding, orchestrated by Lord Tywin, was a momentous betrayal that violated the sacred law of guest right. For his part, Roose Bolton is named overlord of the North, a position held for hundreds of years previously by House Stark.
With several of the kings dead and King’s Landing safely secured by the Lannister-Tyrell alliance, the War of the Five Kings comes to an end. Though, Stannis Baratheon and Balon Greyjoy still remain threats to King Joffrey and it remains to be seen who will win the Game of Thrones.