Winter Is Coming wants to be the central location for Game of Thrones fans–including explanations and analyses of the show’s story and the world of Westeros. First up: “The War of the Five Kings”!
What is the War of the Five Kings?
The War of the Five Kings is the in-world name given to the civil war that dominates the story of Game of Thrones in its first few seasons. The fragile peace enforced by King Robert Baratheon comes to an end, and several contenders emerge for his crown, or attempt to declare independence. The war can be understood as starting with Robert’s death, and ending with the Red Wedding—although actions both before and after directly relate (see detailed chronology, below).
Who are the five kings?
- Joffrey Baratheon(-Lannister), Robert’s acknowledged heir who sits on the Iron Throne, though in actuality the bastard son of Queen Cersei and Jaime Lannister.
- Stannis Baratheon, the middle Baratheon brother, and the rightful heir–if Joffrey’s true parentage is known.
- Renly Baratheon, the ambitious youngest Baratheon brother.
- Robb Stark, the would-be King in the North.
- Balon Greyjoy, the would-be King of the Iron Isles.
So what happened? (short version)
The Starks start defeating the Lannisters, until the Greyjoys rebel and take much of the North from them….
Renly allies with the powerful House Tyrell, and seems set to take the throne until Stannis magically assassinates him. Stannis takes many of Renly’s forces and attacks the capital, but an alliance between Lannisters and Tyrells sees Stannis defeated at The Battle of the Blackwater.
Robb Stark is unable to defeat both Lannisters and Greyjoys, and while attempting to rebuild alliances in order to strengthen his armies, is betrayed and murdered by his supposed allies in House Frey and Bolton at the Red Wedding, leaving the Lannisters the apparent victors. King Joffrey is assassinated by his Tyrell allies, and his younger brother, Tommen (also a Lannister bastard) takes the throne and is the apparent winner of the War of the Five Kings. Stannis takes the remnants of his forces north to The Wall, and the Greyjoys are being pushed out of the North by the Boltons.
Which Houses are involved?
- House Lannister controls the capital of King’s Landing and supports King Joffrey of the Houses Lannister and Baratheon. Despite being surrounded by enemies, the Lannisters never lose control of the capital or the throne.
- House Stark rebels after their lord, Eddard, is executed. Despite consistently winning battles, King Robb Stark loses political support and is murdered at the Red Wedding, ending Stark involvement in the war.
- House Bolton are Stark bannermen, and serve the Starks until they join the Lannisters and Freys to betray Robb Stark. The Boltons replace the Starks as Wardens of the North.
- House Baratheon is split, with the bulk of bannermen’s forces going to the younger brother, Renly Baratheon, until his mysterious assassination. They then join with Stannis until his defeat at The Battle of the Blackwater. after which they are largely out of commission.
- House Tyrell initially allies with King Renly via marriage. After Renly’s death, they join with the Lannisters by marriage, and are a major power in King’s Landing.
- House Tully is attacked by the Lannisters at the start of the war, and quickly align with House Stark when Robb enters the conflict. They are left mostly leaderless, although still technically independent, after the Red Wedding.
- House Frey are bannermen to House Tully, although neutral until House Stark allies with them via engagement, and House Bolton via marriage. They withdraw after Robb breaks the engagement, then betray and murder the King in the North alongside the Boltons when he attempts to rebuild the alliance.
- House Greyjoy declares independence and attempts to win by attacking the Stark forces in the North.
- House Arryn and House Martell remain deliberately neutral throughout the war.
- House Targaryen is busy freeing slaves half a world away.