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What is The War of the Five Kings?

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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.

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  • Well, I generally see no point in explaining War of Five Kings at this moment. This article would have its use two-three years ago, but now is just telling viewers what they already knew. And, on top of that, it has some mistakes. Wo5K didn’t start with Catelyn’s arrest of Tyrion, it started with death of Jon Arryn and subsequent Jaime attemoting to kill Bran. These two actions set in motion the events between Lannisters and Starks in Wo5K.

    All in all, as I said, this article would have its purpose two-three years ago. Now, it is just “let me tell you what you have seen it”.

  • The only explanation I see for this article , is the fact that GoT’s new game will be released in a few days and it’s set in War of the Five Kings .

  • How was the peace under Robert fragile? No one was after his throne or wanted independance, except the Iron Islands. But while Robert was alive he had 5 great houses behind him. Or with regard to the Lannisters perhaps just not opposed to him.
    The war of the five kings stemms from the question in succession. Just like Dance of Dragons or the Blackfyre Rebellion did.

    • nap-Desaix,

      I’d hesitate to describe it as anything but fragile, to be honest, especially given that the violence was starting before Robert even died. He also had to deal with a major rebellion in the 15 years of his rule. There’s also the great scene where he asks Cersei what’s held the Seven Kingdoms together and she responds “our marriage.”

      I mean, maybe you don’t, but I see the whole first season/book as having an air of inevitability to them. Westeros has recovered from Robert’s Rebellion sufficiently that it can start another war to finish off the half-peace gained by Robert after overthrowing the only unified dynasty the Seven Kingdoms have ever known.

    • The Spider,

      I suspect the next incarnation of the civil war will be known as the War of the Three Queens, Four Kings, One Prince, And A Giant-Ass Pack Of Wolves.

  • Its not technically correct that Joffrey is a “Lannister”. Cersei and Jaime are not married, which would make Joffrey ‘Baratheon’ (and Myrcella and Tommen too) in actual fact Joffrey ‘Waters’ – the name for bastards born in the Crownlands.

    • Dorian, first, I loved you in DAI.

      Second, technically, sure. But he’s the embodiment of the Lannister cause in the war, as well as the embodiment of their genetics. And you’ll note that in official introductions he’s announced as “Joffrey, of Houses Lannister and Baratheon,” plus there’s the banners showing the combined Lannister and Baratheon sigils.

  • Rowan Kaiser:
    Dorian, first, I loved you in DAI.

    Second, technically, sure. But he’s the embodiment of the Lannister cause in the war, as well as the embodiment of their genetics. And you’ll note that in official introductions he’s announced as “Joffrey, of Houses Lannister and Baratheon,” plus there’s the banners showing the combined Lannister and Baratheon sigils.

    Heh thanks, its my real name too :)

    Its of course quite valid to call him Lannister (“Lannister and Baratheon” is hilariously offensive and unprecedented, which is why GRRM with it I’m sure), I just like to highlight his status as a pretender, an usurper, and an abomination.

    Long live Stannis.

  • I think the entire Game of Thrones storyline (starting from when the Mad King Aerys II went “mad”) is a game of cyvasse by Petyr Littlefinger Baelish and the Spider eunuch Varys. They’re playing to raise himself through chaos or “for the realm”. What do you think? :D

    • Linox,

      To some extent yes, but I would also say that Cersei is a player as well. My general take is Cersei plays short-term, Littlefinger middle-term, and Varys long-term, but it’s only a partially successful theory.

  • good article, bit out of place, but informative nonetheless. let’s not forget the fact, that the Wo5K ain’t over on the show yet, since balon is still alive. and btw, i wouldn’t say that while tommen in on the iron throne, the Wo5K still continues, i think it finished with joffrey (because balon is already dead by the time joffrey dies in the books) and the whole conflict sort of vanished with these five

  • Well done Rowan it was good to read this review since we all know that the war isn’t over yet

    And every time i think about the one who will end this i die of excitement.

  • Fantasy aside, Robb’s big problem is strategic over reach and not keeping faith with his leaders. If Robb had stold on the defensive then his strength of position would have worn down the royalist forces. When he ventures in the Westlands, he can be painted as the aggressor by the Lannister propaganda machine. If he had not gone west then no Red Wedding, no Red Wedding, no Roose, no Walder Frey. Boring yes but it would have won the north their independence.

    • jinete,

      I’m not really certain at what point Lannister propaganda against Robb as an aggressor damaged Robb’s armies. The only major propaganda campaign shown in the books or show, as far as I can see, is Stannis’ letter-writing about Joffrey’s true parentage.

  • As others have stated, I don’t reall see the point in this article. I wouldn’t mong more in depth articles about each of the players in the war however, and how they went about their business in the war, so if that is to come I guess this is a fair introduction.

    The main reason though why I came out of lurker-mode was because of your statment
    “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.”

    Sorry, but that is, and will always be, westeros,org. WiC might be second, or third (depending on how you measure it), but it is no where near westeros, which is a giant (and this is coming from someone who despises Linda, and very rarely visits that site).

    • Fiddle Faddle,

      Look, I don’t care if you or any other specific commenter thinks an article is pointless or not. Not everything is going to be “for” every person, and that’s something that should be embraced. I saw a point to writing it, and I have the tools to see if traffic agrees with me. Further in-depth pieces can be done, but they need a baseline like this.

      As for Westeros, it’s aimed at readers. Which is fine! We’re show-centered. Both can exist.

    • Sadegh,

      The biggest thing that cost Robb the war was the alliance with House Tully, though this is unremarked upon. By Season 2, Robb has, de facto, won the war for Northern Independence. With his full force, he could easily kick the Greyjoys out of the North. However he’s also fighting for the combined independence along with the Riverlands, which is bordered by Lannister regions in both the Westerlands and Crownlands. The North could be defended in a light or cold war kind of setting, but the Riverlands could not.

      If Robb were to retreat to the North, he’d have won the war for the North, but lost half of his family’s holdings. Not surprising that he didn’t even consider it as an option, but it was the least worst option.

  • Rowan Kaiser,

    Your point is well taken but if this was for real then Lannister propaganda would have painted him as an aggressor. After all if you seek independence then why invade the west? Robb, as all individuals trained in the knightly arts of the offense, could only see winning the war byou attacking the west. His best option, was to seek battle with Tywin by advancing on Kings Landing as who holds the city can win. But that was not an option. My point is from if we were doing this for real.

  • Rowan Kaiser,

    Exactly it’s so strange that almost every time you write an article or commenting i feel like it’s me who writing or commenting seriously I’m agree almost with everything you say.