In the Seven Kingdoms
Early in the story, Eddard Stark (Ned), as Lord of Winterfell, on behalf of the Seven Kingdoms, must condemn and execute a deserter from the Night’s Watch, with his sons among the witnesses. On the return journey to Winterfell, Eddard’s sons discover six direwolf pups, which are entrusted to Eddard’s five legitimate children and his bastard. (The direwolf, the sigil of House Stark, is integral to the Stark family tradition.) Following the death of Lord Jon Arryn, previous “Hand of the King” (the highest advisor to the king), King Robert Baratheon visits Eddard at Winterfell. Because he trusts him as an old friend and as an ally in the previous struggle for the throne, King Robert asks Eddard to become the new Hand of the King. Eddard agrees, against his instincts, and at the same time promises his wife, Lady Catelyn Stark that he will investigate the death of the previous Hand, Jon Arryn. Lysa Tully, Catelyn’s sister and Lord Arryn’s widow, had suggested in a secret message that Arryn may have been the victim of poison and political intrigue at the hands of King Robert’s wife, Queen Cersei and her powerful family of House Lannister.
Before the Starks leave for King’s Landing in the South, Eddard’s young son Bran Stark witnesses Cersei committing incest with her twin brother Jaime Lannister, who promptly flings Bran from a tower hoping to conceal the secret. Bran survives against the odds but enters a coma. During his recuperation, an assassin attempts to murder him, only to encounter Catelyn, who has refused to leave his side. Bran’s direwolf then saves his life, as well as Catelyn’s, by killing the assassin. Catelyn realizes her husband faces danger in King’s Landing; she travels there incognito by ship to warn him, leaving the eldest son Robb Stark to rule as the Lord of Winterfell. Not long after Catelyn’s departure Bran awakens from his coma as a paraplegic and with no memory of how he fell. He remains at Winterfell along with his older brother Robb and younger brother Rickon.
Meanwhile, Lord Eddard travels toward King’s Landing, the capital, taking with him his daughters Sansa and Arya. Eleven-year-old Sansa is betrothed to King Robert’s twelve-year-old son Joffrey, the heir apparent. At King’s Landing, Eddard assumes the duties of the Hand and the ruling of Westeros, as Robert is a renowned knight with little interest in governance.
Upon Catelyn’s arrival in King’s Landing, she is brought to a secret meeting with Petyr Baelish, known as Littlefinger, a childhood friend and admirer turned “Master of Coin” or Treasurer of King’s Landing. He identifies Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of Cersei and Jaime, as the owner of the dagger used in the attempt on Bran’s life. While traveling back to Winterfell, Catelyn encounters Tyrion, returning from the Wall, and takes him captive. She changes her destination and takes him to the remote Eyrie, where her sister, Lady Lysa Arryn rules as Lady of the Vale. Lysa blames the Lannisters for Jon’s death and is eager to execute Tyrion, but he demands trial by combat and regains his freedom when his unlikely champion, hired-sword Bronn, wins the duel. In retaliation for Tyrion’s abduction, Tyrion’s father, Lord Tywin Lannister wages war. He is soon joined by Jaime, who angrily confronts Eddard in King’s Landing, killing a number of his men and crippling Eddard before he flees the city.
Eddard learns, as the murdered Jon Arryn had learned before him, that Robert’s legal heirs are in fact Jaime Lannister’s children by his sister. He confronts Cersei and offers her a chance to escape before he tells Robert the truth, but Robert is mortally injured in a hunt and Eddard cannot bear to tell Robert the reality about his supposed children as he lies on his deathbed. As Robert lies dying, his youngest brother Renly suggests to Eddard that they should use their combined household guardsmen to detain Cersei and her children and take control of the throne during the night, before the Lannisters can act. Eddard refuses, deeming such a deed dishonorable. Renly flees Kings Landing with the loyal House Baratheon guards instead. Eddard recruits Littlefinger to have the city guards arrest and charge Cersei, but is betrayed by him, resulting in Eddard’s arrest, the death of all of his men, and Sansa’s capture. The Lannisters attempt to capture Arya as well, but she flees the castle after her fencing instructor, Syrio Forel, intervenes.
With Eddard imprisoned, Cersei and Jaime’s eldest son, Joffrey, is crowned as Robert’s heir and King of the Seven Kingdoms. Eddard is persuaded byVarys to confess to treason, and to swear fealty to Joffrey as the trueborn King, in exchange for Sansa’s life and his own, as Varys has arranged with Cersei to have Eddard sent to join the Night’s Watch rather than be executed. Eddard then makes a public confession, but Joffrey orders his execution despite his council’s and his mother’s advice to spare him. Lord Eddard is then beheaded in full view of his daughters, Sansa and Arya. Arya is then taken by Yoren of the Night’s Watch, her fate unknown.
A civil war erupts as news of Eddard’s arrest spreads across the Seven Kingdoms. Robb, now Lord of Winterfell, masses an army of northmen and marches south, joining with Catelyn to rescue his father and sisters in King’s Landing, but upon learning of Eddard’s death, goes instead to the Riverlands to raise support from his maternal grandfather, Lord Hoster Tully. To reach Riverrun, he agrees to a marriage pact with House Frey. At Riverrun, Jaime Lannister is currently laying siege, while holding Lord Hoster’s heir and Catelyn’s brother, Edmure Tully, as hostage. Upon hearing of Robb’s march, Lord Tywin also advances his army to meet Robb’s. In a bold move, Robb covertly detaches his cavalry towards Riverrun, while his infantry under Lord Roose Bolton engages Tywin’s army. Tywin, joined by the now-liberated Tyrion who has massed his own army of mountain clansmen, defeats Bolton’s host, only to discover too late that they were a decoy. Robb’s forces then take Jaime’s army by surprise during the night, capturing Jaime himself after setting a trap for the reckless knight. Jaime’s host is scattered and Edmure Tully is liberated, joining the houses of the Riverlands to Robb’s army.
Renly Baratheon is the younger brother to Stannis Baratheon, who is the next rightful heir to the Iron Throne. But Renly campaigns for the Throne and wins the support of Houses Baratheon and Tyrell by wedding Lord Mace Tyrell’s daughter, Margaery Tyrell. Declaring himself king, Renly masses all the strength of the south and begins his march on King’s Landing. After extended discussion, Robb’s bannermen to House Stark and the House Tully bannermen, lords of the Riverlands, proclaim Robb King in the North, a title which had been long abandoned after the last King in the North swore fealty to the Iron Throne three hundred years before the events in Game of Thrones.