In the third season of Game of Thrones, the show’s writers begin taking a different approach; instead of covering one complete novel of the book series, they covered only the first half of the third novel, A Storm of Swords. To find out what happened before, see the recaps of the first season and the second season of Game of Thrones.
Jon Snow’s secret mission
The season opens beyond the Wall with Samwell Tarly and Night’s Watch rangers fighting the White Walkers and wights that were on the march at the end of season two. They manage to survive and decide to return to Castle Black to warn the rest of Westeros of the coming threat. Meanwhile, Jon Snow is brought before the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder, and joins the wildling ranks as part of his plan to spy on the wildling army.
In King’s Landing, Tywin Lannister ignores his son Tyrion Lannister’s accomplishments in the Battle of the Blackwater and plans to disinherit him. Margaery Tyrell arrives in King’s Landing as King Joffrey’s new fiancé, and she demonstrates that she has a mind of her own. Sansa wants to leave King’s Landing with the help of Petyr Baelish, who has other motives regarding Sansa. But Sansa leaving proves difficult because Cersei won’t let her go.
In Essos, Daenerys Targaryen and her followers arrive at Astapor via the ship she purchased at the end of season two. She survives another assassination attempt — this time attempted by an agent of the surviving warlocks of Qarth — with the help of the former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Barristan Selmy. Selmy joins Daenerys’s Queensguard.
The war is not going well for King Robb Stark and his allies since the Lannisters were able to successfully defend King’s Landing and with their new alliance with the Tyrells. Robb’s army takes Harrenhal with little effort, due to the Lannister withdrawal, but Robb’s plan to draw the Lannister army back to the West has failed. He hears the news that Winterfell has been destroyed and all its inhabitants killed, though there is no word of his brothers, Bran and Rickon. Not too far away from Robb’s army, Arya Stark and Gendry meet up with a group of outlaws called the Brotherhood. They have captive Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, who once served in King Joffrey’s Kingsguard but abandoned his post during the Battle of the Blackwater and is now on the run. The Hound recognizes Ayra and reveals that she is a Stark. Later, The Hound wins a trial by combat and is set free.
On their journey to the Wall, Bran, his brother Rickon, Osha, and Hodor meet up with a young boy and girl, Jojen and Meera Reed, who are loyal to House Stark. Jojen is like Bran in that he has visions and explains much to Bran about his abilities. Meanwhile, after being captured by Ramsey Snow, the illegitimate son of Roose Bolton, Theon Greyjoy is chained up in an unknown location. He is repeatedly tortured in an attempt to break his spirit.
In King’s Landing, Sansa meets with Margaery’s grandmother, Olenna, who asks her what kind of person Joffrey is, since her granddaughter is going to marry him. Sansa describes how cruel Joffrey has been to her, but then is worried that the Tyrells will cancel the marriage plans as a result of what she said. Olenna assures her that the marriage will happen.
Daenerys gets an army
In Astapor in Essos, Daenerys decides to purchase a vast army of slave soldiers called “The Unsullied” in exchange for one of her dragons — much to the distress of her advisors. However, Danaerys has a plan to get the army and keep her dragons, for she is disgusted by idea of slavery and by the slaver Kraznys, with whom she struck the deal.
Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth continue to make their way to King’s Landing. They are taken captive by men from House Bolton, led by Locke. One night, while Jaime and Brienne are tied to a tree, Bolton’s men drag Brienne away to gang-rape her; however, Jaime saves her by pointing out that Brienne is the sole heir to Lord Selwyn of Tarth, who will pay handsomely for her return. Brienne is tried back up, unmolested. Jaime then tries the same reasoning for his own release, but Locke is convinced that Tywin will never deal with a man like him. Locke chops off Jaime’s sword hand to make Jaime remember that his father can’t help him.
Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder leads his army of wildlings toward the Wall; Jon rides with them. Mance plans to attack Castle Black and sends a group of wildling soldiers, including Jon and Ygritte, to scale the Wall to attack the castle from the rear while the rest of Mance’s army attacks from the front. During their journey, Jon and Ygritte develop their relationship further. Meanwhile, Samwell and the remaining Night’s Watch expedition, led by the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, stop again at Caster’s Keep on their return to Castle Black.
Tywin decides to have Petyr Baelish become Lysa Arryn’s suitor and marry her, therefore ensuring that House Arryn will remain loyal to the Lannisters and King Joffrey. Tywin also appoints Tyrion to the position of Master of Coin, replacing Baelish in those duties. Tyrion soon discovers that the Iron Throne is heavily in debt to foreign banks. He reasons that if the throne can’t repay its debts, the banks will stop lending money to the throne and start supporting Robb Stark or Stannis Baratheon.
In Dragonstone, King Stannis is despondent over his loss at the Battle of the Blackwater. The priestess Melisandre tells him that there’s still a way for him to win the Iron Throne, but it involves finding and sacrificing someone of King Robert’s blood. So, she goes in search of one of Robert’s illegitimate children — Gendry.
New hope for Sansa Stark
In King’s Landing, Margaery befriends Sansa, who is unhappy that Queen Cersei won’t let her leave. Margaery says that when she’s queen, she will let Sansa leave and travel to Highgarden (the seat of House Tyrell). Margaery also suggests that Highgarden could become Sansa’s permanent residence if she were to marry Margaery’s brother, Loras.
Beyond the Wall at Craster’s Keep, Samwell begins to fall for one of Craster’s daughter-wives, Gilly, who has just given birth to a son. As he and Jon discovered in their previous visit, Craster gives his sons to the White Walkers. Meanwhile, tensions between the Night’s Watch and Craster boil over, with one of the rangers killing Craster. The Lord Commander is then killed in the struggle that follows. Hearing this, Samwell takes Gilly and her baby, and they flee into the woods.
In Astapor, the time comes for Daenerys to give away one of her dragons in exchange for the army of the Unsullied. She takes charge of the army; however, her dragon will not do as Kraznys commands, to which Daenerys says that dragons are not slaves. Then, she orders the Unsullied to kill all the slavers in Astapor and free the rest of the slaves in the city, as her dragon incinerates Kraznys. After the city is hers, Daenerys frees the slaves of the Unsullied army and asks them to fight for her of their own free will. All agree; now, Daenerys has an army, plus her three dragons, with which to reclaim the Iron Throne.
King Robb is losing allies in his war with the Lannisters as the Lannisters keep strengthening their ranks. He realizes that he must repair the alliance with House Frey to gain their support. He issues a formal apology to Walder Frey for breaking his betrothal to one of his daughters and proposes that Catelyn’s brother, Edmure Tully, marry one of Walder’s daughters to cement the alliance between the two houses.
Back in King’s Landing, Baelish furthers his plans for Sansa by offering her passage to the Vale, where he is to marry Lysa Arryn. Sansa declines for the moment, since she now plans to marry Loras. However, Tywin has other ideas for Sansa; he views her as the key to controlling the North, because he, like everyone else, believes that Bran and Rickon are dead and he is certain that Robb will be defeated and killed — all of which will leave Sansa heir to Winterfell. So, Tywin commands Tyrion to marry Sansa in order to bring control of the North to the Lannisters. Then he commands Cercei to marry Loras Tyrell in order to reinforce the Lannister alliance with the Tyrells.
Arya Stark and The Hound
Still with the Brotherhood, Arya and Gendry are found by the priestess Melisandre and Stannis’s men, who take Gendry into custody. Arya can do nothing to stop this, and Melisandre takes Gendry back to Dragonstone, revealing to Gendry that he is King Robert’s illegitimate son. In the meantime, Ayra manages to escape from the Brotherhood; however, she is soon captured by The Hound, who was waiting for her. Arya assumes he will take her back to King’s Landing, but The Hound says he plans to take her to her mother and brother for a ransom.
At the Wall, Jon, Ygritte, and the group of wildling soldiers scale the Wall and make their way for Castle Black to await Mance Rayder’s signal to attack. Meanwhile, Samwell and Gilly, still making their way from Craster’s Keep to the Wall, are attacked by a While Walker, which Samwell slays with his dragon-glass dagger.
In Essos, Daenerys and her army continue their march to liberate slave cities, expanding her influence and followers. In Yunkai, she tries to negotiate a peaceful liberation of the city, but is refused, leaving her no choice but to invade. Her army successfully captures the city. Meanwhile, in Dragonstone, Melisandre performs a magical ceremony using Gendry’s blood. Stannis names the three people he wants dead during the ceremony: Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy.
Jaime and Brienne manage to escape their situation and head back toward King’s Landing. Meanwhile, Tyrion and Sansa wed in an awkward ceremony that ends with Tyrion very drunk and having words with King Joffrey. Later in their bedchamber, Tyrion — in a rare instance of unselfishness — tells Sansa that he will not consummate their marriage if she doesn’t want to. Instead, he passes out on the couch.
Jon, Ygritte, and their small force of wildling soldiers make their way to the rear of Castle Black. They stop at a farm; the wildlings plan to kill the old man who lives there. The wildlings order Jon to kill the old man, but he refuses and flees on horseback, leaving Ygritte behind. Little does Jon know, Bran is nearby and sees him ride off through the eyes of his direwolf.
The Red Wedding and the aftermath
At the Twins, the seat of House Frey, the wedding of Edmure Tully to one of Walder Frey’s daughters takes place. There is much celebration and drinking, which puts Robb’s army at a disadvantage. Then, Walder Frey — an old, bitter, resentful man — signals an attack on Robb and his army, taking advantage of their weakened state. In what becomes infamously known as “The Red Wedding,” Robb, his pregnant wife Talisa, and Catelyn are all slaughtered, and Robb’s army is decimated. Walder Frey, still stung by Robb’s earlier cancellation of his agreement to marry one of his daughters, had struck a deal with Tywin Lannister to betray the Starks. Unbeknownst to all, Arya and The Hound witness the massacre just outside the Frey castle walls.
In the aftermath of the Red Wedding, the Lannisters, through their alliances with House Frey and House Bolton, now control the North. Arya willingly stays with The Hound, though she doesn’t know what she’s to do next after the death of her mother and brother. Sansa also hears of the Stark deaths and is inconsolable. Theon is broken by intense torture and physical mutilation at the hands of Ramsay Snow, who now calls Theon “Reek.” Jaime and Brienne arrive at King’s Landing and Jaime immediately goes to see Cercei.
At the Wall, Bran meets up with Samwell and Gilly, who used an abandoned sally-port to make their way to the southern side of the Wall. Samwell quickly figures out that Bran is a Stark. Bran tells Samwell of his desire to go beyond the Wall and asks him to guide them, but Samwell refuses, saying they’re headed for Castle Black. Before they go on their separate ways, Samwell gives Bran his dragon-glass dagger to help protect them against the White Walkers. Meanwhile, Ygritte manages to catch up with Jon. Angry at Jon’s betrayal, Ygritte shoots Jon with three arrows as he flees from her on horseback. He makes it to Castle Black, barely alive.
At Yunkai, Daenerys frees the city’s slaves, who take to calling her “mother.” Daenerys tells her dragons to fly and, in the final image of the season, she is hoisted up by the slaves and carried above them with her dragons flying overhead.
To find out what happens next, see the recap of season four of Games of Thrones.