The War of the Five Kings was a large, long, multi-theatre war fought for control of the Iron Throne of Westeros. As the name implies, at one time during the war five people claimed the title of king: Joffrey, Stannis and Renly Baratheon all claimed the Iron Throne of Westeros, whilst Robb Stark claimed the title of King in the North and Balon Greyjoy claimed the title of King of the Iron Islands.
It is notable that the powerful House Arryn and House Martell both declared themselves neutral in the war, and took no part in the fighting. The powerful House Tyrell first declared themselves to Renly, then to Joffrey. House Tully remained closely allied to House Stark throughout the conflict.
The War of the Five Kings is the principle military conflict depicted in the first three novels of the Song of Ice and Fire series, and its aftermath and successor conflicts continue in the latest two novels.
During the War of the Usurper, Robert Baratheon successfully overthrew the Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, and began a new dynasty. He married Cersei Lannister and they had three children, Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen, apparently easily securing the succession.
However, the King's Hand, Jon Arryn, and the king's brother, Stannis, became suspicious over the legitimacy of Robert's three children. They investigated and eventually concluded that the children were not Robert's at all, but the product of incest between Cersei and her twin brother, Jaime Lannister. Stannis immediately returned to Dragonstone and began mustering troops, whilst Jon continued his investigations, hoping to produce enough evidence to convince the king. However, Jon's actions exposed himself to the Queen, and he was poisoned to death.
Oblivious, King Robert appointed Eddard Stark to the position of Hand, but Eddard was tipped off by a letter from Jon's widow, his sister-in-law Lysa Arryn, that the Lannisters had had Jon murdered. Eddard's investigations led him along the same path as Jon and Stannis before him, and to the same conclusions.
Unbeknownst to Eddard or Robert, Robert's youngest brother Renly had been in secret negotiations with Lord Mace Tyrell. Aware that the Lannisters would likely make a power grab should Robert die, Renly agreed to marry Mace's daughter Margaery in return for his military support in an attempt to take the throne.
Meanwhile, Eddard's son Bran had suffered an injury in Winterfell, and an assassin had attempted to finish him off but was stopped and killed. He was carrying a knife said to belong to Tyrion Lannister. Eddard's wife, Catelyn, apprehended Tyrion on the Kingsroad and took him into custody. This act of kidnapping, as the Lannisters saw it, sparked the beginning of open hostilities.
Course of the war
After Catelyn took Tyrion prisoner, Jaime Lannister left King's Landing without permission and rendezvoused with his father, Tywin Lannister, who was raising an army and threatening a punitive strike into the Riverlands, ruled over by Catelyn's father, Lord Hoster Tully. King Robert's attempts to defuse the situation failed, and Eddard refused his command to have Tyrion released. Robert was then gored to death by a boar in a hunt in the Kingswood. He ordered Eddard to take over as Regent just before he died, but Cersei rejected the letter and had Joffrey command Eddard to swear loyalty. Eddard refused, denouncing Joffrey as a usurper, and attempted to have the royal family arrested. He was captured and imprisoned in the Red Keep.
Robb Stark mustered 18,000 Northmen and force-marched to the Riverlands' relief, meeting his mother on the way. Robb won an alliance with the prickly Lord Walder Frey in return for him agreeing to marry one of his great-granddaughters, and was allowed to cross the Trident with his horse. His foot he sent downriver under the command of Roose Bolton.
The Lannisters used this time to march east and besiege Riverrun. Leaving Jaime to command the siege, Tywin marched to the ford over the Green Fork to intercept the Stark host, meeting Tyrion along the way. At the Battle of the Green Fork the Lannisters proved victorious and repulsed the Stark foot army, but Tywin then realised he had been outflanked. Robb's cavalry defeated Jaime Lannister's forces at the Battle of the Whispering Woods near Riverrun, then smashed the besiegers in the Battle of the Camps.
At the same time as this, Renly had fled from King's Landing and reached Highgarden. There he was crowned King of Westeros, laid claim to the Iron Throne, and began a slow march on King's Landing with the full might of the Tyrell army behind him.
Eddard Stark was offered the chance to take the black rather than face execution for treason in return for confessing to his 'crimes'. This would also safeguard his daughters, Sansa and Arya, who were prisoners of the Lannisters. Eddard agreed, but after confessing he was executed on a whim on King Joffrey's order.
At this news, the Northmen and the armies of the Riverlands proclaimed Robb Stark as the King in the North, marking a sudden widening of the conflict.
The war intensifies
With Riverrun secured and Jaime Lannister a prisoner, the Starks and their Tully allies were able to go on the offensive. Robb led his forces into the Westerlands, sacking or capturing the Golden Tooth, Ashemark and the Crag as well as defeating a second Lannister host at Oxcross. The ravaging of the Lannister heartlands gnawed on Tywin Lannister, but he was reluctant to march west from his temporary base at Harrenhal and allow Roose Bolton's still-intact forces to move south and outflank him from the east. However, with his homeland under direct attack, Tywin realised he had little choice and marched west, only to be denied a crossing over the river fords near Riverrun by forces under Edmure Tully, preventing him from falling on Robb's rear, and leaving him trapped between Edmure and Roose's forces.
Meanwhile, Stannis Baratheon had also declared himself King of Westeros, but his forces were small and limited. He sailed south and besieged his own home castle of Storm's End, forcing Renly to march to meet him in battle. Stannis instead had Renly assassinated and assumed command of the storm lords and some of the Reach lords who had been with Renly, whilst many others slipped back to Mace Tyrell's main army still encamped at Bitterbridge. Stannis marched directly on the capital, leaving orders for Mace to follow.
Recognising an advantage, Tyrion, now serving as Acting Hand of the King in the capital, despatched Lord Petyr Baelish to treat with Mace Tyrell, offering that Joffrey could marry Margaery in Renly's stead. The offer proved acceptable to Mace, who began marching on King's Landing as well. Word of the alliance reached Tywin, who marched his army south to the headwaters of the Blackwater Rush and then floated downriver to affect a junction with Mace's forces. The newly-allied Lannister and Tyrell forces took Stannis' army in the rear at the epic Battle of the Blackwater and destroyed them.
The Battle of the Blackwater turned the tide of the war and saw Stannis' attempt to take the crown effectively destroyed. The Lannisters and Tyrells now commanded overwhelming superiority of numbers, and the end of the war now seemed to hang on a decisive engagement with the Stark and Tully forces.
The North is outflanked
Meanwhile, Robb Stark offered Balon Greyjoy an alliance and returned his son, Theon to him as a sign of goodwill, in return for naval support in a proposed series of attacks on Casterly Rock and Lannisport. Balon was unmoved and planned instead to invade the North. He despatched a series of ships and small armies to take the natural choke-point of Moat Cailin, cutting off the Northmen in the Riverlands from their homeland, and then attack the Stony Shore and Deepwood Motte. Theon adjusted the plan once in the field, sending another force to attack Torrhen's Square to drawn out the garrison from Winterfell. That achieved, Theon and a raiding force captured Winterfell in a brief skirmish.
The strategy was effective, but Theon tried to hold onto Winterfell as his prize, despite the fact he lacked enough forces to hold it and the other Northmen were gathering superior forces to retake the castle. Theon appeared saved when Ramsay Bolton turned on his fellows and destroyed them, but Ramsay then took Theon captive and burned Winterfell. Theon was taken as a prisoner back to the Dreadfort.
Despite this, the ironborn remained in control of Deepwood Motte, Torrhen's Square and Moat Cailin.
The war winds down
With the North under attack and Winterfell burned, Robb Stark had no option but to abandon the campaign in the Riverlands. He also faced a major problem as he had taken Jeyne Westerling as a wife, breaking his marriage vow to the Freys, which complicated their route home. The Stark positions was further weakened by the loss of half their footsoldiers in an ill-advised attack on Duskendale. Eventually they withdrew and headed north, Robb planning to offer Edmure Tully in his place for a marriage. However, Walder Frey and Roose Bolton had entered into secret negotiations with Tywin Lannister and brutally betrayed Robb at the Red Wedding. Robb, Catelyn and many of their army's commanders were murdered. Walder Frey and Roose Bolton then surrendered to the king's justice, and were offered clemency by Joffrey. One of Walder Frey's sons was made Lord of Riverrun and Roose Bolton was named Warden of the North.
Ongoing regions of conflict
Whilst the Battle of the Blackwater ended Stannis' hopes to take the capital and the Red Wedding saw the defeat of the Starks and Tullys, the war was not entirely over. The ironborn remained in control of large areas of the North, whilst Stannis still lived, and had in fact landed at the Wall and was attempting to establish a new power-base there for an attempt to seize control of the North and use it to renew the fighting.
At the same time, Balon Greyjoy died in a fluke accident but his brother Euron succeeded him. Euron immediately widened the conflict by launching massive raids and assaults down the coast of the Reach, capturing the Shield Islands, besieging the harbour of Oldtown and sacking several towns on the Arbor.
At the present time, the remaining Northmen under Roose Bolton are preparing to attack Moat Cailin from the south, whilst Ramsay Bolton leads another force from the Dreadfort to attack from the north. Stannis Baratheon has secured the allegiance of House Karstark, liberated Deepwood Motte from the ironborn and taken Asha Greyjoy captive, further spreading his influence over the North.
In King's Landing, Tywin Lannister has been murdered by his son Tyrion, and Cersei's attempts to rule effectively have not succeeded. She and Margaery Tyrell have been arrested by the Faith Militant on charges of treason and adultery, which has seen the Tyrell army abandon the siege of Storm's End to march on the capital instead.
The fleet of Paxter Redwyne, fresh from capturing Dragonstone, is rushing back to the west coast of the continent to deal with the ironborn, but for the time being the ironborn remain free to rape and pillage their way along the coast with impunity. However, an army of ten thousand troops under Garlen Tyrell is marching to reinforce the coast and prevent them making any permanant conqusts on the mainland.
Whilst the main thrust of the war appears to be over, the after-shocks continue to take place.
Theatres of war
The War of the Five Kings can be divided into four distinct theatres of conflict:
This conflict was predominantly fought between the Stark-Tully alliance and the forces of House Lannister. Key battles on this front include the Battle of the Golden Tooth, First Siege of Riverrun, Battle of the Green Fork, Battle of the Whispering Wood, Battle of the Camps, Sack of Darry, Battle of Oxcross, Battle of the Fords, Sack of Harrenhal, Battle of the Crag, Battle of Duskendale, Retaking of Harrenhal and the Battle of the Ruby Ford, culminating at the Red Wedding and the subsequent Second Siege of Riverrun.
The War in the South
This was the largest engagement of the entire war, featuring tens of thousands of troops and dozens of warships in a combined-arms assault by the forces of Stannis Baratheon on King's Landing, which was only lightly defended by forces commanded by the acting Hand, Tyrion Lannister. The late arrival of the Lannisters and Tyrells, who had swapped sides, swung the battle in the defenders' favour.
The War in the North
This conflict was fought between forces loyal to House Stark and those of House Greyjoy, who sought to use the distraction of the war and the absence of the North's armies to carve out significant territories of the North. Balon Greyjoy's plan was to use these gains and a mutual enemy to get the Iron Throne to recognise his independence from their control. However, this war became complicated by the successes of the Lannister forces in the south and the rise of House Bolton to replace the Starks, not to mention the arrival of forces loyal to Stannis Baratheon at the Wall. This conflict remains ongoing. Key battles in this front are the Battle of Moat Cailin, Battle of Deepwood Motte, Battle of the Stony Shore, Battle of Torrhen's Square, Battle of Winterfell, Sack of Torrhen's Square and the Relief of Deepwood Motte.
Whilst not strictly part of the core conflict, the Battle for the Wall and the ironborn campaign against the Shield Islands and Arbor are related to the War of the Five Kings.