Fought just outside of Winterfell, the brief battle ends in a decisive victory for House Bolton, and the swift defeat of the weakened Baratheon army marks the end of the campaign to take the Iron Throne led by King Stannis, who perishes after the battle. However, Roose Bolton's hold on the North is severely weakened by the escape of Sansa Stark during the battle.
As part of Stannis Baratheon's continued attempt to seize the Iron Throne of Westeros, he attempts to rally the North to his side by capturing Winterfell, the former seat of House Stark, and the current seat of House Bolton, the Lannister-backed Wardens of the North. However, his pleas for help fall on deaf ears as none of Robb Stark's bannermen accept Stannis as their King, and the wildlings refuse to fight for Stannis after he executes their leader, Mance Rayder. Stannis offers Jon Snow, a steward of the Night's Watch and Eddard Stark's bastard son, legitimization as Jon Stark, and the rule of the North if he pledges his service to him so that he can implore the Northerners to follow Stannis, but Jon turns him down due to his oath as a man of the Night's Watch, and the King is ultimately forced to march alone with his army, his Hand, Ser Davos Seaworth, his advisor Melisandre, and his family, Queen Selyse Baratheon and Princess Shireen Baratheon.
The arrival of a large snowstorm however, delays Stannis' march. Lord Roose Bolton holds council in Winterfell, ultimately deciding to hole up in the castle, waiting out the Baratheon army and leaving them to the cold and starvation, but his son and heir, Ramsay Bolton, convinces him to allow him to ride out with twenty of his best men to sabotage Stannis's march. Ramsay leads the nocturnal raid, which destroys Stannis's siege engines and torches most of his supplies, and kills many of his horses. The Stormcrows, a sellsword company from across the Narrow Sea, desert the Baratheon cause.
Finally, after the repeated urging of Lady Melisandre's request to sacrifice his only daughter and heir, Princess Shireen, to the Lord of Light in a desperate attempt to end the snowstorm, and thaw the deep snow blocking the path to Winterfell to grant the King victory over the Boltons, Stannis begrudgingly relents out of pure desperation and hopelessness. Ser Davos Seaworth is sent away back to Castle Black, and Shireen is burned at the stake by Melisandre in full view of the entire Baratheon army.
However, resorting to such action, and the continued hardships of the march, break the morale of Stannis's army. Thus, a large portion of the army, among them the rest of the sellswords, desert with all the remaining horses.
With his Queen having committed suicide, and Melisandre fled after realizing she had led her King to disaster, Stannis is left with no other choice but to press on to Winterfell on foot with the remainder of his army, around 1,300 infantry, and his General.
- "This is the right time, and I will risk everything. Because if we don't, we've lost. We march to victory, or we march to defeat, but we go forward. Only forward."
- ―Stannis refuses to relent.
After arriving within sight of the castle's walls, Stannis begins to deploy his forces and takes formation, intending to lay siege at sunrise, but Ramsay believes he can match Stannis's weakened army in battle instead of resisting a protracted siege, and personally leads all of House Bolton's cavalry against Stannis's army, simultaneously attacking both flanks and successfully surrounding it.
Stannis stoically meets them head on, facing almost certain defeat at the hands of the superior Bolton army, though his rearguard flees to the Wolfswood before the battle even begins.Stannis and his vanguard break soon after being surrounded and retreat to the Wolfswood, where their last remnants are annihilated. In the aftermath of the battle, two Bolton soldiers find an exhausted Stannis and attempt to kill him. Though they manage to wound him, they are ultimately no match for the experienced warrior, who slays both, embedding Lightbringer in one of their torsos in the process.
- "Go on, do your duty."
- ―Stannis to Brienne of Tarth before she kills him.
Ramsay and his men soon finish off the last of Stannis' men, ending the battle with the complete annihilation of the Baratheon army.
With Stannis's death, House Baratheon becomes de facto extinct, and Tommen Baratheon's claim to the Iron Throne is now unchallenged for the time being, while Bolton supremacy over the North is secured. Stannis' death also brings the War of the Five Kings one step closer to an end, only King Balon Greyjoy and the Ironborn continue to resist the Iron Throne's rule and continue to occupy sections of the North.
However, it turns out to be a pyrrhic victory for the Boltons, since with the castle in chaos over the battle, Sansa Stark manages to escape her ancestral home with the aid of her childhood friend, Theon Greyjoy, thus leaving the Boltons in a questionable position with the loss of their easily most powerful political asset. Thus Stannis's death was ultimately not in vain.
When Stannis's march began, he had 6,000 men, composed of his surviving Baratheon army of hardened veterans from the Battle of the Blackwater, bolstered by thousands of foreign sellswords. Stannis told the Iron Bank he had under 4,000 men left, perhaps closer to 3,000 or so by the time of the march due to various losses. Therefore, roughly half of Stannis' army were Baratheon soldiers, the other half sellswords. Half of these 6,000 were mounted. After Stannis sacrificed his daughter Shireen, all of the sellswords abandoned him (about 3,000 men) and also half of his regular Baratheon army deserted; those who fled took all of the surviving horses. Thus when Stannis reached Winterfell, he had only about 1,300 infantry.
A visual count shows that there were 2,000 Bolton men in the battle. It is unknown where the other 3,000 Bolton soldiers were currently stationed at the time of battle. (The Bolton army was at the time 5,000)
- Roose Bolton: "Do you feel like a victor? I rebelled against the crown to arrange your marriage to Sansa Stark. Do you think that burning wagons in the night and mowing down tired, outnumbered Baratheons is the same as facing a prepared and provisioned Lannister army?"
- Ramsay Bolton: "No."
- Roose Bolton: "A reckoning will come. We need the North to face it. The entire North. They won't back us without Sansa Stark. We no longer have Sansa Stark. You played your games with her. You played your games with the heir to the Iron Islands and now they're both gone."
- — Roose Bolton berates his son Ramsay for the loss of their hostages.[src]
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Battle of Winterfell, called the Battle of Ice by George R. R. Martin and the fandom, has yet to take place. It is still in the "Prelude" stage.
Sansa, Brienne, and Podrick are not involved in any aspect of the battle by the point the books reached: Sansa is safe in the Vale, totally unaware of the events in the North; Brienne and Pod are at the Riverlands, searching hopelessly for Sansa.
The following events are narrated by the POV characters Jon, Asha, and Theon.
Following Stannis' decisive victory over the wildlings, he plans to continue with his campaign to purge the North of its enemies, starting with the Boltons, and by that to gain the support of the people of North in his claim to the Iron Throne. He sends out ravens, calling upon the northern lords to join him, but is disappointed when only Arnolf Karstark (Rickard's uncle and the castellan of Karhold) answers Stannis's summoning, unaware that Karstark only pretends to be Stannis's ally, while he secretly collaborates with the Boltons to destroy Stannis. For that purpose, he prompts Stannis to attack the Dreadfort. Luckily for Stannis, he consults with Jon first. Jon explains to Stannis in length that his plan is suicide; the Dreadfort is too well defended for Stannis to take the castle before Roose and Ramsay Bolton's combined armies return from dealing with the Ironborn at Moat Cailin (leaving him trapped between the Dreadfort's defenses and an enemy army outnumbering him five to one). Some of the attending knights mock Jon for his "cowardice", but Stannis silences them and tells Jon to continue. Instead of attacking Dreadfort, Jon advises Stannis to gain the support of the Northern mountain clans, who are fiercely loyal to House Stark, and to liberate Deepwood Motte (at that point, it is held by Asha Greyjoy). He estimates that Stannis may rally two or three thousand warriors of the clans. Stannis accepts both pieces of advice, and soon his army is on the way to the mountains north of Winterfell. At this point, Stannis has not met yet with Tycho Nestoris, and has not hired any sellswords.
Unlike in the TV show, Davos, Selyse, Shireen, and Melisandre do not travel with Stannis: Davos was sent earlier to deal with House Manderly of White Harbor; Selyse and Shireen are at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea; Melisandre remains at Castle Black, since Jon warned her that the old gods are strong in the mountains, and the clansmen will not tolerate insults to their heart trees.
Thanks to Jon's advice, Stannis manages to secure the support of the northern mountain clans, and liberates Deepwood Motte of the ironborn garrison holding it. Nearly all Asha's troops and ships are destroyed, and she is taken captive. A Mormont force, led by Maege's second daughter Alysane, appears unexpectedly during the battle and assists Stannis. Word of that victory spreads quickly, and his army is reinforced by House Glover, half of the forces of House Umber and survivors of Houses Hornwood, Cerwyn, and Tallhart from the failed attempt to liberate Winterfell. Lady Sybelle Glover provides Stannis with guides, trackers, and hunters sworn to Deepwood with clan names like Forrester and Woods, Branch and Bole. Stannis' army grows to about 5,000 warriors, more than three times the number of soldiers he initially had.
In the meantime, Roose Bolton realizes that Stannis is not going to attack the Dreadfort. He tells Ramsay that Stannis has liberated Deepwood Motte and the mountain clans have joined him along with several Northern Houses, and his strength is growing. Ramsay exclaims impatiently that it is the time to smash Stannis while they still outnumber his troops, and suggests to march on Deepwood right after he weds "Arya" (actually, Jeyne Poole). Roose, however, has another plan to lure Stannis into a trap: to hold Ramsay's wedding at Winterfell. Ramsay is not thrilled about the idea of getting married in a ruin, but Roose explains to him the plan: Stannis is too cautious to come to Barrowton (their current base of operations), but he must come to Winterfell, because his clansmen will not abandon the daughter of their precious Ned to a monster like Ramsay. Then, with the assistance of Arnolf Karstark, who will turn traitor at a given signal during the battle, Stannis's host will be destroyed.
It may be ironic that Ramsay, who has never won a real battle and has very little knowledge about strategy, proves to be correct: as things turn to be, Roose's devious plan gets the Boltons into a very inconvenient position, although the battle has not been decided yet (not even begun). Had the Boltons marched against Stannis immediately and openly as Ramsay suggested, there is no guarantee they would have won, but their position would have been much better.
Jon receives a letter from the Boltons about the wedding. He suppresses his personal feelings, reminding himself that Arya is no longer his sister, and that he must set an example to his subordinates (although his inner monologue expresses a desire to kill Ramsay Bolton). Melisandre approaches Jon and offers to save Arya. She reveals to Jon that Mance Rayder is alive, secretly rescued from his fate by her magic that switched Mance's appearance with that of Rattleshirt, who died in his place. Jon agrees to send Mance to Winterfell with six spearwives to abduct Arya and bring her back to the Wall.
The march to Winterfell
Stannis sends Jon a message that the army marches to Winterfell, which is about three hundred miles away, intending to destroy the Boltons and save "Arya". The soldiers expect to reach Winterfell within fifteen days; some of them believe it is preferable to winter at Deepwood Motte, while others claim that Robert would have done it in ten days. Stannis announces "We all know what my brother would do. Robert would gallop up to the gates of Winterfell alone, break them with his warhammer, and ride through the rubble to slay Roose Bolton with his left hand and the bastard with his right. I am not Robert. But we will march, and we will free Winterfell... or die in the attempt." From that point, the march is narrated from the POV of captive Asha, whom Stannis took alongside his army.
One of the knights, Ser Justin Massey, tells Asha that the Boltons are not as formidable as they appear: Roose Bolton is feared but little loved; he has no real friends except the Freys; all the lords who are invited to Ramsay's wedding have lost kinsmen at the Red Wedding, and the North remembers; all Stannis has to do is to make the Boltons bleed, then the northmen will abandon them and join Stannis. Asha muses that this will happen only if Stannis gains the upper hand over the Boltons, because only a fool deserts the winning side.
The Boltons come to Winterfell with many guests of Houses Frey, Ryswell, Dustin, Slate, Locke, Cerwyn, Hornwood, Flint, and Stout (whose loyalty, except the Freys, is uncertain), as well as the nominal support of House Manderly (who actually supports Stannis, and wishes to avenge his son's death at the Red Wedding), and the other half of Umber forces. They are about 8,000 soldiers. Mance, introducing himself as Abel the Bard (Perhaps the name Abel is an anagram of Bael, a historical King-Beyond-the-Wall), is allowed to attend the wedding with the six women.
During the wedding feast, Roose announces that Stannis and his knights have left Deepwood Motte, with the clans of the northern hills; Mors Umber and the Karstarks will join them on the way; if the weather holds, they can reach Winterfell in a fortnight. Ser Hosteen Frey suggests to ride forth to meet them, before they combine their strength, and other lords shout out their counsel. Roose dismisses those by telling the lords to enjoy the food, without revealing his reasons. Theon knows why Roose does not march his forces out of Winterfell against Stannis: because Arnolf Karstark awaits only a sign from him before he turns his cloak.
Stannis' host covers great distance in the first three days of the march. The troubles start on the fourth day: it begins to snow, heavier with each passing day. While the mountain clans are not affected much by the bad weather, the southern lords and their soldiers suffer a lot, especially the baggage train. With every day, more men and horses die ("the cold count", as the soldiers call it). There are reports of missing men, maybe deserters, but unlike in show, Stannis' army is not weakened significantly by that.
On the fifth day, several southern lords urge Stannis to camp until the storm has passed. Others urge him to make a sacrifice to R'hllor, claiming that the old gods of the north have sent that storm. Stannis refuses both suggestions. Asha, who has never been particularly pious, prays fervently to the Drowned God to improve the weather, fearing that Stannis eventually decides to sacrifice her. Her prayers prove to be as fruitless as the prayers of the soldiers who believe in R'hllor. The march continues, slowing to a stagger, then a crawl. They cover no more than two miles per day.
On the 32nd day, Stannis' host camps at an abandoned village, about three days from Winterfell. The blizzard is so thick that they cannot go further. The village is a very poor choice for a battle station: it is located between two lakes and consists of a few huts, a longhall, and a watchtower. As someone comments, there is no high ground there, no walls to hide beyond, no natural defenses. An entire army can surprise them, hidden by darkness and swirling snow.
Initially the Boltons send scouts to obtain information about the location of Stannis' army and its condition, but at some point the scouts do not return anymore (presumably perished in the harsh weather or killed by Stannis' soldiers). Since then, the Boltons rely on updates by ravens from Arnolf Karstark, including a report about the location of the village. Theon wonders what plan does Stannis have in mind: a full assault is not a good idea, because Winterfell's defenses are too strong; a safer option for him is to cut the castle off from the outside world and starve out its occupants. The wedding guests brought a lot of food to Winterfell, but it will not last long for 8,000 people. However, Stannis and his men will grow hungry, too, and the cold will take its toll from them; the storm may make them desperate enough to attack the castle after all.
The forced isolation, endless snow, and lack of action make the people inside Winterfell restless. Ser Hosteen and other Freys grow impatient of sitting and waiting for the king who never comes, and demand to take the fight to Stannis and make an end to him. Lady Dustin and others claim there is no need to, for the heavy snow has probably buried Stannis and his troops, or will bury them within a few days. Theon, who would not dare to express his opinion aloud, secretly approves of the Freys' demand, and wonders if he may be allowed to join the fight - a certain death, but a better fate than what he can expect from Ramsay. Roose, however, still does not allow anyone to leave the castle.
It appears that Roose's scheme is working out, but then there is an unexpected turn of events that may turn the tables on him: Alys Karstark (Rickard's daughter and Arnolf's great-niece), who learned about her great-uncle's treachery, escapes from Karhold to Castle Black.
Shortly after Selyse, Shireen, and Tycho Nestoris come to Castle Black, Alys Karstark arrives and tells Jon that her great-uncle is in league with the Boltons. Immediately, Jon sends Tycho with guides to warn Stannis of the traitor. He keeps asking Melisandre about Stannis, but her answer is "When I search for him, all I see is snow".
In the meantime, the snow at Winterfell is so thick that the guards cannot see anything beyond it. One of them comments fearfully that an army of 100,000 men can camp five feet from the walls, and they will fail to see even one of them before it is too late. He is partially correct: Mors Umber and his men are digging trap pits outside, completely hidden by the snow.
Tension grows inside Winterfell, particularly between Houses Frey and Manderly, especially due to a series of murders within the castle walls (mainly of men associated with Houses Bolton or Frey), with Roose and his more loyal vassals desperately trying to keep the peace. It is then when Theon notices a look in Roose's pale eyes that he has never seen before - an uneasiness, even a hint of fear.
The guards report to Roose that Theon has been suspiciously wandering the castle. Roose and Ser Aenys Frey interrogate him about the murders, and he denies any connection. Lady Dustin defends Theon, pointing out that he could not have overcome the victims in view of his poor physical and mental condition. Others suggest that maybe Stannis has some men inside the castle (Mance and the spearwives do not act on behalf of Stannis, but their deeds assist him indirectly by causing hostility and distrust among the guests).
That night, the sound of a warhorn is heard all over Winterfell, coming from the Wolfswood beyond the Hunter’s Gate, followed by drum beating. As revealed later, Mors Umber and his men made those noises in order to lure the troops out of Winterfell into the trap pits they dug outside the gates. All along the castle walls, sentries turn toward the sound, their hands tightening around their weapons. In the ruined halls and keeps of Winterfell, lords hush other lords, horses nicker, and sleepers stir in their dark corners. Theon and several sentries reach the towers and try to see who makes those sounds, but the snow veil is too thick. The sentries argue what plan Stannis has to take Winterfell, and one of them jokes "Do they mean to try and blow our walls down? Mayhaps he thinks he’s found the Horn of Joramun". Roose does not take the bait, and still does not send any troops out.
Theon is brought before "Abel", who demands Theon join them in the rescue plan. Theon has no wish to act against his cruel master (which can cost him more body parts), and does his best to dissuade Abel, but to no avail. Theon, however, does not reveal the only fact that can surely make Abel give up the whole idea: "Arya"'s true identity.
"Little" Walder Frey, Lord Frey's grandson, who has been serving as one of Ramsay's squires, is found dead - the seventh victim in a row. Ser Hosteen Frey accuses Lord Manderly of the murder, and the latter taunts him about it, commenting that it is a mercy the boy died so young, lest he have the misfortune to grow up to be a Frey. Outraged by this, Hosteen attacks Manderly, and a bloody brawl erupts between the Freys and the White Harbor men, resulting in nine dead men and twelve injured before Bolton soldiers finally get the situation under control. Roose Bolton sends them to attack Stannis; he takes a great risk doing so, reducing the forces in Winterfell almost by half, but has no choice: the hostility between the occupants of Winterfell has grown too far. Roose keeps the Dreadfort troops in Winterfell, hoping that if the troops he sent do not defeat Stannis, they will weaken his host enough for him to finish the job. Unbeknownst to Roose, he has made a mistake that can be critical: he gave Lord Manderly a convenient opportunity to join Stannis. If the White Harbor men reach the village before the Freys (it is likely they will, since the Freys are delayed due to Mors Umber's trap pits), Stannis' chances will improve. Moreover, the Freys are the only force that Roose could fully count on to take sides with him in case the other guests in Winterfell turned against him. Sending the Freys away has left the Boltons in a very inconvenient position.
Abel and the spearwives take advantage of the distraction, take Theon, and go to save Jeyne. Theon is very reluctant but co-operates. They manage to pass the guards, take Jeyne, and reach the Battlements Gate. However, the spearwives are forced to murder a guard on the wall to cover their escape; Jeyne screams in horror, which raises the alarm and gives away their position, forcing the spearwives to stay behind. Theon, who knows full well what Ramsay will do to them if they are recaptured, grabs Jeyne, and they jump from the castle walls. Theon lands on top of Jeyne, breaking some of her ribs. Luckily, they are found by Mors Umber and his men.
Ramsay exits Winterfell in search for Jeyne and Theon - not in purpose to attack Stannis, as he did in the TV show. It is unknown if Roose gave him permission to leave, and what is the size of the force he leads.
At the abandoned village, the condition of Stannis' host worsens. The cold count reaches eighty, and the number of horses has dwindled from 800 to 64. The soldiers catch fish from the nearby lakes, but fewer every day. There are unpleasant exchanges of words between the southern and northern soldiers: the former accuse "You northmen brought these snows upon us, you and your demon trees. R’hllor will save us"; the latter respond "Red Rahloo means nothing here". These arguments do not lead to brawls, nor do they cause a division among Stannis' troops, though. Stannis spends most of the time alone at the watchtower, and it seems to some of the people that he is lost and crying out for help.
As food becomes scarce, four of Lord Peasebury's men are caught resorting to cannibalism (apparently they were not the only ones, just the only ones to be caught). Stannis orders them burned alive as a sacrifice to R'hllor, and although they beg for mercy, no one of his host objects or deserts as a result. Some of the northern soldiers are displeased, claiming that sacrifice will only make the old gods angry, while some southerners think that a sacrifice of four baseborn churls is like a beggar's offering. The weather does not improve at all. Stannis returns to the watchtower, while about one hundred of the knights and southern lords gather at the longhall. They argue whether to return to Castle Black, remain in the village until the weather improves, or to continue to Winterfell. For obvious reason, the treacherous Karstarks are in favor of attacking Winterfell. Asha and one of the knights exit the longhall, and are surprised to see a small group of riders arriving; one of them is Tycho Nestoris, escorted by brothers of the Night's Watch. Having met Mors Umber near Winterfell before finding Stannis' camp, Tycho presents Theon and Jeyne, who Mors took captive shortly after they jumped from Winterfell's walls.
The Bastard Letter
Back at Castle Black, just as Jon arranges a rescue party to Hardhome, he receives a taunting letter from Ramsay (it is named by fans as "Bastard Letter" or "Pink Letter"):
- Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore.Your false king’s friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard. Your false king lied, and so did you. You told the world you burned the King-Beyond-the-Wall. Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me. I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell. I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want his wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.
Finally pushed to his breaking point, Jon announces that he will go to Winterfell and kill Ramsay himself. By allowing his emotions to cloud his judgement, Jon makes three mistakes: first, he does not send scouts to verify the contents of the letter; second, he does not consider the simple fact that since the weather has worsened so much recently, any armed force that tries to march from Winterfell to Castle Black or vice-versa - will be in a very poor shape when reaching its destination, if at all (Tycho and his escorts made it to Winterfell and then to the village in less than 32 days because they were few and traveled light), hence Ramsay does not pose any real threat and there is no point going to Winterfell (though this has more to do with Jon's personal feud with Ramsay and the Boltons than the threat posed to the Night's Watch); third, Jon underestimates the discontent of his subordinates.
For Bowen Marsh and others, who have grown dissatisfied with Jon's conduct as the Lord Commander (especially about adding the wildlings to the Watch), this is the final straw. They attack Jon and stab him, but it is left unclear whether or not Jon has been killed.
At the point the fifth book ends, it is unknown whether the contents of the letter are true, and what is the status of Stannis's host - though it is strongly implied that Ramsay was partially lying in the letter, given that Theon was actually with Stannis after he escaped Winterfell and couldn't have made it to the Wall on his own at all (if Ramsay did defeat Stannis, he would have no reason to think Theon was at the Wall). On the other hand, the letter claims that Mance Rayder is a prisoner and is wearing a cloak made from the skins of the six spearwives who accompanied him to Winterfell, leading Jon to speculate that this part of the letter is true, since Mance left Castle Black with six spearwives, a number Ramsay could not have known any other way.
Excerpt from the sixth novel
A sample chapter from Theon Greyjoy's point of view in The Winds of Winter reveals Stannis to still be alive and preparing for battle; he meets and signs an agreement with Tycho Nestoris, gaining access to the Iron Bank's coffers in exchange for Stannis's pledge to repay the Iron Throne's debts to the bank when he takes the throne, before dispatching the banker back to the Wall and one of his knights, Ser Justin Massey, to travel across the Narrow Sea to hire sellswords with the Iron Bank's gold (with the addendum that Ser Justin is not to return with less than 20,000 men and even if Stannis is killed in the coming battle, the army of sellswords is still to be hired, with the intent of placing Shireen on the Iron Throne). Stannis also (now aware of their treachery) has Arnolf Karstark, his son and grandsons arrested and flatly tells them they will be executed for their planned treason, though whether they are beheaded or burned depends on their willingness to confess; Stannis does not bother to give them a chance to defend themselves, for their guilt is clear. Arnolf does not give any resistance, but one of his grandson starts drawing his sword, thinking to fight his way out. Unfortunately for him, Stannis's knights were prepared for this and intervene; the one who tried to draw his sword ends up losing his sword arm at the elbow, while another of Arnolf's grandsons receives a severe stab wound to the stomach. Stannis orders them imprisoned, while simultaneously his men disarm and confine the Karstark soldiers in his host; some try to fight and are killed for it, but most do not resist. The knights who interrogate them insist the men claim to know nothing of Arnolf's plan; Stannis believes them, noting Arnolf wouldn't have shared his plan with every man in his service for fear of that information falling into the wrong hands- when the time came and Arnolf turned his cloak, his men would have followed their lord's commands loyally as would be expected of them. Stannis notes that he will give the Karstark men a chance to prove their loyalty against their lord's treason.
Through Theon, Stannis then learns of the strength of Roose Bolton's forces both within Winterfell and those coming to do battle with him; he is told that the approaching forces are likely commanded by Ramsay and Ser Hosteen Frey, after Hosteen's predecessor in command, Ser Aenys Frey, rode into a pit trap outside Winterfell and broke his neck. Stannis is surprisingly delighted by this news, since Hosteen is an idiot and Ramsay has never fought in open battle before, and intimates that he has a plan to turn matters to his advantage.
Stannis is aware that his host is in a poor position, but is not worried. He says "Bolton has blundered. All he had to do was sit inside his castle whilst we starved. Instead he has sent some portion of his strength forth to give us battle. His knights will be horsed, ours must fight afoot. His men will be well nourished, ours go into battle with empty bellies. It makes no matter... We hold the ground, and that I mean to turn to our advantage" - his last words implying that he has a plan.
Stannis's words to Justin Massey "In Braavos you may hear that I am dead. It may even be true" can be interpreted as a realistic evaluation of his chances to prevail - or to imply he intends to pretend dead in order to mislead the Boltons.
One of the fan speculations is that Stannis intends to destroy the Frey troops by using the tactic prince Alexander Nevsky used at Battle on the Ice. Then he will make the Boltons believe he is dead (what may explain the contents of the Bastard Letter), and when they lower their guard, thinking they won - he will charge at Winterfell.
Theon warns Stannis that he should be more fearful of Ramsay and not underestimate him, but Stannis counters by asking Theon to name a single real "battle" that Ramsay has ever won, before listing some of the battles he has won at a far greater disadvantage (such as the Siege of Storm's End, the Battle of Fair Isle and the Battle of Castle Black). Ramsay is infamous for torturing prisoners in his own dungeons, or massacring enemies after they surrendered, but he has no experience at command and isn't even a personally formidable warrior (as a bastard he never received formal training in swordsmanship). Stannis also plans to have Theon executed for the alleged murders of Bran and Rickon so as to placate the remaining Northern Lords and sway them to his side. Stannis also gives orders for "Arya" to be taken back to the Wall, both for her safety and by way of thanks to Jon Snow for both the advice to rally the northern mountain clans and for sending warning about the planned treachery of the Karstarks. No one in the camp but Theon knows she is a fake; Mors had questioned Jeyne when they found her and Theon to make sure she was genuine - however, because Jeyne grew up with Sansa and Arya and her father was the castle steward, she knew enough about the castle and its staff to pass herself off as Arya; she barely passes the test, though. Theon had warned her for her own safety beforehand to continue posing as Arya, though he amusedly wonders what will happen when they take Jeyne back to the Wall and Jon identifies her as a fraud. Asha also requests an audience with Stannis but he bluntly tells her that she is wasting her time trying to gain mercy for Theon; Stannis has no intention of showing mercy to Theon for his crimes, and points out the northmen in his army will desert him if he doesn't exact justice for Bran and Rickon's murders. Realizing Stannis won't be swayed, Asha urges Stannis to personally behead her brother before a heart tree as Ned Stark would have done, rather than hand Theon over to the R'hllor-worshiping fanatics amongst Stannis's inner circle to burn him alive.
At that point, a boy enters, clutching a spear and shouting that the portcullis on Winterfell's main gate was rising.
It is unknown, however, whether this chapter takes place before or after Ramsay sends the letter to Jon.
In the TV version, Roose strongly warned Ramsay that charging out to fight Stannis was a stupid idea - even if the snows let up and even if they outnumbered Stannis - because they had a strong defensive position in Winterfell and their hold on the resentful Northern lords was so weak that they couldn't afford to lose a single man if they could avoid it. When Ramsay then goes ahead and charges against Stannis's weakened army in the Season 5 finale, Roose is notably absent - perhaps implying that Ramsay did this without permission, and that as Roose had warned, even if he defeated Stannis he might end up losing more men than he can afford.
The Season 5 finale ends on the cliffhanger of Brienne about to kill the defeated Stannis and then swinging her sword before the camera cuts away. In the novels, Brienne is nowhere near the North, and the cliffhanger the fifth novel ends on is that Ramsay's letter claims that Stannis was killed in the battle, but it is unknown if he was simply lying, or even if the letter was indeed written by him (since Ramsay's notorious "calling card" is not enclosed to it, in contrast to his former letters). The TV series might have invented the confrontation between Brienne and Stannis because, as in several past examples, the scriptwriters have often shifted events which were only mentioned off-screen or reported by letter so that they actually appear on-screen i.e. the same effect would have happened if the camera showed a Bolton soldier taking a swing at Stannis but cut away to leave his fate unclear - but then Brienne was put into the scene to tie back in with the subplot of Stannis's brother Renly, whom she served.
- March on Winterfell on A Wiki of Ice and Fire (MAJOR spoilers from the books)
- Battle in the ice on A Wiki of Ice and Fire (MAJOR spoilers from the books)
- ↑ Based on visible number of men on-screen
- ↑ Not to be confused with the Vale mountain clans that Tyrion encounters on the way back from the Eyrie.
- ↑ This is the only reference to House Forrester in the novels.
- ↑ It is speculated the pies are made of three Freys, who were guests at the White Harbor and disappeared on their way to Winterfell - a payback for Wendel Manderly's death at the Red Wedding.
- ↑ In contrast to Ramsay's former letters, no piece of skin is enclosed to this letter, leading to fan theories that perhaps it was not Ramsay who wrote it.
- ↑ The "wildling princess" is Val, Mance Rayder's sister-in-law, who has not yet appeared in the show.
- ↑ The "little prince" is Mance Rayder's baby son, who has not appeared yet on the show. The writer of the Bastard Letter could not know that Mance's son was switched with Gilly's son, and she has taken the former with her from Castle Black, leaving her son behind, at Jon's command. Only Jon, Gilly, maester Aemon and Sam know about the switch.
|Scourging of the Riverlands||
|The Young Wolf's campaign||
Purple Wedding · Tyrion Lannister (I) · Tyrion Lannister (II) · Tower of the Hand
|Ironborn Invasion of the North||
The Dreadfort · Moat Cailin (II) · Deepwood Motte (II)