Far north, Jon trains with other new recruits at the Wall. Castle Black’s master-at-arms, Thorne, sends many poorly trained new recruits up against Jon, and they all lose. Later, some new recruits angrily confront Jon for making them look bad in the training yard. Noye calls them off, but he tells Jon that he is a bully for beating the boys so badly, since Jon has been trained at a castle and they are only peasants. Noye advises Jon to make amends with the boys. At supper, Commander Mormont summons Jon to his chambers and tells him that Bran is alive. In high spirits, Jon offers to help Grenn with his training. Thorne overhears and is not happy at the suggestion that Jon can train the man better than he can.
Upon arriving in King’s Landing, the royal council immediately summons Ned for his first meeting as Hand of the King. Littlefinger, Renly, Varys, and Pycelle are present, but Robert is absent, as usual. Ned discovers that, although Aerys Targaryen left behind a treasury full of gold when Robert claimed the throne, Robert’s realm is now six million gold pieces in debt. Three million of that is owed to House Lannister. Nonetheless, Robert has decided to hold an expensive tournament to celebrate Ned’s appointment as Hand. Appalled, Ned adjourns the meeting. Littlefinger escorts him to a whorehouse he owns, and he reveals Catelyn is hiding there. Catelyn tells Ned about the assassination attempt on Bran. Littlefinger advises them to forget about the incident since an accusation against the Lannisters would be treason. Littlefinger also notes that Robert either did not know about the assassination attempt or tried his best to ignore it. Ned sends Catelyn back to Winterfell and intends to determine the truth about Bran's and Jon Arryn’s assassins. He hopes that Robert will deal out justice.
During dinner at the Wall, Tyrion taunts Thorne. Commander Mormont says that the Wall could use a man as cunning as Tyrion. Aemon earnestly calls Tyrion a giant among men, and Tyrion finds himself at a loss for words. After dinner, Commander Mormont talks to Tyrion about how Waymar and Benjen have gone missing and how surprised he is that someone as experienced as Gared would desert the Watch. The Commander reflects that an extremely long and potentially dangerous winter approaches. He asks that Tyrion petition Robert to send more men to the sorely under-equipped Watch. Afterward, Tyrion visits the top of the Wall one last time and finds Jon standing watch. Jon asks Tyrion to help his crippled brother. Tyrion says he knows what it is to love a brother and tells Jon he will do whatever he can. The two shake hands and agree that they are friends.
After fighting with the council again, Ned arrives late to dinner in the Tower of the Hand. He orders Sansa and Arya to stop bickering and leaves the table. Arya also asks to leave. Septa Mordane says no, but Arya runs away anyway. Ned finds her playing with her sword, Needle, in her room. Ned tells Arya not to blame herself for the death of the butcher’s boy. He says he knows that she lied about Nymeria running away, and Arya tells him she and Jory had to throw rocks to make Nymeria leave. Ned says she did the right thing by lying, and says that the lie was not without honor. He tells Arya that she must learn to get along with Sansa. Since they are family they must protect one another from their enemies in King’s Landing. He arranges for her to begin sword-fighting lessons with Syrio Forel.
Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s khalasar are riding through the fields of grass known as the Dothraki Sea on their way to Vaes Dothrak. Daenerys orders the entire khalasar to stop riding so that she can explore the land on her own. Moments later, Viserys storms up to her, screaming and indignant that Daenerys gave him an order. For the first time, Daenerys defies Viserys and shoves him away. A Dothraki rider subdues Viserys with a whip, and Daenerys starts to see that Viserys is pitiful. Viserys calls on Jorah, his sworn knight, to harm his sister, but Jorah refuses and sides with Daenerys. Afterward, Daenerys asks Jorah if the common people in Westeros really pray for Viserys’s return. Jorah tells her that the common people don't care “ if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.” She asks him what he prays for, and he says he prays for home. She says she prays for home too. Later, Khal Drogo realizes Daenerys is pregnant.
While Bran is bedridden, Old Nan begins to tell him a story about an ancient, seemingly endless winter during which the Others roamed through all of Westeros. Luwin interrupts and Hodor carries Bran downstairs, where Robb, with an unsheathed sword, has met Tyrion. Despite the hostility of Robb and the boys’ direwolves, Tyrion offers designs for a saddle that will allow the crippled Bran to ride a horse again. At dinner that night, Yoren tells Robb that Benjen has disappeared. Robb responds with denial, and Bran hopes aloud that the children of the forest will help Benjen. Luwin tells Bran that the children of the forest have been gone for thousands of years. Yoren says no one can be sure what lies beyond the Wall.
Ned questions Pycelle about Jon Arryn’s death. He learns that Jon Arryn had been reading a book on noble house lineages, and that his last words were “The seed is strong.” When Ned tells Pycelle he suspects Jon Arryn was poisoned, Pycelle seems uncomfortable. He claims that the death was nothing unusual, but Ned notes that Pycelle chose to send Maester Colemon away while Colemon was treating Jon Arryn. Ned wonders whose interests Pycelle is truly serving. After he leaves Pycelle’s tower, Ned speaks with Arya, and he remembers keeping a vigil with her and Sansa after they received news that Bran was alive. Later, Littlefinger visits Ned in his tower and suggests four more people Ned should question for information. Looking out the window, Littlefinger also points out the men that Varys and Cersei have hired to spy on Ned. Ned thanks Littlefinger and admits he was wrong to distrust Littlefinger. Littlefinger says distrusting him is the smartest thing Ned’s done since arriving in King’s Landing.
While Jon and the other boys are training at the Wall, Sam Tarly arrives. Thorne immediately orders Sam to fight Halder, and Halder easily dominates the fat, scared new recruit. Sam yields, but Thorne orders Halder to continue the beating. Jon steps forward to defend Sam, and at Thorne’s orders Halder, Rast, and Albett fight—and lose—to Jon, Pyp, and Grenn. Sam admits that he is a coward, and Jon respects the boy for his ability to face a hard truth. Later, Sam tells Jon that he came to join the Night’s Watch because his father wanted his youngest son to be his heir, so he told Sam he had to leave for the Wall or he would murder him. Jon shares a story with Sam about a recurring dream in which Jon walks through a deserted Winterfell until he ends up deep inside the castle’s crypts. That night, Jon convinces the other boys to go easy on Sam in training because the boy is such a poor fighter.
As the Hand’s tournament approaches, Ned resents that it is being held in his honor when he disapproves of it and that it is causing so many problems in King’s Landing. Though there have been fights, riots, and deaths in town, Pycelle and Littlefinger point out that events like the tournament can be an economic boon for many commoners. Ned has been reading the very old book Jon Arryn was interested in, titled The Lineages and Histories of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms, With Descriptions of Many High Lords and Noble Ladies and Their Children. He questions Hugh, Jon Arryn's former squire, trying to get insight, but Hugh arrogantly refuses to answer any questions. Ned then discovers that Jon Arryn and Robert’s brother Stannis once visited a brothel together, which seems odd. Ned tells Jory to search for the brothel. Ned goes into town to find a blacksmith’s apprentice named Gendry that Jon Arryn was interested in. Gendry does not know who his parents were, but he says his mother was blonde. By looking at Gendry’s face and dark hair, Ned realizes Gendry is Robert’s bastard son.