Summary: Chapter 20: Eddard (IV)
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.
Summary: Chapter 21: Tyrion (III)
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.
Summary: Chapter 22: Arya (II)
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.
Summary: Chapter 23: Daenerys (III)
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.
Summary: Chapter 24: Bran IV
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’s first meeting with the royal council reveals that the realm has been in a state of decline since Robert took over. The three million gold pieces that the royal treasury owes to the Lannisters suggest that the Lannisters essentially have control of the kingdom, because without them, the kingdom would be bankrupt. What’s more, the council meets not to discuss how it will deal with its debt or how it will govern the king’s subjects, but rather, how it will finance another expensive festival. Ned appears to be the only person concerned about this unwise spending. The rest of the council considers it the normal state of affairs in the kingdom, and nobody seems to have any inclination to change this paradigm. Consequently, the realm looks to be in a decadent state of decline, largely owing to Robert’s poor leadership. In fact, Robert’s whoring habits and fattening physical appearance make an apt metaphor for how he has ruled.