In the black cells of the Red Keep, Lord Ned Stark wastes away in the darkness. Lord Varys visits the accused traitor to say that his own loyalties are to the people of the realm. Varys wants to avoid the war the Robb Stark is about to wage against the Lannisters - and all the devastation it will cause to innocent lives. Ned refuses to offer a false confession and capitulate to the queen who tried to murder his son: The lord's life is not so valuable to him that he'd forsake his honor. "What of your daughter's life," Viserys asks. "Is that a precious thing to you?"
Robb and his host approach the Trident River, which they must cross in order break the Lannisters' grip on the Riverlands. This means acquiring the cooperation of Lord Walder Frey, the ancient and wily patriarch who controls the river's lone crossing - a bridge fortress known as the Twins. Catelyn Stark calls on Lord Walder, hoping that his oath as her father's bannerman will help shore up his loyalties. But Walder's only real pledge is to his own house, so the price of his backing is steep: Arya and Robb must each marry a Frey.
Grateful for Jon Snow's bravery in saving his life, Lord Commander Jeor Mormont bestows his family's blade, Longclaw, on the young Night's Watchman. All of Jon's friends clamor to examine the long sword, but any excitement he feels evaporates when Sam Tarly shares the news of Robb's march south, which was brought by a raven for Maester Aemon. Jon visits the old man, struggling under the weight of his devotion to Robb. Aemon explains that men of the Night's Watch are meant to live a life devoid of family because "love is the death of duty." The blind maester knows this firsthand. He reveals that he is a Targaryen - the uncle of the Mad King Aerys - and that he stood by his duty at the Wall while the Lannisters all but exterminated his family. "Stay or go," Aemon tells Jon. "You must make that choice yourself ... and live with it the rest of your days. As I have."
Khal Drogo's khalasar travels across Essos, through rocky terrain, with its leader slumped in his saddle and obviously ill. When Drogo falls from his horse and into the dirt, Daenerys Targaryen bolts from her saddle to help him. The bloodrider Qotho rides to the front of the hoard and looks down on Drogo and Dany, declaring, "A khal who cannot ride is no khal."
Tyrion Lannister eats with his father, Lord Tywin Lannister, and the family's war council. Tywin informs the dwarf that he is to lead the vanguard into battle with the Hill Tribesmen. "Surely, there are ways to have me killed that are less detrimental to the war effort," Tyrion says, but his father's decision is final. Tyrion pushes himself away from the table and returns to his tent, where Bronn has acquired a whore for him, a foreign girl named Shae, who Tyrion wants to serve him exclusively for as long as he pays her.
The Dothraki make camp, and Daenerys tends to Drogo. His wound has festered, leaving him just hours away from death. Ser Jorah Mormont urges Dany to leave now, before the khal dies and leaves her and her unborn son without protection. Instead, Daenerys sends for Mirri Maz Dur, the last hope of saving her husband. Mirri agrees that the khal will die, but when Dany begs her to perform magic, the witch agrees, slaughtering the khal's horse as a sacrifice. The Dothraki are enraged at this affront to nature, and Qotho draws his arakh and attacks Jorah. After a fierce struggle, Jorah manages to kill Drogo's bloodrider. Strange and demonic noises begin to emanate from Drogo's tent, and Dany, curled on the ground, begins to go into labor.
In Tyrion's tent, he plays a drinking game with Bronn and Shae. They try to divine each other's pasts, which Tyrion does very well with Bronn but fails miserably with his mistress. Shae manages to tap into Tyrion's pained past, however, which prompts him to tell the story of how he was married for a short time - until he learned that his brother Jaime Lannister had paid a whore to take him as her husband. After the joke was revealed, Tywin allowed his whole household guard to rape the woman while Tyrion watched. After Bronn leaves, Tyrion goes to bed with Shae, barely waking up the next morning in time to go to war. Once he does join the Hill Tribes on the field, he's knocked out by an errant war hammer moments into the march. He wakes up - shocked to be alive - after the fighting is done. The Lannisters have won, but against only a small fraction of the Stark forces. The rest have ambushed Jaime's army.
In a wooded area, Catelyn waits for her son to return from war, and she's beside herself with relief once he does. Robb rides out of the mist with Jaime as his prisoner. The storied member of the Kingsguard proposes that he and Robb settle the whole war with a bout of single combat, but Robb is no fool. He sends Jaime off to be put in irons, and shouts to his celebrating men: "One victory does not make us conquerors ... This war is far from over."
Arya wanders the streets of King's Landing, trying to trade a pigeon she killed for a bit of pastry. But when she notices the crowd streaming toward Baelor's Sept, she follows. On the steps of the holy building, the City Watch escorts her father before King Joffrey Baratheon, as his mother Cersei Baratheon watches with Sansa Stark at her side. Ned gives a false confession of treason in an attempt to save his daughter, and Joffrey responds that his mother and Sansa have both asked him to grant mercy. "But they have the soft hearts of women," Joffrey continues. "So long as I am king, treason will not go unpunished ... Bring me his head!"
In the crowd, Yoren of the Night's Watch finds Arya and wraps her in his arms to avert her gaze from the scene unfolding on the steps. Ser Ilyn Payne, wearing an executioner's hood and carrying Ned's family sword Ice, strides over to deliver the sentence. Ned bows his head as Payne raises the blade. The King's Justice delivers the blow swiftly, ending Lord Stark's life before the screaming mob.
As the Stark and Lannister armies prepare for their first battle against one another, Tyrion leads his barbarian allies into battle while Robb and Catelyn bargain for a renegade Lord's help. With Drogo dying from an infected wound, Daenerys goes to desperate measures to save her husband's life by using a witch's blood magic, much to the horror of the Dothraki. At the Wall, Maester Aemon reveals himself to be a Targaryen – and the price of loyalty – to Jon, who worries about events outside of the Wall. In a final bid to save his daughters' lives, Ned falsely confesses to conspiracy and swears fealty to Joffrey as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. To the horror of Ned's daughters – and delight of the assembled crowd – Joffrey has him executed.
The Stark army arrives at the Twins castle; and Catelyn convinces Lord Frey to let them pass and assist them by agreeing for marriage of Robb and Arya to Frey's children in the future. Robb sacrifices 2000 soldiers in a confrontation with the Lannister army to capture Jaime. In a public hearing, Eddard confesses to treason and publicly affirms Joffrey as rightful heir. However, rather than sentencing him to the Wall as had been negotiated, a vengeful Joffrey has him decapitated, while Cersei and other counselors object futilely. Sansa and Arya watch their father die: Sansa from the royal party and Arya from the crowd. At the Wall, Jeor gives his family sword to Jon in gratitude; Maester Aemon also reveals to Jon that he is a Targaryen. In Essos, Drogo's wound becomes septic and his death imminent. Daenerys convinces a slave woman to use blood magic to save him. The woman tells everyone to leave the tent and stay outside until the spell is over. Daenerys begins labor, and Jorah brings Danerys into the forbidden tent seeking aid.
Varys pays Ned another visit in the dungeon to tell him about Sansa pleading for his life. Varys tells Ned he could free him, but won't. As the master of whispers, he tries to stay out of things. Varys says he just wants peace. The eunuch tells Ned about Robb going to war. Varys tries to convince Ned to go along with Joffrey as the heir and call off war. Ned would rather die with honor than go along with it. But Varys mentions that Sansa might be in danger, too. Outside of The Twins, the home of the Freys and the only crossing of the river Trident, Robb and Theon shoot down message-bearing ravens from Lord Walder, while trying to figure out how to get across. They know Tywin is marching north. Robb decides to enter the Twins alone to bargain with Lord Walder. Catelyn suggests she'll go instead, as she doesn't think he'll hurt her. In Lord Walder's court, Catelyn greets him. His sons admonish the old man for not being more polite. He's busy groping his latest wife, all of 15 years old. Catelyn speaks to him alone to ask him to open his gates so Robb can cross the Trident. Lord Walder tells Cat that her family, the Tullys, have always pissed on his family, and her father never attended his many weddings nor agreed to join their houses in marriage. He remembers every tiny slight from the other houses. He thinks Robb doesn't stand a chance against Tywin and he sees Robb and his men as rebels. But he's not inclined to get involved. Catelyn asks him what it's going to take to get him to open the gates. At the wall, the Lord Commander Mormont gives Jon Snow his family sword, made with Valerian steel and a new pommel in the shape of a wolf. It was supposed to go to Jorah, his disgraced outcast son, but Jon is given it out of gratitude for saving his life. Mormont is tired of Jon's tiff with Lord Thorne, so he sent him to King's Landing with the hand from the twice-slain beast to lay at Joffrey's feet -- and to get him away from Jon. All the Night's Watch men are impressed by the sword and take turns trying it out. Sam hesitates and then tells Jon Snow he read the note from a raven -- he tells him Robb is heading south to war. Jon thinks he should be there. Catelyn rejoins Robb and tells him Walder granted their crossing and will lend his men to fight. He wants his son Olyvar to serve as Robb's personal squire. In addition, Arya must marry one of his sons and Robb has to marry one of his daughters. Catelyn hesitatingly says one of them was "OK." Robb consents to the deal. Blind Maester Aemon at Wall talks to Jon Snow about the difficulty of putting honor before family. He tells Jon about the day he got word that his brother and his family had been killed. Jon asks who he is. His father was Maekar. He's Aemon Targaryen. He says he's now just the master of the citadel, bound in service to the Night's Watch. He tells Jon he has to choose whether to stay or go and live with his choice. Daenerys and Kal Drogo ride with the Dothraki. He's seriously ill from his wound and falls off his horse. A Dothraki who cannot ride, cannot rule. Overruling the other Dothraki who want to kill the witch, Daenerys demands that Mirri Maz Duur be brought to her. At his council table Tywin tells Tyrion that Shagga and the wild men will be in the vanguard on the front lines. Tyrian says the Stone Crows got in a bloody fight last night over a sausage. Tyrion is not thrilled to be bound to them. Tyrion comes back to his tent to find a pretty whore named Shae. Bronn took her from another man's tent, but since Tyrion expects to die at war, he's not worried about retaliation. At the Dothraki camp, Drogo is delirious with fever. His wound is infected. Jorah looks at it and thinks it likely he'll die that night. Jorah encourages Daenerys to leave now. When Drogo dies there will be a fight to be Khal and she'll have no standing. One of Drogo's men makes this point to her again. She insists she's the blood of the dragon, but the man isn't impressed. Daenerys advises Jorah to wear his armour tonight. Daenerys promises the witch her freedom if she can save Drogo. She says she knows of a spell, but it is blood magic. She calls for Drogo's horse, and tells Dany that once she starts chanting, nobody is to enter the tent. In the tent, the witch slits the throat of the horse. Jorah thinks they made a mistake by not leaving earlier for Asshai. One of Drogo's men tries to go into the tent to kill the witch. He knocks Daenerys on her very pregnant stomach and fights Ser Jorah, who coolly kills the man after a brief battle. Daenerys says the baby is coming. Nobody is around who can help with the birth, but someone says the witch knows how to deliver a baby. Against the the witch's warning, Jorah carries her back into the tent where the spell is still being worked. Tyrion plays drinking games with Bronn and Shae. He suggests a game where he makes a statement and if it's true they drink and if he's wrong, he drinks. Tyrion suggests Bronn has been north of the wall and Bronn drinks. He guesses that Shae's mother was a whore and her father left when she was young. He scores 0 out of 2. We learn Tyrion used to be married. He tells a story about being out riding with Jaime when he was 16 and rescuing a woman named Tysha from rapists. He took her for food and ended up in bed with her. They got married the next day. It turned out it was all set-up by Jaime, who thought it was time Tyrion had his first woman and hired the whore. His father brought Tysha before court and let all his men have her for a silver coin each while he forced Tyrion to watch. Tyrion says that she earned so much silver that she couldn't hold them in her hand. Shae says he should have known because a girl who was almost raped doesn't invite a man into her bed two hours later. She spends the night with Tyrion. Bronn wakes him up the next morning to tell him the war is under way. Tyrion suits up and rallies the savages, who cheer for the "half-man." Then he promptly gets accidentally knocked out by one of their clubs and stepped on. He comes to after the fight, being dragged in a wagon by Bronn. They won. Tywin tells them it was only 2,000 of Robb Stark's men. Tyrion asks where the other 18,000 are. Robb rides back to greet his mother, with Jaime Lannister as prisoner. He knew he was sending the 2,000 decoys to their deaths. He addresses his bannermen, telling them the war is far from over. Arya catches a pigeon in a street in King's Landing. She tries to trade it to a baker for a pie, but he refuses. She sees everyone running toward something and someone tells her they're doing something with the Hand of the King. She runs to stony Baelor Sept, which is packed with people and sees her father Ned brought out in chains. He sees her above the crowd. As he's lead up to Cersei and the ersatz King, he points her out to Yoren of the Night's Watch. He addresses the crowd as Sansa, Joffrey and everyone listen. Sansa nods him on as he says he's come to confess his treason. He says he plotted to murder Joffrey and seize the throne. He proclaims Joffrey the one true heir to the Iron Throne. Joffrey says Cersei wants him to let Ned serve the Night's Watch and Sansa has begged him for mercy. But he says they have the "soft hearts of women" and treason cannot go unpunished. "Bring me his head!" Joffrey says. Arya runs toward her father but Yoren grabs her and keeps her from watching. Sansa screams and has to be restrained. Ned is forced to kneel as the executioner raises Ned's own giant sword. Ned sees that Arya isn't watching and takes a deep breath, calmly baring his neck for the blade. The sword comes down and we hear the sound of his head coming off.