Winterfell is the seat of House Bolton (formerly House Stark). It is a very large castle located at the center of the North, from where the head of House Stark rules over his people. A small Godswood is enclosed within the walls. It is the capital of the North under King Robb Stark. The castle is located alongside the Kingsroad as it makes its way from the Wall to the capital at King's Landing, more than a thousand miles to the south. It is situated atop hot springs which keep the castle warm even in the worst winters. Winding tombs below the castle contain the remains of Stark kings and lords and record the history of the ancient family. The castle has stood for millennia.
The castle is put to the torch by Ramsay Snow after Theon Greyjoy was betrayed by his own crew. This burned out the wood portions of the castle, though the core stone structures remained fundamentally intact, as did the enclosed godswood. After the fall of Moat Cailin, the Bolton army relocated to the ruined castle in order to restore it as the seat of the rulers of the North.
According to legend, House Stark has held a castle at Winterfell for 8,000 years, though it has been considerably expanded over the centuries.
Eddard Stark rode south to fight in Robert's Rebellion after his father and older brother were killed by the Mad King. At the end of the war, he returned to Winterfell with his new wife Catelyn Tully, their infant son Robb Stark, and also Eddard's bastard son Jon Snow whom he had fathered during the war. After the Greyjoy Rebellion eight years later, Eddard took Theon Greyjoy back to Winterfell as his ward - partly as a political hostage, but perhaps partially to raise him to be an honorable man
After the death of Hand of the King Jon Arryn, King Robert Baratheon makes a formal visit to Winterfell along with much of the royal court, including his wife Queen Cersei Lannister, their three children Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen, as well as Cersei's brother and Kingsguard member Jaime Lannister, and their brother Tyrion Lannister. A great feast is held in Robert's honor. Robert visits the tomb of Lyanna Stark and asks Lord Eddard to return with him to King's Landing as his new Hand, and to solidify the union between their two Houses by betrothing Eddard's elder daughter Sansa Stark to Crown Prince Joffrey.
Before they leave, however, while climbing a tower Bran Stark accidentally stumbles upon Queen Cersei having sex with her own twin brother Jaime, who then pushes Bran out of the tower window.
Bran survives the fall from the tower, though his legs are left crippled. Lord Eddard reluctantly departs down the Kingsroad with the royal party, along with Sansa and his younger daughter Arya Stark. Jon Snow also leaves Winterfell to join the Night's Watch at the Wall, accompanied by Tyrion. A Catspaw assassin sent by one of the Lannisters tries to kill Bran while he is still in a coma, but he is fought off by Catelyn and killed by Bran's direwolf Summer. Catelyn decides that Eddard must be warned so she leaves for King's Landing along with Ser Rodrik Cassel, leaving her eldest son Robb Stark in charge of Winterfell. After visiting the Wall, Tyrion stops at Winterfell on his return journey to the south, along with the Night's Watch recruiter Yoren. He gives Robb instructions for a special saddle which will allow Bran to ride without the use of his legs.
After word reaches Robb that his father has been arrested in King's Landing, he calls the armies of all the Northern bannermen. Robb departs Winterfell to lead his army to war in the south, and leaves Bran in charge as acting lord of Winterfell. His youngest brother Rickon Stark has a prophetic dream that Robb and his men will never return to Winterfell.
After Eddard is executed by Joffrey and Robb wins the Battle of the Whispering Wood, his bannermen hail him as the new King in the North. The North and the Riverlands declare themselves an independent kingdom under Robb. Winterfell is the de jure capital, though Robb remains with his armies fighting in the south. Now-Prince Bran Stark continues to rule as acting lord of Winterfell, with the guidance of Maester Luwin.
House Greyjoy - insulted at the prospect of allying with the Starks against the Lannisters - then counter-intuitively chooses to both declare the independence of the Iron Islands from the Lannister-controlled Iron Throne, and to attack the North while most of its armies are in the south. To impress his father Balon Greyjoy, the conflicted Theon leads a daring assault that captures Winterfell with under 30 men. Theon's ironborn were few, but the castle only had a skeleton defensive garrison left, and Theon used his intimate knowledge of the castle to lead his men over the walls using climbing spikes. Bran surrenders the castle to Theon. Maester Luwin barely manages to get a messenger-raven out warning of what has happened, after which Theon kills all the ravens to stop any further messages from getting out.
Theon, however, has no way of easily holding Winterfell so far away from the sea, even with most of the North's armies away in the south. Bran and his brother Rickon escape Winterfell along with Hodor and Osha, making his position tenuous, so he passes off the burned bodies of two orphan boys so he won't look weak - though instead this angers the rest of the North. When word reaches Robb's army camp in the south, his commander Roose Bolton says that he can send a reserve garrison led by his bastard son Ramsay Snow to besiege Theon. Robb decides to offer the ironborn at Winterfell safe passage back to the Iron Islands - if they will hand over Theon, so he can be executed as a traitor to the Starks. Theon's sister Yara Greyjoy briefly stops in Winterfell but only to warn him that they have no way of reinforcing or holding the castle, and he must withdraw while he can. Theon, however, fears that he has come to far too turn back now in failure.
Maester Luwin pleads with Theon that this is now who he is, and he must surrender and join the Night's Watch while he still can. Theon admits the truth in this but says he has come too far. In a rousing speech to his men, Theon accepts that he will die, but they will all die bravely fighting sword in hand, so the other ironborn will remember their example. Instead, one of his men knocks him unconscious from behind, to hand him over as part of the deal for their lives. Bran and Rickon - who had actually doubled back to hide in Winterfell's crypts - emerge after the Sack of Winterfell to find that it has been put to the torch. All of the wooden parts of the castle are burned out, though the core stone structures remain intact. Bran and his companions flee north to the Wall.
When word reaches Robb Stark at Harrenhal of the sack of Winterfell, the report sent by Roose's son Ramsay says that the ironborn put the castle to the torch before fleeing, put the inhabitants to the sword, and killed Bran and Rickon. The loss of Winterfell makes Robb look weak, particularly after the Lannisters secured victory in the southern front of the war against the Baratheons at the Battle of the Blackwater. Rickard Karstark loses all faith in Robb and calls him "The King Who Lost the North".
Not long afterwards, Boltons and Freys betray the Starks at the Red Wedding, destroying the Northern army, and resulting in the deaths of Robb and Catelyn. Roose Bolton personally kills Robb by driving a dagger into his heart. Subsequently, Walder Frey and Roose muse on their future plans, and Walder asks if as the new ruler of the North, Roose will relocate to Winterfell. He says that he will in time, after it is rebuilt. Walder also asks what really happened at Winterfell, because after Theon took the castle no further news came out. Roose explains that he indeed sent his bastard son Ramsay Snow to besiege Winterfell with the Dreadfort's remaining garrison, and Theon's men betrayed him, handing him over to Ramsay in return for promise of safe passage. Ramsay, however, "has his own way of doing things" - he flayed all of the ironborn alive, even though they surrendered in good faith, and spent the next year slowly flaying and horrifically torturing Theon. As for Winterfell, it was Ramsay and his Bolton army who burned the castle, and who massacred all of the inhabitants - the Boltons simply lied to Robb Stark about what really happened, as they were planning to betray him for months before the Red Wedding occurred.
After Ramsay manages to retake the fortress Moat Cailin from the ironborn, the path is cleared for the main Bolton army to return to the North, and enforce Bolton/Lannister rule. Roose, Ramsay, and Reek (the tortured, broken wreck once known as Theon) lead the Bolton army back to Winterfell.
The Boltons settle in at Winterfell, and bring in work crews and timber to start rebuilding the burned-out parts of the castle. The rest of the Bolton household has arrived as well, including Roose's new wife Fat Walda Frey. Following the death of Tywin Lannister, however, their already difficult hold over the North is even more tenuous: the armies of the Northern lords may have been destroyed, but the Lannisters left it to Bolton's army to rein them in, and will send no reinforcements so far out of the way. With Tywin dead, the Lannisters themselves are in a weakened position, and cannot aid the Boltons. Worse, Stannis Baratheon took his small remaining forces to the Wall, where they won a rousing victory in the Battle of Castle Black. Afterwards, Stannis intends to raise the North against the Boltons as a new sprinboard against Lannister rule. Stannis eventually leaves Castle Black to march to Winterfell, and begins to be supported by Northern houses who do not support the Boltons.
As part of a political plot, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish arrives at Winterfell from the Vale - bringing none other than Sansa Stark, to make a marriage-alliance between her and Ramsay Bolton. Littlefinger, however, informs Sansa that he truly plans for her to undermine the Boltons from within, hopefully to aid Stannis's probable victory, and if Stannis dies, to at least still be in a position to subvert the Boltons in the future.
With Stannis's army drawing closer to the castle, Roose Bolton intends to muster his strength within the walls of Winterfell with his legitimized son Ramsay. Meanwhile, with support from Queen Regent Cersei Lannister, Lord Petyr Baelish has raised an army of knights from the Vale supported by his own levies to march North and combat both House Bolton and Stannis, focusing on whoever wins the coming battle. In response to this predicament, Ramsay convinces his dad to lend him twenty "good men."
Ramsay and his twenty riders launch a sneak attack on the Baratheon camp and succeed in burning much of their food supplies, siege weapons, and horses. While Stannis does indeed reach Winterfell, his resources have been severely depleted and hundreds of his men have deserted due to snowstorms and Stannis's rash decision to sacrifice his own daughter Shireen to the Lord of Light. The army of House Bolton greets Stannis in open battle and after a short clash, smashes his army, and Stannis himself perishes soon after. However, with Winterfell in chaos, Sansa manages to escape the castle with help from Theon Greyjoy, putting House Bolton's future claim to the North in jeopardy.
Winterfell remains the Bolton seat of power. Following Sansa and Theon's escape, Ramsay attends to the corpse of his former bedfellow Myranda. Despite his affection for her, he orders Maester Wolkan to feed her body to the dogs. Later, Roose and Ramsay meet to discuss Sansa's escape, which has imperiled House Bolton's position among the northern houses. Roose stresses that they need Sansa in order to rally the northern houses against the Lannisters. Fearful of losing his inheritance to Walda's offspring, Ramsay sends his best hunters to recapture Sansa and Theon.
Later, Roose and Ramsay meet with Harald Karstark to discuss their predicament with Sansa. Ramsay's men had been found dead and he advocated storming Castle Black. Roose chastises his son's rash proposal as tantamount to turning the North against them. He also warns Ramsay that he would be discarded if he does not act more sensibly. After learning that Walda has given birth to a baby boy, Ramsay realizes that his position is shaky and murders his father. He then unleashes his dogs on Walda and his baby brother. Ramsay covers up his father's death by claiming that Roose had been poisoned by their enemies.
Smalljon Umber travels to Winterfell to forge an alliance with Ramsay, the new Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. In return for forging a military alliance between House Umber and House Bolton, Smalljon presents Rickon Stark, Osha, and the head of Rickon's direwolf Shaggydog. Ramsay accepts Smalljon's offer and takes Rickon captive. Later, Ramsay kills Osha after baiting her into killing him by leaving his fruit knife unattended. Ramsay then issues a letter to Jon Snow telling him that he has Rickon in his dungeons and demanding the return of his wife Sansa. In response, Jon and Sansa declare war on Ramsay and vow to retake Winterfell with the help of Tormund's Free Folk and several northern houses.
As the Second Battle of Winterfell turns in favor of the Starks, Ramsay returns to the castle and has the gate closed and barred. The giant, Wun Wun, breaks it down and Jon Snow enters the courtyard to face off with Ramsay. Jon prevails and refrains from killing Ramsay, who is taken to the kennels. Sansa later visits Ramsay there and, after speaking, watches as his starving hounds begin to devour their master. The Bolton banners are dropped from the ramparts and the Stark banners are once again hung in Winterfell.
Jon holds court at Winterfell, which determines that both Alys Karstark and Ned Umber are allowed to maintain the castles of Karhold and Last Hearth, despite their fathers' treachery to House Stark. Jon then makes it clear that he is now King and that Sansa should stop undermining him. Sansa, however, again disagrees with him, as she believes that Winterfell's forces should be directed at Cersei, rather than the Night King.
Jon leaves Winterfell in the care of Sansa when he leaves for Dragonstone to met Daenerys Targaryen, after overwhelming evidence of her access to dragonglass and dragon fire. Before leaving, he goes down to the crypts to see the statue of Lord Eddard and is met by Littlefinger, whom he deems unworthy of being in the sacred crypts and almost strangles him when Littlefinger speaks of love for Sansa.
Sansa later prepares Winterfell for the Great War. In the midst of the hectic rallying, Bran Stark returns to Winterfell, accompanied by Meera Reed. Bran and Sansa then discuss their lives since the execution of their father, in the Godswood, where Bran reveals his knowledge of Sansa's time at Winterfell whilst married to Ramsay.
Later, Littlefinger meets with the recently-returned Bran Stark. Apparently hoping to exploit disunity among the Stark children, he tries to ingratiate himself with Bran - who, as Ned Stark's last trueborn son, should rank ahead of Jon Snow as rightful heir to the North. Littlefinger gives Bran a gift - the very same Valyrian steel dagger, with a dragon-bone hilt, which a cutthroat tried to kill him with while he was in a coma right after he fell from one of Winterfell's towers (actually, was pushed). Bran is still emotionally detached, however, from all of his visions as the new Three-eyed raven. Bran is disinterested, only absent-mindedly asking who the dagger belonged to. With a wry look, Littlefinger responds that in a way that question started the entire War of the Five Kings - Bran's mother Catelyn Stark took the dagger south with her to King's Landing to try to find who it belonged to, convinced the Lannisters sent the cuthroat to kill Bran (and left it there in Ned's possession, from whom Littlefinger recovered it). Littlefinger tries to manipulate Bran by remarking on how much chaos he must have lived through to get back to Winterfell - but then Bran looks at Littlefinger and says "Chaos is a ladder" - quoting back Littlefinger's own words to him, which he said to Varys in King's Landing years before and which Bran couldn't possibly have been physically present to hear himself. Unnerved, Littlefinger takes his leave of Bran, calling him "Lord Stark", though again Bran insists he isn't going to be a lord now.
Meera Reed later comes in to Bran's chamber. Noticing his new wheelchair, he explains Maester Wolkan built it for him. She explains she came to tell him she's leaving and say goodbye; she promised to keep him safe, and now that he's back in Winterfell surrounded by his Stark forces he's as safe as anyone will be before the coming war. She explains that when the White Walkers arrive, she wants to be with her family, so she is heading back to the Neck to assist the Crannogmen. She says he doesn't need her in Winterfell anymore - to which he flatly says he doesn't, and with blank emotional affect simply says "Thank you". Meera grows angry that this is all he has to say, after everything they went through: Hodor and Summer and even her own brother Jojen died for Bran. He then says that he isn't really, anymore - isn't "Bran Stark" but the three-eyed raven. He "remembers" the events of Bran Stark's life but now "remembers" vast amounts of other accumulated memories from centuries upon centuries. Everything that once affected "Bran Stark" now seems distant and trivial to him. In horror, Meera cries out that he "died in that cave!" - Bran died when the previous three-eyed raven passed on all of the collective memories of generations of greenseers to him.
Meanwhile, Arya Stark finally returns to Winterfell - after leaving years before with her father, Sansa, and King Robert Baratheon's entourage, right after Bran's fall from the tower. Arya rides up to the gates and dismounts but the guards don't believe her when she says she is in fact Arya Stark, convinced that Arya has been dead for years. Arya asks that they send word to Maester Luwin and Rodrik Cassel, who can prove her identity (not knowing they are both dead). The guards brush off that no one by those names is there, so she asks for Jon, but they say he actually just left Winterfell. Arya asks who is in charge of Winterfell then, and they say "Lady Stark" (which Arya realizes is her sister). They try to brush her aside, but she dodges them with her assassin's reflexes, and insists that one way or another she's getting in. She explains to them that if she is Arya, they'll be in a lot of trouble for stopping her, and if she isn't, she won't last long in Winterfell anyway. Mildly concerned, they agree to at least let her in the courtyard but insist that she stay put while they send for Sansa so they can disprove her identity. As soon as they take their eyes off her, however, she slips away. The two guards go to inform Sansa and try to wave it aside as just some impostor, but she instantly realizes it must be Arya, and knows where she has gone.
Sansa finds Arya where she expected, in the crypts looking over their father Ned's grave. They are happy to see each other but so much has happened to both of them in the past few years that they are at first awkward, unsure of what to say. Arya asks if she has to call Sansa "Lady Stark" now, to which Sansa firmly insists "Yes" - and then laughs. They smile and hug, though still a bit unsure. The reunited sisters them look sadly on their father's grave statue. Arya says it doesn't really look like him. Sansa acknowledges that everyone who really knew his face is dead. Arya points out they're not.
Arya then asks that everyone says Sansa killed Joffrey. She explains she actually didn't, though she wished she had. Arya remarks that he was always at the top of her "list". This confuses Sansa, and Arya explains that she'd been keeping a list of everyone she was going to kill - at which they both laugh. Finally Sansa asks how Arya got back, but she only says her road wasn't a pleasant one. Sansa says hers wasn't either. They hug again, earnestly and warmly. Sansa then informs Arya that Bran is home too.
Sansa brings Arya to Bran in the Godswood, where he is lost in thought by the Weirwood heart tree. Arya is saddened to see him so paralyzed. Still somewhat detached even at the sight of Arya, he says he isn't surprised she's alive because he saw her at the Crossroads. Arya is confused, and Sansa explains that Bran is having "visions" now. Bran says he thought Arya was going to King's Landing, and when Sansa asks why she would head there of all places, he again startles them both by saying it's because Cersei is on her list of names (which he can't possibly be aware of through normal means). Sansa asks who else is on her list, but she says most of them besides Cersei are actually dead already.
They then remark on the Valyrian steel dagger in his lap, and he explains that Littlefinger gave it to him, thinking he'd want it. Despite it being such a horrible keepsake that nearly killed him and indirectly set off a chain of events leading to his parents' deaths, he is still listless and disinterested in it. Arya is confused as to why a common cuthroat would have a rare, priceless blade of Valyrian steel. Bran matter-of-factly says that someone very wealthy wanted him dead, and gave it to the assassin. Sansa acknowledges she doesn't actually trust Littlefinger and he'd never give anyone anything unless expecting something in return.
Bran says that doesn't matter, because he doesn't even want it. Instead, Bran hands it to Arya and says she can have it - because it's "wasted on a cripple". Sansa looks down, dejected at how her brother considers his own physical state to be useless.
All three Stark children, finally reunited, proceed back to Winterfell's castle courtyard, pushing Bran in his wheelchair. Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne see them from afar, all three of Catelyn Stark's surviving children reunited. Pod says Catelyn would be proud of Brienne, but she chides that she did next to nothing. Pod says he disagrees with "my lady", and Brienne starts to correct him that she doesn't consider herself a "lady", but then stops halfway and just thanks him for the compliment.
Some time later, Brienne is going through a vigorous sword practice session with Podrick, knocking him down when he overextends himself. Impressed, Arya interrupts and says she'd like to spar with Brienne - the woman who beat the Hound in combat. Sansa and Littlefinger watch on silently from the walkway above. Brienne goes easy on her at first, but then Arya completely outmaneuvers Brienne using the Water Dance training she received from Syrio Forel, augmented by her training with the Faceless Men. Arya achieves many openings that would be a killing blow if she wanted them to be. Surprised that such a young girl is so skilled, Brienne stops holding back, leading to a grueling sparring session. Brienne actually manages to knock Needle out of Arya's hand but she simply switches to the Valyrian steel dagger she had in her belt. Arya uses her speed and agility to compensate for Brienne's strength and size to overwhelm her - until Brienne actually manages to bring her brute strength to bear on a fast moving target by landing a kick on Arya's chest that sends her falling down. Ultimately, they reach a stalemate, with each of them holding a blade at the others' throat. Arya takes her leave of Brienne, both mutually impressed, as Sansa looks down baffled at how her sister received such a deadly skill level.
At the Godswood in Winterfell, Bran Stark wargs into a flight of ravens that fly over the Wall into the Lands of Always Winter. Through the ravens, he sees the Army of the Dead: an army of Wights led by the White Walkersand the Night King, traveling south towards Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. He tells Maester Wolkan that they need to send ravens.
Later, in the Winterfell throne room, Regent Sansa Stark presides over a meeting of the Northern lords. Saying that the King in the North should stay in the north, Lord Robett Glover and Lord Yohn Royce of The Vale of Arryn propose that she take over power in the absence of her half-brother Jon Snow. However, Sansa insists Jon Snow is their true ruler who is doing what he believes is right for their people and that she is his regent. Following the meeting, Sansa confides her frustration in the Northern lords with Arya. Arya thinks that she should not let the lords get away with insulting her and hints at assassinating them. Sansa disagrees with Arya's suggestion of killing the troublesome lords. Arya tells Sansa to admit that she is harboring those thoughts. Disturbed at her younger sister's homicidal streak, Sansa tells Arya that she has "work to do."
Much later, Arya stalks Petyr Baelish as he is walking through the grounds of Winterfell. She follows Petyr into his personal quarters and catches him chatting with Maester Wolkan. She eavesdrops on Petyr asking Wolkan if he is sure that "this" is the only copy. Petyr replies that Lady Sansa Stark thanks him for his services. After Petyr and Wolkan have left, Arya enters Petyr's chamber and rummages through his study and furniture. While searching through his mattress, she finds a scroll written by Sansa. This turns out to be the scroll that Sansa wrote to their late brother Robb Stark urging him to bend the knee to King Joffrey Baratheon. Arya is unaware that Sansa had written the letter under duress from Queen Cersei in an attempt to save their father Eddard Stark. Arya scrunches up the letter and sneaks out of the room. A grinning Petyr watches her from behind a wall.
Winterfell was the seat of the Stark family for generations until one-time Stark ward Theon Greyjoy seized the castle for his father during the War of Five Kings, Roose Bolton's bastard son, Ramsay, took it back but left it in ruins. Tywin Lannister awarded Winterfell to the Boltons after the Red Wedding for their service to the Crown. It remained in their hands until Jon Snow and Sansa Stark triumphed in the Battle of the Bastards. With Winterfell once again under Stark control, the Northern houses have pledged themselves to Jon Snow.