Moat Cailin

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Moat Cailin
Ancient fortress ruins
Moat cailin by reneaigner.jpg
Moat Cailin by Rene Aigner ©
Location North
Founded Dawn Age
The north and the location of Moat Cailin
The north and the location of Moat Cailin
Moat Cailin
The north and the location of Moat Cailin

Moat Cailin, sometimes called the Moat,[1] is an ancient stronghold of the First Men[2] on the northern edge of the great swamp known as the Neck, in the south of the north. It is less than twenty miles from the headwaters of the Fever River.[3] Moat Cailin is one of the north's most important strongholds, though much of it now stands in ruins. It commands the causeway, the safe route for armies to travel through the swamps of the Neck.[4]

Moat Cailin is an effective natural choke point which has protected the north from southron invasion for thousands of years. The crannogmen of the Neck know unmapped routes through the swamps, such as narrow trails between the bogs and wet roads through the reeds that only boats can follow.[5]


See also: Images of Moat Cailin

Moat Cailin was once a great stronghold, with twenty towers, a wooden keep, and a great basalt curtain wall as high as that of Winterfell's. Today only great blocks of black basalt lay scattered about, half sunk in the ground where the wall once stood, and the keep rotted away.[4][6]

The remaining three towers, which are covered with green moss[4] and white ghostskin,[6] command the causeway from all sides so that enemies must pass between them. Attackers face constant fire from the other towers should they attempt to attack any one tower, wading through chest deep water and crossing a moat full of lizard-lions.[4]

The Children's Tower is tall and slender. It has only half of the crenellations of its crown. Legend has it that the children of the forest called upon their gods here to send the hammer of the waters to smash the Neck.[4]

The Gatehouse Tower, the largest of the remaining towers, is squat and wide.[6] It is the only tower which still stands straight, even retaining some of the walls around it,[4] although a tree grows through its northern side.[6] The tower's hall of dark stone is spotted with lichen and has a high, drafty ceiling. Within the hall is a massive carved table, also of stone.[6]

The Drunkard's Tower is so named due to its great lean. It stands where the south and west walls once met.[4]


Moat Cailin by Cris Urdiales ©

Raised by the ancient First Men,[7] it is claimed that Moat Cailin has defended against southern invasions for ten thousand years.[8]

According to myth, the greenseers of the children of the forest worked dark magic at Moat Cailin.[9] From the Children's Tower,[4] they are said to have used the hammer of the waters on the Neck[10] to break Westeros in two,[6] separating the north from the south in the same manner they shattered the Arm of Dorne. The children failed and only succeeded in flooding it, however, creating bogs and swamps. Some scholars discount the legend, instead attributing the watery landscape to natural events.[9]

The Marsh Kings and their crannogmen held Moat Cailin—sometimes with the assistance of the Barrow Kings, Red Kings, and Kings of Winter—against all attacks from the south.[11] The Kings of Winter from House Stark eventually defeated the Marsh Kings, adding Moat Cailin to the realm of Winterfell.[12] The swampy terrain was enough to prevent Moat Cailin from falling during the coming of the Andals to Westeros. It was a key defense of the north[12] against which Andal armies threw themselves time after time with no success.[13]

The wooden keep rotted away "a thousand years past".[N 1] The three remaining towers are more than capable of defending the passage to the south, however, provided that they are fully manned.[4] Moat Cailin has never been taken from the south, although it is vulnerable from the north and the east.[1]

During Aegon's Conquest, some northern lords urged King Torrhen Stark to resist House Targaryen at Moat Cailin.[14] Rather than fight the Targaryen dragons, however, Torrhen instead submitted to Aegon I Targaryen at the Trident, becoming the King Who Knelt.[15]

Recent Events

A Game of Thrones

Moat Cailin by Wibben © Fantasy Flight Games

Lord Eddard Stark, the Hand of the King to Robert I Baratheon, instructs his wife Catelyn to have Ser Helman Tallhart and Galbart Glover fortify Moat Cailin with a hundred bowmen each.[16]

On the march south from Winterfell after Eddard's arrest in King's Landing, Robb Stark takes the Gatehouse Tower as his seat, Greatjon Umber takes the Children's Tower for his, and Rickard Karstark uses the Drunkard's Tower. Robb's mother, Catelyn Stark, and great-uncle, Ser Brynden Tully, join him at Moat Cailin with the levies of House Manderly, but the northmen run low on supplies.[4] Robb leaves a small force of mostly archers to hold the Moat,[4] while the rest of his army continues south toward the Twins.[17]

A Clash of Kings

Victarion Greyjoy, Lord Captain of the Iron Fleet, is sent by his brother Balon, Lord of the Iron Islands, to take Moat Cailin. Instead of marching from the south, the ironborn sail up the Saltspear and the Fever River[3] and attack Moat Cailin from the west.[18]

After Theon Greyjoy captures Winterfell and declares himself the Prince of Winterfell, Maester Luwin councils Theon that holding Jojen and Meera Reed as hostages will stay the hand of their father, Lord Howland Reed, the liege of the local crannogmen.[10]

A Storm of Swords

At Hag's Mire, upon receiving the news of Balon's death at Pyke from the captain of the Myraham, Robb plans to march on Moat Cailin. Robb intends for Howland's crannogmen to lead northmen through the swamps of the Neck, so the ironborn-held Moat Cailin can be attacked from the south and the north.[5]

A Feast for Crows

Theon Greyjoy rides to Moat Cailin, by Marc Simonetti ©

Upon hearing of Balon's death and the return of his hated brother, Euron, Victarion leaves a token force to defend Moat Cailin under the command of Ralf Kenning and returns to the Iron Islands with his fleet to decide on the succession.[19] The ironborn garrison is weakened by crannogmen attacks.[20][19]

Euron is crowned King of the Isles and the North during the kingsmoot,[21] and he commands Victarion to travel to Slaver's Bay with the Iron Fleet to bring back Daenerys Targaryen. Victarion sets sail, leaving behind his unknowing loyal garrison at Moat Cailin.[22]

Queen Regent Cersei Lannister expects that Ramsay Bolton, the son of the new Warden of the North, Lord Roose Bolton, will wed Arya Stark after the ironborn lose control of Moat Cailin.[23]

A Dance with Dragons

Men from Houses Ryswell and Dustin surprise the remaining ironmen on the Fever River and burn their longships, cutting off the garrison of Moat Cailin from naval support.[24]

During the siege of Moat Cailin, Ramsay sends his captive, Theon Greyjoy, to offer the weakened ironborn garrison food and safe passage if they surrender unarmed. Theon negotiates their surrender, but Ramsay has all of the ironborn flayed and displayed along the causeway. Ramsay and Theon later meet the returning northern host of Lord Bolton and his Frey allies at Moat Cailin.[6]

With the fall of Moat Cailin, Tristifer Botley advises Asha Greyjoy to abandon Deepwood Motte. They are soon after captured by Stannis Baratheon.[25][26]


Brynden: This is Moat Cailin? It's no more than a—
Catelyn: —death trap.[4]

It's said that the old Kings in the North could stand at Moat Cailin and throw back hosts ten times the size of their own.[4]

The battle for the north will be fought amidst the ruins of Moat Cailin.[8]

Robb will never look on Winterfell again. He will break himself on Moat Cailin, as every southron army has done for ten thousand years.[8]

The ironmen control the sunset sea. The Greyjoys hold Moat Cailin as well. No army has ever taken Moat Cailin from the south. Even to march against it is madness. We could be trapped on the causeway, with the ironborn before us and angry Freys at our backs.[27]

Chapters that take place at Moat Cailin


  1. Catelyn Stark recalls the "wooden keep was gone entirely, rotted away a thousand years past" (A Game of Thrones, Catelyn VIII). It is unknown if this means one thousand years ago (seven hundred years before Aegon's Conquest) or if George R. R. Martin is being figurative.


  1. 1.0 1.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 17, Jon IV.
  2. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 55, Catelyn VIII, p 597.
  3. 3.0 3.1 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 24, Theon II.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 55, Catelyn VIII.
  5. 5.0 5.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 45, Catelyn V.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 20, Reek II.
  7. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 53, Bran VI.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 66, Theon VI.
  9. 9.0 9.1 The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Coming of the First Men.
  10. 10.0 10.1 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 50, Theon IV.
  11. The World of Ice & Fire, The North: The Kings of Winter.
  12. 12.0 12.1 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 66, Bran VII.
  13. The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Arrival of the Andals.
  14. Fire & Blood, Aegon's Conquest.
  15. The World of Ice & Fire, The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest.
  16. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 20, Eddard IV.
  17. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 59, Catelyn IX.
  18. George R. R. Martin's A World of Ice and Fire, Moat Cailin.
  19. 19.0 19.1 A Feast for Crows, Chapter 18, The Iron Captain.
  20. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 11, The Kraken's Daughter.
  21. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 19, The Drowned Man.
  22. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 29, The Reaver.
  23. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 17, Cersei IV.
  24. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 15, Davos II.
  25. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 26, The Wayward Bride.
  26. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 42, The King's Prize.
  27. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 14, Catelyn II.