Moat Cailin

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Moat Cailin
Ancient fortress ruins
Moat cailin by reneaigner.jpg
Art work by Reneaigner ©
Location Westeros, The North, The Neck
Founded Dawn Age
Moat Cailin is located in The North
Moat Cailin
The North and the location of Winterfell
Moat Cailin by Cris Urdiales ©

Moat Cailin is an ancient stronghold of the First Men[1] on the northern edge of the great swamp known as the Neck, in the North. It is less than twenty miles from the headwaters of the Fever River. It is one of the North's most important strongholds, though much of it now stands in ruins. Its importance stems from the fact that it commands the causeway, which is the safe route for armies to travel through the swamps of the Neck.

Moat Cailin is an effective natural choke point which has protected the North from southern invasion for thousands of years. The only way for an invader to effectively bypass Moat Cailin is to win the allegiance of House Reed and the crannogmen who know of other routes through the swamps. These routes, such as narrow trails between the bogs and wet roads through the reeds that only boats can follow, are not on any map. Given the Reeds' strong ancestral ties to House Stark, they are unlikely to aid southerners.


It is claimed that Moat Cailin was raised roughly 10,000 years ago, by the the First Men. It was a great stronghold, with twenty towers and a great basalt curtain wall as high as that of Winterfell's.[1]

Today only great blocks of black basalt lay scattered about, half sunk in the ground, where the wall once stood. The wooden keep rotted away a thousand years past[1] and three remaining towers out of a fabled twenty are green with moss.

According to myth, the children of the forest attempted to use Moat Cailin to hold back the flood of invading First Men.[2] When that failed due to the humans' superior numbers, the children attempted to shatter the Neck by working powerful magics from the Children's Tower and completely separate the north from the south in the same manner they shattered the Arm of Dorne. The children failed and only succeeded in flooding it, creating bogs and swamps.

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.[3] The swampy terrain was enough to prevent Moat Cailin from falling in the Andal invasion. It was a key defence of the north[4] against which the Andal armies threw themselves time after time with no success. The Kings of Winter from House Stark eventually defeated the Marsh Kings, adding Moat Cailin to the realm of Winterfell.[5]

In the present era most of Moat Cailin's former towers have fallen into ruin and have not been permanently manned for centuries. However, the three remaining towers are more than capable of defending the passage to the south, provided that they are fully manned.[1]


See also: Images of Moat Cailin

The remaining three towers command the causeway from all sides and enemies must pass between them. Attackers would have to face constant fire from the other towers should they attempt to attack any one tower, wading through chest deep water and crossing a moat.[6]

The three remaining towers of Moat Cailin are as follows:

  • Gatehouse Tower is the only tower which still stands straight, even retaining some of the walls around it.[6]
  • Drunkard's Tower is so named due to its great lean. It stands where the south and west walls once met.[6]

Recent Events

Theon Greyjoy rides to Moat Cailin - by Marc Simonetti ©

A Game of Thrones

On the march south, Robb Stark takes the Gatehouse Tower as his seat, Greatjon Umber takes the Children's Tower for his and Rickard Karstark, the Drunkard's Tower.[6]

A Clash of Kings

Victarion Greyjoy is sent by his brother Balon Greyjoy to take Moat Cailin by sailing up the Saltspear and the Fever River.[7] The fortress was only designed to resist attack from the south, and thus its northern flank is relatively exposed to attack by even a small force. This weakness is exploited by the ironborn in the Battle of Moat Cailin during the War of the Five Kings.

Believing that the Neck is the key to the kingdom Balon reasons on Pyke,

Once we hold Moat Cailin, the pup will not be able to win back to the north ... and if he is fool enough to try, his enemies will seal the south end of the causeway behind him, and Robb the boy will find himself caught like a rat in a bottle.[8]

After Theon Greyjoy captures Winterfell and declares himself the Prince of Winterfell, Maester Luwin councils Theon that Moat Cailin sits on the edge of the bogs. Lord Howland Reed can make Victarion's occupation a visit to hell if he chooses, but so long as Theon hold his heirs, Jojen and Meera, he must stay his hand.[9]

A Storm of Swords

At Oldstones, upon receiving the news of Balon's death from the captain of the Myraham, Robb Stark immediately makes plans to march on Moat Cailin. He realises that Victarion will have been compelled to return to Pyke. Robb states to his bannermen,

Moat Cailin is the key. Lord Balon knew that, which is why he sent his brother Victarion there with the hard heart of the Greyjoy strength. [10]

A Feast for Crows

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 of the next Iron King.[11]

Euron is crowned King of the Iron Islands during the kingsmoot,[12] 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.[13]

A Dance with Dragons

Men from Houses Ryswell and Dustin surprise the remaining ironmen on the Fever River and manage to burn their longships, cutting off the garrison of Moat Cailin from naval support.[14]

During the Siege of Moat Cailin, Ramsay Bolton sends Theon Greyjoy to offer the ironborn food and safe passage if they surrender unarmed. Theon succeeds in entering, and grants mercy to Ralf Kenning, who had been left to die from wounds festering from a poisoned arrow. Theon is informed all of the ironborn within the Children's Tower are dead after Dagon Codd went over and discovered two survivors eating corpses before killing them.[15]

Theon convinces the garrison to surrender to Ramsay after Adrack Humble kills Dagon Codd, who opposes it. Theon discovers sixty-five ironmen remain of the garrison, with eighteen holding the Drunkard's Tower and forty-eight holding the Gatehouse Tower. Many are men from House Codd. While two near death are left behind, sixty-three of the ironborn are escorted to the Bolton camp, where Ramsay has them flayed alive despite his promise of safe passage. The next day their skinless bodies, still dripping fresh blood, are put on pikes and displayed along the causeway. Ramsay and Theon later meet the returning northern host of Lord Roose Bolton and his Frey allies at Moat Cailin.[15]

Chapters that take place at Moat Cailin

References and Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 55, Catelyn VIII, p 597.
  2. The World of Ice and Fire, The Coming of the First Men.
  3. The World of Ice and Fire, The Kings of Winter.
  4. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 66, Bran VII, p 739.
  5. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 66, Bran VII.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 55, Catelyn VIII.
  7. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 24, Theon II.
  8. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 24, Theon II, p 395.
  9. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 50, Theon IV, p 729.
  10. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 45, Catelyn V, p 525.
  11. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 18, The Iron Captain.
  12. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 19, The Drowned Man.
  13. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 29, The Reaver.
  14. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 15, Davos II.
  15. 15.0 15.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 20, Reek II.

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