Moat Cailin

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Moat Cailin
Ancient fortress ruins
Moat cailin by reneaigner.jpg
Art work by Reneaigner ©
Location the 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 is an ancient stronghold of the First Men[1] 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. 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 southron 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.


See also: Images of Moat Cailin

Moat Cailin was once 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 the fabled twenty are green with moss.

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.[2]

  • The Gatehouse Tower is the only tower which still stands straight, even retaining some of the walls around it.[2]
  • The Drunkard's Tower is so named due to its great lean. It stands where the south and west walls once met.[2]


Moat Cailin by Cris Urdiales ©

Raised by the ancient First Men,[3], it is claimed that Moat Cailin has defended against southern invasions for ten thousand years.[4]

According to myth, the children of the forest attempted to use Moat Cailin to hold back the flood of invading First Men.[5] 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 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, however, 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.[6] The swampy terrain was enough to prevent Moat Cailin from falling in the Andal invasion. It was a key defense of the north[7] 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.[8]

The three remaining towers are more than capable of defending the passage to the south, provided that they are fully manned.[1]

Recent Events

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. Robb's mother, Catelyn Stark, and great-uncle, Ser Brynden Tully, join him at Moat Cailin with the levies of House Manderly.[2]

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 by sailing up the Saltspear and the Fever River.[9] The fortress was 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 fall of Moat Cailin during the War of the Five Kings.

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.[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.[11]

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.[12]

Euron is crowned King of the Isles and the North during the kingsmoot,[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]

During the siege of Moat Cailin, Ramsay Bolton sends 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 Roose Bolton and his Frey allies at Moat Cailin.[16]


Brynden: This is Moat Cailin? It's no more than a—

Catelyn: —death trap.[2]

- Brynden Tully and Catelyn Stark

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. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 55, Catelyn VIII.
  3. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 53, Bran VI.
  4. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 66, Theon VI.
  5. The World of Ice & Fire, Ancient History: The Coming of the First Men.
  6. The World of Ice & Fire, The North: The Kings of Winter.
  7. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 66, Bran VII, p 739.
  8. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 66, Bran VII.
  9. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 24, Theon II.
  10. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 50, Theon IV, p 729.
  11. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 45, Catelyn V.
  12. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 18, The Iron Captain.
  13. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 19, The Drowned Man.
  14. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 29, The Reaver.
  15. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 15, Davos II.
  16. A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 20, Reek II.

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