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Skyrim is in turmoil because the Stormcloaks believe their Nord way of life is at risk, while the Imperials believe Skyrim is a part of the Empire, and must follow its laws and customs.

— Game loading screen

In Skyrim, a Civil War rages between the Imperial Legion, occupiers lead by General Tullius and the Nordic Stormcloak rebels lead by Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm.

The War has increased in intensity since the death of Torygg, the High King of Skyrim, who was killed in fair combat by Ulfric just prior to the player's entrance into the story. The Stormcloaks wish to gain Skyrim's independence from the Empire, who were previously supported by Torygg, and thus have waged a war of liberation against the Imperial occupiers in the west. The Imperial Legion, however, wishes to suppress the warmongering rebels and regain control of the province.

The Imperial Legion occupies the western part of Skyrim, and their command is based in Solitude. The Stormcloaks are based in the old Nord city of Windhelm in Eastmarch, at the Palace of the Kings.

In the game, the player can choose to join either the Stormcloaks or the Imperial Legion at any point, but once that choice is made, the other main faction will become overtly hostile.

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