In the Gilboa nation, it's Inauguration Day for the city of Shiloh to become the monarchy's new capital. King Silas Benjamin, ruler of Gilboa, walks down a hallway lined with subordinates on his way to speak before the citizens of Gilboa. Silas's son Jack, wife Rose, and daughter Michelle stand among them. Jack asks if he's doing the "God" thing. Rose hopes not; God isn't popular right now. Missing is Reverend Samuels, who's scheduled to give the benediction. Thomasina, the family's handler, suggests waiting for him, but Silas won't let his adoring constituents wait on a cold day. He steps outside in front of the cheering crowd.
In their rural home, David Shepherd, his mother and brothers watch the televised inauguration. She scolds them, "Pay attention. Your father died fighting for this," quietly adding, "damn fool." Reverend Ephram Samuels pulls up to their mechanic's garage, his car sputtering. After David tapes the cracked hose, Samuels wipes dirt off David's forehead, but it's more like an anointment. When David refuses payment, Samuels offers a broken golden watch, engraved with Gilboa's logo. Samuels says, "Fix it and you deserve to have it." David returns inside, telling his brother Eli the famous Samuels came to their garage. Eli doesn't believe him.
As all of Gilboa watches the broadcast, Silas praises God, even though God isn't popular. He details the half-century of war between the three territories before he united them to form Gilboa. From the ruins of that war, they built Shiloh. Clearly feeling chosen, Silas says God sent him a sign through a swarm butterflies. They swirled above him and landed on his head to form a crown. God's signal to him to build Shiloh. The adoring TV anchor gushes over Silas, citing his humble beginnings of a soldier to a Monarch, just as Shiloh rose from the ravages of war to the metropolis it is today.
Two years later, much to his mother's disapproval, David is in the army. He's in the trenches with his oldest brother and superior officer Eli on the front lines in the war against Gath, a rival territory. Feared for their monstrous Goliath tanks, Gath flexes that muscle at different times each day by firing on Gilboa's line just in case they forgot about Gath's weapons superiority. David amazes Eli when he's able to predict within seconds when Gath will fire each day. They learn of an ambush on one of their squads that advanced without air support. Many were killed and Gath took hostages. This news greatly troubles David.
In the kingdom, an aide informs Silas that a regiment was ambushed behind enemy lines. Silas is adamant that they don't negotiate for hostages. The aide tells him it was his son Jack's regimen. Instead of shooting the messenger, Silas punches him. This changes everything. He wants to call the Gath Ambassador to negotiate. In front of his entire executive staff, Fawkes, the Minister of Energy, reminds Silas with barely veiled hostility that they don't negotiate for hostages, "As you said."
At the front, David's squadron is ordered not to go after the hostages. Unable to sleep with his conscience weighing heavy, David joins Savoy on the line. He wants to see if a new tent on the Gath side has the hostages inside. Betting on faith that the guys inside the tanks are sleeping, he takes a grenade and breaches enemy lines. He sneaks up to a giant Goliath tank and crawls underneath. When the coast is clear, he slips inside the tent where two hostages, one of whom is injured, kneel bound and blindfolded.
David cuts their binds, then he and the uninjured hostage help the injured soldier back across enemy lines. Halfway, a Goliath tank spots them and fires. They dive into a trench and David runs off to draw fire. He lobs his grenade at the tank and then stands in front of it like a defiant protestor at Tiananmen Square. Luckily for him, the grenade detonates and disorients the tank. David runs, gets into position and bazookas it to oblivion. Back in the trench, Savoy photographs the entire daring rescue on a camera rigged with night vision.
At base camp next morning, Eli scolds David for disobeying orders. Just as a sergeant is about to lay into him, a helicopter lands. To their astonishment, King Silas exits and races to the injured soldier. David is shocked to learn he saved Jack Benjamin, the King's son. Days later, David enjoys a ride in a Rolls Royce through Shiloh to the royal home. The guards recognize him immediately and show him a newspaper with an iconic photograph of him in front of the tank. The headline trumpets, "David vs. Goliath." Embarrassed, David also learns he's the guest of honor at the King's banquet.
At a nightclub, Jack and a friend enjoy copious female company. An annoyed Thomasina enters and reminds Jack that David's banquet is tonight. He begrudgingly leaves the club. Outside, he flaunts movie star attitude while paparazzi flash away. Just for fun, he pulls out a paint gun and fires green pellets at the photographers. At home, he greets the bewildered David and apologizes for being too late to give him a tour. He derisively asks if he plans to wear his dress uniform to the banquet, then offers to lend him a suit... and a tailor to adjust it. David's amazed at this foreign, privileged world.
Meanwhile, Silas discusses war strategy with his board of directors. The troops have been inspired by David. They all want to take out a Goliath tank. Silas agrees it's time to stop taking hits without retaliating. General Abner, Chancellor Hanson and the Minister of Finance support pushing their borders into Gath. Next, Michelle petitions public healthcare reform. Silas is unmoved by her story of a six-year-old needing a new heart, reminding her that through her childhood illness she did fine with public health care. He denies her petition. Later, Rose searches for her lost cell phone and tells Silas that Michelle is furious with him for the denial.
At the banquet, David fields questions from the press. Silas notices he's a natural in front of the cameras. He approaches David, poses for photos, then without even a thank you, tells David to have fun. Uncomfortable and alone, David orders a glass of expensive booze. He gets that and the pretty bartender's number too. Silas makes a speech, not about the guest of honor, but about the cause and his vision of a butterfly crown. Samuels approaches David and is impressed to see he fixed the gold watch. He encourages David to mingle, adding he'll like the woman in the red dress.
Instead, David enters the library and admires a grand piano, then sits at it and expertly plays a Liszt piece. Michelle, wearing a red dress, sees him and says he shouldn't be playing the piano as it was a gift to her father from the ambassador of Austeria. David acknowledges her, then resumes, saying it's an 1848 Broadwood grand, made the same year Liszt wrote the piece he's playing. She's impressed. He tells her that the only piano like this that he ever saw was on the Internet and he intends to finish his piece.
Revered Samuels corners Silas and asks, "You really think I didn't know?" Silas says not to tell him how to defend his country. He spots David and finally expresses his gratitude for saving Jack's life. He offers David anything he wants. He sees David's eyes drift toward Michelle and sets up a dance with her. During the dance, Michelle apologizes for taking her anger at her denied petition out on him. David is pleasantly surprised that there's more to Michelle than just a pretty princess.
Meanwhile, Silas tells Abner to discreetly kill Fawkes, the Minister of Energy. His crime; publicly contradicting Silas in front of his court. Abner asks about the wife. No, Silas only wants Fawkes dead. Abner warns Silas that David will eventually be trouble. He suggests killing him, but Silas says David is an infant who has the media eating out of his hand. He wants to use David as a role model and distraction from the war.
The next morning, Rose and Thomasina still can't find Rose's cell phone, which could be a major security breach if it ends up in the wrong hands. David joins the royal family for breakfast where Silas offers him a promotion to captain and the job of military liaison to the press office. Angered at being passed over by his father for the position, Jack storms out of the room. David hedges at the offer. With Silas's permission to speak freely, David says he's not a city boy and worries about the quality of life in Shiloh. Silas leaves it up to David, confident he'll take the job.
Jack tells his mother how angry he is that David got the most coveted position in the military, a position he felt entitled to. Rose says his nightlife habit isn't helping his cause. Jack fears he's going to be brought up on military charges for going in when his men didn't have air support. But, he swears they had support when they went in. It was only when the shooting started that they found themselves alone. He asks for her help. She advises them to let them court martial him. They'll eventually see their error during the trial, and apologies, medals and honors will be bountiful.
Minister Fawkes' death is reported on the news as result of a heart attack while jogging. Just before his first press conference, David calls home and tells his mother to turn on the television. At the press conference, David reports that Silas advanced troops into Gath territory and that Gath is retreating. Silas and Abner watch. Abner thinks his lack of polish is embarrassing but Silas loves it. When asked about Jack's culpability in the ambush, David defends him against accusations of negligence. David sees Michelle and before he's pulled off stage, adds that there's been progress on expanding health care coverage.
Thomasina tells David he passed his first press briefing with flying colors and takes him to a conference room where she has a surprise. David's thrilled to see Eli and his former platoon members on screen via video call. All are ecstatic over his promotion... and the cases of beer he sent to them. David says he'd rather be with them, to which they say he's crazy. In the middle of the call, Eli's platoon is attacked by an air raid. As they scramble for cover, David can only helplessly watch.
Abner proposes striking back at Gath. As if he knows David's mind is on his brother, Samuels assures him that Eli's okay. Silas gets a peace treaty via messenger from the Premier of Gath and accepts it. The news hits the streets and Shiloh explodes in celebration. Michelle goes to David's apartment to thank him for championing her cause, and gives him credit for helping the treaty come to pass. As they watch the celebration, she recalls when her dad was moved to tears by seeing an ice cream truck in his city. Its normalcy signified the success of Shiloh to him. Moved himself, David kisses her.
To Silas and his entourage, Jack mocks that David brought peace. He asks his father why he transferred him off the field to a desk job. Angry that David's getting all the glory, he thinks the move suggests the ambush on his platoon was his fault and wonders why Silas doesn't support him. Silas sends his entourage away, then stuns Jack when he says he knows he's gay and only pretending to be a skirt chaser. Calling Jack a disgrace, he gives him a choice; control his homosexual urges if he wants to be king. He leaves his son in tears.
Well into the night, Shiloh still celebrates. One person not celebrating is William, who tells Silas a truce isn't the best thing for the country right now. Silas protests, having just signed the peace treaty. William thinks that makes it a perfect time to attack. When Silas says the people want peace, William says give it to them in a year. His company Cross Gen has too much invested in the military to quit now. He reminds Silas that Cross Gen paid for Shiloh, and threatens to pull funding and cause the kingdom's demise. Thus, bringing more rioting and death than the war would. With no choice, Silas acquiesces, wondering how he'll live with himself.
Before he sends his country back into war with Gath, Silas visits his mistress and his sickly illegitimate son who live in the country. He wonders why he ever leaves her house, as he's happy when he's there and sad when he's gone. She tells him that sadness can be useful. He goes into his son's bedroom, who is happy to see him.
War with Gath goes back into full swing with Gilboa as the aggressor. David learns of it when Silas gives him a press release to read on air. He pleads with Silas not to invade as Abner glares at him. Silas becomes enraged and tells him not to speak out of turn. He also warns him to stay away from his daughter, whom the cameras caught kissing. He said if he'd not seen the pictures first, he would have killed David.
Silas asks Samuels to go on TV and preach to the people to band them together like the old days. Samuels refuses, reason being that Silas set up Jack's platoon by recalling air cover, allowing his own soldiers to be attacked. Silas says Jack wasn't supposed to be there. He only did it to rally the people to fight to gain peace. Which, Samuels says, Silas threw away. He brings a message; since Silas has cast aside the word of the Lord, He has cast him aside as king. He no longer protects him or the ones he loves. And, he'll find another king. Defiant, Silas says to hell with God.
David visits a mortally wounded Eli at the front. David is horror struck at his brother's injuries, but all Eli wants to know is how David knew when the Goliaths were going to fire. David says their tank teams used the exhaust systems to heat up their field rations. They'd rev the engines, always doing it before they fired so they could enjoy a hot meal in peace. "While we had our heads in the sand," Eli laughs. David is scared, and says he's not a hero. He was surrendering when the picture was taken. "Everyone thinks I'm brave, but I'm not." Eli imparts his final words before dying, "Be brave now."
Silas, Abner and the top brass monitor the front offsite via video. They watch as a bereaved David breaches enemy lines and approaches the Gath tanks. He carries a white sheet with his brother's blood on it. He dares them to take his brother's blood, and his. Or, come down and show him their face to prove they live for more than just their deaths. Abner orders a sniper to train a gun on him. The tanks start up and allow a transport vehicle to pass. Silas orders the sniper to hold. A Gath general gets out of the vehicle and approaches David.
Silas spins David's actions to the press, saying they looked into their hearts and decided peace was a better option. He says he personally sent David to talk to the Gath generals. The press asks where David is, and Silas says he's mourning the loss of his brother. David, his mother and brothers attend Eli's funeral. William confronts Silas on his offer of peace talks and says he just traded one war for another. Silas tells his press officer to report that William congratulated him on the truce. Meanwhile, William calls his bank and tells them to pull the money. They'll deal with Shepard later.
David arrives at his apartment to find the two Royal guards. They developed a fondness for him when he shared his banquet dinner with them. Inside, he's stunned to see a housewarming gift from the palace. The Liszt piano. At the vineyard with press in tow, Rose prepares for the summit with Gath. Thomasina brings Rose's missing cell phone, saying she found it in the backseat of Jack's car along with a bright red bra that she hands to Rose. Rose holds it up to her assistant, who looks confused. Humiliated, and an unwilling participant in Jack's cover, she runs off.
William has a secret meeting with Jack to try to convince him to overthrow the kingdom. He says Silas's time has passed and Gilboa needs bold action. And to ensure bold action, they need a replacement. He asks Jack if he's in. Jack smiles, revenge rife in his expression. He says nothing, but it's clear he's in.
Silas meets with David to offer his condolences for his brother, and the option to relieve his post. He says he won't try to make him stay and that the piano is his regardless. David says his family would really like him to come home, but he'll stay citing it's the braver thing and Eli would have done it. He sees Michelle on the lawn and with Silas's nod, goes to talk to her. Rose and Silas watch the two. Rose admits to being in awe of Silas after all these years, with all he's accomplished. She then leaves to let him work.
Michelle sees her mother wave to her and tells David that she'll be right back. After she walks away, a butterfly lights on David's finger. As Silas watches in disbelief, more butterflies swirl above David's head and then light on his head, forming the very crown that Silas spoke of when he said that God chose him to lead the kingdom and build Shiloh. Unnerved and threatened, Silas tells his guard to get Abner and tell him he's changed his mind.