So I thought I’d throw together a weekly feature where I clarify some of the people, places, and relationships covered in each week’s episode of Game of Thrones. This is a dense world and a lot of information is being dumped on new viewers all at once, and I imagine that more than a few of you might be struggling to sort it all out. I’m not going to spoil anything that’s upcoming, I’m just going to look at what we actually saw and clarify who is who and what is what, in case you missed it in the metric ton of exposition delivered by the characters.
I got the idea for this feature after watching this awesome video review of the show on Winter is Coming.
There is no denying that dude’s enthusiasm. There’s also no denying that he’s got a bunch of stuff wrong. So after the jump, our first Lonely Planet Guide (or Fodor’s if that’s more your speed) to Westeros.
Eddard (Ned) Stark: Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. Ned is the patriarch of House Stark, the most prominent noble family in the northern part of Westeros. Generations ago, they ruled this part of Westeros as kings in their own right.
Robert Baratheon: King of Westeros. He and Ned are friends since childhood, when they both grew up in the household of Jon Arryn, as his wards (in Westeros it is common to send high-born boys to be fostered by other Lords, as a way of maintaining ties between Houses) . Robert became king after leading a rebellion to overthrow the last Targaryen king, Aerys II (called the Mad King). Robert was moved to revolt in a large part because of Aerys role in the death of Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister) to whom he was betrothed and loved deeply.
Jon Arryn (deceased): Lord of the Eyrie and the Vale, and Hand of the King. The Arryns rule over a mountainous portion of eastern Westeros. As Hand of the King, Arryn was like a Prime Minister. He spoke in Robert’s name and conducted the business of the kingdom whenever the king was indisposed or disinterested (which was frequently). He is survived by his wife Lysa, the sister of Catelyn Stark, and it is Lysa’s letter to Ned and Catelyn that raise suspicions of Jon Arryn dying a less than natural death.
Catelyn Stark (formerly Tully): Wife of Eddard Stark. Born into the Tully family, rulers of a central part of Westeros known as the Riverlands, Catelyn is fiercely protective of her family, particularly her children.
Robb Stark: Oldest son of Ned and Catelyn. Washboard abs.
Sansa Stark: Oldest daughter of Ned and Catelyn. Likes pretty things.
Arya Stark: Youngest daughter of Ned and Catelyn. Doesn’t like pretty things.
Brandon (Bran) Stark: Middle son of Ned and Catelyn. Likes climbing. Sees too much.
Rickon Stark: Youngest son of Ned and Catelyn. Not much more than a prop at this point, we saw him laughing at Bran’s bow practice.
Jon Snow: Bastard son of Ned Stark. It is a Westerosi custom to give all highborn bastards a surname indicative of the region they are from, since they cannot take their father’s name. For example, if Jon Snow had instead been born a bastard in House Arryn, he would have been called Jon Stone, since that is the moniker they use in the Vale. Ned can’t give Jon his name, but he gives him his love and respect, despite his wife’s displeasure and disapproval. Jon is a constant reminder to Catelyn of Ned’s long-ago infidelity.
Theon Greyjoy: Ward of Ned Stark. This might have been the most confusing character to place for newbies, as he was kind of lumped in with the rest of the Stark children. Theon is the son of Balon Greyjoy, head of House Greyjoy and ruler of the Iron Islands off the western coast of Westeros. He has been raised in the Stark household since youth, in part to ensure his father Balon’s continued loyalty to the realm.
Cersei Lannister: Queen of Westeros. Her marriage to Robert is purely political. The Lannisters are already the richest House in Westeros, and they are maneuvering to be the most powerful as well.
Jaime Lannister: Knight of the Kingsguard. Jaime is the twin brother of Cersei and the most famous knight in Westeros. His skill with a sword is unmatched, but he carries an infamous reputation and the nickname “The Kingslayer.” Think of the Kingsguard as the Westerosi version of the secret service. There are seven members of the Kingsguard, and it is considered the highest honor a knight can achieve to become a member. Your job, obviously, is to protect the king and you swear an oath to do so unto your own death. During Robert’s rebellion, Jaime turned on Mad King Aerys, and was the one who actually killed him, hence his nickname.
Tyrion Lannister: Younger brother of Jaime and Cersei. Known as “The Imp” in reference to his being a dwarf and a smartass. Is almost always the smartest man in the room, but is derided and ignored due to his physical limitations. Finds frequent solace between the legs of whores and in the bottom of bottles.
Joffery Baratheon: Son of Cersei and Robert and heir to the throne.
Sandor Clegane: Known as The Hound for his ferocious snarling dog’s head helmet. Sworn to House Lannister, and serves as Joffrey’s bodyguard.
Viserys Targaryen: Youngest son of Aerys II, the last Targaryen king. Fled Westeros as a child during the final days of Robert’s rebellion, and is living in exile in Essos, across the Narrow Sea. Is focused on nothing but regaining the throne he sees as rightfully his.
Daenerys Targaryen: Daughter of Aerys II, sister of Viserys. Dreams of returning to Westeros, though she hardly remembers it. Is being married off to Khal Drogo in an effort by Viserys to gain an army.
Khal Drogo: A Dothraki horselord, he leads an army of 40,000 mounted warriors. Think Ghengis Khan. Has never been defeated in battle.
Magister Illyrio: A wealthy merchant, serving as a patron to the exiled Targaryen siblings.
Westeros: The continent on which our story largely takes place. About the size of South America. Was once seven separate kingdoms, but was unified into a single kingdom several hundred years ago by Aegon the Conqueror, the first Targaryen king.
Essos: A massive continent across the Narrow Sea from Westeros. Home to many exotic people and cities.
Winterfell: The ancestral home and stronghold of House Stark. From here they rule the northern part of Westeros.
The Wall: A 700 foot wall of ice running from the entire width of the continent, it was built a millennia ago to protect the Seven Kingdoms from an ancient supernatural threat in the far north.
King’s Landing: The capital city of Westeros, a balmy city a half a continent away from Winterfell, full of the very rich and the very, very poor.
Pentos: One of the Free Cities of Essos, full of merchants and traders. The temporary home of the exiled Targaryen siblings.
The Godswood: We saw Ned sitting here sharpening his sword, beneath a tree with red leaves called a weirwood. The godswood is a small copse of trees within a castle or town. The northern people go to a godswood to commune with their gods, as they follow the Old Religion, which is vaguely druidic in nature. A weirwood with a face carved in the trunk at the center of a godswood is known as the heart tree.
So what did I miss? If you have a question about something not explained above, feel free to ask about it in the comments.
(all photo credits HBO, from their significantly more extensive and superior Viewer’s Guide)