Game of Thrones Explainer: Week 4

This is our 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.  After the jump, our new material in episode four, “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things.”

Characters:

Rodrik Cassel  Ser Rodrick Cassel: Master-at-arms of Winterfell.  When home at Winterfell, he is in charge of the castle’s defenses and the training of its occupants.  Wise and strong, he has fought many battles in his time, and is Cat’s companion on her trip down to King’s Landing and back.

Hodor  Hodor: A  huge stableboy in Winterfell, not totally right in the head (the only word he can say is “Hodor,” though he seems to understand other people when they speak to him).  He becomes Bran’s companion and mode of transport, carrying the now crippled Bran around the castle.  Grandson of Old Nan.

Old Nan  Old Nan: A storyteller and nurse (was the nurse to Ned’s parents or grandparents, they’re never clear on that, but suffice to say she is super old), she tries to impart wisdom to the current crop of Stark children.

Septa Mordane  Septa Mordane: Sansa’s tutor and babysitter.  Kind of a buzzkill.

Ser Gregor Clegane"The Mountain"  Ser Gregor Clegane: Known as The Mountain (in the book it’s The Mountain that Rides, but whatever), he is cruelest and most feared knight in Westeros.  He stands well over seven feet tall, yet the most outsized thing about him is the list of atrocities he’s committed while in the employ of House Lannister.  It was certainly no coincidence that his tournament lance ended up in the throat of Ser Hugh of the Vale, as dead men can tell no tales that might harm Ser Gregor’s masters.  He is the brother of Sandor Clegane, The Hound.  As Littlefinger tells Sansa, the horrible scars on The Hound’s face were given to him as a child by Ser Gregor, who held his brother’s face in a fire after he found him playing with his toy.

House Mormont  Ser Alliser Thorne: Master-at-arms of Castle Black.  A cruel and cold man, he is responsible for the training of new recruits to the Night’s Watch.  Hates Jon, and bestows upon him the mocking nickname “Lord Snow.”  Might hate Sam even more, and dubs him “Ser Piggy.”  Probably a cannibal. (A note of explanation about the pics, HBO doesn’t have little thumbnails for the Night’s Watch, so instead I’m using the thumbnail of the sigil of House Mormont, since Jeor Mormont is the current Lord Commander)

House Mormont  Samwell Tarly: Sam is a weakling and a craven (as he himself tells Jon), and comes to the Night’s Watch because his father gave him the choice of taking the black or dying in a “hunting accident.”  Sam’s father is a prominent knight and soldier from the southern part of Westeros, Lord Randyll Tarly of Horn Hill.  He tried to bully Sam into becoming a man and a fighter like himself, despite Sam’s love of music and kittens and reading.  Once it became clear that Sam’s younger brother Dickon was every inch the man Lord Randyll was hoping for, Sam was driven out so that his brother could become the next Lord of Horn Hill.

Places:

Vaes Dothrak: The “city” of the Dothraki.  Really its more like a cluttered attic where they dump stuff they’ve pillaged from other cities and societies before heading back out.  Khals return here periodically to receive the blessing from a council of old women known as the dosh khaleen, composed of the surviving wives of khals that have died.  Vaes Dothrak is large enough to hold every single khalesar of Dothraki, should they all return at once.

Valyria: This isn’t a place that we saw, but Viserys talked about it, so I figured I’d mention it.  Valyria is the ancestral home of the Targaryen’s, it was a city in the far east of Essos.  At one time it was the greatest civilization in the world (think Rome) and Valyrians ruled over all of Essos, largely because of their mastery over dragons.  Shortly before the conquest of the Seven Kingdoms (so, roughly 500 years before the show starts), some sort of calamity befell Valyria (known as the Doom), destroying it completely.  The Targaryen family had been one of the western-most outposts of the Valyrian empire, which meant that they both survived the Doom, and were ideally situated to cross the Narrow Sea and conqueror Westeros.  The surviving legacy of Valyria is seen in the Free Cities in Essos (now independent city-nations that were once part of the Valyrian empire) and in weapons made of Valyrian steel (like Ned’s greatsword Ice), a dark gray metal much prized for its strength and sharpness, and made using a technique that was lost in the Doom.

The Iron Islands: Another place that we didn’t see, but it was mentioned several times.  The Iron Islands are a group of islands off the western coast of Westeros, and are the seat of House Greyjoy.  Before the arrival of Aegon the Conqueror, the Greyjoys were kings in their own right.  The people of the islands are known as the Ironborn, and they are essentially vikings.  They long made their living raiding up and down the western coast of the continent.  Not long after Robert overthrew Aerys II and ascended the Iron Throne, Balon Greyjoy (Theon’s father) decided that it was time to declare independence, and take back the parts of Westeros that had historically been ruled by the Greyjoys.  The rebellion was short-lived however, as Robert and Ned’s army smashed Greyjoy at his stronghold on the island of Pyke, killing his two oldest sons in the process.  To ensure that Balon would keep the peace, they took his youngest son Theon and made him Ned Stark’s ward (hostage).

(all photo credits HBO, from their significantly more extensive and superior Viewer’s Guide)

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