Sprawling across much of the southern half of Westeros is an immense plain, made up of huge fields of wheat, corn and barley, dotted with small forests and watered by rivers both large and small. The countryside is dotted with towns, holdfasts, castles and small villages. Hot in the summer, still moderately warm in all but the worst winters, the Reach is paradise compared to the cold, windswept North or the rocky, barren Iron Islands.
The Reach is the most populous part of the Seven Kingdoms. Conservative estimates place the population at around ten million and maybe as high as twelve million, more than twice that of any other region. It is also the second-largest, after the North, and the second-richest, after the Westerlands. It also claims the title of the most honourable and chivalrous (although this is disputed by the Vale, where the first Andals and Seven-worshippers came ashore on the continent), where the rules of tournaments and knightly comportment have evolved over many centuries. It is also the ancestral home of the Faith of the Seven on the continent, who were based in the Starry Sept of Oldtown before transferring their authority to the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing.
The Reach measures approximately 1,200 miles along its longest axis (from the Arbor to the Blackwater Rush near King’s Landing). At its widest the region extends for about 800 miles from east to west and about 600 miles to north and south (with a significant southward extension west of the Red Mountains). The borders of the region are held to be the Sunset Sea in the west, the Redwyne Straits, Red Mountains to the south and south-east, the Kingswood to the east and the Blackwater Rush and Westerland hills to the north. The Reach counts several offshore islands as part of its territory, most notably the Shield Islands off the western coast and the Arbor to the south-west.
The North-Western Reach
The north-western Reach borders the Westerlands. Several Westerland castles are located very close to the Reach, or even on the plain itself, most notably Cornfield. The border is located some miles to the south of that castle. The north-western-most major strongholds of the Reach are Red Lake, located on the lake of the same name, and Old Oak, located on the coast between Crakehall and Highgarden.
Like most of the Reach proper, this region is fertile and populous. It is a little more varied geographically, with large forests in the north-west, a big lake in the north and hills rising to low mountains in the north. This informal region is bordered by the Lesser Mander to the east and the sea to the south-west.
The Lesser Mander
The Lesser Mander is an informal name for the river that rises in the Westerland hills and flows south for nigh on 450 miles before it joins the Mander proper. By any standards this is a significant river, but it is dwarfed by the Mander itself.
The Lesser Mander feeds the northern Reach, with numerous streams and rivers splitting off to water immense fields and grassplains stretching to the horizon. Located roughly halfway down the Lesser Mander and dominating the entire region is the castle of Goldengrove, held by House Rowan of the Northmarch. The Rowans, one of most powerful families of the Reach, hold the fealty of scores of lesser houses and landed knights, not to mention hundreds of villages and towns spread across a vast distance. From Goldengrove it is 250 miles to Bitterbridge to the west and over 220 miles to Highgarden to the south, granting the Rowans rule (under the Tyrells) over a large stretch of territory.
Among the notable and interesting castles of this region are Standfast and Coldmoat, located not too far from Goldengrove around a river known as the Chequy Water, which rises in the Horseshoe Hills and flows into Leafy Lake. These two castles, held formerly by Houses Osgrey and Webber, had a long-standing territorial dispute, complicated by claims from Houses Conklyn and Stackhouse. The matter was eventually settled by a marriage between the Osgreys and Webbers. Territorial disputes of this nature are more common in the Reach: although its vast, it also very densely populated with numerous houses controlling relatively small areas with territorial disputes and claims going back in some cases for thousands of years.
The Upper Mander and its Tributaries
The Mander is the greatest river on the continent of Westeros. It rises in the hills around Tumbleton, south-west of King’s Landing, and flows for over 700 miles south and west before curving northwards as it flows into the Sunset Sea via a huge river mouth. On its long journey it is joined by the Blueburn (which flows out of the Kingswood 300 miles to the east) and the Cockleswhent (which rises in the far north of the Dornish Marches), both of which add to the river’s size and width immensely.
The banks of the Mander are dotted with fishing villages, trade ports and holdfasts. The river provides a rapid means of transport from the sea to Tumbleton, from where cargoes can be loaded onto wagons for the last leg of their journey to King’s Landing.
Tumbleton is the largest town of the north-eastern Reach, growing fat on its position on the main trade routes north-west to the Riverlands, north-east to the capital and south along the river to Highgarden. The town sits in the midst of hills and ridge country. To the north lies the infamous Weeping Ridge and the Redgrass Field, where the armies loyal to King Daeron II Targaryen crushed the First Blackfyre Rebellion.
160 miles or so to the south-west lies Bitterbridge. Formerly known as Stonebridge for its large bridge spanning the Mander (the river widens significantly to the south of the town, making bridges impractical), the town was the site of a horrific battle and massacre during the Faith Militant Uprising. The Mander ran red with blood for twenty leagues, resulting in the town being renamed. The town suffered additional battles, riots and great loss of life in the Dance of Dragons. Since then the town has been rebuilt and continues to benefit from trade, both along the Mander and along the Roseroad. For those unable to afford water transport, Bitterbridge is the largest town and waystop between Highgarden and King’s Landing.
Seventy miles or so south of Bitterbridge, the Mander is joined by the Blueburn, which flows in from the Kingswood. The lands of the Blueburn are dominated by House Meadows, which rules from the castle at Grassfield Keep, near the town of Grassy Vale. Another powerful house in this region is House Merryweather, which rules from Longtable, located at the confluence of the Mander and the Blueburn.
A hundred miles or so south-west of Longtable is the castle of Cider Hall, seat of the red-apple Fossoways. This is located at the confluence of the Mander and the Cockleswhent. This is prime apple-growing country, with the castle of New Barrel (held by the green-apple Fossoways, the family splitting due to an argument during the Ashford Tourney of 209 AC) and the town of Appleton not too far away.
The Cockleswhent flows north and west from the foothills of the Red Mountains through some very beautiful countryside before joining the Mander. The castle and town of Ashford is the largest settlement on the Cockleswhent. The castle is notable for its role in history, as it was on the nearby Ashford Meadow that Prince Baelor “Breakspear” Targaryen was slain in a tourney mishap. Robert Baratheon also suffered his largest military defeat here during his rebellion, when he was defeated outside the town by the army of Lord Randyll Tarly.
130 miles south-west of Cider Hall, the Mander and the Lesser Mander combine and the river becomes truly immense, flowing south and west towards the sea.
Highgarden is the seat of House Tyrell, the rulers of the Reach, and for thousands of years before that was the seat of House Gardener. The castle sits on top of a hill overlooking the Mander. It has two walls, between which is a famous briar maze, whilst numerous halls, towers and an extensive sept are located around the inner keep, whilst the castle’s godswood is large and impressive, containing no less than three weirwoods.
Highgarden makes a claim to be the most aesthetically pleasing of the major castles of Westeros. The countryside surrounding the castle may be the most impressive, with immense fields of golden roses, melons, peaches and fireplums stretching to the horizon.
The Mander here has grown to be at least a couple of miles wide, with pleasure barges and boats sailing up and down the river. Overall, the scene is, especially in summer, idyllic and tranquil.
The Shield Islands
Located just west and north of the mouth of the Mander, the four large Shield Islands form an effective defence against any naval force planning to use the Mander to attack Highgarden and invade the heart of the Reach. There are four islands: Greenshield in the north-west, Oakenshield in the north-east, Greyshield in the south-west and Southshield in the furthest south.
The islands were originally known as the Misty Islands. Two thousand years ago, the ironborn were free to invade the Reach using bases and outposts on the Misty Islands. The Gardeners eventually drove out the invaders and settled troops from the Reach on the islands. Eventually these defenders were ennobled and made loyal vassals of Highgarden. The Shield Islands were given a significant and powerful fleet of ships to defend themselves. This fleet acquitted itself well during Robert’s Rebellion, slaying Lord Quellon Greyjoy when the ironborn attacked during the Battle of the Mander.
The Southern Marches
South-west of Highgarden lies a stretch of territory which, although ultimately ruled from Highgarden, holds most of its immediate loyalty to Oldtown, either as direct vassals or influenced by proximity to the city. This stretch of land is significant in size, measuring 400 miles from north to south and 300 miles from west to east.
This region is densely populated. Major strongholds along the coast include Bandallon and Blackcrown on the Sunset Sea, Three Towers on the Redwyne Straits and Sunhouse (with its surrounding port town, Cuy) in the far south on the Summer Sea, less than 200 miles from the Dornish castle of Starfall. Inland can be found Uplands, in the foothills of the Red Mountains east of Oldtown, and the castles of Honeyholt and Brightwater Keep, located up the Honeywine River from Oldtown.
At the far north-eastern edge of this region, less than a hundred miles from Highgarden, can be found Horn Hill, the seat of the extremely powerful and martial House Tarly.
Oldtown and the High Tower
Oldtown is the second-largest and oldest city on the continent of Westeros. No historian or maester has been able to determine when the first settlement was built at the mouth of the Honeywine, where it meets Whispering Sound, but it was many thousands of years before the Andal Invasion and almost certainly long before the Long Night. What records have survived indicate that settlers found an already-extant stronghold or ruins on Battle Isle, built from a curious, oily black stone. This was expanded to build the first stronghold and lighthouse on the isle by the Hightower family, or their ancient ancestors. Over the course of centuries, several successive wooden towers were built on the isle until the Hightowers replaced them with a proper, stone tower. Over the course of many centuries this tower was expanded, made higher and rebuilt until the modern tower was completed several centuries ago, reaching a height of 800 feet, taller than the Wall. In Westeros the High Tower is said to be the tallest artificial structure in the world, matched only by the Great Pyramid of Meereen, but legend speaks of the Five Forts of Yi Ti which may top a thousand feet.
The mainland near Battle Isle surrounds a great natural harbour. A town or fishing village was established here, braving ironborn raids or pirates from the Stepstones to expand, fortify and become richer and stronger. The city’s original name is unknown, but at some point it simply became known as “Oldtown”, a city that had stood since time immemorial. The city’s security was secured when King Lymond Hightower and King Garland II Gardener made an alliance through marriage, the Hightowers swearing fealty to Highgarden and making Oldtown the chief city and port of the Kingdom of the Reach. Some centuries later the order of maesters were allowed to establish their base of operations, the Citadel, in Oldtown, increasing the city’s prestige further.
During the Andal Invasion the Hightowers submitted to the invaders and retained control of the city. They secured their position by taking up the worship of the Seven and donating funds to help the Faith build a massive place of worship in the city. The Starry Sept became the centre of the Faith in Westeros for thousands of years. There are also many other septs in the city, including the Sailor’s Sept, the Lord’s Sept and the Seven Shrines, as well as a motherhouse for the training and education of septas. A cosmopolitan and open-minded city, Oldtown is also unusual in Westeros for hosting places of worship for foreigners, including a temple to the gods of the Summer Islanders and one to R’hllor, the Lord of Light, both relatively small and located in the dockland district.
The city of Oldtown is remarkable for its age and civilised beauty. The city is paved and mostly kept clean. The Oldtown City Watch is well-disciplined and effective. The city is a winding labyrinth of narrow, cobbled lanes and streets, broken up by estates and mansions. Some of the discipline in the city may be down to numerous guilds, who take in young people as apprentices and help keep lawlessness down on the streets.
The Citadel is located on the eastern side of the Honeywine, but extends onto the Isle of Ravens in the middle of the river, where the Ravenry is located. The original structure of the Citadel, when it was much smaller than today, it now serves as the place where ravens are kept, fed and dispatched on missions to maesters all over the Seven Kingdoms.
Lying off the south-western coast of Westeros, between the Sunset Sea (to the west and north), the Redwyne Straits (to the east) and the Summer Sea (to the south), the Arbor is a large island (over 100 miles long and about 60 miles wide) blessed by an excellent climate. The island is known for its shipyards, ports and its extensive vineyards, giving rise to excellent wines which are sold across the known worlds. The island is home to three notable settlements: Starfish Harbour, Ryamsport and Vinetown.
Houses of the Reach
House Tyrell rules the Reach from the castle at Highgarden. The Tyrells inherited the castle from the Gardeners when they were destroyed by Aegon the Conqueror on the Field of Fire. The Tyrells had been serving as the stewards of Highgarden and Aegon awarded them the castle for wisely choosing submission. However, the Tyrells’ relatively modest blood made this a controversial decision, with the Florents and Rowans (among others) occasionally noting their superior blood descent from Garth Greenhand.
The second-most-powerful family is House Hightower, who rules the city of Oldtown and a vast swathe of surrounding countryside from the High Tower, sitting on Battle Isle in Oldtown harbour. House Hightower, who in other circumstances would be a Great House in their own right, are loyal allies and vassals of the Tyrells. They also hold the allegiance of House Beesbury of Honeyholt, House Bulwer of Blackcrown, House Costayne of the Three Towers, House Cuy of Sunhouse (who also rule the port town of Cuy) and House Mullendore of Uplands.
The next tier of powerful houses include House Redwyne of the Arbor and House Rowan of Goldengrove. House Redwyne commands one of the largest fleets of warships in Westeros, based at the Arbor, whilst House Rowan rules the Northmarch, a vast swathe of the northern Reach stretching for hundreds of miles from Goldengrove to the Blackwater Rush. Vassals of the Rowans include House Osgrey and possibly House Durwell, House Stackhouse and House Conklyn.
Other major mainland houses of the Reach include House Ambrose, House Appleton of Appleton, House Ashford of Ashford, House Blackbar of Bandallon, House Caswell of Bitterbridge, House Cockshaw, House Cordwayner of Hammerhal, House Crane of Red Lake, House Cuy of Sunhouse, House Florent of Brightwater Keep, House Meadows of Grassfield Keep and Grassy Vale, House Merryweather of Longtable, House Oakheart of Old Oak, House Peake of Starpike, House Shermer of Smithyton, House Tarly of Horn Hill (and their vassals, House Hunt), House Varner and House Vyrwel of Darkdell.
Also significant are the four houses that command the Shield Islands: House Chester of Greenshield, House Grimm of Grimston (on Greyshield), House Hewett of Oakenshield and House Serrer of Southshield.
Lesser houses of the Reach include Houses Ball, Bridges, Bushy, Dunn, Footly of Tumbleton, Fossoway of Cider Hall (the “red apple” Fossoways), Fossoway of New Barrel (the “green apple Fossoways), Graceford of Holyhall, Graves, Hastwyck, Hutcheson, Inchfield, Kidwell of Ivy Hall, Leygood, Lowther, Lyberr, Middlebury, Norcross (possibly a vassal of the Florents, but unconfirmed), Norridge, Oldflowers, Orme, Pommingham, Redding, Rhysling, Risley, Roxton of the Ring, Sloane, Uffering, Westbrook, Willum, Woodright, Wythers and Yelshire.
The Reach seems to be very consciously influenced by medieval France. Like France, the Reach is huge, with mostly pleasant weather, fertile soil and lots of farms and villages, and liked to think of itself as the home of honour and chivalry. The Reach’s huge population also seems to be inspired by France’s: circa 1300 AD France had a population of 17 million, utterly dwarfing most of Europe’s other countries and certainly its key enemy England, whose population at the time was only 3 million. The somewhat lacklustre support for the Tyrells (who are seen as upjumped stewards) mirrors the sometimes half-hearted support for the French crown by its vassals during the medieval period.
Despite the French influence on the Reach, Oldtown seems to be more influenced by large English university towns like Oxford and Cambridge.
The status of House Osgrey and House Webber at the time of the novels is unknown. During the time of The Sworn Sword they were notable but minor houses in the region. They were unified when the aged Ser Eustace Osgrey married Lady Rohanne Webber, with Lady Webber apparently taking his name. After Ser Osgrey died, Lady Webber married Lord Gerold Lannister. This sequence of events leaves the fate of the Webber name unclear, although it is possible that Lady Rohanne left both Standfast and Coldmoat to another family who then inherited the Osgrey name.
The map above uses heraldry designs (under Creative Commons) from the excellent Wiki of Ice and Fire and La Garde de Nuit, the ultimate English and French-language guides to the Song of Ice and Fire novels.
Located along the far western coast of the Seven Kingdoms is a land of hills and low mountains, riddled with mines. Gold and silver is mined here in vast quantities, enriching numerous families, none moreso than the Lannisters of Casterly Rock. The Westerlands roughly match the Vale in size, but are more populous, more fertile and, by far, form the richest lands on the continent in terms of wealth.
The Westerlands occupy a stretch of the west coast of the continent, with Ironman’s Bay located to the north and the Sunset Sea to the west. The region’s borders to the east are formed by the headwaters of the Red Fork of the Trident and to the south by the headwaters of the Lesser Mander* and the northern plains of the Reach. The eastern and southern borders are somewhat flexible, resulting in frequent and long-standing border wars with the Riverlands and the Reach in ancient times, although since the Targaryn Conquest the borders have been settled. The Westerlands measure roughly 300 miles from east to west (with the Kayce Peninsula adding another 140 or so miles to that) and about 550 miles from north to south.
More vicious still are the Westerlands’ relationship with the Iron Islands, located less than a hundred miles off the north-west coast. The riches of the Westerlands made them a tempting target for ironborn raiders in the years before the Conquest, and during both the Red Kraken’s reign of terror and the Greyjoy Rebellion the Westerlands suffered significant raids and loss of life before the ironborn were defeated.
The Westerlands are roughly estimated as being home to between five and six million people, making them the second-most populous region of the Seven Kingdoms, behind only the Reach to the south. They can also field the second-largest (but easily the best-equipped) army, with a strong emphasis on heavy cavalry, pikes and crossbowmen.
The Hills and Mountains
The Westerlands are dominated by a series of highlands, hills and mountains, but these are not unified in large chains like the Red Mountains of Dorne or the Mountains of the Moon in the Vale. The Westerlands are much easier to traverse, as the hills and gradients are less severe. However, the hills are large enough where the River Road crosses the highlands into the Riverlands to form a significant bottleneck, where the Golden Tooth is located.
There are several distinct highland areas. The largest and most notable extends from the headwaters of the Tumblestone down to the Lesser Mander, and from just east of Casterly Rock to the headwaters of the Blackwater Rush. Most of the main mines and strongholds are located in this large area. A slightly smaller region of uplands is located to the north of the Tumblestone, extending east almost to Seagard and Wendish Town, forming a significant salient into Riverlands territory. Numerous smaller hill chains can be located across the region.
The North Coast
The coast of Ironman’s Bay is rugged, mountainous and sparsely populated. The largest castle in this area is Banefort, located on the north-west coast. Located close to the Iron Islands, Banefort is heavily fortified against attack, the distrust of the ironborn never fully leaving the area.
Ninety miles or so to the south lies the Crag, the seat of the once-great House Westerling. Once a much more imposing and impressive castle, it suffered when the nearby mines ran dry and left the family without resources or funds.
The Northern Vale
A densely-populated area can be found in the north of the Westerlands, between the mountains to the north and east. This region is dominated in the north by Ashemark, in the east by the Golden Tooth and to the south by Sarsfield. The houses Marbrand, Lefford and Sarsfield are the most powerful in this area.
The Golden Tooth is the second-largest castle in the Westerlands. It straddles the River Road as it makes its way through the mountains, presenting both a formidable obstacle to Riverlands armies attempting to invade from the east and a splendid jumping-off point for western armies heading into the Riverlands. A large, armed host would have to travel considerably far to the south to the Gold Road to find another suitable route into the Westerlands, or risk a more dangerous trek around the headwaters of the Tumblestone which is not suitable for large numbers of men.
The River Road skirts the mountains as it heads south-west. Here, not far from the Golden Tooth and a very optimistic three days’ hard ride from Casterly Rock, can be found the town of Oxcross, not far from the castle of Sarsfield.
In the west of the region, not far south-east from the Crag, can be found the ruins of Castamere and Tarbeck Hall. Formerly great castles belonging to mighty houses, the Reynes and Tarbecks, both castles were destroyed by the then-Ser Tywin Lannister after they rebelled against his weak-willed father.
Many mines dot the region. As well as the Golden Tooth, the exhausted mines of the Crag and the flooded galleries of Castamere, the most notable mines include Nunn’s Deep and the Pendric Hills.
The West Coast
The west coast is dominated by two major geographic features. In the north is Fair Isle. Just shy of a hundred miles long, it is has long been coveted by the ironborn. The island was conquered several times by the ironborn in ancient times, until they were either driven off by the Lannisters or the native people (a strong-willed folk) threw off the yolk of foreign rule. Eventually the ruling family of the island, the Farmans, aligned themselves with Casterly Rock permanently through marriage. Even so, both Dalton Greyjoy and Balon Greyjoy attacked the island during their respective rebellions.
House Farman controls the largest part of the Westerland fleet, which is primarily designed to defend the island and the coast from raids. During the Greyjoy Rebellion, the Iron Fleet was trapped in the Straits of Fair Isle, between the island and the Kayce Peninsula, and destroyed in detail by the fleet of Stannis Baratheon and Paxter Redwyne. This huge victory allowed King Robert Baratheon to invade the Iron Islands a few weeks later and end the war.
The Kayce Peninsula lies to the south of Fair Isle and north-west of Casterly Rock. 150 miles long and almost 50 miles across for much of its length, the peninsula extends into the Sunset Sea. The peninsula is dotted with watchtowers from the days of frequent ironborn raids. Kayce, the second-largest port of the Westerlands, can be found on the west cost of the peninsula. The castle, watchtower and lighthouse of Feastfires can be found near the tip of the peninsula, about 140 miles west of Casterly Rock.
Casterly Rock and Lannisport
The jewel of the Westerlands may just be the single most imposing and impressive sight on the entire continent: Casterly Rock.
Casterly Rock is a solid chunk of rock six miles long, extending for just over 2,400 feet into the sky (three times the height of the High Tower of Oldtown). Separated from the other mountains of the region by dozens of miles, the Rock is less impressive for its size (the Giant’s Lance of the Vale dwarfs it) but for its sheer imposing bulk, standing alone overlooking the Sunset Sea, and for the fact that over the course of thousands of years it has been gradually shaped by men. Giant harbours have been cut into the Rock where it meets the sea, two immense bastions of stone at the base have been shaped so they look like paws and the crest of the rock bristles with battlements, walkways and defensive weapons. At sunset the Rock resembles a lion at repose.
The Rock is exceeded in terms of exterior dimensions by Harrenhal, but even that castle cannot match the Rock for height or sheer living space. Even conservative estimates have the Rock being inhabited for over six thousand years. During that time countless galleries, tunnels and chambers have been carved out, so many that no-one has mapped them all. These extend through the Rock and deep below it into the bowels of the earth, where the Rock’s great gold mines still ring to the sound of excavations.
The Rock has never been taken in battle and rarely suffered attack: it would be pointless, since the castle is almost too large to besiege and then occupy with a land army and would need to be cut off from the sea as well.
Located a few miles to the south of the Rock lies the sprawling city of Lannisport. The third-largest city on the continent of Westeros and by far the largest port on the west coast of the entire continent, Lannisport is home to between 200,000 and 300,000 people, varying by the season. The city is located around an excellent natural harbour, close to rich fishing grounds. The River Road, Ocean Road and Gold Road meet not far from the city, providing superb transport links to the Reach, the Riverlands and, a thousand miles to the east, King’s Landing. A huge amount of gold and silver trading goes on in the city, attracting ships from the Free Cities, the Summer Isles and even points further east, giving the city a cosmopolitan feel.
Lannisport is as rowdy as you’d expect for such a large port, but it is quite orderly. The Lannisport City Watch is excellently trained and equipped and keeps the peace effectively.
The city is ruled by House Lannister of Lannisport, a cadet branch of the main branch of the family. Off-shoots of the family in the city include the Lantells, Lannetts and Lannys.
A number of noble families are sworn directly to Casterly Rock and have their keeps within a few days’ ride of the castle. The most notorious of these, although not the most powerful, are the Cleganes of Clegane Keep. Located south and east of Lannisport, this is the stronghold of the terrifying Ser Gregor Clegane, the Mountain That Rides, and is reportedly a grim place.
The Southern Border
The Lannisters command the fealty of all the coastlands south of Lannisport for over 200 miles. The most notable stronghold on the coast is Crakehall, held by the family of the same name. Just inland from Crakehall is the largest stretch of woodland in the Westerlands, the home of the wild boars that give the Crakehalls their banner.
About 150 miles inland from Crakehall is Cornfield, the seat of House Swyft. Cornfield sits at the far north-western edge of the Reach, the absolutely immense region of plains and fertile plains sweeping south and east for many hundreds of miles to the Red Mountains of Dorne, fed by the Mander and its mighty tributaries. Large farmlands can be found in this region, helping feed the rest of the Westerlands.
South of the Golden Tooth and south-east of Oxcross is a large area of highlands and valleys, dotted with mines (the played-out and still-operational) and strongholds. The Gold Road crosses this area on its way from Lannisport to King’s Landing.
The strongest castles in this area are Hornvale, located above the headwaters of the Red Fork of the Trident; Deep Den, where the Gold Road crosses the hills; and Silverhill, located above a rich silverlode near the headwaters of the Lesser Mander.
Houses of the Westerlands
House Lannister rules the Westerlands from its impregnable stronghold of Casterly Rock. A cadet branch controls the city of Lannisport, whilst Houses Lantell, Lannett and Lanny are vassal off-shoots of the main house. There are numerous smaller and knightly houses in the surrounding region directly sworn to the Lannisters, including House Clegane.
House Lefford commands the Golden Tooth, making it one of the richest families of the region, behind only the Lannisters. The Leffords also have strategic strength, commanding the defence of the main pass into the Westerlands. Nearby are House Marbrand of Ashemark, another extremely influential and rich family who have mines in the nearby Pendric Hills. House Sarsfield of Sarsfield command a strong castle overlooking the River Road and are also a principal house sworn to the Lannisters. Less powerful, although of ancient lineage, are Houser Westerling of the Crag, whose once-immense influence has dwindled along with their wealth.
House Brax of Hornvale, House Lydden of the Deep Den and House Serrett of Silverhill are other rich families who hold mines and strongholds in the hills and mountains.
House Banefort of Banefort is charged with the defence of the far northern coast from ironborn attack, and is a strong, martial house. House Farman of Faircastle, the rulers of Fair Isle, likewise are charged with the defence of the west coast. There are several other families on the island, vassals of the Farmans. The most notable of these are House Clifton.
House Kenning of Kayce is another strong house on the west coast. The Kennings are descended from ironborn invaders who decided to swear fealty to the Lannisters rather than remain vassals of the Iron Islands. Known as hardy warriors, the Kennings are also famed for the Horn of Herrock, a mighty warhorn and heirloom of the house, which they sound before giving battle. House Prester commands the nearby castle of Feastfires and are likewise a renowned and powerful family.
The most notable southern families of the Westerlands are House Crakehall of Crakehall and House Swyft of Cornfield.
Lesser families of the Westerlands include Houses Algood, Bettley, Broom, Doggett, Drox, Estren of Wyndhall, Falwell, Ferren, Foote, Garner, Greenfield of Greenfield, Hamell, Hawthorne, Hetherspoon, Jast, Lorch, Moreland, Myatt, Parren, Payne, Peckledon, Plumm, Ruttiger, Spicer, Stackspear, Turnberry, Vikary, Westford, Yarwyck and Yew.
*The large tributary of the Mander which runs from Silverhill past Goldengrove almost to Highgarden is resolutely unnamed in the books. I use the term “Lesser Mander” here but its real name is likely something else.
Casterly Rock is based on the Rock of Gibraltar but, as with so much else in Westeros, it is considerably larger (about three times the size).
The map above uses heraldry designs (under Creative Commons) from the excellent Wiki of Ice and Fire and La Garde de Nuit, the ultimate English and French-language guides to the Song of Ice and Fire novels.
The most fiercely independent people of the Seven Kingdoms are the ironborn. Worshipping the savage Drowned God and preferring to raid and pillage from the decks of their longships, the ironborn have caused the Iron Throne more rebellions and more strife than almost any other part of the realm.
The smallest and least-populous of the Seven Kingdoms, the Iron Islands span forty-four small islands located in two distinct archipelagos in the Sunset Sea to the west of Westeros. Most of these islands are too small to appear on maps, but eight are large enough to hold reasonable populations.
The larger archipelago consists of thirty-one islands, seven of them large and well-known: Pyke, Harlaw, Great Wyk, Old Wyk, Saltcliffe, Orkmont and Blacktyde. This archipelago is located about 130 miles west of the Cape of Eagles (in the Riverlands), 90 miles north-west of Banefort (in the Westerlands) and 200 miles south of the Flint Cliffs (in the North). This larger island grouping spans approximately 275 miles from west to east and over 150 miles from north to south.
The smaller archipelago consists of thirteen islands, but only one large enough to be named: the Lonely Light. The Lonely Light lies approximately 450 miles due west of Great Wyk.
Pyke is the seat of House Greyjoy, the rulers of the Iron Islands, and is also the closest island to the mainland, with the Westerlands lying less than a hundred miles to the south and east. The island lies at the mouth of Ironman’s Bay, where it meets the Sunset Sea. Roughly fifty miles wide from west to east and thirty from north to south, the island is not as large, populous or fertile as Great Wyk or Harlaw, but it is more difficult to attack, with rocky shores and, in Pyke Castle sitting atop its seastacks and linked by rope bridges, a formidable stronghold. Nevertheless, the island was conquered by King Robert Baratheon’s armies during the Greyjoy Rebellion of 289 AC.
There are two ports of note on Pyke: Lordsport, located close to Pyke, acts as the port for the main castle. Further along the coast lies Iron Holt, which competes with Lordsport for trade and commerce.
Located to the west of Pyke, Saltcliffe is one of the smaller islands. It is approximately forty-five miles long from east to west whilst only being about a dozen miles wide from north to south.
The island is dominated by two castles, the strongholds of Houses Saltcliffe and Sunderly.
Located north of Pyke and west of Harlaw, Orkmont is the most central of the Iron Islands. Although comparable in size to Pyke, it is much more fertile and more populous. In the past it produced two houses who went on to rule the entire Iron Islands before being wiped out: Greyiron and Hoare.
There are mountains and mines on Orkmont, producing metals for use in trade and for the making of ships and weapons. There also used to be extensive woodlands, but these were cut down for shipbuilding.
There are three major strongholds on the island, belonging to Houses Orkwood, Tawney and a cadet branch of the Goodbrothers.
Blacktyde is the northern-most of the Iron Islands, located north of Orkwood and Harlaw. It is also one of the smallest, extending for roughly thirty-five miles from west to east and less than a dozen miles from north to south. It is dominated by the house and castle of the same name.
Great Wyk is the largest island controlled by the ironborn. It extends for 125 miles from west to east and for almost 100 miles from north to south. It is very hilly and mountainous, the interior dominated by the towering Hardstone Hills, so it is not as populous as Harlaw.
The hills form a chain curving around the length of the island, which is roughly crescent-shaped. The northern and eastern coasts of the island form the shores of a large bay known as Nagga’s Cradle, with the island of Old Wyk located in the middle of the bay.
Great Wyk is dominated by the Goodbrothers, who hold castles at Hammerhorn, Crow Spike Keep, Downdelving and Corpse Lake. Another notable family are the Farwynds, who hold Sealskin Point as well as the Lonely Light far to the west. The largest port on the island is Pebbleton, located on the east coast near the very centre of the Iron Islands, which is ruled by House Merlyn.
Old Wyk is the smallest of the Iron Islands, only a bit more than twenty miles from one end to the other and barely ten miles wide. Despite its small size, it is well-populated with three castles located on its shores: Shatterstone, Stonehouse and Drumm Castle.
At the south-western tip of the island, overlooking Nagga’s Cradle, is Nagga’s Hill. The hill is dominated by the Grey King’s Hall, formed out of the ribs of an immense sea dragon named Nagga, killed many thousands of years ago. In ancient times the ironborn gathered here to select their next king in the Kingsmoot, an archaic practice that has not been undertaken for many centuries. Old Wyk is counted as the holiest of the Iron Islands and an important centre in the religion of the Drowned God.
Harlaw is the second-largest and easternmost island in the grouping. It is almost eighty miles across from west to east and fifty from north to south, with a peninsula at the north-eastern corner of the island extending a further twenty-five miles to the north. Aside from some tall hills in the east, it is flatter and more fertile than the other islands and is the most heavily-populated island in the archipelago.
The island is ruled by the numerous House Harlaw, who control no less than five castles (Grey Garden, Harlaw Hall, Harridan Hill, the Tower of Glimmering and their chief stronghold, Ten Towers). Other important castles include those belonging to the houses Stonetree, Volmark, Kenning and Myre.
The Lonely Light
The Lonely Light is located some 450 miles to the west of Great Wyk. Less than forty miles across, the island is the western-most location in the entire Known World. Beyond the Lonely Light lies the imposing vastness of the Sunset Sea. The ironborn of the Lonely Light, led by a lesser branch of House Farwynd, tend to be quieter and more contemplative than their eastern kin, most interested in exploring the deep ocean than in raiding and bloodletting.
Occasionally, rumours spread that the Farwynds have found more land far out to sea, either more islands or even other continents, but so far these rumours have never been substantiated.
Houses of the Iron Islands
House Greyjoy rules the Iron Islands from the castle at Pyke. They also rule the island of Pyke as well. Their immediate vassals are House Botley of Lordsport and House Wynch of Iron Holt.
House Saltcliffe rules the island of the same name. It is presumed that House Sunderly, who also hold lands on the island, are their vassals.
House Orkwood appear to be the strongest house on Orkmont, capable of fielding a fleet of twenty longships. House Tawney of Orkmont are also listed as one of the most powerful ironborn houses, so it is unclear if one house has dominance over the other or if they both rule the island together. A cadet branch of House Goodbrother of Great Wyk also resides on Orkwood.
House Blacktyde rules the island of the same name. Lord Baelor Blacktyde is a follower of the Faith of the Seven, a rarity in the islands, and septons are welcome on this island.
House Goodbrother rules Great Wyk from Hammerhorn. The family is numerous, so has several cadet branches ruling from Crow Spike Keep, Downdelving and Corpse Lake. They also have brances on Orkmont and Old Wyk. House Farwynd is also a very powerful house, ruling both Sealskin Point on Great Wyk and also, via a cadet branch, the Lonely Light far to the west. House Sparr and House Merlyn are also strong houses on the island, the latter ruling the port and town of Pebbleton (pop. 7,000).
House Drumm and House Stonehouse dominate the island of Old Wyk, along with the Goodbrothers of Shatterstone.
House Harlaw of Ten Towers rules the island of Harlaw. There are cadet branches of the Harlaws located at the Tower of Glimmering, Grey Garden, Harlaw Hall and Harridan Hill. Other powerful houses on the island include Kenning, Volmark and Myre.
Minor houses of the Iron Islands include Codd, Humble, Ironmaker, Netley, Sharp, Shepherd and Weaver.
In A Feast for Crows Prince Doran Martell says that Dorne is the most lightly-populated of the Seven Kingdoms. However, it seems unfeasible that the very large Dorne, no matter how arid, can be less populous than the tiny Iron Islands. Elsewhere in A Song of Ice and Fire we see that the ironborn are often forgotten about or left out of counts (such as being left off the chalice Prince Joffrey receives as a wedding gift), and are especially disregarded by those they cannot threaten. With its rocky and sparsely-populated coastlines, the Dornish do not appear to have ever been particularly troubled by the ironborn. It is therefore much more likely that Doran was referring to the mainland Seven Kingdoms and, in particular, their traditional enemies in the Reach.
The impression given in A Feast for Crows is that the Lonely Light is quite small. However, it would be difficult for a very small island to sustain itself eight days from the rest of the archipelago, not to mention that if the island is tiny there’s not much point to holding it. Lands of Ice and Fire suggests that the island is quite big, comparable to the bigger islands in size.
Located along the eastern coast of Westeros is a land of towering mountains, fertile valleys, rocky coastlines and rugged hillscapes. Squeezed between the mountains and the sea, the people of this region are hardy, brave and honourable. It was in this land that the Andals first landed in the Sunset Lands and brought the concept of chivalry and the worship of the Seven with them.
The Vale of Arryn is the name of both a specific location and also the entire region. The region extends for roughly 500 miles from the Bite in the north to the Bay of Crabs in the south, and for roughly 550 miles from the Mountains of the Moon in the west to the Narrow Sea in the east. However, the east coast is heavily indented, with numerous bays and rivers cutting into the coast. The actual inhabitable land area of the Vale is significantly less than the Riverlands. This gives the Vale lords a greater sense of unity and identity compared to their fractious western neighbours.
That said, the Vale is fertile and populous, rivalling the Riverlands or the North in total population. Winding tracks link villages perched on hillsides to castles located on mountain peaks to coastal towns. Unlike the North, which is ravaged by harsh winters every decade or so, or the Riverlands, which has been ravaged by numerous wars due to its position in the very heart of the Seven Kingdoms, the Vale has largely steered clear of major conflict for thousands of years. The Mountains of the Moon act as a shield, defending the Vale from outside invasion or attack. Indeed, no invading army has made it through the mountains for many centuries and even the Targaryens were only able to secure the Vale by flying over them on their dragons.
The Mountains of the Moon
The Mountains of the Moon form one large, unbroken chain starting just south of the Bite and extending south and east for well over 500 miles until they meet Narrow Sea at the mouth of the Bay of Crabs. The mountains are tall, towering over the surrounding landscape, and their foothills are thick and difficult to traverse for those not familiar with the region. The mountains have many splinter ranges, breaking off and running in parallel chains down to the sea.
The western foothills are home to numerous valleys and dales. These are home to a warrior culture which refuses to swear fealty to the Iron Throne. These clansmen are considered more of a nuisance then a genuine threat, as they lack the numbers to truly challenge the Iron Throne. Every few generations they grow large and bold enough to endanger travel in and out of the Vale and then the Lord of the Eyrie will ride out to put them back in their place. But wiping them out in such challenging terrain would be difficult.
The known mountain clans include the Black Ears, Burned Men, Howlers, Milk Snakes, Moon Brothers, Painted Dogs, Redsmiths, Sons of the Mist, Sons of the Tree and Stone Crows.
There is only one major stronghold of the Vale located outside of the Mountains of the Moon: Wickenden. This castle and small town sits on the northern shore of the Bay of Crabs, 130 miles or so north-east of Maidenpool on the opposite shore.
The High Road connects the Riverlands to the Vale. It traverses the Mountains of the Moon through a wide pass. This pass has been massively fortified over the millennia, with the road passing through a stronghold known as the Bloody Gate, where small groups of defenders can hold the road against much larger formations of attackers. Armies have dashed themselves senseless against the Bloody Gate for centuries to no avail.
Beyond the Bloody Gate lies the Vale of Arryn itself.
The entire region is known as the Vale of Arryn, but there is also a very specific valley of the same name. The Vale proper starts at the Bloody Gate and extends east to the sea, over 350 miles away, whilst extending for roughly 100 miles in width. This is the most fertile part of the Vale, not to mention its largest open area, and is dotted with holdfasts, villages and towns.
The northern edge of the Vale is made up of a splinter range of the Mountains of the Moon. Near where the two mountain ranges meet sits the Giant’s Lance, possibly the tallest mountain on the continent of Westeros (certainly the tallest south of the Wall). The Lance is massive, towering three and a half miles (just shy of 18,500 feet, or twenty-six times the height of the Wall) into the sky. Over one shoulder of the mountain pours the waterfall known as Alyssa’s Tears, often frozen in winter. On another shoulder, far below the peak but still towering above the valley floor, sit the seven towers of the Eyrie.
The Eyrie is the ancestral summer castle of House Arryn. Given its remoteness, its construction is a feat of staggering engineering by itself. Every block of stone had to be carried up a hazardous switchback road leading up the mountainside and constructed with great care. The result is the smallest of the major castles of Westeros, but the most impregnable. Attacking the Eyrie would be impossible: the switchback ascent is guarded by three way-castles (Stone, Snow and Sky), each difficult to capture. Most of the ascent is also open to missile fire and rocks or burning oil dropped down from the Eyrie above. The Eyrie is small but its storage cellars, built into the mountain, are huge, allowing the castle to withstand siege for a long time.
The Eyrie’s formidable location is also a weakness. Even during the summer it can be a chilly castle given its altitude, and during autumn and the onset of winter it starts to become uninhabitable. A lack of firewood would make it very difficult to keep the castle habitable across a years-long winter. As the season turns, the household have to leave the castle and retreat to the Gates of the Moon, a much larger and more hospitable castle located at the foot of the Giant’s Lance.
Other major strongholds dot the Vale itself. Ironoaks lies a hundred miles or so to the south-east, on the shores of a large lake. Eighty miles or so south-west of Ironoaks lies Redfort. East of Ironoaks, about 120 miles away, is Old Anchor, which sits on the Narrow Sea itself. And about eighty miles north of Old Anchor sits Longbow Hall, which is located at the far eastern end of the mountainous spur forming the northern edge of the Vale itself.
East of Redfort lies a peninsula extending into the Narrow Sea. This spit of land is quite large: almost 200 miles long and around 50 miles wide, and unlike the Fingers to the north is not mountainous. This peninsula offers some of the best anchorages on the coast and is the site of the Vale’s only true city.
Gulltown is home to around 40,000 souls (maybe one-tenth the population of King’s Landing), but its true population is hard to discern because so much of its population is transient. Gulltown is a brisk and breezy port, large but not squalid, bustling but not tawdry. The city’s rulers, House Grafton, two branches of House Shett and a cadet branch of the Arryns, keep the city orderly and the trade flowing. Gulltown is the nearest Westerosi port to the Free City of Braavos, just 450 miles to the north-east, and takes advantage of that proximity to re-provision passing ships and grow rich on trade.
Just north of Gulltown sits Runestone, the seat of House Royce, the most powerful house in the Vale after only the Arryns. The Gulltown peninsula is one of the longest-settled parts of the Vale, early Andal invaders finding it easier to swarm ashore here than elsewhere. They were met with blood and fire from the Royces and their First Men ancestors, with runes scrabbled into the rocks attesting to the ancient history of this land.
Just off the eastern tip of the Gulltown Peninsula lies Witch Isle, a remote and forbidding rock ruled by the fiercely independent Upcliffs who finally only deigned to join the Vale when King Alester II Arryn offered Lady Arwen his hand in marriage.
The Northern Vale
North of the Eyrie and the Giant’s Lance, other, lesser mountain ranges split off from the Mountains of the Moon and flow into the sea. Many smaller valleys and dales can be found in this region, dominated by strong castles such as Strongsong and Heart’s Home. This region extends to the Bite, where tiny fishing villages cling to the rocky coast.
North of Longbow Hall, the far north-eastern coast of the Vale tumbles into the sea in a series of long peninsulas, deep bays and river mouths. There are five major peninsulas, so they have been dubbed “The Fingers”.
The Fingers are remote, harsh and wild. They lack trees, are bracketed by harsh winds blowing off the Narrow Sea and are sparsely populated.
The most notable feature of the area is the Snakewood, a forested area extending inland from the southern-most of the Fingers. This area is ruled from a castle also called Snakewood. To the north lies Coldwater Burn. On the smallest of the Fingers lies the towerhouse held by House Baelish, on a particularly bleak and featureless stretch of coast, aside from a few ancient stones chiselled with runes from the days of the Andal Invasion.
Two islands lie off the coast of the Fingers: Pebble (held by House Pryor) and the Paps (held by House Elesham), located where the Narrow Sea meets the Shivering Sea. These islands are small, remote and windswept, but occasionally service passing ships.
The most northerly-held of the Vale’s territories are the Sisters, or the Three Sisters. These are three large islands located approximately sixty miles off the northern coast of the Vale (and about seventy miles south of Oldcastle and the south coast of the North). Longsister is the western island, Sweetsister is the central one and Littlesister lies furthest to the west. All three islands are inhabited, with the largest port located at Sisterton. Sisterton has grown large as it services ships passing from White Harbour to Gulltown and Braavos, or for parts further north.
The islands, famously, were disputed between the Kingdom of the North and the Kingdom of Mountain and Vale for a thousand years in the War Across the Water until the Vale finally secured them permanently. However, the Arryns rule the islands with a light touch, allowing them a measure of autonomy for their remoteness. The Sisters are held to be a den of avarice and piracy by some, with their ports having a low reputation.
The three islands are jointly ruled by House Sunderland of Sisterton. Its three primary vassals are House Longthorpe of Longsister, House Borrell of Sweetsister and House Torrent of Littlesister.
Houses of the Vale
House Arryn rules the Vale from the Eyrie (during the summer) and the Gates of the Moon (during the winter). The Arryns are the oldest family of Andal nobility, claiming six thousand years of descent from the earliest days of the Andal Invasion. Almost as storied are House Royce of Runestone, who are descended from the First Men the Andals displaced. The Bronze Kings of Runestone were defeated by the Arryns and forced to swear fealty. Since then, the Royces have been mostly stalwart and loyal to the Kings of Mountain and Vale. An offshoot of House Royce also holds the Gates of the Moon as stewards of House Arryn.
Houses Coldwater of Coldwater Burn, Shett of Gull Tower and Tollett of Grey Glen are all vassals of House Royce.
House Grafton is also a powerful and rich house of the Vale, as it holds and apparently rules Gulltown, the greatest city of the Vale. House Shett of Gulltown (a related but distinct knightly house from House Shett of Gull Tower) and House Arryn of Gulltown (a distant cadet branch of House Arryn of the Eyrie) may owe their allegiance to the Graftons, but the relationship is unclear.
House Sunderland rules over the Three Sisters from the town of Sisterton on Sweetsister. Their sworn vassals are House Borrell of Sweetsister, House Longthorpe of Longsister and House Torrent of Littlesister. The Sunderlands appear to have a degree of autonomy from the Vale given their distance and main concern with naval matters.
The other primary powers of the Vale are House Belmore of Strongsong, Corbray of Heart’s Home, Elesham of the Paps, Grafton of Gulltown, Hunter of Longbow Hall, Lynderly of Snakewood, Melcolm of Old Anchor, Pryor of the Pebble, Redfort of Redfort, Templeton of Ninestars, Upcliff of Witch Isle and Waynwood of Ironoaks (along with their vassals, House Hardyng).
Lesser houses of the Vale include House Baelish of the Fingers, House Donniger, House Egen, House Hersy of Newkeep, House Moore, House Ruthermont, House Wydman and House Waxley of Wickenden.
The Vale of Arryn is the most consciously unoriginal part of Westeros in actual layout. The Vale is, in fact, the island of Ireland turned upside down and bolted onto the side of Westeros. The Fingers, for example, are the south-western flukes of Ireland (Mizen Head, the Beara Peninsula and the Iveragh Peninsula), with the Dingle Peninsula as the Gulltown Peninsula (and King’s Landing as Galway).
The Eyrie is also very closely based on Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany.
The location of Witch Isle is speculative, but Lands of Ice and Fire (2012) added an island off the tip of the Gulltown Peninsula. There really isn’t any other candidate for the island, so it has been added as such on the maps above.
A long-running error was when the mapmakers for A Storm of Swords misread “Snakewood” as “Sunkenwood” and added it as such to the maps. This was corrected in later editions of the book.
It was previously assumed that Littlefinger’s house originated on the northern-most of the Fingers. However, Lands of Ice and Fire identifies the smallest of the central Fingers as his home instead. This may suggest that the northern-most of the Fingers is not actually counted as part of the region.
The Riverlands lie at the very heart of the Seven Kingdoms. They are sometimes said to be “halfway to anywhere” or “halfway to everywhere”. Travellers and merchants from one of the end of the kingdom pass through them to get to the other and they have been divided between other powers many times in their past. Many of the great wars of Westeros have been fought in the Riverlands, and their soil has been bloodied by many battles.
The Riverlands sprawl for over 600 miles from the lower end of the Neck to the shores of the Blackwater Rush, with a maximum east-west distance of just over 500 miles. Their borders have changed over the years, but today they are generally held as the Neck to the north, the Mountains of Moon and the Bay of Crabs to the east, the Blackwater Rush to the south and the western hills and mountains to the west. The Riverlands has borders with the North, the Vale of Arryn, the Crownlands, the Reach and the Westerlands, along with naval borders with the Iron Islands; counting the latter, it borders more other regions than any other part of the Seven Kingdoms. The border with the Westerlands is arguably the most porous, especially as the hills and mountains north of the Red Fork are also held by the Lannisters, forming a salient into Riverlands territory.
Apart from the North, the Riverlands is the only region of Westeros with territory on both the east and west coast of the continent (on Ironman’s Bay and the Bay of Crabs, and also a small stretch of the Bite in the far north-east), and the only one to have ports to take advantage of that.
As the name suggests, the Riverlands are dominated by lakes, rivers and streams. The most notable of these is the massive Trident and its three tributaries, the Red, Green and Blue Forks. Also notable are the Tumblestone and the headwaters of the Blackwater Rush. Most maps of the Riverlands show only these major waterways, but countless smaller streams criss-cross the region and more detailed and more local maps show a much more complex array of rivers, including the Big and Little Willow, the Maiden, the Greenapple and the Bitter River. The largest lake, by far, is Gods Eye, out of which more rivers and streams pour, including the Rippledown Rill and a very large river known simply as the Gods Eye River.
The Northern Riverlands
The northern Riverlands are less-densely populated than the southern. This region is bordered by the marshlands of the Neck to the north, the Mountains of the Moon to the east, Ironman’s Bay to the west and the Red Fork of the Trident to the south. This area is dominated by House Frey, which rules from the Twins, and House Mallister, which rules from Seagard. The area measures over 250 miles (maybe closer to 300 miles) from north to south and between 200 and 250 miles from north east to west.
This region is relatively lightly inhabited due to the clans of the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon in the east. Unable to enter the Vale of Arryn due to the fortified passes and the Bloody Gate, they instead frequently raid passing merchants and travellers. They have not been eliminated because they are more of a nuisance than a genuine long-term threat and spend more time fighting one another. The river lords also tend to regard them as a Vale problem and the Vale lords tend to regard them as a Riverlands problem.
West of the Trident there are more signs of habitation, such as the town of Fairmarket and a plethora of small villages such as Hag’s Mire. The west coast also tended to be less inhabited in ancient times due to the threat of ironborn raids.
The Blue and Green Forks of the Trident provide trade and transport to the region, leading to the immense wealth of House Frey. Six centuries ago they built a toll bridge and two castles on the Green Fork, putting a stranglehold on trade and travel from the Westerlands and the western Riverlands up to the North. The construction of the Kingsroad significantly to the east of the Twins negated this slightly, although the cost of going right round the Trident and avoiding the Twins is still greater than paying the toll.
The River Trident may be one of the most famous rivers in Westeros, but the river itself is rather short: significantly less than 150 miles from its mouth to where the river breaks up into its three major tributaries. However, the term “Trident” not only applies to the river itself, but also all three of its tributaries and, indeed, the entire region.
The Red Fork rises in the western hills near Hornvale (in the Westerlands) and flows north and slightly east for roughly 250 miles until it meets the Tumblestone, which rises about the same distance to the west, near Ashemark. The two rivers meet at a junction just north of Stone Mill, located near a series of fords over the Red Fork. Centuries ago, House Tully turned the junction of the two rivers into an effective island through the construction of an artificial channel and sluice gates. On that island they built the castle of Riverrun to dominate the surrounding lands. In times of war the gates can be opened and Riverrun turned into an island stronghold, very difficult to attack.
The Red Fork flows east through the heart of the Riverlands for about another 250 miles until it meets the other rivers and forms the Trident. The lands the Red Fork flows through are the most densely-populated part of the Riverlands with small fishing villages such as Riverbend dotting the banks. The Inn of the Kneeling Man, marking the spot where the last King in the North, Torrhen Stark, surrendered to Aegon the Conqueror, can be found on the south bank. The river also forms the sometimes-contentious boundary between the territories of House Bracken, located at Stone Hedge south of the river east of Riverrun, and House Blackwood, located north of the river and east of Riverrun at Raventree Hall. House Lychester also controls lands along the western Red Fork (presumably south of the river), near the village of Sallydance.
The Blue Fork, the shortest of the three rivers, rises just south and east of Seagard, in an area of fens and marshes. Hag’s Mire is one of several villages in this region, along with Sevenstreams, Ramsford and the larger settlement of Wendish Town. The ruins of Oldstones, the ancient seat of House Mudd, can also be found near the headwaters. The Blue Fork then flows south and east past Fairmarket before meeting the rest of the Trident some 300 miles upriver.
The Green Fork rises in the marshes of the Neck a good 200 miles north of the Twins. The upper river is technically within the boundaries of the North, with Greywater Watch located near the headwaters. The river flows south and east from the Twins for 300 miles before joining the rest of the river.
The largest town along the Trident proper is Lord Harroway’s Town, controlled by House Roote, which is located just upriver of the junction of the three rivers. A few miles downriver of Lord Harroway’s Town is the ruby ford. This is the only major crossing over the Trident south of the Twins and east of Riverrun. It was here that Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was slain during the Battle of the Trident during Robert’s Rebellion.
A few miles north of the ford is a great crossroads, where the Kingsroad crosses the old high road leading down from the Vale of Arryn into the northern Riverlands. The storied Inn at the Crossroads is located here, famed for its hospitality and for its location on the main highways leading to the North, the Vale, the Riverlands and the Crownlands. There has been an inn on this site for centuries, leading to the occasional name “The Old Inn”. It was formerly known as the Two Crowns, the Clanking Dragon and the Bellringer Inn. Several centuries ago the inn sat on the Trident itself and was called the River Inn, but the course of the river has shifted south since then.
80 to 90 miles south-east of the inn the Trident wides appreciably into a huge estuary, many miles wide. Where this estuary becomes the Bay of Crabs is hotly disputed between maesters (those who care about such things, anyway). The town and small port of Saltpans is located on the north side of the river mouth, whilst the larger port and town of Maidenpool is located roughly a hundred miles to the south-east, across the mouth. In between, on a nearly-inaccessible speck of land known as the Quiet Isle, is a septry, a religious retreat and place of quiet contemplation. The Quiet Isle can only be reached in certain tidal conditions via a causeway, rendering it almost impossible to attack.
East of Maidenpool the river mouth becomes the Bay of Crabs, dividing the south coast of the Vale of Arryn from the north coast of the Crownlands.
Gods Eye and the Southern Riverlands
The most striking feature of maps of the Riverlands is the immense lake lying near its south-eastern edge. Gods Eye is the largest lake on the continent of Westeros, (at least south of the Wall), over 100 miles across from north to south. Its width varies from about 50 miles at its narrowest point to over 80 miles at its largest.
The lakeshore is dotted with villages and fishing grounds. The southern shore is heavily forested, whilst the northern is more densely populated, especially close to Harrenhal.
The lake contains only one island, located in its northern half (giving the lake its eye-like appearance and thus its name). The island is several miles wide and, according to those who’ve sailed close enough, it is heavily forested. According to legend the forest is made up of weirwoods, every single one carved with a face in recognition of the Pact between the First Men and the Children of the Forest that was signed there almost twelve thousand years ago. The order of green men was established, men who studied the ways of the old gods of the forest under the tutelage of the children.
The Isle of Faces, as it is known, has a strange reputation. The island and its weirwoods survived the Long Night, the Andal invasion and millennia of religious strife and wars that have raged all around the lake – and occasionally above it, on the backs of dragons – but left the island at its heart completely untouched. Some men have taken counsel with the green men, as recently as the Year of False Spring, suggesting that their order remains intact and extant despite having no contact with the rest of the Seven Kingdoms at all.
North of the Isle of Faces, on the northern lakeshore, rises the five forbidding towers and titanic walls of the largest single castle in the known world. Harrenhal stretches for several miles along the lakeshore and more inland, consisting of five huge towers, the enormous walls and fortified gates, and huge stretches of open land between. Harrenhal, King Harren’s Folly, was built over decades by House Hoare when they ruled the Iron Islands and Riverlands both, and it proved utterly useless for it was completed on the very day Aegon the Conqueror stepped ashore with his dragons, who feared no walls.
Seven houses have held Harrenhal, each falling into despair, ruin and madness. House Whent inherited the castle over seventy years ago and has so far not suffered the same fate.
Harrenhal is significant not just for the sheer size of the castle but for the wide lands it commands, extending east to the border with the Crownlands (where vassals such as House Wode command lands) and north towards the Red Fork of the Trident.
West of Gods Eye lies a wide stretch of land, extending well over 200 miles to the upper stretch of the Red Fork and for 300 miles between the lower Red Fork and the Blackwater Rush. Houses Piper, Vance, Smallwood and many others command these lands, which are fertile and populous. The fortified town of Stony Sept lies at the southern extremity of this region, just across the Blackwater from the Reach, whilst castles such as Wayfarer’s Rest, Atranta, Pinkmaiden and Acorn Hall dot the landscape.
This then is the Riverlands: extensive and populous but fractious and divided, easily influenced by outsiders and often ravaged by war.
Houses of the Riverlands
House Tully rules the Riverlands from the castle at Riverrun, as it has for three centuries. The Tullys are a relatively young house, former vassals of the Vances who became stronger and more powerful over time, mainly due to their near-impregnable stronghold. The Tullys command several vassal houses directly, possibly House Grell, House Pemford, House Ryger of Willow Wood and House Wayn (as members of these families are prominent in Riverrun’s offices, similar to the Mollens and Cassels of Winterfell).
Below the Tullys in power and strength is House Frey, which commands the upper stretches of the Green Fork from the Twins. Houses Charlton, Erenford and Haigh are all vassals of the Freys. House Mallister of Seagard, House Blackwood of Raventree Hall, House Bracken of Stone Hedge, House Mooton of Maidenpool, House Piper of Pinkmaiden, House Roote of Lord Harroway’s Town, House Vance of Wayfarer’s Rest and Atranta (and their vassal, House Smallwood) and House Whent of Harrenhal (along with their vassals, House Wode) are all notable and powerful houses.
Lesser houses of the Riverlands include House Blanetree, House Cox of Saltpans, House Darry of Darry, House Deddings, House Goodbrook, House Hawick of Saltpans, House Keath, House Lolliston, House Lychester of Lychester, House Nayland of Hag’s Mire, House Shawney (probably located at the junction of the three forks, due to their arms), House Terrick and House Vypren (possibly sworn to House Frey, as their frog banner may indicate a location near the Twins in the southern Neck).
The location of Wendish Town appears anomalous, far from Sherrer and the Mummer’s Ford. However, the location of the town is derived from the HBO Game of Thrones map, which in turn was based directly on George R.R. Martin’s map. In addition, Green Ronin RPG places the town further east on the Green Fork and A Game of Thrones itself suggests that it may be close to Darry territory, making it implausible that the Lannisters were able to attack it without being detected as they travelled through hundreds of miles of Riverlands territory. However, this may be explained by the new “salient” of the Westerlands along the south coast of Ironman’s Bay, which was revealed in The World of Ice and Fire. It appears to exist so the Lannisters would control all the hills and mines in the region and not allow the Riverlands to gain any mines for itself. It also provides an explanation for how Gregor Clegane’s outriders were able to attack Wendish Town, as the end of the salient is quite close to Wendish Town.
The location of Whitewalls is open to question: it is closer to Maidenpool then King’s Landing, was located close to a large lake (probably Gods Eye, but curiously not named as such) and Dunk and Egg could travel there within a few days of Stoney Sept. However, these directions are contradictory. In addition, there is a road leading from the ruby ford to Harroway and then Whitewalls, which suggests putting it considerably to the north of Harrenhal, which seems even more incompatible with the distances given.
The map above uses heraldry designs (under Creative Commons) from the excellent Wiki of Ice and Fire and La Garde de Nuit, the ultimate English and French-language guides to the Song of Ice and Fire novels.
For those living in the south of Westeros, the North is regarded as a land apart: an endless wasteland of snow, cold, ice, rocks and dour people living at the miserable ends of the world. People who are brave and ferocious in battle, yes, but uncouth tree-worshipping heathens and not used to the nuances of civilised life, religion or politics.
The North is indeed vast, making up over a third of the total size of the Seven Kingdoms, stretching for over a thousand miles from the Neck to the Wall and almost as far from coast to coast. It is also thinly populated. In the south there may be a few miles between towns and villages, but in the North there may be dozens of miles between points of habitation, and large stretches of forbidding, harsh countryside with no people at all. There are very few highways apart from the Kingsroad and a few other notable arteries linking major holdfasts, which slows travel to a crawl.
Some of the stories are exaggerated. The North is cooler than the rest of Westeros but it is certainly not covered in snow and ice year-around. During long summers, some of the North can be quite pleasant and there is widespread farming. But the North lives in the constant shadow and fear of winter. Food is stockpiled, salted, stored, even frozen where it is possible to do so. Some castles are built near or over hot springs or volcanic vents, employing greenhouses to grow food even in the heart of winter. If the ports stay ice-free and open, food supplies can be brought in from the south and from the Free Cities (for those merchantmen willing to brave the Narrow Sea in winter). But there are limits to all of this: during the coldest and longest winters, the North starves and people die.
The Northern Mountains
The north of the North is harsh and forbidding, stretching from the Wall – or more, accurately, the southern edge of the Gift, the lands granted for the sustenance of the Night’s Watch – to the vast and forbidding Wolfswood. This region is dominated in the west by the Northern Mountains, a tall region of craggy highlands and peaks linked to the Frostfangs to the north. These mountains, extending almost 400 miles from the Gorge to the forest, are the home to a number of mountain clans, hardy tribesfolk who at first glance may look similar to the wildlings or the clansmen of the Mountains of the Moon. However, they are counted as nobles of the North who hold fealty to Winterfell: the Wulls, Norreys, Burleys, Harclays, Liddles, Knotts and the First Flints. The Wulls are the largest and most powerful clan. These clan lands incorporate the mountains and the foothills west to the Bay of Ice and south into the Wolfswood.
The Last River
The Northern Mountains are the sources of two of the North’s largest rivers, the White Knife and the Last River. The Last River rises from several sources in the mountains before winding south and east through the foothills and out onto open fields and plains, with some woodlands on the north bank of the river. This territory, on both sides of the river, is held by the Umbers of the Last Hearth. The Last River winds its way for almost 500 miles from the mountains to the Shivering Sea. Some maps show the lower stretch of the river serving as the border between House Bolton of the Dreadfort and House Karstark of Karhold, although this tends to change depending on the age of the map and the power of each noble house at the time. The river serving as a border has prevented any major port or town building up near the river mouth.
East of the Last River lies a large peninsula, about 230 miles wide from west to east and some 250 miles from north to south. Most of this peninsula is controlled by the Karstarks, whose fortress of Karhold sits in a sheltered bay near the mouth of a short river. This area is heavily forested, but the coast is rocky and less hospitable, plunging down into the sea through the rugged landscape known as the Grey Cliffs.
The East Coast
South of the Last River the landscape becomes less mountainous and flatter, with a greater mixture of rivers, fields and low-lying hills. The eastern part of this region is held by the Boltons of the Dreadfort, arguably the most powerful family of the North except only for the Starks themselves. The Dreadfort itself, looming above the Weeping Water, is of volcanic origin, with vents under the castle helping warm it during the winter. The Weeping Water is a short river, extending for less than 200 miles from its source in the Lonely Hills to the Shivering Sea.
South of the Bolton lands lies the territory held by House Hornwood of Hornwood. The Hornwood lands start in the Sheepshead Hills and extend south for more than 150 miles along the Broken Branch to the Shivering Sea. The Boltons have long coveted the rich Hornwood lands and forests, and with the Dreadfort less than 200 miles from Hornwood the threat of military confrontation has raised its head several times, only to be put down by the Starks.
At the mouth of the Broken Branch the North becomes a bit more crowded, as the warmer climes make farming and survival easier. Just south of the river mouth lies Ramsgate, whilst to the east a peninsula extends for over 200 miles into the Shivering Sea. At the very tip of this peninsula sits Widow’s Watch, one of the seats of House Flint, a great fortress and watchtower.
West of the Broken Branch lies open countryside, consisting of plains, moors and fields, extending for almost a hundred leagues to the mouth of the White Knife. These lands hold fealty to House Manderly of White Harbor and help provide that city with its food and wealth.
The White Knife and White Harbor
The White Knife is the greatest river of the North. Its source is in the Northern Mountains just fifty miles south of the Last River. It flows out of the mountains and quickly turns south, where it wides into the Long Lake. At about 130 miles long from north to south, the Long Lake is one of the largest bodies of water in the North. During the worst winters, when the lake freezes over, ice-fishing becomes an essential source of food for those who live close to its shores.
The White Knife resumes south of the lake, strengthened by a tributary which comes in from the Lonely Hills. The river now flows south and slightly west for over 270 miles before it is joined by another tributary, this one sweeping in from the Wolfswood in the west. The combined river now has another 200 miles to flow before it finally meets the Bite. By the time the White Knife reaches the sea it has become a fast-flowing, wide river. Rapids are located at several points along the river, resulting in the white water the river is known and named for.
The White Knife presents a useful route for fast travel from deep in the heart of the North out to the Bite and the sea, but those several areas of rapids complicate the route. The northmen have devised a solution in the form of “river runners”, lean and shallow-draft longboats which can ride the rapids where larger cargo ships cannot travel. Although these small vessels cannot individually carry large amounts of cargo, several ships in tandem can transport a reasonable amount of goods and passengers up and down the White Knife in good – if somewhat bumpy – time. Hides and timber are particularly popular for this method of transit.
Sitting just above the mouth of the White Knife lies the North’s largest port and city. For over a thousand years, White Harbor has acted as the gateway for the North. Ships call here from the Vale, King’s Landing, Lorath and Braavos, even far-off Ib. Goods are unloaded and transferred to river runners for dispersal on the White Knife, or to be carried on road to the other great strongholds and smaller towns. House Manderly has ruled the town for a millennia, having been forced to flee the Reach and their ancestral castle of Dunstonbury following a long and bitter feud with House Peake. The Starks gave them succour, in return for the Manderlys taking the ancient and derelict castle known as the Wolf Den and building a new fortification around it to secure the White Knife.
The Wolf Den was too old and ruined to continue serving as a fortress, so the Manderlys instead erected the prosaically-named New Castle nearby. The Wolf Den became a prison instead. White Harbor spread out from the New Castle, with a mint, inns, merchants and townhouses being erected. Today several tens of thousands of people live in and around White Harbor.
Almost 200 miles south-east of White Harbor sits Oldcastle, the seat of House Locke overlooking the Bite proper and southwards towards the islands known as the Sisters.
The Barrowlands and the Rills
West of White Harbor and the White Knife, the land opens up in an immense landscape of flat countryside, fields and plains, extending for almost 400 miles to the rivers and hills of the Rills. The Kingsroad passes through the eastern part of this area. The countryside in between is dotted with occasional burial grounds and hills which may be the remnants of mass burial chambers from the age of the First Men. For this reason the region is known as the Barrowlands, and for all its relative fertility is only lightly settled. The vastness of the landscape and the lack of people is striking for visitors to the North not used to the wilderness.
At the far western end of the Barrowlands lies Barrowton. The second-largest town of the North, home to several thousand people, Barrowton is walled and commands the surrounding countryside from the Great Barrow, a large hill in the town said to be the tomb of the First King of the First Men, possibly a giant. Barrow Hall, the seat of House Dustin, sits atop the Great Barrow. Goldgrass, the seat of House Stout, sits just outside Barrowton near the eastern gate.
Not far to the west of Barrowton the area known as the Rills begins. This is a large area consisting of many rivers, streams and ponds, extending for around 200 miles to the north-west (between two large rivers) and for between 200 and 300 miles north to the Wolfswood. The Rills are damp but fertile, ruled by House Ryswell. To the west the land abruptly gives way to stone hills and cliffs, a forbidding grey area of coastline known as the Stony Shore. The Stone Shore forms the west coast of the North for around 250 miles. In ancient times the ironborn raided the Stony Shore and the Rills, but there have been no such raids for several centuries.
North-east of the Rills, about 170 miles due north of Barrowton, lies Torrhen’s Square, the seat of House Tallhart. A formidable, stout keep sitting on the shore of a large lake, Torrhen’s Square commands the lands north into the Wolfswood.
The Wolfswood and Bear Island
The Wolfswood is the largest forest in the Seven Kingdoms, outstripped in size on the continent of Westeros only by the Haunted Forest beyond the Wall. The Wolfswood extends from its far south-eastern eaves to its north-western tip on Sea Dragon Point for about 550 miles. The forest is home to wild wolves, as the name implies, but crofters, hunters and woodsmen make their home there as well. Hills, dales, valleys, streams and small rivers snake through the woods, whilst a major tributary of the White Knife has its source in the deep forest.
Just beyond the northern Wolfswood lies Deepwood Motte, the seat of House Glover. Located fifteen miles from the sea – the immense tidal flats to the north make closer settlement impractical – Deepwood is a large motte-and-bailey castle. In ancient times it defended against ironborn raiders, but again there have been no such raiders for a long time. These days the Glovers mostly patrol the Wolfswood (aided by vassals such as the Forresters, Woods, Branches and Boles) and engage in trade with Bear Island to the north-west.
Bear Island sits in the middle of the Bay of Ice, between Sea Dragon Point and the Frozen Shore. It is a wild land of forests and bears, controlled by House Mormont, who are said to have received the island as a boon from the Starks who’d won it in a wrestling match from the ironborn. The island appears small on maps but is actually of respectable size: 100 miles from west to east and 50 miles from north to south, with a large, sheltered bay in the middle (presumably where the bulk of the settlements lie).
East of the Wolfswood, the Kingsroad draws near to both the woods and the large tributary of the White Knife. At this point can be found Castle Cerwyn, held by the family of the same name and loyal vassals, such as the Condons. The castle marks the beginning of the heartlands of the North. Fifty miles to the north, a fairweather day’s ride with strong and rested horses along the Kingsroad, lies Winterfell.
Winterfell sprawls for acres across the hillscape. No attempt has been made to flatten the lands, so the castle grounds undulate like a snake. The outer walls are 80 feet high, the inner about 100 feet, with a wide moat between and thirty watch-towers guarding them. The walls are made of granite and, according to tradition, have never been breached. Also according to tradition, Winterfell was founded over eight thousand years ago after the Long Night and the War for the Dawn. Almost nothing of the original castle survives, with the structures visible today being much more recent (although still centuries to millennia old). Some parts of the castle have been abandoned due to the fear of collapse.
The Great Keep is the main castle complex, consisting of a large tower, the Great Hall, a covered bridge linking it to an armoury and a small sept. Other structures inside the castle include the long-abandoned First Keep (which, despite its name, does not predate the Andal invasion and is millennia younger than the castle itself), a broken tower destroyed by lightning, an ancient godswood, the glass gardens (greenhouses heated by natural springs, used to grow food), a bell tower, the maester’s turret, the library tower and the guard hall. There are extensive crypts located under the First Keep, where the dead of House Stark are buried.
Just outside the gates lies the winter town. During winter, the crofters, hunters and farmers of the Wolfswood and surrounding lands retreat into the winter town to try to outlast the snows. This swells the population of Winterfell temporarily by thousands of people.
The region known as the Neck is still counted as part of the North, although it is separated from the rest of the North by significant geographic barriers. In the west Blazewater Bay divides the Rills from Cape Kraken, whilst in the east it is covered by a vast swampland which makes travel through the region almost impassable apart from along the raised causeway that carries the Kingsroad into the North.
Cape Kraken lies to the north of Ironman’s Bay and the Iron Islands, and was under the occupation of the ironborn for centuries before it was liberated by the northmen and given to the keeping of House Flint (another branch of the same family that holds Widow’s Watch). This was a serious blow for the ironborn, as Cape Kraken contains more land than all of the Iron Islands put together. The Flint Cliffs make attacking the peninsula from the south difficult and the castle of Flint’s Finger defends the best landing on the north coast. Further east the land gives way to deep forests. It is possible to thread through the forests along the coast and reach the far north-western Riverlands and the castle of Seagard (located a formidable 400 miles south-east of Flint’s Finger), but this is mostly desolate and uninhabited land.
The marshlands of the Neck proper are enormous. They stretch for 350 miles from north to south and extend from east to west for 200 miles. The marsh is fed by two rivers, the Fever River from the north and the Green Fork of the Trident from the south. The Neck consists mainly of marsh, swamp and drowned forests, with trees growing out of the water. Snakes and lizard-lions infest the waters, and pools of quicksand are commonplace. The Neck is seen as a deathtrap, completely impassable by those unfamiliar with the landscape.
The Neck is inhabited by a race of diminutive people called the crannogmen. They used to have their own ruler, the Marsh King, until he was defeated by Rickard Stark, the King in the North. Since that time the crannogmen have been ruled by House Reed of Greywater Watch and are among the fiercest allies and vassals of the Starks.
The crannogmen live on islands in the swamp, in houses and holdfasts that are said to move by means unknown. Greywater Watch itself is said to exist on one of these islands and move at random. Only the crannogmen know how to find it.
The only way through the Neck is the Kingsroad and that causeway, and this is protected by a formidable bottleneck. At the northern end of the Neck the causeway passes under the ruined towers of Moat Cailin, located close to the headwaters of the Fever River and the Saltspear. The only way north is to pass under the towers. This is fine in peacetime, but in times of war the towers can be garrisoned with a few hundred archers. These can pick off an army having to march in a very narrow file up the causeway. If an army tried to fan out, it would flounder into the swamp and disaster would result. The natural chokepoint has led to the fact that no army has ever taken Moat Cailin from the south, despite (according to tradition) armies trying for ten thousand years.
That, then, is the North. Utterly vast, lightly inhabited and ancient beyond reckoning.
Houses of the North
The North is not well-populated compared to the southron kingdoms, which means that the noble families control substantially larger amounts of land and territory than their southern kindred. However, this also means they have less people to populate and work these lands. The northern houses are spread thin.
House Stark rules from Winterfell as the Wardens of the North. The next tier of powerful houses consists of House Bolton, House Manderly (the richest house), House Dustin, House Karstark, House Ryswell, House Umber, House Glover, House Mormont, House Reed, House Wull and House Magnar, arguably in that order. Many of these houses have their own vassals as well. The Starks’ closest and most reliable allies are House Cerwyn, along with their own vassals, House Condon. The Starks also have close vassals living in Winterfell itself, such as House Poole, House Cassel and House Mollen.
The Manderly vassals include House Locke and House Woolfield, whilst House Stout holds fealty to the Dustins. House Glover commands the fealty to the Wolfswood families: House Forrester, House Branch, House Wood and House Bole. House Reed commands the houses of the Neck: House Blackmyre, House Boggs, House Cray, House Fenn, House Greengood, House Peat and House Quagg. House Marsh may also be affiliated with the Neck. House Wull is the strongest and most powerful of the mountain clans, but it is not considered to be the overlord of the other clans, who instead act in concert. The other mountain clans consist of House Burley, House Flint (or the First Flints), House Harclay, House Knott, House Liddle and House Norrey. House Magnar may be the strongest or most formidable family or tribe on the island of Skagos, but this could be disputed by House Crowl and House Stane. Lack of contact with Skagos makes the internal politics of that island unknown to us.
Lesser houses and families of the North include House Ashwood, House Holt, House Ironsmith, House Lake, House Lightfoot, House Long, House Moss, House Overton, House Slate (of Blackpool), House Waterman, House Whitehill and House Wells (not believed to be related to the Dornish family of the same name).
The maesters of the Citadel teach that magic is a myth, a story-telling convenience that has no relevance or bearing in the modern world. Some, more cautiously, will allow that perhaps once magic did exist but it died out a long time ago. These maesters forge links of Valyrian steel and look into ancient eastern texts or religious scrolls, but cannot light the ancient Valyrian candles or commune with the weirwoods as the Children of the Forest are said to have once done. Magic, they claim, no longer exists.
For those living along the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, however, they have evidence that magic once did exist and was capable of feats dwarfing that of men today. A solid wall of ice stretches impossibly right across the continent. The Wall, according to tradition, was raised eight thousand years ago at the end of the War for the Dawn, to bar the return of the mysterious Others from out of the Lands of Always Winter. The sworn brotherhood of the Night’s Watch was formed to defend it and hold back the darkness beyond.
The Wall & the Gift
The Wall is almost exactly 300 miles long, extending from the Gorge of the Milkwater to the coast of the Bay of Seals. It is over 30 feet in width at the top, enough for a dozen men to ride abreast, and slightly thicker at the base. The Wall is over 700 feet tall, but in some parts of the east, where the landscape becomes more rugged, hills push the Wall to over 900 feet in height, out-topping even the High Tower of Oldtown. Only the fabled Five Forts of Yi Ti, at 1,000 feet, are said to be taller, and no construction anywhere in the known world can match its sheer size.
The Wall is made of solid ice, although compacted gravel and stone may also be found in its foundations. Some ancient records of the Night’s Watch may reference the Wall being considerably lower than it is now, and that the Wall has increased in height over the millennia as rainfall and snowfall has added to its mass. The sheer height of the Wall is indeed as much of an inconvenience to the defenders as it is to attackers, necessitating complex arrays of switchback stairs or rope-and-pulley lifts to get to the top of the Wall and making defensive fire difficult to coordinate effectively against small, manoeuvrable groups of enemies.
The face of the Wall is sheer, with no handholds. Climbing the Wall requires pinions to be inserted into the ice and ropes used to secure climbers. It is extremely hazardous, time-consuming and impractical for large armies to use, but small raiding parties often scale the Wall in this manner in the autumn and winter to raid into the North of the Seven Kingdoms. During the spring and summer, the Wall often “weeps”, never melting but instead the surface becomes slick and damp. This makes climbing far more difficult.
It is possible to outflank the Wall by sea, but the wildlings do not have a strong naval tradition. The tribes of the Frozen Shore have raiding vessels, but are not numerous enough to carry large armies. The tribes of the eastern Haunted Forest are even less adept at sea travel, and the Night’s Watch maintains a small defensive fleet at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea to challenge them. Again, small groups of raiders can land south of the Wall but not in sufficient numbers to seriously challenge the Night’s Watch.
The final way around the Wall is by land. The Wall extends to the south-eastern edge of the Gorge, the sheer canyon cut into the mountains by the passage of the Milkwater as it enters the Bay of Ice, but not across it. Spanning the Gorge at this point is a narrow stone bridge. Raiding parties could cross the bridge or scale the Gorge, but this weak point is defended by a stout keep, Westwatch-by-the-Bridge. Once a permanently-manned fortress with a garrison of hundreds of rangers, the castle today has fallen into disrepair and the garrison has withdrawn to the more formidable protection of the Shadow Tower several miles to the east. However, the Night’s Watch keep a watch on the bridge and can reinforce it quickly.
Nineteen castles run along the base of the Wall, but only three are now permanently-manned, a consequence of the declining manpower of the Night’s Watch. These are: the Shadow Tower near the western end of the Wall; Castle Black near the middle of the Wall, where it meets the Kingsroad; and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea at the far eastern end of the fortification. Of the remaining castles the largest and most notable is the Nightfort, once the primary stronghold of the Night’s Watch but it was abandoned at the urging of Queen Alysanne Targaryen two centuries ago when the cost of running it became ruinous. The Watch removed its main headquarters east to the far smaller and more practical Castle Black. Although the abandoned castles are no longer permanently manned, the Watch rotates small patrols through them to prevent them being used by bandits or wayfarers.
Each of the castles guards a gate and tunnel through the Wall, but the tunnels in all of the abandoned castles have been filled with rubble and ice to prevent them being used to pass under the Wall. The tunnels at the remaining castles are fortified with multiple gates and defensive positions, along with defences along the top of the Wall including siege weapons, catapults and archers. Although these defend each of the three main castles (and there are still fifteen to sixteen miles between each of even the abandoned fortresses), there are still long stretches of the Wall which are unmanned, allowing small raiding parties of wildlings to slip through the defences.
The Night’s Watch also controls all of the land south of the Wall, coast to coast, for 150 miles. Originally Brandon the Builder granted the Watch all the lands south for 75 miles as the Gift, or Brandon’s Gift, but this was doubled by Queen Alysanne and King Jaehaerys I, with the new stretch known as the New Gift. The Gift consists of a huge stretch of farmland, forest, pasture and, in the west, mountains. At one time this land was heavily farmed and home to many thousands of smallfolk toiling to support the Watch, sending grain and ale and milk up to the Wall. Centuries and millennia ago, the manpower of the Night’s Watch was comfortably counted in the tens of thousands, with men willingly choosing to serve with honour and distinction. When Aegon the Conqueror landed, ten thousand men stood guard on the Wall. But that number has dwindled and today only around a thousand men guard the entire length of the Wall, most of them criminals or exiles. With fewer men guarding the Wall, fewer farmers and blacksmiths are needed to supply them. However, fewer men guarding the Wall also means more raiders and wildlings able to attack farmsteads and smallholdings, discouraging settlers. As a result, the Gift is now largely empty and abandoned, the people moving south for warmer and more readily-defended climes.
There are some villages and farms still extant in the Gift, with the most well-known being Mole’s Town. Located a few hours’ march or ride south-east of Castle Black, the village helps with supplying the Watch and also provides one of the few opportunities for rest and relaxation away from the Wall.
During the long winters, the Wall itself provides significant shelter for the Night’s Watch from the northern storms. In addition, the freezing base of the Wall allows for vast stockpiles of food to be frozen and maintained for years at a time.
Off the far north-eastern coast of the Seven Kingdoms lies a foreboding cluster of islands. There are seven islands large enough to appear on maps and many smaller clusters of rocks dotting their shores. The largest island is known as Skagos.
From north to south Skagos measures about 225 miles. The island is about 145 miles wide at its widest point. The island is large and mountainous, with significant interior areas of highlands and mountains.
The island is windswept and grim, lashed by fierce storms in autumn and winter and effectively cut off from the outside world. It is, however, inhabited. The Skagosi, or “stoneborn”, are a hardy people, known for their ferocity and savagery in battle. In the distant past the Skagosi would cross the Bay of Seals on boats to raid and trade with the Kingdom of the North. They were defeated by King Brandon IX Stark who drove off their raiding parties, built a fleet and invaded Skagos itself. He routed their armies, destroyed their ships and shipyards and forbade them the sea. Unruly vassals at the best of times, the Skagosi rose again in rebellion during the reign of King Daeron II Targaryen, forcing Lord Barthogan Stark to re-invade the island. The Skagosi were defeated but Lord Barthogan was slain.
Locations on the island of Skagos are speculative. Three major Skagosi clans or houses control the main island: the Crowls of Deepdown, the Stanes of Driftwood Hall and the Magnars of Kingshouse. However, they disdain the presence of septons or maesters, so the fine details of the geography of the islands remains a mystery.
The Skagosi have limited contact with the mainland, although they remain vassals of the Starks of Winterfell. It is known that they honour the tradition of taking the black: a Crowl served as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch a thousand years ago and a Stane served as First Ranger for a time.
Other details about the island are sparse. We know that the Skagosi are hairy and there is a suggestion of a contact with the distant eastern island of Ib. How plausible this is, with Ib located over three thousand miles to the east, is unclear. The Skagosi remain deeply immersed in the culture of the First Men, continuing to speak the Old Tongue and worshipping the old gods of the forest. The Skagosi are also known to trade in pelts and obsidian – dragonglass – blades and arrowheads, hinting at possible volcanic activity on the Skagosi islands. Another curious claim is that the Skagosi use “unicorns” as both steeds and beasts of burden. Some research by maesters suggest that these “unicorns” may be no more than a hardy species of goat with a single horn, but the truth of the matter remains unclear.
The other Skagosi islands appear to be lightly inhabited, if at all: Skane, a small island located to the north-west of Skagos, was raided and its entire population either killed or enslaved centuries ago.
Assuming uniform dimensions of 700 feet tall by 30 feet wide by 300 miles long, the Wall would consist of 33,264,000,000 cubic feet of ice. At roughly 57.2 pounds per cubic foot, the Wall therefore weighs about 951,350,400 tons (or 863,050,565,273 kg).
The Greenland ice sheet loses 250 billion tons of ice per year (9 trillion in a century, raising sea levels by about 1 inch so far), or around 250 times the total volume of the Wall annually, so the Wall melting would make negligible impact on global sea levels. It would, however, likely result in extensive localised flooding along the coast and on Bear Island and Skagos.
The size of Skagos, when the smaller islands are added, appears to closely match that of the island of Ireland.
The lands north of the Wall are cold and remote from the warm cities of the south. To many, even learned maesters, the lands north of the Seven Kingdoms are inhospitable wastelands, their few inhabitants too savage, too primitive and too small in number to be concerned about. The men of the Night’s Watch know better, that the northern lands are vast and it is possible to survive and live there. It is a hard and tough life that breeds a hardy and tough people. They call themselves the Free Folk, but are known to the inhabitants of the Seven Kingdoms as the wildlings.
The northern lands can be divided into two broad regions: the Lands of Always Winter and the more temperate and warm lowlands to the south, the lands of the Free Folk.
The Lands of Always Winter
The Lands of Always Winter are so-called because they lie in the shadow of permanent cold, ice and snow. The snow never melts, the ice never breaks and even in the warmest and longest summers the lands are still freezing, cold and inhospitable. The Lands of Always Winter consist of vast, frozen tundra and plains, covered in snow, extending for hundreds upon hundreds of miles from the northern-most foothills of the Frostfangs all the way to the north pole, perhaps even beyond into the opposite hemisphere of the world.
Very little can survive in this region and few, if any, geographic details are known. Some maesters estimate that it is approximately 600 miles from the Wall to the treeline, the part of the world where it gets too cold for trees to grow. The treeline lies along the northern edge of Thenn and the shadow of the northern Frostfangs, near the northern-most edge of the detailed maps of the lands beyond the Wall. But from the treeline to the north pole lies a staggering 1,500 miles (or more) of cold and wilderness. Crossing such a freezing landscape alive is simply not possible.
Even the coasts are hard to chart, for the water freezes and vast floes of ice dominate the Shivering Sea and the northern Sunset Sea, threatening ships with destruction. Repeated voyages by some of the greatest mariners in history (such as the voyage by Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Snake, two centuries ago in search of the fabled Northern Passage) have failed to find a path through the ice, apparently confirming that the continent of Westeros extends up over the top of the world. Furthermore, the entire northern polar region appears to be surrounded by a vast mass of ice, known as the White Waste. Northern sailors claim that huge ice dragons can be found in these lands and offshore, and screaming mountains can be seen from the sea (although whether these are actual inland mountains or ice formations remains unknown).
Sailors also, curiously, report that immense ribbons of shifting light can be seen in the skies over the uttermost north. Some maesters dismiss such stories as fanciful inventions, but the reports are numerous enough to make some think otherwise.*
Somewhere along the ever-shifting coast of the White Waste lies Cannibal Bay, where ships that venture too close to the ice are trapped and slowly crushed over the course of decades, the surviving crew forced into acts of depravity to try to survive and escape.
According to myth and legend, the Lands of Always Winter are the home of the enigmatic Others, or white walkers, who come from a place called “the heart of winter”. Eight thousand years ago, according to tradition, under the cover of the longest and darkest winter in history, the Long Night, the Others invaded Westeros from out of this wilderness. Raising the dead to fight for them and riding great ice spiders, the Others pushed the forces of living men, the Children of the Forest and the giants back into the south before being defeated in the War for the Dawn and driven back into the far north of the world. The Wall was raised at the narrowest point of the continent to defend against their return. Maesters doubt this story, as the Lands of Always Winter are too inhospitable for any kind of life at all to survive.
The Lands of the Free Folk
The Lands of Always Winter terminate in a series of great lakes and rivers which, at least occasionally, thaw in the summer. They also end on the northern slopes of the Frostfangs, the greatest mountain range of the northern lands. These lands south to the Wall are considerably more hospitable than the frozen northern tundra, although they are still cold and growing crops is difficult in all but the longest and warmest summers.
The lands of the Free Folk are divided in two by the Frostfangs. The Frostfangs extend in a slightly north-easterly direction for about 750 miles before swinging north-east for about 300 miles. The Frostfangs are tall, jagged and cold. They are also beautiful, with frozen waterfalls that gradually thaw in the spring and high mountain meadows covered in wildflowers in the summer. But in the winter they are grey, dark and uninhabitable, save for a few rumoured valleys where shelter can be found. There are three principal passes through the Frostfangs: the Milkwater Valley, formed by that great river as it winds its way through the mountains from its source; the Giant’s Stair and the Skirling Pass. There are numerous mountains in the Frostfangs, but one of the largest and most distinctive is Forktop, so-called for the two peaks that crown it. Some maesters claim that the Frostfangs continue south of the Gorge as the Northern Mountains, whilst others hold them to be a separate range.
The lands to the west consist of cold, open plains and hills through which run a series of rivers. Although far more hospitable than the Lands of Always Winter to the north, these are still sparse and bare lands. Two groups of wildlings live in this region. The Ice River clans live around the great rivers, carrying out fishing and, during the winters, ice-fishing to survive. The Ice River clansmen are said to feast on human flesh (although it is unclear if this is reliable or just rumour).
The Ice River (or rivers) flow south out of the heart of this region into the Sunset Sea west of Bear Island. The coastline around the mouth of the river and east to the Frostfangs, including the entire northern coast of the Bay of Ice, is known as the Frozen Shore. The Frozen Shore is inhabited by a different culture of wildlings, men and women who ride chariots made of walrus bone and pulled by gigantic dogs (reportedly as big as direwolves, although this may be exaggeration). They clad themselves in sealskins and breed reindeer. There are several Frozen Shore tribes: one adorns itself with walrus tusks, another with reindeer antlers. The “Great Walrus” is the name given to the leader of the walrus tusk tribe.
The tribes of the Frozen Shore do not get one with one another or the Ice River clans, and internal warfare is common. They are also known to build primitive boats to raid Bear Island and Sea Dragon Point to the south. According to some legends, the ironborn may have tried to conquer the Frozen Shore in ancient times but, if so, they were rebuffed.
A promontory on the Frozen Shore is known as Lorn Point. Its precise location is unclear, but some mappers identify this as the largest and southern-most peninsular on the shore, separating the Bay of Ice from the Sunset Sea. Redwyn, a ranger of the Night’s Watch, undertook a long journey from the Shadow Tower to Lorn Point during which he met and traded with the Children of the Forest. The report is considered fanciful; if Lorn Point is that promontory, it well over 500 miles (as the wolf runs) west of the Shadow Tower.
The lands to the east of the Frostfangs are more hospitable. The Frostfangs shelter the lands on their eastern side from the harsh winds and cold that lash the western slopes, and there are numerous sheltered valleys along the eastern mountain flanks that are more hospitable. The best-known of these is Thenn. Located near the northern end of the mountains in a bowl-shaped valley, local geographic and climactic conditions make Thenn warmer and more habitable than most of the other lands at that latitude. It is still a hard land and the people of Thenn, known simply as “Thenns”, are certainly fierce and unrelenting warriors. They are also more sophisticated than other wildlings, mining for tin and copper, forging weapons of bronze and engaging in trade. They are also close to the few surviving giants of the mountains, having won their trust in ancient times. The Thenns are led by a ruler known as the Magnar, who is considered more god than king. The Thenns’ belief in their Magnar makes them more disciplined and confident than other tribes. They are, arguably, the most formidable of the northern tribes and the one whose allegiance is most crucial for any warlord who would declare himself King-beyond-the-Wall.
Further south along the Frostfangs lie great caverns and cave complexes, some natural, some perhaps dug out in ancient times. Some wildlings make their home in these caves for their natural warmth and defensive benefits. The cave-dwellers file their teeth and paint themselves unusual colours. They are said to worship bizarre and dark gods.
Running along the feet of the Frostfangs is the Milkwater. The largest and longest river in the lands beyond the Wall, the river consists of two major tributaries. The northern river’s source is in the high Frostfangs, not far south of Thenn. The Milkwater proper is born in a valley north of the Giant’s Stair, a common meeting and gathering spot for the wildling tribes. The two rivers join near the Giant’s Stair and then proceed south-east before swinging south-west and flowing through the Gorge to meet the Bay of Ice. All-told, the river is over 650 miles in length. During the winters the river is a source of food for the wildling tribes, who engage in ice-fishing along its length. The only major crossing over the river is the Bridge of Skulls which stands in the shadow of the far western end of the Wall. The Bridge is held by the Night’s Watch and no crossing of the bridge against a determined opposition is possible. However, there are fords further north and crossing the river when it is frozen during the winter is certainly possible.
East of the Milkwater lies a vast canopy of trees: the Haunted Forest. This forest extends for almost 600 miles from the Wall to the northern lakes and rivers and is over 300 miles across at its thickest point. It is the largest woodland still extant on the continent of Westeros and is vast and foreboding. However, both the wildlings and the rangers of the Night’s Watch know their way through the woodland and its numerous rivers, valleys and tracks. The thick trees of the forest, particularly the weirwoods, block some of the worst of the freezing cold that runs from the north or off the Shivering Sea. Other trees in the forest include ironwood, sentinel and oak.
The forest is home to many more wildling tribes, such as the Nightrunners and Hornfoots, as well as many individual homesteads, such as the “keep” of the redoubtable Craster, and entire villages, such as Whitetree near the Wall. The forest is also the home to many dangerous animals. According to legend, direwolves can still be found in the deepest parts of the forest.
The forest is also home to ruins. The Children of the Forest lived in the woodlands for millennia, according to legend (according to some stories, they can still be found there but the Night’s Watch has reported no credible sightings of them for centuries), and the First Men also once dwelt there, raising ringforts for defence. The ruins of one such stronghold – the “Fist of the First Men” – can be found on a tall hill in the western forest, overlooking the Milkwater. Many of the wildlings claim descent from the First Men and hence kinship with the people of the North in the Seven Kingdoms.
True civilisation in the lands beyond the Wall is hard to find. The Thenns have a rough kind of kingdom, but there are no settlements large enough to be really called towns, let alone cities. This was not always the case. The better part of a thousand years ago, an enterprising wildling chieftain founded a settlement at the northern tip of Storrold’s Point, a great peninsular in the eastern Haunted Forest. This settlement was located on a sheltered bay with a deep natural harbour, capable of keeping the biggest ships afloat. The waters are filled with fish and seals, and wood and stone supplies are plentiful. There are nearby caves providing natural shelter, although the wind had a tendency to run through these caves and make unnerving shrieking noises.
Before long the settlement had turned into a great boom town, Hardhome. Wildling tribes from the interior traded there with ships from the Seven Kingdoms and even the Free Cities (Braavos, located just a couple of weeks to the south and always in need of wood, was particularly well-suited to benefit from this trade). Great trade was made in lumber and fish and word of the town began to spread. Maester Wyllis travelled from the Citadel to Hardhome and established himself there as an advisor to Gorm the Wolf, one of the four warlords who had arisen to rule the settlement. After three years Gorm was murdered and Wyllis rapidly took ship back to Oldtown, where he wrote a respected account of his time amongst the wildlings.
Three centuries before Aegon’s Landing, Hardhome was destroyed. The cause of the devastation is unclear. It is known that the town was razed to the ground and the intensity of the fire was so great that it could be seen from the Wall, almost 200 miles to the south. A vast swathe of surrounding forest was destroyed. Oddly, it appears that there were no survivors at all. What could cause the town to be destroyed so quickly and completely remains unknown.
The wildlings chose not to resettle the ruins, claiming that demons and ghosts prowled the area and the bay was too choked with corpses. Maesters would later theorise that slavers from Skagos or the Free Cities had raided the town and taken the survivors away in chains, but it seems implausible that they would be able to destroy the town so completely. The truth of the affair remains a mystery to this day.
The population of the lands beyond the Wall is unknown. Some believe that it must surely be low, given the cold, the difficulty in growing crops and the lack of roads and towns. But others point out that, not too long ago, these lands were large enough to support a town of several thousand people. In addition, on several occasions a King-beyond-the-Wall has unified the tribes and led armies numbering in the several thousands to attack the Wall (or, in the case of Raymun Redbeard, even bypass it to invade the North). The Night’s Watch certainly considers the risk of a large host in the thousands or even tens of thousands plausible, and constantly seeks to recruit new men to help increase its depleted ranks.
The Wall marks the boundary between the lands of the wildlings and the Seven Kingdoms proper, and we shall look at it and the surrounding lands in more detail next time.
*The aurora borealis can be seen on Earth as far as south 35°N, occasionally even further south. This is considerably to the south of the latitude on the ASoIaF world of Winterfell and even Riverrun and the Eyrie, let alone the northern treeline in Thenn (which lies at approximately 70°N). The wildlings never mention the aurora either. Instead, it is only mentioned by Bran in his dream in A Game of Thrones (as shimmering curtain of light surrounding the “Heart of Winter” in the uttermost north) and by certain sailors in The World of Ice and Fire, as shimmering lights that can be seen in the northern-most Shivering Sea. This suggests that either the planet’s magnetic field is significantly weaker than on Earth, or that the aurora serves a different and more magical function on this world.
Westeros is the name given to the great continent located in the far west of the known world. To the peoples of Essos it is known as the Sunset Lands or Sunset Kingdoms. The Dothraki call it Rhaesh Andahli, the Land of the Andals, but pay it little heed for it lies beyond the poison water upon which their horses cannot ride.
Westeros is known as a land of vast, fertile plains, beautiful mountains and fast-running rivers, but it is also known as a land of biting cold and immense snowfalls: the continent extends considerably further north than Essos or even Ib, up to the frozen wilderness beyond the Shivering Sea known as the White Waste. Some maesters claim that the continent extends all the way under the snow and ice to the north pole of the world, and maybe even beyond into the opposing hemisphere of the planet. The distance from the north pole to the Summer Sea is estimated at just over 5,000 miles.
The mapped portion of the continent starts approximately 600 miles north of the Wall, in the northern foothills of the Frostfangs, in the valley of Thenn and along the northern eaves of the Haunted Forest. These lands south to the Wall are known as the Lands of the Free Folk, or wildlings, or more simply the Lands Beyond the Wall. In the southron kingdoms, the Wall marks the end of the world and what is beyond is a mystery. The Night’s Watch knows better, that great mountains, forests, small villages and formidable tribesfolk can be found in those lands. But even that knowledge fails on the immense, inhospitable tundra that lies north of the Frostfangs and extends beyond the shimmering curtains of light circling the top of the world.
Everything south of the Wall to the Summer Sea – a distance of almost exactly 3,000 miles – is ruled from the Iron Throne in King’s Landing. This nation, by far the largest in the known world, is known as the Seven Kingdoms.
The Seven Kingdoms are divided into nine administrative regions: the North (ruled from Winterfell), the Riverlands (ruled from Riverrun), the Vale (ruled from the Eyrie), the Westerlands (ruled from Casterly Rock), the Iron Islands (ruled from Pyke), the Reach (ruled from Highgarden), the Stormlands (ruled from Storm’s End), Dorne (ruled from Sunspear) and the Crownlands (ruled from King’s Landing). The North is by far the largest of these regions, making up over a third of the realm by itself, whilst the Iron Islands are the smallest, consisting of several chunks of rock located in the Sunset Sea to the west of the continent. The Reach is the most heavily populated part of the realm, with vast, fertile fields and farmlands stretching for hundreds of miles, surrounding bustling market towns and fast-flowing rivers. Dorne, the western part of which is dominated by an arid desert, is the arguably the least-hospitable, except for the North during the direst winters.
The entire realm is ruled from the city of King’s Landing, located on the east coast of the continent, but each region has its own administrative centre which rules over numerous villages, towns, cities and holdfasts in the name of the King on the Iron Throne. Each region is also ruled by a single noble family, who in turn rule over many lesser houses who in turn command even smaller families, holdfasts and individual warriors. These Great Houses are: House Stark, rulers of the North; House Tully, rulers of the Riverlands; House Arryn, rulers of the Vale; House Lannister, the rulers of the Westerlands; House Greyjoy, the rulers of the Iron Islands; House Tyrell, the rulers of the Reach; House Baratheon, the rulers of the Stormlands; and House Martell, the rulers of Dorne. House Baratheon, as the ruling royal house of Westeros as of 298 AC, also rules the Crownlands from the city of King’s Landing and the island-fortress of Dragonstone. House Targaryen ruled the Seven Kingdoms for 283 years until its defeat in a major civil war, but two children of that house survive in exile in Essos and continue to claim the Iron Throne.
King’s Landing is the largest city in the realm, as well as its capital, with a population of around 400,000 (increasing sharply during feast days, tournaments or times of war). Oldtown, a considerably older city, is only slightly smaller. From there it is a considerable drop to Lannisport, the largest port and city on the west coast of the continent, and a further significant drop to Gulltown and White Harbor, the smallest of Westeros’s major cities with populations in the low-to-mid tens of thousands.
However, Westeros is home to many walled towns and holdfasts with populations comfortably in the thousands, even if they are not officially counted as cities. Such large, well-fortified towns include Duskendale, Stoney Sept, Tumbleton, Barrowton, Harroway, Hull, Vinetown, Starfish Harbor, Ryamsport, Lordsport, the Weeping Town, the Planky Town, Maidenpool, Saltpans, Fairmarket, Bitterbridge and many more. There are also castles with significantly-sized towns attached to them, such as Winterfell, Seagard, Ashford and Sunspear. Town and city-dwellers in Westeros are certainly in the minority, but not quite as small a population as it first appears.
The population of Westeros is estimated by some maesters at around forty-five million souls, and may be considerably higher. The lands beyond the Wall are held to be incapable of supporting vast numbers, with the wildlings believed to consist of nothing more than a few clans or tribes of a few hundred individuals each, barely large enough to survive. However, the Night’s Watch and the people of the North disagree, since survival even in the harshest winters is possible as they themselves can attest, and believe that the lands beyond the Wall could sustain many tens of thousands. Since the destruction of the largest wildling town and trading post, Hardhome, some centuries ago it has become much harder to estimate such things.
Westeros has no large standing army. Instead, individual lords raise forces of men from their population at need, equipping and training them as required. How well each lord does this varies: the Lannisters, for example, equip their soldiers with the best armour and weapons available, whilst other regions send their basic troops into battle equipped with little more than farming equipment. Several standing military forces do exist, such as the City Watch of King’s Landing and Lannisport, the Night’s Watch, the sailors of the Royal Fleet and several well-trained formations of both crossbowmen and pikemen in the Westerlands, but these tend to be small. Smallest of all but most formidable (at least in theory) is the Kingsguard, which consists of seven elite warriors sworn to defend the king and the royal family.
Making up the backbone of any Westerosi army are the knights, who usually make up heavy cavalry formations. Knights are men sworn to the Faith of the Seven who have performed deeds of valour in combat and own their own horses, armour and weapons, which they maintain to a high standard. Some knights have younger men in their service, cleaning their armour and keeping their weapons in good repair in return for being trained in the arts of war. These trainee knights are known as squires. Knights are addressed with the honorific “Ser”, before their names. Most knights are nobly-born, but a those of low birth can also become knights if they are so honoured on the battlefield (any knight can make another knight). Low-born knights usually struggle for the funds required to maintain their station, often sleeping in ditches and hedges to save money on accommodation. These low knights are known as hedge knights and are often held in disdain by those of noble birth.
In the North, where people still worship the old gods, knights are less common, but northern noble sons (and some daughters) are often trained in battle and horse riding to a standard equalling that of the south.
The Seven Kingdoms are also home to the order of maesters. Based in the Citadel in the city of Oldtown, maesters are men of learning and wisdom. Almost every castle in the Seven Kingdoms has a maester, tasked with educating the noble children and organising communications between far-flung parts of the realm. Maesters also record the length of the days and report this back to the Citadel, so the Conclave of Archmaesters may determine when the seasons have turned. Maesters are also experts in law, astronomy, agriculture and strategy. Maesters are held to be loyal to their seat and the realm rather than individual lords and houses, and if one family inherits a seat or conquers one in a time of war, the maester is expected to transfer their allegiance to the new rulers. In practice this is easier said than done, and it is not unknown for the maester of a castle to be killed in its capture or sent back to the Citadel afterwards, in favour of a maester with less biases.
In terms of religion, the Seven Kingdoms are home to three distinct creeds. The most common and richest is the Faith of the Seven, which holds that there is one god split into seven aspects, the Father, the Mother, the Maiden, the Crone, the Warrior, the Smith and the Stranger (who represents death). The Faith is ruled by the High Septon and his administrative council, the Most Devout, from the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing. Priests of the Seven are called septons and priestesses as septas. The Faith’s holy book is The Seven-Pointed Star. Temples of the Seven are known as septs. Larger, monastery-like structures where devout followers worship and live together in peace, are known as septries. The Faith came to Westeros with the Andals.
Next most common is the religion of the Old Gods of the Forest (or simply old gods). A considerably less formal religion, the old faith is based around the worship of the nameless, countless spirits of the trees and of nature. This religion calls for prayers to be offered up to heart trees, enormous weirwood trees with faces cut into their barks. The old faith is followed very strongly in the North and in the lands beyond the Wall, although a few southern houses still maintain its worship. The First Men were converted to the old faith by the Children of the Forest after their invasion and the signing of the Pact.
The smallest of the major religions is that of the Drowned God, an angry and harsh deity of the sea who demands supplication in the form of battle and raiding. The Drowned God is worshipped exclusively on the Iron Islands.
Small, fringe faiths of Essos, such as the worship of the red god R’hllor, Lord of Light or the Moonsingers of the Jogos Nhai and Braavos, are not very common in Westeros, but small pockets of worshippers of foreign gods can be found in the major ports.
There is significant contact between Westeros and Essos, which are separated only by the 300 or so miles of the Narrow Sea at its narrowest. The Free Cities of Braavos, Pentos, Myr and Tyrosh lie close to the shores of the Seven Kingdoms, and Lys, Lorath and Volantis are only slightly further away by sea. There is significant trade between the continents through the great ports of the Narrow Sea and the Summer Sea. There is also trade with the Summer Islands, which lie approximately 700 miles south of Dorne. The distinctive swan ships of the Summer Islanders are a common sight in the ports of Lannisport, Oldtown and King’s Landing. However, the true riches of trade come from those merchants brave enough to dare the Summer Sea and the Straits of Qarth to conduct the great trader’s circle around the Jade Sea to Asshai and back, a journey which can take two years. For those who manage it and survive, riches and fame awaits, but the dangers are considerable.
Journeys to the far ends of the world are beyond the comprehension of most of the smallfolk of Westeros, who may rarely venture more than ten miles from their place of birth in their lives. Westeros by itself is still vast enough to fill many lifetimes of exploration and adventure.