Geographic Map 3: The Lands Beyond the Wall

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 Beyond the Wall, which are divided into three general regions: the Lands of Always Winter in the far north and extending for over a thousand miles to the north pole; the Ice River and Frozen Shore regions on the open, cold plains west of the Frostfangs; and the better-populated lands of the Milkwater Valley and the Haunted Forest to the east.

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).


A ship trapped off the Frozen Shore. Artwork by Franz Miklis for the Song of Ice and Fire card game by Fantasy Flight.

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.


The Bridge of Skulls and the ruined Night’s Watch fortress that once guarded it, Westwatch-by-the-Bridge. Artwork by Marc Simonetti.

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.

Geographic Map 2: Westeros

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.


Major geographic features of the continent of Westeros.

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.


A very approximate population map of Westeros, showing the major regions and settlements.

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.

A Song of Lines and Latitude

Due to work done earlier on the blog, we now have a working model for the size of the Song of Ice and Fire planet and the approximate positions of the major locations on that world. This means we can work out lines of latitude for many of the major locations that appear in the story and on the accompanying maps, and compare them to real-world locations.


Click for a larger version.

The Fist of the First Men lies at approximately 64°29′ N. For comparison, the world’s northernmost capital city, Reykjavik in Iceland, lies at 64°08′ N. The Wall lies along latitude 61°97′ N, which would place it in northern Canada or southern Norway.

Winterfell lies at 54°2′ N, which puts it south of Moscow (at 55°45′ N) and north of London (51°3′ N). Happily, given the much-discussed parallels between House Stark and the House of York during the Wars of the Roses, Winterfell is very close to York’s latitude (at 53°57′ N).

Similarly, Braavos (44°95′ N) is very close to the latitude of its most obvious inspiration, Venice (at 45°26′ N). More surprising, perhaps, is that Riverrun (39°75′ N) lies south of Madrid (at 40°23′ N) but north of Washington, DC (38°54′ N). King’s Landing and Pentos both lie on 34°5′ N, which is south of the latitude of San Francisco (37°47′ N) but north of Cairo, Egypt (on 30°3′ N).


Latitude coordinates of major locations in A Song of Ice and Fire, compared to real-world locations.

Moving into Slaver’s Bay, Meereen lies at 25°75′ N and Astapor at 20°65′ N. For reference, Miami, Florida is at 25°46’N and Mumbai, India at 18°58’N. Oldtown and much of Dorne lies at latitude 25°66’N, comparable to the Sahara Desert or northern Mexico.

At the southern-most edge of the world lies Asshai, at 1°75′ N, just above the equator. The most comparable major city in our world would be Singapore, which lies even closer at 1°17’N. Since the map of the known world ends pretty much at the equator, there are no major locations on the ASoIaF world to put in the southern hemisphere.

All of these locations are speculative and approximate, of course, but may help when visualising the respective locations of places. The actual climate of the locations varies widely depending on local conditions, much as it does in the real world.

Geographic Map 1: The Known World

The known world is vast, extending for just over 8,500 miles from the Sunset Sea west of the Lonely Light to the island of Ulos in the Saffron Straits beyond Asshai, and for almost 7,000 miles from the White Waste beyond the Shivering Sea to the Green Hell of Sothoryos. However, this colossal region makes up only a small part of the world. According to those of learning, the world is a sphere just under 27,000 miles in circumference, meaning that all the lands we know account for just over a quarter of the world’s total surface. Far more lands, maybe even continents larger than Westeros, may lie across the Sunset Sea or beyond Asshai.


The known world, consisting of the continents of Westeros, Essos, Sothoryos and Ulthos.

Four continents are known to us: Westeros, at the western end of the known world, the home of the Seven Kingdoms and the lands beyond the Wall; Essos, the vast continent of the east, the largest of the landmasses known to us, home to the Free Cities, the ruins of Valyria, the Dothraki Sea and the distant lands of Yi Ti and Asshai; Sothoryos beyond the Summer Sea, a land of thick jungles, burning deserts and virulent plagues; and Ulthos, a mysterious island-continent located south of Asshai and the Shadow Lands, on the far side of the Jade Sea. Some maesters also argue for the existence of a polar continent located at the very top of the world, but they are also divided on whether this continent is a continuation of Westeros or a different landmass only linked by permanently frozen ice.

Several great seas and oceans have been identified. The largest is the Sunset Sea, a vast ocean lying to the west of both Westeros and the Summer Islands. No-one has ever successfully crossed the Sunset Sea, or at least has returned afterwards. The ironborn Farwynds of the Lonely Light report that islands can be found far out in the Sunset Sea, but so far as to make colonisation or conquest impractical. More recent reports that the Farwynds have discovered a more substantial island or continent remain unconfirmed.

The Summer Sea runs from the south coast of Westeros all the way along the south coast of Essos to the island of Great Moraq, dividing Essos from the continent of Sothoryos. The Summer Sea also separates the Summer Islands from Westeros, Essos and Sothoryos. To the east, beyond the Jade Gates (also called the Straits of Qarth) and Great Moraq, lies the Jade Sea. The Jade Sea is roughly circular and borders Essos to the south, Ulthos to the north-west and Sothoryos to the east and north-east. Several great nations and cities lie on its shores, such as Yi Ti and Asshai, and it is home to many islands of note, such as the Manticore Isles and Leng. The Saffron Straits link the Jade Sea to seas as yet unknown to the east, but no Westerosi traveller has ever sailed beyond the island of Ulos and returned. The Jade Sea is a hub of trade, and a Westerosi merchant who completes the trader’s circle around the Jade Sea and returns home (a fearsome journey of almost two years, depending on the currents) can be rich for life.

The Narrow Sea divides Westeros from Essos. It is indeed a narrow body of water, only 300 miles wide in some places, but it is crisscrossed daily by merchants and traders sailing between the Seven Kingdoms and the Free Cities that lie on its eastern shores. The Narrow Sea is separated from the Summer Sea by the island chain known as the Stepstones, the remnants of an ancient land bridge that once linked Westeros and Essos.

The Shivering Sea is, to our knowledge, the second-largest of the world’s major oceans. It lies to the north of Essos and north-east of Westeros. It is cold and foreboding at the best of times, and in winter can become impassable as great storms batter the coasts and enormous mountains of ice migrate south, posing a hazard to shipping. The Free Cities of Braavos and Lorath lie on its southern shores, along with more remote cities like Morosh, the Port of Ibben and Nefer. The Dothraki Sea lies along the Shivering Sea, along with foreboding forests and the distant, vast archipelago known as the Thousand Islands. Beyond Nefer and the Thousand Islands lie the thickly forested lands of Mossovy, and no more known ports. No known explorer has returned from the lands beyond Mossovy. Thus, the eastern-most parts of Essos remain unexplored and unmapped.


Following the destruction of Hardhome, Eastwatch-by-the-Sea is the northern-most known port on the Shivering Sea. Art by Ted Naismith.

The world as a whole is one of eight planets that circle the Sun; the Seven Wanderers are known to those who navigate by the stars. The Red Wanderer, which is easily visible at many times of the year, may be the closest to us. There are also countless stars in the heavens, forming at least ten constellations, such as the Ice Dragon, the Crone’s Lantern, the Stallion and the Sword of the Morning. Different stars and constellations are visible in Dorne compared to the Haunted Forest, and sailors travelling to the Summer Islands report that yet more unusual stars can be found the further south you travel.

The world is circled by a single moon, by whose shifting faces the passing of the month can be determined. According to legend, there was once a second moon in the sky which cracked and broke apart, spilling millions of dragons into the world. However, maesters consider such stories to be fanciful, noting that such an event would have likely destroyed the world altogether.

As is well-known, the seasons shift unpredictably from spring to summer to autumn to winter and back again. A summer of nine months may be followed by an autumn of two years and a winter of three. Maesters, who are spread all across the continent of Westeros, carefully monitor the length of the days and consult with the Citadel in Oldtown to determine when the days start shortening towards winter and when they start lengthening towards summer. However, so far the maesters have not been able to find any reliable mechanism to determine why the seasons act as they do, as they defy all rationality. They have produced some theories which could explain the seasons, but these all conclude that the seasons should be predictable and regular. The erratic wild swings that have been measured through all of recorded history (to at least the Long Night of eight millennia ago) cannot be explained.

The world is governed by natural forces of sunlight and air and fire, which the maesters have come some way to understanding. However, other forces are at work in the world which cannot be so readily explained. A towering wall of ice, 300 miles long, 700 feet height and dozens of feet thick, lies across the northern part of the continent of Westeros, defying all reason and the apparent laws of nature. In eastern lands pyromancers and red priests and warlocks practice arts that lead to results that should be impossible. Commoners call such things “magic”, but the maesters reject such a supernatural term, believing that everything can be explained through science and logic.

According to some maesters, the world is half a million years old. Some speculate more, some somewhat less, but it is agreed that the world is ancient beyond reasoning. Our traditional, recorded history begins only 12,000 years ago when the First Men invaded Westeros and fought the Children of the Forest, the original inhabitants of the continent, to a standstill. Four millennia of peace followed, broken by the Long Night and the invasion of the “Others”, demons of ice and cold out of the uttermost north, the Lands of Always Winter. They were defeated and the Wall raised to bar their return. Two thousand years later, the Andals invaded Westeros from the east, formed dozens of new kingdoms and drove the Children beyond the Wall. Five thousand years after that the Rhoynar, a great people of Essos, were defeated by the spreading might of Valyria and the survivors were driven to Westeros, where they settled in Dorne. Six centuries later Valyria was destroyed by a cataclysm and, a century after that, the last surviving Valyrian family with dragons invaded and conquered Westeros, beginning the modern age of history.

Some claim that these dates are not to be trusted and many of these events happened much more recently, but regardless of such scholarly disputes it is clear that many peoples have walked the world and established countless empires and cities, only for them to fall and new civilisations to arise.

World of Ice and Fire World Map Political

A map of the known world showing known political borders and entities. Note that in many cases the degree to which these borders are formalised is highly speculative.

The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros – despite being dismissed by many of Essos as provincial and barbarous – actually form the largest nation known to man, followed by the Golden Empire of Yi Ti, which dominates central-eastern Essos. Other areas of control and influence are more loosely-defined, such as the territories of the Dothraki or the Jogos Nhai. Other kingdoms tend to be much smaller: such as pastoral Omber along the Shivering Sea and the sheep-herders of Lhazar east of Slaver’s Bay. City-states dominate Essos, such as the Free Cities, the cities of Slaver’s Bay, golden Qarth guarding the Jade Gates and, of course, shadow-shrouded Asshai.

Around and between these cities and nations lie great rivers, towering mountains and deep forests, and we will look at all of these in turn.

Globe of Ice and Fire: Circling the Square

One of the biggest difficulties in drawing maps on a flat, 2D piece of paper (or screen) is that they do not accurately reflect what the landmass would look like on an actual spherical planet. For town or even country maps, the differences are often negligible, but for continent or world maps, accuracy tends to diminish. Either scale or area or shape ends up being distorted.


Westeros, Essos, Sothoryos and Ulthos when placed on a globe and viewed from a point roughly above the northern tropic (the equator passes just south of Naath and through the southern Summer Islands and northern Sothoryos, on this model). From this view, it actually works quite well. Note that the depictions of the far east of Sothoryos and Ulthos and the south coast of the Jade Sea are all speculative and non-canonical.

This is the old problem of projection, with world maps of the Earth tending to show the continents all squashed up the further north they go (which distorts shape and area) or the upper parts of the map are at a much bigger scale than the rest, such as those maps which show Greenland being almost the size of Africa rather than (as in reality) 1/14th the size.

This is also true for fantasy maps. As discussed before, in creating the maps of Westeros and Essos for A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin has not really taken projection into account at all. On his maps of Westeros, the Wall is 300 miles long but the distance between Deepwood Motte and Winterfell (hundreds of miles to the south) is also said to be 300 miles long and the south coast of Westeros – 3,000 miles south of the Wall! – is said to be 1,200 miles long. These are all in perfect scale to one another, which is not really possible when you look at the maps as a representation of what the planet actually looks like.

The answer to that problem is that the maps of Westeros are essentially stitched together from lots of local maps extending across the entire continent. So the maps are all accurate for scale and shape on a local level, but not from an overall continental or world view. To illustrate this, consider the following view from the Ibbenese Cartographer site:


The top map is the Known World map from The Lands of Ice and Fire with lines of longitude and latitude placed of it. Using this grid, the map is then bent into a sphere. It’s a nice idea but it doesn’t work because it actually shrinks the size of the North quite drastically, reducing it to not much more than the size of the Reach.

From some points of view this may be desirable, because the North is almost unfathomably huge. However, remember that the people of Westeros don’t have GPS, satellites or aerial mapping, so they’d be going by the local, absolute maps and the size of the landmass. Robert Baratheon’s quote that the North is “as big as the other six kingdoms put together” is already somewhat inaccurate (the North is actually a bit more than one-third the total size of the Seven Kingdoms), so shrinking the North even further seems implausible. Also, the use of the Wall as  scale bar confirms that distances remain constant on the maps of Westeros regardless of if you’re in the North, the Riverlands or Dorne.


The North of Westeros and the lands Beyond the Wall, taken from the most detailed world maps so far (from Lands of Ice and Fire and the Westeros/Essos map from World of Ice and Fire).

Using the Map to Globe website, the same thing happens when I place the Known World map (with worked-out lines of latitude but no longitude) on it. Because this incorporates the much more detailed information from The World of Ice and Fire, which as previously discussed probably takes the far north of Westeros to within 200 miles of the North Pole, the distortion becomes extreme.


The North of Westeros and the lands beyond the Wall become tremendously distorted when the flat map is applied to a sphere. This depiction is erroneous, but no map corrected for the distortion has yet been created.

The actual world probably looks like the flat 2D map, but on the 3D globe. The only way to make that work is that the North actually covers more lines of longitude than the South does, so on a traditional 2D projection the North will actually extend further east and west than it has ever been depicted before, with Skagos located north of Braavos. At some point I’ll try to adjust the maps to make that work but that’s going to be a complicated job.

In the meantime, you can check out more “globified” fantasy maps for series like Wheel of Time, Dragonlance, Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Belgariad, Conan the Barbarian and Avatar: The Last Airbender over on my other blog, The Wertzone.

Historical Map 25: The Baratheon Reign

King Robert I Baratheon was crowned early in the year 284 AC. He married the Lady Cersei of House Lannister and the Seven Kingdoms rejoiced, hoping for a new age of peace and plenty following the depredations of the Mad King’s reign.


Robert I Baratheon (262-298, r. 283-298). Artwork by Amok.

Robert appointed his mentor and friend Jon Arryn as Hand of the King. Jon was a steady and reliable Hand, noted for his wisdom, diplomacy and judgement. When Prince Oberyn Martell, the feared Red Viper of Dorne, urged that his brother, the ruling Prince Doran, declare for Viserys and continue the fight, Jon Arryn visited Sunspear and made peace instead. Arryn also proved wise in his choice of counsellors and advisors. Noting the success of young Lord Petyr Baelish in collecting customs duties in Gulltown, Arryn brought him to King’s Landing and made him master of coin. Crown incomes under Baelish’s care soon tripled, which was useful because Robert Baratheon developed a fondness for great tourneys and feasts on an elaborate and expensive scale.

The war officially ended (according to some maesters) in 284 AC when Stannis Baratheon and Paxter Redwyne captured Dragonstone. It was a hollow victory, for Ser Willem Darry had already fled to the Free City of Braavos with the young Prince Viserys and the infant Princess Daenerys. The Sealord of Braavos gave them shelter and succour, but was careful not to offend the Seven Kingdoms, for important trading links lay between the Free Cities and Westeros. Also, although this was not revealed until some time later, Ser Willem signed a secret pact with Prince Doran Martell, who, despite his warm words to Jon Arryn, still hungered for revenge for the murder of his sister Elia. Doran pledged his daughter Arianne in marriage to Viserys, to take place at the right time. If Viserys could raise an army and land on the shores of Westeros, Dorne would declare for him. However, Viserys himself was never told of the agreement.

By the time Ser Willem died, in 289 AC, it was clear that the Seven Kingdoms was not going to rise for Viserys and his sister and they were put out of the house they had lived in. Viserys, now thirteen years old and claiming the title and name King Viserys III Targaryen, took his sister from Free City to Free City, asking for help and support. Although he was treated politely, none of the Free Cities listened to him. Viserys even petitioned the Golden Company, founded by mortal enemies of the Targaryens, for assistance but they would not accept his cause. Viserys’s increasingly desperate pleas for help soon earned him the mocking nickname, “The Beggar King”.

Back in Westeros, the realm prospered but there was already some disquiet. By becoming the King on the Iron Throne, Robert decided he should abdicate his position as Lord of Storm’s End and pass the title on to his brother. However, he decided that Stannis was needed to hold Dragonstone, so appointed him lord of that island and castle. Robert’s youngest brother Renly was made Lord of Storm’s End instead. For Stannis, who hated Dragonstone, this was a slight and one he could not forgive his brother for, even when Robert named him master of ships and commander of the Royal Fleet. Even worse was when, a couple of years after the Rebellion, Stannis was married to Lady Selyse of House Florent. During the wedding celebrations Robert deflowered Selyse’s cousin Delena in Stannis’s wedding bed (evidently Stannis and his wife were not present at the time) and got her with child. Stannis was outraged by the insult to his wife’s house. Robert recognised the child as his, Edric Storm, and sent him to Storm’s End to be raised. Stannis and his wife’s only child, Shireen, was born in 289.


The Greyjoy Rebellion saw Lord Balon Greyjoy of Pyke declare himself king and rebel against the Iron Throne. An early victory at Lannisport was undone with a defeat at Seagard, a major naval engagement lost off Fair Isle and the invasion of the Iron Islands by King Robert’s armies. Balon Greyjoy was forced to resubmit to the Iron Throne. The Iron Islands could muster only a maximum of 100 heavy warships in the Iron Fleet (although an estimated 500+ longships of limited utility against galleys), whilst the Royal Fleet alone consisted of over 210 warships of note. The Redwyne Fleet added 200 warships and the coast lords, Shield Islands and lords of the Mander could add several dozen to this number. Stannis and Paxter Redwyne are unlikely to have used every ship in both their fleets and a squadron was likely left at Dragonstone to defend the capital, but certainly the ironborn were significantly outnumbered.

Sitting in Pyke, in the Iron Islands, Lord Balon Greyjoy assessed the situation. King Robert had come to this throne through rebellion and war. He had overthrown the rightful king, and many in the realm still called him a traitor and upstart, if only in private. “Robert’s Rebellion” was also called “The War of the Usurper” in some quarters. Greyjoy also began to wonder how many of the houses would really rally to support Robert. In addition, the Targaryens had won the Seven Kingdoms with their dragons and maintained them after the loss of the dragons with political alliances and maintaining historical inertia. With that gone, there was no guarantee things would continue. Balon was also aware that he had come to power through the death of his father in a failed attack on the Reach during the Rebellion. He came to believe that he need to strengthen his rule through strength and bold action and military success.

Accordingly, in the year 289 AC Balon Greyjoy rebelled against the Iron Throne. He declared himself Balon IX Greyjoy, King of the Iron Islands. In the five years since the Rebellion he had secretly ordered the construction of a new fleet of warships. Unlike the longships of the ironborn, which were excellent fast raiders but unsuited for combat with galleys and war dromonds (as they had learned at the Battle of the Mander), these new ships included galleons and multi-mastered warships which could match the Royal Fleet or the fleet of the Arbor. The Iron Fleet was formidable in battle and a tremendous force-equaliser.

The declaration was not taken well in King’s Landing and King Robert roused himself for war. He ordered his bannermen to march and his warships to sail, but Balon Greyjoy took the initiative. He sent the Iron Fleet under his brother Victarion’s command to attack Lannisport. Victarion destroyed the Lannister fleet at anchor and burned part of the harbour.

Balon also sent his eldest son, Rodrik, with a raiding force to attack Seagard, the primary port of the Riverlands on the west coast. Although Rodrik’s raiders inflicted some damage, the town was warned in time and Lord Jason Mallister was able to rally a defence. Mallister slew Rodrik in battle and threw the ironborn back into the sea. Despite this setback the Greyjoys continued their raids, attacking all along the coast of the Westerlands and Reach.

By now the Royal Fleet had sailed south, through the Stepstones and around the coast of Dorne to the Arbor. There Lord Stannis joined his strength to that of Lord Paxter Redwyne and sailed north along the coast of the Reach. More ships joined the armada, sailing out of Oldtown and the Shield Islands. This gave Stannis tremendous numerical superiority. He ordered part of the fleet to sail west, striking around the coast of Fair Isle, whilst he approached the straits between the island and the mainland.

As he had hoped, Victarion had spotted the incoming Royal Fleet and decided to attack directly. Stannis avoided giving battle for as long as possible, so the Iron Fleet was firmly within the Straits, before joining the engagement. Stannis’s flagship, the Fury, smashed the Golden Storm under the command of Aeron Greyjoy (Balon’s youngest brother). Aeron was fished out of the sea and later imprisoned under Casterly Rock until the end of the war. The ironborn fought ferociously, but the rest of Stannis’s fleet had circumnavigated Fair Isle and now took the Greyjoy fleet from the north, crushing it between the two forces. Some of the Greyjoy ships managed to escape, but the much-feared Iron Fleet was effectively destroyed in the engagement.

By now Robert had taken the field with significant strength of arms. Eddard Stark had ridden south with a sizable army and the Westerlands and Riverlands contributed substantial numbers of men. Stannis’s fleet ferried them across to the Iron Islands.


Balon IX Greyjoy (c. 258-299, r. 282 & 299 AC). Artwork by Amok.

Ser Barristan Selmy, now Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, led the attack on Old Wyk, whilst Stannis mounted a naval assault on Great Wyk. Orkmont was also attacked, and Harlaw as well. Finally, once the other ironborn forces and fleets had been neutralised, Robert’s army landed on Pyke. The castle of House Botley was destroyed along with the town of Lordsport early in the action, before Pyke was invested. Siege engines collapsed the main watchtower and part of the wall, killing Maron Greyjoy (Balon’s second son) who was rallying the defence.  The mad warrior-priest Thoros of Myr flung himself through the breach first with his flaming sword (coated in wildfire) and Jorah Mormont of Bear Island right behind him. Others, such as Jacelyn Bywater, also distinguished themselves in the fighting. The ironborn, badly outnumbered, were defeated with many great warriors and lords (such as Lord Blacktyde) killed.

Balon Greyjoy was overpowered and brought before King Robert in chains. Some urged him to execute the rebel or send him to the Wall, but Robert felt magnanimous (possibly because the rebellion had spiced up what was becoming a dull reign for him) and allowed Balon to knee and re-swear fealty in return for forgiveness. Robert took hostages from several of the ironborn families, with the young Lord Baelor Blacktyde sent to Oldtown. Most notably, Balon’s only surviving son Theon was given to Lord Eddard Stark to raise as a ward and hostage for his father’s good behaviour.

Rewards were given to those who distinguished themselves in the fighting: Jacelyn Bywater was knighted and, despite the loss of a hand, was given a place of command in the King’s Landing City Watch. Jorah Mormont was also knighted. In the great tourney at Lannisport to celebrate the victory, he met and successfully wooed Lynesse Hightower. Lord Leyton, surprisingly, consented to the match and Jorah and Lynesse were soon married. However, the marriage turned sour when Lynesse came to hate the poor, remote and wild Bear Island. Jorah’s attempts to keep her in the standards she was used to in Oldtown saw him driven into debt and he ended up dabbling in the slave trade. Word of this reached Eddard Stark, who stripped Jorah of his title. Jorah and Lynesse had already fled to the Free Cities, where Lynesse left him to become a noble’s consort in Lys. Jorah became a sellsword, wandering the Free Cities and other parts of Essos.

In the aftermath of the rebellion Balon ordered Lordsport, Pyke and the Iron Fleet to be rebuilt. He also began treating his daughter Asha as his effective heir, perhaps having already written off Theon so he could not be used against him in a future rebellion. When Balon’s brothers Euron and Victarion quarrelled, he exiled Euron. Soon Euron’s black-sailed ship, the Silence, became the terror of the seas from the Arbor to Asshai as he raided mercilessly and without conscience.


The lands north of the Seven Kingdoms. By 297 AC many of the wildling tribes and clans had been united by Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-Wall (the location of some of the tribes is speculative).

A much more minor event happened after this time, although it had long-lasting consequences. Mance Rayder, a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch based at the Shadow Tower, was angered by the unyielding attitude of his order and its hostility towards the wildlings, whom Mance had come to regard as honourable and freedom-loving. Mance turned his cloak and went over to the wildlings. Gifted in music and oratory as well as a formidable warrior, Mance soon won the respect of several wildling tribes and was proclaimed their chief. Word soon came of a spreading terror from the north, a tide of cold and ice. The nature of this threat grew more serious and Mance determined to unite the wildlings against it. Over a decade or more he united dozens of tribes, from the northern valleys of Thenn to the Wall and from the Frozen Shore to the Bay of Seals. Late in the 290s he was proclaimed King-beyond-the-Wall and made no secret of his intention to take his people into the Seven Kingdoms. The Night’s Watch, under the command of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, grew concerned and sent word to Eddard Stark, who began to wonder if he would need to summon a host and lead it north of the Wall to deal with the threat.

In King’s Landing the king and his beautiful queen had had three children: Joffrey (b. 286), Myrcella (b. 290) and Tommen (b. 291). However, their marriage was not a happy one. Robert was boisterous and fun-loving, but found his wife was cold and harsh towards him, and intolerant of his dalliances and his pining for the slain Lyanna Stark. Robert lived for excitement, fighting and celebrations and found the minutiae of day-to-day rule tedious in the extreme, which he took out in slighting and baiting his wife and her twin brother Jaime, a member of his own Kingsguard. He spent money unwisely, trusting to Jon Arryn and Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish to find more. Robert raised his youngest brother Renly to the position of master of laws and more than a few noted that Renly, although charismatic and brave like his brother, was also wiser and more level-headed. Renly also took care to cultivate friendships with other factions and houses, most notably the Tyrells of Highgarden and his own storm lord vassals. Stannis was regarded by all as dour, lacking in charisma and dangerously inflexible in his judgements.

Still, as the year 297 progressed war and disquiet seemed far away. Westeros basked in the heat of a long summer, the Hand of the King ruled wisely and well even if the king could be rash and intemperate, and the Seven Kingdoms prospered. The first tidings of the dark times to come were minor and innocuous: a Night’s Watch raiding party led by Ser Waymar Royce disappearing beyond the Wall; Lord Jon Arryn visting Stannis Baratheon with a book and certain questions over the lineages of the houses Lannister and Baratheon.

But, most forebodingly of all, in the Free City of Pentos, beyond the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen was married to Khal Drogo of the Dothraki, a warlord with an army of forty thousand skilled riders. Illyrio Mopatis, a Magister of the Free City, had arranged the match between Drogo and Viserys, with Drogo agreeing to mount an invasion of the Seven Kingdoms and give Viserys his crown in return for his sister’s hand in marriage. The Beggar King now had an army, more battle-hardened and experienced than any in Westeros.

To meet this threat, the Seven Kingdoms would need wise and strong leadership. But it was not to have it, for Lord Jon Arryn took ill suddenly and died unexpectedly. After a period of grieving, King Robert took to the Kingsroad for Winterfell, and the beginning of the end.

Historical Map 24: Robert’s Rebellion

Much has been written of the war that ended the reign of the Mad King and the Targaryen dynasty. All of the accounts agree that events were set in motion at the great Harrenhal tourney, which took place very late in the Year of False Spring, 281 AC. The great and the good of the realm announced they would attend – Lord Tywin Lannister excepted – and it was to be a gathering of such magnificence that the Seven Kingdoms had not seen in years.


The Great Houses and their areas of control just prior to Robert’s Rebellion.

Some believe that Lord Walter Whent had arranged the tourney because he was desperate for alliances. He and his wife Shella, a cousin from another branch of the family, had four sons and a daughter and was keen to find marriage matches for them. However, the Whents, like most houses that had held Harrenhal (leading to the myth of the “Harrenhal Curse”), had not prospered and seemed scarce able to afford to host such a large gathering. The fact that Lord Walter’s brother, Ser Oswell Whent, a knight of the Kingsguard and close friend of Prince Rhaegar, had visited him shortly before the tourney was announced has led to much theorising and gossip.

Some believe that Prince Rhaegar, distressed by the madness that was clearly now starting to eat away at his father, arranged the tourney in secret so it could act as an informal Grand Council, where he could test the mood for removing his father on the grounds of insanity and take over as regent. If so, it was a bold move. Although few in the realm could deny Aerys’s state of mind, there were many who had played on his paranoia and fears to win themselves high office: Wisdom Rossart,  Lucerys Velaryon (master of ships), Symond Staunton (master of laws) and Lord Qarlton Chelsted (master of coin) were foremost amongst this faction. Varys, master of whisperers, also held the king’s favour. Prince Rhaegar’s support came from a new, younger coterie of lords and knights: Lord Jon Connington of Griffon’s Roost, Ser Myles Mooton of Maidenpool and Ser Richard Lonmouth were foremost among this group.

The Kingsguard were supposed to be neutral in such matters, as they were sworn to protect the king, but all seven knights seemed to think well of Prince Rhaegar, who considered Ser Arthur Dayne to be his greatest friend. Ser Oswell Whent and Prince Lewyn Martell, Princess Elia’s uncle, were also in Rhaegar’s confidence.

Grand Maester Pycelle’s personal loyalty had been to Lord Tywin, but with him gone he set himself the task of mediating between the factions, believing that the risk of war, or at least civil unrest, was becoming greater. He was aided in this task by Lord Owen Merryweather, the Hand of the King, a man of a relatively steady hand and diplomatic mind, but not the most dynamic of men. When the Harrenhal tourney was announced and its scale became clear, Chelsted and Staunton urged that the king prohibit it from taking place, suspicious of the reasons for it occurring. Merryweather argued against this, saying that the commons loved tournaments and banning it would add to the king’s unpopularity. To the bemusement of all, King Aerys suddenly announced that he would attend the event in his royal person. Given that he hadn’t left the Red Keep since the Defiance of Duskdendale four years earlier, this was a startling move.

The tourney proved to be a great occasion for meetings and reunions. Eddard Stark, the second son of Lord Rickard Stark of Winterfell, had been sent to foster at the Eyrie at the age of eight, in 271. The eldest son of Lord Steffon Baratheon, Robert, had also been sent to the Eyrie to foster. The two boys were as different as could be imagined, Eddard being serious and thoughtful, Robert boisterous and loud. But they found in one another a true friend. For seven years they were inseparable companions, the halls of the Eyrie and the Gates of the Moon ringing to their laughter, japes and adventures.

Under Lord Jon Arryn’s tutelage, both grew into fine men, both skilled at battle but Robert far more energetic and gifted at it. Jon also taught them both the art of governance, although Eddard was a better study at that, ironically for as a second son as it was not expected he would inherit lands or title.

In 278 Lord Steffon Baratheon was sent on a mission to the Free Cities. Robert decided to return to Storm’s End to greet his father on his return. Instead, he watched with horror from the castle as his father’s ship was smashed to pieces on the aptly-named rocks of Shipbreaker Bay. Robert Baratheon become Lord of Storm’s End at the age of sixteen.

The following year Eddard returned to Winterfell but, having come to love Lord Arryn as a second father, returned several times in the next two years to visit.

Robert was now one of the most powerful figures in the Seven Kingdoms and was as yet unwed. Lord Rickard Stark proposed that Robert marry his daughter Lyanna, Eddard’s younger sister, and unite their houses. Robert was delighted with the idea and a betrothal was set. Lyanna and Robert had met several times and Robert had fallen in love with her, admiring her headstrong spirit. Lyanna seemed to like Robert, but warned her brother that she knew he was not the sort of man to stay faithful. Still, she consented to the betrothal.

Several years earlier, in 276 AC, Lord Rickard had arranged for his eldest son and heir Brandon to be betrothed to the eldest daughter of Lord Hoster Tully of Riverrun, Catelyn. The betrothal upset Lord Hoster’s ward, Petyr Baelish. Hoster and Petyr’s father had fought together during the War of the Ninepenny Kings and Hoster had befriended the man. When he offered to take Petyr as a ward it was a tremendous honour, for House Baelish held a tiny spit of land on the Fingers and were the poorest of the nobility, barely a foot above merchants or simple landholders. Petyr grew up with Catelyn and came to love her, whilst in turn her sister Lysa had fallen in love with Petyr. However, these childish infatuations could not interfere in matters of state and politics. When Brandon came to visit Catelyn, Petyr challenged him to single combat. He lost, badly, but Brandon spared his life. Humiliated, Petyr returned to the Vale.

The Starks, Baratheons, Arryns and Tullys all travelled to the great tourney and there was much rejoicing and feasting. Robert and Eddard were reunited after some time apart and Eddard was smitten by Lady Ashara Dayne, one of Princess Elia’s handmaidens. There was excitement when a short mystery knight bearing the sigil of a smiling heart tree entered the lists and defeated three seasoned knights, demanding that they each teach discipline to their squires (who had committed some offence). The mystery “Knight of the Laughing Tree” then vanished. Irked and wondering if it was some plot against him, the Mad King ordered Prince Rhaegar to track down and identify him, but Rhaegar either failed or, if he did catch the knight, let him go.

Ser Jaime Lannister was given his gold cloak in front of the crowds, roaring with approval, and then abruptly dismissed by the king and ordered back to King’s Landing to protect the royal family. Jaime realised for the first time that maybe his honour was not such a great honour after all.

There was feasting and celebrations and much talk at the tourney, but the Mad King’s presence made it difficult for Prince Rhaegar to talk to anyone about a possible regency, if that had been his intent. Instead, he did his talking in the lists. Although certainly capable, Rhaegar was not regarded as the most outstanding warrior in the Seven Kingdoms, so it was a surprise when he defeated all comers, including Ser Barristan Selmy (who was beginning to advance in years but still utterly formidable). Rhaegar took the crown of love and beauty, a garland of blue roses, but rather than award them either to his wife or the presiding lord’s daughter (as custom dictated) he instead gave the crown to Lyanna Stark, a curious choice for he had – apparently – never met her before this day, although some had noted that Lyanna had found Rhaegar’s singing and musicianship beautiful in the preceding days.


Prince Rhaegar Targaryen names Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty at the great Harrenhal tourney in the Year of False Spring. This seemingly innocuous courtesy set in motion a series of events that would lead to the downfall of the Targaryen dynasty. Artwork by Paolo Puggioni for The World of Ice and Fire.

Brandon and Eddard bristled at the insult to their sister, for Rhaegar was a married man and Lyanna was betrothed to Robert Baratheon, but the incident, curious as it was, was soon dismissed.

The false spring was already breaking and temperatures were plummeting. The lords and knights and their retinues broke camp and returned home. Some lingered longer than others. Brandon Stark was due to shortly wed Catelyn Tully at Riverrun, so some of the family remained at Harrenhal a while longer. Lord Rickard Stark was marching south with a retinue for the wedding, so Eddard took advantage of the delay to visit the Eyrie with Robert Baratheon. The year turned and winter hardened, with King Aerys reaching King’s Landing and commanding that huge wildfires be lit to stave off the worst of the cold.

Prince Rhaegar was not with him. He had returned by stealth to Harrenhal and chanced upon Lyanna Stark not thirty miles from the castle. According to some, he abducted her by force. According to others, she went willingly. But this was the falling pebble that started the avalanche.

Word of the abduction reached Harrenhal and ravens were sent bearing the news to Riverrun. Lord Hoster Tully counselled caution, but Brandon Stark flew into a rage at the news. He gathered a retinue of those close friends and allies present at the castle, including his squire Ethan Glover, Kyle Royce, Jeffory Mallister and Ser Elbert Arryn, and they rode for King’s Landing like the fires of the Seven Hells were at their heels. Lord Rickard received the word on the road and likewise rode south for King’s Landing, but some days behind his son.

Reaching the Red Keep, Brandon demanded that Rhaegar come forth to answer for his crime. But Rhaegar was not there. Instead, on King Aerys’s order, Brandon and his cohorts were arrested and thrown into the Red Keep’s infamous dungeons, the black cells. Lord Rickard, arriving shortly afterwards, demanded an explanation. King Aerys told him that his son stood accused of treason for threatening the prince’s safety. He refused to produce Lyanna or order his son to turn her over. Rickard offered trial by battle and Aerys agreed, but when Rickard came forth in his armour he found only a blaze waiting for him: the champion of House Targaryen, the Mad King said, was fire. Brandon Stark was brought into the chamber with a Tyroshi strangling contraption placed around his neck and forced to watch as his father was roasted to death. Brandon chocked himself trying to rescue his father. Brandon’s other compatriots were executed apart from Ethan Glover, who was spared because of his young age.

Word came to the Eyrie of these events, followed by a royal command from King Aerys demanding that Eddard and Robert be turned over to him. Lord Jon Arryn ignored and the letter and summoned his banners; Eddard and Robert sent ravens to Winterfell and Storm’s End ordering the same. Suddenly three of the Great Houses were in open rebellion against the Iron Throne.

They were shortly joined by a fourth. Eddard Stark offered to marry Catelyn Tully in his brother’s stead. House Mallister urged Lord Hoster to accept for the murder of their own son and others followed. Lord Hoster agreed and Riverrun summoned its banners as well.


The factions at the onset of Robert’s Rebellion in 282 AC: yellow represents those houses that swore fealty to Robert Baratheon, red those that remained loyal to Aerys II Targaryen. White areas were neutral or undeclared at the start of hostilities. The Iron Throne commanded a potential pool of around 160,000 troops whilst the rebels slightly more at around 170,000*. However, the relative rapidity of the fighting and the dismal weather conditions (the war began in a renewed and savage winter) meant that neither side came close to raising its full military potential (particularly the North). The closest was at the Trident when the royal faction managed to raise around 40,000 troops and the rebels slighty less.

More than half of the realm was now in open rebellion and it fell to the Hand of the King to deal with the crisis. Lord Merryweather ordered the other houses to summon their banners and prepare to move against the rebels. House Tyrell complied quickly, beginning to gather a large army, but House Martell, insulted by Rhaegar’s actions, was slower to act. It was only when King Aerys sent a not-too-subtle message that Princess Elia, her daughter Rhaenys and her newborn son Aegon were under his protection that Sunspear began to move with greater speed.

The ironborn, as usual, took no part. But from Casterly Rock there was only an imposing silence. Lord Tywin Lannister was not minded to help his ungrateful and conniving king and hoarded both his counsel and his military might.

The weight of numbers was (slightly) against King Aerys, but he held an advantage that his foes were scattered. The armies of the North would be slow to gather in the renewed winter and House Baratheon’s forces were cut off in the Stormlands from their allies. The king also held an advantage in authority: he sent word to every castle in the Seven Kingdoms ordering them to maintain their allegiance to the Iron Throne, even in rebellion against their lords. Marq Grafton, the Lord of Gulltown, heeded the king’s command and fortified the city, refusing Lord Arryn’s command to surrender. Eddard Stark had to cross the Mountains of the Moon to the north coast of the Vale and sail across the Bite with a fisherman to get home to take command of his army, whilst Jon Arryn and Robert Baratheon had to batter down the gates of Gulltown and retake the city. That done, Jon moved his forces to the Bloody Gate whilst Robert sailed for Storm’s End.

In the Stormlands Lords Grandison, Cafferen and Fell rebelled against Robert and declared for the king. They decided to combine their forces at Summerhall before marching on Storm’s End, hoping to end the war before it could even really begin. However, Robert moved too fast and defeated them in three battles fought on the same day. Lord Fell was slain and his famous warrior son, Silveraxe was taken captive. Here Robert won a famous diplomatic victory, for he won back the allegiance of all three houses with his wit and charm.

Lord Eddard Stark had reached White Harbor. He marched to Winterfell to find that, despite the weather, his brother and master of arms had already assembled a large host. Taking command, he marched swiftly down the Kingsroad and was able to join with Jon Arryn’s armies near the Trident.

By now Lord Mace Tyrell had assembled the martial strength of the Reach and was marching east against Robert. Although he was massively outnumbered, Robert chose to give battle. Leaving his brother Stannis in command at Storm’s End, Robert marched west and intercepted the Tyrell army at Ashford. However, Robert suffered a significant defeat. Lord Randyll Tarly, whose reputation as the most formidable battlefield general in the Seven Kingdoms was already taking shape, drove Robert from the field with his vanguard before Mace’s main force even arrived. Robert retreated north, perhaps hoping to lure the Tyrell army away from Storm’s End and towards the Riverlands where Robert could reinforce.

However, the Tyrell tactical victory turned into a strategic mistake when Mace was ordered to press on to Storm’s End to lay siege. The Tyrell fleet, commanded by Paxter Redwyne of the Arbor, had by now sailed around Dorne and through the Stepstones. It blockaded Storm’s End by sea as the huge Tyrell host invested the castle. Stannis ordered the garrison to switch to emergency rations, since he knew the chances of relief were slim. His task now was to keep the Tyrell host pinned down and unable to send aid to King’s Landing.


Lyanna Stark’s kidnap outside Harrenhal (1) very early in 282 AC set the scene for the rebellion, although it didn’t formally begin until a few weeks later, when Rickard and Brandon Stark were executed by the Mad King (2). Jon Arryn called his banners but Lord Grafton refused, forcing Jon and Robert Baratheon to storm Gulltown (3). Robert sailed home, raised an army and defeated three royalist armies on the same day at Summerhall (4). He then marched west to confront the Tyrells but was defeated at the Battle of Ashford by Randyll Tarly (5). Whilst the Tyrells invested Storm’s End, Robert fled north and took refuge in Stoney Sept. Jon Connington’s army stormed the town in an attempt to kill him, but was defeated at the Battle of the Bells by a Tully-Arryn-Stark host led by Eddard Stark (6). The rebels regrouped north of the Trident and then defeated Prince Rhaegar Targaryen at the ruby ford (7). Tywin Lannister led a westerlands army to the gates of King’s Landing, professed loyalty to the Mad King, but then sacked the city (8). The ironborn joined the conflict late, attacking the Reach, but were then defeated at the Battle of the Mander by warships from the Shield Islands (9). Eddard Stark lifted the Siege of Storm’s End (10) before killing the last of the royalist Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy (11). Although the Rebellion was mainly fought between early 282 and early 283 AC, some maesters hold it not to have formally ended until Dragonstone surrendered to Paxter Redwyne and Stannis Baratheon in early 284, after the flight of Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen to Essos (12).

By now Lord Merryweather’s slowness to act had come to Aerys’s attention. Realising that he now faced the greatest threat to Targaryen rule since the Blackfyre Rebellions, Aerys realised he needed a younger and more dynamic man to command. Merryweather was stripped of his title and exiled. He was replaced by Lord Jon Connington of Griffin’s Roost.

Connington took a host from King’s Landing, planning to intercept and destroy Robert’s army before it could link up with the Starks, Arryns and Tullys. Robert’s forces had become strung out on the rapid march north and he was cut off near the upper Blackwater. He took refuge in the town of Stoney Sept. Connington’s army surrounded the town and threatened to sack it if Robert was not handed over, but the townsfolk – sworn to Riverrun – were not inclined to aid him. The matter became desperate when Lords Tully, Stark and Arryn brought their assembled might to bear against Connington. Badly outnumbered, he threw his men into the town in a desperate attempt to kill Robert. Connington failed, was severely injured and forced to flee. His army was destroyed in the Battle of the Bells, named for the bells the septons rang to warn the townsfolk to take cover. Shortly after the battle Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully were married in a double ceremony, with Catelyn’s younger sister Lysa marrying the aged Lord Jon Arryn.

In the aftermath of the battle Connington was stripped of his title and sent into exile in the Free Cities. Lord Qarlton Chelsted was appointed Hand in his stead. Prince Rhaegar returned from the south and asked his father to beg Lord Tywin for aid, even as he gathered as many men as he could for one decisive battle. Aerys sent Queen Rhaella, who was pregnant, to Dragonstone but decided to keep Elia and her children close to ensure Rhaegar’s loyalty, and that of the Dornish. Ser Lewyn Martell arrived from Dorne at the head of ten thousand Dornish spears.

Events came to a head at the Battle of the Trident. The combined Arryn-Baratheon-Stark-Tully host had marched north of the river (possibly to meet reinforcements from the North and the Vale) and turned south, planning to follow the Kingsroad south to the capital. By this time the rebels had decided that Aerys and Rhaegar must be deposed and executed. After briefly considering installing a regency behind the young Prince Viserys, they instead decided that Robert should claim the Iron Throne himself as a great-grandson of King Aegon V.

Prince Rhaegar’s host met them at the main ford over the river, not far from Lord Harroway’s Town and the Inn at the Crossroads.

The result was the Battle of the Trident. The royal host numbered just over forty thousand, the rebels slightly less. Rhaegar’s troops were mostly fresh and unengaged, but Robert’s troops were bloodied and experienced. Prince Rhaegar’s men fought valiantly but were overmatched. Prince Lewyn suffered a mortal wound before he faced Ser Lyn Corbray, wielding his Valyrian steel blade Lady Forlorn. Corbray killed Lewyn and took the glory for it, although his foe was already severely wounded and the match was deemed unchivalrous. Of the other Kingsguard Ser Jonothor Darry was killed, not far from his birthplace, and Ser Barristan Selmy was badly wounded. Seeing him fall on the battlefield, Lord Robert commanded that Selmy be spared and taken to the maesters to be treated.

Finally, in the swirling waters of the ford itself, Robert came face to face with Rhaegar Targaryen. If they exchanged words, none heard of it in the clamour and din. What is known is that Rhaegar inflicted several wounds on Robert before Robert’s massive warhammer crushed his chest, spilling the rubies from his armour into the river. The crossing was later named the “ruby ford” in memory of the duel.


Robert Baratheon defeats Rhaegar Targaryen at the Battle of the Trident in 283 AC. Artwork by Mike S. Miller.

Seeing Rhaegar fall, the royal army broke and ran. The rebels quickly reformed and prepared to march after them, but Robert had been injured in the fighting. He gave command to Lord Eddard Stark whilst he followed more slowly. King’s Landing was vulnerable and defenceless, but still almost four hundred miles away. Reinforced by the army of House Frey, which had reached the battlefield only after the day was done (leading Lord Hoster to dub Old Walder as “the Late Lord Frey”, to his fury), the rebels force-marched on the capital.

In King’s Landing word of Rhaegar’s death and the defeat of his army triggered panic on the streets. King Aerys commanded that Wisdom Rossart place caches of wildfire at strategic points across the city. Lord Chelsted discovered Aerys’s plot to burn the city to deny it to the rebels and, aghast, resigned the Handship. He was burned alive as a traitor and Rossart named Hand.

In Pyke Lord Quellon Greyjoy was confronted by his sons: Balon, Euron and Victarion. Balon demanded that they be allowed to join the fray, now it was clear that the rebels would win. With House Lannister still undeclared, Quellon agreed to lead a large raid on the Reach, which still held for Aerys. However, in a furious naval engagement at the mouth of the Mander the ironborn longships were overcome by the warships of the Shield Isles. Lord Quellon was killed and the ironborn forced to withdraw. Balon Greyjoy was now Lord of the Iron Islands, but the manner in which he came into the title was lacking in glory.

The rebel army beared down on King’s Landing but was beaten to the prize. An army of twelve thousand westermen had reached King’s Landing, the Lannister and Targaryen banners fluttering at their head. Lord Tywin professed loyalty to the Iron Throne and demanded that his forces be allowed to reinforce the city’s defence. Lord Varys objected, suspecting a trap, but Grand Maester Pycelle convinced the king into opening the gates and allowing the Lannister forces to enter the city.

Once inside the gates, Lord Tywin commanded his troops to kill the defenders and sack the city savagely. Thousands died as the Lannisters bled the streets and elite forces led by the savage, huge Ser Gregor Clegane and Ser Amory Lorch assaulted the Red Keep.

Horror-struck, the Mad King gave his last command: “Burn them all”. Wisdom Rossart hurried to obey, but was instead cut down by Ser Jaime Lannister, who had no intention of seeing the city destroyed. Then, realising that Aerys could simply give the command to someone else, he cut down King Aerys at the foot of the Iron Throne. Moments later, Lannister loyalists burst into the throne room, preventing Jaime from disavowing knowledge of who did the deed.

At around the same time, Amory Lorch and Gregor Clegane broke into Maegor’s Holdfast with a band of loyal men. There, they brutally – too brutally – killed Princess Elia Martell and her children, Rhaenys and Aegon.

The rebel army found the city of King’s Landing screaming when they arrived. Lord Eddard commanded that order be restored. He accepted Lord Tywin’s oath of loyalty to Robert Baratheon, but he found the manner in which he had dealt with the Targaryen children and the Mad King to be distasteful. When Robert arrived a few days later, Eddard urged Robert to punish Tywin and Jaime as oathbreakers and traitors, but Robert rejected the idea since they had delivered the crown and the capital to him. Furious, Eddard left the city with a strong host and marched south to fight the last battles of the war.

Storm’s End had withstood siege for nigh on a year. The garrison had been reduced to eating rats and boiling shoe leather. The castle may have fallen, had not a smuggler named Davos broken the blockade with a single ship packed with onions, which allowed the castle to hold out just a few more weeks. Eddard Stark’s host arrived and he treated with Lord Mace Tyrell. Convinced that his cause was hopeless, Mace dipped his banners and swore fealty to King Robert Baratheon, the First of His Name. Storm’s End was relieved. In aftermath Stannis rewarded the smuggler Davos with title and lands, but also took several of his fingers as a punishment for smuggling.

That was not quite the end of the matter. Queen Rhaella had fled to Dragonstone with Prince Viserys and a bodyguard commanded by the formidable Ser Willem Darry. The Royal Fleet remained loyal to the dragon banner, so Stannis and Paxter Redwyne were commanded to raise a fleet large enough to take the island once and for all. Also, to the growing alarm of the rebels, the famed Kingsguard knights Ser Gerold Hightower, Ser Arthur Dayne and Ser Oswell Whent remained missing.


The movements of Eddard Stark (in black) and Robert Baratheon (in orange) during Robert’s Rebellion. Both started at the Eyrie, where they were staying with Lord Jon Arryn when the Mad King called for their heads after executing Eddard’s brother and father. Eddard had considerably greater ground to cover, but had the benefit of mostly moving unhindered through friendly territory. It’s also likely he set out for the North weeks before Jon and Robert attacked Gulltown, as Jon had to spend time assembling his army.

For his part, Lord Eddard rode on…but not in force. Instead he picked six loyal companions – Howland Reed, Lord Willam Dustin, Ethan Glover (freed from the black cells), Martyn Cassel, Theo Wull and Ser Mark Ryswell – and rode south and west, through the Dornish Marches. By close questioning of certain survivors at the Trident and in King’s Landing, Eddard had discovered the place where Rhaegar had secreted his sister, a nondescript tower located south of Nightsong in the Prince’s Pass, with the Red Mountains of Dorne in the background.

There Eddard found his sister under the guard of the three missing Kingsguard knights. They met in battle, seven against three, and the Kingsguard proved their valour and legendary prowess. Only Eddard Stark and Howland Reed survived the fight. Eddard found his sister dying in the tower, having been struck down with an illness. He was in time to hear her last words, but not do anything more to save her.

After the battle, Eddard tore down the tower so he could use the stones to create burial cairns. He also took his sister’s bones, so she might be laid to rest in the crypts of Winterfell with her forefathers. But before doing that, he visited Starfall so he might return Ser Arthur Dayne’s great sword, Dawn, to his sister Ashara. Ashara and Eddard had met at the Harrenhal tourney and, according to some, had had a tryst there. Not long after the end of the war, Ashara committed suicide for reasons that remain debatable.

When Eddard Stark finally returned from war to greet his new wife Catelyn he brought a surprise: a baby, Eddard’s bastard son, Jon Snow. Eddard refused to disclose where the baby had come from, but some spoke of Eddard’s relationship with Ashara Dayne, or her serving lady Wylla, or the daughter of the fisherman who carried him home from the Vale to the North. Catelyn was furious and upset, as her and Eddard’s own son Robb had not long been born, but accepted her husband’s order that Jon be raised with them at Winterfell.

In early 284, eight months after the Sack of King’s Landing, the greatest storm in the history of Westeros came rushing up the Narrow Sea. The royal fleet was smashed to kindling in the waters around Dragonstone. As the storm reached its peak, Queen Rhaella gave birth to a daughter, Daenerys Targaryen, and died in the process. With no choice, Ser Willem Darry and the last loyal retainers took Viserys and the stormborn princess and fled across the Narrow Sea into exile. Although the bulk of the fighting had taken place in a period of around a year, some maesters hold that the war did not end until 284, when Dragonstone surrendered to Stannis and Redwyne’s fleet, and Robert Baratheon was crowned on the Iron Throne.

The coronation was accompanied by a wedding, for Lord Tywin Lannister had finally gotten his wish: his daughter Cersei sat at Robert’s side and was named Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. The smallfolk cheered for the cessation of hostilities and the rise of a new dynasty, but in this victory so the seeds for a future war were sown.

* For more on estimated military strength, see here.

Timeline of Robert’s Rebellion

Few facets of A Song of Ice and Fire have been more vigorously debated over the years than the timeline of Robert’s Rebellion. This is because George R.R. Martin developed the broad strokes of the rebellion at first and then added more details later on (for example, it does not appear that the Battle of the Bells was developed before the writing of A Storm of Swords, or Eddard Stark’s brief stay on the Sisters until A Dance with Dragons). Some of these details do not dovetail perfectly with previously-established information.

Established facts about the Rebellion include:

  • The Harrenhal Tourney took place in the Year of False Spring, 281 AC.
  • The Rebellion itself began in 282 AC.
  • The Rebellion ended “about a year later”.
  • Aerys II Targaryen died in 283 AC.
  • Robb Stark and Jon Snow are born at or near the end of the Rebellion and are already 14 when the main storyline of A Game of Thrones commences in 298 AC. Robb is 15 when A Clash of Kings begins.
  • Daenerys Targaryen is born about eight months after Aerys’s death. Her newly-pregnant mother was evacuated to Dragonstone a week to two weeks before the Sack of King’s Landing. Daenerys is 13 when A Game of Thrones starts and turns 14 during its length. However, Daenerys’s storyline in A Game of Thrones is completely disconnected from everything else and it is possible-to-likely that it begins somewhat earlier, in late 297. There is precedent for this: based on the dates given elsewhere, the Game of Thrones prologue definitely takes place in mid-to-late 297. Daenerys turning 14 in early 298 – or even late 297! – is therefore possible.
  • Lands of Ice and Fire confirms the distances that Daenerys has to cover in the first three books are significantly larger than had previously been assumed, with the Red Waste being particularly huge. Given that it would take a good couple of months (maybe more) to cross the Waste, following by a long and dreary, multi-month stay in Qarth and then a long sea voyage to Slaver’s Bay, starting Daenerys’s story as early as possible becomes desirable to make these journeys and long stays plausible.
  • The appearance of the Red Comet in A Game of Thrones‘ closing chapters and the the opening ones of Kings appears to closely tie events in the Red Waste and Winterfell together. However, the Red Waste is 2,000+ miles south of Winterfell, so it is possible for the comet to appear to Daenerys considerably earlier than to the rest of the characters, depending on the comet’s trajectory and orbit respective to the planet.
  • Previously it was assumed that many months or even more than a year passed between the Harrenhal Tourney and Lyanna’s abduction. However, The World of Ice and Fire reduced this timespan significantly, stating that the tourney concludes in the closing weeks or even days of 281. It also indicates that Lyanna is abducted near Harrenhal having stayed there for some time after the tourney. The reason for this is unclear but potentially related to her brother Rickard’s impending marriage to Catelyn Tully. There is no real reason for her to remain at Harrenhal, however, compared to Riverrun or perhaps visiting the Eyrie with Eddard and Robert. The only possibility I can think of is that Harrenhal is much closer to the crossing over the Trident and Lyanna may be waiting for her father’s retinue to arrive from Winterfell (although the faster route from Winterfell to Riverrun is via the Twins, Rickard may have preferred to take a longer route precisely to meet up with Eddard and Lyanna along the way, or he rejected Walder Frey’s crossing fees as exorbitant).
  • Due to this information, Robert’s Rebellion appears to begin in the spring of 282, end in the spring of 283 and Daenerys is born very early in 284. Further information from Martin in future volumes may clarify things further.

Historical Map 23: The Reign of the Mad King

King Aerys II Targaryen started his reign in 262 AC with great promise. He dismissed his father’s aged counsellors and advisors and replaced them with younger, more dynamic men. Most notable of these was his appointment of Tywin Lannister as Hand of the King, but he also replaced the small council and many lesser offices of note. Even his Grand Maester was younger than the norm: after the deaths of several ancient Grand Maesters in succession (one before he even took up the post), the Citadel appointed the relatively young Pycelle to the role during the latter part of Aegon V’s reign.


The Crownlands – the area around King’s Landing directly administred by the crown – circa 277 AC. Flashpoints in Aerys II Targaryen’s reign came at the Defiance of Duskendale in 277 and the rebellion of the Kingswood Brotherhood in 280-281, whilst the death of the king’s cousin and boyhood friend Lord Steffon Baratheon in a shipwreck near Storm’s End in 278 made him fearful and paranoid.

Even the Kingsguard took on a younger, more dashing and heroic feel: the steady Gerold Hightower remained Lord Commander but it was now emboldened by the addition of Ser Barristan Selmy, the hero of the Stepstones. A few years later it was enhanced by the addition of Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, wielder of the legendary blade Dawn and arguably the greatest swordsman in the history of the Seven Kingdoms.

Aerys II was full of grand schemes, and it was Tywin’s job to temper the more outlandish (such as building a new wall three hundred miles north of the existing one and claiming the lands inbetween) and the ruinously unaffordable (such as building a new capital city out of marble on the south bank of the Blackwater). Aerys even threatened war against Braavos when the Iron Bank tried to claim on money it had lent the Seven Kingdoms, but Tywin managed to smooth over the dispute and took on the debt himself.

Tywin was an impressive Hand, possessing  a mastery of fine detail and a keen intelligence. He was capable of being diplomatic and even generous, but also did not hesitate to swift and decisive action when needed. His reputation had been forged in the drowning of Castamere and few lords were willing to challenge him now he had the entire realm at his command. Under Tywin’s guidance, the crown restored the powers and privileges to the lords which had been removed by Aegon V, improved trade with the Free Cities to enrich the merchants and the ports and repaired numerous roads and highways to facilitate faster travel around the vast kingdom. Tywin was assisted closely by Grand Maester Pycelle, who admired the young man’s tenacity and worth ethic, and his brother Kevan, who was of similar mind but somewhat more chivalrous character and could act as a more diplomatic messenger.

Tywin was much-admired and arguably no more respected man ever wore the Hand’s sigil, but he was not loved. He was humourless, strict, lacked patience with fools and flatterers, and occasionally was even cruel. Only his wife Joanna could make him smile (and then rarely in public). His demeanour changed slightly when his twin children Cersei and Jaime were born in 266 and he became Lord of Casterly Rock upon his father’s death a year later, and he became more proud.

The relationship between King Aerys and his Hand was very strong for the first five years of his rule, but began to turn sour after that point. In 267-268 King Aerys decided to visit Tywin at home in Casterly Rock for an extended stay. It was well-known that Aerys had developed a fancy for Lady Joanna when she was a courtier to his wife, and this irked Tywin somewhat. Upon his return to King’s Landing, Aerys began to interfere more with Tywin’s areas of responsibility. He sided with Volantis in a dispute with Myr and Lys rather than taking a neutral position as Tywin advised, and increased port fees. When merchants complained, Aerys reduced them again and blamed the decision on Tywin.

By this time it was clear that King Aerys II had no real wisdom or talent for ruling, and the Seven Kingdoms prospered only due to Lord Tywin’s diligence. It was said, from Oldtown to the Wall, that “King Aerys reigns but Lord Tywin rules”. Aerys realised this and his slights and undermining of the Hand took on the tinge of jealousy. Maesters debate why Aerys didn’t simply dismiss Tywin outright, but it is possible that Aerys realised that there was simply no-one else fit for the post. Tywin himself found the situation unpalatable and attempted to resign the Handship in 272, after Aerys insulted his wife in public. Aerys refused to accept the resignation.

In 273 Lady Joanna died in childbirth, giving birth of a dwarfen and misshapen son, Tyrion. Aerys made mock of the incident, saying it was the gods’ punishment for Tywin’s arrogance. Tywin heard this news and became furious, ending whatever respect he had left for the king.


Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Artwork by Karla Ortiz for The World of Ice and Fire.

The future of House Targaryen seemed secure, but not as secure as might be hoped. The Targaryen line had been reduced to just King Aerys, his sister-wife Rhaella and their son Rhaegar. Aerys and Rhaella’s other children had been stillborn or miscarried, to the point where Aerys suspected infidelity and confined Queen Rhaella to the Red Keep from 270 onwards. Their next-nearest relatives were the Baratheons, for Aerys’s aunt Rhaelle was the mother of Lord Steffon Baratheon, and the Martells, for the current Princess of Dorne was descended from Prince Maron Martell and Princess Daenerys Targaryen.

For his part, Prince Rhaegar had grown up quiet and bookish, more enamoured by music and reading than battle. However, he abruptly changed his mind and sought training in warfare, apparently because of something he read in a book. He was knighted in 275, at the age of sixteen, and by all accounts was a strong and gifted warrior. However, he was not the equal of Ser Arthur Dayne or Ser Barristan Selmy and by all accounts saw fighting and war as a burden to be shouldered, not something to be gloried or exalted in. Handsome and melancholy, he created many beautiful songs and was seen as a romantic figure. He had the love of the commons, the respect of warriors and was seen as a more sensible, level-headed man than his increasingly erratic father.

In 276 Queen Rhaella gave birth to a living son, Viserys. Aerys was pleased but also paranoid, believing that enemies were now plotting against him and his family and ordering that Viserys be kept close and under guard at all times. At a great tourney held to celebrate Viserys’s birth in Lannisport, Lord Tywin proposed that his daughter Cersei marry Prince Rhaegar. Aerys dismissed the idea contemptuously, to Tywin’s anger.

What happened next was unexpected. Lord Denys Darklyn was the ruler of Duskendale, a port town on Blackwater Bay barely sixty leagues from King’s Landing. In ancient times Duskendale had been the greatest city on the east coast of the continent, its lords ruling over a vast stretch of the Crownlands as the Dusk Kings. King’s Landing’s rise had utterly eclipsed Duskendale, reducing it to a backwater. Darklyn planned to change that by convincing King Aerys to give him a royal charter for the town. This would allow him to offer more competitive tariffs and docking fees and allow the town to compete with King’s Landing again.

Tywin saw no reason to grant the request, as the Darklyns were not great or important enough to risk offending, and turned it down flat. Aware that there was tension between King and Hand, Lord Denys halted all payments of taxes from the town to the crown and then sent an invitation for Aerys to visit the town personally to hear his petition. Lord Tywin advised Aerys not to attend in strong terms, which raised Aerys’s ire. He rejected Tywin’s advice and, in 277, set out with a bodyguard led by Ser Gwayne Gaunt of the Kingsguard. Before he left, King Aerys told Grand Maester Pycelle that he meant to resolve the situation himself, since Tywin had been unable to do so.

Arriving at Duskendale, King Aerys’s bodyguard was set upon. Ser Gwayne was killed by Ser Symon Hollard, Lord Denys’s master-of-arms, and the king was imprisoned in the Dun Fort of Duskendale. Lord Tywin gathered together a substantial army and invested the town, ordering the king to be released. He also put in place a naval blockade.

Lord Denys realised that he had overreached, but could not find a way of extricating himself from the mess without condemning himself to death for treason. Instead, he dithered whilst the townsfolk starved.

Lord Tywin said that he was unwilling to risk the king’s royal person in a frontal assault, so he allowed the siege to play out. But, after six months, it became clear that Denys was unwilling to surrender without guarantees for his life. Tywin was unwilling to countenance that (perhaps being fully aware that the king would never stand for it) and made a fateful decision. He could not let the matter – now widely called the Defiance of Duskendale – stand. He ordered Denys to surrender on pain of a full-scale assault. Several of the small council objected that Denys would kill the king and Tywin, in a rare public loss of patience, snapped and said it did not matter if he did, for they had a better king right there, in the form of Prince Rhaegar. This shocked all present.


Duskendale. Artwork by Michael Komarck for The World of Ice and Fire.

Seeking a solution that guaranteed the safety of the king, Ser Barristan Selmy volunteered to enter the Dun Fort by stealth and rescue the king single-handed. Tywin thought the idea was insane, but Ser Barristan was respected and his prowess was not doubted. Tywin eventually agreed.

Ser Barristan’s daring rescue of King Aerys became the subject of several songs. He infiltrated the town and then the keep, released the king, killed Ser Symon Hollard and rode pell-mell for the walls with the disoriented king in tow. The feat accomplished, Lord Denys had no choice but to surrender. He and his kin were beheaded, including the entire Darklyn family and also many of the Hollards, related to the Darklyns by marriage. Only the youngest Hollard son, Dontos, was spared after Barristan intervened and begged a boon from the king. Serala of Myr, Lord Darklyn’s wife who was blamed for “bewitching” her husband with her foreign wiles and convincing him to rebel, was burned alive.

King Aerys II Targaryen returned to the Red Keep and did not leave it for four years. His order was that no-one was to lay hands on him ever again and that the only blades allowed in his presence where those of the Iron Throne and the Kingsguard. He became paranoid, seeing treason everywhere. Some courtiers did not help the matter by repeating Lord Tywin’s words outside Duskendale to the king. Aerys became convinced that Tywin had conspired with Rhaegar to have him killed to Rhaegar could inherit the throne and marry Tywin’s daughter. He may even have come to believe that Tywin arranged the entire situation himself.

There were few people left that Aerys trusted. One of them was Lord Steffon Baratheon, a boyhood friend and fighting comrade of the War of the Ninepenny Kings. In 278 the king ordered Steffon to travel to the Free Cities to seek a worthy bride for Rhaegar, one Lord Tywin had no hand in selecting. Steffon was not sure where to start with this task, so enlisted the help of his wife Lady Cassana. They took ship for the Free Cities and considered the nobility of several cities, such as Volantis and especially Lys where those of Valyrian blood and descent could still be found. In Volantis Lord Steffon found a delightful, quick-witted fool named Patchface whom he decided to bring home, but no suitable bride could be found.

Steffon and Cassana’s ship, the Windproud, foundered in a storm on Shipbreaker Bay. The ship broke apart, killing both the lord and lady, along with the crew. The sole survivor was Patchface, who washed up on the rocks below Storm’s End and was nursed back to health by Maester Cressen. He mind and wits were gone.

Steffon’s son, Robert, became Lord of Storm’s End. King Aerys was horrified, believing that Tywin had somehow conspired to kill Steffon. Aerys believed that if he dismissed Tywin from the Handship, he would be killed as well. In desperation he decided to counter Tywin’s influence with someone who could sniff out plots and conspiracies. Aerys had heard that the Free City of Pentos had been put in order by a merchant lord, Magister Illyrio Mopatis, working alongside a spymaster of formidable reputation, a eunuch named Lord Varys. Aerys convinced Illyrio to send Varys to King’s Landing. Despite being a foreigner to Westeros, Varys was a fast learner and soon had agents – his “little birds” – installed across the Seven Kingdoms.

King Aerys also installed Wisdom Rossart, the head of the Guild of Alchemists, on the small council. Aerys had developed a peculiar fascination with fire, reasoning that if he had dragons then no-one would dare oppose him. After Lady Serala Darklyn’s death, the king had switched to burning his enemies alive rather than execution with the noose or sword. Rossart used wildfire to incinerate the king’s enemies, to the king’s delight. After seeing someone burn to death, the king would become animated and excited, energy he would often take out on his wife Rhaella. Their marriage had never been a happy one, but in those final years it became a nightmare.

Aerys’s reign had gone from erratic to almost tyrannical, with his Hand no longer able to keep him in check. From Castle Black to Saltshore, from the Lonely Light to Tarth, Aerys II Targaryen now had a new nickname: the Mad King.


The Seven Kingdoms in 281 AC, during the reign of Aerys II Targaryen, the Mad King, and on the eve of rebellion.

In 279 Prince Rhaegar was betrothed to Princess Elia Martell of Dorne. They married in 280 in a ceremony at the Great Sept of Baelor. Now all but estranged from his father, Prince Rhaegar chose to establish his household on Dragonstone rather than in the Red Keep. Later that year his daughter Rhaenys was born, but Aerys was unimpressed, saying the girl “smelled Dornish”.

By 281 a group of bandits had taken up residence in the Kingswood just to the south of King’s Landing. Naming themselves the Kingswood Brotherhood and led by Simon Toyne, they kidnapped several nobles and carried out acts of rebellion against the King’s Peace. Aerys sent the Kingsguard with a detachment of troops to put down the rebellion. During the campaign, fifteen-year-old Ser Jaime Lannister, the eldest son and heir of Lord Tywin, distinguished himself in battle. He saved the life of Lord Sumner Crakehall, to whom he was serving as a squire, and crossed swords with the Smiling Knight and lived to tell the tale. Impressed, Ser Arthur Dayne knighted him.

Ser Harlan Grandison of the Kingsguard passed away from advanced age and King Aerys had to choose a replacement. Shrewdly, and some say under advice, he chose Ser Jaime. Jaime could not refuse the honour, but it meant him giving up his claim to Casterly Rock and his place as Lord Tywin’s heir, making the dwarf Tyrion heir to Casterly Rock instead. Aerys appreciated the anger this would cause Tywin and was correct: Tywin resigned the Handship and returned home. Ser Jaime joined the Kingsguard believing he had been chosen for his skill with a sword and quickly realising it had been done solely to slight his father, bruising his pride.

Winter had fallen on the Seven Kingdoms in 279 and the realm had endured for two years. Early in 281 it appeared that the season had broken and spring had arrived. Lord Walter Whent of Harrenhal celebrated the occasion by organising a great tourney on the banks of Gods Eye. It raised the status of the occasion when Prince Rhaegar announced he would attend, and sent messages urging all of the good and the great of the realm to come as well to celebrate the gods’ bounty by ending the cruel winter. Prince Oberyn Martell, the famed Red Viper of Dorne and younger brother of both Prince Doran (who had recently inherited the seat at Sunspear), confirmed he would attend. So did the children of Lord Rickard Stark of Winterfell: Brandon, Eddard, Lyanna and Benjen. Lord Robert Baratheon of Storm’s End confirmed his attendance, and Lord Jon Arryn of the Eyrie. The Tyrells of Highgarden announced they would also attend. The only glaring absence was from Casterly Rock, for Lord Tywin refused to bestir himself, still nursing the grudges and insults done to him by the Mad King.

Momentous events were set in motion at Harrenhal, for this was the Year of False Spring and the Doom of the Targaryens was at hand.


The map above use 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.

Historical Map 22: The War of the Ninepenny Kings & The Fall of Castamere

In 258 AC nine great warlords, exiles, sellsword captains and pirates met in the Disputed Lands, under the Tree of Crowns, and made alliance. They swore an oath that they would support one another in their claims to lands, kingdoms and territories, so they might achieve together what none could alone. They became known as the Band of Nine.


The War of the Ninepenny Kings began in 258 AC when nine warlords of Essos made a formal pact under the Tree of Crowns. These were: Alequo Adarys of Tyrosh; Maelys Blackfyre of the Golden Company; Ser Derrick Fossoway, a sellsword captain; Liomond Lashare, Lord of Battles; Nine Eyes, a pirate captain; the Old Mother, a pirate queen; Xhobar Qhoqua, the Ebon Prince of the Summer Isles; Samarro Saan of Lys; and Spotted Tom the Butcher. They invaded and sacked Tyrosh before seizing several of the Stepstones, including Bloodstone. King Jaehaerys II sent his armies against the Band of Nine in 260, with Ser Barristan Selmy defeating and killing Maelys the Monstrous in single combat. The rest of the Band were destroyed over the next six months, with only Adarys surviving in Tyrosh. He was killed by his own wife in 266, ending the pretensions of the Ninepenny Kings.

Foremost in military reputation amongst their armies was the Golden Company, made up of exiled knights and warriors from Westeros. Their great commander, Bittersteel, had died seventeen years earlier but the company remained intact and its reputation formidable. Their commander was Maelys Blackfyre, the last surviving descendant of House Blackfyre in the male line. Maelys, a huge and ugly man said to have swallowed his twin in the womb (he had a vestigial second head growing out of his shoulder) had seized command of the company by tearing the head of his cousin Daemon from his shoulders and had a reputation for savagery and bloodlust that had tainted the honour of the company. Still, the opportunity to return home and seize the Seven Kingdoms could not be ignored.

Word came to the Red Keep of the pact. Prince Duncan Targaryen joked that crowns were being “sold nine a penny.” The name stuck and spread, with the Band of Nine becoming known as the Ninepenny Kings.

Prince Duncan, his father King Aegon V and their great friend and protector Ser Duncan the Small, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, all perished in the great fire at Summerhall the following year. Aegon’s second son and heir apparent, Prince Jaehaerys, assumed the Iron Throne as the Second of His Name, whilst Ser Gerold Hightower, the White Bull, became Lord Commander. Shocked by the deaths of his father and brother, Jaehaerys was ill-prepared to deal with the news that arrived not long after.


Jaehaerys II Targaryen (225-262, r. 259-262 AC). Artwork by Amok.

The Band of Nine had marched and then sailed. Several of their number, including Nine Eyes, the Old Mother and Samarro Saan, were great sea captains and had landed their forces on the island of Tyrosh. In short order the Ninepenny Kings had seized one of the greatest of the Free Cities, sacked it and turned it over to the rule of Alequo Adarys, the Silvertongued. They then seized several more of the islands. The news was momentous, for it was assumed that the Free Cities would have dealt with the problem before it became so great. Now an army numbering in the many thousands was sitting less than a hundred leagues off the coast of Westeros.

Early in 260 King Jaehaerys II made a great call to arms. He would not sit idly by and let these upstarts invade his kingdom. His plan was to launch a pre-emptive assault on the Stepstones and destroy the Ninepenny Kings before they could regroup for an invasion of Westeros.

He planned to lead the assault himself, but he was the least militarily-minded of Aegon’s children. His Hand and brother-in-law, Lord Ormund Baratheon, dissuaded him of the idea. Instead, Ormund assumed command of the mission and began raising a great host.

Ormund summoned troops from across Westeros, from the Westerlands, the Riverlands and the Vale of Arryn, as well as his own host from the Stormlands and many more besides. The size of the host was in the tens of thousands: eleven thousand men marched from the Westerlands alone, under the command of Ser Jason Lannister (Lord Gerold’s youngest son), and thousands more came from the other regions. Lord Quellon Greyjoy was commanded to provide a fleet of one hundred longships from the Iron Islands to support the attack and large transport ships were sourced from the Royal Fleet and elsewhere.

The Greyjoy longships and other vessels swept through the Stepstones, engaging and destroying most of the Band’s ships. Then the Westerosi forces landed on three of the islands, including Prince Daemon Targaryen’s old stronghold of Bloodstone, and engaged the enemy.

The son of the Laughing Storm, who had always believed in leading from the front, Ormund Baratheon was one of the first off the ships and onto the beaches, leading the storming of the fortified defences where Maelys the Monstrous held the command. This proved to be unwise, as he was killed almost immediately. Ormund perished in the arms of his young son, Ser Steffon of Storm’s End. Lord Commander Gerold Hightower quickly assumed command and restored the momentum of the attack.

In the bitter fighting that followed a new generation of Westerosi knights and captains won renown and honour: Ser Tywin Lannister, the young son of Lord Tytos, and his brothers Kevan and Tygett; Ser Brynden Tully, who became known as the Blackfish; his elder brother Ser Hoster Tully, heir to Riverrun; Lord Baelish of a modest smallholding on the Fingers, who fought alongside Ser Hoster and earned his respect; and Prince Aerys Targaryen, not a noted warrior but he distinguished himself ably on the battlefield.


Ser Barristan Selmy battles Maelys the Monstrous, the last of the Blackfyre Pretenders, during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. After Barristan killed Maelys, he was named to the Kingsguard by Jaehaerys II and served with honour in its ranks for the next thirty-eight years. Artwork by Jose Daniel Cabrera Pena in The World of Ice and Fire.

However, the most famous hero of the war was one who was already fast becoming a legend. Having fought his first tourney at the age of ten and won his spurs at sixteen, the twenty-three-year-old Ser Barristan Selmy cut a bloody path through several of the greatest warriors of the Golden Company and engaged Maelys the Monstrous in combat. The huge and overpowering Maelys was slain there and then, the mad dreams of Bittersteel and the hopes of House Blackfyre dying with him.

The War of the Ninepenny Kings raged on for another half a year. The Westerosi forces cleared the rest of the three islands they had landed on and made sure that the other Ninepenny Kings had been routed before returning home. The other Free Cities finished off the pretensions of the remaining claimants, but it wasn’t until 266 that Alequo Adarys was finally poisoned to death by his wife and the Archon of Tyrosh restored.

Ser Barristan Selmy, Barristan the Bold, was inducted into the ranks of the Kingsguard shortly after the war. Lord Commander Gerold Hightower hung the white cloak from his shoulders and King Jaehaerys II named him to his position from the Iron Throne. It was all the young warrior had ever wanted, and he gave up his claim to Harvest Hall and his planned betrothal for it.

Jaehaerys II’s reign began with great promise but it soon turned sour. There was an attempted rebellion in the Westerlands against the lawful rule of House Lannister of Casterly Rock within months of the War of the Ninepenny Kings ending.


Lord Tytos Lannister, the Laughing Lion, and his eldest son and heir Tywin as a young man. Art by Magali Villeneuve for The World of Ice and Fire.

The roots of this rebellion went deep. In 233, during the Peak Uprising, Tywald Lannister, the eldest son and heir of Lord Gerold, the Golden Lion, died in battle at Starpike. Tywald’s wife was the formidable and ambitious Lady Ellyn Reyne, of the Red Lions of Castamere, who had dreamed of becoming Lady of the Rock. She convinced Tywald’s younger brother, the new heir Tion, to marry her instead. Tywald and Tion’s youngest brother, Tytos, married Lady Jeyne Marbrand in a double wedding.

With Lord Gerold elderly and failing, Lady Ellyn convinced her husband to heap honours on her family, House Reyne of Castamere Castle. However, three years into their marriage Tion was killed in the Battle of Wendwater Bridge during the Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion. Tytos was now heir to Casterly Rock and Lord Gerold rallied in his final years to instil the virtues of rule and leadership in his weak-willed son. Lady Jeyne now became the dominant female power in Casterly Rock. At her urging, Lady Ellyn was found a new marriage match – Lord Walderen Tarbeck of Tarbeck Hall – and forced to leave the Rock.

In 244 AC Lord Gerold Lannister died and Tytos became Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport and Warden of the West. Lady Jeyne had given him his first son, Tywin in 242, and soon many more children followed: Kevan (b. 244), Genna (b. 245), Tygett (b. 250) and Gerion (b. 255). However, Tytos was not a strong ruler. He was amiable and amenable, easy to flatter and please, and too trusting by far. He forgave debts rather enforce them, let insults slide as harmless banter and was slow to claim taxes or enforce laws. He became known as the Laughing Lion, but also as the Toothless Lion.

In 252 Genna Lannister was married to Emmon Frey, a son of Walder Frey, Lord of the Crossing. Only ten years of age, Tywin considered this match to be far below his house and mocked his father to his face at the wedding ceremony, stunning the room. Shortly afterwards the embarrassed Laughing Lion sent his eldest son to King’s Landing, to serve as cupbearer at the court. There the young Tywin met and befriended Prince Aerys Targaryen.

In 255 Lady Jeyne died from complications birthing her last son, Gerion. Tytos was heartbroken and miserable. Lonely and his already-questionable judgement lapsing further, he allowed himself to be seduced by various mistresses, more interested in his money and his influence than himself. His interest in his realm waned, to the point of civil disorder breaking out. Three times knights were sent by the Iron Throne to restore the King’s Peace, but Lord Tytos seemed unable to focus on the problems at hand. Finally, in mid-260 Tywin, Kevan and Tygett returned from the War of the Ninepenny Kings, all now knighted and respected warriors. More than five hundred bloodied knights from the Westerlands had fought on the Stepstones and formed the core of a new Lannister army that Ser Kevan took command of to drive out the outlaws and robbers from the hills.

Ser Tywin assumed command of Casterly Rock, letting his father retire with his current mistress. He ordered the vassals of House Lannister to repay the loans they had taken out. Those who could not comply were ordered to hand over hostages. Lord Harys Swyft of Cornfield was one of those who could not afford to repay the debts and instead surrendered his young daughter Dorna to Ser Kevan’s custody. As she was a child and nobly born, Ser Kevan treated her honourably. Many years later they fell in love and later married, having four children: Lancel (b. 282), the twins Martyn and Willem (b. c. 286) and Janei (b. 297).

Others were less cooperative. Lord Reyne of Castamere refused to obey outright and Lord Walderan of Tarbeck Hall rode directly to Casterly Rock to beg for Lord Tytos to forgive his debts. Tywin had him arrested and thrown into Casterly Rock’s much-feared underground cells. Lady Ellyn Tarbeck took vengeance by kidnapping three Lannisters, including Tywin’s cousin Stafford, and threatening them with harm.


During the troubled rule of Tytos Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock (244-267 AC), many of his vassals took liberties and built up massive debts. In 260 his sons Tywin, Kevan and Tygett returned from war to set things right. House Reyne of Castamere and House Tarbeck of Tarbeck Hall proved resistant and rebelled against the Golden Lion banner. The following year, Tywin destroyed both houses, root and branch, both dismaying and impressing the realm. Upon his ascension to the Iron Throne in 262, King Aerys II Targaryen named Tywin as Hand of the King.

Lord Tytos roused himself to meet the Tarbeck demands. Lord Walderan was freed and his debts forgiven, to Tywin’s utter fury. Words of forgiveness were uttered and all seemed well, but Tywin merely bided his time. He waited until his father was once again distracted and then sent word to Castamere and Tarbeck Hall, ordering that their lords present themselves at Casterly Rock for justice. Judging that Tywin would again be restrained by his father, they instead chose defiance and rebellion.

Tywin Lannister had prepared for this. An army of five hundred knights and three thousand men-at-arms marched from Casterly Rock. They descended on Tarbeck Hall in a sudden fury. Lord Walderan ill-advisedly rode forth to meet the Lannister host, but he was too badly outnumbered and Tywin was too canny a battlefield commander. The Tarbeck host was butchered, Lord Walderan was beheaded and the castle invested. Lady Ellyn chose to seal the gates and wait for relief from Castamere, but Tywin lacked the patience for a siege. The castle’s walls were strong and thick, rebuilt with the money the Tarbecks had borrowed from Casterly Rock, but the actual keep had not been rebuilt to the same standards. A boulder hurled from a siege engine brought the entire keep crumbling to the ground, Lady Ellyn crushed to death in the process.

Lord Roger Reyne arrived at Tarbeck Hall with only two thousand men, leaving him seriously outnumbered. He trusted to surprise and launched a furious charge into Tywin’s camp. However, Tywin’s men, veterans of the Stepstones, were too well-drilled and experienced. They counter-attacked with remarkable speed and Reyne was forced to flee, leaving half his men dead and a crossbow bolt sticking from his shoulders. His brother Ser Reynard assumed command and fortified Castamere. Like Casterly Rock, most of the “castle” was actually an old mine located below ground, making it a nightmare to assault.

Ser Tywin did not even try a direct attack. He razed the castle entrance, sealed up the tunnels leading into the mines and diverted a nearby river into them. More than three hundred people drowned to death in the cold and the dark under Castamere.

The Seven Kingdoms reeled, with lords and smallfolk alike divided between horror at Tywin’s utter ruthlessness and admiration at how he had taken command of the situation and resolved it decisively. Bards even created a song to commemorate the occasion, the “Rains of Castamere”.

In 262 AC King Jaehaerys II, never the most robust of men, sickened and died. He was only thirty-seven years old and had been king for barely three years. His son took the Iron Throne as Aerys II Targaryen, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.


Aerys II Targaryen (244-283, r. 262-283 AC). Art by Amok.

Aerys II was only eighteen years old but he was young and vital compared to his sickly father. He had already distinguished himself ably (if not spectacularly) in the War of the Ninepenny Kings and had already sired his first son, Rhaegar. His coronation and that years that followed coincided with the birth of a new generation of nobility for the Seven Kingdoms.

Aerys’s cousin Steffon Baratheon was now Lord of Storm’s End, and within months of the coronation Steffon’s wife Cassana Estermont had given birth to a healthy and robust son, Robert. Just over a year later, in early 264, a second son, Stannis, followed (and in 277 a third, Renly).

In the North, Lord Rickard Stark and Lady Lyarra celebrated the birth of their eldest son, Brandon. A second son, Eddard, followed in 263, followed by a daughter, Lyanna, in 266, and a third son Benjen, in 267.

In Riverrun Lord Hoster Tully had married Lady Minisa Whent and they had three living children: Catelyn (b. c. 265), Lysa (c. 268) and Edmure (c. 270).

Lord Quellon Greyjoy had nine sons, but only four survived to adulthood: Balon (b. c. 260), Euron, Victarion and Aeron.

In Highgarden, Lord Luthor Tyrell and the famously acerbic Lady Olenna Redwyne had several children, the most notable of which was Mace (b. c. 256). Mace married Lady Alerie Hightower and they in turn had four children: Willas (b. c. 270), Garlan (b. 277), Loras (b. 282) and Margaery (b. 283). Mace came to the rule of Highgarden young, as his father rode off a cliff whilst hawking and not paying attention to what he was doing.

In Dorne the ruling Princess of Dorne had given birth to three children who survived to adulthood: Doran Martell (b. c. 248), Elia (c. 257) and Oberyn (c. 258).

In the Vale, things were less secure. Lord Jon Arryn had married twice, but survived both wives and neither provided him with living children. He eventually appointed his hale and hearty young nephew, Ser Elbert Arryn, as his heir.

But the family King Aerys took the most interest in were the Lannister. A friend of Tywin’s, Aerys had been knighted by him in the war on the Stepstones. Deeply impressed by his handling of the Tarbecks and Reynes, Aerys named Tywin as Hand of the King at just the age of twenty. Tywin accepted the honour. A year later Tywin married his cousin Joanna, whom he loved deeply. It was said that Lady Joanna was the only person who could make Tywin smile. In 266 she made him smile greatly by giving birth to beautiful twins, a girl and a boy, Cersei and Jaime. But in 273 the smiles of Tywin Lannister died altogether along with his wife in childbirth. The child, a son, survived, but he was a misshapen dwarf. If he had been born a peasant Tywin would have left him to die in the woods. He despised the child for the death of his wife, but he also knew the value of a second son for marriage purposes. He named the child Tyrion and did his best to ignore the infant.

These were the names that would resonate strongly in the years ahead. For, although none could guess it on that promising day in 262 AC when the young, handsome and charismatic Aerys Targaryen sat on the Iron Throne, the Targaryen Dynasty had entered its twilight. Ahead lay the days of wrath and fury, when madness and insanity would lay low the kingdom that Aegon the Conqueror had fought to unite.

Geographic Note: The Stepstones

Only two of the Stepstones have been named: Bloodstone, a large northern island, and Grey Gallows, a considerably smaller island just to the south. Both islands are likely significant since they’ve been named. Bloodstone was Daemon Targaryen’s stronghold during his reign as King of the Narrow Sea, so it’s possible that Maelys the Monstrous chose it as his stronghold during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. We know Jason Lannister died fighting on Bloodstone during the war, so this is a credible but not watertight conclusion. However, I have not definitively said the battle where Maelys died was fought on Bloodstone, only that a battle was fought there. It is a reasonable supposition that Grey Gallows was one of the other islands attacked during the war, but again this is unconfirmed. Tyrosh was not one of the three islands attacked, as Tyrosh was not liberated until six years after the war ended. The Tree of Crowns is likely a neutral meeting spot deep in the Disputed Lands, possibly near its centre, the furthest away from any of the cities feuding over the territory.

Geographic Note: Location of Castamere and Tarbeck Hall

Castamere and Tarbeck Hall are both said (in A Storm of Swords) to be located relatively close to the Crag. Marching (presumably north) from Casterly Rock, Tywin’s host reaches Tarbeck Hall first. Castamere is a three-day march from Tarbeck Hall for an army of several thousand men laden with siege engines and equipment, so it’s likely considerably less than 100 miles. I have according placed the two locations as shown on the map above. This also puts Castamere on the site of an unnamed mine noted in the map of the Westerlands in The World of Ice and Fire, which also matches up nicely.