Geographic Map 6: The Riverlands

The Riverlands lie at the very heart of the Seven Kingdoms. They are sometimes said to be “halfway to anywhere” or “halfway to everywhere”. Travellers and merchants from one of the end of the kingdom pass through them to get to the other and they have been divided between other powers many times in their past. Many of the great wars of Westeros have been fought in the Riverlands, and their soil has been bloodied by many battles.


The Riverlands in 297 AC (click for a larger version). Some locations are speculative.

The Riverlands sprawl for over 600 miles from the lower end of the Neck to the shores of the Blackwater Rush, with a maximum east-west distance of just over 500 miles. Their borders have changed over the years, but today they are generally held as the Neck to the north, the Mountains of Moon and the Bay of Crabs to the east, the Blackwater Rush to the south and the western hills and mountains to the west. The Riverlands has borders with the North, the Vale of Arryn, the Crownlands, the Reach and the Westerlands, along with naval borders with the Iron Islands; counting the latter, it borders more other regions than any other part of the Seven Kingdoms. The border with the Westerlands is arguably the most porous, especially as the hills and mountains north of the Red Fork are also held by the Lannisters, forming a salient into Riverlands territory.

Apart from the North, the Riverlands is the only region of Westeros with territory on both the east and west coast of the continent (on Ironman’s Bay and the Bay of Crabs, and also a small stretch of the Bite in the far north-east), and the only one to have ports to take advantage of that.

As the name suggests, the Riverlands are dominated by lakes, rivers and streams. The most notable of these is the massive Trident and its three tributaries, the Red, Green and Blue Forks. Also notable are the Tumblestone and the headwaters of the Blackwater Rush. Most maps of the Riverlands show only these major waterways, but countless smaller streams criss-cross the region and more detailed and more local maps show a much more complex array of rivers, including the Big and Little Willow, the Maiden, the Greenapple and the Bitter River. The largest lake, by far, is Gods Eye, out of which more rivers and streams pour, including the Rippledown Rill and a very large river known simply as the Gods Eye River.

The Northern Riverlands

The northern Riverlands are less-densely populated than the southern. This region is bordered by the marshlands of the Neck to the north, the Mountains of the Moon to the east, Ironman’s Bay to the west and the Red Fork of the Trident to the south. This area is dominated by House Frey, which rules from the Twins, and House Mallister, which rules from Seagard. The area measures over 250 miles (maybe closer to 300 miles) from north to south and between 200 and 250 miles from north east to west.

This region is relatively lightly inhabited due to the clans of the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon in the east. Unable to enter the Vale of Arryn due to the fortified passes and the Bloody Gate, they instead frequently raid passing merchants and travellers. They have not been eliminated because they are more of a nuisance than a genuine long-term threat and spend more time fighting one another. The river lords also tend to regard them as a Vale problem and the Vale lords tend to regard them as a Riverlands problem.

West of the Trident there are more signs of habitation, such as the town of Fairmarket and a plethora of small villages such as Hag’s Mire. The west coast also tended to be less inhabited in ancient times due to the threat of ironborn raids.

The Blue and Green Forks of the Trident provide trade and transport to the region, leading to the immense wealth of House Frey. Six centuries ago they built a toll bridge and two castles on the Green Fork, putting a stranglehold on trade and travel from the Westerlands and the western Riverlands up to the North. The construction of the Kingsroad significantly to the east of the Twins negated this slightly, although the cost of going right round the Trident and avoiding the Twins is still greater than paying the toll.

The Trident

The River Trident may be one of the most famous rivers in Westeros, but the river itself is rather short: significantly less than 150 miles from its mouth to where the river breaks up into its three major tributaries. However, the term “Trident” not only applies to the river itself, but also all three of its tributaries and, indeed, the entire region.

The Red Fork rises in the western hills near Hornvale (in the Westerlands) and flows north and slightly east for roughly 250 miles until it meets the Tumblestone, which rises about the same distance to the west, near Ashemark. The two rivers meet at a junction just north of Stone Mill, located near a series of fords over the Red Fork.  Centuries ago, House Tully turned the junction of the two rivers into an effective island through the construction of an artificial channel and sluice gates. On that island they built the castle of Riverrun to dominate the surrounding lands. In times of war the gates can be opened and Riverrun turned into an island stronghold, very difficult to attack.

The Red Fork flows east through the heart of the Riverlands for about another 250 miles until it meets the other rivers and forms the Trident. The lands the Red Fork flows through are the most densely-populated part of the Riverlands with small fishing villages such as Riverbend dotting the banks. The Inn of the Kneeling Man, marking the spot where the last King in the North, Torrhen Stark, surrendered to Aegon the Conqueror, can be found on the south bank. The river also forms the sometimes-contentious boundary between the territories of House Bracken, located at Stone Hedge south of the river east of Riverrun, and House Blackwood, located north of the river and east of Riverrun at Raventree Hall. House Lychester also controls lands along the western Red Fork (presumably south of the river), near the village of Sallydance.

The Blue Fork, the shortest of the three rivers, rises just south and east of Seagard, in an area of fens and marshes. Hag’s Mire is one of several villages in this region, along with Sevenstreams, Ramsford and the larger settlement of Wendish Town. The ruins of Oldstones, the ancient seat of House Mudd, can also be found near the headwaters. The Blue Fork then flows south and east past Fairmarket before meeting the rest of the Trident some 300 miles upriver.

The Green Fork rises in the marshes of the Neck a good 200 miles north of the Twins. The upper river is technically within the boundaries of the North, with Greywater Watch located near the headwaters. The river flows south and east from the Twins for 300 miles before joining the rest of the river.

The largest town along the Trident proper is Lord Harroway’s Town, controlled by House Roote, which is located just upriver of the junction of the three rivers. A few miles downriver of Lord Harroway’s Town is the ruby ford. This is the only major crossing over the Trident south of the Twins and east of Riverrun. It was here that Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was slain during the Battle of the Trident during Robert’s Rebellion.

A few miles north of the ford is a great crossroads, where the Kingsroad crosses the old high road leading down from the Vale of Arryn into the northern Riverlands. The storied Inn at the Crossroads is located here, famed for its hospitality and for its location on the main highways leading to the North, the Vale, the Riverlands and the Crownlands. There has been an inn on this site for centuries, leading to the occasional name “The Old Inn”. It was formerly known as the Two Crowns, the Clanking Dragon and the Bellringer Inn. Several centuries ago the inn sat on the Trident itself and was called the River Inn, but the course of the river has shifted south since then.

80 to 90 miles south-east of the inn the Trident wides appreciably into a huge estuary, many miles wide. Where this estuary becomes the Bay of Crabs is hotly disputed between maesters (those who care about such things, anyway). The town and small port of Saltpans is located on the north side of the river mouth, whilst the larger port and town of Maidenpool is located roughly a hundred miles to the south-east, across the mouth. In between, on a nearly-inaccessible speck of land known as the Quiet Isle, is a septry, a religious retreat and place of quiet contemplation. The Quiet Isle can only be reached in certain tidal conditions via a causeway, rendering it almost impossible to attack.

East of Maidenpool the river mouth becomes the Bay of Crabs, dividing the south coast of the Vale of Arryn from the north coast of the Crownlands.

Gods Eye and the Southern Riverlands

The most striking feature of maps of the Riverlands is the immense lake lying near its south-eastern edge. Gods Eye is the largest lake on the continent of Westeros, (at least south of the Wall), over 100 miles across from north to south. Its width varies from about 50 miles at its narrowest point to over 80 miles at its largest.

The lakeshore is dotted with villages and fishing grounds. The southern shore is heavily forested, whilst the northern is more densely populated, especially close to Harrenhal.

The lake contains only one island, located in its northern half (giving the lake its eye-like appearance and thus its name). The island is several miles wide and, according to those who’ve sailed close enough, it is heavily forested. According to legend the forest is made up of weirwoods, every single one carved with a face in recognition of the Pact between the First Men and the Children of the Forest that was signed there almost twelve thousand years ago. The order of green men was established, men who studied the ways of the old gods of the forest under the tutelage of the children.

The Isle of Faces, as it is known, has a strange reputation. The island and its weirwoods survived the Long Night, the Andal invasion and millennia of religious strife and wars that have raged all around the lake – and occasionally above it, on the backs of dragons – but left the island at its heart completely untouched. Some men have taken counsel with the green men, as recently as the Year of False Spring, suggesting that their order remains intact and extant despite having no contact with the rest of the Seven Kingdoms at all.

North of the Isle of Faces, on the northern lakeshore, rises the five forbidding towers and titanic walls of the largest single castle in the known world. Harrenhal stretches for several miles along the lakeshore and more inland, consisting of five huge towers, the enormous walls and fortified gates, and huge stretches of open land between. Harrenhal, King Harren’s Folly, was built over decades by House Hoare when they ruled the Iron Islands and Riverlands both, and it proved utterly useless for it was completed on the very day Aegon the Conqueror stepped ashore with his dragons, who feared no walls.

Seven houses have held Harrenhal, each falling into despair, ruin and madness. House Whent inherited the castle over seventy years ago and has so far not suffered the same fate.

Harrenhal is significant not just for the sheer size of the castle but for the wide lands it commands, extending east to the border with the Crownlands (where vassals such as House Wode command lands) and north towards the Red Fork of the Trident.

West of Gods Eye lies a wide stretch of land, extending well over 200 miles to the upper stretch of the Red Fork and for 300 miles between the lower Red Fork and the Blackwater Rush. Houses Piper, Vance, Smallwood and many others command these lands, which are fertile and populous. The fortified town of Stony Sept lies at the southern extremity of this region, just across the Blackwater from the Reach, whilst castles such as Wayfarer’s Rest, Atranta, Pinkmaiden and Acorn Hall dot the landscape.

This then is the Riverlands: extensive and populous but fractious and divided, easily influenced by outsiders and often ravaged by war.


The noble houses of the Riverlands (click for a larger version). Some house locations are speculative.

Houses of the Riverlands

House Tully rules the Riverlands from the castle at Riverrun, as it has for three centuries. The Tullys are a relatively young house, former vassals of the Vances who became stronger and more powerful over time, mainly due to their near-impregnable stronghold. The Tullys command several vassal houses directly, possibly House GrellHouse PemfordHouse Ryger of Willow Wood and House Wayn (as members of these families are prominent in Riverrun’s offices, similar to the Mollens and Cassels of Winterfell).

Below the Tullys in power and strength is House Frey, which commands the upper stretches of the Green Fork from the Twins. Houses Charlton, Erenford and Haigh are all vassals of the Freys. House Mallister of Seagard, House Blackwood of Raventree Hall, House Bracken of Stone Hedge, House Mooton of Maidenpool, House Piper of Pinkmaiden, House Roote of Lord Harroway’s Town, House Vance of Wayfarer’s Rest and Atranta (and their vassal, House Smallwood) and House Whent of Harrenhal (along with their vassals, House Wode) are all notable and powerful houses.

Lesser houses of the Riverlands include House Blanetree, House Cox of Saltpans, House Darry of Darry, House Deddings, House GoodbrookHouse Hawick of Saltpans, House Keath, House Lolliston, House Lychester of Lychester, House Nayland of Hag’s Mire, House Shawney (probably located at the junction of the three forks, due to their arms), House Terrick and House Vypren (possibly sworn to House Frey, as their frog banner may indicate a location near the Twins in the southern Neck).


The location of Wendish Town appears anomalous, far from Sherrer and the Mummer’s Ford. However, the location of the town is derived from the HBO Game of Thrones map, which in turn was based directly on George R.R. Martin’s map. In addition, Green Ronin RPG places the town further east on the Green Fork and A Game of Thrones itself suggests that it may be close to Darry territory, making it implausible that the Lannisters were able to attack it without being detected as they travelled through hundreds of miles of Riverlands territory. However, this may be explained by the new “salient” of the Westerlands along the south coast of Ironman’s Bay, which was revealed in The World of Ice and Fire. It appears to exist so the Lannisters would control all the hills and mines in the region and not allow the Riverlands to gain any mines for itself. It also provides an explanation for how Gregor Clegane’s outriders were able to attack Wendish Town, as the end of the salient is quite close to Wendish Town.

The location of Whitewalls is open to question: it is closer to Maidenpool then King’s Landing, was located close to a large lake (probably Gods Eye, but curiously not named as such) and Dunk and Egg could travel there within a few days of Stoney Sept. However, these directions are contradictory. In addition, there is a road leading from the ruby ford to Harroway and then Whitewalls, which suggests putting it considerably to the north of Harrenhal, which seems even more incompatible with the distances given.


The map above uses heraldry designs (under Creative Commons) from the excellent Wiki of Ice and Fire and La Garde de Nuit, the ultimate English and French-language guides to the Song of Ice and Fire novels.

Geographic Map 5: The North

For those living in the south of Westeros, the North is regarded as a land apart: an endless wasteland of snow, cold, ice, rocks and dour people living at the miserable ends of the world. People who are brave and ferocious in battle, yes, but uncouth tree-worshipping heathens and not used to the nuances of civilised life, religion or politics.


The North in 297 AC. Some locations are speculative.

The North is indeed vast, making up over a third of the total size of the Seven Kingdoms, stretching for over a thousand miles from the Neck to the Wall and almost as far from coast to coast. It is also thinly populated. In the south there may be a few miles between towns and villages, but in the North there may be dozens of miles between points of habitation, and large stretches of forbidding, harsh countryside with no people at all. There are very few highways apart from the Kingsroad and a few other notable arteries linking major holdfasts, which slows travel to a crawl.

Some of the stories are exaggerated. The North is cooler than the rest of Westeros but it is certainly not covered in snow and ice year-around. During long summers, some of the North can be quite pleasant and there is widespread farming. But the North lives in the constant shadow and fear of winter. Food is stockpiled, salted, stored, even frozen where it is possible to do so. Some castles are built near or over hot springs or volcanic vents, employing greenhouses to grow food even in the heart of winter. If the ports stay ice-free and open, food supplies can be brought in from the south and from the Free Cities (for those merchantmen willing to brave the Narrow Sea in winter). But there are limits to all of this: during the coldest and longest winters, the North starves and people die.

The Northern Mountains

The north of the North is harsh and forbidding, stretching from the Wall – or more, accurately, the southern edge of the Gift, the lands granted for the sustenance of the Night’s Watch – to the vast and forbidding Wolfswood. This region is dominated in the west by the Northern Mountains, a tall region of craggy highlands and peaks linked to the Frostfangs to the north. These mountains, extending almost 400 miles from the Gorge to the forest, are the home to a number of mountain clans, hardy tribesfolk who at first glance may look similar to the wildlings or the clansmen of the Mountains of the Moon. However, they are counted as nobles of the North who hold fealty to Winterfell: the Wulls, Norreys, Burleys, Harclays, Liddles, Knotts and the First Flints. The Wulls are the largest and most powerful clan. These clan lands incorporate the mountains and the foothills west to the Bay of Ice and south into the Wolfswood.

The Last River

The Northern Mountains are the sources of two of the North’s largest rivers, the White Knife and the Last River. The Last River rises from several sources in the mountains before winding south and east through the foothills and out onto open fields and plains, with some woodlands on the north bank of the river. This territory, on both sides of the river, is held by the Umbers of the Last Hearth. The Last River winds its way for almost 500 miles from the mountains to the Shivering Sea. Some maps show the lower stretch of the river serving as the border between House Bolton of the Dreadfort and House Karstark of Karhold, although this tends to change depending on the age of the map and the power of each noble house at the time. The river serving as a border has prevented any major port or town building up near the river mouth.

East of the Last River lies a large peninsula, about 230 miles wide from west to east and some 250 miles from north to south. Most of this peninsula is controlled by the Karstarks, whose fortress of Karhold sits in a sheltered bay near the mouth of a short river. This area is heavily forested, but the coast is rocky and less hospitable, plunging down into the sea through the rugged landscape known as the Grey Cliffs.

The East Coast

South of the Last River the landscape becomes less mountainous and flatter, with a greater mixture of rivers, fields and low-lying hills. The eastern part of this region is held by the Boltons of the Dreadfort, arguably the most powerful family of the North except only for the Starks themselves. The Dreadfort itself, looming above the Weeping Water, is of volcanic origin, with vents under the castle helping warm it during the winter. The Weeping Water is a short river, extending for less than 200 miles from its source in the Lonely Hills to the Shivering Sea.

South of the Bolton lands lies the territory held by House Hornwood of Hornwood. The Hornwood lands start in the Sheepshead Hills and extend south for more than 150 miles along the Broken Branch to the Shivering Sea. The Boltons have long coveted the rich Hornwood lands and forests, and with the Dreadfort less than 200 miles from Hornwood the threat of military confrontation has raised its head several times, only to be put down by the Starks.

At the mouth of the Broken Branch the North becomes a bit more crowded, as the warmer climes make farming and survival easier. Just south of the river mouth lies Ramsgate, whilst to the east a peninsula extends for over 200 miles into the Shivering Sea. At the very tip of this peninsula sits Widow’s Watch, one of the seats of House Flint, a great fortress and watchtower.

West of the Broken Branch lies open countryside, consisting of plains, moors and fields, extending for almost a hundred leagues to the mouth of the White Knife. These lands hold fealty to House Manderly of White Harbor and help provide that city with its food and wealth.

The White Knife and White Harbor

The White Knife is the greatest river of the North. Its source is in the Northern Mountains just fifty miles south of the Last River. It flows out of the mountains and quickly turns south, where it wides into the Long Lake. At about 130 miles long from north to south, the Long Lake is one of the largest bodies of water in the North. During the worst winters, when the lake freezes over, ice-fishing becomes an essential source of food for those who live close to its shores.

The White Knife resumes south of the lake, strengthened by a tributary which comes in from the Lonely Hills. The river now flows south and slightly west for over 270 miles before it is joined by another tributary, this one sweeping in from the Wolfswood in the west. The combined river now has another 200 miles to flow before it finally meets the Bite. By the time the White Knife reaches the sea it has become a fast-flowing, wide river. Rapids are located at several points along the river, resulting in the white water the river is known and named for.

The White Knife presents a useful route for fast travel from deep in the heart of the North out to the Bite and the sea, but those several areas of rapids complicate the route. The northmen have devised a solution in the form of “river runners”, lean and shallow-draft longboats which can ride the rapids where larger cargo ships cannot travel. Although these small vessels cannot individually carry large amounts of cargo, several ships in tandem can transport a reasonable amount of goods and passengers up and down the White Knife in good – if somewhat bumpy – time. Hides and timber are particularly popular for this method of transit.

Sitting just above the mouth of the White Knife lies the North’s largest port and city. For over a thousand years, White Harbor has acted as the gateway for the North. Ships call here from the Vale, King’s Landing, Lorath and Braavos, even far-off Ib. Goods are unloaded and transferred to river runners for dispersal on the White Knife, or to be carried on road to the other great strongholds and smaller towns. House Manderly has ruled the town for a millennia, having been forced to flee the Reach and their ancestral castle of Dunstonbury following a long and bitter feud with House Peake. The Starks gave them succour, in return for the Manderlys taking the ancient and derelict castle known as the Wolf Den and building a new fortification around it to secure the White Knife.

The Wolf Den was too old and ruined to continue serving as a fortress, so the Manderlys instead erected the prosaically-named New Castle nearby. The Wolf Den became a prison instead. White Harbor spread out from the New Castle, with a mint, inns, merchants and townhouses being erected. Today several tens of thousands of people live in and around White Harbor.

Almost 200 miles south-east of White Harbor sits Oldcastle, the seat of House Locke overlooking the Bite proper and southwards towards the islands known as the Sisters.

The Barrowlands and the Rills

West of White Harbor and the White Knife, the land opens up in an immense landscape of flat countryside, fields and plains, extending for almost 400 miles to the rivers and hills of the Rills. The Kingsroad passes through the eastern part of this area. The countryside in between is dotted with occasional burial grounds and hills which may be the remnants of mass burial chambers from the age of the First Men. For this reason the region is known as the Barrowlands, and for all its relative fertility is only lightly settled. The vastness of the landscape and the lack of people is striking for visitors to the North not used to the wilderness.

At the far western end of the Barrowlands lies Barrowton. The second-largest town of the North, home to several thousand people, Barrowton is walled and commands the surrounding countryside from the Great Barrow, a large hill in the town said to be the tomb of the First King of the First Men, possibly a giant. Barrow Hall, the seat of House Dustin, sits atop the Great Barrow. Goldgrass, the seat of House Stout, sits just outside Barrowton near the eastern gate.

Not far to the west of Barrowton the area known as the Rills begins. This is a large area consisting of many rivers, streams and ponds, extending for around 200 miles to the north-west (between two large rivers) and for between 200 and 300 miles north to the Wolfswood. The Rills are damp but fertile, ruled by House Ryswell. To the west the land abruptly gives way to stone hills and cliffs, a forbidding grey area of coastline known as the Stony Shore. The Stone Shore forms the west coast of the North for around 250 miles. In ancient times the ironborn raided the Stony Shore and the Rills, but there have been no such raids for several centuries.

North-east of the Rills, about 170 miles due north of Barrowton, lies Torrhen’s Square, the seat of House Tallhart. A formidable, stout keep sitting on the shore of a large lake, Torrhen’s Square commands the lands north into the Wolfswood.

The Wolfswood and Bear Island

The Wolfswood is the largest forest in the Seven Kingdoms, outstripped in size on the continent of Westeros only by the Haunted Forest beyond the Wall. The Wolfswood extends from its far south-eastern eaves to its north-western tip on Sea Dragon Point for about 550 miles. The forest is home to wild wolves, as the name implies, but crofters, hunters and woodsmen make their home there as well. Hills, dales, valleys, streams and small rivers snake through the woods, whilst a major tributary of the White Knife has its source in the deep forest.

Just beyond the northern Wolfswood lies Deepwood Motte, the seat of House Glover. Located fifteen miles from the sea – the immense tidal flats to the north make closer settlement impractical – Deepwood is a large motte-and-bailey castle. In ancient times it defended against ironborn raiders, but again there have been no such raiders for a long time. These days the Glovers mostly patrol the Wolfswood (aided by vassals such as the Forresters, Woods, Branches and Boles) and engage in trade with Bear Island to the north-west.

Bear Island sits in the middle of the Bay of Ice, between Sea Dragon Point and the Frozen Shore. It is a wild land of forests and bears, controlled by House Mormont, who are said to have received the island as a boon from the Starks who’d won it in a wrestling match from the ironborn. The island appears small on maps but is actually of respectable size: 100 miles from west to east and 50 miles from north to south, with a large, sheltered bay in the middle (presumably where the bulk of the settlements lie).

East of the Wolfswood, the Kingsroad draws near to both the woods and the large tributary of the White Knife. At this point can be found Castle Cerwyn, held by the family of the same name and loyal vassals, such as the Condons. The castle marks the beginning of the heartlands of the North. Fifty miles to the north, a fairweather day’s ride with strong and rested horses along the Kingsroad, lies Winterfell.


Winterfell sprawls for acres across the hillscape. No attempt has been made to flatten the lands, so the castle grounds undulate like a snake. The outer walls are 80 feet high, the inner about 100 feet, with a wide moat between and thirty watch-towers guarding them. The walls are made of granite and, according to tradition, have never been breached. Also according to tradition, Winterfell was founded over eight thousand years ago after the Long Night and the War for the Dawn. Almost nothing of the original castle survives, with the structures visible today being much more recent (although still centuries to millennia old). Some parts of the castle have been abandoned due to the fear of collapse.

The Great Keep is the main castle complex, consisting of a large tower, the Great Hall, a covered bridge linking it to an armoury and a small sept. Other structures inside the castle include the long-abandoned First Keep (which, despite its name, does not predate the Andal invasion and is millennia younger than the castle itself), a broken tower destroyed by lightning, an ancient godswood, the glass gardens (greenhouses heated by natural springs, used to grow food), a bell tower, the maester’s turret, the library tower and the guard hall. There are extensive crypts located under the First Keep, where the dead of House Stark are buried.

Just outside the gates lies the winter town. During winter, the crofters, hunters and farmers of the Wolfswood and surrounding lands retreat into the winter town to try to outlast the snows. This swells the population of Winterfell temporarily by thousands of people.

The Neck

The region known as the Neck is still counted as part of the North, although it is separated from the rest of the North by significant geographic barriers. In the west Blazewater Bay divides the Rills from Cape Kraken, whilst in the east it is covered by a vast swampland which makes travel through the region almost impassable apart from along the raised causeway that carries the Kingsroad into the North.

Cape Kraken lies to the north of Ironman’s Bay and the Iron Islands, and was under the occupation of the ironborn for centuries before it was liberated by the northmen and given to the keeping of House Flint (another branch of the same family that holds Widow’s Watch). This was a serious blow for the ironborn, as Cape Kraken contains more land than all of the Iron Islands put together. The Flint Cliffs make attacking the peninsula from the south difficult and the castle of Flint’s Finger defends the best landing on the north coast. Further east the land gives way to deep forests. It is possible to thread through the forests along the coast and reach the far north-western Riverlands and the castle of Seagard (located a formidable 400 miles south-east of Flint’s Finger), but this is mostly desolate and uninhabited land.

The marshlands of the Neck proper are enormous. They stretch for 350 miles from north to south and extend from east to west for 200 miles. The marsh is fed by two rivers, the Fever River from the north and the Green Fork of the Trident from the south. The Neck consists mainly of marsh, swamp and drowned forests, with trees growing out of the water. Snakes and lizard-lions infest the waters, and pools of quicksand are commonplace. The Neck is seen as a deathtrap, completely impassable by those unfamiliar with the landscape.

The Neck is inhabited by a race of diminutive people called the crannogmen. They used to have their own ruler, the Marsh King, until he was defeated by Rickard Stark, the King in the North. Since that time the crannogmen have been ruled by House Reed of Greywater Watch and are among the fiercest allies and vassals of the Starks.

The crannogmen live on islands in the swamp, in houses and holdfasts that are said to move by means unknown. Greywater Watch itself is said to exist on one of these islands and move at random. Only the crannogmen know how to find it.

The only way through the Neck is the Kingsroad and that causeway, and this is protected by a formidable bottleneck. At the northern end of the Neck the causeway passes under the ruined towers of Moat Cailin, located close to the headwaters of the Fever River and the Saltspear. The only way north is to pass under the towers. This is fine in peacetime, but in times of war the towers can be garrisoned with a few hundred archers. These can pick off an army having to march in a very narrow file up the causeway. If an army tried to fan out, it would flounder into the swamp and disaster would result. The natural chokepoint has led to the fact that no army has ever taken Moat Cailin from the south, despite (according to tradition) armies trying for ten thousand years.

That, then, is the North. Utterly vast, lightly inhabited and ancient beyond reckoning.


The noble houses of the North (click for larger version).

Houses of the North

The North is not well-populated compared to the southron kingdoms, which means that the noble families control substantially larger amounts of land and territory than their southern kindred. However, this also means they have less people to populate and work these lands. The northern houses are spread thin.

House Stark rules from Winterfell as the Wardens of the North. The next tier of powerful houses consists of House BoltonHouse Manderly (the richest house), House DustinHouse Karstark, House RyswellHouse Umber, House GloverHouse MormontHouse ReedHouse Wull and House Magnar, arguably in that order. Many of these houses have their own vassals as well. The Starks’ closest and most reliable allies are House Cerwyn, along with their own vassals, House Condon. The Starks also have close vassals living in Winterfell itself, such as House PooleHouse Cassel and House Mollen.

The Manderly vassals include House Locke and House Woolfield, whilst House Stout holds fealty to the Dustins. House Glover commands the fealty to the Wolfswood families: House ForresterHouse BranchHouse Wood and House Bole. House Reed commands the houses of the Neck: House Blackmyre House BoggsHouse CrayHouse FennHouse GreengoodHouse Peat and House Quagg. House Marsh may also be affiliated with the Neck. House Wull is the strongest and most powerful of the mountain clans, but it is not considered to be the overlord of the other clans, who instead act in concert. The other mountain clans consist of House BurleyHouse Flint (or the First Flints), House HarclayHouse KnottHouse Liddle and House Norrey. House Magnar may be the strongest or most formidable family or tribe on the island of Skagos, but this could be disputed by House Crowl and House Stane. Lack of contact with Skagos makes the internal politics of that island unknown to us.

Lesser houses and families of the North include House AshwoodHouse HoltHouse IronsmithHouse LakeHouse LightfootHouse LongHouse MossHouse OvertonHouse Slate (of Blackpool), House WatermanHouse Whitehill and House Wells (not believed to be related to the Dornish family of the same name).

Geographic Map 4: The Wall & Skagos

The maesters of the Citadel teach that magic is a myth, a story-telling convenience that has no relevance or bearing in the modern world. Some, more cautiously, will allow that perhaps once magic did exist but it died out a long time ago. These maesters forge links of Valyrian steel and look into ancient eastern texts or religious scrolls, but cannot light the ancient Valyrian candles or commune with the weirwoods as the Children of the Forest are said to have once done. Magic, they claim, no longer exists.


The Wall and the surrounding lands, c. 297 AC.

For those living along the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, however, they have evidence that magic once did exist and was capable of feats dwarfing that of men today. A solid wall of ice stretches impossibly right across the continent. The Wall, according to tradition, was raised eight thousand years ago at the end of the War for the Dawn, to bar the return of the mysterious Others from out of the Lands of Always Winter. The sworn brotherhood of the Night’s Watch was formed to defend it and hold back the darkness beyond.

The Wall & the Gift

The Wall is almost exactly 300 miles long, extending from the Gorge of the Milkwater to the coast of the Bay of Seals. It is over 30 feet in width at the top, enough for a dozen men to ride abreast, and slightly thicker at the base. The Wall is over 700 feet tall, but in some parts of the east, where the landscape becomes more rugged, hills push the Wall to over 900 feet in height, out-topping even the High Tower of Oldtown. Only the fabled Five Forts of Yi Ti, at 1,000 feet, are said to be taller, and no construction anywhere in the known world can match its sheer size.

The Wall is made of solid ice, although compacted gravel and stone may also be found in its foundations. Some ancient records of the Night’s Watch may reference the Wall being considerably lower than it is now, and that the Wall has increased in height over the millennia as rainfall and snowfall has added to its mass. The sheer height of the Wall is indeed as much of an inconvenience to the defenders as it is to attackers, necessitating complex arrays of switchback stairs or rope-and-pulley lifts to get to the top of the Wall and making defensive fire difficult to coordinate effectively against small, manoeuvrable groups of enemies.

The face of the Wall is sheer, with no handholds. Climbing the Wall requires pinions to be inserted into the ice and ropes used to secure climbers. It is extremely hazardous, time-consuming and impractical for large armies to use, but small raiding parties often scale the Wall in this manner in the autumn and winter to raid into the North of the Seven Kingdoms. During the spring and summer, the Wall often “weeps”, never melting but instead the surface becomes slick and damp. This makes climbing far more difficult.

It is possible to outflank the Wall by sea, but the wildlings do not have a strong naval tradition. The tribes of the Frozen Shore have raiding vessels, but are not numerous enough to carry large armies. The tribes of the eastern Haunted Forest are even less adept at sea travel, and the Night’s Watch maintains a small defensive fleet at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea to challenge them. Again, small groups of raiders can land south of the Wall but not in sufficient numbers to seriously challenge the Night’s Watch.

The final way around the Wall is by land. The Wall extends to the south-eastern edge of the Gorge, the sheer canyon cut into the mountains by the passage of the Milkwater as it enters the Bay of Ice, but not across it. Spanning the Gorge at this point is a narrow stone bridge. Raiding parties could cross the bridge or scale the Gorge, but this weak point is defended by a stout keep, Westwatch-by-the-Bridge. Once a permanently-manned fortress with a garrison of hundreds of rangers, the castle today has fallen into disrepair and the garrison has withdrawn to the more formidable protection of the Shadow Tower several miles to the east. However, the Night’s Watch keep a watch on the bridge and can reinforce it quickly.

Nineteen castles run along the base of the Wall, but only three are now permanently-manned, a consequence of the declining manpower of the Night’s Watch. These are: the Shadow Tower near the western end of the Wall; Castle Black near the middle of the Wall, where it meets the Kingsroad; and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea at the far eastern end of the fortification. Of the remaining castles the largest and most notable is the Nightfort, once the primary stronghold of the Night’s Watch but it was abandoned at the urging of Queen Alysanne Targaryen two centuries ago when the cost of running it became ruinous. The Watch removed its main headquarters east to the far smaller and more practical Castle Black. Although the abandoned castles are no longer permanently manned, the Watch rotates small patrols through them to prevent them being used by bandits or wayfarers.

Each of the castles guards a gate and tunnel through the Wall, but the tunnels in all of the abandoned castles have been filled with rubble and ice to prevent them being used to pass under the Wall. The tunnels at the remaining castles are fortified with multiple gates and defensive positions, along with defences along the top of the Wall including siege weapons, catapults and archers. Although these defend each of the three main castles (and there are still fifteen to sixteen miles between each of even the abandoned fortresses), there are still long stretches of the Wall which are unmanned, allowing small raiding parties of wildlings to slip through the defences.

The Night’s Watch also controls all of the land south of the Wall, coast to coast, for 150 miles. Originally Brandon the Builder granted the Watch all the lands south for 75 miles as the Gift, or Brandon’s Gift, but this was doubled by Queen Alysanne and King Jaehaerys I, with the new stretch known as the New Gift. The Gift consists of a huge stretch of farmland, forest, pasture and, in the west, mountains. At one time this land was heavily farmed and home to many thousands of smallfolk toiling to support the Watch, sending grain and ale and milk up to the Wall. Centuries and millennia ago, the manpower of the Night’s Watch was comfortably counted in the tens of thousands, with men willingly choosing to serve with honour and distinction. When Aegon the Conqueror landed, ten thousand men stood guard on the Wall. But that number has dwindled and today only around a thousand men guard the entire length of the Wall, most of them criminals or exiles. With fewer men guarding the Wall, fewer farmers and blacksmiths are needed to supply them. However, fewer men guarding the Wall also means more raiders and wildlings able to attack farmsteads and smallholdings, discouraging settlers. As a result, the Gift is now largely empty and abandoned, the people moving south for warmer and more readily-defended climes.

There are some villages and farms still extant in the Gift, with the most well-known being Mole’s Town. Located a few hours’ march or ride south-east of Castle Black, the village helps with supplying the Watch and also provides one of the few opportunities for rest and relaxation away from the Wall.

During the long winters, the Wall itself provides significant shelter for the Night’s Watch from the northern storms. In addition, the freezing base of the Wall allows for vast stockpiles of food to be frozen and maintained for years at a time.


The island of Skagos, located in the Bay of Seals off the north-eastern coast of Westeros. Locations on Skagos are highly speculative and should not be relied upon.


Off the far north-eastern coast of the Seven Kingdoms lies a foreboding cluster of islands. There are seven islands large enough to appear on maps and many smaller clusters of rocks dotting their shores. The largest island is known as Skagos.

From north to south Skagos measures about 225 miles. The island is about 145 miles wide at its widest point. The island is large and mountainous, with significant interior areas of highlands and mountains.

The island is windswept and grim, lashed by fierce storms in autumn and winter and effectively cut off from the outside world. It is, however, inhabited. The Skagosi, or “stoneborn”, are a hardy people, known for their ferocity and savagery in battle. In the distant past the Skagosi would cross the Bay of Seals on boats to raid and trade with the Kingdom of the North. They were defeated by King Brandon IX Stark who drove off their raiding parties, built a fleet and invaded Skagos itself. He routed their armies, destroyed their ships and shipyards and forbade them the sea. Unruly vassals at the best of times, the Skagosi rose again in rebellion during the reign of King Daeron II Targaryen, forcing Lord Barthogan Stark to re-invade the island. The Skagosi were defeated but Lord Barthogan was slain.

Locations on the island of Skagos are speculative. Three major Skagosi clans or houses control the main island: the Crowls of Deepdown, the Stanes of Driftwood Hall and the Magnars of Kingshouse. However, they disdain the presence of septons or maesters, so the fine details of the geography of the islands remains a mystery.

The Skagosi have limited contact with the mainland, although they remain vassals of the Starks of Winterfell. It is known that they honour the tradition of taking the black: a Crowl served as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch a thousand years ago and a Stane served as First Ranger for a time.

Other details about the island are sparse. We know that the Skagosi are hairy and there is a suggestion of a contact with the distant eastern island of Ib. How plausible this is, with Ib located over three thousand miles to the east, is unclear. The Skagosi remain deeply immersed in the culture of the First Men, continuing to speak the Old Tongue and worshipping the old gods of the forest. The Skagosi are also known to trade in pelts and obsidian – dragonglass – blades and arrowheads, hinting at possible volcanic activity on the Skagosi islands. Another curious claim is that the Skagosi use “unicorns” as both steeds and beasts of burden. Some research by maesters suggest that these “unicorns” may be no more than a hardy species of goat with a single horn, but the truth of the matter remains unclear.

The other Skagosi islands appear to be lightly inhabited, if at all: Skane, a small island located to the north-west of Skagos, was raided and its entire population either killed or enslaved centuries ago.


The building of the Wall, artwork by Chase Stone for The World of Ice and Fire.


Assuming uniform dimensions of 700 feet tall by 30 feet wide by 300 miles long, the Wall would consist of 33,264,000,000 cubic feet of ice. At roughly 57.2 pounds per cubic foot, the Wall therefore weighs about 951,350,400 tons (or 863,050,565,273 kg).

The Greenland ice sheet loses 250 billion tons of ice per year (9 trillion in a century, raising sea levels by about 1 inch so far), or around 250 times the total volume of the Wall annually, so the Wall melting would make negligible impact on global sea levels. It would, however, likely result in extensive localised flooding along the coast and on Bear Island and Skagos.

The size of Skagos, when the smaller islands are added, appears to closely match that of the island of Ireland.

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.