When George R.R. Martin created A Song of Ice and Fire, he wrote it to be unfilmable. The continent of Westeros is a diverse landscape, housing dozens of microclimates, from the snowy North to the sandy shores of Dorne. Over eight seasons, the show explored all these complex landscapes. But for someone just getting into the series, let’s review: What are the seven kingdoms in Game of Thrones?
For those who need to know “Where in Westeros Are We,” the title sequence's map of significant locations (which changes each season) is key to enjoying the show. But even with the opening credits swinging around from city to city, it can be hard to remember where exactly everything is located. The Wall is North, of course, and Essos is across the Narrow Sea. But where is the Eyrie as opposed to the Twins as opposed to Highgarden? How far is King’s Landing from Winterfell? Let’s refresh what exactly those fighting for the Iron Throne are fighting for, and where it all is.
Let’s start with the name "The Seven Kingdoms," which is a misnomer. It's a leftover from earlier times, before Aegon’s Conquest. After the war ended, Aegon kept the title “Lord of the Seven Kingdoms” even as he redistricted.
When Game of Thrones’ current day events begins, there are nine kingdoms:
- The North
- The Vale
- The Iron Islands
- The Riverlands
- The Crownlands
- The Stormlands
- The Westerlands
- The Reach
The North is the largest continental segment of Westeros. On the day Aegon landed, it was ruled by Torrhen Stark, who was known as "The King of Winter."
House Stark has ruled the North since the Age of Heroes and the Long Night, some 8,000 years before Aegon's Conquest. The Stark lineage has a lineage that extends back to the Dawn Age and the First Men.
They were also one of the first to bend the knee to Targaryen rule without a fight. Torrhen may be remembered as the King Who Knelt, but he kept his people safe, and his family in power.
Known as "The Vale of Arryn," it was part of a larger holding known as "The Mountain and Vale” and where the Andals began their invasion when they conquered the continent from the First Men. Consequently, the Arryn family is one of the oldest Andal lineages in Westeros.
When Aegon came, House Arryn bent the knee along with House Stark. Aegon granted the rechristened “Vale” area as the family’s holdings in return.
The Crownlands is the other of the two “added” kingdoms after Aegon’s arrival. It was an area under dispute between the Stormlands and the Riverlands when Aegon arrived, and subsequently fell to the Targaryens when Aegon arrived in the area of it now known as “King’s Landing.”
The Targaryens henceforth considered this peninsula area, which surrounds the island of Dragonstone where they originally settled prior to the conquest, to be the family’s personal holdings.
The Stormlands lie directly to the south of the Crownlands. Ruled for centuries by House Durrandon, it once extended from the Vale mountains to Dorne’s marshes, and west into the central plains of The Reach. Misrule shrunk its borders until Durrandon was barely holding on to the Crownlands when Aegon arrived.
King Argilac refused to bend the knee, and his failed bid to turn the invaders back became known as “The Last Storm,” his forces beaten by Orys Baratheon, Aegon Targaryen's bastard brother. But House Durrandon was not completely eradicated. Argilac’s daughter, Argella, survived, and the Targaryens wisely chose to use her to help legitimize their takeover, marrying her to Orys Baratheon.
In the center of Westeros lies the Riverlands. The early Game Of Thrones seasons spend a lot of time here, including Riverrun, The Twins, Harrenhal, and the Bloody Gate. As the center of the continent, it's an area long under dispute. The First Men drove out the Children, and were in turn conquered by the Andals, who fell to the Storm Kings, who finally lost their holdings to House Hoare.
When the Hoares and Harrenhal were burned by dragonfire, “The Kingdom of Isles and Rivers” was divided back into two. (The Riverlands is the Eighth of the Seven Kingdoms.) The Iron Islands were fine with that, blaming Hoare’s obsession with mainland politics for his defeat. Meanwhile, House Tully, who supported Aegon because it meant getting back these lands from the Iron Islanders, were named Wardens of the Riverlands.
The Iron Islands
The Iron Islands are an outlier, with their Drowned God and Kingsmoot elections. Settled by seafaring First Men in the Dawn Age, they were ruled for years by the Greyirons. During the Andal rule, the Greyirons were overthrown by House Hoare, who turned their eyes towards the mainland, creating “The Kingdom of Isles and Rivers,” with a planned centralized government run out of the newly built Harrenhal.
Harrenhal famously was completed on the day Aegon arrived, and burned first. After the Targaryens destroyed House Hoare, Aegon allowed the Ironborn to hold a Kingsmoot, which the Greyjoys won. The islands stayed neutral through the Targaryen empire and Robert's Rebellion, until Balon rebelled because he thought Robert was a weak king. Balon re-bent the knee after Stannis put down the rebellion about a decade before the story begins.
Known as the Kingdom of the Rock, House Lannister ruled The Westerlands since the Age of Heroes, when they tricked House Gardener into giving it to them. When the Andals invaded, they teamed up with the invaders rather than fight, which is how they kept their lands.
When the Targaryens came, The Lannisters initially joined with Houses Hoare, Durrandon, and Gardener to form a united front against the invaders. But House Hoare burned, House Gardener was eradicated at the battle known as "the Field of Fire," and House Durrandon was taken out directly following. The Lannisters quickly (and loudly) bent the knee, smooth-talking Aegon into keeping their holdings as Wardens of the West.
The Reach is the second-largest territory after The North. The temperate climates make it the fertile crescent of the Seven Kingdoms. The ruling House Gardener’s line goes back to the Dawn Age. Fearsome fighters, they warred with the Dornish for generations over their shared border. The last of the line, King Mern IX, took half of the Stormlands from House Durrandon not long before Aegon's Conquest.
As the oldest continuously ruling family in Westeros (older even than the Starks) House Gardner was the leader of the fight against the Targaryen invasion. Aegon was merciless: Mern and all seven of his descendants were killed at the Field of Fire. The Tyrells were the Gardener's stewards, and in the face of defeat, surrendered the Reach. Aegon named them Warden, but kept a sharp eye on them. The Tyrells never once openly put a foot out of place, but their ability to manipulate behind the scenes became legendary.
Dorne gets totally shafted by the series, but in the books, this is the most fascinating of the Seven Kingdoms. Originally a loose confederation of nation-states, it was conquered by the Rhoynar, who were driven out of Essos by the Valyrians (including the Targaryen family). Unlike the other litany of Westeros-based conquests over the generations, this one had no battles, just mass migration followed by intermarriage. The ambitious fallen rulers of the Rhoynar married into the powerful Martell clan, forming the current ruling family.
The progressive attitudes toward women, sex, and bastards ported over from Essos with them, as well as the stylization the title "Prince" instead of "King" once the Martells settled into power. The long-standing resentment at being driven from their ancestral home was part of what drove the Dornish refusal to bend the knee to the Valyrian Targaryens. But unlike the other kingdoms, they defeated Aegon when he attempted to take it.
The Targaryens wound up having to conquer Dorne the way the Rhoynish had: Intermarriage. Those began in 187 AC, over halfway through the Targaryen’s 300-year reign. The pact of Targaryen to Martell marriages allowed the Dornish to keep their "Prince" and "Princess" titles, and forced the Dragon Lords to partially give up their practice of incest. (As their dragons died out by 153 AC, it wasn’t like there was a reason to keep the bloodline pure anymore anyway.)
This intermingling of the bloodlines tied the Dornish tighter to the Targaryens than any other kingdoms. It also left the Dornish on the wrong side during Robert's Rebellion, and they’ve been at odds with the rest of the continent ever since.
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