- World of A Song of Ice and Fire
and across the narrow sea
A Song of Ice and Fire location Creator George R. R. Martin Genre Novel Type Fantasy world Notable locations The Wall
Notable characters House Baratheon
The fictional world in which the A Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R. R. Martin take place is divided into several continents. Most of the story takes place on the continent Westeros, which consists of the Seven Kingdoms and an unmapped area to the north, separated by a massive wall of ice.
Two other continents share the world in which Westeros resides. The vast continent of Essos lies to the east, across the narrow sea. The closest foreign nations to Westeros are the Free Cities, a collection of independent city-states along the western edge of this eastern continent. The lands along the southern coastline of the eastern continent, collectively called the Lands of the Summer Sea, include Slavers Bay and the ruins of Valyria, the former home of Westeros's Targaryen kings.
To the south of Essos lies the continent of Sothoryos. Little is known about the continent save that it is inhabited by dark-skinned people and is "jungly, plague-ridden and largely unexplored".
- 1 Westeros
- 1.1 The North
- 1.2 The Iron Islands
- 1.3 The Riverlands
- 1.4 The Vale of Arryn
- 1.5 The Westerlands
- 1.6 The Reach
- 1.7 The Stormlands
- 1.8 Dorne
- 1.9 Crownlands
- 2 Across the narrow sea
- 3 Religion
- 4 Biology
- 5 References
The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place mainly on the continent of Westeros. It is roughly equivalent in area to South America. However, there is a large amount of land to the far north that remains unmapped, due to the extremely cold temperatures and hostile inhabitants known as wildlings. The northern lands of Westeros are less densely populated than the south. Westeros was originally divided into several independent kingdoms before the consolidation of the War of Conquest. After this war the different regions were united under the rule of House Targaryen in what is known as the Seven Kingdoms, but every region is under control of one of the major houses. Two regions were never an independent kingdom: The Riverlands and the Crownlands, hence the Seven Kingdoms consists of nine regions. Properly speaking, the term "the Seven Kingdoms" refers specifically to the lands once ruled by House Targaryen, which is not synonymous with the term "Westeros", which refers to the entire continent. While the Targaryen realm known as "the Seven Kingdoms" includes the majority of the continent, the lands beyond the Wall in the extreme north are part of "Westeros" but not part of "the Seven Kingdoms."
Westeros is at the mercy of erratic seasons that may last for many years, but whose duration is unpredictable. At the beginning of A Song of Ice and Fire the continent has enjoyed a decade-long summer, and many fear that an equally long and harsh winter will follow.
The North consists of the northern half of Westeros and is ruled by House Stark from Winterfell. The North is a vast but (Compared with the rest of Westeros) sparsely populated stretch of land. It is bigger than the other six kingdoms combined. The city of White Harbor is described as a thriving port. The region's northern border is the New Gift, given to the Night's Watch in perpetuity by Queen Alysane which is measured as 50 leagues from the wall. The North is separated from the South by the Neck, an isthmus of swampland. The Neck is home to small, marsh-dwelling crannogmen and ruled by House Reed, bannermen of Winterfell. The narrowness of the region and the difficulty of the terrain along with the almost impenetrable (by southern walls) Moat Cailin make it a natural border for the North, protecting it from invasion. Bastards born in the North are given the surname Snow.
The Wall is a massive wall of ice on the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms. According to legends in the series it was made 8000 years ago by Brandon the Builder, in order to protect the Seven Kingdoms from a threat from the north. The Night's Watch guards the wall, but has decreased in numbers in recent times. Of the nineteen castles along the wall only three are manned. At least some of the castles have gates opening to the north. Although wildlings cannot get through the wall some few manage to scale it, or sail around it near the coasts. To the south of the wall is a strip of land known as "the Gift", from which the Night's Watch supports itself. While it does border the North, the Wall and the Gift lands technically have independent and extra-legal status. The Night's Watch has maintained this control for thousands of years to support their guarding of the Wall, and when the Targaryens conquered and unified the Seven Kingdoms they allowed the Night's Watch to continue this control while nominally swearing allegiance to the Targaryen kings.
Winterfell is the name given to the ancestral castle of House Stark. Located in the cold North it is heated by hot water from the spring beneath the castle, which is piped through its walls. The castle has deep catacombs where the bodies of Starks are entombed within statues. The tombs range back all the way to the old Kings of the North, before Aegon the Conquerer.
The Iron Islands
The Iron Islands are a group of seven islands—Pyke, Great Wyk, Old Wyk, Harlaw, Saltcliffe, Blacktyde and Orkmont—lying in Ironman's Bay off the western coast of the continent. The inhabitants of these harsh and forbidding isles are known in the rest of Westeros as Ironmen, amongst themselves as 'The Ironborn'. They are ruled by House Greyjoy of Pyke, chosen to rule the Ironmen after Black Harren's line was extinguished during the Conquest. Prior to the arrival of Aegon the Conqueror, the Ironmen ruled over the Riverlands and much of the western coast of Westeros. The Ironmen are fierce men of the sea, and their naval supremacy was once unmatched, their dark legacy of raids and pillage of the hinterlands of the western and southern regions granting them, to this day, a fearsome reputation as the "terror of the seas". After the Andals invaded the Iron Islands they intermarried with the native population. Their descendents stopped worshipping the Andal religion of The Seven in favour of the worship of the Drowned God. Bastards born in the Iron Islands are given the surname Pyke.
Pyke is the seat of House Greyjoy, which for years has ruled over the Iron Islands. The castle of Pyke is built on the end of a rocky peninsula on the island of Pyke. Pyke's throne is the Seastone Chair. The endless pounding of the sea has worn away much of the rock on which Pyke originally stood, so the castle now consists mostly of a main keep on the main island and smaller towers perched on rocks in the sea. These towers are linked by stone arches for the smaller gaps, swaying rope bridges for larger ones. Lordsport is a village on the far end of the island, overlooked by the castle of House Botley.
During the Greyjoy Rebellion, Lordsport and the Botley stronghold were razed by Robert Baratheon, and Pyke was besieged and conquered by his forces. Balon Greyjoy was left as Lord of Pyke, but his son Theon was taken as hostage, to be fostered by Eddard Stark. In the years since the rebellion, Lordsport has been rebuilt, save for the sept, and Lord Botley built a small stone keep to replace the old timber and wattle castle.
The Riverlands are the fertile areas between the forks of the Trident. They are the domain of the Tullys of Riverrun. The Riverlands have had a turbulent history after the fall of the old Riverkings at the hands of the other southern kingdoms being ruled by one of them at one time or another. At the time of the conquest the Riverlands were ruled by House Hoare of the Iron Islands, and thus the Tullys were never kings of the Riverlands, but were rebel riverlords who left Harren the Black in favor of Aegon the Conqueror. Bastards born in the Riverlands are given the surname Rivers.
Located on the northern shore of Gods Eye, a lake in the central part of Westeros, Harrenhal was built by Harren the Black to be the greatest castle ever constructed. Made of black stone, with numerous massive towers and a great hall large enough to hold an army, the castle was a monument to Harren's hubris. But Harren had scarcely finished his work when Aegon the Conqueror began his invasion. Harrenhal's thick, high walls were useless against Aegon's dragons. Dragonfire cracked and melted the castle's stone, killing Harren and his sons. Harren's line was obliterated and his kingdom conquered.
Since Harren's disaster, the castle has been occupied by a variety of houses. Many lords and residents over the ages have met bad ends, giving the castle the reputation of being cursed. This, combined with the logistical and economic difficulties inherent in keeping such an enormous castle maintained and garrisoned, has made the castle something of a white elephant.
At the start of the War of the Five Kings, the castle was in poor shape, with only a fraction of it maintained. After Tywin Lannister seized the castle his daughter, Queen Cersei, gave ownership to Janos Slynt, but her brother and the Hand of the King, Tyrion Lannister quickly revoked the award and sent Slynt to the Wall. Tyrion's father Tywin later gave the castle instead to Petyr Baelish, who has held nominal ownership of Harrenhal ever since, without ever setting foot in it.
Over the course of the war, Harrenhal changed hands numerous times, and was the site of many atrocities. After the Brave Companions mercenary company betrayed the castle's Lannister garrison, Roose Bolton took over. After Bolton abandoned the castle, Gregor Clegane demolished the Brave Companions and retook the castle for the Lannisters.
Riverrun is the ancestral stronghold of House Tully, lords of the riverlands since the Conquest. The castle is a massive structure of sandstone, triangular in shape, located at a fork of the Tumblestone River. Some have compared the keep to a massive ship. It is possible to enter Riverrun from the Tumblestone, by way of a waterway downstream from the Wheel Tower, as well as through the main entrance. The castle is bordered on two sides by the Tumblestone and the Red Fork, and the third side fronts on a massive manmade ditch, which is flooded to create a moat when the castle is under siege. Riverrun is crowned by a massive watchtower, which allows defenders in the stronghold to spot enemies approaching for miles. This advantage, combined with the defensive barrier provided by the rivers and moat, makes the castle extremely hard to take.
Riverrun was the location of Robb Stark's elevation to the rank of King in the North. The River Lords of the Trident, who had never been part of the old Northern Kingdom, also proclaimed their support for King Robb, and devoted their armies and castles to his service (with the notable exception of Walder Frey). At the beginning of the War of the Five Kings, Jaime Lannister besieged Riverrun with a massive host, but was defeated and captured by Robb Stark at the Battle of Whispering Wood. His host was later destroyed. When Lord Tywin Lannister later tried to attack into the riverlands again, Edmure Tully drove back his assaults, saving Riverrun from attack. But after the death of King Robb at the Red Wedding, the Lannisters and Freys once again besieged the castle. The siege was disorganized (due to quarrels between the leaders of the Lannister and Frey delegations) and largely ineffective, even though Ser Ryman Frey held Lord Edmure Tully hostage. Ser Brynden Tully the Blackfish was able to defy the besiegers until Jaime Lannister arrived and negotiated a settlement with the captive Lord Edmure, who surrendered the castle rather than have Jaime storm it and butcher his people. Riverrun then passed into the weak hands of Emmon Frey, an ally of House Lannister.
The Twins are a heavily fortified set of castles connected by a stone arch bridge on the Green Fork river. This bridge is wide enough for two wagons to cross abreast and guarded by a tower in the middle known as the Water Tower. The Twins have been the seat of House Frey for over six hundred years and they have grown wealthy by charging a heavy toll on all those who need to cross, as it is the only place to do so within several days travel. As the Freys are both wealthy and numerous they are one of the most powerful houses sworn to House Tully, able to send into war nearly one thousand knights and other cavalry, and three thousand men-at-arms, and still hold the Twins with a garrison of at least four hundred men. Still, the Freys have been of suspect loyalty in the past and the current head of the House, Lord Walder Frey, is known as a prickly and prideful old man.
During the War of the Five Kings, the Freys rose in rebellion against the Iron Throne, for the King in the North. The rebellion was contingent on a Frey's betrothal to Robb Stark. However, after Robb Stark broke his betrothal to a Frey for a Westerling, Lord Walder Frey plotted his revenge for the slight. Lord Frey arranged another marriage between Lord Edmure Tully and his daughter, Lady Roslin Frey. Conspiring with Lord Roose Bolton of the Dreadfort and Lord Tywin Lannister, Lord Frey smuggled in a host of sellswords and knights disguised as musicians. During the wedding, the "musicians" began to kill the household and supporters of the King in the North, including Robb's mother, Lady Catelyn Stark, and took Edmure Tully, Lord of Riverrun, captive. This event became known as the Red Wedding. As many northmen were killed violating guest right it set much of the North against the Freys, and those who didn't are still rather uncomfortable with the Freys.
The Vale of Arryn
The Vale is the area surrounded almost completely by the Mountains of the Moon. The Vale is under the rulership of House Arryn, one of the oldest lines of Andal nobility and, before Aegon's conquest, Kings of Mountain and Vale. Their seat, the Eyrie, is a castle high in the mountains, small but unassailable. The only way to the top is a treacherous goat path. Due to the Vale's harsh winters, travel is possible through the mountains only in summer. Rebellious mountain clans make travel to the Vale from the rest of the Seven Kingdoms dangerous. Bastards born in the Vale are given the surname Stone.
The Eyrie is the ancient seat of House Arryn, one of the oldest lines of Andal nobility. It is situated high on the mountain known as the Giant's Lance, and is reachable only by a narrow mule trail, guarded by the Gates of the Moon and three small waycastles; Stone, Snow and Sky. The Eyrie is the smallest of the Westeros great castles, consisting of seven slim towers. Its cellars hold six great winches with long iron chains to draw supplies and occasionally guests up from down below. Some have great wicker baskets and others large wooden buckets big enough to hold three men. Oxen are used to raise and lower them. While many, including Lysa Arryn, claim that the Eyrie is impregnable on account of its mountainous surroundings, this advantage is not permanent, as winter snows can make supplying the fortress impossible. The Eyrie's dungeons, known as "sky cells," are particularly infamous; they are left open to the cold sky and have sloping floors that put prisoners on edge with fear of slipping or rolling off the edge in their sleep, causing many prisoners to commit suicide rather than remain imprisoned. Executions in the Eyrie are carried out via the Moon Door, which opens from the high hall onto a sickening six hundred foot drop to the stones of the mountain. The Eyrie is also unique in that it lacks a godswood; no weirwood tree would take root in the stony soil.
The Eyrie was held by Lord Jon Arryn, who fostered Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon prior to Robert's Rebellion, or War of the Usurper. Lord Arryn was the first to raise his banners in support of Houses Baratheon and Stark, against King Aerys "the Mad" of House Targaryen. After the war Lord Arryn served as King Robert I Baratheon's Hand of the King. After Lord Arryn was assassinated, his wife Lady Lysa Arryn took her sickly child, Robert, and fled once more to the Eyrie. Lysa refused to align herself with any of the claimants during the War of the Five Kings, but eventually pretends to a possible alliance with House Lannister after Lord Petyr Baelish agreed to marry her. Baelish killed Lysa after she attempted to murder her niece Sansa Stark, disguised as Baelish's bastard daughter, Alayne Stone, and now rules in the Eyrie as the Lord Protector and Regent for the sickly, stunted child Lord Robert Arryn.
The Westerlands are the lands to the west of the Riverlands and north of the Reach. They are ruled by House Lannister of Casterly Rock, formerly Kings of the Rock. People of this region are often called "Westermen." Lannisport, lying hard by Casterly Rock, is the chief town of the region and one of the great ports and cities of Westeros. The Westerlands are rich in precious metals, mostly gold, which is the source of their wealth. Bastards born in the Westerlands are given the surname Hill.
A stronghold carved from a mountain overlooking the harbor-city of Lannisport and the sea beyond, Casterly Rock is the ancestral seat of House Lannister. According to popular legend, the hero known as Lann the Clever tricked the Casterlys into giving up the Rock, and took it for himself. The Rock is renowned as one of the strongest castles of the Seven Kingdoms. It was held by Lord Tywin Lannister prior to the War of the Five Kings, but after his death, Queen Regent Cersei Lannister made one of her cousins castellan of the castle.
A busy port under the governance of the Lannisters in nearby Casterly Rock, it thrives as it is a protected, wealthy city. There are many lesser Lannisters in the city and also Lannys and other such surnames.
The Reach is the fertile ground ruled by House Tyrell from Highgarden. The Tyrells were stewards to House Gardener, the Kings of the Reach before Aegon's conquest. After the last Gardener King was killed on the Field of Fire, the Tyrells surrendered Highgarden to Aegon and were rewarded with both the castle and the position of overlords of the Reach. Bannermen of the Tyrells frequently fight with the Dornishmen of the south. The borderlands between the two regions, called the Dornish Marches, are populated on the north side by marcher lords loyal to the Tyrells. The most prominent city in the Reach is Oldtown. It is the oldest city in Westeros, home to the Maester's Citadel, and the previous seat of the Faith. Bastards born in the Reach are given the surname Flowers.
Oldtown is one of the largest cities in Westeros and is by far the oldest, built by the First Men before the Andal Invasion. It survived the invasion by welcoming the Andals, not resisting them. The city is located in the south-west of Westeros, at the mouth of the River Honeywine where it opens onto Whispering Sound and the Sunset Sea beyond.
Oldtown is primarily known as the location of the Citadel, home of the order of Maesters who serve as councillors, doctors, scientists, and postmasters for the Seven Kingdoms. The city's Starry Sept was the seat of the Holy Faith of the Seven until the construction of the Great Sept of Baelor in King's Landing. Aegon the Conqueror's reign is dated from his entrance into the city of Oldtown and his acknowledgment as King by the High Septon.
Oldtown is also one of the most important ports of the Seven Kingdoms: trading ships from the Summer Islands, the Free Cities, the eastern cities, and the rest of Westeros constantly crowd into its harbors. The city itself is stunningly beautiful; many rivers and canals crisscross its cobbled streets, and breathtaking stone mansions are common. The city lacks the squalor of King's Landing, which usurped its position as the pre-eminent city of Westeros.
The largest structure in the city, and also the tallest structure in Westeros, is the Hightower, a massive stepped lighthouse which extends some 800 feet (240 m) into the sky and is topped by a huge beacon which can be seen for many miles out to sea. Oldtown is ruled from the Hightower by House Hightower. Originally kings in their own right, they later swore fealty to the Gardeners of Highgarden, and later became vassals of the Tyrells after the Conquest. The Hightowers are known for their loyalty and stalwartness. The current ruler of the city is Lord Leyton Hightower.
Oldtown remained aloof from the War of the Five Kings, but late in the war the ironborn under King Euron Greyjoy launched a massive raid along the coast, conquering the Shield Islands and parts of the Arbor before trying to blockade the mouth of the Honeywine. An attempt to attack the city harbour was repulsed by the city's defenders. Oldtown remains under threat from the ironborn.
The Stormlands are the areas between King's Landing and the Sea of Dorne. In the east they are bordered by Shipbreaker Bay and the Dornish Sea to the south. Before Aegon's conquest they were ruled by the Storm Kings, and afterwards by House Baratheon, bastard relatives to the Targaryens. The Dornish Marches are located within this region, having been conquered by the Storm Kings, and are ruled by house Caron and lesser marcher lords. The marches were common battlegrounds between the Stormlands, the Reach and Dorne until the last century, when Dorne joined the Seven Kingdoms. Bastards born in the Stormlands are given the surname Storm.
Storm's End is the seat of House Baratheon and, before them, the ancestral seat of the Storm Kings extending back many thousands of years. According to legend, the first Storm King in the age of the First Men was Durran, who won the love of Elenei, the daughter of the sea god and the goddess of the wind. He took her as wife, and in a rage her parents sent vast storms to shatter his keep and kill his wedding guests and family. Durran declared war against the gods and raised several castles over Shipbreaker Bay, each larger and more formidable than the last. Finally, the seventh castle stayed in place and resisted the storms. Some believe this is because the Children of the Forest took a hand in its construction; others believe that a young boy who grew up to be Brandon Stark, the builder of the Wall, advised Durran on its construction. The truth of the matter is unknown.
Storm's End is exceptionally formidable. In the history of Seven Kingdoms, it has never fallen to either siege or storm. Its outer defences consist of a huge curtain wall, 100 feet (30 m) tall and 40 feet (12 m) thick on its thinnest side, nearly 80 feet (24 m) thick on its seaward side. The wall consists of a double course of stones with an inner core of sand and rubble. The wall is smooth and curving, the stones so well placed that there are nearly no places where the wind can get into cracks between the stones. On the seaward side, there is a 150-foot (46 m) drop below the wall into the sea.
The castle itself consists of one huge drum tower crowned with formidable battlements, so that from a distance enemies can see what appears to be a single huge, spiked fist thrusting towards the sky in defiance. The tower is so large that it can comfortably contain stables, barracks, armoury and lord's chambers all in the same structure.
Storm's End is said to be protected by spells woven into the very walls that prevent the use of any magic against it.
Although never taken in battle, Storm's End has endured several sieges and battles in recent history. The last Storm King, Argilac the Arrogant, abandoned his impressive defences to meet Orrys Baratheon in open battle during Aegon Targaryen's War of Conquest, and suffered accordingly. During the War of the Usurper, Storm's End was besieged for a year by the host of Lord Mace Tyrell, who commanded the landward forces, whilst Paxter Redwyne's fleet of the Arbor kept the castle cut off by sea. Stannis Baratheon, commanding the defence, refused to yield and his men were reduced to eating rats. A smuggler named Davos Seaworth ran the blockade to resupply the castle and Stannis rewarded him by knighting him, but took several of his fingers as punishment for all his previous smuggling. After the war, Stannis was furious when his brother Robert, now king, gave the castle to their younger brother Renly and placed Stannis in command of cold, windswept Dragonstone, which led to many years of bitterness on Stannis' part. During the War of the Five Kings the castle supported Renly and was besieged by Stannis. Following Renly's death, the castle castellan refused to yield. He was killed under mysterious circumstances after the red priestess Melisandre was smuggled under the castle. Soon after this, the castle surrendered to Stannis's forces. Later in the war, the castle was besieged by a strong army under Mace Tyrell, but he only had the castle under siege for a few weeks before he abandoned the siege to return to King's Landing after the arrest of his daughter Margaery by the High Septon for immoral behaviour. The castle remains loyal to King Stannis Baratheon.
Dorne is the southernmost and least populated  land of Westeros. It stretches from the high mountains of the Dornish marches to the southern coast of the continent. It is the hottest kingdom in Westeros and features the only desert on the continent. Dornishmen have a reputation for hot-bloodedness as well. They differ both culturally and ethnically from other Westerosi due to the historical mass immigration of Rhoynish people. They have adopted many Rhoynish customs as well, including equal primogeniture. Dorne was the only kingdom in Westeros to successfully resist Aegon's conquest. It joined the Seven Kingdoms through marriage over a century after the Targaryen invasion. This accomplishment has allowed Dorne to retain a small measure of independence. Lords of the ruling House Martell still style themselves "Prince" and "Princess" in the Rhoynish fashion. Bastards born in Dorne are given the surname Sand.
The lands surrounding King's Landing are ruled directly by the crown on the Iron Throne. Besides King's Landing, which is the largest city in Westeros, the Crownlands also include the towns of Rosby and Duskendale. They are south of the Vale, southeast of the Riverlands, east of the Westlands, and north of the Reach and Stormlands. The Targaryen kings formed the Crownlands from sparsely populated pieces of the surrounding kingdoms after their conquest. The area overlooks Blackwater Bay and the bastards born there are given the surname Waters. The original Targaryen homeland on the island of Dragonstone is also considered part of the Crownlands.
Dragonstone was once the westernmost outpost of the ancient Freehold of Valyria. A century before the Doom, the Targaryen family was sent to Dragonstone to rule there. When the Doom came upon Valyria, House Targaryen survived along with the last of the Valyrian dragons. Another century later, Aegon Targaryen and his sisters Rhaenys and Visenya launched a massive campaign of conquest from the island, and eventually conquered all of Westeros except for Dorne. Aegon's progeny would reign as kings of the Seven Kingdoms for centuries.
Dragonstone is a massive, forbidding fortress, taking up a large portion of the island of the same name. The castle is unique in that the masons of Valyria carved its towers and keeps into the shapes of dragons, and made ferocious gargoyles to cover its walls. The castle's lower levels are oddly warm; there is still some volcanic activity deep below the keep. There is a small port and town outside of the castle.
During the War of the Usurper, previous to the Sack of King's Landing, the Targaryen Queen Rhaella, who was pregnant, and her son Viserys were sent to Dragonstone along with part of the Targaryen fleet and a garrison of loyal soldiers. But after King's Landing fell, Robert Baratheon dispatched his brother Stannis to take the island stronghold. After a storm destroyed the royalist fleet, the Targaryen garrison tried to betray Viserys and his newborn sister, Daenerys, to Stannis (the queen had died in childbirth). But Targaryen loyalists led by Ser Willem Darry spirited the children away. Stannis conquered Dragonstone easily, and King Robert granted him ownership of the castle, which Stannis took as a slight, because his younger brother Renly then inherited Storm's End, the ancient seat of House Baratheon. Upon Robert's death, Stannis declared himself King, condemning the Queen's children as bastards born of incest. Dragonstone became his main seat; he returned there after the disastrous Battle of King's Landing. His councillor, the red priestess Melisandre of Asshai, tried to convince him to let her raise the "stone dragon" of the castle through blood magic, but was thwarted by Lord Davos Seaworth, who convinced Stannis to go north to the Wall to help fight against the wildlings and the Others. After Stannis abandoned Dragonstone, Queen Regent Cersei Lannister dispatched a fleet to barricade it, and ordered the castle besieged. But Ser Loras Tyrell, impatient to free the fleet to protect his home castle of Highgarden, attacked Dragonstone directly. He took the castle, but lost thousands of men and was himself reportedly gravely wounded. Dragonstone now once again belongs to the Iron Throne.
King's Landing is the capital of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms. It is situated on the Blackwater river on the spot where Aegon the Conqueror landed in Westeros to begin his conquest. The main city is surrounded by a wall, manned by a city watch nicknamed the gold cloaks, after the cloaks they wear. Within the walls, the city's natural landscape is dominated by three hills, named after Aegon and his two sisters. Poorer smallfolk build shanty settlements outside the city. King's Landing is extremely populous, but rather unsightly and dirty. The stench of the city's waste can be smelled far beyond its walls.
The royal castle, called the Red Keep, sits on Aegon's Hill. The Keep holds the Iron Throne, the seat of the monarch. Aegon commissioned the throne's construction from the swords of his defeated enemies. According to legend, he kept the blades sharp because he believed that no ruler should ever sit comfortably. Centuries later, kings still cut themselves on the throne. It is a common belief that one who cuts himself on the throne has been 'rejected' by the throne and is therefore not fit to rule.
The city also holds the Great Sept of Baelor, where the Most Devout convene with the High Septon. It is the holiest sept of the Seven.
The slums of King's Landing are called Flea Bottom, where residents are so poor they regularly subsist on "bowls of brown", a mystery stew that can include the meat of puppies and murder victims.
King's Landing has an estimated population of more than 500,000 as stated by Tyrion when he meets Oberyn Martell on his arrival to King's Landing.
Across the narrow sea
Part of the narrative in A Song of Ice and Fire lies across the narrow sea from Westeros, an area comprising the large eastern continent named Essos and a number of islands. The toponym 'Essos' has never been used in the narrative itself, but Martin has referred to the continent as such in interviews.
The Narrow Sea separates Westeros and the lands to the east. In the north of the sea lies the icy island of Ibben and in the south the hot Summer Isles. The lands to the east of the narrow sea are mostly consolidated into a large continent named Essos. Being roughly the size of Eurasia, this continent's geography and climate vary greatly. The western coastline is characterized by green rolling hills, the massive Forest of Qohor, and extensive island chains such as Braavos and Lys. The middle of the continent is covered by the flat grasslands of the Dothraki Sea and the arid wastes known as the Red Lands to the east. Beyond the Red Lands, the city of Qarth sits beside the straits that lead to the Jade Sea. The south is dominated by dry rolling hills and has a Mediterranean climate, with a coastline along the Summer Sea and Slaver's Bay.
The north coast of the mainland is separated from the polar cap by the Shivering Sea. To the south, across the Summer Sea, lies the uncharted jungle continent of Sothoryos, containing the cities of Yeen and Zamettar. In the extreme east, across the Jade Sea, sit Asshai, Yi Ti, and the mysterious region called the Shadow Lands. It is a matter of speculation whether these easternmost regions are physically attached to the mainland or are separated from it by the Jade Sea.
The Free Cities
The nine Free Cities are Lys, Myr, Pentos, Braavos, Lorath, Norvos, Qohor, Volantis, and Tyrosh. They are independent city-states that lie across the narrow sea, in the west of the continent of Essos, mostly on islands or along the coast. Mountains to the east separate the coast from the plains of the Dothraki Sea, though gaps in the mountain range provide the Dothraki people some access to the Free Cities. The Free Cities were colonies built by the ancient Valyrian Freehold, and later declared independence after the Doom of Valyria, and as a result their languages are derivatives of High Valyrian. An exception to this is Braavos, which was founded by refugees fleeing Valyrian expansion, escaped slaves and other rabble.
South of the Dothraki Sea is Slaver's Bay, which holds three port city-states called Yunkai, Meereen, and Astapor. The cities were built from the rubble of Old Ghis, an ancient rival of Valyria that was crushed by that nation thousands of years before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire. Present inhabitants of the bay are a mongrel race that speak a bastardized version of Valyrian. The economies of the cities are largely based on slave labor and the slave trade. Treatment of slaves is often harsh, while citizens live in relative luxury. Professional soldiers of all three cities wear outlandish costumes and hairstyles that limit their usefulness in battle. The cities' militaries are highly dependent on additional slave and mercenary armies for the actual fighting. Astapor trains and sells elite eunuch spearmen called Unsullied that are renowned for their discipline and effectiveness. Those Unsullied that have not yet been sold are used to defend the city when the need arises.
The wealthiest of the cities, Astapor is the only place in the world where the Unsullied can be purchased. These slave soldiers command a huge investment and earn the most profitable of returns for the Good Masters of Astapor. The city itself is ancient and dilapidated, with massive, crumbling red-brick walls that the Astapori no longer man. The city is dominated by massive brick pyramids that line the waterfront of the bay, and the Plaza of Pride, which serves as an open air slave market, a marshalling area for the Unsullied, and a community gathering place. Even though the city has long passed its glory days, it is still a wealthy and powerful trade hub, with countless slaves, massive fighting pits, and training areas for gladiator and Unsullied slaves.
The smallest of the three cities, Yunkai, like Meereen, does not trade in Unsullied but is known for its fighting pits and its pleasure houses, both of which turn out slaves at a brisk pace. The city is similar to Astapor in architecture except for its smaller size and its use of yellow brick in its buildings instead of red. The slavers of Yunkai are known as the Wise Masters. Because of the city's lack of Unsullied, it relies on a mixed professional and slave army of approximately 4,000 with at least 1,000 mercenaries. Typical for Ghiscari, Yunkai soldiers wear impractical armor and oiled hair teased into enormous shapes, limiting their effectiveness.
The largest of the three slaver cities, Meereen has a population equaling that of Astapor and Yunkai combined. The city is constructed with similar architecture to its neighbors, but built in bricks of many colors. Its landscape is dominated by a massive pyramid, named The Great Pyramid, and the Temple of Graces, which is capped by a golden dome. Meereen is unique among the Ghiscari cities in that it is filled with many temples and pyramids. The slavers of Meereen are known as the Great Masters. They field a force of lancers equipped in traditionally extravagant Ghiscari fashion with scales of copper and lances as long as fourteen feet. Its is built on the banks of the river Skahadzhan.
Often called Asshai-by-the-Shadow, this port city borders the Shadow Lands, far to the southeast. To go to Asshai can be described as to "pass beneath the shadow". Asshai is a popular trading destination for ships in the Jade Sea, and it exports such goods as amber and dragonglass. It holds a significant amount of arcane knowledge. Of any current location, it is the most likely to have dragonlore. Ancient books of Asshai also record the Azor Ahai prophecy followed by members of the R'hllor faith. Asshai and its people have an ominous reputation in other lands. Asshai'i are described as pale, and many have red hair, and having a dark and solemn appearance. The Dothraki believe that Asshai'i are spawn of shadows. The area of the Shadow Lands and Asshai are sometimes referred to simply as "the Shadow".
The Dothraki Sea
The Dothraki Sea is a vast, flat grassland inhabited by the Dothraki people, a copper-skinned race of warlike nomads with their own Dothraki language and unique culture. The Dothraki live in hordes called khalasars, each led by a chief called a khal. Khalasars are broken into groups, called khas, which are each led by one of the khal's captains, called kos. Dothraki are expert riders and their horses are of prime importance in their culture, used for food, transportation, raw materials, warfare, and establishing social standing. The Dothraki have only one permanent city, called Vaes Dothrak, which serves as their capital.
Lhazar is a land to the south of the Dothraki Sea inhabited by the Lhazareen, a peaceful people with bronze skin, flat faces, and almond eyes. They are predominantly shepherds, called the Lamb Men by the Dothraki, who frequently prey on them. They worship a god called the Great Shepherd and believe that all of humanity is part of a single flock.
Situated in a central location, Qarth is a gateway of commerce and culture between the east and west, and the north and south. Brimming with wealth, the city's architecture makes a grand display. It is surrounded by three walls of thirty, forty, and fifty feet in height, respectively engraved with portraits of animals, war, and lovemaking. The city's buildings are of many different colors, including rose, violet, and umber. Slender towers rise throughout the city and fountains adorn every square.
Qarth is governed by the Pureborn, descendants of the city's ancient kings and queens. The Pureborn also command the city's defenses. There are three principal merchant groups that battle amongst themselves and against the Pureborn for dominance of the city. They are known as the Thirteen, the Ancient Guild of Spicers, and the Tourmaline Brotherhood.
Qarth is most famous for its warlocks, who are feared and respected throughout the East, however, the warlocks' power and prestige have waned over the years. Qarth is also home to a guild of assassins called the Sorrowful Men.
The Shadow Lands
A land to the extreme east, the Shadow Lands reside at the edge of the known world, beside or around Asshai. In the western world, there are many tales about the Shadow Lands, though how much fact they hold is unclear. It is said that petrified dragon eggs come from the Shadow Lands, and that dragons themselves originated there. The Dothraki believe that "ghost grass" covers the land, with stalks that glow in the dark and grow taller than a man on horseback. Natives of this place, called Shadow Men, cover their bodies in tattoos and wear red lacquered wooden masks. They are described as "dour and frightening". Some of them practice bloodmagic, using spells that require blood sacrifices. The area of the Shadow Lands and Asshai is sometimes referred to simply as "the Shadow".
The Summer Islands
The Summer Islands are a number of islands in the Summer Sea, to the south of Westeros, that form a single nation. The port of Tall Tree Town serves as its capital. The natives of the islands are a dark-skinned people who speak their own language and often wear capes of brightly colored feathers. Archery is an important cultural skill to the Summer Islanders. Their special bows have a longer range than most others, giving their merchant boats added defense against pirates.
A long-dead city of wonderment, Valyria was once the capital of a great empire called the Valyrian Freehold, but has since fallen to ruin. At its prime, the Valyrian Freehold was an advanced civilization and the dominant military and cultural power of the known world. The city was located on a peninsula of Essos, and is the ancestral home of House Targaryen.
In the early days of Valyria, the mighty Ghiscari Empire tried to stop the city's expansion, fighting five major wars that were each won by the Valyrians. The last battle destroyed the Ghiscari Empire and its capital of Old Ghis. Over the years the Valyrians continued to conquer and colonize, building great cities and straight highways that all led to Valyria. Many smaller nations, such as the Andals and the Rhoynar, fled west to avoid Valyrian expansion. Valyria took many slaves from its conquered lands and used them to mine deep into the earth. At the height of its power, the Freehold stretched over almost the entire east. Cities built by the Valyrian Freehold include Oros, Mantarys, Tyria, and all of the Free Cities except Braavos.
The Valyrian Freehold was destroyed when some as-yet undescribed "Doom" was visited upon it several hundred years prior to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire. The Doom, apparently of volcanic and seismic nature, fragmented the land surrounding the city itself into numerous smaller islands, creating the Smoking Sea (A boiling sea) between them. The area is now described as "demon-haunted", and most people are afraid to go there, as it is said, "The Doom still rules in Valyria." Though the eight Valyrian Free Cities survived the Doom, as well as the Targaryens who fled to Dragonstone, most of Valyria's culture, language, and craft was lost in the Doom.
Valyria is best remembered for its unique ability to raise dragons and use them as weapons of war. Much of its military strength came from the effectiveness of its dragons on the battlefield, and, indeed it was the mastery of the Valyrian dragons that allowed Aegon Targaryen and his sisters to defeat the much more numerous and formidable hosts of the Westerosi kings, during the War of Conquest. Valyria is also remembered for forging "Valyrian steel", a magical metal used to make weapons of unparalleled quality. Valyrian steel blades are lighter, stronger, and sharper than those of regular steel, and feature distinctive rippled patterns similar to Damascus steel. The secret of forging such metal was apparently lost with Valyria, making those remaining weapons highly treasured and extremely rare. Most Valyrian steel blades in Westeros are treasured heirlooms of noble houses, each with its own name and storied history. Ice, the greatsword of House Stark, was one such blade.
The capital of all Dothraki khalasars, the city is filled with statues stolen from other cities the Dothraki conquered/raided from. There is a law that no Dothraki may shed blood within the boundaries of Vaes Dothrak and that those who do are cursed. However, people still die by strangulation, and as Viserys Targaryen learned to his sorrow (He shed blood for he was impatient for his crown) he was crowned with molten gold.
The inhabitants of Westeros follow several different religions, the dominant one being the Faith of the Seven. The Lands Across the Narrow Sea follow numerous other local religions, though these are not treated in-depth.
The Old Gods
When the First Men originally migrated into Westeros, they came into contact with the Children of the Forest. The First Men learned to worship the Old Gods from them, abandoning whatever previous religion they had. The worship of the Old Gods involves no scriptures, formalized priestly caste, or evangelical movements, and the Old Gods themselves have no distinct names. The Andal Invasion resulted in virtually all of Westeros south of the Neck converting to the Faith of the Seven. In the North, however, the First Men remained unconquered, and many continue to follow the Old Gods up to the present day. It is loosely implied that the worship of the Old Gods has some real-world (although magical) basis, a legacy of the Children of the Forest, who possessed considerable magical skill both in greensight (prophecy) and skinchanging (telepathic control of animals). Focal points of the religion were the "godswoods", groves of trees with a "Weirwood" tree in the center, with a face carved into it. Although worship of the Old Gods is now mostly restricted to the North, many ancient godswoods of noble houses remain throughout the South, having been converted into secular gardens.
The Faith of the Seven
Often called simply "The Faith", is the dominant religion in Westeros, having been introduced by the Andals during their invasion of the continent. It is loosely analogous to the Catholic Church in Medieval Europe (at least in social function). The Faith of the Seven is based on the worship of a seven-faceted godhead (a septity instead of a trinity). This seven-in-one God takes the form of a family, though they have no distinct personal names: The Father, The Mother, The Maiden, The Crone, The Warrior, The Smith, and The Stranger. Many aspects of the religion are therefore based on the prime number seven, instead of the prime number three. For example, prominent icons of the religion are light shining into crystal prisms to create rainbows of seven colors.
The Faith of the Seven is based on several holy texts, one of the most important of which is The Seven Pointed Star, which is divided into several books. The clergy of the Faith is apparently divided amongst the godhead: "septons" are male priests who serve The Father, while "septas" are female clergy devoted to The Mother. The all-female order devoted to The Stranger, the god of death and the unknown, are the Silent Sisters. Clerical orders devoted to The Smith have been mentioned as well. The Faith of the Seven is headed by the High Septon (analogous to the papacy), who is elected by a clerical high council known as the Most Devout (analogous to the college of cardinals). The High Septon and Most Devout were based in Oldtown for thousands of years, until the Targaryen Conquest and the construction of the new capital city at King's Landing, when the seat was moved there.
The Faith of the Seven is the basis for the social concepts of "knights" in Westerosi culture, although actual religious warriors, the Faith Militant, are not the same as knights and had been disbanded for several centuries before the War of the Five Kings. Thus, few warriors in the North may attain the title of knight and the style "Ser" as most Northerners worship the Old Gods. The Faith of the Seven is the predominant religion for most of Westeros' population, though it has some followers in the Iron Islands and the North.
The Drowned God
The local religion of the Iron Islands. When the Andals invaded Westeros, they usually forced the local First Men to convert to the Faith of the Seven, but the Andals that invaded the Iron Islands instead adopted the local religion and culture. The Ironborn are a seafaring island civilization, and their worship of the Drowned God reflects this. Water and drowning play prominent roles in the religion. Priests are ritually drowned (then revived using a crude form of CPR). Capital punishment often takes the form of drowning in seawater as a sacrifice to the Drowned God. As the Ironborn believe, the Storm god was an evil god and drowned the Drowned God, although this is where the saying of the Iron Islands comes from; What dies does not stay dead, but rises again better and stronger. People who die are believed to go to "feast in the Drowned god's watery halls".
When the Rhoynar refugees from the eastern continent settled in Dorne (1,000 years before the events of ASOIAF), they intermingled with the Andals living there. While the Rhoynar have left a strong cultural and ethnic legacy in Dorne, they mostly converted to the Faith of the Seven. However, a small handful retain the worship of the original Rhoynar religion. The Rhoynar originally lived in city-states along the water network of the river Rhoyne on the continent Essos, and as a result they worshiped several river-themed nature gods. Chief among these is Mother Rhoyne, the personification of the river Rhoyne. There are also other gods such as the Old Man of the River, and his enemy King Crab. When the Rhoynar fled to Dorne, most assimilated (in varying degrees) to the culture of Westeros, but a small group stubbornly continued to follow the river-based culture of their ancestors by living on rafts along the river Greenblood which runs through Dorne. This small, gypsy-like culture wandering up and down the river became known as the "orphans of the Greenblood", because they consider themselves to be orphaned from Mother Rhoyne.
R'hllor - The Lord of Light
A religion practiced primarily across the narrow sea, priests of R'hllor have had a small presence in the Seven Kingdoms for some time, with some like Thoros of Myr in the service of the Iron Throne. Worship of R'hllor tends to involve fiery rituals, many of which require sacrifices. Priests of the Lord of Light tend to display mystical powers, whether limited to the trick flaming sword of Thoros or Melisandre's more malicious spells. Under the influence of Melisandre, self-proclaimed King of the Seven Kingdoms Stannis Baratheon has converted to this faith, and has turned to the dark rituals of R'hllor to aid him in his quest for the Iron Throne. Worship of R'hllor includes prophecies that seem to be related to The Others that live north of The Wall, claiming that the White Walkers are followers of the "Great Other" who is the eternal enemy of R'hllor.
Though Westeros is primarily populated by humans, three other species of sentient creatures are featured to exist in their fictional universe: giants, Children of the Forest, and the Others.
Giants are a dwindling species found only in the lands to the extreme north, beyond the Wall, Giants are huge, shaggy humanoids that vaguely resemble bipedal apes. While Giants are sapient, their intelligence is slightly below that of humans. Giants speak the language of the First Men (the so-called Old Tongue), although some can understand common Westerosi speech. They ride mammoths into battle, wielding crude clubs that are little more than logs. Some of them have at times been willing to enter into loose alliances with Wilding tribes. A large number of Giants joined the Wilding horde of King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder, in their attempt to force their way south of the Wall to flee the Others.
Children of the Forest are presented as the original inhabitants of Westeros. The Children of the Forest are frequently mentioned in the series but have not been seen in thousands of years. They are thought to be diminutive humanoid creatures; dark and beautiful, with mysterious powers over dreams and nature. They are said to have used obsidian weapons and weirbows in battle. Little of their legacy is present in the timeframe of the series beyond their worship of nameless nature gods still practiced by some in the North, and the remaining Weirwoods. George R. R. Martin has stressed repeatedly that they are not elves. He said of the matter: "The children are... well, the children. Elves have been done to death."
The Others are a malevolent race of creatures found beyond the Wall. They have only been seen at night, and are always accompanied by intense cold. The Others appear as tall, gaunt, graceful humanoids with glowing blue eyes. They wear armor that shifts in color with every step, and wield thin crystal swords with blades so cold they can shatter steel. Others move silently, but their voices sound like cracking ice; it is hinted that they have their own language. Creatures killed by the Others soon reanimate as wights: undead zombies with similarly glowing eyes. Wights are not simply limited to humans, as the Others have been known to kill other animals such as large bears to bring them back as bear-wights subject to their will, which are used to deadly effect in battle. However, the Others exhibit a weakness to weapons made of obsidian (also known as dragonglass), which can pierce their armor easily. They are vulnerable to Valyrian steel, sometimes called dragonsteel. In death, they seem to melt into a pool of extremely cold liquid. Wights do not exhibit the same weakness to obsidian, but are vulnerable to fire.
In addition to ordinary animals such as dogs, cats, and horses, some species of animals inhabiting Martin's world are similar to real-world Pleistocene megafauna such as aurochs, direwolves, and mammoths. Several legendary animals also appear, including dragons and kraken. Of these megafauna, only aurochs are commonly encountered throughout Westeros, as a domesticated herd animal. Direwolves and mammoths are only found in the Lands Beyond the Wall in the extreme north. Krakens are so rare that they are commonly considered to be mythical, though they do actually exist.
Dragons play an important role in the story. Aegon the conqueror brought three of them to Westeros and used them to unify the Seven Kingdoms. His descendants bred them in captivity, but they dwindled and died out after most were killed in a civil war between rival Targaryen heirs two hundred years before ASOIAF begins, known as the Dance of the Dragons. At the beginning of story they are considered extinct and only petrified dragon eggs are left. At the end of A Game of Thrones Daenerys is able to hatch her three dragon eggs in the funeral pyre of Khal Drogo, bringing the species back to life. The dragons in the story are scaled, fire-spewing, reptilian creatures with animal-level intelligence. They have leathery wings for forelegs like bats. Though some accompanying artwork for A Song of Ice and Fire portrays them with four legs and a detached set of wings, creator George R.R. Martin has repeatedly insisted that this is incorrect.
- ^ "Geographical Information". westeros.org. March 26, 2002. http://www.westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Entry/Geographical_Information/. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
- ^ a b "The Citadel: So Spake Martin". westeros.org. February 1999. http://www.westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Month/1999/02/.
- ^ Martin, George R.R. "A Conversation With George R.R. Martin". The SF Site. http://www.sfsite.com/01a/gm95.htm. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
- ^ George R. R. Martin (US paperback). "A Feast For Crows" ©(2005)p. 855
- ^ "Targaryen History". westeros.org. April 20, 2008. http://www.westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Month/2008/04/. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
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