Key Events That Happened Before 'Game of Thrones' Even Started

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Unless you've read A Song of Ice and Fire, you probably weren't totally sure what was going on all the time on Game of Thrones, or what in the Seven Hells some of the characters were talking about when discussing historical events. Even if you read the books very carefully, you could still find yourself reeling; Game of Thrones history is just that dense.

For example, did you know that Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark grew up together as wards of Jon Arryn? Do you know why Daenerys named one of her dragons Rhaegal? Do you know who broke up Tyrion's first marriage? And why does Littlefinger seem to hate everybody? All of these tidbits come from events that occurred before the show even starts!

Fear not! This list is here to quickly fill you in on the most important backstories - some recent, some going back 8,000 years - that inform the events of Game of Thrones. Some are very recent, while others go back 8,000 years.

  • 1
    1,569 votes

    Robert Had A Rebellion Of His Own

    Robert Had A Rebellion Of His Own
    Photo: Courtesy of HBO

    Robert's Rebellion is probably the most pressing matter facing the world of Westeros when the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones, begins. The rebellion happened for a couple of reasons:

    1. The Targaryen crown prince, Rhaegar, kidnapped (or perhaps, ran away with) Robert Baratheon's betrothed, Lyanna Stark, which peeved the North, the Stormlands, and fans of not-kidnapping-people everywhere.

    2. The reigning king, Aerys II Targaryen, had gone quite mad and developed a sick affinity for fire and burning people. He was teetering on the edge of civil war with his own son Rhaegar, the region of Dorne, and several other paranoid fantasies of his own.

    The war was won by the rebel forces, which had some important consequences:

    1. Rhaegar died.
    2. King Aerys II Targaryen died.
    3. Lord Rickard Stark and his son, Brandon, died, making Ned Stark the new Lord of Winterfell.
    4. Robert Baratheon didn't die. He became the first non-Targaryen king in nearly three centuries.
    5. Jon Arryn became Hand of the King.
    6. The Lannisters sacked King's Landing, smashed the infant Targaryen heirs, and expected to be rewarded with the Handship.
    7. The Lannisters didn't get the Handship, but they got to marry their oldest daughter, Cersei, to Robert instead.

  • 2
    1,744 votes

    The Wall Was Built To Keep Out Frozen Death

    The Wall Was Built To Keep Out Frozen Death
    Photo: Courtesy of HBO

    When you crack open a book or start the show, the first thing you're going to learn about is the Wall. A 300-mile-long preventative measure, the Wall was built 8,000 years before A Song of Ice and Fire. It separates the pleasant and habitable southern half of Westeros from the hellish northern tundra where the wildlings are, as well as the White Walkers. 

    The Wall is more than just a giant wall of ice, however. It was also warded, meaning that magic was embedded in the Wall to repel White Walkers.

    It also separates the normal folk from spooky supernatural monster sh*t, but when the story begins, that is all taken for granted. Since Westeros hasn't seen the "Others" (aka, the White Walkers) and their army of undead wights for several generations, they've practically been forgotten.

    Attacks by the Walkers seem to coincide with Westeros's ridiculously slow-progressing seasons and now, at last, "winter is coming," so... it's kind of a problem that the Wall is now understaffed, under-equipped, and under-provisioned. It's also manned exclusively by criminals, bastards, and other undesirables.  

    Oh, and Bran has been marked by the Night King, which could very possibly unward the Wall and invite the undead army right into the south and from there, the rest of the world. There's a very good chance that Bran will be a part of bringing down the Wall or at least a piece of it.

  • 3
    2,732 votes

    Lyanna Stark Was "Kidnapped" By Rhaegar Targaryen

    Lyanna Stark Was "Kidnapped" By Rhaegar Targaryen
    Photo: Helen Sloan/Courtesy of HBO

    During the reign of Aerys II Targaryen, Lyanna Stark was betrothed to Robert Baratheon. She was kidnapped by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen - which, depending on whom you ask, was either very romantic or very rapey. It should be noted that Rhaegar was already married at the time. Lyanna's father, Rickard, and older brother, Brandon, were executed without trial in a horrible, torturous way by the Mad King after they tried to rescue her. This ignited Robert's Rebellion.

    Lyanna died in Dorne in the Tower of Joy after making her brother Eddard swear a secret promise. We now know from the Season 7 finale that Lyanna made Ned promise to keep her son's identity a secret. Why? Because he is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, Robert's sworn enemy—not to mention the true heir to the Iron Throne. She made Ned swear to protect the baby, named Aegon Targaryen, because Robert would have had him murdered.

  • 4
    1,094 votes

    The Children Of The Forest Created The White Walkers

    The Children Of The Forest Created The White Walkers
    Photo: Courtesy of HBO

    The books are getting there, but Game of Thrones revealed that the Children created the White Walkers to fight the First Men by sacrificing a First Man at their ancient weirwood tree beyond what is now the Wall. They ran a dragonglass dagger into his heart and created an unstoppable monster. Well, sh*t.   
    Leaf and the Children turned to Bran for help to defeat the nuclear bomb of death they had created in their weirwood lab. He’s going to need all of the able-bodied heroes the world can provide because his rogue warging has already done some damage. The Night King was able to mark him. 

  • 5
    527 votes

    Azor Ahai Ended The Long Night Once Before

    Azor Ahai Ended The Long Night Once Before
    Photo: HBO

    Ask any follower of R’hllor and you’ll get the lowdown on Azor Ahai. He was the hero that brought about the generation-spanning Long Night, occurring during the Age of Heroes around 8,000 years before Aegon’s Conquest. If you got Old Nan wound up, she’d tell you of the never-ending darkness where the cold killed kings in their castles and mothers killed their children to end their suffering as the Others rode upon their dead horses killing everyone in their frosty wake.   
    Wielding his sword Lightbringer (forged through the heart of his beloved wife Nissa Nissa), Azor Ahai lead brave men and women to fight the Others and drive them back to the Land of Always Winter.  A second coming of the Long Night is nigh, so this needs yet another Azor Ahai. Many speculate that the role will fall to Jon Snow with the help of his aunt Daenerys. Others speculate that the hero will be Dany. Aegon Targaryen thought HE was the guy. In any case, a happy ending is not guaranteed as the prophecy states that if the hero fails, the world ends. Womp womp.   
    This explains the obsession the followers of the Lord of Light have with finding the one true Azor Ahai. He or she is also known by other names in other cultures such as Yin Tar, Neferion, Eldric Shadowchaser, Hyrkoon the Hero, and Help! Come Save Me! A Wight Is Eating My Face! 

  • 6
    1,008 votes

    Elia Martell And Rhaegar Targaryen Had A Challenging Marriage

    Elia Martell And Rhaegar Targaryen Had A Challenging Marriage
    Photo: HBO

    Elia Martell (sister of Oberyn) was a Dornish princess who married the Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. They had two children before her womb stopped working. When Rhaegar won a tournament at Harrenhal, he chose Lyanna Stark as the Queen of Love and Beauty instead of his own wife.

    During the sack of King's Landing, Elia Martell was raped and murdered by the Mountain, Gregor Clegane. He also smashed her babies (Rhaenys and Aegon).

    The Dornish were already suspicious of the Iron Throne and craving their independence. After Elia's unhappy life, they really hate being ruled by King's Landing.