A History of the Top 15 Locations in Westeros

A word of warning: If you have not watched HBO’s "Game of Thrones" or read the A Song of Ice and Fire books, there will most likely be spoilers ahead for you. Read at your own risk. George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series ranges over two continents and a staggering amount of cities, roads, castles, inns, farms, and seas. It can be downright intimidating to follow a story with so many places to keep in mind. So, here is a quick primer on the top locations to keep in mind while navigating the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

But first, a very brief history: Long, long ago. Aegon Targaryen I united the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros after winning the War of Conquest. He built the Iron Throne and declared himself King. From there on out, the kings of the Seven Kingdoms were redefined as Wardens of their regions and brought under his rule. This is the system of governance and allegiance in place when Martin begins his epic series in the first book, A Game of Thrones.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

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    Winterfell is the seat of power in the Kingdom of the North, the largest region in the Seven Kingdoms. It is ruled over by House Stark, who have ruled the North for thousands of years. Their reign traces back to Bran the Builder and goes all the way to Eddard Stark and his son, Robb Stark, in the present age. The Stark house sigil is a grey wolf on a field of white, and the house motto is “Winter is Coming.”

    Winterfell is bordered to the north by The Wall and Castle Black, where the Night’s Watch protects the borders of the Seven Kingdoms, and to the south by a small isthmus known as “The Neck.” Also, it’s always cold in the North. 

    Winterfell is one of the largest castles in the Seven Kingdoms, with two massive walls and plenty of towers covering acres of land. It was originally built around a natural godswood and hot springs that are pumped through pipes to keep the walls and floors warm. 

    Winterfell itself was built thousands of years ago by Brandon the Builder - and some help from giants. The Starks held the castle since that time until Robb Stark traveled South to fight the War of the Five Kings. At that time, Stark ward Theon Greyjoy betrayed his adopted family and took over the castle. Soon after, the Northern Bannermen reclaimed Winterfell for Robb Stark, but the Bolton bastard, Ramsay Snow, burned Winterfell and took Theon prisoner.  After the Red Wedding, the Stark family no longer controls the mighty castle of Winterfell; instead, control of the North was given to House Bolton in the Dreadfort. 

    It's from Winterfell that the entire Stark family resides before they start their journey down the Kingsroad to King's Landing. It's also here that Bran is pushed out of the tower and becomes paralyzed. Theon Greyjoy and the bastard Jon Snow were both raised in Winterfell, and the Stark children's dire wolf puppies were found on Winterfell grounds.
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    King's Landing

    King’s Landing is the capital city of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. It is ruled over by the King of Westeros - previously House Targaryen, but then to House Baratheon through Robert, and then to his son Joffrey. King’s Landing lies mostly in the South, where the weather is warm and the sun shines bright. Immediately to the East is Blackwater Bay, which houses the largest harbor in the Seven Kingdoms.

    The capital of the Seven Kingdoms, this is also where the Iron Throne resides, housed inside the Red Keep. It is the most populated city of all the Kingdoms, but also the dirtiest. King's Landing is watched over by the City Watch, also known as the Gold Cloaks. It’s also the home to the Kingsguard, a band of brothers sworn to protect their king.

    King’s Landing was originally a fort built by Aegon the Conquerer when he launched his war on the Seven Kingdoms. After winning the war and uniting all the kingdoms under his name, Aegon transformed the fort into the gleaming city it is now. It was a geographically appropriate place from which to rule his new kingdom.

    As the seat of power in the Seven Kingdoms, it is also the economic and social center of the kingdom. The many visiting nobles and merchants are in stark contrasted to the teeming very poor lower class. This means everyone has a price, and everyone is a spy for someone else. King's Landing a city of poorly kept secrets and absolute betrayal, and the population typically hates whichever king or family is in charge.

    It's in King's Landing that Cersei Lannister resides with her son, King Joffrey. Here, too, is his Small Council, including Master of Coin Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, Master of Whisperers Lord Varys (aka "The Spider"), and Grand Maester Pycelle. Both Tyrion and Tywin Lannister have lived here serving as The Hand of the King. It's in King's Landing that Eddard Stark is beheaded, here that Sansa Stark is put under house arrest, and here where the Battle of the Blackwater is waged. Both Clegane brothers, The Hound and The Mountain, live in King's Landing before going their separate ways. 
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    Highgarden is the seat of power for the region known as The Reach. It is ruled over by House Tyrell, whose sigil is a golden rose on a field of green, and whose motto is “Growing Strong.” The Reach is the second largest kingdom behind the North and is, by all accounts, the most fertile area of land. It lies to the southwest of King’s Landing, south of Casterly Rock, and north of Dorne, bordered on the westernmost border by the Sunset Sea.

    After King Robert’s death, the Tyrells of Highgarden and the Lords of the Reach threw the bulk of their support behind Lord Renly Baratheon. After his untimely death, they support behind the Lannisters at the Battle of the Blackwater. Their continued allegiance is secured when Petyr Baelish negotiates the marriage of Margaery Tyrell to King Joffrey Baratheon.

    Highgarden is also one of the wealthiest kingdoms in Jenna Marbles. As such, the Iron Throne is indebted to the Tyrells, who have funded more than a few endeavors for the King. Of the Seven Kingdoms, Highgarden with The Reach is considered to be the heart and center of chivalry, producing such legendary, skilled, and respectable Knights as Ser Loras Tyrell, aka “The Knight of Flowers.” 
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    Casterly Rock

    Casterly Rock is the seat of power for the region known as the Westerlands. It is ruled over by House Lannister, whose sigil is golden lion on a field of crimson and whose house motto is “Hear me roar" (though they are also very fond of saying "A Lannister always pays his debts"). The terrain of the Westerlands is mostly hills and mountains. It lies to the southwest of Riverrun and north of Highgarden. Due to its rocky terrain, its borders are very well protected and more easily defended than most others. The rocky terrain also makes it one of the least fertile lands, giving it few exports in that capacity. However, the hills of the Westerlands are lined with vein after vein of gold and silver, making it, by far, the richest region.

    The castle of Casterly Rock itself is carved out of a hillside of solid rock. It is considered to be the second largest castle in the land - the largest being Harrenhal. The castle originally belonged to the Casterly family, whose line no longer exists. Legends say that Lann the Clever, believed to be the Lannisters' ancestor, tricked the Casterlys into leaving their castle and then claimed it as his own.

    The song “The Rains of Castamere” tells the story of how Tywin Lannister quelled a rebellion in his own kingdom of his vassals, partially started by House Reyne, who resided in Castamere. Though Castamere still exists, the Reyne family does not, proving the Lannisters' unoffial motto about debt repayment.

    Casterly Rock, though the seat of power in the region, is not the largest city. That honor belongs to Lannisport, which is also one of the largest ports in all of Westeros.
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    Pyke is the seat of power for the Iron Islands, the smallest constituent region in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. It is ruled over by House Greyjoy, whose sigil is a golden kraken on a field of black, and whose house motto is “We do not sow.” The Greyjoys inherited the Iron Islands after Aegon the Conqueror defeated the original ruling family, House Hoare. Aegon allowed the people to vote on who would replace them. The Greyjoys also used to rule over the Riverlands, but Aegon bequeathed that to House Tully. As such, the Greyjoys and their people stay mainly to themselves on their islands, periodically raiding the Western coastlines.

    There are 8 islands in the Iron Islands archipelago, and Pyke resides on the island of the same name. The castle here is ancient, built on a cliffside that has all but eroded away, leaving giant towers of disconnected jagged rock. The towers on these rocks are all connected by dangerous, swaying rope bridges. Due to this same erosion, there is no port at the castle. To access Pyke, one must dock at Lordsport and then travel to the castle by horse or cart.  

    The Greyjoys rule over a fierce nation of people who refer to themselves as the Ironborn. The people or the Iron Islands worship the harshest of gods, a deity they refer to as The Drowned God, prompting the refrain: “What is dead may never die.” The Ironborn society resembles that of a pirate culture, finding a majority of their own individual wealth from raiding other ships at sea and the towns that dot the coastline. The embrace the old ways of “Paying the Iron Price" - taking whatever they want instead of paying for it. They are sought-after naval experts that rarely choose any side but their own.

    Theon Greyjoy, the ward of Eddard Stark and eventual leader of the sacking of Winterfell, is the youngest son to Balon Greyjoy, the current Warden of the Iron Islands.
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    Riverrun is the seat of power in the Riverlands. It is is ruled over by House Tully, whose sigil is a silver trout leaping on a blue and red striped field, and whose house words are “Family, Duty, Honor.” Riverrun is a three-sided castle that lies where the Tumblestone and Red Fork rivers meet. On its third side is a man-made moat that can be filled during a siege, making it one of the most impregnable castles in Westeros.

    The Riverlands is immediately south of The Neck, making it the most central region in Westeros. It is so-named due to the number of rivers crossing through it, including The Trident, the Tumblestone, the Blackwater Rush, and the Green Fork. The Riverlands have some of the richest, most fertile lands in the Kingdom. This also makes it one of the most populous regions. However, since most of the land is flat and central to most of the other kingdoms, the Riverlands are often used a battlefield.

    When the Conquest of Aegon began, the region was ruled over by House Hoare of the Iron Islands. They had just completed construction of the monstrous castle Harrenhal on the northernmost shores of the Gods Eye, a giant lake in the South of the Riverlands. After The Tullys helped Aegon defeat Lord Harren Hoare, they inherited the Riverlands and Riverrun.

    It’s in the Great Hall of Riverrun that Robb Stark’s Northern Bannermen and those of the Riverlands make him “The King in the North.” It’s also here that they hold Ser Jaime Lannister captive after defeating him at The Battle of the Camps.

    After the Red Wedding at The Twins, the Tullys are stripped of their title as Wardens of the Riverlands - that name falling to House Frey instead.