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The History, Geography and Culture of Westeros and Beyond


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#1

Azure Owl

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 12:54 AM

I noticed that several questions regarding the historical events in the backstory of the series have popped up in the episode thread, as well as discussions about the geography of the setting and the different cultures portrayed in the series. Also, several people (myself included) tend to make references to details of the setting that havenít been mentioned or explained in the show yet.

In the interest of helping the episodesí thread from getting too off topic Iím creating this thread to deal with those questions.

If you want to know who the Blackfyre Pretenders were, have questions about Robert's Rebellion or what is the Doom of Valyria, this is the place.

If you want to discuss the differences between the culture of the Seven Kingdoms and that of the Dothraki this is the place.

If you want to know how long is the Wall or the names of the Nine Free Cities this is the place.

Of course, since most of the answers to those questions will come from the novels, be advised that there might be spoilers

And please, if somebody can think of a better title Iíd be very grateful.
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#2

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 1:07 AM

Thanks for this Azure Owl, I thought about it earlier but just never did it. I would've called it something cliche and corny like Chronicles of Westeros or something
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#3

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 1:59 AM

The one thing I was thinking of, from reading the books, was the various religions that are presented in them. The Starks and men of the North following the old ways with the Godswoods that Cat still feels an outsider in and The Seven.
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#4

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 3:28 AM

Oh, good thread!

I'm wondering where the white haired people are? As I understand it, the "main story country" is a peninsula with ocean to the west, south and east, and the Wall to the north. So when Dany is staring longingly out to sea, I really have no idea which direction she's looking. Are they to the south?
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#5

revelation

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 4:02 AM

Westeros is also called the Seven Kingdoms, although there is currently only one King who rules it all as one nation, this is King Robert Baratheon. The capital city of Westeros is King's Landing. The Iron Throne is in King's Landing and has been the seat of the King of all Westeros for about 300 years.

There is also another continent to the east of Westeros called Essos. Essos is made up of many different countries and nations and is much larger than Westeros. Think of Westeros being like the a larger sized Britain and Essos being Europe plus Asia.

There is an amazing map of Westeros below (like Google Maps).

http://www.towerofth...s/westeros.html

At the start of the story Dany and her brother meet the Dothraki at the Free City of Pentos which is across the Narrow Sea from Westeros. This is to the East of Westeros. Pentos is seen on the right edge of the map above. This is the eastern edge of the Eastern continent. So Dany is probably looking westwards across the Narrow Sea towards Westeros.

Edited by revelation, Apr 19, 2011 @ 4:02 AM.

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#6

Azure Owl

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 7:28 AM

So when Dany is staring longingly out to sea, I really have no idea which direction she's looking. Are they to the south?

She's looking West, across the Narrow Sea towards Westeros.
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#7

revelation

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 7:42 AM

There is a good wiki below that explains how King Robert came to power and how Ned Stark got involved in that. Note there are other wikis out there with more details but the one below is created specifically for the TV show and so does not contain spoilers as far as I can see. There is also a character section that newcomers could find very useful in identifying who's who and how they all relate to each other.

http://gameofthrones...ert's_Rebellion
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#8

whitearrow22

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 6:16 PM

As I understand it, the "main story country" is a peninsula with ocean to the west, south and east, and the Wall to the north.


The entire land is an island, but it's a big frickin' island. More the size of South America than Britain.

Edited by whitearrow22, Apr 19, 2011 @ 6:16 PM.

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#9

Maximum Taco

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 6:34 PM

Since this thread is going to be a repository of knowledge, I propose we call it The Citadel after the Maesters' stronghold in Oldtown.

Edited by Maximum Taco, Apr 19, 2011 @ 6:35 PM.

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#10

Kalbear

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 6:39 PM

I'm wondering where the white haired people are? As I understand it, the "main story country" is a peninsula with ocean to the west, south and east, and the Wall to the north. So when Dany is staring longingly out to sea, I really have no idea which direction she's looking. Are they to the south?

This didn't really get answered above, so I'll talk about it some.

The white-haired people are called the Targaryens. They are one of the last surviving lines from Valyria. Valyria was at its peak a huge empire that spanned continents; think of Rome. Valyria was best known for using dragons as engines of war.

Some centuries ago the Doom hit Valyria. We don't know what it is, but it was a catastrophe that destroyed the peninsula it was on and turned it into a (still) boiling sea. The empire was fragmented, and the free cities (of which Pentos, where Dany is now, is one) split off from Valyria and lost the Valyrian culture. The Targaryens fled to Dragonstone - an island off the East coast of Westeros, near King's Landing - and eventually decided to invade and conquer Westeros. This was 300 years ago.

And they did so with dragons.

For 300 years the Targaryens ruled. Their white hair (and in the books, purple eyes) were a trademark of their line. They often married brother to sister to keep their line pure as well, which caused odd things like insanity - but also kept that platinum blonde hair around.

The last dragons died out about 100 years ago.

About 20 years ago Robert led a rebellion to oust the mad king Aerys and destroy the Targaryens. Viserys was Aerys' living son and Dany was unborn, inside the queen. They fled.

Hope that helps. The short answer is that there aren't any groups of people with the white hair any more; it's just Dany and Viserys.
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#11

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 6:52 PM

I'm wondering where the white haired people are?

I have made you a vaguely lame map for reference. This was cobbled together (by someone obviously more skilled in Paintshop than I) from the various maps that appear in the books

ETA: This map is just for a general idea. As a poster below notes, there are more detailed maps now but everything is still pretty much in the same place.

Edited by BitchySmurf, Apr 19, 2011 @ 7:12 PM.

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#12

Kalbear

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 7:00 PM

I have made you a vaguely lame map for reference. This was cobbled together (by someone obviously more skilled in Paintshop than I) from the various maps that appear in the books

Note that this is not actually accurate any more; we have a map of Essos (referenced above and on HBO's site) that shows where Pentos is, where the stepstones are, etc. And in the next few weeks we'll be getting maps of a lot of the paintshop stuff.
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#13

Azure Owl

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 7:03 PM

The Targaryens fled to Dragonstone - an island off the East coast of Westeros, near King's Landing - and eventually decided to invade and conquer Westeros. This was 300 years ago.

To be more precise, the Targaryens and their dragons survived the catastrophe because they were already on Dragonstone when the Doom fell on Valyria. Why the Targaryens settled on Dragonstone (the westernmost Valyrian outpost) is something that is not known. Some fans think they were exiled, others that they had forewarning about the Doom thru prophetic dreams, which some members of the House have been known to have.

As for dates, the Targaryens settled on Dragonstone 500 years before the setting of the story and the Doom occurred 400 years ago. The Targaryens remained on Dragonstone for another century before Aegon Targaryen decided to invade the rest of Westeros, so Aegonís conquest took place 300 ago as Kalbear said.

Another detail worth mentioning is that the Doom also destroyed almost all the dragons in the world. The ones the Targaryens had were in all likelihood the last ones on the planet. So when the last Targaryen dragons died, the species became extinct.
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#14

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 8:25 PM

Yup, Westeros is a continent, not an island, though the shape of it does make people think of the island of Britain. Westeros is about 3,000 miles long from the Wall to the south coast of Dorne (you can use the Wall, which is almost exactly 300 miles long, as a scale bar) and is about 900 miles across at its thickest part, though there are places (like the Wall and the Neck) where it's only a small fraction of that. If you put the Wall on the North Cape of Norway, the south coast of Dorne would be in central Morocco, which gives you a good idea of the range in temperatures it traverses.

Essos, the eastern continent, is much bigger. I think GRRM has said about the size of Eurasia. It is divided into various regions, such as the Free Cities, the Dothraki Sea, Slaver's Bay, the Jade Sea and the Shadow Land, some of which play a bigger role later on and some of which are just names for flavour.

There is a third continent, Sothoryos, which is located to the south of Essos. It's pretty much an unexplored landmass of deserts, probably akin to Africa. The names of the continents come from an ancient language, probably Valyrian or Ghiscari: Westeros for the western continent, Essos for the eastern and Sothoryos for the southern.

Amusingly, the TV show appears to have already confirmed what the Doom of Valyria was. For years people said it either a volcanic eruption or a meteor impact. The fourth book indicated it was probably volcanic, but the first relief picture in the TV show's title sequence shows a volcanic eruption destroying a city whilst a dragon watches on, so that seems to be the explanation they're going with.
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#15

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 10:16 PM

Technically, Westeros is an island continent, like Australia. Just pointing out the two things aren't mutually exclusive.
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#16

Azure Owl

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Posted Apr 19, 2011 @ 11:26 PM

Over in the Racism thread someone made this comment regarding the Westerosi considering the Dothraki savages:

And it is somewhat more problematic considering that those of Westeros consider themselves to be the descendents of 'the first men'.

I think he misunderstood that bit.

Westeros was originally inhabited by a non-human race called the Children of the Forest. Back then Essos and Westeros were connected by a land bridge. Then humans with horses and bronze weapons immigrated to Westeros and began a war with the Children of the Forest. The term “First Men” is used to refer to that people and it’s entirely descriptive, since this was so far back that they didn’t even had a name for their nation. They literally were the first humans on Westeros. It doesn’t mean that they believed themselves to be the first human beings ever, just that they were the first humans or Men in Westeros, which they were.

Furthermore most of the people of Westeros are not descended from the First Men (or at least not exclusively) and do not honor their culture. Several thousands of years after the coming of the First Men, long after they had made peace with the Children of the Forest and adopted their gods (the Old Gods); another wave of human immigration came to Westeros, this time by ship. This people were called the Andals and they conquered all of Westeros except for the North, exterminated the Children of the Forest and imposed their own culture and religion. Most of present day Westerosi culture is Andal in origin.

Regarding the population of Dorne, one of the southernmost region of Westeros the books describe them like this:

There are three sorts of Dornishmen. There are the salty Dornishmen who lived along the coasts, the sandy Dornishmen of the deserts and river valleys, and the stony Dornishmen who lived in the Red Mountains. The salty Dornishmen are lithe and dark with smooth olive skin and long black hair. The sandy Dornishmen are even darker, they’re skin burned dark brown by the desert sun. The stony Dornishmen are the biggest and fairest, with blond or brown hair, and skin that freckles or peels away in the sun instead of getting a tan.

Edited by Azure Owl, Apr 19, 2011 @ 11:52 PM.

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#17

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 1:19 AM

Geography question: I've looked at the map on the HBO site, and googled some other maps, but I haven't found one that has key for scale. Any suggestion? (Is there a reference to how long the Wall is? I could probably figure it out from that.)

ETA: Thanks, enlightenedbum. And like an idiot, I clicked to this from the other thread, and didn't realize that the first page had multiple answers to my question.

Edited by dustdevil, Apr 20, 2011 @ 1:40 AM.

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#18

enlightenedbum

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 1:29 AM

300 miles long for the wall. Westeros is approximately the size of South America according to Martin.

Though they have slightly magic/plot aid transportation as it only takes like a month for the King and his entourage to get to Winterfell.
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#19

Werthead

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 5:51 AM

Yup, in the books I think it was closer to three months, but then the Queen's carriage was this ludicrous wheeled monstrosity that took twenty horses to pull. Presumably they thought that would look silly on screen and reduced it to the far more practical carriage we see on screen.

Still, given it's about 1,500 miles from King's Landing to Winterfell, a month is at the other end of being realistic. A rider doing 50 miles a day every day could just do it, but he'd probably have to change horses every night (and there's long stretches of that journey, through the Barrowlands and the Neck, where there are no staging posts). So it is possible they have made Westeros smaller in the TV series or they're simply glossing over it a bit.

The South America comparison is more or less right, though George meant the length of the continent, certainly not the area. South America is a bit over 4,000 miles from the Panama Canal to the southern tip, so that gives us 3,000 miles for the Seven Kingdoms and at least 1,000 miles of land further north to the polar icecap.

Technically, Westeros is an island continent, like Australia. Just pointing out the two things aren't mutually exclusive.


True, but in terms of area Westeros would be pretty huge, much bigger than say Europe, and the northern edge of the continent disappears under the polar icecap so working out its area is tricky. I've certainly never heard GRRM, Elio or Linda (his cowriters on the forthcoming The World of Ice and Fire book) describe Westeros as an island continent.

A note on the seasons in answer to the racism thread:

In this world the seasons are not of fixed length and can last for many years. So you may have a two-year summer followed by a four-year winter followed by a six-year summer. Autumn and spring are counted, but generally as intermittent periods between the summers and winters that never seem to last much longer than a year or so.

The seasons otherwise work as they do on Earth otherwise, so in winter the days get shorter and then longer in summer. This pretty much throws out most of the astrophysics and scientific explanations people have come up with for the seasons (i.e. various orbital permutations, solar emission variations). What is interesting is that given the wildling lands' northerly location and that of the Wall you'd expect darkness to fall there during winter (like the six-month nights you get in the Arctic Circle), but apparently it doesn't. The days get very short, but total darkness has not fallen over those lands since a historical event called the Long Night, which took place eight thousand years ago and marks the last time the White Walkers appeared.

It is obviously hard to survive a winter that lasts for five years, but even during the worst winters (in living memory when the series starts) the North takes the brunt of it. The snow falls twenty feet thick, growing plants in fields is impossible and people are essentially besieged in holdfasts and towns for the duration. If they run out of food or fire materials, they starve or freeze. Famines are common in the North in winter. This is why the North, despite being huge, doesn't have a very large population. Its also why the North's only major city, White Harbour, is located on its southern coast.

The most successful castles are ones built on warm natural features: Winterfell is built on warm springs, whilst the Dreadfort of House Bolton is located next to a volcanic vent. These keep the castles warm without the need to deforest everything in sight. Winterfell, and presumably most of the other castles, also have elaborate greenhouses or glasshouses where food can be grown even in winter. There are also reports of granaries and lords being told to keep back a percentage of their non-perishables every year during the good times to prepare for winter.

During bad winters, there can be snowfall as far south as Riverrun and Gods Eye, though rarely as far south as King's Landing, so the Riverlands and the Vale of Arryn also suffer, but they benefit from being quite close travel-time wise to the Reach, the breadbasket of the Seven Kingdoms which is hundreds of miles south-west of King's Landing. There's also more sea-faring options for bringing in supplies from southern Westeros or from the Free Cities and Summer Islands.

Essos is also affected by the variable seasons, but it is located much further south and extends in a south-easterly direction, taking it towards the equator. Maybe the northern-most Free City of Braavos suffers somewhat in winter, but the next city along the coast, Pentos, is some distance south, on the latitude of King's Landing, and is less affected. By the time you get the cluster of Free Cities in the south (Myr, Tyrosh, Lys and Volantis) you're at the latitude of Dorne and way clear of where snow falls.

Interestingly, we don't get much talk about the negative side effects of long summers: droughts and so forth. The 'worst' or longest summers certainly don't seem to have the same negative affects as the worst winters.

Obviously all of this only applies to the 'normal' situation. From the start of the series, it seems that people are expecting a really bad winter (possibly a decade-long one to follow the nine-year summer) which may throw all of these rules out.

On the issue of the wildlings = Scots, this is not the case. The wildlings are a conglomeration of different societies, some primitive hunter-gathers, others are relatively advanced townsfolk (the wildlings have a city where they trade with outsiders, but we haven't seen it in the books yet) and there's quite a few in-between, including renegades from Westeros and the Night's Watch. There are certainly ethnic groups amongst them, but there's also quite a lot of blending of different influences.
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#20

Ulle

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 6:25 AM

Thank you all for your answers, now I've learned a lot!
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#21

Azure Owl

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 8:51 AM

The issue of Viking stereotypes came up in the Racism thread, and we can’t talk about Vikings in this setting without talking about the Iron Men.

The Iron Islands are a small archipelago off the western coast of Westeros. Its inhabitants are called the Ironmen. Their culture is heavily based on all the negative stereotypes of the Vikings: they’re seafarers and their traditional lifestyle (the Old Way) relies entirely on raiding and pillaging. They use longships and their slaves were called thralls, although they weren’t considered property. Thralls couldn’t be sold, traded or bred; only captured during raids. The ironmen used to carry women away as prizes, and kept them as wives whether they wished it or not. In the old days, the ironmen did not labor at farming, fishing, or mining. That was the labor for their thralls. The ironmen’s only trade was war and pillaging. The only jewelry the men were allowed to use was the one they took from the corpses of people they killed.

The motto of House Greyjoy, the rulers of the region, is We Do Not Sow.

The Ironmen don't worship the Seven gods of the Andals or the old gods. They worship a deity called the Drowned God, and the phrase most often associated with him is "What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger", so it has a certain Lovecraftian flavor to it.

For thousands of years they terrorized every part of Westeros within reach of the sea, sacking, raping and taking thralls. At the time of Aegon’s Conquest they even ruled the Riverlands directly. The Targaryen destroyed the Old Way by the sword and dragon fire after the Conquest, but after the fall of the dynasty, Lord Balon Greyjoy tried to secced from the Seven Kingdoms and bring it back.

Edited by Azure Owl, Apr 20, 2011 @ 10:57 AM.

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#22

Sica

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 9:30 AM

Ah ok, yes they are clearly very much a viking stereotype as seen from Ireland and the UK mixed in with Sparta really, with the castes.

It is always erm.. "interesting" seeing vikings pictured in books and movies etc. esp since I learnt about them first from the viking pov as a child. Where you have the strong women staying at home keeping the farms going while the husbands are away. Worrying and hoping their men will come back alive and that the trip will more than pay for itself etc. POV is everything really.
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#23

ananti

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 9:41 AM

Just to add about the Iron born.

They have a saying called "paying the iron price". Which basically mean getting things by conquest and robbery. They look down on those who "pay the gold price", which is to gain something by purchasing it, to them that's a sign of weakness. So if the thing one has was acquired by paying the iron price, they respect you, if you paid the gold price, they scoff.

It's a very twisted culture.

Also, a clarification about the names, each region of the kingdom has a specific last name that the bastards in the region all have, and the name is tied to features specific to the region.

North: Snow
Vale: Stone
Riverlands: Rivers
Casterly Rock: Hill
Iron Isles: Pyke
King's Landing: Waters
Storm's End: Storm
Highgarden: Flowers
Dorne: Sand

Edited by ananti, Apr 20, 2011 @ 1:02 PM.

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#24

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 10:47 AM

I wonder where the names of these families came from. Stark seems pretty obvious and Greyjoy is kind of ironic, but the rest are less descriptive. Maybe they're old European families Martin found somewhere. That would be cool.
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#25

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 11:53 AM

Lannister is taken from Lancaster as in the War of the Roses Lancaster Vs York (Stark).
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#26

Azure Owl

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 12:05 PM

If I remember correctly, Martin once said that as a rule of thumb, families descended from the First Men tended to have short and/or descriptive names, while the Andal surnames tended to be longer/more complicated.
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#27

whitearrow22

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 1:00 PM

This thread is Totally Awesome. That is all I wanted to say :)
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#28

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 2:00 PM

Where you have the strong women staying at home keeping the farms going while the husbands are away. Worrying and hoping their men will come back alive and that the trip will more than pay for itself etc.


The ironborn have a Viking influence to them, but they're probably more like the Scandanavian cultures that immediately descended from them. They have longships, for example, but these seem to be being phased out in favour of bigger and more standard (compared with the other seafaring cultures of Westeros) warships, whilst the raiding culture is starting to die out in favour of political compromise (unsurprisingly, since as part of the Kingdoms the ironborn don't have anyone really to raid and pillage any more, aside from during the rebellion ten years earlier). In addition, we are first presented with a very brief sketch of the ironborn as reavers and pirates, but later see a large gathering of them from all over the islands and see a much greater variety of people, from more peaceful settlers and learned men to more bellicose would-be conquerors.

Women also have a larger role to play in ironborn culture than it first appears: Theon's sister becomes a major character later on, and she commands a ship and a number of warriors in battle.
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#29

Azure Owl

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 2:21 PM

whilst the raiding culture is starting to die out in favour of political compromise (unsurprisingly, since as part of the Kingdoms the ironborn don't have anyone really to raid and pillage any more, aside from during the rebellion ten years earlier).

Exactly. The main reason Balon Greyjoy rebelled was because he wanted to reintroduce the old ways of raiding and pillaging. They may not practice them anymore, but they remember them, and quite a large segment of their population are nostalgic about it.

In addition, we are first presented with a very brief sketch of the ironborn as reavers and pirates, but later see a large gathering of them from all over the islands and see a much greater variety of people, from more peaceful settlers and learned men to more bellicose would-be conquerors.

Quite correct. After 300 years under the rule of King’s Landing large sections of the ironmen have assimilated to the larger culture of Westeros. The bellicose would-be conquerors are the priests of the Drowned God and those that yearn to return to the old ways from before the conquest.

Edited by Azure Owl, Apr 26, 2011 @ 9:19 AM.

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#30

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Posted Apr 20, 2011 @ 5:02 PM

I wonder where the names of these families came from. Stark seems pretty obvious and Greyjoy is kind of ironic, but the rest are less descriptive. Maybe they're old European families Martin found somewhere. That would be cool.

Lannister and Stark are clearly close to Lancaster and York, but in terms of the story behind the names in the book:

Lannister comes from a character from the "Age of Heroes" called Lann the Clever who tricked the Casterlys out of Casterly Rock and stole their gold.

If anyone knows what the name Baratheon is derived from, I'd like to know. According to the history, the first Baratheon was supposed to be a bastard brother of the Targaryen siblings who conquered Westeros on dragonback, Orys Baratheon, who was married to the daughter of the last Storm King and that is how the Baratheons took control of the Stormlands and Storm's End. Since we know Theon is a given name I was wondering if the Bara prefix is similar to Mc or Mac...?
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