No man is an island, and the family Houses are the major players in Game of Thrones. Like the individual characters, their power shifts, their allegiances change, and they occasionally die out with stunning violence. It can be hard to keep track of, so we’ve gathered some of the most interesting facts about the noble houses of Game of Thrones.
23. By the Numbers
The seven kingdoms in Westeros are home to over 300 noble houses, but there are only nine “Great Houses,” which are also referred to as great families. The others are known as “vassal” or “lesser” noble houses, and they serve the Great Houses.
22. Sometimes Lesser is Greater
Several of the lesser houses are more powerful than some of the smaller great houses. For example, House Hightower controls the second largest city in Westeros, Oldtown, and is able to field enormous armies; the House owns its own fleet of ships.
21. Men First, Mostly
Male primogeniture dictates inheritance for most of the noble houses, which means that firstborn sons are the heirs. Women mostly act as regents for young sons. In Dorne however, where House Martell and the Sandsnakes live, men and women are given equal status when it comes to inheriting.
20. Most Fertile
The Freys, a minor family with a huge army, takes its name from the Norse God of fertility, Freya. They are also, fittingly, the most populous house in Westeros. A standing joke in the books says that Walder Frey could field an army just of his own relatives, most of which are his own offspring.
19. Bad Luck Starks
The Stark tragedy didn’t start with Eddard’s beheading. The Starks have endured horrific murders throughout time, including the deaths of Ned’s father and brother, and their rivalry with The Boltons.
House Martell is the only house that remained unconquered during Aegon’s conquest of Westeros. They also beat the Targaryens twice.
17. Wild Card
They might be sworn enemies now, but the members of House Stark are part Wilding. Brandon Stark married his daughter to Bael, the King Beyond the Wall, and when the Stark line was about to disappear, she came home with a newborn infant courtesy of her Wilding husband.
16. Democratic Election
House Greyjoy is the only house that elects its ruler. Any Ironborn can go before the Kingsmoot (where the King is chosen) and ask to be made King of the Iron Islands.
15. Is The Kraken Coming?
Three of the Great Houses chose what we would consider mythical monsters for their family crest. The Starks have direwolves, the Targaryens have dragons, and the Greyjoys have the Kraken. We now know that direwolves and dragons are alive and well in Westeros, so perhaps there is a Kraken off its shores as well.
14. Extinct Houses
Many former noble houses are now extinct. Houses like House Hoare died out prior to the beginning of the series, but the others such Tyrell, Bolton, Martell, Reyne, Baratheon (two branches), and Baelish were annihilated in the endless battle for control of the Iron Throne.
13. Secrets of the Red Keep
The Targaryen conqueror Aegon had his son Maegor the Cruel build the Red Keep for House Targaryen. When it was finished, Maegor beheaded everyone who had worked on it so its secrets would never be revealed. C’mon, the guy’s name was “the Cruel.”
12. House Baratheon x 3
There are actually three Houses Baratheon. The original was House Baratheon of Storm’s End, but when Robert I Baratheon took the Iron Throne, both House Baratheon of King’s Landing and House Baratheon of Dragonstone were created.
11. Popular Name
11 members of the House Targaryen have been named Aegon. Several had interesting nicknames, such as “the Unworthy” and “the Unlikely.”
The Targaryens are not the only noble family to have the ability to tame and ride dragons. Many Valyrian noble families once held the title “Dragonlord,” but the Targaryens were the only ones to survive the Doom of Valyria.
9. Inverted Colors
Bastards of the noble houses wear house colors reversed. For example, Jon Snow wears a white wolf on a grey background, while the rest of the Starks wear a grey wolf on a white background.
8. The History Book
Grand Maester Malleon wrote a book detailing the histories of all of the great houses called The Lineages and Histories of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms. Eddard Stark finds out the truth about Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen’s parentage by examining the genetic clues this book.
7. Child Leaders
At least four of the noble houses have been led by children during the series. Joffrey and his brother Tommen are both teenagers when they take the throne, Lyanna Mormont is one of the most formidable leaders in the North and she is only 10 or 11, and Robert Arryn is, uh, still breastfed when he becomes ruler.
6. From Just Noble to Great
House Bolton and House Frey were both elevated to Great House status after the massacre known as the Red Wedding. In return for their betrayal of the Starks, House Bolton became the Lords of the North (replacing the Starks) and the Freys took over the Riverlands (replacing the Tullys).
5. Family Treasures
House Lannister once laid claim to one of the most expensive swords in the history of Westeros. The sword, known as Brightroar, was made of Valyrian steel and it was worth as much as the gold needed to raise an entire army. It has since been lost to the family.
4. The Iron Throne
The Iron Throne is made of the swords of the vanquished houses who were defeated by Aegon Targaryen, the Conqueror. Fun fact: there are no swords from House Stark, House Martell, or House Arryn on the throne. Houses Arryn and Stark submitted, and Aegon was never able to conquer the Martells.
3. The House of Learning
The Citadel, a combination of library, hospital, and university, and home to the wise Maesters, was likely created by House Hightower.
2. Movin’ on up
The Tyrells were originally the vassals of House Gardener, who ruled the Reach. When House Gardener fought against Aegon the Conqueror, House Tyrell quietly cooperated and was rewarded with the Reach and the status of a Great House.
1. Red Kings
House Bolton were once known as the Red Kings of the Dreadfort. For many years, they were the bitter rivals of House Stark, and wore cloaks made from the flayed skin of Ned’s ancestors.