Courtesy HBO

The Game of Thrones is now showing on HBO. The production and promotion of this series has been fantastic, but not everyone tuning in may be familiar with the series of books upon which it is based. A Song of Ice and Fire, currently spanning four expansive novels, introduced us to the world of Westeros and provides a plethora of extensive information. Presented here is a bit of that information to help newcomers to this lush and living world get and keep their bearings. All information is presented free of spoilers and describe the circumstances at the beginning of the series…

In the wake of his conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, Aegon Targaryen established a personal guard for himself and those of his royal bloodline. He chose seven sworn knights and called upon them to swear additional oaths to distinguish them from the rank and file. These brave men wore all white capes, carried plain white shields and eschewed excessive ornamentation or sigils on their armor. In this manner, they were not only plainly adorned but also plainly meant to be seen and not heard. As they accompany royalty at all hours and in all situations, they are aware of all manner of courtly intrigue, and thus expected to be just as adept with discretion and wisdom as they are with sword and horse. They are the Kingsguard.

Like the Night’s Watch far to the north, the Kingsguard take oaths that forsake their claims to such things as lands and titles. They forswear family, children, marriage and any allegiance to nobility save for their sovereign. They also swear to serve for life. Even if crippling wounds, wasting illness or old age would prevent them from serving in the field of other lords, a brother of the Kingsguard must maintain their duty until their very last breath is drawn.

The most senior, most experienced or most favored member of the Kingsguard is named Lord Commander, and charged with coordinating the activities of his sworn brothers as well as maintaining the ongoing history of the order, which has existed uninterrupted since the Conquest. The records of the Kingsguard’s names, deeds and noble deaths are recorded in the Book of Brothers, also known as White Book. Some famous Lord Commanders of the White Cloaks:

Ser Duncan the Tall was not only a member of the Kingsguard but a close personal friend of King Aegon V during the king’s childhood. Together, “Dunk and Egg” went on many adventures throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

Ser Gerold Hightower was the Lord Commander under the Mad King Aerys. During Robert’s Rebellion he and two of his sworn brothers were charged with the protection of the Tower of Joy. He fell in single combat to Eddard Stark.

Courtesy HBO

Ser Barristan Selmy, aka Barristan the Bold war pardoned for serving under Aerys and selected as Lord Commander under Robert Baratheon. A cautious and respectful knight, he is exemplary of the virtues to which members of the Kingsguard should aspire. He was, however, the oldest member of the order at the time of King Robert’s untimely death. Even before the fateful boar hunt, Joffrey Baratheon had taken to calling him ‘Barristan the Old’. His dismissal from the Kingsguard is the first in the history of the Seven Kingdoms, as members of the Kingsguard are sworn to serve for the rest of their lives.

Courtesy HBO

Ser Jaime Lannister is a member of the Kingsguard whose history belies his spotless white cloak. It was Jaime, after all, who stabbed Mad King Aerys in the back during the sack of King’s Landing. Eddard Stark found the Kingslayer upon the Iron Throne while the city burned. Afterward, Robert Baratheon allowed Jaime to remain in the Kingsguard, a move partially motivated by the debt owed by Robert to Jaime’s father, Tywin Lannister. In the wake of Robert’s death and the subsequent shifting of power, Jaime has been named Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.

If you would like to know more, please consult the official HBO viewer’s guide or the Wiki of Ice and Fire (beware of spoilers). Also, if you find anything amiss or incorrect in these guides, please inform me.