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…

Westeros is a large expanse of land. Houses large and small make up the population of the Seven Kingdoms. There are a few that distinguish themselves amongst the nobility, and some even play major roles in the politics of King’s Landing or the goings-on across the Narrow Sea. Here, in brief, we shall discuss a few of them and their prominent members.

House Frey

Sigil: Two Towers with bridge between
Words: (House Frey has no words)

To quote the news-monster Morbo of Futurama, the Frey family is ‘belligerent and numerous’. Founded a mere 600 years ago and ceded the land on the Trident to realize the first Frey lord’s vision of a bridge between the banks of the mighty river. The bridge is capped with identical castles on either side, called The Twins. By completing the bridge rapidly and exerting tolls from all who cross, the Freys grew quickly in wealth and influence. This meteoric rise caused other houses of the Riverlands to look upon them as upstarts, and they have been treated with disdain ever since.

Currently in control of the Twins and Lord of the Crossing is Walder Frey, an aging but no less vivacious man who delights in his series of young wives and the control he holds over the bridge. He is ambitious and cruel, eager to take advantage of the Great House’s need for his bridge, and according to his overlord, Hoster Tully, is disinclined to take oaths seriously.

House Hightower

Sigil: Tower topped with Flame
Words: We Light The Way

Oldtown is perhaps the largest and most wealthy city in all of Westeros. While King’s Landing has become more prominent, Oldtown has maintained its grandeur and ships from all over the world still crowd its harbor. It is home to the maesters’ Citadel and until the construction of the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing was the seat of the Faith of the Seven. The tallest structure in the Seven Kingdoms is the 800-foot-tall Hightower, from which the ruling House of Oldtown takes its name.

Lord Leyton Hightower has not left his namesake for over a decade. His uncle Gerold served as Lord Commander of Mad King Aerys’ Kingsguard. His son, Baelor, is perhaps the most prominent member of the family still seen, known as ‘Brightsmile’ for his handsome demeanor. Despite his reclusiveness, Leyton’s family remains influential in the Seven Kingdoms.

House Martell

Sigil: Sun and Spear
Words: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken

Very much a people apart from the other Kingdoms, the inhabitants of Dorne maintain their old traditions, born of the sands in which they grew strong. The Martells were not conquered by the Targaryens, but joined the Seven Kingdoms through marriage and diplomacy instead. Since then, the Martells have ruled Dorne on behalf of the King on the Iron Throne, but style their leaders Princes instead of Kings and value daughters as highly as sons.

Prince Doran Martell, aging badly and affected by gout, rules Dorne from Sunspear. His sister Elia was married to Rhaegar Targaryen and slain by Gregor Clegane, along with her small children, during the Sack of King’s Landing. While Prince Doran bides his time and nurses this deep wound, his hot-headed brother Oberyn has a lesser measure of patience.

House Tyrell

Sigil: Golden rose
Words: Growing Strong

When House Gardener fell to Aegon the Conqueror, the Tyrells surrendered Highgarden to their new lord. In return, they were named Lords of the Reach and Wardens of the South. As such, they were given fertile lands and oversight of Oldtown, but were also charged with defending their lands against Dorne, who occasionally skirmished with the people of the grasslands. Even in times of peace, the lord of Highgarden is often Defender of the Marches as well as Warden of the South.

Those titles are currently held by Mace Tyrell, a lord charitably described as ‘somewhat tedious’. Other members of his house are more exemplary of its virtues and the cause for the jealousy of others, from Loras Tyrell, the famous Knight of Flowers, to beautiful Margaery Tyrell, an intelligent and shrewd young lady betrothed to Renly Baratheon.

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.