Welcome to Westeros. The continent of the Seven Kingdoms is a land where the seasons can last for years, where secrets are carefully guarded, and where the commoners try to survive while nobles play the Game of Thrones.
By now, you've probably heard the buzz about the new HBO series Game of Thrones. You know that it's based on an epic fantasy series, and you've seen the all-star cast in the trailers. If you haven't read the book the show is based on, the first book of "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R.R. Martin, you might not know what to make of the previews. There aren't any wizards, and the series looks like it has a vaguely medieval setting. Here's some information to help you out before the series premiere on April 17.
Most of the story takes place within the Seven Kingdoms: Dorne, The Reach, Stormlands, Westerlands, North, Riverlands, and the Vale. These regions have unspoken borders, and one family holds the principal House in each area. The Free City of Pentos is across the narrow sea to the east of the Seven Kingdoms. The inhabitants are free from rule of the King, and it is a perfect place for exiles of the kingdom to take refuge. The story also extends north; the Wall is the northern boundary of Westeros. The massive structure of ice is all that stands between the land of the civilized and the land beyond. White walkers and wildlings live in the frigid lands beyond the wall waiting to invade. The brotherhood known as the Night's Watch defends the 300-mile-long Wall.
Though the books cover a dizzying number of names and Houses, you only need to be familiar with a few for now.
This is the principal house of the Stormlands, and this house holds the Iron Throne of Westeros. Their house motto is “Ours is the Fury.” King Robert Baratheon (played by Mark Addy) won the seat from the Mad King Aerys Targaryen years ago. He is known for his stubbornness and quick temper. He is wed to Cersei Lannister.
The Starks hold the seat of Winterfell in the north. Their lands end at the Wall, and the men of Winterfell are the first defense for an invasion from the lands beyond the borders. Their motto is “Winter is coming.” Eddard Stark (played by Sean Bean) is the lord of the Great House, and he serves as the Hand of the King. The Starks are proud and hold honor in high regard. Much of the story is told from the point of view of the Stark family.
The Lannisters of Casterly Rock are the Great House of the Westerlands region. “Hear Me Roar” is the motto of their house, and that motto matches their nature. The lord of the House, Tywin Lannister, wed his daughter Cersei (played by Lena Headey) to Robert to gain power for the house. They play treacherous political games and most of them long only for power. Lord Tywin also has two sons – Jaime and Tyrion. Jaime is Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Tyrion is known as the Imp because of his deformed size; he is not favored by Lord Tywin.
In the Free City of Pentos, the remaining survivors of the Targaryen family live in exile. The Targaryens ruled Westeros for almost 300 years until Robert Baratheon wrested the throne away. They invaded Westeros with three dragons at the beginning of their reign, so it's only fitting that their motto is “Fire and Blood.” Only a brother and sister – Viserys and Daenerys - remain. Viserys will not rest until he has revenge on the usurper of the throne. He wants the Targaryens to sit on the Iron Throne again.
As you watch, remember that this is not your typical high fantasy tale. It's gritty, raw, and occasionally brutal. Politics and intrigue are the wheels the story turns on. You can't assume that anyone is safe or that anyone is loyal. The Game of Thrones is a dangerous one.