Choose your House wisely, then raise your banners and bend a knee
The history of the Great Houses in HBO's Game of Thrones, adapted from the celebrated A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, spans centuries, with great warriors, mad rulers, mythical legends and, of course, dragons. Three noble houses of the Seven Kingdoms - Stark, Lannister and Targaryen - are not only intertwined by family trees, but share a rich and sometimes volatile past as they've played their parts in the Game of Thrones.
Winter is Coming
The leading house of the North, the Stark's family tree goes back 8,000 years during the Age of Heroes. As descendants of the First Men, the Starks, as well as most northerners, still follow the ancient traditions and pray to the old gods of the forest. The noble House Stark reigned as Kings in the North until the invasion of Aegon Targaryen "The Conqueror" during the War of Conquest. They have since served as the region's wardens for nearly 300 years.
Winterfell, the House Seat, was said to have been built by the legendary ancestor Brandon Stark "The Builder," who also erected the Wall and established the Night's Watch. He's considered the first King of the North, protecting Westeros from the White Walkers many centuries ago.
The Starks are known to not only be fair rulers of their lands, but also loyal allies to their bannermen and kings. Eddard "Ned" Stark, one of the most recent Lords of Winterfell, was Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon, and upon Ned's assassination, the Northern houses rebelled against the Iron Throne and declared Ned's son Robb the new King in the North, thus beginning the War of the Five Kings. Though House Stark lost Winterfell after the death of King Robb, his half-brother Jon Snow and sister Sansa Stark were able to rally a few hundred loyal bannermen, wrenching their historic seat back from the hands of House Bolton. Following a rousing speech from loyal Lyanna Mormont of House Mormont of Bear Island, the remaining houses of the North named the white wolf, Jon Snow, as the new King in the North.
The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.
Starks are lean of build and long of face, with dark brown hair and grey eyes. The Stark clan is often referred to as wolves, based on their strong connection to the direwolves that roam the North. The youngest Stark children were each gifted a direwolf by their father, and the surviving wolves are fiercely loyal and protective of their wards.
The North Remembers.
Key players: The most recent Wardens of the North included Eddard "Ned" Stark (deceased) and his family: Catelyn (née Tully) Stark (deceased), Robb Stark (deceased), Jon Snow, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Bran Stark, Rickon Stark (deceased). Eddard had three siblings; Brandon (deceased), Lyanna (deceased) and Benjen Stark, a member of the Night's Watch.
Enemies: House Lannister and its allies in King's Landing.
When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.
Fire And Blood
The Targaryens came from ancient Valyria, one of 40 noble houses who ruled the Valyrian Freehold in Essos. Aenar Targaryen brought his family and the dragons from the eastern continent to Westeros, settling on the island of Dragonstone. After the Doom of Valyria wiped out their homeland and killed most of the dragons, the Targaryens conquered Westeros and ruled the Seven Kingdoms until the "Mad King" Aerys Targaryen was slain during a rebellion, along with most of his family, including his heir Rhaegar and his wife Elia and their three children.
The two surviving children of the Mad King, Viserys and Daenerys, were able to escape to the Free Cities, where they grew up in exile. Daenerys was wed to Dothraki Khal Drago, and with her growing khalasar conquered several cities in Slaver's Bay, freeing the slaves and building a mighty army for return to Westeros. She continues her quest to overtake the Seven Kingdoms, reclaim her seat on the Iron Throne and fulfill her destiny to "take what is mine." She is known as Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.
I will do what queens do. I will rule.
Dragons were a crucial factor in overtaking the Seven Kingdoms, as large armies were rendered powerless against the fire-breathing monsters. The first Targaryen ruler of Westeros, Aegon I "The Conqueror," built his dynasty with dragons he brought over the Narrow Sea to Dragonstone. Targaryen dragonlords kept their vicious mounts in an immense pit at King's Landing, riding them until the last dragon perished during the reign of Aegon III after the Dance with Dragons. They were believed to be extinct for centuries until the last remaining member of the royal Targaryen family, Daenerys Targaryen, hatched three dragon eggs as she burned them - and herself - in a large funeral pyre for her husband Khal Drogo. Daenerys emerged unscathed from the fire along with the baby dragons, named Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion, which have remained under Dany's care in Essos as they've matured.
Fire cannot kill a dragon.
The Targaryens have what is called "the blood of the dragon," referring to the legend that they can tolerate more heat than most people (as experienced by the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen). Targaryens have very distinct features, such as silvery-white hair and violet eyes.
I will take what is mine.
Key players: The only remaining Targaryens said to have escaped the uprising were Daenerys Targaryen and her brother Viserys Targaryen (deceased). The Night's Watch Maester Aemon (deceased) was also revealed to be brother to the Mad King.
Enemies: The great houses of Westeros and the Sons of the Harpy
Hear Me Roar!
The wealthy Lannisters of Casterly Rock ruled as kings in their realm until the Targaryen dragons conquered the continent. Their history runs back to the Age of Heroes, and they claim descent from Lann the Clever, who tricked the Casterlys out of Casterly Rock.
It was Tywin Lannister who grew his noble house into one of the most powerful rulers in Westeros, using cunning political strategy, ruthless vengeance and the wealth of gold sourced from the mines of Castamere and Casterly Rock. Tywin, the King's Hand to "Mad King" Aerys Targaryen, was also credited for opening the gates of King's Landing during Robert's Rebellion, allowing Robert Baratheon and his army to defeat King Aerys, who was slain at the hand of Tywin's son Jaime, a knight of the Kingsguard.
A lion doesn't concern himself with the opinions of sheep.
The Lannisters remained at the Red Keep after Tywin Lannister offered his daughter Cersei to King Robert Baratheon in a pledge of allegiance to the new ruler. Upon Robert's death, the Lannisters' rule spurred years of turmoil in King's Landing. Cersei's son King Joffrey was poisoned during his wedding to Margaery Tyrell, followed shortly by the death of Tywin, who was murdered by his son Tyrion. With the help of his brother Jaime, Tyrion escaped Westeros after being sentenced to death for Joffrey's assassination. Tyrion made his way to Essos, where he pledged his service to Daenerys Targaryen and, upon proving his counsel valuable, was named Hand to the Queen. Cersei's youngest son Tommen took Joffrey's place on the throne and his wife Queen Margaery, but Tommen's rule was also short. During a clash with the Faith Militant, Cersei burned the Great Sept of the Baelor to the ground, killing the High Sparrow and many members of the royal court, including the queen. The heartbroken King Tommen leapt from the Red Keep's window to his death, leading Cersei to appoint herself Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Legends say that Lann the Clever plucked gold from the sun to brighten his hair. Lannisters are known to be descendants of the Andals - marked by fair hair and tall build. They are also infamously wealthy, with a common saying being "A Lannister always pays his debts."
That's what I do. I drink and I know things.
Key players: Tywin Lannister (deceased), Jaime Lannister, Cersei (née Lannister) Baratheon, Tyrion Lannister
Enemies: House Stark and their allies; House Martell and House Tyrell