Realising that we don't all share his encyclopedic memory, George R. R. Martin's inclusion of a lengthy appendix at the end of each of his Song of Ice and Fire novels has been a life saver for many fans lost amongst the great houses of Westeros. We find ourselves digging through it after almost every chapter. However, a new tool has arrived to help us put together a richer picture of Martin's storied world.
The World of Ice and Fire, written by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr and Linda Antonsson is a vast tome that gives the untold history of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. Full of facts and family trees, it is the definitive companion volume to Martin's universe. Using this book, we've put together a list of 50 astonishing facts you might not have known about the war for the Iron Throne. Happy reading.
The World of Ice and Fire, published by Harper Voyager, is out now
The original inhabitants of Westeros
Only two races originally inhabited Westeros: the giants of the Dawn Age and the mysterious children of the forest. The First Men came from the eastern lands, which were awash with many comparatively uncivilised nations.
The height of the giants
Recorded in Maester Kennet's Passages of the Dead, bones from graves and tombs found in the North suggest that the largest of giants could have reached 14 feet in height.
A discovery recorded by Maester Kennet (who served Lord Cregan Stark at Winterfell) suggests that giants and children of the forest may well have been foes: in addition to tales told in the North of the enmity of the two races, a barrow grave near Long Lake contained the skeleton of a giant with obsidian arrowheads found amidst its extant ribs.
Arrival of the First Men
The First Men arrived in Westeros from the east, crossing a strip of land that bridged the narrow sea and connected the eastern lands to Dorne. After great floods arose and broke the land apart, the strip of land became known as the Broken Arm.
After years of fighting, the children of the forest and the First Men sought to bring an end to their conflict. At a meeting on the isle in the Gods Eye, heroes from both races agreed that, if the children of the forest gave up all the lands of Westeros save the deep forests, the First Men would stop cutting down their weirwoods.
The Age of Heroes
The forming of the Pact between the children of the forest and the First Men gave rise to a new age, known as the Age of Heroes.
The Long Night
Early in the history of the Age of Heroes, there are records of a winter that lasted an entire generation - children were born, grew into adulthood and died without ever seeing the spring. Some tales say that they never even saw the light of day, hence the winter's name: The Long Night.
One of the oldest enmities of Westeros is that between House Stark and Bolton. Stretching back into the Long Night, before the Andals arrived in Westeros, the Red Kings of Dreadfort fought with the wolves of Winterfell, with the Dreadfort of Rogar the Huntsman eventually falling to the King of Winter.
The first record of man encountering the Others (or White Walkers) came during The Long Night. Coming from the frozen Land of Always Winter, the Others rode giant ice spiders and horses of the dead.
(Image: Rene Aiger)
Another older name for the Wights - the undead creatures raised by the White Walkers via the cold that accompanies them - is "cold servants".
Land of the Valyrians
The Valyrians came from a region of Essos sheltered by great volcanic mountains known as the Fourteen Flames. It was here that they supposedly discovered and tamed the great dragons.
White ravens are a different breed to the black ravens commonly used by maesters to carry messages. Reared at the Citadel in Oldtown, they are more intelligent than their black brethern, used exclusively to announce the changing of seasons.
One of the reasons the Valyrians sought to conquer other nations was to fuel its supply of slaves to work in its vast mines. As Valyria grew, its need for ore increased, which led to ever more conquests to keep the mines stocked with slaves.
Most maesters would agree that the oldest castle in Westeros is Pyke. The castle is so ancient that no one can say with certainty when it was built, nor the name of the lord who built it. Like the Seastone chair, its origins are lost in mystery.
The Burned Men
Amongst the mountain clan known as the Burned Men, a youth must give some part of his body to the fire to prove his courage before he can be deemed a man. This practice is thought to have originated shortly after the Dance of the Dragons, when an offshoot clan called the Painted Dogs were said to have worshipped a fire-witch and her dragon in the mountains. If their boys could survive her flames and give her a gift, they were proven men.
The origin of iron
The fact that the Andals forged iron has been taken by some as proof that the Seven guided them - that the smith himself taught them this art. However, the Rhoynar also forged iron of their own, so others believe the Andals' use of the material was proof that they had contact with the Rhoynar.
The persistence of the Drowned God
The Andals brought the faith of the Seven to Westeros. Despite defeating the Iron Islands, they failed in their attempts to force their religion on the ironborn. Eventually, they allowed the religion of the Drowned God to co-exist alongside the worship of the Seven.
The battle for Rhoyne
The largest army Essos has ever seen was summoned by Prince Garin, to defend the cities of the Rhoyne from the dragons of Valyria. It was a quarter of a million strong, with water wizards protecting the army against the flames of the Freehold.
The most expensive sword in history
The House Lannister once owned a Valyrian steel longsword known as Brightroar. Bought by the house a century before the Doom, it is said that the weight of gold paid for the sword would have been enough to raise an army. It was lost when Tommen II carried it with him when he sailed with the Golden Fleet to ruined Valyria in search of wealth and sorcery.
The origins of greyscale
Greyscale, an affliction that haunts the region of the Rhoyne river known as The Sorrows, has its origins in the defeat of Prince Garin. Having been overwhelmed by the dragon forces of the Volantenes and Valyrians, Prince Garin was forced to watch the enslavement of the women and children of his forces. He called upon the Mother Rhoyne to avenge her children - causing the river to flood out of season. A fog of evil humours fell on the land, causing many of the Valyrian conquerors to die of greyscale.
The fleet of Princess Nymeria
When Princess Nymeria fled the forces of the Volantenes, she took a fleet of ten thousand ships to sea. It is said that only one in ten of the ships were seaworthy, with many sinking in storms or turning back in fear of the voyage west.
The Doom of Valyria
There are numerous theories as to what brought about the destruction of Valyria. Some believe it was the curses of Garin the Great coming to fruition, others that it was the priests of R'hllor calling down the fire of their god. Most believe it was merely a natural cataclysm, with all of the Fourteen Flames erupting at once. It is written that every hill for five hundred miles split open to fill the air with flame, ash and smoke - consuming dragons and all who lived there.
The First Knight
Legend states that the first knight to bring chivalry to Westeros was John the Oak. A huge man, said to be over eight feet tall, his descendants became House Oakheart of the Old Oak.
The rise of the Targaryens
While the other dragonlords suffered sever losses in the Doom of Valyria, the Targaryens survived unscathed. This is because Daenys the Dreamer, daughter of Lord Aenar, had foreseen the destruction of Valyria by fire - a vision which caused Lord Aenar to sell his holdings in the Freehold and move to the island of Dragonstone 12 years before the Doom took place.
The end of House Hoare
Having ruled the riverlands for three generations, the arrival of Ageon the Conqueror brought about the end of the ironborn House Hoare. After Lord Harren Hoare refused to yield to Ageon, Ageon flew his dragon Balerion, the Black Dread, high above the clouds over Harren's castle Harrenhal. Descending in the black of night, Ageon set fire to the vast castle, killing Harren and his last sons in the fires that followed.
Swords of the Iron Throne
Having united the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, Aegon the Conqueror made the seat of his court in a new town at the mouth of the Blackwater Rush, naming it King's Landing. He formed a throne out of the blades of his fallen foes - but not a single sword of Lord Torrhen Stark or his vassals were included in the Iron Throne, given that Torrhen had knelt before Aegon.
The young king
Aegon Targaryen was only 27 when he was named king of the Seven Kingdoms.
Formation of the Kingsguard
Aegon formed the Kingsguard after the insistence of his sister and wife Visenya. Having stated that he had faith in his guardsmen to protect him, Visenya drew her sword Dark Sister and cut Aegon's cheek before his guards could react. Aegon agreed with his sister's suggestion that his guards were "slow and lazy", and allowed her to form the Kingsguard.
It was traditional in Old Valyria for those who bred and rode dragons to marry incestuously, in order to keep the "blood of the dragon" pure. When Queen Visenya looked to marry Maegor to Aeny's first child Rhaena, the High Septon - and much of the kingdom - protested.
Formation of the Gold Cloaks
At a loss with what to do with his brother Daemon Targaryen, Viserys I made his brother commander of the City Watch. As well as improving armaments and training, Daemon gave them golden cloaks, joining the men in their patrols of the city. They have been known as the Gold Cloaks ever since.
Dance of the Dragons
One of the bloodiest wars Westeros has ever known was the Dance of the Dragons, in which various branches of the Targaryen family turned on one another and tore the kingdom apart in a fight for the Iron Throne. Some 20 dragons were used in the fighting, six on the side of King Aegon II and 14 on the side of Queen Rhaenyra.
Storm's End derives its name from a legend that suggests a vast storm strikes the region once every 77 years. However, records of the maesters of Storm's End do not support the myth, showing that the area is prone to strong storms all year round.
The last of the Targaryen dragons
The final Targaryen dragons died during the reign of Aegon III - Silverwing, Morning, Sheepstealer and Cannibal the final dragons seen in Westeros.
The House Targaryen swords
House Targaryen had two Valyrian steel longswords: Blackfyre and Dark Sister. Their whereabouts are unknown, with Blackfyre suggested to have been taken to the Free Cities, and Dark Sister possibly taken to the Night's Watch by Bloodraven.
The dying declaration
One of the most hated Targaryen kings was Aegon IV. In addition to a failed attempt to invade Dorne, his dying declaration was to legitimise all of his natural children, from the most baseborn to the Great Bastards - bringing about five generations of wars between his feuding offspring.
The Two Kings of the Iron Islands
The Iron Islands were once ruled by two kings - a rock king and a salt king. The former ruled the island itself, dispensing justice and making laws. The latter commanded at sea, whenever and wherever the island's longships sailed. Sometimes these kings were father and son, other times they were from different houses.
The smallest city
The only true city in the North, White Harbor is the smallest city in the Seven Kingdoms.
Descendants of the First Men
Many of the Northmen still retain traces of the blood of the First Men. Even their house names mark them out, for the First Men bore names that were short and blunt; names like Stark, Wull, Umber and Stout.
Legend has it that Brandon the Builder raised Winterfell at the end of the Long Night. Built on uneven ground, it's inner walls - which stand at 100 feet in height - are thought to be 2,000 years old.
It is said that the Wall was raise by the children of the forest and the First Men (with the help of giants) to defend against an known force from the Lands of Always Winter. At its highest point it stands some 700 feet in height, with a total of 19 strongholds along its length.
The first King-beyond-the-Wall
The first King-Beyond-The-Wall was Joramun, a leader of the free people who claimed to have a horn that would bring down the Wall when it woke "the giants from the earth".
The most disputed lands
Central to Westeros, the Riverlands have seen more battles than any other area of the Seven Kingdoms. More petty kings and houses have risen and fallen in these rich, fertile lands. Houses that have ruled the Riverlands include House Fisher, House Blackwood, House Bracken, House Mudd, House Justman, House Teague, House Durrandon and House Hoare.
The dangerous beauty
It is popularly consented that the Eyrie of the Arryns is the most beautiful castle in all of the Seven Kingdoms (though the Tyrells would dispute this). With seven slim white towers jutting from the shoulder of the Giant's Lance, it contains more marble in its walls and floors than any other building in Westeros. It is nearly impossible to launch an assault on the castle, given its location on the mountainside. However...
The Dragon that Flew to the Eyrie
...the last and only successful 'raid' on the Eyrie came when Visenya Targaryen flew into its inner courtyard on the back of her dragon Vhagar. No blood was shed, as she successfully persuaded the mother of the last Arryn king to give up the Falcon Crown and submit to House Targaryen.
The Drowned God
The Drowned God of the Ironborn is the only deity worshipped in Westeros that has no temples, no holy books or idols. Most priests of the Drowned God are illiterate, sharing the religion via an oral tradition with younger priests learning the tradition from an elder.
No ordinary castle
Casterly Rock, the seat of House Lannister, is not quite like any other castle in Westeros. Crowned with towers and turrets, it is a fortress built into a colossal rock beside the Sunset Sea that has housed men for thousands of years. Measuring three times the height of the Wall, it is almost two leagues long - its lower sections riddled with dungeons and mines. There is even a port in its base.
The castle of songs
No seat in the Seven Kingdoms has been more celebrated in song than Highgarden of House Tyrell. The Tyrells and the Gardeners before them have made their court a place of culture, music and high art, circling the castle with three concentric rings of curtain walls of white stone. One ring contains the famed briar maze - a labyrinth of thorns and hedges that delights the castle's occupants while also adding a layer of defence against invaders.
The naming of Sunspear
Named Sunspear after the sun of Rhoyne was wedded to the spear of the Martells, the Dornish might regard their seat as a city, but it remains a town. There are no true cities in the whole land of Dorne.
The most mysterious of the Free Cities
Shrouded in mystery and legend, little is known of the free city of Qohor other than rumour. A city of sorcerers, it is widely thought that divination, bloodmagic and necromancy take place unchallenged. The city worships a dark god known as the Black Goat, which demands daily blood sacrifices.
The city at the end of the world
The city that stands at the edge of the known world is that of Asshai, or Asshai-by-the-Shadow. Travellers say that the city is built entirely of black stone, greasy to the touch, that appears to drink in light. It is a city free of children and animals, surrounded as it is by polluted waters. It is said that it is a hive of sorcery, with warlocks, wizards, alchemists and red priests practising their arts freely.