Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season arrives soon. The world of Westeros, in which the majority of the story is set, is huge. And that is an understatement. It is not just the current scale, it is also its deep history that goes back tens of thousands of years in the past and involves multiple species and races of humans.
Here is a little primer on Westeros’ history to contextualise everything that has happened in the show so far.
It is really, really brief because a detailed history spans a hardcover (called The World of Ice & Fire). Anyway, here we go.
In the misty days of ancient Westeros, it was a huge wilderness occupied by the earliest of races — the Children of the Forest. Of course, they were not alone. There were animals and giants, but the Children were the dominant race. The Children have appeared in Bran’s arc in the show. It is one of them, Leaf, who sacrifices her life so Bran and others could escape the White Walkers.
The Children worshipped the nature (the Old Gods that the Northeners like Starks would come to adopt) and knew magic. Then the First Men came from across the Narrow Sea with their bronze swords and armour and began to conquer the continent. The Children fought back, but their weapons like dragonglass and even their magic was no match for metal weapons.
Now, the history in the show and the books diverges. There is no evidence in the books to suggest the Children are responsible for the creation of the White Walkers, at least not yet. In the show, the Children stabbed some of the First Men and that turned them into White Walkers.
Eventually the war came to an end, and Children and the First Men learned to live alongside each other. From the First Men, most of the Northeners like Starks, Boltons, Umbers and others descended.
The First Men and the Children also repelled the first wave of the White Walkers in what was called the Battle for the Dawn. The Dawn in the name referred to the day break after supposedly a Long Night that descended on earth when the White Walkers invaded.
The Wall was built by Brandon Stark (perhaps the first Stark) with the help of Children, giants and others. It was the Age of Heroes.
The Andals invaded from Essos. They were fair-haired people from most of the Southerners like the Lannisters trace their ancestry. Another group came to Dorne, fleeing the persecution from Valyrian Stronghold. They were the Rhoynar. The present Dornishmen and Dornishwomen have both Andal and Rhoynar genes.
About 300 years ago from the events of the show, Targaryens were limited to Dragonstone and had never ruled any kingdom in Westeros. Aegon Targaryen invaded Westeros with his sisters Rhaenys and Visenya.
All three had dragons, but Aegon had the biggest of them all — Balerion the Black Dread (called Balerion the Dread in the show). Aegon quickly conquered Westeros, which was then divided into seven kingdoms (thus the name Seven Kingdoms, though they are now just one). Conventional armies had no answer to fearsome, fire-breathing reptiles.
About fifteen years before the events of the show, Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark ran away together. Rhaegar was the son of Aerys Targaryen, also known as the Mad King. Lyanna was Ned Stark’s sister.
Robert was supposed to wed Lyanna, and thought she was abducted. When Ned Stark’s father Lord Rickard Stark and elder brother Brandon Stark went to King’s Landing to demand the return of Lyanna, the Mad King cooked them alive in their own armour.
This ignited the Robert’s Rebellion, known by the (remaining) Targaryen as the War of the Usurper. Robert and Ned fought and defeated the Targaryens and Robert was installed as the king. In the aftermath, Ned went to the Tower of Joy to rescue Lyanna, who he discovered dying in childbirth.
Ned brought the child, named Aegon Targaryen by Lyanna, home (Winterell) and said he was his bastard son called Jon Snow. (The secret died with him until Brandon Stark and Samwell Tarly independently discovered the child’s identity.)
Sometime during Robert’s reign, the Greyjoys rebelled — they are basically the Vikings of Westeros, hardy people who are never content to live under peace for long. Of course, they lost. Theon Greyjoy, the son of Lord Balon Greyjoy, was kept at Winterfell under the care of the Stark as hostage.
Game of Thrones returns on April 14. The show will air on Star World in India.