The original stars of Game of Thrones, and still the favorite house of many fans, the Starks have not had an easy time in Westeros. Since Eddard (Sean Bean) first reluctantly agreed to travel to King’s Landing, it seems like these Northerners just can’t catch a break – although that might finally be changing if this season is anything to go by! Even in near-ruin, House Stark is a force to be reckoned with, and many are rooting for Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) to rise up and take back the North for good before the show comes to an end.
But how much do you really know about the house with the direwolf as its sigil? One of the oldest houses in Westeros, the Starks have a long and complicated history, and there is plenty to know about the Wardens of the North. We’ve rounded up some fun facts from the family's history that you might not already be aware of so that you can get to know the Stark clan a bit better. Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About House Stark.
-- SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 6 lie ahead --
15 House Stark Gave The Gift
Many gifts are given in this medieval landscape, but we are referring to “The Gift” – the parcel of land in the North that technically belongs to the Night’s Watch. The Watch uses the land for provisions, primarily farming, but we know that the more recent members of the brotherhood also enjoy heading to the local Gift brothels and alehouses as well (especially in Mole’s Town). Most recently, The Gift has become something of a settling place for the Wildlings that Jon Snow has brought back from North of the Wall, much to the dismay of the few settled there, who've been raided by Wildlings for many years.
According to legend, the Gift was originally given to the Night’s Watch by Bran Stark when the Watch was first founded. Obviously, this is not the Bran Stark that we know, but the man he was named for. The first Brandon Stark was the first King in the North and founder of House Stark. Most say that he was also Bran the Builder, who built Winterfell and the Wall itself, although in the books, the maesters often disagree on this point.
14 The Stark/Bolton Feud Is An Ancient One
There are plenty of house feuds simmering below the surface of Westeros – or bursting out into open war! But one of the oldest feuds in the land is that between House Stark and House Bolton. Fans of the show will know just how this rivalry has gone in recent years, as House Bolton has done all it can to try and take down the Starks. This started when the War of the Five Kings broke out, and House Bolton quickly turned on Robb (Richard Madden), despite pledging fealty. After ousting Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and his kinsmen from Winterfell, Ramsey Bolton (Iwan Rheon) slaughtered the Ironborn there – despite Robb’s pledge that they would be given safe passage home. Then, having set Winterfell alight, the Boltons worked with the Freys to orchestrate the Red Wedding – slaughtering Robb and his followers. More recently, Ramsey Bolton wed Sansa Stark – and subsequently raped and tortured her -- and murdered Rickon (Art Parkinson) on the battlefield, before Sansa Stark was finally able to get some degree of payback by feeding him to his own hounds.
So why did House Bolton do all of these terrible things? Because they have always hated the Starks. In the Age of Heroes, when House Stark was attempting to unite the North under a single king, the Boltons were the most vocal opponents. They battled on multiple occasions, killing Stark men and even flaying them alive and wearing their skins. Eventually, House Bolton bent the knee to the Starks and gave up the practice of flaying men as a mark of fealty, but resentment has festered for centuries. When Ramsey and his father rose up against the Starks, they began to flay men again, as a symbol that they were throwing off Stark rule.
13 The Stark Direwolves Foreshadowed Their Owners' Fates
Back in season 1, when we thought that Ned Stark might actually have a shot at the Iron Throne and were blissfully unaware of how violent everything was about to get, the Stark children were all together, alive, and had found a litter of adorable direwolf puppies. With one pup for each child -- with the runt of the litter going to Jon -- the wolves quickly became inseparable from their masters. We didn’t realize it at the time, but each of the wolves’ names and fates would act as a foreshadowing device for the fate of the Stark who raised them. (Some more than others!)
Lady, Sansa’s wolf, was the first to be killed. She was killed in place of Nymeria, Arya’s wolf, who had bitten Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Not only did her name fit Sansa to a T, but Lady was murdered by those in power, despite Sansa’s screams that she had done nothing wrong. Just like Sansa herself, whose ladylike dreams were destroyed by those in power. Grey Wind, Robb Stark’s war dog was next. Although Robb and his wolf swept through the armies of their opponents like a wind – with Grey Wind often playing a key part in Robb’s victories, both were murdered at the Red Wedding.
Summer, Bran’s wolf, was the next to die; he bit the dust when Bran (Issac Hempstead Wright) was attacked by the White Walkers North of the Wall. Bran, as the Three-Eyed Raven, is a child of summer and one of the few people who can help prevent the White Walkers -- the children of Winter – from destroying Westeros. Here's hoping Summer's death doesn't foreshadow Bran's. Shaggydog, Rickon’s wolf, has the simplest name of the six – probably because Rickon was so young when they found the pups. However, following Rickon’s murder at the hands of Ramsey Bolton, fans have speculated that both Rickon and his wolf were hunted down and killed… like simple (shaggy) dogs.
There are two wolves still alive today: Nymeria and Ghost. Jon Snow’s Ghost is a clear reference to his resurrection – like a ghost, he has died and yet remains on this Earth. Nymeria, Arya’s wolf, was driven away to save her, just like the lady she is named for, a warrior queen who led her people to exile to save them. Just as Arya ran to Braavos to save herself. And now that Arya is on her way home, there's no shortage of fan speculation that her Direwolf will return as well.
12 No Stark Sword is Part of the Iron Throne
The iconic Iron Throne is forged from the swords of the first King’s enemies – but not a single Stark sword is among them. Created by Aegon the Conqueror when he first subdued and united the separate kingdoms of Westeros, the thone was forged with dragon fire from the swords of those that he'd conquered.
House Stark escaped this fate by being the only ruling family who bowed to the Targaryen conquerors, rather than fight until they were overcome. When Aegon came to Westeros, House Stark was headed up by Torrhen Stark (more on him later). Although Torrhen called his armies to him, he met Aegon and his armies (and dragons) at the Trident, and realized that should he fight, his men would be slaughtered. Rather than lead them to death in battle, Torrhen chose to bend the knee to Aegon, swearing fealty to him as king. For this, Torrhen would go down in history as the King Who Knelt, but he saved the lives of thousands of his men and became named Warden of the North under the Targaryens. They also kept their swords, and the throne was forged without them.
11 They Are Descended From The First Men
As the name suggests, the First Men is the name for the first race of humans (as we know them) who came to Westeros over the Arm of Dorne. One of the three original races from whom all descend, the First Men waged war in ancient Westeros, long before Aegon’s Landing. They arrived under the command of the First King, and fought the Children of the Forest – the original inhabitants, and a race furious at the First Men for cutting down their trees. At the end of a long war, a pact was made, giving their weirwood trees to the Children, and the coastal areas and plains to the First Men. As we found out this season in Game of Thrones, before this pact was made, the Children created White Walkers as a weapon against the First Men, one which turned on their creators.
After the First Men made peace with the Children, there was a time of calm, one that was broken by the invading Andals. The Andals slowly conquered most of Westeros, and married into the noble families. However, in the North, the King of Winter fought the Andals off, keeping the First Men in the North (and beyond the wall). Many Northern families, and the Starks in particular, are descended from the lines of the First Men, and have the blood of the First Men in their veins. They kept the same faiths as their First Men ancestors, worshiping the gods of nature and the weirwood, as many of the Northern families still do. Even the name “Stark” is thought to be a First Men name, as the names of the First Men were usually quite short.
10 The Founder Of House Stark Built The Wall
The Bran Stark that we know from the series is named after the first Stark – the founder of the House, Brandon Stark, also known as Bran the Builder. Brandon Stark lived in the Age of Heroes, and was one of the First Men. The legendary founder of House Stark, he was the first King in the North.
Brandon Stark was also known as Bran the Builder, and was responsible for the creation of several of the most famous structures in Westeros. Aided by giants and a hint of magic, he was responsible for building the Wall, as well as Winterfell itself (making Winterfell an incredibly old castle!). As a young boy, he aided another legendary figure, Durran (from whom House Baratheon is descended) in the building of Storm’s End. He is also said to have designed Hightower at Oldtown, although it is possible that this was done by his son of the same name. Although some Maesters argue that Bran the Builder and the founder of House Stark must have been two different men, the common understanding is that they are one and the same.
9 The Starks Were Kings Of Winter
In “current day” Westeros (the time period in which the show is set), The Starks are Wardens of the North – a position bestowed on them when they pledged fealty to Aegon the Conqueror. This new title gave the Starks dominion over the lands and people of the North, but only under the High King. A largely ceremonial title, the Wardens are also charged with keeping peace in their region.
Before Aegon the Conqueror came to the shores of Westeros, however, the Starks were not Wardens, but Kings. The King in the North (also titled The King of Winter) was a title held for thousands of years by the Starks. Since the time of the First Men and Brandon Stark (the first King of Winter), the Starks have held the title of King in the North, and now it seems as though the title has been revived for Jon Snow. King of Winter is an older title than King in the North – presumably as a reference to the last long winter, and the last battle with the White Walkers. As those times were forgotten, and longer summers came to Westeros, the title evolved to King in the North.
8 The Night’s King May Be A Stark
The Night’s King (referred to as the Night King in the HBO adaptation), leader of the White Walkers, was once a man – and may have been a Stark. This season, we learned that the Night King was created by the Children of the Forest as a weapon against the First Men, back in the Age of Heroes. Which means that that man had to have come from somewhere – and was presumably one of the First Men himself.
Although the series does not make any suggestions as to who this man may have been, Old Nan had some ideas, and as we all know, Old Nan knew what she was talking about. In "A Storm of Swords", Bran recounts some of the stories Old Nan told. When it comes to the Night King, Nan said that he was once a Stark of Winterfell, that he was a brother to the King of Winter, and that his name was Brandon. Legend also tells that he was the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, who fell in love with a woman from beyond the wall, and brought her back to the Nightfort to rule there as King and Queen. He was eventually defeated by Brandon the Breaker (another Stark) and Joramun (the King Beyond the Wall).
7 The Stark Line Was Continued By A King Beyond The Wall
The King Beyond The Wall is the title given to whomever unites the Wildlings, and it's a title as old as that of the King in the North. Although the Kings of Winter and the King Beyond the Wall have united at times in the past against a common enemy (see above), the majority of history sees these two figures at odds. As Wildlings raid the North, the Kings in the North have driven them back. However, at one point in history, a King Beyond the Wall ended up continuing the Stark line when it was on the verge of ending.
Bael the Bard was a legendary Wildling who was called a coward by the Lord of the North, Brandon Stark (another Brandon!). Furious, he snuck into Winterfell disguised as a travelling singer, and entertained the Lord so well that Lord Stark offered him a reward. Bael asked for his most beautiful flower – and then promptly absconded with his virgin daughter. However, this turned out well for everyone, as one day the girl was returned, with a newborn child. At the time, there were no other Stark heirs, so Bael’s bastard son became the new Lord Stark and carried on the family line.
6 There Are Other Branches of the Stark Family
Although the Starks themselves are the rulers of the North, the Stark family branches out into other noble houses – some of which are still alive by the time of the series. House Greystark were a cadet branch during the time that the Starks were Kings in the North (a branch created when a younger son is granted lands and titles). However, the Greystarks met a bitter end when they took up arms against the Starks alongside the Boltons in a Dreadfort rebellion. Although the Boltons survived, the last Greystark heirs were killed.
The Karstarks are also a cadet branch of the Starks, founded by Karlon Stark. Although the Karstarks were loyal to the Stark House for centuries, we have recently seen them also join with House Bolton in rebellion. Although House Karstark rallied to Robb Stark at first, Harald Karstark would later threw in his lot with Ramsey Bolton. It seems now that the Lords of the North are rallying around Jon Snow as the new King, though it's unclear whether the Karstarks are back in the family fold or were wiped out in the Battle of the Bastards.
5 A Stark Won Bear Island And Gave It To The Mormonts
One of our favorite new characters in Season 6 has been Lyanna Mormont, the badass young Lady of House Mormont, and a staunch supporter of the Starks and now of Jon Snow as King in the North. Her loyalty is admirable, but not without precedent – the Mormonts have been a devoted vassal house to the Starks for many generations. Part of the reason for this may be that the home of House Mormont, Bear Island, was a gift given by then-King in the North, Rodrik Stark.
Legend has it that the island was often fought over by the Starks and the Ironborn, with both sides taking possession of Bear Island at different points in history. However, after years of battling over the island, King Rodrick dealt with the conflict not with war – but with a wrestling match. He wrestled the King of the Iron Islands for Bear Island, and won. The Island was then given to the Mormonts as a reward for their loyalty.
4 The Last Stark King Was Torrhen Stark
From the time of the Age of Heroes, the Starks have been Kings in the North, with Bran the Builder serving as the first Stark King. Now, the title of King in the North has been revived – first by Robb Stark's kinsmen during his brief campaign in the War of the Five Kings, and now by the remaining Northern houses/tribes and Jon Snow.
The kast time that there was a King in the North was when Aegon the Conqueror came to the shores of Westeros – when King Torrhen reigned. Now known by history as The King Who Knelt, he chose to submit to Aegon and his armies, rather than fight and risk the lives of his men, who were outnumbered 45,000 (and three dragons) to 30,000. Torrhen was brought up by Catelyn Stark, when she was talking to Robb about surrender – and reminding him that if he did, he would not be the first Stark to bend the knee to a more powerful house. Of course, Robb refused, reminding Catelyn that Aegon did not kill Torrhen’s father. Damn you, Lannisters!
3 A Stark Has Governed Kings Landing
Most of the history of the Starks keeps them in the North – as Kings, Wardens and Lords of that region in Westeros. Despite rebellion and other houses desiring the Iron Throne, Robb Stark was the first to make an open bid to become High King of Westeros – but had he succeeded, he would not have been the first to govern there.
After the Dance of the Dragons, King Aegon III ascended the Iron Throne, and declared Cregan Stark as Hand of the King. As the young king was eleven at the time, Cregan governed in Kings Landing for exactly six days, during which time he arrested 22 men for the murder of the former king, and had several of them executed (most chose to take the Black rather than be sentenced to death). As soon as he'd rounded up the riff-raff, Cregan resigned as Hand and headed back to the North, and his time governing the realm came to be known as the Hour of the Wolf.
2 A Stark May Finally Sit on the Iron Throne
Many fans have been rooting for the Starks to rule Westeros since day one, and in the Season 6 finale, something was revealed that may give Jon Snow a serious claim to the Iron Throne. In the epic season 6 finale, "The Winds of Winter", Bran returned to his flashback of Ned Stark at the Tower of Joy – where he discovered his sister, Lyanna, dying after having delivered a child. Her son, of course, was none other than Jon Snow – the son Ned later would claim to be his own bastard and raise in Winterfell as his own.
This, while an amazing revelation, doesn’t by itself mean that Jon has more of a claim to the Iron Throne than he did before – just that Ned did not cheat on Catelyn, and that he is still a true Stark child. However, this scene also seemingly confirmed longstanding rumors of Jon’s other parent – Rhaegar Targaryen. For those of you who don't know, Rhaegar was the firstborn son of King Aerys II (aka the Mad King), his rightful heir, and older brother to Daenerys Targaryen. He was also the one who had Lyanna stashed away in the Tower of Joy after presumably fathering her child – which could very well mean that Jon Snow, as the son of Rhaegar, is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne (if you consider the Baratheons usurpers, and the Targaryens the rightful rulers, that is). They'll just have to prove it. Somehow.
1 Direwolves Are A Real Dog
The Stark sigil is the grey Direwolf on a field of white, and the Direwolf is the mark of the house. Most fans believe this animal (an incredibly large and intelligent breed of dog) to be a fantasy, much like Daenerys’s dragons. However, these direwolves have a strong basis in real world breeds, both historically and in the modern day. The “dire wolf” was originally a name for an extinct species of canine which lived during the Late Pleistocene. Like George R R Martin’s version, they were extremely large (although we can’t speak much to their intelligence!).
In the books, no Direwolves were only believed to exist north of the wall -- before the Stark boys found their pups outside of Winterfell while out on a hunt. Similarly, although the original dire wolf is long gone, the Direwolf Project has been working since the '80s to create a new breed of dog with the same size and intelligence as those that we love in the fantasy realm of Westeros. The project pre-dates the novels, and was originally an attempt to breed a particularly large companion dog. However, partially due to the popularity of the series, the dogs have been renamed (although the official breed name is American Alsatian). A mix of Alsatian, Mastiff, Anatolian and Great Pyrenees, these dogs are an incredibly rare breed, and the project continues to work to better the breed and learn more about how the original, real life Direwolves lived.
Did we miss any need to know facts about everyone's favorite Northern house? How badly do you want to own a Direwolf? Let us know in the comments!