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- "I suppose all of our ancestors came from somewhere else, originally."
- ―Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish
This article is a condensed guide to the numerous and diverse cultures and peoples living in the Known World, across the three known continents of Westeros, Essos, and Sothoryos. It is a navigation portal, meant to give a brief description of each group and its relationship to other groups, but more extensive information can be found by following the links to the main article devoted to each.
None of the inhabitants of the world that Westeros is set on can say with certainty how old it is, nor how long the human race has lived on it. Different religions offer different supernatural origin myths for the human race, though it isn't clear which - if any - is correct. It is unknown if humans were literally created by supernatural forces, such as how the races in Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium were created, or if they evolved from simpler life-forms as on real-life Earth (though the concept of biological evolution has never been developed by the inhabitants of Westeros's medieval setting).
Within the known Timeline, written historical records stretch back about 6,000 years before the time of the TV series, around the time that the Andal invasion introduced a full writing system to Westeros. Several of the older civilizations in Esssos (such as Old Ghis and Yi Ti) have written records that stretch back to the Long Night cataclysm, about 8,000 years ago. Humans were still active before the time of written records, in the Dawn Age, stretching back to at least 12,000 years ago when the First Men became the first humans to migrate to Westeros - though humans were living in Essos long before that. There were several older lost civilizations in the Dawn Age but they left only ruins behind. It is unknown if humans originated (by whatever means) in Essos, Sothoryos, or some other now-unknown continent, as even oral history does not extend that far back, instead fading into folklore and religious explanations.
The dividing line between "ancient" cultures and peoples and "contemporary" ones in this article is defined as before or after the Targaryen Conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, which took place three hundred years before the War of the Five Kings. The last major migration to Westeros was made by the Rhoynar, about seven hundred years before the Targaryen Conquest (the Targaryens themselves were Valyrians but their numbers were so few that they did not have a significant impact on the continent's overall ethnic makeup). The cultures of the Free Cities and other lands of Essos in the present were largely shaped by the Doom of Valyria, which occurred one century before the Targaryen Conquest, during which the Valyrian Freehold collapsed and its surviving colonies reformed into independent city-states and realms.
Therefore, the Targaryen Conquest makes a convenient cutoff point (it is also used to mark Year 1 of the dating system used in Westeros). Some of the "ancient" cultures, however, simply evolved into modern ones gradually: the Andals who invaded the Westerlands 6,000 years ago initially formed many small petty kingdoms, and only coalesced into realms such as the "Kingdom of the Rock" many centuries later. Yet by the time of the Targaryen Conquest, they had been unified under their own Lannister kings, and had thought of themselves as "Westermen", for many centuries. Still, for the purposes of the Game of Thrones TV series, this provides a fairly reliable break between "ancient" and "contemporary" or ("modern") cultures and peoples.
- Indented text in this article is used to indicate notes based on further information in the novels (though no particular spoilers are included for those caught up with the current TV episodes).
Ancient Cultures and Peoples of Westeros
The First Men are the original human inhabitants of Westeros, who first migrated to the continent 12,000 years ago. They ruled the continent for millennia before the Andals invaded from the eastern continent of Essos. The Andals overran most of southern Westeros, but failed to take the North. While the blood of the First Men and the Andals has intermingled over thousands of years of dynastic marriages, the inhabitants of the North have the greatest amount of First Men blood in their veins and keep their traditions.
- To be clear: the "First Men" are not the first humans who lived in the entire world. Humans were already living on the eastern continent of Essos for untold millennia (and probably also on Sothoryos, the Africa-like continent south of Essos). The exact origins of the human race are not known, because just as in real life, written history does not extend that far back. Even oral history eventually fades into varying fables, legends, and religious explanations for the origins of humans. The "First Men" are simply the first humans that migrated to the western continent of Westeros.
The original homeland of the Andals is a region on the west coast of Essos which was called Andalos, located north of the modern Free City of Pentos, across the Narrow Sea from Westeros. Six thousand years ago, after allegedly receiving visions from the "Seven-faced God", the Andals were spurred on by their new Faith to migrate to Westeros, where they overran and conquered most of the continent, then inhabited by the First Men. The Andals brought the concept of chivalry and iron-wrought weapons and armor with them from Essos.
In many cases the Andals did intermarry with the First Men they conquered, so that even House Lannister claims at least some minor descent from the First Men. Still, the overwhelming influence on the bloodlines of the continent are from the Andals, to the point that the Seven Kingdoms are often called "the Land of the Andals" by peoples in Essos (such as the Dothraki).
The exceptions are the North, which the Andals never conquered and where the blood of the First Men is still strong, and Dorne, where the Andal inhabitants later intermingled with the refugees from the east.
The ancient ironborn were apparently First Men who colonized the islands, but their culture radically diverged from their cousins on the mainland. The modern ironborn are an intermingling of the blood of the original First Men settlers of the islands and the Andals who followed six thousand years later. While the Andals and the Faith of the Seven came to dominate everywhere else below the Neck, they found less purchase on the Islands. While a few converts to the Faith of the Seven may be found there even in the present day, most of the Andal invaders converted to the native deity, the Drowned God, instead. The Andal invaders completely acculturated to the distinct "ironborn" culture, and their invasion had relatively little impact upon the Iron Islands.
Thus the ironborn are ethnically composed of the same First Men/Andal mix as most of the rest of Westeros: they are culturally, not ethnically distinct. Even so, their culture developed so radically differently from societies on the mainland that the ironborn essentially form the fourth major cultural group in Westeros, besides the First Men, Andals, and Rhoynar.
One of the few notable changes was that the ironborn switched to speaking the Common Tongue of the Andals. On the other hand, the independent First Men of the North also eventually took up using the language of their Andal neighbors through cultural proximity, not because it was imposed upon them, and therefore it might be wrong to say that the Andals even "forced" the ironborn to speak their language.
The Rhoynar were a people from the eastern continent who migrated Dorne one thousand years ago, fleeing conquest by the Valyrian Freehold after losing a series of major wars to the dragonlords. Their migration to Westeros was led by the warrior-queen Nymeria, who married into House Martell, and with their combined forces conquered and unified Dorne for the first time. Afterwards, the Rhoynar intermingled with the local First Men and Andal inhabitants of Dorne to produce the modern Dornishmen. Their descendants in Dorne keep some of the customs and laws of their Rhoynar ancestors alive.
Ancient Cultures and Peoples of Essos
The Ghiscari Empire was one of the oldest - if not the oldest - civilizations known to have existed. It ruled much of the continent of Essos, centered around the region known as Slaver's Bay. It was already thriving and building vast cities with massive pyramids when the Valyrians were still humble shepherds tending their flocks on hillsides. Like the Valyrians, the Ancient Ghiscari extensively practiced slavery, refining it into a well-developed discipline. While the Valyrians rode dragons into battle, the Ghiscari fielded vast lock-step legions of slave-soldiers.
After the Valyrians discovered and learned to ride dragons as beasts of war, they began their own expansion, and eventually came into conflict with the Ghiscari Empire. The Valyrian Freehold and Ghiscari Empire fought a series of five great wars, contesting which would be the dominant power in Essos. At the end of the last war the Valyrians finally defeated the Ghiscari Empire when their armies and their dragons attacked the Empire's capital city of Ghis. The buildings and streets were burned to ash, and the Valyrians sowed the earth with salt so that nothing would grow again. Five thousand years later, Old Ghis is still a ruin.
Some of the ancient bloodline and traditions of the Ghiscari Empire lived on in their colony-cities in Slaver's Bay, which were conquered and ruled by the Valyrians for the next five thousand years, until reasserting their independence after the Doom of Valyria.
ValyriansThe Valyrians created the largest empire the world has ever seen, which lasted for five thousand years, only to be destroyed in a single day when a volcanic cataclysm known as "the Doom" ruined their capital city, four hundred years before the War of the Five Kings. At its height their empire, known as the Valyrian Freehold, encompassed nearly half of the continent of Essos.
Originally a community of shepherds, the Valyrians rose to prominence after discovering dragons in the volcanic area known as the Fourteen Fires. After taming the mighty beasts, they established the city of Valyria and became skilled in both magic and metallurgy - creating a unique type of steel. [[File:Daenerys_and_Viserys.jpg|thumb|The Valyrians With their dragons and weapons, the Valyrians conquered their surrounding lands and began their westward expansion. However, they came into conflict with the Rhoynar as well as the Ghiscari peoples. The Ghiscari Empire fought five wars against the Valyrian Freehold and was eventually defeated, their capital destroyed, and its people enslaved.
Valyrians are known for having very pale skin, silver (platinum blonde) hair, and brightly colored violet or deep blue eyes. To keep their traits "pure", Valyrian nobles often practiced incest, wedding brother to sister, cousin to cousin, uncle to niece and aunt to nephew.
- In the novels, Valyrians typically have purple-colored irises. The TV series originally tried to do this using colored contacts in the early days of filming, but it was quickly dropped entirely. As the producers explained, "actors act with their eyes", so having unusual purple-colored eyes just seemed too distracting, and they felt it was affecting the actors' performances. In the TV series, Daenerys and Viserys still at least have light blue eyes (which was not unknown among the Valyrians).
For nearly five thousand years, Valyrian hegemony was uncontested, until "the Doom" destroyed much of the Valyrian peninsula. Not only dragons, but also the Valyrians' spells, knowledge and recorded history, were lost.
The cause of the Doom remains unknown, with some believing the Valyrians themselves caused it with their reckless use of magic. In any event, the power of the Valyrians was broken, the ruling dragonlords dead, and soon their colonies throughout Essos declared their independence and a period of constant warfare began: the Century of Blood.
The Rhoynar were a people from the eastern continent, named for their homeland along the immense Rhoyne River and its numerous tributaries, near the modern Free Cities. One thousand years ago, their territories were conquered by the Valyrian Freehold in a series of massive wars. The survivors fled west across the Narrow Sea, led by the warrior-queen Nymeria, and settled in Dorne. There they intermingled with the local population (a mixture of First Men and Andals), giving rise to their descendants, the modern Dornishmen.
Contemporary Cultures and Peoples of Westeros
Descendants of the First Men
Over the millennia, the ancient First Men diversified into several different groups: the Northmen, the Crannogmen, the wildling tribes (or "Free Folk" as they call themselves) who live beyond the Wall, and the hill tribes of the Vale.
The Northmen are the proud descendants of the First Men who dwell in the region of Westeros known as the North, between the isthmus of the Neck and the Wall. When the Andals invaded Westeros six thousand years ago, only the First Men in the North were able to repulse their advance, stubbornly defending the narrow choke point of the Neck at the ancient fortress Moat Cailin. [[File:Rodrik-cassel.jpg|thumb|left|Ser Rodrik Cassel, a northman knight, and proud Northern men-at-arms.]]
South of the Neck, the majority of people from the other kingdoms of Westeros are all descended from the Andals, intermixed with the conquered local First Men, but the defiantly independent First Men remained the dominant ethnic group north of the Neck. The blood and traditions of the First Men remain strong in the North to the present day, and belief in the Old Gods of the Forest - worshiped by their First Men forbearers - remains the dominant religion.
For many centuries, the Northmen formed their own independent Kingdom of the North ruled by House Stark of Winterfell, who were known as the Kings in the North (and earlier, the Kings of Winter). Three hundred years ago, however, the Northmen submitted to Aegon the Conqueror during Targaryen Conquest. "The North" became one of the constituent regions of the unified Seven Kingdoms, and the Starks were retained as the Lords Paramount of the North, under the Targaryen kings.The years-long winters that Westeros experiences hit the North the hardest. For millennia, the Northmen have also faced raids by wildlings coming over and around the Wall, and sometimes full-scale invasions when the wildlings were united by a King-Beyond-the-Wall. The North also has vast coastlines on both sides of the continent, vulnerable to attack by ironborn on the west coast, and pirates from the Free Cities on the east coast. As a result, Northmen have a reputation for being dour, stern, battle-hardened warriors. With every winter a fight for survival, Northmen take the burden of leadership very seriously as a matter of life and death. As a result, they still firmly believe in the tradition handed down by their First Men ancestors, that the man who passes the sentence of death must personally swing the sword used in the execution. The reasoning is that if a lord is not steadfast enough in his convictions to look a man he has sentenced in the eye and then kill him personally, there will be doubt that the condemned man was guilty.
Northmen are sometimes collectively referred to as "wolves", in reference to the sigil of House Stark. Northmen are also called "Northerners", interchangeably.
The crannogmen are the inhabitants of the swamps of the Neck, the southernmost part of the North which borders the Riverlands, in central Westeros. They are a unique offshoot of the First Men, who branched off from their Northmen cousins. They are ruled by House Reed as vassals loyal to House Stark. The crannogmen are so-called because they live in small villages in the deep swamps, formed of thatch and woven reeds which sit atop artificial floating islands made out of logs, which are known as crannogs.
Hardy and reclusive swamp-dwellers, the crannogmen are derisively referred to by outsiders as "mudmen" and "frog-eaters". They are a poor people, mostly subsisting on fishing and frogging, as well as eating any game they can hunt. By the standards of some of their neighbors their culture is somewhat primitive, but they are very woodcrafty, with great knowledge of their terrain as well as of poisons made by local plants and animals in the swamps, which they often coat their weapons with. Crannogmen are typically short in stature.
The crannogmen are a different offshoot of the First Men, separate from the Northmen who also descend from the First Men. However, the crannogmen do consider themselves to politically be "Northmen", in a general sense, because they have been ruled by the Starks of Winterfell for centuries.
Wildlings (Free Folk)
The "Free Folk" is the name used to refer to themselves by the people who live in the lands beyond the Wall, still on the continent of Westeros but beyond the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms. The name they employ makes reference to their society, which recognizes no political authority and no claim of ownership over the land. The people of the Seven Kingdoms refer to the Free Folk derogatorily as "wildlings".
The Free Folk are descended from the First Men, as are the inhabitants of the North. They were, essentially, the people unlucky enough to be living north of the Wall when it was constructed eight thousand years ago. Besides this shared ethnic heritage, their common descent means that there are also many cultural similarities between the wildlings and the Northmen. The wildlings are much closer in lifestyle and habits to how the First Men lived thousands of years ago, as the North has come under some cultural influence from their Andal neighbors who invaded southern Westeros six thousand years ago, and particularly since the Seven Kingdoms were united into a single realm by the Targaryen Conquest three hundred years ago.
The Free Folk worship the Old Gods of the Forest, like their distant cousins in the North. Even in the lands of House Stark, there are some followers of the Faith of the Seven, often southern noblewomen who come to the North to secure marriage alliances. Beyond the Wall, however, the Old Gods are the only gods that are worshiped.
The Free Folk consist of a wide variety of many fractious tribes and village-dwellers, some reasonably refined, others savage and hostile. Different wildling factions have very different cultures and practices, and may speak different languages. They spend much of their time fighting one another over petty squabbles, aside from the times when they are unified by a King-Beyond-the-Wall - as they are now under Mance Rayder.
Some of these clans or groups include:
- Numerous clans from the vast Haunted Forest, immediately north of the Wall but east of the Frostfang Mountains. These tend to be semi-nomadic hunters and homesteaders, though some of them form villages of their own.
- Ice-river clans
- Cave people
Hill tribes of the Vale
The hill tribes (or "mountain clans") are clans who live in the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon on the western fringes of the Vale of Arryn. They reject and resist the rule of House Arryn, and harass travelers along the Eastern Road through the mountains.
Prominent hill tribes include:
- Stone Crows - led by Shagga
- Burned Men - led by Timett
- Black Ears - led by Chella
- Moon Brothers - led by Ulf
- Painted Dogs
The hill tribes are also sometimes derisively referred to as "wildlings", but out of context the term is usually understood to refer to the peoples living beyond the Wall, who refer to themselves as the "Free Folk" ("wildlings" is used as a generic synonym for "barbarians" or "savages").
Contemporary Andal kingdoms
After many centuries, the Andals intermingled with the local First Men inhabitants of the lands they had conquered. Even major Houses such as the Lannisters, Tyrells, and Tullys have at least some First Men blood in their ancestry. Still, they became culturally "Andal", speaking their language and following the new religion the Andals introduced to Westeros, the Faith of the Seven, which became the dominant faith on the continent. The Andals carved out their own rival petty kingdoms when they conquered the First Men, and these tiny Andal kingdoms continued to fight each other for thousands of years. Over time these tiny local kingdoms aggregated into larger ones, as the stronger ones absorbed the weaker ones, eventually dividing Westeros south of the Wall into seven large kingdoms - which became geographically known as "the Seven Kingdoms", even after they were unified by the Targaryen Conquest three centuries ago.
The people of each of these modern Andal kingdoms have their own unique traits.
The Vale of Arryn (often known as just "the Vale") was the first region of Westeros that the Andals invaded in their migration to the continent 6,000 years ago, and today the noble Houses of the Vale boast the purest Andal bloodlines. In other regions, the Andals heavily intermarried with the local First Men, so the Lannisters, Tyrells, and Tullys all have at least some First Men ancestry.
The Vale is self-sufficient but not as rich as the Westerlands or as bountiful as the Reach. Their major advantage is their isolation: the Mountains of the Moon along the border prevent any major army from approaching by land, save through a few very narrow and heavily defended mountain passes which can repulse any attack. As a result, Valemen place great pride in their lineages, while maintaining a certain arrogance born of isolation. They may not possess the large armies of the Reach or expensively equipped armies of the Westerlands, but throughout the centuries those armies have broken like water on rock against the narrow choke points of the Vale's mountain passes.
The Andals may have begun their invasion in the Vale, but the fertile lands of the Reach soon became their cultural heartland, and remained so for thousands of years. The High Septon, leader of the Faith of the Seven, used to be based in the major city of Oldtown for centuries (until moving to King's Landing about 150 years ago). The Reach is considered the heartland of chivalry in Westeros: the traditions of Knighthood and chivalry are therefore taken very seriously in the Reach, as are associated cultural elements such as Tournaments, as well as courtly love and romantic intrigue. The noble courts of the Reach are the most sophisticated in Westeros.
The Reach is also the most fertile region of Westeros, meaning that the Reach has the largest population and can field the largest army, nearly twice the size of any other kingdom (though this balances out because the Reach also has twice as many bordering kingdoms as any other). Unlike the other major kingdoms, however, their rulers House Tyrell were never kings, but raised up by the Targaryens as the new regional rulers - ahead of other families in the Reach who actually had better claims to Highgarden. The result is that there has always been a considerable amount of court intrigue in the Reach, and negotiation of marriages to secure political alliances. Reachmen pride themselves on the knightly values of martial prowess and honorable conduct (though of course, this varies from individual to individual).
WestermenThe Westerlands are very mountainous and by far the richest of the Seven Kingdoms in terms of precious metals and gemstones. Their gold mines enrich the realm, and are famous even far across the Narrow Sea. While Valemen pride themselves on their lineages and isolation, and Reachmen pride themselves on knightly conduct and valor from their large armies, Westermen pragmatically value whoever has the most gold. For thousands of years, the wealthiest family in the Westerlands have been their rulers, House Lannister of Casterly Rock.
Because their kingdom is the richest in precious metals, and also useful metals such as iron, Westermen armies tend to be the best equipped in Westeros, with even their infantry wearing large amounts of plate armor and full-visor helmets (in contrast to the resource-poor Northmen, who often have to make do with chainmail). Because they do not value lineage or knightly conduct so much as they value wealth, Westermen nobles such as the Lannisters have come to be calculating and pragmatic in politics, often defeating their enemies not through valor but simply hiring larger armies.
StormlandersThe Stormlands have neither the gold of the Westerlands nor the fertile fields of the Reach - nor do they even have the defensive mountains that protect the Vale from attack by land. As a result, to defend their territories Stormlanders have had to develop the strongest martial tradition of any of the Andal kingdoms. Some of the greatest warriors in the history of the Seven Kingdoms have been Stormlanders, such as Robert Baratheon, who slew Rhaegar Targaryen in single combat during the Battle of the Trident. The warrior-woman Brienne of Tarth is also a Stormlander (though her behavior is unusual even for noblewomen from the Stormlands). Stormlanders are also often skilled and battle-hardened commanders of armies on land and fleets at sea, such as Robert's younger brother Stannis.
The borderlands in the southwest of the Stormlands are known as the Dornish Marches, because they are along the mountainous border with Dorne to the south, though they have also been contested by the Reach from the west. The Marcher lords of the Stormlands have always been the first line of defense in constant border disputes over the centuries, resulting in them possessing an even stronger martial tradition than the rest of the Stormlands. The living legend Ser Barristan Selmy is a Stormlander from a Marcher House, as is Ser Beric Dondarrion. The champion archer Anguy is also a Stormlander from the Dornish Marches.
Located in the middle of the continent, the Riverlands have long been a contested borderland between the more powerful kingdoms. Before the Targaryen Conquest, the Riverlands were conquered and held by the Stormlands for three centuries. Three generations before the Targaryen Conquest, the Iron Islands in turn drove out the Stormlanders and conquered the Riverlands themselves. When Aegon Targaryen and his sisters invaded Westeros, the Rivermen saw them as liberators from brutal ironborn rule, and assisted them in a popular uprising led by House Tully. For this reason the Riverlands didn't have a king at the time of the invasion, and the Riverlands are not technically counted as one of the "Seven" Kingdoms (instead essentially making up the eighth "kingdom") . However, for administrative purposes, the Riverlands and their rulers are equal to any other region of the realm.
Because the Riverlands had not ruled themselves as a unified independent kingdom for thousands of years, but were border territories which shifted between control of neighboring kingdoms, the Rivermen are more diverse than other Andal kingdoms, with less of a unified identity. House Blackwood and House Bracken loathe each other, and have been feuding for thousands of years. While the other major Rivermen Houses follow the Faith of the Seven, the Blackwoods still worship the Old Gods of the Forest. House Frey is a newer House that rose about six centuries ago by exacting tolls on their bridge crossing, but are looked down upon by the other older Rivermen Houses as greedy and selfish upstarts.In the other Andal kingdoms vassal Houses generally try to emulate the lead House, often in clothing styles and manners. Because House Tully never ruled as kings and the Riverlands were not unified for thousands of years, however, some of their vassals see no particular reason why they should be ruled by the Tullys of Riverrun and do not respect them as much (the only comparable situation was with how the Tyrells were raised to rule the Reach despite never being kings, but at least the Reach had been a unified kingdom for thousands of years before that). Therefore, there really is no set appearance or clothing style for Rivermen - the Freys in particular dress nothing like the Tullys, instead of emulating them, because they chafed under Tully rule. Different Rivermen Houses can also have very distinct local customs, such as how the Tullys conduct funerals by ceremonially burning their dead on pyre-boats in the Trident River.
Therefore, if the defining characteristics of Reachmen are their fertile fields and chivalry, of Westermen their gold and riches, of Stormlanders their martial prowess, and Valemen their proud lineages and isolation, the defining characteristic of the Rivermen is their diversity.
The Crownlands are the newest region in the Seven Kingdoms, created only three hundred years ago as a result of the Targaryen Conquest, carved out of territory from neighboring kingdoms to make a new capital region. As a result, it does not have much of a distinct "cultural identity", so much as it is shaped by its distinction as the region containing the capital city, King's Landing, which Aegon I Targaryen ordered built there after his conquest.
Culturally and historically, the Crownlands were primarily an extension of the Riverlands for thousands of years, but with cultural influences from neighboring regions which periodically captured territory in the region. The greatest of these was the conquest of all the Riverlands by the Stormlands, which lasted for three centuries. The Stormlanders were ultimately driven out when the ironborn invaded the Riverlands from the west, under Harren Hoare's grandfather. Harren's father then conquered the area of the future Crownlands, though Harren later died during the Targaryen Conquest.
The Crownlanders are an ethnically disparate mix of former Rivermen, former Stormlanders, holdout First Men, and even some Valyrians, divided into basically five geographic sub-sections: King's Landing itself, the main farmlands north of the Blackwater River and west of Crackclaw Point, the pine barrens of Crackclaw Point, the strip of land on the southern coast of Blacwater Bay running from the Blackwater River to Massey's Hook, and the islands in Blackwater Bay. The main section's rich farmlands feed the capital city, and were originally Rivermen who had long been ruled by the Stormlanders, generally the same First Men/Andal mix as most other regions of the south. Rosby, Duskendale, and Stokeworth are part of this group. Crackclaw Point is a wooded backwater that was rarely held for long by outsiders, and thus has a greater descent from the First Men, though they have intermarried with powerful Andal families over the centuries. The southern strip including Massey's Hook was actually still part of the Stormlands during the Targaryen Conquest, but the Stormlords of the region had already developed closer ties to the Targaryens and openly joined them at the beginning of the invasion. These former Stormlanders include House Massey and House Bar Emmon. In Blackwater Bay, the large islands of Dragonstone, Driftmark, and Claw Isle were actually settled by Valyrian families from Essos, the Targaryens, Velaryons, and Celtigars (respectively). These began as Valyrian trading outposts, and later became refuges after the Doom destroyed Valyria.
King's Landing itself, meanwhile, is practically another category unto itself. When the Targaryens built their new capital city from the ground up, it was a boom town quickly populated by artisans, merchants, and commoners who came from all over the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. As the largest port on the east coast of Westeros, a large number of foreigners from the Free Cities and beyond also live in the city (such as the master-blacksmith Tobho Mott, from the Free City of Qohor). Above them all for three hundred years were the Targaryens, who were ethnically Valyrian, though in such small numbers that they did not constitute another demographic group. Due to their presence there is not really one custom "Crownlander" style of clothing and appearance, so much as local lords and courtiers imitate the fashions set by the royal family. For example, when Eddard Stark arrives at court, most of the ladies at court dress in a style imitating the styles worn by Queen Cersei.
- "We are ironborn. We're not subjects, we're not slaves. We do not plow the field or toil in the mine. We take what is ours."
- ―Balon Greyjoy
In the present day, the Ironborn are composed of the same Andal/First Men mix as the rest of southern Westeros. However, the few Andals that invaded the isles actually converted to their way of life and worship of the Drowned God, and heavily intermarried with the local population. The Andal invasion really had only a minimal impact on the Iron Islands. In modern times, the ironborn generally think of their distinct culture as stretching back without interruption to the Dawn Age, long before the Andals arrived. Even back then, however, their culture had developed so differently from their First Men cousins who were on the mainland that the ironborn only consider themselves to have truly "originated", culturally, on the Iron Islands themselves.
The modern ironborn have chafed under the Iron Throne's unified rule ever since the Targaryen Conquest three centuries ago, which they resent as domination by the mainland.
Dornishmen: contemporary inhabitants of Dorne
Fleeing defeat and enslavement by the Valyrians in Essos, thousands of the Rhoynar fled by ship, migrating across the Narrow Sea to Dorne, a large and arid peninsula in the southeast of the continent. They were the third and last major ethnic group to migrate to Westeros, arriving in Dorne about one thousand years before the War of the Five Kings.
The Rhoynar allied with local rulers in Dorne and combined forces to conquer and unite the rest of Dorne for the first time, which had previously been divided between multiple rival petty kingdoms. The Rhoynar intermingled with the local First Men and Andal inhabitants over the centuries, resulting in the modern "Dornishmen".
For the next thousand years, the Dornishmen remained physically isolated from the rest of Westeros by the Red Mountains along their western border, and the harsh rolling-sands deserts of central Dorne. This allowed their culture to remain very distinct from the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. While they were separated from everyday contact, the Dornishmen have had frequent border wars and skirmishes with the fertile lands of the Reach to the west, and with the Stormlands to the north. For centuries, the main flashpoint in these conflicts have been in the hills and valleys of the Dornish Marches, a rough border region in the southwestern Stormlands.
The Rhoynar did not settle evenly across Dorne when they migrated to Dorne: instead, they primarily focused around the coasts and river valleys in the east, with their numbers gradually thinning out proceeding west towards the interior deserts and mountains of the west. As a result, there are actually said to be three kinds of Dornishmen in modern times:
- "Salty Dornishmen", who live along the coasts, and the densely populated river-valleys of eastern Dorne. These Dornishmen are dark-featured, with smooth olive skin and black hair. They tend to be short and lithe in build. House Martell, the ruling family of Dorne, are considered Salty Dornishmen.
- "Sandy Dornishmen", who live in the harsh deserts of central Dorne. Their faces burned brown by the hot Dornish sun, their features are even darker than the salty Dornishmen, even though they have a little less Rhoynar ancestry. Conversely, they are slightly taller than Salty Dornishmen. House Uller, of which Ellaria Sand is a bastard daughter, are considered Sandy Dornishmen.
- "Stony Dornishmen", who live in the passes and heights of the Red Mountains in western Dorne, the only part of Dorne which has a land border with the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. They have the most Andal and First Men blood, because few Rhoynar settled that far into the interior of Dorne. As a result they mostly resemble the other people of the Seven Kingdoms in look, customs, and traditions. They are brown-haired or blonde and fair-skinned, with faces that are freckled or burned by the sun. House Dayne is a family of Stony Dornishmen: perhaps their most famous member was the legendary Ser Arthur Dayne, who served in the Mad King's Kingsguard until his death.
- Dorne is loosely inspired, in part, by real-life medieval Spain, and has a similar ethnic continuum running across the region, except that they run from south-north instead of east-west. Islamic conquests and migrations in medieval Spain pushed up from the south, while holdout Visigothic kingdoms clung to the Pyrenees Mountains in the north. Similarly, the Rhoynar mostly settled in eastern Dorne, while "Stony Dornishmen" of the western mountains are holdout First Men/Andal Houses. The distinction between "Salty/Sandy/Stony" Dornishmen is really more of a general trend than official, rigid categories. In-universe, King Daeron I Targaryen coined this categorization scheme in the book he wrote about his attempt to conquer Dorne, and Daeron was making some sweeping generalizations. In truth, Rhoynar settlement patterns and centuries of intermingling resulted in an ethnic continuum across the region. Having grown up in the North, Arya Stark didn't even know that there were Stony Dornishmen, until she met the squire Edric Dayne among the Brotherhood Without Banners, who has blonde hair and blue eyes. Admittedly, most of Dorne's population is densely settled in the eastern river valleys, so "Salty Dornishmen" make up the bulk of its inhabitants (and their rulers the Martells themselves have a classic Salty Dornishmen/Rhoynar appearance).
- There is actually a fourth, very small group of Dornishmen, quite distinct from the rest, known as the "Orphans of the Greenblood". When the Rhoynar first settled in Dorne, some refused to give up the old river-boating trade lifestyle that they used to have on the Rhoyne River in Essos. Feeling that they were "orphaned" from their homeland in Essos, they clung to the old lifestyle of the Rhoynar, living on merchant poleboats plying their way up and down the Greenblood River, the main waterway in Dorne. They are relatively few in number, and would seem to be closer to the original Rhoynar in appearance than even the "Salty" Dornishmen.
The Rhoynar ancestors of the Dornishmen did convert to the Faith of the Seven when they migrated to Westeros, but in many ways they simply picked and chose which rules they wanted to follow while ignoring those they disagreed with. As a result the religion is interpreted more loosely in Dorne than in the other Seven Kingdoms (though they are no less devout), with several unique variations and local customs.
The Rhoynar also abandoned use of their original language and adopted the Common Tongue of the Andals when they migrated to Westeros. However, the lingering influence of their old language has given Dornishmen a distinctive accent to their speech.
- The novels mention that Dornishmen speak with a very distinctive accent but make no attempt to represent it in the text. The accent is consistently described as a "Dornish drawl". The Dornish accent used in the TV series is based on a Hispanic accent, because Dorne is inspired by medieval Spain. Because Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell) was the first major Dornish character cast, he established what the accent sounded like and subsequently cast actors based their "Dornish accents" on his performance. Specifically, Pascal explained he had an instinct that Oberyn sounded like his own father's real-life Chilean-Spanish accent: Pascal's family immigrated to the United States from Chile and Spanish was his first language growing up.
In the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, the Dornish have a reputation for being hot-blooded and sexually licentious. Indeed, Dornishmen have more "relaxed" views towards sexuality and love than the rest of Westeros. Paramours are not shunned or kept in secret: instead they are held in a similar status as a lawful wife or husband, and it is not unusual for noblewomen to have paramours. The Dornish also have no particular stigma against homosexual behavior. Similarly, bastards do not carry the stigma of being born out of wedlock and are raised along their trueborn siblings and cousins, though they are still considered poor matches for marriage due to their inability to receive inheritance.
Dorne was the only one of the Seven Kingdoms that managed to maintain its independence during the Targaryen Conquest, three centuries before the War of the Five Kings, during which Aegon I Targaryen forged the other six kingdoms into one unified realm under the Iron Throne. The Dornishmen achieved this by resorting to guerrilla warfare: realizing they could not fight the Targaryen dragons or hold out in siege, the Dornish melted away into the deserts to hide when a dragon arrived at one of their castles, then as soon as it left, ambushed Targaryen soldiers and harassed their supply lines. Eventually the Targaryens lost so many men from attrition that they had to abandon their invasion, and focus on reining in the other six kingdoms. Dorne eventually did come under the authority of the Iron Throne - but they joined the realm through peaceful marriage-alliance, only one century before the War of the Five Kings. As a result the Dornishmen were allowed to keep various local laws and privileges, such as referring to their regional ruler as a "Prince" instead of a "Lord Paramount". The combined effects of this geographic, ethnic, and political isolation has made the culture of the Dornishmen very unique in Westeros.
- The novels clearly describe the Dornishmen as non-white in appearance (except for the few Stony Dornishmen up in the mountains). They are said to have dark eyes and hair, and the Martells are often described as olive-skinned. Given that Dorne is partially inspired by medieval Muslim Spain, the TV series producers generally seem to have attempted to cast actors with a "Mediterranean" appearance, often Hispanic. Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell) is a Chilean-American, while Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand) is half South Asian Indian and half Swiss, and Alexander Siddig (Doran Martell) is half Sudanese and half English. Exactly what Dornish facial features look like is never commented upon, but this might indicate that they are not drastically different from the rest of Westeros i.e. given that Joffrey at one point says he thinks Oberyn's skin looks like the color of a cowpie, if Oberyn's facial features were also particularly different (African, East Asian, etc.) Joffrey wouldn't have hesitated to mock them too. Dorne is relatively near both the Free Cities and the Summer Islands, with sea trade connecting it to each of them, so there might be numerous individuals from both regions living in Dorne, if not intermarrying and settling there (the Rhoynar refugees, in fact, originally attempted to settle in the Summer Islands before moving on to Dorne). Indeed, one of Oberyn's bastard daughters, Sarella, is the product of a liason he had with a Summer Islander woman who was captain of her own trading ship, and Sarella takes after her mother in appearance. In Season 5 of the TV series, the TV series production team outright went to Spain itself to film scenes set in Dorne. Apart from casting calls using actual inhabitants of Spain, the show also filmed in several medieval Islamic palaces which are famous world heritage sites.
Valyrian survivors: The Targaryens and their vassals
- "I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the blood of Old Valyria. I am the dragon’s daughter!"
- ―Daenerys Targaryen
The only family of Valyrian Dragonlords to survive the Doom of Valyria was House Targaryen, which settled on Dragonstone island in Blackwater Bay, off the east coast of Westeros. They were accompanied by several minor vassal families who also settled on nearby islands. The Targaryens also possessed the world's only surviving dragons. For the next hundred years, while the former Valyrian Freehold tore itself apart in the Century of Blood, the Targaryens remained on Dragonstone, consolidating their strength. Then, three hundred years before the War of the Five Kings, Aegon I Targaryen and his two sister-wives Rhaenys and Visenya, set out to conquer and unite the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros in the War of Conquest. At the end of the Targaryen Conquest, Aegon took the swords of his fallen enemies and forged them into the Iron Throne using dragonflame. The Targaryens then founded a new capital city, King's Landing, and carved out territory from the neighboring kingdoms to form a new administrative region: the Crownlands, to be ruled directly by the Iron Throne. Over time the tradition was established that while the current monarch ruled in King's Landing, the heir apparent to the throne would rule the ancestral Targaryen territory on Dragonstone, holding the title "Prince of Dragonstone".
- The two main vassal families who accompanies the Targaryens to Westeros were House Velaryon and House Celtigar, who settled on other islands in Blackwater Bay. The Velaryons settled on Driftmark (the largest island in the bay), while the Celtigars settled on Claw Island. The Velaryons were among the Targaryens' most loyal vassals, who served as admirals of their fleets: under the Targaryen kings a Velaryon was named Master of Ships so often that the office was practically hereditary.
The Targaryens and their vassals actually had a minimal impact on the ethnic makeup of Westeros: their numbers were and remained so low that they are not even considered a major ethnic group (after the First Men, Andals, and Rhoynar, or even the ironborn). A major reason for this is that the Targaryens maintained their Valyrian ancestors' traditions of heavily incestuous marriages, marrying brother to sister whenever possible in order to "keep the bloodline pure". As a result they did not heavily intermingle with other major noble families in Westeros, and their numbers remained quite small - and also severely reduced whenever civil wars broke out amongst the Targaryens themselves. There were a few intermarriages over the centuries - so as with House Martell and later House Baratheon - but on the whole, except for a few distant cousins, by the time of Robert's Rebellion, the Targaryen family solely consisted of the Mad King, his sister-wife, and their three children (and also Rhaegar's children, later murdered, and the Mad King's daughter Daenerys who was born after his death). Following the war, and subsequent death of the Mad King's second son Viserys, the sole surviving member of the family is Daenerys Targaryen (not counting the Mad King's uncle Maester Aemon, who joined the Night's Watch decades ago and took an oath of celibacy).
Due to their heavy inbreeding, the Targaryens retained the classic Valyrian features of very pale skin, silver (platinum blonde) hair, and brightly colored eyes.
- In the novels, the Valyrians and Targaryens actually have distinctive purple-colored irises. The TV series did originally attempt to portray this using colored contact lenses in the early days of filming, but it was quickly abandoned and never featured in the finished show. As the producers explained, "actors act with their eyes", and the purple-colored contacts were so distracting that they felt it was detracting from the actors' performances. Instead, Daenerys and Viserys in the TV series have blue eyes.
The Targaryens abandoned the old Valyrian religion and converted to the Faith of the Seven when they came to Westeros, largely as a political expediency - though they ignored the Faith's basic rule against incest, feeling that their royal status set them above the rules of others. Rather than try to force High Valyrian onto the entire continent, the Targaryens also shifted to speaking the Common Tongue of their subjects in Westeros (though many Targaryens still learned High Valyrian in private).
Contemporary Cultures and Peoples of Essos
The Nine Free Cities: Daughters of Valyria
Work in Progress
The Free Cities were founded as colonies of the Valyrian Freehold, but over the centuries they intermingled with other peoples so they no longer closely resemble the Valyrians. Large slave populations also led to a more diverse makeup. They are much more cosmopolitan than Westeros. In the Seven Kingdoms peasants are tied to the land and don't move around as much to seek their fortunes.
The southern Free Cities were founded directly by the Valyrians, not based on pre-existing cities they conquered - though they did later import slaves from the far reaches of the Freehold. No one knows why the Myrish tend to be olive-skinned and similar to the ancient Rhoynar in appearance, though it is suspected that a disproportionate amount of Rhoynar slaves just ended up there after they were defeated. Of the four northern Free Cities, Braavos is really a class unto itself, as it was founded by escaped slaves fleeing from the Freehold, and never part of it, slaves from radically different ethnic backgrounds. Norvos, Qohor, and Lorath were founded by religious dissidents from the Freehold who wanted to remove themselves from the centers of power to conduct their own affairs. They do practice slavery but not nearly as much as the southern cities, so they might be somewhat less diverse - though on the other hand, Qohor is the exit point for overland trade caravans heading east across the Dothraki Sea to Vaes Dothrak, where they meet with merchants heading west from Yi Ti, so it is actually one of the more exotic Free Cities despite not being on the coast and involved in sea trade. Lorath and Pentos are unique in that they actually are believed to have been inhabited before the Valyrians came. Lorath was home to a lost civilization of maze-makers, who died out centuries ago but left ruins behind. Ibbenese and Andal settlers followed them, but they were eventually wiped out in wars and Lorath was uninhabited for a time. Lorath in its present form was re-founded as a colony by religious dissidents from Valyria; their cult did not believe in slavery, so Lorath became a safe haven for escaped slaves, making it ethnically diverse. Pentos is really the only one of the Free Cities which might have been both previously existing and continuously inhabited from a time before the Valyrians. It may have been the location of an old Andal kingdom - given that the lands of Pentos are immediately south of Andalos - or perhaps cousins of the Andals. Whatever the case, modern Pentoshi do consider themselves to be descended from the Valyrians, but in appearance they are fairly close to the Andals of Westeros (i.e. Illyrio Mopatis in both the books and TV series is played by a Northern European actor, just like most characters seen in Westeros).
- Braavosi and Lorathi can be any ethnicity. Braavos was founded by a diverse mixture of escaped slaves, and Lorath was founded by religious dissidents who didn't believe in slavery, so it became a save haven for runaway slaves from the centers of the Valyrian Freehold.
- Lysenes and Volantenes look like Valyrians (though Volantis's vast slave population can look like anything)
- Myrish have olive skin and seem akin to the Dornishmen. No one knows why in-universe, though the running theory is that Myr just tended to be were most of the Rhoynar enslaved during and after the Rhoynish Wars ended up (instead of being evenly distributed to the other Free Cities).
- Pentoshi appear to share some ancestry with Andal groups, so they tend to be like men from Westeros in appearance, though this is more of a trend than a rule.
- Tyroshi, Norvoshi, and Qohoriks have no hard-set rules, though not to the extent of Braavosi and Tyroshi who can be any ethnicity from one person to the next. They're a mix of whatever colonists, slaves, and
The modern Ghiscari of Slaver's Bay
Some of the ancient bloodline and traditions of the Ghiscari Empire lived on in their colony-cities in Slaver's Bay, which were conquered and ruled by the Valyrians for the next five thousand years, until reasserting their independence after the Doom of Valyria. The great cities of Astapor, Yunkai, Meereen, and New Ghis became the central hub of slavery and the slave-trade in the known world: capturing slaves in war and raids and breeding them during peace, and exporting them to the Free Cities and other lands.
The modern Ghiscari do not actually have a very strong ethnic or cultural connection to the ancient Ghiscari, though their rulers like to boast that they do. After the Doom of Valyria, the peoples of Slaver's Bay tried to re-assert their independence by championing their descent and cultural heritage from the old Ghiscari Empire now that their Valyrian overlords were gone. In reality, however, five thousand years of domination by the Valyrians took their toll, and present-day Slaver's Bay only has certain scraps of culture and traditions which date back to the Ghiscari Empire itself.
Even the present-day languages of Slaver's Bay owe more to High Valyrian than they do to the Old Ghiscari language. Much like the local peoples in the Free Cities, once the Valyrians were gone they developed their own romance dialect of High Valyrian; however the Low Valyrian of Slaver's Bay is quite different from the dialects in the Free Cities, because it contains many borrowings from the older Ghiscari languages, i.e. "Mhysa" in Slaver's Bay Low Valyrian is a direct borrowing of the word for "mother" in the ancient Ghiscari language. Still, in terms of basic structure, the language is really a derivation of High Valyrian with some Ghiscari influence, and the language of the old empire is largely extinct.
The region's current inhabitants are really a mixed race, descended from the small surviving Ghiscari population which intermingled with dozens of other enslaved peoples under the Valyrians over the centuries, many of them brought in from far away regions.
As a result, even the aristocratic classes among the slave-masters have a very diverse ethnic background. The current slave populations are even more diverse, some brought in from the far corners of the known world. Slavers frequently raid across the Summer Sea to take captives from Sothoryos, Naath, and the Summer Islands, and in some cases their descendants remained enslaved in cities such as Astapor for generations. The slavers will also basically slap chains onto anyone they can catch, often through piracy, so at the same time it is not unusual for other slaves in the same area to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed descendants of slaves taken from Lys or the other Free Cities. Moreover, over the centuries some slaves have won their freedom and risen in social rank, while the aristocrats from the losing sides in wars were sold into slavery, etc., jumbling up the ethnic mixture in the region even further.
- In the novels, modern Ghiscari of Slaver's Bay are described as (generally) having dense, dark amber skin, and wiry hair with dyed red highlights. The modern inhabitants of the region have very diverse ethnic origins, however, even the aristocratic families of the slave-masters. Ghiscari men the Slaver Cities are known to wear their hairs teased, oiled, and twisted into fantastic shapes such as wing or horns. The richest classes, who are primarily made up of slavers, wear the tokar, an intentionally impractical outfit that forces the wearer to hold it with a hand - and a symbol of status, that the wearer does not perform any kind of labor. Ghiscari are also fond of rich foods, such as dog, octopus stew, and duck eggs.
- The TV series generally tried to match this description from the novels, by casting a wide range of ethnically diverse actors to play characters from Slaver's Bay. Members of both the slave-masters and the slave population have been played by ethnically Caucasian, Middle-eastern, and black African actors, and many variations between them. People from Slaver's Bay can generally look like anything, due to being an ethnic melting pot, particularly among the slave population, i.e. Missandei and Grey Worm weren't even born in Astapor, but taken as slaves from Naath and the Summer Islands. Arguably, though the novels have never described it, some characters in Slaver's Bay could even appear East Asian - given that Yi Ti is located on the other side of Qarth from Slaver's Bay, reasonably close, and pirates may have sold captives from Yi Ti into slavery over the centuries.
The Dothraki are nomadic horse-mounted warriors, who inhabit the vast central plains of Essos, known as the Dothraki Sea. They are said to be born, fight, and die in the saddle. Most of their society is centered around their horses: even their name for themselves in their own language, "Dothraki", literally means "riders".
The Dothraki are divided into several nameless clans known as khalasars, led by a single leader, the khal. The khalasars roam the Dothraki Sea, always on the move looking for new pasture lands and new targets for plundering. The Dothraki frequently raid neighboring regions, such as Lhazar to the southeast or the Free Cities to the west. The Dothraki live by taking what they need including supplies, valuables, and new captives to serve them as slaves. The Dothraki respect force, and thus only respect those who are able to successfully resist them, while conquered slaves deserve only contempt. Long ago the Free Cities decided that it was often less destructive to just give the Dothraki massive tributes in gold, finished products, and slaves, than to try to fight them off (though a Dothraki horde might still attack if they find the gift insufficient, or if they just haven't had a good fight in a while).
The Dothraki traditionally fight with curved swords known as arakhs, and also employ bolas, daggers, and whips, or huge, recurved bows with impressive range and striking power that can be fired from horseback. They also shun armor, considering speed and freedom of movement to be more important in battle. Warriors braid their hair and only cut it when defeated, so the world may see their shame. As light cavalry, their attacks are extremely fast and deadly, but they are vulnerable to archers and on the ground they are less effective against armored infantry despite their speed. However, they seldom attack on foot except for individual combat, so they usually retain the advantage.
The only Dothraki city is Vaes Dothrak, located to the far north-east of the Dothraki sea. It is ruled by the Dosh khaleen, crones and wise women who were once the wives of now dead khals. All Dothraki commerce (with fellow Dothraki and other Essos peoples) is done in the marketplaces of the city, and all sacred rituals are conducted there. Drawing weapons or shedding blood is forbidden inside Vaes Dothrak.
Dothraki do not trust salt water, because their horses cannot drink it. The literal term for ocean in the Dothraki language is "poison water". They refuse to sail in ships over the oceans. Thus they are not considered a threat by the Westerosi because they will not cross the Narrow Sea.
- In appearance, the books describe the Dothraki as a large people, with copper-toned skin, dark eyes, and dark hair. In facial features, their eyes are almond-shaped. The TV series generally cast a variety of non-white actors for Dothraki roles: Jason Momoa (Drogo) is half Native Hawaiian on his father's side, while his mother is of German, Irish, and Native American ancestry. Amrita Acharia (Irri) is half-Ukrainian and half-Nepalese. Joe Naufahu (Moro) has grandparents from Tonga, Kurdistan, Portugal, and Germany. The multiethnic appearance of the Dothraki was commented upon by the High Priestess of the Dosh Khaleen in "Book of the Stranger", who indicated that even in-universe, the Dothraki are multiethnic.
The Lhazareen are a race of peaceful shepherds established in Lhazar, a hilly land south of Vaes Dothrak, north of the Red Waste, and northeast of Slaver's Bay. Lhazar is separated from the slaver-cities by large coastal mountains. The Skahazadhan River flows through the middle of Lhazar, then west through the coastal mountains and into the sea: the slaver-city Meereen is located at the mouth of the river. Mirroring the importance of shepherding in Lhazareen culture, their deity is known as the "Great Shepherd".
Due to their non-martial culture they are a favored target of Dothraki raids when the mounted hordes are looking to acquire new slaves. The Lhazareen can put up little significant resistance against the Dothraki, who derisively call them the "Lamb Men".
- The Lhazareen have copper skin, dark hair, and almond-shaped eyes, similar to the Dothraki, but they are more squat in stature and flat-faced.
The city of Qarth is a major trade hub far to the east in Essos, the furthest east that trading ships from Westeros regularly travel. Qarth is located adjacent to the narrow straits that separate the Summer Sea from the Jade Sea to the east, and control of these straits has made the city fabulously wealthy. Merchant vessels from Westeros to Yi Ti put in at Qarth's port. Protected to the north by the vast desert known as the Red Waste, Qarth does not fear raids from the Dothraki, and was never part of the Valyrian Freehold.
Due to its location on a peninsula controlling vital shipping straits, Qarth is somewhat like real-life Constantinople, though in other respects it is somewhat like India - in the sense that it is even further east than the Middle East analogue Slaver's Bay, and is perceived by people from Westeros to be filled with exotic riches.
- The World of Ice and Fire sourcebook (2014) explained that the Qartheen are last surviving pocket of an earlier people known as the Qaathi, who first arose in city-states located in the southeast of the interior plains of Essos. They warred with the Sarnori to the west, losing more often than they won, and were gradually pushed further and further southeast. They tried founding new cities in the area now known as the Red Waste, but as the centuries passed the lands became drier and drier, despite their best irrigation efforts, and they were already in decline even before the great Dothraki expansion in the Century of Blood. The Dothraki conquered all of the interior plains of Essos (now known as the "Dothraki Sea"), and all but wiped out both the Sarnori and the Qaathi - except for the Qaathi colony furthest to the southeast, Qarth, because it was too far across the now-widening deserts. Qarth was forced to look to the sea for wealth, but this ironically led to a great resurgence for the Qaathi survivors (now known as just "the Qartheen") because they were located in an ideal location for controlling the passage of sea shipping between east and west.
- The Qartheen people are described in the novels as pale-skinned and tall. The Dothraki call them the "Milk Men" due to their complexions. George R.R. Martin has stated, however, that the Qartheen are a "pure fantasy construct", and moreso than several other cultures in the novels, really don't have any specific real-life analogue.
- In keeping with this description, the TV series generally cast caucasian actors to play Qartheen characters - though at the same time, Qarth is a major trade hub visited by peoples from all over the world, so other non-white actors were also mixed in. The TV series changed Xaro Xhoan Daxos from simply being a Qartheen nobleman, to cast a black actor, and specifically gave the explanation that he was ethnically a Summer Islander who had worked his way up to become a merchant-prince in Qarth.
Yi Ti and the Further East
Yi Ti is a region located in the far east of Essos. It is located at the eastern limits of known world, beyond the Jade Sea and to the east of even Qarth. It is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Asshai as an extremely remote part of the world from Westeros. Merchant ships from Yi Ti and Asshai regularly visit Qarth to conduct trade.
People or things from Yi Ti are referred to as "Yi Tish".
- Yi Ti is inspired by China and the Far East from real-life history - though the term consistently used in Westeros for Yi Ti and its neighboring lands is "the Further East", not "the Far East".
- Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson, who run Westeros.org and co-wrote the World of Ice and Fire sourcebook with George R.R. Martin, have confirmed this. As Linda put it, "if anyone in the Westeros-Essos continuum looks East Asian, we're talking Yi Ti." Elio said Yi Ti was "definitely inspired by Imperial China," particularly its rule by divine god-emperors. Martin himself also stated in his blog that Yi Ti and surrounding nations are his world's analogue of Far East Asia, and he directly addressed the question of why no East Asian characters figure prominently in the narrative:
- "Well, Westeros is the fantasy analogue of the British Isles in its world, so it is a long long way from the Asia analogue. There weren't a lot of Asians in Yorkish England either. That is not to suggest that such places don't exist, however. You will want to get The World of Ice and Fire when it comes out...in the "Other Places" section you will find a lot of material about Yi Ti, the island of Leng, and the plains of the Jogos Nhai, which you may find of interest."
Asshai is port city in the far east of the Jade Sea, even further east than Yi Ti. It is so far away from Westeros that it half-legendary to its inhabitants, and infamous as a city of sorcerers, warlocks, and other practitioners of the dark arts. Worst of all are shadowbinders, who alone venture into the neighboring Shadow Lands in the Mountains of the Morn, seeking arcane riches, and relics such as dragonbone. But even the shadowbinders fear to travel further northeast into the heart of the Shadow Lands, where can be found Stygai, the dread corpse city, and strange city-state of Carcosa, ruled by its Yellow King.
What little is known about Asshai from travelers' reports say that its enormous land walls enclose an area so vast that it could contain King's Landing, Oldtown, Qarth, and Volantis - but its current population is no bigger than that of a large market town. Asshai is located at the mouth of the Ash River, whose waters are poisonous. Absolutely nothing grows in Asshai, except for glowing Ghost grass, which is inedible to anything. All food, and even all basic drinking water, has to be imported to Asshai by foreign merchant ships - in exchange for gold, gems, and dragonglass, which Asshai has in abundance. There are no horses, or even wild animals, in the city. Animals such as horses and dogs who are brought to Asshai by ship soon die. There are no children in Asshai. Even the very fumes of the Ash River (or some other malign presence) seems to render people sterile who live there for prolonged periods of time.
The people of Asshai are known as Asshai'i. Because there are no children in Asshai, its culture "reproduces" by purchasing foreign slaves and raising them as the next generation of Asshai'i. As a result, there is no set ethnic appearance for Asshai'i, who could have been born into slavery in the Free Cities, the Summer Islands, or Yi Ti before being taken to the city.
- Only two characters from Asshai have appeared in the novels, Melisandre and Quaithe. Quaithe always wears a mask so her appearance is unclear from the text. Melisandre is described as pale skinned and taller than most men, with unnaturally red hair and matching red irises (her appearance perhaps being enhanced by magic). Melisandre states in both the books and TV series that she was a slave when she was a little girl - she was sold to and raised in Asshai. The actress who plays Melisandre in the TV series is Dutch, and the actress who plays Quaithe is German, but Asshai'i are a culture, not a race, and can potentially be any ethnicity.
Sothoryos is the third continent in the Known World, though it is unknown if there are other continents. It is southeast of Westeros, and due south from Slaver's Bay in Essos, across the Summer Sea. Sothoryos is mostly unexplored beyond the northern coasts, and what little of it is known are composed of dense jungles filled with tropical plagues. The mainland is lightly populated except for temporary pirate enclaves, and not home to any current major civilizations (though it is dotted with the sprawling ruins of prior civilizations, overgrown by the jungles, which apparently fell in various past cataclysms).
Nearby island chains, however, are or have been home to thriving civilizations. The Summer Islands are one of the great maritime powers in the world, ruled by various powerful princedoms in several major cities, but they do not intervene in the politics of foreigners. Naath was once a vibrant society devoted to total pacifism, but has been devastated by slaver raids. The Basilisk Isles are major pirate dens, even worse than the Stepstones.
The Summer Islands, the isle of Naath, and the Basilisk Isles are not technically considered part of Sothoryos, the way that the Iron Islands are considered "part" of Westeros despite being an island group separated from the main continent. The inhabitants of all of these regions touched by the Summer Sea are notably dark-skinned and ethnically distinct from the peoples living in Westeros. They have been targeted by slavers from Essos for centuries, however, so it is not unusual to see dark-skinned peoples in Essos, either as slaves in Slaver's Bay, or those who won their freedom and went on to become merchants, pirates, mercenaries, etc.
The Summer Islands are tropical islands located far west of mainland Sothoryos, west of Naath. They are straight south of the Narrow Sea, and the northernmost is at about the same latitude as Old Valyria.
The Summer Islanders are an ancient and advanced civilization, and Summer Islanders are renowned as great mariners. Their merchant ships can be found in many major cities across the far corners of the globe. Summer Islanders believe that sex is a gift from the gods to humanity and a holy, life-affirming act, for which there should be no shame. Like the peoples of neighboring lands around Sothoryos, they are ethnically quite distinct from the peoples of much of Westeros and Essos, being notably dark-skinned.
Summer Islander sea-captains and merchants can also settle in other lands: the pirate-lord Salladhor Saan lives in the Free City of Lys but is ethnically a Summer Islander (Lys is very close to the Summer Isles), as is Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a Summer Islander who rose to become a powerful magister in Qarth.
- In the books, Salladhor Saan is simply a Lysene, and Xaro is a Qartheen. The TV series cast black actors based on the strength of their performances, so they slightly altered their backstories to say that they were originally from the Summer Islands. Nothing is known about Grey Worm's backstory in the novels, though as a slave-soldier in Astapor it is entirely plausible that he could ethnically be a Summer Islander taken in a slaving raid as a baby.
- The books directly state that because they are prolific sea-traders, Summer Islander crews are commonly encountered in major port cities across both Essos and Westeros, including King's Landing itself. The TV series hasn't had time to prominently show this. A few other more prominent Summer Islander characters actually appear in the novels but were cut from the TV series. While Littlefinger does own several brothels in King's Landing in the novels, the high-class brothel that most highborn characters visit is owned by a Summer Islander madam named Chataya. The TV series changed Chataya's brothel to be Littlefinger's brothel.
The Naathi inhabit the island of Naath, located west of mainland Sothoryos, and east of the Summer Islands. As with these neighboring regions, its inhabitants are dark-skinned. The Naathi are are also known as the Peaceful People, because their religion commands utter pacifism. This restriction on violence is so great that they are vegetarians, refusing to kill animals for their meat. Unfortunately, their refusal to engage in martial endeavors even for self-defense has made them a frequent target of slaving raids from Slaver's Bay, which is located to the north across the Summer Sea.
- In the books, apart from being dark-skinned, Naathi are described as having a round flat shape to their faces, and gold-colored irises.
Unlike in several other Fantasy series, non-human races are barely present within the Game of Thrones narrative - a few actually do continue to exist in secret, but they are considered to be legendary to the humans living in Westeros and Essos, who have (generally) not encountered any non-human races since before recorded history began thousands of years ago. A person from the Seven Kingdoms encountering a White Walker is as shocking for them as it would be if a real life person met an actual vampire or werewolf. It is outside of their context. The return of the White Walkers, however, may yet prove to have apocalyptic consequences for the entire world.
The White Walkers are a mythological race mentioned in ancient legends and stories from the time of the First Men and the Children of the Forest. Eight thousand years before Robert's Rebellion, a winter known as the Long Night lasted a generation. In the darkness and cold of the Long Night, the White Walkers descended upon Westeros from the farthest north, the polar regions of the Lands of Always Winter. None knew why they came, but they killed all in their path, reanimating the dead as wights to kill the living at their command. Eventually the peoples of Westeros rallied and in a conflict known as the War for the Dawn, they managed to defeat the White Walkers and drive them back into the uttermost north, with the Wall raised to bar their return.
In the present day, most believe they never existed and are just myths, spoken of in the same breath as ghosts, goblins, grumpkins, or snarks. Even the few who believe they did once exist think they went extinct thousands of years ago. Certainly, none were seen for thousands of years after the Long Night.
Just before the outbreak of the War of the Five Kings, however, disturbing reports began to reach the Night's Watch from the wildlings who live beyond the Wall that the White Walkers had returned. Having enjoyed a decade-long summer, Westeros seemed due for an equally long winter, and the White Walkers seem to be spreading with it. With the Seven Kingdoms embroiled in a petty civil war, the dwindling and under-supported Night's Watch realize that they are all that guards the realms of men against the return of these legendary demons of ice and death.
While having an overall humanoid appearance, White Walkers differ greatly from humans. They are taller than humans and have long wispy white hair. They have pale grey-white skin which is wrinkly but stretched taut across their frames, giving them a somewhat gaunt and mummified appearance despite their overall bulky size. Their most notable trait, however, are their glowing blue eyes.
The White Walkers' only known weaknesses are weapons made of Dragonglass or Valyrian steel. When White Walkers die they instantly freeze and shatter like ice until there is nothing left but powder. Meanwhile, dead creatures they have reanimated as wights are very vulnerable to fire: if exposed to even a small amount of flame, they will instantly catch fire and quickly burn away to ashes.
- In the novels, the term "White Walkers" is an alternate name for the race of beings much more commonly called "the Others" (always with a capital "O"). The TV series exclusively refers to them as "White Walkers". The TV producers later stated in the Season 1 Blu-ray commentary that the change was to avoid viewer confusion between the specific name "Others" and the generic use of the term: book-readers can tell that "Others" is treated as a capitalized proper noun, but TV-viewers cannot. It sounded like actors saying, "He says he saw the others" - "other soldiers"?, "other horses"? - so the term was just too confusing in the audio-visual medium of television.
- The appearance of the White Walkers in the TV series matches the general description in the books that they are tall and gaunt with pale white skin and glowing blue eyes. However, Martin has explained to illustrators that they are inhumanly beautiful and elegant, somewhat like the Sidhe (Faeries from Irish myth) if made of ice (not that the White Walkers are actually made of ice). They somewhat resemble depictions of beautiful vampires, but ice-themed. Martin has also stated that the White Walkers are not "dead" the way their wights are, but they are not just a different kind of species: they are "another sort of life". The TV producers either thought that this was too Elf-like or too difficult to accurately depict on-screen, so they instead interpreted the White Walkers' appearance as more mummified.
GiantsGiants are a non-human race considered to be a legend by the inhabitants of the Seven Kingdoms south of the Wall. However, giants do actually exist in the furthest north beyond the Wall, and have had some interactions with the human wildlings. This is in contrast with both the Children of the Forest and the White Walkers, which even the wildlings claim to have not seen in thousands of years. Giants were even convinced to join with the wildling army led by King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder. Giants lived in Westeros before the coming of the First Men 12,000 years ago, along with the Children of the Forest, but like they Children they were pushed out by human migrations, and now the few remaining giants live in the remove tundras far north of the Wall.
Giants are over twice as tall as a man, and very strong. They have blocky facial features, and their clothing tends to be an odd mix of various fabrics, skins, and rope which they wrap around themselves, haphazardly adding more as they acquire it.
Giants have managed to tame mammoths, and they ride them as massive beasts of war.
- In the novels, giants have a drastically different, more ape-like appearance. They tend to be about twice as large as a very tall human, about 12 to 14 feet in height, but not monstrously huge. A single giant is as strong as a dozen humans.
- They generally resemble descriptions of the Sasquatch (Bigfoot) or Yeti. They wear no clothing, but instead are covered in shaggy fur pelts, which are thicker below the waist. The fur of older giants becomes grey and streaked with white. Their heads are thrust forward from their shoulder blades but they have very short necks. They have squashed-in faces with square teeth and tiny eyes amidst folds of flesh. Their eyesight is poor and they snuffle constantly, smelling as much as they see.
- They have sloped chests, and their lower torsos are about half again as wide as their upper torsos. Their arms hang lower than a man's, while their legs are shorter than their arms, ending in splayed feet that need no shoes even in the coldest weather. The female giants look similar to the men.
- The giants in the novels are therefore so inhuman that they do not correspond to any human ethnicity. The TV-version of the giants is more human-like, and the two giant characters who appeared by the end of Season 4 were played by caucasian actors - but they are wearing a lot of prosthetic makeup to make their faces appear very blocky, so they probably don't correspond to any human ethnicity.
Children of the Forest
The Children of the Forest are a mysterious non-human race that were reportedly the original inhabitants of the continent of Westeros. They were already living in Westeros when the First Men migrated to the continent, 12,000 years before Robert's Rebellion.
The Children of the Forest were said to be humanoid, but when grown to manhood they were no taller than human children. They generally preferred to live in the depths of the forests in hidden villages, in crannogs of the swamps, or in caves. Thus they came to be known as "the Children of the Forest".
The Children were said to wield magical powers, particularly by their wise-men known as Greenseers. When the First Men migrated to Westeros they warred with them for centuries before coming to a peace with them known as "The Pact", after which they were at peace for millennia. During the Long Night 8,000 years ago, the Children aided the First Men to drive back the White Walkers, and according to legend, helped build and strengthen the Wall with magical spells to prevent the White Walkers from crossing it.
There were never many Children to begin with and they took heavy losses fighting the White Walkers from which they never truly recovered. When the Andals invaded Westeros 6,000 years ago, they overwhelmed and slaughtered the few remaining Children. According to legend, a handful of the Children fled north of the Wall, where they knew the Andals would not follow them. In the present day, most believe that they are simply the stuff of myth and never existed at all. Even the few that do believe they once existed, such as Maester Luwin or Ned Stark, believe that they have long since gone extinct.
In truth, a small number of the Children of the Forest actually did survive in hiding beyond the Wall. Bran Stark was guided to the cave system they were hiding in by visions from the Three-eyed raven - really, the Last Greenseer, a human man being attended on by the remaining Children of the Forest .
- Although they occupy the position usually filled by Elves in other high fantasy media, George R.R. Martin has repeatedly insisted that the Children of the Forest are not simply his version of Elves, because "Elves have been done to death". While the Children are repeatedly described as "dark and beautiful" this is not in the same manner of Tolkien's Elves: the Children are described as being smaller than humans with nut-brown skin (dappled like a deer but with paler spots), large ears, and glowing gold eyes, slitted like a cat's. They also have 4 digit hands (3 fingers and a thumb) that end in small claws instead of primate fingernails. The Children did not weave cloth for garments, but wore shorts of woven leaves, and leg-bindings made of tree bark. They interwove vines and flowers into their hair.
- Artistic depictions of the Children of the Forest in the "Complete Guide to Westeros" Season 1 Blu-ray featurettes depict them as nothing like stereotypical Elves, who usually inhabit graceful castles and are highly "civilized". Instead, the Children are depicted as being an aboriginal people adorned with totems and tattoos.
- When the Children of the Forest finally appeared in the Season 4 finale of the TV series, they were played by child actors. They apparently don't have claws instead of fingernails - and appear with five fingers instead of four, contradicting both the books and artwork from the Blu-ray featurettes. This is probably due to the budgetary constraints of a television adaptation: accurately depicting the Children as they appear in the novels would require expensive motion-capture CGI, similar to the Na'vi in James Cameron's Avatar. The TV-Children of the Forest might actually have dappled skin as in the books - it isn't clear in the Season 4 finale if Leaf is wearing leggings, or if the alternating black and white markings are her actual skin color.
- The Children of the Forest in the novels, therefore, appear so inhuman that they do not really resemble any human ethnicity. In the TV series, Leaf was played by Romanian actress Octavia Alexandru in Season 4, but the role was recast in Season 6 - coinciding with a major upgrade to the Children's appearance to make them closer to the novels - after which Leaf was played by Japanese actress Kae Alexander. Therefore, in the TV continuity actors of any ethnicity can play Children of the Forest.
Non-human races: in the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, only three non-human races have been confirmed to really exist: the White Walkers, the Giants, and the Children of the Forest.
These three races only continue to exist in the unexplored lands Beyond the Wall in Westeros. Not much has been said about non-human races that may once have existed in Essos or the rest of the world, though if they did exist there once they seem to now be extinct. No mention whatsoever has been made of how these races came to Westeros, or if they originated there. The origin of humans isn't known either, but it is at least known that humans migrated to Westeros from other continents (the first known civilizations with written histories began in Essos).
The World of Ice and Fire sourcebook (2014) did provide a little more context, explaining that there is some information about giants and Children of the Forest in Essos. Non-human races may have flourished across all of Essos for tens of thousands of years, but by the time human societies were expanding - the extreme reaches of oral history which date back about 12,000 years ago - they were already dwindling. The last remnants of two non-human races in Essos actually lived relatively near the Dothraki: the Ifequevron to their north and the Jhogwin to their east.
Well north of Vaes Dothrak, the plains give way to a large forested region along the coast, south of the island Ibben, which the Dothraki call the "Kingdom of the Ifequevron". The Dothraki name "Ifequevron" means "Wood Walkers" in their language (literally, "those who walk in the woods"), and refers to the region's original inhabitants - who were apparently either a remaining group of Children of the Forest, or perhaps closely related to them. They were a diminutive forest-dwelling race who possessed great magical powers. They had the ability to enter the minds of animals and control them. The Dothraki, deeply dependent on their horses to fight, were very vulnerable to such a race. The Dothraki feared and even revered the magic of the Ifequevron, so they completely avoided their forests. Centuries later, the Ibbenese established colonies on the nearby north coast, cutting down the forests for lumber and warring against the Ifequevron. Eventually the Ifequevron diminished and were either wiped out or fled, though centuries later the Dothraki (no longer afraid to enter the woods now that the Ifequevron were gone) attacked the Ibbenese and drove them back to a few fortified stockades on the coasts. Many of the trees in the forest, however, are still carved with faces that the Ifequevron made in them.
East of the Dothraki Sea are the Bone Mountains, a massive chain of mountains that runs from the north coast of Essos all the way to the south coast. Vaes Dothrak is roughly due north of Qarth on the south coast, and the mountains are somewhat east of both. The northern ranges of the Bones, near the Dothraki, are called the White Mountains ("Krazaaj Zasqa" in their language). The eastern side of the Kingdom of the Ivequevron extends into the White Mountains. The Jhogwin dwelled in these northern mountains. They were similar to the giants of Westeros but said to be twice as large (perhaps they were a related species or sub-species). Over time their numbers dwindled due to raids into the White Mountains from the Jogos Nhai, mounted warriors living in the plains on the opposite side of the mountains. According to legend the Jogos Nhai wiped out the last of them around one thousand years ago. Massive bones of the Jhogwin have been found, attesting to their size.
There are many legends and folk tales about other non-human races, but all appear to simply be fables - though some wonder if they speak of races that actually used to exist before recorded history began, but which either way are extinct now. Love-sick sailors continue to insist they have seen Mermaids out in the open seas, but mostly likely they simply saw some sea cows at a distance. Children's nursery rhymes talk of Grumpkins and Snarks (apparently small faerie-like or leprechaun-like creatures) but they are scoffed at as unreal.
Traveler's tales told around the campfire speak of the Deep Ones who live in the ocean depths conducting dark rituals devoted to gods like Dagon, who come to shore to build dark stone monoliths and sire half-fish men on human women (called "Squishers"). Other tales speak of the dead Old Ones in hidden cities beneath the earth - where they wait, dreaming. Then east of Asshai there are said to be the Shrykes of K'Dath, the City of the Winged Men, and Carcosa - a strange city ruled by its Yellow King.
- ↑ "Complete Guide to Westeros"
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 HBO Viewer's Guide, Season 2 appendices Westeros Through the Ages
- ↑ Note: "ironborn" is consistently spelled with a lowercase "i", except when it is the first word in a sentence.
- ↑ "The Old Gods and the New"
- ↑ "A Man Without Honor"
- ↑ "The Pointy End"
- ↑ Game of Thrones Season 4: Episode #5 - Know Your Strengths (HBO), directly stated by George R.R. Martin.
- ↑ "Baelor"
- ↑ "Bastards of Westeros" promotional video
- ↑ 
- ↑ Inside HBO's Game of Thrones, Section V, Essos:A Brief History
- ↑ Complete Guide to Westeros - Qarth
- ↑ Westeros.org Season 5 casting review
- ↑ Not A Blog, GRRM's livejournal, June 14th, 2014
- ↑ "Valar Morghulis"
- ↑ "Second Sons"
- ↑ HBO viewers guide, season 2 Appendix, Westeros Through the Ages
Cultures and Peoples of the Known World
|Sothoryos & isles of the Summer Sea|
http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2014/08/05/george-r-r-martin-addresses-racial-diversity-on-game-of-thrones/ http://www.themarysue.com/grrm-thrones-race/ http://www.salon.com/2012/04/01/is_game_of_thrones_too_white/ http://watchersonthewall.com/nathalie-emmanuel-sophie-turner-kit-harington-interviewed/