Sunday, March 10, 2013

HBO Game of Thrones: Targaryen and Martell and Arryn

As we countdown to Season 3 of HBO's Game of Thrones I thought it might be fun each Sunday to share some quick reminders/background info on which ruling Houses are involved in war, what power they have or had and how they relate to one another. Obviously I intend to do this without spoiler information and hope that any reader who's familiar with the books will honor that as well. Otherwise I'll just have to cut off their heads. Personally. Because the man that passes the sentence should swing the sword. =) Hopefully, if you watch the show once the new season starts and all the names start to fly back and forth, this might help you recall who's who.

House Targaryen
House Targaryen originated in the East when it was part of the Valyrian Empire. Valyrians had access to greater technology and magic than the people of Westeros. They had dragons and though they did not conquer Westeros, they ruled almost the entire eastern continent. Eventually there was a cataclysm known as the "Doom of Valyria". The peninsula of Valyria sank into the sea. Many dragons were lost and the various eastern subject peoples rebelled/declared their independence. However there were both Valyrians and dragons that had survived. House Targaryen had established itself on the island of Dragonstone before the Doom. Roughly a century or so after the Doom, the Targaryen leader, Aegon Targaryen and his sister-wives decided to conquer Westeros. They only had a small army. But they had dragons. Aegon and his two sisters were skilled dragon riders and warriors, as you may remember from Season Two's discussion between Tywin Lannister and Arya Stark. Aegon's dragon Balerion was known as the Black Dread and was said to be so large that entire towns were in complete shadow under his wings when he flew. Some Targaryens had some immunity to heat or fire.
With one exception, Aegon and his sisters destroyed or subdued any king who refused to recognize Targaryen overlordship. The Targaryens eventually gave up their foreign gods and accepted the faith of the Seven. Their dragons shrunk and eventually died out. The Targaryens kept the practice of polygamy and royal incest. Brothers married sisters, aunts married nephews, and uncles married nieces. This was a religious and cultural abomination to most Westerosi but the Targaryens rarely concerned themselves with the opinions of lesser people. However this non-forking family tree caught up with House Targaryen as more kings showed signs of instability. Three centuries after the Targaryens crowned themselves as rulers, their mental frailty reached its nadir under Aerys the Mad, a rapist and tyrant, who murdered Eddard Stark's father, brother and several other men when they challenged him to account for his son Rhaegar Targaryen, who had kidnapped Lyanna Stark. The realm erupted in revolt. The war ended with Jaime Lannister murdering the Mad King, Robert Baratheon killing Rhaegar Targaryen and taking the throne for himself, and the Lannisters murdering Targaryen women and children to forestall any future succession threats.

There is one Targaryen still left alive. She has dragons, though little else.
Daenerys Targaryen believes herself to be the rightful ruler of all Westeros, though she has never seen it. She was conceived in the rebellion's final month and has been on the run ever since. Dragons are the nuclear weapons of Westeros warfare. Few people would dare to oppose anyone who controls full grown dragons. The Targaryen words are "Fire and Blood" which is exactly what they have traditionally given anyone unwise enough to challenge them. Time will tell if Daenerys has inherited her ancestors' cruelty and majesty or their unsteadiness (her parents were siblings after all)





House Martell
One House resisted the Targaryen conquest. It wasn't the proud Starks or the wealthy Lannisters. It was the Martells, the rulers of Dorne, Westeros' southernmost region. Dorne is culturally and ethnically dissimilar to the rest of Westeros. They do things differently in Dorne. Dorne practices equal inheritance regardless of gender and has a strong tradition of female warriors and leaders. This is likely because House Martell was raised to ruling prominence by the invading Queen Nymeria, a Rhoynish warrior leader who was fleeing Valyrian expansion. She took a Martell King as her husband. Together they conquered Dorne.

When the Targaryens invaded, House Martell avoided open battle where the dragons could be successful but led a long guerrilla struggle that eventually forced the Targaryens to withdraw. The Targaryens invaded again and failed. Finally, the Targaryens smartened up and arranged marriages between themselves and the Martells. Dorne joined the realm peacefully. House Martell became a reliable supporter of the Targaryen dynasty.


Dornish people can range widely in skin tone. Martin has described Dornish as having skin shades similar to paler northerly folks or being "tanned","olive skinned" or "brown skinned". Dorne seemingly shares some features with Moorish Spain, Wales, North Africa, Italy or Palestine. It will be interesting to see how HBO, which has been willing to cast people of color, will cast Dornish actors. I think people like Ioan Gruffudd, Antonio Banderas, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Thandie Newton, Jean Reno, Freida Pinto, Naveen Andrews, and Wentworth Miller could all conceivably be a Dornish type. 

Elia Martell was the wife of Targaryen heir, Rhaegar Targaryen. During the sack of King's Landing it was Lannister bannermen, primarily The Mountain, who raped and murdered Elia Martell and her babies. House Martell has a well deserved reputation for neither forgiving nor forgetting. Elia Martell was the sister of Dorne's ruler, Prince Doran and his hotheaded younger brother Prince Oberyn. These past Lannister atrocities are why Cersei Lannister was opposed to Tyrion sending her daughter Myrcella to Dorne for betrothal and safekeeping. Dorne has ancient rivalries with The Stormlands (Baratheon) and The Reach (Tyrell). The regions have warred and raided for generations. Dorne is physically isolated behind mountain ranges and has more trade with the east than with the rest of Westeros.

The Martell sigil is a spear joined with the Sun. The Sun was the sigil of Nymeria and the Rhoynar while the spear was the sigil of the pre-Nymeria Martells. The Martell words are "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" which refers to the fact they joined the kingdom because they wanted to, not because Targaryens made them. As far as House Martell is concerned, no one can make them do anything.






House Arryn
Like House Martell , House Arryn rules over an isolated portion of Westeros, The Vale. The Vale is a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water and on the fourth by mountains.

Before the events in A Game of Thrones House Arryn was ruled over by Jon Arryn, an older Lord who had fostered Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon as youngsters. When the Mad King killed Ned Stark's relatives and friends (including one of Jon Arryn's nephews), he ordered Jon Arryn to send him the heads of Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon. Arryn refused and called his banners. The realm erupted in revolt with Houses Stark, Tully, Arryn and Baratheon uniting to overthrow the mad king. Robert Baratheon became King and appointed Jon Arryn as the Hand.


The widowed Jon Arryn married Lysa Tully, Catelyn's younger sister. He was significantly older than she. After many miscarriages, Lysa bore Jon a son, (Robin in the HBO series, Robert in the books) who is roughly six years old at the story's beginning. Upon Jon's death (and presumed murder) his son becomes the Lord of The Vale.
Because of Robin's age, his mother Lysa wields all authority as regent. The boy is sickly, weak and uncomfortably close to Lysa, who has refused to wean him. She has also declined to let Robin be fostered anywhere, which is the usual practice for noble youth. With the war, one would have expected that House Arryn would come to the assistance of Houses Tully and Stark, but so far Lysa has refused to call the banners.

The Arryns rule from their mountainous Eyrie, a place that is virtually impregnable to attack. It's hard to get to the Eyrie but it's easy to leave. There is a "Moon Door" which opens to a six hundred foot drop to the mountainside. Lysa and especially Robin seem to have grown fond of "making bad men fly". There has generally been peace in The Vale, with the notable exception of the Mountain Clans, poorly armed groups that rob and kill travelers, but who generally avoid direct conflict with the better armed and organized Knights of the Vale. The Arryn words are "As High as Honor". These words hearken back to their legendary founding as well their mountains, chivalry and religious dedication. 
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