The Stark family is the core of Game of Thrones. They're the series's heroes, and while not all of them survive, they're the characters we attach to the most. The Stark family is also incredibly old. With that age comes plenty of stories and trivia. The Stark's history is fascinating and worth exploring in detail. The world George R.R. Martin created does not end with the story told on the show. In advance of the show's final season, it's time to look back at some history.
In fact, part of what makes Westeros such an exciting world is how much of it exists outside of the main story. Even families the show features as heavily as the Starks have stories outside of Game of Thrones. Jon Snow may be a great hero who is destined to save the realm, but he's not the only cool Stark offspring. In a history this detailed, there's plenty to explore.
Brandon the Builder was the first Stark, and he earned that title because he built the wall and several other famous Wetserosi structures, including Winterfell. Apparently, Brandon was aided in building these structures by giants as well as some magic.
The era in which Brandon built these structures was very different from the one we're introduced to. In this world, magic is far more common, and giants are willing to work with the Starks to build. That was over 8,000 years ago, though. Since then, Brandon's work has passed into legend, and the world has forgotten what the wall was even for.
The Gift is a parcel of land that the Night's Watch use for farming. It wasn't always theirs, though. It used to be Stark land, like the rest of the North, but it was gifted to the Night's Watch by Bran the Builder.
Most recently, the Gift has been featured on the show as the land where the wildlings have settled. It's land the Watch needs to survive, which is why Bran happily gave it to them. The Watch was founded for a reason at the end of the Long Night. Now that their numbers have dwindled, they're less useful than they once were.
Roose Bolton's betrayal of Robb Stark is what sealed Robb's fate at the Red Wedding. The Boltons were gifted the North, and the Starks were forced to flee. That was not the beginning of the Bolton's hatred for the Starks, though.
In fact, that hatred goes all the way back to the Age of Heroes, when the Starks were trying to unite the North. The Boltons were the most vocal opponents of that effort. They even battled the Starks and flayed them on several occasions. Eventually, they bent the knee and stopped flaying, but that doesn't mean they didn't harbor any resentment.
Aegon the Conqueror united the seven kingdoms through a reign of terror. He used his dragons to bring the realm together and left plenty of destruction in his wake. Most of the major kingdoms that make up the seven kingdoms refused to bend the knee and ultimately suffered for it.
Torrhen Stark intended to battle Aegon, but when he realized that he would not win, he decided against it. He bent the knee without a fight and was the only house to do so. He spared a lot of his men as a result, and also kept any Stark swords from being included in the iron throne.
The Stark line is as old as mankind in the world of Westeros. House Stark is descended from the first men, who came to Westeros across the arm of Dorne and battled with the Children of the Forest. Eventually, a peace was reached, but the Andals soon invaded and began to marry into many of the noble houses established by the First Men.
In the North, the Andals were battled back. That means that many of the Northern houses, and the Starks, in particular, are direct descendants of the First Men. That's what makes the Stark family feel so ancient and traditional.
Ned was not the first Stark to serve as hand of the king. One of his ancestors, Cregan Stark, was hand to Aegon III for a single day before returning to the North. That speaks to Ned's own reluctance to accept the position. Starks know that they belong in the North, outside of the political intrigue that governs King's Landing.
Cregan was the only Stark before Ned to serve as a hand, although the position is only 300 years old. Still, it speaks to the reluctance all Starks have to involve themselves in the ongoing political wars in King's Landing.
The King in the North is a phrase we hear quite a bit now. Robb declared himself King in the North after his father's death, and Jon has assumed the mantle on the show. For thousands of years, though, the Starks were described that way. After Aegon's conquest, they became Wardens of the North under the Targaryens.
That means that before Robb and Jon came along, Torrhen Stark was the last King in the North. He willingly relinquished that title to save his men. That's a very characteristically Stark move. Torrhen was practical and honorable without being too vain or proud.
The Night King has become the big bad of this entire story. On the show, he was one of the first men that the children of the forest stabbed through the heart with Obsidian. They did so in order to create a weapon to fight the first men, but things spiraled out of control.
In the books, the Night King's origin is still a mystery. One theory suggests that he may actually be a Stark. Old Nan once told Bran that he was a brother to a king in the North. He may also have been the thirteenth commander of the night's watch. Maybe these are just stories, or maybe there's some truth behind them.
Mance Rayder is the King Beyond the Wall that Game of Thrones fans know best, but he isn't the only man to unite the Wildlings. Before him, there were other Kings Beyond the Wall. Bael the Bard was a legendary wildling who the King in the North called a coward.
As a result, Bael kidnapped one of the king's daughters and took her beyond the wall. This terrible situation ended up working out rather well, as the girl was eventually returned with a child in tow. At that time, the Starks had no heir, so Bael's son became the new King in the North.
There are lots of theories in Game of Thrones about dragons that are buried somewhere. One of those theories suggests that Winterfell itself is hiding a dragon. This explains why the hot springs under the castle exist, and why Brandon the Builder decided to settle there.
Given the way the show has wrapped up, this theory feels incredibly unlikely. Anything is still possible, but those possibilities are quickly dwindling. Dragons can't be hidden in every nook and cranny that fan theories suggest they might be. Still, it would be cool to see one rise out of the castle and aid in the fight against the White Walkers.
Although there are plenty of elements of Westeros that don't exist in the real world, George R.R. Martin took inspiration from history for parts of his fictional world. The conflict between the Starks and the Lannisters, specifically, is based on a historical conflict between the Yorks and the Lancasters.
The Lannisters are obviously standing in for the Lancasters here, but many of the other details hold. The war of the five kings that is fought on the show's earliest seasons mirrors the war of the roses. What's more, the story's famous red wedding is rooted in history as well. If only Robb Stark had known about that history, he might not have accepted the invite.
In Game of Thrones, the Starks are the Wardens of the North. That's a title they held after Aegon conquered and united the seven kingdoms. That was only 300 years prior to the events at the start of the story. Before that, the Starks were kings in the North for roughly 8,000 years.
That makes them a truly ancient house and helps explain why they are so set in their old customs. They worship the old gods, while most of the other noble families worship the new. They're also much more honor-bound and much less politically savvy, which makes them great heroes, and is why many of them wind up dead.
If you look at a map of Westeros, you'll see that the North is almost as large as the other six kingdoms combined. That means that the Starks have historically been responsible for protecting a lot of land. What's more, it's land that's filled with villages where everything is very spread out.
That means that the Starks have historically been charged with protecting the realm from wildling invasions. They've fulfilled that duty quite well. The Starks are meant to be great fighters, which explains why they were able to hold the North against wildling invasions. They aren't eager to fight, but they will if they're called upon.
King Torrhen wisely decided that fighting Aegon would not change anything. The North was lost to the might of his dragons. Torrhen bent the knee without a battle, which was a move his children did not approve of wholeheartedly.
The histories George R.R. Martin has written to this point have not made it clear whether Torrhen's sons staged an actual rebellion. It's clear, though, that Torrhen's decision to kneel weakened his position somewhat. The funny thing is, Torrhen rode out with 30,000 Northerners intending to fight. Once he saw the destruction Aegon was capable of, he changed his mind.
At least for a while, Ned Stark feels like the hero of Game of Thrones. Although he is the Warden of the North, that job was initially meant for Brandon, his older brother. Ned only took over after his brother and father were murdered by the Mad King.
Those murders and Jon Arryn's refusal to turn Ned and Robert into the Mad King are the actions that began Robert's Rebellion. Robert ends up winning that war and ascending to the Throne, which is where we find him at the start of the story. If Ned's brother were still alive, everything might have turned out differently.
There are many historically significant Brandons scattered through the history of the Starks. Brandon the Breaker didn't build the wall, but he did defeat the Night King. He did so with the help of a King Beyond the Wall. After that defeat, the White Walkers vanished for thousands of years.
That means that the Starks have done battle with the Night King before and emerged victoriously. This time, though, they've returned with a massive army and an ice dragon. The series's hero Jon Snow isn't just a Stark though. He's also a Targaryen, and that mix of qualities may be exactly what he needs to win the day.