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. The girl was eventually returned with a child in tow and 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.
If you ever look at a map of Westeros, you'll likely notice that the North is huge. It covers a vast amount of territory, and as such, there are a lot of houses that call the region their home. That’s why the Northern forces pose a very real threat whenever they call their banners because those banners are more numerous than those under any of the other noble houses.
In truth, the North probably should be its own kingdom. Its culture is vastly different from that of the Andals who dominate in the south, and they have enough banners to defend their lands.
The Starks won Bear Island from an Ironborn king when King Rodrik defeated the Ironborn king in a wrestling match. While Bear Island is beautiful, it is somewhat lacking in natural resources and it’s prone to harsh weather. Even so, the Mormonts were grateful to take the castle from King Rodrik when it was offered to them.
That’s where the deep bond between House Stark and House Mormont began, and it’s one that runs all the way to the present day. Jorah and Lyanna Mormont are two of the show's best characters, and they're also two fiercely loyal people who honor the oaths they make.
The Starks love the North, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best place to live in Westeros. That’s far from the truth. Even so, there are a few things about Winterfell that make it uniquely fit for the cold climate in which it resides. For one thing, Winterfell was built on natural hot springs that keep the castle warm. The water from the springs flows through the walls of the castle, heating the rooms.
The springs also produce hot pools, including one that lives in the gods wood. There are also fireplaces built into every room, because winter is coming, after all.
We’ve seen over and over again how reticent the Stark family is to travel south. Ned didn’t want to be Robert’s hand because it meant leaving the North. Sansa didn’t want Jon to go to Dragonstone for similar reasons. The Starks care about the North. They’re one of the few noble families that have no real interest in the Iron Throne. Their focus is on serving those under them well.
Amongst the characters on the show, we know that neither Jon nor Sansa has any real interest in the Iron Throne. All they want to do is protect the North.
During the war of the five kings, one of Robb’s chief advisors as a Karstark. In fact, losing the Karstarks is one of the things that led Robb to seek Walder Frey’s help at the Red Wedding. The Karstarks and the Starks are related by their ancestors, but the Karstarks weren’t always the only Stark adjacent family that existed in Westeros. There used to be another called the Greystarks.
Like many noble houses, that one died out before the time in which the show takes place. Even so, it’s interesting to consider just how deep the Stark blood runs in the North, even in families that no longer bear their name.
We already know that the Starks are one of the oldest families in Westeros, but they've also had continuous control of the North for as long as the North has been a united kingdom. No other family could ever claim to be King in the North. In fact, the first time the Starks ever lost control of the north was when the Boltons stole it after the Red Wedding. Thankfully, there are now Starks in Winterfell again.
There’s a reason that “the North remembers” is such a prominent saying on the show and in the books. Starks have ruled Winterfell for thousands of years, and the North is not likely to forget that kind of history very quickly.
The Starks' direwolves are one of a kind, even in the world of the show. They're supposed to be extinct, so it's a shock when a mother and her cubs show up south of the wall. As it turns out, dire wolves are totally real animals, although they've been extinct for thousands of years in our world as well.
They’re relatives of grey wolves, and they lived in the Americas roughly 10,000 years ago. Today, our reaction to seeing a dire wolf would likely be very similar to the reaction the show’s characters have to seeing one — in that we would be both confused and terrified.
Valyrian steel swords are one of the most prized possessions there is in the world of Game of Thrones. No one knows how to make them anymore, so they've become increasingly rare with the passage of time. Ice, the Valyrian steel sword of House Stark, was with the family for thousands of years. It was also absurdly large.
After Ilyn Payne beheads Ned with it, Tywin has it melted down into two swords for House Lannister. The first goes to Jaime, who gives it to Brienne, and the second goes to Joffrey. What was once the Starks becomes the Lannister's, but both swords end up back at Winterfell anyway.
Sansa Stark had an incredibly tortured journey through the first five seasons of Game of Thrones. It was one of the hardest stories to watch, and maybe the hardest chapter was when Littlefinger married Sansa to Ramsay Bolton, one of the show's cruelest characters.
As it turns out, things turn out a little bit differently in the books. In the books, Ramsay marries Jeyne Pool and pretends that she is actually Arya Stark. All of the things that happen to Ramsay on the show happen to her instead. Unfortunately, that doesn't really make any of them any easier to swallow.
In the books especially, all of the Starks are capable of warging, or getting inside the skin of an animal or another living thing. Bran does this on the show, but all of his siblings can do it in the books, mostly when they're asleep. One fan theory suggests that Ned Stark was also a warg, and that he warged into Illyn Payne as he was about to be beheaded.
Illyn doesn’t have a tongue, so it would be hard to tell whether Ned was in fact inside him. The theory seems highly unlikely but it is technically possible, at least in the world of the books. Sometimes, though, dead is dead.
If you're wondering whether you're looking at a Stark, you probably are. In the books, and to a lesser degree in the show, Starks have pretty distinct facial features. They’re known to have long, narrow faces, brown hair and grey eyes. These traits are best represented in characters like Ned, Jon, Arya, and Benjen on the show and in the books. The rest of Ned’s children take after their mother to some extent.
Starks are also known for a melancholy demeanor, which, of course, they are. Others are known to be wild like Arya is. Altogether, these traits sum up the Starks of the show very well.
The crypts beneath Winterfell are enormous, and they're filled with thousands of years of Stark kings. Their lineage is old, and it's part of what makes them so steeped in traditions that many other houses are more willing to ignore. Every Stark king is buried with a sword placed upon their lap because that’s said to keep the spirits of the dead at rest and locked in their tombs.
Of course, we know that in both the show and the books the dead are coming back to life. It seems like maybe those swords didn’t do their jobs very well.
The Starks are proud to be consistent friends to the men of the Night's Watch. They're often willing to supply the Night's Watch with men, and members of the Stark family that aren't in line to become Warden of the North often end up taking the black.
In the story of Game of Thrones we know that both Benjen Stark, Ned's younger brother, and Jon Snow join the Watch. Before them, many other Starks joined the order as well, back when it was a much stronger force that was much more capable of taking on the wildlings. It's only natural, given that the Starks are the closest powerful house to the Wall.
In the present day story of Game of Thrones, it’s pretty easy to think of the Starks as peaceful lords who rule over the North with honor and a commitment to justice. The Starks didn’t just fall into that position, though. They spent thousands of years fighting to unite the North, and warring with other houses that eventually bent the knee to them.
Before that day came, though, the Starks were very willing to invade the lands of neighboring lords and take them for themselves. That's how the Starks ended up uniting the entire North behind them, as it has been for thousands of years.
Thousands of years before the events of Game of Thrones, the Andals invaded Westeros and went to war with the First Men. The Starks, headed up by King Theon Stark, managed to hold them off with the help of the Boltons and other northern houses. While much of the continent is dominated by Andal traditions in the present day, the North holds onto the ways of the First Men because they were able to beat back the Andals.
They eventually bent the knee to Aegon the Conqueror, but before then, the Starks repelled invaders incredibly effectively in order to remain an independent kingdom.
Despite having to defend against potential invasions on both the east and west coasts of Westeros, the North is notable in that it lacks any sort of strong sea presence. Apparently, the Starks once had a fleet of ships, but after King Brandon the Shipwright attempted to sail across the Sunset sea and never returned, his son burned the ships in his grief.
While that’s understandable, it’s not a great tactical move. Any great army can be improved by ships, and burning them has rarely helped anyone. Maybe if they'd had a stronger sea presence, they could more effectively ward off the Ironborn.
In the modern story of Thrones, the Starks and Arryns are close allies, largely because Ned Stark grew up under John Arryn. The relationship between the two families is more fraught if you look at the history of the realm overall. Before Aegon’s Conquest, the Arryns and Starks warred for 1,000 years over the Three Sisters, a strip of land that both of them wanted.
This is one of the few attempts at conquest that the Starks ultimately lost, but they obviously went down swinging. The lords of the Vale have ruled over the Three Sisters ever since, right up to the present.
After Aegon conquered and united the Seven Kingdoms, he and his descendants didn’t take many trips North. It’s understandable. The climate is harsher, and the way of life is far less decadent. When they did, though, they tended to be well-received. Until the era of the Mad King, the relationship between the Starks and the Targaryens was generally a fairly positive one.
Of course, the Starks likely recognized that they couldn’t fight any southern king as long as they had dragons behind them. They may be Northern, but they aren’t idiots. Even they know that killing a dragon is almost totally impossible.
These days, Starks don't often travel south, and when they do, things typically don't end well. Dorne is pretty much as far south as you can go, but members of the Stark family actually traveled there to fight alongside King Daeron I Targaryen. Rickon Stark, the heir to Winterfell, died in one of the last battles in that conquest.
Of course, in the end, the Targaryens basically failed to conquer Dorne. They brought the kingdom into the fold, but only by giving in to almost every demand that the Dornish made. They even retained their royal titles, and their fairly unique way of life.
Robert’s Rebellion started for lots of reasons, but one of the chief ones was the Mad King’s execution of both Ned’s father and his brother. This happened after Brandon, Ned’s older brother, rode to King’s Landing to get answers about Lyanna’s disappearance. He was arrested on the way. His father, Lord Rickard, was called to answer for his son’s crimes.
When they both arrived in King’s Landing, Rickard was burned alive by Aerys, and Brandon strangled himself in an attempt to rescue his father. When John Arryn refused to send Ned and Robert's heads to the Mad King and called his banners, the rebellion officially began.
The nature of the Ironborn means that they spend a lot of their time reaving and pillaging. They don’t grow their own crops or tend to their own lands. Instead, they fight to take what they believe should be theirs. Because the Iron Islands are close to the North, a lot of the pillaging that the Ironborn do happens to be on Northern lands.
As a result, the Starks and Greyjoys have gone to war with one another many times over the show’s history. Balon Greyjoy wasn’t the first to rebel, but he may have been one of the worst at it.
We know that the Night’s Watch and the Starks share a lot of history, but it’s still somewhat astonishing that the four youngest Lord Commanders of the Night’s Watch were all Starks. Of course, although Jon Snow is not technically a Stark, he too served as an incredibly young Lord Commander until he was murdered by his brothers.
Of course, the Watch has been around almost as long as the Starks, so it makes sense that there would be a lot of crossover. The Starks have an old and respected name. People want them to be leaders, even when they maybe don’t deserve to be.
We know Jon Snow as one of the central heroes of Game of Thrones, but he's not the first person with Stark blood to have that name. Like so many of the names on this show, it’s recycled. Of course, naming an old king Jon does serve as a fitting reminder that Jon was quickly anointed King in the North after the Battle of the Bastards.
He may not be a Stark, but his legacy is deeply intertwined with the part of his heritage that comes from the Starks. He may not have their name, but he has their blood.
Rhaegar's decision to run off with Lyanna Stark is one of the actions that led to Robert's Rebellion. After Rhaegar died in battle against Robert and Tywin Lannister sacked King's Landing, the war was over. Ned, having already traveled to King’s Landing and then to Storm’s End to relieve Stannis, then traveled to Dorne to find his sister.
When he arrived, he did battle against members of the Kingsguard and eventually found Lyanna dying at her birthing bed. And that's where Jon Snow comes into this story. The war was over, but not before it took Jon Snow’s mother as its final casualty.