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A Game of Thrones History Lesson: Different Species, Ethnicities, and Races in Westeros and Essos -- Part 1


A Game of Thrones History Lesson: Different Species, Ethnicities, and Races in Westeros and Essos — Part 1

One great aspect of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books that hasn’t yet come to fruition in the HBO series has been the wonderful world-building; the history and lore of this thousands-years old world is definitely one of the highlights of the books, but it seems much of this history and lore has been left out by the HBO show.

A Note on Spoilers: I won’t spoil things past Season 3 of the HBO series in terms of plot. Of course, the whole point of this guide will be to give some extra information to non-readers about the history of this wonderfully-constructed world, so most of what will be here is taken from the books, even if it contains no spoilers.

[ Map for those who want to keep track of locations ]

Children of the Forest


Children of the Forest are a different species from humans, but they are human-like. They were the original inhabitants of the Westeros continent before humans came over, but they are all but extinct now. A Child of the Forest hasn’t been seen by man for thousands of year. They are beautiful creatures, called “Children” because the tallest is no larger than a human child.

They did not use metal, weave cloth, or build cities. They lived as one with nature, using tree bark and stone for tools and materials. They lived mostly in crannogs, caves, and villages hidden in trees. They had no ink, no parchment, and no written language. They used obsidian weapons and hunted (men and women hunted together). They were a magical people.

The greensight that Jojen and Bran both have were common among the Children. They carved faces into the weirwoods to keep watch over the woods. They believed the faces to be their gods, called the “old gods” by the current Westerosi. When they died, they believed they became a part of the gods.

It is unknown when they came to Westeros or if they originated there. It’s unknown how long they even occupied it. But for thousands of years, they occupied it alone.

First Men


This might sound a bit more familiar. The First Men were the culture of humans that first set foot on Westerosi soil. Most Northmen trace their lineage back to the First Men. When Jon first met Ygritte last season, he told her that he was of the North, and that they had the same ancestors. The Starks are descendants of the First Men, as are the Karstarks, the Boltons, and the Umbers among other houses.

Around 12,000 years before Aegon the Conqueror came to Westeros (which itself was about 300 years before the start of the series), the First Men came from Essos to Westseros by crossing a land bridge called the Arm of Dorne. If you look over at Dorne (the southernmost part of Westeros) on the map, you will see an archipelago of broken islands between it and Essos.

The First Men inhabited much of the continent, even going to the Iron Islands. The First Men were the founders of the Seastone Chair, which is the “Iron Throne” of the Iron Islands, which King Balon now sits upon. The Seastone Chair was the seat of many Ironborn kings before Aegon killed Harren the Black at Harrenhal (more on Aegon’s Landing in another post).

They were the ones who named the Children. Before that, the children called themselves “those who sing the song of the earth,” in their Ancient Tongue.

War With the Children

The First Men came to Westeros with bronze weapons mounted on horses. As they settled in Westeros, they cut down the weirwoods, which the Children believed to be the gods watching over them. This prompted a war with the Children, who supposedly used dark magic to break the Arm of Dorne and create the broken islands between the two continents. Still, the First Men were larger, stronger, and had weapons.

Whenever the First Men warred with the Children, they cut down and burned the weirwood trees of the land they took, believing that the greenseers could see through the face of the weirwood.

The First Men were the culture of humans that first set foot on Westerosi soil

The First Men eventually (around 10,000 years ago) built Moat Cailin, a castle (in the North, right above the Neck if you’re looking at the map). Moat Cailin in current times is boasted as the North’s greatest defense to the South. An army in the hundreds of thousands could march on it from the south and a garrison of a hundred could repel them.

The Children attempted to stop the invading First Men by using magic to break the Neck and separate the North from the South. Instead, they only managed to flood the Neck, which created bogs and swamps. Even in current times, it is hard to navigate the Neck.

Fortunately for the Children, the flooding was enough to make the First Men sue for peace, and they ended their wars with the weirwoods in the South cut down and the ones in the North remaining. Thus, when a Northman goes south, it is lore and superstition that they are no longer under the protection of the old gods. See how that worked for Ned?

Anyway, the Children and First Men had peace at the Isle of Faces, which maintained its weirwoods (it’s in the Riverlands in the middle of the lake near Harrenhal, for those looking at the map). The First Men allowed the Children the forests of the North in return for the First Men claiming the south. This pact began 4,000 years of friendship between the First Men and the Children. The years that followed were known as the Age of Heroes, and the First Men put aside their gods to worship the old gods.

The Others


Also known in the HBO series as The White Walkers (and sometimes called white walkers by wildlings). According to common legend, the Others appeared around 8,000 years before Aegon’s Landing (again, which was ~300 years before the HBO series) during the Long Night. The Long Night was a winter that lasted a generation, and was spoken of by Old Nan in (I want to say) Season 1, when talking to Bran.

The Others are thought to be demons. They can raise wights, dead bodies, and are characterized by the cool, glowing blue of their eyes. They come from the Land of Always Winter.

The War for the Dawn

When the Others moved south, the Children and First Men both fought to defend the continent from icy invasion, but were eventually pushed back. The Children and FM found a weapon that could kill an Other (not going to name what weapon it is, as it might be considered a spoiler).

It was then that the hero Azor Ahai, a great hero, led the war against the Others wielding his sword of fire, Lightbringer, and drove the Other back. More on the legend of Azor Ahai in a different post.

After this war, the Wall was raised to protect the realm, and it is said the be imbued with the Children’s magic to protect the Realm. The Wall was raised by a First Man named Brandon Stark, known as Bran the Builder (one of many Brandons in the Stark lineage, the most recent being Bran from the HBO series). The Night’s Watch was established to protect the people of Westeros against the Others.

Over the course of thousands of years, the Others became known as a myth, a scary story that mothers tell their children to frighten them. Legend states that one day, the Others will return and Azor Ahai will be reborn to lead the fight against them.

Of course, we all know the Others (white walkers) and their wights are back. They were the first thing we saw in Season 1, the last thing we saw in Season 2, and are currently marching (slowly) south towards the Wall.

The Andals


The Andals originated in Essos in the Hills of Andalos (below Braavos on the west coast, called “Andalos” on this unofficial map). Their first king was Hugor of the Hill, and was supposedly crowned by the Seven themselves. Yes, the Faith of the Seven “new gods” (Father, Warrior, Smith, Crone, Mother, Maiden, Stranger) originated with the Andals while the First Men and Children worshiped the old gods.

Around 6,000 years before Aegon’s landing, the Andals first sailed to Westeros. Instead of Dorne, they arrived in the Vale, landing at the Fingers. The original Andal invaders painted and carved the seven-pointed star of the Seven on their bodies. They destroyed all the weirwood trees and Children that they came across. After hundreds of years of war, the Andals managed to conquer the lower six kingdoms (Dorne, Reach, Stormlands, Riverlands, West, and Vale) and created their own kingdom.

The Andals are arguably the largest cultural factor of current-day Westeros

Only the Kings of Winter resisted the Andals successfully, stopping them at… shocker …Moat Cailin.

The Andals are arguably the largest cultural factor of current-day Westeros. They brought the religion of the new gods, which remains the largest religion. Their language became known as the Common Tongue, and is the language spoken by all characters (up until this point, the First Men spoke the Old Tongue, which is still spoken by a few wildlings north of the Wall). Their writing system was better than the runes of the First Men and the non-existent written language of the Children.

Most people in the South are descendants of the Andals. In Essos, remember that Jorah is sometimes called (by the Dothraki and by Quaithe in Qarth) “Jorah the Andal.” The current kings of Westeros are styled “King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men.” (We will get to Rhoynar next time around; also, the show completely ignores the Rhoynar when Dany styles herself “Queen of the Andals and the First Men”).

Thirsty for more Game of Thrones History Lessons?

Westerosi History Lesson Hub:

[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 ]

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