Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Series: Lessons from the Citadel -- House Stark
[Contributor: Melanie]

House Stark is one of the Great Houses of Westeros and possibly the oldest noble house on the continent, as they trace their lineage back to the First Men 8,000 years ago. Though they currently sit nearly extinct and deposed of their lands and titles, they controlled the largest stretch of land among any of the Great Houses.

  • Words: Winter is Coming
  • Sigil: A grey direwolf on a white field
  • Region: The North (formally)
  • Seat: Winterfell
  • Titles: Warden of the North (formally), Lord of Winterfell (formally), King in the North (formally)
  • Bastard Names: Snow
  • Members on Screen: Eddard “Ned” Stark (deceased), Benjen Stark (missing), Catelyn Tully Stark (deceased), Jon Snow (deceased), Sansa Stark Lannister, Arya Stark (officially missing), Brandon “Bran” Stark (officially deceased), Rickon Stark (missing)
  • Current head: Disputed 
The Starks claim lineage from Brandon “Bran the Builder” Stark (through whom they claim further descent from High King Garth Greenhand), a legendary figure during the Age of Heroes who fought in the War for Dawn against the White Walkers. During the Long Night (a period of winter and utter darkness) when the White Walkers (also known as the Others) attacked, Bran built the 700-foot Wall out of ice and stone to keep them back. He is also credited with constructing Winterfell a few hundred miles south of the Wall, which served as the seat for the Kings in the North and later Wardens of the North.

As the first defense against Wildling attacks, several Starks have served as Lord Commanders of the Night’s Watch (including the thirteenth Lord Commander, who later became the Night’s King — that creepy ice dude giving Jon the business last season). They have a cadet branch, the Karstarks (the man Robb beheaded in season three) and have a strong connection with the North and the people residing there. This fierce loyalty the people of the North have towards the Starks continue to make it difficult for the Boltons to maintain absolute power over Winterfell.

The Kings in the North fell to the Targaryens like the others. King Torrhen famously bent the knee to Aegon without question after witnessing the might of his dragon Balerion. The Inn of the Kneeling Man now marks the spot where this oath of fealty took place. The Starks were loyal servants to the crown, and signed the Pact of Ice and Fire with the Targaryens after declaring allegiance to Princess Rhaenyra during the succession crisis known as the Dance of the Dragons. Within their own borders they faced the issue of dwindling volunteers for the Night’s Watch and attacks from Wildlings. 

However, toward the end of the Targaryen reign, House Stark played a pivotal role in supplanting them. Lyanna Stark, the daughter of Lord Rickard Stark, was engaged to Robert Baratheon but captured the interest of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (despite already being married with children). The nature of her feelings toward the prince are unclear (though her disdain for Robert was obvious) but she disappeared with him a year after he made his first advance toward her. As a result, Rickard and his eldest son Brandon marched south and demanded Rhaegar answer for his crime. In response, the mad Targaryen king had them executed. Eddard Stark, now Lord of Winterfell, called his banners, along with his fosterfather Lord Jon Arryn, and Robert Baratheon. Together, the three of them waged a yearlong campaign to place Robert on the throne.

Ned married Catelyn Tully, who was originally promised to his late brother during the course of the war, and had a falling out with Robert after learning that Rhaegar’s innocent wife and children had been brutally murdered by the Lannisters, who had switched to support the rebels at the last minute. One of the last skirmishes of the war was fought by Ned and his bannermen at the Tower of Joy where his sister, finally located, died in his arms. It is unknown what Ned and his sister discussed but he returned from the war with an infant Jon Snow, whom he claimed was his bastard son. A few years thereafter he took on Theon Greyjoy as a hostage after ending the Greyjoy Rebellion.

The Starks have been pushed to near extinction since the death of Robert Baratheon. With Ned executed, Robb and Catelyn betrayed and murdered, Bran and Rickon officially presumed dead, Arya missing, and Sansa forced into marriage with the Lannisters, the Boltons now claim the title Wardens of the North and hold Winterfell. Jon Snow, an illegitimate (though in the book Robb legitimized him and made him his heir) bastard stands as the last living descendent of the family, along with his trueborn sister Sansa.

Traits and Customs

Like many highborn families, the Starks boast traits common among them. Their facial features are often described as “the look” and their temperaments are known as “wolf-blooded.” They’re known for their dark hair and eyes and for their headstrong and wild nature, as well as a thirst for battle. Unlike other houses, however, they seem to possess innate, almost magical, abilities passed down from their First Men ancestors. Many members of the family have been shown to possess warging abilities (the ability to mentally enter the body of an animal for short periods), including Bran and Jon Snow. Bran also has the gift of greendreams, prophetic and clairvoyant visions through dreams, as well as some apparent telepathic abilities as the Three Eyed Raven communicated with him thusly. The Starks also seem to have a natural bond with direwolves, the sigil of their house.

In accordance with their ancestors, the Starks continue to keep the Old Gods as their faith rather than convert to the Faith of the Seven. They have a weirwood tree and a godswood within Winterfell that they use for prayer and religious services.

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