Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones but not House of the Dragon.
In this article:
- Often called “Kings of the North,” House Stark has ruled the northern regions of Westeros for over 8,000 years.
- Just as the Targaryens are said to have dragon blood, the Starks are said to have wolf blood, which is said to be the source of the courage, loyalty, and wildness the family is known for.
- That wolf blood is also said to give them a special connection with direwolves, a connection audiences saw between the Stark children and the litter of direwolf pups they found in A Song of Ice and Fire.
- Given their long history in Westeros, audiences can expect to see members of House Stark in House of the Dragon. Though the ancestors who will appear in the show will seem very different from Eddard Stark and his children.
House Stark plays a significant role in many key moments of Westeros’ history. As one of the oldest families on the continent, the Starks have had a hand in shaping the dynamics of power in A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF), Game of Thrones (GoT), and House of the Dragon (HotD).
Not to mention, many of their members went on to become heroes, kings, seers, and Hands of the King, easily making them a common fixture in adaptations of the ASOIAF books.
Let’s face it: We’re always going to see House Stark make an appearance in the ASOIAF franchise so we may as well get familiar with the history of this noble family, its most notable members, and what we can expect from House Stark in the coming House of the Dragon series.
Who Is House Stark?
House Stark is a noble family based in the North of Westeros, a snowy, hostile region past the Neck of the continent. Their seat and ancestral home is Winterfell, a massive fortress known for its thick boundary walls and heated castle walls.
The Starks rule as Wardens of the North, a position that gives them full oversight of other families in the region and gives them the responsibility to organize other noble families under the rule of the Iron Throne.
Because ASOIAF has a Dark Ages-style setting, the wardens are also burdened with fending off raider attacks from beyond the Wall and keeping pirates away from the coasts of their region.
Like other great families of Westeros, the Starks have their own words, sigils, and traditions. The family’s coat of arms is a running gray direwolf set against a white backdrop, invoking the wilderness of the region they rule in.
The Stark family’s words are “Winter is coming.” which serves as a warning about the true evils that lie north of the wall.
You may have also heard other words like “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.” While not officially a motto, it is a reminder of the Stark family’s culture of loyalty.
The Starks’ commitment to loyalty to their allies and to their family members may just be the secret behind their 8,000-year rule over the North, beginning from the days of the First Men.
House Stark as Kings in the North
House Stark is introduced in Game of Thrones as one of the vassals of the Iron Throne, beginning as followers of the Targaryen family before they changed allegiances in favor of House Baratheon.
But before House Stark became servants of kings, they were kings in their own right.
Known as the “Kings of Winter” or “Kings of the North,” the Starks are hinted to have mystical origins connected to the Others, wraith-like monsters, and the Children of the Forest (fae-like beings who dominated the world before humans came into existence).
Like their Targaryen counterparts who are known for fiery tempers and the “blood of the dragon,” the Starks are noted for their melancholic moods, aloofness, and “wolf blood.”
This wolf blood gives members of House Stark a surprising “wildness” that gives them the courage to act according to their personal ideals even when it puts them at odds with people and institutions.
On a more mystical level, wolf blood gives Starks the ability to connect with direwolves and to inhabit the minds of other people and animals, a power known as warging.
Fans have speculated that this power comes from ancient Stark kings who interbred with the Children of the Forest during the Age of Heroes. After fighting the Others together with the Children, Brandon the Builder built the Wall, a barrier separating the North and Westeros from the unknown regions further north.
Bran the Builder also built Winterfell, the ancient seat of House Stark, and the crypts beneath Winterfell where all the Kings of Winter and, later, Lords of Winterfell have been laid to rest.
The building of Winterfell marked the beginning of House Stark and their nearly 8,000-year reign over the North. That said, the Starks continued to fight against rival petty kings in the region such as the Marsh Kings south of Winterfell and the Red Kings, the ancestors of House Bolton.
The Kings in the North eventually conquered both rivals and even formed marriage alliances with them. House Reed, a noble family hinted to have interbred with the Children, is also implied to be related to a Marsh King whose daughter married a Stark king.
The Kings of Winter also supported the Night’s Watch, providing them with weapons, resources, and even their own family members. Many siblings and relatives of the Stark kings are mentioned in the books as former Lord Commanders of the Night’s watch.
A notable example of this is when Jon Snow was elected as Lord Commander. Jon doubted his ability to lead because he was still a teenager but Samwell Tarley pointed out that Osric Stark was only 10 years old when he became Lord Commander.
Other younger Stark sons, who were not in line to be Kings of Winter, founded cadet branches. There’s only one named cadet branch of House Stark in ASOIAF and it’s House Karstark, a family founded by Karlon Stark after he was rewarded with his own land for crushing a rebellion.
The Starks’ supremacy over the North came to an end with the arrival of the Targaryens who used their dragons as the ultimate threat of force to make other nobles swear fealty to them.
House Stark During and After Aegon’s Conquest
Aegon’s Conquest began during the reign of King Torrhen Stark, a Stark King said to have raised an army of nearly 30,000 men to try and stop Aegon Targaryen and Targaryen family allies from taking over the North.
However, King Torrhen quickly realized that the Targaryens couldn’t be fought because their dragons allowed them to slaughter hundreds of troops with just one dragon rider.
Noticing that the Targaryens had conquered the Eyrie and Harrenhal, two other reinforced castles that were comparable to Winterfell in their defensive capacities, Torrehn Stark chose to bend the knee. Because of this, he became known as the King Who Knelt.
Torrhen’s decision to bend the knee turned out to be for the better as Aegon Targaryen decided that the Starks and their vassals could keep their lands provided that they would be loyal to him.
The Targaryens also tried to form alliances between themselves and their new vassals by marrying key members of their houses to each other. Though Torrhen agreed to marry Ronnel Arryn, he and the next few generations of Starks mostly kept to themselves and did not participate in court.
This later changed when the Starks began to participate in councils in King’s Landing, namely during the Dance of the Dragons and during the reign of King Robert Baratheon.
Robert’s Rebellion was triggered by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen’s seeming abduction of Lyanna Stark, the sister of Rickard Stark and Eddard Stark, who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon. However, the real reason why other houses sided with Robert was that they had lost confidence in Mad King Aerys’ rule and wanted a shot at gaining power themselves.
After the defeat of House Targaryen by the combined forces of House Stark, House Baratheon, and House Lannister, Eddard Stark returned home to Winterfell with a baby Jon Snow, marking the start of the events of the main Game of Thrones series.
Notable Members of House Stark Featured in Game of Thrones
House Stark’s members serve as the key protagonists of the Game of Thrones series, forcing fans to wait with bated breath to see whether their favorite family members will survive. Though not all of them are fan favorites like Jon Snow, the bastard Stark sibling, they each have merits that have helped them survive the game.
Ned Stark, formally known as Eddard Stark, is introduced as the Stark family head and the father of the show’s Stark protagonists.
His staunch allegiance to ideals of honesty, loyalty, and honor became his doom and marked the descent from power of House Stark throughout the series. But the ideals he imparted to his children also keep their spirits unbroken as the series progresses.
Robb Stark tries to take vengeance in his father’s name and become King in the North in a desperate attempt to be the “family man” of House Stark and the North, protecting their interests from Andal foreigners, but his decision not to keep his promises, as his father would have done, results in the Red Wedding.
Catelyn Stark (née Tully), is the wife of Eddard Stark and the mother of his legitimate children. We come to know her as a fierce protectress of her children, though she’s cold towards anyone she sees as a threat to her family’s stability, namely her husband’s supposed bastard son.
Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned Stark, is the “Stark” who gets to undergo a more classic hero’s journey as he tries to gain a sense of self that’s entirely based on his own merits rather than being just a bastard Stark.
This is later symbolized in Longclaw, an heirloom Valyrian steel sword that he receives from Jeor Mormont who serves as his father figure in the Night’s Watch. His merits later earn him a place as King in the North in his own right, not just because of his parentage.
Sansa Stark, the eldest female Stark sibling, begins the story as a gullible girl before hardening into a clever young woman able and willing to do what it takes to pull her family back together. She later returns to Winterfell as the Lady of Winterfell.
Arya Stark is paralleled in the books with her aunt Lyanna and many characters note that she has wolf blood in her. Though it’s Brandon Stark, aka “Bran the Broken,” who exhibits warging powers later on, it’s Arya who displays the classic wild traits associated with wolf blood.
Little is known about their youngest brother, Rickon Stark, aside from his death towards the end of the series.
Now that Game of Thrones has ended, many fans have wondered whether House Stark will survive the winter of their decline but signs point toward the answer being yes. Now that there technically are Starks in the North — Arya and Sansa — the Stark family line can continue.
This isn’t all too different from what happened to the House of York, the real-life family that fought in the War of the Roses and served as George R.R. Martin’s inspiration for House Stark. York descendants today are mostly found only through their maternal line.
What to Expect From House Stark in House of the Dragon
In the teaser trailer for House of the Dragon, we see King Viserys I Targaryen ask his vassal lords to swear fealty to his daughter, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen. Among them is Cregan Stark, the then Lord of Winterfell and head of House Stark.
Known as the Wolf of the North, Cregan was a stern pragmatist who turned his nose up at notions of honor and mercy. You can expect to see a vastly different Stark from the ones we’ve met in Game of Thrones.