A Brief Treatise on the Rules of Thrones 1.02: The Kingsroad

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State of Play

The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly.

Direwolves of Winterfell: Eddard Stark, Catelyn Stark, Jon Snow, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Robb Stark, Bran Stark
Stags of Winterfell: Robert Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon
Lions of Winterfell: Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Sandor Clegane, and Tyrion Lannister
Dragons of Vaes Dothrak: Daenerys Targaryen, Viserys Targaryen
Fleurs de lis of Vaes Dothrak : Jorah Mormont
Kraken of Winterfell: Theon Greyjoy

King’s Landing is empty.

The episode is in eleven parts. The first runs three minutes and is set in the Dothraki Sea. The first shot is a long line of Dothraki marching across the vast grassy plains. 

The second runs sixteen minutes and is set in Winterfell. The transition is via dialogue and image, from Viserys and Jorah talking about Eddard Stark and a shot of horses to a shot of dogs in Winterfell. The cliffhanger is resolved seven minutes in, when Tyrion announces that Bran is expected to survive. 

The third runs three minutes and is set along the Kingsroad south of Winterfell. The transition is via character, the previous scene ending with Ned riding off and cutting ahead to Ned and Robert, and by dialogue, with the previous scene ending with Ned and Jon Snow parting for the last time to Robert and Ned talking about Jon’s mother. 

The fourth runs one minute and is set in the Dothraki Sea. The transition is via dialogue with Robert and Ned talking about the Dothraki and Targaryens to the Dothraki and Targaryens themselves.  

The fifth runs three minutes and is set along the Kingsroad north of Winterfell. The transition is via image and family, from Daenerys looking at her dragon’s eggs surrounded by candles to Jon Snow sitting by a fire. At the episode’s halfway point, Jon Snow and Tyrion converse by the fire. 

The sixth runs three minutes and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by family, from Jon Snow to Bran. It features the death of the would-be assassin, mauled by Summer.

The seventh runs two minutes and is set in the Dothraki Sea. The transition is by visual, the gore upon Summer’s face to the Dothraki butchering animals to eat.

The eighth runs one minute and is set at the Wall. The transition is by family, from Daenerys to Jon Snow.

The ninth runs four minutes and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by family, from Benjen to Catelyn.

The tenth runs four minutes and is set in the Dothraki Sea. The transition is by hard cut, from Bran in bed to Daenerys being taught how to please Khal Drogo.


The last runs twelve minutes and is in two sections. The first lasts ten minutes and is set on the Kingsroad south of Winterfell. The transition is by hard cut, from Daenerys and Drogo having torrid sex to Sansa walking through the camp. The second lasts two minutes and is intercut between Winterfell and the first part of the section. It features the death of Lady, Sansa Stark’s direwolf, whose throat is slit by Lord Eddard Stark. The final shot is a hold on Bran’s eyes just after he’s woken up in a hard cut from Lady’s death. “Mornington Crescent,” he thinks. 

Analysis

Initial deceptions made, we proceed to a second episode. Second installments are, as a rule, fascinating specimens. Where premieres have to make a case for what a thing is, second episodes are generally concerned instead with demonstrating what an ordinary use of the premise is going to be like. For Game of Thrones, however, other concerns play in. Huge swaths of the main cast, after all, have barely been introduced. Daenerys got eight lines across the entirety of “Winter is Coming.” Arya got only fourteen words, with her most substantial line being an exposition dump of “That’s Jaime Lannister, the queen’s twin brother.” Joffrey had no dialogue whatsoever. And even characters who were the focuses of scenes were only partially introduced. There is, in other words, quite a lot of groundwork still to lay. 

Accordingly, “The Kingsroad” moves slowly. In one sense it is an entire episode spent repeating the premise of the series and delaying the resolution of the cliffhanger. This is clear from the outset, with the decision to open in the Dothraki Sea, which is, at the moment the story opens, as far from the action of the cliffhanger as it is possible to be. Even when the action does cut to Winterfell, it starts with the characters least in any position to tell the audience what’s happened to Bran, and keeps his fate deliberately vague throughout the interaction between Joffrey and Tyrion, holding back the reveal that Bran has survived for as long into the episode as it can manage. 

This decision to claim space to flesh out characters is not merely necessary, although it is clearly that - it is also, on the whole, well done. In particular, several of the scenes added from the books are helpful. The exchange between Viserys and Jorah about the reasons for Jorah’s exile, for instance, is revealing in some subtle ways. It is, for instance, not just significant that the scene reiterates Viserys’s fundamental awfulness as he dismisses laws against slavery as “nonsense,” but the altogether subtler point of Jorah clearly being ashamed of his crime, and of him accordingly not being particularly comforted by Viserys’s support. 

A bigger added scene is the one between Catelyn and Cersei, which makes one of the earliest major changes to the canon in its revelation that Cersei had a child with Robert who died. This serves as part of a larger effort within the scene to render Cersei a more sympathetic character, a significant move given that it comes in between scenes where Cersei is complicit in the attempted murder of an innocent child and her climactic cruelty to Sansa. But as important as the humanizing of Cersei is the dissonance put on display. Her empathy with Catelyn’s pain is entirely honest and genuine, and is made all the more fascinating by the fact that she’s thoroughly culpable for Bran’s fall.

Much of the importance of this scene comes down to the most basic difference between the books and the television show, which is the fact that the show is not limited to a chosen set of viewpoint characters. In the books, Cersei is denied full interiority until A Feast for Crows, and Jaime until A Storm of Swords. But it’s also interesting that in the show, Jaime continues to be denied interiority. Initially, when the story pretends to be a suspense narrative about Ned Stark trying to solve the murder of Jon Arryn before the Lannisters can contrive to get rid of him, Cersei, Jaime, and Joffrey all appear to be villains. This is ultimately only partially true. But in the long run it is Jaime who is going to have the best claim to not actually be a straightforward villain, which makes it interesting that the show opts to flesh him out the least at this juncture, and indeed ends up fleshing out Cersei earlier than Jaime, instead of later.

This question of interiority also animates one of the easiest to miss things when looking at “The Kingsroad,” which is the importance of Jon Snow’s mother. She comes up twice in rapid succession, which does highlight it, especially given Ned’s pained refusal to talk about her in both cases, but it’s far from the most salient point about the episode. More puzzlingly, this is essentially the only place in the series where the question is really raised, which is striking given how important the fact is to the books as a whole. Like any good deception, the declaration in “Winter is Coming” that the story being told is a mystery is not entirely untrue. It is a mystery. But in the books, the real and biggest mystery is not what happened to Jon Arryn, but the truth of the events of Robert’s Rebellion, and of Jon Snow’s parentage. In the novel, this is largely generated by Ned’s repeated thoughts about the death of his sister and a promise he made her, thoughts that are repeatedly juxtaposed with thoughts about Jon Snow. But the show, lacking the ability to depict Ned’s thoughts, can’t actually go into this.

It’s easy to miss how big a deal this is. When David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were pitching to George R.R. Martin to get the rights to try developing a TV series based on A Song of Ice and Fire, one of the first questions he asked them was the identity of Jon Snow’s mother. His purpose in this question was straightforward - making sure that Benioff and Weiss had enough understanding of the story he was telling to be credible showrunners. Had they failed this test, it would have been obvious to Martin that they did not understand the books well enough to adapt them.

That this was the necessary shibboleth and that Weiss and Benioff got it right is thus confirmation of what every attentive book reader already knows. The circumstances of Robert’s Rebellion came when the crown prince of Westeros, Rhaegar Targaryen, disappeared with Lyanna Stark, Ned Stark’s sister and Robert Baratheon’s betrothed. The final battle of the war came when Ned Stark and six of his men arrived at a tower in Dorne guarded by three of the Kingsguard. Ned and one other of his men, Howland Reed, were the only two survivors. Inside the tower was Lyanna, who lay dying. Her last words were “promise me, Ned.” The proximity of this memory to the question of Jon Snow thus makes it obvious who Jon Snow’s mother is: Lyanna. Contrary to the official narrative of the war, which holds that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna, they in fact eloped, and Rhaegar impregnated Lyanna, who died in or shortly after childbirth. Ned’s promise was to raise Lyanna’s son as his own, which he did, claiming that he had sired a bastard. 

Very little of the evidence for this makes it into the show, and yet the consequences run rampant. First and foremost, it is the impetus behind one of the show’s most common transitions, which is to move from scenes at the Wall to scenes featuring Daenerys. That this move is secretly an instance of the routine “transition by family” explains much, and it’s telling that the first such move comes in this episode, not long after Ned’s never-fulfilled promise to tell Jon about his mother, with the cut from Daenerys’s dragon eggs to the fire Jon Snow is sitting beside. Second, it is a cornerstone of the entire idea of a dualism between ice and fire, a dualism that gives the entire book series its name, and that defines the shape of the first season (and book).

This dualism is rooted in the fantasy content of the series, which is at once minimal (especially at this stage of the game) and essential. At this end of the season, it is mainly focused on the Starks, although there are still flashes of it around Daenerys, both in the scene in which gazing at the eggs calms Daenerys during her rape and in the way in which Doreah’s tale of the moon being an egg (what a lovely idea) leads directly to Daenerys employing her to teach her to better please Drogo. But this remains an implication, whereas the connection between the Starks and their direwolves is massively highlighted by the end of the episode, which strongly suggests that Bran awakens as a consequence of Lady’s death. This is a significant change from the book in content, but not in substance - there Bran awakens at the end of a prophetic vision, but in both cases the effect is the same: to establish that the Starks are heroes in a mythic sense. 

The particulars of this differ from Stark to Stark, and at this point are hazily defined, but the broad strokes are already clear. It is, for instance, significant that Ned does not have a direwolf, or perhaps more accurately, that the nearest figure to Ned has been gored to death by a stag. Jon Snow, for instance, has a fairly straightforward heroic arc forming. Bran, similarly, is already steeped in a sense of mysticism, simply by virtue of how he awakens. Arya is quickly set up as the plucky children’s literature hero, complete with an insistent sense of right and wrong, just as Sansa is very quickly sketched as a more traditional princess. In the books, in fact, there is at this point a relatively explicit sequence that defines the characters in more or less these terms. As he prepares to execute Lady, Ned reflects on the appropriateness of each of his children’s names for their direwolves, save for Bran, who had not named his before his fall. The next chapter is then Bran’s awakening - a lengthy prophetic dream about the White Walkers and the true meaning of the phrase “winter is coming.” And as Bran awakens, he finally names his wolf Summer. 

But, of course, there is a deception in all of this as well. The Starks are all defined in terms of fantasy tropes. But that does not mean that these tropes are going to play out normally. And there are already signs of this as well, most obviously in how Robb, the heir to Winterfell and thus, structurally, a seemingly important figure is oddly ignored by the narrative, to the point, in the books, of being conspicuously absent as point of view character. The starting position of the game may be clear, in other words. But the rules most certainly are not.

Comments

Blueshift 2 years, 1 month ago

Having come to the books after the show, what really struck me was that the books are more interested in a sense of contextual history of these events, where the show is more about peoples experiences in the here and now. The whole history of Robert's Rebellion is barely touched on at all, with a lot of aspects that is familiar and constantly revisited in the books (such as Rhaegar) being pretty much missing from the show.

I have no idea how they would actually cover that in the show as they don't seem to want to do flashbacks. I assume at some point they meet Howland Reed who can explain to Jon and the audience what went on back then.

(Also the whole 'warging' thing seems mostly missing from the show (in that it's there but hardly with the same level of focus). I don't know if that means it just won't be important or the show is going in a different direction.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

"Doreah’s tale of the moon being an egg (what a lovely idea)"

Brill Phil, lovely call out.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

Maybe the Warging thing was just held back for longer, creating more mystery around Bran? As it does seem to appear more when Bran gets further north, culminating in his skills improving, and it's certainly being shown a lot on the other side of the wall within the Wildings. Even though, as you say it is certainly more downplayed.

One thing that you make me think of that has been on my mind is the playing down of some magical elements (not sure about naming specifics, if we're doing that here?), that leads me to wonder if some of the magic is being held off to appear more later on as events build?

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Michael Durant 2 years, 1 month ago

Speaking as someone who has only seen the show, I thought it obvious by this point that Jon was actually Ned's nephew. On the other hand, given a lack of information about the rebellion on screen, I had assumed that Jon was secretly Robert's eldest bastard.

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Blueshift 2 years, 1 month ago

It's odd in that whilst the magic is always there (and the first scene is people being attacked by ice zombies, for heavens sake) it is rather downplayed in that it doesn't factor into the lives of 99% of the cast. That said, whilst it is consistently portrayed as being there, some of the overt uses really take me out of the story (mainly the magic with Mance in the later books, not wanting to spoil anything). I remember my reaction was "that is very unrealistic" whereas before I'd taken ice zombies and dragons in stride.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

Yeah that's a good point, it is always there (being manipulated by religion, zombies, etc). I get what you mean about unrealism, as they really do stand out in the books, though I really dug those moments - one I really want to mention, but I'd like to not spoil folks either. Funnily they took me more into the books, as I felt like a wider story was then being revealed that all the families locked into their personal/historical conflicts couldn't see, that was about the awakening of magic.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

I have read all of the books and did so after the show (well part way through) and my partner and I could see that there was a Targaryen connection somehow though his eyes, his features. And of course as you say Phil the intercutting between the Wall and Dany creates and implicit link.

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IG 2 years, 1 month ago

Interesting stuff (for someone who has seen all the series but not read the books). This sentence confused me though:

" In particular, several of the scenes added from the books are helpful. " I initially read this as scenes from the books added at this point in the series, but in context I think you meant "scenes added TO the books".

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Aylwin 2 years, 1 month ago

I'm having trouble seeing any coherence in the way magic is presented (on TV anyway, and by the sound of it the books aren't much clearer). On the one hand, there's definitely an idea that it has largely faded away but is now returning. On the other there seems to have been rather a lot of it about before, at least outside the Seven Kingdoms. Natives of Essos like the Lhazareen witch, Melisandre, Jaqen or Varys's sorceror keep popping up, while warging is presented as an unremarkable fact of life north of the Wall (then again, Osha seems to be unfamiliar with it and mutters darkly about black magic, so huh), besides the presence of giants and what have you, even before the White Walkers reappear. That frames it more as something "foreign", which has somehow been absent, or simply denied, in Westeros alone. But the most explicit and authoritative statement of fading and return comes from the Warlocks of Qarth, and they're at the other end of the world. Either there's no clear vision or I'm just not seeing the pattern.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

I think you are right with the idea that there's no coherence, as we seem to be looking at a pretty splintered world where as you say there are remnants of it and places where it is stronger.

Just reading what you are saying makes me agree and think that many of the negative attitudes to magic either as a child's fantasy or something that is representative of the "foreign", seem to come from the mainland of Westeros, and even the population that live close to magic maybe down to prejudices simply don't want to see it, or do and judge it?

I guess I'm not thinking that there is a clear vision, the ideas here in response to Phil's post bubbled up. Maybe the pattern is that is interesting to observe what the responses to magic are in different groups and perhaps this would then tell us something about them? As it seems that many on Westeros are ignoring magic (or magical beings) at their own peril, whilst others will attempt to use them for their own will.

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Aylwin 2 years, 1 month ago

Regarding Robb and epic templates, I suppose the roles of the rest of the younger Starks and Targaryens all fit the framework of "belonging" by birth at the centres of power and security, but being variously dispossessed by violence and pushed out to find their way at the margins (even when, in Sansa's case, it's in a marginalised and disempowered role right at the centre). That is presumably key to their thematic contribution to a story where power is the prevalent preoccupation and where the margins are coming to eat the centre, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world* etc, though I don't know how it all fits together yet. The very fact that he can step into his father's shoes would presumably rule out Robb as a contributor to that set-up.

*At the point in the story where I am at the moment, there remains a statistically significant possibility that the answer to Yeats's question is "Lord Twatbeard".

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Aylwin 2 years, 1 month ago

Incidentally, I like the fact that while it's repeatedly remarked that Jon's conception represents Ned's one lapse from unwaveringly honourable behaviour, his true identity reveals that Ned actually spent the last 17 years of his life letting his wife and everyone else think he was an adulterer in order (presumably) to keep Jon safe, which is such a 100% Ned thing to do. It also ties in nicely with his disgust at the proposal to kill Danaerys and her unborn child and his final willingness to lie and sacrifice his pride so as to protect his children.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

Yes when you think of who Jon really is, it does reveal a lot about Ned.

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John 2 years, 1 month ago

My sense is that the return of dragons is connected to the return/increasing strength of fire-based magic, but that other forms of magic have always been around, and even fire magic wasn't totally dead before.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

Yeah I think that too, that maybe none of the forms of magic have really died out, but it's perhaps that they are coming back into consciousness.

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Blueshift 2 years, 1 month ago

Actually I'm 1/3 through the first GoT book now, and there's a passage about how the Doom of Valareia caused the death of all magic in Westeros, but there is still magic to be found in the east, or something like that.

The Maesters certainly seem to have control of knowledge, and they look to be more science-based than magic based. Has all the magic we've seen cast by characters been religion-based?

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for that, I forgotten about the Doom - it's been ages since I read the books and they are pretty dense (which I love), that I have not retained a lot of details.

Yes the Maesters look down on the idea of magic as a myth don't they, so are more knowledge/science based, and later on some magic is carried out under religion's banner.

So yeah, it seems there's magic still in the East apparently and North of the Wall.

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Blueshift 2 years, 1 month ago

I suppose that implies that culturally the Targarians were against the use of magic if the 'death' of magic in the West coincided with the invasion. I suppose if you already have giant firebreathing dragons, you don't want to encourage anyone to have an edge. That said, is there any evidence that 'flashy' magic was that widespread in Westeros aside from more 'pagan' magic?

How old is the order of Maesters, do we know that from anything?

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

Yeah they would be against any other force having power that could topple them. I don't think there is any evidence that there was ever Harry Otter type magic, that it looks like it was Pagan/Earth based, you're right.

Wasn't sure about the origins of the Maesters, but found this on the GoT Wikia:

"The Maesters are said to have originated in Oldtown itself, back when it was a small kingdom of the First Men - long before the Andal Invasion six thousand years ago. Thus they are not an Andal institution brought to Westeros, nor did they predate the First Men migration to Westeros."

http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Maesters

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liminal fruitbat 2 years, 1 month ago

The diminishing of magic in Westeros coincided with/was caused by the Doom, not the Targaryens invading. Their dragons got weaker and smaller as well. (Spoilers for A Feast For Crows: Vg'f gur Znrfgref jub ner gur znwbe sbepr va Jrfgrebf fhccerffvat zntvp, qentbaf vapyhqrq.)

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BerserkRL 2 years, 1 month ago

Thing of Nouns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVaD8rouJn0

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

Yeah good point fruitbat (spoiler interpreted!)

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

Brill thanks! Love the Thing of Nouns bit.

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Blueshift 2 years, 1 month ago

Are they actively suppressing magic though? Or is it just that they prefer science over magic, ie the European rationalists over the Eastern mystics.

I thought the diminishing of the dragons was down to interbreeding, basically, as all the dragons of Westeros were born from the line of the three that came over with the original Targaryan invasion. That, and environmental factors.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

"Or is it just that they prefer science over magic, ie the European rationalists over the Eastern mystics."

It feels like that is a central part of the conflict that is going on - that between rationalism and mysticism - do you think?

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Blueshift 2 years, 1 month ago

I'm not sure. I think there is that aspect to it, but if you look at the 'mystical' sides, they are not always opposed to the 'rational'.

Others/White Walkers - evil ice necromancers wanting to murder everyone
Children of the Forest - chilling with Bran, clearly not on the side of the White Walkers
Mellasandre - supporting Stannis to take the kingdom/support the Wall
Dany - Has her dragons, chilling in Mereen (sp?), plans to sail and take the Iron Throne no matter who sits on it

I mean yes, you can take Dany's plot as Eastern mysticism vs West, but then a lot of the 'rationalist' characters flock to her, and apart from dragons, that's really the only mystical thing she has.

There was actually an interesting passage where Mellisandre mentions how her magic is far more powerful at the Wall (and assumedly past that point, where the Others and Children of the Forest live, is the super magical part of Westeros). The North still believes in the pagan powers of the Old Gods (and state they are less able to protect the more south you go, assumedly because all the southern Weirwoods were cut down, but I wonder if it is more to do with the magic in the north.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, I'm not sure either as throughout the whole show in it's different aspects, on thing it seems to be doing deliberately is to blur the usual hard definitions fantasy makes like good/evil, chaos/order, etc, to create a more complex picture overall.

That's a good reminder about the power of magic in the North. The Starks are age old descendants of the Children of the Forest, thus as you say more connected to the pagan forces of the land even if they don't remember. The Weirwood groves are a great symbolic representation of the power remaining in the land of the North.

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Blueshift 2 years, 1 month ago

>The Starks are age old descendants of the Children of the Forest

First Men, I thought, rather than Children of the Forest

As far as I am aware, the Children of the Forest are the original inhabitants of Westeros, akin to the faeire etc of British legend
The First Men are the original human settlers akin to pagan Britain. They worshipped the old gods, aka the Weirwood faces
Then there was the Andal invasion (akin to the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain) who also brought their own religion (the Seven)
Then 300 years ago there was the Targaryan invasion, which seems to be more like the Norman Conquests, in that it changed the political landscape and affects Lords / courtly language etc. Did the Targaryans have their own religion, as the Seven seemed to still be the dominant one post-Targaryan invasion.

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Daru 2 years, 1 month ago

Oh I meant to say the First Men thanks!

Yeah the Children were the original population, and the First Men co-existed with them for thousands of years (after an initial struggle); then they fought the White Walkers together, after which the Wall was raised by Bran the Builder (who apparently built the original Winterfell too).

Don't know what religion the Targaryan's had.

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curlyjimsam750 2 years, 1 month ago

"Doreah’s tale of the moon being an egg (what a lovely idea)"

i c what u did there

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