Game of Thrones (2011-) is back, and with it comes millions of people challenged to remember all the faces and names that comprise its massive ensemble cast. With so many locations, houses, groups, armies, allegiances and rivalries flowing through the veins of Westeros and its citizens, it's hard to remember just where everyone fits. Fortunately for you, we've done our best to create a little guide of all the major players, reminding you who they are, where they fit, and why they matter. Since nobody has time to read up on absolutely everyone in the immense Thrones world, we highlighted the characters that are still alive and capable of making an appearance on the series or who were big enough players to still receive mention or have lasting effect on those surviving.
Needless to say, this article contains spoilers about the characters listed. If you aren't caught up on the series, look no further.
"Winter is coming." - The motto of House Stark
Eddard (Ned) Stark (Sean Bean)
Ned is the patriarch and head of the Stark family. The father to Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, & Rickon Stark, he is also the assumed father of bastard Jon Snow, who he has raised from infancy. Eddard is the Lord of Winterfell and temporarily the Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon. He is characterized as being a dedicated husband and father, a loyal friend, and an honorable man. He fought alongside Robert Baratheon in the war known as Robert's Rebellion, which was triggered when Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped Lyanna Stark, Eddard's sister and Robert's betrothed. He wields a Valyrian greatsword named Ice. While serving as Hand of the King for Robert in King's Landing, he uncovers the true parentage of the Baratheon children and is sentenced to death by King Joffrey under accusations of treason, beheaded using his own sword. His head is put on a spike outside the Red Keep. Although his character did not survive past the first season, his life and the consequences of his death are felt throughout the series.
Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley)
Catelyn is the wife of Eddard and mother to all his children, save for Jon. Originally betrothed to Eddard's brother Brandon, she married Eddard following Brandon's death in Robert's Rebellion. Motherhood is her greatest passion. After Eddard mvoes to King's Landing to serve as Hand of the King, she tends to her young son Bran in Winterfell following his incapacitation and subsequent assassination attempt. After attempting to warn Eddard that the Lannister family was involved in their son's attempted assassination, she kidnaps Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and takes him into custody. He is eventually released following a trial by combat at The Eyrie, home of her family. Catelyn joins her son Robb on his quest to free his father from imprisonment, only to learn of his execution. She attends to Robb's needs on the battlefield during the War of the Five Kings and, fearing for the safety of her daughters in King's Landing, sets free Robb's prime prisoner, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau) hoping his return will result in the release of her daughters. Soon, Robb and Catelyn are both executed at The Red Wedding overseen by Walder Frey (David Bradley), along with many of the Stark bannermen and Robb's direwolf.
Robb Stark (Richard Madden)
Robb is the oldest son of Ned and Catelyn. He owns a direwolf named Grey Wind, which was part of a litter discovered and raised by he and his siblings. Robb counted his bastard half-brother Jon Snow, and his father's ward Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), as close as brothers. Following the death of his father, he takes up banners and marches his family's vassals in preparation for war. His men dub him the King in the North, feeling Stannis and Renly Baratheon's claim to the thrones are no more earned than his. Robb's army wins numerous small battles against the Lannister army, even taking Jaime Lannister as prisoner. He soon marries Talisa Stark (nee Maegyr [Oona Chaplin]), a field medic, instead of the girl from House Frey to whom his marriage was arranged. At Robb's uncle Edmure's wedding at The Twins, home of The Freys, he offers a public apology for not marrying into the family and wedding Talisa instead. Both he ane Talisa are now deceased, murdered at The Red Wedding, on order of Walder Frey. Robb's direwolf, Grey Wind, was also killed during the assault.
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner)
Sansa is the oldest daughter of Ned and Catelyn. For much of the series, she believes all her siblings to be dead. Sansa starts the series meek and proper, engaging in "ladylike" pursuits such as sewing, poetry, and literature, as she dreams of one day being a queen. Her dreams are soon realized when her father offers her hand in marriage to Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), finding it a wonderful arrangement until she learns the true nature of the boy. She moves to King's Landing with her father and begins to understand the real Joffrey following her father's execution, feigning loyalty to him for some time. Following the Battle of Blackwater, the head of the Tyrell family is given one favor from the King as thanks for their assistance in the battle's victory, to which he asks that Joffrey wed his daughter Margaery (Natalie Dormer) instead of Sansa. Joffrey accepts the request and frees Sansa from their engagement. Eventually, seeing no other way out of King's Landing, she marries Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), primarily for protection. Following The Purple Wedding wherein Joffrey is murdered, Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) smuggles Sansa to the Eyrie, home of her Aunt Lysa (Kate Dickie), whom Littlefinger marries then kills -- a murder Sansa helps cover up. Soon, she realizes she is part of Littlefinger's grand plan and he intends to have her married to Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), current Warden of the North, in an eventual ploy towards her reclamation of Winterfell. She is wed to Ramsay, one of the worst people in the world, eventually escaping his custody with the help of Ramsay's torture toy and Sansa's childhood friend, Theon. She flees to Castle Black in the company of Brienne of Tarth to find Jon Snow with the goal of reclaiming Winterfell. Upon arriving in Winterfell, she realizes Jon's army is not enough to take the castle back from the Boltons and secretly employs the help of Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale, whose assistance allows Jon's success. Sansa sentences Ramsay to death by allowing his ravenous dogs to consume him. Her direwolf, Lady, was sentenced to death in season one for biting Joffrey.
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams)
Arya is the youngest Stark daughter, with great survival skills. She is thoughtful and intelligent, but possesses a violent temper and a taste for vengeance, actively rejecting the ladylike expectations placed upon her as a Lord's daughter. Her sword, Needle, was given to her by Jon Snow before he left for the Night's Watch. Understanding his daughter's love for combat, her father Eddard arranges for her to receive swordfighting lessons from Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou), the former First Sword of Braavos. Following her father's execution, she identifies the dangers of staying in King's Landing and disguises herself as a boy destined for the Night's Watch to evade the Lannisters. Traveling the Kingsroad, she makes friends with Gendry ([Joe Dempsie] then unaware of his status as Robert Baratheon's bastard) and some other boys, as well as an assassin named Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). Soon she is captured and turned over to the Lannisters, put to work as Tywin's (Charles Dance) cupbearer. Jaqen ultimately frees her from this servitude, giving her a coin and telling her she need only give the coin to a Braavosi man and say "Valar Morghulis," which translates to "all men must die," to train with the Faceless Men. Arya soon shares company with Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) who hopes to ransom her to her family in The Twins. They arrive just in time for the Red Wedding, and instead flee to The Eyrie with the same goal. On the way, The Hound fights Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and is wounded, his fate unknown. Arya eventually makes her way to The House of Black and White, home of the Faceless Men, in Braavos. There she begins studying the ways of the mysterious assassins and during her training. Ultimately, she befriends an actress she was sent to kill and abandons her training as a Faceless. This betrayal results in her receiving multiple stab wounds from a fellow assassin, though she manages to survive and eliminate the assassin herself. Arya's direwolf is named Nymeria and hasn't been seen since the first season.
Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright)
Bran is the second-youngest stark son, paralyzed by Jaime Lannister after being thrown from a tower where he witnesses Jaime having sex with his sister Cersei (Lena Headey). Unconscious for much of the first season, a Lannister assassin attempts to kill him as he sleeps, but he is saved by Summer, his direwolf. Upon waking up, he discovers a taste for scary stories and begins to dream of a three-eyed raven -- something that will recur frequently. He grows at Winterfell until the time Theon Greyjoy sieges the castle for his own claim, killing and burning everyone in sight. Bran escapes with Rickon thanks to Hodor, a sizable near-mute man from Winterfell, and Osha, a wildling captive living as a servant. Theon fakes their deaths to claim victory. As such, most people believe Bran and Rickon to be dead. Maester Luwin urges them to go to Castle Black and find Jon, so they do. En route, Bran's group encounters Jojen and Meera Reed (Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ellie Kendrick). Jojen has "the sight" and can speak to Bran in dreams, and knows how to find the three-eyed raven. Jojen teaches Bran of greensight and helps Bran realize he is a Warg, or someone who can control the minds of animals. After a long journey in which Jojen ultimately dies, Bran finds the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow) with the help of the Children of the Forest. In the Raven's company, Bran begins seeing visions of the past involving his father and the days before Robert's Rebellion. These visions ultimately lead to the White Walkers discovering the location of the Raven, killing him, Bran's direwolf Summer, and many of the Children of the Forest, as Bran and Meera flee. In order to escape, Bran wargs into the mind of Hodor and uses him as a barricade from the White Walkers while building a link between the past and present of Hodor's life.
Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson)
Rickon is the youngest Stark, also believed by most to be dead thanks to Theon Greyjoy faking his death. Rickon spends much of the series on the run with Bran, Hodor, and Osha, the latter serving as his protector. Bran orders Osha to take Rickon safely to Last Hearth, explaining that if anything should happen to Bran on his journey to the One-Eyed Raven, Rickon needs to remain safe as the heir to Winterfell. He is not seen for a long time, reappearing in season six. Rickon has a direwolf named Shaggydog who is killed in the sixth season as a means of proving his identity to Ramsay Bolton. Rickon is then murdered by Ramsay during The Battle of the Bastards, during which Jon Snow pushes to take back Winterfell.
Jon Snow (Kit Harington)
Jon is the assumed bastard son of Ned Stark. When his father leaves for King's Landing, Jon decides to become a steward in the Night's Watch. His sword is named Longclaw, a gift from Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), and with it he is a fierce and talented fighter. At the Night's Watch, he befriends Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West), a portly intellectual and poor fighter who becomes his best friend. On a mission to discover the plans of Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), the "King Beyond the Wall" and leader of the wildlings, Jon infiltrates the wildling army. During this tenure, he falls in love with a wildling named Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and begins a relationship with her, breaking his vows as a man of the watch. He eventually leaves her to return to his brothers and warn of the wildlings' plans. This leads to The Battle of Castle Black, during which Snow helps lead the defense, and Ygritte is killed. Following the battle, Jon Snow is named Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, the highest title given in the order, and he supports a controversial alliance between his people and the wildlings whom he feels he needs on his side in order to survive an attack from the white walkers. During the Battle of Hardhome, a fight against the White Walkers, numerous wildlings are killed. Because of his unsavory reputation and association with the wildlings, Jon is presumably murdered in a mutiny by his watch brothers at the end of season five. Early in season six, he is resurrected by the red priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten). After sentencing the death of those who betrayed him, he quits the Night's Watch, as his death can be used as a loophole to excuse him from further duty. Returning to Winterfell, he leads an army of wildlings and small houses aligned with the Starks in a battle against Bolton forces. The battle is almost unsuccessful, but sudden assistance by Littlefinger's Knights of the Vale, through arrangement by Sansa, show up in time to enable his victory.
These characters are not Starks by name, but have spent a great deal of their time either in the company of Starks, aiding The Starks, or loyal to the Stark efforts.
Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen)
The only living son of Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) of the Iron Islands, Theon was raised in Stark company. Years before the start of the series, Balon rebelled against the Iron Throne and his army was crushed by the forces of Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and Ned Stark. Balon surrendered and was permitted to remain Lord of the Iron Islands under the condition that Theon remain hostage and ward of Ned Stark. Theon grew to see Ned as a fatherly type and formed a brother-like relationship with Robb Stark. Theon is a skilled archer and has a coky personality. In the first season, Theon pledges fealty to Robb at the start of the War of the Five Kings. Robb sends Theon to Pyke, the Greyjoy home, in an attempt to rouse the Greyjoy forces in Robb's battle. There he learns of his father's plan to attack the North while it is poorly defended, in betrayal of House Stark, and sends Theon to sack Winterfell, the castle in which he was raised. He does, but also botches the operation and Bran and Rickon escape. Theon fakes their deaths to appear victorious. Shortly thereafter, Ramsay Snow, having been sent to Winterfell to secure it for the Boltons, captures Theon and takes him to the Dreadfort where he is sustainably tortured for a tremendous amount of time. Castrated and otherwise mutilated, Theon is broken down and becomes "Reek" in the eyes of Ramsay, too timid and destroyed to retaliate. He becomes Ramsay's personal servant, endlessly humiliated until such a time as Sansa Stark arrives back at Winterfell to marry Ramsay. Watching Ramsay's treatment of Sansa ignites some of the former Theon within him. After some time, Theon manages to re-earn the trust of his childhood friend, whom Ramsay is consistently raping and beating, and the two flee the castle. In the sixth season, he returns to his home at the Iron Islands and encourages the Ironborn to follow his sister as their queen. The two sail to Meereen in hopes of joining forces with Daenerys Targaryen, whom they believe can reinstate their authority over the Iron Islands.
Osha (Natalia Tena)
Osha is a wildling spearwife who fled to south of the great wall, finding refuge in the godswood north of Winterfell. After being discovered, Robb Stark takes her prisoner and puts her to work as a servant in Winterfell. Following Theon's siege on Winterfell and ever since, she has protected the younger Stark brothers who most presume to be dead. As of the third season, she has taken Rickon to safety to protect him as the heir to Winterfell should anything happen to Bran. She is captured with Rickon and brought before Ramsay Bolton in season six, and is soon murdered by him.
Maester Luwin (Daniel Sumpter)
The Maester of Winterfell, he serves as a surrogate parent to Bran and Rickon, as well as their tutor. An endlessly loyal associate of the Starks, Luwin is fatally wounded in Theon's siege on Winterfell. He dies in the godswood outside the city, requesting Osha service him with a quick death and suggesting the Stark boys travel north to find their half-brother Jon Snow at the Wall.
Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie)
A warrior from House Tarth, vassal to House Baratheon, she is a large combatant with a fiendish sense of loyalty. She joins Renly Baratheon's army in the War of the Five Kings and swears fealty to Catelyn Stark following his death, becoming her sworn sword. After Catelyn's murder, she facilitates the escort of Jaime Lannister back to King's Landing as a means of carrying out Catelyn's wishes, and in doing so develops a mutual respect and admiration of the man. After Joffrey is murdered, Jaime tasks Brienne with finding Sansa, who has gone missing, and gives Brienne his sword (forged from Ned Stark's sword Ice) and a suit of armor, as well as Podrick (Daniel Portman), Tyrion's former squire. In search, Brienne comes across Arya and The Hound, and the two engage in battle with Brienne critically wounding The Hound. She finds Sansa at Moat Cailin and watches from afar, waiting for the right moment to rescue her. She finally does after Sansa and Theon escape from the castle.
Hodor (Kristian Nairn)
A simple-minded servant of House Stark, Hodor carries Bran from place to place, uttering only the word "hodor" in response to all situations despite his apparent ability to understand anything he's told. Hodor is not his real name (it is revealed to be Wylis early in season six), but Hodor is what everyone calls him because it is all he can say. He is essentially a human vehicle for the young Stark and remains in his company. In the fifth episode of the sixth season, titled "The Door," Hodor is killed by an army of white walkers as he holds a giant door, allowing Bran's escape. He does this under the control of Bran's warg powers while Bran simultaneously engages in a vision of the past, building a link between the past and present Hodor. It is revealed that this link caused young Wylis to hear Meera shouting "Hold the door!" and forced a seizure in which Wylis repeated the phrase, ultimately mashing it to the simple "Hodor." Thus, it is Bran who caused Hodor to be Hodor, years before Bran's actual birth even took place.
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