We're just two days from the epic return of Game of Thrones on HBO, and as big as last season was, this year promises to be even bigger. We're headed for more war, more kings, more political scheming and, yes, even more Tyrion quips. It's a big story, and you don't want to get left behind, so to make sure you're up to speed we've put together this extensive compendium of everything that happened in Westeros last year.
A Quick Note on This Guide:
The central element of Game of Thrones Season Two is the War of Five Kings, a massive clash between five different claimants to the throne of Westeros. Most of the epic events you'll witness in season two center around this conflict, so with that in mind, and in deference to George R. R. Martin's own appendices for the second novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, we've arranged this guide by "king." We cheated a little though, adding in the men of the Night's Watch as a separate entity and including House Targaryen in its own court, even though Daenerys' story is taking place elsewhere. Beneath each kingly title, you'll find a summation of everything that happened to the family or individual involved in the first season. Keep in mind, a LOT happened in season one, so some of these sections are quite long, but the longer ones are arranged in such a way that one paragraph generally corresponds to the events of a single season one episode. With any luck, that'll help you find specific plot points with ease.
Fortunately, thanks to our friends at HBO we've also had a look at the first four episodes of Season Two (they're all brilliant), so each section also includes a brief (spoiler-free) teaser of what each faction is in for as the season begins. If you feel like you know everything you want to about season one, just skip ahead to these sections to learn a little more about what to expect in the coming weeks.
So, without further ado, let's return to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
The King in the North - House Stark
The Story So Far...
As season one begins, King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) is arriving at Winterfell to see his old friend and brother in arms Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean). The king has come calling to ask him to serve as Hand of the King, the man at the right hand of the throne. Robert believes he can no longer trust anyone in King's Landing, the capital of Westeros, and the previous Hand - Ned and Robert's mentor and friend Jon Arryn - is newly dead. Ned reluctantly agrees and rides for King's Landing with his daughters Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams), leaving his son Robb (Richard Madden) in charge of Winterfell. As he leaves, two important events rock his home. His wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), receives a letter from her sister Lysa - Jon Arryn's widow - claiming that Arryn was murdered by King Robert's in-laws: the ambitious members of House Lannister. Meanwhile, while climbing the towers of Winterfell, Ned's 10-year-old son Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) witnesses incestuous sex between Robert's wife, Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), and her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Fearing the boy will reveal their secret, Jaime pushes Bran from a tower window, sending him into a coma.
Ned continues on to the capital with Sansa and Arya while Catelyn sits vigil by her son. An assassin makes an attempt on Bran's life, and Catelyn is able to hold him off until Bran's direwolf (an oversized wolf that also serves as the sigil of House Stark) attacks the assassin and rips out his throat. This, coupled with her discovery of a blonde strand of hair in the tower near where Bran fell, is enough to convince Catelyn that the Lannisters (both Cersei and Jaime are blonde) want Bran dead for some reason. Bran, still in a coma, is unable to tell her why. Meanwhile, on the road to King's Landing, a confrontation between Arya and the king's son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) leads to an attack on the prince by Arya's direwolf. Queen Cersei demands the wolf be killed, but since Arya drove it away Ned is forced by the Queen to kill Sansa's wolf instead. It's the beginning of a tension between them that will continue throughout the season.
When he arrives in King's Landing, Ned meets the king's advisors on the Small Council, including Master of Coin Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen), Master of Spies Varys (Conleth Hill), the monk-like Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) and King Robert's brother Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony). Meanwhile, Catelyn has made her way to King's Landing to speak to Ned about Bran's attempted murder. She is headed off by Littlefinger, who tells her that the dagger that the assassin used once belonged to him, but that he lost it in a bet to the Queen's younger brother, the dwarf Tyrion "The Imp" Lannister (Peter Dinklage). Catelyn then meets with Ned, who begins an uneasy alliance with Littlefinger as they try to unravel the mystery behind Bran's killer. But as Ned's political duties are only beginning, he also must contend with his arguing daughters. To appease Arya, who is still furious about what happened on the Kingsroad, he offers her swordplay lessons. Back in Winterfell, Bran awakes from his coma to find he remembers nothing of how his fall happened, and learns that he'll never walk again.
In King's Landing, Ned begins to investigate the circumstances of Jon Arryn's death. He learns that in Arryn's final days he questioned a young blacksmith's apprentice in the capital and was reading a book detailing the lineages of the kings of Westeros. Ned visits the apprentice and realizes the boy must be a bastard son of King Robert. He also plans to question Arryn's former squire, but the young knight is killed in a tournament joust by the gigantic Ser Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane (Conan Stevens), a loyal Lannister bannerman. Back at Winterfell, Bran and Robb receive an unexpected visit from Tyrion Lannister as he returns from a trip to the massive Wall guarding the kingdom's northern border. He shows kindness to the crippled Bran by designing a riding saddle that the boy can use even though he can't move his legs, then heads south. At an inn on the road home, he meets Catelyn, who calls on nearby friends to arrest Tyrion for Bran's attempted murder.
As Ned continues his investigation into Jon Arryn's final days, he is informed by Varys that he believes the former Hand of the King was poisoned, and that Arryn's now-dead former squire was the culprit. While chasing a cat through King's Landing as part of her sword training, Arya overhears a conversation between two men who seem to be scheming against the crown. She can't identify them, though, and before she can explain to her father what's happened, he is interrupted by the news of Catelyn's arrest of Tyrion. Meanwhile, King Robert has learned that Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) - one of the last surviving members of the family he took the throne from - is pregnant. He aims to assassinate the girl, but Ned refuses to obey the order and resigns as Hand. Before he can leave the city, Ned is taken by Littlefinger to meet a prostitute that may have fathered another of the king's bastards. As Ned leaves Littlefinger's brothel, he and his men are ambushed by Lannister guards led by Jaime, who demands that Ned release Tyrion. Ned's guards are slain, and the two men duel until a Lannister soldier stabs Ned through the leg. Jamie decides to let him live, but demands Tyrion be released. Catelyn has taken The Imp to the Vale of Arryn, home of her sister Lysa, who also suspects Tyrion had some involvement in her husband's death. Catelyn notices that Lysa suffers from serious paranoia, but defers to her sister's judgment that Tyrion should be kept prisoner.
Ned wakes in bed with bandages around his leg and King Robert at his side. The king asks Ned to return to the post of Hand of the King. He also asks Ned to serve as regent while he goes on a hunting trip. While presiding over the court, Ned is confronted with the news that Gregor Clegane has been raiding the Riverlands, the homeland of Ned's father-in-law. Believing this to be retaliation for Tyrion's arrest, Ned orders Clegane's arrest, strips him of all land and title, and demands Lord Tywin (Charles Dance), the head of House Lannister, come to King's Landing to answer for the crimes of his bannerman. As tensions mount between the two families, Ned tells his daughters that he's sending them back to Winterfell for their own safety. Neither of them want to leave the capital, and as Sansa protests the decision she mentions Joffrey's blonde hair to Ned, which triggers a realization. He retreats to his study to look at the book of lineages that Jon Arryn was reading shortly before his death. He discovers that every Baratheon recorded in the book has black hair except Joffrey, who is blonde. Ned concludes that Joffrey is not Robert's son, but rather the product of the incestuous relationship between Cersei and Jaime. Meanwhile, in the Vale, Tyrion demands a trial by combat for the crimes he's accused of (none of which he's actually committed). Bronn (Jerome Flynn), an opportunistic mercenary, volunteers to fight for Tyrion, and defeats the knight representing House Arryn. Tyrion goes free.
Ned confronts Cersei with his knowledge that Joffrey is not Robert's true son, and warns her that she should take her children and leave the city before he tells the king. Before he can, though, Robert is mortally wounded in his boar hunt and brought back to King's Landing to die. While dictating his will, Robert names Ned regent until Joffrey is old enough to rule on his own, but as he writes the will out, Ned replaces Joffrey's name with "my rightful heir," leaving the document open to a more broad interpretation. Robert signs the will without reading it and dies soon after. Meanwhile, Renly Baratheon lobbies Ned to help him seize the throne immediately and prevent a Lannister takeover of the kingdom. Ned refuses, believing instead that Renly's older brother Stannis is the true heir. He sends a letter to Stannis informing him of his conclusions. Ned asks Littlefinger to summon the City Watch to help him arrest the Queen and Prince Joffrey. A confrontation ensues in the King's Landing throne room as Ned tries to use Robert's will as proof of the Queen's treason. Cersei tears the will to pieces, and orders Ned arrested. The City Watch then turn on the Stark soldiers, killing them as Littlefinger betrays Ned and holds a knife to his throat.
As Ned is sent to the dungeons, his household guards and servants are slaughtered by the Lannisters. Arya manages to escape to the streets of King's Landing, while Sansa is taken captive and forced by Cersei to write a letter to her brother Robb asking him to come to King's Landing and swear fealty to Joffrey. Joffrey wishes Ned to die for his treason, but Sansa pleads for his life until Joffrey agrees to spare him, provided that Ned is willing to swear loyalty to him as the one true king. Robb receives the letter and immediately realizes that Sansa is being manipulated. He calls his bannermen and declares war on the Lannisters.
In a surprise attack on a Lannister force, Robb Stark wins his first battle and captures Jaime. In the dungeons beneath King's Landing, Varys visits Ned and tells him that if he's willing to declare his loyalty to Joffrey, his life will be spared and he will be sent to live out his days in the Night's Watch on the Wall. Ned refuses, but then realizes it may be the only way to save Sansa from the wrath of the Lannisters. He agrees to pledge his loyalty and is taken to a public gathering to do it. He swears loyalty to Joffrey, but the boy king orders him beheaded anyway, even as Cersei and the Small Council try to stop him. As Sansa screams nearby, Ned is beheaded in public view. Arya is watching the events from the crowd, but is whisked away by Yoren - a recruiter for the Night's Watch and ally to Ned - just before her father's death.
In the days following Ned's execution, Robb wants a quick revenge, but Catelyn reminds him that his sisters must still be rescued from King's Landing. Robb's bannermen suggest that the North become an independent kingdom again, as they were in ancient times. Robb is declared "The King in the North." At King's Landing, Sansa is forced by Joffrey to view her father's severed head. She contemplates trying to kill the young king, but is stopped by his bodyguard Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann), who tells her she must obey him for her own safety. Arya is smuggled out of King's Landing by Yoren.
As the second season begins, the Stark family is still scattered across Westeros. Robb continues to fight the Lannisters with success, as Catelyn serves as his faithful councilor. Sansa remains Joffrey's prisoner, forced to support him even in his most sadistic moments. Arya, still on the run and disguised as a boy, faces new threats on the road North. And Bran, left as Lord of Winterfell without the rest of his family, struggles to find a sense of purpose.
The King on the Iron Throne - House Lannister
The Story So Far...
Though most of the first season in Westeros is told from House Stark's point of view, the Lannisters are a powerful force in the story with their own agenda and development. Many of the events in their family's story directly relate to House Stark, and so have already been covered, but there are other moments worth noting.
After arriving in Winterfell with the royal entourage, Tyrion Lannister fulfills a lifelong wish to visit the Wall. On his way back he is captured by Catelyn Stark, and upon earning his freedom he begins the journey alongside his sellsword Bronn to his father's war camp. On their way out of the mountains, they are surrounded by a northern hill tribe. Tyrion talks his way out of death by promising the barbarians that they will take the Vale of Arryn if they agree to serve as his escorts. When they arrive at the camp, Tywin agrees to uphold Tyrion's bargain, but only if the barbarians help in his fight against the Starks. The barbarians agree on the condition that Tyrion must fight with them.
The night before the battle, Tryion meets a prostitute named Shae (Sibel Kekilli), and together with Bronn they drink and share stories. The next morning, Tyrion charges into battle with the barbarians, but is knocked unconscious during the charge. He wakes up after the battle is over to learn that Tywin has been duped by Robb Stark's small force, and that the main Stark army is fighting elsewhere. As the season ends, Tyrion is ordered by Tywin to go to King's Landing and serve as Joffrey's Hand of the King.
As his war with the Starks begins, Tywin is angry with his children for the trouble they started, and is particularly frustrated by Joffrey's decision to execute Ned, thus eliminating any chance of peace between the two families. Still, Twyin sees an opportunity, with Joffrey on the Iron Throne, to begin a Lannister dynasty that will secure his family's power for generations.
Back in King's Landing, Cersei struggles with missing her captured brother and handling her impulsive, newly crowned son. And in the Stark camp, Jaime Lannister admits to Catelyn Stark that he pushed Bran from a Winterfell tower, though he refuses to say why.
The Lannisters are struggling more than ever as the second season begins. Lord Tywin continues to lose battles to Robb Stark, Jaime is still a captive, Cersei struggles to teach Joffrey how to rule responsibly, and Tyrion begins to settle into his perilous new role as Hand of the King, even as he tries to keep Shae secret from his family.
The King in the Narrow Sea - Stannis Baratheon
The Story So Far...
We know Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) in name only in season one. He is the middle brother of the Baratheon siblings, younger than the late Robert but older than Renly. He resides at Dragonstone, an island fortress in the Narrow Sea just off the East coast of Westeros. Before Ned Stark's death, he sent a letter to Stannis asking him to claim the throne, believing him to be Robert Baratheon's true heir.
Stannis is preparing for war against the Lannisters, publicly declaring Joffrey Baratheon to be a bastard while his loyal aid Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) works to procure ships for an invasion of King's Landing. Stannis has also found a powerful ally in Melisandre (Carice van Houten), a powerful priestess of the Lord of Light, a new god that challenges the traditional Westeros belief in a seven-faceted god known as "The Seven." Though he does not have the military strength of some of his rivals, the power of Melisandre inspires tremendous confidence in Stannis, who sends a message throughout Westeros declaring himself to be the true king.
The King in Highgarden - Renly Baratheon
The Story So Far...
As a member of his brother Robert's Small Council, Renly Baratheon grew well-versed in the politics of King's Landing. He attempts to take the throne at the end of the first season, but flees King's Landing after he fails to secure Ned Stark's support. Though Stannis is older, Renly argues that he should be king because the citizenry does not wish to follow Stannis.
As Season Two begins, Renly is brandishing a massive army in the South of Westeros. His marriage to Margaery of House Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) has granted him a powerful political and military alliance, and the loyalty of knights like the female warrior Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) ensures his personal safety. Like Stannis, Renly is also preparing to mount an attack against King's Landing.
The King in the Iron Islands - House Greyjoy
The Story So Far...
We only know House Greyjoy through our encounters with Theon (Alfie Allen), a son of the house taken as a ward by Ned Stark after he helped to quell a Greyjoy rebellion for Robert Baratheon some years earlier. The seat of the house is Pyke, a castle in the Iron Islands on the West coast of Westeros. House Greyjoy pride themselves on being "Ironmen," strong-blooded people who thrive in harsh conditions.
As Robb Stark continues to fight the Lannister armies, Theon offers to travel home to the Iron Islands and enlist the help of his father, Lord Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) for the war effort. But Balon has his own ideas. He's ready for a second rebellion, adding another "king" to the massive war that consumes Westeros.
The Queen Across the Water - House Targaryen
The Story So Far...
Daenerys and Viserys (Harry Lloyd) are the last members of the Targaryen family, the dynasty that ruled Westeros before Robert Baratheon took power. In exile across the Narrow Sea, Viserys begins to engineer a scheme to take Westeros back for his family. The first step is marrying Daenerys to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), a powerful chieftain of the Dothraki, a tribal warrior culture built around horses. Daenerys does not want the marriage, but reluctantly agrees. On her wedding day, Drogo gives her a set of three dragon eggs, important both because the dragon is the sigil of House Targaryen and because dragons have long since been extinct. The eggs are thought to be petrified, but Daenerys is nonetheless drawn to them.
Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), an exiled knight of Westeros, helps educate Daenerys in the ways of Dothraki culture, but she cannot get Drogo to treat her like anything other than a sex slave. After asking one of her handmaidens for advice, she is able to please him and convince him to treat her like a loving wife.
Daenerys becomes pregnant with Drogo's son. Her relationship with Viserys grows rockier after he attacks her for giving him commands. Viserys is among a people who support Daenerys over him, but he believes himself to be the one true king of Westeros and thus feels his arrogance is warranted. Later, when Viserys attacks her again, Daenerys strikes back with a warning. Mormont begins to suggest to Daenerys that her brother would not be useful for an invasion of Westeros.
After completing a Dothraki ritual in which she eats the raw heart of a stallion, a large party is thrown in honor of Daenerys and Drogo. Things turn dark when a drunken Viserys staggers into the room and draws his sword. As he threatens to cut out Daenerys' child if he does not have his crown soon, Drogo's men grab him from behind. Drogo promises that Viserys will have a golden crown, then pours a cauldron of molten gold over his head, killing him. Daenerys watches her brother's death without emotion, and declares that he was no true dragon.
As the second season begins, Daenerys has dragons and Mormont's continued support, but little else. The few Dothraki still loyal to her wander in the Red Waste, a vast desert, looking for any sign of help from a nearby settlement. Though she now has the dragons that could one day make her kingdom, she must survive this, her darkest hour so far, if she's to have any hope of victory.
The Story So Far...
The Wall is, in many ways, a kingdom all its own. An independent entity tasked with guarding Westeros from the savage things that live in the far North, the Night's Watch is made of men who swear celibacy and poverty and a lifetime of serving on the Wall. We see this noble but often grim order through the eyes of Jon Snow (Kit Harington), the bastard son of Ned Stark who makes his way to the Wall to serve in the Night's Watch very early in season one.
When he first arrives at the Wall, Jon's skill as a swordsman immediately sets him apart from the rest of the recruits, but also breeds resentment. When Tyrion Lannister points out that he's in a position to help his fellow recruits rather than beat them, Jon begins helping them in their sword training.
When Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) - the son of a nobleman who was forced to take the black by his disapproving father - arrives on the Wall, he takes almost constant bullying from Ser Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale), the Night's Watch master-at-arms who believes Sam to be too weak. Jon stands up for his new friend and draws Thorne's ire.
When Jon first arrived on the Wall, his uncle Benjen Stark - First Ranger of the Night's Watch - was preparing to head out on an expedition beyond the Wall. Some time later, Benjen's horse returns without its rider. Jon worries about his uncle, but can do little to help him until he takes his oath to become a full Brother of the Night's Watch. After his oath is taken, Jon is angered by placement in the stewards section of the Brotherhood rather than the rangers section. It's revealed that he is to be the personal attendant of the Watch's Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo), which Sam sees as evidence that Jon is being groomed to be the next Lord Commander. Jon, however, sees it as punishment for his defiance of Thorne.
After taking their oaths, Jon and Sam venture out with the Lord Commander to search for Benjen Stark. They don't find him, but they do find two frozen corpses which the Lord Commander identifies as Stark's fellow rangers. The bodies are taken back to the Wall, where they re-animate in the middle of the night and attack Mormont. The creatures seem unstoppable, until Jon sets one on fire. Sam believes the corpses were touched by the White Walkers (supernatural undead that live beyond the Wall), as he remembers reading such creatures can only be killed with fire. Jon is given a rare sword made of powerful Valyrian steel by Mormont as reward for saving his life.
As war breaks out between the Starks and the Lannisters, Jon contemplates deserting the Night's Watch to join his half-brother Robb in the fighting. Sam and two of Jon's other friends on the Watch stop him as he flees. Lord Commander Mormont later reveals that he's ware of Jon's attempt to flee, but rather than directly discipline him he asks him to go on a dangerous expedition beyond the Wall to find Benjen Stark and gather information on the increasing activity of the Wildlings and White Walkers in the frozen forests north of Westeros.
Jon, Sam, Lord Commander Mormont and the rest of the Brothers tapped for the journey beyond the Wall are still traveling as season two begins, gathering information on a powerful force of Wildlings gathering somewhere in the forest, and hearing dark new tales of the White Walkers and their imminent return to the North.