“Finally, he looked north. He saw the Wall shining like blue crystal, and his bastard brother Jon sleeping alone in a cold bed, his skin growing pale and hard as the memory of all warmth fled from him. And he looked past the Wall, past endless forests cloaked in snow, past plains where nothing grew or lived. North and north and north he looked, to the curtain of light at the end of the world, and then beyond that curtain. He looked deep into the heart of winter, and then he cried out, afraid, and the heat of his tears burned on his cheeks.
“Now you know,” the crow whispered as it sat on his shoulder. “Now you know why you must live.”
“Why?” Bran said, not understanding, falling, falling.
“Because winter is coming.”
The North is one of the nine constituent regions of Westeros and was a sovereign Kingdom before the War of Conquest. Bastards born in the North are given the surname Snow.
Winter seems a distant threat in warm southern climes, but when one follows the Ice Dragon’s gleaming blue eye north, the truth is made clear. In the shadow of The Wall, the Northmen toil and prepare for the winter that will inevitably follow summer, and they look to the black brothers of The Night’s Watch to protect them from what lies beyond The Wall in the ever-frozen lands. The southerners may laughingly speak of snarks and grumkins, and repeat tall tales about the Night’s King and the Rat Cook, but the notherners know better. They have felt the threat of the King-beyond-the-Wall, and they remember the cities of the First Men that fell before the Other’s onslaught during the Long Night. In the south, it is said that the Northmen are made of ice and iron, but in the end, only ice and iron can stand against the coming of winter.
Geography of The North
The North includes mountains and hills, vast forests and windswept plains, bogs, mires and everything in between. It is a vast region, bigger than the rest of the Seven Kingdoms combined.
The barrowlands is an expanse of territory extending north to the Wolfswood, east to the White Knife, south to The Neck, and west to The Rills. This region takes its name for the numerous barrows dotting the lands. These tombs are said to hold the remains of the First Men.
A stretch of grasslands extending fifty leagues to the south of The Wall, Brandon the Builder bequeathed these lands to The Night’s Watch, so they could sustain themselves in the performance of their duty.
East and north of Winterfell, the terrain flattens as it stretches to the east. These rolling plains, crisscrossed with narrow rivers forded by stone bridges, are sparsely populated aside from a few farms and armed encampments. Where farms exist, they spread out and around a single holdfast, generally little more than a wooden palisade around a small tower.
West and north of Winterfell, the land rumbles and tumbles, gaining elevation as the ground rises to meet the mountains. The hills here are largely flint, and many bear watchtowers used by the mountain clans to watch for wildlings and ironmen. Further to the west, the hills give way to towering mountains that extend as far south as the Wolfswood and travel north beyond The Wall
This small range of hills lays south and west of the Last River and forms the easternmost boundary of the Wolfswood.
After Good Queen Alysanne visited The Night’s Watch centuries ago, she was so impressed by the task before the black brothers that she doubled the size of Brandon’s Gift. The lands added are called the New Gift.
West of the barrowlands is the hills region called the Rills. It extends west until it approaches the Stony Shore and south to Blazewater Bay.
Sea Dragon Point
The Sea Dragon Point thrusts out from the mainland and marks the western edges of the Bay of Ice.
The Stony Shore is the barren coastline marking the western border of the Rills. The Stony Shore is home to a number of tiny fishing villages.
The Wolfswood is the largest contiguous forest in all of Westeros. Ancient and mysterious, it covers nearly a quarter of The North. Thick with sentinel trees and soldier pines, it is a dark and gloomy place. As the forest extends northward, the pines give way to oaks and hawthorns that grow across the stony hills, where one can find quarries and mines used to provide stone and iron to Winterfell and other communities in The North. The Deepwood lies far to the west, and few if any people dwell there. For all that, the Wolfswood has a sinister character, and it is far from uninhabited. Tiny communities of hunters, crofters, and woodcutters flourish in its depths, and there are even a few lords with holdings here.
Islands of The North
Scattered along the eastern and western shores of The North are numerous islands, both inhabited and uninhabited. Most of these isles fall under the demesne of House Stark.
Situated at about the center of the Bay of Ice, this island of tall pines and moss-covered rocks is under the rule of House Mormont. The folk of Bear Island live along the coasts, where they work as fishermen and brave the icy waters to haul in their catch. Bear Island came to the Mormonts after King Rodrick Stark won it in a wrestling match.
Skagos is the largest island in a cluster of desolate rocks off the coast in the Bay of Seals. A number of tiny clans carve out an existence here. Nominally, these clans are sworn to Winterfell and House Stark, but their isolation and remoteness mean they are more often than not left to their own devices.
One of the smaller islands of Skagos, it’s believed Skane has stood empty since the people of Skagos descended on them, slaughtering and eating the men and carrying off the women.
Roads and Paths of The North
As the North is largely uncultivated, there are few roads of import here.
The main overland route into The North is by way of the Kingsroad – an ancient highway that begins its journey at King’s Landing and travels as far north as Castle Black at the center of The Wall. Although the Kingsroad sustains numerous inns and villages along its length south of The Neck, this is simply not the case in The Neck and beyond. Inns exist, but they are farther apart and much less able to accommodate large parties. Once the Kingsroad moves beyond Winterfell, the grand road becomes a sparsely traveled path, and aside from a few farms, there’s no one around.
Waters of The North
Streams and rivers crisscross the northern lands, collecting in mountain lakes or winding their way to the sea.
Bay of Ice
On the northwestern coast of Westeros lays the Bay of Ice, bounded by the Frozen Shore to the north and Sea Dragon Point to the south.
Bay of Seals
The Bay of Seals stands on the northeastern coast of Westeros, and Skagos and Skane mark the point where the bay empties into the Shivering Sea.
The Bite marks the southernmost extent of The North and is bounded by The Neck to the west, the narrow sea to the east, and the Vale of Arryn to the South.
Lying in the southwestern corner of The North, this long bay narrows as it moves inland. At its narrowest point, it is called Saltspear.
The Broken Branch is another river, with Ramsgate standing at its mouth.
The Fever River flows from Saltspear into The Neck, almost as far as Moat Cailin.
This waterway drains the western mountains and feeds many of the narrow streams found in the eastern lowlands. The Last River crosses the Kingsroad, heading southeast past the Lonely Hills and eventually spills out into the narrow sea. It is the last major waterway crossed before one reached The Wall.
Long Lake is one of the four large lakes found in The North, and it stretches between the Wolfswood to the west and the Lonely Hills to the east. Long Lake feeds the White Knife River.
The White Knife flows from Long Lake, heading south, where it meets another river, and then travels further south, where it empties into The Bite at White Harbor.
The peoples of the North are nearly all descended from the First Men, those first peoples to cross the narrow sea and steal the land from the Children of the Forest. Of this first crossing, little is known, for the First Men left no records, only cryptic runes carved in old stone. What historians have are the tales passed down from generation to generation, accounts – some fantastic, others strange – of what transpired in those days of yore. What is known is that the First Men of the North fought the Children of the Forest, as did the First Men scattered throughout Westeros. However it’s also known that when the violence abated and peace was achieved, the northerners were among the first to embrace the beliefs and customs of their former enemies, even going so far as to raise godswoods in their castles and halls, replete with the carved faces that still adorn their ancient weirwoods found throughout the North.
The greatest event that would define and shape the North into its present day was the Long Night, a terrifying period in Westerosi history when the northern winds blew more than cold into the southern regions. Others and their wight thralls boiled out of the frozen north, slaughtering everyone and everything they encountered, awakening them into new slaves to serve them in death. After the climactic Battle for the Dawn, Bran the Builder – founder of House Stark and legendary figure of the Age of Heroes – raised The Wall, a grand edifice ensorcelled with mystical bindings, to create an impassible barrier between the lands of the south and the festering evil that lurked in the extreme north. Having achieved this with the aid of the giants, the Children of the Forest, and ancient magic long since lost to mortal men, The Wall became one of the great wonders of Westeros, and it stands to this day, guarded by the tattered descendants of the once noble order of The Night’s Watch.
In addition to constructing The Wall, Brand the Builder also oversaw the construction of [[Winterfell], the ancestral seat of all the Starks to come. Winterfell is easily the strongest citadel in The North and eclipses most others in all the Seven Kingdoms in terms of size and strength. Having never fallen, Winterfell symbolizes the authority and strength of the Kings of Winter who were sovereigns of the North for centuries, even when the Andals spilled out from what would be known as the Vale of Arryn and conquered the rest of Westeros. Even when the last King of Winter knelt before Aegon the Conqueror, [[Winterfell] was not so much conquered as it was surrended, and then it was given back to House Stark to rule as they had, with the understanding that their fealty was owed to the Iron Throne in perpetuity.
In the years that followed, The North has remained a wild and somewhat independent realm through a succession of Stark rulers, both good and bad, and they remained loyal, if grudging, servants of the crown at King’s Landing. It wasn’t until Lord Rickard Stark and his son Brandon Stark were executed by King Aerys II that the Starks broke their ties to House Targaryen and committed their forces to Lord Robert Baratheon in the resulting War of the Usurper. Since the victory at the Trident, the North has proven to be ardent supporters of the Iron Throne, raising their banners in times of need, such as when Balon Greyjoy strove to break from the Seven Kingdoms in a bid to gain his independence. Northmen were among those who laid siege to Pyke, proving once again the ferocity and loyalty of the valiant northern warriors. In the years since, their ties to the south while still strong, have become strained as King’s Landing has descended into a quagmire of corruption and the Lannisters have asserted greater and greater influence on the crown.
Still, Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell, is one of King Robert’s oldest and dearest friends and allies, even if the two see almost nothing of each other these days, separated as they are by the demands of their respective realms. Stark loyalty counts for a great deal, and the King knows he can call upon his old friend and loyal subject, something Robert is counting upon as he finds himself surrounded on all sides by sycophants and schemers.