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Ida Hearst

The Fall of the Great Houses

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Many narrative & structural choices in ASoIaF make sense if we view them in terms of the great houses of Westeros falling. The elite of the Seven Kingdoms is crumbling (erratically ground up in war, as it may seem to the characters; but almost systematically when viewed from outside), potentially making room for something new.

Consider: Before AGoT, the ruling families of the Seven Kingdoms are Martell (Dorne), Tyrell (Reach), Baratheon (Stormlands), Tully (Riverlands), Arryn (Vale), Lannister (Westerlands), Stark (North), and Greyjoy (Iron Islands). -- Yes, those are actually 8; so either Dorne is a principality rather than a kingdom, or the Greyjoys are not a Great House, as Marq Piper would have it. Whichever you prefer.

Now we get to watch the crumble.

House Arryn is arguably the first to show cracks. With Jon Arryn dead and his heir a sickly boy, things are looking bleak for them from the outset -- and the kerfuffle about where to foster Robert shows that the characters are very much aware of this. At this point I'm pretty sure that Robert Arryn will die in TWoW; after all, it's winter and the boy never was healthy to begin with.

From Bran's fall to the Red Wedding, AGoT through ASoS show the Fall of the House of Stark in cruel and explicit detail. Yes, there's a Rickon somewhere still about prancing with unicorns, but I'd reckon he is not long for this world either.

The Baratheons fell hard, with the last holdout choking in the snow. Whatever happens to Stannis, the stormlands are lost to them, and an heir seems pretty unlikely.

The fall of the Lannisters has been dragging on for a while, but at this point it's all but settled. Since I'm doing predictions already, here's to Cersei having one last kid -- with kettleblack hair. (Which would be a nice nod to the first book's central mystery, too.)

House Tully still sort of exists; they've lost their seat, Edmure is captive, but there's a child in the offing and the Blackfish is still around, if outlawed. Let's see how well the trouts do when the rivers freeze over.

In the books, House Tyrell still kind of seems to be on the ascendancy... but in the show they've already gone boom. I don't give them much of a chance.

The Martells have been chewing each other up for a while. Poor Quentyn may or may not be a crisp, and if the show is any indication their gender-neutral succession rules might not save them this time. Expect the Dorne chapters of TWoW to spell further doom for that house.

And the Greyjoys, well, that's pretty much up in the air now -- but judging from what we've seen so far, they seem to be well on their way to ending each other in a way that mirrors the internecine warfare of the Baratheons, the grudge-fueled kinslaying of the Lannisters, and the deadly dragon dreams of the Martells.

In any case, this perspective has helped me make some sense of the choice of POV chapters in AFFC and ASoS. The author is not just telling secondary stories at the margins of the main plot (as especially the Dorne and Iron Islands chapters often felt to me). The fall of the great houses is (a big part of) the plot of AFFC/ASoS, leaving the Seven Kingdoms in an utterly broken state that enables the rise of something entirely new.

What do you think?

Edited by Ida Hearst

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1 hour ago, Ida Hearst said:

Many narrative & structural choices in ASoIaF make sense if we view them in terms of the great houses of Westeros falling. The elite of the Seven Kingdoms is crumbling (erratically ground up in war, as it may seem to the characters; but almost systematically when viewed from outside), potentially making room for something new.

Consider: Before AGoT, the ruling families of the Seven Kingdoms are Martell (Dorne), Tyrell (Reach), Baratheon (Stormlands), Tully (Riverlands), Arryn (Vale), Lannister (Westerlands), Stark (North), and Greyjoy (Iron Islands). -- Yes, those are actually 8; so either Dorne is a principality rather than a kingdom, or the Greyjoys are not a Great House, as Marq Piper would have it. Whichever you prefer.

Now we get to watch the crumble.

House Arryn is arguably the first to show cracks. With Jon Arryn dead and his heir a sickly boy, things are looking bleak for them from the outset -- and the kerfuffle about where to foster Robert shows that the characters are very much aware of this. At this point I'm pretty sure that Robert Arryn will die in TWoW; after all, it's winter and the boy never was healthy to begin with.

From Bran's fall to the Red Wedding, AGoT through ASoS show the Fall of the House of Stark in cruel and explicit detail. Yes, there's a Rickon somewhere still about prancing with unicorns, but I'd reckon he is not long for this world either.

The Baratheons fell hard, with the last holdout choking in the snow. Whatever happens to Stannis, the stormlands are lost to them, and an heir seems pretty unlikely.

The fall of the Lannisters has been dragging on for a while, but at this point it's all but settled. Since I'm doing predictions already, here's to Cersei having one last kid -- with kettleblack hair. (Which would be a nice nod to the first book's central mystery, too.)

House Tully still sort of exists; they've lost their seat, Edmure is captive, but there's a child in the offing and the Blackfish is still around, if outlawed. Let's see how well the trouts do when the rivers freeze over.

In the books, House Tyrell still kind of seems to be on the ascendancy... but in the show they've already gone boom. I don't give them much of a chance.

The Martells have been chewing each other up for a while. Poor Quentyn may or may not be a crisp, and if the show is any indication their gender-neutral succession rules might not save them this time. Expect the Dorne chapters of TWoW to spell further doom for that house.

And the Greyjoys, well, that's pretty much up in the air now -- but judging from what we've seen so far, they seem to be well on their way to ending each other in a way that mirrors the internecine warfare of the Baratheons, the grudge-fueled kinslaying of the Lannisters, and the deadly dragon dreams of the Martells.

In any case, this perspective has helped me make some sense of the choice of POV chapters in AFFC and ASoS. The author is not just telling secondary stories at the margins of the main plot (as especially the Dorne and Iron Islands chapters often felt to me). The fall of the great houses is (a big part of) the plot of AFFC/ASoS, leaving the Seven Kingdoms in an utterly broken state that enables the rise of something entirely new.

What do you think?

No

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It's been a theory of mine for a long time that the series will end with something along the lines of a democracy (one leader per kingdom/region) as opposed to a king/queen sitting on a throne and being in charge of all of Westeros.

I wouldn't necessarily say that each house will fall per se, just that unsuspecting individuals are more likely to take power:
 

  • Arryn: Robyn Arryn (sickly child)
  • Stark: Jon (bastard) / Bran (cripple) / Sansa (woman in power)
  • Baratheon: Shireen (disfigured) and even Gendry (bastard) is still out there
  • Lannister: Tyrion (dwarf) / Jamie (cripple)
  • Tully: TBC
  • Tyrell: Willas (cripple)
  • Greyjoys: Theon ("cripple") / Asha (woman in power)

I'm basing the above on the possibility that the series could potentially end with one of those individuals in power in each region. I'm not saying it's likely, I'm just saying that the "fall" of each of these houses opens the door for the above possibilities, which I think is much more interesting from a story telling perspective.

It's also interesting to note that Baratheon, Tully and Tyrell houses are the most at risk of being wiped out (IMO) due to lack of heirs/circumstances, and IIRC these three houses did not exist until after Aegon's conquest.

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I think you are overall right. But not only the great houses are crumbling but the entire nobility of Westeros and the feudal system. I think it is a quite safe bet that many great and small houses will disappear or be severely weakened in the next books and afterwards. Also, by focusing in the game of thrones and disregarding their obligations with their subjects, their legitimacy will suffer too.

There are other things that can also influence that too. For example

  • A stronger Faith of Seven
  • The rise of the R'hllorism in Westeros
  • The fall of the Maester orders
  • The massive immigration of Essosi freedmen, Dothraki and others accompanying Dany, who would come with very different customs
  • A similar influence in the North from the Free Folk

(btw. I think in comparison the Starks are in a much better position than the rest, despite their first act tragedy)

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Wow, really? How about... NO!

There are many houses great and small to fill in the power vacuum.

Rodrik gathered 400 men from the NEAREST holdfasts alone, we know ther are castles with fewer than 50 garrisons, like Tumbleton and this is with a rich town, there are tower keeps with just a handful of people living in; Standfadt for example just has 2 knights and a squire as garrison so imagine , even if we consider Rodrik depleted the garrisons(to keep number of holdfast as low as possible) that’s dozens of holdfasts many with masters of their own. If say Cerwyns are dead and with no heir to be found, Condons could replace them and someone will replace the Condons.

@Mat92

Tyrells and Tullys have existed for thousands of years and Tyrells are near as fertile as the Reach, with distantnt cousinsn everywhere.

Edited by Corvo the Crow

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7 minutes ago, Corvo the Crow said:

Tyrells and Tullys have existed for thousands of years and Tyrells are near as fertile as the Reach, with distantnt cousinsn everywhere.

Sorry I should have specified - they existed but I meant their rule didn't. As in, out of all the current houses, they are the three whose regional rule started AFTER Aegon's conquest, while the rest have been in control since before (Iron Born's rule has changed though).

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Lets see who's left:

Stark

  • Bran (cripple)
  • Rickon
  • Sansa
  • Arya
  • Jon (bastard)

Baratheon

  • Stannis
  • Shireen
  • Edric (bastard)
  • Mya (bastard)
  • Gendry (unknown bastard)
  • Tommen (supposedly)
  • Myrcella (supposedly)

Lannister 

  • Tyrion
  • Jaime
  • Cersei
  • Lancel
  • Martyn
  • Janei
  • Joy (bastard)
  • Damon
  • Ella
  • Damion
  • Lucion
  • Lanna
  • Daven
  • Cerenna
  • Myrielle
  • Lynora (bastard)
  • Margot

Targaryen

  • Daenerys
  • Aegon (supposedly)

Greyjoy

  • Euron
  • Victarion
  • Asha
  • Theon (unable to have children)
  • Aeron

Tully

  • Edmure 
  • Edmure's son
  • Brynden

Martell

  • Doran
  • Arianne
  • Trystane 
  • Manfrey
  • Sand Snakes (bastards)

Tyrell

  • Mace
  • Willas
  • Garlan
  • Loras
  • Margaery
  • Mina
  • Janna
  • Garth
  • Garse (bastard)
  • Garrett (bastard)
  • Moryn
  • Theodore
  • Elinor
  • Luthor
  • Olene
  • Leo
  • Olymer
  • Raymund
  • Rickard
  • Megga
  • Victaria
  • Leo
  • Alla
  • Leona
  • Lyonel
  • Lucas
  • Lorent

Arryn

  • Robert

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There are nine official great houses. Westeros is referred to as the Seven Kingdoms because that was the number of independent rulers at the time of Aegon's conquest. The regions that actually don't "count" ar the riverlands (as it was ruled by the Ironborn Hoare kings during the conquest) and the crownlands (territory made up by Aegon I), rather than the Iron Islands or Dorne.

If Robert Arryn dies, Harry will likely adopt the Arryn name due to being from a rather unimportant knightly house, and we know the possibility exists as it is mentioned for a potential Hornwood heir. So Jon Arryn's line may die out, but nothing to say that Harry can't be a true Arryn just because his claim is through his maternal grandmother.

Edric Storm is in Lys and Gendry is still a potential story thread. Legitimisation seems likely in the case that all other Baratheons die.

I just don't buy that the Starks will die out forever. "The wolves will come again," and there is a reason that Sansa, Arya and Bran are still having on-page adventures.

Not that thrilled about the possibility of a fourth child for Cersei. Seems tonally odd with the self-fulfilling prophecy she hears from Maggy. But there are tons of distant Lannister cousins and I am skeptical that they will all die off. Though I do think that their power will be drastically reduced by the end.

House Tully's in danger, yeah, but I wouldn't completely write them off.

Yeah, sorry, I don't buy the show as justification for what's going to happen in the books. I don't think every single member of House Tyrell will die in a very controlled explosion, nor do I think that one can write off Arianne when she doesn't even exist in the show.

I certainly don't hope Balon's brothers survive, but well, holding out for Asha living. :)

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George once suggested that not all the Great Houses would survive. That is very different from stating NONE of them would survive.

I’m betting the Baratheons and Tyrells die out. With the Tullys surviving through Catelyns Stark kids, but maybe not as Tullys in name. 

Somehow it seems to me House Arryn will survive.

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52 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

George once suggested that not all the Great Houses would survive. That is very different from stating NONE of them would survive.

I’m betting the Baratheons and Tyrells die out. With the Tullys surviving through Catelyns Stark kids, but maybe not as Tullys in name. 

Somehow it seems to me House Arryn will survive.

I could see Edric or Gendry being legitimized. The Tullys are def. not done. Edmure is about to have a child if its a son then they obviously live on. 

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6 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

George once suggested that not all the Great Houses would survive. That is very different from stating NONE of them would survive.

I’m betting the Baratheons and Tyrells die out. With the Tullys surviving through Catelyns Stark kids, but maybe not as Tullys in name. 

Somehow it seems to me House Arryn will survive.

Yeah I think little Sickrobin will pull through.

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8 hours ago, Euron III Greyjoy said:

Lets see who's left:

Stark

  • Bran (cripple)
  • Rickon
  • Sansa
  • Arya
  • Jon (bastard)

Baratheon

  • Stannis
  • Shireen
  • Edric (bastard)
  • Mya (bastard)
  • Gendry (unknown bastard)
  • Tommen (supposedly)
  • Myrcella (supposedly)

Lannister 

  • Tyrion
  • Jaime
  • Cersei
  • Lancel
  • Martyn
  • Janei
  • Joy (bastard)
  • Damon
  • Ella
  • Damion
  • Lucion
  • Lanna
  • Daven
  • Cerenna
  • Myrielle
  • Lynora (bastard)
  • Margot

Targaryen

  • Daenerys
  • Aegon (supposedly)

Greyjoy

  • Euron
  • Victarion
  • Asha
  • Theon (unable to have children)
  • Aeron

Tully

  • Edmure 
  • Edmure's son
  • Brynden

Martell

  • Doran
  • Arianne
  • Trystane 
  • Manfrey
  • Sand Snakes (bastards)

Tyrell

  • Mace
  • Willas
  • Garlan
  • Loras
  • Margaery
  • Mina
  • Janna
  • Garth
  • Garse (bastard)
  • Garrett (bastard)
  • Moryn
  • Theodore
  • Elinor
  • Luthor
  • Olene
  • Leo
  • Olymer
  • Raymund
  • Rickard
  • Megga
  • Victaria
  • Leo
  • Alla
  • Leona
  • Lyonel
  • Lucas
  • Lorent

Arryn

  • Robert

Note that Tyrells and Lannisters supposedly have loads of unnamed cousins. Greyjoy cousins were mentioned as well. They did die but likely there are more of them. Martells too could have cousins. And for those who don't have cousins (for some reason) with the proper name, they always can find cousins in other Houses that can change their names, as it was done with Harry Hardyng or what Cat proposed to do to Robb when they were looking for heirs.

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Lots of good points here -- so actually dying out / extinction of the line seems unlikely for most. Even if there are heirs, though... how likely is it that e.g. the Baratheons, Tullys or Starks will be able to regain the position they've lost? (I do suppose the Starks will, but I'm by no means sure.) And how stable will their replacements be, if you look at what's happening with the Boltons or in the Riverlands?

But again, I'm mostly interested in the structural questions. Why would GRRM show us all the internecine squabbles in Dorne and the Iron Islands, and Jaime digging through the muck of the Riverlands crises, and Littlefinger giving lengthy expositions on the tenuous claims in the Vale? Sure, those are interesting in their own right, and world-building and showing your work and all that. And sure, some of them may contribute to the main narrative(s) in unexpected ways in the books to come. But the motivation that seems obvious to me in retrospect is that it serves to show us how the hold of all the big established families in Westeros is slipping.

To me, this makes especially AFFC and ASoS much more interesting to (re)read.

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Posted (edited)

Most of the houses wont die out as a consequence of no heirs.

I could totally see that they get replacet like the Tullys or Arryns or that the main branch extinces like the Tyrells or the Lannister.

Its really hard to have a full extincton of house if its older than one generation because of intermarriages and cadet branches. But the death of a main branch leads will probably lead to some succession wars.

Edited by Karneol

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Disagree with the title. Sensing strong show vibes from this thesis....though House Baratheon sure is in trouble!

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Posted (edited)

I'm sure a few great houses will be killed off in the wars in the later half of the series. A few will be on life support and we won't get a definitive answer about heirs. We won't see the end of a system of landed aristocracy or anything radical like that though.

Edited by Rose of Red Lake

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Stark - The Black Wolf lives and I think he'll end up the Lord/King in the North with Sansa and/or Jon as regent. I love the theory that Rickon will come back a wild, angry, vengeful child that will need reigned  in. 

Baratheon - Stannis has too much pride to allow the Baratheon name to die. I think he'll legitimize at least Edric to preserve the name. Also, I think there's a chance he tries to legitimize them in mass as a last "f*ck you" to the realm that refused him. If Dany comes out on top (and hasn't gone mad) she could be persuaded to let it stand due to the Bartheon/Targ history. 

Arryn - I can see them dying out honestly, it's been alluded to pretty heavily considering the first think you think of with Sweetrobin is "sickly". Would Harry the Heir take the Arryn name if he were to ascend to the Lordship? Or would House Harding take the reigns?

Greyjoy - I guess they might die out. The Iron Islands didn't follow the feudal lord system the same as the mainlanders pre-conquest, so I don't think it would be a stretch for them to go back to the Moot system. I think either Victarion or Asha will live though. 

Tully - Also at risk, but Edmure and his child still live. Plus the Blackfish, but who knows what will happen to him. He's pretty old too. 

Martell - I never know what to make of them. I guess they seem pretty safe from extinction?

Lannister - as mentioned before, there are plenty of random Cousins and folks to take the reigns, but I think Tyrion and/or Jaime will live. I really want to see them both able to live out their lives at the Rock, though I know that's not likely. 

Tyrell - Unless someone storms Highgarden I don't see any reason Wylis would die even if the contingent in Kings Landing eats it. 

So, in short, no, I don't think there's going to be a huge dying off of the houses. Most of these houses have been in power for thousands of years, surely they've been though crisises like these, even to something as mundane as disease. Could a couple be wiped out? Sure, but not most or all, especially considering the survivors of the Battle for the Dawn will have some considerable goodwill. 

That said, I DO think the "7 kingdom" system will die. Westeros is just too big and the transportation infrastructure/technology just aren't there to have a truly united, integrated empire. I would argue that during Robert Baratheon's reign, the North was virtually an independent kingdom. A good part of that could be due to Robert's inactivity and his trust in Ned, but for the most part they seem to just be on their own beyond taxes. I could see 3-4 Kingdoms in Westeros. 

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8 hours ago, Lord Vance II said:

Arryn - I can see them dying out honestly, it's been alluded to pretty heavily considering the first think you think of with Sweetrobin is "sickly". Would Harry the Heir take the Arryn name if he were to ascend to the Lordship? Or would House Harding take the reigns?

It's mentioned that Beren Tallhart would probably adopt the Hornwood name were he to be acknowledged as the Hornwood heir. Considering that Tallhart and Hornwood are probably of the same influence and standing in the north, Harry's almost certain to become an Arryn -- the lords of the Vale are going to look much more favourably on someone who takes the name of the house ruling them since the Andal Invasion than some minor knightly house. He doesn't even have much of a Hardyng upbringing, I imagine, being Anya Waynwood's ward for so long.

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9 hours ago, Lord Vance II said:

Stark - The Black Wolf lives and I think he'll end up the Lord/King in the North with Sansa and/or Jon as regent. I love the theory that Rickon will come back a wild, angry, vengeful child that will need reigned  in. 

Baratheon - Stannis has too much pride to allow the Baratheon name to die. I think he'll legitimize at least Edric to preserve the name. Also, I think there's a chance he tries to legitimize them in mass as a last "f*ck you" to the realm that refused him. If Dany comes out on top (and hasn't gone mad) she could be persuaded to let it stand due to the Bartheon/Targ history. 

Arryn - I can see them dying out honestly, it's been alluded to pretty heavily considering the first think you think of with Sweetrobin is "sickly". Would Harry the Heir take the Arryn name if he were to ascend to the Lordship? Or would House Harding take the reigns?

Greyjoy - I guess they might die out. The Iron Islands didn't follow the feudal lord system the same as the mainlanders pre-conquest, so I don't think it would be a stretch for them to go back to the Moot system. I think either Victarion or Asha will live though. 

Tully - Also at risk, but Edmure and his child still live. Plus the Blackfish, but who knows what will happen to him. He's pretty old too. 

Martell - I never know what to make of them. I guess they seem pretty safe from extinction?

Lannister - as mentioned before, there are plenty of random Cousins and folks to take the reigns, but I think Tyrion and/or Jaime will live. I really want to see them both able to live out their lives at the Rock, though I know that's not likely. 

Tyrell - Unless someone storms Highgarden I don't see any reason Wylis would die even if the contingent in Kings Landing eats it. 

So, in short, no, I don't think there's going to be a huge dying off of the houses. Most of these houses have been in power for thousands of years, surely they've been though crisises like these, even to something as mundane as disease. Could a couple be wiped out? Sure, but not most or all, especially considering the survivors of the Battle for the Dawn will have some considerable goodwill. 

That said, I DO think the "7 kingdom" system will die. Westeros is just too big and the transportation infrastructure/technology just aren't there to have a truly united, integrated empire. I would argue that during Robert Baratheon's reign, the North was virtually an independent kingdom. A good part of that could be due to Robert's inactivity and his trust in Ned, but for the most part they seem to just be on their own beyond taxes. I could see 3-4 Kingdoms in Westeros. 

We are told that there is at least one other branch of House Arryn (Gulltown).

The Baratheons come from bastardy so no shock that a former ends up legitimized.

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As of the end of Dance, the Starks and Tullys have lost control of their original domains and you could argue that the Vale is under the effective control of a non-Arryn. Neither Stannis nor the namesake Baratheon on the Iron Throne seem to be in control of the Stormlands now (especially if Storm's End were to fall). So that's 4 out of 8 regions, leaving the Crownlands out. The other 4 regions, however, are firmly under the control of the respective great house that has traditionally held sway there, at least since the conquest. The final of the 9 great houses seems to be making a comeback under (f) Aegon, even if he is a false pretender.

So, I think you need something cataclysmic happening in the South and West to unseat the other 4 great houses, when such a threat has actually been built up to come from the North. I guess this could still happen in two ways:

1. (f) Aegon and the Martells take out the Lannisters and Tyrells comprehensively, and Dany takes the former out in turn in a Dance v2. That still leaves Euron to be dealt with. In the end you're still left with House Targaryen and most likely a House Stark that has likely made a comeback by then, and as pointed out already there will likely be cadet branches and other descendents to take the reins everywhere else, unless whoever is in charge chooses to replace Tyrell with Hightower, Martell with Yronwood, Arryn with Royce etc. While this might all be possible, I don't think this is a necessary end-objective to the series.

2. The Others and their undead army flood through all of Westeros, taking down all Houses, great or small. If their invasion is that comprehensive though, I'm not sure the ending can be bitter-sweet.

So, overall, I'm not sure if it's that important to have symmetry in either all great houses having fallen, or the original structure retained completely. I guess the individual story arcs will likely be the bigger focus.

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