This article contains spoilers for the first three seasons of the Game of Thrones television show.
The much-anticipated fourth season premiere of Game of Thrones aired to critical acclaim Sunday night on HBO. The episode “Two Swords” kicked off the season as the show jumped right back into its adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s third book in the series, A Storm of Swords. The new season wastes no time resuming the plot’s furious pace, as the show’s ten episodes this year will take us to the climax and end of “Storm of Swords,” widely considered the best book of the Song of Ice and Fire series.
As Westeros recovers from a bloody civil war that’s only nominally over, shifting political alliances threaten to rewrite history before the last draft’s ink is even dry. Newly introduced characters serve as wildcards in a deck already loaded with sympathetic villains and morally ambiguous heroes, further complicating the rooting interests of the viewing audience.
As these political maneuverings consume nearly all the attention of the continent’s ruling class, a much more existential threat looms to the realm’s north in the form of the “white walkers,” a terrifying inhuman species born of winter that’s marching south, leading an army of frozen animal and human zombies.
Ahead of the white walkers are the wildlings, an independent nation of people who make their home north of the 700-foot-high wall that protects Westeros from white walker and wildling alike. Led by their populist king Mance Rayder, the wildlings are fleeing south just steps ahead of the white walker army, seeking refuge in a continent that does not want them.
The Night’s Watch, the realm’s sworn guardians of The Wall, sent desperate pleas for assistance to the rest of Westeros in facing the threat of wildling invasion. So far, only the self-styled king Stannis Baratheon has heeded the call for help. Although he was defeated in the Battle of Blackwater at King’s Landing, Stannis decided at the end of season three to lead his army north to help Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch defend The Wall.
Across the Narrow Sea in the continent of Essos, Daenerys Targaryen continues her people’s revolution in Slaver’s Bay, sacking cities and freeing slaves with her three dragons and growing army of free men. As season four opens, Dany looks to take Meereen, the largest and richest of the three major slave cities.
Even as those stories of ice and fire play out to their north and east, the oblivious lords of Westeros continue their petty squabbling, no matter the cost to the realm or the well being of the common people. What are they fighting over? Power, lands, income, and the castles that serve as homes to the lords of the realm.
However, which of these homes are the nicest? Take a look at the top ten best homes in Game of Thrones.
10 The Twins, The Riverlands
They say the three most important things about real estate are location, location, and location. The Twins, guarding over the crossing of the Trident River in the northern Riverlands, has one of the most strategic locations in the entire series. Two identical castles, ruled by Lord Walder Frey, sit at opposing ends of the crossing, and the Freys have been collecting tolls from travelers high- and low-born alike for centuries. Viewers will remember The Twins as the horrifying site of season three’s Red Wedding, where the Freys murdered Robb, Talisa, and Catelyn Stark during the marriage ceremony of Catelyn’s brother, Edmure Tully.
9 Harrenhal, The Riverlands
Harrenhal is the Titanic of Game of Thrones castles. It’s by far the largest and most expensive castle ever built, and was thought to be thoroughly impenetrable to invading armies. King Harren the Black, its founder, was right about that, as no army ever came close to conquering it. What he didn’t account for, however, was Aegon the Conqueror and his dragons flying right over the castle’s towering walls, roasting Harren alive by dragon fire in his own castle, hundreds of years before the events of Game of Thrones take place.
8 Castle Black, The Wall
If you prefer high floors when you check into a hotel, Castle Black might be the home for you. Situated at the center of The Wall, a 700-foot-high block of perpetually frozen ice, Castle Black is the top of the world as far as Westeros is concerned. Castle Black features six separate towers, five fortified keeps, a great hall, and a series of tunnels that allow the castle’s grounds to be traversed during the long winters’ 10-foot-high snows.
7 Illyrio’s house, Pentos
This is the only dwelling on our list that is just an ordinary mansion, not a fortified castle. However, don't let that discourage you. The cheese merchant Illyrio Mopatis lives in the free city of Pentos, across the Narrow Sea from Westeros, and he lives in style. The show establishes Illyrio as one of the wealthiest men in the entire world, and his House That Cheese Built is opulent indeed.
6 Casterly Rock, The Westerlands
5 Dragonstone, The Crownlands
The island fortress of Dragonstone might be the most visually imposing castle in the entire series. Carved out of stone to look like dragons, the castle was the first seat of the Targaryens when they arrived in Westeros from the east. Dragonstone passed to House Baratheon when King Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark overthrew the “Mad King” Aerys Targaryen in Robert’s Rebellion, a bloody civil war set a few years before the events of the show’s pilot.
4 The Red Keep, Kings Landing
The Red Keep serves as both capitol of Westeros and the home to its ruling kings. Located in the capital city of King’s Landing on the east coast of the continent, the Red Keep is an intricate complex of towers, halls, keeps, and apartments. Secret tunnels connect everything below ground, and shining towers stretching to the sky guard the castle from above. The tombs of the Targaryen dynasty in the Red Keep house both the human remains of past kings and giant skulls of the dragons they used to forge and hold the castle’s great Iron Throne.
King’s Landing is a treacherous city, and the Red Keep is no exception. The castle’s four levels of dungeons, each more torturous than the last, are a cruel allegory to Dante’s circles of hell. Series hero Ned Stark was left to rot in the third level, the black cells, before his shocking beheading in season one, and the fourth level is rumored to be even worse, with torture and human experimentation.
3 Highgarden, The Reach
Highgarden rules over The Reach, the breadbasket of Westeros, and home to the most fertile and productive farmland in the entire realm. The great tiered-wall castle protects the interests and substantial incomes of the Tyrells, the ruling family of The Reach’s heartland. Lined with ornate marble columns, luscious fruit groves, and fields of golden roses stretching to the horizon, Highgarden is far and away the most beautiful great castle, and is home to a permanent station of singers, poets, and musicians inspired by the romantic locale.
2 The Eyrie, The Vale
Situated deep in the Mountains of the Moon in the Vale of Arryn on the northeast of Westeros, the Eyrie is easily the safest castle in the Seven Kingdoms. The castle’s heir, bratty little Robert Arryn, likes to boast that the castle is “impregnable.” Since the Vale was conquered by the Targaryens like every kingdom in Westeros (except Dorne), the Eyrie certainly is not totally invulnerable. Although it is protected by series of impassable mountain peaks and guard towers on the approaches to the main castle, and the ultimate entrance is only accessible by ladder or mechanical elevator.
1 Winterfell, The North
The ancient seat of the Starks is the first castle we see on Game of Thrones, and it is magnificent. Built more than 8,000 years before the start of the series, Winterfell sits on the edge of the Kingsroad, the highway that connects the northern and southern regions of Westeros.
Winterfell consists of two concentric walls and a large village located just outside the castle itself. A 10,000 year-old private forest sits outside the castle’s courtyards, home to the magical weirwood trees on which the North’s old religion is based.
The castle is heated by natural hot springs underneath the entire complex, which allows Winterfell’s walls and walkways to remain warm even during the long winters, when dozens of feet of snow can fall. A large greenhouse inside the castle’s walls allows food to grow no matter the season.
Underneath the castle are the crypts, which house the remains of deceased Starks of countless generations. Significantly, the crypts under Winterfell are home to the bones of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister, whose disputed “abduction” by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen spurred Robert’s Rebellion and launched the plot of the entire series.
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