House Stark is one of the oldest and most noble houses in Westeros. Founded by the legendary Bran the Builder in the Age of Heroes, the Stark family established themselves as the Kings of Winter thousands of years before the events of Game of Thrones. Over time, the other petty kings of the North bowed to the power of the Starks until they were the only Kings of the North. For a thousand years, the Starks ruled the North and marched on all those who attempted to take their land. They even attempted to march on the Targaryens when Aegon and his sisters conquered the seven kingdoms. Eventually, they did bend the knee and name Aegon their king, and in return, Aegon made them the Wardens of the North. Since the conquest, the Starks have maintained the North in the name of the iron throne (until, of course, the events of Game of Thrones).
That's just an abbreviated version of the history of House Stark. Whether they were the Kings of Winter, Kings in the North, Wardens of the North, or secretly Targaryen bastards, there have been so many prominent Starks that talking about all of the things they did would fill an entire book. We don't have an entire book, but we thought you'd like to read about some of the most interesting Stark ancestors.
Since most of what we're talking about happened hundreds and thousands of years before, there aren't any spoilers--there are, however, way too many guys named Brandon...
15 Bran the Builder
The legendary founder of House Stark and builder of Winterfell, Bran the Builder lived during the Age of Heroes. A descendant of Garth Greenhand, a mythical High King from whom many houses of the Reach claim descent, Brandon's father was said to be Garth's son Brandon of the Bloody Blade. According to the legends, when Bran was only a boy he helped King Durran build Storm's End. As a man, he built Winterfell and the Wall with the help of giants and children of the forest. Some legends even say that he built the Hightower of Oldtown, but other legends say that was the work of his son, also named Brandon.
Bran the Builder was a legendary figure who George R.R. Martin compares to Noah and Gilgamesh; while it's entirely possible that such men existed, we'll never really know for certain, and we'll never really know if the stories surrounding them are rooted in fact.
14 Brandon the Breaker
Thousands of years ago, the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night's Watch was a figure known today only as the Night's King. The Night's King married a woman who many consider to be a White Walker, and he pronounced her his Night's Queen. They forced the men of the Night's Watch to serve them, and it is even thought that they performed human sacrifices.
By the thirteenth year of the Night's King reign, word had finally spread and King Brandon "the Breaker" decided it was time to do something. He formed an alliance with Joramun, the King-Beyond-the-Wall, and together their forces deposed the Night's King and his Queen and freed the men of the Night's Watch. So disgusted was Brandon that he ordered the Night's King's name stricken from all records.
13 Theon the Hungry Wolf
Believe it or not, there was a Theon Stark long before there was a Theon Greyjoy.
King Theon's reign in the North was full of war; this, added to his lean appearance, earned him the nickname "the Hungry Wolf." Theon successfully defended the North against the Andal invasion and defeated the Andal warlord Argos Sevenstar in battle. To ward off further Andal invasions, Theon mounted Argos's body on his ship like a figurehead and sailed to Andalos. He then burned Andal villages, killed hundreds of people, and mounted their heads on spikes to show that North really does remember.
Later, Theon captured a series of islands off the coast of the Vale. After a wildling invasion he helped the Night's Watch slay so many of them that an entire generation of wildlings was lost.
Interestingly enough, Theon defeated the ironborn when they attempted to capture Bear Island. Theon Greyjoy claims that he was named after Theon Stark--not a little strange considering he defeated the ironborn.
12 Brandon the Shipwright
Brandon the Shipwright was so nicknamed because he built many ships in his time. He had a great fondness for the sea, and it became his goal to achieve what no man had achieved before- to sail across the Sunset Sea.
How far Brandon got, no one knows. George R.R. Martin confirmed to fans that Brandon never made it to Asshai, so he likely died on the ocean. Whatever happened, he never returned from his journey, and eventually his family accepted that he was never coming home. His son, also named Brandon (the Starks REALLY liked that name), burned what was left of his father's ships in grief, and afterwards he became known as Brandon the Burner.
11 Jon Stark And The Wolf's Den
While many people believe that Ned named Jon Snow after his friend Jon Arryn, it's entirely possible that he was nodding to his kingly ancestry.
Before the conquest, the northern coast lines were often ravaged by sea-raiders. King Jon built a castle at the mouth of the White Knife river and called it the Wolf's Den so that he could keep a better eye on that area. It also meant that sea-raiders couldn't sail up the river and move their attacks inland.
The Wolf's Den was often given to younger brothers or cousins of the King in the North, and gradually a cadet house of House Stark was formed: the Greystarks. The Wolf's Den was the seat of the Greystarks for five hundred years, until they joined forces with the Boltons and attempted to overthrow the Starks. All of the Greystarks died during the rebellion. The Wolf's Den changed hands many times following the Greystarks, eventually landing with the Manderlys.
10 Rodrik Stark
Hundreds of years before the events of Game of Thrones, Bear Island was a rough wilderness that was constantly being fought over between the North and the Iron Islands. The women of Bear Island learned to defend themselves from raiders, whether they were Northern or Ironborn, and it is likely for this reason that Maege Mormont and her daughters (especially little Lyanna) are so fearsome.
While the ironborn occupied Bear Island, King in the North Rodrik Stark entered a wrestling match with the ironborn and won Bear Island from them. He gave the island to House Mormont and it has been maintained by them ever since. Rodrik and his sons later attempted to take Cape Kraken as well, but this attempt proved unsuccessful.
9 Karlon Stark
House Bolton was not the only house to rise up against the Stark Kings in the North. Many houses attempted to rebel against the Starks, and all of them were met with defeat. During one such rebellion, Karlon Stark, the younger son of an unnamed King in the North, successfully put down a lesser lord's revolt. To reward his son for his bravery and valor, as well as for keeping his family safe, the King in the North granted Karlon an admirable portion of land to the east, just south of the Bay of Seals and west of the Grey Cliffs. Karlon built a castle on that land that he called "Karl's Hold." Over the years, the castle's name evolved to Karhold, and Karlon's family took the name Karstark to signify that they were not just Starks, but Starks of Karhold.
In the A Song of Ice and Fire and the HBO Game of Thrones series, the Karstarks answer Robb Stark's call to banners and follow him into battle against the Lannisters. Two of Lord Rickard's sons, Eddard and Torrhen, are standing watch over the captured Jaime Lannister when he kills them, and Rickard demands the death of the kingslayer as recompense. When Catelyn releases Jaime instead, the Karstarks kill two Lannister boys who were taken hostage. Robb executes them as a result, losing the loyalty of what remains of House Karstark.
8 Brandon the Daughterless
The name "daughterless" is actually a misnomer, because not only did this Brandon have a daughter, but he had a daughter who gave him a lot of trouble.
This Brandon heard rumors of Bael, the King-Beyond-the-Wall, and called him a coward. To prove that he was not, in fact, a coward, Bael snuck over the Wall and appeared at Winterfell as a bard named Sygerrik of Skaagos--a name that means "deceiver." Bael played and sang for Brandon all night, and Brandon was so moved by his music that he offered him anything he wanted. Bael said that he wanted the most beautiful flower in Winterfell. Brandon gave him a blue rose, but Bael meant a different flower; the next morning, Brandon's only child, a daughter, was missing, and in her bed was a blue rose.
Brandon sent his own men as well as the Night's Watch looking for the daughter, but they never found her. Brandon was close to dying when his daughter finally reappeared--in her own room, with an infant at her breast. She revealed that they had never left Winterfell, and had in fact been hiding in the crypts the whole time. Brandon died, and his bastard grandson became the new Lord of Winterfell. About thirty years later, Bael encountered his son at the Frozen Ford, where he was defeated in battle. The new Lord Stark cut off his father's head and brought it home to Winterfell; when his mother saw the head, she leapt off the top of a tower.
7 Osric Stark
Show fans may recognize the name Osric Stark, because Gilly has trouble pronouncing it. Osric was a member of House Stark who joined the Night's Watch at a very young age. The reasons for this are unclear; this was likely during a time when joining the Night's Watch was seen as a noble act, and one that many noble lords did voluntarily. Nevertheless, it's weird that Osric joined the Watch as a child, even if he was a younger son with no inheritance to speak of. Roughly four hundred years before Aegon conquered the seven kingdoms, Osric--then only ten years old--was elected Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
It has never been made clear why Osric Stark was elected at such a young age. He was the youngest Lord Commander ever elected, so clearly this is not normal behavior for the Night's Watch. Perhaps the Night's Watch sought to curry favor with the Kings in the North. Perhaps he was genuinely the best man for the job. Whatever the case, Osric served for sixty years--so clearly he wasn't terrible at it.
6 Harlon Stark
No one can forget the Red Wedding. When the Boltons betrayed the Starks, it felt like a punch to the gut.
Unbeknownst to fans at the time, the Starks and Boltons have always had a bitter rivalry. Before the seven kingdoms were, well, seven kingdoms, there were hundreds of petty kings who ruled small patches of land. Though the Northern petty kings eventually ceded their land to the Starks, the Boltons kept fighting long after the rest. When the Red Kings did bend the knee, it was with a great deal of bitterness. They rose up against the Starks several times, trying to overthrow their rivals and become the new Kings in the North.
During one such uprising, the Starks decided to hit the Boltons where it would hurt. King Harlon Stark marched on the Dreadfort and laid siege to the Bolton stronghold. Unfortunately, the Dreadfort was very well supplied and well defended, and Harlon's siege lasted for two years. The Boltons eventually ceded because they were starving, but it is a testament to the Dreadfort's resources and Harlon's determination that it took so long for the Boltons to surrender.
5 Torrhen Stark
When Aegon Targaryen and his sisters began their campaign on the seven kingdoms, they were met with opposition from nearly every corner. The seven kingdoms had been ruled in relative peace for hundreds of years, and they were unwilling to bend the knee for a king of foreign descent.
Torrhen Stark was one such king. Because the North was so vast, he believed that he could easily assemble his bannermen before Aegon and his forces were able to reach him. While Torrhen was correct about assembling his bannermen, he had grossly underestimated the strength and size of Aegon's forces. Torrhen's scouts reported the gruesome burning of Harrenhal and the Field of Fire to him, and Torrhen realized that he and his men would suffer a similar fate if they marched on Aegon. Instead, Torrhen sent his bastard half-brother Brandon Snow and three maesters across the Trident to treat with Aegon. Messages were sent back and forth all night, and in the morning, Torrhen crossed the Trident, knelt before Aegon, and offered him his crown. Torrhen thus became the last King in the North and the first Warden of the North.
4 Cregan Stark and Black Aly
After the death of Viserys I, Westeros faced a succession crisis. Viserys had a daughter, Rhaenyra, from his first marriage, but he had a son, Aegon, from his second marriage. The ensuing civil war--called the Dance of Dragons--was between those who felt the iron throne should go to the oldest child, regardless of gender, and those who felt that only a son should inherit the throne. Rhaenyra's son, Jacaerys, flew on his dragon Vermax to Winterfell and formed the Pact of Ice and Fire with Lord Cregan Stark. The pact promised that, if the North was able to successfully put Rhaenyra on the throne, a Targaryen princess would wed a Stark lord. Cregan and his bannermen marched south to dethrone Aegon II. However, Aegon was poisoned before Cregan could enter the fray, and because Aegon II had no children, the throne automatically went to the only surviving member of Rhaenyra's family--her eleven-year-old son, Aegon III. For six days, Cregan worked to make Aegon III's reign a powerful one. This period was known as the Hour of the Wolf.
After executing Aegon II's poisoners and setting up Aegon III as king, Cregan married Alysanne "Black Aly" Blackwood and retired to the North.
3 Jonnel and Sansa Stark
After season six, a lot of fans are jumping on the Jon and Sansa bandwagon. And sure, they're cousins who were raised as siblings, but as some fans have pointed out, this wouldn't be the first time in Stark history that a Jon has been romantically entangled with a Sansa.
Cregan Stark had several children by his third (and last) wife, Lyanara. Jonnel was the oldest of these children and became Lord of Winterfell upon the death of his elder brother, Rickon. Rickon had no sons, but he had two daughters; Serena, who was married to an Umber, and Sansa, who was unwed at the time of her father's death. At some point after becoming Lord of Winterfell, Jonnel married his niece. This was mainly a political move, since it cemented Jonnel's claim as Lord of Winterfell, but it may also have been a love match. It certainly wasn't the first or the last time that cousins, aunts and uncles have married in the Stark family, and if some fan speculation is correct, it won't be the last.
3. The Wolf Women
Believe it or not, there was actually a time when Winterfell was run by women. Unfortunately, we don't know a lot about this period right now because it hasn't been recorded in any books, but fans over at westeros.org were lucky enough to hear George R.R. Martin personally talk about the period of the Wolf Women at a convention. George says that roughly ninety years before the events of Game of Thrones, a succession crisis rose when Beron Stark was mortally wounded in a battle against the ironborn. Though Beron had five sons to inherit Winterfell, four other Stark widows claimed that their sons ought to be the Lord of Winterfell. Unfortunately, their sons were so young and Beron was so incapacitated that Winterfell went, for a time, without a lord. Instead, the North was ruled by Beron's wife, Lorra Royce, and the four widows. The five of them were called the Wolf Women or She-Wolves, and they ruled Winterfell in the absence of a capable lord.
Martin did not say how the conflict was resolved (or if he did, no one has reported it to westeros.org), but as Martin has also indicated that the lordship passed to Beron's sons, it is possible we will see more of this story in Martin's future works.
2 Artos Stark
Artos was the third son of Beron Stark. His eldest brother, Donnor, died without issue, and so the lordship of Winterfell passed to Beron's second son, Willam. It was while Willam was serving as Lord of Winterfell that Raymun Redbeard, then King-Beyond-the-Wall, climbed over the Wall with a band of wildlings. The Night's Watch, then under the leadership of "Sleepy" Jack Musgood, did not act fast enough, so it was left to Willam and his Stark and Royce forces to meet the wildlings at Long Lake. It was a long, bitter, and bloody battle, during which time Willam was slain. Artos "the Implacable" killed Raymun and thereby ended the wildling threat south of the Wall. By the time the Night's Watch finally arrived, the battle was over and the wildlings were defeated. To punish them for their tardiness, without which Willam might still have been alive, Artos ordered the Night's Watch to dispose of the dead.
Artos was never Lord of Winterfell--that title passed to Willam's son, Edwyle--but he was accorded a lord's honor and was buried in the crypts of Winterfell with the other lords and Kings in the North.
1 The Wandering Wolf and Arya Flint
Artos's younger brother and Beron's youngest son, Rodrik Stark was known as "the Wandering Wolf" because he spent part of his life in Essos serving with the Second Sons, the same sellsword company commanded by Daario Naharis. As the youngest of five sons and seven children, Rodrik had no hope of inheriting Winterfell or even of receiving many titles, so he was free to wander the world and do as he pleased. After he served the Second Sons for a time, Rodrik wandered back to the North, where he met Arya Flint. The Lords of Winterfell and their noble siblings usually only married from other noble houses. House Flint is not considered a very noble house; one of the mountain clans that live to the far north, the Flints do not use the titles of "Lord" or "Lady." Despite this difference in station, Rodrik apparently fell in love with Arya Flint and married her.
Rodrik and Arya had two daughters: Branda, who married a lord in the Stormlands, and Lyarra, who married her cousin Rickard and became the Lady of Winterfell. Lyarra and Rickard had four children: Brandon, Eddard, Lyanna, and Benjen.