Hidden Meanings in GOT

By Mary Nielsen on Jun 22, 2016 in Latest & Greatest

Hidden Meanings GOT

Ever tried figuring out how the heck people and houses are connected in Game of Thrones? There are ways, sure. Reddit. Wiki of Ice and Fire. Family tree jpegs. The list goes on. But nothing’s really mapped out in a way that makes sense.

At Gliffy we believe that laying something out visually (no matter how complex), helps you see the big picture. With that in mind, we drew up this GOT diagram that illustrates the connections between the Great Houses. You can thank us later.

Laying something out visually (no matter how complex), helps you see the big picture.

We also dug into the sigils and names of the Great Houses to see how far their meanings could take us. Turns out, George R.R. Martin knew what he was doing. Big time.

There’s a whole science devoted to coats of arms, symbols and meanings. It’s called heraldry.

game of thrones heraldry

Here are the basics.

Dragons or cockatrice (yup that’s another word for dragon) represent bravery and royalty. The sun represents glory. But there are also hundreds of subtleties. Including how an animal stands on a shield (that’s called attitude) and how certain chevrons associate with certain elements (fire, water and stone).

But enough heraldic small talk. Without further ado, we present the hidden meanings of the Great Houses, and also some predictions on what’s to come:

*Spoiler alert, this article contains info up to Season 6, Episode 9 “Battle of the Bastards”.

All the Great Houses shields from Game of Thrones

House Arryn

The name Arryn is derived from two Old English words: ar meaning “messenger”, and ryne meaning “swift in its course”. No doubt sly-talkin’ Littlefinger chose to latch on to a house that’s kenning for fast-talker.

Their Sigil: The Falcon & Crescent Moon

The symbol of House Arryn is the falcon, the fastest bird in the world. So why is this so fitting? First, falcons are swift and secondly, birds have represented messages or messengers for thousands of years. Think ancient bird-omens (like death), to pigeon carriers, to Rowling’s Owl Post.

In heraldic tradition, the crescent moon historically marks a second son. Perhaps there’s a second son of Lysa’s we haven’t yet met?

House Baratheon

Baratheon

Bara is Hebrew for “son of”. Theon derives from Greek  Theos meaning “God”. It’s fitting that the Ruling House of Westeros  actually means “Son of God”.

Might this hint at what’s coming?

Well, with the High Sparrow gaining more and more power in King’s Landing, and the most recent announcement Tommen made (abolishment of trial-by-combat), the church and the king are becoming more and more unified. Prediction: The High Sparrow pulls out a big divine-ruler card and Tommen gets the boot.

Their Sigil: The Stag Rampant

In heraldry, the stag represents one who will not fight unless provoked. The Baratheon stag is rampant: standing and bucking much like the Lannister lion.

These two sigils (lion and stag) stand in the same profile. They’re also the only rampant sigils of all the Great Houses. As Tommen is really only Lannister-blood, these sigils represent the fact that the Lannisters are posing as the Baratheons, in heraldry and by blood.

House Bolton

Bolton is an historic surname from northern England. It comes from the Old English bothl meaning ‘hall’ or ‘dwelling’, and tün meaning ‘settlement’. The name was also used to describe bends or distortions, usually in rivers. Features we now like to call meanders.

Their Sigil: A Flayed Man

Men are less represented in heraldic shields than creatures, however, there was one house that chose a dead man as their sigil. Whether it’s still out there or not it was, at one point, a real house called House Bolney.

It’s a little eerie that the house whose name means “distortion” flays human beings. At least they’ve met their extinction.

House Frey

The surname Frey comes from the Middle High German word, vri, meaning “free”.

In Norse mythology Frey or Freyr is the god of fertility and prosperity. Walder Frey has the most marriages and children of any head of house (see the chart below) with 29 trueborn children and countless bastards.

Their Sigil: Twin Castles, Trestle Bridge

In heraldic traditions, the symbol of the trestle represents hospitality. The Red Wedding was already a violation of “the code” that in antiquity held its own name and concept. It’s called xenia.

With the Frey’s sigil embodying the very idea of safety and comfort, it holds even more weight that the Starks would trust the Freys.

House Greyjoy

The name Greyjoy was never an aristocratic surname, meaning it didn’t have its own shield or heraldic traditions.

That being said, its lack of pedigree fits perfectly with the myths and legends in Westeros.

The Greyjoys are not an ancient Great House, but were given power and a seat much later, hence the prestige of their name.

Their Sigil: The Kraken

The symbol of the kraken is an ancient reference to Poseidon. Greyjoy’s seat, Pyke, refers to a voracious, freshwater fish known as a “pike”.

House Lannister

Lannister

The Old English word læne means “a grant”, “lease” or “temporary loan”. How fitting that their house motto “A Lannister always pays his debts” references their root word.

House Lannister alludes to a famous house known as House Lancaster. It’s actually the house Henry VIII descended from. This connection to House Lancaster is echoed further as the Lannister’s seat is known as ‘Caster’ly Rock.

Their Sigil: The Lion Rampant

The symbol of the lion comes directly from House Lancaster’s shield. Fun fact: House Lancaster became extinct.

There are few Lannisters who can carry on their name: Tyrion, Jaime and Lancel (the tatted monk who almost got mowed down by The Mountain).

With so much of House Lannister leaning on the historical House Lancaster, we can only hope the Lannisters will repeat history and become extinct.

House Martell

The name Martell derives from the Latin martellus meaning hammer.

There is also an English word, martello tower, that means “a small, circular fort built chiefly to defend a coast”. Its namesake comes from a tower in Corsica.

The Martell’s seat is Sunspear, on the eastern shore of Westeros. It seems fitting that the first attack from Daenerys will be at Sunspear, where the Martells will be well prepared to defend coastal attacks.

Their Sigil: The Spear & The Sun

As revered warriors, the Martells have, unsurprisingly, symbols true to their reputation.

In heraldry the spear represents an honorable warrior. The sun signifies glory in battle.

House Stark

Stark is an English descriptive surname. It comes from the Old English stearc meaning “stiff”, “rigid” or “one who bears, suffers, or sustains”. The Starks have been through hell. None of this is news.

That being said, a word that means “sustains” might be hopeful to the Stark-lovers out there. Triumph is coming. Actually, thanks to the epic battle at Winterfell’s gates, Triumph’s arrived, and it’s going to keep on coming.

Their Sigil: The Dire Wolf

In heraldry, the symbol of the wolf represents perseverance during long sieges.

King Edward IV of England used a white wolf as one of his seals. He’s commonly referenced as being the model for Eddard Stark.

What hasn’t been stated in online forums (to our knowledge) is the fact that Edward IV secretly married a lady named Elizabeth, the widow of a man named John Grey. She gave birth to two sons, both bearing the last name Grey.

The similarities between John Grey and Jon Snow are very clear. Nothing crazy there. But what about this second son? Does this mean Jon Snow has a brother?

House Targaryen

The name Targaryen does not exist in heraldic documents. However, Targaryen is similar to the word tarragon. You know, the herb used in cooking. Tarragon’s Latin name is Artemisia dranculus. Promise we’re getting somewhere.

Artemisia refers to Artemis, the goddess of the moon and the hunt. Khal Drogo called Daenerys “my moon” as his term of endearment. Dranculus, you guessed it, means “little dragon”. So Targaryen loosely means “Dragon Goddess”. MIND BLOWN!

Their Sigil: The Three-Headed Dragon

The symbol of the dragon in heraldry (also known as a wyvern or cockatrice), is representative of the most royal, powerful and bravest of all houses. In Celtic legends, the word “dragon” was used synonymously with the word “chief”. In battle, if one slew a chief then they also slew ‘the dragon’.

Over time, this battle-title developed into the same meaning as the mythical monster.

House Tully

Tully

Tully is originally a Gaelic surname that derives from MacTuile. Tuile, in Irish, means “flood”. For many years the names Tully and Flood were interchangeable. For thousands of years the Tullys rightfully inhabited the Riverlands or “floodlands”.

Their Sigil: A Fish

The Tullys’ shield is the only one that has a dancette (I know, now we’re getting technical). Dancettes represent water or living and dwelling near water. The Black Fish, bless him, stubbornly insisted on dying where he was born.

This is key behavior for salmon. They’re born upriver, travel to the sea, and years later fight back upstream to the very place they hatched. They die laying their eggs in that same riverbed. The Black Fish, in this sense, is a true Tully.

House Tyrell

Tyrell comes from Old French tirer meaning “to draw horses” but also “to draw conclusions” and “hold the reins tightly”.

This evolved to describe someone who is very stubborn. The Queen of Thornes is known as one of the most hardheaded characters in all of the Seven Kingdoms.

Their Sigil: A Rose

House Tyrell’s symbol is a rose. In heraldic traditions, the rose is commonly used as a symbol for the seventh son.

The Tyrells are currently the most involved House with the Faith of the Seven. The Faith of the Seven has an archetype for a Father, a Mother, and a Maiden or Daughter. But there is no archetype of the son.

Symbolism in GOT is everywhere.

We knew George R.R. Martin modeled his characters and houses after real people and houses from history. We had no idea it was to such an extent.

Hidden meanings are powerful. We could be merely skimming the surface. Think about what first-names could tell us.

Despite these hidden meanings, connections in GOT are still messy, complicated things.

Looking at something as complex as these Great Houses in a visual way not only helps show the bigger picture—it also reveals hidden meanings we might have missed.

Ready to check out the connections? Just click the button below to use the GOT diagram as a template. Feel free to add, improve and share.