In its riveting second season, Game of Thrones—based on George R.R. Martin’s behemoth A Song of Ice and Fire series and adapted by executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss—brought the war for the Iron Throne to a staggering climax with the amazing Battle of the Blackwater, a hugely dramatic set piece that found the naval forces of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) attacking King’s Landing, only to be cast back into the sea, thanks to some ingenuity from Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage).
The highly anticipated third season of HBO’s Game of Thrones begins on Sunday at 9 p.m., kicking off another season of treachery, romance, conspiracies, dragons and, um, snowy blue-eyed zombie creatures. If you haven’t read Martin’s hefty novels, the world that the show inhabits can be an intimidating place without the maps, family trees and lineages contained within the novels’ vast appendices. And Season 3 of Game of Thrones is no exception, introducing a slew of new characters, settings and plots, each requiring a whole new knowledge base.
As we did for Season 1 and Season 2, The Daily Beast delves deep into the first four episodes of Game of Thrones Season 3, Martin’s third novel (A Storm of Swords) and beyond to bring you up to speed on everything you need to know, from Astapor to Winterfell. Consider it both a refresher on events from the second season and a constant source of information and background to come back to as you watch the third season.
WARNING: A note on spoilers: I discuss many plot details from Season 2 below. But I do not spoil specifics from Season 3, unless you count knowing settings and themes and characters as spoilers. In which case, spoiler alerts!
Astapor: A city set upon Slaver’s Bay, and a nexus for a thriving slave trade and a huge economic gap between the masters and their servants. It is home to the training grounds for a rare breed of slave-warriors. (See: Unsullied, The.)
“Bear and the Maiden Fair, The”: A traditional, if exceedingly ribald, song that is quite popular throughout Westeros. One of its verses: “A bear there was, a bear, a bear!/All black and brown, and covered with hair!/The bear! The bear!/Oh, come, they said, oh come to the fair!/The fair? Said he, but I'm a bear!/All black, and brown, and covered with hair!” (It is also reportedly the title of the seventh episode of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.)
Blackfish, The: The nickname of Ser Brynden Tully (Clive Russell), the uncle of Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and Lady Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie). A Tully by birth, he has taken a black fish as his personal sigil, an inside joke that plays upon the Tully’s fish sigil.
Brotherhood Without Banners, The: A motley group of rebels and outlaws who were once part of a team sent by Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) to capture Gregor Clegane (Ian Whyte), a.k.a. The Mountain. But after the deaths of Ned and Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), they found themselves adrift without someone to whom they could pledge their loyalty. (Hence, no banners.) Now, they claim allegiance to no individual faction in the War of Five Kings, instead keeping the peace by their own vigilante methods. (Can also refer to real-life fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novel series.)
Casterly Rock: The ancestral home and seat of the Lannister clan, led by Lord Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), who currently serves as Hand (see: Hand of the King, The) to King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
Castle Black: One of the last few surviving castles occupied by the Night’s Watch, located in the very center of The Wall. (Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and The Shadow Tower are the only two others still standing.) It is here that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) trained to be a member of the order, and is the main military fortress of the Night’s Watch.
Children of the Forest, The: An ancient race of magical non-human beings who inhabited Westeros before the arrival of mankind. They have not been seen in thousands of years, though their exploits are now considered legends or old wives’ tales. It is they who used dragonglass weapons in battle, and who carved the faces into the weirwood trees. Among their many abilities was that of greensight.
Crannogmen: The inhabitants of Westeros’s swamplands who use nets and spears to fight. The people of Westeros often look down on these tough, resourceful folk for their so-called primitiveness, though they remain closer to the old ways—and perhaps their connection to the Children of the Forest and their abilities—than some might suspect. Jojen Reed (Thomas Sangster) and Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) are among these people. While the brother and sister duo were introduced in Martin’s second novel, A Clash of Kings, they will make their first appearance in Season 3 of Game of Thrones.
Craster’s Keep: A wildling home beyond The Wall that is home to Craster (Robert Pugh) and his daughters/wives. It’s here that the brothers of the Night’s Watch stay during their forays north of The Wall, as Craster has been known to be an ally of the Night’s Watch. In Season 2 of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow discovered that Craster has been offering his sons, products of his incestuous nature, to the White Walkers as a means of keeping him and his wives safe.
Crow: A nickname for a member of the black-clad Night’s Watch, given by the wildlings.
“Dracarys”: A verbal command, in High Valyrian, given by Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to her dragons, signifying her desire that they breathe fire. It means literally, “dragonfire.”
Dragons: Supernatural fire-breathing creatures who died out hundreds of years ago in Westeros, until Daenerys (see: Mother of Dragons, The) hatched three baby dragons—Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion—who are now growing to adulthood.
Dragonglass: The name accorded to volcanic glass or obsidian. In Season 2 of Game of Thrones, members of the Night’s Watch discover a hidden cache of weapons made from the substance buried beneath the snow at the Fist of the First Men, an ancient encampment beyond The Wall. It is said that, in ancient times, the Children of the Forest used to make dragonglass weaponry and would every year give obsidian daggers to the Night’s Watch.
Free folk: A name by which the wildlings sometimes refer to themselves. Unlike the kneelers, they do not bow and scape to any man, not even the King-Beyond-the-Wall.
Frogeaters: A pejorative term for Crannogmen. Another would be “mud men.”
Giant: An enormously tall supernatural being. Their like has not been seen south of The Wall for countless centuries, though they are said to still survive beyond The Wall.
Greenseer: See Greensight.
Greensight: A psychic ability—thought to be held by some members of the ancient race known as The Children of the Forest and an even fewer number of humans—that results in prophetic dreams (or “green dreams”). Some members of the modern-day Crannogmen are said to have this ability, and often have green eyes. Those who are gifted in this way are known as a greenseer, though it is an ability that may also be held by a warg.
Greyscale: Also known as “The Grey Plague,” it is a debilitating and disfiguring disease that causes extreme atrophy to the flesh, leaving the victim’s skin gray and hardened, almost like stone.
Hand of the King, The. An adviser to the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and member of the King’s small council. While immensely powerful in terms of the day-to-day running of the kingdom, the position carries a rather steep body count: Jon Arryn, the husband of Lysa Arryn (the sister of Catelyn Stark), was poisoned. Eddard Stark, his successor, was beheaded. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) fulfilled the role and managed to save King’s Landing from Stannis Baratheon’s forces, though he was nearly killed in battle. The position is now occupied by Tyrion’s father, Tywin. (See also: Casterly Rock.)
Halfhand, The: The nickname for Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong), a ranger and member of the Night’s Watch, who sacrifices himself so that Jon Snow can infiltrate the wildlings. He was slain by Jon Snow last season as part of a ruse that makes it appear as if Jon had betrayed the order. (His final words to Jon: "We are the watchers on the Wall,” part of the oath of the Night’s Watch.) By killing Qhorin, Jon is released from his bonds by the wildlings and seen as one of them.
Harrenhal: Reputed to be haunted, this black-stoned castle—whose walls were destroyed centuries ago by Aegon the Conqueror and his fire-breathing dragons—has changed hands many, many times, particularly as its owners are said to be cursed. Last season, the Lannisters controlled the fortress under the aegis of Tywin; Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Gendry (Joe Dempsie), and Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) escaped from here, with the help of the mysterious Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). The title of Lord of Harrenhal was recently accorded to Lord Petyr Baelish (see: Littlefinger), but whether he will ever take up residence remains to be seen.
Highgarden: The ancestral home of the wealthy Tyrell clan, which counts among its members Lady Margaery (Natalie Dormer), Ser Loras (Finn Jones) (see: Knight of Flowers, The), and Lady Olenna (Dame Diana Rigg) (see: Queen of Thorns, The). Margaery—previously married to the doomed self-made King Renly (Gethin Anthony)—is currently engaged to wed King Joffrey, who sits atop the Iron Throne.
High Valyrian: An ancient tongue that was spoken for thousands of years on the continent of Essos until “The Doom”—some type of cataclysm—destroyed the Valyrian Freehold. While the language has died out, some still speak it, particularly the Targaryens. (See also: “Dracarys.”)
Hound, The: A nickname for Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), the brother of The Mountain, who is as much known for his prowess in battle as he is for the burns that scar his face. A former vassal of the Lannisters, he served as the personal guard for King Joffrey until the Battle of the Blackwater, when he deserted his post for parts unknown. Before leaving, he attempted to convince Sansa Stark to accompany him, but she refused, believing that Stannis Baratheon (see: King of the Narrow Sea, The) was going to rescue her.
Khaleesi: A Dothraki word for the wife of a khal, or warlord. Here, it’s used as almost a term of reverence for Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) among her khalassar. (See also: Mother of Dragons, The.)
King-Beyond-the-Wall, The: A sobriquet for Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds), a former member of the Night’s Watch (see also: Crow) who betrayed his brothers to start a new life with the wildlings. He has organized the various factions of those who live beyond the Wall, including several giants.
King in the North, The: The self-styled title of Robb Stark (Richard Madden), who leads the rebellion against King Joffrey. Last season, he took a bride (Oona Chaplin) against the wishes of his mother, Catelyn Stark, though the two have had a major rift: she is now being held as Robb’s prisoner, after she freed Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
King of the Narrow Sea, The: The title accorded to Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), who sees himself as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. While the title has yet to be used within HBO’s Game of Thrones (at least yet), it’s used to distinguish Stannis as one of the monarchs enmeshed in The War of Five Kings depicted within the series. His younger brother, Renly, was killed by a shadow created by Stannis’s lover and confidante, Melisandre (Carice van Houten). (See also: Red Woman, The.) His naval force was destroyed in the Battle of the Blackwater.
Kingsguard: The highly organized and efficient protectorate of the King, who take a pledge to not marry nor inherit titles or lands. They wear white cloaks, a symbol of their office, a sort of Secret Service for the Seven Kingdoms. Jaime Lannister (see: Kingslayer, The) is a member of the order, though he broke his oath when he slew the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen.
Kingslayer, The: A mocking nickname for Jaime Lannister, who stabbed the Mad King in the back, breaking his sacred oath to protect the life of the king. After being taken prisoner by Robb Stark (see: King in the North, The), Jaime was freed by Catelyn Stark and placed in the custody of Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Renly’s former sworn knight who now serves Lady Catelyn. With Jaime in chains, Brienne heads for King’s Landing, in the hopes of trading him to the Lannisters in exchange for Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya Stark, the latter of which—unbeknownst to Brienne or Catelyn—is nowhere near King’s Landing.
Kneelers: The wildling nickname for the people south of the Wall. Beyond the Wall, the free folk do not kneel to anyone, unlike their supposedly more civilized neighbors.
Knight of Flowers, The: A nickname for Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) of Highgarden, a member of the Kingsguard, the rose being the sigil for House Tyrell.
Lemon cakes: A popular confection beloved by many, and particularly by Lady Sansa Stark of Winterfell, currently the hostage of King Joffrey.
Littlefinger: The nickname of Lord Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen), the Master of Coin, who was recently granted Harrenhal and its title.
Lord of Light, The: Another name for the red deity R’hllor, whose worship is common in the continent of Essos, the neighboring landmass to Westeros. (See also: Red God, The.)
“Mhysa”: A Low Valyrian word meaning “mother.” It is also reportedly the title of the tenth and final episode of Season 3 of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Manticore: A supernatural creature that has a scorpion’s tail and a human face among its many chimerical parts. Its venom is highly poisonous and typically fatal.
Master of Whisperers, The: See Spider, The.
Mother of Dragons, The: A name given to Daenerys “Stormborn” Targaryen, who hatched three dragons by placing them on the funeral pyre of her husband, Khal Drogo, the first seen in hundreds of years.
Mountain, The: The nickname accorded to the very tall and broad knight Ser Gregor Clegane, a notoriously sadistic and cruel killer in the employ of the Lannisters. He is sometimes also referred to as “The Mountain Who Rides.”
Obisidian: See Dragonglass.
Poison Water, The: What the Dothraki call the sea. They believe that such water is poisonous.
Queen of Thorns, The: A nickname of Lady Olenna Tyrell of Highgarden, the grandmother of Lady Margaery. As the sigil of House Tyrell is a rose, the sobriquet is a play on her cunning and prickliness.
“Rains of Castamere, The”: A folk song written about the triumph of the Lannisters—led by Tywin (see: Hand of the King, The)—when they quashed a rebellion. The lyrics are: “And who are you, the proud lord said,/that I must bow so low?/Only a cat of a different coat,/that's all the truth I know./In a coat of gold or a coat of red,/a lion still has claws,/And mine are long and sharp, my lord,/as long and sharp as yours./And so he spoke, and so he spoke,/that lord of Castamere,/But now the rains weep o'er his hall,/with no one there to hear./Yes now the rains weep o'er his hall,/and not a soul to hear.” The National performed the song in the Season 2 episode entitled “Blackwater.” It is also the title of the ninth episode of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.
Reach, The: An exceptionally fertile section of Westeros that is ruled by the Tyrell clan from their castle at Highgarden. Think of it as sort of the breadbasket of America, lush with fruits and grains. The oldest city on the continent, Oldtown, is also located here, as well as the Arbor, the source of the best wine in all of Westeros.
Red God, The: Another nickname for the deity R’hllor.
Red Woman, The: A name given to the red priestess Melisandre, who holds sway over Stannis Baratheon (see: King of the Narrow Sea, The). Among her favored sayings is, “For the night is dark and full of terrors.” She has been known to perform various magical acts, among them birthing a shadowy assassin that killed Renly Baratheon.
R’hllor: The fiery god (see also: Lord of Light, The) who is worshipped by the red priests and residents of Essos. While those connected with the deity were once seen as hailing from exotic and far-flung places, the religion’s influence is quickly spreading in Westeros, particularly due to the conversion of Stannis Baratheon and his council. (See: Red Woman, The.) It is said that when the last of the dragons died, R’hllor’s power was said to wane considerably. But now that the dragons have returned…
Riverrun: The ancestral home of House Tully, located in the Riverlands. The house’s sigil is, fittingly, a fish. Sisters Catelyn Stark and Lysa Arryn grew up here, as did Lord Petyr Baelish. (See also: Littlefinger.)
Skinchanger: According to old legends, a person who can transfer their consciousness into the mind of an animal and see through their eyes and control their bodies. If untrained, such a person might enter into the minds of animals while they themselves are unconscious or asleep. Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) may be one such person, given the level of rapport he has with his direwolf, Summer. (See also: Warg.)
Slaver’s Bay: A body of water north of the Gulf of Grief which is centered around several slave trading cities, including Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen.
Spearwife: A female wildling who is also a warrior of the free folk. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow has made the acquaintance of Ygritte (Rose Leslie), one such woman warrior, and has been taken prisoner by her.
Spider, The: The nickname for spymaster Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) the eunuch, who always knows everything going on in King’s Landing. He is also known as the Master of Whisperers.
Storm of Swords, A: The third book in George R.R. Martin’s multiple-volume novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, and the basis for Season 3 of HBO’s A Game of Thrones. It clocks in at just under 1,000 pages, not including appendices, depending on the edition.
Three-Eyed Raven: A recurring motif in the dreams of Bran Stark that seems to point him towards an as-yet-undetermined path. The third eye would seem to symbolize a hidden inner knowledge or the subconscious.
Unsullied, The: A group of slave soldiers who are ruthlessly trained in Astapor and their sense of free will removed entirely. Fetching a high price in the slave trade of Essos (see: Slaver’s Bay), they can remain standing for days on end without water, food or rest. Their initiation is to slay an infant in front of its mother in order to remove any semblance of humanity or emotion.
“Valar Dohaeris”: A popular saying—meaning “all men must serve”—in High Valyrian, which is the traditional answer to “Valar Morghulis.” It is also the title of the Season 3 premiere episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
“Valar Morghulis”: Translated from High Valyrian, it means “all men must die.”
Warg: A person with the innate ability to slip inside the mind of an animal or animals. (See also: Skinchanger.)
White Walkers: A race of ancient evil beings (known in the novels as “The Others”) who slumbered dormant for millennia, but who now once again threaten humanity. Currently, they are contained beyond the Wall, but their attacks upon the wildlings may point towards a desire to retake the lands south of the Wall. Some (see: Craster’s Keep) have formed arrangements with these beings in order to remain safe from them.
Wights: The zombie-like minions of The White Walkers who are reanimated corpses of the slain. They are identifiable by their coldness, pale skin, and ice-blue eyes. They can be destroyed by fire, as discovered by Jon Snow in Season 1 of Game of Thrones.
Wildlings: The name given to the ragtag barbarians (see: free folk) who live north of the Wall. Unified by Mance Rayder (see: King-Beyond-the-Wall), they appear to be grouping together for some unknown purpose, and may have their sights upon The Wall itself. Their raiding parties are often stopped by the Night’s Watch, but lately the wildlings have been quiet and their villages emptied. Jon Snow’s uncle Benjen (Joseph Mawle), a ranger with the Night’s Watch, went beyond The Wall to discover why… and hasn’t been seen since. A search party—which included Jon, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), and Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo)—ventured after Benjen, but were attacked at the end of Season 2, and are no closer to discovering what happened to the ranger. Could he have left the stash of dragonglass weapons discovered last season?
“Winter Is Coming”: The official motto of House Stark, who believe that dark days are always ahead, no matter how long the seemingly endless summer can last. It harkens back to a time 8,000 years earlier, when the White Walkers invaded Westeros. As viewers recently learned, winter is most definitely coming.
Winterfell: The ancestral seat of House Stark. After Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) lay siege to Winterfell in Season 2, he was betrayed by his own men and Winterfell was burned. The last remaining Starks in Winterfell, Bran and Rickon (Art Parkinson), are believed to have been murdered, though Theon substituted two local boys, sons of a farmer, in their place.