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The entire Game of Thrones timeline explained

The final season of Game of Thrones has arrived, and speculation runs rampant. Who will take the Iron Throne? Who will die in the battle between life and death? Will Jon Snow ever learn of his true parentage? Thousands of years of fictional history are bearing down upon the characters we've followed for years, and all those alliances, brutality, and betrayals are threatening to boil over. Some characters carry thousand-year legacies on their backs. Some are just looking to make a name for themselves. Each and every one of them is vulnerable to the forces of frozen death that have managed to tear down the Wall.

So much is set to happen that it can be a little difficult to keep track of it all — especially when the audience is split between those who only watch the show, those who read the books, and those who know a little of everything through cultural osmosis. That's why we're here to help with this comprehensive timeline, with backstory gathered not only from the show and George R.R. Martin's novels, but from the official World of Ice and Fire companion and the "Histories & Lore" featurettes found on HBO's Blu-ray releases. 

From the great houses to the dragonlords, we've got the whole history of Westeros mapped out for you — just in time to get ready to see it all come crashing down. Whether it'll end in ice or fire is anyone's guess.

12,000 years BC (Before Conquest): The First Men arrive in Westeros

Before the Baratheons, before the Targaryens, before the Andals and the First Men, there were the Children of the Forest. As far as we know, the Children were the original inhabitants of Westeros — and until Bran met Leaf in the company of the Three-Eyed Raven, they were thought to be entirely extinct. A humanoid race of beings capable of wielding a mysterious, tree-based magic, the Children were alone in Westeros until the First Men arrived — the first humans, as we understand them, to ever set foot on the continent.

Two thousand years of war between the two peoples ensued. The Children's powers were, ultimately, no match for the First Men, and the Pact was signed to bring an end to the bloodshed. This led to a technical peace, but truthfully, this was the beginning for the end of the Children and their way of life. They managed to live on in two major ways, however: the "old gods" and the Walkers. The old gods are not the primary religion of Westeros, but the Starks and other northern families kept it alive, in addition to the Wildlings and the Three-Eyed Raven. The Walkers, we learned in the season six episode "The Door," were a creation of the Children — men turned to undead monsters by the Children's magic in an effort to defend themselves against the First Men. This, of course, backfired horribly, for the First Men and the Children alike.

10,000 years BC: The Age of Heroes begins

Once the Pact was signed, the First Men entered the Age of Heroes. So began the stories of such legendary figures as Bran the Builder, the brilliant Northerner who raised the Wall and for whom our own Bran Stark is named, and Lann the Clever. As these names suggest, this is also when many of what would come to be the great houses of Westeros began their long and storied histories. 

Though the HBO series will likely never be able to delve into this level of detail, George R.R. Martin's The World of Ice and Fire companion volume spends quite a few pages on the myths and legends of this epoch. This isn't just the period of time in which the "old gods" and the accompanying faith passed from the Children to the First Men, it's when secular traditions as hallowed and foundational as guest right, hospitality, and the concept of "he who names the sentence should swing the sword" began. This is the first glimmer of the era that would come to define Westeros in the eyes of the audience, with all the names, rivalries, and friendships that make it the high-stakes place it is.

8,000 years BC: The Long Night begins and ends

The Age of Heroes wasn't all derring-do and alliance-making, however. Heroes and the eras they define are forged through adversity. The Age of Heroes is defined most by the Long Night — the last time the White Walkers were seen prior to the events of the show.

Though many (especially in the first season) believe the events of the Long Night to have been exagerrated for the sake of scaring children into submission, they were very real. The Walkers, broken free of whatever control the Children had on them, ran rampant and brought about a night and winter that lasted a generation. The Children and the First Men banded together to drive them back, spawning legends as diverse as that of Azor Ahai and the Prince Who Was Promised. But victory came at a tremendous cost, especially to the Children, who never recovered from the casualties they incurred. Most notably, this is when the Wall was raised, thus preventing the Walkers from crossing into the lands of men again — and creating those we now know as Wildlings. Our clearest glimpse of this era comes from the season seven episode "The Spoils of War," in which Jon Snow and Daenerys examine cave paintings of the Walkers, the Children, and the First Men beneath Dragonstone.

6,000 to 2,000 years BC: The Andals invade and change Westeros forever

The Walkers were pushed back to the Lands of Always Winter, the Children were on the decline, and the Wall was upright. But all was not settled for the First Men. The Andal Invasion saw the influx of a new ethnic group into Westeros — one that would become culturally dominant and shape the continent, from its beliefs to its naming conventions.

The Andals crossed into Westeros from their ancestral homelands in Essos in waves, allegedly compelled by a vision of a seven-faced god. This became the Faith of the Seven, which spurred the creation of such traditions as knighthood and chivalry. Cultural clashes and outright war ensued, and ultimately, the First Men and their culture retreated to the North to be preserved by families like the Starks and Mormonts. Despite the fact that intermarriage resulted in very few "purely" Andal Westerosi, the rest of the world sees Westeros as a nation of "Andals," evidenced chiefly by the Dothrakis' description of Jorah Mormont as "Jorah the Andal."

100 years BC: Old Valyria is destroyed by the Doom

Though Westeros is largely the focus of Game of Thrones, Essos is itself home to a history we've seen tantalizing glimpses of over the course of the show. Perhaps most fascinating is the history of Old Valyria, which, at its peak, used its lost knowledge of magic and dragon-taming to build an empire the likes of which the world had never seen. The roads they built of dragon-fused stone still connect the major cities of Essos, and Valyrian steel lives on in the precious heirlooms of the major Westerosi houses — both of them materials the world has forgotten how to make.

All of this came to an end with the Doom of Valyria. Though its exact nature remains unknown, the Doom was a cataclysmic volcanic disaster that left the once-great empire in ashes. The Targaryens, then a minor Valyrian family, were among the only survivors — the result of a prophetic dream one of its daughters had 12 years prior, urging the family to move to what became Dragonstone. The Targaryens were suddenly the survivors of a lost culture, among the few people in the world with dragons at their beck and call.

0 years BC: Aegon and his sisters conquer Westeros

The Targaryens came to accept their altered place in the world, and began to look westward. Finally, Aegon Targaryen, then head of the house, with his sister-wives Rhaenys and Visenya at his side, set out to conquer Westeros. Though their forces were puny compared to that of the great houses, they rode three great dragons: Balerion, Meraxes, and Vhagar. Despite the best efforts of the Westerosi in power, nothing compared to the power of these airborne beasts, and the Targaryens took control.

Thus began the modern age of Westeros, and the era in which the show takes place. The Targaryen conquest saw the founding of King's Landing as the capital city, the forging of the Iron Throne, and the settlement of the Seven Kingdoms and their great houses as we now know them. Though Targaryen control was not complete — the Dornish notably resisted complete rule and managed to maintain their distinct culture — it was very nearly so, and would last for 300 unbroken years.

280 AC (After Conquest): Rhaegar marries Elia of Dorne

Centuries later, the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen — father of Rhaegar, Viserys, and Daenerys — took the Iron Throne. His reign did not begin in chaos. In fact, Rhaegar, as crown prince, made the future look positively bright for a time. Handsome, sensitive, brave, and brilliant, he was roundly respected, even adored, to the point where he himself began to believe that he might be the Prince Who Was Promised.

Originally, Rhaegar seemed likely to marry Cersei Lannister. But Aerys was threatened by Tywin's growing reputation, and instead married his eldest son off to Elia Martell, brother of Oberyn and well-loved in her native Dorne. She and Rhaegar went on to have two children, a daughter named Rhaenys and a son named Aegon. As the years went on, Aerys' sanity began to deteriorate. He became paranoid and cruel, roasting his enemies alive and refusing to allow blades in his presence. Slowly but surely, the Mad King took shape as his crown prince fulfilled his duties. In the eyes of the world, this is the only marriage Rhaegar ever had, and the only children he ever produced.

281 years AC: Rhaegar crowns Lyanna as Queen of Love and Beauty

A tournament at Harrenhal was held during a "false spring," attended by many of the great houses. On the surface, things appeared to go off without a hitch: the lords and ladies enjoyed themselves, those nearing marriageable age eyed each other, and dashing Prince Rhaegar won the tournament. But when it came time for him to crown his Queen of Love and Beauty, he did not choose his wife, Elia — he chose Lyanna Stark.

Moreover, King Aerys broke with tradition and loyalty and named Jaime Lannister to the Kingsguard. As the Kingsguard must swear off any and all allegiances except to the king, this enraged Tywin Lannister. Suddenly, his brilliant eldest son was unable to carry on the future of his house. Left with daughter Cersei and misfit son Tyrion, Tywin resigned as Hand of the King and returned to Casterly Rock.

282 years AC: Lyanna and Rhaegar elope, Robert's Rebellion begins

What happened next is seen in two very different ways. We, the audience, now know that Rhaegar and Lyanna were very much in love, and possibly had been so at the time of the Tournament. As Gilly discovered in a tome from the bowels of the Citadel in season seven episode "Eastwatch," he had his marriage to Elia Martell annulled and married Lyanna in a private ceremony. They went into hiding in Dorne, and Lyanna became pregnant.

Many of the main characters, however, have a very different idea of what happened. The Starks and Robert Baratheon believe that Rhaegar, very much in love with Lyanna and believing they would be married, kidnapped Lyanna by force. They rode south to confront King Aerys, who brutally murdered Brandon and Rickard Stark in a fit of deranged pique. Outraged and bereaved, Robert, Ned Stark, and Jon Arryn mustered their forces and called for war. Robert's Rebellion had begun.

283 years AC: Lyanna gives birth to Jon Snow, Robert's Rebellion ends

With open rebellion setting the land aflame, Rhaegar ensconced a pregnant Lyanna in the Dornish Tower of Joy and rode off to lead the royal army. Though he fought with his characteristic skill and bravery, he fell to Robert Baratheon's legendary warhammer in the Battle of the Trident. Tywin Lannister sent his forces to sack King's Landing, where the battle quickly turned against the Mad King, climaxing in the brutal murder of Elia Martell and her children at the hands of Gregor Clegane. King Aerys, control slipping from his fingers, commanded his underlings to burn King's Landing to the ground using underground caches of wildfire, but was killed by Jaime Lannister before the orders could be carried out, thus making Jaime the Kingslayer.

Ned and Howland Reed, the father of Jojen and Meera who would go on to accompany Bran beyond the Wall, rode south to find Lyanna. They did — in labor, delirious, and bleeding profusely. With her dying breaths, she told Ned the story of the child she bore, that his name was to be Aegon Targaryen, and that she needed Ned to promise her that he would protect him. He did, and she passed away.

284 years AC: Daenerys is born and Ned Stark returns to Winterfell

With the Mad King slain and his army thoroughly beaten, Robert Baratheon took the throne. He wedded Cersei Lannister, though he never stopped mourning Lyanna, who he'd believe until his death had been kidnapped and defiled by Rhaegar. The Baratheon reign began, ending centuries of Targaryen control. Rhaella Targaryen, wife and sister of Aerys, fled to Dragonstone in the aftermath of the Rebellion with her young son Viserys. There she stayed, growing more and more heavily pregnant with Aerys' last child. Finally, on the night of a brutal summer storm, she gave birth to Daenerys — the daughter everyone would go on to believe to be the last Targaryen.

Meanwhile, in Westeros, Ned Stark made his way back to Winterfell. His wife, Catelyn, had given birth to their first child while he was away: Robb, the heir to Winterfell. Ned, however, had a child of his own to present. He was, as we know now, Aegon Targaryen, the child of Rhaegar and Lyanna. Determined to honor his promise to his sister, Ned claimed the baby was his bastard, born to a common woman he met while at war, and that his name was to be Jon Snow.