“The Lannisters never declined, graciously or otherwise. The Lannisters took what was offered.” –Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones
Thanks to HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series, House Lannister has become a pop culture shorthand for schemes, corruption, wealth, and families too close for comfort. But what lies beneath the gold hair and gold mines of Westeros’s most notorious noble dynasty? George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, and their supplementary texts, offer no shortage of Lannister backstory and scandal that can’t be found in the show. With this information, the motivations of Tywin, Cersei, Jaime, Tyrion, and many other Lannisters become clear as gold.
Having ruled over the Westerlands for hundreds of years—even before the Targaryen conquest—the Lannisters were familiar with power and wealth. But they weren’t always feared; before the reign of Tywin Lannister, the Lannisters were on the decline. Money can buy a lot of things, but it can’t ensure success. How did they get to where they are today? Pay those debts and explore 43 golden facts about House Lannister.
Martin styled Casterly Rock after Gibraltar, a territory on the Iberian Peninsula that was the site of conflict of in Europe for years. The Moorish Castle there does deeply resemble the aesthetic of the Lannister home base.
It’s said the Lannisters inherited their iconic gold hair from their ancestor, Lann the Clever, who stole gold from the Sun itself to put in his locks. Now that’s a highlight!
In the books, Twyin Lannister has kept his head shaved ever since his scalp decided to go bad. Because if Tywin Lannister has to go bald, it’s gonna be because of Tywin Lannister!
When Tywin inherited Casterly Rock from his father, he discovered his dad’s mistress trying on his late mother’s gowns and jewels. Furious that his father let a common woman rule the family roost for so long, Tywin ordered the unnamed woman to be stripped naked, marched through the streets, and forced to admit to every man she passed that she was a “harlot” and a “thief.” Note the parallels between this and his daughter Cersei’s own future “Walk of Shame.”
Tywin was married to his first cousin, Joanna Lannister (wow, it’s almost like this family looks within itself for romantic partners). Joanna was his most trusted advisor and, of course, she was the mother of Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion. It was said that while Tywin ruled Westeros as the King’s Hand, Tywin “was ruled at home by his lady wife.”
Tywin almost definitely married his wife for love. As his cousin, Joanna Lannister brought no extra family alliances or military support the Lord of Casterly Rock didn’t already have. Still, his own happy marriage did not stop Tywin from forcing his kids into loveless political matches—he clearly considered himself the exception to the rule.
Did the show impart how huge Casterly Rock is supposed to be? According to canon sources, the Lannister family seat is three times taller than the Wall and two leagues long.
House Lannister was known as one of the few Great Westerosi houses to not own a Valyrian steel weapon, but they did once have one long ago. Hundreds of years before the series started, a Lannister King of the Rock, Tommen II, brought his Valyrian sword named Brightroar out to sea with the intention of plundering the ruins of Valyria. Neither the fleet, nor King Tommen, nor Brightroar were ever seen again.
As a young man, Tywin's youngest brother Gerion embarked on an adventure to find the family Valyrian sword Brightroar. Just like the sword, Gerion left for the high seas on a magnificent ship…but disappeared without a trace. Another rich kid backpacking trip goes awry.
Genna Lannister is Tywin’s only sister and the wife of Walder Frey’s second son. It was not considered an equal match—Tywin’s father was a weak ruler who was desperate to be liked. Walder Frey exploited that weakness to get a Lannister bride for his son. Although he was a child, Tywin spoke out against the union right at the betrothal dinner. Genna would admit that while she would not approve of who Tywin became, she loved her brother for being the only person to stand up against his sister’s lackluster future.
Genna Lannister once told her brother Tywin that out of all his children, Tyrion was the most like his father. Tywin got so angry, he did not speak to Genna for some time.
As children, Jaime and Cersei looked so much alike, they would often switch clothes and take each other’s place. Cersei would sometimes dress as Jaime to take sword lessons, with no one being the wiser.
The Lannister kids’ grandfather Tytos was known as “the Laughing Lion.” Too trusting, too incompetent, and too eager to please, Tytos ruled the Westerlands with a soft paw. Lords borrowed Lannister money without paying it back and “japed of toothless lions” at court. In response, his son Tywin would dedicate his life to making sure people had nothing to laugh at.
Casterly Rock literally sits on top of a gold mine. From that high and mighty position, the Lannisters are easily the most cash-wealthy family in Westeros.
When Cersei was a child, Tywin had lofty plans to marry her to the Targaryen heir, Rhaegar. Cersei was smitten by the Prince, whose memory outshines even Jaime. She once remembers how “[n]ext to Rhaegar, even her beautiful Jaime had seemed no more than a callow boy.”
Aerys “the Mad King” Targaryen turned down Tywin’s proposal that his son Prince Rhaegar should wed Cersei. As Aerys was wont to do, he turned Tywin down without grace, saying that Tywin was only a servant, and no servant's daughter should aspire to marry a Prince. Not a wise way to reject the richest man in the country, Aerys.
The Lannisters own the second largest military in Westeros—second only to their rivals in The Reach.
The alliteratively named “House Lannister of Lannisport” is a cadet branch of the Lannisters of the Rock. They reside in the port city of, you guessed it, Lannisport. They sport the same gold hair as the “main” Lannisters, but without the showboating curls, as befits their humbler station.
As a “cadet” branch, the Lannisters of Lannisport live to assist their main Lannisters of the Rock. When Myrcella Baratheon was sent to be married in Dorne, her Lannisport cousin Rosamund served as her body double in order to ward off potential kidnappers. Rosamund curled her straight blond hair to better resemble Myrcella, which is nice of her but definitely establishes which Lannisters are more “valuable.”
One article used economic analysis to argue that the Lannisters are not the richest family in Westeros, the Tyrells are (were?). It’s hard to buy at first: the Lannisters literally produce gold and the Tyrells simply sell crops. But the article argues that if the Tyrells ran out of gold, they could curtail spending and keep selling their primary good—food—to keep afloat. If the Lannisters ran out of food, the laws of scarcity would skyrocket the price of food, depleting their gold supplies too! To put it simply, resources are more inherently valuable than money, which puts the Tyrells on top.
Both Tywin and his Lannister wife Joanna had many siblings, so Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion have many, many, Lannister cousins. It’s understandably hard to keep track. For example, in the books, they have a young cousin at court named Tyrek Lannister, who disappears at the riot of King’s Landing, presumably killed in the chaos. But did he though? A popular fan theory is that Tyrek was swept away either by Littlefinger or Varys, just in case they needed a pliable Lannister.
George R. R. Martin has consistently stated that Tyrion Lannister is his favorite character to write. We’ll see how that helps his survival odds.
Dragons? Acceptable. Backflips? That’s where fans draw the logic card. In the show, Tyrion Lannister and Jon Snow’s first meeting is quiet, understated, but powerful as the older man tells the young bastard to just own his outsider status. It plays out pretty much the same in the books…except on the page, Tyrion does a random, super-high vault off the fence and walks away for no reason. Obviously, this wasn’t added to the show. People came forth to remind Martin that Tyrion’s dwarfism would prevent him from doing this Spiderman-like feat. In future books, Tyrion’s supernatural gymnastic powers are promptly forgotten, never be seen again.
Maybe public womanizing skips a generation? Tyrion’s grandfather, Tytos, liked the ladies too. When his wife Jeyne died within a month of giving birth to her last child, Tytos legitimately grieved for her, and his capabilities as a leader notably declined upon her death. But He got over his woes by taking up with his infant son’s wet nurse, who became “his” wet nurse. Those Lannisters.
Originally Martin planned it so that Sansa doesn’t go on a journey to empathize with her own family, instead opting to willingly marry Joffrey and have his Lannister babies. It's cold comfort, but she does regret her decision.
While pitching the series, Martin placed Jaime Lannister as the real driving force behind Joffrey’s reign. The uncle-father seizes the throne for himself and blames Tyrion for Joffrey’s death.
In the prequel novellas of A Song of Ice and Fire, we meet Tywin’s grandmother, Rohanne Weber. She was married a total of six times, and her Lannister husband, Tywin’s grandfather, Gerold, was her last match.
Shocker: another Lannister pseudo-incest story is instrumental to the Lannister house history. The Rains of Castamere arguably began when Tytos Lannister became heir to the Rock after his older brother died childless. This brother’s widow was the very powerful Ellyn Reyne, who did not care to lose her status as heir to the Lady of the Rock. She tried to seduce her young brother-in-law. Unfortunately, Tytos chickened out, ran to his wife, and begged her for forgiveness. Lady Reyne was quickly married off, but this started the infamous Reyne/Lannister Feud.
Kevan Lannister met his wife when she was a child hostage for House Lannister. When Dorna Swyft’s father couldn’t pay his debts to House Lannister, he gave over his young daughter to Kevan for ransom. What happens in the years after is ambiguous, but Kevan and Dorna were eventually married. According to his last thoughts in A Dance of Dragons, Kevan truly loved his wife, but it’s still a greasy way to start a romance. But that’s Game of Thrones for you.
Tywin won the Lannister vs. Reyne feud with waterworks. After military defeat by the Lannisters, the Reynes of Castamere offered Tywin peace terms. Instead, Tywin ordered all the entrances of Castamere to be sealed and for water to be diverted into where the family and folk were hiding. Every person within drowned, and a catchy bummer of a song called “The Rains of Castamere” was born to grace Red Weddings and Spotify playlists the world over.
The “Mad King” Aerys wasn’t good at ruling, but he was good at offending Lannisters. This skill was on particular display regarding Aerys’s “involvement” with Tywin and Joanna’s marriage. During the bedding ceremony, the King took “unwonted liberties” with Joanna. We aren’t privy to exactly what happened, but it can’t have been good, since Joanna was dismissed from court soon after.
When Tyrion told Jon “All dwarves are bastards in their fathers’ eyes,” was this literal foreshadowing? Does “Joanna + Aerys = Tyrion”? Some fans have interpreted Tywin’s derision for Tyrion as rooted in his paternity; in this popular fan theory, Tyrion is not Tywin’s son, but a Secret Targaryen bastard that is the result of Aerys’s lust for Joanna.
During the reign of King Aerys, the Lannister power was so great, court followed them. In 267 AC, the royal court temporarily moved from King’s Landing to Casterly Rock. Aerys wanted to see the Lannister twins as soon as they were old enough to travel, but their grandfather’s death postponed those plans. So, instead, Aerys just moved court to their house—which testifies both to the Lannisters' importance and Aerys’s ability to be a hassle to everyone around him.
Before the conquest of Aegon Targaryen, the Lannisters ruled the Westerlands as “Kings of the Rock.” This ended with the “Field of Fire,” a battle that pitted the dragon-led Targaryen forces against the combined defenses of the Westerlands and The Reach. Seeing as it was called the “Field of Fire,” how the Targaryens won is pretty self-explanatory. The Lannister King Loren I survived, living to bend the knee to Aegon. In exchange, he was named “Warden of the West.”
In 2012, Forbes ranked Tywin Lannister as #12 on their Forbes Fictional 15 List of wealthiest fictional characters. At just one slot above Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, Forbes estimated his net worth to be $2.1 billion dollars, and called him “richest man north of Dorne.” Of course, that’s just one opinion…
Tywin Lannister left a stinky corpse. You might attribute this to his “killed while on the toilet” cause of death, but his body continued to reek at his funeral. This led to a popular, and well-founded, fan-theory that Oberyn Martell had managed to poison Tywin before their trial by combat just to be safe—Tyrion’s murder of his father simply put Oberyn’s game plan ahead of schedule.
Tywin showed a preternatural talent for Machiavellian brutality. During one feud, a vassal named Lord Tarbeck was captured by Lord Tytos Lannister. Tarbeck's wife responded by capturing three Lannisters. The young Tywin advised his dad to send Lord Tarbeck back in three pieces—a single piece for each precious Lannister. To the presumed chagrin of his son, gentle Tytos did not listen and simply sent back his rival in peace, not in pieces.
According to Westerosi legend, House Lannister descends from a Loki-like trickster character named “Lann the Clever.” Lann scammed the family seat, Casterly Rock, from the original owners. In some of these tales, he smuggled lions into the Rock, which then devoured all the Casterly men, leaving all the women for Lann himself. In other tales, Lann spirited himself into the stronghold and simply whispered threats into the Casterly men’s ears while they slept, caused havoc, and generally let the dynasty tear itself apart. Is this an unsubtle omen for the fate of our current Lannisters?
Tytos Lannister’s klutzy leadership gave birth to House Clegane. One day, the lord somehow got between a lioness and its prey. The lioness was about to eat Lord Tytos when Casterly Rock’s kennel master saved his lord’s skin. Of course, the kennel master lost his leg and three dogs in the process. For his sacrifice, Tytos promoted the man to the gentry, granting him lands and taking his son as his squire. For better or worse, that act created House Clegane.
In Martin’s 1993 pitch letter for the A Song of Ice and Fire, Tyrion’s love life was somehow even more messed up. Tyrion would have found himself falling “helplessly in love with Arya Stark” (emphasis ours). Not only that, Tyrion’s infatuation with Arya would pit him in a deadly love triangle against Jon Snow, who, in this twisted universe, also realizes he is in love with his half-sister, Arya. Have you ever been more grateful for second-drafts?
Before he joined the Kingsguard, Jaime Lannister was almost set to marry Lysa Tully. As a teenager, he spent some time in the Riverrun, where Hoster Tully made sure to seat Jaime next to Lysa at every meal. Jaime thought Lysa was pretty, although he found her “fits of giggles” to be off-putting; incidentally, he found her sister Catelyn to be “much more interesting.” Tywin even invited Hoster over to discuss her dowry, but Jaime joined the Kingsguard and threw a wrench in what would have been an…interesting marriage.
After Jaime joined the Kingsguard and could no longer marry Lysa, Twyin offered Tyrion as a groom in his stead. Hoster gruffly rebuffed him, stating he wanted a “whole man” for his young daughter. Ouch.
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