In episode 4 of House of the Dragon, the opening moments feature an incident that reflects an ongoing conflict in the politics of Westeros. The conflict in question is the infamous feud between House Bracken and House Blackwood. There have been mentions of this feud in Game of Thrones, as well as in George R. R. Martin’s books multiple times. It is likely that this feud will have a bigger part to play in upcoming episodes of the series. This article explains the background of this feud and its origins.
SPOILER ALERT: The article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon. Consider yourself warned.
The Duel at Storm’s End
Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen is at Storm’s End to receive marriage proposals from suitors across the realm. It is an attempt on her part to appease her father Viserys. One of the suitors is an extremely young lad from House Blackwood in the Riverlands named Willem Blackwood (Alfie Todd).
Boremund Baratheon, the lord of Storm’s End who is Rhaenyra’s host, mentions to her that House Blackwood is an ancient house with a formidable army. Like the Starks, the blood of the First Men of Westeros runs through their veins. The Blackwood boy makes his pitch, saying: “My princess, ours is a bond that has long endured since Lucas Blackwood, the grandsire of my grandsire, who aided the dragon in his war of Conquest.”
As he says this, a teenage knight heckles him, revealed to be Ser Jerrel Bracken (Gabriel Scott). “Aye, the Blackwoods truly turned the tide on that one,” the Bracken boy says mockingly. He is referring to the fact that Aegon the Conqueror and his dragons would not have required the Blackwoods’ help in securing the Riverlands.
The Blackwood tries to continue as the Bracken taunts him repeatedly. When Rhaenyra finally rejects the Blackwood’s proposal, the Bracken dismisses him as a craven. At this point, the Blackwood unsheathes his sword and engages the Bracken in a duel, ultimately gutting him open.
This is an Easter egg from Fire and Blood, as George R.R. Martin mentions a duel between a Blackwood and a Bracken during Rhaenyra’s tour. The Bracken and Blackwood feud comes up many times in Martin’s books. It was a constant problem for Catelyn and Robb Stark, whose allies they were during the War of Five Kings.
Houses Bracken and Blackwood
House Bracken is an ancient Riverlands House with its seat at Stone Hedge, whose domain stretches across the fertile lands of the Red Fork. Their sigil is a red stallion on a gold field. House Blackwood is an ancient house as well, whose seat is at Raventree Hall, situated north of the Red Fork. Their sigil is a flock of ravens on scarlet surrounding a dead weirwood tree.
Like House Stark, both houses descend from the First Men, who arrived in Westeros centuries ago. Though an ethnicity known as the ‘Andals’ make up the vast majority of Westeros, the First Men and their traditions still exist. They worship the Old Gods and the weirwood trees in the Godswood.
As Lord Baratheon mentions, both Houses have tremendous military might. They have armies larger than their regional wardens, House Tully. This is because the Tullys bent the knee to Aegon the Conqueror first, causing him to choose them as his wardens of the Riverlands.
The feud between the two houses goes back centuries, long before the arrival of the Targaryens and even before the arrival of the Andals. Though the actual source of the feud remains unconfirmed, both Houses claim that they used to rule as kings during the period known as the Age of Heroes.
Each house claims that the other was a vassal house that rose up against it and usurped its place. Since both houses tell the same story about each other, the truth of the matter was never determined.
It’s speculated that since the two Houses have holdings close to each other, the origin of the feud is likely to have been a land dispute. However, this feud is notorious for how intense it has been over the years. Throughout the years, Brackens and Blackwoods have fought and killed each other over petty disputes. The incident that occurred during Rhaenyra’s tour is an example of this.
Most of the time, the Brackens and Blackwoods agreed on the big political matters in the Seven kingdoms. Both the houses united under the banner of Aegon the Conqueror during his conquest. During the events of Game of Thrones, both the houses joined Robb Stark’s cause to establish a new kingdom in the North and the Riverlands. Despite this, the two Houses are unable to get along due to the feud that began centuries ago.
However, during the Dance of the Dragons, House Blackwood declared for Rhaenyra under Lord Samwell Blackwood. House Bracken, on the other hand, declared for King Aegon II Targaryen. Lord Samwell sent raiders to attack the lands of the Brackens. The Blackwoods burned crops, sacked villages, and despoiled holy septs. This caused an all-out conflict, and the resulting Battle of the Burning Mill led to the death of Lord Samwell Blackwood.
After the death of his father, Benjicot Blackwood became the head of his House at just eleven years old. He participated in the Battle by the Lakeshore the following year. Although the soldiers from the Riverlands and the north defeated the westermen army in the battle, Benjicot wept when he saw the dead.
George R. R. Martin probably drew some from some real-world inspiration in creating the Brackens and Blackwoods. A possible inspiration is the conflict between the Campbell and MacDonald clans of Scotland. The rivalry of these clans caused a bloody massacre that was far worse than any between the Brackens and Blackwoods.