The hidden meanings and secrets behind each Game of Thrones House banner

A fierce lion, a howling direwolf, a kraken whose tentacles clutch at ships that pass - most of the Houses’ sigils (or coat of arms) in Game of Thrones season 7 are easy to interpret. Bluntly put, they’re meant to intimidate and brag at the same time. Yet there’s a hidden significance to even the most obvious animals used which end up revealing the different way various Houses take to dominating Westeros. Likewise, their words (kind of like a family motto) are a warning to everyone else in a very specific way. In order to squeeze every last secret out of the House’s history, we’ve analysed the sigil and words for every major house in Game of Thrones all ready for season 7. Read on to get some insight into just how the nefarious families’ minds work!

Stark

Sigil: A grey direwolf on a white field
House words: Winter is coming
The hidden meaning: They’re loyal. Obnoxiously so. 

The explanation: It doesn’t take much thinking to figure out that the white field of their sigil represents the snow of the north, and the direwolf is by far the most famous creature to come out of that frosty region. Like the Starks, direwolves are incredibly loyal to their masters and will attack those who threaten them - Nymeria attacked Joffrey when he was about to hit Arya, Grey Wind helped in Robb Stark’s Battle of the Whispering Woods, and Summer defended Bran from an assassin. They’re good dogs Bran… but loyalty is a double-edged sword. Just like Eddard Stark got beheaded for his stubborn loyalty to the Baratheons rather than adapting to the new powers that were emerging, four out of six of the direwolves are dead because they followed their masters into danger. Blind loyalty doesn’t end well for the Starks - something that should be changing in season 7 thanks to Sansa’s new devious approach and Arya’s assassination skills. 

Lannister

Sigil: A golden lion rampant on a crimson field
House words: Hear me roar (or A Lannister always pays their debts)
The hidden meaning: They’re rich, cunning, and love to show it off. 

The explanation: Gold and red have always been associated with royalty, yet the Lannisters have never crowned themselves kings. Think of this telling colour choice more as a sign of their naked ambition. It also nods to their seat (or family home) at Lannisport, which sits on top of a very profitable gold mine - hence their gold lion rampant (i.e. upright looking rather ferocious). The lion itself takes a bit more explaining. A legend surrounding the Lannister’s ancestor Lann the Clever says that he released lions into Casterly Rock when it belonged to House Casterly. The ensuing chaos pushed the ancient family out of their home, leaving it free for Lann the Clever to claim. Well, that’s the mythic version. In reality Lann the Clever probably married a Casterly daughter and inherited the castle that way. But hey, it’s a nice story that proves the cunning and trickery the Lannisters are famous for, as well as their rather ruthless ways of going about it. Hence their more commonly-known words: A Lannister always pays their debts. Just not always with money...

Targaryen

Sigil: A red three-headed dragon on a black field
House words: Fire and blood
The hidden meaning: Do not cross them, or you’ll regret it. 

The explanation: The three-headed dragon on their sigil has a prophetic significance (head to our Game of Thrones fan theories to find out more), yet it’s also based in real Targaryen history. After the nation of Valyria got destroyed in the mysterious Doom, Aegon Targaryen and his sisters Visenya and Rhaenys flew to Westeros on three dragons named Balerion, Meraxes, and Vhagar. Using this terrifying airborne power to spearhead their conquest, they destroyed anyone who stood in their way with the power of dragonfire. Hence the dragon with three heads. The Targaryens do not want the people of Westeros to forget how they cowed them into submission. Because they’ll do it again if they have to. Mad King Aerys (who Jaime Lannister killed, earning him the name Kingslayer) pretty much did anyway, as he burned people alive and shed blood on a whim. Daenerys might be more merciful, but there’s no escaping the fact that she has three dragons helping her out. Good luck trying to fight that triple flying-reptile threat. 

Tyrell

Sigil: A golden rose on a green field
House words: Growing strong
The hidden meaning: Don’t be fooled by their beauty or kindness - they’re dangerous 

The explanation: Roses are stunning. They smell good, they look good, and they make people coo in delight when they get given one. You know what they also have? Thorns. Just like the flower, the Tyrells disguise their cunning with kindness and charitable giving. Remember Margaery giving toys to the smallfolk in King’s Landing? She did it to increase ordinary people’s love for the Tyrells so their gradual inclusion in the royal court would be met with rejoicing on the streets. Likewise with their aristocratic allies and enemies, their kindness fools people into thinking they’re not a threat. Like Lady Olenna’s underhand maneuvering that got Joffrey killed, they often resort to more subtle machinations to get what they want. ‘Growing strong’ as their house words also indicates their ambition, which Cersei was all too conscious of - hence her blowing up The Great Sept of Baelor. Beware the Tyrells. 

Read more: The current status of EVERY Game of Thrones character (catch up ahead of season 7)

Tully

Sigil: A silver trout leaping on a red and blue field
House words: Family, duty, honor
The hidden meaning: They’re dependable - if a bit dull

The explanation: Yes, it really is that simple. The Tullys, like the Starks, are loyal and pride themselves on their family above all else. The symbol of the trout doesn’t appear to have much meaning apart from signifying their seat of Riverrun, which is right next to the Trident river. However, like the commonplace nature of the trout, the Tullys have married into a variety of families all over the kingdom. As Brynden Tully the Blackfish put it, “My ancestors knew that in order for the family to survive, alliances must be made. Their trout has swum up so many rivers over the centuries and lept onto so many plates, that it is a wonder half of the realm's sigils do not have fins by now”. So there’s a bit of Tully in many families all over Westeros, meaning that when the time comes there should be multiple Houses who are willing to come to the Tully’s aid. That’s the theory, anyway. It hasn’t quite gone to plan, as Edmure Tully, his wife Roslin, and their son are the only surviving members at the moment. 

Bolton

Sigil: A red flayed man, hanging upside-down on a white X-shaped cross, on a black field
House words: Our blades are sharp (or A naked man has few secrets; a flayed man, none)
The hidden meaning: You won’t be able to hide anything from them, so don’t try

The explanation: The Bolton’s sigil is very literal. They used to skin people until Eddard Stark outlawed it in the North. Ahem. Not that Ramsay Bolton paid much attention to that. It’s also a subtle middle finger to the Starks, as for centuries the Bolton’s rebelled against their rule of the North… by killing several Starks, skinning them, and wearing their skins as cloaks. No wonder Eddard wanted their flaying habit outlawed so badly. Roose Bolton continued to advise Robb Stark to torture Lannister officers to get information, so it’s obviously imprinted pretty deep in the Bolton identity to torture first… and, er, ask questions at the same time. The house is now extinct after Ramsay’s death at the hands of Sansa and his hounds (hooray!), but no-one’s likely to forget them any time soon. 

Martell

Sigil: A red sun pierced by a gold spear on an orange field
House words: Unbowed, unbent, unbroken
The hidden meaning: Fierce, and not one for surrendering

The explanation: Arya’s direwolf Nymeria was named after one half of the Martell Sigil, dontcha know. Princess Nymeria sailed to Dorne after the Valyrians forced her and her Rhoynar people to flee their home, and they didn’t exactly make friends once they reached the shore. In fact, her battle prowess was so impressive she eventually married local king Mors Martell. Combining their sigils created the Martell house we know today - Nymeria’s is the red-hot sun and the spear is that of Mors Martell. Together the pair conquered most of the warring families of Dorne about 1000 years before the events of Game of Thrones. After Martell’s death Nymeria pushed through the gender-blind ruling law of Dorne, where the firstborn ascends to the throne regardless of their gender. As such she’s seen as the founder of Dorne as a unified realm. The history of Nymeria and Mors Martell is the history of Dorne, and the Martells wear that fact proudly on their sleeve. 

Greyjoy

Sigil: A golden kraken on a black field
House words: We do not sow
The hidden meaning: They’re a force to be reckoned with… if you live by the coast

The explanation: Oddly enough, the psychopath Ramsay Bolton summed up the Greyjoys best: "Kraken: strong, as long as they're in the sea. When you take them out of the water, no bones. They collapse under their proud weight, and slump into a heap of nothing." The Greyjoys take great pride on their raiding ability, but their strength is invested in the coast - so land-locked regions have very little to worry about. Their crest says pretty much the same thing, as the devastating Kraken (a myth in the Game of Thrones world) destroys anything it wants in the sea, but is nigh useless when it comes to threatening the land. The black field is a nod to their Iron Islands that their seat, Pyke, is found on, as well as their Ironborn approach to raiding. Black refers to the “iron price”, a practise where the Greyjoys seize something belonging to someone else rather than paying for it. They treat things bought with gold with disdain, as it means you didn’t fight for it - making you look like a coward. 

Baratheon

Sigil: A black stag rampant on a gold field (former), a crowned black stag rampant on a gold field (current)
House words: Ours is the fury
The hidden meaning: Take what isn’t yours by force

The explanation: The Baratheons’ sigil is a funny one to pick apart… because it doesn’t really belong to them. Not properly, anyway. Centuries ago Orys Baratheon (the founder of House Baratheon and the bastard half-brother of Aegon the Conquerer) seized the seat of House Durrandon, Storm’s End. With it he took the Durrandon’s sigil and words. That action in itself sums up the approach of House Baratheon that was epitomised by King Robert: use brute strength to take what you can. Becoming famous for his sometimes belligerent approach to diplomacy, Robert certainly embodied the ‘Ours is the fury’ words. We’re still waiting on whether Gendry (Robert’s bastard) will reappear - maybe he’ll use that famous Baratheon fury to take the Iron Throne.

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Arryn

Sigil: A white falcon volant and crescent moon on a blue field
House words: As high as honor
The hidden meaning: They can afford to be picky with alliances

The explanation: Another sigil that’s rooted in history, the Arryn falcon volant (i.e. flying) refers to the legend of Ser Artys Arryn. Stories say he had a giant falcon for a steed, landing on the tallest mountain of the Vale and defeating the leader of the First Men who ruled there. Synonymous with House Arryn is the Eyrie, a castle that’s found on the peak of the Mountains of the Moon - hence the crescent in the sigil - with a sheer drop into a valley on almost all sides. Having the moon closely associated with their name also means no-one’s likely to forget their Moon Door, a sheer drop onto the rocks below that’s the preferred method of (splattery) execution. Also illuminating their choice of House words; the Eyrie’s formidable positioning means that it’s practically impregnable thanks to the single-file path that winds up to it. With “as high as honor”, the Arryns are allowed to be sniffy about who they associate with because no-one can come knocking at their door without permission.