History of Thrones: Lann the Clever and House Lannister’s Devious Beginnings

History of Thrones is our series where we examine important historical events and people from the complex and controversial past of Westeros.

Now that HBO has announced that their first Game of Thrones spin-off pilot will take place thousands of years prior to GOT itself, during the Age of Heroes, we’re turning our third raven eye to that mythical and mysterious period that began to shape the Seven Kingdoms into what we know it as today, to see what we can learn about the story going forward. However, be warned—if you think legends reveal too much about the truth, you might consider them spoilers.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here, including the event that started the Age of Heroes, The Pact between the First Men and the Children of the Forest, as well as the war with the army of the dead that ended it, the first Long Night.


For thousands of years in Westeros, the seat of power in the westerlands has resided in Casterly Rock, a massive fortress carved from a stone hill along the shores of the Sunset Sea. Protected by water, mountains, and forests, it stands three times higher than the Wall, which is why, despite sitting atop gold mines that have made its inhabitants the wealthiest family in the Seven Kingdoms, it has never been taken by an opposing army. But that doesn’t mean it has never fallen to an enemy.

Long ago, during the Age of Heroes, the devious Lann the Clever unseated the Casterlys and gave the impenetrable and invaluable stronghold—not to mention  House Lannister—its name, and, mysteriously enough, without even a fighting force. The Lannisters’ underhanded beginnings during the first Long Night might point to a role not unlike the one their current members are playing in hurting the living’s fight against the White Walkers now.

During the Dawn Age, the lords of the westerlands were the Casterlys, who descended from the First Men. Their founder was said to be Corlos, son of Caster. According to legend, Corlos hunted down a lion who was terrorizing his village (said to be near where the major city of Lannisport now stands) into a cave. Though he killed the lion, he spared its cubs, and as such was he was rewarded by the gods with a ray of light revealing a vein of gold. This discovery (however it really happened) would come to make the Casterlys the richest family in Westeros. Such a valuable find had to be protected, of course, and over the years the original ringfort became Casterly Rock, which grew in strength and riches. The deeper House Casterly dug into the earth for more gold, the wider their walls grew, the grander their halls became, and the stronger their influence and power became.

Eventually, the Dawn Age gave way to the Age of Heroes, and with it the Casterlys gave way to history entirely. Questions of how and why are at the very heart of the legend known as Lann the Clever.

Who Lann was and where he came from is as much a mystery as to how he came to rule Casterly Rock. Some say he was the bastard grandson of another mythical figure, Garth Greenhand, but even which of Garth’s daughters was his mother is debated. Some believe there was no true blood connection at all, and Lann simply tricked Garth into accepting him as a son to steal part of Garth’s inheritance. However Lann’s golden hair, which was unlike the dark manes of most descendants of the First Men, might be proof he was an Andal from across the Narrow Sea in Essos who came to Westeros thousands of years before the rest of his people invaded Westeros. That is, unless he stole from the sun itself to give himself his golden locks.

Even that theft wouldn’t be as impressive as the one he’s most famous for. Unlike the Starks, who came to rule in the North through blood and diplomacy, Lann didn’t have an army to win himself power. So how did he take an impenetrable fortress from its ancestral founders? How did he take a castle that stood for thousands of years before and after without falling to an invading force? Well, you don’t earn the moniker “the clever” for no reason. But what no one agrees on is the exact reason.

The most popular story says Lann found a tiny, unknown cleft in the rock that he squeezed through after stripping naked and covering himself in butter. Once inside they say he turned the Casterly against one another and the castle itself by whispering threats in their ears while they slept, by taking possessions from one and putting them in the room of another, and screaming like a demon. Legend says the family believed their home was haunted and fled it, leaving it and all its riches behind for Lann.

Another version says he used that secret passage to fill the castle with rodents and vermin, which made the Casterlys abandon it. This is only slightly more believable than the story that says he used that secret entry to bring lions into Casterly Rock that then ate the Lord and all of his male heirs, leaving behind only Lann and the Casterly women.

If you find those tales hard to believe you’re not the only one. Others think Lann used his access to wage another type of takeover, one where he did sneak into the castle, but rather than drive the Casterlys insane he took all of the maidens to bed. When they all gave birth to his golden-haired children, the Lord of House Casterly had no choice but to accept him. Could that be how Lann, or one of his sons or grandsons, eventually inherited the castle by legitimate (illegitimate) means?

Or is it possible Lann is merely a creation of mythology and he never existed at all? The ever skeptical maesters think the man credited as Lann the Clever might have been a guard or servant of the Casterlys who impregnated a daughter, and that their child came to rule when there were no other trueborn sons to become the new Lord of Casterly. It’s easy to see why House Lannister, one the most prestigious families in Westeros who became the Kings of the Rock—a title not even the Casterlys ever held—might prefer to lay claim to Lann the Clever instead.

His tale is not only one of wit and cunning, but of quiet warning. How dangerous is a family who can defeat you without ever meeting you on the battlefield? We know how Robb Stark and Olenna Tyrell would feel about that. We can also guess how the Casterlys, who disappeared without a trace long, long ago, also feel about the family who took their home and gold. Though the Lannisters never renamed Casterly Rock, a subtle reminder of what happens to anyone who stands in their way, though maybe not as catchy as a song that also speaks volumes about the dangers of House Lannister. 

But with so much unknown about who Lann the Clever actually was and what he did, all we really have is the idea of him. He outsmarted his opponents using brains rather than brawn, though tricks can’t account for why the Casterlys vanished entirely. Combined, the tales make for a formidable figure (one said to have fathered hundreds over three hundred years), which would explain how he was able to propagate one of the greatest families in the world.

His greatest traits, and his golden hair, are still seen in Lannisters thousands of years later, but deception and ruthlessness have also led Tywin, Jaime, Cersei, and Tyrion to the edge of total annihilation themselves. It has torn them apart, and left them with more enemies than allies including among themselves. And if Lann’s descendants are still so much like him, does that mean the Lannisters who lived during the first Long Night were also like the ones under attack by the White Walkers now?

Cersei’s so worried about deceiving her human opponents so she can win she might be condemning all of the living to the realm of the dead. Did Lann or his sons play a similar role during the Age of Heroes when the White Walkers first came? Did the Lannisters’ self-preservation and deception prevent mankind from completely defeating the Night King before, which has led to them returning now? Were those same double-edge traits that defined their family’s founder always a problem?

Unlike the other great families in Westeros, Lann the Clever founded House Lannister not with spears and axes, but with cunning and tricks. But that’s no way to stop a White Walker. And it never was.

What do you think is the real story of Lann? Tell us in the comments below.

Images: HBO

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