HOUSE OF THE DRAGON: The Ancient Feud of House Bracken and House Blackwood

Civil war has come to Westeros, but the Dance of the Dragons won’t be the only infamous feud viewers see during House of the Dragon‘s second season. The series will also feature Westeros’ answer to the Hatfields and the McCoys, House Bracken and House Blackwood. Who are these ancient families from the Riverlands and why do they hate each other so much? And what does their infamous animosity mean for the Targaryens fighting over the Iron Throne? Here’s what to know about the Realm’s oldest, most enduring, most personal clash.

A young Blackwood man split with the image of a young Bracken boy holding a sword on House of the Dragon

Age of the First Men and the River Kings

The Targaryens’ ultimately ruled Westeros for three hundred years, a mere blip in the Realm’s long history. Some families, like House Stark, trace their bloodline all the way back to the First Men. Those settlers arrived 12,000 years before Aegon and his sister-wives brought dragons to the Seven Kingdoms.

The First Men fought the Children of the Forest for two thousand years until the sides signed a peace agreement. During the Age of Heroes that followed, the Children retreated north. Meanwhile petty kings of men fought each other for millennia to rule different regions across the continent. One area frequently contested was the fertile riverlands. Over time many different houses ruled as river kings. That included the neighboring families of House Bracken and House Blackwood. Their battle for the riverlands is where their bitter feud began.

House Bracken of Stone Hedge

The ancient House Bracken of Stone Hedge in the riverlands dates its founding to the First Men. At the time of House Targaryen’s rule it controlled a large area of land along the Red Fork, one of the three important rivers that make up the Trident. Their sigil celebrates their renown for breeding horses. It features a red stallion upon a golden shield on brown.

During the Age of Heroes House Bracken ruled the Red Fork for a time as kings. This is not disputed, but how they lost their kingdom is. According to the Brackens their vassals of House Blackwood usurped them. Only, House Blackwood tells a very different story.

House Blackwood of Raventree Hall

House Blackwood’s Raventree Hall sits in the Blackwood Vale, which is just north of the Red Fork. The ancient family’s own history also dates back to the First Men, except they originally hailed from the wolfswood in the north. The Kings of Winter from House Stark drove the Blackwoods to the riverlands. According to Blackwood tradition, they then ruled as river kings from the Blackwater Rush’s mouth. They also say they ruled as kings opposite House Bracken, not as vassals to the Brackens. The Blackwoods say their enemies were mere petty kings who hired sellswords to fight House Blackwood.

We will likely never know if either side’s version is the whole truth. Westeros’s ancient history is as much myth and legend as fact. But we know why their sigil features a dead weirwood on a black shield surrounded by a flock of black ravens on scarlet. That poisoned tree memorializes a major moment of escalation between the two families.

Bracken and Blackwood Unite Against the Andals

When the Andals crossed from Essos into Westeros House Bracken and House Blackwood put aside their long held animosity to unite against a common enemy. It wasn’t enough. Their combined force fell to the Andals. (As did most kingdoms and Houses outside the North.) What followed that defeat only made the families’ hatred for one another deepen.

Following their loss House Bracken did what most families south of the North did: it converted to the Andals’ Faith of the Seven. House Blackwood did not. It kept the old gods the First Men had adopted thousands of years earlier from the Children of the Forest. The split in religious beliefs caused new, more personal problems. The Blackwoods claim House Bracken poisoned the sacred weirwood at Raventree Hall. The appearance of the poisoned tree on the Blackwood sigil shows just how important that event was to the family, even if we don’t know whether or not the Brackens were actually responsible.

Whatever the truth, it’s one of the many events neither family has ever forgiven despite many attempts to bury the hatchet.

The Many Failed Attempts to End the Bracken and Blackwood Feud

Jon Snow stands before a weirwood tree on Game of Thrones

The Brackens and Blackwoods attempted to end their feud many times via marriage. A bastard born of both houses even became King of the Trident once. But no matter how often they combined their families, the feud ultimately always restarted. While they often fought over disputed nearby lands, their history reveals a hostility that went far beyond power. They hated one another on a personal level.

That hatred not only prevented either house from gaining more power, it also left the riverlands vulnerable. A few centuries before House Targaryen’s arrival, House Blackwood united with the Storm King in a war against the riverlands other kings. But rather than the Blackwoods emerging as the unquestioned rulers of the region, the riverlands became part of the Storm King’s domain instead.

Three hundred years later House Bracken betrayed the Blackwoods in its fight against House Hoare, Kings of the Iron Islands. Instead of a Bracken becoming King of the Trident, House Hoare usurped the Storm Kings, putting the riverlands under the domain of the brutal Iron Island kingdom.

The feud also led to both families missing out on a chance to become the major house of their region when Aegon the Conqueror arrived.

Aegon the Conqueror Passes Over Both Bracken and Blackwood

Aegon Targaryen looks out the red lit sky of the sea to Westeros in an animated short for Game of Thrones

Bracken and Blackwoods alike joined House Targaryen in its battle against the Iron Island King Harren the Black. But when Aegon burned Harren and his sons inside Harren’s just finished Harrenhal castle, the Conqueror named the Lord of House Tully as Lord Paramount of the Trident rather than the lords of House Bracken and House Blackwood.

The two sides had fought a secret war against one another a decade before, for which Harren had punished them. That left both families in a weakened state when Aegon selected his representative to lead the region.

House Bracken and House Blackwood Under Targaryen Rule

A young Blackwood man split with the image of a young Bracken boy on House of the Dragon

Aegon’s wife, Queen Visenya, tried to end the feud with a double marriage between the families, but the double matrimony failed just as all previous marriages. During the first one hundred years of House Targaryen’s reign, both Bracken and Blackwoods found themselves mixed up with the royal family, often with deadly results. Lord Blackwood also backed the losing finalists put forward as King Jaehaerys’ heir, a title that fell to Rhaenyra’s father, King Viserys.

The Bracken and Blackwood feud even erupted when Viserys sent his daughter on a trip to find a suitable husband. During an event with the king’s heir young, Amos Bracken fought with young Samwell Blackwood.

We saw a similar moment during House of the Dragon‘s first season between Willem Blackwood and Jerrel Bracken. They drew swords after Jerrel mocked Willem while he spoke to the princess. However, unlike in George R.R. Martin’s history where Amos and Samwell merely fought that day, on the HBO series Willem killed Jerrel.

We already know that deadly encounter won’t be the last time we see Westeros’ Hatfields and McCoys on the show.

House Bracken and House Blackwood in House of the Dragon Season 2

A Bracken woman draws her sword on Blackwood men out in the open on House of the Dragon

Trailers for House of the Dragon‘s second season show an intense encounter between a Bracken and members of House Blackwood. Why are they drawing swords? What are they fighting over now? Most importantly, which side of the Targaryen civil war will each family support in the Dance of the Dragons? Considering each side controls a force in the riverlands even larger than House Tully commands, both the greens and blacks will want the Bracken and Blackwoods as allies.

Will they back the same dragon? Or go to war against one another? Even if you don’t already know the answer from Martin’s history, you can probably guess what these families will do. It’s what they’ve always done for thousands of years full of hatred for one another.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist who talks about Westeros like it’s a real place. You can follow him on  Twitter and  Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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