Members of Houses Blackwood and Brackens squaring off in the third episode of the second season of House of the Dragon

No Noble Houses in Westeros Feud Like These Two Houses Feud

Riverlands chaos my beloved.

The third episode of season 2 of House of the Dragon, “The Burning Mill,” starts far away from King’s Landing and brings us to the middle of the Riverlands—the most wretched place to be in Westeros during a war—and following what seems to be a squabble between some young noble boys.

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Spoilers ahead for season 2, episode 3 of House of the Dragon, “The Burning Mill,” and for lore drops from Fire & Blood and The World of Ice and Fire.

Except that those aren’t some random noble boys, they’re members of Houses Blackwood and Bracken, two of the bitterest rivals in the Seven Kingdoms. Their initial petty dispute over the border between their respective Houses’ lands turns into an argument over who has the right to claim the Iron Throne—and then the scene cuts to the aftermath of the bloody Battle of the Burning Mill, showing us a killing field full of bodies in a truly harrowing shot.

So let’s dive a bit into the Blackwoods and the Brackens and their legendary rivalry since this is the first time we’ve had a chance to properly meet their members in an ASOIAF adaptation.

Who is House Blackwood?

The Blackwoods are the lords of Raventree Hall, one of the major castles in the Riverlands not too far away from Riverrun—the seat of the Lords Paramount of the Trident, the Tullys. The Blackwood sigil is a flock of black ravens surrounding a dead, grey weirwood in a field of scarlet—even though their motto has yet to be officially revealed by George R.R. Martin.

They are an ancient house, descending from the First Men—the same ethnic group as most of the people in the North. That’s probably why the Blackwoods are one of the family families south of the Neck to worship the old gods like the northmen do rather than the more widespread Faith of the Seven.

Sansa and Bran Stark sit under the great weirwood tree in their home of Winterfell
Weirwoods are a pretty significant part of the old gods’ religion, which is why they feature prominently throughout the North and also on House Blackwood’s sigil (HBO)

During the fabled Age of Heroes, they were one of the many families to claim the title of river kings and continued to fight for the crown all the way until the Targaryen conquest—when the Blackwoods bent the knee to Aegon the Conqueror. In a wise political move, the new King didn’t grant the Blackwoods domain over the Riverlands—probably sensing that it would have caused endless bloodshed with their Bracken rivals—and instead made House Tully one of the Great Houses of his new realm.

Just like we saw in “The Burning Mill,” House Blackwood raised its banners for Rhaenyra’s cause during the Dance of the Dragons, and several of its members have a major part to play, especially young Lord Benjicot Blackwood and his aunt, Alysanne “Black Aly” Blackwood. 

To round up this history of House Blackwood before the events of the main series start in A Game of Thrones, it’s also important to remember that Lady Melissa Blackwood was the sixth of King Aegon IV’s mistresses and mother of three of his Great Bastards—Mya Rivers, Gwenys Rivers and especially Brynden Rivers, known as Bloodraven, who is rumored to be the same man from whom Bran Stark will learn to be the Three-Eyed Raven.

The Three-Eyed Raven, also known as Blood Raven, as he appeared in Game of Thrones
It’s very likely that the Three-Eyed Raven is a member of House Blackwood on his mother’s side (HBO)

And who is House Bracken?

On the other side of the Red Fork of the Trident from the Blackwood lie the lands of House Bracken, who reside at the castle of Stone Hedge. Their arms are a red stallion on a golden shield in a field of brown but their words are also still unrevealed.

Just like the Blackwoods, the Brackens too are an incredibly ancient family, also with the blood of the First Men in their veins and styling themselves as river kings during the Age of Heroes. When the Andal Invasion swept over the land, however, the Brackens converted to their Faith of the Seven rather than keeping the old gods of the First Men. Still, they also bent the knee to the new Targaryen conquerors when they flew over to Westeros from Dragonstone—but like the Blackwoods, their feud was too bitter to persuade Aegon I to make them the new Lords Paramount of the Trident.

The members of House Bracken and House Blackwood ready to have it out in House of the Dragon
We had already seen of this feud back in season one of House of the Dragon, during Rhaenyra’s progress to find a husband (HBO)

House Bracken, of course, declared for Aegon II during the Dance of the Dragons, a choice that led them to be once more in perfect opposition to their Blackwood rivals and clashed several times throughout the war. We might get to see Ser Amos Bracken make an appearance, as well as his bastard half-brother Ser Raylon Rivers and the head of the family, Lord Humfrey Bracken. 

And since the fate of these two Houses really is forever entertained, a daughter of House Bracken was also one of King Aegon IV’s mistresses and mother of another one of his infamous Great Bastards—Lady Barba Bracken was the King’s fifth mistress and she gave birth to Aegor Rivers, known as Bittersteel. Bittersteel had a lifelong rivalry with his younger brother Bloodraven, both when it came to politics—since they fought on opposite sides of the Blackfyre rebellions—and when it came to love—since both wanted to win the affection of their half-sister, Shiera Seastar.

So why have the Blackwoods and the Brackens been feuding for centuries?

If there’s one thing that everyone in the Seven Kingdoms knows about the Blackwoods and the Brackens is that their feud is violent, seemingly unending, and with a pretty massive body count. 

Their conflict dates all the way back to the Age of Heroes, some thousand years before the arrival of the Andals, and while true facts have been lost to time both sides certainly have their own versions. On the one hand, the Blackwoods claim that they were the rightful rulers of the Red Fork and that the Brackens, nothing more than petty lords and horse breeders, hired mercenaries to usurp them. On the other, the Brackens state that they were the rightful kings and that the Blackwoods, who should have been their loyal vassals, rose up and usurped them.

The aftermath of the bloody Battle of the Burning Mill in House of the Dragon, season two
Does it really matter how the feud began when the result continues to be this even after thousands of years? (HBO)

But since that initial conflict generated more and more violence, it matters little by now who was right. Violence generates violence and the more there is the harder it is to stop—a perfect metaphor for the Dance of the Dragons itself.

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Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.