House of the Dragon: The Bracken and Blackwood Feud Explained

In House of the Dragon episode 4, an old Riverlands feud rears its ugly head. But what is House Bracken and House Blackwood and why do they hate each other so?

Boremund Baratheon (Julian Jones), Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock), and Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) on House of the Dragon episode 4
Photo: Ollie Upton | HBO

This House of the Dragon article contains spoilers for episode 4.

The opening moments of House of the Dragon episode 4 “King of the Narrow Sea” feature an unfortunate but necessary bit of Westerosi politicking. In an attempt to humor her father, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) has arrived at Storm’s End to hear marriage proposals from all the would-be suitors of the realm.

After the old and tedious Lord Dondarrion has his say, another claimant for Rhaenyra’s hand steps forward: an extremely young unnamed royal lad from House Blackwood in the Riverlands. (UPDATE: Thanks to the reporting of Consequence‘s Liz Shannon Miller, we now know this lad’s name is Willem Blackwood). Boremund Baratheon, lord of Storm’s End and Rhaenyra’s host in this matter, provides the princess with some helpful context, saying that the Blackwoods are an ancient house with a formidable army. Like our old friends the Starks, the blood of the First Men of Westeros runs in the Blackwoods’ veins.

Gathering his courage, the Blackwood boy steps forward and makes his pitch.

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“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.”

After the Blackwood finishes his sentence, another unnamed teenage knight from House Bracken heckles him from the sidelines.

“Aye, the Blackwoods truly turned the tide on that one,” the Bracken says, japing about how Aegon the Conqueror and his three dragons definitely didn’t need the Blackwoods help in securing the Riverlands.

The Blackwood tries to continue on undaunted but the Bracken taunts him again. When Rhaenyra summarily rejects the Blackwood’s proposal, the Bracken dismisses him as “craven.” And just like that, swords are unsheathed and before you know it, the Bracken lad is gutted like a fish by his fresh-faced Blackwood rival.

What we just witnessed on House of the Dragon is the latest sad chapter in a needless blood feud that has gone on for centuries in George R.R. Martin’s Westeros. Like many other elements of both Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon, the saga of House Bracken and House Blackwood borrows from real world events to create a more realistic and lived-in Medieval fantasy world. Here is what you need to know about who the houses are and why they hate each other.

What Are House Bracken and House Blackwood?

House Bracken and House Blackwood are two ancient families from Westeros’s middle Riverlands region. And when we say ancient, we mean ancient. Similar to House Stark and many other noble families from The North (and some from the Riverlands and Vale), both House Bracken and House Blackwood were part of the First Men who arrived in Westeros countless centuries ago. Though an ethnicity known as the “Andals” now make up the vast majority of Westeros, the First Men and their traditions carry on in the form of weirwood trees and the “Old Gods.”

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House Bracken hails from Stone Hedge, with much of their domain lying across the fertile lands of the Red Fork. House Blackwood is in Raventree Hall, located north of the Red Fork. As Lord Baratheon mentioned, both houses are quite powerful, In fact, both families can assemble larger armies than their regional wardens, House Tully. The Targaryens merely chose the Tullys to be wardens of the Riverlands since they had the good sense to bend the knee to Aegon the Conqueror first.

Though both House Bracken and House Blackwood are formidable enough on their own the best known thing about each of them is how much they absolutely loathe each other. Brackens and Blackwoods have been at one another’s throats for centuries if not millennia. Their hatred dates back to before the arrival of the Targaryens, before the arrival of the Andals, and perhaps back to the beginning of time itself.

Why Are House Bracken and House Blackwood Feuding?

Here’s the fun part of the whole thing: nobody really even knows! The Brackens swear that they were Kings of the Red Fork during the legendary Age of Heroes until they were usurped by their vassals, the Blackwoods. The Blackwoods swear the exact same thing.

Pretty much every house that can trace (or claim to trace) its line back to the prehistorical Age of Heroes likes to declare themselves kings though. Given that the Blackwoods and Brackens’ holdings are relatively close on the Red Fork, it’s more likely that the feud started with something no more complicated than a land dispute.

However unremarkable the beginnings of the feud were, however, its intensity and longevity is notorious across the realm. Countless times throughout Westerosi history, Brackens and Blackwoods have feuded and ultimately killed one another in petty disputes as seen during the Rhaenyra incident in Storm’s End.

The key word here is “petty.” Because interestingly enough, the Brackens and Blackwoods tend to agree on the big political matters in the Seven Kingdoms. Both houses were united under the banner of Aegon I Targaryen during his conquest. Later on during the events of Game of Thrones, both House Bracken and House Blackwood join Robb Stark’s cause to establish a new kingdom in the North and the Riverlands, divesting themselves from the Iron Throne once and for all.

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But even amid all of that relatively stability, members of the two houses absolutely cannot get over this inciting event from centuries ago that no one can even begin to remember. Honor and history are everything to the noble houses of Westeros and the eternal beefing between the Brackens and Blackwoods reveals what happens when that multi-century commitment to keeping it real goes wrong.

Are There Real Life Examples of Feuding Noble Families?

You betcha! The historical family feud that will likely sound the most familiar to American audiences is that of the Hatfields and McCoys. Though it did not run nearly as long as the feud between the Brackens and the Blackwoods, the reported origins of this feud are equally as silly.

The Hatfield and McCoy feud technically started during the American Civil War, but what really kicked it off was a dispute over the ownership of a hog in 1878. That argument led off a multi-decade string of violence between the two families and to this day “Hatfields and McCoys” is American shorthand for two feuding parties. Kevin Costner actually started in a Hatfields & McCoys miniseries for the History channel in 2012.

Another, more era-appropriate feud that Martin likely drew from in creating the Brackens and Blackwoods, was the one between the Campbell and MacDonald clans of Scotland. That heated multi-century rivalry culminated in a massacre more bloody than any Bracken-Blackwood squabble.

New episodes of House of the Dragon premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max in the U.S. and Sky Atlantic in the U.K.