Winterfell is the stronghold of House Stark and is considered to be the 'capital' of the North. It is located close to a tributary of the White Knife, on the Kingsroad as it winds its way north towards the Wall. The forbidding Wolfswood is located very close to the castle, and the direwolves of the forest give the Starks their heraldic symbol.
Winterfell is a large stronghold extending across many acres of territory, defended by two layers of strong stone granite walls. The outer walls are 80 feet tall and the inner are 100 feet tall, with a wide moat located between them. The inner walls are crenellated with more than thirty watch towers built into them. The outer walls have guard turrets built into them. The main gatehouse, consisting of two large crenellated bulwarks, and drawbridge opens onto the market square of the winter town outside, but the Hunter's Gate on the opposite side of the castle opens directly onto open fields and is favoured by hunting parties. The East Gate in the inner walls opens onto the King's Gate of the outer walls. All of the windows in Winterfell are diamond-shaped panes of glass.
The builders of Winterfell never levelled the ground, meaning that the castle complex actually spans several hills and valleys, with some of the older buildings having slanting and sloped floors. For example, there is a covered bridge which connects the fourth floor of the bell tower to the second floor of the rookery, with the two buildings raising out of different sections of hillside.
The rookery is where the messenger rooks of the castle are kept, permitting reasonably efficient communications with other castles. The maester of Winterfell keeps his home in a tower located next to and in the shadow of the rookery, which may be the same building as the bell tower.
Winterfell is built around an ancient three-acre godswood that has allegedly been left untouched for ten thousand years. There are sentinel trees, oaks, ironwoods, hawthorns, ash and soldier pines located within the godswood. The heart tree of Winterfell has a melancholy aspect and sits beside a dark pool. The godswood is accessed by a main, iron gate, or smaller wooden ones. The castle is built above hot springs which keep the castle reasonably well-heated even in winter, and allows food to be grown in the greenhouses during the long winters. Pipes move the hot water around the castle, and the chambers of the Lady of Winterfell (formerly the Queen) are the most well-heated, possibly due to the fact that many of the Queens and Ladies of House Stark have come from the warmer southron lands in dynastic marriages. Similarly, the Guest House (located on the edge of the godswood opposite the heart tree), usually reserved for visiting dignitaries from the south, is fed by hot springs to keep it warm.
Winterfell has a cavernous crypt located beneath the castle where the bones of all of the Kings in the North and ruling lords of House Stark are buried, with statues of each ruler raised their honour. Lord Eddard Stark broke with tradition by also having his brother Brandon and sister Lyanna interred in the crypt with their likenesses in stone also placed there, although neither were rulers of the House. The crypt is accessed by a twisting stone stair and a huge ironwood door that lies at a slant to the floor. The stair continues down to older levels where the most ancient kings of Stark's line are interred. The First Keep looms over the entrance to the crypts.
The Great Hall of Winterfell is the principal meeting and dining place of the castle. It is very large, holding eight long rows of trestle tables on either side of the central aisle, and opens directly onto the castle yard. A raised platform at one end of the hall is for the Starks and honoured guests, whilst commoners, bastards and dogs are generally made to eat at the far end. 500 people can fit inside the hall. The doors are wide and made of oak and iron, whilst a rear exit leads to a dimly-lit gallery.
The Great Keep of Winterfell is the innermost fortress and stronghold of the castle complex. The throne of Winterfell is located here, a polished stone seat with direwolves carved into the handrests. It also opens onto the yard and a small covered bridge connects it to the square armory building, where weapons and armour are stored and maintained and owls sleep in its loft. The armory is adjacent to the godswood, and a tall sentinel tree sits next to it, its branches overhanging the armory roof. The guard hall also borders the armory, and it is possible to jump from the armory roof to that of the guard hall and then run across to the blind side of the First Keep. From the lord's chambers it is possible to see the bell tower and glass gardens.
The yard of Winterfell is the largest of the dozens of courtyards and small open spaces in the complex. Weapons training and practice take place in the yard, and there is a well located there as well.
The inner ward is a second, much older open space in the castle where archery practice takes place. It is located next to the broken tower.
The First Keep was the original stronghold of Winterfell, a squat and round fortress, and the complex grew outwards from there. Rainworn gargoyles sit on the roof and a lichyard lies in its shadow, where the Kings in the North buried their most trusted and loyal servants.
Winterfell has a well-appointed library containing many volumes not known elsewhere, such as what is believed to the be the only surviving copy of Ayrmidon's Engines of War. The library has its own tower with steps corkscrewing down its exterior. Winterfell's maester typically spends much of his time in the library, rookery or attending the lord.
Winterfell's tallest tower was struck by lightning and set alight some 140 years ago. The upper two-thirds subsequently collapsed and the remaining structure is unsound, with stones occasionally breaking away. No attempt has been made to repair the tower, and it is now informally called the 'broken tower' and is only inhabited by crows, who nest at its top. It is located close to the First Keep's northern edge and stands alongside the inner ward.
Winterfell's thatch-roofed stable sits alongside the castle complex's western wall.
There are many tunnels located under the castle, some believed to exit outside the walls. There is also at least one tunnel known to exist inside the wall and stretching halfway around the castle, allowing a small person to travel from the south gate all the way to the northern gate without interruption.
The castle also possesses a brewhouse and a round kitchen building.
The winter town
Beyond Winterfell's walls lies the winter town, so-called because it is usually only inhabited during winter. During the long spring, summer and autumn, most of the people are out at their holdings in the country, farming and storing food and wood for the winter to come. Outside of winter, maybe one in five of the houses are occupied, such as the inn, the Smoking Log.
The town consists of a market square (with well) and numerous houses of wood and unadorned stone with chimneys leading up from wood-burning fireplaces.
According to legend, Bran the Builder laid the first stone of Winterfell over eight thousand years ago. However, Bran the Builder is held to have raised every major stronghold and structure in Westeros, from Storm's End to the Wall, and the truthfulness of this is hard to determine.
Winterfell has served as the stronghold of the Kings in the North for most of recorded history. When Aegon the Conqueror invaded Westeros, King Torrhen Stark bent the knee when he saw the strength the Targaryens commanded, and the Starks were retained as the Warden of the North and ruling Lords of the North.
During the War of the Five Kings, Winterfell was captured in a surprise attack launched by Theon Greyjoy. He successfully held the castle for several weeks, but refused to relinquish it even though he lacked the manpower to successfully hold it indefinitely against the Stark bannermen. Ramsay Bolton unexpectedly turned on his fellow northmen and Theon welcomed him as an ally, but was betrayed once more. Bolton razed the castle complex and took Theon prisoner.
Structures of the castle
- The Great Keep
- The First Keep
- The First Keep's lichyard
- The Great Hall
- The Guest House
- The inner ward
- The bell tower
- The maester's tower (may be the same building as the bell tower)
- The guard hall
- The broken tower
- The library tower
- The library
- The rookery
- The armory
- The stable
- The brewhouse
- The glass gardens
- The godswood
- The crypts
- The Hunter's Gate
- The East Gate
- The King's Gate
- The drawbridge
- A small Sept built for Catelyn Tully by Eddard Stark
Although the castle was set alight on the order of Ramsay Bolton and the wood and glass structures of the castle were destroyed, the stone of Winterfell is ancient and strong, and has survived the fires. During the reign of Roose Bolton as Warden of the North, some wooden structures were repaired (i.e. the roof of the Great Hall). Full reconstruction and rehabitation of the castle should be possible. Plans to this effect have been proposed by both Stannis Baratheon and Petyr Baelish should either Jon Snow or Sansa Stark plan to claim the lordship of the North. It remains to be seen if this will take place.