Jaime Lannister: According to legend, a huntsman once tracked a lion that was terrorizing its village all the way to its den. Though armed with only a spear, the man managed to kill both the lion and its mate, but spared the cubs. This mercy so pleased the Old Gods that they sent a shaft of sunlight deep into the cave, gleaming off golden walls. The hunter became a miner and built a ringfort to guard his new wealth. Nobody ever asks what happened to the cubs. Maybe the gods forgot about them and they starved. Maybe there never were any cubs or lions or hunter, doesn't matter. Someone found enough gold in that cave to buy whatever truth he wanted, along with a castle that he'd name after his new family: Casterly Rock.
Thanks to that gold, Casterly Rock soon became the largest, wealthiest and best-defended castle in Westeros. An army that struggled up the main approach would still have to climb thick, high and well-defended walls. Should they choose instead to lay siege, the sea helpfully carved a massive cave beneath the castle which over time became a private port complete with docks, wharves and shipyards. And so to this day, even with all the gold in Westeros to tempt invaders, Casterly Rock has never fallen.
At least not in battle. The castle is sadly all that remains of its namesake family, the Casterlys. According to another legend, my ancestor Lann the Clever swindled the castle from them. The most common story is that he found a hidden cleft in the rock and snuck into the castle. As night, he whispered threats into sleeping ears, howled in the darkness, planted one brother's treasures in the room of another and so forth. By the end of his games, the Casterlys believed a demon was haunting their home and fled.
My brother prefers a different version. Lann the Clever did find a secret entrance into the rock, but used it to have his way with the Casterly maidens. Eventually, the girls gave birth to golden-haired bastards and the Casterlys had no choice but to accept their father into the family. In gratitude, he changed the family name to honor himself and House Lannister was born.
The Casterlys used the gold of the rock to become lords. The Lannisters became kings. For thousands of years, the Kingdom of the Rock ruled the Westerlands. When the ironborn became a nuisance, my ancestor sailed to the Iron Islands and returned with a hundred ironborn hostages, promising to hang one from the rock every time the ironborn dared raid our shores. The ironborn stayed away, well, after twenty or so. When the Andals arrived after sweeping across the rest of Westeros, we invited their sons and daughters into the rock as squires and court ladies. I don't think we ever had to hang any of them.
Finally, Aegon the Conqueror defeated us on the Field of Fire and my ancestor knelt. Still, little changed but titles and taxes, for when Visenya Targaryen saw the rock, she gave thanks that my ancestor had met Aegon on the field. Even dragon flame would have washed over the castle like the waves and left just as much a mark.
But now the mines are dry and Casterly Rock just that; a rock. Our gold has passed into legend just like the merciful huntsman and Lann the Clever. As will our family if we lose this war. Unlike the Casterlys, however, we won't even have a castle to remember our name.
- This video is heavily based on the "Westerlands / Casterly Rock" chapter from The World of Ice and Fire. The print version of this chapter is slightly edited down from the longer original version that George R.R. Martin wrote: Martin later released the full, longer version of this chapter posted on his website as a free sample (Click here to read, and pay attention to the section explaining that Casterly Rock is literally an inexhaustible mountain of gold):
- The exact quote is: "The gold and silver mines of the westerlands are renowned, for the veins of ore run wide and deep – and there are mines, even now, that have been delved for a thousand years and more and are yet to be emptied. Lomas Longstrider reports that, even in far Asshai-by-the-Shadow, there were merchants who asked him if it were true that the “Lion Lord” lived in a palace of solid gold, and that crofters would collect a wealth of gold by simply plowing their fields. The gold of the west has traveled far, and so far as the maesters know there are no mines in all the world as rich as those."
- This video continues the massive and incongruent departure from the novels that Casterly Rock's gold mines "ran dry" - apparently a gross oversimplification from the books about the Lannister's troubles with the Iron Bank of Braavos and the debt crisis. It's possible that the TV writers thought viewers would be confused at how the Lannisters, famous for their wealth, could suddenly be bankrupt: but while Tywin Lannister was the richest man in Westeros, he wasn't infinitely wealthy. The simple answer is that the Lannisters started spending gold faster than their mines could produce more of it - but there is still gold in the mines. The TV series oversimplified this to say that the Lannisters' gold mines outright "ran dry" - which is physically implausible to the point of absurdity, comparable to saying that every gold mine in a country the size of France suddenly ran dry. Casterly Rock is an entire mountain filled with gold, the highest concentration of gold anywhere in the known world - even travelers from as far away as Yi Ti (their China analogue) and distant Asshai are impressed by traveler's tales of the Lion Lord of Casterly Rock who lives in a mountain of gold.
- The narration doesn't specify this, but the huntsman who first found the veins of gold in the mountain was named "Corlos, son of Caster" - and he named his new dynasty "House Casterly" after their forebearer.
- There used to be many great Lions in Westeros, particularly in the mountains of the Westerlands, but centuries of human encroachment have driven them to the point of near-extinction in the wild. They were apparently thriving in the Casterlys' time, in the Age of Heroes, but they grew quite rare in recent centuries - so much that it was considered very surprising when Tywin's father Tytos Lannister was attacked and nearly killed by one when he was out hunting. Cersei also recalls that several caged lions were kept in Casterly Rock when she was a child, a legacy of her grandfather Tytos's time.
- There are indeed many and contradictory stories about Lann the Clever and exactly how he "swindled the Casterlys out of Casterly Rock using nothing but his wits". As Jaime recounts, some are that he turned brother against brother by planting treasure in each other's rooms, others say that he snuck vermin into the castle, or howled at night to make them think it was haunted. "The version Tyrion enjoys", as Jaime recounts, is actually considered the most mundane and most likely: that he was just some low-level retainer or sellsword who got a Casterly girl pregnant, and the family made him marry the girl to hide the shame (comparable to if Bronn married a minor Lannister cousin in the present day). Then he simply "swindled" himself into rule of Casterly Rock by politically outmaneuvering all of the other family members who were ahead of his wife in line of succession, playing them off against each other, until his own children were the heirs.
- As Jaime alludes, the Casterlys didn't call themselves "kings" and neither did Lann the Clever. The Lannisters only started calling themselves "kings" some centuries later, as their wealth and power steadily increased (similar to how the Starks were originally just the lords of "Winterfell", and gradually increased in power until they were "King in the North").
- Jaime accurately recounts how the Andal Invasion was much more peaceful in the Westerlands. The heaviest fighting in the invasions were along the eastern coast, in the Vale, the Riverlands, and the Stormlands. Generations later, by the time the Andals got to the western parts of the continent, local lords of the First Men realized that their tide of invasion was inevitable, so it was easier to invite in Andal lords and intermarry with them, to help fend off the other Andals. Thus the Andals were peaceably absorbed in the Westerlands and the Reach, leading to a fairly high number of surviving First Men families (in contrast, the First Men were nearly exterminated in the Vale). The Lannisters are considered an "Andal" family, like all southerners, because they intermarried with them - but the name "Lannister" actually predates the Andal Invasion (an Andal of House Lydden married a daughter of House Lannister, but their children kept the name "Lannister" because it was more prestigious).
- Jaime's POV narration is slightly inaccurate when he says he isn't sure if they ever had to kill any Andal invaders: technically, a few early Andal warbands did meet bloody ends when they tried to raid the Westerlands, but there was never a full invasion in force. It was after beating back these first few raiding parties, which were small-scale affairs, that the Lannisters decided it would be more prudent to just invite in selected Andal families and intermarry with them to secure their loyalty. Still, the fighting was so insignificant that it can easily be glossed over in a brief outline like this.
- The line about Visenya Targaryen being glad they didn't have to attack Casterly Rock because it would have even withstood an attack by dragons is a direct quote from The World of Ice and Fire sourcebook. Casterly Rock isn't just the surface castle, but built down from the mountain top to sea level, an entire mountain filled with internal chambers which would never be reached by dragon-fire - in many ways it is actually a bigger "castle" than Harrenhal itself, in terms of total available living space. From the top of the mountain to the bottom of its sheer cliffs at sea level, Casterly Rock is three times the height of The Wall - though it is a natural landscape feature. Harrenhal is the largest free-standing castle in Westeros, as a structure, while Casterly Rock's vast internal space is made up of tunnels.
- While Jaime admits the Lannisters won't have a castle to remember his family, this is only partially true. The nearby city of Lannisport is named in their honor.