Warden is a title bestowed upon the head of a Great House by the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. The Wardens command the armies of one of the constituent regions of the Seven Kingdoms in the name of Iron Throne for the defense of the entire realm. The Warden of a constituency is expected to lawfully command a quarter of all armies in the realm during a time of crisis.
By custom, the title is functionally hereditary. However, a Warden does not necessarily have to also be one of the Lords Paramount (rulers of the constituent regions of the realm) though this is almost always the case. For example, if an elderly or infirm ruler came to be the head of one of the Great Houses listed below, the office of Warden might be delegated to another family member young and capable enough to lead armies in the field. Likewise, if the head of one of the Great Houses listed below was too young, the office of Warden may be delegated to an older and more experienced individual.
Warden appears to be a title holding higher rank than that of "Lord Paramount." The Lords of the Stormlands and Lords of the Riverlands do not hold the title of Warden over their regions but instead submit to the Warden of their area. The Prince of Dorne is not a Warden, but has full control over their armies so it can be presumed that the Prince has the same military authority of a Warden in Dorne.
Littlefinger implies that a woman appointed to the title would be properly known as a "Wardeness".
Currently, the Wardens of the West and South have died and have yet to be officially replaced.
Current Wardens of the Seven Kingdoms
- Warden of the North: Title traditionally held by the Lord Paramount of the North and Lord of Winterfell, the head of House Stark of Winterfell, since Torrhen Stark, the last King in the North, submitted to Aegon I Targaryen. Centuries later, Robb Stark was named the King in the North after Eddard Stark, the previous Warden of the North, was executed under false charges. After Robb's death, the title was held by the head of House Bolton of the Dreadfort after House Bolton usurped House Stark during the Red Wedding and returned the North under the authority of the Iron Throne. With the extinction of House Bolton in the Battle of the Bastards and the subsequent declaration of the North as an independent kingdom once more, Jon Snow, the illegitimate son of Ned Stark, was named the King in the North, a position he held until pledging fealty to Daenerys Targaryen, after which he is appointed Warden of the North. This event marks yet another unprecedented split in the Northern governance system; as with his title of King, Jon's title as Warden of the North is for the first time not held jointly with that of Lord of Winterfell, which is currently held by his half-sister (revealed to be his cousin), Sansa Stark.
- Warden of the West: Title traditionally held by the Lord Paramount of the Westerlands and Lord of Casterly Rock, the head of House Lannister of Casterly Rock, since Loren I Lannister, the last King of the Rock, submitted to Aegon I Targaryen. Previously held by Lord Tywin Lannister, the title is currently disputed between Cersei I Lannister and Tyrion Lannister.
- Warden of the East: Title traditionally held by the Lord Paramount of the Vale and Lord of the Eyrie the head of House Arryn of the Eyrie, since Ronnel Arryn, the last King of Mountain and Vale, submitted to Aegon I Targaryen. Previously held by Lord Jon Arryn and then held by Robin Arryn, until the Vale joined the reinstated Kingdom of the North. Following King Jon Snow's bending the knee to Daenerys Targaryen, Robin can be once again considered Warden of the East, under the Targaryen dynasty.
- Warden of the South: Title traditionally held by the Lord Paramount of the Reach and Lord of Highgarden, the head of House Tyrell of Highgarden, since Harlen Tyrell, steward to the last King of the Reach, Mern IX Gardener, surrendered Highgarden and the Reach to Aegon I Targaryen. The title is currently vacant after the extinction of House Tyrell. Randyll Tarly, the head of House Tarly of Horn Hill, was promised the title by Cersei Lannister but was executed by Daenerys Targaryen after the Battle of the Goldroad before it could be bestowed upon him.
In the books
Typically, the Warden of the North defends against wildling attacks that come south of the Wall. The Warden of the West, from House Lannister, defends against coastal raids from the Iron Islands. House Greyjoy were not chosen to be Wardens, because more often than not, they are what the Warden of the West is defending against. Even though they submitted to the Iron Throne, illicit ironborn raiding would occur from time to time and would have to be suppressed. The Warden of the South, from House Tyrell, would defend against border skirmishes with Dorne, as Dorne actually retained its independence for two centuries after the Targaryen Conquest, and was only united to the realm (by marriage alliance) a century before the War of the Five Kings. This is why House Martell of Dorne is not the Warden of the South. The Warden of the East, from House Arryn, seems to have defended against raids or invasion from the Free Cities across the Narrow Sea, such as the threat during the War of the Ninepenny Kings when an invasion was mounted from the Stepstones in the Narrow Sea.
House Tully were not Wardens, probably because the Riverlands are centrally located within the realm and far from external threats. It is not clear why House Baratheon were not named as Wardens, as the Stormlands border Dorne to the south (and thus they could have been Wardens of the South), and also border the Narrow Sea like the Vale (and thus could have been Wardens of the East). The Tyrells may have been chosen as Wardens of the South due to the larger army and population of the Reach, and because more Dornish attacks may have been targeted at the fertile lands of the Reach instead of the forests of the Stormlands. House Arryn may have been chosen ahead of the Baratheons as Wardens of the East because they had to deal with contentious Hill tribes in their mountains and thus needed the military assets at their disposal to deal with them. Also, the Andal Invasion thousands of years ago began in the Vale of Arryn, so it has been used an invasion corridor across the Narrow Sea before.
After Jon Arryn died, Queen Cersei managed to convince King Robert to name her brother Jaime Lannister as the Warden of the East, because Jon's only son and heir Robert "Sweetrobin" Arryn is just a child. This greatly angered many lords in the Vale because Jaime has no connection to House Arryn or the Vale, so they begin to defiantly refer to Sweetrobin as the "True Warden of the East". Ned Stark is also opposed to Robert's decree because it puts the armies of two regions under command of a single house. Jaime, however, never actually travels to the Vale or makes any attempt to take command of the Vale's armies during these few months, and thus his hold on the title was nominal. Jaime continues to technically hold the position while he spent a full year as a prisoner of the Starks after the Battle of the Whispering Wood, although his imprisonment meant that the position was left officially vacant. The title of Warden of the East is restored to Sweetrobin by Tywin Lannister as one of the conditions of the marriage-alliance between Lysa and Petyr Baelish which brings House Arryn back into the Lannister fold. The TV series omitted this entire subplot.
Following Tywin's death, Cersei gives the title of Warden of the West to Daven Lannister, son of Ser Stafford Lannister - not because she trusts Daven, but due to an unpleasant discussion with Kevan, who rejects the post of Hand of the King after Cersei refuses to name him Lord Regent as well and relocate to Casterly Rock. Daven does not regard his appointment lightly, but he feels that his uncle Kevan should have been chosen for that office.
By the point the books reached, the four major Wardens of Westeros are as followed:
- Warden of the North: Roose Bolton
- Warden of the West: Daven Lannister
- Warden of the East: Robert Arryn
- Warden of the South: Mace Tyrell
In addition to the four major Wardens, in the books there are other lesser Wardens which control certain areas:
- Warden of the Prince's Pass: Traditionally held by House Fowler of Dorne as the guardians of the Prince's Pass. Currently this title is held by Lord Franklyn Fowler.
- Warden of the Stone Way: Traditionally held by House Yronwood of Dorne as the guardians of the Boneway. Currently this title is held by Lord Anders Yronwood.
- Warden of the White Knife: Traditionally held by House Manderly of the North as the guardians of the White Knife. Currently this title is held by Lord Wyman Manderly.
- Warden of the Southern Marches: Created by Robb Stark for his uncle Brynden Tully in recognition for his military prowess during the War of the Five Kings. Currently held by Brynden Tully.
In The World of Ice & Fire and Fire & Blood, a fifth major Warden title called Warden of the Sands was created by Aegon the Conqueror during the First Dornish War. Jon Rosby was appointed to this position to rule Dorne in the king's name. However, the Iron Throne was defeated by the Dornishmen, stopping Aegon's attempt to disestablish the princedom of House Martell. When Dorne entered the Seven Kingdoms over a century later, the position of Warden of the Sands wasn't renewed; the Martells continued styling themselves as Princes of Dorne.