Northern mountain clans
The mountain clans or hill clans are groups of northmen who dwell in the mountains north of Winterfell and in their foothills along the shore of the Bay of Ice. Generally considered petty lords, they should not be confused with the mountain clans of the Vale of Arryn, who are oft considered savages.
The quarrelsome clans of the rugged northwest are a hardy people who, like most other northmen, worship the old gods. According to a semi-canon source, the clansmen have lands and holdfasts. Some reside in fastnesses large enough to be called castles, though they would be considered small and crudely constructed in comparison to the great castles of the south.
There are roughly forty clans, large and small, the most prominent of which are the Wulls along the Bay of Ice, the Norreys near the Gift, the Harclays in the southern hills, and the Burleys, the First Flints, the Knotts, and the Liddles in the high places. Some clans also live along rivers. The most powerful of the clans are the Wulls.
The Norreys, the Flints, and the Wulls hate wildlings because of raids on their lands, and the Norreys are noted friends of the Night's Watch who control the nearby Gift. The Wulls have also clashed with the ironborn in the past. These threats and their own inter-clan feuds have instilled a fierce martial spirit in the mountain folk.
In battle, clan champions fight with huge two-handed greatswords or axes and sometimes armor themselves with mail byrnies. The common men sling stones or wield staffs of mountain ash. Clansmen wear ragged skins and studded leathers, and some disguise themselves with leaves and brush for arboreal fighting. They breed hardy mounts in their high valleys and mountain meadows.
The chiefs of these clans are given the treatment of "lord" by their lieges, the Starks of Winterfell. Among themselves, however, the clansmen style their leaders as "the [clan name]"; i.e. the chieftain of Clan Liddle would be known as the Liddle. This practice extends to other usage; Lord Eddard Stark is called "the Ned" by the clans. This tradition seems to stem from the First Men, as it is also practiced sometimes by House Stark ("the Stark in Winterfell"), by some noble houses among the ironborn, and by some tribes of free folk (referring to Mance Rayder as "The Mance").
The mountain clans are noted for their hospitality, with chiefs attempting to outdo their rivals in generosity, and they are traditionally loyal to the Starks of Winterfell. Given their high latitude and sparse resources, the clans suffer population strain during winter years. The young are sent to the Starks' winter town, and old men often announce that they are “going hunting.” Some are found the next spring; more are never seen again.
Descending from the First Men like other northmen, the clansmen were eventually included within the domain of the Kings of Winter from House Stark of Winterfell. The clans' territory has been historically raided by wildlings and ironborn.
The clans have quarreled with each other for centuries, leading the Starks to settle the disputes by force or by calling the chiefs to Winterfell. These feuds are recalled in songs, such as "Black Pines" and "Wolves in the Hills". The clansmen have traditionally only banded together under the leadership of a Stark.
A Storm of Swords
While traveling through the northern mountains toward the Wall, Bran Stark tells Meera and Jojen Reed that the hills and mountains are inhabited. Through the eyes of Summer, Bran knows that the clansmen are aware of their presence. Bran's party meets a a Liddle during their journey.
Clansmen fight for Robb Stark, King in the North, during the War of the Five Kings. Norreys and Burleys participate in the fighting at the fords of the Trident. Arya Stark hears the toasts and songs of mountain clansmen in the tents outside the Twins. Owen Norrey is slain at the Red Wedding.
A Dance with Dragons
After the War of the Five Kings, Jon Snow, Lord Commander of the Night's Watch estimates the clans could muster two or three thousand fighting men. Rather than attack the Dreadfort, Jon advises Stannis Baratheon to seek the aid of the clansmen.
When Stannis tries to curry favor with the northern lords by freeing their western strongholds from the ironborn, he begins by enlisting the aid of Old Torghen Flint and Big Bucket Wull. Stannis is the first king the clans have seen since Torrhen Stark knelt before Aegon the Conqueror.
By observing the courtesies suggested by Jon, Stannis is able to rally the mountain folk and liberate Deepwood, earning the loyalty of Houses Glover and Mormont. During the army's snow-plagued march on Winterfell to take the castle from House Bolton, Stannis's southron knights struggle to survive, while the snowshoe-clad clansmen are able to soldier on with relative ease. They remain fiercely loyal to the memory of "the Ned" and want to free "Arya Stark" (actually Jeyne Poole).
Jojen: Do you think these mountain folk know we're here?
Bran: They know. They won't bother us so long as we don't try and make off with their goats or horses.
Stannis: Those mountains? I see no castles marked there. No roads, no towns, no villages.
Jon: The map is not the land, my father often said. Men have lived in the high valleys and mountain meadows for thousands of years, ruled by their clan chiefs. Petty lords, you would call them, though they do not use such titles amongst themselves. Clan champions fight with huge two-handed greatswords, while the common men sling stones and batter one another with staffs of mountain ash. A quarrelsome folk, it must be said. When they are not fighting one another, they tend their herds, fish the Bay of Ice, and breed the hardiest mounts you'll ever ride.
Stannis: These mountain lords will not hinder my passage?
Jon: Only with feasts. Each will try to outdo the others with his hospitality. My lord father said he never ate half so well as when visiting the clans.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 26, The Wayward Bride.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 32, Reek III.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 41, The Turncloak.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 62, The Sacrifice.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The North: The Mountain Clans.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 17, Jon IV.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The North: The Mountain Clans.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 56, Tyrion VII.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 49, Jon X.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 64, The Ugly Little Girl.
- So Spake Martin: Northern Clans, February 12, 2001
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 24, Bran II.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 53, Jon XI.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 42, The King's Prize.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 16, Bran II.
- A Feast for Crows, Prologue.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 7, Jon I.
- So Spake Martin: Clans of the North and the Valelords, February 24, 2000
- The World of Ice & Fire, The North.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The North: The Stoneborn of Skagos.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 49, Catelyn VI.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 50, Arya X.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 51, Catelyn VII.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 55, Jon VII.