The sigil of a bastard born to House Martell in Game of Thrones.
DISCLAIMER: THE SYMBOLS IN THIS SET ARE FROM THE HBO TV SERIES, NOT THE ORIGINAL NOVELS.
Based on author George R.R. Martin’s famous series of novels (collectively known as “A Song of Ice and Fire”), the television series “Game of Thrones” first premiered in 2011 on the channel HBO. It is set in a fantasy world heavily based on the society and culture of the European Middle Ages. Two primary continents, known as Westeros and Essos, make up the bulk of the visible landmass in this world, with the former being featured in storylines much more frequently. While typical elements from fantasy stories, such as dragons and various forms of magic, are seen throughout the series, in the long run these generally take a backseat to the military conflicts, political machinations and family dynamics that are the principle focus of the story.
The continent of Westeros is made up of many different regions, each of which has its own culture and history. Most of these regions form constituent parts of a single political realm, which is presided over by a ruling monarch. While the monarch holds ultimate power over the realm, local governance of each region is handled by a “Great House”, a noble family whose members answer directly to the sovereign. House Martell is one of these Great Houses, but their relationship with the ruling monarch of Westeros is distinctly different from their ilk (for full details, see the symbol for ‘House Martell’). The sigil of House Martell is a red sunburst on a field of orange, the sunburst pierced by a golden spear.
One of the most prominent social issues in the series, and one that carries a great deal of weight for many characters, is the concept of children born outside of marriage, i.e. bastards. Throughout Westeros, men fathering children by women other than their wives is by no means uncommon, but the matter becomes highly complicated when the father (and in some cases the mother) is a member of a noble house. By law, a bastard child is not allowed to inherit their noble parent’s titles, lands or privileges, and the socio-religious stigma attached to being a bastard is almost universally negative. The circumstances of individual bastards vary greatly from case to case, but some threads are constant; if the noble parent- who is usually the father- acknowledges their bastard, the child is allowed to take a special surname, based on the region of Westeros where they were born. Since members of the nobility are the only ones who typically use surnames, this awards the child a certain status but by no means removes the stigma attached to their birth. Also, the sigils of bastard children are of the same design as their noble parent’s house, but with the color scheme reversed.
It is important to note, however, that in Dorne- the region ruled by House Martell- things are rather different. Due to their unique ethnic population and cultural history, the Dornish have a much more relaxed attitude towards bastardy. While there are still some roadblocks faced by bastards in Dorne, their status is not considered shameful and they are frequently raised on par with their noble parent’s legitimate or “trueborn” children.
In Dorne, noble-born bastards are given the surname “Sand” in reference to the region’s predominantly desert landscape. If the bastard happens to be descended from House Martell, their sigil would be an orange sun pierced by a golden spear on a red field.
For more information on the complexities of bastardy, see http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Bastardy