clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What’s up with the Stepstones and the Free Cities in House of the Dragon

And who exactly is the Crabfeeder?

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Corlys sitting at the Small Council table looking displeased Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Trouble is certainly brewing around King’s Landing in House of the Dragon, with a succession plot looming almost as large as one of the dragons. But as we see in this week’s episode, there are other parts of the continent that have Game of Thrones’ danger going for them already. And the main plot, which is mostly about sea-based shipping lines, might also be the most confusing.

[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 2.]

Corlys Velaryon’s rant toward the beginning of the episode sets up his troubles with shipping, but it also includes a flurry of proper nouns, enemies, allies, and cities that are all pretty easy to miss. The big picture idea is that Corlys (along with many other merchants of Westeros) are losing ships to a pirate called the Crabfeeder who has his base on the Stepstones. But as Viserys makes clear, the whole thing is a lot more complicated than that.

To help you keep up with Westeros’ newest conflict, here’s a breakdown of Daemon and Corlys’ war and why it matters, even if Viserys can’t officially sanction it.

Where are the Stepstones and why do they matter?

The Small Council meeting with Rhaenyra standing at the table Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

The Stepstones are a small rocky island chain south of King’s Landing between Westeros and Essos near Sunspear. On their own, they have essentially no value at all. They can’t really be built on, and there’s no soil to farm and no minerals of any value. However, because trade between Westeros and Essos is a critical part of both continents’ economies, the Stepstones could provide a suitable base of operations for any pirate who wanted to harass ships as they travel the southern part of the Narrow Sea or charge outrageous tolls for safe passage. Which is exactly where the Crabfeeder comes into play.

Who is the Crabfeeder?

While the show doesn’t go into much detail, Fire & Blood (the book that House of the Dragon is based on) tells us that the Crabfeeder was actually a Myrish prince named Craghas Drahar. In the book, Drahar cleaned out the pirates of the Stepstones himself and then set up a toll system that charged ships for safe passage. While the merchants of Westeros accepted this for a while, they eventually became fed up with the ever-rising prices.

However, it seems that all this is a little different in the show. For one thing, it seems that the Crabfeeder isn’t so directly connected with the Triarchy in House of the Dragon, and is instead being supplied by the free cities covertly. The Crabfeeder is also apparently harassing ships himself and acting a little more like a pirate than the greedy landowner he is in the book.

One thing the show does spruce up (or down?) significantly is the Crabfeeder’s look. We don’t get many details about how Drahar looks in Fire & Blood, but in House of the Dragon it’s clear his journeys across the sea have left him scarred and burned and maybe even with a bit of Greyscale from quests in the ruins of Chroyane. Plus, he has a cool mask.

Who are the Triarchy and how are they connected to the Free Cities?

There are nine free city-states that make up the Free Cities of Essos: Braavos, Lorath, Lys, Myr, Norvos, Pentos, Qohor, Tyrosh, and Volantis. While these cities are constantly vying for power with one another, there was a brief period of time when an alliance between Lys, Myr, and Tyrosh arose, calling itself the Triarchy and becoming the preeminent power in the region.

Why can’t Westeros go to war with the Free Cities?

As often as the Free Cities squabble with one another, their combined strength is far greater than just about anything Westeros could muster. On top of that, the Free Cities are an important trade ally to the Seven Kingdoms, and the Iron Bank of Braavos houses quite a bit of Westerosi wealth. In other words, there’s really no upside to fighting the Free Cities openly and plenty of downsides.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon