The endgame for the Game of Thrones is almost here. And with the penultimate episode coming this Sunday (U.S time), the guessing game on who will eventually end up on the Iron Throne gets more intense as ever. Aside from the legitimacy of the more obvious claims, followers of the popular HBO show are also bringing other names up in the shortlist. Debating Tyrion Lannister or Sansa Stark’s qualifications as promising leaders of the Seven Kingdoms sure light up online media forums and get-together dinners.
Based on George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the central theme of the Game of Thrones revolves around power — how you get, use, and hold on to it. But despite the patriarchal structure of the Westerosi society, the award-winning mini series has been recognising the tremendous roles of mothers in raising future kings and queens, putting the spotlight on how their style of parenting shape up their children’s brand of leadership in a steadfast fashion.
It is ironic, however, that the frontrunners in claiming the Iron Throne — Queen Cersei of House Lannister, Daenerys of House Targaryen, and Jon Snow — all grew up without mothers. Rhaella Targaryen, Daenerys’ mother, died giving birth to her during a great storm at Dragonstone, while Lyanna Stark, Jon Snow’s mother, lost her life due to complications after delivering him at the Tower of Joy in Dorne. The same thing also happened to Cersei’s mother, Joanna Lannister, in her last pregnancy to Tyrion. But these do not weaken the argument for mothers. They, in fact, exhibit how maternal presence or absence shape their children’s characters and strengthen their moral values — making mothers a strong, unseen force that influence the power struggle in Westeros.
The primogeniture culture also make mothers very influential in the fictional realm. Marrying and having a child with an heir to one of the noble families is another way for a woman to ascend to power — sealing alliances or subduing conflicts between great houses. And Game of Thrones have consistently shown how riveting albeit terrifying the lengths these mothers go to in exercising their power just to protect their children or advance the interests of their houses.
I never thought to learn about parenting when I started watching and reading the epic fantasy novels almost a decade ago. But as a new mom now, I can appreciate how Game of Thrones unwittingly warns about the deadly consequences of overparenting. Because no matter how rich or powerful you are, you cannot change the world to fit your child. There’s no guaranteeing their safety.
A lot of mothers had died attempting to do this in the last seven seasons, but there’s a few left with children to keep safe and raise. So in celebration of Mother’s Day this Sunday, I thought it’s a good idea to rank all these characters (dead or alive) based on the success of their parenting skills.
The wife of Stannis Baratheon was the first in her household to believe in the Lord of Light. A fanatical believer, she brought Melissandre, the red priestess, to her husband’s campaign for the Iron Throne. Criticised for her inability to produce male heirs to Stannis during the War of the Five Kings, she often confines herself in a tower, where she mourns the deaths of her two stillborn sons (which she keeps in crystal glasses) in spite of having one surviving daughter, Shireen.
As if neglecting, shaming, and hating Shireen for the disfigurement the poor girl suffered from Greyscale in her infancy, Selyse permitted Melissandre to sacrifice and burn her alive.
Lysa Arryn was the wife of Jon Arryn, who served as the Hand of King Robert Baratheon just before Ned Stark came down to King’s Landing. In the first season, she unnerved both her elder sister, Catelyn Stark, and hostage Tyrion Lannister for her choice to still breastfeed her pre-teener son, Robin.
Robin is frail and with swordsmanship skills considered pitiful for his age as a result of an over-sheltered childhood. His fits of histrionics, demanding to see bad people fly from the Moon Door, is also a proof that she spoils him too much. The worse thing she did? Failing to prepare her son for his duties as the future leader of House Arryn, making him unable to make sound decision for neither himself nor the Vale after her death.
Cersei Lannister is the widow of King Robert Baratheon. Keeping her incestuous relationship with her brother, Jaime, a secret to protect their children prompted her to commit all the crimes imaginable. She raised his eldest, Prince Joffrey, from an insufferably entitled brat to a sadist king, who was more concerned of torturing people for nothing than actually ruling, prior his death. She murdered her daughter-in-law, Queen Margeary Tyrell, by bombing the Great Sept of Baelor, prompting her youngest son, King Tommen, to commit suicide.
While her love for her children is admirable, it can never justify commission of crimes and sins. Her desire to keep her family safe became an obsession that has gone too far, provoking other families to do their worse. And if you really think about it, the deaths of her children were the result of her own doing.
Ellaria is the paramour of Oberyn Martell, whom she shared bastard children with. Aside from nurturing her four daughters, she even coached them into ferocity that earned their name Sand Snakes. In a world where boys are expected to carry swords, supporting her daughters to be fierce and be damn good at fighting is laudable.
After Oberyn’s death defending Tyrion Lannister in a trial by combat against The Mountain, she pushed House Martell to go to war against the Lannisters. Ellaria sought her daughter’s help to grab the power from Doran and Trystane Martell just so she can have her way in exacting revenge against the Lions.
I love the freedom and encouragement that made her daughters tough enough to defend themselves in a male-dominated world. But considering that leading by example is the best way children learn about the world, she eventually became a bad influence to her girls, which eventually led to their violent deaths.
Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen is the only surviving child of Aerys II “The Mad King” Targaryen. She was only a baby when King Robert Baratheon won the civil war that had her father murdered, forcing her into exile. Despite being raised by her twisted older brother Viserys, Daenerys manifested impressive maternal instincts beginning from her brief marriage to Khal Drogo.
When everyone dismissed the dragon eggs given to her as wedding gift, Daenerys was the only one who believed and warmed them until they hatched. Time and again, she protected them from those who coveted them. And while she may have struggled feeding and disciplining her dragons for some time after, Daenerys managed to raise them strong and very loyal. This is a great feat considering that no one alive could ever teach her how to raise dragons, the last of which died long, long time ago.
I would have bumped her to a higher ranking had she not compromised her surviving dragons’ safety when she insisted on attacking King’s Landing. If she allowed them more rest to recuperate from the Battle of Winterfell, we wouldn’t have seen Rhaegal being shot to death.
Lady Ollena Tyrell
Lady Olenna Tyrell i̶s̶ ̶p̶e̶r̶h̶a̶p̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶b̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶w̶o̶m̶a̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶r̶ ̶l̶i̶v̶e̶d̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶W̶e̶s̶t̶e̶r̶o̶s̶ ̶ may no longer in her child-bearing days, but she has managed to make herself very much relevant in the House Tyrell for decades. Known for her wits and sarcasm, the Queen of Thorns cemented her role as the family’s de facto head, plotting and scheming during the War of the Five Kings. The family matriarch has successfully utilised the bountiful harvest of the Reach to earn an influential place in King’s Landing for the Tyrells. Their financial savvy has forced the Lannisters, who were deep in debt running the Seven Kingdoms, to agree to a wedding that eventually saw her grandaughter, Margeary, as the Queen.
What I liked most about Lady Olenna is that she always exercised her due diligence to ensure the safety of her children and grandchildren. Learning about King Joffrey’s sadistic pleasures, Lady Olenna had him poisoned just hours after the alliance between the houses was sealed. She even swallowed her pride and agreed to help her sworn enemy, Cersei and Jaime, to get rid of the High Sparrow in order to save Queen Margeary from doing her walk of atonement. Surviving the destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor, Lady Olenna remained driven to bring justice to her dead family, alligning herself with Daenerys Targaryen before Jaime Lannister sacked Highgarden.
She may be dead, but she still outlived all the blokes who ever looked down on her just because she is a woman. Indeed, Lady Olenna is a great example girls can look up to.
Catelyn Stark was originally betrothed to Brandon Stark. But after King Aerys II “The Mad King” Targaryen brutally killed him during the Rebellion, she was wed to his younger brother, Ned, to honour the previous arrangement. This did not hold her back, though, from enjoying a loving union and creating a nurturing home to their five children: Rob, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon.
Despite how bad she treated Jon Snow as Ned’s bastard son, Catelyn is by far the better mom than almost everyone in this list. After Bran’s crippling fall from the tower, she went on great lengths to protect and find justice for him. She wounded her hands after throwing herself against the cutthroat that was hired to ensure Bran’s death before going on a tough journey to the Eyrie to bring Tyrion Lannister, whom she suspected, to justice. After Ned’s beheading, she immediately rushed to Rob’s side to guide and advise his newly-crowned son as King in the North while respecting his decisions — even the poorly-contemplated ones. And even after her death, she was able to protect her daughters, Sansa and Arya, by making Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister swear an oath to bring them back to safety and keep them alive.
But perhaps the most underrated thing about her was the most basic thing she ever did as a mother. The values she and her husband deeply instilled in Sansa, Arya, Bran, even Jon gave them the moral compass to resist the evils around them — guiding them to become decent human beings despite the terrible things they had to endure to survive on their own.
Gilly is one of the Free Folk living beyond the Wall. She was both a daughter and a wife to Craster, an unsavoury ally of the Nights Watch. Her forced relationship with her father had her give birth to a baby she eventually named Sam. Instead of resenting her son — who also happens to be her half-brother — she risked her life to escape Craster’s Keep, saving the boy from being offered to the White Walkers.
From earning a place to stay in the Night’s Watch or Winterfell all the way to the Citadel, Gilly tailed Samwell Tarly faithfully. Even while running from White Walkers, she never left her child behind. With her hair always greasy and dishevelled, Gilly obviously never had a time for herself, spending the nights awake or joining the Great War just to keep Little Sam alive.