It’s been mentioned by the creators of the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones that a central theme of this story is family. Indeed, the principal houses involved in the political scene of Westeros are families. Re-watching the series again recently (with my parents, who are hooked now! =P) reinforced this notion in my mind. There are different types of families featured over the course of this series–some close, some not-so-healthy, but at the end of the day, they’re family.
Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched the first season of the HBO series or if you haven’t read the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire!
Of course, the principal family that we, the audience, follow over the course of the first series is of House Stark. In the book, they have the most character chapters–minus Robb and Rickon–and indeed we continue to follow them after the tragedy that struck their family at the end of the first book. We are introduced to them as a fairly close-knit family, complete with its sibling squabbles (Arya and Sansa), encouragement (Robb & Jon re: Bran’s archery lessons), spouses wanting to stay put (Catelyn not wanting Ned to go south as Hand of the King) and differing relations with their parents (Jon Snow and Catelyn). Yet despite of all of these differences in character interactions, motivations and character paths, family is at the very heart of the Starks: at the very end, Ned chose to “confess” his so-called crimes in efforts of saving Sansa, who begged for Joffrey’s mercy at court and Catelyn told Robb that their first priority were to get his sisters back before they set out to “kill them all.” This is also clear in Ned’s solemn discussion with Arya in King’s Landing: because winter is coming–and winters in this world are harsh and devoid of warmth–the wolves must stick together no matter what. Away from the courtly intrigues of the south, the Stark family is the least dysfunctional of the lot and you find yourself rooting for a massive reunion after all the madness is over.
House Lannister offers a different family dynamic to the Starks. Headed by the stern and patriarchial Tywin Lannister, he is pretty much the president of the corporation, the family mastermind, the authoritarian of the nation. From all of the Hands of the King of recent Westrosi memory, Tywin was the only one to have survived the position and after Robert’s Rebellion managed to secure his family in a position of prominence, with his daughter married to the new King and his son remaining in the Kingsguard. Of course, the inner family dynamic is anything but calm: Tywin obviously regards his son Tyrion with an attitude akin to loath and disappointment, Cersei and Tyrion hate each other, Jaime and Cersei are close in many ways, Jaime feels boxed in by Tywin’s expectations of him, Jaime and Tyrion respect and understand each other and Cersei is grooming her son Joffrey into his role as King one day. But despite of these varying sentiments for one another, one thing is clear: Lannisters must stick together. In that respect, they are similar to the Starks, but what is also different–and Tywin emphasises on this in the series–is that the family name is also important. Everyone in the Lannister family is charged to protect and uphold the name at all costs. This notion colours their various relationships and, perhaps more importantly, who they are as individuals. It would, of course, play a role in later novels of the series, especially as their family has secured their political position at the end of the first series.
Then of course we have a family like the Baratheons. Although the eldest of the brothers, Stannis does not make an appearance in the first season, his presence is always felt in some way: the brother far away on Dragonstone with the “personality of a lobster.” (I couldn’t help but laugh, sorry Stannis) I won’t delve on Stannis’s sentiments towards his brothers in this post since we have not seen him on screen yet. Younger brother Renly is present at court, serving on the Small Council in conjunction with King Robert but there’s a clear distance between the brothers; Renly cannot stand Robert’s endless talks about the good old days and does not share his brother’s drive for blood, drink and girls. Renly is more refined and more atune to administration whereas Robert had grown up in war and has no patience for ruling. Robert admitted later in the series that he considers Ned Stark as a brother moreso than his own blood brothers, which is understandable since they grew up under Jon Arryn and went to war together; he was supposed to marry Ned’s sister, Lyanna. We never quite had a proper scene between the Baratheon brothers beyond the exchange in the woods during the hunt and Renly stormed off in frustration but it was enough to see the state of the family. Despite of being the family in hold of the throne, it is only their family name that is holding the brothers together.
There’s also the remainder of the Targaryen family, Viserys and Daenerys, trying to find a way back to Westeros and reclaiming the seat that their family had held for 300 years. It’s difficult to talk about their family dynamic because it seems brutally straightforward: despite Dany being his younger sister and raising her all her life, he willingly “sold” her as a bride to Khal Drogo in order to recruit his forces. Viserys expects nothing but obedience from his sister than when she grows into her role as khaleesi, he is visibly shocked and in his final moments, is unable to plead to her as a sibling. Did he love her? It’s hard to say; he had been so bent on getting an army so that he could reclaim the throne that I can’t remember a single instance where he portrayed any sense of brotherly concern—both in the book and in the show. As for Daenerys, she does try to reign her brother in a bit in whatever way she could without upsetting him but it was clear after time and again of Viserys exploding on her that his sense of self-importance would not give way no matter how much she tried. From this perspective, it was inevitable that Daenerys would feel nothing for him when he is given his golden crown; she had suffered so much oppression and abuse under Viserys that enough was enough.
The show offers an array of different representations of families, as seen through the major houses. We also see other moments of different family relationships, such as Lysa Arryn’s fierce protection of her son that she refuses to aid her sister Catelyn’s struggle to fight back against the Lannisters. To some, family is everything while to others, family is just a name binding people together in a certain way. With the scope of the show expanding in series 2, it would be interesting to see how the other families are introduced, bringing in their own family drama and dynamic to the fore.