Study Guide

A Game of Thrones Family

By George R. R. Martin

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Ser Waymar Royce was the youngest son of an ancient house with too many heirs. […] Ser Waymar had been a Sworn Brother of the Night's Watch for less than half a year, but no one could say he had not prepared for his vocation. (1 Prologue.14)

In the Prologue, we're introduced to two important family issues: (1) some families can't take care of all their members; and 2) the Night's Watch thinks of itself as a family of "Sworn Brothers." This will be very important later, when Jon is trying to figure out where he belongs in the world.

"You have five trueborn children," Jon said. "Three sons, two daughters. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord." (2 Bran 1.69)

The symbols and mottoes of each noble house are important for the characters, and Jon uses that fact here to manipulate his father into letting these direwolf puppies live. The fact that Jon cares about the puppies and about his half-siblings shows what a great guy he is. And, as Bran notes, the count – five puppies, five kids – only came out right because Jon didn't include himself, since he's an illegitimate child.

"Sometimes I'd imagine my father burning. At other times, my sister." Jon Snow was staring at him, a look equal parts horror and fascination. Tyrion guffawed. "Don't look at me that way, bastard. I know your secret. You've dreamt the same kind of dreams." (14 Tyrion 2.41)

We'll let you decide whether Tyrion is right about Jon. But this is a clear introduction to the issue of family violence and tension. (Tension is the polite word for imagining your father burning to death.) The Lannisters and the Cleganes are probably the clearest examples of families with major issues. But then again, Sansa and Arya fight all the time, too; and Sansa and Eddard have their differences; and Catelyn and Eddard and… you get the point.

"Is that what you call it? You haven't left this room since Bran was hurt. You didn't even come to the gate when Father and the girls went south." (15 Catelyn 3.18-19)

Although we like to think that family is a neutral place where everyone loves everyone equally, it's pretty clear that family can also be about choosing sides. So, Catelyn stays by Bran's side when he's sick (crippled and in a coma), but doesn't go to see her daughters off on their adventure. (Similarly, Cersei loves Jaime, but hates Tyrion. So maybe the Lannisters aren't so different from the Starks, after all.)

"Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm. Septa Mordane is a good woman, and Sansa... Sansa is your sister. You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you... and I need both of you, gods help me." (23 Arya 2.72)

Ah, Eddard and his fatherly wisdom. We're especially moved by his declaration that family is important, even if the individuals don't always get along. Let's see if that holds true.

"So I have decided that you shall this day announce that you wish to take the black. You will forsake all claim to your brother's inheritance and start north before evenfall." (27 Jon 4.84)

Samwell Tarly's father goes on to explain his plan for killing his first-born son (Samwell). His reasoning? The first-born son inherits everything in this system and Samwell isn't the manly man that Lord Tarly wants for an heir. So he needs to get Samwell out of the family, either by killing him or by shipping him off to an alternative family: the Night's Watch.

"We're not friends," Jon said. He put a hand on Sam's broad shoulder. "We're brothers."
And so they were, he thought to himself after Sam had taken his leave. Robb and Bran and Rickon were his father's sons, and he loved them still, yet Jon knew that he had never truly been one of them. Catelyn Stark had seen to that. The grey walls of Winterfell might still haunt his dreams, but Castle Black was his life now, and his brothers were Sam and Grenn and Halder and Pyp and the other cast-outs who wore the black of the Night's Watch. (27 Jon 4.107-8)

Jon goes back and forth on this issue, but we get where he's coming: it's tough to figure out where you belong. So even as Jon is declaring his allegiance to the Night's Watch (he's brothers with Samwell and the other outcasts), he mentions that he still loves his other brothers. Is it possible to belong to more than one family?

"Whatever you may believe of me, Lady Stark, I promise you this – I never bet against my family." (32 Tyrion 4.112)

We can sort of picture Jon Snow saying the same thing as Tyrion here: even though I'm kind of an outcast, I'm still loyal to my family. And it's true: we can't imagine Tyrion betting against Jaime any more than we can imagine Robb Stark and Jon Snow fighting. By the way, this is about as happy as this book gets. Buckle your seatbelts, softies.

In this place, the crones of the <em>dosh</em> <em>khaleen</em> had decreed, all Dothraki were one blood, one khalasar, one herd. (37 Daenerys 4.39)

We've focused mostly on families in the Seven Kingdoms, but there's a lot to say about Daenerys and her family. Her experience in the Dothraki family shows us how family can be added to: by marriage, by birth, or by adopting the culture of the new family. More specifically, we see the contrast between Vaes Dothrak – where all the Dothraki are in one family – to the rest of the Dothraki, who kill each other pretty casually. (Check out Daenerys' wedding for a taste of that.)

But he had not left the Wall for that; he had left because he was after all his father's son, and Robb's brother. The gift of a sword, even a sword as fine as Longclaw, did not make him a Mormont. (71 Jon 9.16)

Oh, Jon, still going back and forth in his mind: Stark or Night's Watch? Night's Watch or Stark? Bottom line: nothing can separate you completely from your family.

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