Study Guide

A Game of Thrones Principles

By George R. R. Martin

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The order had been given, and honor bound them to obey. (1 Prologue.43)

Waymar Royce may be an idiot, but he is the commander of the patrol in the Prologue; so when he gives an order, the only thing Will and Gared can do is obey. (Although, now that you've read the book, you know that Gared becomes an oathbreaker; does that make you read this differently?)

"The Night's Watch is a sworn brotherhood. We have no families. None of us will ever father sons. Our wife is duty. Our mistress is honor." (6 Jon 1.41)

What does Benjen mean when he says "Our wife is duty. Our mistress is honor"? Is following honor a form of Night Watch adultery? Does this mean that duty comes first?

"He swore a vow to protect his king's life with his own. Then he opened that king's throat with a sword." (13 Eddard 2.58)

Jaime Lannister broke his oath to protect the king by, you know, killing the guy. He clearly spat in the face of duty, and we don't see much honor in it either. So was he following his own set of principles? Or is he completely without principles?

Just thinking it made her feel a strange fluttering inside, even though they were not to marry for years and years. Sansa did not really know Joffrey yet, but she was already in love with him. (16 Sansa 1.8)

While most characters in <em>A Game of Thrones</em> live by the principles of duty and honor, there are definitely other ways of life. For instance, Sansa's guide isn't any knightly notion of honor (keeping your word, protecting the innocent), but a romantic notion of a woman's role: to be a sweet person and to fall in love. We may not agree with her, but these are her principles.

"The Red Keep shelters two sorts of people, Lord Eddard," Varys said. "Those who are loyal to the realm, and those who are loyal only to themselves." (31 Eddard 7.137)

Here, Varys lays out the two principles that guide most political people in the capital: either they want to help the realm or they want to help themselves. These are pretty broad brushstrokes, but Varys seems to be right.

"Back at the inn, you and Chiggen helped take me captive. Why? The others saw it as their duty, for the honor of the lords they served, but not you two. You had no lord, no duty, and precious little honor, so why trouble to involve yourselves?" (43 Tyrion 6.17)

Other people act according to principle (duty, honor, etc.), but mercenaries like Bronn only act for money.

 "You know what I must do."

"Must?" She put her hand on his good leg, just above the knee. "A true man does what he will, not what he must." (46 Eddard 12.69-70)

When Cersei tries to seduce Ned (after he's confronted her with her treason), she lays down this thought on him: a real man doesn't let his principles hold him back. Certainly, since Ned has principles, he is somewhat limited – he can't run around killing people, for instance. That's good news, right? But do you think that there's something weak, or even stubborn, about always sticking to your principles?

The king heard him. "You stiff-necked fool," he muttered, "too proud to listen. Can you eat pride, Stark? Will honor shield your children?" (59 Eddard 15.11)

There's one major hitch in Ned's reliance on his principles: they may work against him in a major way. As a father, Ned has a duty to do certain things (like protect his children). So what happens when Ned's duty as a parent conflicts with his principles as a person?

"Then Lord Eddard is a man in ten thousand. Most of us are not so strong. What is honor compared to a woman's love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms... or the memory of a brother's smile? Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy." (61 Jon 8.96)

Aemon lays this out for Jon: we all have some principles (well, most of us… well, at least Ned does), but there are many times when our principles might not be strong enough to change our minds or our behavior. And considering that Eddard confesses to a crime he didn't really commit, we might agree with Aemon here.

"Honor set you on the kingsroad... and honor brought you back."

"My friends brought me back," Jon said.

"Did I say it was your honor?" (71 Jon 9.94-6)

Aw snap. Nice one, Mormont. There's a way in which principles in this book aren't just personal; in Jon's case, the oath was a social bond – and his friends aren't about to let him run out on this society.

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