To paraphrase my main man Billy Costigan, “Families are always rising and falling in Westeros, am I right?”
Life is little more than a roll of the dice in the World of Ice and Fire. An entire life can be mapped out the moment it is created based solely on the family name.
If the child is born into a great house, the only thing he or she will have to worry about is the line of succession — will they rule or be married to someone who can? Regardless of the answer the Westerosi version of the golden spoon will never be out of their mouth.
If the child is born into a noble house, they are still sitting pretty. Lands, riches, titles, arranged marriage, etc. are all ensured even if having your neighbors ride into battle screaming your name is not. A member of a noble house may not calling all the shots, but they aren’t shoveling horse manure or squashing grapes to make Arbor Gold either. Plus, there is always room to move up should some nastiness befall your liege lord.
If you’re low born, you have a chance to grow… but that’s about it. The chance to maybe grow up, maybe get called off to war to fight for a lord you barely know, and maybe come back alive. If you’re one-in-a-thousand, maybe you start your own branch of the family tree and give your kids a chance at nobility and for the family name to mean something in a few generations.
Blood, honor, and tradition cause families in Westeros to rise and fall like waves on the ocean. The ebb and flow of the tides repositioning each family for advancement or regression, and each character for certain life or death. In episode six, ‘Blood of my Blood’, family traditions play a huge role in determining the next phase of the game.
THIS POST IS DARK AND FULL OF SPOILERS
Things have looked bleak for each member of the Stark household since the moment we met them. “Winter is coming… but a break isn’t,” could easily be the word bubble coming out of the mouth of the direwolves on their sigils. What has kept the Starks in the game after all these years is their unwavering commitment to each other.
From Jon and Sansa reconnecting at the Wall, to Benjen Stark willing himself to stay alive (AND SHOWING UP AGAIN AFTER FIVE SEASONS!) to protect and guide Bran to his destiny, to Bran’s journey through the Westerosi looking glass to fully understand the Stark lineage, blood has bound this family together through six straight seasons of tragedy.
Even Arya, who has been removed from her family for the vast majority of the series, when faced with truly becoming no one opts to instead recommit to her family name. My guess is that her very dramatic quitting of her internship at The House of Black and White and unearthing her sword, Needle, for another spin at the Braavosi Water Dance is going to play a major role very soon.
The Starks are the best example of families being bound by blood; nothing means more to them than each other.
Honor, or the absence there of, can make people do very strange things. Such is the case in King’s Landing with both the Lannisters and the Tyrells. The Lannisters have only been a major house for very short period of time in Westerosi history, and are completely obsessed with their perceived honor. The Tyrells have been around for decades but are only now emerging as true players in the game due to the political marriages of Margaery to both of the Baratheon boys, respectively.
These two families are the Game of Thrones equivalent of nouveau riche, and there is no way they are going to be besmirched by some barefoot zealot who somehow has the ear of the king despite having the queen in a cell.
The battle between the Crown and the Faith has been a major through line in the last two seasons of Game of Thrones. While we were focused on the short term battles between the High Sparrow and the reigning Aristocracy — ex. Cersei’s Walk of Atonement and Queen Margaery potentially following suit — we missed the long game being played out in front of us.
When power and honor are at stake, the players involved have dealt in absolutes. The Tyrells absolutely needed to prevent Margaery from making the Walk of Atonement, for fear it would diminish their family’s status. The Lannisters absolutely needed to kill the High Sparrow and his Faith Militant to show just how powerful they still are. Dealing in absolutes put the royal families in a position of needing to carry the burden of proof that extreme action against the Faith was the only recourse.
All the faith had to do was ask, “maybe it isn’t.” Guess what? It wasn’t.
The battle between the Faith and the Crown was over before it even started. Rather than negotiate with those who only have perceived honor and power — the royal families — the High Sparrow appealed to those with actual honor and power — The King and Queen of Westeros. Sure he had them locked up in a mega-church but that is besides the point.
Family traditions are tricky business in A Song of Ice and Fire. Luckily for Daenerys Targaryen, her family tradition is to conquer Westeros, which makes me think that there is something to her constantly proclaiming that she is going to do it.
Dany is at a disadvantage in being the last known Targaryen, which makes her following in their exact footsteps so much more interesting. She has no template to follow, no elder to guide her, no tradition to add her name to. Khaleesi is doing this all on her own and it just so happens to be the same way her ancestors did it hundreds of years ago: with Fire and Blood.
After six seasons, Dany’s role was pretty well defined. A nice check-in from time to time, but her character was only a vehicle for the audience to see the dragons mess around. Mother of Dragons sure… but how ‘bout them ACTUAL DRAGONS, right?!
Dany is much more than the Mother of Dragons this season, and Khaleesi is much more than a cute name for you to call your sweetheart. She’s redefining her role in real (Westerosi) time, and adding weight to all of her titles. The Breaker of Chains? Damn right. The Unburnt? Damn right. The Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea? Damn right. And then some. Dany is flat out dominating every battle she engages in while creating her own traditions to add to the history books. Is there any way better to honor your family name than that?
To close out ‘Blood of my Blood’, Dany reminds her followers (and the audience) of what the title of Blood Rider means to the Dothraki people. Essentially Blood Riders are your permanent wing men. They ride or die with their Khal, very literally. Once the Khal dies, they have to die, too. It’s like the highest stakes bachelor party one can attend and it is for life.
Dany, again honoring, advancing, and laying claim to this tradition opts to spread the honor of being named Blood Rider to each and every one of her followers. With no family of her own, she’s created a blood tie with the family she has chosen. Time will tell which of these bonds proves to be stronger.
Six seasons ago when Game of Thrones began, we watched as four families began to rise and fall. Now, with the end of season six in sight, and the series as a whole moving towards it’s final end game, it will be interesting to see if we are lifted back to where we started or if these new tides bring us to brand new shores all together.
- Book Rumor/Theory Confirmed: Benjen Stark is Cold Hands
- In passing, The Brotherhood without Banners was mentioned. If you haven’t read the books, this is VERY significant. I sincerely doubt they would just throw that name around without reason. Hold on to your butts.
- Jaime going to the Riverlands is also VERY significant.
- We’re all geared up for a major battle in Winterfell, but let me tell you right now… they’re setting us up for something we won’t even see coming.
- Samwell Tarley… good for you, buddy. Tarla Tarley… maybe the worst name on the planet.