At its core, Game of Thrones is a story about family. It is about how far one must be willing to go to protect one’s family. It is about choosing which family one belongs to, and in making that decision, whether blood ties reign supreme or whether “adopted” families can be one’s true family. It is about the power that stems from one’s family connections. It is about marriage bonds, which are meant to tie two families together in alliance or two people together in love, and what happens when such bonds are broken. These are among the topics that we will discuss in this series regarding the role of family in Game of Thrones.
Tywin Lannister, the patriarch of House Lannister, operates using the guiding principles of power and family. He believes that power comes from putting one’s family above all else, even personal interests, and so everything he does is designed to improve the strength, power, and prestige of his family. However, problems arise for the Lannisters because Tywin demands that every other family members must also put the family’s greater interests ahead of their individual goals. As a result, the Lannister clan is enormously powerful politically, and yet is characterized by extremely unhappy individuals and dysfunctional relationships.
The following post contains SPOILERS from Game of Thrones. Do not proceed unless you wish to see the discussion of MAJOR PLOT POINTS from Season 3.
Tywin is a man who places his children into politically expedient marriages to improve the Lannister position, while ignoring their individual concerns. So, for instance, he marries his daughter to King Robert to ensure that the Lannisters remain dominant under the new king’s reign. He demands in Season Three that Cersei marry Loras Tyrell (despite the very obvious fact that Loras is not at all interested in women, which would very likely lead to an unhappy marriage) to prevent the Tyrells from allying with any other family. He also orders Tyrion to marry Sansa Stark with the end goal of producing a Lannister heir to Winterfell and thereby claiming the North.
Tyrion and Cersei, for all their protests, both submit to their father’s wishes, apparently unwilling to oppose the dominant figure that is Tywin Lannister. It is worth noting that Tyrion is at his best in Season 2, when his father is away; he easily navigates the realm of political intrigue in King’s Landing. As soon as Tywin returns, however, Tyrion is forced to submit to his will and loses the ability to act on his own. We would imagine that Tyrion, a man of clever wit and excellent intellect, could escape from his marriage to Sansa, but against his father, he seems almost entirely powerless.
This is likely because Tyrion owes almost everything to his family name; if he were not a Lannister, a member of a powerful, wealthy family, he, a dwarf, could never have achieved anything in Westeros. As we learn in Season 3’s finale, Tywin wanted to drown Tyrion at birth, for being an ugly dwarf that had killed its mother during childbirth, but he could not bring himself to do it, simply because Tyrion was a Lannister. So, we see here that family, as always for Tywin, seems to go first. Tyrion, in fact, owes his entire life as a Lannister to Tywin. The reason that I say family only “seems” to go first is because Tywin honors the power and prestige of House Lannister (a protection that does admittedly extend to all Lannisters, in the end) but does not offer much to his family in the way of love or affection. What little affection he has for his children would perhaps be better referred to as “favor”, for under Tywin, the principle “currency” (a fitting term for the wealthiest family in Westeros) of the Lannister family is not love, but power.
Tywin condones any and all actions to defend the power of the family. The Red Wedding, the horrific bloodbath of episode nine, was an utter violation of decency and of all hospitality rules on the part of Walder Frey, but we learn that Tywin agreed to overlook any such violations because he views this as a way of protecting his family. If Robb Stark, his primary political opponent, were to be killed, the war would end and the power of the Lannisters would remain uncontested. This is a logical decision that overrides the moral problems related to Lord Frey’s brutal murder of guests during a wedding.
Despite the extremes that Tywin goes to in order that he might defend the family’s political power, he seems unwilling to budge on matters of personal affection towards his own children. He grudgingly saves the life of Tyrion and raises him as a son, perhaps a token effort at being a true family man, but he refuses to grant Tyrion the position of heir to Casterly Rock, despite Tyrion’s brilliant efforts at defending the city and his incredible intellect that Tywin seems unable to notice. Not only does he hate Tyrion for the death of his mother during childbirth, but he also believes that granting Casterly Rock to Tyrion would damage the image of House Lannister. Everything, then, returns to the prestige and power connected to the family name. Nowhere does affection or love factor into Tywin’s decisions, only his lack thereof, noted in the extreme spite and hatred he displays toward his “failed” dwarf son.
What might be interesting to see in the next season is the new family dynamic that emerges after Jaime returns home, missing his sword hand. His skill as a warrior had been central to his identity, but now that he is no longer a fighter of legendary prowess, he can no longer be as important to his father. He can no longer command troops to support the military power of House Lannister, and therefore, he may lose the favor of his father. Tyrion has been pushed to the edge by his father, and Jaime, if he loses his father’s favor, may feel the same way. If anything, we will see Tywin’s two sons grow closer to one another, perhaps even developing some sort of resistance to their father’s dominance.
Finally, just a quick note on Cersei: she too offers a similar view of family as her father does, in that the Lannister family can never be safe until all its enemies are dead. However, the difference seems to be that she actually loves her children, despite their (many) flaws, and lives to protect them. Joffrey, for all his cruelty, is afforded some amount of love from his mother.