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.
In the medieval world of Game of Thrones, power seems to come from blood connections, for blood is, after all, what ties families together, and it is family that determines one’s position in the world. It is from blood that the nobles and aristocrats of this world earn their wealth, their power, and their influence. Even the right to be a leader—to be king—is inherited through blood. Even so, we often see exceptions to this rule. Some characters, like Littlefinger, are able to rise to power through their own ambition and cunning without the aid of any blood connections. Some families are tied together by something other than blood: an oath, a common goal, a shared belief, or simply convenience. Sometimes, the importance of blood is purposely ignored and tossed out the window in favor of other interests.
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.
Stannis Baratheon believes that he should be king. Joffrey is the product of an incestuous relationship between Jaime and Cersei Lannister, and therefore, is not the true son of King Robert. By law, the Iron Throne should pass to Stannis. Power extends from blood connections: Stannis thinks he has the right to have the power of a king simply because he is related to a king. This is the law of hereditary rule, the law of blood that exists for nobles, aristocrats, and kings of a medieval world. So, family is the essential connection that allows power to be earned.
All the same, those in the pursuit of power are often willing to toss concerns of blood and family right out the window. Stannis would, with the aid of a sorceress, assassinate his own brother Renly to be king. His nephew, the bastard son of Robert, would be sacrificed to help Stannis defeat his enemies. Killing one’s own family members is, apparently, a price worth paying to become a king. He claims his right to power through his family relations, yet is willing to harm those to whom he is related by blood to attain that power. To Stannis, it seems that blood connections are only important when they are useful for attaining his goals. Even his own daughter and wife do not seem that important to him in the grand scheme of things.
Davos, the loyal servant of Stannis, believes that family is everything. He had hoped that by serving Stannis he could provide a better future for his sons. To him, harming one’s own family is wrong. In fact, he is willing to risk imprisonment and even execution to prevent Stannis from committing what he believes to be an immoral act. He releases Gendry and only barely escapes execution by turning Stannis and Melisandre toward a higher goal: defending the realm against the White Walkers in the north. At first, all this seems wonderful, for now that a greater threat has emerged, they can move past petty squabbles and face this new threat together. However, Stannis’ main weakness remains unsolved: he displays almost no willpower or leadership abilities of his own and still relies mainly on Melisandre for most of his power. Under her influence, who knows what else Stannis might do? He may very well continue to sacrifice his own morality to achieve his “greater” goals.
Now, let’s talk a bit more about Gendry, the bastard son of King Robert. He shares the blood of a king, but does not earn any of the associated benefits of blood simply because his mother was lowborn and because he is not the son of Robert’s legitimate wife. He was never accepted as part of the king’s family, and so, he is left as an orphan, wandering the streets of King’s Landing without a true family of his own. He is forced to find an adopted family that he might be a part of.
For awhile, he seems to believe that the Brotherhood without Banners might be that family. They are a group of people united not by blood, but by belief, by goals, and by convenience. They are unified by their opposition to the lords of Westeros; they believe that the actions of these noble families, those who earn their power through blood, have destroyed the lives of the common people. Their goal is seemingly to help the common man. At the same time, they act as a refuge or safe environment for those outcasts, deserters, and wanderers who have nowhere else to turn. Gendry thinks that this is a family that might be accepting of him, but we see that this is not true, when the Brotherhood turns him over to Melisandre for a sack of money. The Brotherhood claims to be a family that accepts any and all members, but when it comes down to it, practical concerns outweigh any such claims. A family that protects its members only when convenient cannot be considered a true family. I wondered, during this scene, if blood relatives would dare to do such a thing to their own family members.
For a brief moment, we along with Gendry start to believe that Melisandre intends to elevate him and make him worthy of his blood connections with King Robert. The blood of kings, after all, has great power in this world. Melisandre would take this statement quite literally, for she uses his blood as a sacrifice to fuel her dark powers of sorcery. To her, blood connections are only tools, pathways to power that are manipulated, rather than an ideal to be truly honored or protected. Gendry’s lack of acceptable blood connections gets him in trouble, leaving him adrift without a proper family to protect him, while his link to King Robert, the lone blood connection that might serve to elevate his position in the world, unfortunately just makes him a pawn piece to be manipulated, rather than a person who has any power in his own right.