Friday, June 1, 2012

Motherhood in Game of Thrones

In real life, motherhood is many things. It is love and bonding, affection and protection and most certainly inspiration. Mothers have been inspired to incredible feats over the years on behalf of their children, for their children and for the world their children live in. We have a world where motherhood can be a great strength and a source of great power and resolve.

In Game of Thrones, however, motherhood seems to coincide with victimhood - being a mother is rarely, if ever, a source of strength for the mothers of Westeros, but so often another avenue through which they can be vulnerable, attacked and manipulated

This is, perhaps, clearest of all with Cersei Lannister, Queen of the 7 Kingdoms, and mother of Joffrey, Marcella and Tommen. Cersei has lead a life with little love and a great deal of harshness. A callous father lead to a loveless marriage which in turn has lead to her seeing love as a weakness. She openly advises Sansa not to love because to love is to leave one vulnerable to being hurt. And with that assertion she has another lament - that you cannot help but love your children, she sees her children as an weakness.

And, considering her eldest son, it’s no surprise. Joffrey is, without a doubt, the most evil character in the Game of Thrones. Callous, selfish, cruel, sadistic and not very intelligent, he is a blight on Kings Landing and the throne - and everyone loves it when Tyrion slaps him. Cersei isn’t blinkered to the flaws of her son. She sees what he is and how truly awful he is - and has expressed so with Tyrion on more than once. She has told Sansa that she knows she will not be happy as Joffrey’s queen and she’s fully aware of the atrocities he’s committed, whether it’s slaughtering babies or having prostitutes brutalised.

Yet, she is still driven to protect and support him. She still worries about him when he goes into battle, she still wants to save him, she is still driven to support him. She is bound to the loathsome boy and even as she sees his crimes, she cannot turn away from him. She doesn’t even get any power from being the mother of the king as she is increasingly both outmaneuvered by Tyrion and, ultimately, unable to curb the excesses and foolishness of her son. Her son is a burden, something to endure.

And her other children? Marcella, sweet, gentle Marcella, is turned into a weapon in Tyrion’s hands to be used against her - shipped off to a hostile shore against her wishes after Tyrion used Marcella to ferret out Cersei’s loyal advisor. Only Tommen is not used against her - but again the only interaction we see between them is loving - but it is fearful. Cersei on the Iron Throne with her son, grieving, preparing to kill him. It’s an incredibly powerful scene of pain,  grief, fear and love. But, again, Cersei’s motherhood has hurt her.

Cersei’s motherhood is never a source of strength to her, something even she acknowledges, it is a tool to be used against her, a burden to endure and a source of soul deep pain and fear.

The second prominent mother in the series is Catelyn Stark. Catelyn is the mother of Rob, Sansa, Bran, Arya, Rickon.  Though she is lady Stark, her only real power comes from the fact that she is the widow of Ned Stark and the mother of Rob, who since his father’s death has become king of the north. Our first real exposure to Catelyn as a mother comes when Bran is injured and she sits by his bed day and night.  When Ned leaves for Kings Landing, it falls to Catelyn to keep Winterfell running but she is too consumed to carry out her duties and foists it all off on Rob. In this we see a mother’s devotion - nothing is more important than her child. While the devotion is understandable, her motherhood is seen as a barrier to her duty.

When someone breaks into Bran’s room and attempts to murder him, and she learns that her sister’s husband, the former Hand of the King was murdered, she sets off for Kings Landing.  It is on her return trip that she holds Tyrion captive and sets a war in motion.  She has dubious proof to hold Tyrion and does not think through the consequences though she knows that he is a Lannister. The impetus for her actions is her motherhood, vengeance for Bran’s injury. It was an absolutely senseless decision and unfortunately it was only one of many.

At first Rob depends on his mother to negotiate the various politic of the north in order to gain allies.  It seems that, despite being the cause of this civil war, Catelyn has managed to maintain respect, unfortunately it is short lived.  At first she pleads with Rob to trade Jaime the Kingslayer for his sisters Sansa and Arya; ignoring what an asset Jaime is.  As a mother I can absolutely understand her desire to do so, though it is likely that having killed Ned that the Lannisters need Sansa and Arya for leverage. What I cannot understand for the life of me is her decision to release Jaime just a few episodes later. She has absolutely no idea if, once reaching Castle Rock, Jaime will release her daughters. She has no reason to trust this man but she does it anyway. Her ridiculous decision is, again, based on her motherhood. This forces Rob to put his mother under guard thus reversing their roles. Instead of a trusted advisor, Catelyn’s motherhood has made her ineffectual and untrustworthy.

It’s as though motherhood means that women have absolutely no cunning, or common sense.  Since being a mother is the primary role of importance for women, this renders all women in need of watching and guidance, because it leads to negative consequences for all around.  Catelyn never thinks, she simply reacts because she is a mother, which of course constructs all men, including her young son as logical. She is a slave not only to her love but to her biology.  

And we cannot speak of mothers making nonsensical decisions without coming to the third mother of the series, Lysa, sister of Catelyn, widow of Jon Arryn the former Hand of the King. The only thing we ever see Lysa as is a mother - a fearful mother driven to extreme measures out of paranoia to protect her son. From the moment we see her we’re supposed to be disgusted and horrified by her motherhood as she breastfeeds and indulges her son. She is not rational, she is emotional and, frankly, she’s barely fit to rule herself, let alone a kingdom. Because of her and her fearfulness, the Vale, one of the 7 Kingdoms, is completely sitting out the war, even though the Lannisters are her enemies and her sister’s family is at threat - she sits behind her castle walls to preserve her son, while reason deserts her.

The strength of motherhood is missing in these women. They’re easily manipulated and/or, constantly hurt, grieving or fearful and no matter how brilliant they’re supposed to be, motherhood reduces their common sense to that of a cabbage. Their motherhood is a liability, never an asset.