Incest, blood sacrifice, beheadings…all part of family life in the Seven Kingdoms. This most recent season has been all about action, but what about the love? These guys have been on my mind, so in recognition of the end of Season 7 of Game of Thrones I present my ranking of seven prominent fathers from Westeros.
***Spoilers abound, so if you have not watched Game of Thrones I recommend you dedicate the next 66 hours to catching up, then come back to read this afterwards.***
7. Stannis Baratheon
Priorities are hard. All experts agree that a parent who tries to sacrifice everything for their kids and gives up completely on their own personal priorities is heading for trouble. To look after our kids we need to look after ourselves and our own goals. That said, Stannis’ priorities were always a bit…askew.
Sure, Stannis had a lot of responsibilities besides his obligations to his immediate family. It can’t be easy believing you have a legal and moral imperative to seize control of an entire continent where basically nobody likes you. But this implacable hardass started off with a real soft spot for his daughter Shireen, whom he doted on. In the early stages of their relationship as depicted in the show, you would think he was doing a pretty good job of balancing those priorities.
Stannis is most useful as a reminder that you have to keep checking in to make sure that balance is still there. As his personal goal seemed to slip farther and farther from his reach, Stannis kept his eyes on his ambition but lost sight of his love for his daughter, ending in one of this series’ greatest tragedies.
He takes the bottom spot on this list because Stannis lost all balance. Remember: do not sacrifice your personal goals for your family, but do not sacrifice your family on a fiery pyre for your goals.
6. Randyll Tarly
When we see what an absolute gem Samwell Tarly is and consider that his own father hated his guts and sent him to the Wall (under threat of death!) rather than have him inherit the family home, we see the error of pressuring our kids to grow up in our own image. The scholarly, compassionate Sam was nothing that Randyll was and everything Randyll wasn’t and for this Randyll loathed him. Such a shame, and a reminder that while we can try to teach our kids to live the way we think is best, at the end of the day our job is to love them for who they are. Randyll failed this test in every way.
By all accounts he was on ok dad to his second son, but he named him Dickon so he holds on to number 6 on this list.
5. Jaime Lannister
As the series has progressed the Kingslayer seems to have become more and more comfortable acknowledging his parenthood of the three golden lion cubs, but that’s too little, too late. A dad’s gotta be there, no excuses. Now, as far as excuses go, “my offspring are the monstrous fruit of twincest and would be shamed, disinherited and likely executed if my paternity were ever confirmed” is a damn good one. But like I said, no excuses.
I really, really feel for Jamie, but someone as resourceful as him should have found a way to be there for his kids.
4. Tywin Lannister
How do we make sense of someone whose role in this series is anchored in his importance as a father figure to three central characters and who treated his elder son, daughter and younger dwarf son so wildly differently? How do we judge a father who went on and on about the importance of family but always seemed primarily motivated by his own pride?
Tywin tried relentlessly to force his kids to play the parts that he wanted them to. In this, he only differs from Randyll Tarly in that Tywin never gave up. That’s an important difference, though, because through his sternness Tywin elevated his whole family to the very highest peaks of power and prominence in the Seven Kingdoms. Is that success enough to make us look past his cold tyranny?
Of course it isn’t. He led his family to great power, but was only ever happy as long as they were all under his thumb. He tried to balance making his kids great with keeping them all on a short leash, and what happens when you try to keep a pride of lions on leashes?
His treatment of Tyrion, who deserved so so much more, is enough to disqualify Tywin as a worthy dad. But at least he was always there for his family, so he gets the edge on Jamie.
3. Selwyn Tarth
This might be a confusing one; there is such a dearth of positive father figures in this series that to find one I had to go off-screen to a character who has never appeared in the show and only been mentioned a couple of times.
But what a job this guy did! We get everything we need to know about Brienne of Tarth’s dad from a little bit of dialogue when she first meets Arya Stark. It’s the pride in her eyes when Arya asks her where she learned to fight and she replies “My father taught me.” Brienne goes on to explain that at first he told her fighting was for boys but when she wouldn’t give it up and kept losing, he told her “if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right.”
See everything that Randyll Tarly did wrong, Selwyn Tarth did right. When he realized that his daughter would never be the lady that society (and maybe he) wanted her to be, he let his love guide him and gave her the tools she needed to be the best version of herself that she could be. The result was uniquely confident and capable woman remarkable through the whole realm for her prowess and her moral steadfastness.
2. Eddard Stark
Ned takes a lot of heat for having been impractical. Tied down by notions of honour and duty, Ned refused to play the game of thrones and because of his naivete he lost his head and condemned his family to years of devastating hardships. But that’s politics, not parenting. When it came to family, Ned was all about love and guidance.
With the family motto “Winter is Coming” the Starks are defined by their preparedness for shit about to go down. He was no slouch in teaching his kids the tough lessons they needed to be competent and fair leaders. One of his first acts we see is his insistence on cute little Bran going along to watch him behead a Night’s Watch deserter because that’s the kind of stuff a little Stark needs to understand. But then…puppies for all the kids! He seems intent on pushing Arya down that crummy patriarchal path to ladyhood that society demands, but he also gets her sword lessons. When it comes to balancing work and family, in a really tough world Ned gets things pretty close to right.
With some shit about to go down tonight, the Stark girls would be wise to remember Ned’s words to Arya from the book: “Sansa is your sister. You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you … and I need both of you, gods help me”
Ned’s death was the sacrifice that the cold realities of Westeros demanded. His amazing kids are his legacy.
1. Davos Seaworth
In one of the most violent and brutal worlds ever depicted in pop culture, the Onion Knight stands out as the series’ only prominent nurturer. And among a cast of lords and monarchs all seeking to enhance their strategic position, this crabber’s son is all about humility. He’s my #1 Westerosi dad because his primary goal is to lift up the people around him.
Davos’ blind devotion to Stannis is super weird until you put it into the context of family: Stannis made Davos a knight meaning that Davos’ kids could become educated and knighted – he mentions this several times. After losing his son in battle (the only thing that makes no sense about Davos’ character is how quickly he seems to get over this) his loyalty to Stannis for having elevated his family remains.
But Davos is at maximum dadness with his surrogate daughter Princess Shireen. Whether reading with Shireen, carving toys for her or speaking with her frankly, Davos’ gentleness with the little princess mark him as the dad that everyone in this harsh world needs and deserves. And even after losing her – and his reaction to her death is one of the most emotionally raw moments in these 66 hours of storytelling – Davos pushes on. He’s now looking after his new surrogate kids Jon and Gendry, providing wisdom and encouragement while letting them make their own mistakes and be their own men.
Anyone important I missed? Disagree? Sound off below. Thanks for reading and stay warm, Winter is Coming!