'Game of Thrones': Parenting Lessons From Westeros

In this week's episode, characters reveal what they truly value through the wisdom they pass along to their children

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HBO


"We've come to a dangerous place. We cannot fight a war amongst ourselves."
–Ned Stark

"Everyone who isn't us is an enemy."
–Queen Cersei Baratheon

As the various political agendas unfold in this week's Game of Thrones, "Lord Snow," one thing is growing clear: If there's anyone that can be trusted in Westeros, it's kin. With so many secret alliances and competing interests, you need to anchor yourself to something, and family—even family in conflict—is as safe as bet as you're likely to find. In a series with that features so much actual bloodshed, the old adage "blood is thicker than water" has never rung truer.

But lineage doesn't guarantee anything about the quality of a person; it's up to each of the seven noble families to raise and nurture its next generation. In "Lord Snow," we see both Ned Stark and Queen Cersei Baratheon's respective lessons on the right way to act in a world that's so unforgiving and cruel. And the best way to learn what a person truly values is to see what they teach their children.

Ned, the (ostensible) hero of Game of Thrones, is obviously more comfortable parenting his younger daughter Arya than his teenage daughter Sansa. It's both funny and sad when Ned clumsily attempts to give Sansa a doll (a toy she's clearly too old for): Even great heroes struggle with raising teenagers. Game of Thrones has done an excellent job of showing the flaws in someone even as noble as Ned, and as we see in "Lord Snow," fighting wars and ruling over a territory doesn't give you much time to dote on your children.

The tomboyish Arya is understandably a fan favorite—she's sharp, blunt, and fearless (and the actress who plays her, newcomer Maisie Williams, is perfectly cast). She's also, at this point, one of the series' only purely virtuous characters—bratty or petulant at times, but lacking the guile and capacity for deception that characterizes even her sister Sansa. When Arya gives up needlework for a sword that she dubs her own "needle," Ned recognizes and rewards her confidence by promising to find her an instructor. Ned is by no means a perfect parent—as Arya notes, he's complicit in the politically beneficial arranged marriage between Sansa and the insufferable Prince Joffrey—but he's trying to instill the same sense of honor and duty that he values so greatly in his daughter.

Queen Cersei actually has two other children besides Joffrey (a daughter and another, younger son) but their almost total lack of screen time is indicative of their importance to her. Cersei only has eyes for Joffery, whom she's grooming for the day when he'll be crowned King. Cersei's advice for her son speaks to both her coldness and her greater ambitions for the Lannister family: "Someday you'll sit upon the throne, and the truth will be what you make it. And if you'd rather fuck painted whores, you'll fuck painted whores." When Cersei tearfully told Lady Catelyn about the death of her own infant child in last week's episode, it was unclear how much of the story was calculated, and how much of it was genuine remorse over her role in Bran's crippling injury. We get our answer in "Lord Snow" when she advises Joffrey that "the occasional kindness will spare you all sorts of trouble down the road." Cersei is always looking for a way to get what she wants—by any means necessary—and she's teaching her son to do the same.

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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