Jul 13 2011 5:38pm

The Sins of the Fathers in A Song of Ice and Fire

In our previous post (see all the posts in this essay series here) we discussed Eddard Stark and his refusal to share any information about Jon’s mother with his wife (and, indeed, with Jon) and the damage that this caused his family, and the similar situation Doran Martell found himself in with respect to his daughter.

This seemed to fit naturally back into a topic that was suggested to us by the folks at the way that everything seems to go back to fathers for so many of the characters in the novels. For Jon Snow and Robb Stark, Eddard looms very large in their imagination. The early death of Steffon Baratheon left Robert even more dependent on his foster-father, Lord Arryn. The highly dysfunctional Lannister family is a multi-generation problem, from the cold and remote treatment of Tywin Lannister to the follies of his own father. The Clegane patriarch who gave his horrifically burned son ointment after his older son shoved his face into a fire for daring to touch one of his toys (one he never played with) probably didn’t do his sons any favors. And on, and on.

Of all the fathers in the series, Tywin Lannister certainly seems to loom the largest in the eyes of his children. Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion have each lived in his shadow, and each responded differently. But Tywin’s own world view was shaped by his father, Lord Tytos. A younger son who came to rule unexpectedly, Tytos was obsequious, always wanting to please... and so became open to being railroaded by grasping vassals and ambitious lordlings from other lands. Genna Lannister, Tywin’s sister, shares the anecdote of the young Tywin — no more than a boy — being the sole person in a feast hall to stand up and decry the announcement that Genna was to be married to one of Lord Frey’s sons (a younger son, no less). His weak-willed father left the Lannisters to have their reputation dragged through the mud, and this made Tywin the person who he was: uncompromising and utterly ruthless in defense of the Lannister reputation. The speech Tywin gives to Jaime on the television show was invented by the writers, but it very much fits into this mold as he informs Jaime that all their individual deeds do not matter; it’s the house that will go on.

But in becoming so closed, so unwilling to have his family or himself laughed at, Tywin caused some dire harm to his children. Cersei grew up with an impossibly distant father figure with incredibly high standards for himself and his offspring. He dreamed that his daughter would be a queen, and did everything he could to make it happen. That Cersei wanted it as well is clear enough, but there’s something else that’s quite clear in the reflections on her past that she offers: what she wanted more than anything was to have what Jaime had, the kind of respect and support that only a son could have. Once she was old enough, she was no longer able to trade places with young Jaime, and grew up to a life of gowns and courtly dances while Jaime learned all the things that “mattered” in the patriarchal Westerosi society. Jaime, on the other hand, was to be a great knight... and he was, but one who could never live up to the standards that Tywin espoused. Would a Tywin who was more attentive and less demanding have changed the course of his life and Cersei’s? It’s hard to see how not.

The twins may have their scars from their upbringing, but it’s Tyrion who suffered the most. Tywin had grown up with the sound of men laughing at his father in his ears, and now the ugly, dwarfish son had given the whole realm something to laugh at. Worse, Joanna’s death in bearing this twisted weakling must have added some level of resentment to further separate the two. Raised with the constant awareness that he was unloved and unwanted, Tyrion’s learning comes from his having dived into books to escape the oppression in his life. Tywin accepted his presence only grudgingly. Ironically, as Genna observes, of all his children Tyrion was the one who was most like him in terms of intellect and temperament. No need to wonder if it galled Tywin to hear it, as Genna lets us know he cut off communication with her for half a year thanks to her remark.

The place where all three characters find themselves are directly related to Tywin and his failure as a father. Strangely, though, it’s not clear that Tywin merits the title of “Westeros’s Worst Father.” Or perhaps I should say “The Seven Kingdoms’ Worst Father,” because Westeros’s worst is surely Craster, who marries all of his daughters and sacrifices his sons to the Others. In any case, who could be worse than Tywin? His judgmental neglect of Tyrion, his overweening pride and ambition for his twin children, were all quite bad... but at least one could see the sense of it. He may have been blind to Tyrion’s gifts for much of his life, but he was able to come around. But Randyll Tarly? Now there’s a terrible father who doesn’t seem to have anything but the barest connection to humanity. The terrible things he did to Samwell to try and “toughen him up,” and the dehumanizing disgust that he treats Samwell with when he finally gives him his marching orders were a harrowing thing to read. The end result is a young man left frightened at the world around him, feeling himself inadequate, and calling himself a craven (a shocking thing, in a society where personal courage is an important moral trait).

There’s other examples one might draw from, from the more obscure (Chett and his gruff, leech-harvesting father) to the rather obvious (the Mad King Aerys and the fates of his children). Fathers are the major influence in the lives of nearly every character who discusses their parents in any real way. In some cases, mothers are nearly invisible. They are long dead (as with Catelyn Tully’s mother) or simply never mentioned (as with Eddard’s — when asked, George has so far merely said, rather cheekily, that she was Lady Stark.) But on the other hand, mothers play major roles in the story, as Catelyn (absolutely my favorite portrayal of, and perhaps one of the objectively best portrayals of, motherhood in an epic fantasy) and Cersei have. But it feels as if the fathers are the ones who most determine the futures of their children, whether they mean to do so or not. This may be an artifact of men being dominant in society.

This isn’t to say that fathers are unmitigatedly bad men in the novels. There are some fine and loving fathers who do not seem particularly irksome to their children, after all; whatever his secrets, Eddard was clearly a warm and loving father (even if he did seem to do everything in his power to keep Sansa naive and innocent, even if it wasn’t in her best interest), Davos obviously loved his sons, and more. But they all seem to have a particular importance, and seem to be more directly connected to the failings of their children, if there are any. The two exceptions appear to be Lysa with her son Robert and Cersei coddling Joffrey as he became more and more unruly (to put it very mildly indeed). But Robert certainly shared the blame... as did Jaime, of course; neither man warmed to the boy that each considered his son. And surely Jon Arryn played some role in not intervening in his wife’s over-protective relationship with her son?

Would it have made a difference, if these men had been better fathers to their sons?

This is the final installment of a series of essays focusing on an aspect of Westeros, its world, or the series written by Elio and Linda of premiere Song of Ice and Fire web portal You can find them all collected on the Song of Ice and Fire Master Index. Some spoilers inherent.

Having met on a game (yes, on the internet), Elio Garcia crossed an ocean to join Linda Antonsson in her native Sweden. Establishing their “A Song of Ice and Fire” fan page, Westeros, in 1998, they now host the largest fan forum and oversee sub-sites covering all facets of George R.R. Martin’s works, including a wiki. can also be found on Twitter and Facebook, where they provide official syndication of George R.R. Martin’s blog updates. They are co-authors, with Martin, of the in-progress The World of Ice and Fire, an official guide to the setting.

1. blueworld
It seems to me that the sins of fathers (Tywin Lannister, Randyll Tarly) are about being too harsh, too cold. They try to shape their children into people who will survive in the tough world of Westeros, but end up breaking them instead. The sins of mothers like Cersei and Lysa are almost opposite: they indulge their children and create uncontrollable terrors that won't survive to adulthood. Between these extremes are parents like Eddard and Catelyn, whose children all seem to be turning out capable and functional despite some missteps.
2. Bronn Stone
Olenna Tyrell said it best.
"All these kings would do a deal better if they would put down their swords and listen to their mothers."

The Olenna-Mace-Willas-Loras dynamic is a saga in and of itself.
3. BFG
blueworld @1 - agree that Lannister, Tarly are to cold, but Jaime, Cersei & Tyrrion all seem to be more successful in Westeros than the Starks are turning out to be.

Just reread Sam's departure and remembering how much I hate Tarly. If GRRM gives him a chapter and forces me to sympathise with him I might cry.

Bronn Stone @2 - just so long as the mother isn't Cersei...
4. audiodrifter
Why is it always about the fathers? Is it an american thing? I think it might be...
5. BFG
Just to clarify, it's Sam's father I hate, not Sam!!!
6. Vash the Stampede
I think Tywin's problem isn't his coldness but the fact that for all his talk he doesn't stick to his principles and isn't as clever as he thinks.
As someone that supposedly has supreme pride for the reputation of his house/family then he does some questionable things.

For one, he should have cut out the tongues of anyone who spoke ill or laughed at Tyrion (in spite of his personal feelings) and prepped him for inheriting Casterly Rock just in case Jaime got killed in battle (so much for being prudent...). Instead, he let Tyrion get treated like a P.O.S. and the whole 7 kingdoms knew it. Then of course is the whole debacle with Tyrion's first wife (don't think I need to go into that). For all Tywin's cunning and cold calculation you'd think he would have had Tyrion killed while still a newborn instead of "shaming" his house with such a jape of a offspring.

Then there is Tywin's military/diplomacy tactics which bring to question his pride in the Lannister reputation. He uses the Mountain way too much and lets him get away with ridiculous carnage. He brings over the scumbag Companians. He green lights the Frey betrayel which as mentioned in the book most will know wouldn't have happened unless they had the backing of the Rock.

You could almost say Tywin was a craven...

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