George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is full of relationships, and the loyalty or treachery associated with each of them propels each and every action occuring within the pages—as it will soon do on the small screen. HBO debuts its miniseries version of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones on Sunday, April 17th (they showed a 14-minute preview last night!), so this seems like a perfect time to take a look at the women behind the Thrones, so to speak, starting with the driving matriarch of the series, Catelyn Stark.
Selected spoilers for the series below.
Eddard Stark had married her in Brandon’s place, as custom decreed, but the shadow of his dead brother still lay between them, as did the other, the shadow of the woman he would not name, the woman who had borne him his bastard son.
Catelyn Tully Stark feels slightly off balance, always slightly out of place, throughout Game of Thrones. She enters the book seeking out her husband in a place that is still unfamiliar to her, even though she has lived there for fifteen years. As she walks, her thoughts are on the differences between where she grew up and the place she now calls home, as well as the religious differences that separate her from her husband. And, despite all of their differences, their marriage has grown from an arrangement into one of love. And, perhaps more importantly, of respect.
It is that respect that makes Eddard send his bastard son, Jon Snow, to lifelong service on the Wall rather than let him stay with his half-brother at Winterfell. Surely, as Lord of Winterfell, he could have insisted that Jon be allowed to stay with his brother Robb. The two of them were, after all, very close. Robb certainly would not have sent him away. But it was Ned’s respect for Catelyn that ultimately made him agree to her demands that Jon leave.
At the beginning of the book, when one of the younger Stark children is injured, Catelyn’s breakdown is complete and spectacular. She, literally, cannot function other than to sit at her son’s bedside. It is almost stereotypical “motherhood” at its worst. Yes, there are other children who need her. Yes, she has an estate to run in her husband’s absence, but none of that matters to her. Her own well being doesn’t even matter to her. It isn’t until things go from bad to unbelievably worse that she snaps out of her grief, going to nearly the opposite extreme.
Catelyn becomes emphatic about protecting her family from all enemies (foreign and domestic), which sends her out on a quest of her own. The idea of a woman, especially a highborn noble mother, striking out on her own to thwart plots and engaging the political landscape more directly, is very unusual. Catelyn is often contrasted with Cersei Lannister, almost by default. Cersei’s political machinations drive much of Martin’s Game of Thrones, without a doubt. But Catelyn’s political astuteness and her own attempt to shape political and military circumstances in her favor, are equally impressive. For all of the men playing the game of thrones, it would not be too much of a stretch to say that the women move their share of pieces across the board. By the end of the book, however, time, tiredness and tragedy have taken their toll on Catelyn Tully Stark. The war is only beginning, literally, but she is tired of fighting.
Again, the shouting began. Catelyn sat despairing. She had come so close, she thought. They had almost listened, almost…but the moment was gone. There would be no peace, no chance to heal, no safety. She looked at her son, watching him as he listened to the lords debate, frowning, troubled, yet wedded to his war. He had pledged himself to marry a daughter of Walder Frey, but she saw his true bride plain before her now: the sword he had laid on the table.
What had spurred her to action was her attempt to protect her family and, in the end, she saw it all come apart, her efforts unsuccessful. At the end of the book, Catelyn wants nothing more than to try and gather up the remaining pieces to Winterfell and be done with it. Instead, winters comes—and all too soon.
This article and its ensuing discussion originally appeared on our sister romance site Heroes & Heartbreakers.
Robin Bradford is a lawyer, a librarian and, most importantly, a longtime lover of words. You can check her out on Twitter @tuphlos, On Unpaged, or read the backlist at Obiter Dictum.