Bastards hold a significant place in the pages of A Song of Ice and Fire. Many plotlines revolve around their actions and status, and they’re significant enough in Westeros that George R. R. Martin identifies them by special surnames based on the region of their birth: Snow (The North), Storm (The Stormlands), Rivers (The Riverlands), Hill (Westerlands), Pyke (Iron Islands), Stone (The Vale), Flowers (The Reach), Waters (The Crownlands), and Sand (Dorne).
While recovering from “Battle of the Bastards” FireandLunch started debating the finer points of Bastardry in ASOIAF. Who is the worst bastard? The most honorable? Who should be legitimized? George R. R. Martin really loves writing about these compelling bastards and it turns out we love reading about them and watching them on HBO. So grab a chair above the salt and learn about our favorite bastards in ASOIAF. We’re rating them on a scale of Jon Snow (probably not a bastard) to Ramsay Snow* (not even his dogs like him).
*Let’s all agree to never call him Ramsay Bolton. He hates it.
Spoilers from the wrong side of the sheets ahead.
The Best Place to be Born a Bastard
The best place to be born a bastard is Dorne. Hands down. Dorne always scores high in quality of life. In Dorne there’s no social stigma to being a bastard and carrying the name of Sand. It is considered very normal for the high lords and ladies to have children while unmarried; many of the nobles take paramours, and their children are treated no differently than if they were born to a spouse. And the people of Dorne follow the standards set by the nobility.
Oberyn Martell’s Paramour, Ellaria, is a Sand as are their four daughters Elia, Obella, Dorea and Loreza. In fact, all of Oberyn’s eight daughters are bastards—Obara, Nymeria, Tyene and Sarella each have a different mother of varying social status. One of them is even a Septa. But none of them are treated the way bastards tend to be treated in the rest of Westeros. They’re raised along with Oberyn’s brothers children and are beloved of their family. Some of them are fighters like their father, some of them are not. They get to hang out in utopian gardens surrounded by fountains and fruit trees. It’s not a bad life.
There are several reasons for the Dornish tolerance of illegitimacy. Dorne is a mixed culture that was formed at the union of the Rhoynar people with the Andals of the area. Modern Dorne is a very diverse population that passes down inheritance based upon age and the will of the parent rather than gender. When the great Queen, Nymeria, united Dorne by marrying an Andal, she remained Queen while her husband was titled Prince. Their kingdom was inherited by a daughter. The continuing influence of the ancient Rhoynar has helped shape a country with far less restrictive power dynamics.
SCORE: You’re a bastard, but you’re going to be happy about it.
The Worst Place to be Born a Bastard
Many readers have their own standards for what makes life as a Bastard pretty crappy in Westeros. However, we believe the worst place to be born a bastard is in the Crownlands, where you would be known as a Waters. Why is that, you ask? Well, judging by the proclivities of ex-King Robert Baratheon, if you were born a bastard in the Crownlands up to and during the events of ASOIAF then your chances of being one of Robert’s bastards is fairly high. Like, really high. Let’s face it though, the chances of any bastard in Westeros being a royal bastard are pretty high. Robert had many bastards with mothers scattered all over the Seven Kingdoms. Gendry (most likely a Waters given where he’s grown up), Mya Stone, Barra, Bella, Edric Storm, a pair of unnamed twins, and—according to Maggy the Frog’s predictions—at least nine other bastards.
Even being acknowledged by Robert would do you no good. You may be provided for as a Nobleman’s natural child, but in the end you could be imprisoned and fall victim to attempted burning by a Red Witch from Asshai as a powerful sacrifice to a god of flames and really, do you want to risk that? Poor Edric Storm.
Gendry, as the presumptive Waters in this example, is also not living his best life. Growing up poor in fleabottom, the worst slum in Westeros, is not an ideal childhood. Making your way in the world as an adult is hardly better. Whether making arms for the Brotherhood Without Banners or, in the HBO version, stuck in a rowboat for endless purgatory, neither is the educated, leisurely existence of a bastard enjoying themselves in Dorne. Plus, Cersei wants all of Robert’s bastards dead.
SCORE: You’re probably not lighting candles for The Father in the Sept and people keep trying to kill you.
The Best Jobs for a Bastard
Despite the prejudices against bastards in Westeros there are plenty of examples of bastards rising to positions of honor and respect. There are at least two bastards to hold the rank of Lord Commander of the Kings Guard, for example. While Aurane Waters became Master of Ships during Cersei’s regency.
Perhaps the best, but certainly not easiest, way for a bastard to serve a House with honor would be to become a Maester by studying at the Citadel. Winterfell had a bastard Maester named Walys. Bastard girls might aspire to become Septas of the Faith of the Seven which is definitely not as cool as a Maester. We’re betting someone in Dorne is working on that standard. However, if one preferred the sword instead of a shame bell, obtaining a Knighthood would be the surest way of elevating your bastard name.
Wex Pyke serves as a squire to Theon Greyjoy, the first step in the path to Knighthood. Though Wex is mute he serves Theon well, if briefly. After Theon loses Winterfell to the Boltons Wex escapes. After wandering around the North for a while observing the movements of very important and elusive Starks, he is captured and taken to White Harbor where he serves a critical role in informing the visting Davos Seaworth that Rickon Stark is alive* and on Skagos.
SCORE: If you work hard and for the right person, you just might make something of yourself.
The Absolute Worst Jobs for a Bastard
Eagle-eyed readers will notice that Cotter Pyke, the commander of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea is a bastard from the Iron Islands. It is unsurprising that of any place, a bastard can attain rank and honor in the Night’s Watch. What sucks is that some of the men serving as Brothers of the Night’s Watch are there simply because they are bastards. Others are there because they are rapists and murderers. Which seems like an unfair comparison. While many Northern families send legitimate spares to serve in the Night’s Watch (What are you in for? Oh I was the third child and my father didn’t have any land to give me. Cool story bro.), other Great Houses may send bastards to the Night’s Watch in order to protect legitimate heirs from any claims a bastard may present.
Bastards that don’t want to be shipped off to the Wall to freeze or be murdered by zombies could head off to Essos and join one of the Sellsword armies. Successful sellswords can buy the legitimacy they crave with the riches they earn. Or they could be eaten by dragons. But, if you can’t afford the cost of a shipride, consider becoming a roving bandit in one of the Seven Kingdoms’ fastest growing fields of work. Instead of hiring your sword out to well-paying patrons, you can wander the country stealing from peasants. No one will love you but you might still get rich. In whatever riches peasants carry around. Not money, surely. Anyways you’ll probably get caught and shipped off to the Night’s Watch if you aren’t hung for your crimes. Choose carefully.
SCORE: You can have money or you can have all your toes but you can’t have both.
The Best and Most Honorable Bastard
We are keenly aware you fully expect Jon Snow to be crowned Best Bastard. Buuut you shouldn’t. Because this category is reserved for actual bastards. And it’s very likely that Jon Snow is not a Snow at all, but a legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen. We’ll know for sure once HBO finishes up Season 6 with the conclusion of Bran’s Tower of Joy vision but ASOIAF readers have been debating this for a while now. If Rhaegar married Lyanna, Jon is a legitimate Targaryen. Evidence points to Rhaegar marrying Lyanna because of his belief that he would father the Prince that was Promised. The Targaryens often took multiple spouses so the fact that Rhaegar was already married to Elia Martell isn’t relevant. As we know, the Kingsguard is present at the Tower of Joy despite Rhaegar not being there which points to a member of the royal family being present at the site. The only logical conclusion is that they are there guarding Lyanna and her unborn child.
Who, then, is the Best Bastard? The one with the sweetest heart, the best intentions? Could it be little Tommen Baratheon who intends to outlaw Beets and other nasty vegetables? Whose favorite thing is to stamp proclamations and play with kittens?
SCORE: Until HBO solves this mystery for us we’re going with kittens.
The Absolute Worst Bastard You’ll Ever Meet
Bastards are not inherently better or worse than anyone else. The circumstances of their birth are no reflection on their inner character or lack of morality. However, some of these bastards are The Worst.
Runner Up Worst: Joffrey Baratheon, bastard son of Cersei and Jaime Lannister. A bastard masquerading as a legitimate son of a king, he spent most of his time terrorizing Sansa Stark, being generally rude and horrible to his mother and, in the case of Jack Gleeson’s incredible performance, smirking his way through every scene with a swagger and inborn cruelty that even his mother had a little trouble loving. Joffrey! How we miss you and your sniveling weasely bravado!
The Absolute Worst: And then there’s Ramsay Snow. A character that has terrorized the readers and show-watchers alike with increasingly disgusting, inhuman torture. This guy kidnapped women and then hunted them like game. He turned Theon into Reek. He murdered his brother. And that’s just in the books. HBO has set him up as the ultimate villain whose only motivation appears to be increasing the fear and revulsion of the characters around him. He mutilated Theon, married and raped Sansa, murdered his father, his step-mother and her baby, and shot Rickon with an arrow in front of Jon Snow just to see Jon’s pain. Sorry Ramsay, but we’re really glad you got eaten.
SCORE: Whether it’s Pie or Kibble, you’re going to end up as lunch.
So you Want to be Legitimized…
For a bastard, being acknowledged by their noble parent is only the first step to glory. And the most important step is being legitimized. This means a bastard is not only acknowledged, they are yielded an inheritance and allowed to take the name of their parent, which can cause issues if the person being legitimized sees themselves as deserving of larger inheritance, titles, etc.
If ASOIAF is any guide, legitimizing your bastards never ends well. When Aegon IV was dying he decided to legitimize all of his bastards, but rather than encouraging peace and love between his children, he only created chaos. You see, Aegon IV’s legitimate son and heir was Daeron Targaryen, a man of books, not swords. His newly legitmized half-brother, Daemon, was a great warrior who felt he’d make a better king. He championed a rumor that Daeron’s father was actually Aemon the Dragonknight and not the King, to denounce Daeron’s claim to the Throne. The old king had gifted Daemon an ancestral sword named Blackfyre, inspiring his name, and Daemon felt this was proof enough that Aegon IV wanted Daemon to rule instead of Daeron. Thus began the first Blackfyre Rebellion. The deciding battle of this rebellion is called the Battle of the Red Grass field. In this battle Daemon Blackfyre is killed by Brynden Rivers, aka Bloodraven, thus preserving the Targaryen rule. Though Bloodraven was himself a Great Bastard, he did not challenge the inheritance of Daeron, preferring the power he gathered around himself at court. Daemon Blackfyre did have support from some of his siblings, most notably Aegor Rivers, aka Bittersteel, who fleed to Essos after Daemon’s defeat to found the Golden Company.
There are three other Blackfyre Rebellions and another war referred to as the War of the Ninepenny Kings. All are a result of the legitimization of the Great Bastards of Aegon IV (Ok, and maybe a little bit of it is because two bastard half-brothers were in love with their bastard half-sister who was also probably a witch and they fought over her because everything having to do with Targaryens is a soap opera). Even generations later the line of succession is still questioned and used to spur conflict.
(Honestly the most difficult part of learning about any Targaryen histories is learning all the disturbingly similar Targaryen names. Thanks, George! If you’ve never read up on Targaryen history, the Blackfyre Rebellions is a great place to start. So many Targs. So many egos. So much ludicrous silver hair.)
SCORE: Building your own legacy is difficult when you aren’t allowed to build upon the legacy of your parents in turn. But do you really need to start a war to work it out?
Do you have any favorite bastard characters from ASOIAF? Let us know in the comments.
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