May 24, 2019

What Does It Mean to Be a Mother in Game of Thrones?

“Game of Thrones, which returns for its final season on Sunday, has always been obsessed with the question of power—how you get it, how you wield it, how you hold onto it. And even in the violent patriarchy of Thrones, which kind of makes our own medieval times look like a Renaissance faire, a tremendous amount of that power is wielded by mothers.

Because Westeros is a primogeniture society where heirs—and daughters who marry heirs in order to cement alliances—are essential, having a child is one of the central ways women gain power. The way mothers end up using that power, and how those decisions reverberate for them and their children, has been a riveting and troubling theme for seven seasons because no amount of power, no willingness to do terrible things, actually keeps anyone’s children safe. Thrones amplifies the central tension of parenthood, which is that children make you both stronger and weaker. There’s the strength of knowing you’d do anything to protect your child; there’s the vulnerability of knowing that no matter what, you cannot guarantee their safety.

When the show begins, Cersei Lannister is the queen of Westeros, married to King Robert Baratheon, and the most powerful woman in the Seven Kingdoms. But that power is precarious, because her children, passed off as the true heirs to Robert’s throne, are actually the product of an affair with her twin brother, Jaime. In cuckolding the king, Cersei creates a huge risk for the ones she loves the most—her children would be killed if the truth came out—but the deception sharpens her sense of danger, making her ruthless and brutal. She has Robert killed, then outmaneuvers Ned Stark, the hand of the king, and has him beheaded.”

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