Family comes first. Always. That has been the message behind so many great television shows of the past few decades, not just keep-it-in-the-family crime dramas like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad, but also workplace comedies like The Office and Parks and Recreation, which seem to suggest that the drones who camp out in the cubicles next to yours probably feel more like your husbands and wives (or your competitive older brothers and annoying little sisters) than the people who share your last name. All of these shows tell us that you’re not born into your family — you choose it. Tony Soprano believed this so much, he ended up killing his own cousin just to preserve la famiglia that keeps him in business. So it felt kind of thrilling to see Tywin Lannister lay waste to that idea on last night’s Game of Thrones finale. ”The house that puts family first will always defeat the house that puts the whims of wishes of its sons and daughters first,” he told his son Tyrion. That advice pretty much sums up this very exciting season: if you’re not looking out for your own blood, then your own blood’s gonna get spilled.
Of course, a feudal drama is really going to be about family. Nothing keeps kingdoms together quite like a strong genetic line. And the real thrill of Game of Thrones lies in rooting for the house you love most: if you’re a Stark fan, do you really care whether Bran or Arya will claim the throne in the end, as long as one of them does? But what’s most interesting about Tywin’s advice is that he clearly thinks that sticking by your relatives has nothing to do with love. Anyone who tried to choose his own family members this season suffered. Robb Stark ignored his mother’s advice and married Talisa, only to end up getting stabbed in the heart in the season’s most heartbreaking episode. (That’s what he gets for disobeying his mom!) Jon Snow fell for Ygritte and tried to act like one of her fellow Wildings, but he ultimately remained loyal to the people who raised him — and it earned him three arrows in the back. (How romantic was that scene? She was just like cupid — except vengeful!) And we already know what happened when Tyrion tried to make an honest woman of common girl Tysha: let’s just say that his father wasn’t happy, and things didn’t end well. It’s enough to make you anxious for poor, infinitely lovable Sam, who met Bran for the first time last night and sweetly called him ”brother.” Dude, never call anyone brother who doesn’t have the genomes to prove it, or you’ll end up dead.
All of this should serve as a warning to all members of Westeros: marry for political power, guard your brood, and prepare to rule the world. Right? Even Varys seems to think lone wolves have no power. (”You have one name, as do I,” he tells Tyrion’s lowborn mistress, Shae. ”Here only the family name matters.”) But strangely, the most triumphant moments this season belonged to those who don’t belong to any particular clan. Chubby, self-conscious Sam, whose father disowned him, became the first man to ever kill a White Walker. The orphan Daenerys Targaryen, whose only brother has died, outwitted her archenemy at the Plaza of Punishment, than destroyed his kingdom with his own army. (Awesome!) The bastard Jon Snow might be Winterfell’s last hope, if he survives the day that Ygritte used him as target practice. And I haven’t read the books, but if someone’s going to be the hero at the end of the series, I’m putting Arya’s gold coins on the sly genius Tyrion, whose own dad never really treated him like a legitimate member of the family.
If Game of Thrones has taught us anything this season, it’s that true family love only leads to tragedy. Catelyn freed Jaime to save her daughters, but that clemency lead directly to her own murder, and Arya and Sansa haven’t gotten off any easier so far. Long ago, we learned that Davos became a knight only to help his own son, who then died in the war anyway. And after Cersei took her sisterly love for Jaime a little too far, her son grew up to be a total monster. It’s amazing that she still looks back on early motherhood as a happy time, even telling Tyrion that his wife Sansa will only have a meaningful life if he gives her a child. So what if Cersei’s sweet little baby grew up to be the world’s most evil human? She really loved him when he was little. ”No one can take that from me,” she says. ”Not even Joffrey.” And now that he’s older? Well, if she can’t rule the kingdom herself, at least she can manipulate this little beast.
So yes, family comes first — but only because family is power. It seems fitting that the season ended with the word ”mother,” chanted over and over again by the slaves that Daenerys freed. She tells them that their freedom isn’t hers to give, because it belongs to them, and she really does seem to be acting from a pure-hearted place. But when they respond by cheering ”Mhysa! Mhysa!” it’s obvious that she loves being adored by this crowd. Even Jorah looks worried about it — which makes me very curious about what will happen next season. Clearly, being a ”mother” isn’t just about selfless love for Daenerys. As Tony Soprano and Walter White taught us, family is all about building an empire. A-