“It’s the family name that lives on. It’s all that lives on. Not your personal glory, not your honor… but family. You understand?“
For much of Game of Thrones power and revenge have served as the primary motivators of the show’s major characters. Renly, Stannis, Balon Greyjoy, Margaery Tyrell, and Cersei all maneuvered with sights ultimately set on the Iron Throne. Robb Stark, Arya, and Oberyn all pressed forward consumed by a singular notion of exacting revenge upon those responsible for the death of their loved ones. Sure these characters often pointed to family legacy, but more often than not their true motivations undermined and weakened the position of their respective houses.
Robb managed to fracture the North by beheading Lord Karstark and allowing the ever-treacherous Boltons an opportunity to usurp power from the Starks. In her attempts to consolidate power and neuter the influence of the Tyrells, Cersei armed the Faith Militant, unintentionally leading to her own imprisonment and the current chaotic state of King’s Landing. Even Tywin Lannister, despite all his emphasis on the singular importance of family manufactured his own downfall by allowing his contempt for Tyrion to bleed into his otherwise cold and calculating scheming.
Yet as we inch further towards the endgame of Game of Thrones, it seems many characters are finally beginning to truly grasp the importance of acting in the best interest of their Houses. Arya’s ultimate rejection of becoming “no one” was a product of her finally letting go of her burning desire for revenge and re-embracing her Stark lineage. As fun as it would have been to see Arya go Jason Bourne on all the names on her list, it may be even more satisfying to see her assassin skills save the life of one of the other Starks.
In the Riverlands, both Jamie Lannister and Edmure Tully put aside power for the good of their houses. Sure Jamie got what he wanted, but rather than being goaded into a siege which would cost thousands of Lannister lives by the Blackfish, he sought out bloodless ways to capture Riverrun — first via Brienne’s attempted negotiations, then by freeing Edmure to re-enter his ancestral home.
It should be noted that Edmure’s actions, while they may seem cowardly on the surface, also placed the well-being House Tully above any personal sense of pride or vengeance. Surrendering the family’s castle may seem antithetical to the interests of House Tully in the short term, but by peacefully surrendering Edmure avoided any further bloodshed from his family and bannermen.1 I am inclined to believe that Jamie will keep his word and treat the surrendering Tullys peacefully — though it’s doubtful he will allow them to march off to fight at Winterfell as Brienne initially intended.
Further north, the Starks are less likely to avoid bloodshed, yet still will be fighting in the interest of their family and the North in general. If Jon and Sansa’s forces are able to defeat the Boltons they stand not only to retake their ancestral seat and potentially rescue their younger brother — they also are the best chance to truly re-unify the North. While Northern lords were forced to pledge loyalty to House Bolton after Roose Bolton was named Warden of the North and took up residence in Winterfell, the North has always been at its most united when ruled by House Stark. Given that the North will take the initial blow of the impending White Walker invasion, a unified front under Stark leadership is tantamount to any chance at victory.
Ultimately while some characters continue to pursue power, more and more seem to be setting aside the “Game of Thrones” and instead acting solely in the interest of their houses. Over six seasons, Cersei has been proven right when she defined the stakes of the titular power struggle — “You Win or You Die.” Given that far more have died than won, perhaps the best move all along was to never play and instead take a more isolationist stance in the interest of House and family. It’s better to live in one kingdom than die trying to rule seven.
- With the notable exception of his uncle, Brynden “The Blackfish” whose death echoed the same frustrations I had with the demise of Barristan Selmy last season ↩