Mothers are all the same in A Song of Ice and Fire

Mothers are all the same in A Song of Ice and FireDoes anybody else find the entire Iron Islands storyline tiresome and disconnected? I do. I just can’t find myself at all interested by Euron Crow’s Eye or Victarion or Asha. I also sort of get the sense that Martin knows these chapters are slow so every once in a while he’ll add a little sexual tension or comment on some woman’s body. But the sexual gratuity argument is not only exhausted but not my major gripe with the series. If I had to complain about one aspect of these books it would not be about how stupid Ned Stark is (really, it seems like the entire blogosphere agrees that Stark is stupid, just not in what way he’s stupid. Either way it’s not worth discussing.) My gripe is that there is no appealing mother character in the books. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but every character who’s a mother first (Cersei, Catelyn, Lysa) are all incompetent, insane, or some mixture of both. Their roles consistently involve messing things up and complicating things in an easily correctable manner. At one point Cersei thinks “Mothers are all the same.”

Now, the immediate counterargument is Daenerys. But she never was a mother for very long was she? She may be the “Mother of Dragons” but she’s really a queen first and a mother and keeper of her pet dragons second.

There’s also Gilly, I guess, but what does she do? From where I am in A Feast for Crows, she generally hugs Sam, carries a baby who’s not hers around, and cries a lot. There’s still time for her to muck things up though. Maybe when Sam and Gilly get to Oldtown she’ll burn down the Citadel. Who knows!

It occurs to me that an actual competent player of the game of thrones who is a mother is the Queen of Thorns. She’s actually fairly competent but, like Dany, I don’t really think of her as a mother first —more a matriarch of House Tyrell. She doesn’t seem particularly concerned for her son, for example, but rather the success of her house and their conquest of the Iron Throne. That’s not quite the top priority of a mother character. I consider Catelyn a maternal character because she’s always doing things based on the safety of her children which is hardly, as it appears from where I am, what the Queen of Thorns or, I suppose to a lesser degree, Dany does.

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42 thoughts on “Mothers are all the same in A Song of Ice and Fire

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but every character who’s a mother first (Cersei, Catelyn, Lysa) are all incompetent, insane, or some mixture of both. Their roles consistently involve messing things up and complicating things in an easily correctable manner.

    Catelyn is not insane or incompetent. Seizing Tyrion was a mistake for which she gets a ton of crap, but you have to remember the context: She thinks that Tyrion tried to have Bran killed, and that the Lannisters murdered Jon Arynn. She was rightfully worried of what might happen to Ned and her children if he got back to King’s Landing and spilled the beans about meeting her secretly making her way back through the Riverlands. It was short-sighted, but very understandable – especially since she had no way of knowing that Lysa had gone insane and would seize her hostage.

    I honestly blame Ned more for escalating it after that. He should have tried to cool things down with Robert, but instead he took a stern, confrontational approach when Cersei and Robert challenged him on it.

    Cersei is incompetent, and Lysa insane – but in different ways. I don’t know how you can say that Lysa’s situation was “easily correctable”, since she had gone mad. Cersei made a bunch of stupid mistakes as Queen Regent, but it’s important to remember that the Tyrells really are a threat to her family, seeing as how they poisoned Joffrey and are trying to claw their way into greater influence.

    She doesn’t seem particularly concerned for her son, for example, but rather the success of her house and their conquest of the Iron Throne.

    You’ve got that wrong. She thinks her son is an oaf, but she cares deeply about her grand-daughter Margaery (she was probably the main instigator in the plot to poison Joffrey), and she doesn’t care that much about the Throne. She mentioned in one of the A Storm of Swords chapters that she’s not the one pushing for Margaery to be Queen – it’s Mace Tyrell who is deadset on having his daughter on the throne.

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    • I gotta disagree with you on Catelyn. She’s incompetent because she wasn’t able to easily conclude that the dagger used to try and kill Bran wasn’t necessarily direct evidence that it was Tyrion. That was her flaw, not that she acted on it (although she acted rather rashly).

      Can we PLEASE stop bringing Ned into this? Yes yes, he’s the cause for every piece of conflict in the series. God. Let’s move on. I’m sorry, it’s just a peeve of mine that every analysis of these books inevitably lead back to Ned.

      I think I should have been more specific with Lysa: her insanity lies mostly in her paranoia except with Petyr. She let down her guard with Petyr which proved to be her undoing and the undoing of the peace in the Vale. That’s pretty incompetent. It’s clear that Petyr is malicious and conniving and Lysa Arryn, of all people, should’ve been able to recognize that. Instead, she let her infatuation with him overpower her judgement.

      As for the Queen of Thorns…I guess I was playing with semantics here a bit. You’re mostly right although I think she’s more a loving grandmother than mother but I guess I’m really just stretching things to make my point on that one.

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      • I gotta disagree with you on Catelyn. She’s incompetent because she wasn’t able to easily conclude that the dagger used to try and kill Bran wasn’t necessarily direct evidence that it was Tyrion.

        Not necessarily direct evidence, but she did hear from a trusted childhood friend that it was Tyrion’s dagger – and she was under a constraint. Remember, she’s thinking about the short-term threat to Ned and her children. She couldn’t afford to let Tyrion go by after recognizing her, on the off chance that it wasn’t actually him.

        Can we PLEASE stop bringing Ned into this? Yes yes, he’s the cause for every piece of conflict in the series. God. Let’s move on. I’m sorry, it’s just a peeve of mine that every analysis of these books inevitably lead back to Ned.

        That’s because Ned had a hand in virtually every conflict except the encroachment of the Others and the wildling invasion, even if it was indirect (like getting himself killed in King’s Landing). I’m sorry if that upsets you, but it’s true.

        He’s directly responsible for the Brotherhood without Banners, and indirectly responsible for Robb’s invasion and the War of the Five Kings. Had he, for example, taken either Renly’s or Littlefinger’s offer, the War of Five Kings might simply have not have happened – or it would have been limited to Stannis versus everybody else.

        He also had about the worst response possible to Catelyn’s abduction of Tyrion when the news got to KL. He claimed responsibility for it, never bothered to explain why Catelyn made her move, threw the problem back in Robert’s face, and then openly defied him when Robert ordered him to release Tyrion.

        I think I should have been more specific with Lysa: her insanity lies mostly in her paranoia except with Petyr. She let down her guard with Petyr which proved to be her undoing and the undoing of the peace in the Vale.

        She’s not paranoid with everyone (such as her Vale subjects), and Petyr has been the object of her obsession for a very long time. It’s not surprising that she’s not paranoid towards him, even though her behavior towards him is still insane.

        As for Petyr, he’s also quite charming (or so we’re told). And why should Lysa Arryn be able to recognize his bad side?

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        • Keep in mind that the seizure of Tyrion is not Catelyn most foolish act.
          In my opinion that prize would go to her decision to release Jaime Lannister with Brienne of Tarth in exchange for his promise to return her daughters. Releasing one of the most dangerous martial enemies her son has and a known oath breaker to try and get back her girls? My eyes rolled so hard my neck ached for a week.
          The fallout from that act was pervasive and cascading: not only did it tip Richard Karstark over the edge and force Rob to kill him (and also cost them two more Lannister hostages and the good name of the Northerners) but it also led to Catelyn being out of favor and thus easily left behind at Riverrun when they pressed on to the Gold Tooth. If Catelyn had been at the Gold Tooth with Rob when news came of what happened in the North (being vague to avoid spoilers) then Rob would most likely have found comfort with his Mother instead of where he did which of course would have prevented the Red Wedding.

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        • Again though, there’s no sign that Catelyn ever considers that it was anybody other than the Lannisters (and Tyrion in particular) and that someone might be trying to frame the Lannisters. That’s a pretty big assumption and one that shakes off a lot of assumptions. Yes, Petyr told her that it was Tyrion’s dagger but, again, that doesn’t prove that Tyrion was the one who ordered Bran’s assassination. Catelyn doesn’t even consider that though. That’s incompetent in my book.

          As for Lysa, but she is paranoid with her knights of the Vale. She refuses to entrust them with any more rule of the Vale or marry one of them which would have more strategic value than marrying Petyr. But regardless, like you say, she does display an insanity: toward Petyr based on her obsession and paranoia surrounding her. That’s the point. She fits into the pattern.

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          • Again though, there’s no sign that Catelyn ever considers that it was anybody other than the Lannisters (and Tyrion in particular) and that someone might be trying to frame the Lannisters.

            She suspects the Lannisters based off of Lysa’s letter, but isn’t actually set in her belief that it’s them until she meets with Petyr and Ned in King’s Landing.

            You call it a big assumption that Cat doesn’t consider the possibility that the Lannisters are being framed, but try to see this from Cat’s perspective. She doesn’t know much about what’s going on with Court Politics, but she’s just been told (by someone who does have a lot of experience with court politics, and whom she thinks she can trust) that the Lannisters were involved, and that Tyrion may have been involved as well. Why should she suspect some secret hidden conspiracy trying to frame the Lannisters?

            Yes, Petyr told her that it was Tyrion’s dagger but, again, that doesn’t prove that Tyrion was the one who ordered Bran’s assassination.

            It doesn’t, but it’s about as good proof as she was going to get.

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  2. It’s hard not to read this post as “all the mothers are incompetent or insane except for these other mothers who totally don’t count as mothers because…. uh… they aren’t incompetent or insane.”

    Surely that’s not what you meant though?

    PS The Mormont matriarch also seems pretty competent, by my recollection.

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  3. I realize she’s not a character in the present, but howzabout Lyanna Stark?

    Also, as mentioned above, it’s hard to find a lot of characters who aren’t incompetent/insane. Jaime, definitely. Petyr? Varys? Tyrion? Arya has no responsibilities, so it’s hard to say with her. I’m running out of people here. Davos, maybe, and Stannis. (Stannis is many things, but he doesn’t appear to be insane or incompetent.)

    I think we tend to assume that, because these characters are forced to act without full information, they must be incompetent. I don’t buy that. I don’t think Catelyn is any more or less incompetent than anyone else. The “releasing Jaime” argument is interesting, because it’s almost the opposite of the “capturing Tyrion” one. She captured Tyrion for fairly sensible reasons, and the whole thing blew up in her face. She released Jaime for reasons that don’t make a ton of sense, and it might be the most sensible thing she’s done. Of course, this being Martin, that also blew up in her face.

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      • It was sensible because it turned Jaime into a good guy. It put him in a position to help Brienne with her mission to find the girls (even if she’s not any good at it). The fact that it, in turn, led to the consequences you outlined above is what I mean when I say it “blew up in her face” anyway.

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    • This makes the most sense to me, but I’m only just done with ACoK, but I’m getting rather sick of the ‘how stupid is Catelyn’ discussion.
      Even the ‘competent’ people have made plenty of errors, some blow up and some don’t. Some folks luck out and skate past a series of bad decisions and others get killed despite making what look like good decisions.

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  4. In Martin’s world, people either need to be incompetent/crazy, or powerless(mormonts), or disinterested (like the Queen of thornes). Otherwise, he can’t tell such a chaotic, crazy tale.

    It makes one wonder if there were more women around (there are many dead ones… too many to be a complete coincidence), if there would be a more peaceful kingdom.

    Certainly, absolutely, if Joanna Lannister was still alive… (see? another strong mother!)

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