Now that the twin holidays of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are behind us, it’s time to once again hold parents to high standards. In Westeros and the surrounding lands, bad parenting takes on new dimensions. But there are far more opportunities for bad parenting in the Game of Thrones universe. Where we live, eyebrows would be raised if say, one brother held another’s head in the hearth until he was permanently disfigured. But if you’re a member of House Clegane, people ask fewer questions.
This list details the misdeeds of the worst parents from HBO’s Game of Thrones. We’re leaving book information out for the most part, for clarity’s sake. Why did we focus on parents? Parents shape their offspring in ways that last a lifetime, and they serve as our introduction to the world. Nasty parents usually mean a nasty outlook on life. Just ask Roose Bolton. Oh wait…you can’t.
Here are the 15 very worst parents in the Game of Thrones universe. Expect SPOILERS for all aired episodes of Game of Thrones to lie ahead.
15. Catelyn Stark
It’s been said that Catelyn Stark has “a woman’s kind of courage,” which we don’t dispute. She’s a brave, bold, loyal woman, which is probably why she never got over the thought of her husband cheating on her. As far as Catelyn Stark knows, the honorable Lord Eddard Stark had a quickie affair with some random woman he never discusses—the result of which was everyone’s favorite bastard, Jon Snow. In some ways, she can’t be blamed for having a lousy attitude about what she thought was her new husband’s affair. Except…
Catelyn tells a story in season three’s “Dark Wings, Dark Words” that describes infant Jon Snow falling ill. She prayed all night for him to get well, saying she’d name him a Stark and treat him as a son. Jon got well. Cat reneged. That’s why she blamed herself for every awful thing that befell her family. Tough, but fair. She treated Jon Snow horribly, for reasons that had nothing to do with him. Lady Stark died not knowing that Jon was actually Lyanna’s son with, we presume, Rhaegar Targaryan.
14. Selyse Baratheon
Before we get into Selyse’s specific faults as a mom, it’s only fair that we mention that she’s a miserable person who seems quite insane. She’s not just a terrible mother. She’s a very strange wife, a horrible sister, and she takes a collection of half-formed fetuses with her wherever she goes. Eeeeew. Selyse did not even seem upset when Melisandre burned her brother alive.
As far as we can tell, the person Selyse treats worse than anyone is her daughter and only surviving child, Shireen. Selyse describes her daughter with words like “sullen, sinful” and “withdrawn.” She sends a cult leader to play word games with the girl—but Shireen outtalks the Red Witch at every turn. She’s kind, thoughtful, very smart, and teaches several characters to read. Selyse thinks she should be beaten with a rod, but the girl’s father forbids it. What about her father, anyway? Stannis is coming up later in our list, don’t you worry.
13. Walder Frey
Lord Walder is another character who isn’t just a bad parent. He’s a revolting husband, a lackluster bannerman, a much-maligned lord, and a truly distasteful in-law. Walder Frey is a selfish man with dozens of legitimate children and about as many bastards. When pressed, we learn that Walder doesn’t even know all of their names—and is irritated at the suggestion that he should. Walder Frey has little interest in the opinions of other Lords, unless he’s trying to marry off one of his kids. He’s bitter about the lack of respect that he gets, but is highly disrespectful of everyone and everything.
When it comes to his children, Walder speaks to grown men as if they’re infants (but with more swears and sexual innuendo). When his only attractive daughter gets married, her new husband is locked in a dungeon for years. Maybe it makes sense to lock up one’s enemies, but probably not to have them knock up your daughter first. In the end, it’s a shame that Lothar Frey and “Black” Walder Rivers didn’t live to see what happened to dear old dad. They certainly deserved to.
12. Shae’s Mother in Lorath
If she is to be believed, Shae had a short and difficult life. Whether we can believe her, however, is a large and difficult question. By modern standards, she perjured herself good, and repeatedly slept with her boyfriend’s father. But if we count those things against her, we also have to presume that she had a choice. Whatever we think of Shae’s actions, she didn’t have a lot of options.
Born in Lorath, possibly to a noblewoman, Shae is believed to have lived in the free cities outside of Westeros. We know that Shae is easily identifiable as Lorathi, and that she’s been to Volantis (where Robb Stark’s TV show widow, Talisa Maegyr, is from) and Dorne. We also know that Shae’s mother sold her to a brothel when she was thirteen. It’s easy to think of the Game of Thrones universe as similar to medieval times here. Even in medieval times, thirteen was way too young to be sold off by your family, or to become a prostitute. Sure, it happened, but only when your parents didn’t like you.
10. Lysa Arryn & Petyr Baelish
We learn in “First of His Name” that Petyr Baelish is the sneakiest, and quite possibly the worst, person in Westeros. We also learn that when Ned Stark left Winterfell for King’s Landing, it was based on a huge lie that Jon Arryn was murdered by the Lannisters. Nope. He was murdered by his awful wife, for love of an even more awful man. We can forgive Lysa for failing to wean her cloying son, and maybe even for being absurdly overprotective of him.
But we don’t forgive Lysa for inviting anyone as deceitful and unscrupulous as Littlefinger into their home. She could have married any number of good men instead of blindly marrying her girlhood crush. Petyr is objectively terrible, and that mustache is awful. Now that she’s been killed by her second husband (nice symmetry), little Robin is under the “care” of Baelish. Littlefinger, of course, is using Robin for his army and position. It’s a good guess that Petyr will murder the boy the first time he disagrees with him. We have to wonder how Lord Royce will feel about that.
10. Mace Tyrell
It’s right around this point of our list that the bad parenting progresses from endangering and emotionally damaging their offspring to more serious stuff. Mace Tyrell seems like a bungling doofus, but he’s actually very power hungry. The problem is that he’s too dumb to handle the power that he wants. In fact, he’s too dumb even to handle the power he has. That’s why his mother, Lady Olenna Tyrell, keeps him on a short leash.
It’s bad enough that Mace allows his daughter to become engaged to Joffrey, who is obviously a sadistic bastard. But he’s the king, and that’s good enough for Mace regardless of how much that might literally injure his child. We can argue over exactly how much Mace knows, but he has access to a lot of the same information we do. When his son and daughter are imprisoned by the Faith Militant, he does basically nothing about it until Jaime Lannister is by his side. Nobody was all that sad when Mace was enveloped by green flames in last season’s finale.
9. Robert Baratheon
Parenting is an active pursuit. When it isn’t, people get hurt. Joffrey was obviously a disturbed child. His mother didn’t care, and Robert couldn’t be bothered. The King barely knew his children, which is sort of reasonable since they weren’t actually his. You can tell because when Joff told him one story, and Arya told another, he honestly didn’t know who to believe. Surely Joffrey was a well-established liar by that time. Honestly, what parent doesn’t know when their kid is lying under those circumstances?
But there’s more. Parents are supposed to lead by example. The kind of husband you are teaches your sons and daughters what a marriage is supposed to be. Cheating, constant drunkenness, gluttony, and rampant disrespect can certainly damage the kids even when you’re not a king. When you are, you have an obligation not to leave your kingdom in the hands of kid who might as well been called Joffrey Lannister. You might also want to spend a little time with your many, many bastards. Gendry and little baby Barra might have appreciated that. Robert, you suck as a dad as much as you sucked as a king.
8. Tywin Lannister
Lord Tywin is probably the most obvious and expected selection on our list. When one thinks of horrible Westerosi parents, Tywin may even be the first one that leaps to mind. His children all hate him, fear him, and sort of respect what he’s trying to do. You may think you’d like Tywin as a dad. (Tons of money, everything made of gold, Casterly Rock seems like it would be pretty nice.) Everyone respects the Lannisters, and everyone knows they pay their debts. That’s really where the good stuff ends.
Tywin has definite expectations for his kids. Whether those involve learning to read and swing a sword, being sold off as breeding stock, or floating out to sea to die—if Tywin wants you to do something, your best bet is to just do it. If he betroths you to someone you hate, if he has your wife gang-raped, or maybe disowns you for wanting to stay on the King’s guard, well, that’s just too bad for you. Ultimately, Tywin’s worst deed was helping set his youngest son up for death by “justice”. Tyrion lived, and continues to do so. We can’t say the same about Tywin. Meh, no big loss.
7. Balon Greyjoy
You know how sometimes you get captured by your enemies after a siege, and they start cutting body parts off of you? When that happened to Theon Greyjoy, Balon’s last living son and hostage of Ramsay Snow (not a Bolton yet), his dad didn’t care to help him. In fairness, a lot of viewers hadn’t forgiven Theon for the crap he pulled in season two. There’s a lot of evidence that being a Greyjoy would suck.
Words: “We do not sow.” The Greyjoys pay “the iron price” for everything. That means they don’t buy things, they steal them. Nice life, right? Might makes Right on Pike, which is no way to live. Balon abandoned his last son, knowing he was being tortured, because Theon could no longer further the family line. Asha/Yara has her work cut out for her. Kind people don’t often get murdered by their families, so we don’t feel too badly when Balon dies at his brother’s hand. The knowledge that Euron could be even worse is actually intriguing, in a super dark sort of way.
6. Robb Stark
It might be surprising to see Robb Stark on our list. If you think about it, though, it’s safe to say that Robb’s offspring was doomed before it was conceived, and certainly before it…well, you know. Let’s start by pointing out that Robb grew up with every advantage. His parents were honorable, and they loved each other. He learned loyalty and honor. He was taught to fight, to keep his word, and what it meant to protect and rule the North.
And yet, he married a woman after he’d made an oath to another family. Then (unlike his actions in the books) he takes the wife who so offended Lord Frey right into his castle, knowing she was pregnant. All of that was selfish and catastrophically dumb. TV Robb should have known better. Honestly, after Ned was killed, Robb probably should have gone back to Winterfell to regroup. Just imagine all the people who could have survived that war—especially Talissa and baby Eddard.
5. Daenerys Targaryen
Before anyone starts throwing copies of The Handmaid’s Tale at us, know that we’re not saying Dany is a bad mom because her child was murdered by an evil witch. Not at all. Daenerys has many glorious monikers. She’s the Khaleesi, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains, and as many people call her, The Mother of Dragons. But is she a good mother to those dragons? Let’s look at the evidence.
When the dragons are born, she has no idea how to feed or care for them. The dragons were (kind of) a surprise, but shouldn’t she have learned about them anyway? She’s a Targaryen FFS! As the dragons grow, she trades one away to a slaver. Sure, her plan worked out, but how could she know for sure? We’re tempted to say that she can read dragon’s minds or maybe control them telepathically. But if that were true, Drogon wouldn’t be killing children, and Viserion and Rhaegal wouldn’t have had to be locked up. Since they were, we’re hoping there are a bunch of new dragon eggs left behind in Mereen.
4. Randyll Tarly
Not only has Randyll Tarly threatened to murder his own son, but he did it for a cowardly reason. We’ve heard that Lord Tarly is a “great military mind.” He prides himself on toughness, fighting skill, and other manly bullcrap that doesn’t apply to his son Samwell. We also know that he dislikes his fat, smart son, and loves the handsome son that likes to kill things. Rather than simply announce that he’s leaving his title and estate to the second son, Randyll forces Sam to join the Night’s Watch—knowing he will almost certainly die there. If Sam doesn’t give up his name, title, right to marry, or any shot at a sex life, Randyll will kill him and tell his mother it was an accident.
We know that Lords can deny a title to a son if they want to. Tywin did. So why did Randyll threaten his son instead? Because big tough Lord War was afraid to tell his wife about the monstrous thing he did to Sam, probably because he knew it was wrong—and he knew his wife would hate him for it. Samwell did get tough. He killed a Thenn and a White Walker. That somehow made Randyll be even meaner than before.
3. Cersei Lannister
The Queen would probably be surprised to find herself on this list. Cersei is an involved mother who loves her children very much. Trouble is, that number kept getting smaller. Cersei’s only child by Robert died of illness, which we don’t fault anyone for. Joffrey though? He might have been a mean person without her help, but teaching him that he should lie his way out of anything did not do anyone any good. Joff died in part because she never bothered to reign him in.
Myrcella was murdered in Dorne, but Cersei still had a hand in it. Of course, she didn’t want Myrcella to die. But her hatred for Tyrion led to the death of Prince Oberyn Martell. That enraged the already difficult Sand Snakes, and they rose up and killed Myrcella as part of a coup. We know that Cersei would do anything for Good King Tommen, especially once he was her last living child. But her shortsighted quest for revenge left him alone long enough for him to leap to his death after learning of the death of Queen Margaery. Shame! You may be Queen now, Cersei, but you still fail.
2. Stannis Baratheon
With few exceptions, the bad parents on this list are also reprehensible people in general. The elder brother of King Robert Baratheon was, technically, a man of honor. He believed in the law and the rights of succession. By law, he was the rightful King. But Stannis was also stubborn, rude, cold, and ineffective as a leader. Rather than work on that, he kept throwing his only friend in a dungeon and threatening to have him executed. He also followed a religious whackadoo right off a metaphorical cliff. The only redeeming quality of Stannis Baratheon was his love for his daughter, Shireen.
We’ve already discussed that Shireen’s mother was unkind and a little nuts. No matter what she had to endure, Shireen saw the good in it. She helped people when she could, loved telling stories, and was generally a lovely person despite an unfortunate bout of greyscale. In the end, Stannis loved crowns and glory more than Shireen. He let a mad witch burn his child alive—something even Selyse tried (a little) to stop. Stannis’s death was quick and honorable. Brienne of Tarth should have burned him alive.
Craster is somewhat unique on this list. He’s an inconsequential character in the grand scheme of things. Yet he’s managed to become the absolute worst parent in a truly barbarous series. How did he manage this? Ever heard the expression: All that’s needed for evil to win is for good men to do nothing? Because the men of the Night’s Watch need to stop at Craster’s Keep on occasion, they overlook a few ghastly things. Mostly, they overlook the fact that Craster rapes and enslaves his daughters, and hands his sons over to terrifying ice zombies as a continuing sacrifice. If a daughter-wife makes too much noise giving birth, Craster is happy to supply her with a punch to the face.
Though he’ll tell you he’s a “godly man,” we aren’t exactly sure which god. Is there a god of rape? Of feeding men sawdust? A god of giving your infant sons to monsters? Maybe there’s a god of threatening to eat Samwell Tarly? We can’t be sure, but we don’t want anything to do with any god who’s cool with what Craster did.
Did we leave out your favorite horrible Westerosi parent? Tell us all about it in the comments!
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