Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spawning the World: Motherhood in Game of Thrones

  Game of Thrones is the buzzword for this seasons TV community: the backbiting, the plotting, the violence, the sex (of which, everyone is discussing). What horrific plot twist will the Lannisters think of next, we wonder out loud?

So I won’t really talk about those things, because to my mind, those aspects of the show have been reviewed by dozens of worthy reviewers, the New Yorker, the New York Times, The Mary Sue and Bitch Flicks, just to name a few. (If you’re not really sure of the plot or premise of the movie, you should definitely Wikipedia it, as I’m not really going to talk about that here, considering that so many other reviewers and websites have already provided a synopsis for it.)

One of the aspects that struck me in the show though, is the portrayal of motherhood. Far from being absent or swept to the side, the film’s mothers play a driving force in the plot development and are some of the most multi-dimensional of the series, (credit has to be given to the actresses who play them).

There are thee instances of motherhood being portrayed here: Cercei and Lady Arryn’s obsessive, spoiling, “my child is a god” kind of motherhood, Lady Stark’s “good mom” style, and lastly, the Dothraki queen Daenerys Targaryen’s pregnancy where she is worshipped by her people.

Lady Arryn is crazy, we can see that; Hell, the other characters can see that and are sending concerned glances to each other whenever she speaks and this outlandish behavior is most noticeable in regards to her son. Her child is a picture perfect example (almost a caricature) of the spoiled child—the kind of spoiled child who still nurses at the age of ten (which, no matter what you say, is always weird). Her kind of motherhood, the indulgent, nothing-is-wrong-with my child is interesting in that it also coincides with her isolation, as her castle is one that is almost completely cut-off from the world.

It’s a common trope, the mother who does everything for her son, so much so that we never see outside of the role of mother. She appears to have nothing else in her life and so instead showers him with inappropriate attention.

There is another example of spoiling a child, one in which the child is in the later stages of his aberrant and spoiled behavior. Lady Cersei though is a different kind of mother from the unstable and isolated Lady Arryn. Cersei is the mother to a prince, and then later, to a king and her kind of mothering seems to revolve around the difficult lifestyle of maintaining power for her son, and therefore for her. It’s a selfish sort of spoiling, one in which the son is used as a way to protect the mothers status, a situation she is able to maintain by creating an “Us vs. Them” mentality in the cruel Joffrey.

In both instances, their treatment of their children is one way that the case for their “evilness” is created; it appears that the road to creating an evil female character is to highlight the way that she uses her children, in that here, the children become a mirror for the mother. It’s a common trope, motherhood being the most unselfish of occupations and perhaps the most revered, therefore in order for a woman to be truly evil, she must also be a bad mother.

So two examples of bad motherhood, one completely consumed by her child, the other only consumed by her child because of the power and status it offers her, both characters however revealed by their relationship to their children (something I find a little frustrating, personally).

Then there is the nice mother; there always has to be a nice mom. Someone who legitimately cares for her children and does her best to offer them a stable and happy home, free from a “take whatever you want” kind of attitude, and while that is how the lovely Lady Stark begins (every time someone says Stark in the show though, I totally think of Iron Man and subsequently, Robert Downey Jr.; it’s a happy thought), she ends up being a very different kind of mother.

I find it interesting that she decides to join her oldest son Robb on the battlefield and become his most valuable diplomat and negotiator, scoring him alliances and armies at every turn. It’s possibly the most unique portrayal of motherhood in the show, in that it morphs from kindly lady sitting by the fire, watching her sick child to wartime confidant and advisor. The Lady Stark pounds around on her white horse, offering counsel to her son, but also taking his commands as she rushes into hostile camps and offers a truce here and a daughter there in exchange for a few more soldiers. It’s a very different kind of motherhood, one that is loving, but ultimately becomes a bit harder when she begins to bargain off her children (giving Arya to one of Lord Frey’s sons and Robb to one of his daughters) in order to keep them safe, and even to get what she wants: a little revenge for her husbands death.

I suppose you can therefore read it two ways, Lady Stark is merely caught between a rock and a hard place and is doing what she must in order to protect them, or she, like the other mothers, is willing to use her children in order to fulfill her own selfish ends. I’ll let you decide in her case.

The last instance of motherhood is rather short-lived and consists mostly of pregnancy; I’m referring to the delicate-turned-fiery (literally) Daenerys Targaryen and her unborn son. Daenerys is queen (by marriage) of the Dothraki, a war-like, horse-loving people of nomads and once she gets pregnant with a son (it’s always a son) she becomes an object of worship for her people. Her ability to become impregnated elevates and causes an outpouring of love for her amongst her people, a circumstance that I see repeated often in films and even in our society.

The worship of fertility has a huge place in our history: fertility gods, fertility idols, fertility rites are everywhere as a symbol of the divine power inherent in childbirth. Now, I am not a mother, I’ve never had children, but I see it even today, the belief that the pregnant lady can do no wrong (believe me friends, she can); I’m not trying to belittle this situation, or even criticize it, merely pointing out it’s prevalence in our society.

In a specific scene, Daenerys is kneeling on a dais, surrounded by people cheering her name, while she eats a raw horse heart as a power ritual designed to give her son strength. Daenerys is in positioned above everyone else as she takes on the divine mother role; she is to be the deliverer of a mighty new son and ruler, a vessel of the future.

However, I find this problematic sometimes, as it seems to suggest that Daenerys’ worth is directly tied to her ability to be used by something else (in this case, her child). Though perhaps that analogy doesn’t work in this situation as she ends up sacrificing her own son’s life in order to save her husband. So again, in this series, the child becomes something to be used in order to achieve her own ends.

On a depressing note, I guess what I’m saying is, the mothers in Game of Thrones are not very nice mothers.

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