The title of the second episode of Season 6 is “Home,” but it could just as easily have been “Parents.” One way or another, each of the younger characters had to come to terms with the legacy of his or her (often overbearing) parents. Even though Ramsay and Tommen and Yara and even Bran never interact, they’re all dealing with the same issues of filial relationships. The way each responds to overbearing parents says much about their characters.
Ironically, House Lannister has the healthiest family dynamic at this point in the show. In this episode, King Tommen reveals his frustration at being unable to prevent the Faith from humiliating his mother. He then vows to become stronger so he can protect her. For her part, Cersei remains the show’s most devoted mother, vowing to do anything for her children. She nearly provokes a bloodbath when she is barred from attending Myrcella’s funeral. Their relationship is one of mutual devotion, with each promising to protect the other.
Adherents of the Faith also express devotion to parent-figures; in their case, they worship the Mother and Father faces of the one true god. Yet, their devotion is distorted, driven more by fear than by love. When the High Sparrow confronts Jamie Lannister, he says that he “fears” the Mother and Father. The High Sparrow’s followers are set out to protect their “parents” from any crimes against the Faith by attempting to instill that fear in others. They never demonstrate any compassion of the type that leads parents to forgive their children’s mistakes.
At the opposite extreme are those children who view their parents as the threat. Ramsay Bolton had long bristled under his father. Ramsay scorns Roose Bolton’s careful planning and caution. Moreover, Ramsay views his new baby brother as a threat to his status as Roose’s heir (Ramsay was born a bastard). Far from viewing his father as a source of protection, Ramsay views his father as a source of insecurity. Ramsay being Ramsay, it doesn’t take him long to dispatch Roose, his stepmother Walda, and the baby.
Yara Greyjoy also has a competitive relationship with her father Balon. Yara protests her father’s plans for conquest in Westeros as wasteful and reckless. The Greyjoys are presented as the inverse of the Boltons; where the Bolton father tried to temper his son, here the Greyjoy daughter attempts to rein in the father. Yara doesn’t actually kill her father – she lacks Ramsay’s cruel streak – but she doesn’t shed many tears when he conveniently dies. Indeed, she seems more concerned with ensuring that she will succeed him.
Even when parents are no longer present in a child’s life, they can still play an important role. It’s notable that the first time we see Bran Stark in over a year he has a vision of his father. Years after Ned Stark’s untimely death, Bran still idolizes his father and feels a strong connection to him. Bran’s vision depicted his father as a young child engaging in a swordfight, the type of vigorous physical activity that Bran himself can no longer enjoy. I’m not yet sure I understand the implications of this scene, but it seems that Bran’s journey will involve him coming to grips with the fact that he cannot simply follow in father’s footsteps, that he must follow his own path.
In a very different way, the dragons in Meereen are also dealing with the loss of a parent. Daenerys Targaryen, who often went by the name “Mother of Dragons,” abandoned her dragons when she fled Meereen. Tyrion Lannister told the dragons that he was their “friend,” but he looks set to become another parental figure (“Father of Dragons” if you will). Indeed, he told a story of how as a child he had wanted a pet dragon. Continuing with the theme of contrasts between parents and children, Tyrion is physically the smallest character confronted by the show’s largest children.
Of course, no discussion of “Home” would be complete without mentioning the big reveal at the end. Indeed, Jon Snow’s relationship with his parents is one of the biggest mysteries of the show. As the bastard son of Ned Stark, his mother’s identity remains shrouded in secrecy (assuming Ned is in fact Jon’s father). What was really interesting about this episode though is the way that it transforms the question of Jon’s parentage. Davos begs Melissandre to try to resurrect Jon. The resurrection is depicted as a sort of rebirth, with Jon lying naked on a table while Davos and Melissandre step into the role of father and mother giving birth to this new version Jon.
However, it’s telling that the characters that assume the role of parental figures never had a parental relationship with Jon. After all, Davos and Melissandre did not resurrect him out of love, but rather because both thought that he would prove useful in the fight against the White Walkers. Melissandre has made no secret of the fact that she sees Jon as a tool to manipulate. Davos seems like an honorable man, but was never particularly close to Jon. There’s a sense that Jon is now a bastard twice over, born and then reborn out of wedlock. It’s too early to say what all this will mean for his character, but I doubt this Jon Snow born of different parents will be the same character we’ve come to know over the past 5 years.*
* In interviews, George R.R. Martin himself has said that death must have consequences and that characters brought back from the dead should undergo some transformation.
“Home” isn’t a perfect episode. The show yet again makes a cheap play for shock value by dragging out the scene in which Ramsay kills Walda Frey and the baby. Meanwhile, Balon Greyjoy’s long lost brother coming back to kill him seems like a desperate idea torn from the pages of Desperate Housewives. That said, unlike the season premiere, which felt like a collection of disconnected plot threads, “Home” feels greater than the sum of its parts. Hopefully, “Home” is a harbinger of things to come, with episodes drawing greater stronger thematic connections between the disparate character arcs.
Dom Nardi is a Contributing Writer at Legendarium Media. He has worked as a political scientist and as a consultant throughout Southeast Asia. In addition, he has published academic articles about politics in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. You can find more of his writing at NardiViews.