Being a parent makes me see television parents in a new light: a very judgmental one. I try not to judge parents I know in real life, we’re all going through our own stuff, but fake ones on television are fair game.
Here they are in order, from worst to best. This list contains spoilers from all seven seasons of Game of Thrones.
He “marries” his daughter (they’re North of the wall, so guess it’s technically legal) and then has more daughters. Not a great life for the girls, but that’s not as bad as what happens to his baby boys. Or maybe the boys are the lucky ones. Either way, he’s the worst.
11. Stannis and Selyse
It was hard for me to not put them in the most terrible parent slot because Shireen was awesome: kind, smart, and probably the only 100% decent human in all of Westeros. And then Stannis burns him to death because he’s power hungry and thinks that her death will allow him to sit in the iron throne.
It’s okay to be ambitious, but not okay to sacrifice your children for that ambition, and Stannis does that literally. Most people I know with kids want to achieve their goals to make a better life for their children. But Stannis wants to be king because–I’m not sure, it’s not explained well–but it’s not to make a better life for Shireen.
He’s terrible. And Selyse has her creepy collection of jar babies, so she doesn’t get a pass, either.
10. Tywin Lannister
There’s a special place in Hell for parents overly concerned about their “family legacy” and not the actual well-being of their kids. Tywin went straight there after his son shot him with a crossbow on the potty. Face it, Tywin, two of your kids are in an incestuous relationship. The other one is a drunk until he finds something he’s actually good at–and then instead of supporting him, you sentence him to death. That’s some terrible parenting.
9. Danearys Targarean
The “Mother of Dragons” may be her title, but she’s not the best mom. Sure, she loves her dragons, but she doesn’t show it very well by selling them for slaves and chaining them up in a dungeon. I know, the scene where Danearys trades her dragon for the slaves but then gets her dragon back and frees the slaves is epic. But what if it hadn’t worked? What if the slaver had managed to keep the dragon? That’s a huge risk to take with your child.
As for the chaining: obviously you can’t let your kids burn other kids to cinders, but couldn’t she at least chain them up outside? We later learn that it was chaining dragons that caused them to die out. Way to go, mom.
8. Randyll Tarly
Tarly is the classic example of a parent who wants a jock and gets a nerd. Actually, he gets both, so you’d think he’d at least be content to let Sam go study to be a Maester while keeping his jock son Dickon around, but no. He threatens Sam and sends him to the Wall–definitely not the ideal place for a nerd.
You could argue that Tarly at least one son he treats well, but he named that son Dickon.
7. Balon Grayjoy
Balon’s probably tied with Tarly. He’s not as bad as the parents who rape, murder, abandon, chain up, and sell their kids. But he still sucks. His kid Theon comes back to him after having probably a better life in Winterfell than he would have on the Iron Isles. And his dad’s just like, screw you, you’re not Iron Born. If I was separated from my son for so many years I probably wouldn’t want to help the people that had him, but I would’ve given him a big hug and welcomed him back home.
6. Lysa Arron
The internet is full of arguments about breastfeeding and when to stop. I’m not going to get into them here, but I think we can argue that kids should be done by the time they’re ten. (Most of the extended breastfeeders I know stopped because their kids stopped wanting to breastfeed anymore–around 3-4. Which makes me wonder what Lysa was doing to encourage this practice.) Lysa has not done a good job exposing Robin to the world and he’s the opposite of well-adjusted. Marrying Littlefinger might be the best thing she ever did for him.
But she’s still fairly high on this list because she at least seems to love him, and she doesn’t try to kill him, chain him, disown him, or send him to the Wall.
Note: I think Jon Arryn is also responsible, but we don’t get to meet him as his death triggers the whole plot of the show.
5. Roose Bolton
Roose seems like a decent parent. He even legitimizes his bastard son Ramsey, which is legitimate. Unlike parents such as Tywin, Tarly, and Balon, he allows his son to be himself.
Except that Ramsey is an evil serial killer. If your kid is an evil serial killer (and we know Roose knows) you have to put a stop to that. Roose could be said to encourage it, even–notably when he sends him to take Moat Calain.
4. Walder Frey
Walder Frey’s always complaining that he’s forgotten by the greater houses–so of course I forgot him when I was making this list. Thanks to my dad (who is such a good parent he’d surely die in the first five minutes of Game of Thrones) for reminding me that Walder exists.
Walder seems like kind of a lazy parent. He forgets his kids’ names, but he has so many of them can you really blame him?
He seems to want the best for his kids, which for him means marrying them off to the great houses. Here’s the thing: Walder’s not a great parent. He should remember his kid’s names because he’s named nearly all of them Walda or Walder. He’s not the best example of loyalty. But he’s not an actively bad parent. So here he is at number four.
3. Cersei Lannister
There’s no doubt Cersei loves her kids and would do anything to protect them. See the scene with Cersei and Tommen on the Iron Throne during the Battle of Blackwater. I think that’s the scene we all started liking her a tiny bit.
I also think she knew Joffery was terrible, but unlike Roose, actually tried to keep him from doing terrible things, like having Ned beheaded.
In Season 3, episode 4, Tywin says to Cersei, “I don’t mistrust you because you’re a woman, I mistrust you because you’re not as smart as you think you are. You’ve allowed that boy to run roughshod over you and everyone else in this city.”
Cersei replies, “Perhaps you should try stoping him from doing what he likes.”
That said, I don’t think she’s a great parent, she’s just tolerable enough to get fairly far ahead on this list. For all her best efforts, her kids all end up dead.
2. Sam and Gilly
Given, Sam and Gilly haven’t been parents for very long so there’s ample time for them to mess up and scar Little Sam for life. But they seem to be off to a decent start.
Also, this list is lacking in actually good parents and I wanted to at least have a couple.
1. Catelyn and Ned
How many tragedies could the Starks have avoided if they’d just listened to Catelyn? If Bran listened to his mom and stopped climbing the walls, he’d still be able to walk. If Robb listened to his mom and not married Talisa, the Red Wedding he’d be happily married to Roslin.
Arya is interested in sword fighting, which isn’t an approved activity for noble girls, but Ned still gives her a sword and finds her lessons. He approves of who she is as a person and helps her nurture that side of herself. Imagine what kind of woman Arya could have become if she hadn’t lost her father?
Of course, they aren’t perfect. No parents are. You could say that allowing Sansa to be betrothed to Joffery was a huge mistake, but I wonder if Ned’s research and attempting to oust Joffery in favor of Stannis was partly motivated by wanting to protect his daughter.
Honorable Mention: Davos. We don’t get to see much of him with his son, but he’s a better parent to Shireen than the ones she was born with.