"Game of Thrones" life lessons: honor thy mother and father

If you look beyond the incest, beheadings and maiming, the HBO show can teach us a thing or two about family

Published June 22, 2011 2:01PM (EDT)

I spent the past weekend at my mother's house, celebrating my sister's college graduation and catching up on "Game of Thrones" in order to prepare myself for Sunday's epic season finale. It was around midnight, and my mother asked if she could possibly watch an episode with me.

I agreed, with the stipulation that she wasn't allowed to ask me at any point:

a) Who any of the characters were;

b) What their relationship with each other was to each other;

c) What they were doing.

See, I've always had what other parents call a "smart mouth," which oddly enough doesn't mean they think you are smart. But in my defense, I had come home that night to find my mother watching the last twenty minutes of "Inception" on cable and asking me to explain what was going on. I doubt Christopher Nolan could have accomplished this.

Yet watching "Game of Thrones" with my mom was one of the best experiences of the whole weekend, and after awhile her silence had me itching to explain the relationship between the Starks and the Lannisters, the Dothraki and the Targaryens, as well as the role of the Night's Watch.

The next day my mom called me up to give me her theory on the show. "You know, it is really all about the women," she said, echoing the sentiment of The Atlantic's Scott Meslow. I respectfully disagreed: for me, the first season of the HBO show was all about the relationships between children and their parents, something that hadn't really hit home until I sat next to my mother while the conniving Queen Cersei asked Ned Stark if he loved his children with all his heart.

"Of course I do."

"As do I."

Put aside the fact that Cersei is rationalizing incest in this scene, and it poignantly speaks to the heart of "Game of Thrones" -- the relationship between the older generation and the new, and the battlefield of family that we all must suffer through, with or without the help of dragons.

As it turns out, I could have learned a thing or two about being a better daughter from the George R.R. Martin adaptation. And you can too! Here's what "Game of Thrones" can teach you about strengthening your relationship with your parents:

1. Activities = Bonding

Whether it's hunting dire wolves with your dad or leading a rebellion against the Lannisters with your mom, family time is bonding time. Sure, it sounds a little cheesy: now that you're grown-up and are finally about to be crowned King of the North, who has time to sit around with their mommy and hack their sword into a tree?

Everyone, that's who. It's a known fact that even a bastard son can enjoy some paternal bonding before heading off to The Wall and killing those zombie things that live on the other side. Plus, now that you're an adult -- for men, this will be when you've finally slain your first foe in battle; for women, it's 13 or whenever you get your "bleed," whichever comes first -- it will be easier to relate to some of those tough calls your parents had to make when you are younger. Speaking of which…

2. Show some respect

Even when you've won the Game of Thrones, you're going to need that parental guidance once in awhile. Who else in the realm is going to tell you when you're getting too big for your britches? Or that maybe killing your fake-dad's Hand wasn't the best idea when your father-uncle is being held captive by the guy's kin?

There's always that age-old dilemma too: just because you get annoyed with your parents' quick tempers and slow minds doesn't make it okay to hear a whorehouse proprietor sporting Christopher Guest's haircut from "The Princess Bride" mumble a similar sentiment under his breath. Sure, dad may be slow on the uptake, but what other father in King's Landing would be so accepting of your unconventional gender choices, going so far as to hire a mini-Inigo Montoya to give you fencing lessons under the guise of weekly dance classes? A great dad, that's who.

No parent is perfect, but you still owe them your life and your respect. That means taking heed of their wise words once in awhile. One good "Stop climbing that damn wall" will save you twenty "Whoops, can't use my legs" down the line.

3. Know when it's time to fly the coop

Of course, you need to make sure you don't go too far in the other direction and develop an Oedipus/Electra complex. No matter how much your mom loves coddling you, being independent is one of the best ways to obtain the emotional distance necessarily to appreciate your progenitors. At a certain age, you just have to make the choice to stop sucking at the parental teat. (Note: This does not apply to Tully children living in the Vale.)

Unfortunately, this will involve a certain financial independence, which can be a struggle if your family trust is the wealthiest in the seven kingdoms. But starting your own ING savings account and building off compound interest will free you to live your own life as you please, without that nagging sensation that you could be cut off from your house's finances at the exact moment you need to buy a Bronn to duel in your place. And with your own savings, it won't matter how much silver your father throws at your whore wife. She's not going to pleasure his entire army if you can outbid him.

Another good sign that it's time to leave the nest is if you're an extinct mythical creature who has just hatched out of an egg. The whole world is your flame-broiled oyster, and now is the time to spread your wings and fly. Just make sure to check in with your khaleesi once in awhile. You know how she worries.

4. Learn from your parents' mistakes, as well as their success

Look, maybe on reflection it wasn't fair of your father to kill your wolf just because Joffrey is a lying little jerk. And if your mom could do it all over again, she might not have asked that slave-witch to be her midwife back in Burning Man tent city. And no one expects you to get behind the fact that your mom and dad also happen to be twin siblings. Hey, nobody said having kids made you infallible!

When you're a child, it's easy to swear that you'll be nothing like your mom and dad, but life is funny like that. Soon kings will be remarking that every time you open your mouth they swear they hear your father's voice. It's up to you to decide whether you want that to sound like the patriarch of the great Lion clan you know pops to be, or the voice of the "I'm too busy skinning this deer to go to your birthday party" dad that you're still holding a grudge against.

This is a case of nurture over nature, so don't just expect your parents' best qualities to come bubbling up out of you like so many horse hearts at a Dothraki dinner party. A captured serf can be taught how to act like a brave lord if he has a good enough role model, and likewise even those of the noblest bloodlines and the blondest of hair have to remember that ancestral inbreeding is a double-edged sword. You can call upon your family's consanguinity when praying to the seven old gods for the strength to make your raping warlord khal a power-bottom. Or you can act like an anemic little twit and end up with a cauldron of gold over your head. Your call.

5. Remember: Other kids have it worse than you

Forget starving Africans: you think the butcher's boy wouldn't gladly trade places with you in a second? You didn't have your face burned off by a sadistic brother, no one cut your balls off, and you aren't one of the Baratheon bastards. This is in no small part due to your parents, so maybe it's time you dropped in for a quick thank you. Preferably before winter comes.

Do you have a show or film that you find yourself coming back to for real world advice? Do you have a life question you'd like to see answered by a piece of pop culture? Let me hear it in the Letters.

By Drew Grant

Drew Grant is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @videodrew.

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