The Curious Nature of Love on Game of Thrones – A Video Essay

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Interpersonal bonds tend to be, uh, fraught on Game of Thrones, to say the least. In a show famous for its complexity and brutality, we’ve watched plenty of (fairly) conventional relationships break down over the course of seven seasons. In this video essay, however, I take a look at the bonds that have survived thus far and, more specifically, examine how hitting rock bottom often facilitates reconciliation.

Which character pairing (romantic, platonic or otherwise) do you feel most strongly about? And do/did they fit the kind of relational arc I’ve described or did they uncover something completely different? Tell us below!

56 responses

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    1. “…Which character pairing (romantic, platonic or otherwise) do you feel most strongly about? ….”

      Romantic pairing: Danaerys and Jon. I feel their stories have paralleled eachother quite a bit and even though they’ve got physical chemistry it seemed their need to find someone who is “good” and a good “balance” (fire/ice) to themselves was given just as much importance. I think Dany being very interested in Jon’s willingness to sacrifice for his people and Jon coming to the conclusion that she’d do the same were very important in their being able to fall in love with eachother. Don’t know what’s going to happen when they find out about Jon’s lineage, but I think they’re well suited.

      Platonic/familial:
      Margaery and Loras . I felt that in season 5 much of what helped Margaery keep it together/survive was her need to protect Loras who was an awesome warrior, but ill-suited for palace intrigue.

      Yara and Theon. From the scene where Yara mentions going to Theon’s crib in Season 2 to Theon fighting the Ironborn to make sure they attempt to free Yara at the end of S7, I felt that they grew to view their sibling relationship was more of a partnership than a competition. Contrast it to Euron killing his brother Balon in order to gain the Iron throne.

      Jaime and Tyrion. I still really dislike Jaime, but I loved that he loved his brother. I always get a bit teary during the season 4 scene when he and Tyrion have a good bye hug.

      Catelyn and Jon. I resented Catelyn quite awhile for her treatment of Jon, but the S3 episode where she admits she was wrong to Talisa was transformational to me for her character. Part of what made me sad after the Red Wedding (other than the horror of it) was that she’d never be able to make things right with him.

      Arya and her family/friends. I understand how the revenge killings are disturbing to people (and that there’s a possibility that she could eventually just enjoy killing for the sake of killing), but her need to use the killings as a mechanism to keep going as well as find justice for those fallen is very understandable. It also fits in with her nature as established on the show

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    2. Good video Petra! I agree that the series seems to be trying to make a statement about the relative value of so-called “romantic” love versus the type of love based on a history of shared experiences. The best example of this in my opinion is when Catelyn describes her and Ned’s relationship to Robb: “Love didn’t just happen to us. We built it slowly over the years, stone by stone, for you, for your brothers and sisters, for all of us. It’s not as exciting as secret passion in the woods, but it is stronger. It lasts longer.” Since Catelyn and Ned pretty much set the gold standard for healthy relationships in GOT, I think it’s fair to assume that in the world of GOT relationships based on a history of of shared experiences and trust are more important to the characters than the typical love-at-first-sight romantic prototype.

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    3. Petra: Wonderful video. As usual. P.S. You have an exquisite voice. I wish you’d make more videos. (I know, selfish of me. 😏)

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    4. Thank you for your thoughtful video, Petra, and I agree. The concept of family and familial love is at the core of GoT, rather than the typical epic tale of romantic love conquering all.

      The first incident of “doing anything for love” occurs in S1E1 when Jaime pushes Bran from the tower to protect his adulterous twin/lover. Certainly an ignoble act, but it clearly establishes the Lannister twins as a rather icky update of the star-crossed lovers. They both suffer many hardships and separations but just when you think maybe this is the one GoT romance that will last til the bitter end, Jaime finally figures out it was a decidedly one-sided affair of the heart, and he goes to join Tyrion in what must appear, to him, a near suicide mission. When Jaime feels all is lost, the one place he can think to go is to fight or die with his brother, Cersei be damned.

      The only other romance that has lasted more than two and a half total seasons is Sam and Gilly, and I’d label their relationship as friends on a slow burn to romance, rather than unadulterated passion.

      That being said, I will be well and truly disappointed if the Jon/Arya reunion lacks emotional power. I’ve waited seven seasons for it!

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    5. LadyGoodman:

      “….That being said, I will be well and truly disappointed if the Jon/Arya reunion lacks emotional power. I’ve waited seven seasons for it!”

      ________

      You and me and the rest of the civilized world.

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    6. I’m torn between Arya/Jon and Arya/Sansa for the relationship I feel the most strongly about, and both are very different for Arya. Her relationship with Jon is rooted in them being more alike. They were both treated like outcasts in their own way and had to struggle with their identity growing up.

      Sansa and Arya, however, couldn’t be more different, which lead to constant fighting and conflict in their more immature years. But I love the idea of them coming together with their complementary strengths, and realizing their love for one another as siblings amidst the chaos of war. I find that very interesting: during the “good” times they did nothing but fight, but the horrifying times of war forced them to grow closer in order to survive, which we see the beginnings of in 7×07.

      Honorable mentions go to Arya/The Hound and Jamie/Brienne.

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    7. mmk:
      Good video Petra!I agree that the series seems to be trying to make a statement about the relative value of so-called “romantic” love versus the type of love based on a history of shared experiences. The best example of this in my opinion is when Catelyn describes her and Ned’s relationship to Robb: “Love didn’t just happen to us. We built it slowly over the years, stone by stone, for you, for your brothers and sisters, for all of us. It’s not as exciting as secret passion in the woods, but it is stronger. It lasts longer.”Since Catelyn and Ned pretty much set the gold standard for healthy relationships in GOT, I think it’s fair to assume that in the world of GOT relationships based on a history of of shared experiences and trust are more important to the characters than the typical love-at-first-sight romantic prototype.

      This is a great point. Its interesting how they even strctured Jon and Dany’s relationship around building truth throught the recognition of shared values and experience.

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    8. House Monty,

      I don’t think I agree that there’s any similarity there. We were told (not shown) that Jon and Dany were powerfully physically attracted to each other immediately. Obviously they got closer as they get to know each other more, but that’s not in any sense different from how conventional romance is structured.

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    9. Sean C.:
      House Monty,

      I don’t think I agree that there’s any similarity there.We were told (not shown) that Jon and Dany were powerfully physically attracted to each other immediately.Obviously they got closer as they get to know each other more, but that’s not in any sense different from how conventional romance is structured.

      Physical attraction is not necessarily the same as love. But maybe your right. Lets analyze this a bit more.

      What did Jon and Ygriette have in common? Why did they love each other?

      What did Robb and Talisa have in common and why did they love each other?

      And Shae and Tyrion if you think it was love what did they have in common and why did they love each other?

      It struck me those relationships were much more centered around infatuation and chemical feelings of love typical of teenagers than something actually built on shared values, experiences and outlook that only comes from actually getting to know someone. So while it did not take years like Cat and Ned, it is something actually built on something more than passion.

      I think Jaime and Brienne also qualify. If they ever go there.

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    10. Thank you Petra for the insightful video essay and a HUGE thank you for emphasising the non-romantic love that exists in GoT and ASOIAF. I found that the relationships I am most invested in are platonic relationships in both the books and the show.

      What the show has obviously lacked adapting is the love between the Direwolves and Stark children, which I think are special relationships as well. As for the show, I remember loving the relationship between Stannis and Shireen … you know….before he decided to burn her. But I was moved by that speech he gave her regarding trying to find a cure for her Grayscale: “You are the Princess Shireen of the House Baratheon. And you are my daughter.” Ugghh tugged at my heart.

      And of course, the love between the Stark children especially the reunion of Sansa and Jon (ok, half Stark), and in the books, I was moved at how often each thought about the other, especially Arya when she had to get rid of Needle upon her training at the House of Black and White.

      I’m not going into the romantic love, but I did like how D&D adapted a better love story for Robb and Talisa, and for Jon and Ygritte. I was not that emotionally invested in the relationships between Robb+Jeyne Westerling or even Jon+Ygritte in the books. Robb’s decision to marry Jeyne in the books was basically, “woops I f***** her, gotta marry her now.” So I do appreciate how D&D wrote Talisa as a woman with characteristics that Robb could fall in love with. And Jon was guilty most of the time he was with Ygritte and I didn’t really feel they formed this deep connection so it was nice to have the show adapt a deeper love between the two.

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    11. Depending on who lives or dies.
      I could see Sansa with Gendry Baratheon. They seem closer in age and Sansa always wanted a Lord.
      I can not ever see Arya as a partner of the Hound, friend yes, but nothing significant.
      I could see Arya with Hotpie as a contrast, that works for me.
      Jon will be with Danny in the unlikely event that both live.
      Brienne and Jaime Lannister, I just can’t see both of them surviving.

      Cersei and the Night King, the dream team.

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    12. How about Arya and Hotpie running an inn.
      Hotpie does the cooking.
      Arya offers “the gift” to old and infirm visitors.

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    13. House Monty,

      Shared values like:
      Jon being vehemently against the burning of people(see Mance situation and him turning away Melisandre) versus Dany who, in the words of one of the D’s(see dvd commentary), shows no mercy or compassion when she kills people through fire.
      Or how Dany, despite having seen the NK, still seemed preoccupied with Cersei and the throne (she specifically stated this in the dragon pit scene) whereas Jon a few episodes earlier said: I am preoccupied with the NK because I’ve seen him if you’d seen him you would think of little else.
      Entitled Dany, fixated on her “birthright” and her billion titles versus Jon who isn’t even bothered about what Davos calls him as king.

      If anything season 7 showed people who are more incompatible than compatible.

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    14. Dark Sister,

      I really like what you wrote about the romantic love side of things, and the differences between book and show. I also felt that Robb and Jeyne’s relationship in the books was much less fleshed out. Maybe this was mainly because of Robb’s other reasons for marrying Jeyne, as opposed to marrying Talisa out of love. But I do feel that they showed their love on the show very well. I did like Ygritte and Jon in the books, but I also thought their love was depicted better on screen. This could be, in part, due to Ygritte’s on-screen death with Jon as opposed to not getting that in the books.

      I also loved Stannis’s relationship with Shireen. In my opinion, there weren’t too many redeeming qualities in Stannis, but his relationship with his daughter was beautiful. And since we never saw Sylese show any affection to her daughter, this just made his relationship seem even stronger. I was very shocked that he had it in him to burn Shireen, but I guess that is what happens when you are constantly told you’re the savior of humanity and the future is essentially already written in stone.

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    15. Mr Derp,
      It may sound goofy to most but with everything that’s happened I can’t see anybody with Sansa other than Tyrion. He was still kind of a train wreck when they were married yet even then she was able to form some semblance of a relationship with him. They’d also have some compatibility together if they were to run Winterfell or another great House as they’re both comfortable in that capacity and/or desire to be. Gendry doesn’t fit her and I can’t see either wanting to change enough to suit each other. Jonsa is just silly and there’s nothing romantic involved.

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    16. Clob,

      I suppose I could see Tyrion and Sansa together, but I’m not so sure myself. I feel like if there was ever an attraction between them then we would’ve seen some form of it come out before. I think Sansa believes Tyrion is a good person, but I’m not sure it goes much farther than that. And besides, there isn’t a good word to combine their names together for the shipping lovers out there (Syrion? Tansa?), so it can’t happen on that basis alone, lol.

      I’ll go ahead and ship Sansa and Missandei because, well, just because…logic is not involved in this one 😉

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    17. Mr Derp,

      There’s already a ship name for Sansa and Tyrion, it’s sanrion.
      Book Tyrion is a villain and an awful, awful person, it would be truly tragic for Sansa if it was him she ended up with.

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    18. ,

      He’s coming around like others. I already don’t see him as villainous like you do when I despised him in the beginning and wanted him to die in Blackwater. (books that is – not even close on show)

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    19. ,

      If you want to believe that go ahead.

      I think its fairly clear the narrative is not pointing in that direction since part of Jon’s arc is literally getting to know Daenerys and by getting to know her deciding she is someone he can follow.

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    20. Clob,

      You didn’t like Tyrion at the beginning of the books? That was when I found I liked him most. May I ask why?

      I guess I never really found myself hating Tyrion, but his character definitely shifted for the worse (to me) after he left King’s Landing. I feel that he got quite a bit darker. Maybe that is just because his story got a bit more depressing.

      It could be because I watched the show first, so I had already liked Tyrion from that. Maybe those emotions just transpired to the books as well.

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    21. House Monty,

      “…part of Jon’s arc is literally getting to know Daenerys”
      _________________

      What do you mean, “literally” getting to know her? As opposed to figuratively? Or do you mean getting to know her in the biblical sense, i.e., sexually?

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    22. Jaehaerys,
      It’s actually been a long time since I’ve read the first couple of books – before the show started. I shouldn’t say that I hated the character, but I don’t remember liking him very much. I also remember thinking it was ridiculous that he lived at the Blackwater and almost mad about it. After that things really started changing for me in his favor. Yes, he’s gone into some really dark and depressing but I do believe he’ll climb back out of it like his show version. I was already on the positive side toward him when the show started so I was able to enjoy Peter playing him right away.

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    23. Ten Bears:
      House Monty,

      “…part of Jon’s arc is literally getting to know Daenerys”
      _________________

      What do you mean, “literally” getting to know her? As opposed to figuratively? Or do you mean getting to know her in the biblical sense, i.e., sexually?

      I mean that is not a random part of the the season. Getting to know her as a person was an explicit part of his character journey that made possible key decisions he makes and was a manifestation of a key theme of the season regarding moving beyond the greivances of the past in order to unite to face the common threat

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    24. Petra, loved your vid. You have the most engaging, pleasant speaking voice, infused with just the right amounts of humor, wit and pathos. I’d listen to anything you produced. Plus, the content was excellently done. “Those who love us through thick and thin will help us to overcome our demons … ehhhh, no.” Hilarious yet so well thought out. Yes, please do more of these.

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    25. What’s all this “Page not found” shit! I’ve tried to post a couple of lines on this topic and keep getting this message 🙁

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    26. Well that worked! Lets try again…

      A great video essay Petra. Most enjoyable. The scenes you selected for both GoT and other movies was a perfect combination to get your point over.

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    27. LadyGoodman,

      Actually I would argue that the first act of love is when Jon finds the puppies and makes sure Bran gets one, that every Stark child gets a direwolf, except for himself.

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    28. House Monty,

      He doesn’t know her though. He knows a part of her, the most favourable parts of her, shown to Jon by people who are part of her “cult of personality” (those are d&d’s words). Even then he saw her get mad at Tyrion for not wanting to hurt his family.

      There’s a reason why Jon doesn’t know that she burned the Tarly’s(and the food), that they explicitly showed Sam not knowing that yet. It’ll be like a Bolton situation, where Sam told Jon that they needed the Bolton’s. That Jon needed to put saving the realm above personal issues, Sam will have to do the same.

      Jon told her not to burn cities and castles and somehow people think her burning the food and the army and the Tarly’s is a lot different? Jon who shot Mance and went against the King to save him from burning to death, who sent Melisandre away when he learned she burnt Shireen? But somehow he won’t mind this in Dany because she’s the most beautiful woman alive? Definitely sounds like Jon Snow…

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    29. ,

      Dear Mr. (or Ms.) Ellipsis:

      On one hand, I’ve always felt that the concept of “humane warfare” is absurd. The objective of war is to crush, kill and destroy your enemy. It is inherently barbaric.

      On the other hand, burning alive is “a bad way to go”, as Mance R. commented. In GoT, burning people rarely seems to be especially egregious – and rife with potential repercussions. See, e.g., Mel & Shireen; Gregor & Sandor; Mel & Dragonstone Beach Blanket BBQ; Stannis & Mance; Dany & Dickon; and Drogon and goatherder’s young daughter.

      Or maybe it’s just me. Burning really hurts!😖 By comparison, freezing to death seems relatively painless. An arrow or knife to the heart is considered mercy. (E.g., Sandor & mortally wounded farmer; Jon & Mance.) Even hanging would be better. As Prof. Sandor observed: “Hanging? Where’s the punishment in that? All over in an instant.”

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    30. Edit/correction to above:

      In GoT, burning people seems to be especially egregious – and rife with potential repercussions.

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    31. Ten Bears,

      Exactly, that’s why I think it’s interesting that people seem to completely ignore the burning of the Tarly’s or pretend it’s going to be a non-issue because that’s not how it’s been set up in the show at all. I find it very peculiar.

      Obviously, all warfare is terrible as GRRM also tries to show but there are definitely “levels” to it. Like you said, burning is a special case. We do have the Geneva Conventions and I’m sure that in medieval warfare there were also “rules”. Of course, people actually keeping to them is a different matter altogether but there’s a reason why we remember Vlad as the Impaler and other rulers, who might have just as many deaths/wars to their name, differently.

      This is all very offtopic from the actual article so I’ll just say that the love the Starks have for each other as a family is the strongest love. We saw this with Ned and Lyanna and hopefully, that’s also what will come across in season 8 despite some of D&D’s season 7 choices. And hopefully, that’s what will make them prevail

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    32. ,

      I would just add that “mercy” may be a subset of “love” in certain circumstances, whereas disproportionate, undeserved torture is an indicia of hate.

      Sandor’s unexpected knife to the heart of that mortally wounded farmer dying a slow, agonizing death; Meera cutting Jojen’s throat; and Jon’s arrow to Mance’s heart, were all acts of love or kindness to end or prevent unbearable suffering. Even beheadings (eg Janos Slynt) were probably considered humane in medieval times compared to the other forms of execution I’ve read about.

      There’s been lots of speculation (not from me) that one of our main characters will be confronted with the heart-wrenching prospect of killing a loved one to end his or her misery. I hope that doesn’t happen. Still, “the gift of mercy” as an expression of love would not be foreign to GoT.

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    33. Ten Bears:
      ,
      Sandor’s unexpected knife to the heart of that mortally wounded farmer dying a slow, agonizing death; Meera cutting Jojen’s throat; and Jon’s arrow to Mance’s heart,were all acts of love or kindness to end or prevent unbearable suffering. Even beheadings (eg Janos Slynt) were probably considered humane in medieval times compared to the other forms of execution I’ve read about.

      Meera’s “mercy” killing of Jojen always struck me as a little odd, actually. While it’s certainly not the worst way to go, a throat cut isn’t a really great way to go either. It just seemed a little inconsistent with the way it’s usually portrayed on screen (e.g. Walder Frey, Littlefinger, etc.). It would be preferable to dying slowly from the stabs to his stomach though.

      Ten Bears:
      ,
      There’s been lots of speculation (not from me) that one of our main characters will be confronted with the heart-wrenching prospect of killing a loved one to end his or her misery. I hope that doesn’t happen. Still, “the gift of mercy” as an expression of love would not be foreign to GoT.

      This theory is more widespread than I had originally thought, at least for the books. As recently as a few days ago, GRRM lamented that fact that Lady Stoneheart was cut from the show because she will have a very important role in TWoW. The two most common theories I’ve seen are that she will crown Jon King in the North, and that Arya will have to give the gift of mercy to her resurrected mother. If this is indeed true, I am very curious (and scared) for how that plays out in the show as you alluded to.

      I, for one, am probably one of the few who was glad that LSH was cut from the show. It’s one thing to read about it, but to see it on screen is pretty gruesome. There was an interview with Alex Graves (director of 4×10) after season 4 where he was asked about LSH, and the way he answered made it sound to me that Michelle Fairley did not want to do it (for which I don’t blame her for). I also think that keeping resurrections down to a minimum is a good thing.

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    34. Ten Bears,

      I know some people have speculated that will involve Arya and Jon which is something I could see GRRM doing because they’re the ones who were the closest growing up, think about each other a lot and obviously he gifted her needle. But I always felt it would be in response to his resurrection which in GRRM’s world isn’t really a positive thing and mess people up but the show hasn’t really done a lot with that, Jon seems fine post-res. I have also considered it being LSH in which case it won’t happen in the show though it could be transferred to someone else. I don’t think it would be to Jon if that also wasn’t the case in the books. In my opinion, that would be too big a change to make though it could be transferred to a minor character? Perhaps Gendry? or maybe the Hound this time? I’m definitely not discounting it being Jon though.

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    35. Thank you, Petra, for a great, well thought out video essay!

      I find it interesting that while many other siblings are moving towards each other and strengthening their bonds, Jaime is moving away from a sibling, both literally and figuratively. (He’s of course moving towards his other sibling Tyrion.)

      Also, who saw Jaime at his lowest ebb – powerless, maimed, humiliated, depressed, ill – back in S3, yet “carried” him… Yep, Brienne.

      Jaime and Brienne is my favourite relationship in the series. It develops as trust and mutual respect grows, there are even hints of something romantic – not necessarily in the sexual sense but as a kind of mutual chivalric love of a kind. (That said, I wouldn’t mind if they end up bonking 🙂 )

      Alas, I don’t think there’s any chance of a happy ever after for them because I’m 99% sure Jaime is doomed.

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    36. Petra, excelllent as always!

      Clob,

      Been thinking the same re Sansa and Tyrion. Theyve both been through much in the time apart, but both indicated that they thought fondly of the other during it. I could see them combining their various management skills, and through that finding some sort of love, or at least peace with each other

      I liked Tyrion immediatly in the books, but really took a dislike to him with his circus act. Glad the show left that out. Always liked him in the show, even when he was at his worst. He was very relatable as a character and as a human being.

      Ten Bears,

      Sandor’s unexpected knife to the heart of that mortally wounded farmer dying a slow, agonizing death; Meera cutting Jojen’s throat; and Jon’s arrow to Mance’s heart, were all acts of love or kindness to end or prevent unbearable suffering. Even beheadings (eg Janos Slynt) were probably considered humane in medieval times compared to the other forms of execution I’ve read about.

      Yes, mercy as a form of love works for me. Then there was Arya refusing to give Sandor mercy. She hated him, then realized at the HOBW she didn’t. I was happy to see that.

      Sib bonds are important in the show and books, for good reason. Theres something about growing up with each other in the same environment that pulls at all those involved (in good and not so good ways) Jon and Aryas reunion must happen. They have the strongest sib bond of them all.

      Also wondering how Sam is going to react when he realizes his brother is gone. (and his relationship with Gilly is probably one of my fav pairings in the show)

      Arya and Hound will remain friends, him as a father figure perhaps. Heck maybe Brienne will join the two for a three musketeers moment or two.

      lynn,

      Actually I would argue that the first act of love is when Jon finds the puppies and makes sure Bran gets one, that every Stark child gets a direwolf, except for himself.

      Thought that was Theon? But you may be right. Wished the show picked up on the bonds between the sibs and their wolves, but we have the books to go to if we want that.

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    37. lynn,
      ash said:

      “Thought that was Theon? But you may be right. Wished the show picked up on the bonds between the sibs and their wolves, but we have the books to go to if we want that.”

      @ ash

      It was Theon, who discovered the wolf-puppies, but it was Jon, as Bran begged not to kill them, who convinced Ned to give one to every Stark-child.
      By the way: also an act of mercy.

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    38. I really loved this video essay. I find that in any fiction I’m invested in, familial relationships are the ones I care most about – the familial love and bonds are the things that touch me the most, usually more than romantic relationships. While I enjoy the Jon/Daenerys romantic relationship and I am invested in it, it is the familial relationships I care about even more – particularly Jon/any of his siblings, Jon/Ned, Sansa/Arya, and Theon/Yara, etc. These are people who these characters grew up with and loved all their lives – and whatever messiness that exists in familial relationships, I’d certainly agree they are among the most durable. The parts in the books when Jon thinks of any of his siblings and his father are the most touching for me. Like when he thinks of how Sansa and Arya would each react to a pretty day beyond the Wall; wishing he had Bran’s courage while he was climbing; lessons from their father while walking together; Rickon begging him for a sweet; he and Arya finishing sentences together; or when he and Robb would pull pranks together, like dumping a pile of snow on one of their father’s slowest guardsmen as little kids 🙂 That stuff paints such real and relatable family relationships for me.

      I once heard it said that siblings are particularly special because they are sometimes some of the few (if only) people that have been with you for most (if not all) your life and have that history with you. I have three sisters and though I really, really, really didn’t like them when I was growing up, everything said about sibling relationships in this video essay is true for me. It is a special kind of love, as well as a durable love, with a history that is indispensable.

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    39. cos alpha,

      Ah, thanks for the clarification. And yes, another form of mercy

      I once heard it said that siblings are particularly special because they are sometimes some of the few (if only) people that have been with you for most (if not all) your life and have that history with you. I have three sisters and though I really, really, really didn’t like them when I was growing up, everything said about sibling relationships in this video essay is true for me. It is a special kind of love, as well as a durable love, with a history that is indispensable.

      Totally agree – it is a good thing we do grow up and are able to appreciate that history. My sibs are a decade older than me, and I grew up being the spoiled brat. Come to find out that the three of us have much in common and are now incredibly close. I am very aware of sibs that are not, I know we are very lucky that way. It would be sad if I didn’t have those bonds.

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