Loco Parentis: Guardians of Wolves
Many would agree that A Song of Ice and Fire is a story about a family. A story about that family’s children. And, for the most part, a story about what happens when those children’s parents are taken away from them.
Despite the claims of being ‘men grown’ or Ladies-In-Waiting, it’s undeniable that Jon, Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon, ranging from ages 3-14 at the series start, are indeed children. Children that are part of a largely happy family. Children that are going to lose their parents.
The writing for each character, even the two who are not POV characters, is so deep-rooted that each particular Stark child has a multitude of issues with either parent, both positive and negative. It ranges from baby Rickon’s attachment to the bastard Jon Snow being nearly completely shunned. They each spend differing amount of times with said parents before losing them completely, and most importantly, they each find their own replacement.
The time of childhood or teenage years is story-worthy regardless. People, at this time in their life, whether they admit it or not, will seek out maternal and paternal figures. It is essentially a requirement, for their development, their growth, and sometimes their survival.
The loss of a parent is tragic and troubling enough, even when not considering a world of armies, murderers, liars and war. In Westeros, the loss of family, both in parents, siblings and home, is almost a death sentence. Lucky then, that our particular family each find people they can latch on to, for good or for bad, and set them as a new mamma or pappa.
What I intend to do is highlight each replacement parent for each Stark child, and how those particular relationships affect them all. Point out any that I’ve missed!
Poor Rickon. He is only a toddler when his father and sisters leave, not long followed by his mother, and then his eldest brother too. No doubt, this has a horrible effect on him. He becomes wild, unmanageable, even slightly violent. Even at the very beginning, he tries to latch something familiar in his short little life.
“Rickon needs you,” Robb said sharply. “He’s only three, he doesn’t understand what’s happening. He thinks everyone has deserted him, so he follows me around all day, clutching my leg and crying. I don’t know what to do with him.” – Catelyn III, AGOT
Robb: Two big people have disappeared, three if you want to count Jon, so Rickon moves on to the next biggest: his brother Robb. Especially since this big person is now bossing people around and being lordly, just like that other big person used to do. So Rickon tries his best to stick with that guy. He seems safe. Of course, due to Robb’s new commitments, it doesn’t always work.
Sometimes he would ride out with Hallis Mollen and be gone for days at a time, visiting distant holdfasts. Whenever he was away more than a day, Rickon would cry and ask Bran if Robb was ever coming back –Bran IV, AGOT
Bran, to Rickon, is a source of knowledge, sure, but he is no parent. Even a three-year-old is willing to drag a seven-year-old down to their level in terms of superiority. Bran fills the brother role, fine, but he is no father. Which makes it all the worse when Robb does leave.
His baby brother had been wild as a winter storm since he learned Robb was riding off to war, weeping and angry by turns. He’d refused to eat, cried and screamed for most of a night, even punched Old Nan when she tried to sing him to sleep, and the next day he’d vanished. Robb had set half the castle searching for him, and when at last they’d found him down in the crypts, Rickon had slashed at them with a rusted iron sword he’d snatched from a dead king’s hand, and Shaggydog had come slavering out of the darkness like a green-eyed demon. The wolf was near as wild as Rickon; he’d bitten Gage on the arm and torn a chunk of flesh from Mikken’s thigh. It had taken Robb himself and Grey Wind to bring him to bay. Farlen had the black wolf chained up in the kennels now, and Rickon cried all the more for being without him. –Bran VI, AGOT
Devoid of his only figures of authority, Rickon has had enough by this point. His father is gone, his mother is gone, and now his brother. So he acts out. His world has been turned upside down, even the brother remaining to him now just sits around or gets carried by Hodor. He has himself and his wolf, the equally fierce Shaggydog, and that’s it. So he throws the Westerosi version of a tantrum (the same as our tantrums but with more rusty swords and bared teeth).
Rickon had refused to come down. He was up in his chamber, red-eyed and defiant. “No!” he’d screamed when Bran had asked if he didn’t want to say farewell to Robb. “NO farewell!” –Bran VI, AGOT
Rickon continues on in this way until the situation suddenly becomes a lot more serious with Theon’s taking of Winterfell. During his escape and trip north, Rickon finds someone new to lean on.
Osha: absolutely nothing about Osha says motherly. She’s a hard, foul-mouthed fighter whose first appearance was in a near-murder of Bran. Nethertheless, after leaving Winterfell she becomes incredibly important to the boys, and especially to Rickon. With Bran becoming closer and closer to the Reeds, and Osha being a no-nonsense, butt-of-my-spear type teacher, Rickon and the wildling woman become close.
At the culmination of Clash, when Bran splits with his brother, Rickon loses his last family member. Osha is his entire family now, keeping him safe, feeding him, teaching him, comforting him (in a wilding sort of way). I’ve started this essay with the youngest member of the Stark family, but by coincidence I’ve also began with the longest relationship of any Stark children with one of these guardians. If we are all believing that Rickon is on Skagos and is still with Osha, they have been with each other for years. Perhaps that relationship will be shifting between sisterly and motherly (none of these relationships fit in exact slots), but consider it from a still-very young Rickon’s point of view.
Everyone you loved, left. Everyone who looked after you, through no fault of their own, left or died in front of him. Even Bran left. The only ones who have kept their promises, and stuck by you, are Osha the wildling and Shaggydog the direwolf.
Much like the young Rickon, Bran is another leave behind. When he falls from the broken tower, every member of his family are a stone’s throw away. When he wakes, almost all are gone, with Robb soon to follow.
Being slightly older, Bran never attached to Robb in the paternal sense, having already established him as a brother. In fact, Bran probably has the least interaction with guardian figures out of any of the Stark children. Once he leaves Winterfell he is almost exclusively with the Reed twins, and with Hodor, leaving us with only a few candidates.
Luwin: Maester Luwin spends much of his time tutoring Bran throughout Game and Clash, and is the closest thing to a parent that Bran has, even if he spends most of the time trying to resist the maester’s cautions. Once Theon takes the castle, he is essentially all the boys have left, until that too is ripped away from them
Rodrik: If anything, Rodrik and Luwin are more a parenting team than individual figures. Where Luwin fails, Rodik fills, advising Bran on many political and marshall matters. Even this is not a great example, as Rodrik is barely around for much of Bran’s time post-parent loss.
Bran’s actual parental relationships are interesting. Throughout the books, Bran rarely thinks of Catelyn beyond the obvious missing her. He does think of his father much more. After all, the very first chapter of the book includes a key moment between father and son: Ned’s beheading of Gared followed by his conversation of Bran about it. Bran expected to be a knight, expected to rule in some way, and as such constantly compares himself to his brothers, uncles and father. Bran is much more connected to his male line.
With Luwin and Rodrik both perishing at Winterfell, only one other candidate emerges.
Brynden Rivers: We only have four Bran chapters in Dance to see the relationship between Bran and the three-eyed raven, but we can all easily make assumptions that Bloodraven is going to be a major part of Bran’s life. His tutoring will be far more intimate and important than Luwin’s; he is literally opening a whole new world to Bran. Will it be a fatherly type connection? We haven’t seen enough to really comment, and its doubtful the Raven has the emotion left in him to fill that kind of role. Still, Bran has gone without for so long that if we were forced to pick one by series end, we might be looking at a thousand eyes and one.
Arya is our first example of a Stark child in conflict with her parents. Her mother, the Lady of Winterfell, not only pushes an agenda of sewing, dresses and being ladylike, but is a dead ringer for Arya’s main rival: Sansa, the living embodiment of songs and fairytales. As such, Arya begins as an alienated girl trying to become a different piece on the board. Her distance from her father is not so pronounced (it is he and her brothers that she is trying to emulate), but it does rise its head every now and then. For Ned, it is difficult to even imagine a woman wanting to do the things that Arya wants to do, but he does try his best in order to make his daughter happy.
The other difference we have now is that Arya spent much longer with one parent than her two younger siblings. She spends the better part of a year with Ned in King’s Landing, finally able to express herself through her lessons with Syrio Forel, thanks to her father’s blessing, while she becomes ever more distant to her sister Sansa, who is even more court up in songs and princes than usual.
Cruelly, awfully, Arya is present when Ned dies, and she loses her father figure forever. No one would claim that any part of Arya’s story after that event was easy, but she does have this on her side: Arya probably experiences more parental guardians than any other Stark child. So let’s start from the beginning.
Yoren: Yoren saves Arya’s life and introduces her to several new concepts, the most important being: the life of a commoner. From Ned’s death up until the end of Dance Arya lives on a road that Yoren set her on. He passes on the naming list to her, an Arya fan-favourite and is generally a pretty caring, warm guy. Grizzled, sure, but pretty nice to Arya.
Jaqen: This one is really only applicable on the tv show, where Arya interacts with Jaqen again in the House of Black and White. There isn’t really enough time for them to establish a true relationship in Clash, but Arya does adopt some idiosyncrasies of Jaqen, as she does with all of her mentors. Having said that, it is her meeting Jaqen that pushes her on to Bravos and the apparent path of her future life.
Sandor: The true pairing of asoiaf, no questions asked. Sandor absolutely does not set out to be any sort of figure to Arya, and in fairness this one may be slightly tinted by the show as well, but Arya spent so much time with Sandor, and time alone with him, it’s impossible to say that she didn’t take lessons from him. Again, I would personally hesitate to classify this as paternal relationship, if anything Sandor ends up doing a better big brother impression than the Mountain ever has, but he does come to care for Arya and want to watch over her.
The Hound no longer watched her as closely as he had. Sometimes he did not seem to care whether she stayed or went, and he no longer bound her up in a cloak at night. One night I’ll kill him in his sleep, she told herself, but she never did. One day I’ll ride away on Craven, and he won’t be able to catch me, she thought, but she never did that either –Arya XII, ASOS
What’s interesting about Arya is the maternal side of things. There is a disassociation between Catelyn and Arya at the beginning of the season. As I mentioned earlier, Catelyn is the lady, everything Arya does not want to be, and she shares her beauty with Sansa, something that Arya is well aware she does not possess. In A Game of Thrones, Arya barely thinks of her mother once she leaves Winterfell. It doesn’t really increase in Clash. In Arya’s journey between King’s Landing and Braavos, Arya rarely interacts with women at all.
And yet, despite this gap between her and women, in the latter stages of the series that Arya is closest to.
There it was, and now she saw it too, something pale and white drifting down the river, turning where it brushed against a snag. The reeds bowed down before it. She splashed noisily through the shallows and threw herself into the deeper water, her legs churning. The current was strong but she was stronger. She swam, following her nose. The river smells were rich and wet, but those were not the smells that pulled her. She paddled after the sharp red whisper of cold blood, the sweet cloying stench of death. She chased them as she had often chased a red deer through the trees, and in the end she ran them down, and her jaw closed around a pale white arm. She shook it to make it move, but there was only death and blood in her mouth. By now she was tiring, and it was all she could do to pull the body back to shore. As she dragged it up the muddy bank, one of her little brothers came prowling, his tongue lolling from his mouth. She had to snarl to drive him off, or else he would have fed. Only then did she stop to shake the water from her fur. The white thing lay facedown in the mud, her dead flesh wrinkled and pale, cold blood trickling from her throat. Rise, she thought. Rise and eat and run with us. –Arya VII, ASOS
Many have pointed out how Arya has moved from her father’s storyline to her mother’s. In ASOS she pulls Catelyn’s corpse from the river whilst warging Nymeria. Lady Stoneheart is all about revenge, much like Arya. Some hypothesize that Arya will be the one to finally put down Lady Stoneheart in the end. And, of course, there is the theory that Arya can warg CATS.
Consider this about Arya. Bran and Rickon are not present at either of their parent’s deaths (even if they did kind of know about Ned beforehand). Jon was not present at the death of (the man he believed to be) his father. Sansa was there at Ned’s death. Robb was by his mother when she died, though he’d actually passed before the event. Arya was, essentially, present at both. Its she that has the heavier burden, especially getting so close to both Robb and Catelyn.
The lines of Sansa’s replacement parents are much easier. She only has one of each gender, and they fit perfectly into each role, because she literally pretends they are real at one point or another.
Cersei: In the case of Cersei, Sansa begins the series seeing the Queen as everything she wants to be and, luckily for her, her future mother-in-law. Throughout Game of Thrones Sansa simpers at Cersei’s every appearance. Even after her father had been arrested, Sansa wanted nothing more to impress and imitate Cersei. Of course, soon enough, Sansa learned her lessons, but Cersei brought her even closer. During the attack of the Blackwater, at weddings and around court, Cersei kept Sansa as a type of substitute daughter once Myrcella leaves for Dorne.
Littlefinger: The much larger, and much creepier, figure in Sansa’s life is a man who likely thinks, by all rights, he should be Sansa’s father. In a just world, Petyr Baelish would have beaten Brandon Stark in a duel, won Catelyn Tully’s heart and birthed himself a daughter. After all, he did take Catelyn’s virginity.
Littlefinger did his best to make up. He betrayed Ned Stark, ridding himself of the competition. He earned Sansa’s trust by offering her escape and installed himself as her main guardian and protector. Making it even weirder when he kisses her. The reason this relationship is so different from the others is they literally pretend to be father and daughter.
Alayne Stone is Petyr Baelish’s bastard daughter. She plays the part admirably, and they come off as pretty natural “on camera.” But behind the scenes, there is something very similar going on. Much has been made of Sansa learning the ways of political warfare via Littlefinger, absorbing and learning, never clearer in any scene than after Littlefinger handles the Lords Declarent:
He bewitched them, Alayne thought as she lay abed that night listening to the wind howl outside her windows. She could not have said where the suspicion came from, but once it crossed her mind it would not let her sleep. She tossed and turned, worrying at it like a dog at some old bone. Finally, she rose and dressed herself, leaving Gretchel to her dreams. Petyr was still awake, scratching out a letter. “Alayne,” he said. “My sweet. What brings you here so late?”
There’s an obvious arc to Sansa, and she easily has the most negative guardians on this list. Will she gain the ability to turn on them and serve her own revenge? Well, Cersei seems to be further and further away, but many are convinced that is precisely what she will do to Petyr Baelish.
Considering these negative guardians it will be incredibly interesting to see if Sansa, whom I have always believed to be the best combo between both her parents, can take those qualities to the very top and take her rightful place.
Robb, despite being the oldest and the heir to Winterfell, ends up spending the most time with a parent out of all the Stark children. Robb is the true outlier among the children. He has no one to play his father role, because he is playing the father role, to an entire kingdom of people. It would be remiss to argue that the Greatjon or Brynden or even Roose (shudder) play any sort of fatherly figure. No, Robb is a man grown, the next Ned Stark, the King in the North.
As such, he shouldn’t really need his mum, right? He must be strong, confident, not relying on the words of a mere woman. This is the line of thinking that keeps Catelyn so near and yet so far from Robb when she’s with him during the War of the Five Kings.
Catelyn wanted to run to him, to kiss his sweet brow, to wrap him in her arms and hold him so tightly that he would never come to harm … but here in front of his lords, she dared not. He was playing a man’s part now, and she would not take that away from him. So she held herself at the far end of the basalt slab they were using for a table. The direwolf got to his feet and padded across the room to where she stood. It seemed bigger than a wolf ought to be. “You’ve grown a beard,” she said to Robb, while Grey Wind sniffed her hand. –Catelyn VIII, AGOT
Of course, this is all for show. We know that Robb, however thick he grows his whiskers, needs a parent.
“What hope . . .” Robb let out a breath, pushed his hair back from his eyes, and said, “We’ve had naught from Ser Rodrik in the north, no response from Walder Frey to our new offer, only silence from the Eyrie.” He appealed to his mother. “Will your sister never answer us? How many times must I write her? I will not believe that none of the birds have reached her.” Her son wanted comfort, Catelyn realized; he wanted to hear that it would be all right. But her king needed truth. –Catelyn III, ASOS
Robb leans on Cat several other times throughout the war, even as he balances the crown of war upon his head. Does Robb really gain anything the others lack through having a parent with him? Perhaps, but it also comes to a tragic end at the Twins.
Ah, Jon. Poor Jon. The boy who never really had parents in the first place. Eddard Stark had his moments, I’m sure, and certainly did not exclude him when he could get away with it, but Jon was shunned nonetheless. He was given a father, fine, but a father he could only watching playing with his real kids while Jon was on the sidelines.
And as for mothers, Jon isn’t even gifted with the knowledge of who his is, before we get to the fact that the woman who is supposed to replace her is cold and unwelcoming, constantly pushing him as far as can be from the rest of his family. The other Stark children all suffer massive loss throughout the series, but for Jon, half of that loss has been present since childhood.
Like Robb, Jon winds up in a position of power, a father to hundreds of black brothers. But before that he goes through a lineup of father figures helping him along the way to Lord Commander.
Benjen: Alas, if only there had been more time. Like Yoren for Arya, Benjen was the Night’s Watchmen who set Jon on his life path. Someone who Jon loved, respected, wanted to emulate…and someone who left him.
Jeor: The big man. When Jon was a petulant little angry-man, scoffing about his superior skill and the betrayal of not being named a ranger, it was Jeor who slowly brought him to heal. Jeor who noticed his potential for command, Jeor who made Jon his substitute son by passing him Longclaw after Jorah had earned his exile.
Not that inheritance is a word heard on the Wall, but Jon does end up taking Jeor’s ‘throne’, if you want to think of it that way.
Aemon: Again, petulant Jon is not solved just by Jeor, but by wise Maester Aemon’s sage advice. Not that Jon listens at the beginning, but then isn’t that also a key factor in many paternal relationships?
Mance: Perhaps this one has so much strength about it because there are so many people out there who think Mance actually is Jon’s father. Jon doesn’t spend much actual face time with Mance but he does spend a lot of time focusing on him, whether it’s chasing him in Clash or hiding in his army in Storm. Mance and the wildling way does lace its way into Jon’s psyche, although much of that is also delivered by psyche.
Interestingly, this is one of the few entries on this list where we could actually see the relationship go further. You know, depending on what you think about that pesky Pink Letter.
As for mothers…well Jon never had one before the series, and he’s never got one after. Jon has next to no interaction with anyone remotely motherly, and it’d be pretty hard to imagine anyone who could step up now.
(Honourable mention as a father figure: Donal Noye. I just like to bring up Donal Noye.)
The Stark’s arcs are not complete (Robb notwithstanding) (And maybe Jon) so it remains to be seen if they have yet more guardians to come, or if they will have to take early, fretful steps into adulthood, as they’ve already started to do. As much as they’ve achieved alone, it’s clear that none of them would have made it this far without these temporary guardians picking up the work of their fallen parents.