HBO’s Game of Thrones has spent four seasons introducing audiences to a broad range of characters with skills and weaknesses ranging across a very wide spectrum. Most of these characters are connected in some way—through blood or alliance, and sometimes even old grudges. This season, there have been a lot of plotlines on HBO’s drama revolving around fathers, as well as their relationships with their children, and on the whole, these moments haven’t exactly made them look like Ward Cleavers. With a finale airing on the same day as Father’s Day, we decided to celebrate some of this incompetence by ranking the more famous dads from best to worst.
To be honest, not one of the characters on this list is an exemplary father, for many reasons. Notably Game of Thrones creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have taken a nod from series author George R. R. Martin and have created a rich tapestry of complicated characters. No father on this list gets it right 100% of the time. Even Ned Stark, whose parental skills were exemplary, isn’t really as virtuous as people like to remember.
We foraged through the list of potential Game of Thrones characters, pulling the best and worst examples of fathers who appeared on the hit subscription cable series. It was harder than it might look. There are plenty of dads who only appeared via stories, including but not limited to Jon Arryn and Aerys II, as well as dads who never got to see their children born, including Robb Stark and Khal Drogo. So, they’re out. In addition, we also chopped all those fathers whose appearances were too brief or too unimportant to have a lasting impact. That left us with 10 men.
Without further ado, here is our list of the very best and worst in fathers Game of Thrones has to offer. If you are mostly caught up on the series, this list is pretty spoiler-free, but if you’re yet to plunge in to the show at all or a season or so behind, you may want to backlog on HBO as quickly as possible.
Mace TyrellStrengths: Good-natured, knows a good deal when he sees one, wants the best for his kids, above average facial hair
Weaknesses: Hard to take seriously, easy to push around, loves food too much
Analysis:Mace Tyrell is kind of a doofus. He’s a fat older gentleman who dreams of nothing more than to make his daughter the Queen. He wed her off to Renly, then to Joffrey and now plans to have her marry young Tommen. In the scheme of things, his children are much more politically savvy and capable than he is. However, the Tyrell children could certainly do worse than a portly father with the best of intentions. Take this placement more as a scathing indictment of everyone else and less as a sign of his own abilities. In a book filled with less horrors (and whores), he would be decidedly average.
Ned StarkStrengths: Principled, fair, good with a sword
Weaknesses: Politically inept, put ideals before family, not alive
Analysis: In some ways, Ned Stark is about as good of a parent as it gets in the world of Game of Thrones. He was good to his bastard. He taught all of his children ethics and provided a spiritually rich environment when they lived at Winterfell. In short, he was an invested parent. But an invested parent is no good if he is dead. Because of a few idiotic but “noble” decisions, one of his children is dead, one of his children has become a cold-hearted murderer and another child has been abused within an inch of her life. That’s not the best track record on this list, and it’s a sign that maybe he should have taken a different fork in the road.
Tywin LannisterStrengths: Ambitious, successful, connected, handsome
Weaknesses: Secretive, a total dick, might lack human feelings
Analysis: George R. R. Martin is a masterful writer. In his world, every character has his or her flaws, but out of all of the characters who have appeared on the TV show, Tywin Lannister has to be among the better fathers. Sure, he has some problems. He’s not particularly kind to Tyrion (although he would maintain that it is Tyrion’s fault) and his political machinations stand in the way of a lot of actual parenting. However, ever single decision he has ever made on the series has been for the good of his family. Every person he has stepped on and battle he has fought has been for the glory and strength of the name Lannister and for the future Lannisters who will also enter the world. He cares more about the family legacy than his immediate family, but in many ways, that has shaped the expectations of his children and inspired them to be great and powerful, as well.
Roose BoltonStrengths: Turncoat, Survivalist
Weaknesses: Turncoat, Survivalist
Analysis: Roose Bolton is mostly known on HBO’s series for betraying the Starks and joining the Lannisters’ bannermen after the Red Wedding. He’s also the parent of a bastard named Ramsey Snow Bolton, a psychotic murderer and psychopath, who also happens to be ruthless. While Bolton hasn’t done much to dissuade Ramsey’s violent antics, he’s brought him into the family fold, giving his bastard son duties, missions and holdings. He’s also taken the added step of giving his son his name. Westeros is a cold place for most bastards, and while Bolton wouldn’t win a standout father of the year award, he plays his cards very close to the vest and helps out his own whenever he can. In a way, he’s got a little in common with any modern day parent of a serial killer who pledges to love the asshole down to the very end.
Stannis BaratheonStrengths: Devoted, has a good claim to the throne, takes himself seriously
Weaknesses: Into some weird religious nonsense, has a thing for creepy red priestesses, takes himself way too seriously.
Analysis: Stannis has the personality of “a lobster” and he’s kind of hateful toward his wife, although to his credit she’s more than a little crazy. His daughter, Shireen, is a lonely and inward child, thanks to a childhood disease that left her face scarred. Though she’s smart as a whip and Stannis has a passing interest in her, he only really thinks of her as an heir rather than a living, breathing human. Their relationship becomes even more rocky when Shireen questions the religious direction her elders are invested in, which does not sit well with the Lord Of The Light and his followers.
Robert BaratheonStrengths: Legendary, offers a good title, is fairly good-natured
Weaknesses: Problems drinking, whoring, snoring, bathing and lately, breathing
Analysis: In many ways, Robert Baratheon gave his kids the best of everything. His good name bought them a wealthy existence and very little parental supervision. He may not have been a paternal parent, but he did his best when it came to throwing out nuggets of wisdom, even when he was at odds with little Joffrey’s lack of brawn—like getting beat by a young Arya. It’s tough for different types of personalities to get along, and since Robert wasn’t actually even Joffrey and co.’s biological parent, it’s easy to see how he could have trouble relating to his children. While there’s been no love lost since he died hunting, Tommen and Myrcella are O.K. enough that he’s not the worst parent on this list.
Jaime LannisterStrengths: Loyal, brave, puts king and country first, good hair
Weaknesses: Absentee parent, sexually attracted to his sister, missing a hand.
Analysis: At the very best, Jaime is an absentee parent. The role he took on as Joffrey and Tommen’s uncle and protector is kind of the perfect line between passable and poor parent. He doesn’t offer much advice or nuggets of wisdom, but he did pass along good genes, intelligence and a flair for fighting. Joffrey might have been a monster, but at least he was an elegant looking-monster, and he can thank Jaime for that cropped blonde hair and those sharp-looking eyes. Then again, he could also probably thank him for doing nothing while he turned into a psycho too. You win some, you lose some.
Walder FreyStrengths: Prizes family loyalty, possesses super sperm
Weaknesses: Holds a grudge, can’t be trusted, could literally die of old age at any moment
Analysis: Walder Frey is a bad person. Not only is he willing to kill off someone else’s unborn child, spawn a massacre and calmly watch his own wife get her throat slit, he’s also kind of a mean grouch who isn’t pleasant to be around. Parenting-wise, while he does have an impressive number of progeny and claims family loyalty comes first, he certainly doesn’t lead by example. His children will all be squabbling over titles and material goods when he finally kicks the bucket, which, by the looks of things, will be sooner rather than later. Maybe it’s better that some of his children will be saved from being on the receiving end of his advice before they reach adulthood because no good can come from listening to that man’s opinion on anything.
Balon GreyjoyStrengths: Tough as steel, does not sow
Weaknesses: Bitter, lacks sympathy, has terrible hair
Analysis: Balon Greyjoy’s hand was forced when he sent his only son, Theon, to live with the Starks. Theon grew and excelled with the Starks, but he always wished to return home. When his wish was granted, Balon treated Theon with coldness and disrespect and later, when he was captured by Ramsay Snow, he showed zero sympathy. He’s a little kinder to his daughter, giving her free reign of her own fleets, but his temperament hardly inspires discipline or respect. There’s a reason the Iron Islands command little power and Balon Greyjoy is at the heart of that disaster. Sometimes a tough exterior can actually be a weakness, and any man who would let his enemies torture his son without consequence is not only a bad father, he’s a bad leader.
CrasterStrengths: Hasn’t murdered all of his children
Weaknesses: Willing to sleep with his own daughters, leaves sons out in the snow to die, bizarre issues with gender roles
Analysis: Craster is like a weed that should have never grown into adulthood. If he had been plucked before he ever laid down roots, things would have gone better North of the Wall. Instead, he spread his seed, sleeping with his daughters and renaming them as his wives. That behavior is disconcerting, but it’s not as evil as the way he treats his sons, leaving his baby boys out in the cold snow for the White Walkers to take them. Craster’s dirty and disgusting and it’s hard to even picture him engaging in a moment of parenting. He’s such an ugly person, I’m pretty sure he would take a weird pride in being ranked last on this list.