Game of Thrones is an incredible show that’s gone a long way towards putting high fantasy in the realm of the mainstream, much like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, back when those franchises came out. However, unlike those franchises, Game of Thrones is a much darker story, and without the extra races like elves, hobbits and lions that are also Gods, it’s a much more human story. The characters aren’t ideals, they’re gritty and incredibly flawed, and it’s not clear cut whether they’re good or evil. The morals of Game of Thrones are a lot more relative because of it, and ultimately, we as fans can see ourselves in literally any of the characters we meet in Westeros. More importantly, we can see our own relationships in the relationships of the characters, notably their romantic relationships.
The relationships in Game of Thrones could not be more varied and layered, and they span the length and breadth of happiness and healthiness. While some of these relationships are happy and some are healthy, others are very decidedly not, and we can learn from every single one of them. Whether you’re single, married, in a relationship, or just waiting for Jon Snow to find you, we can all learn a lot from the romantic relationships on the show and in the books. Here are sixteen pieces of advice we can take with us when we’ve left the land of Westeros to join our own. If you’re not fully caught up on season 6, be careful, for the spoilers are dark and full of terrors.
16. Timing Is Everything
Have you ever been in one of those relationships that’s perfect in any way, but you can’t shake the feeling that you shouldn’t be in that relationship? There’s no reason why you feel like you’ve got to cut and run, but you know the relationship isn’t going to last? I’m sure you have, because most people have, and you’re definitely not alone in feeling that way at least once in your life.
That was definitely the case for Robb Stark and Talisa Maegyr. Robb Stark, aka The King In The North, was promised to marry one of the Frey descendants when he met war nurse Talisa, on the battlefield. They very promptly fell in love, and their relationship would have been perfect had it not been for his now dissolved betrothal to a Frey girl and the bridge he needed to cross. Nobody could deny that they were blissfully married and very much in love, but in this case, timing was everything: if they hadn’t fallen in love and eloped, they wouldn’t have been killed in the Red Wedding, an event that most Game of Thrones fans remember as a moment of blind shock.
15. Opposites Attract
You know how there are those couples that you would never expect to be together? You’d never believe that two people that could be so different could be happy together. In reality, those couples often find themselves the happiest. This is definitely the case in life and fiction, specifically in Game of Thrones. For example, Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth couldn’t be more different. Brienne’s a woman known for the fact that she isn’t very pretty, who can also count herself as one of the most loyal and morally good characters of the entire series. Meanwhile, Jaime is a man known for his exceptional attractiveness (being twins with Cersei will do that to a guy), and is known throughout Westeros as one of the most notorious oath breakers currently living.
Those differences seem like they could keep these two worlds apart, but when they found themselves bonding over hardship with the Boltons, Brienne found out why Jaime broke his oaths and came to understand him, and Jaime found that there was more to Brienne than just serving other people. Although they’re not together and probably won’t be for a little while (being on opposite sides of a civil war will do that to people), there’s no doubt that the Maid of Tarth and the Kingslayer made a major impression on each other, and that their paths will cross again later on.
14. There Are Other Fish In The Sea
When you’re young and just starting to date and fall in love, you might think that the person you’re dealing with is the end all and be all of your love life. Everything would begin and end with him or her, and that sentiment informed everything you did. I’m sure as you got older, you realized that wasn’t the case, and there were other fish in the sea.
That is definitely a lesson that Petyr Baelish/Littlefinger should have learned when he fell in love with Catelyn Tully as a child. He harbored that unrequited love for her well into adulthood, and that twisted love informed everything he did in the entire series, and in a big way, the entire series itself. The reason Robert Baratheon came to Ned Stark to find a new Hand of the King is because the old Hand, Jon Arryn, was poisoned by his wife, Lysa Arryn, who’s not only Catelyn’s sister, but the woman who’s actually in love with Petyr, who masterminded the whole thing. After that, he went out of his way to put Ned in a position to be killed (many, many people are responsible for that man’s death, just saying) and play the different sides of the war like puppets. He even found the time to be a strange sort of Svengali to Catelyn’s daughter Sansa, who’s been noted to be the spitting image of her mother when she was younger.
Basically, the entire series and all of the horrible things that happened could have been prevented had Littlefinger simply been able to move on from Catelyn. That’s something we can all learn from. You might not be engineering entire wars over one person, but you could be twisting yourself into emotional knots for them. If a person isn’t right for you, they’re not right for you, and the best thing you can do for yourself is move on.
13. Respect Boundaries
One of the most important things you can do when dealing with other people is respect their boundaries, especially romantically. If your significant other doesn’t want to do something that makes them uncomfortable, they don’t have to do it, and that’s all there is to it.
That’s a principle Tyrion Lannister applied to his marriage to Sansa Stark. The relationship between Tyrion and Sansa is a strange and sort of creepy one, since Tyrion is a full grown man who was in love with a whore at the time, and Sansa was a teenager with a fixation on the Hound at the time. However, the best thing Tyrion Lannister could have ever done for Sansa Stark is respect her boundaries, because he showed her that while the Lannister family might have destroyed her family, not all Lannisters were evil. By not immediately jumping her on her wedding night, he showed her that he respected her as a person, and the fact that she was not only wildly uncomfortable with the situation, but that she was too young to be married to him anyway. He waited until she was ready to open up to him, and that’s what we in the real world should do.
12. Love Shouldn’t Mess With Your Moral Compass
Regardless of who you love, your moral compass is your moral compass. Nobody should be going out of their way to make you feel like your morals are wrong or lesser than, and if someone loves you, they wouldn’t put you on a path that leads to destruction. If Lysa Arryn had learned that lesson, she’d probably still be alive.
Lysa Arryn grew up with her sister Catelyn, and their father’s ward Petyr Baelish. While he was solely concerned with Catelyn, Lysa found herself as in love with him as he was with Catelyn. That led her to do some pretty creepy things. The show doesn’t explicitly state these things as much as the books do, but we do know that while Petyr put the idea to poison Jon Arryn in her head, Lysa was the one who actually did it, and she went out of her way to blame it on the Lannisters, which jumpstarted an entire war and the death of her sister’s family. When she finally had Littlefinger to herself, she got so jealous she tried throwing her own niece through the Moon Door.
I’m sure that at points during Lysa’s life, she saw herself becoming something she didn’t really like. The problem was that she was so fixated on Littlefinger that she lost sight of herself, which is something you should never do. When you feel yourself losing pieces of yourself to a relationship, that’s probably when you need to get out of that relationship, because no one should take pieces of who you are. Time will tell with these two, though, given the events of the season finale, since Wildfire Gate might just be too much for Jaime to stomach.
11. Don’t Glamorize Relationships Like Romeo And Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most popular works for good reason: Shakespearean prose is beautiful and there’s a lot of themes to unpack. However, while the play is on another level of art, the relationship itself is packed with issues, and it’s precisely those issues that get eight people killed. That’s precisely what happens with Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.
Rhaegar Targaryen, the then prince of the Seven Kingdoms, found himself in love with Lyanna Stark, who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon, while Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell. However, he didn’t let marriage and children stop him, so he made off with Lyanna and jumpstarted a war over love when Robert Baratheon went crazy trying to get her back. That war resulted in Rhaegar and Lyanna dying, along with Rhaegar’s entire family apart from his little brother and sister, Lyanna’s father and brother being burned alive in the throne room, and the starting point for the series at large. While we did get the R + L = J theory confirmed out of this, this love story is a singularly unhealthy one, not necessarily because of their relationship, which we don’t know a ton about, but because their star crossed relationship got people killed. Generally, those relationships don’t really work, and that point gets underlined with all of the death.
10. Expand Your Horizons
Some of us might wonder why we’re not finding the person of our dreams, and that could be for a few reasons. One very good reason might be that you’re looking in your pond and not venturing outside your little area. I said before that there are other fish in the sea, but you have to swim out to sea to go and find them!
This is definitely the case for Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen, who would never have found each other if not for their extraordinary circumstances. Targaryens marry within the family, so you actually find that in the books, Daenerys didn’t want to marry Drogo because she was expecting her brother to marry her, as per her family’s tradition. That’s literally the definition of staying inside your little pond, both emotionally and genetically. She would have missed out on her greatest love (sorry, Daario) if Viserys had married her, and she definitely wouldn’t be the woman she became.
While we’re not trying to marry our ax-crazy siblings, sometimes we go out of our way to stay in our little corners. We might not venture out to make new friends, or we might date in the same circles where everyone knows each other. In reality, the best thing we can do is step out from Pentos and do something entirely different. It might not work out (Daenerys and Drogo certainly didn’t), but you’ll have learned something new.
9. Your Relationship Should Make You Better, Not Worse
There are a lot of couples in Game of Thrones that serve as a cautionary tale, but none are quite so blatant as Cersei and Jaime Lannister, twins and childhood sweethearts. While you can’t deny that their love for each other comes from a real place, you also can’t deny that their relationship has hurt a lot of people. While they were blameless in the death of Jon Arryn, they certainly weren’t blameless in a lot of other events. If Jaime hadn’t been so loyal to Cersei and their relationship, he would never have pushed ten year old Bran Stark out of a window and jump started the first season proper. As we already know, while Jaime is an incredibly complex guy who has no problem torching his reputation and oaths to do the right thing, he’d never be the guy pushing kids out of windows unless he was being influenced by someone else. That’s why it’s so important to keep people around you who will push you to be a better person, which is something we can apply to our relationships. If they’re not making you better in some way, or you actually find yourself regressing, you might not need that person in your life.
8. The “Friend Zone” Doesn’t Exist
Let Jorah Mormont of Bear Island be a lesson to guys everywhere: a woman is not obligated to sleep with you or love you because you’re loyal to her. Daenerys Targaryen saw Jorah as the brother she should have had, and a person she trusted more than she trusted anyone. Not only did she not see him in a romantic light, she wasn’t capable of putting anyone in that light because of how she lost Khal Drogo. However, Jorah kept trying to push her away from other men, even guys as honorable and romantically disinterested as Barristan Selmy. He wanted Daenerys all to himself, and he ended up losing her for all of his trouble because he couldn’t accept that she didn’t see him as a romantic partner right at that moment. His over-persistence probably hurt his chances for a future relationship, too.
If a friend isn’t interested in you, they’re not interested. They didn’t put you in a “friend zone,” they’re just not interested. If anything, you fixating on that friend puts that friend in the “romance zone” and shows that friend that your friendship came with strings. Don’t be that guy.
7. Stand Behind And Support Your Partner
Among the most stable and happy relationships is Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell, for a few reasons. While they had to keep their relationship a secret because of Westeros’ taboos, they were still able to be happy together because they supported each other in everything they did. Renly showed up to every joust Loras ever had, and Loras got his family to back Renly in the War of the Five Kings. That war didn’t go very well for them, but that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that Loras and Renly went out of their way to have each other’s backs, and that’s how we should be with the people we love.
6. Be Willing To Experiment And Do New Things
One of the best things about relationships is the fact that you can do all sorts of new things together, and those experiences mean more because you’re doing them with someone you care about. No other couple in Westeros embodies that principle more than Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand. Not only were they publicly flaunting their fluid sexuality in a conservative city, their relationship in itself is unique because of Ellaria’s bastard status. Most notably, they weren’t very often apart from each other, and that included their time in the brothels together. We might not be taking our significant others to brothels and fights to the death, but we should be experiencing new things with them.
5. Bedroom Tips Are Really Important
There are a few people in Game of Thrones that really benefited from s*x education, to the point where it changed the course of the plot.
-Daenerys started out as a young, innocent girl who had no idea how to handle being married to a Dothraki horse lord, much less being happily married to him. However, she was given a sex education crash course with an emphasis on mutual satisfaction and seduction, and after that, she and Drogo were very happy together, which led to their epic love story that ended in her husband’s death, which she’s still sort of trying to get over.
-Tommen Baratheon, or at least the show’s version of him (the book version is still about nine and way too young to actually marry), was the third king to marry Margaery Tyrell, and the only one who’d actually had s*x with her (Renly was gay, and Joffrey didn’t live long enough to consummate that marriage.) Once he actually did the deed, he wasn’t under his mom Cersei’s, control anymore. However, while he was opened up to that world, he wasn’t necessarily taught how women like Margaery are able to wield a great deal of power via s*x appeal, primarily because Cersei wanted control over him. Joffrey had similar issues with this, too. It was precisely that reason that Tommen never really made decisions on his own. That’s why it’s important to have that knowledge.
-Podrick Payne doesn’t have an established relationship in the Game of Thrones canon (those crackships with Sansa and Tyrion don’t count), but he’s not known as the Westeros’ s*x god for nothing. He managed to walk into a brothel with three whores and walk out having paid nothing for the privilege, just because he was that good. We never find out exactly what he did and how he knew to do it, but he certainly must have known his way around a woman’s body to be able to do that. It’s important to know your way around your significant other’s body, too.
4. Trust Your Instincts And Acknowledge Red Flags
If you’ve ever got a gut feeling about a person, trust it and handle it accordingly. That could mean anything from addressing a small issue and solving it to dropping that person from your life altogether. That’s definitely a lesson Sansa Stark learned when she moved from Winterfell to King’s Landing to marry Joffrey Baratheon. From the beginning, Joffrey had been less than ideal, whether it was being a brat when it came to mundane matters or it was being mean to her sister and getting her wolf killed. She looked past all that for the chance to be queen and because she genuinely thought Joffrey was a better person than that, much like how sometimes we get into relationships with people who we’re hoping to change. For Sansa, that ended with her father being publicly beheaded as a traitor and several years as a prisoner of the Lannisters before becoming Littlefinger’s object of affection. Thankfully, Sansa learned about red flags though, so she knows how to maneuver within her situation a lot better, making it that much easier to get the things she wants out of Littlefinger, like an army or even a crown of her own.
3. Be A Giver In Your Relationship
In any relationship, but especially a dating relationship, it’s important not to be so selfish. We can’t just be all about ourselves when we’re dealing with another person, because their needs and wants are just as important as our own. That’s something Jon Snow didn’t even have to learn, because being a giver was in his nature.
When he first met Ygritte, he was so unselfish that he gave up his reputation in the Night’s Watch and killed Qhorin Halfhand to help save the Watch from the incoming wildling army. On top of that, his stint as Lord Commander in season five and Sansa’s army commander in season six, highlight his unselfish nature. He knew taking the long view with the Watch was the right thing even though it literally killed him, but he did it anyway. Additionally, he had no idea he was going to get crowned King in the North (and still has no idea what R + L equals, either), but he was still willing to go through the grittiest battle in the show’s history to get his brother back and get his sister back home. As for his romantic relationships, one of the most iconic scenes is all about his giving nature: where his first thought was for Ygritte’s pleasure and not his own, which is what ended up making Ygritte fall in love with him. Guys out there, a little giving in that department goes a very long way.
2. Acknowledge Your Patterns And Learn From Them
In relationships, we tend to fall into certain patterns. They might not be bad patterns, but they’re still patterns, and it’s really important to be aware of them and course correct if necessary. That lesson’s really hard to learn because in many ways, humans are habitual creatures, but being more aware of how you function in the world is a really important thing. Several characters have learned this lesson over the years in Game of Thrones:
-Sansa Stark has a habit of being infatuated with men who are in positions of power and have really relative morals, like Joffrey, the Hound, and Littlefinger. Over the course of the series, we end up watching her learn how to use her situations with them to her advantage.
-Margaery Tyrell has spent her entire time on the show being married to some king or another. Each king was wildly different, but her pattern is her fixation on becoming queen one day, and being the very best queen that there is. That fixation could very well have gotten her killed (a death that I still actively grieve over).
-Loras Tyrell loves pretty men in power, like Renly, Oberyn and Olyver. That gets him into trouble after Renly dies, because while he still has those desires, he’s lost the inclination to be discreet (this is show Loras we’re talking about, not book Loras!). His stint with Olyvar ended up getting him into a lot of trouble, and ultimately, it set off a chain of events that exploded a cache of wildfire.
1. The Goal Is A Happy, Functioning Relationship
In the world of dating, things can often get so muddled and confusing that we forget that the ultimate goal is to come out of things with a happy and healthy relationship. Dating isn’t quite as hard of a world to deal with as Westeros is, but between technology and new social rules, it’s really hard for a lot of people to really get through it in one piece.
One couple that managed to end up happy even after an arranged marriage and an alleged illegitimate baby, is Ned and Catelyn Stark. They have problems, just like any other marriage, but those problems aren’t insurmountable ones. They work through issues by talking through them, are excellent parents to their five (six?) children, and are fair and benevolent rulers in the North. They would have been very happy together and probably still alive had Robert Baratheon not asked Ned to be Hand of the King. Their relationship, one where the love grows with every passing year, seems like such a rare thing, but with the right person, it’s really not rare at all.