Game of Thrones may fall squarely in the fantasy genre, but what made the show interesting were the many human stories it told that would be as relevant and relatable without dragons and ice zombies. And while no one will mistake George R.R. Martin’s books for romance novels, there were a number of lovely (and a larger number of creepy) love stories in both the books the HBO adaptation. We wanted to look at the best and worst romances on the show. Of course, there have been some horrible pairings—forced marriages like Sansa’s string of nightmares and every poor child married off to Walder Frey. For the following lists, we’re only counting consenting duos; there are still many cringe-inducing ones.
Cersei certainly has a type. What she did to poor Lancel had him hating himself enough to join a cult—cousin Lancel became Brother Lancel. What makes this incestuous dalliance even worse is that she ended up murdering her former boy toy along with rest of the Sparrows and so many others when she blew up the Great Sept. Of course, for part of the affair, he was spying on Cersei for Tyrion, so the betrayal cuts both ways.
How rare is it for two sadistic psycopaths to find each other? Hopefully it’s very rare because these two were terrifying. Myranda joined in Ramsay’s human hunts, helps him torture Theon and threatened to cut Sansa down to “the parts he needs for making an heir.” Of course these actions paled in comparison to the misery caused by her lover. You could say they deserved each other, but really, they both deserved their horrible deaths.
Stannis was easy to hate, and he agreed with the rest of us after getting seduced by the Red Witch and birthing a homicidal smoke monster. The Lord of Light could get pretty dark, and this coupling was pretty creepy. His one-time lover burned his poor daughter Selyse at the stake, as he stood by and watch. They’re the worst.
This is the one-sided love story that kicked off most of the misery in Westeros. Peter Baelish’s selfish ambition began with the seduction of Lysa Arryn, convincing her to murder her husband and set the game of thrones into motion. Creepy married evil, and evil threw her through the Moon Door.
First there’s the incest. Then there’s the rape. And we can round it out with the attempted murder of a young boy to keep the affair secret. Cersei has always brought out the worst in her brother. She certainly was hateful. And, despite his wonderful (if short-lived) redemptive arc, Jaime could be too. This was the relationship that broke Bran the Broken and set the Wolves against the Lions.
Now for the best. I was tempted to include the fiery passion of Danaerys and Khal Drogo, but I can’t get past the fact that relationship began with a child forced to marry and give her body to a stranger. Credit to Dany for finding love and strength and power in a horrific situation, but it was still a horrific situation. Here are our favorites:
A fairytale romance between the innocent children of two families who hate each other. We all know how that ends in both Shakespeare and Westeros. It was sweet while it lasted. Myrcella was terrified to be shipped off to Dorne, but against the odds, she found love. But they were just pawns in this game, sacrificed out of vengeance and contempt.
The forbidden love that tore apart the Northern alliance was still a thing of beauty. Talisa was too lovely, too kind, too exotic and too self-sacrificing for Robb to resist. A high-born Volantian, she left a life of luxury to tend to the wounded on another continent and still managed to become a queen. Their love made The Red Wedding one of the most memorably tragic moments in TV history.
Samwell Tarly, disappointing son of trash-person Randall Tarly, and Gilly, the daughter-wife of the trash-person Craster, deserved every moment of happiness they could steal, Gilly especially. They both had a rough go, and the solace they found in each other is the beautiful thing about love. Theirs may not be the most classic love story, but in many ways it feels the most real.
The Unsullied were reduced to something sub-human by their masters. Castrated, forced to unflinching obedience, more weapon than man, it was a joy to watch Grey Worm reclaim his humanity (until he started to lose it again). And Missandei was such a big part of that process. He couldn’t imagine being loved, and the hesitant blooming of their romance was special to watch. We miss you already, Missandei.
“You know nothing, Jon Snow.” The fiery passion of Ygritte and the quiet honor of Jon Snow made the best pairing north or south of The Wall. A crow and a wildling, captor and captive, a man sworn to celibacy and a woman embracing the fullness of life—this is the storybook romance that Game of Thrones needed. That it led to real-life romance between Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie makes it just that much sweeter.
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