The wedding of Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen was the first of many in Game of Thrones. Like most marriages in the series, Drogo and Daenerys did not marry for love. Daenerys was quite literally traded to the Khal by her brother, Viserys, in exchange for a Dothraki army for his plan to sail back to Westeros and claim the Iron Throne. Although her age was not mentioned in the TV series, in The Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Daenerys was 13 when she was married off to Drogo.
Students of history won’t find that shocking. There have been child brides around the world for centuries. In some cultures, the practice remains legal to this day. Neither should it be shocking to see a princess being married off by her own kin for political reasons. Royal families have been trading daughters for centuries for one reason or another, and love was not a consideration. Neither was the bride-to-be’s consent necessary. Daughters obeyed.
In olden times, annexation of kingdoms or combining family wealth and power were common reasons. In modern times, it is to merge businesses or for political alliance.
For the middle and lower classes, marriage has always been a convenient means to climb up the social ladder (hypergamy).
Royal or not, many women have used marriage to legitimize children who would otherwise be born out of wedlock and, therefore, subject to social stigma. A pregnant woman may marry her child’s father (or trick another into believing he is the father) in order to escape being called a “fallen woman.”
In writing the A Song of Ice and Fire books, George R.R. Martin made sure that medieval practices were integrated into the medieval setting of the story. So, never mind that shocked expression over Daenerys marrying at 13 to a man she did not know, much less love. It was an arranged marriage and it was in vogue during medieval times. Luckily for her, she eventually learned to love Drogo and he apparently adored her.
Daenerys isn’t the only female character in The Game of Thrones who entered into an arranged marriage. Almost everyone did. The only couple who married for love in the series was Robb Stark and Talisa Maegyr.
Robb and Talisa met during the War of the Five Kings. Robb rose in rebellion after King Joffrey executed his father. Marching south to King’s Landing, the capital, after being declared King in the North, his army needed to pass through The Crossing, part of the property of Walder Frey. Frey had held back taking sides in the war but Robb’s mother, Catelyn, got him to side with them after Robb agreed to Frey’s terms which included marrying one of his daughters to join their Houses.
But Robb met Talisa, a high-born who had been working as a battlefield medic. They fell in love and, despite his promise to Walder Frey, Robb married Talisa. That was the day Robb lost the war.
Robb’s uncle, Edmure Tully, agreed to marry Frey’s daughter in his stead with the hope that an alliance with Frey was still possible. Bride and groom had not set eyes on each other until the wedding ceremony. Frey marched his daughter, Roslin, down the aisle with her face covered by a heavy veil.
When Frey lifted the veil to reveal her face, she said, “Lord Edmure, I hope I am not a disappointment to you.” To which Edmure replied as he gazed at her beautiful face, “You’re a delight to me, my lady.” And they exchanged vows.
As the marriage was consummated and the wedding feast raged on, the Starks were massacred. The episode with Edmure’s and Roslin’s wedding would thereafter be known as The Red Wedding.
In King’s Landing, King Joffrey repudiated his engagement to Sansa Stark, Robb’s younger sister, for being the daughter and sister of traitors. He decided that he would instead marry Margaery Tyrell, widow of his uncle Renly.
Sansa, now free to marry another, was quite a catch with her beauty and ancient family name. Lord Petyr Baelish, or Littlefinger, recently named Lord of Harrenhal, was the first to show interest.
Littlefinger’s attention toward Sansa did not go unnoticed. Margaery’s wily grandmother, Lady Olenna, made her own maneuver by having Margaery plant the idea in Sansa’s head that she and Margaery’s brother, Loras, would make a good match.
Then, Tywin Lannister heard of Lady Olenna’s plan. Knowing that Sansa was key to the northern kingdom of Winterfell, she was married to Tyrion Lannister instead while the widowed queen, Cersei, was told she would have to marry Loras Tyrell.
Although Margaery had publicly declared that that she had learned to love Joffrey from afar, it was far from the truth. She had been married off by her family to Renly when there was a chance that he would be king. After his death, Joffrey was the only logical choice for her second husband.
During the wedding feast, Joffrey was poisoned and died.
Margaery was left wondering if she was still the queen. Her grandmother told her not to push the issue just yet. Both the Lannisters and the Tyrells still being keen on an alliance, no one raised an eyebrow when Margaery, through feminine wile and subtle manipulation, managed to make Joffrey’s younger brother, King Tommen, fall in love with her.
King Tommen’s and Margaery’s wedding has been described as the happiest in Game of Thrones. I think not. I think Robb’s and Talisa’s was the only genuinely happy wedding. Tommen’s and Margaery’s wedding may be a happy one but only half genuinely so. While Tommen was undoubtedly in love with his bride, Margaery’s happiness was more because she managed to pull off a political coup that secured the future of House Tyrell.
Not that Tommen and Margaery lived happily every after either despite the “happy” wedding. Is there such a thing as happy ending in Game of Thrones anyway? Tommen’s own mother arranged for the murder of Margaery and, in his despair, Tommen killed himself.
But in all of Game of Thrones, there is no wedding and marriage more horrible than that between Sansa and Ramsay Bolton.
Ramsay Bolton, the legitimized bastard of the traitor Roose Bolton who was among the authors of The Red Wedding, had taken over Winterfell.
Littlefinger, meanwhile, after having secured his own position and future by marrying then murdering Lady Lysa Arryn of the Eyrie, pressed Sansa to marry Ramsay to regain Winterfell. With Sansa’ marriage to Tyrion not having been consummated, Littlefinger insisted that it was not invalid.
Sansa and Ramsay did wed in a ceremony that was as creepy as it was sad, but what they had was not exactly a marriage. Marital rape. Domestic violence. Two concepts that were unheard of in medieval times were the main features in the marriage of Sansa and Ramsay. But, at least, Sansa did eventually have her revenge and managed to retake Winterfell.