While many were shocked by the last night’s regicide of the teenage King Joffrey Baratheon in the gritty HBO series “Game of Thrones,” those who know chess can quickly understand the impact of a queen who fails to safeguard her king.
The “Game of Thrones” series, based on books by George R. R. Martin, a known chess enthusiast, offers many parallels between the strategy game and the royal battles that happen throughout the medieval fantasy series.
In this particular instance, viewers saw what happened when the Queen Regent Cersei Lannister failed to place any kind of boundaries or consequences on her son, King Joffrey, therefore leaving him open to attack.
In chess, the king is the weakest, but most valuable piece on the board, while the queen is the most powerful. In “Game of Thrones,” the queen reversed that dynamic, and so her king is no more.
Back in 2011, Mr. Martin told SF Weekly that he once made his living as a chess tournament director in the early 1970s. When I began reading Martin’s books and seeing the parallels to the game, I wrote to him last year asking for his help in supporting the NICE children’s chess initiative I run in Norfolk, Va. Mr. Martin sent two signed copies of his books from a different fantasy series to auction to help raise funds for new chess sets.
Last night’s pivotal episode took place in the kingdom of Westeros, one of seven kingdoms warring for supremacy in the fictional series.
The boy king, age 13, was raised, under the direction of the queen to never know consequences for his actions, and so became more suited to being lord of the flies than of the kingdom of Westeros.
King Joffrey was a bully, liar, sadist, abuser of power, and every sensible parent’s largely avoidable nightmare.
Rarely have so many cheered the demise of a young character so loudly as last night when fans of the “Game of Thrones” television series watched the bully boy king was poisoned at his wedding feast.
Because this series takes place in a fictional feudal society, the king's age isn’t shocking, or the fact that this is his second betrothal in two years. His first ended when he gleefully had his future father-in-law beheaded in front of his betrothed.
My sons, husband, and I are all fans of “Lord of the Rings” and J.R.R. Tolkien, so for my oldest son, now in college, the transition to a more mature adult drama version of fantasy fiction found in Martin’s books was a natural fit.
However, these books are very mature in theme and not suitable for children. The youngest reader I would hand them to is probably a high school senior.
In fact, I picked up the books on the advice of my son when he began the series as a freshman in college.
He and I have had over a year to process the happenings from last night’s episode – unlike the legion of shell-shocked HBO fans who have only seen the TV version.
As the king's mother – the ruthless, power-mad queen – cradles her dying son in her arms, I felt sorry for her – the woman who is even more despicable than her son – because her pain was entirely avoidable.
While I make it a habit of telling my sons “there is good in everyone if you look hard enough,” Martin was careful to create a king in whom I was unable to locate a shred of humanity, humility, or decency.
King Joffrey was written as the ultimate bad seed.
However, I believe, had that seed been planted somewhere near a source of light, warmth, and trained to stand straight instead of crooked, he wouldn’t have met his demise as he did last night.
All his mother ever had to do was provide boundaries for her child.
In real life, parents often hate to be the “bad guy” with their kids – the one who says “no” and hands out punishment to a child.
I admit to being one of those parents to my four sons, but I do it anyway.
The queen is a brilliantly written “bad guy” character, so one would think that she’d be able to take on the role in the raising of her eldest son.
I’m not talking about actually being a bad person, but rather taking on the unpleasant responsibility of saying “No” to your child and not spoiling them.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to be an obscenely decadent member of a royal family to spoil your child.
The pitfall is when parents make the error of thinking our kids are here for our benefit, to provide hugs, kisses, and adoration as the result of our unconditional support.
I love my sons unconditionally, but I have learned not to confuse that with the responsibility to disapprove of willful, destructive, or cruel actions on their parts.
In “Game of Thrones,” the queen might just as well have handed her son the poisoned cup because she was just as responsible for his actions as he was, perhaps more.
That’s where we can feel sorry for the late boy king of Westeros, in his total lack of substantive parental support.
Loving your child doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to every bad action he or she takes.
It cannot be found in overruling our spouse in favor of our “little prince” or “princess” who is blatantly misbehaving.
I have learned over 20 years of parenting that if we don’t take our role as “bad guy” with kids when necessary, we lose them, often in tragic ways.
We need to be the bad guys so our kids will grow up to be better people.