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Love vs. Honor…which one will ultimately win?


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#1 nara

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Posted 23 August 2013 - 08:51 PM

Maester Aemon: “Love is the bane of honor, the death of duty.”
This is one of my favorite quotes, and the conflict between love and honor is one of my favorite themes in the series. I’m feeling philosophical today, so I’m wondering if one will ultimately win out over the other.
There are several people who have chosen love over honor:
  • Ned Stark: He sacrificed his honor for love of his daughter, Sansa, by recanting his statement and supporting Joffrey. If you believe R+L=J, he sacrificed his honor for the woman he loved most (at the time), his sister Lyanna by claiming Jon as his bastard.
  • Catelyn Stark: Sacrificed her honor as the mother of the KITN for love of her daughters by releasing Jaime Lannister.
  • Robb Stark: Sacrificed his honor for the woman he loved most, Jeyne Westerling, by breaking his betrothal and marrying her instead.
  • Jon Snow: Sacrificed his honor for the woman (girl) he loved most, his sister Arya, by breaking the NW oath of not interfering in the politics of the realm
  • Jaime Lannister: Sacrificed his honor (in part) for love of his father by killing Aerys . Also sacrificed his honor for the woman he loved most, Cersei, by cuckolding the king despite being on the KG.
  • Lysa Tully: Sacrificed her honor for the man she loved most, Petyr, by having sex with him before (and probably, after) she married Jon Arryn
  • Note: I’m leaving Cersei off of this list, because I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether or not Cersei really loves Jaime.
So far, picking love over honor has really not worked out well for these people, though you could argue that Jaime has been relatively fine for 14 years.
In contrast, I can’t really think of instances of honor being picked over love, so there have been few negative consequences. (Let me know what I’ve missed)
  • Maester Aemon: He stayed at the Wall despite all the stuff happening to Aerys and family. However, I think his story is really one of picking honor over power when Aegon offered it to him
  • Jon Snow: You could say he picked honor over love by leaving Ygritte and returning to the NW, but I think his love for Ygritte is FAR outweighed by his love for his family and his NW friends, so I don’t think this is really an issue.
  • Ned Stark: Some people believe he sacrificed his love for Ashara Dayne by marrying Catelyn and fulfilling Brandon’s betrothal vow, but his POV doesn’t really indicate any love for her, so I think that’s not a real example.
So, do you think love will eventually kick honor’s butt and be the right thing to choose? Or will the moral of the story be that you should put honor first?

#2 Bluesnow

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Posted 23 August 2013 - 09:02 PM

Read this as Love vs. HODOR and was greatly confused =/
(I just ordered some glasses today... I need to get them soon lol)

I don't think there will be a victor... the point is there are always hard decisions in life that don't have a "correct" answer.... and often times both answers will have grave repercussions.

Rather than seeing which one will "win" on a book level... I like to see the decisions the characters struggle with to see which priority will come out on top... but on an individual basis rather than a book basis.
And there there are some characters where I wonder if they will regret or change their decisions later on /dunno.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':dunno:' />

#3 Djinn

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Posted 23 August 2013 - 09:05 PM

Well, there's multiple deities for Love, but i don't recall any for Honor. So clearly not as important.

#4 Newstar

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Posted 23 August 2013 - 09:17 PM

Hodor will KO Love in the fifth round. It is known.

In all seriousness, though, I dunno about honour or duty, but you know "Love conquers all"? The message in ASOIAF is pretty much the opposite of that. The worst advice given to anyone, ever, in ASOIAF would be "Follow your heart, and everything will work out." Wrong!

It's no coincidence that one of the most successful characters to date is Littlefinger, whom Tyrion states, accurately, I think, loves no one except Littlefinger, and one of the most pathetic is Lysa, who killed her husband for love of Littlefinger (love over duty to her husband), and who was murdered by Littlefinger when she was driven insanely jealous for love of him and tried to murder Sansa (love over duty to Sansa, her kin).

In contrast, I can’t really think of instances of honor being picked over love, so there have been few negative consequences.


Jon choosing the NW over Ygritte is the best one I can think of. The choice actually worked out rather well for Jon and the NW, less so for Ygritte. If Jon had stuck it out with her, my sense is that he would have died with her.

Edited by Newstar, 23 August 2013 - 09:36 PM.


#5 Ürglővi

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 03:03 PM

In all seriousness, though, I dunno about honour or duty, but you know "Love conquers all"? The message in ASOIAF is pretty much the opposite of that.


I'd say the message is "Men are so going to chose the love, even if it destroys them." Human heart in conflict and whatnot.

#6 James March

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 04:02 PM

Only cunning wins.. .. the ability to decide for the better in the current situation.

Neither love or honour wins, nor lie or wickedness. None behaviour is "fit them all" situations.

#7 Newstar

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 04:20 PM

I'd say the message is "Men are so going to chose the love, even if it destroys them." Human heart in conflict and whatnot.


Except that they don't always choose the love. Jon Snow didn't, when he chose the NW over Ygritte. Aemon didn't, when he had to choose between his vows and the horror of the destruction of House Targaryen. Dany didn't (assuming you meant "people" by "men"), when she chose to marry Hizdahr even though she was in love with Daario.

So yeah, I'd say the message in ASOIAF isn't "Love conquers all" but "Love is poison." Or, basically, this song from The Wedding Singer sums up the ASOIAF philosophy on love:

You love her, but she loves him,
and he loves somebody else -
You just can't win.
And so it goes until the day you die.
This thing they call love,
its gonna make you cry.

I've had the blues, the reds and the pinks.
One thing's for sure...

Love stinks
Love stinks...yeah yeah...
Love stinks!
Love stinks! Yeah yeah...
Love Stinks
Love stinks! Yeah yeah...

two by two and sid by side
love's gonna find you yes it is
you just can't hide
you'll hear it call
your heart will fall
then love will fly
it's gone that's all!


Sounds about right. /biggrin.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':D' />

...Although I imagine ASOIAF characters would listen to The Smiths a lot, too. (I'm pretty sure Tyrion would have been listening to wall-to-wall Smiths songs in ADWD: "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," "Bigmouth Strikes Again," "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me," etc. etc.)

Edited by Newstar, 24 August 2013 - 04:26 PM.


#8 Bacon Dragon the Crispy

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 04:52 PM

Read this as Love vs. HODOR and was greatly confused =/


You are not alone.... /agree.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':agree:' />

#9 Newstar

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 05:53 PM

This is more about the destructive nature of romantic passion than about romantic love per se, but there's an interesting passage from ADWD from Barristan Selmy, who has opinions about Dany's love for Daario:

Short and stocky, plain-faced, he seemed a decent lad, sober, sensible, dutiful … but not the sort to make a young girl’s heart beat faster. And Daenerys Targaryen, whatever else she might be, was still a young girl, as she herself would claim when it pleased her to play the innocent. Like all good queens she put her people first—else she would never have wed Hizdahr zo Loraq—but the girl in her still yearned for poetry, passion, and laughter. She wants fire, and Dorne sent her mud. You could make a poultice out of mud to cool a fever. You could plant seeds in mud and grow a crop to feed your children. Mud would nourish you, where fire would only consume you, but fools and children and young girls would choose fire every time.


And this passage:

Daenerys Targaryen loved her captain, but that was the girl in her, not the queen. Prince Rhaegar loved his Lady Lyanna, and thousands died for it. Daemon Blackfyre loved the first Daenerys, and rose in rebellion when denied her. Bittersteel and Bloodraven both loved Shiera Seastar, and the Seven Kingdoms bled. The Prince of Dragonflies loved Jenny of Oldstones so much he cast aside a crown, and Westeros paid the bride price in corpses. All three of the sons of the fifth Aegon had wed for love, in defiance of their father’s wishes. And because that unlikely monarch had himself followed his heart when he chose his queen, he allowed his sons to have their way, making bitter enemies where he might have had fast friends. Treason and turmoil followed, as night follows day, ending at Summerhall in sorcery, fire, and grief. Her love for Daario is poison. A slower poison than the locusts, but in the end as deadly.


As wary as Barristan is towards rulers making rash decisions for love, he also notes that the realm suffered when Aerys and Rhaella entered into a marriage with no possibility for fondness, either.

And this passage with Quentyn and Gerris talking about Doran, who married for love:

“What has love to do with marriage? A prince should know better. Your father married for love, it’s said. How much joy has he had of that?” Little and less. Doran Martell and his Norvoshi wife had spent half their marriage apart and the other half arguing. It was the only rash thing his father had ever done, to hear some tell it, the only time he had followed his heart instead of his head, and he had lived to rue it.


Since we're talking about duty and dutiful, one thing that's interesting in the books is how "dutiful" is used in different senses depending on the POV or the character.

POVs Jon, Catelyn and Barristan use the word "dutiful" in a positive sense. Barristan, Brynden Tully, Stannis, and Maester Luwin also use "dutiful" in a positive sense.

POV Cersei uses "dutiful" in a negative sense, as do POVs Chett and Tyrion. POVs Sansa and Jaime use the adverb "dutifully" to describe doing things they don't particularly want to do (greeting Olenna and Genna in ASOS and AFFC). Oberyn and Varys use "dutiful" in a negative sense.

Jorah uses "dutiful" in both positive and negative senses, as does POV Theon.

Not surprisingly, the more moral characters view "dutiful" as an admirable quality, while the much more morally ambiguous characters use the word sarcastically or in an negative sense.

Edited by Newstar, 24 August 2013 - 06:22 PM.


#10 grand old duke of stark

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 06:30 PM

Is there not honour in love of family? Is there not honour in doing one's duty, especially duty for the public good? Would Ned have been honourable if he hadn't saved Sansa or made a promise to his beloved sister? Certainly, AFAIK he kept that promise honourably. Catelyn's choices are equally honourable. Jamie didn't just kill Aerys for Tywin, but also because Aerys was about to "burn them all". Romantic love, conversely, is often a selfish indulgence on the part of the lover, who puts it above other obligations. For romantic love Robb did break his oath, which involved not only him personally but his family and his people. That was dishonourable. While Dany;s obsession with Daario may lead her to forsake her duty as well, she is aware of that fact and seems to see their liaison as necessarily temporary.

Honour is not easy, nor is it expedient. Nor is it mutually exclusive with love. I expect that the sacrifices of honour for the higher sorts of love will ultimately prove a very potent force for good by the time GRRM has finished the saga.

#11 Light a wight tonight

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 07:13 PM

Is Love a horse, too?

#12 Newstar

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 07:21 PM

Is Love a horse, too?


No, Love is a many-splendored thing. And also a cow.

Edited by Newstar, 24 August 2013 - 07:22 PM.


#13 nara

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 11:17 PM

Thanks all for really great comments

Read this as Love vs. HODOR and was greatly confused =/
(I just ordered some glasses today... I need to get them soon lol)

This made me laugh!

Jon choosing the NW over Ygritte is the best one I can think of. The choice actually worked out rather well for Jon and the NW, less so for Ygritte. If Jon had stuck it out with her, my sense is that he would have died with her.

Agree, but I'm not really sure that his love for her was bigger than his love for his friends and family, so this may be love vs. love, not love vs. honor.

I'd say the message is "Men are so going to chose the love, even if it destroys them." Human heart in conflict and whatnot.

But it would be nice if choosing love worked out well once in a while!

This is more about the destructive nature of romantic passion than about romantic love per se, but there's an interesting passage from ADWD from Barristan Selmy, who has opinions about Dany's love for Daario:

Not surprisingly, the more moral characters view "dutiful" as an admirable quality, while the much more morally ambiguous characters use the word sarcastically or in an negative sense.

Thanks for the Barristan quotes. Also, interesting insight on "dutiful".

Is there not honour in love of family? Is there not honour in doing one's duty, especially duty for the public good? Would Ned have been honourable if he hadn't saved Sansa or made a promise to his beloved sister? Certainly, AFAIK he kept that promise honourably. Catelyn's choices are equally honourable. Jamie didn't just kill Aerys for Tywin, but also because Aerys was about to "burn them all". Romantic love, conversely, is often a selfish indulgence on the part of the lover, who puts it above other obligations. For romantic love Robb did break his oath, which involved not only him personally but his family and his people. That was dishonourable. While Dany;s obsession with Daario may lead her to forsake her duty as well, she is aware of that fact and seems to see their liaison as necessarily temporary.

Honour is not easy, nor is it expedient. Nor is it mutually exclusive with love. I expect that the sacrifices of honour for the higher sorts of love will ultimately prove a very potent force for good by the time GRRM has finished the saga.

Good point that honor and love may not always be opposites.

#14 Winds of Winter blow cold

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 11:24 PM

Niether...avarice & greed will out! (kidding..kidding)

#15 Flig

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 11:29 PM

I've been rereading the Tales of Dunk and Egg recently, and I feel like Dunk will eventually reach this battle. We know he becomes the LC of Aegon's Kingsguard, and at a certain point in the Mystery Knight he reflects on whether or not he would take the vows of a KG knight and seems to lean towards no because he wants to marry, he wants love. In both the Sworn Sword and in the Hedge Knight he had possible romantic interests(Tanselle Too-Tall and Lady Webber). I think it's very possible this conflict between his honor as a KG and his love for...someone will come up eventually in these stories. Based what we know it seems he will pick honor, but perhaps a paramour...?

#16 Jon of the Dead

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 11:33 PM

I think both have lost already

#17 Tommens Cat

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 11:57 PM

At first, I read title as 'Love vs Hodor'....

#18 Roadside Rose

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Posted 25 August 2013 - 12:56 AM

Read this as Love vs. HODOR and was greatly confused =/



I read it as Love vs Hodor too! /stillsick.gif' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':stillsick:' />

#19 nara

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Posted 25 August 2013 - 01:28 AM

maybe I should have created a thread about love vs. Hodor ii

#20 lareine

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Posted 25 August 2013 - 03:04 AM

Except that they don't always choose the love. Jon Snow didn't, when he chose the NW over Ygritte. Aemon didn't, when he had to choose between his vows and the horror of the destruction of House Targaryen. Dany didn't (assuming you meant "people" by "men"), when she chose to marry Hizdahr even though she was in love with Daario.

So yeah, I'd say the message in ASOIAF isn't "Love conquers all" but "Love is poison." Or, basically, this song from The Wedding Singer sums up the ASOIAF philosophy on love:



Sounds about right. /biggrin.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':D' />

...Although I imagine ASOIAF characters would listen to The Smiths a lot, too. (I'm pretty sure Tyrion would have been listening to wall-to-wall Smiths songs in ADWD: "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," "Bigmouth Strikes Again," "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me," etc. etc.)


I have to tell you, I LOVE that you quoted the Wedding Singer /biggrin.png' class='bbc_emoticon' alt=':D' />

My favorite song from that movie though on the agonies of love is his original piece, "Somebody Kill Me Please."

You're right, The Smiths would be very popular in Westeros ("How Soon Is Now," would be another one to add to your list). I can also see The Cure and Joy Division going over big time too.

Edited by lareine, 25 August 2013 - 03:06 AM.