If you've read the books or watched the show you know exactly what I'm talking about. George R. R. Martin's series has always been about realism, showing that not all the good guys survive the events of the novel, sex and consent don't always go together, and, as this article will show, a happily ever after for lovers is hard to come by, if not impossible. Game of Thrones seems to have a problem letting two people get away with loving each other, often instead leading to tragedy, heartbreak, or just plain misery for everyone even remotely involved.
I'm going to look at the many examples from the TV show (though most of them occur in the book series). I'll be looking specifically at those couples in GoT who managed to find each other and have legitimate love affair together, not the fake "this is an arranged marriage so I'm going to pretend to like you" that is more common but far less disastrous. As mentioned above, all these romances are proof that in George R. R. Martin's world, love leads to some form of tragedy or misery and not just for the characters in love. [Full Disclaimer: Spoilers below for both the novel and TV series]
1. Cersei and Jaime Lannister
The romance that arguably sparked the events of the series, these twin siblings of House Lannister shared more than a sister-brother bond as evidenced by their three children Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen. It is the secret lineage of these children (whom Cersei passes off as her husband King Robert's to secure their succession) which leads to Ned Stark's suspicion and investigation into the matter which as we all know did not go so well for him. Cersei clearly will do anything to protect her children and her secret which makes this romance a perfect example of how love begets tragedy in Westeros.
Aside from killing anyone who finds out their secret, she orders the execution of all of King Robert's bastards to avoid a more legitimate heir, and eventually orchestrates the death of the King to prevent him from finding out. Jaime isn't exactly innocent of keeping the secret, throwing Bran Stark out the window when he discovers them, uh "hanging out" in the tower of Winterfell. The biggest tragedies to come from this affair, however, remain the deaths of King Robert and ned Stark, both of which helped start the War of Five Kings which has lead to countless deaths; wether that blood is on Cersei and Jaime's hands or not, is a matter of opinion.
As time has worn on, Cersei and Jaime have also noticeably grown apart with each fighting over petty differences. Jaime's early capture and loss of his hand, as well as his friendship with Brienne is off-putting to Cersei; likewise Jaime has grown tiresome of Cersei selfish and borderline insane behavior in trying to have everything. Alas they continue to struggle to keep their secret and taking lives for it. Score one for incest?
2. Eddard and Catelyn Stark
Some might consider Eddard and Catelyn to be an exception to the rule when it comes to love and despair in Westeros. Yes they suffered tragedy but it was at the hands of others and it wasn't because of their love. Well not exactly. True most of the misery that happens to this couple is due to their enemies but one must remember all that they suffered can be traced back to the fact that they left Winterfell in the first place and split-up/abandoned their children. Ned and Cat's love for each other meant they were supportive of each other's decisions, so when Eddard decided to leave for King's Landing instead of convincing him to stay, Catelyn actually encourages him to go. When Catelyn later follows and ends up kidnapping Tyrion, Eddard doesn't exactly try to get her to let Tyrion go despite the Lannisters asking him to do so before ultimatly resorting to deadly force.
One must also consider the suffering of the rest of their family that could have been avoided if Ned and Cat had been just a little less naive about the world they live in. Eddard is a bit of a pushover when it comes to Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish just because his wife knew him when they were kids. A wiser man might have picked up on the fact that Petyr had feelings for Cat and might act on them. After Ned's death, Catelyn actually supports and joins her son Robb's war against the Lannisters out of grief for her husband rather than really thinking about the position her family was in. A lot can be said for the love Eddard and Catelyn had for each other, not least of which the fact that they were likely the best and most loving parents Westeros has ever seen; but it ultimately blindsided them and meant they really couldn't really focus on anything other than reuniting and going home. For all their practical wisdom they weren't exactly realistic when it came to winning the Game of Thrones; than again neither was the audience until Ned lost his head.
3. Jon Snow and Ygritte
This one is more of a personal tragedy, but it is still a tragedy nonetheless. The perfect star-crossed lovers: separated by the largest Wall ever known, coming from two groups who have always hated each other, and yet these two managed to fall in love and even had one romantic night in a hot springs cave away from the worries of the world around them (most people in Westeros can only dream of such a getaway.) Alas Jon was undercover to find out what the Wildlings were up to only to learn they intended to attack his brothers of the Night's Watch and invade the South; in their defense it was simply to escape the undead White Walkers following behind with their own invasion.
After climbing the Wall and preparing to attack the Night's Watch, Jon ever loyal to his brothers, leaves both the wildlings and Ygritte to warn them. Needless to say she is none too pleased managing to put three arrows in his back which he is barely able to survive. It is during the attack of the wildlings, however, that these two live up to the 'star-crossed lovers' stereotype; just as Ygritte and Jon meet on the battle for the first time, she is shot by an arrow before falling into Jon's arms where she dies.
Perhaps the only love story to yield something good; having learned to understand the wildlings through Ygritte, Jon becomes sympathetic to their flight from the White Walkers and later seeks to reconcile the Nights Watch and wildlings against their common, and undead, enemy. He may have known nothing when they met, but thanks to Ygritte, Jon at least learned there are more important things to fight for than just some Iron Throne.
4. Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell
This is a tricky one. While this romance may have seemed doomed from the start, in season two Loras and Renly's love later seemed secure. Marrying Renly to Loras' sister Margeary, who was both aware and supportive of their union, made it seem like these two had gotten away with their love. Unfortunately, their future together was cut rather short thanks to Renly's brother Stannis and his priestess Melisandre whose shadow demon quickly killed Renly forcing Loras and the Tyrell family to turn to the Lannisters for security. As if that wasn't tragedy enough for the both of them, this secret and, in many parts of Westeros, frowned upon affair continues to indirectly lead to and cause problems for Loras and the rest of his family among others.
In various political moves, the Tyrells have tried to out maneuver the Lannisters for control of the monarchy which has proved difficult since the Lannisters know of Loras and Renly while the Tyrells are likewise aware of the rumours of Cersei and Jaime. These political moves have lead to the marriage alliances of Margeary to Kings Joffrey and later Tommen as well as the betrothal of Loras to Cersei Lannister. Those who know Cersei know she would do anything to avoid marrying Loras, with Jaime even remarking she would likely kill him. It seems she had a better idea; those who watch the show know she has mobilized the faith militant and through manipulation and exposure has led to Loras' arrest for sodomy, and later Margeary's arrest for supporting him. In the process, though, Cersei herself has been arrested after the faith militant learned of her relationship with Jaime.
One could therefore conclude that Loras and Renly's relationship directly lead to the involvement of the Tyrells in the war for the Iron Throne and their later alliance to the Lannisters. While a bit of a stretch, Cersei's knowledge of the affair led to the creation of the faith militant, it could be traced as the indirect cause behind the arrest of Loras, Margeary, and Cersei and any of the resulting fallout.
5. Robb Stark and Talisa Maegyr
If you aren't aware of the tragedy that befell these two lovers, you clearly live under a rock. Robb Stark, the Young Wolf, was many things, a brilliant warrior and leader, successful commander and strategist on the field and, like father like son, just as honorable as his father Ned Stark. Though not quite enough to honor his marriage commitments to House Frey. Instead, during his war campaigns in the south, he met and fell in love with battlefield nurse Talisa from Volantis. Against the wishes of his advisors, he married her and soon thereafter she became pregnant with his child. Everything seemed to be looking up for these two, a happy life as King and Queen in the North and despite losing the support of House Frey, Robb seemed set to patch things up with them offering his uncle for a marriage union instead.
In true Game of Thrones fashion, however, that's where everything went wrong for these two ... and everyone else on their side. At the infamous Red Wedding, perhaps one of the most shocking events in TV history, House Frey and Robb's allies House Bolton schemed with his enemy the Lannisters to kill Robb, his wife, his unborn child, his mother, and all his troops and banner men during the wedding feast. This is probably the go to example for why no one marries for love in Game of Thrones since it could cost you the lives of your family, your armies, and condemn your people to the likes of the Boltons, cause if you've watched the show lately you've seen how caring and just Ramsey Snow, oh sorry Bolton, has been to the likes of Theon and Sansa.
6. Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo
This was perhaps the most unexpected and yet most well recieved romance in the series. At first, Daenerys' marriage to Khal Drogo was an arrangement by her brother to get an army and reconquer Westeros. However, Daenerys, not willing to just bend to Drogo asserted herself and in doing so earned his respect and love. This was furthered bolstered by her pregnancy with his child who, according to the Dothraki, was destined to be the Stallion Who Mounts the World. Everything seemed perfect for Daenerys and Drogo but as we've seen with our earlier couples, that just means tragedy is on the way. And so it was that, after raiding a village, Daenerys' pity for a woman lead to Drogo's men challenging him for being blindsided by her; his ensuing injuries and the false promise of the woman Daenerys saved only cost her the life of her husband and unborn child. This only led to a heartbreaking union in the House of the Undying of Qarth a season later.
Of course the misery didn't stop there as Drogo's Khalasar of some 40,000 men and women quickly broke up and scattered leaving Daenerys with the old, the young, and the sick. Many of these have been lost or died despite Daenerys' efforts as she continues to try and reclaim her birthright. One could also argue that, had Drogo survived, Daenerys would never have traveled to Qarth and later Slavers Bay and therefore the lives of the Undying and the Slave masters would not have been lost (though they had it coming); there are also the many slaves who would die in the crossfire as collateral damage during Daenerys' campaigns which, in the books actually lead to the ultimate ruin of Astapor and Yunkai. Wether her conquests in Slavers Bay can be considered a tragedy or blessing for the region is a matter of perspective.
For all the Game of Thrones book nerds out there here's a shout out to R + L = J and all the trouble that not-so-little love affair caused for practically everyone. Too many potential spoilers to really talk about here, though.
(These are the most prominent couples who have found love so far in the series and each in their own way has ended in some form of tragedy, heartbreak, or misery. Now let's quickly look at the current romances on the show who for different reasons, are probably destined to suffer just the same as the couples who came before them if they are not careful.)
Myrcella Baratheon and Trystane Martell
The romance that love stories are made of. Myrcella Baratheon, as an heir to the Iron Throne, is betrothed to Trystane of House Martell to pacify Dorne and keep it out of the War for the Iron Throne. When the series revisits these two in season five, however, their arranged marriage has become mutually attractive as both reveal they have actually fallen in love with the other. Unlike the other couples on this list, their romance is allowed to blossom in the one place it can ... offscreen. Following the death of Trystane's uncle Oberyn, however, and the fact that all of Dorne blames the Lannisters for it, their happy ending has become threatened. Considering the bad blood between the Martells and Lannisters over the earlier death of Elia Martell and her children in Robert's Rebellion, it's no wonder Trystane's father Prince Doran remarks that a union between "a Lannister and Martell is dangerous." Following the Sand Snakes plot to capture Myrcella as vengeance for their father Oberyn and Jaime's recent attempts to steal back Myrcella for the Lannisters, there are several possible tragic endings for this couple.
Update: Following Myrcella's poisoning at the hands of the Sand Snakes in the Season 5 finale, a war between the Lannisters and the Martells is likely to follow. Thus yet another love story on Game of Thrones has led to tragedy.
Samwell Tarly and Gilly
You'd think Sam would learn from his best friend Jon of making the mistake of falling in love with a wildling, bros before hoes and all, but nope. While on a ranging north of the wall, Sam helps Gilly escape her father/husband Craster before he can kill their son. During their journey back to the safety of the wall, Sam also saves her from a White Walker; eventually, the two begin to bond and well you get the idea. While they have managed to survive the wildling attack on the wall, the fact that Gilly is the only girl at Castle Black surrounded by murderers and rapists doesn't exactly scream safe and romantic for these two. Just a few episodes ago, two of the Nights Watch tried to force themselves on her quickly beating up Sam when he attempted to stop it; if not for Jon's direwolf Ghost they likely would have met a bad end. With the death of Measter Aemon and Jon's trip north of the wall, in the words of Alliser Thorne, Sam's running out of friends. Things aren't exactly looking up for these two if they stay at the Wall.
Daenerys Targaryen and Daario Naharis
First off, I'm not sure this one counts since I'm honestly skeptical Daario actually loves Daenerys and isn't just manipulating her for his own gain. I'm including it, though, since it's also not clear that he doesn't love her. Anyway, you'd think one tragic love would be enough for Daenerys but no, she wants to do it again. Really Daenerys, REALLY!? With HIM? Jorah must really want to know what he's doing wrong. While Daenerys and Daario seem to be secure in their love, they face the dilemma that, as a sellsword, it wouldn't be proper for Daario to marry a Queen like Daenerys. They are also threatened by the Sons of the Harpy who continue to resist Daenerys' rule over Meereen by killing her soldiers in the streets. It remains to be seen what will become of this love affair, assuming Daario's sincere and not plotting something, after all she is prophesized to suffer a treason for love.