tale of the tape

In Which Show Is Marriage a Worse Deal: Mad Men or Game of Thrones?

Photo: HBO and AMC

Though they are set in the most disparate universes possible, Mad Men and Game of Thrones have one major thing in common: Their marriages are terrible. There is no fate worse than being one half of a married couple on one of these shows. But in which show is it worse to be married?  We went through both shows, looked through their main marriages, and tried to calculate exactly how awful it’s portrayed by assigning points for awfulness. There are a lot of similarities between the two – both have tons of infidelity, couples getting married for the wrong reasons, and closeted gay men – but only one can be Sunday’s best advocate for non-monogamy.

Case for Game of Thrones

*Cersei and Robert Baratheon
- Robert only agreed to marry a teenage Cersei to win her father’s allegiance in overthrowing the sitting king.  +1
- Cersei never loved Robert, instead preferring (and continuing to sleep with) her twin brother. +2
- Robert frequently and publicly cheats on Cersei, fathering many children. +3
- Cersei gets pregnant by her brother, and passes the child of as Robert’s. +3
- She finally drugs Robert, so he gets mortally wounded when hunting. Marriage over. +5

*Eddard and Catelyn Stark
- They only got married because the man Catelyn was supposed to marry, Ned’s older brother Brandon, was killed. +1
- They seem to genuinely like each other… -3
- …but we barely see them together because very soon into the first season, Ned leaves his kingdom to serve as the hand of the king. +1
- Years ago, Ned was unfaithful, producing a child, Jon Snow. Catelyn is a real jerk to Jon Snow. +2

* Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo
- Daenerys’ brother forces her to marry the barbaric Khal Drogo, because in exchange he will get to use the Dothraki army to reclaim the iron throne.  +2
- Drogo kind of rapes her at the beginning of the marriage. +4
- Hey, things are turning around! Daenerys teaches Drogo true love, as evidenced by his embrace of the missionary position. -3
- But because he’s gone all mushy, some of Drogo’s men lose faith in him, and one gives him a mortal wound. That’s what true love gets you here. +4
- To further underscore that no good can come from love, Daenerys tries to bring her beloved back to life, but it ends up just being torture for him. +3

*Tyrion and Sansa Lannister
- Not just an arranged marriage, but also an out-and-out punishment for both. +2
- This is just another in a terrible history with marriage for both of them. Tyrion’s first wife was a prostitute that Jaime hired to make Tyrion happy. When their father learned of this, he forced Tyrion to watch her have sex with multiple guards. Sansa was engaged to Joffrey, and that’s just worse. +2
- Tyrion has a loving, committed relationship with Shae, Sansa’s maiden, which means infidelity is 100-percent inevitable. +2

*Robb and Talisa Stark
- Finally, a marriage born of love! -5
- But to marry Talisa, Robb breaks a promise he made to Walder Frey to marry one of his daughters, which leads to the Red Wedding. Stabby stabby.  +8

*Renly and Margaery Baratheon
- Another arranged marriage, this time designed to unite house Tyrell with Renly’s supporters. +1
- Margaery accepts her duty in life is to be married off for political gain. All she needs to do is produce a child. -1
- There’s a bit of a roadblock, however, as the marriage is never consummated because Renly is gay. He tried initiating anal once, but that probably wouldn’t have resulted in a child, even if she agreed. +1
- Renly cheats on Margaery with her brother Loras. +1
- Margaery, hoping to have a child, offers to invite Loras into the bedroom. It’s equal parts logical and depressing, since she sees herself as a glorified prince incubator. Renly dies before this can happen. +2

- Joffrey hasn’t technically married anyone yet, but he’s sure been a real Groomzilla. +2
- Remember when wedding episodes were big-event television? That’s also the case with Game of Thrones but for super opposite reasons. +4

Case for Mad Men

*Don and Betty Draper
- It seems like at some point they loved each other… -3
- He cheated on her constantly. Seriously. Constantly. It’s like the one thing non-fans know about the show +3
- She cheated on him with someone that looks like a younger him, which just made it creepier (and probably symbolic). +1
- Besides lying about all the cheating, Don lied about being Don. Their entire marriage operated in this lie. +2
- They get divorced. Betty is so amped to do so, she leaves two of her kids with the babysitter as she goes off to Reno to make it happen.+3

*Don and Megan Draper
- For about a year (aka one television season) they are happily married. -1
- And then poof, they’re not. He goes back to his cheating ways. +3
- If cheating isn’t bad enough, when he is with her, he isn’t supportive of her dream to be an actress, and resents her for leaving advertising. +2
When his affair is called off (not by him), he pays lip service to wanting to make his marriage work again. -1
- He goes off on an L.A. work trip, and attempts to try this one while staying faithful. -1
- He makes out with a woman while high, though it’s possible this was a hallucination. Call that a wash. 0

*Pete and Trudy Campbell
- They get married without knowing each other very well. It’s their era’s version of an arranged marriage, one built on social expectations of the upper class. +1
- He cheats on her, first with Peggy. He then basically rapes an au pair, and Trudy probably knows but turns a blind eye. +3
- The Peggy hook-up results in a child that Trudy never knows about. It particular tough considering how much Trudy wants a baby. +1
- He continues to cheat on her, and Trudy largely turns a blind eye because if he keeps climbing the corporate ladder, whatever it takes is fine … +1
- Within reason. The insult of him sleeping with a neighbor and then being caught at a whorehouse by his father-in-law is two boinks too far. She orders him out of the house. +2

*Joan and Greg Harris
- She married him despite that fact that he raped her while they were dating. +4
- That was just how much she just wanted a shot at propriety. +1
- That was thrown out the window as he enlists. It becomes clear Greg likes the Vietnam War more than her. +1
- Joan cheats on him with Roger … +2
- … which results in a son that she leads Greg to believe is his. +1
- He secretly reenlists, leaving her to be a single mother, so she divorces him. +2

*Roger and Mona Sterling/Roger and Jane Sterling
- We’re lumping these together, because though he seemed to like each fine, it’s always just about Roger. +1
- He cheated on both pretty frequently and he didn’t even seem to feel bad about it. +2
- He had a child with Joan while married. +1
- He divorced Mona to marry Jane, after having an affair with her. +3
- He is currently separated from Jane. +2

*Sal and Kitty Romano
- They seem to actually like each other as people! -2
- One problem: Sal is gay. +2
- Sal cheats on her with men, because he is gay. +2
- Kitty’s willful denial of Sal’s homosexuality is no match for seeing him act out the Patio Cola commercial. It dawns on her that this marriage is a sham, and she’s stuck with it. +3

- There have obviously been more marriages (Harry and Jennifer Crane, Lane and Rebecca Price, Betty and Henry Francis, Ted and Nan Chaough, etc.) and they all feature infidelity. (Ted’s cheating was just a kiss to Peggy, but had she been ready to take the leap, he would likely have gone further.) Then add in the many women Don sleeps with (Sylvia Rosen, Bobbie Barrett). Basically, if someone has a spouse who is alive, they’re either being cheated on by him/her, cheating on him/her, or both. +3
- Sure, the show didn’t have a wedding in which everyone on the groom’s side was brutally murdered, but don’t forget that the show’s one big wedding episode was interrupted by the Kennedy assassination.  +2

By a very close margin, 44 to 45, the winner is Mad Men! Sure, a bad Game of Thrones marriage ends in death, but we argue that the characters on Mad Men would probably choose death over having to staying with their spouses (Lane did choose this). Also, the Mad Men folks live in fairly modern times and, frankly, they should know better. Yet every single character gets married for shallow, selfish reasons and not surprisingly it ends terribly. Mad Men slowly wants to prove that happiness is just the moment before you need more happiness, and marriage is a good way to get a powerful hit of joy, but hardly a satisfyingly long-term fix.

Which Portrays Marriage Worse: Mad Men or GoT?