Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner) on Game of Thrones.
Spoilers ahead for the latest episode of Game of Thrones, as well as the books.
Tywin Lannister and Craster are both dead, which means that the title of Worst Father in Westeros is currently up for grabs. And wouldn’t you know it, Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Blood of My Blood,” introduced a serious contender for the throne: Samwell Tarly’s much-feared father, Randyll, making his Thrones debut after years of buildup. And he didn’t disappoint. Over the course of an uncomfortable dinner, Randyll lived up to his reputation, displaying some rather unpleasant ideas about wildlings and Sam’s BMI. It was the Seven Kingdoms’ version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, with even more confusing accents.
Though this was Randyll’s first appearance on the show, we’ve heard a lot about him over the years. Very little of it has been nice. Shortly after Sam appeared at the Wall, he told Jon the story of how he got there: His father, a famous general, was such a hard-ass that he felt Sam’s geekiness was a personal affront. When Sam entertained the idea of becoming a maester, Randyll locked him in a dungeon and chained him to the wall. Then, shortly before Sam’s 18th birthday, Randyll took him aside and gave him an ultimatum — join the Night’s Watch and let his hunky younger brother Dickon (Freddie Stroma!) inherit the Tarly lands, or die in a “hunting accident.” Yes, that’s right: He made his son join a penal colony of rapists or else be murdered.
If you asked him — and you shouldn’t, because he’s a jerk — Randyll would probably say that Sam’s lack of martial prowess made him an unfit lord in the military culture of Westeros. This isn’t quite true: In the books, the heir to Highgarden is Wyllas Tyrell, a disabled young man who loves indoor pursuits just as much as Sam does. Heck, even in the Iron Islands, there’s a major lord who’s such a nerd his nickname is “Rodrik the Reader.” There are many ways to be a lord in Westeros, and only some of them involve swinging a sword. The better explanation for Randyll threatening to kill his own son is that Randyll is a terrible person.
He is pretty good at swinging swords, though — you’ve got to give him that. The Tarly castle of Horn Hill is in the Reach, which makes them bannermen of the Tyrells, and like their liege lords they stayed loyal to the Targaryens during Robert’s Rebellion. Randyll was in charge of Mace Tyrell’s vanguard during that war, and, as Stannis recalled to Sam in season five, he was the only general to beat Robert in battle — though that didn’t stop Mace from grabbing all the credit for himself, which has led to some lingering resentment on Randyll’s part. He put it behind him long enough to join Mace on Renly’s side at the start of the War of the Five Kings, and was savvy enough to jump ship to the Lannisters with his liege lord after Renly’s death. (In the books, he also took the time to murder a bunch of Renly’s other troops. Randyll Tarly: terrible father and war criminal!)
In the books, Randyll’s been much more involved in the affairs of the realm. He and his army cross paths with Brienne in A Feast for Crows, which is mostly an occasion for Randyll to demonstrate that he’s a huge sexist, to boot. Later, he comes to King’s Landing to serve on Tommen’s small council, and everyone on the Lannister side is way more worried about him than they are of Mace Tyrell.
But just how long Randyll will stay loyal to the Tyrells has been a source of much debate in the Song of Ice and Fire fandom. After joining the Lannister side, Tarly could have expected to receive some of the bounty of patronage the ruling regime handed out. Instead, he was snubbed. He might have been given Brightwater Keep, a castle that belonged to a Reach family that had stuck with Stannis; instead that went to one of Mace Tyrell’s younger sons. Later in the books, he might have been named Hand of the King; instead Mace himself got the job. In A Dance With Dragons, a new claimant invades Westeros from Essos; in their war councils, his generals say they’ve got “friends in the Reach.” Could Randyll Tarly, sick of playing second fiddle to the Tyrells, be that friend?
That claimant didn’t make it into the HBO series and probably won’t ever, so that’s admittedly a moot point for show-watchers. But one thing that might be important for later is the Tarly family sword: It’s called Heartsbane (so metal!), and it’s one of a few dozen Valyrian steel swords in circulation in Westeros. As we know, Valyrian steel is one of the few metals on the planet that’s capable of killing White Walkers — and now it’s in the rogue hands of Sam. Whatever happens next, it’s a safe bet that Randyll won’t take that little development well.