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'The Mad Queen' Isn't The Only Character On 'Game Of Thrones' In Need Of Some Therapy
A psychologist offers his take on several "Game Of Thrones" characters.
The recent plot turns on "Game of Thrones" may be divisive, but there's one thing we can all agree with: The citizens of Westeros haven't had it easy. Whether they were in the North trying to evade literal zombies trying to rip them limb from limb or down in the South dodging dragonfire and watching their home burn to ashes, pretty much every Westerosi person is in need of some serious therapy after all that continent-wide trauma.
Of course, it's been obvious from the get-go that many of our "Game Of Thrones" heroes themselves were not totally psychologically sound — we can all agree gleefully feeding an infant to hounds or having sex with your twin sister aren't sane decisions. So, we decided to have a psychologist diagnose some of the more troubling characters on "Game Of Thrones" (with the caveat that you cannot properly diagnosis someone you haven't met with, this is all speculation about fictional characters, and it's all in good fun).
Psychologist Walter van Sambeck (yes, he is the author's dad) walks us through what these characters exhibit symptoms of.
"Oh, he is a sadist and a narcissist, he has both of it," van Sambeck answered immediately. Hard to argue with that. Here's a refresher: Joffrey is petulant, whiny, self-absorbed, and thinks he is God's golden gift to the earth. Yes, so he's just like every other teen boy. But do other teen boys take such delight in torturing their sort-of girlfriend (like when he forced Sansa to stare at her decapitated father's head) or shooting prostitutes with crossbows?
The seemingly sexual element and glee to all his cruelty is what marks him as a sadist, but van Sambeck also points out he displays narcissistic qualities, too: "It's all about himself." Memorably, the boy king sneers at one point, "Everyone is mine to torment." He truly believes he is special, better than others, deserving of kinghood, which as Psychology Today explains, is an important hallmark of narcissism.
But Joffrey wasn't exactly a monster who came out of nowhere; just consider his mom, Cersei. Cersei is vicious and does some truly questionable, cruel things: She blows up an entire sept full of people just to get out of going to trial for incest and when her son jumps off the roof after she murders his wife and countless others, she barely bats an eye.
Van Sambeck's diagnosis will likely not surprise you: "Cersei is of course a sociopath. She has some narcissistic qualities, but it's all about manipulation and power with her," he said.
So what's the difference between being a narcissist like Joffrey and a sociopath like Cersei?
Well, according to van Sambeck, "A narcissist is a person that's not fully authentic, they have a facade covering up vulnerability they don’t even know they have. However, that facade for a psychopath is through and through, there is no empathy there. Cersei displays no empathy."
Psychology Today sums it up: "[Sociopaths] don’t have any real personality. They’re the ultimate con artists and can take on any persona that suits them. Thus, they may be harder to spot because they’re not trying to impress you or win your approval—unless it serves their agenda.... narcissists are more interested in what you think of them. They need others’ admiration."
Cersei doesn't seek out admiration as her motivator for her evil actions, it's all about maintaining power for her, while Joffrey does seem to enjoy people lauding him.
Jaime Lannister started off the series having sex with his twin and pushing a little boy out a window in a cold-blooded murder attempt. While he may have won over many viewers with his seasons-long redemption arc, where he saved Brienne's life, formed real relationships, and defended the North against the Night King, there's no denying something's a little off with him.
"Jamie is a little masochistic, submissive to his sister... He's an Oedipal character, he has that Oedipal complex," van Sambeck advised. Oedipus is a character in a famous Greek legend who accidentally marries his mother; the Oedipal complex refers to being sexually attracted to one's mother. And well, Cersei may not have birthed him but they did share time in the womb together.
And judging by the way he keeps going back to a tortured relationship that causes him such pain and humiliation, it's easy to theorize he has masochistic tendencies, too.
The youngest Lannister used to be renowned for his sharp wit and clever plans, but lately he's seemed... different. Granted, being framed for your nephew's murder, killing your father, and strangling your lover who betrayed you would put anyone in a funk. But Tyrion's humor clearly isn't what it was, he's much more serious, his appearance is more unkempt, he drinks far too much wine, and his plans have almost all been failures recently.
"He's a drunk, depressed," van Sambeck summarized. "He seems to have depression after his father's death."
And for the man who tortures Theon! Yeah, something is definitely messed up with this dude. He does all the aforementioned torture (castration, flaying, mind games) with a huge grin like he's at Disney World or something instead of cutting off a man's penis. He casually feeds his new baby brother and stepmom to a bunch of starving hounds. He delights in murdering Jon Stark's little brother right in front of him with a crossbow. He rapes Sansa over and over again after marrying her. He kills his own dad! Nothing is off the table for him and he does it all with a huge smile. It's implied there's a sexual component in it for him, too, as he and his equally-vicious lover, Myranda, delight in tormenting others together.
So, to state the obvious: "He's a sadist!" van Sambeck exclaimed. Sadism requires that true pleasure in hurting others, which Ramsay clearly has.
Toward the end of "Game Of Thrones," the show shocked viewers by showing Daenerys fully embrace her "Mad Queen" side and burn King's Landing to ashes, deliberately slaughtering thousands of women and children despite the fact the city had already surrendered. Well, we were often told Daenerys father was a cruel, insane man ("The Mad King"), who wanted to burn the city down himself. We saw Daenerys deal with her enemies in a cold and ruthless manner.
Nevertheless, she was set up as a hero, one who freed slaves, saved women from being raped, and wanted to protect citizens. So, does it make sense she would have this seemingly-psychotic breakdown?
(Keep in mind, this interview was conducted before Daenerys burned the city down and back when her advisors merely feared it happening, and she was acting withdrawn, cold, and impulsive.)
"Daenarys, it's hard to say... " van Sambeck mused. "She's quite narcissistic, sure, she think she's quite special, but there's no denying she is. She walked out of a fire and survived, she has dragons! So her arrogance and more narcissistic tendencies are more logical."
OK, but she has experienced a huge amount of loss: her best friend, her advisor, two of her dragons. Does that account for her sudden changes?
"I would maybe diagnose her with acute stress disorder with all of theses losses," van Sambeck concluded.
"Acute stress disorder is a mental health condition that can occur immediately after a traumatic event. It can cause a range of psychological symptoms and, without recognition or treatment, it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder," Medical News Today reports. It's closely linked to PTSD, but is a temporary condition.
While we now know there's probably something deeper going on with Daenerys after her murderous rampage, we'll have to wait until the "Game Of Thrones" series finale to see if she really did experience temporary insanity — or if it's just been her real character all along.