Disclaimer: This post is based on fictional characters and does not represent any real person living or dead. The post is intended for entertainment value only and diagnoses/character traits should not be used as a representation of psychological advice. The full disclaimer can be found here
With the first disclaimer out of the way, I also need to make a second, this post is based on the television series of Game of Thrones and not of the books of the same name. Basing this series of articles on the books would get too far ahead of the game, and would require too much assumed knowledge. Also, SPOILER ALERT – this series of posts will be staying close to the current happenings of Season 4 which is currently screening on HBO, and as a result there will be spoilers from previous seasons and also for current season if you are not up to date.
If you want to read more of these analyses check out Diagnosing Westeros – The Psychology of Game of Thrones currently available on the Amazon store as an ebook.
Game of Thrones is taking the world by storm, both in it’s print version and in the television adaptations, now in the fourth season on HBO. It even has the dubious honour of being the most pirated television program in history. The world of Game of Thrones is filled with intrigue, betrayal, war and..dragons..But what is often the most interesting of all are the human relationships which are built, lost and made during the saga. Why is Joffrey such a hateful (and hated) character? What does Arya’s relationship with the Hound say about her (or him for that matter)? Despite having such an odd and misguided ruler, why don’t the people of King’s Landing rebel? I thought that a series of posts on the psychological traits, sometimes, illnesses and the psychology of Game of Thrones was in order.
Did I say SPOILER ALERT?
Let’s start this off with one of the most starkly (not Stark) contrasting characters in GoT, Joffrey Baratheon, the son of King Richard Baratheon and Queen Cersei Lannister, or is he? It has never been said outright, but there is the strong possibility that Joffrey is actually the son of an incestuous relationship between Cersei and her brother Jamie Lannister.
What is it though which so polarises people about him? There are several reasons that may contribute to people’s general dislike of Joffrey – his self importance, his cruel streak, his tendency to hide behind others when the going gets tough, and his tendency to believe that he is the one making the decisions, when the reality is the complete opposite to this.
Surely he’s Psychopathic…
Joffrey’s behaviour borders on the psychopathic at times, making Sansa Stark watch at the beheading of her father and on several occasions humiliating family and other acquaintances for fun. It is important to note, however, that there is no actual diagnosis of ‘Psychopath’ despite media depictions of the same. The traits that are generally attributed to ‘Psychopaths’ are actually part of the diagnosis of Anti-Social Personality disorder (ASPD) and are not usually diagnosed in isolation. Does Joffrey meet this diagnosis of ASPD? There are indications that he could, but also some indications that he does not. Firstly, the diagnoses of personality disorders is usually reserved until adulthood, that is, when the personality has properly formed and childhood and adolescent idiosyncrasies are no longer evident. Joffrey is around 14 at the start of the series, so no ability to diagnose ASPD on that front due to age alone. However, some of the behaviours do meet the criteria for Conduct Disorder, a disorder which may eventually lead to the development of ASPD later on in adulthood.
We rarely see empathy from Joffrey, however this does not mean that he doesn’t have any. An absence of fear is also a marker for ASPD, and this is not necessarily evident in Joffrey, we have witnessed several occasions where he has cowered behind The Hound or others when there is a physical threat imminent. So on absence of emotions, it is a line ball, but probably falling to the fact that he does have the ability to express emotions, however they may be culturally appropriate given the environment he lives in…
Which brings us to the fact that we also need to look at the cultural aspects of any individual’s environment to determine what is and is not adaptive in that environment. This being said, Westeros is a place which has a class system which consists of the traditional structure of Nobility-Warriors-Trades-Commoners (probably with priests somewhere in there as well). In a cultural structure that asserts that some people are more ‘valued’ than others there can tend to be a normalisation of death of those lower in social standing. Further, if we assume that GoT is set in a world that has a relatively poor healthcare, then the age of death is generally lower than in present day. As a result the ides of death at a younger age is normalised and the experience of individuals witnessing the death of others (through illness or violence) is also further normalised in a culture such as this. This being said, the normalisation of death can mitigate some of the pathology of Joffrey, he has people executed primarily within the bounds of what is considered ‘normal’ within society and what is expected of him as ruler.
Nature or Nurture
The other question is whether Joffrey is just a spoiled brat which has caused him to be what he is. The answer to this is again complex. Looking at Joffrey as the oldest son of a King, he is next in line for succession, and as a result will be treated as such. In a land such as Westeros, where family allegiances can change like the wind, and where marriages can change the power of a given family, it is particularly important to ensure that Joffrey is well looked after to ensure that he will do what his family ask of him. This can be used as a way to control Joffrey indirectly (ie allegiance to his family) or directly through blackmail, threat and coercion such as the idea that ‘You owe us..’
Joffrey seems to be the product of a family who value the idea of success too highly. He is in his early to late adolescence during the happenings of the television series and as a result is currently in one of the age ranges where he is the most susceptible to the influences of others around him, the teen years. Unfortunately, there are limited relationships which reinforce healthy boundaries or behaviours. His grandfather Tywin, is hell bent on success of his family at all costs, even to the point of heavily critiquing his own son and daughter when they do not perform as required. Let’s not get this wrong, whilst Joffrey may actually hold the power by his title, his grandfather Tywin is the person who makes all the decisions for the family (through both direct and indirect contact).
If we look further at relationships in his life, we have his mother, Cersei who is aloof and too concerned about her brother/lover Jamie Lannister during his disappearance to pay proper attention to Joffrey. Further, Cersei is often more interested in making sure that she is the number one sibling (especially over Tyrion) that her manipulations get in the way of her ever being able to model appropriate behaviour.
Further, from what we understand, there was a limited relationship between Joffrey’s father Robert Baratheon and he, potentially due to Robert suspecting (or knowing) that Joffrey was not indeed his own. Robert has been portrayed as a fun loving type, with little regard for what seemed to be a political marriage to Cersei, therefore the relationship with potential offspring would have suffered.
The one person in his life who may be of some assistance would be Tyrion Lannister, his uncle, however due to his standing in the family (primarily due to his stature – for which Tywin has stated he should have been killed) he is often relegated, despite his superior understanding of human behaviours. His morality is (mostly) well preserved and his ability to manage people often falls to the adaptive, rather than the manipulative. Unfortunately, Tyrion plays no part in the life of Joffrey except for treating him like the whelp that he knows him to be.
So given the relationships that plague his life, the world in which he lives and any background pathology that is going on, what is the final verdict? He is not currently meeting criteria for ASPD. He is most probably the product of nurture (or lack of), rather than being inherently bad. I would have to say that Joffrey is the product of unattached parenting, with poor physical and psychological boundaries these have caused Joffrey to have poor relationships with others which have then been further exacerbated by a potential disorder seen in childhood, namely Conduct Disorder, which has a link to Anti Social Personality disorder later in life – however (non-spoiler) given GoT, I dare say that he won’t make it this far.
So if you liked this post and want to read more next week, please subscribe to the newsletter over in the sidebar or come and catch me on Twitter or Facebook. So tune in next week, for more Psychology of Game Of Thrones, anyone that you are wanting to see in particular?