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Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Mythology and fiction are rich with characters whose maladaptive behavioral characteristics directly inform the dramatic twists and turns of their stories, lending them a metaphorical significance that reflects the real world.

The television show Game of Thrones (GoT), based on the series of novels by George R. R. Martin, very much falls within this tradition. GoT weaves fantastical elements (dragons, zombies, witches) with characters whose clearly defined motives and ideals humanize the story. This mix has proven intoxicating to audiences, in turn making GoT an international sensation.

Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Though it's set in a place and age very different from our own, one key reason for GoT's success may be in how closely the main characters embody contemporary psychiatric conditions. This makes the characters more fully realized while also letting us analyze them: Why do they do what they do, and where do those personality traits come from?

This presentation attempts to illuminate how the show's many characters personify the 10 personality disorders identified in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).[1] This exercise is intended to be didactic, not diagnostic. Though no professional would make a diagnosis based exclusively on what is said of a patient, characters are interesting and full of symptoms, which we can classify for educational purposes.

Image courtesy of HBO

Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Cluster A: Paranoid Personality Disorder: Arya Stark

Arya is the clearest example of the concept that childhood is destiny, going from playing war games to becoming hopelessly obsessed with revenge. Unlike other characters who would have lost hope in similar circumstances, Arya saved her strength so that she could use it to resolve her wrath. Currently, Arya exudes penetrating distrust and suspicion toward everyone. She normally interprets others' motives as being evil, regardless of whether this is justified. She doubts Sansa's loyalty, continually interprets everyone else's actions, and, most of all, never forgives.

Image courtesy of HBO

Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Cluster A: Schizoid Personality Disorder: Bran Stark

Though Bran resides in the north, it is clear that he's not at home. From a real-life perspective, Bran presents with a dissociative state of cognitive symptoms, lacks emotion, and is sometimes hostile.

Now no longer fleeing from others, his anxiety stems only from internal factors. He has been conditioned by numerous thoughts to which only he has access. He doesn't express these thoughts, but they nonetheless paralyze him from communicating with the world.

Bran is increasingly schizoid and retreats further into himself. He does not desire or enjoy close relationships, including being part of such a complex family as the Starks. Loneliness is his standard. His image is nearly as cold as Winterfell.

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Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Cluster A: Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Aerys II Targaryen

Like many a character from history and legend, Aerys II (aka, the Mad King) becomes a tyrant, overcome by cruelty and paranoia. Perhaps the finest example of a psychopath on GoT, his ideas and acts prove to be very defined—and very strange. The obsession with fire that is typical of the family is hard to separate from the psychopathy. His delirious thought of being invulnerable to fire would be the perfect pretext for destroying others through that element.

Though we know very little about him, references throughout the books and show paint him as in search of solitude and isolation. In keeping with the personality disorder, his social deficiency and cognitive distortions are clear, along with his behavioral eccentricities. His strange beliefs and magical thinking and paranoia demonstrate his eccentricity and his distrust, which spark emotional isolation from everyone else.

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Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Cluster B: Antisocial Personality Disorder: Joffrey Baratheon

Few GoT characters have evoked as many negative audience emotions as Joffrey. His stunning inability to adhere to social norms, use of others for personal benefit, high degree of impulsiveness or inability to plan, irritability, aggression, and apparent lack of remorse are characteristics that make us think that, despite his young age, Joffrey exhibits an antisocial disorder.

Dissocial disorder usually precedes antisocial disorder, beginning in childhood or early adolescence. In such cases, therapeutic goals are used for preventing risky behavior, setting limits, and promoting emotional self-regulation. This converts frustration and anger into positive feelings through relaxation and self-control, all under the supervision of, and in conjunction with, parents.

Image courtesy of HBO

Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Cluster B: Borderline Personality Disorder: Ellaria Sand

With the death of Oberyn, Ellaria's adventurous and impulsive equal, Ellaria fell into darkness. Her commitment to vengeance, however, showed us once again some of her characteristic actions, such as the liberties she takes in her sexual behavior toward Yara or Theon (or both), and her impulsiveness when deciding on serious actions, such as the killing of Myrcella Baratheon.

Her constant idealization and devaluation, emotional instability (present as dysphoria and irritability, anxiety, inappropriate anger, and frequent quarrels), and the paranoia that guided her life's final moments make it clear that she has a continually unstable personality.

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Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Cluster B: Histrionic Personality Disorder: Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion values his own knowledge, but he has even greater appreciation for those who praise it. As part of his disorder, Tyrion seeks attention. He presents himself as a charming character, and we cannot but feel empathy for the weakness conveyed by his appearance, for which he was not responsible. He is also empathetic toward outcasts, making him the most compassionate and humane Lannister, which neutralizes the wickedness of his histrionics.

The greatest constants in his life have been rejection and exclusion—mainly by his father and his sister—in response to which he precipitates his own fall in a tragic scene worthy of Greek theater, fleeing in the face of his Oedipal acts.

He ultimately turns his stature into strength, in one notable moment remarking, "Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you."

Image courtesy of HBO

Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Cluster B: Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys' narcissism goes well beyond her firm conviction that she deserves to sit on the Iron Throne. Her need to be appreciated and validated by others is clear, and becomes even clearer as the story marches on and we learn that she is capable of using everything available to get what she wants.

The advantage that she has over others is her natural leadership ability and her capacity to listen attentively to her advisors, without whom she would easily become another self-interested warrior. Her actions are sublimated into justice or freedom in a simple message: "I will take what is mine with fire and blood."

Narcissism thrives in the presence of values that justify acts that become heroic rather than devastating. As with other excluded populations in the GoT universe, that Daenerys is a woman enables us to accept her cruelty and enjoy it, with the justification of a common goal that will help her achieve a personal goal.

Daenerys's noble goals are put to the test by certain elements. She is empathetic but struggles with her own childish jealousy, although she is able to put it aside when faced with threats, such as Jon Snow. Even so, she seems to succeed and adapt.

Image courtesy of HBO

Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Cluster C: Avoidant Personality: Jon Snow

The most consistent character throughout GoT is a man who is socially excluded for being illegitimate and lives in the shadow of those with greater birthright to be leaders. From the beginning, Jon accepts his role as a collaborator rather than the one in charge.

Jon is modest, hardworking, discrete, and fairly noncommunicative. He is challenged by his own impulses and fully insecure when making decisions, all of which are traits that seem to reflect his intense fear and predilection for avoidance.

Jon seems to be an anxious, inhibited man with low self-esteem who is hypersensitive to rejection and has fought against the stigma of illegitimacy. He is unsure of himself and timid—everything that a leader isn't—which makes him all the more similar to the classic archetype of the hero who learns from adversity and becomes the central figure. Only one thing is clear from the beginning: Jon Snow knows nothing.

Image courtesy of HBO

Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Cluster C: Dependent Personality: Jorah Mormont

Despite being a smart man, Jorah's loyalty seems to reach the point of dependency. The respect, devotion, and love that he has expressed for Daenerys have brought him closer to and farther from her side.

After being rejected, he commits to the task of clearing his past, physically and psychologically, sublimating his chances for redemption. He has gone to tremendous extremes to be in Daenerys's favor, including use of force and sacrifice, and even though the reason why is not expressed, it is clear that he needs her approval.

The character is striking in that he has few adaptive resources, sticking with the idea that he is simply needed. The object of his affection becomes his motivation, highlighting the dependent trait of this personality disorder.

Image courtesy of HBO

Psychoanalyzing 'Game of Thrones'

José J. Mendoza Velásquez, MD; Bernardo Schubsky; Mariana Lopez-Mejia | September 20, 2017 | Contributor Information

Cluster C: Obsessive-Compulsive Personality: Brienne of Tarth

This androgynous heroine makes it clear that, with dedication, there are no limits. She is capable and decisive, and faithful to ideas and principles. She is detail-oriented, follows the rules, and is such a perfectionist that it gets in the way of her completing tasks. Her dedication to her work means that she has no leisure activities or friendships. She is very demanding, scrupulous, inflexible, and reluctant to delegate tasks, which she calls "promises" and "pledges." This has led her to follow the Starks with rigidity and obstinacy.

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