In the season six Game of Thrones premiere when Ramsay Bolton decided to feed the body (good meat) of the woman he loved to the dogs, I began to contemplate the troubling depths of his psychological makeup. Sure, he is a sadistic psychopath but even the most psychologically troubled tend to show respect for those they most love. Then, in episode two, he killed his father and had his baby brother devoured and I knew I just had to get some answers. So I consulted some of the nation’s leading psychologists and asked them to run through psychological profiles for some of our favorite GOT characters.
Of course since our experts haven’t personally met or evaluated these individuals, not many airlines have service to Westeros these days, these are not diagnoses but rather inferences from the traits and behaviors we’ve seen on screen.
RAMSAY: Sadism, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Attachment Disorder
Ramsay enjoys inflicting physical and psychological pain on others— how could we forget the sausage scene— so he is clearly a sadist.
But more remarkably, he seems to exhibit signs of antisocial personality disorder. The same diagnosis assigned to most of the world’s serial killers.
“After decades of trauma from being an unloved bastard, emotional attachment became foreign to him,” says Janina Scarlet, PhD Professor at the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University San Diego campus and brains behind Superhero Therapy. In reference to his latest homicides Dr. Scarlett says “I don’t think it was just a play for power, I think he was establishing his dominance and making himself feel better about himself after being secondary for so long.”
THEON/REEK: Dissociative Disorder
Theon seemed to exhibit a form of dissociative disorder, which is characterized by an involuntary escape from reality, when he assumed the identity of reek, which helped him cope with the abuse he endured… and who can blame him?
Apparently his ability to come to his senses and help Sansa escape ended up helping him a great deal as well.
“When he helped Sansa, this was his way of redeeming his honor; and that’s what he needed to do in order to heal and remember who he is,” said Dr. Scarlet.
I checked, and “badass” is not a psychological profile, so let’s just move on.
TYRION: Substance Abuse Disorder, Depression
So Tyrion is an alcoholic whore monger who fights a daily battle to overcome his size and years of abuse at the hands of his father, sister, and the general public.
“He clearly struggles with alcoholism and depression and I think his focus on intellect and sarcasm is a coping mechanism to help make himself feel better and superior,” says Dr. Scarlet.
JON SNOW: Acute Stress Disorder
I was sure that now that Jon has been resurrected and is believed to be Azor Ahai, he would exhibit a Messiah Complex…I was wrong.
But after being brutally betrayed and murdered, he is certainly exhibiting acute stress disorder which, if experienced for over a month, can be characterized by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It will be interesting to see if he might exhibit signs of an identity crisis when he finds out he is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen…
BRIENNE: Psychologically Stable
I've often asked myself why Brienne is traipsing around the seven kingdoms offering up her life and allegiance to one person after another? Why can’t she just live her life for herself? Maybe take Pod the Rod as a lover and make some average sized heirs to the sapphire isles?
According to Allison C. Peters, Psy.D, Practicum Training Director, Clinical Ph.D./Psy.D. at CSPP’s Los Angeles campus, she just conforms to the cultural norms of duty and honor and is one of the most psychologically stable characters.
“I don’t think what she does is pathological or diagnosable. She believes in a knight’s unconditional allegiance to the person you are guarding; it is almost like someone who is really committed to their job and whose career defines them. I think she is one of the more psychologically healthy characters in Westeros.”
DANY: Post-Traumatic Growth
While most people have heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), few have heard of Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) which can be used to sum up Dany’s evolution.
PTG is the personal transformation and positive psychological outcomes which can occur as an individual navigates the process of overcoming a traumatic event.
Dr. Megan Hawker, an Iraqi war veteran and CSPP alumna, is a pioneer in the study of PTG.
While it is clear that Dany has gone through traumatic events throughout her entire life, through being orphaned and exiled to being sold off and raped, she has been resilient and even grown from overcoming these events.
As Dr. Hawker explains “Resilience describes ‘bending without breaking’, whereas PTG describes ‘breaking and rebuilding.”
CERSEI: Narcissistic personality disorder
Those who display narcissistic personality disorder often have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. This can often arise from intense trauma early on in life in which you are devalued.
“Cersei Lannister’s pervasive behaviors suggest she suffers from symptoms consistent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She holds herself with an air of entitlement and arrogance. She feels she is envied by many, believes herself to be superior, and will stop at nothing to maintain her power in Kings Landing,” says Dr. Peters.
As a woman in a man’s world, and with a father like Tywin, it is easy to see how Cersei ended up this way.
HODOR: Expressive Aphasia
It appears that Hodor suffers from a neuropsychological disorder called expressive aphasia. Since we have not seen the cause, it is hard to determine whether he cannot recall or physically pronounce other words; but this inability to produce language is most commonly caused by trauma to the brain.
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: Psychological Mastermind & Manipulator
Ok so what is up with this guy- who thinks up these kinds of things? Is he brilliant- absolutely, but is he also maybe mildly sadistic…killing off our favorite characters and making us suffer?
According to Dr. Scarlet he is just a master of employing psychologically manipulative elements of empathy.
“He understands how to make us deeply care about the characters by employing elements of empathy. He will allow the reader to connect with the character by showing the characters struggle, and their humanity, which allows us to align with them, so when they die it is that much harder to cope.”
Either way, we owe a big thank you to George R.R. Martin, D.B. Weiss, and David Benioff for bringing us this enchanting world of homicidal psychopaths, narcissists, and other deeply troubled individuals!
Cielo Villaseñor is Alliant’s Communications Director and —clearly— an avid fan of Game of Thrones.
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