Unpopular Opinions #1: Daenerys Targaryen Is A Sociopath

Unpopular Meditations On Modern Literature #1: A Game of Thrones, Book #1 of A Song of Ice and Fire

Okay, I'm late to the party. What else is new?

In my defense, Epic Fantasy just isn't my genre. It tends to be dense, complex, and hard for my ADD-addled brain to keep track of.  And any book I have to take notes on seems too much like homework and thus gets crumpled up at tossed in the bin. NO HOMEWORK WOOO!

Then Game of Thrones became one of the biggest shared cultural experiences of my lifetime. And even weirder than that, I enjoyed it. My interest in a thing is, more often than not, inversely proportional to the popularity of that thing.  But, despite all the hype, I dug it and decided to try and plow my way through the original novels expecting a Tolkien-esque slog through endless descriptions and paragraphs that run on for pages. 

Except I fell into it hard. Like in a way I hadn't fallen into a book in a good long while. And even though I'd watch the series all the way through, I found myself reading the book on its own terms. Not, as I typically do when I watch the movie before the book, as an interpretation of the story as portrayed on the screen, but as it's own separate entity with slightly different characters, altered motivations, and voices that don't belong to actors.

And in those pages, where the thoughts of the characters were laid out in front of my eyes, I began to see something in one of the most popular characters from the show that I had missed when I watched it portrayed on screen.

Thesis: I think Daenyeres Targarian might be a fucking sociopath.

First, Jeremy Covers His Ass:

Okay, before we get started, a few caveats.

1. Fucking Spoiler Alert: 

The end of Game of Thrones was, as of this writing, over two months ago.  So I think I’m safe talking about how it ends.  HOWEVER, if you haven’t seen it and have somehow avoided accidentally hearing of it, first of all, welcome back, how was living in a cave?  I hear it's peaceful. And second, just… don’t.  Don’t read this, don’t send me angry messages about how I spoiled the ending. Just don’t. Here endeth the warning.

2. Relax, It's a Book

That being said, if I write something here that makes you vibrate in your chair and gets your fingers itching to hit Caps Lock and go to town… see above.  Just don’t.  Calm down, I'm just messing around here, and if that upsets you, I encourage you to seek your entertainment elsewhere. That being said, if you want to argue, the comments area is open. Change my mind. I dare you. Just don't be a raging asshole about it.

3. Bad Things Ahead

Most people know by now that Game of Thrones is a pretty rapey book. The whole series is. But rape, unfortunately, is a reality. A horrific reality, but a reality. And there is a lot of reality in this book. The subject is probably going to come up. And if you’re reading this and you happen upon something that makes you think, ‘wait, does Jeremy think rape is okay?’ The answer is no, no, he does not. At all.

4. Jeremy L. Jones Thinks Strong Women Are Badass: 

I was raised by one, I married one, and I’ve loved a few. So if you read this and think, ‘Does Jeremy think all strong women are sociopaths or otherwise mentally unwell?’ No, no, he doesn’t. I think Daenerys Targaryen, a fictional character, might be and I shall endeavor to prove that. But as a rule? No, I do not.

Cool?  Cool. Let us begin.

I perceived a massive cry of horror when, on the penultimate episode of GoT, —which is what we cool kids call Game of Thrones—Daenyeres unleashed a dragon on Kings Landing. I heard the horror on social media and within my own house. After the episode, my wife and I had a… discussion about the events. It was her opinion that Dany was not in control of herself at that moment and what happened to Kings Landing was not her fault but that of every person who forced her into that position.  And it was my opinion that she was now making excuses for a mass-murdering dictator.

There was disquiet in the house of Jones that night.

But I understood. My beloved still wanted to cheer for Dany even though she… you know… burned down an entire city and killed thousands if not tens of thousands. And that urge led many to have the visceral reaction they did.  But, in retrospect, we should have seen it coming from the get-go as a few articles that asserted that claim. Which is part of the brilliance of George R. R. Martin's writing. Once you get over the shock, you realize that the Truth was staring at you the entire time. In this case, a lot of writers lamented that even a personality as great as Daenerys Stormborn couldn't resist the corrupting influence of the Iron Throne.

But I'm going to take it a step farther. I'm here to argue that it wasn't the corrupting influence of Absolute Power that led to Dany's downfall, rather a pathological need to acquire it for its own ends. She wasn't turned from the path of righteousness as much as a form of psychopathy doomed her from the start.

What is a Sociopath?

For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to use the definitions as laid out by a couple articles in Psychology Today. Specifically, this one and this one. Is it a good definition?  Don’t know!  Not a psychiatrist! Not a psychologist! Just an interested amateur poking at a patient with a stick. (The patient, in this case, being a fictional character so I feel it's fine.)

I'm also going to take a look at this blog, for a little bit of insight into the workings of a sociopathic mind.

In short, Dany is afflicted with Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) which is defined in the DSM as, “an ingrained pattern of behavior in which individuals consistently disregard and violate the rights of others around them.”

Note that, while psychopathy and sociopathy are on the same spectrum, there seems to be some feeling that they are different. Specifically, a psychopath has no concept of an action being evil. A sociopath does but doesn't care. Also, a psychopath is born, a sociopath is created. Again, don't know if that is a valid psychiatric idea but, fuck it, we'll go with it.

And how does one identify a sociopath? Well, Psychology Today laid out three steps:

1. Their Words
2. Your Emotions
3. Their Behavior (90% Rule)

And I’m going to add a fourth one. Since the source material is going to be the first book, A Game of Thrones, we have something that practicing psychiatrists don’t; access to our patient's mind.  Hence:

4. Their Thoughts.

Anyone else tingling a little? Awesome! Let’s begin.

Criteria #1: Their Words:

Sociopaths are fast talkers. Their words are mostly, if not entirely false. But they use many, many words designed to cover their behavior. They may be a completely different person from who they say that they are. Watch out for extremes—big promises; big stories, about the past or the future; and big plans, with no basis for them or no experience at whatever they’re planning.
Is there any sign of this in A Game of Thrones? Admittedly some, but not a lot. Keep in mind, Dany is all of fourteen in most of this book, so she is still coming into her own. At this age, if she were being raised in an environment we considered 'normal,' she would start realizing that the way her mind worked was different somehow.

One commenter on the sociopath world blog described growing up and realizing who he or she was like this:
For me, I knew from a young age I was different and I felt like I was behind everyone and couldn't catch up, so I was going to have to fake it if I wanted acceptance.  In my mind everyone else was just like me but had "passed" to the next step but I couldn't even understand the test, so I lied and cheated into "normal" life.
That being said, there are some signs in her language that can be interpreted as this. Specifically, this one where she is talking to Khal Drogo

"In the Free Cities, there are ships by the thousand. Wooden horses with a hundred legs, that fly across the sea on wings full of wind."

The text indicates that she's been working the Khal for a while on this. He doesn't really want to listen at this point but, after she is attacked at the market, he does come around.

BUT! Does she have any idea what she's talking about? Does she actually believe she could return to Westeros with the Dothraki? Does she have a fucking clue how to do any of this?! I would argue no, No and HELLL NO! Youthful overconfidence? Possibly. Let's look at some more strange positive language like this stirring speech she gives after... *ahem* killing her husband.
" 'You will be my khalasar' she told them. "I see the faces of slaves. I free you. Take off your collars. Go if you wish. If you stay, it will be as brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.' The black eyes watched her, wary, expressionless. 'I see the children, women, the wrinkled faces of the aged. I was a child yesterday. Today I am a woman. Tomorrow I will be old. To each of you I say, give me your hands and your hearts, and there will always be a place for you.' She turned to the three young warriors of the khas 'Jhogo, to you I give the silver-handled whip that was my bride gift, and name you ko, and ask your oath, that you will live and die as blood of my blood, riding at my side to keep me safe from harm.' "
What's happening here? Well, she's basically acting as if she was already named as the new khal. She is appointing her blood riders, gathering her soldiers, and, overall, acting as if this is just a thing that is happening. Even though the men she is naming as blood riders are almost begging her not to saying that 'This is not done' or 'It would shame me to be blood rider to a woman.'  But does Dany give a figgity fuck?  Hell no. Now could this be a sign of a True Born queen coming into her own. Perhaps. But it does seem to match pretty well with the words of a sociopath as well.

What about some really dark moments from Dany. They happen:
“ 'He was no dragon, Dany thought', curiously calm. 'Fire cannot kill a dragon' ”
 Yep, that's her physical reaction to watching her brother die. Horribly. At the hands of her husband. With molten gold. This is a brother that basically raised her... and physically abused her and sold her into sexual slavery, yes, but that's not a normal reaction. Furthermore, Dany knows it. Look at that dialogue tag 'curiously calm.' Even she finds it strange that she feels nothing. Yes, again, her brother physically abused her and was likely sociopathic himself (it seems to run in the family) but still... FUCK.

“It was a cruel fate, Yet not so cruel as Mago's will be. I promise you that, by the old gods and the new, by the lamb god and the horse god and every god that lives. I swear by the Mother of Mountains and the Womb of the World. Before I am done with them, Mago and Ko Jhaqo will plead for the mercy they showed Eroeh.” 

Here we are jumping back to when Khal Drogo is basically a zombie. She finds out that one of Drogo's former riders stole one of her slaves that she rescued from the raid of the Sheep People, raped and killed her. ...Which... okay that might be an appropriate response.  But still... that's some heavy shit from a teenager.

Criteria #2 Your Emotions:

How do you feel around the person? It’s often your emotions that first tell you to beware, because your brain wants to believe them. 
Or, more accurately, how do other people react to Daenerys? The article says it's common to feel three

things when around a sociopath: fear, infatuation or extreme sympathy.

So does anyone fear her? Not really. Not yet anyway. If people fear Dany, what they really fear is her husband and his Khalisar. But, again, fourteen-year-old girl.

Extreme sympathy? Yes, perhaps. It's not really stated, but it's very possible people feel sympathy for Dany. But that's less a sign of her manipulating people rather people showing empathy to someone it a terrible situation.

Infatuation? There we go! Dany is charming as fuck. She managed to worm her way into the heart of Khal Drogo which is impressive in a way. I picture Khal Drogo as like the leader of the Hells Angels. Here comes this thirteen-year-old girl who is basically sold to him. How long does it take for Dany to end up on top? (literally) A few months?

And how does she manage this? By getting Really Good At Sex. Like magic cooter level Good At Sex. Like if sex were an Olympic sport (and let’s be serious, it totally should), she would be standing on that pedestal with some gold hanging between her legs.

Ser Jorah pledges to Dany - by Amok
Because Dany knows the cardinal rule of realpolitik, “If you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

Let's talk about Ser Jorah. Sworn to serve and protect her brother who he sees as the true and rightful ruler of the seven kingdoms.  How long before he falls under her spell? About the same time she is wrapping the Khal's Little Drogo around her finger, Jorah is basically saying 'to hell with my oaths, I want to follow her.' 

Hell, by the end she's basically convinced a group of hardened bikers to make her the leader of their gang which, as they stated before, is not something that happens.

 Criteria #3: Thier Actions

A surprisingly simple way to spot a sociopath is to stay focused on their behavior and ignore their words. Pay special attention to any extreme behavior—things they do that 90% of people would not. Ask yourself, Would I ever do that?

Okay, does Danenyeris Targarian do something that 90% of humanity would not do? *checks notes*


Okay, yeah there are some special circumstances because we are dealing with magic or whatever the fuck allows a girl to WALK INTO A FUCKING FIRE and live. That being said, it’s still a baller move. She’s gotten hints that she has an affinity toward heat leading up to this moment.  She enjoys scalding hot baths, she can touch dragons eggs fresh out of the fire without getting burned, and she seems to know something is up when her brother dies from having molten gold poured over his head.

But she isn’t 100% sure. I would gauge she is about… let’s say… 50% sure.  Let’s say 60% sure she will survive. Let's also remember that she has a perfectly reasonable option at that point, one might even argue a better option. Ser Jorah is ready to have her spirited away where she can sell her eggs and live a perfectly comfortable, quiet life.

I think it’s a fair argument that 90% of people would just run away and take the quiet life. Or, at least, I think it's fair to say that 90% of people wouldn't WALK INTO A FUCKING FIRE!

That’s the most extreme example.  But there are others.

How do 90% of women fare when sold into sexual slavery? Think about a biker gang or a terrorist group or some other male-dominated subculture that glorifies violence and the sexual domination of women. How do the unfortunate victims who find themselves in that situation make out? How many of them make a concerted effort to lead the fucking biker gang?  

Less than 90%?

Less than 99%?

How about this, how many pregnant women would willingly eat an entire horses heart?  Because that happened!  There’s a cultural thing at play here and, for those raised among the Dothraki, eating a whole horses heart might seem perfectly reasonable.  

But Dany is not Dothraki, although she assimilates rather well.  But she wasn’t raised in that society. So imagine, if you will.  You're pregnant, and your husband comes to you and says, “Hey honey, could you… this is going to sound weird… but could you eat an entire horse's heart?  It would REALLY impress my friends.”

Again, we’re talking about a different culture. Still, I think the argument could be made.  Less than 90%

How about tying a wine merchant behind her horse for trying to poison her?  How many people could actually do that until the guy died? I think it’s easy to say ‘yeah, he tried to kill me.’  But honestly, how long could you watch a man being dragged behind a horse before you just couldn’t stand to watch it anymore? 90% would probably give in to empathy, untie the poor bastard, and send him packing.

Criteria #4: Her Thoughts

Again, we find ourself in an interesting position because we know what's going on in Dany's mind. Most psychologists have to diagnose people based on their words and deeds, but we actually get a glimpse at the gears turning in her skull.  We also have an article from a person who claims to be sociopathic, and they describe how their mind works.  I'm going to throw up a few quotes, let's see if they are at all similar.

'Remorse is alien to me': 

Uh, that's a Texas-sized ten-four.  Dany is perhaps sad that her brother died, but she feels no remorse over it. She feels empathy for the Sheep People being killed and/or raped by Drogo's men, but she doesn't feel remorse for the part she paid.  I don't think there is a single moment Dany feels remorse for anything.

'I have a penchant for deceit': 

Meh, not really. Although I can't pinpoint any moment that deceit would benefit her, she doesn't seem to crave it either. This is perhaps a flaw in my theory. On the other hand, APD is described as a spectrum disorder and can manifest in different ways.

'I am generally free of entangling emotions': 

Possibly. Dany is quite calculating. But she also expresses concern and love for the people around her. She expresses empathy and is sometimes motivated by concern for others.  

But she also appears to have the ability to turn it off if it is inconvenient. She appears to love her brother (even romantically at first which... ew) but is sort of fine with it when he does die. She clearly loves her Khal but, after spending one last night together, smothers him with a pillow. After that, she appears more concerned with consolidating power than mourning her husband. She doesn't seem at all concerned after burning Mirri Maz Dur alive after her ill-fated attempt to bring Drogo back from the dead

So I would argue that, yes, that very much applies.

'I am strategic and canny': 

To be fair, in A Game of Thrones, those that aren't die quickly. But she lives so...

'I am Intelligent and confident':

Yep and yup. While she does express some anxiety or even fear during the book, those feelings are brief, and they don't seem to motivate her in the slightest. But confident? Let's peer into her mind as she is WALKING INTO A FUCKING FIRE:

No, no, my good knight, do not fear for me. The fire is mine. I am Daenerys Stormborn, daughter of dragons, bride of dragons, mother of dragons, don't you see? Don't you SEE?
Maybe it's me, I've never experienced that level of confidence. I was barely confident enough to hit the little 'publish' button when I was done with this screed. But I feel this level of self-assuredness has to be pathological

'I struggle to react appropriately to other people's confusing and emotion-driven social cues': 

This one is tougher. Since she is in a position of power, people are careful about what they express around her. So it's hard to see how she reacts to emotional cues. Still, I am reminded of the scene where she tries to form her own khalisar after Drogo dies.  When s tries to declare some of the other warriors as her blood riders, they protest saying pretty much, "Uh.. no. That's not how that works. What's wrong with you?"  And she gives exactly zero fucks about that. Enough to fall into a grey area, I feel.

And, again, let's keep in mind, the woman that will burn Kings Landing into ashes is still a girl of fourteen at this point. She is, by our modern definition, still a child and her brain is still wiring itself. 

But it is wiring itself in an interesting way, isn't it?

The Game of Thrones ends with Dany naked, laying in the smoldering ashes with three dragons, two of which are breastfeeding.  That was a part they left out of the show!  Wow... just... wow.

So we will leave it there, and I'll address the question again when I get around to Clash of Kings. Again, comments are open, nerds. Tell me why I'm wrong.


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