Joffrey Baratheon, King of the Andals and the first men, first of his name, protector of the seven realms, blah blah blah. Spoiler alert – if you have not read through the end of the written Song of Ice and Fire, turn back now; as this post will contain spoilers of these books, and will spoil a good amount of season four of the HBO A Game of Thrones television program.
Everyone agrees about one thing when it comes to this young man, he is a monster; a child with a singular purpose – to make the lives of those around him miserable. The question, however, is how he got that way. He is a singularly callous individual; it is not a huge stretch to say that not one other character in the series comes even close to the evil nature of the king… but how did this come to be?
Before we can go forward and operate under the assumption that Joffrey is a psychopath, we should do some due diligence and seek to demonstrate the specific ways that the king shows us his true self. There are a number of examples merely in the first book of the series, but I won’t limit this discussion simply to Game of Thrones, but will try and include notes from Clash of Kings and Storm of Swords as well. I want to demonstrate without a shadow of a doubt that Joffrey suffers from a psychopathic personality disorder – this is not simply one aspect of his personality, but rather it is the dimension of the character that overwhelms all others except in the most extreme situations.
A twelve year old Joffrey Baratheon (born 286) arrived at Winterfell castle with his family during the long Summer in the year 298 accompanying his father, King Robert Baratheon, on his trip north in order to make Eddard Stark the Hand of the King. During his stay in the north, Joffrey barely interacted with the Starks, whom he felt were beneath him; being the crown prince has its perks, after all. Even when he is informed of his engagement to Sansa Stark, he did not seek her out until after they leave Winterfell castle. He had no emotional attachment to this young girl whom his father would make him marry – but as we would learn not much later on, he had no emotional attachment to anyone but his mother.
As we saw in the HBO television program, the after effects of Bran Stark falling from the tower rippled through the Castle; both within the Stark household as well as among the royal guests with one notable exception. Joffrey had no interest in paying his respects to (Old) Lady Stark, and it wasn’t until he was beaten by his Uncle Tyrion that he finally relented. He stated specifically that “The Stark boy means nothing to me” and “I hate the wailing of women”, which described his completely emotionless response to the tragedy that had befallen the Starks – a young, much beloved boy was on death’s door and it would behoove a guest to demonstrate their sorrow for the loss to the family, even if it was only for appearances.
Joffrey had no ability to separate his emotionless interior from his outward behaviour. He hadn’t learned how to pretend to care, and it was especially notable during this incident where he couldn’t recognize the need to put on a show for the Starks, no matter how shallow his performance might end up being. This is the first indication of the monster that had yet to be fully revealed, the first hint of who Joffrey would evolve into as time progresses.
Shortly thereafter, Eddard, his daughters, plus the Royal procession leave Winterfell castle (leaving a comatose Brandon Stark behind). After they pass the neck, they stay at Castle Darry, the home of Targaryen loyalist Raymund Darry. During the trip south, Sansa and Arya were invited to spend a day with Queen Cersei and Princess Myrcella which Arya was unwilling to participate in. When the princess took ill, Joffrey took Sansa out for a ride along the Trident for the afternoon, where they met Arya and her friend Micah playing at fighting with sticks on the shore.
Joffrey, being unable to experience the happiness of others, can only do one thing in a situation such as this. He can seek his father’s approval. This is the other aspect of Joffrey’s personality which will be discussed in order to gain a full understanding of who this character was. Joffrey has one motivation in his life that can be separated from his inherent psychopathy – his incessant need to make his father love him.
The poor boy Micah suffered at the hands of the young prince, right up to the point where Arya’s pet direwolf Nymeria attacked Joffrey in order to defend her owner. Despite this temporary respite, Sandor Clegane (the man tasked with acting as Joffrey’s bodyguard) is ordered to run the boy down, effectively putting the blood for this murder on the hands of Joffrey Baratheon. This is the first killing for which Joffrey is responsible, but it would not be nearly the last; and in no case does the young prince display any sort of emotional response – least of all remorse.
In the same series of circumstances, it is principally the distress being demonstrated by a manipulative Joffrey which informs the decision by his parents to order the death of the direwolf which attacked him. Unfortunately Nymeria had previously been driven off by Ayra Stark, who understood all too well what the consequences of the wolf’s actions would be. Not having Arya’s wolf on hand causes the Lannister half of the Royals to demand the pelt of the only direwolf present – Lady, the wolf belonging to Joffrey’s betrothed.
One would suggest that a psychologically normal person would hesitate before demanding that his future wife’s beloved pet be put to death; but Joffrey is not anything close to psychologically normal. This is only the first of many instances where Joffrey undertakes actions that seem intentionally designed to emotionally abuse and ultimately damage Sansa Stark, climaxing in his execution of her father, Eddard Stark, and then forcing her to tour the parapets of the Red Keep to see his decapitated head on a spike. There is no use in arguing that Joffrey does not seek out and enjoy opportunities to emotionally abuse his fiancée.
These examples provided simply during the events of “Game of Thrones” book one in the series give ample evidence to suggest that Joffrey Baratheon is not psychologically normal. He suffers from a very clear psychophilia, and all of the evidence provided points plainly to very acute psychopathic tendencies. The only emotion that Joffrey demonstrates is fear, and the question remains whether or not this fear is a conditioned response rather than being an earnest emotional response.
There are two common beliefs when it comes to the generation and development of a psychopathic personality, either this is a genetic characteristic or one that is learned by one’s environment – and it is the source of much debate throughout the Thronesiverse as to which of these two beliefs holds the most weight when describing the history and contemporary behaviour of Joffrey Baratheon. Joffrey could have been predestined to be a monster, which would be indicated by actions that go beyond learned behaviour; does an infant Joffrey still present with the same psychological dispassion that his older self demonstrates. The second option is that the environment in which he was raised presented him with certain destiny; his upbringing was cruel and barren of love the likes of which most of us could never understand – and this cruelty and emotional distance taught him only these two things as he grew up.
I’m going to argue that the truth is most likely a hybrid of the two cases – there is too much evidence to suggest that he was not genetically destined to be a monster, but his environment certainly contributed to his accelerated development. If it were exclusively biological, then there would be no evidence of psychopathic-type tendencies preceeding his cognitive development, baby joffrey would have been ordinary. Likewise, if it were exclusively environmental then there would be far less extreme behaviours at his young age (a twelve year old Joffrey would still be in the ‘torturing animals’ stage, and would not have progressed to killing humans, whether or not these actions were taken by proxy), he would just be a creepy kid ‘budding young serial killer’ rather than expressing himself through blood and pain for all to see.
It is much easier to point to the television show for our evidence to support the claim being asserted – Joffrey gets far more air time on television than he gets in the literary work. It also helps that Jack Gleeson is as good an actor as he is in order to really bring a mostly reactive character to life. However, some of the more important elements to his development are actually described in the book; there are fewer conversations about Joffrey in the show – he actually gets to be on screen a lot more.
I am going to attempt to demonstrate my claim using evidence from both sources, beginning with undoubtedly the most damning evidence to support the biological argument.
Stannis Baratheon describes to his Hand, Davos Seaworth, an event that occurred when the young King Joffrey was just a child. Upon hearing that a palace cat was pregnant, he killed the mother and cut her open to see the unborn kittens. When he showed one of these kittens to his father, he was slapped so hard by the furious king that two of his baby teeth were knocked out. (ASOS, ch.63 – Davos).
It is safe to say that no ordinary child tortures and murders animals, nor do they mutilate their corpses in order to extract dead fetuses for experimentation. This is undeniably demonstrable proof that Joffrey Baratheon was destined from the very beginning to be some sort of monster – if he were not the royal heir he could easily have been a medieval serial killer or spree criminal until he were inevitably put to death – it is the pressure cooker of his environment which forged his personal form of monster out of a cold, heartless ingot.
Later on in the story, after the boy-king is dead, Jaime consoles his son Tommen Baratheon (first of his name blah blah) by advising him to “go away inside” which was what the young boy would do when he was being tormented by his older brother. All boys pick on their siblings, as do all girls as well. Siblings fight, but from the sounds of Tommen’s necessary reaction to the actions of his brother, it is clear that this was no ordinary sibling rivalry. Joffrey very clearly treated Tommen with a cruelty that only a psychopath could manifest; forcing Tommen to retreat within himself in the same way that many victims of torture learn to do out of necessity.
You might be shouting at your screen at this point; “None of this proves that Joffrey is a psychopath! That is a very specific psychological diagnosis that cannot be made based on hearsay and limited circumstantial evidence!” This is a very good point, but if we are discussing a work of literary fiction, then all we have is the intent of the author and the evidence they place within the work itself. All of this evidence was planted intentionally by the author for us to pick over – perhaps an actual real person could not be dissected based on these anecdotes, but Joffrey Baratheon is not an actual person, he is a creation of George RR Martin.
And this creation is a sick, twisted monster of ill repute. One that feels very few emotions short of anger, envy and satisfaction. The principal argument against the case that Joffrey Baratheon is a psychopath is the numerous times that the character demonstrates fear in the face of difficulty – but I am going to suggest that it is not fear that Joffrey demonstrates but distress at a loss of control. When Arya strikes Joffrey with a stick during that day along the Ruby Ford, Joffrey responds with rage rather than nerves, and when Nymeria attacks him, it is a combination of pain plus a loss of the control he has on the situation which results in his ‘fear-type’ response. When Sansa immediately goes to him to see to his wounds and to comfort him, he is not sad, nor fearful of the consequences of his brash actions, he is angry once more. The only emotion he is able to manifest consistently is anger – everything else is a complicated mixture of envy and a self-involved need to control every aspect of his life.
But what is this pressure cooker that I have mentioned a few times? What was it about this boy’s environment that sped his development to become the monster we see over the final two years of his life? Let’s take a look at his family to explain what I mean by that.
Robert Baratheon, first of his name, a man whose entire legacy boils down to a single word: war. It is easy to see that this is a man who was an incredible war-maker; and equally easy to see that this man was a terrible king: he won a revolution to break a dynasty that had held the seven kingdoms for a thousand years, but he drove those same kingdoms to the brink of bankruptcy and starvation in a short 14 years since his ascension to the throne. This was a strong, hard warlike man who has no time for the petty politics of ruling a nation – he is more interested in the wildness of the hunt and the women who fall into his bed as a result of his many victories than in actually putting his mind to the problems that face the people for which he is responsible.
But he was a warrior. He was a man of legend – a mythic figure to all who haven’t taken the time to get to know him very well. And his son was never afforded the opportunity to ever get to know him, through no fault of his own. Joffrey Baratheon was raised under the shadow of the greatest warrior of the era. It is impossible to understate just how much pressure it is on a young boy to live up to the legacy of his father, and when your father is distant (and violently abusive when he gets close) you can never learn just what it is you are trying to live up to.
Joffrey spent his entire life trying to become the son his father wanted: he was envious of all of the things his father loved that were not him. It was built into his personality the he had a vicious violent streak that was inherited from his father’s personality – it was the only thing that Joffrey ever learned about his father. This willingness to do whatever it took manifested itself in his actions while at Winterfell: Joffrey took a dagger from his father’s personal collection and gave it to a would-be assassin in order to ensure that Brandon Stark would never waken from his injuries. Robert Baratheon never learned to love his son, and Joffrey’s constant frustration at seeking his father’s approval would lead to greater and greater acts of violence ultimately climaxing in the execution of Eddard Stark, his father’s best friend and most trusted confidant.
Robert Baratheon was famously (within his family) for being incredibly distant from his children. It is a lot easier to explain this in the Television timeline, as Cersei had given birth to a trueborn heir that died as an infant. The child took a fever and Robert felt powerless in the face of the horrors of mortality – this alone gives the King a sense of paranoia and unwillingness to invest his love in future children.
In the book timeline, his distance from his children is only understandable as an extension of his distance from his wife: Robert in the novels had never learned to let go of his first love, Lyanna Stark, and was unable to ever give Cersei or her children any piece of his heart which had died with Lyanna. Other than his heartbroken nature, there is no real psychological reason for his unwillingness to love his son and heir.
Joffrey responded to the emotional distance of his father in the same way most boys do, by redoubling his need for approval, love, and pride. Joffrey seeks his father’s approval in all of his actions, however he acts out in a morally repugnant manner, and this only served to drive his father even further away. Joffrey, to his poor fortune, does not understand that there is an immorality to his actions and falsely believes that his father desires a son as warlike and violent as he himself had to be as a younger man.
Cersei Lannister, Queen Regent, and a woman whose entire life has been driven by her own insecurity about her relationship with her father. Sounds familiar, right? Cersei is the eldest of Tywin and Joanna Lannister’s three children, and the twin sister to Jaime. Cersei is known for being three things more than anything else; completely driven, incredibly short-tempered, and not nearly as intelligent as she believes herself to be. It is her inability to prove herself to her father as well as her extreme quick temper that truly define her relationship with her eldest son – she is quick to compare herself to him, and yet very short on compassion for his circumstance, always feeling as though his situation is (by virtue of his sex) could be nothing like the distress she felt her entire life.
Cersei believes herself to be the rightful heir to Tywin Lannister and that her life has been defined for her by a “mistake of nature”. She strives to cultivate a masculine energy in order to bring herself closer to her own vision of herself, which leads her to be far less compassionate than she might ordinarily have been. I hate to bring out victorian psychology when describing anyone, but Cersei has a classic genital complex and her entire life has been dedicated to her fixation on her ‘personal failure’ of not possessing a penis. It is this envy that has driven a wedge between her and those with whom she should relate the best; Catelyn Stark, Olenna Redwyne, Margaery Tyrell.
Joffrey relates with his mother in a very complicated fashion – she is the one individual he knows he can control utterly, and that she in turn has the power to manipulate nearly every man around her due to a combination of her great beauty as well as her legendary strength of motivation. He uses this ability to control her in order to create a permissive environment in which he can freely ‘play’ to his heart’s content. He has no limitations on his behaviour as long as nobody stands up to Cersei – which isn’t an issue until Tywin Lannister strides into the throne room after chasing away the broken remnants of Stannis’ army. This is the moment where Joffrey’s ability to control his mother changes, and he finds he no longer has a use for her – Cersei realizes her deepest fear, being abandoned and discarded by the last thing she has ever loved. This abandonment ultimately drives Cersei to near madness in search of revenge over the individual she feels is responsible for Joffrey’s betrayal: Margaery Tyrell.
In all honesty, I could probably do an entire post simply on the many facets of Cersei’s relationships with the men and women in her life. Her constat infidelity towards her husband (and Robert’s own sexual promiscuity) creates an environment where love is a temporary concept, and even commitment has a very transitional nature to those within the inner circle of the Royal family. Nothing is permanent, and people are just things to possess and then discard in this world, and this is how Joffrey ultimately relates to the world and those people around him.
Tywin Lannister, Warden of the West and Hand of the King. This man is the Lion of Casterly Rock, and he is the one man who is able to control the many fractured personalities within the house. Rumor has it that Tywin Lannister shits gold, and it is due in large portion to his immense wealth that he governs over the second largest (and most populated) region in the land. Tywin is the force against which Joffrey finds himself butting his head in the aftermath of the Battle of the Blackwater, culminating in the events of the Purple Wedding and the death of his grandson. This effect is much more noticeable in the television program because there is a greater level of interaction between the two in that medium.
Principally, Tywin’s relationship with Joffrey is defined by his relationship with Cersei – since Joffrey’s interpersonal power is derived from his ability to manipulate and control his mother. As soon as Tywin arrives and begins to meddle in Joffrey’s activities it becomes clear that Joffrey becomes frustrated and immediately seeks out new targets for his manipulations – and other games to play. Tywin has a greater hold on Cersei than the boy king, and so Joffrey moves on to his new fiancee, Margaery Tyrell – only to find that she is far less weak-willed than his mother was.
Jaime Lannister, youngest knight ever named to the Kingsguard, and youngest Lord-Commander of the Kingsguard. Joffrey’s biological father. The fact is, Jaime should have been the man who provided a male role-model for Joffrey; he should have taken an interest in his son and given him direction to perhaps keep him from turning into this cross among all of the terrible people in his life. We don’t know a lot about the amount of influence Jaime had on Joffrey, however after the purple wedding Jaime is talking to Brienne and says the following: “Joff was no more to me than a squirt of seed in cersei’s cunt.”
And this, ladies and gentlemen is the definition of disfunctional upbringing. This was a boy with two fathers, neither of whom cared whether he lived or died from one day to the next, and with a mother who never raised him but rather was changed by him. Cersei claimed very much to love her son (all of her children generically), however it is clear through the books that all she cared about was whether or not her son loved her.
Even a psychologically normal child raised in an environment like this would be changed in some manner – Tommen never develops beyond four years of age, being stuck psychologically in a mental infancy despite being nine years old at the point he ascends to the throne, while Myrcella rebels and throws herself at being everything her parentage is not. Myrcella is among the kindest and sweetest young ladies in the Court of Westeros, being intelligent as well as beautiful – it is no wonder she is Arianne’s choice to ascend to the throne.
Joffrey was not a psychologically normal child, however; it is clear from everything we know about this character that he presented as a perfect storm of psychological damage. Being incredibly cruel and violent as a child points to a person who is likely to mature into a similarly cruel and violent adult; while being raised in a loveless and very manipulative environment tends to produce individuals who is similarly loveless and manipulative. Two plus two often equals four, and we see in Joffrey among the most cruel, and loveless characters in modern literature.
It isn’t enough that the character is written very well; any character can be written as a villain, but George RR Martin provides every possible reason why the character makes sense. It isn’t enough that the character is incredibly cruel and dispassionate, but his story provides psychological evidence that suggests that this is the right combination of psychological instability and environmental scarring that could produce a young man with just these traits.
I suppose it is easy to see at this point that Joffrey is one of the characters in this series that is most fascinating to me. I’m sure that I’ve missed even further evidence to point to this theory, but I feel as though I’ve demonstrated sufficiently how this character is far more deep than being as my step mother described him: “Just a bullying rich brat”. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this piece as much as I enjoyed researching and preparing it.