Is Joffrey a psychopath? Why is Ramsay Bolton so mean?
Westeros doesn’t seem to have psychologists to answer these questions, but thankfully the real world does.
Dr. Kirk Honda is a licensed marriage and family therapist who hosts a podcast called Psychology in Seattle. On the show, he’s “diagnosed” a few “Game of Thrones” villains as if they were patients on his office couch.
Of course, no psychologist or psychiatrist can actually diagnose anyone, real or fictional, without meeting them. But Honda took his best shot anyway.
You can listen to everything Honda had to say about each character in his podcast, available here, but he also agreed to provide Business Insider with a short summary of five characters’ diagnoses.
Ramsay Bolton: Sexual sadism disorder, sadistic personality disorder, and anti-social personality disorder/psychopathy
'In my opinion, Ramsay has sexual sadism disorder along with sadistic personality disorder...since he demonstrates marked pleasure and complete lack of remorse from the suffering of others,' Honda told Business Insider. (Sadistic Personality Disorder was removed from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders after the 3rd edition, and is no longer considered an official diagnosis.)
Honda dubbed Ramsay the most problematic character in the show, due to his 'tremendous pleasure in harming others,' even when that sadistic behaviour doesn't benefit him in the long run.
'Anti-social or psychopathic (personality disorders)... are both related to sadism and its sub-category, sexual sadism,' Honda explained, adding that the two are 'slightly different but largely overlapping.'
He added that Ramsay's disorders are likely due to 'his biological inheritance from Roose Bolton, who also exhibited significant psychopathic behaviour, particularly before Ramsay was born, and Ramsay's difficult childhood.'
Honda believes Joffrey suffers from a specific form of sadistic personality disorder called tyrannical sadism, due to his habit of relishing in 'verbally and physically harming and abusing others with his power.'
But Honda hesitated to apply too many labels to Joffrey because personality disorders in minors are usually not diagnosed until they become adults and their personalities finish forming. For that reason, Honda diagnosed Joffrey with conduct disorder 'because he exhibits a pattern of violating the rights of others.'
Honda believes Joffrey's disorder stems from 'abuse from his father, distant mother, trauma from parental conflict and violence, looking like a girl and being teased -- a detail that's in the books -- inbreeding, mother drinking while pregnant, being told he's better than others, and poor parenting.'
Cersei's diagnosis isn't as straightforward as the others, Honda said, because of her position as a female in a highly patriarchal society. Cersei was marginalized and abused by her father and husband when she was younger, and 'is surrounded by a context that values power, specifically royal power, so her psychopathic behaviour could be a result of circumstances and culture, rather than personality,' he said.
Unlike Joffrey and Ramsay, most of Cersei's anti-social acts are 'instrumental in gaining power and could be considered acts of survival, from her perspective.'
Honda believes Cersei may also have alcohol dependence issues, though she doesn't seem to experience any ill effects from her heavy drinking (a criterion for the disorder).
'In my opinion, she seems to drink to cope with the stress of her life, which is tremendous. It's common for people to self-medicate in this way,' Honda said.
The Hound's PTSD stems from the 'ongoing, extreme abuse' he suffered at the hands of his older brother, according to Honda. Gregor Clegane badly burned Sandor's face as a child, leaving him with an extreme fear of fire.
'When he encounters the threat of fire, he consistently shows signs of PTSD, particularly avoidance,' Honda said.
While some may believe the Hound to be a psychopath or sadist, Honda hesitates to diagnose him as such, since he demonstrates empathy and remorse on multiple occasions, particularly for Sansa and Arya Stark. He also doesn't appear to go out of his way to harm others for his own enjoyment.
'Other clinicians could apply the label of psychopathy since he exhibits callousness and some pleasure upon harming others,' Honda said, 'but in my opinion, that attitude could be a part of his job, similar to someone in the military during wartime.'
Sandor also displays a relationship to alcohol that's similar to Cersei's.
Honda sees Theon's experience as similar to that of abused spouses.
'He becomes submissive to save his life,' Honda said, a response that's sometimes referred to as Stockholm Syndrome.
Honda explained that Theon 'loses his identity as a result of trauma, which can happen when an abuser punishes identity-congruent thoughts and behaviour.' This loss of identity is exacerbated by pressure Theon's father and sister put on him to be ruthless -- an approach that diverges from the morality he learned from the Starks.
As a result, Theon feels 'immense guilt and shame that contributes to his believing he deserves to be punished,' Honda said. In the books, however, it's less clear that Theon feels such remorse.
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