Monday, May 13, 2019

It isn't as if she wasn't signaling this since the very beginning

Note:  I have not yet read the George R.R. Martin books on which "Game of Thrones" is based; so this is purely from the perspective of the series.

So....Dany did it after all.  She strafed Kings Landing with dragonfire, and today the real world is going to go nuts at the betrayal of someone who was perceived as a feminist hero; an avatar for the very real change that can happen when women run things.  And there will be much hue and cry that Dany's "tantrum" is a shot across the bow by the patriarchy that we'd better not elect a woman president, because look what can happen. 

On the other hand, Cersei has been monstrous for eight seasons and I don't recall anyone using her as a metaphor for female leadership.  Perhaps it's because we all cut our teeth on Grimm's fairy tales, where evil queens are just part and parcel of the mythology.

But I'm not here to geek out over Season 8 Episode 5, or to provide a recap.  There are plenty of them out there from which to choose, should you be so inclined.  No, I'm here to diagnose Daenerys Targaryen with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

BPD is believed to have a largely genetic component, but environmental factors do play a role.  Of those environmental factors, poor parenting is the most common.  Now we don't know what kind of a father Mad King Aerys was in the series, but he HAD wanted to burn Kings Landing to the ground rather than let Tywin Lannister sack the city, and was only stopped by Jaime Lannister from actually doing it. So it does appear that the genetic component is there.

BPD is generally recognized as being characterized by 9 symptoms:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment by friends and family.
  • Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization (“I’m so in love!”) and devaluation (“I hate her”). This is also sometimes known as "splitting."
  • Distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.
  • Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, substance abuse or reckless driving.
  • Self-harming behavior including suicidal threats or attempts.
  • Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.
  • Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness.
  • Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.
  • Dissociative feelings—disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity or “out of body” type of feelings—and stress-related paranoid thoughts. Severe cases of stress can also lead to brief psychotic episodes. 
  • Daenerys is an orphan, essentially raised in exile with her horrid brother Viserys after their father's death at the hands of his own Kingsguard and of her other, nicer brother Rhaegar in Robert's Rebellion.  In the first episode of the series, we see an allusion to possible sexual abuse by Viserys.  So I think we can safely check off the "poor parenting" box.

    Dany's most obvious character arc is one of learning her own power, but she is plagued by self-doubt, anxiety, paranoia, and fear of abandonment, which results in "intense and uncontrollable" expressions of rage.  Throughout the series, especially after Khal Drogo's death, Dany has either threatened or resorted to violence when her will is thwarted or when she fears abandonment.  What the audience has perceived up to this point as Daenerys' badassery suddenly, in retrospect, no longer seems so badass, but is in fact a series-long cue that Dany is going to fly into a rage at the slightest perceived threat.  These episodes show the havoc that a damaged, paranoid person with a gnawing fear of abandonment armed with a deadly weapon can wreak on anyone in the orbit of those anywhere near her targets.

    In Episode 3 of this final season, Dany lost the only person who, with only one lapse for which he has more than atoned, has been unfailingly loyal to her since the series started.  Jorah Mormont may have been loyal because he was in love with her, but he was loyal.  And in Episode 4, she lost her one truly trusted confidant in the person of Missandei -- a casualty of Tyrion's miscalculation of the lengths his sister Cersei would go to retain power.  At the celebratory dinner after the living have defeated the dead, signs that Dany perceives as her inevitable abandonment are everywhere -- in Tormund's lauding of Jon's dragon riding; in the drinking game that unites her hand Tyrion with his untrustworthy brother Jaime along with Sansa allies Brienne and Podrick; and in Sansa's side-eye.  We see in her face her increasing unease as she convinces herself that no one can be trusted and that everyone will leave her.

    Later, and most devastatingly, there is the feeling of abandonment in Jon's rejection of her as a love interest and her perception that by telling his sisters his true identity, he has betrayed her.   People with BPD can be possessive of those close to them and have difficulty with the idea of those people having other, different relationships with others.  They make people choose between them and others. It's no wonder then, that Jorah, who's in love with her; Missandei, who owes her freedom to Dany, and Grey Worm, who after being freed CHOOSES to serve her, are the only people she trusts absolutely.  As we go into Episode 5, Jorah is dead, Missandei is dead, and only Grey Worm, who is now the equivalent of Ser Barristan Selmy as her enforcer, remains.  In Dany's eyes, everyone else is suspect. 

    Once a person with BPD feels threatened (and in the case of Varys, her feeling is actually justified), the reaction tends to be swift, loud, and often disproportionate.  And far from being out of character, the strafing of King's Landing by Dany and Drogon in S08E05 is an inevitable outcome. 

    As I write this on Monday, May 13, 2019 -- the day after the destruction of King's Landing --  there will be many keystrokes spent on how this episode was evidence of how much D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are part and parcel of the patriarchy that loathes powerful women.  We're going to hear about how a series spent building Dany into a powerful woman sells her out to female hyperemotionality.  We're going to hear about how it's a metaphor for Hillary Clinton, or any of the current female candidates for president. People will be appalled at how she ended up being just another psycho bitch from hell -- just like Cersei.  And we're going to read about the misogyny inherent in running -- on Mother's Day -- an episode that features the death of one woman whose only redeeming quality was loving her children and the rage of a childless woman who is essentially the dragon equivalent of a Crazy Cat Lady.  But I think that's the wrong takeaway. 

    There's a shot just before Dany heads toward the Red Keep where the grief over all of her losses, all those who have abandoned her, is all over her face.  Emilia Clarke really brings it here, letting out just a tiny sob (shown in the screenshot below) before going full-bore borderline rage on the Red Keep and pretty much everything else.  She's completely out of control at this point and there's no bringing her back until exhaustion sets in. 

    Now if this were real life, once the rage is spent, she'd be perfectly fine, and everyone around her would walk around wondering what the hell just happened and feeling as if a bit of their souls had been shredded.  Because people with BPD react to the fear or threat of abandonment with disproportionate rage, and when it's over, THEY feel so much better.  But everyone around them is damaged.  It remains to be seen if this dynamic will play out in the finale.  But for anyone with any knowledge about BPD, what happened last night wasn't just some out-of-the-blue, wrap-it-up-fast lousy writing.  Dany has been signaling all along that this is what she would do if she felt threatened and the fear of abandonment overwhelmed her.

    Give a person with BPD a fire-spewing dragon, and you're setting yourself up for serious trouble.


    1. I haven’t watched the series, but have read all the books, so far, and this is an absolutely beautiful analysis. I’d be interested to see how they wrap it up. Also, how Mr. Martin finishes the books, if ever.

    2. Hello. I don't know if you're a psychologist or not. But I am. It's all Good with what you explain about BPD. But as you should know, for Someone who speaks so freely about BPD, every personality disorder (and many other psychiatric disorders) is a Spectrum, there are several degrees in the display of the symptoms. With your last phrase you're demonizing Human Beings with BPD that might not get to extreme displays of rage as you try to expose, therefore with that last comment you are being at least irresponsible and unethical, specially since your article might be read by people who don't have a profound theoretical knowledge about it. You are contributing to stigmatize people with a disorder and huge pain inside of them. Be careful with your expressions. My kindest regards.

    3. @Anonymous: Yes, you are correct, and I apologize for painting people with BPD with a broad brush. I have to admit that my perspective on BPD is colored by my experience with my own mother, who had BPD as a result of her OWN childhood. Part of my own healing (and yes, it is only partial, as I have had times when I felt myself starting to spiral into rage when feeling threatened) was recognizing this in her and realizing that when her rages were directed at me, they were about her own fears and her own experiences. I learned how to walk out on her when she got like this by assuring her I would call her later, or return, and then doing it.

      But while watching this episode, and seeing Dany's slow burn at not being loved and her fear of being abandoned turn into hot rage, all I could think of was "My God, she's just like Mom." I hate that Dany is being turned into the "heel" in so many of the recaps. We know what her backstory is, and it's horrific. As awful as what she did was, that little, almost imperceptible sob that Emilia Clarke utters right before wreaking destruction on everything, broke my heart. It's as if all the pain and heartbreak she'd endured for eight seasons and even before was encompassed in that one little sob. There was as much grief as there was rage going on. It's a shame that there is not going to be time to reveal this complexity.

    4. I stumbled across this on a Google search looking to see if anyone else thought Daenerys might have BPD like I do. I've always loved and related to her. I could go on a whole rant about how a character killing enemies (who in Dany's case were slavers and rapists) doesn't mean they're evil of crazy so her final Anakin style 'turn' at the end wasn't foreshadowed and made no sense, but let's agree to disagree. Ultimately it doesn't really matter if people dislike fictional characters. But what does matter is not demonizing people with personality disorders. We're not monsters who murder children, we're traumatized people with damaged frontal lobes just trying to make sense of our emotions. But please, tell me more about how evil and scary I am when all I've done for the past year is lie in my bed and scream 🙄


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