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The mental health storyline you never noticed on Game of Thrones


Warning: This article covers plot details from the seventh season of Game of Thrones. So, to paraphrase the Starks, “spoilers are coming”.

At a first glance, Game of Thrones looks like your typical fantasy drama: there are knights in shining armour, beautiful queens, undead armies, more castles than you can shake a stick at, and dragons.

But, as stalwart fans of the HBO show will tell you in no uncertain terms, the show is far more complex than the sum of its parts. Over the past seven seasons, we’ve witnessed political intrigue, regicide, treason and complex battle strategies. We’ve gasped at broken families, incest, murder plots and shocking acts of betrayal. Then there’s the deeper, more thought-provoking topics to contend with: slavery, genital mutilation, sexual assault, infertility, arranged marriage, disability, alcoholism and mental health.

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The latter seems so obvious when you sit down to an episode of the show. Theon Greyjoy has been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ever since he escaped from Ramsey Bolton’s clutches – and the Hound similarly finds himself paralysed with fear whenever he is confronted with an open flame. We often hear talk of “the Mad King”. And even Daenerys Targaryen has wondered aloud whether her father’s psychosis could have been genetic.

But there is one mental health plot line which has been dealt with so subtly, and so skilfully, that many viewers haven’t even noticed it.

And it’s concerning Jaime Lannister.

In the fourth episode of this season – aptly dubbed The Spoils of War – we saw Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) come face-to-face with the Dothraki armies on the battlefield.

Brave as ever, he called to his men to fall into formation and refused to flee. But, when Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) appeared astride a dragon, all of the blood drained from Jaime’s face. As the people around him began bursting into flames, he didn’t just look afraid or horrified; he looked visibly traumatised.

And, just like that, the shadow of Jaime’s Kingslayer past made perfect sense.

Read more: Why the women of Game of Thrones hold all the cards

Back in the third season, a weakened Jaime sat down with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and opened up about his decision to drive his sword through the Mad King’s back all those years ago.

In a heart-wrenching monologue, he told of the Mad King’s obsession with wildfire and how the monarch had stockpiled it all over the city.

When it became apparent he would lose King’s Landing, the king ordered Jaime to kill his own father, Tywin Lannister, before ordering his pyromancer to ignite all of the wildfire in the city.

Recalling the Mad King’s final words, a haunted Jaime said: “Burn them all -- burn them in their homes, burn them in their beds.”

He then turned to Brienne and asked her: “Tell me, if your precious Renly commanded you to kill your own father and stand by while thousands of men, women and children burned alive, would you have done it?

“Would you have kept your oath?”

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It’s a frequent theme throughout the entirety of the HBO series: way back in the first season, Jaime attempted to explain his actions to a disbelieving Ned Stark (Sean Bean). And, again, he repeated that the Mad King had kept screaming the words, “burn them all”.

So, when he comes face-to-face with another fire-happy Targaryen in the seventh season, of course Jaime is rocketed back to the horrors of his past. And it quickly becomes apparent that he is more than prepared to die bringing down the Mad King’s daughter.

To help us to understand Jaime’s character arc a little better, YouTuber Shahan Reviews has created a chilling video which recalls the Lannister’s recollections of the Mad King, alongside clips of Daenerys’ fiery attack on the Lannister men.

Watch it for yourself below:

Looking at it like this, it seems so obvious now that Jaime is suffering from PTSD.

As the NHS explains: “Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.”

This would explain why Jaime is constantly seeking absolution over the Mad King’s death – and why he attempted to explain his actions to Ned Stark, the most honourable person in Westeros. He wanted him to understand that he did it to save people, that he isn’t a cold-blooded murderer – because he himself worries constantly that he is.

Read more: Have you seen Game of Thrones without the CGI effects?

Instead, though, Jaime finds himself shunned by Ned and most of society. Every single day of his life, he has to struggle with the nickname of the ‘Kingslayer’, forcibly reminding him of that horrific night. There are few people who treat him with anything other than distaste: Brienne, Bronn (Jerome Flynn), Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage).

No wonder he clings onto those he loves so fiercely, even when they abuse his trust (we’re thinking of Cersei in particular, here). No wonder he attempts to bury his intense emotional strain beneath layers and layers of shining confidence. And no wonder he lost all sense of reason at the sight of that fire-breathing dragon: it was his worst fear realised, his nightmare come to life.

Theon and the Hound’s struggles with PTSD may be dealt with in a more obvious manner, but it is Jaime’s character arc which has captivated us since the very first episode.

Will he be able to overcome the shadows of his past and forge an alliance with Daenerys? Or will the struggle prove far too difficult? There are only a few episodes left until Game of Thrones finishes forever: we will be paying extra-careful attention henceforth.

Images: HBO



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