Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones is an amazing character. No, I am not a psychopath. With season four, the height of Joffrey’s screen time, being the most watched and well ranked season, I think you would actually agree too. How about I change the wording a bit. Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones is an amazingly written character; do you agree now? I remember watching the first few seasons of the show and becoming filled with an incredible amount of rage every time he came on screen. I hated hearing him speak, even when he cursed out Cersei Lannister, a character I also dislike. There were many times I was hoping someone would take the opportunity to kill him off, but when it finally happened I was slightly disappointed. How would Game of Thrones be able to make another villain that good? I was scared the plot would become boring without another character I was equally passionate about. In most shows, when a character as perfectly written as Joeffrey Baratheon dies, so does the popularity of the show. But Game of Thrones repeatedly keeps its watchers invested by writing its characters that reflect some element of the reader’s life. To create emotionally investable characters, you must write them into three categories: engaging because the character creates interesting waves in the plot, engaging because the character is a reflection of the watcher, or engaging because the character is heroic and we desire to be like them.


Let’s start with breaking down the hated characters. To create a truly despised villain, they must follow two rules. First, are they a genuine threat to the hero? Joeffrey proved his presence would be a threat during Ned Stark’s beheading. His high ranking authority, combined with his cruelty, breaks through any main character plot armor. Ned Stark was on the cover of all the Game of Thrones posters! He was a leading character for all of season one, and it’s first time watchers were sure fooled into believing they would see him for longer. This rule (allowing the villains actions to actually have consequences) is why Marvel failed to make their antagonist, Thanos, as hated as Joeffrey in Avengers: Infinity War. To be fair, they have very different target audiences. But despite Thanos reeking much more havoc, the viewers never saw any of their beloved heroes in any real danger. They all came back in the end and the story concluded with a happy ending. All throughout Ned Stark’s awaiting trial I was slightly bored. Of course the directors were not going to harm him. Every threat Joeffrey made was like a paper ball being thrown at a gorilla–I didn’t believe a word! Until Joeffrey broke rule number one. I was never again going to ignore those paper balls. They can be, and are, dangerous. Not only is Joeffrey a savage antagonist that poses a very real threat to other characters, he also crossed the moral event horizon. The moral event horizon is the second thing that a villian must step over to become truly despised. Joffrey’s ridiculous sword fight with a middle schooler and his role played in the unjust death of a Stark wolf definitely got him on the dislike list, but for a show as brutal as Game of Thrones, it didn’t quite make him a villain. The moral event horizon is, “an action so heinous, it renders a character unforgivably bad” (AsterAsh). For Joffrey, his “crossed the line” moment was when he carried through with Ned Stark’s death sentence. There are a few things in this scene to analyze. One, is the contrast between the way both Ned Stark and Joffrey Baratheon kill others that separates the way their actions are interpreted. The second, is the reasoning as to why both men gave out a death sentence. Ned Stark has chopped off heads before, and the man he sentenced to death was also innocent, yet he never stepped over the audience’s moral event horizon. Ned Stark was still seen as a good guy despite his actions being so close to Joeffreys because when Ned Stark beheaded a man in episode one, he stated that a good leader always carries out his own sentencing. He understands the weight of his actions and makes his decision based on what would be best for the North. Ned Stark’s death sentence made him look like a strong leader; he had reasoning and got his hands dirty himself. Joffrey, however, had neither reasoning nor dirty fingers. He put the actual responsibility onto another man. His actions were not done to preserve the laws of his kingdom but to let everyone in the show know that he has power. The third, and last, piece of advice for designing a despicable villain is to make one that watchers can relate to fighting with in their own personal lives. How many people can relate to the villain in Avengers: Infinity War? Who has fought a giant purple god that wipes out half of the universe? Hopefully nobody. What about Joeffrey Barathron? Who has encountered a spoiled and bratty teenager with zero respect for others, and only personal gain in mind? At some point, everyone. Don’t get me wrong, having those far outlandish villains like Thanos can be super fun to watch. Marvel is a very successful brand. But the question posed is which one is more hated? And the answer is Joeffrey. Thanos is cool, he has gems that do magic. I didn’t care too much when he won. Joffrey reminds us all of a particular person who makes our lives miserable. I hated to watch him succeed. 


Another way to create a character that watchers will enjoy seeing on screen is to make one that they can see themselves in, everyone loves to see themselves. This character should be flawed but also have admirable qualities. A perfect example is Jamie Lanister. He certainly didn’t start out as a relatable character, but the show provided a more complicated look at him as it progressed. To add depth and layers to your character, make your readers wonder about them. “A character that makes you ask questions is more interesting than one who gives you all the answers” (Ramm). Jamie Lannister was kept at a distance for season one. We didn’t know too much about him besides what the rest of the kingdom is aware of. He pushes children out of windows, has a weird relationship with his sister, and kills kings to win a title. Yeah, not a very relatable guy. However, after getting to know him on a more personal level after his capture, he became a lot more likable. He didn’t kill the king to win a title; he killed the king to preserve the safety of the kingdom. He values his honor and stands up for Brienne of Tarth, a woman who saved his life. Jamie Lannister makes good decisions as well as bad. He is a gray character. Although its watchers might not be able to relate to the wars or royalty titles, they can relate to the boiled down essence of who he is. Morally flawed at times, but has a general sense of right and wrong. As the show progresses, we see more of his morality develop. This adds another dimension of relatability, character development. I am not the same person that I was two years ago, and neither should any of the characters in Game of Thrones be. It is okay to have your character undergo personality changes. Especially after some time skips or life changing experiences, like getting your sword hand chopped off. It not only adds depth to the character but adds weight to decisions made by others. The second option to create a relatable character is through the underdog. Every single watcher has had the experience of disappointing their parents, not living up to the expectations that their siblings set, or has been undermined in the pursuit of their passions. I am, of course, going to talk about Tyrion Lannister. The man who checks all three. Tyrion Lannister was born under the expectation that he would become a soldier, and disappointed his father day one because he couldn’t live up to the life that they planned out for him. This disappointment was taken out in all other aspects of his life. His political and military decisions were not thoroughly listened to, although they were much more advanced than other ideas provided. His view on relationships became askew and he soon began to believe that all he had to offer was his wealth. This is a very familiar life story. Each watcher can sympathize with what he goes through. Maybe not on the same level, but they can at least put their hand on the same ladder. Much like they wish for better lives for themselves, they wish for Tyrion to thrive too. Having a character experience similar struggles as your watchers and persevere through it will produce a character anyone will root for. 


We have antagonists and we have our gray characters. Many shows can exist with just this, but Game of Thrones includes one more, the heroes. The heroes in this series are exceptionally well written because they make decisions that most people may wish to make but would not be able to make. Daenerys Targaryen, through season one and five, was a Game of Thrones hero. In the game of the iron throne, most characters would choose their own power over the common interest. A good hero sacrifices loved ones for the greater good, and a good villain sacrifices the greater good for loved ones. Give your heroes clear morals. “Characters need core values to drive them and give them life. Otherwise, they will be vague and one-dimensional” (Ramm). Time and time again, Daenerys sacrificed her loved ones for the greater good. She kills her older brother, the last remaining Targaryen still alive, when he becomes too power obsessed and threatens her pursuit of justice. She locks her sacred dragons up, which have been her main sources of power, when their fire burns a townsperson. She freed millions of slaves from their masters, although financially short and potentially loosing allies, and killed the masters in turn. Every decision Daenerys made embodied justice and freedom. She was a good person that valued good morals and good people in difficult situations. A strong hero is not someone who returns $20 to an old man who dropped it. Make it a difficult choice. The hero’s mother is dying and every penny is being saved towards treatment, yet they return the $20 to the old man who dropped it. That is a hero. They made a difficult choice that most people wish they could make but don’t. 


So why is Game of Thrones so popular? Why does everyone, everywhere I go, talk about it like they’re getting paid five bucks to say the title? The characters are interesting to analyze. The situations they are put in are controversial. It allows us to discuss difficult, real-life, concepts coated under the blanket of television. In order to create a series that is investable for your watchers to discuss concepts that you want to bring to light, you have to make characters that they will pay attention to. What makes a villain a good villain? Not power alone, but actions with consequences. Remind your watchers of their pesky little brother, or the in-laws they dread spending Christmas with. How can I make a relatable character? Put them in a situation most watchers are familiar with. Don’t be afraid to let them mess up. Make them mess up. Make them mess up big. Make them fix it on their own. Let them change from the experience. Everybody loves a hero. Your hero will go through a lot, and they will make admirable decisions. Don’t fall into a trap though. The power of kindness and love will not overcome every situation. The admirable choice is not always the most strategic choice, and you do not need to warp the laws of nature to let the storyline unravel in your hero’s favor. Let your hero fail. Have them persevere and try again, or have your hero become a relatable character. They can absolutely be both.