Character Analysis: Joffrey, First of His Name

Sophie Turner: There are no black and white, good or bad characters in ‘Game Of Thrones,’ but Joffrey was an exception. Just pure evil.

I would actually have to disagree with this statement made by Sophie Turner. I know it really is easier to dismiss Joffrey as being pure evil and a horrible human, etc, but I really REALLY think Joffrey was 80% a product of his upbringing and maybe 20% of his inbred Lannister genes. 

Joffrey was raised surrounded only by one thing: power. He learned the MOST important thing in life is power and control. So let’s dissect that.

Yes, his mother loves him, but it was the kind of fierce reckless maternal love most mothers have for their offspring, regardless of their behavior. And yes, maybe Robert wanted big things for him, but let’s be honest. Robert didn’t want blond-haired green-eyed children. He didn’t want Cersei’s children. He was affectionate with Edric Storm and Mya Stone, but he was never quite affectionate with Joff that we see in-universe. He didn’t give a shit about Joffrey. Obviously Joff wanted the approval of his “father” more than his mother; that’s the Westerosi way. His entire life revolved around the desire to be his father. So let’s talk about Robert. 

Robert was a drunkard. He was not an intelligent man; he was ruthless and cruel when he felt necessary (and sometimes even when he didn’t. see: Aegon and Rhaenys’s bodies). To Robert, power was physical prowess, exerting control over other men, and hurting animals by regularly going hunting. This was what Joff learned: to be a “real man (tm),” one abused their wife physically and emotionally, cheated on her, one killed as many animals as possible to show who was dominant, one killed cripples to put them out of their misery because they were flawed specimens of humans, one bosses around butcher’s boys because they are not kings — what he learns from his mother also, is that when those butcher’s boys do not oblige to your drunken whims, you execute them. You don’t cry tears over dead dragonspawn because they could’ve rose up against you. You murder the rising threat in the east because it could threaten your command and power. Robert taught Joff to value cruelty in a way Cersei never ever could have. 

So what did Cersei teach her son? She taught him being beautiful = being important and right. She taught him that once he had power, no one would ever dare to question his actions (something that he took to heart so strongly that he began to defy even his mother because how dare she try to question or control him?), that fear was a better motivator of loyalty than love, that the Lannister name needed to live on through him because a Lannister was better than a Baratheon. This is why Joff names Tywin his hand instead of, say, Stannis before the Rebellion officially began. She teaches him that he will be excused for all the terrible horrible things he will do, simply because he will be a king. And so Joff learns to value beauty alongside terror.

What does Joffrey learn from Tywin, who passed down his own “knowledge” to Cersei and to Joffrey? He learned pure unadulterated ruthlessness. Houses Tarbeck and Reyne already received this lesson. You don’t just beat your enemies, you annihilate them, then you take their land and dance on their graves. You make your victory a legend. You take, say, the head of a “traitor” and impale it on a spike for all your subjects (which includes, by the way, the traitor’s daughter) to see and laugh at. Then, since you’re betrothed to that traitor’s daughter, you have her beat and threatened constantly because you are the winner and she is the loser and that means you have the right to rub it in her pretty little face. This, Joff learns from Tywin and from his Lannister legacy.

He wants Sansa because she is also beautiful, and this is what kings do — bed attractive women (perhaps a bit of this also learned from Robert’s sleeping around). He tries to get Bran killed because it would be mercy and it would make Robert proud. He is abused physically by his father; oh, so this is what power is, this is what powerful men do: beat those weaker than themselves. And so Joff bullies his younger weaker, gentle-hearted brother. He insults everyone because Robert insults everyone. He does what he wants because Cersei does what he wants. He looks down on Tyrion because he’s ugly and short and nothing like what a typical Lannister (and King’s uncle) should look like. Morality is only what you make of it; this is not innate; it’s learned. Go ahead, cut a cat open to see what’s inside; animals are meant to be hunted, after all.

So is Joffrey a bad person? Unmistakably, yes he is. A horrid person. BUT is he pure evil? Is he all black and white in a world of grays? No, almost certainly not. He was surrounded and raised by people who were awful and that reflects pretty directly on him. Did he have a sadistic streak in him naturally? Perhaps. Even developmental experts still query whether we are born with personalities. But that streak was fed and pampered and encouraged by pretty much every single human in power he ever encountered. Even if he was naturally born with psychologically disturbing urges, those desires were only acted upon because of his background.

I am in no way justifying or excusing Joff’s behavior. He was a vile and disgusting person, but he was also 12 years old, unloved, and driven mad with the desire for power. He wanted everything, he answered to no one. He wasn’t written to be a sympathetic character (and he was portrayed even less so by the show). But he was not born evil, he was made evil, and there are others just as accountable as he is for his eventual downturn into becoming what resembled a true mix between mad Aerys the Third, Robert the brutish, and a ruthless Lannister. 

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    ^ Good post. I agree. I like trying to analyse him and figure him out. There’s actually a lot of evidence that he’s...
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