An in-depth analysis of the Game of Thrones’ character.
“The world is a comedy to those who think; a tragedy to those who feel.”— Horace Walpole. Letter to Anne, Countess of Ossory (August 16th 1776).
Tragedy is one of the seven principle themes of storytelling. It is defined by the undoing of a character as a consequence of their greatest flaw or mistake. Their misfortune instills a sense of pity or defeat as an otherwise fundamentally good person reaches their end. In television characters like Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman or Wallace from 2002’s The Wire stand out. They are captivating and crippling epicenters of high magnitude storytelling which revolve around their flaws.
George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a literary tale ripe with tragedy. The television adaptation Game of Thrones is similarly laced with disastrous conclusion. No character arc in this series however was as tragic as that of the exiled Westerosi knight who had pledged himself to serve the Queen of Dragons. Jorah Mormont is the most tragic character written for modern television.
To appreciate the breadth of his eight-season arc viewers were asked to not just absorb the events unfolding on screen. Fans had to acknowledge traits unveiled through passing dialogue and minor character interactions. Jorah Mormont was first revealed in Game of Thrones as an exile. He swore his fealty to Viserys Targaryen. He offered Daenerys, who would go on to become the most recognizable character in the show, a collection of books containing songs and histories of her homeland. It was that land which their company intended to seize after all. What Jorah did not immediately share with Daenerys was his own history with Westeros.
He married young. His wife passed away without child. Eventually he inherited dominion of his House when his father volunteered himself to the Night’s Watch, a permanent guard standing at the northernmost tip of their country. In this Jorah would also inherit Longclaw, an ancestral blade forged of rare metal and entrusted to the proud men and women of House Mormont. Westeros then rebelled against their mad king. He fought alongside those rebels and saw a Baratheon placed on the throne previously held by Aerys Targaryen, Daenerys’ father. Jorah Mormont spent this chapter of his life a hero.
The crown soon extinguished a second rebellion and celebrated with a jousting tournament. Ser Jorah Mormont was the victor. There he proclaimed Lynesse Hightower his “queen of love and beauty”. They wed. Together the pair then returned to Bear Island, home of House Mormont. Lynesse required to a style of life Bear Island could not provide. Desperate to maintain her affections, Jorah spent his every fortune trying to accommodate her taste. He even turned to selling captured poachers into slavery to pay for Lynesse. It was that action which resulted in his exile. Mormont could have faced his death. He ran away with his wife instead. Even then, Lynesse Hightower abandoned her husband. Jorah continued as a mercenary and a sellsword, as a knight without purpose.
Jorah’s “greatest flaw” laid in his past. That flaw was love. Above all else he coveted three things: his home, his honor and his wife. He fought wars for Westeros, cited as the second man through the fray in the infamous Siege of Pyke. He won tournaments to honor himself and his father, to elevate the Lords of Bear Island above their station. Very few men from Bear Island have ever received the level of recognition that Jorah’s knighthood brought to House Mormont. He sacrificed those things for Lynesse. Jorah lost his name and title. He left Longclaw behind, believing he no longer deserved the symbol of his family’s prestige. Only for his wife to leave him too.
There is plenty of tragedy in Mormont’s past. However, because he did escape the ultimate consequence, it’s foreshadowed throughout Game of Thrones that his true sacrifice had yet to be made. He reiterated time and time again that he was prepared to serve, to fight and to die for Daenerys Targaryen. That devotion marked the second time that his love for a woman had usurped all else. After all he had first allied himself with the Targaryens as a spy working for the Westerosi throne. He traded information on their efforts and their movements with the promise of a looming pardon. Jorah could go home. He chose Daenerys instead.
As their relationship developed his faith in her grew, Daenerys represented something greater than any one piece of Jorah’s past. As a witness of her compassion, he believed that she could wield the Iron Throne better than her brother. She could even be better than the Baratheons. The concept of instilling a loving Queen upon his homeland became Mormont’s only motivation. He would restore his pride in the process.
He did not have to take a pardon and return to Westeros with his eyes cast upon the ground. Instead he could do something to support and to strengthen each of the things that he loved. He went on to save Daenerys’ life several times. Jorah remained by her side no matter the personal risk. When she demanded that he find a cure for a fatal illness, he did. He returned again.
Viewers experiencing Game of Thrones at the surface level often misconstrue the relationship between Jorah Mormont and Daenerys Targaryen. Jorah’s fascination with the Queen seems purely physical. For much of the first season of Game of Thrones, that argument holds some weight. She was kind and she was beautiful. When Daenerys Targaryen stepped into the pyre of her late husband Khal Drogo, and survived the blaze, that changed.
Jorah witnessed the impossible. Not only did she emerge from the fire unscathed but she carried with her three hatchling dragons, thought long extinct by the people of Game of Thrones. He watched as she then went on to liberate and recruit an army of slave warriors, as she sacked and conquered cities in the name of saving their people. She united barbaric tribes, sellswords and freed civilizations. He watched her punish the wicked in the name of the innocent. Daenerys Targaryen became an idea.
She became a symbol of hope and of righteousness, just as his ancestral sword had once represented the pride of House Mormont. He did not look at her as a man gazing upon a woman. He was a man gazing upon his faith, upon a construct of love that exceeded any degree of adoration that Jorah had felt in the past. Mormont believed in her as completely as another man might believe in god.
The quest to save their homeland from tyranny led Daenerys and Jorah to Winterfell, where Jon Snow was waging his own war. Jorah stood by to witness as his Queen reciprocated the love of Jon. He did not intervene. Instead he fought alongside and supported the Northern King. It was an unspoken testament to the unique qualities of Mormont’s bond with Daenerys. He did not protest as he watched Jon Snow draw Longclaw from the hilt at his waist. He ceded the blade to Jon, as it had been a gift to the young man from Jorah’s own father. Jorah had moved beyond his previous desire to return to the life that was. His only concern was the life that would be, not for just himself but for all of Westeros.
To secure that future, to make sure that his Queen survived long enough to sit upon the Iron Throne and to extend her love unto all the world, Jorah Mormont sacrificed his life in Winterfell. He stood alone to protect her from a legion of enemies, enduring blow upon blow until the moment that his Queen was safe and he could die knowing that he had served, fought, and sacrificed for her more than anything before. He died in her arms. She wept over him and lit the pyre beneath his body. Jorah Mormont had reached a noble end. He had died with a purpose. Had this been the final consequence of Jorah Mormont’s actions, as viewers were led to believe, his tale would not be tragic at all. As his body was burned and his purpose fulfilled, Jorah died a greater hero than he was in his youth. That was until Daenerys Targaryen proved that Jorah’s faith was misguided.
In the past, love had blinded Ser Jorah Mormont to the repercussions of his actions. His love for Daenerys was greater than any passion that had came before it. It was a greater blindness that he then suffered. He did not put any weight into the men she murdered while liberating her army. He did not concern himself with the slave masters she crucified as she conquered their cities nor did he look back at the trail of fire that burned in Daenerys’ wake.
The exiled knight wasn’t alive to see his Queen destroy the very city he thought she would oversee with a tender touch and gentle heart. Jorah was spared the screams of women and children as her dragon set fire to the streets. He died for his faith before realizing that the Queen he believed in was as murderous as the father he had fought to overthrow. It would be Jon Snow, carrying the ancestral blade of Jorah Mormont’s lineage, who then killed Daenerys Targaryen.
The Tragedy of Ser Jorah Mormont is not exceptional because it is the tale of a man killed by his love for a woman. Ser Jorah’s tragic finale ascends to a height of its own because it is instead the story of a man killed by his love for an idea. He died for a faith that existed only in his construct of what Daenerys Targaryen could be. It was never based on who she truly was. He loved real things, tangible things once. That love saw him destroyed. He finally loved something greater and that saw him killed. Game of Thrones may have received mixed reception in its last season, as many characters arrived at their own bitter ends and fans are still trying to digest those conclusions. It is inarguable however that the story of this Westerosi knight received one of the most poetic conclusions in history.
“To serve, to fight and to die.” Jorah Mormont did just that.