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Game of Thrones as Myth: Jorah Mormont as the Archetypal Dishonored Knight

What is an archetype? In fantasy and myth, certain types of characters constantly reappear: stalwart Heroes, odd Mentors offering talismans, Threshold Guardians and their tests, and more. In this series, we take a fast and fun look at Game of Thrones characters and what traditional archetypes they fall into. This time: Ser Jorah Mormont.

This series examines how Game of Thrones characters fit into the archetypal frameworks developed by mythologist Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and the more modern version by Christopher Vogler (The Writer’s Journey). Both Campbell and Vogler employ the works of psychiatrist Carl G. Jung. Along with many other academics, Jung suggested that the archetypes of myth and legend sprang from a human collective unconscious, since they appear in so many different cultures separated by space and time.

“In describing these common character types, symbols and relationships, the Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung employed the term ‘archetypes,’ meaning ancient terms of personality that are the shared heritage of the human race.” —Christopher Vogler

The Rescue of Ivanhoe," engraved by R. Staines after T. Allom

The Rescue of Ivanhoe,” engraved by R. Staines after T. Allom

Campbell argues that human beings are biologically hardwired to understand the symbolism and expression of character archetypes. Otherwise, we would be incapable of participating in the shared human experience of storytelling.

“Summoned or not, the God will come.” —Motto over the door of Carl G. Jung’s house

As we segue into Game of Thrones, it’s important to remember that archetype is not a straightjacketed category but rather a flexible function of storytelling. Any individual character can (and usually does) express various archetypal traits or even moves from one category to another as the story unfolds.

Jorah Mormont expresses a number of archetypal functions such as the Wanderer, Warrior, Lover and Protector, but his quest for redemption clearly marks him as the archetypal Dishonored Knight.

The Dishonored Knight is a type of Fallen Hero, one who has made a terrible mistake but who seeks to earn forgiveness. According to Vogler, the Dishonored Knight “represents the ego’s search for identity and wholeness.” Jorah, in particular, also represents aspects of the Wounded Anti-Hero. Here’s how Vogler describes that figure:

The wounded anti-hero may be a heroic knight in tarnished armor; a loner who has rejected society or has been rejected by it. These characters may win at the end and have the audience’s sympathies at all times, but in society’s eyes they are outcasts, like Robin Hood, roguish pirate or bandit Heroes …

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Jorah possesses both martial skill and a gentle heart, but he suffers under the demands of his ego, which leads him to make terrible mistakes. Jorah is intelligent, but intelligence is not the same thing as common sense. Jorah forever seems to be trying to rectify another mistake and finding another new path to redemption.

We first meet Jorah at the wedding of Danerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo in “Winter is Coming” (S1, Ep1). Although Jorah introduces himself as “Lord Jorah Mormont of Bear Island,” he’s living in exile on Essos, having come off a stint as a sellsword after being hired by Lord Varys of King’s Landing to spy on the Targaryens. Jorah presents Daenerys with a wedding gift of books, “The Songs and Histories of the Seven Kingdoms.” He also talks to Viserys. “I served your father for many years. Gods be good, I hope to always serve the rightful king.”

Right from the beginning, Jorah is lying to Daenerys. As a disgraced exile in Essos, he is no longer (barring a royal pardon) the Lord of Bear Island. The wedding gift reflects the history of his country, but his personal history is laced with examples of poor judgement, including illegally poaching slaves to support his former wife’s lavish lifestyle. Yet his comment about wanting “to always serve the rightful king” indicates that, deep down, he hopes to recover what honor he’s lost. Daenerys will give him that opportunity, but not in the way he expected.

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It’s easy to link the character of Jorah to one of the most famous dishonored knights in literature: Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. In Ivanhoe, the Saxon Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe has been disinherited by his father for supporting the Norman-blooded Sir Richard the Lionheart and for falling in love with the wrong woman, Lady Rowena. As the adventure gets underway, he embarks on a quest of both internal and external redemption. Sound familiar?

Quickly realizing that Daenerys is more of a “rightful king” than her brother, Jorah starts bonding with her. When she asks Jorah about his father, Jeor, in “The Kingsroad, (S1, Ep2), Jorah describes him as “a man of great honor,” and admits that he betrayed him. Clearly, Jorah still feels ashamed of shirking his obligations to his family, something that couldn’t be true if honor and loyalty weren’t important to him.

Viserys: “You swore an oath to me. Does loyalty mean nothing to you?”

Jorah: “It means everything to me.” (“A Golden Crown,” S1, Ep6)

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Jorah forsook his honor when he illegally sold slaves. He dishonored his father, which in his mind is the same as a pure betrayal.

Jorah’s downfall is similar in many ways to the Greek hero Bellerophon, whose mythical victory over the Chimera made him think he was equal to the gods. Like Jorah, Bellerophon’s hubris resulted in personal disaster—he was cast down and left a blind beggar for the remainder of his days. Meanwhile, Jorah escaped into exile (and eventually contracted greyscale) after Lord Eddard Stark ordered his execution. Jorah’s decision to cut and run was another disgrace, since a knight is supposed to accept the consequences of his actions.

Loyalty and honor are at the heart of what makes a knight a knight, and that’s no less true when the knight, crippled by weakness, is dishonored. Even when the knight isn’t much of a fighter, like Ivanhoe, or insane, like Don Quixote (who tilted at windmills in the name of his imaginary Dulcinea), rescuing the lady in distress and gaining redemption outweigh the fear of death. Like them, Jorah will cast aside everything in order to redeem himself in the eyes of the woman he loves, even when that love is unrequited. For Jorah, that woman is Daenerys.

“You have a gentle heart,” Jorah tells her in “The Ghost of Harrenhall,” (S2, Ep5). “You would not only be respected and feared, you would be loved. Someone who can rule and should rule. Centuries come and go without a person like that coming into the world. There are times when I look at you and I still can’t believe you’re real.”

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Jorah’s early affection for Daenerys turns into an all-consuming love very quickly. In “Lord Snow” (S1, Ep3), Jorah rushes off to Qohor to report the khaleesi’s pregnancy to Varys. In the next episode, “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things,” Daenerys asks Jorah what he prays for, and his response is “Home.” Jorah originally seeks the recovery of his name and honor, but his quest for “home” soon fades away as he witnesses Daenerys’ magnetism and spirit. Once that happens, Jorah transforms from a wanderer and mercenary to a man on a quest for love.

We see the result of Jorah’s transformation in “You Win or You Die” (S1, Ep7) when he rushes to save Daenerys from an assassination attempt despite having just been offered a royal pardon delivered by one of Varys’ little birds. By saving her, he earns the trust of Kahl Drogo and becomes her permanent bodyguard, even though he could have let her die and returned to Westeros. The knight has found a new quest.

But even though he switches sides, he doesn’t tell Daenerys that he once spied on her for King Robert, nor will he until forced. The Dishonored Knight continues to dishonor himself.

After the death of Khal Drogo, Jorah becomes Daenerys’ primary protector. He follows her orders to tie Mirri Maz Duur to the funeral pyre in “Fire and Blood,” (S1, Ep10), but attempts to stop Daenerys when he realizes that she plans to immolate herself. Jorah is a pragmatist, but after witnessing Daenerys’ rise from the ashes with her dragons the next morning, he kneels and proclaims his undying loyalty with the Dothraki pledge: “Blood of my blood.” He proves that loyalty by sticking by Dany and what’s left of her khalasar as they make the difficult journey across the Red Waste, and during her time in Qarth, when she asks unsuccessfully for military aid from the city’s wealthy merchants.

Danaerys has reached Quarth. Thay are refused entry by the thirteen. A compromise is made.

When Jorah and Dany travel to Astopor, Ser Barristan Selmy appears and saves Daenerys from a manticore. Selmy, a decorated warrior, is a welcome presence, but also presents an immediate problem for Jorah: the old knight is well aware of how the dishonored Jorah will stain Daenerys’ image when she arrives in Westeros.

Jorah continues to prove his loyalty to Daenerys when he helps open the gates of Yunkai from the inside. However, he grows jealous of Daario Naharis, a new recruit, when it becomes clear that Dany is interested in him romantically. Still, Daenerys values Jorah as a friend and counselor, as shown when she refuses to let him fight as her champion at the gates of Meereen.

Then, while Daenerys is trying to maintain control of the cities of Slaver’s Bay, Selmy receives a scroll signed by Robert Baratheon, and realizes that Jorah had been working as a spy for Varys. “You will never be alone with her again,” Selmy tells Jorah before presenting the evidence to their queen. The desperate Jorah pleads for Daenerys’ forgiveness, but she cannot stomach how long he went before telling her the truth, and sends him again into exile (“The Mountain and the Viper,” S4, Ep8).

Jorah: “Forgive me. I never meant, please, Khaleesi, forgive me.”

Daenerys: “You sold my secrets to the man who killed my father and stole my brother’s throne.”

Jorah: “I have protected you, fought for you, killed for you …”

Daenerys: “And you want me to forgive you?”

Jorah: “I have loved you.”

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Like Lancelot du Lac, Jorah has now betrayed everything he has stood for and loved. Lancelot was a great swordsman, and King Arthur’s most trusted companion. Lancelot is undone when Arthur discovers his unforgivable adultery with Queen Guinevere, and Jorah is ruined when Daenerys learns of his early duplicity as a spy.

After leaving Meereen, Jorah eventually surfaces in a Volantene brothel. Continuing his string of bad decisions, he kidnaps Tyrion Lannister, who’s also in exile, and heads back to Meereen, hoping that presenting his queen with one of her enemies will restore her favor.

During the course of their journey, Jorah contracts greyscale, is shocked to learn from Tyrion about his father’s death, and is captured, together with Tyrion, by pirates who sell the two of them into slavery. They end up as combatants in the Meereenese fighting pits, which brings Jorah back into contact with Daenerys, in front of whom he bests every other combatant. Although Daenerys is won over by Tyrion’s skills as an advisor, she banishes Jorah from the city once again, sticking to her earlier proclamation. Like the Greek Titan Prometheus, whom Zeus ordered chained to a rock while an eagle chewed out his liver (which grew back every night), Jorah seems doomed to be eternally punished for his mistakes.

Jorah returns to the gladiators and is fighting in Daznak’s Pit when Daenerys and her retinue are attacked by the Sons of the Harpy. Jorah saves Daenerys’ life: she takes his hand, and they are reconciled.

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After Daenerys escapes on Drogon and disappears, Jorah joins Daario on an expedition to find her. Eventually, they trace her to Vaes Dothrak and help her burn the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen in order to win the assembled khalasars to her side. Soon afterwards, in “The Door,” (S6, Ep5), Daenerys relents on her standing order of exile, and finally tosses a crumb to the flawed knight who loves her so deeply.

Danerys: “I banished you, twice. You came back, twice. And you saved my life. I can’t take you back, and I can’t send you away.”

Jorah: “You must send me away (showing his greyscale to Daenerys) … All I ever wanted was to serve you. Tyrion Lannister was right. I love you. I’ll always love you. Goodbye, khaleesi.”

Daenerys: “Do not walk away from your Queen, Jorah the Andal. You have not been dismissed. You have pledged yourself to me. You swore to obey my commands for the rest of your life. Well, I command you to find the cure, wherever it is in this world. I command you to heal yourself, and then return to me. When I take the Seven Kingdoms, I need you by my side.”

Thus redeemed, Jorah sets off on another new quest: to save himself, as ordered by his beloved Queen.

PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTION OF THE DISHONORED KNIGHT

“Ultimately, a Hero is one who is able to transcend the bounds and illusions of the ego, but at first, Heroes are all ego; the I, the one, the personal identity which thinks it is separate from the rest of the group.” —Christopher Vogler

As a Dishonored Knight, it is Jorah’s ego that first gets him into trouble: bankrupt and in a loveless marriage with a demanding wife, he turns to selling slaves for money, believing that he can act outside of the law. This is an ego-driven act, one that abandons ethics and order (things valued by his family) to achieve monetary gain and keep up false appearances. Jorah suffers from Aristotle’s “tragic flaw” of hubris, or prideful arrogance. In ancient Greek tragedy, the Hero’s hubris causes the goddess Nemesis to appear. She rebalances the proper order, often through the destruction of the Hero.

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But humans are also capable of redeeming themselves. We are all flawed, and we all seek to fix our mistakes. As Christopher Vogler states: “Heroes are symbols in the soul of transformation, and of the journey each person takes through life.” After a lifetime of serving himself, his family name and his own honor, Jorah discovers Daenerys and her dream, and in giving her everything he has, transforms into a being that is becoming selfless.

DRAMATIC FUNCTION OF THE DISHONORED KNIGHT

Archetypes fulfill many dramatic functions for a character, such as audience identification and growth. If Jorah had told Daenerys early on about his spying, it would have saved him a lot of trouble. But the audience understand his lousy decision-making—we’ve all held back damning information from someone we love and/or respect, avoiding the unpleasantness the reveal might cause and hoping the truth will never come to light. And when the truth does come out later on, the damage is worse for the concealment. Like so many of George R.R. Martin’s creations, the character of Jorah is very human, and we feel for him when he makes mistakes.

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In Jorah’s case, his situation is made all the harder because he suffers under the high expectations of the Mormont Family. If the powerful personalities of Jeor and Lyanna Mormont are any indication, this family does not go easy on those who bring it dishonor. Yet in the first half of season 1, Jorah has difficulty letting of his pride. In “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” (S1, Ep4), he reveals that he’s still indignant and angry at Ned Stark for enforcing the law against him.

Jorah: “Ned Stark wants my head. He drove me from my land.”

Daenerys: You sold slaves.”

Jorah: “Aye.”

Throughout the series, there is little mention of Jorah’s relationship with his father Jeor, but when Jorah hears of his father’s death in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” (S5, E6), the news hits him hard. We are uncertain if Jorah’s great sadness is due to his remaining love for his father, the realization that he will never achieve redemption in Jeor’s eyes, or both.

THE DISHONORED KNIGHT AS WOUNDED HERO

The Wounded Hero suffers from a deep psychic scar. Jorah is afflicted by disappointment in himself, and later by his betrayal of Daenerys and her rejection of him. These flaws and vulnerabilities make Jorah a sympathetic character, and align him in some ways with the classic Arthurian figure of the Fisher King (Grail King), who also agonized under a wound of the spirit.

According to myth, the Fisher King was injured in the thigh (many versions take this to mean his genitalia) and lost his will to live. His inaction caused his kingdom (nature) to wither and die. The Knights of the Round Table embarked on a quest to find the Holy Grail to save the Fisher King and restore the entire system to health.

“This is reflected in the medieval idea of the injured king, the Grail King, suffering from his incurable wound. The injured once again becomes the savior. It is the suffering that evokes the humanity of the human heart.” —Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Dany and Xaro talk, Dany speaks of her wish to rule the Seven Kingdoms

Like the injured Fisher King, Jorah is wounded and retreats into the wasteland, and only through his quest to serve Daenerys can he return to wholeness.

CONCLUSION

As the transformed Jorah Mormont heads into Season 7, his quest to redeem himself in the eyes of his beloved Khaleesi has been won. His original motivation, to return home to Bear Island with a royal pardon and his honor reclaimed, remains on the back burner, or completely discarded. His life is threatened by the horrible greyscale, but his new quest to save himself is fueled by his hope to return to the presence of Daenerys. What happens after that, as far as he is concerned, is less important.

We must hope that Jorah’s archetypal path will not lead him into the realm of the Tragic Anti-Hero, where his ending would likely be unfortunate, as Vogler outlines: “These (tragic Heroes) are flawed Heroes who never overcome their inner demons and are brought down and destroyed by them. They may be charming, they may have admirable qualities, but the flaw wins out in the end.”

*All quotes by Joseph Campbell from The Hero with a Thousand Faces unless otherwise specified. All quotes by Christopher Vogler from The Writer’s Journey unless otherwise specified.

Jorah the Dishonored Knight: Specifics

House: House Mormont, allegiance to House Targaryen
Sigil: Bear
Animal: Bear
Weapon: Sword
Nemesis: Ned Stark (formerly) and Greyscale (currently)
Sidekick: Daario Naharis
Greatest Love: Daenerys Targaryen
Greatest strength: Loyalty
Greatest Weakness: Poor judgement
Greatest Mystery: Relationship with father, Jeor Mormont
Color: Yellow
Tarot Card: Ten of Swords
Ice Cream: The Baked Bear Ice Cream Sandwich. Because he’s a bear and Essos is hot. So he’s baked.
Future Prospects (Season 7): Not good, unless he can find whoever cured Shireen Baratheon’s of greyscale.

HJ Update S6

Other articles in the ARCHETYPE and HERO’S JOURNEY series:

Hero’s Journey: Jon Snow

Hero’s Journey: Daenerys Targaryen

(Anti) Hero’s Journey: Tyrion Lannister

Alliser Thorne as Archetypal Threshold Guardian

Melisandre as Archetypal Dark Herald

Osha as Archetypal Protector

Jon Snow as Archetypal Hero

Daenerys Targaryen as Archetypal Hero

Hero’s Journey: Bran Stark

Hero’s Journey Update: Season 6

Qyburn as Archetypal Shadow

Ser Davos as Archetypal Sage

Other Myth and Story-related Articles

Dire Wolves: Real and GRRM Imagined

The Happy Relationships on Game of Thrones

9 Comments

  • Very interesting and well-done, but – unfortunately – only based on the show version of Jorah. This choice does not let fully appreciate Jorah’s drama.
    For instance, Jorah and Lynesse were not in a loveless marriage, quite on the contrary…which makes the whole story more tragic than it seems on the show. Similarly, there are many other layers to Jorah’s character in the books that would have been very interesting to analyse.
    Anyway, I will share it on my tumblr. It is one of the few clever positive portrayals of Jorah.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Bran BiWWGPS, and thanks for sharing! Yes, this series only tackles the HBO TV series portrayals and certain characters do lose complexity by time constraints compared to the books.

  • “Baked Bear”? I think “Klondike Bar” would fit him better, particular going into season 7. Up North is where the action will be.

    • LOL. Maybe so. But I really liked “Bear” in the title–but there is a polar bear on the Klondike Bar package, right?

  • Interesting, well-written article.

    Jorah does lie to Daenerys from the outset. But he is not guilty of one specific lie you attribute to him. He does not introduce himself at her wedding as “Lord” Jorah Mormont. He gives his name, correctly, as “Ser” Jorah Mormont. Though stripped of his title, he remains a knight.

    I view Jorah’s flaw of poor judgment more as specifically being a fool for love. In most matters, he is intelligent and pragmatic, but poor judgment seems to kick in when he wants to please/stay with/return to his woman, whether that be his wife or his Queen. But like Bran+ above, I am influenced by knowledge of the books.

  • In medieval romances and ballads, sometimes the mechanism for redemption of a Dishonored Knight is voluntarily submitting to the will of (typically including agreeing to sleep with or marry) a Loathly Lady, as a result of which the spell of ugliness on her is broken and a happy union is achieved. I wonder who could fulfill that function for Jorah? The only woman under a glamour in GoT/ASoIaF is Melisandre, and hers disguises her true image with youth and beauty, rather than the other way round.

    • Interesting point, Firannion. I don’t think Jorah would ever willingly betray Daenerys again, even though he is technically free to sleep around because they are not ‘together.’ He might fall under a spell and be seduced but I’d suspect that would be the only way that might happen.

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