While the labels "psycho" and "psychopath" are often used casually, the reality of psychopathy is anything but lighthearted. As a diagnosable mental disorder, psychopathy has been characterized in numerous fashions over the years. For the most part, however, the term describes a person who lacks the ability to empathize with other members of society. Generally, a psychopath is someone who can neither understand nor comprehend another person's happiness or suffering, which in some cases can lead them to do things most people would consider ethically abbhorent.
When a person exhibits these traits, they may be diagnosed as either a psychopath or sociopath. Many consider these two terms to be relatively interchangeable, though there are diagnosable differences. Out of all the instances in which psychopathic behavior has appeared on television, few shows have portrayed the mental disorder as thoroughly as HBO's Game of Thrones. The show's plethora of characters have exhibited a number of behaviors that set them apart from the society of Westeros, whether through their vicious actions, apathy towards others, or desire for personal power.
The Hare Psychopathy Checklist is often used to determine a subject's likelihood of suffering from psychopathy. Though the checklist isn't entirely reliable, as professionals have contested its validity over the years, it offers a relatively straightforward method for determining possible psychopathy, at least for fictional characters. Because psychopathy can manifest in multiple ways, the characters' exhibitions of psychopathic symptoms vary. Vote up the character who you believe most clearly demonstrates psychopathic tendencies on Game of Thrones.
Ramsay Bolton's time in Westeros was fraught with cruelty, deception, manipulation, and unspeakable horrors - all of which he was not only responsible for, but took pleasure in. When he subjected Theon Greyjoy to dehumanization, he didn't simply cause him anguish, he played with him as a cat plays with a mouse: knowing Theon to be lascivious, he sent two attractive women to seduce him, only to interrupt their romp by viciously emasculating Theon. Similarly, he only slayed Rickon Stark to distract and emotionally compromise Jon Snow before the Battle of the Bastards. Though Ramsay understood the emotions of his targets, he was perhaps incapable of experiencing any form of empathy himself.
In another instance of disturbing behavior, Ramsay found a young girl during a hunt, cowering in terror. After pursuing her to the point of exhaustion, he set his dogs upon her and watched in perverse pleasure as they tore her apart. This was hardly Ramsay's only instance of making women suffer: he repeatedly violated Sansa Stark during their marriage, and he only seemed to reap joy from the relationship when his wife was in misery. Many fans - as well as licensed psychologists - have concluded Ramsay may be the most psychopathic character on Game of Thrones. He exhibits observable evidence of sexual sadism disorder, sadistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and psychopathy.
How Accurate Is It?
The definition of sexual sadism disorder stipulates the subject can only achieve sexual gratification for themselves by inflicting mental or physical anguish on their partner. While sexual sadism disorder isn't indicative of psychopathy on its own, it is only one aspect of Ramsay's psyche as seen on the show.
Ramsay's enjoyment of others' suffering - even if his cruel actions don't benefit him in any way - is another indicator of psychopathy. As his father displayed similar behaviors, some theorize Ramsay's potential disorder could have genetic links. After successfully capturing Winterfell, Ramsay's heritage was legitimized when his father granted him the surname "Bolton" to replace the region's surname for bastards, Snow. As such, Ramsay's father was the only person whose judgment truly affected him. His adherence to his father's conditioning - without regard for anyone else's opinions - may also demonstrate antisocial personality disorder. With all of these symptoms combined, his potential for psychopathic affliction seems clear.
Joffrey Baratheon's sadism was essentially on display from the moment he appeared in Season 1. He teased a dire wolf until it bit him, but he showed no remorse when Sansa's wolf was ordered slain, though it was not the actual culprit. He took pleasure in teasing anyone considered beneath him, and though Sansa adored him at first, he dismissed her as annoying and treated her cruelly when their engagement was called off. He showed nothing but delight when he tormented her and even went so far as to point a crossbow at her in front of the entire court. He took pleasure in others' suffering specifically because of his powerful position.
This tyrannical sadism was also on display when he ordered the execution of Ned Stark. Arrangements were already made to send Ned to the Wall but, in the last moment, Joffrey ordered his immediate beheading, all while wearing a smirk on his face.
How Accurate Is It?
A number of Joffrey's personality traits could indicate psychopathy. For example, he rarely considered the results of his actions and, when he ordered Ned's execution, he failed to consider his decision's ramifications, which proved incredibly reckless. This recklessness paired with Joffrey's lack of remorse, self-aggrandizement, glib nature, early behavioral problems, lack of realistic long-term goals, and complete irresponsibility are all indicative of potential psychopathy.
Joffrey also had little self-control. With even the slightest aggravation, he would demand the elimination of anyone in his line of sight. He displayed a total lack of interest in the feelings of others and often appeared incapable of understanding these feelings at all. Only his own desires held any meaning for him, which could also support a potential psychopathy diagnosis.
Aerys II Targaryen's actions display a true lack of empathy and interest in the lives of his people. His imbalance took two distinct forms: paranoia and cruelty, both of which likely stemmed from his year-long imprisonment during the Defiance of Duskendale. Following the rebellion, he perceived every minor obstacle as a conspiracy against him. As a result, his previously upright sense of justice devolved into a more sadistic design: for example, he displayed signs of sexual sadism towards his sister-wife, Rhaella, later in his life, only able to achieve sexual satisfaction when she suffered.
He also found joy in watching people burn, and his pyromania even drove him to plant wildfire throughout King's Landing in response to the perceived perils around him. His order to ignite the wildfire forced Jaime Lannister's hand, ultimately resulting in Aerys's end. Had he survived long enough to complete his plan, he likely would have watched with utter enjoyment and fascination as his city - and the people within it - burned.
How Accurate Is It?
Several of King Aerys's key behaviors suggest a diagnosis of psychopathy through their alignment with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. Aerys possessed a grandiose sense of self-worth; he was also manipulative, callous, and lacking in remorse and empathy. Apparently incapable of controlling his behavior, he lashed out at anyone he perceived as sinister. As is the case with signs of sexual sadism, most of these characteristics on their own do not indicate psychopathy; however, the combination of traits is much more likely to lead to such a diagnosis.
In most patients, psychopathy develops early in life, but Aerys's condition didn't seem to arise until he was middle-aged. He may have found a way to adjust to society in his youth, but following his abduction, he may have lost this self-control, leading to a more overt display of possible psychopathy.
Viserys Targaryen flagrantly used his sister, Daenerys, as a tool in his conquest to claim the Iron Throne. While this claim was technically his birthright, he sought it out through sickening means, frequently mistreating his sister physically, mentally, and emotionally. When Daenerys expressed her aversion to marrying Khal Drogo, Viserys quipped, "We go home with... Khal Drogo's army. I would let his whole tribe [violate] you, all [40,000] men, and their horses, too, if that's what it took."
Viserys's fanatical devotion towards his goal combined with his complete disregard for his sister's well-being demonstrated possibly psychopathic behavior.
How Accurate Is It?
Viserys's disregard for Daenerys's feelings, despite his desire and purported love for her, skirts the lines of possible psychopathy. Whenever Daenerys expressed anguish in his presence, he would become enraged, claiming she was risking his hold upon the Iron Throne.
While Daenerys initially adored her brother, she came to loathe him for his actions against her that indicated he was entirely self-obsessed. He also possessed a grandiose estimation of self, was cunning and manipulative, showed absolutely no remorse for his sister's suffering, and exhibited impulsivity to the point of lashing out at the khal, resulting in his own gruesome demise.