“Everyone is Mine to Torment”: Joffrey’s Sexual Confusion and Adolescent Wickedness in Game of Thrones
The Game of Thrones series has developed into one of the most widely known epic fantasies in the Western world. Inspiring live action role playing, thousands of fanfiction pieces, and fictional political debates, George R.R. Martin’s five novel series is a cultural phenomenon. With a long history of writing and producing science fiction and fantasy, Martin spent much of his early career dabbling in branches of such genres. Multiple of Martin’s pieces were nominated for the Hugo award, recognized for fantasy, horror, and science fiction. After the failure of his book The Armageddon Rag, Martin sought a career in television and worked on the revival of the Twilight Zone and later Max Headroom and Beauty and the Beast. However, in 1991 he briefly returned to novel writing, and began what would later become A Song of Ice and Fire, the first book in the Game of Thrones series.
The epic fantasy consists of five books with a sixth in the works, along with a current five- season series on HBO. At a brief glimpse, the story revolves around several noble houses as they fight a civil war over who should rule over the iron throne, while a supernatural and monstrous threat looms in the north. The books are told from the point of view of eight different characters, alternating after each chapter. At moments, information and battles are revealed through the shock and anger from characters thousands of miles away from the heat, making the story more difficult to follow and nearly impossible to suspect what comes next or who will survive. During the initial struggle for power, one of the least qualified characters inherits the throne at the young, naïve age of thirteen. After an arranged marriage to Cersei Lannister, the daughter of one of the most wealthy and powerful men in Westeros, the former king, Robert Baratheon, began what he thought was his family line. What is not known by the King or a majority of the realm is the fact that none of the children in the castle were legitimate. Joffrey, Tommen, and Marcella were all born out of incest by Cersei Lannister and her twin brother Jaime. Robert’s eventual downfall led to what many dreaded, Joffrey became king. Acquiring power at such a young age was inevitably an issue for the thirteen year old, but his lack of true parental guidance and bloodlust guards heightened his deviance. Arranging a marriage before his death, Robert Baratheon invited his close friend Ned Stark’s daughter Sansa to the castle, where she is held hostage after her father’s beheading. Joffrey takes advantage of his betrothed’s presence and looks at her as a doll and punching bag rather than a fiancé. Sansa is quite the opposite of the other significant women in the young king’s life, his mother Cersei and his second fiancé and eventual wife Margery. Confused about sex, desire, and his ability to torture both humans and animals, Joffrey experiments with what gives him pleasure.
There are several parts in the series where Joffrey’s adolescent desires for sex are combined with his ruthless excitement to cause pain. Sansa Stark is Joffrey’s first real experience with the opposite sex. At first he is quick to impress the young girl, portraying himself as a heroic prince, spoiling her in jewels only a king could afford. Yet, as time progresses he believes that her affections will not come from charm and should only come from her loyalty and fear of him. Margery is the opposite, as she is very comfortable with her body and sexuality. Her openness is jarring to Joffrey, but her knowledge and experience is arguably intimidating enough for her to seduce and manipulate him. Oddly enough he behaves more nobly with her. Beside his fiancés, the greatest impact on his sexual identity appears to come from his family—Cersei and Tyrion Lannister more specifically. Cersei coddles the king, gives him whatever he demands, and is transparent about death and sex when it comes to what may pleasure him. Tyrion is both Cersei’s tormentor and brother, acting against her in just about all he does. This is especially noticeable in his treatment toward Joffrey, as he does not accept the awful actions of his nephew and repeatedly shames him publically.
A possible interpretation of Joffrey’s sexual behavior can be analyzed through the theoretical argument that occurs between essentialism and constructionism, specifically looking at David Halperin and T.K. Hubbard’s articles on sexuality. The two men primarily analyze homosexuality and heterosexuality; however their theories extend to sexuality and humans’ behavior toward it in a broader sense as well. Simply put, essentialism believes that sexual identity is in unchangeable reality that translates throughout history and cultures, because it is a biological characteristic. Whereas constructionism holds that claiming to be predisposed to sex is an inaccurate assumption, because certain sexually identifying terms do not account for varying communities and influences. Halperin’s stance of constructionism is best fitting to show how Joffrey’s parentage and social status is evidence of the constructionist viewpoint. Based on the three women in Joffrey’s life, it is clear that environment and individual beliefs shape sex and love as a whole. His mother believes in sibling relationships in order to keep a pure family line. Sansa was told that love and family was a structure of religion, honor, and duty. Whereas Margery who comes from a freeing, body positive realm aims for self-pleasure. Despite the many female figures in his life, Joffrey continues to degrade them out of pubescent defiance. Joffrey Baratheon views sexual pleasure and death interchangeably exposing how the evil princeling was a product of family entitlement and the damaging effects of abused physical desires.
Evil Princelings: A Historical Comparison of the Renaissance Child
Before crowned King of the Iron Throne, Joffrey lived as a simple, yet entitled prince. Having no real political power while his legally named father was on the throne, Joffrey was free to act out with malicious deviance without many expectations. In Henry Jacoby’s Game of Thrones Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper than Swords, the author examines how Joffrey was capable of treating others poorly, while they get punishment for calling the prince out on his wrong doings. In a humorous account of the general distaste audiences’ had on Joffrey, Jacoby states, “[e]ven though he has the political power to do whatever he wants, there are some things you just can’t do. No matter how much your future in-laws upset you, you don’t cut off their heads in front of your fiancé” (Jacoby 161). The book goes deeper into the sadistic and self-indulgent behavior of the prince who is interpreted to believe he “is above rebuke” (161). The mentality of unopposed privilege is similar to many princes, but more specifically those in Renaissance and Medieval England. An online database dedicated to connecting historical events and figures to Game of Thrones compares Joffrey’s legal father Robert to both Henry VIII and Edward IV, quoting George R.R. Martin who admits, “If Robert is modelled on anyone, it is more Edward IV of England… though as usual, I rang in some changes” (Adair). Adapting the licentious yet charming king into novel suggests Joffrey is a typical heir.
Jamie Adair accounts how similar Joffrey is to Edward IV’s son Edward V who was, unlike Joffrey, unsuccessful to his ascension to the throne. Just as Joffrey kills off Ned stark who is named Lord Protector in Robert’s will, Edward V and his mother attempt to ignore his Lord Protector equivalent, Richard III. (Adair). Acknowledging that the comparison between the two princes is a stretch, since one is based in a fantasy world with magic and monsters and born of incest, Adair stresses that royalty and wealthy families inherited similar privilege. Mirroring Jacoby’s concerns for lack of consequence, Adair comments, “The typical medieval heir to the throne grew up never hearing criticism, never being reprimanded or fearing consequences, having whipping boys, and being surrounded by sycophants” (Adair). Early on, princes were introduced to other’s pain at their will. A key example of his connection to realistic royal perks is Joffrey’s bodyguard “The Hound” who could also be analyzed as a strange love for the young boy, seeing as he was used as a type of pet to do murderous and abusive errands, usually to sexually harass Sansa. A terribly horrid influence on the young king, Joffrey’s “dog” used sexual dominance as a means to dole out punishment and get pleasure. During a battle against Joffrey’s uncle, The Hound is heard yelling at soldiers “Any man dies with a clean sword, I'll rape his f**king corpse!” (A Clash of Kings, 805). Not quite a sycophant, but definitely Joffrey’s personal executioner.
As princes began to inherit adult responsibilities at a young age, the early ascension to the throne for some spark debate whether they were old enough to determine the illegality of others. In Adair’s article Princes in the Tower, Evil Princelings & Joffrey she states “Princes who inherit the throne –especially before adulthood – are quite often a recipe for sociopaths or, at the very least, malignant narcissists” (Adair).
The Imp, the Twin, and the Struggle over Puberty
Through Cersei and her brother Tyrion’s responses to the terror that comes from Joffrey, it becomes apparent that the two see his ruthlessness as a lack of love and pleasure. Both siblings try in varying ways to pacify the young boy—Cersei using Sansa and Tyrion with the carnal pleasure of anyone who could relieve stress. In a way to differentiate the brother and sister, it is helpful to associate Cersei with the idea of essentialism and Tyrion as a constructionist. Both parental figures affect Joffrey’s sexual and moral identity, yet disagree on the extent in which it can be altered.
Sansa had originally thought to herself that “she always felt safer when Cersei was there to restrain her son,” though that quickly changes as people begin to realize that the Queen Regent willingly chose to remain ignorant (A Clash of Kings 40). The Queen Mother is much more inclined to show her son love and acceptance even through his most evil moments. Cersei is under the impression that her son was born the way he was as king and cannot change, so consequently, she must adapt to his behavior. In An Introduction to Women's Studies: Gender in a Transnational World essentialism is defined as “characteristics of persons or groups are largely similar in all human cultures and historical periods, since they are significantly influenced by biological factors” (Kaplan & Grewal 32). This theoretical approach is representative of Cersei’s acceptance in not just Joffrey’s reactions to sex, but his morality as well. Despite her brother and lover Jaime’s absence Cersei is forced to address the rumors—truth in actuality—of incest. Joffrey’ legal father had several bastard children, openly and publicly cheated on his wife, and had told Ned Stark that he wished to whore and drink himself into an early grave. A fate that, for the most part, came true at the command of Cersei. Cersei never showed any love or fondness for her husband and rumors of incest circulated during Joffrey’s most vulnerable time—puberty.
Cersei had always believed in fate from early on in the series, which prompts the argument that she sees her son’s cruelty as his own predisposition. When confronted about her relations with her brother, Cersei expresses, “Jaime and I are more than brother and sister, we shared a womb. [We] came into this world together, we belong together” (143). Clearly, she sees her sexual desires as a biological force that cannot be fought. T.K. Hubbard examines essentialism in his article entitled Popular Perceptions in Elite Homosexuality and although he focuses primarily on homoerotic relationships in ancient Athens, Hubbard stresses societal influence on sex. Using the playwright Aristophanes as an example, Hubbard surmises that people in antiquity used comedy as a means to deflect their innate homosexual desires from the public (Hubbard, 49). Though Cersei does not use comedic effect at all, she does project her anger onto others when they threaten her love. Rather than acknowledge that she has faults as a mother and lover, Cersei is passive to her emotions and consequently, the temper of her son.
On the opposite end, Tyrion admits to his sister, “Joffrey is as safe with me as he is with you . . . but so long as the boy feels threatened he’ll be more inclined to listen,” taking the opposite approach of Cersei (60). Tyrion continually reminds knights and other important figures that the king is only thirteen years old and should be treated as such. Tyrion, who feels he has been on trial for his disability his entire life, is an intriguing advocate for choice rather than fate. Unafraid of the king and aware of his insolence of that of a privileged child, Tyrion reminds Joffrey that sometimes others choices outweighs fate. After claiming that everyone is his to torment, Joffrey refers to his uncle as a little monster, in which Tyrion responds “Oh, I'm a monster? Perhaps you should speak to me more softly, then. Monsters are dangerous and just now kings are dying like flies” (A Storm of Swords, 132). In a fictional dialogue, David Halperin admits that he cannot explain how human beings from different cultures develop “with distinctly different sorts of sexual dispositions, temperaments, or tastes,” which are self-proclaimed as normal unless he is willing to, “grant a determining role in the constitution of individual desire to social or cultural factors” (Halperin, 42). Due to the fact that he cannot categorize mass amounts of people from varying regions and beliefs, his argument is rather simple. He theorizes that sexuality is much like many temperaments, it is a cultural construct. Tyrion embodies Halperin’s main stance, constructionism, as he is aware of the contingency in forms on not just erotic life (as he is intimate with deep loves and prostitutes), but morality as well. The King’ uncle is a protector of women and the disabled from Joffrey’s ruthless games.
However, the constant fight between Tyrion and Cersei results in bribes and threats that pull other players at court to want to protect themselves. The result leaves Joffrey free to do as he pleased as others plotted to preserve themselves and their families. Although Tyrion had confided in his lover that he would do what Cersei would never expect—justice—he does not help as much as he thought, as his plotting with Cersei is distracting. Neither of his parental figures showed model behavior toward love or sex. His uncle Tyrion was not much better, as he paid for sex on many occasions, showing up to events with his family drunk and crudely commenting on his latest conquests. Joffrey had no education on proper relationships and was told from a young age that marriage was an arrangement and his power as a male and a king allowed him to get away with whatever he pleased.
Two Queens, Two Whores, and a Hostage
Though very liberal, women in the series are still lower than men and fight substantially harder to be taken seriously, often resorting to preferring to be feared than loved. Much of the violence enacted on the young women is sexual violence, much of it done by the hand of Joffrey or in his name.
Sansa Stark was previously betrothed to Joffrey through an arrangement made by both of their now deceased fathers and Sansa is held as hostage under the pretense of fiancé. As her brother gains power as King of the North, Joffrey takes his rage out on Sansa, yet never at his own hand. He allows his guards to punish her in front of him then dresses her up to parade her about. Within in first fifty pages of the book, Sansa is shown as wearing a gown with “long sleeves to hide the bruises on her arm,” a gift from Joffrey when her brother declared himself King (39). The novel is littered with episodes of Sansa’s beatings by Joffrey’s commands, growing more malicious as time progresses. Acknowledging that the thirteen year old king could tell when she was lying to save a person from his wrath, she realizes, “Joffrey scowled. He knew she was lying, she could see it. He would make her bleed for this,” insinuating that the beatings were a regular occurrence, though she does grow more cautious with her words (46). Though the brutality that Sansa is shown is nothing less than disturbingly tragic, the imagery and language used to describe her relationship with the sadistic king has heavy sexual innuendos. At one point Joffrey’s uncle Tyrion Lannister comments, “The girl was wet with love. She would have done anything for Joffrey, until he cut off her father’s head and called it mercy” (59). Tyrion, the more honest man out of everyone in King’s Landing, is not blind to what Sansa is to Joffrey, equating much of his angst to sexual tension.
Sansa, representative of budding womanhood is not just a foreign desire, but symbolizes the need to conquer. When it comes to Sansa, Joffrey never sees her as a person he wishes to kill, but also does not see her as the sexual woman others do. Most people rely on the young king’s ignorance to get by, most times speaking freely with one another about things the king does not see—most commonly Sansa’s budding womanhood and beauty. After saving the young girl from a mob, Joffrey’s “hound,” Sandor Clegane, walks her to her room, crudely observing, “You look almost a woman . . .face, teats, and you’re taller too “ (28). Toward the end of the book, Sansa awakes to her first period and attempts to burn her blood stained sheets to hide the fact that she could now have children with the wicked king. Thwarted by a servant, her encounter with Queen Cersei goes as follows:
“It means that I am now fit to be wedded and bedded,” said Sansa, “and to bear children for the king.”
“A prospect that no longer entices you as it once did, I can see. I will not fault you for that. Joffrey has always been difficult. Even his
birth . . . I labored a day and a half to bring him forth. You cannot imagine the pain, Sansa” (760).
This passage interestingly demonstrates the fear the both generations of women feel toward the news of Sansa’s menstruation. For the younger this suggests that her torment will not only be physical, but intimately as well. As for the older, the pain she felt in childbirth equates to the pain she feels now with her awful child, a prospect Sansa might face. Cersei ends the chapter stating, “Love is poison. A sweet poison, yes, but it will kill you all the same” (761).
Henry Jacoby briefly explores the torment Sansa endures, stating, “[w]ith each act of cruelty, with each harm inflicted for selfish gain, Joffrey turns a potentially loyal ally to a lifelong enemy” (163). Martin’s depiction of Joffrey and Sansa’s relationship appears to be nothing more than a physical and brutal childhood game. A mix between Simon Says and Risk, Martin exemplifies the terror behind children in adolescence given any substantial power. Though portrayed with more acceptable ages in the series—late teens, Martin depicts the disturbed fiancés at eleven and thirteen, making for more disturbing sexual scenes. Before allowing Sansa to be free of their engagement so he may marry Margery Tyrell, Joffrey is sure to heighten his brutality. After her brother wins a major battle and takes his uncle/father Jaime hostage, Joffrey has Sansa stripped naked and is beaten in front of a court of people. He seems very pleased to watch her body get bruised and bloodied, but warns to “save her face, I like her pretty” (486). Susan Johnston suggests in her article Grief Poignant as Joy: Dyscatastrophe and Eucatastrophe in A Song of Ice and Fire Sansa’s father’s death diminished the promise of salvation, but breaking her engagement revived that hope once more.
Shortly after escaping Joffrey, Sansa is forced into a marriage with Tyrion—an obvious form of punishment for the two. Though his intentions are by far the better in the realm, Tyrion is not excused from overly sexualizing Sansa and other woman in the story. Frequently visiting brothels, Tyrion even goes as far as sending two prostitutes to Joffrey’s bedroom to help him relieve tension, which ends horribly for the young girls as Joffrey’s lust for blood and sexual confusion comes to a horrifying head. Forcing the teenage girls to play and dominate one another, Joffrey’s requests go from spanking, to whipping, to binding and gagging. At crossbow point, Joffrey forces the prostitute Rose to beat to death the second Daisy and dump her body in Tyrion’s bedchamber. Joffrey is clearly turned on by the pain and torture in the bedroom, as well as the pain he assumed he would cause his uncle. Katie Ellis explores disability critiques in Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things: Disability in Game of Thrones, in which she analyzes Joffrey’s wickedness beyond the physical torment and focuses on the psychological. Stating “Game of Thrones introduces a number of important disability critiques around the social meanings and stigmas that surround disability” Ellis points out Tyrion for rejecting political corruption and violence, but is not immune to personal attacks (Ellis). Ellis debates whether characters with disabilities are seen as legitimate on television or are plot devices, she ignores that Tyrion is truly meant for degradation at the hand of Joffrey, not to dismiss him, but to showcase child cruelty. Martin exposes how callous children are with what is not considered a norm or is different, a characteristic he heightens by giving Joffrey regal entitlement.
Margaery Tyrell is presented as a foil to both Sansa and Cersei. The new fiancé to the boy king was previously married off to his uncle Renly, who was later known for his love for men. Margaery proves that the different lands and cultures show how sexuality is fluid and has meanings that differ for individuals based on how their culture defines it. Acknowledging her misfortune with men, Margaery confides in her grandmother, “One of my husbands preferred the company of men and was stabbed through the heart. Another was happiest torturing animals,” yet she does not complain (A Storm of Swords 211). Joffrey is active in his torture of animals and humans with Margaery, yet she is seductive and graciously manipulative to restrain the young king. Asking to watch him hunt, theatrically acting as though she is turned on by his weapons in his bedroom, and wearing loose and silky clothing, Margaery affectively keeps the king’s interest. She does present a sexual anomaly to Joffrey in the introduction of homosexuality. Her brother Loras, a rumored lover of her late husband, is openly spoken of for his sexuality. However, most people do not care for his sexual orientation, because he is an incredibly talented knight, wealthy, and from an honored family. Despite his status, Joffrey is confused over the different sexuality, and considers making homosexuality a crime punishable by death. He refers to his uncle as a “known degenerate” and frankly, does not attempt to understand sex in a heterosexual way, so of course he condemns the other without much knowledge. Margaery, who is open about her sexuality, though not to Joffrey, is protective over her brother and had even offered to invite him into her bedroom with her late husband Renly so that he could bear consummate the marriage. Margaery understands sex and the desires for both men and women as she offers to Renly, “[Loras] could get you started, I know he wouldn't mind. Or I can turn over and you can pretend I'm him” (A Clash of Kings 237). The relationship dynamic between Margery and Joffrey is deeply interesting based on his evident intimidation, especially since her role in gender and sexual roles defied the previous expectations of Sansa.
Joffrey’s lack of sex education and development of strong and healthy relationships could be a direct comment that Martin is making on the younger generation of his time, though Joffrey does get what is coming to him brutally. Henry Jacoby embeds in his writing that “even George R.R. Martin has admitted that he took a certain guilty pleasure writing the scenes in which Joffrey finally gets his comeuppance” (Jacoby 160).
As a product of incest as well as coming from one of the wealthiest and most manipulative families, Joffrey is incredibly disillusioned over the value of other’s lives and sees those around him as dolls. Despite lacking the common decency and knowledge to be a great ruler, Joffrey takes complete advantage of his power, but is in actuality a puppet to those around him. Unwittingly, Joffrey absorbs the influences of prominent figures around him, most evidently shown by the females in his life. A considerable sociopath, the young king projects his angst and bloodlust into his intimate relationships, but fails to avoid manipulation on the other end. The fantasy series features a vast ensemble of characters all of whom react and respond to power, sex, murder, exile, and physical and magical threats in ways exposing their morality or lack thereof. From the first to the third book, Joffrey Baratheon proves to be one of the most heinous child characters as he responds to the situations above in a self-preserving and self-pleasuring way.. He finds great pleasure from pain, but not in the way that is sometimes portrayed in villains—he is much more sadistic, distorted, and has a twisted perception of sex and torture, generally combining the two.
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Adair, Jamie. “Robert Baratheon May be Edward IV’s Older Half” History behind Game of Thrones. 27 March. 2013. Web.
Ellis, Katie. "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things: Disability in Game of Thrones." M/C Journal of Media On Culture 17.5 (2014). Web.
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