It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single person in want of an Iron Throne must be in need of therapy.
Game of Thrones’ final season has shown, more than ever, that most of the show’s characters are in desperate need of some one-on-one time with a therapist. It’s easy to snort over the idea of Mad Queen Daenerys sitting down with a patient, sympathetic professional ear once a week or Euron Greyjoy spending the occasional 60-minute session working through his feelings. But here’s the thing: it’s not a joke. Think back to every episode this season: how often do these people, who are dealing with incredibly traumatic, stressful situations, really sit down and talk about it? Not often. Definitely not while sober. There’s never enough time. One of the dragons needs feeding or Bran is out in the Winterfell courtyard unnerving people with weird statements and stares again, and someone needs to get him indoors near a fire.
[This contains spoilers for Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode, “The Bells.”]
Many of the violent scenes from the series’s penultimate episode, “The Bells,” like the highly anticipated fight between the Hound and the Mountain, come from years of people stewing over their family issues instead of confronting them. Arya’s unwavering mission to kill whoever she must to exact revenge on a few select people could probably have been worked out with some deep behavioral therapy sessions. Cersei and Jaime’s disturbing incestuous relationship, which brought them to the crypts of King’s Landing, should have been examined by a children’s psychologist when they were young. Euron Greyjoy’s testosterone-fueled aggression screams of someone who should have seen a therapist at some point as a teenager. Tyrion’s need for affection from whomever he serves, to know that he’s wanted, comes from years of childhood abuse that a good professional could help him navigate. And then there’s Daenerys. No one on Game of Thrones is processing their feelings, and the result of that is, well, this:
Aside from the phenomenal post-Battle of Winterfell episode where everyone gets drunk and hangs out together (it’s like Cheers, only set in a much friendlier place than Boston), Game of Thrones doesn’t devote much time to letting its characters simply talk about non-political or non-war topics. Practically every conversation is about preparing to kill or accepting death. Hushed discussions in dark corridors are about illicit affairs, forbidden romances, or the passing-on of terrible secrets. Woeful goodbyes come and go in the blink of an eye.
And pent-up fury unleashes itself in the worst possible way. In “The Bells,” Daenerys is angry for a lot of reasons: her boyfriend is her nephew, that same nephew has a claim to the Iron Throne she’s chased for years, she’s lost two dragon children, and her inner circle is either betraying her or has been murdered. This is a lot for anyone to take on, but it’s remarkably worse for Dany. She’s learning that she can’t trust anyone, so she doesn’t have anywhere to turn. Everyone wants something from her, and with the show’s new rushed dynamic, which completely eliminates travel and recovery time, there’s never any chance to sit with her emotions.
I operate under the belief that everyone should be in therapy. Everyone sometimes feels like there’s something in their life that they can’t share with a family member, best friend, or partner. People often see therapy as an admission of failure or weakness. Oversharing on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Medium, Blogger, and YouTube — plus every other site where people are openly vulnerable about being incredibly sad — suggests that we’d much rather share those thoughts with strangers than friends. It’s easier. That’s what makes therapy good. It’s not acknowledging defeat; it’s getting things off your chest with someone who won’t internalize your pain and suffer from it. In Westeros, not having that outlet can lead to people burning down cities after their nephew-boyfriend refuses to make out with them.
I’m fortunate to have therapy in my life. Great job benefits allow me to go sit down once a week with a woman who listens to me talk about things I don’t want to talk to friends or family about. In therapy sessions, I can be angry or sad, overjoyed or worried, and it doesn’t matter. When I leave the room, I feel lighter. I feel like I can add some more rocks to my pail of emotions, and haul it back uphill for another week. Because of therapy, I feel more in control of everything, even when I can’t control it.
I started seeing a counselor in college — similar to thousands of students around the country. According to a 2015 study from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, there was a 30 percent increase in the number of students who sought out help from counselors at post-secondary schools between 2009 and 2015. It doesn’t stop there, either. A survey of 92 schools and thousands of students conducted by the American College Health Association in 2018 discovered that 40 percent of people studied said it was “difficult to function” because they were so depressed, while 61 percent admitted to having at least one memorable instance of “overwhelming anxiety,” according to Mel Magazine.
It appears that more young people are realizing they need help with some of the bigger emotional weights on their shoulders. Amplify that by a thousand, and we’re nearing Game of Thrones territory. People on the show are probably dealing with more than one “overwhelming anxiety” attack, and they almost certainly find it “difficult to function” under the constant stress of trying not to die. But they don’t get a chance to rant. They don’t have the option to air their grievances and think things through before heading back out to the real world.
Therapy works! Potions and maesters in Westeros are great, but psychotherapy is “effective for a wide range of mental health symptoms, including depression, anxiety, panic and stress-related physical ailments,” according to a 2010 study from the American Psychiatric Association. If some of these characters were seeing therapists half as often as they were visiting brothels or dreaming of one day beheading their brothers, their world might be a calmer place.
So much of Game of Thrones’ characters behavior is based around bravado. They act strong to cover up what’s going on in their heads. The end result is King’s Landing falling to the ground and thousands of people getting killed. It’s utterly exhausting carrying around complex emotions all day, every day. That’s why, in our own lives, loved ones will often recommend going to see someone. It’s partially because they don’t want us to self-destruct. It’s also partially because when we don’t put aside time to focus on our mental well-being, we irrationally act out, and our emotions get the better of us. That could lead to impulsive decisions, like deciding to ignore an enemy’s surrender and unnecessarily torching an entire city.
Even the cast thinks Game of Thrones is stressful enough that fans are going to need therapy after watching what the characters go through. If we need therapy just from watching it, the characters absolutely need someone’s shoulder to lean on. I’m not trying to say therapy would have stopped an all-out war between Daenerys and Cersei, but it might have saved the Hound’s relationship with the Mountain. Maybe they could have fought as one instead of against each other.