This post will be talking about Game of Thrones, HBO’s excellent adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
Specifically, I’ll be talking about the exiled knight Ser Jorah “At Least I Didn’t Take Dad’s Sword” Mormont. So if you’re not current with the show, this post will be spoilery.
Ser Jorah has had his ups and downs throughout the seasons of the show, but he’s always been kind of a favorite secondary character of mine.
But not everyone shares my affection for Ser Jorah.
That’s cool. There are hundreds of characters in the story, and it’s great that people have different opinions of them. But it’s been awhile since I’ve done an “In Defense of X” article, so now I’m going to defend Jorah the Andal.
I’m sure people can provide me with more reasons why they don’t like Jorah, but I think I can sum them up into these categories. I don’t know if I can (or want to) defend him from all these charges, but I’m game to discuss each one.
- Jorah’s relationship with Dany is creepy.
- Team Dany viewers are mad at Jorah for spying on her.
- People who don’t like Dany, are mad at Jorah for being relentlessly Team Dany.
- Jorah is a slaver.
- Jorah is a patient zero for a greyscale epidemic. Ugh! Jorah!!!
Okay, let’s talk about these.
Jorah in the Creepzone
Basically, Daenerys Targaryen is a young woman (even younger in the books) and Jorah Mormont is not young. And that creeps some people out. Why would that be? Well, it’s pretty clear that Jorah is in love with Dany. I’m talking romantically here, not that Jorah loves her as a concept or something.
But I also think that Jorah’s probably going to keep things in his pants. His relationship to Dany has always been one of an underling in service to nobility, and him seeing her survive a bonfire and clutching three dragonlings can only add some kind of supernatural awe or religious zeal to the mix.
I don’t think he has any serious notions that he could have a romantic relationship with his Khaleesi. But he’s human. He does get jealous when others show her attention. We can tell. But he doesn’t seem to cross any lines in response.
Part of the negative feelings that some might have towards Jorah are tied in with their reactions to the word “friendzone.” Jorah is often referred to as Ser Friendzone, or the Friendzone Advisor, etc. This is a term that until a few years ago, I thought only had a commonly understood meaning of unrequited love.
In online conversations about the show, I started to see really angry comments about the use of the word friendzone (along the lines of it was an offensive term) or really negative opinions of Jorah precisely because he was a figure in the friendzone. This confused me slightly.
Because I’m ten thousand years old, I reached out to my youth culture advisor, my demigod-daughter Rachel. (My wife was named Rachel’s godmother before I was in the picture, so I’ve declared myself her demigod-father, and Rachel likes that.)
I asked Rachel some questions about the friendzone and Ser Jorah. I’m going to try and paraphrase the conversation.
Me: So, you agree that Jorah is in love with Dany, and Dany doesn’t love Jorah?
Her: Yes. I mean, she kind of loves him, but not in that way.
Me: So, it’s like she loves him as a friend.
Me: So, doesn’t that put him in the friendzone?
Me: Why not?
Her: Because he’s not being a total creep.
Eventually, Rachel managed to explain to me that from her perspective (and assumedly the perspective of her peers) when someone is in a situation where they like-like someone who only likes them back as a friend, and then they try to guilt the other person into a deeper relationship because of some friendship-based entitlement, then they’re in the friendzone. Which is some kind of relationship strategy.
See, I’d call that the Creepzone.
But this post isn’t about me trying to defend the more-benign interpretation of the term friendzone, one that was common when I was a young lad. I just wanted to observe how the term brings up conflicting reactions, and some of that pings on Jorah. (Don’t let that stop anyone from making comments about it. This is a safe space.) But from here on, my use of friendzone as a term should be considered analogous to unrequited love.
Unrequited Love – a phrase less-modern than “friendzone” – is a fairly classical situation in literature, and also in the history of nobility and their vassals. I recall from my Humanities classes in college that the Queen was someone that all the subjects were supposed to be in love with.
Just don’t be *too* in love. To be fair, the type of mandated love was supposed to be of the Platonic variety.
David Hart from the Pop Culture Case Studies podcast (it’s a movies/television/comics/pop-culture podcast mixed with psychology – it’s awesome) recently had an episode on Platonic Love (because he was reviewing/analyzing When Harry Met Sally) and backed up my recollections with details from the reign of Charles I, where it was fashionable for members of the court to publicly express their (platonic) love for his queen. (Often in various artistic ways.)
I’m just saying that Jorah being in love with Dany was not necessarily a bad thing on its own. As long as he wasn’t creepy about it. But…
A more creepy-noted criticism, relating to Jorah’s attraction to Dany, is his inability to stay away from her.
- Dany exiled Jorah when she discovered that in the past he had been spying on her for the Baratheon administration.
- Although Dany told Jorah to stay away, as soon as he found a gift that he thought might impress Dany (what do you give the girl who has everything? A Lannister!) he rushed back towards her.
- Daenerys wasn’t happy to see her former knight, but opted not to execute him.
- She gave him a second chance to be exiled. But it was a close call. He might have gotten beheaded or fried by a dragon.
- Jorah immediately arranged to be invited to a public gathering that he knew the Khaleesi would be attending, and she’d be unable to ignore him.
It seems like my boy Jorah is a stalker.
I’ll defer my defense of Stalker Jorah a moment. Please bear with me. (Hah! I just realized I made a funny! “Please bear with me” – Jorah’s from Bear Island… okay, sorry about that. I’ll just edit out this whole comment. Oops, I hit Publish.)
Jorah the Spy
Pretty early in the first season, show watchers were clued in that Ser Jorah, although having sworn service to King-in-Exile Viserys Targaryen, had been sending information back to King’s Landing to Varys, the spymaster of King Robert Baratheon.
His reports that Viserys planned to exchange Dany’s hand in marriage for an army of Dothraki cavalry got King Bobby all up in arms, but the word from Jorah that Daenerys was pregnant with Khal Drogo’s child had Robert direct Varys to send assassins to kill the young Khaleesi.
This came to a head when Jorah foiled the planned assassination of Daenerys while she was shopping in Vaes Dothrak, the great caravan hub.
Presumably, based on the dialogue from a young messenger who delivered Jorah a scroll right before the attempted poisoning, the exiled knight had earned a pardon for his service as Varys’ spy. That the details on Dany’s pregnancy were enough to earn him royal absolution for the crime of selling some poachers into slavery.
Rather than letting Dany die, Jorah intervened and exposed the poisoner’s plans.
So why are people mad at Jorah for this? Well, I guess people who don’t like Dany (there are some) would have preferred Dany had drunk the poison and her storyline would then be all nicely wrapped up. Saving more time for Tyrion being witty.
Or people who are Team Dany felt betrayed alongside the Khaleesi that Jorah had been a spy working against her. The end.
Okay, I don’t really think anyone is all that up at arms against Jorah and his espionage. I’m not even going to defend it because it seems like a straw man exercise anyway. But I think it brings up some intriguing discussion points to explore.
Ser Jorah was keeping tabs on Dany, Viserys, and Khal Drogo, that’s a given. He was doing that for Varys, who was of course reporting these details to Robert Baratheon. But Varys was also working with Illyrio Mopatis of Pentos, the merchant-prince who sheltered Dany and Viserys and arranged the marriage proposal details between the exiled Targaryens and the Dothraki horselords.
The implication is that Varys was working with Illyrio for a Targaryen restoration, and against the wishes of Robert Baratheon.
So, one way to look at it, Jorah was placed by Varys to keep tabs on Viserys and Daenerys to facilitate the eunuch spymaster’s efforts in helping them. (This really didn’t work out all that well for Viserys. Oops.)
We don’t know what the letter to Jorah says, the one that’s given to him from the messenger. “Congratulations on your pardon, Ser Jorah” might be Varys’ way of saying “There’s a hit going down, right now” with the letter not being all that specific, in case it got intercepted.
Later on, it’s a different document sent to Daenerys’ court from Tywin Lannister, detailing the pardon.
Jorah gets no opportunity to explain his case to Dany, and really if he explained that he was spying on her because King Robert’s spymaster was actually in her corner, I don’t think anyone would have believed that. Even if it was true.
If that’s the case, Jorah’s a pretty dedicated operative. He keeps his activities secret.
In fact, it kind of explains some of the Stalker behavior that Jorah exhibits. He’s been placed by Varys to be close to Daenerys, to protect her, to guide her. He very well might be working on an agenda from Varys that he can’t as yet share with his Khaleesi. So until he can, he just has to make every effort to stay on target.
Do I really believe this? Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. It makes me feel better about Jorah’s orbiting of Dany. Especially later. (I’ll get to what I mean by that in a bit.)
There are just some people that dislike Daenerys Targaryen.
Their dislike also extends to all of the Dany elements, to the Unsullied, to Missandei and Greyworm. I don’t know if anyone dislikes the dragons per se, but since people got so excited about dragons at the end of the first season, but Dany has kept them far away from Westeros and chained them, there might be people who would rather there not be dragons on the show at all.
Ser Jorah is clearly a major element in Dany’s story. Particularly now that Jorah’s close analogue Ser Barristan Selmy has been killed, Jorah is her link to Westeros. Tyrion Lannister recently arrived to provide her a connection to the Seven Kingdoms, but Jorah’s been with her longest, and has the closest connection to her. (Besides, no Dany-hater is going to hate on Tyrion.)
So, the fact that Ser Jorah loves Daenerys doesn’t win him any support in the Anti-Dany camp.
But between you and me… hating on Dany isn’t necessarily a good reason to hate on Jorah. But I don’t want to try to convince a Dany-hater to like Jorah. They might start to root for him as a creepy stalker guy, and I don’t want to be responsible for that.
Is this even something I can defend Jorah from? I don’t know. Moving on…
Jorah the Slaver
Is this where I defend the practice of slavery? No no no. Slavery is wrong, and from the context provided by the show, is also wrong in Westeros, thankfully. (We can debate some other time if the brothers of the Night’s Watch are essentially institutionalized slaves.)
It’s correct to hold this against Jorah. But it’s also important to keep things in perspective. Viewers who have a grudge against Jorah tend to exaggerate Jorah’s involvement in slave economics.
Those discussions typically sprung up in the fifth season, when Jorah and Tyrion were captured and sold by Mr. Eko from LOST. After all, there’s a certain just irony that Jorah finds himself enslaved.
But the comments often implied that Jorah was a big time slavery entrepreneur, and wondered if he would end up face to face with any known associates and peers in his previous human trafficking enterprise.
Uh… Jorah sold two poachers who would have been bound for the Wall otherwise. He sold them to a merchant who happened to be visiting Bear Island at the time. Jorah isn’t some criminal mastermind. (Clearly not a mastermind, since he almost immediately had to flee because word got to Ned that fast.)
Okay, most of those details aren’t laid out on the show, they are book details, but the show also doesn’t prop Jorah up as a whip-cracking marauder either. There’s no need to make those assumptions.
It’s fair to bust on Jorah for what he’s actually done. Just stick to what we know.
Jorah caught a few breaks in Season 5. It was fortuitous that he encountered Tyrion and to be honest, being enslaved also helped him get to Meereen fairly quickly.
But along with those breaks, Jorah also caught greyscale from the afflicted Stone Men who haunt the broken remains of Valyria.
Greyscale was visually introduced in Season Three when the viewers first met Shireen Baratheon, Stannis’ darling and doomed daughter. She’d developed greyscale as a child (allegedly from contact with a tainted doll that a trader had sold to Stannis) but her father had mustered considerable resources to cure the disease.
Shireen’s condition was stopped, although it left her face disfigured. She seems to be the rare case.
What we otherwise know about greyscale is this: the typical move is to isolate the afflicted from everyone else. The disease is contagious, or at least it is in the final stages where a person has visible scaly mottling all over their body. Among people who have the means, family members with greyscale are shipped to the ruins of Valyria, which is a sort of legendary leper colony. (Craster didn’t have that option, so when two of Gilly’s sisters developed greyscale, he roped them up and took them into the woods. And we just don’t know what happened then. Probably nothing good.)
So Jorah contracted greyscale when trying to ferry Tyrion to Dany. Rather than tell anyone this, he kept it a secret. Rather than isolating himself and awaited the eventual descent into madness and deformity, he headed towards heavily populated Meereen. (In all fairness, he’s mostly taken there without any agency of his own, but after Dany exiled him a second time, he returned of his own free will.)
And he freaked people out by doing this:
Viewers lost their minds. JORAH HAS JUST GIVEN DANY GREYSCALE!!! the Game of Thrones recappers shouted. Or all-capped. Or whatever the proper term would be for Internet yelling.
I’ll admit that seeing Jorah, infected with greyscale, touching Dany gave me the willies. But we just don’t know enough about greyscale to insist that Dany (or anyone near Jorah) is now infected.
We know that the stone men are super-contagious. We don’t know if Jorah is yet. Or if to catch Jorah’s greyscale, skin on skin contact with the greyscale patch (on his left inside wrist) would be required.
The story about Shireen and the doll is kind of anecdotal, so we have to consider that greyscale might be transmitted by objects (in which case, whoever washes Jorah’s shirt might be in trouble. But I don’t think anyone washes his nasty yellow shirt.) But maybe not.
Baby Shireen didn’t transmit greyscale to anyone else while she was afflicted, but they probably took precautions.
We just don’t know.
Jorah is certainly acting reckless in coming to a populated area and keeping his condition a secret. But I don’t know if we can assume that he’s started a plague of greyscale in Meereen just yet.
So why didn’t he tell anyone? That doesn’t seem too mysterious.
It seems pretty clear that at best, people would just tie him up and ship him off to Valyria, to be with the stone men until he becomes one himself. They might be more likely chop his head off and burn the body, if a sea voyage to a scary place was inconvenient.
Since Shireen was cured, it’s possible that Jorah’s greyscale could be cured. But it would require a great amount of resources, and the only person Jorah knows with nigh-unlimited wealth is Dany. He just has to get her to agree to save him.
But there’s another reason that might bring Jorah back to Dany, despite his greyscale. I’m going to hint at some stuff from the books that isn’t really in the show. If hearing book details (I promise I’ll be vague) isn’t your thing, just skip down to the next section. Cool?
In the books, a different character contracts greyscale. It’s one of these secondary characters who gets introduced kind of abruptly in the fifth book, no one we know from the show. They keep their condition a secret because they’re trying to accomplish something, and they know that if their men discover that they have this disease, the men will abandon the afflicted.
Our greyscale victim’s plan is to finish the mission, and then they don’t care what happens to themself.
I think this is a similar situation to Jorah. If I’m correct that Jorah is still Varys’ agent, that he’s been working with Varys, not just as a spy before the poisoning to get a pardon from Robert Baratheon, but as one of Illyrio’s conspirators in supporting the Targaryen restoration, he’s committed to seeing Dany on the Iron Throne.
Jorah might want to see if Dany can cure him, but it’s more important that he help her get to the Seven Kingdoms. After that he doesn’t care what happens to him. Mission accomplished.
Letting anyone know about his disease might jeopardize his ability to do just that.
Ser Jorah Mormont
Game of Thrones is full of characters, so many characters. All of the major players seem to have an entourage, and often even these secondary characters have tertiary associates. Third-stringers who are often fleshed out as well or better than major characters in other stories.
Jorah Mormont is one of these figures that I just love. He provides a connection between Dany and Jon Snow (because his father was Lord Commander at the Wall, Jon is carrying the Mormont heirloom sword), he’s tied in with the bigger Targaryen restoration plot (whether he’s an active collaborator or not), and he’s one of Varys’ agents and thankfully not Littlefinger’s,
Regardless of his shady espionage activities (which might have still been in service to Dany) he’s shed blood for the Khaleesi, fought her wars, he’s put in time.
We’ve seen betrayal on Game of Thrones, and Jorah isn’t anywhere close to making the list of bad guys.
I don’t have to be someone wanting Daenerys to wind up on the Iron Throne (I’m not) to respect the motivations of someone who is in support of the Khaleesi becoming queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Jorah’s a dedicated dude, and I like that.
Since we don’t get a point-of-view chapter for Ser Jorah in the books (although we’ve gotten a lot more exposition from him than we have on the show) Ser Jorah is a pleasant mystery. He might be behaving the way he does simply because he wants to hook up romantically with Dany. Or he might have more complicated and less simple motivations.
It also helps that Iain Glen provides very emotive performances as Jorah Mormont. The exiled knight doesn’t talk much, so the actor has to really step up with non-verbal cues. I love watching that guy’s face.
Season Five ended with Ser Jorah and the self-professed simplest-man-you’ll-ever-meet Daario Naharis heading out to try and track down their Khaleesi, following Drogon’s flight path when the dragon extracted his human mother from the Meereenese fighting pits.
I doubt these two will be become fast friends on the journey, but who knows? There definitely might be some drama.
- Will Daario discover Jorah’s greyscale?
- Will Daario discover Jorah has greyscale by Jorah rubbing the afflicted patch all over Daario?
- Will one kill the other? I’ve always had a suspicion that Ser Jorah wasn’t going to make it to the end of the show, but it seems early for them to bump him off. (I’m so naive.)
I can’t wait to find out. Well, I guess I’ll have to wait… is it April yet?
Okay, it’s no secret that I like Ser Jorah (platonically) but I’m happy to hear what you all think.
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
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