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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #226: Ser Jorah Mormont

What's the Dothraki word for "Friend Zone"?

I am among those annoying souls who read the Game of Thrones books before ever seeing any of the HBO adaptations. My response to most of Martin's characters are therefore based on the literary versions rather than the ones on the tube. In most cases, the show does a decent-to-good job interpreting them, with a handful of glaring errors that aren't too hard to ignore. (Catelyn Stark was never that shrewish, for instance. And Theon was never a trailer-park meth addict. I don't think.) In a few rare cases, the shows have actually deepened my interest in a character, and one of those cases has been Ser Jorah Mormont of Bear Isle.

During my initial reading of the series, Jorah often became lost in the saga of Daenerys Targaryen's wanderings. He was a vital supporting character, but secondary to the main narrative. I've been engaged in a third reading of the books (this time via audiobook) while concurrently consuming the HBO series, and Jorah has emerged as a flawed, complex, sympathetic, pitiable, near-noble soul. No small portion of the credit goes to Iain Glen, who has channeled a young Richard Chamberlain with his unflappable poise, his restrained passion, his uncomplaining conviction, his weary brand of optimism. I've found myself paying close attention to his tragic backstory: a child of remote and rugged Bear Isle who achieves knighthood and has one magical jousting season, earning him the fame, the money, the woman. And yet as Spock warned us, having, after all, is not always so pleasing a thing as wanting. Jorah cannot satisfy or keep the wife he worships, though he bankrupts his purse and his honor trying to do so. He winds up a broken exile, wreathed in despair and disgrace.

Daenerys is his ticket home back into the sunlight, maybe his last chance. And so he agrees to report on her to Varys back in Westeros. A funny thing happens, and Jorah is impressed with the young dragon despite himself. She reminds him of her older brother Rhaegar, and proves her lineage by bringing dragons back into the world. Jorah's loyalties shift, and he pours his soul (and, sadly, his heart) into his new queen. He becomes her steadfast counselor, her wise eminence grise, her bristling shield. He becomes so important and dear to her that when she learns of his earlier falseness, the betrayal is more than she can stand.

Poor Ser Jorah. He wanted joy and love and found them, only for them to turn to ash in his mouth. When all he wanted was to go home, he unexpectedly found something to believe in, and perhaps even a new love. And again, it turned to ash. He is a tragic figure, strong yet a victim, trapped by his own past and his own choices.

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