By Alexandre Thomas, Director, Kantar Added Value UK.
Game of Thrones’ 7th season premiered on July 16 and made history, once again, by dominating the ratings and the headlines. But is the success of Game of Thrones owed solely to the thrilling twist-and-turn filled story?
At Kantar Added Value, we think not. Rather, we think the audience is absorbed by the characters’ complexity. That’s why we’ve used Kantar Added Value’s CharacterLab™ tool, based on the Jung Archetypes, to analyse the most fascinating (and still alive) characters in the hit HBO show. The tool offers a framework to better understand the singular personalities and helps us predict what happens next.
The series’ creators, David Weiss and David Benioff, imagined a show closely inspired by George R.R Martin’s books. However, as seasons have gone by, they’ve managed to distance themselves from these and give the characters a new identity.
To achieve this, they did what any good writers would do – they used archetypes. These mythical models are highly developed and can be found in the collective unconscious anywhere in the world.
The archetypes are used to create strong characters that are easily understood. Carl Jung defined 12 archetypes that symbolise the fundamental motivations of every human being. Each of them refers to its own set of values, meanings and personality traits.
They are Creator, Lover, Ruler, Regular Guy, Jester, Explorer, Nurturer, Outlaw, Sage, Magician, Hero, and Innocent.
You think you know all the characters? Well, as Ygritte once said: ‘You know nothing Jon Snow!’
The key archetypes are linked to implicit topics.
- A new feminism
Over the seasons, the status of women considerably evolved. From victims in the first seasons, they have changed into strong and powerful characters with season 6 being the ultimate peak of matriarchy.
Sansa’s personality is the perfect illustration of this change. She is first and foremost seen as a combination of the ‘Regular girl’ and the ‘Innocent’, meaning the ‘Ingenue’, a naïve character. Then, as the season progresses, she becomes a ‘Creator/Ruler’ which makes her the ‘Author’, a real leader, controlling her destiny and playing a pivotal role in the plot.
This realistic evolution of her personality is, firstly due to the various traumatic events she suffered (we all know that GoT has its fair share of these) and then, reaches its peak during the revenge on her sadistic husband, Ramsay Bolton. The fact she got closer to Littlefinger, a Machiavellian and devious character, also perfectly illustrates her evolution.
Daenerys gradually established herself as a legitimate sovereign of Westeros, that makes her evolve from a combination of ‘Outlaw/Magician’ meaning ‘Disruptor’, to ‘Magnetic Ruler’ (Ruler/Lover). One that highlights an undeniable sensual dimension that impacts all the other characters, whatever their gender.
Daenerys embodies a new feminism using her nudity in incredibly sensual scenes. Through this she asserts her power and sensuality, like when setting on fire the Khal’s tent and appearing naked in front of thousands of Dothrakis leaning before her and accepting her power.
2. The Pairing
The archetypes have also enabled us to better understand the constitution of some character pairings. Although these duos may seem surprising and artificial, they became quite popular amongst the viewers.
Our tool helped us come to the realisation that these characters had similar and compatible archetypes, creating a certain reciprocity between them. A very successful reciprocity on screen that constitutes the foundation of their interaction.
For example, the Hound and Arya, one of the most popular duos, have undeniably complementary archetypes: The Hound has first the Outlaw and then the Explorer dimensions, which makes him a Thrill Seeker, whereas Arya is a combination of Explorer first and then Outlaw, meaning the Precursor.
These two characters have the same profiles but in an opposite order which explains their perfect complementarity.
- Who will rule Westeros?
The heart of the plot focuses on who will ascend the Iron Throne and rule over Westeros. Therefore, several characters have the Ruler as the main archetype. But it is the secondary archetype of each one of them that enables the viewers to choose who they will root for.
Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen, for example, can win the public preference thanks to their secondary archetypes. As mentioned above, Daenerys is a combination of Ruler/Lover, the Magnetic Ruler using her sensual side.
Cersei, on the other side, is more of a Lover/Ruler (another similarity here! surprising, isn’t it?), which makes her the Sex Symbol using her charms to get what she wants.
But you could never guess from this who we root for, right?
- The Magicians
Game of Thrones is not only about powerful families fighting for the Iron Throne, it is also a fantasy where dragons and other fantasy creatures are part of the story. This aspect of the series is perfectly embodied within two characters: Bran Stark and Melisandre, the red priestess of Asshai.
In the last season, they both revealed a new power: Bran can go back in time (and even change it!) and Melisandre succeeded in bringing a character back to life.
Melisandre is a mix of Magician and Creator, which makes her the Genie. She can fulfil every possible (or impossible) wish, like bringing back Jon Snow from the dead. Since the beginning she has always used her powers to realise the prophecy (although sometimes misreading it), however, in season 6, the hope of the fans relied on her and their biggest wish was granted.
The analysis of archetypes also underlines an interesting evolution for Bran: he moves from the ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ (Magician/Innocent)’ to the ‘Clairvoyant (Magician/Sage)’ as he learns to control his powers, little by little. We bet that these archetypes will keep evolving until they are reversed to Sage/Magician, known as the Gamechanger, who uses his knowledge to change the world. We officially bet on it.
- The unforeseen touch: The Jokers
The series’ most unpredictable characters are where you would least expect them. They have no other powers than their mind and humour. Either we love them like we love Tyrion or we hate them like we hate Ramsay: but regardless, they cannot leave us indifferent.
Thus, Tyrion Lannister is a combination of Jester/Sage, the Cynic. Very wise and a little sarcastic, he talks for hours about the absurdity of the world and its society. He is a very popular character because he is quick-witted and his discussions with Varys are widely appreciated by the fans.
Ramsay Bolton is the Outlaw/Jester, which means The Subverter. He uses humour and sarcasm to destabilise his enemies. This character came out of nowhere during season 2 to later become an important member of the series, torturing (with very creative methods) several of our favourite characters like Sansa. So, we must admit it, we just love to hate this dreadful character.
- The essential story character: The Hero
Two characters match with the archetype of The Hero: Jon Snow and Brienne of Tarth, even though they have very different statuses and popularity in the series, mainly because of their secondary archetype.
Jon Snow moved from a ‘Jedi-like’ personality, The Initiated, a mix of The Hero/Innocent archetypes to The Saviour personality (Nurturer/Hero). He is indeed becoming more altruistic and ready to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others. This personality is widely known in the popular culture which could explain the recent peak in John Snow’s popularity.
Brienne is a Hero/Regular Woman with great responsibilities just as the Fireman personality. Anyone dealing with the same missions would have accomplished what she did: she is an ordinary hero. The place held by such a complex character in the popular culture is more complicated and may explain why she is less popular and less pushed forward. However, it is important to notice her association with another Hero archetype: Jaime Lannister.
He is a mix of Lover and Hero, that is to say, Prince Charming: the knight in his shining armour who saves the damsel in distress. Who is ready to watch this happen in season 7?
Our CharacterLab™ tool, based on the Jung archetypes, enables us to make a very interesting interpretation of the characters and their motivations. It can even help us to predict the future fate of some of the characters. Now we just have to wait for the two last seasons to check if our forecasts checked out.
For now, it is time to read the books: we’ve heard that in them, the characters are more … unpredictable.