Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
When it comes to tragic characters, the two that stand out most to me for Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones is Boromir and Daenrys Targaryeon. The reason being is that though much of their backgrounds and upbringing is different, they somehow both end up driven to a state of madness.
The Fallible Prince
Boromir is portrayed initially as something of a dick in Fellowship of the Ring. The eldest son of the Steward of Gondor, Denethor, and his heir. Gondor has had no official king for a long time and the High Stewards have ruled in their stead like kings, but never officially taking the title. Boromir is a hero of the people and a mighty warrior. He’s also shown as a good man, being kind to his younger brother Faramir while their father despires him and also befriending the hobbits Merry and Pippen. However, he is also plagued by dreams about the One Ring, and initially does not want to be the one to go the council meeting that creates the future fellowship. He only reluctantly accepts the responsibility and is further rattled when he meets the true heir to Gondor’s throne, Aragorn.
Between these pressures and finally encountering the One Ring for the first time, Boromir becomes very defensive. He puts on the face of the strong hero and declares that Gondor no longer needs a king when Legolas tells him he owes Aragorn fealty. Despite these obstacles, he genuinely helps the group through many situations and even eventually becomes close to them. Boromir finally confides to Aragorn the desperate situation that Gondor is in and how that weighs heavily on him as the heir of the Stewart. Afterwards, he seems to accept him as a lord of Gondor, if not king.
Yet Boromir is also frustrated by Aragorn’s prejudice towards humans as weak and fallible. Though Boromir readily admits this, he also extols their virtues and rightfully calls out Aragorn’s condescedning attitude. This only seems to undo the progress he was making and makes him more susceptible to the Ring’s corruption. By the time they arrive at Amon Hen, Boromir makes one final plea to Frodo to take the Ring to Gondor, being genuine in his purpose, but not realizing he is slipping into madness. The hobbit, however, sees it and refuses. Boromir momentarily succumbs, attacking Frodo. Though the hobbit escapes and Boromir regains his wits, it's already too late.
However, he is able to redeem himself and regain his honor by defending the remaining hobbits till his death. Boromir dies as the man he wanted to be and is acknowledged so by Aragorn, inspiring him to let go of his prejudice and embrace his humanity.
The Exiled Queen
Daenyrs is royalty, but exiled. Her privilege is all in her blood, but she is treated as much less because of her sex and living across th sea in Essos. She has no power and faces numerous humiliations before gaining any power: first as queen of the Dorthraki, and then with her three dragons, and then her Unsullied Army. Despite these though, she aspires to noble intentions, wanting to free the slaves of Slaver's Bay and be just. However, her intention was always the Iron Throne of Westeros, believing it to be her birthright and her divine right.
When Daenrys finally arrives in Westeros, she finally has true power and people who not only respect her, but worship her. She is no longer a victim or a pawn to be played. And yet, she finds the Westerosi people less than welcoming. Despite her rightful claim and noble ideals, no one seems to be willing to accept her rightful rule. She is also losing more battles than she wins. No one there seems to be impressed by her many titles, and the crowds fear her rather than adore her as they did in Essos. The only king who submits to her is Jon Snow and even that does her little good since his people mistrust her even more than the rest of Westeros: Jon’s sister, Sansa, most of all.
Yet, because she loves him and because of the conditions that he would submit to, Daenrys joins in his war against the Night King, costing her half of her army and one of her dragons. Though victorious, her contributions are ignored, with the people instead celebrating Jon Snow, who by now is just a Warden of the North. When she learns later that Jon is also the true heir to the Iron Throne, Daenerys gets paranoid. She not only urges him not to tell anyone, but becomes even more obsessed to take the capital, Kings Landing. Which leads to another of her dragons being killed and further troop and naval losses in an ambush. The final straw seems to be when Melisandre, her best friend and advisor who had been with Daenerys, is executed before her and her army by Queen Cersei.
When the final battle of King’s Landing begins, Daenrys quickly destroys the defenses and the city is ready to surrender. Yet as she stares out at the Red Keep where Cersei is at, something snaps and the dragon queen initiates a slaughter. Daenrys and her army burn King’s Landing to the ground. She has finally achieved her life’s purpose of taking back her family’s throne, but is then killed by Jon, seeing what Daenerys has become. Perhaps she never was the good-intentioned savior she proclaimed herself to be. Her last dragon destroys the Iron Throne, spares Jon, and takes Daenerys' body back east.
"Daenrys and Boromir are susceptible to madness because of who they believe themselves to be."
Let’s start with the obvious differences. Boromor and Daenrys come from two different places in life. Boromir is the first born, privileged son of Gondor. He’s prince in everything but name only, and carries the pride of his people as such. Though the reality of Gondor's situation is much more dire and he has faced it many times, Gondor is still more or less safe within its high walls until Return of the King. Meanwhile, Daenyrys is of royal blood and a princess, but lives in exile. She is constantly in danger by living and is always under threat of assassination. Her ‘combat’ is not by choice or from a place of strength like Boromir’s.
There is also the differences that gender expectations bring. As a male, Boromir is a soldier and faces death constantly. How much choice he actually has in the matter is debatable, but war is an extreme circumstance. Boromir has death and the fall of his people to look forward to if he fails and that’s pretty extreme. Yet this is also expected of him because of his gender.
By Contrasting, Daenrys is almost never on the front lines and would not be expected to be because of her gender and status as a queen. That is not a comfortable position though because being a woman also subjects her to being raped and abused by almost all men around her. It’s not death in battle and being devoured by wolves and orcs, but it's just as bad as at least with the former, you’re already dead and don’t have to live through it and relive it. She says at one point the only thing that kept her going was her sense of destiny to retake the Iron Throne.
The causes for their madness are slightly different as well. Daenrys has a family history that leads to more of a potential for it. It is shown several times that she wants to take a more violent path as her father and ancestors have done. Only her advisors seem to help keep that instinct in check. Boromir has no confirmed family history with mental illness and his fall seems to come from intense despair at failing the duties assigned to him since birth. You could perhaps argue there might be some genetic history there since both he, Farmir, and Denethor succumb to it at certain points, but it's never outright stated in the onscreen universe like say, Thorin Oakenshield’s.
I also found some surprising similarities as well. Both people are driven by a self-belief that they are called to some higher purpose: Boromir’s to make Gondor great again (sorry), and Daenerys' to make the Targaryeaons great again while liberating the oppressed (Ok not sorry). Both of these serve as a fault lines that objects of obsession exploit to bring those ideals low and have the characters surrender to their shortcomings.
Both are used to being adored and respected by the people, and feel threatened when someone else might take the spotlight away, leaving them extremely vulnerable. And both characters have a breakdown when those feelings overwhelm their reason. It's in that these characters become comparable.
Daenrys and Boromir are susceptible to madness because of who they believe themselves to be. Destiny, power, and responsibility are mantles that they not only take on themselves, but have had drilled into them, lived in, and have become part of their individual identities. They cannot see themselves as anything else. The adoration of others only reinforces this belief. And while Daenryrs may have had more of a bent towards instability than Boromir, she had enough rationale for most of her life to reel it back and not let it take control.
The Door of Madness
Both powerful people fall when their cocoons starts to crack under the pressure of external forces and the corruption of objects of power when in close proximity. The results of their fall are drastically different of course. Daenrys burned down an entire city, while Boromir only attacked a friend.
For Boromir, becoming a man who breaks his word and surrenders to fear is not something he is willing to accept by any stretch. He never saw himself as anything less than the hero of Gondor and an honorable man. Daenerys seems to start reconciling the two contrasts together, where formerly she saw them as complete opposites. Before going to Westeros, she says that she will not be the “queen of ashes”. However, in her speech after sacking the capital, she speaks of liberating the entire world and is willing to do so by force. No longer does she accept the advice to check her impulses because she somehow sees madness as part of the greater good, and not an overreaction to her ever-mounting frustrations. Whether it was denial, continued madness, or acceptance, Daenrys comes to see the two parts is compatible to her goals of achieving her destiny.
So what makes these people so compelling is that they are both strong-willed and proud, and those traits are also their doorways to insanity. While they handle that fall differently, it still costs both of them their lives.
© 2019 Jamal Smith