Updated: Nov 7, 2018
Ser Jorah Mormont, the knight with no honour
First introduced to the reader through Illyrio, who describes him by saying “The Usurper wanted his head”, Ser Jorah Mormont is one of many polemic characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. He is primarily exclusive to Daenerys’s chapters and hides behind the literary devices of intertextuality and intersubjectivity, where the former is when the text creates a relationship with other texts – Ser Jorah is with Daenerys, but his history is described by lord Eddard, Robert Baratheon and Lord Commander Mormont and those descriptions are directly linked to his actions in the Daenerys chapters; and the latter, the psychological relationship between people used in contrast to his inner dialog and individual experience. Several characters can talk about Ser Jorah, each seeing him as an entirely different man.
The brief discussion about him says a lot about Illyrio as a man as well as Ser Jorah himself. Ser Jorah was, for a short while, head of House Mormont and Lord of Bear Islands. The “Usurper” (in reality, Ned and not Robert) wanted his head for trading slaves rather than giving them to the Night’s Watch and he becomes one of the most trusted companions of Daenerys as the story evolves in A Game of Thrones. He is introduced as a reasonable and decent man who did foolish things for love, but the observant reader can clearly see that he doesn’t qualify as trustworthy, reasonable or decent.
Ser Jorah taints his title of ‘knight’ and finds faults in everyone who crosses his path. Although he isn’t stupid, he has a true difficulty with foreseeing the likely outcome of his own actions – which he seems to notice so objectively when his personal situation isn’t actually involved.
Following George’s consistent elements that ‘history repeats itself’, ‘deep down people don’t change’ and ‘the human heart in conflict with itself’, Ser Jorah becomes a prime example of the writer’s style as the knight acts for his own benefit continuously – Originally getting involved with a high status lady of the court after a brief relationship without ever asking himself why would such lady be into him to begin with; then offering to spy on the most powerful khal’s new wife in order to get a pardon without considering that he is getting pardon for slaving by doing dishonourable things to return to a world that values honour, as if that would make his family and neighbours forget him being a slaver, assassin, spy, debtor, runway – and then return to what? To become himself the usurper to his aunt and cousins who have been loyal and hard working? Or did he think he would be greeted with a warm welcome and a “here’s your seat – I’ve kept it warm for you”?
His inability to foresee the consequence of his actions is also clearly mingled with his pride. Having attained his knighthood by being the second man through the breach at Pyke during the Greyjoy Rebellion (where Thoros of Myr was the first), he followed that by winning at the tourney that granted him his trophy wife.
Lack of bravery was not one of his problems and it shows when he faces Qotho to defend Daenerys. Alongside the other members of his family, he is constantly associated to the “bear”, although he could very well be associated to a black sheep, bringing shame and dishonour to his father's house when his father joined the Night's Watch exactly for believing that to be the honourable things to do, then fighting to defend the daughter of a king his family and liege lord helped overthrow and then being written as a follower of the New Gods when his family worshiped the Old. Bear or sheep, neither one describes him as loyal.
Ser Jorah has a real problem with bowing to people, be that to his queen, his lord or his slaver, he clearly doesn’t wish to be beneath Daenerys and instead wishes to be her man. In a place like Westeros, where lack of subordination can be deadly, he definitely thinks above his station. Written to give the reader a clear sense that he is an unrepentant slaver, his life of crime started as such, he then advises Drogo as to where the Lazareen captives – young children – would fetch the highest price as sex slaves and then, he advises Daenerys to go buy the unsullied and when their ‘transformation into unsullied’ process is described on a passage that is tragic to readers and characters alike, Daenerys is more than horrified, while Ser Jorah remains untouched. In A Dance with Dragons, he finally becomes the one character in the receiving end of justice as he himself becomes a slave. Karma seems to get him in the end. It's also that same karma that has him after his trophy wife, above his station, then after Daenerys, above his station, and then paying for a Daenerys look alike prostitute... The last one being the only one fit for him.
Interestingly enough, he holds plenty of contempt for Lord Stark, seeing him as a cold executioner who wants to behead him for breaking the law but not caring for the reasons that brought him to do so and never actually being interested in finding out if that was the truth. Ned, in turn, was a man who took no pleasure in his executioner duty, being in fact the lord who would personally swing the sword after allowing the criminal the right to his last words. Despite the lack of pleasure in that duty, Ned took Ser Jorah’s actions to heart and wanted to kill him, as Ser Jorah, to Ned’s viewpoint, brought shame and dishonor to the north. Jorah, however, never managed to see how cyclical his actions were:
• Fell in love with a woman above his station and gave her gifts to gain her affection; • Sold to slavers because he went into debt to appease the same wife; • Fled justice for committing what might be the worst crime in Westeros; • Resented Ned for not considering his mitigating circumstances; • Spied; • Advised about selling to slavery; • Fell for another woman above his station who looked like his trophy wife; • Resented Ser Barristan for not considering his mitigating circumstances; • Took Tyrion to offer as a gift to a woman, hoping his gifts would gain affection,... and on and on he goes in circles doing the same things again and again.
Ser Jorah has better start being more careful. He’s already been exiled from Westeros, then exiled from Daenerys’s service. If he continues following that path, there will be no known-world left for him to live in and perhaps he needs to remember that, when dropped in the ocean, the Drowned God, contrary to Ser Jorah himself, doesn’t discriminate.