Since that memorable moment in The Invitation when Jomag claimed that they wanted to help protect the world with Aurene instead of destroying it, a debate has been raging among both the characters in the game and the fanbase outside of the game: Is Jormag genuine, or is this just another ploy to gain advantage? In the most recent release, Truce, where we start to see how Jormag behaves in the context of an alliance, those who have experience with toxic relationships have probably found their answer. When playing through the chapter, I certainly found myself having reminders of toxic people I’ve had the misfortune of being stuck with in the past… and when I commented on this to a friend of mine who works in mental health, his response was along the lines of “Oh, yeah, I knew there was something off about this, and you’ve pretty much nailed it.”
ArenaNet has pretty clearly endeavoured to make Jormag a different type of villain to the rest of the Elder Dragons we’ve faced so far. Their status as the Elder Dragon of Persuasion is something that should have always raised alarm bells and a sense that we should be careful believing anything they say, and now we’ve seen just how this manifests. Given ArenaNet’s generally progressive views, this might be entirely planned and deliberate. The Icebrood Saga is not simply the buildup to one, or even two, more dragon takedowns simply for entertainment, but instead the developers might be aiming to teach players to recognise abusive behaviour.
With this in mind, I looked up a set of signs of an abusive friendship. Let’s see how Jormag stacks up.
1: They intimidate you.
Elder Dragons are big and powerful, so intimidation is par for the course, right? Even Aurene is somewhat inherently intimidating, even though she tries to present a gentle and supportive persona. However, in this examination, we’re looking at emotional abuse, not physical (even if one can be a warning sign of the other). In this context, this is referencing psychologically breaking someone down so that they lose their confidence and feel inferior to the abuser.
This was pretty much the MO of the whispers in Bjora Marches all along, but the clearest example is probably the interaction between Ryland (who is likely being coached by Jormag) and Caithe and the Commander in the Brisban Wildlands dragon response mission. When Caithe and the Commander express suspicion about Ryland’s relationship with Jormag, he responds with the following:
Ryland Steelcatcher: You’ve been “the” dragon champion for a while, Commander. Sharing the spotlight…that’s gotta chafe.
This is an attempt to shift the focus from what Ryland and Jormag are doing and reframe the discussion as the Commander being jealous of Ryland. As well as potentially undermining the Commander to anyone else who is listening, this demonstrates a standard play in an abuser’s handbook – attempting to persuade their victim that they, not the abuser, are the problem.
Later, we see Ryland insulting the Crystal Bloom by claiming that they “aren’t big on frontline fighting”. When Caithe points out that their focus is on protection, Ryland eventually responds with the following:
Ryland Steelcatcher: Playing defense just preserves the status quo. You don’t lose anything; you also don’t gain anything.
This is, essentially, a crude form of gaslighting: projecting a false narrative with enough confidence to get the victim to question their own understanding of reality. Caithe and the Crystal Bloom have clearly made gains in their struggles: Caithe has been directly or indirectly involved in the destruction of three Elder Dragons, with the Crystal Bloom having played a significant role in the fight against Kralkatorrik. Ryland has to know this, and therefore his denigration of the Crystal Bloom is baseless – the fact that they are motivated primarily by the desire to protect people does not diminish their accomplishments. The best defence, after all, is often a good offense that removes the threat. And when the Commander calls this out and points out Jormag’s own lack of action, Ryland is, naturally, quick with an excuse… but we’ll get to that later. Suffice it to say, he’s implying something that he knows isn’t true, likely with the aim of undermining Caithe’s self-confidence.
These are just the clearest examples. Suffice it to say, Jormag seems bent on breaking down everyone they come into contact with.
2: They don’t respect you.
One of the components of disrespect, in the context of abusive relationships, is often pretending to have some respect for you, while badmouthing or gossiping about you to others. Previously, in the Icebrood Saga, Jormag has talked to the Commander as a valuable potential ally, one which they are currently fighting due to a misunderstanding, which Jormag hopes to resolve. But once Jormag gets a direct line to Aurene, there’s a rapid change of tune. We’ll go into detail of that discussion later, but Jormag’s discussions with Aurene reveal the typical disregard of mortals held by all Elder Dragons. Jormag clearly has no respect for mortals, and I doubt that they truly respect Aurene either. All are simply tools to be used and, if necessary, expended for Jormag’s benefit.
3: They don’t listen to you.
This is a sign that doesn’t simply represent physically refusing to listen, but the more subtle form of refusing to acknowledge the validity of what their victim says.
This is probably best epitomised in some of the discussions between Aurene and Jormag during the Confer with Bangar achievement. Twice, Aurene tries to raise her concerns with Jormag’s behaviour, and Jormag simply refuses to have the discussion. The first time, Jormag casually drops an insult to Aurene’s grandfather Kralkatorrik, and uses Aurene’s surprise as an excuse to declare that Aurene is too emotional to continue the conversation. In Aurene’s second attempt to ask about Jormag’s motives, Jormag tells Aurene to “Focus your attention on what is coming. Not on me” – attempting to divert Aurene’s attention away from the topic before, again, cutting off the conversation, demonstrating an unwillingness to even recognise the validity of Aurene’s concerns. And, of course, in the final conversation of the achievement, Jormag pins the blame on Aurene for not having taken the opportunity to prepare a coordinated response to what was coming, when it was Jormag who cut the connection each time in order to avoid a conversation that Jormag didn’t want to have.
Another example of Jormag’s unwillingness to acknowledge the validity of Aurene’s goals comes when Jormage describes the maintenance of the balance of Tyria as “a fantasy-another mortal superstition”. This has been a project that was Aurene’s mother’s life work, that both her mother and her brother gave their lives for, and which might quite literally be the reason for Aurene’s existence… yet Jormag dismisses it as inconsequential without a second thought. Jormag simply doesn’t care about what Aurene wants, just how they can use her for their own ends.
4. They don’t show remorse.
Like most Elder Dragons, Jormag has clearly been a destructive force in the world. There is, however, some plausible deniability regarding how much of this was Jormag themself, and how much was Jormag’s minions and followers such as the Sons of Svanir acting on their behalf. Nevertheless, there are some things, such as the corruption of the Spirits of the Wild, that can certainly be laid at Jormag’s door.
And when they are confronted on that matter by Braham, their response is the following:
Voice of Ruinbringer: I have a will to live. And a right. If that is a crime, no one is innocent. Do not presume to know me.
Maybe there’s a degree of truth to that. Maybe Jormag genuinely thought that they needed to do what they did in order to survive. Or maybe Jormag just didn’t see a point to negotiating when they could simply take what they wanted. And Aurene – also an Elder Dragon but, perhaps, innocent enough not to be wise to Jormag’s manipulation – is the first time since Asgeir that Jormag has seen the need to assert dominance by more subtle means. Either way, there is not a shred of remorse in Jormag’s responses, as a normal person might have if they’d done something terrible, even if it was genuinely necessary to do so. Instead, Jormag plays a traditional card from the handbook of villains and abusers alike – turning the accusation back on the victim.
5. They’re overly possessive of you.
In this context, ‘possessiveness’ refers to the tendency of abusers to attempt to disconnect their victim from their friends and their support network in general, usually by sowing distrust with the victim’s friends and trying to persuade the victim to rely entirely on the abuser instead. This is, in fact, where I had the initial idea for this article – when I got the impression that this was exactly what Jormag was trying to do with Aurene.
This starts during the Confer with Bangar arc, but it becomes really clear in the first part of the Truce chapter. Let’s look at some of Jormag’s lines, and the subtext of what they mean.
The effort to isolate begins with Jormag’s very first words:
Voice of Jormag: Aurene. Ah, you’re amassing your warriors! They won’t be any use.
Your friends can’t help you.
This opening is particularly notable since, not only is it a direct dismissal of Aurene’s allies, it was Braham who called upon Jormag, but Jormag speaks to Aurene as well, indicating that Braham isn’t even worth talking to. Jormag’s true intent takes shape a few lines later:
Voice of Jormag: Mortals. Clinging to superstitions to give your brief lives meaning.
Voice of Jormag: And so emotional. Aurene, you will never reach your potential if you surround yourself with beings like these.
Your friends are holding you back.
…and concludes with the following:
Voice of Jormag: And reach it you must—for the sake of us all. The time has come to end Primordus.
Voice of Jormag: The “balance” is a fantasy—another mortal superstition. Primordus will lay waste to this world. And you are not ready.
But I can help you get ready.
Jormag’s goal is pretty clear here – they are trying to get Aurene to discard her mortal allies and rely entirely on Jormag.
6. They’re overly dependent on you.
And here we have the kicker – for all that Jormag speaks of helping Aurene, it appears to be Jormag who’s relying on Aurene and her allies while offering little in return. On the one hand, Jormag is impressing the importance of defeating Primordus to all who will listen. On the other hand, while there may be more going on that we can’t see, Jormag seems to be keeping their own forces in reserve and letting the traditional defenders of Tyria (the Pact and its component orders, the Peacemakers, the Seraph, the Wardens, the Crystal Bloom, and now the Ebon Vanguard) bear the brunt of the fighting. Jormag talks big about the need to destroy Primordus, but seems content to let others do the heavy lifting… possibly with the expectation that Primordus and the defenders of Tyria will grind each other down so that Jormag can sweep in and destroy both.
As referenced earlier, the Commander challenges Ryland on this in the Brisban Wildlands dragon response mission:
<Character name>: I don’t see Jormag playing offense against Primordus. Seems to me your Elder Dragon’s more about hiding. Whispering.
Ryland Steelcatcher: Waiting for the right moment to strike isn’t “hiding.” Every attack needs a strategy.
Ryland’s response is particularly rich here after his denigration of the Crystal Bloom for being defenders – defence is, after all, also something you do when it’s not the right time to strike. At the bottom line, though, the Crystal Bloom and other factions are actually doing the fighting. Jormag’s forces, however, are conspicuously absent, except where Jormag has a clear purpose in intervening (defending Rata Sum to access the asura data on Primordus). The argument could be made that Jormag is simply trying to avoid possible ‘blue on blue’ actions from the defenders of Tyria seeing Jormag’s forces as enemies, but nevertheless, there is a clear hypocrisy in Ryland’s accusing the Crystal Bloom of failing to achieve anything when his own forces appear to be sitting this one out. Or, as Ryland would likely claim if confronted on this matter, “conserving their forces”.
And just to make things all the more sinister, the claim that Jormag is waiting for the right time to strike begs the question: Waiting for the right time to strike who?
7. You can’t trust them.
At this point, this pretty much goes without saying. After all, Jormag has a history of betrayal:
<Character name>: How does this fit into your strategy? You’ve already betrayed one ally—
Ryland Steelcatcher: Bangar‘s a relic; he thinks the world is a much smaller place than it is. We know different.
As much as Ryland might try to justify it, it’s still a betrayal. Perhaps Bangar deserved it… or perhaps he was set up. Bangar does, after all, confirm that he heard the whispers during one of the first of the cage conversations – how much of Bangar’s paranoia, his belief that Aurene, the other races, and even the other imperators were out to get him was his own? Or was Jormag working on him the whole time, telling him that his allies won’t help him, that they’re holding him back and leaving him vulnerable to their enemies, and that Jormag offered the path to salvation?
Even then, Bangar clearly didn’t trust Jormag altogether – that’s why he was trying to gather as much leverage as he could when we burst into his sanctum at the Frost Citadel. But it wasn’t enough. Conversely, the argument could be made that Jormag was justified regarding someone who made no bones of wanting to dominate them as someone who was not an ally to begin with..
However, in the context of abusive relationships, being unable to trust someone doesn’t just refer to epic anime betrayals such as this. It’s the little things, like betraying confidences, sabotaging you so they can get an advantage, or regularly making plans only to stand you up or cancel at the last minute because your time and feelings just aren’t that important to them.
Thus far, we haven’t trusted Jormag enough for them to pull any of these shenanigans… but with the other six signs having been ticked off, my prediction is that at some point we’ll be forced to. Perhaps there’ll be some point at which we’ll be relying on Jormag to send reinforcements in order to have a chance of winning in a battle against Primordus… but those forces will arrive late or not at all. Naturally, there’ll be some justification or excuse, but in the meantime our forces will likely have suffered crippling casualties (which will likely be Jormag’s true motivation – letting the fighting weaken both us and Primordus to give Jormag the opportunity to sweep in) and we’ll be able to tick off the seventh sign that any ‘friendship’ that Jormag offers is an abusive one.