Game of Quantified Emotions: Data Shows Audiences Thrilled by Sansa’s Joy and Daenerys’ Anger

Audiences reacted with maximum intensity to the joyful reuniting of the Starks and to the boiling over of Daenerys’ wrath during last Sunday’s airing of Game of Thrones. Our analysis of the emotional content in “Book of the Stranger” dialogue revealed patterns indicating how and why these moments thrilled the Game of Thrones fandom.

From Sadness to Ecstasy : Twitter Weeps With Joy at “The Hug”

Sansa electrified audiences in episode four, “Book of the Stranger,” with the highest velocity of tweets during the show. The peak came at the heart-stopping hug between the reunited Starks, shown below:

Maximum reaction velocity from Twitter as the Starks’ fear and sadness turned to joy. Image Source: Tumblr

During the scene, tweets about Sansa skyrocketed, dwarfing nearly all other reactions to plot twists, including strong reactions to Tyrion’s negotiations at Slaver’s Bay and Ramsay’s slaying of Osha.

Audiences reacted to Sansa and Jon’s reunion (blue peak) and Daenerys’ carnage (red peak) during “Book of the Stranger.”

However, the strongest reaction of the night, by volume, was reserved for Daenerys’ unbridled rage against the khals. On the chart above, we can see the Mother of Dragons’ red line peaking at over 1,600 tweets per minute. Moreover, we can also see conversation about her fiery vengeance continuing long after the show had ended, as the red line trails gradually down.

Quantifying Emotions: Angry Daenerys and the Sadness of the Starks

Intuitively, we know that emotional content drives narrative, but machine learning techniques like sentiment analysis allow us to quantify that intuition. Using classification to evaluate character lines, we can measure Daenerys’ anger, peaking in lines such as:

“Which little villages you’ll raid, how many girls you’ll get to ____, how many horses you’ll demand in tribute. You are small men. None of you are fit to lead the Dothraki. But I am. So I will.” — Daenerys

We decided to scan the lines throughout the series. After a first pass at emotional profiles, it’s no surprise that Daenerys leads the pack in anger:

Expectations Met and Thwarted

Daenerys’ anger was celebrated by viewers during episode four, as it matched what they’ve learned to expect and love from the character. Reactions also peaked when the audience saw entirely new emotions — joy! — from the historically sad and fear-filled Jon and Sansa. The ability of a stupendously successful narrative machine like the Game of Thrones to consistently deliver what audiences want could be attributed to the showrunners’ unique ability to exceed and annihilate viewer expectations of the emotional lives of the characters.

Adding to the emotional power of “The Hug” is the emotional hell that characterizes the series. Joy is hard to come by in the Game of Thrones, and it’s not surprising to see only small shreds of purple in the graph above. The fact that Ramsay’s generally perverse joy makes the biggest mark on the chart only confirms the depth of darkness in the series.

Lest viewers think Jon Snow’s joy might be a new mainstay, it’s worth noting his lines continued to be predominantly sad, like this, his saddest of the night:

“It’s all I’ve done since I left home. I’ve killed brothers of the Night’s Watch. I’ve killed wildlings. I’ve killed men that I admire. I hanged a boy younger than Bran. I fought and I lost.” — Jon Snow

The Epitome of Sadness in 10 Words

But, the saddest line of episode 4 went to Theon:

“He broke me. He broke me into a thousand pieces” — Theon