Fourth Wing and Iron Flame Theory: Dain is neurodivergent

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Written by: Cory

Dain Aetos Empyrean Series

**Spoiler Alert** This BRILLIANT theory is brought to you by Dr. Alishia Kalos, CST, doctoral psychologist and AASECT certified sex and relationship therapist.

Alishia (fellow members of the Castle Valley Rider’s Quadrant)is one of our readers and a true FW and IF fan. Her theory is spectacular and I have to say, she pretty much convinced me that maybe, there is a good reason why Rebecca Yarros defends Dain fiercely. Her credentials highlight that she really knows what she’s talking about when it comes to Dain’s behavior. I read it over and over again and I cannot believe I haven’t spotted all of this before. Alishia, thank you!

Have a read and let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Like so many fans, I had grown to resent what I had perceived as Dain’s prioritization of the rules of the Codex over just about everything else including his feelings for Violet, Violet’s safety, and her right to consent to access to private memories. After all, Violet made it clear that she resented Dain for these same reasons. However, what if Dain’s seemingly excessive adherence to the rules comes from a place of neurodiversity, such as that of adults with Autism?

Throughout Fourth Wing and Iron Flame, Dain seemed to interpret social situations differently from his peers and was sometimes directly mocked and criticized for it. Like Dain, many adults with Autism prefer the emotional safety and familiarity of small-group interactions with a select few close friends over larger social groups and appear more introverted than extroverted in social settings.

Outside of his friendship with Violet, Dain appeared to socialize predominantly with people who he was assigned to work with (such as his former fellow colleague in leadership, Amber Mavis, and others who occupy leadership roles).

In social settings, Dain would infrequently contribute to general conversation and would speak up most often about strategy, rule-adherence, procedures, etc. Dain appeared skilled in the areas of procedure and policy, and would struggle to adhere to social norms or social code of ethics.

For example, after he stole Violet’s memory (a clear act of betrayal of their friendship and bond of trust based on social norms and code of ethics) Dain appeared hurt and perplexed by Violet’s response to his actions. For example, Dain didn’t seem to grasp the emotional significance of his choice to steal Violet’s memories until after he challenged Violet to spar on the mat, and she explained it to him.

Dain, like many neurodiverse adults with traits of Autism, excelled when it came to attention to detail and hyperfocus in his executive leadership roles. He was able to devote himself completely to his leadership roles without getting distracted by social and recreational activities. That said, he also repeatedly struggled to emotionally connect to or inspire the people he led. Furthermore, Dain appeared to rely on rules and logic to inform his perceptions of others more than emotional influences.

For instance, he experienced an emotional bond with both Violet and Amber Mavis, but trusted Amber on instinct based on Amber’s history of Codex-adherent choices and her role as a Wingleader (which, logic and rules dictate, would make her especially trustworthy). He had been quick to consider practical points for battle strategy and planning, without considering possibilities that could be emotionally driven or informed by the impulses of imperfect leadership (such as the option to send undertrained third years to fight in direct combat). Similarly, Dain repeatedly expressed that he valued practical, logical or procedurally “correct” choices over emotionally informed choices.

For example, he confessed to Violet that he would adhere to the rules of the codex rather than intervene against the rules to save Violet’s life and that he would adhere to norms of leadership rather than pursue the intimate relationship with her that he desired.

Is it possible that what Violet, Dain’s peers, and readers interpreted in Dain as callousness and lack of empathy was actually about differences in neurological processing? As a final point, consider the reasons that Dain stated for disclosing Violet’s memory of Xaden in Athebyne to his father. It was easy to assume that Dain, suspicious and jealous of Xaden, jumped on the opportunity to get Xaden in trouble for doing things he wasn’t supposed to do. However, during the sparring match with Violet in Iron Flame, Dain revealed that it was Bohdi’s rule-breaking behavior, not his feelings toward Xaden, that inspired him to tell his father. To the contrary, it was Colonel Aetos’ suspicion of Xaden and general disdain for the Marked Ones that inspired him to set the trap that ultimately led to the deaths of Liam, Deigh, Soleil and Fuil. Colonel Aetos’ motivations were emotionally driven, whereas Dain’s were rule-driven.

In the context of their childhood friendship, Dain and Violet shared much in common. Their bond was strengthened by the time they spent together and the fact that their parents worked closely with each other. However, life changes drastically for those who enter the Rider’s Quadrant. Dain described that the Rider’s Quadrant “cuts away the bullshit and the niceties, revealing whoever you are at your core.”

During Dain’s first year when he was faced with the daily threat of death and the threat of danger from missing or misunderstanding social cues, he came to rely on the safety, dependability, and structure of the rules of the Codex. He took it upon himself to encourage rule-adherence by his peers, rose in rank, and became a stronger champion of the rules in the process. Perhaps his signet was also born from this same core value of rules above relationships, and his need to monitor and enforce rule-adherence of those around him.

While Dain’s choices to view and disclose memories without the consent of those he takes them from are objectively wrong by social code of ethics, his signet proved to be an effective tool for his personal use and an invaluable asset for leadership of Navarre.

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2 responses to “Fourth Wing and Iron Flame Theory: Dain is neurodivergent”

  1. Hi Cory! I’m definitely not a psychologist/psycotherapist/psychiatrist. I work in a completely different field. But the mother of my University best friend was a psychiatrist in charge of a centre working with children with Autism-spectrum disorder, and I also volunteered a little bit for a charity working with children with the same disorders. This makes me wonder if there is such a thing as understanding of what we call neurodivergent in the world of FW and IF. It’s not that such people don’t exist there, but I somehow get a feeling that characters in the story don’t have a concept about it. Otherwise, I feel like Violet could have known about it and recognized the signs of this in Dain.

    We don’t know every little detail about Violet’s and Dain’s childhood but what stands out to me is that from what I know about children with autism-spectrum disorders, following a set (ideally the same) schedule every day is what helps them cope with life better to the point that if something moves in time by five minutes, aka a parent coming five minutes later than usually to pick them up from kindergarten/school, they can get very distressed. Now, I wonder if something like this ever happened to little Dain.

    Also, as a person who likes the rules so much, he broke them so easily when Violet and he were children/teenagers. I don’t have quotes but I remember Violet talking in FW how Dain and she used to get in trouble sometimes because they sneaked out, walked on the battlements, climbed trees or played hide-and-seek where they shouldn’t. Did Alisha mention anything about children or teenagers being able to brake rules and still qualify as neurodivergent? I’m really curious to know.

    Maybe I’m mean but I feel like even if Dain were neurodivergent, this doesn’t excuses him in my eyes telling Violet and Xaden on occasion that he absolutely wouldn’t break the rules, even to save Violet’s life. She was his childhood best friend and maybe even a romantic interest/crush at a certain point later! I would somehow kind of, maybe would understand Dain not breaking the rules to save his “favourite” wing leader Xaden, or random squad mate or even another friend from college whom he didn’t know for so long and so well… But Violet? Unforgivable (at least in my eyes). Maybe it’s just me being a typical Slytherin loving to rebel against existing norms, traditions, customs, rules, always questioning why things are the way they are and if there is maybe a better way. Maybe it’s just me being too much like Xaden/Violet in that regard… I somehow feel that if something were to happen to Sloane during Threshing or if she started falling while crossing the parapet, Violet would be all like, “Screw the rules, they are stupid, I’m saving Sloane, consequences be damned.” And that was the first time she met Sloane, who also made it known that she hates Violet. And then we have Xaden who couldn’t yet decide whether he wanted to kiss or kill Violet more, all ready to break the rules for her at Threshing. This just makes me VERY mad at Dain. Maybe he will grow on me more in later books. Also, I’m glad that he stabbed but didn’t completely kill Varrish; that Violet (with Xaden’s help) got to do it. Honestly, this was the thing I looked forward the most since I met Varrish in the book. If only they had more time to inflict at least a part of the pain he did on Violet… When Violet killed him was actually my single most satisfying moment in the book so far.

    1. Hi Arwy, first of all thank you for taking the time to write to me.
      Interestingly enough, I’m re-reading Fourth Wing looking for Easter Eggs and even though I do agree with Alisha that he is neurodivergent, I can’t really forgive him for a lot of the things he did.
      I mean that thing with Amber? NOPE!

      But in Iron Flame, I get to like him again. Which is strange. I almost forgave him for all his mistakes. And now I’m reading FW again and I remembered why I really didn’t like him. It’s an odd one. I know the author did say he was vilified during the edits.
      Still, I have to agree. He does certain things which are unforgivable. Especially given that Dain is her best friend. You’d think he would bend and break every rule for her. Like Rhi and Violet did together.

      P.S. When Varrish died with that venin dagger in his chest. YES!

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Hello! This site is dedicated to the Empyrean Series by Rebecca Yarros. I’ve made this place to explore the rich world of Empyrean, full of characters, theories, and places. Each post is carefully researched and updated with the newest details from the series. This site is also a great spot for discussing theories about the Empyrean Series. 🐉
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