NB: I’m posting this before the final episode airs, because frankly I’m praying that nothing else happens to add to this. Pregnant Brienne? Jaime magically surviving and going on to be even more of a mess of a character? Please save us.
I’m not gonna lie: I’m a shipper. I absolutely loved the first two books of A Song of Ice and Fire and would talk about them all day if I could, but it was Jaime and Brienne’s meeting that tipped me over the edge into total fandom-y obsession. Epic stories are great. Epic stories where characters perfectly mirror each other’s journeys and also maybe change their opinions from hate to respect to love? Yes. Please.
Since it finished adapting A Storm of Swords, Game of Thrones has taken its own narrative path with Jaime and Brienne. Their characters are different. Their story arcs are different. But, finally, at the end of Season 7, the show seemed to be revelling in their connection again. Except that, honestly? It would have been better if they didn’t. In the space of two episodes, the show directly subverted everything that made Jaime and Brienne’s connection so compelling, and utterly destroyed Jaime’s character in the process.
In The Books
When we meet Brienne in the books, we quickly learn two things: she is a fierce warrior, and she is nothing like the cliche of what a “warrior woman” should be. She is incredibly romantic, in both the “Arthurian legends” and the “two hearts beat as one” sense of the word. She believes in truth and honor. Knights must be heroes, and all vows should be upheld, and she dreams of her own great quest to prove her worth. She is also desperately in love with Renly because he treated her with kindness. She wishes she could be beautiful and accepted and fill her role as heir to Tarth, but she can’t, and it breaks her heart.
And then Brienne meets Jaime, the epitome of everything she despises. He’s an oathbreaker and a murderer. He sullies everything she believes in, and he seems to revel in that.
Except, of course, that Jaime used to be as romantic as Brienne, but had it crushed out of him. He struts around, playing the role of the Kingslayer, because nothing he says will change that image. His greatest act is treated as his greatest shame, and so he sees no point in worrying about vows and honor — they are all meaningless anyway.
So, through their journey to King’s Landing, Jaime shows Brienne that things are more complicated than she expects, while she shows him that maybe there really is still hope for goodness after all.
Brienne goes on the classic knightly quest for Jaime, to rescue the fair maiden, and on the way, she learns just how complicated honor can be. She’s faced with Lady Stoneheart and conflicting oaths. She’s faced with the reality of actually killing someone. And while she is on this journey, Jaime begins his own journey to untangle himself from Cersei and perhaps start to uphold the things he believes in as well.
It is all about honor, respect and moral nuance.
In The Show
Game of Thrones played out Jaime and Brienne’s epic disastrous roadtrip in A Storm of Swords, complete with bathtime confessions and Jaime leaping into a bearpit, and it has kept flickers of their connection alive through the seasons since. It has, however, presented us with two very different characters. Brienne is much harsher in the show — she’s blunt and cruel, bullying Podrick and killing without thought. Most of her softness and vulnerability is lost. Jaime, meanwhile, stays with Cersei through the seasons, despite her using wildfire on the Sept of Baelor, and the Lannister twins are often portrayed as abusive as each other, two halves of one destructive whole.
But at the end of Season 7, the show suddenly seemed to jump back to the story of Jaime and Brienne as mirrors that we see in the books. Brienne sees something so important that she tells Jaime “fuck loyalty,” and this inspires Jaime to finally leave Cersei and ride North to fight for the living. She vouches for him being a good person with good intentions, he knights her because no one else is more deserving of the honor, and they fight death together.
And then, of course, Jaime sleeps with Brienne, chooses to stay in Winterfell with her when the other soldiers leave, and then abandons her crying in the middle of the night to return to Cersei. He dies with his twin, telling her that nothing else matters in the world but them.
And this changes everything.
Ser Brienne of Tarth
When Jaime knighted Brienne on the night before the Battle of Winterfell, he is giving Brienne both her dreams and the reward she truly deserves. He recognizes that she is the closest thing to a true knight he has ever met, and she has earned the title, regardless of tradition. He loves and respects her, and if she is going to die fighting the dead, at least she’ll die with her greatest dream fulfilled.
But very little is conveyed with words in this scene. Jaime and Brienne’s feelings are all in their eyes. The dialogue simply has Jaime saying that any knight can make a knight, and that he can prove it. The expressions and the characters’ backstories convey the depth and significance of the moment, but in the context of Jaime leaving Brienne crying in the courtyard and never mentioning her again, it doesn’t feel so weighty. Maybe he didn’t do it out of respect for her. Maybe he just did it for the lolz.
Because that is the key thing that Jaime and Brienne have in the books, and that this narrative took away — respect. Brienne still respects Jaime, but the story implies, very clearly, that Jaime does not respect Brienne.
Respect and Honor
I don’t think the show writers really considered the implications of this story arc between Jaime and Brienne, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still exist. Yes, Brienne is a warrior, but she is also a highborn lady and the heir of Tarth. In the books, at least, she struggles with her inability to fulfil her duty as heir, in part because her father cannot find anyone to marry her.
What hope does she have for the future, once Jaime leaves for King’s Landing? In the books, she is called Kingslayer’s Whore just for carrying his sword and going on a quest for him. Meanwhile, everyone in Winterfell must be aware of what was going on between them for a month.
And the writing in their post-drinking game scene isn’t clear enough to even vaguely absolve Jaime of acting terribly here. The scene can be read as two characters who have loved each other for ages and grown together finally having the courage to act, but that is mostly conveyed, again, through history and the actor’s eyes. No loving words are spoken. No declarations are made. The scene could just as easily be read as two people getting drunk and hooking up. Then we see Jaime lying awake afterwards, looking troubled. So, if we take the text at word value, Jaime sleeps with Brienne, regrets it, and then continues to do so for another month, just to leave her crying in the night for Cersei, his one true love.
This shouldn’t affect Brienne’s honor or respectability, but it does. Both characters would be deeply aware of that. And based on Brienne’s heartbreak, begging Jaime to stay with her, we see that she, at least, believed that their relationship had real meaning. She fulfilled her arc — that reality and feelings do not always allow for the strictest rules of honor, and that sometimes those rules are bullshit — but Jaime didn’t uphold his end of respecting honor, and Brienne suffers deeply as a result.
The interlude with Brienne is narratively pointless (unless they follow it up with anything in the finale, which… please, please don’t). It contributes nothing except to make Jaime’s narrative make less sense and make him seem like an even worse person. He might as well have stayed in King’s Landing with Cersei the entire time.
Worse, as Jaime was the one to knight Brienne, even that — her life’s dream — has been irreversibly tainted by knowledge of their relationship. No one will believe that she deserved it, or that it was a true knighting. They may not have believed it even before, but Brienne at least would have known the truth. After this, what does even she think of it?
Honestly, I don’t expect the show to consider any of these implications. In fact, I’d prefer if it didn’t, since we only have one episode left. But the show’s hand-waving doesn’t mean that they don’t exist in the context of the world the past eight seasons have created.
And, strangely, the final scene between Jaime and Brienne is the most like Book!Brienne she has been since season 3. This is one of the only times we get to see her be the incredibly vulnerable girl we see in the books, and it’s when he is breaking her heart. Which just adds a greater sting to things, because TV!Brienne, I think, would rebound from Jaime’s betrayal fine. She has no duties to Tarth, she’s not treated as a noble lady, she’s not a romantic. But Book!Brienne in that moment has just lost everything. She has lost the reliability of her word in vouching for him. She has lost her honor and her good name. She has lost any respect for the knighthood she earned. And she has lost Jaime, after putting all her trust in him.
And that is not the ending that our fierce female warrior deserves. It is not the ending that either of them deserve.