It is a tale as old as time. Two people, who meet under less than ideal circumstances and each with misconceptions about the other, embark on a journey together that reveals their truest selves. This journey changes them and forces them to reevaluate what they once believed about the world. It takes them from antagonists to allies to friendship and love that is based on mutual respect and trust.
It’s a ship type that I will never get enough of and for me, there is not a better example than Jaime and Brienne. Where there was once contempt and insults, there is now the highest regard and belief in the other’s honor. They have come a long way from their initial meeting and the early part of the journey to King’s Landing and each of their reunions has only served to reinforce their bond.
Just as a side note, while I have loved these two since I read the books, it’s also been a very long time since I have read them and as they’ve taken rather different paths, I largely opted to stick with the show for this piece.
Throughout the Seven Kingdoms, Jaime Lannister’s name was synonymous with betrayal. He was the Kingslayer – the member of the Kingsguard who murdered Aerys Targaryen. It’s an identity he took on as a shield, turning himself into the cruel, honorless person everyone assumed him to be. He openly scoffed at the idea that vows could mean anything, after all, they would only inevitably conflict with each other. Keeping them was impossible, so why bother trying. He was cynical and fatalistic in his beliefs and no longer believed in idealistic notions like honor and loyalty.
Brienne is looked upon with similar disregard and distrust. Women in Westeros, especially the daughter of a Lord, weren’t supposed to be fighters. They weren’t supposed to feel more comfortable in armor than in dresses and more at ease with a sword in their hand instead of a polite smile on their face. They were supposed to grow up wanting to be princesses and ladies, not knights. Brienne’s physical appearance and interests made her an outcast, someone to be mocked and sneered at. She dedicated her service to Renly Baratheon, becoming a member of his Rainbow Guard. He was kind to her and she loved him for it. When he was murdered, she was the one blamed as she had been the one with him. She failed at her oath. But it didn’t stop her from believing in their power and worthiness. She didn’t stop believing in honor. Even as she pledged her loyalty to Catelyn Stark, it was on the condition that she could one day avenge Renly. She meant to keep her word, even though he was no longer there to hold her to it.
Even if we disregard the fact that Brienne is working with Jaime’s captors, it is natural to see why the two clashed when they met. Jaime stood against everything Brienne believed in. The idea of betraying your king to his death was unfathomable to her, as was the notion of conflicting vows. Brienne was a shining example of everything Jaime had turned his back on. She was true to her sense of self and the values of a knight, despite the mockery of everyone around her. It made her an easy target for him to provoke and for a time, he was more than happy to be the arrogant lion he was raised to be.
When faced with the hanging of a group of women whose only crimes were sleeping with Lannister men, Jaime began to see firsthand what Brienne’s goodness and honor looked like in action. She knew they deserved better and moved to bury them, despite the extra time and risk of discovery it took. When she killed the Stark men who threatened them to protect Jaime, she demonstrated just how seriously she took her promises. She didn’t like Jaime. He was the Kingslayer, he was difficult, and he was insulting at pretty much all times. But she saved him anyway because that it was she swore she would do. And in that moment, Jaime started to see there was something intriguing about Brienne. He began to see the depth of her convictions and her strength. It didn’t particularly change his attitude, though (after some mocking) he is fairly gentle with her feelings for Renly. He understand better than many that love isn’t always a conscious or logical choice. His new recognition of the person Brienne is also doesn’t stop him from trying to escape either, as evidenced by the sword fight on the bridge. But during that fight, his feelings start to shift again. After seeing her fight, no matter how unfair he thought it was, he was now starting to respect her abilities as a fight her. She was his equal, and that is an experience the heir to Casterly Rock wouldn’t have experienced much in his life. Brienne was neither intimidated by him nor weaker, she held her ground and the fighter in him respected that.
So long as it was only the two of them against each other, their dynamic would have been unlikely to change. When you add other people to the mix, however, alliances shift and it quickly becomes Jaime and Brienne against Locke and his men. They have to be on the same side if they have any chance of survival. When Jaime lies to Locke to prevent Brienne from being raped, she has her first moment of reconsidering the man she thought he was. It was a selfless act, one that in the long run lost Jaime his hand. He didn’t have to save her. But he did. And when he was feverish and sick from the infection setting in, she moved to protect him once again, even if she was unsuccessful. The way he was being treated was wrong, even if he was the Kingslayer, and she couldn’t let it stand.
Though she saw that he did have the potential to care about someone other than himself, it wasn’t until they were in the baths at Harrenhal that Brienne really started to reevaluate the person she saw when she looked at Jaime. Now mentally broken by the loss of his hand, his Kingslayer-constructed shield drops away. He doesn’t have the energy to fall back on his arrogant Lannister persona and not only genuinely apologizes for his callous remark about Brienne’s ability to protect Renly but also calls for a truce. He offers her his trust, which is a gift more precious than anything in Westeros. Trust is dangerous. Placing it in the wrong person gets you killed. But he gave it anyway because he knew she was worthy of it. He showed Brienne the man he used to be. The man who wanted to do the right thing for the people of Westeros. The man who believed in vows and honor forced to choose between his family and his king. The true story was far more complicated than the stories made it out to be. It was all too easy to think poorly of a Lannister, especially one rumored to be sleeping with his sister.
After that moment, Brienne can never go back to the person she once was. She can’t believe that everything is simple and honor is a black-and-white issue any more. She sees the position he was in and even if she doesn’t actively agree with his choice, she understands why he made it. He has more honor than she expected and her opinion of him changes.
Now that truth has been shared and trust established, they are very firmly a team during their dinner with Lord Bolton. Jaime speaks about them as though they go together, unsuccessful as that may have been, and Brienne is willing to take Jaime’s lead and accept that perhaps stabbing Bolton with a knife wouldn’t get them the end result they desired. She trusts him to do what he can to protect them both and he does try. Before Jaime’s departure for King’s Landing, Brienne once again demonstrates her faith and newfound belief in Jaime’s honor. She puts the weight of their mutual oath to Catelyn Stark on his shoulders, trusting that he will do as promised. To further emphasize the extent to which her attitude toward him as changed, she bestows him with a title that I imagine hasn’t often been said in conjunction with Jaime’s name since the day he killed Aerys. By calling him “Ser Jaime”, she is showing him that she no longer sees him as a man without honor. He is worthy of his title and respect as a knight. It visibly stuns him and leaves him speechless. He knows what knighthood means to Brienne. It is a code of values that she holds dear and to have earned that level of faith and trust from her was the greatest gift she could have given him. Not only did she believe him, she understood why he made the choices he did. She saw the man he once was and affirmed his value and goodness along with her belief that he was still that man.
So he leaves for King’s Landing with an unknown fate awaiting Brienne. Perhaps the Jaime of a season ago could have left it at that, regardless of what he saw in a dream or heard from Qyburn (depending on if you want to go with book or show reasoning), but when someone you respect has a high opinion of you, it makes you really want to be worthy of that opinion. And whether Jaime liked it or not, Brienne had come to be important to him. She gave him back something he thought was long lost and he couldn’t leave her to the fate Locke had planned. He turned around and when the usual Lannister tactic of throwing money at a situation was ineffective, he took matters into his own hand and decided he was going to rescue Brienne himself. Had it not been for his guard who cared far more for the reward Tywin would offer for his son than the wrath of Locke, there is every likelihood that they both would have been attacked and killed by the bear. The distraction of the arrows allowed Jaime enough time to get Brienne out. Once again he saved her. And true to form, the second she was back on the platform, she dove over the edge in order to pull him out as well. Once again, it was them against an external foe and together, they were unstoppable. By this point, the two are inextricably linked. Jaime’s not leaving her behind, and more importantly, he doesn’t want to.
Once back in King’s Landing, surrounded by familiar faces, patterns, and demands, it would have been easy for Jaime to sink back into his old routines. He tries. He tries to not care any more, but Brienne refuses to let him. She knows he can be better and she will hold him to that standard. No matter how comfortable they had grown around each other, Brienne couldn’t stay in King’s Landing forever. Not after Sansa was forced to flee after Joffrey’s death. Once again, the weight of their vows pressed down upon them. Jaime was no longer in a position to leave, so he transferred the duty of finding Sansa back to Brienne. Though they had been in a reversed position on their previous goodbyes, there is something different and deeper about this parting.
First, it came with presents. Three very thoughtful presents that were well suited to Brienne and her upcoming mission, to be exact – a squire, a custom-made coat of armor to match her (astonishing) eyes, and a very special sword. It was only fitting that Brienne should go on his mission to save Sansa with a sword made from Ned’s sword Ice. It was all the more fitting that she would do it with a sword that was intended to be Jaime’s. Though she is leaving him, she’ll carry a tangible reminder of him and the man he can be with her. Second, it was no longer solely about honoring their word to a now-deceased Catelyn Stark. This time, the promises are also being made to each other. Brienne’s original vow to Catelyn still mattered to her, but it was no longer her sole motivation. She’s also doing it for Jaime and his honor. He is entrusting this often-hidden piece of himself to her and she will guard and fight for it. She wants his entry in the White Book to be about more than Aerys’s death.
This is what motivates her to name the sword “Oathkeeper”. It is a symbol of the Jaime that only she sees and knows. It is a symbol of the promises they made to Catelyn and to each other. It’s a new way forward and legacy for Jaime if she can find Sansa. It’s never explicitly said, but with these two, it’s never needed to be. Their feelings may be hidden in proper language and in their actions, but as these two say goodbye, both seemed forced to deal with the weight of their emotions. Whether either could accurately identify the emotion as love, there is no doubt that’s what lies between them.
Those barely-obscured feelings come right back as soon as they are reunited. Jaime’s pleasure at seeing her is undeniable and it frustrates him that the moment was being used to talk about politics and strategy. While Brienne prefers to directly confront the fact that they are on opposing sides and she needs something from him as head of the Lannister armies, Jaime would rather deflect and grumble. However, he agrees to her proposition and gives his word to one of the few people in the country who thinks his word is worth anything. Business completed, Brienne moves to return Oathkeeper to, what is in her mind, its rightful owner. Jaime refuses, telling her it will always be hers.
It represents a piece of himself that has only ever belonged to Brienne and he doesn’t want it back. It is his trust and the truths that he’s shared with her. It’s his love and his heart and the best of him. It’s the man that only Brienne has ever seen. And Brienne knows it. She knows that Oathkeeper is more than just a sword and it terrifies her. It scares her to know that the man she loves might also love her, especially when neither are in a position to do anything about it. Despite this declaration, she never expects him to abandon his family ties or choose a difference allegiance. He’s a Lannister, she fights for the Starks. No matter their feelings, it can’t come to anything. So once again, she makes explicit the complications standing between them. Where Jaime had initially been playful with her, he sobers up and again looks pained by the thought that they may one day need to fight each other. Just as he was when Aerys asked him to kill his father, Jaime seems faced by a choice of conflicting loyalties. Should he continue to fight for his family or should he side with Brienne?
As the war continues to escalate, not only for the Iron Throne but for the fate of Westeros, it was only a matter of time before they met again under increasingly tense circumstances. Unlike their previous two (increasingly intimate) encounters, which had been done in relative privacy, this one took place in front of all the people fighting for control of the Seven Kingdoms and their associates. Most notably, the current Queen, who is pregnant with Jaime’s baby while her control of him also seems to be loosening. Her only meeting with Brienne prior to this moment ended in her asking Brienne if she was in love with Jaime, so she knows these two have a history she is excluded from. So while others get a chance to properly reunite, Jaime and Brienne do not. All they have left are glances at each other, which are immediately noticed. Jaime knows his sister well enough to know that he needs to tread carefully. He cannot give any hint that Brienne might be important to him, that she might have the ability to turn him away from the sister he’s become increasingly disillusioned with. He has to appear loyal to Cersei in every way, regardless of what he is actually feeling. He’s very good at this. He’s always known how to play this game of concealment better than Brienne, who is not used to that behavior from him. She hasn’t had to see him in this sort of environment, where he isn’t free to be as open as he has been with her.
Jaime and Brienne have never been afraid of a fight. They aren’t ones who are easily scared by physical threats. But an army of the undead is more than they bargained for. They recognized that the fight for the North and Westeros was no longer about ruling families; with the confirmation of the wight’s existence, it was now a battle for survival. But even still, they remained on opposing sides. Cersei refused to help and as leader of her armies, Jaime has to go along with it, no matter how bitter he is about her decision. As past events have led Brienne to the conclusion that Jaime is a reasonable man and that he finds it difficult to refuse her things because he knows her requests are often the right choice, she attempts to get him to agree to talk to Cersei.
While telling him to “fuck loyalty” may have brought the Jaime she fell in love with to the forefront, as he is genuinely shocked by her outburst, at her mention of the Queen, his mask slams right back into place. He glances at Cersei, who looks distinctly angry with this new proceeding before walking away, and as he turns back to Brienne, makes the decision to push her away. Cersei had just threatened to kill him if he betrayed her again and that means he cannot be close to Brienne, not while they are on opposing sides and probably never while Cersei is in earshot. She means too much and Cersei knows it. He’s cold as he looks at Brienne and opts for the less honorable choice of obeying Cersei’s whims. It was the smarter choice but it wasn’t the choice the Jaime who gave Brienne Oathkeeper would have made. He chose his sister over honor; he chose his sister over her (and the rest of humanity). Brienne is left crestfallen, wondering if she had been a fool to trust a Lannister.
As audience members, we know that Jaime did try to appeal to Cersei though it was Tyrion who was ultimately successful. But without getting to see Brienne’s reaction to Cersei’s faked change of heart, it’s difficult to know where things stand with her. Regardless of his external appearance, however, it is clear that Brienne’s words made an impact on him. When it was promised that they would send assistance, it was a promise that Jaime took seriously. It was a promise to Jon and Dany, yes, but it was one to Brienne as well. Ultimately, it was one he was unwilling to break, because he is the man Brienne believes him to be, or at least he can be. Allying with Jon and Dany was the right choice; it was the choice that had the best chance for survival, not just for him but for the Seven Kingdoms. He killed the king to save King’s Landing once. He walked away from his sister and their child for the same reason.
Now that Jaime is riding North, I expect him to meet up with Brienne again sooner rather than later in season 8. The fact that he’s there at all, especially on his own, will likely go a long way toward reassuring her that she didn’t believe in a lie. While I am certain that there is no ultimate happy ending for these two, I hope they get a chance to really talk to each other and finally verbalize their feelings. This show can be a mess but this is one thing they have always done right for me, thanks in large part to the talents of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie. They put a lot into their non-verbal communication and infuse their scenes together with tremendous depth and emotion. I would love for them to get the chance to highlight the love these two share for each other, even if it’s only for a brief moment.