Dame of Thrones: Brienne of Tarth
By Rebecca Pahle on in Editorial.

Put your hands over your ears, ’cause she’ll bite ‘em: It’s time to talk about Brienne of Tarth.

Name: Brienne of Darth Tarth, suckas.

Family: Brienne has one dead mother and three dead siblings, making her the heir to House Tarth. Her father, Lord Selwyn Tarth, realized pretty early on that he had a tomboy on his hands and so allowed her to train in the art of swordfighting. That came in handy the third time she was almost engaged, when a 16-year-old Brienne told the gent in question that she’d only marry someone who could beat in her combat. He accepted the challenge, and she broke three of his bones. Selwyn was probably either the proudest papa ever or got roaringly drunk.

Known Associates: Brienne has served under Renly Baratheon and Catelyn Stark, neither of whom met particularly happy ends. She has a relationship with Jaime Lannister that… well, let’s just say it’s complicated and move on. Podrick Payne is the Luke to her Yoda, though hopefully he’ll skip the whole getting-a-limb-chopped-off thing. But hey, if it happens, maybe Jaime can lend him a hand!

Weapon of Choice: JUSTICE. And a sword. And JUSTICE.

What’s Her Deal?: “Brienne the Beauty” was subject to the one-two punch of being physically unattractive and having talent that skewed more toward traditionally “masculine” pursuits than “feminine” ones. Needless to say, she never fit in too well in Westeros, where noble women are expected to master small talk, marry well, and leave the fighting to the men (for the most part—yay, House Mormont!).

We’re introduced to her in A Clash of Kings as one of the followers of Renly Baratheon, the subject of her misguided affection. Once Renly meets death by shadow baby, Brienne transfers her loyalties to Catelyn Stark, who sends Brienne on a daughter-rescuing mission with full-time Kingslayer, part-time insufferable jackass Jaime Lannister. It doesn’t go well, because the world just does not want Brienne to be happy.

Why Is She Awesome?: More than most characters in A Song of Ice and Fire (well, most still-living characters), Brienne is guided by a deep sense of morality, loyalty, and honor. Basically, she’s the closest thing Westeros has to a legit knight, as opposed to someone who’s technically a knight but has no concept of chivalry and self-sacrifice. (Looking at you, Little Shit Lannister.) Most of the actual knights don’t care about the whole “serve and protect” thing—for them the title is about politics, or doing what their family expects of them, or being shielded from consequences when they commit horrible acts. Brienne wants to be a knight. She wants to help people. And she works for it, even though her being a woman in a patriarchal society is a pretty damn big hurdle, and even though most people don’t recognize her as a knight at all. She subjects herself to ridicule and ostracism, not to mention a boat-load of physical danger, because when it comes to choosing between right vs easy, Brienne will always choose the former.

Also, and this is me getting personal here, the trope of the “female warrior who kicks ass in tight leather clothes and heels and don’t need no man” is far too widespread for my tastes. While Brienne might have been the cardboard “token female badass” in the hands of another author, George R.R. Martin has written a more complex character than “Look how many guys she can beat up–isn’t she sexy?!” One, Brienne isn’t sexy, at least not in the traditional sense. Two, when it comes to things that aren’t knight-ly duties, she’s awkward as hell—girl is not so very talented in the areas of social skills and interpersonal relationships, which I love. (See: Her obvious-to-anyone-with-eyes infatuation with Renly, who’s clearly not so much for the ladies; her not knowing what the hell to do with what is clearly a growing romantic interest in Jaime, shut up, it’s canon now; and her adorably stilted early relationship with Podrick.) Three, you see her having doubts and evolving as a person, which is what happens when naïvety and an idealized conception of knighthoood is confronted with the political and moral clusterfuck that is Westeros.

Martin sees your 2-D “”"”strong female characters,”"”" and he laaaaaughs and laughs.

Most Badass Scene: That time she had a lightsaber battle with Jaime Lannister. Though that time she had a lightsaber battle with The Hound was pretty cool, too. Both of those things legitimately happened.

Best Quote: “If it please you, Brienne’s enough. I’m no lady.” I can smell the emotional complexity.

Fan Theory du Jour: It’s not the flashiest of A Song of Ice and Fire fan theories, but there is a general consensus, supported by evidence, that Brienne is a descendant of Duncan the Tall, aka Dunk from the “Dunk and Egg” stories.

Merch Me Up: Online merchants have prints, clay rabbits, nail polish, tote bags, and shirts for all your Brienne needs. Want to raise a li’l badass? Boom: Brienne of Tarth onesie.

It Belongs In a Museum, AKA Fanart: Quasi-futuristic punk knight Brienne of Tarth? Please and thank you!

By MizaelTengu.

You can find Rebecca on The Mary Sue, Pajiba, and Twitter.)


16 Comments

  1. Turri
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Cousin of HODOR!

  2. Annara Snow
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Surely an example of someone who is technically a knight but is the opposite of what a knight should be is Gregor Clegane? And Amory Lorch, Meryn Trent…what has poor Lancel done?

    I’m not sure what you mean by “it’s canon now”. Brienne’s romantic feelings for Jaime have been canon at least since 2005.

  3. queenofthorns
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    <3 Brienne!!! So much. Way to accidentally and unwittingly begin the reformation of one of the douchiest douches that ever douched a douche. And to be the only G–D— knight left in Westeros (Ser Barry, you're in Essos now).

    Since I finally got around to reading D&E (thx GOO!), and saw the BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS parallels between Dunk and Brienne, I've been constantly wondering whether Dunk or Brienne came first?

    Ya see, aCoK came out in Nov 1998 and The Hedge Knight in August of the same year. It seems likely that the stories were written at least in part at the same time. It seems equally possible to me that GRRM decided to create, in Brienne, a female version of Dunk, OR that he decided that he would create Dunk as her ancestor, from whom she obviously inherited knightly (both physical and mental) qualities.

  4. Alex Also
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    This is a character who’s overdue on tv screens. TV has tried before with the Ugly Betty and Liz Lemon characters but both are attractive and feminine in their preoccupations, just inadequately so. Brienne is an out and out failure at being a woman and while Gwendolyn Christie might be a model, Brienne isn’t.

    If whoever makes tv for living doesn’t take this character and put her in a modern setting and on prime time, they deserve to go broke.

  5. anabbloggin
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Most awesome moment was her killing the Stark men, to me at least. And Jaime’s look when she does kick their ass is just priceless.

  6. Rebecca Pahle
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    Annara Snow,

    I just like picking on Lancel. He’s a little shit and I love him.

  7. Matryoshka core
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Brienne, in my eyes, has a serious halo effect going: I can’t help but measure other characters by the way they treat her. She’s a big part of why I liked Renly.

    Incidentally, one of the best analyses of GoT I ever got to read was the Toast’s Brienne/Sansa slashfiction. It made so much sense, it changed my mind about what a happy ending would be like.

  8. MX
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Matryoshka core,

    The analysis is fun but I dare to disagree.

    All cliches be damned – I think Brienne loves to spend all her time with men, in masculine pursuits, and only a manly companion could fully understand her (I do champion her and Jaime as a couple, otherwise Jaime can go to hell as far as I am concerned). I don’t see her falling for a girl any time soon.

    Gwen is brilliant, playing her so sincerely and passionately, admitting to her own vulnerabilities while being occasionally wicked and twisted, far beyond what Brienne would permit herself — delicious, self-aware contradiction.

    Sansa on the other hand — I could see her and Margaery continue a certain conversation one day…

  9. Here Be Dragons
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Alex Also,

    If you have a chance on Hulu Plus, check out a British comedy called Miranda. It has a modern day version of Brienne that you might be looking for. Tall, very socially awkward mid-30s woman trying to find her way in the world, in her completely unique way, and still doing pretty well. In fact, I think when the casting speculations were happening for Brienne, Miranda Hart was considered because of her height. What a miraculous thing that they found Gwendoline Christie, though. I was worried that would be a big compromise on the show, but they really did it. I love her!!

  10. Mayra
    Posted August 4, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    MX,

    But part of the brilliance of Brienne’s character to me is that she doesn’t do traditionally female things because she thinks she’s not good enough for them. I like to imagine her in the future with a sword in one hand and a baby in the other. She could do both, like a good Mormont does. All she needs is to feel comfortable doing both, and she might already be on that path. Her treatment of Pod and her worry over Sansa certainly betrays stereotypical motherliness. And something else I love about Brienne, at least in the books because the show has downplayed this quite a lot, is how she doesn’t disparage women at all. Catelyn is the only person who was nice to her full-time. Renly was indifferent bordering on shitty, Jaime was full-on shitty before he fanboyed all over her. But Cat loved her from beginning to end, and I think Brienne recognized that.

  11. Alex Also
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    Here Be Dragons,

    Good point about Miranda. She’s on prime time tv and is a character in that direction, without the hostility. I would like to see a series where “Brienne” works in Goldman Sachs (brilliant well-educated but large and ugly girl deals with bright, foul-mouthed sexist weeds), or “Brienne” the bounty hunter (well brought up but ugly east coast girl teams up with ex-footballer pro who can no longer play and can’t cope with life without the adulation to hunt down crims) There’s any number of modern scenarios you could put her in without losing any of her contradictions.

  12. MX
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Mayra,

    We do not disagree; in fact, your views are very close to mine. Brienne certainly respected Cat, and Renly and Jaime were as you describe them. If anything, I agree with you that there is a lot of tenderness in Brienne and that she has a delicate nature which has to remain hidden because of the harshness of the world. She would probably be a mother-lioness, as you say.

    But because of the peculiar nature of her upbringing and inclinations, she prefers to live among men and is very men-focused. She was at unease around feminine women such as Cersei and Margaery, even though Olenna clearly admired her.

    Come to think of it, we have not seen Brienne drunk; it might be fun to witness that.

    Perhaps I am writing all this because it is easier for me to identify with Brienne than with Sansa. People make many funny assumptions based on one’s looks; the interior actually rarely matches the exterior.

  13. Annara Snow
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    MX:
    Matryoshka core,

    The analysis is fun but I dare to disagree.

    All cliches be damned – I think Brienne loves to spend all her time with men, in masculine pursuits, and only a manly companion could fully understand her (I do champion her and Jaime as a couple, otherwise Jaime can go to hell as far as I am concerned). I don’t see her falling for a girl any time soon.

    Gwen is brilliant, playing her so sincerely and passionately, admitting to her own vulnerabilities while being occasionally wicked and twisted, far beyond what Brienne would permit herself — delicious, self-aware contradiction.

    Sansa on the other hand — I could see her and Margaery continue a certain conversation one day…

    Margaery may be into girls (it’s not clear who/what she’s into), but Sansa, I’m afraid, clearly isn’t. Maybe Margaery would stand a chance if she changed sex, grew a foot taller, developed more muscles and got half of her face burned. :D

  14. MX
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I think Sansa is more into the boyish, seemingly cute guys such as young Joffrey and Loras…From there to girls it is a smallish step.

    Admittedly, my perspective is a bit warped since I don’t get the appeal of Loras (or even Jaime). If given the chance to pick, I would go for either Margaery or, indeed, the Hound. Alas, Oberyn is out of reach, and so is Ros. :)

  15. Annara Snow
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    MX:
    I think Sansa is more into the boyish, seemingly cute guys such as young Joffrey and Loras…From there to girls it is a smallish step.

    That’s what she was into when she was 11/12… as a 13-year old with a developing sexuality, she’s into something very different, apparently. (I’m talking about the book/book ages, of course.)

  16. God of Tits and Wine
    Posted August 5, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I can appreciate the writer’s enthusiasm for the material, and I know little of this site’s demographics, but surely the tone and language of this piece doesn’t need to sound like a Doritos advertisement?


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