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