There it is. There’s the look. I’ve seen it for seventeen years on face after face. You all despise me. Kingslayer. Oathbreaker. A man without honor.
— Jaime Lannister, “Kissed by Fire”
In myth and folklore, twins often illustrate the dualistic nature of the world in which they exist. The Greek deities of Apollo and Artemis ruled the sun and the moon. The ancient cult of Zurvan presented the gods Ormuzd and Ahriman as the embodiment of good and evil. In more contemporary literature, twins or doppelgangers have symbolized the struggle of one’s inner self, such as in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. As a twin, Jaime Lannister represents duality in a physical sense, and his story revolves around the duality of his nature. The dichotomy between Jaime’s ‘good’ and ‘evil’ sides has been a major driving force behind his arc for six seasons.
Game of Thrones is coming to a close, as are the stories of the characters that we have followed since it began. All conflict must end, including Jaime Lannister’s ongoing inner struggle. In this article, we’ll forecast how it might be resolved, but to do that, we have to first examine the men he has been in the past. Jaime has encountered two major turning points in his life, both of which acted as catalysts for important events and greatly informed his personality. The death of Aerys Targaryen was the first of these two pivotal moments. Let’s take a closer look at it.
In Season 1, Jaime Lannister immediately makes a bad first impression on us. Right from the start, in “Winter is Coming,” he appears to be a reckless and arrogant man who lacks compassion. He has a sizable superiority complex and enjoys mocking other people, particularly those who are morally righteous, as when he talks with Jon Snow in “The Kingsroad.” Although Jon is grief-stricken over Bran’s fall, Jaime isn’t ashamed to twist the knife by ridiculing the Night’s Watch and Jon’s decision to take the black. This is the kind of behavior we might expect from an oath-breaking Kingslayer. However, Jaime didn’t always act like a man without honor.
Now for a quick history lesson. In Jaime’s youth, he was a popular squire, admired for his prodigious skill with a sword. He was knighted at the age of 15 and joined Aerys Targaryen’s Kingsguard a year later, making him the youngest knight to ever be named to the order. When Jaime retells the story on Robert’s Rebellion on the Season 6 History and Lore Blu-ray feature, he recalls how a cheer went up from the crowd on the day he swore his oath at the great tourney of Harrenhal. His appointment to the order was part of Aerys’ ploy to steal an heir from Tywin Lannister, but Jaime was proud nonetheless. He didn’t join the order intent on breaking his vows. He envisioned a glorious future, but that ended when he drove his sword through his king’s back.
In the first two seasons of Game of Thrones, Jaime is written in a way that makes us feel removed from him. He plays his cards close to his chest and we see little of what lies beneath the surface. Instead, we form our opinion of him by viewing him through the eyes of other characters. Angry because Jaime pushed her son Bran out a window, Catelyn smacks Jaime with a rock in “Fire and Blood,” and we sympathize. When Ned and Jaime fight in the streets in “The Wolf and the Lion,” we want Ned to win.
During this period, Jaime occasionally hints that there was more to Aerys Targaryen’s death then we knew, but his full retrospective isn’t revealed until Season 3. This is when we start to get to know the other side of Jaime Lannister.
In Season 3’s “Kissed by Fire,” weak from the loss of his hand and woozy from the heat of the bath he’s taking, Jaime tells the full story about how he killed Aerys to Brienne of Tarth. We learn that Jaime didn’t take his decision to kill Aerys lightly, which is striking because Jaime is known for his impulsivity. Contrary to popular belief, he tried very hard to remain loyal. He cautioned Aerys not to allow Tywin Lannister and his forces into King’s Landing, but was ignored. When Tywin sacked the city, Jaime urged Aerys to surrender, but was ignored again. Still, Jaime remained true until the moment Aerys ordered him to kill his own father, and to stand by while the Mad King’s pyromancers set off caches of wildfire buried under the city, burning King’s Landing to ash. While Cersei has remarked that Jaime doesn’t take enough seriously (“The Lion and the Wolf”), it’s clear that this isn’t always the case.
In killing Aerys, Jaime broke his oath to protect his king, but his actions were not born of ignoble disregard for the vow he had taken. Jaime killed Aerys because the alternative was genocide, and any sane person would have done the same. This shows us that Jaime has a moral compass which, although it grew rusty over time, once emboldened him to make the difficult and risky choice to do the right thing. If Ned Stark, who found him sitting on the throne while Aerys lay dead on the floor, had listened to his side of the story, he may have judged the situation differently. Alas, he chose to believe the worst in Jaime, and Westeros followed suit.
Few men would stand a chance against the unimpeachable word of a man as honorable as Eddard Stark, and Jaime’s voice wasn’t heard because nobody wanted to hear it. He saved thousands of lives, but nobody thanked him. They expected him to die defending his king, yet the men who had rebelled against their king were celebrated. Meanwhile, Jaime became their scapegoat. It was no wonder that he became embittered, and like many people who lack the maturity to deal with unfair situations, he dealt with the animosity of his peers by playing up to their expectations. His trust extended to his immediate family, and nobody else. Like Cersei, he made the world into an enemy. Unlike Cersei, the world had made an enemy of him first.
Bran Stark and Jaime’s disability
The second defining moment of Jaime Lannister’s life came when he attempted to murder young Bran Stark, who had happened upon him and his sister Cersei making love in a ruined tower at Winterfell. Unlike the death of Aerys, Jaime probably didn’t foresee that his actions that day would have life-changing consequences. He didn’t appear worried following the event, nor did he show any remorse. Unbeknownst to him, Lysa Arryn had written to Bran’s mother and blamed the Lannisters for her husband’s death. The touch paper was in place, and Jaime lit the match.
Bran, as we know, was rendered paraplegic by his fall, and in the days that followed, Jaime asserted that he would rather be dead than physically disabled (“The Kingsroad”). It’s easy to understand why he took this stance. His betrayal of the Mad King had left a permanent blight on his reputation. He was universally loathed and derided as an oathbreaker throughout the Seven Kingdoms. But when a tourney was staged, or a battle fought, no man in Westeros could deny that Jaime was the best swordsman around. His physical prowess was his golden ticket, revered by the masses and entirely his own. Jaime Lannister built his life, and his identity, on this foundation.
In Season 3, a Bolton lieutenant named Locke chops off Jaime’s sword hand. Jaime could no longer fight. Without his foundation, his life collapsed, and Jaime has struggled to find his place in the world ever since.
In the meantime, Bran rallied. Bran, a child, had spent his short life longing to be a knight, but Jaime took that away from him. Instead of falling to pieces, he found a power within himself unlike anything he could have imagined. During his quest to become the new Three-Eyed Raven, Bran has forged a path through the chaos and heartache that has plagued his family, and has handled his burdens with wizened resignation. It’s not a happy existence, but he has something that Jaime lacks: a true calling. Whatever mistakes Bran may have made on his journey, he has not allowed his disability to hinder him.
Intended or not, Bran and Jaime’s stories are running parallel to each other. Jaime crippled Bran by throwing him from a tower, and soon afterwards he lost his own hand. Years later, Jaime’s last remaining child, Tommen, threw himself out a window to his own death. By crippling the young heir to House Stark, Jaime seems to have cursed himself and his family. If Bran had never been pushed, Tyrion would not have been arrested, Tywin would not have declared war and Jaime would never have been captured. He could have lived the rest of his life steeped in the same unapologetic arrogance and callousness that defined him in Season 1. Instead, he lives with inner turmoil. Perhaps remorse, and Bran’s forgiveness, could be the way forward.
However, if Jaime were to think of making peace with the Starks, there are obstacles to consider, the most prominent of which is his twin sister Cersei. She commands more loyalty from Jaime than any king he ever served, and has dictated his behavior since the day he was born.
Cersei — The abusive lover
Jaime: “Every day I was a prisoner, I plotted my escape. Every day. I murdered people so I could be here with you.”
Cersei: “You took too long.”
Jaime has been romantically involved with Cersei since childhood, and his life has been shaped by decisions she made. It was Cersei who plotted for him to join Aerys Targaryen’s Kingsguard, a role that prohibited him from inheriting his ancestral home or having a family of his own. Jaime, then 16, shelved his own ambitions and agreed to her plan because he wanted to stay close to her.
Since then, he has served her without hesitation, even if that required an act of evil, like pushing Bran out the window or killing his cousin Alton to escape captivity in Season 2’s “A Man Without Honor.” This isn’t to say that Jaime has no agency of his own or that he can’t be held accountable for his own actions. It just goes to show what a powerful hold Cersei has over Jaime’s decision-making.
By and large, his efforts have not been reciprocated. The most time and effort Cersei has sacrificed for Jaime was the better part of an afternoon spent with the goldsmiths, designing his prosthetic hand (“Two Swords”). In addition to her disinterest, she demonstrates little respect for him. For instance, in Season 5’s “The House of Black and White,” she summons him to her chambers to discuss a message from the Martells. In the process, she insults him, blames him for several recent tragedies in her life, and berates him for failing to act as a father to their children, even though it was she who forbade it.
As for affection, it serves her well when she needs something. We see this in Season 4’s “The Children” when, following an argument with her father, she seduces Jaime in order to ensure that he remains on her side. This came after an entire season of coldness on her end. These are not the actions of a loving partner, but of a calculated manipulator.
Going further, what feelings Cersei has for Jaime may be based not on respect or admiration but on narcissism—a desire to be Jaime. Jaime was Tywin Lannister’s favorite child, but Cersei has always believed that she would have made a better son to Tywin than the two he had. She shares her feelings on the subject in Season 3’s “And Now His Watch Is Ended”:
Did it ever occur to you that I might be the one who deserves your confidence and your trust, not your sons? Not Jaime or Tyrion, but me. Years and years of lectures on family and legacy…Did it ever occur to you that your daughter might be the only one listening to them, living by them, that she might have the most to contribute?
Cersei and Jaime were grown from the same seed, but Jaime was born male, so she punishes him for taking that opportunity from her. If she hates Tyrion for the death of her mother, she resents Jaime for taking her rightful position. The taint of jealousy has warped her love for him from the first.
The abuse to which Cersei subjects Jaime is not as blatant as the torture suffered by Sansa at the hands of Ramsay, but it is abuse nonetheless. Her brand of mental and emotional torment is very difficult for a victim to escape. It’s the most disturbing characteristic of their relationship, even more so than the incest, and it has given Jaime deep wounds.
The Season 4 controversy
In Season 4’s “Breaker of Chains,” Jaime rapes Cersei as she stands vigil by Joffrey’s body in the sept. The scene comes from the books, but in A Storm of Swords, Cersei and Jaime’s lovemaking is consensual, and occurs directly after Jaime returns to King’s Landing. George R.R. Martin later discussed the scene on his blog, saying “[i]f the show had retained some of Cersei’s dialogue from the books, it might have left a somewhat different impression.”
Firstly, Cersei is the clear victim in this situation, and is not to blame for Jaime’s actions. It’s important to address this moment when we consider Jaime as an abuse victim, because the scene itself seems like such an anomaly. Jaime doesn’t appear to be a man who condones the act of rape. He made an effort to rescue Brienne of Tarth from rape only a season earlier, back when expending any effort for anyone who wasn’t Cersei was very unlike him. Thus, his decision to force himself on Cersei immediately following a period of great personal growth came as a shock.
Alex Graves, the director of the episode, argued in an interview that no rape took place. His explanation, that Cersei’s consent was nonverbal, is a poor one. However, Graves’ claim was also backed up by actors Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Personally, I don’t believe the scene was edited in a way that made this perspective clear to the audience, nor do I believe that Graves did Jaime’s character justice, but that’s for the individual to interpret. In any case, it happened, and it’s part of the show’s history.
What everyone can derive from this scene is that Jaime and Cersei are not a functional couple. They have each abused the other, and neither of them should be excused for their actions. Their relationship is unhealthy, destructive and poisonous. As it limps feebly into the seventh season, we wonder for how long it can continue.
Brienne of Tarth — The nurturer
Brienne, about Oathkeeper: “You gave it to me for a purpose. I have achieved that purpose.”
Jaime: “It’s yours. It will always be yours.”
Jaime was born and raised with Cersei, and spent over 15 years living with her in King’s Landing as a member of Robert Baratheon’s Kingsguard. Like the Night’s Watch, the brothers of the Kingsguard vow never to marry, so Tywin Lannister never had cause to introduce Jaime to a potential bride. It’s also likely that the controlling Cersei would have done everything she could to keep her brother from interacting with other women, and from what he’s said, he never had eyes for anyone but her. Jaime even admits to Catelyn Stark that he has never been with anyone but his sister (“Fire and Blood”). Therefore, it’s easy to believe that Jaime possesses a fair amount of ignorance where the opposite sex is concerned.
Enter Brienne of Tarth, who acts as a transforming influence on Jaime. Loyal and honorable, Brienne is the antithesis of Cersei Lannister. At first, Jaime pokes fun at her, but he also lies to Locke about her father’s fortune to save her from rape, and that’s before he has his hand chopped off or opens up to her in the bathtub at Harrenhal (“Walk of Punishment”). Even at this early stage, perhaps he saw in Brienne’s unyielding integrity a reflection of the honorable knight he once hoped to be.
Jaime and Brienne’s stay at Harrenhal binds them even closer together, but eventually, they must part. Roose Bolton allows Jaime to leave the castle and return to King’s Landing, but gives Brienne to Locke to do with her as he will. But on his to the capital city, Jaime doubles back and saves Brienne from death after Locke and his men set a bear on her, an uncharacteristic act that nearly costs him his life (“The Bear and the Maiden Fair”). This is a powerful moment for Jaime, who’s rarely shown concern for people not in his immediate family. The same man who killed his own cousin so he might return to Cersei quicker suddenly finds himself delaying his trip home in order to protect another woman.
Brienne represents morals, justice and heroism, everything that Jaime lost when he killed Aerys and everything he has spent a long time rejecting. But in spite of Jaime’s terrible reputation, she believes in him. She trusts his word and places faith in his honor. This kind of confidence means everything to a man like Jaime, who is bothered by the general public’s lack of respect for him. Brienne—who held Jaime in her arms after his confession in Harrenhal—doesn’t just make him want to be a better man; she makes him believe that he can be, and that earns her his love.
Circumstances dictate that Jaime and Brienne can’t accept or admit to their feelings, whatever their exact nature. But that doesn’t diminish the strength of Jaime’s regard for Brienne. His feelings are not only healthier than his love for Cersei, but stronger, as they are based on a foundation of respect. As Nikolaj Coster-Waldau confirmed on the home video audio commentary for “No One,” when Jaime tells Brienne that his sword—which represents everything that Jaime once thought best about himself—will always be hers, he is offering his heart in the only way he can.
Jaime in the present
Edmure: “You understand. On some level you understand that you’re an evil man.”
Jaime: “I’ll leave the judgments to the gods.”
Edmure: “Well, that is convenient for you. You’re a fine-looking fellow, aren’t you? Your square jaw, your golden armor. Tell me, I want to know. I truly do. How do you live with yourself? All of us have to believe that we’re decent, don’t we? You have to sleep at night. How do you tell yourself that you’re decent after everything that you’ve done?”
One of Jaime’s strongest scenes takes place during Season 6’s “No One.” In the episode, Jaime has a private meeting with Edmure Tully to discuss the surrender of Riverrun. To force Edmure into submission, Jaime threatens to kill Edmure’s infant son unless he gives up the castle. Although Jaime has hurt a child before, it’s still a jarring moment for the audience, as we believe Jaime has grown beyond such atrocities. After all, Jaime has not willfully harmed anyone for his own gain since he left Robb Stark’s camp with Brienne.
Is Jaime lying? After all, Catelyn Stark would have told Edmure, her brother, that it was Jaime who tried to kill Bran. Knowing this, Jaime may have been trying to use his terrible reputation to his advantage. Edmure was never going to trust him, so promises of freedom and comfort would have fallen on deaf ears. But knowing him capable of trying to kill one child, Edmure would believe he could kill another.
Brienne asked Jaime to take Riverrun without bloodshed, and Brienne can influence Jaime to to follow his better nature. If Jaime were as heartless as he acted in the tent with Edmure, would he have listened to her? Rather than trying to take the castle peacefully, he would have sent his men to take the castle by force. The old Jaime—the man who acted first and thought later—likely would have done that straight away. The new Jaime is wiser.
In any case, Jaime’s plan works, and hundreds of lives are spared. Taking a stronghold in peace is difficult without first enduring a lengthy siege, so this is a big victory for Jaime and a mark of his maturity. He started the series as a man who never considered the consequences of his actions. Now he’s evolved into a man who makes thoughtful, intelligent decisions.
But this episode also tells us a lot about his disintegrating relationship with Cersei. Edmure is correct when he talks of the terrible things Jaime has done, but Jaime does have a conscience. He has done evil things, but he isn’t Joffrey—he doesn’t have an instinctive desire to cause pain. When Edmure asks him how he pretends to be a decent person, Jaime’s response is to talk about his love for Cersei. He claims—as he has many times—that he will do anything necessary to return to her side. It’s a touching, impassioned tribute, but it doesn’t quite ring true, not anymore. Jaime is lying to Edmure, but also to himself.
As I’ve said before, Jaime has not been living his life for himself. He lives for Cersei, and the worst things he’s done were done in her service. He wasn’t awakened to the fact that he was a victim of her abuse and manipulation until he got to know Brienne. Nor was he awakened to the part of him that still longed to be the hero. His deepening relationship with Brienne coincided with the loss of his hand, a traumatizing event that forced him to reevaluate his identity. As his self-awareness increases, he may want to aspire to more than a position as his sister’s lackey.
Joffrey in “Two Swords”: “Someone forgot to write down all your great deeds.”
Jaime: “There’s still time.”
Joffrey: “Is there? For a forty-year-old knight with one hand?”
Jaime has been dealing with feelings of incompetence since he lost his hand and got back in touch with his tarnished honor. After he returned to King’s Landing, his thoughts turned to his short entry in the White Book, which records the deeds of the members of the Kingsguard. He ruminated on his meager achievements and told Brienne that he aspired to more (“Oathkeeper”). But so far, he’s only succeeded in swimming in circles. He rescued Tyrion from execution, but it resulted in his father’s death. He rescued Myrcella from Dorne, but was unable to save her when she succumbed to poisoning. Without the security of his physical prowess, Jaime has struggled to find success. Riverrun is only one victory, and that’s not enough to undo his self-doubt.
In my opinion, Jaime clings to his familiar relationship with Cersei for the unhealthiest of reasons, and attempts to act like the man he once was for the sake of hanging on. If he were to admit that his love for her was waning, it would mean that all the terrible things he has done for Cersei were for nothing. It would mean that he has lived most of his life for a person who did not deserve his love or loyalty. It would mean that he had no purpose, and having no purpose is something he truly fears.
Bronn: “I’ve had an exciting life, I want my death to be boring. How do you wanna go?”
Jaime: “In the arms of the woman I love.”
Bronn: “Does she want the same thing?”
The two sides of Jaime’s character are in constant combat with each other. If he spends the rest of his life flitting between them both, he will continue to serve as his own greatest obstacle. In short, he needs to choose a side. Once he does that, he’ll have a harder task: standing by his decision. He can have Cersei, or he can stand with Brienne. He cannot do both.
Cersei isn’t an attractive option. She’s the reigning Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, but she can’t count on those kingdoms to submit to her will. The houses of Dorne and the Reach are united against her. The North, which counts Cersei’s former plaything Sansa Stark among its leaders, is not her friend, and Petyr Baelish has thrown the might of the Vale behind it. House Baratheon is dead, and the loyalty of the Stormlands is in question. As for House Frey, its hold over the Riverlands was thrown into turmoil by a she-wolf with murder in her heart. And soon comes Daenerys Targaryen, with an army of Unsullied, thousands of Dothraki screams and three dragons.
Rather than court these long odds of victory, Jaime could shelve his poisonous relationship with Cersei and head north to offer his services in the ongoing fight against the White Walkers, which would allow him to fully embrace the heroism to which he secretly aspires. If Jon Snow secures Daenerys Targaryen’s assistance, this would also give Jaime a chance to reunite with Tyrion, a sibling more deserving of his time and affection, assuming Jaime can forgive him for the murder of their father. Finally, he would have the opportunity to apologize to Bran. Reconciliation wouldn’t be easy, but if Jaime is to fully embrace the better side of himself, he should do so with as clear a conscience as possible.
Personally, I believe Jaime’s story will end with the abolition of his reputation as Kingslayer, but whether he lives to see it happen is another question. If he does die, I hope that the show honors his wish to die in the arms of the woman he loves.