Re-Examining Jaime Lannister: An Attempt to Understand One of Game of Thrones’ Most Popular Character Arcs

By Mlgagne

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in season eight. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO.

Jaime Lannister almost had it all; the same character who pushed Bran Stark out of a window in Game of Thrones’ pilot episode had become a fan-favorite as he journeyed through an arc of redemption over the course of six and a half seasons. Once viewed by many as a villain who was willing to do anything to continue an incestuous relationship with Cersei, viewers were eventually introduced to Jaime’s more empathetic side when Catelyn Stark tasked Brienne of Tarth with taking Jamie back to King’s Landing in exchange for Sansa and Arya. His time on the road with Brienne showed us that he was, in fact, a very complex individual with a past that would forever haunt him, a good chunk of which can be attributed to his killing of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, whom he was sworn to serve, in order to save the citizens of King’s Landing from being burned alive. At the time, Brienne was perhaps the only person who knew this story from his perspective; everyone else judged him as an oathbreaker, solidifying Jamie as a man without honor in the eyes of others…and in his own eyes, too. But when he saved Brienne from rapists and lost his sword hand in the process, we came to realize at the same time as Brienne that Jaime was actually more than he appeared to be; he was, in fact, a man of honor at his core, but he struggled with this quality in himself because of his inner demons and his dedication to his sister.

From there, Jaime’s journey of redemption began, with Brienne’s influence at the center of it all. In his eyes, she was everything he had once aspired to be: a loyal and honorable person and fighter. He returned to King’s Landing aspiring to do better – and, even though he returned to Cersei’s side, he was able to side-step many of her wishes in order to do the right thing (such as freeing Tyrion from his prison cell and sending Brienne to find and protect Sansa and Arya). And yet, there was a part of him that continued to struggle because despite all of the heinous things that Cersei was doing in King’s Landing, he always seemed to find himself returning to her side. This streak was finally broken in the season seven finale, when he left Cersei behind to go fight at Winterfell in the battle against the Night King… again, due to Brienne’s influence. At Winterfell, he knighted Brienne, giving her something that she’d always dreamed of but never believed to be possible, because he knew that she is more deserving of the title than anyone. And in the battle of Winterfell, the two fought side-by-side with the Valyrian steel sister swords that were forged from Ned Stark’s great sword, a poetic defense of the North. By the “The Last of the Starks” (8.04), Jaime seemed to reach the apex of his character arc when he and Brienne finally consummated their relationship, and he revealed his plans to stay with her in Winterfell while Daenerys’ armies traveled south to the war against Cersei in King’s Landing. It seemed to be the perfect “happily ever after” that Jaime always wanted but never thought that he deserved.

Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) pleads with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) not to march south in “The Last of the Starks.” Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO (retrieved from IGN).

But then, upon hearing that Rhaegal was killed and Missandei was taken on Cersei’s orders, Jaime left Brienne behind to return to his sister’s side. And upon trying to save Cersei from Daenerys’ fiery attack on the city in “The Bells” (8.05), the two were trapped in the Red Keep with no means of escaping… and as Jaime attempted to comfort his sister through her distress, they were crushed to death in each other’s arms as the castle came crumbling down.

Initially, I had a very difficult time comprehending the end to Jaime’s story. George R. R. Martin has stated that Jaime’s character arc was supposed to be one of redemption – so while I had always figured that Jamie would have a tragic death in the end, I had consistently believed that it would be the apex of his redemption arc: that perhaps he would die protecting Brienne, or that he would be crucial to taking Cersei down, possibly even killing her himself (as the valonqar theory suggested) and sacrificing himself in the process. But this was not the case. In the end, he spent the entire series trying to redeem himself just to default back to the person we saw in the pilot. And, in order for me to accept a character arc that seems anything but satisfying, I was forced to look at the show’s interpretation of Jaime in a different way.

So, what exactly does Jaime’s character arc on the show mean – and how do both Cersei and Brienne come into play? After a long conversation with a friend of mine following “The Bells,” the full realization of the tragedy of Jaime’s story finally dawned on me: he was an addict who, in the end, could not overcome the monster within himself.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei (Lena Headey) in “The Bells.” Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO (retrieved from IGN).

Essentially, Jaime was doomed from the very start. In the past, I had always thought that it was strange that Jaime was the only one of his siblings who hadn’t developed alcoholism, so I had assumed that he was the most well-adjusted of the three…but that was simply not the case. Tywin’s lack of affection towards his children and attempts to control their lives forced all three of them to dull the pain of not being loved by or having a real upbringing from their parents in different ways. Tyrion first dealt with this by turning to brothels because of what had transpired with his first wife, Tysha… and later, when he was similarly betrayed by his father with Shae, he turned to drinking. Likewise, not knowing what love was supposed to be like or having a mother to guide them after her death, Jaime and Cersei clung to each other, resulting in a mutually toxic, obsessive, and incestuous relationship that both dwelt in for most of their lives. And while Cersei turned to drinking when Jaime was captured by the Starks because she thought she’d never see him again, Jaime never picked up the habit because Cersei was his addiction. And, like an addict in need of a fix, he was willing to do anything to be with her: push a child out of a window… kill his cousin… and, eventually, abandon his real chance at pure love and happiness. As Olenna Tyrell says to Jaime prior to her death in “The Queen’s Justice” (7.03), “You love her. You really do love her. You poor fool. She’ll be the end of you… If she’s driven you this far, it’s gone beyond your control… She’s a disease.” And in the end, those words rang true.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” Photo: HBO (retrieved from: Cosmopolitan).

However, in order to understand Brienne’s role in this, A Storm of Swords provides a clue in the chapter where Jaime saves her from the bear pit. Prior to his return to Harrenhal, Jamie has a vivid dream that he is in a dark cavern beneath Casterly Rock, left naked and alone by his family… but with Brienne still by his side, both of them holding flaming swords. Before leaving Jaime behind in the darkness, Cersei says, “The flames will burn so long as you live. When they die, so must you.” And by the end of the dream, the flame lighting Jaime’s sword dies out, “and only Brienne’s burned, as the ghosts came rushing in.”

In this way, Brienne can be seen as the light in Jaime’s darkness. She is the one person in the world who sees him through to his core, finds the goodness in him, and inspires him to be better. She’s the person he aspires to be like because she’s exactly what he always wanted to be: loyal, honorable, respectable, and pure. She gives him the hope that he can redeem himself in some way… and, deep down, he wishes that he could be with her, but he never allowed it to become a possibility due to his own loyalty to Cersei and his family as a whole. Every time they had to part in the past, his eyes were always wistful, as if he were watching the life he wanted but knew he could never have drift out of his reach. So before the battle of Winterfell came about, I don’t think that Jaime was expecting to finally be able to act on those feelings and have an actual chance with Brienne…but when it did, everything changed.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) knights Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” Photo: HBO (retrieved from: Thrillist).

There’s a lot to be said about what transpired between Jaime and Brienne at Winterfell. The knighting scene was clearly a declaration of love for her on Jaime’s part, almost playing out like a proposal of sorts. Fighting side-by-side during the battle itself was like a marriage, with two halves of a whole finally coming together as one. And, of course, the consummation of their relationship on the night of the victory celebration was like their wedding night. The fact that they both have to be so drunk to finally sleep together says a lot; they’re nervous because they’ve never really let their feelings for one another bubble so close to the surface as, once again, neither ever expected to be able to act on them. Add into the mix that Brienne was a virgin and that Jaime had never slept with anyone other than Cersei, and I think the prospect for the both of them became even scarier. But I think it was overwhelmingly obvious that they both wanted to be with one another; after all, the underlying truth often comes out under the influence of alcohol. Afterwards, they spent what seems to be a few weeks in a newlywed type of bliss…and I think Jaime had every intention of staying in Winterfell, as he said he would.

In the end, Jaime’s decision to go back to Cersei came down to him being half of two separate wholes: one with a woman he never expected to fall for that was based in a pure, unconditional love, and the other with his twin sister that was based in a toxic, obsessive love… and, because of his addiction to Cersei, the toxic love was the one that won the internal battle. It was his final relapse, and there was nothing that Brienne could have said or done any differently to change things. While Jamie’s parting words to Brienne are harsh, his face says it all: he’s ashamed, he’s disgusted with himself, and he’s still going to leave her because he can’t help himself.

Jaime was on the cusp of the happy ending that I always dreamed of for him…and, at the last minute, he hit his own “self-destruct” button, and the monster inside him won.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) during the Battle of Winterfell. Photo: HBO (retrieved from Den of Geek).

Part of me wishes that Jaime and Brienne had died together at the Battle of Winterfell as they fought together. Another part of me wishes – and, I never thought I’d say this – that they had never consummated their relationship. And all of me wishes that Jaime could have defeated his inner demons in the end, whether he had sacrificed himself to kill Cersei or he had stayed with Brienne in Winterfell and started a new chapter in his life. But in real life, the fact of the matter is that many addicts do not get to have a happy or even a satisfying ending; after years of struggle, they fall victim to the illness. Instead of following the lines of a classical redemption arc, Jaime’s story on Thrones was exactly this, its tragedy being that he was so close to becoming the person he wanted to be and having the life he always deserved – but he fell all the way back to the bottom just as he reached the top. And, in my opinion, it is absolutely one of the most heartbreaking storylines that Thrones has managed to deliver.

So, was all of Jaime’s character development for naught? I think this can only be answered after we’ve seen the final episode of the series, but I’m hopeful that it wasn’t. To me, the perfect bittersweet ending to all of this would be if Brienne is carrying Jaime’s child – his only child that will be brought into the world from something so pure and unconditional, unlike the children of incest that Cersei bore. As a well-adjusted adult, Brienne would be able to raise the child into adulthood – something Cersei was never able to do. In that way, Jaime’s story would be able to live on through her; after all, the imagery presented by Jaime’s dream in A Storm of Swords suggests that Brienne will live after he dies. I only hope that if things end this way, someone (maybe Tyrion or Bran, depending on their survival) lets her know that Jaime did, in fact, love her, but that his inner demons were just too much for him to overcome. After the way that he left her, I feel like Brienne deserves that kind of closure.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) consummate their relationship in “The Last of the Starks.” Photo: HBO (retrieved from: Decider).

At the end of the day, I will never believe that Jaime didn’t love Brienne; the subtext between the two of them has been written across both the page and the screen since the first time they met, and George R. R. Martin even told Gwendoline Christie that he intended for their story to be an inverted version of Beauty and the Beast. At the end of the day, they were star-crossed, doomed to fail because of the circumstances surrounding Jaime’s upbringing and his relationship with his sister. And, at the end of the day, while Jaime may have loved Cersei until his dying breath, it was never a “true” love, but an obsessive love that was confused as such (as I stated before, the Lannister children never had a good example of what love was supposed to be due to their upbringing). Jaime’s love for Brienne came from a place of purity, transcending beyond the physical to something of mutual respect, emotional understanding, and unconditional feelings for one another; in other words, it was everything that “true” love should be. But in real life, “true” love does not always conquer all… and though Brienne may have saved Jaime from himself many times throughout the course of the series, she was unable to do so in the very end.

Of all the character deaths we’ve witnessed on Game of Thrones, Jaime’s has certainly been the hardest for me to handle personally; to be fully transparent, I’ve spent days crying over it. A lot of this can be attributed to my sensitivity as an actor; after all, I have a tendency to spend a lot of time dissecting the minds of the characters whom I love the most. However, I think that most of it comes down to the fact that I first became enamored with Thrones not long after getting out of an extremely toxic relationship, and Jaime was the character that I clung to because his arc gave me the hope for something better. So, for me, to see him fall victim to his own toxic relationship just as he’s reached that “something better” wasn’t just tragic; it was heart-shattering (and across the internet, I’ve seen similar stories to mine with regard to Daenerys’ “Mad Queen” arc in season eight, so I know I am not the only one out there who is dealing with these kinds of feelings). But seeing the path that Jamie fell down doesn’t make him any less my favorite character of the series; in fact, it makes me love him more, because I now have a better understanding of him and his representation within the modern world. It allows me to sympathize and empathize with him more than I previously did because the struggles his character went through were more severe than I had imagined. But more importantly, Jaime’s storyline doesn’t make me lose hope for the future because of the lesson it teaches: sometimes in the end, the only thing holding us back from something better is ourselves.

Will Jaime’s arc play out similarly in George R. R. Martin’s last two novels? Right now, that’s hard to determine, since Jaime’s parting from Cersei occurs much earlier in the books than it does on the show. The second half of his plot line in A Feast for Crows reads much like a person trying to get over a relationship and to live a better life, and he leaves with Brienne at the end of A Dance with Dragons as opposed to going back to King’s Landing. Plus, it is worth noting that Jaime does not continuously leave King’s Landing just to return back to Cersei throughout the course of the books as he did on the show; rather, he never returns after his departure in A Feast for Crows, possibly suggesting that he has a higher probability of getting over her in the books. Moreover, the valonqar prophecy was actually never included as a part of Maggy the Frog’s prophecy on the show, so part of me wonders if the showrunners did not deliver us with an alternative take on Jaime’s arc that simply ended in the same place: with him and Cersei dying together (because honestly, there is a poetry to them being born together and dying together, so I think that has a strong possibility of being the conclusion in both mediums…despite the path taken to get there). So, perhaps he will receive a more classical redemption arc in Martin’s novels where he kills Cersei, and perhaps not; at this point, I’m prepared for either outcome.

But show-wise, all that can be said about Jaime’s death that I haven’t said already is that it was much like his arc as a whole: tragic and complicated, with the melancholic tones that he deserved more from his life than what he received. It was raw and realistic, gut-wrenching and beautiful…and that’s just about as Game of Thrones as you can get.

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Mlgagne

Melanie (Mlgagne) is an actor/producer and a lover of pop culture and the entertainment industry. She is a passionate fan of various TV shows and films, including (but certainly not limited to) PREACHER, GAME OF THRONES, THE WALKING DEAD, RIVERDALE, and X-MEN. She is a regular attendee of San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), and she has attended New York Comic Con (NYCC), WonderCon, and Walker Stalker Con in the past. You can follow her on both Twitter and Instagram @mlgagne.