***HEAVY SPOILERS FOLLOW***
For a long time I avoided Game of Thrones because of its popularity. I convinced myself that not only would I be disappointed after hearing so many positive remarks regarding the series, I would resent it if it didn’t match expectations. A few weeks ago, I finally succumbed to temptation and plunged headfirst into the first season. Three weeks later, I am sitting here having finished all six seasons and it has taken ahold of my consciousness during this time. I have many positive remarks regarding everything ranging from the art direction to the lore. However, I want to take some time to highlight a specific character: Jaime Lannister. I think he is especially deserving of recognition because my opinion of him changed so drastically over the course of the series and I think that means something, something worth talking about.
When we are first introduced to Jaime Lannister in the beginning of season one, it is with disdain and contempt. He is introduced as a member of a powerful family who is keen on having sexual relations with his sister. Furthermore, the two siblings actively engage in a cover-up that reaches a boiling point when Brandon Stark, a young boy in a different prominent family, witnesses them having sex in the highest reaches of a tower. Jaime proceeds to push him away from the window, to what he believes will be his certain death. To the chagrin of both Jaime and Cersei, Brandon survives the fall, which creates a whole host of issues for the Lannisters. The introduction to Jaime is a seemingly irredeemable one. He is only presented as malicious and worthy of contempt. He actively attempts to murder a young boy because he cannot allow his act of incest to reach the ears of anyone else. What is also interesting is that this single incident is in a lot of ways the primary catalyst for the misfortune that ultimately befalls the Stark family. Something that must be noted about Jaime not only during his initial introduction, but over the course of the entire series is the fact that very few people use his actual name when either talking to him or talking about him. Jaime, being a member of the Kingsguard, swore an oath to protect the previous king. However, he was ultimately responsible for his death and as a result, was given the derogatory nickname Kingslayer, a name he deeply resents. This nickname is connected to Ned Stark, who plays a large role in Jaime’s characterization during the first season.
As mentioned previously, Jaime pushing Bran from the tower was a major catalyst. As a result of that event, Bran’s mother, Catelyn Stark, kidnaps Jaime’s younger brother. This in turn prompts Jaime and his men to confront Ned, and as they duel each other, Ned is wounded by one of those men. This confrontation is interesting because at first glance it portrays Jaime rather negatively. He attacks Ned, who is a very honorable character and in the process, one of his soldiers injures Ned from behind in a cowardly fashion. When I first witnessed this, I had already written Jaime off as an irredeemable character. However, I think it is important to highlight specific elements of this encounter. Jaime chooses to engage Ned on honorable terms. They fight each other in a one-on-one duel, which shows respect from Jaime’s end. When Ned is injured, it is not under direct orders from Jaime. In fact, when the soldier acts on his own accord, there is a look of disbelief that washes over Jaime’s face. Furthermore, Jaime only confronts Ned because of the actions of Ned’s wife. This was not an unsolicited attack. Game of Thrones proves that it can be easy to write someone off, but if you examine the situation more closely, there will be different angles you may never have realized before.
Jaime Lannister does a complete turnaround in terms of characterization. This turnaround starts with his capture by Rob Stark. During his captivity, Little Finger plants the seed in Catelyn’s mind that if he were to be released, it might spell good tidings for her daughters. Catelyn has an undying love for her children. She will do anything to protect her family. After meeting Brienne of Tarth and gaining her loyalty, she tasks her with protecting Jaime until he arrives at King’s Landing. Catelyn is responsible for setting the Kingslayer free. With her decision, the most unlikely pairing of comrades comes to fruition between Jaime and Brienne. Both characters make it no secret that they despise each other during the beginning of their journey. However Brienne is bound by her promise to Catelyn and underneath the surface, Jaime feels a certain amount of respect for her, especially after their duel with one another. Perhaps the most glaring transgression occurs against Jaime during their time together, namely that being the removal of his dominant sword fighting hand. Brienne rallies the little remaining morale Jaime has left after he is down on his luck and feeling worthless. Jaime in turn has several key moments that not only show his burgeoning bond with Brienne but also push away from his terrible characterization at the start of the series. When both Jaime and Brienne are captured, there is a depressing realization that Brienne will be raped and sexually abused. Jaime has no real reason to protect her, considering she was his captor. Jaime decides to inform the leader that she comes from a wealthy family and it would be against his best interests to leave her unharmed. He never tells her directly of his actions during this time, but it is an important step in creating the antihero archetype for him.
Jaime is portrayed in a more positive light when he opens up to Brienne in arguably the best acted scene in the entire Game of Thrones series. He throws an insult her way and immediately apologizes after she becomes visibly upset. It is then during this pivotal moment we finally get to hear about the key moment in Jaime’s life prior to the start of the books and television show. Jaime, being a member of the Kingsguard, swore an oath to protect the king’s life. However, he was ordered to bring the king the head of his father and stand down and watch as innocent lives were lost to a terrible weapon created by the king’s trusted pyromancer. He asks Brienne what she would have down if she were in his position. It is during this moment that Jaime is the most vulnerable. He was never able to plead his case because he was judged on the spot for his decision. Watching this scene play out the way it did, I felt an incredible amount of sympathy for Jaime. He comes across as a man tormented by his past, a past that is brought to the surface every time a person utters the name he detests so much. The scene ends with Jaime telling Brienne to call him by his actual name. So much can be gathered about Jaime’s character in this scene. I realized that good people can entertain and sometimes carry out bad actions. However, they should not be judged on the whole on a single glimpse into their character. What is interesting is that Ned judging Jaime as guilty immediately after the king’s death parallels the audience doing much of the same when first being introduced to him in season one.
The last two pieces of evidence I want to bring forth in defense of Jaime Lannister are two separate instances when he puts his own safety and welfare on the backburner in order to rescue people he cares about. After he strikes a deal with Roose Bolton to leave his captivity and return to King’s Landing, he goes back and puts himself at risk in order to save Brienne from danger. When he returns to Bolton, he discovers that she is engaged in single combat against a bear. Having only one hand, he jumps into the bear pit with her and helps her escape. This may seem out of character from the same man who pushed a child from a window, but it highlights not only how much the two characters have been through together, but how much he cares about her and protecting those close to him. Those are admirable qualities and they come to the forefront once again when his younger brother, Tyrion, is sentenced to death. Jaime knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Tyrion is innocent of murder and everyone in the Lannister family wishes for Tyrion’s death other than Jaime. Jaime is the light at the end of the tunnel for Tyrion and without Jaime’s intervention; his younger brother would have assuredly been killed. Jaime sticks his neck out for Tyrion by helping him escape his prison cell against the wishes of both his father and sister/lover. This is Jaime’s honor. He may have been a seemingly irredeemable character at the start of the show, but he is given time to expand and this is the culmination of those efforts. Jaime does in fact have a code of honor and even the most morally dubious characters in fiction have some sort of system or set of rules they adhere to when making decision.
The antihero archetype is a very interesting one because it most closely parallels real life on a consistent basis. People are full of emotions and thoughts and act selfishly and act out of line with their morals on occasion. At the end of the day, most people try to do good deeds and act on what they believe to be right, and the antihero embodies that very well. Jaime is a character that is a dubious scumbag when we are first introduced to the world of Westeros. As the show progresses and events unfold, we peel back the layers behind his motivations and he becomes an incredibly complex and well liked character. If you never finished Game of Thrones or were put off by Jaime Lannister, revisit the show or revisit his specific scenes. There is a lot more than meets the eye and someone as well written as Jaime Lannister deserves a second chance.