Game of Thrones season 7: Why we're rooting for Jaime Lannister, and what that says of his reformation
Whenever Daenerys Targaryen has used her dragons against an enemy, we've always rooted unequivocally for her.
When her muttered 'Dracarys' got Drogon to spew flames at Pyat Pree, Kraznys mo Nakloz, at countless Sons of the Harpy, and the slave masters of Mereen and Yunkai, there was nothing but a feeling of they-so-had-that-coming.
Game of Thrones season 7 episode 4 — The Spoils of War — perhaps marked the first time in the history of the epic that Dany rode into battle — and we hoped that her enemy would get away.
That was due entirely to who was on the other side of the battlefield — the Tarlys, yes, a bunch of Lannister soldiers (who, as we discovered in episode 1 of season 7, count Ed Sheeran among their numbers), Bronn, and perhaps most significantly, Jaime Lannister.
[Note to readers: Spoilers for Game of Thrones S7E4 ahead. This column is restricted to a discussion of the TV show and may not include details from the books.]
That emotion — wanting Jaime to make it out of the battle unscathed (or dripping wet and with a bit of singed skin, if that last shot of The Spoils of War was anything to go by) — indicates just how far the 'Man Without Honour' aka the 'Kingslayer' has come from his pushing-children-out-of-windows days.
Game of Thrones has seen its characters change tremendously over the course of its (now) seven-season run. They've all aged of course; but beyond the physical, we've seen them become stronger/more evil/bent on vengeance/omniscient/nearly omnipotent. We've seen 'victims' transform into gritty survivors. We've seen 'regular' folks develop superpowers. We've seen death come upon the living, and life brought unto the dead.
One could argue that none of these transformations have been pulled off with as much authenticity as that of Jaime Lannister.
When we first met him, Jaime was Cersei's twin, and not just in the literal sense of the term. He could match her callousness and cruelty, her disdain for/indifference to the fate of all but family. He was arrogant, with neither admiration nor patience for the moral codes of honourable men like Ned Stark.
Being with Cersei, a chance to show off his considerable prowess with a sword — Jaime seemed not to be motivated by much beyond these.
When he quipped "the things we do for love" before casually shoving a young Bran Stark off the ledge of Winterfell's tower, to keep his tryst there with Cersei hidden, Jaime won himself the title of the biggest blackguard in all of Westeros. Even with our propensity for being more forgiving of the transgressions of good-looking people, few of us would have categorised Jaime as anything but a heartless villain — that handsome face (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, sigh!) notwithstanding.
We'd probably have cheered had Jaime been laid low with a well-aimed blow from Lord Eddard Stark at that point.
So how did we get to wanting him to survive, and meet a better fate than Drogon's fiery breath?
The Jaime Lannister Redemption Project can probably be traced back to the time his hand was chopped off by Roose Bolton's henchman Locke (Vargo Hoat in the books). Sure, we'd seen him experience a serious change of fortunes — losing the battle against Robb Stark and being taken prisoner, his grubby countenance a far cry from his usual glorious, golden self. Think of the wisecracking, cousin-killing prisoner he was then, to his time as a hostage (along with Brienne) of Locke and his band of surly men. When Locke and his gang attempt to rape Brienne, Jaime buys her a temporary reprieve by claiming that her homeland of Tarth is rich in sapphires, and her father would be only too glad to pay a rich ransom if she is returned unharmed. Brienne is saved — but Jaime's needling gets to Locke, who lops off the Kingslayer's hand to teach him a lesson.
In a show noted for its high gore quotient, Jaime's 'amputation' is still among the most difficult scenes to watch. (In case you are of a mind to refresh your memory, however, here it is:)
As in real life, loss is what transforms many Game of Thrones characters. Sometimes, the loss is emotional (such as the deaths of Khal Drogo and her child, for Dany), but very often, it is physical: Lord Varys, the Unsullied, and most notably Theon are all transformed by castration; Sansa by her rape at Ramsay's hands; Bran — to a degree — by the loss of his legs.
Jaime is transformed by the loss of his hand — his sword hand, the very foundation of his identity. With the severed limb tied to his neck, he spends his days in Locke's captivity hovering between life and death. Brienne coaxes him to stay conscious, 'to fight back, take revenge'.
When Jaime later rushes into the bear pit to rescue Brienne, it is among the first ethical, altruistic choices we see him make, as a character.
Of course, as we later find out (when he tells Brienne about it), the action he is most reviled for — killing the 'Mad King' Aerys Targaryen, which earns him the 'Kingslayer' moniker — is also among his most righteous.
Brienne is the key that primes Jaime for his transformation. Her upright presence, superior skills with a broadsword, and devotion to Catelyn Stark making an unexpected impression on him as they travel together to King's Landing, and as A Song of Ice and Fire fans have pointed out, she's the perfect foil for Jaime. (How people are paired up on Game of Thrones to give us an idea of their respective characters is worth a discussion all its own. Cases in point: the Hound and Arya, Brienne and Jaime, Brienne and Pod, Tyrion and Bronn, Jaime and Bronn, Jon and Sam — to name just a few.)
Brienne possibly reminds Jaime of who he used to be or aspired to be.
While Jaime and Cersei are similar in many ways, there is an essential difference between them. Cersei has always wanted power, but one could construe Jaime's prime need as being a desire for glory: Which prompts him to enter jousts, much to Tywin Lannister's disapproval.
There is that moment Ned Stark refers to, when he walks into the Red Keep after King's Landing has been conquered during Robert's Rebellion, only to find Jaime sitting on the Iron Throne. But at no other time in the series have we seen Jaime display any covetousness towards the Iron Throne.
Perhaps a mark of how invested fans were in Jaime's redemption/reformation could be seen in the outrage over the forced sex scene between him and Cersei by Joffrey's corpse: The backlash directed at showrunners DB Weiss and David Benioff wasn't just over — hey, that was rape you just showed us — but also about (what was perceived as ) Jaime's slide back to the dark side.
Apart from that sketchy episode, however, Jaime has mostly had fans' sympathies. His handing of Oathkeeper to Brienne and tasking her with looking for the Stark girls, his trip to Dorne to save Myrcella (only to have her die later, in his arms, after they've shared a sweet father-daughter moment), his disapproval of Cersei's blatant power-grab — all of these actions have been in line with his reformed self. The not-so-benevolent acts — such as the taking of Riverrun, and most recently, executing Lady Olenna Tyrell — do not even begin to compare with the excesses of violence that villainy on Game of Thrones generally covers.
Coming back to The Spoils of War, from the moment he calls for the 'spears and shields' (on hearing the thundering hooves and whoops that signal the arrival of the Dothraki horde), to his refusal to leave the battlefield and flee for King's landing instead, and even his reckless charge at Dany in the face of certain death — the Battle at Tumbleton (aka the 'Loot Train Battle') brought out all that is best in Jaime Lannister's character. Is it any wonder then, that fans didn't want him to die so ignominiously?
Going by the foreshadowing on Game of Thrones, Jaime has a way to journey yet before he bows out.
There are chances that he could be taken prisoner by Dany — in which case, Tyrion (who Jaime now knows was wrongly imprisoned for Joffrey's murder, but there's still that little matter of Tywin's death between them) will probably repay the favour his older brother once did him, and spring him from prison. (Fans have also pointed out the curious mirroring between Jaime and Tyrion's near-drownings.)
Considering he also has one of the few Valyrian steel swords in Westeros (it is believed that Jaime has Oathkeeper's sister-blade, Widow's Wail, that was presented to Joffrey by Lord Tywin before his death), he could be of great help in the fight against the White Walkers. His sins against the Starks, however, are far too many for him to ever serve as an ally.
The theory that has maximum support (and which seems the most plausible) is that Jaime will kill Cersei. Just as he once killed Aerys to save King's Landing and all its residents from being turned into a pile of rubble, Jaime will slay Cersei — who's been christened the Mad Queen because of her very Aerys Targaryen-like actions (her propensity for using wildfire to kill critics, for instance, or chaining Ellaria Sand and her daughter Tyene in the Red Keep's dungeons). It would satisfy Game of Thrones' penchant for mirroring important scenes and the valonqar prophecy — which foretold Cersei's death at the hands of her little brother (and the irony of her having fitted Jaime with that gold prosthesis).
If Jaime does kill Cersei, he will have completely redeemed himself in the eyes of fans. And something tells us, the song that was written for Tyrion and Shae (and the bitter end of that relationship), will turn out to be even truer for Jaime:
He rode through the streets of the city,
down from his hill on high,
O'er the wynds and the steps and the cobbles,
he rode to a woman's sigh.
For she was his secret treasure,
she was his shame and his bliss.
And a chain and a keep are nothing,
compared to a woman's kiss
For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman's hands are warm...