Jun 18, 2020
Game of Thrones: About that Jaime/Cersei scene...
I’m hesitant to call Game of Thrones the best show on TV right now, but it’s probably the one that constantly provokes the most discussion. With its expansive, varied cast of characters, each with their own plots spanning a vast and interesting world, combined with a writing staff that keeps you guessing and never runs out of ways to shock you, the show has managed to bridge the fantasy genre divide and break out into the mainstream. It seems Game of Thrones has something for everyone. Everybody has their favorite character. Mine is Jaime Lannister.
Speaking of Jaime, how about that last episode, eh?
Jaime’s changed and evolved quite a bit since this series began. Initially a smug douchebag who fucked his sister and tried to kill a little boy to cover it up, we witnessed him grow over the course of the last three seasons into someone who seemed far more likable, almost heroic at times. So when this character we’d thought was well on his way toward reformation committed an unspeakable act by brutally raping his sister next to the corpse of their dead son, people were understandably upset. The internet exploded with cries of “JAIME LANNISTER WOULD NEVER DO THAT!!” People felt betrayed, wounded that this character who they thought had changed for the better had seemingly had years of development completely undone.
Here’s what they’re missing: Jaime never really changed. Indeed, the defining flaw in his character is his complete inability to change.
If Games of Thrones has one uniting theme, it’s this: “Those that do good suffer for it.” That’s why the show is infamous for killing off its heroes; this just isn’t the world to be a good guy in. The Hound outright said as much to Arya in the same episode: People who show compassion cannot survive in the unforgiving world of Westeros. Those who do the right thing are punished. And no one knows this better than Jaime Lannister. His life has been one big cycle of trying to do the right thing, having it backfire, and becoming a more awful person as a result.
Consider for a moment the life of Jaime Lannister the Kingslayer: Once, long before we met him, he considered himself a good and honorable man, and perhaps he was. He selflessly forsook his right to inherit his father’s vast fortune in order to join the Kingsguard. He pledged to serve his king and protect the innocent, and tried his best to do so. He slew a mad king and saved the entire city of King’s Landing from going up in flames. And for this he was condemned, and called “Oathbreaker. Man without honor.” He tried to defend Brienne from rapists, and lost his hand for his trouble. His swordsmanship was the one thing for which he still had pride, so to lose his hand was tantamount to emotional emasculation. And after going through hell to finally return to his beloved Cersei, she coldly shuts him out, telling him “you took too long”.
In light of all that, how is anyone genuinely surprised by Jaime’s actions last Sunday? How could they be called out of character? After losing his honor, his hand, and everything he valued, to then be denied by the only woman he ever loved, is it any wonder he reacted the way he did? That he would take what he thought rightly his by force when faced with yet again being deprived of something that gave him self-worth? Jaime didn’t cease to be that terrible person we knew from season one during his long captivity. He just briefly let his guard down.
I mentioned before that Jaime is my favorite character, and that’s still true. He ranks right up there with Arya Stark and Daenarys Targaryan in my Game of Thrones trinity*. But not because he’s good. It’s because he’s simply the most interesting person to watch on this show. I’ve always enjoyed stories dealing with the concept of honor and the loss of the same, and the ways in which those who are forced to lead violent lives contextualize their actions. But I never thought of Jaime as a hero. I never forgot that he was at heart a loathsome individual.
[*Though to be fair, it’s hard to think of characters on this show I don’t like. Olenna and Margaery Tyrell, all four Lannisters, the Hound, Davos and Shireen, Littlefinger, Varys, Sansa Stark, Brienne, Bronn, newcomers Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand—holy shit, this has gotta be the best ensemble cast on TV!]
But apparently a lot of people did forget. And they felt betrayed when they saw their favorite character crossing a line they thought him incapable of crossing. I can understand that. I also often felt sympathy for Jaime in his weaker moments. He may be a bastard, but there’s a genuine tragedy to his character that’s easy to get swept up in. And that’s a good thing. It’s good to get engaged in someone’s story, even if the downside is occasionally being reminded the person we’re empathizing with is an evil, rapist scumbag.