Game of Thrones provided us with a variety of complex and multilayered characters. But in my opinion, the one that went through the most fascinating personal journey was Jaime Lannister, the infamous Kingslayer.
When Game of Thrones was roughly in the middle of its run, there was a popular joke about a fan telling a new viewer that Jaime is one of his favorite characters, only to be met with disbelief since that surely didn’t seem like the case back then. During Season 1, I don’t think there were many people that liked this guy. He was arrogant, cruel, and perhaps even a little bit annoying. Even during his captivity with the Starks in S2, it felt like in every moment you want Catelyn to bash another rock into his head. But during the run of the show, Jaime is the character that presented the most personal development from all the others, in my opinion.
To me it always seemed there are two major principles that were always guiding Jaime, at least to some degree. These principles are the ones that defined him throughout the show’s entire run from the beginning to the very end. The first one is his loyalty to his family- and more specifically, his love for his sister. The fact that Cersei is an evil character is irrelevant to this issue since Jaime loved Cersei both as a sister and as a lover. The very first despicable act he did in the show— pushing Bran out the tower’s window, the thing that basically set all the events of the show in motion, was done to protect him and Cersei. And the dignity and power of house Lannister, of course. The other principle that he tried to follow along the way was the concept of honor. Jaime wanted to be an honorable man that is true to his word and does the right thing. And the interesting thing is that both these principles often contradict each other leaving Jaime torn somewhere in between.
It’s pretty safe to say the most pivotal moment to his progress as a character was his time with Brienne in Season 3. During this time they engaged in several conversations about honor. You could see back then, or perhaps even much earlier in the show, that it really bothered Jaime that people looked at him with disrespect as the “Kingslayer,” “Oathbreaker,” or the man that literally stabbed his king through the back. In the character-defining bathtub scene in Season 3, Episode 5, we find out that he didn’t just kill the king because he felt like it, but he learned that the Mad King is going to obliterate the entire population of King’s Landing with the stashes of Wildfire he had scattered around the capital. All while his father, Tywin Lannister, was standing at the city gates preparing an attack.
So perhaps Jaime is not just a backstabbing jerk after all? He did break his oath, but he did it to save his family and half a million other civilians. Shortly after returning to the capital, he indeed upholds the oath he made for Catelyn Stark back at captivity- he arms and armors Brienne of Tarth. He sends her to find the Stark girls, protect them, and bring them home. That was the first time we as the viewers got to see a completely changed Jaime, upholding an oath no one thought he will actually go through with, behind his sister’s back. Later in Season 6, in his conversation with Edmure during the siege of Riverrun, he tells him he even admired Catelyn, for the ferocious love she had for her children. Kind of like Cersei, he said.
During his time counseling Cersei as Queen or de-facto queen, we always see Jaime try to temper Cersei’s evil impulses, often in vain. Another character-defining moment comes in the ending of Season 7. Jaime learns that Cersei is intending to break her promise to go and help the fight with the Army of the Dead in the North, only for her other enemies to destroy each other so they can deal with whoever is left. At that moment he decides to walk away from Cersei, go North, and do the right thing. And indeed, there he was, in one of the most gruesome battles the Seven Kingdoms ever knew, willing to die to protect Winterfell among his many enemies— all facing their common existential enemy.
By the end of the show Jaime is certainly not the man he was at the very beginning of Game of Thrones. He manages to redeem the dishonorable image that he gained during his career as a warrior and Kingslayer, I do believe Jaime’s care for the innocents or otherwise is getting a little bit exaggerated by his fans and general viewers alike. While he did murder the Mad King once he learned he is going to blow up King’s Landing sky-high, he didn’t do it purely to protect the thousands of innocents in King’s Landing— I believe the most prominent factor in his decision was that his father was standing at the gates, and he did it mostly to protect his house and family. As I mentioned before, with the Lannisters and Jaime most of all, the family comes first. “We are the only ones that matter,” he used to tell Cersei repeatedly throughout the show. While on a general basis he wouldn’t go on doing horrible things to innocent people, like some might think he would do back as S1 Jaime,and despite the fact he did fight for the greater good when it didn’t contradict his other principles, it seems like when it comes to his family he would do whatever it takes to protect them. The aforementioned scene between him and Edmure in Riverrun serves as a good example. Jaime did go there to solve the conflict as peacefully as possible. Yet he told Edmure that he would do anything necessary to go back to Cersei and to reclaim his house’s hold on the region. As another example, throughout the show, he never seems to condemn the Red Wedding event, or the blowing of the sept by his sister because all of it was done by the name of his family to protect them.
The scene that puts it bluntly in the eyes of the viewers is the one where Jaime is leaving Brienne at Winterfell to go back to King’s Landing to save Cersei. While some people accuse this scene of mischaracterizing Jaime, I find it to be the one most true to his true personality. No matter how honorable he always tries to be, no matter how much he attempts to change the stigma everyone always had about him of the “man without honor,” Jaime’s one weakness is always Cersei. Throughout the span of the show, and even beforehand in his life, he did a lot of terrible things for Cersei. He pushed a young boy out of a window only to protect Cersei. He killed his own kin only to go back to Cersei. When he left Brienne at Winterfell, Jaime realized that Cersei might have underestimated her opponent. He seemed to know that Daenerys would unleash her full wrath on Cersei in no time. More than ever, he felt that it was time to go back to Cersei and try to save her and their unborn child. He had already upheld his oath to fight for the living, to bring the Stark sisters back home, and he had even defected from Cersei’s malicious plan to exterminate half of her enemies fighting with the Army of the Dead. But now that her life was in more danger than ever before, he had to go back and try to prevent the disaster from happening, no matter what stands in his way.
“She is hateful, and so am I,” Jaime says in a declaration of self-loathing. This scene is in my opinion one of the most important in the entire series, and this is perhaps the scene that ultimately defines Jaime’s arc and brings it to full closure. One episode later, in the heartbreaking final conversation between him and Tyrion, Jaime shows the same self-loathing— “I never cared much for the innocents and otherwise” he says, putting the same veil we saw him put countless times during the show of saying what people expect to hear from him. He seems to understand that no matter how badly he tries, he will never get over Cersei. He will never leave her toxic grasp.
Jaime’s relationship with Cersei wasn’t wholesome, to be sure. It was a destructive and toxic relationship. In the second episode of Season 8, while Tyrion and Jaime are catching up in Winterfell, Jaime tells Tyrion regarding Cersei’s false promise to join the battle in the North that “She’s always been good at using the truth to tell lies. I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. She’s fooled me more than anybody.” Tyrion replies “She never fooled you. You always knew exactly what she was, and you loved her anyway”. I think this is a very important line in understanding their relationship since Jaime, even after his so-called “redemption-arc”, still loved Cersei more than anything, despite being fully aware of her sometimes evil methods. Brienne on the other hand, symbolized the exact opposite- purity and honor. Even after their union in Winterfell, once Jaime found out the danger that awaits Cersei in King’s Landing he realized that he is still not free of her grasp- and his attraction to her still wins over everything else. “No one walks away from me,” she told him when he left her in the ending of Season 7. Once he heard that she and his future child were in grave danger he had to leave everything and go try to save her. “The things we do for love” is the sentence that described Jaime’s dedication to Cersei more than any other. No matter how honorable he became Jaime would do whatever it took to be reunited with her. And that’s how it’s always been.
The penultimate episode of the show features the tragic ending to Cersei’s and Jaime’s love story as their empire crumbles on top of their heads. During Jaime and Bronn’s travels in Dorne in Season 5, Bronn asks Jaime how he’d like to leave this world. To this he replies “in the arms of the woman I love.” It is clear that it was a moment of foreshadowing and that his death was meant to be this way, just as he came to this world. Jaime’s story and entire character were formed when he killed his King, but he dies protecting his Queen while the descendant of the King he killed is doing the exact same thing Jaime prevented him from doing back then. Their death scene presented one additional way that the final season exposed audiences to feelings that they never expected to have. I’m sure many bloodthirsty viewers were fantasizing about Cersei dying in some horrible way. But the writers somehow managed to make her death scene rather sympathetic, perhaps even sad while on the other hand, one episode later, a hero like Daenerys Targaryen dies so ingloriously. The setting of Jaime being there by her side, serving as the tragic ending to their love story, as odd as it may be, surely helped. When the piano starts playing that Rains of Castamere theme, you can’t help but feeling a little ache in your gut.
While some people see Jaime’s journey throughout the series as some sort of classic redemption arc of a hateful man redeeming his past crimes and becoming some sort of a reborn ‘hero’, I think the story is much more nuanced than that. We’ve seen plenty of redemption arcs in television and movies (including that of Game of Thrones’ Theon Greyjoy). But with Jaime, it’s something different. He did manage to transform into the honorable man that he always strived to be, but never got free from the thing that defined him the most- his loyalty to his family and love for his sister. And as we saw, he even disgusts himself with the fact he can’t escape it. Did his character develop during the show? Most certainly. He turned from one of the most infamous characters in Westeros to a true man of honor. But there was much more to him than that deep inside. And that’s how he finished his story— in the arms of the woman he loves, but at the same time memorialized as a hero that helped defeat the Army of the Dead.
On a more personal note, this is why I was always most intrigued by House Lannister. While rooting for the Starks and Jon Snow on most occasions, House Lannister was always the most fascinating house for me. Besides getting the greatest musical theme of them all from Djawadi, they always seemed to me to be the most complicated characters, with more things beneath the surface than what meets the eye. Tywin Lannister was perhaps the best strategist in the show. There’s also Tyrion, who was really trying to make a better world while being constantly being accused of trying to cause the downfall of his house. While he certainly did not try to do that, eventually and unintentionally that’s exactly what he did by supporting Daenerys. There’s Cersei too who, with the profound understanding Lena Heady brought to the character, managed to be even more compelling than her book counterpart. And of course, Jaime for all the reasons mentioned in this article.
The best thing about Game of Thrones is the fact that you can watch it over and over again, always discovering new insights about its characters and their motives- especially after the final season basically demands that the viewer re-examine everything they thought they knew beforehand. Jaime was always one of my favorite characters, yet it was only after his character arc wrapped up completely in the final episode that I learned to truly appreciate the depth of his character. While GoT ended a year ago, I’m sure it will keep sparking discussions like this for generations to come.
Are you a Jaime fan or do you have some reservations about the Kingslayer? Join the conversation in the comments below.