Here's Why Jaime & Brienne Deserved Better on 'Game of Thrones'

Emily Hannemann
Opinion Helen Sloan/HBO

It would be an understatement to say Game of Thrones usually isn’t kind to its characters’ romances. Robb and Talisa? Both died horribly. Jon and Ygritte? She died horribly. Missandei and Grey Worm? She died horribly. Jon and Dany? It’d be fair to assume one, or both, will die horribly.

In a world where the stakes are high and death can come unceremoniously and unexpectedly, romantic relationships are something fans of certain characters treasure. It makes sense that Jaime and Brienne’s connection is, for many, a favorite. Their relationship was constructed over the course of six seasons, from their first meeting as enemies in “A Man Without Honor” to their perhaps final exchange as brokenhearted lovers in “The Last of the Starks.”

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That final exchange felt discordant on a number of levels, both for Brienne and Jaime’s relationship and for Jaime’s character arc which, like his courtship with Brienne, seemed to have been constructed carefully for many seasons only to be toppled in a hasty breakup at the Winterfell gates. Here’s why we think Jaime and Brienne deserved a more honorable conclusion.

Emotional Investment

Thrones had been building to something between Brienne and Jaime since their first bickering-filled road trip, which inspired fans to invest in their bond. Jaime saved her from being raped, which cost him his sword hand, and then he bore his soul to her when he explained the tragic past behind his foul nickname, “Kingslayer.” He saved her from being torn apart by a bear and gave her new armor and a Valyrian steel sword that she named “Oathkeeper” — a nod to his good deeds and her faith in him.

Cersei called Brienne out on her feelings for Jaime, (correctly) assuming the warrior woman had fallen in love. When they meet at Riverrun, he allows Brienne to escape and they stare, perhaps longingly, at each other. After the Dragonpit meeting, it's apparent that Brienne managed to get through to Jaime and inspires him to leave Cersei. On the eve of battle, he gives her something she yearned for her entire life: a knighthood.

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When they finally consummate their relationship, it feels earned. It feels like the natural progression for two damaged, uncertain people who felt deeply for each other, but because they’re damaged, uncertain people, couldn’t act on their feelings until they sorted through the layers of baggage weighing them down.

And then, in the same episode, they break up. Which does not feel earned.

A Symptom of a Larger Issue

With only six episodes to draw its story to a fulfilling conclusion, it makes sense that Thrones shuffles many of its storylines along. The need for a hasty conclusion was obvious with the Night King’s rapid demise and shoddily explained motivations, Daenerys’ rapid descent into mental instability and characters making silly choices, missing obvious dangers and surviving impossible odds (how did so many main characters escape unscathed at Winterfell? How did Dany not see Euron’s fleet?).

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There's a time jump between when Jon and Dany leave Winterfell and when Jaime breaks things off with Brienne, and as such, any development Jaime and Brienne might have had as a couple is invisible. In previous seasons, their relationship had been emphasized even when they weren’t together, but when they are at last together, their union spans less than a single episode.

It’s a sickening jolt for fans who invested in them to see their relationship reach the point it had been inching toward over hours of storytelling, only for it to be crumpled in fewer than five minutes. Had this happened over the course of the season, with more time spent on Jaime and Brienne as more than friends, perhaps it would be heartbreakingly understandable. But as is, the way it ended was wrong for both characters. Which brings us to…

It Crumbles Jaime’s Character Arc

For fans of the Kingslayer, Jaime and Brienne’s breakup held even more bitter weight. Show Jaime and Book Jaime have had very different trajectories when it comes to his lover/sister: Show Jaime took forever, comparably, to decide he was done with her. His “I don’t believe you” in the Season 7 finale felt like an overdue liberation. Or was it?

Whether or not Jaime is riding to King’s Landing to kill Cersei, the way the scene is written leaves it open for interpretation as to whether he’s really going to join her. “She’s hateful, and so am I,” as well as the long list of dark deeds he tells Brienne he committed for her, lumps him back in with the woman he’d spent many seasons serving and by whom he was hurt and manipulated.

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While Jaime was always destined to take part in the final battle against his sister, there were better ways to send him south than having him appear to cement the connection between him and Cersei. Jaime’s arc is one of discovering and acting on his honor outside of Cersei’s clutches and realizing he can — and should! — do good deeds despite his past and his family's dark history. Returning to Cersei spits on that progression.

It Robbed Brienne of Her Agency

Brienne and Jaime’s breakup was tough not just for Jaime fans, but for Brienne fans, too. It’s believable that she would be heartbroken at the loss of the only man who reciprocated her affection, and she might even shed some tears over his coldness toward her. It’s less believable that she would stand, wrapped in a robe in the middle of Winterfell’s snowy courtyard, wailing over Jaime’s apparent deception and begging him to stay. Her outward display of heartbreak over Renly was partially fueled by unrequited love, but also a failure of her duty as a member of his Kingsguard — as she told Podrick, “Nothing is more hateful than failing to protect the one you love.”

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In losing Jaime, there is no failure of duty. She is not tasked with his protection. She is not sworn to him. There is something odd in the way her stoic, reasonable nature evacuates when Jaime makes it clear he’s leaving her. The Brienne we’d seen throughout eight seasons would have wanted a better explanation or seen through his ruse to keep her safe (if it is, indeed, a ruse.)

This isn’t to say there was nothing good in “The Last of the Starks” for Brienne of Tarth, nor is it meant to advocate for her to remain emotionless. Her initiating their love scene was a great moment for her character, and it gave her agency in a powerful moment. Unfortunately the rest of the episode dulls that agency, since she doesn’t again speak until that fateful courtyard confrontation.

A Bit of Foreshadowing Becomes Unfortunate

This ventures into speculation, but given how Thrones likes to adhere to previous seasons’ foreshadowing, it’s worth a mention. When Jaime tells Bronn he wants to “die in the arms of the woman he loves,” many assumed that while Jaime thought he meant Cersei, that woman would end up being Brienne. With Jaime riding south for Cersei and Brienne still in the north, it seems unlikely that he’ll die in Brienne’s arms.

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Could he still? Possibly. Sansa could opt to head south, for whatever reason; it’s nigh impossible Brienne would break her oath to follow Jaime. If that happens, it’s possible that Brienne could stumble upon a dying Jaime and hold him in his last moments, thus setting in stone that she, not Cersei, is the woman he loves. But for the time being, it seems more likely Jaime will die with his sister.

Of course, this ignores the possibility that Jaime could survive the battle of King’s Landing and he and Brienne could patch things up and resume where they left off. In a perfect world, they would. But Westeros is not a perfect world, and Jaime’s death has been heavily foreshadowed. At best, perhaps the Kingslayer becomes a Queenslayer and does, somehow, draw his final breaths in the arms of Brienne of Tarth. Game of Thrones has been trying to subvert fans’ expectations with this final season, but this is an expectation many would be happy to see fulfilled — and it might just sweeten some of the bitterness surrounding the way the story of these two knights concluded.

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