The Writing On the Wall: ‘Arise, Brienne of Tarth, a Knight of The Seven Kingdoms’

Brienne of Tarth A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms Season 8 802

“In the name of the Warrior, I charge you to be brave. In the name of the Father, I charge you to be just. In the name of the Mother, I charge you to defend the innocent.”

Honor is essential to the world of Game of Thrones. It is a concept fundamental to the societal structures of this world, embedded in the way all of our characters understand themselves, others, and the relationships between them. Sometimes the honor is more explicit, for Thrones has not always been the subtlest of shows, like in how it is dishonorable for a Knight of the Kingsguard to murder his king by stabbing him in the back. Sometimes the honor is more implicit, for Thrones sometimes is not the most obvious of shows, and it is in choosing to do the right thing even if others and perhaps even you yourself cannot entirely see why you are doing so in the first place.

“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is one of the finest hours the show has ever produced, in part because the series, in spite of the spectacle that it rightfully known for, has always found its emotional core in the characters that populate its story.

In this episode, while everyone is coming to terms with the overwhelming reality of their inevitable deaths, that question of honor is hovering ever more presently above everyone’s head. The question itself is being questioned, if one thinks about it, for the understanding of what is the most important in everyone’s life understandably becomes something to ponder in the face of imminent death.

Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) are two of the most important characters in Thrones when it comes to the question of honor. Jaime has been dogged his entire life, and at several times rightfully so, for being a dishonorable man. He killed his king by stabbing him in the back, there are rife rumors about him sleeping with his sister, he kills his own kin in order to try to escape a cell. And he pushed a little, curious boy out of a window. He was a knight who didn’t give a fuck about honor. Until he did.

Game-of-Thrones-plants-thehorticult-SerJaime-Brienne

Brienne had a much more different journey in life. She was raised with certain expectations of femininity, obedience, and internalization of patriarchal norms. She, like Arya (Maisie Williams), rejected those norms. Her physicality may have helped her to reject those norms, but there was more at play than her mere stature. It was an internal understanding that the world would never allow her to be who she was if she kept to its inherently dishonorable idea of honor. So she sought herself and her honor elsewhere.

When we first see Jaime, he is presented as the antithesis of what we understand the ideals of honor to be. He was defined by his crescendo of bravado, his uninhibited swagger, and his unlimited sense of self-importance. He did not come across as being brave, even if his skills with a sword were beyond question. He certainly did not seem to be someone who lived his life according to the ideals of justice. He would rather mock the innocent than defend them.

When we first meet Brienne, she is the first woman to join the ranks of king-in-declaration Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony). The sexism she is forced to endure, from some of the jeering looks behind her to See Loras’s (Finn Jones) stunned disbelief, is obvious and in spite of the shield Brienne places in front of her, she is hurt by it. She wants to simply stand shoulder to shoulder with the men who are given the opportunity to be a paragon of virtue and honor. She just keeps on fighting.

Jaime and Brienne in the bearpit

A key difference between Jaime and Brienne is that of privilege. Brienne has a name, of course, but is no Lannister, Stark, or Targaryen. Brienne does not have the privilege of being a man. She is instead a masculine woman who is often looked upon as being weaker than a man and at the same time an aberration as a woman. She is stuck in this middle ground of a nonsense binary system, struggling to find any space, any one for that matter who would sit with her and understood her for who she is, respect her for who she is. The differences in their privileges are critical to shaping their respective ideas about what honor is and what it means; even if it was a double-edged sword for both of them.

For Brienne, honor was an aspiration and a necessity for it was integral to the life of a knight. Ser Brienne was Brienne’s greatest dream, kept away from her solely on account of her gender. Yet she persevered for a part of her deeply believed that if she could be honorable enough, she could fulfill her vows. If she could fulfill her vows, then she could prove that she was capable of demonstrating true loyalty. If she was honorable enough, then perhaps she could become a knight, gender norms be damned.

For Jaime, honor was a shackle. When the Mad King revealed that he was ready to burn the capital of the Seven Kingdoms down to the ground and all of its five hundred thousand inhabitants along with it, Jaime was presented with two honorable options. The first was the traditional path of honor. That pathway required that Jaime stand by his king regardless of the circumstances and defend him while the people of King’s Landing burnt to ashes. The other pathway required him to break that code of honor with a dishonorable act, but in the name of another honorable act: saving the lives of innocents ruled by a ruthless tyrant.

Jaime and his stump - Kissed by Fire

Jaime, as he famously recounts to Brienne in “Kissed by Fire,” chose the second pathway. The exact details of the immediate aftermath are less relevant than the marker of “Kingslayer” he is banded with, a band of dishonor that follows him no matter where he goes. He becomes an embittered man, looking upon the moniker of honor with disdain. The honorable Ned Stark (Sean Bean) wouldn’t have believed him, he believes, and he is probably right. If saving the lives of five hundred thousand people was not honorable enough for the traditions of the Seven Kingdoms, then what was the point of it? In that case, to paraphrase Tormund (Krisotfer Hivju), fuck such traditional honor.

That was the honor that said it was not alright for a woman to be a knight, even if she exhibited the virtues of knighthood more honorably than any man around her. It was the honor that said propriety must be kept sacred for its own sake, damned the consequences on those for whom that propriety is a reality of oppression. What Jaime and Brienne realize in their own ways and together is that the concept of honor as so much of Westeros understands it is a false one, but they also realize that just because that concept is as hollow and false as a treasure room in Qarth does not mean there is no honor at all. That honor is what you make through your actions.

That is why the scene that gives our episode its title is so meaningful. There’s a history of these two characters and how much they have grown and learned alongside one another. The performances from both Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are incredibly moving. The direction, the cinematography, and Ramin Djawadi’s score is all perfect. But what makes this one of the best scene in the history of the series is that the writing from Bryan Cogman distills something that is not said out loud but becomes instantaneously clear.

Podrick Brienne Spoils of War

Game of Thrones is often accused of being a show that marinates clumsily in the depths of despair, shock, and trauma porn. Sometimes it has earned that moniker but for the most part I would argue that even in an episode that was drowning in a frigid elegy, it is not making the case for absolute death and destruction. It is not making an argument that the best way to survive is to be cruel, unfeeling, and drown out the voices of all others. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the narrative is trying to say.

At its heart, if the scene in that cozy room is indicative of anything, is that the show is arguing quite ardently for something else entirely. It is arguing that in the midst of the literal winds of winter, when there is an impending doom not that far away, it is necessary to take stock of one’s life and forge a dream of spring amidst it. Even the song “Jenny of Oldstones,” brought to our screens through the lovely voice of Podrick (Daniel Portman) serves to augment that theme.

Jaime and Brienne might very well die in this next episode, I do not know. But that is, outside of determining the quantity of wine I will drink, somewhat irrelevant. Jaime and Brienne in that moment are finding that dream in the midst of the literal calm before the storm. They could have done anything before the Army of the Dead arrived at Winterfell. They could have continued drinking or played a game of cards or somehow slept. But they chose this.

Brienne Jaime Knight of the Seven Kingdoms Season 8 802

Jaime knighting Brienne is a validation of the principles of knighthood but in a much more different direction than the institution of knighthood has enshrined them. In knighting a woman, there is the removal of a ridiculously patriarchal notion that only men can embody the virtues of knighthood. It is an adoption of not just merit, but an understanding that the principles of bravery, justice, and the protection of the innocent can be embodied by anyone and not just the high-born white men of Westeros. The knighting of Brienne represents some of the very best that Westeros can be, if it chooses to understand what this scene is imparting upon whatever future it has.

A part of that, as we mentioned above, is the inevitably of death. There’s a certain curtain that is raised away from what we no longer consider to be the most important in these sort of moments, revealing what lies beneath. That says a lot about who we want to be, who we believe ourselves to be, and most importantly, who we are. In that cozy stone room, amidst a gathering of a strange assortment warming in front of a warm fire, we find something important.

It is honor, but it is honor of a different sort from the one that defined so much of Brienne and Jaime’s respective lives. It is an honor that is less pedantically concerned with upholding traditions that treat a rigid hierarchy of bigotry as being of paramount importance, and not the content of one’s character. It is an honor of the old world being replaced by the honor of a new. It is an honor of built upon the experiences of a life of bravery, justice, and the protection of the innocent. It is an honor that is a beckoning of spring after the vestiges of winter are wasted away.

(TL;DR: FUCK YEAH, SER BRIENNE OF TARTH, KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS!!!)

46 responses

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    1. It’s hard to express how much it means to me that a character like Ser Brienne of Tarth exists and that she got such a beautiful moment in such an important episode.

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    2. Absolutely right. As you put it,this scene… maybe above all others… is the embodiment of the Dream of Spring.

      With Death literally lurking, Ser Jaime Lannister knighted Ser Brienne of Tarth, throwing off the shackles of the old world. The only way they could do that is if they had hope for a better future.

      It was, quite simply, exquisite.

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    3. Beautifully written, acted, and directed episode. Beautifully written analysis. Very deep and enjoyable read! Thank you Akash!

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    4. This event was the most satisfying “victory” in the entire series – the victory of honor and love over everything. And it was particularly satisfying because so many viewers understand Brienne’s experience and have lived it.

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    5. Nicely written, insightful article Akash of the Andals. As I said in another thread, the whole episode enchanted me, in large part because of this scene.

      One marker of just how much Jaime has changed is the look of absolute affection and approval he gives Brienne when she says “At least we will die with honor.” His face is almost, dare I say, radiant with agreement. The old Jaime would have scoffed at her, insulted her. Not now. He has totally changed.

      Tyrion was spot-on when he says to Jaime regarding Cersei, “You knew what she was and you loved her anyway.” Old Jaime loved Cersei in large part because he agreed with her outlook on life. Their mantra was he and Cersei against the world, anybody who isn’t a us is an enemy, and whatever it takes to maintain their status and domination of all others is acceptable. Cersei still lives according to that idea of entitlement and domination of all others, except that she has also excluded Jaime, much to his betterment.

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    6. Akash,

      Thank you, your writing is moving and insightful.

      I loved how on ‘father/just’ Davos’ face was shown and on ‘innocent’ Pod’s. The nods and looks between Brienne and Pod were priceless, as was the reaction of Tormund, and the way Jaime seemed to forget anyone else was there. And of course, her smile.

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    7. theGryfter:
      Absolutely right. As you put it,this scene… maybe above all others… is the embodiment of the Dream of Spring.

      With Death literally lurking, Ser Jaime Lannister knighted Ser Brienne of Tarth, throwing off the shackles of the old world. The only way they could do that is if they had hope for a better future.

      It was, quite simply, exquisite.

      An articulate post in response to an insightful essay. One of the best – and purest – moments in the entire show. It was absolutely perfect: the looks exchanged by Brienne and Jaime; the sincere appreciation from Davos, Tormund, Tyrion and Pod. It did represent hope for whatever comes after the long night. And it makes me cry every time I watch it.

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    8. Jack Bauer 24:
      Beautiful moment, beautiful scene, beautiful episode. Hope both survive the BoW.

      Yes to the beautiful x 3.
      However, they don’t need to survive the battle. That expression of honor and affection, and moment of pure happiness, is worth a lifetime.

      I’ve got to say, I never liked either character more than I did in this episode. For me, Jaime has come full circle, and he gave Brienne what she deserved her entire life. I couldn’t tell if he was happier to anoint her or she was happier to be anointed.

      If you’re going to exit the world, that’s the way to do it. Smiling and happy.

      Years from now, it’s going to be an absolute delight to rewatch Jaime’s awful behavior towards Brienne when she was charged with escorting him to KL, and compare it with his affection, humility and respect in this S8 episode.

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    9. theGryfter:
      Absolutely right. As you put it,this scene… maybe above all others… is the embodiment of the Dream of Spring.

      With Death literally lurking, Ser Jaime Lannister knighted Ser Brienne of Tarth, throwing off the shackles of the old world. The only way they could do that is if they had hope for a better future.

      It was, quite simply, exquisite.

      Powerfully written article – Akash, thank you! A deep understanding of the moment and the richness of the story.

      And I also wanted to endorse and thank our colleague for the beautiful comment.

      The Jaime & Brienne story, the astounding characters we have here – very grateful to receive.

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    10. Thronetender:
      Nicely written, insightful article Akash of the Andals. As I said in another thread, the whole episode enchanted me, in large part because of this scene.

      One marker of just how much Jaime has changed is the look of absolute affection and approval he gives Brienne when she says “At least we will die with honor.” His face is almost, dare I say, radiant with agreement. The old Jaime would have scoffed at her, insulted her. Not now. He has totally changed.

      Tyrion was spot-on when he says to Jaime regarding Cersei, “You knew what she was and you loved her anyway.”Old Jaime loved Cersei in large part because he agreed with her outlook on life. Their mantra was he and Cersei against the world, anybody who isn’t a us is an enemy, and whatever it takes to maintain their status and domination of all others is acceptable. Cersei still lives according to that idea of entitlement and domination of all others, except that she has also excluded Jaime, much to his betterment.

      Not on this thread but another time, we can reflect on who Jaime was, what he could have been, what he became and his journey to reclaim himself. In season 1, his father cupped his face and asked him to become the man he meant to be. I do not think Tywin even guessed what was possible. This identity arc is one for the ages.

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    11. And the people present:

      A refugee who has lived on the wrong side of a massive wall for most of his life
      A young servant
      An old man, recently unable to read, born in poverty who had made his way up socially
      A physically challenged brother and a lover of books and learning
      A deeply good woman that has challenged the patriarchy and was mocked
      A man who walked away from power to serve

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    12. What a beautifully worded article. ❤

      The emotion shown by (39 year old!) Bryan Cogman when speaking of this episode as a love letter to the characters was incredibly touching. I can’t fathom having that amount of talent as such a young writer (we re not that far apart in age.) Bravo, sir.

      Brienne has truly been one of the brightest lights of this series, and this scene was everything her character deserved. The look Pod gave her, that little nod (Pod nod?), was touching. Her worthiness is of no question to those who know her.

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    13. The more I think on it, the more this becomes one of my favorite scenes in the whole series. I have only teared up a few times watching the show, and this scene…it got me.

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    14. Miss Stark,

      Same for me. I could beat all the boys in my class at school at arm wrestling except for one, I’m an engineering professor (no other women and exactly the sort of hostile environment from men that Brienne has spent her life dealing with), I do strength training and athletics in my free time. Before Brienne there wasn’t one woman on TV, in books, or in movies who was even slightly similar.

      I didn’t think I needed it, but it’s hard to describe what it has meant to see a character like Brienne on screen. It’s odd that it took an older guy like George RR Martin to really appreciate and understand the dynamic. I have watched that scene three times now and bawled like a baby.

      There are so many people who are continuing to insist that Brienne and Jaime are comrades. They are. But it’s crystal clear from George and from the actors and from what we’ve seen ever since the bathtub scene that there’s more than that. The reactions just show that we all have a long way to go as far as accepting unconventional women.

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    15. Ant,

      Beautifully stated, all of this. I feel like many men i’ve talked to (Akash excepted!) just don’t get it. “She’s obviously so awesome, why does she need to be told she’s a knight?”

      She needs it because everyone and everything around her has told her every day of her life that she is wrong, a monster, unacceptable, unlovable. No matter how she may reject this and work to change it and prove them wrong, it is embedded in her soul from her formative years on. How could she not need that reassurance, that acceptance?

      I think people are seeing it as if Jaime is bestowing something material, that he’s offering her a boon of some kind. But he’s not “granting” her a knighthood – he’s acknowledging something obvious to him that it only just occurred to him is not obvious to others – including Brienne. That she is the truest knight of the seven kingdoms alive. The title is trivial – but to Brienne it means everything.

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    16. Best commentary on GOT I have ever read, but then they gave you a good deal to write about. Your insightful description of quality writing, directing, casting and acting aided my less thoughtful appreciation of what I was seeing and greatly enhanced my appreciation and enjoyment of the episode.
      Also, in terms of artistry, your own writing style is clear, compelling and flowing.
      Thank you.

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    17. Wolfish,

      “Are you a knight?”

      “Yes. Yes I am.”

      “I thought as much, ’cause you got armour on. And generally speaking if you got armor on you’re a knight. Why just the other day, two knights came in here. They was in a battle. They was…”

      “Check please.”

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    18. QueenofThrones,

      Exactly. She has not been able to do anything–walk down the street, do whatever activity in her work, participate in social events–without being mocked (at the worst) or dismissed (at best).

      Here she is in a roomful of men who are giving her nothing but respect. Jaime has used the power he has to recognize her. It’s such a powerful moment.

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    19. Ant,

      I’ve noticed this as well, if Brienne was conventionally attractive, people wouldn’t think twice about it, but because she is (in Gwendoline and GRRM’s words) the beast to his beauty, the love he has for her can only be platonic. I would honestly say that the knighting scene was the best sex scene in GOT history, there was an intimacy between the two that I don’t think they have really achieved before.

      I really like this interview from Gwendoline and Nikolaj,

      But beyond all that, I have such an affection for Brienne, and she fully deserved this moment. In the books, she is threatened with rape in every other chapter, good old Randyll Tarly tells her that she needs a good raping to sort her out and put her in her place. It gives me rage, and yet she never gives up, she is true to herself no matter what, that’s a type of bravery that I can’t help but admire, and aspire to. I know we all think she will die in the next episode, but I hope that she lives to write Jaime’s deeds in the white book, and also live to be a member of the Queensguard to Sansa, or whatever the title may be.

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    20. Jenny,

      Thanks for that link. I’m going to be a mess if she does die.

      Yes, it is very familiar to me to hear comments like “she needs a good ****ing.” I don’t think people realize how common these attitudes are.

      I love this writer’s take on Jaime and Brienne. It’s really strange that so many reviewers who are very familiar with the books and the show continue to insist that the relationship is platonic.

      Something interesting I’ve noticed in my own life is that the men who are interested in me are ALWAYS Jaimes–confident, very good-looking, intelligent, and very talented. It’s actually never the ones who are less secure about their looks and/or background and they’re the ones who are generally portrayed on screen and in books as being the kindest and most open-minded.

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    21. Akash this is a beautiful piece of writing. It uplifts two honorable characters and I shed a few tears reading it. When I read essays like this about make believe people it always takes me aback at how real we see them not just because of the way Gwendoline and Nikolaj, but also of course because of the way GRRM wrote them. They are so alive to us and to you that they are worth writing lovely pieces like this. Thank you

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    22. I’ve just read through all the comments of appreciation for this piece and for Jaime and Brienne. The love here has made me cry again. I am going to miss such a deep thinking fandom. ❤️

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    23. Thank you Akash, great article.
      This entire episode for me, like for many others, ranks very, very high above my list of best TV ever, not just GOT.
      It has the beauty that does not come from spectacular scenes, from CGI, from big action scenes, but from humanity and from writing, and from filming, and from acting at their topmost.
      The “Ser Brienne” scene is right up there, together with Jon-Night King at Hardhome, Tyrion’s trial speech and (well, you can tell why I chose my nick ;)) Brienne and Jaime in the pool and in the Riverlands tent.
      Like many others, I cracked when Brienne looked up at Jaime. And I will again and again, every time I’ll rewatch it.
      And now I’ll dread their fate and be shattered when they’ll not make it.

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    24. Just waiting for the Hound to greet her as Ser Brienne of fucking Tarth

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    25. Mango:
      And the people present:

      A refugee who has lived on the wrong side of a massive wall for most of his life
      A young servant
      An old man, recently unable to read, born in poverty who had made his way up socially
      A physically challenged brother and a lover of books and learning
      A deeply good woman that has challenged the patriarchy and was mocked
      A man who walked away from power to serve

      This. I didn’t even think this.

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    26. This is a beautiful article Akash and so well-thought because of course, their life has been about honour. Actually, while reading I started thinking about the words of the knighting and I realised something: Jaime has always kept those words.

      1. In the name of the warrior, I charge you to be brave – his act of jumping in the bear pit to save her, standing up against her assaulters at the cost of his hand and charging Drogon in an attempt to stop the impending war were acts of bravery.

      2. In the name of the father, I charge you to be just – he freed Tyrion because he knew Tyrion was innocent of Joffrey’s murder. He also refused to flog his men to make them march faster as Randly Tarly had suggested; he gave Olenna a non-lethal poison, took Riverrun without bloodshed and has come to the North to fight for the living because he knows it’s the morally right think to do. Fighting for a just cause.

      3. In the name of the mother, I charge you to defend the innocent – he saved the people of King’s Landing from a horrific death (and never even got thanked for it!), he saved Brienne from being raped and in her own words he ‘armed [her] and armoured [her]’ to defend the Stark girls.

      Yes, he’s done a lot of bad things. But he’s also upheld his vows. His Achilles heel is that his actions stem from love. Previously, it was love for Cersei that led to terrible decisions. But now, his love has changed. And coming to the North to fight, knighting a woman who TRULY deserves it – these are the things he does for love now.

      I don’t know what his oath as a Kingsguard was but Jaime has always been a knight of the seven kingdoms.

      I obviously don’t need to list all the ways Brienne has upheld this (oath?) of knighthood. As Bryan Cogman said elsewhere, the episode title refers to them both. They are both a knight of the seven kingdoms. They are both honourable and just.

      And talking about their relationship with each other, in a pre-season 7 interview Nik said in a different world they could be together. This episode was them creating a different world. A dream of spring indeed.

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    27. I thought my heart couldn’t be warmed more than watching this scene (three times, still sobbing every time), but then I went on the internet and saw all the people who love this scene and these two characters for such pure, real reasons, and it just restored my faith in mankind a little bit.

      What gets me in the scene is that little hesitation when Jaime stands up – she both hopes it’s genuine and suspects it’s a trick – that says worlds about the kind of crap she’s had to deal with from people before. Any other book readers see that pause and remember the bit where the men in the camp have a bet as to who can ‘deflower’ her first so they all start being really nice?

      I wish I’d had Brienne as a role model in my teenage years; I’d have been so much more content in myself. She truly is aspirational.

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    28. What an eloquent and insightful essay. This is why I love WOTW – intelligent and entertaining writing. Thank you.

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    29. TheNightQueen: This episode was them creating a different world.

      I wonder whether “breaking the wheel” could be holding democratic elections, open to all, not to just the landed gentry.

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    30. Ant,

      Thank you for sharing, Ant.

      I can’t help but think that GRRM was inspired by someone he knew—maybe several someones—when he wrote Brienne.

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    31. Wolfish,

      Yes, I agree that George must know someone like Brienne. It’s such a nuanced and detailed and true-to-life characterization. It has been weird to see so much of my experience reflected back from the show and books when even I and the people who know me best have never understood certain reactions and motivations as being related to certain life experiences.

      I think that many of us could imagine the challenges that someone like Tyrion or Theon or the Hound or most of the other characters might face. People with similar challenges/situations/motivations have appeared in other work so they’re recognizable (even if they are particularly well done in Game of Thrones). What stands out about Brienne and Jaime is that there’s no template for people like them. They really demonstrate George RR Martin’s skill and effort to understand people, as far as I’m concerned.

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    32. TheNightQueen,

      I agree that Jaime has always been a knight of the seven kingdoms.

      That is why Brienne called him Ser Jaime on the night he left Harrenhal once she knew why the Mad King died.

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    33. Hi, everyone!

      I just wanted to jump in and say thank you from the bottom of my heart for your wonderful comments. They meant a lot to me and brought a few tears to my eyes.

      #xoxo

      -Akash

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    34. This is shallow of me, but when Jamie told Brienne to kneel, it was a truly sensuous moment. In spite of all the armor, they were both naked, emotionally. The last look Jaime gave her after she stood up though, was interesting. You always kind of wondered if there could be a love story there, and I would have thought more of an eyes locked moment, just for one beat. But he nodded at her kindly and walked away. I wonder if he knew he was going to die and this was a farewell gesture.

      I’m making myself cry. I better stock up on tissues and nasal spray. I try to tell myself it’s Game of Thrones, not Game of Dead, and you can’t resolve the Game if you kill off most of the characters. Still…

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    35. Bravissimo, Akash! Thank you for finding the words. Now Ser Brienne has even more motivation to fight fiercely for the living, and die with honor if need be. After time to reflect, the underlying message of the episode seems to be: regardless of the outcome of the war, there is good in the world, and it is worth defending, and fighting and dying for. Mother Jones said: “Grieve for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” Strangely, after reading your post I feel less afraid to witness e3, and accept the fates of these beloved characters.

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