The Moment: Brienne of Tarth Becomes a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
Setting the Scene: When Tormund asks Brienne why she’s not a knight, Jaime is inspired to break tradition on what might be their last night alive.
Why It’s Awesome: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is all about the answer to one question: If you thought you only had one night left to live, how would you want to spend it? It’s one of the all-time great episodes of Game of Thrones because of how perfectly that question is answered for each character. Arya wants to spend it experiencing one last pleasurable human act that’s about life and not death. (Get it, girl!) Tyrion wants to spend it getting drunk. Sam wants to spend it with his new family. Sansa wants to spend it eating among her people with a man who makes her feel safe. At the end of the world, some people choose to forget, some people choose to pray, some people choose to sing.
And some people choose to hope.
For Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister, hope is not something that comes naturally—at least not anymore. They’re both masters of pushing down their deepest desires to the point that even they no longer believe they want those things anymore. Jaime has fooled most people into believing he doesn’t care if anyone respects him or sees him as honorable, and Brienne knows she’ll never be a knight—will never have that public acceptance of who she is—so why bother wanting it?
But when facing the end of the world, it was finally time for both of these characters to admit that those things mattered to them—and to find that when they finally looked out from behind their self-imposed walls, they were staring into the eyes of someone who wanted to give them exactly what they desired most.
The buildup to this moment was perfect—from Jaime jumping to his feet when Brienne entered the room (complete with Tyrion’s knowing eyebrow raise) to her downright adorable blush when Jaime asked her to stay. Gwendoline Christie played those early moments with an innocent sense of romantic anticipation—the kind of barely-restrained glee and fear a person feels when they realize the object of their affection might actually like them too. And then throw in Tormund and his hilariously misguided attempts to woo Brienne and it was like a Westeros romantic comedy, despite the impending sense of doom. I wasn’t sure what kind of payoff we were going to get, but I knew something was coming. I just had no idea how great it would be.
Even when Tormund questioned the traditional roles that kept Brienne from knighthood, I wasn’t sure where the scene was going to go. There was the initial thought of Jaime trying to one-up his “competition” by removing the hypothetical from Tormund’s offer to knight her 10 times over and saying he’d literally knight her right then and there, but almost immediately it occurred to me that Jaime doesn’t see it that way. He’s not trying to “beat” Tormund or “win” Brienne in that moment; he’s just trying to finally do the right thing after Tormund unknowingly opened his eyes to something he should have done the day he gave Brienne Oathkeeper. That’s what Brienne brings out of him and always has—a burning desire to do what’s right, tradition be damned.
Christie made those beats after Jaime’s offer sting with realism. Brienne scoffs at first because that’s what she’s always done. A woman being a knight is a joke to everyone else, so it’s easier to pretend it’s a joke to her too, with just the slightest hint of pain behind her eyes. And haven’t we all been there? Haven’t we all laughed at ourselves so other people won’t do it first? Haven’t we all downplayed our dreams because we’re afraid people will make fun of them? Haven’t we all convinced ourselves that something we truly want—and something we probably deserve—is so far out of reach that it’s laughable because then it won’t hurt as much when we don’t get it?
Brienne has spent her whole life being a joke to most people, so her first reaction is to Jaime’s offer is to treat it like a joke. It’s easier to laugh than to allow herself to hope—with all the potential for pain that comes with it. But then Jaime repeats himself with the kind of sincerity that makes a single word—“Kneel”—feel like it contains all the intimacy that could ever exist between two people. In that one word, he’s offering her the chance to fulfill the dreams she never thought anyone would take seriously—let alone make come true. In that one word, he’s telling her that he sees her and that he wants to make it so the whole world knows what he sees—the most honorable person in Westeros. And in that one word, he’s pleading with her to meet him halfway, to trust him the way he’s trusted her since the baths at Harrenhal and maybe even before.
But before Brienne can take that final leap and allow herself to stand up and take what she’s wanted for so long, she seeks the permission of the only other person in that room who knows what being named a knight would mean to her. Podrick’s barely perceptible nod made me tear up because he has always seen Brienne as a knight, and it was almost as if he was silently telling her that it was okay for her to want others to see her that way too. Podrick is also the only person we’ve seen Brienne talk to about the humiliations of her past, so it was beautiful to see him be the person she turned to for assurance before daring to hope that she could move beyond that pain.
When Brienne rose to walk to Jaime, Christie made the tension between what life has taught Brienne to believe and what she truly believes in her heart so evident in her slow, careful movements. When Brienne was younger, it seemed as if she would get to live out her dream of being courted and adored, and just when she started to let herself hope, it became clear that the young men dancing with her were actually mocking her. That trauma was with Brienne every step of the way to Jaime; you could see it etched in her face—the idea that if this moment turned to mockery too, it would be something she would never recover from. Brienne is still more acquainted with being treated like a joke than being treated with kindness, which is what makes her journey to Jaime—and the hope manifested in that moment—feel like the bravest thing she’s ever done.
Love is giving someone the power to hurt you but trusting that they won’t, and there’s no better example of that than Brienne of Tarth kneeling before Jaime Lannister, knowing that he could laugh in her face but believing that he won’t. The physical vulnerability of her position, kneeling in front of him and his sword, mimics the emotional vulnerability of what she’s doing—she’s putting her hopes, her dreams, and her heart in front of him and hoping he will be gentle with them. She’s allowing herself to hope that—just this once—she might get what she wants.
Jaime is vulnerable in this moment, too, and Coster-Waldau shows it brilliantly in the nervous way he holds his sword and in the steadying pause he takes before knighting her. In offering to knight Brienne, Jaime is offering himself to her once again, like he did when he pledged to fight under her command if she’d have him. He is placing before her the part of himself that still wants someone to see him as a knight, to believe in his honor. And although she vouched for his honor in front of Sansa and Daenerys, he knows she could have just been doing it because it was the right thing to do. Jaime might pretend not to care if people think he’s a man without honor, but it’s always mattered to him on some level, and it especially matters to him that Brienne believes in his honor. Therefore, by allowing him to knight her, Brienne also gave Jaime the things he’d stopped letting himself hope for—respect and trust.
The knighting ceremony itself was one of the warmest and most intimate moments the show has ever given us. As Jaime knighted Brienne with Oathkeeper’s mate, I was struck by the beauty of this moment being shared between two mirror images—two knights who saw each other as such when no one else did. Coster-Waldau’s delivery of each line resonated with reverence; you could literally hear Jaime’s admiration and love for Brienne in each word. And the staging of that scene—lit by the flames, with the rest of the onlookers in shadow—created a sense that, in this moment, the entire world shrank down to these two people and what they meant to each other. Every step on their journey led to this moment of recognition and acceptance, and no one but the person directly in front of them would ever know exactly what it meant.
The emotion and pride in Coster-Waldau’s voice when he told Brienne to rise was overwhelming, but it was nothing compared to Christie’s face—the quivering lower lip and the eyes filling with tears as they met the gaze of the man she loves who had just given her the greatest gift, which is to be truly seen and accepted by another person. It’s not easy to make the moment a person’s dreams come true feel grounded in reality, but Christie did it. And in doing so, she made it feel like a victory for every woman who’s ever been mocked for wanting things women aren’t supposed to want, for every woman who’s ever stood tall in the face of sexism, and for every woman who’s felt as if she’d never belong anywhere but used her pain to help others instead of using it to grow dark and cold.
With tears in her eyes and a smile on her face, Brienne had never looked more beautiful, and I loved that we could see Jaime thinking the exact same thing. Coster-Waldau is so good at showing those small moments when Jaime is awestruck by Brienne, and in the breaths after he knights her, we can see it in his wide eyes: To him, in this moment, Brienne of Tarth is the most beautiful woman in Westeros. And he loves her. If the world really is ending, then this is how Jaime wants to spend his last hours—looking into Brienne’s eyes and knowing he made them shine with happiness.
And I can’t think of a better way for Brienne—my favorite Game of Thrones character—to spend her final moments before facing death itself. After so much heartbreak and pain, she finally gets the chance to be truly, openly happy. She’s surrounded by men who aren’t laughing at her but are applauding her as an equal. (Don’t think about how Tyrion has so much respect for her because he also knows what it means to have people disregard you for reasons you can’t control.) She’s basking in the glow of a dream come true. And she knows that dream came true because the man she loves wanted to make her happy on what might be their last night on Earth.
As the purest and most genuine smile ever given on this depressing mess of a show spread across her face, I was reminded of Jaime’s thought from the books:
In this light she could almost be a beauty…In this light she could almost be a knight.
Now, the almosts have faded away. She is a knight, and she is a beauty. And it’s all because she and Jaime chose to hope that, even with death breathing down their necks, they could be happy for a moment. And a stolen moment of happiness is all anyone can hope for at the end of the world.
Honorable Mentions: Arya and Gendry’s stolen moment, Brienne defending Jaime, Sam giving Jorah his family sword, Jaime offering to serve under Brienne’s command, Sansa and Theon’s reunion, Tyrion and Jaime toasting to the perils of self-betterment, Podrick’s song
First of all, you should know that I turned on my Jaime/Brienne post for background noise as I wrote this and “Back Here” was the first song to play and I miss you a lot now.
Second, I have already told you this but you did a terrific job with this, Katie. You warned me but I was still not ready for all of my emotions reading this.
I love that you tied in the “in this light she could almost be a beauty” line from the books. The “almosts” are gone now and all that’s left is Jaime’s love and admiration. She’s a beauty and she’s a knight and Jaime has always seen both (you don’t make armor that matches someone’s eyes if they’d never caught your interest) but it’s never been as apparent as it is in this moment. He is so incredibly in love with Brienne and everything that she is and it is written all over his face. That moment after she stands up and they are just staring at each other is so gorgeously intimate and open. I want a kiss and actual words to come out of their mouths before one or both die but this right here is the culmination of the arc that has been building since Brienne agreed to take Jaime to Kings Landing. It is two people standing in front of each other knowing that they see the other for exactly who they are and are perfectly seen in return. It’s two people being utterly at peace with the fact that this is the most significant relationship either of them have ever had with another person and not wanting it any other way.
Now that I have gotten carried away by how much these two love each other, I can move on to the scene I intended to talk about – Brienne defending Jaime. I am obsessed with the physical choices Gwen made in this scene. I love that we get to see Brienne’s decision play out across her face right before she stands up and stands in front of Jaime. His look back when he said that the current situation went beyond house or family loyalty told her she was never wrong to believe in him. He is the man she thought he was and a man of honor and she was the person best equipped to testify on his behalf. I love that she doesn’t look at him AT ALL but maintains an assertive posture even while speaking as deferentially as required to Dany and Sansa. This is the truth as she knows it and she wouldn’t be Brienne if she didn’t speak up on his behalf. The slight chin raise as she says she’d fight alongside him was a brilliant choice. This is her stand. There is no one, save for Pod, that she would trust with her life as much as she trusts Jaime. And Jaime is just stuck behind her feeling completely unworthy of the strength of this woman’s convictions and belief in him but determined to live up to them. I love that she fights for him so fiercely while also refusing to engage with her feelings on any other level and that you see every bit of that on her face because she has never been one who is very good at hiding her emotions if they bubble too close to the surface. I cannot imagine anyone who could have brought Brienne to life and captured her honor and dedication any better than Gwen and this episode was her finest moment.
I remember the day we discovered that “Back Here” is such a good song for them! (How long until I get to see you again? Less than 2 months? STILL TOO LONG!)
I’m so glad you chose to talk about Brienne defending Jaime because as soon as it happened I was convinced that was going to be the scene I wrote about. (I love that I’m trained on this show to expect only one positive moment for them in an episode.) You’re so right when you say that Gwendoline Christie’s body language was perfect in that scene. You could see her standing so tall and mustering all her courage to come off the sidelines where she’s most comfortable to fight for the life of the man she loves. This might not be the kind of fighting she’s most eager to do, but for him she’ll be brave enough to do it. And that chin raise with the slight drop in her voice when she says “I would” is EVERYTHING. She knows that saying that isn’t the same as saying she’ll vouch for him. She knows it’s saying that she wants him beside her when she faces death, and she knows what that means. And she stands strong and proud of her choice. She loves him, and even though the thought of that ever becoming something she has to deal with terrifies her, it’s something she owns because Brienne can’t lie. For Gwen to do all of that in just two words is further proof that she is a gift.
Well now I need to know what “Back Here” is because I also want to cry some more. Katie, there’s so much I want to say, but I’m still so torn and destroyed, I can’t even. This was one of the best things you’ve written, I wanted to sit here and list my favorite parts, but literally every word you wrote was better than the one before. So many lines floored me. Brilliant job, my friend. This was truly astonishing work.
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