Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Last of the Starks”

The Moment: Jaime Lannister Leaves Brienne of Tarth

Setting the Scene: After the consummation of Jaime and Brienne’s relationship and seemingly a period of happiness in Winterfell, Jaime hears that Cersei and Euron have done serious damage to Daenerys’s forces, which causes him to do some soul-searching.

Why It Matters: If you’ll notice, I changed the title of this section. “Why It’s Awesome” didn’t feel right for a scene that left my favorite character sobbing and my other favorite character riding off to what seems to be certain death with the most unclear motives in television history. Despite its inherently tragic (and possibly frustrating) nature, this scene deserved a closer look.

Let’s start with the obvious: None of us have any idea why Jaime really left the North—and the life he was building there with Brienne—to return South. We can make educated guesses, make up various theories, and even claim to use the actors’ performances, small pieces of what we think is foreshadowing, and potential spoilers to gain insight into Jaime’s mind in this moment. Is he leaving to kill Cersei because he knows he’s the only one who can get close enough? Is he leaving to die with her because he feels that’s the only way to fully atone for the sins he committed out of his love for her? Is he leaving to try to save her because he still loves her? Is he leaving because of the child Cersei is pregnant with? Does he plan to die in her arms as her soulmate? Did he always only love Cersei, or does he truly love Brienne now? Does he think he’s not worthy of Brienne? Is he trying to protect Brienne by pushing her away so she won’t follow him?

There are probably a thousand more ways to interpret this scene and what Jaime is going through during it, but we won’t know until the next episode airs, or the series finale, or maybe not even then. And for some people, that might be fine. Obscuring character motivations for the sake of preserving shock value is not a new trick on this show—it was my main complaint with last season’s Arya/Sansa storyline. But it’s not fine for me. I want to leave every scene of this final season feeling something—whatever that feeling may be—deeply. I prefer when the characters drive the plot, not the other way around. So Jaime’s lack of clear motivation—and the lack of relationship building between him and Brienne (in this episode rather than in the many seasons of gorgeous development we got before their love scene)—left me feeling confused more than anything else. By trying to hit two huge beats (the sex and the “breakup”) in one of the show’s most nuanced and beloved relationships all in the course of an episode, it just cemented my belief that this final season is more about moving characters into predetermined places as quickly as possible instead of creating a story whose final highs and lows feel earned.

With that being said, I don’t want to talk much about Jaime in this scene. I want to believe that the tears in his eyes gave away his true feelings (because how deeply unsatisfying would it be for him to actually go back to Cersei because he loves her after all this?), but my lack of faith in these writers when it comes to Jaime’s character arc is telling me that might have just been the result of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau once again bringing so much more depth to his character than the writers believe exists in Jaime.

And how could he not bring everything he had to this scene when he was met with his best scene partner giving what may have been her best performance yet?

For as much as the plot development of this scene was about Jaime, the emotional development of this scene was about Brienne. While much of this episode broke the “show, don’t tell” rule of storytelling (Tyrion telling Jaime he knows he’s happy, Varys telling Tyrion Jon would make a better leader than Daenerys, etc.), this scene conveyed so much about Brienne and her relationship with Jaime without having to spell it out for the audience.

It begins with him looking back at her, naked in their bed. This tells us that they’ve been intimate more than just that first time and that they seem to have fallen into a shared life in Winterfell (echoed by the fact that Jaime is staying in the North because that’s where Brienne needs to be). But more than even those details of their life together, Brienne sleeping naked shows how far she’s come from the woman in the baths at Harrenhal who hid herself from Jaime. There’s no shame, no self-consciousness. She feels comfortable in her own body now more than ever, and that’s in no small way due to the man who shares her bed. After a lifetime of being wary of men and their intentions, she’s come to trust that she’s safe with Jaime. She let the last bit of her guard down when she let her shirt fall to the floor, and the image of her waking up in bed with no clothes on speaks to the fact that her guard has been down ever since.

That’s what makes what comes next so painful. The initial image of Jaime in his full riding outfit—protected against the elements—and Brienne in just her robe foreshadowed the rest of the scene that followed. Jaime has steeled himself to do what he thinks he has to (for whatever reason that may be). His guard is back up; his defenses are once again in place. But Brienne is wearing something intimate—something that’s not enough to protect her against the cold. We know she must have dressed in haste; getting to Jaime was more important than putting her layers back on (in more ways than one). This is Brienne without her armor—a woman as much as a knight, vulnerable but believing Jaime is worth braving the harsh world outside their bedroom without proper protection.

Jaime has seen all of Brienne—bruised, bloody, beautiful, brave, the knight, the woman, the captor, the friend, and the lover. There’s nothing to hide anymore. There’s an intimacy to their interactions that shows us how transformative the experience of sharing a bed and some semblance of a life has been for both of them. From the moment Brienne walks toward him, there’s an ease to her movements—even with her arms crossed over her body, preparing herself for the blow she knows is coming—that speaks to how comfortable she is with him. Gwendoline Christie has always been brilliant at showing who Brienne is in the physical details of her performance, and she’s never been better than she was in this scene. The hesitancy of past interactions between Jaime and Brienne is gone, and it’s been replaced by a tactile immediacy—a need to touch, to hold on, to be in the same physical space—that only comes from the deepest realms of intimacy. We don’t need the characters to tell us they’ve spent every night together or to say they’ve fallen in love; all we need is that breathtaking moment when she strides toward him and grabs his face and that heartbreaking moment seconds later when he strokes her hand with his thumb. These are characters who know each other in every way a person can be known, and there’s a comfort between them that’s always existed but has now been made explicitly physical.

I love what this moment means for Brienne. She’s a fighter, and she’s not letting the man she loves go without a fight—even if that means letting him see her at her most vulnerable. And she makes it so he literally can’t look away. She holds his face in her hands and forces him to see how much she loves him and how much it would devastate her to have all her worst fears come true—that she’s not good enough, that she’ll never be loved, that she trusted a man who would break her heart. Being seen and loved as a woman is just as much a part of Brienne’s character as being seen and respected as a knight, and she thought she had found both of those things in Jaime. It wasn’t just the Jaime who shared her bed that she wanted to stay—it was also the Jaime who knighted her, who asked to fight beside her, who protected her and let her protect him in the battle against the dead.

The character development shown in Brienne asking Jaime to stay with tears in her eyes astounded me. For so long, she seemed to hold on to what Renly had told her—nasty little shits don’t deserve to see her cry. But she decided that Jaime was worth it. It’s terrifying to let someone see you at your most brutally vulnerable with no idea how they’ll respond. That’s why in this moment Brienne is even braver than she was fighting the White Walkers. This is a woman showing her truest self—not hiding her desire, her love, or her pain behind courtesy, duty, or any other kind of armor. And by holding Jaime’s face, it’s her forcing him to confront the truth. It’s her forcing him to look her in the eyes as he hurts her instead of running away like a coward in the night. It’s her forcing him to see that his self-loathing can’t stop her from loving him. It’s uncomfortable and raw and one of most realistically painful moments this show has ever given us.

When Jaime had to look down with tears in his eyes, I knew what was coming. As he recited every terrible thing he did for Cersei, I was heartbroken for Brienne because, in essence, he was saying she was wrong not just to love him but to see him as an honorable man. Brienne had vouched for him, and now Jaime was seemingly saying she was wrong to do so. For a character who prides herself on her sense of honor, that had to be like a punch to the gut, and Christie let us feel it. Brienne trusted Jaime to make her a knight and to love her as a woman, and Jaime seemed to be saying both of those choices were a mistake.

Christie brought so much pain to those final moments of Brienne sobbing in the cold. She let Jaime see her pain; she didn’t hide that he’d hurt her. And I know plenty of people want to object to the idea that crying over a man can be seen as a sign of strength, but for a character like Brienne, it is. It’s a sign of her embracing every part of herself and not hiding who she is and what she feels anymore. It’s her taking ownership of her emotions just like she took ownership of her sexuality earlier in the episode. And it’s her being brave enough to love—even in the face of loss. There’s nothing weak about standing in your truth—even if that truth is messy and tragic. And that’s exactly what Brienne does. She stands and fights until there is literally nothing left to fight for. She doesn’t run; she doesn’t hide.

Love made Brienne of Tarth braver than she’s ever been before, and even when that love rides off into the night, she’s still the bravest and most beautiful character in this world.

Honorable Mentions: The drinking game, Jaime and Brienne finally sleep together, Sansa talks to Tyrion, the mass funeral

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