Brienne’s tears divided fans. Picture: HBO
Brienne’s tears divided fans. Picture: HBO

Real reason for Thrones actor’s tears

YOU thought we were done with Game of Thrones, didn't you?

It has been almost two weeks since the series finale aired. That's more than enough time to dissect every possible talking point, right?

Wrong! I've been on leave for most of that fortnight, which means I've had ample time to rewatch and reconsider the show's contentious last season. I have thoughts, and fortunately, a platform from which to vent them.

Today I want to discuss one of the season's most controversial moments - the scene from episode four in which Jaime decides to leave Winterfell and go back to Cersei.

There was a significant backlash against it after the episode aired. Some of that was due to fans' disappointment at Jaime's decision, which seemed to undermine seven-and-a-half seasons' worth of character development.

But even more people were upset by Brienne's reaction. The usually stoic knight burst into tears after trying - and failing - to stop Jaime from leaving.

These are the tears I’m talking about. Picture: HBO
These are the tears I’m talking about. Picture: HBO

Many fans thought the scene perpetuated the tired, sexist stereotype of an emotional woman crying over the loss of a man.

"When a character like Brienne cries over a man, please believe that is an intentional choice on the part of the creators," wrote Salon, for example.

"Regardless of all Brienne has accomplished to become the first female Ser in all of Westeros, it lets us know that she is still a vulnerable woman who dared to believe in love.

"Brienne can accept the unpredictability of battle, but not the unpredictability of a man addicted to his evil twin sister. Make it stop."

That was basically my interpretation the first time I watched the scene as well. Now, however, I think there is far more going on inside Brienne's head.

Let's take a closer look at how the scene unfolds.

We see Jaime staring into the fire, conflicted, as Brienne sleeps in bed behind him. He decides to flee Winterfell, and tries to sneak out without her noticing. She wakes up.

Brienne confronts Jaime in the courtyard.

"They're going to destroy that city. You know they will," she says.

"Have you ever run away from a fight?" he asks her.

Brienne then grabs Jaime by the face, and forces him to look directly into her eyes.

"You're not like your sister. You're not. You're better than she is. You're a good man and you can't save her. You don't need to die with her. Stay here. Stay with me. Please, stay," she says, growing increasingly emotional.

Jaime's response is a real gut punch.

"You think I'm a good man? I pushed a boy out a tower window. Crippled him for life. For Cersei. I strangled my cousin with my own hands, just to get back to Cersei. I would have murdered every man, woman and child in Riverrun, for Cersei," he says.

"She's hateful. And so am I."

And with that, he mounts his horse and rides away, leaving Brienne in tears behind him. Jaime ends up dying in Cersei's arms.

“You’re not like your sister. You’re not.”
“You’re not like your sister. You’re not.”

How should we interpret Jaime's response? Is he listing the terrible things he's done for Cersei to prove he loves his sister more than Brienne?

If you view the exchange that way, Brienne appears to be crying about her own rejection, which would certainly be out of character.

When you consider the subtext, however, her reaction makes more sense.

Before the final season aired, many of us (myself included) thought Jaime was in the middle of a classic redemption arc. He had gradually come to terms with Cersei's toxic effect on him, and was finally breaking away from her.

We were wrong. There is a redemption arc in Game of Thrones - but it belongs to Theon Greyjoy. Jaime's story is a tragedy.

He is addicted to Cersei, the same way someone in the real world might be addicted to a drug, or their own emotionally abusive partner. He struggles to break the addiction throughout the series.

Others try to help Jaime - think of Olenna's rather prophetic warning that Cersei will be the death of him. But at the last minute, he relapses.

Jaime's ending is one of crushing disappointment (terrible pun intended), but I would argue it's also the most believable and relatable of any character. It isn't easy to overcome an addiction or escape a toxic relationship, and Jaime is only human.

So where does Brienne come into the picture?

She obviously has her own character arc going on - one which comes to a fitting conclusion when she becomes the realm's first ever female knight. But from Jaime's perspective, Brienne represents the alternative to Cersei; the life he could have if he breaks free of her influence.

Brienne is everything Jaime admires. She personifies honour, valour, morality, and all the other values a knight is supposed to possess.

When you lay it out like that, Jaime's decision should be obvious. He should choose Brienne.

But we are ignoring one crucial factor - the thing Brienne is explicitly fighting when she tries to stop him from leaving Winterfell. Jaime's subtle, internalised self-loathing.

Jaime doesn't just make up that list of terrible things he's done in Cersei's name. His addiction to her really has driven him to perform horrific deeds. And because of that, he believes he is just as bad as his sister.

He doesn't think he deserves a better life with Brienne. He only deserves Cersei.

We, the audience, know he's wrong. That is why his decision is so frustrating for us.

And Brienne, more than anyone, knows he is wrong. She has gradually come to see that Jaime is a decent, honourable man. She tries to convince him of that, and fails. Which is why his decision is so heartbreaking for her.

Brienne realises Jaime is riding to his death, and worse, she knows he will die wrongly believing he is a monster.

That is why she bursts into tears. It's not just another example of a woman on TV despairing because she has lost a man. It's proof that Brienne understands and cares for Jaime like no one else in the story.

It is yet another reason to admire her character.

Screengrabs of Brienne and Jaime.
Screengrabs of Brienne and Jaime.

The most beautiful scene in the finale, two episodes later, once again involves Brienne. We see her completing Jaime's entry in the White Book, which lists the deeds of all the lord commanders of the Kingsguard.

We've seen the book a couple of times before, seasons ago. Jaime pored over it, reading the entries of his predecessors - giants like Ser Arthur Dayne and Ser Barristan Selmy, his personal heroes. Then he flicked to his own page, which was practically empty.

This was a real sore point for Jaime; a physical embodiment of all his insecurities.

Joffrey, who was of course a colossal asshole, once mocked him over the conspicuously bare pages under his name. And Jaime himself pointed the book out to Brienne before dispatching her to find Sansa and Arya, bitterly saying there was "plenty of room" left in his entry.

He thought there was nothing worth recording; no good deed to remember him by.

Brienne knows otherwise. So she completes Jaime's entry, describing all his honourable moments, which he himself was too consumed by self-loathing to recognise.

She ensures the world will remember Jaime not just as the Kingslayer, but as the good man she knew.

Say what you will about the rest of the final season, but the conclusion to Brienne and Jaime's story was fabulously written. Now please excuse me while I wipe these mysterious drops of moisture from my eyes.

Think I'm right, or hopelessly wrong? Continue the discussion on Twitter: @SamClench

“You’re better than she is. You’re a good man and you can’t save her.”
“You’re better than she is. You’re a good man and you can’t save her.”
“You don’t need to die with her. Stay here.”
“You don’t need to die with her. Stay here.”

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