Game of Thrones specializes in morally questionable characters, but when it comes to villains we hate to love, Jaime Lannister is the internet’s favorite. The proof? Scroll through your timeline after the show’s latest episode, “Spoils of War,” which saw the Kingslayer fail to live up to his name when faced with Daenerys Targaryen and her dragon of mass destruction.
The hype behind the episode focused on the final battle scene not only because it featured the Dothraki horde riding into combat, with Drogon providing a blazing flyover, but because it also marked the first war scene featuring major players on opposite sides. The aftermath left Westeros as we know it in ashes but it also had fans questioning which squad to root for – Dany’s quest to reclaim her birthright or Jaime defending Kings Landing from foreign invaders, but the fact that question of allegiance even exists is worth talking about.
Because here’s the thing: Jaime Lannister is not the hero of this story. He’s not the white knight, the savior, the Prince Who Was Promised. Instead, he consistently turns a blind eye to Cersei’s repressive regime, halfheartedly condemning her actions in private while fully enforcing them on the battlefield. He’s willfully blind to her obsession with power and, worse, encouraging of her more self-serving tendencies.
In other words, Jaime Lannister is the Ivanka Trump of Westeros.
And as a fan of the show – and we’re strictly talking about the show – nothing is more infuriating than seeing a selfish, privileged male character like Jaime Lannister being gifted a “redemption arc” he hasn’t earned and being shielded from his transgressions by words like “family,” “duty,” and “love.”
Just to recap, the list of atrocities committed over the course of seven seasons includes pushing an innocent child from a tower, covering that crime up to the detriment of his family members, murdering relatives, killing a king, and entering into an incestuous relationship with his sister. But wait. There’s more. He also poisoned nobles and threatened to catapult babies to their death.
When we first met Jaime, he was shacking up with his sister, wearing the title of “oathbreaker” like a badge of honor, and baiting Ned Stark to clash steel with him in his downtime. His arrogance and entitlement chafed almost as much as Cersei’s self-serving schemes, but he didn’t cement his villainous status until he pushed a young Bran Stark from the tower at Winterfell – right after the poor kid caught him and Cersei in the throes of passion. That act ended the series’ pilot and shocked fans into tuning in week after week. But it also established a question we’ve been mulling ever since: Is Jaime Lannister actually redeemable?
The short answer: no.
Fans might argue that the Jaime Lannister we were introduced to in season one isn’t the same man we see now. That’s true. Like every other character on this show, Jaime’s been through the ringer. He’s been captured and held hostage. He’s had a limb hacked off, mourned all three of his children. And he’s shouldered the guilt of his father’s death after helping his brother escape King’s Landing. But none of this excuses the choices he’s made.
To have a redemption, characters must, in some way, feel remorse for what they’ve done and actively try not to commit those same sins again. That’s never been Jaime Lannister. In fact, his story, in many ways, has come full circle. The man who murdered children for the love of his sister in season one is the man who now sacks castles and poisons elderly women for that same reason in season seven. Whatever metaphorical crossroads his character might currently be approaching, there’s nothing entertaining or interesting about watching a person give up their agency and self-worth to serve a tyrant and enforce an illegitimate regime.
What’s worse is that Jaime has been here before. The Kingslayer has carried the burden of his name throughout the series. He’s been ridiculed and despised for doing what many would consider the “right thing,” killing the Mad King before he had a chance to burn the country to the ground. Whether that act was purely noble or more self-serving in nature – his life and the lives of his family were also at risk – remains uncertain, but Jaime did save lives by choosing to shuck his oath and betray his king. It’s one of the few choices he’s made that seem logically just and it’s afforded him a level of sympathy from viewers. Despite his title, wealth, and narcissistic tendencies, many would like to pity Jaime as an underdog, a character punished for doing what any one of us would do, but at what point does that forgiveness blind us to the person he truly is?
You could view Jaime’s storyline in season three – his perilous road trip with Brienne, the loss of his fighting hand, and his rescue of the female knight in the bear pit – as redeeming in nature. It forced Jaime to take stock of his life and his choices yes, but that’s not redemption, that’s an identity crisis. For the first time in his life, Jaime isn’t under the direct influence of his sister. He’s being made to rely on someone else, he’s lost his reputation as a knight, and his family name doesn’t automatically buy his freedom as it once might’ve. If Jaime’s relationship with his sister has taught us anything, it’s that he’s impressionable, extremely susceptible to outside influence – the difference here is that Brienne, a woman of honor, is a good influence while Cersei is not.
Aside from the fact that preventing a woman from being raped isn’t noble, it’s just human decency, Jamie’s actions when he’s with Brienne aren’t redeeming, they’re simply the by-product of the Kingslayer adapting to an unfamiliar environment, one where he can’t defend himself and where the woman he’s come to care for is actually worth his devotion. There’s no epiphany when Jaime enters the pit to save Brienne’s life or when he sends her to fulfill her oath to Catelyn Stark, there’s no repentance for the things he’s done or even a promise to do better in the future, there’s just lamenting about his own fate, about the choices he’s been forced to make, and how he’s been unfairly criticized for those choices.
No character is truly good or evil on Game of Thrones and most are faced with impossible choices. But when we’re watching Cersei burn the Sept to the ground, Olenna Tyrell poison a mad king, Daenerys Targaryen incinerate armies, and Jon Snow executing his brothers of the Night’s Watch, we’re at least interested in their motivations. Maybe it’s love, maybe it’s justice, maybe it’s to protect people who can’t protect themselves, or maybe is just plain old revenge. The point being, these characters making the tough and terrible choices do it with authority – maybe they try to justify it, maybe they don’t, but they’re actively involved in the decision-making process.
Much of Jaime Lannister’s story this season, and really every season since the show began, has been the consequence of someone else’s actions. Season seven has seen him morph into a mind-numbingly dull lackey, content to stand by while his sister commits genocide and to defend her transgressions and his culpability with talk of loyalty and love.
Sure, Cersei’s the big bad this season, but it’s Jaime who is enforcing and enabling her despotic reign. His disaffected shirking of blame, his blasé, badass personality doesn’t give him a pass, nor does the fact that, like every character on this show and every human being on the planet, he has people he cares about. Doing the unthinkable to protect them isn’t aspirational and refusing to reflect on your own poor choices or worse, not learn from them means whether you kill the monster or not, you’ll always be known as the person who helped create it.