ASOIAF vs. GoT, Third: Who Cut Off Jaime’s Hand, and Why?

If you’ve watched Game of Thrones but not read the books, you may possibly be wondering if maybe there’s more of a story behind Jaime Lannister losing his right hand. I can assure you: yes, there is. For this post, I will explore the differences between show and books on the events surrounding this act of mutilation, from Jaime’s imprisonment by the Tullys and Starks to his return to the Red Keep. The differences between show and text are subtle, but broad, and I will analyze the sub-plot with a number of questions. I think the biggest question that the show elides and oversimplifies is the matter of why they maim him. It’ll be a long post, but organized. And I have citations. Lots and lots of citations. I don’t expect you to take my word on any of this.

1. Where was Jaime kept?
On the show, the Stark forces keep Jaime chained outdoors in a muddy pen, where he is dragged from camp to camp and kept exposed to the elements and held in especially unsanitary conditions. In the book, they keep him indoors at Riverrun, first in a tower cell, until he makes an escape attempt with the help of false envoys from the Lannisters. After he’s brought back to Riverrun, they keep him in a dungeon, uncomfortably chained to the wall. While he is underfed, isolated, and denied a chance to bathe, shave, change his clothes or comb his hair, he does have the benefit of four walls and a pot to piss in. I suppose the show changed his situation so they could give Jaime more screen time and show him interacting with Robb, because Jaime doesn’t actually appear on-page in A Clash of Kings until the scene in which Catelyn ultimately decides to send him back to his family.
2. Why did Catelyn decide to free him?
On the show, Jaime appears to have become too much trouble to keep prisoner, so Catelyn arranges his travel under Brienne’s protection before Rickard Karstark and his knights kill him. Jaime killed two men, one of them his own cousin, in his escape attempt, so Catelyn can be forgiven for thinking the cost-benefit balance favors taking him out of the reach of Robb’s bannermen. In the book, both of Rickard Karstark’s sons were killed in the battle at Whispering Wood. The casualties of Jaime’s escape attempt are some guys we’ve never heard of. Which doesn’t make it okay! But it changes the explanation of how Jaime’s become such a troublesome prisoner. While Jaime is not terribly attached to his cousin, he does not kill the man as part of an escape plot. Ultimately, Catelyn focuses on getting her daughters back after she finds out about Bran’s and Rickon’s deaths at Theon Greyjoy’s hand. She thinks she has no sons left except Robb, so it’s more important than ever to get Sansa and Arya back under her care. The girls are important enough to her to defy Robb and allow Jaime back into a position of battle command and political access.
3. Who left with him?
Remember Jaime’s cousin, briefly sharing the pen with him? Alton Lannister, who once squired for him and apparently worships him? In the books, Jaime’s cousin is Cleos Frey, a son of Aunt Genna (Tywin’s sister) and her husband Emmon Frey, Lord Walder’s second son. Emmon’s family has chosen to fight on the Lannister side rather than the Tully-Stark side with the rest of the Freys, so Cleos is counted as a Lannister. He is, if possible, even more of a ridiculous suck-up than the sincere Alton Lannister we see on HBO. Cleos and Alton serve the same function to the Stark cause, that of a Lannister prisoner whom they send to King’s Landing to treat with Cersei. When Catelyn releases Jaime out from under Robb and Edmure, Cleos accompanies Brienne in escorting Jaime out of Riverrun. Cleos’s presence allows Catelyn to tell the guards that she is sending Cleos south with new terms for the queen. Like Brienne, Cleos is armed with a longsword. We’ll get back to that later.
4. How did they make the journey?
Once the travel/protection plan is arranged and Jaime’s been made to swear certain vows to Catelyn, out he goes from Riverrun stuffed into the bottom of a skiff. Catelyn served him a flagon of wine in his cell while she traded questions and answers with him, so he’s drunk and sleepy. He briefly thinks to himself that Tyrion would laugh his ass off to hear that Jaime slept through his own escape. Brienne has apparently been placed in charge of the prisoner exchange mission, with Ser Cleos Frey assisting her. When Jaime wakes up to sunlight, he asks Cousin Cleos to shave his head, the idea being that everyone is used to seeing Jaime with long hair and a clean-shaven face, whereas a bald head and thick beard might disguise him. He needs Cleos to do this because Brienne won’t let him touch a knife.
They pilot the skiff down the river for some time, until they spot those three dead tavern wenches hanging from the tree. Brienne pulls the skiff ashore and gets out to bury the wenches. However, they are not confronted by three Stark soldiers who identify Jaime and thus force Brienne to mow them all down; nobody interrupts them on the road. They rush back into the skiff when a pursuing boat from Riverrun appears on the river, with men from Lord Hoster Tully’s garrison there to re-capture and re-incarcerate Jaime. While he and Cleos handle the oars and sail, Brienne swims to shore, climbs the cliff, and chucks a huge piece of rock down on the Riverrun boat, forcing her crew to scatter. This is one of several times that Jaime thinks to himself of ways to kill Brienne; she is his captor, he wants to escape her, and she’s not very nice to him, so of course it makes sense for Jaime to plot her death. When she swims back up to the boat after making fools of the Tully garrison, however, Jaime finds himself helping her back into the skiff rather than smashing her head open with his oar.
Eventually, they come to an inn, grab some lunch, and trade their skiff for three horses; Cousin Cleos gets the fastest, fanciest horse, Brienne takes the strongest, and Jaime gets the ancient half-blind gelding. They get away from the river and take the horses through a scenic route, on and off the Kingsroad. They ride the rest of the day, sleep around a tree for the night, and ride again the next morning. After a couple days of riding to either side of the Kingsroad, they run into some outlaws firing arrows at them from behind a wall. This is why Jaime hates archers; he can’t fight them the way he likes to fight. His horse takes an arrow to the rump but is too feeble to throw him off, Brienne takes arrows to her leg and back but doesn’t seem to notice, and Cleos takes an arrow to the chest after he loses control of his horse. He falls out of the saddle and gets dragged on the ground by his palfrey. The arrows in his chest and arm don’t do him any good, but ultimately he dies of head trauma while being dragged by the horse.
This is when the prisoner exchange is down to just the grouchy young protector and her reckless captive. Cousin Cleos is dead, but not by Jaime’s hand. He’s not really broken up over losing a cousin, but Jaime didn’t kill the guy. Brienne has demonstrated several impressive capabilities, but Jaime hasn’t yet seen her swing a sword.
5. What was the conflict with Robb and Edmure?
As we saw on the show, Robb Stark did NOT approve of exchanging Jaime for his sisters. He was offering terms to the Lannisters that included keeping Jaime hostage to ensure Lord Tywin’s good behavior. Cersei didn’t like those terms, for some reason. Robb says he might have agreed to exchange Jaime for Ned, but now that Ned’s lost his head, he’s determined to keep the Kingslayer captive.
When Catelyn arranged the prisoner exchange, she was openly defying the King in the North, and she knew it. I suppose she thought it was easier to ask forgiveness than permission. She assigned Brienne as Jaime’s captor and protector with the assumption that no one would be out looking for them. Maybe that was poor planning, but to both of their credit, Brienne has already made short work of one pursuing party.
What we see on the show is Robb asking Roose Bolton to send more of his hunters after Jaime. In the books, Edmure is already well ahead of him; he’s sent out three ravens to tell Lord Bolton that Jaime escaped. He says nothing about an exchange of his prisoners, and leaves Catelyn’s role out. He expects Lord Bolton’s forces to catch Jaime on the road near Harrenhal and dutifully cart him back to Riverrun, where he will again be chained to a wall in a dungeon cell with an overflowing shitbucket. Jaime is not expected to get anywhere near King’s Landing, nor will he be exchanged for Sansa and Arya. That numb-nuts Edmure Tully has just pulled the rug out from under Catelyn’s best hope of being reunited with her daughters (…or at least one of them), and he’s put Brienne in the role of a fellow fugitive on the run with the Kingslayer.
6. How were they discovered?
Remember how Jaime was transported out of Riverrun by two armed people, not just one? And how Cousin Cleos just died from a bad combination of hard ground, flying arrows and half-assed horsemanship? Once they chase off the outlaw archers and find his cousin’s corpse, Jaime wants his clothes and his sword. This might be a good time for Brienne to tell her captive, “Fine, you can have his clothes.” Jaime’s wearing filthy rags that are rotting off his body. However, Brienne is all disapproving of Jaime not being more upset at the death of his cousin, and she’s really not letting him have a sword, so Jaime’s at the end of his rope. He’s totally fed up with being hauled through the riverlands by this big, ugly girl who won’t let him have a sword, keeps calling him Kingslayer to his face (most people just say it behind his back), and doesn’t trust him to tend her wounds. So, what does he do to show his protector how wrong she was not to give him a sword?
Why, he takes his dead cousin’s sword and attacks her.
Their duel in A Storm of Swords is somewhat longer than the one shown in Season 3, and if possible it’s even more epic. The primary difference is that Jaime is attacking her without first having seen how she fights. Which arguably makes his actions somewhat less foolish than what we saw on TV. You really have to wonder about a guy who’s seen his captor mow down three armed Northmen all in one go, and goes at her with a sword anyway. Book!Jaime can plead ignorance on that point, he’s known only a handful of men throughout his life who could best him in single combat, and he further underestimates Brienne because she’s female. He’s also chained at the wrists, underfed and well out of practice, so he’s not in top fighting shape. Midway through their swordfight, it dawns on him that not only does the wench know how to fight, she also has the strength and stamina advantages over him. It’s a scary thought. Still, he’s too full of himself to yield to a girl, so they keep fighting until she overpowers him into the river.
She’s in the middle of dunking his head underwater when Roose Bolton’s guys find them. There is no kindly farmer who recognized Jaime and told of his whereabouts to the Bolton soldiers after Brienne declined to kill him. They were found because they were distracted and raising an unholy racket with their swordfighting. And because Edmure Tully sent a raven to Roose Bolton with news of Jaime’s escape.
7. Who took them captive?
On the show, we see a bunch of interchangeable Northmen, carrying the Bolton banner and under the command of some asshole named Locke. They are the show’s replacement for the Brave Companions, a sellsword company that Lord Tywin brought over from Essos. Their commander is Vargo Hoat, a Qohorik who talks like Daffy Duck (Jaime calls him “the goat” and describes him as a “slobbering savage”) and is notoriously fond of maiming prisoners. It’s the Brave Companions who find Brienne and Jaime fighting in the river, who overpower them and tie them up together on Brienne’s horse, and haul them off toward Harrenhal. Jaime mistakenly believes they’re still working for Tywin, but he will soon find out they’ve switched to Lord Bolton, who is supposedly on the side of Robb Stark. We all know by now that Bolton’s loyalties are not what they seem, but of relevance to Jaime is that they were originally working for his father and have since turned their cloaks to Bolton. (This is the part where he says: “And they say I have shit for honor?”) The Brave Companions are not simply their commander followed by a uniform pack of nameless, obedient soldiers. There are relevant interactions with Urswyck the Faithful, Rorge, Shagwell the Fool, and Zollo the Fat. The Goat gives the order, and Zollo wields the blade in that singular, life-altering stroke. Like so:
“Thith ith a thweet day,” Vargo Hoat said. Around his neck hung a chain of linked coins, coins of every shape and size, cast and hammered, bearing the likenesses of kings, wizards, gods and demons, and all manner of fanciful beasts.
Coins from every land where he has fought, Jaime remembered. Greed was the key to this man. If he was turned once, he can be turned again.
“Lord Vargo, you were foolish to leave my father’s service , but it is not too late to make amends. He will pay well for me, you know it.”
“Oh yeth,” said Vargo Hoat. “Half the gold in Cathterly Rock, I thall have. But firth I mutht thend him a methage.” He said something in his slithery goatish tongue.
Urswyck shoved him in the back, and a jester in green and pink motley kicked his legs out from under him. When he hit the ground one of the archers grabbed the chain between Jaime’s wrists and used it to yank his arms out in front of him. The fat Dothraki put aside his knife to unsheathe a huge curved arakh, the wickedly sharp scythe-sword the horselords loved.
They mean to scare me. The fool hopped on Jaime’s back, giggling, as the Dothraki swaggered toward him. The goat wants me to piss my breeches and beg his mercy, but he’ll never have that pleasure. He was a Lannister of Casterly Rock, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard; no sellsword would make him scream.
Sunlight ran silver along the edge of the arakh as it came shivering down, almost too fast to see. And Jaime screamed.
Martin, George R.R. (2003-03-04). A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) (pp. 296-297). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Contained in that interaction is a clue as to why the sellswords’ leader has decided that Jaime must lose his hand. It’s not because of his ego, his arrogance, his sudden interest in defending Brienne’s dignity, his reliance on Tywin or his well-educated vocabulary. Perhaps it has a little bit to do with his reliance on Tywin, but only in a way that says more about Tywin than about Jaime. It’s not too late to make amends. Tywin will pay well for Jaime, you know it. Oh, yes. Half the gold in Casterly Rock. But firth he mutht thend …
(That was unworthy. Forgive me.)
But first the Goat must send Lord Tywin a message.
Down he goes on the stump. Yank his arms out in front. The blade comes shivering down. And then the scream.
What message is the Goat trying to send by chopping off Jaime’s right hand?
8. Why did they cut off his hand?
The way the hand-chopping plays out on the show gives us the impression that Locke is doing it mainly to punish Jaime for being a spoiled rich boy who assumes his daddy will always get him out of trouble. The only indication we ever get that he might have something more ambitious in mind is when Lord Bolton tosses the severed hand to him and Locke says, “Send it to his father?” The show boiled out most of the information about the captors’ reasons for maiming him, possibly because the creators assume we in the audience won’t be able to follow. This is understandable, as I’ve read that part of the text several times and I still have a hard time keeping track. Here’s the plan in the Goat’s own words:
Roose Bolton reached down, snapped the cord, and flung the hand at Hoat. “Take this away. The sight of it offends me.”
“I will thend it to hith lord father. I will tell him he muth pay one hundred thouthand dragonth, or we thall return the Kingthlayer to him pieth by pieth. And when we hath hith gold, we thall deliver Ther Jaime to Karthark, and collect a maiden too!” A roar of laughter went up from the Brave Companions.
Martin, George R.R. (2003-03-04). A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) (p. 421). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
I just can’t help but feel like sending him to his father piece by piece can only lead to the situation getting way out of anyone’s control.
Here is the plan, in somewhat more genteel terms, from Lord Bolton:
“You have no pity for our wretched doomed goat? Ah, but the gods must … else why deliver you into his hands?” Bolton chewed another chunk of meat. “Karhold is smaller and meaner than Harrenhal, but it lies well beyond the reach of the lion’s claws. Once wed to Alys Karstark, Hoat might be a lord in truth. If he could collect some gold from your father so much the better, but he would have delivered you to Lord Rickard no matter how much Lord Tywin paid. His price would be the maid, and safe refuge.
“But to sell you he must keep you, and the riverlands are full of those who would gladly steal you away. Glover and Tallhart were broken at Duskendale, but remnants of their host are still abroad , with the Mountain slaughtering the stragglers. A thousand Karstarks prowl the lands south and east of Riverrun, hunting you. Elsewhere are Darry men left lordless and lawless, packs of four-footed wolves, and the lightning lord’s outlaw bands. Dondarrion would gladly hang you and the goat together from the same tree.”
The Lord of the Dreadfort sopped up some of the blood with a chunk of bread. “Harrenhal was the only place Lord Vargo could hope to hold you safe, but here his Brave Companions are much outnumbered by my own men, and by Ser Aenys and his Freys. No doubt he feared I might return you to Ser Edmure at Riverrun … or worse, send you on to your father.
By maiming you, he meant to remove your sword as a threat, gain himself a grisly token to send to your father, and diminish your value to me. For he is my man, as I am King Robb’s man. Thus his crime is mine, or may seem so in your father’s eyes. And therein lies my … small difficulty.”
He gazed at Jaime, his pale eyes unblinking, expectant, chill.
I see. “You want me to absolve you of blame. To tell my father that this stump is no work of yours.” Jaime laughed. “My lord, send me to Cersei, and I’ll sing as sweet a song as you could want, of how gently you treated me.” Any other answer, he knew, and Bolton would give him back to the goat.
Martin, George R.R. (2003-03-04). A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) (p. 515). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
All this is not to say the Goat doesn’t enjoy cutting body parts off his prisoners. He enjoys it plenty. In the case of Jaime and his right hand, however, he had other reasons as well. The decision was made well before the Brave Companions found Jaime and Brienne fighting, well before Jaime said anything obnoxious to their leader, well before he told them the big wench was from the Sapphire Isle. The decision had nothing to do with Jaime’s interactions with his captors, and everything to do with his position as Lord Tywin’s son, King Robb’s prisoner and the killer of Lord Karstark’s sons. Once they had him in their charge, the hand-chopping was inevitable.
9. Whose fault is it, anyway? 
I think it’s fair to say that the Goat and his company are the only ones who want Jaime to lose his sword hand. Catelyn wanted him returned to his family in one piece, otherwise she could expect Cersei to do something horrible to Sansa and Arya. Once she had her daughters back, I’m sure she would be happy to set his brains on fire and then refuse to piss in his ear, but she was hoping for him to make it to the Red Keep without incident. Robb Stark and Edmure Tully didn’t want him maimed. He was filthy, unkempt and malnourished after his incarceration at Riverrun, but mostly uninjured, and they wanted to keep him that way. Lord Karstark wanted to kill him, but I’m sure he would have given Jaime a quick death. Bolton, as we later learn, was already in the process of joining up with the Frey-Lannister alliance and planning the Red Wedding. He’s one of the last people who would have wanted to piss off Tywin Lannister by giving him back his first son minus his sword hand!
Brienne was, despite her prickliness, doing her best to keep her prisoner alive, accounted for and as healthy as possible. He wasn’t so healthy after they gave him a stump, and his physical misery in the days between the chop and his visit with Qyburn put her in the role of a nursemaid looking after a baby the size of a grown man. Jaime spends a little while thinking Brienne’s refusal to arm him is to blame for their falling to the Brave Companions, but he eventually accepts the error in that, and for good reason. One, he lost any right to criticize her protection skills the moment he went at her with his cousin’s longsword. Two, they left Riverrun assuming certain conditions, and Edmure Tully’s raven to Lord Bolton ruined those conditions. Catelyn sent them off thinking no one would be looking for them, remember? Her brother put an end to that plan.
Perhaps the blame can be partly shared by Robb, as his Uncle Edmure is technically among his bannermen and thought he was serving his king by setting Jaime up for recapture. Robb certainly wasn’t on board with the plan to exchange Jaime for his sisters! He was convinced that his sisters weren’t important enough to give up their most prestigious prisoner, and he wasn’t about to let his mother convince him otherwise. We might also say Catelyn is partly to blame for making such a half-assed plan to exchange prisoners without getting her son the King in the North on the same page first. I think she was in the right to send Jaime back to his family, though. There was no way Lord Tywin would have allowed the Tullys and Starks to keep Jaime as their hostage in the long term. He would have burned the river lands to a crisp and sacrificed his entire army before he allowed that. Robb should have given them terms that included putting Jaime back in their hands, as whole and healthy as possible. They all knew that Brienne and Cousin Cleos would not be enough to keep Jaime safe from Lord Bolton’s soldiers, or anyone else looking for them, once they were told of an escape. Once Edmure sent that raven to Lord Bolton, the prisoner exchange was fucked. The Goat is the one who made the decision to cut off Jaime’s hand, but Edmure Tully effectively handed Jaime and Brienne over to the Brave Companions.
For his sustaining a profound, unrecoverable injury and suffering a tremendous blow to his identity, Jaime Lannister can point the finger at Catelyn Stark’s fool of a brother. Maybe a little bit at her son. But she and her son are now dead, and the fool of a brother is still alive and held prisoner by his new in-laws.
Jaime doesn’t punish him, though, when they meet again in A Feast for Crows. Jaime handles Edmure as gently as humanly possible, because he swore a vow to Catelyn that he would never again take up arms against Tully or Stark.
By the time he’s safely back in the Lord Commander’s chambers, he’s figured out that it was wrong of him to blame Brienne for his maiming.
Quill and ink he found in a drawer. Beneath the last line Ser Barristan had entered, he wrote in an awkward hand that might have done credit to a six-year-old being taught his first letters by a maester:
Defeated in the Whispering Wood by the Young Wolf Robb Stark during the War of the Five Kings. Held captive at Riverrun and ransomed for a promise unfulfilled. Captured again by the Brave Companions, and maimed at the word of Vargo Hoat their captain, losing his sword hand to the blade of Zollo the Fat. Returned safely to King’s Landing by Brienne, the Maid of Tarth.

Martin, George R.R. (2003-03-04). A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) (pp. 1009-1010). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.