Unintended Consequences, Stage 2: Bloody Mummers

To see why I’m calling this essay “Unintended Consequences,” see the Introduction. To see Stage 1, in which I start laying out the evidence for the relationship, read the latter portion of yesterday’s post.

As always, I aim to make sense to TV-only fans, but I’m using evidence from the books. For example, we didn’t get this line on the show:

Screenshot of Brienne sitting in the bath at Harrenhal, listening to Jaime tell his story. I have added text: "Why am I telling this absurd ugly child?"

Screenshot of Brienne sitting in the bath at Harrenhal, listening to Jaime tell his story. I have added text: “Why am I telling this absurd ugly child?”

To see where Jaime has this thought, read on.

The Joy of Unintended Consequences, Stage 2: Bloody Mummers

Jaime has been through some great changes since he made his promises to Catelyn Stark. He’s lost his cousin Cleos, gotten acquainted with his protector by needling her at every turn, tried to kill her, they’ve both been taken captive by the Brave Companions aka the Bloody Mummers, and now Jaime’s taken the wound that changes the shape of his life. He’s lost his sword hand, medical care is still days away, and the Mummers seem to enjoy his suffering. He’s helpless without his sword hand, in constant pain, feverish, too weak to stay on his horse, and forced to wear his severed hand around his neck. By taking them captive, the Mummers changed Jaime and Brienne’s relationship from captor/prisoner to fellow captives. By cutting off his hand, they’ve made Brienne go from his protector to his caregiver.

Jaime wanted Brienne to change the way she interacted with him, and sure enough, she does so.

This is a new development at this second stage of their shared story. In addition to the eight foreshadowing devices we saw in the first stage, we can add another device to Martin’s techniques in developing their relationship: Brienne is taking care of Jaime, which he desperately needs. I have split this stage in two steps. First, there is the post-maiming, dominated by the trip to Harrenhal. Second, there is the bath scene, which makes all the difference in the world for both of them.

Section 1: Post-Maiming

1. Near the end of the first leg of their journey, Jaime began using suggestive language to describe the way he and Brienne got along. Now that they’re in the Bloody Mummers’ custody, he’s as sick and miserable as he’s ever been, and she’s in the position of his caregiver, the suggestive language spreads out to their new captors, as soon as Brienne begins caring for him.

After the second time he fell from the saddle, they bound him tight to Brienne of Tarth and made them share a horse again. One day, instead of back to front, they bound them face-to-face. “The lovers,” Shagwell sighed loudly, “and what a lovely sight they are. ‘Twould be cruel to separate the good knight and his lady.” Then he laughed that high shrill laugh of his, and said, “Ah, but which one is the knight and which one is the lady?”

If I had my hand, you’d learn that soon enough, Jaime thought. His arms ached and his legs were numb from the ropes, but after a while none of that mattered. His world shrunk to the throb of agony that was his phantom hand, and Brienne pressed against him. She’s warm, at least, he consoled himself, though the wench’s breath was as foul as his own. (2.1)

The arrangement of sharing the saddle face-to-face is the Mummers’ idea of humiliation; they think they’re mocking Jaime by posing him in an intimate position with this big, ugly girl dressed in mail and leather, and then Shagwell feminizes him (a common sort of insult in a patriarchal setting) by asking: “Which one is the knight and which one is the lady?” While we wouldn’t go to the Bloody Mummers for match-making services, the image is drawn and the comparison is made for a reason. Martin is using the language of intimacy to draw attention to the potential of Jaime and Brienne to be together in a romantic context. I think my favorite example of this is when Vargo Hoat introduces Brienne to Bolton’s associates as “Lannitherth wet nurth.” (2.8) Quite an image, isn’t it? The last time we see Jaime before he enters the bath house, Qyburn is tending his wounds, and they get to the cut over his eye from his duel with Brienne. Qyburn attributes the cut to, “Rough wooing, my lord?” (2.9) We don’t know to what extent Qyburn is joking, but still, the pattern continues of Jaime and Brienne being surrounded by the language of romance.

2. In addition to Brienne holding Jaime on the horse and keeping him warm, the journey to Harrenhal also forces her into the role of nursemaid. The Mummers make him drink horse piss, and she washes the vomit out of his beard, just as she was required to clean him up after he soiled himself in the saddle. (2.2) You heard that right: we are told that Jaime had previously shat his pants while on the horse, and Brienne wiped his ass. They’ve come to a place where she is his only source of comfort. We also get a glimpse of Brienne as a mother, notwithstanding her previously telling Catelyn that she’s not made for such a thing (0.2).

Later in the trip, when Jaime is still feverish, weak and helpless, and now refusing food and ready to let himself die, Brienne has other ideas. She finally starts calling him “Jaime” rather than Kingslayer. She goads him into staying alive by calling him craven (2.3). It’s not that she thinks he’s a coward; the significance is that she understands him well enough to know that she can manipulate him by questioning his courage. She’ll do whatever it takes to keep him alive, and sure enough, it works: “The wench had the right of it. He could not die.” He eats the food their captors put in front of him, and he gets back his will to live. He does so because Brienne convinced him his life is still worth living. She keeps him clean (to the extent that cleanliness is possible), she keeps him warm, and she becomes the space in which he feels safe and comfortable enough to sleep:

The days and the nights blurred together in a haze of pain. He would sleep in the saddle, pressed against Brienne, his nose full of the stink of his rotting hand, and then at night he would lie awake on the hard ground, caught in a waking nightmare. Weak as he was, they always bound him to a tree. It gave him some cold consolation to know that they feared him that much, even now. (2.4)

He can sleep while he’s pressed against her, but not otherwise. This makes an impression on him.

3. Even while he’s maimed, sick, helpless and in constant pain, Jaime still remembers that he cares about what happens to Brienne, and he still defends her honor when the need arises. When some of the Bloody Mummers are threatening to rape her, the threat to her safety grabs his attention even when his problems are arguably much worse.

Brienne was always bound beside him. She lay there in her bonds like a big dead cow, saying not a word. The wench has built a fortress inside herself. They will rape her soon enough, but behind her walls they cannot touch her. But Jaime’s walls were gone. (2.5)

Jaime’s walls are gone. His usual defenses have been destroyed, and his vulnerabilities are laid bare for all to see. What form does this vulnerability take?

Jaime chuckled. “There’s a funny fool. I have a riddle for you, Shagwell. Why do you care if she screams? Oh, wait, I know.” He shouted, “SAPPHIRES,” as loudly as he could. (2.6)

When his walls are gone, his vulnerability takes the form of making a scene to protect Brienne from rape. He’s still concerned about what happens to her. He’s still making it his business to see that she isn’t violated. How does he explain his continuing interest in defending her honor?

Two nights passed in silence before the wench finally found the courage to whisper, “Jaime? Why did you shout out?”

“Why did I shout ‘sapphires,’ you mean? Use your wits, wench. Would this lot have cared if I shouted ‘rape’?”

“You did not need to shout at all.”

“You’re hard enough to look at with a nose. Besides, I wanted to make the goat say ‘thapphireth.’ ” He chuckled. “A good thing for you I’m such a liar. An honorable man would have told the truth about the Sapphire Isle.”

“All the same,” she said. “I thank you, ser.”

His hand was throbbing again. He ground his teeth and said, “A Lannister pays his debts. That was for the river, and those rocks you dropped on Robin Ryger.” (2.7)

“A Lannister pays his debts” suggests that his protecting her from rape is a debt he owes her for how she performed in keeping him from being re-captured by the Tullys’ forces. Here’s the thing: he doesn’t really owe her anything for that. She had a job to do for Catelyn, not for Jaime. He never asked for her to be the one to smuggle him out of Riverrun. He didn’t need to shout at all. What he really owes her is the emotional bond they’re developing through their journey. That bond inspires him to act with honor.

Section 2: Time for a Bath

How do I describe the bath scene, in terms of relationship development? It would be absurd to write an essay about Jaime and Brienne’s romantic storyline without going over their bath at Harrenhal, and yet it’s difficult to describe in terms of the foreshadowing devices we’ve already seen. This is the part where several different processes bleed together and feed into each other.

His first time seeing her out of clothes is as good a time as any to see how Jaime’s gaze on Brienne is changing. He goes into detail on her tiny, underdeveloped teats and her determination to keep them covered from his eyes (2.10). Is he annoyed, maybe just a little, that she won’t let him check her out? He insists he’s not interested in what’s between her thighs (2.12), but then when she climbs out of the tub, he makes another comparison to Cersei—she’s much hairier than his sister—and he gets a little erect under the bathwater (2.15). And he tells himself this is absurd, that it means he’s been away from Cersei too long, but clearly he is at least a little bit interested in what Brienne has between her thighs.

(Now let us take a moment to marvel at the weirdness of a man who is ashamed of getting a hard-on for an unrelated young woman who’s been taking care of him, but sees nothing shameful in fucking his sister.)

He follows the water running down her legs after she wraps herself in the towel (2.16). When Qyburn brings them clean clothes, Jaime goes into detail about how the pink satin gown is so ill-fitting and unflattering on her (2.21), but his gaze isn’t repulsed so much as sympathetic. He now understands why she prefers to dress like a man, and he has opinions about what colors she should wear.

We get a reminder of their name-calling dynamic when she pulls him out of the tub and calls for the guards to come in and help:

“Guards!” he heard the wench shout. “The Kingslayer!” Jaime, he thought, my name is Jaime. (2.19)

Even after he’s fainted and nearly cracked his head on the tub, he still cares about what she calls him.

The suggestive language reaches new depths of shamelessness at this stage. Jaime goes there:

“Now leave us,” Jaime said when his clothes lay in a pile on the wet stone floor. “My lady of Tarth doesn’t want the likes of you scum gaping at her teats.” (2.11)

Once again, we know he’s speaking facetiously, but Martin chose that particular brand of facetiousness for a reason. Jaime can’t see Brienne in the tub without talking about her teats. Martin is using this silliness to draw attention to the possibility of sexual interaction. In addition to the suggestive language, we might ask why Jaime insists on expelling the guards from the room. It’s one thing to explain why he wants to make sure Brienne is in the room and close by when he takes his bath, but why does he insist on being alone with her? 

Most of what goes on in the bath scene can be understood in terms of Jaime demanding a reaction from Brienne. Despite the availability of other very large tubs full of hot water in the same room, Jaime insists on using the same one as Brienne, and it makes her uncomfortable (2.12). This much is not necessarily a matter of Jaime needing her reaction as needing her care; he’s still weak and feverish, and since he was only able to sleep while tied up to her, he associates her presence with safety and comfort. Even so, once he’s in the tub with her, he wastes no time in getting under her skin. Such as:

“Why should I care how you die?”

“You swore a solemn vow.” He smiled as a red flush crept up the thick white column of her neck. She turned her back to him. “Still the shy maiden? What is it that you think I haven’t seen?” (2.13)

I’m sure he’d rather make her smile and laugh, but failing that, he enjoys making her cringe and blush. He’s still annoyed at her for hiding her body from him. As long as her strategy in the bath is to withdraw rather than engage, he keeps pushing her buttons, trying to get them to a place where she’ll interact on his terms:

The wench kept her back to him, the muscles in her great shoulders hunched and hard. “Does the sight of my stump distress you so?” Jaime asked. “You ought to be pleased. I’ve lost the hand I killed the king with. The hand that flung the Stark boy from that tower. The hand I’d slide between my sister’s thighs to make her wet.” He thrust his stump at her face. “No wonder Renly died, with you guarding him.” (2.14)

He was determined to get under her skin, but now he’s cut her too deep. Now not only will she not open up to him, she’s jumped out of the tub, which is the opposite of the reaction he wanted.

“That was unworthy,” he mumbled. “I’m a maimed man, and bitter. Forgive me, wench. You protected me as well as any man could have, and better than most.” (2.15)

It’s not often that we see Jaime apologize for anything. An apology is needed to keep Brienne from walking away from him. It’s not that simple, as Brienne doesn’t quite trust an apology. He still wants to keep communicating with her, though, and he wants her trust:

“Truces are built on trust. Would you have me trust—”

“The Kingslayer, yes. The oathbreaker who murdered poor sad Aerys Targaryen.”  (2.16)

This is the part where he begins to tell her the story that he’s never told anyone else. He’s sharing with her the great secret of his life because earning her trust is that important to him.

“Soiled my white cloak … I wore my gold armor that day, but …”

“Gold armor?” Her voice sounded far off, faint.

He floated in heat, in memory. “After dancing griffins lost the Battle of the Bells, Aerys exiled him.” Why am I telling this absurd ugly child? (2.17)

Why, indeed, is he telling that “absurd ugly child” about how he became the Kingslayer, when he’s kept it a secret from even his most trusted family members for all those years? He’s telling the absurd ugly child because he wants to build a connection with her, he wants to change the way they interact, and he trusts that absurd ugly child with more raw vulnerabilities than he’s ever shared with anyone. This turn of events, which is possibly the biggest turning point of Jaime’s arc, springs from his demanding a reaction from Brienne. When he’s finished telling the tale, he still needs a reaction from her, which he admits almost in as many words:

The wench looked ridiculous, clutching her towel to her meager teats with her thick white legs sticking out beneath. “Has my tale turned you speechless? Come, curse me or kiss me or call me a liar. Something.” (2.18)

Did he just ask her for a kiss? Really? Either way, he certainly needs to see that she’s heard him, and that she recognizes how he’s just bared his soul to her. He needs a response.

The final dimension to the bath scene is how the caregiving relationship evolves to demonstrate how well Jaime trusts Brienne. Not only does she take care of him, but his narration makes it clear that he wouldn’t want anyone else doing the same thing. It’s not surprising that he wants her nearby while he takes his bath; he’s vulnerable, about to become more vulnerable still, and since he was able to sleep on the road to Harrenhal only when tied up to her on horseback, he knows he’s safe with her nearby. As she helps him out of the tub, he appreciates how gentle she is.

When he wakes up to find Qyburn and the guards discussing his condition with Brienne, he notes that she appears to have dropped her towel (2.19). She’s so focused on taking care of Jaime, she doesn’t notice that she’s naked in front of everyone, whereas before she was the very picture of modesty.

After Qyburn has come to check on him, Brienne finishes scrubbing the dirt off Jaime’s skin, she trims his beard, she helps him put on clothes, and he sits there and lets her do all this without the slightest objection (2.20). He makes a bit of noise at the potion from Qyburn, but when Brienne orders him to drink it, he does so without further complaint (2.22). When it’s time to walk up to the great hall for supper with Lord Bolton, he isn’t quite ready for that much walking, but fortunately he has his big wench there to help:

“M’lord will be looking for him by now,” a guard told Qyburn. “Her too. Do I need to carry him?”

“I can still walk. Brienne, give me your arm.” (2.23)

He doesn’t even need to ask, she’s there to look after him, and he doesn’t mind letting her see how helpless he feels, even as he’s determined to appear brave and tough in front of Bolton.

There’s just one last, tiny thing, before we move onto the third stage of their storyline. I mentioned earlier that Jaime appreciates Brienne’s gentleness in helping him out of the tub after he faints. What are his exact words?

Her arm was all gooseflesh, clammy and chilled, but she was strong, and gentler than he would have thought. Gentler than Cersei, he thought as she helped him from the tub, his legs wobbly as a limp cock. (2.19)

That’s one last comparison to Cersei, and this time, Brienne is the one he prefers. “Gentler than Cersei,” indeed.

The numbers (2.1) refer to citations, which can be found in the downloadable versions. If you haven’t already saved them, get the PDF or iBooks version. Then you won’t have to wait for me to post the remaining stages on this blog.

10 thoughts on “Unintended Consequences, Stage 2: Bloody Mummers

  1. Hullo! Might I interest you in the JaimeBrienne.com message board? We are currently enjoying your essay. Thank you for putting this down in one clear, coherent, spot on document.

      • But …but…you’ve assembled all those citations into one handy dandy document! It makes arguing with the JC Murder/Suicide-ists so much easier. Not to mention fighting off the black mold of dudebro that insists Brienne is not important to the story or to GRRM at all. I can see myself linking to this for months…years to come. (Biggest fear is Winds doesn’t mention either character at all and I have to wait for freaking Spring.)

        You really “get” what GRRM is doing with these characters.

        Have you written anything on the valonqar prophecy? I’m interested in your thoughts on Jaime and Cersei.

  2. Dear Monster, you have done such an excellent job on this essay! I am thoroughly enjoying reading it and am very impressed by the amount of thought and intelligence you bring to the analysis. I am intentionally not getting the PDF or iBooks version of the essay (yet) so that I don’t binge-read it. I get to enjoy it longer and more fully reading it in installments, so thank you for this option. (I plan to get the complete version later to reread and check out the references.)

    Never stop writing; you are awesome!!! I look forward to your blog every day.

  3. So The Joy of Unintended Consequences is the acme of romantic storytelling, that I like!

    In the tradition of the more literary-minded side of the human intellect, of course, through the ages, decked out too, perhaps, with that most prominent of phrase-turns, which is entirely appropriate to both a classic that has consistently provided such a rich seam to successive audiences, and to a text initially devoted, at the very least, to challenging prevailing assumptions and unexamined opinions, by exposing the obvious limitations of first impressions. (I rather think, on the score of readerly involvement, or commemorative inspiration regardless, one should proceed unperturbed till just at last; GRRM is bringing on the abiding masterworks of literature, I figure he must have left a considerable few among the pertinent books open on his desk, for the length of time requisite to authorial research, and then resumed writing Jaime/Brienne, and some other stories, back to back.)

    Also reflecting on the despondent journey Jaime and Brienne have to share, eventually, cavorting across the wartorn Riverlands, for discrimination and reserve assuredly falter in the face of imminent danger, the startling shifts prompted, however, by the period spent in each other’s company create further complexity, as the relative points of reference alter through the connections that emerge. And just as well you offer a fascinating explanation for conduct or character, still adding to the piece, but it was later to evoke some sense of maternal comfort, emerging from the gloomiest surroundings and embodied in Brienne herself. (Late in Feast, Jaime does dream of his mother, too, and in a species of trance he conflates her figure with that of Cersei, there’s every chance in the world GRRM had had it all planned out by then,) To suggest that the reader of the series is made aware of the interdependence of self-perception, emotional ties, and social interaction is quite the gesture towards the question of how to know truly another human being, to which a suitable answer is clearly influenced by the interior lives of the protagonists, and yet assessments, at this point, can influence in turn the attitudes of those involved. There is plenty of accumulated knowledge, and so are many of the corresponding scenes, to be taken into account, but of particular note is, when Jaime’s bathtub confession found its way on to the screen, Brienne might be seen to be holding the latter against her breast — in a brief scene staged after, and in contemplation of, Pietà. ;-)

    For posterity’s sake, these are some of my favourite quotes, from the books:

    (Jaime’s weirwood stump dream…)

    The steel links parted like silk. “A sword,” Brienne begged, and there it was, scabbard, belt, and all. She buckled it around her thick waist. The light was so dim that Jaime could scarcely see her, though they stood a scant few feet apart. In this light she could almost be a beauty, he thought. In this light she could almost be a knight. Brienne’s sword took flame as well, burning silvery blue. The darkness retreated a little more.

    — Jaime VI, ASoS

    (This is after Brienne vows to keep Sansa safe, so still, despite the light-hearted raillery preceding, in a scintillating departure from chivalric tradition, and with spede, Jaime proceeds to riffle through the White Book of the Kingsguard close to hand, where primarily the Lord Commander should inscribe, if only to see Brienne’s name added in memorandum…)

    Her big hand wrapped tight around Oathkeeper. “I will. And I will find the girl and keep her safe. For her lady mother’s sake. And for yours.” She bowed stiffly, whirled, and went.

    Jaime sat alone at the table while the shadows crept across the room.

    — Jaime IX, ASoS

    This, too, this, from a quick look through Sir Gawain the True’s entry on Wikipedia:

    Gawain is often portrayed as a formidable, courteous, and also a compassionate warrior, fiercely loyal to his king and family. He is a friend to young knights, a defender of the poor, and as “the Maidens’ Knight”, a defender of women as well. In some works, his strength waxes and wanes with the sun; in the most common form of this motif, his might triples by noon, but fades as the sun sets.

    (Other instances of figurative language threading though Jaime’s arc, and associated imagery, to this effect.) Just saying, he wears gold-plated armour, while fully immersed in reverie, Bran is as conscious of Sandor and Jaime standing sentinel (he of that representation indebted to an appearance “like the sun, golden and beautiful”) over Robert in KL, and was not Lann the Clever supposed to have stolen gold from the sun to brighten his hair, and suchlike.

    And Jaime is very protective of both aspects of Brienne’s personality (he does save her from gang rape, after all, about as many times as I can tick off on the fingers of one hand and, at the very least, more times than he originally surmised he must be trifled with) : no wonder in her capacity as a woman Brienne is meant to operate within the cultural confines of the patriarchally-circumscribed Westerosi mindset, but her character and duties ought to be understood by everyone who values her liberty, too.

    …but the faint light revealed only Brienne of Tarth, her hands bound in heavy chains. “I swore to keep you safe,” the wench said stubbornly. “I swore an oath.” Naked, she raised her hands to Jaime. “Ser. Please. If you would be so good.”

    — Jaime VI, ASoS

    Try spending a long time coming up with a workable solution to this one, so it is later to pick the reference apart, courtesy of a fresh batch of Word of Ice and Fire copies:

    In the beginning, the priestly scribes of Yin declare, all the land between the Bones and the freezing desert called the Grey Waste, from the Shivering Sea to the Jade Sea (including even the great and holy isle of Leng), formed a single realm ruled by the God-on-Earth,the only begotten son of the Lion of Night and Maiden-Made-of-Light, who traveled about his domains in a palanquin carved from a single pearl and carried by a hundred queens, his wives.

    Got carried away, a bit, except that these are lovely specimens of inside knowledge, after all, and the essay itself seems especially designed to enthrall admirers…

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