Unintended Consequences, Stage 4: Oathkeeper

*looks at country list in WordPress stats* Seven Hells: Greece and Colombia are blowing up my page views today. Sweden is also making an impressive showing. Up your game, America.

For the earlier parts of the essay, see the Intro, Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3.

If you don’t already have a copy to read offline, it’s never too late to download the iBooks or PDF version.

Up to now, the essay has been nearly all from Jaime’s POV, and overwhelmingly focused on what Jaime wants. Now it’s Brienne’s turn. This stage of the relationship development is broken out in 3 sections, the first of which is called “Brienne’s Other Options.” You know you want to see that.

The Joy of Unintended Consequences, Stage 4: Oathkeeper

Up to now, nearly all of this essay has centered on Jaime’s arc, using text written in Jaime’s POV in A Storm of Swords. That book eventually comes to an end, and we move on to A Feast for Crows, where Brienne gets her own POV. This is when we get to see Brienne tell her own story, especially the parts that took place before she met Catelyn Stark, in her own words. She’s now on the road, searching for Sansa Stark, while Jaime is back in King’s Landing, coping with the death of his father.

The quest to find Sansa involves a tangle of relationships between the Starks and Lannisters. While Brienne was already invested in finding her lady’s daughters and taking them under her protection, her quest to find Sansa is also a matter of her friendship with Jaime. She will soon meet Podrick Payne, who wants to find Sansa so she can lead him to Tyrion, Jaime’s brother and Sansa’s husband. Meanwhile, Jaime thinks of protecting Ned Stark’s daughter as a matter of reclaiming his lost honor, and Brienne is invested in Jaime’s honor.

Part of the revelation of Brienne’s POV in A Feast for Crows is in learning of her earlier life, which shows us, among other things, that if Brienne really wants a husband, she has more realistic options than a Kingsguard knight with a history of regicide and incest. In the present, she still finds plenty of chances to think about Jaime, and she clearly longs for his presence. As she gets further into her journey, she faces danger, and while fighting for her life, she’s still thinking of Jaime’s honor and wanting to feel close to him.

Section 1: Brienne’s Other Options

As Lord Selwyn’s only living child, Brienne is under pressure to find a spouse and produce children. That doesn’t seem likely to happen at this point, but her father has certainly made attempts, and there are plenty of men who know they would benefit greatly from a marriage to Brienne. If she really wants a man just for the sake of being married, she has options, though none of these men inspire her like the late Renly Baratheon or the living Jaime Lannister. While the moniker of “Brienne the Beauty” is meant strictly as mockery, she can find men who notice that she is a woman and want to meet her in the bedchamber rather than the training yard.

Being the sole heir to Tarth, a very respectably sized island, Brienne has been betrothed three times.

Brienne had been betrothed at seven, to a boy three years her senior, Lord Caron’s younger son, a shy boy with a mole above his lip. They had only met the once, on the occasion of their betrothal. Two years later he was dead, carried off by the same chill that took Lord and Lady Caron and their daughters. Had he lived, they would have been wed within a year of her first flowering, and her whole life would have been different. She would not be here now, dressed in man’s mail and carrying a sword, hunting for a dead woman’s child. More like she’d be at Nightsong, swaddling a child of her own and nursing another. It was not a new thought for Brienne. It always made her feel a little sad, but a little relieved as well. (4.3)

The odd thing about this memory and what-if is that Brienne doesn’t seem entirely opposed to the idea of having a husband in her life, and two small children to look after. She’s ambivalent. It’s worth noting that Brienne is still very young at this stage of the story; I’d put her age at maybe 18-20. With that in mind, it’s understandable that she’s relieved not to have a husband and two small children already. She prefers to get out and see the world, rather than being tied down to a nice young lordling whom she didn’t choose.

Her second betrothal was at age 12, when she was more aware of the situation and mature enough to feel the crush of rejection.

“Please?” said Brienne. “Are you saying please?” She laid the point of her sword on the apple of his throat. “Please tell me who you are, and why you’re following me.”

“Not puh-puh-please.” He stuck a finger in his mouth, and flicked away a clump of mud, spitting. “Puh-puh-Pod. My name. Puh-puh-Podrick. Puh-Payne.”

Brienne lowered her sword. She felt a rush of sympathy for the boy. She remembered a day at Evenfall, and a young knight with a rose in his hand. He brought the rose to give to me. Or so her septa told her. All she had to do was welcome him to her father’s castle. He was eighteen, with long red hair that tumbled to his shoulders. She was twelve, tightly laced into a stiff new gown, its bodice bright with garnets. The two of them were of a height, but she could not look him in the eye, nor say the simple words her septa had taught her. Ser Ronnet. I welcome you to my lord father’s hall. It is good to look upon your face at last. (4.2)

It didn’t end well. Ser Ronnet Connington, cousin to a former Hand of the King, took one look at Brienne, handed her a rose, and broke their betrothal. It was a scarring experience for our young Maid of Tarth. She’s hated roses ever since.

The following year, she met Renly Baratheon and promptly fell in love with him. The confidence she gained from meeting Renly may have inoculated her against her third betrothed’s bullshit:

Her hand went to her sword hilt, and she found herself wondering if Ser Shadrich would think her easy prey just because she was a woman. Lord Grandison’s castellan had once made that error. Humfrey Wagstaff was his name; a proud old man of five-and-sixty, with a nose like a hawk and a spotted head. The day they were betrothed, he warned Brienne that he would expect her to be a proper woman once they’d wed. “I will not have my lady wife cavorting about in man’s mail. On this you shall obey me, lest I be forced to chastise you.”

She was sixteen and no stranger to a sword, but still shy despite her prowess in the yard. Yet somehow she had found the courage to tell Ser Humfrey that she would accept chastisement only from a man who could outfight her. The old knight purpled, but agreed to don his own armor to teach her a woman’s proper place. They fought with blunted tourney weapons, so Brienne’s mace had no spikes. She broke Ser Humfrey’s collarbone, two ribs, and their betrothal. He was her third prospective husband, and her last. Her father did not insist again. (4.1)

While Ser Humfrey was surprised to find out the Maid of Tarth was not someone he could control, he didn’t reject her outright. He wanted her to be his wife. Probably because she was well-endowed with land and titles.

So far she’s been betrothed to a little boy who died young, a handsome young landed knight who rejected her at first sight, and a presumptuous old household knight who thought he could push her around. It’s enough to make a girl think she’s not the marrying type. After her third betrothal went up in a puff of dust, King Robert died, Renly Baratheon declared himself king, and Brienne headed out with the Tarth forces to join his host. In Renly’s camp, she got the shock of her life: a bunch of apparently respectable young knights started competing for her affections.

Brienne refused him. She refused them all. When Ser Owen Inchfield seized her one night and pressed a kiss upon her, she knocked him arse-backwards into a cookfire. Afterward she looked at herself in a glass. Her face was as broad and bucktoothed and freckled as ever, big-lipped, thick of jaw, so ugly. All she wanted was to be a knight and serve King Renly, yet now …

It was not as if she were the only woman there. Even the camp followers were prettier than she was, and up in the castle Lord Tyrell feasted King Renly every night, whilst highborn maids and lovely ladies danced to the music of pipe and horn and harp. Why are you being kind to me? she wanted to scream, every time some strange knight paid her a compliment. What do you want?

Randyll Tarly solved the mystery the day he sent two of his men-at-arms to summon her to his pavilion. His young son Dickon had overheard four knights laughing as they saddled up their horses, and had told his lord father what they said.

They had a wager. Three of the younger knights had started it, he told her: Ambrose, Bushy, and Hyle Hunt, of his own household. As word spread through the camp, however, others had joined the game. Each man was required to buy into the contest with a golden dragon, the whole sum to go to whoever claimed her maidenhead.

“I have put an end to their sport,” Tarly told her. “Some of these … challengers … are less honorable than others, and the stakes were growing larger every day. It was only a matter of time before one of them decided to claim the prize by force.”

“They were knights,” she said, stunned, “anointed knights.”

“And honorable men. The blame is yours.”

The accusation made her flinch. “I would never … my lord, I did nought to encourage them.”

“Your being here encouraged them. If a woman will behave like a camp follower, she cannot object to being treated like one. A war host is no place for a maiden. If you have any regard for your virtue or the honor of your House, you will take off that mail, return home, and beg your father to find a husband for you.” (4.5)

Those sorry butt-nuggets were running a betting pool to see who could pop her cherry, and that towering shit-bucket Randyll Tarly told her it was her fault for not being safely at home in her father’s castle, waiting for some other supposedly respectable knight or lordling to put a ring on it. This is the same Randyll Tarly who forced his fat nerdy son Samwell into the Night’s Watch. He goes on to say even more horrible shit to Brienne later in the book, but we won’t go into that. The practical upshot of this experience is that Brienne may have developed some trust issues where men are concerned. She still adores Renly, but she may have been thinking of that wager for her maidenhead when Jaime was trying to apologize to her in the bath at Harrenhal. On the journey through the upper Crownlands, she doesn’t trust her informant, Dick Crabb, and that may be because Dick Crabb is trying to steal from her, but Brienne has her own reasons for not trusting a guy who isn’t dependent on her.

Brienne curled up beneath her cloak, with Podrick yawning at her side. I was not always wary, she might have shouted down at Crabb. When I was a little girl I believed that all men were as noble as my father. Even the men who told her what a pretty girl she was, how tall and bright and clever, how graceful when she danced. It was Septa Roelle who had lifted the scales from her eyes. “They only say those things to win your lord father’s favor,” the woman had said. “You’ll find truth in your looking glass, not on the tongues of men.” It was a harsh lesson, one that left her weeping, but it had stood her in good stead at Harrenhal when Ser Hyle and his friends had played their game.

A maid has to be mistrustful in this world, or she will not be a maid for long, she was thinking, as the rain began to fall. In the mělée at Bitterbridge she had sought out her suitors and battered them one by one, Farrow and Ambrose and Bushy, Mark Mullendore and Raymond Nayland and Will the Stork. She had ridden over Harry Sawyer and broken Robin Potter’s helm, giving him a nasty scar.

And when the last of them had fallen, the Mother had delivered Connington to her. This time Ser Ronnet held a sword and not a rose. Every blow she dealt him was sweeter than a kiss. Loras Tyrell had been the last to face her wroth that day. He’d never courted her, had hardly looked at her at all, but he bore three golden roses on his shield that day, and Brienne hated roses. The sight of them had given her a furious strength. (4.6)

While Septa Roelle sounds like an unpleasant piece of work, we also see that Brienne has been taught, through experience, to associate romance with abuse. She’s convinced that no man will ever really love her, and yet she’s still tender enough to be hurt by men who deceive or disappoint her, and happy to beat the stuffing out of those who’ve wronged her. The memory of Ronnet Connington rejecting her still burns enough to make her angry at the sight of roses.

Given how she put the smackdown on all those knights at Bitterbridge, one might think any other participants in the wager for her maidenhead would know well enough to steer clear, but there’s one, Ser Hyle, who turns up in her journey and decides to spend more time with her.

“I know what Lord Randyll does with outlaws,” Brienne said. “I know what he does with rapers too.”

She had hoped the name might cow them, but the serjeant only flicked egg off his fingers and signaled to his men to spread out. Brienne found herself surrounded by steel points. “What was it you was saying, wench? What is it that Lord Tarly does to …”

“… rapers,” a deeper voice finished. “He gelds them or sends them to the Wall. Sometimes both. And he cuts fingers off thieves.” A languid young man stepped from the gatehouse, a swordbelt buckled at his waist. The surcoat he wore above his steel had once been white, and here and there still was, beneath the grass stains and dried blood. His sigil was displayed across his chest: a brown deer, dead and bound and slung beneath a pole.

Him. His voice was a punch in her stomach, his face a blade in her bowels. “Ser Hyle,” she said stiffly.

“Best let her by, lads,” warned Ser Hyle Hunt. “This is Brienne the Beauty, the Maid of Tarth, who slew King Renly and half his Rainbow Guard. She’s as mean as she is ugly, and there’s no one uglier … except perhaps for you, Pisspot, but your father was the rear end of an aurochs, so you have a good excuse. Her father is the Evenstar of Tarth.” (4.4)

Ser Hyle isn’t nearly as romantic as he is witty, yet somehow he’s helpful enough to convince Brienne to let him tag along for much of her remaining time in A Feast for Crows. He doesn’t really believe she killed Renly, and he’s very interested in her being the daughter of Lord Tarth. Eventually, he reveals his true intentions, in the most tactless way possible.

“I feel sorry for them. All of them have lost their mothers and fathers. Some have seen them slain.”

Hunt rolled his eyes. “I forgot that I was talking to a woman. Your heart is as mushy as our septon’s porridge. Can it be? Somewhere inside our swordswench is a mother just squirming to give birth. What you really want is a sweet pink babe to suckle at your teat.” Ser Hyle grinned. “You need a man for that, I hear. A husband, preferably. Why not me?”

“If you still hope to win your wager—”

“What I want to win is you, Lord Selwyn’s only living child. I’ve known men to wed lackwits and suckling babes for prizes a tenth the size of Tarth. I am not Renly Baratheon, I confess it, but I have the virtue of being still amongst the living. Some would say that is my only virtue. Marriage would serve the both of us. Lands for me, and a castle full of these for you.” He waved his hand at the children. “I am capable, I assure you. I’ve sired at least one bastard that I know of. Have no fear, I shan’t inflict her upon you. The last time I went to see her, her mother doused me with a kettle of soup.”

A flush crept up her neck. “My father’s only four-and-fifty. Not too old to wed again and get a son by his new wife.”

“That’s a risk … if your father weds again and if his bride proves fertile and if the babe’s a boy. I’ve made worse wagers.”

“And lost them. Play your game with someone else, ser.”

“So speaks a maid who has never played the game with anyone. Once you do you’ll take a different view. In the dark you’d be as beautiful as any other woman. Your lips were made for kissing.”

“They are lips,” said Brienne. “All lips are the same.”

“And all lips are made for kissing,” Hunt agreed pleasantly. “Leave your chamber door unbarred tonight, and I will steal into your bed and prove the truth of what I say.”

“If you do, you’ll be a eunuch when you leave.” Brienne got up and walked away from him. (4.8)

Ser Hyle is a pig, but we’ve already seen that Brienne could do worse. Unlike Ronnet Connington, he doesn’t think he’s too good for her. Unlike Humfrey Wagstaff, he appreciates her fighting skills and doesn’t try to force her to act like a lady. Renly Baratheon was never going to return Brienne’s affections no matter how long he lived. Ser Hyle is very up-front about the fact that he’s mainly interested in her lands and titles and has little to offer her besides a pulse and a healthy sperm count. We might surmise that his aim to begin with, in starting the wager, was to marry her: she’d lose her virginity, if not with him then with someone he knows, and then she could be convinced to marry someone and it might as well be him. He’d get a noble bride with a healthy-sized island to her name, and he’d have some hilarious stories to share with his friends.

For her part, she rejects his “I’d fuck you with the candles blown out” offer very firmly, but she’s not so firm about the idea of having a castle full of children. She doesn’t exactly deny that she’d like a sweet pink babe in her arms. She’s long since dismissed the possibility of marriage because she thinks she’ll never meet a man who loves her as she is, but somewhere inside that swordswench there is still a desire for family life.

Only problem is now, she’s grown fond of another man, and this one’s in the Kingsguard, which means he can be no one’s husband.

Section 2: On the Road

Make no mistake, “fond” is a mild way to describe Brienne’s feelings for Jaime when we see her POV chapters in A Feast for Crows. During her journey in the fourth book, she frequently thinks about how important it is to find Sansa Stark and protect her, but she also thinks a great deal about Jaime. She’s now separated from him, so we can’t see them interacting, but Jaime occupies a large space in her thoughts, and there are three major processes of foreshadowing their relationship at this stage. First, as a mirror to Jaime’s defending Brienne’s honor in the third book, Brienne is now motivated by a desire to uphold Jaime’s honor. Second, she often sees things that remind her of Jaime; she likes to feel close to him. Third, whereas Jaime repeatedly compared Brienne to Cersei, and Brienne always came out on the losing side until that time when she didn’t, now Jaime is filling the space that Renly Baratheon once occupied in Brienne’s life.

1. Far from regarding him as a “kingslayer, oath-breaker, man without honor,” Brienne has become especially invested in upholding Jaime’s honor. Her quest to protect Sansa Stark is as much about her being a loyal friend to Jaime as it is about honoring Catelyn’s memory and getting Sansa out of harm’s way.

“I will find the girl and keep her safe,” Brienne had promised Ser Jaime, back at King’s Landing. “For her lady mother’s sake. And for yours.” Noble words, but words were easy. Deeds were hard. (4.9)

All alone on the road north, she has some conflicted thoughts about the viability of her quest.

She found herself wondering whether Jaime had given her this task as some cruel jape. Perhaps Sansa Stark was dead, beheaded for her part in King Joffrey’s death, buried in some unmarked grave. How better to conceal her murder than by sending some big stupid wench from Tarth to find her?

Jaime would not do that. He was sincere. He gave me the sword, and called it Oathkeeper. (4.10)

Her thoughts on the quest are ambivalent, but ultimately she trusts his sincerity, which is quite a progression from the way she dealt with him prior to their bath at Harrenhal. Also, she has a strong emotional reaction to his maiming. We’ll see more of this later.

Brienne remembered her fight with Jaime Lannister in the woods. It had been all that she could do to keep his blade at bay. He was weak from his imprisonment, and chained at the wrists. No knight in the Seven Kingdoms could have stood against him at his full strength, with no chains to hamper him. Jaime had done many wicked things, but the man could fight! His maiming had been monstrously cruel. It was one thing to slay a lion, another to hack his paw off and leave him broken and bewildered. (4.13)

Have no fear, his condition of “broken and bewildered” hasn’t made him any less compelling to her. She’s extremely fond of the sword he gave her, for example.

But she had another longsword hidden in her bedroll. She sat on the bed and took it out. Gold glimmered yellow in the candlelight and rubies smoldered red. When she slid Oathkeeper from the ornate scabbard, Brienne’s breath caught in her throat. Black and red the ripples ran, deep within the steel. Valyrian steel, spell-forged. It was a sword fit for a hero. When she was small, her nurse had filled her ears with tales of valor, regaling her with the noble exploits of Ser Galladon of Morne, Florian the Fool, Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, and other champions. Each man bore a famous sword, and surely Oathkeeper belonged in their company, even if she herself did not. “You’ll be defending Ned Stark’s daughter with Ned Stark’s own steel,” Jaime had promised. Kneeling between the bed and wall, she held the blade and said a silent prayer to the Crone, whose golden lamp showed men the way through life. Lead me, she prayed, light the way before me, show me the path that leads to Sansa. She had failed Renly, had failed Lady Catelyn. She must not fail Jaime. He trusted me with his sword. He trusted me with his honor. (4.14)

It’s not fair to say she failed Renly or Catelyn, but the point remains that she thinks of this quest in terms of her bond with Jaime. He trusted her with his sword and honor, therefore she must show up for Sansa, no matter the danger to herself.

It was on that very road that Ser Cleos Frey had died, and she and Ser Jaime had been taken by the Bloody Mummers. Jaime tried to kill me, she remembered, though he was gaunt and weak, and his wrists were chained. It had been a close thing, even so, but that was before Zollo hacked his hand off. Zollo and Rorge and Shagwell would have raped her half a hundred times if Ser Jaime had not told them she was worth her weight in sapphires. (4.16)

In the blink of an eye, we go from Jaime trying to kill her to Jaime saving her from a gang-rape. Even when something reminds her of a time when Jaime did something violent, she wants to remind us what a decent man he’s been to her.

2. This is also a way that she likes to feel close to Jaime, and we see several examples of this tendency as she goes on with her journey.

The shield was the one Ser Jaime had taken from the armory at Harrenhal. Brienne had found it in the stables with her mare, along with much else; saddle and bridle, chainmail hauberk and visored greathelm, purses of gold and silver and a parchment more valuable than either. “I lost mine own shield,” she explained. […]

There were pine and linden shields to be had for pennies, but Brienne rode past them. She meant to keep the heavy oaken shield Jaime had given her, the one he’d borne himself from Harrenhal to King’s Landing. (4.11)

The issue with the shield is that it bears the black bat of House Lothston. It’s an extinct house, but the sigil is still recognizable, so she needs to have it repainted. She likes her heavy oaken shield because it’s the one Jaime carried out of Harrenhal.

When last she had seen Maidenpool, the town had been a desolation, its lord shut up inside his castle, its smallfolk dead or fled or hiding. She remembered burned houses and empty streets, smashed and broken gates. Feral dogs had skulked along behind their horses, whilst swollen corpses floated like huge pale water lilies atop the spring-fed pool that gave the town its name. Jaime sang “Six Maids in a Pool,” and laughed when I begged him to be quiet. (4.17)

She wasn’t so happy with him at the time, but now she misses him. Once again, she thinks of a location in terms of how she interacted with Jaime when they were there together.

That was where the archers hid and slew poor Cleos Frey, she thought … but half a mile farther on she passed another wall that looked much like the first and found herself uncertain. The rutted road turned and twisted, and the bare brown trees looked different from the green ones she remembered. Had she ridden past the place where Ser Jaime had snatched his cousin’s sword from its scabbard? Where were the woods they’d fought in? The stream where they’d splashed and slashed at one another until they drew the Brave Companions down upon them? […]

“My lady? Ser?” Podrick never seemed certain what to call her. “What are you looking for?”

Ghosts. “A wall I rode by once. It does not matter.” It was when Ser Jaime still had both his hands. How I loathed him, with all his taunts and smiles. “Stay quiet, Podrick. There may still be outlaws in these woods.” (4.19)

One might get the impression that she now thinks of her duel with Jaime as an intimate interaction. She loathed his taunts and smiles back then, and now she can’t get him off her mind. His maiming is about to come back to her, again.

“It is customary to take a finger from a thief,” Lord Tarly replied in a hard voice, “but a man who steals from a sept is stealing from the gods.” He turned to his captain of guards. “Seven fingers. Leave his thumbs.”

“Seven?” The thief paled. When the guards seized hold of him he tried to fight, but feebly, as if he were already maimed. Watching him, Brienne could not help think of Ser Jaime, and the way he’d screamed when Zollo’s arakh came flashing down. (4.21)

Make no mistake, she doesn’t enjoy watching that thief struggle. She doesn’t want to hear another man scream the way Jaime did.

3. It gets better than all that. When we first see Brienne, through Catelyn’s POV in A Clash of Kings, she’s clearly in love with Renly Baratheon and may not even be trying to conceal her infatuation. I don’t think she ever truly expected Renly to reciprocate her affections, but she had eyes for no man but him and she was determined to devote her life to serving him. She couldn’t protect him from Stannis and Melisandre’s magic, unfortunately, but Jaime noticed soon enough that she was deeply in love with the memory of her slain king.

Now that she’s had her adventures with Jaime, Brienne is still trying to keep Renly in the role of the love of her young life, but he has competition. The memory of the late king’s youngest brother now has to compete with the very-much-alive presence of the queen’s twin brother, and it’s a losing battle for Renly.

Only a cramped small tub like this one. At Harrenhal the tubs had been huge, and made of stone. The bathhouse had been thick with the steam rising off the water, and Jaime had come walking through that mist naked as his name day, looking half a corpse and half a god. He climbed into the tub with me, she remembered, blushing. She seized a chunk of hard lye soap and scrubbed under her arms, trying to call up Renly’s face again. (4.15)

She’s telling herself that she should be thinking of Renly rather than Jaime, but now it’s difficult to remember Renly’s face since Jaime shared the tub with her.

Sometimes, her memories of Renly, now confused with Jaime, aren’t pleasant. Sometimes, the association haunts her dreams in a way she doesn’t like.

That night she dreamed herself in Renly’s tent again. All the candles were guttering out, and the cold was thick around her. Something was moving through green darkness, something foul and horrible was hurtling toward her king. She wanted to protect him, but her limbs felt stiff and frozen, and it took more strength than she had just to lift her hand. And when the shadow sword sliced through the green steel gorget and the blood began to flow, she saw that the dying king was not Renly after all but Jaime Lannister, and she had failed him. (4.18)

This is the most obvious example so far of Jaime taking Renly’s place, but it’s not the last.

Loras Tyrell had been the last to face her wroth that day. He’d never courted her, had hardly looked at her at all, but he bore three golden roses on his shield that day, and Brienne hated roses. The sight of them had given her a furious strength. She went to sleep dreaming of the fight they’d had, and of Ser Jaime fastening a rainbow cloak about her shoulders. (4.22)

If we recall Jaime’s words in the third book, he thought the idea of a “Rainbow Guard” was the funniest thing ever, but no matter to Brienne’s dreams. He’s now the one who puts his trust in her, and he’s the one whom she must not disappoint.

Perhaps she had made a mistake in abandoning Ser Creighton and Ser Illifer. They had seemed like honest men. Would that Jaime had come with me, she thought … but he was a knight of the Kingsguard, his rightful place was with his king. Besides, it was Renly that she wanted. (4.23)

We all know Renly is a corpse now, yes? Renly was never available as the loving partner she wanted, and now he can’t be a loving partner to anyone. Jaime is very much alive, though he’s in the Kingsguard, which is an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one, and he’s the one she wants to have with her. She tells herself she should be longing for Renly rather than desiring Jaime, but the corpse of a man who would never have loved her can’t compete with a living man who has rescued her from a bear, put a priceless sword in her hands, and climbed into the tub with her. Oh, no, Renly’s all done. Brienne’s trying to convince herself to focus on Renly rather than Jaime, but the heart wants what it wants, and she wants her maimed lion. Soon enough, she won’t even remember to think about Renly anymore.

Section 3: Danger

As surprises no one who’s read the books or watched Game of Thrones, ugly things tend to happen to nice people who travel around Westeros. As Brienne gets farther away from King’s Landing, she runs into danger, and when she’s in danger, she still thinks of Jaime.

1. Even as she fights for her life, she still cares about defending his honor.

Timeon was still trying to fight as she pulled her blade from him, its fullers running red with blood. He clawed at his belt and came up with a dagger, so Brienne cut his hand off. That one was for Jaime. “Mother have mercy,” the Dornishman gasped, the blood bubbling from his mouth and spurting from his wrist. “Finish it. Send me back to Dorne, you bloody bitch.” (4.24)

Timeon wasn’t the one who decided Jaime had to lose a hand, nor did he swing the blade, but he was among their captors, so that one was for Jaime. Eventually, the fight is down to just her and Shagwell, who started the fight by killing Brienne’s informant, Nimble Dick Crabb. She wants a proper burial for Nimble Dick, but not the two Brave Companions she killed moments before.

Brienne lowered Oathkeeper. “Dig a grave. There, beneath the weirwood.” She pointed with her blade.

“I have no spade.”

“You have two hands.” One more than you left Jaime. (4.25)

She just can’t stop thinking about how angry she is at these sorry sellswords for what they did to her handsome Lannister. Later, when she’s far from her encounter with the Brave Companions, and the Elder Brother of the Quiet Isle is trying to convince her to drop her quest before she gets herself good and killed, Jaime is still on her mind.

“I have to find her,” she finished. “There are others looking, all wanting to capture her and sell her to the queen. I have to find her first. I promised Jaime. Oathkeeper, he named the sword. I have to try to save her … or die in the attempt.” (4.26)

2. After she leaves the Quiet Isle, Brienne is running out of options for finding Sansa and trying to figure out what to do next. She has a short list of locations to investigate for Sansa Stark’s presence, but at the same time, she knows where to find Jaime, and she still likes to think of having him close to her.

Or I could take the kingsroad south, Brienne thought. I could slink back to King’s Landing, confess my failure to Ser Jaime, give him back his sword, and find a ship to carry me home to Tarth, as the Elder Brother urged. The thought was a bitter one, yet there was part of her that yearned for Evenfall and her father, and another part that wondered if Jaime would comfort her should she weep upon his shoulder. That was what men wanted, wasn’t it? Soft helpless women that they needed to protect? (4.27)

This is as good as her saying, in as many words, that she’s in love with Jaime and wants nothing more than to be in his arms for the rest of her days. She’s thinking of him comforting her as she weeps on his shoulder, and even better, wondering if that would make her more appealing to him.

This is just before her last, and most dangerous, encounter with what remains of the Brave Companions. She’s not giving up on her quest to protect Sansa, and she’s not about to flee to Jaime to be a helpless woman he needs to protect. Besides, by this point he’s in the Riverlands, closer to her than to King’s Landing.

Now you see why I couldn’t use the red rose photo from the iBooks template.

I have been shown to the J/B Online message boards, and I found a thread over there that gets into some questions which I may have ruminated on a bit myself.

One is Brienne’s gender identity. Is it possible that she’s non-binary? (In which case I should be using a neutral pronoun rather than “she”.) Short answer is: I don’t think GRRM is writing any trans or non-binary characters in this series. Most writers don’t include trans or non-binary characters (I haven’t written any into my novels, yet), and that includes him. There’s an intersex character in ADWD, but I think their portrayal is poorly handled, so maybe it’s a good thing GRRM doesn’t seem to be writing non-binary characters? I think we’re to understand that Brienne’s gender identity is straightforwardly female. She’s uncomfortable with the expectations placed on her as a woman, but that hardly makes her unusual.

There is a moment in ASOS in which Jaime asks her about siblings, and she answers: “No, I’m my father’s only s– child.” So Jaime thinks she was about to say “son,” and has a good laugh about that, and that may be where someone might think Brienne is written as non-binary? But I think what she was about to say there was, “I’m my father’s only surviving child.” She almost revealed to Jaime that she had siblings who died young. She doesn’t think of herself as her father’s son.

And then there’s sexual orientation, which is IMO quite a bit more open to interpretation, but only up to a point. I see some fans are arguing that Brienne should be seen as queer, and I can see where they’re coming from. I’ve been thinking for months that IF ONLY Martin had written her at all queer  (so far he hasn’t), she would make the MOST FABULOUS butch lesbian. Not just because she fits stereotypes associated with lesbianism! But because she would be so incredibly protective and attentive to a femme partner. She’d be awesome as a butch dyke. She could still be an awesome butch if she were written as bisexual! So far, though? She’s written as clearly androphilic. We’ve seen no sign of same-sex attraction in her thus far. Martin has written some queer characters, but Brienne doesn’t appear to be one of them.

And before anyone starts making noises about the author being wrong about his characters: I’m also a novelist, and you can take that shit elsewhere. A fictional character IS the creation of her author. None of us will ever understand Brienne as well as GRRM does. The way GRRM writes her is the way she is. She is very butch in expression but unambiguously cisgender, and she wants to kiss boys. Especially Jaime Lannister. She wants some more of that soaking-wet naked body in her big, strong arms.