Unintended Consequences, Part 6: Harrenhal Revisited

You thought shit got real already? No. This pairing has only begun to get serious. This is the part where I start getting all pleased with myself. There are no nerds like me, fellow Throners!


The staircase is totally relevant, I assure you.

If you haven’t read them already, see the Intro, Stage 1 (Escape from Riverrun), Stage 2 (Bloody Mummers), Stage 3 (House Lannister Falls Apart), Stage 4 (Oathkeeper), and Stage 5 (“I love you too, sweet sister”). If you would like to read this essay offline, get the iBooks or PDF version and you’ll never have to worry about me shutting down this blog.

The Joy of Unintended Consequences, Stage 6: Harrenhal Revisited

If Riverrun represents the emotional end of Jaime’s love affair with his sister and the logistical beginning of his relationship with Brienne, Harrenhal represents their turning point. It was in the bath house at Harrenhal that Brienne became the first person whom Jaime told the story of how he became the Kingslayer. It was in the bear pit of Harrenhal that Jaime did something stupid to keep himself and his big wench together.

They may have thought they were finished with Harrenhal, but it seems Harrenhal wasn’t finished with them. During his trip through the Riverlands with the Lannister host, Jaime literally revisits the great ruined castle, and while he’s there, his adventures with Brienne come back to him. Brienne’s adventures take her nowhere near Harrenhal in the geographical sense, but in the psychological sense, some things she learned with Jaime at Harrenhal are taking over her life.

Section 1: Red Ronnet

In an earlier section of this essay, I went over Brienne’s history of three betrothals by age sixteen. The first of these three potential husbands died young, but the other two are presumably still alive and could possibly show up in the present story. The second prospective spouse, Ronnet Connington, happens to be present in the army that Jaime takes through the Riverlands, and he makes an appearance during their stay at Harrenhal. Even better, he turns up when Jaime stops by the bear pit. During Jaime’s encounter with Ronnet, we see two of the foreshadowing processes used from the beginning to develop Jaime and Brienne’s relationship. First, we see Jaime defending Brienne’s honor. Second, we see a new twist on name-calling.

Jaime is already acquainted with Ser Ronnet Connington, but doesn’t yet know that he has a history with Brienne, and it’s a history that doesn’t reflect well on Ser Ronnet. Jaime finds him standing all alone over the bear pit during their time at Harrenhal.

But the knight standing over the pit was bigger; a husky, bearded man in a red-and-white surcoat adorned with griffins. Connington. What’s he doing here? Below, the carcass of the bear still sprawled upon the sands, though only bones and ragged fur remained, half-buried. Jaime felt a pang of pity for the beast. At least he died in battle. “Ser Ronnet,” he called, “have you lost your way? It is a large castle, I know.”

Red Ronnet raised his lantern. “I wished to see where the bear danced with the maiden not-so-fair.” His beard shone in the light as if it were afire. Jaime could smell wine on his breath. “Is it true the wench fought naked?”

“Naked? No.” He wondered how that wrinkle had been added to the story. “The Mummers put her in a pink silk gown and shoved a tourney sword into her hand. The Goat wanted her death to be amuthing. Elsewise …”

“… the sight of Brienne naked might have made the bear flee in terror.” Connington laughed.

Jaime did not. “You speak as if you know the lady.”

“I was betrothed to her.”

That took him by surprise. Brienne had never mentioned a betrothal. “Her father made a match for her …”

“Thrice,” said Connington. “I was the second. My father’s notion. I had heard the wench was ugly, and I told him so, but he said all women were the same once you blew the candle out.” (6.1)

There’s no particular plot-relevant reason why Red Ronnet needs to be taking a moment to gaze out at the bear pit. Martin put him there just so that Jaime could have a conversation with someone about Brienne. It’s a conversation in which he defends her honor. First, we see Jaime, who has never lacked for a juvenile sense of humor, declining to laugh at the idea of naked Brienne being so hideous. If we wanted to focus on Ser Ronnet’s motives, we might think he feels like he needs to convince himself that his refusal to marry the Maid of Tarth was the right decision. Ultimately, however, Ser Ronnet is a very minor character, and what matters to us is how Jaime responds to him.

Ser Ronnet was a landed knight, no more. For any such, the Maid of Tarth would have been a sweet plum indeed. “How is it that you did not wed?” Jaime asked him.

“Why, I went to Tarth and saw her. I had six years on her, yet the wench could look me in the eye. She was a sow in silk, though most sows have bigger teats. When she tried to talk she almost choked on her own tongue. I gave her a rose and told her it was all that she would ever have from me.” Connington glanced into the pit. “The bear was less hairy than that freak, I’ll—”

Jaime’s golden hand cracked him across the mouth so hard the other knight went stumbling down the steps. His lantern fell and smashed, and the oil spread out, burning. “You are speaking of a highborn lady, ser. Call her by her name. Call her Brienne.”

Connington edged away from the spreading flames on his hands and knees. “Brienne. If it please my lord.” He spat a glob of blood at Jaime’s foot. “Brienne the Beauty.” (6.2)

Now we see why Brienne hates roses. She received a rose from a landed knight who, years later, still thinks it’s okay to talk about a then-12-year-old girl in terms of her tits being too small. The association is enough to make roses seem repulsive. He was one of her competitors in the mêlée at Bitterbridge, and she took especial pleasure in battering him with her morningstar.

There he is, a number of years later, with nothing better to do than get drunk and wander off to stare at a bear carcass and brood over that one time he gave up his chance to be the Lord of Evenfall because his prospective bride had the gall to be a tongue-tied, ugly girl. His mistake is calling her a “freak,” which Jaime does not tolerate.

There’s no danger of Brienne walking in on this conversation. She can’t hear what Ser Ronnet is saying about her. Jaime could just as easily walk away from Ser Ronnet, and no one would be the worse off.

For some reason, Ser Ronnet’s calling Brienne “that freak” makes Jaime angry enough to bitch-slap Connington down the steps. Nobody gets to talk about his big wench in those terms, no matter how remote the risk of her overhearing. Nobody gets to call her anything but her name, lest Jaime get violent.

Even after Ser Ronnet sobers up, Jaime is not the least bit amused with him.

Jaime had charged Red Ronnet with the task of delivering Wylis Manderly to Maidenpool, so he would not need to look on him henceforth. (6.3)

It’s almost like, if someone insults Brienne of Tarth, he can expect to lose favor with Ser Jaime Lannister. Except there’s no “almost”; that’s exactly what happened to Ser Ronnet. He will not be invited to their wedding.

Section 2: Lady Stoneheart

Between the last time we saw Brienne, and now, she went through the most vicious fight of her life. She defended the orphanage by standing up to a group of the Brave Companions. She killed Rorge, one of the three men who intended to rape her when she was a captive along with Jaime, and then there was Biter, who nearly killed her. He jumped on top of her, chewed off part of her face, and eventually Gendry killed him. By stepping up for that fight, she kept those deranged sellswords occupied long enough for the Brotherhood Without Banners to show up and vanquish them without any harm done to the children, but in the meantime, the Brotherhood also decided Brienne and her friends were enemy combatants who needed to go on “trial” for their “crimes.”

Did I mention that Biter chewed off part of Brienne’s face? There was another event, in the previous book, where Brienne bit off part of Vargo Hoat, and the resulting infection made him too helpless and delirious to look after himself. Now she’s the one with a human bite wound, and the infection is nearly killing her. She’s fighting for her life, and when she wakes up, the situation will only get worse. At this stage of her journey, we see the following processes of foreshadowing and developing her and Jaime’s relationship. 1. We see a new twist on the care-giving relationship she established just after Jaime lost his hand, 2. she thinks in terms of staying close to Jaime, 3. there’s another level of suggestive language used to characterize her bond with Jaime, 4. she is invested in defending his honor, and finally, 5. we see the climax of the Kingslayer parallel.

1. First, there’s the care-giving relationship. When Jaime was newly maimed, feverish and weak, Brienne took care of him, and now she’s the one who’s wounded and sick.

She dreamt she was at Harrenhal, down in the bear pit once again. This time it was Biter facing her, huge and bald and maggot-white, with weeping sores upon his cheeks. Naked he came, fondling his member, gnashing his filed teeth together. Brienne fled from him. “My sword,” she called. “Oathkeeper. Please.” The watchers did not answer. Renly was there, with Nimble Dick and Catelyn Stark. Shagwell, Pyg, and Timeon had come, and the corpses from the trees with their sunken cheeks, swollen tongues, and empty eye sockets. Brienne wailed in horror at the sight of them, and Biter grabbed her arm and yanked her close and tore a chunk from her face. “Jaime,” she heard herself scream, “Jaime.” (6.4)

In this state of delirium, she doesn’t have any control of how she thinks or what she says, and Jaime is the one whose presence would be a comfort to her.

2. She wants to stay close to Jaime. The sword Jaime gave her takes on a magical, mythical importance to her in this state of feverish helplessness.

Then she was back at the Whispers, standing amongst the ruins and facing Clarence Crabb. He was huge and fierce, mounted on an aurochs shaggier than he was. The beast pawed the ground in fury, tearing deep furrows in the earth. Crabb’s teeth had been filed into points. When Brienne went to draw her sword, she found her scabbard empty. “No,” she cried, as Ser Clarence charged. It wasn’t fair. She could not fight without her magic sword. Ser Jaime had given it to her. The thought of failing him as she had failed Lord Renly made her want to weep. “My sword. Please, I have to find my sword.”

“The wench wants her sword back,” a voice declared.

“And I want Cersei Lannister to suck my cock. So what?”

“Jaime called it Oathkeeper. Please.” But the voices did not listen, and Clarence Crabb thundered down on her and swept off her head. Brienne spiraled down into a deeper darkness. (6.5)

She has no idea who hears her begging for her special magical sword from Jaime, and she’s in no state to care. The sword represents Jaime’s trust in her, and that trust means everything. She needs to have Jaime’s gift near her, just as she longs for Jaime to be there and comfort her while she’s sick and defenseless.

This time she dreamed that she was home again, at Evenfall. Through the tall arched windows of her lord father’s hall she could see the sun just going down. I was safe here. I was safe.

She was dressed in silk brocade, a quartered gown of blue and red decorated with golden suns and silver crescent moons. On another girl it might have been a pretty gown, but not on her. She was twelve, ungainly and uncomfortable, waiting to meet the young knight her father had arranged for her to marry, a boy six years her senior, sure to be a famous champion one day. She dreaded his arrival. Her bosom was too small, her hands and feet too big. Her hair kept sticking up, and there was a pimple nestled in the fold beside her nose. “He will bring a rose for you,” her father promised her, but a rose was no good, a rose could not keep her safe. It was a sword she wanted. Oathkeeper. I have to find the girl. I have to find his honor.

Finally the doors opened, and her betrothed strode into her father’s hall. She tried to greet him as she had been instructed, only to have blood come pouring from her mouth. She had bitten her tongue off as she waited. She spat it at the young knight’s feet, and saw the disgust on his face. “Brienne the Beauty,” he said in a mocking tone. “I have seen sows more beautiful than you.” He tossed the rose in her face. As he walked away, the griffins on his cloak rippled and blurred and changed to lions. Jaime! she wanted to cry. Jaime, come back for me! But her tongue lay on the floor by the rose, drowned in blood. (6.6)

In this case, Jaime replaces Ronnet, who was no competition at all. She overwhelmingly prefers Jaime’s sword to Ronnet’s rose. Even when she’s delirious and terrified, she’s still invested in Jaime’s honor, and still longs for a sense of closeness with him.

3. At some point, Brienne recovers from her fever enough to wake up, and the Brotherhood Without Banners bring her in front of their new leader, who seems to think she’s done something wrong and needs to be held accountable. In this encounter, we see a new instance of suggestive language associated with her feelings for Jaime.

Grey was the color of the silent sisters, the handmaidens of the Stranger. Brienne felt a shiver climb her spine. Stoneheart. “M’lady,” said the big man. “Here she is.”

“Aye,” added the one-eyed man. “The Kingslayer’s whore.”

She flinched. “Why would you call me that?”

“If I had a silver stag for every time you said his name, I’d be as rich as your friends the Lannisters.”

“That was only … you do not understand …”

“Don’t we, though?” The big man laughed. “I think we might. There’s a stink of lion about you, lady.” (6.7)

She’s developed an unfortunate habit of crying out Jaime’s name in her semi-conscious delirium, and that tendency has earned her a new nickname: the Kingslayer’s whore.

4. Stubborn as ever, Brienne won’t let these noose-happy outlaws stop her from defending her one-handed knight’s honor. They seem to think her sword is a sign of her loyalty to the enemy. She disagrees.

“The sword was given me for a good purpose,” said Brienne. “Ser Jaime swore an oath to Catelyn Stark …”

“… before his friends cut her throat for her, that must have been,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “We all know about the Kingslayer and his oaths.”

It is no good, Brienne realized. No words of mine will sway them. She plunged ahead despite that. “He promised Lady Catelyn her daughters, but by the time we reached King’s Landing they were gone. Jaime sent me out to seek the Lady Sansa …”

“… and if you had found the girl,” asked the young northman, “what were you to do with her?”

“Protect her. Take her somewhere safe.”

The big man laughed. “Where’s that? Cersei’s dungeon?”

“No.”

“Deny it all you want. That sword says you’re a liar. Are we supposed to believe the Lannisters are handing out gold and ruby swords to foes? That the Kingslayer meant for you to hide the girl from his own twin? I suppose the paper with the boy king’s seal was just in case you needed to wipe your arse? And then there’s the company you keep …” (6.8)

The company she keeps includes Ser Hyle, being one of Randyll Tarly’s household knights, and Podrick Payne, being Tyrion’s squire. The outlaws have already decided that Septon Meribald posed no threat, but the rest of them are guilty until proven innocent. One way or another, they will have to answer for their crimes. If they refuse to answer, that’s simply more proof of their guilt.

5. Finally, here is the Kingslayer Parallel. This isn’t about Brienne’s supposedly having killed Renly; that’s no longer a concern. This is about the story Jaime told her during their bath at Harrenhal.

The thing that had been Catelyn Stark took hold of her throat again, fingers pinching at the ghastly long slash in her neck, and choked out more sounds. “Words are wind, she says,” the northman told Brienne. “She says that you must prove your faith.”

“How?” asked Brienne.

“With your sword. Oathkeeper, you call it? Then keep your oath to her, milady says.”

“What does she want of me?”

“She wants her son alive, or the men who killed him dead,” said the big man. “She wants to feed the crows, like they did at the Red Wedding. Freys and Boltons, aye. We’ll give her those, as many as she likes. All she asks from you is Jaime Lannister.”

Jaime. The name was a knife, twisting in her belly. “Lady Catelyn, I … you do not understand, Jaime … he saved me from being raped when the Bloody Mummers took us, and later he came back for me, he leapt into the bear pit empty-handed … I swear to you, he is not the man he was. He sent me after Sansa to keep her safe, he could not have had a part in the Red Wedding.”

Lady Catelyn’s fingers dug deep into her throat, and the words came rattling out, choked and broken, a stream as cold as ice. The northman said, “She says that you must choose. Take the sword and slay the Kingslayer, or be hanged for a betrayer. The sword or the noose, she says. Choose, she says. Choose.”

Brienne remembered her dream, waiting in her father’s hall for the boy she was to marry. In the dream she had bitten off her tongue. My mouth was full of blood. She took a ragged breath and said, “I will not make that choice.” There was a long silence.

Then Lady Stoneheart spoke again. This time Brienne understood her words. There were only two. “Hang them,” she croaked. (6.9)

Bring me your father’s head, if you are no traitor, said King Aerys to Jaime.

Take the sword and slay the Kingslayer, or be hanged for a betrayer, says Lady Stoneheart to Brienne.

This is the essence of the Kingslayer Parallel: in return for all her efforts to keep her vows, Brienne is now asked to kill someone she loves, not because killing him will accomplish anything good, but because whatever is left of her lady demands a pound of flesh. The Mad King was ready to burn down the city and kill half a million people rather than surrender to the rebels. What remains of Catelyn Stark has nothing to offer except to kill as many people as possible who seem even slightly affiliated with the Freys, Boltons and Lannisters. She can’t bring back her son, so she’ll pile up lots of bodies to feed the crows. She once accepted vows of service from Brienne, and now she expects that innocent wide-eyed girl from Renly’s camp to believe that keeping her vows means killing the man whose name she keeps calling out in her sleep.

No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other, Jaime once said. It’s too much. Now Brienne is facing that situation of having to choose between her integrity and her vows. This is Lady Stoneheart’s role in dealing with Brienne and Jaime: she’s doing to Brienne as the Mad King did to Jaime, right up to the moment when Jaime took his fancy Lannister sword and opened the king’s throat.

Brienne’s predicament with Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood Without Banners isn’t so straightforward, however. Brienne is still recovering from her wounds, she’s not up to fighting shape just yet, and she’s not alone. They also have a noose around Podrick’s skinny neck, and whatever they do to her, they’ll also do to her loyal little squire.

Stubborn to the end, Brienne refuses to choose, which means her outlaw captors tie nooses on her and Podrick and prepare to kill them by hanging. That’s the last we see of them in A Feast for Crows: getting hanged from trees side-by-side for their supposed loyalty to the horrible things associated with the Lannisters. Brienne screams a word, just as the air is cut off from her throat. We see her, very briefly, in A Dance With Dragons, and she’s drawing Jaime away from his army with some malarkey about the Hound.

We’re both Kingslayers here, said Jaime to Brienne in the first stage of their relationship, when he was a prisoner and she his captor.

Kingslayers should band together, he said to her in the third stage, when he asked her to protect Sansa Stark with her father’s steel.

By forcing Brienne and Podrick into those nooses, Lady Stoneheart has set the stage for Brienne and Jaime to show us how Kingslayers band together.


I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious to see how the Stoneheart situation is resolved in The Winds of Winter. I’m sure they’ll be fine…eventually. But it can’t possibly be pretty in the short term.

I’ve said before, and I still think this way, that Brienne sees Catelyn as a mother figure. When Catelyn dies, it’s like she’s losing her mother all over again. I think the protection assignment is so important to her because it represents family: she wants to be Catelyn’s daughter, and Sansa and Arya’s big sister. She goes around the Crownlands and Riverlands telling people she’s trying to find her sister, while describing Sansa. I don’t think that’s coincidental. She wants the Stark ladies to be her family.

And now, what’s left of Catelyn is asking her to kill someone dear to her. This is not what Brienne had in mind when she left her father’s castle to join Renly’s host.