I recently submitted another big ambitious article to FanSided (which just went live a little while ago!), and I want to go into more detail on something that came up in that piece. It’s something I’ve mentioned a few times over here before.
The piece I wrote is all about the motivations behind loyalty and betrayal on Game of Thrones, and the place where I want to go into a bit more detail is…oh, Seven Hells…Brienne going after Stannis.
(I understand if you’re now running away in terror, but, for those of you who aren’t tired of me hitting myself in the face, read on. I think this explains a lot.)
The position I take in my new piece is basically that Brienne lost a little piece of herself when she took the blame for Renly’s murder, and she had to get it back.
It’s not just that Renly died, or even that he died and Brienne had to get a new job. She really cared about that guy (even though he had absolutely no business declaring himself king), she worked her ass off to get a chance to protect him, she totally would’ve died to protect him if she were up against the usual threats that human protectors can actually handle. And not only did he die in her arms, of causes that were uniquely difficult to explain without sounding completely batshit…she took the blame. She was accused of his murder, and she could never quite cleanse her reputation of that lie.
That must have fucked her up on some level. She may have even begun to doubt herself! Catelyn Stark was the only person in the tent with her at Renly’s death, so that helped for a while, but Brienne only worked for Catelyn for a short time before she was instructed to take Jaime Lannister home to his family. That was the last time Brienne saw her lady before the Red Wedding.
(Oh, and, in case anyone wants to joke about how Brienne’s bosses keep dying on her, here’s the thing: the problem was that Brienne had questionable taste in bosses, not that there was anything wrong with her job performance. She managed twice in a row to pledge herself to people who were about to be killed because they didn’t have their shit together. Correlation, causation, and all that. Big Wench is not cursed, and not incompetent. Just not very pragmatic.)
So, anyway, the Season 5 finale happened, and she very regrettably missed the candle while she ran off to give Stannis a quick death. Following that episode, I pasted in a bit of an interview with Gwendoline Christie, who said:
Brienne is depressed about the situation she’s in. She hasn’t been able to achieve what she’s wanted. Arya slipped through her fingers and she just went through the fight of her life. The notion of the oath comes up again and again and she remains resolute. A lot of her personal needs remain unacknowledged. She puts all of her life’s focus on the greater good. What occurs is something very interesting. There’s an exploration of this character as a person—she’s dedicated to the greater good, not acknowledging her personal wants and needs in favor of something better than her. [Going after Stannis is] the one moment she responds to her emotional world and her feelings. She’s overtaken by something that we haven’t seen before. She chooses not to stand vigilant and to go and seek Stannis. In the script it says, “a darkness comes over her,” in that way it does when you’re hell-bent on something.
The personal wants and needs going unacknowledged surely include a lot of factors including “I need sunshine” and “I miss my daddy” and “I don’t expect ever to see Jaime again,” but she also needs to rescue the part of herself that was taken away when Stannis let her take the blame for Renly’s death. That’s how she’s really responding to her emotional world when she turns her back on Candle Watch.
In a way, her decision there is comparable to when Bronn refused to be Tyrion’s champion against the Mountain. She’s basically thinking to herself, as she gives that one last look at the tower: “Look, Sansa, I want to take care of you, but I need to take care of myself first.”
As hard as she’s already worked to show up for Sansa—let’s face it, you will not find a knight in the Seven Kingdoms who will stand a vigil like Brienne did in Candle Watch—there is nothing about the protection assignment that offers her a chance to rescue the lost part of herself. Sansa needs her? Jaime’s counting on her? Podrick needs a good example? Okay, but while she’s looking after everyone else, who’s showing up for Brienne?
The way she’s taking care of herself is not in the act of killing Stannis (the code of chivalry demands she kill him to avenge Renly, but that’s a separate issue), but by getting his confession. When she says to him: “You murdered him, with blood magic?” That’s a question. She needs to hear his answer. When he gives her that answer (“I did”), it’s a gift to her. Now she’s heard it in his words, she can walk away knowing she’s not crazy, she did her best by her king, and his true killer has been caught and punished. That allows her to get back the part of herself that she lost in Renly’s tent.
Of course it would be even better if she could convince everyone else in Westeros that Renly was killed by his brother, and her killing Stannis doesn’t accomplish that, but I was deluding myself when I insisted it couldn’t possibly make her feel better. I think she feels better now. Just a tiny bit. She’ll feel shitty when she walks out of that forest and finds out Sansa jumped off the wall, but she does feel a little better after hearing Stannis’s confession. Yeah, she does. I think she’ll be better equipped to cope with the guilt over missing the candle since she got back that little bit of herself by hearing Stannis confess.
Seriously, though, DO go read my new piece. You might like what I have to say about Theon.