Vows, redemption and choosing battles

Remember when I made my last book-show comparison off PoorQuentyn’s analysis of Arianne Martell in AFFC? Yeah, well, now I’m going to show where I disagree with him. A little disagreement can be productive, and all that.

PoorQuentyn basically tells us Jaime isn’t really doing anything good in his Riverlands adventures because he’s still serving a bad regime and that’s what really matters. Where I disagree is not really on the impact of the regime’s actions in the Riverlands, but the idea of what Jaime’s decisions say about his motivations and his culpability in the war.

For example, this here is a good point:

The Tully men are 100% justified in despising Jaime and considering him a pathetic hypocrite. Put yourself in their shoes: imagine your loved ones were viciously murdered, your cause broken in a truly heinous and taboo-breaking fashion…and then the killer’s son shows up at your door saying all he wants is a peaceful resolution, and y’all really just need to be reasonable and surrender yourself to the regime that massacred your friends and family. Would you be impressed with him? Would you say he’s redeeming himself? Because I’d tell him to go fuck himself, as Brynden and Edmure do.

Okay, this much makes sense. As far as how the Tullys and their allies view Jaime’s intervention, that point is taken. They have every reason to be unimpressed.

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I’m showing you the Lannister tents at the Riverrun set because I love the sight of Lannister tents at Riverrun.

Then there’s the question of what role Jaime played in the situation that needed to be resolved, where PQ says:

Why is there even a resolution to be forced here? Because of the Red Wedding; the only reason Jaime’s in a position to make peace is because his father slaughtered the opposition, and it’s precisely because of that slaughter that said peace will not last. Sure, Jaime saves Pia and Wylis Manderly from the Mountain’s men. But who unleashed the Mountain’s men? Pia and Wylis wouldn’t have suffered in the first place if Jaime and Tywin hadn’t invaded the Riverlands. Jaime is trying to bring the war to a close, yes, but the war only happened because he and Cersei stole the Iron Throne.

Okay. The argument here is basically that because Jaime helped to wage war on the Riverlands, he doesn’t get points for using minimal violence in restoring the status quo. And this is the part where I say: well, no, I don’t agree. Not that Jaime didn’t participate in the War of Five Kings; of course he did. But if the position is that Jaime is equally culpable with Tywin, then, no, I’m in flat-out disagreement.

Was Jaime involved in planning the Red Wedding? He was nowhere near that arrangement, and many circumstances would have had to be very different in order for him to have been able to take part in planning the Red Wedding. Did Jaime tell his father to give his backing to the Freys and take a giant dump all over the sacred tradition of guest right? No, he did not. While Tywin was scheming with the Freys and Boltons, Jaime was in no position to prop up anyone’s murderous, illegitimate regime.

But the war that led up to the Red Wedding? Sure, Jaime was involved; he ambushed Ned Stark and then ran off to help Tywin wage war on the Tullys in response to Catelyn arresting Tyrion. And when Tyrion narrowly escaped an unjust execution at the hands of Catelyn’s revolting sister Lady Arryn, he also fought in a battle on his father’s side. I’m not sure what PoorQuentyn’s reading of Tyrion’s culpability is, but both Jaime and Tyrion helped their father wage war against the Riverlands for the same reason: it was expected of them, as Tywin’s sons. We can talk about the moral value of “just following orders,” but we’re still dealing with a fictional universe in which political machinations are inextricably tangled up with family dynamics, and the Lannisters are among the most powerful and most dysfunctional of those families. When Tywin Lannister is your father, and he tells you to do something, you’ll probably do it no matter how revolting it is. He was a controlling, abusive parent who made it extremely difficult for his children to disobey him. That his children are well into adulthood is no matter; Tywin wasn’t about to start letting his children run their own lives.

Now, was Jaime at all opposed to waging war on the Riverlands? At the time, I’m sure he wasn’t. At the time, he wasn’t a POV character but he seemed to be mostly interested in serving the interests of his family, and at the time, the Tullys and Starks were antagonistic to the interests of his family. The question is: just how much power did Jaime have in that family? He was a Kingsguard knight, not even the Lord Commander, who was in a position to command the Lannister army because he was Tywin Lannister’s son. He was not an equal partner to his father. He wasn’t even a trusted advisor on the level of Uncle Kevan.

His participation in his father’s war changed everything that mattered about Jaime’s life, but that war was not Jaime’s idea.

Anyway, I agree that Jaime shares responsibility for the succession crisis, but those children exist and now he’s thinking of them as part of the family, and his trying to be a dad to Tommen, ironically enough, is what finally puts him in opposition to Cersei.

Finally, he takes the Lannister army back up to the Riverlands to wrangle an end to the fighting, and he’s still acting as part of the Lannister regime and the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, and that’s where PoorQuentyn says he’s still part of the problem because he’s still doing his job for his family’s regime.

At the same time, he’s still thinking, on some level, of how to prove himself as a worthy son to Tywin Lannister, and he has every incentive to hang Edmure Tully. His aunt Genna, for example, is telling him to do exactly that. That he puts a great deal of resources into keeping Edmure alive, is a sign of Jaime balancing priorities other than merely advancing the interests of the Lannister regime. We can discuss to what extent he’s actually making good on his promise not to take up arms against the Starks or Tullys, but that promise to Catelyn was his incentive to keep Edmure alive, which means he is changing in a redemptive direction.

Ultimately, we’re dealing with the fact that Jaime’s still serving the family’s regime, and that’s what really matters for the moral value of his actions in the Riverlands, but that’s also where I ask: at this point in Jaime’s life, what are his alternatives? He entered the Kingsguard as a 15-year-old, and once that decision was made, he wasn’t allowed to change his mind. Mad King Aerys could have refused to put his Hand’s 15-year-old son in a position of lifelong servitude, but the king was thinking precisely of how best to screw over his Hand, so, sure, he allowed an absurdly young boy to make a decision he couldn’t ever take back. There’s another set of political reasons why Robert Baratheon decided to keep Jaime in the Kingsguard, but the fact remains that Jaime wasn’t free to quit his job and go somewhere else. I suppose he could have opted for the Night’s Watch, but most people, with good reason, tend to regard the Night’s Watch as a lifelong punishment. I think we can understand by now why Jaime would feel like he didn’t need to be punished any more.

His return to the Red Keep minus his sword hand showed him his first chance to leave the Kingsguard, in which he would have gone back to Casterly Rock as Tywin’s heir, which means he’d still be serving his father’s interests. Maybe he would have shown some backbone as Lord Lannister following Tywin’s death, but he’s still not in a position where he can just quit his job and go to work for someone else. His options are to stay in the Kingsguard or be the heir to Casterly Rock. Either way he’s still answerable to his father.

But then we may still argue that as long as Jaime is working for his family, regardless of whether he’s culpable for being in that position, he’s not really redeeming himself. From that position, we’re saying he basically needs to desert the Kingsguard, which probably means risking execution, and give up all the support system he’s ever known, in order to get to a place where he can really redeem himself. We’re asking a one-handed man who has never had to survive without his royal bodyguard job, or his father’s money, or someone taking care of him, to assert his autonomy. (His captivity at Riverrun was still a position of “someone taking care of him”) How does he stay alive if he’s not working for his family’s murderous regime?

With all that said, though, I think we’ve seen him finally give up his place in the regime and assert his autonomy. His riding off with Brienne may actually be his desertion of the Kingsguard. His journey through the Riverlands in AFFC allowed him to get to a place, both geographically and psychologically, where he could finally tell his sister to clean up her own mess. The arrival of Brienne answers both the question of what cause he’ll serve and how he’ll stay alive without the support of his soldiers and squires. Without her, his “redemption” would be a tedious, unproductive death.