Updated: Nov 12, 2018
A man with shit for honour becomes the most honourable man
In A Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin didn’t write a hero or a villain as a person who considers him/herself to be a hero or a villain. The characters are written so that they see themselves justified and even as saviors that should be recognized or rewarded for their deeds, even when they are doing things that are absolutely and unquestionably wrong. The heroes on the other hand, question their actions, are riddled with guilt and shame - and although the books are written under the viewpoint of specific characters, those chapters are written in third person, which means the readers cannot know if there is a moment when Cersei, for instance, considers herself to be evil or if Melisandre sees herself as a fanatic. What the reader does know is that their viewpoints suggest they find themselves to be doing what is right.
The difference between hero or villain, in that case, comes from the fandom’s capacity to do the “Arya/Syrio” exercise – to see beyond what is being shown. That capacity or lack thereof, creates plenty of polemic characters, such as lady Catelyn Stark, young lady Sansa, Theon Greyjoy, nearly the entire Martell family, Daenerys Targaryen and many others, although literature suggests that, by definition, the hero is doing what is right for the sake of doing what is right while the villain, has the constant consideration of personal gain, self-gratification, recognition and debt.
It’s easy to consider Craster as a villain not only because he has his sons offered as blood sacrifice so he can be safe, but also because his safety is so he can continue raping his daughters. But, if observed, characters that are seemingly good, still hide behind a facade of victims or fair while in reality, they are acting for a personal agenda. On the other hand, the “good guys”, are the people who want to do what is right. They consider and fear how others perceive their actions or who might get hurt, but choose to do what is right, despite personal loss. Evidently, Jon Snow is the ultimate hero, saving the people he was raised to hate or choosing to go against his vows to defend those who can’t defend themselves and paying the price with his life, but Ned Stark before him, did the exact same thing. Ser Arthur Dayne was a hero and little Arya too. Brienne is another evident hero and the wildling Osha is one as well, but the vilified and downtrodden hero subject of this essay, is none other than Ser Jaime Lannister.
Becoming a knight of the Kingsguard at the tender age of fifteen, Ser Jaime wanted nothing more than to grow up and be a hero like in the songs. As he is introduced to the reader from the viewpoint of Eddard Stark, who was an absolutist, as well as he had his own father and brother murdered by the Mad King and Ser Jaime's actions took that right from him, which likely made the situation even worse, Ser Jaime starts the story as a clear villain and a man with no honour. He is more than just the terrible knight who killed the king he was supposed to defend. He was also the man who attacked a child in a house where he was a guest and fathered three children with the queen whose husband he served. At first, Ser Jaime seems to be an abominable man, a dishonourable knight and a man with no scruples. As the author adds details on a progressive pace, by the time the reader understand who he is, there’s already a clearly formed prejudice against him, especially as the story isn’t seen from his own viewpoint. But the reader is wrong. Ser Jaime was linked to corruption and that corruption is represented by his sword hand and his relationship with his sister. The loss of one brings about the end of the other, as well as the unique opportunity for the followers to read his accounts of the story – and what a story it is – perhaps, the most compelling one in the whole saga.
Like his sister Cersei, Ser Jaime is filled with traits that are much better represented in Targaryens than Lannisters, but from opposing ends of the spectrum and the twins arcs are truly mesmerizing. To start out, she was seen and revered as a symbol of beauty and servitude and he as a symbol of beauty and dishonor. The first one turned out to be dishonourable and the second, the one who truly served the kingdom. In reality, there is a synchronized movement between him and his sister. She was born, then he was born. Her dreams of marrying the Targaryen prince were shattered; his dreams of being a heroic knight of the kingsguard were shattered (by realizing that the job consisted in standing in wait while the Mad King raped and murdered); she was stuck in a castle with a husband who was her enemy, he was stuck in a cell guarded by his enemies; she lost what she considered to be what defined her: her beauty, he lost what he considered to be what defined him: his sword hand; she atoned, and so did he. She didn’t want to have sex with him when Joffrey died, then he didn’t want to have sex with her when she went into his room. It's more than a parallel, it’s a wave. They consider themselves to be linked and because they consider it, they might as well be, and just as he starts to be a better person, to see Cersei for who she is as well as trust and respect Brienne for her worth, he gets betrayed and back stabbed by the selfsame Brienne who was the catalyst of his change. The consequence of that betrayal is beneath her and honestly, he doesn’t deserve it. He has atoned, and contrary to Cersei whose humiliating atonement was for personal gain, Ser Jaime has truly become a better man.
Another interesting parallel is the one played with his brother Tyrion. In their physical appearances, Ser Jaime is the most handsome man in the kingdom while Tyrion is the ugliest, the prostitutes in Westeros fantasize about Ser Jaime, but they sleep with Tyrion, Ser Jaime is a physical man while Tyrion is an intellectual. One is reckless and cocky where the other is meticulous and calculating. Ser Jaime is nearly celibate, as he offers himself to no woman, but his sister and Tyrion can be with any woman who lets him – until he crosses that line to force himself into women who don’t. Ser Jaime defended the kingdom by killing an evil king, Tyrion kills the Hand of the King to defend his own self and pride and as Jaime returns to defend Brienne and later to save Tyrion, Tyrion escapes with no intentions of saving or protecting any person but himself. And to shock the readers with his genius, George developed Ser Jaime and Tyrion’s parallels to move in unison, Ser Jaime starts as the most repugnant male in the series and becomes easily the most revered by the fans while Tyrion’s story moves in a direction of self-servitude and cynicism. Even in their humour, Tyrion starts out as being the one with funny chapters until Ser Jaime takes the lead. He hated responsibilities and didn’t want Cersei to foist her husband into making him Hand of the King while Tyrion wanted nothing more than to get more responsibilities and keep on playing the game of thrones.
His parallels don’t stop there. He can be fascinatingly drawn against the Hound, Ser Loras, Daario, Theon, Prince Aemon and Daemon Targaryen, lady Brienne, Ser Arthur Dayne, and, evidently, our hero Jon Snow.
His dreams and illusions faded into cynicism when he learned the king had chosen him to become a knight of the Kingsguard to offend his father and the reality of what that job really meant. After killing the king he was sworn to protect, he wore the cloak of dishonor as if he had been tailor-made for him, but unknown to the reader was the fact that it bothered him and once he lost his hand, he nearly forsake his life had it not been for Lady Brienne and it was her honesty and dedication that helped him seek the same for himself, making their story together both inspiring and beautiful.
It becomes evident when he saves Pia that doing good motivates him. It’s a real shame that his passive participation in the Red Wedding by means of Roose Bolton made lady Stoneheart wish to single him out as guilty, especially as he was entirely honest and forthright about all his wrongdoings, admitting to his affair with Cersei, about pushing Bran and even about his unwitting participation in Tysha’s rape. He is, evidently, true to his vows to lady Catelyn, and once he gave his word, he kept it and never again bore arms against Stark or Tully. It's unbelievable that after all he's been through he still has pain and destruction ahead. He was young, handsome, knightly, honoured, honourable, betrayed, disappointed, traumatized, cocky, dishonourable, incestuous, traitor, liar, rich, skilled, smart, dumb, alive, suicidal, brave and craven. Learned a lesson in humility and had his eyes opened for him a thousand times over, with every new step forward, a blow that knocked him backwards, and yet, he managed to get up, pat himself clean and start again.
His name – Jaime – in French reads “J’aime” for “I love” and he is truly the only Lannister loved by his whole family and who loved his father, brother and sister all in return, but most interestingly is that, in Hebrew, his name would be equivalent to “Jacob” and biblically speaking, Jacob was the son his father wanted to make heir despite having other children who were more suitable. Also, the translation of Jacob is “one who holds the heel”, which is how he was born. In Spanish, his name would be "Diego", which means 'he who replaces' and he replaces Tyrion, to most readers, as a favourite member of that family.
Ser Jaime is by far my most beloved character, but the truth of his saga is rather sad. Ser Jaime's life bites him back. There is no divine justice to be paid post-mortem. He pays back shortly after each of his actions. He made Bran a cripple, which stopped the boy from doing what he loved most and he himself became a cripple, which stopped him from doing what he loved most. He pointed out the things he did (and sacrificed) for love to protect his sister and later found out that the same sister was giving away her – ahem – “love” without the slightest regard for consequence or sacrifice. He becomes a kingsguard to stay near Cersei and in turn, she is taken away back to the rock because he became a kingsguard. He remained faithful to his sister despite the countless women who threw themselves at him and she slept with any man who threw himself at her and would have dropped any man for Prince Rhaegar. He took action against Bran to protect his sister and his beloved brother was punished for it. He released Wylis Manderly to his father and lord Manderly planned the revenge of the Red Wedding against the Lannisters. Ser Jaime doesn’t seem to catch a break.
His story is not over and I, for one, count on him being the Valonqar. The question then is: What things will he still do for love?