Last week on Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister arrived at Winterfell, a town in the North filled with people who hate him. This week, they’re probably going to rub his nose in it — for things that he’s done and maybe for the sins of the duplicitous Lannister family, too.
It’s difficult to argue that Jaime’s a good person, but he’s changed since we first met him. At worst, he’s an amoral guy who’s been trending toward morality for quite some time.
The problem for Jaime is that we viewers know vastly more than the characters in Game of Thrones do. We’ve seen his (quasi?) redemption. Most of them haven’t. In the second episode of the final season, Jaime appears to stand accused of being a jackass in the extreme. Being better today won’t necessarily absolve him of his sins.
So let’s refresh our memories and talk about the terrible (and maybe also not so terrible) things that Jaime’s done in Game of Thrones’ first seven seasons.
The Lannister family
Jaime is a Lannister, and it’s worth spilling some ink about House Lannister and how they clawed their way to the upper echelons of Westeros.
For decades, Tywin Lannister — Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion’s father — was Hand of the King to the “Mad King,” Aerys II Targaryen. Aerys was cuckoo bananas. As Hand, Tywin brought a measure of sanity and steady rule — and also, as we learned early in season 1, money. Lots of money. The kingdom was in serious debt, and it owes much of that debt to the Lannisters.
During Robert’s Rebellion, the civil war that ultimately ended the Targaryen dynasty, Tywin sided with the king … until he didn’t. At the very end of the rebellion, when it was clear that Robert Baratheon’s troops would overtake King’s Landing, Tywin switched his alliance from the Targaryens to the rebels. Robert ascended to the Iron Throne, and married Cersei Lannister to cement an alliance between their houses.
When we first meet them in Game of Thrones season 1, the Lannister children are basically different flavors of spoiled rich kids. Tyrion is a lecherous lout. Cersei is a copy of her conniving father. Jaime exists in a cocky middle place.
As Game of Thrones progresses, each of the Lannister children changes. Tyrion tries to become a better person. So does Jaime, if somewhat reluctantly. Cersei doubles down on being an asshat in service of House Lannister.
She is, as her father was, the embodiment of her house. Tywin explained what that means in a conversation with Jaime way back in the season 1 episode “You Win or You Die.”
Your mother’s dead. Before long, I’ll be dead. And you, and your brother, and your sister and all of her children. All of us dead, all of us rotting in the ground. It’s the family name that lives on. It’s all that lives on. Not your personal glory, not your honor, but family.
Cersei’s modus operandi, like her father’s, is effectively: Lannisters, by any means necessary. And at one point, that was Jaime’s approach, too — like, say, for example, when he threw a kid out of a window.
Jaime and Cersei
We loyal viewers know that, toward the end of the previous season, there was no way for Cersei to deny the existence of the White Walkers (thanks to a zombie in a box). She lies to her would-be allies, claiming that she’ll send reinforcements to the North.
When she tells Jaime of her (hardly surprising) duplicity, he’s incensed. He knows that the White Walkers are an existential threat — and that, even if she’s right, they’ll wind up fighting whoever wins the battle that’s surely going to happen in the North. Cersei figures that she can let Jon and Dany duke it out, and she’ll remain safe and in power down in King’s Landing. (She’s just the worst.)
At that moment, Jamie can’t help but see the truth of his awful sister. He effectively disavows Lannisters, by any means necessary, and heads north to join the fight.
It’s against that backdrop that Jaime arrives in Winterfell in season 8.
The people in Winterfell
All you have to do is look at the frame above from the first episode of season 8, and you’ll see the mess that Jaime’s in. Let’s talk about some those people and Jaime’s effect on them.
Jaime and Bran Stark
In Game of Thrones’ first episode, Brandon Stark is a 10-year-old boy who climbs a tower in Winterfell and happens upon the queen’s wife, Cersei Lannister, and her twin brother Jaime exchanging the littlefinger.
To prevent their secret from getting out, Jaime pushes little Bran out of a window. “The things I do for love,” he says.
Bran survives, though he’s comatose. Jaime leaves Winterfell and returns to King’s Landing.
The boy eventually wakes, but he’s paralyzed from the waist down. Through a long and winding series of events, Bran becomes the Three-Eyed Raven, effectively a human imbued with magical powers like the ability to see through time (as you do). He’s also sort of wise and detached enough to be weird, as his stares in episode 1 constantly remind us. Also, it’s not clear that Bran sees himself as Bran Stark anymore.
The last scene of season 8, episode 1 is Jaime looking at Bran — the first time these two have been together since the very beginning of the first season. They’re both confronting their past from different angles. Bran may have a score to settle with Jaime.
Then again, Bran was also the character in the first episode of season 8 who argued against distraction in favor of preparation.
“We don’t have time for all this,” he says as Dany and Sansa talk in the Winterfell courtyard. “The Night King has your dragon. He’s one of them now. The Wall has fallen; the dead march south.”
So maybe he’s not out for blood. Even assuming that the Three-Eyed Raven is concerned about revenge (which isn’t clear), his stance in “Winterfell” could be a setup for Bran being the voice of reason in the trial against Jaime. His potential argument: I’m the one with the biggest beef against him, and I’m telling you to put it aside. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.
And he’s the only one who knows that Jaime shoved him out a window, right? He’s under no obligation to share that information.
Jaime and Daenerys Targaryen
Back when Jaime was a teenager, he joined the Kingsguard, an organization that does exactly what its name sounds like: They’re the royal bodyguards of whoever sits on the Iron Throne.
When Jaime joined the Kingsguard, that was Aerys II Targaryen, the Mad King.
When Robert’s Rebellion broke out, pitting some of the great houses of Westeros against the throne, the Lannisters remained loyal to the mad Targaryen king. Jaime pleaded with the king not to trust his father, Tywin, but the king wouldn’t listen to him.
As Robert’s troops approached King’s Landing (where the king lived), Tywin switched his allegiance, joined the rebels, and helped sack King’s Landing.
According to Jaime, when things went pear-shaped for the king, the Mad King’s plan was to burn the city to the ground. Before Aerys could enact his plan to torch King’s Landing (screaming “burn them all!” over and over), Jaime stabbed the king in the back, earning the nickname Kingslayer and ending the Targaryen dynasty.
It may well be that Jaime did the right thing, but he’s still the Kingslayer.
Here’s the thing: Aerys II Targaryen was Daenerys Targaryen’s father. She’s got a bit of a grudge to settle.
If that was the only thing that had ever happened between them, it’d be bad enough. But it’s not. Last season, Jaime commanded the Lannister army against Dothraki forces, backed by dragons, all at the command of Daenerys Targaryen. The Lannister army fought well, but it was no match for Dany’s troops and her dragons. After nearly dying, Jaime left in defeat.
Jaime and the rest of the Starks
Game of Thrones begins as King Robert Baratheon and the Lannister children arrive in Winterfell. Robert convinces Ned Stark to be the new Hand of the King.
Ned, along with his daughters Arya and Sansa, and the whole royal party, return to King’s Landing. Jaime is generally an arrogant ass to everyone he comes in contact with.
Jaime leads a group of soldiers to capture Ned Stark, who’s threatened to expose an uncomfortable truth: Robert Baratheon’s children aren’t his children. They’re Jaime and Cersei’s children. Ned survives the ambush, but Cersei manages to have him decapitated.
Meanwhile, Ned’s wife Catelyn Stark abducts Tyrion Lannister. The Starks, under the leadership of King Robb Stark, capture Jaime. Eventually, they (attempt to) trade him for Arya and Sansa.
The last time Jaime and Jon Snow talked, Jaime mocked Jon for joining the Night Watch.
Look: The Starks have basically no reason to like or trust a Lannister, let alone Jaime, who was once (ahem) in bed with his twin sister, who now sits on the Iron Throne. There’s plenty of suspicion to go around.
Jaime and Brienne of Tarth
Brienne of Tarth first meets Jaime during season 2. Catelyn Stark releases Jaime from captivity, and tasks Brienne with taking him to King’s Landing in exchange for her daughters.
During their travels to King’s Landing, he escapes. They fight. She wins. They get captured. A captor cuts off Jaime’s hand. They wind up in King’s Landing as companions if not buddies.
They last saw each other at the Dragonpit, where Cersei got undeniable proof that the army of the dead is real, courtesy of a zombie in a box.
There’s an affection there. She knows, perhaps more than anyone, how legitimately difficult it is to be Jaime Lannister. It’s possible that Brienne could speak to Jaime’s evolution. Her position in season 8 may not be antagonistic. She may be the man’s one hope.