[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones through season 8, episode 2.]
In the sentimental second episode of Game of Thrones’ final season, Lady Brienne of Tarth realizes her lifelong dream: She becomes a knight.
At last, Brienne has a proper title to go with her deeds. How long she enjoys it, and why she had to wait until today, are maybe questions for some other time. But there by the hearth at Winterfell, as the heroes contemplated their likely ends in the next day’s battle, Jaime Lannister invoked the right of any knight to make another a knight, and now Brienne is.
The moment is pure fan service, as well it should be. Save for Jon Snow, Brienne is the one rampart of honor among a cast of heroes and antiheroes with more compromised moral structures. The device the writers called on, to make Jaime the one who knights her, is perfectly apropos. She, after all, redeemed Jaime in the eyes of the viewer — even made him likable, a thought that would seem flat-out impossible to anyone just now seeing their first meeting in season 2.
Brienne could not ordinarily be made a knight because, of course, of “tradition.” Tradition being her gender, from which her size and battle prowess had also estranged her. Nonetheless, she worked in all the departments of knighthood over the years. She was named to Renly Baratheon’s Kingsguard; she avenged him by finishing off Stannis Baratheon after his defeat at Winterfell. Pledged to Lady Catelyn Stark, she undertook both the mission to smuggle Jaime back to King’s Landing and then to find and secure the safety of Catelyn’s daughters, Arya and Sansa.
At Riverrun in season 6, we understood her absolutism in meeting her commitments. Sent there to bring back Brynden Tully and his forces for the Battle of Winterfell, she informed Jaime that if her secret negotiations inside the besieged keep failed, she would be bound to fight him. She offered to return the sword Jaime gave her when he first sent her to find and protect Sansa. Jaime, of course, refused. A sword named Oathkeeper could only belong in her hand, after all.
So in the knighting scene (which begins with a hearty “fuck tradition!” from her not-so-secret admirer, Tormund) we’re given the joy of good things coming to someone who deserves them. Brienne shrugs off the (accurate) “Lady Brienne” title at Tyrion’s mention of it, and falsely pushes away her knighthood ambition rather than face that kind of rejection once more. And she has been hurt by rejection; recall her story of being mocked by the suitors to her own matchmaking ball, where Renly came to her defense and won her unswerving loyalty.
It may seem a little late in the game, given how far Brienne has already gone as a de facto knight, and what little may remain of the Seven Kingdoms for her to defend after the coming battle, if she herself survives. But it does show that Game of Thrones can deliver a payoff for a character with real substance in her adventures and who, even if she never wavered in her moral code, was endearingly complicated by her success and failure in them.
What this means for fan-service resolutions for other characters with long-running goals (thinking of Arya’s list, or Sandor “The Hound” Clegane’s eventual confrontation with brother Gregor, aka The Mountain), who knows, really. The series is unafraid to kill characters even in their happiest moments, after all. But it respects the fans’ investment in the character that they can now, properly, call her Ser Brienne.