“…wolves’ work, or maybe lions, what’s the difference?”
SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.
Jaime II of ASOS is a great little bottle episode, dripping with a nasty atmosphere of suspicion, undertones of danger, and poisonous mistrust. The Inn of the Kneeling Man, which we’ll see again before this book is done, resembles nothing so much as Minnie’s Haberdashery from Tarantino’s Hateful Eight, a false shelter that offers neither safety nor security. In all of this, it is the perfect location to further the relationship between Jaime and Brienne, equally characterized by mistrust, resentment, and a barely-supressed desire for bloodshed.
The Inn of the Kneeling Man
So let’s talk about the location that this entire chapter revolves around, because GRRM does a wonderful job here of building up a mood of subtle wrongness:
Jaime was the first to spy the inn. The main building hugged the south shore where the river bent, its long low wings outstretched along the water as if to embrace travelers sailing downstream. The lower story was grey stone, the upper whitewashed wood, the roof slate. He could see stables as well, and an arbor heavy with vines. “No smoke from the chimneys,” he pointed out as they approached. “Nor lights in the windows.”
“The inn was still open when last I passed this way,” said Ser Cleos Frey. “They brewed a fine ale. Perhaps there is still some to be had in the cellars.”
“There may be people…hiding. Or dead.”
An inn is supposed to be a place of refuge and safety; its basic business model, it’s central function is to provide hospitality and thus the safety of guest-right to travelers in a dangerous world. But as we’ll see shortly, the functions and symbolism of the inn have been turned inside-out. While the outward signs of prosperity are still there (the stonework and slate roof, the vinyard rich with grapes) the ordinary signs of life are gone. Light and smoke – the promise of the hearth fire as defense against the darkness and source of nourishment – have become dangerous liabilities in a war-zone and so must be hideen away.
More pointedly, this inn is the Inn of the Kneeling Man, and so more than any other symbolizes peace and the end of war:
At the end of the dock, a flaking shingle swung from an iron post, painted with the likeness of a king upon his knees, his hands pressed together in the gesture of fealty. Jaime took one look and laughed aloud. “We could not have found a better inn.”
…Ser Cleos answered. “This is the Inn of the Kneeling Man, my lady. It stands upon the very spot where the last King in the North knelt before Aegon the Conqueror to offer his submission. That’s him on the sign, I suppose.”
In the War of the Five Kings, the Inn finds itself not only in the middle of a war zone, but a war specifically between the King in the North and the King on the Iron Throne; it’s as if Torrhen’s submission never happened and the last three hundred years have just disappeared. This feeling of the familiar becoming unfamiliar extends to Jaime himself – given where it lies on the direct route from Casterly Rock to King’s Landing, Jaime must have stayed at the Inn of the Kneeling Man many times; indeed, while it’s not stated in the text, odds are that this one of the places a young Jaime stayed when he traveled from Casterly Rock to Harrenhal to be made a member of the Kingsguard. And now he returns as the Kingslayer.
A Child-Soldier and an Innkeep Who Isn’t
However, because Jaime hasn’t really begun his journey of internal reflection, he doesn’t accept that any of these changes to this familiar place are significant, any more that he can accept that that there might be some significant changes in his own life. And as a result, not for the last time in this character arc, he almost gets himself killed:
Without waiting for an answer, Jaime went clinking down the dock, put a shoulder to the door, shoved it open…and found himself eye to eye with a loaded crossbow. Standing behind it was a chunky boy of fifteen. “Lion, fish, or wolf?” the lad demanded.
“We were hoping for capon.” Jaime heard his companions entering behind him. “The crossbow is a coward’s weapon.”
“It’ll put a bolt through your heart all the same.”
“…We mean no harm,” the wench said. “And we have coin to pay for food and drink.” She dug a silver piece from her pouch.
…The boy lowered the crossbow an inch. “Undo your swordbelts and let them fall, and might be we’ll feed you.”
This moment is deliberately jarring in how it reverses the normal order of things. Jaime, Brienne, and Ser Cleos are met with violent hostility rather than hospitality; even that violent hostility comes in an unexpected form, that of a child-soldier. The boy with the crossbow is a warning that the breakdown of the social contract that the Lannisters’ conduct of the War of Five Kings has unleashed will have dangerous implications, even for people who think their privilege and power will protect them. As Thomas Hobbes pointed out in the wake of his own civil war, “for as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself.” (Leviathan, Part I, Chapter XIII) For all that Jaime blusters and threatens and sneers in defense of his romantic illusions of glorious swordsmanship, a child with a crossbow can kill him by pulling the trigger just as easily as Tyrion will kill Tywin at the end of Jaime’s arc in ASOS.
We see further proof of the breakdown of the social order when the “innkeep” arrives and explains what the boy is doing there. He’s not the innkeep’s child, “just a boy the wife and me took in. We had two sons, but the lions killed one and the other died of the flux. The boy lost his mother to the Bloody Mummers. These days, a man needs someone to keep watch while he sleeps.” As with so many wars before and since, families are ripped apart by disease and the equally random violence of armed men; new, makeshift families are formed out of the sheer necessity of survival (we never get any sense of an emotional connection between the “boy” and “the wife and me“) and so an orphan becomes a guard and a family can sleep at night.
These paired themes of disorder and mistrust only accelerate when we get to know the “innkeep” in question, because every detail that emerges only serves to throw up more red flags:
A sallow man with a pocked doughy face stepped through the cellar door, holding a butcher’s heavy cleaver….“I’m no innkeep. I buried him out back, with his women.”
“Did you kill them?”
“Would I tell you if I did?” The man spat. “Likely it were wolves’ work, or maybe lions, what’s the difference? The wife and I found them dead. The way we see it, the place is ours now.”
“Where is this wife of yours?” Ser Cleos asked.
The man gave him a suspicious squint. “And why would you be wanting to know that? She’s not here…no more’n you three will be, unless I like the taste of your silver.”
Each response, each bit of information wrong-foots the reader because it doesn’t track with normal human interactions – look at how quickly he volunteers the potentially incriminating information that he’s not really the innkeep and that the real innkeep is “buried…out back,” and how unconcerned he is about allegations that he murdered the rightful owner, compared to how closed-mouth he is about a seemingly simple question about the whereabouts of his wife, who you’d normally expect to see helping him run the tavern. All of these miss-steps suggest a display of suspicion and mistrust that the reader begins to pick up on and reflect back. At the same time, just as the boy with the crossbow was a sign that family structure has broken down in the face of the War of Five Kings, here we see the civilized laws of inheritance and succession breaking down. Property owners die just as randomly (I love the “wolves’ work, or maybe lions, what’s the difference?” as a brilliant summation of how war against civilian population obliterates the differences between the sides) as the penniless. Their vacant property goes not to their next of kin, who might well be dead or refugeed, but to whoever is on the spot to grab it: “the wife and I found them dead. The way we see it, the place is ours now.” It’s an interesting twist on the old saw about “possession being nine-tenths of the law” – now proximity to the corpse grants ownership.
And these are the smallfolk who the Brotherhood Without Banners are protecting; it’s a harsh, unromantic portrait of a people who are without illusions or scruples (by virtue of necessity far more than any defect of character) trying to survive by any means necessary. As I’ve said before one of the best moves that GRRM makes is that he doesn’t romanticize the smallfolk as capital-P “the People” – not only is it far more respectful of real, flawed, individual humanity, but it also makes the important point that (contrary to fairytale ethics, you don’t need to be Disney-level virtuous to be worthy of protection from the Brave Companions and their ilk – that ought to be a basic human right in any civilization. (It also makes for good foreshadowing for the morally complicated Brotherhood Without Banners when we finally get to meet them…)
What Is the Worth of a Gold Coin?
But perhaps the best example of the way that the Inn of the Kneeling Man shows the civilized social order breaking down is what happens when Brienne and Co. attempt to purchase horses – potentially a necessity for the next step in the journey (more on that in a bit), but also what ought to be a normal transaction. Instead, the transaction turns out to be anything but normal:
“There are horses here,” Jaime pointed out. “I heard one in the stable.”
“Aye, there are,” said the innkeep, who wasn’t an innkeep. “Three of them, as it happens, but they’re not for sale.”
…only the three horses to be seen. They made an unlikely trio; a lumbering brown plow horse, an ancient white gelding blind in one eye, and a knight’s palfrey, dapple grey and spirited. “They’re not for sale at any price,” their alleged owner announced…”
“…How did you come by these horses?” Brienne wanted to know.
“The dray was stabled here when the wife and me come on the inn,” the man said, “along with the one you just ate. The gelding come wandering up one night, and the boy caught the palfrey running free, still saddled and bridled. Here, I’ll show you.”
The weirdness starts with the fact that the “innkeep” is unwilling, despite his family’s dire economic straits, to sell what is in the end superfluous luxury items that require both expensive and time-consuming upkeep…but is willing to sell “horsemeat enough for three,” despite the fact that these horses are worth far more as transportation or beasts of burden than they are as food (especially in a knightly society which prices horses at a third of an average year’s income). It continues with the fact that, just as the Inn of the Crossroads is proof of the breakdown of property rights, the dray is abandoned property “stabled here when the wife and me come on the inn,” and the gelding and palfrey clearly ran away from a battlefield and have been claimed on the same principle that the inn itself was.
But the biggest sign that the social order is breaking down is when the “innkeep” explains why he’s unwilling to make this commercial exchange:
“”Well, her owner won’t be coming to claim her anytime soon.”
“I will pay you a dragon for each.”
He blinked and reached for the gold, then hesitated and drew his hand back. “I don’t know. I can’t ride no golden dragon if I need to get away. Nor eat one if I’m hungry.”
As the folks from Extra History have explained in excellent form, the idea of currency is a social construct. Whether you’re talking about paper money or metal coins, at the end of the day, neither are that useful in and of themselves; as the “innkeep” notes, you can’t eat gold and you can’t use it for most functions of survival since it’s an almost entirely ornamental metal. The value of money, both in fiat and metallic currencies, are social: it faciliates commerce between people, by giving them a common unit of exchange that both know in advance the other will accept.
So when there is no society, when there is only the war of all-against-all, money loses its value. (And lest the goldbugs or bitcoin enthusiasts get the wrong idea, this is true for any currency – as Terry Pratchett points out, “gold is only valuable because we agree it is, right? It’s just a dream. But a potato is always worth a potato, anywhere.”) And especially in Westeros, this value is ultimately based more on the status of the king than the metals involved – the coin is a symbol of the right of the sovereign to mint money that it will exchange for goods and accept as taxes. Thus, the fact that this “innkeep” won’t take coins suggests that royal taxation, and thus royal authority, has completely broken down in the Riverlands. (One of many subtle little hints that the “innkeep’s” loyalty to the Iron Throne is compromised by his collaboration with the Brortherhood.)
Two Roads Diverged in a Warzone
Once Brienne has managed to acquire some mounts from a not-particularly-trustworthy source (for reasons we’ll get into a second), she has to confrnt the difficult question of which route to take to cross the Riverlands and get to King’s Landing, which amounts to trying to answer the impossible question of where do you find safety in a war zone? Every option seemingly poses existential risks:
“I’d stay well clear of that kingsroad, if I were you,” the man went on. “It’s worse than bad, I hear. Wolves and lions both, and bands of broken men preying on anyone they can catch.”
“…I mean to follow the Trident to the sea,” the wench told their host. “We’ll find mounts at Maidenpool and ride by way of Duskendale and Rosby. That should keep us well away from the worst of the fighting.”
Their host shook his head. “You’ll never reach Maidenpool by river. Not thirty miles from here a couple boats burned and sank, and the channel’s been silting up around them. There’s a nest of outlaws there preying on anyone tries to come by, and more of the same downriver around the Skipping Stones and Red Deer Island. And the lightning lord’s been seen in these parts as well. He crosses the river wherever he likes, riding this way and that way, never still.”
The roads are unsafe because of armies and bandits, so Brienne hopes to use the rivers as a wave to “keep us well away from the worst of the fighting,” but she really should know better from the previous chapter that the rivers are also unsafe because of armies…and bandits too, as we learn here. (And as if to put a sharper point on the talk of bandits and “broken men,” we see Beric Dondarrion nipping into the dialogue just like in Harrenhal, his legend as a Will-o’-the-Wisp outlaw growing with leaps and bounds every time his name is spoken.) This points us to a hidden barb that runs throughout this chapter: every choice that Brienne faces here is a Hobson’s choice, which is rather appropriate for a chapter that revolves so much around a stable and the choice of transportation, in which every option is equally bad.
The same dilemma applies to the choice of when to go: do you go in the morning or do you go now? The “innkeep” isn’t entirely wrong that there are downsides to leaving right now:
“You’ll be wanting to stay the night.”
“No,” Brienne said at once.
The man frowned at her. “Woman, you don’t want to go riding at night through strange country on horses you don’t know. You’re like to blunder into some bog or break your horse’s leg.”
“The moon will be bright tonight,” Brienne said. “We’ll have no trouble finding our way.”
“No, coz, the wench is right. We have promises to keep, and long leagues before us. We ought ride on.”
“But,” said Cleos, “you said yourself—”
“Then.” When I thought the inn deserted. “Now I have a full belly, and a moonlight ride will be just the thing.”
Riding through unknown and (as previously established) dangerous territory in the middle of the night is not a great idea, especially when your only means of transportation (which you’ve just purchased at an extremely high price) is totally disabled by a broken ankle. In any normal circumstance, staying overnight in an inn would be a no-brainer – after all, as we’ve discussed above, staying overnight is what inns are for – but as we’re beginning to understand, there are dark, unspoken reasons why staying at the Inn of the Kneeling Man would be a terrible, terrible idea. Jaime doesn’t say why just yet, GRRM still has tension to build, but it’s enough to plant the unsettling idea that “they’re not alone here” especially when we’ve already stablished that this is not a place where you can close your eyes at night safely without someone with a crossbow watching your back.
Finally, the same predicament applies to which direction to travel. As indicated by the map above, finding a safe route through the Riverlands isn’t easy given the number of armies present and their penumbras of scouts, outriders, reavers, and broken men. But it gets even more difficult when your local guide is trying to direct you into the arms of the Brotherhood Without Banners:
“If m’lady cares to wager her skin on that I won’t stop her…but if I was you, I’d leave this here river, cut overland. If you stay off the main roads and shelter under the trees of a night, hidden as it were…well, I still wouldn’t want to go with you, but you might stand a mummer’s chance.”
“Six miles downriver you’ll see a burned village,” their host said as he was helping them saddle the horses and load their packs. This time he directed his counsel at Brienne. “The road splits there. If you turn south, you’ll come on Ser Warren’s stone towerhouse. Ser Warren went off and died, so I couldn’t say who holds it now, but it’s a place best shunned. You’d do better to follow the track through the woods, south by east.”
So what evidence do we have that the “innkeep” was in league with the Brotherhood Without Banners and trying to send them into an ambush? Well, as Brienne will point out, “the man took too great an interest in our choice of route, and those woods…such places are notorious haunts of outlaws. He may have been urging us into a trap.” Likewise, the whole mystery with the stables where Jaime found “far too much horse shit about here for my taste” is GRRM’s punny way of suggesting that the Inn of the Crossroads has been stabling the horses of the Brotherhood Without Banners and then directing travellers their way in exchange for a share of their takings.
But here’s where Hobson’s choice once again undercuts the simpler narrative. While it’s absolutely true that “our host has friends down that road, I would venture,” that doesn’t make the other routes any safer. As Brienne points out, “he may have been lying about the river as well, to put us on these horses…but I could not take the risk. There will be soldiers at the ruby ford and the crossroads.” Indeed, when Brienne and co. get to the turning point, I would argue GRRM is deliberately evoking the Robert Frost poem:
“When they reached the burned village, a choice of equally unpromising roads confronted them; narrow tracks, deeply rutted by the carts of farmers hauling their grain to the river. One wandered off toward the southeast and soon vanished amidst the trees they could see in the distance, while the other, straighter and stonier, arrowed due south. Brienne considered them briefly, and then swung her horse onto the southern road. Jaime was pleasantly surprised; it was the same choice he would have made.”
Contrary to what you may remember from high school English classes, isn’t about the importance of taking the road less travelled by – rather, Frost is poking fun at people who self-importantly hold themselves up as the kind of iconoclasts for making such a choice between two roads that he earlier points out are identical. Thus, in a rare moment of actually showing respect for Brienne (more on which in a bit) Jaime approves of Brienne’s choice to avoid the “innkeep’s” suggested route and thus the suspected ambush. However on a re-read, we know that there is actually no difference between the two routes. The Brotherhood Without Banners lies at the end of the south-eastern fork, that’s true…but the Bloody Mummers lie at the end of the southern fork, which means an ambush and kidnapping was inevitable no matter which direction Brienne chose. Indeed, as I’ll discuss more in the “What If?” section, it might even have been preferable to be captured by the former rather than the latter.
Jaime and Brienne
So now that we’ve got the main plot out of the way, let’s check in on the development of the Jaime/Brienne relationship, which remains just as antagonistic as it was the previous chapter. Throughout Jaime II, our POV character is constantly thinking about either trying to kill Brienne – “The clink of his chains accompanied his every movement. An irritating sound. Before this is done, I’ll wrap these chains around the wench’s throat, see how she likes them then.” – or to escape her custody – “Horses in the stable. One at least.” And one is all I need to put the wench behind me.” – which (given his oath to Catelyn Stark) rather undercuts his pretense that he’s actually an honorable guy and it’s the world that’s unfair and hypocrticial.
What is new in this chapter is that we get a somewhat better understanding of why Jaime is so violently angry towards someone who is, after all, doing her level best to get him back to King’s Landing and Cersei. Repeatedly, Jaime associates Brienne with his chains, blaming her for his captivity:
Before this is done, I’ll wrap these chains around the wench’s throat, see how she likes them then.
The links were cold and hard against his flesh, the iron implacable. The manacles had chafed his wrists raw…
He hoped she might strike the irons off his wrists as well, but Brienne was still suspicious. She split the ankle chain in the center with a half-dozen sharp blows from the smith’s hammer delivered to the blunt end of a steel chisel. When he suggested that she break the wrist chain as well, she ignored him.
But beyond that, Jaime is simply pissed off that Brienne, who was standing in the room when Jaime confessed to being an attempted child-murderer, is judging him for being a bad person: “He was tired of being disregarded by this huge ugly cow of a woman…I’ve had enough of feeble pieties and maidens’ judgments.” Indeed, there’s a marked similarity between Jaime’s reaction here and how he reacted to Catelyn questioning the morality of his actions – in a very real sense, Jaime holds himself above judgement and reacts in a childishly spiteful fashion any time he encounters it. And so in a spiteful and borderline suicide-by-cop fashion, Jaime begins deliberately provoking Brienne into violence:
“My name is-“
“-Brienne, yes. Has anyone ever told you that you’re tedious as you are ugly?”
“You will not provoke me to anger, Kingslayer.”
“Oh, I might, if I cared enough to try.”
He begins by needling her over her gender, having observed that “the wench does hate being reminded that she’s a wench.” And it doesn’t take long for Jaime to hit a vulnerable spot here, given Brienne’s rather complicated relationship with her gender:
Jaime sat against the bole of an oak and wondered what Cersei and Tyrion were doing just now. “Do you have any siblings, my lady?” he asked.
Brienne squinted at him suspiciously. “No. I was my father’s only s—child.”
Jaime chuckled. “Son, you meant to say. Does he think of you as a son? You make a queer sort of daughter, to be sure.”
Wordless, she turned away from him, her knuckles tight on her sword hilt. What a wretched creature this one is. She reminded him of Tyrion in some queer way, though at first blush two people could scarcely be any more dissimilar. Perhaps it was that thought of his brother that made him say, “I did not intend to give offense, Brienne. Forgive me.”
It is fascinating to see how Jaime only acts as a decent person when he can make some sort of comparison between the person he’s talking to and a member of his immediate family, which in Jaime’s weird genetic-exception-to-sociopathy mentality suddenly makes them a real person. And it’s interesting that Jaime should make the comparison between her and Tyrion, because it’s a rare moment of introspection about intersectionality – despite the fact that Brienne’s physical abilities are prodigious and one of her strongest assets and Tyrion’s physical disability is used to exclude and dehumanize him, and the fact that Tyrion often tries to over-act his gender to compensate for his disability whereas Brienne doesn’t try to do the opposite, both of them are marginalized figures.
Now, Jaime’s hesitancy and chivalrous apology isn’t going to last more than a few seconds, so let’s talk about Brienne’s relationship with her gender, which is a topic that I have to admit to short-shrifting during my coverage of ACOK (there was a lot going on in Catelyn V and I ran out of time/space), and which many writers much better versed in gender theory than myself have examined this in some detail. It’s a very complicated issue: when Brienne slips up and calls herself an only son, is that because her self-identity is male, or because she wants to have access to the rights and status of a man (which is what Jaime thinks, which ironically would make Brienne a close parallel to Cersei), or because Brienne has difficulty performing femininity, or because of her complicated relationship with her father (more on this when we get to AFFC)?
Despite Jaime’s constant needling, however, it turns out that gender doesn’t actually work as Brienne’s beserk button (probably because she’s been used to men mocking her on those grounds for most of her life):
“…Spare me your envy. It was the gods who neglected to give you a cock, not me.”
“…Had Renly spurned you, was that the way of it? Or perhaps your moon’s blood was on you. Never give a wench a sword when she’s bleeding.”
For a moment Jaime thought Brienne might strike him. A step closer, and I’ll snatch that dagger from her sheath and bury it up her womb. He gathered a leg under him, ready to spring, but the wench did not move.
Instead, what Jaime finds that really works is bringing up Renly’s murder, which is a far more fertile topic for discussion because of the way that it links Brienne’s desire to be a knight and her adherence to the ideals of knighthood to Jaime’s ruined idealism and his past and present status as the Kingslayer. Following his form from previous discussions, Jaime’s first move is to try to establish moral equivalency and his second move is to throw as much mud around in as many directions as possible (hence his gendered insults above) to deflect attention from his own culpability:
“We’re both kingslayers here, if what I’ve heard is true.”
“I never harmed Renly. I’ll kill the man who says I did…Lady Catelyn was there when His Grace was murdered, she saw. There was a shadow…”
“Your wits are quicker than mine, I confess it. When they found me standing over my dead king, I never thought to say, ‘No, no, it wasn’t me, it was a shadow, a terrible cold shadow.'” He laughed again. “Tell me true, one kingslayer to another—did the Starks pay you to slit his throat, or was it Stannis?”
“It is a rare and precious gift to be a knight,” she said, “and even more so a knight of the Kingsguard. It is a gift given to few, a gift you scorned and soiled.”
A gift you want desperately wench, and can never have.
…The look Brienne gave him then was full of loathing. She would gladly hack me to pieces, but for her precious vow, he reflected. Good.
But what’s fascinating is that, rather than Brienne getting riled up, Jaime gets angered enough to actually think and talk about his own backstory.
Behind the Kingslayer: VH1 Explores the Rise and Fall of Jaime Lannister, Teen Heartthrob
So finally Jaime begins to talk about his past, to try to explain himself and his actions…except that in a profoundly frustrating fashion, he does this almost entirely inside his own head, and he won’t actually verbalize any of this until he gets to Harrenhal. This is the sum total of his actual dialogue with Brienne:
“Your crimes are past forgiving, Kingslayer.”
“That name again.” Jaime twisted idly at his chains. “Why do I enrage you so? I’ve never done you harm that I know of.”
“You’ve harmed others. Those you were sworn to protect. The weak, the innocent…”
“…the king?” It always came back to Aerys. “Don’t presume to judge what you do not understand, wench.”
“…You are not old enough to have known Aerys Targaryen…”
“Aerys was mad and cruel, no one has ever denied that. He was still king, crowned and anointed. And you had sworn to protect him.”
“…Why did you take the oath?” she demanded. “Why don the white cloak if you meant to betray all it stood for?”
Why? What could he say that she might possibly understand?
“…I earned my knighthood. Nothing was given to me. I won a tourney mêlée at thirteen, when I was yet a squire. At fifteen, I rode with Ser Arthur Dayne against the Kingswood Brotherhood, and he knighted me on the battlefield. It was that white cloak that soiled me, not the other way around.”
Look at how elliptical and obscure Jaime is being in this moment; constantly evading the real question (look at how Brienne constantly brings it back to the issue of oaths) and trying to turn it back on his interrogator, darkly alluding to hidden truths (“Don’t presume to judge what you do not understand…You are not old enough to have known Aerys Targaryen….It was that white cloak that soiled me“) without actually providing information or insight. What we have here is someone on the verge of honesty, someone who desperately wants to unburden and/or justify himself, but who can’t bring himself to cross the vocal threshold.
And part of what makes this hesitation so annoying is that we the reader are inside his head and know what he has to say – and it’s so important that you really want him to share this information rather than being a sullen emo teen. So let’s start with the first anecdote:
…he had joined the Kingsguard for love, of course.
Their father had summoned Cersei to court when she was twelve, hoping to make her a royal marriage. He refused every offer for her hand, preferring to keep her with him in the Tower of the Hand while she grew older and more womanly and ever more beautiful. No doubt he was waiting for Prince Viserys to mature, or perhaps for Rhaegar’s wife to die in childbed. Elia of Dorne was never the healthiest of women.
Jaime, meantime, had spent four years as squire to Ser Sumner Crakehall and earned his spurs against the Kingswood Brotherhood. But when he made a brief call at King’s Landing on his way back to Casterly Rock, chiefly to see his sister, Cersei took him aside and whispered that Lord Tywin meant to marry him to Lysa Tully, had gone so far as to invite Lord Hoster to the city to discuss dower. But if Jaime took the white, he could be near her always. Old Ser Harlan Grandison had died in his sleep, as was only appropriate for one whose sigil was a sleeping lion. Aerys would want a young man to take his place, so why not a roaring lion in place of a sleepy one?
“Father will never consent,” Jaime objected.
“The king won’t ask him. And once it’s done, Father can’t object, not openly. Aerys had Ser Ilyn Payne’s tongue torn out just for boasting that it was the Hand who truly ruled the Seven Kingdoms. The captain of the Hand’s guard, and yet Father dared not try and stop it! He won’t stop this, either.”
“But,” Jaime said, “there’s Casterly Rock…”
“Is it a rock you want? Or me?”
He remembered that night as if it were yesterday. They spent it in an old inn on Eel Alley, well away from watchful eyes. Cersei had come to him dressed as a simple serving wench, which somehow excited him all the more. Jaime had never seen her more passionate. Every time he went to sleep, she woke him again. By morning Casterly Rock seemed a small price to pay to be near her always. He gave his consent, and Cersei promised to do the rest.
A moon’s turn later, a royal raven arrived at Casterly Rock to inform him that he had been chosen for the Kingsguard. He was commanded to present himself to the king during the great tourney at Harrenhal to say his vows and don his cloak.
Jaime’s investiture freed him from Lysa Tully. Elsewise, nothing went as planned. His father had never been more furious. He could not object openly—Cersei had judged that correctly—but he resigned the Handship on some thin pretext and returned to Casterly Rock, taking his daughter with him. Instead of being together, Cersei and Jaime just changed places, and he found himself alone at court, guarding a mad king while four lesser men took their turns dancing on knives in his father’s ill-fitting shoes. So swiftly did the Hands rise and fall that Jaime remembered their heraldry better than their faces. The horn-of-plenty Hand and the dancing griffins Hand had both been exiled, the mace-and-dagger Hand dipped in wildfire and burned alive. Lord Rossart had been the last. His sigil had been a burning torch; an unfortunate choice, given the fate of his predecessor, but the alchemist had been elevated largely because he shared the king’s passion for fire. I ought to have drowned Rossart instead of gutting him.
Needless to say, this passage is one bombshell after another. The first is that Jaime joined the Kingsguard because of Cersei, with both of them working against their father’s plans for their selfish ends (which happens so often throughout the series, from Cersei’s affairs to Jaime attacking Ned to Cersei screwing up the coup). Indeed, I think a big part of the reason why Jaime is so insistent, in the manner of every child of privilege, that he earned his white cloak is that he actually knows that he didn’t do anything to deserve it and only got it because an old man died and Cersei fed Aerys a line (hence the later scene with the White Book).
The second bombshell, and this is the thing I had not noticed or remembered, is that Jaime didn’t really want to do it and got chivvied into it by Cersei. I remembered the bit about Cersei coming to Jaime in disguise, but I had forgotten that Jaime’s initial reaction to her proposal was a number of demurrals which culminated with “But…there’s Casterly Rock.” This suggests that, contrary to his later discussions with Tywin in ASOS, there was a period in his life where Jaime really did want to follow his father’s plans for his life and be the heir to Casterly Rock. Indeed, I would argue that there is some subconscious resentment of Cersei for persuading him to follow her scheme, where “nothing went as planned” and the two of them ended up separated – such that he lost Casterly Rock and his sister both.
Which left Jaime “alone at court, guarding a mad king” as that king began to destroy his own regime out of paranoia and spite. And this is what speaks to the ideals of knighthood discussed above and Jaime’s statement that the white cloak soiled him, because Jaime’s objection to Aerys (at least in the moment) seems to be aesthetic more than anything else:
But when he closed his eyes, it was Aerys Targaryen he saw, pacing alone in his throne room, picking at his scabbed and bleeding hands. The fool was always cutting himself on the blades and barbs of the Iron Throne. Jaime had slipped in through the king’s door, clad in his golden armor, sword in hand. The golden armor, not the white, but no one ever remembers that. Would that I had taken off that damned cloak as well.
When Aerys saw the blood on his blade, he demanded to know if it was Lord Tywin’s. “I want him dead, the traitor. I want his head, you’ll bring me his head, or you’ll burn with all the rest. All the traitors. Rossart says they are inside the walls! He’s gone to make them a warm welcome. Whose blood? Whose?”
“Rossart’s,” answered Jaime.
Those purple eyes grew huge then, and the royal mouth drooped open in shock. He lost control of his bowels, turned, and ran for the Iron Throne. Beneath the empty eyes of the skulls on the walls, Jaime hauled the last dragonking bodily off the steps, squealing like a pig and smelling like a privy. A single slash across his throat was all it took to end it. So easy, he remembered thinking. A king should die harder than this. Rossart at least had tried to make a fight of it, though if truth be told he fought like an alchemist. Queer that they never ask who killed Rossart…but of course, he was no one, lowborn, Hand for a fortnight, just another mad fancy of the Mad King.
Ser Elys Westerling and Lord Crakehall and others of his father’s knights burst into the hall in time to see the last of it, so there was no way for Jaime to vanish and let some braggart steal the praise or blame. It would be blame, he knew at once when he saw the way they looked at him…
“The castle is ours, ser, and the city,” Roland Crakehall told him, which was half true. Targaryen loyalists were still dying on the serpentine steps and in the armory, Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch were scaling the walls of Maegor’s Holdfast, and Ned Stark was leading his northmen through the King’s Gate even then, but Crakehall could not have known that. He had not seemed surprised to find Aerys slain; Jaime had been Lord Tywin’s son long before he had been named to the Kingsguard.
“Tell them the Mad King is dead,” he commanded. “Spare all those who yield and hold them captive.”
“Shall I proclaim a new king as well?” Crakehall asked, and Jaime read the question plain: Shall it be your father, or Robert Baratheon, or do you mean to try to make a new dragonking? He thought for a moment of the boy Viserys, fled to Dragonstone, and of Rhaegar’s infant son Aegon, still in Maegor’s with his mother. A new Targaryen king, and my father as Hand. How the wolves will howl, and the storm lord choke with rage. For a moment he was tempted, until he glanced down again at the body on the floor, in its spreading pool of blood. His blood is in both of them, he thought. “Proclaim who you bloody well like,” he told Crakehall. Then he climbed the Iron Throne and seated himself with his sword across his knees, to see who would come to claim the kingdom. As it happened, it had been Eddard Stark.
You had no right to judge me either, Stark.
Given that he’s yet to actually unburden himself about what he witnessed as Aerys’ Kingsguard (even to himself) we don’t have a sense that Jaime had any other reason to kill Aerys than because he deeply disliked having to serve someone he thought was personally unworthy to be king (“The fool was always cutting himself on the blades and barbs of the Iron Throne…A king should die harder than this”) and because Aerys then made the damn fool mistake of ordering Jaime to kill his father or die. As revelatory as this moment ought to be (after all, Jaime is reliving the biggest moment in his life) there’s still a lot we don’t understand about what’s going on: we don’t know why he decided to kill Rossart first and why he has such a personal hatred for the man; we don’t know whether the golden armor reference suggests Jaime resigning his office or whether it has a deeper significance; and so on.
On a re-read, I find myself fascinated by Jaime’s reaction to having killed the king. In sharp contradiction to his defensive reaction to Ned Stark, Jaime is immediately aware of the moral and social implications of his actions: his first instinct is to “vanish and let some braggart steal the praise or blame,” which suggests an unexplored level of guilt and shame; and he can see how he’s going to be treated based on the first people he encounters afterwards – “it would be blame, he knew at once when he saw the way they looked at him.” And this moment is especially pointed, because these are his father’s loyal men, men who were complicit in the Rains of Castamere and the Sack of King’s Landing, and they can’t quite conceal their revulsion at his actions. And this despite the fact that they expected Jaime to commit this deed – “He had not seemed surprised to find Aerys slain; Jaime had been Lord Tywin’s son long before he had been named to the Kingsguard” – because this is the kind of things Lannisters do. (What a testament to their own moral hypocrisy and the depths of Jaime’s transgression…) If there is an origin for Jaime’s later rejection of Casterly Rock in Jaime VII of ASOS, I think it was this moment.
Finally, I really like the moment where Jaime is asked “shall I proclaim a new king as well,” because it neatly answers a lot of asks I’ve gotten on Tumblr about potential alternative ends to Robert’s Rebellion. Simply put, it was never an option for Jaime to “try to make a new dragonking.” While the teenage Jaime is tempted at the idea of making “the wolves…howl, and the storm lord choke with rage,” the reality is that Eddard Stark had gotten his army inside the gates of King’s Landing and had another four-nation army behind him. (The same logic holds even more strongly against naming Tywin king – not only would he have the rebel alliance against him, but also the remaining Targaryen loyalists in the Reach and Dorne.) But beyond the immediate military question, the long-term politics of a “…a new Targaryen king, and my father as Hand” were never going to work; as Jaime recognizes when he says “his blood is in both of them,” even before the murders of Rhaenys, Elia, and Aegon, the Lannisters had Targaryen blood on their hands and the future King would have been bound by those older laws of blood that Stannis speaks of to seek revenge.
As I’ve talked about elsewhere, premodern cultures took guest-right and hospitality very very seriously as necessary cultural protections for travellers in a world before law and order. The inn was another such cultural adaptation. To quote myself:
“Historically speaking, because there was much less travel in the (especially in the early) Middle Ages than in later periods, there were far fewer establishments that catered to travelers, unless you were on a major trade route or pilgrimage or the like. So what you had was a lot of taverns that just sold alcohol and nothing else, because people were expected to eat at home, and people were expected to sleep at home, and pilgrims were expected to find lodging in monasteries.”
“As we get to the High and Late Middle Ages, more and more people were traveling for business and other secular purposes, and the number of pilgrims had outstripped the supply of beds in monasteries. There was more demand for more services, so you started to see inns (as opposed to taverns) popping up that provided rooms to let, and those places tended to serve food to travelers.”
Despite (or even because of) the usefulness of these establishments, there has always been a good deal of cultural anxiety about inns. After all, where you have travellers, you get bandits looking to relieve them of their worldly possessions, because (in a world without police where local communities enforced the law against their own) strangers with movable property are an easy mark. Inns offered an excellent source of information about potential marks and, more importantly, were also one of the few sources of capital who could fence stolen merchandise. Thus, there has been an association between innkeeps and bandits (and smugglers and pirates and highwaymen) that goes all the way back to the Babylonian Talmud and has influenced the common law and legal statutes from the time of Queen Elizabeth to the mid-19th century.
Likewise, in the popular culture and in history, there have been many examples of innkeeps who decided to disrupt the innkeep-bandit economy by cutting out the middlemen and rob or kill their clientele directly. This imagery crops up in Hollywood movies, the Grimms Brothers’ fairytales, in tales of murder from the English-Scottish border, and any number of historical incidents. But perhaps the most famous murdering innkeep of all time was one William Hare (of “Burke and Hare” fame), who ran a lodging house in Edinburgh in the 1820s.
According to testimony from the trial, it all started one of Hare’s lodgers died of natural causes. In order to recoup unpaid back-rent, Hare and his friend William Burke sold his body to a prominent Edinburgh doctor for anatomy lessons. After a few months, the two entrepeneurial gentlemen realized that rather than waiting for guests to die of natural causes, they could disrupt the lodging-house-anatomy industry by just killing Hare’s guests and selling the bodies. (Hare’s lodging house catered almost entirely to migrant laborers, who were unlikely to have relatives come looking for them.) In order to keep the bodies in good nick and thus worth more to the anatomists, Burke and Hare invented a brand-new way of killing people (which was promptly named “burking” after the trial; presumably Hare wasn’t interested in his share of the copywrite revenue): one of them would hold a pillow or hand across the knee or mouth to prevent the victim from taking in a breath, while the other knelt on the victim’s chest to prevent their lungs from inflating.
In this fashion, Burke and Hare murdered some 16 people over ten months and earned about £160 in the process (worth roughly £16,000 in today’s money). Just goes to show, there are worse fates than being ambushed by reavers…
I’m not going to go back to Jaime’s backstory in these What Ifs?, in part because these events aren’t actually happening in these chapters, but also because the chain of causality would get quite long and unwieldy and I don’t want this section to get ridiculously long. Instead, I think there’s one major hypothetical for this chapter:
- Brienne and Co. rode south-east instead of south? As I’ve said above, Brienne and Jaime are going to get captured no matter which route they try to take. But if they’d gone south-east instead of due south (which is a bit confusing, because Harrenhal is actually south-east of the Inn of the Kneeling Man, whereas the Brotherhood’s area of operations is closer to due south. It’s possible that they were speaking in relative terms, facing from the Inn to King’s Landing, which would explain matters, but it’s awkward phrasing), they would have gotten kidnapped by the Brotherhood Without Banners instead.
- And this is where things are going to get interesting indeed. For one thing, Jaime’s not going to get his hand chopped off by a sadist like Vargo Hoat; even in present time, the Brotherhood doesn’t stoop to mutilation and torture. He might have to fight the undying, fire-wielding Beric Dondarrion – after all, Jaime actually is responsible for bringing war against the smallfolk of the Riverlands – and that would be one hell of a duel! But in the mean-time, there would be some very interesting cross-pollination: Brienne might encounter Arya before the Red Wedding, which would complicate her oath to Catelyn and Jaime’s prisoner exchange considerably (since it shows that the Lannisters were negotiating in bad faith the whole time); Brienne might encounter Sandor before the Quiet Isle, which would complicate her post-Purple Wedding search in interesting ways. And Jaime encountering either Arya or Sandor would be really interesting, given his earlier intent to kill the first and the way that the second might complicate his thinking about loyalty, service, and knighthood.
- But beyond character interactions, this changes the plot interestingly – with both Arya and Jaime in hand, the BWB might make more of a bee-line to Riverrun, which could change both the Red Wedding plot and the second siege of Riverrun plot.
Book vs. Show:
Given that this scene was basically excised from the show, I don’t have much to say in terms of Book to Show here. Check back next time where I’ll discuss the duel, Vargo Hoat becoming Locke, and musical cues regarding the loss of hands!