“They took my sword hand. Was that all I was, a sword hand?”
Synopsis: Jaime tries to die, but decides to live instead.
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.
When I started this project back in 2012, I knew that this chapter would be a significant one – it is, after all, where Jaime begins to change dramatically as a POV character, starting the slow transformation that will see him break with the routines of the past in search of a new identity and a new purpose (if not the contentious r-word).
What I didn’t know was that this chapter would be so personal. If you’ve followed Race for the Iron Throne for a while, you already know what I’m talking about, but for any new readers I should explain that a bit over a year ago, I became an amputee. My surgery was far more civilized than Jaime’s, but in reading this chapter I feel a resonance in both body and mind:
His hand burned
Still, still, long after they had snuffed out the torch they’d used to sear his bloody stump, days after, he could still feel the fire lancing up his arm, and his fingers twisting in the flames, the fingers he no longer had.
He had taken wounds before, but never like this. He had never known there could be such pain. Sometimes, unbidden, old prayers bubbled from his lips, prayers he learned as a child and never thought of since, prayers he had first prayed with Cersei kneeling beside him in the sept at Casterly Rock. Sometimes he even wept, until he heard the Mummers laughing. Then he made his eyes go dry and his heart go dead, and prayed for his fever to burn away his tears. Now I know how Tyrion has felt, all those times they laughed at him.
This description of phantom limb pain – the way that the pain insistently reminds you of the simultaneous presence and absence of your missing limb, so that the loss is never truly part of your past, something you can put behind you – rings true. GRRM employs a bit of poetic license in describing the pain as fiery (my own case is more of a prickling or stabbing pain) to tie the ongoing sensation to the memory of cauterization as a way to evoke that sense that the trauma is still happening. What’s missing is the way that phantom limb syndrome turns your sense of proprioception against you, that part of the pain and discomfort is the strong sensation that your notional limb is locked in a particular position, and the way that this challenges your sense of control over both body and mind, because no matter how much you will the ghostly appendage to move, the parts of your brain that are misinterpreting lost signals refuse to listen to your conscious commands.
That issue of pain is somewhat distinct from the broader issue of disability – which comes to the fore later on – which is also broached when Jaime feels a deeper empathy for Tyrion in the wake of becoming disabled himself. Interestingly, Jaime frames Tyrion (and his) disability less in terms of physical limitations than in terms of mockery from the outside world. Part of that is due to the fact that Jaime hasn’t yet experienced trying to do things without his dominant hand; part of that is due to the fact that having a bad reputation is the one thing that he’s familar with having in common with Tyrion; but most of it is due to him being surrounded by the Bloody Mummers.
Nursing Staff From Hell
While it’s not discussed as often as other aspects of good medical care, one’s social environment plays an important role in recovery. Unfortunately for Jaime, his social envrionment is dominated by Bloody Mummers: (Fortunately for Jaime, Brienne is also there.)
…they bound him tight to Brienne of Tarth and made them share a horse again. One day, instead of back to front, they bound them face-to-face. “The lovers,” Shagwell sighed loudly, “and what a lovely sight they are. ‘Twould be cruel to separate the good knight and his lady.” Then he laughed that high shrill laugh of his, and said, “Ah, but which one is the knight and which one is the lady?”
If I had my hand, you’d learn that soon enough, Jaime thought. His arms ached and his legs were numb from the ropes, but after a while none of that mattered. His world shrunk to the throb of agony that was his phantom hand, and Brienne pressed against him. She’s warm, at least, he consoled himself, though the wench’s breath was as foul as his own.
Since I got dragged on twitter for not paying enough attention to the Jaime/Brienne shippy subtext last time, let me acknowledge that here we get the start of an ongoing theme as Jaime and Brienne as lady and knight, a role the two of them will trade back and forth in future chapters, with Jaime acting the gallant later in this chapter and again in the bear pit, but Brienne taking up his quest when they get back to King’s Landing. (I will note, however, that chivalric romances rarely end as happily as their shippers might wish.)
Having Brienne there is all the more important, because Jaime finds himself unable to fight back against his captors, thrown back into the limits of his own body by the overwhelming pain of amputation compounded with sloppy cauterization and raging infection. That would be bad enough on its own, but the problem that Jaime finds himself with is that his captors aren’t content with the level of injury they’ve inflected already, and instead feel the need to literally compound injury with insult:
His hand was always between them. Urswyck had hung it about his neck on a cord, so it dangled down against his chest, slapping Brienne’s breasts as Jaime slipped in and out of consciousness. His right eye was swollen shut, the wound inflamed where Brienne had cut him during their fight, but it was his hand that hurt the most. Blood and pus seeped from his stump, and the missing hand throbbed every time the horse took a step.
Once they handed him a cup and he quaffed it straight away, trembling, and the Brave Companions burst into laughter so loud and harsh it hurt his ears. “That’s horse piss you’re drinking, Kingslayer,” Rorge told him. Jaime was so thirsty he drank it anyway, but afterward he retched it all back up. They made Brienne wash the vomit out of his beard, just as they made her clean him up when he soiled himself in the saddle.
While perhaps a bit more high concept than most forms of torture, the Bloody Mummers’ penchant for humiliation is no less damaging to sense of self. Urswyck’s cruel bit of prop comedy means that Jaime literally can’t move on from the loss of his hand, carrying it around with him like the Ancient Mariner carries the embodiment of his guilt. Similarly, Rorge’s trick with the cup of equine urine further emphasizes the extent to which Jaime, so used to acting in the world through the mastery of his body (and not his mind), is now at the mercy of his body’s needs.
The only alternative to this treatment is Brienne, who is drafted into acting as a nurse (in part out of the reflexive sexism of “women’s work,” and in part to humiliate her by forcing her to handle shit and vomit). While no doubt Brienne acted with her bone-deep common decency, there is an inherent feeling of helplessness and embarrasment that can come with needing another person to deal with your most basic bodily functions that means that Brienne’s presence alone is not enough to stop Jaime from reacting in a desperate and characteristic fashion:
One damp cold morning when he was feeling slightly stronger, a madness took hold of him and he reached for the Dornishman’s sword with his left hand and wrenched it clumsily from its scabbard. Let them kill me, he thought, so long as I die fighting, a blade in hand. But it was no good. Shagwell came hopping from leg to leg, dancing nimbly aside when Jaime slashed at him. Unbalanced, he staggered forward, hacking wildly at the fool, but Shagwell spun and ducked and darted until all the Mummers were laughing at Jaime’s futile efforts to land a blow. When he tripped over a rock and stumbled to his knees, the fool leapt in and planted a wet kiss atop his head.
Rorge finally flung him aside and kicked the sword from Jaime’s feeble fingers as he tried to bring it up. “That wath amuthing, Kingthlayer,” said Vargo Hoat, “but if you try it again, I thall take your other hand, or perhapth a foot.”
As befits his self-image as the peerless swordsman anti-hero, Jaime wants to go out with “a blade in hand”; this is his idea of a beautiful death. But the result of his actions throws into relief the paucity and shallowness of his mental playbook: real pain, real disability, doesn’t let you off the hook just because your narrative requires the hero’s ease of action. And unlike the obliging goon squads of genre fiction, the Bloody Mummers have no respect for Jaime’s authorship and decide to turn the scene into a cruel farce, with Shagwell an evil harlequin capering in the center. The punchline: you are too weak to be a threat worthy of death; you have no agency over your life; and if you try to regain it, we will further torment and degrade your body until we let you die.
Even after his futile bid for quietus, Jaime doesn’t quite understand how obsolete his script has become; he can’t break free on his own. It takes Brienne stepping beyond her role as caretaker to give him a different perspective:
“Jaime, what are you doing?”
“Dying,” he whispered back.
“No,” she said, “no, you must live.”
He wanted to laugh. “Stop telling me what [to] do, wench. I’ll die if it pleases me.”
“Are you so craven?”
The word shocked him. He was Jaime Lannister, a knight of the Kingsguard, he was the Kingslayer. No man had ever called him craven. Other things they called him, yes; oathbreaker, liar, murderer. They said he was cruel, treacherous, reckless. But never craven. “What else can I do, but die?”
“Live,” she said, “live, and fight, and take revenge.” But she spoke too loudly. Rorge heard her voice, if not her words, and came over to kick her, shouting at her to hold her bloody tongue if she wanted to keep it.
Craven, Jaime thought, as Brienne fought to stifle her moans. Can it be? They took my sword hand. Was that all I was, a sword hand? Gods be good, is it true?
She does so by challenging his emo anti-hero persona, attacking it at its point of strength. As we’ve seen for a while, Jaime was able to deal with being considered an “oathbreaker, liar, murderer” with a self-image as a fearless truth-teller who sees past the false ideals he had once believed in. However, this misanthropic stance required the sense of being above the rules that came with believing that he could kill anyone who objected to his words or deeds.
Where the issue of cowardice really comes in here is that Jaime is ultimately afraid of a life where he isn’t the Kingslayer, of having to build a new identity without the crutch of immunity of consequences. In a typically existential fashion, Brienne argues that resistance is its own reward, that any new purpose, any identity is better than oblivion. And surprise, surprise, it actually works:
The wench had the right of it. He could not die. Cersei was waiting for him. She would have need of him. And Tyrion, his little brother, who loved him for a lie. And his enemies were waiting too…
When morning came, he made himself eat. They fed him a mush of oats, horse food, but he forced down every spoon. He ate again at evenfall, and the next day. Live, he told himself harshly, when the mush was like to gag him, live for Cersei, live for Tyrion. Live for vengeance. A Lannister always pays his debts. His missing hand throbbed and burned and stank. When I reach King’s Landing I’ll have a new hand forged, a golden hand, and one day I’ll use it to rip out Vargo Hoat’s throat.
Despite a life devoted to honing his body rather than his mind, of emphasizing instinctual reaction over intellectual reflection, Jaime is able (with Brienne’s prodding) to recall parts of his identity that go beyond being a swordsman: he’s also Cersei’s brotherlover, Tyrion’s regular brother, and he’s a Lannister and thus can rely on his family’s wealth and status to get revenge. (Speaking of things that complicate Jaime’s r-word arc, it’s worth noting that the first incarnation of Jaime Goldenhand is firmly about revenge rather than justice.) And this new, family-based identity is sufficient to get Jaime to want to survive, no matter what indignity he has to endure.
But the truth about any kind of recovery is that it doesn’t make for a clear narrative, with a neat three act structureneat three act structure. Because only a page after he decides to live and build a new identity outside of his sword hand, he immediately relapses:
…Jaime’s walls were gone. They had taken his sword hand, and without it he was nothing. The other was no good to him…it was his right hand that made him a knight; his right arm that made him a man.
GRRM is quite fond of having characters backslide on character growth, and it’s one of the things that ASOIAF readers tend to find frustrating, whether it’s Tyrion’s infatuation with Shae or his depressive melancholy in ADWD, or more commonly Sansa’s romanticism. But at the same time, I would argue that it’s one of the most human truths that GRRM has to tell. (I can say for certain that my own recovery has involved a lot of advances and setbacks, so I can somewhat empathize with Jaime here.) So of course Jaime isn’t able to permanently transform his core self-identity on the basis of one inspiring speech when thirty years of his life and ongoing bodily trauma is on the other side of the scales.
The Bloody Mummers Make Their Move (TW: Sexual Assault)
What keeps Jaime from falling completely into his previous suicidal despair is the fact that Jaime isn’t alone in his suffering – Brienne is also there as both a model of behavior and someone in need of Jaime’s protection:
Brienne was always bound beside him. She lay there in her bonds like a big dead cow, saying not a word. The wench has built a fortress inside herself. They will rape her soon enough, but behind her walls they cannot touch her…
It was the next night when they finally came, three of the worst; Shagwell, noseless Rorge, and the fat Dothraki Zollo, the one who’d cut his hand off. Zollo and Rorge were arguing about who would go first as they approached; there seemed to be no question but that the fool would be going last. Shagwell suggested that they should both go first, and take her front and rear. Zollo and Rorge liked that notion, only then they began to fight about who would get the front and who the rear.
They will leave her a cripple too, but inside, where it does not show. “Wench,” he whispered as Zollo and Rorge were cursing one another, “let them have the meat, and you go far away. It will be over quicker, and they’ll get less pleasure from it.”
“They’ll get no pleasure from what I’ll give them,” she whispered back, defiant.
Stupid stubborn brave bitch. She was going to get herself good and killed, he knew it. And what do I care if she does? If she hadn’t been so pigheaded, I’d still have a hand. Yet he heard himself whisper, “Let them do it, and go away inside.” That was what he’d done, when the Starks had died before him, Lord Rickard cooking in his armor while his son Brandon strangled himself trying to save him. “Think of Renly, if you loved him. Think of Tarth, mountains and seas, pools, waterfalls, whatever you have on your Sapphire Isle, think . . .”
While I’m somewhat way of re-litigating the issue of sexual assault in ASOIAF, given the scene we’re discussing it can’t really be helped. What I will say is that, tot he extent that GRRM believes that his writing reflects historical realism, this scene probably comes closest to his model of war-time atrocities: a mercenary band who’ve been marauding across the countryside have taken a female prisoner and a war crime is about to occur. That still doesn’t explain the decidedly off-the-battlefield incidents that crop up in ASOIAF, but it’s worth pointing out that GRRM isn’t entirely inconsistent with his own arguments.
That being said, it’s also important to note that this scene isn’t being staged for shock value or prurience; GRRM is drawing a broader parallel betwen Jaime and Brienne in how they confront assaults on their person and personhood. Is Brienne going to come out of this a “cripple…but inside” or a “fortress”; in other words, is she going to be a Jaime or an anti-Jaime? Is it better to resist to the end, or to “let them do it and go away inside”? Both characters’ responses are deeply rooted in their backstories: as we’ll learn in more detail in AFFC, Brienne has been beating down men who’ve tried to use violence to force her into compliance with gender roles; and here, we see Jaime’s thinking has been profoundly shaped by having to witness Aerys II’s horrors. Finally, the incident spurs a change in behavior; witnessing an alternative to his deliberate inaction is a necessary element in getting Jaime to rethink his patterns of behavior going forwards.
And surprise, surprise, after hearing Brienne’s point of view, Jaime doesn’t actually take his own advice:
But Rorge had won the argument by then. “You’re the ugliest woman I ever seen,” he told Brienne, “but don’t think I can’t make you uglier. You want a nose like mine? Fight me, and you’ll get one. And two eyes, that’s too many. One scream out o’ you, and I’ll pop one out and make you eat it, and then I’ll pull your fucking teeth out one by one.”
“Oh, do it, Rorge,” pleaded Shagwell. “Without her teeth, she’ll look just like my dear old mother.” He cackled. “And I always wanted to fuck my dear old mother up the arse.”
Jaime chuckled. “There’s a funny fool. I have a riddle for you, Shagwell. Why do you care if she screams? Oh, wait, I know.” He shouted, “SAPPHIRES,” as loudly as he could.
Cursing, Rorge kicked at his stump again. Jaime howled. I never knew there was such agony in the world, was the last thing he remembered thinking. It was hard to say how long he was gone, but when the pain spit him out, Urswyck was there, and Vargo Hoat himself. “Thee’th not to be touched,” the goat screamed, spraying spittle all over Zollo. “Thee hath to be a maid, you foolth! Thee’th worth a bag of thapphireth!” And from then on, every night Hoat put guards on them, to protect them from his own.
In his life, Jaime has tended to handle most situations with violence without much thought to the consequences; here Jaime doesn’t have that option and instead uses his brains for a change, realizing that he can play Vargo Hoat’s desire for long-term profit against Shawell, Rorge, and Zollo’s focus on short-term gratification. It’s not a poor job of manipulation for a first-timer.
* Incidentally, I’ve been thinking about the difference between the Mountain’s Men and the Bloody Mummers. As vile as they are, the Mountain’s Men tend toward the banality of evil (thinking especially of the Tickler here), and their dehumanization is instrumental – they want loot, they want information, they want slaves for Harrenhal. But the Bloody Mummers are sadists and psychopaths straight out of a Rob Zombie movie; for them, torture and degradation are the end not the means, and they’re almost loathe to kill people, because it’s not fun if the victim’s suffering ends.
However, this incident raises a new question: why does one of the most self-centered POV characters in ASOIAF suddenly do something profoundly selfless? In other words, why does Jaime do what he does?
Two nights passed in silence before the wench finally found the courage to whisper, “Jaime? Why did you shout out?”
“Why did I shout ‘sapphires,’ you mean? Use your wits, wench. Would this lot have cared if I shouted ‘rape’?”
“You did not need to shout at all.”
“You’re hard enough to look at with a nose. Besides, I wanted to make the goat say ‘thapphireth.'”
“All the same,” she said. “I thank you, ser.”
His hand was throbbing again. He ground his teeth and said,”A Lannister pays his debts. That was for the river, and those rocks you dropped on Robin Ryger.”
Complicating our analysis, Jaime offers multiple explanations for one action: he acted out of self-interest, because he doesn’t want to look at an even-uglier Brienne; he acted out of obligation, because Brienne saved him from recapture; he acted out of a desire for amusement, because Vargo Hoat’s Sylvester the Cat-style speech impediment is funny. Or perhaps Jaime acted in the finest knightly tradition – defending the honor of a lady even at the risk of further injury to his stump. Parsing which option is correct is made all the more difficult by the fact that Jaime is probably the most tsundere character in all of ASOIAF, both in this conversation and in his earlier interior monologue about Brienne “going to get herself good and killed, he knew it. And what do I care if she does? If she hadn’t been so pigheaded, I’d still have a hand.”
You Can’t Go To Harrenhal Again
With the immediate threat having passed, the chapter shifts to a new location and a new topic, as the party arrives at Harrenhal. For Jaime, this means both physically and mentally returning to the place that changed his life forever:
“…Harrenhal was where they gave me the white cloak,” he whispered back. “Whent’s great tourney. He wanted to show us all his big castle and his fine sons. I wanted to show them too. I was only fifteen, but no one could have beaten me that day. Aerys never let me joust.” He laughed again. “He sent me away. But now I’m coming back.”
…The castleton outside the walls had been burned to ash and blackened stone, and many men and horses had recently encamped beside the lakeshore, where Lord Whent had staged his great tourney in the year of the false spring. A bitter smile touched Jaime’s lips as they crossed that torn ground. Someone had dug a privy trench in the very spot where he’d once knelt before the king to say his vows. I never dreamed how quick the sweet would turn to sour. Aerys would not even let me savor that one night. He honored me, and then he spat on me.
One of the things that really stood out in this re-read is how much backstory is in this chapter that I had thought was in Jaime V due to the extraordinary power of that monologue. Even before we got to Harrenhal, we had the “go away inside” moment where Jaime thinks back to witnessing the deaths of Rickard and Brandon Stark, and now we get Jaime’s perspective on the Tourney of Harrenhal. What emerges is a theme that Jaime’s life was one long missed opportunity for chivalric glory (setting up for the White Book scene later): while Jaime Lannister is a famous tourney knight, he never got the chance to joust in the most famous tourney of his generation, where the emotional high of being named to the Kingsguard could well have propelled him to victory. It’s as if Ser Barristan had been sent off the field at Blackhaven rather than being allowed to earn his sobriquet and establish his reputation.
This moment of being sent away is from the tourney is incredibly important in Jaime’s life. He’d just made a grievous error that disrupted his relationship with his twin sister, which he could have rationalized as a necessary sacrifice for the chance to serve with honor, except for what happened the moment he put on the cloak. This is the first moment where Jaime realized that life is not a song, that the handsome young knight doesn’t always get to win the tourney and name the Queen of Love and Beauty.
Following the Fisher King model, this change in Jaime’s memories is mirrored by the physical changes to Harrenhal itself, with the tourney grounds turned into a campsite for reivers and “someone had dug a privy trench in the very spot where he’d once knelt before the king to say his vows.” The glory of the past has literally turned to shit and ashes; some metaphors don’t need to be subtle.
The ruined castle is not merely a lens through which we can view the past, because GRRM starts here to drop hints that the Boltons and Freys have turned on the Starks:
“Lord Bolton holds this castle. The Boltons are bannermen to the Starks.”
“The Boltons skin their enemies.”
“…The banners,” Brienne observed. “Flayed man and twin towers, see. King Robb’s sworn men. There, above the gatehouse, grey on white. They fly the direwolf.”
Jaime twisted his head upward for a look. “That’s your bloody wolf, true enough,” he granted her. “And those are heads to either side of it.”
For someone who’s not particularly known for his deep knowledge of heraldry or history, it’s a little suspect that Jaime suddenly recalls that “the Boltons skin their enemies,” a practice that’s closely associated with the Boltons’ history as anti-Stark rebels. And if GRRM wasn’t wildly flourishing with his other hand to distract the reader from the upcoming Red Wedding, the association here between the Freys, Boltons, and a “bloody wolf” and decapitated “heads” would be way too heavy-handed a hint about what’s going to happen.
But in addition to heraldic symbolism, once Jaime and Brienne are inside the castle, the reactions of people to their arrival are all off. No one’s acting like a loyal Stark subject:
“I am Brienne of Tarth, daughter to Lord Selwyn the Evenstar, and sworn to House Stark even as you are.”
Ser Aenys spit at her feet. “That’s for your oaths. We trusted the word of Robb Stark, and he repaid our faith with betrayal.”
“…I know of no betrayal….Lady Catelyn commanded me to deliver Lannister to his brother at King’s Landing…if he dies the Lannisters will put my lady’s daughters to death.”
Ser Aenys was unmoved. “Why should that trouble us?”
The anger of Ser Aenys Frey (nicely setting up how his temper will eventually get the better of him) is somewhat expected, given how Robb’s return to Riverrun went down. But acting totally unconcerned about the death of children (and not particularly fussed about capturing Jaime Lannister) is another thing entirely. This should be a giant red flag, but Jaime’s pretty out of mentally and not on the Starks’ side, and Brienne isn’t good enough at politics to read the signs correctly. Even if she had, there’s literally nothing she could do in this circumstance to change anything, fitting the tragic model.
Roose Bolton in the House
Speaking of meeting new people, Jaime IV is also where GRRM re-introduces us to Roose Bolton, because we haven’t seen him in half a book and he’s about to become one of the major villains in the series:
“He is no one’s should he die.” Roose Bolton spoke so softly that men quieted to hear him. “And pray recall, my lord, you are not master of Harrenhal till I march north.”
Fever made Jaime as fearless as he was lightheaded. “Can this be the Lord of the Dreadfort? When last I heard, my father had sent you scampering off with your tail betwixt your legs. When did you stop running, my lord?”
Bolton’s silence was a hundred times more threatening than Vargo Hoat’s slobbering malevolence. Pale as morning mist, his eyes concealed more than they told. Jaime misliked those eyes. They reminded him of the day at King’s Landing when Ned Stark had found him seated on the Iron Throne.
While Vargo Hoat and the Bloody Mummer’s cartoonish horrorshow dominates the first half of the chapter, this description instantly foregrounds Roose Bolton as the real threat, all quiet menace and icy self-control, the Bond villain to their Batman goon squad. And while Jaime makes an association between Roose and Ned Stark, the real parallel to me is Roose’s partner in crime, against whom Jaime’s witticisms also fail to achieve an impact.
The Lord of the Dreadfort finally pursed his lips and said, “You have lost a hand.”
“No,” said Jaime, “I have it here, hanging round my neck.”
Roose Bolton reached down, snapped the cord, and flung the hand at Hoat. “Take this away. The sight of it offends me.”
“I will thend it to hith lord father. I will tell him he muth pay one hundred thouthand dragonth, or we thall return the Kingthlayer to him pieth by pieth. And when we hath hith gold, we thall deliver Ther Jaime to Karthark, and collect a maiden too!” A roar of laughter went up from the Brave Companions.
“A fine plan,” said Roose Bolton, the same way he might say, “A fine wine,” to a dinner companion, “though Lord Karstark will not be giving you his daughter. King Robb has shortened him by a head, for treason and murder. As to Lord Tywin, he remains at King’s Landing, and there he will stay till the new year, when his grandson takes for bride a daughter of Highgarden…The Battle of Blackwater changed all. The rose and the lion joined there, to shatter Stannis Baratheon’s host and burn his fleet to ashes.”
“…Is there word of my sister?” he asked.
“She is well. As is your…nephew,” a pause that said I know.
Here we get a wonderfully condensed bit of dialogue, which does a lot all at once. First, we see that Roose Bolton (who enters the scene saying that he’s not going to give up Harrenhal until he marches north) has already tired of Vargo Hoat, which sets up Roose’s plan to serve the goat up to Tywin Lannister now that he no longer needs him. In almost the same breath, we see how the changing political winds is altering everyone’s trajectories: Hoat’s plan to find safety in the North is undone by Lord Karstark’s rash action; Tywin’s military strategy has shifted to an arm’s length approach due to his need to firm up the Tyrell alliance; and while Roose Bolton leaves his own calculations unspoken (save for a typically ironic statement that “in such troubled times it is hard to know friend from foe,” it’s pretty clear that Roose’s decision about whether to commit himself to the Red Wedding plan hinged very much on the outcome of both the Battle of Blackwater and Jaime landing in his lap.
Needless to say, this is something that we’ll discuss in much more detail in the next Jaime chapter.
A Kindly Neighborhood Physician
Before the chapter ends, however, Jaime’s character arc reaches a satisfactory end-point for the chapter as he takes decisive action to save his life (reversing his earlier attempts to die either in combat or from starvation) and to do it on his own terms:
In the maester’s chambers beneath the rookery, a grey-haired, fatherly man named Qyburn sucked in his breath when he cut away the linen from the stump of Jaime’s hand…
“…The safest course would be to take the arm off.”
“Then you’ll die,” Jaime promised. “Clean the stump and sew it up. I’ll take my chances.”
Qyburn frowned. “I can leave you the upper arm, make the cut at your elbow, but…”
“Take any part of my arm, and you’d best chop off the other one as well, or I’ll strangle you with it afterward.”
“…There will be pain.”
“A great deal of pain.”
“I’ll scream very loudly.”
Jaime’s dialogue could come off as more immature bravado (albeit of a more self-deprecating nature than in the past), because as he doesn’t yet know he won’t be able to get back to fighting fit even with a golden prosthetic. However, I can say from experience that the decision to amputate and where makes you care about each inch, when it’s the difference between amputation at the wrist or the elbow (or above or below the knee). Seemingly arbitrary lines take on worlds of meaning, when every last inch gives you more muscle to work with, more leverage to apply to the prosthetic, a different quality of life altogether. To Jaime, it’s a statement of intent: this cursed trek from Riverrun to King’s Landing isn’t going to get any more of him than it’s already gotten:
“You have done this before,” muttered Jaime, weakly….
“No man who serves with Vargo Hoat is a stranger to stumps. He makes them wherever he goes.”
Qyburn did not look a monster, Jaime thought. He was spare and soft-spoken, with warm brown eyes.
But in the process, Jaime makes a horrible misjudgement of character, confusing the quiet, gentle, paternal manners that Qyburn uses as a mask to hide the scientific mass-murderer who lies underneath. And because Jaime doesn’t think to ask why someone with such “warm brown eyes” would want to serve a man known as the Crippler, he comes to trust Qyburn, so Cersei comes to trust Qyburn. And because Cersei trusts Qyburn, women will be turned into disposable puppeteers, men and women will be tortured into madness, and corpses will rise from death to slay the living.
Truly, the valonqar will destroy Cersei in more ways than one.
When we last left off the story of Götz von Berlichingen, he had lost his hand in an improbable cannon-on-swordblade incident during the siege of Landshut. Normally, you would think that this would be the end of his military career, but Götz had the good fortune to be living in Renaissance Germany rather than Westeros, and the local artisans were up on the latest mechanical advances. The result was the famous Iron Hand of Götz, which quickly became his calling card:
Rather than just giving him a solid lump of gold, Götz’s artisans developed a quite impressive system of springs which allowed the fingers to extend (open), and which could be locked in place in various positions by use of a ratchet mechanism on the wrist. In this fashion, Götz was able to use both tools that required a strong grip (the reins of a horse or a shield in battle) and tools that required precision and delicacy (like a quill pen).
With this accomodation in hand, Götz went right back into his career as a mercenary knight with a penchant for feuding with knights, lords, bishops, or entire cities (Nuremberg, Cologne, Ulm, Aubsgerg, etc.). This particular pastime meant that he was repeatedly placed under Imperial ban or put on trial by various Imperial Diets, but luckily for him his raiding ways meant that he was able to come up with fines of several thousand guilders and buy his way out of trouble. And so he passed the years between his amputation in 1504 and 1522 engaging in private wars, kidnapping counts for ransom and having to be ransomed himself, and would likely have continued in happy obscurity for the rest of his life.
Except that in 1524, the peasants of Germany rose up against their feudal overlords, and in the process changed Götz’s reputation forever. But that’s a story for another time.
Leaving aside the past hypothetical about what would have happened if Jaime had been allowed to fight at the Tourney of Harrenhal (which is really better covered in a Tumblr ask, hint hint), there’s really only one hypothetical I’m interested in covering:
- Jaime dies? The combination of suicidal ideation and raging infection from amateur surgery means that the odds of Jaime dying in this chapter were quite high. If Jaime dies at this point in the story, some things change more than others:
- Roose might have had second thoughts about his alliance with Tywin if Jaime had died; certainly Tywin would have sought vengeance, but at the same time, Roose has significantly committed himself to the plan, so it might be too late.
- What’s more clear is that it’s likely that Brienne dies in the bear pit, which has knock-on effects, such that Podrick Payne’s at loose ends, and a whole host of villains from Shagwell and his cronies to Rorge and Biter avoid death and continue to ravage the Riverlands.
- One thing that probably wouldn’t change is that Tyrion would still be released from the black cells, since Varys still has means, motive, and opportunity to do the deed on his own. However, without the added spur of learning the truth about Tysha, Tyrion might not kill Tywin and Shae, which would leave the Lannisters in a much better situation in the short-erm and would certainly mean that Tyrion would be in a better head-space in ADWD, and would probably have made different choices in Essos.
- Without being able to boast of saving Jaime, Qyburn doesn’t become Master of Whisperers, and thus Frankengregor isn’t created, which probably means that Cersei loses her trial by combat. Then again, if Tywin’s dead, the handling of the Sparrow movement would probably have gone very differently, butterflying away the High Sparrow’s coup d’état.
- Another big change is that the siege of Riverrun doesn’t end when it does in OTL. This potentially changes the direction of the Riverlands plot significantly; while I think a loyalist rebellion is still inevitable, it’s likely to be more top-down, with Brynden Tully able to coordinate the loyalist houses into concerted action in the name of the Tullys and Starks, as opposed to the Brotherhood Without Banners kicking off a more specifically anti-Frey/Lannister uprising.
But then again, prophecy makes for good plot armor.
Book vs. Show:
I’m definitely not the first person to say this, but one of the more unfortunate tendencies in the way that Benioff and Weiss write women characters is they really don’t like feminine traits. Female characters like Brienne or Arya who are presented as “strong” or “cool” are presented that way because they’re warriors and assassins – things we associated more as masculine pastimes – and because they are openly disdainful of their own gender. This is quite different from their characterization in ASOIAF, where both characters deal with a good deal of insecurity about their inability to perform femininity to the standards, rather than rejecting the very concept as something to be admired. Thus, it’s quite noticeable than when Brienne shames Jaime into choosing to live in Episode 4 of Season 3, she says he “sounds like a bloody woman.” This is quite a shift from the Brienne of ASOIAF, who swears her sword to Catelyn Stark because she admires Catelyn’s “woman’s courage,” and it rather misses the point of this chapter, which is rather critical of a shallow, macho conception of courage in the face of adversity.
The other thing that bugs me about how this section was adapted is that, by removing the Bloody Mummers in the interests of telling a simpler story, they actually contribute to a lack of clarity. Locke, Roose’s man, chops off Jaime’s hand, but that never causes a conflict between Roose and Tywin, and Locke himself escapes Vargo Hoat’s fate in order to play a completely ineffectual role in the North in later seasons. And without the Bloody Mummers, things like Rorge and Biter’s attack on the Hound and Arya or the rise of the Sparrows come out of nowhere. Similarly, Harrenhal itself completely vanishes from the plot after Season 3, continuing its vague and baffling role in the Riverlands plot.
It all adds to this strange sense that has crept into the show in the last few seasons, where rather than having a strong sense of a consistent and living world, there’s a certain lack of object permanence, where people and places only exist when they’re in the same room as the main characters.