Game of Thrones is filled with selfish, terrible people. But the most selfless character on the series finally got her moment – telling a story of validation that has spanned most of the show, making it our most pivotal scene of the episode.
In “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” Brienne of Tarth’s lifelong dream finally came true when Jaime Lannister knighted her. It’s a fitting reward for one of the most honourable and selfless people in Game of Thrones, and was one that was long overdue for someone who spent her whole life in service of others.
Ser Brienne, played brilliantly by Gwendoline Christie, is one of those characters who’s always been...there. Part of the main story, but rarely getting a chance to stand out on her own – with the exception of a few key scenes with Jaime, notably the bathing scene. However, this is not an accident. You see, Brienne is a character who’d long given up having dreams of her own, dreams she thought she couldn’t achieve, so instead she pledged herself to help others achieve theirs.
This goes back to Brienne’s upbringing. When she was young, all Brienne wanted was to be a knight. But, as the only surviving child of the Tarth family, she had her duty. She was told so many times that she couldn’t be a knight because she’s a woman, and eventually accepted it as “the way things are.” And for a little while, she tried to play her part as a proper Tarth lady. Her father even threw a ball, inviting dozens of lords to vie for her hand in marriage. At first, the boys fought to dance with her and told her she was beautiful, but it was a trick, one that scarred her against wanting anything for herself.
As Brienne told Podrick in the season five episode “High Sparrow,” someone saved her from humiliation that night: Renly Baratheon. He danced with her and told her to ignore those cruel lords, aka the “little shits” who mocked her. It was that moment when Brienne chose to pledge her life to helping good and kind people, like Renly. And if she couldn’t do it by being a lady, she would be a knight – or as close to one as the world would allow her to be.
Brienne has always done things for others, never herself. She lives by a code of honour and travelled the world to keep her promises. She fought for a place in Renly’s Kingsguard. Then, after he was killed by Melisandre’s vagina smoke monster, she swore an oath to avenge his death and killed Stannis Baratheon. She pledged her service to Catelyn Stark to keep her daughters safe, and succeeded. She also promised to bring Jaime back to King’s Landing, despite all odds, and she did. She is someone people can count on. Kind of like Ned Stark – except she knows how to keep her head. She is so trustworthy, her word alone was enough to keep Jaime alive in this episode.
Eventually, Brienne became a knight in everything but name – she even went by Brienne of Tarth, instead of just Brienne Tarth, so people would know she was to be treated as a warrior. Jaime gifted her a sword, which she named Oathkeeper, and sent Podrick to be her squire. She also had armour Jaime had commissioned for her – which, as Hot Pie pointed out in the season four episode “Mockingbird,” was essentially how you could tell someone was a knight (he’d told Arya the same thing back in season two):
Hot Pie: “You’re a knight?”
Hot Pie: “Oh, it’s just – people with armour is usually knights.”
But you’ll notice how, even though she was basically a knight, she never asked anyone to make her one – not even Renly, who was a king in her eyes. In the world of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, kings and knights can make other knights – the only folks who can’t are lords (unless they were also knights). Brienne herself comments on this during a chat with Podrick, when he asks if she’d knight him (she can’t because she’s a lady, not a knight).
The thing is, while kings and knights can make other knights, it doesn’t mean they should. Knighting a woman, or someone else considered unfitting for the position, could lead to huge ramifications. For someone like Renly, who was vying for the Iron Throne, it could have meant losing the support of his entire army. And Brienne is so selfless, she couldn’t imagine risking anyone’s safety for the sake of her dream. So she simply accepted it, as the way things are.
The moment in the episode, when Jaime offers the honour Brienne, our hearts stopped. At first, she treats it as a joke, like she’s had to her entire life. Any attempts to get what she truly wants, like that time at the ball, have resulted in humiliation. So, she looks to her squire, Podrick, for approval – needing someone else to support her as she dared to dream for herself, perhaps for the first time since she was a child. She was so used to helping others, she was afraid of wanting something for herself. Plus, she was scared of being humiliated again, like that day at the ball.
If you think about it, that scene in front of the fire directly parallels the tragedy Brienne suffered as a young woman. But here, it heals instead of hurts. She’s surrounded by a group of men as she takes a chance on something she wants. But unlike that ball, where the boys mocked her, here there’s only love, trust, and acceptance with her male peers.
Jaime knighted Brienne, a woman who’d started as his captor, because he trusts her. He volunteered to serve under her command because he trusts her. She’s a powerful, strong woman, who’s earned the support and love of the men around her. She even gets flirted with by Tormund and Jaime – not very well, mind you, but it is genuine. Brienne has earned it, just for being herself. And her smile at the end, perhaps the first real smile she’s had in decades, says it all.
Ser Brienne of Tarth finally got a chance to live her dream. Unfortunately, in the world of Game of Thrones, that probably means her story has come to an end, and the battle at Winterfell may be her last. But at least she’ll go down fighting as the brave knight she, and we, always knew in our hearts she was meant to be.