We have nearly reached the end of Game of Thrones and with only one episode left, there’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered. But while there is no shortage of topics to dissect in season 8, episode 5, “The Bells”, including the Cleganebowl, the death of Varys, and Dany’s complete transformation into the Mad Queen, we are going to ignore all of that instead ponder the legacy of Jaime Lannister. After that crazy episode, it remains totally unclear how exactly we are supposed to regard the legacy of one of the beloved and divisive characters on Game of Thrones.
Spoilers ahead for Game of Thronesseason 8, episode 5, “The Bells.”
Let’s start with the obvious: Jaime Lannister is dead. As King’s Landing was turned into a literal hell on earth by the Mad Queen’s vicious rampage, Jaime was able to locate his sister-turned-lover and while trying to escape, they end up trapped in a tunnel that is collapsing around them. As Cersei cries and tells her brother she does not want to die, Jaime comforts her as it becomes very clear she is not going to get her wish. Sure, we did not actually see the death, meaning some might be wondering if the siblings are really dead. But with the way things have been going on Thrones lately, that feels really unlikely.
Meaning, we’ve reached the end of Jaime Lannister’s story and the big question is this: What are we to make of him as a character? It’s a complicated question to answer because the final season seems to send us conflicting messages about who Jaime really was and what he valued most.
When we first met Ser Jaime Lannister, he seemed to be a unique combination of arrogant, amoral, and incestuous that made him as easily hateful as his psychotic son Joffrey. Jaime was an entitled Kingslayer who our hero, Ned Stark, regarded with a disdain he had for almost nobody else on the show and that was without knowing that he was the one who pushed his son out of a window. And after getting captured by Ned’s son Robb at the end of Season 1, it felt like Jaime was on his path to becoming one of the show’s early casualties. And honestly, at that point, none of us probably would have been that disappointed if Robb had let Gray Wind eat Jaime.
But, Jaime survived his POW moment. In fact, he did not just survive; he thrived. While he may have lost his treasured fighting hand, he won the hearts of the viewers. Against all odds, Jaime became a fan favorite, as spending nearly four seasons watching the cockiest jackass on the show experience real humility and discover traits like empathy and compassion was an unexpectedly rewarding viewing experience. He became a surrogate for all the complexity and nuance that made so many of us fall in love with the show in the first place. By the time he helped Tyrion escape King’s Landing on the eve of his execution, Jaime had easily become the most beloved fantasy character to kiss his sister since Luke Skywalker.
And at the end of Season 7, Jaime finally seemed to leave behind his biggest weakness, as he abandoned Cersei to head to Winterfell to help in the fight against the White Walkers. His redemption arc had been set up perfectly and leading up to the final season, Jaime seemed destined to have a massive part to play in the final season. Naturally, there was no shortage of theories about the exact role he would play. Some said he would sacrifice himself to save Tyrion. Others said he would kill Cersei. Many wondered if his wish to die “in the arms of the woman I love” meant he would fall on the battlefield alongside Brienne. Could he be the Prince That Was Promised? Possibilities were endless.
Instead, in the grand scheme of things, Jaime really did not do much at all this season. He showed up at Winterfell, had an awkward reunion with Bran, and somehow convinced Dany to let him fight against the Night King despite being her father’s murderer. He played no real part in the battle but did get to revel in the post-fight activities. That’s right, for the first time in his life, Jaime slept with someone he was not related to, as he finally got into Brienne’s pants due to some endearingly awkward seduction techniques.
Heading into the back half of the season, this felt like the perfect way to symbolize Jaime’s transformation. He went from being hopelessly devoted to one of the evilest people in Westeros to developing a real connection with someone who lives their life on a foundation of duty, honor, and courage. He was finally ready to face his demons and perhaps even be the one who took down Cersei. Except, none of that happened. Instead, he tried to bail on Brienne in the middle of the night and then dumped her so he could head back to Cersei and most likely die defending his one true love from the very people he just fought side-by-side with.
Of course, while Jaime was born with excessive charms and good looks, he has always lacked the brains of the Tyrions or Littlefingers of the world. So naturally, he ended up getting captured by Dany’s army on his way back to King’s Landing. Fortunately, Tyrion was able to return the favor and free Jaime so he could try to get her to escape the city. He then spends the entire rest of the episode just trying to get to Cersei in time and after inexplicably surviving a fight with Euron, he finds her just in time to fulfill his wish of dying in the arms of the woman he loves as the city collapses around him.
So, with his storyline seemingly concluded, how are we supposed to feel about Jaime Lannister? For most of the show, he was a shining example of how to execute a redemption arc for a character. But in this last season, he proved that was not truly a man who experienced a redemptive arc. After all, anyone who still chooses to be with Cersei after all of this time is siding with a tyrant with a penchant for ruthless violence. And by choosing to leave Brienne and ride towards Cersei, Jaime chose to abandon the path of absolution in favor of his own destruction.
In the end, the real redemption arc in Game of Thrones did not belong to Jaime at all. It belonged to Theon. After all, Theon began the story as the Goose to Robb’s Maverick but eventually betrays the Starks and kills a couple of random Winterfell boys in the process. Eventually, he gets tricked and captured by Ramsay Bolton and ends up suffering to the point where he nearly loses his humanity. But Theon is able to have some semblance of redemption when he saves Sansa from Ramsay and then dies defending Bran.
Jaime Lannister was not a redemptive character. Instead, he was a gross bummer. And on his worst days, even a creepy bummer monster.
Despite all of the growth he experienced and the obstacles he overcame, Jamie could never fully escape his toxic obsession with his sister. So, now, is this the satisfying conclusion most fans were hoping for? Almost certainly not. And, honestly, it’s tough to argue with the haters, as his decision to return to Cersei felt as rushed as it was infuriating to watch. But regardless of how you feel about his ending, do not lose sight of the surprising depth that we found over eight years with this character. Because while Jaime never became the hero many hoped he would, he remained one of Game of Thrones’ most fascinating characters until the bitter end.
Still, it’s not hard to feel that, similar to many characters in this highly divisive final season, Jaime’s storyline feels incomplete. Sure, it makes sense that he would die alongside his sister, the only woman he ever really loved. But his rash decision-making and conflicting motivations made his potential redemption arc fall flat and instead of playing a major role in the show’s endgame. In the end, this cocky hero was was just a minor footnote in the larger story. Which, maybe, was the point.