The traditional view of a knight is an armour wearing hero who saves maidens. They are considered honourable, noble and gallant. But a knight’s honour is different to the modern view of honour, and a character who personifies that difference is Jaime Lannister. Jaime is one of the most fascinating characters in literature, and The Comic Vault is looking into his history to deconstruct what it means to be a knight and an honourable person.
When we’re introduced to Jaime, he’s the greatest swordsman in Westeros. He’s known as the Kingslayer for killing the king he was sworn to protect. As a knight he swore an oath to defend his king until death and in the eyes of Westeros he’s considered dishonourable for breaking his vows. Jaime comes across as arrogant and ruthless, fitting into the traditional role of a villain alongside his sister Cersei. George RR Martin invited us to hate him because we saw him through the perspective of the Stark family.
What is honour?
But, as the series goes on, Jaime is more than what he appears to be. In a conversation with Brienne of Tarth, he reveals that he killed king Aerys to save the population of King’s Landing from being burned by wildfire. Ned Stark found him immediately after slaying Aerys, and Jaime chose to keep it to himself. As a Kingsguard, Jaime had watched Aerys burn people for years and he couldn’t stand back and do nothing anymore.
This was a selfless act on Jaime’s part and ties into the traditional view of knighthood. A knight is meant to defend the innocent and be a protector. Other knights consider themselves ‘honourable’ by serving their king blindly. They justify rape and murder as the will of their lord, meaning their honour is untainted. Jaime saw the hypocrisy of this, as seen from a conversation with Catelyn Stark.
“So many vows… they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.”
But Jaime acted selfishly in refusing to tell anyone what he’d done. This was probably out of pride and spite. Jaime’s view of his time in the Kingsguard was complicated because he wanted to fulfill his duties, but couldn’t understand why Aerys got away with abusing his family. Jaime wanted to protect Daenerys’ mother Rhaella. While serving with another member of the Kingsguard, Jaime recalled an incident.
“The day he burned his mace-and-dagger Hand, Jaime and Jon Darry had stood at guard outside her bedchamber whilst the king took his pleasure. “You’re hurting me,” they had heard Rhaella cry through the oaken door. “You’re hurting me.” In some queer way, that had been worse than Lord Chelsted’s screaming. “We are sworn to protect her as well,” Jaime had finally been driven to say. “We are,” Darry allowed, “but not from him.”
Jaime’s coping mechanism involved numbing himself, as he explained to his son Tommen.
“I have smelled my own hand rotting, when Vargo Hoat made me wear it for a pendant. “A man can bear most anything, if he must,” Jaime told his son. I have smelled a man roasting, as King Aerys cooked him in his own armor. “The world is full of horrors, Tommen. You can fight them, or laugh at them, or look without seeing . . . go away inside.”
Before he served in the Kingsguard, Jaime believed in the traditional view of honour and knighthood. He learned from Ser Arthur Dayne and Ser Barristan Selmy, holding them up as his boyhood heroes. He wanted to be exactly like them, but as an adult he became very cynical.
“That boy had wanted to be Ser Arthur Dayne, but somewhere along the way he had become the Smiling Knight instead.”
Jaime and his family
It wasn’t until Jaime lost his sword hand that he was forced to reevaluate his life. His identity was based on his ability to fight and it pushed him towards trying to reclaim his honour. He kept his vow to Catelyn Stark by dispatching Brienne to look for Sansa and Arya. He saved Brienne by stopping her from being raped and then came back for her when she was going to be killed by a bear.
But these acts of kindness don’t absolve Jaime of his past. He pushed Bran Stark from a tower and meant to kill him. During the siege of Riverrun he threatened to throw a baby into the castle by using a trebuchet. Jaime’s complexity makes him intriguing, especially when it comes to his family. When he pushed Bran from the tower he was doing it to protect his sister and children. It was a horrible act, yet a relatable choice.
The evolution of Jaime’s relationship with Cersei is one of the greatest aspects of his journey. He loved her unconditionally, but she wasn’t above using him for her own ends. In the books and TV series, Jaime finally abandons her and starts to live for himself.
Jaime’s relationship with Tyrion is interesting too because he was the only one who genuinely cared for his brother. However, their dynamic is more nuanced in the books because Tyrion had a wife called Tysha.
Jaime saved Tysha from attackers on the road and she and Tyrion wed each other. When Tywin found out, he ordered Jaime to tell Tyrion that Tysha was a prostitute that Jaime had paid to make his brother feel like a man. In reality, Tysha had genuinely loved Tyrion. When he released Tyrion from prison, Jaime admitted this and Tyrion spurned him. Their relationship in the show is more straightforward and it showcases Jaime’s compassionate side.
In terms of being honourable, Jaime is in line with the modern interpretation. His journey is about redemption, about whether a man can become the person he was always meant to be. He isn’t a hero or a villain. Jaime is a human learning about life and adapting as best he can.