When Samwell Tarly gets around to writing his chapter about the Battle of Winterfell’s great, postwar bacchanal, he will surely note that Jaime Lannister was known for slaying more than just kings. Of all the chaotic, drunken hookups that took place that evening, Jaime’s encounter with Brienne was the longest shot. The two first met as sworn enemies and, after much shared trauma, slowly forged a cautious camaraderie. But Jaime especially never let his true feelings be known—only as they faced the possibility of annihilation had he expressed an outward respect and admiration for her, via a touching, impromptu knighting ceremony. Any attempt at further intimacy felt deeply precarious, an interaction balanced upon jagged mounds of unforged dragonglass.
All that is to say that Tyrion’s infamous drinking game was a crucial step to temporarily abandoning their hang-ups. Tipsy and relieved to be alive, they sat around snickering and trading personal secrets until Tyrion guessed that Brienne was a virgin and the mood shifted. As she escaped to her toasty room to avoid embarrassment, Jaime intercepted Tormund’s final pickup attempt and followed close behind. The final beats of his seduction were both avoidant and bullying, as if he had memorized the Westerosi version of r/theredpill. He pressured her to drink, he teased her about Tormund, he berated her for making too hot a fire, and finally he segued into taking off their clothes.
A picture of enthusiastic consent it was not. But at first watch, it was still a gratifying moment in their story. Here were two guarded kingsguard-ers, each with their own slightly embarrassing sexual histories—she’s a virgin; he is, too, unless you count all the sex with his sister—fumbling their way past all that drawn-out tension. The moment had the same intense energy as that Harrenhal bath they took together in Season 3: Jaime’s abandoning his witticisms for revealing personal stories while Brienne slowly warmed to his presence. The next morning, he appeared so high off the idea of a nonincestual girlfriend that he daydreamed of a life in Winterfell. Their romance was the stuff of Noah Centineo–era Netflix rom-coms. The hunky jock falls for the challenging goody-two-shoes virgin. You could almost see his dad bod forming in real time.
Despite all of his best efforts, Jaime is far too handsome and tortured to be satisfied with a simple happy ending. (Pun very much intended.) The disgraced knight may have spent the past couple of seasons repairing his reputation as a morally corrupt Lannister, but he still carries his family’s signature emotional baggage. On top of that infamous Mad King incident, which has strapped him with a lifetime of insecurity, his upbringing does not bode well for healthy relationships. He was raised without a mother, spoiled by wealth and power. His domineering father, Tywin, taught him to be ruthless and cruel to everyone but his family. And, as a result of this education, Jaime’s only real, serious romance was a secret affair with his terrible twin sister, who is currently pregnant with his unborn son. When it comes to red flags, Jaime has all the makings of a Westerosi dirtbag.
And what do dirtbags do? They ghost. The moment he’s given the slightest reminder of his dear sister, Jaime leaves Brienne naked in bed and mounts a horse for King’s Landing. It’s only after she chases him down in a bathrobe and begs him to stay that she gets any kind of explanation: “You think I’m a good man,” he says. “I pushed a boy out of a tower window, crippled him for life, for Cersei. I strangled my cousin with my own hands, just to get back to Cersei. I would’ve murdered every man, woman, and child in Riverrun for Cersei. She’s hateful, and so am I.” Translated into more familiar breakup terms: “It’s not you—it’s me.”
With this cold speech, Jaime reveals his most telling dirtbag trait: an undying self-loathing. He’s always had some semblance of honor nestled deep beneath that gold-plated armor. At least, enough to rescue Brienne from a gang of Bolton rapists, or his brother from an imminent execution. But more often than not, these are boilerplate principles that can be amended at his convenience. See: the list of misdeeds he mentioned in his parting speech to Brienne, or the horrifying way that he “mourned” Joffrey’s death. From the very day he broke his oath and slayed the Mad King, Jaime has been consumed with an undying guilt and the assumption that he’s evil. And even with all of Brienne’s helpful rehab, in “The Last of the Starks” he still spiraled into the same unhealthy thought pattern. As he once told Brienne, “We don’t get to choose who we love.” He’s already bad, why not get worse? That is the underlying logic of his decision to return to Cersei.
Nevertheless, like many other fuckboys, Jaime’s true motivation for moseying is hard to parse. Does he really just want to reunite with Cersei one last time before dying “in the arms of the woman he loves” in a giant Red Keep cookout? Is he going to once again beg her to do the right thing? Did he just think it would’ve been too awkward to tell Brienne he wants to go kill his sister himself? Perhaps his gruffness was a way to ensure she wouldn’t follow him? (A classic fuckboy move.) These are the questions Brienne will be forced to ponder in a post-breakup slump that will likely include plenty of lemon cakes and aggressive sparring with Podrick (who’s doing much better romantically). Like many smart, sensitive women who came before her, she was temporarily dazzled by a strong jawline and a few promising glimmers of vulnerability, only to fall right into a fling with an emotionally unavailable charmer. All she can do now is let him live out his silly incestuous pilgrimage and pray that somewhere in between Winterfell and King’s Landing there’s a very patient therapist who specializes in brother-sister relationships.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.