(There are about 17,500 spoilers below.)
You were justifiably distraught after Jaime Lannister raped his twin sister Cersei in last week’s episode of "Game of Thrones." It was a horrific scene and a cruel, brutal act. The Daily Beast said it “may be the most screwed up sex scene ever broadcast on television.” One writer at Salon called Jaime “a rape cliché,” and another called him a “monster…[and] just a big mess that doesn’t make any sense at all.” TIME called the rape “an act so unmistakably hideous that it undoes all the work that made him a dynamic and complex character.” For many of you, Jaime is now irredeemable swine.
You’re also pretty furious that the show veered off course and didn’t follow the plot of Storm of Swords. In the book, Jaime and Cersei have rough, but consensual sex. There is no rape. Which means there is no giant mark against Jaime’s character (other than all of the earlier terrible things he did—like pushing a small child out a window). Obviously, this means that many people feel pretty differently about Jaime at this point in Storm of Swords than they do at this point in Season 4 of "Game of Thrones."
So what did you make of this week’s Jaime? He was almost entirely back to his old (new) self. In fact, this episode’s most touching scene revolved around Jaime’s sensitivity. We saw him with Bronn, practice-fighting again, not quite at full strength but with vigor and bravado. Bronn’s maneuver with Jaime’s golden hand (pulling it off mid-fight and smacking Jaime across the face with it) demonstrated that when it comes to combat, Jaime has been taught to duel by the rules, with chivalry. His visit with Tyrion showed that theirs may be the only Lannister relationship that is without an undercurrent of twisted malice. While he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—risk his position as Commander of the King’s Guard (and possibly his life) to spring Tyrion from jail, Jaime offered his baby brother a bit of solace by implicitly taking his side in the latest Lannister intra-family battle.
Jaime’s scenes with Brienne were among the most heartwarming we’ve seen on the bloody, demented warpath we call "Game of Thrones." Unlike the twisted pleasure we take in, say, watching the slaves of Meereen slaughter their masters, we can feel genuinely good witnesseing Jaime and Brienne’s respectful intimacy and camaraderie; their friendship is now one of mutual admiration. Jaime has unburdened himself to Brienne in the past, and it was she, more than anyone, who brought about his character’s evolution. So in this episode, when he charged her with the task of keeping Sansa safe, of continuing Catelyn’s mission, it was truly affective. Not only does Jaime feel compelled to live up to his word to protect one lady, Sansa (despite the fact that Catelyn is dead), he places the responsibility—and therefore, the honor, because Jaime’s faith in her has been hard-earned—on another lady. For a moment there, Jaime looks positively feminist. And his gift to Brienne of the sword Oathkeeper—which was forged from Ned Stark’s Ice—can be interpreted as a direct repudiation of his family as a whole. Originally a gift from his father, Jaime placed it directly in the hands of his father’s enemy. Perhaps he isn’t such a Lannister after all…
No, none of his actions can undo the sick, hurtful crime he perpetrated upon his sister. A rapist who also helps old ladies cross the street is still a rapist.
But, please, stop laboring under the belief that Jaime is no longer a complex, dynamic character. Don’t decide that Jaime is no longer capable of evolution. To do so is to fundamentally misunderstand the "Game of Thrones" series.
In a Twitter conversation I had last week with Slate critic Amanda Marcotte, she pointed out that many of the characters whom we believe to be “good” people perpetrate crimes due to survival instinct. And, in many cases, that’s true. Westeros is a kill or be killed kind of place. But that isn’t the entire truth. This week alone we saw one of "Game of Thrones"’s confirmed “heroines” follow a brave, just act of violence—enabling a slave rebellion—with a cruel, unnecessary act of bloodshed: crucifying 163 of the Masters. As Barristan Selmy pointed out to Daenerys, she could have granted them mercy. After all, some of the 163 may have been good people. They may have been good Masters. They may have been entirely uninvolved in the crucifixion of the 163 children along the road to Meereen. They may even have risen up in protest against it. Nothing, absolutely nothing, about this scenario required that Dany kill lest she be killed. She conducted no trials, asked no questions.
So Daenerys murdered 163 people using a slow, torturous method. (As someone who was educated in Catholic schools and learned about the physical breakdown the body suffers when crucified, I can tell you that it is truly horrific.) Let me repeat that: She murdered 163 people. But I bet you haven’t given up on Daenerys. In fact, I suspect you think her storyline just got a little more rich, a little more fascinating. What will she do next? Is she the mother of freed slaves or an imperialist? I’m willing to bet you won’t let a little thing like the brutal murder of 163 men stop you from believing in her evolution.
If this is true, it must be because you believe her crimes are more forgivable than Jaime’s. Which means you aren’t appreciating the issues "Game of Thrones" is asking you (via over-the-top shock-value television) to grapple with. "Game of Thrones" is asking you to look at world filled with chaos and violence and narcissism and greed and journey with each character through that landscape. It’s asking you to ask yourself what you would do in any of these situations, what you would be forced to do, how you would treat others. It’s asking you to see in your own reactions to its horrors your very own tendencies to condemn and punish. There’s a reason that each chapter in Martin’s book is narrated from one character’s perspective—so we can empathize with the Theons and Aryas and Danys. So we can learn that the world is much more complex than we thought, not much more simple.
Hillary Kelly is the digital media editor at The New Republic.