Oh boy. Hold onto your hats, chirruns, and prepare ye for a novel.
First, there’s Jaime. We’re introduced to him in AGOT as basically the embodiment of the slickly handsome and charming asshole antagonist. He’s almost stereotypically villainous against the Starks, positioned as the heroes and the center of the story: it’s implied that he and Cersei plotted to kill Jon Arryn to cover up their incestuous affair, he starts brawls with Ned in the street, he pushes eight-year-old children out of windows. Just give him a few puppies to kick and orphans to steal candy from and he’s got your douchebag bases covered. Plus, one of the first things we learn about him is that he killed the old king. GRRM doesn’t waste time sitting down and giving us a detailed backstory of Robert’s Rebellion and exactly how shithouse-rat crazy Aerys was. We only learn it in bits and pieces through highly subjective narrators. Hence, as we don’t realize just yet the depths of the fantasy universe in which we’ve entered, we assume this is operating according to standard rules where the guy who broke his oath and killed the old king must be bad news (as indeed the rest of Westeros reacts to him). “Kingslayer” is attached to Jaime from the instant we hear about him, and that perception colors everything we come to learn about him. And when Ned gets whacked, with the Lannisters clearly responsible for pulling the strings, that solidifies our impression that they’re all rotten to the core, with maybe the exception of Tyrion who we like because he’s witty and cynical and worldly and clearly aware of how horrible and dysfunctional his family is. So far, still on familiar fantasy ground.
Jaime of course gets captured at the end of AGOT and spends most of ACOK offscreen. Here, however, is when we meet Brienne. From the start, she’s not what you expect: she’s not the stereotypical sexy vamp in highly impractical armor (just think of every woman in every comic book ever). She’s a fighting woman who’s NOT “sexy” and NOT indulgently accepted by the people of Westeros; in fact, it’s made clear at every turn that people mock her and judge her behind her back, and she suffers deeply for the choice she’s made to go against the prevailing societal expectation. Furthermore, nor is Brienne the Strong Female Character who has no feelings and is a stone cold badass without remorse (one of the things I hate that they changed about her in the show). She is naive, emotional, idealistic, hates killing, believes in honor and chivalry and true knights; she’s in some ways an older, armor-wearing version of Sansa, which is probably what draws Catelyn to her. She’s in love with Renly, or rather the image of Renly, because he’s what she thinks a knight and a king should be, whereas everyone else around us is expressing the opinion that Renly is basically just an empty suit of pretty armor who likes dressing up and feasts and pretending to be a king. So we know from the start that what Brienne loves is illusory, that she can’t and will never have it. And yet despite this, Brienne never wavers from who and what she is; she’s one of the most morally pure and good characters in the books, and one who truly believes (and suffers for that belief) yet hasn’t lost it entirely.
Then, of course, the Road Trip From Hell. How do I love thee let me count the ways. We get Jaime’s POV for the first time. Learning more about him, we start to feel a kind of twisted pity for everything that he’s done, how he’s blindly and completely followed his heart in wanting to be with Cersei no matter what. He and Brienne bicker endlessly and on more than one occasion actually attempt to kill each other. But then: Jaime loses his sword hand, the embodiment of who he was, and it SHATTERS him. Brienne is literally his only comfort; she’s the one who gets him to live, and he lies to save her from being raped when he doesn’t need to. Then the big reveal: the Harrenhal bathhouse scene. We learn for the first time the depths of Aerys’ depravity and exactly how he killed Rickard and Brandon Stark and that he wanted to do the same thing to the rest of King’s Landing, and we start to realize just how badly Jaime wanted to be a hero, and what a terrible position he was in. The lens of “Kingslayer” in which we’ve seen and judged everything about him begins to alter, which Brienne notices as well. At the same time, the derogatory “wench” he’s used for her begins to alter its content. He has NEVER told anyone this story before, remember, and yet he tells her. He pops a damn boner in the bath. He reluctantly leaves her behind in Harrenhal and then dreams about her (naked, I might add) and just about goes crazy getting back. Whereupon Jaime Lannister, Mr. I-Only-Love-Cersei-And-Fighting jumps his crippled ass into a fucking bear pit to save Brienne (and the “you get behind me!”/”no YOU get behind me!” will never not be my favorite).
When they get back to the capital and the aftermath of Joffrey’s death, Jaime protects Brienne from Ser Loras. He constantly notes how beautiful her eyes are, and the fact of how nice she looks in the blue dress they give her. Then he gives her a sword made from Ned Stark’s old one, to go find Sansa and keep her safe. People can quibble over Jaime’s redemption arc or what they think of it or whether it exists all they like, but the fact is that Brienne is changing him. There’s no way in hell Jaime does this before. His relationship with every other Lannister is falling apart. He can’t remember why on earth he wanted to get back here so badly anyway. Cersei keeps him at arm’s length, Tyrion is arrested for murder, he has to confess that he ruined Tyrion’s life on the orders of their father (who’s disowned him) and he’s having to fight to serve on the Kingsguard at all. Jaime thinks about how he wanted to be Ser Arthur Dayne (the hero) but turned into the Smiling Knight (the villain) instead. He’s not the asshole antagonist anymore.
Meanwhile, Brienne is questing away for Sansa, and thinking about Jaime every other damn minute, in extremely romantic/sexual ways (Renly turns into Jaime in her dream, she remembers how Jaime looks naked, she wants him to come back to her). In short, she’s changing the love of the illusion of Renly, the dream of the perfect man, into love of the real and deeply flawed man that is Jaime. He, in turn, is punching Red Ronnet Connington in the mouth for insulting her and also thinking about her every TWO damn minutes, just for variety. Brienne has become the embodiment of everything he still wants to be. And yes, I know he has a line about throwing Edmure’s infant son over the walls in a trebuchet and this is somehow proof that he’s still the worst evar!!!!! First, obviously it was a douchebag thing to say. The day Jaime does not have a douchy/sardonic comment to make, we should all keel the fuck over and die because the Others will have murdered everyone. But he’s also trying to threaten/scare Edmure into surrendering without more fighting and more bloodshed, which is what gets conveniently overlooked. When he meets Jeyne Westerling, Robb’s widow, and her conniving mother, he tells her flatly that Jeyne, with her love for Robb and her devotion to his memory, is worth ten of Sybel. With that and by sending Brienne after Sansa, Jaime is in his own way genuinely honoring the oath he made to Catelyn Stark, for the first time in his life. Of course he’s not going to be Shiny Perfect Hero about it. That’s not who he is. But he’s still trying, while remaining a sarcastic asshole with a broken heart, and I’m a huge, HUGE sucker for that character. So yeah.
As you really realize the depths to which Jaime is a deconstructed white knight, and Brienne a deconstructed “warrior maiden,” and the way in which he functions as the beauty and she as the beast, and yet how they both need each other and teach other things about the world that the other had given up on (for Jaime, Brienne gives him hope and is what he’s clinging to after his world ended; for Brienne, Jaime shows her that the world isn’t a song and helps her grow up from her childish feelings/walls). And no, they’re not a bROTP (although I respect if people choose to see it that way). I hear inklings of a Brienne/Cersei scene written by GRRM himself in an upcoming episode, where Cersei tells Brienne flat out that she knows she’s in love with Jaime. Friends don’t dream of each other naked and get boners in the bath and obsess about the color of each other’s eyes and wonder where they are all the time and jump in front of bears and etc. It didn’t start out as physical attraction, but that’s what makes their bond deeper. Jaime doesn’t see the “freak,” he sees Brienne. Likewise, Brienne doesn’t see the Kingslayer, she sees Jaime. They are the only people in Westeros who loves the other right now. Jaime has no one, neither does Brienne. Their connection is mostly what’s keeping both of them going.
So yeah. I ship them (unto the gates of hell) for all the above reasons and more, and I am well aware that one day they will kill me dead and turn me into a sobbing utter wreck on the floor (for very good or very bad reasons, as I’m trying to control my awful feeling that Jaime won’t survive the series). I both want that day to come and dread it with all my heart. Basically, I’ll die if Jaime does, but I think they’re going to have an adventure together after escaping the Brotherhood (because that’s not where either of their stories will end) and I will also die then as well.
Jesus Christ I’m not strong enough for this otp.