Editor’s note: This is part of a series of essays revisiting our favorite scenes in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Read the previous installments here.
It’s the scene where, unless you’re a heartless, heartless person, you fall in love with Jaime Lannister. And it’s probably the scene where Brienne of Tarth falls in love with him, too.
“Kissed by Fire” refers to Ygritte’s red hair, Aerys II’s deadly obsession with wildfire, the Hound’s face; Stannis Baratheon’s purported heroic destiny, Melisandre’s seduction, Beric Dondarrion’s fiery sword, the all-seeing eye of the Lord of Light. But the heart of the episode is a scene set in water. Having been doctored by the eminently creepy Qyburn, the battered Jaime slips into a large tiled tub, at the other end of which Brienne is moodily washing the memory of the Bolton soldiers off her limbs. She’s not pleased to have her space invaded, and he makes it clear he doesn’t care. No: He makes it sound like he doesn’t care. But you get the sense that he actually wants to be close to her. (Maybe her specifically, or maybe just someone. You can sometimes feel kind of vulnerable when you’ve had an extremity amputated.) He just can’t bring himself to point it out. In his usual arrogant, abrasive way, he taunts her about his injury, knowing she’ll feel like a failure that it happened on her watch. “No wonder Renly died with you guarding him,” he mutters, holding up his bandaged stump.
Brienne bursts out of the fetal position and looms over him, buck naked and seething and ready to fight. The way the moment is framed, you don’t really focus on her body. There’s a shot of her back that shows you her height and power relative to Jaime, and then her face: In spite of her size and strength, there’s something oddly fragile about her collarbones and something strangely hurt and sad in her eyes. Suddenly it’s clear how burdened both of them are by having to put up a tough front every second of their lives. How, in spite of their glaring surface differences (and a few that go a good deal deeper), they’re both defending a vulnerable spot and they’re both probably pretty lonely. And you see them see it in each other even if there’s no way they’re ready to acknowledge it.
“Let’s call a truce,” Jaime says.
“You need trust to have a truce,” Brienne says through her teeth.
“I trust you.”
Whether or not the audience is expecting Jaime to roll over and show this woman his belly, it’s clear Brienne’s disarmed by it. You’d have to be made of stone not to be, honestly—in this world, “I trust you” is an almost shocking thing to hear anyone say, least of all this guy. As it turns out, vulnerability is a lot more compelling than forcefulness. It’s more compelling than just about anything, really.
In a growing delirium brought on by pain exhaustion and the steaming bathwater, he tells her what really happened the day he assassinated the king and became “Kingslayer, Oathbreaker, Man Without Honor.” And in her face there is a dawning of horror and empathy—a king died on her watch, too, and it wasn’t as simple as people thought, either. Not to mention it might turn out she’s grievously misapprehended this man, along with basically everyone else. It’s the kind of mixed guilt and relief that comes over you when you are suddenly relieved of the burdens of misjudgment. For a moment, they are equals. Neither has power over the other; they are two people, naked, literally and figuratively, locked into a mutual recognition that they actually have a bond, and a great deal in common. That they nurse some of the same wounds, the same disappointments, the same struggle with vanity and guardedness and desire for those painfully elusive things: understanding, approval, purpose, meaning. In the light of that recognition, both of them change in front of our eyes.
And then he seems to become overwhelmed by the effects of the trauma and almost passes out, and she puts an arm around his neck and yells for someone to help The Kingslayer. “Jaime,” he says. “My name’s Jaime.” In addition to being a kind of adorable reversal (not that Brienne of Tarth has ever come across as the fainting type), the moment clinches it: They’re never going back from this. Neither are we. After this scene, it’s on us if we think Jaime Lannister’s just a villain.
Steam rises around them. It almost looks like their skin is smoldering. The whole scene is contained by that sunken tub, scrimmed by vapor. It’s quiet and intimate and, like many of the best scenes in Game of Thrones, it’s more about the acting than the action. Or, to be precise, the chemical reaction of two characters who dislike or distrust one another being placed in close proximity and deciding to get real.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.