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Jaime Lannister is the hero we need

The worst-kept secret in Game of Thrones’ seventh and penultimate season is that Jaime Lannister will kill his twin sister/lover Cersei Lannister, murderous queen of the seven kingdoms of Westeros. This is by no means official — but it’s a theory that is circulating across the vast seas of the Internet like Euron Greyjoy’s impossibly omnipresent ships. If we go by the rate of popular Internet theories being confirmed by the show (Jon Snow’s resurrection, Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon, etc.), then this is probably going to happen, too.

The predictability of this event — through no fault of the show — does not detract from its subversiveness. Game of Thrones is mainly known for subverting type: the hero dies in the middle; the prince charming is a dirtbag; the naïve, starry-eyed princess becomes a cold, calculating politician. Now that the endgame is near, the show finds itself in an awkward position of having to embrace the hero narrative that it has resisted for years. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are obviously the heroes and Cersei, Euron and the White Walkers are obviously the bad guys. The lines are clearly drawn now except for one character: Jaime Lannister.

Jaime Lannister is the only true Game of Thrones character left. His moral ambiguity is a hallmark of the show’s lifelike complexity. In Game of Thrones, righteousness isn’t always rewarded, wickedness isn’t always punished, and the two sometimes overlap. When we say that Game of Thrones is a fantasy that resembles reality, we usually refer to its tragic moments. But its dedication to nuance is what makes it consistently relevant to the outside world. As the real world became increasingly black and white, the show became grayer and grayer. Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, lost his hand, revealed his noble reasons for killing the Mad King, rescued Brienne of Tarth, and suddenly became a sympathetic character. But then he rapes Cersei in the burial place of their dead son. And he threatens to catapult Edmure Tully’s baby. And then he sees the aftermath of his sister-lover’s massacre at the Sept of Baelor and is horrified. Transport him into our reality and he is reduced into a purely evil person and anyone who notes his redeeming qualities will be deemed an enemy of the #resistance. But in the show, he is the most richly nuanced character in a story universally lauded for its verisimilitude.

When Rolling Stone interviewed George RR Martin in 2014, he couldn’t stop talking about Jaime Lannister. “One of the things I wanted to explore with Jaime is the whole issue of redemption,” Martin said. “When can we be redeemed? Is redemption even possible?” His questions aren’t as rhetorical as they sound: Martin wants to believe in redemption. I do, too. I don’t believe in the concept of evil, that there is some extra-human presence that makes us do bad things; I believe in the complexity of people, that the same wild cocktail of motivations and feelings can lead to one extreme or the other. And if you believe in that, then you can truly believe in redemption.

My favorite moment so far in this fast-forward season is when Game of Thrones slowed down to give a fitting send-off to perhaps its most pragmatic character, The Queen of Thorns, Lady Olenna Tyrell. How did the show do it? By having her talk to Jaime Lannister before facing death. “You really do love her,” Olenna says, referring to his twincest lover Cersei. “You poor fool.” She is not talking down to him; she sounds genuinely disappointed in him. She clearly regards him with respect and sees him as a worthy rival, because why else would she casually chat with the person who’s about to murder her? She, too, has done some questionable things for her family, she notes. But Jaime evokes a higher motive when he mentions “peace” in Westeros and how that noble end justifies his sister’s means. Peace has always been his motivation; he killed the Mad King to prevent destruction and he threatened Edmure Tully to prevent war with The Blackfish. Olenna knows this but she sees what’s clouding the goodness inside him. “If she’s driven you this far it’s gone beyond your control,” she tells Jaime. “Yes, it has,” he admits wistfully. “She’s a disease,” Olenna warns. “I regret my role in spreading it. You will, too.”

Jon or Daenerys fulfilling the prophecy of “The Prince that was promised” is corny. We’ve seen that messianic narrative played out a hundred times before. Jaime Lannister’s redemption is the best Game of Thrones story left.

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