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PROBABILITY DISTORTION - Or why Jaime Lannister is less likely to die than you think

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https://jaimetheexplorer.tumblr.com/post/183821981804/probability-distortion-or-why-jaime-lannister-is

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I am kicking off my metas with a prickly topic that is perhaps one of the most frustrating for me to come across (and one that is pretty much impossible to avoid, these days): Jaime Lannister’s (allegedly inevitable) death. I think the reason his death is so widely accepted as inevitable is due to probability distortion. Probability distortion means that the probability of events that are unlikely is overestimated and/or the probability of events that are likely is underestimated, and the degree with which this happens is often due to individual differences and personal biases. So, for example, people who are afraid of flying overestimate the probability of dying in a plane crash, while underestimating the probability of dying in a car crash.

This is what I believe is happening with most discourse and predictions about Jaime’s fate. While present, there are actually only a handful of hints that Jaime might die in the end, and these are weighed disproportionately heavily against the substantial amount of hints to the contrary. I am NOT saying it is impossible for Jaime to die. I just believe that, if we look at the material, the probability is actually far far lower than fandom and the general audience would have you believe.

Before I get started, DISCLAIMER: While I am obviously a huge Jaime fan, I want to stop the shouts of “You just want him to live because he is your favourite” right there. No, actually. Brienne is my favourite. And, while it would break my heart, I would not feel necessarily as dissatisfied with the story if she were the one to die (see part 4 for more on this). The way I see it, death is not a punishment nor is life a prize, for a character. What matters to me is whether a death fits and makes sense for that character’s story and the ones it affects, and if it is satisfying in terms of overall style, tropes and messages. That’s the stance from which I’m analysing Jaime’s odds in this meta.

I will look at his trajectory in the story and towards the endgame from three angles (narrative arcs, the use of foreshadowing, GRRM’s writing style and story management) to explain why I think the odds of his death are highly overestimated.

 

When looking at narrative arcs, we have to keep in mind one thing about ASOIAF: all arcs (especially POV arcs) are important, connected and affect one another - the so called “butterfly effects”. This is not a story with one or two protagonists the story follows, and everyone else playing supporting roles (have a look here for GRRM’s take on the matter). I believe one reason why so many people distort Jaime’s endgame odds is because they look at his arc as if it were its own, standalone story. But in order to predict where it’s going to go, we need to not only look at his arc, but also at how events in his arc are going to affect and make sense with regards to OTHER POV character’s arcs (and viceversa), and particularly the two who are most closely connected to his: Cersei and Brienne.

Jaime: the man he’s meant to be

Let’s start by looking at the man in question. Jaime’s arc has three prominent themes: redemption, identity and love/family. The common point across all three is the idea of “the man he’s meant to be”, a man that is different from the one we meet at the beginning of the story.

One reason I believe predictions about his fate are skewed, is because not only too much emphasis is placed on redemption, at the expense of the other themes, but the concept of redemption most seem to have in mind is of the classic “paying for one’s crimes” variety, where the villain redeems himself at the last minute by sacrificing himself for the greater good. In Jaime’s case, the crime is (mainly) pushing Bran from the tower and the redemption comes in the form of either killing Cersei and then killing/dying himself, or dying to protect one of the “good guys”.

However, this fails to take into account the huge thematic and narrative significance of losing his sword hand - which is ironic considering that is the most iconic visual trait of Jaime’s character. 1) Jaime has *already* paid for this crime when his sword hand was chopped off, as that destroyed his life as he knew it, just like Bran losing his legs did.  2) Losing his hand is a punishment that is comparable to the crime committed (Bran lost the legs; Jaime lost his sword hand - the one he used to push him, no less), while death is rather disproportionate. 3) His redemption has *already* begun in that moment, as he saves Brienne from rape. So Jaime has paid and has been working to “make up for his bad deed(s)” ever since, while the traditional format of redemptive death usually applies when the “bad guy” only does the right thing at the last minute (usually because he’s just a plot device for the one or two main characters to be saved, - see Darth Vader - whereas in this story main POV characters are not just plot devices). Indeed, GRRM said he is interested in exploring the process of redemption; whether and how someone who has committed some terrible act can come back from it. And he has stated that he wants to believe that is possible. His outlook on redemption arcs seems to be far less authoritarian than those who seem to presume that the answer to the question “can someone be redeemed” is either a yes which is equivalent to life or a no which is equivalent to death. There are tons of shades of grey in between those two options. Furthermore, as I will discuss in part 3, George is all about trope subversion, making the traditional redemptive format rather unlikely.

 

The handchop not only marks the beginning of his redemption arc, but also sets Jaime on his identity arc. In most predictions, much less emphasis is put on the identity arc, which is equally as important. 

“They took my sword hand. Was that all that I was? A sword hand?”

From that moment, we see Jaime having to reinvent himself and he seems to begin falling into a leadership role (not unlike Jon’s penchant for ending up with jobs he didn’t apply for); first trying to reform the Kingsguard as Lord Commander, then sent on diplomatic missions in the Riverlands and, on the show, Dorne. While he trains with Ilyn Payne in the books and we see him in occasional fights and battles on the show, it is clear that while he can somewhat function on a battlefield, he will never be as good as he was with his right. Yet, most of the predictions, especially lately, see him die a hero in battle. Sure, some may say that he will die in battle precisely because he’s not that good anymore. However, that ignores authorial intent:

“And Jaime, losing a hand, losing the very thing he defined himself on is crucial to where I think I want to go with the character. And he questions what do you make of yourself if you’ve lost that.” (GRRM).

With Jaime, GRRM doesn’t seem so interested in telling the story of a hero that will save the world in battle, he seems far more interested in exploring how a broken man can reinvent himself after the  *loss* of his identity as a fighter. When you think about it this way, the idea that the climax of his story will be a heroic death in battle becomes a rather unlikely scenario. Decrease the likelihood of this particular scenario, and the overall probability of his death does too.

Finally, there’s the theme that is perhaps most overlooked: love and family. Most commonly, this is associated with Cersei, - who Jaime is willing to do horrible things for - their incestuous children, and Jaime being guilty of his father and sister’s crimes, no matter his direct involvement in them. Whatever little thought is given to how this theme is relevant to predicting Jaime’s fate usually revolves around foreshadowing tragedy: Jaime will kill Cersei, die himself, the Lannisters are all meant to go extinct, and, at most, Tyrion will survive because he is “the good one” (although even that is being revisited now).

But the love and family theme has far wider implications for Jaime’s story. The big crux of this theme in Jaime’s story isn’t just that he’s sleeping with his sister and fathering bastard children with her, but also that, in the name of some misguided notion of star-crossed love for her, he joined a celibate order that required him to give up his role as heir and future leader of his house, as well as his right to marry and father legitimate children (as Tywin and other characters like to often remind us). Fast-forward to S6 of the show, and, in one of the most overlooked scenes, Jaime is released from the Kingsguard. While this is show-only, by that stage, the show was ahead of the books, and the idea of releasing Jaime from the KG is also floated around in the books, most recently by Kevan. Given where his arc seems to be taking him at the end of S7, there is literally no narrative reason for Jaime to be released from the Kingsguard, as he can be accused of treason for going against Cersei’s orders and leaving to fight in the North (and die) just the same. Unless the narrative reason is to free him up for something his Kingsguard vow does not allow him to do.

“Other men could be fathers, [..], husbands. But not Jaime Lannister, whose sword was as golden as his hair.”

Fathers, husbands… the man Jaime was meant to be had he not taken up the white cloak. Once again, this is juxtaposed with his “sword”, the identity as a fighter that he lost - what is Jaime if not a white cloak and a sword hand? Perhaps a father, husband and the head of his house? The man he was meant to be?

So, here we have a character who has embarked upon a redemption arc, which involved losing the thing that defined him as a fighter for his whole life, so that he has to reinvent himself into a role that increasingly looks to be the heir and leader he gave up in the first place, and that the show now put him in a position to legally pursue, with six more episodes to go. Once you take all this development into account, does it sound like an arc where death is a likely, logical and satisfying conclusion that the story is pointing towards? I’d say not really.

The odds of his survival are increased further once you look at how his potential death would affect the arcs of the two other named POV characters who are most closely intertwined with his: Cersei and Brienne.

 

Cersei: the twin who wasn’t

When we are first introduced to Cersei and Jaime, we only see them from the POV of other characters and one thing is drilled into our heads: they are twins in every sense of the word, from their golden looks to their despicable, arrogant, and shallow personalities. One of the plot twists, and what makes the POV structure so powerful, is that that first impression starts to unravel as soon as we are introduced to their POVs.

Turns out, Jaime and Cersei are actually fairly different people. Jaime is a man who’s grown cynical and bitter but once strived to be a honourable knight. Cersei, while undoubtedly having suffered being Queen to a drunken, abusive, and unfaithful King, showed a streak of sociopathy from a young age - as physically abusing Tyrion when he was a baby, and murdering her best friend by pushing her into a well. Through the story they are both growing to recognise their differences: Jaime realising Cersei was not the Maiden to his Warrior but “the Stranger, hiding her true face from my gaze” and Cersei being alienated by Jaime’s redemption-driven changes, and realising that he has wishes and a moral compass that do not match her own. GRRM sets them on completely opposite trajectories - Jaime on a redemption/identity arc, reinventing himself as a different man, while Cersei doubles down on her psychopathy, getting caught in all sorts of self-made drama and self-destruction. So much for being twins.

Why is this important in terms of Jaime’s death odds? As anyone who has spent five minutes online knows, Cersei has a certain prophecy that has her most likely marked for dead. I am not going to go into the theories about who the valonqar might be (although I will say that the corollary of the valonqar dying after killing Cersei is 100% fanon and nonexistent in the actual prophecy), but this is relevant because, from a narrative arc standpoint, if their arcs are heading in totally opposite directions and Cersei is marked for death, then the odds of Jaime also being marked for death are actually rather low. If one dies, the other, most likely, lives. (Could it be Cersei? Sure. But I think it’s unlikely based on her trajectory - not going to go into it now. Regardless, I think their endings will likely be diametrically opposed).

 

Brienne: the (plot) armour

And, finally, we come to Brienne. Her chapters are perhaps some of the strongest plot armour (irony, much? - IRON-y? Sorry. I’ll stop now.) Jaime has in this story.

Brienne embodies the concept of knighthood Jaime used to have before joining the Kingsguard. While her views are initially naive and unrealistic, one of her main purposes in the story is to ignite Jaime’s renewed desire to be the honourable knight he wanted to be when he was younger. But if this were Brienne’s sole purpose, she did not need to be a POV. She is a POV because GRRM wants us to see how meeting Jaime affected HER. While challenging her views of knighthood and oaths is one aspect of it, one thing he brings up over and over is that she is terrified of failing Jaime.

The feeling of failure over past events is a staple of Brienne’s inner thoughts (also towards her father, who she feels she couldn’t be an adequate daughter to, and Catelyn Stark, who she couldn’t protect from dying in the Red Wedding). But whenever she thinks about failing Jaime, her thoughts more often than not draw a parallel between failing Jaime and the way she “failed” Renly, the man she loved; i.e. being unable to prevent his death. We meet Brienne in book/season 2 and, shortly after her introduction, we see her holding a dying Renly in her arms. Once we get inside her head in book 4, we see that she has nightmares where she watches Jaime die the same way Renly did, or where he walks away, leaving her alone (“Jaime! Come back for me!”). The show had her voice this fear to Podrick: 

“Nothing is more hateful than failing to protect the one you love”.

 

I won’t go off on a tangent now about Jaime and Brienne’s relationship and where that might go (although, as a full disclaimer, I believe all evidence points to a romance - check out bonus part 4 for more on that topic), but one does not need to see their relationship as romantic to appreciate that protection and failure are big themes in Brienne’s arc, that she starts the story precisely failing to protect the man she loves from death, and that those feelings of protection and fear of failure are transferred from Renly to Jaime. So, if Jaime were to die? It would bring her arc right back where she started, her story having gone nowhere. It does not really matter whether Brienne dies alongside him, or Jaime dies after Brienne is dead. From a narrative standpoint, it would still mean Brienne’s efforts were ultimately in vain. I think it’s unlikely GRRM’s decision to make her a POV character and spend so much time on the theme of failure of protecting the one(s) she loves, was merely to engage in circular storytelling and end the story with “You know what, Brienne? You were right all along. You are a failure. Now go and mourn Jaime for the rest of your lonely life, the way you mourned Renly and everyone else in your life who’s dead (i.e. 99% of your family).”


 

To summarize, if we look at narrative arcs, Jaime’s arc tackles three themes that all seem to point in a direction other than death as the most likely/logical outcome. Furthermore, Jaime’s death would void two other important themes/arcs George is exploring with two other POV characters. Therefore, while of course it doesn’t rule it out, the odds of him dying, when looking at narrative arcs alone, look much lower than the general consensus would have you believe. 

Up next, in part 2foreshadowing.

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Most of the popular clues hinting at Jaime’s potential death, come in the form of foreshadowing. There are three hints in particular that are always brought up, in no particular order: “Born together/die together”, the weirwood dream, and “in the arms of the woman I love”. Let’s look at each one of these.

 

Born together, die together

Jaime (ASOS): “I cannot die while Cersei lives. We will die together as we were born together.”

Cersei (AFFC): “We will leave this world together, as we once came into it.”

This is seen by many as proof that the twins will die together (and is the origin of the “valonqar corollary”, where Jaime is the valonqar and will therefore kill himself after, even though no such thing is mentioned in the prophecy). But in 2011, GRRM had this to say about it: 

“There’s an element of sociopathy to it, where it’s the two of us and no one else really counts, especially outside their family. They’re twins, they were born together, they have a feeling that they’re going to die together. There’s this bonding that they’re two halves of a whole, so who else would they pair with? Anything else is lesser.” (GRRM)

There’s a lot to unpack in his statement, but I want to focus on two things: “they have a feeling that they’re going to die together” and “they’re two halves of a whole, so who else would they pair with? Anything else is lesser.”

 

GRRM is careful to specify that that’s a feeling they have, it’s not a truth. He might obviously be avoiding spoilers, but I think there’s more to it than that, in the sense that he is using that belief of theirs as an example of the level of unhealthy obsession and delusion in their relationship. This is the point at which their story begins; the point at which they buy into this notion that they’re two halves of a whole and the only ones who matter. I already discussed in part 1 about narrative arcs, how perhaps the main part of Jaime and Cersei’s story is about discovering that they’re not two halves of a whole, and set off on opposite journeys. Indeed, Jaime’s quote comes from early on in his POV, before he returns to King’s Landing and his disillusion with Cersei begins to set in. And GRRM is indeed raising a question that will be addressed later, as their story unfolds: “who else would they pair with?”. Of course, at the beginning of their story, the answer is nobody because “anything else is lesser”, but will that still be the answer in the future? (6’3” hint - probably not).

As the story progresses, the two become disenchanted with the other, with some symbolism thrown in for good measure (such as Jaime losing the hand he was born holding Cersei’s foot with, or the wind in his hair being compared to a generic woman’s fingers, instead of Cersei’s like pre-rift), until Jaime burns the letter Cersei sent to ask him to be her champion in her trial by combat; i.e. win for her or die with her (see this Reddit post for a nice comparison between Jaime and Cersei’s belief they will die together

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At the start of the series, Jaime and Cersei think they were destined to be together. In AGOT, Cersei even tells Ned they are "one person in two bodies." They also believe their fates are linked, and they will die together as they were born together. But this means something very different for each of them:

As they approached the clifflike walls of Black Harren’s monstrous castle, Brienne squeezed his arm. “Lord Bolton holds this castle. The Boltons are bannermen to the Starks.” “The Boltons skin their enemies.” Jaime remembered that much about the northman. Tyrion would have known all there was to know about the Lord of the Dreadfort, but Tyrion was a thousand leagues away, with Cersei. I cannot die while Cersei lives, he told himself. We will die together as we were born together. (Chapter 31, ASOS)

When the Bloody Mummers capture him and cut his hand off, Jaime clings on to life by reminding himself that Cersei is alive.

Even in her exhausted, frightened state, the queen knew she dare not trust her fate to a court of sparrows. Nor could she count on Ser Kevan to intervene, after the words that had passed between them at their last meeting. It will have to be a trial by battle. There is no other way. “Qyburn, for the love you bear me, I beg you, send a message for me. A raven if you can. A rider, if not. You must send to Riverrun, to my brother. Tell him what has happened, and write..." “Yes, Your Grace?” She licked her lips, shivering. “Come at once. Help me. Save me. I need you now as I have never needed you before. I love you. I love you. I love you. Come at once.” “As you command. ‘I love you’ thrice?” “Thrice.” She had to reach him. “He will come. I know he will. He must. Jaime is my only hope.” “My queen,” said Qyburn, “have you... forgotten? Ser Jaime has no sword hand. If he should champion you and lose...” We will leave this world together, as we once came into it. (Chapter 43, AFFC)

When Cersei is imprisoned by the sparrows and faced with death, she summons Jaime to die because she doesn't think he should live on without her.

I think that Jamie can't imagine his life without her, but Cersei can't imagine Jaime's life without her. Almost the same feeling but completely a self centered version. Cersei also may want Jaime to return to Kingslanding since he is leading one of the greatest armies currently in Westeros. ***added Jaime's name at the end.

I have always seen their relationship as very one sided. Jaime doesn't want to die while Cersei lives because he doesn't want to leave her alone in the world. Cersei wants Jaime to die with her because she is selfish. I doubt that she would endanger herself for Jaime or kill herself if he died. Also, to my knowledge, Cersei is the only woman Jaime has ever been with -- and he could get with ANYONE. He seems to regard their relationship as sacred. Cersei on the other hand...

I agree.. a lot of Jaime's arc in AFFC, starting with Tyrion's "Moon Boy for all I know" revelation, is about seeing their relationship for what it was, realizing that Cersei meant a lot more to him than he did to her, and choosing to walk away. 

 

).

With that gesture, Jaime essentially refuses to go die with her and abandons her to her own fate, therefore rejecting the belief they must die together (he later even thinks that he “guesses he might have to face her, if she’s not dead already”). In 2014, when asked about how he was planning to deal with them in the future, GRRM said: 

“Well, as for the books, I have two more to write. I’m certainly going to be dealing with Jaime. Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is in a very different place in the books than the show has reached now. They are effectively estranged now.” GRRM sees this moment as their estrangement.” (GRRM)

 

Note how back then George said just how far Jaime and Cersei’s relationship had “reached” in the show, compared to the books, implying the show still needs to get there. Fast-forward to 2017, and the final thread of tv!Jaime and Cersei’s relationship snaps as well. Jaime heads north to fight for the living, leaving her to her own fate in King’s Landing, a snowflake melting on his glove in the same way it melts in the books, signaling the arrival of winter (it’s also interesting that the show has omitted these lines, changing them instead for “We were born together, we belong together”).

 

Could their “feeling” that they will die together turn out to be true regardless of their journey, even if it means dying at the same time, miles away from the other? Maybe. But foreshadowing often exist to foreshadow the *opposite* of what is stated, and this is especially true when it comes to a character’s own beliefs. This is another important feature of the POV structure. Characters can be unreliable narrators, telling us about feelings they’re still confused about, which are not clear to them, or convinced of things that are not true. The most glaring example of unreliable narrator, without straying too far into other POV’s, is Cersei herself. For example, in ADWD, when she’s confronted with the fact that Jaime has gone MIA in the Riverlands with Brienne, Cersei’s reaction is to dismiss the news as impossible:

“Jaime would never abandon me for such a creature. My raven never reached him, elsewise he would have come”.

But we, as readers, know that Jaime did receive her letter, burned it and set off with Brienne. Cersei is wrong in her beliefs. This type of unreliable narration can also be at play with regards to beliefs the characters have about their future, such as Jaime bitterly thinking he is “a warrior, and that’s all he’ll ever be” (err, no; we know GRRM does not have that planned for him), or when he thinks about how much he’d rather be dead than a cripple (and then he gets his hand chopped off and has to live with it).

Given their journey, and the way their bond is, in many ways severed, as things stand, and that those quotes reflect a feelingJaime and Cersei have at the stage of their relationship where their delusion and obsession was strong, I think it’s very possible this is one of those hints that foreshadows the opposite turn of events.

 

The weirwood dream (a.k.a. “I dreamed of you”)

“The flames will burn so long as you live,” he heard Cersei call. “When they die, so must you.”

[…] The fires that ran along the blade were guttering out, and Jaime remembered what Cersei had said. No. Terror closed a hand about his throat. Then his sword went dark, and only Brienne’s burned, as the ghosts came rushing in.

“No,” he said, “no, no, no. Nooooooooo!”

The weirwood dream is another fan favorite when it comes to predicting Jaime’s death. I once wrote a long post analysing this dream, and I might rewrite one for the blog, but I’ll try to stick to the basics here. The dream is clearly prophetic since many of the things in it do actually happen later on, and the fact that Jaime has it as he sleeps resting against a weirwood stump suggests there might be some magical intervention at work. Many think that this foreshadows Jaime dying in battle against the Army of the Dead, since Jaime and Brienne here are facing dead people “armoured in snow”. But I think there’s much more at work here. What I think George might be doing is to deliberately get people, throughout the early part of the dream, to focus repeatedly on the association between light = life and lack of light = death, so that when Jaime’s sword dies out, the reader’s brain is primed to think “He’s dying”. In many ways, this is no different than those tricks where you ask someone to repeat “fork” fifteen times and then ask them “what do you eat soup with?” and they say “fork”.

But a key aspect of the dream is the thing that constantly gets ignored: Brienne’s presence. Brienne is standing by Jaime’s side, wielding her own flaming sword and repeating “I swore an oath to keep you safe”. Once Jaime’s light goes out, hers is still burning (and Jaime at that point is still alive: he’s screaming “No” over and over).

When you think about the fact that protection (and fear of failure at that) is one of the biggest themes in Brienne’s arc, and the many lines and dreams in books and show that seem to draw a connection between Brienne and protecting Jaime from death (“Who wants to die defending a Lannister?”, “You can’t die. You need to live.” , “she saw that the dying king was not Renly after all but Jaime Lannister, and she had failed him”, “Nothing is more hateful than failing to protect the one you love”), the fact that she’s meant to be his protector is a relative no-brainer.  Jaime even tells Qyburn as much, earlier in the books. And I think her presence in the dream represents just that. Cersei talks about the flames in the plural sense. There is no explicit, direct connection between one specific flame and one specific life, nothing to suggest that Brienne’s flame isn’t enough to keep both of them alive. And the dream is a reminder that Brienne would do everything in her power to protect Jaime.

Brienne: “Ser Jaime? I am grateful, but … you were well away. Why come back?”

Jaime: “I dreamed of you.”

The dream, in the books, is what spurs Jaime into going back to Harennhall and save Brienne from the bear (who is foreshadowed in the dream itself). Why would a prophetic dream, most likely due to magic, where Brienne is defending him from ghosts with her flaming sword, be the catalyst for Jaime to run back to Harrenhall and save Brienne’s life? My money is on the fact that it’s because it foreshadows Brienne protecting him from death when they’ll end up facing the Army of the Dead in the future, with their twin swords. Had Jaime had not gone back to get her from that bearpit, she would have died, he will have nobody to protect him and die himself. Why exactly the magical intervention was needed to keep them alive, remains to be seen (someone should ask Bran, I think he might have a hand in this).

We don’t have the dream in the show, but the show has used Olenna in a similar way. If the weirwood dream suggests that if Jaime doesn’t go save Brienne, he will be fucked in the future because she’s going to be the only light that protects him after his family has abandoned him, Olenna’s line in the show is the mirror image of the weirwood dream, suggesting to Jaime that if he doesn’t leave Cersei, she will be the end of him. And, at the end of S7, he chooses to do the right thing, live her and fight for the leaving.

 

In the arms of the woman I love

Bronn: “How do you want to go?”

Jaime: “In the arms of the woman I love.”

Lately, this S5 conversation between Bronn and Jaime is the greatest hit of foreshadowing. You’ll find it literally everywhere, from Reddit to Twitter to YouTube. Debates continue over whether the woman in question will be Cersei or Brienne (some suggest it’s Brienne, because Brienne held Renly in her arms as he died - re-read part 1 about Brienne’s arc to see what I think of that), but the general consensus is that this is foreshadowing that he will die. Like with any line that is taken as foreshadowing, we can’t know for sure until the end, but I argue that people might be missing the forest for the trees in this case. I think the debate over which woman it might be is much more important than that line itself. Indeed, people always ignore the last line of that dialogue:

Bronn: “Does she want the same thing?”

This stumps Jaime and ends the scene, leaving the audience with all sorts of questions: is he stumped because he’s thinking about whether Cersei would want that? Or because he’s thinking about whether the woman he loves now is still Cersei or Brienne (it’s no coincidence this is the same episode where shortly before this scene they inserted a totally gratuitous scene of Jaime gazing longingly at Tarth)? Or because he is thinking about how the answer might change depending on the woman? Or because he’s thinking whether they would want to die in his arms? We are meant to make our own assumptions as to what goes on in Jaime’s mind at this moment - Nikolaj himself said as much in a tweet to a fan asking him whether Jaime was thinking of Brienne or Cersei. That, I would argue, is the whole point of the scene. To stump the audience just as much as Jaime and raise these questions.

Furthermore, even if it is foreshadowing his death, it doesn’t specify anything about the circumstances. It could be in battle (which I have already discussed the likelihood of), it could be murder at Cersei’s hands to fulfill their “born together/die together” foreshadowing (which I have already discussed the likelihood of), or it could be as an old man in his castle (which, interestingly, is what Bronn suggests - albeit in his usual crass way).

And since we are in Bronn’s company, I want to bring up another exchange the two have in S7 that is almost never mentioned in terms of foreshadowing. Right after Bronn saves Jaime from being roasted by Drogon, he says:

“Until I get my castle, nobody gets to kill you. You don’t get to kill you. Only I get to kill you.”

rWhich suggests that, unless Bronn suddenly sells out to the other side and assassinates Jaime (which is unlikely, given that I doubt a main POV character like Jaime is going end his story being betrayed and assassinated by a minor character he barely interacts with in the books), and for as long as Bronn is alive, Jaime just found himself another protector.

 

So, in conclusion, yes. If we analyse narrative arcs, foreshadowing and GRRM’s style (see part 3), foreshadowing is where we find the strongest case for Jaime’s death, out of the three. However, even then, the case isn’t THAT strong, when you dig deeper into the text and take into account how the foreshadowing fits or contradicts the overall arcs and themes we find in Jaime’s story and that of his two ladies.  

Up next in part 3, a look at GRRM’s writing style.

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Once the narrative arcs and foreshadowing analysis pokes enough holes in the “inevitable death” prediction, the arguments to support it usually tend to turn to non-text-based points such as writing style and tropes. Most of these arguments generally revolve around the idea that GRRM is evil and kills characters off to traumatize his readers, and that Jaime’s story is a redemption arc and therefore will end in a redemptive death like all redemption arcs do. These arguments, however, do not really hold much water once you take into account that GRRM actually isn’t the sadist people like to think he is (including sometimes George himself, because it makes for good PR), and that one thing this series prides itself on is trope and expectations subversion.  

GRRM is a realist, not a sadist

“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

 

 

Of all the quotes that have come out of the show, this, right here, is the one I have come to hate the most. Not only because it is often irritatingly used as an empty argument against anything that suggests a non-tragic ending for a character (especially one like Jaime), but it’s thrown around as if it’s the most representative of ASOIAF/GoT ever. In part, I get why. It’s catchy, and the series has broken a lot of boundaries by actually killing people off, putting them through terrible ordeals, maiming and traumatising some for life. It gained its notoriety for killing off the perceived main character of the story at very beginning, and for the shocking bloodbath of “good guys” that was the Red Wedding. But I feel there’s a tendency, amongst fans and journalists alike, to exaggerate how gloomy and sadistic the story/GRRM really is, relative to the context it is set in (medieval war time).

GRRM often explained the reason why he kills characters off as fundamentally being down to two reasons: wanting to depict war realistically and annoyance at stories where the heroes are untouchable and survive, unscathed, any situation (which ties into the topic of trope subversion, too - more on this later).

“You can’t write about war and violence without having death. If you want to be honest it should affect your main characters. We’ve all read this story a million times when a bunch of heroes set out on adventure and […] the only ones who die are extras. That’s such a cheat. It doesn’t happen that way.” (GRRM)

 

GRRM is a realist, not a sadist. And I would argue he’s not as bloodthirsty as people perceive him to be, when it comes to main characters. If you think about it, only *two* POV characters have been killed off so far: Ned and Cat. Jon, the other main POV to be killed off in the books, we know will be resurrected thanks to the show. And just as GRRM inserts POVs for a reason (when he needs that new perspective, or when a character’s story needs to be told), there’s a similar reason in his killing too. It usually comes when the characters have fulfilled their purpose in the story, or if their death is a plot point for someone else’s. In Ned and Cat’s case, they die after falling into Littlefinger’s scheme that pits Lannisters against the Starks, kicking off the War of the Five Kings. Ned’s purpose was to discover the true paternity of Robert’s children and Cat dies after tasking Brienne to bring Jaime to King’s Landing in return for her daughters (which sets off a massive domino effect of plotlines). They also both needed to die in order to break down centralized parenthood in the Stark family so that the Stark children could go their separate ways and have their own stories and development.

While POV and non-POV deaths alike can be shocking and/or heartbreaking, they aren’t thrown in there just to fill some death or shock quota for no other rhyme nor reason. This is not The Walking Dead. And “realism” also means a ton of other options that have nothing to do with death. It’s not just an issue of “death vs. survival”, to post another excerpt from the quote above:

“They go into battle and their best friend dies or they get horribly wounded. They lose their leg or death comes at them unexpectedly.”

Having a loved one die, or horrible injuries are also part of realism for GRRM, not just death. Does that “lose their leg” sound familiar? Thought so. So saying that Jaime (or any character) will most likely get killed anyway because GRRM is a sadist is not only a weak argument, but a big misrepresentation of  GRRM’s writing style. Jaime, who has already added his contribution to the “realism” jar by losing his hand, might die if and when he has fulfilled his purpose in the story, but not because “GRRM is a jerk”. 

 

Subversions

Perhaps a stronger case for Jaime’s survival odds is the fact that, if there is one thing this series loves to do, it’s subverting tropes and expectations, and, alongside Ned’s death and the Red Wedding, Jaime is perhaps one of the most famous examples of how this story does character trope subversion so well. 

Right out of the gate, it wants us to hate him, because he’s arrogant, ruthless and incestuous, he betrayed and murdered the King he was sworn to protect and he pushed a child out of a window. From book/season 3 onwards, that initial perception is slowly challenged and eventually subverted, especially throughout his journey with Brienne and with the revelation of why he killed the Mad King, but also in how he takes risks to protect Tyrion and Sansa from his own family. In the show this is particularly fun, because once you go back to earlier seasons, you notice several subtle moments of writing and acting where the seeds of these revelations were already being planted. While I understand he is not everyone’s cup of tea and some hate him just as much as day one, I think that we can all agree at least that this is what the story is aiming to do, even if not all readers/viewers embrace it. And that’s the most important thing when making a point about authorial intent.

I already mentioned when discussing narrative arcs, that the difference between the classic redemptive character trope and Jaime is that, in Jaime’s case, the story is exploring the process of redemption, rather than seeing redemption as the last minute goal, and how that makes a classic redemptive death less likely. But there is another difference with the traditional trope that makes Jaime not only subvert expectations but, partly, also subvert the redemption trope itself. And that is that many (not all, but many) of the things we are initially supposed to hate Jaime for, actually turn to be misconceptions or prejudices from other characters’ perspective (a huge point of having a POV structure). While Jaime undoubtedly goes through a transformation through the story, for many things it is our initial perception of Jaime is meant to change, not Jaime, the character (again, POV structure!). Looking at Jaime as the trope of the “bad man who is turned good by the good woman” (i.e. Brienne) is a complete misread of the character. Brienne exists to reawaken what Jaime used to be like in his past/can potentially still be, not to transform him into something else (it is Beauty and the Beast they are based on, after all - the beast used to be a prince, and gets turned back into that prince). Therefore applying the outcome of the traditional tropes to Jaime (i.e. a redemptive death) makes little sense when Jaime is meant to be a subversion of that trope to begin with, if not even a different type of character altogether.

 

Another trope worth considering is the “all the bad guys will die” trope.

Not only this view fails to acknowledge that most characters and families in this series (and its extended universe - see the Targaryen as portrayed in Dunk & Egg) aren’t 100% “good” or 100% “bad”, they sit on a spectrum, but even if you wanted to see a specific character or family as “evil”, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will die or go extinct. We can go back to his quotes about why he kills off characters to see how “bad guys will die” is also a trope he might be interested in subverting.

“It’s really irritating when you open a book, and 10 pages into it you know that the hero you met on page one or two is gonna come through unscathed, because he’s the hero. This is completely unreal, and I don’t like it.” (GRRM)

This quote above can be looked at in reverse too:  just as it is annoying to open a book and know 10 pages in that the hero will survive (and GRRM subverted that trope with Ned), it is annoying to know 10 pages in that the villain will die (and Ned’s villain counterpart in book one is Jaime), or that the family that is perceived as the “evil family” (i.e. the Lannisters) will go extinct in the end (let alone if it’s with the exception of the “good” Lannister, Tyrion, playing right into the trope of both “good vs bad” guys and “good vs bad families”, since the only Lannister allowed to survive is the “good” one).

So even if one doesn’t want to buy into Jaime’s redemption and trope subversion, and wants to hold onto the book/season one interpretation that he’s an awful human being, if the author(s) intend for Jaime to be a subversion of the redemption death trope, or to subvert the “all bad guys must die” trope (or both), then his odds of death or survival are not really influenced by whether the audience agrees with that or not.

 

GRRM is both a gardener AND an architect

As I wrap up my 3-parter, one final aspect of GRRM’s style is important to note, because it ties it all together.

GRRM says he is a “gardener”, who likes to plant seeds and see how they grow. So one might argue that there is no guarantee that just because he set off in book one to make Jaime the subversion of the villain who must die (through redemption), he will never decide at some point that, actually, a death will be a fitting and satisfying conclusion.

However, it is important to remember that when he talks about being a gardener he means it in the sense that he finds knowing the *details* of how a story will develop to be a turn off for his inspiration and motivation, not that he does not plan anything ahead and has no idea where the story is going.

“For me, writing a book is like a long journey, and like any trip, I know the point where I start the journey and the point I wanna get to. I also know a little bit of the route, such as the main cities in which I wanna stop by, and even a few monuments I would like to visit. What I do not know is where I will eat the first night or which songs will be on the radio. I discover all that details while I am writing the book and that’s the reason why I go so slowly: because sometimes I have to go back to change certain things.” (GRRM)

While he creates the story as he goes along, he does work with the broad strokes of the endgame and the final fates of the main characters in mind:

“I know the broad strokes, and I’ve known the broad strokes since 1991. I know who’s going to be on the Iron Throne. I know who’s gonna win some of the battles, I know the major characters, who’s gonna die and how they’re gonna die, and who’s gonna get married and all that. The major characters. Of course along the way I made up a lot of minor characters, you know, I, uhm…Did I know in 1991 how Bronn, what was gonna happen to Bronn? No, I didn’t even know there’d be a guy named Bronn. […] So a lot of the minor characters I’m still discovering along the way. But the mains-”

[question if he knows Arya’s and Jon’s fates]

“Tyrion, Arya, Jon, Sansa, you know, all of the Stark kids, and the major Lannisters, yeah.” (GRRM)

 

Furthermore, he absolutely loves to drop cues, hints and foreshadowing to future events and plot twists, something that would be completely impossible for him to do if he were writing with no clear ending and direction in sight. So he sets out to make sure his story adds up and makes sense, even if it means having to give up the surprise factor, either because someone already figured it out (e.g. R+L=J):

 

“The fans use to come up with theories; lots of them are just speculative but some of them are in the right way. […] They say: “Oh God, the butler did it!”, to use an example of a mystery novel. Then, you think: “I have to change the ending! The maiden would be the criminal!” To my mind that way is a disaster because […] the books are full of clues that point to the butler doing it and help you to figure up the butler did it, but if you change the ending to point the maiden, the clues make no sense anymore; they are wrong or are lies, and I am not a liar.” (GRRM)

or because the show surpassed the books:

Though he used to worry about it getting to the end before him, he’s not even about that life anymore.

“I said, to hell with that. Worrying about it isn’t going to change it one way or another. I still sit down at the typewriter, and I have to write the next scene and the next sentence … I’m just going to tell my story, and they’re telling their story and adapting my books, and we shall see.” (GRRM)

Jaime’s fate, as a “main Lannister”, is therefore already clear in GRRM’s mind and he has been seeding and foreshadowing and working towards it, even if *how* he will get there is anybody’s guess (and the show and books have already substantially diverged in that sense). It will likely not change on a whim, invalidating everything that has been written all along.

 

So, as we reach the end of part 3 and take all the stuff I’ve discussed in this 3-parter in consideration, I think it’s safe to conclude that: given Jaime’s arc and related foreshadowing, knowing that GRRM develops his stories sloooowly, carefully and purposefully, always with a goal in sight, going back to change things if they don’t fit or contradict, relying heavily on the concept of butterfly effect across arcs and characters, and with a penchant for trope subversion sprinkled on top, you can see why I feel that the odds of Jaime’s death in the fandom and general audience are HIGHLY overinflated, and mostly due to selectively attending to one or two pieces of evidence, without considering how they fit in the overall picture. While this is still no guarantee he’ll definitely survive, I’d argue that a likelihood of survival follows from the material (and general writing style) more than death.

 

Now, if you’ve made it this far without falling asleep, congratulations! I’ve addressed pretty much everything I wanted to address to estimate Jaime’s survival odds from a relatively non-speculative angle, using the current material and quotes available, rather than theorizing too much about what I think are likely future developments for his story. I tend to dislike when people use events that have not yet happened and may never happen (looking at you, valonqarists), to make a case for their arguments, so I refrained from doing it as I don’t really think it’s helpful or even necessary to make my case. BUT, if you’re interested in taking a wild leap into theory-land and how that may further affect his survival odds, I’ll be posting a more speculative part 4 hopefully soon (which will be heavily Jaime/Brienne friendly - you’ve been warned).

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Maybe the saga culminates in a Revenge of the Nerds Style 3 Way Sex Romp where the Lannister twins are confused and blindfolded and don't realize it's Tyrion who has joined them.  They think they're closing the deal with Arianne, but they're really snockered.   And bamboozled.   Then Jaime starts laughing and says he's glad he lived long enough to complete the family triad.  Cercei however chooses to be miffed.  And commits the faux pas of mentioning their father's murder.   Etiquette has never been her strong suit, alas.

I'm officially on record as saying Jaime rides into Daenerys' camp alone to have 'the talk' with her and lives through it.   He ends as her handless hand.  And I've never been wrong about any of my signature predictions.  Note: no books have come out during my decade long streak of unimpeachable accuracy.

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