Brienne of Tarth

Brienne of TarthLeague commenter Marianne is interested in Brienne of Tarth:

Well…. for one thing I think a woman knight idolizing Renly that way is an interesting take on the conventions of chivalry and courtly love. I don’t know much about those things outside of White (and Malory)… but it definitely seems to ring all the same changes, while being completely subversive in some way. *imagines Brienne jousting with a favor tied to her lance*

But really, I’m just curious to hear other people’s take on one of my favorite characters.

A caveat: I just finished the Red Wedding chapter in A Storm of Swords so there’s a lot of Brienne to come that I haven’t seen yet. That said, I think there’s been enough of Brienne to merit comment. I also haven’t read The Once and Future King in a long time consider me someone who can’t compare Brienne to similar characters elsewhere in literature.

Brienne herself isn’t one of my more favorite characters but the dynamic between her and Jaime has always fascinated me. The contrast between Brienne and Cersei for Jaime was obvious and I think also played a role in Jaime’s post-sword hand evolution (which is a good thing!).

If there’s anything worth noting about Brienne up till here, it’s that unlike some of the other characters born with a great deal of handicaps (Tyrion, Petyr), Brienne never seems to have accepted that the world isn’t at all like the songs. Throughout her trip to King’s Landing to exchange Jamie for the Stark daughters, Brienne is regularly critical of Jaime for being an oathbreaker. She’s also incredulous that Jaime (or any knight of the Kingsguard) would break his vows. Here’s Brienne and Jaime:

“Your crimes are past forgiving, Kingslayer.”
“That name again. Jamie twisted idly at his chains. “Why do I enrage you so? I’ve never done you harm that I know of.”
You’ve harmed others. Those you were sworn to protect. The weak, the innocent…”
“…the king?” It always came back to Aerys. “Don’t presume to judge what you do not understand, wench.”

Someone like Brienne should be a bit more… well… bitter. It makes sense that Tyrion is constantly grappling with the urge to continue to search for sincere love and comradeship while also telling himself that he will never be loved because he’s an ugly dwarf. Brienne is ugly and abnormal in height as well which, like Tyrion, has brought her plenty of rejection and condescension. But unlike with Tyrion, Brienne shows no indication that she’s actually accepted the harsh reality of the world. Instead it appears she’s found armor to shield herself (figuratively and literally) from the truth. Also contrary to Tyrion, there’s no obvious internal conflict with Brienne. She’s denied that there’s no chivalry in Westeros and that honesty and honor doesn’t advance a person. I suspect these denials are partially why Brienne is attracted to Renly: he’s so much more into the appearance of things, the bright colors and the ostentatious aspects of being a king or a knight than actually being a knight. Basically, he focuses more on creating spreading beauty (superficial as his idea of beauty is) in the world than anything else.

Brienne’s entire identity and optimism about honor and chivalry looks like a conscious decision. She chooses to be a warrior woman, it’s not really thrust upon her. We’ve seen lady fighters elsewhere in deep Westeros like the Mormonts but they are really the exception that proves the rule. The Mormont lady-fighter also came out of clear, basic necessity, not desire like Brienne. From what I’ve seen of Brienne so far, there’s no indication that she needed to learn to be a warrior to protect her home. Instead, what’s more likely is that Brienne’s father, Lord Selwyn the Evenstar, saw that she was simply more comfortable at swordplay than at court. Ned was that way too but he actually hoped Arya would grow out of her tomboyish inclinations. Brienne clearly hasn’t and never will.

Again though, I’ve still got two books ahead of me so the truth could be exactly the opposite of my argument here but I can only act on the information available to me.

Regardless, I actually don’t think Brienne’s biggest problem is her appearance or her desire to be a warrior. Instead, I think it’s her refusal to accept that the successful in Westeros are not those who follow a code of honor, they are those who have no honor at all. If you think about the people who do get ahead in these books, it’s the ones who use their means to the desired end, regardless of honor.

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5 thoughts on “Brienne of Tarth

  1. Courtly love was all about 25 year old men lusting after 13 year old children. Because that was what a maiden was.

    Brienne mooning after Renly… far more Greek. Platonic love — and it’s in a world where even Robert and Ned don’t have platonic love (not saying they have erotic love, either — but it’s a very fraternal love. a love despite what the other is, as often as it is because of what the other is).

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  2. I suppose when I said courtly love I was thinking both about idealization and unattainability – the ideal of chivalrous admiration, rather than how it may’ve truly played out. I think that Brienne’s feelings about Renly had a strong erotic component – even though she knew he had eyes for no one but Loras – so to me platonic love isn’t a great descriptor.

    Daniel, I find myself unable to argue your points without either spoilers or a lot of “just you waits!” – but trust me, there’s a lot of interesting material to come. I think if I’d realized where you were in her story, I might not’ve asked you to write about her yet… though I always felt she had a lot more inner conflict, etc., than she was letting on, even at first.

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  3. Enjoyed your write up about Brienne. The image of her jousting with Renley’s favor on her lance is delightful. It’s even more fun when I imagine Ser Loras’ jealous face. I really liked the part where you discuss Brienne consciously choosing her outlook on life. This is one of my favorite things about Brienne and I think it’s what separates her from someone like Tyrion.

    Brienne had her dreams crushed by harsh reality, she saw how knights – the very best knights in Westeros – not being true knights but still she chooses to believe in honor and chivalry. It’s not contingent on the examples of people around her. She carries it within herself. She is naive about oath breaking maybe but not about honor. I think it’s a choice.

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