Welcome to Bae Watch Wednesday, where I tell you all about the fictional characters you ought to be crushing on. I’ve still got Game of Throneson my mind so this week’s bae is Brienne of Tarth.
Who Is Brienne Of Tarth?
Brienne of Tarth is one of the secondary-level protagonists of Game of Thrones. She first appeared in season two as a Kingsguard for King Renly Baratheon, one of the five kings fighting over Westeros. When she was a girl, Brienne was mocked incessantly for her appearance. As a large, ungainly girl, she was teased as “Brienne the Beauty.” But as the daughter of a lord – Lord Selwyn Tarth – Brienne was expected to be a lady. So her father threw a ball to introduce her to society.
It was the sort of event that should have been horrible for Brienne. But instead, it was wonderful. The boys fought to dance with her. She felt beautiful, for once. Recalling the event later, she mentions smiling at her father, finally feeling at home in the role of Lady Brienne of Tarth. But, of course, it was all a sham. The boys were playing a prank on her, mocking her for believing that she could ever be anything other than “Brienne the Beauty.” But then the king’s brother, Renly Baratheon, danced with her and told her to never let anyone see her cry.
Renly rescued Brienne and made her feel important and lovely. So she dedicated herself to him. She knew that Renly was not interested in women, let alone interested in her, but she didn’t care. He was kind, and he was good. So when Renly declared himself king after his brother’s death, sparking the war of the succession, Brienne supported him. She won the right to be his Kingsguard and devoted herself to protecting her king. But death came for Renly Baratheon from an unexpected quarter. His brother Stannis, also claiming the throne, used bloodmagic to assassinate Renly. With no one to persecute for the murder, Brienne was blamed.
Brienne fled Renly’s camp with Catelyn Stark, the only other witness to Renly’s murder. Brienne blames herself for failing Renly, though she had no way to stop bloodmagic. She swears revenge on Stannis, who not only murdered his own brother, but used magic to do so. But when she would have recklessly run off to fight Stannis then and there, Catelyn Stark stops her. Catelyn tells Brienne that her current course of action will only lead to her death, with no chance for revenger.
Instead, Catelyn offers her a different option. Brienne becomes Catelyn’s sworn sword, and swears loyalty to her. Catelyn wants Brienne’s help to rescue her daughters, who are the captives of the king in the capital. Her son Robb is King in the North and he’s leading a rebellion against the crown. Catelyn takes Brienne back to Robb’s camp. When things go south, Catelyn betrays her son to save her daughters. She sends Brienne to the capital with Jaime Lannister, brother to the queen and Robb’s most valuable prisoner.
Brienne and Jaime make their way back to the capital. They’re an odd pair. Brienne is excessively loyal, taciturn, and efficient, whereas Jaime is irreverent, chatty, and a known oathbreaker. Jaime teases Brienne for loving Renly, a gay man. But fragile respect grows between them. When they are captured by Robb’s men, seeking to retake Jaime, he stands up for Brienne when they would have raped her. When he is brutalized in return, losing his hand, Brienne convinces him to keep living. Later, Jaime is sent back to the capital as a free man, but Brienne is left behind. He knows she will be in danger, so he forsakes his freedom to save her when she is put in a fighting pit with a bear.
After they returned to the capital, Brienne was reunited with Margaery Tyrell, who married Renly before his death. She is left at odds since Sansa Stark is more or less a captive of the king. When Catelyn Stark is killed, along with her son, Brienne feels like she has failed yet again. But Jaime reminds Brienne that she can still uphold her vow. Sansa fled the capital under suspicion of killing the king, and the queen orders her murdered. Jaime sends Brienne to save Sansa and upholds both their vows to Catelyn Stark to protect her daughters.
Brienne heads north with Podrick Payne, who she reluctantly takes on as her squire as a favor to Jaime. Along the way, Brienne and Pod ran into Arya Stark, who was presumed dead for a long time. Brienne wants to protect Arya, but Arya rejects her offer. Brienne duels with the Hound, who has been protecting Arya. But when the duel is over, Arya has run off. Brienne sets back off without one Stark daughter. Things don’t get better when they finally found Sansa, who was heading north with Littlefinger. Sansa remembers Brienne from the capital, bowing to the king. She also rejects Brienne’s protection.
However, Brienne is stubborn and determined to uphold her vow. She follows Sansa from a distance, keeping an eye out. When Sansa is sold in marriage to a vicious abuser, Brienne tries to rescue her. Her loyalty is tested, though, when Stannis marches on them. Brienne abandoned her watch to kill Stannis, missing a chance to save Sansa. She redeems herself when Sansa escapes and Brienne joins her. Brienne becomes the sworn sword of Sansa like she was for her mother before her, and dedicates herself to protecting the Starks.
Why Is Brienne Of Tarth Bae?
Gwendoline Christie is an actual goddess. That’s really all that needs to be said. Have you seen her red carpet photos? Goddess. While Brienne of Tarth isn’t usually as stunningly attired as Gwendoline Christie, she still has the noble bearing and captivating features that make her stand out, even if she isn’t classically, femininely beautiful.
There are very few good, honorable characters in Game of Thrones. The ones that are there tend to not have terribly long lifespans. When we have seen characters who are, above all else, honorable, they die. Ned Stark was the first real casualty of the brutal world of Game of Thrones. He was generally known as one of the most honorable men in Westeros, with a reputation that preceded him. He was not at all suited for the capital, with its scheming and plots. When he tried to honorably stop Cersei Lannister, he was destroyed. Ned Stark losing his head proved that honor isn’t the be all end all of Westeros.
So it’s even more impressive that Brienne of Tarth managed to hold onto her honor. She’s wholly dedicated to keeping her word and protecting those she swore to protect. She’s probably the last solidly honorable person left in the show, besides maybe Jon Snow. But while Jon Snow is stupidly honorable, like Ned Stark, Brienne doesn’t slavishly devote herself to the truth. She knows that what is most important is protecting the people around her, and that may mean doing things she doesn’t always agree with.
Brienne isn’t perfect. She chose her personal vendetta against Stannis Baratheon over her sworn duty to protect Sansa Stark. Sansa was being held captive by an abusive rapist, and she needed Brienne’s help to escape. Brienne was focused on Stannis, but she failed to help Sansa in time. But she made up for it. She saved Sansa when her escape went awry, and devoted herself to protecting Sansa. She doesn’t need to protect Arya, who became even deadlier than Brienne, but she still looks after her. Brienne fulfilled her vow to Catelyn Stark, and kept her word.
Despite being a fucked up and often very misogynist show, Game of Thrones does have really interesting female characters. More importantly, it has a variety of female characters, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. There are a good number of major female characters, and they are allowed to be unique, rather than monolithic. We see conniving, bitter Cersei Lannister, warlike but merciful Daenerys Targaryen, spoiled but shrewd Sansa Stark, dangerous and violent Arya Stark. It’s astonishing, sadly, to see so many female characters who are able to hold their own against the men.
And then there’s Brienne of Tarth. Brienne could easily be stored away as “not like other girls,” as “one of the boys,” as the unfeminine stereotype that we often see. She doesn’t dress like a woman, she fights better than most men, and she bristles when she is called “my lady,” arguing that, despite being the daughter of a lord, she is no lady. But that doesn’t mean she rejects femininity or other women, which is often the case with such characters. Brienne forms bonds with multiple female characters, including stereotypically feminine Catelyn and Sansa Stark. She may relate more to Arya, but she doesn’t treat Sansa as any less.
Brienne is not the way she is because she sees women as lesser than. Instead, she rejected her own femininity after having it be a bludgeon in her youth. After being told over and over that she was not feminine enough, she took that lesson to heart. It’s hard for anyone to mock you when you’re a fierce warrior, after all. But she admits she felt beautiful dancing with Renly. She’s such a good role model because she’s multifaceted and deep. She lets other awkward girls see a hero.
What’s Not To Love?
Brienne of Tarth may not be a major player in Westeros. She’s not from a great house like Lannister or Stark. She will never sit on a throne or be crowned queen. Nor does she want to be; she rejects her own heritage as the daughter of a lord. Her actions are limited to supporting the great players. She protects Sansa and serves as her guard when Sansa is Lady of Winterfell, just as she served as a guard for Catelyn Stark and Renly Baratheon. Brienne prefers the behind the scenes action. She doesn’t long for a spotlight.
But that doesn’t mean that Brienne of Tarth is unimportant. She has a part to play in the events that shape Westeros. Her biggest role is probably the influence she had on Jaime Lannister. In her efforts to uphold her vow to Catelyn Stark, Brienne became probably the first truly good person Jaime dealt with, given that he mostly sneered at Ned Stark. Brienne’s influence helps Jaime become a better person, though it takes some time.
Brienne, however, is important for more reasons than just leading a man to the right path. She’s important because she saved Sansa Stark from her captors, allowing her to become the Lady of Winterfell and help lead the defense of the north. She helped a lot of people, from Podrick Payne to the people of the North. She stands as a foil to Arya, another warlike woman, but without Brienne’s code of honor. But most importantly, Brienne of Tarth is important in her own right. She is a good, well-developed, complex character, who stands as a desperately needed role model for girls watching Game of Thrones. No doubt she will play a role in the war to come, as everything ends in the final season.