Arthur Dayne, Smiling Knight- Jaime’s Journey in ASOS
“The boy had wanted to be Ser Arthur Dayne, but someplace along the way he had become the Smiling Knight instead.” - Jaime VIII, ASOS
This is Jaime Lannister’s big thesis, the one that every person who’s ever read a “good to evil” arc is familiar with- you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
Jaime, at age 34, has been “the villain” of the story since he was 17, and though when we first see him he is the king-like twin of the queen, we don’t really remember much about Jaime before the famous line “The things I do for love.” Another of Jaime’s theses, it’s what defines him up to his fateful bath with Brienne. Jaime Lannister is the tool of love- that is, the tool of his lover-twin, and to a lesser degree, his father. Cersei commands him to do something, so Jaime does it, even if it is tossing a seven year old out a window, or killing a ten year old girl.
Look. No one ever said Jaime isn’t one MAJORLY fucked up sisterfucker.
Jaime Lannister, as has been noted by others, is a person with a very weird combination of PTSD, total lack of autonomy, and the brain of a 17 year old. Jaime never grew past killing Aerys, right up to his imprisonment when, cut off from Cersei, he falls into a deep dark depression that he only really emerges out of when he goes back to save Brienne. During this depression, Jaime spends about a year and a half entirely within his own mind, which is why Jaime’s 33 year old mind in ASOS is significantly different from Jon’s 16 year old mind in ASOS. Jaime gets the chance to examine his past, completely uninterrupted. Cersei’s not wrong to think he came back changed in ways other than just the missing hand- Jaime had the chance to finally be older than seventeen in those two years he was away. He has changed.
Jaime, from ages fifteen through seventeen, acts as our window into the court of 281-283, the years most ASOIAF fans will recall as the years of Robert’s Rebellion. Through his flashbacks we get to see Rhaella’s misery, Aerys’s madness, Rhaegar’s galantry and carelessness, Arthur Dayne’s all-around Stellarness (heh) as we won’t see again until Barristan in ADWD. The Targaryen Court of 281-283 was Fucked Up in ways that Robert’s 298 court can really only dream of. And Jaime’s still there in his mind, still sixteen, forced to be silent and still, watcher and witness as a king rapes his queen and plots the demise of all those around him. Jaime comes away from this deeply troubled and deeply traumatized, helped along by his codependent relationship with his twin and an utter lack of validation from friends, family, and strangers. The very instant Jaime strikes Aerys down, one of the single most heroic and knightly things ever done in this series, Jaime becomes a villain in the eyes of his peers. Normally when one slays the wicked beast one becomes king and is paraded through the streets and given the fairest maid as a bride, but Jaime receives none of this. Jon sees the Kingslayer sweep off his helmet and thinks this is what a king should look like and Jaime’s mind agrees. The hell did Robert do but kill the Silver Prince, sanction the murder of children, and rape Jaime’s sister? Robert should be the villain- he stole Jaime’s prize for putting up with Aerys as long as he did! HE STOLE CERSEI!
A Smiling Knight is born- antithesis and answer for knighthood in one, gallant and chivalrous and mad.
Elsewhere, in Dorne, at the base of Rapunzel’s Tower, Ned Stark slays another Smiling Knight: Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, Jaime’s mentor, co-conspirator in the kidnapping and rape of Lyanna Stark. Who knows what went on in that Tower? Lyanna is dead, her ghost nothing but a blue rose growing from a chink in a wall, the two other kingsguard dead, slain for keeping Ned from his sister, and Arthur Dayne, dead at the hands of a northern lord and a crannogman. Four humans came away from the Tower of Joy, and only one is still alive for certain to tell us what happened. The Tower of Joy is another place where fates interwove, just like the Trident, just like Aerys’s throne room, just like Craster’s Keep, the Fist of the First Men, Harrenhal, Volantis, Meereen, Old Town’s High Tower, Winterfell; the Tower of Joy is a horror story. Woe betide any whose storyline crosses its path! The Tower of Joy is a brand of death.
Fifteen years pass. Jaime does not grow, but he becomes the father of future kings, husband-in-nature of a queen, beautiful and strong and hated by all. When he rides up, all fall silent but for the whisper of Kingslayer, Kingslayer, Kingslayer. Beauty and Beast in one.
Jaime is captured by a widow and a king. Jaime is separated from his queen, and he finally begins to grow after the long winter of his mind that was the Long Summer.
Brienne the Beauty, Brienne the Blue, Brienne the Maid of Tarth! Yellow hair, the texture of straw, blows in the wind over banners of blue and rose, and men whisper Kingslayer, Kingslayer, Kingslayer once more. Beauty and Beast in one.
They loathe each other, for Brienne is not a Kingslayer. Brienne is a witness. Brienne has been the recipient of violence and hatred, misogyny and sexism, and yet she refuses to back down. “I am a knight!” Brienne cries. “WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL SEVEN HELLS WOULD YOU WANT TO BE?!” Jaime screams back, as Rhaella cries for her brother’s mercy. They battle, parrying to and fro, innocence and experience, idealism and broken dreams, Maiden and Warrior. SanSan sues for plagarism.
ENTER THE MONSTER.
Two knights are captured, bound to each other. “The Lovers” they are named, and lovers they will be, but not yet. A lion is maimed, a monstrously cruel act, leaving him bewildered and saddened. A maid is nearly raped, over and over, but for the promise of sapphires. Our heroes are led to the Monster’s Lair, an old castle, twisted and evil, a Thin Place where none ought dare to tread.
The villain monologues. The reveal comes: I am a monster because you believe me to be one. The Smiling Knight dies a little and as he dies, a piece is offered up: a thunderous whisper, a demand of validation and respect, “MY NAME IS JAIME!” roars a lion.
“Kingslayer,” sneers the world.
Jaime rides away, Jaime is reminded of his failure, Jaime decides “fuck this, my name is Jaime fucking Lannister bitches”, Jaime returns to save our fair maiden from a monstrous bear. Our heroes continue on toward the Grand Palace. The maid is too late to complete her quest. Jaime sends her off with a new sword and a new quest. “I am a knight!” Brienne cries. “That you are,” Jaime responds. He smiles as the blue maid goes off on her quest. He wonders if he will ever see her again. He will.
Jaime is alone. He sees corruption, he whispers “my name is Jaime” and counsels a young man. He sees a monster dead, he whispers “my name is Jaime” and ignores the death of his child. He sees an innocent man set to die, he whispers “my name is Jaime” and he frees his son’s murderer.
“My name is Jaime,” declares a knight. He is not Arthur Dayne yet, but he is no longer the Smiling Knight.
Jaime does good things, Jaime does cruel things. Jaime is finally growing. Perhaps he is growing towards his own destruction, but he is growing nonetheless.