There’s some chronological overlap between the previous stage and this one, so we’ll go back to Jaime’s arrival in King’s Landing.
Soon after getting Loras Tyrell under control and Brienne stored in a tower cell, Jaime went to see Cersei paying her respects to Joffrey in the Sept of Baelor. She was happy to see him and immediately started asking him to kill Tyrion. Jaime was ambivalent at best about Tyrion’s guilt in Joffrey’s death, and he didn’t want to talk about the murder nearly as much as he wanted to get inside his sister, and he did so in a way that he should not be proud of. Much ink has been spilled on whether Jaime’s behavior on Cersei was rape, and I tend to think Cersei’s attitude in that encounter was not consent so much as risk management, but for the purposes of this essay, the social responsibility in GRRM’s writing is beside the point. Whether he intended to portray a rape in that scene, I’m not sure. I can say Jaime’s intent was not to hurt or humiliate his sister, and his failure to hear her refusal was meant as a way to express their toxic relationship dynamics, but either way, it made Cersei not want to be alone with Jaime for some time afterwards.
The overall theme of the Sept scene was not really about how the twins approached their sex life, but about the changes in Jaime’s attitude toward the conditions of their relationship. Jaime was tired of keeping their love a secret, he wanted to marry her, he wanted to beget another child, and he didn’t care about Tommen losing the throne when they admitted he was not a Baratheon by birth. Cersei, however, was having none of that. She insisted they had to be discreet, that Tommen’s throne derived from Robert, that they were not Targaryens, and basically that Jaime had to get his head screwed on straight, and in this case, she was absolutely right. Jaime’s vision of going public with their incest and Tommen losing the throne without losing his head, was completely unrealistic.
Cersei sent him to meet with their father, who barely allowed time to say hello before he presented his new plan to Jaime: time to quit the Kingsguard. He expected Jaime to retire his white cloak, go back to Casterly Rock, and take Tommen as his ward and squire. He would also need a wife, and of course Tywin had opinions on suitable candidates, his first choice being Margaery Tyrell. Jaime was having none of that, and he threw the most hilariously juvenile tantrum at his father to express his refusal. He insisted on staying in the Kingsguard, he was not on board with Tywin’s idea of marrying Cersei to Oberyn Martell, and he was most definitely not interested in taking Joffrey’s widow as his wife. He was the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, and he intended to keep that position.
Tywin made his position on the issue clear: if Jaime had to be a Kingsguard knight, then he was not Tywin’s son. The implication, to no one’s surprise, was that Tywin was not interested in showing love or loyalty to someone who could not serve the Lannisters’ political interests. The message to Jaime was that if he would not allow his father to run his life, then he was cut off from family ties.
Thus, Jaime had a clear chance to leave his dead-end job which had kept him isolated and alienated for all his adult life, and he refused. It was a bad decision made for good reasons. Tywin was correct to suggest the Kingsguard position was a waste of Jaime’s life, but perhaps his son would have been more receptive if he’d approached the discussion more as, “Look, son, you’ve just acquired a serious disability, and no one will think any less of you if you put down the white cloak,” and less of the “you will live where I tell you, and you will look after Tommen on my terms, and I will choose your wife, and we both know I’ll tell you how to raise your kids too, and you’ll do as I say because that’s your duty.” Given the choice between being answerable to his father by leading the Kingsguard and being answerable to his father by taking up his role as heir to Casterly Rock, he chose the role in which he felt like he had some agency and authority. Having been tarred as an oathbreaker since he was seventeen, he chose to err on the side of keeping his oaths.
Tyrion was on trial for his life during this time, but Jaime’s life had to go on. He attended the trial, but didn’t think Tyrion saw him there. It occurred to him that the family he’d always loved was pulling away from him: Joffrey was dead, Tywin disowned him, and Cersei wouldn’t let him be alone with her for some reason.
At his first Kingsguard meeting as Lord Commander, the sword felt awkward hanging at his right hip, and the winter raiment hung loosely on him. He looked through the White Book at the previous Lord Commanders’ entries, and his own page felt puny by comparison. “How could the Kingslayer belong in such exalted company?” He asked himself. Having been forced to reexamine his life choices following his maiming, his role as Lord Commander set him up to be much harder on himself than he deserved. He inwardly compared himself to the Smiling Knight, widely regarded as a terrifying piece of work. As his brothers filed into the chamber, he saw their inadequacy as a manifestation of his own failure:
He wondered what Ser Arthur Dayne would have to say of this lot. ‘How is it that the Kingsguard has fallen so low,’ most like. ‘It was my doing,’ I would have to answer. ‘I opened the door, and did nothing when the vermin began to crawl inside.’
It isn’t clear what he supposedly did to open the door to the vermin, or how he was supposed to have closed the door. The nearest interpretation I have is that Jaime thought he was a piece of shit, and his service set the precedent for men like Meryn Trant and Boros Blount to follow because he hadn’t become a better man in the intervening years.
Regardless, the Lord Commander position was his, and self-loathing is no substitute for sound leadership. He told his brothers how the Kingsguard would operate going forward; it would be different from before. He told Ser Meryn, for instance, that there would be no more beating little girls at the juvenile king’s command. Their job was to protect the king, from himself if need be, and temper their obedience accordingly. “If Tommen wants you to saddle his horse, obey him. If he asks you to kill his horse, come to me.”
How much differently would the rebellion have happened if the Kingsguard had been commanded with a similar ethos during the Mad King’s reign? (Aerys probably would have burned the Lord Commander alive, but he might not have had another knight protecting him when he did so.) This is how Jaime followed up his refusal of his father’s generous offer: he set about becoming the kind of LC his teenage self never had.
His tenure as Lord Commander was off to a promising start, but even as he was bringing a much-needed backbone to the royal bodyguards, signs of trouble began to appear. There was a clash with Boros Blount that only ended without a fight because the knights were under the impression that one-handed Jaime could still handle a sword. Right at the beginning, he realized the success of his command depended on hiding the extent of his disability from the knights, and that position was untenable in the long term. He began training with his old friend Ser Addam Marbrand, and soon discovered he was no fighter at all with his left hand. As a knight, it was a challenge, but as Lord Commander to a fractious group of men who knew him as the Kingslayer, it was a crisis without a good answer.
With his promotion to LC, he had a position in the Small Council, and while he tried to make the most of the meetings, he found “power felt more like tedium.” Tommen seemed to enjoy stamping his seal in the hot wax, but there was no meaningful way for Jaime to contribute to the council meetings.
Although Jaime may have been just the leader the Kingsguard needed, it was still not the place for him. The position left him confused, frustrated, unproductive, and vulnerable. He hadn’t chosen his brothers, and their respect for his leadership was inconsistent at best. He was no more able to be a parent to Tommen as Lord Commander than he’d done as a subordinate bodyguard.
Following the council meeting, he found Cersei waiting for him in the White Sword Tower, and as if he didn’t have enough marks against his Kingsguard position, she was there to talk him into taking off his white cloak. Her complaint was that Tywin wanted to marry Tommen to Margaery and separate Cersei from her son, and the one consistency in her solution was for Jaime to agree to retire from the Kingsguard. First she intended to stay in King’s Landing with Tommen, and then she was complaining about Tywin planning to marry her off to some lord or other, and then she was promising to go back to Casterly Rock with Jaime, the idea being they would still be near each other but their relationship would still have to be secret. The status quo of their relationship as a secret affair was exactly what he didn’t want to perpetuate, any more than he wanted Margaery Tyrell as his wife.
The one thing Cersei would not give him was the honest family life he desired. Lest anyone assume he never thought about what he did to Bran Stark, Jaime remarked that he wasn’t ashamed of his love for Cersei, but rather, what he’d done to hide their relationship, such as, “that boy at Winterfell.” Cersei went on acting like Jaime had been alone in the room when he pushed Bran out the window. She didn’t want to hear about what Jaime wanted out of their relationship; she needed him to sign onto her latest plan of keeping Tommen to herself.
While she had simultaneous conflicting ideas of what their arrangement would be, the single certainty in her new scheme was for Tommen not to be married to Margaery, and for that to work, she needed to get Jaime worked up to a froth enough to quit the Kingsguard and take Margaery off the market. The capstone of her attempt at manipulating him was to try giving him a blowjob to demonstrate how she loved him enough to beg him to marry someone else, and Jaime wasn’t going for it. While it seems a bit rich of him to say they were in the wrong place for a tryst after he literally forced himself on her in the sept, the point was, what worked on him as a fifteen-year-old at an inn on Eel Alley was not enough to persuade him as an adult. His twin had successfully used sex to get him out of the inheritance of Casterly Rock, but she would not uproot him from his life again on such a flimsy incentive.
With her seduction plans thwarted, Cersei switched over to mocking his cripple status, mocking his love for Tyrion, and boasting of having lied to him a thousand times. When she left, Jaime noted that his family was falling apart, and yet he was repeatedly told they’d won the war.
By this point, it should come as no surprise that Jaime did not share his father’s idea of victory.
Once Cersei stormed out of his chamber, it was time for the meeting with Brienne, in which he provisioned her for a quest of doing exactly the opposite of what Cersei wanted done with Sansa Stark. While all this was going on, Tyrion was still on trial for Joffrey’s murder, and it wasn’t going well. Following his epic speech in the courtroom, there was a trial by combat with Oberyn Martell as his champion, but the problem was Prince Oberyn was doing it for his own sense of “justice” for his family rather than to save Tyrion’s life. He made a dog’s breakfast of his fight with Gregor Clegane, got his brains splattered all over the fighting ground, and accomplished nothing for Tyrion’s fight for life and freedom. That fell to Jaime, who resorted to colluding with Varys.
In another instance of Jaime undermining his sister’s plans for “justice,” he made certain arrangements with the Master of Whispers and let Tyrion out of his cell on the eve of his scheduled execution. It was the first interaction he had with his brother since the family departed from their visit to Winterfell. Jaime remarked on Tyrion’s injuries from the Blackwater battle (“they made me fight a battle without my big brother to protect me”), and Tyrion laughed at Jaime’s stump. They were happy to see each other and the escape was going very nicely until Jaime decided to open up an old wound.
Remember in Stage 3, when Jaime was home at Casterly Rock when Tyrion married a lowborn girl behind their father’s back? Just as he was about to lead Tyrion out of the castle to a triumphant escape across the Narrow Sea, Jaime confessed to his brother that his first marriage had been annulled based on a lie. He said Tysha had not been a whore after all, that she was exactly as she’d seemed, and Tywin had ordered Jaime to lie about her because a lowborn girl who would marry Tyrion was only doing it for the gold, so she was basically a whore anyway.
Back when Jaime was getting drunk in a dungeon cell at Riverrun and negotiating with Catelyn Stark, he remarked that Tyrion liked to say people claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it’s served up. Somehow, he thought he was doing Tyrion a favor by telling him his first wife had genuinely loved him and wanted to spend her life with him. From Tyrion’s point of view, the fact of the years-old deception far outweighed the current effort at saving his life, and he became suddenly hostile and spiteful to Jaime. He shared the story of Tysha being subjected to a gang rape, and refused to believe Jaime had been unaware of their father’s plans. He shared the news of Cersei fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack (that was true), claimed to have killed Joffrey after all (that was not true) and threatened to fight Jaime to the death if they ever met again. Cripple vs Dwarf: the Battle Royale!
Following his false murder confession, Jaime went in one direction and Tyrion went the other. With Jaime away, Tyrion met up with Varys, and told him basically to wait right there while Tyrion ran a little errand. If Jaime had kept quiet about Tysha, he’s very sure Tyrion would have quietly marched out of the castle and let Varys spirit him onto a ship without a side trip. As it happened, Varys did eventually load Tyrion onto a ship headed for the Free Cities, but not before Tyrion killed two people, including Lord Tywin.
Here’s what we need to understand about Jaime’s plan to liberate Tyrion: Varys was involved. If Varys agreed to “help” Jaime pull Tyrion out from under Cersei and Tywin when they seemed to think he was Joffrey’s murderer, he had his own reasons for doing so. If Jaime had been uninterested in saving his brother’s life, Varys would have planned Tyrion’s escape without him. Furthermore, while Varys did not tell Jaime to reveal a painful secret to his brother in the middle of their escape plan, the argument can be made that Jaime merely played into Varys’s hands by getting Tyrion angry enough to introduce their father to the business end of a crossbow. For instance, Varys was just a bit too willing to give Tyrion helpful directions to find his father without being seen. If Varys had intended to make sure Tyrion was safely liberated without following his father into the privy, he probably would have handled that conversation differently.
However, from Jaime’s point of view, what happened was he decided Tyrion should be smuggled out of the country alive, and it was his own brilliant idea to tell him the truth about Tysha, which meant Jaime had given his brother the opportunity and the final push in motivation to kill their father. While Jaime had not wanted Tywin to die, his relationship as a son to his father is nowhere near as relevant as his relationship as a Kingsguard knight to the King’s Hand. Tywin was an integral part of the power structure around Tommen, and his absence created a vacuum of power which Jaime was in no position to fill.
Because Jaime refused to quit the Kingsguard when Tywin gave him a chance, he was still in the city when Tyrion was sentenced to death. Because he was still there, he was able to work with Varys on helping Tyrion escape execution. Because he helped Tyrion escape, and because he shared the truth of his brother’s first marriage, Jaime believed he made their father’s death possible. Because of Tywin’s unexpected death, Cersei Lannister effectively became the person actually ruling Westeros, and while most would agree the realm didn’t need any more of Tywin Lannister, it’s difficult to imagine a worse alternative than his daughter taking his place. Because Jaime insisted on staying in the Kingsguard, he was stuck in King’s Landing, stuck with his white cloak, and Cersei was now his boss.
And as if the twincest hadn’t deteriorated far enough, now Jaime knew his sister was fucking other men.
Choice quote from the books:
The world was simpler in those days, Jaime thought, and men as well as swords were made of finer steel. Or was it only that he had been fifteen? They were all in their graves now, the Sword of the Morning and the Smiling Knight, the White Bull and Prince Lewyn, Ser Oswell Whent with his black humor, earnest Jon Darry, Simon Toyne and his Kingswood Brotherhood, bluff old Sumner Crakehall. And me, that boy I was…when did he die, I wonder? When I donned the white cloak? When I opened Aerys’s throat? That boy had wanted to be Ser Arthur Dayne, but someplace along the way he had become the Smiling Knight instead.