Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When Women Play the Game: Brienne Tarth

Brienne of Tarth by Elia Fernández
When we are introduced to Brienne, she bests the Knight of Flowers in a tourney of knights.  Much to the surprise of Catelyn Stark, she reveals herself to be a woman.  She is awarded with a spot as one of the seven in Renly’s Rainbow Guard.  She was never ladylike, both in personality and in appearance.  However, Catelyn noted her large beautiful blue eyes, the only thing beautiful about her.  And the one thing she saw in common with her own daughter Sansa was their love of songs of valor, both memorizing every song, wanting the romantic life of a knight’s or lord’s wife.  In this aspect, Brienne is very ignorant of court politics and customs, despite having been brought up with it.  But due to her looks, she was sidelined to embrace such manners.  The only time Brienne felt wanted was by a man who tried to marry her as a bet.  Tired of the court games and feeling like a joke to all royalty, she gives it up to be a soldier and serve Renly, the boy she fell in love with as a child.  He had been the only boy to show her true kindness and not laugh at her.


After Renly’s death, she escapes with Catelyn Stark, as both are accused of murdering Renly.  None would believe them that a shadow had slain him.  Both women live with this stigma, especially when Brienne returns to King’s Landing to be accused of Renly’s murder by Loras Tyrell, who also loved Renly.  She swears fealty to Catelyn, who entrusts her to safely take Jaime Lannister to King’s Landing in a trade for the Stark girls.  One of the most striking moments was when both women swear oaths to each other in great honor.  Catelyn vows, “And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth and meat and mead at my table, and pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you into dishonor.”  She ensures to plead to and respect Brienne’s honor, something she holds of great value.  Yearning for respect, she holds a quiet confident strength that is unmatched by other warrior women in the novels.  Catelyn even notes how Dacey Mormont is as comfortable in chainmail as she is in a dress.  The Maiden of Tarth hardly seems comfortable at all, unless she’s battling in chainmail and armor with a broadsword or two and maybe even a fucking boulder.  Similar to Joan of Arc, who was sentenced to death on the technicality of wearing armor, Brienne would stop at nothing to achieve her goals, even if she was seen as insane.

Brienne earns respect wherever she goes, if anyone spends any time with her.  She is, by any right, no joke.  Because the men do not place value in the women’s lives, the women must.  They know that women are more powerful than they are given credit for.  On the way, Jaime and Brienne encounter naked women hanged along with a sign said that they lay with Lannisters.  While Jaime had no problem with the killing of women who offered shelter to an enemy, Brienne took heart.  As a woman, she sympathized, knowing that they’re treated like throwaway objects.  Despite being treated by knights in a discourteous and mocking manner, Brienne believes in a knight holding to the highest ideals.  She does so with fervor and resolve.  Where Catelyn Stark says in A Storm of Swords, “There is a sweet innocence about you, child,” (Chapter 2) Brienne not only upholds that knightly demeanor, she is naïve and innocent where the horror of true knighthood are concerned.

The Bear and the Maiden Fair by ElinJ
Though often described as more man than woman, Brienne exhibits the stereotypical feminine feelings.  She is, at her core, a romantic, much like Sansa Stark.  Firstly, she displays this with her lifelong love of Renly Baratheon.  Secondly, she grows to love, respect, and understand Jaime.  This progression was not, however, as instant as her love of Renly.  This love worked both ways.  Beleaguered, Brienne holds off their invaders with an unnatural strength Jaime could not help but admire.  In the end, her perseverance and stamina despite injuries, just to save him more than herself, kept him from fleeing and assisting her in any way he could.  Desperate to die after his hand was cut off, the thing he valued most in life, Jaime was convinced by Brienne to seek revenge once they make it out of their predicament.  As Brienne was about to be raped, Jaime bargained with their Harrenhal captors to keep them from doing so.  After Jaime was released from Harrenhal to return home without Brienne, he returned to find her using a wooden sword in a gladiator ring, fighting a bear.  He risked his life to save hers, and convinced her warden to grant her freedom.  They continually saved each other, first out of necessity, but then out of love and respect.  Upon delivering Jaime to his family at King’s Landing, Brienne was arrested, much to Jaime’s dismay.  He eventually set her free when Loras was convinced she had not killed Renly.  He gave her Oathkeeper, a sword forged from Ned Stark’s own, and sent her to find the fled Sansa.  Not only was this a symbol of both their oaths to Catelyn Stark, it was a symbol of his identity, a piece of him, as well as a piece of Ned Stark—a piece of honor and a symbol of the family she set out to reunite.

Aware of someone following her, Brienne confronts her tracker, who happens to be Podric Payne, Tyrion’s squire.  She quickly takes him on as a squire, or knight-in-training, once he gushes over his admiration of her swordsmanship and knightly mannerisms.   This is incredibly telling of both Brienne’s acute awareness as well as her willingness to trust others so quickly when they respect her.  She is, however, a good judge of character.  Each person she’s trusted since her introduction in the books has rewarded her with their friendship and respect.  She is incredibly guarded, not only physically with armor armor, but emotionally.  Catelyn Stark notes of her: “There are walls around this one higher than Winterfell’s” (A Clash of Kings, Chapter 39).
"Fight for the living" by algesiras, depicting Brienne's oath to Catelyn

Despite all evidence against Brienne, she never caves in and lies.  She only tells the truth to Lady Stoneheart, even if it means her death.  But she wants to live, if not to find Sansa, but to protect Jaime’s stance as a changed man, one who is hurt and wroth with mental damage from years of expectations and verbal abuse.    Besides Arya and any Wildling, Brienne is the truest heart in the series.  She represents honesty, loyalty, physical strength, emotional strength (where she overlaps with Catelyn), and quick wit (despite a seemingly dumb demeanor).  Brienne is what everyone should aspire to be, both in the books/TV show and in real life.

Previous entries in When Women Play the Game:
Sansa Stark

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