In defense of Jaime Lannister : why the Kingslayer is epic fantasy’s ultimate hero
Note : No season 7 Game of Thrones spoilers in this post
With epic fantasy being accepted into mainstream pop-culture over the last 15 years following the release of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and the Game of Thrones series on HBO — a case can been made that there’s no better time to be a fan of this genre. Sure, fantasy nerds cannot compete with the array of stores, film franchises, games and Cons available to comic book nerds, but there definitely is a much better support system than before. In my eyes, however, the heyday of epic fantasy was the mid — late 1990s, with some great series coming out during that time-frame.
One of the best representatives of the genre in that time period is the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. A quintessential coming-of-age story, it focuses primarily on a young farm boy who has to face off against the archetypal Dark Lord to save the world. The character of Rand in a sense combines the characters of Frodo and Aragorn from the world of Tolkien — innocent on first glance yet deeply mysterious, and ultimately fulfilling their prophecy by discovering powers beyond comprehension.
The problem with this kind of character, perhaps, is that too often they can be one-dimensional and dry. Tolkien solved this by his mastery of language : his description and setting of a scene is unparalleled. Jordan, however was no Tolkien — for all of his gifts of imagination and ability to deliver on a multi-volume series of tomes, his writing was incapable of scaling the lyrical heights of the old master. Consequently, it is easy to get lost or drift off in the middle of the Wheel of Time series, somewhere around book 7 or 8. The introduction of multiple cookie-cutter villains, newer civilizations, side quests — none of these could arrest the inevitable mid-series decline that has possibly forever consigned Wheel of Time to the list of “what-could-have-been” series.
Step in, George R. R. Martin.
The problem of a vanilla protagonist was solved skillfully by Martin, who recognized early on that his skills lie elsewhere : in the creation of memorable characters — deeply interesting, yet deeply flawed. And thus we were introduced to the character of Jaime Lannister, one of the protagonists in the story, an esteemed member of the Kingsguard, responsible for the death of a king, the scion of the most powerful family in the kingdom and brother to the queen. Starting with a deeply disturbing scene where morality is questioned and then quite literally thrown off a window ledge, Jaime has a hard journey laden with losses — that of his children, his freedom, and of his obvious source of power.
There have been highs as well — his discovery of a newer soft power that had always been hidden within him, his emergence as a leader of troops in battle and his unwavering loyalty to his brother. And so we as readers undertake a journey with Jaime where we alternatively admire and loathe him — the person he was and is becoming. The combination of these factors leads to a hero we can identify with.
More than anything, for all of his powers and societal standing, Jaime Lannister is human.
The character of Jaime has been clearly influential in subsequent works of fantasy. Two of the best fantasy authors today — Sanderson and Rothfuss have created protagonists with clear parallels to Jaime. In Sanderson’s ongoing magnum opus : the Stormlight Archives, the character of the young lord Adolin bears a clear resemblance to Jaime, and similarly with Rothfuss’ Kvothe the musician-warrior. These characters are still in their infancy and middle ages compared to the rich trove of information and character building we know from the Game of Thrones series. Yet they are worthy successors to the legacy of Jaime Lannister — and a clear indication that the age of the all-good protagonist is gone, and the time of the flawed anti-hero has come .