Note: this piece contains multiple spoilers concerning the plot of Game of Thrones seasons 1-8
Several major reunions are in store as Game of Thrones veers towards its conclusion, and the first episode of the eighth season didn’t disappoint. Few, though, could have seen the one between Jaime and Bran being used to quite such cliffhanging effect. A full week lies between now and finding out just what goes on between defenestrator and defenestrated – so let’s pass that time with a little rumour-based storytelling about what may unfold now Jaime’s back in Winterfell.
Back in the halcyon days of 2011, Game of Thrones introduced itself with enough scandal and violence to swiftly earn a reputation for “tits and dragons”. The first ever episode probably peaked in shock-content when Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) temporarily stopped banging his twin sister to push the adventurous child Bran Stark (fourth child of a rival house) out of a tower window in the Stark homestead to avoid the child telling everyone about their incestuous rutting, which would send both Lannisters and their three ill-gotten children to their deaths.
Season eight saw Jaime’s first return to the Stark seat since. The past few years have seen him transform from a ruthless Lannister “Kingslayer” to a man who has vowed to protect the living – and all living – regardless of their House.
Of course, Bran (who also only returned to Winterfell in season 7) isn’t really Bran anymore, either. The second - and eldest-surviving – Stark son has long been transitioning into the omniscient Three-Eyed Raven, which for practical purposes means he now lacks whatever human empathy he had and has the handy ability of being able to know what lies in the future.
So what does their reunion mean?
It depends on how much significance one attaches to Jaime’s character arc as a man who transformed from a ruthless (if handsome!) villain to a man who abandons the sister he’s fathered three children with to fight with his rivals in a war against the undead – and losing his fighting hand along the way.
There are several theories that see Bran and Jaime’s journeys inextricably entwined: that, had Jaime not pushed Bran from the tower, Bran – a little boy who dreamt of being a knight – would have gone on his intended journey to King’s Landing with his father, the ill-fated Ned Stark, and would have been executed with him. Instead, he remained at Winterfell, where he was nursed, lost the use of his legs, and went on a seven series-long adventure that saw him become the Three-Eyed Raven.
As to how causal this situation is – ie, the extent to which Jaime’s “The things I do for love” act set balls rolling - comes down to which theories one believes, but the fact is that Bran’s life was saved, if greatly altered, by his tumble.
Similarly, Jaime wouldn’t have been set on his arc of redemption had Catelyn (Bran’s late mother) not imprisoned him for his attempted assassination attempt on her son. It was while he was in the custody of Brienne of Tarth, who was tasked by Catelyn to deliver Jaime, that he began to re-appraise his violent past – not least when he lost the use of his sword-slinging hand.
And what happens now?
This is when the theories really get going. For one thing, Jaime probably doesn’t even imagine that Bran’s alive - after all, some of his siblings have reached grisly ends or survived horrible encounters. What remains of the Stark clan is busily reuniting at Winterfell: Jaime isn’t on Arya’s kill list but his sister and (late) father are; it wouldn’t be beyond expectation for her sword Needle to make a lunge at the one-handed man. Sansa and Jon, however, will probably be more calm. Sansa may have remembered that Brienne told her that Jaime was honorable, and Jon’s generally down for allegiance.
Presuming Jaime isn’t instantly set upon by a surprise Direwolf, there’s the question of apology: is this reformed character going to make one? Some suggest that to do so would mark the end of his decades-long tryst with Cersei, and there’s effective mirroring of the fact that the last time he was in Winterfell, he tried to kill a child for her.
What is likely, however it unfolds, is that Jaime’s arrival in Winterfell marks another unlikely - but crucial - alliance in the War on the Undead. It will be awkward, yes, and colder than the Night King’s crown, but most realise that there’s more to be getting on with here than ancient history. Let’s not forget that Jaime and Brienne’s Valyrian steel swords were both forged from Ice, that of Ned Stark. That’s got to count for something.