Many of the most popular Game of Thrones characters have experienced significant growth - whether that means transitioning from villain to hero or vice versa - in the quest for control of Westeros. One of the series' best characters, however, is heroic through and through from the very beginning, and spent the subsequent seasons proving her mettle. That character is Brienne of Tarth.
Both in the Game of Thrones universe and in the real world, Brienne is a hero for breaking gender stereotypes in the fantasy genre, but her heroism goes far beyond that. Time and again, Brienne has done the right thing under difficult circumstances. She has always done her best to live up to the knight's code, even if she doesn’t get to personally take an oath of chivalry until late in the game. In the end, Brienne doesn’t need a title to prove herself a defender of the innocent, and her knighting by Jaime Lannister is more a recognition of the person she has always been than a sign of transformation.
When: Season 2, episode 3, "What Is Dead May Never Die"
Brienne is introduced to the audience of Game of Thrones in suitably heroic fashion. We first see her taking part in a tournament put on by Renly Baratheon, the king she has given her allegiance to, and defeating all comers, including Loras Tyrell. Most in attendance consider this a rather impressive performance by a woman, but what she does next is even more shocking.
As a reward for her victory, Brienne asks Renly for a spot in his kingsguard despite the fact that she's not an actual knight. Defying gender norms and Westerosi tradition, Renly acquiesces. Unfortunately for Brienne, she isn't in Renly’s service for long before he's taken out by one of Melisandre's shadow-beings.
When: Season 2, episode 5, "The Ghost of Harrenhal"
After being accused of slaying Renly Baratheon, Brienne of Tarth has no choice but to flee the Baratheon camp with Catelyn Stark. Now a warrior without a king, Brienne decides to pledge an oath of allegiance to Catelyn and her family, subsequently becoming a defender of the Starks.
It is Brienne’s service to Catelyn - and eventually Catelyn’s daughters - that proves to be the thread of her heroic journey. Having unexpectedly lost her aim and direction in the world, Brienne quickly finds her true life's purpose and fully dedicates herself to it.
When: Season 2, episode 10, "Valar Morghulis"
Brienne encourages Catelyn Stark to free Jaime Lannister from captivity and agrees to escort him back to King’s Landing. While on the road, Jaime annoys Brienne with his cruel commentary; however, Brienne impresses him with her merciless actions toward wayward Stark soldiers.
On their journey, Brienne and Jaime encounter three Stark warriors who took the lives of three civilian women they suspected of sleeping with Lannister troops. The men inform Brienne that they forced themselves on one of the three women. In return, Brienne vengefully slays the soldiers. Jaime is impressed that Brienne would actually end the lives of Stark forces, but Brienne claims she has pledged herself to Catelyn, not the Starks as a whole.
When: Season 3, episode 2, "Dark Wings, Dark Words"
On their trip to King’s Landing, Jaime Lannister attempts to evade Brienne on a number of occasions, and at one point he manages to get his hands on her backup blade. This leads to an extended fight between the two on a bridge. Although Jaime’s hands are still manacled together, Brienne once again impresses by narrowly defeating him.
On the surface, beating a shackled man in a fight isn’t all that cool, but this is Jaime Lannister we’re talking about. Jaime is renowned for being one of the finest warriors in Westerosi history, and the youngest individual to ever serve in the kingsguard - so this still qualifies as quite an accomplishment for Brienne of Tarth.