Warning: This post contains major spoilers for this week’s Game of Thrones.
Jaime knighting Brienne made for one of Game of Thrones’ most emotional scenes ever. Their bond is one of genuine love and respect, built over years and shared hardships, and no man alive deserved that honor more than she did. But if you have read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, you may have picked up on the fact that this was a knighting a hundred years in the making—one that connects Brienne to another famous knight whom she shares more than blood with.
The episode took its name from the scene in which Jaime pronounced Brienne “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” but that’s also the name of a collection of George R.R. Martin novellas about one of the most famous pairs in Westeros’ past, Dunk and Egg. A century before Jaime put a sword on Brienne’s shoulders, another knight—a giant of a man named Ser Duncan the Tall—gained a new squire at a tourney, and their time together would make Duncan a legend.
The young boy was called Egg thanks to his bald head, but would one day he would be known as King Aegon Targaryen V. Over the years Dunk and Egg traveled Westeros together, with Duncan proving to be an honorable knight and fearsome fighter. When Aegon became king after his older brother Aemon (yas, that Maester Aemon), rejected the crown, he named his loyal friend Ser Duncan as the Lord Commander of his Kingsguard.
The Realm remembers Dunk as one of the most respected knights to ever serve, maybe even the greatest. Even Joffrey talked about Ser Duncan’s impeccable reputation in season four (as he mocked Jaime for not living up to his own potential).
Sadly, Dunk died alongside his friend Egg during the Tragedy of Summerhall. The king, desperate to enforce new laws benefiting the common people, tried to hatch dragon eggs with wildfire. Something went wrong, and the Targaryen pleasure castle burned. (Prince Rhaegar was born that very night, which is why he was said to be “born in grief.”) Everyone inside Summerhall’s walls would have died had Duncan not saved some in his final moments, though exactly what he did was lost to time.
No one in Westeros can live up to Ser Duncan the Tall’s legacy like Brienne, which is only fitting because she is his descendant. Fans long speculated she might be, thanks to her height and Dunk’s shield being found in the armory on Tarth, and George R.R. Martin confirmed their familial connection in 2016. However, that’s not what made her knighting an event 100 years in the making.
Duncan was himself a squire once, to a hedge knight named Ser Arlan of Pennytree. He served him for many years, until Ser Arlan died on the way to the very tourney where Dunk met Egg.
But Duncan lied about being knighted by Ser Arlan. The old man died without ever bestowing the honor on his squire, and Dunk said he had so he could compete at the tourney. It was dishonorable, but it was an easy lie. As Jaime said, any knight can make a knight, and since Duncan certainly looked like one and Ser Arlan was well known, people believed he had knighted his squire.
One of the greatest knights Westeros has ever known was not actually knight, at least not officially, just like Brienne wasn’t before Jaime named her Ser. Of course, like Duncan, Brienne was one before anyone put a sword on her shoulder.
She has always been brave. She has always been just. She has always defended the innocent.
“Ser” is a title you are given, and seeing Brienne be recognized for an honor she deserved more than any man alive was an amazing, emotional moment. But being a true Knight of the Seven Kingdoms isn’t something someone gives you, it’s something you are.
Ser Duncan the Tall would be proud.