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Among the other instances of characters struggling with identity, including Bran Stark coming to terms with his psychic abilities and Tyrion essentially choosing to leave his family when he murders his father, Jaime Lannister's is the most notable. Jaime has built his entire life around his identity as a swordsman, but he essentially loses that identity when his sword hand is cut off. The event forces him to reevaluate his sense of self worth, and then to rebuild an identity more or less from scratch. This challenge precipitates in him the most drastic change in character that we see in the novel. He evolves from an apathetic, seemingly honorless man into one deeply concerned with honor and duty.

The Importance of Honor

Honor is a major motivating force in the book and serves as one of the major ways in which characters are defined. Often the notion of honor is about preserving one's esteem in the eyes of others just as much as it's about doing what's morally correct. The Freys took Robb Stark's engagement to Jeyne Westerling, after he promised to marry a Frey girl, as an affront to their honor, because it suggested that he held the Freys in low regard and didn't value them. That slight to their honor prompted the Freys to murder Robb, Catelyn, and the Stark bannermen at the Red Wedding. As Merrett Frey explains just before he’s hanged in the book’s epilogue, the Freys did it because they “had to cleanse the stain on [their] honor.” Similarly, earlier in the book, when Robb decides he has no choice but to execute Rickard Karstark for killing the two Lannister allies they were holding prisoner, it's both because Karstark's act was reprehensible—the two he killed were unarmed boys—and because Karstark was publicly disregarding Robb's authority by acting on his own. As Robb puts it, “Karstark killed more than a Frey and a Lannister. He killed my honor.” Robb chooses to execute Karstark, a valuable ally and friend, because he deems his honor more important than Karstark.

Often honor goes hand-in-hand with upholding one’s vows, which is why Jaime is considered among the most dishonorable figures in Westeros. He took an oath to protect King Aerys when he was first made a member of the Kingsguard, and he broke his vow by murdering Aerys. The title of Kingslayer serves as a testament to that lack of honor. The character transformation he undergoes over the course of the novel centers on him realizing honor’s value and then trying to restore his honor. Brienne of Tarth has suffered a similar dishonor in that she is widely suspected to have either killed Renly or conspired in his murder while part of his guard. Jaime gives the sword Oathkeeper to Brienne and sends her to save Sansa as a way for both to regain some measure of honor, since both promised Catelyn they would find and save Sansa. (Jaime literally says to Brienne, “Sansa Stark is my last chance for honor.”) Brienne, in fact, is primarily motivated by honor. That’s why she escorts Jaime back to King’s Landing, despite her dislike for Jaime and at great risk to herself. She promised Catelyn she would, and so she does, whatever her personal feelings. Jon Snow is also motivated by honor to a large degree. A significant factor in his returning to the Watch after living with the wildlings, and then choosing the Watch over Winterfell, is that he made a vow. Honor demands that he stick to that vow, so he puts aside his personal feelings to uphold it.