The Real Story Behind Jaime & The Mad King On 'Game Of Thrones'

Helen Sloan/HBO

After setting up the game board in the Season 8 premiere, Game Of Thrones is taking the time before the big battle to put one of its most complex characters on trial. Why did Jaime Lannister kill the Mad King? That's the question that will be litigated in Episode 2, as the Kingslayer finally comes face to face with the daughter of the king he stabbed in the back. How will Daenerys handle meeting her father's killer? Will the Mother of Dragons burn him alive, like she has so many of her enemies? Or will Dany and Jon be able to look past Jaime's bad reputation and forgive him for his crimes?

On the face of it, Jaime's original sin — killing the Mad King — doesn't look good. Sure, the Mad King was, well, mad… but Jaime was still a member of his Kingsguard, sworn to protect him with his own life. Throughout Robert's Rebellion, Jaime's father Tywin, Lord of Casterly Rock, had remained out of the fray, refusing to choose between Targaryen and Baratheon. So when Tywin's forces finally left the Rock, nobody knew if they were coming as saviors or conquerors.

At Maester Pycelle's urging, Aerys opened the gates for his former Hand of the King. Tywin proceeded to sack the city and, as King's Landing fell, Jaime drove his sword through the Mad King's back, ending his reign of terror once and for all. When Eddard Stark strode into the throne room, he found Jaime Lannister sitting on the Iron Throne with the dead king at his feet; Jaime's sword lay across his lap, still red with the blood of the man he was supposed to defend.

Not a good look for my guy Jaime, admittedly. But as with all the historical accounts of Westeros, there's more to this story than meets the eye… and the truth is a matter of perspective. What really happened the day Jaime killed King Aerys? Viewers got the facts (or at least Jaime's own version of them) back in Season 3, in the iconic episode "Kissed By Fire." While recuperating in the baths at Harrenhal, the Kingslayer told the story of his moniker to Brienne of Tarth.

To hear Jaime tell it, his murder of the Mad King wasn't an act of betrayal — it was an act of heroism, one that has gone unacknowledged and unthanked for his entire life. Unbeknownst to anyone other than the Mad King, his pyromancers, and Jaime himself, Aerys had planted caches of wildfire in the tunnels and catacombs beneath King's Landing.

When it became clear that Tywin had joined the Baratheon cause and arrived to sack the city, the Mad King demanded that Jaime go kill his father and bring him his head. When Jaime refused, the Mad King then decided to go out in a blaze of glory: exploding the wildfire, destroying the entire city, Tywin, Jaime, himself, and all the innocent townsfolk, along with it. Torn between sworn duty to his king and love for his family, torn between betraying his vows and protecting the people, Jaime made an impossible choice: he sacrificed his honor to save King's Landing, choosing to slay his king rather than allow Aerys to deliver the order to "burn them all."

When Ned Stark arrived and surveyed the scene before him, Jaime knew the honorable lord would disapprove. There was already no great love between the houses of Stark and Lannister, and Jaime knew Ned would never understand the choice he'd made. "By what right does the wolf judge the lion?" Jaime would say to Brienne in the bath all those years later. Instilled with pride in himself and his family by his imperious father, Jaime chose to let himself be branded a "kingslayer" rather than explain himself to the judgmental likes of Ned Stark.

So who else knows the truth? Brienne, of course, since Jaime told her back in Season 3. Bran, presumably, since he has seen flashes of the "Burn them all!" sequence in his visions. And probably Cersei, since she and Jaime share everything. But will the word of Sansa's sworn sword and a freaky psychic kid be enough to save Jaime from Daenerys' wrath? (Cersei certainly won't be any help, being both hundreds of miles away and also, you know, Cersei.)

Daenerys has come to accept over the years that her father truly was the Mad King — but that doesn't necessarily mean she'll forgive the man who drove a sword through his back. Jaime Lannister's life hangs in the balance, and this is one Game Of Thrones episode you won't want to miss.