Paying His Debts, Part I: Tyrion in King’s Landing

As A Song of Ice and Fire opens, Tyrion Lannister is in a good place. He reads his books, goes sightseeing at Winterfell and the Wall, and basically enjoys life without any real responsibilities. He attempts to do good deeds and offer wise advice — counseling Jon about being a bastard, chastising Joffrey to pay his respects to the Starks, consulting with the Night’s Watch on their needs, and building the saddle for Bran. Then, when Tyrion walks into the Inn at the Crossroads, his life changes suddenly and irrevocably. His abduction by Catelyn Stark effectively drags him into the game of thrones, against his will, and forces him to play or die. But Tyrion proves to have a knack for the game, and some luck in battle, so he finishes Book 1 as the newly-appointed Hand of the King. That’s when things get interesting.

As Hand, Tyrion at first vows to do justice, but quickly settles on a course of pragmatism and self-preservation. He tries to rule well, mostly does a fine job of it, and comes to greatly enjoy having power. But the game of thrones is dangerous, and its darker side eventually becomes clear. The traumas of his childhood reemerge. People he cares about are put in danger. And Tyrion tells himself he must be cruel and ruthless, because it is the only way to win. Eventually, he is rejected by those whose approval he sought, and he experiences a shocking set of betrayals from those he loves most.  All the while, the looming, terrible figure of his father both awes and haunts him.

This essay series will analyze Tyrion’s character arc, paying special attention to his values, morality, and mental state — his struggle within his heart. I’ll explore how he’s played the game of thrones so far, how the game has changed him, and how he might play it in the future, along with Martin’s design of his arc as a whole. This first part will focus on Tyrion’s tenure in King’s Landing, as Hand and afterward — specifically, his journey from seeking justice, to seeking vengeance.

Justice, or Pragmatism?

 “So what will you do, m’lord, now that you’re the Hand of the King?” Shae asked him as he cupped that warm sweet flesh.
“Something Cersei will never expect,” Tyrion murmured softly against her slender neck. “I’ll do . . . justice.” (ACOK TYRION I)

Tyrion’s first chapter in King’s Landing ends with him stating this lofty goal. But let’s look a bit more closely at what Tyrion seems to want as Hand. It is true that, overall, he wants to rule well. He wants to strengthen the city’s defenses, ensure its people are fed, and prevent it from being sacked.

Is any of that truly “justice,” though? As we know from our experience with Stannis, “justice” is an awfully strong word. It implies punishing evil and rewarding good. It’s not always admirable, either, as Varys points out:

“There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.” (AGOT EDDARD XV)

In fact, I would argue that Tyrion shows very little interest in justice during his Handship. Tyrion is a pragmatist at heart, and when considerations of justice and injustice arise, they take a backseat to Tyrion’s main goal of maintaining his own power and his family’s power. Now, I don’t mean any of the following to imply that I disapprove of Tyrion’s actions, necessarily — my point is instead that a simple rhetorical desire to do justice soon clashes with the necessities of maintaining power. And Tyrion puts pragmatism and power above such airy moral concerns — he is no Eddard Stark.

Martin first undercuts Tyrion’s desire for justice very early in Book 2. Acting on orders from Janos Slynt, Allar Deem of the City Watch has killed the prostitute Mhaegen and her infant daughter (a bastard of King Robert’s). Murdering a baby and mother is an obvious moral horror, so justice demands that the perpetrators be punished. But Tyrion quickly realizes that he cannot punish the person truly responsible for the killing — Cersei. What’s more, he’s not even sure he wants to:

“He could not touch Cersei, he knew. Not yet, not even if he’d wanted to, and he was far from certain that he did. Yet it rankled, to sit here and make a mummer’s show of justice by punishing the sorry likes of Janos Slynt and Allar Deem, while his sister continued on her savage course.” (ACOK TYRION II)

Pragmatism has already supplanted justice in this case. But by the end of the chapter, Martin twists the knife a little more in Tyrion. He knows he’s punished the babykillers Slynt and Deem — and then is forced to realize they are really no different from the ruthless thugs he himself employs:

Tyrion was a little drunk, and very tired. “Tell me, Bronn. If I told you to kill a babe…an infant girl, say, still at her mother’s breast…would you do it? Without question?”

“Without question? No.” The sellsword rubbed thumb and forefinger together. “I’d ask how much.”

And why would I ever need your Allar Deem, Lord Slynt? Tyrion thought. I have a hundred of my own. He wanted to laugh; he wanted to weep; most of all, he wanted Shae.  (ACOK TYRION II)

This introduces a theme that will recur in Tyrion’s later discussions with Tywin about the morality of power — the idea that a ruler needs brutal “beasts” to protect his position, which can conflict with any attempt to do justice:

“I promised him justice. …have you grown so fond of Gregor Clegane that you cannot bear to part with him?”

“Ser Gregor has his uses, as did his brother. Every lord has need of a beast from time to time . . . a lesson you seem to have learned, judging from Ser Bronn and those clansmen of yours.”

Tyrion thought of Timett’s burned eye, Shagga with his axe, Chella in her necklace of dried ears. And Bronn. Bronn most of all. (ASOS TYRION I)

Tyrion’s valuing of pragmatism over justice is also evident when, like Ned in Book 1, he is presented with reports of the Mountain’s brutal war crimes. Where Ned launched a crusade for justice, Tyrion analyzes the situation largely in pragmatic terms:

Ned raised his voice, so it carried to the far end of the throne room…

“… I charge you to ride to the westlands with all haste, to cross the Red Fork of the Trident under the king’s flag, and there bring the king’s justice to the false knight Gregor Clegane, and to all those who shared in his crimes.”” (AGOT EDDARD XI)

“A lordling down from the Trident, says your father’s men burned his keep, raped his wife, and killed all his peasants.”

“I believe they call that war.” Tyrion smelled Gregor Clegane’s work, or that of Ser Amory Lorch or his father’s other pet hellhound, the Qohorik. “What does he want of Joffrey?”

“New peasants,” Bronn said. “He walked all this way to sing how loyal he is and beg for recompense.”

“I’ll make time for him on the morrow.” Whether truly loyal or merely desperate, a compliant river lord might have his uses. “See that he’s given a comfortable chamber and a hot meal. Send him a new pair of boots as well, good ones, courtesy of King Joffrey.” A show of generosity never hurt. (ACOK TYRION IV)

Of course, the biggest problem with Tyrion’s claims to be pursuing justice is Joffrey himself. It’s true that Tyrion intervenes in certain instances to try and mitigate the worst of Joffrey’s abuses. However, he knows full well that (1) Joffrey’s claim to the throne is completely fraudulent, and (2) Joffrey is a terrible king completely unfit for power. Yet he continues to work incredibly hard to ensure that Joffrey remains on the throne:

Can she truly be so blind as to what he is? he wondered… “Ah, yes, the king,” Tyrion muttered. “My nephew is not fit to sit a privy, let alone the Iron Throne.” (ACOK TYRION IX)

Early on, Tyrion responds to Stannis’ true accusations about Joffrey’s parentage by backing a plan to circulate lies about Shireen’s parentage:

Loath as Tyrion was to admit it, Littlefinger’s scheme had promise. Stannis had never been enamored of his wife, but he was bristly as a hedgehog where his honor was concerned and mistrustful by nature. If they could sow discord between him and his followers, it could only help their cause. (ACOK TYRION III)

Inventing lies to keep an incestuous false evil king on the throne and denigrate the person with the rightful claim, is a funny idea of justice! And again, I’m not saying all this to criticize Tyrion, necessarily. Overall I’m quite in favor of pragmatism in a ruler. But let’s be clear-eyed about how far “justice” has fallen on Tyrion’s list of priorities at this point.

Tyrion’s desire to be loved

Since Tyrion’s hope for justice vanishes so quickly, one must wonder — did Tyrion really care about it that much in the first place? I would argue that he has a different motivation. Tyrion’s main desire for his Handship, and what he wants most in life, is to be loved. This desire is rooted in the major trauma of his childhood. He thought he had found love with Tysha the crofter’s daughter, who became his wife. But then, at Tywin’s behest, Jaime “revealed” that she was a whore, paid to pretend. Tyrion then concluded that no woman could ever really love him:

Will you never learn, dwarf? She’s a whore, damn you, it’s your coin she loves, not your cock. Remember Tysha? (ACOK TYRION I)

“Can a whore truly love anyone, I wonder? No, don’t answer. Some things I would rather not know.”  (ACOK TYRION II)

“I love to say your name. Tyrion Lannister. It goes with mine. Not the Lannister, t’other part. Tyrion and Tysha. Tysha and Tyrion. Tyrion. My lord Tyrion . . .”

Lies, he thought, all feigned, all for gold, she was a whore, Jaime’s whore, Jaime’s gift, my lady of the lie. (ACOK TYRION XV)

Yet Tyrion continued to crave this love, despite trying to telling himself it’s impossible for any woman to ever love a dwarf. He refers to himself as being “haunted” by Tysha, and by the middle of Book 2 we can see that he is desperately and wishfully hoping that he is finally loved by someone:

His sweet innocent Tysha had been a lie start to finish, only a whore his brother Jaime had hired to make him a man.

I’m free of Tysha now, he thought. She’s haunted me half my life, but I don’t need her anymore, no more than I need Alayaya or Dancy or Marei, or the hundreds like them I’ve bedded with over the years. I have Shae now. Shae. (ACOK TYRION VII)

Tyrion doesn’t fall for Shae because of her beauty or her personality. He falls for her because he wants to be loved, and he thinks she loves him:

He’d had talk enough; he needed the sweet simplicity of the pleasure he found between Shae’s thighs. Here, at least, he was welcome, wanted. (ACOK TYRION X)

But Tyrion’s desire to be loved goes beyond Shae, as Cersei observes:

“Robert wanted smiles and cheers, always, so he went where he found them, to his friends and his whores. Robert wanted to be loved. My brother Tyrion has the same disease.” (ACOK SANSA IV)

He wants to be loved by the people of King’s Landing, and get recognition and admiration:

“They hate my family, is that what you are telling me?” “Aye . . . and will turn on them, if the chance comes.” “Me as well?” “Ask your eunuch.”

“I’m asking you.”

Bywater’s deep-set eyes met the dwarf’s mismatched ones, and did not blink. “You most of all, my lord.”

“Most of all?” The injustice was like to choke him. “It was Joffrey who told them to eat their dead, Joffrey who set his dog on them. How could they blame me?” (ACOK TYRION IX)

A few kind words from Garlan Tyrell, in ASOS, have a huge effect on him:

“No, my lady,” Ser Garlan said. “My lord of Lannister was made to do great deeds, not to sing of them. But for his chain and his wildfire, the foe would have been across the river. And if Tyrion’s wildlings had not slain most of Lord Stannis’s scouts, we would never have been able to take him unawares.”

His words made Tyrion feel absurdly grateful… (ASOS TYRION VIII)

In a dream in his last chapter of ACOK, we again see how much Tyrion wants to be loved and praised by others — including a hint that he wants to be loved by his father, too:

This time he dreamed he was at a feast, a victory feast in some great hall. He had a high seat on the dais, and men were lifting their goblets and hailing him as hero. Marillion was there, the singer who’d journeyed with them through the Mountains of the Moon. He played his woodharp and sang of the Imp’s daring deeds. Even his father was smiling with approval. When the song was over, Jaime rose from his place, commanded Tyrion to kneel, and touched him first on one shoulder and then on the other with his golden sword, and he rose up a knight. Shae was waiting to embrace him. She took him by the hand, laughing and teasing, calling him her giant of Lannister.

He woke in darkness to a cold empty room. (ACOK TYRION XV)

This idea of love also, interestingly, becomes entangled with the idea of power in Tyrion’s mind. In the middle of his Handship, he comes to conclude he greatly enjoys power. Through power, he thinks he can achieve the recognition, respect, and love he so craves. Here he switches back and forth between talking about his power and the love he thinks he’s found in Shae — they are interconnected:

Her eyes were open. She smiled and stroked his head and whispered, “I just had the sweetest dream, m’lord.”

Tyrion nipped at her small hard nipple and nestled his head on her shoulder. He did not pull out of her; would that he never had to pull out of her. “This is no dream,” he promised her. It is real, all of it, he thought, the wars, the intrigues, the great bloody game, and me in the center of it . . . me, the dwarf, the monster, the one they scorned and laughed at, but now I hold it all, the power, the city, the girl. This was what I was made for, and gods forgive me, but I do love it . . .

And her. And her. (ACOK TYRION VII)

The darker side of pragmatism: Threats, brutality, murder, and Tywin

Tyrion’s deft wheeling and dealing often seem to let him accomplish practical and moral goals at the same time — having it both ways, as it were:

“I grow ever more admiring of you, my lord,” confessed the eunuch. “You appease the Stark boy with his father’s bones and strip your sister of her protectors in one swift stroke. You give that black brother the men he seeks, rid the city of some hungry mouths, yet make it all seem mockery so none may say that the dwarf fears snarks and grumkins. Oh, deftly done.” (ACOK TYRION VI)

Tyrion also performs some kind and generous deeds during his Handship — most notably, saving Sansa from Joffrey’s cruel treatment:

What is the meaning of this?”

The Imp’s voice cracked like a whip, and suddenly Sansa was free. She stumbled to her knees, arms crossed over her chest, her breath ragged. “Is this your notion of chivalry, Ser Boros?” Tyrion Lannister demanded angrily. His pet sellsword stood with him, and one of his wildlings, the one with the burned eye. “What sort of knight beats helpless maids?” (ACOK SANSA III)

He has a soft spot for “cripples, bastards, and broken things” — and whores, which is one reason he punishes Slynt and Deem:

“Not every man’d do it. Even if it was only some whore and her whelp.” “I suppose that’s so,” said Tyrion, hearing only some whore and thinking of Shae, and Tysha long ago…

…Tyrion had never seen the dead girl’s face, but in his mind she was Shae and Tysha both. (ACOK TYRION II)

But at other times, Tyrion can be extremely callow and indifferent to the suffering of others. His response to Lysa Arryn’s awful treatment of him is to arm the hill tribes, so they can mount more effective raids on the Vale. Of course, it is the Vale’s smallfolk, not Lysa Arryn, who will truly suffer from this.

Tyrion was about to tell his lord father how he proposed to reduce the Vale of Arryn to a smoking wasteland, but he was never given the chance. (AGOT TYRION VII)

Littlefinger stroked the neat spike of his beard. “Lysa has woes of her own. Clansmen raiding out of the Mountains of the Moon, in greater numbers than ever before . . . and better armed.”

“Distressing,” said Tyrion Lannister, who had armed them. (ACOK TYRION IV)

Tyrion has a prickly side when it comes to vengeance. When he sees his father has hanged Masha Heddle, for owning the inn where Tyrion was kidnapped, this is his reaction:

He dismounted and glanced up at what remained of the corpse. The birds had eaten her lips and eyes and most of her cheeks, baring her stained red teeth in a hideous smile. “A room, a meal, and a flagon of wine, that was all I asked,” he reminded her with a sigh of reproach. (AGOT TYRION VII)

He is also also quick to justify Tywin’s mass executions of smallfolk during the war. Tyrion’s empathy for “cripples, bastards, and broken things” apparently doesn’t extend to peasants:

“It is bad in the riverlands, Tyrion. Around the Gods Eye and along the kingsroad especially. The river lords are burning their own crops to try and starve us, and your father’s foragers are torching every village they take and putting the smallfolk to the sword.”

That was the way of war. The smallfolk were slaughtered, while the highborn were held for ransom. Remind me to thank the gods that I was born a Lannister. (ACOK TYRION V)

What level of brutality is necessary to win a war and protect one’s power? What cost in innocent life is acceptable? At this point, of course, Tyrion has absolutely no say over what Tywin chooses to do in the Riverlands. But there are several indications that, as his arc develops, Tyrion increasingly accepts Tywin’s way of thinking about ruthlessness and power. It is telling that, while he is shocked by the Red Wedding, he can’t manage to rebut Tywin’s argument for doing it:

“Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner.” When Tyrion had no reply to that, his father continued. (ASOS TYRION VI)

We can see Tyrion’s views on brutality and power develop when it comes to his interactions with Cersei in Book 2. Early on, it’s clear that Tyrion believes that to retain power despite dangerous enemies, he must beat them at their own game. And at first, his witty schemes against his sister are a great deal of fun and seem to work wonderfully, without any real downsides:

Tyrion reflected on the men who had been Hand before him, who had proved no match for his sister’s wiles. How could they be? Men like that . . . too honest to live, too noble to shit, Cersei devours such fools every morning when she breaks her fast. The only way to defeat my sister is to play her own game, and that was something the Lords Stark and Arryn would never do. Small wonder that both of them were dead, while Tyrion Lannister had never felt more alive. His stunted legs might make him a comic grotesque at a harvest ball, but this dance he knew. (ACOK TYRION VII)

But the game of thrones is inherently dangerous, and Tyrion is soon forced to ask himself how far he will go to protect people he cares about:

“I have your little whore.”

…His belly felt as if it were full of eels. How had she found Shae? (ACOK TYRION XII)

When Cersei’s captive is revealed to be Alayaya, Tyrion has an interesting reaction:

Tyrion wanted to laugh at her. It would have been so sweet, so very very sweet, but it would have given the game away. You’ve lost, Cersei, and the Kettleblacks are even bigger fools than Bronn claimed. All he needed to do was say the words.

Instead he looked at the girl’s face and said, “You swear you’ll release her after the battle?” (ACOK TYRION XII)

Tyrion wants to reveal that she has the wrong whore, but that would “give the game away.” I think this suggests that Tyrion is choosing to leave Alayaya in Cersei’s custody so Shae will be safe. He clearly feels guilty about it, realizing his actions have put her at risk:

Alayaya bent over and kissed him on the brow. Her broken lips left a smear of blood on his forehead. A bloody kiss is more than I deserve, Tyrion thought. She would never have been hurt but for me. (ACOK TYRION XII)

So to ensure Alayaya’s safety, Tyrion summons a very dark part of himself — a part which he associates with his father:

“Keep her then, but keep her safe. If these animals think they can use her . . . well, sweet sister, let me point out that a scale tips two ways.” His tone was calm, flat, uncaring; he’d reached for his father’s voice, and found it. “Whatever happens to her happens to Tommen as well, and that includes the beatings and rapes.” If she thinks me such a monster, I’ll play the part for her.

Cersei had not expected that. “You would not dare.”

Tyrion made himself smile, slow and cold. Green and black, his eyes laughed at her. “Dare? I’ll do it myself.”…

… “I have never liked you, Cersei, but you were my own sister, so I never did you harm. You’ve ended that. I will hurt you for this. I don’t know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.” (ACOK TYRION XII)

Later, he tells Tywin that he was following his example:

“To save a whore’s virtue, you threatened your own House, your own kin? Is that the way of it?”

“You were the one who taught me that a good threat is often more telling than a blow.” (ASOS TYRION I)

Tyrion is coming to believe that the only way he can keep the people he cares about safe is by acting like Tywin — making ruthless and brutal threats. In the moment, they are only threats.

But what if these threats are ignored? Martin forces Tyrion to grapple with that question twice in ASOS. First, briefly, he finds out Alayaya has been horribly whipped, and this is his reaction:

“I promised my sister I would treat Tommen as she treated Alayaya,” he remembered aloud. He felt as though he might retch. “How can I scourge an eight-year-old boy?” But if I don’t, Cersei wins.

“You don’t have Tommen,” Bronn said bluntly. “Once she learned that Ironhand was dead, the queen sent the Kettleblacks after him, and no one at Rosby had the balls to say them nay.”

Another blow; yet a relief as well, he must admit it. He was fond of Tommen.  (ASOS TYRION I)

Tyrion fears he’ll lose credibility if he doesn’t follow through on his threats, which shows how the very act of making such threats can box a ruler in. In this case he has no power to follow through, and most readers doubt he would have anyway. But soon, Martin re-introduces another character who has ignored Tyrion’s threats — Symon Silver Tongue.

The last time Tyrion had seen the man, a sharp word had been enough to set him sweating, but it seemed the singer had found some courage somewhere. Most like in that flagon. Or perhaps Tyrion himself was to blame for this new boldness. I threatened him, but nothing ever came of the threat, so now he believes me toothless. (ASOS TYRION IV)

Tyrion’s threats against Symon in ACOK have gone ignored, and now the singer is trying to blackmail him, with Shae’s life in the balance. So Tyrion is forced to conclude that threats are not enough, that murder is the only way to keep Shae safe, and he orders Symon’s killing. Later in the chapter, he regrets not having so murdered his old enemies Pycelle (back on the Council) and Slynt (headed to try and become Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch), and he relates this sentiment to his father yet again:

“Yes, my lord.” Pycelle bobbed his withered head once more. “I shall write as the Hand commands. With great pleasure.”

I should have trimmed his head, not his beard, Tyrion reflected. And Slynt should have gone for a swim with his dear friend Allar Deem. At least he had not made the same foolish mistake with Symon Silver Tongue. See there, Father? he wanted to shout. See how fast I learn my lessons? (ASOS TYRION IV)

Because he feels it’s the only way to protect those he loves, Tyrion is moving further toward a path of violent retaliation against his enemies. His father’s path — leave no Reynes of Castamere alive. And Tyrion views this as a “lesson” he learns about ruling.

Rejection, betrayal and desire for vengeance

All of the preceding elements — Tyrion’s pragmatism, his grappling with the morality of power, his desire to be loved, his vengeful side, and his following his father’s path — come together in a potent stew in Tyrion’s ASOS plotline. Martin designs Tyrion’s arc as a seemingly unending series of rejections, humiliations, and betrayals of Tyrion by anyone he’s ever cared about or hoped for approval from. And the purpose of the arc is to put Tyrion in a mental place where he’ll vow ruthless revenge on Westeros. The arc is symbolically summed up in this one brief incident:

There were children climbing the towering wooden structures, swarming up like monkeys in roughspun to perch on the throwing arms and hoot at each other.

“Remind me to tell Ser Addam to post some gold cloaks here,” Tyrion told Bronn as they rode between two of the trebuchets. “Some fool boy’s like to fall off and break his back.” There was a shout from above, and a clod of manure exploded on the ground a foot in front of them. Tyrion’s mare reared and almost threw him. “On second thoughts,” he said when he had the horse in hand, “let the poxy brats splatter on the cobbles like overripe melons.” (ASOS TYRION IV)

After the Blackwater, Tyrion wants to be recognized for his skillful leadership, and seeks approval from both the people of King’s Landing, and from Tywin. He gets neither:

“That chain of yours, that was cunning,” Mace Tyrell had said in a jolly tone, and Lord Redwyne nodded and said, “Quite so, quite so, my lord of Highgarden speaks for all of us,” and very cheerfully too.

Tell it to the people of this city, Tyrion thought bitterly. Tell it to the bloody singers, with their songs of Renly’s ghost. (ASOS TYRION III)

“And you want your own reward, is that it? Very well. What is it you would have of me? Lands, castle, some office?”

“A little bloody gratitude would make a nice start… …What do I want, you ask? I’ll tell you what I want. I want what is mine by rights. I want Casterly Rock.”

…Lord Tywin’s eyes were a pale green flecked with gold, as luminous as they were merciless. “Casterly Rock,” he declared in a flat cold dead tone. And then, “Never.” The word hung between them, huge, sharp, poisoned. (ASOS TYRION I)

Failing to receive recognition, he instead falls back on his true desire — for love. His marriage to Sansa is arranged, and he starts to dream about being loved by her. But he fears that, because he is a dwarf, no one will ever love him:

I want her, he realized. I want Winterfell, yes, but I want her as well, child or woman or whatever she is. I want to comfort her. I want to hear her laugh. I want her to come to me willingly, to bring me her joys and her sorrows and her lust.  His mouth twisted in a bitter smile. Yes, and I want to be tall as Jaime and as strong as Ser Gregor the Mountain too, for all the bloody good it does. (ASOS TYRION IV)

But Sansa responds with the same word Tywin used — “Never.”

It took all the courage that was in her to look in those mismatched eyes and say, “And if I never want you to, my lord?”

His mouth jerked as if she had slapped him. “Never?” (ASOS SANSA III)

And after Joffrey’s poisoning, Tyrion’s imprisonment, and Sansa’s disappearance, he decides that she betrayed him, and concludes he’ll never get love:

Sansa must have poisoned him. Joff practically put his cup down in her lap, and he’d given her ample reason. Any doubts Tyrion might have had vanished when his wife did. One flesh, one heart, one soul. His mouth twisted. She wasted no time proving how much those vows meant to her, did she? Well, what did you expect, dwarf? (ASOS TYRION IX)

At the trial, what seems to be the entire populace of King’s Landing turns against Tyrion, with a series of accusations and lies implicating him for a crime he didn’t commit. The final betrayal is from Shae, who not only lies to implicate him, but adds a dose of humiliating mockery that turns Tyrion into a laughingstock:

“He used to make me tell him how big he was. My giant, I had to call him, my giant of Lannister.”

Oswald Kettleblack was the first to laugh. Boros and Meryn joined in, then Cersei, Ser Loras, and more lords and ladies than he could count. The sudden gale of mirth made the rafters ring and shook the Iron Throne. “It’s true,” Shae protested. “My giant of Lannister.” The laughter swelled twice as loud. Their mouths were twisted in merriment, their bellies shook. Some laughed so hard that snot flew from their nostrils. (ASOS TYRION X)

The rejection from Shae is the final straw. Filled with rage and resentment, Tyrion concludes that everyone in the world, from his father on down, despises him because he is a dwarf:

I saved you all, Tyrion thought. I saved this vile city and all your worthless lives. There were hundreds in the throne room, every one of them laughing but his father. Or so it seemed. Even the Red Viper chortled, and Mace Tyrell looked like to bust a gut, but Lord Tywin Lannister sat between them as if made of stone, his fingers steepled beneath his chin.

Tyrion pushed forward. “MY LORDS!” he shouted…

…“Of Joffrey’s death I am innocent. I am guilty of a more monstrous crime.” He took a step toward his father. “I was born. I lived. I am guilty of being a dwarf, I confess it. And no matter how many times my good father forgave me, I have persisted in my infamy.”

“This is folly, Tyrion,” declared Lord Tywin. “Speak to the matter at hand. You are not on trial for being a dwarf.”

“That is where you err, my lord. I have been on trial for being a dwarf my entire life.”

“Have you nothing to say in your defense?”

“Nothing but this: I did not do it. Yet now I wish I had.” He turned to face the hall, that sea of pale faces. “I wish I had enough poison for you all. You make me sorry that I am not the monster you would have me be, yet there it is.” (ASOS TYRION X)

Finally, after Tyrion loses his trial by combat, Martin decides to twist the knife again. One last time, he dangles in front of Tyrion the possibility that someone loves him — as Jaime rescues him. But then he snatches this love away, by revealing that Jaime is complicit in Tyrion’s deepest trauma:

“She was no whore. I never bought her for you. That was a lie that Father commanded me to tell. Tysha was . . . she was what she seemed to be. A crofter’s daughter, chance met on the road.”

Tyrion could hear the faint sound of his own breath whistling hollowly through the scar of his nose. Jaime could not meet his eyes. Tysha. He tried to remember what she had looked like. A girl, she was only a girl, no older than Sansa. “My wife,” he croaked. “She wed me.” (ASOS TYRION XI)

It hurts more than anything for Tyrion to discover that Tysha’s love for him was real, but is now gone and gone forever. With love, happiness, and respect denied to him for ever, all Tyrion can hope for is vengeance.

He hit him. It was a slap, backhanded, but he put all his strength into it, all his fear, all his rage, all his pain. Jaime was squatting, unbalanced. The blow sent him tumbling backward to the floor. “I . . . I suppose I earned that.”

“Oh, you’ve earned more than that, Jaime. You and my sweet sister and our loving father, yes, I can’t begin to tell you what you’ve earned. But you’ll have it, that I swear to you. A Lannister always pays his debts.” (ASOS TYRION XI)

And he sets about not only getting this revenge — murdering Shae for her betrayal, and then Tywin — but claiming his father’s mantle in doing so.

 “You . . . you are no . . . no son of mine.”

“Now that’s where you’re wrong, Father. Why, I believe I’m you writ small.” (ASOS TYRION XI)

Tyrion began his tenure in King’s Landing by vowing to do justice. He ended it by deciding he is Tywin.

Conclusion: The Truth About Tywin

Since Tyrion’s embrace of Tywin seems pivotal for the future of the series, it’s worth clarifying one point about who Tywin Lannister truly is. Tywin presents the image that he uses brutal methods purely because of his pragmatism, but there are reasons to doubt this. Here he presents the murder of Rhaegar’s children as necessary:

“Far be it from me to question your cunning, Father, but in your place I do believe I’d have let Robert Baratheon bloody his own hands.”

Lord Tywin stared at him as if he had lost his wits. “You deserve that motley, then. We had come late to Robert’s cause. It was necessary to demonstrate our loyalty.  When I laid those bodies before the throne, no man could doubt that we had forsaken House Targaryen forever.” (ASOS TYRION VI)

And he passes off the rape and murder of Elia Martell as a regrettable bit of excess that he had nothing to do with:

His father shrugged. “I grant you, it was done too brutally. Elia need not have been harmed at all, that was sheer folly. By herself she was nothing.”

“Then why did the Mountain kill her?”

“Because I did not tell him to spare her. I doubt I mentioned her at all. I had more pressing concerns. Ned Stark’s van was rushing south from the Trident, and I feared it might come to swords between us. And it was in Aerys to murder Jaime, with no more cause than spite. That was the thing I feared most. That, and what Jaime himself might do.” He closed a fist. “Nor did I yet grasp what I had in Gregor Clegane, only that he was huge and terrible in battle. The rape . . . even you will not accuse me of giving that command, I would hope.”

Ser Amory was almost as bestial with Rhaenys…” … His mouth twisted in distaste. “The blood was in him.”

But not in you, Father. There is no blood in Tywin Lannister. (ASOS TYRION VI)

This is the image Tywin seeks to project — hard as stone, pragmatic, ruthless, and not driven by any base desires like bloodlust. But late in ASOS, Martin decides to undercut Tywin’s self-made myth. With the late revelation of Shae in Tywin’s bed, we learn that Tywin absolutely is driven by lust. (It is a ludicrous and hypocritical risk for Tywin to sleep with Shae, who is now known by the entire court as the Imp’s Whore. If such a salacious tale got out, it would immediately ruin the image Tywin has spent decades constructing for himself.) His public image of complete self-discipline was, simply, bullshit, as symbolically emphasized twice by Martin:

“But the stink that filled the privy gave ample evidence that the oft-repeated jape about his father was just another lie. Lord Tywin Lannister did not, in the end, shit gold. (ASOS TYRION XI)

The Lord of Casterly Rock made such an impressive figure that it was a shock when his destrier dropped a load of dung right at the base of the throne. (ACOK SANSA VIII)

Oberyn suggests that Tywin’s claim to have had no part in Elia’s fate is bullshit as well:

“I told you of the welcome we found at Casterly Rock. What I did not tell you was that my mother waited as long as was decent, and then broached your father about our purpose. Years later, on her deathbed, she told me that Lord Tywin had refused us brusquely. His daughter was meant for Prince Rhaegar, he informed her. And when she asked for Jaime, to espouse Elia, he offered her you instead.”

“Which offer she took for an outrage.”

“It was. Even you can see that, surely?”

“Oh, surely.” It all goes back and back, Tyrion thought, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our steads. “Well, Prince Rhaegar married Elia of Dorne, not Cersei Lannister of Casterly Rock. So it would seem your mother won that tilt.”

“She thought so,” Prince Oberyn agreed, “but your father is not a man to forget such slights. He taught that lesson to Lord and Lady Tarbeck once, and to the Reynes of Castamere. And at King’s Landing, he taught it to my sister.” (ASOS TYRION X)

Oberyn believes Tywin deliberately ordered the rape and murder of Elia out of vengeance because she, not Cersei, won Rhaegar’s hand. The dramatic placement of this revelation, late in ASOS, leads me to believe he is absolutely right, and that Tywin was lying through his teeth to Tyrion when he denied any part in it. “The blood was in” Tywin Lannister, very much so. And this desire for vengeance drove him past pragmatism — and toward needless cruelty and brutality. As Tyrion attempts to get his vengeance in future books, he will have to grapple with the question of whether Tywin’s legacy is truly one he should embrace.

Next: Sorrows and Cyvasse

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Paying His Debts, Part I: Tyrion in King’s Landing

  1. ACVG

    So glad youre doing Tyrion!! Can’t wait to read

  2. Jami

    Great article! I never really thought about Tyrion turning dark

  3. Oh, yay…you’ve started this series. Can’t wait to follow along 🙂

  4. CDM

    Great!! Thanks for doing a new analysis, I love your essays. They’re very interesting and clarifying.

  5. Wilbur

    Another excellent assessment – thank you.

    I will be interested to read your take on Tyrion’s self-destructive behaviors.

  6. NickH

    Thank you for a very interesting series of essays! I mostly agree with you about Tyrion, except for the escape chapter.

    “It hurts more than anything for Tyrion to discover that Tysha’s love for him was real, but is now gone and gone forever. With love, happiness, and respect denied to him for ever, all Tyrion can hope for is vengeance.”

    I believe that Tyrion did not climb the stairs to the Hand’s apartment to kill Tywin. He did tell Jaime that he wanted revenge, of course, but so he did even in AGOT (remember the conversation with Bronn when Tyrion mentions that he may need Bronn’s help to pay the debt to Tywin). Tyrion definitely had thoughts of killing Tywin, even before the Tysha revelation and even before the trial, but actually doing the deed is different from thinking or talking…

    I think that when Tyrion learned the truth about Tysha, his immediate reaction was to learn what happened to her after, and that is why Tyrion went to Tywin – to ask about Tysha. He was afraid that she is dead, and perhaps also absurdly hoping that maybe Tywin knows where to find her if she is not.

    Actually killing Tywin would have being very difficult for Tyrion, but Tywin helped him by repeatedly calling Tysha whore, even after Tyrion’s threats.

    «If I had not loosed, he would have seen my threats were empty. He would have taken the crossbow from my hands, as once he took Tysha from my arms. He was rising when I killed him» (ADWD Tyrion 1)

    Perhaps Tywin would have lived if he could find the right words to manipulate Tyrion, but he seems to always make the same mistake when talking to his children, expecting them to obey whatever he asks of them.

  7. Andrew

    Nice job, again. Tywin’s stone-faced approach is just a front, a shield to hide his own insecurities behind as evidenced that he never liked being laughed at. The tunnel leading to Chataya’s was built by a previous Hand whose honor prevented from being publicly seen going to a brothel, and I think Tywin is that Hand. It paints a disturbing mental picture as Tywin steals his soon-to-be-executed son’s whore. It could be the thought of Tywin taking away Tyrion’s whore as getting back at Tyrion for taking away his wife, Joanna.

    Tywin bears some resemblance to Okonkwo from Things Fall Apart. Okonkwo is haunted by the memory of his father who was fat, lazy, effeminate and poor where as Okonkwo is fit, hardworking, rich, rose high in society and he never shows any emotion except anger. Tywin is likewise haunted by the memory of his father, Tytos, who was enormously fat and let people walk all over him while Tywin is described as strong and muscular for his age, is ruthless and was Hand of the King. Like Okonkwo, Tywin strived to become the opposite of his father, and this proves to be his downfall as well as rise. While Tytos did do some things wrong, not everything he did, he did wrong. There were some things he did right that Tywin ends up doing wrong, such as parenthood. Tywin seems stoic for the most part, but like Okonkwo, whenever he feels threatened, not physically, he acts rashly as demonstrated when Tyrion married a crofter’s daughter.

  8. Isa

    I love reading these essays. You’ve turned Dany’s and Jon’s ADWD arcs on their heads for me-great insight. Are you planning to do a series on Arya’s descent into darkness? Her story is rife with complex symbolism, and it’s a wonderful subversion of the ‘badass child with sword’ into ‘no, this girl is a deeply traumatised child soldier’. It could be fascinating ^^

  9. DougL

    I’ve, since book 1 seen Tyrion as evil, because he effectively armed a bunch of terrorists, but I get shot down of forums for saying that. Well, you’ve noted it here. Nothing else he’s done bug me as much as that one but he is a fun character to read, even in Dance his chapters were pretty good, so I hope he survives until a wight pulls his guts out.

    • Blake

      I think that he isn’t evil because he armed the mountain clans. That was more out of self preservation. I think that Tyrion is ultimately a great character to adapt to situations with out ever compromising who he really is, unlike other characters in the series.

  10. Chalky

    Im sure this gets covered later but Tyrion’s bitterness doesn’t last long after meeting Illyrio. He seems back to his old self by the end of ADWD

  11. This is a very good briefing on what happens with Tyrion until the end of ASOS and I do like the juxtaposition of justice vs. pragmatism. Though I would be cautious in regard to the first term. Tyrion seems to see justice mainly in regards to himself not as an abstract construct. He wants fairness for himself (i.e. to get loved by his father and Jaime, to be appreciated for his works) and for people similar to himself (cripples, bastards and broken things) or with whom he relates to (whores). The peasants never seem to register with him in that regard, so ‘justice’ in a ‘fairness for everyone’ sense seems to be the wrong term for what he seeks at the start, he’s very much biased for the ‘little’ people it seems to be which also goes well for his curiousness towards knowledge (wanting to be a maester) or exotic lands (the only tourist that goes to see the wall…). So he’s unique in that regard as well 😉

    Good Start into the new essay series. Take your time!

  12. Pat

    Good article.

    It’s also interesting that Varys says that there was a Hand that met whores in secret (Clash of Kings, Tyrion II or III).

    Goes along with what you said about Tywin’s image: he is full of lust, yet does not want to show it for fear of his reputation.

  13. Joe

    Jaime’s intentions in telling Tyrion about Tysha are good, no? A coming clean and a benchmark in his journey from darkness into light. Makes for interesting symmetry in that his ‘gift’ escalates Tyrion’s downward spiral.

  14. Beautiful essay! I agree with all the points you have made here. What I would like to know is that, now that Tyrion has become so similar to Tywin, would he still live up to the ‘what am I if not a lion?’ thing? Will he go against his family in the future? I do believe he will seriously harm Cersei if he gets a chance but somehow I think in the end he will forgive Jaime.I will like to know your thoughts on this one. Do you see any chance of this happening?

  15. First when not last

    Excellent essay! Just q quick word on Tywin and “the Lannisters.” When Ned and Catelyn talk about “the Lannisters” as some sort of sinister force, they really are referring, whether they know it or not, to Tywin, and to a lesser degree to Kingslayer Jaime and Cersei. All other Lannisters we meet are normal people, and no better or worse morally than any other collection of Westerosi nobles. Their reputation in the Dunk & Egg stories is that of a typical Great House. The same is true of Tyrion to some degree also. He is a lot like Tywin, except he has a humane streak that never entirely goes away. Jaime after he loses his hand becomes a more or less normal person. The whole business of “the Lannisters” is based on Tywin’s extreme cruelty, and later Cersei’s, and is not on typical behavior in the family.

  16. Stormlander

    Remember what course of action did Littlefinger offer to Ned? Kepp Joffrey on the throne, influence him, restrain him, rule through him… Well, through Tyrion, GRRM shows in ACoK how well that course of action would have succeeded.

  17. Joe

    Tyrion XI, ASOS is an incredible chapter, and even more so you entertain some of the theories from the forums. For example, if Shae was present as part of a plot to poison Tywin (supported by Varys, and as evidenced by the stench in the privy and later from his corpse) then she isn’t necessarily betraying Tyrion. And taking into account her truthful plea that Cersei had forced her testimony at the trial, Tyrion’s act of strangling Shea becomes all the more heartbreaking. According to another theory, we may yet learn that Tywin’s last words about Tryion not being his son are literally true (see for example, http://www.westeros.org/Citadel/FAQ/Entry/Who_is_Tyrions_father). Of course Tyrion could not possibly perceive this, but how ironic is his affirmation of how much of Tywin’s son he truly is, if this proves true? Finally, given that all of the above occur after Jaime explains he has conspired for Tyrion’s escape and comes clean about Tysha, and to which Tyrion reacts violently and severs their relationship further with a newly invented lie about being guilty for Joff’s murder, this chapter is potentially one of the most layered, sad and downright painful ever. Hard to know if all the questions will be answered before the series ends, but yes, GRRM is indeed a cruel god!

  18. AJ

    I have to disagree with your statement about Tyrion “justifying” the death of peasants in warfare, because given the example that you use, it seems that Tyrion is accepting it as fact. The lower classes always have it worst in times of war; Tyrion knows this, and, more importantly, knows that there is little he can do to change it. Therefore, he just accepts it as a fact of life, recognizes his good fortune in having been born to nobility. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I read the books (began to re-read AGOT yesterday), and maybe there are other examples where Tyrion does justify the death and destruction.

    That being said, I feel incredibly nitpicky for this comment, as this entire essay is well reasoned and supported with ample evidence from the texts. Furthermore, given your predictions on Tyrion wishing to live up to Tywin’s image, the idea of Tyrion justifying mass death in warfare seems incredibly reasonable. Regardless, this essay was a pleasure to read, as are all of the others, and has seriously changed my thinking on one of my favorite characters from the series.

  19. RPAlves

    [He is also also quick to justify Tywin’s mass executions of smallfolk during the war. Tyrion’s empathy for “cripples, bastards, and broken things” apparently doesn’t extend to peasants:

    “It is bad in the riverlands, Tyrion. Around the Gods Eye and along the kingsroad especially. The river lords are burning their own crops to try and starve us, and your father’s foragers are torching every village they take and putting the smallfolk to the sword.”

    That was the way of war. The smallfolk were slaughtered, while the highborn were held for ransom. Remind me to thank the gods that I was born a Lannister. (ACOK TYRION V)]

    I’m sorry but I believe this was sarcasm. Tyrion was complaining about the ridiculous injustice of the westeros society, where the smallfolk pays wars with lifes, while nobles do it with gold.

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