Paying His Debts, Part II: Sorrows, Whores, and a Game of Cyvasse

In the first half of A Dance With Dragons, Tyrion goes to some very dark places. He obsesses with his own traumas, and begins to think all good things are lost for him. He responds by treating others cruelly, and fantasizing about vengeance — starting to take on more of his father’s worst traits in very disconcerting ways. And, as he begins to play the game of thrones with more skill than ever before, he starts to resemble two of Westeros’s most infamous schemers as well.

Wherever Whores Go: Haunted by Tywin and Tysha

Though Tyrion is rejected and betrayed by a great many people at the end of ASOS, he is haunted above all by the “original sin” of Tywin’s actions regarding Tysha. After Jaime’s revelation, Tyrion goes to find Tywin and demands to know what happened to Tysha. When Tywin says she probably went “wherever whores go,” Tyrion kills him. The newfound truth about this long-ago incident disturbs Tyrion so greatly for several reasons:

1.) The one time Tyrion was loved (his greatest desire), Tywin destroyed it:

  “Wherever whores go,” Lord Tywin said. She loved me. (ADWD TYRION I)

He remembered the first time with Tysha as well. She did not know how, no more than I did. We kept bumping our noses, but when I touched her tongue with mine she trembled. Tyrion closed his eyes to bring her face to mind, but instead he saw his father, squatting on a privy with his bed-robe hiked up about his waist. “Wherever whores go,” Lord Tywin said, and the crossbow thrummed. (ADWD TYRION II)

His thoughts turned to Tysha, who had so briefly been his lady wife…. … He was Jaime, and you were just some girl who’d played a part. I had feared it from the start, from the moment you first smiled at me and let me touch your hand. My own father could not love me. Why would you if not for gold? (ADWD TYRION V)

And false. Sansa, Shae, all my women … Tysha was the only one who ever loved me. Where do whores go? (ADWD TYRION IX)

2.) Tywin’s cruelty to Tysha, the innocent — Of course the gang rape would been horrific even if Tysha was a whore trying to get Tyrion’s gold. However, the fact that Tysha did absolutely nothing wrong other than loving Tyrion really helps drive home the callousness of Tywin’s actions, and reveals that he is utterly indifferent to morality, honesty, and decency when Lannister power and reputation are at stake:

“For your gold, Father said. She was lowborn, you were a Lannister of Casterly Rock. All she wanted was the gold, which made her no different from a whore, so . . . so it would not be a lie, not truly…” (ASOS TYRION XI)

She was a crofter’s daughter, she loved me and she wed me, she put her trust in me. (ADWD TYRION I)

3.) Tywin’s complete indifference to the suffering he causes — He cannot even remember Tysha’s name, and couldn’t care less where she might have gone, or that he destroyed an innocent life:

“What did you do with Tysha?”

“Tysha?” He does not even remember her name.

“The girl I married.”

“Oh, yes. Your first whore.”

“She’d learned her place . . . and had been well paid for her day’s work, I seem to recall. I suppose the steward sent her on her way. I never thought to inquire.”

“On her way where?”

“Wherever whores go.”

Tyrion’s finger clenched. The crossbow whanged just as Lord Tywin started to rise. (ASOS TYRION XI)

4.) Tywin made Tyrion himself complicit in the horrible crime:

Tyrion’s voice was choked. “He gave her to his guards. A barracks full of guards. He made me . . . watch.” Aye, and more than watch. I took her too . . . my wife . . . (ASOS TYRION XI)

A light wind was riffling the waters of the pool below, all around the naked swordsman. It reminded him of how Tysha would riffle his hair during the false spring of their marriage, before he helped his father’s guardsmen rape her. (TYRION I)

5.) Tyrion’s understanding of his identity as a Lannister, and his father’s son, is intertwined with this incident:

“Lord Tywin had me go last,” he said in a quiet voice. “And he gave me a gold coin to pay her, because I was a Lannister, and worth more.” (AGOT TYRION VI)

Jaime: “He said that you required a sharp lesson. That you would learn from it, and thank me later . . . ” (ASOS TYRION XI)

Tysha knew their number. Each of them had given her a silver stag, so she would only need to count the coins. A silver for each and a gold for me. His father had insisted that he pay her too. A Lannister always pays his debts. (ADWD TYRION I)

Now, as ADWD opens, Tyrion begins to obsess over the phrase “wherever whores go,” repeatedly asking the question to strangers without context, and musing about it in his thoughts like a mantra. Here, he dismisses his previous longings for love, justice, and glory — all he has left is to wonder where whores go.

He had dreamed enough for one small life. And of such follies: love, justice, friendship, glory. As well dream of being tall. It was all beyond his reach, Tyrion knew now. But he did not know where whores go. (ADWD TYRION I)

In one sense, Tyrion’s desire to find out “where whores go” — where Tysha is, where his lost love is — resembles Dany’s longing for the “house with the red door,” which symbolizes the simplicity and happiness that was taken from Dany and can never be found again. A few times, Tyrion even imagines the phrase might be some clue from Tywin about where Tysha is, and starts to imagine he is on a quest to find her:

He thought of Tysha and wondered where whores go. Why not Volantis? Perhaps I’ll find her there. A man should cling to hope. He wondered what he would say to her.  I am sorry that I let them rape you, love. I thought you were a whore. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me? I want to go back to our cottage, to the way it was when we were man and wife. (TYRION IV)

And the whores were out. River or sea, a port was a port, and wherever you found sailors, you’d find whores. Is that what my father meant? Is that where whores go, to the sea?…

…“Do you need a woman so badly, Yollo?”

“A man grows weary of having no lovers but his fingers.” Selhorys may be where whores go. Tysha might be in there even now, with tears tattooed upon her cheek… (TYRION VI)

This is Tyrion desperately yearning for that lost love, even now, when he has no real hope of regaining it. It is an emptiness that can’t be filled. He makes this clear later on, to Penny:

“Love is madness, and lust is poison. Keep your maiden-head. You’ll be happier for it, and you’re less like to find yourself in some dingy brothel on the Rhoyne with a whore who looks a bit like your lost love.” Or chasing across half the world, hoping to find wherever whores go. (TYRION IX)

In another sense, the phrase is dark and brutal — Tywin’s cruel and callous last words before Tyrion kinslays him. The phrase also plays into a theme from the previous part of this essay– Tyrion’s increasing belief that, when he makes threats, he must violently back them up:

“Your first whore.”

Tyrion took aim at his father’s chest. “The next time you say that word, I’ll kill you.”

“You do not have the courage.”

“Shall we find out? It’s a short word, and it seems to come so easily to your lips.” (ASOS TYRION XI)

…”Wherever whores go.” Tyrion had warned his father not to say that word. 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 I)

And the phrase could contain some ominous foreshadowing for what Tyrion’s desires for vengeance might cost:

That night he dreamed that he was back in King’s Landing again, a crossbow in his hand. “Wherever whores go,” Lord Tywin said, but when Tyrion’s finger clenched and the bowstring thrummed, it was Penny with the quarrel buried in her belly. (TYRION IX)

Futile Gestures: Cruelty and Vengeance

As Tyrion arrives in Pentos, he has lost love and his other ideals, and he’s unable to figure out where whores go. Instead, he tries to get some pleasure through causing others pain. We see this in the disturbing scene with Illyrio’s servant girl / slave.

“I’m no good at riddles. Will you tell me the answer?” No, he thought. I despise riddles, myself. “I will tell you nothing. Do me the same favor.” The only part of you that interests me is the part between your legs, he almost said. The words were on his tongue, but somehow never passed his lips. She is not Shae, the dwarf told himself, only some little fool who thinks I play at riddles. If truth be told, even her cunt did not interest him much. I must be sick, or dead. (TYRION I)

Above, Tyrion tries to remind himself that this girl is not Shae, and does not deserve his nasty treatment. But he grows increasingly embittered during the conversation.

“Will my lord want me after he has eaten?” she asked as she was lacing up his boots.

“No. I am done with women.” Whores.

The girl took that disappointment too well for his liking. “If m’lord would prefer a boy, I can have one waiting in his bed.”

M’lord would prefer his wife. M’lord would prefer a girl named Tysha. “Only if he knows where whores go.”

The girl’s mouth tightened. She despises me, he realized, but no more than I despise myself. (TYRION I)

So, Tyrion realizes the girl despises him and he’s reminded of all his woes. Now, uninterested in sex, and no longer caring that the girl is not Shae, he tries to get pleasure by terrifying her:

That he had fucked many a woman who loathed the very sight of him, Tyrion Lannister had no doubt, but the others had at least the grace to feign affection. A little honest loathing might be refreshing, like a tart wine after too much sweet. “I believe I have changed my mind,” he told her. “Wait for me abed. Naked, if you please, I’ll be a deal too drunk to fumble at your clothing. Keep your mouth shut and your thighs open and the two of us should get on splendidly.” He gave her a leer, hoping for a taste of fear, but all she gave him was revulsion. No one fears a dwarf. (TYRION I)

After it doesn’t work the first time, he tries again — and this time, succeeds:

“Do you moan when you are being fucked?” he asked the bedwarmer.

“If it please m’lord.”

“It might please m’lord to strangle you. That’s how I served my last whore. Do you think your master would object? Surely not. He has a hundred more like you, but no one else like me.” This time, when he grinned, he got the fear he wanted. (TYRION I)

We are not shown how this situation ends up. Later, Tyrion visits a slave brothel in Selhorys. Here, he doesn’t deliberately try to cause pain to the slave girl for the sake of causing pain — he just wants to have sex, and doesn’t really care about what she wants. Note again that he sees revulsion in her eyes, and then uses this as license to do whatever he wishes with her:

The whore was looking at his noseless face with revulsion in her eyes. “Do I offend you, sweetling? I am an offensive creature, as my father would be glad to tell you if he were not dead and rotting.”

Though she did look Westerosi, the girl spoke not a word of the Common Tongue. Perhaps she was captured by some slaver as a child. Her bedchamber was small, but there was a Myrish carpet on the floor and a mattress stuffed with feathers in place of straw. I have seen worse. “Will you give me your name?” he asked, as he took a cup of wine from her. “No?” The wine was strong and sour and required no translation. “I suppose I shall settle for your cunt.” He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Have you ever bedded a monster before? Now’s as good a time as any. Out of your clothes and onto your back, if it please you. Or not.” (TYRION VI)

It’s hard to view this as anything other than rape:

Tyrion had been so long without a woman that he spent himself inside her on the third thrust. He rolled off feeling more ashamed than sated. This was a mistake. What a wretched creature I’ve become. “Do you know a woman by the name of Tysha?” he asked, as he watched his seed dribble out of her onto the bed. The whore did not respond. “Do you know where whores go?” She did not answer that one either. Her back was crisscrossed by ridges of scar tissue. This girl is as good as dead. I have just fucked a corpse. Even her eyes looked dead. She does not even have the strength to loathe me. (TYRION VI)

And yet, despite his self-loathing, Tyrion does it again:

His stomach heaved, and he found himself on his knees, retching on the carpet, that wonderful thick Myrish carpet, as comforting as lies. The whore cried out in distress. They will blame her for this, he realized, ashamed. “Cut off my head and take it to King’s Landing,” Tyrion urged her. “My sister will make a lady of you, and no one will ever whip you again.” She did not understand that either, so he shoved her legs apart, crawled between them, and took her once more. That much she could comprehend, at least. (TYRION VI)

All this is especially noteworthy because, as I mentioned in Part I, Tyrion used to have an unusual empathy for whores:

“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)

Above, Tyrion noted that the Selhorys slave girl had many scars on her back, and didn’t really care, choosing instead to indulge his own desire to have sex again. This contrasts to his earlier outraged reaction to Alayaya’s whipping:

“They tied her to a post in the yard and scourged her, then shoved her out the gate naked and bloody.” She was learning to read, Tyrion thought, absurdly. Across his face the scar stretched tight, and for a moment it felt as though his head would burst with rage. Alayaya was a whore, true enough, but a sweeter, braver, more innocent girl he had seldom met. (ASOS TYRION I)

Tyrion used to feel empathy for this whole class of disadvantaged people, but after Shae’s betrayal and the revelation that Tysha was not a whore, he no longer does. So he has really changed. His empathy is transferred entirely to the idealized figure of Tysha, who is now the one unique girl who loved him. Everyone else is now just a whore.

In this, he is resembling his father. Tywin loved Joanna, and never loved again after he died. Other women were just whores, to be mistreated however Tywin desired:

Tywin, re: Tysha: “She’d learned her place . . . and had been well paid for her day’s work, I seem to recall.” (ASOS TYRION XI)

Tyrion also increasingly resembles Tywin in his desire for vengeance. According to Genna Lannister, vengeance is one of the few things that could make Tywin smile:

“Men say that Tywin never smiled, but he smiled when he wed your mother, and when Aerys made him Hand. When Tarbeck Hall came crashing down on Lady Ellyn, that scheming bitch, Tyg claimed he smiled then.” (AFFC JAIME V)

So Tyrion entertains himself with fantasies of vengeance against the remaining members of his family:

Tyrion pictured how his sister’s head might look up there, with tar in her golden hair and flies buzzing in and out of her mouth. Yes, and Jaime must have the spike beside her, he decided. No one must ever come between my brother and my sister. (TYRION I)

Tywin has used rape as a weapon — to punish Tysha, and likely to punish Elia Martell as well. Though so far it’s just words, Tyrion expresses a desire to do the same:

“The only reward I ask is I might be allowed to rape and kill my sister.” (TYRION VII)

When Tyrion later falls into the Rhoyne, we see just how vengeful his new self can be:

There are worse ways to die than drowning. And if truth be told, he had perished long ago, back in King’s Landing. It was only his revenant who remained, the small vengeful ghost who throttled Shae and put a cross-bow bolt through the great Lord Tywin’s bowels. No man would mourn the thing that he’d become. I’ll haunt the Seven Kingdoms, he thought, sinking deeper. They would not love me living, so let them dread me dead. When he opened his mouth to curse them all, black water filled his lungs, and the dark closed in around him. (TYRION V)

Back in his first ADWD chapter, he weighs striking back at Cersei by crowning Myrcella in Dorne. He considers this knowing full well the attempt would fail and that Myrcella would surely die. But he wants revenge, and sees no other way to get it:

“I could make rather a lot of mischief in Dorne with Myrcella. I could set my niece and nephew at war, wouldn’t that be droll?”

…”What has this poor child done to you that you would wish her dead?”

“Even a kinslayer is not required to slay all his kin,” said Tyrion, wounded. “Queen her, I said. Not kill her.”

The cheesemonger spooned up cherries. “In Volantis they use a coin with a crown on one face and a death’s-head on the other. Yet it is the same coin. To queen her is to kill her. Dorne might rise for Myrcella, but Dorne alone is not enough. If you are as clever as our friend insists, you know this.”

Tyrion looked at the fat man with new interest. He is right on both counts. To queen her is to kill her. And I knew that. “Futile gestures are all that remain to me. This one would make my sister weep bitter tears, at least.” (TYRION I)

Game of Cyvasse, Game of Thrones

Illyrio informs him of another, better way to get his vengeance — by helping Dany conquer Westeros. Note Tyrion’s irritated question about whether this is a game:

Magister Illyrio wiped sweet cream from his mouth with the back of a fat hand. “The road to Casterly Rock does not go through Dorne, my little friend. Nor does it run beneath the Wall. Yet there is such a road, I tell you.”

“I am an attainted traitor, a regicide, and kinslayer.” This talk of roads annoyed him. Does he think this is a game? (TYRION I)

Two chapters later, when Tyrion meets “Griff,” he knows full well what game he’s playing:

Griff stared at him, frowning. “I have given you fair warning, Lannister. Guard your tongue or lose it. Kingdoms are at hazard here. Our lives, our names, our honor. This is no game we’re playing for your amusement.”

Of course it is, thought Tyrion. The game of thrones. “As you say, Captain,” he murmured, bowing once again. (TYRION III)

As Tyrion travels east, cyvasse becomes increasingly prominent in his chapters, and Martin often uses it as a way to bring up the game of thrones, either explicitly or metaphorically:

“Perhaps I learned the game from the cheesemonger, have you considered that?”

“Illyrio does not play cyvasse.”

No, thought the dwarf, he plays the game of thrones, and you and Griff and Duck are only pieces, to be moved where he will and sacrificed at need, just as he sacrificed Viserys.  (TYRION IV)

At this moment, Tyrion is also merely a piece. His ADWD arc prepares him to be a player again — and starts to elevate his gameplay so he will be far more formidable and dangerous than ever before. Only now, after Tyrion has been brought down to nothing, will he truly begin playing the game of thrones with an eye on the big picture.

Now, I’ve emphasized how Tyrion has become more like his father in certain ways. But Tywin built his strategy in the game of thrones on brute force, reputation, and riches. Tyrion no longer has access to any of these, so for the time being, he must play with a different style — and he chooses the style of Varys and Littlefinger. These two dangerous and amoral schemers worm their way into the confidences of powerful people, unleashing a barrage of half-truths, deceptions, and manipulations to empower themselves and achieve their own desired ends. And this is precisely what Tyrion will now do to Aegon.

West Instead of East

After Tyrion wakes up from his trip into the Sorrows — metaphorically being returned from death to life — his manipulations start almost immediately:

“Prince Aegon,” said Tyrion, “since we’re both stuck aboard this boat, perhaps you will honor me with a game of cyvasse to while away the hours?”

The prince gave him a wary look. “I am sick of cyvasse.”

“Sick of losing to a dwarf, you mean?”

That pricked the lad’s pride, just as Tyrion had known it would. “Go fetch the board and pieces. This time I mean to smash you.” (TYRION VI)

What follows is a very cleverly-written scene. As Tyrion’s cyvasse game with Aegon progresses, he advises the young prince to turn around — to go land in Westeros before Daenerys, rather than going east to meet her. Since Aegon later decides to act on the advice, this is an incredibly momentous scene that has likely transformed the future of Westeros. But during the scene, Martin gives the reader no explicit indication of Tyrion’s inner thoughts on this advice, or his motives for giving it. Accordingly, since the book has come out, there has been much debate over what Tyrion truly hoped to achieve.

In my view, there are many clues that point strongly toward one explanation — Tyrion is intentionally giving Aegon bad advice, to help Tyrion’s own prospects in the game of thrones.

Before getting into how this might help Tyrion’s own position, and before jumping into the scene itself, let’s look at how Tyrion thinks about things after the scene. Later in that same chapter, he goes into Selhorys and is asked to play another game of cyvasse, and thinks to himself:

“Up with you, little man. Put your silver on the table, and we will see how well you play the game.”

Which game? Tyrion might have asked. (TYRION VI)

This indicates that when he was just playing cyvasse with Aegon, he was actually playing a different game — the game of thrones. Later, after his kidnapping by Jorah Mormont, Tyrion eventually does get the news that Griff’s band has turned west. And note his reaction — he is so shocked that Aegon would do such an absurd thing, that he spends several sentences trying to search for alternate explanations. He even wonders if Aegon could have “swallowed the bait” — not exactly a phrase one would use to describe “following good advice.”

Could this be some ploy of Griff’s, false reports deliberately spread? Unless … Could the pretty princeling have swallowed the bait? Turned them west instead of east, abandoning his hopes of wedding Queen Daenerys? Abandoning the dragons … would Griff allow that? 

It had to be a stratagem, designed to lull Volantene suspicions. Get the men aboard with this false pretext and seize the ships when the fleet is out to sea. Is that Griff’s plan? It might work. The Golden Company was ten thousand strong, seasoned and disciplined. None of them seamen, though. Griff will need to keep a sword at every throat, and should they come on Slaver’s Bay and need to fight. (TYRION VII)

Later in the same scene, Tyrion’s thoughts indicate that he had a “plot” in mind in telling Aegon to go west, and that he views the decision as foolish:

Deliver me to the queen, he says. Aye, but which queen? He isn’t selling me to Cersei. He’s giving me to Daenerys Targaryen. That’s why he hasn’t hacked my head off. We’re going east, and Griff and his prince are going west, the bloody fools.

Oh, it was all too much. Plots within plots, but all roads lead down the dragon’s gullet. A guffaw burst from his lips, and suddenly Tyrion could not stop laughing. (TYRION VII)

All this indicates that Tyrion has worked a manipulation on Aegon worthy of a Varys or Littlefinger, purely to benefit himself. With this in mind, let’s examine the cyvasse game scene itself. Everything that happens in the conversation, Martin mirrors in the cyvasse game.

When the prince reached for his dragon, Tyrion cleared his throat. “I would not do that if I were you. It is a mistake to bring your dragon out too soon.” He smiled innocently. “Your father knew the dangers of being over-bold.” (TYRION VI)

Tyrion starts the game by giving intentionally bad advice to Aegon — advice not to reach for his dragon — as he prepares to give Aegon the same bad advice in the game of thrones. Note again Tyrion’s later thoughts when Aegon does go west — he emphasizes that the mistake was to abandon the dragons:

Could the pretty princeling have swallowed the bait? Turned them west instead of east, abandoning his hopes of wedding Queen Daenerys? Abandoning the dragons … would Griff allow that? (TYRION VII)

As the cyvasse game starts, Tyrion undermines Aegon’s confidence in himself, sowing doubts about his present course and making him emotional and angry:

“It does make for a splendid story, and the singers will make much of your escape once you take the Iron Throne … assuming that our fair Daenerys takes you for her consort… …She may not prove as willing as you wish.”

“She’ll be willing.” Prince Aegon sounded shocked. It was plain that he had never before considered the possibility that his bride-to-be might refuse him. “You don’t know her.”

…”how do you suppose this queen will react when you turn up with your begging bowl in hand and say, ‘Good morrow to you, Auntie. I am your nephew, Aegon, returned from the dead. I’ve been hiding on a poleboat all my life, but now I’ve washed the blue dye from my hair and I’d like a dragon, please … and oh, did I mention, my claim to the Iron Throne is stronger than your own?’ ”

Aegon’s mouth twisted in fury. “I will not come to my aunt a beggar. I will come to her a kinsman, with an army.”

“A small army.” There, that’s made him good and angry. (TYRION VI)

Tyrion then tells Aegon to trust no one — undermining the prince’s confidence in his existing advisers, and creating an opening for Tyrion to exert his own influence.

“She will be my bride, Lord Connington will see to it. I trust him as much as if he were my own blood.”

“Perhaps you should be the fool instead of me. Trust no one, my prince…. All that mistrust will sour your stomach and keep you awake by night, ’tis true, but better that than the long sleep that does not end.” (TYRION VI)

Now, Tyrion is ready to move his own dragon — the piece that will later win him the game. He does this just as he dangles the “bait” of going west in front of Aegon:

The dwarf pushed his black dragon across a range of mountains. “But what do I know? Your false father is a great lord, and I am just some twisted little monkey man. Still, I’d do things differently.”

That got the boy’s attention. “How differently?”

“If I were you? I would go west instead of east.” (TYRION VI)

Tyrion proceeds to tell a splendid tale, brilliantly crafted for a young prince who’s “still half a boy for all that, with little and less experience of the world and all its woes,” as Tyrion put it earlier in the chapter. And it’s a story that has a lot of truth to it! Cersei really is incredibly weak and incompetent. Westeros really is ready for a savior. Allies really will flock to Aegon’s side if he lands.

But Tyrion’s assertions about how Dany will react are far more dubious. In his telling, she is very likely to reject Aegon if he meets her in Essos with the Golden Company — and certain to back Aegon if he goes to Westeros by himself. The advice is designed to appeal to a teenage prince’s biases — Tyrion’s telling him that the right move is to be strong, tough, bold:

The dwarf shrugged. “Do you want to wager your throne upon a woman’s whim? Go to Westeros, though … ah, then you are a rebel, not a beggar. Bold, reckless, a true scion of House Targaryen, walking in the footsteps of Aegon the Conqueror. A dragon. I told you, I know our little queen. Let her hear that her brother Rhaegar’s murdered son is still alive, that this brave boy has raised the dragon standard of her forebears in Westeros once more, that he is fighting a desperate war to avenge his father and reclaim the Iron Throne for House Targaryen, hard-pressed on every side … and she will fly to your side as fast as wind and water can carry her.” (TYRION VI)

But is Aegon really more likely to successfully win dragons if he heads for Westeros without them? To me, it seems just as likely that his and Dany’s interests will diverge if he goes over there without her — and if that happens, he’ll have no dragons, and he’ll lose. Again, when Tyrion hears that Aegon did go west, he reflects that he abandoned both the dragons and his hopes of winning Dany. Amusingly, Tyrion has now tricked Aegon into forgetting the very simple but accurate “lesson” the young prince learned after a very lengthy recitation of Volantene history in a previous chapter:

 “And what lesson can we draw from Volantene history?”

“If you want to conquer the world, you best have dragons.”

Tyrion could not help but laugh. (TYRION IV)

Back at the game, as Tyrion concludes his pitch, we get another well-timed hint that he’s tricking Aegon, via the cyvasse board:

“And when she reaches Westeros, and meets you for the first time, you will meet as equals, man and woman, not queen and supplicant. How can she help but love you then, I ask you?” Smiling, he seized his dragon, flew it across the board. “I hope Your Grace will pardon me. Your king is trapped. Death in four.” (TYRION VI)

“Sure, Dany will love the fact that you invaded without her! Checkmate!” Tyrion beats Aegon with a dragon, after Aegon chose not to move out his own dragon. Now, Tyrion admits that his cyvasse advice to ignore the dragon was a trick — just like the real-world advice he gave:

The prince stared at the playing board. “My dragon—”

“—is too far away to save you. You should have moved her to the center of the battle.”

“But you said—”

“I lied. Trust no one. And keep your dragon close.” (TYRION VI)

Tyrion’s ostentatious repetition of the “trust no one” advice reminds me quite a bit of this:

Littlefinger fingered his small pointed beard. “You are slow to learn, Lord Eddard. Distrusting me was the wisest thing you’ve done since you climbed down off your horse.” (AGOT EDDARD V)

…As his men died around him, Littlefinger slid Ned’s dagger from its sheath and shoved it up under his chin. His smile was apologetic. “I did warn you not to trust me, you know.” (AGOT EDDARD IV)

So, how will tricking Aegon help Tyrion’s own prospects in the game of thrones? We don’t have enough information to say for sure what Tyrion intends, or with how much specificity, if any, he is plotting his next moves. My guess is that at a general level, he wants to create conflict between Dany and Aegon, to benefit himself — the same play Littlefinger made in stoking war between the Starks and Lannisters. More specifically, it is possible that even now, Tyrion may have the idea of betraying Aegon to join Daenerys. Tyrion likely thinks that his true rivals in the “game” are Varys and Illyrio. Since Dany doesn’t have a plotter of their stature on her side — a point Illyrio specifically mentioned to Tyrion — he may hope he can play that role for her, and steal the dragons out from under the eunuch and cheesemonger. This masterstroke would let him win the game of thrones.

The evolution of Tyrion into a consummate player of the game of thrones, on par with Varys and Littlefinger, has been fascinating to watch so far, and there is surely much more to come with it. The manipulation of Aegon shows both how ingenious and how amoral Tyrion now is. Rather then let Aegon unite with Daenerys — he has decided to set them at odds, for his own benefit, no matter what it means for Westeros. If Tyrion continues to want vengeance, he will likely be able to get a great deal of it. But at what cost?

That night Tyrion Lannister dreamed of a battle that turned the hills of Westeros as red as blood. He was in the midst of it, dealing death with an axe as big as he was, fighting side by side with Barristan the Bold and Bittersteel as dragons wheeled across the sky above them. In the dream he had two heads, both noseless. His father led the enemy, so he slew him once again. Then he killed his brother, Jaime, hacking at his face until it was a red ruin, laughing every time he struck a blow. Only when the fight was finished did he realize that his second head was weeping. (TYRION II)

Next: Penny, Slavery, and a Return to Power

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47 Comments

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47 responses to “Paying His Debts, Part II: Sorrows, Whores, and a Game of Cyvasse

  1. Bowen Marsh

    Somebody give this man a medal!

  2. Excellent, as always. Keep them coming and know we await every essay with bated breath. You’re the man.

  3. Andrew

    I loved this one with Tyrion becoming a player. Without gold or swords, he has to obtain his power through relationships with others.

    Aegon does dye his hair like Daemon II Blackfyre in The Mystery Knight. One part of the story I think we should pay attention to is that the dragon egg intended for Daemon is stolen by a dwarf. I think this foreshadows Dany, who was intended to marry/ go to Aegon (Blackfyre), will instead marry/go to Tyrion.

  4. D

    Thanks GRRM for explaining a lot in this blog.
    😀
    Jokes aside, i didn’t remember this: “River or sea, a port was a port, and wherever you found sailors, you’d find whores”
    Could be this a hint about the sailor’s wife?

    (Sorry non english mothertongue)

  5. CDM

    Excellent post! The cyvasse game with Aegon is genious. You make me love the book even more than before, which I did not think possible ^^

  6. Jami

    Amazing! Your essays are always the best on ASOIAF. So happy for part 2! Thank you

  7. Wilbur

    Another masterful instance of form criticism. When I read ASOIAF the first time, none of the themes and ideas contained in your blog occurred to me. None. Thank you for breathing life into what would, for me, have just been a distracting read to while away the hours.

  8. well worth the wait, might be my fav article part yet!

  9. frostedwind

    I know you probably have a plan for these, but I’d very much like to read your analysis of Bran’s arc, especially through the new developments in ADWD. Your essays are excellent and thorough, not at like the usual conjecture I’ve been reading on /r/asoiaf lately. I’ve really enjoyed reading them.

  10. John

    I’m trying to think how this advice to Aegon reflects on Quentyn’s actions. He also gets the idea in his head (partly by misinterpreting Barristan’s advice) that Dany isn’t interested in him because he’s a supplicant, and she’ll marry him if he can “prove himself” by seizing her dragons by force. Doesn’t end well for him, either.

    I’m still wondering why Quaithe told Dany to “beware” Tyrion, though. By all appearances he’s setting up to be quite an asset to her.

    • beto

      Many believe Tyrion is playing his own game. He´ll ditch Dany if it’s profitable. Some even think he will steal a dragon with Plumm. There is actually some foreshadowing about this.

  11. Lann

    One small problem with your reasoning re: advice to Aegon. Surely he did not predict he will be captured by Mormont. So if Aegon decided to go to Westeros Tyrion was expecting to go with him. He knew it would have been a suicide mission but it would have given him a chance to get back at his siblings.

    • I think Tyrion fully expected to stay with Aegon, and expected to betray him to Dany at some future opportunity.

      The “just wanted to get back at his siblings” interpretation doesn’t really make sense. Remember, when Tyrion gives the advice, he does not yet know Dany stopped in Meereen — he thinks she left there well before he even got to Pentos. Since he still believes she’s on her way, surely a better way to get back at his siblings would be to unify Aegon and Dany against them.

    • Kay Prell

      I’m kind of late here but . . . also there’s the issue of “bad advice.” Apparently Tyrion shows Aegon how to win by trouncing him with a dragon — and he is astonished that Aegon didn’t “get” it when Aegon later heads toward Westeros sans dragons.

  12. Adam, you’re incredible. I bow to you.
    By the way, isn’t it interesting why Tyrion’s plot works? That’s the small detail you didn’t (yet) build in your theory. Aegon and the Golden Company go only west because Jon Connington allows it, and he allows it only because he caught the Grey Scale rescuing Tyrion. The irony is almost too good to be true. Connington also abandons his intentions and steers the invasion to Westeros for his own benefit, namely taking revenge before the disease claims him. Ah, Martin, you’re a genius.

  13. How does one access older posts on this blog? I don’t see any “Older Entries” links, just what shows on the first page and what’s under the Recent section.

  14. Well Dany would probably have rejected him anyway. But the point is Tyrion didn’t know this. He had no idea how Dany would react, and the best bet would be the dragons. Also I think Tyrion will be very surprised how well Aegon will do. Tyrion doesn’t have the knowledge about how things are falling apart back in Westeros. Tyrion might have given Aegon good advice without knowing it himself.

  15. Aeryl

    Tyrion’s dream about the two heads, and gives credence to some of the wilder theories about his possible parentage. I keep forgetting that bit.

  16. This is so good! I love reading your analysis of these books. It’s funny, I probably read more about ASOIAF than I actually read other books.

    You are a genius and I bend my knee to you.

  17. blacken

    Hey, this is probably me missing something, but at the end of the cyvasse game Tyrion shows his hand to Aegon – he explicitly states he was lying and shows on the cyvasse board that the lack of dragons close by means the death of the king. Whilst Tyrion was playing on notions of heroism and conquer clearly appealing to a teenage boy, I’m not convinced he thought his play would have the effect it did. I mean if he wanted to be sure that planting this idea in Aegon’s head would lead to them going to Westeros why would Tyrion deal the killing blow and state the necessity of dragons? Or do you think it’s meant to be a double bluff?

    • Well, when Tyrion later hears that Aegon went west, he thinks Aegon “swallowed the bait,” so that pretty strongly suggests to me that Tyrion got his hoped-for result.

      As to why Tyrion closed with the cyvasse advice of “keep your dragon close” — well, he just seems to be describing cyvasse strategy, right? I think Tyrion felt quite confident that Aegon wouldn’t realize any of the cyvasse advice had a hidden meeting, so he felt free to entertain himself.

      • kostas

        Tyrion covers his back this way. This way none can accuse him of giving bad advice to Aegon. (At the time he thinks he will stay with him so he is trying not to appear that he is not giving an advice with which at least Jon Con would strongly object) But the seed is planted!

    • I agree with you. I think that Tyrion was messing with Aegon and that his real advice was to trust no one and to keep the dragons close. That was the point of the game. When you think about it, the dragons are the ultimate weapon and represent the legitimacy of the Targaeryns. People who try to use the divine right as their source of legitimacy, Ned, Stannis, have generally been the losers.

      I think that Tyrion was also trying to secure his place with Aegon by impressing him with his wit. Tyrion doesn’t think that he is going to be kidnapped, he thinks he is going east with Aegon to meet Danerys.

  18. Rept

    I think you should change “amoral” to “immoral”. Rocks are amoral, tyrion is immoral

  19. brilliant analysis! I really enjoy reading your essays.. This one, sadly since I am a supporter of his claim, strengthens even more my belief that (f)Aegon will soon meet his end. I just hope that this will happen later than the siege of Storms End which he intends to lead. Keep up the good work, its inspiring!

  20. Blanche

    Fantastic post!
    I agree with your understanding of the cyvasse game with Aegon, which is brilliant, although at some point later I believe Tyrion thinks about Griff and his prince probably landing in Westeros at the moment and goes “I should be with them”. A little earlier, when in Volantis with Mormont, he keeps wondering about the Shy Maid and is “surprised to see how much he cared”. These parts make me wonder to what extend he truly wanted to frame Aegon and co, and if he actually wants him to loose…any thoughts?
    I also agree with joluoto (@joluoto) that he might be giving good advice without realizing it.

  21. This was great, as always, but I don’t think it’s clear that Tyrion is playing the game of thrones in the way that people like Tywin, Varys or Littlefinger have. Like Littlefinger, who sows chaos so that he can rule over the waste after the dust settles, I think Tyrion is flirting with becoming an agent of chaos – but unlike Littlefinger, he’s a much sadder, embittered person at this point in the story and his actions are reactionary. I think his actions in ADWD are all concerned with surviving in the moment and if they are anarchic it’s in a more emotional, angry-teenager sense. I don’t think it’s clear he meant to trick Aegon into making the wrong move. He explicitly gave him bad counsel and later good. When Aegon made what Tyrion perceived to be a bad move and Tyrion said he “took the bait,” it could just as well have been Tyrion’s way of marveling that he was able to derail Aegon’s quest through words alone.

    I think Tyrion’s arc in ADWD is elastic and that he’ll snap back in a way we know he’s done time and time again. Through much of ADWD he has a death wish but that dissipates the farther he gets from the trauma of how he left King’s Landing. I think he’ll return to his more idealistic, somewhat empathetic tendencies in time. This arc exists in ADWD for instance in the way he is cruel to the sex slave in Pentos but filled with regret at puking on the carpet of the Selhorys prostitute because it will get her into trouble – he’s already rebounding. Tyrion has had many losses of innocence but he always bounces back to a nuanced, sarcastic state of general kindness towards others when not threatened. After what his father did to him with Tysha he still sought Tywin’s approval and would have happily served him if he had found acceptance in his father’s eyes. Even after Jeoffrey tried to have Tyrion assassinated during Blackwater, Tyrion would still never have thought of killing Jeoffrey. No matter how much abuse people heap on him he always comes back to that central motive you describe of wanting to be loved. And not just loved but of use. Tyrion has a lot of talent. Emerson said that ambition is in proportion to talent. Tyrion is ambitious but not to rule for its own sake. I think he wants to put his wit and wisdom to use and be recognized for it. I think that Westeros finally, conclusively spit him out and so now he’s gone to sell his talents to the highest bidder He’s a freelance political operative, not a candidate.

    A couple of other small quibbles – there is no reason to assume that Tysha really loved Tyrion and probably good reason to assume she didn’t. Tyrion was the lord of Casterly Rock, Tysha was a poor orphan girl in distress. This creates a vertical power imbalance between Tyrion and Tysha from which any talk of pure love is meaningless, especially in a world where class and status are everything. Besides, Tyrion being a dwarf made him a social pariah and their courtship was quick by the sound of it. I think Tywin rightly assumed that she was a gold digger and didn’t want Tyrion wasting his marriage on some unknown girl of no political value. It’s always bothered me that, even at the depths of Tyrion’s cynicism, he hasn’t recognized this obvious fact.

    And lastly, you described Tyrion having his way with the Selhorys prostitute as rape. She was a sex worker. How is that rape?

    • sambocyn

      prostitutes can’t be raped… I forgot.

      • judahjsn

        Have you noticed the level of discourse on this forum? No need to get sarcastic. Prostitutes can be raped, I just don’t see how that was the case in this instance.

    • sambocyn

      (She was a sex slave. She didn’t consent to be a sex worker. She didn’t want to have sex with him. she wasn’t getting paid. her master brutally abused her. she’s obviously depressed, perhaps suicidal. Etc.)

      • judahjsn

        I don’t remember any of this being in the book. I also don’t know what her depressed state of mind has to do with a question of rape. Tyrion did pay, or he wouldn’t have been in the room. Prostitution is nobody’s dream job, but that doesn’t mean every instance of sex with a sex worker is rape because the sex worker didn’t want to be there in general, or was coerced by someone else or by circumstances into being there.

      • sambocyn

        I mean she had “dead eyes” and it was in a house in some free city notorious for sexual slavery. How can she consent when she can’t run away or feed herself?

      • Tyrion paid for the services of a prostitute and she offered nothing but consent in the transaction. I don’t think “dead eyes” or a generally depressed attitude constitute a “no.” I suppose you could make the case that nobody ultimately wants to be a prostitute and therefore all sex with prostitutes is not, in the broadest sense, consensual. But within the context of the SOIAF book world, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Tyrion raped this sex worker.

  22. Brett

    Oddly enough I disagree with the overarching view that Tyrion has now become fully willing to screw Aegon over just to further his own ends. I’ll have to dive further into the analysis at a later date, but I think he feels he’s giving genuinely good advice on the possibility of invading Westeros. Or at least food for thought.

    He also follows it up by giving Aegon a very valuable lesson in making sure to examine proffered advice.

  23. alex1

    T. had no part in A. going west
    Dany was cut off from them and waiting was not option
    so they headed west

    other than that great presentation of T. arc

  24. Tony Moore (@tmobsessed)

    Thanks for another great essay. Along the lines of proofreading, when you say “When Tyrion later falls into the Rhoyne, we see just how vengeful his new self can be:” This is actually earlier, right? Because the episode with the whore was his last night of contact with the Connington crew and the near-drowning in the Rhoyne was with them. Which brings us to the topic of near drowning and its significance. Obviously the Ironborn have built a whole nutty religion around it but Tyrion, Davos and Sam all have resuscitated drowning experiences and only Davos’s seems critical to the plot, which makes me suspect that there’s something more to it in GRRM’s master plan.

    • Tony Moore (@tmobsessed)

      I just found yet another near-drowning rebirth – the elder brother of the quiet isle: “something slammed into my head and knocked me back into the river, where by rights I should have drowned.
      “Instead I woke here, upon the Quiet Isle. “

    • There’s also Patchface, who survived those three days at sea and was thought to be dead… though he coughed up water and came to without resuscitation.

      That is a lot of near drownings…

  25. Tony Moore (@tmobsessed)

    One other thing … since Tyrion is trying to trick Aegon into going west instead of east before being kidnapped by Mormount, is Tyrion hoping that he, Tyrion, will also go west with Aegon & Co. or is he planning to slip away before that?

    • Every time Tyrion’s game of Cyvasse is analysed, this questions turns up. This is my perspective:
      [TL;DR : Tyrion is playing with Aegon’s mind to cause mistrust and reduce the power of Griff and Illyrion on Aegon, and he achieved what he wanted as early as the end of the cyvasse game. What happened later – Aegon turning West and Tyrion going East, were unexpected bonuses.]

      At the time of game, what is Tyrion’s situation, and what does he want? He has no gold, no power, not a single friend whom he can rely on. On ‘Shy Maid’, he is just a hostage/pawn who does not know what his captors have in store for him. Varys may value Tyrion’s wits, and the Targaryen alliance may give him the lordship of Casterly Rock, but he does no know it, and even if he did, he hates to be kept in the dark. If we know anything about Tyrion, it is that he hates to be ‘played with’. He wants to be the master of his fate, he loves to be at the centre of action. He knows that Varys and Illyrio are using him for their own game (whatever that may be), and that the Griff will never trust him. So what can he do, to take control? He makes use of the one person who he knows he can play with. One person who is the most gullible and most powerful. Aegon. For all Aegon’s princely training, Griff and Illyrio have protected him from games of politics. Aegon is their king candidate, but he is not a player in the game of thrones. Tyrion recognizes this, makes use of Aegon’s age and inexperience to plant mistrust about all his real allies. This is what I meant when I said Tyrion got what he wanted as soon as he finished the game, because Aegon’s apprehension about the plan to approach Dany is clear after Tyrion finishes talking with him. In a way, Tyrion is taking revenge on Varys, Illyrio and Griff for not trusting Tyrion with all the information. They served him mistrust, and now he is causing their own king serve them mistrust.

      About the results Tyrion expected – Tyrion’s evaluation of the Westeros’s political situation was on point, but his advise to turn away from Dany was not. Tyrion knew it was foolish to give up on dragons, and he knew that Griff would know. The advise was never to be followed, only to plant the idea of an alternate future in Aegon’s mind. This was why he was astonished to hear about GC turning West. What I think Tyrion expected to happen is the following:
      * Aegon consideres Tyrion’s advise, discusses with Griff, who promptly denies to follow it. This could cause Aegon to get angry at Griff for treating him like a child (I think Tyrion’s whole ploy started after Aegon acted hot-tempered like Joffrey would have).

      * They reach Dany, and Aegon finds Dany exactly as Tyrion predicted. She is no blushing maid who is eager to marry a pretty prince, instead she is a conqueror and a queen with stronger army than he has. Dany might be more welcoming of Aegon than she was with Quentyn, but Aegon’s ego augmented by Tyrion’s words will never find Dany as willing as he expected. If she agrees to marry Aegon, Aegon will still feel insecure, thanks to Tyrion.

      * The ride back to Westeros won’t be quick and easy as Aegon expected (and boys of Aegon’s age always go for the quick victory) – Dany will want to sort out slavers (Tyrion himself may advise Dany on idealism and why she should not abandon her children, if it suited his plans). Aegon is reminded of Tyrion’s warning that the ‘tide will recede’. He wonders what would have happened had he listened to Tyrion instead of Griff.

      * Best case scenario, Aegon and Dany conquer Westeros, but later than Aegon wanted/expected. It might be a hard winter when they finally take the Iron throne. People are bound to be in misery, and the victories are not be as glorious as Aegon dreamt of (when are they ever?).

      * Ultimately, Aegon trusts Tyrion more for a bad advise that sounded good because Aegon never put it into practice, and mistrusts Griff and Illyrio for their stalling of the victory. This sounds like a minor thing, but a King’s trust and mistrust are powerful things, and Tyrion might end up with more control than Griff.

  26. Chris VH

    So glad to have found this “blot,” even if belatedly. The scene in ASOS where Jaime reveals that Tysha was everything she claimed to be, and actually loved Tyrion, was for me the most shocking moment in the whole series so far. As you said, that was the basis of Tyrion’s entire character arc and motivations. I was so disappointed HBO left that out- that made Tyrion’s revenge on his father and- especially- Shae cold-blooded and cruel. What’s more, that moment was also the second turning point for Jaime’s character arc. I’ve enjoyed the show for what it is so far, but that exclusion has a huge impact on character development. Anyway- love your analysis, hadn’t read all that into the cyvasse game before!

    • TheFiend

      The most shocking…..and pretty unbelievable. I think you could notice the difference between a prostitute getting nailed by several men and a young small folk girl getting gan raped. Surely Tyrion would be able to tell. I have my problems with the show, many of them in S5 and S6, but this is one instance where I think the show runners saw the same thing I did.And killing Shae and Tywin was cruel? Tywin who has been unmercifully cruel to him his whole life, and worked hard to have him killed? And Shae who also did her job in getting him killed, not to mention she tried to stab him.

  27. kostas

    There is a part of Tyrion’s story that I think is relevant to the game with Aegon and helps explain more Tyrion’s motives
    So, we know that
    a) there was a letter of Varys – Illyrio that Griff reads and Tyrion does not get to see
    b) when Tyrion is lost Griff gets rather mad (and he does not like Tyrion that much)
    So I think that the letter instracted Griff to surrender Tyrion to Dany as a Lanister hostage – gift to do with him whatever she liked (and not as a Hand candidate). Griff fears himself that the Golden Company might not be enough to please her (he doesn’t know her dire situation), is not sure they can convince her to return to Westeros and might even plan to use Tyrion to wake her feelings of revenge.
    Tyrion suspects this from the begining and is convinced when he sees how mad Griff gets when he is lost.
    So he realises that either he escapes and finds his own way to Dany (meeting her in his own terms and under conditions he controls bearing his own gifts to her – as it seems to happen in the end) or he convinces them that they don’t need her so that he would return to Westeros without being presented to her as a gift. Don’t forget that he still does not know Dany and her in general forgiving character and it is resonable to fear being presented as the kinslayer Lannister. (Actually the loss of Tyrion might be an additionalr reason why Griff does not feel cofident enough to meet Dany.)
    This should mean the Tyrion by giving his advice has his own interests in mind (which is the most expected of him) But he is doing it to save his life and not because he loves to play the game like LF and Varys. I don’t mean that he doesn’t like the game, just that by playing it he defends himself from a threat against his life, which makes him a little better than the other two.

  28. Wow! I loved each of your other essay series but this Tyrion one is my favourite, and this post in particular. It’s fantastic that such an interesting and enjoyable character (even when vengeful or self-destructive) is getting the benefit of an insightful and thought-provoking analysis.
    Love your work!

  29. Pingback: Blood of the Conqueror, Part 3: The Conspiracies | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

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