Paying His Debts, Part III: Tyrion and Penny

In the first half of A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion becomes more vengeful, crueler, and more manipulative. But at about the book’s midpoint, his arc takes a bit of a turn when he is sidelined from the game of thrones for a while, and meets the dwarf girl Penny. Tyrion’s reactions to Penny are layered and complex. He rediscovers empathy through her, comes to care for her, and works to protect her. Yet some of her traits make him disturbed, angry, and even contemptuous. And ahead looms the game, and the specter of Tyrion’s father. Can there be any place for Penny there?

I don’t believe Tyrion’s ADWD arc builds to a neat conclusion or turning point, as Dany’s and Jon’s do. Perhaps the Battle of Meereen, which Martin originally intended to include in ADWD, will resolve some of the issues I explore here. The Penny plotline in particular could be wrapped up early in TWOW, or not. For now, I will focus on the thematic importance of the Penny/Tyrion relationship — how their interaction changes Tyrion, what it reveals about him, and what it could mean for his future.

(Spoiler note: This essay briefly discusses one scene from an early Winds of Winter chapter that Martin has read at a convention — not a big spoiler, but be warned.)

Tyrion’s Empathy for Penny

So far in the book, Tyrion has avowed vengeance on his siblings and on Westeros in general, played a ruthless mindgame on Aegon, and cruelly mistreated two slave girls. And immediately before Tyrion meets Penny, we see where his head is — he is driven by hate:

“What do you plan to offer the dragon queen, little man?”

My hate, Tyrion wanted to say. Instead he spread his hands as far as the fetters would allow. “Whatever she would have of me. Sage counsel, savage wit, a bit of tumbling. My cock, if she desires it. My tongue, if she does not. I will lead her armies or rub her feet, as she desires. And the only reward I ask is I might be allowed to rape and kill my sister.” (TYRION VII)

The appearance of Penny seems designed to restore Tyrion’s capacity for empathy. First of all, she has many similarities to Tyrion himself. She is an ugly dwarf, recently traumatized when someone she loved was cruelly taken from her by a powerful Lannister. In that, in her hopefulness, and in her desire for love, she resembles the young Tyrion when he loved Tysha. Sometimes it’s unclear whether Tyrion is talking about her, or himself:

The girl deserves better than a pig, he thought. An honest kiss, a little kindness, everyone deserves that much, however big or small. (TYRION IX)

Second, Penny is a victim of the game of thrones. Her life was ruined by the whims of the powerful — specifically, a feud among powerful Lannisters, including Tyrion himself:

“You’re both dwarfs.”

“Yes, and so was her brother, who was killed because some drunken fools took him for me.”

“Feeling guilty, are you?” 

“No.” Tyrion bristled. “I have sins enough to answer for; I’ll have no part of this one. I might have nurtured some ill will toward her and her brother for the part they played the night of Joffrey’s wedding, but I never wished them harm.”

“You are a harmless creature, to be sure. Innocent as a lamb” …

…“He died for you. His blood is on your hands.”

The accusation stung, coming so hard on the heels of Jorah Mormont’s words. “His blood is on my sister’s hands, and the hands of the brutes who killed him.” (TYRION VIII)

Cersei is truly the person responsible for Oppo’s death. But Tyrion admits that his pride, his refusal to tolerate being mocked, and his reckless chiding of a king helped lead to the disastrous situation:

“Uncle! You’ll defend the honor of my realm, won’t you? You can ride the pig!”

The laughter crashed over him like a wave. Tyrion Lannister did not remember rising, nor climbing on his chair, but he found himself standing on the table. The hall was a torchlit blur of leering faces. He twisted his face into the most hideous mockery of a smile the Seven Kingdoms had ever seen. “Your Grace,” he called, “I’ll ride the pig . . . but only if you ride the dog!” Joff scowled, confused. “Me? I’m no dwarf. Why me?”

Stepped right into the cut, Joff. “Why, you’re the only man in the hall that I’m certain of defeating!” He could not have said which was sweeter; the instant of shocked silence, the gale of laughter that followed, or the look of blind rage on his nephew’s face.  (ASOS TYRION VIII)

“We would never have had to run at all but for you… Why couldn’t you just come joust with us, the way the king wanted? You wouldn’t have gotten hurt. What would that have cost m’lord, to climb up on our dog and ride a tilt to please the boy? It was just a bit of fun. They would have laughed at you, that’s all.”

“They would have laughed at me,” said Tyrion. I made them laugh at Joff instead. And wasn’t that a clever ploy? (ADWD TYRION VIII)

Feeling somewhat guilty, and feeling genuine empathy and compassion, Tyrion requests that Penny join them on their journey to Daenerys.

He felt nothing but pity for the girl. She did not deserve the horror visited on her in Volantis, any more than her brother had…

…“By any name, she needs a friend.”

Ser Jorah sat up in his hammock. “Befriend her, then… ….You were the one who insisted that we bring her.”

“I said we could not abandon her in Volantis. ” (TYRION VIII)

Then he reaches out to her, comforts her, helps her get through her grief, and promises to stay with her — again stressing their similarities:

“I thought I wanted to die,” she said, “but today when the storm came and I thought the ship would sink, I…I…”

“You realized that you wanted to live after all.” I have been there too. Something else we have in common

…Daenerys has a kind heart and a generous nature.” It was what she needed to hear. “She will find a place for you at her court, I don’t doubt. A safe place, beyond my sister’s reach.”

Penny turned back to him. “And you will be there too.”

Unless Daenerys decides she needs some Lannister blood, to pay for the Targaryen blood my brother shed. “I will.” (TYRION VIII)

In a previous essay, I argued that Martin uses Hizdahr to symbolize the path of peace and Daario to symbolize the path of war, so he can force Dany to grapple with those themes. I believe Penny has a similar purpose — she embodies innocence, kindness, and goodness. Aside from her brief pained attack on Tyrion — driven by sorrow and desperation — Penny appears to be entirely kind, without any cruel or base impulses. She innately likes and trusts people, she lacks pride — particularly Tyrion’s variant of self-destructive pride, she cares deeply for her dog and pig, and despite her grief she retains a fundamentally hopeful and optimistic worldview. Tyrion’s attempts to help her and protect her are, in a sense, his attempt to hang on to whatever remains of his own morals. She is repeatedly compared to a child:

When Penny giggled, she sounded like the sweet young girl she was … seventeen, eighteen, no more than nineteen…

…Penny’s face lit up with joy. “We’re moving again. The wind …” She rushed to the door. “I want to see. Come, I’ll race you up.” Off she went. She is young, Tyrion had to remind himself, as Penny scrambled from the galley and up the steep wooden steps as fast as her short legs would allow. Almost a child. Still, it tickled him to see her excitement. He followed her topside. (TYRION IX)

But there’s another layer to how Tyrion interacts with Penny — he actually finds some of Penny’s traits quite disturbing and troublesome. In particular, he has a very difficult time dealing with (1) the possibility that Penny loves him, (2) Penny’s optimism/naivete, and (3) what he sees as Penny’s weakness and servile mindset. And as ADWD goes on, he finds himself increasingly in conflict with these traits of Penny.

Penny’s Love, Tyrion’s Rejection

Tyrion and Penny become friends. He talks her through her brother’s death and is there for her. They start to have all their meals together. They joke and laugh together. After being betrayed by everyone at the end of ASOS, Tyrion has found a friend again. And then, one day, she kisses him:

“That game won’t do,” Tyrion told her, gritting his teeth. “Sorry. I don’t know what game—”

“I do.” Penny kissed him.

It was an awkward kiss, rushed, clumsy. But it took him utterly by surprise. His hands jerked up and grabbed hold of her shoulders to shove her away. Instead he hesitated, then pulled her closer, gave her a squeeze. Her lips were dry, hard, closed up tighter than a miser’s purse. A small mercy, thought Tyrion. This was nothing he had wanted. He liked Penny, he pitied Penny, he even admired Penny in a way, but he did not desire her. He had no wish to hurt her, though; the gods and his sweet sister had given her enough pain. So he let the kiss go on, holding her gently by the shoulders. His own lips stayed firmly shut. (TYRION IX)

Tyrion does not, and will not, feel any sexual desire for Penny. And I don’t think this is just about a lack of physical attraction. Martin sometimes uses his characters’ sexual impulses to tell us something about them. Again, I recall Dany’s lack of desire for “Hizdahr of the tepid kisses” and his path of peace, and her intense desire for the violent and amoral Daario, who advocated war. Now we have Tyrion, who just had sex with a traumatized, whipped Westerosi slave girl in Selhorys — twice — but is unable to feel any sexual stirrings for Penny. And how does Penny feel?

Pretty eyes, he thought, but he saw other things as well. A lot of fear, a little hope … but not a bit of lust. She does not want me, no more than I want her. (TYRION IX)

Tyrion may be accurate that he does not see “lust” in someone so innocent. But what about love? The evidence that Penny has fallen for Tyrion continues to pile up in the rest of this book, and into the next:

Tyrion pinched her nose. “I am fond of looking at your nose. I would rather that you kept it.”

Her eyes got big. “You like my nose?”

Oh, Seven save me. Tyrion turned away and began rooting amongst some piles of old armor toward the back of the wagon.

“Are there any other parts of me you like?” Penny asked. Perhaps she meant that to sound playful. It sounded sad instead. (TYRION XII)

Paraphrased: “He then explains his thoughts on strategy for the upcoming battle – a great plan to be heard and followed by no one. And as he remembers his father remaining above the fighting at the Green Fork, Penny kisses him.” (Reading of TWOW TYRION II)

Yet Tyrion repeatedly rejects her, lying that he must be true to Sansa, and internally clinging to the ideal of Tysha, and the question of where whores go:

“We cannot play that game, my lady.” Above the thunder boomed, close at hand now.

“I never meant.. I never kissed a boy before, but … I only thought, what if we drown, and I … I …”

“It was sweet,” lied Tyrion, “but I am married. She was with me at the feast, you may remember her. Lady Sansa.”

“Was she your wife? She … she was very beautiful …”

And false. Sansa, Shae, all my women … Tysha was the only one who ever loved me. Where do whores go? “A lovely girl,” said Tyrion, “and we were joined beneath the eyes of gods and men. It may be that she is lost to me, but until I know that for a certainty I must be true to her.”

“I understand.” Penny turned her face away from his. My perfect woman, Tyrion thought bitterly. One still young enough to believe such blatant lies. (TYRION IX)

He is uncomfortable when Penny touches him:

His legs were cramping badly, so he found himself a likely rock and sat on it to rub his thighs. “I could do that for you,” offered Penny. “I know where the knots are.” As fond as he had grown of the girl, it still made him uncomfortable when she touched him. (TYRION XI)

Tyrion has wanted to be loved for so long. But now that someone seems to be genuinely falling for him, he doesn’t want it (or doesn’t recognize it). An interesting choice by Martin, this undercuts Tyrion’s “woe is me, no one loves me, the whole world hates me, so I’ll take vengeance on them” schtick — to the reader, at least, if not to Tyrion. And the new kiss in TWOW shows that this plotline isn’t going away, so we’ll see how it plays out in the next book.

Penny’s Idealism/Naivete, Tyrion’s Cynicism/Realism

Penny is grieving when she meets Tyrion, but it soon become clear that she is fundamentally trusting, optimistic, and good-natured.

“We make the most coin in the big cities, but I always liked the little towns the best. Places like that, the people have no silver, but they feed us at their own tables, and the children follow us everywhere.”

That’s because they have never seen a dwarf before, in their wretched pisspot towns, Tyrion thought. The bloody brats would follow around a two-headed goat if one turned up. Until they got bored with its bleating and slaughtered it for supper.  (TYRION VIII)

As above, Penny’s idealism is contrasted with Tyrion’s much more negative worldview. After the two are sold into slavery, though Tyrion feels empathy for Penny personally, his misanthropic view of humanity has reached new depths of cynicism. The below passage makes it clear that Tyrion is deeply disturbed by Penny’s continued hope. He believes the world is so full of horrors that she must abandon her fantasies:

Sometimes he envied the girl all her pretty little dreams. She reminded him of Sansa Stark, the child bride he had wed and lost. Despite the horrors Penny had suffered, she remained somehow trusting. She should know better. She is older than Sansa. And she’s a dwarf. She acts as if she has forgotten that, as if she were highborn and fair to look upon, instead of a slave in a grotesquerie. At night Tyrion would oft hear her praying. A waste of words. If there are gods to listen, they are monstrous gods who torment us for their sport. Who else would make a world like this, so full of bondage, blood, and pain? Who else would shape us as they haveSometimes he wanted to slap her, shake her, scream at her, anything to wake her from her dreams. No one is going to save us, he wanted to scream at her. The worst is yet to come. (TYRION XI)

But at this point, Tyrion still feels an impulse to protect her from the cruel truths of the world — to protect her innocence:

Yet somehow he could never say the words. Instead of giving her a good hard crack across that ugly face of hers to knock the blinders from her eyes, he would find himself squeezing her shoulder or giving her a hug. Every touch a lie. I have paid her so much false coin that she half thinks she’s rich. He had even kept the truth of Daznak’s Pit from her. (TYRION XI)

This conflict between idealism and cynicism/pragmatism plays out around Penny’s dog and pig. Soon after they are sold into slavery, Tyrion begins plotting his escape, but notices a problem:

All he had to do was reach those gates and pass beyond, and he would be a free man again. But that was hardly possible unless he abandoned Penny. She’d want to take the dog and the pig along. (TYRION X)

Penny deeply loves her dog and pig, and surely could never imagine abandoning them:

Penny crawled across the cabin floor on her hands and knees, wrapped her arms around the sow’s head, and murmured reassurance to her. Looking at the two of them, it was hard to know who was comforting whom. The sight was so grotesque it should have been hilarious, but Tyrion could not even find a smile. The girl deserves better than a pig, he thought. (TYRION IX)

She gave him a reproachful look, then retreated to the back of the cart and sat with her arms around Crunch, as if the dog was her last true friend in the world. Perhaps he is. (TYRION X)

When Tyrion does see an opportunity to escape, he makes sure to bring both Penny and Jorah along. But, pragmatically, he sacrifices the animals by leaving them behind, and tricks Penny into coming. When she finds out the truth, she is very upset:

“Hugor? What is it?”

“Talking again, are we?” It was better than her usual sullen silence. All over an abandoned dog and pig. I saved the two of us from slavery, you would think some gratitude might be in order…

“Has anyone seen Pretty Pig? Inkpots said he’d ask after her. Or Crunch, has there been word of Crunch?” (TYRION XII)

In his final ADWD chapter, as he’s trying to teach Penny how to fight, she is reluctant. So Tyrion finally acts on his previously-expressed desire to “slap” Penny and “wake her from her dreams”:

“I don’t want to hack off heads.”

“Nor should you. Keep your cuts below the knee. Calf, hamstring, ankle … even giants fall if you slice their feet off. Once they’re down, they’re no bigger than you.”

Penny looked as though she was about to cry. “Last night I dreamed my brother was alive again. We were jousting before some great lord, riding Crunch and Pretty Pig, and men were throwing roses at us. We were so happy …”

Tyrion slapped her.

It was a soft blow, all in all, a little flick of the wrist, with hardly any force behind it. It did not even leave a mark upon her cheek. But her eyes filled with tears all the same.

“If you want to dream, go back to sleep,” he told her. “When you wake up, we’ll still be escaped slaves in the middle of a siege. Crunch is dead. The pig as well, most like. Now find some armor and put it on, and never mind where it pinches.” (TYRION XII)

And in TWOW — at the battle — Martin intertwines Penny’s naivete with her love for Tyrion:

Paraphrased: “And as he remembers his father remaining above the fighting at the Green Fork, Penny kisses him. Tyrion is enraged. He rants at her about the slaughter of the battlefield and the reality about to invade her innocent world. Penny apologizes, saying she’s frightened. But this echo of Shae makes matters worse. (Reading of TWOW TYRION II)

This part of the arc has not yet been resolved, but Martin is clearly building to something. We will have to wait for TWOW to see whether Penny’s “innocent world” can survive the battle and subsequent events — and how Tyrion deals with it.

Penny’s Servility, Tyrion’s Pride

Penny has one more important trait that makes Tyrion uncomfortable and annoyed. Since birth, she has been raised to perform for the amusement of “big people,” and to “know her place.” Despite Penny’s general innocence and naivete, it’s clear that she views this behavior as a deliberate survival strategy:

 “We have to make them laugh,” Penny had said, pleading. “We have to make them like us. If we give them a show, it will help them forget. Please, m’lord.” And somehow, somewise, someway he had consented…

…“You mustn’t mock him. Don’t you know anything? You can’t talk that way to a big person. They can hurt you. Ser Jorah could have tossed you in the sea. The sailors would have laughed to see you drown. You have to be careful around big people. Be jolly and playful with them, keep them smiling, make them laugh, that’s what my father always said. Didn’t your father ever tell you how to act with big people?”

“My father called them smallfolk,” said Tyrion, “and he was not what you’d call a jolly man.” (TYRION IX)

Indeed, Penny’s mindset and behavior reflect a point Martin has made about medieval class structure:

“The bad authors adopt the class structures of the Middle Ages; where you had the royalty and then you had the nobility and you had the merchant class and then you have the peasants and so forth. But they don’t seem to realize what it actually meant. They have scenes where the spunky peasant girl tells off the pretty prince. The pretty prince would have raped the spunky peasant girl. He would have put her in the stocks and then had garbage thrown at her. You know. I mean, the class structures in places like this had teeth. They had consequences. And people were brought up from their childhood to know their place and to know that duties of their class and the privileges of their class.” –George R. R. Martin

Depressing as it may be, Penny’s father seems to have had an accurate understanding of this. He was a lower-class dwarf without money or power, so he acted as he thought best to keep himself and his family alive, and taught Penny accordingly. And all in all, things appear to have gone pretty well for Penny until Cersei demanded dwarf heads — she frequently looks back on the past fondly.

“His own father sold him to a slaver when he was three, but he grew up to be such a famous mummer that he bought his freedom.” (TYRION VIII)

Penny’s father managed to buy his own freedom! Yet Tyrion is utterly contemptuous of Penny’s lack of pride, in a way only a privileged upper-class man truly can be. He insults her father for teaching her to be that way:

Penny’s mouth was frozen in a rictus of a smile. Well trained for your amusement. Her father had a deal to answer for, in whatever small hell was reserved for dwarfs. (TYRION X)

As mentioned above, Tyrion’s pride — his unwillingness to let himself be mocked at Joffrey’s wedding —  helped contribute to his downfall in King’s Landing (and, inadvertently, to Oppo’s death). And in Tyrion’s interactions with Penny, that pride is still quite present:

She turned her head away and gazed out across the sea. “What will I do? Where will I go? I have no trade, just the jousting show, and that needs two.”

No, thought Tyrion. That is not a place you want to go, girl. Do not ask that of me. Do not even think it. (TYRION VIII)

Eventually, Tyrion proves willing to temporarily debase himself to survive, but he is always thinking about how such behavior is beneath him:

He was no champion, just a dwarf on a pig clutching a stick, capering for the amusement of some restless rum-soaked sailors in hopes of sweetening their mood. Somewhere down in hell his father was seething and Joffrey was chuckling…Her shield and armor had been painted red, though the paint was chipped and fading; his own armor was blue. Not mine. Groat’s. Never mine, I pray. (TYRION IX)

The very prideful Tyrion can’t stand the idea of capering for others’ amusement. In that, he is once again reflecting the deep-rooted influence of his father:

For half a year he cartwheeled his merry way about Casterly Rock, bringing smiles to the faces of septons, squires, and servants alike. Even Cersei laughed to see him once or twice. All that ended abruptly the day his father returned from a sojourn in King’s Landing. That night at supper Tyrion surprised his sire by walking the length of the high table on his hands. Lord Tywin was not pleased. “The gods made you a dwarf. Must you be a fool as well? You were born a lion, not a monkey.” (TYRION IV)

Compare how Penny is named after a near-worthless coin, with Tywin’s instructions to Tyrion during Tysha’s gang rape:

“The poor creature’s name is Penny.”

“I know her name.” He hated her name. Her brother had gone by the name of Groat, though his true name had been Oppo. Groat and Penny. The smallest coins, worth the least, and what’s worse, they chose the names themselves. It left a bad taste in Tyrion’s mouth. (TYRION VIII)

“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)

It is interesting that, despite the horrible revelations about Tywin at the end of ASOS, Tyrion continues to cling to his Lannister identity, rather than rejecting it:

“Kinslayer or no, I am a lion still” … The lords of the Seven Kingdoms did make rather much of their sigils, Tyrion had to admit. “Very well,” he conceded. “A Lannister is not a lion. Yet I am still my father’s son…” (TYRION I)

The slave soldiers of Volantis were fiercely proud of their tiger stripes, Tyrion knew. Do they yearn for freedom? he wondered. What would they do if this child queen bestowed it on them? What are they, if not tigers? What am I, if not a lion? (TYRION VI)

Without money or power, he takes refuge by remembering his name and nobility. For example, after he and Penny are sold into slavery, he whips out the name and the title:

“Tell me your names.”

“Penny.” Her voice was a whisper, small and scared.

Tyrion, of House Lannister, rightful lord of Casterly Rock, you sniveling worm. “Yollo.” (TYRION X)

In contrast, Penny tries to make the best of her lot as a slave — keeping her head down, doing her job, and hoping things will work out. She’s not made for battle, so when Tyrion brings her to the sellsword camp, she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do there:

Penny touched the cheek he’d slapped. “We should never have run. We’re not sellswords. We’re not any kind of swords. It wasn’t so bad with Yezzan. It wasn’t. Nurse was cruel sometimes but Yezzan never was. We were his favorites, his … his …”

Slaves. The word you want is slaves.”

“Slaves,” she said, flushing. “We were his special slaves, though. Just like Sweets. His treasures.”

His pets, thought Tyrion. And he loved us so much that he sent us to the pit, to be devoured by lions. (TYRION XII)

Tyrion is right that Penny is absurdly optimistic. But she’s a dwarf with nothing, alone in the world. She wasn’t raised to challenge her lot, she was raised to make the best of it. This leaves her vulnerable to the whims of those with power — as she already was, merely because of her class (just like Mycah the butcher’s boy could be murdered on a Lannister whim). But Penny has no name, and no stockpiles of gold back at her family’s castle. She can’t walk into a sellsword camp and use those assets to finagle something better for herself.

Servility in general, and Penny’s servility in particular, are the focus of Tyrion’s final internal monologue in ADWD. Some have argued that Tyrion became a slave so he could develop empathy for those less fortunate than him — but I see very little empathy here.

She was not all wrong. Yezzan’s slaves ate better than many peasants back in the Seven Kingdoms and were less like to starve to death come winter. Slaves were chattels, aye. They could be bought and sold, whipped and branded, used for the carnal pleasure of their owners, bred to make more slaves. In that sense they were no more than dogs or horses. But most lords treated their dogs and horses well enough. Proud men might shout that they would sooner die free than live as slaves, but pride was cheap. When the steel struck the flint, such men were rare as dragon’s teeth; elsewise the world would not have been so full of slaves. There has never been a slave who did not choose to be a slave, the dwarf reflected. Their choice may be between bondage and death, but the choice is always there.

Tyrion Lannister did not except himself. His tongue had earned him some stripes on the back in the beginning, but soon enough he had learned the tricks of pleasing Nurse and the noble Yezzan. Jorah Mormont had fought longer and harder, but he would have come to the same place in the end. (TYRION XII)

Tyrion takes the rather unempathetic view that slaves choose their lot, because they could always, you know, die. Though he says he’s no different, the implicit contrast does seem to be that he, Tyrion Lannister, was bold enough and self-reliant enough to choose a different path, and win his freedom. And some people are simply too weak to do the same. Specifically:

 And Penny, well…

Penny had been searching for a new master since the day her brother Groat had lost his head.

She wants someone to take care of her, someone to tell her what to do.

It would have been too cruel to say so, however. Instead Tyrion said, “Yezzan’s special slaves did not escape the pale mare. They’re dead, the lot of them. Sweets was the first to go.” Their mammoth master had died on the day of their escape, Brown Ben Plumm had told him. Neither he nor Kasporio nor any of the other sellswords knew the fate of the denizens of Yezzan’s grotesquerie … but if Pretty Penny needed lies to stop her mooning, lie to her he would. (TYRION XII)

Tyrion is still protecting Penny, but he now seems to feel contempt for her naivete and her servility. How long will he keep trying to protect her? Again, we will have to wait for TWOW to see how this is resolved.

Tyrion’s Future in the Game of Thrones

As first a prisoner of Jorah Momont, and then a slave, Tyrion was sidelined from the game of thrones for the second half of ADWD. But his return to power is inevitable:

“Dragons old and young, true and false, bright and dark. And you. A small man with a big shadow, snarling in the midst of all.”

“Snarling? An amiable fellow like me?” Tyrion was almost flattered. (TYRION VIII)

What kind of person will Tyrion be when he regains power? In Part I, I described how Tyrion tried to force himself to become a monster, because he thought it was necessary to play the game. In Part II, he was consumed by thoughts of vengeance. Now, he’s found some empathy for Penny, true — but will this empathy affect his “gameplay”?

The fact that there were any good wells at all within a day’s march of the city only went to prove that Daenerys Targaryen was still an innocent where siegecraft was concerned. She should have poisoned every well. Then all the Yunkishmen would be drinking from the river. See how long their siege lasts then. That was what his lord father would have done, Tyrion did not doubt. (TYRION XI)

Tyrion clearly still has his ruthless strategic mind, and he can channel his father. Will he give Dany this sort of advice? The figure of Tywin still haunts his dreams. Does Tyrion fear meeting him, or becoming him?

He dreamt of his lord father and the Shrouded Lord. He dreamt that they were one and the same, and when his father wrapped stone arms around him and bent to give him his grey kiss, he woke with his mouth dry and rusty with the taste of blood and his heart hammering in his chest. (TYRION VI)

Sleep meant dreams as like as not, and in his dreams the Sorrows waited, and a stony king with his father’s face. (TYRION VIII)

Back in the cabin he shared with Jorah Mormont, Tyrion twisted in his hammock for hours, slipping in and out of sleep. His dreams were full of grey, stony hands reaching for him from out of the fog, and a stair that led up to his father. (TYRION VIII)

And what is Penny’s future? She is thoroughly unsuited for the game of thrones, as symbolized by her utter ineptitude at cyvasse:

To atone for that Tyrion made an attempt to teach her cyvasse, though he soon realized that was a lost cause. “No,” he said, a dozen times, “the dragon flies, not the elephants.” (TYRION VIII)

“We should play a game,” Tyrion suggested. “That might help take our thoughts off the storm.”

“Not cyvasse,” she said at once. “Not cyvasse,” Tyrion agreed… (TYRION IX)

Penny’s fate will be very important to Tyrion’s arc. Will she end up, once again, as collateral damage? Might she symbolize the innocent lives that will be lost if Tyrion pursues his vengeance? Note in the dream below, how Tyrion attempts to shoot Tywin, but ends up killing Penny instead:

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)

After the Battle of Meereen, two particularly important moral choices may loom ahead for Tyrion — two cases where Tyrion’s personal interests in the game could result in the deaths of many people. The first is how he handles delivering the news of Aegon. He is the only person in Slaver’s Bay with knowledge of the other Targaryen claimant, and he will undoubtedly seek to use this knowledge to worm his way into Dany’s confidences.  But a scheming, self-interested game-player — as Tyrion appeared to be during his cyvasse game with Aegon — could take advantage of this situation. Tyrion could advise Dany not to trust Aegon. He could cast doubt on Aegon’s origins. He could invent lies about why Aegon chose to go west — who is there to dispute him?  If Tyrion chooses to try and bring about a war between Dany and Aegon, the consequences could be devastating for innocent life in Westeros.

Teora gave a tiny nod, chin trembling. “They were dancing. In my dream. And everywhere the dragons danced the people died.” (TWOW ARIANNE I)

Second, Archmaester Marwyn is likely to arrive and meet Dany in TWOW. If and when he does, he will inform Dany of the threat from the Others and how she could be humanity’s only hope. But flying to the Wall would benefit Tyrion very little in the game. His inside knowledge of the Lannisters and of Aegon would be useless there. The ruthless advice would be that Dany should leave the grumkins and snarks to Stannis, focus on the South for the time being, and deal with the Northern threat later if need be. So if Tyrion is in a position to advise Dany at this point, does he recommend what’s best for humanity? Or what’s best for himself in the game of thrones? We will see.

Thank you for reading!


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52 responses to “Paying His Debts, Part III: Tyrion and Penny

  1. For me, ADWD was quite confusing with a host of new characters especially in Dany’s life. I’m really enjoying your posts which helps me get a clearer picture. Thnx 🙂

  2. A fantastic read, as always. I don’t know if I’ll enjoy reading ADWD better after your series of essays, but I’ll be happy if at least I understand it better. Any thoughts on what’s coming next?

    • Thank you! I’m not yet sure who I’ll tackle next.

      • Madi

        It would be great to read about Catelyn Tully, her character seems to be some sort of mixture Sansa’s and Arya’s features. 🙂
        Thank you for these fantastic articles!

      • matt

        Littlefinger would be a great one, I feel. What his character means to the story so far and what baelish’s end game might be.And also, Jamie.

        Your essays are awesome by the way, I just stumbled across them through Reddit and have spent the last hour reading through them all and already can’t wait to hear more. Thank you!

      • Peter

        Great blog! I find your analysis very interesting. I’d like to suggest Victorion as your next subject or the iron islanders in general. I’d be interested on your take on his thematic/symbolic meaning.

  3. Bowen Marsh

    Could you take on Theon next, or Bran?
    And what about A Feast for Crows?

  4. CDM

    Loved your analysis, thank you so much!! =)

  5. Wilbur

    Each chapter of your analysis that I read causes me to stack the books of ASOIAF closer to the top of my re-read pile.

    I would really enjoy an examination of Ned Stark some time, as his story and demise were the reason for hooking us in the first place.

    • a man says...

      I never really thought about it until you just mentioned it… but Ned Stark would be a fantastic choice for an essay from Adam. I was hoping for an Arya one, but Ned would be even better!

  6. old gods new tricks

    I can see Sansa, Arya and Bran all vying for the on-deck circle. Maybe a comparative piece? (e.i., the sisters’ arcs, or all three?) Have greatly enjoyed all of your writing thus far!

  7. thebullmurph


  8. Andrew

    I think Penny is what helps Tyrion stay grey, and keep from going black. Tyrion is becoming a darker character, but there is still a flicker of light. I think she reminds him a bit of himself before the end of his marriage to Tysha, a symbol of his own lost innocence. The incident with Tysha birthed the Tyrion we have, or at least had at the start of the series.

    I think Tyrion may actually manage to piece together that Aegon is fake by the time he meets Dany thanks to a certain Pentoshi in Meereen: the Tattered Prince. Tyrion will likely be building a base of support in Meereen after the battle, and establish contacts with the people who command the swords. The Tattered Prince is still interested in Pentos, and possibly has been keeping tabs on the city for quite some time. Why would he want to become the Prince of Pentos now when he originally refused it when it was handed to him on a silver platter? That is the question Tyrion may ask when the Prince mentions his price. It may have been Varys and Illyrio that blackmailed/threatened him into leaving Pentos when he was chosen to become Prince. Tyrion may then probe the Prince what he knows about the two, and the Tattered Prince may reveal that Illyrio’s wife Serra, who came from a Lysene pillow house, was his friend Varys’s sister, and she was from the house of Maelys the Monstrous. They also had a son who supposedly died, possibly with his mother when the grey death arrived. That may be what has Tyrion figure out Aegon’s true identity, realizing that Illyrio’s son didn’t actually die but is Aegon.

  9. How about Quentyn? I suspect your analysis would redeem the character.

  10. u hate me. if u didn’t hate me you’d have one of these up every day. you and grrm are either the same person or in cahoots

  11. Does Tyrion not feel any gratitude to Aegon and his retinue for fishing him out of the water when he fell in inspite of the gray death danger?

    I remember reading a sentence about it, and combined with the frequent “A Lannister always pays his debts” story, I find it hard to believe that Tyrion may sell out Aegon to Daenerys if the opportunity arises.

  12. SkaggCannibal

    Great analysis, makes it a lot easier to understand Tyrion’s journey, especially the symbolism. Just like the Jon and Dany analyzes, an objective, self-doubting but thorough assay.

    If you don’t have an idea on who to do next, I think especially Theon would be an interesting case with lots of layers and symbolism. I also don’t quite get his story, hence my interest. Another interesting case would be Cersei, I believe she’s generally viewed way to one-dimensional (evil, stupid, incapable of love/goodness) and such an analysis as yours would give her the depth she deserves. I’m not a fan of doing a dead character (Ned, Cat, Quentyn) yet, as they wouldn’t give the same excitement as the alive ones still do. But of course, that’s entirely up to you!

  13. Chalky

    stannis would also be a good option…particularly his options once/if the boltons are defeated and the great northern conspiracy theory

  14. Rindert

    I would like to thank you for this great analysis. Do you have any comment to the theory that Penny could be Tyrions daughter? Penny is judged 17-18-19 by Tyrion, but Tyrion is a bad judge of character as we saw when he judged Sansas age wrong. The childish naive behaviour of Penny is more that of a 13 year old than that of a 19 year old. Sha has features (hair colour and of course) size in common with Tyrion. The theory is a bit far fetched but still…

  15. Aeryl

    Tyrion’s in his early 20’s so doubtful.

    • Rindert

      Tyrion married when he was 13. After 2 weeks of marriage his wife was gang raped and the marriage annulled. If Penny is 13, the math works with a 27 year old Tyrion. Twins run in the Lannister family, so that could explain the brother of Penny. I have to admit that it is just a theory though.

  16. Rindert

    Well, we do not know how old she is as Tyrion is an unreliable narrator when it comes to judging the age of a person. I tried to explain that.

  17. Jeff

    I love all of your essays! One of the things that I love so much about GRRM is his use of symbolism, foreshadowing, and the depth of his characters. As your essays show, no character is one-dimensional. Can’t wait for the next one!!

  18. Rather than a character, I would be very interested to hear what you have to say about cannibalism as a recurring theme.

  19. elbrad0

    More please 🙂

  20. Syrio Forel

    More! Please! I am neglecting my children because of your essays!!!

  21. I check your blog every few days to see if you’ve started another series, and get disappointed every single time.
    Please don’t pull a Martin on us and take years before coming up with next one, please?

  22. Stooge McDreams

    These are some truly marvellous essays, and I can’t wait til I get round to re-reading the series now. In particular your take on Dany’s arc in ADWD is fascinating, and clarifies greatly what I thought was going on there.

    You should also be commended for how *readable* these essays are – it’s not all that common in ASOIAF fandom. If there’s anybody out there putting together a collection of essays on the series, yours ought to be first on the list.

    Alright, that’s enough dicksucking. In ADWD, Jaime meets some lady – I think it’s Genna Lannister? – who tells him that she’s always felt that Tyrion took after Tywin the most. I’ve often been curious why she thought that, and would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    There’s no indication that Tyrion displayed any political talent or ambition before AGOT, and Tywin did not have a reputation for drinking and whoring (or maybe he did, to Genna…). The only similarity that springs to mind is that Tyrion had a similar dislike for being mocked, although he had a different coping mechanism.

    Again, marvellous essays, gobble gobble gobble

    and good day to you sir

    • Syrio Forel

      This comment had me in tears… but I agree with 100%

    • Jim B

      Tyrion is like Tywin in that:
      (1) Both are strategists. They generally think before acting. Jaime is capable of plotting out a battle plan, but he generally chafes at it, especially pre-capture-and-mutiliation — his attitude is to ignore problems or dismiss them with witticisms until they can’t be ignored, and then to start waving his sword. Cersei satisfies this element, too, but,

      (2) Both are savvy. They know the strengths of House Lannister and how to use them. This is where Cersei goes astray — her sense of entitlement leads her to act as if she has a right to rule. In fact, her status depends on Joffrey — who she has allowed to turn into an uncontrollable monster who obtains nobody’s loyalty — and on Tywin’s armies — and Tyrion actually has to remind her of that at the start of ACOK.

      (3) Both are desperate to prove themselves. You mention the dislike of being mocked, and that’s part of it, but it goes beyond that. Tywin was very conscious of the need to restore House Lannister’s reputation after his father’s weakness. Tyrion is desperate to prove himself to his father.

      (4) Both are fanatically loyalty to House Lannister, as something above and beyond their own self-interest. Look at how both of them deal with the inevitable realization that Joffrey really is Jaime’s son. Either one of them could have announced, “yes, it’s true, Joffrey and his siblings are born of incest and treason. Stannis is right. We’re withdrawing to Casterly Rock and we wash our hands of the traitors Cersei and Jaime and their children; do with them as you will.” Or tried to negotiate pardons of the children and/or Cersei and Jamie in exchange for giving up the throne. But not only do they not do this — it doesn’t even seem to occur to them. And that doesn’t seem to be out of compassion or love. Rather, they swallow any sense of justice or law because it would mean shame on House Lannister. By comparison, Jamie was willing to deprive House Lannister of its likely heir purely out of selfish desire to be with Cersei, and the two of them were willing to heap shame and disgrace on their House just out of lust for each other.

      • Stooge McDreams

        I think you’re right that Tyrion’s (and Tywin’s) loyalty to their house goes beyond their own self-interest (i.e. Tyrion is well aware that everything he is, he owes to being a Lannister (and he even says as much at one point)).

        Re-reading the books, I noticed that when Tyrion’s talking to Oberyn just before the big fight, he denies his father’s involvement in Elia’s murder; even when his father’s shown willingness to condemn him to death, and when revealing the truth would cement this new alliance with Oberyn, he still stops short of incriminating House Lannister.

    • Ha ha. “Enough dicksucking.”

      Another similarity between Tywin and Tyrion (which we only know about at our current point in the story) is that both were young men in love and with a different temperament before crushing disillusionment changed them. I don’t think AF in these essays mentions the way Tywin was described before his wife died but I think he underwent a transformation similar to Tyrion’s.

      • Stooge McDreams

        Good observation. I think a couple of characters in the novels remark on how the best part of Tywin died with his wife.

        On the other hand, I read somewhere that Tywin was 19 when he extirpated the Reynes and Castameres. I don’t know exactly how the timelines add up, but it seems that his wife was probably still alive at that point.

        Maybe he hadn’t met her yet, and so hadn’t had his rougher edges softened. Or maybe he had, and it didn’t make too much of a difference.

        Or maybe it *did* make a difference, and Tywin’s mass murders at the age of 19 were performed reluctantly, and weighed far more heavily on his heart than the ones committed in the novels.

        Or maybe they didn’t, and he was always just a bit of a cunt. Some people are born that way.

        Or maybe growing up seeing his father mocked and disrespected turned him into one. That seems to be roughly what his brother and sister think, although they’re predisposed to love him and so to make excuses for him.

        Or maybe it’s a mix of the above. Or maybe it’s some other angle that I can’t think of. Any way you slice it, he’s a fascinatingly rich character.

        And then he died on a toilet, like Elvis.

  23. Great essay. I agree that Penny represents Tyrion’s innocence. Seeing her naivete reminds him of his own fears – if he lets his guard down he will die. He wants to go back to a less cynical place but he doesn’t trust the world to let him do it.

    I also think that Tyrion’s quickness to identify with the Lannisters and his resurgent pride has to do with the fact that he carries a great heritage within him at all times in the form of a wider perspective than most people he encounters will ever have. Even though in many ways he’s been treated as a second-class citizen his whole life he’s also had access to uncommon privileges: first-class education, endless books, sex whenever he wants it, curiosity trips to exotic locations like the Wall, a blank check whenever he needs money and and insider’s view of a political dynasty. All of these things combined with Tyrion’s innate intellect make him on another level than most people he encounters. Add life experience to that as he’s weathered many storms. No matter what his exterior circumstances nothing can ever take away the value that’s in his head.

  24. Brett

    You may find that Tyrion’s position changes suddenly when he encounters the dragons. Assuming Aegon is fake; that leaves one head of the dragon, and Tyrion is a prime candidate among only a few. What happens to Tyrion’s world when he is revealed to have more than Brown Ben Plumm’s drop of dragon blood?

  25. But flying to the Wall would benefit Tyrion very little in the game.

    But remember that of all the nobles in the 7 Kingdoms only two took interest in The Wall–Stannis and Tyrion–albeit for different reasons. Stannis meant to use the conflict there to earn him some cred further South. His idea was to save the Kingdom from the Others first and then assume the throne afterward. Tyrion, on the other hand, had little knowledge of the oncoming onslaught of White Walkers and wights (one letter from The Wall). Yet he has a much greater understanding of the historical context and importance of the Wall than Stannis could ever have. Also recall that in King’s Landing he was the only one who took the requests from the Wall for men and aid seriously in spite of the fact that he didn’t believe in snarks and other magical threats. And now that he will likely be seeing the magic of dragons in person relatively soon, it’s not too far of a stretch for him to begin to accept that other magical creatures exist and do pose a very real threat to his world. And finally, if Westeros is completely destroyed because of the forces of darkness, he won’t get his opportunity for vengeance against his siblings–they’ll already be dead. Tyrion is too smart not to see the full implications of a loss to the Others. No, I think there’s enough evidence to suggest that Tyrion would go to The Wall to fight by Dany’s side.

    I’m loving these essays BTW. Tremendous amount of effort you’ve put into them and they’re really fantastic reads. Thank you!

  26. Oops, I actually forgot to include the dire hints that he received directly from Lord Commander Mormont….so he has more than a letter to remind him of the threat. Tyrion’s experience may be the means by which Dany discovers the peril of the Others.

  27. Rob

    Without having to link to all the various theory posts, I would find it a cruel joke (but very GRRMish) if Penny turns out to be Littlefinger’s agent (Baelish trying to set aside Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding) and the obvious connection of Littlefinger and whore houses….where do whore’s go? To Littlefinger. Where did Tysha go? Likely to Littlefinger or Oldtown, with a baby in her belly from the gang rape…named Penny, which is what Tyrion received from Tywin after he was done with her last. Irony anyone?

    …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)

    Also, on a different note, Tyrion’s thoughts of his father’s face when thinking of the Sorrows and the Shrouded Lord over and over are as big of a “Hiding in plain sight” that GRRM has given us regarding missing characters. Tyrion was spared the grey kiss for one reason only, Gerion Lannister would have given it to him. Who looks like Tywin? Gerion. Who is unaccounted for? Gerion.

    In the original draft of AFFC, GRRM mentioned he had a scene where Tyrion meets the Shrouded Lord. He scrapped it, fearing it would give away too much (mentioning something about The Lord of The Rings and the scene at a hall). Best to leave a Chekov Gun up his sleeve for TWOW.

  28. Tabitha

    I really liked your essays, and I hope to see a lot more of them soon. How long does it take you to research one particular topic?

  29. Hanson

    Loved your essays, I got a team, and we are going to translate your articles to Chinese, so more readers could read your analysis, and I hope that won’t offend you.

  30. Matt

    Author… more please.

  31. Shannon

    All really good points, however one thing you hit on but don’t quiet understand I want to explain. People who feel unloved in life find when they are loved no matter how much they desire it, it’s very uncomfortable. Therefore they push it away or reject it. It’s not thst they don’t actually want it. It’s thst they don’t know how to behave and they can’t truly or fully trust it.

  32. Gil

    Love this essays, I just found them, I know Im late to the party, I was wondering if you are planning on doing more?

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