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.)