Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Tyrion II

“The storms come and go, the waves crash overhead, the big fish eat the little fish, and I keep on paddling.”

Synopsis: Tyrion has Janos Slynt over for dinner and the two discuss the finer points of loyalty, Ser Jacelyn Bywater takes out the trash, and Tyrion and Varys finish their conversation from earlier.

SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.

Political Analysis:

Reading Tyrion II is a bit like “taking a healthy gulp” of a rich Dornish red, a multi-layered drink that shows George R.R Martin bringing some of his best work to bear, both on the level of plot (as we see Tyrion taking to his new position as Hand of the King in a way that Eddard Stark never could have dreamed of, character (as Tyrion begins to find out how difficult it is to “do justice” in an unjust world and makes choices about how to carry it out), and theme (as Martin uses the swinish figure of Janos Slynt to echo and ground the later dialogue on the nature of justice and loyalty and the nature of power and belief).

So let’s get right into it.

Tyrion Dismantles Janos Slynt

A good part of why this chapter is so enjoyable to read is the anticipation of comeuppance – unlike Janos Slynt, we know that Tyrion Lannister is way too smart to fall for the same trap that Eddard did, so we can bask in our superior foreknowledge and concentrate on how and why Tyrion takes the Lord Commander of the City Watch apart. However, a canny observer can also learn a lot about Tyrion’s strengths and weaknesses as a political actor from this scene.

To begin with, Tyrion’s use and control of information is impeccable here. Under the guise of getting Janos Slynt’s recommendations for who should replace him as Lord Commander when Slynt hypothetically takes over as Lord of Harrenhal, he manages to learn everything he needs to know to dismantle Slynt’s (and Littlefinger’s – more on this in a second) control over the City Watch simply by withholding his intentions. Moreover, Tyrion’s information-gathering here is buttressed by an unseen earlier conversation with Varys about the City Watch that gave him the information he needed to know in order to seize command over six thousand men with seven men, by bringing Janos Slynt to the Red Keep away from his barracks – and Tyrion is cautious enough to double-check what Varys told him by running it past Janos Slynt:

“I have been glancing over the names you put forward to take your place as Commander of the City Watch.”

“…I’d choose Allar Deem. My right arm. Good good man. Loyal…Allar Deem’s the man for you…Doing for a babe, and her still on the tit, that takes a certain sort. Not every man’d do it…A hard man for a hard job, is Deem. Does as he’s told, and never a word afterward.”

“Bywater. Well. Brave man, to be sure, yet…he’s rigid, that one. A queer dog. The men don’t like him…Ser Jacelyn thinks overmuch of himself and his honor, as I see it.”

This gift for information-gathering and interpretation stands Tyrion in very good stead as he pries open Janos Slynt in reference to two major questions – firstly, who was responsible for the murder of Robert’s bastards, and secondly, who was responsible for the execution of Eddard Stark.

On the first question, it initially seems that Tyrion has failed to get Janos to open up: “You’re a sly one, Tyrion. Thought you could trick me, did you? It takes more than wine and cheese to make Janos Slynt tell more than he should…Never a question, and never a word afterward, not with me.”  This suggests that Tyrion’s later statement that “it was my sister. That was what the oh-so-loyal Lord Janos refused to say. Cersei sent the gold cloaks to that brothel” is the kind of jumping to conclusions that we’ll see later with other mysteries that is less conclusive than it first appears.

However, if we look closer, Tyrion’s actually got more of a handle on this. By making his initial threat to have Janos sent to the Wall without any visible backing, Tyrion gets Janos Slynt’s back up and as he bristles, he reveals his backers:  “I am the king’s friend, you know. We shall see what Joffrey has to say about this. And Littlefinger and the queen, oh, yes. Janos Slynt has a good many friends.” Now, we know why Joffrey is counted among Slynt’s friends – Slynt carried out the execution of Ned Stark on his instigation. We know why Littlefinger is his friend – Littlefinger sold Slynt the office and recieved kickbacks from Slynt’s system of corruption, protected him from Jon Arryn and Stannis Baratheon, and negotiated Slynt’s promotion for betraying Ned Stark. But the mention of the queen, so shortly after the issue of the “whore’s bastard” is raised, suggests that Tyrion’s conclusion is on point. Varys confirmation later that “your own sweet sister…it is a hard thing to tell a man, my lord,” puts more weight behind this. Moreover, we can also see it in Varys’ probing question to Tyrion of “what threat could she pose,” trying to see if Tyrion knows that Joffrey is not Robert’s child and thus Robert’s bastards genuinely are a threat to Cersei.

At the same time, Tyrion’s skill with information is imperfect when it comes to the second qeustion. While he successfully teases out that the execution of Ned Stark was Joffrey’s work (a major part of his mission from Tywin – and one wonders why Tyrion never sent back dispatches to Harrenhal to show his father the progress he was making), he misses something more important:

Consider Eddard Stark, my lord. I don’t suppose he ever imagined his life would end on the steps of Baelor’s Sept..they say even Varys was surprised.”

Lord Janos laughed so hard his gut shook. “The Spider…knows everything, they say. Well, he didn’t know that.”

“How could he?…he had helped persuade my sister that Stark should be pardoned, on the condition that he take the black.”

“It does seem my sister was telling the truth about Starks’ death. We have my nephew to thank for that madness.”

“King Joffrey gave the command. Janos Slynt and Ser Ilyn Payne carried it out, swiftly, without hesitation…”

“…almost as if they had expected it. Yes, we have been over this ground before, without profit. A folly.”

I’ll talk about this more when I get to the second discussion of Varys’ riddle in a bit, but Tyrion misses the hidden hand of Littlefinger here. If Cersei wasn’t involved in having Ned Stark executed, and Joffrey was, Tyrion doesn’t think to ask who put the idea in Joffrey’s head (even when Varys brings it up later) – which might have led him to the question of who benefited from committing the Starks and Lannisters to an all-out war.

As we’ll see in a bit, this characterizes Tyrion’s storyline – as a gifted first-timer, Tyrion has a firm grasp on the fundamentals of political power, but not quite the higher subtleties, and those subtletiesare where the danger will come from.

A Question of Mercy

Another interesting aspect of Tyrion’s style as a political actor is that he tries to combine Machiavellian methodology (for more on which, see my essay in Hymn for Spring) with a sense of (if not morality and decency) a sense of proportion or mercy. Thus, he exiles Janos Slynt rather than going to “head on pike”; thus he’ll imprison Pycelle but not murder him. Some might say that Tyrion’s sense of mercy is ultimately what brings him down – but I think the situation is more complicated than that. After all, Tyrion is willing to use violence when necessary (something that Eddard was not willing to do):

 “The carrack Summer’s Dream sails on the morning tide. Her master tells me she will call at…Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. When you see Lord Commander Mormont, give him my fond regards, and tell him that I have not forgotten the needs of the Night’s Watch.”

“It’s a long voyage, and Lord Slynt will want for company. See that these six join him…tell the captain it would not be taken amiss if that one should happen to be swept overboard before they reach Eastwatch.”

However, I think Tyrion’s ultimate downfall comes from somewhere else – his disregard for symbols and the public face of power. For example, Tyrion’s decision later in this chapter with regards to the “sudden plague of holy men” to “let them rant” will have devastating political consequences later on in terms of helping to stimulate the King’s Landing riot and devastating personal consequences in spreading the meme of the “twisted monkey demon” rather than the heroic “Halfman” meme. As much as Tyrion is not “interested in treasonous table talk,” he needs to be interested in what the people think and feel about him. As I have argued, in part because he believes himself deep down to be unlovable and thus unloved, Tyrion neglects this part of politics to his disadvantage, allowing the conditions of his downfall to form around him.

Tyrion by euclase

Practical Power and the Riddle 

Tyrion’s focus in the meantime is on the practical foundations of power. And to give him credit, he does a far better job than Eddard of understanding the critical importance of a monopoly on violence. Tyrion’s focus on Janos Slynt as his first target is quite rational: “with the City Watch in hand, my lord, you are well placed to see it it that his Grace commits no further…follies” by depriving Joffrey of the ability to enforce his rule with force (beyond the minor resource of the Kingsguard) and ensures that Cersei cannot act against him with much hope of success. As Tyrion puts it:  “he did not see what Cersei could hope to do about it. Tyrion had the City Watch now, plus a hundred-and-a-half fierce clansmen and a growing force of sellswords recruited by Bronn…Vylarr’s loyalty is to Casterly Rock. He knows I am here with my father’s authority. Cersei would find it hard to use his men against me….”

At the same time, though, Cersei’s motto from the show that “power is power” is wildly mistaken – military force is ultimately less important than the source of military force. Tyrion commands the City Guard because Tywin has the authority to name him Hand (and because Varys chooses to help him against Littlefinger), and he commands the clansmen and sellswords because he can promise them payment in the name of the family. If he loses that imprimatur from the patriarch of the Lannister family, as he does at the end of ACOK, his military strength can vanish over night.

Which brings us to the riddle, and the question of its import for Tyrion and for the reader. I’ll reproduce the riddle in full below so I can refer to it in some detail:

“Oh, I think not,” Varys said, swirling the wine in his cup. “Power is a curious thing, my lord. Perchance you have considered the riddle I posed you that day in the inn?”
“It has crossed my mind a time or to,” Tyrion admitted. “The king, the priest, the rich man—who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? It’s a riddle without an answer, or rather, two many answers. All depends on the man with the sword.”
“And yet he is no one,” Varys said. “He has neither crown nor gold nor favor of the gods, only a piece of pointed steel.”
“That piece of steel is the power of life and death.”
“Just so…yet if it is the swordsmen who rule us in truth, who do we pretend our kings hold the power? Why should a strong man with a sword ever obey a child king like Joffrey, or a wine-sodden oaf like his father?”
“Because these child kings and drunken oafs can call other strong men, with other swords.”
“Then these other swordsmen have the true power. Or do they?” Varys smiled. “Some say knowledge is power. Some tell us that all power comes from the gods. Others say it derives from law. Yet that day on the steps of Baelor’s Sept, our godly High Septon and the lawful Queen Regent and your ever-so-knowledgeable servant were as powerless as any cobbler or cooper in the crowd. Who truly killed Eddard Stark, do you think? Joffrey, who gave the command? Ser Ilyn Payne, who swung the sword? Or…another?”
Tyrion cocked his head sideways. “Did you mean to answer your damned riddle, or only to make my head ache worse?”
Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”
“So power is a mummer’s trick?”
“A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”

To begin with, it should be noted that Varys points directly to the question of military power vs. authority by noting that swordsmen obey kings even when the kings are Joffrey. This in turn echoes the earlier discussion of Janos Slynt’s role in the execution of Ned Stark – Janos Slynt argued that the King had the ultimate call whether or not to execute Eddard; however, both Tyrion and Varys point to the technical authority of Cersei and the moral authority of the High Septon as alternative sources of power. Moreover, this very chapter is another argument against that crude theory – on paper, Janos Slynt has 6,000 men to Tyrion’s 150, but Tyrion has the leverage to get Janos to a vulnerable position and the symbolic authority to remove him from office.

While on the surface, this seems to suggest that the power in Baelor’s Sept rested in the image of the monarchy as an uncontestable source of authority, we have to remember that the execution was pre-arranged before Joffrey gave the supposedly unavoidable order to take off Ned’s head. And it was arranged not by Joffrey or Ilyn Payne, but another – namely, Littlefinger, who exercised power by hiding behind where men believe it resides” and executing a “mummer’s trick” of misdirection. Despite having every motive to distrust Littlefinger, despite knowing that Littlefinger betrayed Ned Stark through Janos Slynt, and despite the hint from Janos Slynt in this chapter, Tyrion doesn’t solve that part of the riddle and draw the connection between Littlefinger and the execution of Ned Stark (despite having a mandate from Tywin to kill him for his involvement in that folly).

On another level, however, Tyrion doesn’t solve the riddle of people’s belief in where power resides in that he continues to ignore the importance of public opinion. As much as “it rankled, to sit here and make a mummer’s show of justice by punishing the sorry likes of Janos Slynt and Allar Deem,” Tyrion badly needed to make a mummer’s show that could swing the people of King’s Landing around to his side – instead he acted without explanation. It would have been quite easy to have spread the word of Janos Slynt’s corruption and brutality (indirectly damaging Cersei and feeding into Tywin’s dislike of the man) and thus gained favor from the common folk who Slynt either brutalized or shook down for money. His failure to do so allows a counter-narrative to form that Tyrion was the source of corruption and Janos Slynt the whistleblower. The same thing will happen with Pycelle – it would have been quite easy for Tyrion to spread the word that Pycelle had broken his maester’s vows and that was why he was jailed, given how apt the population are to believe the worst about people in power. Instead, the story gets out that Pycelle is an unjustly imprisoned man – and Tyrion a tyrant.

On a meta level, this quote is quite important for understanding GRRM”s political argument in this book – the idea of kingship has power, but there are other sources of power out there in the world that can act through the idea of kingship which people neglect or ignore at their peril. We’ll see this with Renly’s shortsighted embrace of might makes right, we’ll definitely see this in Stannis’ embrace of Melisandre’s religious and mystical power (which so often works through the power of kings), and we’ll see this in the invisible net of words and wings that are forming around Robb Stark.

Historical Analysis:

As I’ve discussed before, the kind of large police force we see in King’s Landing was not found in medieval England – or indeed anywhere in Europe until the Renaissance, simply because the feudal state didn’t have the organizational capacity to keep so many men on the payroll in times of peace. We do find police systems in the ancient Empires – China’s model of local prefects (appointed by local magistrates appointed by regional governors appointed by the emperor) who investigated crimes and then brought their findings to the local magistrate was influential throughout East Asia; the Emperor Augustus created a system of wards for the city of Rome that were patrolled by 7,000 “vigiles” (or watchmen) who were primarily responsible for apprehending thieves and robbers and fighting fires (the investigation of capital crimes was traditionally a duty of the quaestors), who were backed up by the Urban Cohorts during times of urban unrest.

After the publication of the “Princess and the Queen” and “Rogues,” the historical parallel to the Goldcloaks seems much closer to the Praetorian Guard in that Janos Slynt’s use of the City Watch in a counter-coup echoes the revolt of the City Watch in favor of Queen Rhaenrya during the Dance of the Dragons. Interestingly, we also learn in “Rogues” that the semi-professionalization of the institution, at least as far as the state providing equipment and a standard uniform and some limited training, only goes back about 180 years to Daemon Targaryen’s reforms.

What’s interesting is that the medieval English policing model – a Norman adaptation of the Anglo-Saxon system, the Assize of Arms of 1252 authorized the appointment of local constables to oversee local watchmen, summon men to arms in times of breaches of the peace, and bring lawbreakers to the royal sheriffs, who would then be responsible for bringing the accused in front of a judge and/or jury, which was followed up by the Statute of Winchester of 1285 which required localities to establish a system of watchmen and required all freemen witnessing a crime to raise a “hue and cry” informing localities of the suspect and assisting in the pursuit of the syspect – doesn’t exist in Westeros. In our history, the decentralized system was an attempt to get around the fiscal and organizational limits of the feudal state by offloading unpaid responsibilities on the locality and on the individual subject, and within the context of a rural agricultural society, functioned more or less adequately. Only when the rapid urbanization of England began to kick in when the anonymity of the city and the rich and poor living shoulder-to-shoulder caused a massive wave of property crime did the authorities gradually move in the direction of a modern professional police force in the 19th century.

However, this kind of institutional compromise between a central police force and local responsibility doesn’t seem to have happened in Westeros, where every local lord has the right of “pit and gallows” but seems not to have created any more comprehensive measures for policing outside of deploying his own personal guards – perhaps due to the Targaryen dynasty’s neglect of institution-building during the period in which royal power rested securely on the backs of dragons. Instead, we have this strange situation in which prefeudal “kin policing” seems to be in effect throughout much of the countryside with an imperial police force in the capitol city and in the City Watches of Oldtown and Lannisport (and one presumes likewise in Gulltown, Plankytown, and White Harbor) and some kind of gate guards in the smaller ports.

What If?

There’s not a huge scope for hypotheticals here, but I’ve identified a few interesting little possibilities here. I’m sure the commenters will have some more to throw in:

  • Tyrion has Janos Slynt killed? If Tyrion was not quite so intent on being a kindler, gentler Machiavellian, it’s quite possible that Slynt would have fallen off the boat as well as Allar Deem. His death would have the most impact in ASOS – without Slynt, it’s quite possible Jon Snow never gets thrown in a dungeon cell on Rattleshirt’s word, or sent out to assassinate Mance Rayder, which means that Jon Snow’s position commanding the Wall is not disturbed. On the other hand, this means that Jon Snow is not on hand to grab the Horn of Winter or defend Mance’s child when Stannis attacks; gods only know what happens to either in that scenario. Moreover, there is the question of where Slynt’s support goes during the election – it’s quite possible that Bowen Marsh and Ser Alliser might have had to throw their weight behind either Cotter Pyke or Denys Mallister without a candidate of their own, potentially butterflying away Jon’s election and his rapprochement with the wildlings.
  • Tyrion makes the connection to Littlefinger? I’ll develop this in more detail when I get to Tyrion’s meeting with the Master of Coins in Tyrion IV, but I’ve always been curious why a character as smart as Tyrion doesn’t make the connection between Littlefinger, Janos, and Ned Stark’s death. After all, Tyrion’s been sent down to King’s Landing to find out the source of misgovernment within the royal court, and the chiefest of follies, the reason why Tywin can’t pivot to fighting Renly and Stannis, is the work of Littlefinger conspiring behind Cersei’s back. You’d think Tywin and Cersei would be interested to know of his disloyalty – and it could have very easily led to Littlefinger’s downfall. However, you can really see the dominoes falling in that instance – with no Littlefinger at this point, Sansa ends up in Highgarden rather than the Vale, which has the possibility to really throw the War of Five Kings on its ear, but also means little possibility of northward movement as the Stark children gradually begin to reunite in ADWD.
  • Tyrion publicizes Slynt’s corruption? Now, this is a more modest change, but I’ve always wondered what would have happened if Tyrion had spread the word that Slynt was sent to the Night’s Watch for manifest corruption and murder as part of a campaign to get the public thinking of Tyrion as the hard-but-fair reformer trying to save King’s Landing. While he’s not going to escape public opprobrium entirely, I do think Tyrion could have begun to build a power base among the artisan and merchant classes who would have been the targets of Slynt’s protection rackets and used that to make the “Halfman” image something closer to that of an unlikely hero, which potentially could have aided him when Joffrey died.

Book vs. Show:

For all that Benioff and Weiss come in for criticism here and amongst the fandom generally, I would say that their writing is somewhat underrated. While it’s true that you get the occasional clunker, I do think they have a gift for concentrating Martin’s work into more resonant scenes as opposed to the slower pace that he likes to do – I’m thinking here of the way that Tyrion and Varys’ riddle conversation is deftly handled in one scene in Season 2 instead of being spread out over two chapters and rather overexplained. Likewise, take this conversation between Tyrion and Janos Slynt:

“Are you drunk? If you think I will sit here and have my honor questioned…”

“What honor is that?”

Is it really better than this? I think not.

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68 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Tyrion II

  1. Winnie says:

    Great take as always Steve. Sadly I think the reason our favorite dwarf doesn’t sniff out the Master of Coin is just because Martin didn’t want him to. George was putting his thumb on the scale there to make things turn out as badly as possible for House Stark AND all Seven Kingdoms. LF’s plot armor is almost as good as Dany’s.

    • David says:

      For now! Praying for his comeuppance in Winds of Winter!

      Another great read Steven. I’ve been refreshing the site since yesterday waiting for the next installment!

    • Thanks! Yeah, but I still would have loved Tyrion to realize it after being condemned to death to heighten the dramatic irony.

    • Crystal says:

      I agree with this. There have been a lot of thumbs on scales weighted against the Starks, tbh. And while I hope this starts changing in Winds of Winter, I do not know when we will see that. (I think the huge delay between ADWD and TWOW is making the series seem darker than it is in fact.)

  2. S. Duff says:

    I think Tyrion never plays off of public opinion because he assumes, being a dwarf, they already hate him and look down upon him. So he doesn’t want to bother with it.

    • David Hunt says:

      Partly. But I think that another part of it is that Tyrion is very much his father’s son here and a member of the very privileged upper class. He doesn’t worry about the smallfolk’s opinions because they’re irrelevant to political power (in his view). They’re mouths to feed and a resource to be drawn on for taxes, soldiers and war materials. Tyrion might feel a sense of obligation to them to rule well and, e.g., do justice for the prostitute mother of Robert’s bastard, but being of no name, he doesn’t care what they think.

      The whole situation reminds me of a description I once heard of the Catholic Church’s view of the laity prior to Vatican II: their role was to pray, pay, and obey. Replace “pray” with “serve in the military” and I think you’ve got it. unfortunately, I’m not witty enough to come up with some short word that ends in an “Ay” sound to keep turn of phrase catchy. Maybe “slay.”

      • David says:

        I think we actually see the opposite from Tyrion. He definitely pays more attention to them than Joffrey or Cersei (not hard to do I know) – but he does realize that they could cause the king/city/family trouble. So his not taking steps to politick with them is an oversight on his part.

      • Amestria says:

        I don’t think he disregards public opinion. He forbids feasting after the first hunger riot. When he goes to the blacksmiths to get the chain forged he immediately recognizes Cersei’s threats to have any blacksmith who didn’t meet quota crippled to be very fpr bad public relations. When Stannis spreads word of Joffrey’s illegitimacy Tyrion opts to fight back by spreading vicious rumors rather then go with Cersei’s “pull everyone’s tongues out” policy. He takes the time to reassure King Landing’s merchants that they will receive compensation, one way or another.

        All these examples though involve not doing stupid evil – which gets at the heart of things, Tyrion thinks actions speak louder then words. Reacting to Stannis’s accusations with terror just vindicates them, threatening the smallfolk just makes them hate you. He seems to believe his positive actions equally speak for themselves and is genuinely shocked when they are not understood by the people and then assumes its because he’s a dwarf and later that the people are fools.

        • I think speaking for themselves is right – if I recall correctly, he’s bitter about not getting credit for pushing for increased fishing, sending people to the Watch, etc.

        • David Hunt says:

          Hmmm, I seem t have been overly simplistic in my reasoning. I’m currently at about this point in my re-read and many of the nuances of Tyrion’s efforts are no longer with me. i was afraid that might have happened pretty much the moment I hit “Post.”

    • Agreed. Another case of self-fulfilling prophecy.

  3. Amestria says:

    “a major part of his mission from Tywin – and one wonders why Tyrion never sent back dispatches to Harrenhal to show his father the progress he was making”

    Well, there’s no guarantee that these messages, whether sent by horse or by raven, would go where he’d want them to go. And when you consider that these messages would concern things best not committed to paper it seems an unnecessary risk. Tywin’s not being very chatty about how the war’s going on his end, probably for the same reason (leaving Tyrion to guess at what he’s doing).

    Given all the concern about the unreliability of the larger court in the wake of Ned’s execution this compartmentalization makes sense.

    • You’d think he could detail some men to ride to Harrenhal and back – not a long trip. And his envoys to Riverrun seem to get where they’re going.

      • David Hunt says:

        In the prior Catelyn chapter, Robb mentions sending Cleos Frey with 30(?) of his men under a “peace banner” to carry his terms to King’s Landing. This seems to be like some sort of flag-of-truce variant that is part of their traditions of war and to have some protections. Couriers to Harrenhal would have no such protection. You’d think that the kingsroad would be safe for a small band of soldiers as far as Harrenhal if it wasn’t for Berric Dondarion who is playing bloody hell with Tywin’s foragers. I’d guess that they didn’t want dispatches falling into the Lightning Lord’s hands as they assume that he’s loyal to, if not the Starks, someone who’s their enemy.

        • Amestria says:

          Tyrion also likely assumes that when his father finds the time to come to Kings Landing Tyrion’s good work will be evident and so needs no talking up (which would require details if they weren’t to be useless and details could be risky).

  4. By “subtlies” I think you mean “subtleties”.

  5. Amestria says:

    Hey, showed your post to a friend ^_^

    There’s one revealing line I think you missed though. At the end of the chapter Tyrion says:

    “Varys would have me believe that I have replaced one of Joffrey’s men with one of my own. More likely, I have replaced Littlefinger’s man with one belonging to Varys, but so be it.”

    So, first, his knowledge of the extent of Littlefinger’s little empire is tentative at best. Second, he knows Varys has his own set up and agenda and knows more about Littlefingers empire then he does. Third, he has no choice but to accept this and go with the man Varys picked for him.

    Tyrion does not have any support network or real friends, he’s a stranger to this part of Kings Landing and finds himself dependent on others in the matter of procuring staff and agents. Like, when he recruits mercenaries through Bronn to serve as double agents he unknowingly recruits people in Littlefinger’s employ. He’s also unaware of how deeply things can run. He agrees to have the Antler Men handed over to Joffrey without any thought as to who they are connected to or why Varys is bringing them to his attention and only realizes he goofed when he looks through Littlefinger’s account books.

    He’s also an old style Andal noble whose had very traditional notions of power nurtured in him by his father and various personal experiences. For CoK Tyrion, power ultimately rests with person who can command armies, feudal or mercenary, hence his initial answer to Varys that its the swordsmen who has the power (In Dance Tyrion remembers his father saying something similar about how one properly wins wars not with gold but with swords and holding the Free Cities in contempt because they fight largely with coin). In Kings Landing Tyrion immediately seizes control of the army but doesn’t really dig deeper. He’s suspicious of how Littlefinger gets his money and Varys his intelligence but his curiosity doesn’t take him very far because it takes him into a world he’s not accustomed too. In this he’s like Ned, Cersei, Tywin, Kevan, Mace, Robert, the lords of the Vale…everyone but Stannis really. It’s why the networks Varys and Littlefinger have constructed remain largely invisible.

  6. juan manuel says:

    Err… there is nothing pinpointing Ned’s death to Littlefinger in the novels. That’s just a fan theory. You wonder who put that idea on Joffrey’s head, but there is no need for anyone to do so – Joffrey is shown to be perfectly capable of being a vindictive, cruel idiot without anyone else’s help.

    • Sure there is – Joffrey’s a vindictive, cruel idiot, but someone arranged ahead of time for Ser Janos Slynt and Ilyn Payne to be ready to execute him on the spot, such that there would be no way for Cersei or anyone else to intercede during the interval when a block and the executioner were being retrieved. There’s hints throughout the books that Littlefinger is the responsible party, and Tyrion gets at least two clues in this chapter.

      • Amestria says:

        I think the biggest clue is Littlefinger cheerfully telling Sansa how he manipulated Joffrey into putting on the dwarf show. This is actually a case of him getting Joffrey to do something with a few well chosen words.

      • Sean C. says:

        I think that there are some decent hints that Littlefinger is the responsible party, but in-universe I don’t think it’s surprising that Tyrion isn’t looking for who put the idea in Joffrey’s head, because he’s seen first-hand that Joffrey is an impulsive and cruel brat who likes imposing grisly punishments. One of the main clues people point to regarding Littlefinger’s involvement, and one that might have been telling to Tyrion, is Littlefinger’s demeanor when Joffrey’s command is given, but Tyrion doesn’t know about that.

      • juan manuel says:

        Well, Ilyn Payne has Ice for the show – you can’t have an executioner without a weapon. There is also no need for anyone to tell them to rush. Both will try to accommodate to the new regime and are completely ignorant to Cersei’s plan to make him take the Black.
        So, while it benefits LF by making peace impossible, there is no real reason to believe LF is behind everything that benefits him. He’s not a god (at least, that we know so far)

        • But why is Ilyn Payne there if there’s not supposed to be an execution?

          • juan manuel says:

            Because of the show. It’s supposed to be a confession followed by execution, as it would be the norm, so the King’s Justice is there – armed of course. The play supposedly ends when the merciful King Joffrey decides to fulfill his promise to his gracious fianceé and allow the confessed traitor to take the Black – out of mercy, love for Sansa, whatever. But he doesn’t.
            Cersei is the one who organized the show. It was up to her, and not Littlefinger, to order Ilyn Payne to be there, and she could have removed him beforehand if she thought his presence was unnecessary.

    • David Hunt says:

      I think the fact that Slynt and Payne were apparently ready to carry out the sentence ahead of time is strong evidence that someone besides Joffrey was involved in the decision process. At least this far into the books, Joffrey is not the type of ruler who executes well thought-out plans…except in the sense that he’s deadly to them. If you look at how he runs his court, he’ll sit around and fidget, letting the Small Council make rulings in his name, then he’ll take an interest in some specific case and step in on a whim with his own brand of monstrous “justice.” Once you start go with the conclusion that someone else was involved, LF emerges as the only really viable subject.

      Cercei made the deal with Ned and tried to stop the execution. More than anyone else, she had a real chance of stopping it. She at least was still expected that he’d mind her at this point. I think that she’d would have tried to talk him out of it if she wanted it to happen. Varys also tried to stop it. You could make the argument that he’s subtle enough to appear that he’s trying to stop something that he actually wants to happen, but he went to the trouble of arranging for Yoren to be there to take him and Gendry. I think that the evidence that Varys wanted Ned alive is a good as anything ever gets for predict Varys’ intentions. Who left? Pycelle? He couldn’t plot his was out of a Choose Your Own Adventure Book. Not only would Joffrey listen to Cercei over Pycelle, I don’t think Pycelle would try to mess up a scheme or hers that he was aware of. The High Setpon? Ridiculous. IIRC, he’s a toady of the monarchy, but he wouldn’t have allowed it to happen at the Sept.

      LF is the only other major player left that I can think of, and he’s the right kind of subtle to have manipulated Joffrey into offing Ned. He understands misogynistic, entitled lordlings and their buttons very well. It’s more impressive that he managed to pull it off without Varys getting wind of it. It makes me wonder if LF knows how riddled the Red Keep is with secret passages and that it’s one of Varys’ means of information gathering. He has either found or installed his own secret exit to the Red Keep, afterall.

      So if it isn’t LF, it’s Joffrey acting alone, because I think only LF could have caught Varys with his pants down.

      • Winnie says:

        I agree with your reasoning and Steve’s. I wonder if it will ever be revealed in the books (or show) and if that’s not the revelation which makes Sansa decide to slay the Titan.

        • Quite possibly – but she already has Lysa’s confession to work from. I think Sansa is capable of working out what LF did from that.

        • Crystal says:

          Agreed with all comments on all counts. I think that LF is behind Ned’s execution and that he is the Master of Pushing Buttons. And I also think that Sansa is sooner or later going to put two and two together and whoops, dead Titan. (LF is blabbing *all* of his secrets and techniques to her, after all.)

      • Sean C. says:

        I can sort of understand Slynt, who’s clearly part of Littlefinger’s web, but the implied advance involvement of Payne is a lot harder to figure. Payne is a Lannister creature, through and through, to the point where Jaime is certain that he won’t even try to air any of the incriminating stuff Jaime tells him (sure, he can’t speak and apparently can’t write, but if he really wanted to I’m sure he could find a way to get the word out, by learning to write, if nothing else). He was Lord Tywin’s captain of the guard, and named King’s Justice as a patronage appointment. Maybe he just likes killing people, but it’s rather odd, given his strong loyalty to House Lannister, that he would keep something like this a secret from Cersei even though it ruins her plans, and nobody seems to ask him for more information after things have gone wrong (yeah, yeah, he can’t speak/write, but c’mon, he seems to function day to day just fine, and if they made it a priority they could get information from him).

        • Winnie says:

          Again LF’s plot armor at work…

        • I disagree. Firstly, Payne’s an executioner – he wouldn’t generally be at a public event without a need for his services. Secondly, Lannister loyalty is ambigious – does that mean loyalty to Joffrey or Cersei?

          • Sean C. says:

            I wasn’t quibbling that it’s implied he was involved, just that I find his involvement puzzling.

            As to loyalty being “ambiguous”, we’re talking about the guy who knew enough to know that Tywin was the real ruler in King’s Landing when Aerys was on the throne, and worked beside Tywin for a long, long time. He doesn’t strike me as blindly deferential, and he would know that Cersei is (supposed) to be the one running the show here on behalf of his real boss, Tywin.

          • And yet he cut off Ned Stark’s head.

            I think we over-estimate Ilyn Payne’s sanity. This is a man who lives in a room filled with jars of his own urine and feces, who has no means of communicating with the outside world, and who enjoys murdering helpless prisoners.

          • WPA says:

            Yeah, Payne has to be Tywin’s man, through and through. Though by virtue of being the King’s Executioner he may have just been going through the motions and making sure of a quick clean swing as his priority rather than dwelling on the political ramifications and inter-Lannister power dynamic at play.

      • But acting alone is undercut by the evidence of prior preparation – Janos Slynt is clearly saying he knew it was going to happen ahead of time. If this is a sudden whim of Joffrey’s, that doesn’t happen.

        • WPA says:

          Unless it’s revealed in the Vale subplot via Sansa’s POV, I suspect it will be one of those unconfirmed but widely assumed things. LF certainly does have the means, motive, and presumably opportunity to nudge things in that direction. And really, if he wants to bring about bloody chaos- having one unstable power bloc execute a Lord Paramount who is popular enough for men to puts swords in their hands on his behalf years after his death, is a pretty sure-fire way. It becomes war to the knife, knife to the hilt.

          • Sean C. says:

            I really have a hard time seeing how Sansa could ever figure that out, at this point. Joffrey and Slynt aren’t saying anything, and Payne apparently won’t either, even if she did meet him somehow. Maybe Littlefinger goes on a motive rant when he’s doomed or some dramatic cliche like that (which GRRM is not above; see, Lysa, among others), but otherwise, not likely.

      • Brett says:

        It makes me wonder if LF knows how riddled the Red Keep is with secret passages and that it’s one of Varys’ means of information gathering.

        I’m positive he does. Remember his meetings in the Godswood, and how he got Sansa to meet Ser Dontos there? I don’t know how he figured it out, but he did – and it might tie into his remark about having Varys’s metaphorical balls cupped in his hand (i.e. if he revealed that Varys has the children sneaking around the castle and some are caught, Varys will be executed very quickly).

        • David Hunt says:

          Perhaps, but I still attribute that remark to LF just indulging in a bout of bragging. He clearly doesn’t know a quarter of Varys’ treasons or he’d have moved against him. Because not even LF wants the Iron Throne falling to a Targ invasion. It’s not a regime that he would prosper under as he’s far too much a creature of the Baratheon dynasty.

        • He knows about the stairs down, certainly. But I don’t buy that would lead to Varys’ execution – Varys is the spymaster. He’s supposed to be spying on people.

  7. Carolyn says:

    I think both Tyrion and Cersei could be a lot more effective, if they did not spend the majority of their time trying to weaken each other, but rather combined their forces, since their goals are quite similar (getting Jaime back, keeping House Lannister on the throne, surviving,…)

    For me, their inter-family power plays are a major plot point in the books starting with ACOK. It also makes it rather difficult for House Lannister to gain allies, since everyone, who seems to be close to one of them, immediately gets attacked by the other.

    During ACOK to AFFC,
    -Tyrion sends Slynt to the Wall, partly because he calls the queen her friend
    -Tyrion imprisons Pycelle, because he gave information to the Cersei
    -Tyrion sends the Lannister household guard on a suicide mission (envoy in Riverrun), so Cersei does not have any swords left in KL
    -Cersei tries to have Bronn killed
    -Cersei plans to murder Trystane Martell and to blame Tyrion
    -Cersei moves against the Tyrells, partly because a Tyrell coin was found in Tyrion’s dungeon

    • Maddy says:

      Well you could say a similar thing about Stannis and Renly but … sibling bitterness gets in the way. Which is infuriating but well … It makes sense for their characters.

      • Carolyn says:

        The difference between Renly and Stannis on the one and the Lannister siblings on the other hand is that where as the Baratheon siblings have different goals (both want to be king) the goals of Cersei and Tyrion are quite similar (getting Jaime back, keeping Cersei’s children on the throne, …).

        • David Hunt says:

          Looked at that way, Tyrion and Cercei want the same thing, but they have differences in what they want that makes it inevitable that they’ll be political enemies. Tyrion was sent to KL with a mandate to whip the government back in shape, insure that good counsel is given to Joffrey and to purge the incompetents and traitors out. Cercei wants to exercise real power as Queen Regent and enjoy it until Jorffrey reaches his majority while shaping him into her view of the perfect king. Unfortunately since it’s Cercei and Joffrey, Cercei’s plans are directly opposed to good government and that means that her goals will be opposed to Tyrion’s. Also, she’s got a goal of seeing Tyrion dead, so that’s going to be a point of conflict as well.

          As a side note, just today I read an excerpt of a review of some work of Ayn Rand. The reviewer mentioned that Rand routinely mistook raw force for strength and that seems to be an apt a description of Cercei. I think she got the wrong lesson from all the endless times that the Rains of Castamere were played at Casterly Rock. The whole point of that song was so that he wouldn’t have to go through the effort of putting down another rebellion.

  8. Brett says:

    I’ll develop this in more detail when I get to Tyrion’s meeting with the Master of Coins in Tyrion IV, but I’ve always been curious why a character as smart as Tyrion doesn’t make the connection between Littlefinger, Janos, and Ned Stark’s death.

    Tyrion in general seems to be bad at making those types of intuitive “leaps” towards deeper understanding of on-going plots, even if he’s a good day-to-day schemer and governor. The same thing happens in A Storm of Swords, where he never puts together any of the clues that there’s something up with the Tyrells – whereas Sansa deduces almost immediately from Loras being putting into the Kingsguard that there’s a disaster waiting to happen with that, and wonders why Margaery & Friends don’t seem more concerned about it.

    • Yes and no – Tyrion also successfully pipped Joffrey as responsible for Bran’s attack, which is an impressive deduction.

    • Crystal says:

      Sansa knowing *right away* that appointing Loras to the Kingsguard meant a second Kingslayer in the making, and wondering why the Tyrells didn’t seem concerned with that, is something I like to point to when people say that Sansa is stupid.

      Whereas Tyrion just thinks that Loras had better keep his sword well honed.

      It also makes me surmise that the Tyrells were going to get rid of Joffrey, come what may, and that Kingslayer Loras was a backup plan in case the Purple Wedding did not work out. (Did they intend for Loras to flee or escape punishment somehow? I think so.)

      • Andrew says:

        I don’t think Sansa is stupid for the reasons you just mentioned. She shows this again in AFfC when she deduces that Lyn Corbray is actually in LF’s employ, and he started trouble to give LF the advantage he needed against the Lords Declarant.

        I don’t think they involved Loras as he swore a vow to protect Joffrey. Having him killed outright would risk an open confrontation whereas poisoning him makes it easier, and they could make Tyrion the scapegoat, freeing Sansa up to be wed to Willas.

        I think it was Olenna and her only. The less people knew about it the better.

      • I’m pretty sure Purple Wedding was plan A and Margaery poisoning Joffrey on his wedding night was plan B – a big part of the reason for the plan was Olenna wanting to prevent Loras becoming a Kingslayer.

  9. Roger says:

    Great analysis!
    Bywater was a sensible choice as commander. But the Golden Cloaks were full of rabble (due to Cersei’s massive recruitment). That almost lost battle of Blackwater, when the raw recruits fled, after killing their commander. I wonder if Bywater’s death wasn’t orchested by Littlefinger.

    King’s Landing people had nothing against Slynt (curiously). Also they were hungry, and starting to get angry. 500 members of the merchantile class created the Antler Men conspiration. Only Alayaya was grateful for being free of Allar Deem.

    Tyrion made no effort to befriend smallfolk, true, but also made no effort to befriend highfolk. Apparently Shae was all the human contact he needed.

    He could have make some moves,like, for example, apointing a favorable knight in the vacating Kingsguard.

    • Carolyn says:

      The Gold Cloaks are a police force, not an army. It is therefore not particularly surprising, that they would soon break, if they were deployed as soldiers.

    • I think some KL people did, and a lot more had short memories.

      No, I’m pretty sure Bywater’s death was a simple fragging.

    • Amestria says:

      “I wonder if Bywater’s death wasn’t orchested by Littlefinger.”

      He was far away at the time and in any case wanted the city to hold out. One should not attribute to him an almost magical power over events. Breaking rabble killing their stubborn commander is so mundane that it needs no further explanation.

      Though the guard was largely made up of people recruited by Janos Slynt and company probably didn’t help Bywater when push came to shove.

      • Roger says:

        Bywater almost stopped his men’s riot. They were still doubting when an arrow came from nowhere and hurted him. Then the Gold Cloaks killed Bywater.

  10. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, please accept my compliments upon posting not only one but TWO articles in the space of a day!

    May I ask if you plan to post any commentary on ‘The Rogue Prince’ or will you prefer to analyse it as you did ‘The Princess and the Queen’ it’s predecessor?

    • I just read it last night, should put up something soon.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        Most excellent! (I have to admit that I’m particularly looking forward to discussing the Year 120, since it seems that much and more of that which played out during the Dance of Dragons had it’s roots in this terrible year – it also strikes me that discussing the likes of Septon Eustace and that poisonous toadstool of a jester Mushroom opens the floor to some interesting questions).

        • Andrew says:

          Daemon was pretty much the Tyler Durden of House Targaryen: a fearless, charismatic badass and psychopath. He was a jerk to his first wife, but he did show a softer side to Mysaria and his other wives. He gave Mysaria an egg, and remember this is when the dragons were still alive so the expectation was that it would hatch, giving away one of House Targaryen’s most dangerous weapons whose power extended from its monopoly. No wonder Viserys was pissed at that.

          If Viserys expected his daughter to be his heir, then he shouldn’t have remarried as sons would inevitably complicate things. He also knew his wife was always trying to make him name Aegon II as his heir, and didn’t realize she would move to crown him when Viserys died, and her father would likely help.

          I think Cole did have an affair with Rhaenyra, but he obviously didn’t take rejection well.

  11. I am a little late to the party, but well done Steve, as usual a great read.

    Something that I’ve personally observed on the Hands, is that both Tyrion and later Tywin, bring men they could trust. Eddard kept the old system, even when he found it faulty. And that is why they are both more successful in their tenure (Tyrion as much as he could) than Eddard was.

    Tyrion knows that at least once Littlefinger set him up to fall (blaming him to Cat as Bran’s would be assassin), what I’m really surprised is that he never did anything about it. And again, he suspects that something’s not quite right with Littlefinger when he’s made Maester of Coin and sees the books and find plenty complications over the finances.

    And Varys’ riddle of who killed Eddard, I think he’s probably aware that Joffrey can be manipulated, as in, make it seem he had an idea of his own. Like when he (Joffrey) says to Tywin that a King acts boldly and Cersei scrambles to blame Robert.

    And Littlefinger delights in mocking people to their faces, see the dwarves jousting in Joff’s wedding: it was a double insult, to Tyrion (as a dwarf) and to Joff himself (the dwarves are brother and sister!)

  12. Amestria says:

    “However, I think Tyrion’s ultimate downfall comes from somewhere else – his disregard for symbols and the public face of power. For example, Tyrion’s decision later in this chapter with regards to the “sudden plague of holy men” to “let them rant” will have devastating political consequences later on in terms of helping to stimulate the King’s Landing riot and devastating personal consequences in spreading the meme of the “twisted monkey demon” rather than the heroic “Halfman” meme. As much as Tyrion is not “interested in treasonous table talk,” he needs to be interested in what the people think and feel about him. As I have argued, in part because he believes himself deep down to be unlovable and thus unloved, Tyrion neglects this part of politics to his disadvantage, allowing the conditions of his downfall to form around him.”

    I wonder how much control Tyrion really had over his image, even if he had been proactive about getting his side of the story out there. The Lannisters are little loved in Kings Landing as a whole and as the city starts to go hungry quickly become despised. Tywin betrayed his King, sacked the place, and murdered the crown prince’s family. The small folk do not like Queen Cersei and soon learn of (and believe) her adultery and incest. Jaime is the Kingslayer and soon known to be Cersei’s lover. Lesser members of the family, like Lancel, are entitled mediocrities. Joffrey is a little monster but the commons is smart enough to know that he gets away with things like Ned Stark’s execution and murdering people with his crossbow only because his councilors let him. Now Tyrion is fighting first and foremost to keep this nest of vipers in power. And one should not forget that much of his authority is, in one form or another, actually usurped authority (attained by threats, kidnapping, blackmail, a bit of poison), like all Lannister authority really (Cersei began her rule tearing up Roberts words, Tywin utterly ignores Cersei’s position as Queen Regent, Kevan takes power in a coup – but Tyrion’s actions are the most colorful and hence it makes a certain sense for the commons to suspect him of wanting the throne). He also has the misfortune of taking office just as things start to go really downhill and so gets most of the blame. Add the fact he does actually look like a twisted little monkey demon. If the rest of the Lannisters are good looking but thoroughly rotten, their behavior good fodder for street preachers and fuel for riots, where does that leave Tyrion? The common people are naturally going to assume he’s the absolute worst of the lot, so wicked it actually shows for all to see.

    • Amestria says:

      Also, aren’t a significant number of the refugees from the Riverlands? People who’ve fled Tywin’s mad dogs and been fleeced by Littlefinger’s tax collectors at the gate? Such people would not be inclined to think anything good about the Lannisters.

    • WPA says:

      Considering the general unpopularity of the Lannisters- it makes it very interesting envision how quickly things will come to a head post-ADWD with everything going to hell in a hand-basket and JonCon’s Gold Company presumably marching on King’s Landing. Easy to forget how utterly fragile their power base is, case in point their position basically collapsing in the Riverlands as what’s left of the Westerlands’ Army bleeds away into the countryside- you get the sense that even when Riverrun falls, ostensibly victory, that their position is basically untenable.

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