Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis – Tyrion I

“During all the terrible long years of his childhood, only Jaime had ever shown him the smallest measure of affection or respect, and for that Tyrion was willing to forgive him most everything.”

Synopsis: Tyrion spends a long night reading, slaps Joffrey around a bit to work up an appetite for breakfast, where he spends time verbally fencing with his brother Jaime and sister Cersei, and chows down on good Northern fare and some food for thought.

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:

It’s an interesting bit of foreshadowing that the first we actually see of Tyrion from his own eyes is him reading Armydion’s Engines of War, an early sign of Tyrion’s application of his formidable intellect to military subjects. He might even have read something about the uses of boom chains in that book. Between that, his book on changing seasons, and his later book on the properties, we have the portrait of a polymath autodidact – which brings up the question of why Tywin never dealt with his hated son by sending him off to the Citadel to become a maester, which might have suited the both of them. Most likely, Aerys II making Jaime a member of the Kingsguard forced Tywin to keep his only heir close to hand rather than losing him to the Maester’s oath of celibacy.

While there’s not much official politics in this chapter, we do get a very clear insight into Tyrion as a political observer, and the internal politics of the Lannister family. Our immediate impression is that Tyrion is very observant, capable of forming conclusions about the character of his contemporaries that others cannot: unlike the rest of his family, he can tell that his nephew Joffrey is not merely stupid, petulant, and vain, but also sadistic, cowardly, and totally unsuited to his future estate, a tyrant waiting to happen. Similarly, he sees behind Myrcella’s fair features to see that she’s basically a good person, unlike her mother’s spiteful character. In regards to his older siblings, Tyrion can tell from a momentary glance that they had something to do with Bran’s fall – and despite the abuse he’s endured from his family, Tyrion understands his own interests well enough to say nothing and support the House of Lannister (while still maintaining an interest in what actually happened). Ironically, Tyrion is most like Tywin in that he stands for the House of Lannister rather than its individual members; while he’s closest to Jaime, he’s not blind to the man’s flaws and he’s willing to forgive him “most anything” but not everything.

We also see from this chapter how dangerous Cersei and Jaime’s actions were – if Bran woke up and remembered what he saw (which I’m a bit tired of waiting to happen, to be honest), they’re stranded in Winterfell, far from the heart of Lannister power, and they’ve committed a gross breach of the sacred rule of guest right (whether this actually results in punishment from the gods is a good question for debate.

Historical Analysis:

Finding a good historical parallel for Tyrion is a bit difficult in that George R.R Martin has infused his favorite character with such a unique personality, and that he’s brought in several influences from different historical periods. The best I can come up with is that Tyrion resembles a mix of Claudius and Richard III. Like Tyrion, Claudius was born with disabilities (a limp, stutter, and slight deafness) that led to his family ostracizing him, yet who turned out to be a talented administrator, especially when it came to expanding the Empire (he conquered Britain, Thrace, and Judea among other nations), public works (two major aquaducts and the port of Ostia being some of the most prominent), and judicial matters. Similarly, Richard III was depicted by Tudor propagandists as having a hunchback and withered arm and leg as outward signs of his inward corruption, whereas in reality he was a quite conscientious monarch, who promoted economic development in the North of England and who created legal reforms on behalf of the poor, including the first courts where the destitute could be heard and the practice of bail. In both men, we see how disability either genuine or invented could be used to either protect oneself, in the case of Claudius, who survived all of his murderous family by pretending to be dimwitted, or to injure someone’s reputation, as in the case of Richard III.

Disability studies is a huge subfield within Medieval history, and a very contentious one at that, but one thing we can say about the period that George R.R Martin drew most of his influences from is that they tended (although it wasn’t universal by any means and there are many complexities) to view disabilities as a sign of sin, a judgement of God on the body. Hence the move by Tudor propagandists to turn Richard III having broken his shoulder as a young man into a hunchback with withered limbs. We can see the same thing with Tyrion – part of Tywin’s hatred stems from the circumstances of Tyrion’s birth and the death of Joanna Lannister, but it equally stems from Tywin seeing Tyrion as a mark of dishonor on Tywin’s House and Tywin personally. And as we’ll see later, this unfortunately limits Tyrion’s political effectiveness, since it becomes very easy to propagandize Tyrion into a murdering imp rather than the man who saved King’s Landing.

The other thing we see from this chapter and from history is that the combination of family and power that you find in monarchy has a profound and often harmful effect on people. Tyrion’s upbringing is quite traumatic, but his historical counterparts could boast equally horrific experiences: Claudius’ father was possibly murdered at the behest of his uncle Tiberius, his mother called him a monster and plainly hated him, he witnessed the paranoid Tiberius conduct wave after wave of executions, he barely survived the incestuous murderous insanity of his nephew Caligula who used him as the Roman equivalent of a Medieval fool, and on and on (really, read Robert Graves, it’s quite impressive). Richard III’s father and eldest brother died in the Wars of the Roses, his foster father the Earl of Warwick betrayed his brother Edward IV, and his middle brother George of Clarence betrayed Edward and Richard repeatedly and was executed for treason (although not in a but of wine as the legend goes).

What If?

I see only one major hypothetical here – what if Bran had died as a result of his fall? As I’ve said, it’s a bit hard to know what would have happened, given how incomplete Bran’s mystical storyline is. What we do know is that it would have forestalled Joffrey’s assassination attempt, which would have meant that Catelyn would not have left for King’s Landing, which means that Tyrion doesn’t get arrested at the Inn of the Crossroads. This likely delays the outbreak of Stark-Lannister hostilities since there’s no longer a pretext for Tywin to begin raiding the Riverlands or for Eddard Stark to be attacked by Jaime Lannisters.

As I’ll discuss later, this last event not happening might have had huge consequences for the plot.

TV vs. Book:

There’s really only two major changes here. The first, interestingly, is that Tyrion’s more rakish side is emphasized by having us first encounter him through his eyes in a brothel and then again waking up in the kennels, while his intellectual side is shunted to his later scene with Jon Snow – I suppose it’s a change that makes sense, given Peter Dinklage’s wonderful comedic talents, and that it avoids a repetition in that later scene, but I would have liked a bit of foreshadowing of what he’s going to do with his knowledge of engines of war (maybe this could happen in the second season?). The other is that the role of the direwolves keeping Bran alive is made more subliminal and suggestive in the later scene in which Robb opens the windows so that Bran can hear the howling of wolves. I don’t really have much to say about that other than the obvious fact that it’s better to show, not tell, especially in visual mediums.


24 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis – Tyrion I

  1. Caesar says:

    “Most likely, Aerys II making Jaime a member of the Kingsguard forced Tywin to keep his only heir close to hand rather than losing him to the Maester’s oath of celibacy.”

    Didn’t Tywin renounce Tyrion as a heir?

    • Schl says:

      Yes, he made plain that tyrion will never have Casterly rock. I think the main reason is familiy honor. Tywin had similar viewpoint like Randyll Tarly: a Lannister is not made to serve as a chained maester. Sam mentions his fears to Jon, what if his father learns about him becoming a maester.

      • stevenattewell says:

        I don’t see Tywin reacting that way; unlike Tarly, who’s very militaristic, Tywin is all about being a Renaissance man.

      • Sean C. says:

        Tarly’s attitude toward the Maesters is one that I’ve never really been sure made sense. One would think that Aemon Targaryen, a member of the royal family, joining would remove any sort of cultural stigma around it, particularly since he renounced the throne rather than leave.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I think it has to do with his attitudes gender, and not larger attitudes toward the Maesters – a lot of younger sons end up in the Citadel, after all.

          Given Randall Tarly’s almost pathological issues with gender roles – his relentless abuse of his son (really, you’re pretty messed up when you outdo Tywin Lannister), his dislike of Brienne, his emphasis on being a macho man – I think he’s repressing something, whether it’s his own sexual identification or gender identity issues, or somehow related to his parents a la Tywin.

      • tequila says:

        I think that the “chained” part of it maesterhood has a lot to do with it – maesters are there to serve – it’s part of the oath and the symbolism of the chain, after all. There are strong connotations of servitude, perhaps a remnant of enslavement or obligation (like German ministeriales). No future lord wants to be bound by such an oath, or have a son bound as such. The truly powerful houses, like the Lannisters, especially would not want a son even symbolically in servitude to another.

        As for Aemon, I don’t think anyone thought his example was one to follow. In the Hedge Knight, one of the Fossoways notes that Aemon was sent to the Citadel because he was viewed as completely unpromising for rulership.

    • Brett says:

      Tywin always seemed to have delusions about getting Jaime out of the Kingsguard, and back as his official heir. He didn’t really give up on them until Jaime flat-out told him that he was a Kingsguard knight, and was not going to be his heir under any circumstances.

      I think that’s why he held off on acknowledging Tyrion as his heir. He never actually renounced him as heir, except to Tyrion in private.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Later, after the Battle of Blackwater, when Tywin had both Jaime and Joffrey as potential heirs.

      But not before.

  2. Brett says:

    The chapter is a great example of “show, don’t tell” characterization. We’re not told that Tyrion is clever, well-read, civilized, and cunning. We open on him reading a book about warfare in a library, shuddering at the sound of wolves howling, and questioning his brother and sister.

    There’s really only two major changes here. The first, interestingly, is that Tyrion’s more rakish side is emphasized by having us first encounter him through his eyes in a brothel and then again waking up in the kennels, while his intellectual side is shunted to his later scene with Jon Snow

    Having read all five books, it bothered me a little when we got the whole “Tyrion orgy” hints. Tyrion’s whore-mongering is actually a bit complex. He hired Shae, but not just for sex – she was his fantasy girlfriend to whom he was exclusively faithful in terms of sexual activity, and he sadly started to fall in love with her. Before that, he went a long time without whores or sexual partners.

    It reminds me of how our first scene of Tywin in the show was of him skinning a deer. I understood the symbolism immediately, but it seemed so un-Tywin-like.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I see that as more of a process of adaptation – Tyrion is more of a ladies man in the show because Peter Dinklage is a hell of a charmer and it would be a shame to waste it. Tywin has taken on a single Randall Tarly scene in order to have a dramatic introduction.

      Didn’t really bother me as much as say, Tyrion’s recurring bouts of gymnastics.

    • merlallen says:

      I’m only reading the books but I could never picture Tywin skinning a deer, that’s what lackey’s are for.
      And one thing’s bugging me. How is Jaime pronounced? I’ve always had trouble with that name. Is it pronounce with a long a and silent e? Or like Jamey?

      • stevenattewell says:

        I think it’s Jamey.

        BookTywin wouldn’t necessarily bother, but it was a perfect introduction for ShowTywin, giving a total exegesis of his character in one image.

  3. scarlett45 says:

    Another fabulous post. When I fist saw the series (watcher before reader) I too thought of Tyrion as Claudius, surviving due to the fact that no one takes him seriously. However Claudius was known to play the “dim wit”, I don’t think anyone who knows Tyrion personally thinks he’s lacking in the wits department, but they ignore him for the same reason they ignore Littlefinger and Varys. Their social prejudices about what it means to be a “man” to be “whole”, to be “powerful” causes them to be blind to other possibilities for greatness.

    However I have been waiting and waiting for Tyrion to say “please stop with the Imp insults it’s getting old”, is that the ONLY thing they can criticize him for? Not very original. Hehe.

    Like Tywin Tryion stands for House Lannister because he knows what privilege it brings him (he is much more aware of his status than most of the highborn in the series) it will be interesting to see where Winds of Winter takes him as he continues to be separated from the seat of Lannister power (which is almost dead anyway).

    • Brett says:

      Tyrion’s the opposite of playing the dim wit – he’s always using his wit and japes as weapons to cut other people down. It’s to his peril as well, since he’s constantly getting himself in trouble from “talking too much”. He seems to be finally learning control after being a slave in ADWD.

      That’s another tidbit that I wish they had included in the Eyrie episodes. Tyrion was in a precarious situation when he arrived at the Eyrie, but he made it worse because his anger and mouth got the better of him when he was brought before Lysa Tully.

      • stevenattewell says:

        They did include it in the show, they just didn’t have his inner monologue regretting it.

      • scarlett45 says:

        Brett you are very correct. Tyrion doesn’t know when to shut his trap. He’s very insecure about his physical appearance (which makes sense given how he’s been treated) so he over compensates by being the “smartest of the smart”(or thinking that he is), hereby often making a bad situation worse.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Well, Claudius plays the dimwit, Tyrion plays the drunken jester, but you’re right that social prejudice plays a high role. As it did with Claudius – even after he started writing well-regarded history, his family still thoguht he was an idiot.

      My guess – Tyrion flips the mercenary company he bought, uses that to buy himself into the good graces of Danaerys.

  4. Chris says:

    It’d be interesting to hear from Peter Dinklage about Tyrion’s treatment by Cersei et al. In some way, I feel like Peter understands Tyrion more than most because he himself would likely have been teased, bullied (or disgruntled by being given ‘special’ needs) in a similar manner in his own life. =/

  5. zireael07 says:

    “Disability studies is a huge subfield within Medieval history, and a very contentious one at that,”

    Any books, links, whatever? I am very much interested in this part of Medieval history…

  6. […] Tyrion I (slapping princes, having breakfast with his siblings, Tyrion as Richard III/Claudius) […]

  7. […] of whether Bran’s death would be politically ideal, nor does this story fit her response when she heard Bran hadn’t died. It might well be that this is what Cersei might have thought later, as her weakness when it comes […]

  8. Brad says:

    I was struck by Tyrion’s comment to Joffrey about being able to count, and Joffrey reacting. Is this a reference to a specific event from their past? Are there other instances of Joffrey being portrayed as bad at math? I don’t understand why Joffrey was unnerved by Tyrion’s comment about counting.

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