Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Tyrion V

tyriontrial“If only he had shut his mouth…”

Synopsis: Tyrion is being starved alnd tortured in his cell by Mord the jailer. While he contemplates the awfulness of his surroundings, he recalls his first hearing in front of Lysa and Robert Arryn, where he unwisely antagonizes his hosts/captors after being accused of murdering Jon Arryn. After tricking Mord with an offer of gold and a confession, Tyrion confronts his accusers in open court and demands his right to trial by combat. With Jaime far away in the Riverlands, Tyrion is lucky that Bronn steps forward to be his champion.

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: 

In many ways, Tyrion V is the archetypal Tyrion chapter in AGOT, where you can really see George R.R Martin getting fully to grips with Tyrion’s personality and psyche, thanks to the use of the sky cell as a narrative event to isolate his protagonist for most of the chapter and the heavy use of flashbacks to bookend the real events of the chapter with Tyrion’s perspective. The portait of Tyrion Lannister that emerges is of a man who is prouder and angrier than he’s often remembered as, someone who for all his boasts to Jon Snow is deeply wounded by the limitations of his body and what society makes of them, and who can’t help himself from retaliating with vicious wit. At the same time, Tyrion is more self-critical than self-congratulatory, and spends much of the chapter recriminating with himself for letting his “dangerous big mouth” get the better of him when he knows that “submission and silence would have been his best defenses.” 

The Hearings

The chief political events of the chapter take the form of two judicial hearings in the court of the Eyrie. In the first, Lysa threatens to lose the plot completely, when she shifts her story from blaming Cersei for the death of Jon Arryn to claiming that, “Tyrion the Imp, of House Lannister…murdered your father…slew the Hand of the King.” To the extent that Lysa is thinking rationally at all, she was probably thinking of the need to maintain the anti-Lannister feeling in the Vale (part of the Littlefinger Conspiracy to eventually turn against the Lannisters?) and to discredit anything Tyrion might say that might cast doubt on the story that the Lannister Conspiracy is the sole perpetrator of these murders. However, this potentially could have unraveled most of Littlefinger’s work, had Catelyn’s news about the truth of the dragonbone dagger, Littlefinger’s veracity, and Lysa’s unreliability made it to Eddard Stark. Perhaps feeling fresh doubts about the whole affair, Catelyn forestalls the move to have Tyrion summarily executed via the Moon Door by calling to what passes for due process in Westeros, that “this man is my prisoner, I will not have him harmed.”

Lysa’s decision to have him thrown into a sky cell is an interesting move. For all that Tyrion surmises that “Lysa Arryn…would send for him again, and soon. If not her, then Catelyn Stark would want to question him,” the reality of Mord’s beatings, the withholding of food, and the nature of the sky cells itself (more on this in a bit), suggest that perhaps Lysa thought that “he was growing weaker every day, and it was only a matter of time until Mord’s kicks and blows did him serious harm…a few more nights of cold and hunger, and the blue would start calling to him too.” After all, a dead Tyrion could not challenge Lysa’s story about the murder of Jon Arryn, and would certainly have led to immediate all-out war between Lannisters and Starks.


The second hearing throws an entirely different light on the matter. Lysa takes his offer of confession at face value, proof of the efficacy of the sky cells as an instrument of torture – “The sky cells always break them. The gods can see them there, and there is no darkness to hide in.” Tyrion’s POV offers graphic evidence of their ability to break the human mind and body: in addition to the exposure (it must be freezing that far up the mountain), withdrawal of food, and beatings, we can add indirect sleep deprivation and the psychological torment of sloped floors that make it impossible to rest without risking falling off the fourth fall. Given what we know about the nature of solitary confinement, it’s surprising that Tyrion was able to keep his wits about him.

Tyrion’s confession is startling proof of the inefficacy of torture – his confession, far from playing into Lysa’s preferred narrative, is actually a satirical challenge to the Eyrie’s version of Westerosi justice:

“I am a vile little man, I confess it. My crimes and sins are beyond counting, my lords and ladies. I have lain with whores, not once but hundreds of times. I have wished my own lord father dead, and my sister, our gracious queen, as well…”

“You are accused of sending a hired knife to slay my son Bran in his bed, and of conspiring to murder Lord Jon Arryn…”

“Those crimes, I cannot confess, I know nothing of any murders…is this how justice is done in the Vale?…does honor stop at the Bloody Gate? You accuse me of crimes, I deny them, so you throw me into an open cell to freeze and starve…Where is the King’s justice? is the Eyrie not part of the Seven Kingdoms? I stand accused, you say. Very well. I demand a trial!”

While Tyrion’s anger is quite genuine, there’s a calculating side to all of this: he knows that the Arryns have a proverbial inflated sense of honor (“as high as honor,” remember) that bars them from just killing him and dumping his body down the mountain. Tyrion’s larger critique of Westerosi justice, that it basically boils down to a Hob’s choice between a trial in front of a biased judge (“how could a trial threaten her, when her weakling son was the lord judge?”) and a profoundly unequal contest of arms, is also a mix of genuine and self-interested. After all, Tyrion isn’t appealing to any universal ethos of justice or fairness, but to the privileges of his class; “he was highborn, the son of the most powerful lord in the realm, the brother of the queen. He could not be denied a trial.” Had Tyrion been born a peasant, he would have learned to fly.

Westerosi judicial customs stand out like a sore thumb, an odd early Medieval relic in a land that in technological and social development much more resembles the late Middle Ages/early Modern period (finance and commerce, for example, are highly advanced). Lords have the “right of pit and gallows,” the authority to throw people into dungeons and hang them, which suggests that they hold exclusive judicial authority up to the point of capital punishment. As we see in Sworn Sword and later in AGOT, liege lords adjudicate in conflicts between minor Houses, forming a judicial hierarchy with minor lords at the bottom, Lords Paramount acting as a court of appeals for their vassals, and the King as the Westerosi equivalent of the Supreme Court. On the other hand, this system is incredibly weak given the lack of royal judges distributed throughout the Seven Kingdoms, and Tyrion’s appeal to King’s Landing doesn’t go very far.

 Instead, the strongest legal custom is the right to trial by combat, which shows the strength of the warrior ethos in Westeros, and the corresponding lack of influence of the Faith of the Seven (in comparison to the Catholic Church in Medieval Europe) and the Kings of Westeros (as will be discussed in the historical section below). Indeed, Aerys II’s downfall ultimately came when he violated the norms of trial by combat, turning a private feud between House Targaryen and Houses Stark and Baratheon into a general fear that no lord was now safe from the predations of the mad king.

Tyrion’s Political Analysis:

In addition to participating in these judicial hearings, Tyrion also has the opportunity this chapter to act as a political analyst, now that he has some free time to sit and think. The results are quite interesting:

Lord Tywin would surely have sent out riders when the word reached him. Jaime might be leading a host through the Mountains of the Moon…Did anyone outside the Vale even suspect where Catelyn Stark had taken him? He wondered what Cersei would do when she heard. The king could order him freed, but would Robert listen to his queen or his Hand? Tyrion had no illusions about the King’s love for his sister…she would see the insult in this, not the opportunity.

This monologue is fascinating in terms of the different layers it shows about Tyrion and his understanding of the world around him: on one level, we see Tyrion as a keen observer of character, predicting that his father will respond military, that Robert will ultimately choose Ned over Cersei, and that Jaime and Cersei are too headstrong to see the political advantages of a position of supposed weakness. By taking the position of the accused, Tyrion potentially can force Eddard into open trial before the lords of Westeros, and politically damage him by the sheer thinness of Stark’s evidence; the incorruptible turned tyrant in the eyes of the world. Ultimately the real danger of this option is to Littlefinger, who Ned would call to testify and would be exposed for his deceptions, which suggests that Littlefinger’s arranging of Ned’s attack was designed to prevent this from happening by shifting attention from the legal to the military sphere, and that Littlefinger got very lucky that his lie to Catelyn was never exposed.

We also see that Tyrion is a remarkably cynical observer, quite easily contemplating that Jaime or Cersei might have conspired at the murder of a child for all that he loves the former. The last tantalizing layer of his analysis is the way in which Tyrion immediately susses out that “if the old Hand had been murdered, it was deftly and subtly done..In contrast, sending some oaf with a stolen knife after Brandon Stark struck him as unbelievably clumsy.” What has completely eluded the Starks all along, that the two murders bear no similar signature, is immediately apparent to him. Indeed, for a second, Tyrion almost realizes that there’s a third party at work, “perhaps the direwolf and the lion were not the only beasts in the woods, and if that were true, someone was using him as a catspaw. Tyrion Lannister hated being used.” To date, Tyrion is the only POV character in the book who has even come close to unmasking the Littlefinger Conspiracy, and it would have been fascinating had Tyrion had the time to investigate the murder of Jon Arryn when he in turn became Hand of the King; certainly, given his bent for justice, I think he would have pursued such an investigation with vigor.

Historical Analysis:

Trial by combat and lordly justice were both ubiquitous elements of early Medieval law, but it’s quite interesting that they’ve survived this long in Westerosi society, given the well-established historical trend of monarchs cementing their authority by expanding royal authority over the judicial system. Trial by combat is actually one of the more specific traditions in legal history, emerging out of the Germanic tribes who managed to resist the imposition of Roman rule and the Roman legal codes that went with it; it’s not found in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, or in biblical legal traditions, or in the oldest legal system of them all, the code of Hammurabi. With the fall of Rome, the tradition spread with the expansion of Gothic, Frankish, and Burgundian tribes into the former Roman provinces we know now as France, the Lowlands, and northern Italy, and the Normans carried it into England after 1066.

While there is an inherent injustice in such trials, in that they favor the strong and the militarily trained and thus privilege members of the warrior caste over peasants, GRRM tends to portray them in a more ambivalent fashion. Dunk, Glendon Ball, and Bronn all triumph on behalf of causes that Martin unambiguously portrays as righteous and innocent of wrongdoing, although the result is never without cost. The duel between the Mountain and Oberyn Martell is a more ambiguous result given that both participants die (eventually) whereas Tyrion is clearly innocent of the murder of his nephew Joffrey; on the other hand, Oberyn’s use of poisons (and the possibility that he was partly responsible for the murder of Tywin Lannister) and the Mountain’s confession of suggest that both men were in some way guilty and judged accordingly. Sandor is victorious despite being clearly guilty of the execution of Micah the butcher’s boy, but his duel could also be classified as a kind of painful penance for his sins, leading to a spiritual rebirth.

The reputation of lordly justice is far worse. As you might expect, given the extreme de-centralization of power in the premodern era, it made a certain amount of sense for the strongest man in an area to act as judge in disputes, to prevent blood feuds by symbolically promising to take the side of the injured party in any subsequent violence. On the other hand, nothing in the career of a thinly-legitimized armed robber prepares you to deal justly with complex civil and criminal cases, and when a case is in the hands of a single, totally unaccountable man with a personal stake in many cases, it’s a recipe for corruption and bias. Hesiod, the Greek poet and contemporary of Homer, dedicated much of his poem Works and Days to this problem:

…o not let that Strife who delights in mischief hold your heart back from work, while you peep and peer and listen to the wrangles of the court-house. Little concern has he with quarrels and courts who has not a year’s victuals laid up betimes…you can raise disputes and strive to get another’s goods. But you shall have no second chance to deal so again: nay, let us settle our dispute here with true judgement divided our inheritance, but you seized the greater share and carried it off, greatly swelling the glory of our bribe-swallowing lords who love to judge such a cause as this. Fools! They know not how much more the half is than the whole…

(ll. 170-201) Thereafter, would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them…There will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them.

Even the prosperous cannot easily bear its burden, but is weighed down under it when he has fallen into delusion. The better path is to go by on the other side towards justice; for Justice beats Outrage when she comes at length to the end of the race. But only when he has suffered does the fool learn this. For Oath keeps pace with wrong judgements. There is a noise when Justice is being dragged in the way where those who devour bribes and give sentence with crooked judgements, take her. And she, wrapped in mist, follows to the city and haunts of the people, weeping, and bringing mischief to men, even to such as have driven her forth in that they did not deal straightly with her.

(ll. 225-237) But they who give straight judgements to strangers and to the men of the land, and go not aside from what is just, their city flourishes, and the people prosper in it: Peace, the nurse of children, is abroad in their land, and all-seeing Zeus never decrees cruel war against them. Neither famine nor disaster ever haunt men who do true justice; but light-heartedly they tend the fields which are all their care.

The injustice and corruption of lordly courts offered a historic opening for medieval kings to extend their authority by offering a professionalized justice system, complete with royal statutes, judges, and lawyers that could offer some kind of consistent standard of legal due process. In contrast to local lords, kings were considered sufficiently removed from disputes to act as a truly neutral arbitrator, and the common folk and lesser nobility flocked into these courts, creating a new basis of direct political connection between king and subject apart from the feudal hierarchy. The ur-example of this process comes from the Norman Kings of England: Henry I (1100-1135) created the first royal circuit courts to provide justice to the shires; Henry II (1154-1189) extended these circuit courts to all of the counties of England, and enacted the Assize of Clarendon, creating the first grand juries, separating felonies from misdemeanors, and creating the first legal handbooks that would be the foundations of English Common Law; and so on and so forth down through Edward I’s expansion of royal warrants, Edward III endowing royal justices with the authority to try as well as investigate cases, Henry VII’s founding of the Star Chamber Court and the expansion of the Justices of the Peace, etc.

One major exception to this expansion of royal authority – and the source of repeated conflicts between the Church and the Crown from the reign of Henry II through Henry VIII  – was the “benefit of clergy” to stand outside of royal law, to be tried by the church, with their own judges, juries, and statutes. By 1351, any man who could read the bible had the right to have their cases transferred into the more lenient clerical courts for all but the most serious of cases. This privilege afforded to the literate comes closest to Tyrion’s class-based right to due process.

What If?

The high stakes of Tyrion’s judicial hearings automatically create a rich foundation for hypothetical scenarios:

  • Tyrion is thrown through the Moon Door/dies in his cell? In the hands of a rather insane woman with total power, Tyrion comes very close to death here, and it’s quite possible that had Catelyn not stepped forward, or had Tyrion  overbalanced a few inches the wrong way in his cell, that he would die then and there. This would change a lot of the plot: for one thing, Tyrion’s not coming home to defend King’s Landing, which means the city falls, and all hail King Stannis. For another, it means that Jaime doesn’t get freed by Catelyn, since the pseudo-offer is never made in the first place. Finally, and most consequentially, it means that the Vale is forced out of neutrality right at the beginning of the war, as Tywin will not forgive someone killing a Lannister.  (Also, I imagine this would hurt the Stark cause in terms of public relations, having murdered someone without due process) 
  • Bronn doesn’t step forward? This is the trickier possibility; for all that Lysa says the trial by combat has to happen today, the reality is that under the law, Tyrion has the right to a champion and without a champion, the trial can’t start. On the other hand, Jaime is currently a quasi-fugitive racing to Casterly Rock. So it may well be that Tyrion remains a prisoner at the Eyrie (and only the seven gods know if he can survive that) just in time for Littlefinger to arrive at the Eyrie. Unpleasant.
  • Lysa loses it more visibly? Part of this has to do with my continued frustration that Littlefinger’s Conspiracy gets completely dropped by every other character other than Sansa (and Varys, but we don’t really see that happening), but I’d be really interested to see what would have happened had Lysa started saying too much about the murder of Jon Arryn; not as much as her confession in ASOS, but enough for Tyrion and Catelyn to fully realize that there’s a third party working to set the Starks and Lannisters against each other.

Book vs. Show:

This is one scene where you can really see the stellar job that Benioff and Weiss can do in adapting A Song of Ice and Fire for HBO – there’s good material in this chapter, but the extensive use of flashbacks and interior monologue make it completely impossible to translate directly onto the screen. At the same time, you can see how they’ve changed the character of Tyrion to  accommodate Peter Dinklage’s force of personality. If we compare the actor to the book character, I think it’s fair to say that Dinklage has a level of confidence and self-acceptance that Tyrion tries to project and wants to have, but ultimately is just a bit too influenced by his childhood trauma to quite attain.

Hence the innovation of Tyrion’s filthy, comic confession that goes far beyond the book’s far tamer version. Dinklage had become a fan favorite since his introduction in the very first episode, but this monologue is where he became the breakout performance of Season 1 and won his well-deserved Emmy. Just goes to show that adding new material into the show can be a huge plus, contrary to the expectations of book purists:


51 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Tyrion V

  1. Abbey Battle says:

    There’s an interesting question inherent in your observations regarding the relative disparity between the level of technology underlying the material culture of Westeros vis-a-vis it’s relatively old-fashioned Political and Social System;

    How did this state of affairs come about?

    My own guess is that the Lords Paramount have been more able to protect their prerogatives than their counterparts amongst the Anglo-Norman Barons by virtue of the fact that in many ways Westeros is just too BIG for one pseudo-Medieval government to rule (which I suspect underlies the creation of the office of Hand; Westeros needs more than one king, but the philosophy underlying the Iron Throne cannot permit that); also that local lords, large or small, will always be happy to accept fancy armour and better weapons, merchants and the master of coin love high finance, but as you’ve noted only king and smallfolk profit from judicial systems where the Justice is more-or-less impartial.

    In many ways, one might argue that this situation is brought about by the same sort of logic that saw Chinese Mandarins seize upon modern firepower and sneer at more modern ways of governing a country or something to that effect.

    Either that or Westerosi sovereigns face the same problems as the Kings of France and the Holy Roman Emperors did when attempting to stamp their authority on over-mighty subjects – only still more so.

    • shaunpeacock says:

      It must have been France and the Holy Roman Empire turn up to 11, the Houses of Arryn, Lannister and Stark all have thousands of years as rulers of their territories, that’s hard to break.

      Even so, I do not understand why Aegon I and his immediate successors didn’t at least try to increase their power relative to the nobility, through tax collectors and royal justices, in the Crownlands, the Reach, Riverlands and Stormlands which are close to the capital and with Lord Paramounts who genuinely owe their position to the King, as opposed to millenia of tradition.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Tax collectors they seem to have done – Littlefinger has loyal men in patronage positions in any major port or market town in Westeros.

        Royal justices is where they seemed to have fallen short.

      • Brett says:

        I’ll second the “dragons” factor. When they had the dragons, the Targaryens were so powerful that they didn’t need to build up a separate set of institutions in order to dominate Westeros – they could just burn up any revolts and compel the lords to give them required funds (or else). Then again, it makes you wonder why Jaeherys the Negotiator didn’t try to set any of that up – maybe he was too busy fixing all the crap that Maegor left him to deal with.

        After that, there’s the disaster of the Young Dragon’s invasion of Dorne (tons of gold squandered), followed by the Blackfyre Rebellions challenging the legitimacy of the throne, and only after that a period of peace and relatively unquestioned Targaryen rule. It probably just left them with a higher focus on securing revenue, and far greater dependence on their lords for control of their realms (making it more difficult for them to build up alternative institutions that would have curbed lordly power).

        • stevenattewell says:

          I discuss a lot of this in my essay series on the kings – Jaeherys was dealing with a really crude monarchical infrastructure with a foothold in Kings Landing but without much presence elsewhere. Most of his state building efforts were directed at weakening the church, and he did succeed in eliminating the church’s judicial jurisdiction.

      • Sean C. says:

        It’s worth noting that, until Aerys II made a complete botch of things, the Targaryens were incredibly successful at keeping the paramount lords on their side. Between King Torrhen laying down his arms and Jon Arryn raising his, no Stark, Tully, Lannister, Arryn, Baratheon, Tyrell, or (after agreeing to join) Martell lord sided against the Crown, even during the Blackfyre Rebellion, when many of their bannermen were. That would have to speak to some combination of good relational management and the fact that the paramount lords enjoy fairly wide discretion from the Crown.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Yes and no.

          1. Given descriptions, Great Houses probably did pick sides in the Dance of the Dragons.
          2. Dagon Greyjoy basically became an outlaw following the Great Spring Sickness.
          3. The Blackfyre Rebellion is tricky. We know the Arryns and Martells backed Daeron II, but the Lannisters were defeated by the Fireball, so the rebellion held power in at least two kingdoms. The Greyjoys probably stayed out, as did the Starks. The Tyrells were probably loyalists, but given how many Riverlands houses joined the rebellion and the historical animosity between House Tyrell and Martell, it’s quite possible they stayed neutral officially.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Size is definitely a factor, although it’s astonishing how good the raven network is when you sit down and work out the numbers. It only takes 3-4 days for a raven to get from King’s Landing to Winterfell, less than 2 days from KL to Sunspear, and only a day to Lannisport.

      My personal guess is that it’s a question of necessity being the mother of invention; the English kings had to build institutions to extend and cement their power from day 1, so they invested hundreds of years in building up royal institutions throughout the kingdom. The Targaryens for 200 years had dragons, and so didn’t need to build the kind of dense network that real-world monarchs did.

      • shaunpeacock says:

        And by that point, the Tullys, Tyrells, and Baratheons had plenty of tradition to buttress their power.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Precisely. Far more tradition than the actual Targyens, but you pick the wrong houses. Tullys, Tyrells, and Baratheons all date to the Conquest. Lannisters, Martells, Arryns, and Starks are far older.

      • peash says:

        I meant more that 200 years of good government had increased their prestige to the point where it was politically impractical for the Throne to put its own judges in, especially given the loss of prestige the Targs would have suffered with the loss of their dragons.

        It would have been totally impractical at any time to put royal judges in the North, the Vale, or the West due to the enormous prestige that multiple millenia of governance gave to the Starks, Arryns and Lannisters

        • stevenattewell says:

          True, but you might well expect them in the Crownlands, Stormlands, Riverlands, and the Reach.

          • Bwbah says:

            It’s really frustrating reading that back and forth.

            peash: By the time the Targaryens had lost their dragons and would’ve liked to install their own justices, the post-Conquest paramount houses had too much history/prestige to accept royal justices.
            steven: Totally. Except that the pre-Conquest houses were the ones who had way too much prestige.
            peash: Not disagreeing, just saying that even the new kids had been around too long. Especially considering how weak the Targaryens were without dragons.
            steven: So you’d kind of expect the younger houses’ lands to have royal justices.

            And you normally seem so effective at both grasping others and explaining your own ideas.

            That aside, attempting to only place royal justices in the younger houses’s regions would seriously cheese off that half of the realm. You might be able to parley that into justices for the other half… but more likely, you’d be forced to call the whole thing off.

            Your already weakened Targaryens are now virtually guaranteed to lose some or all of the Seven Kingdoms since they’ve just emphasized to everybody that they no longer have the dragons that forced everybody to kneel in the first place.

            It’s pretty amazing the Targaryen dynasty persisted without dragons as long as it did; it’s also not hard to see why the Mad King had suspicions about Lord Stark, considering the ties he’d forged to Houses Arryn, Baratheon, and Tully, plus a spare son ripe for a marriage pact with House Lannister. Especially considering that when the rebellion did happen, those are the five major houses that fought for it.

  2. Abbey Battle says:

    On a lighter note, assuming Tyrion Lannister got back to Kings Landing unhindered, do you think he and Lord Eddard could have tolerated one another long enough to break the Littlefinger conspiracy wide open?

    Also just how high do you think working with the The Imp’s flippancy might have pushed up Lord Eddard’s blood pressure?

    • shaunpeacock says:

      Very high

      I’m betting that had Tyrion come back, been accused by Ned and explained himself, and assuming Tyrion didn’t say something to make Ned totally boil over – like say repeating the rumour that Littlefinger got to Cat first, Petyr would have been totally screwed. He plays on the edge, and the slightest tip would kill him.

      Also, is Littlefinger a lord by right of being on the small council only and if so does that make him immune from torture?

      • stevenattewell says:

        Yes, Petyr would have been screwed.

        No, he’s a hedge lord from the Vale. But he could definitely be thrown in the Black Cells.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I think if Eddard could take Littlefinger, he could put up with the Imp. Tyrion’s a quipster, but he lacks Littlefinger’s obnoxious and malicious attitude.

      As to whether they could have worked together, that’s hard to say. Eddard really doesn’t trust Lannisters, but I think Tyrion could have convinced him that the Lannisters weren’t behind Jon Arryn’s death or the assassination attempt on his son (the second one, anyway). On the other hand, how much could Tyrion trust Eddard, given the real divergence of interests between their houses?

  3. risingstorm says:

    A minor correction: in the final paragraph of the Tyrion’s Political Analysis section, you speculate “had Tyrion had the time to investigate the murder of Jon Arryn when he in turn became king; certainly” — I believe you mean when Tyrion became Hand, not when he became king. 🙂

  4. Andrew says:

    Dan Haggard gives a good look at the thinking behind the concept of the trial by combat:

    “The idea being that if his champion can best the champion of his accuser, then this is enough to prove his innocence. To modern sensibility this method seems entirely primitive. How could combat ever decide the truth of any thing besides the skill of the combatants? But it’s not actually as primitive as we might think when we consider what the true purpose of the honour system was – to bind people together.

    When seen this way – trial by combat is an effective way to cure the schism that has arisen between the accuser and accused. What matters most of all is not the absolute justice concerning the crime as we conceive it nowadays, but that the schism is promptly healed. And that it is promptly healed is vital, lest the clans of the disputants become involved and cause a much wider conflict.

    How does one explain the fact that honour cultures considered this a way of determining the truth? Why didn’t they just see it as a way of healing rifts between people like I just explained? As some characters in Martin’s story see it – the gods will intervene on the side of the just combatant – thereby determining what the truth of the conflict actually is. The answer is that without the pretence of truth, it would be difficult to actually settle the grievances of the various parties involved. Belief in an absolute arbiter – a god – makes the decision procedure effective.”

  5. Sean C. says:

    It’s fascinating to wonder what the Lannisters would have done if Tyrion had died there, thus committing the Vale to the war. Knocking the Riverlords out of the war would obviously still be the first stage, but the blocking strategy Tywin used with his army in the book would have been suicidal in that context. Tywin’s army could have been encircled and destroyed by a Northern army coming down the Neck and the Vale force issuing out of the Bloody Gate. And at the same time, allowing Robb to join his forces with Lord Royce or whoever was put in charge of the Vale army would have been suicidal. But there’s no good way to prevent it while still focusing on defeating the Riverlords.

    • Brett says:

      If Lysa moves and openly allies with Robb before Ned gets executed, then my guess is that Tywin immediately sues for peace and puts the screws on his daughter and grandson to trade Ned back to the North for an end to hostilities. He just has no choice barring a miraculous destruction of the Riverlands’ host, Robb’s host, and the marching Vale forces.

      After Ned gets executed . . . honestly, all of Tywin’s options are bad at that point. It’s incredibly unlikely that Robb would accept the return of Arya in exchange for peace, and he can’t beat any of his opponents at the point. He’d likely have to abandon his daughter and grandson to their fate and hope to sue for peace with Renly, since Renly’s the only person out of the various factions who doesn’t have anything against him. Even that might entail some serious concessions, like a mass forgiveness of crown debt.

      But if that doesn’t work, then he has to hope Stannis is willing to deal (unlikely), or as a last ditch resort fall back into the Westlands and the Rock and try to bleed any invaders until the Kingship is settled and he can try to make it too costly for other factions to do anything except make peace.

      That said, if anyone could be ruthless enough to pull himself out of that situation, it would be Tywin. Even if it meant sacrificing his own children and grandchildren.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Well, by the time Tywin would hear, the successful invasion of the Riverlands would already be a fair accompli. But I agree, Tywin would be forced on the defensive and would probably have to sue for peace, but from a relatively strong position given that he holds three kingdoms at the time.

      • Bwbah says:

        I doubt Renly would be an option; Tyrells, Lannisters, and stormlords vs. Arryn, Stark, Tully is awful close… especially since it’s likely Stannis, Dragonstone, and the island lords join the latter. Possibly with Dornish help; they’ve got a hankering for both Tyrell and Lannister blood.

        And if Renly’s not going to be king anyway, why take the riskier path?

    • stevenattewell says:

      Precisely. Not a lot of good options for Tywin, and more evidence of how many things had to go wrong for Robb to lose his war.

  6. Brett says:

    Dinklage’s great acting aside, I think you’d have to have a more mature Tyrion, if only because he’s older than he is the books. It’s easy to forget that Tyrion in the books is only 24 during the events of A Game of Thrones, so his traumatic childhood is that much closer to where he is during the story.

    I do kind of miss Book- Tyrion’s pathos and problems, even if they could never have really translated to the screen. He was a fascinating character upon re-reading the books, since you see his faults much more clearly along with his cleverness. He’s right about the fact that at key junctures throughout the series, Tyrion just can’t shut his mouth, and so he ends up running damage control (I thinking of Joffrey’s last feast here).

    Great historical commentary, as always. Before reading this blog, I had no idea about how increasing judicial power was part and parcel of medieval kingship, or about how powerful the guilds were in real history.

  7. Book purists suck anyway, Steven.

  8. Abbey Battle says:

    Especially if they blow up in your face!

  9. Lars says:

    Exactly how was Mord tricked by Tyrion? He did give him gold, and he did confess. (just not the crimes Lysa was interested in)

    • stevenattewell says:

      There’s also the written letter promising even more gold at Casterly Rock, which Tyrion intends to repay with a visit to the oubliettes.

      • Andrew says:

        I think Tyrion will advise Dany to land in the Vale arguing it is still at full reserves, and vulnerable to attack from the Narrow Sea, but protected from counterattack from the rest of Westeros by the Mountains of the Moon. The main reason being Tyrion wants to repay his debt to Lysa for her treatment of him, ignorant of her death.

        I agree that Tyrion would give Mord a visit to the dungeons for his mistreatment of Tyrion.

  10. mitsho says:

    I would attribute the lacking juidical system more with the fact that this world is a literary one and wasn’t thought through by GRRM completely when he wrote the first book (and still isn’t). It’s similar with the question of why all Westerosi speak the same language and understand each other and the technological stasis mentioned in this entry. Though you can explain some things, (like the stasis of technology and the lack of law by dragons), it does feel a bit “superficial” to me anyways… I’d rather just accept it as a literary device than trying to make sense of it.

    Though, it’s still an interesting analysis as always 😉

    On that note, I would be interested to which degree the (imagined) topography of Westeros would stand up to a geographical investigation… Does someone know if this exists? (I know there’s one economical article trying to make sense of the world, something like that ;))

  11. I’d like to add that trial by combat was not as unassailable in reality as it seems from the books. While Lancelot could be innocent of adultery by being the best fighter, that’s a highly idealized version, and the Medieval world was much less inclined to trials by combat – they were not so simple a matter. Even such a great knight as William Marshal, who was the mentor and Commander of Henry the Young King’s guard, with unassailable honor, never having been defeated in a joust, was not exempt from the weaknesses of the system. When rumors that he had committed adultery with Marguerite of France, Henry the Young Kin’s wife, he demanded trial by combat to face his accusers. But Henry the Young King did not respond, and Henry II (his father) refused to allow Marshal the right, causing Marshal to leave the service of the Plantagenets for a time. The system in Westeros seems much more ideal, more alike the Arthurian equivalent as written by Malory – even when there is ‘conclusive’ proof Tyrion is guilty (as in the murder of the Joffrey), a kangaroo court (Tyrion and Lysa) or challenging royalty (Dunk and Aerion Brightflame), trial by combat is allowed and its results respected.

  12. Tina says:

    When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with
    the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

    • stevenattewell says:

      I’ll give it a try.

      EDIT: tried. Can’t see a way to do it from my end. You may need to go back to the post and un-subscribe from it.

  13. […] Tyrion VI is a brief chapter, largely centered around Tyrion Lannister’s deft handling of the threat of the Mountain Clans, but it’s an interesting chapter because it gives us a sense of Tyrion’s style as a political actor as opposed to a political observer or analyst. […]

  14. […] of their local lord’s “right of pit and gallows,” and the highborn, who have the privilege of the right of trial by combat and the political status that makes local lords think twice about meting out summary punishment to […]

  15. […] Tyrion V (Tyrion’s hearing and the nature of Westerosi justice, Tyrion as a political observer,  the history of judicial duels) […]

  16. Scott Trotter says:

    One of the fun things about a careful re-read is finding interesting little details that you glossed over the first time through (or second, or third…). In this chapter, when Tyrion is brought before Lysa and the assembled court of The Vale, he notices the sigils of various house whom he recognizes, and several that he doesn’t recognize. The final sigil that he mentions is the winged chalice! There is a relative of Ser Arlen of Pennytree, whom Duncan the Tall served as squire before his death, residing in The Vale!

  17. Scott Trotter says:

    It seems to me that Tyrion has more leverage in this situation than he realizes, although it would be very risky to assert it. For one thing, he is the brother of the Queen. For any lord to sit in judgment of such and return any verdict other than “not guilty” would be extremely hazardous, especially when the evidence of the one crime is so slim and the evidence of the other crime non-existent. It invites not only Lannister retaliation, but Royal retaliation as well.

    Another angle is that Tyrion is the son of the Lord of a Great House, and is accused of attacking the son of the Lord of another Great House. Surely only the King himself could sit in judgment in such a case, and Tyrion could have demanded as much.

    If not the King, then the Warden of the East might have jurisdiction, and Tyrion could point out that the legal Warden of the East is his brother Jaime. Lysa would go ballistic at that, but if she were to actually proceed with a trial on the basis that her son was the “true” Warden, that would put her in a state of Rebellion against the Crown.

    You also have to wonder why none of Lysa’s advisors are pointing any of these hazards out to her.

    • Joseph says:

      You would think Tywin has enough clout to demand justice, and normally he would, but (1) Catlyn is prepared to go literally to war with the Lannisters, and (2) Tywin is stuck in the Eyrie, where we can assume anyone who didn’t come in with him has nearly unquestionable loyalty to Robert Arryn.

      Now that I think about it, why isn’t Bronn cooling his heels back at the base of the mountain? Do they think he’s a Stark bannerman?

  18. […] the lord’s offer of protection and justice in return for service. Aerys wantonly violated the right to trial by combat, one of the oldest rights of the nobility honored by both the First Men and the Andals, the Old and […]

  19. Libluini says:

    I know I’m a couple years late, but I remember something interesting about Trials by Combat: Their injustice often depended on the creativity of the local lord enforcing them. For example, I remember reading about a case where a German lord had to hold court over a rapist. The case escalated when the rapist challenged the woman he had raped to trial by combat.

    The lord solved the obvious problem by declaring that, to truly be a trial decided by God, there must be balance. So the rapist was dug in up to his breast and the woman was given a club to balance out their relative combat power.

    The “fight” consisted of the woman running around scared and confused for a while, before she noticed she could simply walk up to her rapist from behind. Then she smashed his head in, winning the trial.

    Of course not all trials by combat were conducted like that, if you had an uncreative or cruel noble, this story could have gone down a very different road. But still, trials by combat weren’t as bad as one should think.

  20. […] this case, Lord Beric is expanding the principles of royal justice beyond a concern for the privileges of the nobility by including non-nobles as both plaintiffs (as we’ll see in Arya VII) and defendants, which […]

  21. […] to be generally respected and thus have the force of law, his decisions must be backed up by a monopoly of violence. Karstark’s actions have directly called into question whether Robb Stark’s judgments […]

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