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.
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 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.
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.
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: