“I’m no man’s toady.”
“Nor any man’s friend.”
Synopsis: Tyrion and Bronn, on their way on the High Road, encounter Shagga son of Dolf of the Stone Crows. Despite initial hostilities, Tyrion manages to convince the mountain clansmen to fight for him in exchange for superior arms and armor.
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.
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.
Tyrion’s Alliance With Bronn
The first example of Tyrion’s style comes as Tyrion cements a lasting alliance with Bronn the sellsword. This moment is far less comedic than in the show (here’s your Book vs. Show difference): Bronn is suspicious, casually insults the other party with the dismissive label “dwarf,” Tyrion is superior and insulting right back calling Bronn “scum,”and the two fundamentally disagree over how to deal with the mountain clans. So instead of trying to charm Bronn, Tyrion approaches him on pragmatic grounds: “it was your blade I needed…not your love,” he says, and quickly pivots to what he knows Bronn is interested in:
“Duty, honor, friendship, what’s that to you?…Lady Stark had no more need for you…but I did, and the one thing the Lannisters have never lacked for is gold. When the moment came to toss the dice, I was counting on your being smart enough to know where your best interest lay. Happily for me, you did.”
The result is a literal spark being struck between the two men and the beginning of a relationship that will last for about two books’ length. And yet it’s a relationship that, like Tyrion’s relationship with Shae, is founded on a presupposition of betrayal: “I’ve no doubt you’d betray me as quick as you did Lady Stark, if you saw a profit in it. If the day ever comes when you’re tempted to sell me out, remember this Bronn–I’ll match their price, whatever it is. I like living.” It speaks to the particular scars on Tyrion’s psyche that the relationships he sets out to create are build with this same expectation.
Tyrion and Tysha
Which brings us to the story of Tyrion and Tysha, which he brings up at the first opportunity, a strange choice for someone who otherwise is quite cautious in his dealings with strangers. It speaks to his feelings of desolation and tiredness that Tyrion immediately tells this story to this man he knows virtually nothing about (maybe because he knows nothing about him?). The way that Tyrion tells the story is also rather interesting – he spends very little time talking about himself, and focuses a lot on Jaime (who clearly plays the role of the hero here, and Tyrion noticeably thinks that the septon narced on him before Jaime) and Tysha herself – who occupies an ambiguous position here. On the one hand, her face “breaks his heart,” and he can’t forget her singing, but on the other hand he believes that “the girl was a whore.” But the central figure more than anyone else is Tywin:
“…to drive home the lesson, Lord Tywin brought my wife in and gave her to his guards…a silver for each man, how many whores command that high a price? He sat me down in the corner of the barracks and bade me watch, and at the end she had so many silvers the coins were slipping through her fingers…Lord Tywin made me go last…and he gave me a gold coin to pay her, because I was a Lannister, and worth more.”
The blocking of the scene isn’t incidental – it’s not just that Tyrion is watching this scene that at the time he doesn’t think of as a rape, but Tywin is watching too. He doesn’t give orders from afar, he’s on hand to stage manage the whole affair and he physically prompts Tyrion. There’s something about that last part, that not just does Tywin create this gang-rape but that he makes his son be complicit in it and watches his son as he does it, that unsettles in the way that the tragedies of the Houses of Atreus, Cadmus, Minos, and Erechtheus do, that dark nexus of violence, family, and sex that echoes through generations. And it speaks to the rottenness in the House of Lannister. Presentism often leads us to believe that Lannister victory in the War of Five Kings was pre-ordained, but the truth is that history is always contingent. House Lannister got very lucky – we’ll see how specifically as these recaps continue – but one major way is that the rampant dysfunction didn’t spill out into public view until after the main battles were won.
Tyrion’s telling also speaks to the fact that revenge is a key theme of Tyrion’s character from the start. When Bron says that “I would have killed the man who did that to me,” Tyrion responds by saying “you may get that chance one day. Remember what I told you. A Lannister always pays his debts.” He immediately begins to dream of murdering his father, and doing so by putting Tywin in Tyrion’s place – just as will happen two books later. That’s some impressive foreshadowing on GRRM’s part.
Finally, there’s an important political significance of Tyrion’s wedding to Tysha – if Tysha is alive, or she had children (which the Dwarf’s Penny theory suggests), Tyrion wasn’t free to marry Sansa Stark and that marriage was invalid. This likewise invalidates any Lannister claim to the North (although realistically, that claim was lost when Tyrion was attainted by his conviction as a regicide).
Tyrion’s Plan for Revenge
While Tyrion’s appeal to Bronn was precisely pitched at the sellsword’s pragmatism, Tyrion switches to a very different register when he encounters Shagga son of Dolf and the rest of the mountain men. Tyrion carefully alternates between appeals to greed – throwing around promises of silver and gold – to humor, to carefully pitched insult when he brings up the “Stone Crows…shiver[ing] with fear as the knight’s of the Vale ride by.” And it works, even though the mountain men cleary should laugh off this outlander who promises something so ludicrous as the Vale, because Tyrion has hit them deep in their fear and insecurity and sense of grievance.
It’s also significant that Tyrion’s first political action upon being freed from captivity is revenge on a huge scale; Tyrion really is Tywin’s son in that regard. His hope is that by arming the mountain clans and removing the edge that superior equipment gives the knights of the Vale, he may bring down the Arryns (or at the very least seriously inconvenience them). Whether this will have the long-term effect on the Vale that he promises is less clear – while we learn later that the mountain clans return to the Vale (sans Shagga son of Dolf’s Stone Crows, who prefer to stay in the Kingswood) with arms and military training and become increasingly dangerous, whether that’s going to be enough to unseat the noble Houses of the Vale is less clear. The mountain clans have low numbers (since mountains can’t support as many people as the valleys), they don’t have equipment or training in siege warfare and the knights of the Vale are all about castles, and they have very little cavalry.
But if they can’t take the castles themselves, they probably can cut off the mountain roads between the Bloody Gate and the Eyrie, or between the Eyrie and Strongsong, increase the cost of punitive expeditions to the forces of House Arryn, and probably seize control of the mountainous areas where large cavalry armies are constrained by the terrain.
However, if Littlefinger succeeds in rallying the knights of the Vale around a campaign to retake the North in the name of Sansa Stark, he may find his plans to rise to the very heights of power undone by his old nemesis, albeit completely by accident. If the knights of the Vale leave, the mountain clans will definitely pour into the power gap in the same way that the Ironborn took advantage of Robb Stark’s absence from the North.
One thing that I do find irritating in the extreme is that while Tyrion plans to “ask some questions about that dagger,” he completely drops the ball on this when he gets to King’s Landing. Now on one level, I understand that Tyrion has more pressing concerns like preventing Stannis from sacking the city and prevent his sister and double-nephew from burning it down beforehand, it really annoys me that not only does Tyrion not act against Littlefinger, but he doesn’t even bother with accumulating evidence that Littlefinger basically set the Starks against the Lannisters (an act of treason/disloyalty that you’d think even Tywin would be interested in).
As I’ve said before, I’m a huge partisan of peasant rebellions against the medieval nobility, in no small part because one of my ancestors, one Adam Attewell a butcher of London, was a member of John Ball’s “Great Society” and took to the high roads of Essex when the Great Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 began, calling on the peasants to rise up against their masters because London was with them. However, the sad truth of history is that most peasant rebellions ended in defeat – and for the sake of the mountian clans dreaming of retaking their lands from the knights of the Vale, we should ask why this was the case.
The Franco-Flemish war is probably the best case for the peasants: initially, the French were able to seize control over Flanders by defeating the Count of Flanders’ traditional armies and exploiting the political divisions between the Counts and the cities, who remained neutral during the initial invasion due to ongoing conflicts over taxation. When the new French governors disappointed hopes for better government, political division was replaced by ethnic unity as the urban guilds allied with anti-French noblemen and massacred the French garrisons and population of Bruges. As I’ve mentioned before, bad terrain and disciplined infantry allowed the Flemish to defeat French knights at the Golden Spurs in 1302 and then to hold them off at Arques the following year, when the French failed to break the disciplined ranks of Flemish infantry. In the end, the French had to ally with the Dutch to gain naval superiority and get the Flemish to sign the Treaty of Athis-sur-Orge, where the French were able to take Lille, Douai, and Bethune, and force the Flemish to pay huge penalties to the King of France, while still maintaining their independence.
If a bloody stalemate is the best case, how else could a peasant rebellion end up? In the case of the French Jacquerie, where the peasants of northern France rose up in opposition to the imposition of a military draft, high taxes, and the inability of the nobility to stop the English burning large parts of France, the lack of organization of the peasants, combined with the capture and brutal execution of their leader Guillaume Cale when he went to the King’s tent to negotiate, destroyed peasant morale and allowed the French knights to punch through their center at the Battle of Mello, leading to the deaths of some 20,000 peasants both on the battlefield and in a reign of terror that swept through northern France.
The English Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 followed a similar trajectory, where after the rebels under the command of radical preacher John Ball and former soldier Wat Tyler seized London, the King invited Wat Tyler to negotiate with him at Smithfield, only for a royal soldier to murder him when Wat Tyler rode over from his army to negotiate with the King. Following the death of Wat Tyler, royal armies were mobilized to hack down the disorganized rebels, with more than 2,000 losing their lives.
Finally, in the case of the German Bauernkrieg of 1524-5, the peasants were able to use defensive fortifications to their advantage, but lacked any cavalry or artillery, and thus weren’t able to effectively fight the disciplined formations of Landsknecht mercenaries, and were extremely vulnerable to cavalry charges when not behind fortifications. The scale of casualties are quite astonishing, with over 300,000 peasants fighting against their feudal overlords, and fully 100,000 perishing in the fighting.
So while arms and armor might help the mountain clans in the short term, the odds are not good on them actually succeeding in their rebellion. But good luck, Team Smallfolk!
I feel we’ve covered the main hypotheticals of Tyrion either dying or being captive such that he’s not present in King’s Landing for the siege, so I won’t waste time repeating them, but there is one interesting change to the “Tyrion is held captive” hypoethetical, which is that if Tyrion is present in the Vale when Petyr leaves King’s Landing, he might have a chance to wreak some revenge on Littlefinger.
Book vs. Show
The show doesn’t really change the text very much, besides splitting Tyrion’s story about Tysha from the scene with the tribesmen in Episode 8 and moving it to Episode 9, which potentially changes the Tyrion/Shae relationship quite dramatically in that Shae walks into the relationship knowing Tyrion’s past precisely.
The main thing that changes is the tone of the relationship between Tyrion and Bronn, which initially is quite prickly and standoffish at the beginning, into something more recognizable as an odd couple-style buddy comedy: