“I want you to make Father bring his army to King’s Landing.”
“When have I ever been able to make Father do anything?”
Synopsis: Tyrion takes three meetings. One, two, three meetings! Ah ah ah ah ah.
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 IV gives us our eponymous protagonist at the height of his abilities as a political actor (as opposed to as a military tactician, which will come later) and it’s a real pleasure to work with this material. A fair warning: on this re-read, I noted some political topics outside the main event that bear examination, so this is likely to be a long essay indeed.
The Martell Alliance
Speaking of those topics – in this chapter we see Tyrion forging the basis for the Lannister-Martell alliance. And after the fact, after the arrival and departure of the Red Viper, Myrcella and Aerys Oakheart’s unfortunate intersection with Princess Arianne, Quentyn’s poor doomed mission, and the mutual double-dealing between Cersei and Doran, it’s hard to remember how offhanded Tyrion is being here:
“Would you sooner not hear what I’ve proposed to Doran Martell?”
“The Dornishmen have thus far held aloof from these wars. Doran Martell has called his banners, but no more. His hatred for House Lannister is well known, and it is commonly thought he will join Lord Renly. You wish to dissuade him…the only puzzle is what you might have offered for his allegiance…”
“It happens we have an empty seat on the small council…I’ve offered to deliver his sister’s killers, alive or dead, as he prefers. After the war is done to be sure…my father would be the first to tell you that fifty thousand Dornishmen are worth one rabid dog.”
Note that Tyrion’s objective here is to prevent Renly from gaining another ally, give the Lannisters another Great House to ally with (because at the moment, they don’t have any while they’re facing four in the field, which are bad odds as Rhaenyra and Aegon II would tell you), and possibly to force Renly to detach some of his Reach forces to guard their southern flank and even the odds up a bit. For the most part, these motives are now completely obsolete – and yet, the nature of the incentives Tyrion’s offering created long-term links between the Martells and the Small Council and the House of Lannister itself, and once you’ve done that you now have to deal with the Martell’s interests.
Which brings us to the question of justice – given how disruptive and out of left field Oberyn’s arrival made it seem in ASOS, we have to acknowledge that Tyrion put justice for Elia’s murderers on the table, and thereby opened up a huge can of worms for his entire family that will continue to bedevil them throughout ASOS, AFFC, and ADWD. It certainly puts Oberyn and Doran’s actions in a different light, to say nothing of Tywin’s own refusal to hand over Gregor. Indeed, it’s odd that Tyrion, who’s normally a fairly good judge of character, completely misjudges Tywin’s future actions here – which might make us consider how rational Tywin was being there. More on this topic when we get to it, but just to preview my thoughts: I think Tyrion’s right, that it makes much more sense to bury the hatchet with the Martells (based on information available at the time) than to cling to Gregor, especially when the war was winding down.
Regardless, it’s interesting to note how consequential this decision by Tyrion is – without this offer, Oberyn doesn’t die in King’s Landing although it’s quite possible Tyrion might have instead (or been sent to the Wall); Myrcella stays in King’s Landing and doesn’t march closer to her golden shroud fate (which, when is that kicking off?); and Aerys Oakheart lives.
A Question of Institutions
Another thing to mention before the main event is the interesting division between Tyrion and Pycelle over the question of where legitimate power is located:
“the king’s council…”
“The council exists to advise the king, Maester.”
“Just so…and the king-“
“-is a boy of thirteen. I speak with his voice.”
“So you do. Indeed. The King’s Own Hand. Yet…your most gracious sister, our Queen Regent…”
I find this little exchange fascinating because Pycelle, who we’ll learn later betrayed at least two kings and three Hands (and one Regent), seems to be making an argument for the supremacy of the King over the Small Council and the Queen Regent over the Hand. Trying to detect any consistent ideological position in a veteran flip-flopper is a bit of a fruitless task – but to the extent that Pycelle has a consistent view, I think it comes from an oddly Ned-like favoring of the person over the office. Think for example of his adoration of Tywin Lannister and his willingness to betray any oath to put the man who should be king in power. So it may well be that Pycelle is taking this position here because he just dislikes Tyrion personally, and is being genuine in his admiration of “a most uncommon woman.”
Tyrion, however, is making a rather succinct argument for monarchy over the monarch, as it were, by upholding the Small Council as an advisory and almost mentoring body to the king, and the Hand as an independent source of power and authority that can function when the king cannot. It’s something we don’t think about that much, but one of the important aspects of making a more powerful monarchy (if not an absolute monarchy) is the growth of the power of the royal bureaucracy as opposed to the king’s own person. After all, as Tyrion is pointing out, one of the downsides of dynastic succession is that you occasionally get a boy king, a lunatic, or someone who’s just not up for the job (or in Joffrey’s case all three), but as long as the institution is more important than the person, the system keeps functioning smoothly. No wonder Tyrion feels sympathy for Viserys II – he practically is Viserys II, trying to hold the kingdom together despite a bloodthirsty kingling (with Tommen standing in as the holy innocent).
One, Two, Three
But enough of the preliminaries – let’s talk about the pièce de résistance – Tyrion’s ferreting out of the spy in the Small Council through the classic tactic of floating different cover stories to different people to find out which is the mole. (Seriously, I’d lay money on GRRM being a bit of a John le Carré fan) It is one of the high points of ACOK, and one of the main reasons why I think ACOK is one of the more underrated of the ASOIAF series. One thing to note first – while this move by Tyrion will be at least part of the reason for his downfall (in that jailing Pycelle makes him an enemy during his trial, and is one of the things cited by Tywin as a reason for Tyrion’s removal from office), Tyrion is acting entirely within his orders from Tywin to assay the Small Council for treachery. If anything, given that he was cleared for “heads, spikes, wall,” Tyrion rather underplays his hand here.
I’m going to break this down step-by-step, because Tyrion is working on a number of different levels. Step One is his conversation with Pycelle, where he sends a letter to Doran Martell. Note that, unlike in Steps Two and Three, Tyrion doesn’t actually discuss this cover story with Pycelle:
“Be so good as to inform me at once should we receive a reply from Dorne?”
“As you say, my lord.”
“And only me?”
“Ah…to be sure.” Pycelle’s spotted hand was clutching at his beard the way a drowning man clutches for a rope. It made Tyrion’s heart glad. One, he thought.
Because Pycelle is the Grandmaester and thus the keeper of the royal ravens, Tyrion’s assaying of Pycelle not only needs to cover his political loyalties, but also to what extent informational security has been breached. If Pycelle is false, then every missive between the Lannister’s political and military headquarters is potentially compromised – even if it’s just Cersei who’s finding out the information. (Interestingly, we never see Tyrion sending a progress report to his father on his original mission, which might have bolstered him against Cersei’s spin after the Blackwater) It actually works better that Tyrion doesn’t say what the message is, because the eventual breach proves both that Pycelle has been betraying the Hand to the Queen and that he’s been breaking the confidence of ravenry. Not that Pycelle, worst conspirator ever, is particularly subtle subtle about it (“a matter like this…best done promptly, indeed, indeed…of great import you say?”…Pycelle’s curiosity was so ripe that Tyrion could almost taste it“).
As we’ve already talked about, this conversation doesn’t follow the “cover story” model exactly, in that Tyrion actually follows through on this proposal and makes the Martell alliance a reality. Ultimately, what’s important here is his read of the individual – that Pycelle is far too curious to resist looking at his message.
Step Two – Tyrion’s conversation with Littlefinger – is even more interesting. On one level, we have the question of loyalties – will Littlefinger rat out Tyrion to the Queen with whom he made a previous bargain? (He doesn’t, but probably because Cersei turned him down for Sansa’s hand, so there’s no love lost to begin with) On another level, and I’ll get into this more in its own section, this is about Tyrion finally confronting the man responsible for his capture and imprisonment. On yet a third level, this is once again about his read on another person’s weaknesses – for all that Littlefinger is supposed to be a master conspirator, Tyrion zeroes in on his major weakness with laser precision (more on this in its own section). And on a fourth level, there is the actual substance of the “cover story:”
“It was Lady Lysa I hoped you might sway. For her I have a sweeter offer…I want Lady Lysa and her son to acclaim Joffrey as king, to swear fealty, and to…use her power to oppose Lord Renly, or Lord Stannis, should he stir from Dragonstone. In return, I will give her justice for Jon Arryn and peace for the vale. I will even name that appalling child of hers Warden of the East…and to seal the bargain, I will give her my niece.”
“This has been quite the pleasant morning, Lannister. And profitable…for the both of us, I trust.” He bowed, his cape a swirl of yellow as he strode out the door. Two, thought Tyrion.
In both the short-term and long-term, Tyrion needs to keep the Vale from backing any other claimant at the very least: if the Vale joins the Starks, as would be most likely, then Tywin is flanked from west and east and the Starks now go from outnumbering him 2-1 to almost 4-1; if they back Stannis, then all of the sudden he’s a real player who could completely ignore Renly and attack King’s Landing from the north just as Renly approaches from the south; if they back Renly, then he’s got King’s Landing flanked from north and south at the same time. Ironically, Tyrion attempts to keep them out of the war by making this offer, not knowing that he’s actually speaking to the secret master of the Vale, and that Littlefinger has no intention of committing the Vale to the fight.
Again breaking with the “cover story” trope, this is not an entirely false offer – Littlefinger will be sent to bring Lysa, Sweetrobin, and the Vale into the Lannister fold, and he will be given Harrenhal, even if the circumstances are quite different than Tyrion initially intended.
Step Three, Tyrion’s conversation with Varys honestly wrong-footed me at the beginning. The HBO version of this scene, where Tyrion tries to flog Theon Greyjoy as an option only to be laughed off by Varys, was too strong in my mind. Rather, in the book, Varys arrives playing his “little birds” as his trump card – once again showing Tyrion how superior Varys’ information network is, and Tyrion nicely leans into Varys’ self-regard:
“If I were the prince, something more would I require before I should reach for this honeycomb. Some token of good faith, some sure safeguard against betrayal…which one will you give him I wonder?”
“You know, don’t you?”
“Since you put it that way – yes. Tommen. You could scarcely offer Myrcella to Doran Martell and Lysa Arryn both….Prince Doran will hardly be insensible of the great honor you do him. Very deftly done, I would say…but for one small flaw…perhaps, for the glory of her House and the safety of the realm, the queen might be persuaded to send away Tommen or Myrcella. But both of them? Surely not.”
“What Cersei does not know will never hurt me.”
“And if Her Grace were to discover your intentions before your plans are ripe?”
“Why…then I would know the man who told her to be my certain enemy.” And when Varys giggled, he thought, Three.
Unlike in the show, Tyrion here actually pulls one over on the Spider – which is pretty damn impressive, even among the elite conspirators of King’s Landing – again, by learning how to read his
man eunuch. Varys likes reminding everyone what’s he’s learned from his little birds (which is useful, in terms of giving himself an aura of omniscience and omnipresence), which in turn allows Tyrion to know what Varys is thinking, or at least what Varys wants him to know Varys is thinking. All Tyrion has to do is to lean into Varys’ own conclusions and not reveal which “cover story” he’s chosen to go with, and he’s able to feed Varys a mixture of truth and lies, while receiving once again valuable intelligence about the other political players in King’s Landing. It’s classic spycraft; when feeding misinformation back to an opposing intelligence network, it’s always best to put a little “gold dust” in with the bullshit to establish bona fides and gain the network’s confidence.
And once again, we get the interesting variation, in which Tyrion’s cover story is “mostly” true – he is going to make a marriage pact with the Martells, even if it wasn’t going to be Tommen’s marriage to…I’m not sure who exactly. Arianne? (who would be 15 years older than her intended) A Sand Snake? (with no inheritance rights) Some cousin? This raises the question of why Varys lands on Tommen, given how unlikely this marriage would be. Possibly this is a bluff, but I don’t know why.
Checking In With Littlefinger
Tyrion’s conversation with Littlefinger bears more examination, not just for what we learn about our protagonist (see Step 2 for that), but what we learn about the mastermind of the Littlefinger Conspiracy. I’ve written before that I consider Petyr Baelish to be a psychopath, and this chapter provides ample evidence of this. Start with the fact that in his first private meeting with the new Hand of the King, he brings the dagger used to attempt the assassination of Bran Stark, and which Littlefinger used to frame Tyrion:
“That’s a handsome knife as well.”
“Is it?” There was mischief in Littlefinger’s eyes. He drew the knife and glanced at it casually, as if he had never seen it before. “Valyrian steel, and a dragonbone hilt. A trifle plain, though. It’s yours, if you would like it.”
“Mine?” Tyrion gave him a long look. “No. I think not. Never mine.” He knows, the insolent wretch. He knows and knows that I know, and he thinks that I cannot touch him.
As I’ve talked about previously, fearlessness and stress immunity are two of eight factors on the Psychopathic Personality Index, and recklessness is one of the three legs of the triarchic model proposed by Christopher J. Patrick. For the second time in as many meetings, Littlefinger is unnecessarily drawing attention to himself as the one person who Tyrion should hate most, and he clearly gets pleasure from taunting the Hand of the King over it. Likewise, look at how Littlefinger reacts when Tyrion ripostes by bringing up the topic of Jon Arryn’s real killer:
“If I gave her Jon Arryn’s true killer, she might think more kindly of me.”
That made Littlefinger sit up. “True killer? I confess, you make me curious. Who do you propose?”
This ought to be a moment of ultimate stress for Littlefinger – he’s being interrogated about a crime he knows he committed, by the man he framed and nearly killed over it, who now has complete police power. As we’ll see very soon, Tyrion now can throw anyone he wants in jail without any due process and is perfectly comfortable with torture, and not only does Littlefinger react with perfect calm to the veiled accusation, but he retains enough presence of mind to actually jokingly confess (look at that sentence again; that phrasing is not an accident).
Another aspect of Littlefinger’s psychology is his motivationless animosity (which experts would probably term as his “carefree nonplanfulness” and/or “sadistic cruelty”) toward Tyrion. After all, up to this point, Tyrion has never been a threat to Littlefinger (that we hear of) and yet Littlefinger tried to kill him, will quite possibly try again during the Battle of the Blackwater (more on Ser Mandon Moore later), and comes very close to getting Tyrion executed for treason and kinslaying during ASOS. With all of his other targets (and Littlefinger has a long list of those from the Starks, Tullys, and Arryns), there’s a very definite personal motive for his actions, and yet here it’s completely random.
However, we get a different side when it comes to Littlefinger’s obsession with the Tully girls – he simply cannot stop himself from spreading the story in inappropriate circumstances, whether it be the royal court, the Small Council (as in ASOS), or in front of Eddard Stark:
“I’ve heard it said that you grew close to the Tullys.”
“You might say so. The girls especially…I had their maidenhoods. Is that close enough?”
The lie – Tyrion was fairly certain it was a lie – was delivered with such an air of nonchalance that one could almost believe it.
Here we get a new angle, in that Littlefinger genuinely believes he slept with Catelyn as well as with Lysa, or at least is unwilling to admit that he was deceived by Lysa. Which is rather odd, because you’d think that Lysa’s pregnancy would have been a rather obvious bit of evidence that he’d been sleeping with the wrong sister. So we have two possibilities: either Littlefinger’s obsession with Catelyn is so strong that he’s been able to repress the truth, and/or he’s sufficiently good at rewriting his own history (file under “blame avoidance” and “Machiavellian egocentricity”) that he doesn’t know the difference between his memories and his fantasies. In addition, this raises a possibility that was part of his motive for killing Lysa was revenge, however sublimated, for taking advantage of him while drunk and trying to trap him with a pregnancy.
All of this points to my larger argument – that Littlefinger is not a flawless conspirator, not quite the Magnificent Bastard he thinks he is. He’s got way too much ego to fly under the radar and needs to show off that he’s the smartest man in the room, and he’s got skeletons in his past. But most of all, Littlefinger has some massive levers, just waiting for someone to batten onto them and give them a pull:
“What is in your pot for me?”
It was interesting to watch his face. Lord Petyr’s father had been the smallest of small lords, his grandfather a landless hedge knight; by birth he held no more than a few stony acres on the windswept shore of the Fingers. Harrenhal was one of the richest plums in the Seven Kingdoms…and so large as to dwarf Riverrun, where Petyr Baelish had been fostered by House Tully, only to be brusquely expelled when he dared raise his sights to Lord Hoster’s daughter.
Littlefinger took a moment to adjust the drape of his cape, but Tyrion had seen the flash of hunger in those sly cat’s eyes. I have him, he knew…Littlefinger looked like a boy who had just taken a furtive bite from a honeycomb. He was trying to watch for bees, but the honey was so sweet.
Look at how easily Tyrion is able to zero in on Littlefinger’s insatiable desire for upward mobility, to outshine the Great Houses who snubbed him in his childhood. No matter that Harrenhal is cursed, no matter that it’s a booby prize literally just handed out to a fall guy who just got sent up the river to the Night’s Watch, Littlefinger simply cannot help himself. Whatever may happen later, in this moment Tyrion straight-up outplays the Mockingbird at the Game of Thrones.
And yet…and yet, Littlefinger still manages to get out of this meeting (and indeed, this book) with his head still attached to his body. Why is this? In large part, it’s because, as one of the few men in all of Westeros who actually understands finance, Petyr Baelish has made himself irreplaceable:
]”If ever truly a man had armored himself in gold, it was Petyr Baelish…a man like Petyr Baelish, who had a gift for rubbing two golden dragons to breed a third was invaluable to his Hand. Littlefinger’s rise had been arrow swift. Within three years of his coming to court, he was master of coin and a member of the small council…and in the process, he moved his own men into place. The Keepers of the Keys were his, all four. The King’s Counter and the King’s scales were men he’d named. The officers in charge of all three mints. Harbormasters, tax farmers, customs sergeants, wool factors, toll collectors, purses, wine factors; nine of every ten belonged to Littlefinger.”
For the full version of my argument about what Littlefinger has been up to as Master of Coin, you’ll have to wait for Tower of the Hand: Hymn of Spring, where I have an essay laying out in detail my theory of the financial portion of the Littlefinger Conspiracy. (short version: massive corruption). However, for this chapter, the important thing to note is that, in a time of crisis, Petyr Baelish’s personal knowledge and his depth of support within the bureaucracy make him extremely difficult to remove from office without severely impairing the functioning of the royal government. Despite having every reason to want him gone, even Tyrion has to acknowledge that: “do I dare touch him…even if he is a traitor? He was not at all certain he could, least of all now, while the war raged. Given time, he could replace Littlefinger’s men with his own,” but the coming siege of King’s Landing will not give him time.
The Beginning of King Bread
Speaking of the siege…in Tyrion IV, the leitmotif of the problem of feeding a starving city comes up once again, shortly before it bursts into open crescendo during the riot. Here, food becomes a microcosm for the body politic itself, through which we can see all kinds of political relationships and ideals made and unmade:
To be sure, butter and honey were seldom seen in King’s Landing of late, though Lord Gyles kept them well supplied in the castle. Half the food they ate these days came from his lands or Lady Tanda’s. Rosby and Stokeworth lay near the city to the north, and were yet untouched by war…
“There’s also a great gaggle of bakers, butchers, and greengrocers clamoring to be heard.”
“I told them last time, I have nothing to give them.” Only a thin trickle of food was coming into King’s Landing, most of it earmarked for castle and garrison. Prices had risen sickeningly high on greens, roots, flour, and fruit, and Tyrion did not want to think about what sorts of flesh might be going into the kettles of the pot-shops down in Flea Bottom. Fish, he hoped. They still had the river and the sea…and least until Lord Stannis sailed.
“They want protection. Last night a baker was roasted in his own oven. The mob claimed he charged too much for bread.”
“…They’re demanding to speak to the king himself.”
“Fools.” Tyrion had sent them off with regrets; his nephew would send them off with whips and spears. He was half-tempted to allow it…but no, he dare not. Soon or late, some enemy would march on King’s Landing, and the last thing he wanted was willing traitors within the city walls.
“Tell them King Joffrey shares their fears and will do all he can for them.”
“They want bread, not promises.”
To begin with, food is shown here as a key measurement of status and importance – the castle and the garrison get the best, the rest shift as best they can, with the poor increasingly moving in the direction of cannibalism. It is a coinage of loyalty between elites, with Houses Rosby and Stokeworth as some of the few Crownlands Houses to actually back their liege lords in this conflict, but notably by sending food from afar rather than sending any of their own troops to the front lines. But most of all, it is a critical aspect of the social contract – the King is supposed to protect his people (a lesson that sadly only Stannis learns in time, but more on that later), and that includes from starvation, and the breakdown of respect for
law and order property rights that comes with it. It’s an old saying that no city ever built is more than three meals away from total anarchy, but here we see said anarchy is as much about the crowd demanding some reciprocity for their allegiance as it is pure panic.
Roasting a baker in his own over for overcharging for bread is an extreme example of what E.P Thompson referred to as the “moral economy” of the crowd, a precapitalist notion that economic activity must be regulated by some conception of fairness and justice that prevents poor people from being starved to death simply because they don’t have enough money to pay for food. And as was quite common with crowd actions of the 17th-19th centuries, these seemingly revolutionary mass actions coincide with a rather conservative appeal to traditional sources of authority – in this case, the king – insisting on that baseline of reciprocal protection.
The problem here is that Joffrey has been brought up in such a way that he can’t possibly understand what is expected of him. Renly and Robert would have instinctively understood the necessity for good public relations, Stannis would have grudgingly gone along due to his bedrock commitment to good governance, and Robb Stark out of allegiance to his father’s belief in noblesse oblige, but Joffrey believes himself to rule absolutely without obligation to any element of society.
And as we’ll see very soon, that’s a terrible thing to have in a king.
The War of Five Kings Update: Renly’s Gamble and What Might Have Been
A final political event marks the end of the political analysis portion of this essay, the news that:
“Renly has marched from Highgarden. He is making his way up the roseroad, with all his strength behind him.”
“He could be here by the full moon.”
“Not at his present leisurely pace…he feasts every night in a different castle, and hold court at every crossroads he passes.”
“…Still, Renly has other concerns besides us. Our father at Harrenhal, Robb Stark at Riverrun…were I he, I would do much as he is doing. Make my progress, flaunt my power for the realm to see, watch, wait. Let my rivals contend while I bide my own sweet time. If Stark defeats us, the south will fall into Renly’s hands like a windfall from the gods and he’ll not have lost a man. And if it goes the other way, he can descend on us while we are weakened.
…in truth, Renly Baratheon did not frighten Tyrion half as much as his brother Stannis did. Renly was beloved of the commons, but he had never before led in war. Stannis was otherwise; hard, cold, inexorable…if Stannis attacks by sea while his brother Renly storms the gates, they’ll soon be mounting Joffrey’s head on a spike.
Renly’s decision to do a slow-burn has to be one of the great what-ifs in the entirety of the War of the Five Kings. On paper, Renly’s strategy makes sense – build momentum, conserve your resources, get your enemies to fight each other, and then win in a cakewalk. And certainly, one can see a situation in which Renly’s strategy might have worked – if Stannis hadn’t intervened, if Tywin had marched west, and then King’s Landing could be brought under siege at leisure. But what admirers of Renly often miss is how risky this strategy is – remember, Renly’s army is a feudal army, where military service is for a limited period, and where logistics are more of an art than a science. Even with the Tyrells backing his play, there’s a limit to how long Renly can slow-roll his campaign before people start leaving to get the harvest in, or start to think that Renly doesn’t have what it takes to be a proper warrior king, or start to strip the countryside bare. As it is, Renly takes four months to decide to march from Highgarden, and another 50 days to make the 400-mile trip from Highgarden to Bitterbridge (at which rate, it would have taken him another two months to get to King’s Landing).
In addition to the internal difficulties that kind of pace creates, there is also the risk that outside forces will change the overall environment. In two months, Tywin could have defeated the Starks or been crushed by the Starks. More consequentially, in two months, it’s possible Stannis nips into King’s Landing first and crowns and enthrones himself, which would greatly damage Renly’s political standing. Renly’s mistake here is assuming that an early lead in a civil war will continue in and of itself – which didn’t exactly work out well for the Kingmaker and Aegon II, who started out with King’s Landing, the Westerlands, Oldtown and much of the Reach, and the Stormlands. A detail Renly’s historically-inclined brother no doubt would have known about.
By contrast, had Renly gone hell-for-leather for King’s Landing, he would have practically walked over the walls, eliminated the Lannister claim to the Iron Throne even before he came to blows with Tywin, given himself the political means to force a favorable outcome with the Starks, and faced Stannis with the might and legitimacy of almost all of the Seven Kingdoms behind him.
On the other hand, what if Renly had taken it slowly at King’s Landing (thanks in part to his lack of on-hand naval forces), worn down the defenders just enough that Stannis’ 5,000 men slipped in and seized the prize right in the teeth of the Tyrells? That would be something to remember.
Before I shift over to the historical stuff, I did want to note two incidences in which this chapter sets up things that seem minor initially, but will become more important later on:
- The first implication that Bronn will wed Lollys Stokeworth. At one point, Tyrion is complaining that Lady Tanda has “been stalking him, armed with a never-ending arsenal of lamprey pies, wild boars, and savory cream stews. Somehow she had gotten the notion that a dwarf lordling would be the perfect consort for her daughter Lollys, a large, soft, dim-witted girl,” and jokes to Bronn that “Perhaps you should eat the goose and marry the maid.” Never noticed it before now, but man does GRRM like setting up his brick plots.
- The first mention of the Braavosi financial problem: during Tyrion’s busy day, Bronn mentions that “there’s a moneylender from Braavos, holding fancy papers and the like, requests to see the king about payment on some loan,” who Tyrion palms off to Littlefinger. As the Lannister position weakens, the creditors are starting to get nervous.
I’ve been teasing for a while the topic of the medieval city under siege and was waiting for a Tyrion chapter where it made sense to bring it up (I’m keeping the riot chapter open for a further discussion of bread riots, which has an amazing historiography all of it’s own). In the section above about food, I mention that the siege is something of an assault on the city’s social contract, creating class tensions that can’t be easily diffused. And so it is, in King’s Landing.
What’s interesting about this phenomenon is that this is actually the reverse of historical phenomena. As Michael Wolfe et al. discuss in The Medieval City Under Siege, sieges could actually be a force that drove internal cohesion and unity. As this excellent edited volume points out, the traditional medieval siege was a castle siege, which could often lead to tensions between rulers and ruled about who exactly is getting protected. (see my earlier discussion of the chevauchee) However, the rise of medieval cities as economic and political powers, and the resulting sieges, had a different political dynamic.
In order to defend a city from siege, the city had to engage in collective defenses that were quite extensive in character: city walls had to be constructed and maintained, which required large workforces, finances, and regulatory machinery to quarry the stone, construct the fortifications, and keep them maintained. The difficulty of acquiring the labor and money for such a task required the expansion of municipal authority to levy taxes, regulate the layout and location of buildings, and requisition workers. Likewise, the necessity of a city militia to man the defenses required new forms of governance and new demands on the city – the hundreds of not thousands of residents who served in the militia often demanded and won privileges if not an outright voice in the city’s political structure, as quid pro quo for their sacrifice and as a practical recognition that you don’t mess with large groups of armed men. At the same time, militias generally required arms, armor, and supplies to be provided by the city, which required a logistical system to warehouse and maintain the necessary materiel, and a system for managing large groups of people.
Especially towards the late medieval period, Wolfe et al. point out that cities often paved the way for adaptation to the new era of gunpowder weaponry. The manufacture of cannons required the kind of network of suppliers of raw materials and fuel, concentration of skilled artisans (initially, bellmakers who shifted their expertise in making one kind of large conical brasswork to another), and capital that only cities could supply. Moreover, cities were often faster to switch to the new forms of sloped earthen fortifications that could withstand artillery barrage, whereas castles had sunk costs in the kind of fixed stone walls that were rapidly becoming obsolete. So on both sides of a siege, urban skills and capabilities came to the fore.
So the fact that King’s Landing is incapable of this kind of collective action points to a grave flaw in the city. Perhaps due to its history as a royal capital, the city lacks any structure of self-governance that could protect it in this hour of danger.
I’d like to highlight just the two main alternative offers, because this one is getting really long.
- Tommen gets sent to Sunspear? Despite how unlikely this particular marriage alliance would be, the outcome of this hypothetical is quite interesting. For one thing, it’s quite possible that the Purple Wedding gets butterflied, or at least the Tyrells get taken out of the equation, because Joffrey’s death suddenly switches the Queen’s House from Tyrell to Martell. Likewise, it’s highly unlikely that Tywin would allow the Red Viper to duel the hand if the King of Westeros is being fostered down in Dorne. And gods only know what Doran does when his foster child/son-in-law conflicts with his plan for revenge against the Lannisters (or for that matter, what does Arianne do?) – probably something in the Greek tragic vein.
- Myrcella gets sent to the Eyrie? Now this is an outcome that has some really weird implications. With Myrcella up in the Eyrie, Arianne’s Queenmaking conspiracy has nothing to batten itself onto, although on the other hand there’s much less holding the Martells in the realm. Most consequentially, however, the Purple Wedding would place Littlefinger in the impressive situation of holding both Sansa Stark and the perfect hostage against Cersei Lannister – although hiding Sansa’s identity from Myrcella would be all but impossible, likely requiring Myrcella to be imprisoned to prevent her from informing the world of Sansa’s location and his own treason.
Book vs. Show:
The question of adaptation comes up a lot in this section, and especially as the show begins to radically depart from the books in Season 5, the topic of faithfulness versus artistic license is bound to become a more frequent subject of conversation. However, I do want to highlight this scene as proof that there is something to be gained from televisual adaptation – Benioff and Weiss’s condensing three meetings into one scene, along with Alik Sakharov’s rather cunning bit of camerawork, gives this scene a sense of energy and cohesion that it somewhat lacks in the chapter (where the three meetings are broken up and scattered throughout the chapter, interrupted by other business), etc. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that the show actually does this bit better than GRRM did*.
* with one exception – I don’t think the revised story Tyrion tells Varys works quite as well.