“This was what I was made for, and gods forgive me, but I do love it…and her.”
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.
We’re seeing a lot of Tyrion so far (almost 30% of A Clash of Kings so far has been Tyrion’s POV), and this chapter looks a little bit light compared to the previous. Part of that has to do with the fact that the chapter revolves around Lancel Lannister, who really isn’t as good a competitor for Tyrion as Cersei or Pycelle.
However, it’s a nice little amuse-bouche which provides the variation of tension in drama that one should strive for to avoid spectacle fatigue. Ever wonder why sometimes non-stop action sequences that keep raising the stakes again and again stop being exciting and become boring, and why other films in the same genre are white-knuckle intensity from start to finish, despite having less actual action? Variation of tension.
Lancel, Nature’s Patsy
After directing our attention to Lancel in the previous chapter, we now get an up-close and personal portrait of the young knight, and what we get isn’t pretty: “Does Lancel think to find me drowsy and slow of wit at this hour?…No, Lancel scarce thinks at all, this is Cersei’s doing,” Tyrion thinks. “Ser Lancel was sixteen, and not known for his patience. Let him wait, and grow more anxious in the waiting.” And when Lancel is finally is ushered in, this is his behavior:
“Her Grace the Queen Regent has sent me to command you to release Grand Maester Pycelle.” Ser Lancel showed Tyrion a crimson ribbon, bearing Cersei’s lion seal impressed in golden wax. “Here is her warrant.”
“So it is.” Tyrion waved it away. “I hope my sister is not overtaxing her strength, so soon after her illness. It would be a great pity if she were to suffer a relapse.”
Knighthood had made the boy bolder, Tyrion reflected – that, and the sorry part he had played in murdering King Robert.
“Make of it what you will, so long as you release your prison. The Grand Maester is a staunch friend to the Queen Regent, and under her personal protection.” A hint of a sneer played about the lad’s lips; he was enjoying this. He takes his lessons from Cersei. “Her Grace will never consent to this outrage. She reminds you that she is Joffrey’s regent…the Hand serves,” the young knight informed him airily. “The regent rules until the king is of age…Her Grace bids me inform you that Ser Jacelyn Bywater defied a command issued in the king’s name.” Which means that Cersei has already ordered Bywater to release Pycelle, and been rebuffed.
Lancel’s problem, the thing that makes him a flunky rather than a major protagonist or antagonist, is that he’s not that bright. He’s not stupid – as we’ll see during the Battle of Blackwater, he can grasp the ramifications of things happening around him – he’s just a more normal, ordinary teenager who’s been sent up against someone who’s much, much smarter than he is. He doesn’t grasp Tyrion’s threat-by-innuendo, he doesn’t see that Cersei doesn’t care about him (any more than Tyrion does), and he relies on conventional wisdom (and his own arrogant appraisal of his self-worth) rather than his own observation and deduction to guide him. Conventional wisdom says the Queen Regent outranks the Hand and the handsome young knight outranks the ugly dwarf – but in the real world, Tyrion’s the one with all the power.
And what’s interesting about this scheme is that both Lancel and Cersei are falling into the same trap, thinking that paper warrants and de jure status are what matters; it’s especially ironic that Cersei of all people does this, given her previous statements about paper shields. As the comment about Ser Jacelyn Bywater points out, it’s real politik rather than rules that prevails – Tyrion controls the City Watch, therefore he has the power to decide who gets thrown in jail and who gets released. And when Tyrion reminds Lancel of the realities of power, Lancel breaks:
“…one cry from me and Shagga will burst in and kill you with an axe, not a wineskin…Tell me, did Cersei have you knighted before or after she took you into her bed?…Have you given any thought to what Joffrey will do when I tell him you murdered his father to bed his mother?”
“It was not like that!” Lancel protested, horrified.
“No? What was it like, pray?”
“The queen gave me the strongwine! Your own father Lord Tywin, when I was named the king’s squire, he told me to obey her in everything.”
…look at him. Not quite so tall, his features not so fine, and his hair is sand instead of spun gold, yet still…even a poor copy of Jaime is sweeter than an empty bed, I suppose.
“…hated every instant of it, is that what you would have me believe? A high place at court, knighthood, my sister’s legs opening for you at night, oh, yes, it must have been terrible for you.” Tyrion pushed himself to his feet. “Wait here. His Grace will want to hear this.”
The defiance went from Lancel all at once. The young knight fell to his knees a frightened boy. “Mercy, my lord, I beg you…”
This is kind of unfair – Lancel is such a mis-match for Tyrion, with so many levers that Tyrion can pull, and no cards to play whereas Tyrion has everything from threatened violence to threatened exposure, that this is a bit like watching a toddler going toe-to-toe in a boxing ring with the World Heavyweight Champion. Even Tyrion feels a bit bad about what he’s doing here.
However, Lancel’s confession is also a fascinating little peak into the Lannister Conspiracy. I’m fascinated by how decentralized the Lannister Conspiracy was; Tywin was clearly providing Cersei with assets to be used in the interests of House Lannister, which suggests that he trusted and respected her enough to push the party line in his absence. That’s not the usual picture we get of the Tywin/Cersei relationship, which mean that Tywin’s opinion of her must have really changed when he actually got to know Joffrey and realized how much Cersei had been lying to him about her success in molding the perfect Lannister King. At the same time, Lancel’s an interesting cog in the machine – he’s Cersei’s spy and patsy, a living sex toy who she can dress up like Jaime so she can pretend, but he’s also someone who’s been privy to the most damaging secrets Cersei has. He’s a witness to regicide and treason, and complicit in the same, and you can already see the writing on the wall with his penitent turn to religion.
And of course, what makes it all the more inevitable is that, the moment Lancel gets his wakeup call – that he’s in over his head and doing really immoral things he probably doesn’t want to be involved with – Tyrion decides to use him as a mole:
“Obey her. Stay close to her side, keep her trust, pleasure her as often as she requires it. No one need ever know…so long as you keep faith with me. I want to know what Cersei is doing. Where she goes, who she sees, what they talk of, what plans she is hatching. All. And you will be the one to tell me.”
In my essay on Tyrion as Hand, one of the things that I praise him for as a political leader is his understanding of the crucial role of intelligence. Compared to Jon Arryn and Ned Stark, Tyrion is much more pro-active in seeking out sources of information, he’s more likely to cross-check his sources against each-other rather than taking Varys or Littlefinger on face value, he makes damn sure to engage in counter-intelligence to keep his information secure, and here he develops sources within his enemy’s camp.
The Pycelle Decision
On the other hand, Tyrion is not perfect, and he makes some real mistakes on the way, often mistakes where he assumes that he will retain the power he currently has through the long-term (which is kind of a big leap for a merely “acting” Hand). Perhaps the best example of this is his decision to release Pycelle:
“We want Cersei to have every faith in you. Go back and tell her I beg her forgiveness. Tell her that you frightened me, that I want no conflict between us, that henceforth I shall do nothing without her consent.”
“Oh, I’ll give her Pycelle…I’ll release him on the morrow. I could swear that I hadn’t harmed a hair on his head, but it wouldn’t be strictly true…Cersei can keep him as a pet or send him to the Wall, I don’t care which, but I won’t have him on the council.”
On the surface, Tyrion seems to be focusing on the substance of power rather than the semblance of it – what matters is keeping Pycelle off the Small Council, not where he is when he’s not on the Small Council, right? Wrong, because Tyrion is forgetting Machiavelli’s maxim that “Men ought either to be indulged or utterly destroyed, for if you merely offend them they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate.” Once freed, Pycelle is able to gain his revenge against Tyrion, both by poisoning his father’s mind against him and by testifying against him at his trial in ASOS.
This seems to be a case where Tyrion’s desire to do justice – in this case, by sparing the life of an old man – works against him. On the other hand, we have to be careful not to assume too great an importance to events whose outcomes we know better than Tyrion does; Tyrion is condemned at trial because the trial was rigged from the outset, not because of any one man’s testimony.
Balancing these two things against each other, how should we analyze Tyrion’s internal assessment of his own success as Hand?
Tyrion reflected on the men who had been Hand before him, who had proved no match for his sister’s wiles. How could they be? Men like that…too honest to live, too noble to shit, Cersei devours such fools every morning when she breaks her fast. The only way to defeat my sister is to play her own game, and that was something the Lords Stark and Arryn would never do. Small wonder that the both of them were dead, while Tyrion Lannister had never felt more alive…
It is real, all of it…the wars, the intrigues, the great bloody game, and me in the center of it…me, the dwarf, the monster, the one they scorned and laughed at, but now I hold it all, the power, the city, the girl. This was what I was made for, and gods forgive me, but I do love it…and her.
Tyrion’s comments about his predecessors is a bit harsh; as I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t think it was honor that ultimately brought down either of them – especially as Cersei seems to have had no plans for dealing with Jon Arryn, who was struck down by a third party, and as Ned Stark’s major shortcoming was a failure to understand institutional power. At the same time, given that Tyrion doesn’t know Littlefinger’s role in Jon Arryn’s death, his conclusion is warranted by the information he has at the time. Moreover, if we think about intelligence and counter-intelligence as key aspects of institutional power, I think he has more of a point: had Jon Arryn been more careful about who was spying on him and/or more paranoid about the people around him, or had Ned not allowed Littlefinger to play such a crucial intermediary role, both of them would have fared better.
And to give Tyrion credit, he is an excellent politician – at least when it comes to the inside game. He’s seized hegemonic military power in King’s Landing, and now he’s taken out Cersei’s main informant and put a spy in her own bed. However, as we’ve just seen, he’s not without his faults – Tyrion is a little too convinced of his own security in power to take precautions in case he’s removed from power, in the same way that both Varys and Illyrio do, he doesn’t permanently eliminate Pycelle, and he leaves himself personally and physically vulnerable.
At the same time, it’s clear that political power is hugely important to Tyrion’s self-esteem, as a outwards validation of his intelligence, as a finger in the eye of those who “scorned and laughed” at him, and as a way for him to gain control over his environment in ways that he could never do physically. Which we should keep in mind when Tyrion is hurled headlong from power in ASOS, and starts his gradual breakdown.
What Shae Means
At the same time, power is not the whole of Tyrion’s psychological needs. As much as his desire for political power stems ultimately from his desire to impress his father or prove to his father that he is a true Lannister, Tyrion also has a deep-seated desire to be loved and desired that is crippled by an equally deep-seated belief that no one will ever love or desire him:
Remembered notes filled his head, and for a moment he could almost hear Tysha as she’d sung to him half a lifetime ago…his sweet innocent Tysha had been a lie start to finish, only a whore his brother Jaime had hired to make him a man.
I’m free of Tysha now, he thought. She’s haunted me half my life, but I don’t need her any more, no more than I need Alayaya or Dancy or Marei, or the hundreds like them I’ve bedded with over the years. I have Shae now. Shae.
Now, it’s hardly a revelation that Tyrion’s deal with Shae and his embrace of the girlfriend experience, is all about trying to purchase love and trying to purchase being desired, as a kind of second-best, self-deluding solution to his problems. But what I hadn’t really remembered is how consciously Tyrion is using Shae to deal with Tysha – I knew that he was trying to reconstruct the same kind of relationship, but in a more controllable and more discrete fashion, but I didn’t really remember the sense of Shae as a talisman that Tyrion can use to ward off negative memories, lack of self-worth, and mixed guilt and trauma. All of which puts a much sharper point on the eventual end of the relationship, that Tyrion doesn’t merely snap because Shae betrays their most intimate personal moments in testifying against him or because she sleeps with his father, but because the sight of her in his father’s bed is a kind of re-living of that moment in his life when he was forced to see and participate in Tysha’s gang-rape.
More on this in the book vs. show.
We’re more accustomed to hearing of the various mistresses of kings than the paramours of queens, but the nature of medieval patriarchy nevertheless was never enough to stop powerful women from exercising that power in the political and personal realms by choosing lovers. Now, this could well be a very dangerous vocation for the objects of their desire; in a very Freudian way, boy kings once grown are rarely kind to the men who slept with their mothers. Perhaps the clearest example of this comes with the case of Queen Isabella of France, also known as the “she-wolf,” who toppled her husband King Edward II from power, and ruled as Regent of England for four years alongside her lover, Roger Mortimer the Earl of March.
When her son Edward III came to power at the early age of 17, he viewed Mortimer as a threat to him, especially when his mother became pregnant, and Mortimer began to speak openly that he outranked the king. Edward III raised an army against his mother and her lover, stormed Nottingham castle, and arrested Mortimer, despite Isabella falling to her son’s feet and pleading “fair son, have pity on gentle Mortimer!” Edward III was not entirely swayed by this plea, and had Roger Mortimer hanged (a great insult for a nobleman) and left his body on display for two days and nights so that everyone got the message. His mother was kept out of the court proceedings and, after spending a few years in opulent house arrest, was allowed to return to court.
The Wars of the Roses were repeatedly shaped by powerful women supposedly or actually taking lovers. As we’ve already discussed, Margaret d’Anjou’s supposed relationships with William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (and James Butler, the Earl of Ormond) both provided her with political and military muscle in her conflict with Richard, Duke of York, but also provided her enemies with sufficient rumor about the paternity of her son Edward of Lancaster to repeatedly disinherit her son and sway Parliament to name various Yorkists as either heir or King. Keeping with the theme of the danger of being a queen’s lover, de la Pole was murdered by a mob and decapitated, Somerset was killed at the First Battle of St. Albans, and Butler was decapitated by the Yorkists after the Battle of Towton.
Catherine of Valois, although not a contemporary of the Wars of the Roses, nonetheless greatly influenced those events. The wife and widow of King Henry V and mother of King Henry VI, Catherine caused quite a stir when (soon after the death of her royal husband) she started a sexual relationship with a Welsh archer named Owen Tudor before marrying him in 1428. Despite this scandal, Catherine retained enough influence over her royal son to induce him to name his half-brothers Edmund Tudor Earl of Richmond, and Jasper Tudor Earl of Pembroke. The former would marry and impregnate the then-12 year old Margaret Beaufort, who would in turn give birth to Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII. Thus, but for Catherine of Valois’ affair, the Tudor dynasty would never have happened.
Equally famously, Cecily Neville, the mother of Edward IV, Richard III, and George of Clarence, was accused of having cheated on her husband, Richard, Duke of York, with an archer named Blaybourne (seriously, what is up with these sexy archers?) – this was the basis for George of Clarence’s attempted usurpation of his brother’s throne (although how George thought people would believe that Cecily Neville was only ever unfaithful once is beyond me). This has always been a heated topic of debate among historians of the Wars of the Roses…up until Richard III’s skeleton was found under a parking lot in Leicester.
DNA testing done on the skeleton proved that it was definitely Richard III, given that his mitochondrial DNA, which passes on the female line, matched living Beauforts. But the Y chromosome didn’t match, so whoever Richard III’s father, he wasn’t Richard, Duke of York, grandson of Edward III’s fourth son, and since there are documents suggesting that Richard was off fighting in France when Edward IV was conceived, this DNA evidence would seem to corroborate those documents. All of this raises a rather sticky question – since Henry VII claimed his right to rule through the Beauforts and backed it up by marrying Edward IV’s daughter, did the English line of succession actually break down in the 15th century? And given that the current House of Windsor was picked by Parliament because the Hanoverians had married into the House of Stuart, which claimed its right to the throne of England from King Henry VII the arch-Tudor, is Queen Elizabeth the lawful descendant of English royalty?
Just goes to show – never underestimate the power of a queen looking for some side-action.
So, here’s the thing about the major hypothetical in Tyrion VII – what if Tyrion didn’t send Pycelle back? – I’m not sure how much it changes…for Tyrion. Without Pycelle’s evidence, there’s a little bit less evidence that Tyrion poisoned Joffrey, but Taena Merryweather and Varys and Shae are still going to testify, and as I said, at the end of the day the trial is rigged to begin with. Tyrion was never going to get a verdict of not guilty as long as Tywin and Mace were 2/3 of his judges.
The major difference actually comes in AFFC. Now, Margaery’s arrest is probably going to happen regardless of Pycelle’s testimony about the moon tea – Osney Kettleback and the poor Blue Bard are probably enough to land Margaery in the dock, at the end of the day. However, without Pycelle, the government of King’s Landing changes dramatically – Cersei’s men are in charge of the Gold Cloaks and the City Council, no one’s there to send for Kevan Lannister to take charge (however briefly), and it’s quite possible that a three-way war between the Faith, Cersei’s loyalists, and the Tyrells breaks out on the streets of King’s Landing.
Book vs. Show:
As I’ve said, the show’s handling of Tyrion’s Season II plotline is generally excellent, and the scene with Lancel is no exception. To me, the main problem comes in their decision to change Shae’s character. Now, on the one hand, this decision makes short-term sense: the gold-digging prostitute is not exactly a fresh idea, and especially in Season 2, Episode 10, I can see the interest in a Shae who’s deeply committed to Tyrion despite his inability to quit politics.
However, the change causes problems down the line in Season 4 when Shae has to betray Tyrion and then get murdered. The books provide a rather clear rationale for this – Shae never loved Tyrion, it’s arguable that he stiffed her for her services when he takes her jewels, and she’s just trying to survive when Cersei and Tywin hit her with carrots and tempt her with sticks. The show doesn’t have as good a reason – a woman scorned isn’t any better a trope than a gold digger – and the turn happens out of sight and thus land as well (there’s also the whole issue with Sansa, but I’ll address that elsewhere). At the very least, I think the show should have kept this scene in to provide some explanation: