Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Tyrion X, ACOK

“A sweet dream, Shae. Now put it aside, I beg you. It can never be.”

Synopsis: Tyrion has his double-nephew kidnapped, hits his “girlfriend,” and talks about castration. Not a good day.

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:

Tyrion X is probably my least favorite Tyrion chapters in ACOK – especially compared to what’s coming next, it lacks the emotional fireworks of his confrontation with Cersei or the sheer spectacle of the Battle of Blackwater. However, there are still some things going on in this chapter that bear investigation.

The Taking of Tommen One-Two-Three

The major event of the chapter is the clandestine conflict between Tyrion and Cersei over control of Tommen, a conflict that looks very different in light of AFFC’s revelations. In hindsight, Cersei’s actions seem less motivated by a petty desire to undermine Tyrion and more an attempt to avoid destiny by  “send[ing] Prince Tommen away…Lord Gyles will take him to Rosby, and conceal him there in the guise of a page. They plan to darken his hair and tell everyone that he is the son of a hedge knight.” What other inducement, other than the thought that without his golden crown of hair and royal status Tommen might live, would get Cersei to approve of Tommen being made to look like anything than a Lannister?

But without this knowledge, Tyrion sees this as a power play against him and reacts accordingly by coopting the plan:

“Take this to Ser Jacelyn Bywater…He’s to lay a trap along the Rosby road….Removing the boy from the city was one of his sister’s better notions, Tyrion had decided. At Rosby, Tommen would be safe from the mob, and keeping him apart from his brother also made things more difficult for Stannis; even if he took King’s Landing and executed Joffrey, he’d still have a Lannister claimant to contend with. “Lord Gyles is too sickly to run and too craven to fight. He’ll command his castellan to open the gates. Once inside the walls, Bywater is to expel the garrison and hold Tommen there safe. Ask him how he likes the sound of Lord Bywater.”

This is where mistaken interpretation of other people’s motivations – something that human being are notoriously bad at, yet insist otherwise – kicks in. To Tyrion, his actions here are nothing different than what he’s already done with Myrcella. But to Cersei, they appear as an existential threat to her life and that of her children – which provokes her into attempting to abduct Shae. This in turn will provoke Tyrion into threatening Tommen, confirming the suspicions she’s had all along. Once again, we have an example of how attempting to circumvent prophecy helps bring it about – Cersei gradually helps to turn Tyrion into the vengeful spectre she has always believed him to be, through these moments of mutual misunderstanding.

At the same time, I really wonder how successful this plan would have been for either side. In OTL, Stannis never makes it through the gates of the city and wouldn’t have gotten his hands on Tommen whether the boy had stayed or gone. And if he had made it through into the city, chances are that Stannis would have sent a force to take Rosby, given the city’s pressing need for supplies, which probably would have meant that Tommen would have captured by Stannis. Or it might have worked.

Tyrion and Shae

However, the bulk of this chapter revolves around Tyrion and Shae’s relationship, or lack thereof. Notably, this is where we are first introduced to Symon Silvertongue. This character is my least favorite and (in my opinion) Tyrion’s weakest plot. His conflict with Symon doesn’t particularly raise the stakes, the outcome between the Halfman and a singer is never really in question, and the whole affair doesn’t really have any lasting consequences. Thus, I’m not going to cover it, either here or in forthcoming chapters.

At the same time, however, this chapter gives us an in-depth exploration of Tyrion and Shae’s relationship, which bears almost no relationship to the one seen in the show. And the best that can be said about this relationship is that it’s toxic.

To begin with, the two of them want diametrically opposite things from the relationship. Shae is clearly seeing Tyrion as her chance to make her way up in the world, to change from being “the Hand’s whore” to being “your lady...I’d dress in all the beautiful things you gave me, in satin and samite and cloth-of-gold, and I’d wear your jewels and hold your hand and sit by you at feasts. I could give you sons, I know I could . . . and I vow I’d never shame you.” While most in the fandom have focused on the material rewards, it’s important to note that Shae places equal importance on status and position and (at least at this point) is looking for more than money. Unfortunately for her, this is the worst possible suggestion she could make, because it directly recapitulates the same “error” that Tyrion made with Tysha (to say nothing of paralleling the actions of Tytos’ mistress), and would bring down the harshest punishment imaginable for a father who does not like to repeat himself:

“Shae, you do not understand.” Words he had never meant to speak came tumbling out of him like mummers from a hollow horse. “When I was thirteen, I wed a crofter’s daughter. Or so I thought her. I was blind with love for her, and thought she felt the same for me, but my father rubbed my face in the truth. My bride was a whore Jaime had hired to give me my first taste of manhood.” And I believed all of it, fool that I was. “To drive the lesson home, Lord Tywin gave my wife to a barracks of his guardsmen to use as they pleased, and commanded me to watch.” And to take her one last time, after the rest were done. One last time, with no trace of love or tenderness remaining. “So you will remember her as she truly is,” he said, and I should have defied him, but my cock betrayed me, and I did as I was bid. “After he was done with her, my father had the marriage undone. It was as if we had never been wed, the septons said.”

A lot of ink has spilled analyzing this passage, and there’s not a lot of room for novel insight left. However, for the purposes of this essay, it’s important to note two main things. First, Tyrion’s belief that he cannot be loved is rooted in this moment, where he believes he was duped into believing that he was loved. Second, Tyrion remains deeply traumatized by a mixture of guilt for his participation in Tysha’s (and his own) rape, and a deep sense that “There were some secrets that should never be spoken, some shames a man should take to his grave.” All of this makes his relationship with Shae ultimately impossible – on the one hand, he deeply desires her love while feeling that “my love for you shames me enough;” on the other, he clearly thinks that “Fool of a dwarf, it is only the gold and jewels the whore loves.”

So Shae’s ambitions were never going to be realized in that direction. However, one of the things I genuinely hadn’t remembered is how unscrupulous Shae becomes in trying to accomplish them suggesting that Tyrion should “kill [the queen] and be done with it. It’s not as if there was any love between you.” Ominously foreshadowing Tyrion’s foray into kinslaying, Tyrion tries to beg off by saying that “the man who kills his own blood is cursed forever in the sight of gods and men.” At the sahme time, it doesn’t seem like Shae (underneath her “girlfriend experience” mask) really respects Tyrion, as we can see from the fact that she responds to the fact that Tyrion wasexpressly forbidden to take you to court,” by saying thatYou’re old enough to keep all the whores you want. Does he take you for a beardless boy? What could he do, spank you?”

For his part, Tyrion reacts with instant violence: “He slapped her. Not hard, but hard enough.” And Tyrion knows exactly why he’s doing this, because he cannot stand the idea that Shae should “mock me. Not you.”  For all that Tyrion is almost immediately regretful, the basic fact is that Tyrion is so messed up by his experience with Tysha that what he wants at a bone-deep level is not a relationship but a carefully-constructed illusion – one built from equal parts guilt, shame, and regret – of an relationship. Shae isn’t even really a partner in that illusion – she’s there to play  Tysha 2.0, but the actress isn’t allowed to question the director.

Secret Doors

In addition to setting up the disastrous breakdown in Tyrion’s relationship that will be so influential in his storyline in ASOS, Tyrion X also gives us a crucial element of its violent conclusion:

“I might be able to slip the child into your bedchamber unseen. Chataya’s is not the only house to boast a secret door.”

“A secret access? To my chambers?” Tyrion was more annoyed than surprised. Why else would Maegor the Cruel have ordered death for all the builders who had worked on his castle, except to preserve such secrets? “Yes, I suppose there would be. Where will I find the door? In my solar? My bedchamber?”

“My friend, you would not force me to reveal all my little secrets, would you?”

This is something of a preview of Race for the Iron Throne Volume 3, but I’m firmly of the belief that Varys absolutely set up Tyrion to assassinate his father. To that end, both Varys and GRRM are drawing Tyrion’s (and the reader’s) attention to the fact that there is a secret door into the Hand’s chambers – without which information Tyrion would never have accomplished his mission. As a bit of Chekovian interior decorating, it’s a neat trick that really pays off on the second read-through.

The Implications of Cortnay Penrose

As Tyrion is experiencing personal turmoil, the political news isn’t much better, as he learns that “Ser Cortnay Penrose is dead. Storm’s End has opened its gates to Stannis Baratheon…it is said that he threw himself from a tower…his guards saw no man enter his chambers, nor did they find any within afterward.” While we’ll discuss the metaphysical implications a bit later, the political implications are bad enough on their own:

“Regardless of how Ser Cortnay died…he is dead, the castle fallen. Stannis is free to march.”

“Any chance we might convince the Dornishmen to descend on the Marches?”

“None.”

“A pity. Well, the threat may serve to keep the Marcher lords close to their castles, at least. What news of my father?”

“If Lord Tywin has won across the Red Fork, no word has reached me yet. If he does not hasten, he may be trapped between his foes. The Oakheart leaf and the Rowan tree have been seen north of the Mander.”

“No word from Littlefinger?”

“Perhaps he never reached Bitterbridge. Or perhaps he’s died there. Lord Tarly has seized Renly’s stores and put a great many to the sword; Florents chiefly. Lord Caswell has shut himself up in his castle.”

In retrospect, this is a bit of expectations management  – GRRM is trying to make sure that we think that the cavalry is too far away to ride to the rescue, while carefully signposting that they are just close enough to get there in the nick of time. Hence “the Oakheart leaf and the Rowan tree have been seen north of the Mander” – we know that this means the Tyrell army is gathered at Tumbler’s Falls at the very headwaters of the Mander, waiting for their rendezvous with Tywin’s army, but the first-time reader doesn’t. However, it does raise a few questions – to begin with, these Marcher lords who remain out of pocket (there have to be more Marcher Lords than the Carons, Dondarrions, Selmy, and Swanns, given the way that they’re described as a group, but those are the only names we’re given) and whether they’re still around in ADWD. And as we’ve discussed before, what happened to the survivors of Bitterbridge.

But now that we’ve covered the mundane implications of the news about Cortnay Penrose, let’s talk about the far more entertaining metaphysical implications:

“For a long moment Varys said nothing. The only sound was the stately clack of horseshoes on cobbles. Finally the eunuch cleared his throat. “My lord, do you believe in the old powers?”

“Magic, you mean?” Tyrion said impatiently. “Bloodspells, curses, shapeshifting, those sorts of things?” He snorted.

“Do you mean to suggest that Ser Cortnay was magicked to his death?”

“Ser Cortnay had challenged Lord Stannis to single combat on the morning he died. I ask you, is this the act of a man lost to despair? Then there is the matter of Lord Renly’s mysterious and most fortuitous murder, even as his battle lines were forming up to sweep his brother from the field.”

As before with Alliser Thorne and the undead hand, it’s interesting that Tyrion (alone out of the main three protagonists) is not only completely outside of the magical plot, but also the lone skeptic in the bunch. By this point, Jon Snow has seen the dead walk and Dany has participated in a blood magic ritual to awaken dragon eggs – and yet Tyrion remains mystically virgo intactica. It’s an odd break in the pattern of threes. I’m not sure why GRRM went in this direction – whether it’s supposed to be some kind of hint about Tyrion’s background, an intentional grounding to make sure that the whole book doesn’t fly off into the realm of the ‘cult and the ‘canny, or what – but it’s a very noticeable choice.

Regardless, this chapter also gives us Varys’ backstory and how it relates to the question of magic:

The eunuch paused a moment. “My lord, you once asked me how it was that I was cut.”

“I recall,” said Tyrion. “You did not want to talk of it.”

“Nor do I, but . . .” This pause was longer than the one before, and when Varys spoke again his voice was different somehow. “I was an orphan boy apprenticed to a traveling folly. Our master owned a fat little cog and we sailed up and down the narrow sea performing in all the Free Cities and from time to time in Oldtown and King’s Landing.”

“One day at Myr, a certain man came to our folly. After the performance, he made an offer for me that my master found too tempting to refuse. I was in terror. I feared the man meant to use me as I had heard men used small boys, but in truth the only part of me he had need of was my manhood. He gave me a potion that made me powerless to move or speak, yet did nothing to dull my senses. With a long hooked blade, he sliced me root and stem, chanting all the while. I watched him burn my manly parts on a brazier. The flames turned blue, and I heard a voice answer his call, though I did not understand the words they spoke.”

“The mummers had sailed by the time he was done with me. Once I had served his purpose, the man had no further interest in me, so he put me out. When I asked him what I should do now, he answered that he supposed I should die. To spite him, I resolved to live. I begged, I stole, and I sold what parts of my body still remained to me. Soon I was as good a thief as any in Myr, and when I was older I learned that often the contents of a man’s letters are more valuable than the contents of his purse.”

“Yet I still dream of that night, my lord. Not of the sorcerer, nor his blade, nor even the way my manhood shriveled as it burned. I dream of the voice. The voice from the flames. Was it a god, a demon, some conjurer’s trick? I could not tell you, and I know all the tricks. All I can say for a certainty is that he called it, and it answered, and since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it. If Lord Stannis is one such, I mean to see him dead.”

This is one of my favorite, all-time monologues in the whole series. And I might as well show my cards right now – I’m absolutely convinced that this account is true. To begin with, from a Doylist position, it’s a waste of time for GRRM to think up, write, and polish this much background text, fill it with arresting imagery and convincing detail, only for it all to be a lie which will have to be upstaged later on. It’s so much easier to let his history remain a secret until the reveal. Likewise, it doesn’t make much sense to set up false motivations – after all, we already knew from AGOT that Varys is politically opposed to Stannis, so we don’t need a particular reason for him to help Tyrion fight the siege unless it has greater significance.

From a Watsonian perspective, too much fits for this to be fiction. We’ve already seen that magic works through blood sacrifice and sex (link), and as we’ll learn later on, divination is also a common magical practice; we’ve even seen dark spirits conjured before. Moreover, Varys’ description of his youth – “I begged, I stole, and I sold what parts of my body still remained to me. Soon I was as good a thief as any in Myr, and when I was older I learned that often the contents of a man’s letters are more valuable than the contents of his purse” – tracks too well with Illyrio’s description of the same events in ADWD. Before you bring up secret origins, let me raise the point that the best test of this kind of argument is the “silence test.” I.E, unless a false story would have an effect other than simply staying silent, you should assume that the story is true, because otherwise you’d just keep schtum. Even if Varys  is a secret Blackfyre – which I doubt – how would this story better conceal the truth than simply not bringing up the subject to Tyrion?

Tyrion’s Self-Image

The combination of these two threads – his relationship with Shae and the coming siege – in the chapter gives a grounding to one of his best expressions of how he sees himself:

“Storm’s End is fallen and Stannis is coming with fire and steel and the gods along know what dark powers, and the good folk don’t have Jaime to protect them, nor Robert not Renly nor Rhaegar nor their precious Knight of Flowers. Only me, the one they hate…the dwarf, the evil counselor, the twisted little monkey demon. I’m all that stands between them and chaos.”

As I’ve mentioned before, this identity as an anti-hero, a man who literally fights for a world that hates and fears him, is absolutely central to Tyrion’s self-image. And yet, one of the things we see in this chapter is that anti-heroism, far from the longcoat-wearing, stubble-heaving, voice-overing coolness of our teen years, is actually grounded in self-hatred and the damage that bigotry has done. Tyrion’s belief that, despite everything he’s made of himself and done for others, he cannot be loved is not a healthy perspective; it’s literally dooming him to a life of utterly bankrupt and poisonous relationships with everyone around him.

And that’s what I love about GRRM’s writing, the way in which he both deconstructs a well-worn trope, but also complicates it. As much as Tyrion’s mental image is a defensive posture, meant to keep out the slings and arrows of the outside world, it’s also literally true. Just as the truest knights are the ones who aren’t knights or who wear black cloaks instead of white, and just as the only true lord in Westeros is a commoner, so too is the hero of A Clash of Kings the very image of a Shakespearean villain.

Historical Analysis:

In this historical section, I’m going to start my discussion of the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, because as with many of his historical allusions, GRRM is remixing rather than playing one-to-one, so it’s good to get a foundation out there before we start running into more analogues in future chapters. As we’ll see in the next couple of Bran and Theon chapters, Bran and Rickon will be exemplifying the side of the Princes which revolves around captives undergoing a disappearance and potential gruesome death; Tommen here takes up the alternative of a prince being smuggled out under a false identity (another key part of the Princes myth) and being a prince whose paternity is called into question; his brother Joffrey will play the role of the king murdered by his uncle and made into a victim character for a tragic play; GRRM went back to this well again to explore the idea of pretenders popping up after the fact with the false Princes Daeron the Daring. And indeed, with Arya and Sansa both in hiding, having fake versions of themselves popping up either in Westeros or in Braavosi theaters, we also have a gender-flipped version.

So a brief biography to make sure that we know who these famous Princes in the Tower were. Edward, the Prince of Wales, and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, were the two sons of King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Woodville. When Edward IV died at the untimely age of 41 in 1483 due to a spate of Robert-Baratheon-like riotous living, it set off a conflict over the guardianship of his heirs between the family of the Queen Mother and that of the king’s brother, Richard of Gloucester. Edward IV had been a very open-handed king, and while that policy had helped him take and re-take the English throne and seemingly end the Wars of the Roses for ever, it also created some dangerous rivalries. Edward IV had lavished his Woodville in-laws with titles (Earldoms, royal offices, bishoprics), lands, and valuable marriage contracts (marrying into the Duchies of Buckinghamshire, Essex, and Kent). At the same time, his brother had been given so many lands and titles that he was undisputed ruler of Northern England and the second-most powerful man next to the king. This same policy of even distribution extended after the King’s own death, with the Queen’s brother Anthony being the Prince’s guardian and the King’s brother Richard named as Lord Protector.

Given the longstanding grudges between these two factions, this divided rule could not last. In a lightning march from Yorkshire to London, Richard overtook the Woodvilles escorting the Prince of Wales to the capitol. Despite being outnumbered by the Woodville escort, Richard had Anthony Woodville and his party arrested for treason against the Lord Protector, jailed, and later executed. With the princes in his possession, Richard continued the tour down to London at a more leisurely pace, and had the two princes installed in the Tower of London. A word about this – it’s a common mistake to assume that the Tower of London was a prison, and therefore that something was obviously wrong. Rather, the Tower was a royal palace that happened to have dungeons in it, and the two princes were not kept in them. Rather, as was befitting their rank, they were kept in the royal apartments, where the Kings of England customarily stay before their coronations.

Honestly, their lodgings were the least of their concerns…but that’s a story for next time.

What If?

There aren’t any real hypothetical scenarios in this chapter, as Tommen’s storyline wouldn’t really change regardless of who had temporary custody of him during the Battle of Blackwater. Check back next time!

Book vs. Show:

And now a few complaints about an otherwise great storyline in Season 2. Unlike many of the fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones, I didn’t have much of a problem with Sibel Kekilli’s performance as Shae – ultimately, I think the problems with her character came down to not getting good material from the scripts. For example, while I don’t necessarily think it was a bad idea to have Shae be genuinely in love with Tyrion – completely avoiding the events of this chapter – the writers should have realized that this would cause huge problems in Season 4 when Tyrion is put on trial and when he escapes. Given that this gave them two whole years to come up with a solution, the results speak of a significant failure of imagination – if you’re going to depart from the text, and the show has done so well and poorly, you need to know where you’re going.

Likewise, while I have nothing but praise for Conleth Hill’s performance as Varys – he’s one of those actors who is the character in my mind now when I read the books – I find it very strange that the show decided to push his monologue from Season 2, where it belonged, into Season 3. While I liked the revelation of the sorcerer in the box as much as the next aficionado of human boxification, the speech is really about why Varys is choosing Tyrion over Stannis and it needs to be before the Battle of Blackwater, not after.

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67 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Tyrion X, ACOK

  1. Grant says:

    On the idea of a setup, the most that I think can be said is that perhaps Varys arranged things in the hopes that eventually personalities and circumstances would push Tyrion in that direction. He could say that if Tywin won he’d take back the position of Hand. He could say that Tyrion had very little fondness for Cersei, Joffrey and Tywin. But predicting that Tyrion would be driven to murder his father after spending so much time not killing his two closest problems, Cersei and Joffrey? I cannot see Varys having any certainty that this would happen.

    On the story Varys gives, assuming it’s true then it raises the question of what exactly it means. I don’t think we’ve ever had an instance like this of calling out to some otherworldly being through magic in the rest of the series. Does that mean that it was actually R’hllor himself? I find it hard to believe that you could establish contact with a deity so easily when Melisandre has to work so hard just for the occasional vision from him. One of the glass candles? Varys doesn’t mention anything like that, but if he was telling the truth then at the time he was a terrified child.

    Maybe it’s something Martin either will get back to later, or planned to explore further but ran out of time on.

    • Andrew says:

      I agree regarding Varys’s story. Varys usually gives half-truths and leaves out some info rather than outright lie. I think working as a mummer for a traveling Myrish troupe, the sorcerer, the castration and the voice in the flame is true, but he left something out when telling the story.

      I keep getting reminded of a line from The Sworn Sword for some reason: “Sam Stoops’s wife says she (Lady Webber whose sigil is Varys’s nickname) sold her babes unborn to the Lord of the Seven Hells, so he’d teach her his black arts.”

    • Keith B says:

      Agree completely that Varys couldn’t have been planning to have Tyrion assassinate Tywin at this time. Far too many unpredictable events had to happen in order to set up the conditions that made Tywin’s assassination possible.

      It was only at time of Tyrion’s escape from the Red Keep that Varys intended for him to kill Tywin. He was deliberately leading Tyrion while pretending he was only answering questions. But even then, Varys’ plan had no reasonable expectation of success. Tyrion could have been caught, or decided not to kill Tywin after all, or a hundred other things could have gone wrong. It worked only because Martin wanted it to.

      • Agreed that GRRM is laying the groundwork for the assassination, and it is plausible IMHO. What Varys is doing here is developing his influence over his piece, Tyrion. That his piece is himself a formidable player is testament to Varys’ skill as a player of the Game.

    • Chinoiserie says:

      Martin said in an interview that “the role of Varys in this should be considered” when he was discussing Tywin’s murder (and how Shae was there I believe) so Varys probably did try to get Tyrion to murder Tywin. GRRM is sometimes needlessly complicated with his plots sometimes, so while I think this theory is unrealistic and I do not like it I could believe it.

      • Sean C. says:

        Varys was 100% setting up Tyrion to murder Tywin on the night of the killing itself. But I think it’s a bit of a stretch that he was planning it this far in advance. Way too much stuff has to happen that he’d have no way of predicting.

      • Lann says:

        Varys was coerced by Jaime to release Tyrion. Without that Tyrion’s execution would have gone through. Varys did some on the fly decision-making to make the best of a bad situation (Varys loses his position in court because of releasing Tyrion) and decides to recruit Tyrion and lure him to one final visit with his father (and Shae who probably used the same secret passage to get to the tower of the Hand earlier).

    • As far as getting Tyrion to kill Tywin goes I think it’s just taking advantage of an opportunity. Varys knows Tywin is bonking Shae so he takes Tyrion down the right passage at the right time and hopes he takes the hint. Where I think people make mistakes is in assuming Varys/Littlefinger have these rube goldberg plans where everything has to be just so for it to work. They have larger goals and take advantage of small opportunities to work towards those goals. If Tyrion just leaves I’m sure Tywin would have fell to some mishap that threw shade on the Tyrels before too long, that’s if he didn’t die from Oberyn’s poison first.

      As far as what god Vary’s heard maybe it’s the one who tricks people into thinking Tyrion is the third main character instead of Bran.

      • Andrew says:

        Going by chapter count the big three are Tyrion, Jon and Arya, in that order. Though its really the big five (plus sansa).

    • I think he did a bit more than that. If Varys doesn’t want Tyrion to kill Tywin, why tell Tyrion that there’s a tunnel linking to the Hand’s chambers, much less how to get there.

    • Steven Xue says:

      This makes me wonder if Varys has king’s blood in him. Why would the sorcerer pay good money for him in particular if he could just get any boy off the street to complete his ritual? I’m beginning to think maybe Varys is related to the Targaryens or Blackfyres which can explain his motives for restoring the Targaryens back into power.

      • Grant says:

        That part raises the question of why any sorcerer would ever let Varys leave if he had blood useful for supernatural rituals.

        So, Varys’ story. The truth, complete fabrication or something of the truth surrounded by fiction?

        Of course I’m not totally convinced that Martin didn’t decide to alter characters and their pasts even by that point.

        • The sorcerer’s actions suggest that he very specifically needed the genitals, not just blood, not life, nothing else of his body. Why the genitals? Maybe it’s a fertility ritual of some sorts. It’s certainly not like any other ritual sacrifice we’ve seen in the series.

          • I don’t think it was a fertility ritual as much as, just as sexual energy and lifeforce kind of go hand in hand with Melisandre’s shadowmagic, offering the genitals is offering all of the sexual/life energy that someone will ever has. So it”s kind of turbo-charged sacrifice.

      • I don’t buy that for a minute. There’s a lot of cases of non-royal human sacrifices having immediate magical effect, so I don’t think that’s it at all.

        I think there’s other reasons why the sorcerer might have wanted Varys – after all, beauty is a key aspect of a good sacrifice.

        • Tom says:

          Melisandre seems quite convinced about the royal-blood-sacrifice-thing. She studied magic for several years in Asshai (what better place to study magic?). Also maester Aemon sees the power in royal-blood. And who would argue with him? It might not be neccessary, but it could be more powerful?
          If this is true, it’s quite likely that Varys has royal-blood (Steven Xu), which would give him a motive to be envolved in Westeros that much. He didn’t become very rich or powerful or seems to work to get there. Why not stay in Essos? All these years of work, far away from home, for a business-buddy’s plan? He is not Littlefinger!

  2. winnie says:

    Great recap Steve. Like you I too always believed Varys’s story though actually I liked the way they did it on the show better than the books and not just for the box but also the “influence grows like a weed speech” which foreshadows Tyrion’s story arc in Season 5.

    Also the show’s treatment makes it pretty damn clear the story is true. We get plenty of Varys seeming quite sincere in season 2 about hating dark magic and thus being terrified of having Mel in the Red Keep so I think the timing still works.

    ITA though with your thoughts on Shae.

    • Glad you liked it!

      I didn’t like the show version quite as much because it’s awkwardly shoehorned in – they’re talking about an entirely different subject and Varys all the sudden says “by the way, did I ever tell you about how I got cut?”

      • MightyIsobel says:

        I agree. It’s literally an info dump, instead of the more subtle move in the books calculated to win Tyrion’s trust vis-à-vis the imminent arrival of Stannis.

  3. Keith B says:

    What is Tyrion’s purpose regarding to Tommen? He discovers that Cersei is sending Tommen to Rosby, so Tyrion intercepts the escort and … sends Tommen to Rosby. What does he accomplish? Is it merely to show Cersei who’s boss? Does he feel compelled to stay in control of everything? Or does he think his own people can protect Tommen better than Cersei’s can?

    Also, why doesn’t Tyrion hear about this from Varys? Cersei’s plot had to involve more than a few people, and if she told Lancel she clearly wasn’t careful about maintaining secrecy. If she knows, Ser Boros knows, Lancel knows, and Lord Gyles knows, it seems incredible that Varys hasn’t found out. So why didn’t he tell Tyrion?

    And finally, if Stannis had won, Bywater had a plan for Tommen. We don’t know what it was, but even if Stannis had marched on Rosby the next day, Tommen might already be on his way to Maidenpool and a ship for Essos, Oldtown, or even Lannisport. So I think there’s an excellent chance that the war would have continued in Tommen’s name even if Stannis had taken King’s Landing.

    • winnie says:

      Ship to Lannisport would be my guess. Tywin would want him at the Rock.

      But of course at that point the Lannisters would be at a serious disadvantage with Stannis on the throne and them rallying behind a small child King who’s far from the capital. As they said on the show a king who runs won’t be king for long…

      • Grant says:

        Ironically the thing then that most stands between peace might be the aspect of Stannis that the readers tend to admire about him, his determination. Depending on what cards he had (Cersei and Joffrey at least, maybe Tyrion) and what the balance of power is after the battle, someone more like Renly might be able to convince the Lannisters to accept a peace without a Lannister descendant on the throne. But Stannis? Would he be willing to compromise enough for the war to end or would he keep going?

        • jpmarchives says:

          There’s two theories of argument for that – the first is that Stannis has shown plenty of compromise by the end of ADWD to win his throne. Accepting the men who fought for Renly, using potentially evil dark magic, raising a bastard to a great lord, keeping an army of culturally and religiously diverse elements together and abandoning a selfish cause for a noble one. Stannis CAN change for the better. It is not fair to assume that no sooner is he on the throne than the entire realm would collapse into civil war again, mainly because that is an argument propagated by LF and Varys to Ned and Tyrion – two people they were trying to influence.

          But assuming that Stannis simply cannot compromise enough to avoid conflict with the great houses, we have to ask; is that really a bad thing? In terms of realism (and ignoring all the magic of course) the big difference between Westeros and medieval europe is the sense of change. Whereas the medieval period was a seemingly unending train of fluctuating cultural and technological upheavals, Westeros is a civilization trapped and stagnating. The violent ascension of a radical King with ideas about the social contract and a preference for merit above birth might be just what Westeros needs. A war to keep a psychotic like Joffrey on the throne is a disaster. A war to keep a man like Stannis on the throne could be seen as a necessary evil.

          • Grant says:

            The Stannis who nearly took the Iron Throne by force in this book is not the same man we see in ADWD, and I don’t think there’s much to say that the Stannis here would do more to stimulate growth and reform than Robert had before him. Would Stannis even have any idea how beyond to not allow so much corruption in the court as his brother had?

            The best that could be said would be that Varys, Pycelle and Baelish would lose their jobs and probably their lives, and with Varys at least it’s pure luck on Stannis’ part that this would be the correct move. Stannis never had anything to say that Varys wasn’t just a good spymaster who had been cursed with awful kings to serve, but he’d put him to death even though Varys would be essential to any new government.

          • Chinoiserie says:

            Grant, I agree and Baelish is not even in the city currently.

    • David Hunt says:

      I think Tyrion is pretty clear in his own mind that he doesn’t trust Rosby to not give up Tommen if Stannis takes King’s Landing. This is the same reason that he doesn’t trust Bronn to take over Rosby. He believed Bronn would sell out Tommen in an instant once Tyrion wasn’t alive to keep paying him. So yes, it’s that he thinks that his own (carefully selected) people can protect Tommen better than the people Cercei selected (Rosby & Blount). He trust Bywater to remain loyal to Robert’s son even if King’s Landing falls.

      Sidenote, I always felt bad for Bywater. He’s one of those good men faithfully serving a false king that Stannis talks about. The ones whose honor he respects more than the lords who defected to him from Renly’s camp. Bywater gave good faithful service and to the best of my knowledge always told Tyrion the bald truth, never willing to lie to make his job easier. He reminds me of Davos that way, which is unsurprising since they both were knighted as a reward for their heroics in war. Come to think of it, they both had crippled hands that got them those knighthoods. Is this a conscious parallel on Martin’s part?

      • Keith B says:

        That’s a good reason. He could have mentioned to Cersei that he was doing it because he didn’t trust Rosby, it might have saved him some trouble.

        • David Hunt says:

          Nope. Cercei will almost always view anything Tyrion does in the worst possible light. Given what we know about Maggie the Frog’s prophecy, there was no amount of explanation that would have convinced her that Tyrion was trying to keep Tommen more secure. I will admit that it is just vaguely possible that he might have been able to influence her to have some trustworthy men of her own expel the garrison at Rosby and take over, but it’s never a good bet that Tyrion can convince Cercei to do anything, at least by asking her to do it. She openly hates him and views anything that is part of his agenda to at best shallow and vulgar and at worst an existential threat. In Cercei’s mind, Tyrion trying to influence Tommen’s security in any way means that it’s part an ongoing threat to destroy Cercei and her children.

          Tyrion doesn’t know about the prophecy, but he knows that Cercei is almost certain to resist any changes he suggests to Tommen’s security just because he suggested the changes. Plus, she was trying to keep it secret so even admitting he know about the plot is admitting that he’s spying on her and, worse, he succeeding at it. From Tyrion’s point of view, his only good play is what he did: take over the group securing Tommen. The fact that this particular act guantees that Cercei becomes his MORTAL enemy instead of his political enemy is not something that he can really see coming.

      • I think there’s definitely a statement in Bywater about the limits of personal bravery – Bywater tries to stem the rout, but no amount of personal courage can stop an arrow to the throat.

    • Control – there’s a very good chance Tommen might become the King if the battle goes badly, and Tyrion doesn’t want him under Cersei’s thumb.

  4. Hongjun Chang says:

    ‘we already knew from AGOT that Varys is politically opposed to Stannis’ that link is not correct, right? It is linked to ACOK chapter, IIRC…

  5. Brett says:

    I really disliked that the show had them be in love, versus the more interesting toxic relationship built they had in the books. Mostly because the relationship was unhealthy from the get-go – Tyrion quite literally tells Shae when he hires her the first time that he needs her for more than sex. He wants a fantasy girlfriend.

    Also, do you think it’s a problem that there are so few POV chapters showing Tyrion from the perspective of others? We get a handful of them from Jon and Sansa, but that’s about it – it’s not like if, for example, we’d seen some of the events in A Clash of Kings from Cersei’s POV as well as Tyrion.

    • winnie says:

      Cersei’s pov chapters while hilarious are problematic because she’s such an unreliable narrator.

      But yeah other characters takes on Tyrion could be useful.

    • I didn’t have a problem with Shae being in love on the show. Tyrion being able and willing to delude himself that much always seemed a weakness of the book to me. I just think they didn’t stick the landing on why she turned on Tyrion to that extent.

      • I don’t see that as weakness in the book. People will delude themselves when they want to see things a certain way. Tyrion is paying Shae for an illusion, one he wants to believe in, even though he is also questioning it all the time. It’s all a reflection of how badly damaged Tyrion is, and his relationship with Shae is his way of dealing with his Tysha issues (which will become completely clear in Tyrion’s last ACOK chapter).

        The problem with writing a Shae who is really in love with Tyrion on the show is that it means completely rewriting Tyrion’s arc. But the showrunners weren’t ready to commit fully to that, either, while they were also not ready to faithfully adapt his arc with all the ugly and the unpleasant bits of it (which shows that they are essentially just playing at being edgy, but are actually afraid to, say, portray a popular male character as anything but perfectly likable). It would have been much better if they had just decided to take Shae’s story in another direction, since they have already changed characterizations. But they tried to completely change her characterizatin and relationship with Tyrion but still come to the same end, plot-wise – which was like trying to cram the proverbial square peg into a round hole (something the show does a lot, the entire season 5 consisted of square pegs being crammed into round holes).

        • NP says:

          yup, season 5 was pretty bad. i love the production, the setting, characters, attention to detail. but the show does not hold a candle to the books in terms of not backing itself into corners (as you articulately described). hopefully the show can rebound. still great to watch, a pleasing compliment to the novels, but the story has veered so far off course (despite similar “conflicts” for the main characters at the end of season 5/adwd) that it will be interesting to see how the next two season save it.

  6. Sean C. says:

    From the director’s commentary track, the monologue was originally in “Blackwater”, in Tyrion’s scene with Varys, but the writers removed it as they thought it detracted from the pace.

    • Grant says:

      Personally I have to agree. It would slow down a tense piece of an oncoming storm and it also wouldn’t allow Varys’ story and its strangeness to have the impact that they would when Varys does tell it to Tyrion. In the books it’s kind of a distraction, and in the show it would probably have been so much so that they just needed to move it.

      Now you could say that they could have moved it to earlier in the season before the battle, maybe during Tyrion’s discussion of the city’s defense with Bronn and Varys, but just not minutes before the battle starts.

    • I think that’s a mistake, honestly.

  7. Jim B says:

    “Ominously foreshadowing Tyrion’s foray into kingslaying, Tyrion tries to beg off by saying that “the man who kills his own blood is cursed forever in the sight of gods and men.””

    I know Tyrion was “convicted” by a Westerosi court of killing Joffrey, but I think you meant “kinslaying.”

  8. MightyIsobel says:

    On this read, I was impressed with GRRM’s deployment of unreliable narration to explore Shae’s motivations in her relationship with Tyrion. As you say, it is perfectly clear that she is struggling to gain the upper hand in the relationship with the overt aim of gaining a respectable position at court. At the same time, Tyrion’s analysis and doubts are all very clear to us, as is his own confusion about his feelings, and hers. It speaks to his emotional intelligence and aptitude for reading people especially when they’re telling him what he wants to hear. It’s a shame that the show boiled the relationship down to a clingy-girlfriend story with a ShockingTwistEnding(tm) .

    I was also struck by how the basic groundwork for ADWD Tyrion is being laid in this chapter. The guy who drank his way across the Narrow Sea, here he is, just a few disasters away from having nowhere left to hide from his father’s hideous legacy.

  9. Great analysis of the chapter, but I need to nitpick the historical section – it was only Edward V who had lived with Rivers as guardian in Ludlow (as per the usual practice of the heir to the throne living in Wales) and was being escorted to London. His younger brother Richard was in London all the time, where he had lived with his parents and siblings, and when Elizabeth Woodville went to the sanctuary, she took the boy and her daughters with her. It was only later that Richard was taken from Sanctuary to join his brother in the Tower.

  10. I think it’s interesting to notice the difference between Tyrion’s and Varys’ practice of their spycraft. Tyrion loses patience halfway to Chataya’s and rides off to see Shae without the use of the blind. Maybe he was followed and maybe he wasn’t. Varys shows up in an excellent disguise that took a lot of time and effort to put on, even though he probably didn’t need to go to the trouble.

  11. NP says:

    As someone who has played chess competitively for nearly 30 years, I can tell you it is absolutely plausible that Varys was setting Tyrion up to murder Tywin at this point in the story. You the all the pieces on the board. You know all the possibilities. Yes, there are a very large (but finite) amount of possibilities as to what can happen, assuming all the pieces perform their roles (don’t go out of character). But this ending was one that Varys saw as a possibility and, I believe, moved his pieces in order to try to have this outcome. There were a multitude of other outcomes depending on the other pieces, and I’m sure Varys had delicious plans for those as well. Many of them could have led to Tyrion murdering Tywin by some other means/situation. Some might not have, but still led to favorable situations for Varys. He’s the master Cyvasse player, he sees all the possible outcomes, so there is no reason he did not see this coming (despite the possibilities for other favorable outcomes.)

    • Grant says:

      Chess isn’t a person. A pawn can’t be overcome with remorse and guilt and decide to throw himself off a wall after killing his lover. A pawn also can’t decide on its own to lead a sally, get slashed by a murderous soldier and end up unconscious for days while everyone else does their best to insist that the pawn had nothing to do with the hard-fought victory.

    • Chinoiserie says:

      The ssue here is that seems there is no reason for Varys to make Tyrion to kill Tywin since he seems as capable of doing it himself using the same tunnels. He did not seem troubled killing Pycelle and Kevan personally. The only gain for Varys trying to manipulate Tyrion to kill Tywin is to severe Tyrion’s ties to his family. But one would think that if Varys would like Tyrion join him so much he would do something else than just appear friendly and put hints that Tyrion could kill Tywin. Just seems overly complicated and too unreliable to work outside a work of fiction… Which asoiaf is, so this could be true, I just would consider it not particularly good writing.

  12. bookworm1398 says:

    Did Shae really think that she could gain much by way of position? Given how class conscious Westeros society is, this seems really unlikely. She should have been busy converting all the dresses and jewels into cash safely hidden away.

    • That’s what she says in this chapter – she wants to be his lady.

    • MightyIsobel says:

      How do we know she’s not? I don’t think Tyrion is keeping a close accounting of the cash and goods he’s giving her.

    • Tyrion is not the only one who indulges in delusions and wishful thinking. Later in ASOS, Shae asks Tyrion to take her to the royal wedding and says that no one will realize she’s not a lady if she just dresses well. To which Tyrion just thinks to himself “yes, they would”.

    • Jim B says:

      It seems reasonable to me that this is just part of (book) Shae’s act. Tyrion wants the whole “girlfriend experience,” and so Shae is playing the role of the emotionally needy girlfriend. If Shae just came right out and asked for more money, it would remind Tyrion that she’s “just” a whore, and he might start spreading his business around. The teary-eyed “I miss you, why can’t we be together” routine keeps Tyrion on the hook, and his guilt leads to more presents.

  13. I’m not sure Varys was definitely setting up Tyrion to kill Tywin yet – rather, I think he was setting up possibilities. Tyrion using the tunnels, but for what? Killing Tywin is certainly an option, but not the only use for a secret passage. Especially as at this time, Tyrion is the one occupying that tower, rather than Tywin, even if it’s only temporary. So at this point he mostly wanted Tyrion to know it was there, because it opens up options – for Tyrion, and for Varys to nudge him toward or away from options. It’s groundwork more than a fully fleshed plot.

    As for his story, I definitely think that’s true, and a defining moment for him beyond the obvious. After all, what better motivator for seeking power, for seeking to make an ideal ruler, than having been in increasingly powerless circumstances?

    • Jim B says:

      I agree. It makes more sense to me that Varys was letting Tyrion know about the secret passage to the Hand’s chambers because it’s a not-so-subtle reminder not to fuck with Varys, because he and his little birds can get to you any time he wants. And/or because Tyrion might start asking for Shae to be smuggled into the Tower instead of him going to her, which puts Tyrion further in Varys’s debt and power.

      For Varys to be laying the groundwork for Tyrion to kill Tywin requires:
      1) That Varys might someday (a) want Tywin dead, and (b) have Tyrion be the one to do it.
      2) That Tywin will be occupying the Hand’s Tower (admittedly, this one is a reasonable assumption)
      3) That Tyrion will be in a situation or state of mind where he is willing or can be manipulated into killing Tywin, (again, not a huge stretch given their known bad relationship) BUT that he’ll need to use the secret entrance to do it as opposed to coming in through the front door, or dropping some poison in Tywin’s wine, or killing him in some other location.*
      4) That it’s somehow important to the plan that Tyrion know now of the secret passage as opposed to just telling him later. (As if the Tyrion who’s willing to jeopardize his escape to confront his father one last time is going to smell a rat if Varys drops a comment like “Not that way, my lord — unless you want to end up in your lord father’s chambers!”)

      *– if your answer to this is “but it has to happen in Tywin’s chambers because that’s the only way for Tyrion to catch Shae in Tywin’s bed,” then you’re assuming that Varys also knows or predicts that Tywin will bring his son’s whore to his own bed. Sure, maybe Varys knows that Tywin was the previous Hand who used to visit Chattaya’s and therefore isn’t as anti-whore as he pretends, but it’s still a stretch to assume that he’ll choose this specific whore, AND that after having previously been careful to use secret passages to go to whorehouses, he’ll have one in the Tower of the Hand.

  14. Andrew says:

    I definitely think Vary’s was feeling out Tyrion as a possible recruit for Aegons cause, as well as laying the groundwork for his future manipulations by building a sense of trust.

    As to the sacrifice story- like you I am inclined to think it true on narrative conservation alone. I also think it might be a subtle hint at the Blackfyre theory- if as some suggest Illgrios dead wife was Gary’s sister and a blackfyr through the female line then that would neatly tie together Varys motivations for all of his actions. As in why he even bothered coming to Westeros in the first place, not to mention it would explain the sorceros interest beyond the obvious ritual sacrifice.

  15. […] I’ve already discussed my feelings about the “botch in the Riverlands,” but re-reading this chapter really brought it back to me. In the show, after having spent most of the second season having his armies be defeated off-screen and doing some lovely character work with Arya at Harrenhal, Tywin abruptly decides to “ride at nightfall,” although with the complete removal of the Battle of the Fords plotline due to the delay of casting the Tullys, things get weird. The supposed head-fake that he’s going after Robb Stark rather than King’s Landing doesn’t really land, so his arrival at Blackwater is far less of a surprise, especially in comparison to the book we see Tywin engaged in protracted conflict 600 miles away from the city as Stannis nears the city and Tyrion despairs of any reinforcements. […]

  16. “the only true lord in Westeros is a commoner” — Who are you talking about??

  17. […] When we last left off with the Princes in the Tower in May 1483, Edward, the Prince of Wales (later joined by his brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York) had just taken up residence in the Tower of London awaiting Edward’s coronation as Edward V, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland. […]

  18. […] be held…how can something this sweet be a crime worth hanging her for?” The problem is, as I’ve indicated before, that Tyrion’s conception of a normal human relationship has been fatally corrupted by his […]

  19. […] even after Cersei’s beating of Alayaya and Tyrion’s threats in response, even after ordering Tommen’s capture, even after the assassination attempt on his life – to feel a pang of sympathy for his […]

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