“While Tyrion lay drugged and dreaming, his own blood had pulled his claws out, one-by-one.”
Synopsis: All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
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.
So far, A Storm of Swords has been fairly quiet; we’ve gotten a new POV and a few recap chapters dealing with the aftermath of ACOK, but nothing really out of the ordinary. Tyrion I is something else entirely: in one chapter, we get the complete rewriting of the political order of King’s Landing, the introduction of several significant plotlines (the Tyrells arriving in King’s Landing politics and, if you’re a re-reader, the first sign of the Red Wedding), and arguably one of the best scenes in the entire book, and indeed in all of ASOIAF, when Tyrion meets his father for the first time since the end of AGOT.
The Fall, Part 2
The chapter begins with a startling immediacy as Tyrion wakes from a fevre dream to find out that his political coalition has been dismnatled –“Lord Tywin had wasted little time. Moving his son from the Tower of the Hand to claim it for himself was a message anyone could read, and this was another” – much as he did in Tyrion XV of ACOK. I almost get the sense from this chapter that GRRM had originally written most of this chapter for ACOK and then decided that it was too good to put at the end of the book and decided to push most of the detail of Tyrion’s fall from grace to the next book. (Although if that was the case, why not end ACOK with Tyrion’s survival left on a cliffhanger as with Davos?)
And the dismantling of Tyrion’s political empire really requires examination in detail, because well before we see Tywin Lannister in action, we area lready seeing his political mind at work. Like his son, Tywin understands that military hegemony is the foundation of all government, and so moves first to secure a monopoly on violence for himself:
“Ser Jacelyn…dead… Your sister sent the Kettleblacks to fetch the king back to the Red Keep, the way I hear it. When the gold cloaks saw him leaving, half of them decided they’d leave with him. Ironhand put himself in their path and tried to order them back to the walls. They say Bywater was blistering them good and almost had ’em ready to turn when someone put an arrow through his neck. He didn’t seem so fearsome then, so they dragged him off his horse and killed him.”
“Who commands the gold cloaks now?”
“Your lord father’s given them to one of his westermen, some knight named Addam Marbrand.”
In most cases the gold cloaks would have resented having an outsider placed over them, but Ser Addam Marbrand was a shrewd choice. Like Jaime, he was the sort of man other men liked to follow. I have lost the City Watch…
“The Stone Crows are still in the Kingswood…Timett led the Burned Men home, with all the plunder they took from Stannis’s camp after the fighting. Chell turned up with a dozen Black Ears at the River Gate one morning, but your father’s red cloaks chased them off…”
As we see, the collapse is total – in one fell swoop, Tyrion loses the Goldcloaks, his mercenaries (more on this in a bit), and the mountain clans, leaving him with absolutely no military force of his own and thus completely at the mercy of his father. The loss of the mountain clans shows us that, contrary to the family’s mantra, the Lannisters actually don’t pay their debts – with Tywin acting as cheapskate general (a motif that will be repeated when he and Tyrion talk about giving Littlefinger Harrenhal, which Tywin calls “an empty title…A Lannister pays his debts.” with no sense of irony or self-awareness). While the loss of the Goldcloaks was probably inevitable, imagine how differently the aftermath of the Purple Wedding would have gone had Tyrion been surrounded by hundreds of mercenaries and mountain clans.
The loss of Ser Jacelyn Bywater hits especially hard, because we can see in him a synecdoche for Tyrion himself – his disability, their common desire to “do justice” – and his end in a noble effort to single-handedly stop a rout that almost succeeded in the worst of all circumstances, but ultimately fell short. And his replacement by Ser Addam Marbrand is telling: Marbrand is not only a Westerman in what is very clearly a Lannister Administration, but also family through Tywin’s mother, and Tywin’s personal crony who has been by his side in every battle of the War of Five Kings. Thus, even in the event of a conflict within House Lannister, Marbrand will side with Tywin.
The Fall: Collateral Damage
Tyrion’s fall from grace does not end there, however. Beyond simply a political humiliation, Tyrion learns that every single maneuver of his, no matter how big or how small, has been undone, in a torturous Humiliation Conga:
“Alayaya…they tied her to a post in the yard and scouraged her, then shoved her out the gate naked and bloody.” She was learning to read, Tyrion thought, absurdly. Across his face the scar stretched tight, and for a moment it felt as though his head would burst with rage…in his carelessness, he had never thought what the role might cost her…
“You don’t have Tommen,” Bronn said bluntly. “Once she learned that Ironhand was dead, the queen sent the Kettleblacks after him, and no one at Rosby had the balls to say them nay.”
“…the Kettleblacks were supposed to be ours…”
“They were, so long as I could give them too pennies for every one they had from the queen, but now she’s raised the stakes. Osney and Osfryd were made knights after the battle, same as me. Gods know what for, no one saw them do any fighting.”
By losing Tommen, Tyrion not only loses all leverage over Cersei but (as we’ll find out shortly) adds one more indictment of disloyalty to The Family in the eyes of his father. What makes it sting all the more sharply is that this is due to him being outplayed when it comes to the Kettleblacks – while Tyrion could offer gold to secure loyalty and information, he can’t offer the consolations of rank and sex that Cersei can – as once again the family of miles gloriosos prove themselves totally useless, as Bronn alludes to.
But it Alayaya that stings the sharpest, as it demonstrates that, even when it comes to the smallest things in his political world, Tyrion cannot protect anyone. And once again, it is a lower-class female sex worker (assumed in the former case; in this case, a woman of color as well) who pays the price for Tyrion’s mistakes. And while Tyrion’s plaintive memory that Alayaya had been learning to read smacks of a benevolent paternalism (would the abuse have been more acceptable if she had been illiterate?), it is comforting to learn that he is self-aware enough to recognize his own complicity.
The reference to Tysha here is deliberate – just as the Battle of Duskendale is brought to our minds before Tyrion’s interview with his father, so too is Tyrion and Tywin’s history of Oedipal conflict worked out through Tywin’s abuse of women’s bodies previewed here with Alayaya’s whipping. Tyrion doesn’t yet know why this was done, but on a re-read we can see that not all of Tywin’s actions are being done for cold political reasons, that he can and does act out of deep-seated psychological reasons. Not only does this begin to lay the psychosexual groundwork for his patricide, but it also works as a good red herring for Shae, who will be the fatal connection between father and son.
The Rise of a Sellsword
Another sign of how far Tyrion has fallen is Bronn’s rise in the world. Given that their relationship was founded on Tyrion’s ability to outbid any competitor, it’s a bad sign that Bronn’s knighthood came from Tywin’s hand rather than his son’s:
Bronn’s coal-black hair was freshly washed and brushed straight back from the hard lines of his face, and he was dressed in high boots of soft, tooled leather, a wide belt studded with nuggets of silver, and a cloak of pale green silk. Across the dark grey wool of his doublet, a burning chain was embroidered diagonally in bright green thread.
“What’s that ugly thing on your chest?”
Bronn grinned. “My knightly sigil. A flaming chain, green, on a smoke-grey field. By your lord father’s command, I’m Ser Bronn of the Blackwater now, Imp. See you don’t forget it.”
Almost immediately, we can see the power dynamic between the two men shifting as Bronn’s knighthood now puts him on the bottom rung of the nobility, which reduces the social difference between the two men. And for all that HBO’s Littlefinger might be a pale imitation of the original, he’s not wrong that the chaos of civil war can indeed be a ladder: already, Bronn has risen from sellsword to knight, and will soon rise to be Lord of Stokeworth. Where he will rise from these is not clear, but I do wonder whether Tyrion’s former bodyguard will prove to be the unseen way in for Dany in seizing King’s Landing, similar to the Goldcloaks’ role during the Dance of the Dragons.
The fact that Bronn can and has gained from the patronage of other Lannisters than Tyrion shows that Tyrion’s last supporter is an uncertain reed at best, especially as Tyrion is increasingly pitted against memories of his own family and can no longer count on the effectively limitless financial resources of House Lannister. And indeed, Bronn will (totally understandably, given the circumstance) desert Tyrion in his moment of need, thus avoiding death-by-crushed-skull. On the other hand, Bronn doesn’t exactly betray Tyrion either – he doesn’t testify against him during his trial, and as we see in AFFC, remains spiritually loyal to his former employer.
Cersei and Paranoia
Running throughout this section of Tyrion I is a running theme of his constant paranoia about Cersei. On a re-read, there’s an interesting parallel here with Cersei I of AFFC, with both siblings obsessed about the other one spying on them or trying to kill them, often in the absence of any solid evidence. Here, Tyrion is convinced that Cersei has spies and assassins all around: “here in Maegor’s Holdfast, every servant was in the queen’s pay, so any visitor might be another of Cersei’s catspaws, sent to finish the work Ser Mandon had begun.” Given how ridiculously easy it would have been to assassinate him while he was in his sick bed, if Cersei was intent on killing him at the moment, even she would probably have pulled it off. At the end of the day, all she she really needed to do to remove Tyrion as a thorn in her side was to go and tattle to daddy, and given how lazy Cersei is as a conspirator, she likely refrained to avoid alienating their father at a time when she was trying very hard to win his favor.
Cersei was behind Ser Mandon’s attempt to kill him, he knew that in his gut…”My sister has mistaken me for a mushroom. She keeps me in the dark and feeds me shit. Pod’s a good lad, but…I don’t trust half what he tells me.”
“…It was kind of Cersei to ask him to look after you. She feared for your life.”
Feared that I might keep it, you mean. “Doubtless that’s why she’s never once left my bedside.”
…Ser Mandon Moore was not his true enemy. He was only a catspaw, and I believe I know the cat. She told him to make certain I did not survive the battle…
As was clear from the comments on the last Tyrion chapter, the question of who was responsible for Ser Mandon Moore’s assassination attempt remains one of the continuing controversies of the ASOIAF fandom. I don’t want to re-hash the arguments we had last time, but I do think the impact of the attempt on Tyrion’s mindset is important. As the old saying goes, you’re not paranoid if they’re actually out to get you, and so Ser Mandon’s attempted slaying reinforces every one of Tyrion’s darkest imaginings, and occupies a good deal of Tyrion’s attention. Thus, instead of setting Bronn to gather information on the current political situation, he orders him to spend his time trying to dig up dirt on the late Kingsguard, prioritizing old business over dealing with his problems in the here and now.
An Update on the War of Five Kings
Once he’s experienced the full gamut of his personal disaster, Tyrion is finally ready to take an interest in the larger world, which allows for a massive information dump to the reader and Tyrion that ties up a lot of loose ends from ACOK and which also works to show us how much the world has changed since Tyrion’s been convalescing. We begin with the fallout from the Battle of Blackwater:
“…there’s hundreds in the pot shops and brothels who’ll tell you how they saw Lord Renly kill this one or that one. Most of Stannis’s host had been Renly’s to start, and they went right back over at the sight of him in that shiny green armor.”
After all his planning, after the sortie and the bridge of ships, after getting his face slashed in two, Tyrion had been eclipsed by a dead man…
“How did Stannis escape?”
“His Lyseni kept their galleys out in the bay, beyond your chain. When the battle turned bad, they put in along the bay shore and took off as many as they could. Men were killing each other to get aboard, toward the end.”
As we can see from Tyrion’s understandable griping, he is going to be rather self-absorbed for the better part of this chapter (which, if nothing else, is proof positive that he absolutely is Tywin’s child). At the same time, it’s hard to blame him: the public memory of the Battle of Blackwater has been rewritten in romantic terms that have no place for the Halfman. As he is “not shaped for sportive tricks/nor made to court an amorous looking-glass,” the intellectual anti-hero who torched Stannis’ fleet and held the walls of King’s Landing has been erased from the history books. And this in turn works as a prefiguring of Tyrion’s more private clash with his father over the proper historical interpretation of the Lannister victory.
At the same time, we also get a massive bit of new information – remember, ACOK left it ambiguous as to whether or not Stannis Baratheon had escaped the Battle of Blackwater (“it’s done! Done! Done! The city is saved. Lord Stannis is dead, Lord Stannis is fled, no one knows, no one cares”). Here we get confirmation that Stannis escaped, thanks to those Lyseni galleys that Tyrion’s boom chain and Imry Florent’s elitism had kept out of the battle – another instance of GRRM’s intricate plotting at work. And given the role that Stannis Baratheon will play later in ASOS, keeping him alive and out of the War of Five Kings -is absolutely crucial for Jon’s plot going forward.
We also learn a bit of information that, innocuously sandwiched between a whole mess of information about the Battle of Blackwater, is easy to overlook:
“What of Robb Stark, what has he been doing?”
“There’s some of his wolves burning their way down toward Duskendale. Your father’s sending this Lord Tarly to sort them out. I’ve half a mind to join him. It’s said he’s a good soldier, and openhanded with the plunder.”
While we saw the orders being given by Roose Bolton, this is the first time we see that the Lannisters already know and are reacting to this move – which counts as the first sign of the Red Wedding proper in ASOS, although it’s easy to overlook this, even on a re-read. And as with Renly’s ghost, this announcement is only a prelude to a more profound encounter with Tywin Lannister, whose presence once again looms over the chapter. It also begins what will be a running focus of my coverage of this book: examining in close detail how GRRM weaves foreshadowing for the Red Wedding through the text all the way up to the event itself without spoiling the outcome for first-time readers.
An Update on King’s Landing Politics
We move on from the military situation to the political situation, as T-yrion learns about the political impact that the Tyrells are already having on the capitol, where for the first time since the end of AGOT, the Lannisters are no longer the only political force in town. And the difference in styles between the two houses is instructive:
“But speaking of pretty, is Margaery Tyrell in King’s Landing yet?”
“No. She’s coming, though, and the city’s mad with love for her. The Tyrells have been carting food up from Highgarden and giving it away in her name. Hundreds of wayns each day. There’s thousands of Tyrell men swaggering about with little golden roses sewn on their doublets, and not a one is buying his own wine. Wife, widow, or whore, the women are all giving up their virtue to every peach-fuzz boy with a gold rose on his teat.”
They spit on me, and buy drinks for the Tyrells.
However much Tyrion might be making everything about him, it is interesting that, before we get an up-close view with Sansa’s POV, we already see how the Tyrells manufacture and promote their political brand. Perhaps out of sheer necessity to compensate for their lack of royal heritage in the eyes of their Reach bannermen, House Tyrell understands and engages in public politics in a way that no other House does. But as we can see from this passage, their technique goes further than manipulating chivalric romance to making use of more base material desires for food, wine, and sex. And the two sides go together very well: the public largesse is meant to associate Margaery’s beauty (both the image of purity and the promise of fertility to come) with the Reach as Westeros’ major source of food, wine, and people.
This is a kind of politics that Tyrion doesn’t understand with reference to himself. It’s not that Tyrion doesn’t understand public politics period – we see that with his reaction to Stannis’ open letter – and he definitely had the financial resources to give out bread in his own name. Rather, Tyrion’s preconceived notion of himself as a despised outside and anti hero won’t let him participate in the game, as we’ll see in full force when it comes to his trial. Indeed, a lot of Tyrion’s self-pitying egoism in this chapter suggests that he chooses to lean into his outsider status as a kind of preemptive strike against the hatred that he think–s is coming his way, a survival strategy that (as we’ll see later when he meets with Tywin) Tyrion likely developed to deal with his father. One wonders whether Tyrion will prove a better PR man when he’s working on behalf of a more “telegenic” candidate like Daenerys Targaryen…
The other political update comes with Tyrion’s encounter with Addam Marbrand, thus reiterating the earlier discussion of the changing of the guard in the capitol and bringing up some new topics with the new commander of the City Guard:
“Death and desertion have left me with some forty-four hundred. Only the gods and Littlefinger know how we are going to go on paying wages for so many, but your sister forbids me to dismiss any…Lord Tywin feels forty-four hundred guardsmen more than sufficient to find one lost squire, but your cousin Tyrek remains missing…Lord Tywin is stubborn where his blood is concerned. He will have the lad, alive or dead, and I mean to oblige him.”
There’s a couple things to unpack here: first, the Goldcloaks were more than decimated in the Battle of Blackwater, suffering 26% losses between KIA, WIA, and MIA (and indeed, when you consider that the 4,400 include 300 who were sent out with Littlefinger, it’s closer to a third of all Goldcloaks who were in the city). As I’ve discussed before, a military unit that suffers that level of casualties is no longer combat effective, and thus the Goldcloaks are likely to be a broken reed in future conflicts. (Then again, the WOIAF shows that the Goldcloaks have never been a reliable force for any monarch, so if Cersei thinks they’ll hold King’s Landing for her against the Golden Company she is very much mistaken…) Second, it’s interesting how little Cersei and Tywin see eye to eye here, with Cersei trying to cling onto each man that she perceives as her own, and Tywin breaking the knees of any man who deserted – and this is at a moment where Cersei is actively trying to curry favor with her father.
Third, we learn that Tyrek Lannister has still not been found, despite the efforts of the best and brightest of House Lannister and a workforce of several thousand. On a meta-level, this further suggests that Tyrek is alive, because if Tyrek was dead, you wouldn’t waste this many words on the search without a payoff. For what purpose is hard to say – I’m still leaning toward Tyrek being a witness to Cersei’s adultery, incest, kinslaying, murder, and treason, although perhaps the venue is not Cersei’s trial before the Faith and instead the court of public opinion. Beyond the mystery, however, Tyrek’s mention here is important because it highlights Tywin’s uncompromising (verging on irrational) dedication to his ideal of family, which will play a major role in Tyrion’s estrangement from his family (since unlike Tywin, Tyrion has never been able to count on the support of his whole family).
Fathers and Sons
However, everything we’ve discussed to date is but a mere prelude to Tyrion’s knock-down, drag-out reunion with his father. It is hard to overstate how incredible the writing in this section is; far more than Tywin’s brief appearance in AGOT and ACOK, Tyrion I is where the reader makes a connection with Tywin. Even in a book stuffed with top tier chapters of ASOIAF as a whole, this is not only some of GRRM’s best writing but one of the most important chapters in the series.
On one level, we can see the origin of the legend of Tywin the Mastermind in the ASOIAF fandom – throughout the conversation, he has the trump card of the Red Wedding in his back pocket, making him even more of a smug bastard than usual – which has arguably become the dominant perception of Tywin Lannister, obscuring many of his mistakes and flaws. On another level, far from being a purely rational strategist, we can also see the catalyst for Tywin’s Atreus-like destruction in the way that he systemically dismantles any possibility of reconciliation with Tyrion, so poisoned is their relationship by Joanna’s death, Tywin’s bigotry and ego, and a lifetime of abuse and recrimination.
To keep this conversation on track, I’m going to break their discussion up by specific topics rather than going linearly:
Glory of the West
The first theme that I want to discuss is that of appearance and personal grandeur, which is appropriate considering that it was Tyrion falling short of Tywin’s standard for Lannister appearance that in many ways is at the heart of their conflict. Thus, when Tyrion enters the room we get a full description of Tywin (despite the fact that we’ve already been introduced to him) that emphasizes his physical attributes:
The Lord of Casterly Rock was as lean as a man twenty years younger, even handsome in his austere way. Stiff blond whiskers covered his cheeks, framing a stern face, a bald head, a hard mouth. About his throat he wore a chain of golden hands, the fingers of each clasping the wrist of the next. “That’s a handsome chain,” Tyrion said. Though it looked better on me.
Tyrion’s complaint both focuses nicely on the contrast between the two men that GRRM is setting up and interestingly conflates the appearance of power and the reality of power through the Hand’s Chain. In this passage, Tywin is shown as possessing both male beauty – in a world where Daemon’s rock-hard abs were politically influential, he’s “as lean as a man twenty years young,” and “even handsome” – and displaying an unmistakable force of character (in two sentences, Tywin is described as “austere,” “stiff,” “stern,” and “hard“).
By contrast, as hard as Tyrion tries (note how he tries to hide his pain and exhaustion, because “Tyrion knew how much his father despised weakness,” suggesting a lifetime’s practice in hiding any shortcomings from his father’s eye), he can never come up to the mark. Even his battlefield injuries are not treated with the respect due to a veteran, but rather an additional grotesquerie that makes him unsuited to the Lannister image:
Lord Tywin studied his son’s disfigured face, his pale green eyes unflinching. “Though the wound is ghastly enough, I’ll grant you.”
This minimization of the visual manifestation of his sacrifice once again shows the way in which image, public memory, and personal conflict are coming together to alienate Tyrion from his family. At the same time, there’s more to the question of appearance than just the personal, because the main reason why Tywin has installed himself in King’s Landing rather than in the field is to stage manage the reveal of his new-and-improved Lannister Regime 2.0:
“… Joffrey and Margaery shall marry on the first day of the new year, which as it happens is also the first day of the new century. The ceremony will herald the dawn of a new era.”
A new Lannister era, thought Tyrion. “Oh, bother, I fear I’ve made other plans for that day.”
“Did you come here just to complain of your bedchamber and make your lame japes?”
Halfway between a (normally) carefully-orchestrated political convention and an Apple product launch, the Purple Wedding is intended by Tywin to be a public event with many objectives: a statement to the realm at large that the Lannister/Tyrell alliance and their preponderance of military power is (with Stannis defeated) the party to back in the War of Five Kings, a statement to the political elite that Tywin is now in charge in King’s Landing and that the mistakes of the Joffrey/Cersei era are a thing of the past, and the formation of a hopefully permanent dynastic alliance that will give Tywin an heir he can train to follow in his image. And as we will see in future chapters, being in King’s Landing also allows Tywin to manage House Tyrell’s demands so that they don’t end up gaining more than their share of the rewards. And Tyrion doesn’t fit this picture of beauty and grandeur at all, and his presence potentially complicates Tywin’s personal narrative of political experience as Hand and victory at the Blackwater.
A Bloody Masterpiece
The second major theme in this conversation is the Red Wedding, the asymmetric knowledge of which is absolutely fueling Tywin’s ego in the moment, which we can see from the way that he’s dangling clues in from of Tyrion without giving him the full context, for no other reason than knowing that when Tyrion figures it out it’s going to hit all the harder how he was outplayed:
“I have important letters to finish.”
“Important letters. To be sure.”
“Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens…”
There is an interesting question as to where we are in the process of the Red Wedding at this moment, which “important letters” Tywin is using to “win” the War of Five Kings. I have argued from Arya X of ACOK that Tywin had already reached an agreement with Roose Bolton – more on this in a second – which also suggested that he’d reached an agreement with Walder Frey, because the plan wouldn’t work without both halves. We also know from Catelyn VII of ACOK that Robb took the Crag shortly before the Battle of Blackwater, but it’s noticeable that the news of Robb’s marriage arrived at Harrenhal (and likely the Twins) before it arrived at Riverrun, which suggests that Tywin (who had advance information from Sybell Spicer) played a hand in transmitting the information to Walder Frey.
I would argue, therefore, that the letters are likely Tywin sending his final instructions to his co-conspirators, confirming their commitment to the plan, their rewards if they succeed, and instructing them into how to carry out their parts, while informing them that he is about to follow through on his part of the deal, namely the Battle of Duskendale:
“Until Lord Redwyne brings his fleet up, we lack the ships to assail Dragonstone. It makes no matter. Stannis Baratheon’s sun set on the Blackwater. As for Stark, the boy is still in the west, but a large force of northmen under Helman Tallhart and Robett Glover are descending toward Duskendale. I’ve sent Lord Tarly to meet them, while Ser Gregor drives up the kingsroad to cut off their retreat. Tallhart and Glover will be caught between them, with a third of Stark’s strength.”
“Duskendale?” There was nothing at Duskendale worth such a risk. Had the Young Wolf finally blundered?
“It’s nothing you need trouble yourself with.”
While Tyrion and the first-time reader are still ignorant of the import of this battle, on a re-read you can see the clues that the fix was in: while it’s possible that scouting could have detected the movement of the Northern infantry, Tywin knows their precise numbers, their command structure, and where and when to move Randyll Tarly and Gregor Clegane to “cut off their retreat,” so that the Northern army is “caught between them.” This is simply too much information to have come from anyone other than Roose Bolton, and Tywin’s possession of it is proof positive that Roose has turned his cloak (while still keeping his options open).
And while the Red Wedding is most known for the slaughter inside the feast hall and, to a lesser extent, the slaughter among the tents, I would argue that Duskendale is the third leg of the stool, without which the whole operation could not have happened. Consider the following: Roose Bolton and Walder Frey have between them have at most 8,000 men, whereas (at this point in time) Robb Stark has ~9,000 Northern loyalists (and another 11,000 Riverlands loyalists if Robb had brought them with him to the Twins). While surprise attacks can sometimes overcome the odds, Walder is far too much a coward and Roose far too clever to betray their king in that environment. However, between Duskendale and the Ruby Ford, Tywin is able to reduce Robb’s faction by some 5,000 men, tipping the odds decisively in the favor of the traitors.
What Is Mine By Rights
After this extended period of civility, the gloves start to come off, as the two men’s inability to separate practical politics from personal feelings surges to the fore. And as we might expect, it all starts with how Tywin is treating Tyrion’s actions during the battle:
“What madness possessed you?”
“The foe was at the gates with a battering ram. If Jaime had led the sortie, you’d call it valor.”
“Jaime would never be so foolish as to remove his helm in battle.”
In addition to the irony that Jaime was the one foolish enough to get himself captured and will soon be suffering his own disability due to his recklessness in throwing down with Brienne in the middle of a warzone, it’s undeniably true that Tywin has a double-standard with regards to his children. Consider the way in which he’s treated Jaime joining the Kingsguard (by projecting his anger onto Aerys) to any of Tyrions’ shortcomings. At the same time, any objections from Tyrion can’t help but sound petty and childish, given Tywin’s superpower of negating his children’s snarking abilities.
Regardless, once Tyrion’s patience and self-control wears off, he goes straight for the issue that was raised at the very beginning of the chapter, namely who gets the credit for the Battle of Blackwater. Given that Tywin’s appointment of Tyrion as Hand was the most significant moment of praise and trust that the two have ever shared, and that his defense of the city was his masterstroke as Hand of the King, for Tyrion, credit for the battle is validation of himself as a person and as Tywin’s son (as we’ll see later):
“Say what you want and take yourself back to bed.”
“What I want…” His throat felt raw and tight. What did he want? More than you can ever give me, Father…“You said something about paying debts, I believe.”
“And you want your own reward, is that it? Very well. What is it you would have of me? Lands, castle, some office?”
“A little bloody gratitude would make a nice start.”
Lord Tywin stared at him, unblinking. “Mummers and monkeys require applause. So did Aerys, for that matter. You did as you were commanded, and I am sure it was to the best of your ability. No one denies the part you played.”
“That part I played?” What nostrils Tyrion had left must surely have flared. “I saved your bloody city, it seems to me.”
“Most people seem to feel that it was my attack on Lord Stannis’s flank that turned the tide of battle…your chain was a clever stroke, and crucial to our victory. Is that what you wanted to hear?”
At the same time, Tywin is clearly the parent from whom Cersei inherited her obsession with re-writing history. In order to start his second term as Hand of the King on the right foot, Tywin needs the story to be his glorious victory at the Battle of the Blackwater, because the reality is that he’s spent most of the war being out-maneuvered, out-strategized, got beaten by Edmure Tully at the Battle of the Fords, and had to be rescued by the Tyrells. But due to his childhood experiences with his father, who had a pathological desire to be loved at the cost of his own dignity, and his more adult experiences with Aerys (who resented anyone sharing his spotlight), Tywin can’t admit that he shares Tyrion’s desire for applause, as if he hadn’t just ridden a giant white horse into the throne room.
With his father minimizing his actions (“most people seem to feel that it was my attack…that turned the tide“), gaslighting him (“no one denies the part you played”), and then criticizing him for wanting credit in the first place, Tyrion fully loses control of his temper and begins to speak some truths that he’s kept repressed his entire life:
“What do I want, you ask? I’ll tell you what I want. I want what is mine by rights. I want Casterly Rock.”
His father’s mouth grew hard. “Your brother’s birthright?”
“The knights of the Kingsguard are forbidden to marry, to father children, and to hold land, you know that as well as I. The day Jaime put on that white cloak, he gave up his claim to Casterly Rock, but never once have you acknowledged it. It’s past time. I want you to stand up before the realm and proclaim that I am your son and your lawful heir.”
Lord Tywin’s eyes were a pale green flecked with gold, as luminous as they were merciless. “Casterly Rock,” he declared in a flat cold dead tone. And then, “Never.”
The word hung between them, huge, sharp, poisoned.
This is where GRRM’s writing suddenly rises to the level of the Faulknerian: the combination of family tragedy, sexuality, and power, the way that Casterly Rock becomes this synecdoche for parental acknowledgement, political power, and Tywin’s thwarted dreams for Jaime, and of course, the backdrop of a great dynasty about to destroy itself from the inside. And it gets even more Faulknerian when Tywin retorts with his own list of long-repressed grievances:
I knew the answer before I asked, Tyrion said. Eighteen years since Jaime joined the Kingsguard, and I never once raised the issue. I must have known. I must always have known. “Why?” he made himself ask, though he knew he would rue the question.
“You ask that? You, who killed your mother to come into the world? You are an ill-made, devious, disobedient, spiteful little creature full of envy, lust, and low cunning. Men’s laws give you the right to bear my name and display my colors, since I cannot prove that you are not mine. To teach me humility, the gods have condemned me to watch you waddle about wearing that proud lion that was my father’s sigil and his father’s before him. But neither gods nor men shall ever compel me to let you turn Casterly Rock into your whorehouse.”
There is so much packed into this speech that it demands to be broken down: to begin with, there is the charge of matricide, bound up in the death of Joanna Lannister as Tyrion’s original sin that cannot be expunged. Second, while I continue to not believe the A+J=T theory, it’s clear that rumors from the time of Tyrion’s birth continue to haunt Tywin’s memory – hence “I cannot prove that you are not mine,” and his reference to Aerys’ comments about Joanna’s death being a judgement from “the gods…to teach me humility,” from the WOIAF. Third, as we’ve discussed above, Tyrion’s disability and Tywin’s ableism (“ill-made…little creature…condemned me to watch you waddle about”) are a particularly poor match in an image-conscious House like the Lannisters. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, Tywin clearly sees his son as Tytos come again (hence his comment about “that proud lion that was my father’s sigil“), another weak man who wants to be loved, who’s “full of…lust” and who will “turn Casterly Rock into your whorehouse” just like Tytos did with his mistresses:
“Cersei told you about Alayaya.”
“Is that her name? I confess, I cannot remember the names of all your whores. Who was the one you married as a boy?”
“Tysha.” He spat out the answer, defiant.
“…to save a whore’s virtue you threatened your own House, your own kin? Is that the way of it?”
“…Go back to your bed, Tyrion, and speak to me no more of your rights to Casterly Rock. You shall have your reward, but it shall be one I deem appropriate to your service and station. And make no mistake—this was the last time I will suffer you to bring shame onto House Lannister. You are done with whores. The next one I find in your bed, I’ll hang.”
And here we get to the psychosexual heart of Tyrion and Tywin’s Oedipal conflict. While everyone remembers what Tywin does to Tysha, and everyone remembers what Tyrion does to Shae at the end of this book, people often forget that Alayaya was the second installment of their ongoing drama. The fact that Tywin ordered the whipping, stripping, and exile of the woman he thought was Tyrion’s whore, much as he ordered the public humiliation of his father’s mistress (who he clearly blamed for the death of his own mother), makes the act far more personal and pathological. And given that this is all going to end with Shae hanged in Tywin’s bed in an ironic twist on his threat, I’m leaning more and more to the belief that Tywin picked Shae on purpose, perhaps in an effort to revenge himself against .
On the other side of the Oedipal divide, Tywin’s obsessions means that he represents a total negation of any possibility for autonomy, self-actualization, or expression of sexuality for Tyrion. If anything, Tyrion’s eventual patricide seems somewhat overdetermined, especially when you add in Tywin’s threat against Shae’s life.
In this section, I’m actually going to skip the further story of Justinian II, the noseless Emperor of Byzantium, because I think it’s going to be more appropriate when we get closer to Tyrion’s arrest and trial following the Purple Wedding. Instead, I want to introduce the historical/dramatic theme that undergirds the entire Lannister plot in ASOS: the tragedy of the Fall of the House of Atreus. (And not just because I’ve been recently re-reading Robert Graves’ commentaries on Greek myth…) Now, this is something I’ve alluded to repeatedly in previous essays, but I haven’t had an opportunity to really dig into the story before.
The House of Atreus is one of the great tragic cycles of Greek mythology, placed as it is at the heart of the Trojan War, and thus became the subject of some of the greatest Greek dramas that survived to the present day – Sophocles and Euripides both wrote plays about Electra, and Aeschylus wrote a whole trilogy (the Oresteia) of plays about it. As with so many other Greek tragedies, the Fall of the House of Atreus is caused by multi-generational curses brought on by hubris and offenses against nature, and centers on a dark nexus of violence, sex, family, and power.
The tragedy begins with Tantalus, a mortal son of Zeus beloved of the gods who was allowed to share in the ambrosia that gave them eternal youth. A figure of immense hubris, Tantalus decided to pit his wits against the gods by inviting them to a feast where he served to them the body of his own son, Pelops, and seeing whether he could trick them into eating human flesh. The gods saw through his trick, with one exception, Demeter, who was distracted by grief over her abducted daughter Persephone. In their revulsion, the gods brought Pelops back to life and replaced the shoulder Demeter had eaten with an ivory shoulder, and punished Tantalus by sending him to Tartarus, where he would eternally suffer both hunger and thirst (thus the origin of the word tantalize).
Pelops, who likewise was favored by the gods (especially by Poseidon, who took the mortal for his lover), became a great king in Greece and thus gave his name to the Peloponnese. But in order to do that, Pelops had to marry the daughter of King Oenomaus of Pisa. Oenomaus, himself a son of a god (in this case, Ares), had been given a prophecy that he would be killed by his son-in-law, had taken to killing any suitor of his daughter in a rigged chariot race. Pelops outwitted the King by bribing his charioteer (who just happened to be a son of Hermes) – but then after he had won and claimed Hippodamia for his bride, Pelops reneged on his bribe and threw the charioteer out of the chariot at speed. As he fell to his death, this charioteer cursed Pelops and all his line.
And so began the curse of the House of Atreus, which I’ll continue next time. But already we can see resonances with the story of the Rat Cook, and as we get deeper into the legend, you’ll see more and more similarities to ASOIAF.
I already discussed what would have happened had Tywin properly rewarded Tyrion for his efforts in Tyrion XIV of ACOK, so there really isn’t any room for hypotheticals with regards to the crux of the chapter where Tyrion demands his birthright.
However, I do think there’s an interesting hypothetical that I discussed above:
- Tyrion’s mount clansmen hadn’t been sent away? To me, the main difference here is that Tyrion is not completely disarmed in ASOS, which really changes his position within King’s Landing politics. If Tyrion had a bodyguard of several hundred men around him during the Purple Wedding, he’s far less likely to be immediately arrested and thrown into the dungeons where he can be politically isolated and railroaded into a guilty verdict. Now, Cersei’s accusation still has to be respected in some way, so it’s more likely that Tyrion is put under house arrest or some other form of parole.
- However, this frees Tyrion to actually conduct a decent defense of himself at trial, as opposed to being completely reliant on Podrick Payne and unable to find any witnesses. Indeed, it’s quite possible that Tyrion would have opted for a trial by combat from the off, counting on Timett son of Timett or Shagga son of Dolf’s ferocity and unconventional tactics to overcome the Mountain. This may have shifted Oberyn’s plotting; without the opportunity to stand as Tyrion’s champion, Oberyn would have had to focus on Tywin or his Tyrion-and-Myrcella plot instead. This in turn means that Arianne’s rebellion in AFFC doesn’t happen.
Book vs. Show:
Obviously the main difference between book and show when it comes to Tyrion in Season 3 is that, rather than losing his nose, Tyrion only gets a scar across his face, which while initially ugly, has become less prominent and more dignified in later seasons. And I don’t really mind, because I’d rather the show avoid having to put Peter Dinklage into hours a day of distracting makeup or having him wear a green sock on his nose so that they can spend huge amounts of money CGI-ing his nose. Moreover, I do think this is one case where there is a difference between media – on the page, we know that Tyrion is badly disfigured, but it’s not at the forefront of our minds at all times like it would be if Peter Dinklage looked like this:
Instead, we are free to focus on Peter Dinklage’s excellent acting. While Season 3 lacks some of the fireworks of Season 4 – Tyrion’s trial and his patricide especially – this scene between Peter Dinklage and Charles Dance is an incredibly well-done scene that really shows you how important Charles Dance was in giving so much of the cast a veteran actor to work off of in two-hander scenes.