“And my father? Who does he have spying on me?”
This time the eunuch laughed aloud. “Why, me, my lord.”
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.
After the sheer emotional fireworks of last chapter, Tyrion II feels like a bit of a step down, although part of that does have to do with my lack of patience for the Shae plotline that takes up a lot of space here. At the same time, there is a lot of setup in this chapter on both a plot and thematic level that requires our attention, so we can’t just skip over this chapter.
The first theme of the chapter – Tyrion’s ongoing and arguably intensifying paranoia – revolves around his first post-Blackwater encounter with Varys, the arch-spymaster who dropped him like a hot rock when Tyrion fell from power. The opening words of the chapter establishes the dynamics of their relationship nicely:
When he saw Tyrion seated by the hearth, he stopped and grew very still. “My lord Tyrion,” came out in a squeak, punctuated by a nervous giggle.
“So you do remember me? I had begun to wonder.”
“It is so very good to see you looking so strong and well.” Varys smiled his slimiest smile. “Though I confess, I had not thought to find you in mine own humble chambers.”
“…I’d hoped to discover bushel baskets of juicy secrets to while away the waiting, but there’s not a paper to be found.” He’d searched for hidden passages too, knowing the Spider must have ways of coming and going unseen, but those had proved equally elusive…
“I am full of surprises. Are you cross with me for abandoning you after the battle?”
“It made me think of you as one of my family.”
Given the fact that their reunion is staged as Tyrion letting himself get caught rifling through Varys’ possessions leading into an awkward discussion of previous betrayal, there’s an oddly intimitate tone to this meeting, like an ex unexpectedly showing up at the apartment to pick up some things. No wonder then, that Tyrion analogizes that strange mix of familiarity and mistrust with family, given everything he’s gone through. (And no, it’s not an indication that Varys is kin to the Lannisters by some weird connexion to Tommen II – let’s keep some decorum here…)
At the same time, there’s always more going on that meets the eye – Tyrion looking for secret tunnels under the cover of looking for hidden papers (what a wonderfully Tyrionesque idea!) is a nice bit of threefold revelation story-building. First here, and later in this same chapter with Shae, we get reminded that the secret passages are important, well before Tyrion takes his fateful trip to his old quarters in the Tower of the Hand.
At the moment, Tyrion’s motives for trying to map the tunnels are probably related first and foremost to trying to hook up with Shae – more on that in a bit – but he’s far too clever for that to be the only reason. So was Tyrion quietly already thinking about assassinating his father (unlikely), or was he just thinking that in any political situation, it’s always useful to know how to move around unseen and unheard (and, let’s not forget, spy on everyone) in the Red Keep?
Dispatches from Our Man in the Red Keep
After this awkward and yet intimate exchange, the two get to the real business of sharing secrets, which sees Tyrion caught in a vortex of information that brings little enlightenment. No small part of the problem is that Tyrion continues to filter everything he hears through a narrow lens to fit his previous assumptions about who is and who isn’t his enemies, never a good practice in intelligence-gathering:
“Tell me, is it true that he’s restoring Grand Maester Pycelle to the small council?”
“It is, my lord.”
“Do I have my sweet sister to thank for that?” Pycelle had been his sister’s creature; Tyrion had stripped the man of office, beard, and dignity, and flung him down into a black cell.
“Not at all, my lord. Thank the archmaesters of Oldtown, those who wished to insist on Pycelle’s restoration on the grounds that only the Conclave may make or unmake a Grand Maester…Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed, and the Conclave accepted the fact of Pycelle’s dismissal and set about choosing his successor. After giving due consideration to Maester Turquin the cordwainer’s son and Maester Erreck the hedge knight’s bastard, and thereby demonstrating to their own satisfaction that ability counts for more than birth in their order, the Conclave was on the verge of sending us Maester Gormon, a Tyrell of Highgarden. When I told your lord father, he acted at once.”
…So Varys has little birds in the Citadel too.
This exchange about Pycelle is a good example of how Tyrion’s mindset is counter-productive; while he’s not wrong that Pycelle was a sycophant for Cersei (although in light of Pycelle’s actions in AFFC, it’s more accurate to say that he was a Tywin sycophant, albeit a rather useless one), or that Cersei is unremittingly hostile to Tyrion and his interests, his tunnel-vision leads him to fundamentally misread the political situation. One of the thematic undercurrents both here and in the previous Tyrion chapter is that, with the arrival of the Lannister/Tyrell alliance, King’s Landing politics is fundamentally different: here we see the Tyrells making a nicely understated grab for power through the Conclave of the Citadel, banking off of resentment of Tyrion’s high-handed actions, leading Tywin to do a bit of a backstep to contain Tyrell influence on the Small Council. It’s a noticeable sign of how Tyrion has stagnated in his isolation that all of this has to be explained to him. On the other hand, note the way that he casually assimilates not only what Varys is telling him about the Conclave, but also what that information tells him about Varys’ intelligence network. Tyrion’s skills are still there, almost operating on their own, underneath the surface…
On a side note: I do find the information about the unspoken, de facto class bias within the Citadel quite interesting. Varys describes it in such matter-of-fact terms that one gets the sense that this is hardly the first or last time that the maesters have overlooked Barth-esque talented men of lower birth in favor of the gentlemen-c’s whose last names haven’t been forgotten as much as they should have been by the Citadel’s own ideology. It’s hardly surprising; one would expect the values of the feudal social order to pervade and distort all institutions within it (much in the same way that, in OTL, the medieval Catholic Church became “feudalized,” with the younger sons of the nobility monopolizing so many of the top offices and treating church lands and offices as fiefdoms that could be inherited). But it is interesting that long, long before we clap eyes on the Citadel, we’re already getting a sense that the order of Maesters have feet of clay.
Varys’ intelligence-sharing moves from the Small Council to the Kingsguard, another royal institution that Tyrion’s obsessions rotate around, thanks to a certain incident during the Battle of Blackwater. It begins with something of a red herring:
“Perhaps it will console you to learn that Ser Boros Blount is also being restored.”
Cersei had stripped Ser Boros of his white cloak for failing to die in the defense of Prince Tommen when Bronn had seized the boy on the Rosby road. The man was no friend of Tyrion’s, but after that he likely hated Cersei almost as much. I suppose that’s something. “Blount is a blustering coward,” he said amiably.
Both in the Kingsguard and in the larger story, Boros Blount is a total non-entity, a seat-filler. As a character, he’s a seat-filler, unlikely to have any impact in the narrative beyond possibly wrong-footing the reader (and maybe Cersei) expecting Tommen to be poisoned. He’s not a pawn of Cersei, he’s not a pawn of Tyrion’s – indeed, it’s oddly sweet that he’s one of the few things these estranged siblings can agree on (shades of Crispin Horsefrey there) – but it’s highly unlikely that he’s one of Littlefinger’s or Varys’ either. Boros Blount isn’t even a pawn in game of life.
But Mandon Moore, now there’s there’s a different story:
“…While we are on the subject of the Kingsguard…I wonder, could this delightfully unexpected visit of yours happen to concern Ser Boros’s fallen brother, the gallant Ser Mandon Moore?” The eunuch stroked a powdered cheek. “Your man Bronn seems most interested in him of late.”
Bronn had turned up all he could on Ser Mandon, but no doubt Varys knew a deal more….should he choose to share it. “The man seems to have been quite friendless,” Tyrion said carefully.
“Sadly,” said Varys, “oh, sadly. You might find some kin if you turned over enough stones back in the Vale, but here…Lord Arryn brought him to King’s Landing and Robert gave him his white cloak, but neither loved him much, I fear. Nor was he the sort the smallfolk cheer in tourneys, despite his undoubted prowess. Why, even his brothers of the Kingsguard never warmed to him. Ser Barristan was once heard to say that the man had no friend but his sword and no life but duty…but you know, I do not think Selmy meant it altogether as praise. Which is queer when you consider it, is it not? Those are the very qualities we seek in our Kingsguard, it could be said—men who live not for themselves, but for their king. By those lights, our brave Ser Mandon was the perfect white knight. And he died as a knight of the Kingsguard ought, with sword in hand, defending one of the king’s own blood.” The eunuch gave him a slimy smile and watched him sharply.
Trying to murder one of the king’s own blood, you mean. Tyrion wondered if Varys knew rather more than he was saying. Nothing he’d just heard was new to him; Bronn had brought back much the same reports. He needed a link to Cersei, some sign that Ser Mandon had been his sister’s catspaw. What we want is not always what we get, he reflected bitterly, which reminded him…
By comparison to the lone tumbleweed that is Boros Blount, Mandon Moore has been a constant topic of debate across the ASOIAF fandom – and while I don’t want to dredge up the controversy over whether he was a catspaw of Cersei or Joffrey or Littlefinger, I do think this passage explains why this mystery has so stubbornly resisted solution for almost twenty years, when so many other literary conundrums have been carefully solved by the broader community. Everything we learn here points to Ser Mandon Moore as acting on behalf of someone else. We learn that he’s one of those “who live not for themselves” and no less than Ser Barristan argues that he basically lacks any kind of personal drive that might furnish a motive; a soulless automaton like Mandon Moore isn’t about to swing a sword in the name of the barely-remembered Ser Vardis Egan.
At the same time, GRRM very carefully avoids giving us anything that could point to who might have given the order – Moore came from the Vale, so that’s a strike against him being a Cersei plant, but he was no partisan of Jon Arryn or Robert’s either. Some have suggested the Vale connection means Littlefinger, but Moore lacks entirely any of the burning human desires that mark all of Littlefinger’s catspaws from Ser Hugh to Ser Dontos to the Kettleblacks. An arch-tempter like Littlefinger would struggle mightly to find something to lure someone who has “no life but duty” to suborn his duty.
Perhaps this is one last piece of evidence on behalf of Joffrey, but I feel like this whole plotline is like Raymond Chandler’s infamous The Big Sleep, where even Raymond Chandler couldn’t figure out who killed the chauffer. We know Ser Mandon Moore tried to kill Tyrion – so “who dunnit” is already partway solved – and the answer to the question of “whydunnit” seems to have been deliberately obscured by GRRM. So maybe it doesn’t matter; maybe the point is to make Tyrion feel that he’s surrounded by nebulous conspiracies, that threats to his life are coming from all angles, and that for all of his intelligence, he can’t actually solve the mysterious around him. In other words, the point is to establish Tyrion as a noir protagonist.
Speaking of paranoia and mistrust, Tyrion next gets an update on the Kettleblack brothers, finally learning that these utterly useless catspaws were not only betraying Cersei but also himself:
“The Kettleblacks report frequently to your sweet sister.”
“When I think of how much coin I paid those wretched…do you think there’s any chance that more gold might win them away from Cersei?”
“There is always a chance, but I should not care to wager on the likelihood. They are knights now, all three, and your sister has promised them further advancement.”
While we won’t know the full extent of the Kettleblacks’ penchant for the double-cross until Sansa VI (some fifty-six chapters away), already we get the sense that, for all of Tyrion’s cleverness in conducting counter-intelligence operations in ACOK, that he’s made a major tradecraft mistake. Once again tunnel-visioning on Cersei, he’s ignored the possibility that a third party (who re-readers know to be Littlefinger) could have infiltrated his network through these cutouts due to inadequate vetting. And in that situation, trying to buy back the Kettleblacks’ services, in addition to being the very definition of throwing good money after bad, but quite dangerous in terms of opening oneself up to a disinformation campaign.
At the same time, the main import of the Kettleblacks in this chapter does have to do with Cersei herself, and specifically the revelation that Cersei’s relationship with the three brothers is something of a dangerous liason:
A wicked little titter burst from the eunuch’s lips. “And the eldest, Ser Osmund of the Kingsguard, dreams of certain other…favors…as well. You can match the queen coin for coin, I have no doubt, but she has a second purse that is quite inexhaustible.”
Seven hells, thought Tyrion. “Are you suggesting that Cersei’s fucking Osmund Kettleblack?”
“Oh, dear me, no, that would be dreadfully dangerous, don’t you think? No, the queen only hints…perhaps on the morrow, or when the wedding’s done…and then a smile, a whisper, a ribald jest…a breast brushing lightly against his sleeve as they pass…and yet it seems to serve. But what would a eunuch know of such things?”
Cersei’s decision to use her sexuality in this moment, while in keeping with the noir tradition of the femme fatale, is something that needs to be deconstructed a little. The revelation has a catty undertone, a kind of sniggering mockery of “woman’s weapons” as the only card someone like Cersei could play. At the same time, we know from ACOK that this is exactly how Cersei thinks and operates, although it’s worth asking whether this is because Cersei was never given the kind of education that would have given her alternatives to this kind of tactic.
It’s also worth asking why Cersei chooses this moment to begin this rather complicated affair (complicated not least because she’s simultaneously seducing all three brothers). After all, Tywin’s firmly in charge and Tyrion’s been pretty comprehensively dis-empowered; there’s no immediate threat to her children, Jaime, or her life (Cersei’s affairs do tend to spike with some sort of threat on the horizon, as we see with Lancel and the coming siege of King’s Landing). It’s the lack of immediate catalyst or contextual explanation I find curious.
And that lack of explanation is all the more glaring because of how consequential this particular hookup is: Tyrion will use the information here to make his emotional break with Jaime in his final chapter in this book, which will in turn help to inspire Jaime to break with Cersei altogether. Likewise, Cersei will rely heavily on her relationships with the Kettleblack trio in her efforts to bring down Margaery, and they’ll be one of the main levers that the High Sparrow will use to bring her down in turn.
By the end of Varys’ report, we’re all mired in that noir atmosphere of moral corruption, existential isolation, and pervasive suspicion of all human institutions and values:
“Are the Kettleblacks the only ones?”
“Would that were true, my lord. I fear there are many eyes upon you. You are…how shall we say? Conspicuous? And not well loved, it grieves me to tell you. Janos Slynt’s sons would gladly inform on you to avenge their father, and our sweet Lord Petyr has friends in half the brothels of King’s Landing. Should you be so unwise as to visit any of them, he will know at once, and your lord father soon thereafter.”
It’s even worse than I feared. “And my father? Who does he have spying on me?”
This time the eunuch laughed aloud. “Why, me, my lord.”
To Have Lost and Loved
After Tyrion’s interview ends, we finally get to put aside the oppressive atmosphere of fear and dread and take up the second theme of Tyrion II – his self-image and his relationship to his own disability, which is essential setup for the third theme of the chapter, his relationship to Shae. Without the Handship to give him an alternative basis for self-worth and self-image, Tyrion finds himself unable to think of himself as anything less than the despised Imp:
…he put the book aside and called for a bath. He scrubbed himself until the water grew cool, and then had Pod even out his whiskers. His beard was a trial to him; a tangle of yellow, white, and black hairs, patchy and coarse, it was seldom less than unsightly, but it did serve to conceal some of his face, and that was all to the good. When he was as clean and pink and trimmed as he was like to get, Tyrion looked over his wardrobe, and chose a pair of tight satin breeches in Lannister crimson and his best doublet, the heavy black velvet with the lion’s head studs. He would have donned his chain of golden hands as well, if his father hadn’t stolen it while he lay dying.
It was not until he was dressed that he realized the depths of his folly. Seven hells, dwarf, did you lose all your sense along with your nose? Anyone who sees you is going to wonder why you’ve put on your court clothes to visit the eunuch. Cursing, Tyrion stripped and dressed again, in simpler garb; black woolen breeches, an old white tunic, and a faded brown leather jerkin. It doesn’t matter, he told himself as he waited for moonrise. Whatever you wear, you’re still a dwarf. You’ll never be as tall as that knight on the steps, him with his long straight legs and hard stomach and wide manly shoulders.
They say that clothes make the man, and never is that more clear than here – in shifting from his Lannister finery, which he mentally associates with the Handship he sees as having been stolen by his father (a clear warning side there), Tyrion is forced to acknowledge his fall from grace. And he immediately associates that loss of status with his disability (the one thing he cannot change about himself no matter how much he wants to), which in turn he associates with elements of masculine sexual desirability. At the same time, consider the contrast to Tyrion’s beard – whereas Tyrion at least subconsciously believes that changing his clothes can change his status, he clearly believes that the best he can do with this display of masculinity can only serve as a minor distraction from the overall disfigurement.
In just a few paragraphs, we have a portrait in miniature of depression and self-hatred that’s really quite sad. And then, all of the sudden we get a scene of such astonishing grace and beauty that I found myself quite taken aback. While Loras’ quote which gives the scene its centerpiece is impossible to forget, I had completely forgotten that this moment was an exchange between Loras and Tyrion:
Seventeen, and beautiful, and already a legend. Half the girls in the Seven Kingdoms want to bed him, and all the boys want to be him. “If you will pardon my asking, ser—why would anyone choose to join the Kingsguard at seventeen?”
“Prince Aemon the Dragonknight took his vows at seventeen,” Ser Loras said, “and your brother Jaime was younger still.”
“I know their reasons. What are yours? The honor of serving beside such paragons as Meryn Trant and Boros Blount?” He gave the boy a mocking grin. “To guard the king’s life, you surrender your own. You give up your lands and titles, give up hope of marriage, children…”
“House Tyrell continues through my brothers,” Ser Loras said. “It is not necessary for a third son to wed, or breed.”
“Not necessary, but some find it pleasant. What of love?”
“When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.”
“Is that from a song?….if I’ve given offense, forgive me. I had my own love once, and we had a song as well.”
If anyone doubts that George R.R Martin is a capital-R Romantic writer, I would point you to “when the sun has set, no candle can replace it” as the proof, an achingly sincere cri de coeur. (It’s also, and this is something I’m going to tee off of in the Book vs. Show section, absolutely foundational to Loras Tyrell’s character and the fact that Benioff and Weiss have never understood this speaks volumes, about their reading comprehension if nothing else…)
But the fact that it’s spoken to Tyrion completely changes the significance of the line. On the one hand, Tyrion (still very much in his head about his disability and what it means in relation to Shae) is deeply envious of Loras’ ability to perform masculinity and masculine desirability and can’t understand why anyone would willingly give up that status. On the other, Loras isn’t particularly interested in explaining his motivations – which would involve outing himself both as someone who’s not particularly interested in a lot of the perks that come with being a single young knight (that line about “It is not necessary for a third son to wed, or breed” is particularly telling) and as Renly’s lover – to a stranger. Further compounding the mutual incomprehension, Tyrion is far too cynical about chivalry to buy into the mythology of Aemon the Dragonknight when he’s spent all day thinking about corrupt and murderous knights, and so can’t really engage with Loras on this level, unlike Jaime, who’ll have his own tête-à-tête with the new Kingsguard. Somewhat reminiscent of his exchange with Jon way back in AGOT, Tyrion tries to “get real” with the younger man – but unlike the 14-year-old Jon Snow, Loras has been through some real loss and the same approach just doesn’t work.
And thus, we get a faintly tragic misunderstanding, where Tyrion reacts to what must have been a rather wrenching admission from Loras in a cynical fashion, assuming it to be nothing more than mere sentiment from a “seventeen” year-old, which causes Loras to react in his usual “prickly” fashion one small step short of violence. And there’s this moment, where Tyrion almost realizes what Loras was getting at and almost has a genuine meeting of the minds when thoughts – not of Shae but of Tysha – flood into his head. However, the moment passes because both of these men, each sons of privilege who nonetheless have suffered because of the ways in which they don’t fit neatly within the lines proscribed for men of their rank, can’t actually communicated about how they lost the people they loved.
And finally, we get to my least favorite theme of the chapter (and indeed, of Tyrion’s ASOS arc): Shae. Throughout the chapter, Tyrion is profoundly, and irrationally, obsessed with Shae: he needs to “see her one last time,” just so that he can “send her away” because he “cannot abide having her so close” without being able to touch her. He is constantly jealous of every single man she encounters (already a big red flag there):
“Tyrion had seen her only yesterday, climbing the serpentine steps with a pail of water. He had watched as a young knight had offered to carry the heavy pail. The way she had touched his arm and smiled for him had tied Tyrion’s guts into knots. They passed within inches of each other, him descending and her climbing, so close that he could smell the clean fresh scent of her hair. “M’lord,” she’d said to him, with a little curtsy, and he wanted to reach out and grab her and kiss her right there, but all he could do was nod stiffly and waddle on past.”
But at the same time, it’s hard to totally dismiss Tyrion’s feelings here for two reasons. The first is that Tyrion is at least aware that he’s being irrational – as he says, “it’s not wise, it’s bloody madness.” He knows that he’s courting death for Shae and a “sharp lesson” for himself by continuing to see her, and yet as with so many compulsive behaviors that even the most intelligent among us fall prey to, he cannot stop himself. And the second reason, which is clearly associated, is that Tyrion clings to Shae out of a normal desire for human contact: “It feels so good to hold her, and to 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 traumatic experience with Tysha, so that he constantly seeks a Gatsby-esque return to the past. And that’s something that he simply can’t get from Shae, who doesn’t know how to navigate this emotional minefield.
Not that she’s particularly interested in doing that, as much as she is in getting her hands on material possessions and upward social mobility:
“Will m’lord give me back my jewels and silks now? I asked Varys if I could have them when you were hurt in the battle, but he wouldn’t give them to me. What would have become of them if you’d died?”
“I don’t want to leave. You promised you’d move me into a manse again after the battle…a Lannister always pays his debts, you said.”
“…Can I come to the king’s wedding feast?”
“…How is it you spoke to Symon?”
“I told Lady Tanda about him, and she hired him to play for Lollys.”
“…Couldn’t I dress in my silks and velvets and go as a lady instead of a maidservant? No would know I wasn’t…there’s to be a thousand guests, Symon says. She’d never even see me. I’d find a place in some dark corner below the salt…”
Now, I think there’s a very surface reading of this exchange that paints Shae as a grasping, manipulative, and not particularly bright woman, given the very real danger she’s in, which she seems determined to further entrench herself in with her insistance on . At the same time, as other people have noted, to an extent (certainly when it comes to the “jewels and silks“) this is Shae doing her job. She’s not actually Tyrion’s lover, she’s his sex worker, and she wants to get her pay-day that she was promised. Which is a fair point…up until we get to the business about the wedding feast and wanting to go as a lady. To the extent that we can say Shae makes an ultimately fatal mistake, it’s that she really does seem convinced (and I wonder to what extent we can blame Symon Silver Tongue here for playing up to her worst instincts on this) that Tyrion can be not merely a pay-day but a ticket into the nobility, despite all indications to the contrary.
And so Tyrion, whose attachment to his imagined ideal of a relationship is so much stronger than anything of substance in this actual relationship goes along with it, even when he knows better:
“Just keep me, my lion, and keep me safe.”
“I shall,” he promised. Fool, fool, the voice inside him screamed. Why did you say that? You came here to send her away!
And this is where the issue of the tunnels comes back up – as the magic trick, the thing that allows Tyrion to reconcile his desires with his new situation:
“You will bring Shae to me through the walls, hidden from all these eyes. As you have done before.”
Varys wrung his hands. “Oh, my lord, nothing would please me more, but…King Maegor wanted no rats in his own walls, if you take my meaning. He did require a means of secret egress, should he ever be trapped by his enemies, but that door does not connect with any other passages. I can steal your Shae away from Lady Lollys for a time, to be sure, but I have no way to bring her to your bedchamber without us being seen…”
“They’re under the bed. The secret steps.”
He looked at her, incredulous. “The bed? The bed is solid stone. It was half a ton.”
“There is a place where Varys pushes, and it floats right up. I asked him how, and he said it was magic.”
“Yes.” Tyrion had to grin. “A counterweight spell.”
While this particular route is not the one that Tyrion will use to assassinate his father, or indeed to escape the black cells (or perhaps one day to conquer the Red Keep in service of Daenaerys), we are being ever more clearly shown the object of the threefold revelation…
Last time, I began the story of the House of Atreus with the tragedy of Tantalus and his gods-blessed son Pelops, and the curse that was placed on Pelops and all his descendants by the charioteer Myrtilus (himself a son of Hermes). This time, I’ll discuss how that curse played out among the sons of Pelops.
Pelops and his wife Hippodamia had two sons, Atreus (for whom the House of Atreus is named) and Thyestes. The two brothers clashed over which of them should be the rightful King of Mycenae: Atreus was both the older of the two, and had seemingly been blessed by the gods with the Golden Fleece. (Atreus had sworn to sacrifice his best lamb to Artemis, but Hermes made the golden lamb appear, and Atreus tried to back out on his promise by sacrificing the meat of the lamb and keeping the fleece for himself.) Unbeknownst to Atreus, his wife Aerope had been having an affair with Thyestes, so when Atreus gave his wife the Fleece to hide, she promptly told his brother everything.
Thyestes then publicly challenged Atreus to agree that whosoever possessed the Golden Fleece should be King; Atreus, confident that his wife had kept the Fleece safe, agreed. Thyestes then produced the Fleece and claimed the throne – and would have kept it, had not the gods intervened. Atreus, who no doubt by this point had realized he’d been betrayed, publicly challenged Thyestes to give back the throne of Mycenae if the sun reversed in its course, and when Thyestes agreed, Zeus commanded Helios to alter his normal course and “for the first and last time, the sun set in the east.” Atreus was thus restored to his rightful throne, and promptly banished Thyestes and murdered his wife Aerope.
And it might have ended there, had not Atreus desired revenge for being cuckolded by his brother. So Atreus sent word to Thyestes that he had forgiven him and wanted to invite him to a feast in his honor to show his good intent. Thyestes arrived and ate “heartily” of the stew that Atreus set before him. Only after Thyestes had eaten his fill did Atreus bring out the heads and hands of Thyestes’ sons, for following in the example of their ancestor Tantalus, Atreus had tricked his guest into committing cannibalism.
Such was the revenge of Atreus, and the beginning of a new cycle of the curse…and if by this point, you don’t see certain similarities to ASOIAF, I don’t know what to tell you.
There’s not a huge room for hypotheticals in this chapter, as Tyrion only makes one decision:
- Tyrion does send Shae away? Now, this one is actually rather tricky, because it’s not like Tyrion isn’t going to get arrested for Joffrey’s murder and put on trial. I’m of the opinion that, even without the emotional provocation of Shae’s testimony, Tyrion is still going to demand trial by combat, because he knows the judges will decide two-to-one against him.
- The major question is – does Tyrion need to see Shae in Tywin’s bed in order to be fully motivated to kill Tywin? (The major change in the hypothetical being that Shae doesn’t die at Tyrion’s hands, naturally.) Even here, I’m not so sure that Shae skipping her appointment with Death changes much – Jaime’s bombshell about Tysha I think would be enough.
Book vs. Show:
As I have said before, I don’t think it was a terrible decision to have Shae show genuine love for Tyrion at the end of Season 2. The problem is that the writers clearly didn’t know what to do with Shae in Season 3 – and the plotline where she wants to protect Sansa from Petyr Baelish and asks Tyrion to protect her, but then accuses Tyrion of being attracted to Sansa is a watse of everyone’s time that only gets worse as the season goes on. More on this in future essays.
By contrast, however, the scene where Tyrion and Varys reconcile over the sorceror-in-a-box is a great extrapolation from the source material (although it still involves the awkward splicing of Varys’ story from Season 2, Episode 9) that shows off Varys as a terrifyingly patient man and sets up the idea that Varys will aid Tyrion in getting his revenge at the end of the season.
I was reminded that I had mentioned talking about Book Loras vs. Show Loras and forgot to, so I might as well do here. As I said back in the day, one of the show’s worst adaptational decisions in Season 3 and thereafter was to reduce Loras’ character to his sexuality, and even then to a particularly sexualized and shallow version of same, with Loras’ grief over Renly’s death for the most part dropped like a hot rock.
But I do want to talk about some of the reasons why the show went off the rails: first, to avoid casting Willas and Garlan (which I think is a false choice, there’s no reason they couldn’t have mentioned them existing without showing them on-screen), Loras was made the heir to Highgarden, which means his ASOIAF plotline, which is all about Loras as an impetuous, arrogant young Kingsguard who goes off and gets a lot of people killed while trying to do the right thing, but is also about how people grapple with loss and guilt in the wake of a tragedy, couldn’t happen.
So Loras-as-knight was out – the problem is that they also decided that the heir to Highgarden should be utterly uninterested in politics, so as to provide more of a contrast with Margaery and Olenna, I suppose. It’s a choice, but it’s still a choice that cuts off opportunities. And at the same time, they knew that Loras’ engagement to Cersei wasn’t going to go anywhere, because it doesn’t happen in the books and because they were planning to have the Tyrells go up in flames anyway.
And that’s why prior planning is so important – because if they’d sat down and thought this through ahead of time, they could have caught this before it happened.