“Too many strange faces, Tyrion thought, too many new players. The game changed while I lay rotting in my bed, and no one will tell me the rules.”
Synopsis: Tyrion attends a Small Council meeting and finds out he’s engaged. Mazeltov?
SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.
Tyrion III is a really important chapter, although that doesn’t make it any easier to talk about, because it includes so many important topics: the new political status quo on the Small Council, how the new Tyrell/Lannister regime plans to end the War of Five Kings, the news of Dorne’s imminent arrival to King’s Landing politics, the division of the spoils from the Battle of Blackwater, both Littlefinger and Varys’ making various plays, Cersei and Tyrion being forced into unwanted political marriages, and the setup of the Red Wedding from the Lannister point-of-view. That’s a lot to cover and put into some sort of coherent linear order.
So here we go!
The New Game
Since this chapter is structured around a Small Council meeting, it’s only appropriate to start with the central metaphor of the chapter:
Lord Tywin’s chain of hands made a golden glitter against the deep wine velvet of his tunic. The Lords Tyrell, Redwyne, and Rowan gathered round him as he entered. He greeted each in turn, spoke a quiet word to Varys, kissed the High Septon’s ring and Cersei’s cheek, clasped the hand of Grand Maester Pycelle, and seated himself in the king’s place at the head of the long table, between his daughter and his brother.
Tyrion had claimed Pycelle’s old place at the foot, propped up by cushions so he could gaze down the length of the table. Dispossessed, Pycelle had moved up next to Cersei, about as far from the dwarf as he could get without claiming the king’s seat. The Grand Maester was a shambling skeleton, leaning heavily on a twisted cane and shaking as he walked, a few white hairs sprouting from his long chicken’s neck in place of his once-luxuriant white beard. Tyrion gazed at him without remorse.
The others had to scramble for seats: Lord Mace Tyrell, a heavy, robust man with curling brown hair and a spade-shaped beard well salted with white; Paxter Redwyne of the Arbor, stoop-shouldered and thin, his bald head fringed by tufts of orange hair; Mathis Rowan, Lord of Goldengrove, clean-shaven, stout, and sweating; the High Septon, a frail man with wispy white chin hair. Too many strange faces, Tyrion thought, too many new players. The game changed while I lay rotting in my bed, and no one will tell me the rules.
As powerful a metaphor as the game of musical chairs is for the broader scramble for influence in the new regime, in some ways this is actually something of a false revelation: many of these dispositions in land (Littlefinger’s grant of Harrenhal, for example) were either explicitly or implicitly revealed in Sansa VIII of ACOK; and Tyrion learned about Pycelle’s return and saw the newfound prominence of the Tyrells in his most recent chapter.
However, there’s a difference between knowing something on an intellectual level and really comprehending it, between knowing Pycelle’s back and seeing how psychologically dependent he’s become, between knowing the Tyrells are in town and dealing with how smug Mace is and how sycophantic and self-interested Lord Redwyne are. And so Tyrion’s reactions have to be filtered through his emotional state, how discombobulated Tyrion feels about how the world has changed since he was injured (a feeling I can corroborate personally). Throughout the chapter, Tyrion reacts to pretty much everything that happens with a mix of resentment driven by grievance (seems a bit Stannis-esque there) and uncertainty (due to feeling rusty and disempowered) to everything that happens in this chapter:
Oh, the lords had been courteous enough, though he could tell how uncomfortable it made them to look at him. “That chain of yours, that was cunning,” Mace Tyrell had said in a jolly tone, and Lord Redwyne nodded and said, “Quite so, quite so, my lord of Highgarden speaks for all of us,” and very cheerfully too.
Tell it to the people of this city, Tyrion thought bitterly. Tell it to the bloody singers, with their songs of Renly’s ghost.
While Mace and Paxter are being a bit high-handed here, they’re probably making a genuine effort to try to get along with their soon-to-be in-law. (Although to be fair to Tyrion, Lord Tyrell and Lord Redwyne are in rare form this chapter as a smug glad-hander and his hype-man, although Redwyne is marginally more focused on the business of government than his boss.) However, Tyrion’s not in a mood to accept praise (he reacts the same way to Kevan, so it’s not just a personal dislike of the Reacherlords) – he wants to complain, to fight, to try to get someone to acknowledge the smouldering rage right below the surface.
Tyrion’s emotionally-inflected read of the situation aside, it is true that threre’s a new political dynamic in Tyrion III because this is the first time that he (and the readers) have seen Tywin and Kevan together in action since the end of AGOT:
Ser Kevan was his brother’s vanguard in council, Tyrion knew from long experience; he never had a thought that Lord Tywin had not had first. It has all been settled beforehand, he concluded, and this discussion’s no more than show.
Not only does this passage demonstrate that, unlike Sansa in Season 7, Tywin and Kevan Lannister understand the importance of having pre-meetings to set the agenda and count their votes ahead of time, but it also works as a synecdoche for the whole chapter. Tyrion can see that Tywin (and Kevan) already set up the Littlefinger/Lysa Arryn match, but he can’t see Tywin’s broader designs for the War of Five Kings and the political settlement of the entire continent afterwards, let alone the horrible means he intends to use to achieve these ends.
Speaking of which…
The War of Five Kings: Duskendale and Beyond
The first piece of business before the Small Council is wrapping up the War of FIve Kings, where we see Tywin and his new allies dealing with the aftermath of the Battle of Duskendale:
The eunuch smiled a silken smile. “I have such delicious tidings for you all, my lords. Yesterday at dawn our brave Lord Randyll caught Robett Glover outside Duskendale and trapped him against the sea. Losses were heavy on both sides, but in the end our loyal men prevailed. Ser Helman Tallhart is reported dead, with a thousand others. Robett Glover leads the survivors back toward Harrenhal in bloody disarray, little dreaming he will find valiant Ser Gregor and his stalwarts athwart his path.”
This dispatch from the field is effectively the punchline to Tyrion I‘s setup, but it’s also a good example of the phenomena I just discussed: not only have the decisions that the council makes been predetermined, but so too have the outcome of battles. While Tyrion and first time readers don’t know it yet, this was always going to be the outcome of the Battle of Duskendale, which on a re-read appears to be a mere shaping operation for the Red Wedding itself. And while Tywin will later claim that he kept the Red Wedding to a chosen few, Varys’ emphasis on the “brave” Lord Randyll and the “valiant” Ser Gregor suggests that the spymaster is very well aware of how much of a setup the battle was.
And this setup goes beyond just the battle of Duskendale. In the wake of Robb’s western gambit having failed, the Lannisters are preparing to renew their offensive in the Riverlands. However, here again we see their plans as revolving around the Red Wedding:
“He has run back to Riverrun with his plunder, abandoning the castles he took in the west,” announced Lord Tywin. “Our cousin Ser Daven is reforming the remnants of his late father’s army at Lannisport. When they are ready he shall join Ser Forley Prester at the Golden Tooth. As soon as the Stark boy starts north, Ser Forley and Ser Daven will descend on Riverrun.”
“You are certain Lord Stark means to go north?” Lord Rowan asked. “Even with the ironmen at Moat Cailin?”
Mace Tyrell spoke up. “Is there anything as pointless as a king without a kingdom? No, it’s plain, the boy must abandon the riverlands, join his forces to Roose Bolton’s once more, and throw all his strength against Moat Cailin. That is what I would do.”
Tyrion had to bite his tongue at that. Robb Stark had won more battles in a year than the Lord of Highgarden had in twenty. Tyrell’s reputation rested on one indecisive victory over Robert Baratheon at Ashford, in a battle largely won by Lord Tarly’s van before the main host had even arrived. The siege of Storm’s End, where Mace Tyrell actually did hold the command, had dragged on a year to no result, and after the Trident was fought, the Lord of Highgarden had meekly dipped his banners to Eddard Stark.
Take for example the plan to put together a new Lannister army on the western front under the command of Daven Lannister, using the survivors of Oxcross and the garrison of the Golden Tooth, and having them put Riverrun under siege (which sets up Jaime Lannister’s plotline in AFFC and beyond, while we’re talking about setups and predestination). This small force would be completely wiped out if they tried an assault while Robb’s full army was in the area; even Edmure Tully’s forces alone outnumber them ten to one. Thus, the siege only makes sense if you know ahead of time that Robb and Edmure will go to the Twins and then be captured, taking both the Northern and Riverlander forces out of the picture and leaving only a small garrison to defend the castle.
So to a significant extent, the Lannister strategy is founded not on martial ability but a combination of underhanded scheming and GRRM’s thumb firmly on the scales of fortune. Which makes Mace Tyrell’s self-satisfied comment that “the boy must abandon the riverlands…That is what I would do” feel so unfair. He’s right, but the only reason the smug armchair general is right is that, totally unbeknownst to him, Tywin’s working with Walder Frey behind the scenes. And so Tyrion (acting somewhat as an audience surrogate) builds on his resentment of the new players outwards to a strange almost pro-Stark stance that here makes him defensive towards Robb Stark’s military record (almost from a romantic sentiment) and which will flare up again when his marriage to Sansa comes up later in the chapter.
This aspect of Tyrion’s character has always puzzled me, because A. Tyrion’s ambivalence about the Starks has never stopped him from dealing with them in bad faith when it could help his family, so it’s hard to say what impact it has on the story exactly, and B. I wonder whether this is an artifact left over from the Ur-Text when Tyrion was supposed to fall in love with Arya and yet burn Winterfell, and that’s where his internal conflict on the Starks vs. Lannisters would go.
The War of Five Kings: The Diplomatic Genius of Balon Greyjoy
Speaking of setting up AFFC’s story arcs, the next item on the Small Council’s agenda is dealing with Balon Greyjoy’s diplomatic accompaniment to his grand military scheme:
Ser Kevan Lannister cleared his throat. “As regards the Starks…Balon Greyjoy, who now styles himself King of the Isles and the North, has written to us offering terms of alliance.”
“He ought to be offering fealty,” snapped Cersei. “By what right does he call himself king?”
“By right of conquest,” Lord Tywin said. “King Balon has strangler’s fingers round the Neck. Robb Stark’s heirs are dead, Winterfell is fallen, and the ironmen hold Moat Cailin, Deepwood Motte, and most of the Stony Shore. King Balon’s longships command the sunset sea, and are well placed to menace Lannisport, Fair Isle, and even Highgarden, should we provoke him.”
“And if we accept this alliance?” inquired Lord Mathis Rowan. “What terms does he propose?”
“That we recognize his kingship and grant him everything north of the Neck.”
Lord Redwyne laughed. “What is there north of the Neck that any sane man would want? If Greyjoy will trade swords and sails for stone and snow, I say do it, and count ourselves lucky.”
First of all, this passage gives a great encapsulation of how much pure, blind luck has played in Balon’s situation: of the “conquests” Tywin points to, only the capture of Moat Cailin, Deepwood Motte, and the Stony Shore were actually Balon’s idea; the more politically consequential events, as we saw in the previous sections, had nothing to do with him. Second, it’s noteworthy to see how differently the Westermen and the Reachermen see the North: to Tywin, the North is an existential threat that cannot be allowed to have humiliated the Lannisters and survived; to Lord Redwyne, the North is a howling wilderness not worth the life of an Arbor oarsman, to paraphrase Bismark. Third, we see an interesting sign of emerging divisions within House Lannister, between Cersei’s insistence on the outward forms of royal authority and Tywin’s chilly focus on the cold realities of military realpolitik.
More consequentially, we also see how completely mishandled Balon Greyjoy’s political strategy is, because while Paxter Redwyne thinks trading the North for Balon Greyjoy’s fleet is a good deal, Tywin Lannister’s calculus is hard to disagree with:
Lord Redwyne pinched at his nose. “May we return to the matter of the Greyjoy alliance? In my view, there is much to be said for it. Greyjoy’s longships will augment my own fleet and give us sufficient strength at sea to assault Dragonstone and end Stannis Baratheon’s pretensions.”
“King Balon’s longships are occupied for the nonce,” Lord Tywin said politely, “as are we. Greyjoy demands half the kingdom as the price of alliance, but what will he do to earn it? Fight the Starks? He is doing that already. Why should we pay for what he has given us for free? The best thing to do about our lord of Pyke is nothing, in my view. Granted enough time, a better option may well present itself. One that does not require the king to give up half his kingdom.”
Compared to Roose Bolton and Walder Frey, who’ll win many concessions from Tywin in exchange for their aid against Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy inexplicably waited until now to send his demands, allowing Tywin to maintain diplomatic silence without losing any of the benefits of what Balon “has given us for free.” At the same time, it’s not clear to me how much of this is posture rather than policy; after all, in private Tywin suggests marrying Cersei to Balon, although he does say that “such a match would commit us to an alliance with the Iron Islands, and I am still uncertain whether that would be our wisest course.” Although again, this could be a ploy to get Cersei to agree to a marriage with Willas Tyrell by offering the aged lord Balon as a less pleasing alternative.
So what then is the “better option” Tywin speaks of? My guess is that Tywin is thinking of his much more firm alliance with Roose Bolton (and in turn his plans to have Roose fight the Ironborn for him) and his plans to win Winterfell for House Lannister through marriage to Sansa Stark, although it’s obviously not politick to mention it yet in front of the Tyrells.
The War of Five Kings: The Aftermath
The third piece of business before the Small Council, and the onle thing that truly unites everyone in the room (although even here there is hidden division, given the case of Sansa’s hand in marriage), is dividing up the spoils of war:
“The fruits of victory await division.”
“What could be sweeter?” said Littlefinger, who had already swallowed his own fruit, Harrenhal.
Each lord had his own demands; this castle and that village, tracts of lands, a small river, a forest, the wardship of certain minors left fatherless by the battle. Fortunately, these fruits were plentiful, and there were orphans and castles for all. Varys had lists. Forty-seven lesser lordlings and six hundred nineteen knights had lost their lives beneath the fiery heart of Stannis and his Lord of Light, along with several thousand common men-at-arms. Traitors all, their heirs were disinherited, their lands and castles granted to those who had proved more loyal.
Highgarden reaped the richest harvest. Tyrion eyed Mace Tyrell’s broad belly and thought, He has a prodigious appetite, this one. Tyrell demanded the lands and castles of Lord Alester Florent, his own bannerman, who’d had the singular ill judgment to back first Renly and then Stannis. Lord Tywin was pleased to oblige. Brightwater Keep and all its lands and incomes were granted to Lord Tyrell’s second son, Ser Garlan, transforming him into a great lord in the blink of an eye. His elder brother, of course, stood to inherit Highgarden itself.
Lesser tracts were granted to Lord Rowan, and set aside for Lord Tarly, Lady Oakheart, Lord Hightower, and other worthies not present. Lord Redwyne asked only for thirty years’ remission of the taxes that Littlefinger and his wine factors had levied on certain of the Arbor’s finest vintages. When that was granted, he pronounced himself well satisfied…
If we want to understand how feudal politics is shifting here, we could do worse than to closely examine this passage. As was the case with the Wars of the Roses, we see the seductive allure of total medieval warfare – getting to actually redistribute land through death and treason charges – undermining the normal social taboos against interfering with the inheritance of fiefdoms. As a result, we see the monarchy gaining in political influence as the lords of the Reach fall over themselves to curry favor in order to gain honors.
What’s less immediately obvious is how much this opens up the social hierarchy to change. On the one hand, we see “Brightwater Keep and all its lands and incomes were granted to Lord Tyrell’s second son, Ser Garlan, transforming him into a great lord in the blink of an eye,” a case of undeniable upward social mobility for the workhorse second son of House Tyrell. (Incidentally, Brightwater Keep is something of a paradox to me, because the Florents are described as having barely any men to begin with, and now after Blackwater, somehow they’ll be able to hold off Garlan’s army? It makes me wonder whether their preturnatural defense is due to GRRM needing Garlan to still be in the field in range to save the day when Euron comes calling, or to cut the Tyrell strength in half so that Aegon’s victory over Mace Tyrell is plausible.) On the other, we see the families of “forty-seven lesser lordlings and six hundred nineteen knights” made homeless, a case of sharp downward mobility that underscores the all-or-nothing stakes of every battle.
At the same time, however, none of these trends are unambiguous. While dispossessing Stannis’ followers rewards the new members of the regime for their self-interested service, it counter-intuitively strengthens the loyalty of Stannis’ surviving men: as with the Golden Company, having lost everything in a failed drive for the Iron Throne now means that their only hope of regaining their heritage is through a last-chance power drive. At the same time, while every lord gets something, not all benefit equally, and it may well be that the division of the spoils provokes envy and resentment – Lord Tarly, for example, might well be offended that Dickon’s claim to Brightwater Keep through his Florent mother was overlooked. Moreover, we can see that the values of the warrior caste are beginning to warp: in addition to the parvenu Lord Baelish showing that military service is no longer the sole route to power, we see Paxter Redwyne (perhaps a sycophant but no man’s fool) preferring tax benefits for House Redwyne LLC than far-flung fiefdoms, because some of us are looking ahead to the early-modern era.
Finally, it’s important to note that this is a limited settlement that doesn’t extend to the Riverlands (because Tywin doesn’t want to show his hand there), the North and the Iron Islands (ditto), and the Vale (because he doesn’t have good options there), and that all of this is a deal on paper only…it remains to be seen whether this coalition has the power and (more importantly) the coordination to bring to pass.
The Dornish Arrive
The fragility of this new political order is seen immediately once a new element is introduced to the mix. Here the news arrives that House Martell of Dorne have sent a party to King’s Landing, not just to attend the upcoming wedding of King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell, but to join the government:
“…we have had a raven from Sunspear. Three hundred Dornishmen are riding toward King’s Landing as we speak, and hope to arrive before the wedding.”
“How do they come?” asked Mace Tyrell gruffly. “They have not asked leave to cross my lands.” His thick neck had turned a dark red, Tyrion noted. Dornishmen and Highgardeners had never had great love for one another; over the centuries, they had fought border wars beyond count, and raided back and forth across mountains and marches even when at peace. The enmity had waned a bit after Dorne had become part of the Seven Kingdoms…until the Dornish prince they called the Red Viper had crippled the young heir of Highgarden in a tourney. This could be ticklish, the dwarf thought, waiting to see how his father would handle it.
“Prince Doran comes at my son’s invitation,” Lord Tywin said calmly, “not only to join in our celebration, but to claim his seat on this council, and the justice Robert denied him for the murder of his sister Elia and her children.”
Tyrion watched the faces of the Lords Tyrell, Redwyne, and Rowan, wondering if any of the three would be bold enough to say, “But Lord Tywin, wasn’t it you who presented the bodies to Robert, all wrapped up in Lannister cloaks?” None of them did, but it was there on their faces all the same. Redwyne does not give a fig, he thought, but Rowan looks fit to gag.
At the mere mention of the Dornish, Mace Tyrell turns red and has to be calmed down, which shows how Tywin is trying to build a political coalition here out of elements who really hate each other, never an easy task. Incidentally, one of the things that I find a bit strange is how GRRM characterizes Tyrell/Martell relations here. After all, feelings were running high enough after the integration of Dorne into the realm to push most of the Reach into the arms of the Blackfyres. This may be a case of Early Installment Weirdness although GRRM had clearly thought of the Blackfyres by ASOS. That being said, I can see how an incident like Willas’ injury could intensify emotions, given how a similar incident between Otho Bracken and Quentyn Blackwood at the King’s Landing Tourney of 206 AC.
Another weakness in the foundations of the new regime is the heavy hand of history, namely the fact that Tywin Lannister, the man who ordered the sack of King’s Landing and the murder of most of the royal family, is getting into bed with the two most prominent Targaryen loyalists. We haven’t yet found out that the Martells’ motivation for participation is solely to bring down the regime as revenge for the murder of Elia and her children, but here we see that the Reachermen aren’t too happy about it either. Now, Paxter Redwyne is a man who clearly has nothing but rose in his veins, but Mathis Rowan’s reaction does open up the possibility that he might not be reliable when Aegon VI Targaryen makes his way to Storm’s End.
Once again, therefore, the tag-team of Kevan and Tywin have to spring into action to smooth ruffled feathers (leaves? petals?) by trying to get to change the way that the component parts of his new edifice perceive themselves:
“When the king is wed to your Margaery and Myrcella to Prince Trystane, we shall all be one great House,” Ser Kevan reminded Mace Tyrell. “The enmities of the past should remain there, would you not agree, my lord?”
“This is my daughter’s wedding—”
“—and my grandson’s,” said Lord Tywin firmly. “No place for old quarrels, surely?”
“I have no quarrel with Doran Martell,” insisted Lord Tyrell, though his tone was more than a little grudging. “If he wishes to cross the Reach in peace, he need only ask my leave.”
This “one great House” isn’t quite “a dynasty that will last for a thousand years,” but it is a nice encapsulation of how Tywin sees his new system working; given his historic problems with sharing power with non-Lannisters, the solution is to bring the whole coalition into the family, augmenting the bonds of self-interest with those of blood. Unfortunately for those who think of Tywin as an political genius, this is a total pipedream. At this very wedding which is supposed to cement his alliance system, the Tyrells will assassinate the groom and the Martells will use the attempt as a ploy to re-ligitate the murder of Elia Martell and bring the whole edifice crashing down.
Tywin’s Domestic Policy
Beyond these matters of grand policy, we also get something of a sense of what this new Lannister regime looks like by how they handle more minor issues. Take for example the case of what to do about those goldcloaks who broke and ran when Joffrey abandoned the walls of King’s Landing:
“Tywin,” Ser Kevan said, before Lord Tywin could vent his obvious displeasure, “some of the gold cloaks who deserted during the battle have drifted back to barracks, thinking to take up duty once again. Ser Addam wishes to know what to do with them.”
“They might have endangered Joff with their cowardice,” Cersei said at once. “I want them put to death.”
Varys sighed. “They have surely earned death, Your Grace, none can deny it. And yet, perhaps we might be wiser to send them to the Night’s Watch. We have had disturbing messages from the Wall of late. Of wildlings astir . . .”
Lord Tywin ignored that. “The deserters serve us best as a lesson. Break their knees with hammers. They will not run again. Nor will any man who sees them begging in the streets.” He glanced down the table to see if any of the other lords disagreed.
Tyrion remembered his own visit to the Wall, and the crabs he’d shared with old Lord Mormont and his officers. He remembered the Old Bear’s fears as well. “Perhaps we might break the knees of a few to make our point. Those who killed Ser Jacelyn, say. The rest we can send to Marsh. The Watch is grievously under strength. If the Wall should fail . . .”
“. . . the wildlings will flood the north,” his father finished, “and the Starks and Greyjoys will have another enemy to contend with. They no longer wish to be subject to the Iron Throne, it would seem, so by what right do they look to the Iron Throne for aid? King Robb and King Balon both claim the north. Let them defend it, if they can. And if not, this Mance Rayder might even prove a useful ally.”
While Tywin comes across as more reasonable than Cersei, whose penchant for wanting to cut the throats of the smallfolk is evident well before Joffrey’s death supposedly destabilized her, his reaction undercuts his reputation for brutal pragmatism. As Tyrion points out, it doesn’t serve any pragmatic end to systematically brutalize hundreds if not thousands of men, when exemplary punishment of a few could benefit the realm much more. It’s almost as if Tywin’s actions are more motivated by his feeling that the goldcloaks’ loss of nerve has tarnished, however minorly, his victory at Blackwater, than any considerations of Machiavellian theory.
Varys and Tyrion’s combined opposition – perhaps motivated by Varys’ utilitarianism or his desire to cultivate a dissident Lannister – further calls into question Tywin Lannister’s reputation as a capable administrator. When given a clear case of a threat to the realm as a whole in the form of Mance Rayder’s invasion, Tywin’s mind goes first to personal advantage, that “the Starks and Greyjoys will have another enemy to contend with.” So little does Tywin care for the good of the realm (and so narrow his understanding that he thinks Mance Rayder can be kept the North’s problem or even made an ally; further proof, by the way, that Tywin was planning to betray Roose), that he’s willing to let the North go to the wall because “they no longer wish to be subject to the Iron Throne.” The contrast to Stannis’ decision at the end of ASOS to save the North in order to earn their support could not be sharper.
Two Conspirators At Work
Here we pass on from Tywin’s governance (however briefly) to discuss the actions of Littlefinger and Varys. Starting with the former, in the wake of his death in Season 7 of Game of Thrones, much has been made as to whether the show poorly portrayed him. And while I would agree with The Dragon Demands that Littlefinger is far more planful than he appeared in Seasons 5-7, I do have to disagree with both him and GRRM as to whether Littlefinger is well-liked and trusted. Take for example, how the reveal of Littlefinger’s plan to marry Lysa Arryn comes across:
“I have other tasks in mind for Tyrion. I believe Lord Petyr may hold the key to the Eyrie.”
“Oh, I do,” said Littlefinger, “I have it here between my legs.” There was mischief in his grey-green eyes. “My lords, with your leave, I propose to travel to the Vale and there woo and win Lady Lysa Arryn. Once I am her consort, I shall deliver you the Vale of Arryn without a drop of blood being spilled.”
Lord Rowan looked doubtful. “Would Lady Lysa have you?”
“She’s had me a few times before, Lord Mathis, and voiced no complaints.”
“Bedding,” said Cersei, “is not wedding.”
“To be sure. It would not have been fitting for a daughter of Riverrun to marry one so far below her.” Littlefinger spread his hands. “Now, though . . . a match between the Lady of the Eyrie and the Lord of Harrenhal is not so unthinkable, is it?”
Tyrion noted the look that passed between Paxter Redwyne and Mace Tyrell.
This is not a case of Littlefinger being funny and well-liked; no one’s laughing at his jokes or being charmed by him. Lord Rowan and Queen Cersei openly doubt him, Paxter Redwyne and Mace Tyrell are quietly skeptical, because cracking dick jokes in the Small Council and bragging about sleeping with noble ladies is gross and wildly inappropriate – part of his constant obsession with his childhood spent with the Tully sisters that undercuts his plans more than once and will likely be his downfall. Rather, Littlefinger’s power in this scene is that he’s useful for dirty jobs: he can “deliver you the Vale of Arryn without a drop of blood being spilled,” and the Small Council doesn’t want a war with the Vale (hence Mace’s condescending rejection of Tyrion’s proposals). Because Littlefinger makes himself indispensible, he can get away with his inappropriate behavior – what the Psychopathic Personality Index calls “impulsive nonconformity” – and he clearly gets a thrill out of making other people put up with his breaches of court etiquette as a minor power play.
However, this chapter shows us that Littlefinger’s position has shifted somewhat, because he is no longer the littlest lord in the kingdom, but the Lord of Harrenhal. And while Tyrion was the one who made the offer in the first place, this is the first time he’s ever had to come face to face with the reality that it’s something other than an empty title, but rather a stepping stone to the lordship of the Vale.
Another addition to Tyrion’s feeling of alienation in this chapter, therefore, is that he’s the only one who questions or argues against Littlefinger, and no one else sees Littlefinger’s actions as threatening. Take for the example of Tyrion being given the position of Master of Coins (which frees up Littlefinger to go to the Vale):
Littlefinger smiled. “My little friend is too kind. All I do is count coppers, as King Robert used to say. Any clever tradesman could do as well . . . and a Lannister, blessed with the golden touch of Casterly Rock, will no doubt far surpass me.”
“A Lannister?” Tyrion had a bad feeling about this.
Lord Tywin’s gold-flecked eyes met his son’s mismatched ones. “You are admirably suited to the task, I believe.”
“Indeed!” Ser Kevan said heartily. “I’ve no doubt you’ll make a splendid master of coin, Tyrion.”
Just to show that I don’t always dump on Littlefinger, I actually think that Littlefinger selling Tywin and Kevan on this ahead of time is a really clever ploy. The Master of Coins is an ostensible promotion, but it’s also exactly the kind of promotion that Tywin would think would be suitable for Tyrion, since it’s the kind of job “any clever tradesman can do” since Tywin’s bigotry encompasses both class and disability. More importantly, it means that the one clear enemy he has in the Lannister regime is going to be busy counting coppers rather than pursuing any vendetta…and, since Littlefinger is about to begin the phase of his plan that involves breaking with the Lannister regime (which may well involve revealing his embezzlement and thus ruining the Iron Throne’s credit), it’s amazingly petty that he’s sticking Tyrion with the mess he created (and possibly the blame as well, since it’s easy to get people to believe the worst).
However, I do think this scene is a great piece of evidence for my interpretation of Littlefinger’s character. Look at what happens when Tyrion questions Littlefinger’s actions:
“Master of coin?” said Tyrion in a thin strained voice. “Whose notion was that, pray?”
“Lord Petyr’s,” his father said, “but it serves us well to have the treasury in the hands of a Lannister. You have asked for important work. Do you fear you might be incapable of the task?”
“No,” said Tyrion, “I fear a trap. Littlefinger is subtle and ambitious. I do not trust him. Nor should you.”
“He won Highgarden to our side…” Cersei began.
“…and sold you Ned Stark, I know. He will sell us just as quick. A coin is as dangerous as a sword in the wrong hands.”
His uncle Kevan looked at him oddly. “Not to us, surely. The gold of Casterly Rock…”
“…is dug from the ground. Littlefinger’s gold is made from thin air, with a snap of his fingers.”
It’s not that the Lannisters like and trust Littlefinger – after all, Cersei and Jaime were talking about Littlefinger as an ambitious enemy when Bran caught them canoodling in the tower – it’s that they think House Lannister is so rich and powerful that Littlefinger couldn’t possibly hurt them and that they could always outbid anyone for his loyalties. As happened with Jon Arryn, as happened with Eddard Stark, their natural distrust of a patently untrustworthy man is overcome by their privilege:
..Ser Kevan cleared his throat. “I would sooner have Petyr Baelish ruling the Eyrie than any of Lady Lysa’s other suitors. Yohn Royce, Lyn Corbray, Horton Redfort . . . these are dangerous men, each in his own way. And proud. Littlefinger may be clever, but he has neither high birth nor skill at arms. The lords of the Vale will never accept such as their liege.”
Once again, it’s not that the Lannisters trust Littlefinger, but that they don’t see Littlefinger as a threat according to the normal rules of feudal politics. Littlefinger “has neither high birth nor skill at arms,” nor does he have thousands of bannermen while Roose Bolton holds Harrenhal, and Kevan is right that the nobles of the Vale despise Littlefinger. The problem is that Littlefinger isn’t playing by the normal rules of feudal politics, and it’s this, not his friendliness, that makes him a threat.
Meanwhile, while it may seem as if Littlefinger is the only one on the offensive (after all, this chapter sees him take a major step in his grand strategy) and Varys is inactive, underneath the surface Varys is also making moves (albeit more cautious ones).
The eunuch drew a parchment from his sleeve. “A kraken has been seen off the Fingers.” He giggled. “Not a Greyjoy, mind you, a true kraken. It attacked an Ibbenese whaler and pulled it under. There is fighting on the Stepstones, and a new war between Tyrosh and Lys seems likely. Both hope to win Myr as ally. Sailors back from the Jade Sea report that a three-headed dragon has hatched in Qarth, and is the wonder of that city—”
“Dragons and krakens do not interest me, regardless of the number of their heads,” said Lord Tywin. “Have your whisperers perchance found some trace of my brother’s son?”
“Alas, our beloved Tyrek has quite vanished, the poor brave lad.” Varys sounded close to tears.
Here we see Varys casually slipping in a mention of a dragon in Qarth in such a way that, rather than taking the news as evidence that the Targaryens have returned or that Dany has hatched three dragons, they’ll dismiss the news as a travelogue’s fantasy, and will be much less likely to believe future reports from others, as Cersei does repeatedly in AFFC. (Given what we learn in ADWD about Varys and Illyrio’s links to the Golden Company, I wouldn’t be surprised either if he included the news about the trade war between Tyrosh and Lys in order to obscure the identity of the mercenary army that will land on Westeros, since the Golden Company would be “busy” in the Disputed Lands.) And just to show that Varys isn’t without an ego of his own, I’m pretty sure he describes the dragon as “three-headed” because it amuses him to describe the sigil of House Targaryen to Tywin’s face and get away with it.
Speaking of getting away with it, the fact that Varys manages to pull off a mummer’s trick of fake-crying over the Lannister he all-but-certainly kidnapped right in Tywin’s face is sang-froid of the highest order. As I’ve speculated before, I believe that Varys’ plans for Tyrek are aimed at discrediting Tommen’s legitimacy (in both senses of the word) among the population of King’s Landing so as to fulfill the prophecy of the “mummer’s dragon.” However, this section raises the question as to what the rest of Varys’ intentions were vis-a-vis Tywin’s regime – he probably knew about the Purple Wedding, but whether he was planning to do anything until the end of ASOS, I’ll have to keep my eye out.
We move on from our two conspirators to the major subject of the back half of this chapter: Tywin’s plans for for the marriages of Tyrion and (but very much not to) Cersei. We begin with news that the reader is already privy to:
He looked to his brother. When Lord Tywin nodded, he continued. “And there is this—Lord Petyr continues to demonstrate his loyalty. Only yesterday he brought us word of a Tyrell plot to spirit Sansa Stark off to Highgarden for a ‘visit,’ and there marry her to Lord Mace’s eldest son, Willas.”
“Littlefinger brought you word?” Tyrion leaned against the table. “Not our master of whisperers? How interesting.”
This passage suggests that Tyrion III comes before Sansa II, or rather that it comes before the present-tense portions of that chapter but after the past-tense portions of that chapter, and that GRRM shuffled the order somewhat so as to hide the reveal of Sansa’s impending marriage to Tyrion, at the cost of making the timeline a bit less intuitive. I do like, however, how the different context creates new implications: being the only one who doesn’t trust Littlefinger, Tyrion’s the only one bringing up how coming forward serves Littlefinger’s interests (although he doesn’t connect the dots to Sansa’s claim on the North), and no one actually follows up on his point about why Varys didn’t come forward (probably because, with Stannis defeated, Varys no longer has an interest in making the Lannister regime stronger).
What we do see right off the bat is how the news about Sansa’s intended engagement shows off the underlying weaknesses inside House Lannister:
Cersei looked at their uncle in disbelief. “Sansa is my hostage. She goes nowhere without my leave.”
“Leave you must perforce grant, should Lord Tyrell ask,” their father pointed out. “To refuse him would be tantamount to declaring that we did not trust him. He would take offense.”
“Let him. What do we care?”
Bloody fool, thought Tyrion. “Sweet sister,” he explained patiently, “offend Tyrell and you offend Redwyne, Tarly, Rowan, and Hightower as well, and perhaps start them wondering whether Robb Stark might not be more accommodating of their desires.”
“I will not have the rose and the direwolf in bed together,” declared Lord Tywin. “We must forestall him.”
To begin with, we get a very different portrait of Cersei Lannister as a politician than we’ve seen in recent seasons – jealous of her few successes, standing upon the formalities she disparaged in AGOT, and constitutionally incapable of understanding the necessities of coalition politics. Speaking of which, we also see that how difficult Tywin’s balancing act really is, publicly professing that the Tyrells and Lannisters are to be eternally linked by blood while privately trying to undermine the Tyrells without appearing to have done so.
It also shows that Tywin takes seriously the possibility that the Tyrells could jump ship to the Starks (or at the very least make their own play for the North), enough so that he’s willing to bring down the patriarchial hammer on Cersei:
“How?” asked Cersei.
“By marriage. Yours, to begin with…”
“No. Not again. I will not.”
“So long as you remain unwed, you allow Stannis to spread his disgusting slander,” Lord Tywin told his daughter. “You must have a new husband in your bed, to father children on you.”
“Three children is quite sufficient. I am Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, not a brood mare! The Queen Regent!”
“You are my daughter and will do as I command…you will marry and you will breed. Every child you birth makes Stannis more a liar.” Their father’s eyes seemed to pin her to her chair. “Mace Tyrell, Paxter Redwyne, and Doran Martell are wed to younger women likely to outlive them. Balon Greyjoy’s wife is elderly and failing, but such a match would commit us to an alliance with the Iron Islands, and I am still uncertain whether that would be our wisest course…Oberyn Martell might suit, but the Tyrells would take that very ill. So we must look to the sons…”
“I have considered the Redwyne twins, Theon Greyjoy, Quentyn Martell, and a number of others. But our alliance with Highgarden was the sword that broke Stannis. It should be tempered and made stronger. Ser Loras has taken the white and Ser Garlan is wed to one of the Fossoways, but there remains the eldest son, the boy they scheme to wed to Sansa Stark.”
As much as one might share Tyrion’s dislike of Cersei and his vicarious enjoyment of her sudden reversal of fortunes, this is a brutal browbeating. Not only is this a father treating his adult child with no more consideration than he did in their infancy, this is specificlaly a patriarch insisting on his authority to control his daughter’s body as a child-bearing commodity. And if Cersei ever needed evidence that her title as Queen Regent is a paper shield, the way that Tywin rolls over every objection as if she wasn’t even talking is proof in and of itself.
At the same time, Tywin’s control over his daughter is based on a complex combination of psychological pressures. It’s telling that Tywin starts with Stannis’ “disgusting slander,” which is both a direct attack on Cersei’s main transgression against her father’s will, and about as close as Tywin could ever come to acknowledging the truth of Joffrey’s birth. He then uses a succession of truly undesirable candidates – elderly, previously-married men, then callow youths like “Horror” and “Slobber” – in order to lower Cersei’s resistance to Willas Tyrell, his main target. After all, if Tywin’s “one great House” is to work, it’s not enough to have the Tyrells bound to the Lannisters only through Margaery, but to ensure that Willas’ heirs will be part-Lannister too.
So brutal is Tywin’s psychological pummeling that it gets Tyrion – 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 sister:
When she hesitated, then sat, Tyrion knew she was lost, despite her loud declaration of, “I will not marry again!”
…You are the queen, Tyrion wanted to tell her. He ought to be begging leave of you.
Cersei swept swiftly from the room, her rage plain to see. Yet in the end she will do as Father bid. She had proved that with Robert.
Tyrion’s sympathy goes deeper than feeling bad for Cersei: Tyrion has such a close read on his sister’s character in the way that only someone who grew up with her that he can predict her actions (something that’s almost certainly going to be very important to his storyline in TWOW). Even more surprisingly, given Tyrion’s deeply-problematic attitudes about women, Tyrion actually sides with Cersei and believes that her status and authority shouldn’t be overlooked because of her gender – it is not an accident that this change of heart takes place when he sees their father force her to marry in the same way he forced Tyrion into dissolving his marriage. This passage suggests a minor tragedy, that Tywin’s two children whose privilege is leavened by their gender or disability couldn’t find common cause in a mutual desire for independence.
Because despite his gender, Tywin intends to impose his patriarchal control over Tyrion’s body and sexuality/reproductive capacity, as he has always done. And this is what makes Tywin’s drive for patriarchal control so lethal to his hopes for his House and his own person, because unlike his sister, an increasingly-alienated Tyrion will eventually snap back:
“Your whoring is a weakness in you,” Lord Tywin said without preamble, “but perhaps some share of the blame is mine. Since you stand no taller than a boy, I have found it easy to forget that you are in truth a man grown, with all of a man’s baser needs. It is past time you were wed.”
I was wed, or have you forgotten? Tyrion’s mouth twisted, and the noise emerged that was half laugh and half snarl.
We’ve seen since AGOT that Tyrion bears a barely sub-conscious patricidal desire for revenge against his father for what he did to Tysha, and Tywin’s plan instantly reopens that wound to instant (if half-hidden) aggression. It doesn’t help at all that Tywin starts the conversation by bluntly stating “your whoring is a weakness in you,” which brings back his threat of murder from Tyrion I, symbolically linking Tysha to Shae once more. And just to underline why Tywin is so eminently deserving of patricide, he manages to throw together ableism (“since you stand no taller than a boy”) with hypocritical (because we know damn well that Tywin’s fixation on a “man’s baser needs” stems from his own sexuality) prudery.
This passage also raises an interesting question: is Tyrions till technically married? In the longest version of the story we’ve gotten so far, it’s not particularly clear. Tyrion says that “my father had the marriage undone. It was as if we had never been wed, the septons said,” but (to jump ahead to Tyrion IV) we know that annulments are actually quite difficult (requiring the High Septon or a Council of Faith), and one of the main grounds for annulment (non-consummation) doesn’t apply here. It could well be that Tywin simply covered up the marriage rather legally dissolving it, given Tysha’s lowly status.
And of course, Tywin’s pater familias horribulus routine doesn’t stop with his own family, because he absolutely thinks of Sansa as a pawn rather than a human being:
“… You mean to wed me to Sansa Stark. But won’t the Tyrells take the match as an affront, if they have designs on the girl?”
“Lord Tyrell will not broach the matter of the Stark girl until after Joffrey’s wedding. If Sansa is wed before that, how can he take offense, when he gave us no hint of his intentions?”
“…That seems singularly cruel. Even for you, Father.”
“Why, do you plan to mistreat her?” His ta father sounded more curious than concerned. “The girl’s happiness is not my purpose, nor should it be yours. Our alliances in the south may be as solid as Casterly Rock, but there remains the north to win, and the key to the north is Sansa Stark.”
“She is no more than a child…”
“Your sister swears she’s flowered. If so, she is a woman, fit to be wed. You must needs take her maidenhead, so no man can say the marriage was not consummated.”
Even taking as given that Tywin’s intent is to outflank Mace Tyrell through Sansa, his statement that “the girl’s happiness is not my purpose” is the definition of the banality of evil. Tywin is once again using women’s bodies for his own political ends – in this case to get his hands on Winterfell to achieve an existential victory over House Stark – in the bluntest of biological terms. Once again, Tywin is ordering Tyrion to commit marital rape on a minor, bringing up the memory of Tysha again, which intensifies his feelings of alienation from his family and helps to explain why Tyriin on will begin to rebel against his father on this very issue (which may result yet in the downfall of House Lannister).
That being said, since he still needs Tyrion to agree – a consideration that he notably doesn’t extend to Cersei – Tywin has to find some sort of psychological hook to gain his compliance. And naturally, he goes with ableism:
“You asked me to reward you for your efforts in the battle,” Lord Tywin reminded him forcefully. “This is a chance for you, Tyrion, the best you are ever likely to have.” He drummed his fingers impatiently on the table. “I once hoped to marry your brother to Lysa Tully, but Aerys named Jaime to his Kingsguard before the arrangements were complete. When I suggested to Lord Hoster that Lysa might be wed to you instead, he replied that he wanted a whole man for his daughter…When I offered you to Dorne I was told that the suggestion was an insult,” Lord Tywin continued. “In later years I had similar answers from Yohn Royce and Leyton Hightower. I finally stooped so low as to suggest you might take the Florent girl Robert deflowered in his brother’s wedding bed, but her father preferred to give her to one of his own household knights.”
After asserting that Tyrion doesn’t deserve to get the reward he asked for, he effectively insinuates that this is Tyrion’s only chance to get married (and attain the status of lordship) due to the unrelenting bigotry of Westerosi society. It doesn’t matter whether the lords in questions are ones we consider to be “good guys” (Hoster Tully, Yohn Royce, etc.) or “bad guys” (the Florents), they all consider Tyrion to be less than “a whole man;” even the supposedly universally progressive Dornish consider the very idea “an insult.” Similar to his recitation of Cersei’s potential mates, this roll of rejection hits on a key weak point – Tyrion’s fear that he doesn’t deserve to be loved or to have a normal relationship.
However, as with everything else in this chapter, this move by Tywin is but a small part of his larger design…
The Red Wedding Planning
One of the most interesting things about Tyrion III is the way that GRRM does foreshadowing of the Red Wedding. We’ve seen a number of approaches: Dany has a prophetic dream but has no context to put the pieces together; Theon also has a prophetic dream and context, but no clues that would help him understand how his dream would come about; Arya has a significant clue, but not the other half of the puzzle. Tyrion’s situation is significantly different:
Tyrion watched his father closely. There’s something he’s not saying. He remembered those important letters Lord Tywin had been writing, the night Tyrion had demanded Casterly Rock. What was it he said? Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens…He wondered who the “better option” was, and what sort of price he was demanding.
Tyrion has the proper context (he knows all of the players involved, on both the Stark and Lannister sides), he knows a lot of the details (he knows about Duskendale, he’ll know very shortly about the Freys and the Spicers), and he even has it from Tywin’s own words that his father is planning to win the war in an underhanded fashion. He just can’t put the puzzle pieces together to see the whole.
There’s a lot of different moving parts to this, so they need to be discussed one-by-one. The first piece of the puzzle has to do with Robb Stark’s marital situation:
“Lord Tywin was unconcerned. “Robb Stark will father no children on his fertile Frey, you have my word. There is a bit of news I have not yet seen fit to share with the council, though no doubt the good lords will hear it soon enough. The Young Wolf has taken Gawen Westerling’s eldest daughter to wife.”
For a moment Tyrion could not believe he’d heard his father right. “He broke his sworn word?” he said, incredulous. “He threw away the Freys for…” Words failed him.
This short passage actually has several things going on: given that the news of Robb broken betrothal was being kept very close to the very in the Stark camp until very recently, the fact that Tywin knows is a clue that he’s made his deal with the Freys. However, the fact that he knows the identity of Robb’s bride – something that almost no one even in the Stark camp knew about until very recently – is a sign that Tywin’s also made a deal with Sybell Spicer. Moreover, the comment about “Robb Stark will father no children on his fertile Frey” is something of a hint that Sybell illicitly dosing her daughter with contraceptives to prevent the King in the North from having an heir of his body was part of their arrangement.
Tyrion III also gives us an interesting portrait in miniature of the character of Sybell Spicer, his partner in crime:
“A maid of sixteen years, named Jeyne,” said Ser Kevan. “Lord Gawen once suggested her to me for Willem or Martyn, but I had to refuse him. Gawen is a good man, but his wife is Sybell Spicer. He should never have wed her. The Westerlings always did have more honor than sense. Lady Sybell’s grandfather was a trader in saffron and pepper, almost as lowborn as that smuggler Stannis keeps. And the grandmother was some woman he’d brought back from the east. A frightening old crone, supposed to be a priestess. Maegi, they called her. No one could pronounce her real name. Half of Lannisport used to go to her for cures and love potions and the like.” He shrugged. “She’s long dead, to be sure. And Jeyne seemed a sweet child, I’ll grant you, though I only saw her once. But with such doubtful blood…”
Combined with what we learn about her in AFFC, this passage suggests that Sybell is something of a frustrated social climber, having been balked in her desire to marry her daughter into House Lannister. (Depending on how one interprets Kevan’s comment that “he should never have wed her. The Westerlings always did have more honor than sense,” it may have even been the case that Sybell’s marriage to Gawen Westerling was the result of a scenario not that different from Robb and Jeyne.) Likewise, Kevan’s offhanded comment about Jeyne’s “doubtful blood” suggests that no small part of Sybell’s motives have to do witho the rampant prejudice she faced in Lannisport (think of the mindset that treats a spice merchant who as both the daughter of an upwardly-mobile merchant and an Essosi woman. Finally, the information about Sybell’s grandmother always makes me wonder whether love potions were part of her plan (and possibly part of her marriage) or whether that’s just Kevan’s prejudice speaking.
Finally, we have an interesting section where the Lannisters speculate as to the motives of their enemies; this more than other parts of this chapter come across as more writerly, where GRRM uses his characters to explain why other characters do certain things:
“I am surprised,” Tyrion had to confess. “I thought Robb Stark had better sense.”
“He is a boy of sixteen,” said Lord Tywin. “At that age, sense weighs for little, against lust and love and honor.”
“He forswore himself, shamed an ally, betrayed a solemn promise. Where is the honor in that?”
Ser Kevan answered. “He chose the girl’s honor over his own. Once he had deflowered her, he had no other course.”
“It would have been kinder to leave her with a bastard in her belly,” said Tyrion bluntly. The Westerlings stood to lose everything here; their lands, their castle, their very lives. A Lannister always pays his debts.
“Jeyne Westerling is her mother’s daughter,” said Lord Tywin, “and Robb Stark is his father’s son.”
At the same time, there’s a lot we can learn from this: firstly, Tyrion’s continued admiration for Robb, as with his concern for Sansa and his quasi-Romantic ambivalence about the fall of Winterfell, I think is an artifact of his Ur-Text storyline (either that or it’s meant to set up Tyrion as the avenue for rapprochement between Dany and the North if the show’s storyline is anywhere near accurate). Secondly, I find Tywin’s analysis really interesting, despite the fact that he’s never been very good at reading Robb Stark. He’s clearly wrong about Jeyne, who couldn’t be more unlike her mother if she tried, but he might be right about Robb Stark (although not in the way he thinks.
But as with everything that’s come before, Tyrion has the pieces but can’t quite put the pieces together:
This Westerling betrayal did not seem to have enraged his father as much as Tyrion would have expected…
“You’d think the Westerlings might have ridden past and seen the lesson there.”
“Mayhaps they have,” Lord Tywin said. “They are well aware of Castamere, I promise you.”
“Could the Westerlings and Spicers be such great fools as to believe the wolf can defeat the lion?”
Every once in a very long while, Lord Tywin Lannister would actually threaten to smile; he never did, but the threat alone was terrible to behold.
When we last left off with the story of the House of Atreus, the eponymous founder of the House had worked his terrible revenge against his brother for seducing his wife and stealing the throne of Mycenae. However, the curse of Tantalus and Pelops was not done with the royal house of Mycenae. To revenge himself for the murder and cooking of his son, Thyestes went to the Oracle of Delphi and asked what he might do to accomplish his aims. When the Oracle told him to father a child on his own daughter Pelopia, Thyestes did not second-guess the gods, and so incest enters into the story of the fall of the House of Atreus (not for the first time and not for the last).
Atreus, meanwhile, met Pelopia and not knowing her to be his niece, married her. When she gave birth to a son, he believed that Agistheus was his own. And so when Thyestes was finally found and brought back to Mycenae, Atreus ordered the boy to kill his funcle:
However, Thyestes would not last not on the throne. Atreus’ adult sons, Agammemnon and Menelaus found support from Sparta and overthrew their uncle, although his son Agisthus escaped. But the curse of the House of Atreus would not end with such a tidy tale of restoration…
So it seems to me that there several what-if scenarios in Tyrion III, all of which are matrimonial:
- Lancel not Tyrion marries Sansa? This is a rather subtle change, at least at first. Given his health at the time, Lancel probably wouldn’t be able to conssumate the marriage either, so that doesn’t change. What might change is what happens after the Purple Wedding; without the direct link between Tyrion and Sansa, it might complicate either Tyrion’s trial (if he can present Sansa as an alternative suspect) or possibly lead to Sansa not being a suspect for regicide after her escape.
- Cersei marries any of the candidates? This is a more substnatial change, and honestly there probably wouldn’t be enough time for Cersei’s wedding to take place prior to Tywin’s death, and once he’s dead there’s no way she’s going through with it. However, if the marriage did take place, then quite possibly this sets up a very different power struggle after Tywin’s death, because it would be very hard for Cersei to be named Queen Regent and not her husband. Indeed, it may well be the case that Cersei is out of King’s Landing when Tywin dies, in which case she would be completely out of the running and isolated from royal politics completely. Needless to say, I don’t see her husband living long unless they’re very smart and very clever.
- If the previous marriages had worked out? Well, first off if Jaime’s married he probably doesn’t become a member of the Kingsguard, which means that King’s Landing goes up in flames, taking Tywin’s army with it. Robert still becomes king of Westeros, but the odds of Dany finding any support when she lands will be quite low. Lysa marrying Tyrion probably means that Jon Arryn isn’t murdered, which probably means that Cersei is found out, although the politics of that conflict would be complicated with the Tullys caught in the middle. Tyrion marrying Arianne is incredibly unlikely given Doran’s plans, but if it happened, I could see an attempt to bring Tyrion in as a defector and encourage a split within House Lannister. If Tyrion marries Bronze Yohn’s daughter, than even Lysa would know better than to arrest him and put him on trial; a marriage into the Hightowers might be enough to really split the Reach when Renly raises his banners. Finally, if Tyrion marries the Florent girl, then Stannis’ situation gets quite complicated indeed.
Book vs. Show:
One of the things that starts to slip somewhat in the show is that by having Loras be the only heir to Highgarden, Benioff and Weiss created a real problem for themselves: how realistic is Tywin’s threat of naming him to the Kingsguard, since clearly the only scion of a House would have a plausible reason to say no? How do they explain what happens to the Tyrells when he dies? The result is that you get clumsy storytelling as happened in Season 7, where Highgarden gets knocked over with a tiny army.
This is why you should always mention tertiary characters and keep them off-screen, in case it turns out you’ll need them later.