Will Tyrion Lannister Redeem His Walk of Shame?
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
“The future is shit just like the past.” — Tyrion Lannister
I return, once again, to my Game of Thrones’ obsession. Greetings fellow Game of Thrones nerds, sullied and unsullied, Stark or Targaryen devotees. This time, I cast my mind to Tyrion Lannister, the Imp, the rich and mistreated dwarf of House Lannister.
Tyrion is the most beloved character in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. He is a complex man and therefore intrigues us. He is the ultimate survivor, suffered through a terrible childhood, and makes drinking seem de rigeuer.
Tyrion is an underdog. He's sarcastic, irreverent, miserable, brilliant, and always imperfect. He is unloved by his family. He compensates for deep insecurities with witty repartee and whoring. He pisses off the great wall at Winterfell. He “drinks and knows things.” Except for his brother Jaime, his family wants him dead.
Who among us hasn't experienced some frustrated variant of his twisted and twisting life? We are "all bastards in our father's eyes" to some degree. And so we empathize with Tyrion, and hope that he stays safe in a world where death is as common as birth.
Tyrion’s Initial Character Arc
In the first four seasons of Game of Thrones, Tyrion has a compelling character arc. He’s swaggeringly irresistible. He delivers clever one liners. He’s a brilliant military tactician. He saves Kings Landing with his wildfire defense at the Battle of Blackwater, though his stoic stick in the mud father Tywin steals the credit. He is left with a dashing scar.
Tyrion punches Joffrey for insolence. Despite Tywin’s admonitions, he consorts with Shae, and seems to find a semblance of temporary love and acceptance. He cleverly escapes being moon-doored to death at the Eyrie. Tyrion is forced to marry Sansa, but still treats her with tenderness.
After the Purple Wedding, where a psychopathic Joffrey happily gets his comeuppance, Cersei charges Tyrion with Joffrey's murder and arrests him. We all know Lady Olenna is the real culprit. Tyrion demands trial by combat. His defender, the Red Viper Oberyn Martell, is felled at the last moment by the Mountain after almost certain victory. Tyrion’s loving father sentences him to death for a crime he didn’t commit.
With Jaime's prodding, Varys plots Tyrion’s jail break. Varys delivers his usual inscrutible line: I'm doing it “for the Seven Kingdoms.” (No one ever understand precisely what the mysterious Varys is doing to "protect the realm.") Before Tyrion leaves Kings Landing, he discovers his father in bed with his lover Shae, who perversely calls Tywin “her lion” despite it being her pet name for Tyrion. A terrible knife in the belly.
Tyrion is blind with rage. He strangles Shae in cold blood and kills his father with a crossbow before climbing into a box to head to Essos in disguise.
And Tyrion’s never been the same since.
Since the dramatic finale of Season 4, his character’s been deadly dull. There are no witty lines, no grand acts. His character went from wondrous to woeful in an instant.
Tyrion's not a victim anymore exactly, though he's forced to leave his home. In fact, he’s elevated to Hand of the Queen. It should be a tantalizing plot development. But it's not. Tyrion’s a sullen, glowering gargoyle, like the ones he's dreamed about.
And he's ineffectual as Hand. He’s a loser, a hovering background presence, a mere sidekick to a radiant Daenerys, who would don a halo if she could.
Why is Tyrion so bad at what he used to be good at? Has he fallen into irrelevance in the fast paced story? Why is he on the bench?
Tyrion’s Walk of Shame
In season 5, Tyrion goes to work for Daenerys as a political advisor. They bond. They are both outsiders who have a lot in common — dead fathers, mothers who died in childbirth, abusive by family members. They’re a team; they’re buddies.
But Tyrion seems engulfed and diminished by Daenerys. His character becomes under-utilized in the show.
In season 6, when Daenerys decamps on Dragon during a pitched battle with the Harpys, Tyrion is in charge of Mereen. And he bungles it badly.
Tyrion negotiates with the slave masters for a cease and desist of the insurgencies. Predictably, they agree but then betray Tyrion and lay siege to Mereen. Daenerys returns and can’t believe the obtuseness of her Hand. She forgives him, nonetheless.
They all head across the Narrow Sea to Westeros to reclaim Daenerys' halo crown.
Upon landing, Tyrion continues to misjudge the situation on the ground. He advises Daenerys against attacking King’s Landing — tyrannical gory bloodshed and that all awful evil stuff. Instead, he devises a two pronged plan to lay siege to King’s Landing and simultaneously re-capture Casterly Rock, the previous monetary seat of King’s Landing.
I wrinkled my nose at the strategy.
Casterly Rock? The gold is long gone and mined out. No one’s even been to Casterly Rock in years. Fans aren’t even sure what it looks like, much less convinced it’s a stronghold.
Here's a picture in case you're clueless:
As Varys once told Tyrion, "Power resides where men believe it resides...it's a trick, a shadow on the wall”. Tyrion seems to think that power is in Casterly Rock. Tyrion's tricked by a shadow, a symbol.
As we soon find out, Casterly Rock is strategically worthless. While the Unsullied dally there, Cersei’s forces seize Highgarden and kill Lady Olenna, vanquishing the Tyrell forces. In a cringey plot twist, Tyrion's faulty strategy unwittingly avenges Joffrey’s death by allowing Jaime to poison Lady Olenna.
What was Tyrion thinking? He comes off as a hack, an amateur. Where is the grizzled wily veteran of Blackwater Bay? He was badly outplayed and out-maneuvered.
Daenerys saves the day by swooping in on Drogon and incinerating the Lannister and Tarly forces, which only seems to further traumatize Tyrion, not elate him.
In his next foray into politics, Tyrion plots a peace meeting, a pow wow between Queen Daenerys and Queen Cersei in the dragon pit of King's Landing. He bungles that too. Tyrion suggests that Daenerys’ team go beyond the wall to capture a white walker. Seeing a white walker, he wisely opines, will persuade Queen Cersei of the dire threat to Westeros.
Since when would Cersei let a small detail like that bother her, seated on the iron crown in the relative safety of the south? As a result of Tyrion's plan, Daenerys loses her dragon Viserion, who the Night King spears and reanimates as an ice dragon.
This plan was nonsense from the start. Tyrion’s errors are really piling up.
After the big meet up in the dragon pit, Tyrion valiantly decides to meet with Cersei, the sister who wants him dead. He tries to fix things. That falls flat too.
Tyrion believes that Cersei is pregnant with a baby from her brother-lover Jaime. He believes she will march the Lannister armies against the dead in the "great war." This is some ridiculous wishful thinking.
We don’t know yet whether Cersei's really pregnant. To me, after the Season 8 premiere, it seems likely she had an off screen miscarriage. (Everything happens off screen nowadays ... ) Plus, Cersei and Jaime's last foray into incest was in Episode 3 of Season 7. If Cersei were pregnant, she'd be showing by now. Tyrion doesn't know this however.
And so Tyrion is convinced that Cersei has “something to live for.” He falls for her act hook, line, and sinker. Why is Tyrion so easily conned by Cersei? Why is he so easily outwitted? This seems like some very sloppy writing, given Tyrion’s history. Damn showrunners.
This is not the Tyrion we know and love.
I guess Game of Thrones would have been boring if Daenerys simply hopped on her dragon and torched Westeros … But still, this is awkward.
In the premiere of Season 8, Tyrion and Daenerys’ armies arrive at Winterfell. Daenerys likes that fact that her dragons scare everyone. No one bends the knee to Daenerys. Tyrion rather awkwardly announces to a gathered crowd that the Lannister army is coming in support of the Stark forces. Say what?
Naturally, the stout Northerners are stony faced and disbelieving. Tyrion approaches Sansa, who is still technically his wife. He mentions again that Cersei’s army is advancing. Sansa can barely disguise her disappointment in him. She gives him some serious side eye. She says with marked disdain, “I used to think you were the cleverest man in all of Westeros.”
Boom. That’s what the audience is thinking now too.
Why Has Tyrion Been So Sidelined?
Tyrion’s certainly not very clever anymore. He apparently was promoted too early.
Why? What’s happened to Tyrion? Several things could be in play.
First, the paucity of his character could be due to a lack of source material from Martin. And Martin is no longer at the helm of the TV script, bowing out after Season 4 to concentrate on writing The Winds of Winter.
In that vacuum, the show runners seem like they hate Tyrion lately. They’ve been deliberately scape-dwarfing him, effectively comparing him to Napoleon at his nadir. And Tyrion’s character is now utterly bland. When was his last decent quip? Joking about Varys' lack of balls is hackneyed and not remotely funny. Tyrion’s even become oddly asexual.
The show runners are challenging our respect and love for a key character.
Are the show runners too tired? They’re done with the hard work of writing after hurrying the last two seasons through production at breakneck pace? Are they so desperate for a vacation that they’ve ruined one of the show’s best written characters?
Or are they intentionally neutering Tyrion so that Daenerys and Jon get the spotlight? The show has moved from political machinations to big set pieces, dragons, zombies, and blood magic. Tyrion’s skill set doesn’t mesh well anymore. Maybe that's why Tyrion seems so irrelevant.
Secondly, Tyrion could be deeply depressed and directionless, and purposefully conveyed as such. As Martin himself said after Season 4:
"He’s been through hell, he’s faced death over and over again, and he’s been betrayed, as he sees it, by all the people that he’s tried to take care of, that he’s tried to win the approval of."
Tyrion's also lost his ancient and powerful name and all his gold. He's broke. Those things kept him afloat in the face of a lifetime of denigration and dwarf jokes. Now, he's a broken man reeling from patricide and a ruthless double murder. The wages of sin are hard to shake, after all. For Tyrion, depression means bad decision-making.
Third, maybe Tyrion’s character is treading water because his loyalties are divided. On top of everything else, that's eating away at him. Martin has always said that the only thing worth writing about is “the heart in conflict with itself.” Tyrion is his favorite character, so it makes sense that Tyrion would have a tragic conflict of the heart.
Tyrion is obviously still a Lannister despite aligning himself with Daenerys. He's even been dressing like Tywin lately. Compare photos for yourself.
We see the horror in his eyes when Drogon almost creme brûlées Jaime. Tyrion's appalled when the Lannister army is torched. He makes us question whether he might betray Daenerys. According to the House of Undying prophecy, Daenerys has one more betrayal "for gold." And remember, Tyrion "loves" his family. Well, minus Cersei and Joffrey.
Fourth, and related to this, perhaps Tyrion’s advice is just Lannister-style advice. Lannisters are shrewd, not heroic. They believe it’s better to be smart and maintain rule of law, rather than be heroic and well-loved. So Tyrion advises Daenerys to be a smart queen, instead of a hero.
But that’s not what she’s suited for. So his Lannister style advice doesn’t work.
Fifith, bereft and betrayed after escaping Westeros, Tyrion is vulnerable and falls in love with Daenerys. Maybe he’s a little heartsick and lovelorn. He has a tendency to fall for beautiful women. And Daenerys presents a glorious dream of a better world. As Martin has written, "men are thundering great fools" in matters of the heart.
Tyrion tells Jon Snow that Daenerys “protects people from monsters just as you do.” Tyrion separates Daenerys from men who love her — sending off Jorah, having Daario stay in Essos. Of Daario he longingly tells Daenerys, “He wasn’t the first to love you and he won’t be the last.”
Tyrion was dead set against Daenerys flying up north to rescue Jon and Jorah, calling her “the most important person in the world.” And there is the scene of Tyrion’s obvious distress when Jon and Daenerys hook up. Tyrion may have had more than he can bear.
But wait, it seems awfully late for a full fledged love triangle, even though Martin might have envisioned one. (An early Martin outline had a love triangle between Arya, Jon, and Tyrion.) And it is.
There’s not enough time left in the show to truly develop this angle, not with the looming white walker battle and a king/queen to crown. So we should assume that Tyrion has a soft spot for Daenerys and her dragons, but is mostly worried about the political ramifications of a Jon-Daenerys tryst.
What Is Tyrion’s Fate?
After being portrayed as an outright fool for three seasons, how will Tyrion’s character arc end?
Peter Dinklage has said that Tyrion has a "beautiful" ending, that he "has a very good conclusion, no matter what that is. Death can be a great way out.” This comment is quite ambiguous and could easily be a cast member’s misdirection. Hard to read the tea leaves here. But if it’s satisfying to Dinklage, it should be to Tyrion fans as well.
We know that in Martin’s original pitch to HBO, Tyrion was one of the characters who was supposed to remain alive. But that list also included Jon and Daenerys, and it seems unlikely they’ll both survive. That would be a happy ending, not the “bittersweet” one Martin promised to deliver.
I suspect Tyrion will have a big ending and won’t just go out with a dreadful whimper, lovesick and mired in depression. God forbid, don't let that happen to his character.
Tyrion could “break the wheel” and save Westeros from the heavy body count that results from the continual game of thrones. Or he will suffer a hideous tear jerker of a death.
Let’s assume the first, that he lives. I think he will because Martin likes him.
There has been a lot of foreshadowing concerning the “wheel of Westeros,” that powerful dynastic machine that keeps wreaking havoc on the realm. And talk of “breaking the wheel.” In season 5, Daenerys says:
"Lannister, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell . . . they're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top and that one's on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground . . . We're not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."
There is also mention in Martin's first book that once, in a shadow, Tyrion stood “tall as a king.” I don’t see him as a literal king. The Lannisters have no real claim to the throne, if a throne even remains after the coming carnage. But Tyrion the perpetual peacemaker could become the champion of a more democratic regime.
Perhaps Tyrion becomes part of a governing council, crafts a constitution (no, not time for a constitution either really), or becomes Hand of the new king or queen. Perhaps he finally gets to ride a dragon. Perhaps, after helping establish a new order, he becomes the 1000th commander of the Night’s Watch. That might be a fitting fate for a supposed king-slayer and kin-slayer.
Tyrion could definitely live. He won’t be on the front lines of the great battle, and so is relatively safer (although a friendly assassin’s on the way). He’s always been eloquent. Martin and the show runners could use him to deliver a riveting speech summing everything up and setting the world on a better course after a terrible battle and loss of life.
Perhaps Tyrion will even patch things up with Sansa. Sounds weird? Well, remember that Martin based his books heavily on England’s War of the Roses. How did that war end? With Henry Tudor marrying Elizabeth of York to ally their warring families. Tyrion and Sansa could have a similar fate.
That is one ending, and it seems fitting. It would rescue Tyrion from his witheringly obscured character and give meaning to his life apart from being Daenerys’ sidekick. It would restore his dignity after a prolonged walk of shame.
Plus, on Game of Thrones, a character is often roughed up before being elevated. Tyrion is long overdue for some uplifting elevation.
But is this too neat and tidy? Too romantic an ending? Or does a complex character deserve a more complex ending?
It’s equally likely that Tyrion will die. Since Tyrion is Martin’s favorite character, we must consider Martin’s mindset. On the one hand, as noted above, Martin loves Tyrion, so may let him off the hook. On the other hand, what better way to show your love for a character than by killing them off? Think Ned Stark. That's Martin's signature style.
Given Tyrion’s recent irrelevancy, the efficient thing would have been to kill him off earlier in the show. But he’s popular, so the show runners kept him around.
Perhaps Tyrion’s left to deal with Cersei and Jaime? Perhaps in doing so, the entire Lannister line will be blissfully extinguished? Good riddance. The wolf pack survives, but their lifelong Lannister adversaries die. That would serve the story well.
There's also foreshadowing in the books that Tyrion will die. There are hints that his tongue will be cut off. He’s constantly warned about his "loose lips" by Tywin and Varys. In Clash of Kings, Martin says: “When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say."
But the show has ignored much of the book lore. And I’m not sure how this would transpire on the show or who would do the deed. But it would fit with the Lannister fate.
The other two Lannister siblings have been shorn of their best asset. Jaime, the valiant knight errant, lost his sword hand. Cersei, the most beautiful woman in Westeros, is shorn and shaved. It would be logical to have the well spoken Lannister sibling lose what matters to him most, his tongue.
Cersei has also sent an assassin after Tyrion. For seven long seasons, she's wanted him dead. She blames him for the death of her children, Joffrey and Myrcella. She wants revenge and would likely risk her throne to achieve it. And she's very good at killing people. It would be a shocker and dramatically satisfying in a way to see her murder Tyrion. Though quite sad for a Tyrion loving watcher, I admit. On balance, it seems unlikely.
The books also suggest that kin-killers like Tyrion don’t fare well. Neither Stannis nor Ramsay survived. Euron likely will be dead soon too. This "rule" may apply to Tyrion. Plus, Tyrion has escaped death so many times, his luck may be up. And then there's the foreshadowing specter of Tywin skinning a deer, saying “one day” all the Lannisters "will be dead."
And finally, Tyrion has become a more responsible character than the carousing brothel goer from early seasons. He wants to save the world. He wants his life to mean something. Death doesn't seem as final or fiercesome to him. Sacrificing himself to save humanity in some fashion would be a "beautiful" ending for his character.
Winter may have come. But the fate of our favorite character is up in the air. The denouement of Game of Thrones, according to Dinklage, is a “beautiful gentle touch with some and a hard touch with others.” Will Tyrion be treated gently or harshly? Either ending is consistent with Martin’s oeuvre.
I just don’t want it to be disappointingly boring.
Images via HBO
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