This post will be talking some spoilery details about the first four seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Especially the final episode of Season Four, so if you’re not up on all the episodes, don’t read this post. Go watch the show. Season Five is starting in a few months, and you can get caught up!
Tyrion Lannister is a compelling figure on Game of Thrones. The black sheep of the Lannister clan, Tyrion is not popular in Westeros (being called a demon monkey by the King’s Landing citizenry that he more or less saved) but is wildly popular among book readers and show watchers. (Anyone who doesn’t like him can tell me about it in the comments section; we can have a respectful discourse.)
So, why am I having an In Defense of Tyrion Lannister if he’s so popular? It’s not like he pushed a kid out a window, arranged a massacre in defiance of religious and social conventions, or is a thuggish goon.
Well, to be honest I’m kind of not doing that. Instead this will be an examination of the differences between the book version and the show version of Tyrion’s story, in particular to his killing of Shae and Tywin.
To be clear, I’m generally opposed to someone murdering their father and ex-girlfriend, so I’m not really trying to absolve Tyrion of those deeds.
The television show is a reasonably faithful adaptation of the books (feel free to argue with me, but I’ve seen truly awful adaptations of the written word) but there are notable differences here and there. Often a story might be streamlined or slightly re-engineered (sometimes for the better.) Sometimes story elements are added wholesale (which is either a nice surprise for book readers, or the apocalypse.)
These differences are more controversial when they happen to one of the fan favorites, and are particularly controversial when they affect our core relationship with the character’s narrative arc.
Season Four brought changes on that level in regards to Tyrion’s story. Were the changes worthy?
(I’ll label the sections, so if you’re inclined to #SkipAhead, I understand.)
Both A Storm of Swords and Season Four Game of Thrones hit the big bullet points in Tyrion’s story.
- Tyrion is put on trial, accused of killing Joffrey.
- Oberyn Martell volunteers to be his champion, but fails to defeat the Mountain.
- Tyrion is freed from prison on the eve of his execution by his brother Jaime. Jaime has enlisted Varys to get Tyrion out of King’s Landing.
- Jaime and Tyrion part, and Tyrion detours from his escape to secretly enter the Tower of the Hand and his old quarters currently occupied by Tywin.
- Tyrion finds his ex-girlfriend Shae in Tywin’s bed and strangles her.
- Tyrion, armed with a crossbow, finds Tywin in the privy and shoots him.
All of the above happens in the books from Tyrion’s point-of-view, but there is more than just the skeleton plot outlined above, obviously.
Tyrion and Jaime do not part on good terms. On being released, Tyrion is overjoyed that Jaime would risk so much to save him when everyone else who had been his friends had betrayed him. Jaime explains that there had been an old debt that he had wanted to clear up, and the topic of Tyrion’s first wife, Tysha, is raised.
Jaime admits that Tysha was not the whore that Tywin had accused her of being (allegedly hired by Jaime to perform a sexual charade, get Tyrion laid, and boost Jaime’s little brother’s self-esteem.) Tyrion is horrified by this, since Tysha had on Tywin’s orders been sexually assaulted by the garrison and Tyrion forced to participate. He had somehow grudgingly come to terms with this, believing Tysha to be a prostitute, and that was all thrown aside with the revelation from Jaime.
Angrily, Tyrion lashes out at Jaime, detailing Cersei’s real and possibly imagined infidelities (hey, it’s possible she was also having sex with Moon Boy.) He ends the tirade claiming to have had Joffrey killed, and the next time he and Jaime meet, there would be blood spilled. (More or less.)
Tyrion then forces Varys to guide him to the chamber of the Hand. Along the secret passageways, he hears guards joking of Tywin enjoying a whore, who turns out to be Shae. When Shae sees Tyrion, she acts relieved to see him, and Tyrion strangles her.
On encountering Tywin on the toilet, Tyrion only talks about Tysha, whom Tywin had largely forgotten about. Tywin makes the mistake of referring to Tysha as a whore, and gets bolted.
Tyrion lets Varys stuff him into a barrel, and is rolled onto a boat for destination unknown.
On the show, Tyrion and Jaime part ways amicably. There is no mention of Tysha, only a warm brotherly farewell.
Tyrion had been instructed how to find Varys, but Tyrion is shown to pause at the door to the rendezvous with the eunuch, and then goes off on his own. He enters the Tower of the Hand through a secret passage, and finds Shae in the bed.
On seeing Tyrion, Shae grabs a knife, she and Tyrion struggle, and he strangles her. And apologizes.
Selecting a crossbow from the wall (and a handy crossbow-reloading crank) Tyrion finds Tywin in the privy.
Tysha is not mentioned, instead Tyrion dwells on the fact that he’s killed Shae. Tywin makes the mistake of calling Shae a whore, and he gets bolted for it. Twice.
Tyrion lets Varys stuff him into a box, and accompanied by Varys, is on a boat to destination unknown.
In the big picture, there’s very little difference. The show and the book get the job done in getting Tyrion out of prison, killing Shae and Tywin, and then getting the Imp out of the city. But the differences are there and worthwhile of discussion. Should there have been differences? What advantage was there (if any) to the show to make the following changes?
Jaime and Tyrion
The parting of Jaime and Tyrion is importantly different. It’s a far cry from two brothers separating with one basically implying to the other “I’m going to try to kill you the next time we meet” and two brothers parting with love in their hearts for the other. Not only does Book-Tyrion have a grudge against Jaime, but Jaime believes Tyrion murdered Joffrey.
So this sets up the question, how will things be engineered on the show, should Tyrion and Jaime come to reunite with a measure of unresolved enmity?
- Will Book-Tyrion achieve enlightenment and forgive Jaime, and be glad to see his brother?
- Or will Show-Tyrion discover a reason to hate Jaime?
I don’t necessarily consider this a deal-breaker, where the show has gone so afar from the text that things can’t be sorted out. It’s quite possible that the next time the brothers meet (should they meet) the situation could be so dire that how they feel about each other doesn’t matter.
The more troubling issue with the show’s handling of Jaime and Tyrion’s parting is removing a key motivation for Tyrion.
From reading the book, my implication was that had Jaime not told Tyrion the truth about Tysha, Tyrion would have merely escaped. It’d probably be more important to get out while the getting was good.
On the show, Tyrion has moved to the threshold of his escape, and pauses. We don’t know his thoughts. I’ve heard that when he turned away, some show-watchers assumed Tyrion didn’t trust Jaime. That he felt he was getting set to walk into some kind of trap. It’s a reasonable conclusion. I mean, it’s not inexplicable that Tyrion is going up to confront his father, it’s just unexplained.
Did Show-Tyrion go to see Tywin to kill him, to taunt him before escaping, or to get some kind of closure? Killing him seems the most straightforward explanation. It’s just not clear. For all we know, Tyrion was going just to retrieve a bag of gold and a book to read for his journey.
The nature of Shae’s death has been reworked entirely. In the book, when Tyrion finds Shae, he was not surprised. Moving along the secret passageways, he hears Tywin’s guards joking about the Old Lion enjoying his whore, and Tyrion knew. It wasn’t explicitly stated, but that’s my gut instinct.
Tyrion finds Shae, she does nothing overtly to provoke him (other than calling him her usual pet names – that unfortunately she had used to humiliate him at the trial.) And he murders her. He’s pretty calm about it. He then goes off to finish his business with Tywin, business that Shae had been a distraction for. It’s Tysha who is on his mind when talking to Tywin, not Shae.
On the show, Shae reacts in fear when she sees Tyrion, who appears startled to find her. She and Tyrion struggle, in comparison to Book Shae, Shae is a threat to Tyrion, and he strangles her. It’s a grim scene, and a terrible one. (Not terribly executed, terrible in that Tyrion must have felt awful, killing Shae while crying and then apologizing. To be fair, Shae probably felt awful the whole time too, for different reasons.)
Book-Shae and TV-Shae react differently, but neither version seems to clear up what was going on in her head, why had she betrayed Tyrion? Was she being coerced, was she just trading up, or was she just trying to survive?
Book Tyrion was convinced that Shae had betrayed him, and since my entire experience with Shae had been through Tyrion’s eyes, I was convinced as well. Television Shae was a different character, and I can’t say what Tyrion thought of her at that moment. The scene was engineered to removed the ambiguity of why Tyrion strangles her, the emphasis was on self-defense. We just don’t know how Tyrion would have reacted had Shae not forced his hand.
Farewell to Tywin
The final dialog between Tyrion and Tywin on the show does not really shed light on why Tyrion had come to see Tywin, whereas the book made it pretty clear that Tyrion was looking to get revenge on Tywin for Tysha, but also to get any information about Tysha when Tywin sent her off after her punishment.
Tyrion: Where did she go?
Tywin: Wherever whores go.
On the show, Shae is one of the two topics of conversation between Tyrion and Tywin. The other being the whole “hey dad, you sentenced me to die unfairly. Dude!” situation.
We don’t know Tyrion’s mind, but my sense was that Tyrion was there, with the crossbow, because he had just killed Shae.
That Tywin’s machinations in crafting a kangaroo-court trial for Tyrion, including coercing, bribing, or possibly just indulging a vindictive Shae into testifying had directly led to Tyrion cutting off Shae’s air with the golden chains he had given her as a gift. And now Tywin was going to pay.
Shae entirely eclipses Tysha on the show, and maybe that’s a good thing. I know that might be a controversial thought.
In Defense of Tyrion Lannister (specifically, In Defense of Television Tyrion’s Storyline)
Okay, after all the preamble, I can get into an actual defense of something. I love the books, but I was not unhappy with how the show re-engineered Tyrion’s storyline for the end of season 4, dealing with Shae and Tywin’s death.
The books are great, and Tyrion’s storyline in the books is great. I’m not trying to diminish it. There’s a ton of substance in regards to Tyrion and his relationship with Shae and the lengths he goes to keep her safe, because he knows his father does not joke around when it come to Tyrion and whores. His legacy with Tysha made that clear.
But most of this is in Tyrion’s head. Tyrion’s concern for Shae’s welfare (and therefore the agony of her testimony at the trial) is not expressed outwardly, it’s very internal. As is the depth of his emotions relating to Tysha and his resentment of Tywin about that. His wedding to Tysha had been incredibly important to Tyrion, and it was something that could echo in his mind on the page as much as it needed to.
The show could not possibly recreate that with any fidelity.
So the final scene between Tywin and Tyrion was far better served with Shae being the focus. I was intrigued with the idea that Tyrion felt Tywin had ruined things between himself and Shae.
That although Tyrion was the one who killed her, he was willing to extend the blame to Tywin.
To be honest, I really like Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion, who is not as ruthless as Tyrion from the books. I would have been okay with television-Tyrion dispassionately murdering Shae (whoa… I don’t approve of murder, I’m just saying that I could handle Tyrion being dark) but the show gave me an out, by working it in as self-defense.
Because if I want to imagine Tyrion darker, I can. Shae reacted with alarm because maybe she was seeing something that I wasn’t. That she knew Tyrion would kill her unless she could successfully defend herself.
(I have more to say about Shae, but not in this blog post.)
Because the show could not support Tysha as the driving narrative element, I was fine with her being minimized. She still exists, she was talked about in Season One.
It’s quite possible that she could resurface as a narrative element (maybe Jaime will one day get around to telling Tyrion the truth about Tysha. That would be a surprise for book-readers who had written her off…)
And with Tysha not relevant for Tywin’s killing, she didn’t need to be part of Jaime and Tyrion’s parting.
BUT… it made such a nice motivational hook for Tyrion. Without her, Tyrion should have just left.
Look, nothing’s perfect. I respect if anyone was really wrankled by the show in this regards, and I encourage anyone to express their opinion. This is one of those situations where I’m comfortable being wrong.
Hey, here’s a handy poll to express your opinion on Tyrion/Tywin/Shae without having to get your hands dirty with leaving a comment! You’re welcome.
Wait! (I hear you say.)
This post is entitled In Defense of Tyrion Lannister! Not his storyline. Start defending him, mister!
Okay, okay. I’ll fire off something from the top of my pointy head. Let’s see… Tyrion goes through the series being accused of all kinds of stuff, all the time. I can defend him against those.
- Catelyn Stark accuses Tyrion of trying to kill Bran.
Not for pushing Bran out of the Old Tower (which she might suspect, but has no proof) but for sending an assassin with a priceless Valyrian steel dagger to slit Bran’s throat.
After all, Petyr Baelish positively identifies the knife as a weapon he once owned, but lost to Tyrion on a bet.
The Defense: well, that’s bullshit, right? We don’t have any proof from the show that Tyrion didn’t do it, but hey, it’s Baelish as the only witness for the prosecution. We can’t trust him.
The books offer a compelling defense. Tyrion spends a lot of time noodling over the attack on Bran, and he comes up with a likely suspect and motive. (I won’t mention it here, so you show-watchers can just go and read the books. But in his angry parting scene with Jaime, Tyrion reveals to his brother who he thinks the employer of the assassin was. Boom!)
So the charges that Tyrion sent a hit-man for Bran? NOT GUILTY.
(But, I wonder if the show will ever get around to clearing up that mystery?)
- Queen Cersei accuses Tyrion of poisoning Joffrey.
Look, there’s no one that believes this, right? Well, maybe no show-watcher, since the show has heavily implied who the actors were who were working in concert to bump off the beloved (bogus) Baratheon boy-king.
But some book-readers I know actually took Tyrion at his word when he told Jaime “yes, I killed your monstrous son!”
The Defense: Seriously? No way. Book-Tyrion was saying that to torment Jaime, since the Imp was insane with anger and grief over Tysha. I do wonder if show-watchers would have fallen for that had that scene played out like it did in the books. We’ll never know.
So, the charges that Tyrion had anything to do with Joffrey’s death? NOT GUILTY.
But hey, I could be wrong. After all, there are people who thought Jaime somehow engineered the Red Wedding.
I know, right?
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved