This post will be talking about the patriarch of the Lannister family from HBO’s Game of Thrones. There will be plot discussions that will include the first five seasons of the show, so if you are not up to date, I’ll be spoiling things for you. SPOILING THINGS!
I usually confine my Game of Thrones pontificating to what’s been seen on the show, but occasionally I stray into details from the source material, A Song of Ice and Fire. This is one of those occasions.
I won’t be spoiling future book details (in general, there is less danger of that until The Winds of Winter gets published) but I’ll be bringing up some book elements omitted from the show to give a slightly different perspective to the Old Lion, the uncrowned might-as-well-be-king Tywin Lannister.
Ask anyone at court what Tywin Lannister was like, and they’d probably drop a lot of words starting with “f” – formidable, forbidding, fearsome, frowning. If Loras is required to talk about Tywin, he’d probably fall back on “force to be reckoned with” like he did twice when offering condolences to his fiancée, the former queen Cersei Lannister Baratheon.
But “fun” would probably not be included in that list.
Charles Dance has played Tywin Lannister in the first five seasons of the show (I doubt he’ll be in season six) but the fifth season featured him in only the first episode, lying in state and dead as a door nail.
There are some differences between the show’s presentation of Tywin’s disposition on the bier and the funeral preparation from the books. On the show, Tywin looked like his usual disapproving self. In the books, Cersei was outraged that Tywin’s corpse was smiling.
Cersei was convinced that those responsible for preparing Tywin’s body at the wake were mocking him by having his face set into an uncharacteristic grin. Because, in her mind, Tywin Lannister Did Not Smile. Full stop.
So Tywin, why so serious?
It’s alleged that Tywin never smiled, that he was too much of a serious fellow to do so. This was quite unlike his father Tytos, who was such a foolish character that his weakness encouraged Lannister vassals to get so unruly that young Tywin had to take up arms against two rebellious houses (one of whom was the doomed House Reyne) and wipe them out.
And from there, he just got more and more serious.
Tywin’s behavior as Hand of the King can best be described by the impression that he’d made on a younger Stannis Baratheon. Stannis as a boy had been brought to the court and was greatly impressed as he watched the man sitting on the famed Iron Throne dispensing justice and adjudicating disputes. Like a true king.
But it turned out that his grace, King Aerys, was not presiding over court that day, Tywin in his role as the Hand was taking the king’s place.
If Stannis approved of Tywin’s demeanor, you know that the Future Old Lion had to have been serious.
But did Tywin never smile? It’s said that Tywin was fond of his lovely wife Joanna, and when she died giving birth to Tyrion, Tywin was never the same again. Maybe he was more affable in general before he became a widower.
It’s probably not possible for a human to never smile. I mean, even Stannis smiled once in awhile on the show (okay, maybe only once, and ironically at that.) Tywin occasionally acted contrary to expectation. He certainly delivered a surprise in the fourth season.
If you asked anyone about Tywin’s general policy in regards to whores, they would have assumed that Tywin harbored anti-whore sentiments. Tywin was very vocal about and very disapproving of Tyrion and his tendencies with sex workers.
In the books, when Cersei got the news about who was found strangled in Tywin’s bed, she went into hardcore denial mode. Tywin Lannister did not consort with whores. End of Story.
If Cersei could be wrong about her father in that regards, she’s probably wrong about other things. Like him never smiling.
Tywin’s potential for turning-a-frown-upside-down is featured as the occasional topic of conversation in the books (I won’t get into specifics, because there’s a particular scene involving Jaime that I hope still comes to pass on the show) but the closest we see to Tywin enjoying himself (other than when getting the great news of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey’s wedding reception success) was during his time at Harrenhal, where he had several conversations with his cupbearer (aka Arya Stark!)
Tywin and Arya’s conversations are a show-invention, even though Arya and Tywin are both at Harrenhal in the second book. Tywin briefly uses the broken castle as his headquarters while trying to deal with Robb’s oncoming northern army, but she works in the kitchens and has no exchange of words with the Lord of House Lannister.
But the show’s changes were outstanding. All the scenes between Maise Williams and Charles Dance are great, particularly this one:
(If the above link doesn’t work, click here to see it in a new YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UurwW4VicoM )
To summarize the above clip: Tywin offers Arya some of his dinner. Ah, how nice.
But I’m convinced that he has her sampling his dinner because he suspected the food might be poisoned. Dude!
While she’s trying the food, he talks to her a bit about the history of Harrenhal, the ruined citadel of the Ironborn king Harren the Black.
There’s a moment where Tywin kind of slides into Granddad-Telling-a-Story mode. He’s using it as part lecture and part justification for his ruthlessness, but when Arya spins an additional little weave of female empowerment into the story of Aegon burning Harrenhal (because of his two dragon-riding sisters) Tywin’s charmed.
Arya gets Tywin to chuckle and he can’t restrain a few grins.
Cersei would have been shocked.
Speaking of Cersei, at one point, Tywin remarks that Arya reminds him of his daughter. Although I’m not sure Arya enjoys that comparison at all, since the queen is on her hit-list, and I doubt Cersei would have appreciated being associated with the dirty alleged-daughter of a dead literate stonemason, I was quite moved by that statement.
Most of Tywin’s interactions with Cersei on the show have been very gruff; he’s classically one of those parents who withholds affection. But seeing him engaged with Arya and reminiscing about Cersei, it made me wonder what Tywin had been like with Cersei when she was very young, before Joanna Lannister died.
Thoughout much of Cersei’s childhood, Tywin had been serving as Hand of the King and therefore neither of them probably had much meaningful father-daughter time. That’s a pity, because Cersei could have used some supportive parenting during her developmental years. She seems to have too closely emulated the forbidding aspect of Tywin when dealing with others.
And in regards to her children (especially in respect to Joffrey), she’s too indulgent as a counterpoint to Tywin’s lack of approval.
Oh, Joffrey, my beautiful boy! You’re just the best at killing kittens!
We’ve seen that Tywin can tailor his approach when dealing with his grandchildren; Joffrey got the brunt of the blunt no-nonsense Tywin, since Joffrey was an idiot and Tywin treated him accordingly, but with Joffrey’s death, Tywin had a softer method of dealing with the gentle and impressionable King Tommen.
Clearly, Tywin was subtly manipulating his grandson, but as a parent I can tell you that manipulation is The Name of the Game when raising children.
Sons, Daughters, feel free to rise up! (But don’t expect us to turn your phone’s data plans back on if you do.)
Manipulation aside, it appeared that Tywin had a solid plan for grooming Tommen possibly into a better king than Joffrey could ever hope to be.
Sorry Cersei, you suck as queen mother.
(Although I admit Tommen isn’t doing all that well in the decisive-kingship department currently.)
RIP Tywin Lannister
So, what was the point of this article? That Tywin was really a super-fun guy? No, of course not. It’s just that Tywin’s dead now, and when he was alive on the show, the conversations about him were usually how cunning he was, or if he was more or less evil than Roose Bolton for example, so I wanted to explore a different take that was at least vaguely positive.
In general people are not going to like Tywin because he orchestrated such an unfair trial against Tyrion after Joffrey’s death. This isn’t an In Defense of Tywin Lannister, per se.
It’s also doubtful that had he lived, if practical-minded Tywin would have responded properly when word came of an undead army breaching the Wall (assuming that they do… I don’t even know that…)
In the Rock-Paper-Scissors dramatic environment of Westeros (corresponding to the dangerous Others, the defending North, and the cluelessly ambitious South) Tywin had been all scissors and not recognizing the looming rock.
So it’s probably best that he’s gone. But I do miss the prickly pater familia. Things were always pretty exciting when he was on screen. The dude made writing a letter seem bad-ass. (Because it was.)
Anyone care to give a eulogy for the departed lion?
(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 are from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.) Although that top picture of Tywin has a “Spoiler TV” logo at the bottom. So I guess they took that picture? They’re producing Game of Thrones? I had no idea.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text.
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.
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