The Lighter Side of Tywin Lannister

Posted: November 10, 2015 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , ,

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 once spoiled the ambitions of the Reynes. They were from Castamere, you know.

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.

Smilin’ Tywin

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.


Lena Headey: Pssst, shouldn’t you be smiling like you are in the books?
Charles Dance: I’m smiling with my eyes… I’m making an acting choice.

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.

But on his last night alive, Tywin was enjoying the company of Shae the funny whore, formerly Tyrion’s secret mistress.


He spent the whole time explaining finance and retirement strategies with me! I swear!

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!)


Oh, you’re waiting for a tip? Here’s one. “Always pay your debts.” Bazinga!

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: )

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…)


An army of the dead? IT IS TO LAUGH! Look! I’m smiling at the very thought!

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.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved

  1. Kas says:

    I love all the points you make here! It wouldn’t let me watch the video because of restrictions with viewing it on sites that are not YouTube, but I remember that I was really on edge for that scene, but also found it so intriguing. There’s so much to take apart when it comes to Tywin and it’s interesting to read a post that focuses less on his evil side.

    I was definitely disappointed that his corpse wasn’t smiling in the show. Like really disappointed. I was looking forward to that scene (just like I was looking forward to Cersei having her period during the alter sex scene). Perhaps it’s strange of me to say this, but that’s the type of edge I hope for when the show wants to be edgy.

    I do like the point you bring up with Tywin chuckling during his conversation with Arya, and claiming Arya reminds him of Cersei. Perhaps there’s a bit of Cersei in her, but also perhaps Tywin sees something in Cersei that’s not there (or no longer there), in much the same way Cersei is blind to what she sees in Tywin. They all have so much family pride, but that pride tends to have them overlooking each other.

    Another great post! Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the comments. I’m glad you liked my post, kind of dealing with Tywin as a human, and not merely a force of nature or something. I’m sorry the clip wouldn’t work. I’ll see if I can add a secondary URL onto it.

      I think you expressed a great truth about Cersei/Tywin, and the blindness of pride.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jennnanigans says:

      I was disappointed too – and the whole ‘he smells’ thing from the book, about his body being prepared improperly. I can’t remember if they had that in the show but I feel like they cut it out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, there was no mention of the smell. His odor from the books fueled a theory that Prince Oberyn poisoned him with a slow acting gut destroying toxin, which was why he was on the can when Tyrion came for him.

        I think Pycelle lists off a poison that eats away at intestines…

        Liked by 1 person

        • jennnanigans says:

          I don’t know, I can see the case for no poison too… GRRM likes to destroy his idols, and what’s more humbling than TL being killed during a post-coital potty break?

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Haylee says:

    Charles dance is a dude! I’m very glad he was cast as Tywin. I was so disappointed that he and Arya didn’t cross paths fully in the book though – I loved all those scenes and it made me warm to him much more, definitely showed he had a softer side. I kind of wish he was still around because I enjoyed all his ‘verbal slapping’ of Cersei. Plus I always enjoy villains who follow a code / have a professional respect for one another, it’s very old fashioned and proper! He may have been vile to Tyrion (unforgivable) but he had class.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jennnanigans says:

    GOD I will miss Tywin Lannister!
    You perfectly hit on all the high points, and I never even put that one together about Stannis mistaking Tywin for the king while Aerys was off crazying – but it just opened a huge door into Stannis’s mind about what kingship is. Bravo!

    My favorite Tywin quote is the one about ‘Meet your enemies with fire and sword, but always help a kneeling man to his feet.’ He wasn’t some bloodthirsty tyrant, he knew cultivating relationships and maintaining his hold over people was way better than just killing them — unless they tested him. Then he Got Real. But at the end of the day, he still had to work with these people and he kept a lot of them around to deal with the bullshit he didn’t care about.

    I picture him as indulgent with Cersei and turning a blind eye to a lot of her faults during her childhood, as he does with the rumors about she and Jaime. It seems like the entire planet knows about it (I just amused myself imagining some Others being like ‘Yeah dude everyone knows, it’s literally written on the north side of the Wall with some drawings’) except Tywin, who refuses to address it. He accepted certain things about his children to the point that he ignored the worst within them, but Cersei takes that to an extreme with her ‘JOFF’S A GREAT KID WHAT CATS STOP LYING’ mindset.


    • Your suggestion that there’s Jaime/Cersei graffiti on the Wall for the Others’ amusement has greatly amused me.

      Those lying cats! How dare they slander his grace, Joffrey!

      Thanks for the Tywin discussion, this makes me happy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. chattykerry says:

    I kind of half read this so as not to spoil the show but I feel that Tywin must have smiled even if generally had a somber demeanor. I didn’t hate him as much as I thought I would and I’m not sure if Charles Dance’s performance was influential.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you skimmed it to avoid spoilers. Depending on where you are in the show, some of my earliest stuff should be safe to read.

      I think Charles Dance’s performance was incredibly compelling, and certainly made him a more relatable character. I don’t think anyone really tried to defend Tywin from the books, but we kind of want to in the show.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great article! I would go so far as to say that Tywin was my favourite character in GoT. He had a Godfather-esqu quality that just emanated authority. He will be sorely missed – even if the characters in the show disagree!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks man. Tywin certainly has a Don Corleone vibe about him. I’m not surprised to hear that he was your favorite character. He’s totally in charge.

      And a cautionary tale to be nice to your children. They get to choose your nursing home one day. Or maybe crossbow you on the toilet… ouch!


  6. TC says:

    Great article.. nice to have some more character insight on the old school badass that was Tywin Lannister.
    I do like my badasses to have a souçon of humor and a slight hint of a softer side (makes ’em more human) and you chose the perfect moments that reveal these often hidden aspects of his personality.
    I too, wondered if he had been a bit more smiley when his wife was alive (can’t imagine him getting the giggles though, no matter how hard I try).
    His scenes with Arya at Harrenhal were some of my favorites and I really loved it when he slipped into “Granddad-Telling-a-Story mode”. I noticed that Arya couldn’t help smiling too.. even while serving/ eating at the table of this formidable man, her enemy and the instrument of her family’s destruction.. they shared a moment and it was good. I agree that including these encounters (although not in the book) was an improvement on the story that revealed more about both characters.
    I didn’t know that in the book, Tywin was interred with a smile on his face, and that is just priceless.. no wonder Cercei was incensed! She was right, it almost seems disrespectful. How delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the feedback, I’m glad you appreciated my discussion about Tywin. You right to point out Arya having some genuine moments (occasionally) of enjoying her time talking with Tywin.

      Thanks again, great comment!


  7. […] The Lighter Side of Tywin Lannister by Patrick Sponaugle: Just as the title says! […]

    Liked by 1 person

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