She’s new, she’s the re-re-reader. She’s the newbie, she’s the spoilery vet. Together they’re g-mashin’ George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting their POV on. Today they move on to Chapter 21, a Tyrion chapter.
My macro thought upon finishing this chapter is that Tyrion Lannister, thus far in the book, has existed as a character to exposit information about the world more than as a character central to any action. Obviously he will get pulled into it soon enough with the whole Tyrion’s-dagger-was-aimed-at-Bran thing, but for now he hasn’t had his own story so much as he’s been there to aid other people’s stories. His first chapter was to show us who his siblings are, his second chapter was basically an excuse to dump historical information about the world (and dragons), and this, his third chapter, was a way to deliver information about the state of affairs at The Wall that could not have come to, or perhaps been as reliably delivered to the reader by the other point-of-view character there–Jon Snow.
Two specific parts of this perception of the chapter. First is simply the adult, experienced, objective observer view of the men in the upper echelon of command at Castle Black. Jon might consider Ser Alliser incompetent and abusive, but given their adversarial relationship, Jon’s opinion could not be considered reliable by the reader. Tyrion’s can be. I think it was very important for us to get a “clear” perspective on the men around Jon, so that if he has the same thoughts about them as his story progresses up there at the end of the world, then we can believe them to be valid instead of always wondering if they are the resentful thoughts of a boy who doesn’t yet understand the world he’s in.
The second function to Tyrion’s information-sharing is that he is privy to details Jon Snow would never get, or at least not for years…basically until he becomes a full-blown member of the watch. That’s what the entire section with Lord Mormont is about–telling the reader how dire the situation is, and in contrast to what it used to be, as the commander lays out the situation for an outsider who might have some influence at court. Jon would never have been told this information directly like this, and especially not early enough in his stay there to set up the scene properly for the future narrative.
And let’s be real: the state of affairs at Castle Black is pretty fucking bleak. There are almost no trained knights in the guard anymore, and half of those who are there were loyalists to the old king, who took the black in lieu of execution. Mormont specifies that he has three men for every mile of Wall (even if it is really three and a half, as Tyrion corrects, that’s still as good as no defense at all against a concerted attack). The most haunting line in all of that was “once the Watch spent its summers building, and each Lord Commander raised the Wall higher than he found it. Now it is all we can do to stay alive.”
That’s a chilling statement.
All of this paves the way quite nicely for Jon to come in and do exactly what he tells Tyrion to tell Robb he will–become the Watch commander. He has ambition and a need to prove himself, he’s been trained in the basic skills required alongside his brother, and now he’s been put in a situation where his life is over before it’s begun and where there is a serious power void…open opportunity. Small wonder he’s seen that inside of 2 months there. And while he might have said that as a joke to Tyrion or aimed at Robb, I think he also meant it.
I really loved the scene up there on the Wall between Tyrion and Jon. It seems like that’s where both of them realize they have become friends, and it’s just in time to part ways. I don’t know whether it’s a testament to their lives, as outcasts, or the loneliness for an intellectual and cultural peer up there in the North that they became bonded so quickly. Maybe some of both.
I also loved Jon making a point to ask Tyrion to talk to Bran. When he says “you gave me help when I needed it” what he means, I think, is that Tyrion gave him truth. More than anything Bran would need truth in order to understand what he must now overcome.
Tyrion described his deciding to go back up on the Wall one last time as “a strange madness,” but I found it a very natural human impulse. When you are confronted with something you’ll never be able to do again you therefore want to do it one last time. I wrote “such a human thing,” in the margin. Also, I love how the men who run the cage were like “look all you want, WEIRDO.” Obviously they did not join the Watch out of some grand vision of saving the world. The Wall is not a source of wonder to them, merely lifelong misery and/or the thing that they owe their lives to.
Also, just while I’m on the subject of the Wall, how telling is it that it’s described as “wider than the kings road often was”? That’s a very clear visual of how wide this structure is, and yet at the same time an indictment on the conditions of the kingdom overall, that the kings road at times does narrow un-majestically in places.
There are several small moments I want to call out.
The discussion of Gared deserting…why did no one take his forswearing himself seriously? Are conditions in the Watch really that bad that even the old lord commander has considered it? Because it sounded to me like it was unexpected that Gared deserted, so why would he randomly do that?
Also, the knowledge that we have of what he saw in the prologue and then the “wait, no one knows why he ran off?” moment here, create a second moment of Ned Stark making a decision according to his code, acting on it, and later realizing (or we realize) what a dumb thing it was. Did he even listen to old Gared before executing him? Did he bother to send someone to Castle Black to verify either his sanity or his story? Nope…just killed him dead for deserting his post, paid no heed to his “ramblings,” and now no one will have no warning when the Urskexis-looking motherfuckers come sweeping down from the North. (Obviously the first such moment for ole Neddy boy is his “oh, shit, maybe I shouldn’t have let Sansa’s wolf get killed” soliloquy after he hears Cat’s account of Summer saving Bran.)
Lord Mormont’s tell the king entreaty…Tyrion knows no one will listen, that even if he brings back a reliable first-hand report of those affairs that no one will care. Maybe Ned Stark would, so maybe it will be a good thing that he is the Hand, if he gets Tyrion’s report. Assuming he would trust a Lannister—although given how close that is to Winterfell, he’d probably take it seriously even coming from a Lannister. But what can Ned actually do to help the Watch if no one else is listening to the warning?
Is Lord Mormont another dreamer like Bran and the spider?–he does have that relationship with the ravens, and he talks about seeing darker things in his dreams…. Or is he simply afraid of the long winter?
Do they not have reliable astronomy yet to predict these summer/winter cycles? Where’s the Westeros Mayans when you need them, damn.
Tyrion plays to expectations of people he doesn’t like–he acts the circus clown with Ser Alliser, but not with people who take him seriously and/or whom he seems to like. It was odd to find the whole table laughing, because I didn’t find it funny—and then I wondered, were they laughing at the buffoonery of a dwarf or at Ser Alliser?
No bigger picture thoughts other than what I mentioned about Jon and Ned. So to sign out on this one, I’m going to start a new feature with chapters that have Tyrion in them, because he is so damn quotable–Tyrion’s Axiom of the Week. This time around: “If a man paints a target on his chest, he should expect that sooner or later someone will loose an arrow at him.”
Well. I mean, duh.
– Readers, if leaving a comment for Elena please direct (@Elena) them at her – and lead your comments with your messages for her. Please do not direct spoilers at her. Thanks!
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
Tyrion’s Axiom of the Week. Yes! I love this idea. Perhaps we should temper that with a Ravenism of the Week, “Corn?”
Elena has said this before, that Tyrion is the ultimate observer and resident infodumper of Westeros. I’ve long held that Tyrion is Martin’s avatar within the story. We’ve got a guy who is a very astute and objective observer despite an upbringing and family that should make him anything but objective. He should be a hateful, scheming, evil asshole. But he’s not. He’s probably the most moral and thoughtful character in the entire story. I guess that’s because Tyrion benefits from an author’s experience. Plus, don’t we the reader just NEED someone we can trust in? Someone we can just “get”? We’re talking about a guy who falls in love with his whores and marries them! He never even throws Sansa off a cliff and I totally would have! NERDS RULE! But I agree with Elena, Tyrion is the font of knowledge for us. If he thinks it we know it’s good and right and accurate. But I think that has a root in the fact that Tyrion is US. Jon is who we wish we were and Tyrion is who we are.
I also agree with Elena that Tyrion’s higher status gives us a baseline to judge Jon’s evolving opinions. In fantasy we often get a Ben Kenobie-type. An old wizard or a warrior teacher that guides and teaches the young hero. Who teaches him that the world is not black and white and that hard choices must be made. Jon doesn’t really have anyone like that. In fact he often acts that way for Samwell early on, which at points is like the blind leading the naked. But the simple fact is that Jon is a new recruit, noble blood or not, and he isn’t going to get the juicy information that we need to keep our interest. Tyrion gets the good shit. He always will.
I absolutely love the scene where Jon and Tyrion clasp hands in friendship. I’ve been known to go on and on about the Dragon having three heads and Dany being in need of two other heads. I doubt she’ll consent to remarrying or entering into any kind of sexually based relationship but I can see her making a marriage of the mind. Smarty siblings! What better allies could Dany get than Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister? I mean I know neither of them bring her any significant martial support but Tyrion is well versed in Westerosi politics (the ups… the downs…and he’s got Varys on his side now) and Jon has all the lovely honor! I dunno.. we’ll see what happens but they say Tyrion is very blond (and there’s that manifestation of all that Targaryen inbreeding in the deformations and madness etc but I highly doubt old Lady of Lannister was an adulteress) and we all know what I think about Jon Snow.
Is there any real evidence that Varys is a dreamer? I don’t think so and the idea that he is a warg of some kind and that his “little birds” are actual little birds is a red herring. I just don’t believe that. There are hidden passages and every servant in the Keep belongs to him. Way simpler explanation for his uncanny ability to know everyone’s business. Mostly. And I’m sorta sick of all the really good mysteries being solved with magic. What’s more likely (and let’s just go way left field and try this out) is that Varys is one of the Unsullied. STAY WITH ME ON THIS. They’re incredibly capable and dedicated and tough, willing to endure almost anything to reach a goal. I’m still working on the exact means of his recruitment but it would be a lovely little continental connection for the Targaryen story line, no? If Dany’s power lies in the loyalty of her Unsullied armies and Varys seems to have proven himself as an always loyal Targaryen servant and we don’t believe a frakkin’ word he’s ever uttered about his own past PLUS the fact that when he disguised himself as a soldier while talking to Illyrio he wore the conical cap of the Unsullied… then Varys could be just one eunuch in a never ending line of them! The best one! (Disclaimer: I may have irrational love for Varys due to his great similarity to my very favorite eunuch, Count Hasimir Fenring. Google it.) I CAN SEE THIS. Can you see it?
These books may bring out my crazed inner theory maker.
Let’s talk about the decline of the Night’s Watch. We know that the Starks have a tradition of upholding the honor of the position and blahbitty blah, but why wasn’t Ned getting regular reports from his brother? Did Ned know that the wall was in such dire need of decent men? I’m sure he did. I’m sure, like everyone else South of the wall, that he figured there wasn’t much to worry about anymore and that at best it was an empty honor. Tyrion doesn’t even get around to telling anybody that the wall needs men until the third book and Tywin definitely does NOT care. It’s actually a big plot hole. If the Starks care so much about the North and tradition and honor than why wasn’t Ned pulling some old favors with Robert and demanding more young third and fourth sons from the rest of the great houses for the Wall? WHY NOT? Oh Ned.. you are not a planner. You are.. what are you Ned?
Before I close out, since we’re up at Castle Black let’s have a discussion. Differences between Wights and Others? Anyone? Zombies and Ghosts? Zombies and Mummies? Zombies and faster smarter bigger Zombies with special swords? I don’t get it. I think I’m not having a strong reaction to the live action versions (was there a difference at all?) because I’m still not sure what the crap I should be nitpicking over. Mostly I just hope they show us zombified horses with 20 feet of intestines being ridden around. THEY HAD BETTER! (and I’m not even going to start ranting about Dondarrion and Zombie-Cat and what is UP with that and is it related to the Others.. no I’m just going to stop.)
Elena Nola is the imperial editrix for the BSC empire. She likes genre books, weird movies, and obscure references. She lives in New Orleans, where almost every day is good enough for good times. Contrary to dogma, Rachel Parker is the mind-killer. She is a nerd, writer, and art historian living in Brooklyn, NY. You can read more of her posts at scienceofdiscontent.blogspot.com, or follow @DarthRachel on twitter.