Playin’ With Ice And Fire: A Game of Thoughts | Tyrion Chapter 31

game of thrones

She’s new, she’s the re-re-reader.  She’s the newbie, she’s the spoilery vet.  Together they’re rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting their POV on.  Today they react to Chapter 31, a Tyrion Lannister chapter.

Elena –

Finally we get more Imp! Since this is a Tyrion chapter, I figured I might as well start out with Tyrion’s Axiom of the Week: “I never bet against my family.”

This really ties in a lot of the feelings I had about this chapter, on top of clearly being one of the primary truths of Tyrion’s existence. He knows his family better than he knows anyone else; he knows his family better than anyone else could know them. He understands what they are capable of, and what they have the will to realize, and he does not believe they will lose the end game. And because Tyrion is a character whose word I trust (at least when it is his inner words), his faith in his family reiterates or perhaps makes clear for the first time how powerful they are, and how ruthless (as a family, not just as individuals cornered by their own treason). This is the first intimation of whether the Starks really know what they are getting themselves into…Ned by going to the court, Catelyn by arresting Tyrion because she couldn’t be bothered to think up a cover story for her presence there.

I never fully realized how much Tyrion self-identifies as a Lannister, but now that we have him in the thick of action revolving around himself, and not being used as an informant for the reader, the number of times he refers to the Lannisters or his father borders on incessant. Perhaps he refers to his Lannister-hood as much in his other chanpters, and they just stand out more here because the scope of this chapter is smaller, focused on the here and now and these narrow events and not both giving us events and asking us to absorb dragons’ existence and battles of 300 years ago and linealogical details we’re struggling to put into a context because we haven’t figured out if they’re important or not yet but have been told “everything is” and still believe it. No, this time the only lineage that matters is Tyrion’s. He is a Lannister. If we take nothing else away from this chapter, we must take that—Tyrion is a Lannister, through and through.

There is no doubt in his mind that his father will send men after him, or that they will catch up to Catelyn’s party before they reach Winterfell, or that along the way the promise of Lannister gold or favor will make someone betray her. For Tyrion the abduction is an uncomfortable farce, because he can’t imagine his family not conquering and he can’t imagine his father—or himself—being outsmarted. Especially not by a Stark. (Does this foreshadow Tywin’s later arrogance in the battle Robb wins over the split Lannister army? Is Catelyn a decent match for Ned in that the one and only kind of intelligence they both have is keen wits regarding battle tactics?)

This self-identification as a member of the winning team coupled with Tyrion’s own belief in his smarts makes the fact that Catelyn won this round especially galling for him.

I have to step back and give Lady Stark some props for doing one thing intelligently, and that is not riding to Winterfell after all but out to the ass end of nowhere on a dangerous road when no one expected it. It is as galling for me to admit this as it is for Tyrion. Trust.

It is not Catelyn’s fault that shit goes horribly wrong, much as I would like to blame her. The fact is, that had she and her party stayed on the road to Winterfell they’d likely have been caught by Lannister knights. Now, in the scheme of things to come that might have been better, but of course at this point it was great to see a Stark do something smart, because it says maybe they’re not as terrible at this game as we had thought based on Ned’s experiences at court thus far and Catelyn’s wack-ass thought process.

So instead they get caught by hill-men, but actually hold their own pretty well and lose a third of the number of men, none of them irreplaceable except as a warm body to swell their ranks, and have the chance to run for safety.

Although I do want to dig at this a bit further…I mentioned in the last Catelyn chapter her look at the crossroads toward the east and the Vale and the evidence her sister claims to have, and I wonder if her intention in going there really was just that they’d get caught on the way to Winterfell, or if it was driven by her belief that Lysa actually had evidence to substantiate Lannister guilt. Obviously she wants to get evidence as soon as possible and move past the whole sorry chain of events, so the question is would she have proposed the detour if Lysa had not claimed to have evidence? Because if that was why she went east, it does sort of detract from the wiliness of it, at least as far as giving her credit goes. Doing the smart thing by accident doesn’t count. Statistically, it’s bound to happen sooner or later. Not being in Catelyn’s head for this, I can’t be sure which way she thought about the situation. So I guess she gets half-credit.

Anyway. Enough about her. Let’s get back to the little lion man. Aside from all his personal sense of being such, one thing that makes Tyrion a Lannister is that he almost immediately starts scheming how to undermine Catelyn. The way he does it is so quintessentially Tyrion that it only makes me like him more: via humor. He makes jokes with the men, and after the battle when he has held his own despite being a dwarf, saved Lady Stark himself despite being her prisoner, and can still make a joke at her expense…that’s powerful. That shows he’s stronger than he looks, and the fact that they all laugh shows his strength of personality.

On that subject, how awesome is he standing there making jokes with a dozen swords pointed at him? That insouciance—faked as it might have been—also says much about how Tyrion deals with the world. “Where are you courtesies Jyck?” “Don’t kill him anywhere!”

We also get a sense of his deepest character when he sees Catelyn cornered by three men in the battle. Even though he is thinking “Let them have her,” his instinct is still to protect her. Why? Because he knows she would not have him prisoner if she knew the truth? Because he is simply, at heart, a decent man who isn’t going to stand by and watch someone more helpless than himself get tortured or murdered? Either way it makes him fairly unambiguously a “good” character, that he does that on instinct and perhaps despite his conscious first reaction.

But good does not mean he’s a peacenik, since he killed a motherfucker (and, okay, Catelyn gets a second great moment in this chapter when she slits the other guy’s throat herself). He also makes the Lannister motto of “Lannisters always repair their debts” sound truly sinister. Because in this context, of course, it regards how they will repay any wrong done to them. Foreshadowing before we even know Cat’s quest goes awry:

  • Tyrion listing his horse as “one more debt owed the Starks.”
  • “They would indeed be well rewarded, he vowed to himself, but perhaps not as they imagined.”
  • “Tyrion had made a special effort to learn all their names, so he might thank them later for their tender treatment of him.”

Yes. Tyrion will exact his pound of flesh if life doesn’t take it for him. “You’re making a sad mistake, Lady Stark” could be an alternative axiom. Truth of her life.

So speaking of mistakes she makes, let’s talk about the fact that she still trusts Littlefinger. I am not sure I believe Tyrion when he claims Petyr has told the court he took Catelyn’s virginity (although I am not sure I don’t believe it, either), but I do believe him when he says the dagger was not his. I had thought it was, because that made good narrative sense, but I trust Tyrion’s word more than Petyr’s, and his anger here is not merely something he speaks of and therefore could be lying to the reader as well as his listener, but something we feel with him. Because I get not just his word but his emotions, his ANGER, at being held for something he sees as so patently ridiculous, I believe him. Which in turn makes Catelyn’s defense of Littlefinger much more flimsy against Tyrion’s point that Lord Baelish has only ever loved himself. “Why does a bear shit in the woods? Because it is his nature.” And lying is Petyr’s nature…but it is not Tyrion’s. Not to himself so therefore not to us.

Well, mostly. He does blame “that wretched singer” for opening his mouth in the inn and drawing Tyrion’s attention to the table…but Tyrion also opened his own mouth and called out Catelyn’s name. Had he ignored her she might not have acted, but once he ruined her anonymity she felt she had no choice but to be there for some reason, and since she’s not good at verbalizing her reasons that meant she had to act. So it’s not just that wretched singer, but also Tyrion’s own wretched tongue and curiosity that landed him a prisoner.

A couple small moments I want to call out.

First of all, this battle scene has added a new ongoing marginal comment of “Badass alert!” to my repertoire. Specifically “Bronn, unhorsed, fighting with a sword in each hand.” Yeah. That’s pretty bad-ass.

“As for Yoren, whatever his feelings might have been, the black brothers were sworn to take no part in the quarrels of the realm. Yoren would do nothing.” This is a much clearer articulation of their place in the world. It’s not merely that they are lost up at The Wall and can’t reach the rest of the kingdom to be involved…it’s that they won’t involve themselves even if they’re right in the thick of something. Very different propositions.

Finally, one more moment with Catelyn. “Catelyn Stark stared at Tyrion with a coldness on her face such as he had never seen.” My reaction was…on her? Or does that include on his sister’s face? Cause if it’s never ever, for ever ever, that is a kind of victory on her part. She can out-bitch-face Cersei…I don’t know about y’all, but I’d call that an accomplishment.

–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 from future books at her. Thanks!

–Don’t forget to check out the imperial Boomtron Podcast Elena and Rachel, the Ladies of Ice and Fire, host every week, dissecting each episode of Game of Thrones on HBO! (also known as “Two Girls Who say ‘Fuck’ a Lot!”)

–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–

Rachel –

Ahhhh Tyrion! You are a breath of fresh air my friend! To read the POV of a nimble mind after so much HONOR and DUTY and STUPIDITY is just a simple joy. You know, I wasn’t a Tyrion fan at first. I think I had to read through the second book the first time before I was a convert. I think I felt like he was TOO smart? That if I rooted for him that somehow I was going to be the butt of some joke later on. Tyrion is at least one character we get from GRRM that has been consistent since the beginning. He is what he is. We can mostly trust his inner thoughts (though sometimes there are some suspicious break-aways while he’s planning things but I suspect that is mostly to maintain tension). I also think Elena is spot-on with her assessment of Tyrion via his axiom. He really does know exactly what his family is capable of, he has first-hand knowledge. Ruthless and goal-driven are definitely descriptors that come to mind. It’s a pity that Cersei is more crazy than wiley and Jaime is not as smart as he thinks he is, but Tywin is the wileyest MFer to ever stroll the King’s Road. Talk about goal-driven?! Tywin will do whatever it takes, including alienating, abusing and whoring out his children in order to further Lannister dominance. Whatever floats your boat I guess, but Tyrion just wants some approval.

I think that’s why his relationship with Sansa is so heartbreaking for me. She just outright rejects him for the same reasons Tywin does – he’s deformed. He’s still smart and kind and capable, all things he’s proven on many occasions but that doesn’t matter to her. There’s just that one way he can’t live up to expectations.

Back to the chapter:

Here’s a question: Why is Tyrion so good in this fight? Shouldn’t he suck? Shouldn’t he have died within 20 seconds? Run over? Should we chalk that up to Tyrion being underestimated by his enemies? I dunnoooo.. do they know about Dwarves in Westeros? (they dug too deep? Well yes.. but they also axe people to death on the regular…) Tyrion is taking out horses and attacking 3 men at once! Ok from behind but ahhh! Everyone in this battle is more experienced than him by a long shot, they’ve also got superior reach and far more strength. Maybe GRRM couldn’t bear to have his avatar not be awesome. There’s some consistency here though, maybe some of that Lannister-born fighting ability made it to Tyrion after all? (Ok.. yes.. he took an axe to the face, fell into a river in armor AND HE’S STILL ALIVE AND MAKING FUN OF YOU. He is a badass. Tyrion continually underestimates himself!)

Tyrion gains points with the sellswords through humor and bravery. He throws his status and wealth around, sure, but he’s also really good at becoming what he needs to be in any situation. You need a smart ass? A scholar? A lover? A schemer? He’s just good at everything. Too good at everything. Sometimes I feel like the only thing Tyrion is bad at is mounting a horse unaided. I dunno.. I’m fully prepared for GRRM to pull something horrible. I hope it doesn’t involve Tyrion but I’m not going to be all that surprised if it happens. Who am I kidding, he will definitely pull something horrible. Tyrion has just been too solidly in the “I like him” camp for too long! Has he ever done anything horrible? Anything? I mean all the violence he visits on people is WELL-earned. Tyrion is such a loyal guy that it takes betrayal to piss him off. Elena pointed out that it was weird that Tyrion claimed that Petyr was telling everyone he took Cat’s virginity. Does this count as douchebaggery? Only if it’s not true and I’m leaning towards not true. Would Petyr actually say that? It seems so unseemly and when would it come up? And if so, why would Lysa be all up in his bizz and doing whatever he tells her? Wouldn’t she be all “no you didn’t that was me and how dare you besmirch my family?!” That has to be a lie. So Tyrion isn’t above a little lying to win an argument.

All this talk that points at Littlefinger being out to ruin House Stark has to be a red herring. Does he really care that much anymore? I refuse to believe Petyr is that 2-dimensional. Maybe this whole revenge kick is just some gravy but it can not be the main dish. I think a revenge story for something as petty as unrequited child-love is lame. Petyr is more sinister than that.

That bit where he vows to repay Catelyn for the buchuring of his horse is hilarious to me. How.. exactly did you end up doing that Tyrion? He couldn’t even bring himself to be mean to Sansa. Tywin orchestrating the Red Wedding doesn’t count. As much as Tyrion feels he has earned his Lannister-hood, he doesn’t get credit for that. Nope nope nope. A Lannister ALMOST always pays his debts. I mean.. I GUESS we could say that escapting from the Eyrie with a smile and a wave was revenge enough, but he was going to do that anyway. Revenge is SPECIAL. Out-of-the-way behavior. Yea?

Catelyn shows some badassery with the throat-slitting and continued wariness of Tyrion (her total inability to logic her way into the situation is AT LEAST consistent with her total inability to logic her way out.) Even though Tyrion saved her Catelyn is still intent on her goal of the Eyrie WITH her prisoner. She’s racing off to Lysa. Where I’m sure her sister will be awesome and accomodating and fun to be with. And her defense of Petyr shows how truly out of touch Cat is. Tyrion is thinking to himself, “Have you met Petyr Baelish?” Oh Catelyn….

Marillion sucks. That’s really all I have to say about him.

Bronn distinguishes himself in this chapter too which is really nice on a re-read and I’m very glad that Elena is noticing him because you can see how he’s being set up for a bigger role. Bronn! Your best paid-for friend! From the beginning he’s honest about his motivations, which is more than most characters in this story. That’s why I’m OK with Bronn. He may do some questionable stuff later on, but it’s not out of character. It’s expected creeper social ladder-climbing behavior. Bronn is basically a Playboy Bunny. Only his tail is his talent with a sword and his ears are… OK I have no idea where I’m going with that analogy. Bronn is an opportunist. Every comic needs a straight-man and Bronn fits the bill nicely.

What else?

There’s that embarassing bit where Tyrion complains to himself that he’s being out-witted by Catelyn. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about that? I know Elena gives that to Catelyn but it’s embarassing! Out-witted by a woman who thought eating a piece of bread would prevent a house on house massacre? It’s like she’s never met these people before! Ok we won’t talk about it! Tyrion can have his low moments. But let’s not linger.

And YOREN! Elena made me realize something I never have before. Yoren is a black brother and yet he IS taking sides by spiriting Arya away. Yoren might have helped Tyrion if he’d been a Stark or an innocent or a child of Ned Stark. What did inspire him to help Arya? He ended up being a real nice guy, even if he smelled bad. He died defending some kids no one knew existed, he proved to be a true protector and friend to Arya. There’s another badass of Westeros that doesn’t get enough love. It IS hard to like a guy with fleas though.

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.