“To Carthage then I came/Burning burning burning burning”
–The Waste Land
And we leave our hero staggering punch-and-literally-drunk through the shallows of the Void…just like he was at the beginning. I did warn you: he doesn’t grow. He doesn’t change. He doesn’t get better.
What changes now, I believe, are his capabilities, and quite radically.
I think Tyrion Lannister, along with and alongside Daenerys Targaryen, is going to ride the line between heroism and villainy for the rest of the series, before deciding at the very end to fight with post-human paladin Jon Snow on the side of the angels. But I also think for that to stick, for it to stand out amidst the metaphysical fireworks of endgame, Tyrion’s struggle has to be–and is going to be–blown up to an appropriately mythical scale in TWOW. I’m certainly not saying that how he relates to Penny or thinks about his siblings is unimportant, but for Tyrion to achieve the important destiny glimpsed by Moqorro (and lbr demanded by his prominence in the narrative), he needs…well, given where he is and what’s going on there, what else would it be?
“What are you reading about?” he asked.
“Dragons,” Tyrion told him.
“What good is that? There are no more dragons,” the boy said with the easy certainty of youth.
“So they say,” Tyrion replied. “Sad, isn’t it? When I was your age, I used to dream of having a dragon of my own.”
He had expected to find them impressive, perhaps even frightening. He had not thought to find them beautiful. Yet they were. As black as onyx, polished smooth, so the bone seemed to shimmer in the light of his torch. They liked the fire, he sensed. He’d thrust the torch into the mouth of one of the larger skulls and made the shadows leap and dance on the wall behind him. The teeth were long, curving knives of black diamond. The flame of the torch was nothing to them; they had bathed in the heat of far greater fires. When he had moved away, Tyrion could have sworn that the beast’s empty eye sockets had watched him go.
The clouds in the sky were aglow: pink and purple, maroon and gold, pearl and saffron. One looked like a dragon. Once a man has seen a dragon in flight, let him stay at home and tend his garden in content, someone had written once, for this wide world has no greater wonder. Tyrion scratched at his scar and tried to recall the author’s name. Dragons had been much in his thoughts of late.
“If you want to conquer the world, you best have dragons.”
Tyrion could not help but laugh.
The white cyvasse dragon ended up at Tyrion’s feet. He scooped it off the carpet and wiped it on his sleeve, but some of the Yunkish blood had collected in the fine grooves of the carving, so the pale wood seemed veined with red.
After a book of being trapped inside his own head, crammed into one uncomfortable corner after another, and confronted at every turn with his own powerlessness, I think Tyrion will return triumphantly to the main stage on the back of Viserion, ready for his goddamn motherfucking closeup. And the power and ecstasy and sheer sweet existential validation of becoming a dragonrider will pull his character in two directions at once. On the one hand, it will allow him to fight the good fight from Yunkai to Volantis, and I think he’ll spend the middle third or so of TWOW doing just that (the slaves on the Volantene fleet creeping toward Slaver’s Bay are about to have their chains broken en masse, if they don’t rebel on Benerro’s and/or the Widow of the Waterfront’s orders first). On the other hand…the Tyrion of TWOW is still going to be the Tyrion of ADWD, because he has yet to begin getting better. So forget for a moment the lasting-for-days glow you got the first time reading Tyrion’s “one, two, three” setup in ACOK, and consider: would you give this guy a napalm-armed helicopter with teeth and turn him loose on the Middle Ages?
But then again, it’s ultimately too simplistic to set up rigid barriers between the books like that. One of the most powerful aspects of rereading the earlier books after ADWD’s release is realizing how much of Tyrion’s mindset in the latest novel is seeded in the first three:
“I used to start fires in the bowels of Casterly Rock and stare at the flames for hours, pretending they were dragonfire. Sometimes I’d imagine my father burning. At other times, my sister.”
And as I said above, he’s not going to be flying solo for long. I think the natural meeting point for his path and Dany’s is in/around Volantis, before/after/during the delta’s liberation. Indeed, we see in Tyrion’s sixth chapter foreshadowing of how Dany, with the Dothraki united behind her and with Tyrion’s advice, could take down the Old Blood:
“On the way down from the Sorrows to Selhorys, we thrice glimpsed riders moving south along the river’s eastern shore. Dothraki. Once they were so close we could hear the bells tinkling in their braids, and sometimes at night their fires could be seen beyond the eastern hills. We passed warships as well, Volantene river galleys crammed with slave soldiers. The triarchs fear an attack upon Selhorys, plainly.”
Tyrion understood that quick enough. Alone amongst the major river towns, Selhorys stood upon the eastern bank of the Rhoyne, making it much more vulnerable to the horselords than its sister towns across the river. Even so, it is a small prize. If I were khal, I would feint at Selhorys, let the Volantenes rush to defend it, then swing south and ride hard for Volantis itself.
After the dust has cleared, while the Widow and the red priests reorder their chunk of Essos, our heroes will have quite a bit to discuss: dragons, Tywin, Jaime, Jorah…and of course Aegon.
This is really where we get into the villain side of that aforementioned line, as I think Tyrion will foster mistrust, suspicion, and ultimately war between Dany and Aegon. I’m convinced that one of GRRM’s guiding goals while assembling the Meereenese Knot was ensuring that Tyrion in particular was in position to break the news about Aegon to Dany. And IMO the signs are clear that Tyrion doesn’t believe Aegon to be Rhaegar and Elia’s son:
“A true friend, our Lord Connington. He must be, to remain so fiercely loyal to the grandson of the king who took his lands and titles and sent him into exile. A pity about that. Elsewise Prince Rhaegar’s friend might have been on hand when my father sacked King’s Landing, to save Prince Rhaegar’s precious little son from getting his royal brains dashed out against a wall.”
The lad flushed. “That was not me. I told you. That was some tanner’s son from Pisswater Bend whose mother died birthing him. His father sold him to Lord Varys for a jug of Arbor gold. He had other sons but had never tasted Arbor gold. Varys gave the Pisswater boy to my lady mother and carried me away.”
“Aye.” Tyrion moved his elephants. “And when the pisswater prince was safely dead, the eunuch smuggled you across the narrow sea to his fat friend the cheesemonger, who hid you on a poleboat and found an exile lord willing to call himself your father. It does make for a splendid story, and the singers will make much of your escape once you take the Iron Throne…”
Dany, of course, will immediately make the connection to the “mummer’s dragon” from the House of the Undying. And as I’ve argued before, when Dany inevitably learns from Tyrion that Illyrio is behind this, she will fly to Pentos in a rage to confront her ostensible patron. Once Illyrio admits Aegon’s his son, I think Dany will have Drogon burn him alive; that gift of dragon eggs comes home to roost, and Tyrion’s ADWD storyline comes full circle, from Pentos to Volantis to Meereen and back again with the One Ring a dragon.
And after that…well, that’s ADOS territory, and I’m losing focus on Tyrion. Here’s where his ADWD storyline leaves me. On the one hand, I still believe that Tyrion Lannister not only wants to be loved, he wants to love; he wants to do good in this changing world. On the other, he spends the entirety of A Dance with Dragons trying to kill the part of him that cares. This is a story about existential failure: the Void. It’s not that Tyrion will actually become a straight-up villain. It’s that he wants to.
∙ preasoiaf meme ⌊ (2/2) stories about the founding of a house - House Lannister
❝ By then the Dawn Age had given way to the Age of Heroes. That was when the golden-haired rogue called Lann the Clever appeared from out of the east. Some say he was an Andal adventurer from across the narrow sea, though this was millennia before the coming of the Andals to Westeros. Regardless of his origins, the tales agree that somehow Lann the Clever winkled the Casterlys out of their Rock, and took it for his own.❞
Today I finished my defense of Tyrion in ADWD, and I’m extremely pleased with how it turned out, both in terms of the essays themselves and the overwhelmingly positive response to them. Thanks, guys, ilu!
I’ve put up a permalink to the series as a whole in my header, and y’all can find below links to the individual essays. As promised, a similar series is coming for Davos’ own chapters in ADWD; Ima focus on my new YouTube channel for the next few weeks, so expect the Davos series to start in mid-late March. Thanks again for reading ♥