Friday, August 29, 2014

[Re-read] Tyrion IX: Ups and Downs

All right! Friday! My favorite day of the week. Not only is it currently the only day of the week where I have time to dip into a chapter of A Storm of Swords, it also heralds the coming of weekend, which in turn brings more smiles all around. Coupled with nice late-summer weather, one can only be grateful for living in a (relatively) quiet corner of the world, though the news likes to remind me just how beyond repair the human race seems to be. Sigh. Anyway; speaking of beyond repair; here's Tyrion's ninth chapter, the sixty-seventh of this magnificent volume of awesomeness. It's a chapter with a lot of characters and a lot of talk, so let's see if Martin can keep us interested and excited in spite of that.

Since I'm in the mood, I'll just drop quickly by George himself and see what kind of interesting updates on The Winds of Winter he's graciously offered his devoted fans since last week.

An update on his travels (= no writing done). Excitement about the Emmys (= no writing done). Disappointment about the Emmys (he should be, but alas, no writing done). Home again! And finally realizing he isn't thirty years old! More time for writing? He seems to imply it: "Elsewise, I am home for the rest of the year...I hope (= no promises made). Most of that time I plan to spend in Westeros. (Yes, thank you very much. You kind of have to, though. *cough* Season Five *cough* And some video clips. Right.
All right! That was actually an update, kind of. He plans to write more!

I almost miss his captain's hat.
Martin wastes no time putting is straight into Tyrion's head. No description of scenery, just Ser Kevan Lannister telling his nephew that if he is innocent (of Joffrey's death), he'll find it easy to prove. Tyrion turns away from a window (we still don't know exactly where he is, but Martin is "filling" the scene here and there until we get a complete enough picture; I like this technique, where he kind of "drips" sensory information to us when we need it - hence me pointing it out); anyway, Tyrion turns to his uncle and wonders who will judge him. Pertinent question, that. Ser Kevan tells him that Lord Tywin - Tyrion's own father - as well as Mace Tyrell and Oberyn Martell will sit in judgment. Actually, I think the TV series handled this bit quite nicely by showing us Tywin kind of playing Mace and Oberyn into becoming judges at the trial. In the books, since we do not have a POV for this decision, we just get the information through a line of dialogue which isn't as good. But then, the books are already so dense and immersive that having some plot point just told to a character like this, doesn't really hurt. Tyrion wonders if he will be allowed a trial by battle, which worked well for him in the Vale when Bronn fought for him, but Ser Kevan advises against this, because Cersei has named Ser Gregor Clegane her champion should it come to such a trial. Cersei moving her piece into place even before Tyrion has requested a trial by battle shows us that for all her flaws and increased paranoia in A Feast for Crows, she was a cunning schemer at least up to and including this volume. It is one of the reasons I feel her character was somewhat ruined in the next book. He decides to think some more about this, thinking of calling in Bronn again but somewhat apprehensive none the less.

Next, he wonders if Cersei has witnesses against him, and then Ser Kevan says "More every day" which I read as she is ordering people to testify in her favor, and that she spends her time convincing people to do this. Tyrion wants witnesses too, and Ser Kevan tells him he can have Ser Addam Marbrand gather them for him; Tyrion wants to do it himself, but his uncle reminds him he stands accused of regicide and kinslaying, which is pretty damn serious. Ser Kevan tells him to write down the names of those he wants to have as witnesses instead. I hope we see more of Ser Kevan in Game of Thrones: Season Five by the way. I think they found a perfect actor for the character and that they should have used him a lot more. Perhaps at the expense of Grey Worm's (No Worm?) romanctic entanglements.  Tyrion asks for his squire, Podrick Payne, and Kevan allows that.
The scene ends with telling Ser Kevan, and the text implying that Tyrion is sounding desperately honest here, "I did not do this." 
Ser Kevan's cold reply, "I wish I could believe that, Tyrion" is a perfect end to the scene. On behalf of Tyrion it is infuriating, but at the same time it is rather believable that Ser Kevan reacts like this. Strong stuff.

With his uncle gone, Tyrion pulls himself up into a chair to get cracking on that list of witnesses. When Podrick appears, the parchment is "still maiden" (the first and only time Martin uses this phrase - in the metaphorical sense, I mean?) telling us all about how hard it is for Tyrion to come up with names of people that would vouch for him, without Martin ever having to tell it explicitly. I love it when Martin is on top of his game and writes like this. It's subtle. He's definitely not always subtle, but when he is, I think his writing is the strongest and most appealing.

The same goes for some characterizations as well. Take, for example, the lad Podrick Payne. Most of what we know about him as a person comes through the way he speaks; there's seldom much exposition on him, but his dialogue says so much:

"Find Bronn and bring him to me at once. Tell him there's gold in it, more gold than he's ever dreamt of, and see that you don't return without him."

"Yes, my lord. I mean, no. I won't. Return."

Isn't that just sweet and funny at the same time?

Tyrion falls asleep in the window seat and doesn't wake up until the next day, with no sign of Podrick. Returning. I mean. That morning, he finally jots down a name on the witness document: Sansa. It seems, though, that Tyrion actually wonders if Sansa could be behind the poisoning of Joffrey Baratheon. Still, some part of him, the logical part of his brain, tells him that Sansa couldn't have been alone in this, if she was part of it at all. The problem for Tyrion is that with Sansa fleeing the capital, it makes her look all the more guilty - and no one will believe Tyrion didn't know his own wife's schemes. An interesting thought: Could Littlefinger have waited for this moment precisely to make Sansa a suspect of the murder? It could be something he could use against her, as part of a backup plan for example. Not that it matters. The next day, Tyrion hands his uncle the parchment, still with only the one name on it. Kevan tells him if he wants more witnesses, he better get those names down quick, because the judges intend to start Tyrion's trial in three days. A little classic element of fairy tale right there, with the number three (also, three judges). Tyrion complains that it is hard for him to gather witnesses when he's held locked up. Which is a good point! Ser Kevan though says that Cersei has no problems finding witnesses to Tyrion's guilt, and at this point I begin to dislike Ser Kevan because he is obviously either stupid (not acknowledging the fact that Tyrion's ability to affect the proceedings is minimal, while Cersei's is optimal) or without a shred of sympathy (for his own nephew). Used to think up to this point that Ser Kevan Lannister was kind of the "good guy" among the Lannisters, but in the end, he's as much a servant of his brother as the others cowering beneath the icy gaze of Tywin. I'm a poet and I didn't know it. Ah, Ford Fairlane. I miss you.

Another day passes before Podrik finally. Returns. And here we do get a "tell" instead of "show": He stepped inside the room hesitantly, with fear written all over his face. That's the kind of sentence these authors of writing books warn against. There's even a fricking adverb in there! Bronn steps in behind the boy, and I forget all about the previous sentence of lessened quality because whenever Bronn shows up there's bound to be some coolness going on.  Martin gives us a different kind of Bronn, however: The sellsword knight wore a jerkin studded with silver and a heavy riding cloak, with a pair of fine-tooled leather gloves thrust through his swordbelt. By changing Bronn's dress here, the author also implies that Bronn - as a character - has gone through a change. That's more like it. The exchange that follows is just brilliant and believable, and one of the less talked about but still just as poignant of the many plot twists Martin pulls in this book. I never expected Bronn to change his allegiance; but it was in his character, all the time. And it feels so true, too. Bronn tells Tyrion that he is getting married to Lady Lollys Stokeworth - Bronn is to become a lord, people!

"My bitch sister has sold you a lame horse. The girl's dim-witted."
"If I wanted wits, I'd marry you."

Tyrion tries to convince Bronn that marrying Lollys is a bad idea, but reading between the lines Tyrion really is being selfish about it. He wants Bronn at his side, not at Lollys'. He tells Bronn that Lollys is pregnant with another man's child (always something of a deterrent I suppose) but Bronn just shrugs it off - when she has popped that one out, he'll get her pregnant with one of his own. Pretty casual about it, our Bronn. Then Tyrion tells him that the Stokeworth lands will not pass to him...But Bronn insinuates that Falyse could die before her mother, making him the heir. Showing us a more cunning side to Bronn - or someone planted that notion in his head. We have no way of knowing (yet), but when Tyrion wonders if Cersei knows what a serpent she has given to Lady Tanda, the author seems to suggest that Cersei and Bronn may have plotted this together - at least that's how I read it. Dejected, Tyrion wonders why Bronn has bothered to show up at all.

Bronn tells him that "if anyone ever asked me to sell you out, you'd double the price". In other words, Bronn is giving Tyrion a chance, but that chance is pretty slim considering Tyrion would have to - if we're technical about it - give Bronn lands twice the size of the Stokeworth holdings, and more besides. Tyrion recognizes this as well: "Is it two wives you want, or two castles?" 
Bronn replies that it had best be a damned big castle if he has to kill Ser Gregor Clegane for Tyrion. Even notorious sellsword Bronn has a healthy respect for the Mountain that Rides.
All Tyrion can do is offer gold and gratitude. Bronn already has gold, so he wonders what he can buy with gratitude. So cold, man.
Again Tyrion tries to talk Bronn into standing champion for him, but Bronn seems to know Tyrion too well, sparring verbally and being mostly right in his assessments, too. Tyrion suggests that Ser Gregor is wounded and that might slow him down; Bronn counters that the danger isn't in Gregor's speed, but size and strength; he suggests granting him lands in the North (once he and Sansa are confirmed rulers), to which Bronn says, "If and when and might be," and it is better to stay in the south sexing it out with Lollys than freezing up in the North. Tyrion tries to provoke Bronn, asking if he is afraid of Ser Gregor, and Bronn admits it and argues why it is a smart thing to be wary of the Mountain; in the end, Bronn says that he likes Tyrion but they are not brothers. It's all true, and it all makes sense from Bronn's perspective, and I love how Martin plays against the tropes here. Who didn't expect Bronn to step up for Tyrion as he has done before? Awesome, though it saddened me that we wouldn't see more Tyrion/Bronn interaction, which definitely ranks high for me. Such a fun couple.

And so they depart, and Tyrion is left alone with Podrick, who says he's sorry. To which Tyrion asks why Pod should be sorry - it isn't Pod's fault. Tyrion pours himself a cup of wine and goes back to his window seat. Outside the day is grey and rainy, accentuating the mood, and Tyrion wonders who else he could summon in his defense. He thinks of the Men of the Mountain Clans; this alone suggests Tyrion is becoming desperate now. Imagine Shagga son of Dolf standing trial. In the end, Tyrion realizes that trial by combat simply isn't an option. Sad. Martin kind of plays us here, and I love it; since we already had a trial by combat in A Game of Thrones, it's easy to believe that we will indeed not see a second trial by battle, and that it was only, to quote Gandalf himself, "a fool's hope" - making the surprise champion offer even more of a (pleasant) surprise.

The next night he can't sleep, for obvious reasons the author doesn't need to state. He thinks of Tysha, of Sansa; of Joffrey clawing his throat. He thinks of Cersei, of Bronn, of Shae. He tries to fondle himself for lack of better things to do, but even applying the hand brake doesn't work for him. Poor Tyrion.

And then it is dawn, and time for trial!

Ser Addam comes to pick him up. Tyrion learns that "most of the Kingsguard" stands witness against him, a cheering prospect early to start off the day. Tyrion is marched into the throne room, where hundreds already have arrived to see him judged. On his way toward the three judges he spots Queen Margaery; I am not sure why Martin adds this little detail other than to remind us that now she is "twice wed and twice widowed". He wonders if he can use the enmity between House Tyrell and House Martell to his advantage. The High Septon begins with a prayer, and when he's done Tywin leans forward, foregoing any formalities, asking if he killed Joffrey the King.
Of course, Tyrion says "No."
Lord Tyrell wonders if Sansa could have done it. Instead of saying "I don't know," which you kind of expect, he says Joffrey choked on a pigeon pie - it was the gods who did the deed. The gods, or the pigeons, Tyrion adds, and when people laugh nervously he reminds himself to guard his tongue so that he doesn't anger the judges with his witticisms. Good thing he left The Wit & Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister on his nightstand. Well, some wisdom might come in handy, perhaps.

Witnesses are ushered in, the first being Ser Balon Swann of the Kingsguard. To Tyrion's surprise, Swann speaks of Tyrion fighting with honor on the Blackwater and saying he does not believe Tyrion did it. And I'm like What?! and so is Tyrion, wondering what game Cersei is playing (through Balon). Turns out that Swann is perhaps too honest for Tyrion - he goes on to say that, yes, Tyrion did strike Joffrey during the riots. It is a small detail that, when added up with others, will paint a picture of Tyrion that will eventually work against him. Again, if Cersei is indeed manipulating the witnesses the way Tyrion believes, she seems a much more cunning - and intriguing - character than the Cersei we meet in A Feast for Crows.

Ser Meryn Trant is next, and he leans a little more toward painting Tyrion in a worse light. And Tyrion begins to grasp it - Swann was called up first because he's known for being honest, and then she'll follow up with people who will increasingly be hostile toward Tyrion. And so Trant speaks of Tyrion threatening with murder, which is true, but taken out of context, and then Boros Blount expands on it, and Tyrion becomes angrier by the minute because he is not allowed to explain himself. Again, as a reader, I feel angry about it too, on Tyrion's behalf, because we are privy to his true thoughts, motivations and intentions. I love this use of dramatic irony. It's excellent in that Martin keeps us hooked because while we know a little about the truth, Mace Tyrell and Oberyn Martell do not, and we know that Tywin and Cersei are working actively against Tyrion, and there's nothing we can do about it- nothing but read on and hope for the best.

The Kettleblacks tell the audience how Tyrion threatened Cersei - the ashes in your mouth bit - with Ser Osmund explaining that Joffrey knew Tyrion was out to get him. Seething, Tyrion calls him a liar, and gold cloaks have to drag him back. Again, Tyrion recognizes he is not playing the game very well at the moment. And then it has become late, and Tywin declares that they will resume the trial the next day.

That night, in his tower cell, Tyrion thinks of Tysha, and later of Shae. When Ser Kevan stops by, Tyrion asks for Varys.

The second day of trial opens with two maesters giving their testimony, claiming that Joffrey was poisoned, and did not choke on pigeon pie. Pycelle comes forth, presenting a variety of poisons - and tells the audience Tyrion had stolen such poisons from his chambers. Pycelle then goes on to claim that Tyrion used the rare poison known as 'the strangler' to kill Joffrey. Again, Tyrion's earlier actions are used against him now to make a strong case for his guilt. So infuriating! But good. In an infuriating way. And Tyrion too, struggles to keep himself calm.

An endless procession of lords and ladies and knights and what not follow, all recounting what they saw or heard during the wedding; how they had seen Joffrey's face turn black, how Ser Flement Brax had heard Tyrion threaten the king; and many had seen Tyrion filling the wedding chalice, and so on, and so forth. Tyrion wonders when he made so many enemies, and that's a great question. The brilliant thing is that everything that is presented against him, is in a sense true when taken out of context, thus working for Cersei who wants to see her dwarf brother executed. Martin sure must have had a field time putting all the pieces of this puzzle together, building up all the small encounters and dialogue toward this momentous event. And so it becomes night again, and Tyrion's situation has only grown worse. I remember reading the book the first time, it was hard to put down as I was wondering how Tyrion was going to get out of this one. And he still doesn't have any witnesses. And he learns that Varys, who hasn't shown up, is testifying against him, too. I felt like Martin was painting himself into a corner. Could we see Tyrion's head rolling off the steps of the temple, like Ned's did?
Ser Kevan suggests that Tyrion confess his crimes, ignoring Tyrion's argument that he can't help himself when locked up. Man I want to bitch-slap that idiot uncle. Repeatedly.
Turns out Tywin is offering Tyrion an option: Confess, and be sent to the Wall. Tyrion remembers Ned receiving a similar offer. And he doesn't believe it, either. Tyrion also learns that Mace Tyrell is inclined to agree with Cersei that Tyrion should be executed. Oh, those sweet roses of Tyrell.
At this moment, Kevan seems to have some kindness in him after all - he almost seems to be pleading for Tyrion to accept taking the black, because then at least he'll be alive.

For those who like the theory that Tyrion isn't a Lannister but a Targaryen, there's this: "Do you think he would allow you to take the black if you were not his own blood, and Joanna's?" Ser Kevan gives a long lecture on Tywin's character, at which Tyrion becomes astonished. He realizes that Kevan truly loves his brother Tywin.

The next morning, Lord Varys appears in the stand. The Spider speaks of how Tyrion had parted Joffrey from the Hound's protection during the battle of Blackwater Bay. Varys spends the whole day (!) presenting documents and scrolls with notes, confirming everything said the days before. Tyrion curses himself for ever having trusted the eunuch. Cersei wants one more witness to the stand for the next day, and we're left wondering who that last witness could be.

That night, he is visited by the Red Viper. When Tyrion wonders how smart it is to visit the accused, Oberyn seems to not care overly much for what Tywin thinks, which is entirely in his character of course. You bet I was reading closely when this visit came up. What is Martin doing now? Their exchange is fantastic, and you kind of hope that Oberyn will be Tyrion's new sidekick, now that Bronn has left his side. Imagine a book where Tyrion and Oberyn wander the lands of Westeros. While Oberyn's timely arrival had me getting my hopes up right away, I never expected him to end up like he did. The images from Game of Thrones 4.8 still haunt my mind. The whole Tyrion's trial plot line is so full of unexpected twists and turns, I can't help but thoroughly enjoy the ride.

Oberyn's tale of scorpions in the bed is engrossing. Even more intriguing is the prospect of having Tommen as king in King's Landing and Myrcella as queen of Dorne. It doesn't seem likely but I would like the story to go there. The Lannister faction divided like this sounds like something straight out of medieval history, with cousins waging war against each other, and after all, the medieval aspects of the series is what I love the most.

And what about this one:
"Your father," said Prince Oberyn, "may not live forever."
Something about the way he said it made the hairs on the back of Tyrion's neck bristle.

Not just the implied threat sounds cool, but there's the delicious irony here that Oberyn speaks of not living forever, and Tyrion is the one who ends up aiming that crossbow at Tywin, his lord father. So much intensity packed into this exchange, and so much groundwork is laid in this scene for the rest of the novel and even into the next novels.

Oberyn then is convinved of Tyrion's innocence, which is a gratisfying little twist all of its own, and then he offers to help him. And I'm fist-pumping the air and hailing the Red Viper for turning the tables, 'cause you just know that whatever comes after this, it will be several shades of awesomeness.

"Not as your judge. As you champion" indeed. Oh man.

SO, here we have a chapter spent with characters talking, characters repeating earlier events, and two memorable exchanges (Bronn and Oberyn), and it is all written with economy, a swift pacing that never becomes boring. Plot is driven forward, everything connects nicely giving the illusion of a real history going on; characters are explored further (chiefly Ser Kevan Lannister) and there are surprises. It's not your standard epic material, but everything that's going on inside Tyrion's head and the struggles against his family sure is epic in its own way.

All hail this awesomeness!


  1. Longtime lurker, just wanting to thank you for this blog. I've been enjoying your thoughtful ASOIAF chapter summaries for 1.5 years now and am eager to see AFFC tackled next. I just noticed that you're also starting to read Robin Hobb and would love to see discussion of those someday, being especially fond of the Liveship and Rain Wilds ones.

  2. 1. Bronn and Oberyn talking to Tyrion are best lines in the chapter.
    2. You missed the "best" part in trial - Pycelle claiming that "strangler" poison wasn't found among Tyrion's possesings because the latter used it fully on greatest and fairest and justest kid ever born.
    3. I wonder whether Cersei truly believes it was Tyrion who did the deed, or she's using this opportunity to get rid of Tyrion due to her hatred towards him and find real culprits later.