[Spoilers almost from the get-go; read at your own risk]
Five days and my life is still distorted from the disruption of the Star Wars teaser trailer; last night, however, I was able to focus and read another chapter in Assassin's Apprentice as well as another chapter in Willfull Child, and today I'm ready to re-enter the gritty, treacherous, exciting world that George R.R. Martin dreamed up for the enjoyment of us all. It's a good thing it's arguably the story's most entertaining character leading this 78th chapter of A Storm of Swords. If anyone can keep me sane in the aftermath of Black Friday, it's Tyrion Lannister.
Right, so I wrote that introductory paragraph like three days ago and since then I have only been geeking out on you-know-what, but now! Last night I got through the line of Targaryen kings in The World of Ice and Fire and it became a lot more interesting when there were some pretty interesting details revealed about Lord Tywin Lannister, the Mad King Aerys, and Joanna Lannister. It made me reconsider and rethink certain fan theories, and the text seemed to confirm that fans are right on track with regards to these characters' interactions. Re-immersing myself into the world of George R.R. Martin, no matter how unexciting it is written, made me want to go back to A Storm of Swords and get some real juicy Martin-narrative instead of the encyclopedia-like entries in the world book. There's a discussion going on right now about the qualities of this world book which you will be able to read at the Tower of the Hand in a week or two. It seems I'm not the only one who finds the world book a bit of a double-edged (Valyrian sword) - somehow it manages to be both entertaining and interesting, and boring and off-putting. How's that for vague. ANYWAY. Tyrion Lannister, the main half man. Rockarockarocka.
Opening the chapter in classic trademark style with the promise of the macabre to reel us in, and also slightly reminding me of Indigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, Martin just straightaway throws you into Tyrion's mind and lets you stay there for the ride:
When he heard noises through the thick wooden door of his cell, Tyrion Lannister prepared to die.
That is just...so simple yet effective. As a reader, how can you not want to read on to see how Tyrion will face the worst situation he's been in yet? The sentence also immediately reminds you of his situation and where he is ('cell').
As we get his inner monologue, we realize that Tyrion has all but given up. Now, he just want it to end, to be done with it; yet he still holds to pride - he rubs the pain from his legs so that he can go to the headman's block without stumbling; he wants to keep his dignity (which is kind of sad as we know that no one else sees nor cares about any dignity Tyrion may possess). Briefly he wonders how they will execute him, but then the door opens, and it takes a moment for him to realize that it isn't a headsman, or guards, come to get him for his execution, but his very own brother, Ser Jaime Lannister. Yay, another POV meeting in a chapter! I like that so much.
Ser Jaime shows his little brother the stump of his hand, and Tyrion notices Jaime is gaunt and has his hair hacked off; in other words, Tyrion sees that his brother has changed - the interesting thing of course is that Tyrion sees the outward changes, which are for the worse, but not the inner changes going on with Jaime, which are for the better. I love Tyrion's hysterical laugh, showing us how frail his psyche is now, and also his comment to seeing Jaime like this: "(...) look at the two of us. Handless and Noseless, the Lannister boys." And, indeed, Tyrion too has had his appearance dramatically altered, but are we seeing a reverse change going on inside Tyrion? After all, despite his many flaws - some perhaps unforgivable - he's generally been a good guy; will this ordeal push him to change into a...less good character? Is Martin kind of playing with Handless and Noseless, giving them opposite arcs? A Dance with Dragons sees Tyrion descend into an almost stupor-like mentality, but I can't say I feel his character is descending into immoral darkness. Not yet, anyway. Or does he? I know, time to re-read Dance. Is he acting less as a good guy in that novel? Could this idea of Martin sending Tyrion "the other way" be supported by the text? Another thing to be mindful of when I get there.
Jaime reveals that Tyrion is to be beheaded out on the old tourney grounds; Tyrion wonders if Jaime can help him think up some good last words, but Jaime counters - almost casually - that no, he's come to rescue him. And I'm like YAY and WOOOHOOO but Tyrion seems dispassionate; "Who said I required rescue?" he asks, as if he doesn't believe what he just heard. Jaime seems to have expected a little more gratitude as well, suggesting that maybe he should just leave Tyrion to Cersei after all; but by then, Tyrion seems to have found some of his old self as he waddles out of the cell, asking what time of day it is. It's three hours past midnight, Jaime responds, assuring Tyrion that the city sleeps. Jaime reveals that the eunuch - Varys! - has drugged the guards. Varys is waiting for Tyrion by the stair, dressed in a septon's robe; from there, he says that Tyrion will take the sewers (nice little foreshadowing of the privy scene!), then the river, and then to a galley that will take him to the Free Cities...
...and a man wonders why Varys goes through all this trouble for Tyrion. The World of Ice and Fire all but confirms that either the siblings or Tyrion are half-Targaryen, and Varys' "concern" for Tyrion suggests that it is Tyrion Lannister - Tyrion's father is actually Aerys, the Mad King, which makes him half-brother of Daenerys Targaryen as well as Jaime and Cersei. It sounds crazy, perhaps, but the more theories I've read...and when the world book basically spelled it out...I no longer doubt that Tyrion is half-Targaryen. It lines up so well. It will explain how Tyrion, Jon, and Dany become the three heads of the dragon. It gives reason as to why Martin bothered to write the scene in Feast where they talk about who really is Tywin's son. The only thing I'm not quite sure about is that it could be Jaime and Cersei being half-Targaryen; in Feast, Cersei for all intents and purposes acts exactly like Aerys which is a pretty strong clue. Or Martin is just throwing barrels of red herrings at us. At least the complexities of genealogy give us something to ponder for half a decade between books.
Jaime gives Tyrion a brotherly kiss, but Tyrion senses that there's something troubling his brother. The one-handed knight admits that Tysha wasn't a whore, but a crofter's daughter. I admit I don't see how this makes the story that much worse, and why Tyrion gets so upset about it, or why Jaime feels so bad about it. Feel free to enlighten me on this one. There is a possible foreshadowing of the two brothers meeting again in the future - with Tyrion actually threatening Jaime - and then, oh then, Tyrion you idiot. Jaime wants to know the truth of Joffrey's murder; Tyrion is probably incensed that his brother has to ask the question and doesn't just automagically believe in his innocence (or so I assume), and so he tells him that "Cersei is a lying whore" (he says more, but we'll hear that line so many times in Feast in Jaime's memories I can't be bothered right now), and that yes, he did kill Joffrey, and yes, he is the monster everybody claims him to be. Face meet slap from hand. This is so annoying! Even here, in a sweet rescue operation and a potential bonding between brothers, Martin has to tear apart the joy and have them depart on unfriendly - hostile, even - terms. It sucks so hard. And Jaime, speechless, turns away.
Well, damnit. I hate this part. I want the Lannister boys together, trusting each other, loving each other, knowing each other. Instead, dysfunction prevails. Again.
And part of Tyrion wants to shout at Jaime, to tell him it's not true, he did not kill Joffrey, but then he thinks of Tysha and decides to stay silent. Damnit. You know, I think Tysha is my least favorite character in the entire fricking series. All she causes is grief, and both the Lannisters hung up on a sentence that will slowly bore through your skull. Lancel, Kettleblack, Moon Boy, where do whores go...Boo and hiss @ Tysha. And I don't even understand the big deal. Well, the first part of it, yes, with Tyrion realizing it was all a setup and seeing the entire barracks rape her and all that; but in this chapter? I really don't get what put more coals on the fire, so to speak. Is it that Tyrion didn't realize until now that his brother was part of that particular troubling scheme?
I also, admittedly, love it when a story makes me so upset. But fuck Tysha. Whoops!
Later, Tyrion meets up with Varys.
I like the initial description of Varys here, because it suggests that before it all is over, we'll see him dead (at least that's the vibe I'm getting): "The eunuch was lurking in the dark (...), garbed in a moth-eaten brown robe with a hood that hid the paleness of his face." Pale, hood, moth-eaten, sounds a bit like death doesn't it. When Varys says he's been waiting for so long he feared something had gone wrong, Tyrion bites back with a classic line, "What could possibly have gone amiss?" Love the sarcasm. Tyrion, understandably, is a bit disappointed with Varys after the trial. Varys explains that he was watched day and night and so dared not help him. Also seems that Jaime had to persuade Varys to help out, so maybe he isn't that interested in Tyrion. Varys warns Tyrion that without him, he will not find his way out of this dismal dungeon-like environment. Okay he doesn't use those words but you get the point. Tyrion wonders where Sansa is, and Varys admits he has found no trace of her, but the way he so casually admits his failure makes me feel that something is wrong here; or is indeed Littlefinger a match for the master of whisperers? Love how Varys tells Tyrion his path is down, and Tyrion thinks for himself that "that's no lie, at least" - and as we'll see he will slide down into a depression as dark as the cell he's been held in. Love the ambiguity of the words here, the double meaning.
Time for a little exposition! Maegor the Cruel decreed the four levels of dungeons, and the fourth level is the worst; people who end up here are never seen again. Pretty scary place; I do love the concept and the ideas Martin put in here. A neat A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game session could have character descend the dungeons (almost in D&D-style) perhaps to rescue someone. Love Varys' statement that there are things down there Tyrion doesn't want to see; subtly, Martin makes us think up the most horrific things yet leaves it to our imagination. Varys either knows these tunnels exceptionally well, leading Tyrion by the hand through utter darkness and never missing a step (or so the text implies) - or he can see in the dark and is really an Elf. Eventually they end up in a curious chamber, small and round with five other doors and rungs leading up through an opening in the ceiling. Sounds like a shaft; perhaps an old dragon pit, or a dry well? The brazier here is shaped like a dragon's head which I think is telling us something about Varys. Well, that he's affiliated with the dragon, somehow. The floor, too, holds a mosaic of a three-headed dragon (notice this is seen by Tyrion, and thus supports him as one of the three heads); and then Tyrion realizes they are below the Tower of the Hand. Reading between the lines it does feel like Varys intentionally led Tyrion here, assuming the Imp would decide to go up the rungs to find his father for some comeuppance. I think it's a bit contrived if this is what Martin/Varys intended, though.
Varys tries to convince Tyrion not to go there (literally and figuratively); Tyrion snaps that "the only thing I value less than my life just now is yours" which is so awesome, definitely one of my favorite lines. I love it when the Spider gets a verbal bitchslap.
Martin drags it out by having Tyrion count the rungs as he ascends through the darkness, gradually building the suspense. On his way he overhears two guardsmen talking rudely about Tyrion and Shae; this, too, feels a little contrived as if the guards were placed there just to fuel Tyrion's anger and hate. Well, maybe they were! Varys would know the exact route Tyrion takes! Tyrion realizes now how Varys' little birds operate, using these small tunnels between walls through the Red Keep.
Finally he reaches the bedchamber of the Tower. Here, the fireplace is full of hot ash, and interestingly, "a black log with a hot orange heart burning within". What is Martin trying to tell us here? I immediately thought of Stannis and Melisandre and Selyse when I read that description. The black log and the orange heart - the darkness and the light? Or just a random description? But why here? I'm probably overreading, but it sounds as if this quick description could signal that the darkness will devour Melisandre/R'hllor/Stannis, or - the darkness will be destroyed from within? Geez. This sentence really nags at me. Is it saying something about the future (as flames tend to do in this series)?
Anyway, Tyrion is back in his old bedchamber and so is Shae, on the bed. She turns toward him with a "sleepy smile on her lips" which dies when she realizes it is Tyrion standing there, not...someone else? Oooh, this is great writing. Is she really jumping Tyrion's father's old bones now? It's such a twist! Shocking, even. "Were you expecting someone taller, sweetling?" Tyrion says, devoid of emotion (or so it reads); and once again we understand how much Tyrion's dwarfism hurts him. Big wet tears fill her eyes (acting or not?!?) and tells him his father frightens her and that the queen made her say those things at the trial; as always, Martin keeps Shae 100% ambiguous: she could be lying, she could be telling the truth. And we'll never know. Damnit. He notices that she wears a chain of linked golden hands around her neck. Actually, Shae tells him to get out of there before Tywin gets back, which to me seems like she does care enough for Tyrion to want to save his life. Oh man, I have a feeling Shae has been thoroughly abused and actually did love Tyrion. Makes it all the more tragic, of course. When she calls him her "giant of Lannister", Tyrion thinks that is the worst thing she could have said (again, his stature becomes a big deal in his mind), and then he takes the chain and twists it around her neck, strangling her to death. The Strangler, indeed.
So has Tyrion descended into the depravity I spoke of in the beginning? Is he becoming a worse person while Jaime becomes better? I'd say yes. Before our reading eyes he actually murders a defenseless young woman. A woman, who moments ago, told him to get out of there before he was discovered, as in, tried to help him. We were never sure of her allegiance, never sure of her feelings; and I commend for Martin to keeping her rigidly hard to place; but I wish that we, in the future, do get to hear from Martin himself more about Shae as a character and the why's and how's of her actions and dialogue. It's a bit frustrating not to be sure about her. And now she's dead and we'll never know unless Martin opens up. I choose to believe, however, that Shae was being played from many sides and that she was way in over her head and did what she had to do to survive; I don't believe she ever loved Tyrion, but as I write it I become uncertain...perhaps she did love him, in her own way. Damnit.
Picking up a crossbow Tyrion next goes to find his father. He eventually opens the door to the privy where he knew he would find his old dad. With his bedrobe hiked up around his hips, Tywin Lannister is actually sitting on the privy taking a dump. And now, this I really love. Throughout three books Tywin has been built up to be this almost legendary ruthless character, so hard, so stern, so commanding, a presence like none other in the novels, and then we get to see him taking a shit. Lovely! In the end, Tywin Lannister was just a man. I remember how fantastic and surprising this little twist was back when everybody else's fantasy novels avoided anything so mundane as a visit to the toilet. I still don't like the fact that Tywin's gone because he was such a thoroughly complex and interesting character that I loved to hate, but I can't fault Martin's decision to put him on the privy for this scene. Perception, and all that.
And I can't help but love that Tywin is just as cool and hard and seemingly unaffected when he's caught unaware like this: "Tyrion." If he was afraid, Tywin Lannister gave no hint of it. "Who released you from your cell?" I lol'd again.
Interestingly, Tywin immediately surmises that it was the eunuch who freed Tyrion. When Tywin tells his son to put down the crossbow, I lol again as Tyrion says, "Will you punish me if I refuse, Father?" Teehee. Even as Tyrion spirals into violent madness, I am cheering him on at the same time. It makes me feel bad, in a way. Damn you, Martin. And your ways.
Martin builds up the suspense masterfully through their conversation; there is little description, just their lines set against each other, Tywin aloof and cold and uncaring, Tyrion angry and vengeful; Tyrion asks Tywin what he did with Tysha (after the incident). Tywin doesn't even remember her name, which probably strikes right at Tyrion's heart. When Tywin calls her "your first whore", Tyrion promises that if he utters that word - whore - again, he'll pull the trigger. Of course that increases the tension! Haha, it's ridiculously entertaining, this scene. Wish it was longer. Or perhaps not. Maybe it's perfect. Tyrion presses the matter - did his father have Tysha killed?
Tywin explains that no, there was no reason to kill her; she had been well paid "for her day's work" (how fucking cold is that!!) so here we get the first notion that we might just meet this Tysha character in the future - she was sent on her way, so she is theoretically living out there somewhere. It wouldn't surprise me if that somewhere is the Free Cities.
"On her way where?" Tyrion asks, and then Tywin makes the critical error you're waiting and possibly hoping for.
Wherever whores go.
That's the "whore" word right there, though you could argue that whores is plural and Tyrion was reacting to the singular noun, but hey: Tyrion's finger clenched.
And so ends Tywin, as he starts to rise, and a bolt slams into him and he sits back down with a grunt. Blood streaming down his thighs, Tywin utters his last words - and boy do they give weight to the idea that Tyrion might be Mad King Aerys' get:
You...you are no...no son of mine.
Right! Spelled out into the open for all of us to see. Did he actually try to tell Tyrion that he wasn't Tywin's biological son? MAN give us The Winds of Winter already. So annoying. So incredibly, frustratingly annoying to not have that book in my hands. IS TYRION LANNISTER THE SON OF AERYS AND JOANNA, GEORGE? TELL ME. TELL ME NOW.
And then it's all over for Tywin! In the end, he did not shit gold, which is a brilliant end to the chapter because that saying has been with us since A Game of Thrones.
Oh man, and Tyrion just killed his father. But it's not kin-slaying if Tyrion isn't Tywin's son, right? But Jaime would be a kinslayer for killing his half-brother's father? Confusing.
Sometimes I wish the story was more straightforward and didn't dwell so much on the genealogy. A simple chapter like this, with Tyrion roaming the keep like a little bird, then choking Shae and then shooting Tywin, doesn't really need a complex character backstory to work :p
Well, I can say that after re-reading this chapter, I'm almost convinced Aerys and Joanna Lannister made Tyrion. The "monstrous" attributes he had as a baby might well be attributed to the Targaryen blood as well - dragon's blood?
Wow. Sitting back and taking a breath this chapter also reminds me of how awesome Martin can be. How much he is able to imply without outright telling it. How well he handles characters. How much I miss knowing how it will all end. Except for Tywin. Now we know. Or do we? There are rumors we'll see Charles Dance in Game of Thrones season five...but that will most likely be in a flashback, or just as the corpse on the bier, I suppose.
We've lost another amazingly written character (no, two actually - Shae and Tywin), and the Tyrion we came to love throughout the first three books is gone for now. Here's to hoping he'll be back in The Winds of goddamn Winter when it is eventually published if it ever gets Published At All Damnit Damnit Curses.