Tyrion takes his breakfast with Grand Maester Pycelle. He gives Pycelle two copies of a letter for Prince Doran Martell that must go out by raven at once. While Pycelle is out sending them, Tyrion goes to the Grand Maester’s collection of herbs and potions and takes a vial. After breakfast, he comes across Bronn, now the captain of his personal guard, studying some knights training below. Bronn points out a hedge knight named Tallad as the best of them, but says that he falls into a rhythm. Bronn reports that Lady Tanda is looking for him again. She has been having him over for savory dinners in an effort to get him to marry her large, soft, dim-witted daughter, Lollys, who is still a maid at age thirty-three. Others begging an audience include a moneylender from Braavos looking for repayment of a loan, a river lord asking for recompense for his slaughtered peasants, some bakers, butchers, and greengrocers asking for protection after a baker was burned alive in his own oven for charging too much for bread, and Ser Alliser Thorne with a rotted hand in a jar. Tyrion decides he will not see Ser Alliser and orders poor quarters found for him. Bronn departs, and Tyrion continues on his way.
As Tyrion nears the main gate, he sees Cersei preparing to ride into the city with Ser Boros; Ser Balon; Lord Gyles; Hallyne the Pyromancer, Cersei’s new favorite; Lancel, who is now a knight; Vylarr; and twenty Lannister house guards. She is inspecting the progress on the city’s defenses and is alarmed because she has learned that Renly is marching up the roseroad towards King’s Landing. His host includes all the Tyrell bannermen save the Redwynes; Lord Paxter did not march because his sons are hostages in the city. Tyrion is unconcerned because Renly is taking his time, feasting at every castle he passes and holding court at every crossroads. Cersei demands that Tyrion make Tywin bring his army to the city. Tyrion says that is impossible, and Cersei declares he is useless and rides off.
When Tyrion returns to his chambers, Podrick tells him that Lord Petyr awaits. Petyr beckons Tyrion over to the window to see Joffrey, guarded by Ser Preston, using hares for target practice with a crossbow. He is not hitting all that many of them. Tyrion notices that Petyr is wearing a dagger with a dragonbone hilt and knows Petyr is doing so to taunt him. Tyrion has been trying to find out all he can about Petyr since he is a certainly an opponent. Lord Jon Arryn gave him a minor sinecure in customs ten years ago, and he soon brought in three times as much gold as the king’s other collectors. Three years later, he was master of coin and soon increased revenues to ten times their previous level, though the debt has also grown greatly in that time. All the major treasury offices and most of the minor ones are held by men he appointed. Tyrion asks if Petyr grew close to the Tullys while he was fostered there, and he states he had both Catelyn’s and Lysa’s maidenheads. Tyrion tells Petyr that he wants him to send a message to Lysa promising Lord Jon’s killer, respite from mountain clan raids that have grown more intense of late, a betrothal between Myrcella and Robert, and the naming of Robert as Warden of the East in exchange for her fealty and support against Renly and Stannis. Lord Petyr asks what is in it for him, and Tyrion says Harrenhal and overlordship of the Trident.
Soon after Petyr leaves, Galt comes in to announce that Varys has arrived. Tyrion says he has a plan, and Varys says he may already know it. Tyrion tells him to continue. Varys notes that Prince Doran has called his banners but has not moved to join any side, and posits that Tyrion wants to convince him to join the Lannister cause. Tyrion says that this is correct and that he will offer the prince a seat on the small council, his sister Elia’s killers, and Tommen as a ward. Varys wonders how Tyrion plans to pry both Tommen and Myrcella away from Cersei, and Tyrion says he will do it by keeping his plans a secret. Varys then asks what happens if someone tells her before the arrangements are made, and Tyrion says that he will then know who is an informant for Cersei.
I don’t think I know of an ASOIAF fan who doesn’t love this chapter. It showcases Tyrion at his absolute best, playing the politicians of King’s Landing like a fiddle. It isn’t just the simple elegance of his scheme, but also his audacity in choice of victims – this isn’t some no-name lord that Tyrion is messing with, he’s heading up against the movers and shakers in King’s Landing (and Pycelle). The chapter, along with the rest of the Tyrion chapters we’ve seen so far, gives us the impression that Tyrion is a natural fit for the filthy politics that infect King’s Landing and while I certainly agree that Tyrion has a real knack for the job, we shouldn’t forget that for all his slick scheming here there will be serious consequences not too far down the line. Still, looking beyond the specifics of the events of this chapter, I think it’s very safe to say that the main reason we find Tyrion’s ACOK plotline so entertaining is because as readers, we take a certain vindictive (and vicarious) pleasure in seeing Tyrion take the smug bastards that got Ned killed, down a notch. Now, factor in Tyrion’s popularity and the fact that most of us love a good underdog story and I think we’ve solved the (obvious) puzzle of why Tyrion’s plotline is such a fan-favourite.
Now, with regards to this chapter itself, I think the most natural way of breaking it down is by character. We’ll start with Pycelle. I don’t really know what to make of Pycelle sometimes. On one hand, compared to the likes of Varys and Littlefinger, the man seems like nothing more than a bumbling idiot, an academic who’s hopelessly out of his depth. I think he means well – I remember him trying to give Cersei good advice – but given his allegiance to the Lannister, his definitely, undeniably platonic obsession with Tywin and his thing for girls young enough to be his granddaughters, I don’t think he was meant to be particularly likable. In this chapter, he seems almost hapless as yet another newcomer to the King’s Landing power circles easily surpasses him and unlike the other two, I don’t think Pycelle even suspects that Tyrion might try to play him.
A couple of minor points before we move on to Tyrion:
“Perhaps you should eat the goose and marry the maid.”
Of course, Bronn does marry the maid and becomes a minor lord because of it, amusingly/creepily/disgustingly enough.
“Send the man to Littlefinger, he’ll find a way to put him off.”
The plot point regarding the crown’s debt is already being subtly brought up though it’s being camouflaged as generic administrative blabber.
So, with those minor distractions out of the way, let’s look at Tyrion himself. There is some dissonance between the way Tyrion (and the readers) view events and the way others characters do. For the most part, we see Tyrion being snarky and witty and we love it because he’s messing with characters that we don’t particularly like. However, I would liken this situation to that one kid in high school that would break the rules just to look cool without realizing that he was only hurting himself in the long run. So far in ACOK, Tyrion has been dishing out the burns left, right and centre and while it’s hilarious and all, his often needless provocation of some influential figures seems very poorly thought through for an otherwise intelligent character. Take this chapter for example – he takes deliberate care to piss Cersei off by acting as dismissive and impudent as possible but had he taken some small measures at just appeasing his sister, their relationship might not have soured to the point of death threats by the book’s end. I feel like Tyrion is just enjoying being in power and in a position where he can finally treat others the way he thinks they deserved but he hasn’t realized the converse is true as well.
“The king is fighting hares with a crossbow,” he said. “The hares are winning. Come see.”
There aren’t a lot of reasons to love Littlefinger. In fact, he is the epitome of the slimy, oily politicians, the two-faced sneak that is simultaneously everyone’s friend and no one’s. He is creepy and morally bankrupt. He happens to be one of my favourite characters alongside Jaime and Davos. I should explain this (if I haven’t already. I feel like I have but the downside to doing a project like this is that I tend to repeat myself) – I love the character because he’s entertaining. I don’t approve of what he is or what he does or what he stands for or any of that rubbish. I just like that he gets shit done; he starts these insane plots and keeps things from getting stale. I can totally see him dead or crushed by his own hubris at some point but till then I intend to enjoy the Littlefinger show, which is all of the events of the main series, if you look at it from a certain angle.
He knows, the insolent wretch. He knows and he knows that I know, and he thinks that I cannot touch him.
Every story needs a good villain and Littlefinger is the villain that ASOIAF deserved. There are a lot of quotable quotes in this chapter and I have a half a mind to highlight all of them, but I think it’s more fun trying to put together what is going through Littlefinger’s mind throughout this encounter. When Tyrion walks in, I suspect that Littlefinger doesn’t know Tyrion’s purpose there but figures that Tyrion has some ploy that he wants Littlefinger to help with. The mention of Jon Arryn’s true killer is a red herring on Martin’s part because obviously Littlefinger knows exactly who killed Arryn which means he knows that Tyrion’s subsequent offer to Lysa of her husband’s killer is a bluff. The fact that he shows surprise seems more an attempt by Martin to throw the reader off the scent than it does a method of showing Littlefinger’s amazing acting abilities. When Harrenhal is offered, I wonder what goes through Littlefinger’s mind? He knows the castle is more or less worthless – it’s right in the middle of enemy lands and it would be almost impossible to maintain and run without a proper legion of servants and knights. Yet, as we see in AFFC, I think he would instantly have realized that obtaining Harrenhal would give him a legitimacy that he would never have as just the Master of Coins. Tyrion spells it out for him by offering to make him the master of the Trident and I think as unemotional as Littlefinger tries to be, the offer of lording it over Hoster Tully (who kicked him out) and lording it over Catelyn (who might find herself as a captive by the war’s end) would have appealed to him more than the offer would have strictly warranted. You’ll notice that in this entire process, Tyrion offers nothing substantial – he knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that even if Littlefinger does leave for the Eyrie (which will only be in two weeks and by which time Pycelle would have spilled the beans) it is highly unlikely that Lysa will agree to the deal (though he doesn’t know of Lysa’s love for Littlefinger). Also, even if Littlefinger does seal the deal, the only thing Tyrion has offered is land that is currently in enemy hands.
The last and the trickiest of the lot is Varys. Unlike the others, Varys already knows what Tyrion is up to, or so it seems. He knows that Tyrion has met Pycelle and he most probably knows what they discussed. He also knows about the discussion that Tyrion had with Littlefinger. The beauty of Tyrion’s plan is that he able to play Varys even despite Varys knowing that much and he does it by using Tommen instead of Myrcella. He balances the risk of letting Varys know his plan (because there’s no way the Varys doesn’t see what Tyrion is trying to accomplish) with the risk of getting Varys to his side. The way I see it, Tyrion is asking Varys whose side he is on with this ploy – Varys knows everything he needs to in order to totally sell Tyrion out. Tyrion has essentially left the ball in Varys court and will have to see how the eunuch will decide. It’s complicated yet at the same time as easy as one, two, three.