The first of Tyrion’s battle chapters opens with Stannis’ fleet having just caught fire. Tyrion knows it’s on now – the die have been cast and there’s only one direction to go now. This chapter, and the next few, are fairly short, as though Martin wanted to create this television-like experience where we follow one character for a while and then switch over to another. The technique works here because it allows the reader to get important glimpses of different arenas of the conflict – from aboard the burning vessels, from the front lines and from those ‘safe’ behind castle walls. In this chapter, Tyrion basically watches the fleets (both Joffrey’s and Stannis’) burn and realizes that even though this was pretty much his best case scenario, it’s not going to be enough. Imry has somehow gotten troops ashore and now the land part of this battle is going to begin.
Motionless as a gargoyle, Tyrion Lannister hunched on one knee atop a merlon.
There’s something about this imagery here that I like a lot. It draws comparisons to Tyrion as a gargoyle – creatures that are typically depicted as small, twisted and grotesque. Perched on his merlon, the gargoyle Tyrion gets a commanding view of the mayhem and bloodshed along the waterfront. It also gives me the impression of Tyrion as something more sinister than a hero – gargoyles are rarely seen as good creatures and the line a little later on “The centipedes had no place to run” paints this image in my head of a demon-like Tyrion sitting safely away from the chaos and watching his enemies, who considers little more than centipedes, burn. There is also a connection to Tyrion and Aegon – the blaze evokes connections to the famous Field of Fire and Tyrion’s own long suspected dragon connections mean that there could be some foreshadowing here if you’re so inclined to look for it. For now, Tyrion is trying to keep the strategic perspective, but very soon, he will have to enter the fray himself.
Half of Stannis’s fleet was ablaze, along with most of Joffrey’s.
So I wanted to bring this up in the previous chapter as well but there are clearly people on those vessels and those vessels are full of wildfire. Did the soldiers on those ships know that they were essentially on a suicide mission? I know that sometimes people are crazy, but just how crazy do you have to be to man a ship in a situation in which you get to either get boarded by the enemy or burnt alive by wildfire? Clearly, they didn’t get a choice in the matter but Martin does seem to brush over the fact that Tyrion’s master manoeuvre involved the sacrifice of a whole bunch of his soldiers. We’ll touch on this topic again in a moment when Tyrion considers the cost of his little trick
“Do you hear them shrieking, Stannis? Do you see them burning? This is your work as much as mine.”
Yes, it is Stannis’ work as much as Tyrion’s – in the same way that any war is two sides’ work. Having said that though, Tyrion here is really just trying to distance himself from the violence; he has a natural empathy and excelling at war requires a certain suppression of empathy. That Stannis is not in the forefront of the fighting isn’t surprising in and of himself but it is noteworthy that Robert would join wherever the fighting was thickest. Fighting at the forefront is a very Robert thing to do, of course, but this highlights just how one dimensional even Robert’s vaunted military prowess was. Robert was just a good fighter – he wasn’t even a decent commander or tactician. Still, it is an encouraging thing for soldiers to see their leader risking their life and limbs alongside them – something that Tyrion tried to capitalize on by having Joffery alongside him.
Stannis would be left with thirty or forty galleys, at a guess; more than enough to bring his whole host across, once they had regained their courage.
Morale plays an incredibly important role in battle but so does fear. In ancient Rome, the rank and file troops were motivated by their officers’ bravery but also by fear of those same officers’ discipline. Stannis is a man more feared than loved and you get the distinct feeling that fear of Stannis’ discipline commands much less mileage in the face of an unquenchable, possibly magically fuelled, green fire. Even if Stannis did get troops in to King’s Landing, they would not be in the right frame of mind to mount a proper attack. Yet, as Tyrion rightly points out, morale works both ways – Tyrion’s own men are more policemen than soldiers. It does beg the question though – if the men do break, where would they break to? Generally speaking, in battles, there is usually a place to regroup to, or a plan B. It doesn’t seem like Tyrion’s forces have much of that – once your capital is taken, there isn’t a natural secondary rally point unless you take care to indicate one beforehand. In any case, it seems a little like Tyrion’s lack of real battle experience keeps him from understanding what kind of frame of mind his men will be in, as we’ll see in a second.
There was no other way. If we had not come forth to meet them, Stannis would have sensed the trap.
We know that this isn’t true. First of all, Stannis wasn’t even with the fleet and Imry Florent, as we saw in the previous chapter, isn’t exactly the most tactically savvy admiral around. We saw in the last chapter that Davos was not in favour of charging into the Bay but Florent was intent on doing just that and while Tyrion’s bait undoubtedly drew him in, it seemed that the bait was unnecessary. Tyrion is aware of the fact that he essentially sent a whole bunch of men to their fiery deaths for his plan and from a purely objective standpoint, the sacrifice was worth it – Tyrion lost a few handful of sailors who were pretty much doomed if they fought on the ships anyway and in return utterly crippled Stannis’ navy. It just feels a little strange that Tyrion, who is quite morally sound by ASOIAF standards, does not really register any kind of remorse beyond his initial discomfort. Perhaps, Martin felt that the character would not be second-guessing himself in the heat of battle, which is fair, but I like to think that it is yet another way in which Tyrion and his father differ less than they think.
“We been out. Three times. Half our men are killed or hurt. Wildfire bursting all around us, horses screaming like men and men like horses—”
The nightmare of the wildfire is taking its toll on Tyrion’s soldiers as well. Something like wildfire isn’t to be taken lightly – you can’t just unleash it and expect pinpoint, selective accuracy. The biggest cost of the wildfire though comes in the form of the lost loyalty of one Sandor Clegane. Clegane himself is an above average fighter but he is only one man and as such the cost here isn’t the drop in manpower. Instead, it is the loss of the Clegane name – when the man find that Clegane has deserted, it’s a huge blow to morale and morale and loyalty go hand in hand when the fighting goes against you. Given that such a sizable portion of Tyrion’s force is made up of sell-swords, he has a remarkably short time to keep the troops together and force the issue. In some sense, I guess he figures it’s better to fight and lose than not fight at all – “sooner madness than defeat”, as he says. We should also not forget that Clegane is a tried and tested battle commander; while he isn’t as intelligent as Tyrion or Tywin in formulating big picture troops movements and such, he is able to get the men to move to where they need to be and that effectively dictates whether the higher-ups’ plans can even be executed correctly.
“Water? Fuck your water. Bring me wine.”
Ah, a classic Sandor-ism. The Hound essentially becomes a broken man at this point and this would be an excellent moment to think the speech Septon Maribald gives Brienne and Podrick in AFFC. Sandor’s a fighter, through and through, but you have to wonder, just how many battles has he been through? He probably didn’t fight in Robert’s Rebellion but even if he did, that was more than a decade and the last Greyjoy Rebellion wasn’t exactly a protracted affair. All these allegedly ‘seasoned’ warriors that we keep coming across – Jaime, the Hound, the Mountain – are mostly men who’ve seen some war and fought in some battles but I find it hard to call them seasoned warriors like Barristan the Bold, for example. Still, it seems like Tyrion’s little fire trick didn’t just spook the Baratheon army; it also spooked the Hound. The response the Hound’s cowardice receives here is a little anti- climactic. The order of events is essentially: Tyrion orders the Hound, the Hound says no, Tyrion tries again, the Hound says no again, Tyrion gives up. You would think that there would be some system of discipline or something but then again, perhaps beheading the best fighter you have right before a massive battle isn’t the best move.
“You won’t hear me shout out Joffrey’s name,” he told them. “You won’t hear me yell for Casterly Rock either. This is your city Stannis means to sack, and that’s your gate he’s bringing down. So come with me and kill the son of a bitch!”
I never really had Tyrion pegged of a populist but I guess desperate times call for desperate measures. Let’s not forget just how tiny a force Tyrion is leading out of his gates here – even if he lead a force ten times the size of those who responded, it would be an incredibly small force. He entered that sortie with maybe fifty men – the fact that he survived is impressive, the fact that Stannis somehow lost that fight is an absolute miracle, and an embarrassment to the man who is touted at the best military commander in Westeros. This is not to take anything away from Tyrion though – Tyrion barely had a moment to figure out how to sway his shaken soldiers and once again, he was able to turn his severe disadvantage into an advantage. On a side note as we end this short chapter, how sad is that the Tyrion, the untested half-man, turned out to be likely to lead men into battle than the Kingsguard knight, Mandon Moore? For shame, Mandon, for shame.
He thought they were following, but never dared to look.
I have this comical image of Tyrion charging out into the half-baked masses of Stannis’ army as by himself while the Hound just watches him while drinking his wine. Tyrion’s moment of courage here is his highpoint – quite literally, this is as good as things are ever going to get for him. In this moment, he is a leader of men, he is a warrior and a commander, charging into battle in defence of his city, his family and his honour. Soon, he will be wounded, stripped of his position, married against his will and accused of regicide. As far as high points go, this probably isn’t what the character would have chosen but it seems that being Martin’s favourite character doesn’t yield the type of perks that you’d expect.