This post has spoilers for George RR Martin’s fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, including fan theories and speculation. If you do not wish for certain information regarding future plot points from this series or other related series to be revealed to you, you might want to consider not reading any further.
Well, it’s been a while but it looks like the ‘Re-Reads’ part of Re-Reads and Reviews is back on the menu. I don’t intend to go on hiatus again but no promises right now, unfortunately, given how bonkers my schedule is right now. It took me a while to even remember where in the story we stopped, and then it took me a while to just familiarize myself with the story again; it’s not like I’ve forgotten anything but rather I needed to remember what I’ve already talked about and what I intended to mention in future posts. For we dive back in to this read-along, I should probably explain why there has been such a long gap between posts on A Song of Ice and Fire. Long story short, I was rather disheartened by the fact that we still don’t have The Winds of Winter. Yeah, yeah Martin isn’t our bitch, sure, message received – but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s been six years and the book is nowhere in sight. I guess I could finish this re-read project and move on – it’s not like there’s any shortage of things for me to cover – but when I first started this way back when, I sort of imagined that The Winds of Winter would be out by now and that was primary motivation in getting me to pump post after post out. Of course, back then I also had a mountain more time than I do now, which obviously helps as well, but when the key motivating factor disappeared, I turned my attention to other topics. The good thing is that when I decided to pick my books back up, thanks to Amazon, I had all my notes exactly where I left them – I don’t know if there is a way for us to share annotations with each other, but that could be a pretty cool idea for a community read through.
Coming back to this re-read project, I guess, if it’s not going to be in time for the release of The Winds of Winter, then at least it will get some buzz around the final season of Game of Thrones – to which I have foolishly read spoilers. I won’t spoil anything here of course, but be warned that as always, this re-read does have spoilers for the television series. The re-read last left off with us looking at the older Lannister boy as he began to the long, long journey to redemption. This post however, picks up on where we left Tyrion – he has recovered from the worst of the wounds that he experienced in the Battle of Blackwater Bay but there are psychological scars that are still plaguing him, though of course, we aren’t told this. Not a great happens in this chapter from a plot perspective, but a lot of Tyrion’s future misfortune is sown here. His unwillingness to set Shae aside, his inability to accept that he is no longer able to call shots, his insistence on staying in game that is looking like it has already been lost. As has always been the case with Tyrion, these decisions are understandable, if not logical, but they will come back to bite him nonetheless.
The chapter opens with Tyrion in Varys rooms and that itself is a little question on Tyrion’s part. Firstly, it is unlikely, given the level of scrutiny that Tyrion is currently under that he would have been able to get into Varys’ rooms without the eunuch knowing it beforehand. We know that Varys is capable of great acting; it isn’t much to suppose that he could feign surprise at seeing Tyrion by his hearth. Of course, even if Tyrion was, in fact, able to get the drop on Varys, that doesn’t mean that Tyrion should have done so. He is playing a very dangerous game, on several fronts, and adding Varys to his list of potential enemies is not a wise decision.
“Tyrion had waited until Varys was summoned by his father before slipping in to pay him a visit”
The real question here is why Tyrion thinks this is necessary. On one level, you could interpret this as Tyrion trying to get the drop on Varys to coerce him into playing the game Tyrion’s way. On another level, though, I think Tyrion is being forced make more extreme and dangerous moves because of how effectively his father and sister have isolated him from the rest of the court. Tyrion needs to affirm Varys loyalty – insofar that Varys has loyalty to anyone – before he can make any further plans.
“The Conclave met in Oldtown behind closed door, Tyrion knew; its deliberations were supposedly a secret. So Varys has little birds in the Citadel too”
Varys’ ability to keep tabs on everything happening in King’s Landing is easy enough to understand; he has his ‘little birds’ skulking around the castle walls but it is rather remarkable that Varys can obtain information from so very far away. This isn’t the first time that he’s done this either; he often has information about what’s going in the Baratheon camps or in the North. The logical answer here would be that he simply took over the existing spy networks that his predecessors left him, I think we could also make a case that there might be a less mundane explanation behind Varys omniscience.
“Perhaps it will console you to learn that Ser Boros Blount is also being restored.”
I fail to see just why Varys would offer up additional information so freely to someone who is pretty much trespassing on his property. Then again, I don’t think that Westeros has very strong property laws and something like Blount being restored to the Kingsguard would be common knowledge anyway. Varys does hide the information that Tyrion is particularly interested in; he doesn’t confirm that Mandon Moore was acting on Cersei’s orders, for example. Of course, we might suspect that it wasn’t Cersei but Littlefinger who had directed Moore to kill Tyrion but I think it’s interesting to note the characterisation of Moore as some who just does what he is told.
“Those are the very qualities we seek in our Kingsguard, it could be said – men who live not for themselves, but for their king. By those lights, our brave Ser Mandon was the perfect white knight.”
If this characterization of the Moore is accurate, then it does indicate that it’s more likely to be Cersei who directed him to kill Tyrion. The point that Varys raises here is an interesting one, and reminds me of a similar point that Jaime raised in the last chapter. There is a sense that the ideal Kingsguard shouldn’t just be a bodyguard or a soldier, but that they must somehow also be ideal human beings. Somehow, the perfect knight must be both chivalrous and loyal, yet have the perfect judgement to know when to exercise those qualities. Aerys II’s Kingsguard was an excellent example of the hollowness of these requirements; even characters like Barristan the Bold, who are widely admired for their character as well as their prowess, just stood and watched while Aerys II tore his kingdom to shreds. Somehow it was Jaime Lannister who ended up making the moral choice when it mattered and was despised for it. It isn’t surprising that a character like Varys is particularly critical of the Kingsguard and what the realm expects of them.
“It’s even worse than I feared. “And my father? Who does he have spying on me?”
This time the eunuch laughed aloud. “Why, me, my lord.”
I think this is a great summary of Varys and Tyrion’s relationship at this point. There is a certain level of comradery in their relationship despite neither of them being able to fully trust the other. There is an understanding on Tyrion’s part that Varys is playing a game that doesn’t necessary serve Cersei or Tywin’s interests while Varys has seen that Tyrion isn’t quite as bad as much of the nobility. Unfortunately, the game that they are playing has stakes that are far too high for them to establish an entirely trusting relationship. Yet, having said that, it does feel like Tyrion is a little too free with how he uses Varys – this whole concept of meeting Shae in Varys’ bed, for example, isn’t just reckless, it’s also an unnecessary risk to take.
That brings us to the next major talking point about this chapter – namely, how Tyrion seems determined, despite his own better judgement, to shoot himself in the foot with this whole Shae affair.
“The way she had touched his arm and smiled for him had tied Tyrion’s guts into knots.”
Basically, she’s got him wrapped around her little finger, and Tyrion is aware of it. Tywin Lannister is often criticized for his hypocrisy in threatening Tyrion to stay away from whores while going ahead and sleeping with Shae anyway, but I wonder if his intention was to make sure that Tyrion wouldn’t grow too attached to any of these women. His mindset could have been ‘use the prostitutes if you must, but be discreet and don’t form any bonds’ but instead, Tyrion’s dalliances with Shae were anything but discreet and as we see here, Tyrion has pretty much fallen head over heels for her.
“Will m’lord give me back my jewels and silks now? I asked Varys if I could have them when you were hurt in the battle, but he wouldn’t give them to me. What would have become of them if you’d died?”
I think this is an incredibly indicative line. It shows just what Shae’s priorities are and makes it crystal clear to the reader that Shae does not particularly care for Tyrion as person as much as she does care for him as a client. She wants to be paid – which is understandable – and so, in the vein of excellent client management, she asks him for her rewards when she has made sure that he has been thoroughly satisfied. She asks about her jewels and she asks about her mansion; those are the things she cares about. In a strange twist of irony, I think she might genuinely not care about Tyrion’s scar, though Tyrion himself is so conscious of it.
“I told her no one’s like to rape her in the king’s own throne room, but she’s so stupid.”
In case we ever forget, Shae isn’t the nicest of people. There is a selfish streak in her, and though we don’t know her backstory in the books, it’s not hard to imagine that she’s had a hard-enough life that she trusts material wealth over people. It’s harder to make excuses for Tyrion; yes, he’s in a vulnerable place, but he’s also intelligent enough to know when he’s being taken advantage of. Instead, Tyrion falls into the traps of letting lust think for him, and jealousy soon follows.
“Kill him, he might have said, but the man had done nothing but sing a few songs.”
I’ve said before – A Clash of Kings in general and The Battle of Blackwater in particular, were Tyrion’s finest moments in the series so far. It might have been for the best – for him, at least – if Mandon Moore had succeeded in killing him, because he would have gone down a hero, fighting for the city that despised him so. Tywin, with Tyrion safely out of the way, could have then had him proclaimed saviour of the city and Tyrion’s legacy would be a great deal happier for it. With Tyrion the way he is now, he is ready to succumb to a number of new weaknesses and this time, he will be punished for them in short order.