It goes without saying, we hope, that is all spoilers. If you haven’t seen the finale of series 7 of Game of Thrones, “The Dragon and The Wolf,” then please stop reading immediately, go watch it, and read our recap and review for good measure.
Finished? Fantastic – on we go!
One of the biggest mysteries to come out of the series 7 finale is an understated, easy-to-miss, moment in an episode that featured zombie-dragon WMDs, mass-scale destruction, and otherwise game-changing revelations.
Specifically: Tyrion – what’s his game?
Amid the Jon “Aegon Targaryen VI” Stark reveal and the long-gestating auntie-nephew incest action we’ve all been dreaming about/dreading (delete as appropriate), came a brooding Tyrion watching from outside the aforementioned freaky sex cabin. Something was clearly troubling him (all praise Peter Dinklage’s immense talents and incredibly expressive face) and he seemed to be seeking Daenerys out before Jon waded in to finally ride a dragon. But what exactly is his beef?
We’re pretty sure it has something to do with his earlier conversation with his sister Cersei which led to her suddenly agreeing to Team Jonerys’s calls for an armistice. So what are the options?
- He’s discovered/been told of Jon’s true lineage and was too late to inform Jon and Dany before the knee-bending started
- He has feelings for Dany and is bitter he’s been forced to join Lord Friendzone Jorah
- He’s troubled by the inevitable political fallout that will result from their union: should they marry and conceive, the monarchy will continue while he seems to favour a move to democracy (e.g. referencing the Night’s Watch voting practices in his previous discussion with Dany on succession).
- He and Cersei came to an agreement where she would play along with the truce to give the Dragon League the freedom they need to venture North;
- He intentionally let Cersei “play” him as part of a greater game – namely to finally sever her control over Jaime so he leaves, saves himself, and saves his family.
Options 1, 2, and 3 are all straightforward enough and each perfectly viable. If we were looking to Occam’s razor, the correct answer is likely one of those, probably option 3 from a narrative and thematic point of view. “Love is the death of duty” is one of the show’s favourite mantras, returning to it again and again following Maester Aemon’s initial proclamation to Jon in series one, and is perhaps the closest thing we have to a universal law in Westeros (e.g. Sam and Gilly, Jon and Ygritte, the Red Wedding, Lysa and Littlefinger, Rhaegar and Lyanna, even Tyrion and Tysha and Tyrion and Shae).
But theory time isn’t about straightforward logical thinking. So let’s get our tinfoil hats on and investigate options 4 and 5.
Loyalty is the underlying theme of the episode, with pretty much every character firming up their defining allegiances as we prepare for the home straight in series 8 – from Jon’s public declaration for Dany, to Jaime finally freeing himself from Cersei’s shackles, to Littlefinger’s long overdue comeuppance for his lack of loyalty to anyone at all, to serial flip-flopper (in a manner of speaking…) Theon finally deciding who he is and who he serves. It would be a thematically poignant development then that Tyrion, a man who (patricide aside) has been one of the most traditionally loyal and headstrong characters in the show, uses this backdrop to be disloyal to the one person he respects the most: Daenerys.
Tyrion’s character arc has been one of the most powerful in the show for several reasons, not least because there’s an air of universality to it. He’s felt lost for almost his entire life, hated by people for how he looked, yet gifted and an inherently virtuous person, damned by society so he could exert no good in the world. The one thing he knew is that he loved his family – namely his brother, his niece, and his nephew (not Joffrey). It’s literally the first thing we come to know of him in series one. (Alongside, of course, his weakness for alcohol and whores, which branches from his deep sense of self-loathing and belief he is unworthy of being loved).
All Tyrion wants to do is prove himself, which he does so time and again to no credit: he proves his innocence while on trial at the Eyrie but is hated nonetheless; governs as Hand during the most stable period of Joffrey’s rule (not that that’s saying very much), even saving King’s Landing from Stannis Baratheon’s attack, but is abandoned and forgotten. He puts aside Shae, the women he loves, for a political marriage to Sansa Stark, and receives nothing but shame and mockery, his treatment of Shae eventually contributing to his wrongful conviction for Joffrey’s murder when she’s called as a witness against him. After all of this, he takes the one piece of revenge he can get by killing his father and then endeavours to kill himself with drink – before he’s saved, at last, by someone who finally gives him the respect he’s been looking for: Daenerys. In short, any act of disloyalty does not come lightly.
Lying is another prevailing theme in the episode – Jon refuses to lie to Cersei about his loyalty to Dany, Cersei plainly lies to everyone about everything, and liar-in-chief Littlefinger finds out what happens when you lie too much. Dead, dead happens. In fact, GoT has consistently shown us that treachery and lying is a fast track to dying, e.g. the lies upon lies that caused and shaped the War of the Five Kings. After Jon refuses Cersei’s demand to not take sides in the war, Tyrion says to him “Have you ever considered learning how to lie now and then, just a bit?”
Jon refuses – correctly, as it turns out, as Cersei was clearly just attempting to drive a wedge between them considering that she never intended to play along with the truce in the first place. The main point here being that Tyrion is comfortable with lying and lies well. He also knows his sister, perhaps better than anyone else.
We know this: Tyrion cares deeply about his family and is worried about its future – note his disgust at Dany’s destruction of the Tarlys and his melancholic search in the aftermath of the Loot Train Battle for Lannister remnants, namely his brother. He repeatedly tells Cersei that he loves his family and wants what’s best for its survival, he even says as much to Dany. It’s therefore fully believable that he would take action to ensure the survival of his family. The scene pointedly cuts upon his discovery that Cersei is pregnant and we don’t think that was an accident.
Note that Cersei lets Euron leave the parlay at the Dragonpit because the plan to bring the Golden Company to Westeros was already in play – there’s no way she would stand for that kind of treachery otherwise. Similarly, there’s no way that she would let Tyrion walk out King’s Landing with his head on his shoulders if she didn’t have a goal in mind. You also have to wonder why she let Jaime leave King’s Landing rather than arresting him or something – she must know he’ll tell everyone her plan, so that must be part of her game. It’s like her trump card to win with Tyrion, perhaps hoping that when Jaime arrives North and tells everyone what happened they’ll turn on Tyrion and kill him. Before Jaime finally leaves Cersei, she tells him:
“I always knew you were the stupidest Lannister.”
It’s an odd comment, not just because “stupidest” isn’t the kind of word you’d expect Cersei to use. It implies that other Lannisters know something Jaime doesn’t and, well, there are only two other Lannisters left with Cersei and Tyrion. So is this a suggestion they have some sort of plot or agreement that Jaime isn’t aware of?
Also note that she made it very obvious she was pregnant by refusing wine (Cersei LOVES wine) and rubbing her stomach – she wanted Tyrion to know. Why? Well, if Tyrion wants his family to live on, then there’s his answer. They both know that Cersei will surely die if she refuses the truce and Daenerys goes all “bend the knee,” which she will without the armistice. They also know that Cersei will never truly agree to any kind of truce – so what’s the compromise? They need only convince Dany and Jon that the truce is agreed and away they go to fight in the North, distracted and far away from Cersei and her baby.
In the “Inside the Episode” accompanying video for the episode, showrunners Benioff and Weiss do say that Cersei “played Tyrion” in this scene, but it’s important to remember that these videos aren’t confessionals, far from it, and if anything are a continuation of the storytelling (the best example of this being season 5, episode 10, and the whole “Jon Snow is totally dead, you guys” thing).
We don’t buy that Tyrion simply “got played” here, it’s too easy an explanation and ultimately doesn’t serve any purpose outside of hitting characters beats we’ve hit multiple times before and needlessly devaluing Tyrion’s character and abilities. In fact, we think he may been playing Cersei. It goes without saying he has little love for his sister, but he does love Jaime. A lot. And it’s understandable that he’d want to save him from Cersei’s poisonous grasp. By playing along with her plot he helps set things up for Jaime to see the truth of what their sister has become and finally get away before it’s too late.
Regardless, whatever his intentions – whether to help specifically save his brother, or save his family more generally – both options 4 and 5 require lying to Dany, and what we may be seeing in the scene on the boat is him attempting to address that disloyalty. We hope this is the case – it’s ripe for dramatic potential and feels true to Tyrion’s character, but we’ll see when worlds collide all over again up North in series 8.
Read our previous theory piece on the Night’s King here – totally called it by the way.