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George R.R. Martin has done it again: There was another game-board shake-up in Westeros during Sunday’s Game of Thrones finale, as the country’s acting ruler Tywin Lannister took a crossbow bolt to the chest at the hands of his long tormented son Tyrion. The dark twist was compounded by Tyrion strangling his ex-lover Shae for her apparent betrayal — testifying against him at his trial and then sleeping with his father. After being falsely accused of murdering King Joffrey, fans have wondered nearly all season if Tyrion would escape execution. Now we know the answer: Yes, but not without committing deeds that will haunt him forever. Below, Martin gave us some deep insight into Tyrion’s fatal acts based on the conclusion of the best-selling author’s third Ice and Fire novel, A Storm of Swords [Note: There are some significant differences between the sequence in the book vs. the show, namely — potential book spoiler — Jaime’s confession that Tyrion’s first wife wasn’t really a prostitute after all].
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So when Tyrion goes up to confront his father, what is he thinking he’s going to do? Just have a conversation with him?
George R.R. Martin: I don’t think he’s thinking about it at that point. He’s at the nadir here. He’s lost everything. He’s going to be smuggled somewhere to safety, but what the hell is he gonna do there? He’s lost his position in House Lannister, he’s lost his position in court, he’s lost all of his gold — which is the one thing that’s kind of sustained him throughout his life. Whatever disadvantages he’s had in terms being a dwarf, he didn’t have the sort of physical abilities to be a knight, but he had the great advantage of an ancient and powerful name and all the gold that he could want to buy things — including followers like Bronn and other people to defend him. Now he’s lost all of that and he’s also found out that Jamie — the one blood relation that he loved unreservedly and has his back, and was always on his side — played a part in this traumatic event of his life, the ultimate betrayal. He’s so hurt that he wants to hurt other people, and it’s a moment of whim when he recognizes where he is from the account that Shae has told him and he knows that just up this ladder is a chamber that was once his that now his father has usurped from him. So he goes up to see his father. And I don’t think he knows what he’s gonna say or do when he gets up there but he — some part of him feels compelled to do it. And of course then we find Shae there, that’s an additional shock to him, an additional knife in his belly.
I remember one of the feelings I had reading what happens next is that we’re so upset that Tyrion has been falsely accused, and then he goes ahead and commits these murders. There’s a certain regret because we want everyone to know him and like him the way we do, but that’s doomed to never happen after his actions that night.
I think sometimes people just get pushed too far, sometimes people break. And I think Tyrion has reached his point. He’s been through hell, he’s faced death over and over again, and he’s been betrayed, as he sees it, by all the people that he’s tried to take care of, that he’s tried to win the approval of. He’s been trying to win his father’s approval all his life. And despite his misgivings, he fell in love with Shae, he let himself give his heart to her. It just reaches a point where he can’t do it anymore. I think the two actions are quite different, although they occur within moments of each other. He’s furious at Lord Tywin because he found out the truth about his first wife and what happened to her, and Tywin keeps calling her a whore — which she is by Lord Tywin’s logic. Lord Tywin is convinced that since he doesn’t love Tyrion, then no one can possibly love Tyrion. So it’s obviously some lower-class girl who’s just trying to get the dwarf into bed because he was a Lannister, so she could become a lady and have money and live in a castle and all that. So basically the equivalent of being a whore — she’s just f–king him for possession of status and he’s trying to teach Tyrion a lesson in that regard. And so he keeps using the word “whore” which is like pouring salt into his wound, and Tyrion tells him not to do that, don’t say that word again. And he says that word again and at that moment, Tyrion’s finger just pushes on the trigger.
An important thing that has been drilled in with him since his youth — because it’s very much Lord Tywin’s philosophy — is that you don’t make threats and then fail to carry them out. You threaten someone and then they defy you, and you don’t carry it out, then who’s gonna believe your threats? Your threats have to carry weight. And that’s drilled into Tyrion all his life. So his father says that word, his finger pushes on the crossbow, the decision of a split second, and then it’s done. And it will haunt him. Tywin was his father and that will continue to haunt him, probably for the rest of his life.
With Shae, it’s a much more deliberate and in some ways a crueler thing. It’s not the action of a second, because he’s strangling her slowly and she’s fighting, trying to get free. He could let go at any time. But his anger and his sense of betrayal is so strong that he doesn’t stop until it’s done and that’s probably the blackest deed that he’s ever done. It’s the great crime of his soul along with what he did with his first wife by abandoning her after the little demonstration Lord Tywin put on. Now by the standards of Westeros, that’s hardly a crime at all — “So a lord killed a whore, big deal.” He’s not likely to be punished for that any more than any other lords and knights who treat lowborn women and prostitutes and tavern wenches with contempt and use them and discard them. It’s nothing to the world, but it’s again something that’s going to haunt him, while the act of killing his father is something of enormous consequence that would be forever beyond the pale, for no man is as cursed as a kinslayer.
Right, and there’s also the surprise at Tywin’s hypocrisy when he finds her in his bed. Did Tywin know she was a prostitute [in the book version that’s not clear]? Or did he just not care?
Oh, I think Tywin knew about Shae. He probably figured out she was the same camp-follower that he expressly said “you will not bring that whore to court,” and that Tyrion defied him again and did bring that whore to court. As to precisely what happened here, that’s something I don’t really want to talk about because there’s still aspects of it I haven’t revealed that will be revealed in later books. But the role of Varys in all of this is also something to be considered.
It’s also worth mentioning Shae is one of the characters that really has changed significantly from the books to the TV show. I think that [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] wrote Shae very differently, and a symbol to Sibel Kekilli — the incredible girl playing her. Shae is much more sincere in her affections for Tyrion. This is almost contradictory, but with the Shae in the TV series, you can tell she actually has real feelings for Tyrion — she challenges him, she defies him. The Shae in the books is a manipulative camp-follower prostitute who doesn’t give a s–t about Tyrion any more than she would any other john, but she’s very compliant, like a little teenage sex kitten, feeding all his fantasies; she’s really just in it for the money and the status. She’s everything lord Tywin thought Tyrion’s first wife was that she actually wasn’t. So there are all layers of complexity going on here. They’re the same character, but they’re also very different characters, and I think that’s going to lead to very different resonances playing out in the TV show than in the books.
Was it sort of difficult as an author to kill off two of your major villains, Joffrey and Tywin, in the third book?
I don’t know how to answer some of these questions in a way. The process of writing for me comes from a different part of the brain than the rational one. I don’t know if I believe all this right-brain/left-brain stuff, but I don’t sit down and make decisions like, “Yes I need a decision here, I need something there.” I set the characters in motion, I set the story in motion, and they lead me to certain places. Admittedly, sometimes they lead me down a dead end and I go, “This isn’t going to work, I really painted myself in a corner here, I gotta go back and change this.” But sometimes they lead me to very powerful places.