The King may wear the crown but the security of his position is entirely illusory since he’s already “half a kingdom in debt” to the Lannisters. Not even Robert can afford to insult the powerful family holding his purse strings. “When the Queen proclaims one king and the Hand proclaims another, whose peace do the Gold Cloaks protect?” Littlefinger rhetorically asks, “The man who pays them.” The Lannister patriarch, Tywin (Charles Dance) is lord of Casterly Rock, Warden of the West and Hand of the former king Aerys for twenty years before son Jamie killed that king. As his youngest child, the dwarf Tyrion points out, the old lion is not one to be trifled with. “My father’s probably the most powerful man in the country, certainly the richest. He has all seven kingdoms in his pocket. Everyone, everywhere always has to do exactly what my father says.” That includes the king. Cautioned by Littlefinger against his rashly issued edict summoning the wealthiest man in Westeros to court, Ned is assured “Gold wins wars not soldiers,” to which he replies, “Then how come Robert is king and not Tywin Lannister?” It’s an unfortunate fact the ruthless family is well on its way to rectifying. The family motto, “a Lannister always pays his debts,” doesn’t only refer to the fact that they can’t be crossed without swift retribution, but also indicates how they siphon their money into buying people’s favors, campaign lobbying, investments on which they expect to see returns. They’re staunchly committed to the notion of special privilege to the special born. Even Tyrion cautions Bronn against betraying him by dangling his family’s fortune in his face just as he did that Eyrie jailer holding him captive, “If the day ever comes when you’re tempted to sell me out remember this, whatever their price I’ll beat it.” Despite being an expert swordsman, the Lannister heir Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) wears a highly polished suit of armor that appears only lightly used, proving with what cunning he picks and chooses his battles. He escapes from scrapes without a scratch on him, which is why he’s held in such low regard, as little more than a debonair rakehell despite his family’s name and lofty social position. If he weren’t such a deadly swordsman who can cut all mockers down with his blade, he’d be a laughingstock.
Having stabbed the mad Targaryen king in the back despite being entrusted to guard him, after a decade he’s still derisively referred to as ‘Kingslayer’ for this treason against the crown. “You served him well,” Ned remarks, “when serving was safe.” With the same thought King Robert will later ask, “What did Aerys Targaryen say when you stabbed him in the back? Did he call you a traitor?” It seems odd that all the rebels who were fighting against the Targaryen king would then look down on the man who finally felled him, rather than thanking Jaime for doing them all a favor by bringing the madness to an end. The implication however is that he only turned on the king at the last, when defeat was imminent and it was in his own best interest to shift allegiances. Though Jaime professes not to care a wit what other people think of him, his father perceives, “That’s what you want people to think of you… When you hear people whispering ‘Kingslayer’ behind your back doesn’t it bother you?” Though he professes not to mind, the fact that Jaime “profaned his blade with the blood of the king he had sworn to defend,” besmirching the proud Lannister name nags at him no end. Tywin is contemptuous of his son for squandering what he believes to be his Darwinian advantages. Natural selection has conferred upon him “abilities few men possess. You’re blessed to belong to one of the most powerful families in the kingdoms. And you’re still blessed with youth. And what have you done with these blessings? You’ve served as glorified bodyguard for two kings. One a madman, the other a drunk… I need you to become the man you were always meant to be.” His parental pride dictates that the only scion of his house was destined for far finer things. The king gleefully rubs salt in Jaime’s wounds by ribbing him about how much it must sting his pride to perform sentry duties at the door while he dallies with wenches within. Immobilized at his post, Jaime is obliged to eavesdrop as the king makes a point of insulting his sister, Queen Cersei with his open infidelities. A blackguard where everyone else is concerned, Jaime is as gallant as a knight in shining armor in regard to her. When Ned asks if the king ever struck her before, Cersei resolutely states “Jaime would’ve killed him. My brother’s worth a thousand of your friend.” It must be gratifying to the scoundrel that at least one person thinks so.
Jaime is not alone in falling short of his unforgiving father’s great expectations for him. “I’m a constant disappointment to my own father and I’ve learned to live with it,” youngest son Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) ruefully declares. His mother died giving birth to him so his family holds him responsible, resenting his presence. Compounding the bad blood between the dwarf and his father, who demands perfection on all fronts, are his physical shortcomings which have always been a source of deep shame and embarrassment. His failure to measure up in his exacting father’s eyes has propelled him into a perpetual state of self-destructive drunkenness. When Jamie insensitively remarks that he’d rather die than be a grotesque cripple, Tyrion pipes up to defend his people, “Speaking on behalf of the grotesques…” It’s natural that his suspicious brother should wonder if he’s on their side or that of the Starks since Tyrion harbors little love for the family that sees him as a blight on their unblemished line. “It’s the family name that lives on, it’s all that lives on…” his father raves. Ancestry and impeccable bloodlines mean everything in Westeros, and feathers are constantly being ruffled when dignitaries are not addressed by their proper title. When Ned stands in for Robert, Pycelle corrects the audience at court, telling them they’re not addressing the king for instance, and Joffrey chafes at Sansa’s breach of etiquette, “(not ‘my lord.’) Your grace, I’m king now.” Only Robert, who tells Ned to fill in the blanks when notorizing his last will and testament, and Tyrion’s champion Bronn seem unimpressed by the pomp and circumstance, “Don’t go looking for me to bend the knee and ‘my lord’ ya every time you take a sh*t,” Bronn warns Tyrion, “I’m not your toady and I’m not your friend.” When Tyrion prattles out an endless series of titles as if reciting a biblical genealogy while introducing the Hill Tribes, Bronn humorously curtails his own introduction as “the son of-” by assuring all the august, gathered dignitaries that they wouldn’t know him. “If I had been born a peasant they might have left me out in the woods to die,” Tyrion remarks, yearning for the easy life. “Alas I was born a Lannister of Casterly Rock. Things are expected of me.”
Compared unfavorably to Jaime, “Your brother never would have submitted to capture so meekly… he’s been covering himself in glory,” as he has been all his life, Tyrion has developed an amusing set of retorts to such remarks, “We have our differences, Jaime and I. He’s braver. I’m better looking,” for instance, and “there’s the pretty one and there’s the clever one.” When asked why he reads so much he draws a similar comparison, “My brother has his sword and I have my mind and a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” The Lannisters remain unmoved when Tyrion is taken captive by Lady Stark rather than the one son they truly care for (“I didn’t realize you placed such a high value on my brother’s life.”). They prove far less concerned with securing Tyrion’s ransom than how his imprisonment reflects on the family. “He’s a Lannister. He might be the lowest of the Lannisters but he’s one of us. And every day he remains a prisoner, the less our name commands respect. If another house can seize one of our own and hold him captive with impunity we are no longer a house to be feared.” Secretly they hope this unforeseen circumstance will prevent him from ever returning to plague their proud name with his lowly presence. It would save them all plenty of grief in the long run. When Tyrion uses his wits to effect his own release and subsequently turns up at his father’s war camp, greeted with the observation that rumors of his demise had been greatly exaggerated, he’s apologetic, “Sorry to disappoint you.” Still, his father doesn’t consider it too late to have him put out of the way, ordering Tyrion into the vanguard as commander of his Hill Tribe when the battle commences. Like the crookback Richard III decrying his kingdom for a horse, Tyrion proves equally ignominious on a field of combat. Advised by Bronn to “Stay low,” during the fighting, “If you’re lucky no one will notice you,” Tyrion sighs, “I was born lucky.” He’s thought so inconsequential that he’s stampeded by the contingent of Hill tribesmen he’s supposed to be leading.
Unceremoniously trampled down and trodden over after being conked out cold by the mallet of one towering soldier storming past, to his relief, he’s put out of commission before he ever reaches the front. With his golden boy gone, Tywin finds a newfound respect for the son nearly named after him, choking out the begrudging acknowledgement, “I always thought you were a stunted fool. Perhaps I was wrong.” “Half wrong,” he’s corrected. He even decides to send Tyrion to King’s Landing as his representative to “rule” as Hand of the King in his place. When he asks why send him rather than someone with more experience and authority, Tyrion is told it’s because, “You’re my son,” his father openly acknowledging the fact with pride rather than disdain for the first time in his life.
It’s a sure bet that Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion is the best-written, most richly realized character ever conceived for a little person to play on TV. Someone seems to have responded to the raving the actor did in Living in Oblivion way back when, bemoaning the lack of opportunity for dwarves in show business. Still, Game of Thrones has no qualms about toying with his height. This ‘imp’ who’s referred to as a half-man must crane his neck to look up at Bran in the arms of the giant Hodor (“He has giant’s blood in him or I’m the queen.”), and when they face one another it’s like an image out of a fairytale. But his Tyrion is one of the precious few fully rounded little people the entertainment industry has ever given us, and warrants being ranked alongside the most esteemed talents in the business. The actor forces viewers to see his Tyrion as a man first and foremost so that his stature, exploited as a gimmick initially, becomes a secondary concern. Dinklage has such dashing authority, strutting swagger and resonance in his deep, theatrically-trained voice (he appeared in Richard III on stage as well) he commands the floor whatever scene he happens to be in, holding court as the other characters swirl around his diminutive presence. At 4′ 5″ he walks taller than anyone else in the cast and he’s the only member of Game of Thrones to have been singled out thus far for award recognition, in the form of a primetime Emmy and Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor based on his work during the debut season.
Jaime describes his brother thus: “Blond hair, sharp tongue, short man,” and anticipation is engendered for the arrival of Tyrion long before he ever appears, with all the hushed whisperings about his rumored height. If King Robert knows how to make an entrance, Tyrion is expert at being fashionably late, proving a no show as people crowd around curious to see him, like a side show circus freak. He’s a drunken little lecher, recalling with horror the tall tales of dissolute behavior engaged in by MGM extras hired as munchkins. Like Pycelle, he counts on the fact that he’s too small to be taken seriously or seen as a threat; that way they never see him coming. Much as I, Claudius played the misshapen fool subsisting safely in the shadows, Tyrion manages to preserve his life as he watches those family members maneuvering for power and position ticked off one by one.
Discovered in the Stark kennel by his nephew Joffrey the morning after, in the company of “better-looking bitches than you’re used to uncle,” Tyrion, despite his debaucheries, turns out to be the only Lannister with any scruples, and the only one to set limits for the spoiled little brat, rules for him to follow just as he later will while serving as Hand. Treating the whining whelp the way he deserves, slapping him (repeatedly) for talking back, he instantly wins our respect for doing what we’d wanted to. We’re constantly impressed with Tyrion’s display of brass in defiantly speaking with such irreverent disdain to people in positions of power or authority over him, regardless of his own welfare (“Half-man maybe, but at least I have the courage to face my enemies.”). He proves more of a man than many twice his size. Educated, erudite, dry-witted Tyrion has more sense than anyone else in the cast, talking down the Hill Tribe (clothed like Visigoths, crossed with Mongols) that accosts him and Bronn in the wood before there’s any bloodshed by promising to give them the Vale of Arryn itself, taking it from the knights who have always spat on them as they hid behind rocks and trembled in their shadow. He cuts such a dashing figure (after Lady Stark takes him captive in the mistaken belief that he attempted to assassinate her son, the tavern minstrel sings that he’ll no more primp and preen), he can seriously claim to give his brother a run for his money with the ladies. Though they look down on him as not being worthy of their fine name, to our eyes Tyrion is too noble to be a Lannister. It is they who are not truly worthy of him. When Lady Stark’s party is beset on their way to the Eyrie for instance, rather than taking the opportunity to secure a horse and make good his escape, as his initial instincts prompt him to do, he instead saves the life of the woman who had seized him. Bringing the soldier accosting her to his knees, leveling the playing field by cutting him down to size, then clubbing him to death with a discarded shield, Tyrion even proves as impressive a warrior as the big brother everyone measures him against.