We just had the best Tyrion episode in years. Allow me to explain
Tyrion Lannister has been a pop and literary culture icon for years. His, or Peter Dinklage’s, face and voice are instantly recognisable across both page and screen. In the case of the latter, he has been the face of the Game of Thrones franchise far more than he hasn’t. Yet, as seasons have progressed the show has been critisised for reducing the once monumental character of Tyrion to little more than a stand in. Whether those claims are warranted or not, Season 8, Episode 2 ‘A knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ was Tyrion’s strongest episode in quite some time.
After Eddard Stark’s death and Sean Bean’s subsequent departure, the show of a thousand faces still needed to rest on a fair few. With so many separate storylines and locations of equal importance it was never the type of show to ever weigh on a single set of shoulders, but Tyrion became the closest thing. With a good portion of the cast still in their teen years, and the now-all-powerful Jon and Daenerys still on the beginning parts of their destiny-laced paths, Seasons 2 and 3 came to feature Tyrion’s wheeling and dealing in King’s Landing very heavily. Given that the whole idea of Game of Thrones (especially at the beginning) was a political landscape where anything goes, Tyrion as acting Hand of the King, and his constant battles with Cersei and Joffrey, was the bulk of the show. Even more so when other huge characters, such as the Starks, began to fall away.
The numbers speak for themselves. Most lines in Season 2? Tyrion Lannister. Season 3? Tyrion Lannister. 4, Tyrion. 5, Tyrion. Per episode on average, in season premieres and finales? All Tyrion. Most lines overall, so far? You guessed it. Take that for what you will, but there is other evidence also. Tyrion graces the cover of not one but two official season posters (depending on where you live) for Seasons 3 and 5. A few years back there was a very serious and convincing argument that Tyrion was, in fact, the main character of the series due to having met the most people/having the most connections etc etc. Whatever reason you want to get into it is clearly obvious that Tyrion was in the absolute top-tier of Game of Thrones characters.
At least that was the case. After Tyrion left King’s Landing, things got a bit dicey. Season 5 was maybe a step below, but Season 6 was lower, and Season 7 reached a new trench for the exiled Lannister. Jon and Daenerys grew in importance, and when Tyrion was linked to the latter he effectively ran out of things to do. He semi-ruled Meereen (but failed and had to be saved), he became Hand of the Queen (but arguably failed or got out-maneuvered in most cases), and he just seemed to speak less. The man of action slowly became the man who watched others act. He still had accomplishments, but they seemed so much smaller than what we were used to. Tyrion was the speaker in a world of swords, the antitheses to a world of brawn over brain, but why had he turned so quiet?
In fairness, he featured strongly in the Season 7 finale The Dragon and the Wolf, with a very emotional scene against Cersei, defying her to the point of risking death by Gregor Clegane. Earlier on he also had the admirable task of persuading Daenerys to not burn those she intended to rule, and watching Jaime ride a horse into a dragon, so there were highlights. As Jon and Dany sailed away on their love boat, Tyrion looked on forlornly. There were whispers of Tyrion getting involved in some sort of love triangle (thankfully, that seems to have gone unfulfilled), but still the criticism was there. What had happened to Tyrion? Was the show really going to finish with one of its strongest characters fading into the background?
A knight of the Seven Kingdoms gave us so much, and one such boon is that it was easily Tyrion’s strongest episode in…well, the calendar would get a workout, shall we say? In terms of attention, lines and activity Tyrion is back to his long-ago standard. True enough, the attention is mixed at best. In the opening of the show, with his brother back among them, Tyrion comes under fire yet again regarding his skills as a Hand. Daenerys, not for the first time, chastises Tyrion for either being a fool or a traitor. Not only that, she openly does it in front of a room of lords not exactly predisposed to liking Lannisters. So Tyrion is fighting from the get-go here, and to be fair, so he should be.
Tyrion’s season 7 failures regarding Cersei and the attack on Casterly Rock etc are coming back to haunt him. It is not a good look that she has apparently tricked him again. Did she hoodwink him with some story, or did Tyrion always know his sister would go against her word? If so, does he have some counterplan? Or was the agreement with Cersei something else entirely, and Tyrion has been playing a different game altogether? It almost doesn’t actually matter; the fact is: we are talking about it.
Without yet knowing, however, we are still left with Tyrion apparently not being great at his job. This may be part of the reason fans and critics have had such a problem with the handling of the character over the past few years. We know he can be a good Hand, we know he should be able to work Cersei, or at the very least think up some brilliant plans to help Daenerys out. But with the whispering, faction-filled arena known as King’s Landing instead replaced by the honourable Winterfell, currently full to the brim of people sharing one common goal, it’s a whole different ball game overall. And Tyrion just hasn’t got the stones to swing this time around.
The conservations with Varys are always a refreshing delight, and the inclusion of Davos Seaworth in the ‘old men’ group has aligned their conversations to slightly more plot-relevant, we-might-even-do-something-instead-of-talking chats, but they are too small to really swing the needle either way. Tyrion deserves more.
As he always hoped in the past, it’s his brother who comes to his aid in this respect. Tyrion didn’t have the best start to the episode (in terms of character opinion, his mere inclusion is a win for us), but Jaime blows new life into him. The brothers get two major scenes together, and they are incredibly strong for our favourite ‘little lecher’. Firstly, in the courtyard, as the defences of Winterfell are prepared the brothers are reunited in the castle where they first fell apart. True enough, they did share some time in King’s Landing, and Jaime even risked it all to free Tyrion, but much has happened since then. For the first time the brothers are fully on the same page, fully walking to the same goal, and are together. You can see the genuine love and care they have for each other but the cherry on top of the scene is when Tyrion challenges Jaime over their sister.
“She never fooled you. You always knew exactly what she was and you loved her anyway” might be Tyrion’s best line since season 4. He absolutely slaps Jaime with a cold truth that has always been known. Jaime admits, multiple times, that “We don’t choose who we love.” but it’s never been pushed back in his face this way. Tyrion is obviously over-the-moon to be back with his beloved brother, but he still has his finger on the relationship of Jaime and Cersei, as he always has. Considering this episode is so much about how Jaime has changed and the good person he’s become, Tyrion’s line is both a reminder of Jaime’s greatest failure (Cersei) and greatest victory (leaving Cersei). Not only that, but Tyrion, with his sharpened mind, has always been the quiet witness to the relationship that ruined a kingdom.
(Not to be ignored is that we get a repeat of the “When I’m eighty, with a belly full of wine, and a girls…etc etc” line, after all these years.)
So we have Tyrion speaking up for Jaime to Daenerys, Tyrion calling Jaime out in the courtyard, and Tyrion leading the gathering at the fireplace. This scene is easily the strongest in the whole episode, and while Brienne and Jaime will come to dominate it, Tyrion has his moments. It begins simple enough, two brothers sharing a drink in the same castle that turned their family down a very different path, and in the event of their oncoming death. It’s heartwarming to see Tyrion admit he is past whoring and other vices (as he holds a full goblet of wine), and share this connection with Jaime. But soon others come in from the cold, looking for others to spend the last night with, and Tyrion goes back to what he (in theory) knows best: people.
In a callback to half a dozen scenes throughout the show’s history, Tyrion acts as host for this mini-gathering. Ushering people in. Handing out the wine. Extra for Pod, of course. Tyrion wants a song, he wants conversation. On what literally could be the final night for them all, Tyrion understands the need for some tying back to reality. He makes jokes, gets it going. OK, it isn’t party of the century, but considering the circumstances Tyrion does a more than effective job at being a leader here. They need companionship, he gives it. They need a release, it’s offered. He is completely upstaged by Jaime and Brienne, and he’s still up and applauding. For someone who has been reduced to these conversations being completely ineffective in the last few years, it was gratifying to see him get just one more happy drink in.
Overall though Tyrion, at the time of this episode, is a man fighting for his position. For someone accustomed to battling against Cersei, Tywin, Littlefinger and Joffrey, this should not be unfamiliar, but as we’ve said, this is Winterfell not King’s Landing. He is fairly resigned, stating that Jorah or Varys will soon wear his Hand pin, that he will soon be ripped apart by dead men. He even wryly suggests that after he’s dead he’ll march down to King’s Landing and rip off Cersei’s head himself. All of this is done with some of his usual sarcasm and dry humour, but it’s easy to tell his struggles with Daenerys are truly bothering him. It takes Ser Jorah Mormont to come and fight Tyrion’s corner and get the dragon Queen back on side, although that only leads to Dany ordering him to go down in the crypts.
It’s easy to emphasise why this would wound Tyrion. He did fight in the battle of the Green Fork. He both fought and commanded in the Battle of the Blackwater. He is a man like any other. We see Sam take offense that he might also want to go down below. Tyrion is here, at the end of the world, he has a brilliant mind for strategy, and he’s responsible for a lot of the present people being there in the first place. But Daenerys argues and commands, and given his low-standing with her, Tyrion agrees. It’s a fascinating conflict to watch him go through- the need to please his queen versus the need to do something, anything in the event which might be the last thing that ever happens to any of them.
But accept he does, so in theory Tyrion will spend the battle down in the crypts-you know, those crypts everyone keeps insisting are safe- with Varys, Gilly and others. If we believe something is going to go down in there then Tyrion is sure to be in the middle of it, whether he thinks of some plan to save them all or…something not as positive, he will be our vehicle. If he makes it down there at all. His face is the final shot of this episode once the horns blow, looking out on the encroaching White Walkers. Perhaps he stays up above anyway (he always looks good staring out from castle walls) and has some part to play. As we know, he’s got the pedigree, he’s got something to offer, and he matters. He is one of the most important characters, at the cumulative event of the entire show. He simply cannot ride the bench.
Forgotten amongst all of the battle preparing and last-night-drinking is Tyrion asking to have a talk with Bran Stark. Tyrion has always had an affinity for Bran, going all the way back to gifting him a specialised saddle. Since everyone arrived at Winterfell Bran seems to be kind of ignored on the whole. His family have all greeted him, but other than Sam no one really pays him any attention other than a cursory glance when he talks. Apart from the Lannister brothers. Tyrion pays attention when others haven’t, and actually asks Bran to just talk to him. We aren’t privy to what was said, but I have got to wonder what the topic of conversation would be between someone as smart as Tyrion and someone as all-knowing as Bran. Will that come into play later on? Will Bran have passed some key information or memory on in the case of his death? Or trusted Tyrion with insight no one else yet has? Perhaps Tyrion spots something in all Bran knows that he will later use. It is speculation, but damn if I wouldn’t love to be a fly on the wall in that conversation.
Whatever might come in the battle of Winterfell, A knight of the Seven Kingdoms gives us more quality Tyrion time than we’ve had in ages. It is one of the best Game of Thrones episodes of all time and gives us multiple character moments that we as mere mortals are not worthy of. Other characters grab the headlines for this outing, but Tyrion’s re-emergence as a force, as a feature and as a truly important character is just one of building blocks of such a great episode. Now we just have to hope that this isn’t a one-off and that the Tyrion trend continues. He has been the poster boy, the string-puller, the heartstring-puller, the guy.
Whatever ending we are given, I hope it comes with lashes of Tyrion. Dead or alive.
(But hopefully alive)