Could Tyrion Lannister be the destined King of the Seven Kingdoms? In this Game of Thrones video we take a look at Tyrion's character and figure out why he is the true hero of this story - and just maybe, the ultimate and deserving King of whatever's left when it's all over. Peter Dinklage's iconic character is the one George R.R. Martin said he'd most like to be. He expresses the story's own point of view, and subtle hints suggest he may be the final ruler.
Game of Thrones Character Study: Why Tyrion Will be King - The Once and Future Hero
As we near the Game of Thrones endgame, we’re getting reminders that Tyrion Lannister is the once and future hero of Game of Thrones. The structure of the show’s very first episode signaled that this was a story of three characters with unlocked potential, who begin as bastards-of-sorts in the eyes of their world -- the supposed Stark bastard Jon Snow, the exiled (and female) Daenerys Targaryen, and the widely hated dwarf Tyrion Lannister.
“All dwarves are bastards in their fathers’ eyes.” - Tyrion in S01E01 (“Winter is Coming”)
Since then, Dany has been hailed as a savior of peoples, and Jon has learned he has an even better claim to the Iron Throne, but what about Tyrion? Of late, he’s made one mistake after another.
Yet while he’s hit the rock bottom moment in his arc as the “brain” of the series, if we look back over the full series, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the story has been gradually setting up Tyrion Lannister to be the eventual king. He’s arguably the character with the most potential to be a worthy ruler.
“Tyrion Lannister is one of the few people alive who could make this country a better place. He has the mind for it, he has the will, he has the right last name.” - Varys in S03E10 (“Mhysa”)
In the second episode of the final season, just before the Battle of Winterfell is about to begin, the camera lingers significantly on each of our three figurative bastards -- Jon, Daenerys, and, last of all, Tyrion. These shot choices are a very intentional way of signaling that, whatever ultimately happens with the throne, Tyrion is our ultimate hero. So let’s look at why Tyrion Lannister is the key to this story and, perhaps, the ultimate King of whatever world is left when this is all over.
Tyrion the King
In the book A Game of Thrones, the last line of Jon’s first chapter reads, “When he opened the door, the light from within threw his shadow clear across the yard, and for just a moment Tyrion Lannister stood as tall as a king.” And in fact the visual at the end of Season 8 Episode 2 kind of evokes this line. The shot plays with perspective, lending this smallest of men an unmatched gravity and scope due to his far-reaching insight.
“Tirian” is the name of the last monarch of the kingdom of Narnia. “Tyr” in Old Norse means “The God,” and the Greek and Latin Tyrannos and Tyrannus are linked to the meanings “monarch” or “ruler.” And Tyrion with an “a” makes us think of “Tyrian Purple,” the very expensive purple die once worn by Roman Emperors. So these possible inspirations for the name strengthen the character’s connotations of royalty and rule.
When Tyrion travels with Varys across the Narrow Sea, he happens on some Lord of Light worshippers, when the leader stops and stares across the fire at Tyrion. The moment might remind us of Melisandre catching sight of Jon Snow through the fire. In this scene, Tyrion has just been talking about a “savior” and this is when the worshipper gets a special look in her eyes, so that could be an additional hint that Tyrion has the potential to “save” people.
More importantly, Tyrion deserves to rule for the best reason anyone should -- because he’s good at it.
Varys: You enjoy the game.
Tyrion: I do. Last thing I expected.
Varys: And you play it well.
Tyrion: I'd like to keep playing it. - in S02E08 (“The Prince of Winterfell”)
In contrast to Jon the reluctant ruler, and Daenerys the conqueror who brings the classic Targaryen Fire and Blood, Tyrion likes the game of the show's title, because he likes the actual business of governing. When he’s acting Hand of the King he makes it fun for the audience to understand the functional aspects of ruling. When he’s made Master of Coin, he even bothers to do his job, unlike every other person who’s held the role.
Tyrion is arguably the best potential ruler on the show due to his combination of two valued attributes: his sharp, learned mind, and his deeply feeling heart. His trusting Cersei to send her army north makes him look like a fool. Yet, it’s pretty astonishing that Tyrion can still feel love for a sister who’s wanted him dead ever since he was born. A truly wise ruler one needs to have faith in people’s ability to be better, even if sometimes that faith isn’t deserved.
Tyrion the Bastard
Tyrion: I am guilty of being a dwarf.
Tywin: You are not on trial for being a dwarf.
Tyrion: Oh, yes, I am. I've been on trial for that my entire life. - in S04E06 (“The Laws of Gods and Men”)
Of our three central “bastards of sorts,” two are modelesque warriors who have inspired fervent devotion and intense adulation from huge groups of people. Meanwhile Tyrion has been regarded as a chosen one by pretty much no one.
And if all three are underestimated, only Tyrion is viewed as truly repugnant. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Westeros who’s been more despised, simply for the form in which he came into this world.
It’s kind of incredible how many times people accuse him of murders and crimes he had nothing to do with. Tyrion’s world assumes he’s guilty of evil crimes because they don’t like his appearance. This reflects the medieval mindset, which saw a much more direct, symbolic correspondence between inner and outer natures. In other words, outer beauty was considered a reflection of inner goodness, and outer ugliness a sign of inner evil.
All three of Game of Thrones’ central characters are special first and foremost not because of their blood, but because they’ve had to travel a long road. Those characters who seem close to having it all from the start, like Robb Stark, trip and fall. While Jon goes up to freeze at the wall, and Daenerys starts all the way across the world, and step-by-step they get slowly closer to the center of the action. The ways in which these characters aren’t immediately accepted give them the experiences that make a great leader.
And in real terms, Tyrion is the “biggest bastard” of all in the story, which somehow makes him most likely to be the true destined leader. This is Game of Thrones, which always goes for the surprise over the obvious. And that’s not just a gimmick. It reflects the fundamental lesson that all is not as it appears, in a world that prioritizes appearance above all. So there would be no more fitting reversal of people’s expectations than for the dwarf who inspires near-universal disdain to be the ultimate ruler of all.
Tyrion the Story Itself
George R. R. Martin has said that Samwell Tarly is probably the character he’d be, but quote, “Tyrion might be who I want to be.” Tyrion expresses the perspective of the storytellers and even what we the audience might be thinking, but with a touch more wit. We’re likely to agree with his assessments of character, societies, and rules for good conversation.
“There’s nothing worse than a late-blooming philosopher.” - Tyrion in S03E10 (“Mhysa”)
And as this perspective of the story itself, Tyrion reveals some key tenets of the show’s philosophy:
Voice for the Grotesques
To begin with, he’s a self-professed voice for the grotesques. In the first season, both Bran, and the one who pushes him, Jaime, say that they’d rather die than be crippled.
“I'd rather be dead.” - Bran in S01E03 (“Lord Snow”)
“Even if the boy lives, he'll be a cripple, a grotesque. Give me a good, clean death any day.” - Jaime in S01E02 (“The Kingsroad”)
But Tyrion corrects his brother in “The Night Lands”: “Speaking for the grotesques, I'd have to disagree. Death is so final, whereas life, ah, life is full of possibilities.”
Lust for Life
“And if the day ever comes when you're tempted to sell me out, remember this - whatever their price, I'll beat it. I like living.” - Tyrion in S01E08 (“The Pointy End”)
Which brings us to the second aspect of the show’s philosophy expressed in Tyrion: he has a lust for life. He loves life more than any philosophy or ideology about it. Likewise, Tyrion loves people more than he cares about their last names.
The Right Definition of Family
“My dear brother, you wound me. You know how much l love my family.” - Tyrion in S01E02 (“The Kingsroad”)
For Tywin and Cersei, family means legacy, so it’s really a proxy for self -- the continuation of one’s own name and genes. By contrast, Tyrion crosses the Lannisters to serve a Targaryen. But he does care about the people in his family. When Jaime returns to King’s Landing with one hand, the other Lannisters give him a hard time, but Tyrion actually feels for his brother and helps him.
“I am the god of tits and wine.” - Tyrion in S03E08 (“Second Sons”)
He approaches the world with humor -- a key aspect of the show.
Also like this story, Tyrion goes to some very dark places. In fact, Martin said Tyrion is his favorite because he’s the “greyest of the grey.”
As we enter this foreign world, Tyrion is the perfect translator for us because he’s ultimate mix of insider and outsider. This rich Lannister who’s also a hated dwarf fully understands his world, yet he’s happy to comment irreverently for us on what’s insane about it.
“As a clever man once told me, “We make peace with our enemies, not our friends.” - Tyrion S06E04 (“Book of the Stranger”)
Tyrion believes in compromise. As we see through Stannis Baratheon’s missteps with Melisandre, this show is skeptical of extremists. The heart of Game of Thrones lies with balance. So because he embodies the greatest values of the story, to put him in charge would represent the most apt conclusion.
Tyrion the Dragon?
It’s not just the first episode that signals to us a mysterious connection between Jon, Dany and Tyrion. Let’s take a quick look at all the weird coincidences they have in common:
All “killed” their mother in childbirth. On one level this symbolizes that they didn’t come into this world easily -- someone had to be sacrificed for them to be here.
All three also have dead, controversial fathers. [Daenerys: “Our fathers were evil men, all of us here. They left the world worse than they found it. We're not going to do that.”]
All have a tragic love with an outsider and are to varying degrees responsible for that person’s death. [Tyrion: “I killed my lover with my bare hands.”]
All see humanity in “other” groups that Westeros doesn’t respect.
All have an unconventional advisor who believes in them and sees their potential first.
All get noticed by Lord of Light worshippers.
And lastly, all three may have Targaryen blood. It may seem late in the game for another secret parentage reveal after Jon’s, but in the books, we’re told that the Mad King Aerys Targaryen had eyes for Tyrion’s mother Joanna Lannister, so he may have forced himself on her. On the show, Tyrion is not only inspired by the sight of dragons, but also well-received by them, and an affinity with dragons is the key clue of Targaryen blood. He even sees a dragon for the first time while passing through the ruins of Valyria, the ancestral Targaryen home, which feels symbolic.
Moreover, Twyin Lannister insists multiple times that he doesn’t believe Tyrion is his son. The surface explanation is that this is Tywin’s prejudice speaking. Yet the passion with which he repeats this claim really makes it feel he truly doesn’t believe he’s Tyrion’s father in a literal way. Significantly, he does acknowledge that Tyrion is a Lannister, though. Joana was already a Lannister in name (she and Tywin were cousins), so he recognizes that Tyrion is his wife’s son.
In brief moments we see Tywin slipping into liking Tyrion, almost against his will. But his hatred inevitably resurfaces and overcomes this fair-minded part of him. This behavior might remind us Catelyn Stark’s relationship with Jon Snow.
Being half Lannister, half Targaryen would fit Tyrion’s mix of strengths. He can be intuitive, daring, bold, even brutal like a Targaryen. Yet he speaks the language of politics, negotiation, and bottom lines like a Lannister. So he gets both the bigger picture purpose and the nitty-gritty methods of ruling.
In “Dance of Dragons,” the episode in which Tyrion first sees Dany ride a dragon, Shireen refers to the history of two Targaryens who were half-brother and sister. This could even be a clever nod to Daenerys and Tyrion being half-siblings, if the Mad King were father to them both. The lesson Shireen reads into her history is that the siblings shouldn’t have competed for the throne.
“It’s all the choosing sides that made things so horrible.” - Shireen in S05E09 (“The Dance of Dragons”)
And it feels like this is a lesson Tyrion, who’s never expected to rule, would understand far better than the increasingly entitled Daenerys.
At times we can see various literary influences informing different threads of this story: Stannis Baratheon takes after Macbeth with his moral degradation in pursuit of ambition and his misguided trust in the witches’ prophecy; Jon Snow appears to be living out some version of the King Arthur myth, complete with his own excalibur. But one of the deepest literary echoes we see in this story is Homer’s ancient Greek epic The Odyssey. That story takes place in the aftermath of the Iliad’s Trojan War, just as this one is shaped by the offscreen Robert’s Rebellion, and both wars are triggered by a beautiful woman at the center of a love triangle.
The protagonist of the Odyssey is Odysseus the Cunning, renowned for his intelligence and guile. Tyrion has Odysseus’ gift of the gab, his ability to craftily talk himself out of hopeless situations. And like Odysseus, he goes on a long, roundabout journey after the war, which he barely survives thanks his considerable wit and cunning. Homer’s opening lines also tell us of Odysseus’ suffering, which we see in Tyrion.
Homer’s opening lines also tell us of Odysseus’ suffering, which we see in Tyrion. His memorable Cousin Orson story gets at how Tyrion is plagued by the possibility that there’s no purpose to all the meanness and ugliness he’s witnessed.
“I had to know, because it was horrible that all these beetles should be dying for no reason.” - Tyrion in S04E08 (“The Mountain and the Viper”)
Tyrion has failed a lot, especially lately. Crucially, though, when it comes to mistakes… It’s up to him now to prove that he does have the brains he’s famed for.
But taking all of these signs together, we can’t help but feel that Tyrion the cunning, Tyrion the sufferer, and finally Tyrion the wise is destined to be the ultimate king of this whole long Odyssey.
Works Cited & Consulted
Brewer, D. S. “The Ideal of Feminine Beauty in Medieval Literature, Especially ‘Harley Lyrics’, Chaucer, and Some Elizabethans.” The Modern Language Review, vol. 50, no. 3, 1955, pp. 257–269.
Dürrigl, M‐A. "Kalokagathia–beauty is more than just external appearance." Journal of cosmetic dermatology 1.4 (2002): 208-210.