While there are no purely good characters in the world of Westeros (at least not ones who survive), Tyrion Lannister is the best of a relatively rotten bunch in many people’s eyes. A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin has repeatedly named Tyrion as his favorite character in his book series, and many fans of the novels as well as the show feel the same way. He’s witty, he has some level of morals, and he was born into life as an underdog due to his appearance and his perpetual conflict with his family members.
With season 6 of Game of Thrones now underway, we’re in the home stretch of the story of the Lannisters, Starks, and Targaryens. Season 8 is supposed to be the last, which means the conflict will be coming to a head, and we’ll soon find out once and for all who will sit upon the Iron Throne. We know many of you are rooting for Tyrion to claim that seat, but like every character in the series, he’s a man with a lot of secrets, and some dark aspects to his past. Some of it we’ve seen already, some will no doubt be revealed this season, but other details have only been hinted at. Even if you’ve read all the books and watched every episode of the show, there are probably still some things you don’t know about the Imp of Casterly Rock. So before the White Walkers march on the North, and Daenerys brings her dragons to Westeros, let us help you prepare for the end with 12 Things You Need to Know About Tyrion Lannister.
12 HE'S A FRIEND TO BASTARDS AND BROKEN THINGS
Just like the misfits in grade school, anyone who doesn’t fit in with the cool kids feels more of a kinship for other outcasts. But unlike school kids, Tyrion didn’t get to leave his ridicule behind when he left childhood. It’s something that he’s had to overcome since birth, and will be a challenge to him his entire life. So it stands to reason that he would bond more easily with his fellow odd ducks.
We see Tyrion’s fondness for people like himself early on, when he commiserates with Jon Snow while the Lannisters and Baratheons are visiting Winterfell. Jon knows that as a bastard born child, he will never be a true Stark. Tyrion initially ridicules Jon about this, but then teaches him the valuable lesson to strip insults of their power by wearing them like armor. He tells Jon to embrace what people call him because no one will ever let him forget it, so he should at least learn to not let it be a weapon to hurt him.
Tyrion doesn’t do well with successful, beautiful, or carefree people. His closest things to friendships are always with those who are ostracized in some way like he is. We’ve seen this with Bronn, Podrick, and Varys, and it will no doubt play a role in his ability to coexist with Daenerys.
11 HE'S A DRUNK
No matter how great or talented a person, their vices can still undo them. Tyrion’s two big vices have always been the company of hired women, and alcohol to drown his misery for when he can’t get the former. At his heart, Tyrion is an insecure, unhappy person. He knows the only value anyone sees in him is his way with words and the fact that he happens to be a member of one of the most powerful families in Westeros. Fortunately, a sharp tongue and lots of money to throw around have been able to get him far.
When those aspects are removed from Tyrion after his trial for Joffrey’s murder, he becomes a man with nothing left. In A Dance with Dragons, he spends many of his chapters after having departed Westeros obsessively fixating on prostitutes or looking for something to drink to help him sleep. If he can actually control his bad habits and stay sober, he’s a huge asset to whoever’s side he’s on. But his history of drunkenly wallowing in his own misery has also turned him into a potential liability for his allies.
10 JAIME IS THE ONE LANNISTER HE ACTUALLY GETS ALONG WITH
It’s obvious to anyone that Tyrion is the black sheep of his family. He never feels respected by his father because he knows Jaime is the type of son Tywin wants, and he's in constant conflict with his other sibling, Cersei, as they both struggle to take control for their own ambitious reasons. Joffrey is Joffrey, so Tyrion would never get along with him. And Tommen and Myrcella are/were just children naïve in the way of life, too young to truly be friends with their uncle.
Jaime, on the other hand (brilliant pun unintended), is a grown man who has no interest in the political side of Westeros. Jaime is a warrior, and that’s something Tyrion will never be, so there’s no need for them compete. So Jaime is really the one member of the Lannister family that Tyrion is able to feel more than obligation towards. At least in the show that’s true. In the books, Tyrion kind of screws that up when in a vengeful fit he lies to Jaime and tell his brother that he did kill Jaime’s son Joffrey, and that’s the last they’ve spoken since then.
9 HE USES HIS WITS TO MAKE UP FOR HIS SIZE
Life is unfair, and it’s just a fact of life that someone the size of Tyrion can never be a warrior. Forget about being able to be a threat to someone like the Mountain, Tyrion is scarcely a threat to any able-bodied adult in the Seven Kingdoms. He has kills to his name, yes, but they aren’t exactly the duels that heroes are made of. The most noteworthy death he has brought about has been shooting his father with a crossbow while he was sitting on the toilet. That’s not the kind of encounter that commoners often sing songs about.
Tyrion knows the only arena he can match his peers in is in the world of intellect. He plainly states that to him, books are like a whetstone for his mind to keep it sharp as a sword. His cunning has saved him from death on numerous occasions, and he’s one of the few we’ve seen on the show who has played in the politics of the game of thrones and lived to walk away from it. His vices might lead him to make the occasional foolish decisions, and there are plenty of physically tougher characters, but Tyrion has shown he can match wits with the most cunning Westeros (and now Essos) has to offer.
8 HE HAS A BACKGROUND AS AN ACROBAT
An aspect of Tyrion that is pretty much omitted entirely from his portrayal in the HBO series is that he actually knows how to do performance acrobatics. In fact, in his first meeting with Jon Snow in Game of Thrones (the book not the show), Tyrion actually introduces himself by doing a flip off of the top of a roof and landing in front of Jon.
It’s a small detail, and admittedly one that doesn’t change the story too much. It comes into play in the novels somewhat during a subplot where Tyrion is enslaved for a while, but there has yet to be a moment when Tyrion’s hidden acrobatic ability has played a pivotal role in the plot. Though his agility does lend a bit more credence to him being able to defend himself in a fight like he does at the battle of the Blackwater. However, live-action Tyrion has no interest in such things, and instead prefers to devote his time to books and expanding his knowledge of the world.
7 HIS MOTHER DIED GIVING BIRTH TO HIM, AND HIS FAMILY HATES HIM FOR IT
Tyrion really got off on the wrong foot early on in life. Not only does he have to live with the knowledge that his birth is what caused the death of his mother, but his family never lets him live that fact down. Rumors in Westeros tell that Tywin Lannister actually used to be a loving man when he still had his wife to care for, but that he changed for the worse the day she died and never recovered. That’s a lot for Tyrion to carry since birth.
To be fair, Cersei probably would have hated Tyrion no matter what, but Tywin is a different matter. It’s curious to think about what might have been in the Lannister family — and Westeros as a whole — had Tyrion’s mother actually survived. But the story of Westeros is full of a thousand such what ifs. What if Ned Stark actually had been sent to the Wall instead of being executed? What if the Viper had won the duel with the Mountain? What if Bran had never found out about Cersei and Jaime’s relationship? The fate of Tyrion’s mom is just one more dark turn in life that can never be undone.
6 HE MAY BE A TARGARYEN
If you keep up with the rumors about the characters on the show or in the books, pretty much everyone has something mysterious going on with their parentage. The Targaryens in particular are like the cool kids at school who everyone wants to be a part of. There are several characters we have reason to suspect are secretly not who they say they are (or believe themselves to be), including Jon Snow, who many believe isn’t actually the son of Ned Stark. But there have also been rumblings about Tyrion as well.
The fact that Tyrion looks so different from the rest of his kin (as described in the novels, anyway) no doubt plays a part in fueling these rumors, but some believe that Tywin might not actually be Tyrion’s father. It would certainly account for why Tywin holds such a grudge over Tyrion’s birth causing the death of Tywin’s wife. Tywin’s anger is pretty understandable if a child that isn’t even his caused the death of the woman he loved. But does all this point to it being likely that Tyrion is a hidden Targaryen? Probably not. It isn’t something that’s been foreshadowed very much in regards to Tyrion. But with only three seasons of the show left, and two novels in the book series left, one way or another, we’ll soon find out whatever secrets are a part of Tyrion’s family — and hopefully, who the secret Targaryens really are, if they do indeed exist.
5 THE SHOW GLOSSES OVER HOW HORRIBLE TYRION CAN BE
Just about everyone in the world of Westeros has to do horrible things to survive. So, by comparison to someone like Ramsay or the Mountain, Tyrion comes off looking like a pretty decent guy in Game of Thrones. But make no mistake, Tyrion Lannister is not a good person. If you only know him from the show, you might think otherwise, since the writers clearly enjoy his character so much that they omit aspects of his story that show how cruel he can be. But Joffrey is one bad apple who really did not fall far from his uncle Tyrion.
In the novels of A Song of Ice and Fire, Tyrion is much worse than his show counterpart. His views of women and sex alone make him a bit repugnant. In A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion is so bitter about his treatment by Cersei that he frequently thinks about how he wants to find her again so he can not only kill her, but actually rape his own sister. That attitude is not an isolated incident.
In the books, when a mentally challenged girl named Lollys winds up being gang raped by an angry mob incited by Joffrey, Tyrion treats the topic like a joke about who the father might be. He seriously contemplates hurting his young nephew Tommen just to get back at Cersei. He casually threatens to murder a serving girl just for not being interested in having sex with him. Contrary to the show, rather than Shae attempting to stab Tyrion when he visits her one last time, she swears that she loves him, only for Tyrion to strangle her in cold blood. And when he learns that his first wife was gang raped under the order of his father Tywin, he spends far more time lamenting the loss of his own happiness than what happened to his wife.
Tyrion is a selfish and cruel person at times, and probably the only reason he isn’t as murderous as someone like Ramsay is that he frequently lacks access to his enemies or the means to hurt them and get away with it. At least he knows his limitations, right?
4 HE WANTS TO KILL HIS SISTER (BUT PROBABLY WON'T)
No one knows you better than the family you grew up with, so they have the power to be the greatest source of support in your life. Alternatively, family can use their intimate knowledge of you to inflict the deepest wounds and make you miserable. Tyrion and Cersei most certainly fall into that latter category of familial relations. The siblings have been at each other’s throats with disagreements and attempts to one-up the other for as long as we’ve seen them in the story. As the years have gone by, that animosity has only built upon itself, to the point that the brother and sister are now eagerly hoping for the other’s death.
While Tyrion would very much like to be the one to put an end to his sister, especially after being blamed for the death of Joffrey and having to stand trial for it, it’s unlikely he’ll ever get his chance. He’s currently not even on the same continent as Cersei, and his sister has plenty of other enemies closer to home at the moment. Based on the prophecy Cersei was told as a child (a prophecy that's been spot on so far), "the valonqar" — High Valyrian for little brother — is the greatest threat to her. Cersei has therefore surmised that Tyrion will be the death of her. But the thing the Queen Mother seems oblivious to is that she has a second brother who could just as easily fulfill that prophecy — Jamie is her twin, but he was the second born of the two. Based on the way things are shaking out, we're betting it will be Jaime who kills Cersei in the end.
3 HIS BACKSTORY WITH TYSHA
The show cuts a lot of backstory from the books for the sake of time, but Tyrion’s past with Tysha is something that actually does come up. He confesses it to Shae and Bronn, telling them how he and Jaime came across a woman named Tysha being assaulted one day, and after saving her, Tyrion fell in love with her and married her. Then Tyrion reveals that his father found out, forced Jaime to reveal he planned the whole thing and that the woman was actually a prostitute. Tywin let his guards have sex with Tysha (all 50 of them) and Tysha was paid for each man she was with.
In the books, we learn there’s actually a bit more to the story. When Jaime helps Tyrion escape his fate after losing the trial over Joffrey’s murder, he tells Tyrion the truth. Tywin forced Jaime to lie to Tyrion about Tysha. She wasn’t actually a prostitute at all, and Tywin was forcing his guards to rape her. This reveal plays a huge role in shaping Tyrion during A Dance with Dragons, and sends him spiraling down into drunken misery as he pines for his lost love with the one woman who ever truly cared about him.
2 TYRION’S FAR MORE DISFIGURED IN THE BOOKS
It’s only natural that characters will look different in live-action adaptations than how they do in a book. Plus, with a character like Tyrion, the talent pool was far more limited because of the height requirements of the role. So we got Peter Dinklage, who’s a great actor. The problem is, book Tyrion is supposed to be hideous. Dinklage very much is not. He’s not the kind of guy you look at and would nickname “the Imp.”
In the pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, Tyrion not only has stunted height, but he also has mismatched eyes, an enlarged forehead, hair that's wildly different from the traditionally blonde locks of his Lannister brethren, a beard that only grows in patches, and a waddle in his walk, due to inflamed joints. So Peter Dinklage doesn’t have any of that, and that’s fair enough since he’s a great actor. But book fans were surprised and disappointed that the show never introduced the biggest physical deformity Tyrion gains at the battle of the Blackwater. In the show, he’s left with a dashing scar. In A Clash of Kings, half of Tyrion’s nose gets cut off!
1 PETER DINKLAGE WAS THE FIRST AND ONLY CHOICE TO PLAY TYRION
When adapting A Song of Ice and Fire to TV, the show runners obviously have some limitations in bringing the world of George R. R. Martin to life. One major one was that if they wanted to be at all true to Tyrion’s appearance in the books, they had to cast a little person. And for anyone who hasn’t noticed, there aren’t a whole lot of noteworthy actors of such short stature. In fact, the list of names out there is so brief, that the show runners as well as George Martin only ever considered one person as the possibility for playing Tyrion: Peter Dinklage.
If Dinklage had refused, or been busy with another project, there’s no other name that immediately springs to mind who could do the job, and an unknown would almost certainly have been cast. If they had been feeling particularly ambitious, the Game of Thrones writers could have used clever camera angles, body doubles, and giant sets to make a normal sized actor appear larger, like Peter Jackson did with the hobbits of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But that’s also a pretty convoluted way to achieve that goal, and Game of Thrones has nowhere near the time nor the budget that The Lord of the Rings did. All things considered, it’s pretty fortunate Dinklage was able to accept the role. Mathematically speaking, Tyrion is the series' principal protagonist, so it's a good thing the casting decision turned out to be a home run.
What pieces of his backstory do you think define Tyrion Lannister? Is there something more about the Imp’s past from the books or the show that you think will come into play in the story? Share it in the comments!