The buried tragedy of Tyrion Lannister
One of Game of Thrones' most beloved characters appears to be in trouble
If Game of Thrones is notoriously cavalier about killing, it's also true that the show uses murder, specifically, the way Proust used madeleines. The selected method can spark a series of associations that calls back to earlier storylines and rhymes with them. Tommen's death, for instance, was an ironic nod to Jaime's attempted murder of Bran. Ramsey's demise echoed his victims'. And Arya's vengeance on the Freys was a finely orchestrated response to the Red Wedding.
"The Queen's Justice" follows suit, containing not one but two symbolically pregnant poisonings: Cersei's of Tyene Sand using the fatal "Long Farewell" kiss Ellaria used on her daughter Myrcella, and Jaime's of Olenna — who gulped it down and pertly informed him that she, not Tyrion, was Joffrey's killer. There are obviously a few different conceptions of justice at work here. But the key point is that both deaths draw focus to the Lannisters not as they are, but as they were. There is a difference. That Tyrion's Siege of Casterly Rock fails as disastrously as it does demonstrates how far the Lannister legend has strayed from its origins (literally). It's tragic, really: The psychodrama around which Tyrion built his identity has stopped mattering.
Back when Game of Thrones was more about court intrigue than Map Chess, the Lannisters represented the show's deliciously amoral center of secrets and lies. This wasn't just because the three Lannister children endured the onerous constraints of Westerosi geopolitics, serving as sulky pawns in Tywin's vast political project (although their resentments ripened accordingly: Cersei chafed as Robert Baratheon's Queen, Jaime suffered as his Kingsguard, and Tyrion drank and fornicated his way around his father's loathing and disapproval). It was the way they rebelled. Their behavior was toxic and clever in exactly the wrong way. If the Lannister family represented the best King's Landing had to offer, Westeros was in real trouble.
One of the series' initial questions, then, was how the corrupt but intriguing Lannisters would intersect with the embattled fate of Westeros. Would they learn? Would they grow? Would they convert? Jaime seemed promising. It's true that he started out as the absolute worst — he was arrogant and witty and casually cruel — but a bunch of tantalizing redemption arcs were hinted at. Jaime seemed to experience some moral improvement thanks to Brienne. He gazed often at the page listing his exploits and seemed dissatisfied with his historic legacy as Kingslayer.
But the long-term effects of this show on Jaime have been hard to gauge: He seems to have swapped his caustic wit and trademark sneer for a bizarrely high tolerance for being routinely humiliated. (So many jokes have been made at his expense!) The loudmouth who sexually taunted a recently-widowed Catelyn Stark has become incredibly passive; the best proof of that is that he has nothing caustic to say to the woman who killed his son.
So what gives? What does this transformation mean? One of my major lingering questions from last season was whether Jaime still loved Cersei as much as he claimed to. This episode seems to answer that: he does. That's disappointing. If, as some anticipate, Jaime will eventually turn Queenslayer — fulfilling Maggie the Frog's prophecy that Cersei will die at the hand of a "little brother" — it would be nice to see something a little more definite than his sexual reluctance in "The Queen's Justice." Instead, Jaime is forced into his usual role as a powerful respected warrior with a reputation for Kingslaying who for some reason tolerates being routinely and publicly mocked.
Then there's Tyrion, and what "The Queen's Justice" really shows is how the Lannister priorities and obsessions have shifted. Jaime and Cersei were once obsessed with their lineage; not anymore. Tyrion's apparent liberation from his family ties has, on the other hand, turned out to be no such thing. His plan to take Casterly Rock looks — in retrospect — more than a little self-serving. Olenna warned Daenerys that survival requires ignoring the advice of "clever men" like Tyrion. She may have intuited what this episode proved: that Tyrion's perspective is so badly skewed by his toxic family history that he's giving Daenerys questionable advice that furthers his own quest for revenge. It wasn't enough to shoot Tywin with a crossbow as he sat on the toilet; he wants to get Casterly Rock. And he's using Daenerys to do it.
The great buried tragedy of "The Queen's Justice" isn't how spectacularly Tyrion's plan fails, but why: His siblings just don't care that much about the Lannister homestead anymore. They're out-thinking and out-strategizing him because they're no longer particularly invested in the family dysfunction that has largely structured his life.
This is a significant, if muted, tragedy. Tyrion makes a big point of grouping himself with Jon Snow and Daenerys, characters defined by their moral and practical independence from their fathers. But he isn't done punishing Tywin, and the extent to which Tyrion's siege fails makes you wonder a little about the other advice he's giving Dany. His counsel has produced spectacularly poor results, after all, and his performance in Meereen was a disaster. Plus, for an episode titled "The Queen's Justice," it's suggestive that Daenerys is the only queen who fails to deliver anything like it. Having summoned Jon Snow per Tyrion's advice, she asks him to bend the knee. He refuses (partly because Tyrion left this demand out of the letter he sent on her behalf!), and instead of punishing him or playing hardball, Daenerys (again on Tyrion's say-so, and against her instincts) offers him massive amounts of dragonglass. That may be diplomacy, but it isn't justice.
I doubt the writers are really trying to make Tyrion as vengeful and self-serving as his actions proved to be in this episode. But "The Queen's Justice" has boxed the three Lannisters into something like an identity crisis. As they bring all the craft, treachery, and guile of which they're capable into open war, what happens to their defining traits? Sneaking into your ancestral home through a sex-sewer isn't exactly noble. Neither is incest. But those secrets are out in the open now that Tywin and all the Lannister kids are dead. Without lines to the past and future, without norms, what are the stakes? Cersei reminded the Iron Bank that the Lannisters always paid their debts. But they've been broke for ages: Without Tywin, Casterly Rock, or the norms and secrets that anchored the family, will they still?