In Season 2 of Game of Thrones, Varys told Tyrion Lannister, upon his return to King’s Landing to serve as Hand of the King in his father’s stead, that “Even a small man can cast a very large shadow.” We learned in the Season 3 premiere that the opposite can also be true. In an episode full of subtext about honor and power—which are often mutually exclusive in Westeros—the great and powerful Tywin Lannister revealed just how small and petty a man he really is.
In case you didn’t undertake a marathon refresher of Season 2: Tyrion organized the defense of King’s Landing, sinking most of Stannis Baratheon’s fleet into Blackwater Bay with the help of the alchemists’ wildfire, and then went out beyond the safety of the castle walls for a little hand-to-hand combat. (Joffrey, meanwhile, chickened out.) Of course, Tywin teamed up with the Tyrells and Renly Baratheon’s former army at the last minute to win the battle, but there would have been no King’s Landing left for him to save if not for Tyrion. Tyrion’s reward? An assassination attempt and a dingy room.
Probably figuring he has nothing to lose, Tyrion visits his father seeking a little gratitude and, oh, while he’s at it, Casterly Rock, the family’s castle. Tywin is, shall we say, less than amused. So little so that he launches a rant so epic that he doesn’t even notice that he’s contradicting himself. First, he dismisses Tyrion’s plea for recognition by telling him, “Jugglers and singers require applause. You are a Lannister.” But it turns out Tyrion isn’t really a Lannister once he demands the old family homestead. “Men’s laws give you the right to bear my name and display my colors, since I cannot prove that you are not mine. … Neither gods nor men will ever compel me to let you turn Casterly Rock into your whorehouse.”
Ah yes, Tyrion’s greatest flaw—well, besides the fact he “killed his mother” in childbirth (digression: This is a world where people remarry within days or weeks to forge new alliances. Must we really be that hung up on poor Mrs. Lannister?)—is that he pays for sex and hangs out with sellswords. Never mind that just down the hall, on the Iron Throne, sits Tywin’s grandson Joffrey, an actual “spiteful little creature” who is the product of incest, who started a war with the rash decision to behead Ned Stark, and whose ex-fiancee lives in fear of him raping her. It’s Tyrion who dishonors the family name.
What’s odd about all this is that Tywin is most often levelheaded, and even pragmatic. Last season, he put a stop to his men killing prisoners at Harrenhal in order to put them to work. And he quickly deduced that the young girl who’d he’d chosen as his cupbearer was tough and clever and worthy of his respect (though fortunately he never quite figured out she was Arya Stark). So his inability to see past Tyrion’s physical deformities and minor weaknesses says more about him than it does Tyrion.
“A Lannister always pays his debts.” Unless, that is, the debt is owed to another Lannister.