Revisiting Tyrion Lannister

game-thrones-tyrion-lannister-trial I've been writing on Feminist Fiction for over three years now, and that means there are some pretty old opinions floating around here that still get read fairly frequently (especially if they happen to be about Sansa Stark). Usually I let those posts and opinions stand as they were and clarify things in the comments if I feel the need, but there's one that I want to revisit.

After reading this post on ASOIAF University, I've been thinking about an old article from 2012, The Misogyny of Tyrion Lannister. In it, I talk about how Tyrion is a subversion of the underdog trope, in part through his deep-seated misogyny that grows throughout the series.

One thing that I don't mention, except vaguely through the terms of the "underdog trope," is how Tyrion's situation is shaped by ableism. Although Tyrion does benefit from Lannister riches and status, his entire life has been affected by people's negative reactions to him and his disability. His father doesn't want him as an heir. His sister has always been awful to him. People constantly villainize him, even when he's saving their lives. If he's bitter and hateful, it's because the people around him made him that way.

The ASOIAF University post criticized the article on Tyrion for dismissing the discrimination that Tyrion faces and turning a complex issue into one purely about male entitlement. And I have to say, I'm not entirely happy with my original post, upon rereading it now. Some of the phrasing is problematic and I sacrificed some nuance in favor of arguing against the strongly pro-Tyrion stance that was everywhere at the time. But I really want to talk about this idea of ableism vs misogyny, and the suggestion that the existence of one excuses or negates the other.

I did not mean to imply that Tyrion brings all of his misfortune on himself, or that his anger at his mistreatment is all male entitlement, nothing more. Cersei hates him because of the prophecy that her younger brother will kill her children, and because he has frequently moved against her politically in the past, but that hatred is certainly encouraged by his disability, and she gains the support to execute him because of the ableism of Westerosi society.

Tyrion's anger is not baseless. Even his worst moments have a lot of complicated psychology behind them. But this does not excuse his misogyny. It helps to explain it, but that is not the same thing. Disenfranchised people do not get a free pass to mistreat other disenfranchised people, just because they've been mistreated themselves. Tyrion has a choice about how he reacts to society's discrimination. I don't think anyone would say he shouldn't be angry, or that he shouldn't hate Cersei or even people in general for all that has happened. This isn't an argument that he should just rise above it. But instead of having empathy for other groups that are mistreated by society, he uses what little power he has to make them feel even more powerless and afraid. And that is never OK.

It's the Westerosi version of "cool motive, still murder." We might be able to see his reasoning and feel empathy toward him, but that doesn't mean his actions aren't still horrific.

Of course, the case of Cersei is different from the cases of characters like Shae, where Tyrion's misogyny is much clearer. We can definitely understand why Tyrion would want to his sister for all the horrible things she's done to him, just as he killed Tywin. But the form that his anger takes is still misogynistic. He doesn't hate Cersei because she's a woman who outsmarted him, but his declaration that he's going to rape her before he kills her is definitely a fantasy of subverting their current power structure in a very misogynistic way. He may not actually intend to do that -- I've seen people claiming he doesn't and I haven't read the book recently enough to decide -- but even the threat, in the context of his other misogynistic actions, is still telling. He has been mistreated, yes, and his anger is justifiable. But the form his vengeance takes, and the way he treats people who are more vulnerable than him, shows that he is cruel, he is misogynistic, and his backstory is not enough to excuse that.

And that, I think, was what I meant by "Tyrion subverts the underdog trope." We expect to see the character who's unjustly hated by society triumph and become the hero. Instead, Tyrion becomes more and more like the villain society expects him to be, as a direct result of their discrimination and cruelty. Ableism plays a huge role in Tyrion's character arc. That doesn't mean he can't be misogynistic too.

(NB: I have lightly edited the original post after reviewing it -- the argument hasn't changed at all, but a couple of phrases did not sit right with me, and as the post still gets a lot of traffic, I didn't want them to continue to be read as a "feminist" perspective).