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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

a) “Power lies where people believe it does. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall.” Images and forms of medieval power in Game of Thrones

3) A very small man can cast a very large shadow: building a social power

Justine Breton

Texte intégral

1The unfinished literary saga A Song of Ice and Fire, as well as its HBO adaptation Game of Thrones, mainly deals with the various representations and moral implications of the human quest for power. Whereas some characters favour a tyrannical or religious approach in order to seize the throne and keep it through violence and manipulation, a more lasting approach seems to reside in the control of a social power, as experienced involuntarily by Tyrion Lannister.

2He remains one of the characters with the greatest mobility within the narrative, exploring the realms from the Wall to the oriental city of Meereen. If travelling is a narrative device inherited from chivalric romances, accentuating action and adventure, it also gives the character a more precise understanding of the realms, in their geographical, historical, and social complexity. He is driven to movement by his intellectual curiosity but also by his drastic relation to power, which forces him to travel and to adapt in order to survive. Leaving the capital to save his life, he notes: “I arrived here a King’s Hand, riding through the gates at the head of my own sworn men […], and I leave like a rat scuttling through the dark, holding hands with a spider.” (A Storm of Swords, Tyrion XI) Social decline, although tragic for the character, is necessary to make him discover the world, thus enabling him to rule. Mobility, paired with Tyrion’s interest in personal stories, contributes to his wide social reach. By being evicted from every social circle, he discovers every layer of the realms and learns to understand the social heterogeneity of Westeros, as any future leader should.

3Tyrion is one of the characters whose point of view is the most developed both in the novels and in the TV series, as well as one of the fans’ favourites. Through his gaze, George R. R. Martin and the series’ showrunners present the whole extent of the society of Westeros and Essos: the character acts as a guide for the reader and viewer, observing and experiencing every social condition, from the royal court to slavery—with the notable exception of religion, from which the character, as a paragon of rationality, keeps his distance. Through his meetings and travels, Tyrion personally gains from the different social classes and becomes an intermediary between the various social groups. Born into nobility, with wealth and connections to help him survive and learn, he seeks protection and love from the lowest classes of society. All these qualities progressively allow him to gain control over people, suggesting the importance of a transversal view of society in order to wield lasting power.

4More importantly, Tyrion works for the social cohesion of the realms. He appears in the story to connect people, helping Jon Snow settle with his new “brothers” of the Night’s Watch, but also stimulating the dialogue between former slaves and masters while assisting Daenerys Targaryen. As an outsider himself, because he is both a dwarf and a member of one of the most feared and despised families in the Seven Realms, he is free from most of the world’s politics and becomes an interpreter between opposed social groups. His desire to help others, highly emphasised in the TV adaptation, is underlined by his fondness for “cripples, bastards, and broken things” (season 1, episode 4). As an anachronistic social worker, he helps the progression of secondary characters from the lowest classes, such as Bronn and Shae, but also young noblemen, like Podrick. He is one of the rare leading characters to quickly realise the power of people as a group—both as a threat and as a building force.

5In the grimdark fantasy of A Song of Ice and Fire, Tyrion acts as a pragmatic character, understanding the weight of social power. In the surprisingly lighter TV adaptation, this function is expanded to make him a catalyst for the union of the realms. His representation, as an outcast and as a warrior for social cohesion, tends to present him as a hero working towards a better future—an essential quality in a story focused on political power. Through the example of Tyrion as a traditionally marginalised character, social rejection creates a gradual path to self-growth and collective power in which the transversal understanding of every group of people becomes the key to gaining and maintaining a stable and constructive authority.

© Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2021

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