• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #20: Tyrion Lannister


One of those angry South Pole Lannisters.

Back in 2001 or so, Al Pace and Colin Woods insisted that I read a thick fantasy tome called A Game of Thrones. I wasn't really looking for a sword-and-sorcery epic at the time, but they were effusive in their praise, and they're guys who know their stuff, so I opened up a copy before bed one night. I was halfway done by morning.

George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series was unlike anything I'd read before. More visceral and vulgar than Tolkien, more sweeping than Jordan, more convoluted than Puzo, it was a revelation. It became immediately apparent that there was no Manichean dichotomy between good and evil here, rather shades of Lannister red and Stark gray. Characters spoke believable, vivid dialogue, operated from human motivations, and did unspeakably barbaric things and yet remained compelling. Even as the series began to groan under its own weight after a few books, I remained - and remain now - invested.

Martin operates from some safe fantasy tropes with characters like Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, but with Tyrion Lannister he created a true original. A brilliant, hedonistic package of bitterness and snark, Tyrion fuels his sarcastic rage with the knowledge that while highborn he will never be noble, and while brave and resourceful he will never be heroic, in a land where nobility and heroism matter. He is a half-man not of his time or his place, and the books mine that agony for humor, pathos, and drama.

I've watched some of the HBO adaptations, and while they get the feel right, it drifted far enough away from the source material that I cut the cord and chose the books in the divorce. I will say that Peter Dinklage deserves the accolades he has received for his portrayal of Tyrion. He is a magnetic performer. My hope is that the success of the shows isn't what is delaying Martin's completion of the series. After all, in a world where everybody dies, it would be a shame if Tyrion outlived his maker.

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