To those not caught up on the first season of Game of Thrones (you’d better hurry up!), the following contains a good deal of spoilers.
Despite the strength in Game of Thrones’ ensemble, Ned Stark (Sean Bean) was considered the de facto star of the show. With the hero suffering from a bad case of head-on-a-stick, fans might wonder who will shoulder the responsibility of playing the fantasy drama’s lead. Thoughts might immediately turn to Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harington), who has a great deal of avenging to do in Season Two. Another great contender: Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), whose first season epilogue promised that she and her dragon lineage will soar back to power. But mighty and compelling as they may be, there isn’t a character on Game of Thrones who is as invigorating, as entertaining, and as perfectly performed as Tyrion Lannister, played by rising breakout star Peter Dinklage.
From the early episodes of Game of Thrones, Dinklage was the man fans were talking about. Even with his character taking a backseat to Ned and company, the actor’s performance was one of the brightest gems that has made the HBO series such an unbelievable hit. The character of Tyrion Lannister is a dense one, and fruitful territory. But it is Dinklage’s acting prowess that makes him so strong and engaging, despite the odds of Tyrion’s long list of misfortunes. Speaking from the point of view of someone who has not read George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice book series, I can only speculate on where the character of Tyrion will travel from here on out based on Dinklage’s performance. Considering that alone, I’d say we have a lot to look forward to.
Tyrion Lannister is the dwarf brother of Game of Thrones’ resident Lady Macbeth, Cersei (Lena Headey), and her incestuous twin lover, extreme narcissist Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Viewers meet Tyrion as a drunk and a philanderer, and a decidedly unhappy man — but never a victim. Even when he is thrust into physical danger, the viewer doesn’t worry about Tyrion. There is rarely an instance when things seem completely beyond his control. While the rest of the world overpowers Tyrion in size and strength, he reigns supreme as the pinnacle of Westeros’ intellect.
As we learn more about Tyrion, through Season One, we find out about his history of being rejected. Never loved by his father or respected by his brother, Tyrion built a shield between himself and the rest of the world. His family’s murder of the woman with whom he fell in love — a prostitute, a fact initially unbeknownst to him — hardened Tyrion’s heart, driving him further toward reliance on his psychological superiority to not only survive, but to identify himself. After a life of heartbreak, the Tyrion the viewer meets is quite possibly a genius, though nowhere near emotionally available.
This psychological makeup lends to the most captivating thing about Tyrion: where he lands on the hero-to-villain spectrum is a bit ambiguous. Tyrion is a self-serving man, but not one without his code of ethics. At the very least, Tyrion consistently lives up to the motto, “A Lannister always pays his debts.” But it is his capability to do both good and bad that makes Tyrion such a fun character to watch. He has exhibited sympathy and softheartedness on occasion. As Tyrion says in the eponymous episode, “I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards and broken things.” Towards the end of the season, Tyrion begins to accumulate a small band of misfits, made up of the “honor-less” mercenary Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and the sharp prostitute Shae (Sibel Kekilli). Learning where the determined mastermind will lead his troupe is perhaps the most exciting prospect on the way for the second season.
Okay, the dragons might be the most exciting, but this is up there.
Season One gave its viewers a hero who was earnest, consistent and honor-bound. While Ned Stark was the perfect vehicle to bring audiences into the strange and exciting world of Westeros, he wouldn’t serve as well for a second season. This time around, you need a more complicated player. Someone who not only understands the rules of the deadly, deceptive Game of Thrones, but is more than willing to play them. Tyrion Lannister might be at steady opposition with most of his world, but that doesn’t mean he can’t excel at its game. Although you might not always be sure what his intentions are, you always know they will come from an amplified understanding of the people and constructs around him, and, perhaps more importantly, will be a heck of a lot of fun to watch unfurl.
Game of Thrones returns Sunday, April 1 at 9 PM ET/PT on HBO.