Writ Small: Character Evolution in The Winds of Winter Part 2: The Evil

Mother of Dragons by Donato Giancola

In Part 1, we talked about characters whose arcs in The Winds of Winter seem to be moving in good or neutral directions. But this time, we’re moving into the dark side where characters that we previously thought were good and noble are moving in ignoble directions. Or maybe they were never noble to begin with. But George RR Martin isn’t simply painting a black and white tale. There are shades of gray in these characters. Moreover, these characters turning to the dark side have both historical inspiration (within the universe) as well as ambiguity which colors all of Martin’s work. 

Today, we’ll cover:

  • Tyrion Lannister: From Tyrion to Tywin (again)
  • Daenerys Targaryen: From Rhaegar to Aerys III
  • Cersei Lannister: From Rhaenyra to Robert Baratheon
  • Jon Connington: From Rhaegar’s lieutenant to Tywin’s Shadow
  • Barristan Selmy: From Gerold Hightower to Criston Cole

If you don’t care to listen to the podcast through wordpress, you are welcome to listen to us at the following places:

As always, check out our notes on google drive to follow along with us as we talk! Thanks for listening/reading!

24 Comments

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24 responses to “Writ Small: Character Evolution in The Winds of Winter Part 2: The Evil

  1. Guys, I don’t think Baristan has deserved all your scorn. Sure, he is far from perfect but he does regret his complicity in Aries’ crimes: “Duskendale had been his finest hour, yet the memory tasted bitter on his tongue.”
    I think RadioWesteros has put it best. It’s just like Jamie says, there are just too many vows thus you are bound to break some. Jamie is a knight over KG, while Selmy is KG over knight.

    P.S. speaking of audio qaulity, I always found the clicking noises in Nina’s feed to be particularly annoying. You could mayhaps benefit from better microphones.

  2. I disagree in terms of Cersei being Rhaenrya I find very unlikely because she was actually intelligent then Cersei ever was so I don’t see the revelation. Daenerys to me comes off has maybe Aegon in her decision and its understandable because the dragons are bred for war and she realizes what the hell am I doing. Aerys III to me at least is kinda a wrong interpretation. What I see is that one Dany is awaking the spirit of her Valyrian ancestors and their brutality in conquering more likely.

    Dany is not evil and its a mistake already to assume EVIL in the title and its natural for humans or more so are Judeo-Christian mindset to have this idea of picking and choosing characters. I mean if this story was told to the Greeks they could absolutely understand everything is going on because their characters are grey characters that at times do good things or good deeds.

    • Trajan117

      Good or evil really only starts to become discernable under the lens of history and hindsight. So you’re right to say we really can’t say at this point one way or another if Dany’s evil. However, to me, every time she makes some rousing speech to get her people’s blood up, I’m always left with the thought “this is how every blood-soaked despot throughout history must have sounded like at this point in their life/career.” Personally, I don’t like Dany for exactly this reason.

  3. The tragedy of Lannister siblings is they all want to be Tywin. Cersie believes she is Tywin comes again. Jaime is the farthest from his father. Once again his narcissistic side and the knight side is warring. He wants to be Tywin’s son and still be the next Arthur Dayne. And in his head he is oscillating between the two stands. As for Tyrion, he should know better. But he is closest to becoming another Tywin than anyone in Westeros. He told Sansa Stark that he could be kind. That he has some kindness within him, and in his fall he lost that ability. Tyrion always had the capacity for cruelty but it was overshadowed by his generosity. So much so that his worst acts in ACoK are justified, not in his own POV, but by us in our minds. The show did not help matters. I agree that Penny will meet a horrible death. She signifies innocence. And innocence has no place in Meereen. I personally thought her end would come by dragon fire. But Tyrion killing her would be amazing character arc, marking his fall.
    Cersie’s descent into madness is hilarious to read. There is no limit to herself delusion. One of her monologue that I think shows how blind she is to the fact that she is slowly turning into Robert is
    “Too much wine and too little sleep, she told herself. It was not every night that she was awakened twice with such desperate tidings. At least I could awaken. Robert would have been too drunk to rise, let alone rule. It would have fallen to Jon Arryn to deal with all of this. It pleased her to think that she made a better king than Robert.”

    As for Sir Barriston, he is always ready to take the easy way out. In his mind, there is a very restricting definition to what the duties of Knights and KG entails, and he performs those admirably. But anything outside of those duties and he skirts around the issue and justifies it.Its not his duty, hence he is not wrong to refuse to do it. He says Eddard Stark was a good man, but does not defend him after a line or two. He admits in his POV that Rhaegar was reckless and the reason realm was bled dry, but does not say anything against Dany’s romantic hero-worshipping notions. Even his defence of Princess Elia is lacklustre. Mostly because he is blind to Dany’s fault. Barry’s one shot of ideal crown is Dany. And for that he is ready to compromise a whole lot. I really want to see Tyrion and Barriston meet.

    The whole comment ran a lot longer than intended. Amazing work guys.

    • Trajan117

      “Cersie’s descent into madness is hilarious to read. There is no limit to herself delusion.”

      +1 absolutely.

    • Trajan117

      “As for Sir Barriston, he is always ready to take the easy way out. In his mind, there is a very restricting definition to what the duties of Knights and KG entails, and he performs those admirably. But anything outside of those duties and he skirts around the issue and justifies it”

      -again: absolutely. That sums up most of the “noble” characters. The whole idea of duty to these people and the idea that is so narrowly defined means they never have to think for themselves, and never really have to risk anything by choosing a side. This is the reasoning that leads me to believe that Jaime killing the Mad King is actually the most demonstrably noble deed that any of the knights have done in the story. The fact that he did this thing, that to all the Baristan Selmys and Ned Starks of the world view as wicked and scornful, but afterwards never tries to defend his actions to anyone besides Brienne is really what makes it noble. He sacrifices his honor and reputation to save the people of Kings Landing from burning to death.

      • I agree partially. What Jaime did was definitely noble. But kind of stupid too. He is not a character who does not care how the world perceives him. In fact like all Lannisters, he really cares about it..And he blames the entire world for the title of Kingslayer while not stepping up and fessing up. His pride is the reason he expects everyone to assume that he had good reason for doing what he did without him contributing anything. And that is why he would be as responsible for burning of KL as Cersie.

        As for Ned, he is honourable. But he uses honour as a crutch too. He is a case of PTSD and never recovered from the death of his family. He uses honour as a partial defense mechanism. And would only sacrifice it for the life of innocents, May they be Jon or Sansa.

        That is one of the best part of the series. I can debate on all sides. I can think of ten reasons why Barry or Jaime are noble knights. And ten reasons they are not. It is such a grey world. Honour, glory, pride, all are waves. And we can choose the bandwidth.

    • Trajan117

      “I agree partially. What Jaime did was definitely noble. But kind of stupid too. He is not a character who does not care how the world perceives him. In fact like all Lannisters, he really cares about it..And he blames the entire world for the title of Kingslayer while not stepping up and fessing up. His pride is the reason he expects everyone to assume that he had good reason for doing what he did without him contributing anything. And that is why he would be as responsible for burning of KL as Cersie.”

      Well this is the reason why it WAS a sacrifice, because he does care what people think. If he truly doesn’t care like he tries to project it really wouldn’t be. That would be akin to someone who’s lactose intolerant giving up milkshakes for Lent.

      As to it being stupid to not fess up… I’m not sure, it’d depend on the true, deep down reason as to why he didn’t ever explain his actions. I mean it’s not like no one knows who killed Aerys, everyone knows.

      As to him just assuming everyone should just accept that what he did was a good thing: I don’t know. I’m not sure if that’s the case. If it is; I don’t know if that was the case then it just became so through the years.

      Much of my opinions on this is due to biases made from my own life experiences. I’ve known people that presented themselves as having high minded ideals, that due to my knowing them better than most, knew this to just be them making up a narrative to dress a deeper less than ideal, and with a few; much darker more sinister reasons.

      Like you, I do see Ned as a good man, but at times dangerously naive. If he really cared about the greater good, what was best for everyone he would not have done what he did in regards to the succession after Robert’s death. At the very least he would have been more savvy about it. Instead he went with his “Northern Honor,” and thousands have since died as a result. Including many of his own family.

      • There was never a reason for sacrifice. His silence will only result in blood and fire. And he did not help anyone by keeping his silence. Just his own pride. I would not be so quick to call it a sacrifice. Ned was naive, and while not as much of a political failure as the realm tries to paint him as, could have done better. That being said, I can’t blame him for being merciful to Cersie and her young children. He did have a thing about not letting the children pay for the sins of their father. He failed. But his death was a political mishap. And Joff is the one we have to blame for that. Not Ned.

  4. I loved the podcast, as usual. You all have great insights that really get me thinking. And with that, my quibbles:

    Generally, it’s a cool idea that the falling characters are on a path to become the people they hate, and they clearly are taking on some of those traits, but I think it’s a stretch. In most of the cases, there is someone else that’s a better match.

    I’d also say that an interesting question for most of these characters asking what pivotal moment is coming up for them that will define the next stage of their character arc.

    I’ll probably get to the rest later (particularly Dany), but let me start with Tyrion. I wouldn’t say he’s becoming Tywin. If I had to say anything, I’d say he THINKS he’s becoming the monster that the smallfolk and Cersei think he is, and that when he says “I’m you writ small” to Tywin”, he’s saying that Tywin has the bad traits that “bad Tyrion” supposedly has – cruelty, unfaithfulness. whoring, and a sort of low cunning.

    But as I think about it, I’m not sure that Tyrion has actually experienced much character growth yet. He gets put into different situations – he gets a chance to play the Game of Thrones in King’s Landing, he gets maimed, accused of murder, loses faith in Jaime, and learns that Tysha actually loved him.. And we learn more about what has shaped his character as the books go on, but I would argue that all of his traits are on display at all times.

    As early as Winterfell, he’s kind to Jon but maudlin and separated from the revelers, and before long, Tyrion plans to lay waste to the Vale, which he believes will succeed. He doesn’t get around to sacking a decent fraction of Westeros just to teach Lysa a lesson, but he’s willing to do it. As late as Dance, he saves Aegon without knowing why, and finds himself sympathizing with Penny. I think Tyrion’s always the same person – bitter, believing himself incapable of being loved, hiding behind japes, hewing closely to the both the light and dark side of “A Lannister pays his debts”, seeking validation as Lord of Casterly Rock, and for all that, basically decent and kind when not in a rage. (Speaking of incapable of being loved, my favorite bit of Roy Dautrice’s reading is the way he reads “Fool!” whenever Tyrion has an interior monologue about whether Shae really loves him.)

    As for pivotal moments, Tyrion has several. (1) Does he kill, save, or abandon Penny; (2) Does he ever find Tysha, and if so, is it positive or negative for him; (3) What counsel does he give Dany? He’ll want Dany to conquer Westeros and give him Casterly Rock, but will he ultimately want her to offer justice, vengeance, or mercy to the conquered?

  5. Winterfell is Burning

    Barristan is one of the most underrated characters by a certain type of ASOIAF fan.

    Meanwhile, Arthur Dayne, a grown man and sworn KG that spent an entire war that led to the deaths of his King and his entire family hiding from the war as a glorified sentry for a teenage girl we’re not even sure was there willingly, is held as a paragon of virtue and the perfect knight. Go figure…

  6. Danerys

    (This one took longer than I thought.) You guys might well be right, but so far, I think the Danerys-Aerys comparison is a stretch.

    IMHO, since book one, Dany has been headed towards a repeat of Aegon the Conqueror, which is a role that has plenty of blood and fire of its own. However, to move past Aegon to Aerys, she needs not just a willingness to burn castles as required, but also out of control (1) rage and (2) paranoia.
    The rage is possible – she certainly has the most explosive temper we’ve seen this side of Viserys, and the paranoia is possible as well, but it seems like more of a change than she needs. Dany’s always been unusually good at considering her counsellors’ advice.

    To suddenly decide she can’t work with Ben Plumm, the Shavepate, Tyrion, et al. merely because they are a bunch of lying weasels doesn’t seem in her character. (Ironically, if she understands the prophesy to mean that she will suffer ONLY three significant betrayals, then she has at most one more coming).

    I have trouble seeing Barristan betraying her for fAegon as likely. It seems like that would require (1) Dany to decide that fAegon is not who he claims and (2) Barristan to disagree. I guess she does have the prophesy, but it would be astonishing to burn Westeros over a reference to a mummer’s dragon.

    The other Dany problem is time. Assuming GRRM eventually finishes the books and there are only two, she’s got to finish her self-discovery, rampage around Essos for a while, settle who has control of which dragon, and arrange passage to Westeros before she’s even relevant to the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, we also have to have the coming of Winter and the Others. I’m not sure there’s space in the books for another Dance of Dragons.

  7. Pingback: Blood of the Conqueror, Part 4: The Exile | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  8. I dispute that Tyrion gave Aegon and Jon Connington bad advice. With the current state of affairs in Westeros at the last time Tyrion had news, 10,000 men with strong leadership could do a great deal of damage especially in the region previously controlled by traitors, which is currently without a Lord Paramount. The only political entity with the power to prosecute a war against Aegon is the Reach, and I don’t think there is evidence to believe that the Reach is willing to conduct an actual campaign in the Stormlands, on it’s own without extensive land grants which the Crown may be unwilling to grant.
    Only a quick and decisive campaign with all of the forces the Reach has already deployed is likely to stop Aegon before he gain allies in the Stormlands to bolster his forces and position, as well extra-regional allies that would require the deployment of far more extensive Reach forces that may not be forthcoming with Dorne remaining unbloodied, waiting, and watching.

    Additionally Tyrion’s statements regarding how Dani may treat another Targaryan claimant are not entirely unfounded, even with his limited information. If Tyrion had perfect information of Dani’s position he would probably be more sure that she would insist on leading their war effort, and supporting her own claim, though grateful for a siege relief in the short term. Additionally she hasn’t made any moves that would indicate a desire to do anything other than rule the east.

    As long as Tyrion can find some personal interest in positions that provide him the power to conduct meaningful policy, I believe he still intends to give them the best guidance possible, even if those policies are directly taking him towards personal vengeance. He just needs enough of a stake in the regime. That being said, he hasn’t arrived in Mireen, he knows that alot of things may change before he arrives, if he arrives, and doesn’t yet have that stake in Dani’s regime; although Connington’s party has treated Tyrion poorly, I don’t see any reason to believe he is giving Aegon bad advice. Tyrion is used to being treated poorly, and he knows that he deserves it alot of the time. He was loyal to his shitty family for as long as possible. Later on he attempts to look out for Mormont even though Mormont treated him similarly shitty…without any direct knowledge of how Mormont would be able to benefit him in the short term or long term.

    If the Golden Company had half as many men, if there seemed to be less enthusiasm for the campaign, if Jon Connington wasn’t a capable war leader, or if the unique strategic tool of being a Targaryan claimaint wasn’t to be in play, I don’t think Tyrion would feel they would have a chance, and he would probably suggest they go to Mireen instead. Although this is presumption on my part.

    Tyrion is quite there where he just sends thousands of people off to die for two people treated him shitty, especially when he isn’t sure that it will actually benefit his interests.

  9. cokie_the_small

    Hi all,

    I love your podcast and have been listening to it obsessively for the last week (I know, I’m late to the game so I’m trying to catch up!)

    Here are my thoughts on Cersei, if you don’t mind:

    1) Don’t you think that by only really valuing Cersei by her beauty, we are doing to her what is done to her throughout her arc? Her father does it, Jaime does it, Tyrion does it, everyone does it. This is likely the source of her discontent. She can never be anything more than beautiful because that’s the only thing she truly is, in her mind. This has created an interesting dichotomy within herself: the narcissist and the insecure. I think this is GRRM’s maybe unknowing response to women and feminism as it stands today.

    2) Whoever said, “it’s not hard to be more beautiful than a fat girl,” please reign it in. GRRM is a feminist, he writes and marries feminists of all kinds. Don’t be harmful to women in a story where they are already being sold off and raped. Please!

    3) Please keep up the good work! I’ve had two ideas for essays in the last week I’ve never really thought about writing before but your commitment is inspiring.

    Hope this finds you well!

  10. Trajan117

    I’ve been trying to listen to this and the previous episodes for a couple weeks. From what I’ve heard, us great, but it’s SO DIFFICULT to listen to. I have to stream it because although it days it’s on Podbean: it’s not, and I can’t advance it and start listening in the middle of the episode where I left off when last listening (although I was able to with the first).

    Is there anywhere for Android users to be able to download the episode, or can it only be streamed here? The free episodes I’ve listened to in the past were great, you don’t make it easy to listen to though guys (and gals).

    • For whatever reason, many of the podcast episodes don’t work. I wish I knew why. Also, the original podcast feed itself has been offline for about 6 months Worse-still, my laptop where many of the episodes were kept died, and I lost all of my data and audio files.

      So, no dice unfortunately. Should probably take this post offline soon.

      • Trajan117

        Finally finished it. It was worth the bother. Come on people, you’d think a site devoted to sci-fi/fantasy (I say that with no malice) would have SOMEONE in the audience that figure something to get this thing cooking with gas.

      • Trajan117

        You’d think they’d want something to do on a Saturday night when they’re not out on a date.

  11. Trajan117

    The point that was made that Baristan never thinks back to how bad of a person Aerys was the way that Jaime does throughout the entire story is a really apt one. Moreover, the same argument van be made about ALL the KG whom are thought of as “True noble knights.” Can a person really be thought of as noble if they don’t question the truly villainous things their King does? Jaime’s line about “swearing many oaths,” then poses the question about when you come to a point where keeping one oath breaks another: what do you do? Show’s him (who at this point in the story hadn’t started his redemptive arc yet) to be a far more introspective person than any of the other KG: Baristan, Dayne, Hightower,etc.
    It also kind of flies in the face of what Baristan days when he says (or thinks, I can’t remember) that the Unsullied are great soldiers, but they’re not warriors. I’m not sure how HE exactly differentiates them, but I have to think that he considered warriors to be more autonomous than soldiers. By that thinking though, blindly following a king at the cost of your soul, is more if what a soldier would do than a warrior. Although personally I just think the whole “true Knight” thing is just a load of BS and none of the characters that are thought of as such would hold up to scrutiny. In a lot of ways, Jaime killing Aerys was the most noble deed done by any of the kings guards we’ve heard of. By doing that, which (while I’ve read some opinions that say he did it to save his own neck, I don’t believe that holds up to scrutiny, especially when you read his dream sequence of facing his former KG comrades naked with only Brienne by his side), and NOT trying to defend his actions to anyone from that point on UNTIL Brienne over a decade and a half later (which demonstrates his thoughts about HER: she’s the only one up to that point who’s opinion of him matters enough to him that he DOES try to defend our excuse his actions to her) Jr literally sacrifices his own honor and carries the mantle of “King Slayer” and “Oath Breaker” for the rest of his life.
    I guess the whole idea of good vs evil, right vs wrong all boils down to what your individual opinion is: Is it the deeds that make a person bad, or their motivations? Also in the story as well as real life, people have a tendency to confuse one thing for another to their own peril. Lust is mistaken for love, pride is mistaken for honor, cruelty for strength, compassion for weakness, cynicism for intelligence, etc.

    • Trajan117

      Christ, I have to start reading my posts before I click “post”, the spelling/grammatical and at some points; word choice makes it seem like I’m having a stroke while typing. Proofreading on a smart phone is a royal pain in the ass though.

  12. Trajan117

    Am I breaking form by not having a ASOIAF themed screen name?

  13. Trajan117

    Full disclosure: I haven’t listened to all of part 1 yet so it may have been covered there (isn’t evil always more fun than good? I think of Rick Moranis’ line in Spaceballs: “Evil will always triumph over good… Because good, is dumb”). Am I alone in my dislike for Catlyn? Surely she deserves a place in part 2, and I’m not talking about Lady Stoneheart, she’s only mildly worse than Cat. The general consensus seems to be: Cerci=bad/ Catlyn’s=good (of course this is a general statement). My question to this idea is: why?
    I guess my earlier post about is evil/good decided by deeds/motivations, but when I boil it down the only really difference between those two are the access to power and willingness to use it. Both are compared put together throughout the story by their love of their children, and willingness to do ANYTHING to protect them. Arguably, Catlyn is a major factor into all the wars and death that has happened. It was her ill conceived act of taking Tyrion prisoner, then taking him up to her fruit-loop flake of a sister that kicked off the whole mess. I won’t even get into her relationship with Jon. The only real difference IMO between her when she was alive and her as L.Stoneheart is that as LS she’s not hiding who she truly is.

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