This essay contains Winds of Winter spoilers from a George RR Martin interview and a released sample chapter towards the end. So, beware, spoiler-averse!
“I am Hugor Hill, a little monster. Your little monster, if you like. You have my word, all that I desire is to be leal servant of your dragon queen.” (ADWD, Tyrion III)
Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 5 “The Bells” has ushered in a wave of controversy over Daenerys Targaryen burning King’s Landing after its surrender. While much of the controversy has focused on whether the necessary plot foundation and character groundwork for the event exists for Dany or even whether the act will occur in the books (I think it will occur in the books too for reasons I outlined back in 2015), there’s an under-analyzed aspect of the event in need of unpacking: namely, the character and role of Tyrion Lannister in the affair.
Tyrion Lannister is a fan-favorite character and viewed as one of the “good guys” on the show. But in the books, Tyrion is more ambiguous. A Game of Thrones has Tyrion’s darkness emerging at a few points, but it mostly stays in the background. But just prior to the publication of A Clash of Kings, author George RR Martin was interviewed by Amazon.com and stated:
Interviewer: “Do you have a favorite character?”
Martin: “I’ve got to admit I kind of like Tyrion Lannister. He’s the villain of course, but hey, there’s nothing like a good villain.” – Amazon.com Interview with GRRM, 1999
Tyrion’s Clash arc finds more darkness emerging in Tyrion, but it’s not until A Storm of Swords that this darkness comes roaring out. Thereafter, in A Dance with Dragons, we find Tyrion’s darkness festering into nihilism and self-loathing, resulting in monstrous acts and evil desires/thoughts.
But the version of Tyrion found in Game of Thrones is different, changed. The monster who emerges at the end of A Storm of Swords, who may have always been there in the books, is gone.
Tyrion in the show has most of his character flaws and evil deeds airbrushed from the narrative. While his murderous turn at the end of ASOS is retained in the show, there are two major story changes which undercut Tyrion’s plot resolution in Season 4. And when his arc progresses into Essos in Season 5, his character state, plot actions and even his underlying motivations are altered significantly from the source material as a result.
All of these changes have had consequences, undercutting the character of Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones.
And the fallout from the adaptation of Tyrion Lannister was felt most acutely in the destruction of King’s Landing.