Tywin Lannister’s name and reputation in A Song of Ice and Fire is associated with the consequentialist political mantra of “the ends justify the means.” But how true is that sentiment when examined against the text? And if true, does the series’ gray morality give Tywin a wider moral berth for his conduct?
Tywin Lannister is a fascinating character in that his actions result in such differing fan-opinions of the character. For his supporters, he’s viewed as someone willing to do evil to achieve a greater good best seen in his defense of his conduct during the Sack of King’s Landing.
“As stupid as he was, even he knew that Rhaegar’s children had to die if his throne was ever to be secure. Yet he saw himself as a hero, and heroes do not kill children.” (ASOS, Tyrion VI)
Tywin’s detractors see his actions as dark, evil acts perpetrated by an evil man for politically nefarious reasons. Eddard Stark was firmly in this camp.
I would sooner entrust a child to a pit viper than to Lord Tywin. (AGOT, Eddard II)
But both perspectives miss something fundamental about Tywin’s conduct. He may have shrouded his actions in political terms, but subtext and context shows that Tywin actually couched all of his major evil actions from a deeply personal perspective.
In this analysis, I’ll hope to show Tywin’s deeply personal reasons for his brutalities through 3 seminal events, all of which took place prior to events of the main book series:
- The Reyne/Tarbeck Rebellion
- The Defiance of Duskendale
- The Sack of King’s Landing at the end of Robert’s Rebellion
“Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens.” (ASOS, Tyrion I)
Artwork by Pojypojy
Editorial Note: While this is primarily a command analysis of Tywin Lannister, there is a significant section dedicated to Roose Bolton towards the end. While that section in and of itself is worthy of its own post, I thought it important to place it in an analysis of Tywin as it is related to Tywin’s skill as a strategist.
Cementing the Tyrell Alliance
Tywin’s decisive victory over Stannis Baratheon did more than simply lift the siege of King’s Landing; it upended the strategic picture in Westeros. As we discussed in part 3, Tywin’s alliance with Mace Tyrell added the necessary manpower for victory over Stannis at King’s Landing, but there were more ramifications of this alliance than simple victory in the field.
First, the influx of Tyrell soldiers ensured that Tywin had a larger army than all of his enemies combined. If we start with the assumption that Tywin had around 20,000 soldiers at Harrenhal and Mace Tyrell had about 80,000 at Bitterbridge, the combined army now totalled 100,000 soldiers. More than bringing more men under his command, Tywin also inherited good commanders through his alliance. While Mace Tyrell, Lord of Highgarden, was not a good commander, some of his subordinate commanders were. Mace Tyrell’s son, Garlan Tyrell, had led the vanguard of the assault on King’s Landing. In the course of the battle, he personally killed Ser Guyard Morrigen, the commander of Stannis’s vanguard. But however good a knight Garlan was, Tywin’s greatest command inheritance from the Tyrell alliance was Randyll Tarly. Lord Tarly was a skilled warrior with several wars under his belt. During Robert’s Rebellion some 15 years previously, he was the only commander to defeat Robert Baratheon in battle at Ashford. During the Siege of King’s Landing, Randyll Tarly was given command of the center. Having both commanders was a significant windfall for Tywin Lannister.
Lord Tywin had said, “No man is free. Only children and fools think elsewise.” (ADWD, Tyrion II)
The Lion of Lannister, the Pragmatist, the Unyielding, the subject of songs, the destroyer of houses, the War Criminal, the Commander: Tywin Lannister was all of these and more. But the traits were not the man, the man was complex with different motives and motivations that influenced his actions. The commander that Tywin was is only a small part of his character, but it’s the part that I’ll be focusing on in these essays.
I’ve chosen the title “Wins and Losses” intentionally. Tywin Lannister proved a brilliant tactician and strategist in his youth and young adulthood. In his later adult life, he proved to be a poorer tactician but still a brilliant strategist. I also want to show that, on balance, Tywin’s victories directly correlated and corresponded to Westeros’s decline.
Administrative Note: This first section is not so much a command analysis as background and character analysis of Tywin Lannister which will be useful in evaluating Tywin’s tactical and strategic prowess later on. That said, at the end we’ll talk about Tywin’s sack of King’s Landing and the tactical and strategic planning that probably went into the action. This will help set the stage for a look at Tywin’s military/diplomatic campaigns in the War of the Five Kings.