The Real Game of Thrones: Why Tywin Lannister Really is a Villain

I don’t think he’s a bad guy at all. No. He’s a man of principle—they might not be your principles or my principles, but he’s quite principled…I think he’s a great character, but I wouldn’t describe him as a bad guy, not at all. – Charles Dance on Tywin Lannister

Actors will often take a sympathetic view of the characters they portray, it is only to be expected. After all Charles Dance has spent four years living with Tywin Lannister. Over the course of his story Charles brought a slightly human side to Tywin, which is no mean feat. Tywin Lannister is one of the most ruthless characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. Game of Thrones producers Dan and Dave are also adverse to the idea that Tywin Lannister is a villain.

Dan: Well, I don’t think Tywin is a villain.
Dave: That’s a fair point. If you read the story from the Stark point of view…
Dan: …then I guess he would be a villain.
Dave: But Tywin isn’t torturing prostitutes for pleasure. He’s not a sadist. He’s ruthless, for sure. But there’s an argument to be made that Westeros needs ruthlessness. You look at Daenerys across the sea — she’s crucifying 163 masters; she’s pretty ruthless, too. So you love Daenerys even when she’s killing people and condemn Tywin. I think somebody asked Charles about that in an interview and he was quite resistant to the idea of Tywin as a villain. I think Dan’s right. I don’t think of him as evil.” – Dan and Dave in an interview with EW.

Of course Dan and Dave are slightly influenced by the actual actors who portray the TV characters. And who doesn’t love Charles Dance? Charles Dance is awesome. However unlike the on-screen version of Cersei, where the sympathetic angles have been poured on thick, on-screen Tywin is much like his character in the books. Charles Dance captures his commanding presence perfectly, and seeing him slightly vulnerable in the Season 4  finale was very interesting. And I am not talking Tywin on the privy. One of Charles’ greatest moments as Tywin Lannister was watching his reaction when Cersei confronted him with the fact she had been in a sexual relationship with her own brother since they were children. Watching Tywin turn his face away from her in denial, his ideal of his perfect, powerful family crumbling as Cersei exposed him, one would be hard pressed not to feel a twinge of sympathy for a man who only wanted the best for his family.

Book spoilers and theories follow


But let’s take a step back before we get misty-eyed. Tywin is not a ‘straightforward’ villain, no more than any of George’s characters are straightforward. The problem with Tywin Lannister is that he believes that he is above and beyond moral boundaries – but only when it suits him.

“Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner.”- Tywin to Tyrion “A Storm of Swords” p941

By Tywin’s reasoning he has killed a ‘dozen men’, conveniently leaving out that the whole of the Stark army was slaughtered, some 3500 men, along with nobles from House Umber, Locke, Manderly and Mormont, among others. He makes no mention of the violation of the sacred laws of hospitality. The blood, he surmises, is on Walder Frey’s hands. He even attempts to wash his hands of the rape and murder of Elia Martell and her children.

Elia Martell was Prince Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife. She was murdered along with her infant children in the sack of King’s Landing on Tywin’s orders. Ser Amory murdered Elia’s infant daughter Rhaenys, while Elia was raped and killed by Ser Gregor Clegane after Gregor murdered her son, Aegon, in front of her. Elia’s and the children’s bodies were wrapped in crimson Lannister cloaks and presented to Robert Baratheon as a token of fealty. So perhaps Tywin did not think his men would rape Elia, but it was Tywin who gave the order for a woman and two infants to be murdered.

“We had come late to Robert’s cause. It was necessary to demonstrate our loyalty. When I laid those bodies before the throne, no man could doubt that we had forsaken House Targaryen forever. And Robert’s relief was palpable. 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. I grant you, it was done too brutally. Elia need not have been harmed at all, that was sheer folly. By herself she was nothing.”
“Then why did the Mountain kill her?”
“Because I did not tell him to spare her. I doubt I mentioned her at all. I had more pressing concerns…Nor did I yet grasp what I had in Gregor Clegane, only that he was huge and terrible in battle. The rape . . . even you will not accuse me of giving that command, I would hope. Ser Amory was almost as bestial with Rhaenys. I asked him afterward why it had required half a hundred thrusts to kill a girl of . . . two? Three? He said she’d kicked him and would not stop screaming. If Lorch had half the wits the gods gave a turnip, he would have calmed her with a few sweet words and used a soft silk pillow.” His mouth twisted in distaste. “The blood was in him.” -Tywin to Tyrion “A Storm of Swords” p940

Far be it for Tywin to admit to any guilt in the matter. He glosses over the fact that he ordered the sack of a whole city and casually disregards all of the innocent civilians who were slaughtered. The rape of Elia Martell goes entirely unpunished, even if Tywin adopts a distasteful air over the fact. Compare him to Stannis Baratheon, a man demands obedience and honourable conduct from his men, and who gelds any rapists amongst his ranks. Twyin, displaying his latent cowardice, instructs Tyrion to lay the blame on the dead man Ser Amory when Oberyn Martell comes to seek vengeance for his sister’s brutal rape and murder.

There is a reason that Elia’s rape is brought up in A Song of Ice and Fire so often. Even though there is an idea that rape in medieval times was tolerated, it was in fact illegal and punishable by death in some areas, even in the lower classes. The idea that a noble woman, a princess in Elia’s case, would be violated is even more shocking. Several prominent women during the Wars of the Roses found themselves on the losing side. But Edward IV only exiled Margaret of Anjou after he murdered her husband. He took the “Kingmaker” Richard Neville’s wife Anne’s lands away from her, and she was barricaded in sanctuary for a while, but no physical harm came to her. Queen Elizabeth Woodville fled to sanctuary on two occasions, when her husband was overthrown and when he died, but came out the second time when Richard III agreed to swear a public oath promising to protect her daughters. Nor would Richard take any action against Margaret Beaufort after she was charged with treason against him, he simply put her under house arrest in her husband’s care. Richard’s own mother Cecily Neville was sent to live with her own sister after her husband rebelled against King Henry VI. The rape and murder of noble women and children was not the norm. What George tells us here is that no-one is safe from the horrors of war. And just how far Tywin Lannister is prepared to go to keep his position secure.

Is there something even more sinister in Tywin’s actions however? He tells Tyrion he was terrified that Aerys might murder Jaime, or what Jaime himself might do. What Tywin does not explain to Tyrion is the history he has with the ‘Mad King’ Aerys.

“Prince Aerys … as a youth, he was taken with a certain lady of Casterly Rock, a cousin of Tywin Lannister. When she and Tywin wed, your father drank too much wine at the wedding feast and was heard to say that it was a great pity that the lord’s right to the first night had been abolished. A drunken jape, no more, but Tywin Lannister was not a man to forget such words, or the … the liberties your father took during the bedding.” His face reddened “I have said too much, Your Grace. I—” – Ser Barristan to Daenerys “A Dance with Dragons” p1201

There is some speculation that Aerys Targaryen raped or seduced Joanna Lannister at some point,and that he is actually Tyrion’s father. The fact that Aerys was attracted to Joanna and Tyrion’s white-blond hair lend some weight to the theory, along with Tywin’s assertion to Tyrion that he cannot prove Tyrion is not his own son. However if Tywin had suspected that Aerys had either raped or had sex with his beloved wife why had he remained serving Aerys as his hand? There was another illegitimate Targaryen with mismatched eyes, Shiera Seastar. The theory is still unlikely – but not impossible of course. However there may have been several factors that led to Tywin betraying Aerys.

Jaime Lannister joined the Kingsguard after he and Cersei learned that Tywin was planning on marrying Jaime to Lysa Tully. However while Jaime and Cersei thought it was the perfect plan to safeguard their relationship, in reality Aerys chose Jaime to slight Tywin and rob him of his precious heir. Aerys was jealous of Tywin, not only because he had married the beautiful Joanna, but because as the King’s Hand, Tywin proved himself a better ruler and administrator than King Aerys himself. Tywin would later propose a marriage between his daughter Cersei and Aerys’ son Prince Rhaegar. Yet Aerys rejected him, out of fear and jealousy. “You are my most able servant, Tywin,’ he told him, ‘but a man does not marry his heir to his servant’s daughter.”

So while this may explain why Tywin saw fit to betray his King, even though it is Jaime who is branded “Kingslayer”, it doesn’t quite explain why Tywin treats his own son Tyrion with so much loathing. It is in his treatment of Tyrion that we see the darkest side of Tywin Lannister.


There is certainly something irrational in hating a child for killing his mother in childbirth. Perhaps Tywin would have been more forgiving if Tyrion was not born a dwarf, and therefore considered deformed. As C.S. Hughes writes “appearance is one of the most fundamental things about his character. It not only colours his father’s and sister’s relationship with him, his perception of himself, his relationships with women, it also defines how both the nobility and the small folk perceive him.”

“To teach me humility, the gods have condemned me to watch you waddle about wearing that proud lion that was my father’s sigil and his father’s before him. ”
Twyin to Tyrion “A Storm of Swords.” p.98

What is curious is that Tywin kept Tyrion. It probably would not have been questioned if he had drowned Tyrion at birth. Yet Tywin adopts the martyred air of one put on trial by the Gods and he reminds Tyrion how much he suffers for allowing Tyrion to live. There are only a few who recognise Tyrion’s good qualities beyond his looks. One of the most important of those few, however, was cruelly taken from him by his father.

Tyrion’s first wife Tysha does not feature in the Game of Thrones series other than Tyrion recalling the story to Bronn and Shae. The story remains true to the books. Tysha was a crofter’s child who was saved by Tyrion and Jaime when they discovered her being chased by two men when they were out riding. While Jaime rode back to Casterly Rock for reinforcements to catch the outlaws, Tyrion took Tysha to an inn. The two were only 13 years old, they fell in love, they married the next day and they kept their marriage a secret. Only two weeks later they were discovered by Tywin.

“First he made my brother tell me the truth. The girl was a whore, you see. Jaime arranged the whole affair, the road, the outlaws, all of it. He thought it was time I had a woman. He paid double for a maiden, knowing it would be my first time.
“After Jaime had made his confession, to drive home the lesson, Lord Tywin brought my wife in and gave her to his guards. They paid her fair enough. A silver for each man, how many whores command that high a price? He sat me down in the corner of the barracks and bade me watch, and at the end she had so many silvers the coins were slipping through her fingers and rolling on the floor, she …” The smoke was stinging his eyes. Tyrion cleared his throat and turned away from the fire, to gaze out into darkness. “Lord Tywin had me go last,” he said in a quiet voice. “And he gave me a gold coin to pay her, because I was a Lannister, and worth more.”
After a time he heard the noise again, the rasp of steel on stone as Bronn sharpened his sword. “Thirteen or thirty or three, I would have killed the man who did that to me.” – Tyrion A Game of Thrones p.586

Tysha’s story is told through Tyrion’s eyes in retrospect. The decision to leave her story out is not surprising, Dan and Dave decided to follow through with a rather different perspective on Shae and Tyrion’s relationship, and that worked very well. Shae was, in the books, a camp-follower and gold-digger who did not truly love Tyrion. The relationship between the on-screen Shae and Tyrion shows us more of what Tyrion’s relationship with Tysha would have been like, a young woman who truly loved Tyrion for himself. So when, in the Season 4 finale, Tyrion finds Shae in Tywin’s bed the viewer can somewhat understand his uncontrollable rage -if not his subsequent murder of both Shae and Tywin.

In the book, however, this rage is twofold. The parting between Jaime and Tyrion in A Storm of Swords is heart-breaking. Jaime is one of those few that really loved Tyrion, and it is Jaime that saves his life after Tyrion is condemned to death after being unjustly convicted of murdering his nephew Joffrey. When Tyrion thanks Jaime for his life, Jaime feels compelled to confess the truth about Tysha.

“She was no whore. I never bought her for you. That was a lie that Father commanded me to tell. Tysha was . . . she was what she seemed to be. A crofter’s daughter, chance met on the road.”
Tyrion could hear the faint sound of his own breath whistling hollowly through the scar of his nose. Jaime could not meet his eyes. Tysha. He tried to remember what she had looked like. A girl, she was only a girl, no older than Sansa. “My wife,” he croaked. “She wed me.”
“For your gold, Father said. She was lowborn, you were a Lannister of Casterly Rock. All she wanted was the gold, which made her no different from a whore, so . . . so it would not be a lie, not truly, and . . . he said that you required a sharp lesson. That you would learn from it, and thank me later . . .”
“Thank you?” Tyrion’s voice was choked. “He gave her to his guards. A barracks full of guards. He made me . . . watch.”
Aye, and more than watch. I took her too . . . my wife . . .” Tyrion A Storm of Swords p1374

Tysha was a thirteen year-old girl, a virgin, an innocent who fell in love and got married. Tywin decided to teach his son a lesson by arranging for Tysha to be publicly gang-raped by his guards, for Tyrion’s ‘crime’ of marrying a low-born girl and for Tysha’s presumption at marrying above her station. So when Tyrion finds out his father ruined both Tysha and Tyrion’s lives with this horrifically cruel act is it any wonder he flew into a murderous rage? After all Bronn asserted he’d have killed Tywin even if Tysha was a prostitute.

Just deserts? Just so. The next time you want to shed a tear for Tywin Lannister, the next time you think he was just trying to do what was best for his family,  remember that thirteen-year old girl who was publicly gang-raped and brutalised for the crime of falling in love.

Tysha Lannister by Jekaa
Tysha Lannister by Jekaa