Brandon Stark became king through an almost-but-not-quite-democratic process in the Game of Thrones series finale, but the real leader of the episode was Tyrion Lannister. In the end, the swiller of wine, frequenter of brothels, and drinker and knower of things emerged as the conscience of Westeros.
Everything of major consequence that happened in “The Iron Throne” occurred because of Tyrion’s actions and his insistence on enforcing checks and balances. If he hadn’t rejected Daenerys and convinced Jon Snow that her mass slaughter in King’s Landing couldn’t stand, Dany might have wound up in control of the Iron Throne. If he hadn’t convinced Jon Snow that Dany had to be stopped by whatever means necessary, Jon might have wound up by her side. Had he not been given the space to opine on how the Westeros government should work and to nominate Bran as Lord of the (Now) Six Kingdoms, Bran wouldn’t have been put in charge. Was it a little weird that a prisoner was suddenly given the floor and allowed to dictate who would rule most of Westeros? Yeah. But it also made a sad sort of sense. Among all the gathered decision-makers, Tyrion was recognized as part of the Establishment. Grey Worm was not, even though he had been declared Master of War before Daenerys died. As the only one with a title under the most recent queen, he should have had some say. But some things in Westeros, as in life, don’t change.
Also, had Bran not become king, Tyrion wouldn’t have been named Hand of the King, a role that, based on the Small Council meeting near the episode’s end, makes Tyrion the Dick Cheney to Bran’s George W. Bush. (King Bran: “I’m gonna go track down a dragon using my Psychic Friends Network. You just keep running everything else. Cool?”)
Tyrion didn’t earn his power through violence or strategizing or long-term wedding-murder-planning, the way other characters on Game of Thrones so often have. When Bran asked him to be Hand, he didn’t even want the job, in the same way that Bran didn’t want his. Tyrion got what he got because he was very good at doing the thing that he argued was most vital to maintaining a functioning society: telling stories.
“What unites people?” he asks the group of Westeros representatives gathered to decide his fate. “Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. And who has a better story than Bran the Broken? The boy who fell from a high tower and lived.”
In this moment, the person telling Bran’s story isn’t Bran himself. It’s Tyrion, and, to be clear, he’s spinning it. Bran didn’t just fall from a high tower. He was pushed out of one by a pair of Lannisters who were only interested in saving their reputations, not in the damage that covering up their incestuous relationship would inflict on a poor, innocent boy.
Tyrion’s monologue about storytelling proves how much stories can influence belief in what is “right.” But it also functions as the repaying of a debt. The best thing he decides he can do to honor his late sister and brother is, to the extent it’s possible, rectify their wrong. All of this was foreshadowed back in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” still the final season’s best episode, when Tyrion sat down to have a chat with Bran, the specifics of which we never saw. Clearly something was said between the two that led to this moment. Each is the outlier of the two most important families on Game of Thrones. Because of that, Tyrion can empathize with Bran in a way that allows him to understand how to tell Bran’s story.
Across the board, “The Iron Throne” seemed to give characters who’ve been underestimated opportunities to rise up and assume authority. Sansa, the girl once deemed useful only as a potential wife, declares herself the independent Queen of the North. Arya, formerly viewed as just a girl incapable of kicking asses, sets out to discover a new world like a less racist, more formidable Christopher Columbus. Jon Snow still leads the Night’s Watch, although it’s not clear what they will be watching since the White Walkers should be (emphasis on should) all gone now. And the wheelchair-bound, freakishly cerebral Bran becomes king of the remaining kingdoms, with the pariah of the Lannister family as his second-in-command.
This transformation is most significant for Tyrion, based on the amount of screen time he gets in the finale and in that amusing Small Council scene. Tyrion, anticipating that the full council will soon meet, goes to the head of the table and very particularly arranges the chairs, a callback to a scene from season three where his council colleagues go to great table-seating lengths to make him feel inadequate. (Of note: Everyone in that scene except Tyrion is dead now.) In the finale, Tyrion is positioned at the head of the table and no one tries to undermine him. It’s a wonderful moment of ascendancy for him. (It’s also nice that he has apparently read much of the literature provided by water.org.)
Because of all this, “The Iron Throne” is a fantastic showcase for Peter Dinklage, who seems poised to earn another Emmy nomination and perhaps even a fourth win. You might not believe that Jon could stab Daenerys mid-embrace, or that every stakeholder in Westeros would be like, “Let’s hear what Tyrion has to say even though he was dead-loyal to Daenerys up until she straight-up murdered an entire city’s population.” But the strength of Dinklage’s performance makes you believe it. He gets to display a vast emotional spectrum in his scenes — much more so than some of his fellow actors (hi, Lena Headey!), which is, as previously suggested, one of the more unfortunate things about this final season. That shortcoming does not, however, take away from the strength of Dinklage’s performance in the last episode. Whether grieving the loss of his siblings or arguing for justice with both Jon and the Westerosi Jedi Council or providing comic relief in the form of jokes about jackasses and honeycombs, he is phenomenal.
Without Dinklage providing the ballast this episode required, it would have been hard to believe the turns the story takes before settling on its new king and tentative future for the people of Westeros. Dinklage made me believe all of that. He sold me on what needed to be done, the same way Tyrion sold Jon and every representative that chose Bran as their next ruler.
It’s appropriate that, when Samwell presents Tyrion with A Song of Ice and Fire, Tyrion earns no mention within its pages. His role in major events, as always, has been underplayed. But if it’s true that more books are coming, then Tyrion’s role will presumably be as central as it was in the final chapter of Game of Thrones.