Determined to Prove a Villain: Tyrion Lannister as Richard III

“You are an ill-made, devious, disobedient, spiteful little creature full of envy, lust, and low cunning.” In Storm of Swords, Tywin Lannister hurls this barrage of insults at his son Tyrion. While the accusations are meant for Tyrion, they would be just as applicable to Richard III. Just as Tyrion is (to use Westerosi terminology) a dwarf, Richard suffered from a curvature of the spine. Debate has long reigned between historians about the extent of Richard’s deformity: was he a hunchback as in Shakespeare’s famous play or was he not afflicted with any curvature of the spine at all and the myth that he was a deliberate lie to smear his reputation after his death in order to consolidate the Tudor claim to the English throne? The truth, as the remains of Richard III that were uncovered in the twenty-first century seem to attest, was somewhere between the two extremes. Richard III’s bones suggest that he probably had scoliosis, which, in the medieval era, would have essentially gone untreated, worsening as he aged and giving him a twisted spine and unbalanced shoulders that he could have attempted to hide with specially cut armor. In other words, Richard III wasn’t a hunchback, but Shakespeare’s depiction of him as “rudely stamp’d” and “deformed” was not without merit.

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Richard’s deformity was relevant to the medieval mindset, because the medieval belief was that, since imperfection had its roots in sin, an external deformity was indicative of some sort of internal warping of the soul. Essentially, a deformity was a physical manifestation of some inward evil. This belief may have influenced George R.R. Martin’s portrayal of Tyrion, for as Tyrion takes on more villainous qualities and less sympathetic ones, his appearance, like Richard’s scoliosis, worsens. This is particularly noticeable after the Battle of the Blackwater when almost all of his nose is sliced off, and before this battle, Tyrion had his nephew Tommen (whom he says he likes) kidnapped and held hostage, even going so far as to threaten Cerise that any injury done to Alayaya will be done to Tommen. Even the otherwise ruthless Tywin Lannister is appalled by what he perceives as the callousness of Tyrion’s threat against Tommen, demanding of Tyrion, “To save a whore’s virtue, you threatened your House, your own kin?” The depths Tyrion has sunken to are underscored even further by the fact that it is not even his whore, Shae, but Alayaya, whom he knows but has never slept with, that he threatens his own nephew, whom he claims to love, to protect.

Just as Tyrion kidnapped and held Tommen hostage, Richard III did the same to his own nephews. When Richard’s brother King Edward IV died, Richard’s nephew and heir to the throne, Edward V, left his castle at Ludlow and began to travel to London for his coronation, but he was arrested along with his retinue, many of whom were beheaded by Richard. Edward V along with his younger brother were kept prisoner in the Tower of London, where they disappeared from the reliable historical record. The most widespread belief among historians is that Richard III had them murdered, a claim corroborated by the fact that a workmen at the Tower in 1674 dug up a wooden box containing two small human skeletons at one of the rumored burial sites of the two young princes. Like Richard, Tyrion is also believed to be guilty of killing his nephew Joffrey, although book readers and show viewers know that to not be the case.

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However, much as with Richard, the truth with Tyrion becomes less important than what everyone believes to be true about him. The depiction of Richard III in Shakespeare’s titular play is far more enduring than any reliable record of his life and reign could be. Similarly the tales of Tyrion’s wickedness that are believed by almost everybody in King’s Landing from the starving street urchins to royal advisors become more important to his legacy than any real actions that he takes, such as at the Battle of the Blackwater.

I believe that the Battle of the Blackwater may foreshadow the next arc in Tyron’s character journey in the sense that I believe he will become something of a warrior much as Richard III was known for his fighting prowess. Richard III was a skilled soldier, trained in the arts of war since childhood, and historians have speculated that his scoliosis, in addition to requiring special armor, may have also necessitated, at least later on in his life, a unique style of saddle, much as Tyrion devises his own saddle to allow himself to ride a horse. A similar style of saddle may help Tyrion ride a dragon into battle as I am convinced that he will.

Way back in A Game of Thrones, we learn that Tyrion has a fascination with dragons, reading about them and looking at the dragon skulls in King’s Landing the first time he travels there only to be disappointed by how shrunken many of them appeared. As Tyrion explains to Jon Snow, when he was a child, he dreamed of having his own dragon, and when Jon seems astonished by this revelation, Tyrion elaborates, “Oh, yes. Even a stunted, twisted, ugly little boy can look down over the world when he’s seated on a dragon’s back…I used to start fires in the bowels of Casterly Rock and stare at the flames for hours, pretending they were dragon fire. Sometimes I’d imagine my father burning. At other times my sister.” It is noteworthy in this passage that Tyrion is attracted to the idea of having his own dragon because it can provide him with the height and by extension the power over the world that he lacks as well as because it can breathe fire to take vengeance on family members that he despises. Far from heroic, Tyrion’s dreams of what he would do with his own dragon are more characteristic of a vengeful villain. When he comes to Westeros with his dragon, Tyrion, like Dany, will bring fire and blood, and it would not surprise me if Tyrion targets his sister, perhaps fulfilling his dream of burning her. My prediction is that Tyrion will be slain in this battle, much as Richard III was killed on a battlefield, but that, like Richard III, he will live on as one of the most enduring villains that everyone loves to hate.

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8 thoughts on “Determined to Prove a Villain: Tyrion Lannister as Richard III

    1. Glad you enjoyed the comparison between Richard III and Tyrion. Richard III is an especially difficult figure to do research on, since it seems that most historians have an agenda when it comes to him–either he was unfairly villainized by those who came after him or he was really this evil tyrant–when the truth is probably somewhere in between. Separating the facts from the fiction where Richard III is concerned is very hard.

      So, eventually, it hit me that was the biggest comparison between Tyrion and Richard III: what people say and believe about them is in some ways more important than the truth about them. That, to me, seems to be one of the most important (and tragic) parts of Tyrion’s story.

      Anyway, glad you enjoyed the post, and thank you for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Hmmmm I never made the Richard III connection but with the obvious War of the Roses the story is based on perhaps I should have. We do actually know very little of the truth of Richard III he was brutalized by the Tudors who survived him. Often lies and exaggeration become the truth if repeated often enough.

    I was fascinated to find out his curved spine was real. I watched a documentary on it. I can’t believe they found him in a parking lot. Makes me wonder what else hides in the mundane. He died ignobly on the field of battle. Perhaps Tyrion will suffer the same fate. Though if he never gains a dragon I’d say it’s more likely he never sees battle again. Battle was never what he was good at. Plus he is really not made for that. He is too small compared to other warriors, he is more suited for a role as a strategist than a warrior.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It took awhile for me to see the Richard III parallel myself since Tyrion is written with a great deal of sympathy especially early on in the books and Richard is so often thought of as a villain but a lot of that reputation is created later the way we see an evil mythology sort of forming around Tyrion whether it is fair or not.

      It was very interesting to learn his curved spine was real and it does make you wonder what other artifacts could be dug up in the most common places.

      If Tyrion never gets a dragon then it would make more sense for him to be a strategist than a warrior. As he notes many times, his mind is more his weapon than his body. A dragon would be a great equalizer but if he did not have that then he would almost definitely stick to his mind , you are right.

      Liked by 1 person

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