In Season Four of Game of Thrones, when Tyrion Lannister is on trial for the murder of his nephew, King Joffrey Baratheon, he gives a speech to the court that cuts to the heart of his motivations as a character. I wish to confess, he begins. He’s not confessing to the murder of Joffrey, though.
“I am guilty of a far more monstrous crime,” he says. “I am guilty of being a dwarf.”
His father, Tywin Lannister tells him he’s not on trial for being a dwarf. He continues:
“Oh, yes I am. I’ve been on trial for that my entire life … I wish I was the monster you think I am. I wish I had enough poison for the whole pack of you. I would gladly give my life to watch you all swallow it.”
From the moment his birth took the life of his mother, Joanna Lannister, Tyrion has been the scorn of his father and siblings. As he tells the packed room at his trial, his physical existence has made him the scorn of the realm as a whole—a pariah for a society with prejudice against anyone that could be labeled as an other.
Unlike Cersei Lannister or Daenerys Targaryen or Stannis and Renly Baratheon or even Jon Snow or Robb Stark who have played the Game of Thrones for greed or honor or necessity—Tyrion is different. His goal is to prove himself worthy—to prove himself as more than what society tells him he is. And, if he can change that perception, in Tyrion’s eyes, he’s won the Game of Thrones.
Tyrion got his first taste of power early in the War of Five Kings, when he stepped in to help Joffrey Baratheon rule the Seven Kingdoms. He took naturally to the role. He’s proven himself both a fair and kind leader, as well as an apt tactician. He made clever use of wildfire and masterminded the Lannister victory at the Battle of the Blackwater. He politically went head-to-head against Cersei. And though he’s been imprisoned a few times and smuggled off to a different continent, he’s found himself in the corner of Daenerys Targaryen as the Hand of the Queen.
Sure, he’s deeply flawed and has made both tactical errors and moral ones, with the murders of his father and former girlfriend Shae taking the prize as the high point of Tyrion’s personal brutality. But at this point, who on the show hasn’t racked up a body count? And while Tyrion had some stumbles in Season Seven—particularly the astoundingly dumb Mission Capture-A-Wight—he’s wielded power wisely. Who didn’t wish that Tyrion was the person running things when Dany decided to ignore his advice and incinerate the Tarlys just because they were too prideful to bow to her?
Every time Tyrion gets close to earning the respect of the realm—and those in power—he’s had it stripped away. Cersei ordered one of the Kingsguard to kill Tyrion during the Battle of Blackwater Bay, even as he fought to save her life and the lives of her children. Though Tyrion survived the assassination attempt (earning the large facial scar he’s sported ever since), he was later stripped of his role as his nephew’s Hand in favor of his father, Tywin.
Heading into Season Eight, Tyrion is once again a position benefitting his intellect as an advisor to Dany. If he can help guide Daenerys to the throne and retain his position of trust and affection within her circle, it would be a redemption for all the humiliations that followed his betrayal at Blackwater Bay.
But there are other ways for Tyrion to win the respect he’s always deserved.
One popular theory suggests that Tyrion is secretly the son of Joanna Lannister and the Mad King Aerys Targaryen. If true, it would make Tyrion join the Daenerys and Jon as the world’s sole surviving Targaryens. He’d have a whole new family, trading a brother whose affections could never save Tyrion from humiliation and pain and a sister who downright hates him for a decidedly more loving sister and nephew. Of course, this would also strengthen his political prospects, turning him from the mistrusted Lannister in Dany’s court to her closest relative. For Tyrion, this could be the most satisfying way of all to win the game. All he’s craved is affection, not only from the realm, but from his immediate family.
“Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not,” Tyrion told a young Jon Snow in Game of Throne’s premier episode. “Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.” Tyrion has attempted to follow his own advice—making self-deprecating jokes about his stature, brushing off unfunny jabs, and proving his worth as a leader. But deep down, he doesn’t seem to really believe his own advice. For eight seasons, Tyrion has been trying to make the world forget what he is and embrace who he is. If he can succeed in that, he’ll have truly won.