The hero worship of Tyrion Lannister is absolutely toxic and needs to stop.
CW: rape, sexual assault. Also, spoilers.
First and foremost, I absolutely respect George RR Martin’s decision to write this character, and I do not feel that, by any means, Tyrion is the worst character in Westeros. (I do take issue with the hyper-misogynistic nature of Martin’s world because I find it alienating—although this is something that’s had quite a lot of debate elsewhere.) Tyrion’s existence is not the problem. Tyrion’s fandom, on the other hand, exposes some deeper cultural issues that warrant examination.
People love Tyrion. He is one of the most popular characters in both the book series and the show, and I’ve heard him referred to as one of the show’s few moral compasses. There’s also a pretty well respected alignment chart that has put him on the hero side of the scale. But it’s rare to see him discussed in conjunction with rape culture, and on his character page one of the major wikis discusses the murder of Tywin Lannister but omits the fact that Tyrion also strangles Shae. His faults are largely glossed over by the fandom.
Let’s evaluate why he’s so problematic:
- Tyrion rapes the woman that he claims to love, but shoulders none of the blame and still acts as if he is deserving of sympathy. If I recall, the rape of Tysha culminates with something along the lines of, “he didn’t want to, but his body betrayed him.” Not resisting the urge to rape someone isn’t a permissible moment of weakness. It’s rape. Characters are unreliable and Tyrion, with all of his flaws, really might be so self-pitying that he won’t admit that he’s at fault. But when reader excuses this as a part of his tragic back story it suggests that there are certain circumstances under which rape is permissible (spoiler: there aren’t).
- Fans use the fact that he didn’t rape Sansa as a badge of honor. We should not have to applaud anyone for not committing rape. That isn’t being a hero. That’s being a decent human being. Claiming anything else bolsters a lot of problematic ideas about sexual entitlement (ie “I didn’t rape this person even though I could have, so now they owe me for the sex I missed out on.”).
- He kills a prostitute for doing her job. After he’d spent a bit of time with Shae, he got the idea in his head that because he was having sex with her, he owned her. When he strangles her, he negates her sexual autonomy (was it a betrayal that she slept with his father? Absolutely. Does this mean that he’s got a right to get violent about it? No. She’s an adult who can sleep with any other consenting adult she likes, and if that’s a problem he doesn’t need to associate with her). Portraying him as tragic or troubled excuses his participation in domestic violence. If we demonstrate that domestic abuse is alright as long as the perpetrator is cute/smart/funny/whatever, that sends a message to other violent individuals that their behavior is okay as long as they’re well liked.
- He knowingly has sex with a prostitute in the same chapter that it’s mentioned that he might have contracted greyscale. That is to say that he doesn’t mind the possibility of spreading a deadly disease because he values his own sexual gratification over this girl’s life.
- And don’t say “Poor Tyrion, though. He’d have to go without sex.” First, no one is ever entitled to sex. Second, unlike his brother, he’s still got two perfectly good hands.
So it’s entirely possible that everyone’s favorite character is a dirtbag. What next?
We need to quit glorifying him. There are a lot of great characters who fall in the grey zone between hero and villain. There are even a lot of great characters who are villains and who do utterly despicable things. As a writer and as someone who genuinely loves fantasy, I think that it’s healthy to read about characters who are disagreeable and to appreciate the literary craftsmanship that makes them compelling in spite (or because) of this. As a feminist, I have to say that it’s also imperative that we stop the hero worship and start thinking about the way in which we talk about these characters.
Why is so much of the language in this article neutral? Because we shouldn’t forget that male and nonbinary folk are also the victims of sexual violence, and that not all predators are male.