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Has the character of Tyrion Lannister been whitewashed in the TV show? Why?


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Sunil Kumar Gopal says that Tyrion is being made more sympathetic to the TV audience:

There are spoilers in this answer if you haven't watched Season 4.

I was recently linked to the effects of favoritism on how the show interprets the books, which reinforced my gripe about one of the many ways in which the show deals with the characters from the books. In Tyrion's case, it was not as drastic as it was for his siblings, or many other characters, but even the subtle differences change our perspective significantly.

I wouldn't call it a whitewashing of his character per se - it probably is, I don't know, but I feel it's more of making him more sympathetic to the TV audience. More likeable, and definitely more relatable than he is in the books. This kind of simplification has happened for most characters, where we are looking at the showrunners' interpretation of the characters - Joffrey is much more vile in the show, Roose Bolton is much less cruel, Tywin has a good side to him, the Robb-Talisa arc, etc. For Tyrion, from the books, he's the underdog, he's a survivor, he's compassionate, well-read, and quite intelligent. Those characteristics have been captured excellently in the show, but we don't see his dark side nearly as much.

A benign example, from Season 1 is during the Battle of the Green Fork where Tyrion is knocked out and sits out the battle. In the books, Tyrion fights in the battle, and does it reasonably well - defying his father's expectations. It changes the "underdog" image slightly, but I think that the real reason for the change here is budget constraints. (I believe that the lack of Tyrion's chain in Season 2 was also probably because of the cost.) Another example from Season 1, is when Tyrion narrates the story about Tysha to Bronn and Shae. It's not very different from the books, in the show he ends with his father commanding him to watch. However, in the book, he tells Bronn what happened next - that his father made him take a turn in the end. If you add that to Jaime's confession in A Storm of Swords, it's an even more terrifying story than it already is. Despite these changes, Tyrion in Season 1 is rather close to the Tyrion from A Game of Thrones

Then comes Season 2, the moment for Tyrion to shine as he takes on all the schemers of King's Landing, and the invading army under Stannis. I daresay that a lot of fans indifferent towards him in Season 1 started liking him a lot after Season 2. There begins the trouble. Even though he is exceptionally kind to many, the Tyrion of A Clash of Kings proves himself to be his father's son at many places. The finest examples are from his interactions with Cersei, the most minor one being the time he mildly poisons her so he can make some important decisions in her absence from the Small Council. 

But the worst one, though, is when Cersei captured Alayaya instead of Shae and paraded her in front of Tyrion. At that time, Tyrion threatened Cersei that everything that she does to Alayaya will be done to her son, who was under Tyrion's custody at that time. He openly threatened Cersei that her child will be whipped if Alayaya is whipped, that he will be raped if Alayaya is dealt with the same. He wasn't talking about Joffrey, by the way, he was talking about Tommen. I believed that it was an empty threat, a desperate lie to keep Cersei in line, but even so, I think it makes him far less of a sympathetic character.Here's something from A Storm of Swords, when Tyrion finds out that Alayaya had been whipped in spite of his threats:

"I promised my sister I would treat Tommen as she treated Alayaya," he remembered aloud. He felt as though he might retch. "How can I scourge an eight-year-old boy?" But if I don't, Cersei wins. “You don’t have Tommen,” Bronn said bluntly. [...]Another blow; yet a relief as well, he must admit it. He was fond of Tommen.

Then we have the Antler Men, traitors who were stripped, and thrown out with catapults after antlers were nailed to their heads. It was Joffrey's work, of course, but the kind, compassionate Tyrion never bats an eye about that cruelty, especially that he was the one who had them arrested in the first place. There was a singer, Symon Silver-Tongue, who knew about Shae and Tyrion, and blackmailed him - Tyrion had him killed. Tyrion also ordered the baby-killing gold cloak Allar Deem whom he sent to the Wall to be thrown overboard during the voyage, though I loved that part. A lot of Tyrion's cunning from the books never made it to the show.

And finally there is the whole debacle in the Season 4 finale. After Jaime confesses the truth about Tysha, he asks Tyrion if he had really killed Joffrey. This was the response he got:

"You poor stupid blind crippled fool. Must I spell every little thing out for you? Very well. Cersei is a lying whore, she’s been fucking Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and probably Moon Boy for all I know. And I am the monster they all say I am. Yes, I killed your vile son." He made himself grin. It must have been a hideous sight to see, there in the torchlit gloom. Jaime turned without a word and walked away.

Granted, Tyrion almost instantaneously regrets doing that to his brother, but we are seldom judged by our the contents of our thoughts. Tyrion knew what will hurt Jaime the most, and delivered a killer blow. It had far-reaching consequences in both their futures. In the books, Tyrion struggles with his feelings towards Shae. He compares her to Tysha a lot, which he considers a cautionary tale about trusting women who only want him for his gold. Even then, he couldn't help falling in love with her, and that made her betrayal cut deep. The show gave more depth to Shae's character, making her faithful to Tyrion until she perceives herself being discarded. Everything in place so far. Suddenly it makes no sense for Shae to be in Tywin's bed in the show - what's she doing there if she had really loved Tyrion, and betrayed him only because he rebuffed her in the end? Be that as it may, Shae's murder was vastly different in the show. We see a Tyrion forcing himself to strangle Shae at the end of a long struggle in which she had a knife. That's not what I read. Shae was pleading with him in the books, saying that she betrayed him because she was forced to do that, and that she wants him to take her away. 

Tyrion slid a hand under his father's chain, and twisted. The links tightened, digging into her neck. "For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman's hands are warm," he said. He gave cold hands another twist as the warm ones beat away his tears.

The conversation between Tyrion and Tywin was also very different (See: How did the death at the end of Season 4, Episode 10 differ between the books and show?), and Tyrion is much more sympathetic in the show version.Oh, and no comparison between the book and show versions of Tyrion is complete without this obligatory side-by-side image.

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(The one on the left, art by Henning Ludvigsen)George RR Martin said that Tyrion is his most favourite character in an interviewonce. Maybe because of that, Tyrion already gets a number of reprieves in the books, but at least Martin made sure that Tyrion is still unarguably a morally grey character. I'll admit that Tyrion is one of my most favourite characters as well, and it's not unreasonable to think that he's the favourite of the show's creators as well. That seems to be influencing their script considerably, and I can't say that I like it. A lot of book readers believe that A Song of Ice and Fire is the story about Jon Snow, but Game of Thrones, at least so far, is predominantly the story of Tyrion Lannister. Peter Dinklage, at the moment, is to Game of Thrones what Hugh Jackman is to the X-Men franchise.

Actually, I think Game of Thrones is primarily about the coming of age of seven characters:

Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon Snow, Arya, Sansa, Bran, and Stannis.

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