This week in the Glass Candle Dialogue, Luka and I eulogize the Tyrell family. We discuss the Machiavellian machinations on which House Tyrell was founded, chat about LGBT representation, and try to find some catharsis in the tragic end this family faced.
Petra: For me, and I think for a lot of people, House Tyrell was the family I wanted to be a member of the most. The Starks were probably the most realistic family unit but the Tyrells were the most appealing. So it was really unfortunate that they got blown up.
Luka: They seemed to get along with each other better than a lot of the Westerosi families but I wouldn’t say their dynamics were completely healthy. Olenna was very manipulative and controlling. It’s understandable, of course. As a woman, “soft power” was the only kind of authority she could really wield but that doesn’t change the fact that she practiced the same kind of political machinations on her family as Tywin did.
Petra: They were a very ambitious family, to be sure. Their sole motivation the entire time seemed to be just to rise as far as they could. They never had any particular goal to achieve with their newfound power or internal conflict to put to rest, right?
Luka: Yeah. Determination to climb the social ladder seems to have been an inherited ambition. The Tyrells started out as the stewards of the Gardeners and, when Aegon the Conqueror showed up, they took advantage of the situation and ended up on top. Three centuries later, the family was still doing more or less the same thing.
Petra: Maybe it’s fitting that their sigil is a plant. A vertical rise has been their sole motivation for their entire history. “We Grow Strong: It’s All We Know How To Do.”
Petra: Olenna is kind of like the sassy grandma we wish we had.
Luka: Except for the murder and the assassinations.
Petra: Hey, as long as it worked to my benefit and I didn’t get framed I wouldn’t necessarily refuse her help. Anyway, as much as she fits the archetype of the loving, sharp-tongued grandma, your comment does make me wonder how different her demeanor towards Margaery would have been if she hadn’t shared that ambition.
Luka: Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed her character. They seemed more modern, for good and ill. The Tyrells generally displayed a more Renaissance-era mindset than the other Westerosi families, particularly in the sense that they excelled in discreet political machinations and poisonings rather than outright military action.
Petra: Well, the first book and the TV show are both titled “Game of Thrones,” in reference to Cersei’s phrase for high-stakes political intrigue held at court. The Tyrells were far from unique in that sense, though they were better at it than, say, the Starks. But I agree that they’re Renaissance-era in terms of aesthetic appreciation. They prized beauty, fashion and architecture on a level beyond the other Westerosi families. They were also far more socially progressive and inclusive than most others.
Luka: Along with the Martells.
Petra: Oh, true, we talked about that just last week! Okay, so the Tyrells and the Martells were the most progressive, particularly in terms of sexuality. It’s implied in The World of Ice and Fire that Aegon the Unlikely’s son, Daeron, was gay. He never married, “preferring the companionship of Ser Jeremy Norridge, a young knight whom he had befriended when they were squires at Highgarden.” I think it’s funny that the shorthand for LGBT in ASOIAF could be Highgarden. Like “friends of Dorothy” is “friends from Highgarden” in Westeros. But I do appreciate how inclusive the Tyrells were. I love that scene between Margaery and Renly where Margaery takes him totally off guard with her honesty. “Hey, I’m your queen and you need to put a baby in me. We can get my brother involved if that’ll help you. Whatever you need. I’m flexible.”
Luka: And Renly was so repressed he was absolutely shocked that she was talking about it so freely. His brain short-circuited. It’s worth noting, though, that we’re talking about the sexuality of these characters in very modern terms. We have classifications and vocabulary for sexual orientations that people in our world didn’t have until very recently. I’m wondering whether Westerosi society has our modern classifications for sexual orientation, even if their values prohibit anything non-heteronormative, or if their view of sexuality is more nebulous as it was for the bulk of human history.
Petra: Good question! Yara and Oberyn’s openness suggests that Westeros has a better handle on same-sex attraction than historical medieval Western Europe did, but then the characters never discuss sexual orientation explicitly. It all seems to fall under Jaime’s observation to Brienne: “We don’t choose who we love.” That said, I think there’s a significant difference in the way sexuality is presented in the books and the show. To me, Game of Thrones takes a more progressive stance than ASOIAF. I get the criticisms against Loras’ characterization in the show, in that he’s “the gay character,” but in ASOIAF, with the exception of women having their servants go down on them, we don’t have any overt same-sex relations. The nature of Loras’ bond with Renly is left in between the lines. When Renly dies Loras says, “When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.” At least, in the show it’s clear that they were in a relationship.
Luka: Martin veers too far into the logic of “In Westeros, which is inspired by medieval Western Europe, they would keep it secret.” Yes, of course they would, but … come on, that’s no excuse not to feature a non-hetero POV when you have so many characters, or at least someone who is close to one and thinks about it explicitly. (Well, except for Jon Connington, but again that’s implied and we never get the kind of detail about his orientation and experiences we would get if he was a heterosexual man.) In the show we actually got to see Renly and Loras together. We saw the dynamics of their relationship.
Petra: I think the show has been doing a pretty good job at addressing “modern” (the quotation marks can’t be stressed enough) issues in a “medieval” context insofar as characters love who they love despite heternormative cultural values and it isn’t really framed as an issue until the High Sparrow takes power. Loras never seemed to have any internal conflict about his love for Renly prior to his incarceration. Poor, poor Loras.
Luka: I never really got the love for Loras, to be honest. I know you like him. I don’t dislike him; I just don’t find him interesting. He’s more compelling in the books, certainly, just because there’s more of him. Or there’s more to him, at least.
Petra: He’s certainly more of a character in the books. He’s an arrogant young man that Jaime sees as a younger version of himself, which is really cool and I’m sad that they didn’t incorporate that into the show. I do agree that in the show he was treated as a “gay character” whereas in the books he was a character who happened to be gay.
Luka: The show emphasized his sexuality above all else, that is true, but to say that in the books he’s “a character who happens to be gay” is a bit of a stretch. He’s a character who, if you really read into it, is involved with a man, but his sexual orientation or his romantic relationships aren’t parts of his character that’re ever explored.
Petra: That’s true. I wouldn’t qualify Loras in the books as LGBT representation since it’s all hidden in subtext. Basically, the themes explored through Loras are fundamentally different in the books and the show. ASOIAF explores arrogance, entitlement and Jaime’s development through Loras whereas Game of Thrones addresses sexuality and homophobia through him. There’s not much crossover.
Luka: I think Finn Jones did a good job with what he was given. He was a secondary or tertiary character, so of course he wasn’t really afforded an arc, in either the books or the show. We sort of saw the beginning of an arc when he was in prison in season six but all that potential was cut short by, you know … Kaboom!
Petra: I think my affinity for Loras is comprised solely of pity. It’s kind of like talking about Rickon. How do I feel about him? I feel sad. Just sad.
Luka: Finn Jones even looks like a sad puppy sometimes. In the books, I get the love insofar as media is starved of LGBT characters and so fans have a tendency to mine for representation in the fictional works that they love. That line you quoted, “When the sun has set, no candle can replace it,” seems like everyone’s go-to line when criticizing Loras’ characterization on the show in favor of ASOIAF’s version.
Petra: I only remember that line because it’s been quoted in so many articles.
Luka: Yeah, me too.
Petra: I don’t consider Loras a standout example of LGBT representation in either the books or the show. What really gets me about Loras on Game of Thrones is the sheer tragedy of his story. Finn Jones said in interviews that if he could have played any other character it would have been Theon. In the end, Loras did parallel part of Theon’s arc insofar as he snapped in a dungeon but whereas Theon’s had the chance to rebuild himself, Loras died at his lowest point. I just find that so unbelievably sad.
Luka: And right after denouncing his identity, his lover and forsaking all claim to his inheritance. It’s a bit like what happened to Ned. He compromised himself and everything he stood for and died immediately afterwards.
Petra: Something similar can be said about Margaery. She didn’t compromise herself per se but she’d been conning the High Sparrow all season, playing the long game, in order to protect herself and her brother, but in the end it was all for naught.
Luka: Margaery was really interesting, particularly in the way she was translated from the books to the show. The Margaery we got on Game of Thrones seemed to be based on the perception of her in ASOIAF rather than her actual characterization. We’ve never had a Margaery POV chapter, or even a chapter from the perspective of someone who knows her well. Most of the information we get about Margaery comes from Cersei’s perspective in A Feast for Crows, and she’s not the most reliable narrator at that point. She views Margaery as a schemer who uses sweetness as a front but we have no way of knowing if that’s completely true or if that’s mostly Cersei’s paranoia. We really don’t get much face-value characterization of Margaery at all. So, Game of Thrones basically transplanted Cersei’s perception of Margaery onto the actual character of Margaery and then developed her further into a three-dimensional character.
Petra: That’s a good point. By the time I got to Margaery’s introduction in the books I knew about her through osmosis and Tumblr gifsets. So I was like, “Oh, great! Now I get to learn about her personality and read all of her clever quips” and instead I just got descriptions of how pretty she is and how sad that she’s a thrice-widowed virgin. However, I really loved her character on the show. She was another interesting example of someone exerting “soft power.” I love the way she adapted to ingratiate herself with Joffrey and Tommen. She showed a fascination for torture and crossbows with her second husband then she was all into kittens with her third.
Luka: To be fair, I think dealing with Tommen was easier for her. She wasn’t a chameleon to the degree that she didn’t have values of her own. I certainly think it was easier for her to pet kittens than it was to pretend to be interested in torturing people.
Petra: Fortunately we also got scenes between her and Olenna in which she was able to be herself so we did get to know her true nature. Again, as you said, on the show she got to be an actual human being, not just a blank slate for Cersei to project on.
Luka: The first time I took notice of her was in that classic scene in which Littlefinger asks her if she wants to be a queen and she says, “No, I want to be the queen.”
Petra: Yeah, it’s sort of interesting to me that Margaery, and the Tyrells in general, are as endearing as they are, considering they are made of pure ambition, and their story doesn’t really deconstruct what it actually means to want power. Everyone else who achieves a degree a power is like, “God, this sucks.” Robert complained about how uncomfortable the Iron Throne is; Cersei told Tommen how boring the council meetings are; Daenerys realized conquering other civilizations is a complicated endeavor. It seems like the wisest (maybe not the smartest, but the wisest) people in Westeros are the ones who don’t crave power. Margaery seemed too wise to want to be on top.
Luka: Eh… [Shrug] Not when you consider that Olenna was her mentor. Margaery didn’t want to be the regnant queen; that was unprecedented, until Cersei. But the role of queen consort is another story. She could practice the sort of backroom manipulations her grandmother taught her and, in the event of negative repercussions, use her husband as a human shield.
Petra: That’s sounds like Margaery.
Petra: The advice Olenna gave Daenery was interesting: that the love of the people didn’t help Margaery in the end and that Daenerys should go ahead and “be a dragon.”
Luka: By the time she had that conversation with Daenerys she wasn’t the same person we’d known in earlier seasons. She didn’t care about the future. She was using Daenerys as a tool, essentially as a literal flame thrower, against Cersei.
Petra: I do think she was trying to give Daenerys good counsel, though. I agree that her motivations and worldview changed after her family was killed but I don’t think she was so blinded by grief that she was urging Daenerys to go on a suicide mission.
Luka: She definitely believed that she was giving good advice, but it’s not the sort of counsel that she would have ever given Margaery. I think my issue is that I disagree with her new worldview. She doesn’t have a long-term, so she doesn’t care about it anymore.
Petra: Ah, yes, I get that. Olenna’s end is really tragic, that this old woman outlives the rest of her family, and then dies in defeat.
Luka: At least she got to go in a poetic way. Part of what made Margaery, Loras and Mace’s deaths so upsetting (in a good way) was that their stories felt incomplete when they were cut short by Cersei’s madness. We’ll always wonder what Margaery would have done next, after the trial. By contrast, Olenna got to have a conversation with her executioner and deliver one final blow against Cersei. We’ll miss Olenna but we’re satisfied with how her story – and by extension the Tyrell family’s story – concluded.
Luka: Oh shit, we forgot about Mace. Anything to say about him?
Petra: Uh… I’ve got nothing, sorry.
Luka: Okay. So… NOT NOW, MACE!