So here’s my major complaint about Game of Thrones so far. The first season was so faithful to the book it had most fans spending the better part of each episode dancing jigs of joy on the couch. The second season made so many changes to the book that there were just as many people yelling ‘Oh no they DIDN’T!’, ‘The North Remembers!’ or simply ‘fuck!’ And yes, a lot of those changes were disasters (Daenerys [hangs head in misery]) and Jeyne becoming Talisa (‘Okaaay…but why?’), but a couple of them were really the shit. One that was the absolute shit of the shit was to kick Roose Bolton out of Harrenhal and make Arya, Arry, Weasel or Nan, depending on who you asked, Tywin Lannister’s cupbearer instead. Not only does this give us a premature insight into Arya’s psychology when she starts empathising with someone on her List, but also gives us a truly great, profound relationship that doesn’t occur in the books at all. This is one of the big advantages of making changes to the books, and is no doubt the kind of thing the producers were hoping for when they made all those other adjustments – just that most of the other adjustments were kind of crap. So let’s take a look at why Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister is a gigantic roaring success (pardon the symbolism).
Both Arya and Tywin are looking for someone to listen to them, and the immediate mutual respect that each feels for the intelligence of the other is the first step in that wish being realised. The fact that they aren’t equals helps a great deal, and seems to resemble the Victorian model of a master-servant relationship in that while a huge gulf of class yawns consistently between them, you’d be hard pressed to find a more intimate relationship. Tywin would never discuss things so intimate as his relationship with his father with anyone who was his equal, or even his relative: he’d risk looking weak, affectionate, or worst of all, guilty; plus he’s simply not that kind of person. He can, however, discuss such things with a servant he trusts: they’re obliged to listen, won’t give an opinion even if asked for it and would not consider such an intimidatingly powerful personage to be weak, affectionate or guilty under any circumstances. In her turn, Arya is able to speak to him about the emotions and goals of her own life. He’s one of the first people she is able to talk to about her father’s death, and though she approaches the subject by telling a spectacular lie about being the daughter of a literate stone mason, which amuses Lord Tywin no end, she is able to transmit to him her despair at her father’s being executed by one thing: loyalty. The effect that Ned’s death has had on her is something deeply personal and which she certainly wouldn’t confide to the likes of Hot Pie.
So where does this mutual respect actually come from? I’d say it starts right from the beginning: Tywin is smart enough to see that Arya’s not a boy and compliments her on her intelligence; he then rates her as being a lot smarter than the Tickler and his gang of hooligans and plucks her out of there immediately. And while I’m willing to bet that Arya would probably have called him ‘you stupid’, threatened him and tried to kill him at the first opportunity had he been anybody else, there’s a lot of grudging appreciation going on beneath the surface at Tywin’s intelligence, as well as at the fact that Gendry’s not going to die and that her own lungs are not going to be carved out. Conclusion: the kind of respect that exists between Arya and Tywin is the sort that inevitably exists between one intelligent person and another, and it’s a powerful factor in bringing them together despite their differences.
This respect for intelligence is all over the place in the Arya-Tywin dynamic, particularly as regards Arya, who Tywin praises constantly for her sharpness, even humiliating one of his men by declaring ‘My cupbearer can read better than you,’ to the entire Lannister war council. Like Tywin, Arya also needs someone to listen to her, and Tywin’s being impressed and inspired by her passion for female warriors like Visenya Targaryen rather than bursting out laughing is something that she must deeply appreciate, having met with nothing but ridicule from everyone except Syrio. I think that Tywin reacts respectfully when he hears of her ambitions because he can very likely see the warrior she’ll someday become. That’s one of Tywin’s greatest and most frightening gifts when it comes to Arya – seeing right through her. Through her speech, he sees that she spends day after day pretending to be somebody else and even offers her advice on how to better her performance, a suggestion that is met with a courteous wall of flawless lying that he immediately recognises as such, but chooses not to act on, either because of his fondness for her or because it would not be worth his time. There is also, of course, the epic ‘Anyone can be killed’ scene, in which the staring gazes of both actors resemble throwing petrol bombs at the screen and Tywin’s regard for Arya probably reaches its zenith.
Nevertheless, despite their respect for each other, their relationship does teeter on the edge of a barbed wire fence, Tywin occasionally freaking the hell out of Arya, Tywin throwing Arya out of the room with icy courtesy for impertinence, Arya stealing his mail before it gets to the ravens. Then there is the small matter of Arya’s List: as mentioned in the introduction, he’s definitely on it and she certainly has ample opportunity to get Jaqen to see to him, but somehow doesn’t. Something tells me that this is an Easter egg left along the roadside for the time Arya will spend as the Hound’s hostage, when she discovers with fury that she forgot to say the Hound’s name one night, probably a sign of compassion on her part. This leaves her absolutely livid with herself and results in her effectively smothering such cowardly sensations by ensuring that the Hound gets as long and painful a death as possible. I cannot honestly say I believe that she’d wish such a thing for Lord Tywin.
Then quite suddenly, the fun is over: Tywin leaves Harrenhal and barely says a word to her. As we’ve said, he’s not exactly the affectionate type, but this looks infinitely worse if we look a little back; to Tywin’s remark that Arya’s view that conventional femininity is stupid reminds him of Cersei. This, taken together with the nature of their entire relationship, brings Arya into the position of surrogate child and Tywin into the position of surrogate father. I don’t mean for a second that Tywin’s going to pull a Ben-Hur and adopt her – he’d never do that in a million years. What I mean is that she’ll be inspired to want to do her best to please him, and he’ll ultimately abandon her. Just look at the ways that Tywin has abandoned his own children.
Now let’s think hard about the fact that this beautiful, complex relationship, with so many dimensions to it, does not stem from the books, but from some unknown person (probably the producers) having to make changes to the story. If this is what Game of Thrones is capable of coming up with when changes need to be made, we can only hope that there’s plenty more of it in season 3.