It Still Stings: When Game of Thrones Cut the Tysha RevealPhoto Courtesy of HBO TV Features Game of Thrones
Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
It’s been four years since Game of Thrones ended, and viewers still can’t completely agree on why those final episodes flopped so hard. Yeah, there was the questionable choice to kill off the Night King with three episodes to go, and the iffy decision to have fan-favorite Daenerys commit mass child murder in the penultimate episode, but I’d argue that the root of this terrible ending can be traced much farther back. Thanks to one seemingly minor change from the source material in the Season 4 finale, the disastrous Season 8 was all but set in stone.
I’m referring to Tyrion’s final moments with his brother Jaime. In the show they say goodbye to each other forever, and it’s… sweet, I guess. For a show-only viewer, it’s a moment that likely seemed acceptable as it happened, and one you probably forgot all about by the time the episode ended. But for fans of the books? It was maddening. After a whole season of awaiting the famous Tysha reveal, the moment that would shatter Jaime and Tyrion’s relationship forever, the show decided to scrap it entirely.
What’s the Tysha reveal, you ask? Well, a central part of Tyrion’s backstory in the books is that when he was thirteen, he fell in love with a peasant girl and got married to her in secret, only to be told that she was a prostitute tricking him for his money. Then, in one of the darkest moments of an already dark series, Tyrion’s father Tywin ordered Tysha to be raped by a bunch of guards while Tyrion watched, before forcing young Tyrion himself to take part. Jaime is also implicated in this story, as he was (as far as Tyrion understands) the one who paid Tysha to covertly help Tyrion lose his virginity.
All of this had already been covered in the show, with Tyrion’s monologue to Shae and Ser Bronn in Season 1. In the first few books and the first few seasons, this backstory explains so much about Tyrion’s troubled relationship with women: He’s attracted to them, but what happened with Tysha has confirmed to him that no woman could ever find him attractive in return. This belief of Tyrion’s—that he is fundamentally unlovable—is supposed to be a defining aspect of his character.
But when book Jaime rescues Tyrion from execution, he confesses to one crucial part of the story Tyrion’s never been privy to: Tysha wasn’t actually a prostitute. It turns out, she was an honest peasant girl who genuinely did love Tyrion for who he was. It’s a reveal that takes an already horrifying situation and ramps it up to eleven: Tyrion had found the love of his life, and his brother and father lied to him and separated him from her in one of the cruelest, most brutal ways possible. It’s this reveal that pushes Tyrion to not just break ties with Jaime, but to go on a murder spree that results in Tywin and Shae’s deaths, and to spend the majority of A Dance with Dragons plotting the destruction of King’s Landing.
For defenders of the show’s omission, the common argument was that Tysha’s reveal is something that wouldn’t have worked as well in the medium of TV. The book gave readers constant access to Tyrion’s inner-most thoughts, which allowed it to casually show us how often Tyrion still thought of Tysha, in a way a TV show never quite could. The defenders of the change argued that if the show had included the reveal, most show-only viewers wouldn’t even remember what Jaime and Tyrion were talking about.
But there was one clear opportunity to naturally remind viewers of Tysha, and that was the conversation Tyrion and Jaime had right before the trial fight. What if instead of Tyrion giving a meandering monologue about his mentally disabled cousin crushing beetles with a rock, Tyrion spent the conversation forgiving Jaime for his role in the Tysha incident? It would have reminded show-only viewers of the Season 1 conversation and established the motivation for Jaime to confess the full truth of what happened the next time he and Tyrion got to talk. Even beside this one opportunity, there were still three seasons between the first Tysha mention and the Season 4 omission; if the writers wanted to follow through on the storyline, they easily could have.
So, why did the writers bail? We didn’t know it at the time, but the motivations for cutting the Tysha reveal were laid out in the very next scene, when Tyrion killed Shae in self-defense rather than the cold-blooded murder it was in the novel. They cut the Tysha reveal because the showrunners evidently didn’t want Tyrion to go down the dark path he goes down in the books. They wanted him to be a Good Guy, and they were willing to break the show to do it.
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, quite famously, still isn’t finished yet, but close readers of the first five novels have a pretty decent idea of what Tyrion’s general arc will be. Remember how show Tyrion gave a big angry speech at King’s Landing about how he wanted to burn the whole city down? Well, book Tyrion plans to follow through on that. Throughout the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion is as evil and vindictive as we’ve ever seen him. It seems clear the books are setting him up for a villain role, one where he’d serve as the devil on Daenerys’ shoulder, pushing her to be the Mad Queen she becomes in the show.
Show Tyrion went in a different direction. Season 1 Tyrion was a genuinely edgy, morally ambiguous character, but because he quickly became a fan favorite, the show gradually started watering down all his less admirable qualities. He still had his shades of gray throughout Season 4, but the omitted Tysha reveal firmly established him as a clear-cut good guy going forward. From Season 5 on, Tyrion is simply a man who wants everyone to get along as much as possible, and who is genuinely looking out for Daenerys’ best interest as her advisor.
The problem is that the plot still needs Daenerys to go crazy at the end, so how do they do that without making Tyrion look complicit? The writers’ solution was to make Tyrion bad at his job. Despite the show’s continued insistence otherwise, every single piece of advice Tyrion gives Dany throughout Seasons 6 through 8 is terrible. By the time Tyrion is impotently begging Cersei not to behead Missandei in “The Last of the Starks,” the show has fully broken under the strain of depicting Tyrion as smart even though everything he does is bafflingly stupid.
It may sound like an exaggeration to blame nearly everything about that final season on the cutting of the Tysha reveal, but it’s not just Tyrion’s character arc that was harmed. Daenerys’ downfall feels rushed and unconvincing as a result, and Tyrion’s stupidity spreads over to Jon and Varys and half the other characters. So much of what made Season 8 of Game of Thrones a disaster can be traced to that one moment in Season 4, where the show had the option to follow through on the source material’s dark, thematically rich material, but chickened out.
Back in 2019, the internet was full of postmortems for “Game of Thrones,” pointing to moments in Season 7 or 8 that signaled the ruin of the series. But the jump-the-shark moment was not the episode where they went beyond the Wall to capture an ice zombie, as silly as that was. It wasn’t even Arya casually walking off multiple stab wounds back in Season 6. No, the show died when the writers decided to sand down book Tyrion’s rougher edges, without understanding why George R. R. Martin put those rough edges there in the first place. They chose to have Tyrion be good but stupid, rather than the far more interesting combination of evil and smart, and every character around him suffered for it. It might be the last one or two seasons that everyone hates, but the show was really over as early as Season 4.
Michael Boyle is an entertainment writer for /Film, with bylines in Paste, Slate, Mic, Digital Spy, Polygon, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @98MikeB.
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