The Halfman’s Halfplot: Tyrion’s Plot Reduction
Before commenting on the plot changes made in Game of Thrones (GoT), specifically in relation to Tyrion, let’s understand what is plot. Plot is not about a character and the things happening to him/her. Plot is a chain of causes and effects from actions taken by characters. Because the action of one character might have been influenced by (an)other character(s) and might, in turn, affect others—not just the one who takes action—plot does not belong to one character. Therefore, plot arises from the relationships and actions of multiple characters, which is why eliminating character(s) affects plot, whether for good or bad depends on the changes and their results. (If getting rid of a character doesn’t affect the plot at all, he/she is unnecessary.) Keep in mind that an action (cause) must have one or more consequences (effects) even if those consequences were not intentional. Otherwise, why take that action? The consequence is what gives significance to the action. In other words, the consequence determines the level of importance the action that led to it had.[*]
I earned my bachelor’s degree in English, and I’m finishing my MFA in creative writing. So in the last eight years, I have read, analyzed, and written about literature; and read, analyzed, and critiqued peers’ stories. I have been workshopped, lectured at, and mentored. In all that work, plus countless discussions, I have learned that fiction boils down to one thing: plot. A person can have characters, settings, and descriptions, but if there is no plot, there is no story. Might as well call it a poem. (And some poetry have plot.)
This series of causes and effects should be so intertwined and connected that one action cannot be removed without the whole thing falling into chaos. If something can be removed from that series, then it’s not essential to the plot. It’s worth pointing out that within that chain of actions and consequences, there needs to be complications, or unintentional effects, or it won’t be a good story or a story at all. For example, José drank a lot of water (action), so he goes to the bathroom and relieves himself (consequence). (Notice that the consequence is another action.) Drinking water and going to the bathroom is a cause and an effect, but not much of a story. José drank a lot of water, so he heads to the bathroom, but has to navigate through a booby-trapped staircase to reach the bathroom (complication). That’s a story. And fans of A Song of Ice and Fire (ASoIaF) and/or GoT expect stories galore with so many characters. However, when dealing with Tyrion, this season’s writers have removed so much from his story that it’s no longer recognizable as a complete (or even coherent at times) plot. He’s been reduced to a character who only travels and is captured.
Let’s do a comparison of the book (A Dance with Dragons) plot and show (season 5 so far) plot surrounding Tyrion. (I’ll be oversimplifying the plot of each by only focusing on the actions and consequences directly connected to Tyrion.) The chain of actions will be listed with arrows (->) moving from one action to its immediate effect (another action) followed by the next effect caused by the previous one, which becomes the cause of effect #2. Using the word “so” indicates the effect was wanted or expected, while “but” indicates an unwanted/unintentional effect (a.k.a. complication).[†]
José drinks water in order to give a urine sample for testing (action with intention)->SO he goes to the bathroom (wanted/expected effect)->BUT he must answer a riddle from a Sphinx blocking the bathroom entrance (unwanted effect/complication)->SO he calls his smarter friend to help him->BUT his friend doesn’t answer the phone
This chain will continue until José succeeds or gives up in getting that urine sample. Once he does, the plot is over.
So now for Tyrion:
A Dance with Dragons Plot
Tyrion accepts Illyrio’s proposal to join the sellsword Griff in order to meet Daenerys in Volantis with the Golden Company->SO they travel to Griff & Co. where Tyrion joins them and they all continue traveling to Volantis->BUT they’re attacked by stone men en route and escape->SO they stop in Selhorys to recuperate and get information->BUT Tyrion and Haldon don’t learn enough info->SO they bribe a customs officer for more info and then go to a brothel->BUT Tyrion is recognized and abducted by Jorah Mormont who wants to take him to Daenerys->SO they travel to Volantis to book a passage to Meeeren->BUT the widow of the waterfront refuses to help->BUT she helps them after Penny attacks Tyrion and tells her story->SO Tyrion, Jorah, and Penny, who Tyrion didn’t want to leave behind, board a ship to Qarth->BUT in the Gulf of Grief the ship floats becalmed->SO the crew attempts towing the ship->BUT it doesn’t work and a storm hits them->SO some die, the ship is destroyed, and supplies run low before another ship is spotted->BUT it’s a slaver ship and Tyrion & Co. are captured->SO they are taken to a Yunkish camp near Meereen and Tyrion and Penny are sold->BUT not Jorah, who resists and is beaten->SO Tyrion convinces Nurse to buy Jorah->SO all three are taken to Yezzan, their master, who has Tyrion and Penny perform for guests, impressing them->SO they perform in the Great Pit of Daznak in front of Daenerys->BUT Tyrion doesn’t reveal himself because Barristan Selmy is there->SO he continues to be a slave and attends Yezzan, who is dying, and whose death would mean Tyrion & Co. going back to the slavers->SO Tyrion murders Nurse and, with Jorah and Penny, they escape and reach the Second Sons->SO Tyrion signs several agreements of future payment in order to join the company.
The initial goal of joining Daenerys is unfulfilled as the plot is not yet finished.
Season 5 (up to and including episode 7) Plot
Tyrion accepts Varys’s proposal to join Daenerys in Meereen->SO they travel, stopping in Volantis for fresh air and to go to a brothel->BUT Tyrion is recognized and abducted by Jorah Mormont who wants to take him to Daenerys->SO they travel, Meereen still being the destination->BUT they’re attacked by stone men en route and escape->SO they keep traveling->BUT they’re captured by slavers->SO they’re sold off to a master who wants fighters->SO they’re taken to a small fighting pit which Daenerys just happens to be attending->SO Jorah rushes out to the pit->BUT Tyrion is chained up->BUT a guard breaks his chains, allowing Tyrion to run out->SO Tyrion meets Daenerys
Tyrion’s goal of meeting Daenerys was met, so this plot is over—and there’s still three episodes left in the season. (True, he’s still not joined her forces, but that’ll most likely happen in the next episode.)
And if you’re keeping tally, the book plot has 14 SOs and 10 BUTs, while the show plot has 7 SOs and 5 BUTs. The significant actions and their consequences have been literally cut by half in the adaptation. Furthermore, the BUTs of HBO are more delays in the plot rather than actual complications that heighten the tension or raise any stakes.
As stated earlier, the plots presented here are in their simplistic forms. Here they are shown as linear, but think of plot as spider webs. One action or event can lead to multiple consequences, such as the stone men attack results in Griff/Jorah contracting greyscale and a sense of trust growing between Tyrion and his companion(s), but I was only looking at the plot according to the initial goal of Tyrion joining Daenerys. In addition, multiple causes can lead to one effect, such as the fact Yezzan is dying, the spreading plague, the impending battle, and Tyrion losing his chance of introducing himself to Daenerys all motivate him to put his escape plan into action. I also left other important action that affect other plotlines like Tyrion planting the seed in Aegon to return to Westeros without Daenerys or other smaller acts like Tyrion starting a manuscript on what he knows of dragonlore or figuring out the truth about Griff and Young Griff or being a moral support to Jorah and Penny. The point is, more things are happening in the book plot, making the story fuller, and it also shows how Tyrion’s plot is connected to other characters and other events not occurring in his immediate vicinity. In the show, what has Tyrion done this season that will have repercussions with someone or in somewhere else in Westeros or Essos? His story seems disconnected from the rest.
Long-lost Targaryen heirs? BOOORING! BRING ON THE SAND SNAKES!!!
As seen in the two chains of causes and effects, the issues in the show plot are the lack of (real) complications and the reduced number of significant actions overall. (I added the “real” because, as some people online have pointed out, why was Tyrion chained while the actual fighters were not? And then a random guy breaks his chains? If Tyrion was such a threat to be chained up in the first place, why set him free? The chains were illogical and an unrealistic, unnecessary, minor, short-lived complication that no main character resolved. I chose to not include that Jorah is bought but Tyrion is not in the show plot because that only lasted about five seconds and the way it’s solved is also illogical. The slavers are just going to let someone beat one of them with a heavy chain? In the books, it’s Jorah, and he’s beaten up almost to death when he puts up a fight. And let’s not talk about the pure coincidence of Daenerys being at that particular fighting pit.) Granted, the novel is long and parts will be cut in the adaptation since GoT only does ten episodes per season, but if GoT decided to split A Storm of Swords into two seasons, why is the majority of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons being crammed into one season? Where is the logic in that? The rationality and entertainment value in Tyrion’s plot, as well as those in many others, is suffering on the show. It would have been better to dedicate at least two seasons to both books, and HBO and the show’s producers would’ve made more money with an extra season. They are sacrificing story and money by stripping away from Tyrion’s plot.
These issues stem from the elimination of characters. Without them, there is no plot. What’s left is a setting, maybe. People take action. People are plotters. People are plotted against. People help each other and destroy each other. Character is plot. So if a plot is a chain of causes and effects from actions taken by characters, eliminating said characters in an adaptation results in less actions, less causes and effects, less plot, less fun. GoT has the habit of giving those actions taken by disregarded characters to other, established characters, such as having Jorah, instead of Griff, save Tyrion from the stone men and catching greyscale. But not all the actions depicted in the book plot were transferred over to the show plot, which weakened it. Viewers get a watered down version of something that is a good, exciting story in the novel with real problems and struggles that last for more than a few seconds.
With a visual adaption like GoT, the viewer doesn’t (normally) get the inner turmoil and doubts a character goes through, which are struggles and they influence action, but thoughts and feelings don’t make up a plot because they are not actions. Thinking, feeling, and having motivations add characterization and makes the story richer, so they are needed, as well as language and setting, but alone they only make up a descriptive piece at best, a rambling at worse. Therefore, action is needed, which doesn’t mean things need to explode or people need to fight in battle or someone gets raped. An action can be huge or as small as refusing to dance with someone as Mr. Darcy does to Elizabeth when they meet in Pride and Prejudice. In the world of ASoIaF and GoT, an action can be sending a raven, as Lysa does in A Game of Thrones and season 1 of the show when she sends her sister Catelyn a letter about her certainty that the Lannisters killed Jon Arryn. Both these actions lead to consequences that influence and drive the plot forward in their respective novels. Without that letter, Ned wouldn’t have investigated his friend’s death, wouldn’t have discovered Cersei and Jamie’s incestuous relationship, wouldn’t have inadvertently precipitated King Robert’s death by telling Cersei he knew the truth, wouldn’t have gotten arrested or had his whole household slaughtered, and wouldn’t have gotten beheaded. I left many things out, including how that letter and Ned’s actions affected other people and their actions, but you get the idea: plot = a series of actions with consequences which lead to more actions and consequences. Removing one action makes what’s left illogical. Removing too many or simplifying them or not adding enough complications makes for a bad story. Tyrion’s short plot with even shorter complications—some of which are just contrivances by the writers and none of which impedes him getting to Meereen—and with the main action of traveling and getting kidnapped, is just not a good story. Even without comparing it to the book plot, it’s still not entertaining enough or complex.
I’ve been told several times by different authors that if you don’t have a plot in your story, the language needs to be so spectacular that is carries the whole book and prevents the reader from putting it down. Another reason some writers get away without having a plot or a well-thought-out one is when they have a following who’ll read anything they produce. This is the fifth season of GoT, so by this point, millions of fans are invested. They can’t stopped watching. Add to that fact that Tyrion is witty, funny, and likeable. TV viewers are still enamored with him even though nothing is really happening with him this season. Plus, there are other characters and other plotlines that distract viewers from realizing or pondering too much on the lack of plot in other corners. There must be viewers who haven’t read the books who know there is something lacking in Tyrion’s “story” this season, whether or not they know it’s the plot. It’s great Tyrion is still alive and has fulfilled his goal of meeting/reaching Daenerys, but there was no real struggle and only half a plot.
Viewers were cheated from a story.
[*] I’d like to thank Lynne Barrett, professor at Florida International University, for so effectively teaching students what plot is and its importance in writing fiction.
[†] I took the idea of how to show plot with “so lists” from Professor Barrett.