Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones season 7, episode 2
In “Stormborn,” the second episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season, there’s a sequence dissecting the contents of a message Tyrion Lannister sends to Jon Snow via a raven. It’s an invitation for Jon to come swear fealty to Daenerys Targaryen on Dragonstone, but Tyrion adds a personal touch, ending the message with “…for all dwarves are bastards in their fathers’ eyes.” It’s a clever bit of business — as Jon notes, it’s a reference to something Tyrion said to him when they were alone at Winterfell (back in the series’s first season, which “Stormborn” references liberally and often), so it proves the message is from Tyrion himself.
More significantly, however, it’s a specific call to remember what they have in common: how they both know what it’s like to be rejected by family and by the world, and how they bonded over it. Here’s the season 1 scene where Tyrion points out what he has in common with Jon. In constantly, pointedly calling Jon a bastard, Tyrion’s being a bit of a bastard himself. He’s also drawing on some insights about Jon’s vulnerability and rawness, and suggesting how he should defend himself: “Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.” From the start, these two have had common cause, and Tyrion’s way of expressing it has been rough, wry, and offensive, but still sincere.
But Tyrion is also a master strategist, and he isn’t just reminding Jon of old times because he’s feeling nostalgic. There was a fair bit of manipulation in the original sequence, where Tyrion was essentially negging Jon — insulting him to make him vulnerable, then snapping back with a positive message to make Jon grateful and take advantage of his moment of hurt. And there’s just as much manipulation in the new message, where he’s essentially saying, “It’s still you and me against the world.” He’s trying to make a routine Westeros political alliance into something intimate, based in trust and respect rather than just expediency. Even when Tyrion’s doing something he believes in, he’s still a bit of a bastard.
Man, these two characters (and actors!) look young in this scene, by comparison with what they look like in the most recent episode. Remember blonde, clean-shaven, louche Tyrion, as opposed to multiple seasons of drunken, bitter, angry Tyrion, or the current grim but hopeful, self-contained, extremely beardy Tyrion?
All that aside, though, “Stormborn” spends a lot of time reminding viewers where everyone’s loyalties lie and what kinds of histories connect them, particularly the personal, one-on-one histories that suggest where they might lean in the upcoming conflict. It’s worth remembering, as Jon and Tyrion each point out, that they spent a fair bit of time together, opened up to each other, and came to trust each other.
There’s so much long-term hatred on Game of Thrones between people who are out to avenge their loved ones after rapes, grievous bodily harm, or murder. (We get a fair bit of that in “Stormborn” as well, with Jon assaulting Petyr Baelish, the Sand Snakes musing over all the people they want to kill, and Yara setting out to kill Euron. Two of those things don’t end well at all for the avengers.) It’s a bit of a relief in this episode to be reminded that people have made important positive connections as well — especially now that those connections might be used to save Westeros.