In 'Game of Thrones,' Everyone Is a Bastard

A beloved character illuminates an essential element of the series: All the characters are broken in one way or another

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"I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards, and broken things."
Tyrion Lannister

It's unsurprising that Tyrion Lannister is such a fan-favorite character in Game of Thrones. At times, he's manipulative, lecherous, and calculating, but he's also witty, candid, and wickedly intelligent. More than anything, however, he's consistently, fascinatingly inscrutable. It's possible (and probably wise) to read three or four meanings and motives into virtually everything he says.

Last night's "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things" saw Tyrion expressing his sympathy for the downtrodden of Westeros—the "cripples, bastards, and broken things" that give the episode its title. As the sole dwarf in a family of legendary regal beauty, Tyrion himself is no stranger to feeling like an outcast. But no matter how sympathetic he may or may not personally be, what are his real intentions for the Stark family?

The cripple that Tyrion refers to is Bran, the permanently-disabled 10-year-old son of Ned and Catelyn Stark. Tyrion has taken an interest in Bran, and in "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things" he presents Bran with the plans for a specially-made horse's saddle that even a boy in his condition can use to ride. But there's something more to the bond between Tyrion and Bran. Even before his injury (and much like Tyrion), Bran was destined for a strange, tenuous place within his family; his older brother Robb is the next "Lord Stark" by birthright, so the best Bran could hope for is a position in the King's Guard. When Bran was pushed out the window by Jaime Lannister, even that possibility was waylaid, and he's in a deep depression before Tyrion brings him the plans that could revive his dream.

Bran is also beginning to have strange dreams starring a blackbird with a third eye in its forehead—a dark and confusing premonition that he's choosing, for the moment, to keep to himself. Like most amnesia plotlines, Bran's amnesia has the feeling of an irritatingly convenient writer's trick—more a product of what the plot requires than what feels plausible (after all, it would affect literally every aspect of the plot if Bran had awoken with the knowledge that Cersei and Jaime are having an affair, and that they'd tried to kill him to keep it a secret. It's far too early in the series to bring that information out into the open). But Bran's dream, cryptic as it may be, is slowly leading him down an important path, and it remains to be seen how long it will take him to put the pieces together.

Though he's certainly not the only example, the most prominent "bastard" in Game of Thrones is Bran's half-brother, Jon Snow—yet another maltreated Stark that Tyrion has formed a bond with. Much like Bran, it's no accident that Tyrion has struck up something like a friendship with Jon Snow; as Tyrion comments, he himself is "a constant disappointment" to his own father. Though Snow clearly respects his father, Ned, his second-tier status wounds him deeply; as he says in last night's episode, being a bastard is "not a good life for a child."

Like Tyrion, Jon Snow's lifelong hardships have created a tender spot in his heart for the downtrodden of Westeros. In "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things," Snow finds a new ally (and a new liability) in Samwell, a portly recruit to the Night's Watch. For all intents and purposes, Samwell is also a bastard—disowned by his disappointed father and given the choice between death or a spot on the Wall. Snow takes the hapless Samwell under his wing, protecting him from the judgment of their cruel trainer, Thorne, and the other new recruits of the Night's Watch. Jon Snow is operating out of sympathy, but if Thorne is right, it's a sympathy he may come to regret. As Game of Thrones relentlessly reminds us, winter is coming, and any kindness can be turned into a weakness.

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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