Anybody who has read or watched The Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice & Fire Series –would agree with me that it is a series that shows every facet of deception used by humans.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word “deceive” means, “to make someone believe something that is not true” or “to cause to accept true or valid what is false or invalid.”
Deception is a form of dishonesty that is used everyone, every day. And the characters in this book are able to show how it is done so to achieve what one wants; whether it is something that you desire or if it is a matter of survival.
Being cunning or deceiving someone has never been considered as a character trait that is acceptable in human nature. By default, it is assumed that one who is conniving and deceiving by nature must not be someone you want to associate yourself with. And truth be told – nobody wants to be deceived for whatever the reason might be.
Let’s look at a few characters in the book to understand the means and motives behind their deception and how far do we find their choices – as a reader- acceptable.
Though, Peytr Baleishis not a point of view character in the book; it is quite apparent that he is a prominent character. Peytr Baleish’s origins have not been revealed immediately. It does not seem like he has a critical role to play but as things progress it becomes apparent that he is a master of quite a few plots that were, in fact, major conspiracies.
Petyr Baelish holds the title of a Lord, however, has none of the trappings of being a Lord. His familial asset is nothing but a diminutive and pitiable stretch of land on the Fingers in the Vale of Arryn. Petyr was raised as a ward at Riverrun by Lord Tully. He grew up with Catelyn, Lysa, and Edmure. Petyr had been in love with Catelyn and challenges Brandon Stark, her betrothed to a duel; which he loses. Catelyn steps in and it is on her behest that he was spared. It is important to know how close he was to the Tully family as he meets both the sisters again after years. He plays an instrumental role in shaping their lives without their realization.
Petyr is appointed the Master of Coin by King Robert Baratheon. He is in charge of taking care of the taxes and payments for the royal government. After the death of King Robert Baratheon, Petyr continues to hold his post under Cersei. There is a possibility that he continues to hold onto the post because he has bribed Janos Slynt, captain of the City Watch. One of the most rudimentary elements about Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish is that you never do know whose side is he on.
In 59 Eddard 15.65, Varys refers to him as the second most devious man in the Seven Kingdoms.” Though undoubtedly it would be difficult to give any credibility to Varys since he is the first devious man in the Seven Kingdoms!
Since his motives are still not exactly lucid, it makes it even more challenging to define his deception.
When the first time Catelyn gets her father to arrest Tyrion, it is on the testimony of Petyr that the dagger used to attack Bran was Tyrion’s. However, that is not true. Tyrion was, in fact, upset about the attack on Bran Stark. When he was crippled by Jaime, Tyrion was the one who understood the boy’s plight. He gives him plans for a seat saddle that would allow him to ride even though he was incapacitated from the waist below.
It is ironical that Catelyn wastes no time in believing Petyr. Moreover, acts upon the unverified information. Even though she admits that when Petyr was young, it was easy for him to “appear” remorseful and repentant about any scrapes that he got into; she found that nothing much had changed about him over the years.
As Eddard realizes about him, Baelish loves intrigue (21 Eddard 4.56). And to his cost, is also betrayed by him to the Lannisters.
Here again, Baelish projects his tendency to switch allegiances at the drop of a hat. Had he not claimed that the dagger used to attack Bran was one that he had lost to Tyrion in the first place, the feud that sparked between the Starks and the Lannisters still had the possibility of being averted. However, Baelish shows a remarkable ease in switching gears. Since the survival was not his purpose in all these situations, it seems like it could only be the hunger for power that could be driving him. As he admits to Varys, that the one thing he did learn from the duel fought and failed with Brandon Stark had been that the chasm between the noble and them was too great to cover.
One realizes that the only person Baelish can be loyal to is Petyr Baelish.
After the “Purple Wedding”, when Joffrey Baratheon, the King is assassinated by poison, we find Tyrion and his wife Sansa being accused of the murder. While it is true that the latter did poison Joffrey, the former had no clue about the conspiracy that had been executed.
It was later revealed that it was Petyr Baelish and Lady Olenna Redwyne, grandmother of Margery Tyrell; who had planned to kill Joffrey. Lady Olenna Redwyne had spoken to Sansa, who had confirmed that Joffrey indeed was evil and cruel. Here we have Lady Olenna Redwyne, who is concerned about her granddaughter’s fate at the hands of a cruel boy-child king, who seems to have no regard for anyone else but his own whims and fancies. She knows that it is too late for them to back down from the upcoming nuptials. But more importantly, does she even want to back down from the encumbering joining? No, she does not. She uses her own brand of malice and treachery. She waits for the wedding to take place before striking the boy. By waiting for her daughter to become the Queen, she manages to place her grand-daughter at a position of power and simultaneously gets rid of a brute; who had no potential of growing up in any manner except perhaps, in size.
Joffrey is probably the most hated character in the book, even worse than Cersei. As the boy was pure evil and was getting better at it – everybody rejoices at his death except Cersei. And in the same vein, it would be difficult to deny that nobody would accuse Lady Olenna to have done anything “wrong”. After all, she just got rid of a nasty piece of work. In the process, though she gets Tyrion arrested – who ends up being accused and on the run for a crime he did not commit. Although, had Cersei wanted to give Tyrion the benefit of a doubt, she could have spared him. But then her hatred of Tyrion and her attempts to get rid of him, blanketed with her rage and devastation at losing Joffrey mars her judgment in the matter. It has been re-enforced again and again, throughout the series, how much Cersei hated Tyrion. She had always been looking for an excuse to rid herself of him. Lady Olenna and Baelish could not have known that it would be Tyrion who would be accused of his murder. But then, it also does not matter to Lady Olenna who becomes the scapegoat as long as she goes scot-free.
Here again, the question of the moral compass is raised. The perpetrator of the crime was trying to save her granddaughter from a fate worse than death. She also manages to save the whole kingdom from a future which, most assuredly, would have been filled with suffering and torment, to say the least. I wonder how many people would categorize her deception as a crime at all. Some might even say that rather than punishment, Lady Olenna and Baelish deserve an award for their cunning plan and the masterful way in which they executed it.
Cersei Lannister, apart from the fact that she is cruel, manipulative, power-hungry and self-centered, is defined by her incestuous relationship with her twin brother Jaime. All the other not so admirable traits take a backseat when you think about her relationship with her twin brother. She has so much practice at lying and deceiving that she has it down to an art. Cersei enjoys hurting people, especially her youngest brother – whom she has always given worse than a cold shoulder. Her relationship with Jaime is considered nothing less than an abomination. They have been in a relationship for as long as one can remember. All her children were sired by Jaime and she has been conniving enough to let her husband die, not knowing that he was leaving behind no heirs and that he was not the father to any of the children. Everybody who knew this secret and was planning to incriminate her and Jaime ends up dead or worse or both. She is the epitome of all that is scheming, controlling and deceitful. The only one she chooses to honour is herself and her son. She truly has a misguided impression that she is right, and her son is not a “bad” person, even though she completely loses her control over Joffrey once he was made king. Here is a prime example of deceit, which the world, whether Cersei’s or ours, will not find acceptable. Everybody is waiting, like they were for Joffrey, for her to get her comeuppance.
Along with Cersei, Jaime is also considered to be equally monstrous. The only redeeming quality that the readers seem to find in Jaime is his attitude towards Tyrion. He is the only one in the family who has given any real affection to Tyrion. I find this element of Jaime quite surprising. This is what made me revisit most of his acts and think a little more deeply about him even though there is no insight given to us by the author.
Out of all the three children, it is Jaime who can maintain a good relationship with his family. His father is happy with him. Cersei is, of course, more than happy with him – she thinks they are destined to be together because they were born together. And Tyrion, who has been deprived of love, affection and acceptance from everyone in his immediate family – returns Jaime’s love with a fierce loyalty. It is interesting to note that Jaime becomes the king’s guard at a very young age of 15 – the youngest guard ever. Knowingly, that the king’s guard is not permitted to marry or have a family and is not allowed owning any properties or assets. His willingness to join the king’s guard comes from his motivation to stay close to Cersei and of course also shows his disregard towards ambition.
His acts of malice and spite, I feel are more to put up a face that tells people that he is not afraid of anyone. When he is captured by Robb Stark and imprisoned for a year – he treated all his enemies with derision worthy of commendation.
Even though the Lannister clan seems to have no honour and only Tyrion is counted as someone who has a degree of it, I beg to differ. Jaime, who is said to have no honour because he has an incestuous relationship with his sister, to me, has shown more honour than some other characters. For example, he holds Eddard Stark in high regard, and he duels him when he gets a chance. But then, he lets him go because one of his soldiers interferes while the duel is going on.
He has never slept with anyone else but his sister. He is faithful to her- however, skewed that the relationship might be; shows his sense of loyalty and commitment. His love for her is real and not just some perverted dalliance. Even Cersei, who claims that they are destined to be together for they were bound to each other in the womb, is unfaithful and manipulates Jaime. But Jaime’s actions are all about his love for her.
When Bran Stark stumbles upon Jaime and Cersei having sex, Jaime asks Bran how old he was. When Bran says ten, he feels regret for throwing the boy off the tower, which cripples him – but he does what needs to be done “in the name of love.” When Brieanne saves his life while bringing him back to the Lannisters, he feels honour-bound and goes back for her with his men to save her.
Jaime, I feel, though is the biggest victim of Cersei’s manipulations and deceit; a casualty nobody recognizes as one. Not even Jaime, himself. Had they not had a relationship, he could have been recognized for so much more than just being Cersei’s twin brother lover. In a strange fashion, Jamie’s honour has not bought him much to count for just like Eddard Stark’s honour did not do much for his life.
Of course, it’s not as if his moral compass is not be questioned. After all, he was the one who made all those choices. And the sin of an incestuous relationship obliterates all other thoughts from one’s mind. Incest is not acceptable even in today’s world and is considered as one of the most heinous acts, even if it’s consensual. Consider his age at the time when his affair began with Cersei – of course I am not saying that it was all her fault and that she lured him into making a bad decision. After all, one cannot put the whole blame on “the woman”; even if the woman in question is Cersei who doesn’t know how to think about anyone else, but herself and never denies herself any pleasure or anyone.
Even then, Jamie, unlike what everyone feels about him – shines for me as an example of someone who is honorable but his being honorable meant nothing to anyone else. He considers Jaime Lannister to be a man of no honor and feels that there is no sin that he has not committed. He is world-weary and a cynic because he is not able to lie to himself.
Tyrion, on the other hand, I feel, is less honour driven than Jaime. He may come across as someone who is the most resolves of all the Lannisters and to a great extent that is true. But he still knows how to talk his way out of situations – that is not how you define being honorable.
Though, his use of deceit is more in line with how Leo Tolstoy puts it in War and Peace: “One must be cunning and wicked in this world.” Implying that without being so, one cannot survive. Being an ugly dwarf with a father and sister who openly show their disgust and revulsion toward him hardly helped matters for him or how he was treated by others.
Tyrion is aware of the fact that it is impossible for him to become a remarkable and skillful knight like Jaime, whom he idolizes to a certain degree. Recall the scene when Tyrion is on the High Road with Catelyn Stark's party. While everyone else is screaming out their battle cries, this is what Tyrion feels - "Tyrion felt a sudden urge to leap, brandish his axe, and boom out, 'Casterly Rock!' but the insanity passed quickly, and he crouched down lower" (32 Tyrion 4.82).
He knows that his only chance of survival here is by pretending to be brave and show no fear. And he wants to survive. There is no other agenda here for him to pretend otherwise. In such a scenario, I wonder, how would I behave? Well, most likely I would do my best to survive – in whatever way I see fit. The way he talks his way around Bronn and has him fight combat in his place to prove innocence. Does that mean that what he does becomes more acceptable or will that make me question his integrity all the time now that I know he is capable of deception of this caliber. Again, my answer is a resounding “No”. It is a matter of prioritizing what you want or prize more; your life or your honour. For Tyrion, the priority is always his life.
This choice also makes him a resolved person. He can accept the fact that he is an outcast and also tells Jon Snow to accept the reality of being who he is – a bastard – as he has accepted that he is an ugly dwarf with strange eyes; and only then will you be able to live with yourself happily and ignore the taunts that haunt you.
Honour did not take Nedd Stark very far. He thought that Cersei would do the respectable thing, will take the noble path. But she did not. Instead, he was captured along with his daughters. He declares himself a traitor to the throne to save his daughters, believing that they would have been spared. But he is executed, and his daughter was not returned as promised, instead is tortured by Joffrey as a piece of meat on his plate that he is not sure he wants to eat or spit out.
Had Nedd played a smarter game as Tyrion, and instead of confronting Cersei about her relationship with Jamie, told Robert about it - things could have turned out quite differently. But Nedd felt that he should do the right thing and offer his friend’s wife a chance to absolve herself – in the process he lost everything.
It does seem that deceiving someone for personal gain and doing so to just survive receives a different reaction. People find the latter reason acceptable than the former one. The line between acceptable and unacceptable is, arguably, quite thin and dangerous. But still it would be difficult for us to “teach” our children how to be cunning; as in some situations it may not be counted as being a vice. I do not think it is required to teach children that either. It depends on what you give precedence to. It is a survival instinct that kicks in. And that is all it takes.
Martin, George R.R. Game of Thrones:A Clash of Kings. New York City: Bantam Books, 1998.
—. Game of Thrones:A Song of Ice and Fire. New York City: Bantam Books, 1996.
—. Game of Thrones: A Storm Of Swords. New York City : Bantam Books, 2000.
Tolstoy, Leo. War & Peace. New York : William S. Gottesberger, 1869.