1. “It all goes back and back, Tyrion thought, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our steads.”
Tyrion has this thought as he faces charges for poisoning King Joffrey. Already jaded, Tyrion has become supremely cynical, because he knows he has not committed the crime, yet several witnesses have testified against him. When Oberyn visits him, he recounts that Tyrion’s father once offered him to Elia, Oberyn’s sister. Because Tyrion was ugly and a dwarf, the proposal insulted Oberyn’s family. Tyrion never knew this, and he realizes that his family has controlled every aspect of his life to some degree. The quote suggests that everyone in Westeros is subject to this same manipulation. Sometimes family grievances going back generations serve as the reason for families that have no reason to fight today. Family honor and tradition dictate what a child may or may not be, and who that person may marry. Though Tyrion doesn’t mention Tysha, the example is pertinent. Tyrion wasn’t allowed to marry her because of his family, because his was too high and hers too low. Tyrion feels that he is only a pawn in a larger game, which is explicitly described as the “game of thrones.”
It is interesting to note that Tyrion has no children, and he never expresses any interest in having children. He squanders his sexuality on prostitutes, and he refuses to consummate his marriage with Sansa, though technically he is within his rights to do so even if she doesn’t consent. Though it is never explicitly stated, having children is not a priority for Tyrion, perhaps because he fears how those children will look, and perhaps because he does not wish to continue the game. Whatever his unspoken hesitations, Tyrion has reached a dead end and cannot continue this way of life, even if his execution is stayed. This epiphany informs Tyrion’s choice to estrange Jaime and Cersei and murder his own father in his bedchamber. By rejecting his family, Tyrion becomes independent for the first time. Contrary to the quote, Tyrion effectively snips the strings that make him dance.
2. “A dragon is no slave.”
Daenerys declares this to the slave master Kraznys mo Nakloz, just before she kills him. In the scene, Daenerys “sells” one of her dragons to Kraznys in exchange for an army of Unsullied slave warriors. Dragons are weapons of great power in the novel. Some people, like Kraznys mo Nakloz, seem to think of a dragon as something like a mindless tool that can be wielded like a sword. But Daenerys recognizes that they are dangerous and have their own wills. Her quote suggests it would be both cruel to enslave them, which is not surprising as she considers her dragons to be her children and loves them deeply, and essentially impossible, since they’re too powerful to be held by any man. Moreover, dragons have a connotation of being regal creatures because of their power and rarity. What Daenerys also implies is that it would be wrong to debase something so noble. It’s in that sense that Daenerys also refers to herself with these words. The Targaryen family is closely tied to dragons, as dragons have long been the source of the family’s power and prestige. In fact, the Targaryens are often referred to figuratively as dragons, and so what Daenerys additionally suggests is that she won’t be subservient by handing over one of her dragons to someone like Kraznys.
3. “Fear cuts deeper than swords.”
Arya utters this phrase to herself numerous times in the novel, usually during moments of high tension or violence. The mantra came from her Braavosi sword master, and it reminds her that fear can be a greater danger than whatever physical threat she faces. In other words, if she can remain calm and keep her head, she can make the smart decisions that will allow her to stay alive. If she gives in to her fear and panics, however, it could mean her life. Maintaining control of her emotions is particularly important for Arya since physically she is often overpowered. She is still young and quite small, so she’s no match for many of the enemies she faces. Controlling her emotions gives her the closest thing to an advantage she has. That she has to say these words to herself makes clear that she does, in fact, still feel afraid. Though Arya is so young, she’s killed several people by the end of A Storm of Swords, and she often behaves like someone much older and stronger than she is. Each time she says her mantra to steel herself, it also reminds the reader that she’s a child and has to actively override her fear to do the things she does.
4. “I am like this torch, Ser Davos. We are both instruments of R’hllor. We were made for a single purpose—to keep the darkness at bay. Do you believe that?”
Melisandre says this to Davos in Davos’s cell after she’s had him arrested. Davos arrives on Dragonstone with the intent of murdering Melisandre. He blames her for the deaths of his sons in the Battle of the Blackwater that concluded the previous book, and he also worries that she has too much influence on Stannis. In this scene, Melisandre tries to convince Davos that she’s not the enemy, and the quote speaks to her entire worldview. Melisandre repeatedly insists that her purpose is to destroy the Other, a nameless evil god who opposes her own god, R’hllor. No earthly matter is more important than this divine battle between the two opposite forces of death and life, represented by the Other and R’hllor respectively. She also claims Stannis is the reincarnation of Azor Ahai and that he will save the world from darkness.
But it’s never certain how sincere she is. More specifically, it’s unclear whether she actually believes what she says about Stannis or whether she’s just manipulating him for her own ends. It’s no small matter as she has more influence over Stannis than anyone else, and since Stannis commands a sizeable army there are thousands of lives at stake. Davos in particular suspects her, not least because in A Clash of Kings she gives birth to some sort of supernatural shadow in his presence. Since, he has both feared and despised her, and he thinks she is more likely evil than good. In response to her question of whether Davos believes what she says about her purpose, Davos states directly that he doesn’t and calls her the “mother of darkness.”
5. “Can it be? They took my sword hand. Was that all I was, a sword hand? Gods be good, is it true?”
Jaime thinks these words to himself shortly after losing his hand, while Brienne convinces him to try to survive. Jaime’s loss of his hand prompts a crisis of identity in him in which he suddenly doesn’t know who he is or what value he has. From a character perspective, Jaime undergoes the most radical transformation in the book. He begins the story cruel and arrogant. He undermines and insults everyone around him, partly out of frustration, and partly because he seems to have a sadistic streak. Because of his skill with a sword he commands a great deal of respect, and a healthy measure of fear, from those around him, and living by his sword as a knight gives him a sense of purpose. But once he loses his hand, Jaime is suddenly weak and alone. He feels extraordinarily vulnerable for the first time, and he feels useless. He no longer commands respect and is called a “cripple” and derided. He no longer knows what his value is to himself or others if he can’t fight.
The transformation he undergoes in the novel involves him discovering where his value lies. Brienne plays a significant role in this process, as he learns to recognize and deeply respect her sense of honor. Later, as he reads the White Book where all the histories of the knights of the Kingsguard are recorded, it puts his own life into perspective, and it seems to prompt him to try to restore his own tarnished honor. For years he’s been considered among the least honorable knights of Westeros for having murdered King Aerys Targaryen while he was part of the Kingsguard sworn to protect Aerys. To rehabilitate his honor, he resolves to lead the Kingsguard nobly, and he does everything he can to keep his promise to the deceased Catelyn Stark. He gives Brienne the sword Oathkeeper, and sends her to find and save Sansa.
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