“Game of Thrones”’ Tywin Lannister is both the most hated and most likeable character

Wyatt Miller

Editor’s note: “Game of Thrones” spoilers below. 

The incendiary fourth season of “Game of Thrones” is on the horizon. What better way to celebrate its return than to take a step back from the clash of the Seven Kingdoms and look at one of its most diabolically deadly denizens, Tywin Lannister.

In a mere three seasons, Tywin has mocked his dwarf son for existing, forced that same son to wed the 14-year-old Sansa Stark and instigated the brutal murders of Robb and Catelyn Stark, two of the show’s most admired characters. The Lord of Casterly Rock, with his thinning blonde locks and fiery temper, has done little to earn sympathy.

So why is it that one of George R.R. Martin’s most hateable characters is also one of his most likable? Of all the characters in “Game of Thrones,” Tywin is the only one who knows exactly what he wants and knows exactly how to get it. His deft manipulation of every character he comes across, family members and rivals alike, is uncanny. His cunning shows not only why the Lannisters seem to win at everything, but why they deserve to win at everything. 

Another oddity to consider is Tywin’s rocky relationship with Tyrion Lannister. Despite their often inflammatory differences, these two lions are more alike than the rest of their pride. Both are leaders who share a genuine pride for their family. They each have a sense of mercy and a capacity for kindness. Consider the chillingly genial dialogues between Tywin and a clandestine Arya in season two, in which he displayed genuine charm and mercy. 

Tyrion and Tywin’s personal war of attrition is motivated by their similitude. Both see their flaws and weaknesses in the other. And for a man like Tywin, weakness is the ultimate
embarrassment. Tywin is willing to go to any length to continue House Lannister’s dominion even if that means destroying an entire family in the process. His motivations are not personal, but generational, displaying a twisted but iron-cast sense of familial preservation that is so uncharacteristic of the traditional fantasy villain. Consider his justification for the atrocities committed at the Red Wedding when he says, “Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men at battle than a dozen at dinner.” 

Charles Dance brings Martin’s diabolically proud papa to life. His presence is always colossal, largely because of his commanding baritone and brooding enunciation of nearly every line of dialogue he is given. His adversarial wars of words with Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion are among the best the show has to offer. 

Regardless of the bloodbaths to come, expect Tywin to raise the sigul of Lannister proudly. Raise your flagon of mead to the old gods, the new and Stannis’ freaky fire god, and get ready for what is going to be Tywin’s best season yet.