“Defiance Against Kings and Audiences” – A Game of Thrones Essay

Hi everyone! Below is a copy of an essay I wrote for my medieval rhetoric class! My end-of-term assignment was to take the ideas of at least one of the rhetors covered this term (I chose George Campbell) and apply it to a modern piece of pop culture – pretty sick, right? Since I have become completely enraptured by Game of Thrones, I decided to write about a scene from season 4. I hope you enjoy it and I would love your feedback! (Please don’t be too harsh though – it was for a 3rd year course and I’m only a 2nd year student, haha. Also, I got the excerpt from here: http://insidetv.ew.com/2014/06/14/game-of-thrones-tyrions-trial-speech-script/).

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In any sort of rhetorical discourse, the audience is an integral component as an audience is contingent to the reception of a speech and the completion of the speaker’s objective. It is absolutely fundamental to understand an audience, and to identify one’s primary intention. This can be an incredibly daunting task of any rhetor, and George Campbell thoroughly acknowledges this and goes into depths on the topic and the manner in which one can successfully influence an audience with their intended outcome in his work, “The Philosophy of Rhetoric”. The concepts which Campbell explains are applicable in the context of Tyrion Lannister’s trial scene in the episode “The Laws of Gods and Men” in the television series Game of Thrones. During this scene, Tyrion is determined to maintain his integrity in front of massive audiences that hold a bias against him and prove his resilience to his father. His first audience is an enormous group of spectators, and while they do not have the authority to determine Tyrion’s guilt or innocence, they nonetheless contribute to the tense, hostile atmosphere of the courtroom. Then there is the council, which consists of a dense assortment of people, each of whom Tyrion holds a unique, personal relationship with. Therefore, in this scene Tyrion is at an irreparable disadvantage due to his unfavorable position with his audiences; however, he manages to successfully focus on his intended audience and deliver an impactful demand in an unjust trial.
To begin, audiences have critical roles in the reception and success of rhetorical discourse. Rhetoric is extremely contingent on its audiences as they determine how a specific work is interpreted, received and shared. The role of the audiences is so critical as they can either hinder or heighten a rhetorician’s discourse. In this particular scene, there are three main audiences: the spectators of the trial, the council judging Tyrion, and the viewing audience since this is an excerpt from a television program. However, this analysis will only focus on the first two audiences. Tyrion is forced to defend his integrity before two very vicious audiences as he stands falsely accused of regicide. It is important that he remains shrewd and calculated in his speech “because rhetoric is tied to the contingencies of the audience, it is strategic: the speaker must figure out how to deliver the message in a way that garners a positive audience reaction” (Keith 12). Prior to the trial, Tyrion is aware that his audiences will deem him guilty of this atrocious crime. This is evident in his discussion with his brother Jaime Lannister. Jaime explains that Tyrion needs “to enter a formal plea for mercy” since he is “going to be found guilty” (The Laws of Gods and Men). Therefore, Tyrion and his allies have the opportunity to methodically figure out to how Tyrion should approach the trial and address his situation before his audiences. In addition to Tyrion’s challenging situation, he must understand his audience is mixed as there are two distinct groups of hearers. Campbell states, “the more mixed the auditory is, the greater is the difficulty of speaking to them with effect” (Campbell 789). The audience members present at the trial vary greatly. Tyrion simultaneously speaks before royalty, nobles, commoners of King’s Landing and even a whore. All of these people have different relationships with Tyrion, different relationships with the deceased King Joffrey, and possess different understandings of the incident on trial. Consequently, Tyrion must wisely choose which audience members’ wills he wishes to move, and focus his discourse in a way that will achieve his intended goal with those particular members. Campbell elaborates on the challenges of a mixed auditory by acknowledging, “what will tend to favour your success with one, may tend to obstruct it with another” (Campbell 789). For example, Jaime Lannister knows that Joffrey was a malevolent king and that Tyrion’s trial is not likely to end in his favour, meanwhile a member of nobility who is fiercely loyal to the king will have an entirely different perception of the incident and probably find the trial incredibly just and perhaps even entertaining. Altogether, it is difficult to create a speech that will please the majority of his audience, and it is also challenging to ascertain exactly how each individual person perceives the trial. Therefore, it is critical that Tyrion acknowledges the impossibility of pleasing everyone and instead focuses on the importance of molding his discourse to be beneficial to his end goal.
One of the unavoidable aspects of this trial is the audience in the courtroom. This audience consists of loud, boisterous and opinionated subjects of King’s Landing, which insinuates that they are all former subjects of the late Joffrey. No one within this audience has any authority over the trial’s judges; however, these people are still very telling of the ideologies and common mentality through the ways that they respond to Tyrion and other speakers throughout the trial. Also, the subjects attending the trial contribute to the event’s overall reception. The first thing that is evident from these hearers is Tyrion’s ethos. As soon as Tyrion enters the room, audience members call out “Kingslayer! Monster”(The Laws of Gods and Men) and other accusations. Even when Tyrion bitterly confirms that he “did not kill Joffrey” (The Laws of Gods and Men), the crowd continues to bellow out their slanders. This indicates that, even when Tyrion clearly states his account of the incident, the crowd does not believe him. When trying to move the will, sympathy can be incredibly valuable; although, “Sympathy in the hearers to the speaker may be lessened several ways… by a low opinion of the his intellectual abilities, and by a bad opinion of his morals” (Campbell 786). If the crowd is convinced that Tyrion committed regicide, their perception of his morality would be abysmal since it is a treacherous, inhumane act that is characteristic of a bad man – and it is elementary to know that a bad man speaking, regardless of how well he speaks, will not be perceived as credible (Campbell 786). Furthermore, the crowd condemns Tyrion before the trial even begins. This indicates that there is a definite bias against Tyrion. Given the scale of Joffrey’s death, it has most likely “been a topic of conversation in most companies, perhaps throughout the kingdom” (Campbell 792). Therefore, the hearers have had a sufficient amount of time to reflect on Joffrey’s murder, discuss the event, and form an opinion. While this bias affects what they say to Tyrion and how they perceive his speech, there is a degree of bias. Whether this bias is slight or severe is contingent upon each individual spectator. Bias stems from probability, and since Tyrion is the only suspect on trial, the crowd knows that there is a possibility Tyrion is the culprit. However, Campbell cautions that “Probability… begets belief… Belief raised to the highest becomes certainty” (Campbell 777). Consequently, there might be spectators who are certain of Tyrion’s alleged guilt, and this certainty stems from mere probability. A final component that puts Tyrion at an unfair disadvantage with this first audience is popularity. Inside and outside of the courtroom, Lord Tywin wields an immense amount of control. Tywin’s formal position is the Hand of the King, which means that he governs the most powerful man in Westeros, the king. In comparison, Tyrion is inferior in countless aspects – especially when perceived by the spectators. Evidently, “The man who enjoys the advantage of popularity needs not this caution. The minds of his auditors are perfectly attuned to his” (Campbell, 786). Even if audience members believe Tyrion, out of fear or loyalty, they will defend whatever Tywin declares. It would be very dangerous for a member of this audience to publically defend Tyrion, because defending Tyrion consequently implies defiance against the king, which is punishable in Westeros. Ultimately, this audience is immovable, regardless of anything Tyrion does or says. They are simply biased, afraid, and inveigled by those in power. Even if Tyrion is capable of shifting this audience’s will it would be a useless effort, since no wise subject would overtly defy the king and put their life in jeopardy for a man accused of murder.
The second audience, and evidently the more challenging of the two, is the councilmen and the witnesses. This audience includes notable characters such as Tywin, Cersei, Jaime, Shae, and other people who Tyrion has some sort of personal relationship with. In rhetoric, there are many components to bear in mind when trying to move an audience, such as the proximity to the event. When trying to move the passions, “any melancholy incident is the more affecting that it is recent” (Campbell 781). This idea affects Tyrion’s discourse negatively. Joffrey’s murder is a pretty catastrophic event for Cersei, as Joffrey was her son, and also for Tywin, as Joffrey was going to carry on Tywin’s legacy. Undoubtedly, it is a tragic loss for many members of this council, regardless of how malicious Joffrey was, he was still a strategic asset to the Lannisters and their allies. Another component that creates a challenge for Tyrion is his relationships with the audience members. Unlike the public audience, all of the people judging and testifying against Tyrion have a personal relationship with him. While some people have a positive relationship with Tyrion, others share a very toxic relationship with him. This is important because, “relation to the actors commonly produces an effect contrary to that produced by relation to the sufferers” (Campbell 782). It is important for Tyrion to ascertain the emotions of each of these audience members, as well as the malleability of their emotional states. Some people are merciful towards Tyrion, meanwhile different people are immovable in their loathing, and “it is impossible with any precision to reduce these effects to rules: so much depending on the different tempers and sentiments of different audiences” (Campbell 782). For example, Cersei is brimming with contempt towards Tyrion. Joffrey was Cersei’s son, and Cersei wants nothing more than for Tyrion to be found guilty. Although Jaime and Oberyn Martell, who find this trial to be unfair and harbor negative emotions towards Tywin, might be more willing to develop sympathy and relinquish any disdain towards Tyrion. The relationships and experiences between the members of this audience are much more intricate and incredibly varied. While Tyrion does have some insight into the temperaments of each of these people, there is a higher degree of complexity since he needs to determine exactly who to appeal to and how he should do so in order to meet his intended end.
Despite the audiences’ predominantly negative responses to Tyrion’s presence and the difficulties that each audience proposes, Tyrion manages to accomplish his objective. The main member of the audience Tyrion wishes to defy is his father, Tywin. Tyrion manages to publically insult everyone who has humiliated him, including Tywin, Cersei, Shae and the subjects of King’s Landing. It seems as though Tyrion is aware discourse “must be rendered conducive to that which is the primary intention” (Campbell 750). Tyrion gradually hurls out successive slews of insults that impact the intended audience members. He overtly expresses his regret in regards to saving “all [the public’s] worthless lives”, dismisses Joffrey as a “vicious bastard”, and exposes how Tywin has been ashamed of his dwarfism throughout his entire life (The Laws of Gods and Men). Another interesting aspect about this scene is the dichotomy between Tyrion’s relationship with the public in contrast with the relationships between himself and those he knows personally, particularly Tywin. In this trial, Tywin seems to wield control and influence amongst everyone. Tywin’s flawless control is evident as there are several times when the crowd of spectators creates deafening uproars, and while Tyrion is forced to shout over the cries of the crowds, Tywin is always able to control the audience by simply commanding “Silence” as the crowd is obligated to listen to him. Despite the evident inequality in this dual power struggle, Tyrion remains defiant and chooses this public domain to discuss his frustrations in a private sphere. He denotes how he is “guilty of being a dwarf” (The Laws of Gods and Men), which is obviously one of his flaws according to his father. In this part of Tyrion’s speech, it is apparent that he is solely focusing on Tywin, while ignoring the rest of the audiences, as it is Tywin who possesses the greatest power in this trial. In successful rhetoric, “It is necessary to show that the action will answer some end” (Campbell 775). Although this trial does not determine whether Tyrion is guilty or innocent – which is the conclusion that audience members would expect, Tyrion’s objective is to deny his father the authority to determine his guilt while demonstrating his resilience. Furthermore, Campbell notes that if a judge is merciless, “there may be no real change wrought upon the judge. He may continue to be the same obdurate wretch he was before” (Campbell 793). Tywin has an authoritative disposition, and is a calculated strategist, yet Tyrion succeeds in moving Tywin’s will. Several times towards the end of the trial, Tywin tries to coerce Tyrion into pleading guilty, but Tyrion never succumbs the way his father wants him to. Tyrion’s final words in the trial are “I know I’ll get no justice here, so I will let the gods decide my fate. (beat) I demand a trial by combat!” (The Laws of Gods and Men). This statement confirms that Tyrion is aware of the unjust circumstances against him, but most importantly this challenges Tywin’s authority, which is something Tyrion has struggled against throughout his entire life. For Tywin to be challenged and moved by his own son demonstrates an undeniable shift in power. In this proclamation, Tyrion prolongs the outcome of the trial, and will be judged in fairer circumstances.
Ultimately, there is never any hope of Tyrion proving his innocence or successfully defending himself against an onslaught of red-eyed spectators and enraged prosecutors. However, Tyrion does honour his integrity by standing defiantly against an overwhelming amount of accusers. While some of his auditory are overcome with bias, or inveigled by influence, and other audience members are reluctant to let Tyrion plead anything other than guilty, Tyrion remains triumphant. Even though Tyrion faces an opposing, mixed audience of strangers and family, he still successfully changes Tywin’s will, which results in a second trial that nobody aside from Tyrion anticipates. In this second trial, Tywin will have no control as the outcome will be decided by combat and not through biased or unjust convictions.

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