Game of Thrones, a television series created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, is an epic drama of intrigues and struggle for power at several levels. A scene in Season 3, Episode 3 (David Benioff, 2013) of the series epitomizes the epic’s contentious relationship dynamics. As the scene opens, a pair of legs standing beside a chair fills almost the right half of the frame.
As the camera tilts up we see Grand Maester Pycelle (intelligent and highly educated personal healer and scholar of the king), Varys (Master of the Whisperers, the spymaster of the king of the Seven Kingdoms) and Lord Petyr Baelish (Master of Coin, the treasurer of the Seven Kingdoms) enter the council room of King’s Landing. They are allowed a small space about the centre of the frame, between the back of the standing man and a row of five empty chairs beside a long council table, and above the back of the chair which the man puts his hand on. The man with his back toward us, standing by the chair, is the image that occupies the largest space in the frame, conveying an imposing air about him.
The next shot reveals this man is Tywin Lannister (Hand of the King to his grandson, Joffrey Baratheon), a calculating, ruthless and controlling man. In this medium long shot, Tywin’s left hand holds the chair, his image still imposing though most of the screen space is occupied by the five other empty chairs beside the table, symbol of power characters in the film contend for.
Though officers in the same court, serving the same master, the three men, Pycelle, Varys and Lord Baelish have their own personal interests, and they are mutually suspicious of their treacherousness and clever intrigues, and they are on their guard against each other. They did not come as a group, though they happen to enter the chamber almost simultaneously, one after another—Varys first, Baelish second, and old Pycelle last. Varys looks left and right to discover Baelish and Pycelle. When another footsteps are heard from behind, Pycelle and Varys turns to look and see Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf son of Tywin Lannister, come in.
Waiting for the right moment, Tywin’s taking his seat, they stand there for a couple of seconds—the officers on the foreground, abreast of each other and Tyrion on the background. When Tywin has sat, the moment of the implicitly competing three officers arrives, and Varys’s huge body starts to move forward, but before he takes a step Baelish, possibly the youngest but definitely physically the smartest, who has since his entry into the chamber been focused on what is ahead without his eyes straying, as Varys and Pycelle do, about on other’s movements while being fully aware, calculatingly advances and overtakes Varys, who surrenderingly wonders at his conscious aggressiveness but is hurt by this gesture.
Baelish takes the chair nearest to Tywin, who is the most powerful figure in this scene, signifying his active engagement in struggle for power. Varys takes the chair next to Baelish, further away from the center of power. When these two officers are seated in their own chairs, the struggle between the is still visible in the form of Baelish’s left hand which he puts on the edge of the table, as if blocking Varys from power. Baelish does not remove his hand from the table until 03:09th minute in this 04:02 minute long scene.
Pycelle, whose effectiveness as an officer of the court has been dulled by age and who is thus no more able to engage in physical challenges, has to take the chair right after Varys, still further from the center.
Tyrion senses all this tension, struggle and competition. He understandingly smiles to himself at this greediness, and is put off by the obviousness of this dirtiness. In contempt he looks away and in contrast he takes a step on his left. This step takes him neither closer to nor away from the center of power, but it distances him from the greediness evident in the struggle.
After the three officers have settled in their own positions they have managed to acquire, we hear new footsteps. Cersei Lannister, Tywin’s physically beautiful, greedy, cruel, manipulative, immoral and not very intelligent daughter, enters. She takes the chair next to Pycelle, lifts and set it immediately on her father’s right, opposite Baelish.
Now, after Cersei has taken her position all the members around the council table look toward Tyrion. Tyrion walks to the only free chair left, drags it with its creaking sound noisy in the silence of the chamber. The chair is of the same height as him, if it is not taller, and his size and the deliberate effort he exerts to drag the chair over-sized for him make a scene which is not expected in the council chamber, usually marked by gracefulness and ceremoniousness. He sets the chair on this end of the long table opposite his father on the other end, and sits in it, thereby confirming his opposition to the policies of his father who despises him for being deformed and for “causing” his mother Joanna’s death at his birth.
When he has sat in the chair, he surveys blankly up and then ironically says in his heavy voice:
“Intimate, lovely team!”
So far nobody has spoken a word, the noise of footsteps and of the chairs being moved being the only sounds filling the otherwise silent chamber.
The mutual distrust among the council members is embroidered on this densely textured scene, and the tension felt on the table is due to the interaction among magnetic fields of several poles. The court officials, while they are mutually contentious, form a pole in the overall magnetic dynamics of the scene. Tywin doubts the apparent honesty of these officials, who in fact are spying against each other and their masters for themselves or their own masters. In spite of his fatherly duties toward his daughter, Tywin does neither love nor believe Cersei, while he expresses his hatred and spite for his son Tyrion at every opportunity. But he cannot but be wary of Tyrion’s intelligence which may be used against him. Cersei does not hate her brother Tyrion, but she manages to use all her power and intelligence to put him under her influence. While he cannot take all these challenges physically, because he is a dwarf nicknamed Halfman by many, Tyrion keeps himself in his position and faces all these challenges by his intelligence. He believes not all three of the officials.
Cersei and Tyrion enjoy greater power and freedom in the council. Cersei is the queen, and the king’s mother, and the daughter of Tywin, the Hand of the King who, being the most powerful figure in the meeting, is presiding over the council. While Tywin derives his power from being her father and applies it on her, Cersei, being the queen and the king’s mother, is formally more powerful (despite King Joffrey’s instability and Tywin’s indispensability in the court’s policy-making and warfare), and she can dismiss him any time. Cersei tries to show her formal power when her father’s policies are at odds with her desires.
In spite of this, the council chamber’s sitting arrangement that day sweepingly crams all the five chairs meant for Cersei, Tyrion and the three officials in a line into the space on one side of the table leaving all the other sides besides the end with Tywin’s chair empty with no chair at all. Cersei defies the power scheme of the original sitting arrangement, and puts herself where she belongs by taking the free chair next to her father. However, the dignity that usually accompanies the power she shows off by court decorum demands a ready and appropriate seating arrangement, and her having to physically pull a chair for herself where she thinks right ironically and significantly undermines what she is claiming by doing what she is doing.
Tyrion is not in so powerful a position as his sister, but as the new Master of Coin and former Hand of the King in-charge, and as the son of Tywin, his dignity is above the three officials–Pycelle, Varys and Lord Baelish (who has been dismissed as Master of Coin). His noisy dragging of the chair is ugly and unbecoming of a court Master, but when everybody has become a dog this politically very significant maneuver defies every political moves of his father and sister readable in their maneuvers.