Faced with trial after trial during the seven seasons of Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister has somehow managed to survive and thrive against all odds. He may not be blessed with a normal-sized height, but he does have a silver tongue, and he used it to become the Hand of the Queen for an entirely new family, after he was forced to cut ties with his own blood.
Warning: Game of Thrones spoilers will follow.
Up until now, Tyrion has done everything he can to aid in the rise of Daenerys Targaryen, the woman he believes can bring stability to Westeros. Her cause is one he clearly believes in; he has tried to keep her from making rash, violent decisions so that she can be seen as the benevolent ruler the realm needs.
And yet, after the season 7 finale, "The Dragon and the Wolf," fans of the show are feeling a creeping sense of doubt. Despite all the previous evidence that Tyrion's belief in Daenerys' cause is real, a few critics believe he has done the unthinkable, by possibly turning his back on Khaleesi in the show's most pivotal moment.
It may sound crazy, but there are some strong clues that a betrayal of the highest order just went down.
Tyrion just explained the value of lying to Jon Snow
In the show's opening moments, Jon Snow is presented with the opportunity to earn a promise of peace from Cersei. He instead chooses to remain loyal to Daenerys, much to the chagrin of almost everyone else in their party. Tyrion in particular was upset with Jon, and he explained that sometimes, there is value in telling someone you'll give them what they want, even if you don't plan on actually doing so.
"I'm pleased you bent the knee to our queen—I would have advised it had you asked," said Tyrion. "But have you ever considered learning how to lie every now and then, just a bit?" When Jon replied that lies could get them into deeper trouble, Tyrion was blunt: "That is indeed a problem; the more immediate problem is that we're fucked."
A tense meeting between Cersei and Tyrion followed, but it's what happened off-screen that matters most. After professing his love for Cersei's deceased children and realizing his sister was pregnant, Tyrion appears to soften, just before the camera cuts away from the scene altogether. The next time we see the two characters is during their return to the Dragonpit, the icy Cersei suddenly willing to help Jon and Daenerys in their battle against the White Walkers. Or at least it appeared that way—Cersei later explained to Jamie Lannister that the whole alliance was a ruse.
Having just seen Tyrion emphasize the value of a good lie to Jon Snow, it's reasonable to believe he'd stress this to his sister behind closed doors, especially when you consider she has shown more of a propensity to lie and manipulate than the rest of the characters on the show combined, save Littlefinger. If Tyrion is mostly concerned about appearances and keeping peace for now, having Cersei send Jon and Dany off in good graces seems like the best possible move.
While this isn't necessarily an outright betrayal (unless it's part of a larger conspiracy to harm them), it would be a blatant manipulation of a tough situation, and a misleading of his allies, at best. Few characters on the show would have the composure to pull off such a caper, but if anyone could, it's the man who sees the value in a lie, with a sibling who will do whatever it takes to hold onto her power.
Tyrion told Cersei he doesn't want to destroy the Lannister family
Ever since Tyrion linked up with Khaleesi, it seemed a given that he did not care about the fate of his family anymore. Aside from Jamie, with whom he always kept a close relationship, Tyrion appeared to be done caring about the fallout of his decisions as they pertain to House Lannister. Chided by his own father since birth, it's no wonder he'd feel this way.
In what could have been his final moments, however, Tyrion insisted to Cersei that his goal was never to destroy House Lannister, and he tried to paint his actions—including the murder of his own father—in a way that would inspire sympathy from his sister. It was a bit of diplomacy, to be sure, but it was also a reveal of the soft spot in his heart for his family, despite their issues.
Quiet as kept, this has been a theme throughout the season for Tyrion. When Drogon came over the horizon in "The Spoils of War" and melted the bulk of the Lannister army, Tyrion did not react with joy; instead, he was shown with a pained look on his face, almost as if he was reconsidering his position in this fight. Were he content to simply burn his family down to ash, his demeanor would have been quite different on the battlefield.
And that instinct is ultimately what led him to pursue a follow-up meeting with Cersei in "The Dragon and the Wolf." If he believed his family was unredeemable, there'd be no sense in walking into what would be certain death. But he doesn't, and he refuses to give up on them, even though he may have actually wanted to for years and years.
Betraying Daenerys was foretold in a prophecy in the books
Though this theory sounds sort of crazy on its face, there is a bit of Thrones lore that suggests Daenerys is at risk of being betrayed. In fact, a prophecy foretold her being betrayed three times, each coming attached to a different reason.
In George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, Daenerys hears this prophecy while in the House of the Undying:
The voices were growing louder, she realized, and it seemed her heart was slowing, and even her breath ... three treasons will you know ... once for blood and once for gold and once for love.
Betrayed previously by Mirri Maz Duur—who promised to save Khal Drogo with blood magic—the implication is that Tyrion could be the man behind the "love" treason, because money is certainly not a factor here.
As we've already established, Tyrion clearly still loves his own family on some level, even if he swore to defeat them in seasons past. Discussing past decisions with Cersei, he even showed some remorse for killing a father who never loved him, a remarkable step considering the hatred between he and Tywin.
Though Tyrion's loyalty to Daenerys hasn't wavered much over time, the power of bloodlines is baked into Game of Thrones. Faced with an opportunity to bring ruin to his own house, perhaps Tyrion finally understands just what that means, and is looking for a way out. A compromise with Cersei would serve that end, slimy though it may feel, and would ultimately lead to Daenerys' ruin in one way or another—whether at the hands of the White Walkers or during an unexpected attack from the Lannister army.
The betrayal would also explain what we see in the episode's final moments, with Tyrion staring at Daenerys' door longingly after Jon Snow made his booty call. Though the gut reaction was to call him heartbroken or jealous in the moment, the truth is he may be feeling guilty, knowing he sold his ally down the river.
Cersei has extra motivation to use Tyrion
The kicker here is that even if Cersei and Tyrion did have a breakthrough that brought them closer together, there's no guarantee she cares about remaining loyal to him. Remember, in the opening moments of "The Dragon and the Wolf," Cersei emphasized a desire to have him murdered if the meeting at Dragonpit went sour.
Were she to forge a secret alliance with Tyrion, she can guarantee his death no matter what happens. If Cersei engages in conflict with Jon and Dany and emerges the winner, the likely result is the death of all humanity, in which Tyrion is included. Should Cersei fail in an attempt to best Jon and Dany, she now has the dirt to expose Tyrion as a traitor, which would ultimately lead to his execution at the hands of Daenerys.
While this seems like a stupid play for Cersei on a broader level—throwing humanity under the bus in order to settle all her personal debts before she dies—it's fairly consistent with her character. Her concern hardly ever goes beyond her own personal gain, so a narrow focus on how she can win, even momentarily, would appear to make sense. And maybe, just maybe, she believes the stash of Wildfire she has up her sleeve will be enough to defeat the White Walkers, in the event that they eventually storm King's Landing.
Why it doesn't make sense
Tyrion may indeed still love his family, but that doesn't clear out the obvious baggage here, nor does it throw out everything the characters have learned up to this point. In a season where characters were hastily rewritten as it suited the showrunners, this would be the most blatant hatchet job of all, turning a man in search of peace into an agent of chaos in the show's final hours.
Most often, the simplest explanation is where the truth lies, and in this case, there's an obvious reason for what went down: Cersei is evil. Whether or not Tyrion loves her or sympathizes with her plight is not necessarily relevant, because he and his companions know that the woman they're bargaining with isn't trustworthy. Her misdeeds are common knowledge, especially to her own brother, and Tyrion is smart enough to not get involved with someone who would happily double cross him whenever it suited her.
Besides, if you listen to what the writers of the show have to say, they made it very clear that Tyrion is not the one in the wrong here.
"It seems like she's bluffing and he reads her bluff, but she wanted him to read her bluff," said David Benioff in the post-show recap. "This was all part of her game. She wasn't in power, but she was on the edges of power, and she learned how to operate in that environment. And she plays Tyrion pretty beautifully here."
Lacking the motivation to turn his back on Daenerys—who treated him better than most of his family members ever did—a betrayal from Tyrion would be borderline nonsensical at this stage of the game. He knows the stakes here, and that's why he has been working to help assemble troops for the only war that really matters.
Feel free to mock me if he turns out to be the snake of all snakes, but I just can't see this going down.