Thursday, February 20, 2014

When Women Play the Game: Lysa Tully

Lysa Tully by Elia Fernández

Lysa Tully Arryn has been controlled her entire life, whether she knew it or not, first by her father and then by Petyr Baelish.  Seemingly, she had never been controlled by her husband Lord Jon Arryn.  They had never been taken to each other.  Lysa never wanted to be his wife and wallowed in her own pity, building her childish revenge her entire life.  While her want of her own life to choose for her own happiness is admirable, she suffers great grief and fights her arranged life.  Lord Hoster Tully married off his daughters for a larger army, even if they want a different life, like Lysa did.  Catelyn was arranged to an honorable, yet stubborn, family.  She admits the length it took her to warm to the North and the Starks, but she built a love with Ned and their family. 


As a child, Lysa was carefree and innocent, but she had always latched onto Petyr, though he paid heed to Catelyn.  Catelyn reminisces on Lysa when they were best friends as children: “Lysa was never brave. When we were girls together, she would run and hide whenever she’d done something wrong. Perhaps she thought our lord father would forget to be wroth with her if he could not find her. It is no different now. She ran from King’s Landing for fear, to the safest place she knows, and she sits on her mountain hoping everyone will forget her” (A Storm of Swords, Chapter 20, “Catelyn”).  The aspect of hiding from fear in the Eyrie becomes very well-known throughout Westeros.

A conversation between Catelyn and her uncle Brynden highlights how Lysa drastically changed in the last few years.

“The Lysa who came back from King’s Landing is not the same girl who went south when her husband was named Hand. Those years were hard for her. You must know. Lord Arryn was a dutiful husband, but their marriage was made from politics, not passion.”

“As was my own.”

“They began the same, but your ending has been happier than your sister’s. Two babes stillborn, twice as many miscarriages, Lord Arryn’s death... Catelyn, the gods gave Lysa only the one child, and he is all your sister lives for now, poor boy. Small wonder she fled rather than see him handed over to the Lannisters. Your sister is afraid, child, and the Lannisters are what she fears most. She ran to the Vale, stealing away from the Red Keep like a thief in the night, and all to snatch her son out of the lion’s mouth... and now you have brought the lion to her door.”
(A Game of Thrones, Chapter 34, “Catelyn”)

But little did the Tullys know, Jon Arryn had changed his mind once he found out about the Cersei’s children.  He surely thought that young Robert would be safer in Dragonstone with Stannis than with Robert in King’s Landing.  Lysa and Petyr’s plots most definitely would not have worked out if she had stayed in King’s Landing after she poisoned Jon, most likely with the influence of Petyr, who knew Cersei’s secret and told the Arryns.

The Grand Maester adds to what Brynden Tully had told Cat, telling Ned Stark, “If an old man may be forgiven his blunt speech, let me say that grief can derange even the strongest and most disciplined of minds, and the Lady Lysa was never that. Since her last stillbirth, she has seen enemies in every shadow, and the death of her lord husband left her shattered and lost” (A Game of Thrones, Chapter 27, “Eddard”).  She has become straight-up crazy in everyone’s eyes.  And she most definitely is, but she’s probably not as crazy as everyone thinks, especially since she was in cahoots with Petyr, who has the greatest influence on her.

Lysa may have been described as a bit flighty, frightened, and optimistic in Riverrun, but she had turned out to be far more than that.  Catelyn described her upon seeing her:

If she spoke to her sister before the duel, perhaps she could change her mind, she thought as they dressed her. Lysa’s policies varied with her moods, and her moods changed hourly. The shy girl she had known at Riverrun had grown into a woman who was by turns proud, fearful, cruel, dreamy, reckless, timid, stubborn, vain, and, above all, inconstant.
(A Game of Thrones, Chapter 40, “Catelyn”)

If anyone knows how Lysa has turned out differently, it’s Catelyn.  She and Petyr both knew her best.  Lysa is known as fearful, like all rulers in the Arryn Vale, but Catelyn is known as bold and cunning, though honest and honorable.  Aside from Dorne, the Vale is the safest place in Westeros, and Lysa awaits Baelish until he gets there, biding her time with follies and manipulations.

Lysa Arryn by amoka
Noted when both Catelyn and Sansa see Lysa at the Eyrie, Lysa has also aged progressively.  Her controlled life had taken its toll on her mentally and therefore physically.  Catelyn thinks:

It had been five years, in truth; five cruel years, for Lysa. They had taken their toll. Her sister was two years the younger, yet she looked older now. Shorter than Catelyn, Lysa had grown thick of body, pale and puffy of face. She had the blue eyes of the Tullys, but hers were pale and watery, never still. Her small mouth had turned petulant. As Catelyn held her, she remembered the slender, high-breasted girl who’d waited beside her that day in the sept at Riverrun. How lovely and full of hope she had been. All that remained of her sister’s beauty was the great fall of thick auburn hair that cascaded to her waist (A Game of Thrones, Chapter 34, “Catelyn”).

Catelyn sees the Tully symbol of beautiful red hair and hopes that the Tully within her is yet present; she even calls herself Lysa Tully and not Lysa Arryn.  Similarly, Sansa tells us that she looks ten years older than her mother, despite being two years younger. 

The Tully Sisters by algesiras
Catelyn always had more Tully in her—bold, dutiful, commanding, loyal, family-oriented, and honorable.  Cat will do anything for her family, to keep it together.  She was honorable in her marriage to Ned, though he was not.  She was yet a maiden when she wed him, despite Petyr Baelish’s efforts to say he had taken her maidenhood.  She willingly did what was expected of her and made the best of it.  Lysa, on the other hand, proved to be fickle and odd.  She never held any sort of responsibility and became engulfed by her love, or obsession, rather, of Baelish.  She had not kept her maidenhood before wedding Jon Arryn, even having Baelish’s baby inside her.  She turns on her family at any moment, and she refuses to see her dying father Lord Hoster Tully.  Despite her love of family, she retains her maiden name of Tully, likely as her own protest against the union with Jon Arryn and as a symbol that she never took to him.  Like her mother’s family, the Whents, she is prone to stillborns and miscarriages.  Catelyn and Lysa are often compared, as is natural.  Despite their blood, they are completely opposite.  Catelyn is well-respected, while Lysa is not.  Their uncle Brynden “Blackfish” Tully subtly tells Catelyn that she can rule, while Lysa certainly cannot.

Ser Brynden snorted. “Nor do I, but... it seems to me Lysa is only playing at courtship. She enjoys the sport, but I believe your sister intends to rule herself until her boy is old enough to be Lord of the Eyrie in truth as well as name.”

“A woman can rule as wisely as a man,” Catelyn said.

“The tight woman can,” her uncle said with a sideways glance. “Make no mistake, Cat. Lysa is not you.” He hesitated a moment. “If truth be told, I fear you may not find your sister as helpful as you would like.” 
(A Game of Thrones, Chapter 34, “Catelyn”)

Catelyn and Lysa are not only different in mind but also in body.  Catelyn is completely capable of ruling and isn’t, while Lysa isn’t capable of ruling but is.  On a side note, Robert Baratheon tells Ned Stark that after Jon died, Lysa took her son back to the Eyrie, despite his suggestion to have her son fostered at Casterly Rock.  “Jon had no brothers, no other sons. Was I supposed to leave him to be raised by women?”  Catelyn would say that is just fine, especially after meeting the Mormont women (A Game of Thrones, Chapter 4, “Eddard”).

Catelyn saw something in Lysa when she visited her: what she could end up being if grief would become her and ruin her.  Lysa seemingly had been a bit normal but obsessed with Petyr Baelish when the Tully sisters were children.  But her abortion of Petyr’s baby had taken a toll on her and her father Lord Hoster Tully, we now know, despite his not showing it, surely, when she had done so. 

“I gave you my maiden’s gift. I would have given you a son too, but they murdered him with moon tea, with tansy and mint and wormwood, a spoon of honey and a drop of pennyroyal. It wasn’t me, I never knew, I only drank what Father gave me...” (A Storm of Swords, Chapter 80, “Sansa”).

Tully Siblings by enife
No wonder she never visited her father on his death bed.  He aborted her baby without her consent, and he forced her to marry someone she did not love.  Note to self: Don’t cross Hoster Tully.  Lord Hoster knew the consequences of bastards and low-born husbands.  She would not marry Petyr; she would marry Lord Jon Arryn, the descendent to Lady Jeyne Arryn’s mighty throne of the Arryn Vale.  So when she was pregnant with Petyr’s baby, she had been wed to Lord Arryn as a price for Hoster Tully’s support in the war.  This was how Lysa and Catelyn were raised, and Catelyn took to the way of life, while Lysa unraveled from adhering to the social rules.

As Bran overhears Jaime and Cersei talking of Lysa returning to the Eyrie with her son, with Cersei fearing she will grow bolder and reveal what Jon had found out about Cersei and Jaime, not that Cersei had supposedly killed Jon.

“Mothers.” [Jaime] made the word sound like a curse. “I think birthing does something to your minds. You are all mad.” He laughed. It was a bitter sound. “Let Lady Arryn grow as bold as she likes. Whatever she knows, whatever she thinks she knows, she has no proof.” He paused a moment. “Or does she?”
(A Game of Thrones, Chapter 8, “Bran”)

Motherhood, by all rights, leads the women who are mothers on their own game, keeping their children safe.  Lady Olenna Redwyne Tyrell wants power for the entire family; they have the wealth but no power to back it up.  She ensures they are valued for that.  Cersei Lannister wants to protect her children but also wants to be queen.  Catelyn wants to protect her children and supports her son attempting to gain the throne in order to ensure the Lannisters do not gain absolute power. 

Despite Lysa’s reservations and fear about Catelyn bringing a Lannister to her door, she boldly declares that Tyrion killed Jon Arryn. “’This is Tyrion the Imp, of House Lannister, who murdered your father.’ She raised her voice so it carried down the length of High Hall of the Eyrie, ringing off the milk-white walls and the slender pillars, so every man could hear it. ‘He slew the Hand of the King’ (A Game of Thrones, Chapter 38, “Tyrion”)!”  To show the similarities to Catelyn, she mirrors Catelyn’s own triumphant announcement at the inn when being found out by Tyrion.  How they come to react to Tyrion’s presence, though, is undeniably different.  Little did Catelyn know how she’d been played by both her sister and Petyr Baelish.

Compared to Olenna, Cersei, and Catelyn, Lysa Tully Arryn, however wants both her and her son to stay safe and to marry Petyr Baelish.  Baelish knows this and uses her love for him to his advantage.  Lysa is easily played if one knows her weakness: Petyr.  And Petyr knows this all too well.  She’s far too unbalanced to rule rationally.  It was like taking candy from a baby when Petyr took the throne from her after killing her.

Very much echoing Penelope of Ithaca, even so soon after Jon Arryn’s death, Lysa has come to gain many suitors, none of which are suited to Lysa’s taste.  She demands that she choose her husband this time, even if it’s the irrational choice (A Game of Thrones, Chapter 34, “Catelyn”).  When Petyr Baelish offers his hand to her, she immediately accepts, not thinking of how it would offend those around her, though their marriage was in the works secretly since before they killed Jon Arryn.  It had been in the works for some time, since long before they killed Jon Arryn, surely, waiting for events to unfold and for Petyr to gain a title.  Our knowing this makes her indecision on suitors all the more entertaining and vindictive, leading the men on while she already had a wedding planned to Petyr.

Riverrun by Martina Cecilia
Lysa holds no loyalty to her family, aside from her son, her singer Marillion, and Petyr Baelish.  She will screw over her sister, her niece, and anyone else in her way.  When Catelyn offered Lysa to foster young Robert at Winterfell, she became so enraged that she practically disowned her sister.  “’Sister or no,’ she had replied, ‘if you try to steal my son, you will leave by the Moon Door.’ After that there was no more to be said (A Game of Thrones, Chapter 55, “Catelyn”).”  She sounds more like her son Robert when he wants to see the bad man fly out the Moon Door.  Her mind has been stunted and broken by isolation, desperation, and despair.  She’s reverted to a child-like demeanor, living in the past, living in her childhood while attempting to raise a mentally-stunted child.  Lysa sounds like her son Robert when Petyr comes to meet Lysa in the Vale.  She demands to marry him immediately like a spoiled child demanding to be entertained, all because she’s the Lady of the Vale.  However, this is the moment she had always been waiting for.

“No.” She stamped a foot. “I want you now, this very night. And I must warn you, after all these years of silence and whisperings, I mean to scream when you love me. I am going to scream so loud they’ll hear me in the Eyrie!”

“Perhaps I could bed you now, and wed you later?”

The Lady Lysa giggled like a girl. “Oh, Petyr Baelish, you are so wicked. No, I say no, I am the Lady of the Eyrie, and I command you to wed me this very moment!”
(A Storm of Swords, Chapter 68, “Sansa”)

Lysa’s view of honor is much different than others.  To her, being dishonored is failure.  To her, Jon Arryn was a failure, a decrepit failure that provided her a feeble and ill son, which she tells herself that it was Jon that declared his blood was strong.  She hints that it was her who killed her lord husband Jon Arryn when she tells Sansa, “A man will tell you poison is dishonorable, but a woman’s honor is different. The Mother shaped us to protect our children, and our only dishonor is in failure. You’ll know that, when you have a child” (A Storm of Swords, Chapter 68, “Sansa”). 

Lysa is certainly not wise in the department of finance.  She lavishly and foolishly spends her gold and precious heirlooms.  She gives her singer Marillion more than he could ever ask for, and his favor grants him immunity within the Vale.  If anyone speaks ill of him, they are banished.  Sansa notes that Lysa “had showered him with gold and gifts; costly clothes, a gold arm ring, a belt studded with moonstones, a fine horse. She had even given him her late husband’s favorite falcon. It all served to make Marillion unfailingly courteous in Lady Lysa’s presence, and unfailingly arrogant outside it.”  So blind is Lysa to Petyr’s actions around her, she imprisons and attempts to kill Sansa, her own niece.  She accuses Sansa of both kissing Petyr in the courtyard and of wooing Marillion.  She blames the victim because of jealousy, because of ignorance, and because of fear that she will no longer hold power, especially over someone younger and prettier.  Lysa has become a complex ball of emotions, none of which are rational (A Storm of Swords, Chapter 80, “Sansa”).

Lysa is, by all means, nuts.  She is, by Catelyn’s words “proud, fearful, cruel, dreamy, reckless, timid, stubborn, vain, and, above all, inconstant.”  When I first started these write-ups, I dreaded hers because I didn’t know I could write very much on her character.  It turns out that her irrationality, mental instability, and two-faced demeanor has enthralled me more than I thought.  I think I like her character now, or at least appreciate her more now as woman, controlled by her own fears, jealousy, and attachments, perhaps not by external sources.


Martin, George R.R.  A Game of Thrones, Chapters 4, 8, 34, 38, 40, 55.

Martin, George R.R.  A Storm of Swords, Chapters 20, 68, 80.

Previously on When Women Play the Game...
Sansa Stark
Brienne Tarth
Daenerys Targaryen
Catelyn Tully Stark
Arya Stark
Lady Olenna Redwyne Tyrell and Margaery Tyrell
The She-Bears

No comments:

Post a Comment