There are spoilers below because this is Game of Thrones, people.
You’d be hard pressed to name the protagonist of Game of Thrones. The books are designed to keep readers pivoting from one character’s point of view to another (many, though not all, of the major characters narrate their own chapters), and the TV series has followed suit. No single character controls the screen or owns the action. An individual episode will skip from Arya’s adventures on the road to Ramsay Snow’s latest torture device to the machinations of various Lannisters. This narrative spin-the-bottle keeps Game of Thrones lively and spontaneous, and keeps its viewers invested in the fates of more than one character. It’s also what keeps the series from falling into the hero/anti-hero trap in which much of television finds itself struggling. There are so many GoT characters to root for, and despise, and feel disappointed by, that the series’ arc is unblemished by the deaths of one or two—or a whole wedding party.
Ever since poor Ned Stark lost his head, it’s been clear that George R.R. Martin won’t hesitate to kill his darlings, his darlings' darlings, and most of all, his fans’ darlings. But the longer the series goes on, the more fully we get to know the characters, and the smaller the pool of heroes and villains gets (bye bye half the Starks, Khal Drogo, and Psycho Joffrey), the harder it will become to accept the deaths of major characters—although we know that they must be coming. More characters will likely face the axe/poison/arrow, though we think we haven’t a Stark to spare!
So then what are we to make of the clusterf*ck (and there’s really no other way to describe it) Tyrion has found himself in? The most triumphant, gleeful moment of the series thus far—Joffrey’s bulgy-faced, purple-veined, slow, glorious death— has led to the imprisonment and trial of Game of Thrones’ most witty, entertaining, lovable, and empathetic character. Our joy has, in its own way, turned to ashes in our mouths.
Tyrion has, of course, escaped more than his fair share of near-death experiences. He’s been rescued from death-by-Moon-Door by Bronn, from death on the battlefield by the Stone Crows, and from mid-battle assassination by his squire Podrick. Life is one potential disaster after another for Tyrion. But now, he’s held captive by his own sister and facing judgment from his own father. The promise of Lannister money or retribution used to be enough to see him out of trouble, but is now obviously meaningless. His most powerful acquaintances—Varys and Grand Maester Pycelle—have testified against him for obvious reasons. Shae’s testimony, whether offered or forced, is damning. He hasn’t a friend in the world but his brother Jaime, whose reluctance to smuggle Tyrion out through a back door makes it seem he's lost another part of his anatomy along with his hand.
So when Tywin Lannister agrees to send Tyrion to the Night’s Watch in exchange for Jaime’s return to Casterley Rock, I breathed a sigh of relief. Sure, Tyrion will be exiled, but he’ll be alive. And talking. And as entertaining as ever. In fact, he seemed quite taken by The Wall when he visited it in Season One. Maybe he’ll thrive there!
But, of course, as I remind myself every week, this is Game of Thrones. Man plans, the seven gods laugh.
Instead of accepting the deal to join the Night’s Watch, Tyrion asks for trial by combat (with an impassioned speech that only underscores why we love him in the first place), an option that benefitted him once, but may not work again.
Is it possible, then, that Tyrion may be our next favorite character to die? He’s never been in a situation as dire as this one. It’s unclear if Jaime can fight for him—if the Lannisters will even permit such a thing. The only person with the power to save him is his own father, who also wants him dead. Of course, his death would derail some of the show’s narrative momentum and alienate swaths of fans. But then again, every fan of Ned and Robb and Khal Drogo said the same thing. And here we are, watching their world go on without them.
We root for Daenerys because she’s a badass, for Jon Snow because he’s an underdog, for Arya because she’s got spunk. We root for Tyrion for all of those reasons, and also because he’s human. We don't simply want Tyrion to dominate or live, we want him to be happy. The show couldn’t possibly go on without him. Or could it?