What do we make of the story Tyrion tells his brother Jaime before his trial by combat is set to start? Here he is, accused of murdering the king, his fate in the hands of a man who loathes and hates his entire family and all he can do is talk about a mentally handicapped cousin of theirs. Orson Lannister fell and damaged his head and spent the rest of his days happily smashing the beetles in the gardens of Casterly Rock. Tyrion, confused as to why he did it, tried to uncover the reason, but he never did. His father dispensed duty and Tyrion just thought of his cousin, smashing beetles. He would pour over tomes and his thoughts went back to his simple cousin and the smashing of the beetles. He dreamt and saw the smashed beetles. But never was an answer forthcoming.
Revenge is a lot like Orson Lannister and a lot like Tyrion’s mad quest. It’s all you can think of. It’s all you can see. You ignore the world around you and develop a bad case of tunnel vision – seeing nothing but what you’re focused on. Until the things you’ve avoided destroy you. For a few, their individual tunnel vision fell away and they managed to glimpse a world bigger than themselves. And for others, their tunnel vision was their downfall.
Consider the case of Grey Worm and Missandei. He is Unsullied; an eunuch warrior, trained since childhood by the Slave Masters of Yunkai. All he has known is bloodshed and chaos. All he knows how to do is butcher and kill. But in the language lessons and the beauty of Missandei, his queen’s handmaiden, he’s seeing something else. Something different from what he’s known. He doesn’t know what that is, but he is happy for it. Happy enough that he is reframing all that he has suffered as a positive: for his suffering has allowed him the chance to serve under Danerys and to lead the Unsullied as their captain and to meet Missandei. Instead of a singular cause – service – he now has more reasons to fight.
For Ser Jorah Mormont, his singular quest was to earn his way back to King’s Landing. Having fled the harsh justice of Lord Eddard Stark for selling men into slavery, he yearned for his home. So when Varys the Spider asked him to spy on his behalf, he saw every reason to do it. He sent letters to Varys and the court of King Robert Baratheon regarding the fate of the last scions of House Targaryen, Viserys and Daenerys. By his treachery, Robert knew of Dany’s marriage and pregnancy. Because of his treachery, an attempt was made on her life. By the time he emerged from his tunnel vision to see in young Dany a queen worth following, his deeds had been done. He thought he could escape his mistake, but Ser Barristan Selmy finds the truth and reveals it to their queen. And all they’ve gone through together and all they’ve suffered together earns him no reprieve. He’s cast out by the wrath of Danaerys Stormborn who refuses to hear his pleas and sees nothing but the betrayal of Ser Jorah.
It’s the same thing for Ygritte and the band of wildlings, who finally reach Mole Town and put it to the torch. The townsfolk, the whores and the drunken brothers of the Night’s Watch who went there are no match for the fury and the bloodlust of the Thenns or Tormund’s band. Too focused on their own petty, immediate issues to ever consider that the carnage and chaos that had fallen so much of the kingdoms could reach them. The only thing that stays Ygritte’s hand is the sight of GIlly and her newborn infant. Those she spares, but bids them remain hidden and silent, for the other wildlings will not be as kind. Not when Castle Black is so close to them and not when they’ll finally be able to unite back with Mance Rayder to kill all the crows.
Farther south, Ramsay Snow uses what’s left of Theon Greyjoy to help him take back Moat Callin. The ironborn who guard it are dwindling, starving, ill and ready to go home. They don’t necessarily trust this weird creature garbed in the kraken, calling himself their prince. But in their desperation to depart, they agree to abandon their post and find that the flayed man of Bolton isn’t just a banner on cloth for Ramsay – it’s a declaration of who they are. For this, Lord Roose Bolton recognizes Ramsay as his true son and heir. The North is in their hands to safeguard and rule – Roose’s vision of his own conquest finally realized as is Ramsay’s of being the rightful heir. What kind of vision do the Lords of the Dreadfort have for their large kingdom? If Ramsay Bolton is the heir, nothing good. Because he can only see bloodshed and violence. And for poor Theon Greyjoy, who once was so haughty and proud, his vision has been broken and only Reek remains.
His foster sister, Sansa Stark, is going through her own transformation. The girl who dreamed of knights and tea parties and being a queen is no more. But she knows how to use her. When the lords of the Eyrie arrive to question Littlefinger regarding the death of Lady Lysa Arryn, he says she committed suicide. It’s a pretty tall tale. Her lunacy was well known, as was her fierce devotion to her child, Robin. Being the only witness, Sansa is brought in to testify. And she uses the lesson that only Littlefinger could teach her to convince them of the lie: the truth can be manipulated to cover up the lies. She reveals herself to them and convinces them that Littlefinger and Lysa brought her there in secret to keep her from the Lannisters as well that Lysa saw Petyr kissing her on the cheek and went into a manic state that ended with her jumping to her death. All of it true, except for the fact that Littlefinger pushed Lysa. That fact she keeps hidden, perhaps for another time – a time when she can finally pay Littlefinger back with his own coin.
Paying back with his own coin was the mission of Prince Oberyn Martell. The Red Viper was, at last, face to face with the man who raped and murdered his sister and her children. And his mission was simple: get The Mountain to admit his guilt before the Royal Court before he killed him. No man had fought Ser Gregor Clegane and lived. And yet the twirling, dancing, free-flowing Oberyn held his own and managed to get the killer on his back. To strike him down would have freed Tyrion. But that was not why he was there. He wanted to hear Clegane admit to the rape and the butchery and he wanted to hear The Mountain say who had ordered the crime.
In his own mad quest for vengeance, the Red Viper could not see his mistake: you don’t for a moment forget that The Mountain is as fast as he is strong. And in a swift move, Ser Gregor turned the tables on Prince Oberyn. He held the Dornish lord’s head in his hands, gouged out his eyes and screamed his sister’s name and his crimes before crushing Oberyn’s head like he had his sister’s. The Red Viper got what he wanted, but it cost him his life and, by extension, cost Tyrion Lannister his life as well. Lord Tywin, disgusted at the entire spectacle, stood up and quickly pronounced sentence on his own son.
That’s the problem with ignoring the world around you and focusing on just what you want. It dulls your senses. It makes you unable to see the danger right at your feet until it has swept them out from underneath you and taken your eyes and your life. You cannot live in this world if you walk around with tunnel vision. The problem is that, so many of these characters, see nothing else but what they want – see nothing but the beetles that Tyrion was so troubled with – until it’s the reason for their destruction.