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A Few Thoughts on Shae

Shae

I’m worried about Shae.

This post contains major spoilers for A Storm of Swords/S4 of Game of Thrones

Shae is the one female character in Game of Thrones who has been changed for the better. In the books, it’s difficult to pin down her character, since we only ever see her from Tyrion’s very distorted perspective, but she comes off as rather superficial and possibly naive. Shae in the TV show, on the other hand, is a force to be reckoned with. She calls Tyrion out on his nonsense. She becomes friends with Sansa and is very protective of her. She clearly knows how to protect herself and will fight to survive.

Shae’s existence on the show (and as an invention of the show) seems to contradict every other narrative it’s offered us. She’s something of a tough badass, but she does not insult or despise other women in the process. In fact, half of her scenes are with another female character, and she advises, cares about and protects that girl. She weaponizes her femininity, but she isn’t denigrated by the show for that. She’s a prostitute, but I can’t remember a single time that the show has humiliated her or even objectified her.

Or, at least, not much. Not yet. But so far, Shae’s story has been Tyrion’s story, with their relationship transformed into true love as part of the show’s general attempt to make Tyrion the hero/protagonist of the series. In a way, Shae needed more depth, because she needed to be an incredibly compelling character for our hero to love, someone whose love story we can get behind. She’s not treated like the show’s other prostitutes, because the show needs us to respect her like Tyrion does. She’s given scenes with Sansa, because it adds depth and complication to Tyrion’s eventually marriage to her. And she’s strong and dynamic and fierce because the show desperately needs us to like her.

But if those are the reasons behind Shae’s thoughtful portrayal so far, they’ll also be the reasons for Shae’s character assassination this season. Unless the show veers sharply from the books, Shae will testify against Tyrion this season, and he will strangle her to death after finding her in his father’s bed. In the books, this is a turning point for Tyrion, as a character with dark undertones becomes, for at least a moment, overpowered by his own misogyny. He wanted Shae to be his and deluded himself about their relationship, and once that delusion shatters, he murders her in an incredibly personal and brutal way. But in the show, I’m fairly certain that his murder of Shae will not seem dark and brutal, but justified.

Tyrion is meant to be the hero, which means that the respected, articulate, intelligent, fierce woman he loves who sells him out to his family must be the villain. Any ambition or sense of self-preservation on her part will seem like a vile betrayal, because she should have defended the man she loved. She can’t be a manipulated girl fearing for her life, because the Shae of the show is much stronger than that, and would never allow someone like Tywin to use her. Therefore, if he does use her, it must be through her choice, giving Tyrion every right to seek revenge. Paradoxically, the show’s work to humanize and add depth to Shae’s character will also erase the tragedy and injustice of her death.

The groundwork for this change has already been laid. In a couple of scenes last season, Shae became obviously jealous of Tyrion’s marriage to Sansa — not because, as we might expect, she’s fiercely protective of her fourteen-year-old friend, but because she sees it as a threat to her own relationship with him. A Shae who betrays Tyrion out of ambition would seem out of character at this point… but a Shae who betrays him because of jealousy and bitterness? That seems far more possible. And so, when she meets her untimely demise, we won’t recoil in horror and condemn Tyrion. We’ll sympathize with him and his pain. We might even feel satisfied with her end.

This is, of course, just conjecture. It’s possible that the show will change the story, so that someone else kills Shae (Tywin, perhaps), or so that Shae is trying to protect Tyrion, and a tragic misunderstanding then leads to her death. Since the writers will never allow Tyrion to lose his underdog-hero status by making him the villain in her death, I sincerely hope that the show does take another path entirely. But considering how Shae has been portrayed in the show so far, and how the show has treated other female characters, I’m fairly convinced that Shae is being lined up for a weak and villainous turn, and a justly brutal demise in retribution. Poor Tyrion, forced to murder his love after she betrays him.

I really do hope I’m wrong. But I have little hope that I am.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

32 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on Shae

  1. I love to read your thoughts on Game of Thrones and A song of Ice and Fire.
    This what-will-they-do-with-Shae worries me too though you put it more beautifully into words.

  2. This post contains major spoilers for A Storm of Swords/S4 of Game of Thrones

    In the books, I dont think Shae is naive. She is a prostitute that does her job. If anything Tyrion is the one that comes of as naive in the so called relationship. To the reader it is clear that Shae doesnt love him. She loves the jewels and gold Tyrion gives her. Tyrion is the one that deludes himself into believing it is love. It becomes very clear when Tyrion tries to break the news gently to her about his marriage with Sansa, and Shae doesnt care. Tyrion mistakes it for anger. I thought they should’ve made Shae from the show one of Oberyn’s daughters since the episode where she pulled a knife on the maid.

    They probably will go the jealousy route. I think this is the writers fault who make changes. Tyrion was never exactly a nice guy, but the show tried to make him into a generic hero. They didnt show him poisoning Cersei to remove her from the small council, or kidnapping Tommen and threatening to harm him in an attempt to have Cersei control Joffrey.

    Another problem is Jaime and Brienne arriving to King’s Landing while Sansa is still there. It doesnt do much for Jaime trying to redeem himself, and Brienne is one of the few character that keeps her word.

    1. Hmm, maybe naive was the wrong word, although I’m having difficulty thinking of the right one. Shae in the books seems very *young* to me. Tyrion’s definitely the one deluding himself, while Shae is taking whatever she can from the situation, but she doesn’t always seem to fully understand the danger that she’s in, both politically and potentially from Tyrion himself. Whether that’s genuine or just Tyrion’s misreading of her is a good question, though. I’m looking forward to rereading Storm of Swords to take another good look at her (and at Margaery too).

      On the one hand, I can understand the show clinging onto its most popular character/actor as its protagonist, and making some changes so that he remains a likeable anti-hero figure. It certainly helps to increase the show’s mass appeal, and they’re in the business of that. But at the expense of other characters, mostly female? No.

      I’m bothered by Jaime’s early return too. I haven’t seen the first episode yet, so maybe they’ll work to make it make sense, but otherwise it sounds like Jaime isn’t trying to keep his vow to Catelyn until it’s too late for him to do anything about it himself.

  3. Or what about Varys gives Shae an ultimatum? A choice between slandering Tyrion or slandering Sansa as the murderer (putting all the blame on one or the other as the murderer), and as Shae loves Sansa and is very protective of her, she wants very much to keep her from being executed for treason. We see Shae’s conflict and agony-obviously she doesn’t want either Tyrion or Sansa to die, but in the end she choses Sansa because she hopes Tyrion can get himself out, while Sansa defs couldn’t.
    She’s afterwards dragged to Tywin’s chambers to be questioned, locked in his bedchamber, and Tyrion crawls out of the fireplace and strangles her before she has a chance to explain. Then the audience would understand that it is Shae’s tragedy, not Tyrion’s.

    1. But this would also make Tyrion look very unsympathetic, so it seems unlikely the showmakers will go there…
      Otherwise I think it sounds like a good (albeit tragic) idea. Maybe they do this but have someone other than Tyrion murder her?

      1. He’s meant to be unsympathetic in that scene! He’s meant to be a horrible murderer! They’d better go there.
        Thanks ^^ But I really think Tyrion has to kill her, other it’s not got the same meaning.

    2. Ooo, I love this idea! And they could still do it in a way that kept Tyrion semi-sympathetic (at least, by the show’s standards) — he thinks that his true love has betrayed him, he kills her in a fit of rage, he finds out she was actually trying to protect him and Sansa, he drowns in guilt. I mean, I’d still be completely repelled by his actions, but I think it would fit with the show’s goals (and its idea that Tyrion’s pain > female characters) without completely butchering Shae’s character or making it seem like she “deserved it.” Unfortunately, “she betrays him out of jealousy” is apparently a much easier narrative for them to tell…

      1. Why didn’t the show runners use such a lovely idea for Shae’s death? I’m very upset. The camera wants even on her face as she died. It was focusing on Tyrion! Poor little betrayed Tyrion and his unimaginable pain. I am expecting less and less of this show.

  4. Yep I’m worried about this too. I don’t mind that they changed Shae’s character, but they seem to be really inconsistent in how they write her. I have (perhaps naiive) faith that they won’t be afraid to make Tyrion darker, they’re just waiting for the right moment. If the show paints Tyrion as justified in murdering Shae though I’m going to be pissed off. It’s meant to be a horrifying dark act that haunts Tyrion. I already starting getting annoyed last season when they painted Shae as being jealous of Sansa. We will have to wait and see I guess.

    1. I definitely think they SHOULD be willing to make Tyrion a darker character and still the hero. After all, Jaime pushed a kid out of a window but has become a favorite, and even Theon was given a semi-sympathetic treatment while he betrayed the Starks (and especially afterwards). The show’s certainly been willing to have dark and morally complicated yet sympathetic male characters before, so I don’t see why Tyrion should be different — and if they want shock factor, making the show’s apparent “voice of reason” anti-hero character snap and do something horrific is pretty darn shocking and water cooler conversation worthy. But… I don’t have much hope.

  5. This comment contains major spoilers for A Storm of Swords/S4 of Game of Thrones

    I am worried too. Of all the changes the show has made, Shae’s character is the one I like the most even though it is clear they changed her mainly to make Tyrion look better. In the book I was very annoyed at Tyrion’s relationship with Shae. At first I wasn’t sure why. I thought I just couldn’t see how someone supposedly smart would want to be with someone so superficial. And then I realized – we don’t even know if Shae is superficial. We know next to nothing about Shae as a person because we only see her through Tyrion’s eyes, and he knows nothing about her. He never tries to get to know her and what is more, he seems to actively avoid any hints that she is anything but the fantasy he created in his mind.

    It’s been a while since I read the books and I don’t remember the details, but there was one scene that struck me – Tyrion comes to Shae in the evening, looking worried and angry. She asks him what is wrong and if she could help, and he responds something like “the best way you can help me is between the sheets.” She offers him the chance of an actual conversation, where they can discuss his troubles and she can offer ideas and advice, and he shuts her down because this is not what he needs her for. He kept doing that constantly, to the point that they never talked about anything important. Tyrion was terrible to Shae – he never treated her as an actual person, but as an ideal, as a fantasy woman he made up for himself, and the moment the fantasy was shattered, he was angry at her and punished her for not being what he wanted her to be. And it was not Shae’s fault – he knew why she was with him, he was paying her to lie to him, and yet he was shocked to find out she was doing just that.

    Naturally, the Tyrion the show wants to portrait cannot have such a relationship with such a woman. And so they created a completely different Shae, a Shae we can like and sympathize with, so that we can understand and approve of Tyrion’s love for her. And she is indeed sympathetic. In the books I disliked her because of the callous way she spoke about Sansa and Lollys. While reading I was actually hoping for a Shae-Sansa friendship to develop – surely this street smart and experienced young woman would take sympathy on the girl who is just beginning to learn what the world is really like. I was disappointed when this didn’t happen and was happy to see it on the show.

    If she betrays Tyrion now, it will be completely out of character, no matter how they play the jealousy card (not to mention that being jealous of Sansa is already inconsistent with the character portrayed in earlier seasons). I cannot see how they can let Tyrion kill her, and at the same time make it look like he has every right and that he is the tragic victim in the situation, but I am worried this is what they will go for. To be honest, I don’t want someone else to kill her. Tyrion is such a complex and unique character in the book, and it is a waste to turn him into the perfect hero. I would love it if he is the one to kill her, and he is portrayed as dark and twisted for doing so. Unfortunately, this is very, very unlikely.

  6. The question of Shae being “changed for the better” kind of raises the issue of what exactly that constitutes. Is it really a change for the better if it makes her ultimate purpose in the narrative harder to understand? Shae in the books is a straightforward character: she’s a prostitute who’s in it for the money, and who Tyrion projects much greater significance onto than is really there. Her actions all make sense when you keep that in mind.

    It’s rather like with Daisy in the recent film version of “The Great Gatsby”, where Luhrmann and co. try to give her some depth. It works nicely at first, but Daisy isn’t supposed to have depth — her actions in the final third are premised on her ultimate shallowness. So when they have the more sympathetic Daisy go through the same motions as the book version, it feels off.

    1. I’m still not sure if they really have changed her for the better (whatever that really means). I will have to wait and see how her arc plays out – it will either potentially be even better than the books because we’re not seeing it exclusively through Tyrion’s POV, or it could be done really badly.

      1. That’s more or less my position. I think the goal of the writers is to increase the tragedy (including from Shae’s perspective; based on how she’s been characterized so far, I do think the writers want us to feel sorry for how things turn out). Whether they pull it off will essentially pass judgement on this entire plotline, from “Baelor” to the present.

    2. That’s a good point. I’ve definitely enjoyed what they’ve done with Shae’s character up to now, because Shae in the books felt a little two-dimensional to me (but maybe that’s just Tyrion’s perspective and I need a more careful reread). I’m all for fleshing out secondary characters in adaptations, especially when those characters end up being important to the plot — and hey, if we LIKE Shae and find her a compelling character, her death will be all-the-more shocking. But you’re right. Adding depth to Shae (or at least, adding depth and true feelings for Tyrion to Shae) has created a mess that simply sticking to the book character would have avoided nicely.

      1. I didn’t think that bookShae was 2D, and although I agree that they have ‘changed her for the better’ in the show (in the sense that I think bookShae would have come across as 2D on screen) I think GRRM’s version is also fascinating. BookShae is not a likeable girl, but why should she be? Her callousness to characters such as Lollys stems from her own past, which has led her to believe that abuse and rape is normal, while her ‘greed’ arises from her incredibly precarious position and the fact that Tyrion does withhold payment after he installs her as a maid and takes away her manse and jewels. I don’t excuse Shae for her vicious comments about Lollys, but I think GRRM’s depiction of her is great, because it challenges the idea that to be a victim you have to be pure. Shae is selfish, a bit naive, not very intelligent, occasionally cruel, but ultimately meets an undeserved fate.

        Totally agree with everything else said though…

  7. I too appreciate the changes they’ve made to Shae as a character and these are some f my bigget fears concerning the upcoming season To reassure myself i have a delusion, i mean theory. Tyrion’s backstory with Tysha hasn’t been as explored as it was in the books, and it would make little sense for tyrion to obssess over it in the seasons to come, it’s unfamiliar to most viewers because it goes back to season 1 (i think? or does he mention it again and i forgot? maybe). So maybe Shae will have an unresolved fate, and she will be the one Tyrion thnks of when he wonders where do whores go

    1. That’s a nice theory! If we can’t have dark!Tyrion, I’d be happy with that too (although if we never have to hear him wonder “where do whores go?” in the show, I’d be more than OK with that as well…)

  8. I think GRRM likes these naive characters, Tyrion are naive in his own way hoping for love, respect, recognition of his birthright and so on despite the world and his father constantly telling him: “You are a dwarf, you will get no more than this.” He also blames himself for fooling himself many times throughout the books. Penny is naive as well always telling herself that everything will turn out for the better. But most characters are naive now and then. Shae believes that Tyrion will protect her, that he will give her things he can’t(like attending a feast at court) and in the end make a deal with Cersei where Cersei promises Shae jewels and a knight to marry her. Shae expects Cersei to live up to this bargain, while a more realistic person might have seen that no knight would marry her, and that Cersei don’t have to give a whore anything.
    By introducing this naivity in his characters GRRM makes statements about the limits to social advancement, the limits to love and the lack of happy endings. In this way Shaes naivity makes her important to the description of westerosi society and the harsh realities of the world.

    If I would chose a turnpoint of the tv-show, I would give Shae reasons to believe Tyrion to be a murderer and kinslayer anyone would believe in, bolstered by some careless remarks on Joffrey from Tyrions side. Thus giving her cause to help bringing Tyrions downfall and eventually her own death.

    1. The thing is though – in that relationship Tyrion is the one who is naiive and delusional. Shae might be shallow, but she chooses the pragmatic option of saving her own life over going down for Tyrion. We might not like that choice because we like Tyrion, but it’s a realistic one given her situation. I really don’t know how they’re going to play this in the show in a way that makes sense, given that Shae seems to genuinely love Tyrion.

    2. I think you’re right. It fits for a lot of characters, especially the “good” ones — Ned was naive to think Cersei would run with her children instead of fighting back, Robb is naive that the Freys would forgive him, Brienne is naive about pretty much everything. And then it’s interesting how they respond when that naivety is challenged and disproved — for example, Tyrion responding with fury and killing Shae, showing that he’s not as good as he wanted to think himself. So it would be interesting to see Shae BELIEVING that Tyrion was responsible… but I think Shae in the series is savvy enough to recognize a con when she sees one. I’m not sure it would fit.

      1. Good point about the responses. Eddard blames himself in the dungeon, Jon Snow gets angry and feel sorry for himself, Brienne gets chocked, Sansa inconsolable.
        But even the “bad” characters gets naive, for instanse they underestimate Lord Wyman Manderly, thinking him to fat and afraid to take vengeance, while he is in fact planning the destruction of his enemies. He might already have killed the Freys who returned his sons bones, after their quest right had ended.

    1. IT IS THE WORST *headdesk* It makes no sense for Shae to be jealous of Sansa. If they do the whole ‘scorned’ woman thing as motivation for her betrayal I’ll … write lots of angry letters to HBO. DAMMIT.

    2. Argh, I haven’t seen the new episode yet thanks to the time difference, but yours and Maddy’s comments do not bode well… Jealousy over Sansa doesn’t even make sense for Shae’s character in the show! If Sansa’s a grieving girl who’s been forced to marry Tyrion, and Shae cares for Sansa, why would she be jealous of her in any way?

      1. EXACTLY. I liked that they made Shae and Sansa friends in the show, and that Shae felt protective of her. It just feels really lazy. I guess I should try and reserve judgement to see how it plays out …

  9. Oh yes. I understand that the show can’t include every single subtlety and detail the books give us, but the way seemingly minor changes affect the female characters the most, and reverts them to the tropes of old… That irks me. The main problem with show-shae is that they are making her story about ~*true love*~ and jealousy. They have dug themselves into a mess of stereotypes and implications with that one and I can’t see them fixing it. Crossing my fingers for being wrong

  10. Is the title of the article a blink to the song “Worried about Ray”? If yes, congratulations for your good music taste. If no, congrats anyway for your analysis. Your Game of Thrones ramblings are always a pleasure to read.

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