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.