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The Most Underestimated Character in Game of Thrones

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“Sometimes before we can usher in the new, the old must be put to rest.”

Nymeria. Nice name for a sand snake, even nicer name for a direwolf.  Before your eyes glaze over, no neither of the Nymerias are the most underestimated character in Game of Thrones, but by rewatching the previous six seasons of our favourite swords and sorcery superseries I learned that the show has two Nymerias and one largely-ignored potential powerhouse.

The rewatch made me feel just like the Three-Eyed (Bran) Raven, but when practically every sentence is a foreshadowing of future plot twists, I started to seek out what wasn’t being said. I learned a great deal:

“Which is more dangerous, the dagger brandished by an enemy, or the hidden one pressed to your back by someone you never even see?”

  • Littlefinger’s journey teaches us that secondary characters only survive if they change their allegiances and make clever allies.
  • Early episodes show that some characters never dent the collective unconscious (anyone remember Matthos Seaworth or Roslin Frey?)
  • Some much-loved characters may demand reevaluation: I cannot unsee Tyrion Lannister sending Myrcella to her death, kick-starting Cersei’s wildfire party. And The Hound really is just a lovely, big teddy bear with Marillion’s haircut.

But the most important lesson learned was that, of all the characters still standing in season 7, this character is the most interesting. Nice and nasty in equal measure, insidious and incredibly dangerous because he goes unnoticed.

Lord Qyburn

Lord Qyburn has quite a backstory in the GoT books, some of which has been revealed in the TV series. Having been thrown out of the Citadel for some (possible/very likely) back-room necromancing, he now puts his particular set of skills to good use. 

Dear Diary, soon, soon…wait until they get a load of me…

Retaining only one name furnishes Maesters with celebrity on Planetos, and Qyburn was first brought to our attention as one of the Riverlands prisoners at Harrenhal, back in season 3. Nobody knows why he was there, but he certainly took advantage of the opportunity and ingratiated himself with the Starks.

Nursed back to health by Lord Robb’s wife (Talisa, another titbit acquired from the rewatch) Qyburn wows with his medical knowledge (but lacks a Maester’s neckchain) and could have stayed loyal to House Stark if Robb hadn’t left for his untimely demise at the Red Wedding.

Maester skills (even from those only part-qualified) are revered by all of the houses of Westeros, leading Qyburn to next befriend the Boltons when they reside at Winterfell. He meets Ser Jaime the Handless and sees the opportunity to hone his talents – fitting the Lannister’s golden hand like, ahem, a glove.

Qyburn: There will be pain. Jaime Lannister: I’ll scream. Qyburn: A great deal of pain. Jaime Lannister: I’ll scream loudly. Qyburn: laughs maniacally and eyes glow with evil joy before going in for a kiss (last section paraphrased).

It is this that makes Qyburn so very dangerous. His kind words, malleability, beastly talent, and excellent confidence-keeping can seduce anybody in power, elevating Qyburn to employee-of-the-year status. Although it isn’t that hard to be the smartest person in the chamber in these castles.

Qyburn reached the pinnacle of his power under Cersei’s auspices. The failing student becomes the Master of Whisperers, harnessing an army of children who’ll carry out any evil act in exchange for a sugared plum. More importantly, Qyburn gained a permanent residence in the Red Keep, and is now the Hand of the Queen – a heady climb from vagrant to right-hand man in less than 3 seasons. Lord Qyburn can gaze on the Iron Throne on a daily basis…and nobody knows a thing about him.

Currently at work on a very sharp if unwieldy dragon killer, when not popping off to the Golden Company of Essos to secure some sellswords, Qyburn has it all. But his loyalties have not yet been tested. If Cersei’s demise is as certain as Maggie the Frog says it is, he won’t be with her for much longer.

Qyburn could easily programme the (new and improved) silent Mountain to do whatever he asks. He has also yet to meet Daenerys Targaryen, and she is in desperate need of a Maester.

Let’s not underplay his better qualities. Qyburn remains blind to the discriminations and judgements that started this war for the iron throne. He doesn’t care whether a man or woman rules, or what they get up to when the chamber door is closed (or open *wink wink* Missandei). Qyburn cares not for gold nor sexual preferences nor does he (seem to) care much for power, his attitude akin to that of Lord Varys.

I really love my job.

Neither is Qyburn of the psychotic bent of say King Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton. He displayed genuine concern for Queen Cersei after her walk of shame. Plus, Qyburn doesn’t serve any of the gods – stating that “belief is so often the death of reason”. Amen to that.

So it seems that Lord Qyburn has not received the respect that he richly deserves. We are happy to support Samwell Tarly’s unorthodox treatment of greyscale, strictly against the Citadel’s rules, and we cried out for Melissandre to bring Jon Snow back from the dead, but Qyburn’s Mountain Monster is seen as an abomination,.  Who’s to say that Ser Gregor Clegane isn’t now living his best life?

Most importantly, Qyburn believes that nothing is impossible. He seems to be the only person unwilling to accept that dragons are invincible.

In this great article about what makes a good ruler on game of Thrones, Alison Herman identifies Tyrion’s rise to power as “when a masterful and tragically underappreciated public servant finally finds someone he wants to serve — and someone who appreciates his service.” which sounds a lot like the journey made by Lord Qyburn.

If only Qyburn would use his intellect to help Jon Snow craft a dragon glass supercannon, the Night King would be dead by the dream of Spring. Until then, I’ll keep quietly appreciating Lord Qyburn. He is unlikely to be underestimated for much longer.

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