In writing about how the role of disability is changing I will be examining several figures with disabilities who have made their way into mainstream media and why their roles work (or don’t). It seems fitting to start with a character that continuously provides a benchmark for someone with a disability being in the mainstream media: Tyrion Lannister.
Born as a person of short stature into the economically most powerful family in the kingdom, Tyrion is everything that a man should be: brave to the point of brazen, witty, smart, and undeniably sexy. His short stature is a thorn in his father’s side who insists that his son’s labour and delivery was so gruesome that it directly resulted in his mother’s death.
Most of us don’t think of Game of Thrones as a television show which has incorporated disability into its plot line successfully. We don’t think of Tyrion Lannister as having a disability or physical deformity. And why is that? We still live in a world where seeing a person of short stature in public still gets a reaction. Very often we see Tyrion’s own frustrations with his own limitations. But Tyrion is never a victim, an adjective that many people expect to relate to people with physical limitations, regardless if we are willing to admit it or not.
We trust Tyrion to get himself out of scraps that would confound the most intelligent among us. We love it when he sasses his father and sister in ways no one else in the realm would dream of doing. And we feel that Tyrion Lannister would be the most capable, charismatic, and even just leader in Westeros should, by some twist of strange fate by the author, he ever land himself on the iron throne.
In short there are too many glittery things to look at examining Tyrion’s character to see him as disabled.
And is this not what writers should be aiming for in creating characters of any kind. If a person sicks in our mind just because of a single quality about them we either do not know them well or they aren’t full characters. In the industry we talk about the “token gay best friend” or “the sassy black girl” as characters who are put there just for the sake of diversity. Stock characters do not work in dramas and they will not work in the name of inclusion.
It is up to us as writers and performers to create characters that are both disabled and utterly captivating. Tyrion Lannister shows us that it is possible. We can create characters whom are fastening and complex enough to be worthy of not only Emmys, but also shift the public’s perception of disability.