Tyrion Lannister’s final line of dialogue in Sunday night’s Game of Thrones series finale is a crude joke about bringing a donkey and some honey into a brothel, and even if it feels like an underwhelming final note for the show’s brightest mind, the joke is a callback to some of Tyrion’s most light-hearted moments. In fact, Tyrion’s tried — and failed — to tell this exact same joke twice before.
At the very least, it’s a humble reminder that he used to be little more than a drunken, lecherous dwarf and the self-proclaimed “god of tits and wine.” But in the best interpretation, the joke reminds us that humor and wit have always been Tyrion’s greatest weapons.
At what appears to be the first-ever Small Council meeting under King Bran the Broken in the series finale, Tyrion leads a discussion with Davos Seaworth, Bronn of the Blackwater, Brienne of Tarth, and Samwell Tarly. While Bran goes off to use his Three-Eyed Raven powers to hunt for Drogon, everyone else starts planning the reconstruction of King’s Landing.
Davos worries about paying to build new ships. Bronn worries that all the best brothels were destroyed, prompting Brienne to argue, “I think we can all agree that ships take precedence over brothels.”
That’s when Tyrion says, almost sadly, “I once brought a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel.” Did he actually? Or is this yet another Tyrion joke?
We know for a fact that he frequented brothels in his youth, and he first made this joke about a donkey and a honeycomb back in Season, Episode 6. While imprisoned by Catelyn Stark at the Vale, he “confesses” his sins in front of Lysa Arryn.
He admits to lying, cheating, gambling, and other bawdy acts that comes off as a string of ridiculous jokes. The very last thing he says before Lysa Arryn cuts him off is, “I once brought a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel—.”
Tyrion’s humor in this scene charms Bronn enough to make him volunteer to defend the Lannister in a trial by combat, essentially saving his life and making a crucial lifelong friend. Even then, the joke went unfinished. It wasn’t for many years that Tyrion got a second chance, but again it was cut short.
In Season 6, Episode 8, Tyrion shares a lighthearted afternoon with Missandei and Grey Worm drinking and telling jokes. Neither Missandei nor Grey Worm know any jokes, so Tyrion has to tell them some of his own.
“I once walked into a brothel with a honeycomb and a jackass,” Tyrion says. “The madam says…” But just then, ships from the Great Masters of Meereen arrive to attack the city.
Even here, the joke and the others that precede it are important. Missandei and Grey Worm were both overly serious people, seemingly because of their respective trauma. By telling them jokes and urging them to try wine, Tyrion helps them to loosen up. You could argue he was instrumental in their budding romance as a result.
What’s the rest of the joke? We’ll never know, but for anyone desperate, one redditor offered their interpretation that’s pretty hilarious.
When Tyrion begins this joke yet again at the Small Council meeting in the series finale, it happens to be the final line that any named character says in the entire series (random Northerners also shout”The Queen in the North!” at Sansa’s coronation).
Is this how we’ll all remember this monumental television series? With a silly, unfinished joke? Game of Thrones has always thrived by implying this world had more depth to it than it actually did. The intrigue around all these prophesies and mysterious magical forces enraptured us all.
Yet, at the end of it all, the joke — much like the series itself — is little more than a tease that ultimately leaves us all wanting more.
On some level, Tyrion’s joke could signify a return to normalcy for Westeros. After all the tragedy and suffering, bringing laughter and joy back into this bleak kingdom will be important for building a new future. We can think of nobody better to do just that than Tyrion Lannister.
Game of Thrones is available to stream in its entirety on HBO.