- "Lord Tyrion, you are accused of hiring a man to slay my son Bran in his bed, and of conspiring to murder my sister's husband, Lord Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King"
- ―Lady Catelyn Stark
The First Trial by Combat of Tyrion Lannister is a key event in the build-up to the War of the Five Kings. Tyrion is taken prisoner by Lady Catelyn Stark and her sister Lysa Arryn, who accuse him of the attempted murder of Bran Stark and the murder of Jon Arryn. Tyrion is ultimately acquitted after a trial by combat in which Bronn champions for him. In retaliation for Tyrion's kidnapping, his father Tywin Lannister invades the Riverlands, effectively triggering war with the Starks and Tullys.
En route back to King's Landing following a visit to The Wall and Winterfell, Tyrion and Yoren stop at the Crossroads Inn in the Riverlands. Catelyn Stark and Ser Rodrik Cassel are also there while traveling back to Winterfell after visiting King's Landing to inform Eddard Stark of the attempted assassination of Bran Stark while Bran was recuperating from being pushed out of a window. While in King's Landing, Petyr Baelish informs Catelyn that the dagger found on the assassin had once belonged to him but he had lost it in a bet to Tyrion. When Catelyn spots Tyrion at the Crossroads Inn, she accuses him of trying to kill her son Bran by hiring the assassin to murder Bran in his bed. Tyrion is stunned by the charge and denies it. Catelyn then invokes the name of her father, Hoster Tully, who rules the Riverlands, and calls on several of her father's bannermen in the inn to help take Tyrion into custody.
To Tyrion's surprise, Catelyn does not take him back to Winterfell, but to The Eyrie in The Vale of Arryn, home of her sister Lysa. Lysa, suspicious and grief-stricken at the recent death of her husband, accuses Tyrion of murdering him too and throws Tyrion into one of the Eyrie's "sky cell" dungeons. With the promise of a large bribe, Tyrion convinces his guard Mord to pass a message to Lady Arryn that he is ready to confess his crimes.
Tyrion again appears before Lysa, who informs him that her son Robin will listen to his case and pass judgment. To the amusement of those in attendance, Tyrion begins reeling off every crime he has ever committed dating back to his childhood, including stealing a servant girl's clothes, filling his uncle's boots with goat feces and letting a squire take the blame, and masturbating into some turtle stew which, he hopes, his sister ate. He continues to deny their charges against him, however. Furious, Lysa orders him returned to the sky cells. Before he can be led away, Tyrion demands a trial by combat.
Trial by Combat
By law, Lady Lysa acknowledges that she cannot refuse his request but she reminds Tyrion of the consequences should he lose: he will "fly" through the Eyrie's moon door. A number of knights volunteer to be her champion with Ser Vardis Egen chosen. As his own champion, Tyrion names his brother, Ser Jaime Lannister. Lysa rejects this, as Jaime is not present and she wants the trial completed quickly. It appears that no one will volunteer to fight for Tyrion until a sellsword, Bronn, whom Tyrion had earlier met in the Crossroads Inn and accompanied the group to The Eyrie, steps forward and offers his services.
The combat begins and Bronn uses underhand tactics and his greater maneuverability (he declines to have armor or a shield) to wear down Ser Vardis. Bronn finally stabs Vardis through the neck and pushes him out of the "Moon Door" to his death. Thus acquitted, Tyrion reclaims his purse and tosses it to Mord with the quip "a Lannister always pays his debts". He and Bronn leave the Eyrie together.
In response to Tyrion's abduction, his father Tywin Lannister invades the Riverlands with an army of 60,000 men and his bannerman Gregor Clegane begins attacking houses loyal to House Tully. After gathering his own army following his father Eddard Stark's execution for treason by King Joffrey, Robb Stark invades the Riverlands in support of his Tully allies, marking the start of the War of the Five Kings.
This episode is also the beginning of the friendship between Tyrion and Bronn, who becomes Tyrion's personal bodyguard, enforcer and confidant.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Tyrion's trial and the events leading up to it are about the same, with minor changes. Catelyn reveals to Tyrion that Littlefinger told her he lost the dagger to Tyrion in a bet after Jaime Lannister was beaten in a joust by Loras Tyrell. Tyrion retorts that this cannot be true because he never bets against his family. Much later, Catelyn discovers that Tyrion was telling the truth.
Tyrion convinces Mord to bring him before Lysa in his first try. Catelyn tries to dissuade Lysa from going ahead with the trial by combat, reasoning that Tyrion is only of use to them as a hostage; if he wins his trial then he can go free, and if he should lose, Lord Tywin will be enraged that his son has been put to death in the Eyrie, trial or not. Lysa is oblivious to her pleas, however, and certain that Ser Vardis will be victorious. Catelyn is not as confident, having observed Bronn's fighting prowess against the Hill tribes.
The trial by combat is seen from Catelyn's point of view. It takes place the following day and in the Eyrie garden rather than in the throne room. At Lysa's insistence, Vardis wields Jon Arryn's ceremonial sword rather than his own blade. Catelyn thinks the knight looks uncomfortable with the unfamiliar sword. As in the TV series, Bronn uses underhand tactics to wear down Vardis, dancing out of reach and throwing obstacles in his path. While Lysa and her court curse Bronn for cowardice, Ser Rodrik Cassel observes to Catelyn that Bronn is trying to tire out his armor-laden opponent.
Vardis manages to slam his shield in Bronn's face, almost causing the sellsword to lose his balance; Bronn quickly recovers and pushes a statue on top of Vardis. While Vardis is pinned to the floor beneath the statue, Bronn finishes him off, without pushing him out of the Moon Door. Bronn's lip is bleeding and he spits out a broken tooth, but otherwise he is unharmed.
Enraged by the outcome, Lysa threatens to execute Tyrion anyway; she relents when he reminds her of House Arryn's words. She allows Tyrion and Bronn to leave the Eyrie with provisions but adds that they will have to make their way down the mountains without an escort. This is seen by those in attendance as another kind of death sentence, as Tyrion and Bronn will probably succumb to cold and hunger, if they are not killed by the Hill Tribes. Catelyn is later surprised to learn that Tyrion survived and made it back to King's Landing.
Bronn later asks Tyrion how he knew that he would champion for him. Tyrion replies that he gambled on his greed as a sellsword. He explains that a sellsword is always looking for a prospective employer, which is why Bronn helped Lady Catelyn arrest him. However, he would have soon realized that while she may have given him a small reward for his troubles, the Starks were too honorable to take a common thug like Bronn into their service. Hence, Tyrion was his best prospect of a new employer and a big reward.