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(With the release of the Alayne chapter in ‘The Winds of Winter’ giving us our first introduction to Harry the Heir and the beginning of his interaction with Sansa, we thought it necessary to update our Male Influences project with an analysis of his character and how his relationship with Sansa is likely to develop. We’re pleased to welcome our newest contributor, Westeros.org member Blue-Eyed Wolf, who brings her knowledge and passion to bear on the topic. You can follow her at https://bluelemonsforever.tumblr.com/)

by Blue-Eyed Wolf

(TWOW spoilers abound)

Petyr arched an eyebrow. “When Robert dies. Our poor brave Sweetrobin is such a sickly boy, it is only a matter of time. When Robert dies, Harry the Heir becomes Lord Harrold, Defender of the Vale and Lord of the Eyrie. Jon Arryn’s bannermen will never love me, nor our silly, shaking Robert, but they will love their Young Falcon . . . and when they come together for his wedding, and you come out with your long auburn hair, clad in a maiden’s cloak of white and grey with a direwolf emblazoned on the back . . . why, every knight in the Vale will pledge his sword to win you back your birthright. So those are your gifts from me, my sweet Sansa . . . Harry, the Eyrie, and Winterfell. That’s worth another kiss now, don’t you think?”  — Alayne II, AFFC.

A gallant young knight rises up. Handsome and full of youthful vigor. One with the magnetic ability to rally the Vale lords behind him.  And on behalf of his lady love, Harry will lead an army to take back her home from the villains who stole it. Together they will rule over two vast kingdoms and live happily ever after… Then you remember this is Littlefinger speaking.

It’s a perfectly tailored sales pitch to a guileless eleven-year-old Sansa, except she is no longer that child that Littlefinger is condescending to. While the chapter ends on this quote and the author has withheld Sansa’s reaction to it, I think it’s safe to say Sansa is probably of two minds about Harrold Hardyng entering her life. Her understandable gut reaction to another marriage proposal is horror. Yet, once he lays it all out for her, Sansa surely must give some pause to the possibility of finally going home and being safe. It’s the only thing out of what Littlefinger is offering that she truly wants even if it comes with strings attached. Those creepy, unfatherly kisses suggest what he expects in return for that “help.”

Right now we need to appreciate where Sansa is in all this. She’s stuck under a false identity indefinitely. She’s still wanted for regicide with a bounty on her head. She believes there’s no one else she can turn to and no other option has presented itself. We know that Sansa does not consider the Eyrie a home, but a cold, lonely place. She’s not keen on another marriage for her claim or name. Her thoughts have never been far from Winterfell, though. For that reason, we will see that Sansa does give consideration to the match, but with a critical eye and a little hope that Harry could love her for herself in spite of her claim once she is revealed. As with Ser Dontos before, Littlefinger has used knighthood to gain her trust and complicity, also with the promise of going home only for Sansa to discover she was misled. Yet she’s also a character of irrepressible hopefulness despite her misgivings.

As we explore Alayne I, TWOW, and the possibility of a match with Harry, we’ll see how much Sansa has truly evolved since the earlier novels. She’s not immediately trusting in the institution of knighthood or the beauty of youth as a stamp of goodness. Thus she isn’t dismissive of some troubling information she learns about Ser Harrold as she was with Joffrey; however, she’s not a total cynic, either. There’s a willingness to still give him a fair chance and see who he is with her own eyes. While Harry will fall short of an ideal husband in many ways, that doesn’t necessarily make him dangerous and violent like Joffrey. What it may mean is that Sansa has to decide whether she can put aside her other dream of mutual love and devotion in marriage. She’s being asked to stake her person and future on a man that Littlefinger promises can deliver all that and more. And if he doesn’t? From her perspective she faces a potentially loveless marriage with little to show for it. The question Sansa must answer for herself is: Is Harrold Hardyng the horse she should bet on?

Let’s look at Harry’s place in the overall plot. What we’re really talking about is a battle for political control of the Vale between Littlefinger and Bronze Yohn Royce starting with the custody dispute over Robert Arryn. In the Lords Declarant meeting of Alayne I, AFFC, the lords of the Vale petition to raise Robert in the more wholesome environment of Runestone as a ward to Yohn Royce. They fail due to Lyn Corbray’s violent outburst at the parley, staged by Littlefinger; however, Littlefinger tipped his hand by revealing his interest in Harrold Hardyng, Lady Anya Waynwood’s ward.

Robert should have an older boy about him too. A promising young squire, say. Someone he could admire and try to emulate.” Petyr turned to Lady Waynwood. “You have such a boy at Ironoaks, my lady. Perhaps you might agree to send me Harrold Hardyng.”

Anya Waynwood seemed amused. “Lord Petyr, you are as bold a thief as I’d ever care to meet.

While the Lords Declarant meeting failed to oust Littlefinger as Lord Protector, Yohn Royce now knows he must act quickly to secure influence over Harry with Robert’s health so uncertain. Especially when it’s revealed in Alayne II that Lady Anya’s debts have been bought up by Littlefinger. That and offering an enormous dowry forces her to entertain his proposal and use her influence to nudge Harry along.   

The Waynwoods are very old and very proud, but not as rich as one might think, as I discovered when I began buying up their debt. Not that Lady Anya would ever sell a son for gold. A ward, however . . . young Harry’s only a cousin, and the dower that I offered her ladyship was even larger than the one that Lyonel Corbray just collected. It had to be, for her to risk Bronze Yohn’s wroth. This will put all his plans awry. You are promised to Harrold Hardyng, sweetling, provided you can win his boyish heart . . . which should not be hard, for you.

How does Yohn Royce counter Littlefinger’s move toward Harry?  He holds a tourney for squires at Runestone. From Myranda Royce’s telling we know it was rigged for Harry to win the championship and his knighthood.

Our cousin Bronze Yohn had himself a mêlée at Runestone,” Myranda Royce went on, oblivious, “a small one, just for squires. It was meant for Harry the Heir to win the honors, and so he did.”

“Harry the Heir?”

“Lady Waynwood’s ward. Harrold Hardyng. I suppose we must call him Ser Harry now. Bronze Yohn knighted him.

By Yohn Royce personally bestowing knighthood upon him, he hopes to create a close mentor-mentee relationship. No doubt he warns Harry to mistrust Littlefinger’s wiles, especially in regards to marrying Alayne Stone. When Sansa suggests a tourney of Winged Knights to alleviate Robert’s anxieties, she inadvertently gives Littlefinger his counter maneuver. Harry will be tempted with glory as all his eager young peers are. Since Littlefinger leaves nothing to chance, this tourney is surely rigged as well. In the sample chapter, Sansa looks for Petyr in his solar and conspicuously mentions a list of competitors among the papers on his desk. There’s actually a few parallels here to the tourney at Whitewalls (also held by a former master of coin) in “The Mystery Knight” novella where the master of games was bribed to arrange the lists favorably.

It had fallen out just as Petyr said it would, the day the ravens flew. “They’re young, eager, hungry for adventure and renown. Lysa would not let them go to war. This is the next best thing. A chance to serve their lord and prove their prowess. They will come. Even Harry the Heir.” He had smoothed her hair and kissed her forehead. “What a clever daughter you are.

Yohn was left no choice but to acquiesce to Harry’s insistence lest he “create a rift between them.”  The players involved must ingratiate themselves by flattering his ego, but much to their frustration he can be swayed in the opposite direction as easily as a weather vane.  One can’t be completely sure if Harry has much awareness of the political tug-o-war over him or if he just doesn’t particularly care. Either way, he’s established as headstrong and heedlessly headed toward Littlefinger’s plot to ensnare him despite the red flags. Now he’s moved into position for Alayne Stone to charm him as the betrothal is contingent on Harry’s approval.

From a Doylist perspective, what does Harry represent by the way Littlefinger idyllically describes him when he lays out his plan?  We only have to look to Aegon Targaryen to guess what Martin thinks of this staple of the fantasy genre: a young hero who is also the rightful ruler, driven by destiny, arrives on scene with perfect timing to set things right.  There’s a beautiful princess waiting for him at the end. We’re assured of his success without having to read any further. Aegon’s handlers have carefully shaped their “perfect prince” to the point that he unquestioningly believes his story is just a matter of checking off all the boxes. Along that same vein, Littlefinger presents Harrold Hardyng not just as Robert Arryn’s heir, but as the worthier heir of the Vale who is waiting to come to center stage and take his rightful place. Harry even looks the part as he is noted to resemble Jon Arryn in his youth with his blonde hair, blue eyes, and aquiline nose. A perfect example of Andal purity and able-bodied manhood. Small, frail, brown-haired Robert must seem like a changeling by comparison.

There’s a parallel theme of the true and rightful heir trope being fast-tracked in his ascension without sacrifice or hardship on his part.  This is the antithesis of Martin making his characters like Daenerys or Jon earn their ascensions the hard way, facing real dangers and suffering through hard choices. Even then success is not a guarantee. Remember that Sansa herself more authentically embodies the “rightful heir” in hiding who has suffered real dangers and learned from her trial. However, the author appears to be misdirecting us to the “young falcon” as if he will be the protagonist of Sansa’s story, relegating her to the princess that will be awarded to him. Sansa is the major POV here and Harry must serve her story.

There is reasonable evidence that the “mummer’s dragon” will be exposed as an imposter at some point.  Even if it’s unbeknownst to him, how could Aegon ever have been at real risk of failure or peril if those trials were always orchestrated for his benefit?  But at least we can say Aegon has exerted his own efforts into preparing himself for kingship and considers his rule a duty he owes his people. I would argue that Harry sinks a bit lower in the deconstruction of the perfect prince and “rightful heir” trope.  He’s a poor imitation of even the imposter. His credentials and rewards have been completely unearned given the fact that Ser Harrold got his knighthood essentially handed to him in a tourney he could never win on his own merits. This is made clear to us when we see other characters finding Harry’s reputed martial skills to be quite underwhelming. Lothor Brune calls him “just some upjumped squire” and from Littlefinger’s own mouth with Belmore concurring:

…The boy is nowise skilled enough to win a place amongst the Winged Knights.”

“I suppose not,” said Belmore, grudgingly. — Alayne I, TWOW.

Yohn Royce must be of the same opinion if he had to leave nothing to chance.  If Harry doesn’t know he’s being wooed and handed token honors, then he’s profoundly stupid.  If he does know that his knighthood was never truly earned and he accepted it anyway, it speaks to a certain lack of scruples.  Especially when he puts on airs of deserving his rewards, as his imperious attitude when he arrives on scene would suggest. Abiding by even the most basic level of courtesy as a guest is beneath him.

Ser Harrold Hardyng looked every inch a lord-in-waiting; clean-limbed and handsome, straight as a lance, hard with muscle. Men old enough to have known Jon Arryn in his youth said Ser Harrold had his look, she knew. He had a mop of sandy blond hair, pale blue eyes, an aquiline nose. Joffrey was comely too, though, she reminded herself. A comely monster, that’s what he was. Little Lord Tyrion was kinder, twisted though he was.

Harry was staring at her. He knows who I am, she realized, and he does not seem pleased to see me.

Ser Harrold looked down at her coldly. “Why should it please me to be escorted anywhere by Littlefinger’s bastard?”

All three Waynwoods looked at him askance. “You are a guest here, Harry,” Lady Anya reminded him, in a frosty voice. “See that you remember that.  

Harry is also quite “upjumped” in more ways than just knighthood. Let’s review exactly how Harrold Hardyng is Robert Arryn’s heir. Until Robert is born, Jon Arryn had no children from any of his three marriages.  His younger brother Ronnel had a son named Elbert, who upon the death of his father became his uncle’s heir. Elbert was later murdered by King Aerys II Targaryen. Jon’s sister Alys, who was married to Elys Waynwood, had nine children: one son and eight daughters. The son, Jasper, dies at three from being kicked by a horse. Three of the daughters die of natural causes. One becomes a septa. One is seduced by a sellsword and then becomes a Silent Sister. One marries, but is barren. One is carried off by the Burned Men. The youngest daughter marries a member of House Hardyng, which appears to be a small landed knight house.  She dies not long after Harrold is born and Lady Anya Waynwood then takes him as her ward. Between the Arryns and Waynwoods, there’s quite a string of misfortunes and accidents of fate that have happened to finally whittle down the family tree to Harrold.

That’s right — he’s “Harry the Heir” by sheer dumb luck. It’s almost comical when you think about how far flung he is in inheritance order.  While this isn’t anything reflective of his character in itself, I think it juxtaposes significantly with Harrold’s apparent lack of humility at this extremely rare leap in upward mobility. It’s definitely made worse by how often he’s catered to. He is also sporting a highly conspicuous new sigil:

Though his surcoat and horse trappings were patterned in the red-and-white diamonds of House Hardyng, his shield was quartered. The arms of Hardyng and Waynwood were displayed in the first and third quarters, respectively, but in the second and fourth quarters he bore the moon-and-falcon of House Arryn, sky blue and cream. Sweetrobin will not like that. — Alayne I, TWOW.

While there’s plenty of House Hardyng pride, he’s in no small terms emphasizing his more prestigious relations of the Waynwoods and Arryns. He’s displaying a need to shore up his pedigree and he’s doing so in a very crass and presumptuous way. The only way he can actually claim the Arryn sigil is literally over his cousin’s dead body, who is at present still alive and this tourney is in his honor.  It makes Robert’s earlier statement that “he calls me cousin, but he’s just waiting for me to die so he can take the Eyrie” seem astute in hindsight.

Another character that gives us interesting insights on Harry is Myranda Royce, daughter of Lord Nestor of the cadet branch of House Royce.  Nestor had approached Lady Anya to betroth Myranda to Harry and she was soundly rejected without serious consideration. But why?

Lady Myranda snorted. “I pray [Harry] gets the pox. He has a bastard daughter by some common girl, you know. My lord father had hoped to marry me to Harry, but Lady Waynwood would not hear of it. I do not know whether it was me she found unsuitable, or just my dowry.” She gave a sigh.  — Alayne II, AFFC.

Her anger seems to be directed at Harry first, then Lady Waynwood, indicating her unsuitability wasn’t just the latter’s determination.  Then when the subject is revisited again in TWOW:

The first Lady Waynwood must have been a mare, I think. How else to explain why all the Waynwood men are horse-faced? If I were ever to wed a Waynwood, he would have to swear a vow to don his helm whenever he wished to fuck me, and keep the visor closed.” She gave Alayne a pinch on the arm. “My Harry will be with them, though. I notice that you left him out. I shall never forgive you for stealing him away from me. He’s the boy I want to marry.”

“The betrothal was my father’s doing,” Alayne protested, as she had a hundred times before. She is only teasing, she told herself…but behind the japes, she could hear the hurt.

There’s still some bitterness there toward Lady Anya, but now it’s more a sore spot. While Myranda may say Alayne stole him from her, we know her suit was rejected long before Alayne was ever in the picture. I think Myranda might have invented a new narrative to a less painful version if we look at everything in context. We’ve seen the author use this technique before in Sandor’s romanticized and misleading version of Sansa’s singing to him in Arya IX, ASOS. Myranda has clearly taken the rejection very personally, so I doubt it was an impersonal matter of dowry. The cadet Royces are still an ancient First Men house in the Vale and they boast the familial connection to House Stark through Jocelyn Stark marrying Benedict Royce. Catelyn references this connection when suggesting possible heirs for King Robb to name in his will. Myranda comes from a prestigious family and we know Harry values this from his quartered sigil. So we must conclude it was something about Myranda herself that Anya and Harry rejected.  While her bawdy humor and frank sex-positivity might be too much for Lady Anya, I doubt Harry would find that displeasing. He seems quite taken with Alayne’s cleverness and is thoroughly on the hook the moment she merely suggests she’ll be “all the spice [he’ll] want.” We might say it’s Alayne’s beauty, but Harry doesn’t find her that attractive.  “You’re comely enough, I’ll grant you” is basically saying “you’re okay, I guess.” So why reject as a bride the true born noble girl of ancient name who is just as flirtatious, clever, and spirited? I think we’re given a strong suggestion at the real reason Myranda was rejected and why it’s so hurtful to her: she’s fat.  

Lord Nestor’s daughter proved to be a short, fleshy woman, of an age with Mya Stone, but where Mya was slim and sinewy, Myranda was soft-bodied and sweet-smelling, broad of hip, thick of waist, and extremely buxom. Her thick chestnut curls framed round red cheeks, a small mouth, and a pair of lively brown eyes. — Alayne II, AFFC.   

And Harry’s fatphobia is bluntly stated for us in TWOW:

Cissy was a pretty thing when I tumbled her, but childbirth left her as fat as a cow, so Lady Anya arranged for her to marry one of her men-at-arms…

It’s an extremely callous attitude toward the mother of his first child. She puts on pregnancy weight, Harry is disgusted by her appearance and coldly discards her, and Lady Anya cleans up Harry’s mess. I think it’s safe to assume Cissy was the daughter of someone serving Lady Anya or a maid close to her personally, which is why she felt compelled to smooth the scandal over.  When Harry speaks of his current lover’s beauty in contrast, her slimness is noted among her attractive features. With Harry possibly being her future high lord and knowing about the Cissy incident, I cannot see Lady Anya souring her relationship to Harry by saddling him with a bride that would disgust him.  It’s political suicide for her family’s future interests. And even with Alayne she is careful not to make Harry feel too forced.

We can now see why an otherwise self-confident young woman would be vague about the reason for her rejection.  It’s cruel and shallow. It’s probably why we see Myranda biting back by skewering the Waynwood appearance as “horse-faced,” paying Lady Anya back in her own coin.  As Harry finds Cissy repulsive, Myranda says the same thing about requiring Waynwood men to wear a closed-visor helm to bed. The sentiment is very “you don’t have room to talk, lady.”  Joking about Alayne stealing Harry allows her to imagine a more tolerable explanation. Stolen implies he was already hers, hence she was never outright rejected to begin with. It’s such an offhand comment I don’t think Myranda truly believes this any more than Sandor really believed his own self-serving fantasy.  Let’s not jump to conclusions that Myranda is seethingly jealous over Harry. Deep down she probably still hopes he gets an STD.

Note that Harry doesn’t acknowledge Myranda at all while the Waynwoods do in contrast.  She is the lady of the Gates of the Moon and he is a guest in her father’s home. It’s a glaring breach of etiquette. If we could be inside her head instead of Sansa’s at that moment, the slight would be obvious. Among the myriad of ways that fatphobia manifests itself, being treated as invisible in moments where a person should be recognized is one of them.  Myranda could represent an inverse of “Fat Walda” Frey who is relishing being the new Lady Bolton.  Roose Bolton chose to wed her specifically because Old Walder Frey offered him the bride’s weight in silver for a dowry.  While still a mercenary reason, her fatness in that case was the prospective bride’s shining feature.

If we take a step back and break down how the Alayne sample chapter is structured, we’ll see a recurring theme that I think gives us clarity on the author’s intentions.  Since we meet Harry in person toward the end of the chapter, everything before that is a preamble. Beginning, middle, and end we will see examples of female characters being used, dishonored, devalued, and discarded by men. Their trust betrayed. Their hopes and dreams trampled.

The chapter opens with Mya Stone arriving in Robert Arryn’s bedchamber with straw in her hair and “scowl” on her face. Sansa knows immediately her dark mood was triggered by the presence of Mychel Redfort, the young man who had once promised to marry her. He has been staying at the Gates of the Moon to compete in the tourney and it seems that Mya has seen him just prior to the opening scene. Mya’s dreamy innocence is very much like Sansa’s, until it’s crushed by a broken promise and harsh reality. Like Sansa, she too dreamed of marrying for love. Mya had once told Catelyn of her and Mychel’s plan to marry once he was knighted, to which Catelyn privately doubts Horton Redfort would ever allow that. Mya trusted his word on this so implicitly that she gave her virginity to him. Then we learn in AFFC that Mychel has married Ysilla Royce instead and Mya was left with a soiled reputation and broken heart. Servants gossip about her as if she were promiscuous. There is also a sense that she’s not yet been able to heal and move on. She may love him still. Since learning of the marriage, she has stubbornly refused all of Nestor Royce’s offers to make a match for her nor will she consider another suitor. As Myranda says:

Mychel was the best young swordsman in the Vale, and gallant . . . or so poor Mya thought, till he wed one of Bronze Yohn’s daughters. Lord Horton gave him no choice in the matter, I am sure, but it was still a cruel thing to do to Mya.”

“Ser Lothor is fond of her.” Alayne glanced down at the mule girl, twenty steps below. “More than fond.”

“Lothor Brune?” Myranda raised an eyebrow. “Does she know?” She did not wait for an answer. “He has no hope, poor man. My father’s tried to make a match for Mya, but she’ll have none of them. She is half mule, that one.

It was wrong of Mychel to let her believe they’d be married, especially if it leveraged her consent to a sexual relationship.  Even if he would have prefered to marry Mya, he always knew he would concede to his father’s will on the matter. This is a bit of speculation on my part, but I believe the added detail of the straw in her hair paired with her scowl is meant to imply she recently had sex with him in the stables — a nod to the tawdry cliche of a “roll in the hay” akin to the way Harry describes “tumbling” Cissy.  It’s consistent with her emotionally compromised state. It’s plausible to see her in a desperate, fleeting attempt to recapture intimacy with him; however, a tryst only leaves her feeling cheapened and bitter, hence the scowl. Nothing changes the reality that he has a wife now, the wife she’ll never be. But bastard girls aren’t supposed to expect any better, are they? She took a leap of faith on the wrong man and discovered he was a poor imitation of gallant. This is exactly the cautionary tale Sansa must take to heart.

Next comes Robert and Alayne’s conversation on Harrold. While Alayne attempts to soothe his anxieties about his cousin and his distress about her marrying him, Robert pouts and says he should marry her one day instead.  She tries to gently dissuade him from such notions. While his crush on her is mostly harmless, it starts to become overly possessive and entitled in tone. He’s still a little boy and only partially understands what he’s saying, but she nips that attitude right in the bud.  Alayne sharply corrects Robert when he insists he can keep Alayne as his mistress if he can’t marry her. Note how highly appropriate this is for Sansa just coming off of recognizing Mya’s situation with Mychel. The interaction plays out the sexual politics of the same nobleman / bastard girl dynamic:  

The Lord of the Eyrie can do as he likes. Can’t I still love you, even if I have to marry her? Ser Harrold has a common woman. Benjicot says she’s carrying his bastard.”

Benjicot should learn to keep his fool’s mouth shut. “Is that what you would have from me? A bastard?” She pulled her fingers from his grasp. “Would you dishonor me that way?”

The boy looked stricken. “No. I never meant—

Having Alayne as his mistress is a perfectly agreeable solution for him, so he never considers she could feel differently about it. He is legitimately shocked to learn this arrangement would dishonor her and the mere suggestion of it is insulting. He represents the theme of privileged men treating women (consciously or not) as pretty toys they can pick up and put down as they like, clueless to their feelings and inconsiderate of their actions.  It’s especially heinous when love is used as a carrot on a stick. Women like Mya and Cissy paid a costly price for misplacing their trust in reckless, selfish men. Well, Alayne is having none of that.  Just because Robert is Lord of the Eyrie doesn’t mean he can “do as he likes,” especially not with a woman he claims to love and care for. She’s making Robert think about the harsh social stigma women face as well as their bastard children.  That there is more at stake than just satisfying his desires. Harrold’s behavior with his common woman is no role model for manhood or a proper lord. It’s a moment of really good parenting where she sets clear boundaries, teaches him to respect and empathize with women, and withdraws her company so he can contemplate the lesson.   

Next she finds a “desperate” looking Myranda Royce in the training yard and she’s been inundated by the unwanted attentions of Ser Ossifer Lipps and Ser Uthor Shett.  Sansa makes an excuse to “rescue” her from the situation to which she is grateful. The tone of their conversation seems light, but there’s an undercurrent of sadness in Myranda.  She reveals her father, Nestor Royce, is threatening to marry her off to an undesirable suitor just to be rid of her. Myranda is highly intelligent and vivacious; furthermore, she’s proven capable of running a household well. Many a man would count themselves lucky to have her. Why would her father do this?

Alayne giggled. “Surely Lord Nestor would not seriously entertain a suit from such men.”

“Oh, he might. My lord father is annoyed with me for killing my last husband and putting him to all this trouble.”

“It was not your fault he died.”

“There was no one else in the bed that I recall.

In Alayne II, AFFC, Myranda jokes she killed her husband while they were having sex, but it appears the older man simply had a heart attack or stroke.  We can see in her personality she often uses jokes to hide her pain, in this case guilt and shame. There’s nothing to suggest that she disliked her late husband.  The way she was widowed and her reputation for being “frolicsome” is embarrassing in the conservative culture of the Vale. Myranda blames herself for his death and appears to have internalized her father’s words.  Alayne responds with sympathy. She has in the past referred to herself as a “dreadful slut,” which in hindsight seems sad rather than funny. Add to the fact that Nestor was probably humiliated as well when Lady Anya turned down the marriage proposal to Harry.  His frustration and criticism is all aimed at Myranda for not being the right kind of woman. Instead of valuing her and supporting her, he’s at the point of just marrying her off to practically anyone.

Used, dishonored, devalued, and discarded.  We can also put that into the context of Littlefinger’s treatment of Sansa.  She’s his perfect woman. He wants to mold her to his philosophy, make her completely dependent upon him, as well as barter her as commodity for his interests.  He has promised her Harry will be her true knight that will take her home.  At the end of the chapter we learn about Cissy’s fate, and the probability of Saffron suffering the same dashed hopes and broken promises. These are signposts along Sansa’s path through the chapter, warning her to be wary of empty promises and misplaced trust. Thus we, the readers, should not trust the overall whimsical tone of the chapter and think Sansa has finally caught a break with Harry. Look closer and you’ll see the cracks.       

With Myranda’s first mention of Harry in AFFC, Harry’s bastards are an oft-mentioned subject of gossip and a prominent association with his character.  Clearly GRRM wanted the reader and Sansa to come armed with this information just before Littlefinger paints his pretty picture and stresses how lucky she is to have this opportunity to wed him.    

Harry the Heir?” Alayne tried to recall what Myranda had told her about him on the mountain. “He was just knighted. And he has a bastard daughter by some common girl.”

“And another on the way by a different wench. Harry can be a beguiling one, no doubt. Soft sandy hair, deep blue eyes, and dimples when he smiles. And very gallant, I am told.” He teased her with a smile. “Bastard-born or no, sweetling, when this match is announced you will be the envy of every highborn maiden in the Vale, and a few from the riverlands and the Reach as well.” — Alayne II, AFFC.

His first child comes from the aforementioned Cissy and he has a second on the way by a Gulltown merchant’s daughter named Saffron, his current lover.  This is by no means considered honorable behavior in general, but I would also point out that while she takes note of it, Sansa doesn’t seem to really judge him for it either. It makes sense considering her beloved father also had a bastard that she considers her family. She only uses the information to test Harry’s honesty and this is where his character becomes a little more complex.

I have heard that you are about to be a father.” It was not something most girls would say to their almost-betrothed, but she wanted to see if Ser Harrold would lie.

“For the second time. My daughter Alys is two years old.

We can see Harry does acknowledge both his children, making Alys a Stone as well as the one to come.  And he is forthright about it. He calls her “my daughter,” not “my bastard,” and by her name. He’s not treating her as something to be ashamed of no matter how she came to be or his relationship with the mother.  There’s a respect for her personhood. While Harry may be lacking in other ways, at least we can say he seems to care for Alys enough to officially claim her and give her the related social advantages. We have no evidence that he would be an absentee father.  There’s definitely a comparison here to be made with Robert Baratheon who fathered many bastards including Mya Stone while he spent his teen years in the Vale. Harry is about the same age. While Harry lacks Robert’s martial skill and likely the natural leadership abilities to go with it, he hasn’t abandoned his children.  Robert never officially acknowledged Mya, though it was simply obvious who fathered her; this oversight is noted to put limitations on Mya’s marriage options and thus continues to affect her. Sansa is also all too aware of Mya’s personal pain over it. For a brief time she felt loved by Robert, then he disappeared from her life.  So Harry does seem to have a one-up on Robert.

By not making Harry the Worst Person Ever™, GRRM gives Sansa something to chew on.  If Harry is a loving father to their children and she can live in relative safety, perhaps even return to Winterfell one day, is that enough for her?  Could she tolerate him possibly being unfaithful to her as long as he was discrete? What if she gained pregnancy weight as Cissy had? It calls back to Cersei’s assertion that Sansa “may never love [her husband], but [she’ll] love his children.”  Sansa isn’t being presented with a nightmare marriage to an outright monstrous abuser-type. That would be a no-brainer on her part. She’s actually being presented with a fairly typical transactional marriage among nobility. There’s an expectation of gain for both parties and the quiet toleration of certain aspects.  It means giving up the dream of being “loved for herself” (the passionate choice) in favor of the conventional good enough marriage that would give her social security and children to love (the pleasant choice).

I’m using “pleasant” versus “passionate” labels deliberately.  It’s no secret that GRRM’s favorite interpretation of Beauty and the Beast is the Jean Cocteau film La Belle et la Bête (1946).  In this version, the lead actor Jean Marais plays three roles:  the Beast, Prince Ardent (the Beast’s true form), and Avenant (a family friend that is Beauty’s other suitor). Their names literally translate into “passionate” and “pleasant.” Avenant is not the clear villain that Gaston of the Disney version is.  He has a greedy streak. He’s immature and brash, but he’s not evil. Beauty does find him attractive and he does have a certain amusing boyish charm about him.  She does consider marrying him, but her heart is not moved enough to accept. The purpose of his character is to provide Beauty with a bonafide choice between two viable options, both with certain desirable and disagreeable traits.  One is the easy, reliable, expected choice. The choice her family would condone.  He’s familiar and she knows they would get along fine. The other, represented by the Beast / Prince Ardent, means taking the riskier but potentially more fulfilling path of the unconventional and daring to follow one’s heart. That is consistent with Sansa’s wish to have a marriage based on mutual love and desire; however, who ends up playing that role is beyond the scope of his essay, but I’m sure it will be revealed in TWOW.

This La Belle et la Bête dichotomy is repeated in Brienne’s AFFC arc between the potential suits of Jaime Lannister and Hyle Hunt, who also bears a double “H” name.  Ser Hyle also has a bastard daughter that he acknowledges and visits, while having a strained relationship with the mother. He’s very Avenant.  He has glaring shortcomings, he’s young and dumb, he’s not good enough for Brienne, but there’s also something endearing about the fool in spite of it.        

What I want to win is you, Lord Selwyn’s only living child. I’ve known men to wed lackwits and suckling babes for prizes a tenth the size of Tarth. I am not Renly Baratheon, I confess it, but I have the virtue of being still amongst the living. Some would say that is my only virtue. Marriage would serve the both of us. Lands for me, and a castle full of these for you.” He waved his hand at the children. “I am capable, I assure you. I’ve sired at least one bastard that I know of. Have no fear, I shan’t inflict her upon you. The last time I went to see her, her mother doused me with a kettle of soup.

There’s similarities as Sansa is the only known living heir to Winterfell, but Harry doesn’t yet know who Alayne really is.  Sansa’s attitude going into this whole situation seems to be initially hopeful that this could turn out for the best despite her misgivings.  One of the things she looks for is that he shows some sign of genuinely liking her. As Alayne, her hope is that he can see past “Littlefinger’s bastard” to the person underneath — that somehow a real loving marriage could be salvaged from these schemes and intrigues.   For her own sake, if Harry can love her as a bastard girl before he knows about her true name and claim, then such a marriage can be possible. If he suddenly treats her kindly and professes words of love when he finds out she’s Sansa Stark, well… this doesn’t speak well of his character and she’s truly stuck in a loveless marriage for her claim. Again. So she goes in prepared to give this a fair shot.

And if the gods are good, he will love me too. Her tummy gave a little flutter.

This time her eyes met Harry’s. She smiled just for him, and said a silent prayer to the Maiden. Please, he doesn’t need to love me, just make him like me, just a little, that would be enough for now.

… and you can almost hear the record scratch the moment he coldly addresses her while looking down upon Littlefinger’s bastard.  It’s not going to go that smoothly. To her credit, Sansa stifles her tears of embarrassment at being insulted and embodies “bastard brave”-style courtesy.  She gratefully receives support from Lothor Brune who dubs him “Harry the Arse.” Next she finds Littlefinger who offers some mixed advice.

He’s horrible.”

“The world is full of horrors, sweet. By now you ought to know that. You’ve seen enough of them.”

“Yes,” she said, “but why must he be so cruel? He called me your bastard. Right in the yard, in front of everyone.”

“So far as he knows, that’s who you are. This betrothal was never his idea, and Bronze Yohn has no doubt warned him against my wiles. You are my daughter. He does not trust you, and he believes that you’re beneath him.

While I’m loathe to say Littlefinger has a point, it is true she has seen real malice and cruelty in Joffrey and Cersei, far beyond any snub Harry could lob at her.  It’s plausible his initial hostility could partially stem from being pushed into a marriage for his claim with someone he considers part of an enemy camp. A position Sansa can surely sympathize with. She’ll give it another go at the feast — except doing it her way, not following Littlefinger’s urging to smile, pet, and “tease him, to pique his pride.”  She turns the tables on him pretty handedly.

And there he stood, Harry the Heir himself; tall, handsome, scowling. “Lady Alayne. May I partner you in this dance?”

She considered for a moment. “No. I don’t think so.”

Color rose to his cheeks. “I was unforgiveably rude to you in the yard. You must forgive me.”

“Must?” She tossed her hair, took a sip of wine, made him wait. “How can you forgive someone who is unforgiveably rude? Will you explain that to me, ser?”

Ser Harrold looked confused. “Please. One dance.”

Charm him. Entrance him. Bewitch him. “If you insist.”

At first he’s very grudgingly asking for a dance at Lady Anya’s insistence, fully expecting Littlefinger’s bastard to just gratefully accept. There’s no flirtation or sweetness from Alayne. It’s pointed indifference at his insincere apology and a demand that she forgive him. The toss of hair and sip of wine to make him wait is so Cersei, a very well-played adaptation of the queen’s posturing. The power dynamic seems to flip in an instant and Harry is left bewildered and begging. Clearly Sansa is capable of reading Harry better than Littlefinger and adjusted her tack accordingly. His strategy would have never worked.

What follows during their dance is their blunt conversation about his bastards and the women he has been involved with. While Cissy was discarded, he claims that “it is different with Saffron.” For a moment the tone seems to indicate he has deeper feelings for her and it would give him a sympathetic reason to resist a match to another; however, it turns out that Harry’s sense of romantic love has a proportional relationship to her family’s coffers.  

Her father says she is more precious to him than gold. He’s rich, the richest man in Gulltown. A fortune in spices.”

“Saffron is very beautiful, I’ll have you know. Tall and slim, with big brown eyes and hair like honey.

Very Avenant, indeed. It’s probably safe to deduce that Saffron’s very wealthy father was also interested in offering up a hefty dowry for his beloved daughter. One can imagine how high an unmarried, pregnant Saffron’s hopes must be and that she’s likely heard the same sweet profession that it’s “different with [her].” Harry must have at least entertained the idea of marriage if he had this conversation with her father. Remember this is pretty on par with many people’s idea of a normal marriage negotiation where both parties assess the advantages. There’s a ladyship in it for Saffron as well. There’s a parallel to the marriage of a very satisfied Lord Lyonel Corbray to another wealthy Gulltown merchant’s daughter who has proven quite fertile; however, Lord Lyonel already had the ancient name and fertility is obviously not where Harry is lacking.           

An agreeable match they may otherwise be, the only thing Saffron can’t offer is an ancient noble bloodline and her father probably isn’t audacious enough to buy up Lady Anya’s debts to press the issue either. Alayne Stone is also a wealthy man’s daughter, but as a bastard she can’t even claim his landed-knight family name. And the Vale lords consider Petyr quite upjumped himself. Saffron and Alayne are actually on equal footing in this respect. But in Harry’s eyes, Alayne doesn’t even come close to Saffron’s beauty. It’s Alayne’s clever japes and deft handling of him that causes Harry to warm to her. In the end she has him smiling and asking to wear her favor, which she denies him.  This is turning into quite an intriguing experience for him. She excels in offering novelty. Unlike most trying to curry his favor, she’s actually making him work for her attention and approval. So how does Sansa feel about Harry by the end of the chapter?  

He has good teeth, she thought, straight and white. And when he smiles, he has the nicest dimples. She ran one finger down his cheek. “Should we ever wed, you’ll have to send Saffron back to her father. I’ll be all the spice you’ll want.”

He grinned. “I will hold you to that promise, my lady. Until that day, may I wear your favor in the tourney?”

“You may not. It is promised to…another.” She was not sure who as yet, but she knew she would find someone.

Good teeth?  You could assess a horse the same way and quite fitting if we’re determining if Harry is the horse to bet on.  It’s the very best likable thing about him she can come up with, which isn’t saying much, but it’s a step up from Harry the Arse.  It’s a good enough start to possibly build upon.  Since it is the last line of the chapter, we can be sure that Alayne’s favor and whoever wears it is set up to be a plot device in TWOW.  All we know now is that person is not Harry.

Returning to the central idea that Harrold Hardyng represents a poor imitation, he embodies certain aspects in common to another important knightly dichotomy in Sansa’s story:  Sandor Clegane and Loras Tyrell. Yet the surface similarities are overshadowed by key differences. Harry’s blunt honesty to the point of being offensive recalls her interactions with the Hound.  Progress in breaking through Harry’s hostility only comes after Sansa makes the effort to dig deeper than her first impressions. She knows that sometimes a prickly exterior can be defense mechanism to conceal past pain and trauma.  It’s through the establishment of intimacy that Sansa reveals there’s substantial complexity and humanity under Sandor’s brutish persona that no one else sees. With a hand upon his shoulder and the simple utterance that “he was no true knight,” Sansa made an indelible impression on Sandor that carried through several books with no sign of waning.  With Harry, we don’t get any such reveal to empathize with. He’s neither a tormented soul nor particularly profound. No sense of shared core values. For Sansa’s part, we can see she has gone from a girl that would be easily flustered by the Hound’s rudeness and posturing to a more mature version that can hold her own with confidence. Harry is intrigued, for now at least, with Alayne.  Like jangling keys in front of a baby, it’s a tenuous connection at best. So while Harry may share some of Sandor’s honesty, there’s nothing of real substance or admirable about what he says or does.

It’s easy to compare Harry and Loras in their similar physicality.  Both are tall, slim, and handsome young men of similar age. They both share an arrogance of over privileged youth.  Unlike Harry, Loras had renown early on as a rising star among knights. Word of his tourney successes and skill as a warrior had reached as far as the North.  Loras’s knighthood was undoubtedly earned through his own merits. When making comparisons between these two, I’ve seen fandom members esteem Harry higher than Loras, citing the latter’s cheating at the Hand’s tourney.  While Loras using a mare in heat to provoke the Mountain’s stallion is in no way considered fair play, one can hardly claim Harry is above taking shortcuts. Accepting honors and accolades he knows he did nothing to earn is no less dishonest or dishonorable.  Loras chose to end the Hand’s tourney by forfeiting to Sandor, in recognition of Sandor’s heroic act in saving his life.  Despite his faults, we can also say that Loras knew deep abiding love for Renly. “When the sun has set, no candle can replace it” is an iconic line of a lover in mourning who remained faithful to Renly’s memory long after he was gone — emphasis on faithful.  What does Harry show us of fidelity in his relationships? He’s a poor imitation of the best qualities of both men.

So with that being the case, his character seems to exist primarily serve Sansa’s by allowing her to apply her discernment skills after four books.  She approaches him with healthy skepticism while still leaving room for him to prove himself a decent partner. No free passes given for handsome knights while she also patiently draws out the real Harry, such as he is.  Even if she feels this may be her only chance to go home, as slim as it may be, what’s important is that she’s approaching this prospective marriage with eyes open and with the ability to assert herself.

All signs so far point to “no,” Harry is not the horse to bet on; however, Harry can also serve one more greater thematic purpose if this bit of speculation is correct.  I don’t think Harry is long for this world, so I don’t think this marriage plot will gain any traction in itself. There’s a few more strong parallels to two other minor Vale characters I think show us where GRRM might be going to go with Harry.  Recall Ser Hugh of the Vale (another “H” name) at the Hand’s tourney. He was squire to Jon Arryn and knighted prematurely by Robert Baratheon in honor of his late Hand. He is described as “arrogant as only a new-made knight can be.”  He arrives at the tourney in shiny new plate and he’s sporting the Arryn colors and crescent moons on his cloak, an association he has no direct claim to as with Harry’s quartered sigil.  Sadly, in his tilt against Gregor Clegane, Ser Hugh meets his end at the tip of a lance to the throat where his gorget was loose. With no squire to assist him, he was ill-prepared against the Mountain. One by one, Sansa sees Ser Hugh’s crescent moons soak through with blood. The Tourney of the Winged Knights takes place at the foot of a mountain whose peak is called the Giant’s Lance. It makes Sansa’s curse (“and may your horse stumble, Harry the Heir, so you fall on your stupid head in your first tilt”) sound almost prophetic. Sansa will note that no songs will be sung to remember young men like Ser Hugh.  Like the “knights of summer” in Renly’s host Catelyn notes are playing at war games, there’s a foreboding sense of wasted youth and potential snuffed out for frivolous pursuits. It’s tragic and it fits all too well with the decadent feasting and revelry of the Vale tourney, all on the cusp of a Winter that demands austerity. Ser Hugh’s death almost certainly foreshadows a blood-soaked Vale, somehow, someway.  

But there might just be a shining moment for Harrold Hardyng in the end and it would twist the knife in our emotions.  We’ve seen Harry’s type before early on in another Vale man. In the prologue chapter of AGOT, Ser Waymar Royce, third son of Yohn Royce, is leading a ranging mission north of the Wall.  On his way to join the Night’s Watch, the Starks feasted him and his father at Winterfell. As he is a young and handsome knight, he’s Sansa’s first mentioned crush in the series. He’s an arrogant, over privileged, know-it-all teenager who mocks his more experienced companions. We’re not given anything likeable about Waymar. He’s given command of this mission for no other reason than to encourage his lordly father’s continued support of the Night’s Watch. We expect someone like Waymar to cower and run as the Others surround him. Death is certain. But in his final moments, Waymar finds it in himself to raise his sword and meet death with defiance. No one will know his courage and no songs will be sung. Even an unlikable, upjumped arse can sometimes surprise us and give us reason to remember him fondly.