A Storm of Swords
- ASOS Sandor I: The Hound is Missing
- ASOS Sandor II: In a girl’s thoughts
- ASOS Sandor III: Capture and Trial
- ASOS Sandor IV: How to kidnap a little wolf
- ASOS Sandor V: The End of a Hope
- ASOS Sandor VI: The long road to nowhere
- ASOS Sandor VII: The last fight
The Hound is missing
- Jaime I (Ch. 1)
- Arya I (Ch. 3)
- Tyrion I (Ch. 4)
- Tyrion II (Ch. 12)
- Arya III (Ch. 17)
- Jaime III (Ch. 21)
by Milady of York
In contrast with all those analysed up to this point, this chapter arrangement has the characteristic that in none of them does Sandor make an appearance onstage, nor is he present in the background. Instead, we are treated to an assortment of passing mentions and comparisons from one Stark and two Lannisters, the latter allowing us to find out about the initial reactions to his break-up with his masters and his abandonment of King’s Landing after the Battle of Blackwater.
It’s Jaime who inaugurates this string of mentions of the Hound, when his first-ever POV rolls along, showing him on the boat towards King’s Landing with Brienne and his cousin Cleos, and they’re spotted by Edmure’s men sent to recapture their tiny party, and he mentally likens her to Sandor half-mockingly and half-admiringly when she refuses to give up and prepares to fight the Riverrun pursuers:
His cousin groaned. “We can’t hope to defeat eighteen.”
“Did I say we could? The best we can hope for is to die with swords in our hands.” He was perfectly sincere. Jaime Lannister had never been afraid of death.
Brienne broke off rowing. Sweat had stuck strands of her flax-coloured hair to her forehead, and her grimace made her look homelier than ever. “You are under my protection,” she said, her voice so thick with anger that it was almost a growl.
He had to laugh at such fierceness. She’s the Hound with teats, he thought. Or would be, if she had any teats to speak of. “Then protect me, wench. Or free me to protect myself.”
After that, the Hound’s name appears in Arya’s first chapter, in the customary death prayer that’ll be a continued ritual for her throughout ASOS:
Later they passed through a burned village, threading their way carefully between the shells of blackened hovels and past the bones of a dozen dead men hanging from a row of apple trees. When Hot Pie saw them he began to pray, a thin whispered plea for the Mother’s mercy, repeated over and over. Arya looked up at the fleshless dead in their wet rotting clothes and said her own prayer. Ser Gregor, it went, Dunsen, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling. The Tickler and the Hound. Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei. She ended it with valar morghulis, touched Jaqen’s coin where it nestled under her belt, and then reached up and plucked an apple from among the dead men as she rode beneath them. It was mushy and overripe, but she ate it worms and all.
This prayer she repeats at the end of that day as she goes to sleep on the ground; note the phrasing:
“Dunsen, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling. The Tickler and . . . the Tickler . . . the Hound . . .”
Interestingly, this time she mentions the Tickler twice before moving on to the Hound, and whilst the intention is evidently to convey the sleepiness of Arya as she recites her prayer, this repetition and the fact that it is cut short right after mentioning the Hound can work as a passage heralding events in her last chapter, in which she in effect will kill the Tickler—by stabbing him repeatedly, which mirrors this repetition of his name—and take Sandor out of her list. The last two names in her prayer at the opening of her ASOS arc are the same two names she’ll directly eliminate at the end of her ASOS arc in differing manners.
And in the waning paragraphs of her third chapter, in which she and her escape companions are found by the Brotherhood without Banners and Harwin recognises her, there’s the prayer once more, only that here it has no particularity of any significance aside the usual variance in order she engages in:
Nor did she speak of Jaqen H’ghar and the three deaths he’d owed and paid. The iron coin he’d given her Arya kept tucked away beneath her belt, but sometimes at night she would take it out and remember how his face had melted and changed when he ran his hand across it. “Valar morghulis,” she would say under her breath. “Ser Gregor, Dunsen, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling. The Tickler and the Hound. Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, Queen Cersei, King Joffrey.”
On the lions’ den, the littlest of them is the one whose reaction we witness on-page first. Recovering from wounds gotten in the fighting and isolated in his room during all that time, no news could come Tyrion’s way until he sets his squire on a quest to fetch Bronn, now sporting a ser before his name, who explains how he earned it and lets him know that his sister and the king no longer have the Hound with them:
“[…] Them of us as survived the fight at the winch towers got ourselves dabbed by the High Septon and dubbed by the Kingsguard. Took half the bloody day, with only three of the White Swords left to do the honours.”
“I knew Ser Mandon died in the battle.” Shoved into the river by Pod, half a heartbeat before the treacherous bastard could drive his sword through my heart. “Who else was lost?”
“The Hound,” said Bronn. “Not dead, only gone. The gold cloaks say he turned craven and you led a sortie in his place.”
Bronn’s account also clarifies where from the rumour that Sandor had run from battle due to cravenness originated: the Gold Cloaks. Next, the Imp goes to visit his father, and there Tywin reacts by making a dismissive remark on the younger of his Clegane vassals in the context of the incoming Dorne delegation sent by their prince, to whom the Imp had promised reparation for the murder of Elia and her children that his father is reluctant to agree with:
“Ser Gregor has his uses, as did his brother. Every lord has need of a beast from time to time . . . a lesson you seem to have learned, judging from Ser Bronn and those clansmen of yours.”
Going to meet his mistress surreptitiously with the complicity of the Spider in his second chapter, Tyrion comes into a dogfighting match and decides to use that to distract the guards from becoming suspicious of his comings and goings, making a joke on Sandor’s facial scarring:
Near the kennels a group of men-at-arms were fighting a pair of dogs. Tyrion stopped long enough to see the smaller dog tear half the face off the larger one, and earned a few coarse laughs by observing that the loser now resembled Sandor Clegane. Then, hoping he had disarmed their suspicions, he proceeded to the north wall and down the short flight of steps to the eunuch’s meagre abode. The door opened as he was lifting his hand to knock.
This is followed by his brother making another comparison of the Hound, a favourable one, once Jaime finally gets the much-desired chance to get his hands on a sword and fights with Brienne whilst still chained, and is surprised by her skill and physical resilience, which cause him to praise her strength inwardly and also assess the list of fighters in-story that he sees as stronger:
She is stronger than I am.
The realization chilled him. Robert had been stronger than him, to be sure. The White Bull Gerold Hightower as well, in his heyday, and Ser Arthur Dayne. Amongst the living, Greatjon Umber was stronger, Strongboar of Crakehall most likely, both Cleganes for a certainty. The Mountain’s strength was like nothing human. It did not matter. With speed and skill, Jaime could beat them all. But this was a woman. A huge cow of a woman, to be sure, but even so . . . by rights, she should be the one wearing down.
As the little bird’s reaction to Sandor’s desertion is going to be the subject of a chapter analysis following this one, and the little she-wolf’s prayer is also deserving to have a dedicated analysis by the end of ASOS as its patterns and theme are better examined with the whole picture in place, the focus here will be on the Lannister family and how each of its members take the loss of their hitherto most loyal liegeman.
‘Tis a pity that the Hound had gone: The Lannisters without Sandor
One trait as inseparable from the Hound as loyalty to his masters quite fittingly highlighted in the first chapter of ASOS—a Lannister POV at that—is his fierceness, the personal characteristic that the members of this House that have had him with them for the longest time seem to appreciate best in Sandor Clegane: there’s Joffrey’s amused “my dog has a fierce bark,” there’s Cersei’s lamenting the absence of her former shield’s unknightly scorn, and there’s Jaime’s observation that fierceness is a trait both Tarth and Clegane share. And not far behind, there’s Sansa’s wish for her saviour to have his ferocity echoing these sentiments . . .
Jaime doesn’t know of the desertion so his thoughts have yet to come ahead and a first-hand account of Cersei’s wishing for the Hound to be there has to wait until AFFC, but there’s one family member whose reaction is conspicuously unaccounted for: Joffrey’s. The king has known Sandor practically since his own birth and his is a face as familiar as his own mother’s, and added to this familiarity there’s his attitude of looking up to the Hound as a pseudo-father figure and a masculine role model, therefore his reaction to losing him would’ve been a shock that people round him would’ve registered and possibly suffered the consequences of the kingly temper as well. But curiously, none can be found in this series of initial reactions that range from Sansa missing him to Tywin dismissing him. Lack of a POV nearby could suitably explain this, as the POVs in court at this time are only two, Sansa and Tyrion; the latter had been lying unconscious and out of touch with the outside world for a significant time, during which Joffrey could’ve reacted to the news, and he came nowhere near his nephew in his first ventures out of the sickroom once recovered, so his acting as a vehicle for showing such a reaction can be attributed to lack of a chance. The other POV, however, had more opportunity and rather immediately after, during the Lannister victory parade that was the court session in ACOK Sansa VIII when men were alternately rewarded and punished depending on which side they’d been; and yet, we only get Sansa’s own thoughts that “the Hound had vanished” and nobody else mentions him in her vicinity, making her look as the sole living soul that seems to genuinely care, which is consolidated once we read the Lannisters’s take. Later, and despite no longer being betrothed to Joffrey and seeing him less as a result, she still interacts with him enough for some allusion to Sandor to have slipped out, but again the king never mentions the Hound to her or to those within earshot. As a result, we are in the dark about how exactly Joffrey took the news of losing “his” dog. Was he shocked, enraged, hurt, incredulous, dismissive? Did he throw a temper tantrum? We can only imagine and speculate; Joffrey may appear cold and unaffected by this on the outside, but one would suspect that’s precisely because of not having a witness to relay whatever he may have said or done.
Tyrion is, then, our window into how the House the Hound served for most of his life handled the repercussions, starting with his own. When told by Bronn how he’d been knighted and the tedium of the ceremony overextended for lack of enough Kingsguard to speed it up, his reaction to hearing Sandor’s gone is this:
“The Hound,” said Bronn. “Not dead, only gone. The gold cloaks say he turned craven and you led a sortie in his place.”
Not one of my better notions. Tyrion could feel the scar tissue pull tight when he frowned.
The Imp is, together with Sansa, only one of two people who know the true motivation for Sandor abandoning the battlefield, and yet his reaction isn’t one of understanding or empathy as hers was; instead, he makes it about himself and what the decision that drove the Hound away caused to himself in what’s quite an understatement. He doesn’t assess the ways in which this will impact his ongoing rivalry with his sister nor his future interactions with his nephew; he’s more concerned about his losses that leave him powerless for the time being.
This conversation with Bronn yields a couple of details of note pertaining Sandor. First, Ser Bronn’s account of his knighting…
“Them of us as survived the fight at the winch towers got ourselves dabbed by the High Septon and dubbed by the Kingsguard. Took half the bloody day, with only three of the White Swords left to do the honours.”
… is like a summarised version of the account of the same ceremony given by Sansa in her last ACOK chapter:
More than six hundred new knights were made that day. They had held their vigil in the Great Sept of Baelor all through the night and crossed the city barefoot that morning to prove their humble hearts. Now they came forward dressed in shifts of undyed wool to receive their knighthoods from the Kingsguard. It took a long time, since only three of the Brothers of the White Sword were on hand to dub them. Mandon Moore had perished in the battle, the Hound had vanished, Arys Oakheart was in Dorne with Princess Myrcella, and Jaime Lannister was Robb’s captive, so the Kingsguard had been reduced to Balon Swann, Meryn Trant, and Osmund Kettleblack. Once knighted, each man rose, buckled on his swordbelt, and stood beneath the windows. Some had bloody feet from their walk through the city, but they stood tall and proud all the same, it seemed to Sansa.
This may indicate that at this time Sansa had not as yet heard the rumour about Sandor’s supposed cowardliness in battle, although she evidently did know already that he was gone from the city as well as why; she’ll eventually hear that rumour later and mentally defend him against it. But by the time she finds out, the rumour appears already “adorned” by juicier fabricated details the account Bronn heard—presumably first-hand from the horse’s mouth—didn’t have and that are glaringly added on retelling: “. . . at the height of the battle, he got so drunk the Imp had to take his men.”
And speaking of said rumour, it’s interesting that the originators were the same Gold Cloaks of whom Bronn says did the following:
“I sent him to bring Ser Jacelyn and he came back and told me he’s dead.”
“Him, and thousands more.” Bronn sat.
“How?” Tyrion demanded, feeling that much sicker.
“During the battle. Your sister sent the Kettleblacks to fetch the king back to the Red Keep, the way I hear it. When the gold cloaks saw him leavin’ half of them decided they’d leave with him. Ironhand put himself in their path and tried to order them back to the walls. They say Bywater was blistering them good and almost had ’em ready to turn when someone put an arrow through his neck. He didn’t seem so fearsome then, so they dragged him off his horse and killed him.”
In other words: the men who spread the rumour that Sandor had run from the battle out of fear are, ironically, men of the unit that did precisely what they accuse Sandor of doing. According to Sansa, Queen Cersei ordered Osney and Osfryd Kettleblack to go for her son to be retrieved back first from the Mud Gate to the castle when she heard Tyrion had gone out on a sortie, and a second time to get him back from the castle walls inside Maegor’s after she heard the battle was lost upon Tyrion and Sandor both disappearing. It would be after Cersei giving the first order that the mutiny of the Gold Cloaks at the Mud Gate took place, because Kettleblack told her that “your men are deserting the walls and killing their own officers” before she gives the second order and shuts the holdfast off to the “mob howling outside, half of them gold cloaks.” Thus, in another example of literary irony from Martin, the Hound gets slandered by men who are themselves guilty of fear-driven desertion and murder of superiors.
His following conversation with Varys is surprisingly full of Kingsguard talk, in which the eunuch gives him information on Boros being Tywin’s from now on his restoration to the royal guards, and subtle clues on Mandon Moore coming originally from the Vale—which might’ve been his way of hinting at Littlefinger—that the Imp fails to properly analyse as he is firmly convinced Cersei is the culprit. None of them mentions Sandor, but there are references that apply obliquely to him. For instance, when Varys tells that Pycelle has been restored as Grand Maester by insistence of the Citadel on grounds of authority to make and unmake one of their own, and it’s mentioned that Maegor and Aegon II had gotten rid of some by axe and by dragon, Tyrion says this:
“Alas, I am quite dragonless. I suppose I could have dipped Pycelle in wildfire and set him ablaze. Would the Citadel have preferred that?”
Previously, I’ve made an argument that some of the harshest lines said by Sandor seem to be repetitions of stuff he has heard the Lannisters say and not stuff that he’d believe himself, because we find the Lannisters saying the same things he does in other chapters; and keeping in mind what he will say in a future chapter should be done to Tyrion upon hearing he had married Sansa (“She ought to dip him in wildfire and cook him. Or tickle him till the moon turns black.”), the quoted passage above seems to be one such line. With one difference: Sandor never says he should have done the dipping in wildfire but Cersei, whilst Tyrion definitely does say he could have himself. The difference in phrasing may or may not allude to the extents of violence they’d be willing to engage in.
The Kingsguard motif closes with the parallel of Tyrion making fun both of the new member who has been taken in as replacement and of the old member that has left. The dogfight he witnesses has interesting symbolism stemming from the smaller dog besting the bigger dog by going directly for its face and tearing half off (a common behaviour in real dogs during a fight, be it man-arranged or casual), a behaviour Sandor explicitly avoids when fighting the “bigger dog,” Gregor, because that’d be unfair advantage. That the big dog is on the losing side in this confrontation could also be hinting at the elder Clegane’s fate in Tyrion’s trial by combat, in which he is nearly defeated and although he wins, his victory is Pyrrhic and costs him dearly. It’s worth noting that in the two pieces of direct foreshadowing we have in the books for Gregor’s demise and fall as head of House Clegane, the head of a dog in some way marred or cut off is always used, and this would be the first instance, the other being the hound painted on his brother’s shield that got its head cut off by a sword blow during the combat with Beric.
Gregor’s head brings in the “vengeance, justice, beasts and blood” theme that Tywin dictates as the approach for House Lannister to deal with the Clegane brothers. Confronted by his son over his importance in winning the Blackwater showdown and asked for a recompense in the form of formal and public acknowledgement as his heir, Lord Lannister has a negative reaction that recognises to Tyrion’s credit only the enormous chain that imprisoned Stannis’ fleet at the bay and the alliance with House Martell, the head of which is expected to come for his seat in the council; but then, he reproaches the Imp for an additional promise he had made:
“You promised him vengeance as well.”
“I promised him justice.”
“Call it what you will. It still comes down to blood.”
“Not an item in short supply, surely? I splashed through lakes of it during the battle.” Tyrion saw no reason not to cut to the heart of the matter. “Or have you grown so fond of Gregor Clegane that you cannot bear to part with him?”
“Ser Gregor has his uses, as did his brother. Every lord has need of a beast from time to time . . . a lesson you seem to have learned, judging from Ser Bronn and those clansmen of yours.”
Tyrion thought of Timett’s burned eye, Shagga with his axe, Chella in her necklace of dried ears. And Bronn. Bronn most of all. “The woods are full of beasts,” he reminded his father. “The alleyways as well.”
“True. Perhaps other dogs would hunt as well. I shall think on it. If there is nothing else . . . ”
Tyrion points out to his father that Gregor should be expendable to the greater benefit of House Lannister and that it’s not worth endangering the alliance with the Martells as there are always other “beasts” out there to step in for this one; but fortunately for Gregor and unfortunately for the rest of the realm, Lord Tywin is rather more willing to continue rewarding and protecting Gregor for atrocities because he’s the “beast” he claims every lord has need of, and this one is so formidably capable of committing all the foul deeds his liege needs him to do in his war with the Stark-Tully coalition in the Riverlands. Tywin brings Sandor into the conversation unasked, stating that he, too, had his uses in the past and earlier in AGOT had disapproved of his choosing for the Kingsguard as he was unfit to be seated at the lordly table. What uses were those? We have no evidence that Tywin “A task for every tool, a tool for every task” Lannister has ever used Sandor in the same capacity and extent as he has Gregor, as a ravaging beast, and given his management philosophy, he seems to be aware of which men he can use for which work, dirty or otherwise; a modus operandi that his daughter didn’t learn and his son obviously did.
So he must be referring to the uses Sandor had with regard to guarding his daughter and grandson. Tywin knew the child he took in his service had potential as a formidable warrior, which he eventually became in a few years, and one would’ve been hard-pressed to find a better protector for Cersei, an asset he needed more than protection for, considering his penchant for policing and keeping a tight grip on his family. That’d have been the prime “use” he saw the teenaged Hound was ideal for and what he appreciated best in him, not so much his loyalty beyond a point and only in relation to how it’d benefit his purposes for his daughter. Because Sandor was incorruptible by any Lannister foe seeking to damage any of them, incorruptible by the court schemers, and more importantly not an easy prey for the manipulations of either his daughter—or his other children for that matter—who tends to go overboard if unbridled. Tywin doesn’t acknowledge this loss really, and his failure to properly appraise and deplore what he’s lost with Sandor’s departure is brought into even sharper relief during this conversation by the trust he is placing in the infamously double-dealing Littlefinger, who’s just brought to court the means to end the lions’ hold on power.
Tyrion, on the other hand, seems to be somewhat more aware of what House Lannister has lost in Sandor, if only by means of listing all of the assets that he lost himself through switched loyalties: Bronn was taken away by Tywin, Pycelle and Boros are back as Tywin’s loyal men instead of Cersei’s, the Gold Cloaks are also Tywin’s via Marbrand, the Clansmen were kicked out of the city, again by Tywin, Littlefinger has been rewarded by Tywin . . . and so on, and so forth. And Sandor had been the sole Lannister asset whose loyalties could never be bought nor stolen, and everyone knew that. Now, the cubs are completely and utterly neutralised by the lion, and on the loyalty of none of those round them can any Lannister ever count with wholly. What’s worse, in Tyrion’s thoughts whilst he speaks to Tywin of beasts and dogs, we see his resentment at his father over the Handship and that he plans vengeance on Cersei for supposedly sending Ser Mandon on a murder attempt, which reveal how the House is about to be consumed by internecine struggles that will culminate in Ser Gregor fighting for Cersei and against Tyrion, in a metaphorical reversal of the Clegane founding story in which the hound fights for the lioness to kill the lord, as Ragnorak brilliantly posited.
But instead of measuring this properly and remedying it, Tywin embraces Gregor and dismisses the loss of Sandor, apparently confident that he may find any other tool just as useful, if his “perhaps other dogs may hunt as well” line is any clue. Sandor’s task, however, is not easily undertaken by any other “dog” out there, and Tywin’s choosing of the elder Clegane brother will have a role in the downfall of his House if we frame this under the “beasts” value choice favoured by the Lord of Casterly Rock: Sandor was their shield (for the House, for Cersei) and Gregor their sword, but in this specific case Tywin chooses Gregor as a shield against the Dornish intentions to seek justice for past crimes committed; and because of Gregor being a “beast” Oberyn will be able to get the confession that’ll bring about the ruin of the Lannisters eventually. Sandor had been one to help rein in to the best of his abilities some of the excesses of the House, especially where Joffrey was involved, and from that angle, he functioned as the guardian dog that protects the master even from going completely over the cliff, and it’s revealing that in the very moment Tywin reacts so dismissively to his absence, he is writing letters that readers believe have to do with the Red Wedding, arguably the lions’ point of no return in terms of enormities.
In sum, no, the Lannisters don’t really know how to deal with the loss of this liegeman. In the beginning, it was stated that his ferocity was the one virtue they did appreciate in him; it suited them very well. But Sandor’s most valuable and defining virtue was his loyalty, and that’s something House Lannister took for granted, neglected, and consequently lost.
In A Girl’s Thoughts
Sansa I (Ch. 6)
Sansa II (Ch. 16)
Sansa III (Ch. 28)
SUMMARY & ANALYSIS
Sandor is gone from the city, yet his presence remains in Sansa’s remembrances, thoughts, and fantasies. Her opening chapter of ASOS highlights the empathetic understanding she has of why he deserted the Blackwater battle, but perhaps even more important is the revelation of the attachment she has formed to him in their time together within the Red Keep. As she is mulling over the invite by Joffrey’s new betrothed, Margaery Tyrell, she thinks:
I wish the Hound were here. The night of the battle, Sandor Clegane had come to her chambers to take her from the city, but Sansa had refused. Sometimes she lay awake at night, wondering if she’d been wise. She had his stained white cloak hidden in a cedar chest beneath her summer silks. She could not say why she’d kept it. The Hound had turned craven, she heard it said; at the height of the battle, he got so drunk the Imp had to take his men. But Sansa understood. She knew the secret of his burned face. It was only the fire he feared. That night, the wildfire had set the river itself ablaze, and filled the very air with green flame. Even in the castle, Sansa had been afraid. Outside . . . she could scarcely imagine it.
This desire for the Hound to still be nearby is significantly different from the other time during Sansa’s ordeal in Maegor’s Holdfast, when Cersei used Ilyn Payne as a deadly threat and she wished instead for Sandor to be there on guard. Here and now, there is no distinct threat to Sansa’s safety, only the possibility of enduring an unpleasant meal with her Tyrell replacement. Her wish, therefore, looks to be purely a sentimental expression.
In the above quote, we also learn another important detail concerning their relationship: Sansa has kept Sandor’s bloody cloak, the one he discarded when he left her chambers. It adds another layer of poignancy to their connection, and even though Sansa thinks that she could not say why she kept it, the message is suggestive to readers that her feelings for Sandor run deeper than either of them can currently discover or appreciate. As I previously outlined in my ACOK wrap up, the fact that Sansa has kept Sandor’s cloak also has important symbolic meaning for his redemption and future potential. In the aftermath of the battle, when Sandor is being called a coward or a beast by various individuals, there is still someone who has faith in him, someone who knows intimately his capacity for goodness and change.
The next time Sandor is mentioned in Sansa’s thoughts in this chapter is when Loras Tyrell comes to escort her to meet with Margaery and the Queen of Thorns. Thoroughly indulging in her crush on Loras, Sansa observes:
When the appointed night arrived, another of the Kingsguard came for her, a man as different from Sandor Clegane as . . . well, as a flower from a dog.
It is a curious comparison because of Sansa’s well documented attraction to Loras, one that was made clear during the Hand’s Tourney in AGOT. By assessing the stark contrast between Sandor and Loras, she is in effect including the former in a romantic evaluation. Walking and conversing with Loras, Sansa soon realises that the handsome knight has no memory of giving her the red rose during the tourney and that it was just a meaningless gesture:
“At the Hand’s tourney, don’t you remember? You rode a white courser, and your armor was a hundred different kinds of flowers. You gave me a rose. A red rose. You threw white roses to the other girls that day.” It made her flush to speak of it. “You said no victory was half as beautiful as me.”
Ser Loras gave her a modest smile. “I spoke only a simple truth, that any man with eyes could see.”
He doesn’t remember, Sansa realized, startled. He is only being kind to me, he doesn’t remember me or the rose or any of it. She had been so certain that it meant something, that it meant everything. A red rose, not a white. “It was after you unhorsed Ser Robar Royce,” she said, desperately.
If Sandor had previously come out on the losing end of a comparison to Loras based on looks, we see how little this really means as Loras’ indifference is highlighted, and it’s with the “dog” that she had a substantive relationship while the “flower” was based on an illusion.
Another observation that Sansa makes during the conversation with Loras that could be significant to Sandor’s story occurs when she passes the men training in the yard and thinks:
They have scarcely finished burying the dead from the last battle, and already they are practicing for the next one.
Add this to symbolic dogfighting that Tyrion will observe on his way through the castle, and we can appreciation just how inhospitable the Red Keep was to those who needed genuine repose from a life of violence. The Hound will eventually die in order to allow Sandor Clegane to be “at rest” while serving as a gravedigger at the QI.
Sansa II details the new-found friendship between herself and the Tyrell group, particularly a close bond with Margaery. The acceptance of the match to Willas shows her putting aside considerations about appearance and valour in order to gain a husband she could be happy with and who would love her in return.
She pictured the two of them sitting together in a garden with puppies in their laps, or listening to a singer strum upon a lute while they floated down the Mander on a pleasure barge. If I give him sons, he may come to love me. She would name them Eddard and Brandon and Rickon, and raise them all to be as valiant as Ser Loras. And to hate Lannisters, too. In Sansa’s dreams, her children looked just like the brothers she had lost. Sometimes there was even a girl who looked like Arya.
When she confesses the planned marriage to Dontos and tells him that she will no longer need his assistance in escaping the city, we see the fool-knight warning her in a similar manner to what the Hound might have done, cautioning her to be wary of the ambitious family:
“I tell you, these Tyrells are only Lannisters with flowers…”
The vital difference, however, is that Sandor’s previous advice to Sansa was absent of any self-interest and deception, while Dontos is secretly working for Littlefinger and is likely the one who informed him of Sansa’s plans, allowing the Lannisters to thwart the arrangement. With Sansa’s true champion gone, she is completely surrounded by enemies and false friends.
The major reference to the Hound in this chapter continues the romantic connotations that Martin established in Sansa I. As the Tyrell cousins dream of handsome knights to wear their favours and play kissing games, Sansa reminisces on her own experience with kissing:
Sansa wondered what Megga would think about kissing the Hound, as she had. He’d come to her the night of the battle stinking of wine and blood. He kissed me and threatened to kill me, and made me sing him a song.
This is a radical introduction of a new detail to that night, and readers are aware that no such kiss took place between them. So, from whence did “the UnKiss” emerge? Sansa certainly presents and appreciates it as a true memory, but how should we as readers categorise it? In considering what we learn in Sansa I pertaining to her missing the Hound, her realisation of futility of her attraction to Loras, and her own direct comparison of the two men, the UnKiss holds the attributes of a traditional fantasy. It is, in other words, Sansa’s unconscious desire becoming conscious, appropriately revealed to readers in a setting where other girls of her age are also sharing and indulging in their own fantasies.
The marriage to Tyrion Lannister takes places in Sansa III, and again, the Hound features in a comparison to another man, with the significant caveat being that Sansa has absolutely no interest in Tyrion and is mortified by the forced union. Here now, Sandor’s name is being noted within the space of a marriage service—at the point where Sansa has to kiss Tyrion as part of the rites, and is in close proximity to his face. The seriousness of the situation and what it means for Sansa’s future causes her to make a frank assessment:
He is so ugly, Sansa thought when his face was close to hers. He is even uglier than the Hound.
As we saw playing out with Loras, however, the difference between the Tyrion and Sandor runs much deeper than mere looks, especially where the Stark girl’s feelings are concerned. Rather than break with his powerful family and refuse to be complicit in forcing Sansa into a marriage he knows she will abhor, Tyrion is lured by the prospect of being Lord of Winterfell and agrees to his father’s plan. Instead of offering Sansa a chance to escape KL as Sandor does, Tyrion works to cement her entrapment there, and to increase her misery as a result.
The scene in the bedroom that ends the chapter also holds relevance for a comparison between Sandor and the Imp. As Sansa witnesses Tyrion’s fear, her reaction is markedly different from the compassionate regard she found whenever confronted with Sandor’s distress:
He is as frightened as I am, Sansa realized. Perhaps that should have made her feel more kindly toward him, but it did not. All she felt was pity, and pity was death to desire. He was looking at her, waiting for her to say something, but all her words had withered. She could only stand there trembling.
The desire that Sansa lacks for her husband on this night (and all other nights) will later manifest in her dream at the Fingers, directed towards the Hound instead. These issues that come out of Sansa’s experience in the marriage to Tyrion – her claim placing her at risk for exploitation and her refusal to negate her own desires – cannot fail but to have bearing on her future storyline and those closely associated with it.
Martin’s repeated emphasis on Sandor in these three chapters leading up to Sansa’s wedding begs the question of what he would have done had he still been in Lannister service at this point or how all of this might have played out differently. But whatever speculation we can indulge in doesn’t really matter because it’s the shock of receiving the news later on in ASOS that has particular relevance for a focus on Sandor’s characterisation as this reread aims to do. What these emphases do reveal is the development of significant romantic feelings on Sansa’s part for Sandor, which do not resemble the kind of giddy infatuation she displayed for Loras or the hopeful daydreams for Willas. Although her feelings are coming to the fore in his absence, they are based on deep, meaningful, and honest interactions between them. This is what matters for true romantic fulfilment, and Martin is allowing readers to see that this possibility exists for Sandor and to entertain the question of the impact it could have when they reconnect.
Sandor III: Capture and Trial
Arya V: Capture
Arya and the BwB arrive in Stoney Sept and Harwin gives her an account of the Battle of the Bells; she learns that Robert credits her father with winning the battle.
The BwB hear that the Huntsman is looking for the Kingslayer. Lem warns he’d better not kill him, in spite of his well known hatred of “lions” for killing his dogs. In the town square they find men hung up in crow cages, wolves– as Arya thinks “Robb’s men, and my father’s”– also captives of the Mad Huntsman. There are seven northmen, three living and four dead; Karstark men brought in for justice by the Huntsman after killing eight people and raping a woman. The dead ones have had their eyes eaten out by the erstwhile inhabitants of the cages, while the living ones are dying a slow painful death from exposure and thirst. When one asks for mercy, Arya brings the living ones water, and Anguy finishes them off with arrows. Arya thinks “Valar Morghulis.”
Remembering Syrio Forel’s lesson– the trick of looking and seeing what’s there– Arya observes the Peach to be a brothel. In an exchange between Gendry and the young whore Bella, who claims her father was a king, she notes that Bella does have Robert’s hair, but so does Gendry, showing her talent for seeing though she isn’t in a position (as the reader is) to make the final connection. She overhears Tom and Harwin in conversation with Tansy about the events at Riverrun, and her mother’s part in Jaime Lannister’s escape.
After quarreling with Gendry, she retires to bed and her prayers:
“Queen Cersei,” she whispered into the pillow. “King Joffrey, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn. Dunsen, Raff, and Polliver. The Tickler, the Hound, and Ser Gregor the Mountain.” She liked to mix up the order of the names sometimes. It helped her remember who they were and what they’d done. Maybe some of them are dead, she thought. Maybe they’re in iron cages someplace, and the crows are picking out their eyes.
She has a wolf dream, in which Nymeria’s pack kills a horse. Feeling good and powerful, she howls… “But when the day came, she woke to the barking of dogs.”
From her window she observes a pack of barking dogs, and a dozen riders “watching the townsmen open the fat man’s cage and tug his arm until his swollen corpse spilled out onto the ground. The dogs were at him at once, tearing chunks of flesh off his bones.” Arya sees a prisoner being readied for the cages, and hears the threats:
“Here’s your new castle, you bloody Lannister bastard,”… “You’ll rot in them cages,” … “The crows will be picking out your eyes while we’re spending all that good Lannister gold o’ yours! And when them crows are done, we’ll send what’s left o’ you to your bloody brother. Though I doubt he’ll know you.”
Tom, Lem and Gendry want to know what’s going on, and if the Huntsman has caught the Kingslayer. The captive’s name is never mentioned, but when he turns his head after being hit with a stone Arya thinks: “Not the Kingslayer… The gods had heard her prayers after all.”
Arya VI: Trial
Arya is brought hooded into the BwB’s hollow hill. Lem calls it “An old place, deep and secret. A refuge where neither wolves nor lions come prowling.” Weirwood roots surround them, a man (who turns out to be Lord Beric) sat in “a hollow in the earth… almost lost in the tangle of weirwood.” Arya sees Thoros of Myr, who is about to speak to her but the Huntsman appears with his captive.
We learn that Tom, Lem and Greenbeard saved the captive from the cages, demanding that the Huntsman take him to Lord Beric for judgment.
The captive is bound and hooded, but Arya can feel the danger in the man. We know it’s someone from her list, and her obvious fear of him is a hint at whom. Any doubt we have is laid to rest when Thoros asks how he was taken:
“The dogs caught the scent. He was sleeping off a drunk under a willow tree, if you believe it.”
“Betrayed by his own kind.”
Underground as they are, the only light comes from a large fire and we’re immediately made aware of this motif in relation to the Hound: “The shifting flames painted Sandor Clegane’s burned face with orange shadows, so he looked even more terrible than he did in daylight.”
He recognises Thoros, who recalls that Sandor used to curse his flaming sword. Sandor comments on how Thoros has changed, and is told: “I am less than I was, but more. A year in the wild will melt the flesh off a man… I am not the false priest you knew. The Lord of Light has woken in my heart. Many powers long asleep are waking, and there are forces moving in the land. I have seen them in my flames.” The Hound is not impressed: “Bugger your flames. And you as well…You keep queer company for a holy man.” Lem Lemoncloak (described as “tall enough to look the Hound in the eye”) cautions him: “Be careful how you bark, dog. We hold your life in our hands.” In reply, the Hound tells him: “Best wipe the shit off your fingers, then.”
Beric comes down from his weirwood throne and relates their tale and mission, leading to classic Sandor dialogue:
“…we fight on as best we can, for Robert and the realm.”
“Robert?” rasped Sandor Clegane, incredulous.
“Ned Stark sent us out,” said pothelmed Jack-Be-Lucky, “but he was sitting the Iron Throne when he gave us our commands, so we were never truly his men, but Robert’s.”
“Robert is the king of the worms now. Is that why you’re down in the earth, to keep his court for him?”
Sandor’s invective prompts Lem to draw his sword and gets this response:
The Hound stared at the blade with contempt. “Here’s a brave man, baring steel on a bound captive. Untie me, why don’t you? We’ll see how brave you are then.” He glanced at the Mad Huntsman behind him. “How about you? Or did you leave all your courage in your kennels?”
“No, but I should have left you in a crow cage.” The Huntsman drew a knife. “I might still.” The Hound laughed in his face.
Tom o’ Sevens tells him they are “The brotherhood without banners… The knights of the hollow hill” and gets a reply that is emblematic of Sandor’s feelings about knights:
“Knights?” Clegane made the word a sneer. “Dondarrion’s a knight, but the rest of you are the sorriest lot of outlaws and broken men I’ve ever seen. I shit better men than you.”
“Any knight can make a knight,” said the scarecrow that was Beric Dondarrion, “and every man you see before you has felt a sword upon his shoulder. We are the forgotten fellowship.”
“Send me on my way and I’ll forget you too,” Clegane rasped. “But if you mean to murder me, then bloody well get on with it. You took my sword, my horse, and my gold, so take my life and be done with it… but spare me this pious bleating.”
“You will die soon enough, dog,” promised Thoros, “but it shan’t be murder, only justice.”
The promise of trial and justice is followed up by an accounting of some of the crimes of Lannister forces in the Riverlands. At first Sandor protests “Lay your dead children at some other door.” Which leads to this exchange between Thoros and Sandor:
“Do you deny that House Clegane was built upon dead children? I saw them lay Prince Aegon and Princess Rhaenys before the Iron Throne. By rights your arms should bear two bloody infants in place of those ugly dogs.”
The Hound’s mouth twitched. “Do you take me for my brother? Is being born Clegane a crime?”
“Murder is a crime.”
“Who did I murder?”
Then follows a laundry list of dead soldiers and smallfolk, all killed by Lannister soldiers. Sandor protests:
“Enough.” The Hound’s face was tight with anger. “You’re making noise. These names mean nothing. Who were they?”
“People,” said Lord Beric. “People great and small, young and old. Good people and bad people, who died on the points of Lannister spears or saw their bellies opened by Lannister swords.”
“It wasn’t my sword in their bellies. Any man who says it was is a bloody liar.”
“You serve the Lannisters of Casterly Rock,” said Thoros.
“Once. Me and thousands more. Is each of us guilty of the crimes of the others?” Clegane spat. “Might be you are knights after all. You lie like knights, maybe you murder like knights.”
Beric asks him to explain:
“A knight’s a sword with a horse. The rest, the vows and the sacred oils and the lady’s favors,they’re silk ribbons tied round the sword. Maybe the sword’s prettier with ribbons hanging off it, but it will kill you just as dead. Well, bugger your ribbons, and shove your swords up your arses. I’m the same as you. The only difference is, I don’t lie about what I am. So, kill me, but don’t call me a murderer while you stand there telling each other that your shit don’t stink. You hear me?”
But then Arya accuses him of killing Mycah. Sandor’s reply is his defense of the act:
“I was Joffrey’s sworn shield. The butcher’s boy attacked a prince of the blood.”
Sandor is sentenced to a trial, in which the Lord of Light will be the judge. He will face Lord Beric, who according to tales cannot be killed, which after a moment’s despair (“…he’ll go free. The Hound was deadly with a sword, everyone knew that”) gives Arya hope. Upon seeing Beric’s scars from the mortal wounds that have failed to kill him, Arya hopes the Hound is scared, she wants him to feel fear before he dies.
After the men prepare for battle, and we get our first glimpse of Beric’s squire Ned Dayne, Thoros leads the group in prayer to R’hllor-
“Light your flame among us, R’hllor,” said the red priest. “Show us the truth or falseness of this man. Strike him down if he is guilty, and give strength to his sword if he is true. Lord of Light, give us wisdom.”
To the response of the group “For the night is dark and full of terrors” the Hound has a comeback- ““This cave is dark too,” said the Hound, “but I’m the terror here.”
And then Beric’s sword sword took fire:
“Burn in seven hells,” the Hound cursed. “You, and Thoros too.” He threw a glance at the red priest. “When I’m done with him you’ll be next, Myr.”
The fight commences, ringed by fire. Beric’s flaming sword clearly enrages and terrifies Sandor, he is nearly forced into the fire, and then his shield is set afire after taking a hit from the sword, his sleeve catches and then his “whole left arm was ablaze” But as Beric goes for a killing blow on the now burning Hound, Sandor delivers one last desperate blow, the burning sword breaks and Sandor “kills” Beric.
As Beric falls and the burned Hound lies whimpering on the ground:
“Arya could only think of Mycah and all the stupid prayers she’d prayed for the Hound to die. If there were gods, why didn’t Lord Beric win? She knew the Hound was guilty.”
Arya is astonished to see Sandor crying and in pain, glimpsing a brief moment of human suffering that she hasn’t previously credited him with. She’s confused by the outcome and when Harwin tells her: “R’hllor has judged him innocent” Arya snatches a knife and tries to reach the Hound with it.
Seeing his burns shocks her, and his words to her seem almost like goading: “You want me dead that bad? Then do it, wolf girl. Shove it in. It’s cleaner than fire.”
Rather than attack him, she accuses him again, demanding he confess his guilt. He confesses:
“I did.” His whole face twisted. “I rode him down and cut him in half, and laughed. I watched them beat your sister bloody too, watched them cut your father’s head off.”
Arya’s rage knows no bounds: “You just go to hell!” she screams at him. But a figure appears from the shadows and tells her: “He has.”
Sandor III: Capture and Trial
The North is hard and cold and has no mercy…
So said Ned Stark “a thousand years ago” to his young wife when she first arrived at her new home in Winterfell. To be sure, he was referring to the mercy of her southron gods, since the Old Gods certainly offer their own grim version of the thing.
Early in Arya V, Arya finds Karstark men in crow cages at Stony Sept. She brings them water when one asks for mercy, after which Anguy kills them with a few well placed arrows. This is probably the first appearance of the theme of mercy in Arya’s arc, a situation in which one can see a glimmer of Stark justice. As has been discussed elsewhere, mercy for Arya tends to be the mercy of the Old Gods, rather than the Mother’s mercy that her older sister tends toward. Arya experienced a moment of cognitive dissonance in Stoney Sept when she realised these were her brother’s men, and her father’s, but quickly delivered to them the fate they would have received from either of those lords– a guilty verdict and a swift death.
Perhaps most significantly this scene, connecting a drink of water and the gift of mercy as it does, looks ahead to two key moments in Arya’s future arc with Sandor. In Arya XII whilst in the Riverlands with Sandor after the Red Wedding, they will encounter a bowman bearing the sigil of House Piper upon his surcoat. This wretched man, dying slowly, will beg for a drink of wine. After giving him a draught of water from the Hound’s head helm, Sandor will teach Arya how to give the gift of mercy (“That’s where the heart is, girl. That’s how you kill a man.”) This will be significant even later in their story, when Sandor himself is mortally wounded. These are scenes that will be explored here in a future installment, but for these purposes we can mention the significant connection between a drink and the gift of mercy.
There is a tradition in many cultures of allowing the condemned a final drink or a meal. The last meal or “wine of the condemned” may have biblical roots, but is certainly based upon the symbolic nature of the exchange of food. In accepting the food or drink, a bond of trust is formed between the condemned and the executioner, which superstitious peoples thought might prevent the spirits of the condemned from returning to haunt their executioners. Here we may see the last drink as symbolic of a guilty verdict. Arya’s mercy, with its connection to the north and the Old Gods, is notably about judgment rather than forgiveness. Thus, the drink and the mercy follow an age old formula of stern judgment followed by the gift of a swift death. That Sandor himself teaches Arya to deliver the gift not only emphasizes his increasing “northern-ness” but serves as a hinge in Arya’s arc, both looking back towards her roots and forwards towards her future in Braavos.
When Arya says her “prayers” that evening in Stoney Sept, she is haunted by the scene in the square. She says her names, mixing up the order to help her remember the names and their crimes, thinking “Maybe some of them are dead… Maybe they’re in iron cages someplace, and the crows are picking out their eyes.” We can view this as an explicit plea to her gods to deliver the fate of the Karstark soldiers upon some of those on her list, her “hard and cold” judgment on those ten souls, as it were.
The next morning the Huntsman returns with a captive, who sits bound and sullen. One of the dead Karstarks, a “wolf” in the totemic imagery that dominates this chapter, is hauled from a cage to make way for the new captive. “The dogs were at him at once, tearing chunks of flesh off his bones” may presage the question of what dogs do to wolves which will absorb Arya shortly in her arc. As the men threaten their captive, the reader can guess that the captive is Sandor Clegane, enemy number one on Arya’s list:
“You’ll rot in them cages… The crows will be picking out your eyes while we’re spending all that good Lannister gold o’ yours! And when them crows are done, we’ll send what’s left o’ you to your bloody brother. Though I doubt he’ll know you”
While the threats mirror her prayers of the night before, her own thoughts reveal that she thinks those prayers have been answered “The gods had heard her prayers after all.” The cold, hard justice of the north seems about to be delivered to Sandor Clegane. But as usual things in Martin’s world are hardly so simple.
May the Gods Judge Him Justly
Arya VI picks up the action in the Brotherhood without Banners’ underground lair. Immediately the motif of fire is very strong, from the “ruddy glare” to “swirling and crackling” flames in a fire pit. When Sandor makes his appearance with the Mad Huntsman we’re told “They had bound his wrists with hempen rope, strung a noose around his neck, and pulled a sack down over his head, but even so there was danger in the man. Arya could feel it across the cave.” His sheer physicality works in opposition with the menace of the flames. The descriptors used, both for the fire (“swirling”) and Sandor, from the firelight on his face to the prominence of the whites of his eyes, are all highly reminiscent of of those used during the Battle of the Blackwater. Sandor’s contempt and rage at its presence, which give way to fear, are also evocative of that night.
While we are quickly made aware of the BwB’s allegiance to R’hllor, as supported by the overarching motif of fire, the presence of “huge white roots twisting through [the walls] like a thousand slow pale snakes” puts us on notice that the old gods are present. These roots, and Lord Beric’s place in “a hollow in the earth […] almost lost in the tangle of weirwood”, bring Arya’s gods, the ones to whom she has prayed for Sandor’s death, to the party. This will be important as a trial by combat specifically calls upon the gods to bear witness to the guilt or innocence of the accused.
When Arya accuses Sandor of the death of Mycah, Lord Beric tells him “no one here knows the truth or falsehood of the charge, so it is not for us to judge you. Only the Lord of Light may do that now.”
Arya’s certainty from the previous chapter that the gods have heard her prayers is turned on its head when the gods are called to judgment. Sandor is armed for the battle, but Thoros cautions him ““Does a dog have honor? Lest you think to cut your way free of here, or seize some child for a hostage… Anguy, Dennet, Kyle, feather him at the first sign of treachery.” But there is to be no treachery from Sandor, his resentment and pride almost seem to forbid such a thing. He scorns their fire god, and their prayers, warning Lord Beric that his end is nigh. Beric’s fiery sword provokes his curses, and for next few moments we might almost be back in the inferno of the Blackwater. Fire is everywhere: on the blade, at Sandor’s back, flaring in his face, on his shield, his arm, his sleeve…
It’s really a breathtaking duel, possibly one of the best such described in the books. Sandor’s fury at the injustice of the use of fire, his correspondingly ferocious attacks, is contrasted with the “unkillable” Beric’s more measured approach, which might have won the day had not Sandor’s considerable strength combined with the destructive power of the fire to break Beric’s sword in two. The resulting blow was clearly mortal, and even as the freshly burned Clegane writhed in the dirt, both Thoros and Arya declared him the victor.
But Arya had been certain the Hound was guilty. However, in addition to meta-analytical discussions of his personal or legal culpability, from a literary point of view it seems clear by the end of this chapter that the gods have deemed him innocent. Arya thinks these gods are stupid, but it must be noted that one by one, all of the guilty parties on her list are meeting retribution, with or without her aid. Sandor is the only one who has faced the (literal) fire of judgment and come out on the other side.
Might Be You Are a Knight…
Upon being presented to Thoros, Sandor is noted to have been “Betrayed by his own kind.” However, given his sentiments on dogs expressed to Sansa in ACoK: “a hound will die for you, but never lie to you” and his evident disregard for his own life expressed in this chapter: “best wipe the shit off your fingers” it really might not seem such a betrayal to Sandor. His trademark blunt honesty marks his speech with Thoros and the others, culminating in his reply to their litany of accusations: “Is each of us guilty of the crimes of the others? Might be you are knights after all. You lie like knights, maybe you murder like knights.”
When Beric gives him a chance to explain himself he delivers his commentary on knighthood, perhaps one of the most honest assessments of the institution in the series. It echoes both Jaime’s “true knights see worse every time they ride to war wench. And do worse” and Barristan’s “without honor, a knight is no more than a common killer.” Sandor in fact is saying something very similar to what Barristan says– his ribbons round the sword represent honor and chivalric values. The sword will still “kill you just as dead.” The critical difference being of course that the former believes no honourable knights exist, an outlook shaped by the knighthood of his dastardly brother.
It’s no surprise at this point that Sandor despises the institution of knighthood for its perceived hypocrisy. What might perhaps be surprising is how much accord there is among the PoVs of a man who despises knights, a so-called soiled knight known for his flippancy, and the series’ most renowned and chivalric knight. Martin tells us a story about knights through the varied viewpoints of characters who are members of the institution and those who are outsiders. The moral of the story, taking into account characters like Ser Duncan the Tall and Brienne of Tarth, is that a “ser” does not a knight make. Honor and chivalry and adherence to a moral code do. Certainly Sandor Clegane has proved his honesty (“I don’t lie about what I am”) and an adherence to a certain kind of chivalry, as we saw in the Hand’s Tourney with his refusal to strike a blow at his monstrous brother’s unprotected head while defending the temporarily incapacitated Loras Tyrell and his contempt for Lem’s blade in this chapter (“Here’s a brave man, baring steel on a bound captive.”)
But Arya holds him responsible for killing her friend Mycah. While she didn’t witness the act, or the return of the body, she heard the tale from others– Jeyne Poole told her the Hound “cut him up in so many pieces that they’d given him back to the butcher in a bag”, while Jory told her something closer to the truth: “[he] cut him near in half.” Her own father names it murder: “That murder lies at the Hound’s door, him and the cruel woman he serves.” Arya’s accusation places the idea of a moral code in relation to the defense of children center stage in this chapter.
Sandor’s defense of the act rests upon his statement “I was Joffrey’s sworn shield. The butcher’s boy attacked a prince of the blood.” When questioned about Mycah’s crime by Lord Beric, Sandor replies “I heard it from the royal lips. It’s not my place to question princes.” And while Sandor is a brutal killer, we’ve established that he is honest and possessed of a certain honor. Perhaps we can assume that his version is close to the truth as he perceives it. He goes on to cite Sansa as an exculpatory witness (“This one’s own sister told the same tale when she stood before your precious Robert”) even though he couldn’t have witnessed this scene. What seems likely is that Cersei used Sansa’s alleged testimony to convince the hunters of Mycah’s guilt, after the fact. This could indicate that Sandor expressed some doubt at the time, or simply that Cersei felt the need to justify the killing. Nonetheless, Sandor’s words were enough to ensure him a trial by battle.
He Deserved to Burn in a Fiery Hell?
In the scene that follows the trial we see foreshadowing of the moment when Sandor will face the judgment of the vengeful child herself and find implicit acquittal. The sight of Sandor whimpering over his new burns leads to a flash of pity from Arya (“He’s crying like a little baby”) That lasts only a moment. She seizes a knife and races towards him, hesitating when she gets near. He goads her, seeming to value his life so little that he’d welcome her blade (“It’s cleaner than fire.”) But his arm shocks her, and she retreats to her anger thinking “…he was the Hound. He deserved to burn in a fiery hell.” Her hesitation here is the first of many times she will hesitate when confronted with the opportunity to harm or kill Sandor, culminating with their final moment together on the road to Saltpans. She resorts to a verbal accusation. This “J’accuse” moment draws attention to what she views as a miscarriage of justice.
It’s probably no accident that Arya seeks a confession– proof of guilt will be important to her later in her arc. Sandor’s admission rings of further goading, and correlates with only one significant difference to his speech to her in their final moments together. Here, he admits not only to killing Mycah but to two other events that relate to Arya, and could be things Sandor feels personal guilt about:
“I did.” His whole face twisted. “I rode him down and cut him in half, and laughed. I watched them beat your sister bloody too, watched them cut your father’s head off.”
Although he did not personally perpetrate the latter two acts, he confesses to the three things that violate his sense of honor that in his capacity as a pseudo knight for House Lannister he has been called upon to participate in: killing a child, and witnessing the beating of a child-woman and the killing an unarmed man who has been offered clemency. His failures to prevent these acts seem to weigh upon him, and cement his bitter disillusionment with knighthood and the lions he once served.
Arya’s rage filled response, and Lord Beric’s reply echo Sandor’s own words to Sansa in AGoT:
Only a man who’s been burned knows what hell is truly like.
AGoT, Sansa II
Forced to confront his fears by the Brotherhood, his rage, pain and guilt are on display. While the BwB might bandage his hurts, his inner wounds are profound and seem beyond healing at this time. Having apparently been absolved by R’hllor and the Old Gods, it will fall to a healer blessed by The Seven to tend to his tormented soul.
How to Kidnap a Little Wolf
Arya VII (Ch. 37)
Arya VIII (Ch. 43)
SUMMARY & ANALYSIS
The fact that there’s no love lost between Sandor and Arya was properly established in the preceding chapters, when Arya accused him of killing her friend, Mycah, and then hotly championed for his death during the trial by combat with Beric Dondarrion. Arya VII, which opens up with the BWB attacking a septry where a group of Bloody Mummers are holed up, shows that the girl’s feelings have not changed on the matter:
They should have hanged the Hound too, or chopped his head off. Instead, to her disgust, the outlaws had treated Sandor Clegane’s burned arm, restored his sword and horse and armor, and set him free a few miles from the hollow hill. All they’d aken from him was his gold.
These thoughts take place in the context of the BWB carrying out the trials of the Mummers who were not killed during the attack. While Arya’s sense of outrage about the Hound’s release makes her continue to wish that he was subject to the same punishment as these other criminals, there’s a clear line in the sand between the kinds of men that belong in the Brave Companions, and someone like Sandor Clegane:
The trials went swiftly. Various of the outlaws came forward to tell of things the Brave Companions had done; towns and villages sacked, crops burned, women raped and murdered, men maimed and tortured. A few spoke of the boys that Septon Utt had carried off. The septon wept and prayed through it all. “I am a weak reed,” he told Lord Beric. “I pray to the Warrior for strength, but the gods made me weak. Have mercy on my weakness. The boys, the sweet boys . . . I never mean to hurt them . . .”
Despite Arya’s views being remarkably different from the ones espoused by Sansa at this point in their respective experiences with the former KG, Martin implements a significant element of thematic symmetry that connects Sandor’s personal narrative to the Stark sisters. As the BWB are spending the night in the septry, the theme of knighthood and its relevance to Arya’s relationships and her hopes to return home is first highlighted when Beric promises to return her safely to her mother:
“Do you swear?” she asked him. Yoren had promised to take her home too, only he’d gotten killed instead.
“On my honor as a knight,” the lightning lord said solemnly.
Beric’s statement evokes a similar vow made to Sansa by Dontos in the Red Keep’s godswood:
“Are you going to stab me?” Dontos asked.
“I will,” she said. “Tell me who sent you.”
“No one, sweet lady. I swear it on my honor as a knight.”
These two men are strange ones to be swearing on their knighthood, as Dontos had recently been demoted to a court jester and Beric is literally a dead man walking, having been resurrected six times by Thoros. As we discussed concerning Sansa and Dontos during the Clash portion of the reread, the Florian wannabe is disingenuous about his motives and cannot guarantee Sansa true protection; rather, it is Sandor Clegane who offered her sincere security, even though he later bungles the rescue attempt during the Blackwater battle. It’s an important contrast that further defines the Hound as a protective figure, even in volatile relationships like the one he shares with Arya, and diffuses the threatening implication of the question: “Do you know what dogs do to wolves?”
It is Gendry’s request to be knighted, and the Hound’s appearance just at the moment when Beric is repeating the final seminal rites of this process, that succeed in sharpening our awareness of how Martin is using the same framework or gateway to introduce the significant role the Hound will play in Arya’s life as he once did with Sansa. Another noteworthy detail is one of the songs that Tom o’ Seven sings just prior to the Hound’s arrival, called “The Mother’s Tears.”
The marcher lord moved the sword from the right shoulder to the left, and said, “Arise Ser Gendry, knight of the hollow hill, and be welcome to our brotherhood.”
From the door came rough, rasping laughter.
The rain was running off him. His burned arm was wrapped in leaves and linen and bound tight against his chest by a crude rope sling, but the older burns that marked his face glistened black and slick in the glow of their little fire. “Making more knights, Dondarrion?” the intruder said in a growl. “I ought to kill you all over again for that.”
It calls to mind the Hound’s confession to Sansa on the night of the Hand’s tourney, which ended with the following recollection:
“My father told everyone my bedding had caught fire, and our maester gave me ointments. Ointments! Gregor got his ointments too. Four years later, they anointed him with the seven oils and he recited his knightly vows and Rhaegar Targaryen tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Arise, Ser Gregor.’”
Incidentally, both Arya and Sandor have reason to lament the knightly appointments of these two figures in their life. Gendry hasn’t done anything to Arya on the level of a Gregor Clegane, but his knighting represents for her a significant loss of a friend; Gendry is becoming one of the Brotherhood and she expects to return to her family in Riverrun.
Gendry’s knighting also brings back into focus one of the major conflicts as it relates to knighthood and vows that pervades the arcs of those like Sandor and Jaime Lannister. Although Sandor never became a sworn knight, his myriad roles as Lannister liegeman elucidate the torments of divided loyalty that can ensue and the moral quagmire that these men face in fulfilling their duties:
This time the lightning lord did not set the blade afire, but merely laid it light on Gendry’s shoulder. “Gendry, do you swear before the eyes of gods and men to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to protect all women and children, to obey your captains, your liege lord, and your king, to fight bravely when needed and do such other tasks as are laid upon you, however hard or humble or dangerous they may be?”
In the moment at hand, one can’t help to sympathise with the Hound’s indignation at this hypocrisy, as they subjected him to an unfair trial and stole all his money. Gendry’s comment about him burning crops also shows that the guilt by association prejudice towards Sandor is still firmly in place:
Anguy raised his longbow, but Lord Beric lifted a hand before he could loose. “Why did you come here, Clegane?”
“To get back what’s mine.”
“What else? It wasn’t for the pleasure of looking at your face, Dondarrion, I’ll tell you that. You’re uglier than me now. And a robber knight besides, it seems.”
“I gave you a note for your gold,” Lord Beric said calmly. “A promise to pay, when the war’s done.”
“I wiped my arse with your paper. I want the gold.”
“We don’t have it. I sent it south with Greenbeard and the Huntsman, to buy grain and seed across the Mander.”
“To feed all them whose crops you burned,” said Gendry.
“Is that the tale, now?” Sandor Clegane laughed again. “As it happens, that’s just what I meant to do with it. Feed a bunch of ugly peasants and their poxy whelps.”
“You’re lying,” said Gendry.
“The boy has a mouth on him, I see. Why believe them and not me? Couldn’t be my face, could it?”
When Arya threatens to kill him and his brother, Sandor’s reply is deadly serious:
“No.” His dark eyes narrowed. “That you won’t.”
This response seems to indicate that Gregor’s death is still a prevailing concern for the Hound, one that he sees as his personal duty to carry out. Ridding himself of the stigma of his brother’s activities is hard enough, but the psychic fixation on killing Gregor illustrates the inner demons that Sandor is still haunted by and must overcome for his emotional well-being. After Sandor leaves the group, Beric and Thoros comment on his character and current state of mind:
Thoros of Myr paid no heed to the banter. “The Hound has lost more than a few bags of coin,” he mused. “He has lost his master and kennel as well. He cannot go back to the Lannisters, the Young Wolf would never have him, nor would his brother be like to welcome him. That gold was all he had left, it seems to me.”
“Bloody hell,” said Watty the Miller. “He’ll come murder us in our sleep for sure, then.”
“No.” Lord Beric had sheathed his sword. “Sandor Clegane would kill us all gladly, but not in our sleep. Anguy, on the morrow, take the rear with Beardless Dick. If you see Clegane still sniffing after us, kill his horse.”
Beric’s opinion supports the principled nature of Sandor, and Thoros hits on his essential homelessness and lack of direction now that he is no longer tied to the Lannisters. By the end of Arya VII, the Hound is a man not only seeking to restore his fortunes, but someone who needs a renewed purpose and sense of belonging.
Arya VIII details the BWB’s return to High Heart, where they meet with the Ghost of High Heart and the old woman delivers her tragic prophecies. Sandor does not appear until the very end of the chapter when he kidnaps Arya after she runs out in distress at hearing Beric can no longer take her to Riverrun because her mother and brother have gone to the Twins for a wedding, and the Tully castle will soon be besieged by Lannisters.
In reading this chapter with the endpoint of Arya’s kidnapping in mind and trying to concentrate on Sandor’s perspective, the paramount consideration seems to be to look at the charge Sandor is taking on and how Arya’s influence will play out in his development. Bereft, thoroughly homesick, and nursing deep grievances and anger, there is a lot in Arya that reflects the Hound’s personal circumstances and state of mind. He is already tied to the personal tragedy of the Starks via what happened in KL, and reconnecting with Arya identifies him once more as someone with an important role to perform in how the Stark drama continues to unfold.
“I dreamt a wolf howling in the rain, but no one heard his grief,” the dwarf woman was saying. “I dreamt such a clangor I thought my head might burst, drums and horns and pipes and screams, but the saddest sound was the little bells. I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.”
The chapter is an interesting mix of the romantic and the tragic: there’s talk of ‘Jenny’s song’ by the GHH that’s a reference to Jenny of Oldstones who was married to the Prince of Dragonflies for love, and Arya gets very upset when she hears the rumour that Ned fell in love with Ashara Dayne at Harrenhal. Most interestingly for the purposes of our analysis, the two songs that Tom mentions having to sing to be admitted into the Vale could be a teasing hint relating to Sandor’s experiences with Sansa:
Lem paced back and forth, coughing, a long shadow matching him stride for stride, while Tom o’ Sevens pulled off his boots and rubbed his feet. “I must be mad, to be going back to Riverrun,” the singer complained. “The Tullys have never been lucky for old Tom. It was that Lysa sent me up the high road, when the moon men took my gold and my horse and all my clothes as well. There’s knights in the Vale still telling how I came walking up to the Bloody Gate with only my harp to keep me modest. They made me sing ‘The Name Day Boy’ and ‘The King Without Courage’ before they opened that gate. My only solace was that three of them died laughing. I haven’t been back to the Eyrie since, and I won’t sing ‘The King Without Courage’ either, not for all the gold in Casterly—”
For all Arya’s belief in the Hound as a monster, these two chapters reinforce his humanity and essential honour. Martin is able to maintain this impression through allusions to Sandor’s relationship with Sansa and in continuing to explore crucial themes and motifs relevant to the Hound’s characterisation that will become even more distinct in the upcoming chapters.
The end of a hope
Arya IX (Ch. 47)
Arya X (Ch. 50)
Arya XI (Ch. 52)
by Milady of York
A while after the kidnapping, Sandor and Arya arrive at a raging river swollen by the incessant rains, and she thinks it’s the Blackwater, a belief he doesn’t dispel yet, which leads to her convincing herself they’re going to the Lannisters. As they ride on seeking a way to cross to the other bank, she reminisces how she resisted the abduction and the resulting avalanche of warnings she’d gotten from the Hound the first day spent together:
“The next time you hit me, I’ll tie your hands behind your back,” he’d said. “The next time you try and run off, I’ll bind your feet together. Scream or shout or bite me again, and I’ll gag you. We can ride double, or I can throw you across the back of the horse trussed up like a sow for slaughter. Your choice.”
She’d obeyed and ridden double with him, but on the next day tried to assassinate him in his sleep, just to be disarmed and given further warnings that next time he’d not be so tolerant. And to mark his words, after she screams at him to kill her just like her friend, Sandor carries out his promise to have her wrapped up in a blanket and thrown over his horse. That does work insofar as she’ll not attempt to murder him again until the end of their time together, despite thinking of and calculating on ways to end his life all the while.
The Hound summons a ferry from the north bank, dashing any hopes for the outlaws to catch up with them, and haggles with the ferryman over the scandalous fees:
“We can get you across,” he said sourly. “It will cost you a gold piece. Another for the horse. A third for the boy.”
“Three dragons?” Clegane gave a bark of laughter. “For three dragons I should own the bloody ferry.”
“Last year, might be you could. But with this river, I’ll need extra hands on the poles and oars just to see we don’t get swept a hundred miles out to sea. Here’s your choice. Three dragons, or you teach that hellhorse how to walk on water.”
“I like an honest brigand. Have it your way. Three dragons . . . when you put us ashore safe on the north bank.”
It’s him and not Bent-Back who’ll get his way, nonetheless, when Sandor threatens the aspiring cheater and then convinces him into accepting money post-crossing by unsmilingly stating that knight’s honour will stand good for it. The ferry has a tempestuous time across the river, and Arya’s unwise contemplations to escape via swimming are deflected by a near-collision with a tree trunk in the midst of the current that causes a ferry helper to fall and drown in trying to row away from it.
“Six dragons,” he demanded. “Three for the passage, and three for the man I lost.”
Sandor Clegane rummaged in his pouch and shoved a crumpled wad of parchment into the boatman’s palm. “There. Take ten.”
“Ten?” The ferryman was confused. “What’s this, now?”
“A dead man’s note, good for nine thousand dragons or nearabouts.” The Hound swung up into the saddle behind Arya, and smiled down unpleasantly. “Ten of it is yours. I’ll be back for the rest one day, so see you don’t go spending it.”
Riding past curses hurled at their back, dog and wolf and horse later stop to rest and eat, and the Hound tries to draw the girl into conversation: You like my face? No, you’re all burnt and ugly. Here, have more cheese. And by the way, my brother is much worse than I. That’s how their chat leads to him finding out he’s not the first of House Clegane to have caught this direwolf cub and bringing up the little bird unasked twice in the context of familial conflict and the death the younger sister hates him for:
“Didn’t you ever have a brother you wanted to kill?” He laughed again. “Or maybe a sister?” He must have seen something in her face then, for he leaned closer. “Sansa. That’s it, isn’t it? The wolf bitch wants to kill the pretty bird.”
“No,” Arya spat back at him. “I’d like to kill you.”
“Because I hacked your little friend in two? I’ve killed a lot more than him, I promise you. You think that makes me some monster. Well, maybe it does, but I saved your sister’s life too. The day the mob pulled her off her horse, I cut through them and brought her back to the castle, else she would have gotten what Lollys Stokeworth got. And she sang for me. You didn’t know that, did you? Your sister sang me a sweet little song.”
That’s like a preparation to revealing he’s going to her mother for a ransom and a reward, not to continue running with lions, which he does now. Spelling it out at last earns him the girl’s better behaviour, for she afterwards shows more willingness to collaborate and assist him in the mummery they must perform to breach into her brother’s “bloody wedding.” They arrive to The Twins disguised as a poor farmer and his poorer son in a time-worn wayn, with salt pork and pig’s feet for the banquet as an excuse for their presence, and following Peasant Hound’s instructions, she keeps silent as he gets past prideful knights and alert sergeants towards the feast, but soon the incoherent music gives her a bad feeling:
“They’re not very good,” Arya observed.
The Hound made a sound that might have been a laugh. “There’s old deaf women in Lannisport complaining of the din, I’ll warrant. I’d heard Walder Frey’s eyes were failing, but no one mentioned his bloody ears.”
The bad feeling grows and grows the deeper into the campground they drive and the more she observes. They don’t stop by the feast tents, however, determined as Sandor is to reach her “bloody brother” soon. But once in front of the castle’s gatehouse, he sees with his own eyes that “bloody” is less a curse and more a reality. Frey soldiers come pouring out of it, and before Arya can discern anything clearly, a battle is upon them and all round them:
The Hound reined up so suddenly that she almost fell off the wayn. “Seven bloody buggering hells,” Arya heard him curse, as their left wheel began to sink in soft mud. The wayn tilted slowly. “Get down,” Clegane roared at her, slamming the heel of his hand into her shoulder to knock her sideways. She landed light, the way Syrio had taught her, and bounced up at once with a face full of mud. “Why did you do that?” she screamed. The Hound had leapt down as well. He tore the seat off the front of the wayn and reached in for the swordbelt he’d hidden beneath it.
Probably it was the change in the music that alerted him so quickly as to what was to happen before the knights reached him. In any case, Arya hears after him the infamous song of the Lannisters she’d recently known from Tom o’Sevens, playing loudly as Sandor fights for their lives in the middle of tents burning and Stark bannermen and soldiery dying everywhere. It’s not so much a battlefield as a “butcher’s den,” and once he kills the Freys, she asks the Hound to rush into the castle to help Robb as oil and pitch rain down from the castle’s catapults:
“My brother . . .”
“Do you think they’d slaughter his men and leave him alive?” He turned his head back toward the camp. “Look. Look, damn you.”
He then offers his hand to her and asks her to leave with him, because it’s hopeless and she can only save herself now, but the girl still refuses:
“Come with me.” Sandor Clegane reached down a hand. “We have to get away from here, and now.” Stranger tossed his head impatiently, his nostrils flaring at the scent of blood. The song was done. There was only one solitary drum, its slow monotonous beats echoing across the river like the pounding of some monstrous heart. The black sky wept, the river grumbled, men cursed and died. Arya had mud in her teeth and her face was wet. Rain. It’s only rain. That’s all it is. “We’re here,” she shouted. Her voice sounded thin and scared, a little girl’s voice. “Robb’s just in the castle, and my mother. The gate’s even open.” There were no more Freys riding out. I came so far. “We have to go get my mother.”
“Stupid little bitch.” Fires glinted off the snout of his helm, and made the steel teeth shine. “You go in there, you won’t come out. Maybe Frey will let you kiss your mother’s corpse.”
“Maybe we can save her . . .”
Sandor is barely done telling her it cannot be, that it’s suicidal to try when Arya sprints towards the gatehouse and he has to pursue her on horseback, hitting her senseless before she reaches the drawbridge.
The honour of a hound, the honour of a knight
“There are many who are errant,” said Sancho.
“Many,” responded Don Quixote, “but few who deserve to be called knights.”
—Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote.
“Do you swear?” Arya had asked the Lightning Lord on hearing he’d take her to Catelyn Stark. “On my honour as a knight,” was his reply and with those words a mere declared intention became a solemn oath. And when Sandor Clegane kidnapped Arya from the Brotherhood without Banners, he unknowingly stepped into the boots of Beric Dondarrion and took over his mission to deliver the girl to the Starks; and in this manner, paradoxically, a knight’s promise sworn on the knightly honour he doesn’t believe in became his own quest.
Those familiar with Brienne’s adventures in the fourth book will recognise it as a knightly quest deconstructed, but Sandor’s wandering in the Riverlands is also one such, the first to happen in the series, and more thematically rounded-up. His is at the same time the archetype and the deconstruction of both the Knight on Quest and of another kind of chivalric figure that comes after the older questing type and is just as tightly interwoven into the narrative fabric of chivalry epics, the Knight Errant.
What exactly could be the distinction between questing and errantry? On glance, not a really significant one as both share basic principles. Closer, it’s a matter of motives. A Knight Quester goes in search or pursuit of something or someone and is set on his path either by his lady-love, his liege or another figure of authority, or of his own volition for his own desires. A Knight Errant, on the other hand, is usually either 1) a landless and masterless man who goes from place to place in search of work, a roof over his head and a liege to serve for varying lengths of time or permanently, or 2) a man who does the same, but with the intent of seeking adventure, glory, fulfil a vow, right the wrongs of the world, succour the weak, and vanquish the evildoers, etc.
All these types can be found in Martin’s books in archetypical and subverted states: he gave us a figure of the Knight Errant par excellence in Ser Duncan the Tall, a female Knight Quester subversion in Brienne of Tarth, and a Knight Errant-Knight Quester hybrid in Sandor. It’s in the chapters since his abduction of Arya up to the Red Wedding when his arc acquires strong knightly questing-errantry imagery and symbolism, as well as a good dose of humour that seems intended to offset the gloomier tone of the parallel progress by the Stark and Tully convoy headed to disaster at The Twins. This roadside humour sprinkled with laugh-out-loud dialogue, together with the now masterless Hound’s sublimated motivation lying under his more outward reasons, the fractious and ever-shifting relationship with his captive, his deeds and practical life lessons that go both ways, are staples of chivalric errantry that would suffice to qualify the adventures of the non-knight of the burnt countenance as belonging in this narrative type. But, most striking amongst all these elements is that the Hound did, in the end, factually succeeded in taking Arya to her family—that the Freys chose the moment of his victory for slaughter is another matter—and so for the first time symbolically fulfils the oath of a knight he’d not even made.
All this, of course, whilst he isn’t one himself, but neither was Alonso Quixano, and therein lies the joke.
One of the funniest lines by the hero from Cervantes’ comedy of knighthood is during the windmills-as-giants adventure and says that “knights-errant aren’t allowed to complain of any wound, even though their bowels be coming out through it.” And fittingly enough, in the opening chapter paragraphs, Arya’s first observation is that “if the burns pained him, though, Sandor Clegane gave no hint of it.” This passage tells a few things: he has a high pain threshold, as anyone that’s ever burnt their fingers in the kitchen will know the pain of burns is excruciating and hard to tolerate even if superficial, and Sandor’s are considerably bad judging by the description. In Jon’s POV post-hand burn we see he weeps in the night due to the pain, and he has two things in his favour the Hound doesn’t: a ready maester to give him milk of the poppy, and no fire-induced trauma to add emotional baggage. Sandor doesn’t even have money for wine to dull the pain, and he’s to take care of the dressing change himself as he cannot afford a healer either. Secondly, that he didn’t get any infection given that burns are more likely to get infected than other wounds like cuts because of the bigger exposed/affected area, helps understand better why he did get the infection for his leg wound later. He got better care and swifter, kept the arm dry and clean, and more importantly, he was in a better physical and emotional condition than months later; better fed too, and didn’t suffer blood loss, which weakened him and made him more vulnerable to sepsis, combined with not taking care of it so quickly.
That also puts into perspective how resourceful he can be one-handed. Just think of it: he knocked two armed sentries senseless with one arm. He kidnapped Arya, who fought back like a rabid cat, one-handed. He also disarmed her when she tried to kill him, wrapped and tied her up in a blanket one-handed, and took care of skittish Stranger one-handed as well. He also knows how to effectively use his intimidating appearance for good effect, because he may have an arm uselessly in a sling but he still can use the other for swordfighting and that’s what he does, rattle his sword meaningfully to give emphasis to his words to the ferryman and to the farmer whose cart he takes. And being one-handed explains partially why he had to resort to cunning and tricks to get his way through towards his destination, besides the lack of money.
The crossing of the river offers a contrast with a similar ferry crossing by Ser Duncan and Egg in The Mystery Knight, in which the former refuses to heed the advice of his squire to utilise the Targaryen seal ring the latter hides in his boot so they be ferried across to the Butterwell-Frey wedding, and prefers to pay instead:
“We need to save our pennies for the ferryman.” The last time he had crossed the lake, the ferry cost only a few coppers, but that had been six years ago, or maybe seven. Everything had grown more costly since then.
“Well,” said Egg, “we could use my boot to get across.”
“We could,” said Dunk, “but we won’t.” Using the boot was dangerous. Word would spread.
Egg wants to use his highborn privilege as Prince Aegon to circumvent paying the ferryman (who is, amusingly, called Ned) for a service and save his ser a few pennies, but knight’s honour mixed with prudence thwarts it. Sandor, on the other hand, doesn’t have a penny to save and offers knight’s honour as assurance instead of gold in advance, and then pays with a note given him with knightly honour as assurance for repayment, adding four dragons more with the ease of the millionaire that gives hundreds in tips to his barber. Humorous as this scene is, it illustrates that the disdain for knighthood that impels him to educate everyone in his way on how “knights have no bloody honour” floats to the surface as a reaction to realising the ferryman is going to take advantage of his need so he can unduly overcharge at will, thereby the supposed honourability of knights becomes his method of outwitting attempts at duping him.
Cherchez la femme, or rather, cherchez le petit oiseau
“What’s more, it’s my belief that not all knights errant do have ladies to commend themselves to, because not all of them are in love.”
“That cannot be,” said Don Quixote. “What I mean to say is that there cannot be any knight errant without a lady, because it is as natural and proper for them to be lovers as it is for the heavens to have stars, and it is quite certain that there has never been a history in which one can find a knight errant without a lady-love; because his lack of one would in itself be sufficient for him to be regarded not as a legitimate knight errant but as a bastard who had gained entry to the fortress of chivalry not through the main gate but over the wall, like a thief and a robber.”
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote.
Question of the ten thousand gold dragons: what exactly were the Hound’s true reasons for abducting Arya Stark of all people? Sandor himself gives an answer, an easily credible one:
“It’s going to be me who hands you over to that mother of yours. Not the noble lightning lord or that flaming fraud of a priest, the monster.” He grinned at the look on her face. “You think your outlaw friends are the only ones can smell a ransom? Dondarrion took my gold, so I took you. You’re worth twice what they stole from me, I’d say. Maybe even more if I sold you back to the Lannisters like you fear, but I won’t.”
There’s no cause for doubting his so plainly stated motivation to seek a ransom for her as a means to recover at least part of the gold he was robbed of. Yet there’s definitely cause to believe that isn’t the only motive or even the principal one for wanting to reach the girl’s mother. Whilst it’s evident that he does need that well-earned gold and wants it back as it was taken from him unlawfully, with an untenable promise to pay that won’t be kept, the impression Sandor sends out through his actions is that there’s something else he’s more interested in.
First, he tries to have the gold returned to him peacefully and with no more damage than a lump in the head for the sentries; he tries to talk Dondarrion into giving him back his money, back and forth, and it doesn’t appear to occur to him to win it back through violent methods, or ambush, or taking their leader hostage. And once told where it is, it doesn’t occur to him to go stalk Greenbeard and the Huntsman on their way south with the gold, fall on them at the best chance he gets, recover the gold, and continue on his way. His personal code and sense of fair play is a good explanation, but it’s also true that since he was robbed of honestly-earned money by outlaws that are armed and willing to put an end to his life if not restrained, he does have a good casus belli for employing force on them for its retrieval.
Then, there’s his “you’re worth twice what they stole from me, (…) maybe even more” line, which raises the question of how much he expected the Starks to pay for Arya. Did he truly believe it likely that the King in the North, of a House not known for their astonishing riches, would pay ten thousand/twenty thousand gold dragons for his youngest sister? Not very believable in a pragmatist like Sandor, who’s well informed about the Stark family and would know that they’re not exactly swimming in gold like his former lieges, who he knows would pay any ludicrously high amount for the girl. And the Tully offer of 1,000 gold dragons as reward for recapturing Jaime gives a clear idea of how much the Starks could realistically pay: that amount is a lot, but it’s a pittance compared to the ten times that amount that Cersei would pay for her brother without as much as blinking, as Jaime tells Bolton. Sandor is aware he cannot (and doesn’t want to) go back to the Lannisters, to continue to be “kicked.” So, although he certainly did expect the Young Wolf to agree to a ransom paid in gold, it’s not as plausible that he expected the amount would be literally the same or more as that lost to the Brotherhood. His remark about Arya’s worth acquires then a less literal meaning when we examine what he says after assessing her value:
“If this Young Wolf has the wits the gods gave a toad, he’ll make me a lordling and beg me to enter his service. He needs me, though he may not know it yet.”
So, it becomes apparent that the monetary worth of the girl is enhanced by the prospect of a position in the Northern forces and a new liege to serve, which long-term has higher value than the more immediate necessity to recover his gold. Sandor has never lacked for money, having been born in a minor noble family of sufficient means and having served a clan so filthily rich and having lived in the spendthrift royal court, and that plus his confidence in himself as a capable worker would’ve given him the attitude towards gold of someone that knows he can earn it with reasonable ease. But there’s one thing he’s never known: the pride of the subordinate in an equable superior, the mutual honour of the liegeman who serves a decent liege lord. When all you’ve known in life by virtue of your birthplace and the feudal vassaliage system is Tywin, Cersei and Joffrey as your bosses, plus a tosspot of a king in Robert, it’s not hard to end up wishing for better overlords. Especially on ascertaining that such a rarity as an honourable master does indeed exist, when you meet Lord Eddard of House Stark.
It’s not accidental that after allowing Arya to draw her own alarming conclusion that she’s going back to King’s Landing to be thrown at the Lannisters’ feet, Sandor takes the crooked route in clarifying it for her and instead of a brief no, we’re not going there, becomes rather conversational before he reveals their destination:
“Didn’t you ever have a brother you wanted to kill?” He laughed again. “Or maybe a sister?” He must have seen something in her face then, for he leaned closer. “Sansa. That’s it, isn’t it? The wolf bitch wants to kill the pretty bird.”
There’s two interesting details to look for in the context of this exchange, foremost of which is the conflict with Gregor that’s shaped his whole life. He’s trying to explain why it may not be best for her to escape—she would be caught by others that might mistreat her worse, and they’re not going where she fears—and to support his first point he brings up the Mountain, with which Arya at least can agree is worse, but is still appalled at the Hound stating he’s gladly going to rip his brother’s heart out; because it’s his brother. Sandor had gone down the straight route with Sansa and told his reasons for hating his brother, but Arya is no confidant material to him. So he takes the indirect path and brings up her sister, teasing her about whether she ever entertained bad feelings towards Sansa. Of course, he exaggerates in likening the girls’ conflict to his own case and so Arya doesn’t grasp what he’s trying to say. The point Sandor goes for in his sharp-edged way, and that she seems to grasp only instinctively, is sibling rivalry; that it can sometimes have a grave cause for existing—like for himself—and other times it’s due to disagreements or different personalities—like for her.
The second time he brings her sister up, it’s also to prove a point to Arya. He’s on one hand finally accepting her condemnation over his killing of the butcher’s boy that had been rankling him until now, and on the other hand is defending himself from the same condemnation through Sansa. It’s notable that he only mentions the bread riots to recommend himself to the little sister, indicating that this of all his deeds makes him the proudest, and crowns the tale mentioning that he got a sweet little song, which naturally means that at least once her sister had a good opinion of him so he can’t be a complete ogre in the same league as Gregor like Arya is arguing. A need to prove it to Arya is the driving force behind his mention of the song, and is also why he’ll later confess he forced the song out of Sansa at knifepoint as part of painting himself as the worst ever in order to goad her into killing him. Ogres, after all, don’t rescue maidens and get songs.
He would never care for the opinion of the Starks if he hadn’t hoped to serve them, and so it’s in his best interests to get Arya to see him if not somewhat positively at least not as an irredeemable monster. That could be determining in whether her brother or her mother felt inclined to either give him a position or just pay the ransom and send him off; her and Sansa are his “introduction cards,” because the Starks, being the sticklers for fairness that he saw they are, would be compelled by this very sense of fairness to take into account all he’d done for their girls, especially for the eldest.
The hints at his priority being to try becoming a Winterfell man are further supported by his allusion to Robb making him a lordling, which is funny in isolation, but considering he admires his grandfather and the value he places in earning one’s lands and titles through meritorious service, plus the already mentioned need for pride in serving, it acquires an earnest meaning. In all this, Sansa plays a huge role by giving him the initial and enduring impulse, as this is like a second chance for him in that by delivering Arya to her mother he’s doing with the littlest sister what he could’ve done for the big sister; and not only that, the very fact that he’s even considered to serve the Starks, the family of Sansa, is also informed by his experiences with her at King’s Landing. Were they to emerge victorious in the end, or sue for peace, or merely find a way to have her back with them, then that could mean seeing her again on the same side, not as part of an enemy household, with the added bonus of an overlord that won’t order him to kill small boys and beat small girls.
And there’s more to recommend him to the King in the North, as Sandor believes: “He needs me, though he may not know it yet.” What can he possibly mean by this? Knowing what lies ahead, it’s tempting to ascribe all this to bragging or delusions about his real prospects. But it’s necessary to set aside any whole-picture hindsight and knowledge of the Red Wedding, and assess what Clegane has to offer that could be of value to the Starks.
First thing to come to mind is his skill as a warrior and troop commander, which’s hardly of the highest significance seeing that Robb himself is great at both and has capable captains of men in his army, and that he doesn’t bring desperately-needed soldiers with him. So, we’re left to conclude that Sandor Clegane’s biggest asset is information; important information if we remember that he’s been in the innermost Lannister circle for decades and that by the nature of his job and his closeness to his bosses could be as much or more damaging than what Lancel knows. If Lancel’s information is explosive principally for Cersei, Sandor’s information had the potential of being explosive for the entire Casterly Rock clan, for the crown and for some courtiers to boot, such as Littlefinger. The amount of key information the Hound has is unknown to us, but that which we can reasonably infer he does know is damning enough, and gainful to opponents of the Lannisters. For example, whilst he may not be cognisant of the details of how Ned was betrayed, he’d only have to mention how the Hand got arrested for someone like Catelyn to put two and two together. There’s also the twincest, Cersei’s babies, and whatever other dirty Lannister laundry he is aware of, and the Starks have Jaime in case of doubt to corroborate at least some of Sandor’s revelations (he did admit some things to Catelyn, after all). And he would know how the Lannister armies fight, their leadership and level of threat, which is useful military knowledge to counter them in the field short-term and in the long run: his “kill Gregor for him” comment hints that he could lead a war party specifically to bring his brother down and put an end to his terrorising of Robb’s Riverlander subjects; and in relation to a hypothetical march towards the capital with his own experience he’d know how not to attack or lay siege to the city and where defences could be pierced, if Robb were to decide to go south, which he hadn’t planned yet at that time, but Sandor doesn’t know. Then there’s what he knows about how the Lannisters have treated Sansa, too; the beatings and threats.
Moreover, there’s the propaganda potential. Sandor is no Barristan Selmy, nor a popular idol that’d bring honour to whichever side he defects and be hailed as a hero with a Kingsguard cloak waiting to be wrapped round his shoulders. But nonetheless, his defection is liable to make waves, because of his reputed loyalty and unbuyability: if their Hound leaves the king and queen and is taken in by an enemy House, that can look ominous for the Lannisters in the eyes of the people; and at least Cersei appears to realise it later, when she decides to lie to the High Sparrow that she kicked her dog out instead of admitting he abandoned them as it’s known.
Arya believes there’s no way and no how for him to be accepted by her family, yet that also has to be measured against the little she does know and the lot she doesn’t know, because she’s not the best predictor for what her brother might decide. She had been fretting over him not paying her ransom to Beric and over her mother not wanting her anymore now that she’s all untidy and a killer, and she’s also unaware of the political and military situation of her brother, his marriage, his loss of the Karstark and Frey troops, etc., as well as of what the Hound can give to the North. Certainly, there are negatives that could cause the Starks to not take him in—the butcher’s boy (more for Arya), the killing of Stark guards and household, his too long service with the Lannisters, having been Joff’s shield, for whom Robb feels a special animosity, the spectre of Gregor, that the Northmen might have something to object to a former Lannister with such a reputation, et cetera . . . And Sandor seems to have considered that he could be met with a flat rejection of his services, for his quick retort to Arya’s “he’ll never take you” hints he thought a no from Robb was possible:
“Then I’ll take as much gold as I can carry, laugh in his face, and ride off. If he doesn’t take me, he’d be wise to kill me, but he won’t. Too much his father’s son, from what I hear. Fine with me. Either way I win.”
Indeed, that tells he is aware that, realistically, it can go any given way for him with the Starks. Arya’s true worth, therefore, is tied to increasing the chances of tipping the scales towards his most desired outcome more than anything; this kind of priceless opportunity with the Starks isn’t going to fall on his lap any day again, and he’d already lost another opportunity once.
“All men are fools, and all men are knights”
“The most perceptive character in a play is the fool, because the man who wishes to seem simple cannot possibly be a simpleton.”
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote.
In traditional chivalry, so important is the possession of a warhorse and a set of well-kept armour for a knight that the inobservance of this basic “a sword with a horse” requirement is sufficient for him to be disgraced, and its symbolic as much as its pecuniary worth also accounts for why in tournaments and mêlées to lose was to be dispossessed of both, which went to the victor as a trophy. This custom extended to the battlefield, with rules on booty and how a captured knight’s warhorse and armour are to be disposed of and recovered if he wished to maintain honour and dignity intact. And any knight of good repute was expected to look knightly when not in armour. In times when clothes were made for each instead of mass-produced for the market, a knight’s dress had to reflect his status—the higher-ranking he was, the richer and luxurious his attire—as well as his code of honour. Well-groomed meant well-respected, to the point that if someone of rank and means wanted to go about in disguise for whatever reason, they only had to make themselves look, act and dress like the commoners and peasantry. In many stories, a knight is judged by how he’s dressed and the condition of his armour could be taken for a clue on his true nature. For instance, see this verse from The Knight’s Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales”:
He was a true, perfect, noble knight.
But to tell you of his attire,
His horses were good, but his clothes not bright.
Of rough cloth he wore a tunic
All rust-stained by his coat of mail,
For he’d no sooner returned from his voyage,
Than he set out to make his pilgrimage.
That the knight’s clothing is “roughspun” and “not bright” instead of the brightly-coloured fine clothing of costlier fabric favoured by the wealthy is a subtle metaphor for what lies beneath: his desire to fulfil a religious duty going on pilgrimage even before he has had time to change his clothes, because piety (inward quality) trumps looking knightly (outward quality) in his priorities; and this is contrasted with the flashier flowery clothing of the character called the Squire, his son, indicating vanity and an arrogant superficiality borne of youth.
If dressing below his station is used to exemplify how for a model knight a greater obligation/necessity always supersedes the external and less important—but often better upheld socially—trappings, frippery and mannerisms of his position, for him to abase himself deliberately by way of wearing poor dress and performing activities or labour contrary to nobiliary rank and knightly creed is likewise used in courtly love chronicles to signify the depth and breadth of his feelings for his beloved. In a time and a culture that emphasised social dominance and demonstrations of physical skill and strength as the defining features of masculinity, there was no superior sacrifice for an accomplished warrior than to relinquish these same features, get off his big mean warhorse and literally or figuratively walk in the mud for love of his lady. A famous example of this, discussed previously by Gwyn, is Sir Lancelot of the Lake, who, going with a fellow knight to rescue kidnapped Queen Guinevere, encounters a dwarf in a cart that tells him to ride in it if he wants to discover her whereabouts, and he accepts to dismount and hop onto the cart in spite of the humiliation, forsaking his honour for his love of Guinevere. And aside this cart-riding, he later allows himself to be beaten in single combat on request by the queen, which is also dishonouring for a knight. Yet this is by no means the best example in existence, there’s another, much older, that better encapsulates the spirit of the things knights renounced for their ladies and that entails bringing greater social opprobrium as the “dishonour” is more significant: that of a knight playing the fool.
That one was Tristan of Lyonesse, of the Tristan and Isolde medieval epic who, to be able to get near Isolde at her husband’s court and to protect her, has to adopt successive disguises as a lowborn minstrel, a nameless hedge knight, a merchant, a begging leper and a fool; all of which have in common that they’re too humble a station for a son and nephew of kings and the best knight alive. The most demeaning of his impersonations occurs when he wants to reunite with Isolde after too long an absence and for protection he adopts the guise of a crazed fool, as recounted in Joseph Bédier’s rendition of the Folie Tristan (Tristan the Fool):
Then Tristan shaved his wonderful hair; he shaved it close to his head and left a cross all bald, and he rubbed his face with magic herbs distilled in his own country, and it changed in colour and skin so that none could know him, and he made him a club from a young tree torn from a hedge-row and hung it to his neck, and went bare-foot towards the castle.
The above omits a detail from the original by poet Béroul, that Tristan also disfigured himself with scars he scratched on his face with his own hands. He infiltrates the castle in this state, suffering jeers and abuse, being pelted with stones by the people in the non-sanitised version, and generally being laughed at for his repellent attire and his feigned lunacy, so to achieve his goal. But when he, tired of the abuse and on seeing the queen appear at last, protests that he’s actually Tristan, nobody believes him, least of all Isolde herself, who shows a reaction in the same vein as the “A fool and a knight? I have never heard of such a thing” objection by Jonquil to Florian in The Hedge Knight, and outright accuses the fool of being a rotten liar because it’s impossible that imposing Tristan should be dressed like that, all shorn like a sheep, covered in filth, ugly to the point of disfigurement, and stark raving mad. Pleading with her and the intercession of her maid aren’t enough, and it takes the joyful recognition of his dog Toothold, the one with a predilection for biting everyone who’s not its master, for her to finally embrace him as the real Tristan, rags and all.
In his book Love’s Masks, Merritt R. Blakelee explains why this specific type of disguise holds so much significance:
Each of Tristan’s attributes is travestied in the disguises. The noble knight and harper gives himself (…) for a minstrel of such low birth and station that he would bring dishonour to any knight who engaged him in combat. His skill at the royal sport of the hunt is parodied in his account in Folie Tristan of the chasse a l’envers [wrong-way hunting]. The knight who vanquished Le Morholt and sundry giants receives blows from youths and squires (…), and insults and blows from menials and messengers. When the fool proclaims to the queen, “J’ere chevaler mervilus” [‘What a great knight I was’], she protests in horror: “A chevalers faites vus hunté!” [‘You dishonour all knighthood’]. His disfigurement is extreme: his head is shaven, his voice altered, and he is apparently missing an eye. In the Folie, his crudely tonsured head implies the loss not only of his wits and beauty but of his physical strength. [Three Tristan epic poems] abound in Iseut’s protestations against this individual who proclaims himself her lover. Tristan, she affirms, is nothing like this vile creature—minstrel or madman—capering before her.
The inversion of values and the distortion of reality suggested by the disguises have several implications. They signify Tristan’s involuntary exclusion from the society of the court as a penalty for his lawless passion. They further signify his voluntary abasement in the service of his lady in conformity with a personal code of honour that differs radically from that of the collectivity, either as a means of reaffirming his love or as penance for real or imagined wrongs against his lady’s love.
And the same also says that within the framework of this strong class conscience, the fear of dishonour, foolery, ridicule, and everything perceived as commoner ill-breeding that Tristan throws away through divesting himself of his social (knightly) identity to masquerade as the very personification of those feared aspects “is at once an index of the strength of his passion and of the disorder of his spirit.”
This kind of narrative isn’t restricted to medieval settings and knightly stories, it has survived well past the age of chivalry into the age of gunpowder, with the consistent element being that the man adheres to his personal honour over societal honour, shedding the ribbons of masculine prowess and warrior culture rules to court social disgrace for his lady’s sake. A couple of such relatively more modern examples that come to mind are from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, in which Uncas is attracted to Cora Munro, but never discloses it verbally and the reader would’ve missed it if not for Major Heyward keenly observing that during their escape through the wild the young warrior serves choice food portions to the two Munro sisters, lingering subtly on the eldest, and takes mental note of that as a transgression because as a connoisseur of the native culture he’s aware that amongst the Indians it’s considered unseemly for a warrior to do menial chores and serve the women. A chief of the old blood of the Mohicans acting like a solicitous handmaid to women, and white women at that? Inconceivable! Yet Duncan Heyward doesn’t judge him, and soon he’s in the same position when his girl, Alice, and Cora are kidnapped together and held captive by hostile natives. He follows in the footsteps of Tristan: knowing that the Indians see fools as harmless creatures, he descends from his lofty perch as officer of the Royal Americans to impersonate one, overriding protests by stating: “I, too, can play the madman, the fool, the hero; in short, any or everything to rescue her I love.” Dressed and painted as a madcap, he infiltrates the enemy side, and aided by allies takes Alice out.
In Westeros, that fools are viewed by the nobility along the same lines as in medieval times—entertaining to have in courts and households, but too lowborn, disrespectable and lacking in dignity to be esteemed besides for amusement, and that it’d be the ultimate shame for any well-born man to be one—is made clear by the case of Dontos Hollard, demoted from knight to fool as punishment from Joffrey. Sandor isn’t immune to this mentality if we consider his “a fool and his cunt” comment to Sansa within this framework. Florian is described as “the greatest knight of all” in the books, and one would expect this sufficed to send him into elucidating on how much knighthood stinks; but he fixates on half of the equation and pinpoints the legendary personage as “a fool” with nary a peep on being a knight as well. This would work as a clue in to his thinking like a proud nobleman (he’s one, and noble blood of all ranks is of paramount importance in a feudal society) that foolery is undignified and unbecoming.
Now, a clarification: this attitude both in real history and the books is towards fools, as in buffoons, clowns, jesters, mimes, mummers, all those who use ridiculous costumery, motley and body paint to play their pranks and entertain; and not towards minstrels, songsters, troubadours, minnesänger, etc., who definitely were respectable, and it wasn’t rare to find nobles or offspring of nobles amongst them, and some crowned heads also had as pastime to compose their own songs and perform for an audience. But Florian is a fool, who before he somehow got a knighthood is likely to have earned his bread as a common jester; and once knighted, Florian doesn’t set aside his former occupation but espouses his motley and incorporates it into his armour, perhaps his sigil has also some allusion to this, and keeps it for his knightly moniker as his representative feature. In his refusal to obliterate the “dishonourable” past once a “honourable” station is achieved when he becomes the best knight, Florian redeems all belittled and degraded fools, similar to how Martin is using non-knights to redeem knighthood.
Up to this point in the books, the Hound has been followed by Florian the Fool imagery like a stubborn thundercloud hovering round his head; he even left the stage at Blackwater and returned onstage at the Peach inn with a song about the fool and his lady-love in the background, but he’d not had a Fool Moment of his own. For when his time arrives, he will have to shed the clothes that identify him as minor nobleman Sandor of House Clegane from the Westerlands as well as the attire of the feared Hound.
Like for Chaucer’s knight, Sandor’s garb is a reflection of his principles: he favours roughspun and woollen fabrics and opaque colours such as brown, gray and green; and even when he does wear jewels and dresses in bright red, his jewellery is unostentatious and his colourful clothing is still roughspun. This doesn’t mean he dresses shabbily, “roughspun” alone tells more about the texture of the fabric than the quality, and there’s no commentary in the POVs of those who describe his clothing—Sansa and Ned—that goes in that direction. It is always just descriptive and brought forth by them as a contrast to the rest of the court and his bosses, which seems to be the authorial intent. Through this sobriety, Sandor sets himself apart from the courtiers as well as from the overbright family he serves. Have you had a good look at Joffrey’s clothing? The boy is even more dashingly dressed than Sansa, the most stylish of the Stark clan. At his side, and at the side of all Lannisters with their brocades, velvets, crimson silks, cloth-of-gold, rubies, huge emeralds and gilded armour, Sandor must look like a sober bird of prey amongst peacocks and cockatoos. Which is the whole point, hawks (and dogs) don’t need any gaudy plumage (and fur) to complement their nature and purpose.
The Hound’s armour falls within the same philosophy; it’s said to be “good steel,” which indicates the highest quality and price, but he refuses to have it decorated with gold or silver scrollwork and gemstone incrustations, and from Duncan the Tall in The Hedge Knight we learn there’s a practical reason also: swords and weapons can get caught in the decorations and tangle a knight up whereas plain unadorned steel stops the blows and weapons slid down its surface smoothly. All this draws him closer to the North, for sharing this simplicity with the Starks: The Ned also dresses sombrely and in wool, the rest of the family follows him (Jon and Arya are ones to wear roughspun), and even when he’s in silks for the Hand’s Tourney the colour is a discreet blue; both he and his family wear jewellery that’s modest, no gold but generally silver and stones of lower value, and Robb’s crown would’ve been scoffed at by any other king because it isn’t golden and has no gems, just plain iron and bronze, the metals of Winter. And we can be sure it’s not for lack of means or no fashion sense at all, those are people that don’t follow the Southron ethos nor place so much importance in knighthood and so their attire has to convey that.
In his need to reach the objective of his quest, Clegane divests himself of all of the above to put on the figurative “motley.” His disguise of choice to play the fool is that of a farmer, a “poxy peasant” as he defines it, opted for precisely because he knows first-hand the highborn and knightly mentality with regard to the peasantry, the same viewpoint so unfavourable to jesters. One gets the impression from the chapter that, far from feeling demeaned by this, Sandor is in a felicitous mood, and to add to the comicality of his behaviour in such a disguise, he starts with telling Arya that:
“So we play a little game.”
A lot is at stake in this game that is serious, but this line sets up a droll tone appropriate for the theme of foolery with a purpose. More humour ensues with the way Sandor obtains the stuff necessary for his guise:
The Hound had taken them at swordpoint. When the farmer cursed him for a robber, he said, “No, a forager. Be grateful you get to keep your smallclothes. Now take those boots off. Or I’ll take your legs off. Your choice.” The farmer was as big as Clegane, but all the same he chose to give up his boots and keep his legs.
So, besides not being a whit ashamed for the farce that’s so beneath someone of his class, nor for riding a shaky foraged cart instead of the less amused Stranger like a proper noble (and this is his second cart-riding besides), he is also feeling confident and is a convincing actor that deceives the first knight to stop him. Sandor, who backtalks to all and sundry, kings included, feigns humility and hilariously changes his accent:
“Salt pork for the wedding feast, if it please you, ser.”
“M’lady told me to bring him, ser,” Clegane said humbly. “He’s a wedding gift for young Lord Tully.”
“Old Lady Whent, ser.”
This also illustrates that he talks like he usually does because he wants and not necessarily for lack of education, for he adapts his speech to circumstances from one extreme to the other: he can be formal in court like the highborn, with correct diction, and he can switch to speaking like a commoner as in here, and we can assume his diction was modified beyond the m’lords and m’ladies to lose his natural accent as well as to soften his characteristic raspy voice. And the motley becomes less metaphorical when we get a description of his peasant clothing:
(…) the Hound himself was garbed in splotchy green roughspun and a soot-grey mantle with a hood that swallowed his head. So long as he kept his eyes down you could not see his face, only the whites of his eyes peering out. He looked like some down-at-heels farmer. A big farmer, though.
The splotchy appearance is what brings his attire closer to the motley and raggedy dress of fools. That it’s quite effective with the first knight he comes across, a Southron, is cause for a hearty laugh when he succeeds in getting through unstopped, with the knight leaving them after a derisive sally at fools that rebounds onto his head. We can picture Martin chuckling heartily as he wrote these passages to include some oh-so-subtle nods to Sandor the Farmer’s little lady: he’s masquerading as a servant of Lady Whent of all people he could’ve chosen to name, and that’s the family of Minisa Tully, maternal grandmother to Sansa and Arya. And the chuckle can devolve into a belly laugh, at least for yours truly, on the realisation that the author has written an inside joke with two sets of similarly-named characters: he has a Sandor (Frey) squiring for a Ser Donnel (Waynwood) in the Vale, and here he has the real Sandor (Clegane) as a poor peasant in a wayn duping a Ser Donnel (Haigh).
“Keep your eyes down and your tone respectful and say ser a lot, and most knights will never see you. They pay more mind to horses than to smallfolk.”
That’s an invaluable lesson that Arya, herself a participant in the play shielded by her “drowned boy rat” and half-bald urchin guise, has already had a chance to experience and make use of during her long Riverlands traipsing. But there’s a surprise lesson awaiting our houndish player too, when the second person to stop the cart, a hardboiled Northerner, makes it more difficult for him to keep up the pantomime:
“Salt pork’s no fit meat for a lord’s wedding feast,” he said scornfully.
“Got pickled pigs’ feet too, ser.”
“Not for the feast, you don’t. The feast’s half done. And I’m a northman, not some milksuck southron knight.”
Perhaps it’s the first time in his life that he’s been made to stand on the receiving end of the identical tongue-lashing he often doles out. It’s always been him who corrects any soul that calls him ser even if it’s well-meaning, and perhaps he never stopped to ponder how it’s like for others because no one else has ever found the knightly manner of address offensive in his presence. Then he meets here a man that balks at being addressed as a knight and doesn’t fall for such a flattering appellative, proving to him someone else out there also takes issue with being called a ser, just like himself. And for similar reasons to his, for additional emphasis. And, again just like Sandor was, this no-nonsense Northman is in the service of a dishonest liege lord that is apt to test his honour. With this tacked on to his long record with Northerners showing him the other side of the coin on matters meaningful to him, is there any wonder left as to why he’d be seeking to serve in the North?
Despite Arya’s sudden unease once they’re already within the camp, completing the quest on reaching the Stark bannermen alive and unharmed, Sandor doesn’t want to either end or slow down the play until she’s in Catelyn’s or Robb’s presence as per the oath of Beric that’s his own now. It’s gone “like in the songs” thus far, if we look at it through a chivalric narrative lens: the destitute royal guard from a knightly House is captured and sentenced to trial by combat by outlaws, that leave him burnt and impoverished, but he finds they have the sister of a king and of the beautiful lady he pines for, so he snatches her away to her family with a vow trailing behind; and on the way he uses wit and reputation and threats (and blankets) to get through water, wood and land to the big castle between rivers in time for a large wedding feast, and so as to infiltrate the castle unmolested to present himself to the king with some dignity instead of dragged in chains, he forsakes his status to disguise as a beggared villein, dirty clothes, boots and all (minus the smallclothes), and has fooled his way forward to the king with his sister; now he’s there, close to receiving his reward either in a fat purse or, preferably, a place amongst the king’s men, and maybe his lady will like that, too. Summed up this way without the grittier bits, it does read like something for the likes of a medieval chronicler writing a diverting knightly adventure. But Martin doesn’t follow through to the complete triumph that’d have crowned such a typical story; instead, the comedy on wheels is abruptly stopped by violence, and the fool has to throw away the motley for the steel and revert to being a knight.
The first eleven-year-old girl squire
“All right, you’re a squire. How does a squire squire?”
“Well, first I ride behind him. Then he fights. And then I pick him up off the ground.”
Man of La Mancha, 1972 film.
On the front-stage of the Hound’s Riverlands storyline, Arya has been serving as a Talking Cricket analogy for him, in that she’s like a conscience when she directly pronounces the recriminatory words and accusations (“You’re a murderer!” “You killed Mycah!”) of an inner voice, yet she’s more than just that, for at the same time she’s a walking and breathing consequence or ripple effect of his actions regarding the butcher’s boy coming full circle to both bite him and, like an expiation, contribute to his ongoing restorative growth. But once he makes her his prisoner, Arya has to deal with the duality she’d not been confronted with in her hitherto one-note sentiment towards this man; it had always been the Hound in her prayers, and now she’s going to know Sandor too, and that can only mean conflicting sentiments. Such a complexity is exemplified by two other roles she comes to play in the chapters at hand, that happen after he explains that reaching her mother and brother is the true goal: his child and his squire.
The role of Sandor’s child is purely a thematic thread, because she doesn’t really play it nor is forced to. As this is the second time he’s mistaken for the father of a Stark, it’s the continuation of the pattern linking him to the family by setting forth this shared affinity as well as adding an intriguing context to Sansa’s wish for a child with the looks of her sister. With Sansa, the mistake had been a brief one on her part, but with Arya it’s persistent like a bad rash. She’s taken for his child approximately four times; first by the ferryman, then likely by the outriders near The Twins, then by the villager in the Vale, and last by Gregor’s squire:
“That will do.” The ferryman spat. “Come on then, we can have you across before dark. Tie the horse up, I don’t want him spooking when we’re under way. There’s a brazier in the cabin if you and your son want to get warm.”
“I’m not his stupid son!” said Arya furiously. That was even worse than being taken for a boy.
. . .
She looked like a farmer’s son, or maybe a swineherd.
. . .
“There’s frost above us and snow in the high passes,” the village elder said. “If you don’t freeze or starve, the shadowcats will get you, or the cave bears. There’s the clans as well. The Burned Men are fearless since Timett One-Eye came back from the war. And half a year ago, Gunthor son of Gurn led the Stone Crows down on a village not eight miles from here. They took every woman and every scrap of grain, and killed half the men. They have steel now, good swords and mail hauberks, and they watch the high road—the Stone Crows, the Milk Snakes, the Sons of the Mist, all of them. Might be you’d take a few with you, but in the end they’d kill you and make off with your daughter.”
I’m not his daughter, Arya might have shouted, if she hadn’t felt so tired.
. . .
“Are you the puppy’s puppy?”
We’ve always known Clegane has the physical traits of the First Men, but this likening him in appearance to the Starks specifically is curiously explicit on Martin’s part. First, it takes more than shared colouring to lead people to deduce a blood relation, because parents and children can look alike with opposite colouring and share colouring without looking alike, which indicates the author implies that Sandor and Arya look more similar than just for having the same dark hair and gray eyes. People were easily mistaking Sandor for a knight and calling him ser, so they’d be expected to assume the “boy” by his side could be his squire, knights and men-at-arms of means travel with squires or servants all the time. But no, they explicitly call her “your son” and “your daughter” when they see them together, so there has to be something else. You wouldn’t take any random blond and green-eyed boy for, say, a lion’s son if there isn’t something in his appearance that screams “Lannister!” My thought is that what makes these people think automatically of Sandor as Arya’s father is the face, long in shape and sharp-boned, a trait we know is a Stark family characteristic from the statues in the crypts and Eddard and Jon, that Arya resembles, so by inference Sandor does too. And perhaps there’s also some hand mannerism to have made Sansa think he was Ned without even looking, just from the physical feel and movement of his hands.
The second role is truer in that Arya does actually play the squire, doing work that is traditionally a squire’s. There are several assignments for them, but the three most important tasks a squire has to perform for a knight are to take care of his horse, take care of his armour, and assist him before, during and after combat. With that in mind, it now seems fitting that Arya was the one to reveal the name of the Hound’s courser and not another POV, for now she has to get acquainted with it as part of her tasks. And a troublesome charge the horse is, but in upcoming chapters we’ll see that he comes to accept to be fed, watered and groomed by Arya, and eventually earns her respect (“Stranger would have fought”).
The bloody interruption of Sandor’s “little game” propels them both into a knight-squire relationship dynamics at the very gates of success, and though not chosen nor planned but done for survival, both instinctively fit together as a team. Neither accepted nor rejected as a Stark liegeman yet, Sandor has been taken for one by the three Freys that charge at him, slashing his peasant robes and forcing him to become the “lion-killing dog” in a clash with Lannister allies not in the least like he must’ve wanted; and his individual struggle outside the castle echoes the collective struggle of the Northerners inside the castle: he and them are fighting outnumbered for their lives and for a child of Eddard Stark and causing as much damage as possible before the fall.
Paralleling Podrick Payne, another squire for another non-knight, Arya is a good assistant to her outnumbered non-ser when a Frey goes for her:
When he charged Arya threw the rock, the way she’d once thrown a crabapple at Gendry. She’d gotten Gendry right between the eyes, but this time her aim was off, and the stone caromed sideways off his temple. It was enough to break his charge, but no more. She retreated, darting across the muddy ground on the balls of her feet, putting the wayn between them once more. The knight followed at a trot, only darkness behind his eyeslit. She hadn’t even dented his helm. They went round once, twice, a third time. The knight cursed her. “You can’t run for—”
That momentary blow to the head causes a distraction that’s enough to give Sandor time to finish off two of the other Freys and then come for the third Frey accosting her, just like Pod stunned Shagwell with a rock to the head to give Brienne time to kill another Bloody Mummer before. These same dynamics they’ll repeat almost exactly at the Crossroads inn, again with three men, two for the knight and one for the girl squire, and again Arya will parallel Podrick’s stabbing Ser Mandon from behind to save a wounded Tyrion by repeatedly stabbing Polliver in the back to help a wounded Sandor.
“Get my helm,” Clegane growled at her.
It’s now that he symbolically takes her in such a role, by sending her to fetch a part of his armour, the first time he trusts her with orders on his equipment as he’d do with an actual squire. But as a result, Arya holds him up to impossibly heroic standards like a knight from the songs and demands he go rescue her brother. Sandor argues back that it’s not likely he’s alive, she insists a second time, and a third . . .
“Maybe we can save her . . .”
“Maybe you can. I’m not done living yet.” He rode toward her, crowding her back toward the wayn. “Stay or go, she-wolf. Live or die. Your—”
He’s very sure they’ve been killed because, as a Westerman and a Lannister vassal, it’s impossible that he wouldn’t know what The Rains of Castamere stand for: unmerciful annihilation from which neither children nor women are spared. Not the best end for him to knock his improvised squire senseless with the flat of an axe, though in part it explains his action as he’s responsible for her now that the Starks have been slaughtered; he cannot let her go despite his “your choice” line: she is Sansa’s sister, she has given him a hand, and there’s still danger round them, for more Freys can come, and he is one man against hundreds, likely with his arm still bothering him due to the healing burns, and that’d have to fight outnumbered to keep the girl alive too, not just himself. The way Martin’s written the scene, with Sandor first asking her to “come with him,” a plead, and his exasperation increasing at the fact that in her despair she wasn’t listening, makes it appear like his reasons for hitting her unconscious were that the chances of more Freys appearing were rising by the minute and they’d already lost time in their back-and-forth, and that she was running deliberately into the killing told her desperation was too great so she was likely to thrash wildly and perhaps scream if he caught and lifted her conscious onto his horse, thus attracting more soldiers towards them. Considering she resisted, kicked and bit when he first abducted her, and that she was ascribing him the worst intentions, plus she didn’t accept the impossibility of such a rescue and kept insisting they go back for days afterwards, such a reaction is quite probable. Unconscious, he could carry her out of the battlefield silently and unobserved as fast as Stranger could carry them both. Hard but pragmatic. The little wolf still has to see that the songs may tell that knights perform rescues and slay the dragon, but songs also will show, though not so often, that every great knight that makes it into the songs is preceded by many that were slain in the rescue or fried to ashes by the dragon for imprudence, or foolishness, or courage without commonsense. After all, paraphrasing Dirty Harry, a knight’s got to know his limitations.
The Long Road to Nowhere
Tyrion VIII (Ch. 60)
Sansa V (Ch. 61)
Jaime VII (Ch. 62 )
Arya XII (Ch. 65)
Tyrion IX (Ch. 66)
Jaime VIII (Ch. 67)
SUMMARY & ANALYSIS
A Glimmer of Hope
Hopes crushed for both Sandor and Arya after coming so close to making it to Robb and Catelyn, and they find themselves reluctant traveling companions once again. Sandor has lost not only the opportunity to serve better masters but potential masters he was already emotionally invested in, due to his relationship with both Stark girls, having acted as protectors to both.
The opening paragraph to Arya XII sets the tone of desperation and depression:
She could feel the hole inside her every morning when she woke. It wasn’t hunger, though sometimes there was that too. It was a hollow place, an emptiness where her heart had been, where her brothers had lived, and her parents. Her head hurt too. Not as bad as it had at first, but still pretty bad. Arya was used to that, though, and at least the lump was going down. But the hole inside her stayed the same. The hole will never feel any better, she told herself when she went to sleep.
Willing to resign herself to sleeping her days away, Arya is forced to face each and every day by the Hound, who, despite his own feelings of desperation, depression, and rage, refuses to give up. This not only underscores his strong sense of discipline and work ethic, but also suggests that he’s clinging to a sense of hope. Hope for what, if the masters he sought to serve have been slaughtered? Thoros of Myr already pontificated on the Hound’s bleak future, recognizing Sandor has lost all. Yet, something continues to drive him. It’s very likely that Sandor is harboring a glimmer of hope for a chance to be reunited with Sansa, something he may consider a possibility as long as he’s traveling with the little sister and has the slightest chance of reuniting her with family, regardless of how distant. Sandor is also committed to fulfilling an oath to see Arya to safety, an oath that was somehow transferred to him from Beric Dondarrion. So, a mission our non-knight still has and plans to fulfill to the best of his ability.
If Sansa is indeed a motivating factor, one might ask why he wouldn’t risk taking Arya back to the Lannisters, wherein he would be able to see Sansa again, especially since it’s probably less of a gamble than taking Arya to Lysa Arryn. Surely, Sandor knows how mentally unstable Lysa is, and definitely knows how she handled the Tyrion affair. However, bringing Arya to the Lannisters would not only go against his personal moral code and his desire to change for the better, but Sandor “I’m my own dog now” wants to be with Sansa on his and her own terms, which can’t happen as long as Sansa is a captive. Moreover, Sansa certainly wouldn’t appreciate Arya joining her as a Lannister prisoner. So Sandor, all while recognizing Arya’s diminishing value, continues to look after her and attempts to reunite her with family members, regardless of how distant the relatives and how dangerous the undertaking.
If Sandor is indeed hoping for the chance to reunite with Sansa once again, his desire to do so on his and Sansa’s own terms contrasts remarkably with Tyrion’s thoughts about their wedding day while attending Joffrey and Margaery’s royal wedding (Tyrion VIII):
The seven vows were made, the seven blessings invoked, and the seven promises exchanged. When the wedding song had been sung and the challenge had gone unanswered, it was time for the exchange of cloaks. Tyrion shifted his weight from one stunted leg to the other, trying to see between his father and his uncle Kevan. If the gods are just, Joff will make a hash of this. He made certain not to look at Sansa, lest his bitterness show in his eyes. You might have knelt damn you. Would it have been so bloody hard to bend those stiff Stark knees of yours and let me keep a little dignity?
Tyrion’s thought is profoundly selfish as he only considers his own dignity, not the dignity of his prisoner-bride. Sansa’s refusal to bend and readily accept the cloak, and symbol of marriage and protection, evokes her desire to keep Sandor’s bloody and soiled cloak after Sandor’s attempted rescue. Sandor’s deep shame for scaring Sansa also juxtaposes Tyrion’s own self-pitying thoughts. I also believe it’s intentional that right before thinking of his own wedding to Sansa, Tyrion was just reflecting on his time at Winterfell with Joffrey and Sandor, recognizing that even Joffrey wouldn’t be so stupid to order the Hound to kill Bran, interweaving the narratives of Sandor, Sansa, and Tyrion.
The differences between Sandor and Tyrion and their respective relationships with Sansa, as well as the parallels between the Red Wedding and Purple Wedding, are worthy of analysis and discussion. Both Sandor and Sansa find themselves somehow involved in a murderous wedding. While the Purple Wedding is no way on par with the Red Wedding with regard to bloodshed, the fact that a king was murdered during his own wedding is monumental. Sansa, who has the most reason to celebrate Joffrey’s death, is horrified, emphasizing her compassion, compassion Sandor also shares under his rough exterior, which is emphasized during his journey with Arya.
Both Sandor and Sansa were able to escape perilous circumstances, only to find themselves in uncertain situations: Sandor wandering the war-torn Riverlands, and Sansa now in the hands of Littlefinger and falsely implicated in the murder of King Joffrey. Yet, their uncertain journeys are seemly bringing them closer together and will most likely culminate in the two meeting again.
You Ought to Sing Me a Pretty Little Song
As cynical as Sandor is, he still shows an interest in songs, symbolizing optimism on his part. Tyrion’s and Littlefinger’s dismissal of the importance of songs to Sansa conveys their own jaded view of the world, yet Sandor, despite rough words and posturing, as well as his own dire circumstances, continues to express the desire to be sung a song; so perhaps Gregor did not have the power to completely destroy Sandor’s dreams and desires. If anything, what Gregor did and became only inspired Sandor to become the best non-knight he could possibly be—the exact opposite of Gregor. His desire for recognition and appreciation for heroic and kind acts appears again when Arya goads him about hitting her in the head with an axe.
Once she asked Sandor Clegane where they were going. “Away,” he said. “That’s all you need to know. You’re not worth spit to me now, and I don’t want to hear your whining. I should have let you run into that bloody castle.”
“You should have,” she agreed, thinking of her mother.
“You’d be dead if I had. You ought to thank me. You ought to sing me a pretty little song, the way your sister did.”
“Did you hit her in the head with an axe too?”
“I hit you with the flat of the axe, you stupid little bitch. If I’d hit you with the blade there’d still be chunks of your head floating down the Green Fork. Now shut your bloody mouth. If I had any sense I’d give you to the silent sisters. They cut the tongues out of girls who talk too much.”
Despite Sandor’s harsh words and the animosity Arya still harbors for the Hound, as she still thinks about killing him, though cannot go through with it, they become their own little pack (“But if her nights were full of wolves, her days belonged to the dog”). Arya recognizes she has little choice but to stay with Sandor, and Sandor continues to act as her protector and mentor. The most significant lesson Sandor teaches Arya is the gift of mercy. Sandor’s humanity again is strongly highlighted as he compassionately puts a soldier out of his misery, but not after Arya pours him a drink of water, something she will do for Sandor when tending to his wounds.
When she came back, the archer turned his face up and she poured the water into his mouth. He gulped it down as fast as she could pour, and what he couldn’t gulp ran down his cheeks into the brown blood that crusted his whiskers, until pale pink tears dangled from his beard. When the water was gone he clutched the helm and licked the steel. “Good,” he said. “I wish it was wine, though. I wanted wine.”
“Me too.” The Hound eased his dagger into the man’s chest almost tenderly, the weight of his body driving the point through his surcoat, ringmail, and the quilting beneath. As he slid the blade back out and wiped it on the dead man, he looked at Arya. “That’s where the heart is, girl. That’s how you kill a man.”
Arya thinks to herself that it’s just one way to kill a man, yet, she misses the point of this profound lesson. While Sandor doesn’t know about Arya’s own killings, he himself has killed many men, and not by piercing them through the heart tenderly. What Arya is too immature to understand, but will learn when she joins the House of Black and white is that Sandor is imparting an important lesson about mercy and compassion: the act was completely devoid of malice, revenge, or even justice and defense. It was an act of selflessness.
Yet, the ever-pragmatic Hound tells Arya not to bother with a burial and to rob the corpse. Rather than revealing a callous attitude toward the dead, leaving the corpse for the dogs and wolves sounds more like a gift for their own kind—a continuation of life. There is irony in that Sandor will soon find his days filled with digging graves. Sandor’s pragmatism also contrasts to another non-knight: that of Brienne of Tarth who felt it her duty to bury the women dangling from the tree. There’s a bit of a twist in that Brienne will unwittingly witnesses Sandor digging graves during her visit to the Quiet Isle.
This Thing about Your Mother…
Both Sandor’s desperation and commitment to seeing Arya back to her family are highlighted when he attempts to offer Arya what she’s been asking for: the rescue of Catelyn Stark knowing full well that if Catelyn isn’t already dead, any endeavor to rescue her would be an exercise in futility.
When morning came, the Hound did not need to shout at Arya or shake her awake. She had woken before him for a change, and even watered the horses. They broke their fast in silence, until Sandor said, “This thing about your mother…”
“It doesn’t matter,” Arya said in a dull voice. “I know she’s dead. I saw her in a dream.”
The Hound looked at her for a long time, then nodded. No more was said of it. They rode on toward the mountains.
The long look Sandor gives Arya also indicates he understands that Arya has some type of gift, though he may not be aware of her warging abilities. Yet, something resonates which serves as a bonding moment between the two. Sandor is able to relate to Arya and there’s a sense of admiration and respect on his part for the feisty wolf pup.
A Protector Denied
Previously, Sandor had dressed as a peasant as a “game” of trickery, but he soon finds himself reduced to menial labor when he takes up work in a village—a far cry from his status as landed knight, Sworn Shield, member of the Kingsguard, and revered warrior. The fact that he opted to work demonstrates his sense of honor and work ethic, as he doesn’t resort to intimidation and theft. Unfortunately, his already dire situation only worsens when the villagers refuse him after he offers them his protection from the clansmen:
But when the work was done and the tall wooden palisade was finished, the village elder made it plain that there was no place for them. “Come winter, we will be hard pressed to feed our own,” he explained. “And you… a man like you brings blood with him.”
Sandor’s mouth tightened. “So you do know who I am.”
“Aye.” We don’t get travelers here, that’s so, but we go to market, and to fairs. We know about King Joffrey’s dog.”
“When these Stone Crows come calling, you might be glad to have a dog.”
“Might be.” The man hesitated, then gathered up his courage. “But they say you lost your belly for fighting at the Blackwater. They say—“
“I know what they say.” Sandor’s voice sounded like two woodsaws grinding together. “Pay me, and we’ll be gone.”
Gregor’s own reputation continues to doggedly follow and taint Sandor, something he can’t seem to shake. Worse, he’s taken for a coward and rejected from his offer of doing what he does best—protecting the weak and defenseless. Arya also wonders about Sandor’s courage, or lack thereof, and even asks Sandor herself when he refuses to take her to the Wall:
“Are you scared of them?” she asked. “Have you lost your belly for fighting?”
For a moment she thought he was going to hit her. By then the hare was brown, though, skin crackling and grease popping as it dripped down into the cookfire. Sandor took it off the stick, ripped it apart with his big hands, and tossed half of it into Arya’s lap. “There’s nothing wrong with my belly,” he said as he pulled off a leg, “but I don’t give a rat’s arse for you or your brother. I have a brother too.”
Themes of courage and cowardice thread predominately throughout this chapter. Arya names her horse Craven for running from the Red Wedding, a possible poke at Sandor from also running from the wedding and not saving her mother. She also pays close attention to Sandor’s demeanor, noting that he doesn’t act or talk like a man who’s lost his belly for fighting. Sandor’s all-around badassery is even mentioned by Cersei when she asks Jaime to kill Tyrion, in Jaime VII:
“You have another hand, don’t you? I am not asking you to best the Hound in battle. Tyrion is a dwarf, locked in a cell. The guards would stand aside for you.”
A False Florian
In Sansa V, the false Florian Dontos, absurdly dressed as a knight (which contrasts to Sandor dressing as a peasant for the sake of trickery and an effort to get Arya to her family, providing him with the hope of seeing Sansa again) drunkenly attempts to usher Sansa down the Serpentine stairs as they escape from King’s Landing, paralleling the time Sansa ran right smack into a drunken Sandor, her true Florian, who actually did see her to safety, protecting her from an interrogation from Ser Boros Blount. Milady of York already presented a convincing argument that this parallel is intentional on GRRM’s part, as there really is no reason for Dontos and Sansa to use the highly-trafficked Serpentine stairs as an escape route other than to contrast the relationship between the men with Sansa.
While Sansa appreciates Sandor’s fierceness, even when he is drunk, she has no confidence in Dontos, especially during the escape. He’s sloppy drunk, weepy, and she knows he was somehow involved in the murder of Joffrey and implicated her as well. The selfishness on Dontos part mirrors Tyrion’s own selfish motives and how he uses Sansa. It’s Sandor, the true Florian, who truly cares for Sansa and has no other motive other than to be with her.
A Bloody Service
Sandor is mentioned in Jaime VII when Jaime considers his duty as Lord Commander, recognizing that the White Book requires updating, all the while pondering his own accomplishments, or lack thereof:
My duty now. Once he learned to write with his left hand, that is. The White Book was well behind. The deaths of Ser Mandon Moore and Ser Preston Greenfield needed to be entered, and the brief bloody service of Sandor Clegane as well.
While Sandor’s service was brief, was it bloody? Jaime knows Sandor quite well and usually assesses him with accuracy, but there seems to be some hypocrisy and revisionist history on Jaime’s part. Sandor did participate in the slaughter of the Stark household, yet he wasn’t a member of the Kingsguard at the time. Other than that, the only bloodshed he participated in was when he defended the city against Stannis, which was his duty. Jaime’s service as Kingsguard is actually marred with blood, including the murder of the mad king Aerys and the slaying of Ned’s men as an act of vengeance for Catelyn’s abduction of Tyrion.
All in all, the Hound can’t seem to catch a break and continues to be misunderstood by Arya (though the bond between the two continues to tighten), the villagers he had hoped to protect, and even by Jaime (if I’m interpreting his thoughts correctly). Only Sansa seems to be the one who truly understands and appreciates Sandor Clegane.
The Last Fight
Arya XIII (Chapter 74)
Our chapter opens with a brief tease of a horror movie cliché as Arya, the young “innocent,” “helpless” girl, futilely warned the older brave male not to go into the bad haunted place which of course is occupied by dangerous ghosts and complete with a dead body ornamenting the building. The ghosts are from both of their pasts, and aside from the occupants of the inn and the memories of her initial journey down the Kingsroad, the ghosts of Arry, Lumpyhead, Weasel, Nan and Squab lurk in the shadows as well. The doomed squire quotes Gregor referring to Sandor as a puppy who piddled in the rushes, so he may have his own shades of past identities waiting in this haunted house as well.
Martin immediately turns Arya’s apprehension into the reader’s suspense as she enters an uncomfortably silent room and notes all the people who ought to be making noise. They’re soldiers that know Sandor and Arya knows them too, but our teasing author draws out the silence and replicates the tension for the reader by drawing out identifying these soldiers. The effect is a classic Western saloon standoff.
Sandor walks into the “saloon” and everything stops. All eyes are on this menacing newcomer who becomes all the more menacing as fear grips the well-armed band that outnumbers him. Tensions are certain to boil over… and someone orders drink. Then lines filled with threatening undertones are exchanged and the “good guy” warns everyone to clear out the back. Violence is imminent, but only one line threats are exchanged. The lines become a dialogue that almost begins to resemble civility as we see outlaws and lawmen are cut from nearly the same cloth. The differences always show in the end as someone says the wrong, or the right thing, and someone goes for a gun—or a throwing knife.
This is far more a grey Clint Eastwood than a white and black hat-wearing John Wayne Western—though Polliver’s head would swear it was a Sam Peckinpah film. Gregor’s men are the corrupt badge wearing lawmen and Sandor is the flawed but noble outlaw. This aspect of the scene is another ghost that will be left behind at this inn. The Brotherhood without Banners will later take up residence here to be haunted by Sandor’s helm, their past judgment of Sandor, and the comparative nobility of their outlaw band’s gunfight compared to our Lone Ranger’s.
Sandor kills Polliver and Arya kills the Tickler and mortally wounds the squire. This time Sandor lets Arya give the gift of mercy he taught her earlier. Arya helps the wounded Sandor onto Stranger and they make their way towards Saltpans. Sandor’s wounds are too severe to go on even after Arya tries to treat them. He asks Arya for the gift of mercy and even lashes out with his deathbed confession to try and provoke her to do it. She denies him on the grounds that he doesn’t deserve mercy. This has a double edged meaning since in the First Men tradition of justice not deserving the gift of mercy can mean not deserving death. This is somewhat reinforced by Arya leaving the Hound out of her nightly prayer.
Milady has written two excellent pieces in the Pawn to Player threads that serve as extremely useful background for this chapter. The first is The Road to the Hound’s Deathbed Confession (Part 2), which covers Sandor’s psychological state from his breaking at the Blackwater through the end of Arya XIII when she leaves him under the willow tree. The second is On Sandor and Drinking, that illustrates his drinking is actually rather infrequent, only recreational prior to the Blackwater and largely a coping mechanism for depression after the Blackwater, but also rather infrequent. She was kind enough to include a chapter by chapter breakdown of his alcohol consumption for the whole series.
What is Everyone Thinking?
Sandor’s real mission here is to find out who holds the Ruby Ford to see if it is a viable crossing. Both he and the inn are at a crossroads and the holder of the ford will determine the road he takes. Sandor gets this answer as soon as he opens the door to the inn even if Arya doesn’t know it yet.
If these three were whoring here, Gregor must hold the ford.
The tension in the room when Arya first walks in tells us exactly how this is going to end. House Lannister is all that kept the Gregor/Sandor animosity from spilling over into bloodshed, and Sandor’s no longer being in their service means that this encounter must end in blood. Both sides know it. Sandor holds off because he wants information, since their presence tells him the Ruby Ford is closed to him. Polliver and the Tickler hold off because Sandor is a deadly threat.
Aside from their shared history in Tywin’s service, Chiswyck’s tale that won him a spot on Arya’s three wish list tells us that Gregor brought seven men with him to the Hand’s Tourney—Chiswyck, Raff the Sweetling, a squire Joss Stilwood and four unnamed others. Given the number of Gregor’s men in Arya’s prayer, “Dunsen, Chiswyck, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling, The Tickler,” it seems likely that both the Tickler and Polliver were at the Hand’s Tourney and actually witnessed the fight between Gregor and Sandor. They know very well the peril they are in.
Note the first thing said is Polliver asking, “Looking for your brother, Sandor?” Sandor Clegane is the last person they expected to walk into this inn or they’d be dressed in armor. The question of why he’s in this inn or even this general area is paramount in their minds and to kill Gregor is the only reasonable answer available to them. Sandor defuses the imminent conflict by announcing his intent to order wine, but his “don’t call me, ser” barked at the innkeeper is as good as a death threat to those for whom Gregor is known only as the iconic Ser.
Polliver only glances at Arya likely because a glance is sufficient to dismiss her as a tactical threat. The Tickler stares long and hard though. He is most certainly trying to figure out why she is with Sandor. These men wouldn’t be privy to the knowledge that Roose’s Arya is a fake, so it is unlikely he would be guessing her true identity. More probably he’s recognizing her as one of his old Harrenhal captives which would serve to reinforce the idea that Sandor is here to kill Gregor and this girl’s familiarity with Harrenhal is somehow part of Sandor’s plan.
The poor squire isn’t thinking at all, but his taunting serves as an opportunity for Sandor to imply another subtle threat—though warning may be a better word. Part of Sandor’s “code” seems to be not being an aggressor like Gregor. He knows these men will start the fight and letting them do so fits with his sense of honor as does his subtle warnings of the consequences with his lines about being called ser and this spoiled noble’s drinking.
Sandor pumps them for information which they are all too happy to give. Their side seems to be winning the war and they’re rubbing it in that Sandor chose to leave the winning side. They’re also intentionally implying that he has no options. They firmly believe he’s here for Gregor, and want to know what he intends now that Gregor has gone to Kings Landing. With the mention of the Saltpans they believe they have their answer, and the Tickler makes his move. The Tickler also likely waited for the alcohol to kick in and probably hoped conversation might relax Sandor’s guard.
Sandor’s excessive drinking here is the curious part. He knew this fight was coming the second he walked in the door. His blatant openness about his intentions to go to Saltpans clues us in that he knows Gregor’s men won’t be leaving alive or he’d have been more coy with his intentions. The fact that he’s in motion the second the Tickler makes his move shows that he’s been waiting for this the entire time. So why did he get so drunk?
Oberyn drinks before every fight, so it isn’t that any degree of alcohol consumption is dangerous. Milady’s two essays cover the topic well, but in short the reason seems to be Sansa. After his first go at the flagon, the wine is primarily a tool for getting information from Gregor’s men. Sandor doesn’t drink again until Sansa’s fate is mentioned. That it is a tool is also demonstrated when he pours wine for Arya only after she reacts to the deaths at Harrenhal—a tool she uses when news of her own marriage confuses her. When Sandor first hears the news of Joffrey’s poisoning at his own wedding, he has every reason to believe that Sansa was the bride. So his question about who killed him is really about whether or not Sansa got caught based on what he would reasonably suspect. His comment about his “brave brothers” is also Sansa-specific in that in order to poison Joffrey she would had to have outwitted these men who beat her and humiliated them in the process. He would reasonably believe they failed to protect the king from a 13-year-old girl—a girl he knows considered killing that king before. The obvious question for Sandor to ask would be, “Who the bloody hell did Joffrey marry if it wasn’t Sansa?” His utter lack of interest in a new queen or what House the Lannisters allied with frames just how much Sansa consumes his thoughts. It also illustrates the nature of his loyalty and his own internal sense of honor. Whether this new House might offer more for Arya never crosses his mind.
The Duality of Fire
The clear giveaway that it is Sansa he’s thinking about comes when he brings the conversation back to her after they’ve already moved on to news of Harrenhal, Riverrun and the state of the battlefield in the Riverlands.
The Hound poured a cup of wine for Arya and another for himself, and drank it down while staring at the hearthfire. “The little bird flew away, did she? Well, bloody good for her. She shit on the Imp’s head and flew off.”
Flame gazing isn’t just for fanatical redheads.
“As shy as a maid on her wedding night,” the big ranger said in a soft voice, “and near as fair. Sometimes a man forgets how pretty a fire can be.”
When the blaze was all acrackle, he peeled off his stiff gloves to warm his hands, and sighed, wondering if ever a kiss had felt as good.
When they were done, there was no sound but the faint crackle of the flames and a distant sigh of wind. Jon opened and closed his burnt fingers, holding tight to the words in his mind, praying that his father’s gods would give him the strength to die bravely when his hour came.
. . .
“I used to start fires in the bowels of Casterly Rock and stare at the flames for hours, pretending they were dragonfire. Sometimes I’d imagine my father burning. At other times, my sister.”
he paused and looked back at Jon Snow. The boy stood near the fire, his face still and hard, looking deep into the flames.
While our favorite fanatical flame gazer says that “Any cat may stare into a fire and see red mice at play,” there is a definitive theme to the red mice these men see—women and home. The fires Jon and the Halfhand gaze into are campfires to bring warmth to shelter, to cook hot meals. Such fires are echoes of home and these men see the feminine aspect of a home that’s as natural a yearning as the cat’s red mice. Even Tyrion’s vengeful visions are about removing hostile elements to make Casterly Rock more a home.
The double edged nature of fire is introduced in our very first prologue:
Gared dismounted. “We need a fire. I’ll see to it.”
“How big a fool are you, old man? If there are enemies in this wood, a fire is the last thing we want.”
“There’s some enemies a fire will keep away,” Gared said. “Bears and direwolves and… and other things…”
…and continues to come up probably most blatantly in ACOK:
“Fire is life up here,” said Qhorin Halfhand, “but it can be death as well.”
For Sandor the normally benevolent side of fire still carries negative associations. His father’s cover up of Gregor’s attack poisoned home as a place of solace and protection. Even what little emotional value his father or sister may have had after his burning was destroyed by Gregor, as he seems to have killed them both. The fires of his ancestral hearth are denied to him, though he still cherishes the story of its founding, hinting at a deep rooted desire to establish a home. We saw this desire earlier in his words before accepting a place in the Kingsguard.
The Hound’s scarred face was hard to read. He took a long moment to consider. “Why not? I have no lands nor wife to forsake, and who’d care if I did?”
Though with Sandor, all his desires are blurred by his singular consuming desire for revenge against Gregor.
Fire vs. Mud
The psychological impact of Sandor’s burns are ever present for him as they have largely defined his path in life, but in this chapter, aside from his wish for Tyrion to be dipped in wildfire, the burning desire to kill Gregor and the hearthfire seem to be the more prominent symbolic meanings in play. Twice after leaving the Crossroads Inn, Sandor expresses a dislike for mud. It is Barristan, the man Sandor replaced, that defines for us the struggle between fire and mud through Dany.
She wants fire, and Dorne sent her mud.
You could make a poultice out of mud to cool a fever. You could plant seeds in mud and grow a crop to feed your children. Mud would nourish you, where fire would only consume you, but fools and children and young girls would choose fire every time.
Fire vs. mud seems a symbolic tension between naïve youthful idealism and the pragmatic wisdom that allows the disillusioned to return to idealism. The value of these simple mud-like pleasures is learned in childhood, or as e. e. cummings would say, in Just Spring when the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. All the Stark POVs rely on memories of Winterfell and the value of these simple mud-like pleasures when they need to draw strength during their trials. They all have fiery dreams of glory and all grow more and more willing to set those ambitions aside to return to Winterfell’s mud. Robb chooses the fire of a crown and Karstark the fire of vengeance over the mud of trading Jaime for Sansa and Karstark’s last living son. Both are consumed by their fiery choices. At some point, the burning youthful fever must be cooled in a poultice of mud.
In both Dany’s, whose arc brings us the metaphor, and Sandor’s cases, they never had a proper childhood in which to learn the value of mud. Their journeys back to idealism will be more difficult. Compare Sandor’s views on mud with Arya’s.
The green water was warm as tears, but there was no salt in it. It tasted of summer and mud and growing things.
She got dirt in her mouth but she didn’t care, the taste was fine, the taste was mud and water and worms and life. Under the earth the air was cool and dark. Above was nothing but blood and roaring red and choking smoke and the screams of dying horses.
A dozen feet down the tunnel she heard the sound, like the roar of some monstrous beast, and a cloud of hot smoke and black dust came billowing up behind her, smelling of hell. Arya held her breath and kissed the mud on the floor of the tunnel and cried.
Walking barefoot was hard at first, but the blisters had finally broken, the cuts had healed, and her soles had turned to leather. The mud was nice between her toes, and she liked to feel the earth underfoot when she walked.
Find me a stick, about so long and not too big around. And wash the mud off it. I hate the taste of mud.”
She brought him water instead. He drank a little of it, complained that it tasted of mud, and slid into a noisy fevered sleep.
While there is a great deal going on in this chapter beyond the fire and mud theme, this theme is one that will continue for Sandor throughout his obfuscated presence as the Gravedigger for the rest of the series written to date. Consistent with Barristan’s quote and the Florian Knight vs. Fool theme, Sandor at this point is a fool choosing fire over mud. In his case, the fire is vengeance against Gregor. Looking forward there is more mud in Sandor’s future as the Quiet Isle must be reached by crossing the mudflats, a trek Martin has devoted a curiously large number of words to describe.
If you would sleep beneath a roof tonight, you must climb off your horses and cross the mud with me.
. . .
but… mayhaps I should take you up to Elder Brother. He will have seen you crossing the mud.
This mud vs. fire theme will also be explored through Brienne, who will unknowingly discover Sandor at the Quiet Isle. Brienne is often compared to Sandor in both subtle and overt ways, and she will have her own fire vs. mud theme on her way to the Quiet Isle that may serve as additional commentary on Sandor. While that part of the discussion is best left for a future chapter, it is worth noting his mindset in our final scene with Sandor identified on screen. The closing of this chapter is clearly a breaking point for Sandor, and in his impending absence rumors of the Hound will place him in the role of a Broken Man while he ends up in the healing sanctuary for Broken Men. Yet as we covered earlier, the tale of the Broken Man differs from Sandor’s tale just as his breaking here is a stark difference from what broke to create the outlaws who will don his helm. It is in those differences that we will find the most illuminating information on Sandor.