Aimed at providing in-depth perspectives on Sansa’s relationships with important male figures in her storyline, the essays under Male Influences I tackle many compelling topics that offer further insight into Sansa’s character along with considerable foreshadowing value for how her future arc will play out. Sansa has no shortage of male role models in her life, from brothers, suitors, father figures and more, acting in varying degrees as positive or negative influences, but always in the final analysis, being beneficial to her growth and maturity.
Male Influences I
Eddard Stark by Lady Candace
Jon Snow by Tze
Robb Stark by Mythsandstuff
Loras and Willas Tyrell by Lady Lea
Joffrey Baratheon by Summerqueen
Sandor Clegane by Lord Bronn Stokeworth
Tyrion Lannister by Lyanna Stark
Petyr Baelish by Pod the Impaler
Jaime Lannister by Milady of York
Lothor Brune by Caro99
Marillion by Ragnorak
Robert Arryn by KittensRuleBeetsDrool
Dontos Hollard by Elba the Intoner
Brandon and Rickon Stark by Brashcandy
Lancel Lannister by Yolkboy
Lyn Corbray by Lyanna Stark
by Lady Candace
In our modern society, father-daughter relationships are characterized in a few ways. We can begin with the image of the nuclear family: father, mother, one sister, and one brother—a quartet of familial perfection. Ofttimes, the children will each be a clone of one parent, and each parent is always represented. Sometimes you get a daughter like the father, other times (it seems more frequent) that the girl is portrayed with the looks and qualities of the mother. There is also that warm concept of a “daddy’s little girl,” a princess who is the apple of her patriarch’s eye and is given everything by him. This portrayal is typically not that the daughter is similar to the father, but rather that she is beloved by him. It knocks at the door of gender roles, suggesting that due to the sex of the family members, the daughter is beneath the father, cannot aspire to be like him, but is patted on the head for being a sweet little girl.
Those are the modern ideals, oddly. However, things are slightly modified as they appear in this saga, even from the very beginning, in AGoT.
From the start, it would appear more that the role of Daddy’s little girl is taken up by Arya. She has Ned’s look, and he is quite fond of her to boot. Early on, Sansa remarks, during their trip down the Kingsroad, that Ned does not ever punish Arya for running wild in the mud and the swamps, but rather thanks her for the flowers she gathers in those places. Sansa’s older model is her mother, Catelyn, as at this time, Sansa is invested in learning the ways of being a proper lady, and it’s only natural that she would look to her mother for guidance, as well as her septa, too. Some of Sansa’s interests however, and her nature are very reminiscent of her father, even then.
Bran I, AGoT, Kindle Version Page 12:
He had a grim cast to his grey eyes this day, and he seemed not at all the man who would sit before the fire in the evening and talk softly of the age of heroes and the children of the forest.
A large subtext in Sansa’s character arc has been the stories and songs of Westeros. Granted, Ned is no bard, but knowing that he would sit around the fire with his children and tell them stories, it does seem to hint at where her initial interest might have been sparked. Ned puts stock in his gods more than he does “nursery tales,” but he doesn’t have to believe in them to tell them to the kids, and Sansa from a young age probably would have listened to everything a parent said, and been in wonderment of it.
Apart from just flights of fancy, this event in her childhood, as well as being a part of Ned’s persona, is the ability to know many things and to recite them. Ned knows his bannermen, he knows the tales from wars and histories, and it seems that he has imparted at least some of those to his offspring. If we take into account outside examples, not every noble was brought up to be so mindful of the past and of the interpersonal dynamics of various houses.
Yet, Sansa for one is always expounding about these sorts of tidbits in her POV. She pays attention to people, which in the end contributes to her compassion, empathy, and social skills. Her father was not a savant as far as courtly social games and politicking, but he did possess the other traits – a good heart, and ability to notice others. Luckily for Sansa, she is Ned 2.0 in the fact that she has taken these graces to a whole new level of acumen, and she can use them to further herself and protect herself in the world. She is far better at expressing herself and taking note of things than Ned was. Though, I will say, that was developed over time, and is due to some tutelage, indirect or otherwise, by persons in her life like Sandor and Littlefinger. I’ll leave that to those who are analyzing them, though.
Bran I, AGoT, Kindle Version Page 12:
He had taken off Father’s face, Bran thought, and donned the face of Lord Stark of Winterfell.
So many characters in ASOIAF wear two or more identities, faces, masks. Sometimes it is literally a new face, as in the case of the FM and Jaqen. Other times it is that the character must masquerade as another, such as Jeyne Poole as “Arya Stark,” Sansa as “Alayne Stone,” or Tyrion as “Hugor Hill.” Finally, the new face can be a subconscious split, as if two people are housed within one body—Petyr vs. Littlefinger, Ned vs. Lord Stark. Indeed, identity is one of those overarching themes of the series, and so it is unsurprising to see it played with in two central characters such as Ned and Sansa. From the above quote courtesy of Bran, we learn that the Stark children’s father has a personal and a “professional” side to him.
Ned’s personal side can be argued to be like his heart, and his professional like his brain. He is a loving father in truth, but his other truth is that he is Lord over a great domain, and must rule. He seems to understand that the two are exclusive, and he has adapted a second persona to cover all bases. This is one of the lessons on the path to adulthood, that there are times and situations where one must modulate their behavior, whether one likes it or not.
Sansa undergoes this lesson in her arc, starting from the King’s Landing period when she builds her shield of courtesy to hide behind, and she becomes the obedient little bird trapped in a cage. She takes this to new heights with her adoption of Alayne Stone, a mask that she grows and entwined with more and more as time passes, to where her current chapters are headed as Alayne, and the writing within refers to her as such. Instead of professional necessity, Sansa’s other face is one she requires for survival. Because, to be Sansa Stark at this time in the novels is a questionable thing, and it’s a dangerous name to wear.
However, as we have read, there are times when both Sansa and Ned creep out from behind their masks. We have Ned in his later days, dreaming of home and wishing he had never come to King’s Landing. That all he wants is to be at home with his wife and children, in Winterfell. We have Sansa, declaring inwardly that she is not LF’s daughter, but the blood of Eddard and Catelyn Stark, and she also builds her castle in the snow, nostalgic of home. I find it intriguing that both father and daughter seem to have simple wants and needs. Even when Sansa was young, naïve, and dreaming of Joffrey, she did not want to marry him so much for the power as for him and the beautiful children she could envision them having. The only times that Sansa directly seemed in awe of the Queenship were occasions such as the fight at the meal table with her sister, whereupon she screeched that Arya would have to bow to her and call her “Your Grace” and subsequently got pelted with an orange for her outburst.
This is not to say, however, that Sansa is unaware of class. One of her personal themes that is built upon within the books is the relationships between class, honor, and true nobility. This can be seen in her dealings, early on, with characters like Jeyne Poole, who she is careful to point out is of low status, and thus is not given the opportunity of things like marrying a lord (such as Jeyne was interested in, with Beric Dondarrion). Another early character is Jon, whom she classifies as “half-brother.” I would argue that these primary dealings are from the period when Sansa’s role model was her mother, and that later on, as she realizes that true nobility is not in name, that Sansa comes closer to her father’s beliefs in that sector. Ned is aware of those around him, also, but he does not have the same hard lines as other nobles would. He also seems the type to ferret out people with true merit, and not just those of high birth.
AGoT, Catelyn II:
Ned shook his head, refusing to believe. “Robert would never harm me or any of mine. We were closer than brothers. He loves me. If I refuse him, he will roar and curse and bluster, and in a week we will laugh about it together. I know the man!”
“I can’t go. I’m supposed to marry Prince Joffrey. I love him and I’m meant to be his queen and have his babies.”
One common failing of both Sansa and Ned’s personalities is that they are naïve about those around them, seeing the good in people (which is not necessarily a horrible thing) but not seeing the bad underneath, the “knife in the dark” so to speak. Even once burned—Sansa and the “Lady” incident, Ned and the Kingsroad incident, these two cling to their perceptions. Maybe not out of ignorance so much as out of self-preservation. Sansa is set to marry Joffrey, it would be hard to reel against him for her. Ned’s brick wall is that Robert is his King.
Still, there are characters out there who would rebel anyway, and there is the distinction—these characters do not, and they are alike in not taking that action, but keeping their concerns internalized. This is the starting point. Herein, I would also argue that Sansa has surpassed her father while not losing his essence. She sees good in people where it is merited, even though she is jaded by the present point in the books. However, whereas Ned did not learn from his earlier setbacks, and went on to make more and more (trusting LF, confronting Cersei…), Sansa gradually evolved, forming her own strategy. She kept everything internal during her tenure in King’s Landing, and learned how to say the things that wanted to be heard in order to protect herself.
Here, though, I have to raise an important point. It is my belief that Sansa was only able to do this because she is female, and a child still.
After all, even after Lady’s passing, Sansa did take more unfortunate action. She went to Cersei about their family leaving the capitol, in one prominent example. In sum, she makes more mistakes, so she does not learn from her setback straightaway. It takes her time. However, due firstly to her gender, she is not seen as big a threat as Ned was, as a man, a lord, and someone in power. She cannot wield a sword. She is not the immediate heir to her family seat. She is underestimated as all-around less treacherous because she does not have a penis. And then there is her age. She is a minor, and she holds no position of authority. For that she is considered tractable, and others can make decisions for her. Whoever holds Sansa gets to make those decisions. Because of those reasons, and also her birth and possibility at being an heiress, Sansa lives to see another day.
Past AGoT, she wises up, and the point is moot. It’s lucky that Sansa gets that borrowed time, because she figures out how better to conduct herself for the future, for survival.
Finally, I wish to say a brief thing about the Faith. Following her persona transformations, Sansa seems to lean increasingly toward the Old Gods rather than to the Seven. Several poignant moments spring to mind: refusing to sing in the Sept for Joffrey during the Battle of Blackwater Bay, meeting Dontos in the Godswood while planning escape, and Sansa’s note that the Vale soil is not rich enough to support a Godswood. And she is not the only one doing so. Bran, who started off the series wanting to be a knight (attributed to the Seven Faith) is now en process of becoming a tree, Rickon would appear to be in a place that touts the Old Way, and then there’s Arya, who is playing around with the god of the FM. In short, Ned’s offspring are coming around to the beliefs of the father that they have lost.
Once she had loved Prince Joffrey with all her heart, and admired and trusted his mother, the queen. They had repaid that love and trust with her father’s head. Sansa would never make that mistake again.
Sansa and Jon are, as far as I can tell, the only two Starks we never actually see interact in “present” time, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence from a literary standpoint. Everything we know of their past interactions comes via someone’s reminiscences, so each is present in the other’s life, but only in the past, never in the present. If Jon and Sansa meet in the future, it will doubtless come across to readers, in a very real way, as their very first meeting. Given the changes they’ve both undergone since their last meeting, that type of dynamic makes a certain amount of literary sense.
At the beginning of the series, Jon and Sansa seemed to sit at two opposite ends of the “Stark” children’s cultural spectrum: Sansa is viewed by other characters as the most culturally “southern” of the children, (and she did initially seem to value “southern” courtly culture more than Northern culture), while Jon is viewed as the most culturally “Northern” of the Starks because he does not associate with southern-based institutions. Sansa was the Stark child most heavily and explicitly associated with the Faith of the Seven (she was always with her septa and she’s the Stark child we see actually worshiping in the sept the most), while Jon was, at the beginning of the series, the most heavily associated with the Old Gods (given that he’s the only one of the children who does not keep the Faith at all, not to mention Ghost’s physical resemblance to a weirwood tree). Of the boys, Jon looks the most like Ned, while Sansa looks the most (out of the girls) like Catelyn—superficially, readers were encouraged, in the beginning, to associate Sansa and Jon with two different “regions”, one with the South and one with the North.
In AGOT, Sansa and Jon occupied two very different, inherently non-overlapping worlds, and each person’s understanding of how “the world” worked implicitly contained no real “place” for the other. By that I mean: Jon loved to fight, occupied a world in which fighting was the primary activity, and at the beginning had a great deal of difficulty interacting with people incapable of fighting. Look at his initial attitude toward Tyrion as well as the other Watch recruits, for example. Sansa is the one Stark child inherently incapable of fighting. She loved knitting, dancing, listening to singers, things that Jon had no use for—there was no room for Sansa in Jon’s “world”.
And Sansa’s “world” contained no real “place” for Jon. She believed that knighthood and its accompanying (southern) chivalric code were the celebrated foundations of the world, and interpreted everything she saw through that cultural lens. Sansa knew her “world of chivalry” clearly viewed a bastard like Jon with suspicion, and because of that, I think Sansa probably had difficulty holding what seemed like two contradictory notions in her head: on the one hand, Jon was her brother, raised along with her and someone she never seemed to have any open conflicts with (unlike Arya, for example), and on the other hand, as the occupier of a “place” (bastard) that her social code condemned.
Now, I think it’s worth noting that, although bastards have far lesser status in Westerosi society, there are “places” that can be carved out for them nonetheless, especially for paternally-acknowledged highborn bastards like Jon: we’re told that bastards have served in the Kingsguard, a bastard (Sam Stone) serves as Master-At-Arms for House Royce of Runestone, a bastard ends up on Cersei’s Small Council, at least one bastard served as Hand of the King, bastards freely join the Citadel and the Faith, etc., etc. But the issue with Jon is that Sansa, during AGOT, pretty clearly viewed knighthood as the central aspect of a man’s worth. To “properly” occupy an honored place in “Sansa’s world”, Jon would have to first be a knight—not just a fighter, but an actual anointed knight, with all of the accompanying chivalric duties and responsibilities. (Look at how she thinks about Jory vs. how she thinks of Alyn in AGOT for an illustration of this.) Jon clearly had the fighting ability to attain knighthood, but unlike the other Starks, he has never kept the Seven at all. Knighthood was never a real possibility for him, as it was for Robb/Bran/Rickon, and presumably Sansa recognized that. I think it was difficult for her, especially early on, to really find a positive place for Jon in her understanding of the world, because he obviously couldn’t be a septon, he couldn’t join the Citadel (she would have recognized Jon wasn’t exactly a bookworm), he was not in line for lordship, and he wasn’t going to be a knight . . . but deep down she loved him nonetheless. So what was he? Where did he fit? How could she believe that knighthood and chivalry were the cornerstones of her society while simultaneously having a relationship with her non-knight bastard brother? I think this is why Sansa was, in the beginning, so very, very keen on pointing out Jon’s exact relationship to her: her half-brother, a bastard. I think deep down Jon really confused her, and this was her way of repeatedly clarifying to herself exactly who Jon was, of seeking a measure of control over a relationship that must have confuzzled her greatly, because its very existence contradicted her understanding of how the world was supposed to work.
Because while Jon and Sansa seemed to have the most “distant” relationship of the Stark children, it’s pretty clear that Jon and Sansa did always love each other deep down. At the Wall, Jon mentioned that he missed Sansa. In ADWD, when he thinks of his lost siblings, right before he starts making plans to head to Winterfell, an image of Sansa brushing Lady’s coat and singing is included. And even in AGOT, though Sansa rarely thought about Jon, when he did enter her thoughts we saw her seem to subconsciously want Jon to occupy a “positive” position in her understanding of the world order. We know from Jon that Sansa tried to teach him how to talk to girls, and though he mentions that she always called him her “half”-brother, there’s no indication she tried to ignore or insult him, as other trueborn children might have done to a bastard. Her love for him was clearly not as “free” as Arya’s love for him was—Sansa’s world of chivalry and knighthood was a stumbling block to such a relationship, so it’s easy for readers to overlook that she did love him. But even in AGOT, look at her reaction to Yoren:
She had always imagined the Night’s Watch to be men like Uncle Benjen. In the songs, they were called the black knights of the Wall. But this man had been crookbacked and hideous, and he looked as though he might have lice. If this was what the Night’s Watch was truly like, she felt sorry for her bastard half-brother, Jon.
It’s easy for readers to focus on her calling Jon her “bastard half-brother” here, but if we look a little deeper, we notice how she also thinks to herself that the singers called the Watch “the black knights of the Wall”. This is important because we know what a huge premium Sansa was putting on the idea of knighthood. Though religion seemingly prevents Jon from attaining knighthood, Sansa seemed to subconsciously look for a loophole there, and found one in the songs: her beloved singers could “grant” Jon a sort of honorary knighthood as a member of the Watch, so that is the route her thoughts took.
(And here we also see that Jon and Sansa, though superficially incredibly divergent, actually did look at the world in somewhat similar ways: each believed in the stories and songs, in honor–just different stories and different methods of honor. Each believed Benjen Stark was the prototypical Watchman. Jon believed all Watchmen were true and honorable, Sansa believed all knights were true and honorable. They each had specific ideas about how a specific place was supposed to be (the Wall and the South), and each of them had those ideas dashed by reality.)
As ASOIAF has progressed, we’ve seen Jon and Sansa slip into each other’s roles, into each other’s shoes. Jon becomes a Lord in ASOS, the same book in which Sansa ceases “being” a Lady. Robb disinherited Sansa at the same time (if the will says what many suspect it does) that he declared he wanted Jon to inherit. Becoming Alayne meant Sansa became a bastard, just like Jon, (and Jon could very well have been declared trueborn by Robb’s will, which would mean that Sansa “became” a bastard and Jon “became” a trueborn Stark). Sansa began her story by loving singers, and has progressed toward disliking them (Marillion), while Jon initially seemed to have no use for singers . . . until he met the singer Mance Rayder. The Littlefinger/Lysa/Sansa dynamic played out almost as a vicious, over-the-top caricature of the Ned/Catelyn/Jon dynamic, with Sansa forced to literally stand in a (heavily skewed and sensationalized) version of Jon’s shoes: Catelyn saw Jon as a living representation of another woman that she feared Ned loved more than her, and Lysa saw Sansa as a living representation of Catelyn, the woman that Lysa (rightly) feared Littlefinger loved more than her. Sansa seemed to have a much closer relationship with her mother than with her father (the exact opposite of Jon), but “Alayne” had a much “closer” relationship with Littlefinger than with Lysa—Sansa takes on with Littlefinger (a much skeevier version of) the relatively close father/child relationship that Jon had with Ned.
In her final chapter of AFFC, Sansa thinks to herself:
She had not thought of Jon in ages.
Or so Sansa tells herself. But I think there’s a pretty good chance Sansa had actually been subconsciously thinking about Jon ever since she took on the Alayne Stone identity, because Sansa seems to be subconsciously patterning her “Alayne Stone” persona around Jon Snow. Sansa wants “Alayne” to be 14 years old, because “She had decided that Alayne Stone should be older than Sansa Stark”. How old was Jon the last time Sansa saw him? 14 years old. She becomes worried at the prospect of dancing, because she seems to think that, for some unexplained reason, Alayne Stone might not enjoy dancing:
What would she do when the music began to play? It was a vexing question, to which her heart and head gave different answers. Sansa loved to dance, but Alayne…
Dancing is a pretty popular activity among women of all social classes and we know it’s an activity very close to Sansa’s heart, given that she was able to dance even at her own terrible wedding. But then in ADWD we discover that Jon does not appear to enjoy dancing—he refuses to dance with Alys, and Alys teases him about it when she brings up previous dances they were forced to dance together at Winterfell. If Sansa is subconsciously patterning “Alayne” on Jon Snow, then the fact that she’s concerned that Alayne might not enjoy dancing makes quite a bit of sense, given that Jon’s apparent dislike of dancing seems like the sort of thing Sansa would have picked up on. (In other words, if “Alayne” is patterned after Jon Snow, then the “real” reason Sansa fears Alayne won’t like dancing is because Sansa knows Jon, on whom Alayne is molded, dislikes dancing.) Sansa thinks of Alayne as “bastard-brave”, and since she barely knows Mya, what bastard does Sansa want Alayne to be as brave as? The obvious answer is Jon. And we see “Alayne” take on the type of caregiver role with Sweetrobin that the other Stark children (Bran and Arya, especially) seem to have associated with Jon, a role that Sansa herself seemed to take on with people like Beth Cassel and Jeyne Poole in Winterfell, but not with her own younger siblings.
He was only her half-brother, but still… with Robb and Bran and Rickon dead, Jon Snow was the only brother that remained to her. I am a bastard too now, just like him. Oh, it would be so sweet, to see him once again.
This is Sansa’s thought process once Myranda Royce tells her about Jon’s new position as Lord Commander of the Watch. If I’m correct and she’s had Jon on the brain throughout AFFC, then this right here actually serves as a breakthrough for her, because Sansa goes from subconsciously longing for Jon to explicitly longing for Jon. And her thought process here is a pretty useful distillation of how far Sansa’s come from AGOT, a semi-culmination of her ideological journey thus far: the main issues she once had with Jon—that he was a bastard, that he didn’t “fit” the world of knights and chivalry that Sansa loved—have been essentially nullified. She starts out with the “old” Sansa’s thought patterns (“He was only her half-brother”), but then she immediately (and pretty substantially) switches gears and starts openly longing to see Jon again, expressly thinking about how she’s now a bastard too. The ideological barriers between them are basically gone.
Indeed, Sansa’s entire arc had been bringing her closer and closer, ideologically, to the forces (winter, the North, and the Old Gods) represented by Jon. Sansa started out in AGOT preferring the Faith of the Seven, loving knighthood, loving the south, and losing her direwolf. By AFFC, we see her (far) more heavily associated with the Old Gods, favoring a non-knight (the Hound), and in an overall sense, switching gears from the epitomization of a “summer’s child” to (IMO) someone on the path to becoming a “winter’s child”. Jon and Sansa become the Starks who we see most heavily drawing their inner strength from the cold and the snow: Jon mentions on more than one occasion that Ghost loves the snow, we see Jon frequently seeking out the cold (not the heat) at the Wall. We see Sansa literally drawing strength from the snow and the cold at the Eyrie. In the beginning of AGOT, Sansa wanted only to be a queen in the hot south. By AFFC, we see her building a scale model of Winterfell and drawing spiritual strength from the forces of winter.
Given the way Sansa seems to have been sliding more and more “toward” Jon as her arc has progressed—given the way her arc has been bringing her closer to him both ideologically and thematically—I wonder what implications Jon’s stabbing (and the potential future that stabbing could bring for him) have for Sansa’s future. Because the myth of Persephone looms large over both Jon and Sansa, and given what happened to Jon at the end of ADWD, I’m very, very curious what GRRM has in store for Sansa’s arc, especially now that winter has come.
Both Jon and Sansa encounter “the pomegranate”: Sansa is offered a literal pomegranate by Littlefinger, while Jon’s rulership arc in ADWD was confronted at every turn by the Old Pomegranate, Bowen Marsh. The pomegranate, in Greek mythology, is what causes Persephone to become Queen of the Dead in perpetuity, and it’s the reason winter comes in the first place—winter, in Greek mythology, being viewed as Demeter’s grief at her separation from her daughter when Persephone descends every year to rule in the Underworld. The pomegrante causes Persephone to undertake two disparate roles, to become a creature of two separate worlds: she is both the Goddess of Spring and the Queen of the Underworld simultaneously (and concurrently), she rules in both the sunlight and the darkness. That idea—of a person moving between two contradictory spheres of existence, of a person gaining strength by a capacity to move between the darkness and the light—is a theme GRRM has played around with in other works, so there’s an excellent chance he’s exploring it in ASOIAF as well.
Both Jon and Sansa choose to reject “the pomegranate”: Jon rejects the Old Pomegranate’s demands for the future of the Watch, Sansa rejects Littlefinger’s attempt to have her eat an actual pomegranate. But look at what happened to Jon in ADWD: he refused to acquiese to the Old Pomegranate’s wishes, but the Old Pomegranate would not quietly accept rejection, choosing to physically attack him: there’s been a lot of speculation on these boards that the attack on Jon will lead to some death-based transformation, that he (like Persephone) might find himself transformed (and possibly occupying a new leadership role) because of the Old Pomegranate. GRRM apparently had some Sansa chapters prepared for ADWD, but he pushed them back to TWOW. I’m very curious about what those chapters contained.
Because winter has now come, and in winter, Persephone rules over the dead. Sansa’s arc has tracked Persephone in some pretty substantial ways: at the beginning of AGOT, when summer was in swing, she was the Stark most heavily associated with the warmth and frivolity of the South, just as Persephone was the flower-loving Goddess of Spring; Sansa was forced to marry, against her will, a man heavily associated with worldly wealth (in Greek mythology, Hades is associated with wealth because gold, silver, and jewels are drawn from beneath the ground, and Hades of course rules the Underworld). As winter approaches, Sansa loses her childlike innocence and naivete. And winter has now hit Westeros, and will presumably hit with a vengeance during TWOW—so what will Sansa become in the winter? Where winter is a time of imprisonment for Persephone, with spring/summer freeing her to walk the warm world above, it seems that summer was a time of imprisonment for Sansa, and winter might end up freeing her. And the story of Persephone ends with Persephone holding dominion over the dead during the winter. This might be a hint toward our pomegranate-associated characters’ future, especially given the heavy associations both Jon and Sansa have with the living dead. (With Jon, those associations are obvious—he’s a living man who wears black, his direwolf is named Ghost, he’s fighting wights. With Sansa, the associations are less obvious but no less profound: Sansa’s direwolf is dead (and since the Starks “are” their direwolves, Sansa is both alive and dead simultaneously because part of her is dead while part of her lives on), Littlefinger associates her with Catelyn reborn (and Catelyn has literally become the walking dead), not to mention the Hound: “The Hound is dead” we are told, and this “dead man” of course hated fire—I doubt it’s a coincidence that this description of the Hound, as a walking dead man who hates fire, sounds quite a bit like a wight.)
And then there’s this bit from AFFC:
All around was empty air and sky, the ground falling away sharply to either side. There was ice underfoot, and broken stones just waiting to turn an ankle, and the wind was howling fiercely. It sounds like a wolf, thought Sansa. A ghost wolf, big as mountains.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that AFFC and ADWD were originally meant to be one super-book. Could Sansa have been “sensing” Jon’s “death” here? Is the “ghost wolf” Ghost? Or is there a hint here for Sansa herself? She’s become a Stone, and she’s been told that a stone is a mountain’s daughter. The cold winds are howling, and she thinks the cold winds are becoming a ghost wolf—is Sansa, she of the dead direwolf, en route to her own eventual death and resurrection?
I tend to look at things in terms of what we’re not talking about, and a big thing I noticed in looking at Robb and Sansa is that while the relationship between Sansa and Arya in AGOT gets dissected, we don’t talk a lot about Robb and Bran, which seems to parallel Sansa and Arya quite a bit. So, I’m going a bit off-plan, in that I’m bringing in Arya and Bran too, and focusing here only on AGOT, but this is just the starting point, and I’m thinking that the whole analysis will take several posts, over several weeks. I’m going chronologically, so the parallels are a bit all over, but I’ve tried to use bold text to emphasize where appropriate.
So the first time we see Robb, it’s through Bran’s eyes, as Ned is decapitating the NW deserter. Bran’s really concerned with “trying to seem older than seven, trying to pretend he’s seen all this before.” In other words, he’s engaged in his first performance of masculinity, using Robb as a model for his own behavior. He gets so caught up in the performance that he misses a lot of what’s going on—“afterward Bran could not recall much of what had been said,”—and he seems to measure everything by a Robb metric—Ice is “as wide across as a man’s hand, and taller even than Robb,”—but this metric also serves to emphasize that while Robb is almost a man grown, he’s not quite there yet (it’s not Robb’s hand, but “a man’s”). This is also the chapter that establishes that, like Sansa, Robb has “his mother’s coloring, the fair skin, red-brown hair, and blue eyes of the Tullys of Riverrun.” When Jon and Robb go off racing, “Bran did not try to follow. His pony could not keep up.”
The first time we really see Sansa, it’s through Arya’s eyes, during the sewing scene. Arya is really concerned with the crookedness of her stitches, and she “worried that Septa Mordane might have read her thoughts,” an anxiety not dissimilar to Bran’s, and Arya, engaged in a performance of femininity, seems to measure everything by a Sansa metric— “Sansa’s needlework was exquisite. Everyone said so,” and “’She has such fine, delicate hands.” So, while Robb doesn’t yet have a man’s hands, Sansa already has the hands of a lady. Arya also misses a lot of the conversation in this scene, as Bran does in his first chapter, and it’s through Arya that we see that “Sansa had gotten her mother’s fine high cheekbones and the auburn hair of the Tullys.” [Note: though later, Catelyn’s POV establishes that all the children save Arya have her coloring, it’s interesting that, when we first meet Robb and Sansa, through Bran and Arya’s eyes, the narrative chooses to emphasize their Tully coloring, ignore Bran’s, and contrast with Arya’s Stark-y look.] Bran’s pony is unable to keep up with Robb’s horse; Arya feels herself unable to keep up with Sansa’s needlework.
It’s worth noting a couple of other parallels re: Bran/Arya POVs and depictions of Robb and Sansa: Robb has two companions of an age with him, Jon and Theon (with Bran being left to the side), paralleling Sansa’s two companions, Jeyne Poole and Beth Cassel (with Arya left out of the conversation). Both also notice/emphasize things about Jon that Robb and Sansa are presented as overlooking (Jon’s selflessness in leaving himself out re: the direwolves, Sansa’s insistence that he is their half-brother). Both Robb and Sansa seem more accepting of Jon’s status as bastard, it’s left to Bran and Arya to question this status.
There’s also considerable attention given, during the Winterfell part of the narrative, to establishing other parallels between Robb and Sansa. During the feast, Jon notes that, as Robb escorts Myrcella, “Robb didn’t even have the sense to realize how stupid she was; he was grinning like a fool,” a description not unlike how “Sansa looked radiant as she walked beside” Joffrey; Robb is as willing to overlook Myrcella’s stupidity, as impressed by her status, as Sansa is willing to overlook Joffrey’s haughtiness. When Ned makes the decision to go to King’s Landing, he frames the decision about who goes and who stays in terms of duty: Robb “must learn to rule… He must be ready when his time comes,” and “Sansa must wed Joffrey… we must give them no grounds to suspect our devotion.”
These parallels begin to diverge in the first Arya POV, with the fighting practice scene Arya observes between Robb and Joffrey, in which “Joffrey is truly a little shit.” This is the beginning of the disillusionment with the Lannisters/Baratheons for the other Stark children, especially Robb, but not for Sansa, who does not get to witness it (and also misses the role the Hound plays in shaming/provoking Robb in front of other knights), and it is perhaps a bit of foreshadowing: Robb gets held back from attacking Joffrey by Theon, which serves as a parallel to later events, in which Robb cannot attack King’s Landing because he has to deal with Theon’s sacking of Winterfell.
There’s a line in Bran’s second chapter that gets me every time: “Robb was the one they were leaving behind” at Winterfell. There’s the irony that he leaves Rickon out (“but Rickon was only a baby”) and doesn’t yet know that he’ll be staying too, but it also feels like a parallel to what happens to Sansa, left behind in King’s Landing (but I might be stretching a tad bit there). As the one left behind, the Stark in Winterfell, Robb begins to take on responsibility almost immediately—appointing men, caring for Rickon, wearing real steel—and he also experiences the aftermath of the attack on Bran, further shading his impression (and ours) of the Lannisters. And the narrative takes pains to contrast what we (and Robb) now know of the Lannisters with what Sansa does not yet see—her first POV (which includes, early on the admission that “Sansa did not really know Joffrey yet”— establishing her ignorance relative to a. the rest of her family, and b. the audience) follows the chapter in which Bran is attacked, which ends with everyone at Winterfell talking trash about the Lannisters and plotting Catelyn’s trip to King’s Landing.
It’s worth noting that the Hound also shames Sansa in this chapter, as he did with Robb in the yard: “’The Starks use them for wet nurses,” and Sansa realized that the two stranger knights were looking down on her and Lady, swords in their hands, and then she was frightened again, and ashamed. Tears filled her eyes.” Once again, this seems to be a deliberate parallel with Robb (especially when we consider the audience for this shaming), but while Joffrey is instigating the situation with Robb in the practice yard, here Joff comforts Sansa—so it’s not just that she’s not witnessing his cruelty—he’s also treating her with a kindness that none of the rest of her family gets to experience.
If we believe Joffrey sent Bran’s attempted murderer, there’s also an interesting parallel between the preceding Catelyn POV and this, Sansa’s first POV: near the end of the first chapter, Bran’s wolf attacks and kills the man Joffrey sent to kill Bran, and at the end of the second, Nymeria attacks Joffrey to defend Arya. Robb isn’t there for the first (only the aftermath), but Sansa is there for the second. It’s interesting that at this point in the narrative, she’s been witness to more violence than Robb (I’m not counting the execution of the NW dude—that falls under more of a “justice” category for me).
Bran’s dream shows us Robb growing taller and stronger and Sansa crying herself to sleep at night, which seems a reflection of where we are in the narrative, but also some foreshadowing of what’s to come, and then Robb finds Bran awake. We have another Sansa/Arya and Robb/Bran parallel in that Arya is required to dine with Sansa and her father, though she’d rather dine in her room, and Bran is required to attend Robb’s meeting with Tyrion, though he’d rather be in his room; the end of the Arya chapter ends with her allowed to use her Needle; in Bran’s, he learns that he will be able to ride a horse again; both are a call-back to their first POVs, and their sibling-related performance anxieties about needlework and riding. Also interesting is that this chapter is where Robb first sees the wolves ready to attack (though they’re called off; he will see them attack again – first the wildlings that attack Bran, then the Greatjon, and finally in battle) – Summer, Grey Wind, and Shaggydog all make to attack Tyrion, calling back to the earlier attacks on the Lannister lackey and Joff.
At dinner with the Night’s Watchmen, Robb loses it when they insist Benjen is dead—“’My uncle is not dead,’ Robb Stark said loudly, anger in his tones. He rose from the bench and laid his hand on the hilt of his sword. ‘Do you hear me? My uncle is not dead!” His voice rang against the stone walls, and Bran was suddenly afraid.” Compare to Sansa’s reaction to Arya telling her unwelcome truths about the Lannisters in her next POV: “’You’re horrible,’ she screamed at her sister. They should have killed you instead of Lady.” When faced with harsh truths at this point in the narrative, both Robb and Sansa choose to lash out at the messenger. The predominant image in Robb’s overreaction is his hand on the sword hilt; in Sansa’s, it’s the stained dress, it serves to emphasize their roles as the eldest children of each gender: little Lord and Lady Stark, but both images emphasized how each still needs to grow into their assigned role, the move to the sword is immature on Robb’s part (whereas before, what’s emphasized is his growth in physical maturity, here he is shown to be in need of emotional growth; also, it’s a callback to the earlier line about not drawing steel unless one intends to use it), and the stain on Sansa’s dress emphasizes her own unladylike behavior. They’re both struggling to conform to the roles that have been thrust upon them, Robb as Stark in Winterfell, Sansa as the eldest Lady in her father’s household.
I also see parallels between Sansa’s betrayal of the plan to leave King’s Landing and Robb’s consideration of calling the banners. He’s supposed to be the Stark in Winterfell, and after Ned’s confrontation with Jaime in the streets of King’s Landing (before Ned’s arrest), he’s considering taking matters into his own hands (as Sansa does in going to Cersei), calling the banners, and “marching off to war”(Bran 5). It’s interesting that Sansa thinks “if Mother or Robb did anything treasonous, called the banners or refused to swear fealty or anything, it would all go wrong” – Sansa’s the one who often gets accused of treasonous behavior towards her family, but here she calls out that what Robb has been considering, and ultimately does, is an act of actual treason. In calling the banners and marching to war, abandoning his post as the Stark in Winterfell, Robb is rebelling not just against familial directives (and Luwin’s advice), but also against the throne. Sansa’s rebellion is familial, but not political. Robb’s is both, and Bran’s next POV calls him out on the fact that “it did not have to be Robb” to go, that he could have sent the bannermen under another’s command, and remained obedient to his parents. In this context, it’s hard not to read a parallel between Robb’s choice and Sansa’s.
As the bannermen arrive, Bran calls out Robb’s “cool courtesy,” another parallel to Sansa.
When Catelyn arrives to meet Robb’s host, she calls him out on his rebellion, pointing out that other men could have led the battles, and his response is to ask if she’s going to send him home; he’s reacting like a rebellious child, and Catelyn is the one who must give him strength, convince him that he must win in order to save them all (now that he’s taken this course of action, it is his duty to win, and he agrees); after he shares the battle plan, she thinks that “he is his father’s son, and Ned taught him well.”
When Sansa goes to ask for mercy for Ned, she frames it in terms of duty and courage: “Now, she told herself, I must do it now. Gods give me courage… I must be as strong as my lady mother.” Like Robb, she is undertaking the only course of action she can, having made the decision to rebel, it is her duty to ask for mercy for her father, and she knows that she must be cunning in her choice of words (as Robb must be cunning in choosing his battles) and courageous. She, like Robb, looks to Catelyn as a source of strength in this scene, though she doesn’t have the benefit of Catelyn’s actual presence.
In Ned’s last POV, Varys visits him and makes vague threats about how if he doesn’t confess his treason, it may cost Sansa her life; his confession before the beheading can thus be seen as an attempt to save not just his own life, but hers; he’s compromising his principles in order to save Sansa. In the very next chapter, Catelyn compromises her own principles (and Robb, and Arya) in approaching Walder Frey, so that Robb can have the bridge. It’s interesting that the series of parallels that began the novel with Bran and Arya’s relationships with their siblings seem to find closure in relationships with, and the motivations of, their parents.
Here’s where I get excited about this stuff: the chronology at the end is this—Sansa goes to Cersei, Robb calls banners, Sansa asks for mercy, Ned agrees to confess, Robb wins Whispering Wood, taking Jaime prisoner, Joff kills Ned. I’m just gonna say it: if Robb doesn’t win Whispering Wood, Joff doesn’t kill Ned. That decision, on Joff’s part, is all about making himself look big. And why does he feel the need to look big? Right. Robb (and think back to the practice yard at Winterfell) makes the Lannisters look dumb by winning a battle and capturing Jaime. Joff needs to have the last word. Robb doesn’t fight that battle, Joff worries about looking good by being merciful, compassionate to Sansa. So, basically, if we want to blame a Stark for Ned’s death, it’s on Robb.
A final note, regarding Sansa and Joffrey: the text makes a point that, after Ned’s death, Sansa is “seeing him for the first time.” This is borne out by the rest of the text, she misses the confrontation with Robb at Winterfell, she’s drunk when the Mycah incident happens (and this is why she has trouble remembering when questioned), and there are times when she sees what she thinks is compassion, which the rest of her family doesn’t get to see. But here’s the thing: Robb, Arya, and Jon all see what Joffrey is before they leave Winterfell, and yet none of them speak to Sansa about it. If she’s ignorant, it’s because her siblings have let her down, her parents have used her (they thought the Lannisters killed Jon Arryn and let the engagement continue, sending Sansa to King’s Landing; then, when they think the Lannisters tried to kill Bran, the engagement is still on), and no one has had her best interests at heart.
The last Sansa and Catelyn POVs make clear what’s coming in the next book: Sansa is a hostage, Robb is King in the North! If this book was about comparing the two, the next is about contrast.
by Lady Lea
Oh, Loras. This dreamboat is the youngest son of Mace Tyrell, and when we first meet him in AGOT, he is only sixteen, the youngest rider on the field at the Tourney of the Hand, and yet he is already famed for prowess on tourneys: he unhorsed Ser Jaime Lannister once and made a lot of people lose bets. In the Tourney of the Hand alone he unhorsed three knights of the Kingsguard in one morning.
Sansa had never seen anyone so beautiful. His plate was intricately fashioned and enameled as a bouquet of a thousand different flowers, and his snow-white stallion was draped in a blanket of red and white roses. After each victory, Ser Loras would remove his helm and ride slowly round the fence, and finally pluck a single white rose from the blanket and toss it to some fair maiden in the crowd.
Her eyes were only for Ser Loras. When the white horse stopped in front of her, she thought her heart would burst. To the other maidens he had given white roses, but the one he plucked for her was red. “Sweet lady,” he said, “no victory is half so beautiful as you.” Sansa took the flower timidly, struck dumb by his gallantry. His hair was a mass of lazy brown curls, his eyes like liquid gold. She inhaled the sweet fragrance of the rose and sat clutching it long after Ser Loras had ridden off.
Loras is the personification of everything Sansa loved about songs and knights. He is young, beautiful, talented in tourneys, gallant and flawlessly polite. It’s no surprise that she labels him “a true knight.”
Indeed, Loras has always reminded me of a teen idol. Let’s see what Wikipedia (LOL, sorry for being lazy, guys) has to say about teen idols:
A teen idol is a celebrity who is widely idolized by teenagers; he or she is often young but not necessarily teenaged. Often teen idols are actors or musicians but some sports figures have an appeal to teenagers. Some teen idols began their careers as child actors. The idol’s popularity may be limited to teens, or may extend to all age groups. Many teen idols are targeted for adults for nostalgia purposes. It is the essence of the teen idol to appeal to the burgeoning sexuality of the young without in any way threatening it. In previous eras, because teen idols were supposed to have an aura of approachability, they often needed to keep their romantic relationships and marriages a secret for fear of decreased popularity.
Well, hey there, Loras! With his boyish looks, wholesomeness, and “courtly love” routine, he is appealing but sexually non-threatening. He is also great at sports (well, those are sports, right?) and very charismatic, and his carefully created persona charms young ladies everywhere, but doesn’t necessarily reflect who he is. Loras, of course, isn’t really into ladies at all, and is in fact a bit of an arrogant, hot-headed little prick. He keeps his sexuality and romance with Renly a secret, so as to not hurt his popularity; coming out isn’t exactly an option in Westeros either.
Loras, like everyone in KL, is playing a game, and he is damn good at it, like a true Tyrell (Cersei says he’s “Tyrell to the bone”). Just to continue with the pop star comparison: isn’t Sansa’s reaction to him adorably like fangirling? “She thought her heart would burst,” I feel ya, sis.
On the following day, Loras puts on another brilliant and carefully orchestrated show for the crowd, complete with a marvelous outfit and a neat little trick to beat the Mountain with pretty much zero effort:
When the Knight of Flowers made his entrance, a murmur ran through the crowd, and he heard Sansa’s fervent whisper,
Oh, he’s so beautiful.”
Ser Loras Tyrell was slender as a reed, dressed in a suit of fabulous silver armor polished to a blinding sheen and filigreed with twining black vines and tiny blue forget-me-nots. The commons realized in the same instant as Ned that the blue of the flowers came from sapphires; a gasp went up from a thousand throats. Across the boy’s shoulders his cloak hung heavy. It was woven of forget-me-nots, real ones, hundreds of fresh blooms sewn to a heavy woolen cape.
His courser was as slim as her rider, a beautiful grey mare, built for speed. Ser Gregor’s huge stallion trumpeted as he caught her scent. The boy from Highgarden did something with his legs, and his horse pranced sideways, nimble as a dancer. Sansa clutched at his arm. “Father, don’t let Ser Gregor hurt him,” she said. Ned saw she was wearing the rose that Ser Loras had given her yesterday. Jory had told him about that as well.
Isn’t it funny? Sansa had seen Gregor kill a man only the day before, and the Hound had told him his story just the night before as well. Her reaction at seeing Loras and Gregor prepare themselves for the joust isn’t “Loras will win”, or “I hope Loras will finish him.” She is afraid for Loras. She doesn’t think of him as the hero who could slay the monster but as a fragile thing to be protected.
Well, she had a point. His trick made the Mountain super angry (what else is new?), and he would have killed Loras if it wasn’t for the Hound. After the Hound fights his brother, Sansa asks if he’s the champion now (Loras forgotten). In the end, he did win. Later, she hears Littlefinger talking about how Loras pulled it off, so Sansa knows it was a trick, but we don’t get to see her thoughts on it because it is Ned’s POV.
Only a few pages later, though, and she’s watching Ned send Beric Dondarrion and his men to kill Gregor Clegane, denying Loras’ request. Ned says it was because Loras was looking for vengeance and not justice. Sansa thinks it was because Ned’s leg injury “makes him cross”. Now this passage doesn’t make much sense to me:
Her father’s decision still bewildered her. When the Knight of Flowers had spoken up, she’d been sure she was about to see one of Old Nan’s stories come to life. Ser Gregor was the monster and Ser Loras the true hero who would slay him. He even looked a true hero, so slim and beautiful, with golden roses around his slender waist and his rich brown hair tumbling down into his eyes. And then Father had refused him! It had upset her more than she could tell.
Only days before she had seen the Mountain throw Loras on the ground and try to kill him, and Loras didn’t stand a chance. She KNEW that the only reason he won the joust was because of a trick, and that he couldn’t withstand Gregor. She even felt afraid for him and asked for Ned to protect him. And now… when Ned WAS protecting him, she wanted Loras to be sent to go after Gregor? Is this GRRM being inconsistent, or was Sansa so wrapped up in a fantasy that she forgets everything that she saw with her own eyes during the tourney to favour the fantasy?
Curiously, both Varys and LF think sending Loras would have been a good idea, but for wildly different reasons. LF questions her on why she wanted it and she says it was because of the songs. He goes into Pedofinger mode and touches her cheek, creeping her out, and gives her some pretty good advice: “Life is not a song, sweetling. You may learn that one day to your sorrow.”
But what about Loras? Why does HE want to go? He, more than anyone else, knows why he won the joust, and why he wasn’t killed by Gregor at the spot. It’s obvious that the Mountain would kill him during a battle. Does he want revenge so badly? Does he think the Mountain wouldn’t slay a Tyrell? Does he really believe his own pretense of being a knight straight from a song? Or is he just being cocky, like a young Jaime Lannister, thinking he is invincible?Ser Loras is also one of the players who has a nickname: The Knight of Flowers. But I was going through Sansa’s chapters and these names seem interchangeable, she doesn’t seem to favour one or the other in any special circumstances.
When Sansa has her moonblood for the first time and she’s having a nightmare about the riot, this is what she thinks:
She shouted for Ser Dontos, for her brothers, for her dead father and her dead wolf, for gallant Ser Loras who had given her a red rose once, but none of them came. She called for the heroes from the songs, for Florian and Ser Ryam Redwyne and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, but no one heard. Women swarmed over her like weasels, pinching her legs and kicking her in the belly, and someone hit her in the face and she felt her teeth shatter. Then she saw the bright glimmer of steel. The knife plunged into her belly and tore and tore and tore, until there was nothing left of her down there but shiny wet ribbons.
In her dream she calls for her family, but her brothers are gone and her father is dead. She calls for the disgraced knight Ser Dontos. And for Loras and the knights from the songs. In the riot, we know that her rescuer is the least knightly person in the kingdom—Sandor—but she doesn’t call out for him in this dream and he doesn’t appear. So could this be about her understanding that knights won’t save her, won’t protect her? Could she be internalizing the lesson about knights here? If we take a look at the language used, she says there was nothing left of her belly “but shiny wet ribbons”. That’s a pretty specific way to put it, and it brings to mind the Hound’s lesson about how knights are only swords with ribbons.
Loras is mentioned along with the other people she knows, Dontos and her family. But, thematically, I think he is a lot more like the second group, she doesn’t see him like a real person but as a knight from a song.
The next time Sansa sees Loras, it’s during the little show the Tyrells, the Lannisters and herself put on to undo her betrothal to Joff and hitch him to Margaery. Loras asks for a place in the KG, Mace asks for a place in the Council, and Garlan asks for Margaery to be the new bride.
Sansa thinks naming Loras for the Kingsguard isn’t such a great idea, that Joffrey would be cruel to Margaery as he was to her, and sooner or later there would be a second Kingslayer. She was more right than she knew, and this is an exceptional insight from her.
Margaery invites Sansa for tea when she arrives at the Red Keep, and sends Loras to fetch Sansa. Keeping up with her tradition to compare every man she meets to Sandor she says they were as different “as a flower from a dog.” And then she gets all adorable like a fangirl again:
When the appointed night arrived, another of the Kingsguard came for her, a man as different from Sandor Clegane as … well, as flower from a dog. The sight of Ser Loras Tyrell standing on her threshold made Sansa’s heart beat a little faster. This was the first time she had been so close to him since he had returned to King’s Landing, leading the vanguard of his father’s host. For a moment she did not know what to say. “Ser Loras,” she finally managed, “you … you look so lovely.”
He gave her a puzzled smile. “My lady is too kind. And beautiful besides. My sister awaits you eagerly.”
“I have so looked forward to our supper.”
“As has Margaery, and my lady grandmother as well.” He took her arm and led her toward the steps.
“Your grandmother?” Sansa was finding it hard to walk and talk and think all at the same time, with Ser Loras touching her arm. She could feel the warmth of his hand through the silk.
“Lady Olenna. She is to sup with you as well.”
“Oh,” said Sansa. I am talking to him, and he’s touching me, he’s holding my arm and touching me. “The Queen of Thorns, she’s called. Isn’t that right?”
“It is.” Ser Loras laughed. He has the warmest laugh, she thought as he went on, “You’d best not use that name in her presence, though, or you’re like to get pricked.”
Sansa reddened. Any fool would have realized that no woman would be happy about being called “the Queen of Thorns.” Maybe I truly am as stupid as Cersei Lannister says. Desperately she tried to think of something clever and charming to say to him, but her wits had deserted her. She almost told him how beautiful he was, until she remembered that she’d already done that.
Well, there isn’t much to look into here, but I will say that I sympathise with her sentiments of trying to look cool in front of a boy you like and sounding a little stupid, and thinking “OMG, he’s touching meee!”
In the same conversation, she talks about seeing him ride at the Hand’s Tourney and realises that he doesn’t remember giving her the rose, or even seeing her there. It’s a bit of a shock to her, she had thought the rose meant something.
“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.
He took his hand from her arm. “I slew Robar at Storm’s End, my lady.” It was not a boast; he sounded sad.
Him, and another of King Renly’s Rainbow Guard as well, yes. Sansa had heard the women talking of it round the well, but for a moment she’d forgotten. “That was when Lord Renly was killed, wasn’t it? How terrible for your poor sister.”
“For Margaery?” His voice was tight. “To be sure. She was at Bitterbridge, though. She did not see.”
“Even so, when she heard…”
Ser Loras brushed the hilt of his sword lightly with his hand. Its grip was white leather, its pommel a rose in alabaster. “Renly is dead. Robar as well. What use to speak of them?”
The sharpness in his tone took her aback. “I … my lord, I … I did not mean to give offense, ser.”
“Nor could you, Lady Sansa,” Ser Loras replied, but all the warmth had gone from his voice. Nor did he take her arm again.
Sansa realises here that she was just another girl in the Tourney, that it wasn’t special or like a song like she had thought at the time. He is only being nice. That’s a pretty big blow to her worldview.
Here we also see that Loras himself has gotten a little taste of reality now. He was only a knight of summer, untried in battle when we last saw him, but now Renly is dead, and he has killed men. He mourns for Renly, but Sansa doesn’t understand it.
During the meeting with the Tyrell ladies, Olenna talks about Loras as “young, and very good at knocking men off horses with a stick,” but “not wise.” She doesn’t seem to value gallantry or prowess in tourneys or pursuit of titles too much. Olenna and Margaery sweeten her up with lemoncakes and play her like a fiddle to get the truth about Joffrey out of her, and then start talking about a wedding to Margaery’s brother.
Sansa thinks to herself that Highgarden sounds like “the beautiful magical court she had hoped to find at King’s Landing.” This is so very Sansa. When she is still full of the notion of knights and hears about Gregor’s deeds, she starts to divide knights into “true” and “false.” Then after she has seen enough false knights she thinks, “surely there must be true knights SOMEWHERE.” And after she has suffered in King’s Landing, she thinks there must be a beautiful magical court SOMEWHERE. As nice as Highgarden sounds, though, it probably isn’t magical. As we know there’s friction with the Florents, and Olenna even admits that there are plenty of spies in the court. The Tyrells themselves aren’t above throwing her under the bus during their little plot to poison Joffrey.
Sansa is eager to go, and when she hears about marrying a Tyrell brother, she immediately thinks of Loras.
Wed to Ser Loras, oh … Sansa’s breath caught in her throat. She remembered Ser Loras in his sparkling sapphire armor, tossing her a rose. Ser Loras in white silk, so pure, innocent, beautiful. The dimples at the comer of his mouth when he smiled. The sweetness of his laugh, the warmth of his hand. She could only imagine what it would be like to pull up his tunic and caress the smooth skin underneath, to stand on her toes and kiss him, to run her fingers through those thick brown curls and drown in his deep brown eyes. A flush crept up her neck.
“Would you like that, Sansa?” asked Margaery. “I’ve never had a sister, only brothers. Oh, please say yes, please say that you will consent to marry my brother.”
The words came tumbling out of her. “Yes. I will. I would like that more than anything. To wed Ser Loras, to love him…”
Ha! Isn’t it delicious? Our little Sansa is growing up! She sees him as a pure, innocent, virginal creature, and then thinks about corrupting him and gets pretttty sexual with the imagery. It’s the first time she consciously has sexual thoughts, I think. Interestingly, it’s HER doing the “ravishing.”
Well, of course they were talking about Willas, the mystery man. Sansa is verrrry disappointed, her dreams are snatched away, but she remains polite and asks: who is Willas? What sort of man he is? Is he a knight?
Margaery dissimulates, but Olenna tells her he is older than her (how old, though? If Loras is 17 by this time, and Garlan is older, Willas should be around 21? 22?) and a cripple. Margaery says he has a bad leg but a good heart, and he used to read her stories when she was little, and draw pictures of the stars, he has the best birds in the kingdom. Later we also know that Willas is the one who gave that nice nickname to Garlan, that he is not bitter about his condition as he is friendly with Oberyn and even exchanges letters with him, and that he is quite intelligent and savvy as he predicts the Ironborn’s moves.
I don’t know about you, but I am really curious about him. Even Littlefinger can’t find a bad thing to say about him other than “boring,” and I would take that boring over LF’s plots any day. Of course I want Sansa to marry someone she actually loves, but do you think this would have been a total disaster? I don’t suppose Willas is nearly as bitter and self-pitying as Tyrion; he is the heir to Highgarden after all and all his family loves him, and he isn’t angry with either his father or Oberyn. Sansa could have been safe from Joffrey and Littlefinger at the very least, and the Tyrells did ask her for permission for the wedding after all, which is more than Tyrion, LF and Lysa did.
Sansa tells Ser Dontos of her arrangement with the Tyrells, but he tells her they are only Lannisters with flowers, and that they want her for her claim. She hadn’t considered that. After all, Robb was still very much alive, and married besides. She said Willas would keep her safe, and thought he would have no need for Winterfell anyway, if he had Highgarden. She wanted the conforts and pleasures Highgarden would offer, but was actually quite realistic about Willas. She thought to herself, he is crippled, twice my age, and maybe ugly as well, but she wanted him to love her for herself all the same, and perhaps he would if she gave him children, and she would name them after the family she had lost. That’s pretty grown up thinking for a girl that is constantly bashed as shallow.
When she is being forced to marry Tyrion, she desperately thinks of Willas and Highgarden, but then considers that it wouldn’t matter in the end who she married if everyone just wanted her for her claim. This is very sad, and speaks of her disillusionment with the institution of marriage—later in the books she thinks no one would ever marry her for love and that she doesn’t want to be married again.
Sansa dances with Garlan the Gallant at her reception, and he tells her about Willas giving her the nickname. He is nice. He knows what’s up with her wedding to the Imp, so of course all the Tyrells should too, but the rest of them all treat her coldly after the wedding, as if she had betrayed them, except for Margaery who looks at her with pity but also doesn’t talk to her.
Tyrion of course is ever so nice to her during the whole wedding, that lovely quote “Come, wife, time to smash your portcullis. I want to play come-into-the-castle” uttered in front of everyone coming to mind, though to be fair he did stop the bedding (which was literally the least he could do). In the bedroom, he tries to make him look more pleasant to her by comparing himself to Loras, who he knew she had affections for, something which I find so thoroughly offensive I will decline further comment. Funny enough, later, Sansa (as Alayne) thinks that if she closes her eyes she could pretend Sweetrobin is Loras, a callback to that scene, except that Loras would never look at a bastard girl like herself.
Olenna talks to Sansa during the Red Wedding but of course she is getting the poison from Sansa’s hairnet. Does Olenna mean what she says about taking Sansa to Highgarden? Does she truly want to go on with the original plan after Tyrion is taken out of the picture, or is it hogwash and she stopped caring now that Sansa is only the dwarf’s leavings and thus not good enough for Willas?
PART I: AGOT
The first thing to keep in mind when thinking about how Joffrey influences Sansa is that their marriage is arranged early on by their fathers. She has no say in the matter at all, nor is she expected to dissent. In fact, Sansa is the obedient daughter who strives to meet everyone’s expectations of her throughout the first portion of GoT.
In the Stark crypt, Robert admits that he’s miffed about not being able to keep his pledge to send Sweetrobin to Tywin for fostering, that he’s not in the best situation with his in-laws. He laughs it off, but his comment that Ned doesn’t go to bed with the Lannisters should have given Ned a good hint, then, of how connections to the Lannisters in general can change a person over time. On every political issue raised by them until his death, Robert capitulates and soothes their pride. On the heels of this conversation, Robert offers Ned the position of Hand and then proposes a marriage alliance between their houses. Despite his initial reluctance, circumstances compel Ned to arrange the marriage, as we see later on. He should understand that the Lannisters insist on being accommodated, and if Sansa will have to get in bed with the Lannisters, she, too, will be expected to surrender to them in various ways to remain in their good graces.
All of the interaction we see between Joff and Sansa occurs after Robert’s intentions are made clear to Ned. We see our first glimpse of them together through Jon’s eyes at the welcoming feast. Though jealousy inspires much of Jon’s thoughts with regard to Joff, and we can only suspect that Joffrey and Sansa have yet to be told of the betrothal in the works, Sansa is clearly honored to be on Joffrey’s arm. At this point, there’s no way to know what Joffrey is. We’ve barely gotten a glimpse of him, but we, like Jon, are outsiders in this view—whatever insight distance affords, it is not available to Sansa, an insider.
Later that night, Ned and Cat discuss the possibility of Ned being Hand and Sansa betrothing Joffrey. Catelyn emphasizes that the offers are an honor, concluding: “Sansa might someday be queen. Her sons could rule from the Wall to the mountains of Dorne. What is so wrong with that?” Ned obviously thinks of Joff as his mother’s son (a Lannister), but Cat emphasizes the prince’s lofty position. After they receive the message from Lysa, everything changes in Ned’s mind. He backpedals: “Sansa must wed Joffrey, that is clear now, we must give them no grounds to suspect our devotion.” In the end, the Starks, too, fear the Lannisters and their influence over the king. This is significant because it sets up the Lannisters as a powerful family to which others generally yield. Sansa is fed to the lions by her own parents. We do not see her parents address Sansa about the betrothal or how they might encourage her to think well of the prince, but it seems likely that she would glean from their behavior that he at least has the parental stamp of approval.
All of this is the context for Sansa’s later interactions with Joffrey. We hear about the first such through Arya’s eyes:
We were talking about the prince,” Sansa said, her voice soft as a kiss. Arya knew which prince she meant: Jofftey, of course. The tall, handsome one. Sansa got to sit with him at the feast. Arya had to sit with the little fat one. Naturally.
“Joffrey likes your sister,” Jeyne, proud as if she had something to do with it. She was the daughter of Winterfell’s steward and Sansa’s dearest friend. “He told her she was very beautiful.”
“He’s going to marry her,” little Beth said dreamily, hugging herself. “Then Sansa will be queen of all the realm.
Sansa had the grace to blush. She blushed prettily. She did everything prettily, Arya thought with dull resentment. “Beth, you shouldn’t make up stories,” Sansa corrected the younger girl, gently stroking her hair to take the harshness out of her words. She looked at Arya. “What did you think of Prince Joff, sister? He’s very gallant, don’t you think?”
“Jon says he looks like a girl,” Arya said.
In Arya’s first chapter, it doesn’t appear as though Sansa is as yet aware of the betrothal. We see that she seems highly impressed with Joffrey and thinks he cuts a fine figure, but we also see her appeal directly for Arya’s opinion. Arya doesn’t give it, instead deflecting with Jon’s. It seems clear that Arya, too, does not have any real problem with Joffrey thus far (she seems disgruntled that he escorted Sansa while she got stuck with Tommen), and Jon’s opinion is put down to jealousy, which is very likely partly true.
The important thing to note, though, is how interested Sansa is in having her sister’s opinion on the matter, and how emphasis is placed on Joffrey’s supposed feelings for her and the social position that his interest could grant her (neither of these points are emphasized by Sansa, whom we see behave modestly, as a “good girl” ought to do). Sansa indicates a need for approval or support regarding Joffrey as a suitor. This conversation happens before Bran is tossed out the window, and between this tragedy and the party’s setting out from Winterfell, the betrothal ceremony takes place. By the time we rejoin Sansa, she is already on the road and at the Trident. Months have passed.
She had brushed out her long auburn hair until it shone, and picked her nicest blue silks. She had been looking forward to today for more than a week. It was a great honor to ride with the queen, and besides, Prince Joffrey might be there. Her betrothed. Just thinking it made her feel a strange fluttering inside, even though they were not to marry for years and years. Sansa did not really know Joffrey yet, but she was already in love with him. He was all she ever dreamt her prince should be, tall and handsome and strong, with hair like gold. She treasured every chance to spend time with him, few as they were. The only thing that scared her about today was Arya.
— We see her brushing her hair and carefully choosing a blue gown for her meeting with the queen. (The color blue has multiple meanings in medieval European literature: fidelity, remembrance, sadness. It is also a royal color after Tyrian purple goes out of use. When Joff pops up later in the chapter, he wears blue wool, black leather, and his crown of golden curls. She has noted his tendency to wear blue and has seemingly dressed to match him. This gesture indicates her desire to be thought suitable and her wish to be accepted into the family. Sansa’s method of showcasing her appropriateness for him seems founded on ascribing to Joff’s likes and dislikes as though they were her own, especially if his preferences are marked by a visible component that would make an impact on an audience.
In contrast, when Sansa goes to collect Arya, Arya is brushing mud from Nymeria’s fur and is muddy herself. Sansa worries about Arya because Arya doesn’t meet chivalric expectations of behavior becoming to a lady, and she thinks her sister will embarrass her in front of her betrothed’s family, decreasing her own appropriateness as a match for the crown prince. Her impulse toward self-surveillance emphasizes the performative nature of the feminine ideal and becomes something she relies on later when her courtesy armor protects her in King’s Landing.
— Here we also get a glimpse into her already-determined feelings for her betrothed. Supposing that Joffrey could instantly fall for her (as she is teased by her companions in Arya’s chapter) may have lead her to expect that she should be able to do the same. So, she determines that she loves Joff already, but we readers can see that her “love” is granted by several factors that have little to do with the “real” Joff at all: a) she’s probably feeling the first flutterings of physical attraction, now that a good-looking boy of rank has come forward (she would have had no one to look at in Winterfell who is suitable to her station except for Theon, who is unsuitable on other grounds), b ) she’s supposed to love her future husband by the standards of her society—and she’s a good girl, and c) in an era where people “look to love”, he meets her expectations of what a prince should be (later in the chapter, we note that he is tall, well dressed, and crowned with golden hair—figuratively, his golden crown of hair signifies the literal Baratheon crown—of course, this is ironic on a couple of fronts).
What this all boils down to is Sansa’s emphasis on chivalry as both a code and an ideal. The chivalric code is based on the idea that appearances matter and they do not generally deceive. Honesty and “noble bearing” are two of the most prized concepts of this code and ideal. The maxims “truth in looks” and “pride aspires to beauty” become formalized into a code of honor. Despite the difficulty of living this code and emulating the chivalric ideal, real people in the real world did try very hard to live up to these standards. But like all ideals, the chivalric way of life was something to which members of this class could only aspire, and they often fell short. By extension, we should consider Sansa’s personal investment in appearances not as mere testament to frippery and nonsense or, even worse, vanity, but as a carefully tended ideological practice where young nobles are taught that they rule by right through interior perfections (truth, beauty) that manifest in a physical, exterior way (transparently).
Sansa puts a lot of stock, not in fairy tales, per se, as she is often accused, but in the chivalric code. The chivalric ideals she carefully maintains and affirms are confronted almost immediately by a different courtly attribute, sophistication. The way she handles the teasing of the knights in this chapter aims at, but misses, the sophistication of the court. Her reliance on the prescribed methods of interacting with other people of rank (via the chivalric code) only leaves them aware of her naiveté.
— At the queen’s wheelhouse, she finds herself surrounded by knights and other people who find Lady threatening. The Hound tries to diffuse the situation by reassuring people that the Starks allow them around their children (how vicious can they be?), and Cersei, seeing Sansa’s distress (and perhaps noting that her own lackwit son is idly standing by while his guard dog is being more of a man), sends Joffrey to Sansa’s rescue.
Joffrey plays his role here (Sansa doesn’t necessarily bother about his being prompted—perhaps she merely thinks Joffrey unable to see her distress), and she goes on to think of him as her savior. In the same scene, he goes on to rebuke the Hound for frightening Sansa and chastise his uncle for speaking to Sansa in a condescending way.
Sansa works to appease or soothe her betrothed in the latter instance, insisting that she can respond with aplomb to the good-natured teasing. It is really the first glimmer of her peace-keeping / avoid-confrontation tendencies. As the introductions and courtesies proceed, Joffrey explains the cryptic remarks others are making about Ilyn Payne, answering her seriously, rather than making her feel like an idiot for being unfamiliar with the man’s story. Despite that we see Joff behave over-sensitively, he is one of the few people who stands beside Sansa and indicates that her dignity and ease concern him (yes, at the promptings of his mother). No one else seems terribly invested in putting her at ease (where the heck is The Ned?). His actions excite a number of feelings in Sansa:
The way he had rescued her from Ser Ilyn and the Hound, why, it was almost like the songs, like the time Serwyn of the Mirror Shield saved the Princess Daeryssa from the giants, or Prince Aemon the Dragonknight championing Queen Naerys’s honor against evil Ser Morgil’s slanders. The touch of Joffrey’s hand on her sleeve made her heart beat faster.“What would you like to do?”
Be with you, Sansa thought, but she said, “Whatever you’d like to do, my prince.”
She esteems him, she’s attracted to him, and she exalts him to a place beside the heroes from songs. I think it’s important to take note of her first comparison, Serwyn of the Mirror Shield, particularly, as it seems to have a symbolic meaning. Not only does she refer to the story where this knight saves a princess from giants (an interesting tale in relation to Bran’s vision of Sansa herself slaying a giant—must she, ultimately, become a Serwyn herself later on?), we later come to find out the story behind the Mirror Shield: Serwyn once slew a dragon by approaching it behind his reflective shield and spearing it through the eye. I think the mimic theme (mirror, parrot, mockingbird) is strong in Sansa’s arc. Accordingly, we see here that Joffrey’s looks define him in Sansa’s eyes, that by looking and acting the part, by hiding behind his position and appearance, he reflects Sansa’s idea of chivalric nobility right back at her, defeating her on a symbolic level. She places him in the “always right”, “knows best” category because, in her view, his beauty should be a marker of his interior perfections, and she then let’s herself off the hook of judging the situation. She gives him the honor/duty of “looking after” her. His noble bearing and flattery have the power to undo her, and she finds herself willing to do whatever he wishes. But it is her own princely ideal she is seeing in Joffrey, her own treasured script of nobility she hears from him—the source is not Joffrey himself. As long as he continues to follow the script, she will continue to put her faith in him; her faith in him is her faith in the ideals that are reflected back at her in his performance.
He exerts this power over her immediately by suggesting that they discard their protectors (she is uncertain about tying Lady up) and go out riding alone together (she never liked to ride before—another of his preferences that she adopts).
Have no fear, lady. I am almost a man grown, and I don’t fight with wood like your brothers. All I need is this.” He drew his sword and showed it to her; a longsword adroitly shrunken to suit a boy of twelve, gleaming blue steel, castle-forged and double-edged, with a leather grip and a lion’s-head pommel in gold. Sansa exclaimed over it admiringly, and Joffrey looked pleased. “I call it Lion’s Tooth,” he said.
Joffrey clearly wants to impress her, distinguishing himself from her brothers and informing Sansa that he’s a badass, basically. The way he speaks, her reactions to him, he evidently has a large degree of vanity that Sansa should take note of here but doesn’t. So, leaving behind their bodyguards (Lady and the Hound), chaperone-less, they go gallivanting about the countryside.
It was a glorious day, a magical day. The air was warm and heavy with the scent of flowers, and the woods here had a gentle beauty that Sansa had never seen in the north. Prince Joffrey’s mount was a blood bay courser, swift as the wind, and he rode it with reckless abandon, so fast that Sansa was hard-pressed to keep up on her mare. It was a day for adventures. They explored the caves by the riverbank, and tracked a shadowcat to its lair, and when they grew hungry, Joffrey found a holdfast by its smoke and told them to fetch food and wine for their prince and his lady. They dined on trout fresh from the river, and Sansa drank more wine than she had ever drunk before. “My father only lets us have one cup, and only at feasts,” she confessed to her prince.
She leaves the train behind in Joff’s company—something she has taken Arya to task for earlier. Despite her disinterest in the land off the beaten path when Arya mentions it, here she sees and enjoys it with Joffrey. We should note that all her time with him is not miserably uncomfortable or a source of instant anxiety. She appreciates the beauty of the Riverlands, something she finds only with him, as her father does not create such opportunities for her to explore them in relative safety. Even when Joff demands refreshment at the nearby holdfast, it all fits with Sansa’s received notions of the appropriate distance between high ranking nobles and lesser lords and commonfolk, and it also would be a taste of the privilege she can expect from a step up in status. She exhibits being completely in Joffrey’s sway by allowing him to convince her to take more wine than she knows she ought, just as she allowed him to persuade her to leave behind their protectors.
Joffrey sang for her as they rode, his voice high and sweet and pure. Sansa was a little dizzy from the wine. “Shouldn’t we be starting back?” she asked.
Here, he entertains her in a very courtly way, as we all know how well Sansa appreciates song, but her dizziness from too much wine leads her to suggest they return to camp. Joff declines, wanting to see where his father defeated Rhaegar instead. This instance interests me because this is Sansa we’re talking about. One word about his voice (it’s all it should be, basically), and she’s ready to go back. For someone who loves songs so much, she seems little invested in Joffrey’s songs. Are we to take this as an indication of just how inebriated she is? Are we to assume his songs aren’t those she likes to hear? Or is it simply an oversight on the author’s part to minimize the gushing? Still, we see her unwilling to depart Joff’s company, even though she knows herself to be losing control a bit. This dependence on the male figure to whom she has been entrusted sets the scene for all that follows. Safe to say, her inability to control Joffrey and her avoidance of confrontation, not to mention her own wine-induced failures of judgment, conspire to set Sansa up as a helpless bystander at the riverbank. His influence on her is shown to be a dangerous one, in that it places her in a dangerous situation—one where she must rely solely on his assistance and honor should anything happen, one where she has no control over him at all as she consistently abdicates her own good judgment in favor of his desires.
When they suddenly hear clacking noises through the trees, Joffrey goes off, ostensibly, to someone’s rescue. That’s when they find Arya mock-fighting with Mycah. At first, Joff just laughs when Arya gets banged up by Mycah, but upon finding out that she is Sansa’s sister, Joff gets off his horse in order to harass the boy. Here, we are forced to notice that Joffrey is still in full “impress the chick” mode, thinking he will teach the boy a lesson. His “instruction” seems based entirely on the idea that a noble lady should not be consorting with a commoner (he had shown nothing but amusement at the pair until he discovers Arya’s identity). Here, again, he holds up the mirror to Sansa, who also disapproves of Arya’s companionship with the butcher’s boy. This reflection of her own disapproval back at her seems to paralyze her. Sansa can see that Mycah is telling the truth about being asked to practice with Arya, but she can’t find fault with Joffrey’s indignation, and she excuses Joffrey’s refusal to listen to their commands/requests as a byproduct of how much wine he’s been drinking.
This scene at the Trident has been hashed over endlessly, so I won’t say much more on the topic, as I feel we’ve been rather thorough in the re-reads, but I will point out that neither Arya nor Sansa have dealt with someone of Joffrey’s character before. Both command/ask him to stop, then Arya resorts to violence while Sansa wrings her hands, close to tears (ineffectual, sidelined like Ned during the Gregor–Loras bout). Neither of the sisters are flatterers or willing to beg for Joff’s forbearance (either tactic might have had some impact on Joffrey, hard to say, though clearly neither of the current methods were well thought out). After Joffrey is brought low by Arya, Sansa runs to his assistance, ostensibly to play the role of the lady nursing the hero back to health, but she gets only loathing from Joff. She’s witnessed his humiliation at the hands of her sister, and he can’t stand her—for a moment, the mirror is cracked; Joff’s façade has crumbled, he no longer reflects Sansa’s ideals back at her, nor is he pretending to possess the qualities his beauty is supposed to mark. For the first time, the specter of a marriage filled with disdain and rejection rears it’s ugly head. The day ends as she dreaded—Arya ruins things by not behaving properly. Because Arya refuses to play her part in the script, the part of a little lady who does not mix with commoners, Sansa has to witness her prince outside of the script as well. She can’t reconcile the way Joffrey behaves with the script demanded by her chivalric ideal of him, so she floats the blame onto the wine, onto Arya’s rebelliousness, basically making excuses for him and refusing to let go of her fantasy.
Much more important to an examination of Joff’s influence on her is the next scene where they appear together in front of King Robert. We see how the loathing Joffrey showed her when she offered to bring him aid has borne fruit. On some level she understands that it is the humiliation that has caused his change of feeling. When asked to corroborate Arya’s version of events, she refuses to admit witnessing his humiliation at all. She understands that admitting Joffrey’s weakness to the entire company would irreparably damage her relationship with him, and let’s have the justice to recognize that this is a relationship that she not only wants to keep but also that she has no power to get out of on her own. We know that she told Ned what really happened. We know that Ned did not try to dissolve the betrothal. We know that Ned didn’t compel her to present the facts after Arya beats her in front of the royals (foreshadowing? She knows now that there is a price to pay for maintaining her silence, but that doesn’t mean that the price paid isn’t a bargain compared to what would happen if she spoke her true thoughts). Perhaps Ned knows how useless pushing Sansa to reveal the truth would be after Arya’s inappropriate response, or perhaps he understands Sansa’s position, hard to say—the show does examine this moment better, in my opinion, where Ned acknowledges that Sansa is between a rock and a hard place while explaining the matter to Arya. In the books, he merely points out that everyone lies, even Arya. Further, we know that Sansa dislikes confrontation, and she has little reason to think well of her sister’d behavior. Mycah is, sad to say, nothing to her, but Joffrey will be Arya’s brother-in-law. I think we have to conclude that from Sansa’s perspective, her sister should have been more loyal to her brother-in-law to be, the future king, than to her commoner friend. There really is no greater testament to Joff’s influence on her than here, at the hearing. He has her loyalty, both as her future king and husband. She will not publicly humiliate him. Not only does she not want him to continue to hate her, there can be no realistic expectation of her anticipating the consequences of sitting this one out. It’s basically, he-said-she-said, right? Well, not exactly. No one can dispute that Joffrey was injured while Arya and Mycah are well enough (at the moment), and fled the scene (as though guilty). The physical evidence is pretty damning. Both girls receive a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime—Arya loses her playmate, Sansa loses her direwolf. Here is another of the many examples Martin gives us that Westeros is not a fair place, that people do not get what they truly deserve (at least not initially). But perhaps more force attends the observation that Arya loses her ally while Sansa loses something important to her very nature and identity.
Frustratingly, Martin takes the point of view away from Sansa for another extended period of time, and by the time we catch up with her, she has forgiven Joffrey for his part in the tragedy (he didn’t want Lady dead, he only wanted to save face, besides “he was too beautiful to hate”), and is now blaming only Arya for putting them all in the position they were in and Cersei for demanding Lady be put down. At the feast after the first night of the tourney, Sansa is afraid to be snubbed, but Joffrey has taken up the chivalric script once again. Is it because Joffrey feels that they are even now (Arya humiliated Sansa, too, in front of the court, and she has been deprived of Lady)? Or will he “remember that” the way the Hound warns Tyrion about his physical chastisements? I think he treats her preferentially for very practical reasons: like Sansa, Joffrey also can’t just walk away from the marriage and must keep up appearances, and Cersei probably calls the shots in this regard.
She could not hate Joffrey tonight. He was too beautiful to hate. He wore a deep blue doublet studded with a double row of golden lion’s heads, and around his brow a slim coronet made of gold and sapphires. His hair was as bright as the metal. Sansa looked at him and trembled, afraid that he might ignore her or, worse, turn hateful again and send her weeping from the table. Instead Joffrey smiled and kissed her hand, handsome and gallant as any prince in the songs, and said, “Ser Loras has a keen eye for beauty, sweet lady.”
He was too kind,” she demurred, trying to remain modest and calm, though her heart was singing.
“Ser Loras is a true knight. Do you think he will win tomorrow, my lord?”
“No,” Joffrey said. “My dog will do for him, or perhaps my uncle Jaime. And in a few years, when I am old enough to enter the lists, I shall do for them all.” He raised his hand to summon a servant with a flagon of iced summerwine, and poured her a cup. She looked anxiously at Septa Mordane, until Joffrey leaned over and filled the septa’s cup as well, so she nodded and thanked him graciously and said not another word. The servants kept the cups filled all night, yet afterward Sansa could not recall ever tasting the wine.
She needed no wine. She was drunk on the magic of the night, giddy with glamour, swept away by beauties she had dreamt of all her life and never dared hope to know. Singers sat before the king’s pavilion, filling the dusk with music. A juggler kept a cascade of burning clubs spinning through the air. The king’s own fool, the pie-faced simpleton called Moon Boy, danced about on stilts, all in motley, making mock of everyone with such deft cruelty that Sansa wondered if he was simple after all.
And Joffrey was the soul of courtesy. He talked to Sansa all night, showering her with compliments, making her laugh, sharing little bits of court gossip, explaining Moon Boy’s japes. Sansa was so captivated that she quite forgot all her courtesies and ignored Septa Mordane, seated to her left.
Sansa had never eaten snails before; Joffrey showed her how to get the snail out of the shell, and fed her the first sweet morsel himself. Then came trout fresh from the river, baked in clay; her prince helped her crack open the hard casing to expose the flaky white flesh within. And when the meat course was brought out, he served her himself, slicing a queen’s portion from the joint, smiling as he laid it on her plate. She could see from the way he moved that his right arm was still troubling him, yet he uttered not a word of complaint. Later came sweetbreads and pigeon pie and baked apples fragrant with cinnamon and lemon cakes frosted in sugar, but by then Sansa was so stuffed that she could not manage more than two little lemon cakes, as much as she loved them.
These passages emphasize the chivalric script in various ways and the impression Joffrey’s performance has on Sansa.
The first passage gives us the golden hair=golden crown image once again. The recurring image marks how much Joffrey looks the part of the crown prince. If appearances do not deceive according to the chivalric code, his subjects must see him as appropriate to his station, and therefore entitled to its privileges. Also, the first selection offers a performance of courtly love values. Courtly love happens between a knight and a lady of high rank who embodies perfection. The rose Loras gave Sansa marked her as said object (of course we readers know his actions are a mere political maneuver, not a courtly love ritual). In any case, Joff seems determined to put Loras in his place to Sansa: his champions will defeat him, and in time, he will do his own fighting. He’s talking big again to impress his girl. By the tenants of courtly love, love of one’s object is increased by the jealousy and admiration by other worthy men (universal agreement of the object’s perfections and the struggle to monopolize said object).
Sansa, like Emma Woodhouse, has trouble reading situations. She cannot read the rose-gift as a political maneuver, nor does she question Joffrey’s contemptuous dismissal of Loras. Joffrey does not think Loras is the better knight just because he looks the part. He has confidence in the Hound. Of course, Martin does not give us much of Sansa’s thoughts on Joff’s pronouncement. She doesn’t question Joffrey the way she does Jeyne over such matters as who is the better, truer knight (a mark of her perceived part as his betrothed and an indication of his influence). The important takeaway from this passage is that Joffrey is back inside the chivalric play, making all the gestures, looking the part, deepening their betrothal by reacting to the new courtly love slant, and also getting her drunk with the indirect consent of her septa.
Not only is Ned a very absent father when Sansa has to handle court situations, but her personal security is compromised here by her septa’s complicity in the partying atmosphere. We see that no one else is really available to give Sansa an alternative to Joffrey’s influence in these scenes. She is troublingly alone with him, even amidst a crowd of other feasters and partygoers.
The next two passages bring in the figure of the fool. I had forgotten that fools come into prominence in Sansa’s arc here at the feast. We see that Sansa has already questioned the sly nature of Moon Boy. She understands that he must be rather intelligent, even though he allows others to laugh at him and pretends to be simple. Her noticing the fool here prepares her for the time when she will discover that a fool can be a clever and helpful ally (Dontos, Butterbumps). Also, we see that Joffrey is a sort of translator for Moon Boy’s “deft cruelty.” Not only is her enjoyment of the japes dependent on Joffrey’s assistance, it might have raised a flag in anyone else’s mind that Joffrey “gets” Moon Boy so completely. However, we see insight lag behind her gratitude for Joffrey’s explanations and attentions, as per usual.
In the last of the quoted passages above, we see Joffrey really going above and beyond. He serves her himself, selecting the best foods for her. When she’s at a loss on how to eat an unfamiliar item, he steps in and shows her how to manage the feat. Feeding her himself = sickeningly sweet couple behavior. He even performs in a markedly non-Draco-Malfoy kind of way by uttering no complaints about his mauled arm.
This passage more than any other makes me cry foul when readers bemoan how Sansa really ought to have known what Joffrey was after the death of Lady. At the Trident, he, the crown prince, was humiliated and mauled by her sister and Nymeria. Naturally, he saves face in front of his scary father (or tries to) because he is who he is and has a large degree of manly pride due to his station. Can readers seriously expect him to tell the truth about what happened? “Yeah, I was a dungbar and picked a fight with a commoner who couldn’t fight back and ended up getting beaten up by a little girl.” Seriously, folks, no teenage boy is going to come clean about that. It’s horrible, but not unexpected. But aside from this one instance that revealed so much to us readers, in every other respect, he acts as the perfect prince and future husband—explaining, helping, treating Sansa, all without complaint or impatience.
Joffrey has introduced Sansa to much of the pleasure she’s experienced on the journey and in King’s Landing, and the hateful things that he was involved in are justifiable when other targets are readily available to take the brunt of the blame. It’s self-delusional on Sansa’s part, but understandable. We all do this: we all make excuses for those of whom we have high expectations. Sansa’s investment in the fantasy of being the perfect princess to the perfect prince cannot be understated, either. When I consider the absolute failure of all adults involved in the Mycah incident (Robert, Cersei, the Hound, and Ned) to strive for justice, it does not surprise me that Sansa cannot see the event clearly. All the children suffered in this event, including Joffrey, while the adults either didn’t dare stand for what’s right or roostered each other for pecking order.
Sansa started as Joffrey laid his hand on her arm. “It grows late,” the prince said. He had a queer look on his face, as if he were not seeing her at all. “Do you need an escort back to the castle?”
“No,” Sansa began. She looked for Septa Mordane, and was startled to find her with her head on the table, snoring soft and ladylike snores. “I mean to say . . . yes, thank you, that would be most kind. I am tired, and the way is so dark. I should be glad for some protection.”
Joffrey called out, “Dog!
Sandor Clegane seemed to take form out of the night, so quickly did he appear. He had exchanged his armor for a red woolen tunic with a leather dog’s head sewn on the front. The light of the torches made his burned face shine a dull red. “Yes, Your Grace?” he said.
“Take my betrothed back to the castle, and see that no harm befalls her,” the prince told him brusquely. And without even a word of farewell, Joffrey strode off, leaving her there.
But the end of the feast shows the mask abandoned once more, the public face discarded. Joffrey has just witnessed some ugliness between his mother and the king, and his relative indifference to Sansa is revealed. He has the opportunity to escort her back to her quarters, but he shrugs off this duty on the Hound. Joffrey’s only the valiant hero when people are there to observe and applaud his efforts. The idea of being alone with Sansa does not seem to be something he relishes after the events at the Trident. Sansa is puzzled by the coolness and the gradual diminish of courtesy in his behavior. He goes from being hyper-attentive and pleasing to cool courtesy in having Sandor escort her, to complete inattentiveness (not even a farewell) in a matter of paragraphs.
Sansa reflects, “The feast was over, and the beautiful dream had ended with it. The Hound snatched up a torch to light their way.” I find this turn of events interesting on a couple of levels. On one hand, Sansa seems to be on the verge of acknowledging that her vision of Joffrey is a bit rose-colored. The magical evening has dissipated, and presumably, Sansa is starting to wake up to reality. On another hand, the guide to light this dark path is Sandor Clegane. I think this is the first indication that the Hound will be stepping into that vacuum created by absentee adults to offer an alternative sphere of influence. He will be the one who shows her how to make her way in King’s Landing when it really counts. Casting her faith in being Joffrey’s betrothed, on the other hand, will get Sansa nowhere (as we will see).
After Jory is dead and her father’s leg is injured by Jaime, we see Joffrey’s influence on her beginning to change.
“I had a dream that Joffrey would be the one to take the white hart,” she said. It had been more of a wish, actually, but it sounded better to call it a dream. Everyone knew that dreams were prophetic. White harts were supposed to be very rare and magical, and in her heart she knew her gallant prince was worthier than his drunken father.
“A dream? Truly? Did Prince Joffrey just go up to it and touch it with his bare hand and do it no harm?”
“No,” Sansa said. “He shot it with a golden arrow and brought it back for me.” In the songs, the knights never killed magical beasts, they just went up to them and touched them and did them no harm, but she knew Joffrey liked hunting, especially the killing part. Only animals, though. Sansa was certain her prince had no part in murdering Jory and those other poor men; that had been his wicked uncle, the Kingslayer. She knew her father was still angry about that, but it wasn’t fair to blame Joff. That would be like blaming her for something that Arya had done.
Aside from noting that Sansa is still bitter about Lady being killed for the offenses of Nymeria and Arya, we also receive a glimpse of Sansa really trying to reconcile the chivalric script with a pinch of reality. She admits that the “dream” is really a “wish.” She also knows Joffrey well enough to see that he would shoot the magical white hart because he likes killing. She also seems to be starting to recognize how killing (not hunting or merely touching) such a magnificent creature would play to his vanity. We see her more willing than any other character to eschew house prejudice, as well. She refuses to lump all the Lannisters together the way her father and Arya do. She understands that marrying Joffrey will give her a connection to the Lannisters (and actually, she has begun to think of Joff as a Lannister rather than as a Baratheon, taking every opportunity to dwell on how different he is from his embarrassing and frightening father).
In the orange-fling scene, Sansa either outright lies about the events at the Trident to justify how things turned out and keep the blame more firmly on Arya (a willfully malicious move that seems somewhat out of character), or she really dis-/misremembers what happened. I don’t see what reason she would have to lie about it.
The Hound is Joffrey’s sworn shield. Your butcher’s boy attacked the prince.”
“Liar,” Arya said.
“Go ahead, call me all the names you want,” Sansa said airily. “You won’t dare when I’m married to Joffrey. You’ll have to bow to me and call me Your Grace.” She shrieked as Arya flung the orange across the table.
Basically, this is just a screaming match between her and her sister ending in a typical “wish you were dead!” statement. It’s important to note how emotional her reaction is, especially after Arya ruins her finery (the dress in which she was betrothed). Here is another instance of Arya “spoiling” the things she values. Symbolically, I think we must conclude that the incident at the Trident has spoiled Sansa’s innocence somewhat (signified by the white betrothal gown). Sansa remembers her betrothal ceremony fondly. It happened before she really knew any of the ugliness of the Lannisters, of Joffrey, even of Arya. Arya’s ruining the dress (with another throw, only an orange this time instead of a rock) goes hand in hand with the ruining of her beautiful dream of Joffrey and being his bride.
Really, it’s not like Arya wouldn’t contradict a lie right away (this is exactly what she does), so who is Sansa hoping to deceive when she says Mycah attacked Joffrey? I tend to think that this is simply one of those truths she can no longer face, now that her marriage to Joffrey is a foregone conclusion. What I find incredible here is that this isn’t the only thing she’s seemed to forget about the Trident. When she mentions how Arya won’t dare to accuse her of lying once she’s queen, it’s like she doesn’t even remember the details of the court scene and how Arya had no problems at all accusing Joffrey of being a liar. Sansa also sidesteps Arya’s attacking Joffrey. When she thinks about what happened on the Trident, she simply points to Arya as the reason it all happened, not going so far as to dwell on the things Arya did to Joff or Joff’s turning on her.
To me, I make sense of the scene by interpreting her anomalous statements as an actual selective revision of memory. The more she must become invested in being Joffrey’s bride, the more she must excuse and revise his actions. It quite seems like the excusing and justifying have lead to the revision of the events, so much so that she doesn’t even think there’s any reason not to want to marry him, and in fact, she almost exhibits a kind of buyer’s zeal to justify an imprudent purchase by exalting the over-priced item. She can’t admit she was robbed.
“I don’t want to go back.” She loved King’s Landing; the pageantry of the court, the high lords and ladies in their velvets and silks and gemstones, the great city with all its people. The tournament had been the most magical time of her whole life, and there was so much she had not seen yet, harvest feasts and masked balls and mummer shows. She could not bear the thought of losing it all.
“Father, I only just now remembered, I can’t go away, I’m to marry Prince Joffrey.” She tried to smile bravely for him. “I love him, Father, I truly truly do, I love him as much as Queen Naerys loved Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, as much as Jonquil loved Ser Florian. I want to be his queen and have his babies.”
“When you’re old enough, I will make you a match with a high lord who’s worthy of you, someone brave and gentle and strong. This match with Joffrey was a terrible mistake. That boy is no Prince Aemon, you must believe me.”
“He is!” Sansa insisted. “I don’t want someone brave and gentle, I want him. We’ll be ever so happy, just like in the songs, you’ll see. I’ll give him a son with golden hair, and one day he’ll be the king of all the realm, the greatest king that ever was, as brave as the wolf and as proud as the lion.”
Arya made a face. “Not if Joffrey’s his father,” she said. “He’s a liar and a craven and anyhow he’s a stag, not a lion.”
Sansa felt tears in her eyes. “He is not! He’s not the least bit like that old drunken king,” she screamed at her sister, forgetting herself in her grief.”
Strikingly, Sansa isn’t even thinking of remaining in King’s Landing for Joff at first. When I read this passage again, looking for examples of Joffrey’s influence on Sansa’s development, I immediately thought of the moment where Sansa suddenly recalls in the Vale that she is married to Tyrion and so cannot marry someone else. This oversight powerfully suggests that her true motivations for wanting to be in King’s Landing have more to do with the fun she’s having, the luxury and warmth of the place, than anything like her love for the crown prince, who is really just her means to stay in the city. What she craves most is the spectacle, the experiences, the freedom perhaps, afforded to her in the south. She suddenly remembers her betrothal and then falls back on the old script, mentioning her devotion and love for Joff, and the duty she owes him. He comes to represent everything that is being denied to her in a remove back to Winterfell. That’s when Arya chimes in with an indictment on his character, and Sansa almost becomes unhinged defending him.
She insists that Joff isn’t a bit like Robert. But why is she so vehement? What is it she always harps on? Robert’s drunkenness. When have we seen Joffrey drunk? At the Trident. Now we come to it. I think her insistence that Joffrey isn’t like Robert tends toward an almost hysterical pitch because she is fighting hard to forget the Joffrey who was made wild by wine. She has blocked out the key points of what happened there: her own inebriation and lack of control, her own powerlessness, paralysis and ineffectuality, her sister’s rebellious violence, his cruelty and ugliness. She works hard to lay out some distance between Robert’s drunken unseemliness and the sadism she witnesses in Joffrey. She’s whitewashed him completely. He has become her blank slate almost: he’s everything a prince should be, and he represents to her all the wonderful experiences she’s had in King’s Landing; that is, he represents access to a world she very much wants to be a part of. When she has to deal with Joffrey The Real Boy rather than Joffrey The Fantasy Prince, she becomes slightly unhinged.
In any event, her desire to stay directs her to seek Cersei’s help in staying. She doesn’t commit such an open act as to go bid Joff a farewell, but she does know very well that she is skirting her father’s mandates.
Sansa looked up from her food. “If she can have a dancing lesson, why won’t you let me say farewell to Prince Joffrey?”
“I would gladly go with her, Lord Eddard,” Septa Mordane offered. “There would be no question of her missing the ship.”
“It would not be wise for you to go to Joffrey right now, Sansa. I’m sorry.” Sansa’s eyes filled with tears. “But why?”
“Sansa, your lord father knows best,” Septa Mordane said. “You are not to question his decisions.”
“It’s not fair!” Sansa pushed back from her table, knocked over her chair, and ran weeping from the solar.
Joffrey (and all he represents to Sansa) becomes the thing denied her while Arya gets everything she wants. Sansa, remember, is the good girl. She does what she’s told, she’s raising the family by marrying royalty. She feels like she belongs at court. Her direwolf was killed instead of Arya’s. Now Arya gets to see her dancing master, and she cannot even tell her betrothed good-bye? Without an explanation, the unfairness of the situation is on betrayal level. Sansa’s really hurt, not to mention desperate to stay in King’s Landing. Ned and Arya keep undermining what she’s trying to achieve, a higher position, a more comfortable life, and yes, power and privilege.
Readers like to point fingers here about Sansa’s betrayal of The Ned, but doesn’t it seem clear why she feels such disconnection from her own family? She has things she wants for her life that are being continually assaulted or denied without explanation by her own family members. There might have been a time where she would have been happy to have the betrothal broken and be shipped back home (after Lady died), but she’s doubtlessly gone through a lot of psychological gymnastics by this time in order to make lemonade from her betrothal to Joffrey. Doesn’t she deserve an explanation? As readers, it is easy for us to see that Joffrey does not stand for liberation, for wonderful new experiences, for luxury (in fact, he comes to symbolize restriction, painful experiences, neglect and deprivation). But, I would argue, these are the things he has come to symbolize for Sansa: a perfect life of luxury and delight with her at the top of the social hierarchy, afforded all due courtesy and respect. She cannot permit herself to see Joffrey as a person, only a prince.
The first time we see Sansa after Ned’s capture is when Cersei leans on her to write to Robb. In this scene, Cersei reveals Sansa’s crime: thwarting Ned’s intentions by seeking out Cersei for help to stay in KL. Joffrey isn’t in the scene, but his influence on Sansa is peppered throughout, and conversely, the idea that she has some influence over him in return finally surfaces into conscious thought.
Cersei begins manipulating Sansa straight away:
“How can I allow you to marry my son?”
“But I love him,” Sansa wailed, confused and frightened. What did they mean to do to her? What had they done to her father? It was not supposed to happen this way. She had to wed Joffrey, they were betrothed, he was promised to her, she had even dreamed about it. It wasn’t fair to take him away from her on account of whatever her father might have done.
“How well I know that, child,” Cersei said, her voice so kind and sweet. “Why else should you have come to me and told me of your father’s plan to send you away from us, if not for love?”
“It was for love,” Sansa said in a rush. “Father wouldn’t even give me leave to say farewell.”
She was the good girl, the obedient girl, but she had felt as wicked as Arya that morning, sneaking away from Septa Mordane, defying her lord father. She had never done anything so willful before, and she would never have done it then if she hadn’t loved Joffrey as much as she did. “He was going to take me back to Winterfell and marry me to some hedge knight, even though it was Joff I wanted. I told him, but he wouldn’t listen.” The king had been her last hope. The king could command Father to let her stay in King’s Landing and marry Prince Joffrey, Sansa knew he could, but the king had always frightened her.
“Please,” she finished, “you have to let me marry Joffrey, I’ll be ever so good a wife to him, you’ll see. I’ll be a queen just like you, I promise.” Queen Cersei looked to the others.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge Martin’s unsympathetic tone while orchestrating the scene. At times, Sansa comes off as rather callous regarding her father’s plight, and she still seems incredibly eager to please, despite not knowing the fate of her family members and loyal retainers. I don’t want to be a Sansa apologist here. There is definitely some degree of humanizing feeling and commonsense lacking in this passage. I do feel, though, that it would be a mistake to ignore how scared for her own life a girl in her situation must be, but because Martin rarely grants Sansa self-reflexive narration—or, indeed, much interiority even in her perspective—her fear is actually quite easy to overlook. She focuses on the threatened loss of Joffrey so stubbornly, it becomes apparent that she simply refuses to consider other things that could happen to her and her family. In my most charitable considerations of the scene, I almost think she just can’t face reality, but I’m forced to admit that more seems to be going on here.
— Cersei immediately begins manipulating Sansa by affirming her and Joffrey’s love for her. Finally, Sansa has the wished-for open acknowledgment of Joff’s feelings and, by extension, what should be her influence over him. But as soon as this love is offered, Cersei suspends it. This moment forcibly reminded me of her seeking Arya’s opinion about Joffrey from the beginning of the book. Sansa depends heavily on the approbation of those around her to carry her through a crisis.
— Sansa excuses her behavior as “the things I do for love”. It is a convenient fallback crutch, easier than admitting you might have unintentionally sold out your family for power and position.
— Sansa’s thoughts about how the king may enable her to remain in KL directly correlate to the sway Sansa imagines Cersei bringing to bear on her husband. Too intimidated to go to Robert herself, she tries to enlist Cersei’s intervention without a single doubt that the queen will succeed. This is the sort of influence she hopes to exact on Joff some day.
So, here, we see her make a bid for what she wants (luxury, good weather, status, and entertainment) at the expense of her father’s approval. This move really was agonizing for her, and her guilt over it is probably why she reclaims the idea of being head over heels for Joff at this moment in order to excuse her (in my mind, minor) rebellion. For a moment, when Cersei claims to love her, she hopes things will turn out alright. If they love her, then they wouldn’t hurt her. If they love her, then they will show her father mercy. It really is the best she can hope for in the situation, that her own personal value to Cersei and Joffrey will keep her and her father safe. At this point, she doesn’t seem keenly aware of her own political value.
We see her dive completely into this line of thinking when we she comes before Joffrey to ask for mercy.
Butterflies fluttered nervously in Sansa’s stomach. I shouldn’t be afraid, she told herself. I have nothing to be afraid of, it will all come out well, Joff loves me and the queen does too, she said so.
This scene marks a new pattern for Joffrey where he seems overtly concerned about the public impression he makes only when he is actually dealing with nobles and is on the throne.
The height of the Iron Throne gave Joffrey a better vantage point than anyone else in the hall. He was the first to see her. “Come forward, my lady,” he called out, smiling.
His smile emboldened her, made her feel beautiful and strong. He does love me, he does. Sansa lifted her head and walked toward him, not too slow and not too fast. She must not let them see how nervous she was.
Sansa had eyes only for Joffrey. He must listen to me, he must, she thought. The king shifted on his seat, “Let her speak,” he commanded. “I want to hear what she says.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.” Sansa smiled, a shy secret smile, just for him. He was listening. She knew he would.
Joffrey pushed himself to his feet. Please, Sansa thought, please, please, be the king I know you are, good and kind and noble, please.
“Do you have any more to say?” he asked her.
“Only . . . that as you love me, you do me this kindness, my prince,” Sansa said.
King Joffrey looked her up and down. “Your sweet words have moved me,” he said gallantly, nodding, as if to say all would be well. “I shall do as you ask . . . but first your father has to confess. He has to confess and say that I’m the king, or there will be no mercy for him.”
“He will,” Sansa said, heart soaring. “Oh, I know he will.”
The throne room scene marks the first time Sansa tries overtly to use the power of Joffrey’s love for her for gain, but the idea of such influence has been in the background almost from the beginning. Here, we see that Sansa still has faith that giving people what they want will result in some sort of return on investment, in this case, her father’s life. All her thoughts in this sequence illustrate her confidence (or bravado) that Joffrey is under her sway.
Joff’s interest in appearing to be everything she expects might have something to do with a pretty girl begging him for mercy on her knees, of course (perhaps she and Arya should have tried this tactic on the Trident), and he seemingly wants to be her prince from the stories, worthy of her hero-worship. But the sad reality is that Sansa overestimates her influence over Joffrey, as all of his performances have been aimed more at pleasing his parents than being her perfect prince. Eventually, his status as king solves any insecurities he may have that he doesn’t measure up to some idealized standard. How little it matters what others think when one has all the power!
Sansa backed away from them. “I did as the queen asked, I wrote the letters, I wrote what she told me. You promised you’d be merciful. Please, let me go home. I won’t do any treason, I’ll be good, I swear it, I don’t have traitor’s blood, I don’t. I only want to go home.” Remembering her courtesies, she lowered her head. “As it please you,” she finished weakly.
“It does not please me,” Joffrey said. “Mother says I’m still to marry you, so you’ll stay here, and you’ll obey.”
“I don’t want to marry you,” Sansa wailed. “You chopped off my father’s head!”
“He was a traitor. I never promised to spare him, only that I’d be merciful, and I was. If he hadn’t been your father, I would have had him torn or flayed, but I gave him a clean death.”
Sansa stared at him, seeing him for the first time. He was wearing a padded crimson doublet patterned with lions and a cloth-of-gold cape with a high collar that framed his face. She wondered how she could ever have thought him handsome. His lips were as soft and red as the worms you found after a rain, and his eyes were vain and cruel. “I hate you,” she whispered.
King Joffrey’s face hardened. “My mother tells me that it isn’t fitting that a king should strike his wife. Ser Meryn.”
Sansa’s ear felt numb. She touched it, and her fingertips came away wet and red. “I . . . as . . . as you command, my lord.”
“Your Grace,” Joffrey corrected her. “I shall look for you in court.”
In this scene, Sansa’s vows “to be good” indicate her childish way of seeing the world. When threatened, she quickly promises to be obedient in hopes that she will be treated kindly. She entreats Joffrey as she would an authority figure. She used to make this promise to parental figures, but his power is such that she makes that promise now to him. Already she is trying to negotiate saying the pleasing but insincere thing in order to gain some purchase in a harsh climate. Just as quickly, she provokes Joffrey, though. She tells Joffrey that she doesn’t want to marry him and that she hates him. She’s actually doing the opposite of “being good,” and Joffrey rebukes her straight away.
After Ned is executed, Joffrey can no longer disguise his inner self. We actually see it pollute his appearance in Sansa’s mind until her impression is like Jon’s first impression of him. This is reinforced later, in the throne room scene, as well, where she refers to Joff’s ugly face and wonders where have all Papa’s heroes gone, basically. The images associated with her re-vision of Joff are firmly Lannister: his hair is gold, lips are red, and he wears the Lannister colors and lion emblem. Though she’s certainly associated him with the Lannister’s in the past, this association seems to be horrific to her now. And even though he quickly demonstrates that her perfect prince from the songs was all an illusion, such doesn’t mean that Sansa has leave to acknowledge this reality, or a right to quit playing his loving princess. The Hound follows up on this lesson, and we see Sansa immediately adopt his advice:
Save yourself some pain, girl, and give him what he wants.”
“What . . . what does he want? Please, tell me.”
“He wants you to smile and smell sweet and be his lady love,” the Hound rasped. “He wants to hear you recite all your pretty little words the way the septa taught you. He wants you to love him . . . and fear him.
“I will need hot water for my bath, please,” she told them, “and perfume, and some powder to hide this bruise.” The right side of her face was swollen and beginning to ache, but she knew Joffrey would want her to be beautiful. The hot water made her think of Winterfell, and she took strength from that.
Sansa did not speak to them, except to give them commands; they were Lannister servants, not her own, and she did not trust them. When the time came to dress, she chose the green silk gown that she had worn to the tourney. She recalled how gallant Joff had been to her that night at the feast. Perhaps it would make him remember as well, and treat her more gently. She drank a glass of buttermilk and nibbled at some sweet biscuits as she waited, to settle her stomach.
The tone set from the wheelhouse scene onward has completely changed by this portion of the book. For the first time, Sansa realizes the importance of stifling her true feelings, not out of courtesy or fear of rejection but out of self-interest. The performance of her role becomes newly significant, the success of which will determine her very survival. Sansa takes a care for her dress here, not to please Joffrey but to appease him. She tries to work on any connection he may have felt. This would be a fine method of handling a more sentimental person, but Joffrey only remembers the slights he’s been dealt. We also see Sansa striving for remoteness and trying to put the butterflies to rest. The fluttery feeling she’s mentioned feeling when thinking about Joff before is now something to be treated as a condition and suppressed if possible. The idea that her own body could revolt and betray her is a source of acknowledgment, at least through her actions, if not conscious reflection. We see she distrusts her servants as well as the physical manifestation of her feelings. Her world has resolved into an “us or Lannisters” view. She thinks on Winterfell as a source of strength in contrast to the way she now sees the Lannisters and King’s Landing.
When she meets with Joffrey after court, she acquiesces to his demands without complaint, though she did show some cheek to Ser Merwyn before remembering her new precarious position:
She wanted to rage, to hurt him as he’d hurt her, to warn him that when she was queen she would have him exiled if he ever dared strike her again . . . but she remembered what the Hound had told her, so all she said was, “I shall do whatever His Grace commands.
This reminds us of the self-deluding/prevarication scene with Arya, and her insistence that Arya won’t dare call her a liar once Sansa is queen. Here, Sansa has changed. She wants to fall back on the idea that she could still some day be in a position to wield power, but she cannot depend on it. She realizes the futility of posturing to those who have much more to fear from disobeying Joffrey. She has not yet seen the contradiction between being a true knight and one of the Kingsguard, but for the first time, we see that day coming.
The parapet scene opens up a number of fruitful avenues of thought, though only a few have anything to do with Joffrey (her dynamic with Sandor is just as interesting as the one with Joff here). When she concludes, “The Hound was right . . . I am only a little bird, repeating the words they taught me,“ she actually frames her new tactic for court survival. Before, she believed the words she parroted. Now she has to use the codes and courtesies in a more self-aware way. Perhaps she isn’t such a good liar and her yes-manning is fairly obvious, but this doesn’t mean that even an obvious lie won’t still conceal true thoughts. Sansa is poised to step into the role of Serwyn Mirror Shield, reflecting back only what they want to see while hiding her true intent.
Perhaps unsatisfied that she’s being so docile, Joffrey showcases his detachment and insensitivity in a more personal way:
“I’ll get you with child as soon as you’re able,” Joffrey said as he escorted her across the practice yard. “If the first one is stupid, I’ll chop off your head and find a smarter wife. When do you think you’ll be able to have children?”
Sansa could not look at him, he shamed her so.
Sansa jerked back away from him, trembling. Suddenly she knew where they were going. “No,” she said, her voice a frightened gasp. “Please, no, don’t make me, I beg you . . . ”
Joffrey pressed his lips together. “I want to show you what happens to traitors.”
Sansa shook her head wildly. “I won’t. I won’t.”
“I can have Ser Meryn drag you up,” he said. “You won’t like that. You had better do what I say.” Joffrey reached for her, and Sansa cringed away from him, backing into the Hound.
“Do it, girl,” Sandor Clegane told her, pushing her back toward the king. His mouth twitched on the burned side of his face and Sansa could almost hear the rest of it. He’ll have you up there no matter what, so give him what he wants.
She forced herself to take King Joffrey’s hand.
Aside from the cruelty exhibited in forcing her to look at the severed heads of her family and friends, Joff attacks her on the front of maidenly modesty. Sansa is a preteen girl, naturally reticent to talk about her body, and Joffrey not only expresses a total lack of concern on that front but he places the issue of, well, their issue, front and center. He threatens her with her own children. He claims to have a solution for her bearing him subpar children, but his callousness only emphasize in contrast just how useless a Sansa who delivers any kind of heir would be to the Lannisters. They would have gotten all they wanted from her—a claimant to Winterfell. As readers, it frustrates us just how much Sansa doesn’t seem to recognize her danger. Here, too, we never get a glimpse of whether the implications are lost on her. She only mentions being ashamed for the sacrifice of her modesty.
Refusing to go up the stairs is yet another instance of Sansa’s (rumored by some readers to be completely lacking) resistance. It’s only with the threat of coercion and Sandor’s encouragement that she agrees to follow Joff up to see the heads. She focuses on the idea that she can be forced to look at something but not forced to see it. I think this type of dangerous detachment has been at work in Sansa before, only here she is aware of it. Just as she refused to accurately recall the events on the road, she refuses to register the horror before her. In fact, she willfully turns a cold and cruel reality into artifice:
Sansa looked at it calmly, not seeing it at all. It did not really look like Lord Eddard, she thought; it did not even look real. “How long do I have to look?”
Her distance here can be viewed positively, I think, though some people may find it a bit troubling. We see Sansa is made of some pretty stern stuff at this moment. She refuses to let her enemy see her cry or get under her skin when it counts. But we can’t forget that these methods of locking herself down are not the real Sansa. She’s not becoming an unfeeling, broken girl, though. We see that her spirit is alive and kicking only a moment later in this exchange:
After my name day feast, I’m going to raise a host and kill your brother myself. That’s what I’ll give you, Lady Sansa. Your brother’s head.”
A kind of madness took over her then, and she heard herself say, “Maybe my brother will give me your head.
And after she’s struck for her trouble, she retreats back into the little bird persona. Almost immediately, she thinks of shoving Joff to his death, but the Hound prevents this with his own subterfuge of courtesy.
These last scenes show Sansa struggling with her desire to act and her inability to do so safely. Courtesy and the chivalric code become performance, artifice rather than inherent truth to her. She becomes aware that, rather than a transparent manifestation of some inborn perfection, courtesy is mere manner, a reflection of the lies people tell themselves, available to be put to work for various purposes, like subterfuge, concealment, manipulation, deception. She begins to learn to erect it as her armor.
We see by the end of GoT that all the joys and luxuries of court life that Joffrey had come to represent have been turned upside down, and the moment Joffrey’s true nature is revealed to her is the moment that she is forced to wear a mask.
by Lord Bronn Stokeworth
Sandor and Sansa’s relationship has been analyzed many times. With that said, I’m probably not breaking new ground here. But analysis of Sansa and how she has been influenced cannot leave Sandor out. So, here it goes. Also, this is Part 1 of 3. Part 2 will be CoK. Part 3 will be SoS and FoC.
To follow the evolution of Sandor’s influence on Sansa, I decided I would go through each scene where they are together or she thinks of him. I did skip the occasional scene like when Sandor joined the Kingsguard because it really had no effect on Sansa (but if someone disagrees, by all means tell me). I broke these up into themes. I will summarize all scenes that relate to Sansa and Sandor (from Sansa’s perspective, Sandor dying in the Riverlands is how she affected him and possibly Sandor and Arya’s relationship). I will focus on these themes. Of course, feel free to bring up anything I missed. I will only quote if I feel the wording deserves special attention.
Sandor vs. The Hound
I saw Lady Candace’s point about Sansa considering Littlefinger and Petyr Baelish two different people. I wondered if it could apply to the Hound and then realized since the Hound persona has been passed twice, it’s definitely worth looking into.
It actually does work. He is Sandor when he is trying to help her. He is The Hound when he is threatening even if he doesn’t mean it. It makes for a boring read if I point out each and every instance, so I’ll only point out the important ones.
Beyond Sansa’s mental organization, this theme will include contradictions. Sandor wants the little bird to have her stories. The Hound hates the little bird and her stories. Sandor protects her. The Hound threatens her. Admittedly, this could possibly be a different theme, but the Sandor/Hound contrast just works so well.
Sansa and Sandor both believed in stories when they were young. Sandor is disillusioned when we meet him. Sansa becomes disillusioned as the story moves on. However, stories stay an important part of their characters.
This is not only about direct references to stories, but when their actions mirror stories.
This is about their relationship. Not necessarily romantic. I believe it is (will be) romantic, but I am using this category for their general relationship.
As many have pointed out, the Hound is part of Sansa’s growing sexuality. Sex is not necessarily part of a relationship. Sure, they go hand-and-hand, but sex is an important part in its own right and can stand on its own. Personally, I feel it should be considered both as a part of SanSan and a separate theme of its own.
I also want to point out I am a man in his mid-to-late twenties. Talking about a preteen/teenage girl’s sexuality is a bit weird for me. I tried to do it because I said I would write about Sandor’s influence on Sansa and because I may have a daughter someday (and how can I talk about sex with her when I can’t talk about a fictional character?), but it’s still a bit weird for me. So, while I will not consciously skip stuff, I may still miss stuff or be briefer than I should be.
As pointed out in previous discussion of the Ned/Sansa review, Sansa has had multiple teachers. Beginner level was her parents and Septa Mordane, who taught her the basics. Advanced is Littlefinger who is teaching her to manipulate other people. Sandor is the Intermediate level that taught her to survive the cutthroat world of King’s Landing.
These are other themes that popped up, but aren’t necessarily tied to Sandor and Sansa. It also includes foreshadowing and symbolism. I’m not the best at catching it, so I’m grouping it in with the others.
GoT Sansa I Themes: Sandor vs The Hound/Stories/Foreshadowing
This is their first real interaction. Sansa bumps into someone who grasps her by the shoulders, Sansa thinks he is her dad, and she is safe. It turns out to be Sandor. But The Hound once he laughs at her. He continues to make fun of her until Joffery steps and protects her.
Sandor vs. The Hound: It should be noted that at the very beginning Sansa is separating Sandor from The Hound. When she looks up to see whose protective hands are over her, she sees Sandor. But when he laughs, he becomes The Hound.
Stories: Sansa’s dream of stories comes true with the dashing Prince Joffrey protecting her from The Hound. Of course, we know this is the reverse of what is true. But this point, Sansa is still living in her stories.
What happened to Bran was a tragedy, but it does not go against the stories. The first cracks will appear soon when Lady, an innocent, is killed. But for now, this event confirms it. The scarred warriors are cruel and/or creepy, and the handsome prince is her protector and savior.
Foreshadowing: Sandor protects Lady. He’s a dick about it, but his joke helps stop the situation from going into full kill mode. Basically, foreshadowing how Sandor will try to help protect Sansa later (including still being a dick about it).
GoT Sansa II Sandor vs The Hound/SanSan/Game Skill/Stories/Sex
Joffrey offers to take Sansa back and orders Sandor to do it. The Hound mocks her for thinking Joffrey would take her himself. He terrifies her, but she is unable to wake up Septa Mordane. Sansa goes to her default “courtesy is a lady’s armor” mode. The Hound sees it as bullshit and takes offense at being called a ser. Sansa tries to compliment his brother which makes him stop. He directly insults her and comes up with the little bird line. Sansa defends herself and is forced to see Sandor for physically and his traumas. Sansa responds in a way which causes The Hound to mellow out. He continues to escort her as a proper escort until he gets to her bed chamber where he threatens her to keep his secret.
Sandor vs. The Hound: When Sandor stops, he is referred to as Sandor, and I do think that is important. The words right before it, “It was no lie.” It was true, and it put a crack in The Hound’s armor. Sansa’s natural perceptiveness shines through here. While she is not a warrior herself, she was paying attention to the actual tournament (which Sandor may not have expected considering her generic “gallant” comment to him) and saw how powerful he was. Sandor rejects her perception by immediately calling her a little repeating bird. The next important difference between Sandor and The Hound is when Sandor forces Sansa to look at the real him. She is forced to see Sandor’s face and his past. The last important bit is when she tells him his brother is no true knight. The Hound laughs. I don’t think he meant to be frightening or anything. It simply scared her the way he did. So, the Sandor vs The Hound terminology is not GRRM telling us anything. The difference comes from Sansa’s own perception.
SanSan: I think the part where Sansa defends herself is important. She tells an angry, drunk child-killer that he’s scaring her and wants to go. Most people would be too scared to say anything. I think this is where (the possibility of) SanSan begins. They are both able to get through each other’s armor: Sandor’s anger and Sansa’s courtesy. If that is subtle, Sandor physically forces Sansa to look at him honestly. He further lets his guard down. Sansa’s fear changes to sadness. While it could draw pity, she is able empathize with Sandor.
The silence went on and on, so long that she began to grow afraid once more, but she was afraid for him now, not for herself. She found his massive shoulder with her hand. “He was no true knight,” she whispered to him.
The Hound threw back his head and roared. Sansa stumbled back, away from him, but he caught her arm. “No,” he growled at her, “no, little bird, he was no true knight.
His sudden reaction startles her, but it does change the relationship. Little bird went from an angry mockery to a not-quite-yet-friendly nickname. The fact that she was able to keep her belief of story knights, stay in proper lady form, and deal with The Hound was what kept the nickname around.
Little bird became a nickname just as Littlefinger or The Spider became names of the game players. It is important because of the way it came about. Littlefinger is haunted by the fact he is such a minor lordling and that fuels his ambition. Varys is a master manipulator who has his webs all over. And Sansa earned hers through empathy and the courtesy her mother taught her. Tyrion later sees this when he comments on what a good queen she would be. It may also change in some fashion in the Vale, but that is not the scope of this writing.
Game Skill: Sansa uses a lady’s armor to soothe The Hound. This one of the first times it becomes more than a saying for her. As mentioned above, this is not a good scenario she is in. Sandor is a drunk, violent man who she is alone with. Yet, her first exercise in courtesy proves to be a success and is something she uses often to protect herself in King’s Landing. Again, little bird becomes a sort of badge of honor. This is one of the first times she uses courtly/political type behavior in a dangerous situation. She wins! Beyond changing the tone of the “little bird,” the name has a lot of foreshadowing. It is connected to politics and foreshadows her future as Littlefinger’s (the mockbird) student.
Stories: The area where Sandor tells Sansa about his brother is Sandor clearly trying to tell Sansa that the stories are bullshit. This is likely one of the first times someone has been so direct with a lesson like that.
He uses his brother as an example and contrasts his behavior with the story-like quality his knighthood had (given by a prince). Sansa rejects this and simply claims Gregor was no true knight. So, Sansa listens to him, but at this stage isn’t ready to accept that stories aren’t real. Rather she simply states that Gregor is not a “true knight.” This completely misses Sandor’s point, but at least shows some acknowledgement that not all knights are “true knights.”
A random aside, part of me wonders if it wasn’t Rhaegar Targaryen who made Gregor a knight, would that have made a difference. Although to the reader Rhaegar is commonly presented positively, to Sansa he was the guy that kidnapped and raped her aunt. Is it a wonder he knighted someone like the Mountain? I wonder if it was someone she would have respected would that help make her see that the “true knight” is a rare breed, if it exists at all.
Lastly, the fact that Joffrey pawned her off on Sandor is a shift in the “story.” Joffrey goes from protecting her to seemingly indifferent. The Hound goes from a terrifying threat to a terrifying protector (one that is loyal to her prince’s house, not a personal protector).
Sex (sorta): It is not a direct theme, but the fact that The Hound waits to threaten her in her bedchamber seems to be foreshadowing the BBW scene.
GoT Eddard VI SanSan/Stories
It is the final part of the tournament. Sansa roots for Sandor. He beats Jamie and then saves Loras’s life.
SanSan: Not romantic, but Sansa cheering is an indication of her view of him after the events of the night before.
Stories: The tourney is a bit like a story. Sansa is convinced. She knew Sandor would win. Add to that, the fight ends with a battle between brothers with the noble knight defending the innocent against the evil monster. Their fighting matters too. Of course, we don’t know if Sansa saw it, but Ned noticed that Gregor was trying to kill Sandor while Sandor was not trying to kill Gregor. But she’s observant enough that it is highly likely she did.
And of course, it ends with the grateful “victim” rewarding the hero for his deeds.
Of course, the real situation is not quite a story. Sandor is not a noble knight (though protecting Loras was noble). Loras was far from innocent. Gregor is a monster, though. This is the first time that Sandor is “in a story.” For now, Sansa is an observer who is watching. Later, she will actively participate in the stories.
Ultimately, this is important, because this is the first parody story that plays out for Sansa.
GoT Sansa VII Part 1 Sandor vs The Hound/Game Skill/SanSan/Sex/Stories
Joffrey wants Sansa dressed and ready for him. Sansa tries to protest. Joffrey has Sandor lift her out of bed. Sansa wants to know why her father was killed when she did all she was asked. Joffrey responds that he promised mercy, not Ned’s life. Sansa sees him “for the first time.” She tells him she hates him. He has Meryn strike her. Sansa gives in. Joffrey and the Kingsguard leave. Sandor stays to give advice before leaving.
Sandor vs. The Hound: Throughout this scene, Sandor is Sandor. He is the only one who shows any sort of kindness even if it is not much. He only becomes The Hound when he tells Sansa what Joffery wants.
Game Skill: In short, Sandor tells her how to survive.
SanSan: Sandor is “almost gentle” when he pushes her to the dresser. This is contrasted by Meryn hitting her so hard in the head that her ear is bleeding. Even when he is rough with her when he picks her up, he is still Sandor. I think this is a clear indication she sees him separate from the others. Hell, he is even wearing different clothing than the other Kingsguard. Now, he is still a Lannister man, and she isn’t expecting him to whisk her away like in the stories. But she does recognize Sandor is different from the others.
Sex Well, here’s the quote:
Sandor Clegane scooped her up around the waist and lifted her off the featherbed as she struggled feebly. Her blanket fell to the floor. Underneath she had only a thin bedgown to cover her nakedness. “Do as you’re bid, child,” Clegane said. “Dress.” He pushed her toward her wardrobe, almost gently.
So, he picks her out of bed and reveals her almost nakedness. That sounds rather sexual, and is a nice foreshadowing for the sexual dream of him later. Also, he seems to spend a lot of time in Sansa’s bedroom certainly helps with the Sandor-sex connection. So… yeah.
Stories: It is another shift in the original story of her prince. Now, she knows Joffrey to be the villain. Sandor becomes the soldier sympathetic to the enemy.
GoT Sansa VII Part 1.5 Game Skill/Stories/Misc. [Stark Power]
Meryn comes back for her. Sansa talks back to him, but follows. Later at court, she thinks of Sandor’s words.
Game Skill: This is an obvious part. She follows Sandor’s advice and doesn’t get beaten.
Stories: She still believes in the stories. But she recognizes that utter monsters are not the only “not true knight”s. Meryn is not like Gregor, he simply follows orders no matter how terrible they are.
While at court, when she wishes she could hurt Slynt or a hero would do it for her, she remembers Petyr and The Hound’s words that life is not a story.
Misc. [Stark Power]: I’m not sure how much Sandor had in this, but she rebels somewhat against Meryn by calling him “no true knight” to his face. She probably did recognize he would not hit her. He simply did not care. But it was a moment of defiance, if a small one.
GoT Sansa VII Part 2 SanSan
The Hound and Meryn join Joffrey. Joffrey then takes Sansa to see her father’s head and mocks and threatens her. Sansa tells Joffrey that Robb might give her his head and he has Meryn beat her. Sansa considers killing him but is stopped by The Hound.
SanSan: This is largely a build up for the final bit and to show how things have changed. Joffrey reaches for her, and not for the first time, she goes to the protective hands of The Hound. While it’s a stretch to say he is a protector of her, he is a limited zone of safety. And he sorta is here. She recognizes that he sends her back because not resisting is the best thing she can do here. Also, an interesting bit is The Hound rebels and refuses to remember mocking Robb. Whether he did forget, didn’t want to hurt Sansa more, or didn’t want to look bad to her, it represents a shift from his loyalty Joffery to Sansa*.
Finally, Sansa is prepared to kill Joffery. She doesn’t care about dying herself. Sandor likely saw it and got in between the two. He then surprises her with his gentleness. It is guaranteed he was concerned about saving her life. To what degree it meant compared to saving Joffrey (i.e. did he care more about her than Joffrey?) is up for debate. Of course, I lean to more Sansa than Joffrey (though I see him protecting him regardless at this point). Sansa recognizes he saved her life and thanks him.
An important bit, is Sandor brought her back from the brink**. He helped keep her the little bird instead of Joffrey’s suicidal assassin. Also, the fact that he used Sansa’s technique of compassion and courtesy instead of the brutal honesty he usually prefers is important.
*I hesitate to say it’s total or even mostly shifted here, but it certainly represents things are changing.
**I’m sure that some might say that one time was hardly the brink, but most crimes of passion and suicides are single moments. But only a moment is needed to change everything.
CoK Sansa I Stories/Game Skill/SanSan
It is the tourney of Joffrey’s nameday. Sansa goes to watch the tourney. It’s boring which worries Sansa. Then, Dontos comes out drunk and mostly naked. Sansa convinces Joffery not to kill him with Sandor’s help. Joffery cancels the tourney. Tommen still wants to tilt and Joffery relents to him, Myrcella, and Sandor. After Tyrion’s arrival, Joffery and Sandor leave.
Stories: The first bit happens when Sansa is being led by Arys to the tourney. She reflects on all the knights and how they treat her. She regards Arys the best since he tries to be civil and objected to beating her. Then, she goes on to mention The Hound never hits her. Of course, Joffrey never orders him to. This is the first Sandor as an anti-knight moment. The next is his dress. While Arys’s cloak was a part of him, it contrasted with who Sandor was. This contrast is important. Arys seems like a basically decent guy. He seems like a “true knight.” Yet, he still will beat Sansa if ordered. He may object. He may not hurt her as much as the others. But he still will hit her. The Hound does not. There is no indication that Sansa thinks The Hound wouldn’t. Simply, Joffrey has the other five for that. I think this is less Sansa and more GRRM. He wants us to know from the very beginning of the book, Sandor does not fit in the Kingsguard. He wants us to know this is a good thing for Sansa.
Game Skill: Another part of stories is one that has been mentioned on this board before. The power of stories. Sansa tries to use it in a desperate attempt. She doesn’t believe Joffery believes her. Then Sandor steps in and backs her up. The scene does this show Sansa some innate understanding, but does so poorly. Sandor gives her an example of two things. Have more than one singer if possible. And make sure the singer comes from somewhere else. Sansa has every reason to lie to Joffrey at that moment. But why would Joffrey think Sandor might be lying? Even Sansa seems surprised and thinks she might have stumbled upon a saying she never knew.
SanSan: While their relationship does not directly grow, we do see how Sandor is playing damage control. He tries to steer Joffrey away from beating her. This can be compared to Arys and his objection. Sandor is actively manipulating Joffrey at least somewhat while Arys is passive (he objected, but there is no evidence he tried to stop the beatings in any way). I do not mean Sandor is Littlefinger-level in his manipulation. But he is trying to do what he can. Lastly, I want to state that like the stories bit above, it is mainly GRRM trying to establish the “normal” at the beginning of the book rather Sansa’s point of view.
CoK Sansa II Sandor vs The Hound/ Stories/SanSan/Game Skill/Sex
Sansa is returning from her meeting with Dontos in the godswood. She bumps into The Hound literally. He takes her back to her room.
Sandor vs. The Hound: For much of it, he is The Hound. He takes this identity when he performs his duty as Kingsguard. This seems to be a general theme in the book. He is (Sandor) Clegane four times. Each time was something that set him apart from his job. Whether it was changing the subject before Boros could ask any follow up questions or simple drunken ranting about knights, the common factor is that it is not something a Kingsguard should be doing. The Hound is in Kingsguard. Sandor is not.
The Sandor/The Hound sides of him are at conflict. He gently pushes Sansa shortly after threatening to beat her. He inflicts pain when revealing his family’s history. This is the first glimpse that we the readers and likely Sansa herself gets that Sandor and The Hound are starting to rip each other apart.
Stories: Well, first I want to continue a point Elba brought up in the Dontos post. Sansa asks for a friend or a knight. Then, she meets Dontos and Sandor. Really, I think they both can fit either of those in some degree, though Sandor winds up more in the knight category throughout Clash.
Other than that, we get Sandor’s continued mocking of Sansa and her stories. We also get a real one of how the Clegane family became the Clegane family. The moral leads us to…
SanSan: As often is the case, their relationship grows when they’re alone in the middle of the night with The Hound drunk off his ass. It’s not healthy, but really the best Sandor is capable of. Sandor serves as Sansa’s protector. He called Sansa a liar and mocked her for it, but he never actually bothered to find out what really went on. He makes sure Boros does not ask any follow up questions by changing the subject. He also tries to teach her a thing or two.
But most importantly, Sansa shows actual interest in Sandor. She wants to know why he lets people call him a dog even though he doesn’t let people call him a knight. For his part, Sandor opens up about his family’s history. And ends it with the not subtle “A hound will die for you, but never lie to you. And he’ll look you straight in the face.”
Game Skill: Sandor’s big lesson to Sansa is become a better liar. Despite his promise to not lie to her, he lies for her to Boros. Lies of omission, but still, a lie is a lie. Boros had no reason to suspect Sansa was lying despite that Sandor knew something was up. He doesn’t care what she is doing. But he wants her to become a better liar.
The other lesson was judgment. Sansa considered Boros the worst of the Kingsguard because of his temper. But Sandor recognizes the others, despite not being as hot-headed, are far more dangerous than Boros is. He tells Sansa as much.
Sex: The song is sex. Sandor wants Sansa. He also knows he can never have her. So, he wants a song. He wants intimacy with Sansa. Something that he can have of her that is his alone.
With that in mind, the last bit of the chapter takes on new meaning. He rejects Florian and Jonquil. It is a song meant for Dontos. He might not know that specifically, but he recognizes it is not his song.
I don’t think Sansa’s offer is random. Dontos is her savior. While Sandor has been her sort of protector, if she is going to sing, it is going to be for her savior.
Then, he says he will have his song regardless of her consent which sounds weird for a song. But sex? It makes sense then. Sansa tells Sandor she will give it gladly, and he calls her a liar. Actually, he first calls her a pretty thing. Sansa and Sandor might not realize it on a conscious level, but I think on some level, they both know the sexual connotations of the song. Sandor might realize it a bit more than Sansa, though.
CoK Sansa III: Sandor vs The Hound/Game Skill/SanSan/Foreshadowing/Symbolism/Sex
Sandor tells Sansa to hurry up. Sansa knows there will be trouble, but does not know what it is. The Hound informs her it is because of her brother. He escorts her to Joffrey. Joffrey orders Sandor to beat her, but Dontos interferes. Joffrey then orders Meryn and Boros to beat her. Sandor tries to tell him to stop. Joffrey then orders her clothes off. After Boros rips her top off, Tyrion comes in and stops it. Sandor gives her his cloak. Then, Tyrion leaves with Sansa.
Sandor vs. The Hound: As above, in general, The Hound is performing the duties of Kingsguard. Sandor is trying his best to make it bearable (telling her it will be worse if she doesn’t hurry, giving her his cloak).
Game Skill: Not much here. Though both Sandor and Tyrion remark how well trained she is. She is learning.
SanSan: Once again, Sandor is in the protector role. The scene is filled with Sandor trying to make it better for Sansa. He tries to get her to hurry. He “not ungently” picks her up. Although Sansa doesn’t say it, I think he does hesitate, if only for a second, when Joffrey orders him to hit Sansa. After all, when Joffrey is tired by Dontos’s antics, he orders Meryn and Boros. Of course, there is the fact that he actually defied Joffrey. I don’t think Meryn would have stopped for Dontos. Boros… I dunno. But if he did, it would mainly be confusion rather than finding a happy distraction. Then, The Hound tries to tell him to stop, but Joffrey refuses. Finally, Sandor gives her his cloak.
Foreshadowing: Sandor giving Sansa his cloak is another foreshadowing of the BBW scene.
Symbolism: Sandor giving the cloak represents his fracturing loyalty to Joffrey. Throughout the scene, he tried to make things not as bad. Sansa and the treatment she receives is what is driving him away from the Kingsguard. Sure, the fire was the immediate cause at the BBW, but his loyalty was fracturing before that.
Sex: Kind of a tangent thought, but I think Joffrey was partly punishing Sandor when he ordered the beating to become sexual. He did so directly after Sandor tried to get him to stop. Though this really isn’t the goal of the post.
CoK Tyrion VIII Stories
The riot happens. Tyrion is afraid of what happened to Sansa (and what will happen to Jamie). Sandor appears with her. Sansa is in a state of shock. Sandor sends her off to get help.
Stories: Sansa truly is in a story. The gallant knight saves her from a horrible fate. Yet, she is simply scared. She is no damsel in distress patiently waiting for her hero. She is a scared child.
CoK Sansa IV Stories/SanSan /Sex
Sansa goes to look at the invading army. She suddenly feels a pain and almost loses her balance. Sandor catches her in time. Sandor asks her if she is trying to fall. Sansa tells him he startled her. Sandor replies that he still frightens her, though she was glad to see him during the riot. Sansa recalls the riot. She looks at him, but his eyes scare her. Then, they argue. Sansa asks him if he is afraid of going to Hell. Sandor laughs and replies the gods are as real as stories. Sansa leaves and has a nightmare only to awake to a greater one. She has flowered.
Stories: There is two parts to this theme. The first is the continuation of the riot since we did not see it through Sansa eyes. She does not recognize it as story. She only remembers her fear.
The second part can be seen in this quote. “I’m honest. It’s the world that’s awful.” The Hound tries to draw Sansa into his bleak view of the world. The obvious part is where he tells her there are no true knights or gods and uses this quote. But another important part is where he compares Ned to himself. He enjoys killing people. Surely, Ned must like it, too. He flat out tells Sansa Ned lied to her if he told her doesn’t like killing. Sandor is trying to break Sansa’s spirit.
I think there are two reasons for it. The first is a selfish reason. If she took his viewpoint, she’d be more accepting of him. The second is the Nietzsche quote, “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” If Sansa surrenders to her cruel fate, she would suffer less.
SanSan: Anger. It is the mood of this meeting. The Hound is growing angrier. Sansa sees it. It frightens her. The anger in eyes is worse than the scars on his face. Again, the “look at my face” theme comes up. Sansa sincerely attempts to, but the eyes are too much for her to look at. His voice also bothers her. She even asks him if he enjoys scaring people.
Sansa has seen many sides of Sandor. But the rage that fills The Hound is something she rejects. She still cannot look him in the face as long as the hatred still fills them.
Sex: Sandor is in between a menstrual pain and her first period. I have a hard time thinking this is a coincidence. With the events and dreams that come later, this is symbolic of Sandor’s part in Sansa’s sexual awakening. In this case, he is literally in the middle of it.
CoK Sansa V SanSan/Foreshadowing
Sansa goes to the sept. She sings the Mother’s song and prays for Sandor with others.
SanSan: Sansa takes time out to pray for the Mother to gentle Sandor’s rage. This is actually a weird request for someone going into battle. Most basically, it is simply further proof that Sansa cares about Sandor’s well-being in whole.
Though let’s go a step further. Of course, this may be stretching it, feel free to decide. Combine this with previous Sansa chapter and the looking in the face. Sansa wants to see Sandor. She wants to be able to look at him. However, his rage (his brother, the world, himself, etc.) is too much for her. In the end, she wants to get closer to him.
Foreshadowing: This has a couple of foreshadowing for the BBW scene. The first is the song used. The second is Sansa praying to the Mother to gentle Sandor. Using the Sansa = Mother theme, it tells us that Sansa will gentle Sandor. And she does. The next scene could have easily played out differently and Sandor could have become The Hound that haunts the Riverlands in Feast. But Sansa gets him back from the brink. And she is very much on his mind throughout the rest of his story and likely on the QI (assuming Sandor the Gravedigger theory). Now, it is not solely Sansa. Many people played/are playing a part. But Sansa has an important role in Sandor letting go his rage.
CoK Sansa VI Stories /Sex/SanSan
Sansa returns to her room. She discovers The Hound in her bed. The Hound is drunk and talking about how he lost. Sandor offers to take her away with him to the North. Sansa doesn’t accept his offer. Sandor takes his song at knife point. Sansa sings the Mother’s song causing Sandor to cry and leave his bloody cloak. Sansa curls underneath it until the battle was over.
Stories: This is the ultimate story. The knight comes to save the captured princess. Sansa rejects it. This is a turning point for her. She rejects stories as reality. She might indulge a little, but she ultimately recognizes them for what they are. Compare this to her original run in with The Hound. She happily considered Joffery her shining prince who saved her. Now, she rejects the “shining knight” because she recognizes the truth. Sandor is a drunk, angry man. He has his good points, but she is no longer willing to overlook the bad.
Sex: Where do I even begin? Well, let’s start by location. It takes place not only in Sansa’s room, but on her bed.
The bloody cloak is another obvious symbol. A bloody sheet is often a sign of girl losing her virginity. A cloak works just as well.
In a slightly disturbing example, after the song, Sandor’s tears are described as wetness that was not blood. I’ll just walk away from that double entendre.
Then, there is the song. As I said before, it represents intimacy. Sandor pulls her onto the bed for her to sing it and leaves a bloody cloak afterwards. The song itself is his. She offered Dontos’s song earlier, and he asked for it now, but she gave him a song for him alone. She shared a piece of herself with him that was for him.
Gentle Mother, font of mercy, save our sons from war, we pray, stay the swords and stay the arrows, let them know a better day. Gentle Mother, strength of women, help our daughters through this fray, soothe the wrath and tame the fury, teach us all a kinder way.
Before, she backs away from Sandor because of his rage. Yet, she sings a song wishing away his fury. It also points to a desire to become closer to him as she wishes away the thing that stops her previously. This is something she explores later when she makes Sandor more erotic (safe to do after he has disappeared).
Another important part is that Sansa cups Sandor’s cheek. It is reminiscent of the times when he has tried to force Sansa to look at him. Now, she is forcing him to look at her. It is a further act of intimacy that serves to increase the effect the song has on Sandor. This is where “the Mother” calms Sandor and tips the balance that sets him on his path to redemption rather than fully becoming The Hound.
Finally, this has to be asked. Was it rape? He did take a knife to her throat and had symbolic sex with her. While debatable, I lean towards no. First, the comments before where Sandor says she’ll sing for him or he’ll take it, and she says she’ll do it gladly. But more importantly, she doesn’t seem to feel like a victim. She adds in the unkiss and later has erotic dreams about him.
SanSan: A lot of this is covered in Sex. So, feel free to apply the appropriate parts above to this part.
But there are two things that are separate. First, where Sansa thought he was going to kiss her. This isn’t necessarily sexual. The sex is in the song. This may be romantic, but not sexual. The important bit is: She closed her eyes, wanting it to be over, but nothing happened. “Still can’t bear to look, can you?” It goes with the theme of her not looking at him. Again, it is his violent nature that comes up. He had just offered to kill anyone who would hurt her. While she like some ferocity (her complaint about Dontos), that may be too much. And right before that, the smell that reeked the worst was the blood to further signify her rejection of The Hound. After his romantic offer was rejected, he goes for the sexual.
Lastly, there is the bloody cloak she lies under. While Dontos took the savior role, Sandor was her protector for Clash of Kings. She does not know how the battle will end. She cannot do anything about it. So, she takes comfort under her protector one last time.
SoS Sansa I: Game Skill/Sex/SanSan/Misc..[The Hound vs The Imp]
Sansa wishes the Hound was there. Sansa thinks about the BBW and wonders if she made the right decision. She also wonders why she kept his stained cloak. Lastly, she reflects on the real reason Sandor ran.
Game Skill: Not so much his lessons, but I get the feeling a large part of the reason she wants him there at this exact moment is that she wants advice. She wonders what Margaery’s invite means. She understands that she has no choice in the matter. Then, she thinks about Sandor. She regrets not having the support he gave before.
Sex: The stained cloak, like the song, is always about sex. The sentence right before it includes lying awake at night. It is another connection to her bed. Though the fact that she doesn’t understand why she kept is equally important. She still does not understand fully what happened there. Nor does she understand her growing sexuality.
CoK Sansa III: More cloak/sexual symbolism. When Joffrey’s ordered sexual assault is ended and the (presumably clean) cloak is given to Sansa, she thinks, “The coarse weave was scratchy against her skin, but no velvet had ever felt so fine.” Sandor’s cloak is shown to be Sansa’s “virtue.” We first see it as intact and embraced by Sansa until BBW. Interesting enough, it was “saved” from Joffery.
SanSan: Although Sandor is no longer present in her life; he still has an impact on Sansa. She wishes he was there to serve as her protector/support. She wonders if she should have left with him. And he is the focus of the thought. She is not wishing she could be home or away from King’s Landing. She is thinking about Sandor at that moment. She keeps the cloak, the proof of their intimate moment, as a memento. Lastly, she thinks about the real reason he left. She empathizes with him and his fear of fire.
Misc. [The Hound vs. The Imp]: With the lovely debates that this board has had, I thought I would include this. Sandor leaves and Tyrion takes over. This has actually been a theme for Sansa. The scene before where Sandor unsuccessfully tries to get Joffrey to stop beating her, and Tyrion successfully saved her. Sandor was the first man in her bed. Then, Tyrion comes next. And in this scene, people say The Hound turns craven and runs away drunk, and The Imp takes over.
One way is to take it as the Tyrion/Sansa supporters’ theory of Sandor first to set the way for Tyrion.
But that would be too easy and a superficial reading. Consider the context. Sansa flat out rejects it in this chapter. She knows the truth. And she empathizes with Sandor.
Their beddings had similar feelings. The bedding with Sandor at BBW was violent and wrong on many levels. But there was also a sincere of a genuine connection there. Tyrion and Sansa’s bedding had no connection. It had the threat of violence (even if Tyrion wouldn’t use violence, Sansa had no reason to believe it wasn’t a threat). Sansa is repulsed both physically and emotionally (“pity is the death of desire” or whatever the quote was) by Tyrion.
Even the incident with the cloak early in CoK supports this. With Sandor, it is emotionally distressing to watch what Sansa is going through. For Tyrion, it is less to do with Sansa Stark and more general compassion for an innocent girl about to be raped on his nephew’s orders and correcting Joffrey.
SoS Sansa II: Sex
We learn about Sansa spending time with Margaety’s cousins. When talking about kissing, she reflects on Sandor.
Sex: Sansa is for the first time in a long time hanging out with girls her own age. They are young girls growing into women. And this relates to growing up into sexual maturity. They even organized themselves on the basis that Elinor is the leader due to her being “a maiden flowered.” The part with them ends with Sansa admitting that they are children. She pities and envies them, but her childhood died with her father.
For Sansa’s part, she begins actively fantasizing about Sandor. Now that I have reread it, I think it’s possible Sansa isn’t remembering wrong. She is actively fantasizing about that time.
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.
The first sentence could mean “What would Megga think about kissing The Hound? I have thought about it,” rather than “What would Megga think about kissing The Hound? I have kissed him.” The rest plays out as a fantasy. It’s a memory she using to fantasize about. And who hasn’t had a fantasy that is basically, wish this would have happened? It is even closer to the fantasies of the other girls than Sansa wants to admit. While they picture the knights, she sees Sandor coming in smelling of wine and blood (something that is more realistic). And even the threat makes sense in a fantasy. Sansa has been exposed repeatedly to sexual violence. The BBW scene, Joffery ordered sexual assault, the riot, etc. It’s not surprising that she includes violence into her sexual fantasies. This is not the last time she does so either.
SoS Sansa VI Part 1: Foreshadowing/Misc. [Agency]/SanSan/Symbolism?/Sex
Sansa hears Lysa’s moaning. She reflects on her wedding night. She then takes comfort in the old hound until Marillon shows up. Later, Sansa has an erotic dream.
Foreshadowing: Sansa hears Lysa and knows what is going on. She thinks about her wedding night. Her thoughts begin on Tyrion, but shift to Sandor. It gives support for later in this chapter when she dreams. She thinks about the most direct sexual experience with the man she is supposed to have those thoughts about and instead thinks about Sandor although this time it is not sexual when she thinks of Sandor.
Misc. [Agency]: This can also be considered a practice of her agency. She directly rebels against the person who she has been told to love [or fuck in this case], and made her own choice. It is similar but different from when she chose Joffery against her father’s wishes. She was a child then who believed in the story. While not physically much older, events have made her grow up and mature. She rejects Tyrion not because of a girlish fantasy, but because she believes him to be another Lannister liar.
Let’s take a second to see what he’s asking. He wants her to ignore reality and live a fantasy. This is the exact opposite of Sandor. She is not only rejecting Tyrion, but his view (well, the one he wanted her to have). She replaces it with Sandor’s view and takes some comfort in it.
SanSan: I just want to point out that Sansa really does want to know if Sandor knows about Joffrey and what he thinks about it. It shows actual concern for him as a person.
Symbolism: Sansa takes comfort in an old hound. It’s symbolism even I get. Also, somewhat symbolic is what happens next. When Marillion shows up, the hound tries to protect her. But is hit and slinks away. Sandor also tried to protect Sansa (and did to an extent), but in the end, slinked away after the wildfire and Sansa’s rejection.
Sex: Again, as stated in foreshadowing, Sansa first thinks about Tyrion and replaces him with Sandor. We see Sansa, at least subconsciously, acknowledging the sexual significance of the song. This part is connected to the foreshadowing and agency parts, so I don’t have too much more to add here, but there were two things I noticed.
The first is her wish for the old blind hound to be Lady. Well, the most important part of that is certainly her wish to be home and back in Winterfell with her family. But there are various Sandor = Lady bits throughout the books, and considering the dream, I see that part too.
Another is the violence. Again, she is rather traumatized. Violence has been intertwined with sex for her for a long time. From Joffrey almost ordering her gang-rape to Sandor taking his song to Tyrion who—regardless of what he actually would have done—she knew could have her head if she did not give “willingly.” This dream started out as a violent dream of Joffrey, no Robb, dying horribly and turned erotic. Though, I think this is a good sign. It is less sex = violence, and more like, “OK. Enough of that. Let’s change the channel.” It kinda flows to it. From Joffrey’s death which she witnessed to Robb’s that she didn’t to Tyrion and the marriage bed to Sandor and her song and finally waking and wishing for Lady who has a symbolic connection with Sandor (among many others including her family).
FoC Alayne II (Sansa III): Sex/Misc. [Lord Bronn Is Wrong]
Sansa reflects on Tyrion and Sandor when asked about if she knows what goes on in the marriage bed.
Sex: As in SoS, she reflects on Tyrion and replaces him with Sandor when sex comes up.
Misc. [Lord Bronn Is Wrong]: OK. It turns out my theory was wrong about Sansa referring to kissing The Hound as a fantasy. But that said, I think the false memory is her way of dealing with the situation and the fantasy. More the fantasy. Sansa has done little to consciously acknowledge her attraction to him. So, rather than fantasizing about him openly, she “remembers” when he kissed her.
As for why she doesn’t openly fantasize about him, there are many reasons. First, it is not proper for a lady to have such thoughts about a man who is not her husband. And regardless of feelings and her own desire to be wanted for herself and not her claim, Sandor is still so low the match is not possible. Lastly, he was a part of the Lannisters’ forces regardless of his choice to desert. He is a criminal (in actuality for desertation which isn’t likely to be thought well of who wins the throne and of all the crimes “The Hound” commits after Sandor shed the persona).
Sansa’s time as a bastard actually solves a lot of these things for her. It’s been repeatedly pointed out to her that being a a bastard girl, she has more… freedom when it comes to sex. And a bastard really isn’t expected to hampered by any of the other social separators. A knight (though Sandor isn’t, but he has land and isn’t a lord), is higher than a bastard. Since Alayne is Littlefinger’s daughter, she is expected to side with the Lannisters in public. And not in the obvious, “side with us or we will kill you.” She is treated more as one of them. The criminal may be a reach, even for a bastard, but still not as bad as a high noble lady.
I do not expect Sansa to stay a bastard. But I do expect it to give her a new perspective.
I noticed (but forgot to put in), while reality did seem to put Sandor first and then Tyrion, Sansa’s own thoughts and desires put Tyrion first, and Sandor takes over.
by Lyanna Stark
Tyrion Lannister is Tywin Lannister’s youngest son. While he is the son of one of the richest and most powerful men in Westeros, he is also a dwarf; a condition that has influenced his life in a profound way.
Sansa’s views on Tyrion
As far as we know, Sansa first encountered Tyrion when he visited Winterfell along with the King, Queen and their retinue. We can only assume that they only had very little interaction since it’s not mentioned in the novels, and neither of them seem to be more than passing familiar with the other. The first description of Tyrion from Sansa is in ACOK:
In their midst, riding on a tall red horse in a strange high saddle that cradled him back and front, was the queen’s dwarf brother Tyrion Lannister, the one they called the Imp. He had let his beard grow to cover his pushed-in face, until it was a bristly tangle of yellow and black hair, coarse as wire. Down his back flowed a shadowskin cloak, black fur striped with white. He held the reins in his left hand and carried his right arm in a white silk sling, but otherwise looked as grotesque as Sansa remembered from when he had visited Winterfell. With his bulging brow and mismatched eyes, he was still the ugliest man she had ever chanced to look upon.
Sansa here describes him as “grotesque” and also with a retinue of clansmen, which probably looked very alien in King’s Landing. Almost like a grotesquerie coming to town?
The second time we see Sansa and Tyrion interact is when Joffrey is having her beaten and punished for her brother Robb’s “treason.” Tyrion comes in and is furious with Joffrey. Sansa refers to him as alternatively “Tyrion Lannister” and “the Imp” in this chapter. She also comments on his looks again as follows:
Sansa found it hard not to stare; his face was so ugly it held a queer fascination for her.
During this conversation, it becomes clear that Sansa still considers Tyrion very much a Lannister, even if she also clearly recognises that he, like Dontos and the Hound, is no knight, but helped her all the same. She thanks him for that, although just after she thinks about Robb vs. the Lannisters:
Robb will kill you all, she thought exulting.
Robb will beat him, Sansa thought. He will beat your uncle and your brother Jaime, he’ll beat your father too.
Quite forceful thoughts from a girl both a lot of readers and in-novel characters find vapid and tractable, no?
When Tyrion talks to her about ending her betrothal to Joffrey and she tells him the normal “My brother is a traitor, I love Joffrey of all my heart,” and then she thinks when Tyrion does not react like Cersei or Joff or any other Lannister she has encountered:
Is it a trick? Will he punish me if I tell the truth?
Despite Tyrion saving her from Joffrey, Sansa is very much aware that Tyrion in his capacity as a Lannister Hand of the King is very much in opposition to her and her family. He may treat her nicer than Cersei and Joff do, but he is still a Lannister and runs the Lannister line. He is not a Stark and doesn’t share an allegiance with her.
We also have another comment on his looks:
She stared at the dwarf’s brutal bulging brow, the hard black eye and the shrewd green one, the crooked teeth and the wiry beard.
This is the last time we see them converse until their wedding.
On the day of her fateful wedding, Sansa recognises that while Tyrion is probably the best of the Lannister lot, she is also aware that she will be extremely unhappy being married to him. It’s not made better by the fact that the marriage plays out somewhere between a farce and a tragedy. Sansa refuses to kneel and comments:
I won’t. Why should I spare his feelings, when no one cares about mine?
Quite an astute observation, one may think. Later, she thinks that nobody notices her crying her way through the ceremony, but I doubt that. We also have Sansa again commenting on Tyrion’s ugliness when he leans forward to kiss her and proclaim her his lady wife.
He is so ugly, Sansa thought when is face was close to hers. He is even uglier than the Hound.
Then after the wedding we have the famous bedding scene, and Sansa describes Tyrion thus:
She had promised to obey; she opened her eyes. He was sitting by her feet, naked. Where his legs joined, his man’s staff poked up stiff and hard from a thicket of coarse yellow hair, but it was the only thing about him that was straight.
And after she tries to follow Septa Mordane’s advice:
She stared at the stunted legs, the swollen brutish brow, the green eye and the black one, the raw stump of his nose and crooked pink scar, the coarse tangle of black and gold hair that passed for his beard. Even his manhood was ugly, thick and veined, with a bulbous purple head. This is not right, this is not fair, how have I sinned that the gods would do this to me, how?
During their marriage, we see that their interactions are stiff and awkward. Sansa feels that Tyrion wishes something of her that she cannot give him. She thinks that she does not understand what he wants of her, and she continues to armour herself in her courtesy almost all the time.
After Joffrey’s wedding feast, when she flees and encounters Dontos, she doubts that Tyrion poisoned Joffrey, but thinks that if he did, she will be suspected of being complicit. She is relieved that she does not need to share a bed with Tyrion, but she also seems to feel Tyrion does not deserve to be punished for Joffrey’s murder.
Later on, while travelling on the boat, she tells Littlefinger she does not believe Tyrion was guilty and that he did nothing. Littlefinger agrees, but then continues to try and tell her that Tyrion’s hands are far from clean (as if he has room to speak). Later on, she also thinks that Tyrion spared her the bedding and when Lysa asks her if she is still a maid, she thinks that Tyrion spared her that (consummation) as well.
Looks and looking: Sansa first and foremost sees Tyrion as ugly, and unlike how she views the Hound, she seems to see Tyrion as grotesque ugly, instead of scary ugly. Instead of looking away, she is oddly fascinated by how ugly Tyrion is. She also remarks that he is uglier than the Hound. Comparing Tyrion to the Hound is interesting since both are considered ugly, but Sansa’s reactions to them are so different. She’s clearly very put off by Tyrion’s looks, and the closer she is roped into a relationship with him, the stronger the aversion seems to become, culminating in that she thinks the Gods have punished her on her wedding night where she lists all the hideous flaws of Tyrion.
With the Hound, she seems instead to go from being scared and put off to being able to accept it, and in fact states that the scar is not the worst thing, but the anger in his eyes is. Hence her interactions with the “monsters” in Kings Landing reflect each other, but in reverse, you might say. The closer she gets to Tyrion, the more she is put off by his looks. The closer she gets to Sandor, the more accepting she gets of his looks. (More on the beast vs. beast comparison in Part 2).
Still, despite the forced wedding, Sansa recognises that like Sandor, Tyrion is no knight, but he was kind to her anyway, in the ways he was able to and within his role as a Lannister. She also takes his side against Littlefinger and Lysa, although she is not very outspoken about it (for obvious reasons).
Tyrion Lannister of House Lannister: Sansa thinks bitterly “They made me a Lannister” and if there is one thing she cannot forgive Tyrion for, it’s making her a Lannister. She recognises his kindness in saving her from the beating, and from avoiding the consummation of the marriage, but this one thing she cannot let go of. This is Sansa’s pride. Directly after Tyrion stopped the beating, she wishes Robb will kill all Lannisters. Later on, we also see her praying that Robb will win. While Sansa can appreciate the personal small gestures of kindness Tyrion is able to show her, on the larger scale she still very much wishes House Lannister’s downfall. And she does not wish to be married to him.
We’ve discussed in the Tyrion re-read thread that Tyrion’s moral compass points to Casterly Rock. A lot of readers seem to think Sansa is stupid and shortsighted for not “joining forces” with Tyrion in King’s Landing, but why would she? Tyrion is more or less his father’s prisoner in ASOS, and in ACOK he is in effect her jailor. His goals are not her goals. His goals align with House Lannister and Sansa’s do not. He does not poison Joffrey, neither does he move against Cersei or Tywin in ASOS, so based on what should Sansa ally herself? She knows he hates Joffrey, but that is hardly enough. She is still very much aware that he is a Lannister and follows a Lannister agenda. She cannot be certain he would not “sell her out” to the other Lannisters, not completely. Sansa is also very much aware that she was married to Tyrion due to her claim, and that House Lannister now wants to well, lay claim to the claim, so to speak. She knows she is just a pawn to them, just a piece of meat. So while she does not resent Tyrion as a person, she resents everything he stands for and everything he represents.
Part II: Tyrion Lannister And His Impact On Sansa Stark
(Tyrion Lannister is Tywin Lannister’s youngest son. While he is the son of one of the richest and most powerful men in Westeros, he is also a dwarf; a condition that has influenced his life in a profound way (more on this can be found in the Tyrion re-read thread).
Family vs. What Is Right: A Moral Compass Pointing Towards Casterly Rock
We know that Tyrion first encounters Sansa while he visits Winterfell, but we have no opinion from Tyrion on Sansa (or most of her siblings either). The first real interaction we get between Tyrion and Sansa is in King’s Landing in ACOK, which starts with Tyrion riding in with his clansmen from the Vale in tow. The chapter in question is from Sansa’s POV and described in the first partof the Tyrion and Sansa write-up.
The first description of Sansa from Tyrion’s POV we get in ACOK, Ch. 25, Tyrion VI, when he’s sitting on the Iron throne holding court as Hand of the King after he has poisoned Cersei so she’s been made sick.
Courtiers filled the gallery while supplicants clustered near the towering oak-and-bronze doors. Sansa Stark looked especially lovely this morning, though her face was as pale as milk.
Tyrion then proceeds to give Cleos Frey the terms for a northern surrender. Among the terms demanded are that sons will be sent as hostages, and if there are no sons, then daughters will suffice.
“A daughter will suffice where there is no son. They shall be treated gently and given high places here at court, so long as their fathers commit no new treasons.”
He then goes on to talk about Jaime, trading Jaime for the Stark sisters and connects Jaime’s treatment with Sansa’s.
Tyrion glanced toward Sansa, and felt a stab of pity as he said, “Until such time as he frees my brother Jaime, unharmed, they shall remain here as hostages. How well they are treated depends him.” And if the gods are good, Bywater will find Arya alive, before Robb learns she has gone missing.
Clearly, Tyrion knows some about Sansa’s situation, but this is before the public beating where he has to step in, and as of here, I think it’s clear Tyrion is overestimating his own powers as ruler, and underestimating the craziness of Joffrey. While he feels a twinge of guilt, he still does not comprehend the full impact his decision has on Sansa, nor the suffering she is put through at Joffrey’s hands.
However, his words about treating Jaime, a soldier, a grown man and also the man who injured Eddard Stark in the leg and meant to murder him in the streets of King’s Landing to a defenseless 12 year old is cruel. It fits well within the realms of Realpolitik, without a doubt, but it smells more of Tywin’s type of rulership than Ned Stark’s, and it also does not jive all too well with Tyrion’s own words of that he means to “do justice” when he is appointed Hand of the King by Tywin.
Tyrion sees Sansa’s victim status, but his own family loyalty is more important, and his love for Jaime overrides his sense of justice and fairness here.
This is again highlighted at the Bread riots in Kings Landing, when Sansa gets lost in the crowds in ACOK ch 41, Tyrion IX:
Tyrion glanced round the yard. “Where’s the Stark girl?”
For a moment no one answered. Finally Joffrey said, “She was riding by me. I don’t know where she went.”
Tyrion pressed blunt fingers into his throbbing temples. If Sansa Stark had come to harm, Jaime was as good as dead.
It’s clear from this scene that Tyrion’s main concern is not Sansa’s health but Jaime’s. His focus is not at all that Sansa may suffer mutilation, rape or death at the hands of the rioters, but that Jaime may be killed because Sansa is lost. In this, Sansa is described as a valued possession first and foremost. When Sansa arrives with the Hound, Tyrion asks her is she is hurt, but before then his focus is solely on Jaime (which it seems Cersei is catching on to when she orders the Kingsguard out in the streets again).
Tyrion also discusses Sansa’s status as a hostage with Cersei in ACOK Ch. 54, Tyrion XII, and again the reason he brings up for keeping Sansa well-treated is that Jaime will suffer if he is not, but he’s also asserting his power over Sansa in opposition to Cersei’s/Joffrey’s possibly in part because he feels that they can’t do the job of keeping her safe, which could jeopardise Jaime’s life, but also because they have treated Sansa abominably.
Before the Battle of the Blackwater, Sansa says she will pray and Tyrion says he won’t ask for which outcome. He is aware that he and Sansa are not on the same side.
Tyrion is clearly aware of, and feels somewhat bad, for his treatment of Sansa and what has befallen the Starks, and also that “his” side is also Joffrey’s side, and Joffrey is a Lannister bastard and not really anything near a true king. However, when family is put vs. what is right, for Tyrion, family wins.
This Is The Wife They Had Given Him
The first physical description we get of Sansa from Tyrion’s perspective is when he is presiding over the court and thinks of Sansa as pale as milk, but “lovely.” That is also the day he seals the deal regarding rejecting the northern peace offer and condemning Sansa to continued existence as a hostage. The next physical description we get of Sansa from Tyrion’s POV does not happen until Tywin suggests Tyrion should marry her.
This is descibed in detail in the Tyrion re-read thread, but the gist of it is that Tywin and Kevan do their best to persuade Tyrion and despite his opposition, he ends up going with his Casterly Rock moral compass instead of doing what is right and just.
Post wedding we have Tyrion remarking several times that Sansa is beautiful, even when sad, and sometimes specifically when sad.
Apart from thinking Sansa is pretty, Tyrion has a conflicted view on his marriage. On the one hand, he knows full well that Sansa has a grievance and that she is extremely sad and with good reason. On the other hand, he’s bitter that she cannot be the wife he wishes for, as apart from the fact that the marriage was forced and her whole family is killed off, Sansa is close to the ideal highborn wife: pretty, courteous, of highest birth, young and a virgin.
His marriage was a daily agony. Sansa Stark remained a maiden, and half the castle seemed to know it.
ASOS Ch 32, Tyrion IV
Tyrion goes on to lament his marriage and thinks Sansa may have been stupid enough to tell the bedmaids that the marriage has not been consummated. In the middle of this, he acknowledges that the marriage makes Sansa even more miserable than it does him:
The only person in the Red Keep who didn’t seem to find his marriage a source of amusement was his lady wife. Sansa’s misery was deepening every day. Tyrion would gladly have broken through her courtesy to give her what solace he might, but it was no good. No words would ever make him fair in her eyes. Or any less a Lannister. This was the wife they had given him, for all the rest of his life, and she hated him.
He goes on to think of what he would want out of a marriage and out of the interaction with a wife:
I want her, he realized. I want Winterfell, yes, but I want her as well, child or woman or whatever she is. I want to comfort her. I want to hear her laugh. I want her to come to me willingly, to bring me her joys and her sorrows and her lust. His mouth twisted in a bitter smile. Yes, and I want to be as tall as Jaime and as strong as Ser Gregor the Mountain too, for all the bloody good it does.
As we can see, he blames a lot of the marriage misfortune on him being a dwarf, and not handsome enough apart from during the short thought where he recognizes that nothing will make him less of a Lannister.
Tyrion is also concerned with what Shae will think of his marriage and tries to be the first to tell her about it. He does not extend the same courtesy to Sansa, and tells her at the wedding that he should have come to her sooner. With Shae, he gets upset about her indifference to his marriage, while he feels vaguely ashamed and bitter towards Sansa that she isn’t the wife he had hoped for.
A slightly strange pattern appears with Sansa and Tyrion if we compare their chapters. Sansa spends quite some time looking at Tyrion and reflecting on his looks, while Tyrion does not spend the same time at Sansa. While he reflects on the fact that he is attracted to her and that he finds her beautiful, it always leads to something else, in that he thinks of how she is the key to Jaime’s freedom, or how it relates to himself as a dwarf, to the misery that is their marriage, or something else.
It gives their interaction a decided slant towards the female gaze, oddly. Tyrion is very much looked at by Sansa, and judged accordingly, while Tyrion doesn’t even consider looking at Sansa and really taking her in until after their wedding. Tyrion spends far more time looking at Shae and appreciating and valuing her looks while Sansa in comparison gets a more cursory treatment. (Interestingly, this insinuates a rather female gaze).
The Seasons of My Love & A Maid as White as Winter
In the Tyrion re-read thread(s), there has been a lot of really good discussions of the complex Tywin/Tyrion relationship, and how the Tysha incident impacts Tyrion’s stance on several things, and how he tries to become Tywin 2.0 and above all, how he struggles and strives to be good enough in his father’s eyes. In marrying Sansa, Tyrion accepted Tywin’s “wisdom” and bent to his will, but like with many other things, Tywin’s gifts are poisoned. Tyrion realizes that during the wedding night and refuses to do another “Tysha” and rape a woman at Tywin’s command.
This is his first real act of disobedience and revolution when it comes to family vs. what is right. Tyrion clearly recognizes that it would be morally wrong to force himself on Sansa, but at the same time, looking at it from a Lannister point of view, he ought to do it for the sake of his family and the Lannister cause. Up to this moment, Tyrion’s moral compass has been firmly calibrated to point towards Casterly Rock. He is a Lannister through and through, and he pays his debts, but here he cannot bring himself to commit the moral transgression Tywin commands him to do in committing marital rape for the sake of the Lannister cause. Over it all, the shadow of Tysha can be seen.
When Sansa ultimately rejects Tyrion “forever,” he reacts with bitterness, but he sticks to his decision to not create a Tysha 2.0. Instead, he uses Shae as a Tysha replacement, but the odd triangle Tysha–Shae–Sansa becomes more and more tangled up until Shae’s murder.
Tyrion does feel sorry for Sansa and occasionally shows understanding that he’s added his bit to her awful situation. While he certainly has no wish to add to her grief and sometimes makes small attempts at breaking through the ice, he mainly focuses his time and attention on navel-gazing about “the wife they had given him” and about how awful the marriage is for him and being bitter about Sansa not liking him like a “proper” wife, although there is nothing proper about their wedding.
Sansa is also a real catch on the marriage market, making her an ideal bride in many ways, and even Tywin seemed to think she was good enough, and Tywin has had some really unrealistic expectations in the past when it comes to marriage brokering. (He managed to royally offend the Dornish with offering newborn dwarf Tyrion to 15 years older Elia Martell instead of Jaime, his then oldest son and heir).
Hence it seems to irk Tyrion even more that he now has the “perfect wife” on paper, and according to Tywin, so why does it not work out?
Why should I be guilty? My wife wants no part of me, and most especially not the part that seems to want her.
ASOS Ch. 58, Tyrion VII
(This is an interesting comment, since the marriage to Sansa is probably the first time Tyrion expresses any guilt about whoring. And even though whoring seems endemic in Westeros and Essos, we also know from Ned that it’s not honourable and that upstanding Prince Rhaegar probably didn’t frequent whores.)
Tyrion’s unrealistic expectations are only really obvious to the reader from a bit of eagle perspective on the text, as Tyrion’s POV really presents it as him being the main sufferer, and that this is right and proper. Considering the facts, though, Tyrion’s messed-up triangle of Tysha–Shae–Sansa and his unrealistic expectations on Tywin’s poisoned gift (the Sansa marriage), it should have been a given that the marriage would be a complete disaster. Eventually, he comes to realize just how unrealistic his expectations were and just how poisoned Tywin’s gift was.
He had wrapped his cloak around her shoulders and sworn to protect her, but that was a cruel a jape as the crown the Freys had placed atop the head of Robb Stark’s direwolf after they’d sewn it onto his headless corpse. Sansa knew that as well. The way she looked at him, her stiffness when she climbed into their bed…when he was with her, never for an instant could he forget who he was, or what he was.
ASOS Ch. 53, Tyrion VI
Interestingly again, it’s Sansa’s gaze that is being discussed. Tyrion is clearly unsettled by the way she looks at him and the way it makes him feel.
The Lying Game
While Tyrion sneaks off to meet Shae and places Shae as Sansa’s maid, Sansa plays a little game of her own. She is meeting with Dontos in the Godswood, facilitating her eventual escape. Further, what stands out is that Tyrion doesn’t understand Sansa and has a poor grasp on Sansa the person. He misses her deception regarding the Godswood and also tends to suspect that she gossips with the maids.
No, I dare not. Vows or no, his wife could not be trusted. She might be a maiden between the legs, but she was hardly innocent of betrayal; she had once spilled her father’s plans to Cersei. And girls her age were not known for keeping secrets.
ASOS Ch. 58, Tyrion VII
Even if he sometimes fully understands his unrealistic expectations, it does not prevent himself from still having them.
Gently, he spoke of Braavos, and met a wall of sullen courtesy as icy and unyielding as the Wall he had walked once in the north.
For him, she represents a role, and his remark that she’s like the Wall means here that he feels he cannot reach her. The real Sansa lies behind the Wall of ice, and Tyrion is incapable of creating even a small crack in that wall.
What struck me as well is the body language between them and how stiff and uncomfortable it is. (Exemplified for instance in the passage about the pease in ASOS ch 53, Tyrion VI).
Conversation is likewise stilted and rarely comes without effort. There is a notable gulf between them Tyrion cannot bridge and Sansa has no interest in even trying to bridge.
There is no tenderness between these two and little understanding.
Sansa, despite being Tyrion’s wife, has less impact on him than many other characters. In ADWD, he thinks of Sansa only one or two times, and he’s quite bitter about their marriage. So, in a sense, it reflects that Tyrion never knew Sansa_the_person, but that the main emphasis for Tyrion was how their marriage tied into his dynamic with Tywin and Tysha, plus to a lesser degree Shae.
To Conclude, A Brief Summary
Throughout, Tyrion does feel sympathy for Sansa, but it is almost always overridden by his Lannister identity and the fact that his moral compass points firmly towards Casterly Rock. In ACOK he puts Jaime’s safety above Sansa’s plight at every turn and in ASOS, he lets himself be seduced by Tywin’s promise of a fine keep and a pretty wife to take Sansa as his wife despite knowing that she doesn’t want him. He then spends a lot of time lamenting that his unrealistic expectations of their marriage did not pan out. Over it all, Tysha’s shadow looms large.
Regarding Sansa’s and Tyrion’s interactions, they are characterized by awkwardness, inability to connect and lack of trust and honesty. They do not trust each other and even if they can recognize that they are not each other’s worst enemy, to Sansa Tyrion always remains a Lannister, and to Tyrion, Sansa’s gaze always pins him as a dwarf, and a Lannister. Her courtesy keeps him at arm’s length and he cannot break through the ice.
Sansa’s and Tyrion’s marriage is not dissolved, but they are as of ADWD on different continents and both in severe peril. Considering that they are married, they spend very little time thinking of each other. Tyrion only briefly thinks of Sansa, and Sansa thinks only briefly on Tyrion after she flees Kings Landing. While she acknowledges that Tyrion didn’t treat her badly, she is also clear that she does not wish to be married to him.
How the future will pan out for Sansa and Tyrion and if their marriage will continue to cause them grief is as of yet not clear. There are hints that the marriage may be an obstacle Littlefinger plans to remove. How this will impact their future interactions is unclear, but from Tyrion’s and Sansa’s interactions so far, I think we can safely infer that Sansa has learnt more about Tyrion than he has learnt about Sansa.
Tyrion and Sansa III: The Personal and the Political are Married
I promised you some thoughts on Tyrion and Sansa as a couple and why it’s not always apparent at first sight why it’s a bad idea. Brought on by the following post, which I think echoes my own views from my first read through (in 2000, yep, it’s that long ago). And then came the multiple re-reads and another pattern started to emerge.
I actually really, really liked the idea of Sansa & Tyrion married. I thought that Sansa’s plot arc, for the first three books, was pretty crisp—she was learning to see beyond appearances. Thanks to Joffrey, and then the Hound, she had it hammered home again and again that a pretty surface can hide a hideous character.
I thought that her arc would complete, in a satisfying way, if she could find a way to see Tyrion’s worth. To look past his appearance and appreciate him.
For Tyrion—he really is needy, and Sansa is right to think of him like a hungry child. His craving for a woman’s affection and love is warped, at this point, by years of self-loathing and delusion, of the sort he engages in with Shae. But I thought he did a good job of trying to put himself in Sansa’s place, and trying to see to her needs.
I really thought, if the books had gone in a different direction, that they could have been an amazing couple. It was one of the threads I was saddest to see snap.
First, welcome to the forums Albertine and thank you for posting your views as they work as a great springboard to what I meant to write. I think your views are very common for “newer” readers who have not yet delved into all the political layers of ASOIAF, of which there are many.
Your point about Sansa looking past appearances is spot on, and you might say it ties into her growth of seeing past “true knights” and that they are false, and that pretty people aren’t always good people. However, Sansa has also learnt something more integral to the role of noble women and of how society works, and what it is “selling” her that she should not buy, so to speak. That is the role she would be forced into as a highborn lady trained by a Septa: a talking “little bird”, as it were. Sandor Clegane spoke true the first time they really talked, Sansa was like a little trained bird, repeating everything that was told her without critical thinking or obstinacy.
When her father’s head comes off, she is starting the process of seeing something more important: that she is trained to be a pretty ornament spouting courtesies with no agency on her own. Her status as a hostage really hammers home Sansa’s powerlessness and that she lacks training in politics. While she quickly learns to read people better than most, she still lacks the overall knowledge to place information in its context and to make informed plans and decisions based on that.
With that introduction, let us move on to taking a closer look at the politics and psychological motivators surrounding the marriage between Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark.
The politics of marriage
In Westeros, marriages are politics. Through marriage, alliances are made, or at least attempted. Marrying a person of the “wrong” status can being dishonour to a family, at least according to the more prickly lords, even a small step down in status cannot be accepted. Duncan Targaryen (Duncan the Small) allegedly had to abdicate as crown prince due to his love for Jenny of Oldstones, because Jenny was a commoner and not queen material. While marriages are arranged, they are often made in such a way as to at least be fairly agreeable to both parties. We see Lady Waynwood insisting that Harold Hardyng not marry a girl he doesn’t like, and Ned wanted to find someone brave, gentle and strong for Sansa. Despite the strong paternalistic structures, a lot of families care about how their daughters will fare in marriage. Some don’t though, and barter their daughters for wealth, status or vengeance. Then at the far end of the spectrum, we have the marriages were the bride (and sometimes her family) has no say in the matter, and the marriage is more like an act of warfare than a wish for alliance.
Sansa finds herself in the middle of the politics of marriage, for which she is woefully unprepared. Her whole life she has been fed tales of chivalry, she has read romance novels and comes to Kings Landing with a view of marriage that is an extremely poor fit with reality.
She comes to realise that even Willas Tyrell down in pretty, flowery Highgarden, while a way out, is also another marriage where Sansa the person is not worth anything and completely irrelevant. What matters to the players in the Game of Thrones is her birth and her status as a way to Winterfell; to power, to land. Secondly, she is a pretty face glued onto that claim. What Sansa wants, what she likes, how she’d like to live are irrelevant things to them, but of course not to Sansa herself. To her, that is the most important thing.
Enter her marriage to Tyrion. Tyrion, before agreeing to marry Sansa (and make no mistake, he did agree and he did have a choice, albeit perhaps a somewhat unpleasant choice, he might have ended up married to Lollys after all, or perhaps he would have had to join the Citadel, or maybe Tywin would have been really irritated and not spoken with him again, like Tywin did with Jaime) had not spent much time pondering her, apart from as a pretty face that needed to stay alive as her death would mean Jaime’s death. For certain, he did not wish to see her tortured and was the only person at court who could stop Joffrey’s follies in this regard. We also see later that other people thought the treatment of Sansa was horrible, but only Tyrion had the political clout to stop it.
Hence to Tyrion, Sansa was a pretty face with huge tracts of land attached to her. But she was also an underage hostage whose family his own was at war with, and he could be fairly certain that Sansa, this girl he did not know, very likely would not welcome being married to him. In this, Tyrion also knew that he married Sansa very much against her will, anything else would be extreme self deception. What is worse, to gain Winterfell through Sansa, Tyrion needed most of all for Robb to die, otherwise Sansa could not inherit. Further, Robb made a good point in ASOS Catelyn V:
Why do you lie to yourself? Arya’s gone, the same as Bran and Rickon, and they’ll kill Sansa too once the dwarf gets a child from her. Jon is the only brother that remains to me.
Robb is not the most astute politician, but here he makes a good point since once Tyrion has a child with Sansa, she can and almost needs to be removed. Should Tyrion go to the north with Sansa in tow, he is a Lannister impostor and Sansa a Stark, and likely the Northmen would arrange for a divorce by axe, as someone put it a while back. Tywin is no green boy, he as definitely figured this out as well, which means that Sansa would in a Lannister marriage, first be a hostage in the south forever, to be always divorced from her family and homeland, and secondly to be put down if there was any risk that the north would rise to fight for her Lannister-free claim and to rid the Stark line of Lannisters.
Hence Tyrion’s marriage to Sansa was, politically speaking, an act of war. Tyrion, as a politically very astute man, knew this, even if he did not outright admit it to himself. He was offered Winterfell and Sansa Stark, a seat he could only get over the bodies of Sansa’s dead family and Sansa herself, a girl he knew didn’t want him, nor anything to do with a member of the Lannister family. Further, he does consider what even Robb, the very inexperienced politician, manages on his own: that claiming the north through Sansa would mean confining Sansa to the south forever, and possibly also to have her murdered to keep a hold on that claim. While Tyrion is busy focusing on that a keep and land would be good for him, since he would get away from Kings Landing (given the political realities and that Tywin had given the North to Roose Bolton nothing he could hope to get any time soon) he ignores that the price that had to be paid for that to happen would be a price of blood, pain and tragedy for Sansa and the Starks.
Further, marrying Sansa puts a big, fat target on your forehead. Sansa is as far as everyone knows as of ASOS the heir to Winterfell, if we disregard the temporary Bolton rule, which nobody seems to think will last. Tyrion knows the Tyrells had designs on Sansa, and he also knows Littlefinger is involved somehow, as he was the one who brought word to Tywin about the Tyrell’s designs. Theon also expresses some thoughts that a marriage to Sansa would be advantageous for him and a way to legitimise a claim to Winterfell. Tyrion also disregarded that he raised the ire of every lord in the North and the Riverlands by forcefully wedding Eddard Stark’s and Catelyn Tully’s daughter.
The Tyrells and Littlefinger also worked together to murder Joffrey and had no problems framing Tyrion for the murder. Both the Tyrells and Littlefinger probably hoped to get their mitts on Sansa afterwards, although Baelish got there before the Tyrells. As Tyrion came to realise, without Sansa, a heir by her and through her, a claim to the North, even his own father was prepared to throw him under the bus. While arguably Tyrion could not have seen Tywin’s utter disregard for him, his political astuteness should have made him realise that Sansa was too valuable a piece not to be contended.
Tyrion’s issues and how they prevent him from being a good fit for Sansa
During a first read, a lot of people, including myself, thought it was a shame that Sansa and Tyrion did not get along better. A lot of people were also upset that Sansa did not love Tyrion, and did not see his qualities. I’ll attempt to split this topic into two parts. The first will deal with Tyrion and what makes him a poor fit for Sansa and the second will focus on Sansa herself, and what she wants out of her marriage and her life. The Tyrion part will contain a few points that are abbreviated versions of the excellent discussions in the Tyrion re-read threads.
Tyrion is one of the most, if not the most, psychologically complex character in ASOIAF. He is a dwarf born into a strongly dysfunctional family and the only person in his family he has a bond of love to is his brother Jaime. As it happens, the same goes for the other living members of the major Lannister house: Cersei and Tywin. They all love Jaime, but cannot stand any other member of their family. Tyrion’s relationship to Tywin especially has had a huge impact on his life, and he constantly strives to please Tywin to gain some emotional connection with his father, even if he on the logical plane knows that is impossible. Tywin is also the architect behind Tyrion’s perhaps worst memory, where Tywin, following the Westeros politics of marriage, gets furious with Tyrion for marrying a commoner for love, which is far below his status, and engineers a nightmare scenario where the poor girl gets gang-raped as her “punishment” for daring to even consider marrying someone so far above her. Tyrion is coerced to participate by Tywin, who motivates it with that Tysha, the girl, was actually a whore, and that according to the politics of marriage, deserved it. Tywin also knows that Tyrion yearns for love, and portraying Tysha as someone who only pretended to love Tyrion hurts Tyrion where he is at his most vulnerable. And so Tyrion was made to rape and defile that which he loved most and had sworn to protect.
Obviously, this has caused Tyrion to have psychological scars. To further add to his emotional baggage, Tyrion’s mother died while giving birth to him, and apart from Tysha, who he violated when Tywin said so, he has never known love, friendship or tenderness from a woman. We also see that Tyrion has perhaps unwittingly accepted parts of Tywin’s view on Westeros marriage politics, since Tyrion himself justifies the actions against Tysha with that she was a prostitute and a liar.
Further, at the time he marries Sansa, Tyrion also has an ongoing affair with the prostitute Shae. Shae pretends to love Tyrion and often acts as his girlfriend. Tyrion himself oscillates between feelings of love and being ashamed of the fact that he can love a whore. He channels Tywin quite often when he wonders how a prostitute like Shae can look “so pure”, but then he soon turns and projects his strong yearning for love on her, and he disregards any warning signs that Shae pretends to love him, for money.
Thus comes Tyrion to the marriage with Sansa. A man with severe emotional hang-ups, a tendency to project his own needs on young women and also, behind it all, looms the huge spectre of Tysha and Tywin.
And so it comes to pass that Tyrion is talked into another situation where he needs to violate a young girl, again. Tywin is behind it, again. Of course, we know that Tyrion eventually stages his own small rebellion against Tywin, in that he refuses to commit to another Tysha scenario.
The fact of the matter is though, Tyrion enters the marriage from a position of selfishness. He sees a claim to Winterfell, a pretty wife, a keep of his own, status and wealth and perhaps most importantly: a way to escape Tywin, while at the same time doing what Tywin wants him to do and get Tywin’s recognition, in gaining the North for the Lannisters, and marrying a very highborn and very pretty woman. So to Tyrion, the Sansa marriage is an ideal. The mighty keep, the pretty girl, the approval of the father.
But as we know, reality is different. In fact, it is as different as Sansa’s dreams of pretty princes and True knights and what she experiences in King’s Landing. Tyrion is just a bit more glib about the whole thing, but his self-delusions are self-delusions all the same. Sansa’s eyes started to open for real when Ned was killed in front of her, and Tyrion’s when he kills his father. Those are both points of no return.
What Sansa wants out of life and why Tyrion is a poor fit as a husband
If we move on to Sansa, and why Tyrion would be a poor fit for her, we have several threads converging to tip us off that this is the case.
Sansa learnt during her time in King’s Landing that appearances can be deceiving, but even more so, she learnt to carefully take into account what sort of person someone is, to make her own judgements about what the truth is, to not be trusting and maybe most of all, she realised that in the Game of Thrones, she is a pawn, a piece of flesh with a pretty face and a claim to Winterfell, to be fought over by scavengers. In essence, Sansa strongly comes to realise her powerlessness. In ACOK, Sansa is still learning and does not really understand the scope of what Cersei is telling her regarding highborn women’s lot in life:
Yet even so when Jaime was given his first sword, there was none for me ‘What do I get?’ I remember asking. We were so much alike, I could never understand why they treated us so differently. Jaime learned to fight with sword and lance and mace, while I was taught to smile and sing and please. He was heir to Casterly Rock, while I was to be sold to some stranger like a horse, to be ridden whenever my new owner liked, beaten whenever he liked, and cast aside in time for a younger filly. Jaime’s lot was to be glory and power, while mine was birth and moonblood.
“But you were queen of all Seven Kingdoms,” Sansa said.
“When it comes to swords, a queen is only a woman after all.
Of course, Cersei is not the most politically astute and has her issues to deal with, but she does point out something very valuable to Sansa: that highborn women are taught to smile and sing and please, and to be someone’s pretty wife and birth lots of children. And also that if they question this order of things, there are no good answers.
Sansa’s Septa, Septa Mordane, did indeed work hard to teach Sansa to smile and sing and please and turn her into a “talking bird,” to not object and to instead “buy” this strongly romanticised world view. In order to make women better accept an unattractive or unappealing husband, women also need to be motivated to hold on to the romanticised world view, hence the Septa taught Sansa that all men are beautiful.
If we for a moment take a short look at what Sansa wants out of a marriage, we can discern some patterns. Even when she has naive and rose tinted day dreams about Joffrey, there are certain things that she holds on to throughout, and those things are to have a family like her parents, with happy children and a husband she feels attraction and love towards. She obviously assumes that the family she will marry into will be on friendly terms with her own. Most likely, she is, like a lot of children tend to do, unconsciously modelling her own marriage dreams on what she saw of her own parents’ marriage, which was an arranged match but where Ned and Cat came to respect and love each other deeply.
Hence Sansa is now in a position where she is married at swordpoint (Cersei threatens her before she walks to the Sept) to a man from a family she is at war with. On top of this, Sansa finds Tyrion extremely ugly and deeply unattractive. The most she can manage is pity. Nothing in this situation fits with how Sansa wanted her life or her marriage (or even her wedding) to pan out. While she recognises that Tyrion is definitely not Joffrey or Cersei and she is grateful he did not take her by force, the marriage makes her extremely miserable. So miserable in fact that she contemplates suicide. She does not hate Tyrion, but she hates what the marriage to him entails: that they made her a Lannister against her will.
Conclusion: A Marriage Made in Hell
What we can conclude from looking at the Sansa -Tyrion marriage is that it has two dimensions: the political and the personal*.
From a political point of view, Tyrion’s marriage to Sansa is an act of war, of conquest, of subjugation. In the Tyrion re-read, it was discussed as being part of Tywin’s “Rains of Castamere” on the Tullys and the Starks. Further, Tyrion also knew, on some level, that it meant a cost in blood from Sansa’s family while he doesn’t consider the implications for Sansa, which the far more inexperienced Robb Stark grasps: at best, Sansa as Mrs. Lannister will be forever condemned to a life as hostage in the south; at worst, she will be killed to eliminate her as a political pawn with a claim.
Further, marrying Sansa Stark set Tyrion up for his fall. The Tyrells and Littlefinger were still keen on Sansa as a piece in the game, and when removing Joffrey, Tyrion was a convenient fall guy, and Littlefinger expertly maneuvered to take Tyrion down. (Had Jaime not unexpectedly released Tyrion, Littlefinger would also have succeeded 100% in removing Tyrion permanently).
Regarding the personal, Tyrion has a strong yearning for love and wishes to be in a relationship with a woman who loves him back. Unfortunately for Tyrion in that regard, he is also Tywin’s son, and Tywin has imprinted his own sharp lesson on Tyrion, who carries with him some heavy emotional baggage after the Tysha incident. Tyrion proceeds to project part of his needs and wants on Shae, and others on Sansa, but neither of these women can provide him with what he really wants: real love and Tywin’s acceptance. Instead, Tyrion dithers, wallows and engages in self delusions. In the end, both his affair with Shae and his marriage to Sansa bring him only misery as predictably, neither can provide him with what he is after. Sansa’s line about how Tyrion looks hungry for something and that she has nothing to give him is apt here, and appropriately describes why Sansa is wrong for Tyrion.
For Sansa, from a personal standpoint, Tyrion represents that which she has learnt to hate the most: the Lannisters. Her family’s deaths and downfall are directly linked to the Lannisters, as is her abuse and the forced marriage into the family she has learnt to hate. In essence, the Lannisters have not only taken Sansa as their hostage, they are also by force trying to make her into that which she hates and she knows they wish to use her to strengthen their position against people she loves and cares for.
Further, she also realises that to add insult to injury, she finds Tyrion extremely unattractive and outright monstrously ugly. Even if she tried to push the fate of her family out of her mind and accept her inclusion into the Lannister clan as a “good lady”, she cannot disregard the fact that she will never find Tyrion physically attractive.
By taking these things into account, it becomes clear why the Tyrion – Sansa marriage is a profoundly bad idea for both of them and why their personalities, their families and the political reality of Westeros make it extremely unlikely that it will ever make either of them happy, or even content. This was a wedding that was doomed before it even took place.
Which is indeed rather fitting when we look at Sansa’s arc.
* Interesting considering Carol Hanisch’s essay The personal is political, which is described thusly on an online women’s history resource: Her essay “The Personal Is Political” said that coming to a personal realization of how “grim” the situation was for women was as important as doing political “action” such as protests. Hanisch noted that “political” refers to any power relationships, not just those of government or elected officials.
by Pod the Impaler
Littlefinger… He was my father’s ward. We grew up together in Riverrun. I thought of him as a brother, but his feelings for me were … more than brotherly. When it was announced that I was to wed Brandon Stark, Petyr challenged for the right to my hand. It was madness. He wrote to me after Brandon was killed, but I burned the letter unread. … I knew he would rise high. … He was always clever, even as a boy, but it is one thing to be clever, another to be wise. I wonder what the years have done to him.
Lord Petyr Baelish, a.k.a. “Littlefinger.” Is there anyone outside her family as important in Sansa Stark’s life? There’s the Hound, the various Lannisters, various Tyrells, Ser Ilyn, and Ser Dontos. But who has been the one to cut into Sansa’s life with the alacrity of a scalpel? Littlefinger.
Petyr Baelish smiled. “I am desperately sentimental, sweet lady. Best not tell anyone. I have spent years convincing the court that I am wicked and cruel, and I should hate to see all that hard work go for naught.”
Petyr is not some huge intimidating brute, and is not known for any great skill at arms. He’s not highborn, so all the chivalry and traditions and ancient lineage that back courtly politics are nothing to do with him. He’s great with making money, but not counted among those most wealthy in coin and land. Nor is he famed as one most learned and wise. Yet, if you summarize his wicked deeds, you might think he is the most nefarious and dangerous person to ever live in Westeros (or at least a serious contender).
For a man who plays the game with such foresight and self-protecting paranoia, he is masterminding a grand strategy so risky, so complex, so far-reaching that one is almost awed by it. We do not even know what the grand strategy actually is, but as the pieces come together, the implications of Petyr Baelish’s actions are huge.
Yet, first and foremost, it seems, Lord Baelish has got his eyes on Sansa Stark. Is it as her saviour or her captor? Her educator or her corrupter? Her adoptive father or her future husband?
Indeed, we do not know what he intends her to be—the fact that he seems intent on crafting Sansa into something central to his ambitions makes us wonder what those intentions are. There is more to the story than just an upstart lord with immense ambitions and a genius for lethal intrigues. She is surprisingly central to his schemes, this romantic tormented girl whose mother was the girl he once nearly lost his life for.
Though this is a Sansa thread, much of what follows is an analysis of Littlefinger, an estimation of the man she has to both conspire and contend with. Petyr is the “hungry monster,” and it is the wolf who is the “hero.”
When Sansa finally looked up, a man was standing over her, staring. He was short, with a pointed beard and a silver streak in his hair, almost as old as her father. “You must be one of her daughters,” he said to her. He had grey-green eyes that did not smile when his mouth did. “you have the Tully look”.
“I’m Sansa Stark,” she said, ill at ease. … “I have not had the honour, my lord”.
“Your mother was my queen of beauty once”, the man said quietly. “You have her hair.” His fingers brushed against her cheek as he stroked one auburn lock. Quite abruptly, he turned and walked away.
What do we know of Sansa Stark?
Sansa Stark starts out as a firm believer in romance and courtly love. Her attitude towards love is one of her defining characteristics, and even after all her torments, she does not seem ready to give up on this completely. She was always wild about the songs and stories, especially of bold but noble heroes and smitten maidens. She is a normal girl in this respect, especially for her age. There is little or no guile in the way she approaches love, not beyond the sort of girlish gossip you see her share with Jeyne Poole, Beth Cassel, and probably others.
Yes, Sansa is naïve and maybe a bit shallow to start with, but remember how normal that is. She begins the story as a top-tier highborn girl, and for her whole life, she was the alpha female of Winterfell’s young female cohort in this respect. She excelled at lady-like activities such as singing, dancing, needlework, playing the bells and high harp, as well as all the courtly manners that a noble lady or princess should be expected to have. (If being a noble young lady was an Olympic sport, she would be a gold medallist.) It’s partly natural talent, but also reflects that she wants to be good at all these things so she is not lackadaisical about it. These are her ideals, and the things that put her at the top of that world, make her the noble princess, the central character of that of that imagined story.
As I said earlier, Sansa has no guile, perhaps not of an age to have it—and this applies to political guile, social guile, and even sexual guile. She is not worldly. She has the common pre-teen longings for cute boys and kissing, and all the other magic she thinks is out there waiting for her. And monsters? They, of course, always look and act like monsters. She is just waiting for some handsome hero who will be just as gracious and noble as she is, and will fight the monsters to rescue and love her. Aye, and bring her gifts of flowers and lemoncakes, too.
It is a set of ideals that never really leave Sansa, even as horror after horror is visited upon her, and all her dreams take an unprecedented turn for the worse. It is her great weakness, spotted by her foes (especially those she does not yet recognize as foes) and either scorned, pitied, or exploited. Yet it may yet turn out to be a strength, if it serves as a sort of higher moral ideal, a link to her kindness and compassion, her empathy. Eventually, she uses her experiences and gradually builds up the sort of social repertoire that is better able to handle intrigues and such, but this comes about as she is immersed in danger and sorrow.
Enter Petyr Baelish. He meets Sansa at the tourney, and the first thing he sees in her is the young Tully image of her mother. He had not seen Catelyn from the day he fought his duel with Brandon Stark to the day he met her in King’s Landing. He probably always had the young maid image of Catelyn in his head, and though Catelyn no longer looked the part, Sansa did. The thing that was different now was him—no longer a foolish smitten boy, but a man—a Lord, sharpened by his experiences. No doubt he had watched Sansa for a time before approaching, and seen her in awe of the spectacle, cooing over the brave and handsome young knights like Loras, but like a Lord’s daughter, steel enough to look upon Ser Hugh’s dying without running away or retching. (And at the same time, Catelyn was no longer the same girl he once fell for.) You can imagine the Sansa fixation begin, where suddenly Catelyn was no longer the only possibility.
The young lady is as wise as she is lovely.”… Lord Baelish stroked his pointed little beard and said, “… tell me child, why would you have sent Ser Loras?”
Sansa had no choice but to explain about heroes and monsters. The king’s councillor smiled. “Well, those are not the reasons I’d have given, but…” He had touched her cheek, his thumb lightly tracing the line of a cheekbone. “Life is not a song, sweetling. You may learn that one day to your sorrow.
Later, he hears Sansa comment on Beric Dondarrion being sent by her father to slay The Mountain (the monster). Here, too, is the likely conception of Littlefinger’s Sansa gambit, because he sees two things:
First, the confirmation that she thinks in terms of romantic dreams—the handsome young hero versus the monster. Yet, life does not work that way, as he warns Sansa—he had made himself the handsome young hero once, and look how that turned out. It is advice, perhaps delivered with a tinge of resigned sadness on his part, yet at the same time a spark of opportunity.
Second, Sansa may have good political and social instincts despite her inexperience—Littlefinger would have chosen Loras as well, arriving at the same conclusion by a different process. Name Loras to go after the Mountain, and Eddard Stark could have pitted the Tyrells against the Lannisters, involved Renly’s favourite in the danger, and kept an important Stormlands knight in King’s Landing for the struggle to come. But Sansa’s “heroes and monsters” explanation is not a bad one either, for this is how the smallfolk see it, how the court talk and gossip would frame it. Win or lose, the chattering classes see Ser Loras as the hero and Ser Gregor the monster, and Stark would have the consensus opinion on his side.
Now, for Littlefinger, he sees all that and thinks one word: “potential.” Sansa is as beautiful as her mother ever was, maybe more; she is as highborn as she one be without actually having royal blood; she has a sweet nature and romantic heart (maybe more than her mother ever did); with some political education she may have the charisma and instincts to be a game-player. Perhaps Littlefinger has found his new queen of love and beauty, and his queen piece for his game.
SANSA STARK AS CATELYN TULLY II: CATELYN “PERFECTED”?
What often strikes people about Sansa on first impression is how much like a younger version of Catelyn she is. First, there is her looks, which are mostly Tully looks. This may seem superficial, but what there is of her self-image has grown up with this image in mind. She is her mother’s daughter, for the most part. The way her mother raised her, you can see Sansa was Catelyn’s pride and joy, the perfect highborn lady. When Catelyn saw her, she saw herself young and untainted by life’s treacheries and tragedies. Even Eddard Stark seemed to treat her as a southron lady in the making, not that he ever had to push it. We see little of how he parented her to confirm this, but it seems like he was content to let Catelyn take the reins, while he protected and sheltered her. Sansa herself grew up with the “first daughter, second mother” image in her head. Some can say this is a result of the traditional way she was being nurtured, but nature also plays a role—her natural inclination was to gravitate towards it. Her mother says she was a “lady” at three. Not literally, of course, but what this means is she had an enthusiasm and a talent for ladylike activities that would have put her in the elite rank of courtly womanhood. Sansa would be a better lady than her own mother; her mother was her example and ideal of womanhood, the person she tried to emulate and even surpass. Like many girls, Sansa dreamt of being a princess and a queen, but unlike most others, she was developing into someone who could pull it off masterfully. Her mother was proud, her father was proud, her septa was proud, and every girl in Winterfell who mattered was always grateful and deferential to her (well, all but one).
The intensity of her attempts to be the perfect lady are deeply linked to her ideals of courtly love and romance. She throws herself into this outlook to the point where she is blind to danger and deceit, and she cannot see some people for who they really are, because everything is expected to live up to standards that simply do not match reality. She is The Princess: the mortal incarnation of The Maid, and the protagonist of her own romantic story; incongruous facts were not allowed to intrude on that. As things fall apart for her, she clings to this narrative, far longer than is wise, and as a result makes herself more vulnerable. (But hey, she was 11, and relatively sheltered from the true nature of the world.)
Ultimately Sansa starts out, as one might expect, the product of both her mother and her father’s influence, as well as her home life in general. Once the story kicks off, her real individuality begins as she’s forced by events to grow up—her own heartbreaks, traumas, betrayals, fears, and all the rest are experiences that neither her mother nor father had. Where others may have had support and protection, she had none from the day Joffrey assumed the throne and Eddard was taken captive; what she faced, she basically faced alone. What kind of woman Sansa becomes as a result of that is a wild-card, an unknown future even to her. Struggle for agency? A nice euphemism for the fact everyone she met has tried to make her into something that serves their interests (Littlefinger included), while she tries to grind out some version of herself that is actually her own design.
In King’s Landing, there are two sorts of people. The players and the pieces. … Every man’s a piece to start with, and every maid as well. … Everyone wants something, Alayne. And when you know what a man wants, you know what he is, and how to move him.
It cannot be denied Littlefinger is a man who often knows how people think, what they want, and therefore how to make them into what he wants them to be. Sansa is another one of those he manipulates, but with her, he puts in a great deal of care and effort—the question is not whether she’s important to him, the question is why.
What Petyr Baelish sees and knows of Sansa Stark seems is almost all external. He knows she is her mother’s daughter, by her look and by her manners, and her ideals are romantic ones. Cooing over the pretty and gallant knights, thinking life should be like the songs and stories, and she’s always such a good girl whose courtesy never fails. Young Petyr loved her mother, but she was as unattainable as she was noble. He sees Sansa as Catelyn the Second (Chance) – so much like her, but younger and more beautiful. Sansa is innocent, where Catelyn was a bit wicked; she is perhaps more pliable, where her mother was openly headstrong; she is kinder and sweeter, where her mother, for all her ladylike courtesy, could at times be cruel.
Here Lord Baelish is viewing things through a lens of his own nostalgia and regret. He is not entirely blind to this fact, but this time, it it he who is different—a lord, a cunning and powerful man, a smooth operator instead of a hopeless boy. Sansa is so beautiful and with his help she can be perfect—the gods have given him a second chance here, to rewrite history with himself as the winner. (And if that victory is also revenge against the houses of Tully, Arryn and Stark, how much sweeter it will be!)
Of course, this is not as straightforward as all that, and Littlefinger knows it. It is a complex process. First, he has to know Sansa’s way of thinking, her weaknesses. Second, he has to create opportunities to exploit that, and drive her towards him alone; he cannot be heavy-handed about it, but must make it seem comfortable, and natural for her, so in the end she willingly turns to choosing him. Third, he has to earn her trust and be seen as benevolent in his aims, but also diminish those influences on her which present mental and moral obstacles to his plans.
What snags are those? Sansa’s love for her family, her homesickness, her northern heritage, her empathy and kindness, her conscience and ingrained idealism, and her desire for true love—among other things. (How he deals with these will be explained later.)
A FAIR MAIDEN WAITING TO BE SAVED
“I had a dream that Joffrey would be the one to take the white hart,” she said. It had been more of a wish, actually, but it sounded better to call it a dream. Everyone knew dreams were prophetic…
“A dream? Truly? Did Prince Joffrey just go up to it and touch it with his bare hand and do it no harm?”
“No,” Sansa said. “He shot it with a golden arrow and brought it back to me.”
Sansa is someone who loves the romantic songs and stories, imagining herself as the imperilled maiden and her romantic prospects as her rescuers—in her heart she longs to replay Serwyn and Daeryssa, Aemon and Naerys and, of course, Florian and Jonquil. In keeping with the general “be careful what you wish for” themes in ASOIAF, what Sansa does not realize is that a maiden being rescued first must be put in some horrible situation which she needs rescuing from. She certainly learns what it is like to be in mortal danger, or betrayed and brutally mistreated, threatened with rape or torture or death. Even after things in her life begin to fall apart, Sansa clings hard to the idea of being rescued (How not? She found it a struggle just to survive and not be broken by pain and fear, much less escape.)
The rescue fantasies seem to be central to her thought processes, throughout the story, though there is transference in her mind about who that (handsome, gallant) rescuer might be and gradual transmutation of her sense of what rescue looks like. Still, the theme remains – her ideas of love and desire are wedded to ideas of rescue. However, the process is not a clear one. Sometimes she passes over an actual rescuer who doesn’t fit into her “handsome prince” archetype, while turning her heart towards some others simply because they represent the potential of rescue. As the story progresses, you can see the different potential rescuers whom she idealizes.
First is Joffrey. Sansa is betrothed to the handsome graceful golden prince, who at one point “rescues” her from being afraid of the Hound and Ser Ilyn (and Renly and Barristan). This is perhaps the most damaging one of all—his “rescue” turns into the Mycah/Lady incident. Even after that, she ignores those who point out his unworthiness and malicious nature, acts wilfully blind to the increasing conflict between the Starks and Lannisters, and does not snap out of it until he orders her father to be executed right in front of her. After that, when she hates and fears him, she sees his outer appearance in a different (uglier, more monstrous) light.
Second is probably Loras, and his appearance overlaps with Joffrey’s. He is another “beautiful” true knight, and Sansa imagines him as a hero worthy of slaying a monster (Ser Gregor). She tends to ignore the fact that he’s arrogant, reckless, and not above using ethically-questionable tricks to win. But that is early on. Later, when she has her brief chance at running of to Highgarden, she reawakens her idealized view of him, this time as a potential rescuer and suitor. This ignores the fact he is A) in the Kingsguard and sworn against marrying anyone, B ) gay and mourning for Renly, and C) happens to be an ally of the Lannister enemy and guarding the life of the evil monster Joffrey.
When Sansa’s told it will not be dashing knight Loras the Tyrells want her to marry, but sheltered cripple Willas, she is disappointed, but quickly transfers her fantasies onto Willas (whom she has never met), dreams of marriage and flowers and having babies, and being loved by the whole Tyrell family. Really, these fantasies are likely flowing from the idea of rescue—she can escape Joffrey, the Lannisters, and her woeful life as a captive in King’s Landing. Willas represents safety, but she idealizes her potential relationship with him. It does not occur to her until later that the Tyrells are not really rescuers, but rather are just another set of captors only interested in her claim to the North. Indeed, Willas might be a nice man and her life there could be good, but when the whole thing is quashed, she comes to understand they loved her claim, not her. They like her, they may even appreciate her confiding in them, but they were not about to break their alliance with the Lannisters to save her.
Of course, it is Ser Dontos Hollard who drives home the point about Sansa’s claim. Yet, he is another one she idealizes—he is her Florian. She does not have romantic feelings for him, not truly, but she views him in exactly the way her frames himself for her: a knight seeking redemption for his own sins, a genuine rescuer who protects and cares for her, homely and foolish though he is. Sansa does not see the role he plays, in deflecting away other potential rescuers—primarily the Hound, and the Tyrells. Indeed, we do not find out how sincere his feelings for Sansa actually were – all we know of him is that he guided her to the position where he would be the one to rescue her from King’s Landing. And all that is something he did at the behest of someone else: Littlefinger.
As all that is going on, we get two examples of Sansa passing over potential rescuers: The Hound and The Imp. The dynamics here are quite complex (and full of irony), but in both cases, their genuine efforts to protect her do not fit her preconceived notions of rescue and therefore do not lead to romance. They do not look like her ideal of what a rescuer should be; they are closer to her image of the monsters she would need rescuing from. (Still, the shell of her preconceptions begins to crack, the more she comes in contact with them.)
This is all just the setup for the man who wants to be her Greatest Rescuer of All: Lord Petyr Baelish. He is a man who knows what people want, and how to move them. What he knows about Sansa is: She believes in the songs and stories of knightly valour; to win her heart, to be desired by her, you have to be her gallant rescuer. It is the basis of his game with her. He is constructing an ideal version of himself in her mind, to win her trust and convert her gratitude and need for safety into desire. After all, isn’t the hero who slays the monster the one who gets the girl?
FALL AS AN ANGEL, RISE AS A DEVIL: LUCIFINGER, LORD BAELZEBUB
If one sums up all of Petyr Baelish’s misdeeds in ASOIAF, it would be clear that a great deal of the suffering and havoc going on in Westeros is basically his doing. Some of what he does is truly nefarious, yet he seems to escape every situation unscathed, never brought low for all his treachery or blamed for his crimes. There are some truly monstrous monsters out there, yet to name Littlefinger as one of the most dangerous of all sounds ludicrous. He is not seen as one who seems fearsome or fanatical, and seems to only enable those around him to get what they want. Though few seem to trust him, almost nobody considers him fearsome, but rather as just another ambitious and corrupt official, a man with low breeding but a high level talent for mundane things (witty banter at court, counting coppers, acting as an envoy, a source of information, etc.). Like Varys plays the simpering eunuch role, so too does Littlefinger play the role of the sleaze, the likely snitch, the purveyor of vice whose only goal seems to be wealth.
If they knew the full scale of what Littlefinger has done, and to whom, he’d be seen as the wickedest man in Westeros. Here is a man who is playing a far bigger game with far bigger goals than any suspect. He upholds the very system he ruthlessly undermines. He plays the perfect courtly lord as some sort of deep-seated satire. He is (like Sansa) a well-trained bird, repeating the courtly nonsense people want to hear; but check his sigil – he is the Mocking Bird, after all. Littlefinger’s always such a genial fellow, witty but deferential, clever but not admired, self-serving but always manageably so. That is why he’s the one who gets away with it, the ultimate Magnificent Bastard. To paraphrase a line from a film: He’s been underestimated from day one, keeps himself small, and they never see him coming. Until it’s too late.
Lord Baelish is basically the Devil figure of ASOIAF: the schemer and seducer, sensing the potential weaknesses in others, manipulating the honest and dishonest alike; the paragon of lies and treachery, laughing at how easy it all is; the nihilistic agent of chaos, dancing everyone sweetly to their doom. It can legitimately asked whether he is attempting to be the master of the system, or the one who destroys it in some immensely complex act of wrath. It may even be that he does not know himself.
Petyr Baelish is not truly a demon, just a man who rose up from comparative obscurity to play the game of thrones at the elite tier. There can be much to admire in about someone like him. It is a dangerous and unforgiving environment. He is no great soldier and no great scholar. He is also not part of one of the powerful noble houses, nor does he come from any place with particular strategic importance. He’s no peasant, but still too low in society to be counted among the the honoured elite. Really, it is a world that seems to be designed for looking down on him and holding him back. He is a self-made man, rising up on merit—Littlefinger is a risk-taker by necessity, someone who has no great advantage to fall back on and, thus far, no great legacy to carefully protect. All of his position and wealth and influence he gained by himself, using his own cunning and ambition and tenacity. This is something admirable, and despite all the villainy, one can appreciate his struggle for power and respect (and perhaps more).
… Sometimes it seemed to her that the Lord Protector was two people as well. He was Petyr, her protector, warm and funny and gentle… but he was also Littlefinger, the Lord she’d known at King’s Landing, smiling slyly and stroking his beard as he whispered in Queen Cersei’s ear. And Littlefinger was no friend of hers. When Joff had her beaten, the Imp defended her, not Littlefinger. When the mob sought to rape her, the Hound carried her to safety, not Littlefinger. When the Lannisters wed her to Tyrion against her will, Ser Garlan the Gallant gave her comfort, not Littlefinger. Littlefinger never lifted so much as his little finger for her.
Except to get me out. … Littlefinger was only a mask he had to wear.
Only sometime Sansa found it hard to tell where the man ended and the mask began.
The above description is a well-known theme for quite a few characters in ASOIAF. In Petyr Baelish’s case, what we may be seeing is not two personas but three. Sansa knows the same two that other people have seen. Eventually, with enough experience, she learns to tell the difference on the surface, and how each version of Petyr Baelish relates to her. Does she know the deeper one? Does anybody?
The first persona is Lord Baelish. He’s charismatic, courteous and gracious, generous to friends but not easily cowed by foes. He is lordly—he commands respect and gets things done. He can deal with the highborn as befits his standing, and his favour can make or break lesser lords and knights. He is confident at court, but still mindful of his place with respect to others. Lord Baelish could be someone’s liege lord, someone’s envoy, someone’s councillor, and even someone’s father if he chose to be.
The second persona is Littlefinger. Littlefinger is charming too, but his is a sly and corrupted sort of cleverness. He’s the more behind-the-scenes operator, the one who understands the needs of the crooked and impious, the one who takes pleasure from his wickedness. He’s dishonourable, lecherous, callous, manipulative, and cruel. Littlefinger ruthlessly uses people and discards them, and pulls others down to further his rise. Littlefinger is the lowborn schemer, the craven deceiver and backstabber one who wants power and revenge, and will always be hungry for more.
The facade of Lord Baelish is well-maintained, but most of the real players at court understand Littlefinger is what lurks underneath. Both versions of him play the game, but Littlefinger is the one who plays rough and has never met a rule he didn’t break. His deceitfulness is so pronounced, even the other players of the game can have little idea what he is up to. A few (such as Varys and Tyrion) have come to understand Littlefinger as a man who really has a long reach, playing all the angles in the game, looking for ways to get his hooks into people. They perhaps tell themselves that’s really all it is—even as they struggle to guess his agenda.
Sansa has seen Littlefinger and Lord Baelish, and clearly prefers nice Lord Baelish to nasty Littlefinger. But she still tells herself that Littlefinger is the mask, and Lord Baelish the more true version of him. It is understandable, since Lord Baelish is someone who seems to have the qualities Sansa admires in terms of courtly decorum and outward benevolence. As well, his act of taking her out of the Lannister’s clutches makes him seem a bit more gallant and heroic than she previously would have thought. Since her rescue, she finds herself indebted to him for her safety, and as we’ve seen before, she tends to think better of people who seem to keep her safe. If as readers we want to scream out “no, Sansa—beware, beware!” this is understandable; she is not fully aware of the things he has really done to her family (and to Westeros in general). Sansa clearly has her doubts too—things that are nagging at the back of her mind, worrying her about him and what he really wants.
However, this brings us the the third persona, the one that is deepest down and not shown openly to anyone: Petyr. Petyr is the boy that Baelish once was, the one who loved Catelyn Tully and fought for her hand, and he is almost the antithesis of Littlefinger.
They met in the lower bailey of Riverrun. Petyr had begged her for a favour he might wear, but she had turned him away. Her lord father had promised her to Brandon Stark, and so it was to him that she gave her token. As she pressed it into his hand, she pleaded with him, “He is only a foolish boy, but I have loved him like a brother. It would grieve me to see him die”. And her betrothed looked at her with the cool grey eyes of a Stark and promised to spare the boy who loved her.
The fight was over almost as soon as it began. Brandon was a man grown, and he drove Littlefinger all the way across the bailey and down the water stair, raining steel on him with every step, until the boy was staggering and bleeding from a dozen wounds. “Yield” he called more than once, but Petyr would only shake his head, and fight on, grimly. When the river was finally lapping at their ankles, Brandon finally ended it, with a brutal backhand cut that bit through Petyr’s rings and leather into the soft flesh below the ribs, so deep that Catelyn was certain the wound was mortal. He looked at her as he fell and murmured “Cat” as the bright blood came flowing out between mailed fingers.
Young Petyr is more like the protagonist in one of the songs and stories Sansa loves so much. Petyr is a slight lad, but brave and clever and perhaps handsome. He came from a relatively poor and obscure home to prove his worth among one of the greatest houses in the realm. Along the way, he rescues the daughters of the house when they are lost in a treacherous fog. He receives his first kiss from Catelyn Tully, the beautiful first daughter of the noble lord, and falls in love with her. Later, when he learns she is to be married off to some beastly northern warrior, the lovestruck boy challenges the full-grown killer for the right to her hand. And even when he’s hopelessly overmatched, he refuses to give up and fights on, willing to die rather than give up his chance to be with the girl he loves.
When you consider it this way, Petyr sounds like exactly the kind of boy that the girl Sansa would fall in love with—gallant, brave, idealistic, and willing to sacrifice everything for his true love. A tragic love story to be sure, but the hero is the kind of boy who is destined to be a true knight. After all, shouldn’t the hero who fights the monster be worthy of the girl’s love?
‘Lady Candace’ said:
… Petyr seems to be gradually taking over Littlefinger. I don’t know if any of you remember, but the last time I was around the boards regularly I expounded on how his two halves are so different they may as well be two unique people themselves. Littlefinger is the courtesan, Petyr is the young boy who was humiliated and failed in love.
So what happened to Petyr the Hero? Reality happened, cold and cruel. Catelyn Tully became Catelyn Stark, and it did not even really matter to which Stark, because her feelings for Petyr never equalled his feelings for her. Petyr carried a torch for her, and though he clearly could have chosen to be with some other noble woman, he never did—settling down would have meant settling for less than what he truly wanted. After his duel, the realization that Catelyn would marry Eddard Stark was the coup-de-grace after his duel with Brandon Stark. It drove home the message that there was truly no hope, it wasn’t just that he couldn’t fight as well with a sword, it was the whole system he was up against, one which scorned everything about him. For the first time he may have seen that the Tullys, Arryns, and Starks – and all the rest—looked down on him, and always would. Talent and intelligence didn’t matter, devotion and love didn’t matter, honour and courage didn’t really matter. He was only as worthy as his claim, and he was the heir of some rocks and sheep pellets at best, so they would never see him as worthy at all.
Petyr was a naive boy with no control over his situation and nothing to offer Catelyn except his heart. Petyr the good-hearted and loving boy died in that duel, and was reborn as Littlefinger and Lord Baelish, rising up harder and stronger. Lord Baelish is all about power and Littlefinger is all about control, so this time the situation will bend to his will. This time, with Sansa, it will be very different. Yet, it is his persona as Petyr the Hero that may be the key to his interactions with Sansa after all. The question is whether some part of Petyr is left in him, or if he is so far gone into being Littlefinger and Lord Baelish that he can never turn back.
PLOTS HAVE I LAID, INDUCTIONS DANGEROUS …”
Sansa felt sick. … “You told me that life was not a song. That I would learn one day to my sorrow.” She felt tears in her eyes… “Is it all lies, forever and ever, everyone and everything?”
“Almost everyone. Save you and I, of course.” He smiled.
As stated before, Petyr Baelish has become fixated on Sansa Stark, as not just the key to his ambitions for greater power, but clearly something more personal as well. She is not merely a hostage, a bargaining chip to be bet against higher and higher stakes. Nothing Petyr Baelish does it without a long-term purpose, even when he is forced to adapt to unexpected turns of events. It’s clear enough the Littlefinger wants Sansa for himself. It is most telling when brings out some curiously risky behaviour in him.
“Catelyn II” is the template, but as stated above, this is a very complex process. His main method here is subtlety and control of the situation Sansa finds herself in. Gradual isolation, then conversion and seduction – mental and moral first, and then emotional and sexual. To reiterate the point: He has to know Sansa’s way of thinking, her weaknesses. He has to create opportunities to exploit that and drive her towards him alone—but in a way that seems comfortable and natural for her, so she willingly turns to choosing him; He has to earn her trust, but also diminish those influences on her which present mental and moral obstacles to his plans.
Of the obstacles and complications he has to deal with, the first is quite literally the presence of her family and friends at all. As early as AGOT, Littlefinger’s actions achieve (among other things) the isolation of Sansa by getting rid of her father, her sister, her best friend, and her household. How much of this was his intention versus how much was Cersei and Joffrey is debatable, but he contributed to it and profited from it. Despite Sansa being a captive to a regime that is primarily Lannisters and then also Tyrells, he still manages to manipulate events to further isolate Sansa. But her clear enemies aside, his main effort is cutting her off from is anyone she can trust or confide in. She must trust only Littlefinger or those who are his agents (such as Dontos).
The second obstacle is her own memory of home and identity as a Stark. The Catelyn comparison is the more obvious part of Sansa, yet even there, Catelyn did not really seem to feel the same way Sansa feels about certain things. We don’t really see what sort of young maid Catelyn was, but none of Catelyn’s POVs give the impression her attitude towards love involved plunging heedlessly into romantic fantasies—especially not concerning young Petyr. (Ironically, young Petyr would perhaps have been more Sansa’s type than her mother’s.)
However, where Petyr’s ship really hits an iceberg is with that part of Sansa which comes from her father, her Stark heritage, and Winterfell. Eddard Stark has been the main male influence in her life, and even dead he also represents things that Littlefinger has nothing to do with: honour, martial prowess, warrior’s courage, and northern fatalism with regard to death. Plus, there is that ability to be utterly stoic in the face of trauma, perhaps something Catelyn lacked, but which Sansa has used throughout her captivity to survive without mentally breaking down. She is less apt to become pliable or timid due to her grief. There is even a trace of her father’s fierce idealism which comes out when confronted by the evil of people like Joffrey or the rough intimidation of the Hound.
Sansa starts the story as a girl who consciously chooses to be not very northern and does not really value it, but that seems to change as things go on. Seeing her father die, she finally understood that he was protecting her, not just thwarting her dreams by being cold and restrictive. It’s a wake up call too, regarding Robb, Bran, Rickon, and Arya. (Maybe even Jon?) She is a Stark, and those ties of love and trust are felt most keenly after they are all gone. Plus she misses Winterfell, the home where she was happy and safe, and an honourable and dominant Lady (rather than a plaything for others to use and torment).
In part, Sansa’s newfound awareness of her Stark heritage helps Littlefinger’s chances (so long as he can manipulate the way she thinks about it), because the seeming annihilation of her family drives home the idea that Starks are hunted and hated, and she truly has nobody to trust—except him. Still, to a larger degree it hurts his chances, because those parts of her which still have misgivings about him are probably the Stark parts, the echoes of values and traditions that counteract the sort of things Littlefinger believes in. Better for him if he takes most of her Stark background and downplays or negates it, especially the role of her father.
The third complication is Sansa’s innate kindness and empathy, her conscience and idealism. Sansa is a highborn girl, but not all highborn girls are as compassionate as she is. Part of this is bound up with her belief in songs and stories, of true knights and virtuous maids. That part is subject to manipulation, and Littlefinger uses it to his advantage. Yet, deeper down, she is not someone naturally given to vicious acts or ruthless behaviour. Even towards her enemies, she often finds herself lending a helping hand and comforting them for no other reason than it is her nature to do so. Why give aid to Lancel when he is wounded? Why cry out to save Dontos? Why say anything gentle to the Hound or Tyrion, ever? This does not apply to everyone, though; she does hate a few people and wish them ill, though her actually saying so is exceedingly rare. Still, you get the feeling she hates hating people at all. Her world is light, and she has no wish to delve into the darkness.
For Littlefinger, this is a problem. Sansa has to unlearn all this, because (at a minimum) politically it is a weakness. Baelish knows better than most people how hesitating to be ruthless got Eddard Stark killed, and he was a northern lord and warrior. Sansa’s conscience prevents her from willingly deceiving and manipulating people, and her compassion wards her off committing ruthless and bloody acts. To make Sansa into someone who can successfully play the game of thrones, or at least tolerate being with someone who does, Littlefinger has to carefully demolish all her ingrained hesitancy and revulsion at these things. Sansa Stark is losing her naïveté, and has had to lie her ass off just to stay alive, but to be a fit companion for Lord Baelish would require more than this. It requires a complete moral restructuring, and she has to be re-educated until she sees her previous beliefs and attitudes as a liability, as something childish needing to be discarded. Pawns feel bad about the consequences of their ruthlessness; players do not.
The fourth set of complications stems from the unique life experiences Sansa has had. Family all murdered, captivity by the Lannisters, the attentions of the Hound, of Dontos, of Littlefinger, etc. That is Sansa’s story. Her nature starts as Catelyn + Eddard, but everything thereafter is Sansa’s own, the product of her experiences. Lord Baelish is a big part of this story, and master manipulator that he is, he thinks he gets to be its author. But this is the part that is most unpredictable, because lurking outside the boundaries of Littlefinger’s controlled environment are things that Sansa has learned despite his best efforts to redact them, and things which Sansa felt which he had no part of. Just the same, the long-term brainwashing effort continues, with Littlefinger trying to adapt in ways that still bend things to his will.
Tyrion reclined on an elbow while Sansa sat staring at her hands. … Grief had given her a haunted, vulnerable look; if anything, it had only made her more beautiful. He wanted to reach her, to break through the armour of her courtesy. … Gently he spoke of Braavos, and met a wall of sullen courtesy as icy and unyielding as the Wall he had once walked in the North.
Sansa is not the trusting girl she started out the story as; the open and naive Sansa is gone. For very understandable reasons, she is now close-mouthed and distrustful (to the point of paranoia). Survival has demanded that she never speak her mind openly, always present a false front, always treat people she interacts with as a potential source of danger. In other words, it is now very hard to get past her defences. Littlefinger understands this (after all, he helped cause it), and this means a long-term strategy is needed to break through her defences. He acts gradually and carefully, using circumstances to piece by piece change her opinion about what he is, her estimation of herself, and therefore what her relationship to him could be.
SAVIOUR OR CAPTOR?
There was a time when Cat was all I wanted in this world. I dared to dream of the life we would make and the children she would give me… Family, Duty, Honour meant I could never have her hand. …In a better world, you might have been mine, not Eddard Stark’s. My loyal, loving daughter… You are safe now, that’s all that matters. You are safe with me and sailing home.
As stated before, Littlefinger has made careful note of Sansa’s tendency to desire rescue, and think in ideal terms about those who seem to rescue her. What is notable is how those who she has seen as her rescuers all turn out to be to be from the other side in the war, and aligned with her captivity: Joffrey, the Hound, Loras, Willas, Tyrion, Dontos … and Lord Baelish. Since the War of Five Kings began, Baelish has been identified with the enemy side. He set up then betrayed her father (not that Sansa knows this). He was among those councillors who questioned her when the coup took place, and the one who made off with Jeyne Poole for “training”. He brokered the Lannister-Tyrell alliance as well. So, how can Sansa trust him, knowing whom he has publicly served?
What Littlefinger has done is to help create the conditions of her captivity, and also disposed of those she trusts, leaving her isolated. He has made sure to sideline or get rid of rival rescuers as well. One, Dontos, was always his catspaw, but he gets rid of him in the end too. Regardless of how sincere those potential rescuers may have been, Littlefinger manages to convince Sansa they were a threat (though with some, no effort was needed).
Publicly, Littlefinger was her enemy; privately, Lord Baelish killed the monster and rescued her from all those who wanted to steal her claim or rape or kill her (or perhaps in terms of his two faces, it was vice-versa). Sansa can identify with that behaviour personally, having learned the value – the necessity – of disguising one’s intentions when in a hostile environment.
His grey-green eyes regarded her innocently. “Did you think we were making for Winterfell, sweetling? Winterfell has been taken, burned and sacked. All those you knew and loved are dead. … Winterfell was the home of your childhood, Sansa, but you are no longer a child. You’re a woman grown, and you need to make your own home.
When she reaches the Vale, she is in indirect peril because her being there must be a secret, and soon enough she’s put in direct peril again: Marillion wants to rape her; Aunt Lysa wants to force her to marry Sweetrobin; Lysa’s jealousy towards Sansa (or rather towards Catelyn’s daughter) prompts her to nearly murder Sansa. She does not feel like she is in a safe place; she is hiding who she is now, inside and out.
Clearly, Sansa has to feel safe and protected to open up to Lord Baelish, feel gratitude towards him, and trust him. As well, I think Littlefinger hopes she will see him in the same gallant light as the Knight of Flowers and other stereotypical rescuers. From that, if all goes well for him, this should create thoughts of desire, and a willingness to be with him. Can she love him in the end? He rescued her, and nobody else.
Petyr picked up his quill again. “We shall serve him lies and Arbor Gold, and he’ll drink them down and ask for more, I promise you.”
He is serving me lies as well, Sansa realized. They were comforting lies though, and kindly meant. … If only she believed them. The things her aunt had said just before she fell had troubled Sansa greatly. “Ravings,” Petyr called them. “My wife was mad, you saw that for yourself.” And so she had.
All I did was build a snow castle and she meant to push me out the moon door. Petyr saved me. He loved my mother well, and … And her? How could she doubt it. He had saved her.
As well, as all the above, there is a more sinister subtext that she is still not safe, that her safety can evaporate in a moment. Sansa is one of the most hunted people in Westeros. The Young Wolf is dead, along with the rest of her family, and his brief kingdom being fought over between those who drown you, those who backstab and flay you, and those who burn you alive. There is the subtext of owing Lord Baelish her life. There’s also some guilt over the fact Sweetrobin’s mother is dead, and there is no family to take care of her helpless and hopeless cousin. Like with her, Sweetrobin’s loyal lords want possession of him for his claim. This is a lot of psychological pressure to put of some young maiden. Much of it tells her to give up on her ideals, to pick the lesser evils.
In other words, her time in the Vale seems to be turning out as another sort of trap. Lord Baelish is her saviour, in a lot of ways that matter to her, but in other ways he is still her captor—she is still under someone else’s power, though this time it is more subtle. The question becomes whether Sansa’s clear misgivings over all this will win out, or whether in the end she will finally sideline her mistrust and view Baelish as a genuine rescuer who has brought her to a new home, and bend her feelings towards him accordingly.
FATHER OR LOVER?
Lord Littlefinger kissed her cheek. “With my wits and Cat’s beauty, the world will be yours, sweetling.”
Petyr Baelish certainly sees the daughter of Catelyn Tully in Sansa, and as stated earlier, and is clearly attracted to her (well, who isn’t?). Many seem to regard Sansa as just a pretty face with a claim, but with Petyr it goes beyond this—there is the personal dimension for him that does not exist in her interaction with her other suitors and foes. Lord Baelish could have easily found some other pretty noblewoman by now, but he is not the sort to “settle” for anything less than his heart’s desire. Petyr wants the girl he loved, the chance he lost, the dream of a beautiful loving woman. Lord Baelish wants the best possible claim, the loyal and graceful wife whose bloodlines can help him build a new great house that will endure beyond his own lifespan. Littlefinger wants the willing accomplice and game-winning trump card, to bring him the final victory against his so-called betters, when he finally beats them all at their own game. This is what he sees in Sansa, the potential she has that nobody else possesses.
Sansa is not someone who is likely to jump into this role on her own. Her yearning to be a good girl and her mother’s daughter works in Littlefinger’s favour. Her being her father’s daughter does not. Underneath their brief interactions in King’s Landing there was a good deal of mutual contempt between Lord Stark and Lord Baelish. However, for Sansa, Lord Stark was a good father and though she went against him in the matter of Joffrey, she still loved him. She is a Stark of Winterfell, and as long as she identifies with that heritage, it remains a problem for Littlefinger.
“It is Winterfell, is it not?”
“It is,” Sansa admitted.
I used to dream of it, in those years after Cat went north with Eddard Stark. In my dreams, it was ever a dark place, and cold.”
“No. It was always warm, even when it snowed…”
Littlefinger cannot openly show his contempt for Eddard Stark, but from the beginnings of their interaction, he seems to emphasize Sansa’s being like her mother and undermine everything to do with her father. He fills Sansa’s head with the idea that he loved her mother, because she identifies with that sort of love and loneliness. If Lord Baelish once loved her mother, that has to mean he’s got some good in him, or at least sympathizes enough with her to keep her safe from harm.
At the same time, Littlefinger emphasizes how important it is to be a player in the game. He praises her father as brave (to play into Sansa’s sense of family and pride), but also hopeless and foolish at “the game” (playing up Sansa’s fear of her situation and own need to lie in order to survive).
Littlefinger will of course never state that her father basically lost the game and his life in part because Littlefinger betrayed him—the knife, the gold cloaks, the trigger for the war itself. Sansa’s father is dead, and as one might expect, she needs a new protective figure in her life, a father figure. Lord Baelish can play that role, gradually earning Sansa’s trust and replacing Eddard Stark in her mind. He does not totally negate it either, if the plan to join her with Harry The Heir is to be believed, he will be the one to bring her back to her Stark heritage (on his terms of course), and she will no doubt be grateful.
I am not your daughter, she thought. I am Lord Eddard Stark’s and Lady Catelyn’s, the blood of Winterfell.”She did not say it, though. If not for Petyr Baelish, it would have been Sansa who went spinning through a cold blue sky to stony death below, instead of Lisa Arryn. He is so bold. Sansa wished she had his courage.
Sansa does not give her affections to those she does not trust anymore; that was a hard lesson she learned thanks to Joffrey and the other Lannisters. She may still give her heart to those who protect her, who represent safety. If Baelish can make her feel safe in his care, if he can build up an idea that he has that protective father-figure quality about him, then perhaps Baelish can turn her affections towards him as a potential mate. Creepy as the process is, first he must act the role of adoptive father, until she sees what a noble and good husband he would make for any woman, and then she sees herself accepting the role of his wife or paramour.
Within this context, we see his comments about Sansa being the daughter he should have had, along with his praise of her mother, and even his praise of her beauty and her growing political and social abilities. Much of it is genuine praise, especially true if Baelish has fallen for her. One interesting part of this is that Lord Baelish can actually behave in quite a fatherly way when he wants to, even boosting Sansa’s self-esteem when it suits him. Sansa is the maid incarnate, but being flowered and having to take care of Sweetrobin is bringing her gradually towards the role of the Mother. She always wanted these things, so despite the unwilling way it was all dumped on her, some part of her may be willing to accept it later.
You have your mother’s eyes. Honest eyes, and innocent. Blue as a sunlit sea. When you are a little older, many a man will drown in those eyes.”
Sansa did not know what to say to that.
As readers we see more of the sexual subtext going on, and we may hope Sansa can detect it too, but must remember her perspective is more limited. Littlefinger has made advances towards her, even while he tells her to be careful and always play her role, he seems to relish skirting the edge of disaster. The whole incident with kissing Sansa in the snow of was dangerous for him because Lysa found out, and her rage made her act and speak unpredictably (unless Littlefinger predicted this, and meant to be seen in order to set Lysa off, as yet another scheme). However, this incident and a couple of others made Sansa wary of Littlefinger’s advances too. He is not as threatening to her as others have been, but he’s still a full-grown man. It has dawned on her maybe it’s not just the memory of her mother motivating him, and she is well aware of what it means to be flowered—a sexual and marriage prospect. If others see her that way, it stands to reason Baelish might too. As well, we must not forget the problem of age: Baelish is close to her mother and father’s age, not hers. Though such pairings are common in Westerosi society, Sansa does not seem naturally inclined towards older men.
Some think Sansa will be gradually gaining more agency as she matures, but for those that wonder why she is not more forceful in her rejections of LF’s advances, or why she goes along with his schemes instead of bolting from his company at the first opportunity, consider this: Baelish rescued her. Maybe he does not equate to the dashing young man of her dreams, but yes, she is grateful to him for plucking her out of danger (more than once).
However, I don’t think she’s happy to be implicated in poisoning and regicide, nor truly happy being tucked away in the Vale playing the role of Baelish’s natural daughter. Sansa is just looking for some form of safety, and plays the role LF devises for her because it keeps her safe. Call it a combination of gratitude and fear. She may not want him, but at the moment she needs him. She even accepts the role he creates for her—Alayne Stone—the role of a bastard daughter, which her previous self would have found demeaning.
Baelish is not seen as just a friend or a brother (as he was with Catelyn). The “daughter” thing is fake and neither feels that way seriously. He’s not stunted like Tyrion, nor scarred like the Hound, and is at least moderately attractive, not to mention well-versed in the social graces. Why not see him with romantic eyes then? (Well, if his grand plan succeeds, eventually she would.)
Sansa … grabbed a handful of snow and flung it full in his face. Petyr yelped as the snow slid under his collar. “That was unchivalrously done, my lady.”
As was bringing me here, when you swore to take me home.” She wondered where this courage had come from, to speak with him so frankly. “From Winterfell,” she thought. “I am stronger within the walls of Winterfell.”
“Yes, I played you false in that … and in one other thing as well.
Sansa has idealized her potential rescuers/suitors in the past, to the point of having romantic notions about them, but seems to not do this in Baelish’s case. With him, she remains cautious and cool, even though his advances have been relatively gentle. The first time they had a real kiss, she did not recoil in horror, but neither did she return the affection, and since then she has been careful to return his affection in platonic ways. It’s awkward for her to play the role of his daughter with this going on, but she also uses that role as a shield, to deflect his advances. This caution of hers is something Littlefinger is aware of and trying to change, but might potentially unravel his carefully woven plans. There is a reluctance there that is more than just her considering he’s a generation older than she is.
Sansa knows her rescuer is no Florian, and that he can be as ruthless as he is deceitful. The things she has seen and learned about Littlefinger do not all match her kind nature, nor her Stark sense of honour. He was on the Lannister side and as the war began, he was clearly one of Cersei’s underlings. Yes, he killed Joffrey and pulled her out of King’s Landing, but not before he’d extracted something from the Lannisters and kept his own hands clean. He killed Dontos just to silence him, and was happy enough to see the Imp framed for it. He married her crazy aunt, but revealed it was his always her mother he loved, then dropped her aunt off a mountain. Part of her likes him and admires his unusual sort of courage, but another part of her may be aware she is not truly safe with him. Sansa’s experiences teach her that everyone wants something from her (indeed, Littlefinger himself wants her to understand this), yet this fact can lead her to the conclusion that his kindness and protection might not be given away for free.
To end up being what he wants (a willing wife, ultimately) or wanting what he is planning constitutes a moral struggle. Sexual innocence is not the only sort of innocence at stake here. Lady Sansa Baelish would not be the kind of person Sansa Stark is. Otherwise, why not see herself as the future Lady Baelish? Her moral innocence may be unwanted baggage in politics, and her chaste reluctance to fall into Lord Baelish’s arms may be frustrating, but in an odd way, I think these things make Littlefinger desire her all the more.
You shouldn’t kiss me. I might have been your own daughter…”
“Might have been,” he admitted with a rueful smile. “But you’re not, are you? You are Eddard Stark’s daughter, and Cat’s.
For now, Sansa would rather be the innocent maid in the snow. She accepts her new burdens with her usual grace, and may have put aside her romantic fantasies for something more pragmatic (at least as concerns herself), and yet that too is something more associated with Alayne Stone. Deep down, Winterfell still calls to her. Deep down, something about Littlefinger’s advances disturb her. Her growing awareness of what Littlefinger has done or caused may spark something of a change with regard to her views on staying with Lord Baelish or following his schemes.
EDUCATOR OR CORRUPTOR?
“Sweetling, be a good girl and bring Lord Robert to the High Hall to receive his guests.”
“Yes, father.” He voice sounded thin and strained. “A liar’s voice,” she thought… “A guilty voice.”
Littlefinger is a consummate schemer, someone who has mastered the game of thrones better than his more highborn peers, becoming one of the most powerful men in Westeros. Part of his game is inviting the other players into it—on his terms of course, ready for manipulation. Sansa is not immune to his manipulation, and she would normally be another one of his pawns, but he has seen something in her that makes her a potential major player—a more permanent companion and accomplice of his if he sets things up just right. He is shaping Sansa into a game player, because she has the breeding and natural social ability for it, and also because he sees an asset he can join his own fortunes to. What she lacks is the political know-how, the way of using information like a weapon, of turning people’s desires and expectations into their fatal weaknesses. “Asset” has a meaning when it comes to espionage, and what is his game if not that ? Sansa has learned quite a bit without him, but going back to events even before the death of King Robert and the fall of Eddard Stark, he seemed to be one of those telling her how to play the game. His motivations seem to be a mixture of desire, spite, hubris, and maybe even a touch of nostalgia for lost innocence (his own and hers). Littlefinger’s education of Sansa Stark is not without selfish reasons, clearly.
It would normally be Sansa’s father (as a lord) and mother (as a highborn woman) who would teach her these things (along with a septa and a maester as hired tutors). They succeeded inasmuch as Sansa was on track to be an outstanding highborn lady, plus Sansa wanted to be a courtly lady and very much in that social game. Where they perhaps failed was in preparing her for the darker aspects of life, for what she had to watch out for as a young lady with a claim, and how to detect and deal with foes.
In fairness, they had likely expected to have more time to gradually ease her into it. At eleven years old, with her unexpectedly betrothed to the crown prince, it may even have seemed that she would not need to learn about struggle and deceit because the ultimate objective was met. What parent could hope for more than seeing their lovely daughter become a queen? For Sansa, with her love of songs and stories, her highborn pride and ambition, this also must have seemed the ultimate triumph – she’d be not just the alpha female of Winterfell, but all of Westeros.
Well, Sansa was not ready for the living hell that followed. Sansa’s education up to that point was abruptly cut off (along with her father’s head). Her innocence and naïveté and dreams of love had pulled her right into a deadly trap. Everything she dreamed of turned to poison, everyone she loved died (as far as she knew), and those that did not turned out to be untrustworthy or outright enemies. Perhaps the Stark family was not a good place to learn about how to deal with deceit and treachery, since they were not practitioners of it, and tended to scorn anything dishonourable. Starks were ruthless in battle, but they were as much mocked as praised for their sense of honour. Littlefinger would be foremost among those who mocked it.
Lord Baelish is therefore an unlikely teacher for Sansa, but under the circumstances she was in, she learned the value of lying and projecting a false front, and not exclusively from him. Lord Baelish actually presents a benevolent face when he is teaching her. Sansa has had many people call her stupid or childish, but Baelish actually seems to consider her a bright and capable girl, and treats her like an adult – praising her intelligence and intuition, and boosting her self-esteem. Some part of her probably likes this, and appreciates his interest in her improvement. It has been a long time since she could act like the dutiful daughter of a lord, or could have pride in being a social player – she finally gets to act like something other than a tormented and terrified hostage. It is a renewed sense of agency, or at least the illusion of it.
Do you understand what happened here, Alayne?”
Sansa hesitated. “You gave Lord Nestor the gates of the Moon to be certain of his support.”
“I did,” Petyr admitted. “… our rock is a Royce… but the lies I served him were sweeter than the truth … Men of honour will do things for their children that they would never consider doing for themselves. … it was clever of you to see it. Though no more than I’d expect from mine own daughter.”
“Thank you.” She felt absurdly proud for puzzling it out, but confused as well. “I’m not though. Your daughter. Not truly….
The phrase about a parent compromising their honour for the sake of their children brings up strange parallels here between Sansa’s parents and Lord Nestor Royce, and then Nestor Royce and Sansa. Eddard Stark (though Sansa may not know this) did something which outwardly was dishonourable (his false confession to treason) for the sake of his child Sansa. Catelyn let loose the Kingslayer to save Sansa as well, destroying her own honour in the process. Her parents were aware of it when they acted though, and it was meant to be protective not comforting. Yet the message is there: children can be used against an honourable person, to break their honour and resolve. Sansa does not know that her parents did this for her—honour and loyalty defined them. Were she to understand they sacrificed even that to save her, Littlefinger’s subtle lessons about how honour and love of family are potential weaknesses would be seen in a very different light. What conclusion that would lead her to is anyone’s guess.
The second portion of the passage shows Sansa may be doing much the same. Lord Baelish making her into Alayne, giving her things to do around his household, and his stated plans to eventually let Sansa Stark re-emerge, are all things that allow Sansa to buy into his game playing. It is not just the obvious self-interest to tempt her into Littlefinger’s game, but the fact it allows her to ease herself into the delusion of having agency. This freedom to act is likely illusory, and to some degree she knows it is fiction. She would rather see herself as a major chess piece than be an inert poker chip. As a result, she is more motivated to go along with Littlefinger and his training in the game. She needs to feel better about herself, and if Littlefinger can do that for her, she is drawn closer to him emotionally.
“I’m not though. Your daughter. Not truly. I mean, I pretend to be Alayne, but you know…”
Littlefinger put a finger to her lips. “I know what I know, and so do you. Some things are best left unsaid, sweetling. … Do you want more blood on your pretty little hands, my darling?”
Marillion’s face seemed to float before her… behind him,she could see Ser Dontos. …
“No,” Sansa said. “Please.”
“I am tempted to say this is no game we play, daughter, but of course it is. The game of thrones.”
“I never asked to play.” The game was too dangerous. “One slip and I am dead.”
Of course, Sansa is still trying above all to survive. Leaning the intrigue game from Littlefinger helps her deal with deadly dangers. In King’s Landing she was unskilled, improvising on her raw talent alone to get through each situation (and even there, she needed a few lucky interventions from unlikely people). Even in the Vale, the protection of Lord Baelish is precarious. This is partly the shared risk to both of them if Sansa is discovered. Littlefinger is cunning in that just like with Nestor Royce, he makes sure Sansa’s fortunes rise or fall with his. And it is also a part of his strategy of personal dependency, with hints that she knows what she knows (and can use), and of bloodshed to follow if she does not follow his plans completely. The lives of other people hang in the balance; those who might be benevolent like Dontos, or malevolent like Marillion, or grey-area people like Tyrion – their blood is on her hands. (And this does not even include her family’s blood; the guilt over that might be overwhelming if she fully understood how much they paid in blood for her safety.)
The metaphor of “falling” is unmistakable here, used in a few different ways. One slip and she is dead? That applies to the game, just as it applies to Alayne’s journey down from the Eyrie. Going forward is the only way to be safe; to stray from that narrow and fearful path means death. She cannot be a Stark or Tully for that; the howling wolf-winds of honour and openness would smash her to pieces on the rocks. She must be Alayne Stone, a persona born of her precarious situation. Of course, there is also another sort of “falling” at stake: morally, as in a fall from grace.
‘Queen Cersei I’ said:
I think there definitely is a potential for corruption in Sansa’s storyline… Sansa is currently living with LF, one of the most morally depraved men in Westeros. She knows that she can’t trust him, yet she knows that she can’t trust anyone else. She is smart enough to realize that her best option is staying with LF, even though LF never “lifted his little finger” to help her. (I also suspect that LF, master of manipulation that he is, managed to make Sansa feel unconsciously guilty for Lysa’s death; and give her the impression that he “did it for her” so that she is indebted to him, basically culpable for Lysa’s death, and responsible for making LF a murderer. Like many abusers, LF uses the subtle chains of dependency, guilt, and brainwashing.) … While staying in such close proximity to LF, and being utterly dependent upon him, it is possible that Sansa could opt to do something against her moral code. It is hypothetically possible that, seeing where kindness has gotten her, she might give some consideration to LF’s moral code in her own life.
The potential for Sansa to have a moral “fall from grace” goes hand-in-hand with her being taught the game by Littlefinger, or by anyone else. The tools of the trade are deception, manipulation, and both subtle and overt kinds of coercion. It requires a distrustful outlook and callousness instead of compassion. The kind of person she may become by mastering the game may not be a good person at all. The Sansa thread is called “From Pawn To Player,” but consideration must be given to what it really means to be a player: someone who plays with other people’s lives, making them into pawns, treating friends like foes and foes like friends. As I said previously, there is an element of moral struggle, of requiring a complete moral restructuring that means abandoning her personal idealism and whatever sense of ethics and honour has underpinned her life thus far. Part of her “education” – whether coming from Baelish or not – includes the idea that having a conscience is really an impediment.
Sansa Stark being taught how to unmake other people through intrigue is experiencing a loss of innocence. Even part of Sansa wants to weep at the thought of helping spin a web of lies for others to be trapped in, even when it is to her benefit. Would her late father and mother be proud of her growing abilities to match wits with the likes of Olenna Tyrell or Roose Bolton, or would they be ashamed of what that makes her? Will she exult in her newfound power and cunning, or mourn at being made into Lady Baelish as she was once made into a Lannister?
Each person reading about Sansa therefore partakes of her moral struggle, and comes away with different hopes/expectations. Does she have it in her to be a treacherous liar, a “game player”? Even if she can, should she? It is natural for readers to want to see her give Littlefinger his comeuppance, to be master of her own circumstances, to be able to take the weapons of the game and wield them well. Yet, is that really something for her to aspire to? If that took place, some may want to mourn, for it would mean the conversion of the sweet and almost angelic Sansa into something darker, someone fallen. Then perhaps Lady would truly be dead and gone.
However (crackpot theory time) … It could even be we are kidding ourselves about Sansa Stark. Maybe her natural talent for the game always had a dark side. Maybe she is more of a little bird than a wolf. Maybe she was always more of a liar than her kin, and she is destined be someone who fails in these moral struggles, either choosing to trust the wrong people or ending up on the wrong side. It wouldn’t be the first time in ASOIAF we readers see our hopes dashed. Even going back to her first POV chapter in AGOT, we see Sansa get pulled into telling destructive lies—lies that she tells others, and lies she even tells herself. Sansa Stark was raised to be valiant, she was raised to be noble, she was raised to be honourable. And Sansa lied.
ALAYNE STONE: MY UNFAIR UN-LADY:
Can you do that? Can you be my daughter in your heart?”
“I do not know, my lord“ she almost said, but that was not what he wanted to hear. “Lies and Arbor Gold,” she thought. “I am Alayne, Father. Who else would I be?
Combine the three strategies of tension above, and one thing it leads to is the creation of a false persona for Sansa to inhabit. Or put another way, a persona comprised of falseness itself—someone who is more able to be an associate of Lord Baelish and aligned with his scheming nature. Alayne Stone is a fiction, but without a doubt Littlefinger’s daughter, in the sense that Alayne is Littlefinger’s creation. Alayne can be used as a vehicle to erode away Sansa’s Stark identity, and thus negate her misgivings about him.
For Sansa, being Alayne is a “safe” choice. She cannot be Sansa right now, because Sansa Stark is the last of her house and the most hunted woman in Westeros. Of course, having scorned bastards in the past (especially Jon Snow) it dismayed her at first to be thought of that way, but practicality quickly won out.
Alayne can be just as important in terms of her internal identity-negation. Within Sansa’s own mind, it would cause too much moral conflict to self-identify as a Stark and yet be an accomplice to what Littlefinger is doing. Alayne can do the things Sansa Stark cannot, and by being Alayne, Sansa is also giving herself moral permission to act cunning and unscrupulous. Littlefinger created the cover story, the role of Alayne. Sansa was the one who had to create her personality. So what kind of person is Alayne Stone?
Alayne can be a “bastard brave.” It’s strange to think it, considering she is a Stark of Winterfell, one would expect her to have some true steel underneath her highborn courtesy. But Sansa uses the bastardy element to help her deal with some fearful situations. Plus, one gets the feeling she also thinks of Alayne as more of an adult than Sansa herself. Alayne is still virginal, but might be bit more bawdy given some prompting by people like Myranda Royce.
Being Alayne may also enable Sansa to put away her own depression and longing for love. Sansa Stark loved songs and stories, and dreamed of marrying someone important, but for love. By being Alayne, she can cope with having diminished prospects.
Sansa is clever in also using “Alayne” to try and ward off Littlefinger’s advances. She is affectionate with him, but he is doing all the initiating. Twice he has kissed her on the lips, but her own kisses are platonic in nature, and he cannot really expect too much considering he has asked her to act as Alayne all the time. Yet both know it is all an act, so ultimately this deflection tactic of hers is of limited use.
Alayne also uses the persona to deal with the difficult issue of Sweetrobin, and can be a surrogate mother for him after Lysa died. Sansa might be a cousin to Sweetrobin, but despite his mental issues and her frustrations and misgivings about the child, she is able to play the role of caretaker for him. Perhaps it’s a mental practice-run for Sansa’s own dreams of having a child. At the same time, though, Alayne might be capable of letting Sweetrobin die. Indeed, she even tries to overcome the maester’s objections to using things like sweetsleep. Lord Baelish makes it seem natural and inevitable that Sweetrobin will not live long, though I imagine Alayne may suspect it is being arranged. If she was Sansa, she would not only be more upset, but as a daughter of Catelyn Tully, more obliged to actually do something to protect him.
She goes along with Littlefinger’s schemes, serving his interests and obeying his commands. She can be assertive in dealing with members of Lord Baelish’s household (and it is really his now, not Robert Arryn’s), but is passive in regard to him and what he does. In other words, she is Littlefinger’s loyal retainer and accomplish, the same as Lothor Brune or any number of others. She can even be sacrificed as a pawn if needed, along with every personal relationship tied to her, since she is fictional after all.
He is serving me lies as well, Sansa realized. They were comforting lies, though, and she thought them kindly meant. A lie is not so bad if it is kindly meant. If only she believed them …
When you get right down to it, Alayne Stone is a kindly-meaning liar. It may be true that the occasional white lie spoken for kindness is not a bad or dishonourable thing, but Sansa tells lies now that are well into grey and even bordering on black. The things she has seen and the truths she knows are staggering, to the extent that psychologically she’s had trouble processing and confronting them.
Sansa repeats the line to herself about “a lie, but kindly meant” like a mantra, or an incantation to ward off evil. Whose evil? Her own. She hates the lies she must tell, the deceitful way she must act, and as Sansa Stark she probably could not bear it. But Alayne is Littlefinger’s bastard, so deceit was her mother’s milk.
Sansa has used deception to protect herself, but also used deceptions that came back to hurt her. Perhaps most risky of all, she has told herself lies, maintained fictional realities in her head maybe even knowing deep down they were not true. For example, she continues to tell herself that it was Arya who caused the whole Mycah/Lady incident, rather than Joffrey’s innate cruelty, and definitely rather than her own weakness when confronted by such evil. She still misses Lady, but laying Lady’s bones on her own doorstep is not something she’s able to do. Maybe it is too painful, or maybe (more worryingly) the fiction of what happened has permanently overwritten the facts and she really feels the fiction is true (thus the “unreliable narrator” issue comes up here, same as with the Un-Kiss).
As Alayne, she can perhaps deal with it better, or deflect and delay some of the overwhelming sadness, fear, and guilt creeping up on her from every direction at once. Sansa Stark is a girl whose past lies and misjudgement still haunt her, whose family are all dead and is hated and hunted throughout the realm, who dreams of true love but feels she will never be loved for herself, and has to sup on deceit and submission in order to survive, no matter how much she hates the taste.
It is wearing Sansa down, and being Alayne Stone the daughter of Lord Baelish makes it more palatable, but there is the danger that she will lose herself playing this role. Alayne can play the game without the restrictions of true fidelity, honour, or compassion, but the moral hazard in acting that way as Alayne is that the more she acts this way, the more it becomes a habit. Once again, if being routinely unscrupulous is what is required, is being a player really a good thing?
Littlefinger is teaching his “daughter” the game, but if she’s some prodigy at it, the day may come when she is able to turn it all against him, or wrap him around her little finger (pun definitely intended). There are already some signs she keeps certain things from Lord Baelish and plays him false by telling him things that he wants to hear. If Alayne remembers her lessons, she would know Littlefinger keeps all his pieces watching each other. Has she figured out how much he actually trusts her? Does her watch her carefully too—or does he underestimate her wilfulness or overestimate his hold on her?
Alayne does not really have real agency or independence, but if she is granted more autonomy of action, this may also provide an opportunity for her to use her skills for her own ends. So it remains to be seen what the consequences of that would be—Alayne playing the game for Littlefinger or against him, Sansa Stark willingly aligning with Lord Baelish or perhaps breaking free of him. The situations and decision points developing around her will soon likely force matters to come to a head. If Petyr Baelish has a weakness that can be exploited, Sansa may be the one person in a position to exploit it. She knows his methods and quite a few of his agents, largely because he tells her.
WORTHINESS OR WEAKNESS OR WILDNESS?
Why not just rape Sansa? Yes, this is a horrible and provocative way to ask a question, but the question is valid—why would a seemingly sociopathic man not simply take by force what he so obviously wants? What stops him? And why does he actually go to such lengths to inform and involve Sansa regarding his plans? It seems a big bother and a bigger risk.
Littlefinger has seemingly no scruples. He poisons people and lies about it to cause further chaos. He sets people up to walk into traps. He lets other people pay for his crimes with their lives. He certainly is not above hurting women when it is to his advantage. He owns brothels, and like any pimp, you can be sure he does not run that business without a good deal of exploitation, fear, and even violence. Lord Baelish had a wife with great breeding and power, who actually did desire him, and he pushed her out the Moon Door. And then there’s what he did to Jeyne Poole—training her to be utterly sexually submissive, and then handing her off as a plaything for a sadistic serial killer. It’s a medieval society in a time of war and chaos, so as a Lord serving under a Lannister government, whatever sick thing he did would be considered par for the course and excused out of hand.
Truthfully, Sansa is very much in his power, and if he really wanted to force her to lay with him, she would have little leverage to defend herself. Yet, despite this, and despite his obvious sexual desire for Sansa, Baelish does not force himself on her as so many others would. If he wanted to be a monster, the quick and easy path is right there for him.
Littlefinger is a cold-blooded murderer (and just wait until Sansa finds out about his role in Ned’s execution…)
Sansa is Littlefinger’s weakness and he blabs all his plans to her and, more important, tells her how he does it. Bullshit them and pay them, put them in your debt, employ spies to stir shit and enable you to splatter it on others and come out smelling like a rose (see: meeting with Lords Declarant). I don’t think Sansa is going to go to those extremes, but I think she will get down and dirty if she has to in order to save the North, or Rickon, or maybe even Sweetrobin (who is her family, and Sansa takes Family and Honor, if not Duty, pretty seriously). She’s learning from a man who rose from being the most minor of lordlings, and short and scrawny to boot, into one of the major power players in Westeros.
‘Jolene Brown’ said:
I don’t think it’s his desire to possess Sansa that will ultimately bring him down, it’s the need he has to show off, to impress her with how powerful and clever he is. That is what is leading him to tell her things he should not be telling anyone.
Lord Baelish makes his creepy advances, but does not subject her to outright rape (not that we’ve seen him actually rape or not rape anyone else). Littlefinger does not subject her to the sort of training Jeyne Poole got, because that would also ruin her. Of course, we know Baelish thinks his more long-term and subtle means with Sansa will ultimately bear fruit and she will want to be with him. Yet, why should he care one whit about whether she actually wants him or not? (The Lannisters never cared—they openly planned her rape, and it was much to their dismay that Tyrion would not go through with it.) Even without rape, marriages can be arranged without the consent of the young woman, and in Westerosi society it is not considered unusual if the bride is unwilling but has to just live with it. Is there a tiny shred of conscience in Baelish about this, the one moral red line he will not cross? Hard to imagine.
Petyr Baelish acts differently with Sansa than he acts with just about anyone else whom he wants something from. He seems determined to educate her, to convert her to his way of thinking. Strictly speaking, if you are good at the game, why would you want anyone else to be? He also tells her things about his methods, and involves her in his schemes. She knows things already that could unmake him, but he seems to go out of his way to tell her more. It’s clear he wants to impress her, to show how clever he is. Does he really need someone to share his grand joke with ? Maybe he is intellectually lonely, and can’t stand that his awesome schemes go unsung.
Sounds crackpot, but she may be his fatal weakness. He is very bold, but his big risks usually involve much calculation. With Sansa, though, he seems to break his own rules about how you play the game. She knows enough to destroy him, and he does not seem to care beyond his concern that it might imperil their ability to act together.
Or maybe he just wants to be seen as a great man, not a monster. Seen by whom? I cannot think he cares what anyone else’s judgement of him is—perhaps anyone except her. He has been sneered at by the great and powerful, and paid them back masterfully and murderously for it.
I think what he wants from Sansa is really more than just another pawn, and more than just an object of sexual desire. He wants her respect and admiration. He wants a true wife, someone who is not just compliant, but complicit. Dare I say it, he may want a woman who is on his level. If he sees Sansa as naturally gifted, he wants nothing less for himself than a partner who excites him intellectually as much as physically. What he does speaks to his need to have Sansa find him worthy—worthy as a great lord, as a father (for eventual children), as a soul mate. He wants her to want him—and endangers himself to try and achieve it.
Strange to imagine cynical Lord Baelish as a man with some fantasy in his head. Yet, there may be one where Sansa finally opens her eyes and says “oh Petyr, you are the finest man I know, I love you,” and then they marry and have babies and House Baelish lives on in greatness, maybe even sitting on the Iron Throne itself. It’s a dream as ambitious as it is full of romantic madness. Maybe underneath all the schemes, young Petyr is still in there. Sure, there could many ways to pick this apart as delusional, but who says Petyr is one hundred percent rational ? He could be another Rhaegar, willing to roll the dice and dare the gods to stop him from having his perfect mate – the key to everything he desires.
Now of course, what Sansa actually thinks of him, and what she wants now or may desire in the future is an open question. She is being armed from Baelish’s own arsenal of emotional manipulation and political ruthlessness, and between what she knows already and what she may yet find out, a reckoning is coming.
FATE’S BREAKING POINTS
All of the above coalesces into one big messy amorphous mass of emotions for Sansa. At this point in ASOIAF, we cannot be certain what Sansa is feeling, let alone becoming. She does not know herself. What we’re seeing in Sansa has been complex, contradictory, and even paradoxical. Yet there are moments we can see coming, decision points, where circumstances may force her to act decisively. Maybe for Littlefinger, maybe against him. Most of these involve some sort of information, and some involve some sort of relationship. What it comes down to is that as these emotional gateways are passed, the Sansa that went in may not be the same Sansa that comes out.
Aunt Lysa’s Revelations: This is the information H-bomb that has already dropped. Sansa has yet to fully comprehend and process what Aunt Lysa told her just before being shunted out the Moon Door. (Perhaps Littlefinger pushed her out because she was telling Sansa what Sansa was never meant to hear.) Sansa was too young to understand when it happened, but the death of Jon Arryn is basically what set off her whole betrothal and her father’s going to King’s Landing as Hand. It also set in motion the death of the King, the death of her family, and the fracturing of the realm in a war that saw immense levels of violence and atrocities. If it were all laid at the doorstep of the wrong people from the outset, then how much suffering need never have happened (to her or anyone else)? At the time she was told, Sansa was on the verge of being murdered by her crazy aunt, so she has naturally focused on that (hence Littlefinger’s dismissal of Lysa’s rantings). But with a bit of time and perhaps a bit more information, Sansa may see it clearly, and what her Aunt said will click together like puzzle pieces, forming a very ugly picture. Perhaps that will awake the dormant wolf in Sansa. Yet even if Sansa never acts on the information, the fact she has it at all still might be incredibly dangerous. If anyone but her and Littlefinger knew what Lysa’s last moments were like, if they knew the secrets that were spoken, there would be seven hells to pay. Sansa is endangered just by knowing it, just for the potential she could tell it to someone one day.
The Valyrian Knife: Related to the whole Jon Arryn issue is the whole issue regarding what happened to Bran. Not so much that Jaime pushed him out a window, but rather the attempt on his life which took place later. Catelyn captured Tyrion based on the issue of the knife, and this led to the fight between her father and Jaime, and sparked the war—though the war may already have been coming. Littlefinger’s lie to Catelyn and Ned about the knife was a great betrayal, but if you think about it, the lie was really just to ingratiate himself to them and get close. Nobody predicted Catelyn would seize Tyrion at the crossroads, or anything else from that point on. The getting close to Ned, though, was leading up to the moment Littlefinger decided to set him up to be betrayed and captured. That deleted Ned from Catelyn and Sansa’s life quite effectively. Sansa never knew about the knife, not until Tyrion happened to delve into that subject on Joffrey’s wedding day. She knows there was something to do with Tyrion being accused of trying to harm Bran, but now that she’s in the Vale, she may learn more about the specifics—the Valyrian knife and the connection to Littlefinger’s identifying it as Tyrion’s, and thus Tyrion’s trial by combat.
The Coup: Sansa does not know a great deal about what took place on the day her household in King’s Landing was slaughtered and her father arrested for treason. As she got her rude awakening as a captive, she was fed only information they thought to tell her. Yet, Sansa has not done much thinking back to what happened that day—specifically Littlefinger’s role. She knows Littlefinger was among the council when she was brought before the Queen. One thing that could spark a new outlook within her is the fact that she provided information that basically tipped the balance against her father in that conflict—there will be a lot of guilt over that, and maybe there already is some and she just blocks it out. Another thing is the fact that Littlefinger basically suckered her father into the fatal trap. If she knew how active he was in the events of that day, she may finally see him as her father’s mortal enemy. There’s a big difference between her father being just bad at the game, and having lost because Littlefinger betrayed him. All it would take is a bit of information about how instrumental Littlefinger was in the events that day, and the whole Lannister Coup is seen in a new light.
Jeyne Poole/False Arya: Sansa has thought little about Arya since her ordeals began. However, Arya simply disappeared. Sansa knows Jeyne Poole was captured and taken into Littlefinger’s custody. She has not dwelt on the issue, but what if she did recall it, and ask Baelish what became of her best friend? Or perhaps actually find out? Somewhere up north is the false Arya Stark—her best friend Jeyne, trained mercilessly by Littlefinger in a brothel and sold off to the bastard of Bolton for the claim that is rightfully Sansa’s. The volatile thing about this one is that if Sansa should ever be in conflict with “Arya,” Sansa could recognize the truth with just a glimpse. This would be a pretty sticky point morally, because of course even if Jeyne is on the other side, this girl was her best friend and Sansa may even feel a bit responsible. As well, Sansa knowing it’s Jeyne brings her right back to the day it was decided Jeyne would be dealt with by Littlefinger. Any knowledge of what Littlefinger did with her would likely turn his image more monstrous in her eyes. As well, Sansa might not know it’s even a fake Arya, but if she’s found by a certain Maid of Tarth, then she soon will.
Real Arya/The Hound: If Sansa should meet that same Maid of Tarth, she may learn that her sister was a captive (or accomplice) of The Hound. People other than Brienne know this, too. She has done little thinking about her sister, but who knows what sort of emotions she might feel if she found out her sister and The Hound travelled together, and how close they were to the Vale. Relief? Jealousy? Fear? One wonders if she would risk her current state of semi-safety as Alayne to find her sister. On the other hand, The Hound was accused of terrible crimes at the Saltpans, so it makes one wonder whether she’d believe such accusations. Also there’s the other implication—that the Hound died at the Saltpans, or her sister did, or both. Knowing any of this, it might spur a big decision about her own situation.
Sweetrobin Dying: This will be a big one. Sansa doesn’t entirely like Sweetrobin, but Alayne does take care of him. There are some mothering instincts going on there, and this is a fairly helpless child. As well, she may see a parallel because Sweetrobin is also passed around and fought over because of his claim—who ever actually loved the boy himself except his own mother? Lord Baelish insists the prognosis for Sweetrobin is a bleak one, but Sansa may be suspicious that if (when) Lord Robert dies it will not be from natural causes. The constant leechings may be sapping his strength rather than helping him. The sweetsleep being administered is clearly dangerous, but then again, Alayne once insisted on it over the Maester’s objections, too. The question here is, would Sansa really let herself be stand by as this child—her own cousin—dies? Would she try to save him, or would she just go along with this Harry the Heir plan, which basically requires Sweetrobin’s life to be written off? We really don’t know, but I suspect how she deals with this will say much about what sort of person she becomes.
Minty Kisses: Lord Baelish keeps sneaking kisses with Sansa when they are alone. Two long kisses now, and clearly not platonic. These may be the most “real” kisses she has yet had. A bit of shock and worry has accompanied each. However, if it keeps happening, it’s going to lead to some sort of emotional reaction. Something will awaken. It could be arousal; it could be longing for someone else; it could be fear; it could be anger. After all, we already have a previous example of what an abrupt change in a relationship a kiss can bring about—with Daenerys and Ser Jorah. Littlefinger may get more forward with his advances, too. We are not yet privy to the exact nature of his schemes regarding Harry the Heir, but it’s doubtful he will set aside his desires for real.
Marry, It Rhymes With Harry: If Sansa is betrothed again, this has great potential to force a decisive turn from her. First of all, it is predicated on Tyrion being dead or some other annulling factor. Maybe she never wanted to be Mrs. Imp, but either out of gratitude or some unusual outbreak of piety or Stark honour, she might reject any plan that actually sets in motion his death. Second, there is of course the fact that this is yet another marriage arranged by others, and she may balk at that, especially if her heart gets set on (a past or future) someone else. Third, there’s Harry himself, who we do not know much of, aside from the fact he may be enough of a ladies’ man to have a couple of bastards. Sansa may not be willing to overlook womanizing, and when it comes to bastards, she is Catelyn Tully’s daughter so she may find that unacceptable (Alayne or no). So, for these and maybe other reasons, I would say that just because Lord Baelish arranged it does not mean it will actually happen.
The Last Stark, Or So She Thought: Sansa right now assumes she is the last of her family. Her parents and Robb are dead. Bran and Rickon and believed dead. Arya is assumed to be dead. Jon is believed alive, but he’s a half-brother and far away on the Wall. Jeyne Poole—not family, but important—she has heard nothing of her for years. Much of what Sansa has done, she has done because she feels she is utterly alone. Just hearing Jon had been named Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch was enough to break her composure for a moment, and start longing for her family again. If she were to find out some of the supposedly dead are alive, this would be a shock, and might spark a change in her attitude or decisions. If she was given a chance to meet any of them again, she may take a big risk to do so. And then there’s Lady Stoneheart. It would be a bigger shock to find out her mother has been transformed from a murder victim to a vengeful undead thing that prowls the woods with outlaws hanging people without mercy. Her mother was her template of womanhood, so who knows where such knowledge would lead.
THE FUTURE IS NOT SET: THERE IS NO FATE BUT WHAT SHE MAKES
In the end, we have looked at what Petyr Baelish’s presence has meant to Sansa’s past and present. What kind of future does it seem to lead her to? What kind of person will Sansa become because of him (or despite him)? ASOIAF has been full of surprises, so just one prediction will not do. Even several may not be enough, as the future is murky and any predictions might be invalidated later or just blur together in the chaos. Nevertheless, here’s a few possible ways Sansa’s future might go…
- The Caged Bird: We hope for Sansa to become more than what she has been, a girl with inner purpose and clear agency. However, maybe in the end, she just doesn’t have it in her. She will never be more than a captive, her fate never really in her hands. She will not be a player, just a pawn. She simply may not have the cunning or the will to break free of her situation and be a true daughter of Winterfell. Maybe she will survive, but always live in grief and fear, singing empty songs devoid of meaning. Perhaps she will find a way to disappear into obscurity, hiding until the end of her days. Perhaps she will finally be bedded, and not by anyone she desires. Or perhaps she will remain chaste and lonely, until all possibility of achieving love and marriage are gone. This is the saddest or most disappointing possibility—a Red Wedding of the soul. In the end, we find out that Lady’s death actually predicted perfectly what Sansa would be. She lost her wolf, and with that, she lost her future.
- Lady Baelish: This is the best-case scenario for Petyr Baelish, his goal of converting her to his lady love is achieved. In the end, Sansa chooses him, maybe for love, maybe for pragmatism. They get married, they have babies. They both are players on the same team, and she acts as his willing accomplice. The House of Baelish is their legacy, built together into a new great house. How horrible or pleasant this is depends on one’s subjective judgment, and maybe on a few developments we have not seen yet. Perhaps she is never the great game-player he is, but is a loyal and dutiful wife and content to be a good mother to their children. Or maybe she does become and excellent game-player, wicked and cunning, and together they bind Westeros to their will. (Perhaps even becoming the new royal house or marrying their kids into it.) For the Sansa we know, is this a defeat, or just the triumph of the adult game over childish dreams and ideals? Nobody would much like it, but maybe a vexed fan base is just as valid as a content one.
III. Lady Stark, the Queen of Ice: Sansa Stark becomes a dangerous game-player, along the lines of Littlefinger himself, but with an image more like the Queen of Thorns, Cersei Lannister, Melisandre, or Arianne Martell. However, unlike the second option, this Sansa has nothing emotional to bind her to Littlefinger (or anyone else). She takes his knowledge, uses his own weaknesses, usurps his power, and then destroys him. This would not be out of revenge, but rather because she has become like him. Scheming, manipulating and backstabbing become second nature to her. Her old Stark values such as having compassion, acting with honour, or finding true love are buried by a blizzard of cynicism; these are childish dreams she gave up on so she would never be helpless or heartbroken again. In other words, she follows the emotional path Young Petyr did, becomes the new Littlefinger, and then removes the old one. She is a game-player, and the game makes people into monsters. This would make her story an anti-redemption arc (a corruption arc?).
- Fly, Little Bird, Fly Or Die: Sansa is under the care of an older man whom she knows is deceitful and dangerous. He wants her to be part of his nefarious schemes. Worse, he wants her, period. It is only a matter of time before she is morally and sexually compromised. Eventually, all the lies she tells herself to endure her situation might break down, and she decides that it is time to rescue herself. She looks for an opening, finds it, and flees. Maybe she runs to somewhere in particular, or maybe to someone. It is risky as hell, and probably death for her if caught, but of all possibilities, this is the one with the most chaotic outcomes. Perhaps she may take Sweetrobin, and try to be the rescuer instead of the rescued. Perhaps she will realize there are other Starks still alive, and she will rush to rejoin them.
- A Wolf Reborn: Perhaps after a lot of soul-searching, and a lot of fear and ethical compromise, Sansa decides enough is enough, and snaps back to being a daughter of Winterfell. She may never be like Arya/Nymeria, but we will see this Lady find her iron will, rediscover her honour, and the develop the commanding presence her mother and father once had. This would be at odds with her need for safety, but maybe she gets tired of being safe and living a lie. She is a Stark—the last Stark, and she will not be known as the only Stark who was craven or dishonourable. This version of her might try escape, and emerge afterwards as a result of being under nobody’s power. Or maybe she will stay put, but stand her ground more forcefully on the things that matter to her. There may be elements of the game player in her, but this version will have a healthy contempt for the underhanded nature of game. This Sansa may also be dangerous to Lord Baelish, but for reasons of revenge. If that is in the cards, likely the cause of the transformation will be the realization of the things he has done, and what it all means. Littlefinger has much to answer for, especially where it concerns her family.
- Sansa the Redeemer: I save my most crackpot possibility for last. Sansa redeems Littlefinger. Maybe after the schemes play out, Lord Baelish realizes that though he wants Sansa, or maybe even loves her, he cannot have her. Her feelings are simply not there for him, and he has to pull back before he does something even he would consider monstrous. Maybe Baelish decides to be truly gallant and remorseful, to save Catelyn’s daughter for real and try to make up for what he has done.
Sound out of character? Nope, not since we know the kind of person young Petyr once was trying to be: heroic and idealistic. Death did not frighten Petyr, only the idea of giving in. He too once believed in songs and stories, in the idea of having something better than the emotional morass he has dwelled in since his rejection by Catelyn and duel with Brandon Stark. Somewhere in him, young Petyr maybe be fighting to get out, and wants to save Sansa (from himself).
There is perhaps something I call “The Sansa Effect.” Sansa is maybe more than charming, courteous, and beautiful. Maybe she is blessed—blessed with an ability to influence the emotional path of others, to break through their armour, all their rage and spite and coldness. She is a catalyst that transforms the tormented and fallen into better versions of themselves. The Hound was a man driven by deep-seated hatred, and bitterly served evil masters while being numb to his own conscience. After interaction with Sansa, he finally confronted his own terrible acts and dark desires, and it broke his loyalty to the masters he served. Tyrion was a man who subsumed his own sense of justice, honour, and love for the sake of living up to the monstrous family he belonged to. His interactions with Sansa made him try to act like the more noble man he had the potential to be, and brought the conflict between him and the rest of his family to a head. A monster he might be, but he would not let them harm Sansa as they (and he) harmed Tysha. Lancel Lannister received kindness from Sansa, despite having treated her poorly himself. Her compassion towards him may have helped him go from arrogance to shame to piety. Dontos Hollard was a ruin of a man, a drunkard without a hope of doing anything but embarrassing himself, but Sansa saved his life and in a way enabled him to be a knight again. Even remotely, Sansa is central to Brienne becoming a quest knight and Jaime grudgingly trying to salvage his lost honour.
Perhaps not everyone is redeemable, and for some, her gentle nature brings out the worst in them (Joffrey, Cersei). Yet we do not know what runs through Littlefinger’s mind any more than we know the Hound’s. Perhaps he gets a redemption arc, too. Maybe not that much, but perhaps through Sansa we’ll see more of Petyr emerge, from behind the masks of Littlefinger and Lord Baelish.
by Milady of York
To get to the ideal, you must first accept the real. To get where you want to go, you must first know where you are.” MUSA KRAMNY.
If anything could sum up the whole of his character in a few words, it’d be these quotes:
That boy dreamed of being Arthur Dayne and ended up as the Smiling Knight,” and, “The things I do for love.” And for the young girl, it would be that she had been “a lady at three,” and believed that love was like the songs she’d learnt to hum at a tender age.
But reality had to say something to the contrary in both cases, and the pathway Jaime Lannister and Sansa Stark have wandered is one of disillusionment about the things they most cherished and that defined them.
He’d been a boy destined to be known as the Young Lion and outshine the greatest living Kingsguard, and she was a girl destined to be a perfect great lady and queen of the realm. But he earned an unflattering reputation as the Kingslayer, and she ended up as the bastard of a man who uses her for her status and her looks, as others had done before. He was a man willing to sacrifice everything, even morals, for the only woman he loved, and she was a girl who dreamt of being fortunate enough to find a love worthy of ballads. But both of them ended up replaying their own twisted version of the story of Prince Aemon the Dragonknight and Queen Naerys.
Becoming a Lady, Becoming a Knight
How exactly did they end up in such unenviable positions? We do know that, like in most stories, theirs started with a dream simple and unambitious enough considering their birth: both strived to fulfill the ideal of their respective gender roles from a young age. The things that are said about both characters before we get to read their POVs address this core issue, that will be ever present in their respective storylines for the rest of the books.
Sansa was the second trueborn child and eldest daughter of the Warden of the North, and thanks to having her POV since the beginning of this series, whilst she’s still a little girl, we have a very precise picture of her upbringing and how her parents’ influenced her, and thus we know how she came to have the idealistic worldview and the personality she has. When she is first mentioned, in Catelyn I, she’s described as “gracious,” which is an early allusion to her demeanour as an impeccable little lady, and of the later chapters before she gets a voice, in one of her father’s POVs her name is mentioned in a marriage offer to join two great Houses, a lady’s usual lot in life; in another, there’s a comment on her radiant appearance beside the Crown Prince at a banquet, and in the next her future as the highest-ranking woman in the Seven Kingdoms is decided by her parents, without her being really aware of the larger implications as they are. It’s not after Arya I, seven chapters after the start of the story, that it’s established how well suited she is for the role in behaviour as well as poise.
Sansa had everything. Sansa was two years older; maybe by the time Arya had been born, there had been nothing left. Often it felt that way. Sansa could sew and dance and sing. She wrote poetry. She knew how to dress. She played the high harp and the bells. Worse, she was beautiful. Sansa had gotten their mother’s fine high cheekbones and the thick auburn hair of the Tullys.
The description historian Lynne Elliot makes of the education of a young noblewoman in Becoming a Lady is precisely the one Sansa received from her mother and her septa: sewing and embroidering, weaving, dressing and behaving properly, reading and writing, as well as some history, heraldry, and basic medicine and healing for urgencies, praying, playing musical instruments and singing, dancing, running a household and defending it, hunting with birds of prey or bows, horse-riding, and so on, though we don’t see her doing some of these things in real time.
If these mother and female mentor figures had an important hand in raising her as the ideal of a lady, so deeply ingrained in her mind that even her direwolf is named after this role, then we also must look in Winterfell itself for the origin of her fancy notions of heroes of song and story; and what we find is that it’s not only Old Nan who was telling the children some tales they all took to heart. In the words of Bran, their father Eddard, too, “would sit before the fire in the evening and talk softly of the age of heroes and the children of the forest.” This is a very important aspect to highlight, because psychologists have identified as a recurrent and constant trait in highly idealistic people having a parent, grandparent or elder relative/friend, encouraging them to read stories and/or narrating it themselves, and the probability of internalising idealism is higher if it comes from a parental or mentor figure they admire. So, as there was nothing in the Stark environment that discouraged credulity and imagination-motivated behaviour, once she is formally betrothed to Joffrey, in whom she stresses being “gallant” above his social position, and has to move to the southron court in which she is expected to shine, Sansa carried on patterning herself and her perception of others after the chivalric ideals she had gotten at home.
Jaime has a position similar to Sansa’s: he is the second trueborn child and eldest son of the Warden of the West; but he’s more of an exercise in guesswork, as he’s already experiencing the consequences of his acts since long before the story begins. Although he is first seen through the eyes of three Stark men, from Eddard to Jon to Brandon, he’s introduced earlier, in Daenerys I, and both she and her brother Viserys present him as “the Kingslayer,” twice, and once as simply “Lannister.” Hence we get to know the reputation that precedes him everywhere he goes before we learn his name, and later we read how the action that earned him his sobriquet pervades every character’s opinion of him. Eddard’s initial observation is limited to a mere description of his arrival with the royal retinue, with emphasis on a physical trait, but his second observation is noteworthy, because it’s the first interaction we read of him with Cersei, where he takes her quietly away to prevent an argument with the king over Lyanna. Then another observation comes from Jon Snow, and shows him as the image of the ideal of Westerosi masculinity whilst highlighting his bad reputation at the same time, and the mention by Brandon on his way to the fateful last climbing also alludes to his image as a knight from the stories, but again he is discounted as a Kingsguard for breaking his oaths.
What little we know of his childhood comes chiefly from a few of his and Cersei’s recollections, and we have to construct a picture of his upbringing based on that and the examples we have of the formation of highborn males from boys like Brandon and Tommen, as well as from historical data, which doesn’t differ much from Martin’s depiction. In Becoming a Knight, Elliot states that the formal education of a noble child began at seven, approximately the same age modern children start elementary school; and when the child was a male he usually was taught his letters either by an educator or a parent, and sent to serve as a page in another noble house, where the lord would become his first mentor, teaching him about goodness, service, honour and protection of the ladies and the weak, qualities an aristocrat was supposed to cultivate; then he became a squire for a knight at fourteen and learnt to fight with real weapons and became an anointed knight at eighteen, pledging his loyalty to his overlord or his sovereign and receiving his first sword. The ages are rough estimates, as some reached the second and third stages of knighthood way earlier. Jaime wasn’t sent away to foster with any other lord but was educated at home, which indicates that the place of mentor responsible of inculcating values and proper noble behaviour was filled first by his mother, Lady Joanna, as Tywin was for the most part absent in King’s Landing when his twins were young.
“You cannot eat love, nor buy a horse with it, nor warm your halls on a cold night,” she heard him tell Jaime once, when her brother had been no older than Tommen.
And Cersei’s memory above shows that it was their father who would try to impress on him the Lannister code for handling situations and people, and his own disregard for affections. The first thing he’d learn eventually, the second he’d discard.
Having a twin that happened to be a girl, Jaime seems to have spent his earliest years not being really aware of the distinct roles society imposed on each gender until a wooden sword was put on his hand and he was dispatched off to the yard to get some bruises in training and his twin was given a needle and a piece of cloth, an interesting upside-down parallel to the Sansa/Arya dynamic, in which the elder Lannister and the younger Stark balk at the traditional role, whereas the elder Stark and the younger Lannister submerge merrily in the role. Before this, he lived mirroring Cersei, as he’d even wear her dresses to play the ages-old game of passing off one as the other. From our studies on the development of boy/girl twins, we know that girls are months ahead of their boy twins in terms of cognitive and speech development, which means they talk earlier… and they boss people around earlier, too, due to this advantageous acquisition of language that is a tool to manipulate, express their childish wishes and fears, “mother” their sibling, and, in general, adopt a “take charge” and possessive attitude in relation to him. It’s also known that boys in general develop speech later and have a tendency to language problems and delay, written or spoken, but it’s more pronounced in boys that happen to be twins to a girl; which explains why Jaime had difficulty with learning his letters.
After his mother’s death, he’d finally be sent away to squire for Sumner Crakehall; four years of polishing his skills and learning the trade, and an excellent squire he turned out to be, winning in the mêlée at a tournament when he was three-and-ten, possibly competing against older or more experienced men, which must have fuelled his expectations on what he’d become once he got his spurs and his sword:
When I was a squire I told myself I’d be the man to slay the Smiling Knight.”
“The Smiling Knight?” She sounded lost. “Who was that?”
The Mountain of my boyhood. Half as big, but twice as mad.
A couple of years later, he’d have the opportunity to ride with the party hunting for this famous outlaw of the Kingswood Brotherhood, led by the Kingsguard he admired so much, performed his duty outstandingly and was knighted on the field by Dayne himself. Everything had gone smoothly and according to the stories for the hopeful little squire thus far.
Love Wasn’t Like that Song
The story of Aemon and Naerys Targaryen is one of the most famous romances in song along that of Florian and Jonquil, and it’s said to be a melancholy tune, because the occurrences that inspired it are likewise sad. Prince Aemon was the greatest knight of his time, equaled only by Cregan Stark of Winterfell in swordsmanship, an individual of fine qualities, and very much attached to his sister. But he was a younger son and politics dictated that she was for the eldest brother and heir, Aegon V, a profligate king, who didn’t love her. So Queen Naerys, a delicate and beautiful petite, quiet by nature and very religious, married the wrong brother in a ceremony where the right brother wept, and though she would never be maltreated due to the respectful fear everyone had of the Dragonknight, she had to endure humiliations throughout the duration of her marriage, as her husband openly flaunted his countless mistresses for all the kingdoms to see, and then further humiliated her by pulling a John of Gaunt and legitimising four of his bastards, three males and one female—incidentally, GRRM could’ve taken this from a historical event, as the legitimised bastard children of the Duke of Lancaster and Katherine Swynford were four as well, three boys and one girl surnamed Beaufort—after giving the ancestral Targaryen sword to his bastard instead of his trueborn son, Daeron, who possibly was his nephew in reality, as rumours had it. Aemon would always be Naerys’ emotional support, brighten her day and champion her, but he would die shielding his incompetent king from a vendetta planned by the brothers of a man he’d ordered killed for sleeping with his mistress, and though nothing else is said of Naerys, considering that she’d felt so miserable in her marriage as to beg to join the Silent Sisters, it’s not hard to imagine she became even more withdrawn and pious until her own demise.
All the Stark children have favourite heroic figures, and Prince Aemon is amongst the legends Jon, Sansa and Brandon hero-worshipped, not surprising considering the popularity of the story and the prince’s brief connection to Lord Cregan, one of their own bloodline whose bones are in the crypts, which would make him somehow more “real” and “close” in their infantile minds than the other more distant heroes, as the image of what or who children would like to be is most often embodied by figures in their direct environment however tenuous their presence may be. The legendary Dragonknight is mentioned twenty nine times in all five books, usually alone, and the character in whose chapters he appears more frequently is Sansa, who is also the first of only four people to name him together with his sister. After she’s betrothed to the heir of the realm, little Sansa starts modeling a concrete representation of her aspirations for this relationship after the examples in her favourite songs, which in itself is nothing more than a child’s internalising of the characteristics of his or her secondary ideal—long before they learn about and practise hero-worshipping, which even adults do, children only know about and practise ancestor-worshipping, in which the role model is a family member, usually a parent or grandparent—that becomes more realistic as the child grows in terms of offering functional qualities that the child can incorporate, but this requires parental assistance by way of discussing with the child who their ideal is, as it helps the child to move from fantasy toward reality, so the ideal that was initially based on legendary figures is forged into a representation of someone that embodies a more complex and reality-oriented ideal the child can strive for, which sadly neither Ned nor Catelyn did.
So Sansa follows her idealist view on love, the only one she knows in the absence of an alternate worldview. The first comparison she makes of her own relationship to the one in the song is when she fancies herself rescued by her good-looking prince from the “monsters” Ser Ilyn and the Hound, in imitation of the Targaryen Kingsguard defending his queen’s honour, as Joffrey had been showing his gallant facet all the way from Winterfell, where he’s behaved courteously in her presence too, demonstrated an interest in her and a desire to impress her favourably, playing the sweet little golden knight to the lady she is, thus fulfilling all the requirements in her ideal of a chivalrous hero. Then the disastrous squabble at that same place happens; and by the point we get to read the second comparison of her feelings for Joffrey to this story—“I love him as much as Queen Naerys loved Prince Aemon the Dragonknight”—and to Florian and Jonquil when her father tells her that they are to leave for home, it’s many a chapter later and several weeks have elapsed, and she had reconciled with him, but we do know that she hated him for a time as a result from that incident, the first crack in her idealisation of her future husband. This is the last time she ever consciously compares herself and Joffrey with the princely couple, though she maintains her view on stories and still submerges herself in the reading of this particular tale amongst others, as consolation during a scary time as was her father’s imprisonment. Shortly afterwards, Joffrey would disabuse her of any naïve conception she might still have harboured about their “love.”
Paradoxically, it’s when she is disillusioned of the Prince Aemon in Lannister crimson she’d believed he was that the actual reliving of the story begins. She is still performing as Naerys in this absurd new choreography, but the male parts have been reversed: Joffrey has gone from a supposed Aemon to despicable Aegon, to whom he likened himself later in his short reign when he told Sansa:
A king can have other women. Whores. My father did. One of the Aegons did too. The third one, or the fourth. He had lots of whores and lots of bastards.
“He will, or I’ll have his head. That King Aegon, he had any woman he wanted, whether they were married or no.
And Sandor Clegane, a lowborn guard nobody would ever compare to the Dragonknight, least of all himself, and who’s not a knight to boot, stepped in as the Kingsguard romantically involved with his king’s betrothed, which if discovered could’ve been almost as serious a contravention of norms as if it were with the queen herself, considering that a royal betrothal isn’t taken lightly in Westeros and requires none other than the High Septon in person to break it—which reminds me, in biblical times the betrothed were considered practically married and in order to break the engagement a divorce was necessary—though he’s not prepared for the emotional bonding that evolves over their time together and she is oblivious to his feelings, and her own aren’t clear yet.
Aemon once entered a tourney just so he could spare his sister the bitter experience of seeing the latest royal mistress as Queen of Love and Beauty, and in what could be the earliest and very broad parallel, Sandor became unintentionally the champion in a tourney of which Sansa could be technically considered the Queen of Love and Beauty, having defeated Jaime Lannister along the way, against whom she had silently bet if her words of satisfaction at his losing that round are any indication. But he’s not a Kingsguard yet, so the parallelisms have to wait for the next volume, in which he has a more active role to play in the little bird’s life. Unlike Aegon IV, Joffrey did employ physical violence against his helpless future queen, as well as threats of murder, rape and imposing his bastard on her, and Clegane, unlike the man with whom he’s a snowy cloak in common, is not in a position of power to prevent Sansa from being harmed by a sovereign most interested in demeaning her in all possible manners, but he does help her first by giving her valuable advice on how to deal with Joffrey and the rotten court, forgoes his duty to his liege for her sake in more than one occasion by covering for her, saves her during a riot… Yet none of them would think of a conscious association of this song to their story. It’s Sansa’s favourite song, Florian and Jonquil, the one associated with Sandor and her throughout the most significant period in their interactions (in ACOK, Florian and Jonquil are mentioned only in Sansa’s POVs, unlike in the other volumes), although it’s not a conscious association either. But he does come to associate it with her, as he shows interest in this song only after a moment of drunkenness at the Serpentine steps that lowered his guard and let loose his feelings for the girl; up to this point, he’d harshly mocked the song, and much later demands precisely that one from her, which makes one suspect a change in opinion took place in the meantime, as under this light, his mocking looks genuinely cynical rather than a pose.
Change, that’s perhaps the biggest difference in these two stories, where parallels aren’t exact to begin with. It cannot be stressed enough that both reap the benefit from the mutual personal development their interaction sparks, short-term and long-term. Both. Her because she starts to bring together all the disparate elements from her life and stories into an understandably more complex schema and will end up incorporating into this frame a view of relationships that privileges love over an aristocratic title, the possibility of a love that doesn’t negate her own decisions, her value as an individual, her initiative and her sexual desire in pro of a political union, as Naerys had to suffer. And the “Aemon” figure in this one, himself the picture of disillusionment, with a pinch of nihilism and another pinch of lifelong emotional disorders for spice, also gets an actual benefit from this relationship from the girl that has theretofore kept her hopes concerning love and her humanity in the face of brutality directed toward her and her family, and who can restore enough hope to propel him toward finding his own way to a better schema.
Unlike the little girl’s case, this Lannister’s disillusionment about love evolved in three separate phases with the same woman, the first of which occurred when he was a quite idealistic youth of five-and-ten, which we don’t see in real time but through memories.
Going back to Jaime and Cersei’s childhood, there’s an absence of the three key factors that foster this type of unconventional relationship, namely a dysfunctional family dynamic, parents with little or no affection between them and toward their offspring, and children starved for it, whilst Lady Joanna was alive, as she provided the much needed balance to the harsh Tywin and affection for her children. We know from both Lannisters’ flashbacks that they were very close, but it doesn’t look like anything unusual considering that they were the only children and twins, because if single siblings of a similar age tend to cling to each other when very little, then if they’re twins we have to add that they have a higher capacity for sharing, closeness and intimacy, as well as more difficulty than singles for being alone and setting limits for each other and others. We read that they prayed together in the sept, bathed together and he scrubbed her back, and were caught “playing” a game they shouldn’t be according to their mother. Only the latter occurrence seems significant on glance, but it can also be childish curiosity about sexuality, and Joanna, like most parents who “catch” their little ones playing doctor, was upset and reacted by separating them with no explanation (that we know of), guards at the door and a threat to tell their father if they repeated it instead, something that should never be done in these circumstances because it’s counterproductive.
After Joanna’s death, they grew up with a cold Tywin, who wouldn’t win an award to the amorous father, as their only model, and their relationship blooms over the years; but the emotional investment each of them has put into it isn’t equal. She is closer to their father than Jaime, and from a very young age has this desire to be queen, because her father promised at age six or seven that she would be Cersei Targaryen, wife to Prince Rhaegar, whom she idealises and goes as far as drawing herself and him riding a dragon. Without having met him yet, she takes her father’s word to heart and promises him not to tell anyone, not even Jaime; and in order to keep this secret from his twin, she lies to him, and considering that Jaime doesn’t recall any talk of Cersei and Rhaegar from this time but from her time at court, it’s possible that he didn’t know either when the Prince of Dragonstone went to Lannisport and she finally met him at age ten:
Next to Rhaegar, even her beautiful Jaime had seemed no more than a callow boy. The prince is going to be my husband, she had thought, giddy with excitement, and when the old king dies I’ll be the queen.
So she never shared this idealised fantasy and kept her infatuation a secret, and she seems to have internalised their father’s dreams for her to the point of placing more value in queenship than in her brother. Two years later, as Jaime is sent to squire for Crakehall, Cersei is kept at court by her father, who refused every offer for her hand, patiently waiting for Viserys to grow up or Rhaegar to become a widower. At age 15, shortly after earning his spurs, he’s told by Cersei about their father’s plan to marry him to Lysa Tully, and she proposes he join the Kingsguard to avoid this and be with her. He objects, first by naming his father and then his status as heir of Casterly Rock. “Is it a rock you want? Or me?” asked she, and he had to choose between a claim and love.
Casterly Rock seemed a small price to pay to be near her always. He gave his consent, and Cersei promised to do the rest.
He chose her, then, over being Lord Jaime Lannister of Casterly Rock, without their father’s knowledge, and one month later he’d wrap a white cloak around his shoulders, aware that he was sacrificing all worldly power and would sacrifice honour for love, as he knew that he’d soon break the vows he was just taking to be with his sister. Their plan, however, floundered, and none of them achieved what they wanted. Tywin resigned the Handship in a fury, took Cersei back home, and Jaime stayed at court to walk alone the long path that ended up in kingslaying. Cersei never recovered from this bitterness, as almost two decades later, she still laments the wreckage of a betrothal that never was, but that she fancies was meant to happen “as the gods intended,” and recalls that as consolation after the match was rejected, she’d gotten the same promise from her aunt that Eddard Stark made to Sansa, that her father would find another man, a better man than the Crown Prince she wouldn’t have, for her.
Father found no better man. Instead he gave me Robert.
Thus the Robert-Cersei-Jaime triangle came upon the stage. As theirs is the one that most closely resembles the Aegon-Naerys-Aemon narrative, it was to be expected that Jaime’s chapters followed Sansa’s in number of allusions. Amongst the parallels, we can find:
- Both Aegon IV and Robert lacked ability for ruling.
- Both used to be fit and agreeable-looking as youths and later acquired a fondness of wine and food.
- Both had been infatuated with a fiery girl: Daena Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, in different circumstances.
- Both had to marry someone they didn’t love for political reasons.
- Jaime cried in Cersei’s wedding as Aemon did in Naerys’.
- Jaime was champion in the tourney held to celebrate this wedding, so it’s possible that he crowned his sister Queen of Love and Beauty then, as Aemon did at least once.
- Both kings mistreated their queens, although Aegon is said to have never beaten his, as Robert did.
- Naerys was miserable in her marriage, and Cersei was embittered.
- Both queens took only one lover for the duration of their marriages.
- Both looked for support to their confirmed/rumoured lovers.
- Jaime was a Kingsguard and would become Lord Commander, like Aemon.
- Both have had bastard offspring (rumoured in the case of Aemon/Naerys).
- Both queens turned all their love to their eldest sons, who are different in personality.
This marriage was the second phase in Jaime’s disenchantment, and a crushing blow to the naïve ideal of love he’d harboured. Psychologically, the loss of a very cherished ideal or dream can be akin to grieving for a loss due to death, as it follows a similar cognitive and neurobiological pattern, and the more identified the person is with/the closer his emotional life is entwined with that ideal now lost, the more intense his grief will be; and the process usually ends in acceptance after working through the pain to adjust to a new reality and move forward. But Lannisters wouldn’t be Lannisters without a varying dose of cognitive actual/ideal self-discrepancies, and rather than acknowledging the pain and working through it, he chose a method of avoidant conflict resolution that ignored his intuition, true feelings and intelligence, but allowed him to reconcile with the loss of this idealised love by settling for what was left: sexual intercourse and undisclosed fatherhood.
Usually, these are the outcomes most common in badly resolved loss of ideals: you become either depressed or embittered (Cersei), you aggressively attack what crushed your ideal (Sandor), or you settle for the ruins and try to convince yourself that the building is still habitable, cracks on the wall, falling bricks and all (Jaime). All have in common the refusal to work through the grief that a shattered worldview causes (and this is why Sansa’s resolution is wiser, as she embraces it and labours on the new complexities she finds); which is what Jaime does: he adopts a merry aloofness sprinkled with rash arrogance and cynicism. That’s how he endures having Cersei and not having her at the same time, standing guard at her door as probably Aemon had to stand guard outside Naerys’ chambers, too, and siring the children to whom he would never be a true father, just the distant Ser Uncle.
By the time he pushes Bran out of the window, he’s already some questionable “things done for love” on his numbed conscience, as we’ve seen, and will continue to do some more before he’s captured in the battlefield. He will be released a year later and, unbeknownst to him, this will be a turning point for him in relation to his affair with Cersei, and he’ll have to face all that he’s been keeping buried in the backyard.
Loss and gain
At the beginning, we saw how Jaime became a promising knight and a Kingsguard at fifteen, toppling Prince Aemon from the pedestal of youngest White Sword ever; and in the second part we saw the reasons he gave for joining this garde de corps. However, any youthful excitement he’d have felt at this would be cut neatly as if with a Valyrian blade when he learnt the truth of his appointment to the dream team of royal bodyguards and got to experience life at court as part of them. He’d not been chosen because he was little Ser Jaime, until not so long ago a green squire with a natural ability for fighting, in the words of another legendary Kingsguard, and whose distinguished service had caught the eye of the Sword of the Morning, who had knighted him earlier than usual as recompense. No; he’d been chosen because he was Jaime son of Tywin of the clan Lannister, Hand of an exceedingly paranoid king that had taken him, his heir, to spite the father. For him, realising that the much coveted position hadn’t been won by merit, as a Kingsguard was supposed to be selected according to the stories, was a slap in the face and damaged his self-image. Because even if he knew very well that he was going to readily forsake his vows of celibacy and perhaps commit high treason if Cersei became queen, he still believed in what knighthood stood for. He still believed in and followed most of the vows of a knight, which can vary from one century to another and from one country to another, but three remain constant even in GRRM’s pseudo-medieval setting: to serve and obey those placed in authority, to protect the weak and defenceless (which in some variations is phrased thus: “To protect those who cannot protect themselves.”), and to live by honour and glory.
Under the umbrella of Dayne, he had been part of a group of knights and men-at-arms that served obediently and loyally, protected the innocent from the Gregor Clegane on steroids of the time, earned the peasantry’s love and support, and won more honour and glory alongside Ser Arthur. Yet here he was now: the realm admired him for earning his white cloak so young thanks to his military prowess, but he knew it was a filthy lie and he was just a pawn, which prompted him to get closer and look up to Arthur Dayne, the man who had valued him for his own qualifications, as a mentor figure often mingled with that of a father his own was never going to be. Two more blows came, one was that he had to stand guard at the door of the royal bedchamber whilst the defenceless Queen Rhaella screamed as she was raped and badly hurt by a king he was sworn to obey and protect. Then, he had to stand by as the monarch he’d to obey cooked Lord Rickard and strangled Brandon Stark. The realm admired him for being so good a warrior and great knight as the likes of the White Bull, Dayne and Ser Barristan, yet here he was: protecting the rapist and not the weak raped, protecting the beast and not the ravaged lady, protecting the cruelty and injustice of the king and not the innocent. On top of all that, Aerys threw an additional insult at the Kingsguard and Jaime in particular by declaring fire the royal champion in a trial by combat instead of a knight. Decades later, of all the terrible things he must have witnessed or done in the battlefield, he remembers clearly the state of the Targaryen queen’s poor body after one of the rapes she’d to suffer and the smell of the Northman’s flesh burning, and how he was told to bear it all like a good little obedient knight, which he did, going inwardly. And when he at long last snapped when the king ordered the deaths of numberless civilians by wildfire and he’d been ordered to become a kinslayer, he became a kingslayer instead after deciding to be for once consistent with his personal moral code. “The Kingslayer,” the realm dubbed him and that was his reward.
Jaime Lannister doesn’t possess the profound early psychological trauma Sandor Clegane has, but these experiences under the last dragonking had a destructive effect on what remnants there were of his ideal of knighthood, honour and faith in himself and in the gods, in a manner similar to how another Targaryen’s knighting of the Mountain finished off the already feeble hold on chivalrous ideals his little brother had. See the similarities in their views on knights they revealed to the girls they then used to call “stupid wench” and “stupid little bird” respectively:
Jaime and Brienne:
No true knight would condone such wanton butchery.”
“True knights see worse every time they ride to war, wench,” said Jaime. “And do worse, yes.
Sandor and Sansa:
True knights protect the weak.”
He snorted. “There are no true knights, no more than there are gods. If you can’t protect yourself, die and get out of the way of those who can. Sharp steel and strong arms rule this world, don’t ever believe any different.”
On justice, punishment and the gods:
Jaime and Catelyn:
“Your crimes will have earned you a place of torment in the deepest of the seven hells, if the gods are just.”
“What gods are those, Lady Catelyn? The trees your husband prayed to? How well did they serve him when my sister took his head off?” Jaime gave a chuckle. “If there are gods, why is the world so full of pain and injustice?”
Sandor and Sansa:
“Aren’t you afraid? The gods might send you down to some terrible hell for all the evil you’ve done.”
“What evil?” He laughed. “What gods?”
And how both took refuge behind a sword (… with a horse):
Nothing can hurt me so long as I have a sword.
“So long as I have this,” he said, lifting the sword from her throat, “there’s no man on earth I need fear.”
This is the man we finally get to know in A Storm of Swords in his own words; he’s already morally wrecked when we get into his mind, has a bad reputation, and what was left of his ideals of honour had been wiped out even before he was reunited with his sister when she came back to court to be Robert’s queen and they relived the triangle and matrimonial woes of two previous Targaryen couples, as described in the second part of this essay. On this occasion, Jaime is en route to reunite with his sister as well; he had been released by Catelyn Stark, the mother of his gaoler and mother of the captive whose gaoler happens to be Jaime’s son, on the solemn vow of returning Sansa and her sister safe and unharmed.
An east wind blew through his tangled hair, as soft and fragrant as Cersei’s fingers.
When we open his very own first POV, this is the first line we read, a mention of Cersei in pleasant terms. And in the rest of this chapter there’s plenty of these passages containing the name of Cersei, more numerous here than in any other chapter of his in this volume, revealing that, despite all, his feelings for her still run deep. And he will be immersing himself in the pleasurable background music of “Cersei this, Cersei that…” playing in his head for the rest of the journey. He does not suspect that he’ll undergo the third phase of his disillusionment with love, which curiously coincides with his regaining a measure of the value he had once placed on honour. His escort, Brienne of Tarth, has a key role to play in this, as she will manage to pierce through his cynicism and force him to face the hollowness within and the shame his crimes have turned his life into. She dares call him monster twice, as Sansa had dared call the Hound “awful,” and she displays a fierceness he comes to admire—“She’s the Hound with teats”— as Sansa admired the ferocity of the man mentioned, as well as her physical strength, fearlessness and honour. And that’s only in the first chapter. As the journey progresses, she goes further and relentlessly accuses him of failing as a knight:
“You’ve harmed others. Those you were sworn to protect. The weak, the innocent…”
“Why did you take the oath?” she demanded. “Why don the white cloak if you meant to betray all it stood for?”
“Aerys was mad and cruel, no one has ever denied that. He was still king, crowned and anointed. And you had sworn to protect him.”
“It is a rare and precious gift to be a knight,” she said, “and even more so a knight of the Kingsguard. It is a gift given to few, a gift you scorned and soiled.”
Jaime tries to deflect all her verbal arrows, trying to justify his murder attempt on Bran by questioning the little child’s innocence, being sarcastic and mocking her, rationalising his motivation for joining the Kingsguard, feeling comfortably victimised in believing that nobody has a right to judge him because nobody knows that he slit Aerys’ throat to save King’s Landing, and telling himself that he’s beyond caring about judgements. Yet Brienne’s blunt honesty affects him subconsciously, because she doesn’t just remind him of the broken vows of protecting the weak and innocent as Catelyn did; she doesn’t just condemn him for being the Kingslayer, as everyone in the realm does, she doesn’t tell in jest not to make an habit of it, as Robert did, she doesn’t just condemn him in silence, as Eddard did. Instead, she lays out the ideal of knighthood as a gift few are given and even fewer achieve greatness as knight and Kingsguard. In sum: she’s telling him that he, Jaime Lannister, had the opportunity to become a great knight as he’d dreamt and failed in achieving such greatness. That shook him internally, for after this, he dreamt of the kingslaying, of the silent judgement of Lord Stark and of wildfire.
And as if to visually reinforce Brienne’s message, on his way from Riverrun to King’s Landing, Jaime would contemplate terrible scenes in two places associated with his and Sansa’s dreams, which symbolised what these had become. The first was at Maidenpool:
Jaime took one look and burst into song. “Six maids there were in a spring-fed pool…”
The tragedy in this scene is that the savagery of war has depleted the pool where Sansa’s favourite romance originated of boys and girls bathing and laughing mirthfully in there, and filled it with corpses, many corpses rotting in it and poisoning the waters. If Martin didn’t intend to use Jaime’s sarcastic singing to get across his point on the horrors of war and the death of innocence, he could’ve taken advantage of any other occasion to have someone singing at least half a verse from any of the songs based on a legend various characters mention, but only Jaime is the one who sings, and precisely here and now. Meanwhile at King’s Landing, Sansa had been planning her escape with a fake Florian the Fool, who in reality has sold her for gold to a man most eager to control her; and has finally figured out that her infatuation with Loras was one-sided. She is also played by the ambitious Tyrell women for a claim she still doesn’t realise she has, but will soon learn what being a lady poised to inherit a prestigious title means for her personal aspirations. She believes she will be at least safe in Highgarden, and still has hopes of being happy and making her possible husband love her for herself and not merely for the title of Heir to Winterfell she’s written on her forehead. A harsh fate befalls her at the end of this same month when she’s wedded by force in a shameful ceremony, and she’s made a good-sister to the Kingslayer, the first Lannister she’d considered “wicked.”
After watching this scene, Jaime decides that he really would return Sansa, even if it did nothing to improve his reputation as oathbreaker, just to keep his word when everyone expects him to happily break it; and he also decides that he will marry Cersei, reasoning that the throne could be kept with swords as it was won by the late king, and that the realm would have to tolerate their incestuous union as they did for the former dynasty. But he and Brienne are captured by the Bloody Mummers as they’re fighting.
Now handless, desperation leads him to attempt at suicide by provoking one of his captors, which reminds us of that time Sansa had tried to jump with Joffrey to their death after the traumatic scene with her father’s head. Sandor prevented that suicide and covered for her, and here “the Hound with teats” gets Jaime up again reminding him that he still has more than one reason to live, and once more her verbal arrow hit the target: Craven. Why did implying cowardice affect him enough to get him back on his feet? Again, we return to Brienne’s opinion on the gift of knighthood: it follows the Aristotelian thesis that courage is the capacity to balance fear and confidence fed by innate strength, and therefore cravenness is the failure to master fear due to inner weakness. It kicks Jaime where it hurts: in his personal honour, and he goes from lamenting that without his sword hand he is nothing to forcing himself to eat to live, to save Brienne from rape, and to recite to himself that he’s stronger than they believe, and still a Lannister, a Kingsguard.
A bitter smile touched Jaime’s lips as they crossed that torn ground. Someone had dug a privy trench in the very spot where he’d once knelt before the king to say his vows. I never dreamed how quick the sweet would turn to sour. Aerys would not even let me savor that one night. He honored me, and then he spat on me.
The scene above is the second one associated with a lost youthful ideal, which he contemplates upon arriving at Harrenhal. There’s a glaring dark irony in the fact that the site is now a privy trench and he a Kingsguard “with shit for honour.”
Following this, he has the conversation at the bathhouse with Brienne, in which she unintentionally wrestles out a detailed confession of his famous execution of Aerys from him. It begins with him wounding her with his sarcasm, but he gets aroused when she stands up to leave, which he tries to explain by telling himself it’s because he’s not been with Cersei in a long time, and then feels shamed and asks her to forgive him. In a previous chapter, he’d felt the need to make her understand why he joined the Kingsguard, and had hotly argued that it had been the white cloak that soiled him and not the other way round. Now, as she’s to give him a little speech on how trust is built, he interrupts her, feeling the inexplicable need to talk with someone about his demons, to have someone listen, and for a second time mentions being soiled, but now says “Soiled my white cloak,” quite a telling choice of words, as he owns responsibility. It must’ve felt good to have this conversation with a woman, so different from those he was used to with Cersei, jumping into bed or recklessly offering to solve a problem with the swiftest method of them all: a sword.
At Harrenhal, they learn of the first setback: Sansa has been married to the Imp, and Jaime thinks that it must’ve made his brother happy, thinking of Tysha, the guilty secret that pervades their brotherly relationship. He’s wrong, of course. Sansa is anything but happy in this marriage. She’s been mourning her family in silence, and has been clinging to her courtesy armour to endure all this misery until she could leave with Dontos, to encounter more terrible disillusionment, and this time she’ll fall into the trap set by Littlefinger, who’s going to be for Sansa a negative mentor figure in contraposition to the positive mentor figure Arthur Dayne is going to be for Jaime, for whilst Baelish strips her of her status as a lady for now, poses as her fake father and works on undermining her moral code and honour, Dayne’s memory assists Jaime in recovering his.
As Jaime continues his journey, he has a dream whilst resting on a weirwood stump, again after he goes to sleep hoping to dream of Cersei as in the previous one he had. This is a dream filled with rebirth imagery and foreshadowing, which requires longer and complex interpretations; but for the purpose of this analysis, the things that stand out are that he’s naked in front of the people he finds there, living and dead, and what they stand for. Nakedness in itself is common in dreams and too easy to interpret through lots of theoretical lenses, but this begs a particular angle of interpretation as he’s naked in the crypts of Casterly Rock, the place of his birth, and is accompanied by a woman who’s the only one to stay by his side and champion him; all of which favours the Jungian view over others: the persona—the outward image/the mask presented to the world—is tied to clothes, so if you are stripped of them and presented bare, it means you’ve been also stripped of your persona because the protection it gave was inadequate. Without his clothes in Lannister colours in the seat of the Lannister family, stripped of the self-delusion that’s a trademark in this branch, Jaime has to face three Lannisters that have shaped his life: a. Tywin, who wished he be Jaime the Young Lion first and then Lord Jaime of Casterly Rock; b. Cersei, who wanted him to be Ser Jaime of the Kingsguard so he stayed unmarried and with her as only lover for life, and c. Joffrey, the son that doesn’t know him as father. Without the gold armour of Ser Jaime the Kingslayer, stripped of the self-deceit that he’s construed around this in order to reconcile his disillusionment with knighthood, he’s to face Brienne, almost a beauty and almost a knight, and realise that he’s a beautiful man with a ugly conscience and a knight with no honour. Without the white armour and cloak of the Kingsguard, stripped of self-justification, he’s to face the judgment of his Sworn Brothers and Prince Rhaegar, and own the guilt of his perceived failure to protect the royal children and the Crown Princess and being an oathbreaker. All this indicates the need of reshaping this persona (by either reincorporating older elements lying buried in the deepest layers of the self or creating new ones), which should follow in short, as the first step is to go back to Brienne, and take her out of the bear pit and away with him. He, perceived as a liar, is more honest within the crypts of his home, like Sansa, perceived as weak, is stronger within the walls of her home, as shown in the building of snow Winterfell, a scene in which her hopefulness in the midst of disappointing occurrences is perceptible.
When Jaime is about to arrive in King’s Landing, he learns that Sansa is gone and Joffrey is dead. It’s a peculiar set of role reversals: he and Sansa, father and daughter of the captors, are still alive, whereas Joffrey and Catelyn, son and mother of the hostages, are now both dead. The father’s family had an active role in the murder of the mother, and the daughter had been framed in the murder of the son. Mother and father have equivocal beliefs about culpability in these deaths, for Catelyn died believing Jaime an accomplice in the butchering of her son due to that casual “Jaime Lannister sends his regards,” and Jaime believes her daughter had an active hand in poisoning his son. Catelyn died mourning her babies and Sansa fled mourning her mother, but Jaime can’t mourn the son he never was really close to.
It’s at his destination that we see more of how the dream’s effects on his unconscious manifest through the choices he makes for himself: he goes to the queen wanting to be a husband and a father despite the problems it would arise, and she turns away from him. Losses number one and two: Joffrey and Cersei. Then he goes to see Tywin, who wants him to quit the Kingsguard, marry and have the Rock, and he refuses. Loss number three. Then he gives to Brienne a sword tellingly named Oathkeeper, and sets her on a quest for Sansa. A guilty Kingslayer sends a falsely accused kingslayer to search for another falsely accused kingslayer, a last chance for honour, as he put it; a gain amongst many loses. Finally, he goes to free Tyrion, confesses the truth about Tysha and gets a poisonous combo of a truth and a lie in return. Loss number four.
So here we leave our lady and knight, poised for rebirth, transformation, redemption, regaining agency, whichever term you prefer. “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” said J. K. Rowling; and few things can open a window into the core of a character’s being as how they chose to deal with their disillusionment.
His crushed his ideals and all he ever believed in, and he broke. Thus he allowed himself to be soiled, to be corrupted, and resigned himself to living as a failed and dishonoured knight and settling for the leftovers of love, and it took a traumatic maiming and Brienne of Tarth with her own exemplary knightly conduct, honour and honesty (pre-Stoneheart, that is) to make him care again about redeeming his internal honour and the possibility of healthier relationships.
Hers bruised her idealism badly, but did not crush all she ever believed in; and she doesn’t break, she doesn’t succumb to the bitterness that poisons someone that has gone through so much loss, she adapts. She no longer dreams of handsome perfect knights and knows how constrictive ladyhood and a claim truly are; but still maintains her hopes about a love of her choosing, a home, a family and having a say in her destiny.
This is why even if there’s a good deal of loss of innocence imagery in other characters’ narratives in ASOIAF, Jaime Lannister and Sansa Stark are two of the best examples of the opposite outcomes of disillusionment about the same themes, and the effects loss of ideals can have on an individual. And as this story isn’t over, their progression has yet to continue.
As I did this research, I could not help but notice that Lothor has been present during important interactions Sansa has had so far with two important men in her life: Sandor Clegane and Littlefinger. Lothor Brune first appears in the books in the chapter where Sansa is attending the tourney in honor of her father, the hand of the king at the time. Sure, she meets LF in here and has Sandor tell her about his burns, but before these, in the same paragraph where we are told by Sansa that the Hound is entering the lists, we have this:
Jory, Alyn and Harwin rode for Winterfell and the north… In his third match (Jory’s), he rode three passes at a free-rider named Lothor Brune whose armor was as drab as his own. Neither man lost his seat, but Brune’s lance was steadier and his blows better placed, and the king gave him the victory.
It may be that since this day LF saw not only his Cat v.2, but also Brune and considered taking him under his service. As Sansa notices in A Feast for Crows, though he had risen to knighthood, Ser Lothor’s birth had been very low.
So no wonder that whenever it was that Petyr Baelish approached him, Lothor accepted the then master of coin’s offer to join his household. Before reaching KL, Lothor (according to what he told Sansa one night during the fourth book) went to the Brunes of Brownhollow, an old knightly family from Crackclaw Point, whom he believed to be his kin, yet the Brunes of Brownhollow turned their backs on their lost long cousin.
I went to them when my father died,” he confessed, “but they shat on me, and said I was no blood of theirs.” He would not speak of what happened after that, except to say that he had learned all he knew of arms the hard way.
In any case, by Sansa’s first chapter in Clash of Kings, Lothor is once again introduced to the reader in a tourney, but one very different from the one held to honor Eddard Stark. This one was due to Joffrey’s nameday, where we see Sandor backing up Sansa in her lie to save Ser Dontos Hollard after he was too drunk to sit on his horse and “fight” against no other than Lothor Brune, who is said to be by now a freerider in the service of Lord Baelish. Sansa remarks in this chapter about the way both Sandor and Lothor dress:
The freerider, a small man in dented plate without device, duly appeared at the west of the yard
In the back of the royal box, Sandor Clegane stood at guard, his hands resting on his swordbelt. The white cloak of the kingsguard was draped over his shoulders with a jewelweed brooch, the snowy cloth looking somehow unnatural against his brown rough spun tunic and studded leather jerkin.
It isn’t until Sandor has left the city after the Blackwater that Lothor Brune pops up again, when Joffrey and Tywin Lannister are rewarding loyal men to their House and punishing those who sided against it.
Next came four of lesser birth who had distinguished themselves in the fighting: the freerider Lothor Brune, who’d cut his way through half a hundred Fossoway men-at-arms to capture Ser Jon of the green apple and killing Byan and Ser Edwyd of the Red, thereby winning himself the name Lothor Apple-Eater.
This can be considered for Sansa (who is released of her engagement to Joffrey), Lothor (who earns the title of a knight) and LF, who become the Lord Paramour of the Trident and get Harrenhal for his House seat.
So far Lothor has been sort of in the backstage of Sansa’s life, yet this will change by the time Storm of Swords occurs and Sansa manages to escape the clutches of the Lannisters. Yet we know that, sadly, fleeing from the Lannisters only to end up with LF in a very isolated castle could become an “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” situation. One thing is certain, though: we are following Lothor’s rise to a more prominent position in life throughout the books. I wonder if he would be willing to give it up for a quiet life with Mya Stone? That could be yet another role Sansa could follow if the “Nobody will ever love be for myself” theme is still relevant in the next books (we know it probably will be), but it will be interesting to see if Sansa would give a privileged position just like Lothor could very well end up doing. Not necessarily limited to the “I shall give up my claim to Winterfell to be able to marry whom I love” but also to the “I prefer to live a quiet life than be the most prominent player in the game of thrones” theme…
Anyways, back to the third book: Lothor once again appears in Sansa’s life, but now he will be in the spotlight. The first moment Sansa notices him is when he is standing beside LF with a torch on his hand, just after she has climbed into the forecastle of the ship that is to take her away from KL, just as LF says, “Rest easy, the worse is past and done.”
Then, in Sansa’s chapter where she spends her time at the Fingers, Lothor is described in a way that reminds of Sandor and of how he didn’t speak much.
The ladder to the forecastle was steep and splintery, so Sansa accepted a hand from Lothor Brune. Ser Lothor, she had to remind herself; the man had been knighted for his valor in the battle of Blackwater. Though no proper knight would wear those patched brown breeches and scuffed boots, nor that cracked and water-stained leather jerkin. A square-faced stocky man with a squashed nose and a mat of nappy grey hair, Brune spoke seldom. He is stronger than he looks, though. She could tell by the ease with which he lifted her, as if she weighed nothing at all
Yet it isn’t until a bit later that Sansa actually thinks Lothor is Sandor—just when Marillion wants to rape her on the night of Petyr and Lysa’s wedding:
Sansa heard the soft sound of steel on leather. “Singer,” a rough voice said, “best go, if you want to sing again.” the light was dim, but she saw a faint glimmer of a blade…
And when the singer doesn’t go away, Lothor says, “I’ll do worse, if you don’t go.”
And quick as that, Marillion was gone. The other remained, looming over Sansa in the darkness.
“Lord Petyr said watch out for you.”
It was Lothor Brune’s voice, she realized. Not the Hound’s, no, how could it be? Of course it had to be Lothor.
This night as well all have remarked before is quite significant because we see Sansa sexually maturing in a way. She understands what the meaning of “But one day I’ll have a song from you, whether you will it or no,” probably means, and we also see her wondering what may have happened to Sandor just as her aunt’s screams can be heard as she is with LF. The dream where Sansa substitutes Tyrion for Sandor climbing into her bed also happens, but dream Sandor doesn’t show he has some hesitations about whether Sansa would be willing to sing to him or not. It’s implied she will, perhaps in the “I’ll have a song from you,” bit where the one day is erased as well as the will it or no bits.
After this eventful night, Sansa starts to think of Ser Lothor as a protector, a little bit like she began to do with Sandor after he saved her from the riots, since she thinks regarding Marillion, “Sansa was not the first maid to suffer his advances, and the others had not had Lothor Brune to defend her.”
At the end of Storm of Swords, Lothor Brune is now the captain of the guards of the Eyrie, while Sansa is starting to become Alayne Stone.
It isn’t until Feast for Crows that we see more of Lothor’s nature. We have seen before how people can warm up to Sansa, so it’s no wonder that during the lonely stay at the Eyrie, she ends up knowing Lothor to the extent of thinking:
Sober, he was a quiet man, but a strong one. And Petyr says he’s loyal. He trusts him as much as he trusts anyone.
We learn in the three chapters Sansa/Alayne has in the fourth book that Sansa at times asks Lothor to lock Robert Arryn’s bedroom so the boy can’t leave the room and go to snuggle in Sansa’s bed; we learn that though Robert may kick him in the face while having one of his shaking fits, Brune will only curse and hold on to the twitching boy; we see that Lothor guards LF in a way similar to the one Sandor Clegane once guarded Joffrey, and that if anyone shows their steel to Petyr, Brune will probably have his sword out as well quick enough; we see that Ser Lyn Corbray smiles to Lothor once, making me suspect Petyr probably trusted Lothor enough to let him know Lyn wouldn’t really harm him as he created a fight; and we know that Bronze Yohn—who was in Ned Stark’s tourney at KL and whom Sansa at times fears will recognize her—was also present probably when Lothor Brune defeated Jory Cassel.
Yet all these details aren’t of much consequence with regards to Sansa’s future arc compared to the way Lothor may be affected by his growing feelings for the bastard girl, Mya Stone.
“Boy out of bed?” Ser Lothor asked.
“They’re bathing him. He will be ready within the hour.”
“We best hope he is. Mya won’t wait past midday.” The winch room was unheated, so his breath misted with every word.
“She’ll wait,” Alayne said. “She has to wait.”
“Don’t be so certain, m’lady. She’s half mule herself, that one. I think she’d leave us all to starve before she’d put those animals at risk.” He smiled when he said it. He always smiles when he speaks of Mya Stone. Mya was much younger than Ser Lothor, but when her father had been brokering the marriage between Lord Corbray and his merchant’s daughter, he’d told her that young girls were always happiest with older men. “Innocence and experience make for a perfect marriage,” he had said.
Alayne wondered what Mya made of Ser Lothor. With his squashed nose, square jaw, and nap of woolly grey hair, Brune could not be called comely, but he was not ugly either. It is a common face but an honest one.
These observations by Sansa are important because they show how far she’s come from the little girl who fell for Prince Joffrey and was taken with his beautiful looks. Throughout Sansa’s experiences, she has come to realize that comely men who are quiet and loyal are at times more valuable than guys like Loras Tyrell, Marillion, Joffrey or all those vain pretty young men. It isn’t because LF told her that girls are much happier with older men that Sansa can appreciate Lothor Brune for example, but because:
Brune would be a good match for a bastard girl like Mya Stone, she thought. It might be different if her father had acknowledged her, but he never did. And Maddy says that she’s no maid either.
Here we can see a practical Sansa who no longer tries to see the world through the verses of a song, but instead plans ahead after considering all the options available for either her or for Mya Stone.
In regards to Mya Stone:
Slim and sinewy, Mya looked as tough as the old riding leathers she wore beneath her silvery ringmail shirt. Her hair was black as a raven’s wing, so short and shaggy that Alayne suspected that she cut it with a dagger. Mya’s eyes were her best feature, big and blue. She could be pretty, if she would dress up like a girl. Alayne found herself wondering whether Ser Lothor liked her best in her iron and leather, or dreamed of her gowned in lace and silk.
It’s nice to see here a Sansa who can still retain some characteristics from the girl we were once introduced to, though. The girl who liked to think of marriage is being a matchmaker who could very well end up being better at that than Emma Woodhouse, for example. I mentioned in my Mya analysis how similar Mya and Sansa had suffered due to their first loves: Joffrey turned out to be a cruel psychopath while Mya’s love, Mychel Redfort broke Mya’s heart after pretending to be a gallant swordsman. And while Mya has not been able to an extent to forget Mychel, which we can assume in part thanks to her saying, “Men come and go. They lie, or die, or leave you,” we see that Sansa has in her own situation, and she is even open to new possibilities perhaps, since we see her commenting to Myranda Royce that:
“Ser Lothor is fond of her.” Alayne glanced down at the mule girl, twenty steps below. “More than fond.”
“Lothor Brune?” Myranda raised an eyebrow. “Does she know?” She did not wait for an answer. “He has no hope, poor man. My father’s tried to make a match for Mya, but she’ll have none of them. She is half mule, that one.”
Despite herself, Alayne found herself warming to the older girl. She had not had a friend to gossip with since poor Jeyne Poole. “Do you think Ser Lothor likes her as she is, in mail and leather?” she asked the older girl, who seemed so worldly-wise. “Or does he dream of her draped in silks and velvets?”
“He’s a man. He dreams of her naked.”
It’s a nice little detail as well to see that in the chapter where we learn how Lothor Brune feels, Sansa finally says The Hound when thinking of that man who took a song and a kiss and left her with nothing but a bloody cloak. Not even when she had that dream at the Fingers did she mention Sandor by his name.
To conclude, I would like to make a reference to the “Men come and go. They lie, or die, or leave you” bit, ‘cause here we could almost say that Mya seems a little resentful towards Mychel, and Sansa also thinks that Sandor took a song and a kiss and left her nothing but a bloody cloak. I don’t believe, though, that Sansa will just sit around and refuse or accept LF’s proposal of marrying HtH in the way Mya has been refusing marrying other prospects. And I think that if Sansa can just help Mya open her eyes and see that Lothor fancies her and it would be all right to hope again, then she may be ready to at long last see Sandor Clegane again, settling how matters stand between them.
We first see Marillion through the eyes of Catelyn Stark. He approaches Cat and Ser Rodrick boldly at the Crossroads Inn and we begin to get the measure of this man. Cat notes the empty wine cup on his table indicating one of his main reasons for approaching them. Marillion inquires about their travels but is clearly more interested in talking about himself. Cat notes he is young and handsome, and despite knowing his type Marillion makes her smile; nostalgia for the singers that frequented Riverrun in her youth clearly plays a part, but she also finds this young man charming. During their conversation, Marillion also reveals much about himself. Marillion is a poor judge of character and circumstances. He first approaches Ser Rodrick believing he is the one with coin. When Rodrick is uninterested, he refers to him as sour and tells Cat he really wanted to pay tribute to her beauty.
Despite his claims at being meant to play for kings and high lords, he truly has no clue. He insults Winterfell in front of its Lady, claims Edmure loves him to the sister that knows Edmure despises singers, and offers to flatter Tywin to Tyrion which may have even been a worse choice than praising Cersei. Demeaning one party in attempts to ingratiate himself to another is routine for this aspiring con artist. He repeats this process insulting the Starks and Winterfell as he flatters Riverrun and boasts of how he was meant to play for kings and high lords. Despite the obvious lie, Cat still smiles. This charm Marillion has for women does not extend to men. He rubs both Ser Rodrick and Tyrion the wrong way, largely from his lack of the typical Westeros manliness.
[Tyrion] planned an especially sharp lesson for Marillion, him of the woodharp and the sweet tenor voice, who was struggling so manfully to rhyme imp with gimp and limp so he could make a song of this outrage.
[Ser Rodrick’s] opinion of singers was well known; music was a lovely thing for girls, but he could not comprehend why any healthy boy would fill his hand with a harp when he might have had a sword.
This lack of manliness shows through when they confront the hill tribes on the road to the Eyrie. Marillion is paralyzed by fear, hides, shrieks, panics when a horse bleeds on him, and generally acquits himself of manliness in every way possible.
Marillion’s has a laziness and sense of entitlement that leads him to gamble foolishly. Despite “making more silver than he could carry,” he lost it all betting on a Tourney. He clearly has not learned his lesson.
Marillion kept throwing sullen looks back at Tyrion as they rode. The singer had broken several ribs, his woodharp, and all four fingers on his playing hand, yet the day had not been an utter loss to him; somewhere he had acquired a magnificent shadowskin cloak, thick black fur slashed by stripes of white. He huddled beneath its folds silently, and for once had nothing to say.
Despite such losses, he still gambles away his only gain and loses this cloak to Tyrion at dice. Yet in spite of these shortcomings, Cat still has enough of a soft spot to agree to let Marillion accompany her to the Eyrie which opens up the opportunity for Bronn to follow.
My lady,” Marillion said, riding forward. “I beg you allow me to accompany you to the Eyrie, to see the end of the tale as I saw its beginnings.” The boy sounded haggard, yet strangely determined; he had a fevered shine to his eyes.
Cat is usually astute enough to realize the implications of such an invitation and she was already focuses on separating Tyrion and Bronn. Even with the broken fingers on his playing hand, Marillion manages to charm someone out of a new harp—probably a woman.
Marillion the singer had found a new woodharp. Tyrion smiled; whatever happened here tonight, he did not wish it to happen in secret, and there was no one like a singer for spreading a story near and far.
So we have a pretty clear picture of just who Marillion is before he ever encounters Sansa. Although it doesn’t affect his interaction with Sansa, Marillion has met her mother, her aunt, and her husband before seeing her. He also mentions losing money on the same jousting match that supposedly caused the infamous dagger to change hands that leads Cat to take Tyrion into custody in the first place.
Sansa first meets Marillion at Littlefinger’s family home after escaping Kings Landing. He arrives with Lysa a little over a week after Sansa. Sansa notes that:
She brought a septon as well, and a handsome singer with a wisp of a mustache and long sandy curls.
The Sansa that left Winterfell would be enchanted at the mere notion of a singer and infinitely charmed by such a handsome one. Now, his arrival doesn’t even distract her from her own internal thoughts and feelings. She thinks of how the singers say the Vale of Arryn is beautiful and thinks wistfully of the musicians in Highgarden, but the reality of a singer in her presence doesn’t even evoke a single thought. She doesn’t even think of him by name, he is only Lysa’s singer, until he tries to rape her.
Marillion first serves to illustrate just how much Sansa has changed. The two Tully women were both charmed by this young attractive singer and Sansa, formerly the most likely character of all to swoon over a handsome young singer, barely even makes note of his presence. His real impact on Sansa comes through his malevolence. When he first tries to rape Sansa:
Sansa jerked away from him, frightened. “If you don’t leave me, my au—my father will hang you. Lord Petyr.”
Littlefinger?” He chuckled. “Lady Lysa loves me well, and I am Lord Robert’s favorite. If your father offends me, I will destroy him with a verse.
Her first instinct was to invoke her aunt for protection, but she uses Littlefinger instead—two foster parental figures who remind me of parents who sit by and do nothing while they know their children are being molested. The attempted rape brings home the true danger men can pose as well as the limits of her protectors. Her previous abuse was at the hands of Joffrey, but he was a King. Marillion demonstrates that any man, no matter how lowborn, can be a threat. It is one more lesson that helps her strip away class distinctions in general.
Marillion’s attack also seems to put some of her past in perspective. After her rescue by Brune, she thinks of Sandor, which is appropriate given his lessons about how ineffective courtesy is as armor in the real world.
And quick as that, Marillion was gone. The other remained, looming over Sansa in the darkness. “Lord Petyr said watch out for you.” It was Lothor Brune’s voice, she realized. Not the Hound’s, no, how could it be? Of course it had to be Lothor…
Marillion embodies all that she thought ideal as a child and has now become her symbol of a hostile male, while the Hound who was the antithesis of the knightly ideal she had as a child now embodies that very ideal. Prior to Marillion’s attack, Sansa’s thoughts are very much on her own past and future and the wedding brings this to mind.
When it was time for the bedding, her knights carried her up to the tower, stripping her as they went and shouting bawdy jests. Tyrion spared me that, Sansa remembered. It would not have been so bad being undressed for a man she loved, by friends who loved them both. By Joffrey, though… she shuddered.
The memory of her own wedding night with Tyrion was much with her. In the dark, I am the Knight of Flowers, he had said. I could be good to you. But that was only another Lannister lie. A dog can smell a lie, you know, the Hound had told her once. She could almost hear the rough rasp of his voice. Look around you, and take a good whiff. They’re all liars here, and every one better than you. She wondered what had become of Sandor Clegane. Did he know that they’d killed Joffrey? Would he care? He had been the prince’s sworn shield for years.
His attack seems to have softened her view of Tyrion. On the boat she thinks:
The long nightmare of King’s Landing was behind her, and her mockery of a marriage as well.
But when Lysa asks her about Tyrion after Marillion’s attack:
“I am still a maid.”
“Was the dwarf incapable?”
“No. He was only… he was…” Kind? She could not say that, not here, not to this aunt who hated him so.
I think the bedding combined with Marillion’s attack gives Sansa a new perspective on how her marriage could have gone, and I do not think kind? would have come to mind regarding Tyrion if she hadn’t been assaulted by Marillion the night before.
I also think Marillion’s attempted rape has an impact on her conversation with Lysa.
“I… I am married, my lady.”
“Yes, but soon a widow. Be glad the Imp preferred his whores. It would not be fitting for my son to take that dwarf’s leavings, but as he never touched you… How would you like to marry your cousin, the Lord Robert?”
It is not me she wants her son to marry, it is my claim. No one will ever marry me for love. But lying came easy to her now.
Just hours before, Sansa was a moment away from being “Marillion’s leavings” in her aunt’s eyes. Although not spoken, the future consequences of an actual rape by Marillion’s cannot be lost on Sansa in this conversation.
When Sansa goes to the Vale:
Aside from her aged maid, Sansa’s only companion was the Lord Robert, eight going on three.
And Marillion. There is always Marillion. When he played for them at supper, the young singer often seemed to be singing directly at her. Her aunt was far from pleased. Lady Lysa doted on Marillion, and had banished two serving girls and even a page for telling lies about him.
Marillion transforms the Eyrie from a boring version of a prison into a more subtle version of Sansa’s stay in King’s Landing. The fact that Marillion is always eyeing her and that Lysa is displeased tells us that Sansa has been constantly engaged in a miniature version of the Game of Thrones with Marillion, where Sansa is essentially “the throne.” It also shows us that she has still not had any break from the constant abuse she endured at King’s Landing and that both Lysa and Littlefinger have done almost nothing to protect her (beyond their own selfish interest in her continued virginity).
Sansa has a wonderful epiphany after building Snow Winterfell. When Littlefinger kisses her she is reminded of Marillion and his attempted rape, and she has had enough. She is on the verge of reclaiming herself and seeing Littlefinger and everything else around her clearly.
My lord husband, Sansa thought, as she contemplated the ruins of Winterfell. The snow had stopped, and it was colder than before. She wondered if Lord Robert would shake all through their wedding. At least Joffrey was sound of body. A mad rage seized hold of her.
I will tell my aunt that I don’t want to marry Robert… She wasn’t a beggar, no matter what her aunt said… I would sooner be married to Tyrion again. If Lady Lysa knew that, surely she’d send her away… away from Robert’s pouts and shakes and runny eyes, away from Marillion’s lingering looks, away from Petyr’s kisses. I will tell her. I will!
The fact that she can look back on her time in Kings Landing and view aspects of it as preferable to the future her current captors are planning for her shows just how close she is to being healed and fully reclaiming herself.
But then Marillion shows up and takes her to Lysa, and he even willingly plays to drown out Sansa’s screams as Lysa tries to kill her. When Littlefinger throws Lysa out the Moon Door and blames it on Marillion, his rescue of Sansa successfully masks himself from the clarity she saw him with earlier when he kissed her. The near death experience and the fear of being blamed for Lysa’s murder allow Littlefinger to step back into the role of a benevolent protector. Marillion is still Sansa’s archetype for the pretty, charming, smiling threat, and when she again sees Littlefinger as Marillion we’ll know she’s fully recovered.
Sansa and Sweetrobin, Part I
Robert Arryn, known as Sweetrobin, is the son of Lysa Tully Arryn and Jon Arryn, and is Sansa’s first cousin. He is eight years old when Sansa meets him for the first time.
Sweetrobin is the only surviving child of Lysa Tully’s and Jon Arryn’s marriage. We know that Lysa was forced to abort Petyr Baelish’s child before she was married off to Jon Arryn, but Jon was widowed twice and still childless. While it is possible that the abortion damaged Lysa’s uterus, I think it more likely that most of the blame rests with Jon, who was at least in his 60s when he married Lysa and had no children with his first wives; though Westerosi society seems to place the blame for fertility problems on the woman. In any case, Lysa clings tightly to her only child, going so far as to flee King’s Landing for the Eyrie in order that her son not be fostered with Stannis Baratheon or Tywin Lannister (two possible candidates put forth).
In the Eyrie, Sweetrobin is brought up in isolation with only his widowed mother Lysa and their servants. When Sansa/Alayne first arrives there, she remarks on how quiet, cold and dreary the atmosphere was. Lysa breastfed Sweetrobin until he was at least six years old, sees to his bathing, dressing and personal grooming to the point where he doesn’t want anyone else to touch him. In addition, he is allegedly “sickly” with the shaking sickness. When Sansa first meets him, she notes how puny and sickly he looks, with a runny nose and red-rimmed eyes.
A question I wish to raise here: Is Sweetrobin really and truly that sick? I am inclined to say “no.” Perhaps the shaking sickness is genuine, but I am looking more at a combination of Munchhausen’s-by-proxy, utter coddling and a very unhealthy upbringing with no good food, exercise or social stimulation. I think you could take a perfectly healthy kid and make him sick by bringing him up the way Lysa brought up Sweetrobin.
I am convinced that one of Sansa’s roles with regards to Sweetrobin is to demonstrate that he is a perfectly healthy child. Already Bronze Yohn wanted to foster him and spoke of Sweetrobin being brought up with other boys his age and in a more wholesome environment. Petyr said no, and as we readers know is slowly poisoning the child to death.
But now Lysa is dead and Sansa, a.k.a. “Alayne,” is in charge. When Sweetrobin petulantly demands lemon cakes (and I’ll come back to this later) and in general acts like a bratty toddler, Sansa thinks to herself that she’d like to spank him. Who wouldn’t? I don’t think she wants to harm him, just make him behave. I’m sure Ned spanked the Stark children more than once. Then we see Sansa coaxing SR into taking a bath and letting her cut his long-neglected hair. Sansa as new mother figure is kind, but not putting up with nonsense. Sansa is old enough to have seen Catelyn take care of Bran and Rickon and she may have helped her on occasion.
SR seems to have transferred his feelings for his mother to Sansa—who not only resembles Lysa but is now the closest thing he has to a mother (even though his own mother wanted him and Sansa to marry; more on that later). “I want Alayne!” he says when he gets ready to ride down the mountain. He even crawls into Sansa’s bed to try to nurse off of her. I know, ick! But no doubt he has slept with Lysa his whole entire life and that is what he is used to doing with his own mother, so why not with his substitute mother?
When we left SR and Sansa in AFFC, Sansa doesn’t seem to be much more than dutifully affectionate with him. She had never met him up until Lysa introduced him and then suggested that they marry (for Sansa’s claim, natch); he’s a real little brat; and Sansa is so desperately trying to keep herself alive and out of danger that I believe her attachment faculties are limited right now. She probably has a pretty big case of PTSD, and no wonder.
Still, she coaxes him to bathe, have his hair cut, get dressed and go down the mountain. Especially significant, I think, is where she helps Sweetrobin over the narrow saddle of stone (that so terrified Catelyn earlier that Mya had to lead her across with her eyes shut). Sansa not only keeps her eyes open, she helps a vulnerable small boy to make the crossing alongside her. Then she builds up his self-esteem by saying that she couldn’t have done it without her gallant Ser Sweetrobin. She’s revealing herself as someone who is good with small children (as part of her Mother archetype).
I see Sansa’s helping SR over the narrow stone saddle as a foreshadowing of her helping him out of a perilous situation. Whether she will save his life herself or merely alert Bronze Yohn Royce or some other powerful lord to the danger and manage to have SR put in his charge, I do not know. But SR is now in peril (from Petyr); Sansa is also in peril partly from Petyr; but Sansa managed to get both SR and herself across the stone saddle. The fact that she says “I couldn’t have done it without brave Ser Sweetrobin” makes me wonder if helping him will be a catalyst toward her regaining her own freedom.
I want to close out this Part I of my Sweetrobin analysis with some links between Sansa and Sweetrobin: Birds, lemoncakes and stories.
- A robin is a bird; in fact, in the US, “Robin” brings to mind more the bird than the name. (Also, the name Robin in the US is a girl’s name and refers to the bird; it is never used for a boy as diminutive of “Robert.”) Sansa is “Little bird,” Robert Arryn is “Sweetrobin.”
- The morning before they are supposed to come down from the Eyrie, Sweetrobin demands lemon cakes. We all know what Sansa’s favorite food is. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both love lemon cakes.
- Sweetrobin loves hearing stories about gallant knights and so on—the same kind of songs Sansa used to love. When they crossed over the stone saddle, Sansa called Sweetrobin her gallant knight because she knew that would please him. SR is bratty in a way Sansa would never have been allowed to be, but he’s equally sheltered as to how the world really is, and he has no siblings or friends to interact with. Beneath the brat lies a very lonely little boy who is no doubt starved for real human interaction.
Sansa and Sweetrobin, Part II (or why I think she wants to help him instead of stand by and see him poisoned):
- He’s family; as far as Sansa knows he is the only family she has left.
- Sansa’s own innate sense of compassion and her Stark sense of what is good and honorable mean that it’s very unlikely she would want to climb to a high position over her little cousin’s dead body. Sansa is not ruthless or heartless enough to do something like that. The Lannisters kill children. Ned Stark informed Cersei of the charges of incest and treason before arresting her, to give her time to escape so that Tommen and Myrcella would not be harmed. I just cannot see Sansa Stark saying “Oh yay, I will be Lady of the Eyrie if I just wait for ‘Daddy’ to kill my cousin!”
- All this talk from Littlefinger, that bastion of truthfulness, about when Sweetrobin dies, Harry Hardyng will be heir to the Eyrie and Harry is just so gallant and handsome that everyone will love him the way they don’t love Sweetrobin, and that Sansa will just ADORE Harry and they’ll get married and take back the North for her and live happily ever after.
If Littlefinger tells you the sky is blue, you had better go outside to check.
- We have no real evidence that the lords of the Vale dislike Sweetrobin or don’t want him as their lord. Bronze Yohn Royce wants to be his foster father so that SR will get a decent upbringing, which suggests that BY, at least, cares about the boy and wants to make him into a proper lord. All the resentment from the various Lords Declarant appears to be directed not at poor Sweetrobin, but at LF, and partly on SR’s behalf. So there is no evidence other than Petyr’s lying mouth that the lords and knights of the Vale are eager to see SR die and Harry take the Eyrie.
Nor should anyone take Petyr’s plan for Sansa at the end of AFFC (a handsome husband, the Vale and the North, wow!) at face value. This is Littlefinger speaking. He’s a liar and bullshit artist. He tells people what they want to hear. He’s told Sansa that he lies and bullshits. So why should Sansa take this plan at face value when it is almost certainly more lies and bullshit? Not only has Sansa soured for good on the idea of a handsome knight rescuing her, she knows by now that LF is a liar and BS’er. What LF says he plans to do and what LF is actually planning to do are two separate things. We left that chapter on a cliffhanger – significantly, without Sansa’s response. We will have to wait until TWOW to see, but the fact that GRRM has elected to NOT read from a Sansa chapter makes me think that her reaction (at least her inner reaction) is not going to be very enthusiastic or believing.
- Another reason why Sansa would want SR alive: Right now she’s “the biggest piece of meat on the Westeros marriage market” (Kittykatknits, in another thread). She doesn’t want to be this. She hates the thought of being married for her claim. Right now she wants to be married for love or not at all. (Even her prospective engagement to SR, masterminded by Lysa, was for her claim.) With SR alive, she’s spared having to marry HtH (who sounds like Robert Baratheon, Jr. with his “gallantry” and two bastards at the age of 17). LF seems to think she’s the same old Sansa he met back in AGOT who wants to be a great lady and believes in handsome knights. Only, this Sansa has moved beyond this. She wants a home, a husband who loves her or else no husband at all, and children. She doesn’t want to be a piece of meat. If not for altruistic reasons, she might want to keep SR alive and healthy for the selfish reason that there is one less claim to draw the matrimonial sharks to her.
Seeing to SR’s welfare not only is in character for Sansa (compassion and honor) it keeps her a little less on the meat market. And as I said, there’s no real evidence that the lords of the Vale hate SR or love HtH; that’s all LF talking and in his own words, “You should know better than to trust me.”
by Elba the Intoner
I originally thought that the first time we see Dontos is the chapter at Joff’s name day tourney when he shows up drunk to the joust and Sansa saves him, but then I realized that’s not right. The first time we actually see Dontos is in AGOT, Sansa V. It’s only a sentence in Sansa’s chapter when she goes to see Joffrey holding court for the first time and to plead for her father’s life after Ned has been imprisoned, but it is very telling. As she slips her way in among the lords who are there, she notices that none of them want to have anything to do with her and shy away from her “as if she had the grey plague.”
Here’s what we see specifically from Dontos:
When funny drunken Ser Dontos started to hail her, Ser Balon Swann whispered in his ear and he turned away.
So, Sansa has become a pariah and all the people there watching court ignore her, but interestingly, Ser Dontos is the only one who does not do so right away. He’s the only one to make a motion to greet her, and only after Balon Swann whispers something to him does he turn away. The way this looks to me is that Dontos had no problem showing some courtesy to Sansa until Swann probably told him that it would not look good to the Lannisters if he appeared too friendly to her.
However, after researching a bit about how Dontos came to be at court in King’s Landing, it’s pretty evident that he has been an outcast there, too, from the time he arrived as a boy. In a Brienne chapter in Feast, we learn about his family history. Dontos is the only surviving member of House Hollard. House Hollard was a close ally and vassal of House Darklyn of Duskendale. They were involved in the kidnapping of King Aerys in what became known as the Defiance of Duskendale. After being held for six months, Barristan Selmy rescued the King and then Aerys had all the members of those two houses destroyed . Barristan asked that Dontos be spared as he had no part in the defiance so he was taken to King’s Landing as a squire and never returned to Duskendale.
From what we learn about his family history, we see that Dontos has one major thing in common with Sansa. He is also from a family that came to be known as traitors to a king and he saw his whole family destroyed at a young age. Therefore, it’s easy to see why Dontos would sympathize with Sansa here as she is going through something very similar to what happened to him. It also makes the fact that he is often so drunk a lot more understandable to me.
Also, we know that Sansa is very good at learning about other houses and history as part of her proper training as a lady. I have to think that Sansa would have heard about the Hollard family history and its destruction. I think this could have played a part in why she felt the need to save Dontos in her first chapter in Clash, after he shows up drunk and Joff wants him killed. Sansa is really in a similar position to Dontos at that point.
When we get to Joff’s name day tourney in Sansa’s first chapter in Clash, I just noted on this reread that just before Dontos is called to joust, Sansa realizes that Joff is getting bored, which makes her anxious so she resolves “to keep quiet, no matter what.” So, it is interesting then that after Dontos turns up naked and thoroughly drunk and Joff resolves to drown him, Sansa gasps and protests out loud despite herself. We know from the reread that Sansa is a compassionate person, but given that she knows how speaking up against Joff when he’s in a bad mood is only going to get her beaten, I wonder if there’s more going on than just her natural compassion here. Given their similar situations as outsiders in KL, from families that were deemed traitors to their Kings, I wonder if Sansa’s natural empathic ability has kicked in. She admits that she hadn’t meant to speak out and she must be mad to have done so, but she can’t help it because she knows Ser Dontos meant no harm.
In Clash, Sansa II, Sansa gets the note about going to the godswood if she wants to go home. Sansa wonders if this is the answer to her prayers for a true knight to be sent to save her. Though terrified that it is a trap, she summons her courage and steals away to the godswood that night. When she gets there, she notes that the godswood has a certain power, especially at night. Again she prays for a friend or a true knight. When she finally sees that it is Dontos who has come to meet her she is “heartbroken.” He’s drunk again but says he wants to help her as she helped him, and Sansa does not know what to think. Sansa says how she prayed for a knight to come save her not a drunken old fool. Here’s Dontos’s reply:
I deserved that, though . . . I know it’s queer, but . . . all those years I was a knight, I was truly a fool, and now that I am a fool I think . . . I think I may find it in me to be a knight again, sweet lady. And all because of you . . . your grace, your courage. You saved me, not only from Joffrey, but from myself.
Then he mentions how the singers tell of another fool that was the greatest knight of all and Sansa thinks of Florian. Dontos says he will be her Florian. This seems to turn the tide for Sansa as she feels lightheaded and thinks it would be mad to trust him, but she seems to be willing to consider it. Later, he swears to the old gods that he will send her home and that really convinces her. They make their plans to continue meeting only in the godswood and to pretend that they don’t know each other when they are in public. By the time Sansa leaves the meeting, she seems almost giddy thinking that he is her Florian and is going to take her home. She even turns around before she leaves and gives him a kiss on the cheek.
This scenario represents another deconstruction of Sansa’s ideal of a true knight. The three men that protect her in King’s Landing, the Hound, Dontos and Tyrion, are about as opposite of a knight as you can get. In Dontos’s case, he’s a drunken fool, but he is her Florian, from one of her favorite songs about a fool who was a gallant knight and saved his love Jonquil. She even notes that Florian was homely too, so she’s recognizing another example of knighthood and gallantry not necessarily being equal to handsome-looking.
This quote from ACOK, Sansa III, just after Joffrey has Sansa beaten and Tyrion has her taken to his quarters states it the most clearly:
Knights are sworn to defend the weak, protect women, and fight for the right, but none of them did a thing. Only Ser Dontos had tried to help, and he was no longer a knight, no more than the Imp was, nor the Hound . . .
Another thing I noticed is that Dontos gives Sansa some good advice during their meetings. In their first meeting in the godswood, he says to her that if he seems to be mocking her or indifferent, he doesn’t mean it. He has a role to play here and so does she, and they must be careful not to make any mistakes or it will mean their heads. This is good advice for surviving in King’s Landing. Sansa does seem to do her part by playing “dumb” and tractable, but in her thoughts and less guarded moments we see that she is neither of those things.
Some other advice Dontos gives Sansa include telling her to be brave (Clash, Sansa III) just before Joffrey has her beaten; and that he hears all sorts of things as a fool that he never heard as a knight because people talk around him as if he’s not there (ACOK, Sansa IV). In this same chapter, when Sansa says how Cersei and Joff think she’s stupid, Dontos tells her to let them think that as she is safer that way. They all watch each other and spy on each other constantly, but no one spares a thought on someone like Lollys Stokeworth. Again, this is great survival advice as at the very least it allows Sansa some breathing space to be able to meet Dontos to plan her escape. Also, playing dumb and having people underestimate you can turn out to be a real benefit in the long run.
Some more advice and warnings come in Sansa’s last chapter in Clash, after Joffrey publicly sets her aside to wed Margaery. Sansa is so happy to be released from having to wed Joff and thinks she’s finally free and will never have to kiss him or bear him any children. Dontos has to give her the truth that the Lannisters will never be done with her because she’s too valuable as a hostage. Joff is still the king, which means that he can do whatever he wants with Sansa and no one will say anything about it. Though Sansa’s idealism in thinking that she would be free of Joff are sadly crushed once again, Dontos knows the reality of the situation and is giving her the truth that she needs to be aware of, and once again he tells her to be brave.
But perhaps the most important harsh piece of advice he gives Sansa comes later on in Storm, after Sansa tells Dontos that she is going to Highgarden to marry Willas (ASOS, Sansa II). She expects him to be happy for her, but instead he is upset and tells her that the Tyrell’s are like the Lannisters, only with flowers. When she insists that she will be safe in Highgarden with Willas, he tells her “these Tyrells care nothing for you. It’s your claim they mean to wed.” Sansa is shocked by this information. This is the first time she has ever thought about her claim to Winterfell, as she had always assumed one of her brothers would have it. She doesn’t believe it at first and convinces herself that Willas has Highgarden so wouldn’t want Winterfell. As we all know, Dontos was absolutely right and it becomes a big issue for Sansa as we see later how she laments over no one ever loving her for herself only her claim.
In fact, in ASOS, Sansa III, the chapter when she is forced to wed Tyrion, these are her thoughts just as as Cersei tells her she will be marrying Tyrion:
My claim, she thought, sickened. Dontos the Fool was not so foolish after all; he had seen the truth of it. Sansa backed away from the queen. “I won’t.
Sansa has a physical reaction to this realization. We know that the time period when Sansa is married to Tyrion is a real low point for her. She has no voice and seems depressed to the point of being borderline suicidal. As I read this scene again, where she realizes Dontos was right about people only wanting her for her claim, I got the sense that this is the beginning of her downward spiral.
Also, I was trying to think of what it symbolically meant for Tyrion to have to climb on Dontos’s back at his wedding to Sansa so he could place the cloak on her. I mean, we know that it emphasizes what a farce of a marriage it is when at the cloak exchange, which is the most important part of the ceremony for representing that the husband will protect his new wife and accept her into his house, Tyrion has to stand on the back of a fool to do it. But I kept wondering if it was meaningful that Dontos in particular is the fool that is used, since Moon Boy is the Lannister fool. Now I think I know the reason. Dontos is the one to tell Sansa that people will only want her for her claim and since the forced marriage to Tyrion is all about the Lannisters taking the claim to Winterfell, it makes sense that Dontos is the fool that Tyrion uses to stand on his back so he can exchange the cloak. Or, I could just be reading way too much into all of this.
Another thing is that, before rereading these chapters, I had thought that the Hound was the only person to speak the harsh truth to Sansa, but after studying these chapters I realize that Dontos does this too. He’s also having an influence on changing Sansa’s idealistic worldview and getting her to recognize the reality of her situation which, though brutal, can only help her later on as she learns how to deal with the realities of her life.
This brings me to my last big point about Dontos, which is that I believe he is Sansa’s only real friend in King’s Landing. I thought she had absolutely none, as the Tyrell friendships all proved false and I wouldn’t count what she had with the Hound as a friendship, but after reading through all her interactions with Dontos, he does appear to be a true friend to Sansa. In the chapter where she first meets him in the godswood, I noted how she prays for “a friend or a true knight.” Sansa’s prayers seem to be coming true in unexpected ways, and I think Dontos showing up just after this is one of those ways. He does help her get out of King’s Landing in the end.
So, then what do we make of LF’s comment after he has poor Dontos killed that he sold her out for a promise of ten thousand dragons? (ASOS, Sansa V) When I first read this, I was sickened at the thought that once again Sansa was just being used and that Dontos didn’t care about her at all. But now, after a couple of rereads, and knowing what I know about LF’s habit of denigrating any man to whom Sansa showed any kind of friendship or positive feelings other than himself, I really don’t believe it at all. Sure, Dontos was taking money for his help, but that in and of itself is not such a big deal. He was risking his life after all in helping Sansa escape. Why shouldn’t he get some other compensation for putting his life on the line? I also get the feeling that Petyr likely suggested the payment himself as a way to get Dontos to do what he needed him to do. A close reading of the text also suggests that Dontos was sincere. Here are some quotes which suggest Dontos truly wanted to help Sansa out and also be like a true knight for once in his life:
In the chapter in which Sansa first meets Dontos in the godswood, he is shaking as he explains how she spoke up and saved him and that his life is hers. (ACOK, Sansa II)
In the chapter when Joff has Sansa beaten, Dontos tries to diffuse Joff’s anger by hitting Sansa with the melon, but I noted that he actually speaks up for her too. After Lancel reads the list of Robb’s treasons, Dontos says she is “shocked witless.” (ACOK, Sansa III) Dontos did not have to do anything here at all so the fact that he speaks up for her and then tries to diffuse Joff’s anger is really telling.
In the chapter when Sansa marries Tyrion, Dontos looks at Sansa with “big round eyes.” He is the only one described this way whereas everyone else there is simply described as being present. Again, he seems to be the only one showing her pity here. (ASOS, Sansa III)
When Dontos takes Sansa out of the godswood the night of her escape, he is wearing his coat of arms and dresses that way to be a true knight that one time for her. Later, just before they climb down the cliff wall Sansa notices that he is crying. (ASOS, Sansa V)
What do you all think? Was Dontos sincere? Was he a true friend to Sansa? Do you sympathise with him? Or does the fact that he expected money for his help ruin any sense of genuine sincerity he might have had otherwise? I think overall he was a positive presence for Sansa, as he gave her much needed advice, and except for not telling her about the money he was expecting, he was otherwise honest with her. He helped Sansa get through a really tough time in her life when she was very depressed and he did get her out of King’s Landing. He did his “part”, played his role perfectly and did not deserve to die so cruelly like that at the end of Sansa’s escape.
Idealism and Disillusionment
Studying Sansa’s and Bran’s relationship in the novels reveals very interesting parallels in their outlook and development. Both have the distinction of starting out as two of the most idealistic Stark children, with Bran espousing the same kind of innocent passion for knighthood and fondness for the stories of the great heroes of time past. When Robert comes to Winterfell with his family and extended entourage, Bran is impressed by the golden knight Jaime Lannister, while Sansa believes that she has discovered love with her betrothed Prince Joffrey.
Bran was going to be knight himself someday, one of the Kingsguard. Old Nan said they were the finest swords in all the realm. They were only seven of them, and they wore white armor and had no wives or children, but lived only to serve the King. Bran knew all the stories. Their names were like music to him. Serwyn of the Mirror Shield. Ser Ryam Redwyne. Prince Aemon the Dragon. The twins Ser Erryk and Ser Arryk, who had died on one another’s swords hundreds of years ago, when brother fought sister in the war the singers called the Dance of the Dragons. The White Bull, Gerold Hightower. Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. Barristan the Bold… Ser Jaime Lannister looked more like the knights in the stories, and he was of the Kingsguard too, but Robb said he killed the mad old king and shouldn’t count anymore… Bran had been marking the days on his wall, eager to depart, to see a world he had only dreamed of, and begin a life he could scarcely imagine.
Compare to Sansa’s thoughts in her first chapter:
She gazed at Joffrey worshipfully. He was so gallant, she thought. The way he had rescued her from Ser Ilyn and the Hound, why, it was almost like the songs, like the time Serwyn of the Mirror shield saved the Princess Daeryssa from the giants, or Prince Aemon the Dragonknight championing Queen Naerys’s honor against Ser Morgil’s slanders.
These romanticised visions are soon crushed at the hands of those who were expected to safeguard them. Bran never even gets to leave Winterfell whilst Sansa’s disillusionment gradually grows throughout her experiences in King’s Landing. Had Bran gone to the Southern court as well, we can imagine the impact the reality of the corruption and immorality of the Kingsguard/knighthood would have had on his ideals. He instead experiences it in one brutal act and doesn’t remember how he fell initially. Bran’s broken body symbolises the broken institution of knighthood in Westeros. It is crippled and defunct, and Martin establishes that within the first chapters of the novel. The later killing of Sansa’s wolf Lady extends this theme of broken justice and corrupt morality. A couple things of note here:
- We hear all the time that Sansa brings her problems upon herself by being too foolish and naïve; she has her head in the clouds and this blinds her to harsh realities. You might be tempted to believe that no other member of the Stark family held knights in high esteem or believed that they were essentially good and honourable. Obviously this isn’t the case, but there seems to be a gender bias in how Sansa and Bran seem to read in the fandom. Is longing to fall in love with the hero really different from longing to be the hero?
- Had Bran journeyed South as was initially intended, would his disillusionment have been even greater than Sansa’s? She is the one to witness after all the deposition of Bran’s hero, Barristan the Bold, and suffers beatings from the Kingsguard, the organization Bran holds in high esteem.
In AGOT, when Sansa witnesses the men heading off to apprehend Gregor Clegane, the scene is very similar to Bran’s in Winterfell, where he is looking out at the men arriving to Winterfell after Robb has called the banners.
The next morning she woke before first light and crept sleepily to her window to watch Lord Beric form up his men. They rode out as dawn was breaking over the city, with three banners going before them; the crowned stag of the king flew from the high staff, the direwolf of Stark and Lord Beric’s own forked lightning standard from shorter poles. It was all so exciting, a song come to life; … Alyn carried the Stark banner. When she saw him rein in beside Lord Beric to exchange words, it made Sansa feel ever so proud. Alyn was handsomer than Jory had been; he was going to be a knight one day.
The maester had taught him all the banners: the mailed fist of the Glovers, silver on scarlet; Lady Mormont’s black bear; the hideous flayed men that went before Roose Bolton of the Dreadfort; a bull moose for the Hornwoods; a battle-axe for the Cerwyns; three sentinel trees for the Tallharts; and the fearsome sigil of House Umber, a roaring giant in shattered chains…
“How many knights?”
“Few enough,” the maester said with a touch of impatience. “To be a knight, you must stand your vigil in a sept, and be anointed with the seven oils to consecrate your vows. In the north, only a few of the great houses worship the Seven. The rest honor the old gods, and name no knights … but those lords and their sons and sworn swords are no less fierce or loyal or honourable. A man’s worth is not marked by a ser before his name. As I have told you a hundred times before.”
“Still,” said Bran, “how many knights?”
Once again, we see Sansa and Bran preoccupied more with knighthood and the implicit distinction they believe it conveys, rather than grasping the gravity of the situation unfolding around them and/or appreciating that men who are not knights can be just as admirable and principled. That both of them take a while to give up on their dreams is, I think, quite realistic. Sansa receives the most criticism for it, but even up to ADWD we see that Bran still feels a sense of loss and sadness over not becoming a knight. Sansa’s and Bran’s arcs are therefore intimately connected by that initial valorising of knighthood and legendary heroes. Both are challenged to work beyond their disenchantments and to find meaning outside of the traditional roles of knight and lady.
Learning to Fly
It’s interesting that Bran and Sansa are connected with avian imagery, with Sansa being called the little bird by Sandor and Jojen telling Bran that he will be the winged wolf. This yearning to fly and to be free is emphasised by the powerlessness both feel by their respective circumstances. Sansa is held prisoner by the Lannisters, and Bran is a prisoner in his own body. He eventually learns to open his third eye, and to accept his power as warg and greenseer. We’ve seen Sansa gaining greater clarity and perspective as well, learning to not associate beauty with inner goodness.
They also share similar reflections on the godswood, and it becomes a source of comfort and security for both of them during these dark times:
Bran had always liked the godswood, even before, but of late he found himself drawn to it more and more. Even the heart tree no longer scared him the way it used to. The deep red eyes carved into the pale trunk still watched him, yet somehow he took comfort from that now. The gods were looking over him he told himself…
Lady would have liked this place, she thought. There was something wild about a godswood; even here in the heart of the city, you could feel the old gods watching with a thousand unseen eyes. Sansa had favoured her mother’s gods over her father’s … Yet she could not deny that the godswood had a certain power too. Especially by night.
When Sansa moves on to the Vale, it’s the lack of a godswood there that she feels most keenly, and this sense of disconnection from her roots contributes to a feeling of loneliness and desolation. Yet, the wind that Sansa hears blowing may very well be a sign from her brother Bran, as Ragnorak intimated in his post upthread, and certainly her thinking of the wind that sounds like a ghost wolf connects directly to her siblings and Stark heritage. Interestingly, when Bran heard the contents of Sansa’s letter, written back in AGOT urging her family not to go to war with the Lannisters, he thinks it’s because Sansa has lost her wolf:
Bran felt all cold inside. “She lost her wolf,” he said, weakly, remembering the day when four of his father’s guardsmen had returned from the south with Lady’s bones. Summer and Grey Wind and Shaggydog had begun to howl before they crossed the drawbridge, in voices drawn and desolate. Beneath the shadow of the First Keep was an ancient lichyard, its headstones spotted with pale lichen, where the Kings of Winter had laid their faithful servants. It was there they buried Lady, while her brothers stalked the between the graves like restless shadows. She had gone south, and only her bones had returned.
It would be therefore be quite fitting if Bran was indeed the one who sent this “reminder” to Sansa on her way across that narrow mountain ledge in the Eyrie. Given what happened to Lady, perhaps this was a signal to Sansa to remember her wolf, remember her Starkness and to return to the North?
He saw his father pleading with the king, his face etched with grief. He saw Sansa crying herself to sleep at night, and he saw Arya watching in silence and holding her secrets hard in her heart. There were shadows all around them. One shadow was as dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound. Another was armored like the sun, golden and beautiful. Over them both loomed a giant in armor made of stone, but when he opened his visor, there was nothing inside but darkness and thick black blood.
We’ve had a lot of discussion on this lately. The common interpretation of the three figures in the dream is that it’s referring to Sandor, Jaime, and Gregor Clegane. Lately, I’ve been rethinking this interpretation based on Tyrion’s thoughts about Littlefinger being the one who truly armours himself in gold. For now, Ungregor still remains the likeliest candidate for the giant in stone armour, however, if Jaime really is the “golden and beautiful” shadow, I’d be willing to consider that Littlefinger could represent the stone giant, due to his family’s sigil, as well as arguably being a central figure responsible for the considerable bloodshed and torment in the kingdoms.
Rickon has both personal and political significance with respect to Sansa’s future. When she is envisioning her marriage to Willas Tyrell, she thinks:
She pictured the two of them sitting 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.
These thoughts highlight the close bond between the Starks, with Sansa planning to honour the memories of her younger brothers and father by giving her children their names. Her last memory of Rickon would have been of a very young child, but his image still remains, and tellingly, she wants these children to grow up hating the Lannisters.
But perhaps it is politically that we will see Rickon helping Sansa the most. She is tired of being treated as a bargaining chip due to her claim to Winterfell, and laments that no one will ever love her for herself. Rickon’s reappearance could lift the burden of the claim from Sansa’s shoulders, and enable her to make a decision based on what she truly desires, and not one informed by duty.
Sansa’s experience with the difficult Sweetrobin might also be valuable in preparing her to one day act as regent for Rickon until he comes of age, and her association with the mother figure throughout the novels, as well as the foreshadowing of Queenship, could be resolved precisely by this role.
Overall, Bran and Rickon have important roles to play in determining the outcome of Sansa’s future. All of the Stark children are essentially “ghost wolves” but Jojen’s prediction of that the wolves will come again heralds a return to power and a reconnection of the pack.
When we are first introduced to Lancel in AGOT, he is a squire for the king, and immediately we learn that Robert’s treatment of the two Lannister cousins is less than kind.
My wife insisted I take these two to squire for me, and they’re worse than useless.
At fifteen years old, Lancel is becoming a man, yet this introduction frames him as timid and cowering—very much a boy. It’s worth noting that, at the same age, his cousin Jaime had won a tourney, fought against the Kingswood Brotherhood, was knighted for heroics, and was soon to be part of the elite Kingsguard. Lancel, in contrast, is portrayed as a mistreated lackey.
“Don’t just stand there gaping, Lancel, pick it up!” The lad jumped.
Despite Barristan and Ned finding the scene amusing, with the drunken king reducing the Lannister boys to tears, it’s fair to assume that Lancel might have felt bullied and trapped in his role as squire to Robert. How frustrating his situation must have been, given his later confession in AFFC that his idol, role model and primary male influence was Jaime.
I only wanted…” Lancel shuddered. “Seven save me, but I wanted to be you.” Jaime had to laugh.
Jaime and Lancel are physically comparable, a likeness Tyrion noticed. The quite understandable ambition to be like a successful relative in this case has sinister connotations, which grow to haunt Lancel further down the line. Jaime notoriously murdered his king, and as Lancel supplying Robert with strongwine is presented as a poisoning-of-sorts, the squire followed in his cousin’s kingslaying footsteps.
When Cersei invites Lancel into her bed, he is once again following the path of Jaime—losing his virginity to her at approximately the same age that his cousin did. So Lancel’s aspiration to “be” Jaime has led him down a questionable path. With his mother far away, he seems to have no positive female influence, nobody to be genuinely kind to him. On the contrary, Cersei is taking advantage of him for her own gain. Lancel has a dutiful nature—it took him running for the breastplate stretcher, but also fit perfectly into Cersei’s strongwine plot.
“A stalwart boy, Ser Kevan Lannister’s son … I hope the dear sweet lad does not blame himself.”
After taking to Cersei’s bed and gaining a knighthood, Lancel’s confidence increases. At this stage, his self-concept is no doubt more in line with his idol, Jaime. The ACOK riot scene in King’s Landing shows us that he has also grown brave.
“Back to the castle. Now.” Cersei gave a curt nod, Ser Lancel unsheathed his sword.
Whether Lancel could have been an effective fighter against the mob is questionable, but this does not seem like the tearful, cowering squire we witnessed in AGOT. However, Lancel’s bravery is questioned in his obedience to Cersei and Tyrion. When the Imp blackmails him completely with threats to go to Joffrey, his cockiness is washed aside very quickly. This is typical of a victim, and someone who still feels powerless underneath the bravado.
Then we have the most vicious beating of Sansa, the first time the two characters are seen together. Lancel is present as Sansa is to “answer for [her] brother’s latest treasons,” and it’s clear she is about to be beaten. It’s impossible to know what Lancel was thinking at that point, but perhaps GRRM is trying to let us know via Sansa’s perception of him at that moment:
“there was neither pity nor kindness in the look he gave her”
Lancel might have related to Sansa here, watching a monarch be abusive towards a powerless victim, as Robert had been to him. The regret at the situation felt by Dontos and Sandor is easy to pick up on, but with the look Lancel gave, there is no reason to think he had any objections. He was a Lannister with values in line with Cersei and Joffrey: that it was OK to beat Sansa Stark. The lack of pity might suggest he even gained satisfaction from seeing the girl disempowered, not unusual for someone who has himself felt that desperation. Lancel goes on to deliver the false accusations that earn the innocent and defenceless Sansa “countless blows” and almost a sexual assault. The fact that it’s Tyrion who saves Sansa is worth noting, for when the Imp later offers to match her with Lancel instead of himself, Sansa (although in a submissive, defeated state) does not object to maintaining the betrothal, partly on account of Tyrion’s kindness here. The offer of Lancel is ignored; despite finding him “comely,” Lancel’s part in the beating leads Sansa to accept Tyrion without hesitation.
The next time Lancel and Sansa are seen together is in the (apparent) safety of the Queen’s Ballroom, during the Battle of Blackwater. Lancel and his men were rumoured to be in the thick of the action, and there’s no reason to believe he wasn’t fighting well. He endures a painful wound that would nearly take his life. Trying to convince Cersei to let Joff join the battle is the first time we see Lancel act defiantly towards her.
“Gods be damned, Cersei”
“No!” Lancel was so angry he forgot to keep his voice down.”
Here Lancel wants what’s best for the troops and the people of King’s Landing, and not what’s best for Cersei. She responds by palming his wound, causing him to almost faint. In the absence of Cersei, Sansa changes the mood of the Ballroom immediately; she calms the women and exerts a positive and calming influence under terrible circumstances, as she thought her beheading was inevitable at this stage. Then comes a key moment in the study of Lancel and Sansa: she helps him at this most crucial point.
Sansa went to Ser Lancel and knelt beside him. His wound was bleeding afresh where the queen had struck him. “Madness,” he gasped. “Gods, the Imp was right, was right…”
“Help him,” Sansa commanded two of the serving men. “Take him to Maester Frenken.
Although this act of kindness causes Sansa some cognitive dissonance and she thinks she should rather be killing him, her merciful nature shines through. Given the confusion amidst the invasion, and the fact we see people running to avoid the injured soldier, it’s quite possible Lancel would have not received the treatment he needed were it not for Sansa. This is something he was surely well aware of in the months spent lying on his recovery bed. When he arose, it was as a devout and pious man.
Before the battle commenced, we saw the people of King’s Landing singing together, a communal prayer to ward off the horrors of war.
Across the city, thousands had jammed into the Great Sept of Baelor on Visenya’s Hill, and they would be singing too, their voices swelling out over the city, across the river, and up into the sky. Surely the gods must hear us, she thought.
Sansa witnessed this, and the song she sings with the crowds is rather fitting to the Ballroom scene.
She knew the hymn; her mother had taught it to her once, a long time ago in Winterfell. She joined her voice to theirs.
Gentle Mother, font of mercy, save our sons from war, we pray, stay the swords and stay the arrows, let them know a better day. Gentle Mother, strength of women, help our daughters through this fray, soothe the wrath and tame the fury, teach us all a kinder way.
It’s not unreasonable to think that soldiers injured or in frightening positions would have thoughts of the Mother, representing mercy. And Sansa embodied the qualities of the Mother when she helped Lancel. In AFFC, when Lancel is discussing the moment he became decidedly pious, he pinpoints the influence of the Mother with saving him.
When it seemed that I might die, my father brought the High Septon to pray for me. He is a good man.” Her cousin’s eyes were wet and shiny, a child’s eyes in an old man’s face. “He says the Mother spared me …
So Lancel believes he was spared by the Mother, and he must realise Sansa’s actions in the Ballroom both helped to save him, and were in the spirit of the Mother. In retrospect at least, through his now pious lens, perhaps Lancel reflects on Sansa’s kindness as a ‘religious moment’, one where mercy was given from the unlikeliest source —at the most desperate moment. The Seven is the only entirely faith-based major religion, instead of displays of magic, the facets of the Deities can be embodied by common everyday people, in their behaviour.
It’s perhaps significant how GRRM chose to portray Sansa’s approach the injured Lancel:
“Sansa went to Ser Lancel and knelt beside him.”
Sansa is kneeling, an act associated with both submission and prayer. The last time Lancel saw Sansa kneeling was back at the beating, just before his speech condemned her to the violence he watched from a short distance. How these two scenes must have replayed in his mind as he lay incapacitated: Sansa on her knees, once begging for mercy, and once offering it. Lancel then goes on to do some kneeling of his own, when in prayer during Jaime’s visit, confessing his sins.
Following Blackwater, Joffrey’s wedding is the next time we see Lancel, and Sansa is there too. His appearance has deteriorated to the extent he is comparable to a post-Ramsay Theon, an indication that his injury caused sustained and significant suffering, and likely emotional suffering as well. This adds further weight to the notion Sansa’s intervention saved his life by getting him to the maesters in time. Having not left his sickbed in months, and looking like a corpse, Lancel’s reaction to Sansa’s kind and courteous words is telling.
His cousin Ser Lancel had been brought down by Ser Kevan, the first time he’d left his sickbed since the battle. He looks ghastly. Lancel’s hair had turned white and brittle, and he was thin as a stick. Without his father beside him holding him up, he would surely have collapsed. Yet when Sansa praised his valour and said how good it was to see him getting strong again, both Lancel and Ser Kevan beamed.
So, barely able to stand and not far from death, Lancel shone for a moment here. He’s too weak to be insincere, so this might be an indication of the profound effect Sansa has had on him, and along with other significant factors, the moment of mercy perhaps contributed to a redefining of his character. Compare this moment to when Cersei, the woman he “loves”, visits him:
“Lancel, I am happy to see you looking so much stronger.”
“There are outlaws in my castle.” Her cousin’s voice was as wispy as the moustache on his upper lip.
There is neither beaming nor happiness from Lancel in the passage. He maintains feelings for his cousin, but also harbours guilt and sin. Cersei’s pleasantness is notably forced; she has ulterior motives for the visit. This contrasts with Sansa: although she was obliged to complement Lancel at the wedding, we can guess her courtesy came naturally to her, and there was little selfish intent.
Now Lancel enters a new phase of his character arc—remorse, piety and devotion. Radical changes in personality are often accompanied by influences both good and bad. Brienne seems to bring out the best in Jaime, set against the relationship with his sister. Perhaps a similar if less pronounced dynamic is occurring with Lancel; this time with Sansa’s brief but significant influence being the foil for Cersei’s poisonous control. They are certainly the two females with the largest impact on his recent life. His relationship with Cersei has steered him towards kingslaying, incest, and deceit, among other things. Yet, for all the affection he thought they shared, Cersei cared little for him or his life. This became apparent and the guise was dropped when Cersei aggravated his war-wound, effectively leaving him to die.
Sansa showed him kindness, mercy and care—some of the qualities associated with his new influence, the Seven. Lancel has made a choice to become virtuous in the eyes of the Gods. With his family wanting him to be a political pawn once again, and without underplaying the role of the High Septon’s preaching, it’s difficult to see where anyone in Lancel’s story displayed the qualities of the Seven that Lancel now aspires to. Sansa and her benevolence is the exception, and must surely have played its part in his new found faith. With Lancel’s confession to Jaime signifying his final repentance regarding his passions for Cersei and with Sansa long gone after the wedding, Lancel has decided to adopt entirely new female influences altogether: the Mother and the Maid. Lancel displays kindness, compassion and understanding in his time with Jaime; and like the Mother, perhaps Sansa Stark taught Lancel Lannister a kinder way.
by Lyanna Stark
(contains TWOW spoilers)
Ser Lyn is peculiarly placed in the TWOW spoiler chapter, and while there have been some posts on him before, we haven’t spent a lot of the Sansa pages discussing him. However, he seems to have a more and more prominent position in Sansa’s storyline and may be worth an extra look.
Part 1: AGOT-AFFC
Our first introduction to Corbray is from Tyrion, who describes him as early on as before his Trial at the Eyrie. The words he used are “slender as a sword”.
Later, we get some choice words from Corbray, which could be potentially interesting:
The gods favour the man with the just cause,” said Ser Lyn Corbray, “yet often that turns out to be the man with the surest sword. We all know who that is.” He smiled modestly.
Well. Very modest man indeed, Ser Lyn.
The next time we see Ser Lyn, Lysa is eating a blackberry off his dagger. Catelyn comments on his unsuitability as a suitor to Lysa:
Catelyn was hard-pressed to say which man was more unsuitable. Eon Hunter was even older than Jon Arryn had been, half crippled by gout, and cursed by three quarrelsome sons, each more grasping than the last. Ser Lyn was a different sort of folly; lean and handsome, heir to an ancient but impoverished house, but vain, reckless, hot-tempered… and, it was whispered, notoriously uninterested in the charms of women.
So Cat knows which way Lyn swings, but unlike Littlefinger she does not reference “boys”, just that he is uninterested in the charms of women.
Ser Lyn also comments on Tyrion’s trial that first he’ll have a trial, and then an execution, as if it was a done thing. He is also the one who gets to usher Tyrion out the Bloody Gate and is then described as “stone faced”.
In AFFC, we get Nestor Royce and Littlefinger in a conversation where Nestor comments that Lyn Corbray is a dangerous man and Littlefinger says that Ser Lyn has taken a dislike to him, but that he will still be invited to the Eyrie. Initially, Littlefinger even describes Ser Lyn as “some Corbrays” he invited. It’s only when Nestor enquires that he specifies it is Ser Lyn.
Another man who views Ser Lyn as dangerous is Kevan Lannister, who talks about it in a meeting of Lannisters in King’s Landing. If Kevan thinks Ser Lyn is dangerous, it means Tywin thinks he is, too, since as Tyrion says, Kevan hasn’t had a thought that Tywin didn’t think first. Kevan discusses with Tyrion, Cersei and Tywin that Littlefinger has agreed to woo lady Lysa and to become the Protector of the Vale, effectively queue-jumping Ser Lyn Corbray, Horton Redfort and Bronze Yohn Royce, which are all mentioned and labelled “dangerous men, all in their own way, and proud”.
Littlefinger later comments in AFFC specifically on Lyn Corbray:
Ser Lyn is not the sort of man to stay away when blood is in the offing.
This does not soothe Sansa’s fears, and she reflects that Ser Lyn has killed as many men in duels as he has in battle. We also know that Lyn Corbray cut down Prince Lewyn Martell of Dorne, although the prince was said to have been badly wounded already. Littlefinger cautions Sansa against mentioning this though.
“That’s not a point you’ll want to raise with Corbray, though. Those who do are soon given the chance to ask Martell himself the truth of it, down in the halls of hell.”
Littlefinger then goes on to explain that while Lyonel Corbray is swayed to Littlefinger’s side, Ser Lyn goes his own way independent of his older brother. Then we get an interesting commentary on how Lyonel spent his energy on saving his father while Ser Lyn picked up the sword Lady Forlorn and went on killing. Littlefinger continues with some comments on how Ser Lyn feels about his brother Lyonel.
“… whilst Ser Lyn… well, he loves Lyonel as much as he loves me. He wanted Lysa’s hand for himself.”
Sweetrobin then confesses to not liking Ser Lyn and that he does not want to have him in the Eyrie. In AFFC, we get Sansa’s description of Ser Lyn as he comes up to the Eyrie with the Lords Declarant:
The youngest man in the party had three ravens on his chest, each clutching a blood-red heart in its talons. His brown hair was shoulder length; one stray lock curled down across his forehead. Ser Lyn Corbray, Alayne thought, with a wary glance at his hard mouth and restless eyes.
When Bronze Yohn seems to at first recognise Alayne as Sansa, and when she is then explained to be Littlefinger’s bastard daughter, Ser Lyn shows himself as being quite rude and uncouth.
“Littlefinger’s little finger has been busy,” said Lyn Corbray, with a wicked smile.
Lady Waynwood asks how old Alayne is, and gets the reply that she is four-and-ten, and not a child but “a maiden flowered”, at which point Lord Hunter (one of the younger ones now who helped off the father) comments that she’s hopefully not deflowered.
“Yet,” said Lyn Corbray, as if she were not there. “But ripe for the plucking soon, I’d say.”
Lady Waynwood then tells Corbray that he is being rude and to mind his tongue.
“My tongue is my concern,” Corbray replied. “Your ladyship should take care to mind her own. I have never taken kindly to chastisement, as any number of dead men can tell you.”
When the Lords Declarant file into the Eyrie solar, they all sit side by side, apart from Nestor Royce who sits down closer to Littlefinger and Lyn Corbray who goes to stand beside the hearth instead. Sansa observes him.
Alayne saw him smile at Lothor Brune. Ser Lyn is very handsome for an older man, she thought, but I do not like the way he smiles.
When Littlefinger suggests that the Lords Grafton and Lynderly send him their sons as wards to be fostered with Sweetrobin, Ser Lyn seems dismissive.
Lyn Corbray laughed. “Two pups from a pair of lapdogs.”
When Bronze Yohn Royce sets the ultimatum that they will have Lord Sweetrobin or else, it seems they reached an impasse in the negotiations. However, this is when Corbray makes his move.
For a moment it seemed as though they had come to an impasse, until Lyn Corbray turned from the fire.
“All this talk makes me ill. Littlefinger will talk you out of your smallclothes if you let him long enough. The only way to settle his sort is with steel.” He drew his longsword.
Petyr spread his hands. “I wear no sword, ser.”
“Easily remedied.” Candlelight rippled along the smoke-grey blade of Corbray’s blade, so dark it put Sansa in mind of Ice, her father’s greatsword. “Your apple-eater holds a blade. Tell him to give it to you, or draw your dagger.”
She saw Lothor Brune reach for his own sword, but before the blades could meet Bronze Yohn rose in wrath. “Put up your steel ser! Are you a Corbray or are you a Frey? We are guests here.”
Lady Waynwood pursed her lips, and said, “This is unseemly”.
“Sheathe your sword Corbray,” Young Lord Hunter echoed, “you shame us all with this”.
“Come, Lyn,” chided Redfort in a softer tone. “This will serve for naught. Put Lady Forlorn to bed.”
“My lady has a thirst,” Ser Lyn insisted. “Whenever she comes out to dance, she likes a drop of red.”
“Your lady must go thirsty.” Bronze Yohn put himself squarely in Corbray’s path.
“The Lords Declarant.” Lyn Corbray snorted. “You should have named yourself the Six Old Women.
He slid the dark sword back into its scabbard and left them, shouldering Brune aside as if he were not there. Alayne listened to his footsteps recede.
Overall, Cat’s initial assessment of Ser Lyn seems correct. He comes across as vain, reckless and hot-tempered.
Part 2: TWOW Alayne spoiler chapter
Alayne/Sansa spots two men fighting in the yard and when she notices three ravens clutching three red hearts, she knew how the fight would end. When Lyn Corbray beats his opponent we get a brief description of how it happened.
If the swords had not been blunted, there would be brains as well. That last head blow had been so hard Alayne had winced in sympathy when it fell.
Interesting to note perhaps that Ser Lyn beat his opponent by striking at his head. Armoured, to be sure, and with blunted swords or “there would have been brains”, but it’s potentially interesting to compare to how Sandor did not strike at his brother’s head back in AGOT. Not particularly chivalrous, our Ser Lyn.
Myranda then comments:
Do you think if I asked nicely Ser Lyn would kill my suitors for me?
“He might, for a plump bag of gold.” Ser Lyn Corbray was forever desperately short of coin, all the Vale knew that.
What looks humorous at first glance takes on a bit of an ominous tone when looked at further. Myranda doesn’t have any serious suitors at present and she said it flippantly enough, but Alayne might have one that Lyn could potentially kill if he tried to. Harry is described as not particularly skilled. This could mean potentially bad news for Harrold Hardyng.
Myranda goes on to comment on what Cat had heard whispered.
“Alas, all I have is a plump pair of teats. Though with Ser Lyn, a plump sausage under my skirts would serve me better.”
Randa confirms here what we sort of already knew about which way Ser Lyn swings, although again, no mention of “boys” and “plump sausage” seems to indicate it’s men he prefers, not boys, perhaps giving the lie to Littlefinger’s words (and it wouldn’t be the first time either). And you know, Randa’s humour is incorrigible. It is rather nice that Sansa who previously was such a little proper lady finds this amusing, though, and their giggles alert Ser Lyn to their presence.
Alayne’s giggle drew Corbray’s attention. He handed his shield to his loutish squire, removed his helm and quilted coif. “Ladies.” His long brown hair was plastered to his brow by sweat.
“Well struck, Ser Lyn,” Alayne called out. “Though I fear you’ve knocked poor Ser Owen insensible.”
Corbray glanced back to where his foe was being helped from the yard by his squire. “He had no sense to start with, or he should not have tried me.”
Alayne reflects that he speaks the truth, but really he is also very smug here. not unlike his “modest” smile in Tyrion’s AGOT chapter where he likes to tell people about his mad fighting skillz. He also seems to have acquired a loutish squire as a replacement for Mychel Redfort, who was his squire in AGOT (as referenced in Cat’s climb to the Eyrie chapter).
But! Alayne-Sansa shows she is not a meek little lady anymore, but decides to poke and prod Ser Lyn a bit, and we get an interesting tidbit on just how volatile and unstable Ser Lyn’s loyalties to LF may be.
There is truth in that, Alayne thought, but some demon of mischief was in her that morning, so she gave Ser Lyn a thrust of her own. Smiling sweetly, she said, “My lord father tells me your brother’s new wife is with child.”
Corbray gave her a dark look. “Lyonel sends his regrets. He remains at Heart’s Home with his peddler’s daughter, watching her belly swell as if he were the first man who ever got a wench pregnant.”
Oh, that’s an open wound, thought Alayne. Lyonel Corbray’s first wife had given him nothing but a frail, sickly babe who died in infancy, and during all those years Ser Lyn had remained his brother’s heir. When the poor woman finally died, however, Petyr Baelish had stepped in and brokered a new marriage for Lord Corbray. The second Lady Corbray was sixteen, the daughter of a wealthy Gulltown merchant, but she had come with an immense dowry, and men said she was a tall, strapping, healthy girl, with big breasts and good, wide hips. And fertile too, it seems.
Alayne’s barb here is described as a “thrust,” as if she was fencing with Ser Lyn and managed to score a hit. She may also have realised something that LF did not regarding how pissed off this has made Ser Lyn. Clearly, despite him not fancying women and being a younger son, he was used to being heir to his house, does not like his brother and did definitely not like being bumped down the list of heirs.
Alayne could not help herself. She smiled and said, “My father is always pleased to be of service to one of Lord Robert’s leal bannermen. I’m sure he would be most delighted to help broker a marriage for you as well, Ser Lyn.”
How kind of him.” Corbray’s lips drew back in something that might have been meant as a smile, though it gave Alayne a chill. “But what need have I for heirs when I am landless and like to remain so, thanks to our Lord Protector? No. Tell your lord father I need none of his brood mares.
Yes, he is landless and like to remain so thanks to our lovely Lord Petyr. Ser Lyn is not keen on any lowly broodmares, he had his sights set higher. (This makes me wonder a bit if, should Ser Shadrich tell Ser Lyn about who Alayne really is, perhaps he won’t abduct her to “sell” her to Freys or Lannisters or Tyrells, perhaps he would try and hold her as a future bride as Sansa Stark is very high-ranking and comes with a potential Winterfell dowry. Quite a nice prize for Ser Lyn, no? Despite being a sausage fan.) Here he is definitely mostly pissed at Littlefinger, though.
The venom in his voice was so thick that for a moment she almost forgot that Lyn Corbray was actually her father’s catspaw, bought and paid for. Or was he? Perhaps, instead of being Petyr’s man pretending to be Petyr’s foe, he was actually his foe pretending to be his man pretending to be his foe.
Just thinking about it was enough to make her head spin. Alayne turned abruptly from the yard… and bumped into a short, sharp-faced man with a brush of orange hair who had come up behind her.
And here Sansa starts to see that Ser Lyn might be bought and paid for once, but given what has happened with LF brokering the marriage for his brother and bumping him down the line, he is no longer an ally pretending to be a foe, he is actually genuinely not an ally anymore, or at least nobody they can trust.
When she realises Lyn is a loose cannon ready to blow… in steps Ser Shadrich, as on demand. So we have “Ser Lyn’s allegiance is not certain” linked to “… and in steps Ser Shadrich, who just happens to be looking for Sansa”.
I’m thinking whichever way this goes, it doesn’t look like good news. The only really good part is that Sansa has herself figured out that Ser Lyn is no longer in LF’s pocket and cannot be relied on to act as an ally.
Other random strange things: When she first spots Ser Lyn, she describes his shield with hearts and ravens, and the this comes in italics.
Three hearts and three ravens.
Just randomly ominous, or a reference to Bloodraven? I also thought of Maester Aemon’s speech to Jon on Ravens and doves and getting your hands bloody.
Further, we also don’t see Ser Lyn referenced as attending the feast where Sansa/Alayne dances with Harry the Heir. Does she not notice him? (Seem strange) Or is he making himself scarce?
The “do you think he would kill my suitor for me if I asked” comment really stands out as very much potential ouch, especially as Sansa wishes for Harry to fail and fall and be embarrassed. She doesn’t wish him dead, but then as we’ve seen before, Lady Forlorn likes some red once she is drawn, no? “My lady has a thirst”.
Ser Lyn also thinks his opponent is an idiot for fighting him, and we see that LF et al. think Harry the Heir is not a very good fighter and that he is an idiot to try the tourney, but that Bronze Yohn Royce allowed it anyway because he is honourable. Is Harry also going to be an idiot and fight Lyn Corbray? Should Sansa give Corbray her favour, he would feel compelled to do so.
It’s rather interesting to draw parallels to other fighting men Sansa has encountered during her travels and travails in the Seven Kingdoms. I’m thinking Ser Loras and Sandor Clegane primarily, perhaps, as she’s seen them fight in a previous tourney. We know Sandor was dismissive of the Tourney of Gnats, but in general he seems to not really do duels and while he speaks gruffly, he certainly doesn’t as a rule go around threatening old ladies to shut it up or murderdeathkill. Sandor is a younger son who hates his older brother, but we don’t see the vanity and the same ambition in him. While a brutally efficient killer, he doesn’t seem to go out of his way to kill people unless needed. He also lacks Ser Lyn’s pretty looks and “sword thin” physique.
Ser Loras is a hot-headed youth, and like Corbray good-looking (and he happens to swing the same way), but I actually think Loras is less vain and prideful. He is also a younger son, but genuinely likes his older brothers and fights for them. When faced with Brienne in King’s Landing and how he probably killed his Kingsguard brothers for nothing, he is remorseful and not proud, prickly or vain.