Male Influences II

Male Influences II continues the tradition of the first iteration, this time with a detailed focus across five mini-essays on two main influences and “rivals” in Sansa’s life: Sandor Clegane and Petyr Baelish.

The eldest Stark daughter has a very important role to play in how this rivalry unfolds in the text, and it’s one that is critical to the question of her emerging agency. This is due to the fact that she is not functioning as the object or prize in this contest of sorts, but rather as an agent with her own understanding and appreciation of the situation happening around her, not to mention particular wishes and desires. With both Littlefinger and the Hound unaware of each other’s presence and influence in Sansa’s development, the scope for her autonomy and action is significantly increased.

In examining the men’s behaviour in complementary situations and scenes filtered through Sansa’s perspective, we hope to highlight not only some intriguing foreshadowing clues and details for character analysis, but to ultimately centre on what this unknown rivalry means for Sansa’s future, exceeding the issues of romance and compatibility.

Unlike the multitude of contributors for Male Influences I, this version is co-written exclusively by Milady of York and Brashcandy.

 

MALE INFLUENCES II:

A Closer Look at Littlefinger and the Hound I: Scent
A Closer Look at Littlefinger and the Hound II: The Hand’s Tourney
A Closer Look at Littlefinger and the Hound III: Promotions
A Closer Look at Littlefinger and the Hound IV: Family Stories
A Closer Look at Littlefinger and the Hound V: Cloaks
Conclusion

 

 

 I.

Different Scents, Different Intentions

Sansa is a girl that tends to mentally register the smell of people’s breath in emotionally charged situations: she reacts to Dontos’ winey breath, she has a nightmare in which she recalls the garlicky breath of her assailant during the riot, she notes Lady Olenna’s sour breath, she catches that Marillion is drunk by his breath when he tries to assault her, and she notices the same when her aunt attempts at throwing her out the Moon Door, and last when she’s being talked by Baelish into accepting the marriage to Harrold Hardyng… This also happens with the men interested in her, for in their first meeting, one of the first things Sansa notices is the smell of Petyr Baelish’s breath, indicating how close to her the man is as he’s talking to her about how much her mother mattered to him in his youth:

Your mother was my queen of beauty once,” the man said quietly. His breath smelled of mint. “You have her hair.” His fingers brushed against her cheek as he stroked one auburn lock. Quite abruptly he turned and walked away.

This scent is one she will notice repeatedly throughout their later interactions, especially once she’s abducted by him and taken to the Fingers and then to the Eyrie. In the former location is where she hears the first positive remark on this, when Lysa Arryn compares Littlefinger to her late husband Jon Arryn:

“Half his teeth were gone, and his breath smelled like bad cheese. I cannot abide a man with foul breath. Petyr’s breath is always fresh . . . he was the first man I ever kissed, you know.”

So the smell of mint on his breath is permanently associated to her first impressions of him, which weren’t exactly positive, and then it is associated to her aunt by herself. Sansa notices this particular smell again when he kisses her forcefully the first time:

Sansa tried to step back, but he pulled her into his arms and suddenly he was kissing her. Feebly, she tried to squirm, but only succeeded in pressing herself more tightly against him. His mouth was on hers, swallowing her words. He tasted of mint. For half a heartbeat she yielded to his kiss . . . before she turned her face away and wrenched free.

Baelish is the only character in the books that has this smell as a personal characteristic, which raises the question of why exactly does he use mint. The probable explanations are:

  • Cleanliness, but then he’s not someone that stands out due to being a dandy or taking greater care of his appearance compared to the average noble, as Renly Baratheon noticed once; so this alone isn’t a satisfying answer.
  • Masking smells, which could be either bad breath or drinking more mulled wine than he lets out, which is a plausibility that’d obey to either natural causes or the spices in the wine that can cause temporary halitosis.
  • A metaphor for his personality. “Pigs got the mints for their breaths to mask their stinking lies,” as the song by DJ Snack put it so succinctly. The idea of the scent of mint and other herbs as masks for a person’s true self is as old as Hippocrates and Jesus, perhaps older even, as the former believed that a sweet breath reflected not only a healthy body but pleasant character traits too, and the latter was prone to berating the Pharisees (a word that is now synonymous with hypocrisy) on their habit of tithing mint and other herbs that symbolised their moral cleanliness in the eyes of their god, but that given their disregard for justice, mercy and honesty was rather a blatant symbol of their duplicity.

This interpretation is so far the one that looks more accurate in view of Baelish’s manipulative insincerity, and the impression that the author might’ve had this metaphor in mind is supported by the fact that the only other character that chews some herb to freshen his breath is the Kindly Man of the House of Black and White, who, according to Arya, “was fond of chewing orange rinds to sweeten his breath,” and then if we remember that the Faceless Men are professionals in the art of lying and masking emotions, we have the textual evidence to link masking the breath with herbs to lying.

But there’s something else: minty breath is also linked to romance since Antiquity. In archaic Roman literature, poet Ovid advised lovers in Book I: XIII of his Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) to be careful of not going to meet the lover with “bad breath exhaled from unwholesome mouth,” and at that time the method used to eliminate or mask strong-smelling breath or to sweeten it was herbal concoctions and rubbing/chewing mint leaves (or other fragrant herbs); a method that was still very popular during the Middle Ages, with some new inventions also essentially herbal. The association of sweet breath to romance also persisted during that period, as evidenced by medieval writer Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, in one of which—The Miller’s Tale—we read two passages that describe two of the male characters, Nicholas and Absalom, as habitually using herbs for sweetening the breath and chewing fragrant leaves on the eve of going to meet the woman he’s having an affair with respectively:

He had a chamber to himself in that lodging-house, without any company, and handsomely decked with sweet herbs; and he himself was as sweet as the root of licorice or any setwall.
. . .
When the first cock had crowed, up rose this frisky lover, and arrayed him in his gayest with all nicety. But first he chewed cardamoms and licorice to smell sweetly, before he had combed his hair, and put a true-love charm under his tongue, for by this he hoped to find favour.

And how does this relate to Littlefinger’s case? The first time we read about his minty breath isn’t in the scene with Sansa but in one of her mother’s POVs in the first book. In Catelyn XI, we find this passage:

She had not thought of that in years. How young they all had been—she no older than Sansa, Lysa younger than Arya, and Petyr younger still, yet eager. The girls had traded him between them, serious and giggling by turns. It came back to her so vividly she could almost feel his sweaty fingers on her shoulders and taste the mint on his breath. There was always mint growing in the godswood, and Petyr had liked to chew it. He had been such a bold little boy, always in trouble. “He tried to put his tongue in my mouth,” Catelyn had confessed to her sister afterward, when they were alone. “He did with me too,” Lysa had whispered, shy and breathless. “I liked it.”

So there it is, the origins of Petyr Baelish’s habit of chewing mint is intrinsically a part of the feelings he harboured towards Catelyn Tully. The girls and him used to spend time in the godswood at Riverrun, where they’d play kissing, and the boy would chew mint leaves when that happened, an habit that, together with his obsession with Lady Stark, persisted into adulthood. We know from her own memories and from her sister Lysa’s that this childish kissing didn’t mean much to Catelyn, who rejected his advances and never saw him as more than “a brother;” but those kissing games did have an impact on Lysa, who years later still remembers his kiss as her first and speaks positively of the smell of his breath.

It’s therefore very interesting that when they meet, which is also the occasion in which Littlefinger steps out as a suitor in his own mind, Sansa would notice the same thing her mother remembers: the smell of mint on his breath. The next time she notes that is at the Eyrie when he forces a kiss on her, a scene that parallels her mother’s experience: both happen at the godswood, there’s the element of forcing both girls on the part of Littlefinger, both girls react similarly to the taste of mint, both girls reject him, and jealous Lysa witnesses both scenes.

As a curiosity, the very legend about the origins of mint is linked to love and jealousy; according to Greek poet Oppianus, it originated from a nymph from the Underworld river Cocytus called Mintha, who was the lover of Hades, but when he fell in love and abducted Persephone, she “complained loudly with overweening words and raved foolishly for jealousy, and Demeter [Persephone’s mother] in anger trampled upon her with her feet and destroyed her. For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Hades would return to her and banish the other from his halls: such infatuation leapt upon her tongue. And from the earth spray the weak herb that bears her name.”

Sandor Clegane, on the other hand, couldn’t have a more different smell associated to him in situations that had emotional significance. In the same Sansa chapter in which she had met Baelish earlier in the day, he had been drinking at the banquet following the Hand’s tourney, which is the smell she noticed when he stopped on his way escorting her back to her bedchamber:

I’ll tell you what it was, girl,” he said, a voice from the night, a shadow leaning so close now that she could smell the sour stench of wine on his breath.

This is the only time in the first book that she notices any sort of odour in the Hound, and she can easily know the causes, because he tells her that he’s had too much drink and she herself isn’t quite sober either. Interestingly, next time he is undeniably in his cups, during the encounter at the Serpentine steps in the second book, she doesn’t comment on Clegane’s breath despite the proximity, because thrice he was close enough for her to smell the wine on him: when he grabs her by the wrist, when he tells her about her maturing body and, lastly, in front of her bedchamber when he’s cupping her chin and leaning towards her.

The blood masked the worst of his scars, but his eyes were white and wide and terrifying. The burnt corner of his mouth twitched and twitched again. Sansa could smell him; a stink of sweat and sour wine and stale vomit, and over it all the reek of blood, blood, blood.

Here, she can also know the causes: the exertions of the battle and wine, and of the two it’s the scent of blood she’s fixated on. And in this occasion, she’s again also tipsy herself.
On close examination, we can spot that their last and their first conversations run along parallel lines; the similarities are concentrated on six elements:

  • The Hound and Sansa are drunk in both scenes; both unintentionally due to partaking in the banquet in the first one, and intentionally on the Hound’s part the second time.
  • The first encounter ends with the Hound’s threat to Sansa if she reveals his secret, and the second encounter begins with the same threat if she screams and reveals his whereabouts.
  • He mocks her for “repeating” what she was taught and what she hears, in both scenes, before the serious things are said.
  • The Hound insists on Sansa looking at his face right before he’s about to tell her the important things: the truth about his scars, and his offer to take her with him and protect her.
  • Sansa notes the smell of the wine on his breath exactly as he’s saying the important things to her, not before or after.
  • On both occasions, Sansa ends up unexpectedly touching the Hound of her own volition as a response: she places a hand on his shoulder and tells him Gregor is no true knight; and cups his cheek after she sings the Mother’s Hymn.

What does this reveal? Essentially, two things: that having their defences lowered because of their alcohol consumption accounts for the uncharacteristic talk and actions, but not as much or in the way that is commonly believed; and that it’s the emotions stirred by what is happening or what she’s hearing that sharpen Sansa’s sensory sensitivity in general, causing her to be more keenly aware of smells especially, as noted in the introduction listing the scenes in which she perceives odours more sharply.

Elaborating on the former observation, the Hound would have told Sansa his secret independently of drunkenness for two reasons: first, because that idea of alcohol as a disinhibitor of social behaviours all by itself is based on anecdotal “evidence” at best, and scientifically outdated, because the reality is that in people the effects of alcohol are dependent on external cues and not in pure and simple alterations in neurochemistry, because alcohol ingestion doesn’t automatically lead to disinhibited social behaviour, as it can lead to inhibited social behaviour, too; that is, it can go both ways. Which of the two behaviours will prevail depends therefore on other factors, so the key is “external cues.” Meaning that an individual’s reaction is prompted by the circumstances or the persons surrounding him whilst inebriated. Simply put, what prompted Sandor to open his mouth and sing his story was Sansa herself, her behaviour, her attitude, her words, what she stirs in his insides; not the mere fact that he was drunk and therefore it was easier for him. We’re speaking of something that had been haunting him for two decades, something that, considering his PTSD, probably caused nightmares in the nights as is common in trauma victims, something he’d never had the opportunity to speak of to anyone before, and now there’s this courteous and kind little girl chirping niceties to him, a girl that had already caught his attention before this event and whose behaviour gets at him and sparks in him the need to speak up and wipe off that conduct of hers. On the night of the Blackwater is when the disinhibitory effect of wine is more evident, but again, even then there’s the “external cue” factor, as he’d already opened up to her other times before and felt her compassionate reaction to his story, her curiosity, her defiance, etc., so it’s again Sansa herself.

Then we get to the connection of Sansa’s olfactory perception and her emotions. Females in general have a sharper sense of smell and they also tend to be guided by smell in their favourable or unfavourable responses to men; and where this ability kicks in when it comes to emotions is in three aspects in particular: in romance, what’s more important for initial attraction is how the man smells (other factors weigh in later than this one), and it’s not enough to not smell foul or just smell clean but actually smell good, hence the millennia-old advice to would-be Romeos to use herbs, perfumes and all the aromatic paraphernalia that continues to this day. Second, smell also impacts greatly on first impressions, because females tend to unconsciously rate people regardless of gender and age as well as things more positively when there’s a nice scent in the air. And last, they can actually react to negative emotions transmitted through chemical signaling, perceiving odours more keenly when scared or disgusted.

So, applying this theoretical corpus to Sansa’s experience, by all means it should’ve not been the Hound with his far from pleasant wine breath and even less pleasant attitude the one to elicit such a positive reaction from Sansa, because all odds were against him, olfactorily and behaviourally, to scare her forever and have her avoid him thenceforward, as would’ve been logical; yet what he got instead was her trust and her compassion. She was able to see through her own fright and the winey smell to instinctively react to what she was hearing, and sense the real causes and motives, which enabled her to offer what she could at those moments in the form of tactile comforting.

 

II.

No true knight, no true champion

The tournament held in celebration of Lord Eddard’s investment as Hand of the King isn’t only the occasion in which Littlefinger makes his existence known to Sansa, but also the first of only two direct references that give hints about his opinion on the Hound. Before we examine how events unfolded during the last day of the jousts, it’s worthy for the purposes of this analysis to go back again to Littlefinger’s introduction to Sansa on the first day:

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.

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. The man wore a heavy cloak with a fur collar, fastened with a silver mockingbird, and he had the effortless manner of a high lord, but she did not know him. “I have not had the honor, my lord.”

Septa Mordane quickly took a hand. “Sweet child, this is Lord Petyr Baelish, of the king’s small council.”

“Your mother was my queen of beauty once,” the man said quietly. His breath smelled of mint. “You have her hair.” His fingers brushed against her cheek as he stroked one auburn lock. Quite abruptly he turned and walked away.

Now observe the sequence:

  • Loras Tyrell stops in front of Sansa and gives her a red rose, and flatters her comparing victories to her beauty.
  • Sansa is thrilled and concentrates on smelling her “special” rose long after he’s left,
  • And when she lifts up her head, Littlefinger is there staring at her.
  • Instead of introducing himself by name, he mentions her mother,
  • She notices his smile isn’t genuine, and tells him who she is.
  • Mordane introduces him.
  • He presents himself as her mother’s former love, caressing her whilst he speaks, then departs abruptly.

What does all of this indicate? The first salient thing is that the red rose might be hinting that possibly Loras Tyrell would’ve crowned her the Queen of Love and Beauty had he won the tourney, but out of pure gallantry and public relations rather than any particular interest in Sansa herself, as she innocently yet wrongly believed at the time due to her infatuation with him. The reasoning behind this is that in this type of tournament, decreed by the crown, in case the victor didn’t already have a lady of his own choosing in mind to crown, then the rules of courtly behaviour dictated that the chosen one should be the Queen or a royal princess as it was a royal tournament, or the wife or daughters of the high lord that presided over the tourney or in whose honour the festivities were announced. And at this event there is no indication of other ladies present that interested Loras, none of the Tyrell women were there, Queen Cersei didn’t attend the finals and neither did Princess Myrcella, who on top of that was too young to be crowned. So that left Sansa, daughter of the Hand and betrothed of the Crown Prince, as the logical choice for purely his reputation as a gallant jouster in the eyes of the populace and the court. In another type of tourney, the king or high lord presiding could crown his daughter or wife the reigning Queen of Love and Beauty, and five to seven knights would step forward to be her champions, and the rest of the participants would challenge them by turns for the right to champion her, as was the case at the Tourney of Ashford in The Hedge Knight. But this was when the celebration was in the lady’s honour, and not only in fiction but also in the real Middle Ages.

The second salient point is that apparently Littlefinger noticed Sansa because of Loras’ actions, and that he evidently observed her reaction to the red rose, which prompted him to approach her and also explains his words to her, especially his emphasis on “your mother was my Queen of Love and Beauty once.” In other words: he presented himself to Sansa as a champion, a gallant knight like Tyrell who loved her mother. Of course, he was speaking figuratively and not literally; but given that in reality he never won a tourney or a mêlée, never had Catelyn’s love and that when he tried to “champion” her by challenging Brandon Stark to a duel, she refused him her favour—which is how a lady could refuse to acknowledge a knight as her champion—and he was beaten, then this highlights his overconfidence and his willingness to deceive Sansa by setting forth an image of himself as the knightly champion he never was.

At the end of that day, however, it’s Clegane who wins a place amongst the four competitors with a chance to be the champion. Yet he’s no knight. In real-life tournaments, only knights and noblemen had the right to participate in jousts during tournaments, not common soldiers or men without a title, although squires and those who had yet to earn their knighthood could participate in mêlées with others of like rank. In the novels, this seems to be roughly the norm for the most part as well, so that leads to the question of how come Sandor Clegane could participate without formally being a knight, and the answer is: his position at court, but above all his birth. He’s the son of a landed knight, after all, hence he has the privilege by blood if his position and warrior skills weren’t enough to allow him in.

Baelish’s words on the day of the jousting finals are all of them eye-opening little gems. First, when he makes a public bet against the Hound, as soon as Jaime appears after him, he says:

A hundred golden dragons on the Kingslayer,” Littlefinger announced loudly as Jaime Lannister entered the lists, riding an elegant blood bay destrier.

A hundred golden dragons was the reward Cersei offered for the pelt of the direwolf Nymeria [1] at the Trident, where Lady died in her stead; and here Littlefinger is offering the same amount to anyone who’ll accept the bet against the Dog. Lord Renly, the one that had mocked Joffrey back then, accepts the bet, commenting that:

“The Hound has a hungry look about him this morning.”

“Even hungry dogs know better than to bite the hand that feeds them,” Littlefinger called dryly.

Both councillors have lived at court long enough to know him fairly well, but it’s Renly who has assessed the Hound correctly and doesn’t underestimate him. It can be argued that it could be due to his anti-Lannister attitude as well, but he knows firsthand what the Hound can do with a lance and certainly read his intentions on his face. That the Hound was the first jouster to appear is already a big clue about how eager he was to fight. However, Littlefinger believes he’s just a Lannister lackey too mindful of his position to dare best a member of the family that are his overlords, which in itself is quite a valid observation as Duncan the Tall observed at Ashford that contenders avoided challenging Prince Valarr, and those who did would purposefully underperform to enable him to defeat them because he was the eldest son of the crown prince Baelor. But he’s wrong in that such a behaviour doesn’t fit in with the Hound, who has initiative and maintains a degree of independence enough to throw his liege lady’s brother into the dust as is fair play in tourneys, and wouldn’t feign to be a lesser jouster just because of who the opponent is.

Moreover, there’s a good degree of projection on Littlefinger’s part as well, since he did bite all the hands that fed him; the Tullys/Arryns to name some, to whom he owed the education of a highborn he got at Riverrun and his ascent from his first job at Gulltown to his present position. As Littlefinger relies on gold and worldly things to buy loyalties, he apparently thinks no different about the Hound. The only other direct reference to Clegane he makes has again him saying he would give a hundred silver stags to have seen his face when Cersei told him that Lord Eddard had sent men after Gregor, and pointedly mentions that even if Sandor would inherit everything, he wouldn’t be neither thankful nor happy with being robbed of the chance to finish off the Mountain, as if he’d not witnessed how the Hound behaved during the confrontation with his brother at the tourney. So, he basically seems to believe the Hound’s buttons are Lannister gold and killing his brother; therefore it’s not surprising that he’d not entertain even a fleeting suspicion that he and Sansa would come to influence each other positively.

Meanwhile, Sansa’s obvious investment in the match shows again on her face:

The hastily erected gallery trembled as the horses broke into a gallop. The Hound leaned forward as he rode, his lance rock steady, but Jaime shifted his seat deftly in the instant before impact. Clegane’s point was turned harmlessly against the golden shield with the lion blazon, while his own hit square. Wood shattered, and the Hound reeled, fighting to keep his seat. Sansa gasped. A ragged cheer went up from the commons.

“I wonder how I ought spend your money,” Littlefinger called down to Lord Renly.

Littlefinger makes a hasty conclusion that since Jaime broke a lance against Sandor and almost unhorsed him on the first tilt, that means he was right all along and confidently sees himself already a winner, talking about spending a money he doesn’t have yet, not entertaining the possibility that the Hound might recover on the second tilt, which again brings out just how much he underestimates the man and his skills. And recover the Hound does, not just unhorsing Jaime but doing so in a way that humiliated him, as the force of the blow that threw him off his horse dented his helm so badly he couldn’t get it off after. This hungry dog does bite lions after all…

Then, there’s this:

Sansa said, “I knew the Hound would win.”

Littlefinger overheard. “If you know who’s going to win the second match, speak up now before Lord Renly plucks me clean,” he called to her. Ned smiled.

“A pity the Imp is not here with us,” Lord Renly said. “I should have won twice as much.”

Cersei won and Lady died, but Littlefinger lost and the Dog won. History is repeating itself again for the Master of Coin, because this would be the second time in a row that he loses a bet on the Kingslayer. In the last line, Renly is inadvertently revealing that Littlefinger has lied to Catelyn and Eddard about the ownership of the dagger he supposedly lost to Tyrion, within Ned’s earshot, by implying that a Lannister always bets on a Lannister. Tywin had come to that past tournament with his household from the Rock to see his son, Cersei had bet on Jaime, Jaime had bet on himself; so why would’ve the Imp of all people been the only lion to bet against the brother he adores? Unfortunately, Ned didn’t make the connection and Baelish got away with his treachery.

Sansa, on the other hand, had been betting on the Hound. How is it that she “knew” he’d win? Up until the night before, she hadn’t entertained the thought of rooting for him, as it was Loras she was considering as the likely champion, and so she commented to Joffrey, who was the one that believed either the Hound or Jaime would win over Tyrell. So what changed her mind and made her hope for Clegane to win should’ve been the story of his burns. But why? It’s been theorised that because she created a song in her head in which Clegane became the Gallant Knight that beat the Big Baddie in just retribution for all the pain he caused, but this isn’t a satisfactory hypothesis. Firstly, it was not known beforehand to either Sansa or anybody else who would face whom, because during the elimination rounds previous to the one-to-one final each knight had the right to challenge any of the others, and would do so in two ways: tapping his shield with his lance or riding forward to the lists after the contender, which means that if they didn’t do the former off-page, then Jaime was the one that challenged Sandor, who was the first contender to appear in the field and according to the rules could be challenged by any of the other three competitors who wished to. So, when the Hound accepted the Kingslayer’s challenge, that left Gregor to fight Loras for the last slot.

Secondly, Sansa was still on Loras’ side and was wearing the rose he gave her, so when he rode to face the Mountain this would’ve been the True Knight vs. Big Baddie match like in the songs for her, especially now that she knows what Gregor is capable of: burning his own brother and murdering a green knight by aiming at his loosely protected neck, which is foul play because the rules were to aim only to any point in the opponent’s chest, his shoulders, his helm, his shield or his lance, and if you killed someone during the jousts, then you lost points at best or were disqualified at worst, depending on whether the death was accidental or intentional. It’s therefore curious that Gregor should still be participating after that with the tourney judges’ (and the king was one of them) acquiescence, which adds more context to the Hound’s anger at Sansa’s innocent words and his “Gregor’s lance goes where Gregor wants it to go.” That explains why she also begs Ned not to let him harm Tyrell; and her later discourse on heroes and monsters when she wonders why Ned didn’t send him to arrest the Mountain supports the above interpretation.

Therefore, it looks like she made that bet because she wanted the Hound to win because of himself, independently of the rivals he’d face. The other day, she’d been composed as she observed the jousts, earning looks of approval from her septa, so she had no real emotional investment in the jousts or jousters beyond enjoying the festivities, the first she attended in her life. But now her demeanour shows more emotion: she is “moist-eyed,” “eager,” and “gasped” when her favourite almost fell. Not only that, but she seems to have been determined not to miss the finals for anything, and as her septa, Jeyne and Arya wouldn’t go, and she couldn’t be there unchaperoned and alone, she made her father promise to accompany her, and a reluctant Eddard had to keep to himself his wish that the Hound and the Kingslayer both lose when he notices his daughter’s enthusiasm for the match. Those are the first clues that Sansa didn’t decide on the spot, but that her rooting for him had been decided the day before, when she got to know him more.

It seems to have been cooking slowly, not decided purely on the basis of the story of his burns he told her but her overall thoughts based on events during the entire day, starting with what she’d already observed of his performance that day: someone who “seemed unstoppable,” “[rode] down one foe after the next in ferocious style,” sent Renly flying “backward off his charger, legs in the air,” which gives the image of a skilled warrior, therefore a serious contender for the championship. His brother is also described as unstoppable and ferocious, but Sansa can see the difference by herself, because Gregor kills a man in front of her, whereas Sandor plays according to the tourney procedures, “gallantly” as she put it, though he lacks courtly finesse. So, this means he’s not just skilled but someone that can win fairly no matter the opponent. Then comes the crowning moment, in which she gets a glimpse into his inner self, learns what really motivates him, what is behind that rage and contempt for knighthood; the piece that completes the puzzle. Completed, the picture is this: an excellent fighter, who respects the rules of this game, and has a drive to win fuelled by inner motivators the others don’t have. That could be why Sansa “knew” he’d win against Jaime, a combination of intuition and knowledge.

As the second match starts, however, the True Knight is unveiled as a dishonourable trickster:

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. […] Ser Gregor was having trouble controlling his horse. The stallion was screaming and pawing the ground, shaking his head. The Mountain kicked at the animal savagely with an armored boot. The horse reared and almost threw him.

The Knight of Flowers saluted the king, rode to the far end of the list, and couched his lance, ready. Ser Gregor brought his animal to the line, fighting with the reins. And suddenly it began. The Mountain’s stallion broke in a hard gallop, plunging forward wildly, while the mare charged as smooth as a flow of silk. Ser Gregor wrenched his shield into position, juggled with his lance, and all the while fought to hold his unruly mount on a straight line, and suddenly Loras Tyrell was on him, placing the point of his lance just there, and in an eye blink the Mountain was failing. He was so huge that he took his horse down with him in a tangle of steel and flesh.

When Jaime fell, it was his good-brother Robert who laughed most loudly; and now that Gregor has fallen, it’s his little brother’s turn to laugh. Both Lannister and Tyrell used tricks on the Cleganes, but the difference is that Jaime’s trick was a legitimate and permissible technique: in historical tournaments, what he did was called “Saddle swerve” and was done with the purpose of hitting the rival by surprise whilst avoiding being hit at the same time, and if done successfully and properly it earned the knight one point (jousts could be won by accumulation of points per run if none of the knights was unhorsed after 3 tilts), whereas Tyrell’s trick was plain bad sportsmanship; because a tournament was above all about chivalry and chivalric demeanour, and that’s the reason why some actions that were acceptable on the battlefield, such as hitting the eye slit, lancing the opponent in a badly protected body part, lancing or killing his horse, lancing the foe in the back, and the rest of the less-than-chivalrous arsenal of battlefield tricks that gave one an advantage over the other were verboten and grounds for disqualification. That he used it on another knight who also played foul doesn’t make it any less unacceptable, and leaves one wondering on whether in his past victory he could’ve used another undetectable trick to vanquish Jaime, a much more experienced tourneyer.

Then it fell on the Hound to defend this True Knight from the Big Baddie, when his sore loser of a brother hits an innocent squire and attempts at murdering Loras:

The Knight of Flowers was shouting for his own sword as Ser Gregor knocked his squire aside and made a grab for the reins of his horse. The mare scented blood and reared. Loras Tyrell kept his seat, but barely. Ser Gregor swung his sword, a savage two-handed blow that took the boy in the chest and knocked him from the saddle. The courser dashed away in panic as Ser Loras lay stunned in the dirt. But as Gregor lifted his sword for the killing blow, a rasping voice warned, “Leave him be,” and a steel-clad hand wrenched him away from the boy.

Notice that Sandor doesn’t attack his brother, he doesn’t even lift his sword threateningly or defensively. He just pushes Gregor away from Loras and warns him verbally not to hurt him.

The Mountain pivoted in wordless fury, swinging his longsword in a killing arc with all his massive strength behind it, but the Hound caught the blow and turned it, and for what seemed an eternity the two brothers stood hammering at each other as a dazed Loras Tyrell was helped to safety. Thrice Ned saw Ser Gregor aim savage blows at the hound’s-head helmet, yet not once did Sandor send a cut at his brother’s unprotected face.

So, it’s Gregor who overreacts to that warning by attempting to kill Sandor instead of Loras, and only then Sandor uses his longsword to defend himself. The wording is clear: “killing arc with all his massive strength behind it,” “savage blows at the hound’s-head helmet,” so there’s no mistaking the Mountain’s intentions: he was seriously trying to kill his little brother. This would be the perfect opportunity, perhaps the only one, for Sandor to kill his brother, and he could do it legitimately and without legal consequences for four reasons: a. he intervened to save Loras Tyrell, b. he didn’t provoke Gregor, he was attacked first, c. he could kill or at least maim Gregor in legitimate self-defence as he was trying to murder him, d. he would’ve possibly been backed by the Hand or the King, as The Ned had shouted for someone to stop Gregor, and he still attempted one last blow at Sandor’s head after Robert ordered them to stop.

Yet, for all his talking to the four winds about his wish to send Gregor to meet his ancestors, the Hound doesn’t even try and wound his brother, not even to knock him unconscious by aiming a precise blow to his uncovered head, as hitting an opponent’s unprotected face whilst you are helmeted is dishonourable. On the contrary, the Hound put his own safety at risk by intervening to save Loras, because even if he’s a skilled fighter, his brother is crazy strong and there was a reason for his fixation on hitting Sandor’s head: a helm can protect you only until a certain point, and Gregor’s inhuman strength hammering at it would cave a helm in, causing damage to the skull as it happened with Baelor Breakspear. Gregor’s greatsword, like his lance and his fist, goes where Gregor wants it to go.

The emphasis GRRM puts on the Hound’s not aiming a cut at his brother’s unprotected head isn’t meant only to show that he has no intention of harming or killing him whereas Gregor does, it’s not meant only to set both brothers apart, to differentiate them. It has another purpose, which we can glean from this passage in The Hedge Knight:

One-eyed Ser Robyn Rhysling, a grizzled old knight with a salt-and-pepper beard, lost his helm to Lord Leo’s lance in their first course, yet refused to yield. Three times more, they rode at each other, the wind whipping Ser Robyn’s hair while the shards of broken lances flew round his bare face like wooden knives, which Dunk thought all the more wondrous when Egg told him that Ser Robyn had lost his eye to a splinter from a broken lance not five years earlier. Leo Tyrell was too chivalrous to aim another lance at Ser Robyn’s unprotected head, but even so Rhysling’s stubborn courage (or was it folly?) left Dunk astounded. Finally the Lord of Highgarden struck Ser Robyn’s breastplate a solid thump right over the heart and sent him cartwheeling to the earth.

Duncan the Tall, an honourable man by all accounts, considers Leo Tyrell, ancestor of Loras, too chivalrous to even try to knock his rival by hitting his head. And Eddard Stark, also by all accounts an honourable man, observes exactly the same refusal to hit an unprotected head even if here there are valid reasons such as self-defence. Therefore, that was meant to highlight that it was a chivalric deed on the Hound’s part.

“Is the Hound the champion now?” Sansa asked Ned.

“No,” he told her. “There will be one final joust, between the Hound and the Knight of Flowers.”

But Sansa had the right of it after all. A few moments later Ser Loras Tyrell walked back onto the field in a simple linen doublet and said to Sandor Clegane, “I owe you my life. The day is yours, ser.”

“I am no ser,” the Hound replied, but he took the victory, and the champion’s purse, and, for perhaps the first time in his life, the love of the commons. They cheered him as he left the lists to return to his pavilion.

Thus Sandor Clegane won the Hand’s Tourney not thanks to his jousting prowess, as he was surely expecting, but because of a good deed; and Sansa is the first one to point it out.

This man protected the weak, as every true knight must,” replied Prince Baelor.

That line from The Hedge Knight underlines the irony of his championship: the Hound has done enough bad deeds to be labeled as a No True Knight, but became the champion of a great tournament by defending a defenceless man, doing what a True Knight is supposed to do. Very fitting considering that, after all, fomenting chivalry amongst the warrior class was the original idea for institutionalising tournaments.

___________________________

[1] AGOT Eddard III:

Robert started to walk away, but the queen was not done. “And what of the direwolf?” she called after him. “What of the beast that savaged your son?”

The king stopped, turned back, frowned. “I’d forgotten about the damned wolf.”

Ned could see Arya tense in Jory’s arms. Jory spoke up quickly. “We found no trace of the direwolf, Your Grace.”

Robert did not look unhappy. “No? So be it.”

The queen raised her voice. “A hundred golden dragons to the man who brings me its skin!”

 

III.

The Hound and the Mockingbird Climb up the Ladder

Of both men, Sandor Clegane is the first to be promoted when he’s chosen to be a member of the Kingsguard, the first non-knight in the history of Westeros to wear the white cloak, discounting Duncan the Tall, about whom we don’t possess enough information yet. In the scene where he achieves a higher status, narrated in AGOT Sansa V, the reasons for his promotion are the “life and safety of King Joffrey,” an explanation that the Council and the Lannisters give for dismissing Ser Barristan Selmy on grounds of being too old to protect the new sovereign, because Joffrey wants “men who are young and strong” in the institution, and because they want Jaime as the new Lord Commander.

Once Selmy retires, it’s Littlefinger who brings up the need to have a replacement for him, which leads to selecting the Hound:

 “Your Grace,” Littlefinger reminded the king. “If we might resume, the seven are now six. We find ourselves in need of a new sword for your Kingsguard.”

Joffrey smiled. “Tell them, Mother.”

“The king and council have determined that no man in the Seven Kingdoms is more fit to guard and protect His Grace than his sworn shield, Sandor Clegane.”

“How do you like that, dog?” King Joffrey asked.

The Hound’s scarred face was hard to read. He took a long moment to consider. “Why not? I have no lands nor wife to forsake, and who’d care if I did?” The burned side of his mouth twisted. “But I warn you, I’ll say no knight’s vows.”

“The Sworn Brothers of the Kingsguard have always been knights,” Ser Boros said firmly.

“Until now,” the Hound said in his deep rasp, and Ser Boros fell silent.

Petyr Baelish’s promotion comes later, alongside a line of men that are rewarded for their role in the conflagration at the Blackwater. There it was Kevan Lannister the one to announce what he’d get for bringing the Tyrells to the lions’ side:

It is the wish of the King’s Grace that his loyal councilor Petyr Baelish be rewarded for faithful service to crown and realm. Be it known that Lord Baelish is granted the castle of Harrenhal with all its attendant lands and incomes, there to make his seat and rule henceforth as Lord Paramount of the Trident. Petyr Baelish and his sons and grandsons shall hold and enjoy these honors until the end of time, and all the lords of the Trident shall do him homage as their rightful liege. The King’s Hand and the small council consent.

On his knees, Littlefinger raised his eyes to King Joffrey. “I thank you humbly, Your Grace. I suppose this means I’ll need to see about getting some sons and grandsons.”

On first glance, the salient points in those scenes are: that both men are being promoted by Lannisters for services to the Lannisters after a fight with another major House, that in both promotions one Kingsguard is gone and another Kingsguard arrives, that they address marriage and family in their acceptance speech, and Sansa’s dissimilar thoughts on these events.

But these parallels hide divergences that are revealed once one scratches the thin veil of similarity that covers them. Starting with the reasons for the promotion, both men earned it thanks to their respective martial and political skills put to use for the benefit of House Lannister, but whilst Clegane is a loyal bannerman of said House and is given the responsibility to guard the king’s life, Baelish chose to side with them in their confrontation with the former Hand, and even if he owes keeping his position in the Council and his new one to them, he has no loyalty to spare and the gift he’s brought to the Lannisters and that has earned him his titles is a poisoned one, literally and figuratively. Interestingly, both men’s first actions involving Sansa immediately after their promotions violate the duty of loyalty to the Crown and are therefore classified as high treason: the Hound counsels her on how to behave so as to avoid beatings and then stops her from killing Joffrey and herself, keeping silent afterwards instead of revealing that to the king and Council, as was his duty as Kingsguard, or to Cersei, as was his duty as Lannister vassal; and in the same chapter where he’s promoted in ACOK, Petyr Baelish sends Dontos with the amethyst hair net to be used to poison Joffrey and frame her for murder. Thus, in the end, not only their loyalty but also their disloyalty have different motives and outcomes.

Then we have the Kingsguard membership: during Clegane’s appointment, Ser Barristan is dismissed and he tries at least to keep a measure of dignity by refusing the consolation boon they’re offering him and strips himself of helm, cloak and armour, saying that he prefers to die a knight, and Littlefinger mocks him, provoking a collective laughter in which Clegane also engages, that contrasts with Sansa’s sympathy for the humiliated elderly Lord Commander. The Hound is the one to symbolically pick up the discarded white cloak when he agrees to fill in the slot Selmy has left, the same cloak that Sansa knelt on to plead for her father, which would herald that he’d do precisely the same thing a year later, also throwing down his own white cloak to be picked up by Sansa, unbeknownst to him as it was to Selmy. Thus the first Kingsguard to be retired unwillingly and the first Kingsguard to leave voluntarily follow a similar pattern at the end of their career as White Swords.

As for Baelish’s elevation to the rank of Lord Paramount, at the same time a new member of the Kingsguard was also named as replacement for the Hound: Loras Tyrell, and we know from later books that this was an idea suggested by Littlefinger, the same one to have pointed out that there was a vacancy when Selmy left, but he is hardly anything to do with Sandor Clegane’s promotion, because the responsibility for Selmy’s dismissal is to be laid at Varys’ feet and the white cloak around the Hound’s shoulders at Joffrey’s, if we are to believe what Queen Cersei reveals in ACOK Tyrion I.

The third topic that stands out is both men’s first words when their new positions are announced:

The Hound:

Why not? I have no lands nor wife to forsake, and who’d care if I did?

Littlefinger:

I suppose this means I’ll need to see about getting some sons and grandsons.

Both allude to the same wishes, but Sandor is giving up any hope of having a home, a wife and trueborn children, so this takes him a “long moment to consider,” which could reveal that up to that point he might’ve been still harbouring such a desire. It’s also interesting to note that his words are a commentary on Ser Barristan’s, because they come right after the old knight recounts the things he’s had to forsake to join the Kingsguard, namely his status as heir to the Selmy lands and the girl who was his betrothed, and got a cold derisive reaction for his troubles. Indeed, no one cared about what Selmy had to sacrifice to be a royal guard, and no one would care for what Sandor might have to desist from pursuing.

Littlefinger, however, sees his new status as the ideal moment to begin looking for a wife and children, which accounts for his smiles and smugness as he’s raised to Lord Paramount of the Trident and Lord of Harrenhal, because no matter how empty that title might be and how cursed the castle, it’s one that will enable him to marry Lysa Tully, therefore effectively acquiring a wife and a stepson, and later a “daughter,” Sansa herself, for whom he has some twisted plans in store.

Lastly, we have Sansa’s reactions during both promotions. When witnessing the Hound’s ascent, Sansa was taking mental note of the names of the people rewarded and punished for their deeds after the clash with the Starks and the Baratheons respectively, and she reacted adversely to Janos Slynt’s new title, announced by Pycelle:

 “It is also the wish of His Grace that his loyal servant, Janos Slynt, Commander of the City Watch of King’s Landing, be at once raised to the rank of lord and granted the ancient seat of Harrenhal with all its attendant lands and incomes, and that his sons and grandsons shall hold these honors after him until the end of time. It is moreover his command that Lord Slynt be seated immediately upon his small council, to assist in the governance of the realm. So the king has decreed. The small council consents.”

Which are exactly the same words employed by Ser Kevan with regard to Littlefinger, “official bureaucratic speak” as it goes, but that “raised goose prickles up and down Sansa’s arms” at the sight of his new sigil: a bloody spear on a black field, a reminder that it was a title earned by spilling the blood of Eddard Stark. For that, she later would pray that some hero would cut Slynt’s head off. Her reaction to Littlefinger’s new title was no more positive: first she questions why he’d get a reward in the first place, because unlike the others that have gotten titles and gold or armour for their performance in battle, the man had apparently not done anything worthy of a reward; and then because she realised that it would mean more Stark and Tully blood would be spilt:

Lord Paramount of the Trident, Sansa thought, and Lord of Harrenhal as well. She did not understand why that should make him so happy; the honors were as empty as the title granted to Hallyne the Pyromancer. Harrenhal was cursed, everyone knew that, and the Lannisters did not even hold it at present. Besides, the lords of the Trident were sworn to Riverrun and House Tully, and to the King in the North; they would never accept Littlefinger as their liege. Unless they are made to. Unless my brother and my uncle and my grandfather are all cast down and killed. The thought made Sansa anxious, but she told herself she was being silly. Robb has beaten them every time. He’ll beat Lord Baelish too, if he must.

Yet Slynt had no time to enjoy the title for long, much less was he able to pass it on to his “sons and grandsons,” courtesy of a Lannister who sent him to the Wall where he’d get his head chopped off, courtesy of Jon Snow. Littlefinger was behind Slynt’s title of Lord of Harrenhal, the same one he’s now gotten for himself, and this time Sansa isn’t wishing him well either: she hopes her brother Robb will beat Baelish. Unfortunately, the King in the North was prematurely murdered. But Sansa still has three brothers: she has Jon, who would be now her trueborn-by-decree elder brother and Robb’s successor depending on what is in his will and how it plays out; she has Brandon with his warging and skinchanging, she has Rickon who would rally the North; any of which could theoretically “beat” him metaphorically by interfering with his schemes even if indirectly.

 

IV.

Ancestry Pride and Contempt

Littlefinger and the Hound both shared personal stories with Sansa on the same day, but there is where the similarities stop, for not only her reaction to the revelations but also the content and focus of their stories set the men apart. When Littlefinger met Sansa, the story he told her is about himself and her mother:

“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. The man wore a heavy cloak with a fur collar, fastened with a silver mockingbird, and he had the effortless manner of a high lord, but she did not know him. “I have not had the honor, my lord.”

Septa Mordane quickly took a hand. “Sweet child, this is Lord Petyr Baelish, of the king’s small council.”

“Your mother was my queen of beauty once,” the man said quietly. His breath smelled of mint. “You have her hair.” His fingers brushed against her cheek as he stroked one auburn lock. Quite abruptly he turned and walked away.

Here we observe that he presents his relationship with Catelyn in very romantic terms, and suggesting that the feelings were mutual as intimated by his words, an implicit falseness as such amorous feelings had been one-sided. Later, on the ship taking Sansa to the Fingers, he would complement the tale with further details that also imply the reciprocity of those feelings:

He brushed back a strand of her hair. “You are old enough to know that your mother and I were more than friends. There was a time when Cat was all I wanted in this world. I dared to dream of the life we might make and the children she would give me… but she was a daughter of Riverrun, and Hoster Tully. Family, Duty, Honor, Sansa. Family, Duty, Honor meant I could never have her hand. But she gave me something finer, a gift a woman can give but once.

With these additions, the story he’d told her before is transformed into a tale of lost love, a tragic romance between the lowborn boy who wanted the hand of the highborn girl that wanted him back but were separated by paternal pride and social conventions. This is a tale that would’ve had the old Sansa he’d met at the Hand’s tourney sigh dreamily and shed a tear over, considering that her favourite stories were the ones of impossible love: Florian and Jonquil, Aemon and Naerys. So, from that perspective it looks like he’d cleverly devised this as a way to ensure a positive image of himself in her eyes, to impress upon her young mind that what he has done, is doing and will do is in the name of the love he felt for her mother. But this is a positive image carved out with a personal story filled with imprecisions and untruths that put a veil over his obsessive and failed pursuit of a woman promised to another man; and a different Sansa doesn’t particularly fuss over this.

Additionally, it’s not something that only Sansa would be privy to, as Littlefinger had been telling the same story all over King’s Landing, if we are to believe Tyrion Lannister’s words to Catelyn in person, therefore many, many people knew it already, which shows how daring and tactless he was in spreading this story and how cocky, taking into account that it could have meant trouble had it reached Lord Eddard’s ears as well once he came to the city as Hand; and the story of how he challenged Brandon Stark to a duel for Catelyn’s hand is also old news at court, as evidenced by Varys’ and Renly’s curiosity when both men met at the Council. And of all the Stark children at least Arya knows this as well, but Sansa doesn’t, which is an odd reversion of truths known and untruths unknown between both Starks: the father knows that Littlefinger fought for his wife’s hand, but ignores that he claims he took her maidenhead; and the daughter ignores that Littlefinger fought for her mother’s hand, but knows his claims to have taken her maidenhead. The Ned had no opportunity to find out, but Sansa still can figure out she was lied to; placing together the bits and pieces of damning information that her aunt sputtered before she died could be one way of achieving that.

The story Sandor Clegane told her was also about his youth, yet far more eloquent and emotion-filled that it’d be expected from someone like him:

“Most of them, they think it was some battle. A siege, a burning tower, an enemy with a torch. One fool asked if it was dragonsbreath.” His laugh was softer this time, but just as bitter. “I’ll tell you what it was, girl,” he said, a voice from the night, a shadow leaning so close now that she could smell the sour stench of wine on his breath. “I was younger than you, six, maybe seven. A woodcarver set up shop in the village under my father’s keep, and to buy favor he sent us gifts. The old man made marvelous toys. I don’t remember what I got, but it was Gregor’s gift I wanted. A wooden knight, all painted up, every joint pegged separate and fixed with strings, so you could make him fight. Gregor is five years older than me, the toy was nothing to him, he was already a squire, near six foot tall and muscled like an ox. So I took his knight, but there was no joy to it, I tell you. I was scared all the while, and true enough, he found me. There was a brazier in the room. Gregor never said a word, just picked me up under his arm and shoved the side of my face down in the burning coals and held me there while I screamed and screamed. You saw how strong he is. Even then, it took three grown men to drag him off me. The septons preach about the seven hells. What do they know? Only a man who’s been burned knows what hell is truly like.

My father told everyone my bedding had caught fire, and our maester gave me ointments. Ointments! Gregor got his ointments too. Four years later, they anointed him with the seven oils and he recited his knightly vows and Rhaegar Targaryen tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Arise, Ser Gregor.

This is told in the spur of the moment as a response to Sansa’s talk, not planned or calculated, and with this tale the ill-tempered and ill-reputed Hound bares his soul, revealing that he was a victim of abuse and a murder attempt, which belies the assumptions people make about himself: that he’s such a hard and brutal man whose only wounds are those sustained in battle, and always has been, since that’s what his brother was like since childhood too. By Sandor’s soft yet bitter laughter, we can sense that he is aware that nobody seemed to have entertained the thought that the scars could’ve had a different origin, and that he allowed everybody to speculate to their heart’s content, possibly whilst pretending not to care; but in Sansa’s presence the whole unpleasant and unadorned truth is laid out for her to learn, ponder on and decide what to make of it.

The story wasn’t meant to put the Hound in good light, his intentions weren’t even positive as he sought to scare Sansa out of her idealistic take on knights; he was supposed to reveal a monstrosity of a man but instead ended up revealing a traumatised child, one that according to fan speculation was himself a very idealistic one. And indeed, there’s reasons to believe his preference for a toy knight indicates precisely that, but there’s more to it than just idealism: it can indicate that he was about to start his formal training as a page previous to that of squire, the first and second steps towards knighthood. I base this argument on two facts within the novels that can be corroborated by actual historical data: a. that only children of the nobility, from landed knights up, were given formal martial training from age 7 onwards, and b. that those toy knights were more than just simple toys; they were given to noble boys for didactic reasons as well, because with them they could learn about jousting and the proper handling of lances, maces and hammers; and if they were of the wooden variety with loose extremities attached with strings that allowed movement, they could learn about swordfighting moves and footwork. Taking into account that Clegane was about to turn 7 at the time, and showed interest in a toy knight that he “could make fight,” then it’s probable that he was mentally readying himself for starting his formal training, which he knew or was told that would come soon, and was daydreaming about deeds of glory, the Kingsguard, the Dragonknight, what have you; a possibility that could be supported by the thematic parallel to Bran, who was aged 7, had just begun to train with wooden swords and was dreaming of becoming a great knight when he was crippled.

Yet despite the intentions and the threat that followed, what he got in return was Sansa’s sympathy and understanding, things he wouldn’t expect either. And she does cherish being the only one apart from the two Cleganes who knows this, as when she mentally defends the Hound from the rumours she overhears on his supposed desertion for cowardice, citing his fear of fire originated from his scarring as the reason. Coincidentally, in this case there’s again a parallel between what Eddard and Sansa know: she’s the only one who knows how the Hound got his burns, and her father’s the only character that silently connects the disquiet he feels about Gregor at the Hand’s tourney to the rumours about “the fire that had disfigured his brother,” thus inadvertently hitting the nail on the head.

Since both men are from third-generation lower nobility, the family stories they both tell Sansa are about how their respective Houses came into existence. The Hound was the first one to narrate the story of his ancestor, on Sansa’s inquiry:

As they were winding their way up the steps, she said, “Why do you let people call you a dog? You won’t let anyone call you a knight.”

I like dogs better than knights. My father’s father was kennelmaster at the Rock. One autumn year, Lord Tytos came between a lioness and her prey. The lioness didn’t give a shit that she was Lannister’s own sigil. Bitch tore into my lord’s horse and would have done for my lord too, but my grandfather came up with the hounds. Three of his dogs died running her off. My grandfather lost a leg, so Lannister paid him for it with lands and a towerhouse, and took his son to squire. The three dogs on our banner are the three that died, in the yellow of autumn grass. A hound will die for you, but never lie to you. And he’ll look you straight in the face.

And later she’d hear Littlefinger’s story in two separate narrations after he takes her to the Fingers:

Above the hearth hung a broken longsword and a battered oaken shield, its paint cracked and flaking.

The device painted on the shield was one Sansa did not know; a grey stone head with fiery eyes, upon a light green field. “My grandfather’s shield,” Petyr explained when he saw her gazing at it. “His own father was born in Braavos and came to the Vale as a sellsword in the hire of Lord Corbray, so my grandfather took the head of the Titan as his sigil when he was knighted.”

“It’s very fierce,” said Sansa.

“Rather too fierce, for an amiable fellow like me,” said Petyr. “I much prefer my mockingbird.”

. . .

Farther inland a dozen families lived in huts of piled stone beside a peat bog. “Mine own smallfolk,” Petyr said, though only the oldest seemed to know him. There was a hermit’s cave on his land as well, but no hermit. “He’s dead now, but when I was a boy my father took me to see him. The man had not washed in forty years, so you can imagine how he smelled, but supposedly he had the gift of prophecy. He groped me a bit and said I would be a great man, and for that my father gave him a skin of wine.” Petyr snorted. “I would have told him the same thing for half a cup.”

Here we see that there are fewer similarities than differences: both stories reveal that the first noble in the family was their paternal grandfathers, both achieved a roughly similar rank of hedge knight/landed knight and served a high lord. All the rest is different: the grandparents’ origins and professions, the nature of the service that earned them their title, as well as the grandsons’ tone when narrating their elders’ deeds, their attitude towards the lands and smallfolk, and finally their identification with the House sigil chosen by each grandsire.

Starting with Grandfather Clegane, Sandor’s eloquence bordering on minimalist lyricism transmits to the reader the pride he feels about that commoner who earned a living breeding dogs for the high lord he served, and served faithfully, at the cost of an extremity and three of his hounds, which resulted in his elevation in status and the surname Clegane that Sandor now has. I make the latter assertion based on the fact that the Westerosi commoners don’t have one; surnames are a privilege of nobles born or made and of their acknowledged bastards, therefore that hound breeder was the first one to adopt this surname. And the grandson’s pride in his history is in no way diminished because of the infamy brought about by Gregor, the horrible childhood memories, the neglectful attitude of his father after his burning, nor by how his brother treats the smallfolk and what he turned the ancestral house into: “a grim place where servants disappeared unaccountably and even the dogs were afraid to enter the hall,” according to gossip Eddard recalls. On the contrary, he clung to that memory and instead of modifying the sigil to have a slightly distinct one for his personal use, since as a second son he could start a cadet branch with a new coat of arms, he kept it and adopted the Hound as a moniker, which, negative as it is, nonetheless has for him the same implicit positive symbolism that his grandfather had in mind: in heraldic symbology, the colour yellow gold meant generosity, which would be a nod to Lord Tytos’ prodigality, and having a dog in a family crest meant that said family held the virtues of courage, fidelity and sincerity in high regard. Such qualities are implied in Sandor’s explanation for adopting a canine sobriquet: “A hound will die for you (courage and fidelity), but never lie to you (sincerity).”

He is therefore very conscious that he owes his present status to the efforts of an ancestor and to the Lannisters, which would account for his loyalty to them independently of the unflattering opinions he may have about them. It’s three generations of Cleganes serving the Rock and rising steadily: his grandfather saved Lord Tytos, his father squired at the Rock, possibly for Lord Tytos as well, so he knew Tywin since boyhood, his brother squiring was likely at the Rock as well, and Sandor himself knew where to escape to find protection from him and earn a living: in the Rock the service record of the Cleganes was known to the liege lord, and a Lannister always pays his debts, especially when the “debt” turns out to be an efficient tool they can use, so they took him in, and soon he distinguished himself enough to be assigned as Queen Cersei’s sworn shield.

Continuing with Grandfather Baelish, Petyr’s tone when relating his history ranges from dismissive to mocking to arrogant; there are no traces of pride or at least respect in his words. Moreover, he doesn’t tell how his grandfather became a Ser; there are so many ways to earn a knighthood, good and unethical, in war and in peacetime, and had the deed been noteworthy, likely it’d have been narrated. Instead, we only get a description of the sigil his grandsire adopted: the Titan of Braavos, which indicates that the man did feel proud of his origins, unlike his grandson, and it’s quite probable that the surname Baelish he passed on to his descendants is this man’s own father’s lowborn Braavosi surname as well, because we know from the text that Essosi commoners can have surnames: Syrio’s is Forel, Daario’s is Naharis, and so on. And then, Littlefinger doesn’t relate how his own father became a lord either, which stands out because one would assume that for a son of a mere hedge knight with no lands to his name to become a landed lord would be cause for wonderment, yet there’s silence about that. Did the first Lord Baelish get that title and those lands through marriage to an heiress, then? Likely, because so far in the novels we’ve seen that this is one way to obtain such a title, and the other option is to distinguish oneself for services to the Crown, because only a monarch or a regent can grant a title of lord, and high lords themselves generally grant only lesser titles such as that of landed knight, which would explain why the first Clegane didn’t get a higher rank for saving a Lannister. What we know is that by the time the first Lord Baelish befriended Hoster Tully, he was already a lord; so that makes it less likely that he earned the title for services to the Targaryens during the War of the Ninepenny Kings.

In any case, Littlefinger’s disdain toward his forebears is extended to the family’s seat and its smallfolk; he’s constantly referring to his home and the servants and inhabitants in disparaging terms:

“And there it stands, miserable as it is. My ancestral home. It has no name, I fear. A great lord’s seat ought to have a name, wouldn’t you agree? Winterfell, the Eyrie, Riverrun, those are castles. Lord of Harrenhal now, that has a sweet ring to it, but what was I before? Lord of Sheepshit and Master of the Dreadfort? It lacks a certain something.”

. . .

“But not here,” she said, dismayed. “It looks so…”

“… small and bleak and mean? It’s all that, and less. The Fingers are a lovely place, if you happen to be a stone.”

. . .

“Nothing says home like the smell of burning dung.”

. . .

“You did, my lord. You said you’d be getting some more men too, but you never did. Me and the dogs stand all the watches.”

“And very well, I’m sure. No one has made off with any of my rocks or sheep pellets, I see that plainly.” Petyr gestured toward the fat woman. “Kella minds my vast herds. How many sheep do I have at present, Kella?”

She had to think a moment. “Three and twenty, m’lord. There was nine and twenty, but Bryen’s dogs killed one and we butchered some others and salted down the meat.”

“Ah, cold salt mutton. I must be home. When I break my fast on gulls’ eggs and seaweed soup, I’ll be certain of it.”

. . .

Lord Petyr made a face. “Come, let’s see if my hall is as dreary as I recall.”

The place is indeed very modest, just a small windowless towerhouse with only one bedchamber, a hall and a kitchen, where the servants “lived and slept in the kitchen at ground level, sharing the space with a huge brindled mastiff and a half-dozen sheepdogs.” So, from that perspective, it certainly isn’t an attractive place to an ambitious man like Littlefinger. But then, his neglectful attitude is responsible for the “dreary” state of his keep and the precarious living conditions of his peasants, because had he cared a bit he could have improved his home and the inhabitants’ quality of life; he had plenty of time for that and it’d not even required his stay there, since he could appoint someone else for that task whilst he was in King’s Landing. His words suggest that what he doesn’t appreciate is to be reminded of his origins, since he descends from lowly and foreign swords-for-hire with no particularly heroic or noteworthy deeds to talk about, and that he always had ambitions of climbing higher, as that story of the hermit is previous to his being sent to Riverrun, where he got a taste of how it is like to be a highborn and how great lords lived, plus he met Catelyn and set eyes on her, which also suggests that he did entertain the idea of becoming a great lord through marriage to a highborn woman, seeing how he later would use Lysa Tully to advance despite not loving her, and how he presently plans to use Sansa to his advantage as well.

That contempt for his ancestry is also evidenced in the change of sigil for House Baelish. It’s often assumed that it was him who did the modification, and that his fractious relationship with his father could be the cause; but there’s also the alternate possibility that the change could’ve been done by the first Lord Baelish when he rose from hedge knight to lord, as changing or modifying an existing sigil when changing status was commonplace, and the field is still green in both coats of arms, which in case the title was acquired via marriage, would mean an adoption of the animal in the wife’s House sigil whilst keeping the Baelish colours. Littlefinger refers to the sigil of the Titan as his grandfather’s but doesn’t indicate whether his own father used the same sigil as well, which is also a hint; and another is that on receiving a message from him arriving at King’s Landing, Catelyn recognised the silver mockingbird as the Baelish sigil, which is to be noted as a possible indication that Petyr already had that one in Riverrun whilst his father still lived, because she’d not seen him since then nor had had correspondence with him after that letter on Brandon’s death, so she’d have seen that sigil then, and also she recalls that back in Riverrun as a child, he “loved his silver.” In this SSM, the author has said that “There are no “laws” of heraldry per se, no college of heralds for enforcement, no formal regulations about cadency and differencing. So individual knights and lords have a certain amount of freedom to bear what shields they prefer and play around with their house sigil… or not, as the case may be,” and cites examples of modified sigils even in the main branch of a House; so it’s not something that rare to have a personal sigil apart from the “original” family sigil, and it doesn’t carry the implicit suggestion of familial squabbles per se.

Independently of the reasons for the change, the different sigil says more about Littlefinger as an individual rather than about his family. Green is, in heraldic symbology, the colour of hope, of joy, and amorous fidelity, but also the colour of spring, and it was said that the nobles who used that colour were morally obliged to defend the peasantry and those who till the land, which Baelish doesn’t do at all even if his new coat of arms has this same colour. As for the Titan of Braavos, the real-life inspiration for this fictional statue is the statue of a legendary Titan called Helios placed on the Greek island of Rhodes, and this Helios was the sun god, described in the sources as “powerful, fiery, bright and tireless,” positive qualities and quite opposite to the generally questionable traits and behaviour of the rest of the Titans, including some of his own children, so he personally doesn’t share in the negative symbolism associated with the Titans—greed, violence and cruelty—because he was generally good-natured, unlike the one from Braavos, who fed on the flesh of maidens according to internal ASOIAF legends; and that has an interesting parallel to Littlefinger: according to Homer and Apollonius, Helios possessed flocks and pastured his cattle and sheep on the small island of Thrinacia.

Baelish may not identify with the “fiery” and “fierce” nature of each Titan, the Greek and the Braavosi, but he nonetheless has the negative traits associated with them, for he is power-hungry, has a streak of cruelty and can certainly both cause and do violence in person, which, true to his modus operandi, he tries to conceal with an inoffensive exterior, which would explain his love for the mockingbird, a bird that in literature has become the symbol of nice, harmless, helpless innocence, when in reality it’s a consummate impersonator and counterfeiter that passes off his singing and noises as those of other birds and non-feathered animals, for the purpose of impressing the females and driving away potential threats. A Native American legend about the origins of this bird doesn’t bestow upon it a positive symbolism either: it says that it sprung from the head of a cruel and cunning man who hated the Natives and was determined to rule over them, but their warriors were an obstacle, so he decided to kill them all and for that he attracted them to a trap one by one imitating baby cries, female voices, laughter, etc., until one warrior heard it, smelt a trap, and by following the voices caught him on his wigwam doing the impersonations, and killed him by throwing him into the fire, where his head cracked open in two parts, from between which a bird flew forth, who had no call of his own and only imitated other birds’ calls. All this symbolism does fit Littlefinger’s double-dealing, his obsessive pursuit of Catelyn and then Sansa, and his fooling others with his appearance.

 

V.

Bloody cloaks and bloodied hands

Sansa received a cloak from the Hound and another from Littlefinger during the Blackwater and the Purple Wedding respectively, scenes that are fundamentally escape plots fraught with lots of chaotic details, and in which her safety is at risk for different reasons. Clegane’s hasty escape plan goes horribly wrong due to an unfortunate confluence of psychological, behavioural and circumstantial factors, whilst Baelish’s goes off as planned, though he had the advantage of early planning, sobriety, ready means, a pawn to take Sansa to him, helpful servants at his disposal, powerful partners in crime to create the right opportunity…

Although it may not be immediately noticeable, Sansa’s agency is the central issue in all the occasions a cloak is given to her, because the cloaks “given” to her by each of the three men who did that in her arc up to this point represent their respective attitudes towards Sansa’s freedom of choice. Starting with the Hound, although he had given Sansa his Kingsguard cloak to cover herself before, it’s the second time he does it which is the more significant of the two, for then he didn’t really attempt at giving her that but rather left his cloak on the ground, indicating the regret he feels over his behaviour and his recognition that forcing Sansa to come with him would be wrong. After he’d departed, we read:

When she crawled out of bed, long moments later, she was alone. She found his cloak on the floor, twisted up tight, the white wool stained by blood and fire. The sky outside was darker by then, with only a few pale green ghosts dancing against the stars. A chill wind was blowing, banging the shutters. Sansa was cold. She shook out the torn cloak and huddled beneath it on the floor, shivering.

Here we see Sansa seeking genuine warmth and comfort beneath the Hound’s cloak, like she had found comfort when she was stripped and beaten in public, and he was the person amongst many witnesses to step forward and give her a cloak that, in the end, isn’t strictly his personal cape nor has his House colours and sigil but is rather a status symbol, an uniform like the crimson cloaks of the soldiers of his Lannister masters or the gold ones of the City Watchers; and even though she had no option but to clutch that cloak since she was half-naked and had nothing else to cover herself with, it was definitely her decision to find whatever little consolation she could by finding the coarse woollen fabric finer than velvet. That would be the first time Clegane’s snowy white cloak was dirtied with the melon juice on Sansa’s face, and if her “angry red welts” did bleed, then also figuratively with her blood. In the scene described in the quoted passage, covering herself with his Kingsguard cloak is undoubtedly also a choice she makes, because: a. he didn’t give it to her, he tossed it away, and b. she’s in her bedroom, and there were warmer and certainly cleaner garments available, yet she chose that soiled woollen rag instead.

And she didn’t dispose of it either:

The night of the battle, Sandor Clegane had come to her chambers to take her from the city, but Sansa had refused. Sometimes she lay awake at night, wondering if she’d been wise. She had his stained white cloak hidden in a cedar chest beneath her summer silks. She could not say why she’d kept it.

Traditionally, a maiden was given a new or inherited cedar chest by her mother or grandmother as soon as she was nearing the age of betrothal and womanhood, with the purpose of filling it with jewellery, fine clothing, bedclothes and linen that she would choose in person and often embroider herself, since all of it would be her personal property and would then take with her to her new home on her wedding day; which is why it was called a “hope chest” and why it slowly became a symbol of dreams, heritage, ties to the original family, wishes for a better future, etc.; and such a chest had to be made of cedar because this wood is extremely resistant and supposed to be purifying and protecting. The cedar box Sansa owned was therefore probably passed on to her by Catelyn and was certainly brought from Winterfell like all of her few possessions, so it’s a link not only to her lost home but a reminder of the hope she still harbours.

Back to the cloaks, interestingly, Sansa’s feeling cold during the Blackwater scene has a parallel in the scene with Baelish during her escape:

Two sailors were waiting by the rail to help her onto the deck. Sansa was trembling. “She’s cold,” she heard someone say. He took off his cloak and put it around her shoulders. “There, is that better, my lady? Rest easy, the worst is past and done.”

She knew the voice. But he’s in the Vale, she thought. Ser Lothor Brune stood beside him with a torch.

It’s the same perception of “cold” that prompts Littlefinger to give Sansa his cloak on the boat. But what is interesting here is that we have no indication that Sansa was trembling because she was physically cold, and neither is there any mention at any point in the chapter that the weather was particularly chill. Indeed, in preparing for her escape in the godswood after Joffrey is murdered, she recalls the recommendation she’d been told:

Dress warmly, Ser Dontos had told her, and dress dark. She had no blacks, so she chose a dress of thick brown wool. The bodice was decorated with freshwater pearls, though. The cloak will cover them. The cloak was a deep green, with a large hood. She slipped the dress over her head, and donned the cloak, though she left the hood down for the moment.

So Littlefinger misunderstands the reason for Sansa’s trembling, which has more to do with her fear and trepidation than experiencing distress due to the weather. He has provided no comfort or sense or security as he imagines by placing his own cloak, which certainly is in the colours of his House and embroidered with his sigil, on top of hers.

Thus once again, we see a level of presumption on Baelish’s part that simply isn’t there with the Hound. The latter is disgusted with his own behaviour, whilst Littlefinger celebrates his deceit, asking Sansa if Tyrion had liked his jousting dwarves. He tells her the worst is over, but she has no idea that he’s been the architect of much of her misery and imprisonment in King’s Landing, including the Lannister marriage cloak that was forced on her due in great part to Littlefinger.

Therefore, it could be argued that this cloak is truly the bloody one, though literally it’s clean. What looks like freedom to Sansa is just further entrapment, with a man who will do anything and say anything, even slander her mother’s reputation, to ensure that he gains more power over her. With the Hound, Sansa could choose to go or stay, but here she has no choice but to go with him, and that is how Baelish planned it. To refuse and return to the capital would mean certain trial and execution.

And there’s also a passage in the same chapter that is also meant to recall Sansa’s thoughts about the Hound’s cloak in her first ASOS chapter, quoted above. On the ship, Littlefinger tells her:

The cabin was low and cramped, but a featherbed had been laid upon the narrow sleeping shelf to make it more comfortable, and thick furs piled atop it. “It will be snug, I know, but you shouldn’t be too uncomfortable.” Littlefinger pointed out a cedar chest under the porthole. “You’ll find fresh garb within. Dresses, smallclothes, warm stockings, a cloak. Wool and linen only, I fear. Unworthy of a maid so beautiful, but they’ll serve to keep you dry and clean until we can find you something finer.

The cedar chest Littlefinger has on the boat likely doesn’t belong to Sansa as hers contained summer silks, not wool and linen clothing, and getting it out of her room would’ve raised unduly suspicion. So here what we see is that Martin bothered to reference another cedar chest that happens to contain “a cloak,” as if meaning to highlight the free choice vs. coercion dichotomy: he just choses the cedar chest and its contents for her without giving her the opportunity to fill it by herself, as is the whole point of having a hope chest, implicitly assuming he knows exactly what her hopes and dreams are about. In this regard, both cedar chests are a metaphor: the second one is the dreams and marriages imposed on her because of political ambitions at the cost of losing her autonomy and her home, and the first one could be a metaphor for recuperating that which was lost. After all, it’s not a fortuitous coincidence that in psychotherapy we have a cognitive-behavioural technique for jaded, hopeless, purposeless and depressed people that we call Hope Chest, which essentially consists in identifying and reconnecting individuals to those old dreams, goals, memories, etc., with the purpose of achieving self-fulfillment.

 

Conclusion

In one of the first important events of A Song of Ice and Fire—the King’s visit to Winterfell—Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon journey to the crypts to view the final resting place of the former’s sister, Lyanna Stark. It’s there Robert reveals an enduring fascination, one that even death has not diminished: not only with Lyanna, his purported beloved, but his rival Rhaegar Targaryen.

In my dreams, I kill him every night,” Robert admitted. “A thousand deaths will still be less than he deserves.

The Robert/Rhaegar/Lyanna affair exemplifies the theory of mimetic desire, introduced by René Girard in his text Deceit, Desire and the Novel where he examines the triangular structure of desire, which features a subject, object and a mediator/model. Girard’s analysis, despite its problems, provides instructive insight with which to analyze the rivalry between Petyr Baelish and Sandor Clegane, one distinguished by the fact that the men are as yet unaware of this “conflict” with each other, revolving around their feelings for Sansa Stark.

Girard views the concept of spontaneous desire to be inherently flawed, arguing instead that we desire according to an other. Simply put, our desires are mediated: based not on a natural reaction, but dependent on someone else. As Brian Robinette explains in his article ‘Deceit, Desire and the Desert’:

Whereas we typically imagine desire arising from a simple subject – object relation (for example I desire this toy, this occupation, this style of dress, and so on), in fact the object is mediated and transfigured by light of another’s attention. Desirability lies not in the object, per se, but in the value others confer upon it.

This perspective illuminates the respective “turning point” incidents in the personal narratives of the Hound and Littlefinger. In reading Sandor’s story of his disfigurement, the mimetic nature of the attraction and punishment he suffers is foregrounded:

“I was younger than you, six, maybe seven. A woodcarver set up shop in the village under my father’s keep, and to buy favor he sent us gifts. The old man made marvelous toys. I don’t remember what I got, but it was Gregor’s gift I wanted. A wooden knight, all painted up, every joint pegged separate and fixed with strings, so you could make him fight. Gregor is five years older than me, the toy was nothing to him, he was already a squire, near six foot tall and muscled like an ox. So I took his knight, but there was no joy to it, I tell you. I was scared all the while, and true enough, he found me. There was a brazier in the room. Gregor never said a word, just picked me up under his arm and shoved the side of my face down in the burning coals and held me there while I screamed and screamed.

The value that Sandor accords to the toy does not merely correspond to an idealization of knighthood, but because the toy is Gregor’s. He may have been afraid of his brother, but Gregor at this early time undoubtedly still served as Sandor’s mediator/model, the older sibling who was already a squire and almost freakishly big and strong for his age. Similarly, despite the fact that Gregor was already too old to be playing with toys, his abusive response is fuelled by Sandor’s clear desire for the object.

With Baelish, we have the archetypal rivalry featuring two men and a woman which Girard examines in his study of European novels. LF’s recollections to Sansa underline this triangular conflict:

“Your mother was my queen of beauty once,” the man said quietly.

. . . . .

There was a time when Cat was all I wanted in this world. I dared to dream of the life we might make and the children she would give me . . . but she was a daughter of Riverrun, and Hoster Tully. Family, Duty, Honor, Sansa. Family, Duty, Honor meant I could never have her hand. But she gave me something finer, a gift a woman can give but once. How could I turn my back upon her daughter? In a better world, you might have been mine, not Eddard Stark’s.

As a young ward of the Tullys, Littlefinger becomes infatuated with Catelyn, but if we recall Milady’s observation upthread that Cat was likely already betrothed to Brandon by the time LF came to be fostered at Riverrun, and his own transference of the rivalry from Brandon to Ned, the relevance of mimetic desire in LF’s attraction towards Cat is discernible. As we saw in the example of Robert’s attitude to Rhaegar, the preoccupation with the rival can oftentimes be even more consuming and powerful than towards the object. There is an implicit danger in this obsession which Robinette further outlines:

… our capacity for imitation can indeed become mechanical and destructive. If the other models my desire, he or she may become my rival in its fulfillment. Because desire is triangular … it harbors here potential for all manner of conflict, including such “passions” as envy, fear, anger, loathing, hatred and resentment.

These emotions are recognizable features not only in the “originally” dysfunctional relationships of these two men, but also within the wider “love triangle” motif of the series which acts as the fundamental framework for Martin’s exploration of intimate/romantic relationships, highlighting the role of the other in how and why we desire.

As we have tried to explore in the preceding essays of the project, what makes the Sandor/Petyr rivalry so compelling is that the men are not aware of each other’s role in Sansa’s life—an important choice by GRRM in creating narrative tension, but more so because it facilitates Sansa’s agency, transforming her from the potentially doomed object of men’s desires, to an active subject in how the drama unfolds. Indeed, one of the primary criticisms of Girard’s work by feminist scholars is that it displaces the importance of women’s experiences and does not give enough credit to female desire.

As one of the primary POV characters, the authority of Sansa’s narrative was always assured, but within the dynamics of the story she occupied one of the most precarious positions in the patriarchal society of Westeros, defined by her early innocence, and “designated” to be a compliant conformer to society’s rules and norms. In effect, Sansa was expected to be the ideal object choice, disconnected from her personal desires and the chance of genuine fulfillment.

By placing the Hound and Littlefinger in a rivalry that neither is aware of, the reader is forced to consider not the men’s reactions to each other, but rather how Sansa responds to them. It is her desire that is significant, even as she is separated from Sandor Clegane at the end of the second novel, and later entrapped by Baelish. In her analysis of the triangulated rivalry between the main characters of El Curioso Impertinente, Ashley Hope Pérez observes the woman’s predicament:

… what we see is precisely the rigorous exclusion of female desire from the closed relationship between Anselmo and Lothario, making Girard’s model keenly relevant. Indeed, even the narrator, whose voice is emphatically male, participates in the restrictive structuring of the concepts through which Camila becomes intelligible to them only as an object and instrument.

In each of the five essays that compared LF and Sandor, Sansa is not a passive bystander transcribing their thoughts and behaviour to us or simply being “acted upon” in the schemes of others. At the Hand’s tourney she has placed her own bet on the Hound, one that she only reveals after he has defeated Jaime Lannister (and informed by their meaningful interaction the previous night). In the respective promotion scenes, Martin presents her as an astute and compassionate observer of what is taking place in the court, and how it will affect her family. Her detection of Littlefinger’s minty breath directly ties into his duplicity, and the overall awareness of scents reveals a keen “wolfish” sensibility. The essay on Bloody cloaks and Bloodied hands perhaps offers the strongest symbolism of Sansa making a free choice relating to her own desires, symbolism that grows stronger as Martin references the cloak up to her final chapter in AFFC. Unlike Camilla in El Curioso Impertinente, Sansa is not defined and subjugated by the rivalry, but instead it allows for the articulation of her desires and her overall growth as a character.

The “mechanical and destructive” potential of imitative desire can be appreciated in LF’s transference of his resentment towards Ned, and his own perverse interest in Sansa as a Cat replacement lover and daughter. Instead of breaking free of the mediator/model after being beaten and humiliated by Brandon, LF continues its detrimental possibilities by viewing Ned as another obstacle in his “love” for Cat. An argument could be made that his desire for Sansa is further predicated on her being Joffrey’s betrothed, and his direct involvement in the death or downfall of other romantic suitors or any other potential male rival that he knows of speaks to the destructive nature of LF’s mimetic desire. The compulsion does not end with the removal of the rival, as evidenced by Robert’s continued obsession with Rhaegar. Rather, LF’s plan for Harry the Heir suggests that he’s again setting up a mediator in his desire for Sansa. Like Robert, LF seems to have the same need to defeat his own silver prince in a thousand different guises. The task for Sansa becomes how to evade this kind of static and dehumanizing fate.

Unlike what we see with LF, Sandor Clegane’s mimetic desire suffers a profound rupture after he is horribly burnt by his brother. The inclination towards knights and knighthood is fractured, especially when Gregor – the monstrous rival – is knighted, leading Sandor to appreciate the essential hypocrisy and callousness of this order:

“My father told everyone my bedding had caught fire, and our maester gave me ointments. Ointments! Gregor got his ointments too. Four years later, they anointed him with the seven oils and he recited his knightly vows and Rhaegar Targaryen tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Arise, Ser Gregor.’”

Just as it was Gregor’s toy knight that attracted Sandor’s interest, it is his brother’s knighting that effects his contemptuous repudiation, illustrating how Sandor is caught in his own harmful relationship with the rival. But unlike LF who continues his pursuit of the object, involving perverse imitation of his mediators, Sandor attempts a complete disavowal of the object and consequently Gregor. However, this disavowal is still a mediated disavowal, caught within the dynamics of a dysfunctional relationship with his brother, and as such, results in the kind of bitterness and antipathy that defined Sandor’s life and stunted his growth. The Elder Brother confirms:

 Where other men dream of love, or wealth, or glory, this man Sandor Clegane dreamed of slaying his own brother, a sin so terrible it makes me shudder just to speak of it. Yet that was the bread that nourished him, the fuel that kept his fires burning. Ignoble as it was, the hope of seeing his brother’s blood upon his blade was all this sad and angry creature lived for . . . and even that was taken from him, when Prince Oberyn of Dorne stabbed Ser Gregor with a poisoned spear.

Although the EB’s words here are literally correct, they do not address the truth of the metaphysical qualities of desire, where we’ve seen that death alone is not enough to vanquish the rival. My contention is that it’s the nature and development of Sandor’s relationship with Sansa which effects this change, which allows for a functional and productive relation to the object. In this revision, Sansa acts as the mediator/model, reconfiguring Sandor’s outlook on knighthood, even as she moves closer to a more realistic understanding due to his influence. In the new schema, Sandor no longer has to possess or repudiate the object through a rival. This positive interaction between the two corresponds to a process Robinette calls “creative mutuality”:

Regarding creative mutuality, mimetic theory underscores the fundamental goodness of imitation in human development. We have all observed for instance, how infants naturally imitate facial expressions, or how toddlers’ motor skills are learned by mirroring and interiorizing the bodily gestures of others. Long before the acquisition of language which itself is learned through imitation, mimetic responsiveness to gesture, touch, and articulated sound draws the infant into an intersubjective world that makes its nascent individuation possible… Mimesis is not necessarily mechanical or slavish, but a creative process that introduces novelty and uniqueness along the way.

Individuation is an important development for both these characters, and directly related to the theme of agency in Sansa’s arc, transforming her from the mechanical “talking bird” into someone with a growing understanding of the expectations and institutions which impact her autonomy. For Sandor, who struggles to differentiate himself from his brother and exists in a kind of self-negating state of anger, this process is absolutely vital.

The Scapegoat: Tyrion Lannister

In mimetic theory, the scapegoat acts as the chosen person to diffuse the tension by bearing the burden of violence and responsibility that threatens to erupt between the two rivals. In the essay ‘To Double-Business Bound: Girardian Triangles and Modernist Writing’, Tom Cousineau writes on the scapegoat:

It is formed by, first, the protagonist, second, the rival who denies fulfilment of his desire, and, third, the scapegoat upon whom the protagonist displaces the suffering that otherwise would be his own.

Because LF and Sandor have no concept of each other as rivals, Tyrion Lannister becomes the visible scapegoat for each man in his relationship with Sansa, deflecting their attention from each other, but never intending to serve as a serious obstacle of Sansa’s affection by the author. Cousineau illustrates how this works in The Great Gatsby:

In this triangle, the role of the protagonist is played by Nick Carraway, the model/obstable is, as always, Tom Buchanan, and Gatsby, who had been the protagonist of the classic Girardian triangle, has now become the scapegoat. It is interesting in this respect to recall that, in Fitzgerald’s original conception of the novel, Nick Carraway was in love with Daisy. This bit of factual information helps us to see that, in the final version of the novel, Gatsby, the eponymous hero of the novel and its presumed center of interest, actually plays a subsidiary role in a novel that is “really” about the rivalry between Nick Carraway and Tom Buchanan.

In Littlefinger’s case, Tyrion has served as his scapegoat from the first novel, as he places the blame for the dagger on the Imp and will later implicate him in Joffrey’s death with the Tyrells. When he reveals the plot of the marriage to Willas Tyrell, LF indirectly scapegoats Tyrion again, this time in the marriage to Sansa, which he already knows is only a temporary predicament in light of his plans. Sandor and Tyrion also have a contentious relationship in AGOT, one which deteriorates by the end of the second book. Upon hearing that Tyrion is married to Sansa, Sandor wishes that Cersei would “dip him in wildfire and cook him.”

Further, the constitution of a traditionally triangular relationship involving Tyrion shows how the woman’s subjectivity can be threatened and negated. Sansa’s narrative is virtually silenced during the time frame of the marriage and she’s deeply depressed. Littlefinger is responsible for her entrapment within the marriage (not to erase Tyrion’s personal responsibility), and Sandor on his deathbed is deeply remorseful, but he suggests annihilation in the face of such a terrible fate.

Sansa’s confrontation with what is required of women in their marriages—”all men are beautiful”—contributes to the critical awareness noted above, and is significant to understanding her own desires as legitimate vs. what Septa Mordane preaches. As discussed, in the unknown rivalry it is LF who represents the greatest threat to her autonomy, in contrast to Sandor who facilitates the expression of those desires, and where there is the possibility of mutual fulfilment and growth.

Looking ahead to TWOW, it doesn’t really matter whether or not Harry the Heir is a pleasant fellow with good intentions, because within the triangular structure of mimetic desire, his relation to Sansa (in order to arouse LF’s desires to triumph over a rival) will only reinforce her status as an object and pawn. With respect to Tyrion, his relationship with Sansa is not only absent of any personal resonance for her, but on his end too.

TWOW spoiler:

In the report of the second Tyrion chapter in TWOW, there’s no mention of Sansa, but rather of Tyrion thinking about Shae, and receiving kisses from Penny. It doesn’t prove much on its own, but it is suggestive (along with what we see in ADWD) that Tyrion’s demons (or angels) are focused on women other than his estranged wife.

Ultimately, what Milady of York and I have attempted to highlight in the essays is how this rivalry helps to elucidate the characters of LF and the Hound, and what it means for the question of Sansa’s agency. Given the positive potential of her relationship with Sandor, it’s crucial that LF does not know (yet) of this relationship or just how much it has contributed to Sansa’s development. We believe that it will work to her advantage, not in being rescued as a damsel in distress, but through an active engagement in her own liberation based on these very constructive partnerships she is able to form.

 

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