1) Women In Power:
b. Women In Power I – Daenerys/Viserys and Sansa/Jon (RedViper9)
c. Women In Power II – Asha/Theon and Sansa/Bran (Redriver)
d. Women in Power III – Arianne/Quentyn and Sansa/Robb (OnionAhaiReborn)
2) Pawn to Player Cracked Pots Collection:
a. Cracked Pots Collection I: Ser Morgarth the Merry (Brashcandie and Milady of York)
b. Cracked Pots Collection II: The Bloody Cloak (Lady Gwynhyfvar and Milady of York)
c. Cracked Pots Collection III: The Elder Brother’s Healing Powers
(Brashcandie and Milady of York)
3) Courtly Love, Knighthood and Singing:
a. Courtly Love, Knighthood and Singing I: Courtliness, Courtly love and Sansa (Mahaut)
b. Courtly Love, Knighthood and Singing II: Sansa and Knighthood (Mahaut)
c. Courtly Love, Knighthood and Singing III: On Singing and Emotional Bonding
(Milady of York)
4) Arthurian Legends:
5. Beauty and the Beast Gothic Romance Expansion:
b. B&B Gothic Romance Expansion I: Bluebeard and the woman in process (Mahaut)
c. B&B Gothic Romance Expansion II: Angela Carter and Gothic Themes in Sansa’s Arc (Brashcandie)
d. B&B Gothic Romance Expansion III: Sexual Awakening in the Female Gothic (Doglover)
6. Feminist Messages in ASOIAF (incomplete):
Women In Power[*]
A From Pawn to Player: Rethinking Sansa Project
The From Pawn to Player: Rethinking Sansa project has always held in high regard serious and text-based analysis of Sansa’s character development throughout all the five ASOIAF volumes since the opening of the first Re-reading Sansa thread, and in accordance with this raison d’être, we periodically create projects of various lengths to explore the different aspects of her personality and narrative, which include analysing other male and female characters whose personal journeys could shed light on Sansa’s own. With this is mind, we hosts have embarked on a short project exploring the relationship between three important female POV characters, Daenerys Targaryen, Arianne Martell and Asha Greyjoy, and their respective brothers Viserys, Quentyn and Theon, as well as the possible patterns and parallels that might be applicable to Sansa’s relationship with three of her brothers who have and will impact her life choices, both personal and political.
As a guide for interested participants, we have laid out an outline of the three central issues we hope will be explored in this specific project and why we think that they could be important in enriching our understanding of these characters:
- Brother/Sister Dynamics: This includes an exploration of each woman’s relationship with their brothers, how they shaped each other as they grew up, how their familial dynamics, their place in the family, the common or different upbringing, parental figures, sibling rivalry, and so on, helped form their sisters’ personalities and how all this has influenced their personalities and worldview directly or indirectly.
- The Pursuit of Power: With the exception of Sansa Stark, a recurrent theme in these three women is the desire for political power, be it for personal motives or for a perceived grander purpose. Therefore, we believe that it’d be very enlightening to analyse the role of political power and that which each brother plays or will play in how their sisters acquire it, with the aim of establishing whether the sisters’ view of their siblings contains some indication as to how they seek power and would implement it once acquired, along with how the deaths of their brothers affect and will affect Daenerys and Arianne’s political choices, and Asha’s possible use of her brother Theon for her own ends.
- Implications for Sansa’s narrative: Basically, this should be a compare/contrast/foreshadowing conclusion on how the mentioned brother/sister trios could shed light on Sansa’s future interactions with the brothers that are believed to have a major impact on her life choices long-term: Jon Snow, Robb and Brandon Stark.
Each presenter is free to choose the approach most fitting as well as additional information that might be uncovered during the re-reading of each character’s chapters; however, as a general outline, we would like to suggest that every presenter focus on a determined brother depending on the female character of choice:
- The presenter who’s writing about Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen should take Sansa/Jon into consideration, due to the Mother of Dragon and the NW’s Lord Commander being two of the characters forecasted as having a huge impact on the future outcome of events in ASOIAF.
- The presenter exploring Asha and Theon Greyjoy would have to consider Sansa/Bran in view of the plotline in ADWD and the hints gleaned from the Theon sample POV from the 6th
- And finally, the presenter that has Arianne and Quentyn Martell as the subjects of his/her analysis will find that the ideal set of siblings for comparison are Sansa/Robb, considering events in ACOK/ASOS and AFFC/ADWD especially.
[*] This is not envisioned as a gendered discussion on women as rulers, whether they are competent or not, etc. We are instead focusing on the search for/acquisition of power and the avenues/approaches they will take in the future relating to this struggle, and the role their siblings have/will play.
Daenerys/Viserys and Sansa/Jon
Power, Sansa, and Jon
When we first meet these four characters in AGoT, each one holds a varying degree of power, both real and perceived. As their narrative arcs have progressed, some have lost power, some have gained, while others have had a more uneven journey.
Let us begin with Sansa and Jon. When AGoT begins, both are on opposite ends of the power spectrum. Sansa, despite her father’s reluctance, had been betrothed to Crown Prince Joffrey Baratheon and was set to move to King’s Landing and take her place in the royal court; in time, she would rule the Seven Kingdoms as Joffrey’s queen. Jon, despite his having been raised alongside his trueborn siblings, had come to realize the limitations of his bastard birth and had decided to leave Winterfell for the Night’s Watch and the Wall, as far away from the power of King’s Landing that one could get within the Realm. The contrasts between Sansa’s and Jon’s respective situations was brilliantly illustrated during the welcoming feast the Starks held in honor of the visiting King Robert: whereas Sansa escorted Joffrey down the Great Hall and was seated with the royal family, Jon was relegated to the furthest of the common tables, with his uncle Benjen (himself a member of the Night’s Watch) being the only family member who would visit with him that evening (AGoT Jon I).
After their departure from Winterfell, Sansa’s and Jon’s arcs play out differently, with Sansa losing power and Jon gaining it. For Sansa, things begin to turn sour on the journey south to King’s Landing. While riding with Joffrey near the Ruby Ford, a seemingly innocuous encounter with Sansa’s sister Arya and her friend Mycah quickly escalates into a confrontation that ends with Arya’s direwolf Nymeria attacking Joffrey (AGoT Sansa I). The fallout of the event results in Mycah’s death and the death of Lady, Sansa’s direwolf, who is executed in place of the escaped Nymeria (AGoT Eddard III). (In ACoK Sansa IV, Cersei reveals to Sansa that the torment Joffrey subjects her to is rooted in his not forgiving Sansa for being a witness to his humiliation at Arya’s hands).
Despite her initial enjoyment of courtly life, Sansa never again matched the perceived power she had when first betrothed to Joffrey. When her father was arrested for treason, Joffrey twisted Sansa’s plea for mercy into a beheading (AGoT Sansa V, Arya V). Though Sansa remains Joffrey’s betrothed in ACoK, she is in reality a hostage, subject to emotional abuse from Joffrey and physical abuse from his Kingsguard (ACoK, Sansa III). After the Lannister-Tyrell alliance prevails over Stannis Baratheon at the Battle of the Blackwater, Sansa is set aside when Joffrey is betrothed to Margaery Tyrell (ACoK, Sansa VIII). Despite this, she remains a hostage in ASoS, and she is eventually married to Tyrion Lannister after Tywin gets word of a plan to marry her to Willas Tyrell, the heir to Highgarden (ASoS Sansa I, Tyrion III, Sansa III). She finally escapes King’s Landing on the night of Joffrey’s assassination, but her escape means her taking on the identity of Petyr Baelish’s bastard daughter, Alayne Stone (ASoS Sansa V, VI). She is then nearly murdered by her aunt, and when last we see her, Littlefinger is plotting to marry her to Robert Arryn’s presumptive heir (ASoS Sansa VII; AFfC Alayne II). Though this marriage is ostensibly part of Littlefinger’s plan to reclaim the North in Sansa’s name, it could easily be Baelish using Sansa as a pawn to further his own aims (since that topic has been brilliantly examined in past PtP threads, there is no need to delve further into it at this point in the post).
Much like Sansa, Jon received a rude awakening when he left Winterfell for the Wall. He quickly realized that the Night’s Watch had effectively become a penal colony that was a mere shadow of its former self (AGoT Tyrion II). His own arrogance turned most of his fellow recruits against him, and his uncle Benjen then told him that he had to earn his place like everyone else, not rely on his Stark heritage (AGoT Jon III). But just as things started turning for Sansa at the Ruby Ford, things started turning for Jon after a conversation with Donal Noye, Castle Black’s armorer. Noye opened Jon’s eyes about his arrogance and the advantages his upbringing at Winterfell gave him, advantages that his fellow recruits never had (AGoT Jon III).
Jon’s ascent started at that point. He worked with and won over his fellow recruits (AGoT Jon IV). He impressed Maester Aemon when he lobbied for Sam to be passed from training (AGoT Jon V). The Old Bear named him his personal steward, and Qhorin Halfhand asked for him to be a member of his ranging party (AGoT Jon VI; ACoK, Jon V). He forges a strong relationship with Mance Rayder and Tormund Giantsbane during his time with the Wildlings, successfully leads the defense of Castle Black, and is then elected Lord Commander of the Watch (ASoS Jon I-II, VII-VIII, X, XII). Jon then proved himself to be an unorthodox leader in that he attempted to refocus the Watch from its conflict with the Wildlings to the impending conflict with the Others. This, coupled with Jon’s attempts to forge a partnership with the Wildlings and his decision to meet Ramsay Bolton’s challenge, alienated him from the Watch’s senior officers, which culminated in an attempt on Jon’s life (ADwD Jon I-XIII).
Power, Daenerys, and Viserys
When we first meet Daenerys Targaryen in AGoT, she, much like Sansa, has just been betrothed to a powerful leader. But unlike Sansa, Dany finds no joy in her engagement to Khal Drogo, and the match reflects her lack of power as opposed to her gaining it. Dany’s marriage to Drogo is all part of her brother Viserys’s scheme to return to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne for his family. In exchange for Dany’s hand, Drogo’s khalasar will pledge itself to the Targaryen cause. Unlike Sansa, Dany isn’t looking forward to courtly life, but dreading entering the world of the “savage” Dothraki. And unlike Jon, Viserys isn’t limited by his bastard birth, but cashing in on his status as the last male heir of a once powerful house (AGoT Daenerys I-II).
But like Sansa and Jon, things start to turn for Dany and Viserys as soon as they leave their starting point (Pentos). Viserys becomes increasingly disconnected and angry the further east Drogo’s khalasar moves. Unlike Jon, Viserys didn’t listen when a more experienced male—in this case, Jorah Mormont—counsels him to change course before he earns undying enmity (AGoT Daenerys III-V). And unlike Sansa, Viserys was never courteous to those around him. Sansa, following the advice of Septa Mordane regarding ladies using courtesy as armor, never breaks her façade, even when dealing with her tormentors. It earns her scorn, particularly from Cersei and, at times, the Hound, but she never slips, because she knows that a slip might cost her dearly (ACoK Sansa II, V-VII). For his part, Viserys was never afraid to show his disdain (though he was careful to speak in the Common Tongue so that the Dothraki would not understand him) for almost everyone and everything around him, and it cost him his life when he broke the most sacred rule of Vaes Dothrak (AGoT Daenerys IV-V).
Dany’s power arc is more a series of hills and valleys, as opposed to the steady decline of Sansa, the steep decline of Viserys, or the steady climb of Jon Snow followed by an abrupt crash. Though Dany is terrified of both her brother’s abuse and her marriage to Drogo when we first meet her, she becomes increasingly confident the closer Drogo’s khalasar gets to Vaes Dothrak. She learns Dothraki, begins to immerse herself in the customs of her new people, and she also stands up to Viserys, even striking him when he attempts to beat her (in stark contrast, Sansa never once fought back against Joffrey or the Kingsguard) (AGoT Daenerys III-IV). The changing nature of her sexual relationship with Drogo also gives Dany a certain soft power over her husband (Dany credits the pillow tricks she learned from her handmaiden Doreah with helping her convince Drogo to allow Viserys to mount up again after he had been stripped of his horse) (AGoT Daenerys III-IV).
Though Drogo appears to lose any interest in invading Westeros after Viserys’s death, he decides to march west after a failed attempt on Dany’s life (AGoT Daenerys VI-VII). But just as Dany appears poised to succeed where her brother had failed, she seemingly loses it all when an infected wound leads to the death of Drogo and Dany’s unborn son, as well as the loss of Drogo’s khalasar (AGoT Daenerys VIII-IX). Dany immediately bounces back from this disaster with the birth of her dragons, only to then wander the Red Waste before arriving in Qarth (AGoT Daenerys X; ACoK Daenerys I-II). While she is initially greeted warmly in Qarth, Dany soon finds herself having to move again following Drogon’s destruction of the House of the Undying (ACoK Daenerys IV-V). Her travels take her to Slaver’s Bay, and her star reaches its zenith there: she takes the cities of Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen; she gains soldiers in the Unsullied and the sellswords who pledge themselves to her; she frees the slaves; and she installs herself as queen of Meereen (ASoS Daenerys III-VI). But Dany seemingly enters another spiral after her coronation. Her rule faces stiff resistance from sectors of the Meereenese elite and individuals from around the world that have been adversely affected by the end of the slave trade. Yet another attempt is made on her life, and when last we see Dany, she is about to confront one of the men who abandoned her after Drogo’s death (ADwD Daenerys I-X).
Implications for Sansa in TWoW and ADoS
So, what do these power arcs tell us about where Sansa might be headed in the final two books of the series? Aside from Viserys (who is already dead), Sansa might be the most powerless of these characters when we see her last: she is in hiding as the bastard Alayne Stone, she’s wanted for her alleged involvement in Joffrey’s death, and she might be on the cusp of another unwanted marriage. Dany, despite her troubles in Meereen, still has Drogon by her side and many who are loyal to her. And though Jon’s fate is still unknown, he still is—assuming he survives—the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, with many among the Watch and the Wildlings being fiercely loyal to him.
Of course, just because Sansa appears to be powerless, it doesn’t mean that she actually is. The arcs of the other three characters discussed here show possible avenues she could travel as the series comes to its conclusion. For one, it is imperative for Sansa to maintain the courtesy that has served her well up to this point. The situation in the Vale (where Sansa currently is) is quite volatile, with many of the region’s most important lords actively looking to end Littlefinger’s tenure as Lord Protector of the Vale (AFfC Alayne I). One false step or wrong word could land her in extremely hot water. While it is extremely unlikely that Sansa will commit a Viserys-level faux pas, she is quite aware that she needs to remain on her guard, as evidenced during her conversation with Myranda Royce during their descent to the Gates of the Moon (AFfC Alayne II).
Sansa may also come to rely on a certain soft power over Littlefinger, much like Dany used with Drogo in AGoT. Sansa may not currently have the type of hard power Dany has at the end ofADwD with Drogon by her side (Sansa’s link to the supernatural was seemingly severed when Lady was executed), but she may be able to manipulate Littlefinger through other means, and those other means don’t necessarily have to lead to a sexual relationship like Dany had with Drogo. Though Littlefinger has shown signs of being attracted to Sansa, he also relishes his role as her teacher of the game of thrones. Sansa could easily play the eager student that then turns the tables on the teacher, or she could appear to reciprocate Littlefinger’s attraction to lull him into a false sense of security or glean information from him. (Sansa has already proved herself willing to use soft power when she talks Joffrey into sparing Dontos Hollard’s life in her first chapter of ACoK).
Ultimately, though, Jon’s arc might offer the most clues, because Sansa’s situation at the end ofAFfC is eerily similar to Jon’s situation at the beginning of AGoT: the noble bastard at the whim of the limits their birth has placed on them. Like Jon when he first arrived at Castle Black, Sansa finds herself surrounded by a cast of misfits and castoffs: the sickly Robert Arryn; her “fellow bastard” Mya Stone; and the outspoken young widow Myranda Royce. Like Jon, Sansa has also learned to pay especially close attention to everything that is going on around her (Benjen noted to Jon in AGoT that very little escaped him); she quickly deduces that Lyn Corbray is Littlefinger’s mole amongst the Lords Declarant, and she knows that one of the reasons the Vale lords — particularly Bronze Yohn Royce — are restive is because they were not allowed to enter the war on her brother Robb’s side (AFfC, Alayne I-II). Most importantly, Sansa, just like Jon did after his talk with Donal Noye and his election as Lord Commander, has proved herself willing to reach out to people. She looks after Robert Arryn and becomes almost like a mother to him following Lysa’s death. Though she knows she has to be careful about what she says to Myranda Royce, she does not turn her away (her wariness around Myranda stands in stark contrast to Dany, who has often proven to be too trusting, most notably in the cases of Mirri Maz Duur and Brown Ben Plumm). She trusts Mya Stone and speaks for her when Sweetrobin proves reluctant to ride the mules down from the Eyrie. And she has identified a possible ally to cultivate in Bronze Yohn.
What could be shaping up then is a character that uses an interesting blend of courtesy, soft power, attentiveness, and outreach to get out of or improve her current situation. Sansa could very well use this combination to make them love her.
Asha/Theon and Sansa/Bran
ASHA AND THEON GREYJOY
Many thanks to the good ladies of Sansa PtP, especially Milady of York for inviting me to contribute to this project. Here, we’ll be looking at the power struggles and decision-making of Asha and Theon, but also of Bran and Sansa Stark. All four are still going at the end of ADWD and we’ll examine where their narratives, some of which are intersecting, may take them going forward.
The girl with the wicked smile and the boy who smiled too much
Theon begins his first serious power play in ACOK. He has devised a plan, agreed by King Robb Stark, that in return for the use of Balon Greyjoy’s fleet against the Lannisters, Balon will be granted kingship of the Iron Islands (Catelyn 1, ACOK). It’s an optimistic Theon who’s sailing towards Pyke with the proposal safe in an oilskin pouch. Indeed, this is a win-win situation for Theon, a plan that can win power and glory for the Starks, the Greyjoys and, of course, himself. As he says to the captain’s daughter in Theon 1 (ACOK), “… you’re likely with child. It’s not every man who has the honor of raising a king’s bastard”. But, of course, it’s not all plain sailing.
A large part of Theon’s problem is that he has spent half of his 20 years a ward, or hostage in Winterfell, and when he meets Balon to present his plan he is met with suspicion and mistrust.
The proposal is rejected in no uncertain terms, Balon will pay the iron price for his crown. He has longships gathered at anchor and plans to carve out a kingdom with “fire and sword.” He won’t reveal his plans but Theon knows, it’s the north.
By now Theon is in a difficult spot, and it doesn’t get any better when he meets his sister Asha. Especially since he doesn’t recognize her and tries to seduce her. Asha, posing as Esgred the shipbuilder’s wife, plays along and gives as good as she gets in the groping department. Here’s our first look at Asha:
He liked what he saw. Ironborn, he knew at a glance; lean and long legged, with black hair cut short, windchafed skin, strong sure hands, a dirk at her belt. Her nose was too big and too sharp for her thin face, but her smile made up for it.[..]She had the wickedest smile he’d ever seen on a woman.
(Theon 2, ACOK).
Not only does Asha keep up the pretense all the way to Pyke but also gets Theon to reveal his innermost thoughts on Balon, his uncles, Winterfell and Asha herself, as he remembers her, “As I recall, she had a nose like a vulture’s beak, a ripe crop of pimples, and no more chest than a boy.”
This is undoubtedly a humiliation of her brother, and a power play in its own right. During Theon’s 10 year absence at Winterfell, Asha has taken Theon’s place as Balon Greyjoy’s eldest “son”, indeed, Balon refers to them both as his sons when giving Victarion his orders to take Moat Cailin (Theon 2, ACOK). That she is brave, witty, intelligent, more than capable of captaining a crew of Ironborn and adept with arms probably helped her case, but I think this play is about consolidating her position and putting Theon in his place.
Her display with the dirk and the throwing axe at the captain’s gathering further humiliates Theon:
Theon had time for a choked gasp before Asha snatched the axe from the air and slammed it down into the table,splitting his trencher in two and splattering his mantle with drippings.”There’s my lord husband.”His sister reached down inside her gown and drew a dirk from between her breasts.”And here’s my sweet suckling babe.
He could not imagine how he looked at that moment, but suddenly Theon Greyjoy realized that the Great Hall was ringing with laughter, all of it at him. Even his father was smiling, gods be damned, and his uncle Victarion chuckled aloud.[…] We shall see who is laughing when all this is done, bitch.
Balon’s plans when they are revealed show that it is the north he’s targeting. Theon is to get eight longships and raid the Stony Shore, Victarion is to take Moat Cailin and Asha with thirty longships is to take Deepwood Motte. This seems to seal the deal for Theon. Soon after this, Theon hatches a plan that’s going to have tragic consequences for many, none more so than himself. He’s going to trump his sister and win glory in his father’s eyes by taking Winterfell.
One can argue that perhaps Asha was overly aggressive (and sexual) in her humiliation of Theon, but it would be difficult to foresee he would react in such a radical way (unless you’re Jojen Reed). It didn’t help that Theon acted the lord on his return to Pyke and failed to recognize his sister in the first place.
Anyway, Winterfell is taken with thirty men whilst Cleftjaw draws the Winterfell garrison to Torrhen’s Square. Bran wakes up from a wolf dream to find Theon has taken the castle (Bran 6, ACOK). That part was easy enough. Problems begin when neither Balon nor Asha send reinforcements, compounded by the “escape” of Bran, Rickon, the Reeds, Hodor, Osha and the direwolves. A desperate Theon with guidance from “Reek” mounts the heads of the miller’s boys on the gates of Winterfell, passing them off as Bran and Rickon (Theon 4, ACOK).
Asha, when she does arrive with twenty men, is quick to point out to Theon the folly of his ways: “”The Prince of Winterfell… or is it the Prince of Fools?” As Theon admonishes her for not supporting him, Asha points out the long term hopelessness of his situation:
Your prize will be the doom of you. Krakens rise from the sea, Theon, or did you forget that during your years among the wolves? Our strength is in our longships. My wooden pisspot sits close enough to the sea for supplies and fresh men to reach me whenever they are needful. But Winterfell is hundreds of leagues inland, ringed by woods, hills, and hostile holdfasts and castles. And every man in a thousand leagues is your enemy now, make no mistake. You made certain of that when you mounted those heads on your gatehouse.[…] How could you be such a bloody fool? Children…
Asha implores Theon to put the castle to the torch and return with her to Deepwood Motte, but he refuses to give up his prize. Further humiliation is the only alternative in his eyes. And there we leave Theon to his fate for now.
The death of Balon Greyjoy starts a new chapter in Asha’s power issues. This creates a power vacuum and now the process of choosing Balon’s successor begins. That Euron Greyjoy sails into port the day after poses problems for Aeron Damphair, who believes “no ungodly man can sit the Seastone Chair.” But then again, Euron is ahead of Victarion in the line of succession as the elder brother. Asha, technically the first in line as Theon is believed dead, is not a candidate in Aeron’s eyes, “No woman will ever rule the Ironborn, not even a woman such as Asha.” Aeron solves this dilemma by conferring with the Drowned God and deciding to resurrect the ancient practice of choosing the king by a “kingsmoot.” (The Prophet, AFFC)
Asha hears of this from her nuncle Rodrik on Harlaw:
Asha threw back her head and laughed. “The Drowned God must have shoved a pricklefish up Uncle Aeron’s arse. A kingsmoot?.Is this some jape, or does he mean it truly?”[….]Better a kingsmoot than a war.
(The Kraken’s Daugter, AFFC)
Pricklefish or no, a kingsmoot it is, on Old Wyk. The Reader counsels strongly against Asha challenging for the Driftwood Crown: “You will not want to hear this Asha, but you will not be chosen. No woman has ever ruled the Ironborn.” He points out that previous kingsmoots have turned into bloodbaths and also that the Iron Throne will not tolerate another king or queen in Westeros. But Asha proves almost as oblivious to good advice as Theon, and hints that she will steer a “third course” between thralldom and war at her “queensmoot.”(The Kraken’s Daughter, AFFC)
Victarion also tries to dissuade Asha to no avail. Asha even offers to back Victarion in the kingsmoot if he shares the rule or makes her Hand of the King. But Victarion is old-school and believes women should be wives, not rulers. Perhaps it’s his stated intention to continue Balon’s rebellion, a war Asha believes is a lost cause, that decides Asha in taking part in the kingsmoot? She also shows her bravery—or is it brashness?—in questioning Euron on the timing of his return to the Iron Islands, the day after Balon’s death (The Iron Captain, AFFC).
That Euron wins the kingsmoot comes as little surprise given his promises of conquering all of Westeros using his dragonhorn, found in the smoking ruins of Valyria, “where no man dares to tread.” However, it’s worth looking at Asha’s pitch in light of how she intended to use her power.
I give you the wealth of the Stony Shore,” Asha said as the first (chest) was upended. An avalanche of pebbles clattered forth, cascading down the steps. “I give you the riches of Deepwood,” she said, as the second chest was opened. Pinecones came pouring out, to roll and bounce into the crowd. “And last, the gold of Winterfell.” From the third chest came yellow turnips…
“And if I shouted your name?” Harmund demanded. “What then?”
“Peace,” said Asha. “Land. Victory. I’ll give you Sea Dragon Point and the Stony Shore, black earth and tall trees and stones enough for every younger son to build a hall. We’ll have the northmen too… as friends, to stand with us against the Iron Throne. Your choice is simple. Crown me for peace and victory. Or crown my nuncle, for more war and more defeat.
We can see here that though Asha wants power, she wants it for sound reasons and has a long term strategy to back it up. This contrasts with Theon’s grab of Winterfell without thinking of the ongoing consequences .Of note, though, is that being “friends” with the northmen against the Iron Throne was essentially the plan that Theon brought to Pyke in the first place.
Asha is now in a spot of trouble, Euron is a king who may see Asha as a future threat to his crown. We learn in The Reaver that Asha had “run” after the kingsmoot. “The night the driftwood crown was placed on Euron’s head, she and her crew had melted away.” But we find her again in Deepwood Motte in ADWD, The Wayward Bride. And we find that Asha had meant “to stay and fight” after the kingsmoot, but for once had taken the advice of the Reader and left.
Now sitting in Galbart Glover’s chair and drinking his wine, she receives a letter from Ramsay Bolton containing “a piece of prince” which confirms Theon is still alive, and that she will share the fate of the flayed ironmen if she remains at Deepwood. Returning to the islands seems a poor option too, since Euron has married Asha in absentia to Erik Ironmaker, using a seal to represent Asha at the betrothal. She can at least admire the political astuteness of the move, and even jape, “I hope Erik did not insist on a consummation.”
As Asha leads her crew back to their longships, they are set upon by Stannis’ northmen, and despite a brave fight, Asha is taken hostage, she is now the king’s prize. Tris Botley may have provided a future card to play with his story of “Torgon the Latecomer,” a kingsmoot that was declared illegal due to the absence of the rightful heir. No doubt she’s thinking of Theon here, but will she ever get to play that card? For now, let’s leave Asha on her snowbound journey to Winterfell as a prisoner of Stannis Baratheon.
The crippled boy and the Stark without a direwolf
Bran and Sansa Stark have little in common with Asha and Theon as characters, and indeed have little interaction with each other, but their stories are connected and appear to become increasingly so as the novels progress. Power as the Greyjoys see it is not a factor in the lives of the Stark siblings at the begining of the story, but power manifests itself in different ways, and they find themselves having to deal with it,also in different ways.
Bran and Sansa don’t have any interactions in the books, but they seem to have a normal loving brother-sister bond and typical childhood aspirations. Bran wants to be a knight in the Kingsguard (Bran 2, AGOT), and Sansa is enchanted at the prospect of being queen to an ideal king, Joffrey (Sansa 1, AGOT). They are both connected, as are all the Stark siblings (including Jon) by having their own direwolves.
But both face loss early in the story. Bran becomes a cripple, having been pushed from a tower by a member of the Kingsguard, Jaime Lannister (Bran 2, AGOT), and Sansa loses her direwolf, Lady, due to the actions of her prince perfect. Their arcs reflect how they recover from these losses and shattered dreams, not that there aren’t more losses and shattered dreams to follow.
But first let’s look at Bran and Theon, because not only do their arcs intersect but they have significant influence on each other. Theon is present at Winterfell throughout Bran’s childhood, though he pays him little attention:
As a boy, he had lived in fear of Stark’s stern face and great dark sword. His lady wife was, if anything, even more distant and suspicious.
As for their children, the younger ones had been mewling babes for most of his years at Winterfell. Only Robb and his baseborn half-brother had been old enough to be worth his notice (Theon 1, ACOK).
From Bran’s point of view:
Bran looked away and pretended not to have heard, but he could feel Greyjoy’s eyes on him. No doubt he was smiling. He smiled a lot, as if the world were a secret joke that only he was clever enough to understand. Robb seemed to admire Theon and enjoy his company, but Bran had never warmed to his father’s ward.
(Bran 4, AGOT)
So, no love lost there. But Theon goes on to save Bran’s life a later chapter. As a knife is held to Bran’s throat by a wildling, Theon kills him with an arrow in the back. Robb chides him for being reckless, though taking Winterfell was reckless too. It seems to be in his nature.
As Theon rides off to war against the Lannisters with Robb, Bran is left as the Lord in Winterfell and begins to try to understand his strange dreams. They began with his coma dream in which a three-eyed crow urged him to fly because “Winter is coming.”
Bran has been having dreams of the crow since then, and also strange dreams of being a direwolf and dreams of a weirwood calling to him. Maester Luwin can make no sense of them. No one can, really, until the arrival of Jojen and Meera Reed, ostensibly to re-pledge their oath to the Starks, but also to guide Bran towards his destiny. On the night of their arrival, Bran has a wolf dream:
The intruders had pushed a few yards into the wood when he came upon them;a female and a young male, with no taint of fear to them, even when he showed them the white of his teeth.[…] “They will be bigger still before they are grown,” the young male said, watching them with eyes large, green, and unafraid. “The black one is full of fear and rage, but the grey is strong… stronger than he knows… can you feel him, sister?
And so through his direwolf’s eyes Bran can see the insight that Jojen possesses. Greensight, in fact. He helps Bran understand his warging abilities and the nature of the three-eyed crow.
You are the winged wolf, Bran,” said Jojen. “I wasn’t sure when we first came, but now I am. The crow sent us here to break your chains.
Jojen proves the truth of his greendreams by predicting the Greyjoy attack on Winterfell, down to naming who will be killed.
I dreamed that the sea was lapping all around Winterfell. I saw black waves crashing against the gates and towers, and then the salt water came flowing over the walls and filled the castle. Drowned men were floating in the yard. When I first dreamed the dream, back at Greywater, I didn’t know their faces, but now I do. That Alebelly is one, the guard who called our names at the feast. Your septon’s another. Your smith as well.
It comes to pass. Bran senses the attack in a wolf dream and wakes to find Theon has taken over the castle. He forces Bran to yield Winterfell. But Bran escapes to the crypts along with the Reeds, Rickon, Hodor and Osha. And it’s there in the darkness that Bran opens his third eye (reaching out to Jon). Theon’s actions seem to have set the circumstances which activate Bran’s powers, and the subsequent sacking and burning of Winterfell sets him on his journey to find the three-eyed crow.
At the end of that journey is a greenseer formerly known as Brynden Rivers, or Bloodraven. A former member of the Night’s Watch, a bastard Targaryen, Hand of the King and alleged sorcerer with 1001 eyes. He’s deep in a cave, tended by the Children of the Forest, and so bound up in a weirwood throne that a root is extending through one of his eye sockets. This scary 150 year old is now Bran’s mentor, teaching him the secrets of skinchanging and seeing through the eyes of the weirwoods. He can’t walk but he can fly. And perhaps much else besides. In terms of power, who knows what a greenseer can do? The only caveat to add to that is that Bran is only ten…
Theon, meanwhile, has changed considerably. In fact, he’s not Theon anymore, he’s Reek. He’s been tortured by Ramsay Bolton to the extent that he’s aged 40 years in appearance, has been disfigured physically and can’t even think his own name, never mind say it (Reek 1, ADWD). But the Boltons have put him to use. First by leading the Ironborn abandoned at Moat Cailin to their deaths by flaying, then giving away fake Arya away in a sham marriage to Ramsay beneath the heart tree in Winterfell (The Prince of Winterfell, ADWD).
At this point, in power terms Theon/Reek is possibly as low as a man can get. Hated by everyone as a “turncloak,” Theon finds that he has only the heart tree that he once renounced to confide to, “Ned Stark prayed to a tree. No, I care nothing for Stark’s gods.” (Theon 1, ACOK)
But in The Turncloak, ADWD:
Tendrils of mist hung in the air like ghostly ribbons. Why did I come here? This is not my place. The heart tree stood before him, a pale giant with a carved face and leaves like bloody hands.[…] Theon sank to his knees beside it. “Please,” he murmured through his broken teeth, “I never meant…” The words caught in his throat. “Save me,” he finally managed. “Give me…” What? Strength? Courage?Mercy? Snow fell around him, pale and silent, keeping its own counsel.The only sound was a faint soft sobbing. Jeyne, he thought. It is her, sobbing in her bridal bed. Who else could it be? Gods do not weep. Or do they?
They might if they were a ten year old boy who knew Theon as he once was and his birthplace as it used to be, with Starks, not Boltons in control. Theon is required to escort Lady Dustin down to the crypts and to hear her story of why she hates the Starks. But she also asks a pointed question, “Why do you love the Starks?” “I….” Theon put a gloved hand against a pillar. “… I wanted to be one of them…”
One of them he’s not, but is there a chance of salvation or redemption for Theon here? Can Bran see Theon and hear his thoughts through the snows?
The world is gone. King’s Landing, Riverrun, Pyke, and the Iron Islands, all the Seven Kingdoms, every place that he had ever known, every place that he had ever read or dreamed of, all gone. Only Winterfell remained.
Theon is tasked with helping Abel and the washerwomen kidnap “Arya” from the castle. Theon knows Arya is not Arya, but Abel probably knows it too. The idea is that her escape will destabilize the Bolton alliance, which is built on the falsehood of the fake marriage. Reek would never have the strength to go with this plan, but Bran helps him remember his name:
The night was windless, the snow drifting straight down out of a cold black sky, yet the leaves of the heart tree were rustling his name. “Theon,” they seemed to whisper, “Theon.”
The old gods, he thought. They know me. They know my name. I was Theon of House Greyjoy. I was a ward of Eddard Stark, a friend and a brother to his children. “Please.” He fell to his knees. “A sword, that’s all I ask. Let me die as Theon, not as Reek” […]They know. The gods know. They saw what I did. And for one strange moment it seemed as if it were Bran’s face carved into the pale trunk of the weirwood, staring down at him with eyes red and wise, and sad. Bran’s ghost, he thought, but that was madness. Why would Bran want to haunt him?
Bran doesn’t want to haunt him, he wants him to know his name so he can rescue “Arya”, which he does with the help of the washerwomen. And when he and Jeyne are deposited in front of Asha, at least he recognizes her and knows his own name.
Bran and Sansa
Whereas Bran loses his legs and gains superpowers of sorts, Sansa in contrast loses what seems to be her only connection to the old gods, her direwolf Lady, and has to make do with what she apparently has little of to start with, her wits.
Aside from hints at normal sibling affection, we don’t see any direct interaction between Bran and Sansa. But we get a sense of empathy when Sansa’s “treason” letter arrives at Winterfell.
Bran would never forget the look on Robb’s face as he stared at their sister’s words. “She says Father conspired at treason with the king’s brothers,” he read. “King Robert is dead, and Mother and I are summoned to the Red Keep to swear fealty to Joffrey. She says we must be loyal, and when she marries Joffrey she will plead with him to spare our lord father’s life.” His fingers closed into a fist, crushing Sansa’s letter between them. “And she says nothing of Arya, nothing, not so much as a word. What’s wrong with the girl?”
Bran felt all cold inside. “She lost her wolf,” he said, weakly, remembering the day when four of his father’s guardsmen had returned from the south with Lady’s bones.
To Bran, losing your direwolf is akin to losing part of yourself. Wiser and older heads realize these are Cersei’s words, not Sansa’s. Bran goes on to ponder on the fate of all the Starks who went south and never returned. It’s quite a list: Rickard, his uncle Brandon “and two hundred of his best men. None had ever returned.”
And Father had gone south, with Arya and Sansa, and Jory and Hullen and Fat Tom and the rest, and later Mother and Ser Rodrik had gone, and they hadn’t come back either. And now Robb meant to go.
We know Robb’s fate, but can Sansa buck this trend? It appears that she’s doing just that, and using her wits to do so, saying the right things, learning to act, learning to lie. Asha chose to act as Esgred for her own purposes, but Sansa has to act as Alayne for her own survival, and she seems to be doing a good job of it.
Bran also sees Sansa in his coma dream:
He looked south, and saw the great blue-green rush of the Trident. He saw his father pleading with the king, his face etched with grief. He saw Sansa crying herself to sleep at night and he saw Arya watching in silence and holding her secrets hard in her heart. There were shadows all around them. One shadow was dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound. Another was armored like the sun, golden and beautiful. Over them both loomed a giant in armor made of stone, but when he opened his visor there was nothing but thick black blood.
(Bran 3, AGOT)
A lot has been written about the Hound/Sansa relationship, so no need to go there. The giant is of interest, as Petyr Baelish, Sansa’s mentor and tormentor in chief, fits that description (His grandfather’s sigil was the Titan of Braavos).The Ghost of High Heart also uses the word “giant” in relation to Sansa:
I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.
(Arya 8, ASOS)
A fairly accurate prophecy, and it seems to play out in Sansa’s “snow” chapter in AFFC. Here, she decides to build a replica of Winterfell from the falling snow:
When she opened the door to the garden, it was so lovely that she held her breath, unwilling to disturb such perfect beauty.[…] A pure world, Sansa thought. I do not belong here.
And then an epiphany:
At the center of the garden, beside the statue of the weeping woman that lay broken and half-buried in the ground, she turned her face up to the sky and closed her eyes. She could feel the snow on her lashes, taste it on her lips. It was the taste of Winterfell. The taste of innocence. The taste of dreams.
As she builds Winterfell from the snow, a sense of power manifests in Sansa:
That was unchivalrously done, my lady.”
“As was bringing me here, when you swore to take me home.”
She wondered where the courage had come from, to speak to him so frankly. From Winterfell, she thought. I am stronger within the walls of Winterfell.
Contains Winds of Winter spoilers.
All four characters are alive going into The Winds of Winter, though some are in better shape than others. Of the four, Theon looks to be in the most imminent trouble. In the Theon sample chapter he’s a prisoner of Stannis Baratheon, chained to a wall and condemned to die. Asha has asked Stannis to behead Theon in front of the nearby heart tree, as a humane alternative to death by fire. But one wonders if Bran is finished with Theon yet. The ravens in their cages seem very enthusiastic about the tree idea, calling out the word “tree” and “Theon” repeatedly. Will there be an old gods intervention?
Asha herself is seen more as a prize by Stannis and is coveted by Justin Massey. Indeed, it seems Stannis has semi-promised her to him if he succeeds in his mission to Braavos. There may be an ongoing role for Asha in dealing with Euron and Victarion. Will she get to play that kingsmoot card?
Of course, we need to be aware that a battle is imminent in which anything could happen.
It looks like we are only beginning Bran’s story and to understand the powers he possesses. We will probably see a lot more Bran chapters in the next books. There maybe dark twists for Bran, we’re not entirely sure of the motivations of the Children of the Forest or Bloodraven for that matter.
Sansa is continuing to grow more politically astute and the foreshadowing suggest she will get to Winterfell and defeat Littlefinger. Whether this is a metaphorical or literal “slaying” remains to be seen. In Westeros, a hairnet can be as lethal as a throwing axe.
Arianne/Quentyn and Sansa/Robb
Hi, all! The following is a bit of analysis I put together for the Pawn to Player: Women In Power series. My portion was to discuss the power dynamic and sibling relationship of Sansa/Robb and Arianne/Quentyn. Many thanks to brashcandy for inviting me to participate in this project, I was deeply flattered to be asked to join the hallowed pages of Pawn to Player as a contributor.
Upon starting this project it became immediately clear how insightful was the framing brashcandy and Milady of York chose for the subject. The essay fairly wrote itself, more to the credit of this framing than my own work. So I have to thank them, further, for directing me to such fertile ground for analysis. Because of this I’ve gained further insight into a pair of relationships I might not otherwise have thought too much about, and I hope this will be the case for everyone who reads my analysis. Thanks for reading!
Sansa and Robb
Early on in GoT, both Sansa and Robb are positioned as rising power players. Robb will one day be Lord of Winterfell, and is left as de facto Lord after the departure of Ned first and later Catelyn to King’s Landing. Sansa is betrothed to Joffrey to one day reign as Queen and become one of the most powerful women in the Seven Kingdoms. This, of course, is all ultimately set awry.
Their arcs inform one another from the beginning, and we quickly learn that different things will be required of each on their paths to potential power. Both have formative experiences with their direwolves. In Robb’s case, Grey Wind (and Summer) are instrumental in saving Bran from the wildlings they meet while riding in the Wolfswood. In contrast, Sansa learns to her sorrow that wolfishness can be costly in the south. After Joffrey attacks Mycah and Arya and Nymeria respond, Lady is made a sacrifice to Cersei’s twisted sense of justice. Robb’s and Sansa’s arcs both are presaged here; Robb’s path will involve violence and brashness and open hostility will serve his ends; Sansa will have to contain her anger and remain courteous or else face dire consequences. They’ll operate in different spheres of power, Robb will live on the battlefield while Sansa will live in court, and they’ll have to learn different skills to meet these exigencies.
Ned’s death sends them in opposite directions, exasperating the divide between the lives they’ll lead and the skills they’ll need to survive. Robb is raised to King in the North, while Sansa is (eventually) reduced from Joffrey’s future Queen to merely Sansa Stark, potential Lady of Winterfell (not that she’s complaining). Interestingly, both are parties in some capacity to broken marriage contracts, Robb with a Frey daughter and Sansa with Joffrey. The broken vows sets up later weddings that have dire consequences for the contract breakers: Robb dies at Edmure’s wedding while Joffrey dies at his own wedding.
And with this an exclamation point is put on the end of their divergent power arcs. Robb failed to learn the courtly skills that Sansa must master in her arc, insulting the Freys and running afoul custom and courtesy to his demise. Robb’s arc ends at this wedding, while Sansa’s arc opens to new possibility as she is freed from captivity in King’s Landing. More on that later.
Arianne and Quentyn
Arianne and Quentyn grow up in the opposite circumstance to Sansa and Robb. Arianne is the eldest daughter and by Dornish custom will one day inherit Dorne as Princess. Quentyn is as Sansa is, marriageable but not likely to inherit power in his own right.
Secretly, however, Arianne was once betrothed to marry Viserys and become Queen, while Quentyn was meant to inherit Dorne. This arrangement is swapped after the death of Viserys, and Arianne is intended to follow Doran as ruler of Dorne while Quentyn is to marry Daenerys and become King. Or, this was the case, until certain conflagrant developments in ADWD. More on that, too, later.
Arianne offers one of the more aggressive critiques of the gendered power structure that we see in the series. Having read a letter some time ago from Doran to Quentyn referring to him one day ruling Dorne, she believes Doran means to disinherit her and give Dorne to Quentyn instead, which she will not allow. In AFFC she plots to crown Myrcella Queen of the Seven Kingdoms as the eldest living child of Robert and Cersei, while also defending her birthright to become Princess of Dorne after her father’s death. In doing so she seeks to confirm Dornish law in Dorne as well as expand it across the whole of the Seven Kingdoms. In the process, she means to take revenge against the Iron Throne for past injustices. She is nothing if not ambitious. Her plan, of course, fails, and she learns that Doran did not mean to disinherit her but instead to make her Queen through Viserys.
Quentyn’s journey is less ambitious in terms of critiquing gendered power structure, although it is noteworthy that he seeks to empower himself through a woman. His journey is, however, astoundingly ambitious in terms of ‘what-the-hell-were-you-thinking’ gall. He crosses the Narrow Sea and joins up with a sellsword company to reach Slaver’s Bay before defecting to propose marriage to Daenerys, in lieu of Viserys’ death and the broken contract between him and Arianne. Upon being spurned, he plots to steal her dragons. His plan, too, fails.
And so Arianne and Quentyn find their paths diverging as Sansa’s and Robb’s did. The former goes forth with greater knowledge and experience, and perhaps with lessons learned, while the latter has failed to his death.
The Lot of Them: Unwitting Sibling Rivalry
There are a number of interesting parallels between Arianne, Sansa, Robb and Quentyn. Their arcs are largely instigated on similar terms, and they end up in similar circumstances. Intriguingly, the potential of each for power and station stands in tension to the others.
Their fathers, Ned and Doran, are similar men. Both are basically compassionate, often deliberate rather than rash, haunted by the past, and following paths decided for them by Robert’s Rebellion. Neither man sees fit to trust their eldest daughter, Sansa or Arianne, with crucial information that could only have avoided hardship. Ned doesn’t explain the dangers of King’s Landing to Sansa, and Doran doesn’t tell Arianne that he has sent Quentyn away to marry Daenerys. Ned’s decisions, albeit less than intentionally, send Robb to claim a crown and Sansa to captivity. Doran does the same to his son and daughter with more intentionality.
Both Sansa and Arianne spend time plotting their own liberation, Sansa from King’s Landing and Arianne from potential disempowerment by her brother. Each has a ‘soiled’ Knight for a confidant, Dontos for Sansa and Arys for Arianne. When their plans come to fruition both of their confidants are killed, and they find themselves in captivity. Arianne is put in a tower in Sunspear, while Sansa is taken to the Eyrie. In captivity Arianne learns to be humble, a skill Sansa has been honing for the entirety of her arc.
Robb and Quentyn both go to war, Robb in the Riverlands and Westerlands, and Quentyn with a sellsword company in Astapor. Both break contracts, Robb with the Freys and Quentyn to the Windblown; after breaking these contracts, both men die. Both have companions who beg them to turn back and set aside their crown (or potential crown).
An interesting feature of all their relationships is that for one of them to be King/Queen, the others must not be. They’re turned into unwitting enemies of one another in terms of who has power. When Arianne is to be Viserys’ Queen, Quentyn is to be ‘Prince,’ or basically a Lord. When Sansa is to be Joffrey’s Queen, Robb is to be a Lord. Viserys’ death reduces Arianne’s potential to being a mere Princess while raising Quentyn to potential Kingship, Robb taking up his crown makes certain that Joffrey will set Sansa aside and she won’t become Queen.
In the case of Arianne and Quentyn, they become active rivals in Arianne’s imagining. She begins to make moves to counter his power. In the case of Sansa and Robb, they’re turned into enemies in another way, though less willingly. Sansa must make a show of being opposed to Robb, and Robb disinherits Sansa after her marriage to Tyrion.
Their families are broadly on the opposite side of the major conflicts in Westeros, both now and in the past. The Starks were rebels while the Martells were loyalists, now the Starks are declaring independence from the Iron Throne while the Martells are trying to reclaim the Iron Throne for the Targaryens. It might have been the case that Sansa became Queen only to be deposed by Arianne and Viserys, or Quentyn and Daenerys. It’s unlikely that Robb, had he lived, would have been allowed to remain King in the North had either Arianne or Quentyn come to power. In this way they all stand in conflict with one another. Their attachments to one another are either as close as siblings or as far as a continent apart, but they find themselves opponents, in theory, based on the decisions of their forbears.
With the strong parallels between this set of characters, there’s a fair bit of interesting speculation we can engage in. Both Robb and Quentyn are, of course, dead, and both their deaths have massive repercussions for Sansa and Arianne, and they’ve both got a bit of unfinished business out in the world. Sansa and Arianne are both brimming with possibility, and both are more experienced and world-wiser.
Both Robb and Quentyn affix their signatures to documents before their deaths, and it will be interesting to see whether these plans are moot points only meant as red herrings before both their spectacular downfalls, or whether they’ll be important. Robb has declared Jon heir to the North, while Quentyn has promised the Tattered Prince Pentos. The last acts of these men might still prove powerful going forward, it remains to be seen.
What’s quite certain, though, is that their deaths have important and obvious consequences for Sansa and Arianne in terms of future power. With Robb dead and Bran and Rickon presumed dead, Sansa is heir to the North (so long as Robb’s will doesn’t bind anyone). With Quentyn dead, Arianne is once again in line to possibly become Queen—this time as Aegon (probably fake, in my opinion) Targaryen’s wife. Tragically, the deaths of their siblings have cleared the way to greater power for the both of them.
Given the previous paralleling of Sansa and Arianne’s arcs—both have fathers who neglect to deal with them candidly, both make plots that ultimately lead them to captivity, both are heiresses—we should expect to see their arcs to continue to parallel going forward. This is particularly the case as Arianne’s captivity in Sunspear so strongly channels Sansa’s time in the Eyrie, and both of them have now descended from these places. Both have now been included in the plans of their father figures, although Littlefinger has displaced Ned for Sansa/Alayne. Their ‘fathers’ plans for them both appear to be wed them to powerful heirs, Sansa to Harry Hardyng and Arianne to Aegon “Targaryen.” In either case, they’ve been brought into the planning stages, and greater knowledge has been made available to them. It remains to be seen what either of them will do with it.
I think we can all safely assume that Littlefinger does not truly have Sansa’s best interests at heart, and I think this permits us to wonder whether Doran’s plan is really in Arianne’s best interest, even if it is almost certainly intended in her best interest. There’s also some question of whether Littlefinger really intends Harry as Sansa’s final match, we know he wanted to marry her in the past and has a demonstrated creepy attachment toward. It’s possible he either intends her for himself ultimately, or that he might try to betroth her to Aegon. This would put Sansa and Arianne at odds, both of them could not be Aegon’s queen, of course, but only one.
Another possibility is that with a claim to the North, Riverlands, and Vale, Littlefinger could be planning for Sansa to rule as Queen over these three regions. I’m quite convinced that Littlefinger will meet his end by Sansa’s doing, but Littlefinger’s death will not, of course, negate Sansa’s claims. She stands to inherit significant power in the coming books. It is also quite possible that she could end up ruling through her younger brother Rickon, who stands also to inherit the North and Riverlands (give or take a death or tree turning-into). She would also likely command the loyality of the Vale as well, who have been notable allies to the North and Riverlands in recent past. This, too, would put Sansa and Arianne at odds, if Arianne is Queen though the Iron Throne.
Perhaps the most intriguingly looming figure in all of this is Daenerys. When she arrives in Westeros, how will Arianne and Sansa react? Arianne has strongly expressed her belief that women should stand to inherit power equally to men. Aegon, were he real, would be heir before Daenerys by Targaryen law, although it’s somewhat muddled by two claims Daenerys might make. She might claim a greater claim based on being Aerys’ child rather than simply Rhaegar’s, although obviously inheritance usually passes through generations rather than to siblings and so would have gone through Rhaegar to his son before Dany. But Arianne has shown a powerful desire to see a woman seated on the throne, and could easily be susceptible to such an argument. The next argument is that Aegon is very probably a fake. There may be little tangible evidence one way or the other, but it seems likely to me that Dany will know him to be false based on the prophecies of the House of the Undying and from Quaithe. Might Arianne be primed to believe Dany, given her preference for female rulers, and her willingness to make radical moves to achieve this end? It seems quite possible to me that they’ll end up allied.
Just as Arianne adopts some of Sansa’s subtlety at the end of her captivity in AFFC, perhaps we can expect to see Sansa adopt some of Arianne’s gamesmanship, and maybe even some of her views on women in power. Sansa is positioned now with a potential confidant in Myranda Royce, who seems politically aware and sexually liberal. I think it’s quite possible we could see a repeat of Arianne’s plot to steal away and crown Myrcella, either with Robert Arryn being stolen away from Littlefinger, or the potential Queen Sansa herself stolen away from Littlefinger. If this bit of speculation does come to pass, let’s all hope it’s more successful.
A crackpot on Ser Morgarth the Merry
by Brashcandy and Milady of York
When Sansa leaves the Eyrie in her final chapter of AFFC, she is sent to Littlefinger’s solar at the Gates of the Moon and there encounters three knights, all of whom display pleasure at meeting the Lord Protector’s beautiful daughter. After the men depart, Littlefinger explains his reason for hiring these “hungry knights”:
… I thought it best that we have a few more swords about us. The times grow ever more interesting, my sweet, and when the times are interesting you can never have too many swords. The Merling King’s returned to Gulltown, and old Oswell had some tales to tell.”
For a man with no martial ability and currently overseeing contentious factions in the Vale, hiring more swords is a smart move, and Littlefinger is certainly correct in his assertion that these are interesting times. The news of a dragon queen in the East would have made its way to his ears via the port in Gulltown, and probably informs his later talk of the three queens. But the men he contracts are also quite interesting, as one is Ser Shadrich, the Mad Mouse, who is searching for Sansa in order to gain the ransom offered by Varys:
Ser Shadrich laughed. “Oh, I doubt that, but it may be that you and I share a quest. A little lost sister, is it? With blue eyes and auburn hair?” He laughed again. “You are not the only hunter in the woods.
I seek for Sansa Stark as well.”
Brienne kept her face a mask, to hide her dismay. “Who is this Sansa Stark, and why do you seek her?”
“For love, why else?”
She furrowed her brow. “Love?”
“Aye, love of gold. Unlike your good Ser Creighton, I did fight upon the Blackwater, but on the losing side. My ransom ruined me. You know who Varys is, I trust? The eunuch has offered a plump bag of gold for this girl you’ve never heard of. I am not a greedy man. If some oversized wench would help me find this naughty child, I would split the Spider’s coin with her.”
So we know that Shadrich has succeeded where Brienne has not, and managed to find himself in the same location of Sansa Stark, even though there’s no indication that he has recognised Alayne Stone as the missing girl he seeks at this point in time. For readers, the Mad Mouse is meant to stand out for the risk he presents to Sansa’s security and Littlefinger’s carefully laid plans. But has Martin pulled one over on us? Has he secreted another interloper in this group who’s also interested in finding Sansa Stark? This is the crux of our crackpot. Let’s look again at the descriptions of the men:
She hugged him dutifully and kissed him on the cheek. “I am sorry to intrude, Father. No one told me you had company.”
“You are never an intrusion, sweetling. I was just now telling these good knights what a dutiful daughter I had.”
“Dutiful and beautiful,” said an elegant young knight whose thick blond mane cascaded down well past his shoulders.
“Aye,” said the second knight, a burly fellow with a thick salt-and-pepper beard, a red nose bulbous with broken veins, and gnarled hands as large as hams. “You left out that part, m’lord.”
“I would do the same if she were my daughter,” said the last knight, a short, wiry man with a wry smile, pointed nose, and bristly orange hair. “Particularly around louts like us.”
Alayne laughed. “Are you louts?” she said, teasing. “Why, I took the three of you for gallant knights.
The first knight is young and handsome, and is the one who kisses Alayne’s hands before leaving the room. Of the three hedge knights, the second one going by the name of Ser Morgarth passes virtually unnoticed. His description, however, is curious, not only because of the “thick beard” that could indicate someone trying to conceal their identity, but particularly the “red nose bulbous with broken veins.” The description first recalls Ser Dontos, who happens to be the man that is rumoured to have helped Sansa escape and believed to be still in her company. The Mad Mouse tells Brienne:
A certain fool vanished from King’s Landing the night King Joffrey died, a stout fellow with a nose full of broken veins, one Ser Dontos the Red, formerly of Duskendale. I pray your sister and her drunken fool are not mistaken for the Stark girl and Ser Dontos. That could be most unfortunate.
But unless Dontos has risen from the dead, and both Alayne and Littlefinger are suffering from acute memory loss, we know that Ser Morgarth is not the former knight turned court jester. There is someone else who matches the description, though. Someone who knows of Sansa Stark and that she’s missing:
The Elder Brother was not what Brienne had expected. He could hardly be called elder, for a start; whereas the brothers weeding in the garden had had the stooped shoulders and bent backs of old men, he stood straight and tall, and moved with the vigor of a man in the prime of his years. Nor did he have the gentle, kindly face she expected of a healer. His head was large and square, his eyes shrewd, his nose veined and red. Though he wore a tonsure, his scalp was as stubbly as his heavy jaw.
He looks more like a man made to break bones than to heal one, thought the Maid of Tarth, as the Elder Brother strode across the room to embrace Septon Meribald and pat Dog.
There are a few coincidences to highlight:
- Like Ser Morgarth, the Elder Brother has a veiny red nose.
- Brienne notes that the Elder Brother looks as though he would break bones, not heal them, which could accord with the “hands as large as hams” of Morgarth.
- The Elder Brother may be an older man, but he’s a former knight and still fit and capable enough to impress Brienne—a warrior herself. He would have no problem convincing Littlefinger to hire him for protection, and Morgarth is described as “burly.”
- At the time of Brienne’s visit, the Elder Brother’s jaw has stubble on it. Is this the beginning of the thick beard we see later on?
During their conversation, the Elder Brother reveals knowledge of Sansa once Brienne tells him the standard description she’s been repeating along her quest. His quick confirmation would indicate prior familiarity with Sansa’s appearance, which we can assume came from Sandor Clegane, who is being sheltered on the island, unbeknownst to Brienne. He tells her that the Hound died on the banks of the Trident, a tortured man who gave and received no love, but only lived to kill his brother. His advice for the Maid of Tarth is to go home and reunite with her father. But Brienne stubbornly insists that she cannot do so, she has sworn an oath and must keep it:
I have to find her,” she finished. “There are others looking, all wanting to capture her and sell her to the queen. I have to find her first. I promised Jaime. Oathkeeper, he named the sword. I have to try to save her . . . or die in the attempt.
This is apparently the last we see of the Elder Brother, and Brienne moves on to the Crossroads Inn, to kill “the Hound,” and her eventual meeting with Lady Stoneheart. But just why would the Elder Brother leave the peaceful enclave of the QI and travel to the Vale? Resuming his old occupation is no problem as Brienne tells him “you look more like a knight than you do a holy man,” yet that life was aimless and unfulfilling, fighting on Rhaegar’s side of the war only by chance, and so desperate to regain a horse that he kept on fighting even whilst injured. All of this changes when he washes up on the QI, born again into the Faith of the Seven. It doesn’t sound like a man who would willingly get back into the political arena, but this appears to be his intention:
The riverlands are still too dangerous. Vargo Hoat’s scum remain abroad, and Beric Dondarrion has been hanging Freys. Is it true that Sandor Clegane has joined him?
How does he know that? “Some say. Reports are confused.” The bird had come last night, from a septry on an island hard by the mouth of the Trident. The nearby town of Saltpans had been savagely raided by a band of outlaws, and some of the survivors claimed a roaring brute in a hound’s head helm was amongst the raiders. Supposedly he’d killed a dozen men and raped a girl of twelve.
Why would the Elder Brother choose to send a report to the Crown of all people about the events of Saltpans, and which mentions a roaring brute in a hound’s helm? This is like a papal Nuncio reporting to the Pentagon instead of the Vatican, so why did the Elder Brother not report to his superiors instead, to the High Sparrow? Why to Cersei, the former boss of the Hound? This is strange, as the Elder Brother knows that the Crown wants Sandor’s head, and sending this information is basically an official attempt to “clear his name.” These words to Brienne after he talks about Saltpans and before he discloses that he “buried the Hound” are also telling about the purpose of writing to the Crown:
Wolves are nobler than that . . . and so are dogs, I think.”
“I see.” Brienne did not know why he was telling her all of this, or what else she ought to say.
Whatever the Elder Brother is involved in or planning, it likely has to do with Sandor Clegane as well. It may explain why he tries so hard to convince Brienne that the Hound is dead and to give up her quest. We have not overlooked the possibility that the Elder Brother could be invested in finding Sansa Stark, and Brienne’s final words are a poignant outpouring of emotion in support of finding the girl and protecting her from the captors in the capital. However, we think his efforts have more to do with clearing Sandor’s name because he needs him for his still undisclosed plans and infiltrating the Vale’s political workings as Littlefinger is the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands. That he was already prepared for this mission before Brienne’s arrival can be surmised by the growth of hair on his head and jaw despite wearing a tonsure. And he might have made Brother Narbert privy to some of these plans, as the proctor has given at least two indications that he may know the true identity of the Gravedigger:
Lady Brienne is a warrior maid,” confided Septon Meribald, “hunting for the Hound.”
“Aye?” Narbert seemed taken aback. “To what end?”
Brienne touched Oathkeeper’s hilt. “His,” she said.
The proctor studied her. “You are . . . brawny for a woman, it is true, but . . . mayhaps I should take you up to Elder Brother. He will have seen you crossing the mud. Come.
He is “taken aback” when Meribald tells him she’s looking for the Hound, and when she tells him she wants to kill him, he assesses her critically, as if he’d seen the Hound face to face and knew his size and his prowess not just by reputation. Then, talking of Saltpans, he describes the (real) Hound as “brutal,” which he might know by fame only, but then he closes his speech with “some wounds do not show.” This would hint that Narbert helped Elder Brother with Sandor, because no matter how strong the latter is, Sandor is extremely big and heavy, and he’d have needed some assistance whilst nursing him back to health, but due to the perils of hiding a wanted fugitive, he could only trust, to an extent at least, his proctor. That line fits so well with Sandor that makes one wonder if the Proctor knows some of the things he confessed to the Elder Brother.
The Timeline also fits, as according to two timeline sources, there’s an average of approximately 3 weeks to one month between the time of Brienne’s arrival at the Quiet Isle and Sansa’s meeting with the knights. Plus, based on the close proximity of the QI to the Vale, this would have been enough time for the Elder Brother to reach the Gates of the Moon.
Finally, the statements by the knights upon seeing Sansa may also hold clues for analysis. Ser Byron is the first to respond, and his words indicate an immediate attraction to Sansa, based on her looks. He later kisses her hand, making his affection clear. But it’s the two with hidden agendas whose statements are most provocative:
Aye,” said the second knight, a burly fellow with a thick salt-and-pepper beard, a red nose bulbous with broken veins, and gnarled hands as large as hams. “You left out that part, m’lord.”
“I would do the same if she were my daughter,” said the last knight, a short, wiry man with a wry smile, pointed nose, and bristly orange hair. “Particularly around louts like us.
Ser Morgarth’s words are an implicit challenge almost, a sly suggestion that Littlefinger has not been upfront about the true nature of this beautiful daughter. The Mad Mouse on the other hand pretends to support such an evasion, citing their loutish behaviour as the reason. It’s all meant to be light-hearted and good-natured teasing, but everyone in the room is playing a game and a part. Have Ser Morgarth’s suspicions been raised? If he truly is the Elder Brother then he knows the exact appearance of Sansa Stark, and more significantly, if he’s been privy to remembrances by Sandor Clegane, he also knows more personal qualities that Sansa might not think to conceal. Has Littlefinger only succeeded in hiring daggers instead of swords?
The Bloody Cloak: A Crackpot
By Lady Gwynhyfvar and Milady of York
As it’s often been discussed in the Pawn to Player threads, the cloak is highly significant as a symbol of protection and comfort in Sansa’s arc, but not just any cloak as not all of those she’s gotten have borne the same significance as one cloak in particular: the white one of the members of the royal guard belonging to the Hound, which is missing and unaccounted for after that brief line in ASOS Sansa I, in which she reveals she “had his stained white cloak hidden in a cedar chest beneath her summer silks.”
Or is it? With the participation of co-conspirator Milady of York, I’d like to present here my favorite little crackpot theory about what happened to Sandor’s discarded bloody Kingsguard cloak, inspired by earlier work for this thread.
Let’s start enumerating Sandor Clegane’s cloaks: apart from the Kingsguard one, only two other cloaks belonging to him are noted in the books. In AGOT, we find him associated with a bloody cloak for the first time:
There was something slung over the back of his destrier, a heavy shape wrapped in a bloody cloak. “No sign of your daughter, Hand,” the Hound rasped down, “but the day was not wholly wasted. We got her little pet.
It’s to be noted that the colour of this cloak isn’t mentioned at all, though we can speculate that it could’ve been crimson, for two reasons: Sandor is a Lannister man whose liege lady is Cersei, and the Lannister guards and men-at-arms wear crimson cloaks as a sort of uniform, and also because his presenting the cut down body of Mycah to Lord Eddard is reminiscent of Tywin presenting the bodies of the Targaryen babies murdered by Gregor to Robert in a bloodied crimson cloak.
Then, at the Hand’s Tourney, Sandor wears an olive-green cloak when he saves Ser Loras from his monstrous brother:
Sandor Clegane was the first rider to appear. He wore an olive- green cloak over his soot-grey armor. That, and his hound’s-head helm, were his only concession to ornament.
AGOT, Ch. 30
This is the only time the colour of Sandor’s cloak is noted, other than the Kingsguard white, and in contrast to this and the previous cloaks which are like uniforms, this one is his own personal garment.
When he joined Joffrey’s garde de corps, he would give Sansa his white cloak when she was beaten and stripped in public, which is the first demonstration on Sansa’s part that she finds his cloak comforting, and although the fate of the first cloak isn’t known either, this isn’t the one that interests us and whose whereabouts we aim to reveal in this crackpot but a later one.
In ACOK, we are familiar with the scene where Sandor visits Sansa’s chambers after he breaks during the fiery Battle of Blackwater. When he has taken his song he departs, leaving his discarded cloak behind, for Sansa to pick it up:
She found his cloak on the floor, twisted up tight, the white wool stained by blood and fire […] She shook out the torn cloak and huddled beneath it on the floor, shivering.
ACOK, Ch. 62
In ASOS, as Sansa flees King’s Landing, she dons a deep green cloak with a large hood in the castle godswood to cover the brightness of the pearls on the bodice of her brown dress.
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 deep green, with a large hood.
Interestingly, Sansa has a cloak in dark colours, a grey cloak, which may have served quite well to cover her in this occasion:
Sansa threw a plain grey cloak over her shoulders and picked up the knife she used to cut her meat. If it is some trap, better that I die than let them hurt me more, she told herself. She hid the blade under her cloak.
But instead of donning that one, she chose a green cloak. And the reason behind this is that it’s the Kingsguard cloak. We believe Sansa has dyed Sandor’s white cloak green to cover the blood stains. We know she has used this tactic to cover “blood” stains in the past; in AGOT we read that Arya hurled a blood orange at her sister in a fit of anger and ruined her lovely new ivory silk gown:
. . . Arya flung the orange across the table. It caught her in the middle of the forehead with a wet squish and plopped down into her lap […] The blood orange had left a blotchy red stain on the silk.
AGOT, Ch. 44
And when next we see that gown, Sansa has come up with the solution to dye it black; ostensibly as a symbol of royal mourning, but in reality to cover the stains left by the blood orange, and she wears it when she goes before the court to plead for her father:
Her gown was the ivory silk that the queen had given her, the one Arya had ruined, but she’d had them dye it black and you couldn’t see the stain at all.
The answer to the question “why green?” is twofold. First, and on a practical level, bloodstains that have failed to wash out of white fabric can often have a greenish cast, especially when the fabric are wool and silk, in which case the removal of bloodstains is even harder than for other fabrics, and both Sansa’s dress and Sandor’s cloaks are tailored precisely from these materials. Second, Sandor wearing the green cloak at the Tourney occurred the morning after their first significant interaction, so Sansa would have reason to remember his attire that day. Also, Sandor’s usual attire when he wasn’t armoured was a brown jerkin under his Kingsguard cloak, which wasn’t lost on Sansa either:
The white cloak of the Kingsguard was draped over his broad shoulders and fastened with a jeweled brooch, the snowy cloth looking somehow unnatural against his brown rough-spun tunic and studded leather jerkin. “Lady Sansa,” the Hound announced curtly when he saw her.
So the brown dress under the remade Kingsguard cloak is a perfect mirror of Sandor’s garb. The fact that she uses the green cloak to shield herself is so symbolically perfect that the conclusion almost writes itself.
On the matter of the hood, we don’t know for certain that Sandor’s cloak had a hood or not, but it’s likely that it didn’t since ceremonial cloaks were of the “cape” type and generally didn’t have hoods. We would suggest that if it did not, although Sandor most likely ripped a strip from the bottom of it to use as a bandage (“Sansa heard cloth ripping…”), we should remember that he stands well over a foot taller than Sansa, so it was a large piece of cloth and it’d be easy for a young lady known to be clever with her needle to cut a cloak down and fashion a hood from the pieces.
As closing thoughts, it’s noteworthy that after Sansa reveals that the cloak has been hidden away under her summer silks, she doesn’t think of it again until this passage:
As the boy’s lips touched her own she found herself thinking of another kiss. She could still remember how it felt, when his cruel mouth pressed down on her own. He had come to Sansa in the darkness as green fire filled the sky. He took a song and a kiss, and left me nothing but a bloody cloak.
This can indicate that she has the cloak still, since she doesn’t mention what became of it nor gives any indication that it is lost to her. Since we know that she only took one cloak with her as she fled King’s Landing, we shall now say with confidence, quod erat demonstrandum.
The Elder Brother’s healing powers: Enhanced by the Old Gods?
By Milady of York and Brashcandy
Caves in Westeros seem to be magical in one way or another, in relation to the Old Gods especially, “the gods of the forest, stream, and stone, the old gods whose names are secret,” as Maester Luwin told Brandon Stark, for their powers seem to be stronger in those sites when the combination of rock and water and weirwood is present. There are three sites in particular where this criterion seems to apply: the cave on the hillside where Arya is brought to by the Brotherhood without Banners, the cave of the children of the forest where Brandon is, and the cave at the Quiet Isle.
It’s the latter the one that interests us. This cave is from the First Men period, pre-Conquest, and likely it was a place similar to the cave occupied by the outlaws and the one where Bloodraven dwells. Note the description:
Brother Narbert led the visitors around a chestnut tree to a wooden door set in the side of the hill.
A cave with a door?” Ser Hyle said, surprised.
Septon Meribald smiled. “It is called the Hermit’s Hole. The first holy man to find his way here lived therein, and worked such wonders that others came to join him. That was two thousand years ago, they say. The door came somewhat later.
Perhaps two thousand years ago the Hermit’s Hole had been a damp, dark place, floored with dirt and echoing to the sounds of dripping water, but no longer. The cave that Brienne and her companions entered had been turned into a warm, snug sanctum. Woolen carpets covered the ground, tapestries the walls. Tall beeswax candles gave more than ample light. The furnishings were strange but simple; a long table, a settle, a chest, several tall cases full of books, and chairs.
All were made from driftwood, oddly shaped pieces cunningly joined together and polished till they shone a deep gold in the candlelight.
The description of damp, dark, dirty and with a water stream that ran therein in the past sounds quite similar to Bran’s cave, and not so dissimilar from the one sheltering the Brotherhood, all of which are also by a hillside like the first. Only weirwoods are missing for the parallel to be complete. Or are they missing, really? Given that the floor and the walls are covered with carpets and tapestries, at first glance it would seem that these trees aren’t present. Yet, as suggested by Bran Vras, the carpets could be hiding weirwood roots, and not only that but also fossilised weirwood branches or roots in the walls, covered by tapestries, and there can even be an entire intact network of weirwood roots inside the hill, which probably was a hill of the children of the forest long ago. If so, then it would indicate that the cave has still some remnants of the Old Gods magic about.
This brings us to the key point of our hypothesis:
The first holy man to find his way here lived therein, and worked such wonders that others came to join him.
So, we learn that the first inhabitant of that cave was a man who “worked wonders.” What sort of wonders, we can’t know for sure, but could part of his powers be related to healing? We have seen that Old Gods magic can lengthen and prolong human life, and though we’ve not seen on-page yet how their powers work applied to healing wounds and illnesses, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider that their magic can heal lost/impossible cases, such as Brandon’s survival from a fall that by all means should’ve killed him would demonstrate.
The Elder Brother is said to possess amazing healing powers, superior to the knowledge and abilities of healers trained at the Citadel, and to be able to deal with lost cases, to have “restored many a man to health that even the maesters could not cure, and many a woman too.” What if that gift is a result from some knowledge or power he acquired in the Quiet Isle that comes from the Old Gods, and that is linked to the cave? His office is in this cave, and if there’s magic still there, then it could be the source of his healing powers.
We’ve not been told where he takes the infirm to heal them, likely to the quarters destined for this in the Isle. But maybe he takes the most severe and hopeless cases to the cave and attends them there personally. If he does, then there’s the possibility that he could’ve taken Sandor there to recover from his leg wound. This would mean Sandor’s survival and recovery could have potentially been due to the power of the Old Gods/weirwoods working through the Elder Brother’s ministrations at his deathbed by the river and in a place where their magic is still present if diminished, because even though there was no gangrene, the infection would’ve truly killed him. It takes about six days to go from where he “died” to Saltpans riding on horseback, so even if the Elder Brother found him the same day that Arya left him, it’d have taken at least one week to arrive to the Quiet Isle, and poultice or not, he was in a feverish state to be moved and too debilitated by malnutrition as well. If the Elder Brother’s powers come from the Old Gods, then his recovery is even more so guaranteed to be complete, as the wound itself isn’t that serious. The real threat was the infection, complicated by high fever, not the wound per se. Take Drogo and Hoat, for example, their wounds were small, yet infection killed them; and even now, infections on a toe can get serious if fever strikes, antibiotics and all.
The issue is that the Elder Brother is a worshipper of the Seven, not a tree-worshipper; but perhaps he’s not aware of the true source of his powers of healing, or doesn’t seem to be. He was a knight, which indicates he was raised in the Faith since childhood as the majority of Southrons, and he doesn’t look the erudite type of monk either, but the “action” monk, as shown by his wandering far out of his monastery on whatever errands he was in, and that Brienne notes he’s still lean and fit even though he should not be given it’s been decades since he was a soldier, so this indicates he’s active to keep his physical fitness. Such a practical man would have an acceptable knowledge of the North and their religious beliefs, and he appears to be tolerant overall, so likely he might be receptive but guarded about the Old Gods.
And then, we encounter an interesting parallel with the direwolf Lady as well. Notice where Lady’s body ended up after her death:
Bran felt all cold inside. “She lost her wolf,” he said, weakly, remembering the day when four of his father’s guardsmen had returned from the south with Lady’s bones. Summer and Grey Wind and Shaggydog had begun to howl before they crossed the drawbridge, in voices drawn and desolate. Beneath the shadow of the First Keep was an ancient lichyard, its headstones spotted with pale lichen, where the old Kings of Winter had laid their faithful servants. It was there they buried Lady, while her brothers stalked between the graves like restless shadows.
And now note where Sandor Clegane ended up after the “death” of the Hound:
On the upper slopes they saw three boys driving sheep, and higher still they passed a lichyard where a brother bigger than Brienne was struggling to dig a grave. From the way he moved, it was plain to see that he was lame. As he flung a spadeful of the stony soil over one shoulder, some chanced to spatter against their feet. “Be more watchful there,” chided Brother Narbert. “Septon Meribald might have gotten a mouthful of dirt.” The gravedigger lowered his head. When Dog went to sniff him, he dropped his spade and scratched his ear.
He’s digging graves in a lichyard, just like Lady’s burial place. In all the books, there are only two weirwood-lichyard connections in total: Winterfell and the Quiet Isle, if the theory on hidden weirwoods in that cave is right. It’s been hypothetised that Sansa’s continued dreams of Lady, a total of four times since she lost her (five if we count the wind at the Eyrie sounding like a ghost wolf as an allusion to her), could be attributed to the animal being buried in the Winterfell lichyard, which has a connection to the godswood. However, of all the times Sansa mentions her direwolf, only two are dreams properly, and in both she sees herself running in the godswood with Lady:
She had been dreaming, she realized. Lady was with her, and they were running together, and … and … trying to remember was like trying to catch the rain with her fingers. The dream faded, and Lady was dead again.
. . .
That was such a sweet dream, Sansa thought drowsily. She had been back in Winterfell, running through the godswood with her Lady. Her father had been there, and her brothers, all of them warm and safe. If only dreaming could make it so …
The other two times it’s a consciously voiced desire for the company of Lady, and in both occasions Clegane makes an appearance before or after the direwolf’s name is mentioned:
Sansa backed away from the window, retreating toward the safety of her bed. I’ll go to sleep, she told herself, and when I wake it will be a new day, and the sky will be blue again. The fighting will be done and someone will tell me whether I’m to live or die. “Lady,” she whimpered softly, wondering if she would meet her wolf again when she was dead.
Then something stirred behind her, and a hand reached out of the dark and grabbed her wrist.
That night Sansa scarcely slept at all, but tossed and turned just as she had aboard the Merling King. She dreamt of Joffrey dying, but as he clawed at his throat and the blood ran down across his fingers she saw with horror that it was her brother Robb. And she dreamed of her wedding night too, of Tyrion’s eyes devouring her as she undressed. Only then he was bigger than Tyrion had any right to be, and when he climbed into bed his face was scarred only on one side. “I’ll have a song from you,” he rasped, and Sansa woke and found the old blind dog beside her once again. “I wish that you were Lady,” she said.
So, considering that the weirwood at Winterfell is responsible for whatever magic there is in the lichyard that maintains Sansa’s link to her direwolf, then the hidden weirwood in the cave could have the same function as well, in relation to Sandor. If the Old Gods had a hand in Sandor ending up replacing her as Sansa’s protector after Lady died, then it’d be thematically fitting that they’d have to do with his recovery after the Hound “died” as well. And if both protectors of Sansa have been “nurtured” by the Old Gods, and end up in a lichyard, it would suggest that Sandor is officially ordained as Lady’s replacement, and through doing this penance there he’s now recognisably assuming this duty.
Courtliness, courtly love and Sansa
Courtesies, songs, stories, chivalry, handsome princes, honorable knights and romance are words traditionally associated with Sansa’s character in ASOIAF. However, these terms are not specific to Sansa as they are also strongly related to socio-historical and literary movements such as courtliness and courtly love. The aim of this essay is to explore these two notions and demonstrate that Sansa’s beliefs are more than a little girl’s naïve fantasy. There will be an important part about Sansa’s and Sandor’s relationship because some elements of their interactions are key components of courtly love.
A definition of courtly love
The expression “courtly love” comes from the French amour courtois. It is a critical term coined in 1883 by Gaston Paris in an article on Chrétien de Troyes’s Lancelot ou le chevalier de la charrette (Lancelot, the knight of the cart). In his article, Gaston Paris emphasized the illegitimate character of Lancelot’s and Guinevere’s love relationship, the inferior social position of the male lover and how the latter was ennobled by his love for his lady. In addition, Gaston Paris noted that in this particular narrative, love was an art with its own specific code.
However, one has to be careful with the notion of “courtly love,” because its meaning differs from one period to the other and from one region to the other. For instance, the fin ‘Amor (the Occitan form of courtly love) of the troubadours (poets of southern France who composed in Occitan) slightly differs from the one practiced by the trouvères (poets of northern France who composed in the Oïl dialect or Old French). Thus, later on, I will only discuss the features common to both cultures or mention if they are specific to a region in particular.
In the 12th century, a new way of life started to blossom in southern France. Little by little, the old warlike ideals of brute force were abandoned in favor of a new and more refined type of social behavior. It was first and foremost an aristocratic movement centered on court life, thus the name courtliness. Courtliness was about polite manners, but also about moral elegance. Therefore, politeness, loyalty, discretion, gentleness, humility toward the ladies and refusal of lies or cowardice were highly regarded qualities by people of that time. The courtly values were codified by Andreas Capellanus in his treaty De Arte Honeste Amandi (a.k.a. De Amore). Here are some of the rules a man must follow to be a perfect courtly knight, according to Capellanus:
- He must be generous.
- He must display his respect to his lord.
- When fighting, he must be brave. When dealing with his enemies, he must be careful and clever.
- He must not tell lies.
- He must not make foolish promises that he will not keep.
- He must attend mass regularly.
- … etc.
Courtly love was an important part of the courtly culture. What follows are historical elements that could have led to the apparition of courtly love in literature. In the 12th century, the laws of primogeniture came into play and led to the constitution of a class of educated young men with neither estate nor wealth. These young men looked for advantageous marriages, but had to be satisfied with admiring and desiring the wives of their lords. In addition, at the time, people did not marry for love but for lands, money or politics. Thus, marriage was a transaction and adultery was severely punished because it endangered this transaction. Around that time, the Catholic Church was also trying to reinforce its hold on the medieval society by promoting the Catholic marriage between one man and one woman. It was not always the case earlier as people such as Charlemagne had several wives. All these factors could have led to a reaction in the literature of that period which sang of adultery and sexual pleasure as if constraints of morality and lineage did not exist.
Troubadours sang of courtly love in the canso (Occitan for song). Before I start to list the key features of courtly love, it must be said that the reality of the love relationship celebrated in the canso does not matter. It is some kind of literary convention and sometimes it is only a pretext for the creation of the song. In addition, it is not exactly known to what extent courtly love was practiced in real life. But considering that adultery was severely punished (sometimes by death or lifelong imprisonment in convent); most scholars believe that it was primarily a literary phenomenon. However, courtly love could have found its expression in courtesy books (books dealing with etiquette) and in the crowning of the Queen of Love and Beauty at tournaments.
Courtliness in ASOIAF
Sansa is often mocked on this board for her love of songs and courtesy. However, these phenomena were not held in such disregard in Medieval Europe as it was shown earlier. Westeros does not seem so different from Medieval Europe because young girls of the aristocracy are taught the so-called womanly arts and social graces. These social graces consist of polite manners and moral elegance such as valor, gentleness and devotion to the lover, which are the essence of courtliness. In Westeros, courtliness also seems to be an aristocratic phenomenon centered on courts such as Winterfell, the Red Keep, Casterly Rock or the Eyrie as the smallfolk does not display this type of behavior.
Courtliness is taught to Sansa by Septa Mordane, who takes the concept as far as saying that if men fight with weapons, women defend themselves with courtesy (refined manners), as it is “a lady’s armor.” Also, according to her mother, Sansa seems to have natural tastes and aptitudes for the subject: “Sansa was a lady at three, always so polite and so eager to please. She loved nothing so well as tales of knightly valor.” These tales of knightly valor are found in songs such as Florian and Jonquil. It is an interesting parallel with the Medieval era, as courtly love first took place in songs that depicted how the lady’s love aroused the lover’s courage. Sansa is the embodiment of courtliness because she is beautiful, gentle, displays polite manners and believes in knightly ideals. In short, it can be said that Sansa’s personality is strongly associated with the historical movement of courtliness.
Sandor, on the other hand, seems to be the polar opposite of courtliness. He is not a knight; he is violent, coarse and mocks Sansa for her courtly ideals. He loathes the hypocrisy of knighthood and tries to open Sansa’s eyes on this particular subject. Though he is coarse and violent, Sandor has some sort of personal code of honor. He does follow some of the rules of courtliness such as loyalty (“A hound will die for you”), courage, no lies and no foolish oaths. So, yes, Sandor is crude, and yes, he is a killer, but it seems that the rules of courtliness are not exactly unknown to him. In addition, as Joffrey’s sworn shield, he is a member of the royal court and must have experienced courtly behavior. In AGOT, the reader learns that Sandor is not married: “I have no lands nor wife to forsake”. As far as the reader knows, marriage in Westeros is mainly a matter of politics and interests. Ugly men like Tyrion are sought in marriage (Tanda Stokeworth for her daughter Lollys), and it is possible to assume that Sandor’s scars are not the cause of his celibacy. There could be a more mercantile explanation to his situation. In Westeros, the first son inherits the lands and titles. As a second son, Sandor has neither estate nor wealth, and is thus an uninteresting marriage prospect. Consequently, he is in the same position that the 12th century youths who are believed to be at the origin of courtly love. This is a reality confirmed by the Elder Brother in Brienne’s chapter: “There was a girl I wished to marry, the younger daughter of a petty lord, but I was my father’s thirdborn son and had neither land nor wealth to offer her… only a sword, a horse, a shield.”
The features of courtly love
In the canso, the troubadour sings about his love, the wife of his lord. It is a love from afar, because the lady is married and thus inaccessible. Desire is a key notion of the fin ‘Amor (courtly love of the troubadour), and very often the troubadour takes pleasure in the sufferings of love. However, the lady can reciprocate the feeling. Therefore, the fin ‘Amor is always adulterous in thoughts if not in actions. For the troubadour, love is an ennobling feeling and his aim is the sexual union with his lady in order to attain moral excellence. But before that, he must faithfully serve his lady and go through various trials to prove his worth. In fin ‘Amor, the lady is almighty and thus the troubadour calls her midons (literally my lord) as he owes her obedience like he does her husband. The troubadour also gives her a senhal (code name) in order to keep her identity secret. As marks of her affection and also as a reward for his actions in her service, the lady grants step by step the followings:
- First, a look
- Then, a kiss
- Then embraces
- And finally… what medieval people modestly called “the rest.”
Once the relationship is consummated, the lovers have to be careful in order not to be discovered by the lauzengiers (scandalmongers), who could report them to the husband. Secrecy is a very important feature of courtly love/fin’ Amor. However, the lover can reveal his secret to a confidant who thus becomes the secret’s keeper (secretarius).The confidant acts as a natural intermediary between the lovers. But it is not his unique function as he is the lover’s defender and representative when the latter is away. In addition, recurrent themes in courtly love are: love from afar, sexual pleasure, sexual dreams and spiritual exaltation before the lady. Also, courtly love/fin’ Amor belongs in court life, and the two major sceneries for the lovers are the garden and the bedroom. These are the two places for the lovers’ secret meetings. Talking of court life brings another point. Courtly love/fin’ Amor is an aristocratic phenomenon, because common people simply do not have the time or the education to practice that kind of love games. The fin’ Amor of the troubadours may seem a very modern way to consider the woman in the 12th century. However, it must be said that in most poems, the lady is effaced and transformed into a projection of masculine desire.
The poetry of the troubadours had a huge impact on European literature, as it was imitated in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, and of course in northern France. In northern France, the trouvères were also influenced by the 12th century Renaissance. Thus, people such as Chrétien de Troyes transposed the songs of the troubadours into narratives in verse. Chrétien de Troyes was also influenced by the Latin author Ovid from whom he kept the concepts of love as sickness, love at first sight and idealization of the woman. He combined the fin’ Amor of the troubadours with those elements of Ovid and elements of Celtic literature such as the figures of Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and Gawain; and thus gave birth to the Arthurian romance. Chrétien’s Lancelot ou le chevalier de la charrette is the perfect transcription into narrative of the ideals of the fin’ Amor. But Chrétien de Troyes also wrote about courtly love within marriage in Erec et Enide and in Yvain ou le chevalier au lion (Yvain, the knight of the lion). After Chrétien de Troyes, Medieval authors wrote variations of Arthurian romances and emphasized the valor aroused by love, the service of the lady (in form of tournaments and adventures), and the obedience to the lady. De Arte Honeste Amandi by Andreas Capellanus is a treaty about courtly love and here are his thirteen precepts of love addressed to a young man to close this chapter on the features of courtly love:
- Flee avarice like the plague. On the contrary, practice liberality.
- Always avoid lying.
- Do not be slanderous.
- Do not reveal the lovers’ secrets.
- Do not disclose your love to various confidents.
- Preserve yourselves for your lover.
- Do not try to obtain the affection of another’s beloved.
- Do not seek for the affection of a woman you would be ashamed to marry.
- Always heed your lady’s commands.
- Always try to be worthy of Love’s chivalry.
- Always be polite and courteous.
- When devoting yourself to love’s pleasures, do not let your desire to exceed that of your lover.
- Whether giving or receiving the pleasures of love, always retain a certain modesty.
Sansa, Sandor and courtly love
Thanks to the WoIaF app, we know that Sandor becomes “infatuated” with Sansa very early in the narrative. One of the main themes of courtly love is love from afar, which is fitting in this situation. Because of his lower rank, lack of wealth and maybe age difference, Sandor is not a marriage prospect for Sansa. He is thus condemned to admire and love her from afar. Later on, she is first betrothed to Joffrey and then married to Tyrion. These events further estrange Sandor and Sansa. They also add the notion of adultery to their relationship, another major component of courtly love, as Sansa is legally bound to other men. After the Battle of the Blackwater, they are separated, but Sansa still thinks a lot about Sandor. She believes he kissed her during their last encounter and has sexual dreams and thoughts involving him. It actually looks like longing, another key element of courtly love. Sandor starts the novel as a ruthless killer, and as it goes on, he repeatedly rescues Sansa and unlike his knightly “brothers” of the Kingsguard, he treats her gently and does not beat her. In a sense, he is ennobled by his love for her. Again, this is a feature of courtly love. In addition, a courtly lover must faithfully serve and obey his lady in all her wishes. “A hound will die for you, but never lie to you” sums that notion well and shows the extent of his service and obedience. Interestingly enough, the Hound will die for Sansa, and not for his supposed master(s). Another parallel is the use of nicknames; the troubadours used it to keep the lady’s identity secret, but Sandor’s little bird is some sort of private nickname rarely used in public. There is also a nice similarity with courtly love in the settings of their encounters. In courtly poetry, the garden and the bedroom are the favorite spots for the lovers’ secret meetings. In AGOT and ACOK, many of their encounters take place on the way to the Godswood (a garden of some sort) or in Sansa’s bedroom.
As it was mentioned earlier, the lady can reciprocate the feeling and reveal it through various marks of affection. The look is an essential component of their dynamic, because Sandor is constantly asking her to look at him. This culminates on the night of the Blackwater when he interprets her closed eyes as a rejection. In short, it seems that looking means acceptance for Sandor. Later on, Sansa imagines that he kissed her that night. It never happened, but after this episode, Sandor gains a sexual dimension in her mind (via the UnKiss and the dream) that he never had before. It is hard to comment on the next marks of affection as they have not been in these situations so far. However, sexual union is the ultimate mark of affection and the aim of courtly love. And interestingly enough, Sansa dreams of Sandor in her marriage bed.
Another key element of courtly love is the secrecy. It has already been noted in these threads that nobody in King’s Landing seems aware of their curious relationship. But there are two characters who could understand the real nature of Sandor’s feelings; they are Arya and the Elder Brother (admitting that Sandor is the Gravedigger). They both could be associated with the confidant figure, and serve as intermediaries between the lovers. As Sansa’s sister, Arya would be a natural intermediary. However, she is a confidant only in theory as she does not seem to realize the real nature of Sandor’s feelings for Sansa. This is not the case of the Elder Brother who knows “a little of” Sandor according to Brienne’s chapter. At least, he knows enough to be aware that Sansa is “a highborn maid of three-and-ten, with a fair face and auburn hair” and that it was Arya who was travelling with Sandor. Surely, he would not be as knowledgeable of Sandor’s life and situation if the latter had not done some confessing at some point. In addition, the Elder Brother and Arya could act as Sandor’s defenders because they know he is innocent of what happened in Saltpans.
Finally, let us look at the thirteen precepts of Andreas Capellanus. Sandor follows some of these precepts such as: do not lie, keep your love secret (Arya and the Elder Brother as confidant figures), serve your lady. However, unlike Sansa, he does not give a damn about the eleventh precept: be polite and courteous. Unfortunately, it is impossible to interpret all of Sandor’s actions in light of the other precepts, as they apply to situations we have not seen him in yet. So I won’t comment on the last two principles.
In conclusion, I have tried in this essay to show two things: the first was the many similarities between courtly love and the Sandor-Sansa relationship. The second was that Sansa is more than a vain airhead whose head is full of empty songs. True, her beliefs and ideals are ill-adapted to the situation in King’s Landing. However, let us not forget that in our own past courtliness, songs and knights were important components of the European culture. The fact that it is so present in these chapters adds an additional Medieval touch to Sansa’s storyline.
Sansa and knighthood
“There are gods, she told herself, and there are true knights too.
All the stories can’t be lies.”
Sansa Stark, A Clash of Kings.
In A Game of Thrones, little Sansa Stark is fascinated by the songs and tales of adventure, love and honourable knights; and her passion for knighthood is actually an important component of her personality. However, her belief in knighthood is seriously challenged after her father’s death when she is repeatedly beaten by members of Joffrey’s Kingsguard, men who are supposed to be the incarnations of knightly values. In this new scenario, she has to reevaluate what knights really are, what those values are, and if there are true knights after all.
The historical evolution of knighthood
Historically, knighthood was first and foremost a profession that emerged with the appearance of heavy cavalry. Jean Flori, an expert of knighthood in medieval France, states that before 1180, in Old French poetry the term chevaler (knight in Old French) referred to a professional warrior on horseback with a special armour, and not to a social class nor to an “order of chivalry.” At the beginning, the social origins of these knights were rather modest, since they were wealthy peasants or landowners who were either free or vassals to a local lord. These people had servants working for them, which enabled them to leave their farms to fight without any loss of income. In wartime, nobles were the ones who lead armies, so the knights served the higher nobility in the beginning. But little by little, wealthy peasants and landowners acquired more influence, politically and economically, which brought them closer to the old nobility.
During peacetime, their main tasks were to keep things under the control of their lords and, more often than not, that would require to enforce their laws in a ruthless way. Those first knights could be violent, coarse, unlettered, rough in speech and manners, and did not hesitate to plunder the local villages on account of their liege lords or on their own. They did not have to worry about any kind of justice, as their liege lords would cover them up before the higher authorities, or even be the source of these questionable orders themselves. Due to this, the line between knight and bandit was quite blurry at the time. In short, during these early years until the first half of the 11th century, historical knights were far from the models of virtue we are now familiar with; they were no more than mounted soldiers, who were guided by their own set of values or lack thereof, and the ambitions of their superiors.
Things started to change in the second half of the 11th century. Weapons and armour evolved and became more expensive, which limited the number of people who could afford to be knights. Thus, knighthood became a prestigious “profession,” mostly accessible to the aristocracy, who turned it into an order of high moral values. The Catholic Church also tried to control those violent knights and reinforced the idea that knighthood was an order that protected the weak and the Church. This way, the values that we have come to associate with knights began to emerge.
Knighthood and the ideals attached to it had a massive impact on the culture and the mentality throughout the Middle Ages, until it died out slowly during the 15th century because of its obsolescence in the face of new tactics and weaponry. Heavy cavalry was now helpless against halberds, crossbows and artillery, that were more and more present on the battlefields. Even so, the spirit of knighthood lived on over the centuries long after it disappeared as a martial art.
The equipment of the knight
As it was mentioned earlier, it was their equipment that set the knights apart from other fighters. For this reason, it seems relevant to study their equipment a bit more carefully.
The lance: It was used for horseback fighting; the aim was to unhorse or pierce the enemy’s armour by taking advantage of the horse’s speed to deliver a powerful blow. Once the lance was broken, the knight resorted to the sword. In the 11th century, lances were about 2,5 m./8,2 ft. long, but at the end of the 13th century, they were more than 3,5 m./11,5 ft. long. In a fight, the knight had to handle his own weapon and, at the same time, he had to avoid being hit by his enemy’s lance; which required skill, strength and a lot of training.
The sword: It was used after the first onslaught, once the lance was broken. A knight was strongly attached to his sword, and would give it a name; for example, Charlemagne’s sword was called Joyeuse (joyful in French) and King Ferdinand III of Castile’s was Lobera (wolf’s lair in Spanish). The knight used a double edged sword that was about 2 kg./4,4 lbs. and that was between 0,8 and 1 m./2,6 and 3,3 ft. long, which were commonly called longswords.
The hauberk: From the 11th to the 13th century, the armour (or hauberk) was a simple attire composed of a shirt of mail that went down to the knees. It was between 10 and 12 kg./22 and 26 lbs. The hauberk protected the knight by absorbing, deflecting and distributing the force of the impact. However, it was only efficient against swords, javelins and weak arrow shots. Therefore, in the 13th century, plate was slowly added to the armour. By the 15th century, the armour was entirely composed of iron plate. It was also heavier; it weighted between 15 and 20 kg./33 and 44 lbs. Here are examples of early armours (Bayeux tapestry) and here are later models.
The helmet: Until the end of the 12th century, the helmet did not cover the knight’s face. Only the nose was protected by a piece of metal called a nasal; like in this case. But in the 13th century, the helmet was progressively closed like in these examples.
The shield: The shield was made of wood and was covered with leather. In the 12th century, the knights started to paint their coat of arms on their shield.
The horses: These were more than simple means of transport, as they set the knight apart from the other warriors. They were a part of the military equipment, too, and gave great advantages to the knight on the battlefields. In medieval literature, knights were shown to be very attached to their horses and gave them names, like they did to their swords. Thus, we read in Arthurian romances that Gringolet is Gawain’s faithful steed; but it was also common in real life, as was the case of Babieca, the warhorse of famous Spanish knight Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid. Only his warhorse had a name, because a knight owned more than one horse for each task: one to carry his armour and his weapons, one to travel, one for tourneys, another to ride to battle…
The knight’s equipment was costly, because iron was rare and expensive at the time. Good quality armour and weapons were even rarer, and there were blacksmiths who specialised in fabricating armour and/or swords for knights instead of more general metalworking. The warhorses, of races that do not exist anymore, were also extremely costly, as they were bred and trained especially to not be afraid of the clamor of battle, and they were also used as weapons themselves, for they were trained to kick, bite and trample foot soldiers, archers, and fallen knights. Let’s not forget that a knight had to ensure the life of several horses but also squires, who worked for him, taking care of his horses, his armour and training with him. Consequently, this expensive profession was reserved to the aristocracy, that had the money and the time to lead that kind of life. However, it was possible for young boys who had physical aptitude and skill for this job to be recruited by a powerful lord that would pay for their training and equipment.
Knighthood in Westeros
Like in medieval Europe, knights in Westeros are also sworn to fight for a lord, sometimes temporarily, other times long-term. This is how Duncan the Tall describes his life in The Hedge Knight:
The only life he knew was the life of a hedge knight, riding from keep to keep, taking service with this lord and that lord, fighting in their battles and eating in their halls until the war was done.
Knights in Westeros are warriors on horseback, too. The importance of the horse is especially emphasised in the Elder Brother’s speech to Brienne at the Quite Isle. In it, the Elder Brother also stresses the military function of the knights.
When I died in the Battle of the Trident. I fought for Prince Rhaegar, though he never knew my name. I could not tell you why, save that the lord I served a lord who served a lord who had decided to support the dragon rather than the stag. Had he decided elsewise, I might have been on the other side of the river. The battle was a bloody thing. The singers would have us believe it was all Rhaegar and Robert struggling in the stream for a woman both of them claimed to love, but I assure you, other men were fighting too, and I was one. I took an arrow through the thigh and another through the foot, and my horse was killed from under me, yet I fought on. I can still remember how desperate I was to find another horse, for I had no coin to buy one, and without a horse I would no longer be a knight. That was all that I was thinking of, if truth be told. I never saw the blow that felled me. I heard hooves behind my back and thought, a horse! But before I could turn something slammed into my head and knocked me back into the river, where by rights I should have drowned.
But knights are more than common warriors, because they are supposed to follow a certain code of honour that differentiates them from the ordinary sellswords. Here is what Ser Arlan of Pennytree and Ser Barristan Selmy have to say on this subject:
A hedge knight must hold tight to his pride. Without it, he was no more than a sellsword.
. . .
It is chivalry which makes a true knight, not a sword … without honor, a knight is no more than a common killer. It is better to die with honor than to live without it.
Not every warrior can become a knight. In order to do so, one must stand a vigil and be anointed by a septon, which means the man has to keep the Seven. After that, the aspiring knight must take his vows as stated in The Hedge Knight:
… it is more customary to stand a vigil and be anointed by a septon before taking vows.
And the oath of knighthood is the following according to The Hedge Knight:
… a touch on the right shoulder with the blade. “In the name of the Warrior I charge you to be brave.
The sword moves from right shoulder to left. “In the name of the Father I charge you to be just.”
Right shoulder. “In the name of the Mother I charge you to defend the young and innocent.”
The left. “In the name of the Maid I charge you to protect all women…
So according to these vows, knights are expected to be brave and just; but they should also protect the weak, the innocent and the women. And, according to Barristan Selmy, they should be chivalrous as well. But this is not the only way to become a knight in Westeros. In The Hedge Knight, Duncan the Tall claims that he was knighted in the following manner:
He always said he meant for me to be a knight, as he was. When he was dying he called for his longsword and bade me kneel. He touched me once on my right shoulder and once on my left, and said some words, and when I got up he said I was a knight.”
“Hmpf.” The man Plummer rubbed his nose. “Any knight can make a knight, it is true, though it is more customary to stand a vigil and be anointed by a septon before taking your vows. Were there any witnesses to your dubbing?”
“Only a robin, up in a thorn tree. I heard it as the old man was saying the words. He charged me to be a good knight and true, to obey the seven gods, defend the weak and innocent, serve my lord faithfully and defend the realm with all my might, and I swore that I would.
In this extract, Duncan asserts that he was knighted by a dying old knight, who made him swear to serve his lord faithfully and also to protect the weak. This oath is actually quite similar to the one taken in the official ceremony. In The Mystery Knight, the reader learns that Ser Glendon was knighted in front of witnesses in a similar way. However, this time, there is no mention of any oath:
Half a year ago, however, a party of knights chanced upon the brothel and a certain Ser Morgan Dunstable took a drunken fancy to Ser Glendon’s sister. As it happens, the sister was still a virgin and Dunstable did not have the price of her maidenhead. So a bargain was struck. Ser Morgan clubbed her brother a knight, right there in the Pussywillows in front of twenty witnesses, and afterwards little sister took him upstairs and let him pluck her flower. And there you are.”
Any knight could make a knight. When he was squiring for Ser Arlan, Dunk had heard tales of other men who’d bought their knighthood with a kindness or a threat or a bag of silver coins, but never with a sister’s maidenhead.
This extract also shows a less honourable aspect of knighthood: sometimes, it is not enough to be a brave and gallant knight to deserve the title of knight. In this case, Glendon Flowers is a talented warrior, but Ser Morgan accepts to knight him only in exchange for his sister’s virginity; so this example illustrates that sometimes all you need to do is to bring the right gift to the right person. In short, knighthood can be bought, although it seems quite alien to the values it promotes.
This leads us to another problematic aspect of knighthood. To begin with, knighthood is an unreliable profession, as knights are not always assured to be able to maintain their way of life. This can lead them to rather questionable acts that go against every knightly principle, as is shown in The Hedge Knight:
There were tourney from time to time as well, though less often, and he knew that some hedge knights turned robber during lean winters, though the old man never had.
Another problematic aspect lies in the nature of the knighthood oath. Knights are bound to serve their lord. However, what if their lord asked them to kill women and children, whom they swore to protect? What if their king sexually assaulted the queen they swore to protect? Jaime Lannister expresses this dilemma rather well in A Storm of Swords when he tells Brienne why he slew king Aerys. And in A Feast for Crows he shows that his vows are once again in contradiction:
The day he burned his mace-and-dagger Hand, Jaime and Jon Darry had stood at guard outside her bedchamber whilst the king took his pleasure. “You’re hurting me,” they had heard Rhaella cry through the oaken door. “You’re hurting me.” In some queer way, that had been worse than Lord Chelsted’s screaming. “We are sworn to protect her as well,” Jaime had finally been driven to say. “We are,” Darry allowed, “but not from him.
As it can be seen, knights in Westeros are mounted soldiers with a specific code of honour; a code of conduct that is full of contradictions, as following one rule can lead the knights to break another. This would theoretically make it nearly impossible to live up to the ideals of knighthood. So, if knighthood is built on such contradictions, what can a knight do to be a “true knight”?
Non-knightly and knightly figures in Sansa’s storyline
At the beginning of the story, Sansa is a girl fascinated by knights, but after being repeatedly beaten by knights, she has to reevaluate her opinion of them. She comes to the rather shocking conclusion that the only people who have ever done right by her during her time in King’s Landing aren’t knights.
Knights are sworn to defend the weak, protect women, and fight for the right, but none of them did a thing. Only Ser Dontos had tried to help, and he was no longer a knight. No more than the Imp was, nor the Hound … the Hound hated knights … I hate them too, Sansa thought. They are no true knights, not one of them.
So, who are these knightly and non-knightly figures in Sansa’s narrative? Let’s name them: (Jaime and Brienne are not included in this list as they haven’t had an impact in Sansa’s storyline yet.)
In his own words, he is not a knight. He even goes as far as showing contempt for the concept of knighthood:
“I am no knight. I spit on them and their vows.”
This is quite interesting, because as far as we know, Sandor Clegane displays nearly all the marks of a knight. To begin with, he is a warrior (and a very talented one at that) sworn to House Lannister. Also, if we read carefully, we will see that he has all the equipment of a knight, and fights like one, too. The Hand’s Tourney is the first time the reader sees him fight. On this particular occasion, Sandor unhorses Jaime Lannister in the joust (a horseback fight with lances) which attests of his talent as Jaime is one of the best fighters in Westeros. He also seems quite attached to his sword, another important part of the knight’s equipment:
So long as I have this,” he said, lifting the sword from her throat, “there’s no man on earth I need fear.
Sandor wears a plain grey and dinted armour (hauberk). Ned Stark describes his armour in the following manner:
Sandor Clegane was the first rider to appear. He wore an olive-green cloak over his soot-grey armor. That, and his hound’s head helm, were his only concession to ornament.
This description is also curiously reminiscent of Sansa’s description of Jory Cassel in the previous chapter. Thus, Sandor Clegane seems associated with the North and its people.
Jory looks a beggar among these others,” Septa Mordane sniffed when he appeared. Sansa could only agree. Jory’s armor was blue-grey plate without device or ornament, and a thin grey cloak hung from his shoulders like a soiled rag.
In addition, he wears the Hound helmet that is famous in the Seven Kingdoms. Similar helmets existed in the medieval era as you can see from the links provided above. However, these helmets are thought to have had an entertaining function, as they were probably part of “costume armour.” Sandor also owns a shield with his house’s sigil on it:
Panting from exertion, Clegane jerked his shield up to cover his head just in time, and the cave rang with the loud crack of splintering oak.
“His shield is afire,” Gendry said in a hushed voice. Arya saw it in the same instant. The flames had spread across the chipped yellow paint, and the three black dogs were engulfed.
Finally, he owns Stranger, a bad-tempered black courser and one of the few named horses in the story. Through the Elder Brother’s speech to Brienne, we can perceive how important a horse is for the knight, as noted previously. And Sandor strongly expresses his concern for his horse when he accepts to go to Flea Bottom despite his fear of fire:
Never saw her.” The Hound glanced around the yard, scowling. “Where’s my horse? If anything happened to that horse, someone’s going to pay.”
“He was running with us for a time,” Tyrion said, “but I don’t know what became of him after that.”
“Fire!” a voice screamed down from atop the barbican. “My lords, there’s smoke in the city. Flea Bottom’s afire.”
Tyrion was unutterably weary, but there was no time for despair.
“Bronn, take as many men as you need and see that the water wagons are not molested.” Gods be good, the wildfire, if any blaze should reach that… “We can lose all of Flea Bottom if we must, but on no account must the fire reach the Guildhall of the Alchemists, is that understood? Clegane, you’ll go with him.”
For half a heartbeat, Tyrion thought he glimpsed fear in the Hound’s dark eyes. Fire, he realized. The Others take me, of course he hates fire, he’s tasted it too well. The look was gone in an instant, replaced by Clegane’s familiar scowl. “I’ll go,” he said, “though not by your command. I need to find that horse.
Stranger’s price might explain Sandor’s attachment to him. After all, Stranger has been trained to be a weapon, as Brienne notices:
She had seen the stallion, had heard him kicking, but she had not understood. Destriers were trained to kick and bite. In war they were a weapon, like the men who rode them. Like the Hound.
But such horses are also hard to find and knights used to train them themselves, which could also explain his attachment. This short extract also gives evidence of a special relationship between Sandor and Stranger as they seem to have similar functions. This special relationship is made even more evident in one of Arya’s chapters:
The horse was a heavy courser, almost as big as a destrier but much faster. Stranger, the Hound called him. Arya had tried to steal him once, when Clegane was taking a piss against a tree, thinking she could ride off before he could catch her. Stranger had almost bitten her face off. He was gentle as an old gelding with his master, but otherwise he had a temper as black as he was. She had never known a horse so quick to bite or kick.
To conclude this part on Stranger, note that the Elder Brother’s biggest fear at the time of his “death” was to have lost his horse, the incarnation of his knight’s status. As we know, this is not the case for Sandor. We can conclude, then, that in terms of equipment and fighting technique, Sandor is a proper knight.
But Sandor also displays knightly behaviours by bravely rescuing Sansa and by giving her advice. He even seems to find a middle ground in serving and protecting his king, his official job, but also in protecting the fair maid of the tale, which is what is expected of a proper knight. This is particularly prominent at the end of A Game of Thrones when he manages to save both Joffrey and Sansa. In fact, it is only because he has never taken the knighthood vow that Sandor Clegane is not considered a knight. However, not taking the vow does not prevent him from living in a knightly way as we have seen. Here is a link to my essay on courtly love so that you can see which precepts of behaviours for knights Sandor follows. And it certainly does not prevent him from being named Kingsguard despite a certain controversy at the time:
The king and the council have decided that no man in the Seven Kingdoms is more fit to guard and to 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.
So Sandor Clegane is not a knight in title (“I am no ser”), but he is a knight in actions.
Ser Dontos Hollard
Our first encounter with Ser Dontos is on Joffrey’s first court session in A Game of Thrones. On that particular occasion, he is the only one to greet Sansa who is in disgrace after her father’s death. That day, Sansa notices that he is drunk as he always will on their following encounters. The next meeting happens on Joffrey’s name day’s tourney. That day, his knightly skills are seriously called into question as he does not wear half of his equipment and is unable to climb on his horse. We have already discussed the importance of the horse and the fact that Ser Dontos is unable to ride shows that his alcoholism affects his profession but it might also be a hint about his real ability.
Finally a chestnut stallion trotted into view in a swirl of crimson and scarlet silks, but Ser Dontos was not on it. The knight appeared a moment later, cursing and staggering, clad in breastplate and plumed helm and nothing else. His legs were pale and skinny, and his manhood flopped about obscenely as he chased after his horse. The watchers roared and shouted insults. Catching his horse by the bridle, Ser Dontos tried to mount, but this animal would not stand still and the knight was so drunk that his bare foot kept missing the stirrup.
Ultimately, in a reversal of the traditional tale, it is the fair maid who saves the knight, thanks to her wit. Again, this seems to negate his knightly skills. After this disastrous performance, Ser Dontos is turned into a fool. His fall from grace is symbolised by his tin armour, his broomstick horse and his melon morningstar which are only toys compared to the real items. Also in the medieval era, it was considered shameful for a knight to fight with wooden weapons because only the poor and the peasants fought with staffs. So once again, his knighthood is negated. In A Clash of Kings, Ser Dontos also proposes to help Sansa to escape King’s Landing, but he lies to her when he pretends that no one sent him.
Are you going to stab me?” Dontos asked.
“I will” she said. “Tell me who sent you.”
“No one, sweet lady. I swear it on my honor as a knight.
However, at that point Dontos is officially no longer a knight, so his claim seems a bit dodgy. In addition, we saw in the previous chapter what kind of knight he used to be: an old drunk unable to dress and fight as a knight. This is a sharp contrast to Sandor Clegane, who despite being occasionally drunk still manages to fight and do his duty efficiently. Ser Dontos also lies to Sansa whereas Sandor offers her honesty (“A hound will die for you, but never lie to you”). Despite all his personal issues, this comparison is far more flattering for Sandor Clegane. On top of that, Sansa wishes Ser Dontos were more like Clegane.
She was afraid of Sandor Clegane… and yet, some part of her wished that Ser Dontos had a little of the Hound’s ferocity.
Ser Loras Tyrell
Ser Loras Tyrell is a dashing, talented young warrior. He is not only an excellent jouster but also seems to be the essence of gallantry:
After each victory, Ser Loras would remove his helm and ride slowly round the fence, and finally pluck a single white rose from the blanket and toss it to some fair maiden in the crowd.
His beauty and his gallantry deeply affect Sansa:
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.
Despite being dubbed a “true knight” by Sansa, the events of the Hand’s tourney cast some doubts on this statement. At this tourney, Ser Loras wins against Gregor Clegane only because he rode a mare in heat to inflame the Mountain’s stallion. This is dishonorable, as Ser Barristan affirms that “There is small honor in tricks.” It may also reveal a lack of confidence in his own fighting skills on Loras’s part. Despite being good, he is not good enough to win against the Mountain. Thus, when it comes to fighting for his life, Loras Tyrell is unable to defeat Gregor Clegane. Ironically enough, it is an ungallant, uncouth and ugly non-Ser who rescues him in the end. During that scene, Sandor Clegane demonstrates his skills and honour at the expense of his brother and Ser Loras.
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.
Unlike Ser Loras, Sandor does not need tricks to keep the Mountain at bay. In addition, Loras’s gallantry is meaningless as it is shown in the following extract.
Ser Loras gave her a modest smile. “I spoke only a simple truth, that any man with eyes could see.”
He doesn’t remember, Sansa realized, startled. He is only being kind to me, he doesn’t remember me or the rose or any of it. She had been certain that it meant something, that meant everything.
In short, Loras seems to be just a good enough fighter, but his gallantry is empty, as Sansa experiences it later. This is what finally destroyed Sansa’s belief that Loras is a perfect knight.
In Westeros, the members of the Kingsguard are the royal bodyguards, their job is to protect the king and his family, but they also have to obey his orders unquestioningly; which is sometimes problematic as it was shown earlier. The Kingsguard is allegedly composed of the seven finest knights in the kingdoms.
This concept of Kingsguard is not only a literary creation, as there were several similar institutions throughout history. This is the case of the seven Somatophylakes (literally bodyguards, but commonly translated as Chosen Companions), the seven bodyguards of Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great. The Somatophylakes were chosen among the élite cavalry which would make them actual knights. Being a Somatophylax was considered a great honour too, just like the Kingsguard.
Under the reigns of Robert and Joffrey, the Kingsguard seems to be slowly losing its prestige. To begin with, at the Hand’s tourney, only one of them manages to reach the final fours although the seven of them entered the competition, and out of seven, three fall to a very young knight, Loras Tyrell:
At sixteen, he was the youngest rider on the field, yet he had unhorsed three knights of the Kingsguard that morning in his first three jousts.
After Robert’s death, they also stop obeying the rules of chivalry when they repeatedly beat a defenceless Sansa Stark. This drop of prestige continues as the story progresses; Kingsguard die and they are replaced by obscure sellswords of dubious reputation like Osmund Kettleblack.
So, the Kingsguard have moved from skilled chivalrous knights to thugs who beat defenseless girls on their master’s orders. In Jaime’s own words:
He wondered what Ser Arthur Dayne would have to say of this lot. “How is it that the Kingsguard has fallen so low [?]
Both in Westeros and medieval Europe, there is an important gap between the ideals of knighthood celebrated in literature and the harsh realities of life. Thus, Sansa is not the only one guilty of romanticizing knights. During her time in King’s Landing, Sansa encounters several knightly figures but soon comes to realize that perfect knights in shining armour do not exist. However, some of these characters like Sandor Clegane and Loras Tyrell act closer to what one would expect from a knight, although Clegane claims he is not one of them. But as the story progresses, Sansa learns, like her brother Bran, that “a man’s worth is not marked by a “ser” before his name.”
On singing and emotional bonding
“In the beginning was the voice…
Men sang out their feelings long before they were able to speak their thoughts.”
by Milady of York
Archaeologists say that humanity’s most ancient notated music in existence is not instrumental but a song, and a spiritual one at that, called the Hymn to Creation, originated in the oldest civilisation known to us, the Sumerian, and dated more than eight centuries B.C. And, as if to follow this evolutionary pattern, GRRM chose that the first and the last times we would actually see Sansa Stark singing in the novels, not only get a description of her love of songs, would be precisely a religious song, the Mother’s Hymn. This intriguing coincidence has led me to examine the circumstances in which Sansa is more strongly connected to singing or is actually doing it herself, with the purpose of gaining knowledge about how she uses songs as a vehicle for emotional expression and bonding.
But first, a brief history of the musical education of women is useful for understanding how she came to love songs in the first place. During the Middle Ages music, both instrumental and vocal, was an integral part of everyday life for a highborn woman; she was tutored about music from a very early age, for practical reasons, as it was required as preparation for her future role as lady of her husband’s (or in some cases unmarried brother’s and widowed father’s) castle. As a result of this education, noblewomen came to adopt one of these four roles in relation to music, depending on their own ability or inclination:
- Audience; they listened to the singers, be it resident or errant, that entertained their households, either because they loved the music or because they had to attend or act as hostesses in frequent banquets and tourneys, where musical entertainment was essential, as well as in family gatherings. It was a necessity for a proper lady to know what the musical landscape could offer, to know about the popular bards and their songs
- Participant; they would entertain their family or guests by playing an instrument, such as the lute or the harp, and singing, alone or accompanied by another musician.
- Patroness; especially if the noblewomen’s House or that of their husband were rich and powerful, in which case they would have many singers in their personal retinue, and gather and support various troubadours and musicians financially.
- Creator; these were the ladies that composed pieces for instruments, wrote songs and poems, which they would then play or sing before a public at court or at home, or pass it on to a professional singer to perform.
Roles A and C were the commonest and most fashionable for female aristocrats; of the two, the role of patroness was the most important, because it was patronage by noblewomen that shaped a culture centred on courtly love and chivalric behaviour, helped the success of the troubadours and the dissemination of musical styles from one country to another, as these ladies had to marry noblemen from other lands, thus often having to take their own network of singers, scribes and courtiers to their husband’s lands, where they would mingle with those of their spouse and enriched the styles and ideas of the new household. Role B was also common in the upper echelon of nobility, although not nearly as much as the former. But role D was quite rare; we know of dozens and dozens of male troubadours from that epoch, yet we only know of twenty one women singers/composers by name only, of which the only ones known today thanks to their work having survived in written form are Hildegard von Bingen and Countess Beatriz de Diá, who wrote mainly sacred songs and poetry respectively.
As for Sansa, she is first presented as participant through some comments by a family member, Arya, who informs us that she could dance and sing, and play the high harp and the bells, which we assume took place mostly in private performances for the Starks and their household; and it could be argued that she possibly had material for the creator category as well, due to her ability for composing poetry, which demands a good mastery of language because in this genre language itself must be the music, so it has a higher level of difficulty in cognitive terms, more so in children, who’re still maturing neurologically and normally master the craft of linguistic composition throughout late adolescence. We don’t have samples of Sansa’s writing to judge her skills, but that she could do poetry at that age attests to two facts: good linguistic skills (which ties in with her not being good with numbers; it’s not frequent to master both skills at the same level) and that she was well educated in literature as well as in music, both marks of cultural refinement for nobles of her rank. Later, she’s in the role of audience, listening to the court singers at King’s Landing in more than one occasion, which leaves us with just one role she doesn’t fulfill. We haven’t seen her as patroness, due to her age and not being in a position to support musicians, but there’s an anecdote of her as a young child advocating before Lord Eddard to make a travelling singer (the type who most sought noble patronage) stay at Winterfell. In sum, it seems that even if her traditional education gave her the tools, it’s by natural inclination that Sansa loves music in general, not only some songs for immature reasons; otherwise she wouldn’t have shown an interest in learning to play an instrument, to write her own poetry, to attend musical performances, or even be able to find a small measure of joy in dancing through her soul-crushing wedding banquet. And above all, she wouldn’t have known how to bond with someone else through music.
Singing as a vehicle for emotional bonding is the subject to be analysed here because in its most basic, evolutionary dimension, that’s what music is for. In the earliest stages of human evolution, before man could invent instruments or communicate by speaking, women used the voice as a soothing mechanism to calm their children and bond with them, the same way modern mothers do with their babies, so any healthy human being is biologically and emotionally conditioned since his in utero existence for responding to music, and once he develops reasoning, music will engage a person on different levels, of which the emotional comes first and the cognitive second, as proven by research that demonstrated that of the top six reasons for listening to music, three are linked to feelings: interpersonal relationships of all types (friendship and love mostly), mood management and positivity; and of the top six uses of music, four are also connected to emotions: friendship, joy, comfort and love.
Now let’s take a look at three circumstances in which Sansa bonds through music.
Songs and emotional receptivity
From the very first experiment ever on the effects of music on certain behaviours, there has been a strong suspicion that songs also had a significant impact on the responsiveness of women to courtship requests by the opposite genre, which was later confirmed by separate studies by researchers Dan Levitin and Nicolas Guéguen. The latter demonstrated that when a song with lyrics dealing with love is present on the scene, it increased the probability of the woman accepting a request for a date some minutes later. This is because music induces positive affect (emotion), which in turn makes her more receptive to romantic advances. It could also be that the lyrics increase the woman’s sensitivity in an unconscious manner, which leads to the display of behaviour favourable to a connection of a romantic nature with the man. For men, it works better to be reminded of a pleasant episode than listening to a song. They are normally the ones doing the singing, as do the males in any species, and it’s not frequent for a man to want this from a woman, excluding career singers. When they do, the pattern they follow is to use musical means as indirect expression of an emotional need (affection), communicating (conversation) and symbolic representation (it varies, in the present case it’s sexual desire).
And what does all this have to do with a song from a fantasy novel, you ask? Here Milady has some splainin’ to do: from all the men who’ve been involved with Sansa, the dead and the still living, only one has ever requested a song from her, and one that has romance in the lyrics at that.
Not Tyrion “The last thing my wife needs is more songs” Lannister, and not Petyr “Life is not a song, sweetling” Baelish. Which is revealing in two ways: it indicates inability to bond emotionally with her and disinterest in/disregard for her feelings. In both cases, especially Littlefinger, whose body language as he’s saying that line gives him away completely: he’s caressing her cheek in a show of false affection, and we can say that Sansa felt uncomfortable at that, because remembering it she feels uneasy in hindsight. Compared to the scene with Sandor taking her back to her room from the serpentine steps, in which he’s cupping her chin whilst he requests a song, we see no sign of discomfort on her part but a willing offer of singing her favourite ballad, whereas Baelish has made an eleven-year-old Sansa feel ill at ease three times in just the first book: when introducing himself at the Hand’s Tourney and touching her hair, when telling her the quoted line whilst touching her face, and when she was summoned to the council meeting and she registered that the manner he looked at her made her feel naked. Furthermore, his use of songs and singers as tools for deceit and manipulation outside of this specific scene strengthens this interpretation.
Songs communicate a specific emotion subconsciously when a person doesn’t express it directly, because through music a person is able to symbolise something that is not there, and, strangely, a message delivered through music is perceived as an “honest signal,” according to Levitin, as it rings more sincere and truer to the receiver. Besides, emotions evoked by music—any kind of music—are not identical with the emotions aroused by everyday interpersonal activity, they are more powerful in cognitive and emotional terms. In contrast with his nostalgic flashback about his first wife’s favourite song, “Seasons of my love,” the Imp’s inability to pierce through Sansa’s courtesy armour and connect emotionally with her is brought to the surface with his rejection of songs, which are all about feeling, emotion, passion, and are closely associated with the “feminine” aspect of the self, according to Jung, who would’ve proposed that this deliberate rejection (music phobia is a different issue altogether) is a sign of being fearful of feelings that would involuntarily be stirred up by these tunes, ones he could not dissect analytically because that’d require a level of self-awareness that he doesn’t have. On one hand, he deludes himself hoping to be loved by a woman that has no reason for doing this ever, but on the other hand, by denying her the songs he knows she loves, the only means she had at hand to get some enjoyment or solace once she’d been stripped of everything, Tyrion directly negates her emotional satisfaction as he’d previously participated in negating her desires and her will.
To such pretensions, her response is either discomfort or unbreakable courtesy, for in both scenarios her own desires aren’t taken into account and her preferences are dismissed. Yet she responds differently to Clegane’s awkward displays of interest in her. He asked her for a song thrice and all were during situations in which his guard was lowered, so artifice and false emotion aren’t present: at the serpentine steps, when he escorts her to her bedchamber and during Blackwater. The more we examine these three circumstances, the more evident it becomes that ‘tis not the song itself, whichever the lyrics may be, that mattered to him but what the song embodied for him: affection he wanted; musical sounds themselves may carry emotional meaning independently of lyrics, but that’s more certain when linked to a significant event/person. The first time, he asks for an unspecified song about knights and ladies, though it can be understood that it’s going to be necessarily a romantic one, because most of this type were, and that it’s going to be Florian and Jonquil because it’s the most popular and most mentioned song in ASOIAF and the Dunk & Egg tales , plus the fact that the author overlapped Sandor’s figure with that of Dontos, the fake Florian, moments before he collides with her at the steps. The second time he asks for “his song,” she offers precisely her favourite of the many she knows, and he expressed his frustration at her innocent obliviousness through harsh words and goes on to say he’ll have one eventually, to which she again replies that she’ll sing gladly. These actions, however cringe-worthy due to his inebriation, do demonstrate a genuine if consciously blocked interest in her for herself. And there’s an interesting parallelism between how Sandor and Duncan approach their first love interests, because both show their attraction for the first time to Sansa and Tanselle respectively with Florian and Jonquil in the background; and they are the only two couples whom GRRM has written with this particular backdrop motif in their initial interactions.
And since we’re exploring the theme of medieval knighthood in the small project this essay is a part of, it’s worthwhile to insert here a note on GRRM apparent love for Arthurian legends, as can be inferred from the inclusion of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King in his book recommendations, which has led to the formation of a little theory of mine. That it’s possible that Martin drew inspiration from one of those old knightly tales as basis for the figure of Florian the Fool. I am talking specifically of Sir Percival, whose story and quest for the Holy Grail was first registered and left unfinished by Chrétien de Troyes, and is most famous today in the renditions written by German medieval poet Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, and composer Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal. Little we know of Florian’s story and personal characteristics: that he was lowborn, homely, a fool and a great knight, his requited love for Jonquil, and that there are a giant and a dragon involved in his storyline, and that the songs about him are “sad” according to Sansa and “sweet and sad” according to Duncan. So there’s very little material on which to speculate further, but amongst the facts we do know, there are a few notable coincidences between both knights/fools:
- We don’t know anything of Florian’s origins beyond his low birth. Likewise, Parsifal is raised up as a lowborn by his widowed mother in a forest, though he’s a noble.
- Parsifal was a fool first and then became a knight, wearing motley under his armour. He’s the only fool and anointed knight in medieval chivalric literature. Florian is also a fool and a knight, wearing armour made of motley, and is the only one of the legendary heroes in ASOIAF that has both professions.
- There is a giant in Florian’s tale, which he can assume he engaged in a fight and won. Parsifal also fought giants, amongst other foes, and vanquished them.
- Florian had a love story with a highborn maid, Jonquil, though we don’t know how their relationship ended and what became of her; and in de Troyes’ version, Parsifal rescued a fair maid, Blanchefleur, who became his first love and lover. But in von Eschenbach’s poem, he had a love story with a different highborn maid, Condwiramurs, who sought his help in escaping a forced marriage; he fought and defeated her betrothed in a duel, then married her and had two sons, one of which is another famous hero, Lohengrin.
- And here’s where the parallelisms end, as there is no dragon and the Arthurian hero was no plain-faced man but the opposite, not to mention that his story has a strong redemption motif in all the three versions mentioned, something that is not known if the Westerosi legend has, and has more of the sweet and little of the sad.
 The two characters in Martin’s fictional world that mention this song most times are first Sansa and then Duncan the Tall.
Song hath charms to soothe a savage Hound
Like romance lyrics, worship music elicits a specific emotional response and fulfills a certain emotional need in people. This music is of a most “active” type, as it requires that people participate in songs and chants, and to focus on what the lyrics say more than on how it sounds. Its immediate effect is therefore concentration, clearing the mind of outside distractions and worries, which prepares for relaxation, that will come as people breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling over long periods of time as they are chanting, and with relaxation comes an increase in the level of endorphins, the uplifting neurotransmitters. The feelings of well-being extend to all people who like to listen to this music, independently of beliefs, but in believers the simplicity of the melodies also provide comfort and encouragement through connecting their personal issues to their religious beliefs, their gods’ promises, making them more hopeful, so they feel less alienated and alone (an effect non-spiritual music can have, too), but only on high dispositional hope, that is, a positive motivational state, elsewise it has no effect.
It’s not unusual that sacred songs should be more alluring to listeners in distressing times, and so on the first occasion the Mother’s Hymn is associated with Sansa, a battle on which her fate depends is about to start. After another of the always unpleasant encounters with Joffrey, she feels “the singing pulling at her” and goes to the sept, where she sings this and other hymns for the living and dead people she knew, minus Joffrey. But she adds a private, mute prayer to the Mother in behalf of the Hound.
He is no true knight, but he saved me all the same, she told the Mother. Save him if you can, and gentle the rage inside him.
Not long ago, he’d behaved with her in a way she’d considered “awful” on the roof of Maegor’s Holdfast, and in this prayer there are echoes of the impression that conversation had on her: on one hand, she’s cognisant of what he really is, but nevertheless she is grateful for his saving her life; and interestingly she doesn’t dwell on what he did or said to her on the rooftop, but on why he did and said those things: that angry volatility that scares her and she wants to be toned down after the battle is over if he survives. Looking at the incident this way, it appears more like an intentional expression of her wishes than a plea to some entity above.
Once she returns to her bedchamber from her ordeal at the Queen’s Ballroom with Cersei et al., the man himself is there, waiting for her. As reexamining every detail in a scene that has been profusely analysed previously isn’t my goal, here I am going to address only the part where she sings the same hymn again and why exactly did it have that effect on the Hound. First, let’s look at what he said just a moment before the singing occurs:
I could keep you safe,” he rasped. “They’re all afraid of me. No one would hurt you again, or I’d kill them.
This line is the key to finding the main reason why he reacted like he did, as we will see later. Now, let’s move to the song itself:
Gentle Mother, font of mercy, save our sons from war, we pray,
stay the swords and stay the arrows, let them know a better day.
Gentle Mother, strength of women, help our daughters through this fray,
soothe the wrath and tame the fury, teach us all a kinder way.
By themselves, the lyrics don’t say much; so we have to go rhyme by rhyme keeping the big picture in mind. Let’s start with the first line:
Gentle Mother, font of mercy, save our sons from war, we pray…
Sounds familiar? It should.
Save him if you can…
Sansa had prayed to the Mother to save Sandor, and he did survive by his own fighting skills, but not without paying a high emotional price considering his trauma by fire. He has lost what moved him until now, so what could he possibly have survived for?
Stay the swords and stay the arrows, let them know a better day.
To know a better day, how? What he may have seen as his last chance for a better day is lost once Sansa made that gesture he interpreted as rejection. He’s now truly nothing left, he cannot stay and she will not go with him. Yet there is another way he’s going to find out at the end of the prayer.
Gentle Mother, strength of women, help our daughters through this fray…
This is the key passage, the moment of shock when he must’ve realised what he was doing. He’s big, strong and is armed, whereas Sansa is but a little girl with no other defences save her voice and a prayer to the Mother.
He is no true knight, but he saved me all the same…
He’d saved her life at the riot, of which he’s so proud and he’d told her that no one would hurt her again, hadn’t he? Yet now he is threatening her with a dagger to her throat and scaring her out of her wits, making her fear for her life.
Soothe the wrath and tame the fury, teach us all a kinder way.
Clegane can now see clearly why it went wrong. The Molotov cocktail that was the combination of battle exhaustion, PSTD, sadness, drunkenness, physical aggressiveness, etc., plus the sense of loss that came from the latest unfolding of events, had been ignited by a moment of rage and had led to this shameful act of his. For a man who has an interest of an affective nature in a woman, to realise that she fears him and he’s to blame for that can be crushing.
… and gentle the rage inside him.
Yet Sansa doesn’t turn him away completely; as if to reinforce with a gesture the message carried across to him by the last line, she cups his cheek with her fingers, the only time she ever does this actively to a man. Thus, she was able to reach to Sandor through song in a way she couldn’t have been able to with speech alone, because:
Due to the melody alone, a song to the Mother can be deeply moving…
To prove my point, listen to the most famous song to Mary, the real world Mother figure in the Catholic faith GRRM was raised in: the Ave Maria by Franz Schubert. Even if you don’t speak German to understand the lyrics, you’ll probably find the melody moving, at least a little. The amount of real people who’ve wept because of this song isn’t small, either.
… but when combined with the meaningful lyrics examined earlier, it took on the additional power of speaking to him both verbally and non-verbally simultaneously…
Speaking of which, as the Faith of the Seven has a strong resemblance to the author’s former religion, Milady has another little theory about the source of inspiration for this hymn. There’s not a real hymn with an exact word by word coincidence, but the verses do have the same themes as those in Catholic hymns to the Virgin Mary, e.g. these from “Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest”: Lady, help in pain and sorrow/Soothe those rack’d on beds of pain/May the golden light of morrow/Bring them health and joy again. Which has some slight resemblance to the soothe the wrath and see a better day lines; and this: Lady, help the absent loved ones./How we miss their presence here./May the hand of Thy protection/Guide and guard them far and near./Mary, help us, help we pray. Which for a good reason always reminds me of the first lines in the one Sansa sang.
… thus penetrating his inebriated state and conscious defences, speaking directly to the to the core of his being, stimulating emotions and evoking feelings or recollections there.
So he cried, and then left her. There’s already a more thorough analysis of what became of him after this scene got imprinted so deeply on his mind, so suffice to say that we know from his last words that this action, forcing her to sing at knifepoint, was amongst those he regretted most. In the end, he did get to a place that is the realm of the Mother and the other six gods, where there’s ample possibility for him to learn the kinder way the hymn spoke of.
This experience stirred profound emotions in both, and it’s in Sansa in whom the effects are most immediate. She must’ve been trying to process what has just happened for a while, most probably (the “blanking” due to trauma hypothesis is dubious because that’s not how it goes. It looks more like Martin chose not to write her thoughts during this time due to plot requirements, as the UnKiss would originate here and it was intended as a surprise), and then rose, going directly to wrap his discarded and bloodied cloak round herself (again, here Martin chose not to write her thoughts as she was doing this; it would’ve been too revealing too early), which nicely reinforces the notion that there is nothing to support a psychological diagnosis of trauma resulting from this scene. If I needed more textual proof, this so simple and so revealing act tells it all: trauma victims, especially those from rape attempts, do not willingly and deliberately search for objects that induce flashbacks of the traumatic event, much less keep them as cherished mementos. Au contraire, they avoid/are wary of triggers, which is more true in children and young ones, in whom traumatic memories are more easily triggered, to the point that sometimes physical force or calming medication is necessary to restrain some young ones from running away and having nervous fits of crying, kicking and screaming when exposed to a trigger, be it visual or verbal. Some even get ill and must be hospitalised. Yet Sansa chose the cloak, a symbol of marriage in her world, put her in her hope chest no less, and then created the UnKiss.
Perhaps life is not a song, after all, but songs do teach effective ways to deal with people. That’s why children who learn to love singing from an early age tend also to have better social skills, and, more than anything, a good level of empathy, a quality that Sansa does possess and demonstrated in this scene.
In Case of Fire, Kiss Lass
Many years ago, I was introduced to a wonderful little book, He, Understanding Masculine Psychology by Robert A. Johnson. In it, he posits that the story of Perceval and the Fisher King is really a myth about masculine psychology in the modern age. He bases his book on the earliest incarnation of the Grail Myth from a poem by the French author Chrétien de Troyes written in the late twelfth century. As a myth explaining masculine psychology, it seems to be applicable to a number of male characters in ASOIAF. Jaime, Theon, Sandor and even Jon seem particularly good candidates and I suspect that a strong case can be made for looking at patriarchy in Westeros as a whole, but for now we’re going to focus just on Sandor Clegane.
Our young Perceval lives a peasant’s life in Wales with his mother. One day, Perceval spots five knights and is in such awe of these men and their elaborate trappings that he decides he must run off and join them. His poor mother, Heart’s Sorrow, is distressed and tells him that his father and two brothers had both been knights and met an early demise. The boy is insistent, so she allows him to go and gives him a homespun garment and some parting advice to respect fair damsels and not ask too many questions, and our young hero sets off in search of the knights.
Perceval eventually makes his way to Arthur’s court and asks to be a knight, but this foolish-looking youth in his homespun garment is laughed at by the court. However, there was one damsel at court who had not laughed in six years and the court’s prophetic fool had said that she would laugh when the greatest knight appeared and she bursts into joyous laughter at the sight of Perceval. Kay, the court steward, insults her for this and Perceval vows to avenge the slight one day. Arthur agrees to knight Perceval, and Perceval asks for the armor of the Red Knight. He is told that he can have it if he can get it, and so he sets off in search of the Red Knight.
The Red Knight is a powerful and menacing foe. He had taken a silver chalice from Arthur and thrown wine in the Queen’s face and no one was strong enough to stop him. Perceval sees the Red Knight at the door as he’s leaving court and challenges him. The knight easily knocks Perceval to the ground, but our young hero manages to thrust a lance (one summary said it was a javelin) through the eye slit of the Red Knight’s helm, killing him. A page at court assists Perceval with putting on the Red Knight’s armor as he has never seen anything like it before. The page urges him to get rid of his homespun garment, but he refuses. Afterwards, Perceval mounts the Red Knight’s horse and rides off, but he doesn’t know how to stop the horse so they ride all day until both are exhausted.
Perceval continues his journey and defeats numerous knights. Unlike the Red Knight, he spares these knights and extracts an oath from them to return to Arthur’s court and swear service to the King. On his journey, he meets a man named Gournamond who becomes his godfather. Gournamond instructs Perceval in the ways of knighthood. He learns that he must never seduce or be seduced by a fair maiden. He also must seek out the Grail Castle and when he finds it ask the question “Whom does the grail serve?” After a year under his godfather’s tutelage, Perceval remembers his mother and goes to seek her out. He eventually learns that his mother died after he left, but while he’s still searching for her, he meets Blanche Fleur (White Flower.)
Blanche Fleur’s castle is under siege and she beseeches Perceval to rescue her kingdom. Perceval challenges the leaders of the besieging army to duels where he defeats them, spares them, and extracts vows that they will go to Arthur’s court and swear allegiance to the King. Afterwards, Perceval spends the night with Blanche in an intimate but chaste embrace before continuing his journey.
One evening on his travels, Perceval is seeking shelter for the night but is told there is no habitation for thirty miles. He encounters a fisherman, who is in fact the Fisher King, and the man invites him to shelter in his castle for the night. Perceval follows the man’s direction and when he enters the castle the drawbridge snaps shut just as he crosses. Inside he finds the Fisher King seated on his throne, unable to rise and a great ceremony takes place.
Four hundred knights and ladies are gathered along with four youths around a fireplace with four faces. Three fair maidens each bring out an item—first the lance that pierced the side of Christ still dripping with blood, then the paten upon which the Last Supper was served, followed by the Grail itself. Everyone at the banquet has everything they desire except the Fisher King, who can’t partake because of his wound. Perceval is gifted with a sword by the Fisher King’s niece, but he fails to ask the healing question Godfather had told him to ask because he remembers his mother’s advice about not asking too many questions. The feast ends and the next morning the castle is deserted.
When Perceval leaves, he encounters a sorrowful maiden beset with grief. She is holding her dead lover in her arms, who was slain by another knight over something Perceval had done earlier. It is here that we learn Perceval’s name for the first time and she rebuke’s him for not asking the healing question when she learns he was in the Grail Castle. Next, Perceval encounters a weeping damsel who has also suffered from the consequences of Perceval’s earlier adventures. She informs him that the sword he received in the Grail Castle will break when he first uses it and that it can only be mended by the one who gave it to him.
Word of Perceval’s great deeds have reached King Arthur and he has commanded that this great knight be found. On his travels, Perceval witnesses a falcon attack three geese and three drops of blood from one of them fall on the ground staining the snow. These three drops of blood remind him of Blanche Fleur and he becomes transfixed staring at them. Arthur’s knights find him in this trance. The first two knights try and lead him away and Perceval attacks them, breaking one of their arms. The one he wounds is the steward Kay, who mocked the damsel who hadn’t laughed in six years back in Arthur’s court and Perceval had vowed to avenge that scorn. A third knight asks Perceval gently if he will accompany them and he agrees.
Back at Arthur’s court, there is a three day feast in Perceval’s honor. At the height of this festival celebrating Perceval’s great deeds, a hideous damsel appears. She recites all of Perceval’s failures and blunders and specifically brings up his failure to ask the healing question when he was in the Grail Castle. She reminds the knights that chastity is required to find the Grail Castle and charges Perceval to seek it out once more and make amends for his failure.
Perceval sets out again and spends many years on this knightly quest, and begins to grow despondent and disillusioned. One day, he comes across a group of pilgrims who ask why he is out riding on Good Friday, the day Jesus died. They invite him to accompany them to the forest hermit, so that he may confess his sins in preparation for Easter. He goes with them, and when he meets the hermit he is again chastised for his failures and shortcomings, especially the failure to ask the healing question in the Grail Castle. The hermit then becomes more gentle and compassionate and he gives Perceval directions to find the Grail Castle.
And here the poem by Chrétien de Troyes abruptly ends, which happens to coincide with the current ending of Sandor’s tale in our other story. We are left to ponder Perceval’s ending just as we are left to speculate on Sandor’s future. Whom does the Grail serve? Dr. Johnson posits “the Grail serves the Grail King. . . . Translated, this means that life serves what a Christian would call God, Jung calls the Self, or and we call by the many terms we have devised to indicate that which is greater than ourselves.” He also notes the importance of the fact that this question merely need be asked and not answered for the Fisher King to be healed. With that food for thought we move on to the symbolism.
The Fisher King Wound
According to the myth, the young Fisher King was wandering in the woods and came across an abandoned camp where there was a salmon roasting on a spit. He was hungry and reached for a bit of fish, burning his fingers. He gets a brief taste of the fish as he put his fingers in his mouth to cool the pain of the burn. This burn is the wound that plagues him and the one that must be healed.
The fish is a symbol of Christ in Christianity and the burn is from touching the divine too soon without the wisdom to handle it. It is the knowledge from the forbidden fruit that casts one out of the Garden of Eden on the long trek to find the way back to Paradise. It is the wound of disillusionment that shatters our youthful idealism and the lifelong quest to reconcile the complex realities of our world and find our way back to the happiness of innocence.
Like the Fisher King, Sandor’s physical wound is a burn. Although there has been a good deal of focus on the toy knight as a symbol of youthful idealism such as we see in Sansa and Bran (and it is a very appropriate image), I believe Sandor’s Fisher King Wound is actually his father’s failure to protect him afterwards. Often the focus is that Gregor was later knighted, but their father was already a knight sworn to protect the innocent and he couldn’t even keep that oath for his own son.
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.’
In He, Understanding Masculine Psychology, Dr Johnson writes: “In his typology of the personality, Dr. Jung observes that every educated person has one superior function of the four functions of feeling, thinking, sensing, and intuiting, which make up the human temperament. Also, as a part of our psychology there is an opposing inferior function. While our superior function produces most of the high value of our life, the more developed personality strengths, it also leads us into our Fisher King wound. Our inferior function, that part of us which is least differentiated, will heal us from that wound.”
Sandor’s Superior Rational Function seems to be Thinking and his Inferior Rational Function is Feeling (because I cheated and asked Milady of York—who admitted that it is actually a very tough call with our limited information). Sandor’s wound is different from the myth in that it was afflicted on him as opposed to him stumbling across it on his own as an adolescent through his own superior function. Sandor’s reaction to his wound seems to have been analyzing the world around him and realizing that he is the one who must learn to protect himself. Additionally, his entire life course seems to be dedicated to protecting others. He leaves the day his father dies and enters the service of House Lannister—the one House that can clearly protect him from Gregor. He becomes Cersei’s dog and later Joffrey’s dog, adopting the role of protecting the stereotypically weak “women and children.” His joining the Kingsguard is an order strictly dedicated to protecting others, he protects Loras when Gregor attacks, protects Sansa, protects Arya, and we see him fight to protect King’s Landing and help erect a palisade to protect a village.
His inferior function of Feeling is supposed to be what leads to his cure. Despite what he knows about the world and is all too willing to cynically dispense, his inferior feeling function seems moved by the lack of protection for Ned and especially Sansa. It is through this emotional connection that we should expect to see him healed and Milady’s essay on Songs and Emotional Bonding lays a sound foundation for that.
While the fish is a Christian symbol in the myth, it is also the symbol of House Tully in the series. The idea of Sansa replacing the Christ symbol of redemption fits well the Beauty and Beast theme and may have application with Arya as well, with her forgiveness by removing him from her list.
The Fisher King, the king of the castle, has been wounded. His wounds are so severe that he cannot live, yet he is incapable of dying. He groans; he cries out; he suffers constantly. The whole land is in desolation, for a land mirrors the condition of its king, inwardly in a mythological dimension, as well as outwardly in the physical world. The cattle do not reproduce; the crops won’t grow; knights are killed; children are orphaned; maidens weep; there is mourning everywhere—all because the Fisher King is wounded.
While this passage in particular makes me think this individual masculine psychological myth can be applied to the whole of patriarchy in Westeros, much of the nature of that suffering can be directly attributed to Gregor just as Sandor’s inability to live or die with his wound can be seen as the manifestation of his desire yet reluctance to kill his brother. Applying this myth to Sandor in particular, much of the land mirroring the king centers around the failure to protect the innocent.
Perceval the fool represents the inner innocence that one must reconnect with to heal the Fisher King wound. While Sandor’s character is cynical and bears no resemblance to a fool, he is tied to Florian the Fool through the internal story of Florian and Jonquil. We see this most clearly in Sansa’s chapter where she meets Dontos in the godswood. Here, Sansa meets Dontos, who is a literal fool, and comes to believe he intends to protect her and help her escape, which she connects to the Florian and Jonquil story. Looking closely at the text, it is Sandor who truly plays the role of Florian.
Originally, I had wondered whether or not Bloodraven played a role in creating the distraction that allows Sansa the opportunity to visit the godswood because of the appearance of Balerion the black tom believed to be warged by him. On closer analysis, it seems that was Littlefinger’s doing but Sandor seems “sent” by Bloodraven. The distraction was caused by a rumor that there was a feast for Tyrek’s wedding. This was likely spread by Littlefinger to provide the opportunity for Sansa to meet his agent Dontos, but Littlefinger cares little for Sansa personally (he did arrange for her to be married to Tyrion), so saw no need to make arrangements for her safe return.
Lady would have liked this place, she thought. There was something wild about a godswood; even here, in the heart of the castle at the heart of the city, you could feel the old gods watching with a thousand unseen eyes.
The thousand eyes is a clear Bloodraven reference.
Sansa had favored her mother’s gods over her father’s… Yet she could not deny that the godswood had a certain power too. Especially by night. Help me, she prayed, send me a friend, a true knight to champion me…
Dontos appears and Sansa is unsure if she can trust him.
Sansa found herself thinking of Lady again. She could smell out falsehood
“I prayed to the gods for a knight to come save me,” she said. “I prayed and prayed. Why would they send me a drunken old fool?”
“The singers say there was another fool once who was the greatest knight of all…”
“Florian,” Sansa whispered. A shiver went through her.
“My Florian,” she whispered. “The gods heard my prayer.
As readers we know that Dontos is not there to help her at all but merely deceive her for gold. However, Sansa does meet another drunken “knight” on her way back—Sandor who seems to be the real “greatest knight of all” just like our Perceval.
The serpentine steps twisted ahead, striped by bars of flickering light from the narrow windows above. Sansa was panting by the time she reached the top. She ran down a shadowy colonnade and pressed herself against a wall to catch her breath. When something brushed against her leg, she almost jumped out of her skin, but it was only a cat, a ragged black tom with a chewed-off ear. The creature spit at her and leapt away.
She was racing headlong down the serpentine steps when a man lurched out of a hidden doorway. Sansa caromed into him and lost her balance. Iron fingers caught her by the wrist before she could fall, and a deep voice rasped at her. … He let go his grip on her arm, swaying slightly as he stood, stripes of light and darkness falling across his terrible burnt face.
Just as Sansa is thinking about the flaw of Dontos being too old to be Florian but homely enough she runs into Sandor and his burned face. She encounters him at the same spot on the serpentine stairs that she saw the black tom with the same description of striped light and dark bars. Unlike Dontos, Sandor does actually protect her here from Boros Blount as they return to the keep. The chapter ends with another reference to Florian and Jonquil as well as Sandor claiming to be able to sniff out falsehoods which is the same quality Sansa was just wishing for when she missed Lady giving another hint at the old gods answering her prayers even if not as she seems to think.
I never got my song.”
“I… I know a song about Florian and Jonquil.”
“Florian and Jonquil? A fool and his cunt. Spare me. But one day I’ll have a song from you, whether you will it or no.”
“I will sing it for you gladly.”
Sandor Clegane snorted. “Pretty thing, and such a bad liar. A dog can smell a lie, you know. Look around you, and take a good whiff. They’re all liars here… and every one better than you.
The Red Knight
The Red Knight symbolizes instinct or as Dr, Johnson puts it:
The Red Knight is the shadow side of masculinity, the negative, potentially destructive power. To truly become a man the shadow personality must be struggled with, but it cannot be repressed. The boy must not repress his aggressiveness since he needs the masculine power of his Red Knight shadow to make his way through the mature world.
Red is anger and rage, wine, blood, and fire. Those are in abundance with Sandor and he has not yet fully subdued this opponent. We see him control his Red Knight when he battles Gregor and refuses to strike at his unarmored head. We see him control his instincts when he goes out despite the fires after rescuing Sansa, and again repeatedly during the Blackwater before he eventually succumbs—though that may be more his Fisher King wound than his Red Knight. We see him control his rage with Arya when he often looks enraged but says something milder to her surprise and lose that battle as Arya notes his chopping twenty times the needed firewood before collapsing in exhaustion without ever lighting a fire.
Sandor has certainly subdued his Red Knight and made it serve him, but he has yet to slay the opponent. Perhaps the lesson behind the Red Knight being killed and the other knights being subdued into service is that instinct should only be donned as armor and used as a weapon but it is never appropriate to put it in the service of the psyche or others as with these other facets. The possible interpretation that Sandor truly slays his Red Knight when he fights Beric will come up again later. If so, a case could be made that he only subdued his Red Knight and put in in the service of Cersei which offers a different perspective on the death of Mycah and the accusation and trial by combat with Beric.
The Feminine Relationships
To again borrow from Dr. Johnson…
His human mother
This is the actual woman who was his mother, she with all her idiosyncrasies, individual characteristics, and uniqueness.
His mother complex and his mother archetype
This resides entirely inside the man himself. This is his regressive capacity which would like to return to a dependency on his mother and be a child again. This is a man’s wish to fail, his defeatist capacity, his subterranean fascination with death or accident, his demand to be taken care of. This is pure poison in a man’s psychology. If the mother complex is pure poison, the mother archetype is pure gold. It is the feminine half of God, the cornucopia of the universe, mother nature, the bounty which is freely poured out to us without fail. We could not live for one minute without the bounty of the mother archetype. It is always reliable, nourishing, sustaining.
His fair maiden
This is the feminine component in every man’s psychic structure and is the interior companion or inspirer of his life, the fair damsel. It is Blanche Fleur, one’s lady fair, Dulcinea in Don Quixote, Beatrice to Dante in the Comedia Divina. It is she who gives meaning and color to one’s life. Dr. Jung named this quality the anima, she who animates and brings life.
His wife or partner
This is the flesh and blood companion who shares his life journey and is a human companion.
This is the Goddess of Wisdom, the feminine half of God, the Shekinah in Jewish mysticism. It comes as a shock to a man to discover that Wisdom is feminine, but all mythologies have portrayed it so.
We are at almost a complete loss for information on Sandor’s mother and sister, and the fact that only his father comes up during his burning story may indicate that she died when he was very young. In the absence of information on his actual mother, the closest figure we have to a surrogate mother would probably be Cersei. She did essentially feed and clothe him as well as protect him from Gregor as a real parent ought to have done. In addition, her being older than him and the authority of her station would make their relationship closer to the vertical of a parent/child dynamic. This would create an inversion of the myth where Perceval does not want to be a knight but his mother seeks that role for him. It would also make the white cloak of the Kingsguard his symbolic homespun garment which is also fitting since he sheds that garment when Sansa sings the Mother hymn.
His fair maiden is clearly Sansa and she is obviously his Blanche Fleur—”White Flower” is also fitting given her association with snow. Sansa is also the only figure who fits as his partner and this seems to be reciprocated, given her thoughts and dreams of him despite their physical separation. I don’t see an especially strong connection to Sandor and any Sophia figure, but again Sansa did sing a hymn for him and she became a metaphorical Heart Tree during the Snow Winterfell scene, so I would expect to see more symbolism related to this as the story progresses. As an aside, it occurs to me that for those in the “Sansa is the younger and more beautiful” one from Maggy’s prophesy camp these are all positive signs. This would also serve as replacing Sandor’s negative mother archetype with a positive one.
There is no real Godfather figure for Sandor yet. An argument could be made that Gregor or Tywin is something of a negative role model. Comparing Sandor to a Jon who had Noye, the Halfhand, Aemon, the Old Bear, Tyrion, arguably even Mance, Stannis and Tormund, it is clear that any of these are clearly more than Sandor ever had. I suspect that the Elder Brother will qualify as both a Godfather figure and the hermit. Neither Tywin or Gregor had what could be remotely mistaken for a healthy regard for the feminine. This leaves Sandor currently without a clear expression of the Godfather’s advice regarding a man’s anima—”never to seduce a fair maiden or be seduced by her.”
Blanche represents the Anima, and Perceval’s chaste yet intimate relationship with her represents the healthy ideal for a man’s relationship with his inner feminine nature. The Godfather’s advice to never seduce or be seduced by a fair maiden refers to this inner relationship. To be seduced by this inner feminine side is to fall prey to a mood.
Feeling is the ability to value: mood is being overtaken or possessed by the inner feminine.
Creativity in a man is directly linked with his inner feminine capacity for growth and creation. Genius in a man is his interior feminine capacity to give birth; it is his masculinity which gives him capacity for putting that creativity into form and structure in the outer world.
Whether it is a bad mood from seducing or a good mood from being seduced by the inner feminine, mood obscures feeling’s ability to value things internally and cripples creativity denying a true happiness from within. We see this play out in general with Sandor’s drinking and very specifically during his time in the Riverlands with Arya. He falls into depressive bouts when his plans to ransom Arya go awry and swings into happy moods when he devises a new scheme to bring her to the Vale or stay at the village. Given Sandor’s severe psychological trauma he has legitimate clinical reasons for depression that better explain his current state, but the dynamic of expecting happiness from external sources is still applicable to his relationship with his Anima.
The First Grail Castle
Just as Sandor did not stumble into his Fisher King Wound of his own accord but rather had it imposed upon him, so too is he taken into the Grail Castle by someone else. After the Blackwater, Sandor is broken. The fires have reopened his wound, the slow building doubts regarding his role of protector in service of the Lannisters so tied to that wound have finally caught up with him. He succumbs to his Red Knight, drinks himself into a stupor, and goes to Sansa’s room to demand his happiness from a flesh and blood woman rather than his own Anima.
I could keep you safe,” he rasped. “They’re all afraid of me…
Here, again we see how tied Sandor is to the role of protector even if his actions in this moment fall short.
I’ll have that song. Florian and Jonquil, you said.” His dagger was out, poised at her throat. “Sing, little bird. Sing for your little life.
Here again we have Sandor being tied to Florian the Fool. His behavior and emotional state are anything but the innocent fool while demanding that song, but Sansa instead sings the hymn Gentle Mother which seems to stir that innocent quality within him.
Some instinct made her lift her hand and cup his cheek with her fingers. The room was too dark for her to see him, but she could feel the stickiness of the blood, and a wetness that was not blood. “Little bird,” he said once more, his voice raw and harsh as steel on stone. Then he rose from the bed. Sansa heard cloth ripping, followed by the softer sound of retreating footsteps.
Unlike the naïve Perceval who followed his mother’s advice and did not ask “Whom does the grail serve?”, a worldly Sandor, momentarily stripped of his cynicism, sees that he has been following his mother archetype’s advice and knows the grail has been wrongly serving her. Instead of embracing the “homespun,” he rejects the cloak but flees the castle at the sight of the reflection his inner fool shows him.
Milady has a more in depth take on the Grail Castle as a series of events leading up to this final scene:
Since the Grail Castle symbolises his breakdown, to which he’s taken into by Sansa, I would say that there’s no single “Grail Castle moment” in his arc but rather a series of “Grail Castle moments” of which Blackwater is only the final crack, the biggest, the definite, the proverbial drop that spilt the cup. The first Grail Castle would have been the No True Knight scene, in which Sandor faces his Wound for the first time ever, as it’s very obvious that he’s never talked about this with anyone, and he’s talking about his Wound precisely to the woman that will help him see the way to healing it. Significantly, the next day he protects defenceless Loras from Gregor. The second Grail Castle is the Serpentine Steps scene, in which his Feeling function is at work with the help of a good ol’ Dornish red, he’s surrendered to his Red Knight, but recuperates and then goes on to protect Sansa twice: immediately, from Boros, a little later, from the rioters who’d have harmed or killed her. And the third Grail Castle would be Maegor’s Holdfast, in which the big final crack that will be evident to us only at her bedchamber later is already in place and Sandor only needs a push to crumble down. And only then comes the Blackwater night and it’s the coup de grace, his definite breakdown. Notice that in all four Castles he’s in Protector mode right afterwards, only that in the first 2 Grail Castles, he’s protecting the lambs and in the last 2 Grail Castles he’s protecting the lions. Nice contrast, isn’t it?
Her take also incorporates the number four which is prominent and clearly meaningful in the Grail Castle (there actually seems to be a good deal of numerical significance throughout Perceval, though I have mostly left it out as it isn’t one of my strong suits).
The Hideous Damsel
The Hideous Damsel is the carrier of doubt and despair, the destroying, spoiling quality that visits any intelligent man at mid-life. … This harbinger of darkness accomplishes a profoundly important act of individuation in the court. She parcels out tasks to each of the knights present, each task an individual quest for each knight.
Arya is Sandor’s Hideous Damsel as Milady’s essay on The Two Faces of the Beast illustrates quite perfectly. This scene differs significantly from the Perceval symbolism because Sandor’s Hideous Damsel appears at his trial rather than his celebration. At that trial he is accused of being responsible for the ills of the Fisher King wound that plague the kingdom committed at the hands of the same man who delivered his own wound. It is his actual guilt over the accusation from the Hideous Damsel that makes his trial go forward and he must battle the incarnation of the source of his wound– though victorious he is wounded by fire yet again.
In our myth parlance, when Sandor is first accused of Mycah’s death he defends himself with his maternal archetype. Beric may symbolize the Red Knight as Perceval slew him with a dagger to the eye and Beric has one eye here. Sandor also destroys the weapon that embodies his original wound in an act of defending himself which is what he was unable to do when he was first wounded. His reaction to his initial wound was to embrace his superior thinking function and find a way to protect himself in this flawed world. His reaction to this reopened second wound is to embrace his inferior feeling function and admit his failures to protect others.
I did.” His whole face twisted. “I rode him down and cut him in half, and laughed. I watched them beat your sister bloody too, watched them cut your father’s head off.
As the Hideous Damsel continues to haunt him, he admits to more of his failures but clings to the successful acts of protection to differentiate him from the “monster” who inflicted his original wound, but he still refuses to admit to his failure to be chaste with his Fair Damsel.
Because I hacked your little friend in two? I’ve killed a lot more than him, I promise you. You think that makes me some monster. Well, maybe it does, but I saved your sister’s life too. The day the mob pulled her off her horse, I cut through them and brought her back to the castle, else she would have gotten what Lollys Stokeworth got. And she sang for me. You didn’t know that, did you? Your sister sang me a sweet little song.
Arya also seem to double as the Sorrowful Maiden Perceval encounters when leaving the Grail Castle. She is holding her dead lover who was killed by a knight in a rage over something Perceval had done earlier. This is the point in the story where we learn Perceval’s name, but for Sandor this seems to be the point that will eventually lead the shedding of the Hound identity. Arya’s later removal of The Hound from her list can be seen as both an act of forgiveness and the death of The Hound, both of which lead to an integrated Sandor.
Parsifal had transcended and integrated duality within himself and had attained great humility by knowing the source (within) of his masculine strength and to whom he does serve. Parsifal had integrated duality in the following sense: His “red heart [of passion] had been opened to his feelings and merged with his mind.” “He had integrated the black [erotic] with the white [purity] aspects of himself to achieve high fidelity of being”, [as Keith Burt put it]. For without integration of duality there remains “split-off-ness” within the man. [As stated by James Wyly] “Only as an individual, undivided, can man continue on his journey, meet the feminine [within and without] as an equal opposite and fulfil his creative destiny.”
—Psychologist Richard Sanderson.
It is only when the Hideous Damsel has extracted her last confession that The Hound can die and integration can begin.
I killed your butcher’s boy. I cut him near in half, and laughed about it after.” He made a queer sound, and it took her a moment to realize he was sobbing. “And the little bird, your pretty sister, I stood there in my white cloak and let them beat her. I took the bloody song, she never gave it. I meant to take her too.
Sandor admits his equivalent of failing to ask the healing question when he first entered the Grail Castle and his Hideous Damsel finally departs.
It may also fit to view The Hound as a role. In the very beginning, when asked for his name Perceval tells the knights he sees that it is “Dear Son.” When pressed for his real name or other name, he says it is “Good Master.” His name starts as the role external to himself that he fulfills for others and The Hound can be viewed in much the same way.
The hermit is the highly introverted part of one’s nature that has been waiting and storing energy in a far off corner waiting for this very moment. Extroversion is the usual dominant of the first half of one’s life and that is correct. But when one’s extroversion has run its race and taken one on that very valuable part of life journey—then one must consult the hermit deep inside for the next step.
The hermit lives in a forest and Sandor is left “to die” under a willow tree. It is also interesting that the hermit is found that day Christ dies and the visit with the hermit is to confess the sins revealed by the Hideous Damsel in preparation for Easter the day of resurrection or rebirth. The Elder Brother seems to our clear Hermit figure. If Sandor also learns something of the lesson to “never to seduce a fair maiden or be seduced by her” the Elder Brother would also have played the role of Godfather– though it would seem at least some of this process will be left in the hands of our other myth, Beauty and the Beast.
The Falcon, the Three Geese and the Three Drops of Blood
This is a scene that I had initially assumed was an obvious fit for the bloody cloak and when that scene seemed to fit better with the Grail Castle I almost forgot to include this. Mahaut has a post comparing this to the bloody cloak, the red and white of the blood and snow to the colors of the Old Gods. There’s some good discussion surrounding the bird symbolism that follows. Having looked at the myth as a whole, I think it is possible that this scene’s parallel has simply not come up yet, or is actually the fight with the Tickler, Polliver, and the squire at the Inn of the Crossroads.
In her Two Faces of the Beast essay, Milady details how when Sandor stares transfixed into the fire he is actually thinking about Sansa and he drinks wine as a possible blood symbol substitute when he breaks his gaze. Perceval’s gaze is also broken by a fight with three men, one of whom is Kay whom Perceval has a grudge with that pre-dates his obtaining the Red Knight’s armor. In Sandor’s case, this fits well with confronting his brother’s men. Snow is a symbol of purity and blood on the snow seems like a clear loss of virginity image. Fire also has a purifying aspect and can symbolize passion and love. It is also the source of Sandor’s wound and represents the loss of his innocence which makes it a blurred and complicated bit of imagery to sort out relative to the Perceval scene. Arya also has a connection with these men and immediately before meeting Gregor she saw the three black swans contrasted against the three black dogs of House Clegane’s banner. This may be connected to the three geese and we are learning that Sansa, who can be associated with a falcon, has just flown away. The meaning of the threes and the geese (which currently only seem to bring me back to the Wart’s lessons in The Once and Future King) in particular elude me. Hopefully, I have identified enough aspects to make for some fertile discussion which is after all one of our main purposes her.
An Arthurian reading of Sansa Stark
by Lady Gwynhyfvar
In mythology and legend, the tale of the abduction and captivity of a princess is an archetype that conveys one of the central mysteries of chthonic cults, that of rebirth and regeneration, at the same time that it reassuringly conveys the balance of masculine and feminine. At the narrative heart of the abduction myth is the theme of the captive princess. This tale becomes in the telling increasingly complex and distant from its chthonic origins. However, all tales of rescuing a damsel in distress have their roots here. Early in Sansa Stark’s story arc, she travels to King’s Landing as the bethrothed of Prince Joffrey Baratheon and takes up residence in the Tower of the Hand. From there, as events progress, she becomes a captive in the upper reaches of Maegor’s Holdfast. After a short period of release, which is spent as an unhappy wife, she is taken away once more, this time alighting (ultimately) in the Maiden’s Tower of the Eyrie, from which she emerges during her final chapter in Feast. Our little bird has spent the final months of her girlhood in a cage, represented by a succession of towers. Her periods of controlled release, while in themselves stagnant, can be seen to represent the fruition of growth in her arc, as in this poignant reminder from Ser Osmund as she descends from her chamber in Maegor’s for the final time:
Do as you’re told, sweetling, it won’t be so bad. Wolves are supposed to brave aren’t they?” Brave. Sansa took a deep breath. I am a Stark, yes, I can be brave.
ASoS, chapter 28
Compare with her descent from the Eyrie where she has found a bravery of a different sort:
Sansa Stark went up the mountain, but Alayne Stone is coming down … Alayne was an older woman, and bastard brave.
AFfC, chapter 41
The well-known story of Persephone, torn from her mother’s protection by Hades, the god of the underworld, and forced to remain as his wife for a part of each year after partaking of the symbolic pomegranate, is at once a tale of regeneration and balance. In the Persephone myth, Demeter spends the months of her captivity searching in vain for her daughter while the landscape (the fertility of which is dependent upon her, the goddess of the harvest) grows increasingly barren and lifeless. Persephone’s ingestion of the pomegranate seeds ties her irrevocably to the underworld, and forces her annual return to her position as the consort of its ruler. We see echoes of this in Catelyn Stark, as Lady Stoneheart, searching in vain for her daughters in the wasteland that the Riverlands has become. Then too there is this scene that marks the beginning of Sansa’s second captivity:
Petyr cut a pomegranate in two with his dagger, offering half to Sansa. “You should try and eat, my lady.” “Thank you, my lord.” Pomegranate seeds were so messy; Sansa chose a pear instead…
ASoS, chapter 68
In choosing the much less symbolically fraught pear, Sansa rejects the cyclical captivity of Persephone for a more temporary version.
We also find a version of the captive princess theme in H. C. Andersen’s famous atmospheric tale The Snow Queen. In Andersen’s story, the young boy Kai is taken by the wicked Snow Queen to her fortress in the far North where he is ultimately rescued by his innocent young friend Gerda, who proves the power of love to conquer evil. There is early foreshadowing of Sansa’s role as the captive princess in AGoT and the tale of the Hand’s Tourney. Cersei, who has yet to reveal her true colors to Sansa, quarrels publicly with Robert at the evening feast. Note the description of Cersei:
The queen’s face was a mask, so bloodless that it might have been sculpted from snow.
AGoT, chapter 29
Here we are given clear notice that Cersei is hiding her true self (behind a mask) and her future role as captor in the description that so closely echoes the description of the Snow Queen when Kai first beholds her:
She was delicate and beautiful but made of blinding, glimmering ice.
C. Andersen, The Snow Queen: Second Story.
The union of Hades and Persephone can be seen as a hieros gamos, or sacred marriage, where the representative of the Earth annually marries a sacrificial king in order to secure a bountiful harvest, with the hidden, underground aspect of Hades representing the potential of fertility, while Persephone represents the culmination of fertility. The hieros gamos is present in many world cultures, perhaps most significantly in Britain, where some have speculated that the union of King Arthur and Gwenhwyfar draws on ancient British traditions involving the sacrificial king and the triple goddess, as evidenced by references to three Gwenhwyfars in the Welsh triads. All these tales hold in common the idea of a union between masculine and feminine which harks back to the earlier mysteries. But it is the tale of Arthur’s Gwenhwyfar which represents the union of the chthonic themes of Persephone with the romantic notion of the damsel in distress. The Arthurian scholar Roger Sherman Loomis finds that behind the tradition of Gwenhwyfar’s abduction by Melwas (alternatively Meleagant in Chretien’s The Knight of the Cart) lay a myth of “the Persephone type” with the important distinction that Gwenhwyfar is held captive in a tower on an island that stands in for the fairy underworld of the early Welsh Arthurian tale The Spoils of Annwn.
In The Knight of the Cart Meleagant challenges Arthur to send his Queen to him with a knight. If he defeats the knight in single combat, he will release a number of Arthur’s subjects whom he holds captive. Arthur sends Gwenhwyfar with his foster brother Kay, who is defeated and Gwenhwyfar is seized and imprisoned. Gawain and Lancelot also set out, separately, to attempt a rescue. Gawain comes upon Lancelot walking behind a cart whose dwarf driver tells him to get in if he would have news of the Queen. Lancelot hesitates for two steps because the cart (or pillory) is a mode of transport reserved for criminals and not befitting a knight. He does mount, in most interpretations owning his treasonous affection for the Queen, and thereafter passes every test of his devotion to her. Ultimately he slays Meleagant and restores the Queen to her husband. Arthur however is diminished, in the same way the annual king of the hieros gamos must be as his year wanes.
At the Tourney of the Hand we are introduced to Sandor as Sansa’s rescuer, when Joffrey commands him to escort her back to the castle. During their brief journey together we learn that Sandor’s early longing to be a knight has been transformed into utter scorn for the institution by his vicious brother’s elevation to that rank. He has become instead the Lannisters’ guard dog, illustrated by his “snarling” and “growling” speech. Yet he foreshadows his future as her personal knight errant when he climbs into the back of a cart with her and returns her to her father’s protection. Just as the tale of The Knight of the Cart symbolizes Lancelot’s willingness to stain his knightly honor in the defense of his true love, so Sandor’s story starkly illustrates that true knights aren’t necessarily without flaws and that rescue can come from places unlooked for.
Running in tandem with themes of sacred love, regeneration and rescue we have the Grail legend. While the sacred marriage tells of the need to maintain balance between masculine and feminine, the Grail legend tells of a distressingly out of balance relationship. Psychiatrist Emma Jung finds in the Grail legend a collective meditation on the particular problems of the medieval society– that the masculine, in particular the warlike masculine, has been elevated at the expense of the feminine at the same time that the dark side of divinity has been denied. By stripping away the mysteries of the Earth mother and making sexuality something to be despised rather than revered and throwing up in its place the snow white image of the Virgin, whose “pure” procreation is at odds not only with the human psyche but with the very reality humans lived from day to day, medieval society (led by the Catholic church) created a psychic wound in the collective that could only be healed through a metaphoric journey to reclaim the feminine.
In addition, the separation of light and dark in the divine element simultaneously led to a rift between the sacred and the profane that could not be resolved. To be fair, Jung never claims that the medieval mindset was aware of any such thing. Rather this is the work of a collective unconscious, which brings us to the image of the Grail castle. The Grail castle, according to Jung, can be seen as an expression of that archetypal concept of the unconscious. The Grail itself, hidden away in the castle, represents the Self, the spiritual experience of wholeness and the process of achieving balance between the conscious and unconscious which is present in all people. The Grail Maiden then is the guardian of Self, while the Fisher King (the Lord of the Castle) represents the wounded unconscious who must die or be healed for the good of the collective, or as Emma Jung put it “the Grail King is, as it were, the archetypal image of Christian man as he is viewed from the perspective of the unconscious.” (Jung and von Franz, The Grail Legend)
In The Snow Queen, Kai receives two kisses from the enchantress. The first makes him forget the cold while the second makes him forget his family. To apply Jung’s ideas to Kai, he becomes lost in a wasteland, out of touch with his Self and with a deeply wounded consciousness. After Robert’s death, with her father set to remove her and her sister from danger, Sansa disobeys her father and chooses the warmth of the south over the cold north of her birth by going to Cersei seeking help. She ends up a prisoner in the highest tower of Maegor’s Holdfast while Lannisters arrest her father and slaughter his household. After her second audience with Cersei days later she is convinced to write letters to her family requesting their continued loyalty to King Joffrey. When she returns to her tower room that evening she realizes she has forgotten to ask about her sister. Sansa has received the equivalent of the boy’s two kisses from her own enchantress and become a prisoner in her heart as well as her body. The transformation is symbolically complete when Sansa, dressed in mourning (she has dyed her stained white gown black) kneels on the cast off Kingsguard cloak of Ser Barristan Selmy to plead for her father’s life. Her innocent Self, represented by the white gown, has been wounded, as represented by the blood orange stain. Yet she covers this wound with black dye and presents herself to the Lannisters as their captive, kneeling on the symbol of their disregard for knightly honor (the cast off cloak) In truth, Sansa’s life has gone from song to nightmare quicker than Littlefinger can remind her that life is not a song. So begins her season of despair and torment. Her chapters in Game end with Sandor saving her from pushing Joffrey off the ramparts, and a surprisingly tender moment as he wipes the blood, caused by Ser Meryn’s blows, from her face.
”Thank you,” she said when he was done. She was a good girl and always remembered her courtesies.
AGoT, chapter 67
Her disillusion is complete, but she has learned the valuable lesson that, pawn though she may be, she can find protection in a lady’s courtesy.
While the tale of the Fisher King reimagines the hieros gamos, Perceval’s quest represents the need to connect with the Self, to ask the questions that provide one with a numinous experience of one’s inner center. That the numinous, or spiritual, must needs be a balance between masculine and feminine, light and dark is what has been lost. To accomplish his quest, he must save the Fisher King by asking the question which reveals the Grail (“Whom does the Grail serve?”) Perceval takes many wrong turnings and fails to save the Fisher King on their first encounter. As renowned Jungian analyst Roger Woolger puts it: “The wound of the Fisher King is the medieval image of that damaged consciousness and the terrible alienation from the Earth Mother it has wrought.” Or to put it another way “The Christian fear of the pagan outlook has damaged the whole consciousness of Man.” (D.H. Lawrence, Apocalypse)
The quest then, is a search for sensuality and balance that has been denied. Perceval, the pure simple youth in touch with the sensual, is the only Arthurian figure to truly achieve the Grail through his quest(ion)ing. (For more on Perceval and his parallels to Sandor, see this essay by Ragnorak.) On the eve of the Battle of the Blackwater Sansa’s relationship with the Hound comes full circle when he breaks during the inferno and seeks refuge in her chamber. In his extremity he offers to take her with him as he flees the city. She finally delivers the song he has been demanding, in that moment inverting their relationship and becoming his saviour, transforming herself from Gwenhwyfar (the captive) into the Grail maiden, the song representing the answer to the question he has asked her many times but not in the correct way until this moment. Sandor suffers from a psychological wound that terrifies her at the same that she possesses the sole power to heal it. It can be no accident that the proposed matches to Willas Tyrell and her cousin Robert Arryn (which precede the actual matches with Tyrion and Harry the Heir) will prompt her to begin to misremember her final meeting with Sandor, fabricating a romantic kiss where none existed. In a further inversion, Sansa now resembles The Snow Queen‘s Gerda, rather than the captive Kai:
I can give her no greater power than she has already,” said the woman; “don’t you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has, which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart. If she cannot herself obtain access to the Snow Queen, and remove the glass fragments from little Kai, we can do nothing to help her…
Andersen, The Snow Queen: Sixth Story
Sansa’s arc in Clash is marked by the continuation of her torment at Joffrey’s hands which at the same time brings about a period of growth and strengthening that can best be compared with Persephone’s months outside of the Underworld of her husband. On the other hand, most of her chapters in Storm represent a period of stagnation which compares with Persephone’s months of captivity with Hades. It is a time of waiting. She has moments of hope, but overall is in stasis- waiting to be whisked away first by Dontos, then by the Tyrells. After her forced marriage to Tyrion she seems resigned to her fate:
Tyrell or Lannister, it makes no matter, it’s not me they want, only my claim.
ASoS, chapter 28
As Gwenhwyfar was rescued from Meleagant’s tower by her white knight (Lancelot) only to be returned to her unhappy marriage, so is Sansa escorted to from Maegor’s to her union with Tyrion by a pair of white knights (Ser Osmund and Ser Boros) For that matter, in her final descent from the Eyrie she is accompanied by Sweetrobin in his white bearskin cloak. Of note is that this chapter and her future descent from the Eyrie deal with the subject of Sansa’s marriage and the Stark maiden cloak as a powerful symbol of her identity as Princess of Winterfell. In both, there is someone standing in stead of her father who does not have her best interest at heart. Also in both, the groom or proposed groom is a mere surrogate for a larger interest. Sansa has learned to her sorrow that those who wish to claim her are mostly interested in her real estate. The presence of the white cloaks in both chapters also serves to draw attention to the missing white cloak of the only masculine figure in her life who has no interest in her “claim” and stands as her true protector– Sandor Clegane.
Joffrey’s wedding day dawns with Sansa waking from a dream of Winterfell. When she looks out her window she sees an amazing castle in the clouds—two castles actually, which soon merge and become one. Like another castle associated with Sansa, much analysis has been applied to this scene. In terms of Sansa’s longing the merging of the two cloud castles into one which resembles her home can only represent her unconscious need to continue to be a Stark (her True Self) which is in contrast to her conscious thought moments later:
They have made me a Lannister, Sansa thought bitterly.
ASoS, chapter 59
The end of the cloud castle passage is also highly reminiscent of this passage from The Waste Land:
“What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
T. S. Eliot
Sansa’s own wasteland is her perpetual entrapment. Her unconscious longs for home and to rediscover her Self. Her conscious mind, in spite of brief moments of hope which reveal the Self waiting to be discovered, focuses on her continued captivity. Sansa’s upset stomach on Joffrey’s wedding morning can no doubt be attributed to nerves as we later learn that she has hidden clothing in the castle godswood, preparatory to her escape in the aftermath of the wedding. She goes to the Lannister wedding on the arm of her Lannister husband telling herself:
I must be brave, like Robb.
ASoS, chapter 59
The allusion to Robb holds high significance when the parallels with the RW are considered. Sansa has reached an ending, like her brother, and at this wedding a king will die and a new chapter will begin, furthering the parallels with the myth of sacrifice and regeneration.
As Sansa prepares to embark on her journey into the unknown with Dontos, like Gwenhwyfar fleeing her death sentence with Lancelot, she dons a deep green cloak with a large hood. Worrying that the pearls on her bodice will gleam in the dark she reassures herself “The cloak will cover them.” The attention is drawn back to Sansa sheltering under another cloak, on another night:
She shook out the torn cloak and huddled beneath it on the floor, shivering.
ACoK, chapter 62
Sandor has rejected the cloak for symbolizing his failure to her (“I stood there in my white cloak and let them beat her”) but we know that to Sansa the cloak is inevitably the symbol of protection:
She had dreamed of her wedding a thousand times, and always she had pictured how her betrothed would stand behind her tall and strong, sweep the cloak of his protection over her shoulders, and tenderly kiss her cheek as he leaned forward to fasten the clasp.
ASoS, chapter 28
The cloak is a powerful metaphor of protection. By donning it, she unconsciously acknowledges Sandor’s power to protect her, even as she continues to deny his “knighthood.” As she unknowingly moves to her new captivity she hides Sansa Stark in a Grail Castle of her own making, as will be seen when she arrives in the Vale.
Gwenhwyfar endures two captivities in most versions of the legend. In the first, her abduction by Melwas, there is much posturing but the real danger seems to be to the knights who present themselves as her protectors (usually Kay, Gawain and Lancelot) In much the same way, Sansa’s time in King’s Landing is marked by danger and defeat to her father, her brother, her husband and ultimately even Sandor and Dontos. In contrast, her second captivity with Mordred is marked by real sexual menace. In the final tale of the Vulgate Cycle, Mort Artu, the elements of rescue and imprisonment in a tower are separated. Arthur discovers Gwenhwyfar’s affair with Lancelot and condemns her to burn. Lancelot rescues her and transports her to his castle, Joyous Garde. In the process of the escape, Lancelot inadvertently slays Gawain’s brother Gaheris and sets up the next episode in the drama: the betrayal of Mordred (Medraut). Lancelot flees Arthur’s rage, returning to his own lands in France and incidentally once again returning Gwenhwyfar to her husband. Here we have echoes of Dontos, the well intentioned savior who ultimately returns Sansa to captivity when he delivers her to Littlefinger. Arthur and the vengeful Gawain follow him there, leaving Arthur’s kingdom vulnerable to seizure by Mordred. Sly, untrustworthy and calculating, Mordred lurks in the background until Arthur’s attention is occupied elsewhere, at which time he swoops in and seizes the Queen and the Crown.
In like manner Littlefinger keeps himself “offstage” until the attention is briefly directly away from Sansa (by a plot allegedly of his own device) at which time he swoops in (almost literally, on a fast ship) and bears Sansa away to her second captivity. Unlike the distinctly liminal (in spite of Joffrey’s childlike threats and her marriage to Tyrion) sexual nature of her time in King’s Landing, her time in the Vale is marked not only by a sexual awakening of sorts, but by true sexual menace in the form of her natural “father.” As we saw increasingly in her months in King’s Landing, her thoughts remain her own, but she struggles against the pressure for her to be Alayne Stone in her mind and her heart. Her final chapter in Storm begins, as did her final day in King’s Landing, with a dream of Winterfell. As she wakes she reminds herself “I am Alayne Stone, a bastard girl.”
In spite of her conscious thought, she remembers Winterfell as home and the sight of snow falling on the Eyrie brings her back “to cold nights long ago, in the long summer of her childhood.” When she enters the Eyrie’s garden, she finds “a place of whites and blacks and greys.” The imagery of Winterfell is visceral, but it doesn’t end there, as she begins to build a snow castle which she soon realizes is Winterfell. When Petyr discovers her within the castle walls, he asks her “May I come into your castle, my lady?” There are clear sexual connotations here, with the childhood game “Come Into My Castle” seeming to be a Westerosi version of games in which children mimic adult behavior including, though certainly not limited to, the sexual aspects of marriage and adult relationships. Sansa is wary of his intent, but allows him to help her. In a moment of playfulness she throws snow in his face. When he scolds her for being unchivalrous she replies “As was bringing me here, when you swore to take me home.” While his response to this comment leads Lady Lysa directly out the Moon Door, it is her internal response that is so significant:
She wondered where this courage had come from, to speak to him so frankly. From Winterfell, she thought. I am stronger within the walls of Winterfell.
Here she recognizes the power of Winterfell, her own Grail Castle, to nourish her Self.
While her first chapter in Feast begins with a memory of Winterfell and she is still clearly Sansa in her thoughts, her final two chapters illustrate the increased pressure for her to be Alayne all the time. Scholars debate over whether Gwenhwyfar’s abduction by Mordred is a symbolic “wife stealing” (a theme not unfamiliar to the denizens of the North) or an otherworldly abduction (as the Melwas interval clearly is). In the same way that doubt arises over Gwenhwyfar’s intentions during the affair with Mordred (was she willing or was she forced?) we begin to wonder if Sansa will become complicit in Littlefinger’s plans (in particular his plans for Sweetrobin.) In this case we must be content to speculate on the outcome, since the arc is incomplete. What is clear is that as Alayne descends to the Vale, she has grown in ways that we cannot yet fully appreciate. She has become practiced at deception, yet remains Sansa in her heart, in spite of her repeated thoughts and internal exhortations to the contrary. She has grown in strength as well, and in hope. The act of literally descending from a period of growth to what is most likely going to be a period of stasis (“I must be Alayne all the time, inside and out“) has strong elements of Persephone returning to Hades. Like Persephone, Sansa must put aside her true identity for a time and dance with “the devil.”
If indeed Sansa Stark is the Persephone of this story, we have the symbolic foreshadowing of her ability to rebuild the dynasty of her family and regain her Self in the snow castle scene. To engage in a bit of prediction, it is easy to imagine her declaring her Self as Gwenhwyfar does in William Morris’ poetic reimagining and seeing her song come true at last because, although life is not a song, Sansa holds a unique position in the Song of Ice and Fire. The maiden in the tower has a knight who has not only been her savior, but whom she has saved as well. The balance of the two would seem to ensure that one day they will be reunited, as certainly if not as romantically, as Gwenhwyfar and Lancelot are:
“She leaned eagerly,
And gave a slight spring sometimes, as she could
At last hear something really; joyfully
Her cheek grew crimson, as the headlong speed
Of the roan charger drew all men to see,
The knight who came was Launcelot at good need.”
William Morris, The Defence of Guenevere
Loomis, Roger Sherman (2000). The Development of Arthurian Romance. Dover Publications. ISBN 9780486409559
Jung, Emma and Marie-Louise von Franz. The Grail Legend. Translated from the German. Princeton University Press. 1998. ISBN 0691002371
Andersen, H.C. The Snow Queen, from The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen, translated by D.C. Frank and Jeffrey Frank. Houghton Mifflin Co. 2003. ISBN 0618224564
William Morris, The Defence of Guenevere
- S. Eliot, The Waste Land
D. H. Lawrence, Apocalypse. Page 86.
Various elements of the Arthurian cycle are referenced here including Chretien de Troyes, Sir Thomas Malory, The Mabinogian and the Welsh Triads. Modern works also consulted include those of Mary Stewart, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Rosemary Sutcliff.
Websites of interest:
And now we start another of our mini-projects: a new section titled B&B Gothic Romance Expansion, which is an off-shoot of the mega project on the Beauty and the Beast motif in ASOIAF. It will feature three analyses by PtP members on works of literature by Daphne du Maurier and Angela Carter, which are all classified as belonging in the Gothic Romance literary sub-genre.
Sansa’s storyline has intriguing elements of Gothic fiction, where romance and horror are central features of the plot. As one definition outlines, this type “revolved around conflict and mysteries. It made the heroine choose between two male characters for love. One is bright, sunny, cheerful and charming. The other was dark, mysterious, secretive, and brooding; often involving the supernatural and heavily tinged with horror, and they were usually set against dark backgrounds of medieval ruins and haunted castles and houses.” The imperative of this project expansion is to examine the parallels between Sansa’s experiences and those of the heroines in the mentioned stories, thereby highlighting not only the links between ASOIAF and classic literature but also shedding insight on Sansa’s development, and the challenges that accompany her growth towards awareness and action.
Bluebeard and the woman in process
Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is essentially a retelling of the tale of Bluebeard in which a young girl marries a wealthy aristocrat older than her. However, The Bloody Chamber is a first person narrative told from the standpoint of the main character, Bluebeard’s surviving wife, which gives the reader a female perspective that is mostly ignored in the original tale.
The protagonist of this retelling is an unnamed and talented 17 year old pianist who has been raised by her mother (also unnamed), a music teacher at the Conservatoire of Paris, since her father died in a war.
For my mother herself had gladly, scandalously, defiantly beggared herself for love; and, one fine day, her gallant soldiers never returned from the wars, leaving his wife and child a legacy of tears that never dried, cigar box full of medals and the antique service revolver that my mother, grown magnificently eccentric in hardship, kept always in her reticule, in case-how I teased her-she was surprised by footpads on her way home from the grocer’s shop.
Although she does not love him, the young girl accepts the proposal of her suitor, a Marquis older than herself (he has silver streaks in his hair) who has already been married three times. She accepts probably out of curiosity about the prospect of marriage and sex, but also because she may be in search of a paternal figure after her father’s death as is hinted in this quote:
Are you sure you love him?”
“I’m sure I want to marry him,” I said.
And would say no more.
The wedding is a simple affair at the Mairie as the Marquis’s third wife died very recently. However, the wedding night is postponed until the Marquis and his new wife arrive to his estate in Brittany. Once home, the Marquis takes his bride to her new room where he undresses her and stares at her naked body, but does not go further. The young bride feels both stirred and disgusted by her husband’s actions.
He stripped me, gourmand that he was, as if he were stripping the leaves off an artichoke-but do not imagine much finesse about it; this artichoke was no particular treat for the diner nor was he yet in any greedy haste. He approached hid familiar treat with a weary appetite. And when nothing but my scarlet, palpitating core remained, I saw, in the mirror, the living image of an etching by Rops from the collection he had shown me when our engagement permitted us to be alone together… the child with her sticklike limbs, naked but for her button boots, her gloves, shielding her face with her hand as though her face were the last repository of her modesty; and the old, monocle lecher who examined her, limb by limb. He in his London tailoring; she, bare as a lamb chop. Most pornographic of all confrontations. And so my purchaser unwrapped his bargain. And, as at the opera, when I had first seen my flesh in his eyes, I was aghast to feel myself stirring. At once he closed my legs like a book and I saw again the rare movement of his lips that meant he smiled.
No yet. Later. Anticipation is the greater part of pleasure, my little love.
And I began to shudder, like a racehorse before a race, yet also with a kind of fear, for I felt both a strange, impersonal arousal at the thought of love and at the same time a repugnance I could not stifle for his white, heavy flesh […]
This moment is interrupted because the Marquis has some business to do. Left to herself, the bride plays the piano to pass the time. But the instrument is out of tune and, aghast, she goes to the library instead. It is there, due to the books, that she discovers her husband’s taste for sadism. Upon his return, the Marquis finds her browsing his books and, excited by her discovery, he forcibly beds her for the first time. Shortly after these events, the Marquis has to leave his wife on a business trip, interrupting thus their honeymoon. Before his departure, he hands over his wife all his estate’s keys and warns her not to use the one that leads to “his enfer.”
During the Marquis’s absence, the bride meets the blind piano tuner who has just tuned her instrument. She also visits her new estate thanks to the keys her husband left her; and despite his warning, she visits the forbidden room where she discovers the fate of her three predecessors.
The opera singer lay, quite naked, under a thin sheet of very rare and precious linen, such as the princes of Italy used to shroud those whom they had poisoned. I touched her, very gently, on the white breast; she was cool, he had embalmed her. On her throat I could see the blue imprint of his strangler’s fingers. The flame of the candles flickered on her white, closed eyelids. The worst thing was, the dead lips smiled. Beyond the catafalque, in the middle of the shadows, a white, nacreous glimmer; as my eyes accustomed themselves to the gathering darkness, I at last-oh, horrors!-made out a skull; yes a skull, so utterly denuded, now, of flesh, that it scarcely seemed possible the stark bone had once been very richly upholstered with life. And this skull was strung up by a system of unseen cords, so that it appeared to hang, disembodied, in the still, heavy air, and it had been crowned with a wreath of white roses, and a veil of lace, the final image of his bride,
The metal shell of the Iron Maiden emitted a ghostly twang;
With trembling finger, I prised open the front of the upright coffin with its sculpted face caught in a rictus of pain.
She was pierced, not by one but by a hundred spikes, this child of the land of vampires who seemed so newly dead, so full of blood… oh God! How recently had he become a widower? How long had he kept her in this obscene cell? Had it been all the time he had courted me, in the clear light of Paris?
Like in the traditional tale, the husband returns early and discovers his wife’s disobedience and then he sentences her to death by decapitation. But in the end she is rescued, not by a male relative, nor by the young piano tuner. It is her mother who, feeling that something was wrong, comes to the rescue and shots Bluebeard with her late husband’s revolver.
You never saw such a wild thing as my mother, her hat had been seized by the winds and blown out to the sea so that her hair was her white mane, her black lisle legs exposed to the thigh, her skirts tucked round her waist, one hand to the reins of the rearing horse while the other clasped my father’s service revolver
On her eighteenth birthday, my mother had disposed of a man-eating tiger that had ravaged the villages in the hills north of Hanoi. Now without a moment’s hesitation, she raised my father’s gun, took aim and put a single, irreproachable bullet through my husband’s head.
- The young bride / Sansa
2.1. From Object to Subject
In her essay The Woman in Process in Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber’, Athleen E. B. Marley describes the young girl as oscillating between “girlhood and womanhood,” between “a patriarchal view and her own definition of herself” and “uncertainty on the one hand and growing confidence on the other.” Interestingly enough, this description could also be applied to Sansa. Both girls begin their journey in a similar way: they are inexperienced girls that know little about men, were raised in a sheltered environment and make an advantageous marriage. Unlike The Bloody Chamber’s bride who asserts her own will in her husband’s choice (she is the subject of her story at that point), Joffrey is imposed on Sansa. Sansa and Joffrey are the object of the political alliance between their fathers, but also a projection of Robert’s own fantasy to marry a daughter of the Stark family.
Come south with me, and I’ll teach you how to laugh again,” the king promised. “You helped me win this damnable throne, now help me hold it. We were meant to rule together. If Lyanna had lived, we should have been brothers, bound by blood as well as affection. Well, it is not too late. I have a son. You have a daughter. My Joff and your Sansa shall join our house together, as Lyanna and I might once have done.
However, in spite of many warning signs, both girls assert their will to marry their betrothed in a similar way:
Are you sure you love him?”
“I’m sure I want to marry him,” I said.
And would say no more.
(The Bloody Chamber)
I don’t want someone brave and gentle, I want him. We’ll be ever so happy, just like in the songs, you’ll see. I’ll give him a son with golden hair, and one day he’ll be the king of all the realm, the greatest king that ever was, as brave as a the wolf and as proud as the lion.
(A Game of Thrones)
At that point, none of the girls mention that they want to marry for love. They both make a terrible mistake and become the object of their husband/betrothed sadistic desires. But the point here is that these girls make a choice for themselves and thus try to establish themselves as subject of their own story. In addition, they both learn from their mistake: the bride in The Bloody Chamber by marrying the piano tuner to live a modest and quiet life. Sansa in wishing for someone to love her for herself rather than her claim. Hence, the girls are “women in process,” as the reader can see them evolving from young naïve girls to informed women who make their own choices. However, in Sansa’s case, history seems to repeat itself as Littlefinger tries to shape her development to turn her into the object of his own desires. But this time Sansa is more aware of what is happening around her, and subtly resists Littlefinger’s advances (“lies and Arbor gold”).
When it comes to young women, the Marquis and Littlefinger (the Bluebeard figures) make the same mistake: they consider the young bride and Sansa as blank pages. These two men want to write their own story for these two women, thus stealing their female standpoint. In AFFC, Littlefinger goes as far as dictating Sansa’s clothing in trying to turn her into his own creature (Sansa is too Tully in her aunt’s dress). But, as Athleen E. B. Marley points out, Carter’s protagonist is not a blank page; her adventurous mother acts not only as a model but also as a saviour. Additionally, by teaching her to play the piano, the mother gives her daughter the opportunity to have a career, because the young woman opens a music school at the end of the tale. And Sansa is no blank page either. Despite being at Littlefinger’s mercy, she refuses to acknowledge him as the father figure he claims to be (“I am not your daughter; she thought. I am Sansa Stark, Lord Eddard’s daughter and Lady Catelyn’s, the blood of Winterfell.”). Her past relationship with her parents still shapes her current personality, just like her past relationship with Sandor Clegane seems to shape her blooming sexuality.
In their respective ways, both women have established their own female and subjective view of themselves, despite the attacks from the Bluebeard figures. Sansa hasn’t taken any action yet against her captor, but her thoughts on her relationship with Littlefinger are pretty clear as it has already been discussed in several of Milady of York’s essays (mostly here and there).
2.2 Looking for a model
In The Bloody Chamber, it is strongly hinted that the protagonist may suffer from an Oedipus complex and may be looking for a father figure:
[…] and, one fine day, her gallant soldiers never returned from the wars, leaving his wife and child a legacy of tears that never dried […]
He was older than I. He was much older than I; there were streaks of pure silver in his dark mane. […]
I was seventeen and knew nothing of the world; my Marquis had been married before, more than once, and I remained a little bemused that, after those others, he should now have chosen me.
In Carter’s tale, the Marquis even becomes a substitute father as he provides himself his bride’s trousseau.
This is vaguely similar to Sansa’s and Littlefinger’s situation, as Littlefinger imposes himself both as a lover (the kisses) and a father figure in finding her a suitable husband (his real intentions regarding that marriage are still unclear). But Sansa seems to be quite clear as to who her parents and potential love interests really are, as it has already been discussed. And Littlefinger does not fit into any of these categories. However, he is not without interest. After witnessing the failure of her father’s and Septa Mordane’s teaching, Sansa may also be looking for a new model. And Littlefinger seems to provide a successful way to play the game of thrones. He manages to save his skin in tricky situations, such as Marillion’s trial or in thwarting the Lords Declarant; which results in admiration (“He’s so bold”) and imitation (“Lies and Arbor gold”) on Sansa’s part. Thus, Littlefinger is appealing as a mentor figure, but not as a father nor a lover.
Littlefinger is certainly not as physically impressive as his more popular counterpart, but these two characters do share some similarities: they bother to wear a beard, and both target women as object of their sexual fantasies. Bluebeard has a string of wives and Littlefinger lusts after the Tully women. They both rob their victims of their own free will and turn them into the object of their fantasies. They impose on their female victims a masculine and objectified view of themselves, thus denying these women the status of subject of their own story. Furthermore, Bluebeard still seems to be a respectable gentleman despite the suspicious demise of his three previous wives; he is still a desirable match for the fourth bride who does not seem to care about the fate of her predecessors. Littlefinger also has a long career in crime, but has managed to keep it more or less secret so far, so he is still “respectable” despite his questionable professional activities and past crimes, and nobody suspects his part in the deaths of Jon Arryn, Ser Dontos and Lysa Arryn. Just like Bluebeard, he ends up killing his wife, unbeknownst to all except Sansa. Hence his personal motto: “Clean hands, Sansa. Whatever you do, make certain your hands are clean.” However, Sansa being aware of his crimes makes her a serious potential threat to him about which he does not seem to think much.
Conclusion: The adventurous mother and the father’s weapon
In Carter’s tale, it is the mother who rescues her daughter from Bluebeard thanks to her late husband’s gun. Since AGOT, we have seen that whenever her children are concerned, Catelyn can be as adventurous as Carter’s character. And this is a detail that may impact Sansa’s fate because, being unable to do the rescue herself, Catelyn sent her daughter an honorable knight in the person of Brienne, who happens to carry what remains of Ice, the sword of Sansa’s father. Will this sword play a role in a possible rescue of Sansa? Why not. Based on the potential foreshadowing contained in Sansa’s reaction to the melting of Ice (”Sansa clutched his [Tyrion’s] arm. ‘What has Ser Ilyn done with my father’s sword?’”) and in Jaime Lannister’s words to Brienne (“So you’ll be defending Ned Stark’s daughter with Ned Stark’s own steel, if that makes any difference to you.”), that sword might still play an important part in Sansa’s storyline in the upcoming book.
Angela Carter and Gothic themes in Sansa’s arc
All creatures must learn that there exist predators. Without this knowing, a woman will be unable to negotiate safely within her own forest without being devoured. To understand the predator is to become a mature animal who is not vulnerable out of naiveté, inexperience or foolishness.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves
A summary of The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe describes the novel as follows:
[It] chronicles the adventures of Emily St. Aubert following the successive deaths of her parents when she is left almost penniless and forced to leave her home and beloved, potential future husband, Valancourt, in order to accompany her newly married aunt to the Castle Udolpho, a new home lying beyond the borders of Emily’s native land. Her aunt’s new husband, Count Montoni, assumes increasingly terrifying and tyrannical proportions as he abuses his paternal power, and repeatedly threatens the young woman with a loveless arranged marriage and disinheritance.
Sounds familiar? Radcliffe’s novel belongs to the Female Gothic tradition, a legacy that once denoted only gothic works by female writers, but which has been extensively revised and appropriated to house other texts that engage in subverting gender norms and exploring the role of women under the oppressive conditions of patriarchal society. These concerns are evident in stories like The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, whose heroine is married to a sadistic nobleman, and whose defining discovery of her husband’s depravity is meant to accompany a discovery of self and fortitude that resists the murderous intentions of the Marquis. My argument is that Martin has appropriated elements of the Female Gothic for Sansa’s arc, specifically her time spent in the Eyrie with Littlefinger, and that in similar fashion to the young pianist of Carter’s tale, Sansa’s experience involves confronting the perverse proclivities of this father figure, leading to revelations that will have meaningful impact on her development.
In their study of the Gothic in Carter’s stories, Sara Tavassoli and Parvin Ghasemi argue that unlike conventional Gothic writers whose purpose is to elicit fear in the audience, “Gothic settings, Gothic characters and Gothic themes are her vehicle of the investigation into gender relationships in the modern society.” This definition can be applied to Martin’s handling of the Gothic in Sansa’s story, where the isolation and remoteness of the Eyrie castle acts as the backdrop for a series of dramatic and tense encounters between players and pawns.
Carol M. Davidson further outlines the predicament which the Female Gothic addresses, describing it as:
… a form that is generally distinguished from the traditional Gothic mode as it centers its lens on a young woman’s rite of passage into womanhood and her ambivalent relationship to contemporary domestic ideology, especially the joint institutions of marriage and motherhood. As such the Gothic deploys the super-natural for political ends. As Eugenia C Delamotte explains: […] “the ‘fear of power’ embodied in Gothic romance is a fear not only of supernatural powers but also of social forces so vast and impersonal that they seem to have supernatural strength.
Remote and inaccessible, the Eyrie’s function as a gothic setting is enhanced by Lady Lysa’s insistence on keeping a very small household to run the castle. With the sky cells and the moon door, it blurs the lines between death and captivity, underscoring the powerlessness Sansa feels. It is a lonesome and forbidding place:
The Eyrie was no home. It was no bigger than Maegor’s Holdfast, and outside its sheer white walls was only the mountain and the long treacherous descent past Sky and Snow and Stone to the Gates of the Moon on the valley floor. There was no place to go and little to do. The older servants said these halls rang with laughter when her father and Robert Baratheon had been Jon Arryn’s wards, but those days were many years gone. Her aunt kept a small household, and seldom permitted any guests to ascend past the Gates of the Moon. Aside from her aged maid, Sansa’s only companion was the Lord Robert, eight going on three.
The comparison to Maegor’s Holdfast is telling, as that acted too as a space of entrapment for Sansa during her time as a hostage. Whereas her father was able to able to enjoy a happy time growing up here, Sansa’s experience is profoundly alienating:
When she opened the door to the garden, it was so lovely that she held her breath, unwilling to disturb such perfect beauty. The snow drifted down and down, all in ghostly silence, and lay thick and unbroken on the ground. All color had fled the world outside. It was a place of whites and blacks and greys. White towers and white snow and white statues, black shadows and black trees, the dark grey sky above. A pure world, Sansa thought. I do not belong here.
But does the gothic space only symbolize exploitation and confinement in Sansa’s narrative? In the same garden where she initially feels such exclusion from the “pure world,” Sansa proceeds to build a snow version of Winterfell, literally constructing her identity as a Stark that recharges her resistance to LF:
She wondered where this courage had come from, to speak to him so frankly. From Winterfell, she thought. I am stronger within the walls of Winterfell.
The garden outside the castle enclosures is a familiar place of retreat and tranquillity for Sansa, as with the godswood in the Red Keep. Her defence of the physical snow castle from Sweetrobin, and her symbolic virtue from LF when he playfully references the childhood game of “come into my castle,” indicate that Sansa is not content to be a passive victim invaded and trampled by the giants around her. In King’s Landing she took the risk of moving through the hostile Red Keep in order to meet with Dontos, bringing a dagger along to defend herself if necessary. Ellen Malenas Ledoux argues that actions such as these are important in highlighting female agency and complicating the view of gothic space as predominantly oppressive to women:
I argue that the castles, moats and subterraneous passages represented in Gothic fiction have a fluid signification for women authors in the late eighteenth century. While authors do sometimes portray these spaces as threatening, they also depict Gothic settings in which female characters exhibit mastery and find economic enfranchisement.
The resistance displayed in the garden energizes Sansa’s determination to confront her aunt and ask to be sent away from the Eyrie:
I will tell my aunt that I don’t want to marry Robert. Not even the High Septon himself could declare a woman married if she refused to say the vows. She wasn’t a beggar, no matter what her aunt said. She was thirteen, a woman flowered and wed, the heir to Winterfell. Sansa felt sorry for her little cousin sometimes, but she could not imagine ever wanting to be his wife. I would sooner be married to Tyrion again. If Lady Lysa knew that, surely she’d send her away . . . away from Robert’s pouts and shakes and runny eyes, away from Marillion’s lingering looks, away from Petyr’s kisses. I will tell her. I will!
The ambivalence towards marriage and motherhood which Davidson noted above, along with the threat of sexual danger posed by predatory men are all captured in this internal declaration by Sansa. She is caught in a nightmare of competing patriarchal interests and claims, but affirms her sexual autonomy and inheritance rights – two things that were most at risk of being stripped and stolen from the Gothic heroine. It is currently outside the scope of this essay (and will be explored in another analysis) but my contention is that Sansa’s time in the Eyrie allows her to engage in maternal activities that are ultimately beneficial to Sweetrobin and empowering for Sansa.
Marillion: The ghost
The supernatural is a well-documented feature of the Female Gothic, with the heroine often in fear of some unknown or otherworldly entity. In Sansa’s story, the haunting of the Eyrie comes from a known figure, that of Marillion, who has been blamed for the death of Lysa Arryn:
If the Eyrie had been made like other castles, only rats and gaolers would have heard the dead man singing. Dungeon walls were thick enough to swallow songs and screams alike. But the sky cells had a wall of empty air, so every chord the dead man played flew free to echo off the stony shoulders of the Giant’s Lance. And the songs he chose . . . He sang of the Dance of the Dragons, of fair Jonquil and her fool, of Jenny of Oldstones and the Prince of Dragonflies. He sang of betrayals, and murders most foul, of hanged men and bloody vengeance. He sang of grief and sadness.
No matter where she went in the castle, Sansa could not escape the music. It floated up the winding tower steps, found her naked in her bath, supped with her at dusk, and stole into her bedchamber even when she latched the shutters tight. It came in on the cold thin air, and like the air, it chilled her. Though it had not snowed upon the Eyrie since the day that Lady Lysa fell, the nights had all been bitter cold.
The peculiar gothic space of the Eyrie facilitates Marillion’s “haunting” and Martin uses it as a way of exploring Sansa’s development from the innocent girl who cried over the departure of a singer at Winterfell, to the mature maiden who understands that music can elicit other emotions than simple pleasure. Rather than presenting her as the stereotypical terrified damsel, Martin complicates the tradition of the gothic haunting through LF’s incrimination of Sansa in his crimes. The haunting produces not fear exactly, but a guilty conscience that she struggles to allay:
That night the dead man sang “The Day They Hanged Black Robin,” “The Mother’s Tears,” and “The Rains of Castamere.” Then he stopped for a while, but just as Sansa began to drift off he started to play again. He sang “Six Sorrows,” “Fallen Leaves,” and “Alysanne.” Such sad songs, she thought. When she closed her eyes she could see him in his sky cell, huddled in a corner away from the cold black sky, crouched beneath a fur with his woodharp cradled against his chest. I must not pity him, she told herself. He was vain and cruel, and soon he will be dead. She could not save him. And why should she want to? Marillion tried to rape her, and Petyr had saved her life not once but twice. Some lies you have to tell. Lies had been all that kept her alive in King’s Landing. If she had not lied to Joffrey, his Kingsguard would have beat her bloody.
Despite the pity she feels for Marillion, Sansa knows all too well the need for self-preservation through pretence. Putting on a charade during Nestor Royce’s investigation allows for one tormentor to be silenced, and her adoption of ‘lies and arbor gold’ at the end of the chapter suggests an enhanced understanding of the necessity for manipulative masquerades.
Littlefinger: the monster
In the Female Gothic, the monstrous figure is embodied by the male tyrant – usually a guardian, relative or husband, who abuses his authority over the heroine and tries to frighten her into submission. In The Bloody Chamber, the narrator detects the monstrous qualities of her husband in the early stages of their courtship:
He was older than I. He was much older than I; there were streaks of pure silver in his dark mane. But his strange, heavy, almost waxen face was not lined by experience. Rather, experience seemed to have washed it perfectly smooth, like a stone on a beach whose fissures have been eroded by successive tides. And sometimes that face, in stillness when he listened to me playing, with the heavy eyelids folded over eyes that always disturbed me by their absolute absence of light, seemed to me like a mask, as if his real face, the face that truly reflected all the life he had led in the world before he met me, before, even, I was born, as though that face lay underneath this mask. Or else, elsewhere. As though he had laid by the face in which he had lived for so long in order to offer my youth a face unsigned by the years.
The Marquis’ true nature is still concealed from the narrator, although she senses an inherent duplicity at work in the wax-like stillness of his face. Sansa also detects her guardian’s deceitful countenance—the kind and paternal Petyr Baelish vs. LF the predatory opportunist. Sansa thinks that she would have fled both these personas, but admits bitterly that there is nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Just as the heroine of The Bloody Chamber discovers, it is no easy feat to escape the monster’s lair once one has entered its confines.
As Sansa determined in ASOS when she expressed the desire to flee “Marillion’s lingering looks” and “Petyr kisses”, the threat posed by the monstrous male is predominantly sexual. George E. Haggerty locates the trope in the genesis of gothic literature:
Trangressive sexual relations are an undeniable common denominator of Gothic, and from the moment in the early pages of Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) when Walpole’s anti-hero Manfred presses his suit on the fiancée of his deceased son (and she flees into the “long labyrinth of darkness” in the “subterraneous” regions of the castle), a Gothic trope is fixed: terror is almost always sexual terror, and fear, flight, incarceration, and escape are almost always coloured by the exoticism of transgressive sexual aggression.
Both LF and the Marquis are presented to readers as sexual perverts, involving incestuous grooming and sexual sadism respectively. The protagonist imagines she glimpses the Marquis’ true face in the moment of his sexual conquest, whilst LF quickly drops the mask of Petyr when he is left alone with Alayne:
Father,” Alayne asked when he was gone, “will you have a bowl of porridge to break your fast?”
“I despise porridge.” He looked at her with Littlefinger’s eyes. “I’d sooner break my fast with a kiss.”
A true daughter would not refuse her sire a kiss, so Alayne went to him and kissed him, a quick dry peck upon the cheek, and just as quickly stepped away.
“How . . . dutiful.” Littlefinger smiled with his mouth, but not his eyes.
That Martin wants us to appreciate LF as a monster is further highlighted during Sansa’s journey down the mountain in her final chapter of AFFC. During her conversation with Myranda Royce, the older girl twice refers to Lysa Tully’s killer as a monster. Of course she believes that she’s talking about Marillion, but the readers and Sansa are aware that the culprit is truly LF:
… I fear I must apologize to you. You will think me a dreadful slut, I know, but I bedded that pretty boy Marillion. I did not know he was a monster. He sang beautifully, and could do the sweetest things with his fingers. I would never have taken him to bed if I had known he was going to push Lady Lysa through the Moon Door. I do not bed monsters, as a rule.
And yet, as Angela Carter once said, if there’s a beast in men there’s one in women too.
Lysa Arryn and Sansa Stark: The Madwoman and the Wild Woman
In the article entitled ‘Monsters and Madwomen: Changing Female Gothic’, Karen F. Stein contends:
Monsters figure conspicuously in Gothic literature. The product of a sensibility that glorifies the self in isolation from society, the Gothic explores the darker side of the Romantic vision. In the Gothic mirror, the self is reflected in the extreme poses of rebel, outcast, obsessive seeker of forbidden knowledge, monster…
For a man to rebel, to leave a comfortable home and to search for truth are noble acts… For women however, such assertions of questing self-hood have been deemed bizarre and crazy; consequently the Gothic mode – and in particular the concept of the self as a monster—is associated with narratives of female experience.
Although the monstrous male is responsible for killing the madwoman – a familiar gothic symbol of what Stein refers to as the “devalued female role” – it is my contention that Sansa can redeem this figure, represented by her aunt Lysa, in a process that involves precisely the act of monstrous truth seeking. This (re)discovery is not only important to enable Sansa in learning the truth of LF’s direct hand in her family’s tragedy, but also as a means of self-empowerment and growth. Returning to the trauma of her aunt’s death and what she learnt there, Sansa, like the protagonist of The Bloody Chamber, can open the doors to her eventual liberation. Stein states:
In these novels of modern Female Gothic, the heroines, no longer powerless, undertake their own inner journeys, turning madness into self-exploration and personal discovery. As we shall see, these characters heal their psychic splits by integrating both components of themselves, the independent and assertive with the emotional and nurturant. In achieving this integration, these characters redefine and revalue the female role.
This is the kind of integration that Clarissa Pinkola Estes advocates in her text Women Who Run With the Wolves, where she explores the power of the wild woman archetype of the female psyche through an examination of fairy tales and myths. She offers a provocative reading of the Bluebeard tale and the danger this dark presence represents to female fulfilment:
… the young wife has fooled herself. Initially she felt fearful of Bluebeard. She was wary. However a little pleasure out in the woods causes her to overrule her intuition…
Her wildish nature, however, has already sniffed out the situation and knows the blue-bearded man is lethal, but the naïve psyche disallows this inner knowing.
We discussed in an earlier essay the significance of Sansa’s olfactory perception, and how it has functions in her arc in identifying potential predators and dangers. Interestingly, in The Bloody Chamber, the Marquis insists on not having his visits announced when he is courting the narrator, but it is his smell that alerts her every time:
Above the syncopated roar of the train, I could hear his even, steady breathing. Only the communicating door kept me from my husband and it stood open. If I rose up on my elbow, I could see the dark, leonine shape of his head and my nostrils caught a whiff of the opulent male scent of leather and spices that always accompanied him and sometimes, during his courtship, had been the only hint he gave me that he had come into my mother’s sitting room, for, though he was a big man, he moved as softly as if all his shoes had soles of velvet, as if his footfall turned the carpet into snow.
He had loved to surprise me in my abstracted solitude at the piano. He would tell them not to announce him, then soundlessly open the door and softly creep up behind me with his bouquet of hot-house flowers or his box of marrons glacés, lay his offering upon the keys and clasp his hands over my eyes as I was lost in a Debussy prelude. But that perfume of spiced leather always betrayed him; after my first shock, I was forced always to mimic surprise, so that he would not be disappointed.
Since hearing her aunt’s revelations, Sansa has been made to lock them away, to be swayed by LF’s words that it was nothing more than the ravings of a lunatic, and to adopt the guise of Alayne Stone, his loving natural daughter. Essentially, her wildish nature has been suppressed. LF’s plans for her to marry Harry the Heir and regain control of Winterfell only promise continued entrapment in the gothic space under his command. Estes offers a warning and the hope for agency:
When the youthful spirit marries the predator, she is captured or restrained during a time in her life that was meant to be an unfoldment. Instead of living freely, she begins to live falsely. The deceitful promise of the predator is that the woman will become a queen in some way, when in fact, her murder is being planned. There is a way out of all of this, but one must have a key.
Estes Pinkola, Clarissa. Women Who Run With the Wolves. New York: Ballantyne Books, 1992.
Davidson, Carole M. “Haunted House/Haunted Heroine: Female Gothic Closets in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’” Women Studies, 33 (2004) 47-75.
Ledoux, Ellen M. “Defiant Damsels: Gothic Space and Female Agency in Emmeline, The Mysteries of Udolpho and Secresy.” Women’s Writing, 18.3 (Aug 2011) 331-347.
Haggerty, George E. “Mothers and Other Lovers: Gothic Fiction and the Erotics of Loss.” Eighteenth-century fiction, 16.2 (Jan 2004) 1-16.
Stein, Karen F. “Monsters and Madwomen: Changing Female Gothic.” The Female Gothic. Ed. Julian E. Fleenor. Montreal: Eden, 1993.
Sexual Awakening in the Female Gothic
No Gothic novel is complete without a huge, ancient, foreboding structure of some kind for the heroine to get lost in. In the Female Gothic, this structure is more than simply where the story takes place; the structure in the story becomes the structure of the story, and also becomes the structure of the heroine’s emerging sexuality. 
The exploration of female sexual awakening is an intrinsic theme in the Female Gothic. A young, virginal female protagonist embarks on a harrowing journey, navigating through a dangerous and terrifying setting of isolation and decay, finding herself in the clutches of a corrupt and tyrannical patriarchal figure; and this very same journey takes the heroine from childlike innocence to sexual maturity. According to Angela Lynn Rae, “In order to achieve her happy ending the heroine has had to explore her emerging sexual identity, confronting the dangers faced by sexually adult women in a patriarchal society, dangers which are symbolised by the Gothic setting.” This essay seeks to explore Sansa Stark’s own sexual awakening through the lens of the Female Gothic, comparing her own arc to the leading character of Jamaica Inn, Mary Yellan.
Jamaica Inn: Summary
Mary Yellan, the female protagonist of Jamaica Inn, suddenly finds herself without any close living relatives upon the death of her mother. Honoring her mother’s dying wish to go live with her aunt Patience, an aunt she barely knows, in a far off town, Mary reluctantly leaves the only home she has ever known, one that’s provided her with a sense of comfort and many happy memories. Leaving her home for the first time ever, she finds the landscape she travels through cold, dismal, barren, harsh, and unwelcoming. When Mary finally arrives at her destination, she’s the only passenger left in the carriage, as all the others off boarded at the last town before Jamaica Inn. At this last stop before Jamaica Inn, the passengers and driver warn Mary not to continue.
Mary, overcome with a desire to heed their warnings, gathers her resolve and decides she must continue on to Jamaica Inn. She finds the inn isolated, in a state of disrepair, and cold and dirty, inhabited only by the landlord, her uncle Joss, a brute and a drunk, and his timid, fearful wife, her aunt Patience. During her stay at Jamaica Inn, Mary uncovers a terrible smuggling enterprise led by her uncle who, along with a gang of unsavory companions, wreck ships, kill the passengers, and steal the cargo.
Mary, even though she longs to leave, decides to stay for the sake of her broken aunt, a woman who is now only a shell of her former self. After being abducted by Joss and forced to witness a chilling and horrifying “wrecking” expedition, Mary is determined that justice be served and attempts to seek help from the vicar of the nearest village, Altarnun, as well as the magistrate of Launceston. When neither is available, Mary heads back to Jamaica Inn and finds Joss and Patience have been murdered.
The vicar, whom she has already met and feels she can trust, offers his hospitality; and during her stay at his comfortable and “odd” house, he reveals that he murdered Joss and Patience and is the mastermind behind the smuggling operation. Knowing it won’t be long before the authorities discover his involvement, he flees, forcing Mary to go with him. Before they get far, a search party, which includes Joss’ brother Jem, an unrepentant horse thief with whom Mary has fallen in love, shoots and kills the vicar.
After spending a few weeks pondering her future, Mary decides to go back to her hometown to resume the life she left behind for Jamaica Inn. While walking along the moors, Mary crosses paths with Jem, and decides to go with him despite a lifestyle he feels no need to renounce and his own warnings he won’t be good for her.
Journey from Childhood to Adulthood
The Gothic heroine’s journey begins with the departure from home, a familiar and safe place that symbolizes childhood innocence, to the unknown that turns into a perilous and anxiety-inducing passage into adulthood. Navigating through the dangers of unfamiliar territory where predatory men present a real threat to her innocence, the heroine transitions from a sexually inexperienced child to a sexually mature woman who embraces and asserts her own sexual autonomy.
Mary is a very attractive woman in her early twenties, brave, resolute, and intelligent. But despite her age, the readers are led to believe she’s sexually innocent, having decided to sacrifice a relationship with a man in order to care for her ailing mother and look after their farm. Once the latter dies, Mary fulfills her mother’s wish that she go live with her aunt, who now resides at Jamaica Inn with her husband, and thus will begin her journey.
Even though Mary is already in her twenties, her pragmatic and unromantic attitude towards love and sex suggests she’s clinging to childhood. The reluctance she feels at having to leave the only home she’s ever known, that fills her with a sense of safety and warmth, symbolizes her resistance to recognizing her own sexuality. Scornfully thinking of women as silly and weak, she refuses to enter into that realm of womanhood.
Mary was no hypocrite; she was bred to the soil, and she had lived too long with the birds and beasts, had watched them mate, and bear their young, and die. There was precious little romance in nature, and she would not look for it in her own life.
When she arrives at Jamaica Inn, she’s horrified by what has happened to her aunt, astonished that someone she remembers as so pretty and vibrant has been reduced to a timid woman who cowers in her husband’s presence. And during Mary’s stay at the inn, Joss futilely will attempt to crush Mary as he’s crushed his wife. It’s within this menacing and dangerous setting that Mary, for the first time, struggles with feelings of love and lust when she meets Joss’ brother Jem, a man who proudly and unapologetically lives outside the law.
The thought of staying in Launceston with Jem Merlyn made her heart beat faster perhaps, and it was exciting to think about it now he was gone and he could not see her face, but for all that she would not lose her head to please him. Once she departed from the line of conduct she had laid down for herself, there would be no returning.
Sansa’s upbringing as a highborn noble is vastly different from a woman growing up on a farm, yet both she and Mary were isolated from the larger world and when they leave home, it’s the first time for each. When Sansa first leaves Winterfell, her circumstances also differ from Mary’s: whereas Mary has lost her mother (and her father a long while ago) and travels to an unknown place alone and with reticence, Sansa travels to King’s Landing with enthusiasm in the company of her father and sister. She’s overjoyed at the prospect of her new life in King’s Landing, expecting it will be a place where all the stories from her favorite tales and songs will come to life.
Soon after leaving Winterfell, things sour quickly for Sansa. The altercation between Joffrey, Mycah, and Arya mar the journey, creating tension and conflict. And as much as Sansa initially loves King’s Landing, Ned’s men are soon slaughtered by Jaime Lannister, and then Ned is executed and Arya disappears. Sansa quickly finds herself alone and isolated, surrounded by no one she can trust save two unlikely people. As beautiful as Sansa once found King’s Landing palace, it is now a place of danger where she withstands insults, beatings, and threats of rape.
In contrast to the adult and obstinate Mary, Sansa is a very innocent child. Sansa, whose notion of romance fits into a tight and tidy paradigm romanticized by troubadours, begins her journey extremely young and naïve, not at all prepared to handle the realistic complexities of adulthood. While captive at King’s Landing, Sansa struggles with her idealistic worldview as those surrounding her attempt to shatter it. Mary’s journey, on the other hand, forces her to reexamine her own cynical perception of women and love as she vacillates between embracing her sexuality and rejecting it.
Fear of Womanhood
The fear of emerging womanhood is an inherent theme in the Female Gothic. In the world of Westeros and during the 19th century, in which Jamaica Inn takes place, commonly arranged marriages and childbirth presented genuine anxiety, fear, and danger. The transition from child to woman was truly daunting, fraught with the unknown. Hence Mary’s attempts to hold onto her sexual innocence by telling herself women are foolish and silly, and settling for a life of domesticity as a wife will only end in unhappiness.
During one of Joss’ days-long drinking binges, Mary is able to leave the inn for the day and spends it with Jem, who takes her to a Christmas Eve fair. After enjoying a carefree day together, Jem asks Mary to spend the night with him. Tempted, Mary resists, denying her own sexual desires in obligatory adherence to the norms of a patriarchal society, and thinks of her aunt, a woman who, for her, symbolizes the dangers of womanhood.
She wished that women were not the frail things of straw she believed them to be; then she could stay this night with Jem Merlyn and forget herself as he could forget, and both of them part with a laugh and a shrug of the shoulder in the morning. But she was a woman, and it was impossible. A few kisses had made a fool of her already. She thought of Aunt Patience, trailing like a ghost in the shadow of her master, and she shuddered.
However, Mary, though she suspects that Jem may be involved with the smuggling ring, openly professes to the vicar her feelings for Jem and the fear those feelings instill:
I don’t want to love like a woman or feel like a woman, Mr. Davey; there’s pain that way, and suffering, and misery that can last a lifetime. I didn’t bargain for this; I don’t want it.
Mary, after Jem abandons her on Christmas Eve, finds herself in real danger when a drunken Joss and his band of rogues kidnap her and force her to accompany them on one of their wrecking expeditions. During the two-hour trip, she is subjected to chauvinistic verbal abuse. And on arriving at their planned destination, she then finds herself fending off an attempted rape by one of Joss’ men. Escaping her would-be rapist, Mary runs toward Joss and the rest of his men as they’re about to overtake a ship, and is savagely beaten, tied, and gagged for trying to yell out warnings.
Sexual predators surround Sansa as well. Within the confines of the Red Keep as a prisoner, her sexuality begins to emerge, along with the threat of womanhood. When Sansa experiences her first menstrual cycle, she’s terrified and attempts to burn her bloodied bed and clothes to hide that she can now bear children, which leaves her even more vulnerable to the Lannisters, as they can now imprison her forever as Joffrey’s wife and mother of his children.
She squirmed away in horror, kicking at the sheets and falling to the floor, breathing raggedly, naked, bloodied, and afraid.
But as she crouched there, on her hands and knees, understanding came. “No, please,” Sansa whimpered, “please, no.” She didn’t want this happening to her, not now, not here, not now, not now, not now, not now.
After Joffrey sets her aside for Margaery, Sansa, experiencing brief relief, is actually optimistic at the prospect of marriage with Willas Tyrell, finding comfort in the possibility she can make Willas love her and provide him with children she’ll name after her own siblings. However, the dangerous transition into womanhood becomes quite real for Sansa when Tywin uses her “flowering” as justification to marry Tyrion to someone so young. This nebulous state of sexual development is illustrated when Sansa and Tyrion retreat to their bedchamber after the wedding for the consummation. Tyrion tells her, as much as himself, that she’s still a child, and Sansa states that she’s a woman flowered while attempting to cover her nakedness with her hands, an attempt that reveals she’s not receptive to Tyrion’s gaze. Tyrion then emphasizes she’s still a child, but still recognizes how sexually desirable she is.
There was hunger in his green eye, it seemed to her, and fury in the black. Sansa did not know which scared her more.
You’re a child,” he said.
She covered her breasts with her hands. “I’ve flowered.”
“A child,” he repeated, “but I want you. Does that frighten you, Sansa?”
“Me as well. I know I’m ugly—
Sansa, trying to fight back tears, sets her eyes on a naked and aroused man for the first time, which elicits revulsion. Revulsion, not because Sansa is afraid of sex, but because he is not a man she desires, which she has made clear is important to her. Unlike Mary, who’s repressing her sexual desire, Sansa has demonstrated that sex is something she looks forward to experiencing, but so long as one condition is met, which she reveals during Petyr and Lysa’s wedding, when she reflects that she would not have minded a bedding ceremony if it was with a man she loved.
When it was time for the bedding, her knights carried her up to the tower, stripping her as they went and shouting bawdy jests. Tyrion spared me that, Sansa remembered. It would not have been so bad being undressed for a man she loved, by friends who loved them both.
Romance between the heroine and a socially unacceptable love interest is a central plotline in the Female Gothic. The heroine falls in love with the Gothic hero typically characterized by Byronic traits—a brooding, troubled man who struggles with his own inner demons and whose behavior often confuses and/or upsets the heroine. In Sansa’s case, a dangerous, horribly scarred non-knight; and in Mary’s, a thief and drifter. According to Angela Lynn Rae, the hero of the Female Gothic “acts as a catalyst in the heroine’s move towards a definition of female sexuality independent from the patriarchal order.” Sandor’s contemptuous attitude toward the respected institution of knighthood and lack of interest in social and economic climbing and Jem’s general disregard for society and the law represent a metaphorical criticism of that patriarchal order. The hero, similar to the heroine, also undergoes a psychological journey, a journey often defined by a search for redemption for a failing that it is a source of guilt and shame.
Mary, initially reluctant to fall in love with Jem, in the end openly recognizes her feelings towards him when confiding in Francis Davey. Even though she suspects Jem is complicit in Joss’ wrecking operation, bonded by love, she tries desperately to convince herself of his innocence.
And now she ranged herself on his side, she defended him instead, without reason and against her sane judgment, bound to him already because of his hands upon her and a kiss in the dark…
She spoke now to reassure herself rather than the man at her side, and Jem’s innocence became suddenly of vital importance.
Sansa, with all of her illusions of knighthood and royalty completely shattered, finds herself attracted to the one man who challenged those illusions in an effort to protect her. Before the pivotal Battle of the Blackwater scene, three events that set Sandor apart from the patriarchal order, an order exemplified by predatory men who seek to strip Sansa of her economic and sexual rights, have occurred: Sandor covers Sansa with his Kingsguard cloak after she’s been stripped naked and beaten; Sandor saves Sansa from gang rape and probable death during the King’s Landing riot; and Sandor, who just recently observed that Sansa is developing into a woman, is there to catch and steady Sansa as she nearly falls after experiencing her first menstrual cramp. Sandor also stands in stark contrast to the sexual predators and oppressors who present a genuine threat to Sansa in that he continually expresses a strong desire to willing receive her gaze, rather than use her for his own economic ambitions.
In addition to being present during a crucial moment when Sansa unknowingly experiences the onset of her first menstrual cycle, Sandor appears in her bedroom while she’s still menstruating, during the Battle of the Blackwater, which we know because Cersei asked her about it:
You look pale, Sansa,” Cersei observed. “Is your red flower still blooming?”
“How apt. The men will bleed out there, and you in here.
After being told rape or Ser Ilyn Payne’s axe is the likely outcome if the city falls, Sansa runs to her room for protection, and there she finds Sandor Clegane waiting. The setting is terrifying—men dying by the thousands, the fall of the city very likely, and wildfire raging. Both are gripped in a paroxysm of fear. Sandor, suffering from extreme PTSD brought on by exhaustion from hours upon hours of battle, where he faced his deepest fear—fire—is extremely drunk. In this state of emotional turmoil he summons the courage to ask Sansa to leave King’s Landing with him, an attempt at rescue that he botches terribly. After telling her he would keep her safe and allow no one else to ever hurt her, at his rawest, he reacts poorly to perceived rejection: “Still can’t bear to look, can you?” And further terrifying an already afraid girl, he forces her to sing for him. After Sansa sings the Mother’s Hymn, Sandor, reduced to tears for frightening Sansa and taking something from her without her consent, rips off his white Kingsguard cloak and leaves consumed with shame and regret. Sansa, after Sandor leaves, wraps herself in his discarded cloak—a Kingsguard cloak Sandor once draped over her to cover her nakedness from the uninvited looks of the predatory men surrounding her.
It’s significant that Sansa is still menstruating—on the verge of womanhood—when this emotionally-charged scene with sexual undertones unfolds. Sandor wants Sansa to willing return his gaze and willfully return the desire he feels for her (You promised me a song, little bird. Have you forgotten? Look at me. Look at me…), yet, in a transitory stage, she’s still too young and unprepared to enter into a relationship of this nature. And while both are emotionally vulnerable, which shifts the balance of power, it is by no means equal at this stage, as Sandor has his own emotional issues to work out before he can interact with Sansa on a level playing field.
The deep emotional connection that Sansa and Sandor experience when she sings him the Mother’s Hymn and cups his cheek acts as a catalyst for them both. Sansa, through song and a gentle touch, penetrates Sandor’s wall of rage and fear, calming him. Sandor, ashamed and guilt-ridden, enters into self-imposed exile in search for redemption. For Sansa, Sandor becomes the object of her sexual fantasies as she invents the UnKiss. This, coupled with the keeping of the cloak, suggests that as Sansa transitions into adulthood, Sandor will play a central role when she fully embraces her sexuality and regains her agency.
Mary, similar to Sansa, receives a visitor in her room late at night after the traumatizing events of the wrecking expedition, rape attempt, and vicious beating that left her unconscious for two days. After Joss tells her that he, Patience and she are to flee Jamaica Inn, she decides to take matters into her own hands, and while plotting her escape from the inn so she can travel to the next town to turn Joss in, Jem sneaks into her bedroom. Mary, initially excited that he pays her a covert visit, finds his demeanor frightening and off-putting. She notes a streak of cruelty in the expression of his face and feels detached and alienated from him.
She thought again of the laughing, carefree Jem who had driven her to Launceston, who had swung hands with her in the market square, who had kissed her and held her. Now he was grave and silent, his face in shadow. The idea of dual personality troubled her, and frightened her as well. He was like a stranger to her tonight, obsessed by some grim purpose she could not understand.
This scene follows the similar Female Gothic plotline of rape attempt, rescue attempt, failing, and hero’s journey with a twist and inversion of the journey. Mary, who had to fight off a rapist and then was savagely beaten, finds Jem in her room and he, unlike Sandor, who was emotionally vulnerable and raw, is cold, guarded, and distant. When he discovers his brother had beaten Mary, he feels anger and guilt since it happened on the evening he abandoned her in Launceston, leaving Mary to find her own way home. Jem realizes what he has to do. Already a drifter by nature, Jem decides to cooperate with the law, a violation of his own personal moral code, to help incriminate Joss in the wrecking expedition. And Mary, completely unaware of Jem’s predicament, still suspects that Jem is involved with Joss and the wreckers.
Before Jem leaves Mary, he kisses her.
…and he kissed her then as he had kissed her in Launceston, but deliberately now, with anger and exasperation.
The description of an angry and exasperated kiss conveys passion and sexual longing. When Sansa fantasizes about the UnKiss, she thinks of Sandor’s “cruel mouth pressed down on her own.” This could be interpreted as receiving a forced kiss from a man she does not desire, except GRRM uses the exact same language to describe Daenerys’ fantasies about Daario: “The girl in her wanted to kiss him so much it hurt. His kisses would be hard and cruel, she told herself…” Therefore, this indicates that when Sansa thinks of Sandor’s cruel lips, she’s experiencing sexual longing.
Sansa, while at the Fingers and disguised as Petyr Baelish’s natural daughter, again has to ward off the advances of a male predator. After expressing clear disappointment that the man who intervenes isn’t Sandor Clegane, she dreams of him in her marital bed.
She dreamt of Joffrey dying, but as he clawed at his throat and the blood ran down across his fingers she saw with horror that it was her brother Robb. And she dreamed of her wedding night too, of Tyrion’s eyes devouring her as she undressed. Only then he was bigger than Tyrion had any right to be, and when he climbed into the bed his face was scarred only one side. “I’ll have a song from you,” he rasped…
It has been argued that Sansa’s dream is not an erotic dream, but a nightmare. However, within the context of the Female Gothic paradigm, Sansa, in this dream, goes through the stages of sexual exploration and recognizes Sandor as the object of her desire. The dream begins with the initial journey of traveling into the unknown and terrifying: images of Joffrey cloying at his throat—Joffrey, her childhood crush who quickly revealed he was a monster. A dying Joffrey then transforms into a dying Robb, symbolizing Sansa’s break from her childhood. Sansa then envisions Tyrion, who exemplifies the nebulous and frightening transitory stage between latent sexuality and sexual awakening. Tyrion, who actively participated in stripping Sansa of her agency, also represents a profound turning point for Sansa—a point where Sansa asserts herself and expresses her need for mutual desire. And from Tyrion, Sandor emerges—the man in her marital bed; the object of her desire. The man she had just wished was there for her when Marillion tried to rape her. The man she fantasizes kissing. Sansa is on the cusp of a full sexual awakening. After wistfully wishing to be loved for herself and not her claim, Sandor offers just that. This is again reinforced when Myranda asks Sansa if she knows what happens in the marital bed. Sansa, without hint of fear or anxiety, again thinks of the Hound and how he kissed her.
Nature and the Feminine
“When the protagonist of female Gothic novels and slave narratives are exhausted by their fight against oppression, they look to a higher power for respite. Sometimes the texts label that higher power ‘God’… More often, they name it ‘nature.'”
The connection between nature and the feminine are intricately linked in the Female Gothic. According to Kari Winter, the Gothic heroine looks to nature and the sublime landscape for strength and rejuvenation. That’s true for both Mary and Sansa, who find comfort and a renewed sense of energy and strength from their natural surroundings.
Mary, several weeks after the murders, contemplates what to do with her life. Walking along the moors, she recognizes how truly beautiful and austere they actually are, losing their menace as Mary realizes she had been conflating man with nature. During this moment of peace and tranquility, she recalls the landscape of her home.
The broad river ran from the sea, and the water lapped the beaches. She remembered with pain every scent and sound that had belonged to her so long, and how the creeks branched away from the parent river like wayward children, to lose themselves in the trees and the narrow whispering streams.
The woods gave sanctuary to the weary, and there was music in the cool rustle of the leaves in summer, and shelter beneath the naked branches even in winter. She was hungry for the birds and for their flight amongst the trees.
It’s during this moment of reflection that Mary, feeling rejuvenated, makes the decision to return to Helford:
She belonged to the soil and would return to it again, rooted to the earth as her forefathers had been. Helford had given her birth, and when she died she would be part of it once more.
Loneliness was a thing of poor account and came not into her consideration. A worker paid no heed to solitude, but slept when his day was done. She had determined her course, and the way seemed fair and good to follow.
In one of the most poignant chapters in A Song of Ice and Fire, the snow castle chapter, Sansa, after awakening early, looks out the window to find snow falling on the Eyrie, evoking thoughts of Winterfell. Stepping into the snow-blanketed garden, Sansa feels and tastes the snow. Experiencing a state of transcendence, she falls to her knees.
Sansa drifted past frosted shrubs and thin dark trees, and wondered if she were still dreaming. Drifting snowflakes brushed her face as light as lover’s kisses, and melted on her cheeks. At the center of the garden, beside the statue of the weeping woman that lay broken and half-buried on the ground, she turned her face up to the sky and closed her eyes. She could feel the snow on her lashes, taste it on her lips. It was the taste of Winterfell. The taste of innocence. The taste of dreams.
When Sansa opened her eyes again, she was on her knees. She did not remember falling.
Recalling a snowball fight with Arya and Bran, Sansa begins to pack snowballs, but, with no one to throw them at, decides to build a snow castle that soon takes shape as a snow replica of Winterfell. As Brashcandy eloquently argued in her essay, Sansa’s recreation of Winterfell in this sublime setting reaffirms her identity as a Stark and empowers her.
Agency and Choice
Immediately after deciding she wants to return home, something she desperately longs for, Mary crosses paths with Jem, whom she hasn’t seen since the shooting of the vicar. Jem, who has all of his belongings packed on a horse-drawn cart, tells Mary he’s tired of his neighborhood and plans on living the life of a drifter since he’s “been a rover since a boy; never any ties, nor roots, nor fancies for a length of time; and I daresay I’ll die a rover too.”
Mary tries to convince him that there’s no peace in wandering and that it will only be a matter of time before he wants to settle down on his own plot of land, a place where a man can rest his bones. Jem dismisses it, telling her she doesn’t understand because she’s a woman and they don’t speak the same language. She confesses to Jem that she’s homesick and wants to walk in her own country, but decides to go with Jem.
If you come with me it will be a hard life, and a wild one at times, Mary, with no biding anywhere, and little rest and comfort. Men are ill companions when the mood takes them, and I, God knows, the worst of them. You’ll get a poor exchange for your farm, and small prospect of the peace you crave.”
“I’ll take the risk, Jem, and chance your moods.”
“Do you love me, Mary?”
“I believe so, Jem.”
“Better than Helford?”
“I can’t ever answer that.”
“Why are you sitting here beside me, then?”
“Because I want to; because I must; because now and forever more this is where I belong to be,” said Mary.
Although Jem tells her that he can never give her a life she desires, she still elects to go with him, leaving the reader to wonder if she’s doomed to follow in the footsteps of Aunt Patience. However, what matters is not whether Mary made the right or wrong choice, but that Jem is Mary’s choice. She actively chooses to turn her back on social convention, and joins Jem to live a life that falls well outside the norms set by the sanctioned patriarchy.
Ever since imagining the UnKiss, Sansa has demonstrated a clear disillusionment with the established patriarchal system. She does not want to be used for her claim, and after five betrothals and a forced marriage, she questions whether she wants to be married at all. The positive influence of Mya Stone and Myranda Royce hints that it’s very likely that Sansa will develop a healthy attitude toward female sexuality and choice. Currently, the end to Sansa’s own journey remains open, in contrast to the ending to Mary’s journey that symbolized making the final break from her childhood, which is a common ending to a Gothic heroine’s arc. Yet there’s another common ending: the heroine returns to her childhood home economically and sexually independent, with the lover of her choice. If GRRM were to continue to employ the Female Gothic plotline in Sansa’s narrative, then it’s very feasible that this could be the one for Sansa, that she returns to Winterfell to help rebuild it and start a new beginning for herself as an economically and sexually independent woman, with the person of her choice.
 Gothic: Materials For Study
 Angela Lynn Rae, The Haunted Bedroom: Female Sexual Identity in Gothic Literature, 1790-1820
 For a more detailed analysis of the significance of the Mother’s Hymn and the connection between song and emotional bonding, see Milady of York’s essay here.
 Winter, Kari, Subjects of Slavery, Agents of Change: Women and Power in Gothic Novels and Slave Narratives, 1790-1865
 Ragnorak’s snow castle analysis beautifully illustrates Sansa’s transcendent state, specifically Sansa’s position of reverence and supplication and the drawing of nourishment from the snow.
Love and Marriage Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage… right?
Marriage within the noble classes is largely an arranged affair. The reasoning behind the marriage can vary, but it is generally used to cement alliances and strengthen ties between families. Typically, the engaged couple is given a chance to meet and spend time together before their marriage, such as Myrcella and Trystane in Dorne. However, one of the first couples we encounter in the series is that of Ned and Catelyn, who married as practically strangers in order to solidify a political alliance. Catelyn’s thoughts tell us that their wedding night and early marriage had a very dutiful feel to it, reflecting a sentiment that would be common within many arranged marriages. Another female character who has been married to solidify a political advantage for her family would be Marg, three times married and yet still a maid. According to LF, this is not necessarily her choice yet duty to family has dictated her path. In Clash, we have Lady Hornwood, recently widowed and currently managing the Hornwood estates. In her case, there is no question that she will marry again; the only unknown is who will be the bridegroom.
There are some exceptions when it comes to the fate of arranged marriage. Perhaps the most obvious is Brienne, who has chosen the path of knighthood over that of a wife. In the North, we have the Mormont women, one of whom claims that their chosen mates are bears rather than men. No mention of a Mormont husband, either alive or dead, has been made.
As Sansa tells us, she wants to be loved for herself. Yet, in Westeros, this is rarely the focus of marriage. Perhaps the most infamous love match in the entire series is that of Rhaegar and Lyanna. Although we do not see their time together on the page, the clues do point to them being in love and likely married. However, their decision to be together sets of a chain of events ultimately leading to the death of Rickard and Brandon and a rebellion that pushes the Targs out of power.
Although less infamous yet destructive in its own way is the marriage of Jorah and Lynesse Hightower. Almost everything we know of the match comes from Jorah directly. It would appear these two individuals had led very different lives and were ultimately unsuited for each other. In the end, she left him for someone else. At one point, Catelyn thinks of Lynesse and her struggle to adapt to life in the North and remembers trying to make her feel welcome. From Cat’s thoughts, it’s quite likely that Lynesse was unhappy in her marriage even from early on.
Another confirmed love match seems to have met with an unhappy end, that of Doran and his wife. They also married for love yet she ultimately decided to leave him based upon disagreements over their children. It appears the QoT may also have married for love as she tells Sansa that she was originally engaged to a Targ prince but was ultimately able to choose her husband. During the PW, Tyrion sees a young couple who are obviously in love. The wife is pregnant and the two seem unable to resist touching the other. It’s a brief moment and we know little about them. But, it’s possible that these two were also lucky to marry for love.
Stealing a Wife
The wildings beyond the Wall have their own methods when it comes to marriage. There is no formal agreement and political alliances seem to have no part of the equation. Ygritte is our introduction to stealing a wife, explaining to Jon that he stole her. A man can choose his wife, yet she can fight back or refuse to be stolen, demanding that he prove himself worthy. However, there does appear to be an underside to stealing a wife. We also learn that wildlings have often gone south of the Wall to steal a wife. Of course, the kidnapped woman would not be familiar or subscribe to the cultural habit of wife stealing. Indeed, the Umbers in particular have a strong dislike for wildlings as members of their family have been stolen in the past.
Salt Wives and Rock Wives
I was hesitant to include this section as I find the whole idea of a salt wife to be rather repugnant, but it is a part of Ironborn culture, so I’ve kept it in here for discussion. Within the Iron Islands, a man will have a rock wife who he is legally married to. For all intents, marriage to a rock wife is the same as marriage elsewhere in Westeros. However, unique to the Iron Islands is the taking of a salt wife, a tradition likely born from their history of reaving. A man can take a salt wife whenever he wants, she is essentially a spoil of war that he has paid the price for. We do not have many on-screen examples of salt wives so much of what we know comes from a character’s thoughts. Victarion beat his salt wife to death after learning she had sex with his brother Euron. We do not know if the sex between them was consensual and it appears that Victarion did not know or care. The Captain’s Daughter asked Theon to take her as a salt wife. This may be an indication that some women enter in to the relationship willingly.
Ultimately, marriage is a political affair, used for family advancement and political alliances. The personal becomes the political. The wife is then responsible for producing heirs to cement the alliance and ensure her husband’s family line continues. Although not surprising, I am disappointed at the small number of marriages done for love. Even worse, it seems they have a habit of not ending well. Perhaps the most egalitarian approach to marriage is that of the wildlings where the woman does, in theory, have a strong say in her choice of husband. I am very curious on what the state of marriage will look like when the series is over. Can Sansa hope for a different outcome? Or should we expect another round of political marriages to bring stability to Westeros?
Love Makes the World (of ASOIAF) Go Round
Sometimes maligned or overlooked is just how much relationships and love drive the different characters. In a series filled with the Game, power plays and manipulation, a mother’s love for her children or a woman’s pride in her culture just doesn’t seem quite so exciting. Yet, love is a powerful thing and makes the world in ASOIAF go round. So what does love look like in ASOIAF?
I will only briefly talk about romantic love here as much of the last theme looked in to this. Our last discussion of marriage had quite a bit of discussion on how romantic love between two individuals is portrayed within ASOIAF. It seems like the most developed and healthy relationship on-screen is between Ned and Catelyn but we know that there are others, such as Jon and Ygritte and Dany and Drogo. Milady of York put together several attributes that describe the secret to a long-lasting relationship and I’d say they reflect quite well what we see in the series.
On the flipside, there are some relationships that don’t seem to end well. Perhaps the most notorious within the series is Jaime and Cersei, incestuous twins who engage in a years-long secret love affair. They’ve been lovers since CR and all through Cersei’s marriage to Robert, with a pause in between during which Cersei had planned to remain faithful to Robert. However, their relationship does continue and Jaime eventually fathers all three of her children. Superficially, these two seem like the perfect great, doomed love affair. But, as we learn more about the characters and the past, I’d say that the relationship was unhealthy for both of them. Jaime idealized Cersei and day dreamed of them running away together.
Later, I’ll be talking about sexuality and the erotic, but I did want to bring this up as I feel that female sexual love is not always given credibility or seen as entirely legitimate. There are numerous examples of sexual attraction and sexual desire shown by women throughout the series. Dany has a strong physical attraction for Daario and eventually decides to enter in to a sexual relationship with him. I think Dany finds her time with Daario to ultimately be an empowering and comforting experience. To be honest, the portrayal of Dany’s feelings towards Daario feels a little alien to me at times (maybe I’m just too much of an old, married lady?), but on the whole. I very much appreciate that her feelings are presented as normal, healthy, and legitimate. In Dance, we meet Qarl the Maid, a long-time lover of Asha. In the intent of full disclosure, I should probably admit that I love this relationship as it felt so very healthy compared to much of what else we see in the books. Asha and Qarl have been together for quite some time and engage in a bit of role-playing. Qarl genuinely cares for Asha and has been content as her lover with her having the more dominant and powerful public position.
Finally, I want to bring up Amerei Frey, fondly known as Gatehouse Ami. We meet Ami in Feast when Jaime visits Darry in order to talk with Lancel. While there, we learn of Ami’s past adventures and see her flirting at dinner with Strongboar. She makes no secret of her interest of him which stands out in ASOIAF. During Jaime’s conversation with Lancel we learn two things. First, he has not yet consummated his relationship with his wife and does not seem to care if she spends time with other men. Now, this is due to Lancel’s new-found religious devotion rather than any particular enlightened views he may have towards women and sexuality. But, it’s always stood out to me as I can’t imagine many husbands in Westeros feeling the same way.
In Westeros, families are very political. A love for family is just as much about family pride and advancement as it is the love one may feel for others. Members work together to cement alliances, protect each other, and advance causes. Although we have no Tyrell POV, they have always stood out in this regard. Lancel is a member of the KG, there to help protect Marg’s interests. The QoT plots to give Marg a better, more malleable king. All of them speak affectionately about Willas, a character we have yet to meet.
As to unhealthy family dynamics, I cannot think of any that fit the description better than the Lannisters. The Lannister siblings lost their mother at a young age and I’ve long believed her loss has left a permanent and negative impact on each of them. In Clash, Cersei and Tyrion spend much of the book jockeying for power over each other. Jaime tells Tyrion a lie about his wife, on orders from their father. The relationship between Cersei and Jaime increasingly deteriorates during the latter part of Storm, and on in to Feast and Dance. Worse, it seems that Tywin encourages some of this family dynamic—pitting Cersei and Tyrion against each other. They are tools to advance the name of both Tywin and Lannister, nothing more. Their duty is to their House.
Then, we have the Starks, favorites of many fans of the series, including me. Ned and Catelyn genuinely love each other, their children are happy and were raised in a safe, secure environment. The Stark kids find strength in being a Stark with Sansa’s comment that she is stronger within the walls of WF and Arya’s reminder that she is Arya Stark. Their thoughts and memories are all positive and turn in to a well of strength they draw upon through many events in the series. It fascinates me that although Ned has been dead since Game and Catelyn separated from her children for just as long, we still see how much their teachings and values influence their kids. And I can’t leave the topic of familial love between the Starks behind without mentioning a particular paragraph that appears in Jon’s final chapter in Dance. I would guess by now that everyone knows what I am referring to; it’s a very emotional paragraph, filled with Jon’s memories of his siblings. He thinks of Robb with the snowflakes in his hair and Sansa brushing Lady. I strongly suspect I am not the only one that felt a chill and teared up when reading this. To be frank, I could talk for paragraphs of the Starks and their love for each other, but I don’t think I could ever do the topic justice when compared to that single passage.
Other examples of familial love occur with Marg and her cousins and Arianne with the Sand Snakes. In both cases, they are cousins rather than siblings. Yet, they provide each other with companionship and support. I’d say both examples show that extended family is also important within Westeros families.
Finally, if we are talking about familial love, I can’t leave the topic behind without mentioning mothers. Martin has said before that they are missing from fantasy and felt it was important to bring a mother to the series, hence Catelyn. She appears from the very beginning of Game and remains a POV through the third book in the series. I know Catelyn is a controversial character on this board, but I think there is little doubt on her love for her children. It fascinates me that Catelyn is very much a woman of her times yet as the books progress, it is her thoughts of family and children that consume her. It’s not politics or the Game, rather her love for Ned and fears for her children. Catelyn moves from thinking of her family’s political future to committing treason on the possibility, however slim, that it will free her daughters. Catelyn has lived her life fulfilling her role as a Lady Wife and Lady Mother yet the books are filled with hints that she chafes against the restrictions that come with him. She is angry over the idea that her daughters, because they are girls, are worth less than Jaime and refuses the out offered after releasing Jaime.
As a contrast, we have her sister Lysa and her need to protect her son Sweetrobin. As we know, Lysa was pregnant via LF and then had her child forcibly aborted by Hoster Tully, an act which appears to have a permanent emotional and physical impact on Lysa. Lysa essentially had a child taken from her and I do believe this fact, along with LF, influenced her decision not to come to the aid of Hoster and the Riverlands. Later, she kills her husband after learning that her son would be taken from her and fostered elsewhere. I believe that Lysa intensely loved her son and sought to protect him the best way she knew how. Unfortunately, we also see that what were good intentions also led to a negative development on little Robert.
Finally, when it comes to motherhood, I can’t leave the topic behind without mentioning Dany. She lost her son Rhaego yet became a mother to three dragons. Dany nurtured her eggs and then hatched or birthed them in fire. Later, they even suckle at her breasts. It is a unique mother/child relationship and shows the many paths that motherhood can take.
Love of People
This type of love is not talked about much but, nonetheless, is an element within the series. There are many women who feel concern over the people she governs, pride in her culture, and work to provide for those she is responsible for.
I’ll start with Asha, a character who didn’t much impress me when we were first introduced to her in Clash. I started to change my mind during the kingsmoot when Asha presented an alternate future for the Ironborn. She did not advocate future reaving but an approach that would ensure long-term survival of the Iron Islands. Later, we see she commands respect from her men, she listens to them and fights alongside them. I admit that it’s a hope of mine that Asha does one day rule the Iron Islands as I believe she can take them in a new direction, away from reaving and pillaging.
In the same book, we also get a chance to meet Ygritte, a spear wife amongst the wildlings. Ygritte is not a leader of people or a queen, but she does typify another form of love for her people. As we see, Ygritte serves as a way for Jon to learn about and understand the wildling culture. It’s through her that Jon gains respect and appreciation for the wildlings and is eventually able to form alliances with many amongst the wildlings. Ygritte is proud to be a part of the free folk and all it represents.
Finally, again, we have Dany. She is a khaleesi and a queen who becomes mother to those she freed. Later in the series, Dany is torn between her desire to return to Westeros and her responsibility to those she has freed in Slaver’s Bay. Ultimately, Dany chooses to accept her responsibility to those she freed and refuses an opportunity by Xaro to leave Mereen. Later, she marries Hizdahr in an effort to bring peace and avoid further bloodshed.
I know that even after all these words I’ve missed countless examples of love within the series. I know that we’ve had many conversations when it comes to Sansa and romantic love. We know she is a Stark and her thoughts reveal intense affection for her family. I’m now wondering if the symbolism and foreshadowing of Sansa and WF/The North/WF will eventually turn in to a love for her people. The idea of relationships and love within ASOIAF has been maligned at times but I think the above shows just how much these two drive plot and motivate characters. Love is a strong motivator and I’d argue will ultimately prove to be stronger than revenge, hate, pride, and other negative emotions that we’ve seen drive some of the worst acts in the series.