“The young knight in the blue cloak was nothing to her, some stranger from the Vale of Arryn whose name she had forgotten as soon as she heard it. And now the world would forget his name too, Sansa realized; there would be no songs sung for him. That was sad.”
Synopsis: Sansa is giddy over all the knights at the Tourney, especially that hunky Knight of Flowers. During the jousting, Ser Gregor Clegane “accidentally” kills Ser Hugh of the Vale, and she has a momentary sad. But no time to dwell on the fleeting mortality of human life, because Sansa then gets a red rose from Ser Loras (OMG!) and creeped on by Littlefinger (ewww). At the feast, King Robert gets reverse-psychologized by Queen Cersei. While escorting her back home, the Hound tells Sansa a not-so-nice story about the realities of knighthood. Totes emosh.
SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.
If anyone didn’t get that Sansa’s POV chapters are a deconstruction of romanticism after this chapter, there really is no hope for them. Honestly, I kept laughing during this re-read at all the little digs that George R.R Martin throws in to show you that Sansa is completely off her head in this chapter, drunk on the glamour and glory of tourneys: she spends the entire day in a typical teenage torrent of emotions, from giggling over all the handsome knights and thinking that “they were looking at her and smiling,” to showing how totally grown-up she is by not flinching at the sight of men in pain, to being weirdly fascinated by the sight of Ser Hugh dying, to getting all ferklempt when the 100% heterosexual Loras Tyrell picks her out to receive a red rose, to getting depressed because Joffrey won’t talk to her, to being scared by the Hound.
In other words, Sansa’s own immaturity parallels the immaturity of people who believe that knights and tournaments are glamorous, and by extension anyone who buys into the myth that war is glorious and romantic. Most people are familiar with George R.R Martin’s critical attitude to war from the later books in A Song of Ice and Fire where the horrors of war are viscerally detailed, but I think GRRM has a more nuanced approach than just “war is bad,” as he discusses here (start at 2:45):
What Martin is getting at in this interview is that you have to show both the cost of war and the visual splendor and appeal of war to understand both why people like war and why they shouldn’t. And the Hand’s Tourney is the perfect depiction of his argument: the chapter begins with “the splendor of it all” taking “Sansa’s breath away; the shining armor, the great chargers caparisoned in silver and gold, the shouts of the crowd, the banners snapping in the wind…and the knights most of all.” Sansa is directly experiencing the attraction of a spectator sport that is designed to legitimate both war and the warrior caste’s superiority. Even as the crowd cheers on men who are both engaged in a prettified cage match and gambling for stakes that should infuriate any right-thinking member of the 99%, Sansa is virtually transported into the stories she so loves. And there’s a core of truth there: Ser Jaime in his prime, Ser Barristan the Bold, Lord Yohn Royce with his magic runed armor, Lord Jason Mallister – these are genuinely the best fighters in Westeros showing off what is, in the end, a martial art at the best of their craft. Keen-eyed readers of ASOIAF will also note how GRRM picks out yet-unsung heroes like Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarion as if shining a spotlight on them to suggest that they too might be heroes of stories some day.
And then GRRM strips away each illusion, one after the other. We start with the drab Jory Cassel, whose true courage in a meaningless street fight will outstrip the hollow bravado of the better-ornamented knights; we see the handsome Lord Renly, the crowd’s favorite, a man who knows exactly how useful tournaments can be as a way of building popular support, unhorsed by the Hound; the almost ludicrously Disney-like attentions of Ser Loras transform into Littlefinger’s deeply disturbing harassment (more on this in a second); a handsome young man dies hideously on the field as his armor shines in the sunlight; and then Sandor Clegane, the man who refuses to be a knight, explodes the whole thing:
“you think Ser Gregor’s lance rode up by chance did you? Pretty little talking girl, you believe that, you’re empty-headed as a bird for true…Gregor never said a word, just picked me up under his arm and shoved the side of my face down in the burning coals and held me there…our maester gave me ointments…Gregor got his ointments too. Seven years later, they anointed him with the seven oils and he recited his knightly vows and Rhaegar Targaryen tapped him on the shoulder.”
Underneath the veneer of oaths and ceremonies lies the truth of knighthood: knights may be gallant if they choose to be, if they want to woo the crowd, but what they actually are are people “no one could withstand.” A monster like Gregor Clegane rides among the glory of Westeros’ knighthood, but because he stood the vigil and was anointed and said words I doubt he understood the meaning of, even the prophetic romantic hero Rhaegar cannot see him for what he is. And when we look at what knights actually got up to in the epic chanson of Raoul de Cambrai (who, in the course of a petty conflict over a fief, burns a church full of nuns seeking sanctuary), Gregor Clegane, who never wins an honest fight in the entire series but whose legend is built on the butchery of unarmed men, women, and children, is perhaps the truest knight of them all.
Which brings us to the second major political theme in this chapter: the assassination of Ser Hugh of the Vale. I say assassination because Sandor’s monologue is a pretty strong argument that Ser Gregor didn’t accidentally kill Ser Hugh. Now it’s possible that Clegane acted out of simple sadistic bloodlust, which isn’t exactly out of character, but the circumstances are rather suspicious: Ser Hugh had just been pointed out to the Hand by Littlefinger as someone to investigate (but critically not to be compelled to give testimony), and Jory Cassel had just contacted the newly-minted knight (and was rebuffed). Given that Ser Gregor is a Lannister bannerman, one might conclude that the Lannisters have been spying on Eddard and his staff and decided to clear up an inconvenient witness. I think this unlikely for several reasons:
- as we saw in Bran II, Cersei isn’t very well informed as to Jon Arryn’s investigation (she knows he was investigating her, but doesn’t know if he had evidence that Lysa might have access to), so it’s unlikely that she would know the importance of his squire.
- likewise, Cersei seems to have taken no action to stop Jon Arryn when he was alive (instead, acting to silence Lysa via her son after the fact), which would make decisive action in the case of a minor potential witness uncharacteristic for her.
- if Cersei wasn’t behind it, the list of Lannister suspects is alarmingly short. Jaime Lannister wouldn’t have hired a catspaw, Pycelle is too out to the loop, and Tywin was definitely kept out of the loop on the whole incest/adultery thing.
My hypothesis, and I’m not the only one who shares it, is that Littlefinger arranged to have Ser Hugh killed. Consider the following: Littlefinger is one of only two people who know of his importance (the other being Varys), and was almost certainly the source of Ser Hugh’s sudden windfall that allowed him to fight in the tourney in the first place. He also had the means and the opportunity to either rig the lists to place Ser Gregor up against Ser Hugh (knowing that his psychotic nature would make him take the obvious kill-shot) or to simply approach him in a tavern and pay Ser Gregor to kill the inconvenient knight. But the most significant factors that lead me towards this being part of the Littlefinger Conspiracy is motive. As part of his larger project of steering Ned’s investigation, Littlefinger piques his interest in Ser Hugh and then arranges his assassination in front of the Hand, which (as we’ll see in Eddard VII) further convinces Eddard’s belief in the Lannisters as the main conspirators and denies Eddard a source of information (while making it look like Littlefinger is his ally).
Even more important than this direct ploy is what Ser Hugh’s position (and the fact of his sudden enrichment) suggests:
- Firstly, as I’ve said before, at the very least, Ser Hugh as Jon Arryn’s squire would have known his movements and been privy to his conversations, which means Ned talking to Ser Hugh would get Eddard to the truth too quickly, which means Littlefinger has a motive to keep Eddard from talking.
- Secondly, given his access to Jon Arryn, it’s possible that Ser Hugh might have either had a hand in (who knows if Lysa needed help poisoning her husband or procuring the poison) or been a witness to his poisoning, or knew the truth of what Jon Arryn had figured out, had been bought off by Littlefinger and now needs to be shut up.
- Thirdly, and I think this is the most likely explanation, Ser Hugh might have been Littlefinger’s spy, keeping Littlefinger informed as to the course of Lord Arryn’s investigations, and therefore needs to be shut up. Ser Hugh fits the model of a Littlefinger agent to a T: like the Kettleblacks, Ser Lothar Brune, Ser Shadrick, and Ser Dontos, Hugh is a poor knight who needs Littlefinger’s money, he’s someone Littlefinger has had occasion to come to know well in either the Vale or King’s Landing, and he’s a nonentity who’s easily deniable.
The fourth possibility, which I don’t particularly place much faith in, is that it’s possible that there’s a link between the Lannister Conspiracy and the Littlefinger Conspiracy. As I’ve suggested before, the strangest aspect of the Lannister Conspiracy is the nigh-suicidal passivity of Cersei in dealing with Jon Arryn, given the stakes involved for the Queen. One rather remote possibility is that Littlefinger offered his services to Cersei to remove the Hand of the King and hush it up, probably without making any reference to knowing the truth about Cersei’s incest-adultery-treason trifecta, and Cersei accepted so as to keep the whole thing at arm’s length. It would at least explain why a Lannister asset like Ser Gregor suddenly acts to remove witnesses in a way that has not happened before.
Regardless of which motive you think is most likely, it’s rather impressive work from Lord Baelish. However, it’s really interesting that right after Ser Hugh dies, Littlefinger shows up and immediately begins obsessing over Sansa: staring, comparing Sansa to a young Catelyn, mentioning that “your mother was my queen of beauty once,” and touching her inappropriately. Given what will transpire between Littlefinger and Sansa in ASOS and AFFC, I think GRRM is deliberately foreshadowing that Littlefinger’s romantic obsession with the Catelyn of his youth, and his really creepy desire to turn himself into both the daughter he might have had and a replacement for his lady love, will be the ultimate source of his downfall. Just as he can’t keep himself from telling anyone who will listen that he took Catelyn’s maidenhead, he can’t stop himself from telling Sansa all of his crimes and his plans. My guess and my hope is that Sansa will use this against him at her upcoming nuptials, when she will have the entirety of the nobility of the Vale as a captive audience when she accuses him of the murder of Jon, Lysa, and Robert Arryn.
Finally, Sansa II shows Cersei setting up Robert to be assassinated in the melee. I’ll cover that in-depth in Eddard VII, but I just wanted to note that both Cersei and Renly are manipulating Robert in this scene, showing how Renly (unlike the Queen) can do both the inside and outside game of politics.
Speaking of romanticism, let’s talk about the Victorian rediscovery of jousting in the 19th century. I’ll get into medieval jousting and why jousting was abandoned later, but take it for now that European noblemen decided to stop charging at high speed at each other with pointy sticks, starting in the late 16th and early 17th century in favor of pastimes that were less likely to result in maiming or death. Then the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Industrial Revolution happened and Europe was really busy for a while. There were these bourgeois people running around, and they had a lot more money than the aristocrats, and they kept coming up with new ideas and new values that were not merely alien but hostile to the values of the aristocracy.
And then in a completely unrelated development, the Romantics embraced medievalism, the Gothic Revival became really popular, and Ser Walter Scott published Ivanhoe. And a whole bunch of Europeans who should have known better went totally crazy for jousting. One example will suffice: the Eglinton Tourney of 1839. Sponsored by the Earl of Eglinton, Archibald Montgomerie (whose family had collected the pennon spear of Harry Hotspur of Shakespearean fame), the tourney was an extravaganza of nostalgia run amuck: the Duchess of Sumerset was the Queen of Love and Beauty, the future Napoleon III took part as did 40-odd “knights,” and 100,000 people visited (or .6% of the population of Great Britain).
The whole damn thing got rained out, in a sudden deluge of reality. And 100,000 people who now couldn’t get back via their carriages, which were now stuck in the mud, tromped home in soggy finery. Despite the torrent of ridicule from the more progressive-minded of the era, the thing was a runaway success. Jousting became a sudden craze (someone even had the bad idea to import it to the United States, where it was briefly popular in the antebellum South, prompting Mark Twain to partly blame Walter Scott for the Civil War), and along with it came a torrent of popular interest in the Romantic conception of Medieval society.
And if you’re wondering why fantasy novels have rightful kings, brave knights, and humble peasants, and why the orcs are always ugly and the elves always pretty, well, you can blame the Victorians. Yeah, J.R.R Tolkein loved him some Ivanhoe.
Duels are a tricky business; each one presents at least two possible outcomes (who wins, who loses?) and even more dire possibilities (does someone get injured, does someone die?). Here are some things to note:
- What if Gregor didn’t fight Ser Hugh? Well, I’ve already gone into the practical consequences of this before, but it’s key that Gregor fights Ser Hugh really early on in the tourney, only his second joust of the day. Had the match been delayed somewhat, it’s quite possible that Ser Hugh would have gotten knocked out of the tourney by someone not out to kill him.
- What if Ser Balon Swann beats Gregor? If the Kingsguard had managed to win this joust, then Gregor doesn’t pass through into the semi-finals, which means he doesn’t fight the Knight of Flowers and try to kill him, Sandor doesn’t win the Tourney by default and maybe doesn’t have any gold to be re-appropriated in the name of the people by the Brotherhood Without Banners. Which in turn means that Sandor might not return to kidnap Arya Stark, which may means she’s re-united with her mother, right before the Red Wedding.
- What if Renly had died in his fall? Renly is unhorsed by the Hound and lands on his head; had his helm been less well-made or had the fall been angled slightly differently, he could have died then and there. Result: with Renly dead, no one’s left standing in between Stannis and the Stormlands when he declares for the Iron Throne. Without having to attack Storm’s End, Stannis is free to assault King’s Landing with 20,000 men long before any preparations can be made to stop him. All hail King Stannis!
Book vs. Show:
I’m not the first person to say that HBO’s Game of Thrones in its first season didn’t really capture the scope and breadth of the Hand’s Tourney. On the other hand, in the cold light of dawn, given the sheer expense of shooting any scene with horses (which turned out to greatly increase the shooting time required to do jousting scenes), I’m kind of glad that the showrunners decided not to blow their budget in Episode 4. Instead, we get a tight focus on Ser Hugh’s death, which keeps the story moving along nicely.
However, and I’m also not the first to say it, but Benioff and Weiss made an enormous mistake in shifting Sandor Clegane’s monologue to Sansa about his brother to Littlefinger; and unlike the horses, this was something they could have done right within the budget. They really wasted the chance to cement, early on, Sandor and Sansa’s relationship and to give Rory McCann one of the best monologues the Hound gets. Especially since it was the audition that won him the role.
I’m going to leave the video evidence here for you to judge: