Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa III

life is not a song, sweetling. You may learn that one day to your sorrow.”

Synopsis: Sansa talks with Jeyne Poole about her father’s actions last chapter, gets creeped on by Littlefinger, gets into a fight with Arya, argues with her father about being sent back to Winterfell, and helps uncover the last piece in the puzzle of Jon Arryn’s investigations.

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.

Political Analysis:

Sansa III is going to be a bit of a short recap, because much of the chapter is a recap of Sansa’s perspective during Eddard XI so that not that much new happens. However, GRRM does further develop a number of interesting themes.

First, the theme of romanticism, which I’ve discussed at length in the previous two Sansa chapters. At this point in her life, Sansa thinks that Loras should be the one sent out after Ser Gregor because he “even looked a true hero, so slim and beautiful,”  that men aged twenty-two are too old to be heroes, and it’s wrong for someone as “old and smelly” as Yoren to be a member of the Night’s Watch (even though as we’ll see, Yoren is one of the most selfless, and characteristically unseen, heroes of the series). What’s new here is a sense of agency in this romanticism – Sansa is not merely recapitulating the lessons she’s learned, but rather actively trying to re-write reality to fit the stories she prefers, in this case inventing a dream in which Joffrey hunts the white hart. However, as we’ll see, reality always creeps in at the edges of Sansa’s romanticism, as by this point Sansa is darkly aware that “Joffrey liked hunting, especially the killing part,” although she remains in denial about his more homocidal tendencies.

I think this is why we have this moment where Lord Baelish suddenly appears, almost like the serpent in Eden, to creep on her while offering some of the benefits of adulthood (the right to question her elders) and some of the harsher lessons – that “life is not a song, sweetling. You may learn that one day to your sorrow.” This meeting is even more disturbing in retrospect, given that Baelish is actively working to destroy her family, attempted to get Sansa’s hand in marriage, and is currently grooming her in many unpleasant ways. In his own way, Littlefinger is a dark satire of Sansa’s outlook, someone whose obsession with Catelyn Stark both as a romantic conquest to be recreated in Sansa’s person and as one of the architects of the destruction of his own romantic story and therefore someone whose families he intends to destroy lies just underneath his pretense at cool, cynical rationality.

I also think this approach to reality explains something of the conflict between Arya and Sansa in this chapter. Arya doesn’t really fit into Sansa’s model; she’s a highborn lady who doesn’t look or act like a highborn lady, and for Sansa this gets rolled up into a role as someone who “tries to spoil everything…she can’t stand for anything to be beautiful or nice or splended,” in part because her appearance is a reminder of the rudeness of real life, ratty clothes and skinned knees and all, and because she keeps insisting on unpleasant truths about the world – and about Joffrey – that don’t fit into Sansa’s stories.

Secondly, the ongoing story of Eddard’s investigation comes to a climax. We get the moment at which Eddard figures out the truth of Joffrey’s birth, thanks to Sansa’s insistence that “he’es not the least bit like that old drunken king,” and the moment when Sansa decides to inform on her father to Cersei. Realizing that Joffrey is not Robert’s son, Eddard seeks to do exactly what Jon Arryn sought to do when he reached the same point in his investigation, only for both men to be undone from within. We see in this chapter Sansa’s motivations for running to Cersei (probably Sansa’s most significant action in the book), to prevent the loss of her romantic dream of the life she wants to lead, but the question of the impact of her decision to do so remains one of the more hotly contested issues in the fandom.

So what did Sansa’s actions result in?

  • Eddard’s defeat by Cersei? No. Cersei is informed of Eddard’s intentions by Eddard, and it was Littlefinger who provided the muscle for her coup (or counter-coup). Sansa probably gave her advance notice of Eddard’s intention to act, but it was notice she was going to get in any case, and Cersei’s main plan to murder Robert and install her son on the Iron Throne was basically underway.
  • Sansa’s capture and Arya’s escape? Probably. After all, Sansa didn’t know and couldn’t have told Cersei that Eddard had realized the truth of Cersei’s incestuous adultery (she finds that out from Eddard), his dealings with Littlefinger and Renly hadn’t happened yet, and thus the details of Eddard’s planned coup couldn’t have been given away. However, what could have been given away is that Eddard was planning to get Sansa and Arya away – thus, when the coup is underway, Lannister soldiers are on hand just as the Stark household is planning to leave, with agents in place at the Tower of the Hand and at the docks where the Wind Witch was waiting to take them to White Harbor. If this hadn’t happened, it’s quite possible that Sansa, Arya and the rest of the Stark household would have been out of the city when Eddard was captured.
  • Eddard’s death? No. It’s pretty damn clear that this came out of Joffrey’s own cracked brains, and Sansa shouldn’t be held accountable for it. Sansa was responsible for the offer of clemency being offered, which got Eddard out of the dungeons long enough to “confess,” but given Littlefinger’s likely role in persuading Joffrey to execute her father, it’s quite likely that had Eddard remained schtum in Sansa’s absence, that Littlefinger would have probably had him murdered in his cell in order to prevent an exchange of hostages from ending the hostilities between Stark and Lannister (however momentarily – once Eddard’s released, he’s going to go to war on behalf of Stannis).

On a sidenote, it’s interesting that Sansa has a kind of waking wolf dream about Lady at this point. Honestly, I find the warging subplot one of the more opaque and less interesting in the series, and I don’t think that Sansa’s turnaround is going to be related to her warging abilities, but it’s an open question that people should feel free to talk about in the comments.

Historical Analysis:

The white hart (a hart is an archaic term for a stag) has a deep background in mythology and folklore – Quintus Sertorius, the great Roman general turned rebel, famously owned a white deer that he claimed to be a gift from the goddess Diana who would utter prophecies to him; the Celts believed that the white hart was a messenger from the “otherworld” that would appear when taboos were about to be violated, as a symbol of purity; in Hungarian mythology, the white stag leads the brothers Hugor and Magor to Scythia, founding the Hunnic and Magyar peoples. The early Christians latched on to this iconography like they did so many symbols, such that Saint Eustace (a martyred Roman general) sees a crucifix between the antlers of a white stag and converts.

The White Hart, which became Richard II’s sigil. Note the crown around the neck.

Medieval storytellers of Arthurian legends mixed all of these pagan and Christian traditions together into something more recognizable from Sansa’s stories – the white hart appears in the forests around Camelot, inducing Arthur’s knights to chase after it, but the beast is incredibly difficult to hunt down, and instead leads the knights to some other objective. Sir Percival chases a white hart into the domain of the wounded Fisher King so that the land can be healed (although in another book he kills a white hart); Sir Gawaine chases another white hart that appears at the marriage of Arthur and Guinevere, but ends up dishonoring himself when he kills a lady in the hunt.

Given the historical allusions to innocence, and the eventual fate of the white hart (to be discussed later) in this book, I wonder its appearance at this point of the narrative is meant to suggest the innocence of the realm that’s about to be lost in the ensuing War of Five Kings.

What If?

There’s really only one hypothetical question here: what if Sansa doesn’t go to Cersei? As I’ve discussed above, this alternate timeline does not mean that Eddard’s attempted coup is going to succeed, but it probably means that Sansa and Arya get away from the city. This has some very interesting consequences:

  • Without Sansa in captivity, Eddard doesn’t make a confession. This doesn’t mean that he’s going to have a dramatic scene where he gets to publicly reveal everything he knows to the people of King’s Landing – Cersei isn’t that stupid and isn’t going to have Eddard in public without assurances that he’s going to keep his mouth shut about the truth – or that that denunciation would have been believed and acted upon. But it would mean that his death would be delayed, and the timing of his death is important, because a week later comes Robb Stark’s victory at Riverrun and Jaime’s capture. In that scenario, Cersei is going to be extremely careful about keeping Eddard alive and well to trade for Jaime- a trade that might actually work.

I don’t think it happens – Littlefinger needs Eddard dead in order to keep the war going, so Eddard probably dies in his cell – but that does change things. Instead of Eddard dying at Joffrey’s hands, he instead dies mysteriously. That’s not going to change how Robb and Catelyn are going to view the situation, but it would change how the Lannisters view the event. Instead of being a regrettable failure that nonetheless has to be publicly endorsed since it’s the King who did it, it’s now a reason to look inwards for who was responsible for their hostage’s death. And that could have all manner of consequences.

  • Sansa and Arya probably make it to White Harbor. Now, it’s an open question about whether Eddard sends a letter with them detailing the truth of his investigations, but let’s say he does. Firstly, this changes the politics of the Stark war effort; if they know about Eddard’s wishes regarding the true king, the Starks aren’t going to go for the King in the North, which is helpful in terms of making alliances, but at the same time they’re probably committed to Stannis. Stannis probably has a much easier time getting support from the Stormlands, etc. if he’s got a substantial northern army backing him, and his letter is more likely to be believed if Eddard’s letter corroborates his arguments, which weakens Joffrey’s and Renly’s standing as claimants to the Iron Throne. Incidentally, this also means that Robb doesn’t approach Balon with his proposal for an alliance, since he wouldn’t be thinking in terms of secession; although whether that stops an invasion or just the capture of Winterfell is up for debate.

The biggest change here is probably to Sansa and Arya’s trajectories, and a bit less so to Catelyn’s. Both Sansa and Arya are spared a huge amount of trauma (seeing their father executed, being viciously abused by Joffrey, being hunted and seeing the worst of the war in the Riverlands, etc.), but their character development becomes an open question. Sansa will be slower to abandon romantic tropes and Arya’s turn to the dark side gets short-circuited if she never goes to Harrenhal and she remains under Syrio Forel’s tutelage.  The hypothetical plotline of Sansa’s betrothal to Willas Tyrell might well become a reality, especially after Renly’s death when Robb is greatly in need of allies; Arya might be engaged, although in hand she’s probably too valuable to be wasted on a Frey. What is likely is that Catelyn is much more likely to remain in the North since all four of her younger children are up there – in all likelihood, this greatly improves the North’s response to the Ironborn attack (assuming this happens), but it also possibly butterflies away Catelyn’s negotiations with Walder Frey, her journey to Bitterbridge and Storm’s End, and much of Brienne’s storyline and Jaime’s for that matter. 

Book vs. Show:

The show excises a lot of this material, which makes sense since a lot of it is inside Sansa’s head, and cuts directly to Eddard telling Sansa and Arya they’re about to leave. It also adds a scene where Joffrey brings Sansa a present to make up for his anger towards her (albeit on his mother’s instructions), which I actually think works rather well to remind the audience of what she sees in Joffrey and why she might turn to Cersei in desperation.

On the other hand, we don’t get as much the idea of Sansa’s romanticism in general – as opposed to how it narrowly applies to Joffrey and her future with him – and we lose the interaction between her and Littlefinger, the latter of which especially would have been especially useful for future character development.


60 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa III

  1. Sean C. says:

    Regarding Sansa and Arya’s hypothetical voyage, Eddard wanted the same ship to convey a message to Stannis on Dragonstone, I believe — I expect that they wouldn’t have made it to White Harbour, at least not immediately — Stannis would probably have detained them when the ship arrived. But even that has significant repercussions, since, armed with the knowledge that Eddard wanted to make him king, and having Robb’s sisters in custody, it seems likely that Stannis would have contacted Robb immediately.

    Where does this idea that Littlefinger persuaded Joffrey to kill Eddard come from? I mean, it could have happened, but Joffrey never otherwise needs prompting to be sadistic from this point on, so barring some textual evidence that I’ve overlooked I really don’t see it.

    In terms of whether Sansa and Arya might have escaped if Sansa hadn’t gone to Cersei, if Cersei was thinkingly competently, I don’t know that it should have made a difference. Arya was still with Syrio when the guards arrived, so they weren’t sitting around waiting for Sansa or anything. You would think that Cersei would have understood the value of taking Ned’s household as quickly as possible, lest they escape. But then, Cersei’s not really that smart, so…maybe.

    I do regret the loss of the interaction between Sansa and Littlefinger in the TV adaptation. I’ve often speculated that this was kind of a significant moment in terms of his interest in her, when he initially inquires about why she would have sent Ser Loras Tyrell after the Mountain — looking to see, perhaps, if Eddard’s daughter had actually made the cynical calculation that he had. She hadn’t, as it turns out, but that seems like the sort of thing that would have kindled a desire to make her over in his own image.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I think detaining them is a harsh word; certainly keeping them safe from naval pursuit and sending a letter saying something along the lines of “Lannister ships were pursuing your sisters. I have given them sanctuary at Dragonstone until a transfer can be arranged. I also have a letter from your father recognizing me as the rightful king; please find attached.”

      The textual evidence for LF prompting Joffrey is that everyone else on the podium freaked out when Joffrey gave the order – Cersei, Varys, Pycelle all reacted in a shocked fashion and tried to dissuade the King. LF acted totally calm and did nothing. We know that Varys was acting to save Eddard from his dealings with Yoren, and we hear later from Cersei and Pycelle that they weren’t responsible.

      It also matches his M.O with Janos Slynt – when Jon Arryn and Stannis tried to have Slynt thrown out of office, Littlefinger went around them to the king in private ahead of time and the king spoke Littlefinger’s words.

      It’s certainly an open question about the escape, but I think the key issue is one of timing – certainly Cersei would need to take his household, but she wouldn’t necessarily the exact time they were to depart or which ship they’d get on. So it’s quite possible she dispatches men, but too late, or dispatches men to guard the gates thinking they’ll ride to Riverrun or the Eyrie and doesn’t know which boat to station guards at.

      I think LF’s interest to remake her goes back farther to the tourney where he mentions Cat being his queen of love and beauty.

      • Sean C. says:

        Littlefinger not trying to dissuade Joffrey isn’t really that indicative of anything, to me. He likes chaos. So does Varys, really — I don’t buy that he was really trying to save Ned, since his plan hinges on an all-consuming civil war.

        Regarding escape, it really wouldn’t be a question of guarding the gates or not guarding the docks. I could buy those kinds of scenarios if the Stark household was on the other side of town, or whatever, but they’re not: they’re in the Tower of the Hand, right in the middle of the palace complex. Cersei’s men control all the entries and exists, one would assume. Blockading and neutralizing the enemy worse that is literally within their walls would be the first thing any half-competent strategist would do.

      • stevenattewell says:

        I don’t think it’s that he’s not trying – it’s that he’s not surprised.

        I think Varys was trying to save Ned because his plan, while calling for a civil war, wasn’t initially premised on an all-consuming civil war. I think Varys wanted a short, sharp civil war that could be stepped back from. With Ned Stark alive, you can bring the Lannisters and the Starks back into the same polity; with him dead, it’s all or nothing.

        I don’t think you can assume that (Cersei’s men aren’t controlling the entrances and exits until after Robert’s death) – especially if Cersei doesn’t know when they’re going to leave and precisely when Robert’s going to die.

  2. John W says:

    Could Littlefinger have gotten to Eddard in the dungeon’s without Varys’ knowledge?

    Would Varys have intervened?

    • stevenattewell says:

      I think LF could have gotten to Eddard, but not without Varys knowing.

      Whether Varys would have done something, maybe. Varys tends to stick to the background and doesn’t act until he can set up a truly decisive action, and Eddard’s life is kind of unrelated to his larger plans. So whether he would have deemed the effort as worthwhile is uncertain.

  3. Andrew says:

    Re-writing reality to fit the story she prefers, that sounds a lot like Cersei. Cersei states that Sansa told her Ned’s plans and she herself believes, but it was Ned himself who told her his plans so Cersei misremembered the incident to boost her credibility as a player. You see this again when Cersei thinks that Tyrion jeered at her when Joffrey died when he actually tried to comfort her, and when she thinks Stannis is working with the Ironborn to attack the Reach to direct men and attention away from Dragonstone since the Northmen won’t have Stannis.

    The latter shows she fails to take into account that Stannis is too rigid to deal with the Ironborn, especially since their price would the North and Iron Isles. She also fails to take into account that it wasn’t Stannis who executed Ned, and or enabled the RW which the North wants revenge for.

    In a way Sansa becomes more mature and capable at 13 than Cersei is in her mid-30s.

  4. Excellent analysis of a chapter with a very notable what-if. (Though of course the biggest game changer is in the next chapter.)

    Re Catelyn’s trajectory — she was still in the South, below the Neck, when this occurred. She met up with Robb at Moat Cailin, and he asked her to return to Winterfell, but she insisted her place was at Riverrun with her dying father and besieged brother. But I agree, it’s possible if the girls had made it North she would have chosen to go to them.

    I wonder, though, if it would have changed the Ironborn attack at all. Consider a situation where Theon still manages to take Winterfell — and does not only capture Bran and Rickon, but also the girls and Catelyn. Would Theon have cemented his position as “Prince of Winterfell” by forcefully marrying Sansa (as he had dreamed as a boy), or perhaps her widowed mother?

    • stevenattewell says:

      I was thinking more about her staying in the south post the relief of Riverrun in large part because Sansa and Arya were still captive. My instinct is that if they showed up at White Harbor, or Stannis made an exchange via the Trident, she probably decides to go to Winterfell since four of her children would be there.

      I think it would have changed the Ironbron attack, since with Catelyn at Winterfell she would take over from Bran and I don’t think Catelyn falls for the “send all your men to Torrhen’s Square” ruse. She probably sends some men from Winterfell, but not the entire garrison, so Theon’s attack probably fails.

      • John says:

        Theon doesn’t attack Winterfell because he doesn’t get released in this hypothetical, because Robb isn’t seeking independence and doesn’t need an alliance with Balon Greyjoy.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Well, it’s an open question about whether they get out and whether the letter makes it.

        An alliance with Balon Greyjoy would be really important, so Theon being released might still happen just on different terms: stay loyal, here’s your son.

    • ” or perhaps her widowed mother?”
      Think you have stumbled upon Feathered Hat Theory 🙂

  5. Sean C. says:

    This is less a “what if” for this chapter than for preceding ones, but another thing I’ve always wondered about was if Ned had actually tried to let Sansa in on aspects of the situation relevant to her at some point (or even, just tried to coach her on the Joffrey situation anyway, post-Kingsroad incident. It may or may not have changed the outcome of the coup and subsequent capture of the Stark household, but it might have made a big difference in terms of Sansa’s understanding and preparedness. Because, really, Ned leaves her completely adrift in King’s Landing — this is something I only really noticed when watching the TV show, where we get that lengthy heart-to-heart scene between Ned and Arya about how Arya feels about the Kingsroad incident, leading to Ned arranging for her to train with Syrio, and Ned tries to explain the situation, tries to get her not to hate Sansa, etc. It was one of my favourite scenes in season one, but the lack of anything similar for Sansa is kind of telling, in retrospect. Part of this, obviously, is that Sansa was really angry at him, but he’s her father; given what he knows to be the gravity of the situation, it’s his job to deal with that. I don’t think he should have let her know about the murder investigation or anything, but some basic pointers about how to behave around Joffrey, that Cersei isn’t her friend, etc. would have been appropriate. Instead he just kind of yanks the carpet out from under her with no buildup. Admittedly, given Sansa’s ultra-obedient nature up until that point, perhaps he just assumed she would do whatever he said (another irony there, since Sansa haters tend to both dislike her for conforming to all her parents’ expectations, and also for the one time she didn’t). This is a situation where the absence of Catelyn might have been very significant.

    Semi-relatedly (and I may have talked about this in a previous chapter), one aspect of Sansa’s upbringing that I’ve always found kind of weird is the complete absence of political education from her curriculum. A biography of King George VI that I read commented that the initial education of Elizabeth and Margaret, back when they were simply princesses of York, was geared toward producing a couple of “nice, well-behaved upper-class girls”. Sansa’s (and Arya’s, though Arya procured some additional credits through her own initiative) seems to have been along the same lines: music, sewing, dancing, general event-planning, social niceties, the three Rs, etc. But Sansa’s own mother, the person you would assume was supervising all this, was not just a “nice upper class girl”; Catelyn had a fine mind for dynastic politics and other such considerations, and wasn’t shy about involving herself in them. Why wasn’t any of this deemed worth passing on, particularly since both the girls were past the age where Ned had started instructing the boys on the various aspects of male aristocratic responsibility?

    • scarlett45 says:

      I am not sure actually. My only theory is that Catelyn, mistakenly viewed the North as a “gentler” place than the south and thought “those things can wait”. In the defense of Catelyn these events happen quite quickly and she probably thought she had a few years before Sansa would need these political skills. She might have thought to alter her education when she was a year or two older but then all this stuff hit the fan.

      Yes I do think that Eddard spent less time with Sansa, 1. Because he didn’t know how to deal with her anger and him and 2. Sansa is less “troublesome”. He could count on her to always do as she was told and as such he didn’t worry about preparing her for the situation. I also think he felt a bit of guilt for bethrothing her to that lunatic Joffrey who Ed KNEW wanted an innocent boy killed to save his wounded pride.

      • Sean C. says:

        A lot of this is hindsight, but I’d have considered giving a crash course when they learned the royal procession was coming — quite apart from them guessing that Ned was going to be offered the Handship (which Catelyn wanted him to take), I really don’t think the proposed marriage of Sansa to Joffrey should have been a big surprise (which it was to Ned, for some reason).

        Joffrey obviously has to marry in the near future, and the most eligible bachelorettes in the Seven Kingdoms are the daughters of the Great Houses (of the six non-Targaryen queens or queens presumptive we know of up until that point, four were from Great Houses [Arryn, Martell (twice), Lannister], one from a house that is Great in everything but formality [Hightower]…and a Westerling [Maegor must have really wanted her in the sack, is the only explanation I have for that one]). With that in mind, if you were a bookmaker at Paddy Power’s King’s Landing office, who would the candidates be?

        Houses Lannister, Arryn, Tully, and Baratheon have nobody on offer (given Shireen’s greyscale). Arianne Martell and Asha Greyjoy would theoretically be possibilities, despite being older, but given recent family history, rather unlikely. Really, the most obvious brides for Joffrey would be Sansa Stark and Margaery Tyrell, and you would think that the close relationship between Robert and Ned would mean Sansa would be perceived as having the inside track.

      • stevenattewell says:


      • stevenattewell says:

        Sean – avoiding hindsight is crucial here.

    • stevenattewell says:

      In the first place, Sansa is all of 12 at this point. I think Eddard might have been a bit hesitant to tell a child that her betrothed is the bastard spawn of incest, adultery, and treason. And Eddard doesn’t know what the situation is with Joffrey until this point, before this he thinks she’s going to be his wife some day – at which point, he does his level best as someone not very good at dealing with his younger daughters (yes, he has that one heart-to-heart with Arya, but he also misreads her/deceives himself when they talk about Arya’s future) to convince her that her life isn’t screwed.

      As for the second, the extent to which any upper class woman gets political education is extremely slapdash. Catelyn certainly acquired a bit of one, but Cersei didn’t – and both women may be auto-didacts of varying ability rather than educated by their household.

      • Sean C. says:

        I said that I don’t think Ned should have told her about the murder investigation or whatever. But more information than she was given about the situation (which was basically none) would have been sensible — after the Kingsroad incident it should have been quite obvious that the Lannisters were an opposing faction, and one that he should have let his daughter know not to become too enamoured of.

        Whether or not they were autodidacts doesn’t really relate to passing it on once you’ve found it to be useful. Like, if I taught myself to speak Latin because it was relevant to my business, it would make sense to teach my son how to speak Latin, rather than leave him to repeat the process on his own. Catelyn would have been aware that this knowledge would be important to a lord’s wife, and really really important to a king’s wife. To say “oh well, she’ll figure it out as she goes” would be grossly negligent, and out of character for her.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I don’t think it’s that clear after the Kingsroad incident. At the time, all he knows for sure is that Catelyn’s grief-crazed sister thinks Cersei killed Jon Arryn, but he doesn’t have any proof. And I think his options re: Sansa are rather difficult. If he tells her that Joffrey’s a little psycho and Cersei’s his enemy, how does he justify her engagement to Joffrey? And if he breaks the engagement, how does that not weaken his position with Robert?

          Regarding the political education thing, I think we have to go back to Catelyn’s conception of the role of a wife and mother and whether there’s a link between her political skills and that conception. Catelyn very much thinks about her political actions and role as an exception to the rule caused by an sudden emergency that goes well beyond the norm, and has a good deal of angst about whether she ought to be at home looking after Bran and Rickon instead.

      • Dave G says:

        Catelyn also resembles Cersei in that neither are nearly as politically astute as they perceive themselves to be. Set against the wise, but unsuccessful, attempt to keep Theon with Robb, we have 1) The complete obliviousness to Littlefinger’s motives and vouching for him to Ned; 2) Taking Tyrion without any thought for the likely consequences until it’s too late. Then setting him free in a manner that should have led to his death, rather than holding him for exchange; 3) Encouraging Robb to put Bolton in command of his forces east of the Green Fork — given their history, no Stark should ever make themselves that dependent on any Bolton; 4) Failing to mediate between Stannis and Renly (admittedly nearly impossible) and in the process solidifying Stannis’s hostility towards Robb; 5) Refusing Robb’s request to return to The Twins at a time when her presence might still have made a difference; 6) Arguably acquiescing too easily to Edmure’s mistakes while Robb is west of the Golden Tooth, particularly countermanding Robb’s order to garrison The Twins; 7) Freeing Jaime. (Even with all the other mistakes and reversals, would the Red Wedding have happened if the Starks still held Jaime??)

        In addition to all these individual failings Catelyn, along with Robb’s other (loyal) senior advisers, doesn’t seem to have encouraged Robb to carefully consider political aspects of the conflict. In particular, when frustrated by trying to work out potential alliances Robb’s council rushes to a premature proclamation of “King in the North” without any consideration of ramifications (e.g. making alliance with either Baratheon much less likely). Less radical alternatives would have been a strong assertion of the privileges and duties of the Wardenship of the North or even some sort of regency pending resolution of the royal succession.

        Two separate points re Sansa’s education. 1) Septa Mordane seems to promote a very limited, domestic understanding of the responsibilities of ladyship. In what little the novels show of her, Mordane seems as naive/oblivious as Sansa is initially. 2) To the extent that all the Stark children would learn by observation, Ned’s very straightforward style of rule at Winterfell would tend to create false expectations for conduct of the court at King’s Landing.

      • David Hunt says:

        This is a response to David G;’s July 10 comment. I can’t reply directly for some reason, but I think this will show up under it.

        David, I won’t argue most of your points of Cat’s mistakes, but I think that you’re wrong to call mediating between Renly and Stannis “nearly” impossible. It was utterly impossible.

        Renly talked about how merit instead of birth order should determine inheritance but he knew that he couldn’t leave Stannis alive if he were to be king. And he was bound and determined to be king. I just read the Cat’s chapters at Renly’s camp (first time) and Renly gives away his plans when he notes that Stannis is the “rightgful” heir only as long as he’s alive. There was no way that he’d bend the knee to Stannis or even allow a Great Council while he had that massive army. Still he knew people better than Stannis ever did and knew he couldn’t let anyone be calling for the “rightful king.”

        I’m absolutely certain that he had a deathlist that included, at a minimum, Stannis, Joffrey, Myrcella, Tommen, Cercei, and Daenerys . Once all those people were dead, there’d be no one with a better claim to the throne by normal inheritance than him, even by the Targaryen inheritance laws as he and Dany are second cousins. That could have been the one thing that could save Varys, as Renly might have needed him find and assassinate Dany quickly. I have confidence that Varys could find a way to insure his survival if he lived through the first 24 hours.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Quite possibly. Although given how little attention he paid to Stannis ahead of the siege of Storm’s End, he may have initially thought that Stannis wasn’t coming.

  6. John says:

    The hypothetical plotline of Sansa’s betrothal to Willas Tyrell might well become a reality, especially after Renly’s death when Robb is greatly in need of allies

    Is Renly still going to die the same way, though? Stannis’s strategy may be very different if he has a stronger claim and an alliance with the Starks and Tullys. And Renly may behave differently, as well (although the Tyrells certainly have no interest in supporting Stannis).

    • stevenattewell says:

      Again, open question about the letter.

      It’s possible Renly’s death is butterflied, but I think Renly still goes for the crown since he knows he’d be on the outs if Stannis gets in. Even with Robb, the Tyrells would be a huge threat that Stannis would have to deal with, and Mel’s on the scene and very much an independent actor.

  7. Wet Wat Barleycorn says:

    I’m going to be terrible and lay a lot of the blame at the foot of Saint Ned. Ned bought into a lot of nonsense romantic notions of how the world worked, and I really feel like Sansa is the child who most reflects this side of Ned.

    Sansa being set adrift at King’s Landing was inevitable because Ned was done taking care of Sansa when she got engaged. Ned kind of hints at this in the book, when he tells Arya that she was putting Sansa in an untenable position when she demanded Sansa tell the truth about the swordfight. Sansa was Joffrey’s betrothed, and when she married him she needed to be loyal to him, not to her father or to the truth. As a married woman, Joffrey was the appropriate center of her life, not her own honor or desires or her own anything.

    And it’s also, oddly enough, why he expected her to be compliant when he informed her they were leaving. As her father, he had the right to cancel a betrothal. And as an unmarried woman, she owed her father her obedience. Simple enough. The idea that Sansa would have a desire of her own and act on it? Just didn’t come into his head.

    I’m not suggesting Ned didn’t love her or anything–clearly he did. And of course he wanted her to be happy and everything else. But Ned really didn’t seem to understand lives very different from his own, and the lives of women were something he allowed to be utterly foreign to him (in spite of having a very strong and respectful–for the era–relationship with his own wife). He fell for the romantic stories of proper womanhood just as badly as Sansa did.

    He saw his job as a father to hug and kiss her and tell her she’s pretty and her needlework is nice, and to marry her to a powerful lord. And her job was to be pretty and charming and obedient to him and after a big ceremony she’d switch that obedience to her husband, and then she’d raise her husband’s children. Her mother would teach her whatever “womanly” arts she needed to know to do that. (And hey, remember how, Arya commented on how lousy her sister was at the household accounts management ladies did? Clearly, Sansa had ingested a little too much of her father’s vision of her future, and not enough of her mother’s.)

    Contrast Sansa to Margarey, who as far as I can tell is the only woman in the series who’s been intentionally raised to be successful and powerful within the role she’ll inhabit. Her grandmother is constantly schooling her, investing in her, showing her where the levers of power are and how to turn then. Heck, Sansa’s betrothal and un-betrothal–the most important decisions of her life–were both arranged when she wasn’t even there! Margarey was raised to be a player. Sansa was not. And while I think Catlyn has a lot to answer for, so does her father.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Pretty much, although I think the Tyrells are pretty unusual in terms of women’s political education.

      • illreede says:

        Or if they are not, it might be that Sansa’s mother was herself pretty much raised by wolves (pun noted) when it comes to being noblewoman. She is intelligent, she learned from her father to give good council, she remembers her words, she ran the North with Ned, but it may be she is a gifted natural at her specific role and there are lessons that she never knew to teach. Lysa is certainly just awful at it.

    • Sean C. says:

      In terms of the household accounts, Sansa may just not be good at math. I’m not, and I have three university degrees. I don’t think misplaced priorities have to enter into it there.

    • kylelitke says:

      I think you make a great point about NED romanticizing things. What I find interesting about Ned is, getting a look in his head, we constantly see him questioning things…and yet when push comes to shove, he’s ridiculously trusting. He doesn’t trust Littlefinger with even the smallest thing, until suddenly it’s incredibly important, and then he trusts Littlefinger to “do what’s right” even when Littlefinger specifically points out how horrible it would be for him if Stannis takes over. He honestly expects Cersei to run off to the Free Cities like he asks her to (I grant you he doesn’t yet know about Robert, but still). It’s not the only time Ned projects his own honorable tendencies onto everyone else, including those who have shown time and again that they don’t share his beliefs.

  8. Forgive me if you’ve covered this before, but what’s the significance of writing “Ser Percival” and “Ser Gawaine”? I always assumed GRRM invented the alternative spelling Ser — is it an accepted alternative in our world?

  9. Neil says:

    Slightly off topic, but instead of declaring himself King in the North as a solution to the Renly-Stannis debacle, is there realistically a Doran Martell “wait and see” path on that regard?

    • darkstark says:

      I have often thought about that same question. What should Robb have donedifferently

      • If Robb was still north of the Twins his geographical distance from Dragonstone and the Reach would have given him a plausible reason for waiting the conflict out, much like the Martells did. But given that he already had an army in the Riverlands, I can’t think of an acceptable reason for delaying, or at least one that would have satisfied a victorious Stannis or Tywin Lannister.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Agreed. It’s also a question of political legitimacy – now that Eddard Stark is dead, Robb needs a cause to keep his men together, especially since they’re arrayed against the current occupant of the Iron Throne, and historically, rebellion against the Crown is a death sentence.

          So he needed to declare some way.

    • Darkstark says:

      I have often thought of that same question. What should Robb have done differently instead of allowing himself to be crowned King in the North? A King has naught but enemies and subjects and Robb needed friends allies and partners. However i don’t believe Robb could just sit back on his laurels and take the Doran Martell type approach. He is committed to a war of revenge at this point and must act quickly and decisively to maintain the momentum following his victory over and capture of Ser Jaimie. He cant support Renly. He is his fathers son and would never knowingly back a blatant Usurper. He could throw the power of the Northern Army behind Stannis but this could be viewed at that point as a bad move due to Stannis being lord of Drangonstone instead of Storms End and thus having far fewer bannerman then by rights he should have. This could be considered “backing the wrong horse” so to speak among his bannerman. However Stannis as master of Ships still possessed a great fleet which would have been a huge asset to Robb and allowed them to have the army and navy to potentially assail kings landing or lannisport by sea. This would have been a far wiser move than declaring himself king. Lets take the assumption that he wants to wait out the baratheon conflict and see how it plays out and just remain lord of winterfell and warden of the north before choosing a side or declaring himself. This to me is the best move (in hindsight of course) It is imperative however that he makes allies at this time to strengthen his position knowing that tywin lannister is most certainly doing the same. This means you must act quickly and maybe beat Tywin to the punch. To do this Robb needed his siblings to bond other powerful lords by marriage to his cause. After seeing how unruly karstark had become at the loss of his 2 sons Robb should have offered one of his brothers (or even Edmure) for Karstarks daughter Alys. Then he should have cemented the frey alliance with his marriage before then offering Jaime for Sansa. Sansa is a prize worth more than even a captive kingslayer. Robb could then offer Sansa to Lord Yohn Royces heir and inform him of his mothers experience with lady Arryn and her weak son and inform him that neither one of them could be allowed to rule the vale at this time. He could go beyond that and declare her a traitor to her family as a last resort but at least tell him that he would support him as acting lord commander of the army of the vale during wartime and warden of the east. Only Bronze yohn would have the power and respect to bring the vale to robbs cause. Without the vale the north and the riverlands alone would never have the strength nor navy to asault the 3 main strongholds of the lannisters at casterly rock kings landing and harrenhal. But with the Vale Robb could hope to actually defeat the lannisters and their allies outright. Without them they never had a real chance of being more than a nuissance to tywin. Lady lysa could not be allowed to rule if you are Robb stark.

      • rw970 says:

        I’m not sure how realistic it is to offer every sad bannerman one of your siblings (or uncles) for marriage. Lots of Robb’s bannerman suffered losses during the fighting; he just doesn’t have enough family to give away – he’s not Walder Frey. He needs Rickon, Sansa, and Arya for powerful lords to make alliances. And he’s already wasted Arya on the Freys.

        Agreed that not following through on the Frey marriage was lunacy.

        Regarding the Vale, I don’t think that really works. Robb doesn’t have any information that Lysa is in thrall to Littlefinger at this point (or that Littlefinger is a hostile party), so all he has to go on is Catelyn’s report that Lysa’s a bit screwy – which Lord Royce already knows, like all of the Lords of the Vale. It’s very very dishonorable to rise up in open rebellion against your liege lord, and you would need more than “I disagree with the way that Lysa is running things,” to do it. The two most famous rebels, Frey and Bolton, are not well thought of. Of course, Robert Baratheon, Jon Arryn, Hoster Tully, and Ned Stark all rebelled against their King, but they were responding to active threats against their persons and the arbitrary exercise of power. The Royces are not under threat from Lysa Arryn.

        Second, Bronze Yohn Royce is one of those super-honorable guys who would never ever do such a thing, even if other Lords of the Vale might. You can’t just offer him Sansa, and tell him Lysa needs to be removed – he would probably be offended – cf. with Littlefinger and Nestor Royce.

        It’s true that Yohn Royce and the Lords Declarant rose in quasi-rebellion against Littlefinger’s Protectorship of the Vale, but it’s worth noting that he waits until after Lysa’s death to protest the rule of a particularly disreputable minor Lord of the fingers who came from nowhere to take control of the Vale after being married to the previous Protector for like a week before she died under suspicious circumstances. If he was going to remove Lysa, he would have done it before now.

      • rw970 says:

        Also, I think Robb had a better chance of defeating Tywin than Tywin had of defeating Robb, even without the Vale. Militarily, they were pretty evenly matched (even though Tywin and Tyrion are by far the better diplomats, and Cersei controls the capital). Tywin, however, has to contend with Robb, Stannis, and Renly at the same time, and must defend both Casterly Rock and Kings Landing at the same time against all three. Plus, Robb had a pretty good plan to trap Tywin in the Westerlands and free up Kings Landing for Stannis until Edmure screwed it up. It’s actually only by dint of some pretty strange sequences of events involving murderous shadowbabies that Tywin manages to eke out a conclusive victory here.

      • stevenattewell says:

        The tricky thing with declaring for Stannis is that there’s no way to predict that Stannis is suddenly going to get 20,000 reinforcements.

        The naval thing is less important because Robb needs naval strength on the west coast, not the east coast.

        And if Robb had Sansa and Arya’s hands to work with, he needed to trade up – Karstark is too lowly, he needed to aim more at the level of the Tyrells or Martells.

    • stevenattewell says:

      As I say below, the problem is that he needs a rationale for his men to fight, and given that the Throne is up for dispute, people are going to ask, and are unlikely to take “pass” as an answer. Doran gets away with it because he’s really far away, and at the end of the day does do the marriage deal with the Lannisters. But Robb is right there.

  10. […] the same time, there is also an interesting contrast between the white hart and the boar. As I’ve discussed before, the white hart symbolized purity and innocence, especially in the context of medieval Europe; the […]

  11. […] Sansa I through Sansa III are a deconstruction of romantic medievalism, then Sansa IV is right at the boundary between the […]

  12. kylelitke says:

    I mentioned this elsewhere, but I’m not sure Sansa and Arya actually do get away if Sansa doesn’t go to Cersei. I always assumed they would have, but when I thought about it more, I just don’t see what changes. When the events of the throne room happen, the clear next move is to go to the Tower of the Hand, take the girls in hand to use as leverage, and kill any of Ned’s loyal guards before they can put up a fight. The ship wasn’t leaving until that night. Maybe without Sansa’s warning, they don’t seize the docks, but the girls never made it to the docks anyway.

    Aside from that, should they somehow have escaped but everything else goes down as it did, you have other issues, because I believe the ship was supposed to stop at Dragonstone, and we find out in Clash that for months, Stannis had not allowed any ships that even came within sight of Dragonstone to leave. So the girls likely don’t make it to White Harbor (unless the ship was stopping at White Harbor and THEN Dragonstone)…they likely become hostages of Stannis instead, which, while probably preferable to being a hostage of Joffrey or the nightmares Arya went through, isn’t necessarily a great thing. If they still execute Ned, Robb likely still declares himself King in the North, and then you have a problem with Stannis using it as leverage. I actually wonder if that might have worked…Robb is not going to give up his crown because the Lannisters ask him to, but I wonder if Robb and Stannis could have worked out a deal with Stannis returning the girls to him and Robb aiding Stannis against the Lannisters, especially since Stannis would have had Ned’s letter.

  13. […] Sansa III (what did Sansa actually cause to happen by going to Cersei, what would have happened if she hadn’t, and the symbolism of the white hart) […]

  14. […] out previously, this is absolutely not the case – Ned had already told Cersei his plans before Sansa could have told Cersei about them leaving; PrivateMajor’s timeline pegs Sansa’s visit to Cersei as 15 days […]

  15. […] heroes and stories. Baelish knows that Sansa’s preferred heroic figure is something like the Knight of Flowers, but that she’s someone susceptible to the allure of stories and romanticism (perhaps in the […]

  16. rrford2014 says:

    Hi Steven, love you CBCs! Just noticed in your first “what if” section that you said Cercei wanted to keep Ned alive to trade for Cercei – I think you mean Jaime 🙂

  17. […] brings up back to the theme of chivalry – no doubt prompted by Littlefinger, who’s had enough conversations with Sansa to know her way of thinking, Dontos is using the story of Florian and Jonquil to manipulate Sansa […]

  18. […] questions about the Hound. First, is it the case that “he is no true knight?” The Hound refuses to hit women no matter who orders him to, did save a young maiden from danger, will demonstrate enormous […]

  19. […] use that beauty to inspire universal love where all of Sansa’s lessons in courtesty could not spare her beatings. But having experienced that awakening, Sansa is now paying attention to the staged nature of […]

  20. John says:

    One historical parallel with the white hart. William II (Rufus) of England was killed in a supposed hunting accident in August 1100 while hunting a deer. The arrow was shot by one Wiliiam Tyrell (or Tirel), who fled the scene but was later rewarded with an Irish baronetcy. Historians mostly agree it was an assassination set up by Henry II (who was present and rushed to seize the royal treasury as soon as his brother was killed. Rufus’s body was thrown into a cart) Cersei almost certainly planned just such a hit. An arrow is more reliable than a boar. But Nymeria killed the hart, so Cersei had to scramble together a plan B very quickly. That is why the boar and wine hit was so messy and incompetent. Robert actually came back alive, which might have ruined all Cersei’s plans.

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