Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa IV

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“It was not supposed to happen this way. She had to wed Joffrey…she had even dreamed about it. It wasn’t fair to take him away from her on account of whatever her father might have done.”

Synopsis: Sansa is summoned before the Queen and the Small Council and informed of her father’s treason. She is then browbeaten into sending a series of letters to her family to tell them to come to King’s Landing if they want to be seen as loyal.

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:

If Sansa I through Sansa III are a deconstruction of romantic medievalism, then Sansa IV is right at the boundary between the romantic illusion and the awakening to the horrific realities behind the fairy tale world of brave knights, beautiful maidens, and just kings and queens. And yet, Sansa hesitates at the threshold of enlightenment throughout the chapter even when one would think that the evidence of dead bodies piling up around her would require her to keep moving, which is a big part of why some people reading the books get so annoyed with Sansa (outside of those whose dislike is driven by misogyny).

However, as I’ve argued, Sansa is something of a stand-in for the reader as the subject of critique – just as Martin was impicitly saying that fantasy fans are like Sansa in that they prefer to believe in a make-believe world that ignores the inherent exploitation and inhumanity of the feudal system that’s part and parcel of the medieval world, I think Sansa’s actions here are at least in part critiquing people’s heroic fantasy of how they’d deal with crisis, and the subconscious fear that the reader would act like Sansa has a good deal to do with why some readers react so negatively to this part of her story.

Whether we’re talking about any number of historic atrocities or something as recent as the spree-shooter scenario, people want to believe that they’d be cool under fire, that they’d take down the shooter or stand up against tyranny, when the reality is…that people differ. In a crisis, some people act heroically (with no guarantee of success), some people act cowardly, some just freeze – and your chance of survival has much more to do with luck than any part of your character. And as we’ve seen over and over again, the reality is that people living in the midst of horror can and do delude themselves and buy into absurd fantasies rather than to confront the reality of their own helplessness.

But so intently do people need to believe that the human spirit always triumphs over adversity that it’s become a completely cliche element of origin stories. In some ways, both Arya and Sansa are critiques of this cliche – Arya gets the classic hero’s journey tropes (the sword, the mentor, the magic coin, etc.) but none of it gives her the self-knowledge that brings about agency and control over one’s environment; Sansa suffers the realistic scenario of victimization and passive survival.

We can see the slow arrival of reality in Sansa’s world throughout this chapter. The description of the battle for the Tower of the Hand focuses on the question of realism with laser-like precision: “somehow knowing that the fighting was real made all the difference in the world. She heard it as she had never heard it before, and there were other sounds as well, grunts of pain, angry curses, shouts for help, and the moans of wounded and dying men. In the stories the knights never screamed nor begged for mercy.” And yet, the Sansa that hears all of this still believes that Jeyne’s father is fine and that the queen will fix all of this, and sees Jeyne as a child for not understanding how the rules work. Likewise, after the second day of complete silence, Sansa still dreams of marrying King Joffrey. Finally, when her father’s situation is revealed to her, Sansa believes that her marriage to her “gallant prince” is the way things are supposed to happen and that everything can be fixed.

Sansa’s decision to agree to Cersei’s demands are ultimately motivated as much by her desire to keep believing in a world in which things happen the way they’re supposed to as they are by her desire to help her father, and the humanness of that choice is something that’s hard to accept.

Two Days of Silence

One curious thing that happens in Sansa IV is that there’s a strange period of two days when “the silence of the grave had settled over the Red Keep,” which is broken by the tolling of the bells for the death of King Robert – to the surprise of Sansa. This is somewhat puzzling; yes, Eddard hid the news about Robert’s death from his kids, but was it really a secret from the rest of King’s Landing?

In either case, why hide the  evidence of Robert’s death – given that Cersei’s entire narrative of her counter-coup is that Eddard attempted to “steal Prince Joffrey’s rightful throne…the moment the king was dead.” Ned’s coup and Cersei’s counter-coup was hardly secret – if Sansa could hear the dying, pretty much everyone in the castle could do the same and it’s not unlikely that parts of the city could hear as well. Likewise, it’s completely impossible that someone out the hundreds of servants and Goldcloaks and Lannister guardsmen who witnessed the events didn’t spread the word about what happened, even in the form of unreliable gossip.

Moreover, I don’t understand what the utility of this decision was – the start date of reigns was historically vital, and kings were very particular about these things. Henry VII, for example, officially dated his reign from the day before the death of King Richard III at Bosworth Field in order to place everyone who had sided with the then-reigning monarch as traitors in law, allowing him power to fine and imprison them at his pleasure, thus aiding his drive to place the nobility of England under the heel of the monarch. I just don’t see how advancing the date of Robert’s death helps Cersei and Joffrey.

Or maybe I’m just over-analyzing an unimportant detail.

The Interview

What’s much more important is Sansa’s interview with the queen and the heart of the Small Council (Littlefinger, Pycelle, Varys), the real meat of the chapter. It’s an interesting scene in part because it’s the first time that we see Cersei interacting with the core of the Small Council (Martin pointedly describes Littlefinger as sitting at Cersei’s left hand, Pycelle kept at the end of the table, and Varys hovering above), a political dynamic that will essentially dominate ASOIAF until Cersei’s being deposed in A Feast For Crows, and how the major conspirators are going to interact in “public” outside of Eddard Stark’s presence.

Littlefinger Be Creeping

Littlefinger’s presence here really defies the stereotype of the immaculate mastermind. To begin with, Littlefinger is openly creeping on Sansa, to the point where “she could feel Littlefinger staring. Something about the way the small man looked at her made Sansa feel as though she had no clothes on.” Even Cersei notices how weird he’s acting when he openly states that “she reminds me of the mother, not the father…Look at her. The hair, the eyes. She is the very image of Cat at the same age.” He might as well be carrying a cue-card around with him that says “I am obsessed with getting back teenage Catelyn Tully because I am not dealing well with teenage drama, and I am motivated by an intense desire to revenge myself against those who wronged me.” Hence his ludicrous comment that Eddard Stark’s sons don’t matter, but “Lady Catelyn and the Tullys” should be feared, yet more evidence that Littlefinger is not acting rationally here.

The second important thing he does is to take possession of Jeyne Poole, and the coolness with which Cersei basically sells a child into sex slavery as long as it’s not done “in the city,” is quite disturbing. However, the fact that Littlefinger asks for Jeyne Poole at this point is significant – he’s beginning to set up his plan for a fake Arya that will be put into effect in A Storm of Swords, over a year later. I honestly doubt that Littlefinger was planning to have the fake Arya married to the Boltons in order to expose her once he got Sansa married to Harry the Heir; rather, he was just thinking that a fake Arya would be useful in many different future scenarios (a potential peace offering to the Starks that would work long enough to get Jaime out of custody? a source of intelligence on Winterfell itself? a bargaining chip to win the support of a powerful unmarried lord to be named later?), especially if Arya was dead, and realized that he could manufacture Jeyne into something useful.

Finally, there’s an interesting little moment where he gets snippy with Cersei when she tells him to keep his sex-slaving out of the city, which brings up an interesting question: was this around the time that Littlefinger had asked for Sansa’s hand in marriage? We know from Cersei’s chapters in ADWD that Littlefinger asks around the time that Ned Stark is alive and in prison, but that Cersei turns him down because “he was much too lowborn.” Given that Littlefinger likely turns against Cersei at this point by influencing Joffrey into having Eddard Stark executed, it may well have been the case that what Littlefinger wanted in return for the Goldcloaks was Sansa’s hand in marriage (which, in combination with the later Harrenhal deal, would have allowed him to rise in the ranks of the nobility and protect himself if the Starks ended up on top). Cersei turns him down, which prompts Littlefinger to go to Plan B (have Ned executed, exacerbate the civil war, prevent Sansa from being traded away by Cersei).

* addendum: interestingly, Littlefinger stays out of the discussion about the letters altogether.

Pycelle the Bad Cop

As someone who’s one of the worst conspirators in King’s Landing and generally out-of-the-loop, Pycelle takes a very prominent role as Cersei’s bad cop – providing false testimony of Eddard’s treason, arguing against the marriage to Joffrey on the grounds that “a child born of traitor’s seed will find that betrayal comes naturally to her,” backing up Cersei on Sansa’s letters, and in general being an unctuous presence.  And unlike Littlefinger and Varys, he’s largely unaware of the larger meta-conspiracies at work (outside of his suppositions about Cersei’s children and Jon Arryn).

What makes Pycelle’s presence here especially irritating is the sheer hypocrisy of his tirade against treason. After all, this is a maester who routinely breaks his vows of chastity, a doctor who violated the precept of “first, do no harm” by stopping an effective regimen and allowing Jon Arryn to die of neglect under his care, a member of the Small Council who repeatedly betrayed his vows of loyalty to the Iron Throne, first to King Aerys, then to Jon Arryn and Ned Stark.

Varys Playing the Long Game

As is his wont, Varys holds back for the most part – he’s the first one to declare Ned Stark a traitor, a clear sign that he’s accepted the new regime at least publicly, but unlike Cersei and Pycelle, he doesn’t verbally work over Sansa to get her to agree. He shows some sympathy to Sansa, but from a position of “helpless distress,” and doesn’t get in the way of Cersei’s objective here.

Interestingly, we know that Varys has got his hands on Eddard Stark’s seal – which is something that hasn’t really come up much, but could be potentially quite valuable down the road. Given Varys’ skills at mummery and forgery (back when he was “returning” people’s letters in Pentos), he could easily produce a carefully edited version of Ned Stark’s “last testament” backing up Tommen’s bastardy as a way to discredit the Lannister/Baratheon claim on King’s Landing just as Aegon VI brings his army to bear.

 Cersei’s Gambit

What’s curious about Cersei’s gambit here is how much effort she’s putting in to browbeating a child into sending these letters – after all, if the larger point (as Catelyn will describe it later) is to remind Robb and Catelyn that she’s got Sansa and Eddard under her thumb in order to cow them into quiescence, she could easily send that letter herself without the need for this playacting.

Indeed, her whole strategy here is a bit odd – to give Cersei credit, she’s at least suggesting the outline of a modus vivendi (that they’ll let Ned go and marry Sansa to Joffrey if the Starks play nice) rather than attempting all-out war against both the Baratheons and the Starks. However, her modus vivendi couldn’t possibly stick.

To begin with, as Cersei well knows from her father, a Great House simply cannot allow their members to be treated like this – to allow the Lannisters to assault their head of house and then arrest him, to hold their children captive, is to announce to the world that House Stark is weak and can be attacked without retaliation. Moreover, there’s the fact that Tywin and Jaime have attacked the Riverlands – the extended family of the Stark has spilled blood and lost lands, treasure, and men to the Lannisters, and that’s equally hard to ignore. And there’s also the fact that Arya is still missing and Cersei can’t give her back, which is rather crucial.

At the same time, Cersei knows that Stannis is out there and Renly’s escaped to Highgarden – if Eddard lives and heads for the Night’s Watch, the word is going to get back to Robb and Catelyn about the whole incest thing. Given what Cersei’s done to their family, they’re going to believe the worst about him, especially if Ned’s willing to bend his honor enough to confirm when they hear from Stannis. So at the most, Cersei’s bought herself a few months.

However, the call to come to King’s Landing and bend the knee in person doesn’t quite fit the model of Cersei the peacemaker. Given what Aerys did to Rickard Stark, and now what’ s happened to Eddard Stark, the whole of the North is going to see that command as essentially an order of execution. Either Cersei knows that this is how Robb and Catelyn will see it and doesn’t care – either because she’s underestimating the power of the Starks and thinks they’re too cowed to react like a Lannister would in the same scenario, or because she wants to somehow get them to fight a limited war because she’s got hostages – or she’s really badly misjudged the political situation.

And the saddest thing of all is that this is the height of Cersei’s political control over the situation – the Starks, Baratheons, Tyrells, and Tullys are still largely hypothetical enemies, her enemies in the capitol are in chains, and her family is too far away to take her power away from her. It’s all down-hill from here.

Historical Analysis:

So in the grand game of historical parallels, I’ve previously rather briefly suggested that Anne Neville is a good fit for Sansa. Given the situation that Sansa finds herself in, I thought I’d explore this parallel a bit more. The thumbnail sketch is that both women were daughters of powerful Northern lords who became the center of a rebellion against a powerful Queen whose son the lords claimed was a bastard and lacking in royal blood, and that both women found themselves divided between the two sides of the war (Anne married both Lancastrian and Yorkist princes, Sansa is engaged to Joffrey and then married to Tyrion who in many ways resembles Richard III).

However, the point I want to emphasize is that both women both were at one and the same time a symbol of power, desired as heiresses to the North when the male line was extinguished in war, and very much at the mercy of the powerful feudal powers around them. Richard Neville was not known as the Kingmaker for nothing, and very much positioned himself as the pivot of English politics, using his family as bargaining chips – at least according to some sources, Anne was engaged or was intended to be engaged to Richard Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III) when her father wanted to unite the Houses of York; when he changed sides and allied himself to Margaret D’Anjou and the Lancastrian cause, Anne was married to a stranger, Prince Edward of Lancaster. A year and a half later, she was married to Richard of Gloucester, although here it seems Anne had some agency in the matter and wanted the match. 

Likewise, Sansa’s marriage to Joffrey, however much initially desired on romantic grounds, is ultimately decided by questions of dynastic alliances in the crypts of Winterfell. Following the death of her father, when she very much would like to be rid of Joffrey, she doesn’t have much of a choice. Her marriage to Tyrion is the very definition of unwilling, and it’s unlikely that her wedding to Harry the Heir will be much better.

Hopefully, Sansa will end more happily than Anne, but it’ll take some luck and some smarts…as we’ll see down the road.

What If?

Given that not a lot happens in this chapter, there’s only scope for a few hypothetical scenarios I see here:

  • Sansa had dug in her heels? Let’s say that for whatever reason, Sansa decides not to send the letters and sticks to it. On the one hand, this isn’t going to change much with Robb and Catelyn; Robb’s going to march for King’s Landing no matter what letters Cersei sends. On the other, it might change some things with Sansa and Cersei. After all, Cersei’s paying a lot of attention here to how pliable Sansa’s going to be (because if Sansa actually becomes a hostage-bride, she needs to make sure that her son isn’t going to get assassinated on his wedding night), so a bad response might mean that Sansa comes in for more strict captivity to break her spirit – ironically, saving her from Joffrey’s tender mercies.
  • Cersei had agreed to Littlefinger’s request? This is extremely unlikely, but let’s say Littlefinger was more forceful in his negotiations with Cersei and Cersei, caught in between a rock and a hard place, sells off Sansa. To begin with, this now means that Littlefinger is either a potential Lord of Winterfell replacing the hypothetical Tyrion, or protected from the wrath of a vengeful King Robb if the Starks are victorious – a nice win-win for Littlefinger. If he can scoop up Harrenhal as per OTL, then arrange for Lysa’s death, then become Robert Arryn’s guardian as his “good-uncle,” then he’s really getting close to being the pivot point in the War of Five Kings. However, it also means that Littlefinger will have to head up North to claim his territory there, and that’s not going to be easy with a man who doesn’t have the military training of a Bolton.
  • However, it also means that Catelyn’s behavior might be altered – if she realizes how much Littlefinger betrayed her (unlike in the show, Catelyn doesn’t really confront this fact in the books), she might be the only person in Westeros who could figure out Littlefinger’s behind the whole war. Likewise, if it’s known that Sansa is essentially lost to her, she probably doesn’t make her disastrous call at the end of ACOK, which might mean that the Starks might avoid the Red Wedding by trading Jaime back to Tywin.
  • Jeyne Poole hadn’t been given to Littlefinger? One really has to step back and admire George R.R. Martin’s intricate plotting when you realize that he set up, in a seemingly inconsequential line in the very first book, the fake-Arya plotline that will be so pivotal to the main plot of his fifth book – because Jeyne Poole is really the only possible candidate for a fake Arya. And without a fake Arya, things become very interesting indeed. Once Sansa disappears and Tyrion’s attainted, there really isn’t a fig leaf of continuity that Tywin can throw over the Bolton takeover. While this does mean that “Ned’s girl” isn’t quite the rallying cry she is in OTL (which in turn might spur Manderly to be more proactive in getting Rickon off of Skagos), it also means that Roose Bolton loses much of the legitimacy that allowed him to bring the Dustins, Ryswells, Lockes, Stouts, and half the Umbers into his mistrustful coalition. Thus, when Stannis makes his move, Roose is likely down to little more than his own House and the Frey expeditionary force.
  • However, in an impressive display of the butterfly effect, this changes events at the Wall much more profoundly – without his “sister” in harm’s way, there’s little need to have Mance Rayder saved and then sent to Winterfell. In turn, this means that much of the information in the “Pink Letter” remains valid, which in turn may rob the conspiracy against Jon Snow of its justification/catalyst for a coup d’etat, given that Jon Snow would have much, much less reason to openly betray his vows and march south.

Book vs. Show:

This scene in the show, while well acted, really does suffer from the lack of internal monologue, given that much of the meta-plot in this chapter is about how Sansa’s viewpoint is or isn’t changing after the attack on the Tower of the Hand. Likewise, some of the machinations are changed here – Littlefinger argues that “she’s an innocent, she should be given a chance,” which indicates his interest in Sansa but didn’t happen in the book; Varys is much more silent than he is in the chapter, and so forth.

The major change is that, rather than have the emphasis for Sansa’s motivation to write Cersei’s letters be her desire to maintain the world in which she’s still going to marry Joffrey, there’s much more of an emphasis on Sansa trying to save her father, which makes her actions more understandable and sympathetic than in the text.

However, given that GRRM himself wrote this episode, maybe he’s trying to make a point to the fanbase.

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46 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa IV

  1. empire25 says:

    I like this post a lot, especially the continued theme of Arya’s critical hero’s journey and Sansa as an implicit critique of the fanbase. I will thank you by pointing out that there is one other place where Jeyne Poole comes up. Later in the books, Sansa/Alayne states she has not “gossiped with anyone since poor Jeyne Poole”, which would imply she does not accurately remember this moment. If she did, she would ask Littlefinger what he did with her. Not that they were not plenty other things on her mind (“Or maybe I’m just over-analyzing an unimportant detail” in your words, but this strikes me of another faulty memory from a character who may have been punched too many times.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Ah yes. When was that, ASOS or AFFC?

      • Sean C. says:

        That scene is in AFFC, when she’s talking with Myranda Royce. She also mentions Jeyne at least twice in ACOK (in the chapter going to meet Dontos for the first time, and when singing hymns prior to the Blackwater), both of which, while not definitive, give the impression that she (understandably) assumes that Jeyne is dead.

        She doesn’t appear to remember that Littlefinger was the last person in possession of her, though I’m not sure I’d call that a “faulty” memory (compared to her actively remembering things that never happened) so much as a detail getting lost in the shuffle in a very traumatic and eventful period. She doesn’t have these events recorded in text to go back and peruse to refresh her memory, after all.

      • empire25 says:

        Sean has a good point, but there is more than enough textual evidence in her storyline to suggest that Sansa is mentally damaged to the point of being crazy. It is not the only interpretation of course, but it is an obvious one that the fan base seems to have ignored. In a culture, both in fantasy in elsewhere, that celebrates trauma as a liberating experience and says “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, Martin is saying through his characters that he vehemently disagrees. It is important to me that that message at least gets a hearing.

      • stevenattewell says:

        I think “mentally damaged to the point of crazy” is problematic. She’s definitely got some trauma, and is in a dangerous environment where she’s having to pretend to be someone she’s not.

    • kylelitke says:

      I know in the books this doesn’t really come up until Clash of Kings, but the events I’m talking about all happened in the last few chapters, so I wanted to mention it now. Later on, in Clash, Cersei will tell Tyrion that everything was a close call here and says something along the lines of “If Sansa hadn’t told me her father’s plans…”. This is used by a lot of those who hate Sansa to blame her, but I’m really not very clear on how she’s to blame at all, and I’m not clear on what Cersei would have done differently if Sansa hadn’t gone to her.

      Ned already went to Cersei and made his accusations, and gave her his ultimatum, so Cersei already knows she has to get rid of him almost immediately when Robert dies. Likewise, it only makes sense for her to seize the Tower of the Hand and take out Ned’s men to avoid any attempt at freeing him. If Sansa doesn’t come to Cersei, why would she have done anything different? If Robert had hung on for another day, perhaps THEN things would have changed…the girls would have already been sent away by the time Robert died, so perhaps Cersei would have been forced to move before Robert died, knowing (through Sansa) that she was about to lose two potential hostages as well as opening up the possibility that Ned makes his move as soon as his girls are sent to safety. That wasn’t the case, however. At the time Robert died, the girls weren’t being sent away until that night. Cersei did exactly what I would have expected her to do whether she knew the girls were being sent away or not. I wouldn’t even think anything of it except that Cersei later implies Sansa warning her was important to her plan succeeding, but I just don’t see how. Any thoughts?

      • kylelitke says:

        This should have been its own post…not sure why it came up as a reply to a different comment, but I can’t seem to edit or delete it. Ah well.

      • David Hunt says:

        Cercei loves to inflate her own importance, especially as it relates to her beauty and charisma. This lets her think that her charm turned Sansa over to her side, so her charisma was absolutely necessary to her coup. IIRC, Cercei implies that Sansa told her all of Neds plans instead of just that the girls were being shipped home. This gives the impression that Cercei managed to turn Sansa entirely against Ned.

        Telling this to Tyrion gives her bonus of it being two ego boosts instead of one. She’s telling herself that she’s the master manipulator who can turn people against even their own close family. But, she’s also telling the same thing to Tyrion in an attempt to keep him off-balance and suspicious. She’s saying “anyone can be one of my agents, brother.” And there’s precious few things that make Cercei happier than making TYrion unhappy. At least when Jaime’s not available…

      • stevenattewell says:

        Well, I discussed that in a previous Sansa chapter – what Sansa gave Cersei was primarily information about timing and knowledge that Ned had definitely decided to go through with it.

        But it still was a close call – if Ned had acted earlier, or if he’d done things differently with the Goldcloaks, she’d have lost completely.

  2. Brett says:

    Great post.

    Good point about Roose Bolton and the illusion of continuity. My guess is that he would take a much more stand-offish role in the Frey betrayal, so that it just looks like he’s making peace in the aftermath of losing his liege lord (as opposed to actually marching his own men into the Twins and participating in the slaughter). After that, he’d have to try and build up legitimacy for his rule by clearing out the remaining Iron Men.

    Not exactly great grounds in terms of getting the other northern lords to follow him, but what other choice would they have except covert betrayal like the Manderlys? Bolton still has the largest contingent of remaining forces, now that the others have either been slaughtered or scattered, and several of the other northern Minor House lords are dead or imprisoned.

    Cersei had agreed to Littlefinger’s request? This is extremely unlikely, but let’s say Littlefinger was more forceful in his negotiations with Cersei and Cersei, caught in between a rock and a hard place, sells off Sansa.

    I think she’d break it off later, especially since Sansa hasn’t had her period yet and the marriage can’t be consummated. Sansa’s too useful for House Lannister for her to be sold off permanently to Littlefinger, and people have broken promises to Littlefinger before (Tyrion).

    . . . Of course, Cersei would then have to convince Joffrey to end the engagement so she could be given over to Littlefinger, and that might be rather . . . dangerous without an alternative in place.

  3. Chad says:

    I am not to sure that the Bolton have the most men in the North without the other houses. It is very likely that Manderly is stronger or equal to Bolton’s even with the losses they take in the south. The Manderly were able to build of fleet of a little under 50 ships while at the same time they were ejecting the Bolton’s from the Hornwood lands and fortifying White Harbor. That speaks to some serious manpower.

    Though the Manderly’s have their own problems such as the wrong religion/culture, they are seen as jonny-come-lately of the Norther house and Wylis is captured. Furthermore, they seem to have a very commerce based orientation instead of the martial orientation needed in war time. Wyman seems to be the type to act only once everything is in order like Bernard Montgomery or Pompey Magnus so they may miss the opportunity to either strike against Roose or take a leadership position in the North.

    But I could be wrong about the Manderly strength Martin has been vague on the strength of the north and it could be anywhere from 30 to 60 thousand pre-war of 5 kings based of his descriptions.

    • stevenattewell says:

      If I had to guess, I’d say the Manderlys outnumber the Boltons, but a significant portion of their men would be marines.

      The Manderlys are definitely among the top 3 largest Lesser Houses of the North.

  4. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, just popping in to state that your analysis continues to impress far more than my comments upon that analysis ever could and to compliment you for maintaining such a consistent standard of excellence.

    Also to point out that Tyrion Lannister resembles Shakespeare’s Richard III (rather than the historical Richard of Gloucester) like a true pedant, so please forgive me my little display of fussiness and ignore it as impertinent if you please.

    One thought that has occurred to me in relation to your analysis of this chapter is that Cersei, by asking Sansa to send a letter written in her own hand, is able to provide some solid proof that this particular daughter of House Stark is firmly in her hands and quite under her thumb (I would also suggest that this might be a ploy on Cersei’s part to determine just how biddable Sansa is prepared to be in her captivity – as well as bend this little bird just that much more to her will).

    • John says:

      I agree with you about the letter. What is important is that it is Sansa’s hand, which proves to Catelyn and Robb that Cersei really has her. That’s much stronger than bare assertion.

    • Sean C. says:

      I also thought about the handwriting, but if that’s what she really wants, the actual content of the letters doesn’t matter too much, but Cersei spends quite a bit of time trying to fine-tune what the letter actually says.

      Really, the content of the letters only matter if Cersei is stupid enough to think that Robb Stark, Hoster Tully and Lysa Arryn are actually going to believe the contents (“oh well, a frightened tween says it’s all clear!”), but while she’s dumb, I don’t think she’s that dumb.

      • shaunpeacock says:

        IMO Cersei’s main flaw is her inability to see people as independent actors, she can’t bring herself to think that Robb, Cat etc would do anything other than what she wanted (especially now that she’s outsmarted Ned/seized the throne – the beginning of a path that ends in the Great Sept in AFFC). Therefore, she is capable of thinking that the Starks/Tullys would just do as they were told. Also remember at this point that Cersei doesn’t know that Jaime has been captured so she thinks she has the upper hand (I have your husband/father/daughter/husband).

        • stevenattewell says:

          Agreed. As I’ve argued in the past, Cersei lacks empathy, which makes it very difficult for her to anticipate others’ reactions.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Thanks! And yes, I know, I know. Although the recently uncovered skeleton does in fact have pretty bad scoliosis.

      Yeah, but I doubt that detail is super-important. It’s not like Robb and Cat needed a lot of proof of Jaime being captured.

  5. Chris says:

    A possible what if – what would Tywin have done if he’d been in King’s Landing then, whether he’d have rebuked or amended Cersei’s decisions? After all, he wasn’t too pleased about Ned’s execution which made it worse for his situation…

    As an aside, I wish we’d had more details about what Tywin’s been up to since the Greyjoy rebellion, whether he made trips to KL, how he got on with Jon Arryn, his loans to the crown putting his own house in debt etc. To me, Casterly Rock or Lannisport always sounds like a ghost town.

    • David Hunt says:

      If Tywin had been in KL during the coup/counter-coup, one thing would be dramatically different: he would be regent instead of Cercei. He’d have taken steps immediately to start bringing Joffrey to heel, and he never would have let Ned Stark be executed. If Joffrey had been willful enough to order the beheading, Tywin would have belayed the order immediately…not that I think Tywin would have let it get that far. And having Ned Stark, he could have traded him to Robb for Jamie.

      If Ned’s going off to the Wall instead of resuming his old position, he might have to give up Sansa as well. I don’t have a good feel for such things, but giving up Sansa might be the only way Tywin saw to stop the war with the Starks now that Arya’s missing and presumed dead.

      Of course, all of the above makes me wonder what Varys would have done to make sure that Tywin couldn’t stop his war with the Starks that way. Maybe he’d just stay of of Littlefinger’s way, because he might want to war to escalate to a greater level than Varys does.

    • stevenattewell says:

      If Tywin was in King’s Landing, Ned Stark lives, no question. Daddy’s in charge when Daddy’s in town.

      As for what Tywin’s done, mostly brood at Casterly Rock, if I recall a passing comment from the book. Killing the Targ children tarnished his reputation significantly, so he stepped back from politics, even though he had the right to sit on the Small Council as Warden of the West.

      He did throw a couple Tourneys if I recall.

  6. Sean C. says:

    Regarding Cersei hypothetically agreeing to give Sansa to Baelish as his price (and I agree that this must have been around when he asked for it; the only other time that I thought made sense would be after her betrothal was broken off, but he would have been asking that of Tywin at that point, not Cersei), do you really think that would have protected him from King Robb if the Stark-Tully faction had won? If anything, it seems like that would be one more reason for his neck to meet the axe, unless he managed to sell this as a beneficial action on his part.

    I mean, Robb is Robb, so I’m sure he wouldn’t be looking for a judicial fig leaf, but Baelish actually is dirty as hell, so turning up some grounds to kill him would probably not be that hard (and, at least arguably by the law of the day, being a senior minister in an enemy regime is justification enough to execute). There’d also probably be plenty of Stark-Tully bannermen who would do him in, Beckett/Richard II-style, either in hope of reward or just anger on the part of Ned.

  7. ajay says:

    “One curious thing that happens in Sansa IV is that there’s a strange period of two days when “the silence of the grave had settled over the Red Keep,” which is broken by the tolling of the bells for the death of King Robert – to the surprise of Sansa. This is somewhat puzzling; yes, Eddard hid the news about Robert’s death from his kids, but was it really a secret from the rest of King’s Landing?”

    In our world, at least, you toll bells at a funeral – which can be days after the death. That’s how I read this; what we’re hearing is the funeral ceremonies.

  8. litgreg says:

    FINALLY, someone who agrees with my theory that a lot of the Sansa hate is the fear that we would behave like her in the same situation. Great analysis.

  9. […] Sansa’s letter arrives, the Starks get a little bit more information – that Robert is dead, Joffrey is on […]

  10. Andrew says:

    “The second important thing he does is to take possession of Jeyne Poole, and the coolness with which Cersei basically sells a child into sex slavery as long as it’s not done ‘in the city,’ is quite disturbing.”

    I find this line just as disturbing:

    “‘We put the steward’s girl in with her,’ Ser Boros said. ‘We did not know what to do with her.’
    The queen frowned. ‘Next time you will ask,’ she said, her voice sharp.”

    I think this implies Cersei wanted everyone in Ned’s entourage, excluding the Starks themselves, dead, including a girl like Jeyne. She would have expected her to be killed wiht the rest. Cersei really is ruthless, and this is made more frightening by her almost complete lack of humanity.

    • Wow, I didn’t go in that direction. I thought it was more that she didn’t want Jeyne to interfere with Sansa’s thought process so that Cersei could continue to manipulate an isolated Sansa.

      • Andrew says:

        Killing Jeyne would have solved that problem as well. If Cersei didn’t spare Septa Mordane, then what is to stop her from sparing Jeyne. When Cersei said “Next time ask.” her voice is described as “sharp.” A little hint? As sharp is often used to describe a blade.

  11. […] we have to note that her appeal at least initially works. Varys finally starts making some moves – notably, he makes the worst possible pitch to get Ser Barristan to […]

  12. Jim B says:

    Maybe this isn’t the best place for this question, but since you allude to it: why is Pycelle such a Lannister lickspittle?

    I don’t recall any indication that he has any blood connection to their House, or of any Lannister rewarding him in any way, or of him asking for anything. There’s a great deleted scene from the show where Tywin pretty much tells Pycelle that he can’t possibly be as transparent as he seems — and yet, there’s no real hint that Pycelle is playing any kind of deeper game.

    The only thing I can think of is that he developed a serious man-crush on Tywin during the latter’s time as Hand to Aerys, and after enduring an increasingly mad king and his increasingly incompetent Hands, Pycelle decided that Tywin (and thereby House Lannister) was the Realm’s only hope.

    Then, after Robert’s Rebellion, Cersei may have been the only one who bothered to cultivate him as an ally — Robert barely cared about politics or a maester’s learning, Stannis would have a dim view of a Small Council member who gave his prior king such bad/treasonous advice, and Varys and Littlefinger are too skilled to use such a clumsy agent. I’m not sure about Jon Arryn, though. Perhaps he would have had the same opinion as Stannis, though if so you wonder why he wouldn’t tell Robert to demand the Citadel send a replacement.

    • Well, I think Pycelle is a Westerlander, but that aside…it’s the man-crush thing. Pycelle worked with Tywin for twenty years and clearly thinks he’s the only man for the job.

  13. […] nothing he can do about it. However (and this is where I think I need to revise my statement from Sansa IV), Cersei also tells us in the same paragraph that she had planned to break the engagement between […]

  14. mask says:

    This is a bit late for a response (just recently stumbled upon this excellent series) but I would like to point out something about GRRM’s plotting. He wrote all/most of book 1 with the idea that this was a trilogy before realizing he had to space it out. I’ve always felt this is important to explaining why GOT is so much more blunt than the rest of the series. In this telling GRRM was planning on having Bastard, Theon and Jeyne in Winterfell at the end of 2/beginning of 3 (and a fake Arya revealed at least by book 2).

  15. Sokket says:

    I love this chapter analysis, mainly because I point to this chapter as the moment when Sansa became my favorite character in the series. I love this Sansa (the nascently compliant one who navigates Joffrey’s court better than anyone) because she is the only Stark who is uniquely gifted at the game of courtly intrigue, and therefore the only Stark (and probably the only character) with the power and talents to bring down Littlefinger, who I consider to be the main villain of ASOIAF, both because she is now in a position at the Eyrie to play Robert Arryn and the Knights of the Vale against him as well as the fact that she is the only blind spot she has, and is in a position to withdraw her support of him in much the same way that he did Ned.

    I’m excited to read more chapter analyses regarding Sansa, because you seem to be sympathetic to her as I am.

  16. […] Sansa IV (why people dislike Sansa, the interview with the Queen, Cersei’s gambit, and more) […]

  17. Son of fire says:

    As usual great stuff.
    just pointing out cersei has a single chapter in ADWD not chapters & fake arya is given to steelshanks in ASOS not AFFC….littlefinger be creeping section.

  18. Scott Trotter says:

    One more angle on the Jeyne Poole situation: While GRRM is certainly setting up the Fake Arya plot line, Littlefinger himself–at this point in time at least–may be doing nothing more than collecting a free, but potentially valuable, game-piece whose long-term usefulness is yet to be determined. He may not be thinking any more than “A 12-year-old maiden will fetch a nice price.”

    • Well, a 12-year-old maiden he took months if not years to train to be Arya. That suggests some long-term planning going on.

      • Scott Trotter says:

        Not necessarily. First off, at this point in time it’s been only 2 days since the coup. Arya is missing but could turn up at any moment, dead or alive. It’s too soon for Littlefinger to be planning for an Arya replacement. All of the Starks are still alive and Arya is *last* in the line of succession.

        Second, in addition to Littlefinger, Cercei, Pycelle, Varys and Boros Blunt all know about Jeyne’s survival, and all but Blunt know that she’s in Littlefinger’s possession. Any one of them could have on to Tywin when the time was ripe. Finally, what need is there to train Jeyne for month or years? Outside of the Starks themselves, who knows Arya better than Jeyne Poole?

        You may be right, but barring any concrete evidence, my supposition is that Cercei tossed a deuce onto the discard pile and Littlefinger picked it up thinking that it may have some future value. He *may* have even been thinking that producing Jeyne at some point would help him win over Sansa. At the very least, she has some short-term value working in one of his brothels.

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