Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa V

sansa court

“…as you love me, you do me this kindness, my prince”

Synopsis: Joffrey and Cersei hold court for the first time and announce some turnover in personnel; Ser Barristan is out, and the Hound and Janos Slynt are in. Sansa makes a plea for her father’s life that Cersei really should have paid more attention to.

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 V is the last moment of Sansa’s innocence, so we should probably savor it before George R.R Martin destroys it in front of her eyes. But first, let’s take a look at the Dynamic Duo of Westerosi politics, Joffrey and Cersei, as they embark on their first day on the job.

Joffrey and Cersei in (mis)Government:

And what a first day it is. Joffrey and Cersei begin by “read[ing] a long list of names, commanding each in the name of King and Council to present themselves and swear their fealty to Joffrey…[or] be adjudged traitors, their lands and titles forfeit to the throne.” On the face of it, this isn’t a terrible idea – it’s good to make clear who your friends are and your enemies are (although making people choose sometimes moves neutrals over into the enemy camp) and to get the law and legitimacy on your side. However, historical precedent has rather tainted this as a political tactic; the last time a King summoned lords to King’s Landing on pain of attainder, he ended up having everyone who arrived executed without due process of law. Hence, Cersei is immediately inviting comparisons to Mad King Aerys, especially when she includes all of the children of the Houses summoned.

The list itself is rather interesting: in addition to the usual suspects (Stannis although it’s notable he hasn’t actually done anything that could be construed as treasonous yet, Renly, the Tullys, the Starks, all of their associated bannermen, and Beric and Thoros) which is all well and good except for the fact that you can’t really enforce any of this when your enemies have their armies in the field, Cersei goes a bit crazy with naming almost every prominent neutral House in Westeros: the entirety of the Tyrells (“brothers, uncles, sons,”), Doran Martell “and all of his sons,” and the Arryns and their bannermen (although this one falls halfway between the former and latter categories). Given the historical precedent and the reputation of the Lannisters, this action runs the extreme risk of pushing two more of the eight Great Houses into open rebellion. Indeed, the Tyrells will shortly declare themselves for Renly (which was probably going to happen anyway, but Cersei’s actions don’t help).

After Item 1 on the agenda is complete, Cersei moves on to a bit of a cabinet reshuffle: Eddard Stark is out and Tywin Lannister is Hand of the King, and Stannis is out and replaced with Cersei as Queen Regent. In many ways, this is the best political move Cersei makes, consolidating her family’s position in King’s Landing and achieving her life’s ambition of having explicit political authority in her own right, with only “a soft murmuring from the lords around her…quickly stilled.” However, it is amazing how short lived her authority is – by giving Tywin the Handship, she covers his recent treason with the blanket of back-dated legitimacy, but ultimately loses control over her own camp by creating a rival authority within the Baratheon-Lannister court, as we’ll see in A Storm of Swords. At the same time, it’s incredibly obvious that, despite her lifelong ambitions to achieve a position running the Small Council, Cersei really doesn’t have any ideas for what comes next if things don’t go according to plan.

Moreover, while consolidating one’s position is all very well, it’s also true that one critical lesson about feudal politics that Cersei has never gotten is that, in a feudal system, political influence comes from spreading power around, not concentrating it in one’s immediate family. The downside of having so many Lannisters on the Small Council is that you have less bargaining chips with which to expand one’s political coalition (which as I’ve pointed out in Bran VI is also your military coalition). Cersei’s actions here risk alienating potential allies by denying them patronage and constructing an outsider group that’s larger than the insider group.

This is only further confirmed when Cersei has Janos Slynt made a Small Councilor and the Lord of Harrenhal. Immediately, “the muttering was louder and angrier,” as the lords of the court bitterly resent a common being raised to the top of the Lesser Houses as a blatant act of quid pro quo. Moreover, since Slynt is a Lannister creation without any outside power base, it’s another example of the Lannisters keeping all the goodies for themselves. And as Tywin will point out later, this is a major case of Cersei overpaying for a one-time service; she’d have been better off replacing Janos Slynt with some Crownlands lord and keeping Harrenhal open for future political negotiations.

Barristan Selmy by Dejan Delic

And then there’s the removal of Ser Barristan Selmy – the acme of knighthood, a symbol of honor and virtue, and a signifier of continuity between the two dynasties – and replacing him with Jaime Lannister as the Lord Commander and Sandor Clegane on the Kingsguard. Again and again, Cersei is packing the court with Lannister loyalists, and destroying every element of precedent and stability. While it’s Joffrey’s idea to have him arrested for calling him “boy” and mentioning Stannis (the first sign of Joffrey’s rampant paranoia), the idea of placing him in a glorified cell “north of Lannisport” isn’t much better.

On their own, some of these political moves make sense, and others don’t. But rolling them out all at once sends entirely the wrong message: instead of continuity, we have sudden breaks with precedent; instead of favors being widely doled out in return for loyalty, they’re being hoarded for the Lannister family. And, unlike in the show, Cersei really can’t claim that Joffrey’s at fault – this is her plan.

Sansa’s Plan to Free Her Father

As if to spit in the eye of those who believe that Sansa is a purely passive character, it’s at this point that Sansa steps forward to try to save her father by asking for  “mercy” while acknowledging that “he must be punished.” Sansa makes a very clever argument: she relies heavily on Eddard’s relationship with Robert (gesturing in the direction of the old King’s memory and the ideal of continuity), she throws Renly and Stannis under the bus (which, given that Joffrey is paranoid about them and has just attainted them is a good idea), and wraps it up with appealing to the conventional wisdom that “milk of the poppy fills your head with clouds.” And under any other circumstances in Westerosi politics, her argument would work – it is simply insane to execute sitting Lords of Great Houses, as seen by the fact that the only person who’s ever done it was Aerys II.

On the other side of the ledger, however, we have to note that Sansa’s belief in the chances of her plan do show that the transition from innocence to wisdom is coming along rather slowly – as she puts it, “it will all come out well, Joff loves me and the queen does too, she said so.” Obviously, by this point with her father imprisoned and her sister vanished and her entire family attained down to the Rickon level, Sansa should probably not accept everything Cersei tells her on its face. At the same time, we have to consider how a 12-year old child who’s led an extremely sheltered life and has been held prisoner would respond under these conditions. 

However, 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 accept his forcible “retirement” by stressing material comforts (an insult to a man who’s observed a lifelong vow of poverty), downplays Ser Barristan’s ostensibly pro-Stannis comments (which is unusual for a man whose trade is in ferreting out treason, but as we learn later was motivated by his desire to win over Ser Barristan for the Targaryens), and argues that “they saw wisdom oft comes from the mouths of babes.” I’ll discuss why Varys wants Ned saved more in the last Eddard chapter, but I did want to note the irony that the man who stoked Aerys II’s paranoia and who offered loyal advice to the king right up to the sack of King’s Landing is arguing for leniency, whereas Pycelle (who seems to have lost his ability to detect his own hypocrisy some time ago) is holding the hard line against treason when he himself betrayed King Aerys in Tywin’s name.

Joffrey seems nonplussed and a little bored – he’s willing to defer to his mother’s wishes as long as Eddard takes it back and everyone admits that he’s the king, he doesn’t seem to care that much (I don’t think Littlefinger’s quite got to him yet, more on this in Eddard XV). Cersei seems somewhat nonplussed by all of this, which is perhaps the best sign of how sloppy and short-sighted she really is as a political actor. Eddard Stark is the best possible hostage she could have in this situation – even before Jaime is taken captive and the Stark/Tully army is about two-and-a-half week’s ride away from King’s Landing, it would be incredibly advantageous for her to swap Eddard for the Starks pulling out of the war and remaining loyal, while keeping Sansa to ensure they keep their promises, so that House Lannister can bring the entirety of its power to bear on the Baratheons. Right now, the Starks have been repeatedly offended and abused by the Lannisters, but it hasn’t gone beyond the point of no return yet.

And yet…as I’ll discuss in the next Sansa chapter, Cersei completely drops the ball on this. For some reason, as I’ll discuss next chapter, she outsources the work to Varys and Littlefinger rather than handling it herself. The eventual plan doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; having Ned Stark take the black after “confessing” his crimes preserves her cover story…except for the fact that Stannis already knows. It does give her a total victory over Ned, permanently taking him out of the game of thrones, but in the larger scheme that’s not actually in her long-term interests. Eddard is a mature ruler who’s already shown his preference for a peaceful solution, whereas his son has shown that he’s more interested in vengeance given that he’s already marched his armies south while she held both his father and sister; having Eddard take the black keeps him out of power and makes Robb Lord of Winterfell. Does she really think he’s going to turn around once his father’s out of harm’s way without a formal agreement? And even if Robb was willing to make a formal peace treaty or even a truce, taking Eddard’s return to his family off the table to begin with is a poor place to start. It’s a very strange mix of over-ambitious and half-assed.

Historical Analysis:

I intend to get into the last days of Richard, Duke of York, in the next (and last) Eddard chapter, and Joffrey’s historical parallels in the next Sansa chapters, and I already discussed the “Parliament of Devils” in a previous Eddard chapter, so I don’t have anything left for this section. Next chapter, however…

What If?

I can really only think of one major hypothetical here:

  • Joffrey/Cersei says no? Ironically for all concerned, things might have worked out better for all concerned if Sansa had gotten turned down here. After all, there’s no particular hurry with Ned, as they have him quite securely locked up in the dungeon. And even a slight delay changes things dramatically…in about a week, Renly will crown himself in Highgarden; in about two weeks, Robb will have won his first two battles and Jaime will be his prisoner. In that situation, Eddard is far too important an asset to be sent off to the Night’s Watch or blithely executed. A small delay, and Eddard Stark might actually survive. Sansa probably still remains a captive, however.

Book vs. Show:

The show played this one almost word-for-word, so nothing to report here.

63 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa V

  1. David Hunt says:

    Cool and interesting. It had never occurred to me that it would viable for Ned to continue in his lordship, although it should have. It’s exactly what happened to Balon Greyjoy. He kept his lordship but his last son was given over as a hostage. Them keeping Sansa would, indeed, follow naturally.

    A “What if” that occurred to me that you don’t list is what if they keep Ser Barriston? He’s shown that his loyalties to his oaths allow him to switch dynasties that he’s serving, he’d obviously be a loyal servant to Robert’s “son.” It would have been REALLY smart to keep him on as a sign of legitimacy. Is it you contention that it was simply not a believable choice for Cercei to keep him?

    It isn’t necessary to put the Hound in the King’s Guard (or not right away) for him to continue service, so I’d guess that Cercei’s goal was to put Jaime in charge of Joffrey’s guards and to put him on the Small Council as another person he expected to give her absolute support. It fits with the rest of her move of grabbing all the goodies for the Lannisters that you mentioned.

    • No, because Cersei wants Jaime as Lord Commander; removing Ser Barristan is part of her whole drive to Enhance Lannister Power. I generally try to limit what-ifs to people’s extant motives and personalities, because counterfactual history falls apart if you start replacing people with pod persons.

      • David Hunt says:

        Nitpit of typo: Jaime as Lord Commander.

        I thought that might be the reason you left it off. I know that you won’t present alternatives that you think are wildly out of character. Didn’t know if that was the reason for this omission, and might have been huge if Cercei could have seen her way to clear to keep him. I don’t know how long Ser Barriston could have managed to stomach Joffrey/Cercei’s reign, but even a delay might have meant Dany dying of a manticore bite, so I had to ask…

      • Sean C. says:

        I’m sure Sansa would have been happy to have Ser “don’t hurt children” around a bit longer.

      • David Hunt says:

        @Sean. Hadn’t even thought of what Ser Barriston’s presence would mean to Sansa. He’d definitely be someone who could have told the Kingsguard knights what Jaime told the mooks he was stuck with when he finally got back to KL: “the King’s still a boy the power is technically in the hands of the Queen Regent. Keep that in mind when he gives you a stupid order and remember that we’re supposed to protect him from himself, too.” I don’t remember Jaime’s words but that’s the gist that I recall.

        On an unrelated note, one of the most awesome things about Selmy is that, while subject to arrest at any moment, he took the time to write down his own dismissal in the White Book before (ahem) booking it out of KL.

  2. Sean C. says:

    Regarding the list of individuals summoned to court, three things stick out:

    – First, as you highlight, they named Doran Martell and “all his sons”, which is an hilariously incompetent measure when you remember that Doran’s heir is actually his daughter.

    – Two, they summon Yohn Royce and his sons, which is odd in the sense that they were in King’s Landing for Robert’s hunting trip, and thus they must have booked it out of the city when the party returned with King Robert on death’s door, which you wouldn’t think would normally be the sort of occasion where they’d be desperate to leave town. Bronze Yohn must have read the crisis temperature in the city accurately (also interestingly, as we later find out, his second son left with Renly, rather than with him and Ser Andar).

    – One detail you didn’t note: The list of attainted Starks includes Arya, which heartens Sansa (and she’ll keep believing that Arya is home at Winterfell until at least partway through ACOK; it’s not clear to me exactly what she thinks happened to Arya now, apart from having written her off as dead), but is a stunningly stupid move, in that the Lannisters have seemingly announced to the whole world that they don’t have Arya as a hostage. Weirdly, though, nobody else picks up on this. Did they edit it out of the proclamation being sent out?

    • 1. Yes that’s true, but his sons would also have value as hostages.

      2. I think it’s more the case that the Royces of Runestone are leading bannermen so they get lumped in with the Arryns.

      3. Agreed. Although the situation with Arya is botched all around.

      • Sean C. says:

        No, I see why they would summon the Royces (who tend to get mentioned alongside people like the Hightowers as the #2 regional houses), I just meant that the Royces were in King’s Landing as little as a few days ago, and thus must have left in a hurry even as Robert was dying.

    • kylelitke says:

      Two excellent points I hadn’t thought of. Steven is right that Doran’s sons would certainly have value, but given that Arianne is his heir, naming only the sons is not exactly smart, especially when Cersei is so gung ho about being a female in power. And for some reason I don’t think I ever quite picked up on the total stupidity of, in open court, declaring that Arya needs to come and swear fealty. You’re right though, they must have either edited it out of the proclamation, or GRRM made a mistake here and we should probably ignore it, because things might have changed a bit if Catelyn knew that the Lannisters didn’t have Arya. Although I suppose they could have thought she had “gone missing” and was later “found”, but still.

      • Who’s “they”? This is Cersei operating on her own, there’s no editing going on, and that’s the problem.

      • kylelitke says:

        By “they”, I meant the council. One of the councilors may have realized when the proclamations actually were being sent out that Arya shouldn’t have been included. I’m just looking for a way to justify the idea that Catelyn seems to completely buy into the idea that the Lannisters have Arya too and are willing to trade both girls for Jaime if a proclamation went out suggesting that they don’t have Arya at all and are calling for her to come to Kings Landing and swear fealty to Joffrey. It’s also possible it was just wishful thinking from Catelyn. I tend to think GRRM just made a bit of an error here and wasn’t really thinking about it, since it’s relatively unimportant. He wanted Sansa to realize Arya was still alive and had escaped, but he also wanted Catelyn to believe they still had Arya.

      • I don’t think Cersei’s running anything through them, that’s my point.

      • John says:

        In terms of Ned taking the Black, I think the best way to see this is metatextually, rather than historically or psychologically in terms of character motivations. It’s part of Martin’s game to make us think Ned is not going to be killed.

        In terms of the story, we know by this point that the real story is up North, with the Others. We also know that, dramatically speaking, Martin’s not going to have this whole intrigue in the capital plot with Ned and then have the consequence be that he just gets to go home to Winterfell. As such, making him take the black makes total sense as a way to have the first book’s plot be meaningful while also sending the apparent main character to where what we think is going to be the *real* action is. This distracts us from Ned’s obvious role in the plot as the honorable father who will get killed so that his children can avenge him.

        That this doesn’t fully make sense internally becomes believable because it’s a plan devised by a bunch of people who are either wildly incompetent or acting in bad faith. But that’s not the basic reason why “Ned is going to take the Black” becomes the plan – it is instead Martin’s sleight of hand to make us shocked by Ned’s death.

    • Scott Trotter says:

      I don’t think that its necessarily a stupid move to list Arya. At this point enough time has passed that its reasonable for Cersei to assume that Arya has escaped. It won’t become apparent until much later that she has completely disappeared. From the Lannister POV no harm is done either because neither Robb nor Catelyn ever sees the proclamation. They are currently on-route to Riverrun, and according to the oft-cited timeline, the First Battle of Riverrun is already over. Edmure is Jaime’s captive, Riverrun is besieged, and any incoming ravens are probably being shot down.

  3. Andrew says:

    Machiavelli said there were three types of rulers. The first are the ones who are naturally good at everything, and can do it themselves. The second are ones who are not good at everything, but know their limitations and try to surround themselves with good councilors who can provide good advice. Then there is the third, they are people who think they are the first, that they’re brilliant when they’re actually terrible, and they’re too dumb to realize it.

    Cersei fits the last category; in this chapter we see her trading Barristan for Sandor in the KG, which she thinks is brilliant since it allows Jaime to be the LC and her son to get Sandor in the KG like he wanted, and Barristan is replaced by a younger, stronger man. In truth it is a bad trade, and not just because Barristan has a large, shining reputation while Sandor has a smaller, darker one, but Sandor ends up abandoning them when he is needed most. Not to mention Sandor was Joffrey’s sworn sword so he was bound to Joffrey anyway. It is not enough that they remove Barristan, but they insult him in front of the entire court as well.

    We later see this when she sends Loras to take Dragonstone. She sees it as brilliant in that Dragonstone is both hers and Loras is gravely wounded. But in actuality, Loras is rash and impatient his command results in almost two thousand of her own Lannister men being killed, including the best and the bravest lordlings and knights according to Waters. She ends up weakening her own power and the power of the Westerlands when Dragonstone could have been taken in a bloodless siege.

    • Agreed. Cersei’s limitation is that she looks for the short-term solution to the immediate problem, without thinking about the long-term consequences of her actions. If she was aware of it, she’d keep someone around to keep an eye on that. She doesn’t.

  4. Sebastian says:

    I just come from reading the Time magazine Person of the Year issue. One of the runners-up was Bashar-al-Assad. The essay kicks off with someone asking himself, long before Bashar became infamous, whether he’d be a Michael kind of ruler, or more of a Fredo. Then I read this and in trying to apply the same question to Cersei, I would have to say neither. She’s definitely a Sonny, and I think your “mix of over-ambitious and half-assed” comment is what convinced me

  5. Thanks for pointing out that Sansa takes an active role here and shows her potential for court politics, while still being a naive 12 year old – something that gets overlooked in the general reader disdain for her in the first book and her ‘betrayal’. I’m pretty sure GRRM did the commentary on the DVD for the corresponding episode and pointed out that what Sansa does here in going before the whole court is actually quite brave. Also I somehow missed how incredibly dumb most of Cersei’s political moves are here – the first time I read the books I thought she was this Machiavellian political genius, at least in the first book, although it becomes more obvious as the books go on how inept she is.

    I think she does at least realise that Eddard has value as a political hostage – didn’t she try and stop Joffrey going through with the beheading? Maybe I’m giving her too much credit or mixing it up with the show though – I really need to reread!

  6. empire25 says:

    You left out a good tidbit. This is from Sansa while they are reading the names of those they wanted to present themselves..

    “Brandon Stark, Rickon Stark, Arya Stark. Sansa stifled a gasp. [italics] Arya. They wanted Arya to present herself and swear an oath.. it must mean her sister had fled …”

    Exactly! That’s why wouldn’t read her name! I actually think that Sansa is actually quite smart, just uneducated at this point. Though she does not dwell on it, Sansa seems to be only POV character in the books other than Tyrion who actually enjoys politics for its own sake.

    Cercei, However, is just dumb.

  7. kylelitke says:

    Great observation in the what if? section. That said, I wonder why it is that Cersei DIDN’T stall longer, at least to see what happened in the Riverlands. There really was no rush. They’re not going to keep him locked away for years down there, as it might make them look weak (he’s being accused of trying to steal the throne from the rightful king while the former king lay dying, they can’t just pretend it didn’t happen and leave him in the dungeons forever, I don’t think), but they could have at least waited until word came from the Riverlands. If Jaime takes Riverrun and one out of Tywin/Jaime defeat Robb, then Cersei is in a position to do whatever she wants with Ned, and can send him to the Wall, come to an agreement with him, whatever. And should Robb win (as he did), she has Ned as a trading chip to get Jaime and/or Tywin back while ending the war. Executing Ned was clearly stupid (which even Cersei recognizes), but even sending him to the Wall before she knows the outcome of the Riverland battles is quite foolish.

    She had the power to stop this…the scene with Sansa felt scripted to me from the side of the Council. It made me think that this wasn’t a spur of the moment (or even thought out) decision from Sansa on her own, but more likely something that Cersei (or Varys, or Littlefinger…one of the Council members, anyway) had convinced her to do. I don’t believe the idea that Sansa screwed up her plans by asking for mercy in open court, forcing Cersei to deal with Ned quicker (which I don’t think you were suggesting, exactly)…I think this WAS part of Cersei’s plan. She wants Ned to come out in public and confess that he’s a traitor and Joffrey is the rightful king, but she doesn’t want to just come out and demand it, so instead she uses Sansa to plead for Ned so she can pretend to be merciful and act like this was all Sansa’s idea in the first place. If indeed that was her intent, it’s a fairly good plan, especially knowing how unlikely it is that Ned would confess (it’s only by using Sansa, first by pleading for him and then by threatening her that they get him to do it at all). Even if the plan was to trade Ned in return for an end to the war (and in return for anyone the Starks may capture during the battles that Cersei isn’t aware of yet), it’s beneficial to them if he first confesses he really did try to steal the throne (they can’t really pretend it never happened and just let Ned go, plenty of people were in the throne room when Ned tried to take the throne). It allows them to punish him while still seeming merciful, and makes it less believable if Ned comes forward later and says “No, I totally am not a traitor, and Joffrey’s definitely a bastard!”. It’s the timing that seems very stupid to me, and the fact that their decision is to have him take the black BEFORE they even know what happened in the Riverlands, completely removing him as a hostage and trade piece simply because they hope that maybe Robb will just turn around and go home if they let Ned take the black instead of executing him. I guess my point is, I’m not sure if Cersei saying no to Sansa was really a possibility, because I think Sansa’s whole speech (not the words, but the sentiment) was part of Cersei’s plan in the first place.

    • Sean C. says:

      Cersei being Cersei, I don’t think the possibility of Jaime and Tywin losing ever crossed her mind.

      • David Hunt says:

        Yeah, what you said. Plus Cercei isn’t one to delay gratification. She had the opportunity to humiliate Ned Stark by making him confess his “treason” and she gets to have the man she views as her most prominent enemy publicly declare the Joffrey is the rightful king. That last bit was probably what she wanted the most.

        Of course she’d have been better served by turning him into a Balon Greyjoy and sending him back to rule the North with Sansa as a hostage. Robb would be a much better hostage, but I doubt that they could have gotten Robb to surrender himself on the promise that Ned would be released. I don’t see how Robb would believe them. He’d have damn good reasons not to.

      • Winnie says:

        I think Sean C. has hit on it exactly. Anyone with an ounce of prudence would have been careful to keep Ned on ice until they *knew* the outcome of the fighting in the Riverlands-even if they’d expected the young Robb to lose to Jaime or Tywin, fact is anything can happen on the battlefield and it’s always good to have an insurance policy. But Cersei while paranoid about anyone in her immediate circle threatening her power base has a blind spot to military threats. What was startling about CoK was how remarkably unconcerned she was about the war effort. Even when Stannis and his troops are on their way to invade KL, Cersei is more interested in slighting Tyrion than working with him to handle a force that would kill them both. She doesn’t awaken to the danger until it’s at the gates-literally. Which may be part of why she lost her shit so completely during the siege. She was quite simply unprepared to deal with the problem so she threw herself a wine soaked pity party and unloads all her internalized misogyny and envy on Sansa-who is the one to take on Cersei’s duties of rallying the spirits of the other women and keeping everybody calm, showing the kind of dignity and courage a REAL queen should have. Another blind spot of Cersei’s-she wants all the power and privilege of rule but none of the responsibilities.

    • Mmm…I disagree. If this was always Cersei’s plan, why not mention it in the letter to Robb and Catelyn?

      The biggest possible motivating factor and she forgot to put it in? No.

      • kylelitke says:

        Mention what in the latter to Robb and Catelyn? Not clear what you mean by that. I thought she set up the Sansa thing (not putting words in her mouth, but hinting that she should petition for mercy, not in an obvious way where Sansa might pick up on what she’s doing). Rereading that section, she’s not acting like the impulsive Cersei we see all the time. I just have a hard time believing that Cersei suddenly, with no awareness of what Sansa was going to do (they had planned to end the session prior to Sansa stepping forward), was going to not mention Ned at all, but then when Sansa stepped forward, suddenly made the decision to go ahead and “show him mercy” if he confesses. It struck me as something she had already thought out and planned to say. Even Joffrey is acting weird, as if he already knew she was going to step forward…rather than throw a fit that she’s trying to protect a traitor who tried to take his crown, he decided to play Gallant Joffrey and allows her to speak.

        I’m not sure what you mean about the biggest possible motivating factor. She’s not going to tell Robb and Cat that she’s manipulating Sansa, and she’s not going to tell them that Ned is going to confess when he hasn’t done so yet, whether she was aware that Sansa was going to come plead for Ned’s life or not. I may have misunderstood what you mean.

        I’ll throw this out there. Read this scene with Sansa, and the way the Councilors, and especially Joffrey act, and read the scene at the end of Clash of Kings where the Tyrells ask Joffrey to wed Margaery (which I would assume we all realize the Council already knew was going to be asked). The Councilors debate amongst each other (with one councilor offering up a reason why Joffrey can’t marry Margaery, and another councilor offering up a rebuttal as to why it’s acceptable), with Joffrey playing the Gallant King. Both scenes read similar to me. It’s possible I’m completely wrong here, just offering up how the scene felt to me.

        And David: I agree with you about Cersei not wanting to delay gratification, which is kind of my point. I don’t think she wanted to delay gratification, which is one reason I think she set this up. If she had no clue Sansa was going to do this, THAT would suggest delayed gratification to me, as they were going to end the session without any kind of an announcement on Ned. I just think Cersei was being slightly more clever here, using Sansa to allow them to appear merciful rather than just coming out and demanding Eddard confess his crimes. I do think you guys are probably right though that Cersei didn’t think Jaime or Tywin could lose.

      • If it was Cersei’s plan to use Ned as a lever against the Starks, why wouldn’t she have Sansa mention Ned in her letter to Robb and Catelyn? That’s how she might have actually gotten them to stop fighting – trade Ned’s release for the Starks disbanding their forces and going home.

        However, if you go back and read Sansa IV and then Catelyn VIII, you’ll see that the letters mentioned that “Lady Catelyn and your brother [should] keep the king’s peace” and that if they did that “you shall wed the king.” The letters don’t mention anything about a trade for Ned.

        That’s why I don’t think Sansa’s proposal was part of Cersei’s plan – there’s a disjuncture between the letters and then the plan to have Eddard confess and take the black. Likewise, the degree of improvisation in how the second part was carried out (leaving it to Varys and LF, etc.) that suggests it wasn’t thought out ahead of time.

    • MightyIsobel says:

      I agree that Cersei had a hand in arranging Sansa’s plea for Ned’s life, because of how Cersei loves parading her weakened enemies before the court and forcing them to humiliate themselves. She likes to put on exactly this kind of show; I think she can’t help herself, to some extent, even when it’s damaging to her interests. The trial of Tyrion in ASOS is the highest culmination of this kind of spectacle, but the resolution of Arya and Joffrey’s scuffle on the Kingsroad shows us this side of her too.

      And, it means that Sansa is singing other people’s songs in this scene, which feels right for where her character is at this point. She sings them beautifully, and courageously, and skillfully, but it makes more sense to me that they are not really hers.

      Why not communicate the offer of mercy to Robb? Nobody had thought of it yet. Sansa’s dictated letter is hardly a starting place for negotiations. It’s a demand letter, consistent with Cersei’ preference for asserting the most unreasonable bargaining position she can in the moment, and then rewriting history later if something better comes along.

      • Winnie says:

        I think Sansa’s plea for Ned’s life was heartfelt and spontaneous but I suspect Cersei rather enjoyed it. You’re right MightyIsobel that Cersei likes to put on show of dominance and rub her enemies faces in it. Hence the public charade of Ned’s ‘confession’ on sacred ground no less. Which of course meant that Ned’s execution put her on the bad side of the Septa. And it’s the only reason for her ordering Lady’s death for instance. To me the ultimate example of this wasn’t just her show trial of Tyrion but the way she went after Margery with trumped up charges of adultery. Going after Margery and destroying the Tyrrell alliance was always going to be dangerous but that was a particularly risky way to do it when there were so many stealthier and simpler ones like hiring a Faceless Man to arrange an accident. But subconsciously I believe she went with the Death by Trial option because it gave her a chance to publicly humiliate her rival and indeed her entire family with her. Given Margery’s personal popularity and powerful family family connections it was always a strategy that could backfire, ESPECIALLY given that Cersei was herself the most infamous adulteress in Westeros, and that’s exactly what happened and in the worst way possible to Cersei.

      • I’m more with Winnie – Cersei enjoyed it, certainly. But she didn’t come up with the idea.

        And again, a demand letter would still be stronger if she had foregrounded Ned rather than Sansa.

  8. Andrew says:

    Another interesting quip from a Ned chapter: “Tywin Lannister was as much fox as lion.”

    It brings to mind this piece from Machiavelli’s The Prince, “That We Must Avoid Being Despised and Hated” :
    “Whoever examines in detail the actions of Severus, will find him to have been a very ferocious lion and an extremely astute fox, and will find him to have been feared and respected by all and not hated by the army… But Antoninus his son…his ferocity and cruelty were so great and unheard of…that he became hated by all the world and began to be feared by those about him…”

    Tywin can be Severus in this parallel, and his heir turns out to be Cersei, our Antoninus. We see Robert Strong at the end of Cersei’s last POV who is actually Gregor Clegane’s body made much stronger than before. Gregor Clegane was Tywin’s top henchman for those brutal jobs like chevauchee in the Riverlands and Elia and Aegon’s murders. Robert Strong helps to symbolize that while Cersei tries to resemble her father in ruling, she only manages to revive and amplifies the brutal aspects of his reign.

    • It’s a good comparison.

    • Winnie says:

      Cersei seems well aware of Machiavelli’s dictum that it’s safer to be feared than loved but she missed the part where Niccolo noted that you must not make yourself hated either.

      Cersei-“That is what ruling is-sitting on a bed of a weeds and pulling them out one by one before they strangle you in your sleep!”

      Tyrion-“I’m no expert but I’m sure there’s more to rule than that.”

  9. scarlett45 says:

    I thought Sansa was very brave to do what she did, and played her skills of “traditional highborn Westerosi young lady” with style and grace. Sansa knows that her entire entourage has been murdered. She knows Ayra is missing or perhaps dead. She knows her father is in a dungeon. She got dressed up, presented herself in open court as the king’s fiancée and asked for mercy. Denying her on the spot would’ve been a bad PR move on the part of the Lannisters and murdering Ned after promising mercy showed that Cersei had no power over Joffrey, and Joffrey created another opportunity to compare himself to Aeyrus. I think Sansa did the only thing she could possibly do under the circumstances.

    • Roger says:

      I agree with that. Sansa could be innocent, but is more clever than people usualy thinks.

    • Oh, it’s absolutely her only card at the moment and Sansa plays it rather well. It’s not her fault that she’s playing with people who don’t understand cards.

      • Winnie says:

        Great way to put it Steve. The problem with dealing with Cersei and Joffrey isn’t just that you’re dealing with ruthless people devoid of honor, compassion, and even simple human decency. After all, that’s all true for Tywin as well and it’s still possible to deal with *him* and make alliances. But Joffrey and Cersei are also lacking in basic logic as well which makes them more vulnerable to defeat but also a helluva lot more dangerous when they are in power. Tywin would never have killed Ned, he never would have ordered Robert’s bastards slaughtered and he never would have abused Sansa like that because all of those weren’t simply cruel decisions they were also stupid ones and Tywin just doesn’t do stupid.

      • Yeah, it’s like when a professional plays a complete amateur in poker – the professional can sometimes get outfoxed because the amateur just does completely unexpected things that don’t make sense.

    • Varun says:

      Actually, it’s not what she did but what she did not do that finally sealed Neds fate. While pleading, she addressed Joffrey, the legal king, as “my prince”, something he admonished her about later. If she had called him “my king”, he would’ve been more honor-bound to keep his word or risk losing vital popularity points(I doubt even Littlefinger would’ve encouraged Joffrey to go through with the public confession and execution then). It’s simple and subtle enough but you’ll miss it if you don’t look hard enough. This small thing was equal to dropping a hand grenade in the throne room as far as Joffrey was concerned. It proved, in his own mind, that “anyone with the name Stark is an enemy”. Thus, one could say Sansa was more responsible for her father’s death than anyone else.

  10. This might be veering into some psychoanalysis territory, but I feel like Cersei has such a massive case of ‘penis envy’ that she jealously hoards any semblance of overt power granted to her and is completely unwilling to run anything past anyone in the small council and is paranoid that her power, that she considers she has worked hard to obtain, will be taken away from her by the men surrounding her. She’s basically the complete opposite of Catelyn who, while frustrated at the limitations placed on her gender, is largely content to work behind the scenes and within traditional ‘feminine’ roles, while the only power Cersei thinks is ‘real’ is that which is explicit and openly granted. While Catelyn definitely makes some mistakes, she is by far a much more canny political operator, which is ironic considering how highly Cersei thinks of her own abilities. I feel like there’s some interesting contrasts between what are considered stereotypical ‘male’ and ‘female’ domains of formal and informal power structures.

    Sorry for the incoherent rambling comment! I really like how you analyse these chapters it’s super interesting.

    • David Hunt says:

      I read somewhere that at (I think) ComiCon, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who plays Jaime Lannister said that Jaime loved Cercei more than she loved him. Lena Headey (Cercei) responded the Cercei wanted to BE Jaime. So, overall, I think that Ms. Headey agrees with your analysis.

      • I saw that as well – I think it was an Emmy panel? I think that’s such a spot on analysis of Cersei – I disagree with all the people who think she doesn’t understand the character because she hasn’t read the books, I think she does a great nuanced job. She definitely plays a ‘watered down’ version of Cersei, but that’s equally the case with Tyrion and no one complains about that. Anyway I probably shouldn’t digress into the show!

      • David Hunt says:

        LOTS of the stars make a point of not reading too far ahead. I’ve seen several of them who mentioned that they will read the book that they’re filming from prior to start of filming, but no further. It seems to be a common method that’s used to keep their performances from being based on something down the line.

    • Winnie says:

      What’s interesting is also how Sansa is learning, (out of survival necessity) to be a far better political operator within the confines of her gender. In FoC it was remarkable to see how this teenage girl was learning to navigate the power plays of the Vale, becoming SweetRobin’s sole mother figure, AND taking on the traditional role of running a household when the house is a Castle. (Which was actually a full time job and quite a lot of work, requiring good organizational skills and it’s nice to see Martin acknowledging that in those scenes.) Basically she’s doing a crash course in how to be the Lady of a Great House.

    • Penis envy aside, Cersei’s relationship with gender is really, really complicated and I’ll go into it in some detail later on.

      • Andrew says:

        Her attitude towards femininity is akin to that of Lady Macbeth, in that she regards it as a weakness. She doesn’t want to end the patriarchy, but wants to become it.

        Cersei can be a bit described by Ian McDiarmid regarding his role as Palpatine: “Everything he does is an act of pure hypocrisy.”

  11. Roger says:

    In a AFOC Jaime thinks that Cersei believes herself is a female Tywin, but is too impulsive, too agresive, too mercurial. And will add she is full of envy, rancour and rashness.
    Giving the lords no option but to join her or became traitors is an stupid movement. In the Roman civil war, Caesar said even the people who didn’t join him and remained neutral were his friends, and he gained a lot of support.
    At that moment, it seems like Barristan is going to join Stannis at Dragonstone. I wonder if it was Varys who reminded him about Daenerys.

    • I think most people thought he was going to go to Stannis. I seem to remember in Clash quite a few people talking about Barristan and wondering where he went. It never even occurred to me that he would go to Dany but there you go.

      • Roger says:

        yeah, that was a surprising twist.

      • Winnie says:

        That was a great twist but one that in retrospect made perfect sense. Selmy may not have mourned Aerys II personally but still knowing the king was assassinated on his watch-and by another KG no less, had to have hurt. And what happened to Elia and her children was just *sickening.* I suspect he’s always felt sorrowful that he couldn’t save the Targaryen dynasty but as long as Robert was the lawful occupant of the Iron Throne, he would continue to serve. Joffrey’s dismissal in a sense did him a favor since it allowed him to find Dany to serve her thus finally unburdening his conscience on that score. (This was of course an even bigger favor for Dany.) No sending him away was NOT a bright move on Cersei’s part and it was even dumber to send a toady to be the one to try to arrest Selmy. The guy fought and defeated the Blackfyre’s, has been a LEGEND in fighting circles, and has remained alive for many MANY years in a job that’s almost a death sentence Cersei. If you really wanted him in custody you should have sent Sandor or Bronn after him.

    • Reminded….more like persuaded him into it and at the end of the day was the only one offering trips out of the city.

  12. […] Instead, Joffrey wanted to see a traitor killed. The weakness of this theory comes again from how ambivalent Joffrey was when Sansa pleaded for her father’s life. He didn’t seem to care one way or another so long as Eddard declared Joffrey the one true […]

  13. […] on the Trident and a seat on the king’s council” is almost word-for-word what Sansa saw earlier), completely wrong (“Some said her father had murdered King Robert and been slain in turn by […]

  14. […] also true that this is a Small Council that doesn’t have a plan of what to do after Cersei’s counter-coup besides hunkering down to await a […]

  15. […] react to the letter. Cersei goes straight for a hamfisted, tyrannical response, reminiscent of her last time in the throne room, thinking somehow that she can put the genie back into the bottle. By contrast, Tyrion displays a […]

  16. Varun says:

    One thing you fail to mention is how Sansa ends up pleading with Joffrey as “my prince”, not “my king”. This one mistake doesn’t seem much but makes it clear enough, at least in Joffrey’s mind, that the Starks are not acknowledging his birthright. If, at that moment, she had acknowledged him as a king, things might’ve gone differently. This is a subtle point, easy enough to miss, but determines what we’re gonna see next. Joffrey even admonishes Sansa on it later.

  17. […] in order to gain compliance. (Whichever the case, I do feel like this is a case similar to Cersei letting Ser Barristan go in which she is pushing precedent beyond the bounds of custom and law, setting up a situation in […]

  18. […] the royal mandate has passed to Joffrey, which is particularly problematic for the Brotherhood, because Joffrey attained the lot of them. Beric’s counter-argument is that royal sanction, here symbolized through the royal banner, […]

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