Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Sansa I

“The king…took Sansa’s hand. Once that would have set her heart to pounding, but that was before he had answered her plea for mercy by presenting her with her father’s head. His touch filled with her father’s head. His touch filled her with revulsion now, but she knew better than to show it. She made herself sit very still.”

Synopsis: Sansa is escorted by Ser Arys Oakheart to Joffrey’s name-day tourney, where the mad boy-king is bored and therefore unpredictably murderous. She manages to save the life of the drunken knight Ser Dontos through a timely subterfuge as Tommen takes his first tilt at a quintain and Tyrion Lannister arrives in King’s Landing.

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:

As I discussed in AGOT, I can understand why people feel irritated by Sansa’s character in the first book, although I would argue that this would be a misreading of the text. But I really do have to question people who contend that the Sansa of the first book is this Sansa – and question the empathy of people who are reading the POV of a victim of sustained domestic violence and who still react to her like an annoying child.

Because the Sansa we meet in this chapter is very much a disillusioned semi-adult who has largely abandoned the romanticism of her childhood, and very much a victim of domestic violence. Indeed, Martin’s deconstructionist meta-narrative is especially deep here, in the way that domestic violence is linked together with knighthood and romantic tropes.

We can see this from the start, as Ser Arys Oakheart arrives to escort Sansa to the tourney. On the face of it, this should be the very essence of Sansa’s old ideals – dressing up for a tourney in “a gown of pale purple silk and a moonstone hair net,” escorted by a knight who is “courteous, and would talk to her courteously…Ser Arys had light brown hair and a face that was not unpleasant to look upon. Today he made quite the dashing figure, with his white silk fastened on the shoulder by a golden leaf.” And indeed, Ser Arys is a romantic through-and-through (even before we meet him again in AFFC and learn about his doomed romance with Arianne Martell) as we can see with his belief that the comet signifies “glory to your betrothed. See how it flames across the sky today on His Grace’s name day, as if the gods themselves had raised a banner in his honor. The smallfolk have named it King Joffrey’s comet…this comet is sent to herald Joffrey’s ascent to the throne, I have no doubt.”  

Unlike before, Sansa is intimately aware that all of this is a facade built to hide an ugly reality. Her pretty gown “had long sleeves to hide the bruises on her arms. Those were Joffrey’s gifts as well…he had sent Ser Boros to beat her.”  The King is a volatile abuser, who routinely abuses her by proxy whenever his sense of absolute power and authority is thrown into question by outside forces that Sansa had nothing to do with. Ser Arys might be a romantic, but it makes him a sap who believes blatant Lannister propaganda – the common folk are actually reacting to the comet by “calling it the Dragon’s Tail” – and who will be manipulated to his death in Dorne. More importantly, Arys’ sense of chivalry doesn’t mask an inherent weakness of character – for all that he believes in the ideals of knighthood, and “once he even objected when Joffrey commanded him to hit her,” the reality is that “he did hit her in the end, but not as hard as Ser Meryn or Ser Boros might have, and at least he had argued.”  Arys wants to be a true knight and looks the part, but unlike Dunk or Ser Barristan or Brienne of Tarth, he doesn’t have the inward moral fortitude to stick to his vows when they conflict with the dictates of authority. The surface appearance of courtly love and romantic ideals are there, but not the reality.

And Sansa herself has seen through that surface, and become disillusioned as a result. However, while I’ve argued that a big part of George R.R Martin’s project in A Song of Ice and Fire is to deconstruct a lot of the tropes and cliches of fantasy, I don’t think he’s ever done so from a cynical or a nihilistic perspective. He wants to show the contrast between the ideal and the reality of the Middle Ages, but very much from the perspective of a disappointed romantic. There’s no better evidence for this than this chapter, as Sansa reflects on the difference between the paltry tourney for Joffrey’s birthday and the days of yore:

“She remembered the splendor of it: the fields of pavilions along the river with a knight’s shield hung before each door, the long rows of silken pennants waving in the wind, the gleam of sunlight on bright steel and gilded spurs. Those had been the most magical days of her life, but they seemed a memory from another age now. Robert Baratheon was dead, and her father as well, beheaded for a traitor on the steps of the Great Sept of Baelor. Now there were three kings in the land, and war raged beyond the Trident while the city filled with desperate men.”

If Sansa had reacted to the death of her father and her current imprisonment by going the Full Littlefinger, and becoming nothing more than a cynical, emotionless manipulator, most of the drama would fall out of her story. But a Sansa who still yearns for something good to happen, some heroism left in the world – once again, mirroring the reader’s reaction to a fictional world in which the good guys die and the bad guys triumph – that’s a Sansa who still has something to strive for and something to lose.

Surviving Joffrey

Sansa’s major preoccupation in this chapter is simply surviving and trying to avoid Joffrey’s domestic violence – which brings up the subject of how the fandom has reacted to this storyline. In this chapter, Sansa’s lady’s courtesy has now become a survival strategy in the same way of many domestic violence victims:  “the king was growing bored. It made Sansa anxious. She lowered her eyes and resolved to keep quiet, no matter what. When Joffrey Baratheon’s mood darkened, any chance word might set off one of his rages.” As I’ll discuss in a moment, this context is critically important for the stakes of Sansa’s actions later in this chapter – any action on her part brings the risk of being beaten. And yet, much of the audience seems to look past this when they critique Sansa for being a “passive” character.

On one level, readers’ discomfort with Sansa’s plotline makes sense – Sansa’s plotline, especially in ACOK and ASOS, is a masterwork of constantly building tension, with Sansa as the protagonist of a prison escape drama crossed over with court intrigue, so it’s meant to make the reader feel uncomfortable, frustrated, and desperate for something to happen (just like Sansa is feeling!). However, something has to be said about the specifically gendered problem that some readers have with Sansa. We’re all familiar with reactions to news stories about violence against women, where people (mostly men) respond by blaming the victim for not being the right kind of victim, for staying in the relationship or the apartment with their abusers, for not fighting back, for being passive. Hence the imaginary heroics of people who say they would marshal hypothetical martial arts skills to beat down their attackers, the brave assertions that they would leave or call the cops or die bravely, etc. etc. ad nausea. It’s an odd mix of misogyny and a kind of empathy gone wrong, where the reader imagines themselves in the shoes of the victim, and responds to the fear and helplessness not with sympathy or anger at the abuser but projecting anger back at the victim who inspired these feelings.

The same thing is happening here – Sansa’s in a position where that same cocktail of fear and helplessness apply, but unlike the standard of fantasy tropes, there’s no heroic figure to deliver her from danger, and even when the monster is slain, there’s no return to status quo, only further danger. And unfortunately, part of the readership has reacted to that in a rather sexist fashion that really fails to go beneath the surface. Take for example the argument that Sansa doesn’t resist her predicament – while it’s true that Sansa doesn’t stab Joffrey in the chest and vault over the walls of the Red Keep, in this chapter, she’s always quietly resisting, whether it’s a case of snarking off to Joffrey:

“…your traitor brother. Maybe I’ll feed him to wolves after I’ve caught him. Did I tell you, I intend to challenge him to single combat?”

“I should like to see that, your grace.” More than you know. Sansa kept her tone cool and polite, yet even so Joffrey’s eyes narrowed as he tried to decide whether she was mocking him.” 

…or continuing to resist Lannister propaganda by insisting on remaining a Stark loyalists in the safety of her own mind, as when she watches Janos Slynt’s son in the tourney: “I hope he falls and shames himself, she thought bitterly. I hope Ser Balon kills him. When Joffrey proclaimed her father’s death, it had been Janos Slynt who seized Lord Eddard’s severed head by the hair and raised it on high for king and crowd to behold, while Sansa swept and screamed.”  Interestingly, of all the many captives in A Song of Ice and Fire (Theon and Jeyne Poole, arguably Daenerys re: Drogo), Sansa is one of the few who never gives into Stockholm Syndrome – she knows who her enemies really are and will not give up on that, no matter what. There is an existential victory there, and if you don’t believe me, ask Winston Smith.

Saving Ser Dontos

Indeed, Sansa just can’t stop herself from resisting, so possessed is she of “a queer giddy courage.” Thus, the case of Ser Dontos Hollard, the drunkard knight whom Sansa saves from a most painful death:

“the crowd was howling with laughter…all but the king. Joffrey had a look in his eyes that Sansa remembered well, the same look he’d had at the Great Sept of Baelor…Sansa heard herself gasp. “No, you can’t.”

Joffrey turned his head. “What did you say?”

She could not believe she had spoken. Was she mad? To tell him no in front of half the court? She hadn’t meant to say anything, only…Ser Dontos was drunk and silly and useless, but he meant no harm…He knew she was lying, she could see it. He would make her bleed for this.” 

As I suggested before, the stakes are important here – Sansa isn’t changing her Facebook icon or signing a petition from the safety of distance. She’s standing up against an insane tyrant and risking a beating, and that’s an act of impressive heroism from a 12 year old with no support system and virtually no resources to her name. However, it’s a kind of heroism we don’t see a lot of in fantasy – it’s the heroism of being a good person, someone who stands up for people being abused. Normally in fantasy, evil is overcome through action – even Frodo gets a chance to swing a sword now and again. But we rarely see a peasant organizing a general strike as a means of overcoming oppression, and few fantasy novels revolve around preventing wars through diplomacy.

Moreover, Sansa’s heroism here has huge implications – it’s formative in getting Sandor to break out of passive dislike of the power structure and his loyalty to someone wholly unworthy of it, which in turn has huge implications for Arya’s survival later. Likewise, as I’ll discuss more in the What If? section, her saving Dontos is absolutely pivotal. In her own way, Sansa is changing the world around her, just like her sister.

The Kids Are (Mostly) All Right

Another theme in this chapter is that, really for the first time, we get a picture of Joffrey by way of contrast with the rest of his family. And as if in silent rebuke to everyone who claims that genetics are responsible for Joffrey’s psychotic mentality, we find out that Tommen and Myrcella, who share a lot more genetic material with Joffrey than most siblings do*, are actually decent people.

* Specifically, Tywin and Joanna Lannister had 12.5% shared DNA, which should boost Jaime and Cersei’s shared DNA above the normal 50% for fraternal twins, which for their kids in turn gets boosted by their incest by another 25%. Feel free to correct me on this point.

Tommen is described as a rather rambunctious, good-natured child who’s generally pleasant to Sansa although he clearly doesn’t understand that she’s there as a prisoner rather than his future in-law, as “plump little Prince Tommen jumped up eagerly” for his turn at the quintain, defies his brother in so doing, but then gets up for a second run at the thing despite getting “spilled from the saddle.” Sansa goes so far as to give him the stamp of approval that “he reminded her of her own little brother, Bran.” Interestingly, Tommen seems to have imbibed the same Lannister-first identity as his older brother, crying out “Casterly Rock” rather than say “the Red Keep” or “Storm’s End.”

credit to sirHeartsalot

Myrcella is described as both more intelligent than Joffrey, easily outarguing him on the issue of Tommen getting to joust – ” “Mother said I could ride.” “She said,” Princess Myrcella agreed. “Mother said,” mocked the king. “Don’t be childish.” “We’re children,” Myrcella declared haughtily. “We’re supposed to be childish.” – and in terms of simple human decency when Tommen is hurt, “Oh,” Princess Myrcella cried. She scrambled out of the box and ran to her little brother.” Indeed, she’s clearly the most intelligent and strong-willed of the three, and it’s easy to see why others have looked to her as a Queen Regnant.

By contrast, Joffrey’s sadism – his beating of Sansa, his joy at the thought of Viserys’ death, his fondness for “making men fight to the death,” his call to have Ser Dontos murdered without cause (always a bad sign when a royal forgets that knights have the right to due process via trial by combat at the very least), his casual talk of mass murder, etc. – stands out even more by contrast. Ditto his lack of empathy (“your brother might be hurt.” Joffrey shrugged. “What if he is?”) and lack of emotional affect (“I am sorry for your loss as well, Joffrey.” “What loss?” “Your royal father?” “Oh, him. Yes, it was very sad, a boar killed him.”) Given the similarity in their DNA, and the similarity in their upbringing, Joffrey’s evil has less of a cause, and makes it feel more like the “born evil” trope often seen in pedophobic fiction (Rosemary’s Baby, the Omen,  The Good Son, etc.).

This is only emphasized by Tyrion’s relationships with his double-nephews and double-niece. Tyrion loves and is loved by Tommen and Myrcella, but Joffrey clearly hates him (and the feeling is mutual) and is a leading candidate in the attempt on Tyrion’s life later – more on this in future chapters.

A Word on Tyrion

One of the really difficult issues I’m going to have to get into in ACOK is Sansa’s relationship with Tyrion, or rather the lack of same. In the fandom, this is a constant source of conflict, involving defenders of Sansa, defenders of Tyrion, detractors of either or both, and Sansa/Tyrion shippers, and issues of both sexism and ableism. I’m going to try to navigate these waters as best I can, as someone who’s not particularly a partisan of either side but also as someone who (as an able cishet white dude) can’t speak from experience here.

The plain fact is that Sansa experiences here the absolute reverse of love at first sight when she meets her future husband for the second time: “He held the reins in his left hand and carried his right arm in a white silk sling, but otherwise looked as grotesque as Sansa remembered from when he had visited Winterfell. With his bulging brow and mismatched eyes, he was still the ugliest man she had ever chanced to look upon.” And yes, this reaction is absolutely grounded in Westerosi standards of beauty, and how those are constructed by both ableism and sexist conceptions of both gender roles – as we’ll see in ASOS, a good deal of the way in which Tyrion faces ableist discrimination is gendered, as he is seen as a “halfman,” has deep anxieties about his manliness both in sexual and military terms, and generally has difficulty performing masculinity as expected of him by Westerosi society.

However, if we’ve learned one good thing from third-wave feminism, it’s that (as long as all parties are consenting adults on a level playing field) it’s no good to try to discipline sexual desire to fit a political line – the loins want what they want. Right or wrong, Sansa isn’t attracted to Tyrion and it’s a doomed effort to force desire where there is none.

At the same time, while Tyrion wants to be a good person and help Sansa, there never really was any possibility that a relationship founded on trust could emerge – not because of shortcomings or mistakes by either party, but simply because of an issue of timing. Tyrion and Sansa are thrown together after the death of Ned Stark (to say nothing of the Red Wedding), and nothing can fix that: “He speaks more gently than Joffrey, she thought, but the queen spoke to me gently too. He’s still a Lannister, her brother and Joff’s uncle, and no friend. Once she had loved Prince Joffrey with all her heart, and admired and trust his mother, the queen. They had  repaid that love and trust with her father’s head. Sansa would never make that mistake again.”

Historical Analysis:

In terms of historical comparisons in Sansa I:

  • the proposed method of executing Ser Dontos goes straight back to Shakespeare’s version of the Wars of the Roses. Edward IV’s treacherous brother, George of Clarence, famously was put in the Tower of London for high treason by way of hiring an astronomer from Oxford University to predict the date of King Edward’s death, a crime known as “imagining and compassing” the death of the King. He was found guilty and formally attainted by Act of Parliament, and then quietly executed in 1478. While most likely his head was removed by sword or axe, Shakespeare tarted up the event by having Richard III’s henchmen murder him by drowning him in a “butt of malmsey wine.” (George was known for being something of a drunk, and having the means of death be drowning in liquor) A butt is an archaic unit of liquid storage, equivalent to about 120 gallons, and malmsey was a rather expensive imported wine from the Canary Islands, a rather sweet Mediera.
  • Prince Tommen’s historical parallel is a bit tricky – can’t find any particular mentions of a prince who was crazy into cats – but if we take as our starting point that Tyrion is a parallel of Richard III and that Robert Baratheon bears some similarities to Edward IV, then Tommen resembles Richard of York, the younger of the two Princes of the Tower, especially in the way that he is supposedly threatened by Tyrion and “disappears” from the Red Keep. Thankfully, Tommen seems to be a bit luckier than his medieval counterpart, and has survived to be crowned.
  • By the same logic, Myrcella’s temporal twin would be Elizabeth of York. As a scion of the House of York, Elizabeth’s hand in marriage offered political legitimacy to whoever wed her, as both Richard III and Henry Tudor vied to marry her and thereby add her claim to the throne to theirs. While Elizabeth was never attacked as Myrcella will be, the intersection of her birth order and Dornish law will make her very much a powerful factor in the game of thrones.

What If?

There’s only one major hypothetical I can see here:

  • Ser Dontos dies – this one is hugely, if subtly, consequential. Without Ser Dontos to provide an alternative route out of King’s Landing, it’s quite possible that Sansa takes up Sandor Clegane’s offer to take her out of King’s Landing during the chaos. What would happen after that is entirely up for debate – possibly Sansa is taken back to Riverrun, but who knows what the Hound wants without money as a motivating factor.
  • If Sansa elects to stay, things still diverge quite substantially – if Sansa doesn’t have Ser Dontos to confide in about the offer to marry her to Willas Tyrell, it’s quite possible that the Tyrells’ plan isn’t leaked to Petyr Baelish, which in turn may mean that the Lannisters never get word of it, butterflying away the Tyrion/Sansa wedding. The murder of Joffrey likely goes ahead as scheduled, but probably with Sansa smuggled out to Highgarden – in turn, this short-circuits Brienne’s mission in AFFC, unless she confines it to looking for Arya.
  • One of the issues I’ll need to confront in the future that I’ve yet to form a definitive opinion on is what the Tyrells’ overall political strategy was if they had gotten Sansa and her claim to Winterfell. Were the ng  planning to push the Lannisters from power altogether and build their own majority government under a Tommen puppet? Were they planning to try to force some kind of peace (after all, their offer to Sansa predates the Red Wedding by two months) between the Starks and Lannisters? Or were they considering changing sides once again – after all, Tywin’s only winning because of his Tyrell alliance and nothing stops the Tyrells from allying with Rob and eliminating the competition? Or was this just good dynastic politics?
  • If Sansa marries Willas – how do the Tyrells put their claim to the North into effect after Rob’s death? There must be a Stark in Winterfell and Willas is the heir to Highgarden so he can’t leave the south – maybe the plan is to have their second son made the heir to Winterfell, since the oldest couldn’t really rule both Highgarden and Winterfell? For that matter, how do the Lannisters and the Boltons organize the North, post-Red Wedding? Certainly, the Lannisters can offer Roose Bolton the title of Warden of the North, but his claim to Winterfell would be badly damaged, and the marriage to even a fake Arya would lack legitimacy – even if the male Starks are wiped out, the older sister should inherit before the younger.

Book vs. Show:

While the show makes the tourney a much smaller affair, and definitely diminishes the role of Tommen and Myrcella, I think Sophie Turner’s acting is impeccable in this scene – it’s like Sansa stepped straight off the page and onto the screen. Likewise, Rory McCann’s acting is quite good here in an important scene for the Hound/Sansa storyline.

While many people have argued that Sansa’s storyline has been totally botched in the show, I think this scene points to a somewhat different phenomenon. Rather than getting every scene wrong, there’s this weird unevenness, where certain scenes are nailed dead-on and others are either excised or changed or done badly (for example, while I know they didn’t like the scenes they shot with Ser Dontos and Sansa in Seasons 2+3, given that they still went back to him in Season 4, it really feels like they should have done a re-shoot until they got it right). If it was just the former, then I’d write off the show as poorly written and directed, and lower my expectations. However, the fact that it’s the latter makes me very confused about why writers and directors who can do amazing work both in terms of following the text and departing from it, and who seem to have at least a partial handle on these characters, can’t get their batting average up higher.


201 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Sansa I

  1. Abbey Battle says:

    If I had to guess, I would say the sheer scope of both the novels and the geographical area across which the production, as well as the shooting of the TV Series must play out mean that there are so many people involved in the production that some of them are inevitably going to have a less sure-footed approach to the source material than others (or just less luck with the results of the risks they chose to take) – with the inevitable result that some bits are going to be better than others.

    I’d just like to say that your analysis remains as good as ever Maester Steven (also that I suspect House Tyrell is just playing sound politics following the ‘Live long and prosper’ model – or put another way, like House Swann they’re making sure that not all their eggs are in one basket; consider that Willas Tyrell is keeping a careful distance from his In-Laws, probably in the interests of keeping an eye on the old homestead, but possibly with an eye to plausible deniability should House Lannister fall).

  2. David Hunt says:

    As to “Arya” being used as an instrument to make the Boltons the lords of Winterfell, it’s easy to get Sansa out of that line of succession. The crown declares that she was part of Tyrion’s regicide and attaints her as a traitor. I don’t know if this was done, but it should have been since the Lannisters clearly intend for the Bolton to get Winterfell. They provided them with “Arya,” afterall. The only excuses for not having it done that I can see is that Tywin was killed very shortly after Tyrion’s trial. It might have been Tywin’s plan to formally try Sansa in absentia after Tryion was convicted, and Cercei could have easily dropped that ball. I’m sure that as the current situation stands, whoever controls Tommen could put the proper document in front of him to sign and seal.

  3. Claire M says:

    This is one of the best character analyses of Sansa that I’ve ever seen. She is my favorite character, and I love how her storyline is so subtle, yet so important.
    I had never thought to connect the fandom’s hatred of Sansa to modern-day victim blaming, either.
    Extremely well-done, as usual, I look forward to these every week.

  4. Petyr Patter says:

    The Mace Tyrell strategy seems to be claim as much prestige, authority, and titles as they can, while Olenna Tyrell does everything she can to make sure these choices don’t blow up and reverse the tide, with or without Mace Tyrell knowing.

    Sansa was a highly desirable bride from the very beginning. Wilas needed to be married anyways, and here was their chance. I don’t think they planned on a short term claim to the North, but the possibility of Tywin pulling a “Reynes of Castamere” meant Sansa might one day have value. The North is a fantastic prize for a second son.

    Also, it is worth noting that that Sansa is descendant on the maternal line from House Tully and House Whent, meaning they could claim either Riverrun or Harrenhall in her name. Once again, though, these are longterm prospects.

    On another note, I do believe Joffrey was “born wrong.” It probably wasn’t DNA, but I think Martin is making a point about hereditary kings. Sometimes, the guy in line has absolutely no business being there, but Tywin Lannister kills thousands to keep him there. There is almost no way Joffrey could have held onto power on his own longterm, and Olenna thought she was doing everyone (except Sansa and Tyrion whom she framed) a favor when she killed him.

    Of course, the murder set into a series events that saw Tywin dead, Oberyn dead, Myrcella maimed, Loras on death’s bed, and Maragery a prisoner of the faith. Currently, the Reach is under attack by Iron Born, while a new young pretender marches on Storm’s End.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      In all honesty the chance of acquiring another of the original Seven Kingdoms for the cost of a bride-cloak means that Lady Sansa is a pretty good prize for a firstborn son to boot (just ask young Willas Tyrell … actually you’re probably better off asking his grandmother or his sister, since we all know which side of the family gets to keeps brains!).

      • I think that’s a bit overdone – Loras is straightforward and Mace is an idiot, but Garlan seems to have more going on, and Willas is his grandmother’s favorite and pen-pals with the Red Viper. You don’t get to be that by being a dummy.

        • David Hunt says:

          Agreed. Mace is an idiot and the thing that he cares more about than ANYTHING his sons is whether they’re a great tourney knight. It’s no wonder that Loras would be his favorite given those criteria. As I recall he pushed both the older sons into the same meat grinder which is how Willas ended up maimed. It says good things about his character that Willis didn’t hold a grudge against the Red Viper. He’d have probably been a better husband for Sansa than anyone else that she ever had a chance to married to. I realize that’s a REALLY low bar to clear (Joffrey, Tyrion, Sweet Robin, etc)

          • Winnie says:

            Yeah, I agree. I always thought that Sansa/Willas might have actually been a good match.

        • Abbey Battle says:

          I must admit that I was deliberately going a bit over-the-top for my own nefarious purposes, in this case to make a joke at the expense of half Highgarden!

    • Sean C. says:

      Minor point about the first part, a lot of analyses of the Tyrells assume take Olenna at her word that she doesn’t agree with a lot of Mace’s decisions, etc., but I don’t think there’s any reason to do so. She tells Sansa that, but that’s arguably just part of her whole facade; given how capable she is, if she really disagreed with how Mace was steering things, one imagines she could have done something about it. Now, she clearly supplements Mace’s plans with her own (as with the Joffrey/Tommen switch), but as to overall strategic goals, I don’t think they really differ. If she hadn’t wanted the Lannister alliance, or the alliance with Renly before that, I don’t think either would have happened.

      • David Hunt says:

        I’m not sure that’s true. Keep in mind communications are much slower than we’re used to and even the raven network can only send fairly short messages that you risk being intercepted. If Olenna and Mace are in separate places her influence on his decisions is greatly lessened. I’m not saying that she didn’t want the alliance with Renly and then the Lannisters, but she could have been leagues away when Mace committed them.

        • Sean C. says:

          At least as described by Littlefinger, Olenna was definitely present when the Lannister alliance was being negotiated, and I imagine the deal with Renly was done after he and Loras fled to Highgarden.

          • David Hunt says:

            Yeah, I’d expect Olenna to have been at Highgarden when Renly and Loras made the deal with Mace. I remember that that is where they were headed when they fled the capital after Robert’s death. However, I’m not sure that Olenna has more influence over Mace than Loras does. Loras if clearly the favorite son due to his skill in tourneys (yes, a stupid criterion, but it’s Mace). He might have discounted her advice because Loras wanted them to throw in with his lover. Also, short of black magic, it would probably have gotten Margaery installed as queen and (theoretically) her son as the next king.

          • lann says:

            I’m not sure I agree about Renly. I think that Lady Olenna might have had a part in the original plot to replace Cersei with Margaery but I do believe that she really was against the coronation of Renly. As Steven stated in his hollow crowns essay on Renly and Stannis, Renly ending up king of Westeros would have subverted the primogeniture rule and it would possibly have caused chaos in pretty much every single noble family in Westeros down the line. Olenna probably sees that but she could not sway Mace who saw this as an ultimate opportunity. So she decided to make the best of the situation.

  5. Winnie says:

    Great analysis as always Steve. I think too many readers (like Queen C) seriously misjudged S. And I agree a big reason for the hatred she sometimes inspires is the fear we would be equally helpless in her circumstances.

    Also great catch about how she’s one hostage who doesn’t fall to Stockholm syndrome. She has the ability to silently endure. It isn’t glamorous but its of incalculable value in the Realm these days.

    • Wat Barleycorn says:

      Agreed–I missed the Stockholm point, and I think it’s really cool. It’s especially surprising given her young age and the fact that her father is the one who betrothed her to the monstrous Joffrey. I can see her being like “Yeah, Stark = dumb and dead. I’m gonna be something else.”

      Though unlike Theon, Jeyne, & Daenerys she wasn’t given a clear social role to facilitate the Stockholm. She was the betrothed who looked less and less likely to marry the King, which made her…um… So going Stockholm was harder for her because she’d have had to devise her own identity rather than step into an existing social role (prostitute, vile court jester Reek, Khaleesi).

      I find myself admiring Sansa for not succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome. And I’m not sure if I should.

      Daenerys stands as a good story about the adaptive utility of Stockholm Syndrome. If you are in a strange land and have no reason to believe you’ll get out of there, it is much better for your long-term survival to take a “When in Rome” attitude. And the more genuine your conversion, the better you’ll probably be at playing your part and prospering.

      Viserys, on the other hand, never suffered Stockholm Syndrome. Look where it got him. And it’s because he was a terrible, self-absorbed and entitled person. I feel like Sansa skipped out on it for other reasons (her loving childhood being probably the key one), but it’s not like failing to go Stockholm is necessarily a sign of good character. Or even a strong one.

      Anyway, such a cool thing to notice! Thank you!

      • Chris says:

        Viserys couldn’t suffer Stockholm Syndrome because he wasn’t a captive. He insisted on traveling with the Dothraki and was free to leave at any time.

        You’re right that Stockholm Syndrome is a useful survival mechanism, but being able to endure without it certainly isn’t a flaw.

  6. Sean C. says:

    I don’t think the death of Dontos has the implications laid out, at least not necessarily. Fundamentally, Littlefinger needed a patsy, and if Dontos would not have served, he would have found another. Now, a replacement would lack the “you saved me” card to explain why he was ostensibly helping her, but the only reason Dontos really needed that was because he was so obviously a schmuck and so he had to sell himself to Sansa as a potential rescuer. Sansa’s internal dialogue in her next chapter makes it clear that she’s thrilled by the thought of a potential rescuer and imagines various suitably distinguished knights who might be making the offer (i.e., Balon Swann), so if he’d sent somebody who at least halfway looked the part I think he could have achieved largely the same result (in some respects, actually, a better result, because Dontos’ ineptitude led to Sansa backing out of the whole thing or considering doing so on multiple occasions).

    In the absence of Dontos, it might have made the most sense, actually, to use one of the Kettleblack brothers.

    • I don’t think Sansa would have trusted any of them.

      Dontos was so hapless he didn’t seem threatening.

      • Sean C. says:

        But we know from Sansa’s thoughts that a knightly rescuer was eminently believable to her. Dontos’ problem was that he didn’t correspond with what she thought such a rescuer would look like.*

        * This is to an extent a sign of her continued romanticism, but at the bottom she correctly assesses that Dontos isn’t terribly competent, so her wishing for a more able rescuer is hardly just naivete.

        • Sure, but Baelish doesn’t have any of those, otherwise he would have used them. The Kettleblacks are skeevy sellswords without titles, Lothor Brune is a good fighter, but not trained in the courtly arts.

          • Sean C. says:

            I’m sure he could have found one if necessary.

          • I don’t know if he could – LF’s resources aren’t infinite, and one of the defining signatures of his conspiracies is that they revolve around using people like him who come from the bottom rungs of the nobility. At the time, I don’t think he could have pulled someone who fit the bill.

      • Petyr Patter says:

        How about Jeyne Poole? Sansa would trust her, though she might have more “issues” than even Dontos.

        Ultimately, I think Littlefinger can find someone to fill Dontos’s role, one way or another.

        • Jeyne Poole, maybe…but he runs a significant risk that her loyalty to Sansa may be greater.

          • Winnie says:

            And LF might have his own reasons for not wanting to lose a potential Fake Arya-or letting Sansa see what Jeyne had to endure at the brother in her “training.”

          • Sean C. says:

            I can think of a number of practical issues why using Jeyne wouldn’t really work (among other things, she’s not supposed to be in the Red Keep, unlike Dontos), but loyalty to Sansa I don’t think is one of them, seeing as they both desperately want to get out of King’s Landing, and there’s no real reason for either to think that going with Littlefinger would be worse than where they already are (and indeed, it isn’t, really; Sansa’s position with Littlefinger is far from ideal, but she’s pretty clearly better off than where she was before).

          • Right, but that’s problematic as well – LF wants as few people as possible to know that he’s involved, and Jeyne Poole would be a major loose end there.

          • David Hunt says:

            Steven @2:09, definitely agree regarding Jeyne. She brings in too many complication for LF to use her on Sansa. She might remember her loyalties and spill more than the story that Sansa is supposed to hear. Worst of all is what he does with her when the job’s done. She’d know waaay too much. Enough to get him convicted of treason and beheaded (if he was lucky in the sentence), but if he kills her he alienates Cat Sansa by killing her friend. Also, even if he separates them and has her done away with after she’s gone, Sansa is likely smart enough to figure it out eventually. He’s grooming her to think like him, afterall. He can’t take her with him, either.

            In addition to the danger that Jeyne would spill something (perhaps about her “education”) to Sansa or anyone else, LF simply wouldn’t want Jeyne around Sansa because he wants to be her only support mechanism. It’s a tried and true strategy of domestic abusers to cut off the victim from all previous family and friends to the maximum extent possible. For LF to mold Sansa into the 2nd generation Cat that he fantasizes about, he needs to have total control of her.

          • Another thing I hadn’t thought of – so atm Jeyne is being tortured both physically and psychologically into thinking she’s Arya of House Stark. Sansa would flip out if her old friend suddenly went nuts and started claiming to be her sister.

          • Petyr Patter says:

            Ask yourselves this, How badly did Littlefinger want to get his hands on Sansa? I think the answer is A LOT. He would have found a way. He had time, intelligence, and money. Whether it is using Jeyne Poole, having the Kettleblacks just grab her, or bribing Varys, he would have made some attempt. For example, he didn’t make Joffrey or Tyrion insult each other during the wedding feast, but created a situation (dwarf jousters) where they were likely to insult each other anyways. Arranging for somebody else to pose as a victim of Joffrey’s cruelty was another option. Part of what makes Littlefinger so dangerous is he creates opportunities as much as he exploits them.

            A dead Ser Dontos (earlier) is one What If I think doesn’t change much.

          • His resources aren’t infinite though. If the Kettleblacks just try to abduct her, there’s a very good chance they get caught and that goes straight back to LF. Varys would simply abduct her himself, screw LF.

  7. Sean C. says:

    Also, they never shot anything with Dontos in season 3. They said they discarded Dontos’ role in favour of having her interact with Littlefinger directly because they prefer to have main castmembers in scenes together.

  8. empire25 says:

    Full Littlefinger is a great phrase. If I am a cynical, disenchanted and aggressive nerd, is there a socially acceptable level of Littlefinger? Maybe a quarter to a third Littlefinger?

    On a more serious note, in terms of Misogyny, I have noted that a lot of male readers and viewers of various works like the idea of having female characters, but only if they are stripped of as many feminine attributes as possible. Dany comes in for similar criticism even though she is conquering cities with dragons, just because she likes her hunks. Well, lots of women do. It does make me a little uncomfortable that the one female character who is universal beloved has very little in the way of feminine attributes (which is different in the show, and mostly because Arya is 11 in the books).

    No one would hesitate at calling similar treatment to non-white characters racism, and so Martins work should encourage others to demand that female characters get better treatment.

    • I think that’s a fair argument.

    • There’s also the habit of criticizing female characters for being attracted to good-looking men and/or not being attracted to physically unattractive men (especially those who are popular in the fandom). As Steve points out, you can’t command desire to appear if it’s not there, so that’s generally an absurd line of thinking. But it’s noticeable that none of the male characters are ever criticized as shallow or prejudiced for simply not being attracted to physically unattractive women – e.g. Tyrion himself is only attracted to conventionally good-looking women, expresses disgust for Lollys, and doesn’t return Penny’s feelings, but he doesn’t get criticized for that, while Sansa and Dany are hated for not being attracted to Tyrion or Quentyn/Jorah, respectively (even if they have a load of other excellent reasons to not see those men as desirable husbands – which is a real understatement in Sansa’s case).

  9. David Hunt says:

    Just a general comment as to you giving me a new way to think about Sansa. I was never someone who disliked her. I didn’t even find her sections of the books dull, because there’s usually something going on around her even if she’s not taking action. It had also slipped past me how unusual it was that Sansa never changes her loyalties. Even when she’s basically running the Eryie for Littlefinger, I don’t get the impression that she has the slightest loyalty to him. As you note, most people in her situation would have succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome in a much shorted time than she was held captive. I hadn’t consciously noted that, but I realized that I’d absorbed the idea of her courage without noticing so when I read it, I thought, “Oh, of course.”

    • Yeah. I’m really looking forward to her big moment in TWOW, if my prediction is anywhere close to accurate.

      • Winnie says:

        Aren’t we all? I’m kinda hoping Sansa protects SR from LF.

        • I think Sweetrobin is a goner, but I’m hoping for LF to get some major comeuppance.

          • Winnie says:

            Well, sometimes I wonder if the reason everyone keeps harping on the idea that SR doesn’t survive until adulthood, is so that the kid can surprise everyone and actually live.

            But yeah, I think we all need to see LF get his, and it happening by Sansa’s hands would be PERFECT. After twenty years, I think we’re all ready to see the Starks *personally* be the ones to get some vengeance on the people who’ve hurt them and the Lannister’s have all been destroying themselves.

          • JT says:

            I don’t know…the idea of Littlefinger being “unmasked”, kicked out of the Vale, and eaten by Lady Stoneheart seems a little fan-servicey to me. I can see that happening to the bad guy in a lesser book/series, but Martin isn’t usually that tropey: characters do often reap what they sow, but much later than you’d expect and almost always in a less than obvious way.

          • The eating part is the more fanservicey element.

            But unmasking I’m willing to bet money on.

          • Andrew says:

            I have to agree with Winnie regarding Robert Arryn.

            Also, I think Sansa is more likely to kill LF when he tries to rape than unmask him. I think that is what LF”s advances have been building up to. One theory is that Sansa “beheads” him with a dagger just like she did Robert’s doll.

          • James SC says:

            The next short story by Martin will take place 100 years into the future and the only characters still alive will be TreeBran, SweetRobin, and Ser Pounce.

      • David Hunt says:

        Yeah, and the Vale is a place where the phrase “Are there no true knights among you?” from a lady of impeccable breeding is a stinging rebuke. I admit that I’m sentimental about that turn of phrase ever since Baelor Breakspear came riding out in answer to it.

    • Winnie says:

      It’s also worth noting, that Cersei in AFFC, was bitterly hating on Sansa, precisely because the Lannister style brainwashing she attempted there didn’t work. No, Sansa wasn’t actually culpable in Joffrey’s murder, but in retrospect, Cersei did seriously underestimate the little she-wolf.

      • Maddy says:

        The Cersei-Sansa relationship is kind of interesting. It’s these really twisted mother-daughter dynamic. I kind of wonder if she thought Sansa was a possible candidate as the ‘younger more beautiful queen’ or only considered Margaery? She definitely makes the mistake of assuming acting demure or quiet or traditionally ‘feminine’ = stupidity (to be fair as much as I love Sansa she wasn’t the brightest in the first book although she learns really quickly)

    • Roger says:

      I agree. Sansa wants to survive, but she is growing suspicious of Baelish.

  10. hertolo says:

    I always assumed the Hounds principal plan after blackwater was to get into the good graces of the North. He doesn’t seem like the type to want to cross the narrow sea (and learn a new language), so the only option he has of staying in Westeros are the other rebellious factions. He can’t disguise himself as everybody seems to recognize him due to his unique facial scars (whereas a “normal” man could much easier just vanish while still being in the same kingdom). So he needs the asyle and rescuing Sansa allows him the leverage for Robb to accept him while if he turned up alone he’d probably be turned down or arrested. And he can’t really go back to the Lannisters as well after blackwater. In short, I don’t see money ever being the main reason for the hound. Please disprove me with textual evidence from the books, but that may just be ‘big talk’ by the hound.

    It is amazing though how such a small change as Dontos would have butterfly effects all over the place.

    Another explanation for the Willas-Sansa match may lie within Reach politics we know nothing about as of know. Maybe the Tyrells didn’t want him to marry within the region (to say a Tarly daughter) to not make this family or that one stronger. And these families can’t feel slighted if Willas marries from one of the oldest and prominent families, but they could feel that way if the bride was from a tier 2 family from the Stormlands or Westerlands. (And there don’t seem to be good matches from another tier 1 family as well).

    • Andrew says:

      In ASOS, the Hound tells Arya that Robb would be smart if he took Sandor into his service so your points have some textual backing.

      The Hound’s motivation to saving the Stark girls is definitely deeper than money. Maybe the Hound was close to his sister, the one who mysteriously died?

      • lann says:

        I admit its a lot of assumptions but: Lets say that the hound takes Sansa to Riverrun. Assuming he is not waylaid by the brotherhood he would arrive there before the red wedding. The Freys might request her hand as part of the price for reconciliation but she might get out of that (Edmure is a bigger prize). The Red wedding goes ahead only with Sansa present to witness the death of her brother and mother (and the Hound). The Frey keep her hostage. So potentially going with the Hound would have made her life even worse and that’s saying something.

      • It would be great if we knew more about his sister – for starters, how young she was when she died and how young Sandor was. The History and Lore segment about House Clegane claims that Sandor barely remembers her, but I don’t know if that has any bearing on book canon.

        In any case, I do suspect that the dead sister is important for Sandor’s psychological makeup and his relationships with the Stark girls, but I think it’s probably less about either of them reminding him of her and more about general trauma of losing a sister and being unable to protect her, and how this influences his desire to save and protect little girls.

        But I’ve always thought that Sandor’s dynamics with Sansa and Arya were more about him seeing himself in them. With Sansa, although there are other elements there (she is also a beautiful, courteous highborn lady, a representation of everything that’s out of his reach and of the type of women who would look him in the face and be disgusted), he sees her as an innocent, naive romantic who believes in true knights, which simultaneously frustrates him and reminds him of himself as an innocent boy, before Gregor burned his face and killed his sister and father, other people covered it up (his father actually covered up what Gregor did to him – only to eventually be killed by Gregor) and continued to let Gregor get away with it, and even knighted Gregor. Remember, Gregor’s toy that Sandor took was a wooden knight (the symbolism is obvious – it’s a toy that was given to Gregor and that Gregor “didn’t even want”). I think that, beneath Sandor’s cynicism and nihilism, is anger and disappointment of crushed dreams – deep down, he wanted to a true knight and fight for fair ladies just like in the songs.

        And that’s not all; Sandor mocks Sansa, from the second time they talk to each other, for being a “little bird” who just repeats what others tell her. They seem to be so different, but are they really? For all his ranting, all he ever had done is exactly what the Lannisters commanded him to do. He was an obedient “dog” who carried out every order, even though he had no illusions about what his masters were like. He even starts advising her, after her father’s death, how to say what’s expected of her and act obediently in order to survive. It’s only during Blackwater that he finally finds the strength to say no and leave.

        With Arya, the parallels are even more obvious: she is a a traumatized, justifiably angry child who’s lost her family, who feels empty inside and has nothing but hatred and thoughts of revenge to hold onto – just like Sandor has been all these years. The TV show gets it all wrong in trying to give some of Sandor’s “the world is awful” lessons to Arya instead of Sansa: Arya, in the book, already knows all this. The fact that she never stops being antagonistic to him, no matter how much he tries to tell her that he was a good guy who saved Sansa etc., is of utmost importance there: while Sansa influenced Sandor’s change through her empathy and compassion, Arya drove the point that he had become, in many ways, what he hated – he was an abused and bullied child who had become a threatening bully to others (and was used in that capacity by his masters) and in her eyes, he was a bully, an abuser, a villain, just one of the many villains she hated, yet another “Gregor”.

        • I think Sandor represses a lot about her, because he’s pretty sure that just like with his father, Gregor killed her.

          So it’s definitely there in the background.

    • That seems quite reasonable.

      Well, the Tyrells are fairly well-married within their region already. Mace is married to a Hightower, his mother is a Redwyne, and those are two of the biggest houses in the Reach.

      So less of a need.

      • Another idea (he said while wrapping the tinfoil round and round his head…) is that perhaps the Queen of Thorns has a very strong sense of the old Southron Ambitions Conspiracy. And even if there isn’t anyone actively driving the SAC these days, there is still the historically peculiar web of interconnected paramount families.

        Olenna is sharp enough to recognize that in order to have a royal family governing a realm as large and varied as Westeros, said family must either be as distinct as the new-comer, conquering, and physically unique Targareyans. Or… Said royal family must be so interconnected to so many parts of the realm that for anyone to challenge the legitimacy of the royal family they would be essentially attacking the mutual defense pact of the other prominenet families who have a stake in the government.

        So, Olenna recognizes that the Lannisters are ultimately doomed because they’re too greedy. When pressed, Tywin makes some decent attempts at forming a coalition government (bringing in the Tyrells and Dorne, marrying Sansa to Tyrion). But even he lacks the grand vision of how to create a lasting, stable, peace enforcing government in the Westeros.

        But Olenna gets it. She understands LBJ’s adage that you want as many people inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in. And despite their foolishness, the Lannisters might just provide the vehicle to create a grand blending of the major families of the realm, thus eventually creating a monarch who is cousins to all the Lords Paramount.

        This will all probably blow up in a coule generations anyway (ala’ the royal familes of WWI being largely connected via Queen Victoria). But it’s a worthwhile goal.

      • Roger says:

        Mace’s sisters are also well-married. Even Garlan married a Fossoway. So Willas could be kept in reserve for when a good option appears.

  11. Sean C. says:

    Regarding the inconsistent handling of Sansa’s story on the show, I think there’s one weakness in the adaptation that is part of a larger thematic choice. In the course of these posts you’ve done a great job of pulling out all of GRRM’s discourse on chivalric/romantic themes around knighthood and the nature of heroism, which is a big part of Sansa’s growth and several of her key character relationships (Dontos and the Hound, most notably). Bluntly, the writers aren’t interested in any of that. The notion of what makes a true knight, and the way various characters wrestle with that ideal, is removed pretty much completely from the series, not just from Sansa’s story, but also in, for instance, Jaime and Brienne’s, or even Barristan’s (what we’ve seen of him).

    Sansa’s worldview, for instance, is never really painted any more deeply than her being “naive” (which the writers regularly conflate with “stupid”). There’s no discussion of songs, or chivalry, etc., which is especially notable in her interactions with the Hound. Likewise, the Hound’s whole backstory, the fact that he isn’t a knight and his hatred of knights, is never introduced (I think he says “I’m no ser” at one point, but without any further explanation). The only dialogue he has that even comes close to addressing that point is the line about how the world is built by killers (kept from the books), but it’s divorced from its larger context of their dialogue about knighthood. The writers’ handling of Dontos likewise suggests they see him pretty much exclusively as a necklace-delivering boat-rower, not a character with a larger thematic purpose, as again, all the stuff about knighthood is omitted from his dialogue. Even when they increase Sansa’s interactions with Loras in the show, knighthood doesn’t come into it, just an extended joke about how he’s flamingly gay and Sansa doesn’t notice.

    One partial consequence of this is that, in the show, the effects of the Sansa/Hound interactions, such as they are, are pretty much entirely one-way. The Hound is the cynic who tells various hard truths to Sansa, but there’s no corresponding sense that her idealism is rubbing off on him and has any effect on his subsequent actions. I’d say that’s arguably also true of the show’s version of the Jaime/Brienne dynamic, albeit in reverse, as that’s all about Brienne’s idealism making Jaime less of a douchebag. Brienne, while learning to respect Jaime on a personal level, is never shown to be having any preconceived notions about oaths and knighthood challenged, partly because the show version is already a stone-cold killer (her only romantic misconception, such as it is, is her belief that Renly is straight).

    • Maddy says:

      I think Sansa is such an internal character that it’s hard to translate to TV as well. Mental strength is hard to portray as effectively in a visual medium, although I think Sophie Turner does an excellent job with the screentime she gets. The most irritating thing to me was the Sansa-Tyrion wedding and how they gave more focus to Tyrion than Sansa and seemed to be more concerned with making Tyrion be a nice heroic guy than with Sansa’s agency. Am looking forward to seeing what they’re going to do with her storyline now she’s out of King’s Landing though and hopefully viewers start to see her growing political intelligence. Aidan Gillen is definitely laying on the creepy Pedofinger vibe pretty thick.

      • Agreed. But the weird thing is, in that case, why wouldn’t you leave in the moments where she does do things? Why leave out most of the Dontos storyline from Season 2, or so much of the Hound thing?

        And yes – we definitely saw more of her intelligence this last ep.

        • Sean C. says:

          I think the writers of the show to a great extent belong to the class of fans who think Sansa really didn’t do anything meaningful until she fell into Littlefinger’s possession (literally, in the show; they didn’t think it mattered whether she had a role in her own escape, either). In season 2 she basically doesn’t have a plot, and in season 3 they refocused her story to be about all the characters jockeying for control over her, with Sansa appearing only as a dupe. Note that we’re always shown what the actors are doing re: Sansa before we ever see her, so the audience always knows more than she does, and approaches those scenes from the POV of the people acting on her (as with the offer to marry Loras, where the focus is mostly on Varys, Littlefinger and Olenna’s various moves, with Margaery’s offer to Sansa coming at the end of a series of scenes that leave no question about what’s going on, or why; there’s no reason that that story couldn’t have been told from Sansa’s perspective, trying to figure out people’s motives and what was happening around her, with the audience in her shoes, except that the writers weren’t interested in doing it that way).

        • Maddy says:

          I think they have good intentions when it comes to Sansa (although that doesn’t always come across in the show itself and some of their decisions). Definitely agree about Dontos and the Hound though. She is already a character that doesn’t get to have as much agency due to her circumstances, so those seemingly little things actually really matter. In the books Sansa actively takes a risk to meet Dontos and takes the opportunity to escape from the wedding herself which counteracts fan opinion of her being ‘too passive’ (which is kind of a weird sexist critique anyway). I guess I’m more forgiving because they didn’t mishandle her character as badly as Catelyn. Hopefully she gets to be the focus of her own storyline a bit more going forward.

    • Winnie says:

      Very good points, Sean. I wonder if that will change a bit once the show gets to the Vale-where clearly knightly ideals do still play a role, as even the first season scenes in the Eyrie made clear.

    • I’m not sure they have totally pulled it out – Brienne’s pretty clearly being set up as a knight errant.

  12. Amestria says:

    Perhaps Joffrey simply takes after his mother? She’s vicious, cruel, self centered, and not all that intelligent (her scheming is rather sloppy, at times she self sabotages her own war effort, she doesn’t really have any empathy). She was also apparently rather violent as a child, having a servant girl beaten and possibly murdering one of her friends. The big difference is that she grew up in Tywin’s household while Joffrey grew up largely under Cersei’s care. So while she was taught how to outwardly behave and took to heart a poorly understood jumble of distilled Tywin, Joffrey was allowed free reign to his impulses and has taken to heart a poorly understood jumble of distilled Cersei. So Joffrey is Cersei double distilled.

    Tommen and Myrcella’s good nature is possibly the result of taking after Jamie, who had a rather idealistic childhood. Also, they’re younger then Joffrey, maybe their mothers political education just hasn’t registered yet.

    • Winnie says:

      Well Tyrion always thought one reason Tommen and Myrcella were so much nicer than Joffrey was a sort of benign neglect on Cersei’s part towards them-but I agree I do think they picked up better family genes.

      But, Steve, I really do think *something* went haywire in Joffrey’s DNA-like Amestria says he’s an even more extreme version of Cersei-and I don’t think it’s all just environment. (Though it didn’t help.)

      • Yeah, I’ll get to that.

      • ajay says:

        But, Steve, I really do think *something* went haywire in Joffrey’s DNA-like Amestria says he’s an even more extreme version of Cersei-and I don’t think it’s all just environment. (Though it didn’t help.)

        My first thought with regard to Joffrey was “head trauma”. Yes, he’s genetically very similar to his apparently normal siblings. Yes, he’s had the same upbringing. But even a fairly subtle damage to the brain has been linked to sociopathic behaviour. Maybe Robert hit him a bit too hard (or maybe he just fell off a chair or something).

    • Certainly, that’s what Tyrion’s analysis is. More on that later.

    • Well, I don’t think it’s as simple as a character “taking after” one parent or another.

      Regarding nature vs nurture, a personality is a result of both. I don’t think that GRRM portrays Joffrey as “born evil” (or even Ramsey for that matter; but that’s a discussion for some other time). He may be born with some predispositions (he may be a psychopath, and there’s a theory about psychopathy being a result of a physical difference in the brains of psychopaths vs non-psychopaths) but GRRM gives us lots of hints about the terrible parenting (combination of Cersei spoiling him and Robert – and Jaime – completely neglecting him) and absolute power as reasons why he turned out exactly the way he did. True, it’s not all about parenting – Myrcella and Tommen are completely different from Joffrey, but 1) Cersei didn’t spoil them the way she did Joffrey, and they were never prioritized and told that they would be the ruling monarch one day, and 2) while Myrcella and Tommen still wouldn’t have turned out anywhere as bad as Joffrey with worse parenting, Joffrey may not have been as bad as he was with better parenting and upbringing and without being given almost absolute power at age 12.

      However, in addition to this, Joffrey may be supposed to have some sort of a personality disorder, if not exactly mental illness; the popular theory that it’s a result of incest/inbreeding may be true, but only if this kind of psychological disorder runs in the family (which may be the case, looking at Cersei). In that case, it’s perfectly reasonable for his two siblings to not have that disorder at all, due to a different genetic makeup. (I should note that I am not a psychologist, so this is definitely not an expert opinion, just speculation. I also don’t know how much GRRM knows about psychological disorders and mental illness, and if it’s as tenuous as his grasp on genetics).

      • Agreed. I think GRRM went for a somewhat old-fashioned portrait of a psychopath – the cat-killing thing is taken from the MacDonald Triad, a theory that was popularized in the 60s-80s, but was dis-proven by studies in the late 90s and early 00s.

        • JT says:

          In fairness to GRRM, the first book came out in 1996 (and was likely written earlier), so he may have just been going on what was available at the time.

  13. Maddy says:

    This was really good. I seriously don’t understand people that read these books and think Sansa is dumb or passive. She has as much agency as she is realistically able to – those small acts of defiance are important and tend to be overlooked. I think her lack of Stockholm syndrome is interesting too – she definitely very clearly tries to internally maintain her identity. This hopefully portends well for her storyline with Littlefinger and (hopefully) proving to be his downfall eventually (although this is probably my own wish fulfillment). It would be super great if creepy old dudes would stop creeping on Sansa for a minute.

    • Agreed. I definitely think the LF thing is going to happen – the whole business with the maiden with purple serpents slaying the dragon is way too important to just be a doll.

      • Winnie says:

        Exactly. The big question is “how?”

        • Maddy says:

          She still has the hairnet right? I’m pretty much on board with Sansa doing whatever she needs to do to survive, but I can’t really see her actively making a move against him for a while yet or his real plans get revealed (I’m not sure I believe that marrying Sansa to Harry isn’t remotely the whole truth)

  14. somethinglikealawyer says:

    Nice articulation of Sansa. I’d argue that Martin is a touch cynical, in the strain of cynicism where he is disappointed in the brutality and selfishness of human beings. He’s not completely, since there are many characters who do things out of unabashed niceness (Sansa, Jory Cassel), but I’d argue that there’s a little curmudgeon impulse in GRRM’s mind, somewhere.

    For the short of it, I think that Tommen is a naturally sweet kid that picked up on the legendary Robert Baratheon generosity. Certainly, Robert was an absentee parent, but Robert was famous for being big, loud, and generous (unless your name was Targaryen). Part of it also seems to be a response to Joffrey’s sadism. Joffrey is very cruel, and Tommen becomes kind-hearted to compensate.

    I disagree strongly when you mention that Barristan has a strong moral fortitude. He sat and watched while Aerys II burned Rickard. In the matter of Daenerys’s assassination, he protests, much like Arys Oakheart does over the course of Sansa’s beatings. He protests but ultimately acquiesces. Barristan in the White has little moral fortitude to speak of.

    • Thanks!

      On the other hand, Ser Barristan went out of his way to save the Hollards after the Defiance of Duskendale, spoke against Daenerys being executed, and has talked back against Daenerys.

      • somethinglikealawyer says:

        Words are wind, though. It took nothing for Barristan to counsel against the assassination of Daenerys, or to offer contrary advice. There is no risk to providing opposing counsel (maybe not if we’re counting notorious paranoid Aerys II). There’s less evidence that Barristan would pull a Davos moment if he believed the monarch truly wrong.

        Barristan, as I ultimately see it, is a Kingsguard first and a good man second. When the former can lead to the latter and the two are in concert, he does so easily. When the two are in conflict, he takes the Kingsguard path as opposed to the knightly path.

        It might be entirely personal preference or even a basic semantics argument, but someone who does good when unopposed and doesn’t do it when opposed doesn’t strike me as someone with strong moral fortitude.

        • I don’t buy that – for one thing, given that Robert was shouting at the other dissenter about heads on spikes, the whole no consequences thing doesn’t fly (ditto with Aerys II).

          Likewise, Ser Grandfather doesn’t have a problem shattering the peace if he thinks it’s the right thing to do.

          • somethinglikealawyer says:

            Robert’s hotheaded, but no petty sadist. I don’t believe Robert would have ever put a head on a spike for mere disagreement only, and I don’t believe Barristan believed that either.

            Aerys would, but notably Barristan doesn’t backtalk Aerys at his most insane moments (he didn’t truly descend into madness until after Duskendale, he was still quite sane when Barristan intervened for Dontos).

            As for Meereen, Barristan believes the shattering is inevitable.

          • David Hunt says:


            It wasn’t a mere disagreement. It was about a Targaryan. Robert had absolutely no sense of humor about them. The Blackfyres remained a threat to to the Targ dynasty for generations. Robert doesn’t want that. Plus, she’s Rhaegar’s sister. Killing her is like killing him again. It was not mere empty defiance to argue against that killing. Plus, he didn’t have Eddard’s out of resigning his position. The Kingsguard is for life (well at that time it was). If he alienates Robert strongly enough on a subject that he has no chance of swaying him on, he won’t have any influence later. Short of actually losing his head for treason, there’s little more that Selmy could do there

            In the situation of opposing Aerys, he wasn’t in danger of losing his head…as Aerys executer people by burning them alive with wildfyre.

    • kylelitke says:

      I think there’s a difference between what Barristan did (regarding Rickard and Brandon) and what Arys (and the other non Sandor Kingsguard members) did. We’ll never know the answer, but if Aerys had told Barristan to torture and kill the Starks, or if Robert had ordered Barristan to go kill Daenerys, we might have gotten a very different reaction.

      If Barristan was still a member of the Kingsguard at this point, he might have spoken up to try to convince Joffrey not to beat Sansa, but he likely would not have stopped him. However, had Joffrey ordered Barristan to beat Sansa himself, you may have gotten a different reaction and, yes, perhaps a refusal.

      • David Hunt says:

        He might have put a stop to the whole thing. Remember that when Jaime gets back to King’s Landing and talks to the Kingsguard, he points out that Tommen does not have his majority and authority technically is possessed by the Regent. Jaime tells them that if they get a crazy order to go the Cercei or him with it. Selmy could have done that much at least, i.e. try to protect the king from his worst impulses.

        • somethinglikealawyer says:

          It won’t let me respond to your other post.

          Robert’s wanting to execute Daenerys and Viserys, for the political considerations, makes a logical, if cold, point. As Maester Steven argued before, rival claimants plague a ruling family. But it was a council meeting, where arguments for and against were expected to fly.

          Selmy keeping quiet to retain influence makes no sense. By his own admission, Selmy despises those Kingsguard who play the Game of Thrones, and he strives not to be like Cristan Cole.

          There was a lot more Selmy could have done. He could have taken Eddard’s tack, appealed to his honor or masculinity, or at least done more than squeak out a word of protest then fade into the background. He didn’t even support Eddard while he was taking the stand. Selmy did what amounted to nothing.

          Robert, as I’ve argued, isn’t the sort of person to kill someone for back-talking him, even on Targaryen concerns. Eddard did so twice, and his head remained remarkably intact (for the time). Aerys, the king who would actually execute people for back-talk, doesn’t even get the spare empty argument that Robert gets, which I don’t believe was a coincidence.

          Barristan’s moral shame is that he permits his monarch unlimited authority to pursue any and all of their petty tyrannies. It’s not as bad as say, Meryn Trant, who actively participates, but the topic was moral fortitude, and as I’ve mentioned, Barristan firmly lacks moral fortitude in the earlier points of the story, as he doesn’t take a stand when it’s difficult to do so.

          • Bail o' Lies says:

            I think there are two important aspects of Selmy when talking about his character there is Barristan the Bold and Ser Barristan Selmy of the King’s guard.

            The Bold is the part of Selmy that is the perfect knight a man who is chivalrous and completely willing to do the right thing no matter what. we see it when he went to rescues Arys from Duskendale by himself, spoke out to save the life of Dontos, pretended to be the squire Whitebeard to see if Dany was worthy, took control of the city once dany was gone and led the defense of the city among other thing throughout the books.

            The King’s Guard part of Selmy’s is the part that tells himself not to judge his ruler and merely observe. We see this part of him when he stand by when Ned and his men were slaughtered and seemed completely willing to continue to server as commander of the king’s guard under the Lannister until he was kicked out. Also the parts were he seems to try avoid and sugar coat the dark parts of dany’s family his story, and the one who shut up when she is in one of her moods.

            Basically the morally upright part of Selmy’s character is the “Bold” part of the part of him who claps up and does what his is told is the “King’s Guard” part of him.

          • John says:

            We also know that Jon Arryn deflected Robert’s efforts to have Viserys and Daenerys killed.

    • JT says:

      Actually that’s not 100% true re. Barristan. At the end of ADWD, he thinks back to the end of Robert’s Rebellion and mentions that if Robert had so much as smiled when the dead Targaryen children were presented to him (Robert), Barristan would have done any and everything in his power to cut Robert down.

      I look at Barristan as the consumate soldier. He’ll make his opinion known and stand up for what he believes is right, but at the end of the day, he views his duty (protect the king) as his north star.

      • somethinglikealawyer says:

        That’s what I said above. He’s a Kingsguard first, moral man second.

      • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

        The Robert’s Rebellion case is special – Barristan hadn’t taken a vow to Robert at that time.

        IMHO, Barristan is a fascinating counterpoint to Jaime. They’re both prodigies, but it’s Barristan’s commitment to his oath that shames Jaime. Jaime doesn’t really regret defenistrating Bran (much) or killing the Stark retainers to make a political point or the adultery and incest – he regrets that he doesn’t keep his word like Selmy and Dayne, even after seeing the GRRM deconstruction of knightly honor firsthand.

  15. Regarding Joffrey and the way he is/was, I hadn’t really considered that it was genetic madness. It always struck me that he was that way because of Cersei, and that Myrcella and Tommen weren’t because Cersei spent all her time on Joffrey because he was the Crown Prince and therefore her best path to direct influence. Not that she didn’t love them, but she was spending maybe 10% as much time raising them as she was with Joffrey. I could be wrong about that I guess, but Tywin sure seems to blame her for Joffrey.

    • Direct influence meaning political power.

    • Jim B says:

      I think it was not so much that Cersei devoted more of her attention to Joffrey — though that’s probably part of it — but that Tommen and Myrcella grew up with a spoiled cruel older brother.

      Joffrey grew up being told that the realm and everyone in it were his to command (eventually) by birthright, with no one educating him about how power can be abused, and no one showing him how to win people over or use any tool other than ordering people around. (Even having Tywin around to explain that “a king who has to say ‘I am the king’ is no king at all” would have been a huge improvement.)

      Tommen and Myrcella wouldn’t have had their egos fed quite so much. No doubt Cersei told them they were smart and pretty and the best little children ever, but their destinies were less certain — nobody’s telling them that “this will all be yours someday.” (What, the curtains?)

      They also grew up experiencing first hand what it’s like to have someone (Joffrey, who I’m sure was as lousy an older brother as he was a king) who has power over you and uses it cruelly. They probably learned — as Sansa did — how to use other tools in the box for dealing with people you can’t just order around.

      It’s actually breathtaking how bad Joffrey’s education was. He was just one generation removed from the realm rising up against a tyrant, and yet he really thought he could just command everyone through fear and harshness? Aside from Cersei and Robert, shouldn’t we blame Pycelle, too? For a guy who was so dedicated to the Lannister cause, he really dropped the ball in a way that is surprising — Pycelle is a fool in many ways, but he doesn’t seem like that kind of a fool.

      • JT says:

        I really like this take. Joffrey’s craziness might be part genetic, but Cersei did an incredibly terrible job educating him on his duties as a king. Even after Joffrey is dead, she mistakes his refusal to listen to anyone else or show any empathy as “strength”. In fairness to her, Robert also did a terrible job – he set a bad example re. ruling, and the few interactions we hear of him having with Joffrey were all less than instructive (smacking Joffrey so hard he nearly dies etc).

        I also don’t know we can say Myrcella is more “intelligent” than Tommen. She seems more self-assured, but she’s also older (and I suspect that as a girl, she would be less likely to receive abuse at the hands of Joffrey). Joffrey and Tommen would be partaking in the same activities learning to be men (which gives Joffrey a chance to beat up on Tommen), while Myrcella would be receiving training on how to be a lady. She might have spent less time around Joffrey, which is why she’d be more likely to stand up to him.

      • ajay says:

        Joffrey grew up being told that the realm and everyone in it were his to command (eventually) by birthright, with no one educating him about how power can be abused, and no one showing him how to win people over or use any tool other than ordering people around.

        As reflected in surely the best original line from series 3:
        “She is no longer yours to torment.”
        “EVERYONE is mine to torment.”

      • Winnie says:

        Good point about Pycelle. I’m also a little surprised in retrospect that Pycelle never corresponded with Tywin and warned him about Joffrey. Since, Pycelle chained himself so thoroughly to the Lannister’s he ought to have realized how dangerous Joffrey was to the whole House. Or maybe, Pycelle’s Tywin-worship blinded him to how screwed House Lannister would be *without* Tywin. In AFFC and ADWD he seemed genuinely shocked by how badly Cersei was managing things-but he’s known Cersei since she was a child-he should have known there’d be trouble Again, one of the most telling moments in ASOS, was Tywin *finally* catching on to the fact that he’s killed thousands upon thousands, earned incredible hatred across all Seven Kingdoms, and violated the most sacred taboos of Westeros to put Aerys III on the throne. Someone who has no business being there and can’t possibly keep it. It’s a very grim moment for him, and a black joke for the readers.

        • Jim B says:

          If I didn’t have an instinctive revulsion to wild theories involving 13-dimensional chess games, I’d start to wonder if Pycelle wasn’t a secret lackey of Varys, posing as a Lannister loyalist while letting the realm deteriorate. But I don’t think even Varys is good enough to get a Grand Maester to act the fool just to serve his plan.

          I suppose instead I have to postulate that there were some messed-up internal politics at the Citadel that led them to name such a putz Grand Maester.

          • Amestria says:

            Or, more likely, the man is just really old and lost his edge a while ago. At the start of the book’s he’s around 82. That is *extremely* old. To give a historical comparison, Pope John Paul II lived to be 85, had all the benefits of modern medicine, and he still lost it in his final years. Pope Pope Benedict XVI resigned his office because at 86 it was simply too much for him.

            Pycelle also wouldn’t have that much energy when you consider being Grand Maester is a full time job, and he’s the Grand Maester on top of being a Lannister conspirator. The fact that he’s still going and that Varys felt him worth killing is actually rather impressive. His extended age would also explain the popular affection for him that later surprises Tyrion.

            He was probably a better conspirator when he was younger.

          • That too, although the way he relates to Tywin makes me think that Pycelle was always a follower than a leader.

      • Good point.

        And yes, the Pycelle thing is odd – unlike most of the other Maesters we’ve met, he doesn’t seem to have done any actual education of the young people in the household.

        • David Hunt says:

          Two possible reasons for that occur to me.

          1. Pycelle sees his main role to be as the spokesman for the Lannisters Citadel on the Small Council and an adviser to the try to influence policy in such a way that it’s to the benefit of the Lannisters Realm. It’s for other, lesser men and maesters to deal with that day-to-day crap.

          2. Cercei simply didn’t let him take a major role in the education of the children so that she could impart her special understand (sic) of the philosophy of the Tywin the Great.

          I could definitely see 2 taking place for Joffrey, but Tommen and Myrcella show too much of a good nature to have been receiving Cercei’s worldview as their main education. I’m guessing that Cercei took her clear favorite, Joffrey, under her personal wing but delegated the education of the other children to others. Maybe this was Pycelle, or maybe some other maesters, septon/septas, etc.

          • I can buy 2 more than 1. You’d think, as a power-worshiping kissass, that Pycelle would want to install himself as the mentor figure to the next King, given the potential for influence there.

          • Crystal says:

            Myrcella had a septa accompany her to Dorne. I surmise that it was this woman, and not Cersei (who devoted herself to Joffrey), who had the major part of Myrcella’s upbringing. Considering how well Myrcella turned out, this septa must have been a basically good person. I think that the septas who are brought in to tutor noble girls have a huge influence on those girls – perhaps as much as their mothers. Certainly Septa Mordane played a huge part in 1) filling Sansa’s head with romantic ideas and 2) tearing down Arya’s self-esteem. (She also gave Sansa the “courtesy is a lady’s armor” lesson that was to serve her well later.)

          • That’s probably true.

          • I don’t think that Septa Mordane filled Sansa’s head with romantic ideas. I think she just filled her head with conventional ideas (how to act like a lady, how to be a good wife, “all men are beautiful” etc. in order words: trying to prepare her to be ready to be the wife of whoever she’s married to, whatever he looks like), while the romanticism came from Sansa’s enjoyment of the popular songs about knights and courtly love. What use would a septa have for songs about tragic and mostly extramarital love affairs, after all? Arya and Bran also enjoyed songs, Bran liked the stories about knights and dreamed of being a knight, and Arya liked the warrior queen Nymeria.

            Too bad that Sansa didn’t think a bit more about the stories (often based on real events) in the songs she liked – for instance, that many of the romances are tragic, that they are sometimes between people of different social statuses (Florian and Jonquil) or that the the songs of Naerys and the Dragonknight are about a queen miserable in a loveless marriage to an asshole king and her romance with someone who was not her husband.

        • Andrew says:

          Pycelle doesn’t seem to have taught Rhaegar either. Barristan said the maesters, plural, were awed by Rhaegat’s wits. Pycelle could have likely left the education of the princes to other maesters.

  16. Erin says:

    Something that really brought the sexist reaction to Sansa into focus for me was the reaction (really, the lack of reaction) some people had to another thoroughgoing romantic disillusioned by their experience as a(n unofficial) hostage in the Red Keep – a young Jaime Lannister, back in Aerys’ day.

    Jaime was armed and armoured, not just trained in arms but talented with them, and he did nothing. He was not a direct target of Aerys’ brutality, but kept in line with honour and duty. He did not plan to escape the Red Keep, as best we can tell, not even with his father’s army outside the gates. He did nothing about the wildfire plot, which he knew about almost from the very beginning, until Aerys actually gave the order. He witnessed multiple burnings and knew about multiple rapes, and didn’t lift a finger to help. From a safer position than Sansa’s, he did even less, right up until the entire city was in danger. Moreover, he’s got a track record of passivity and reactiveness stretching before and after his time as a glorified hostage. This is pointed out more than once.

    I have yet to see anyone criticising Sansa for passivity criticise Jaime for the same.

    • Jim B says:

      I’m not a Sansa-hater, nor a particular fan of Jaime, but I think this isn’t quite a fair comparison. The timing makes a difference, as well as the general structure of both characters’ arcs.

      We learn the details of Jaime’s time in Aerys’ Kingsguard only after we’ve been introduced to him as an arrogant attempted-child-murderer who is repeatedly betraying his current King by sleeping with the Queen who also happens to be his sister. We presume — or at least I did — that his killing of Aerys was just a little opportunistic side-switching like the rest of the Lannister family when the rebels won the Battle of the Trident and the writing was on the wall.

      It’s only after all that, when Jaime is being rehabilitated or redeemed in some readers’ eyes, or just more fully fleshed out, that we learn that he actually did suffer pangs of conscience serving for Aerys, and that his killing of Aerys was probably his first actually noble act. At that point, it’s such an improvement to Jaime’s character to learn that he has any conscience at all, that complaining about his temporary passivity seems like a minor quibble.

      Compare that to Sansa, who we know from the start is a decent sort at her core, notwithstanding her vapid and shallow tendencies.

      Also, from a reader’s perspective, Jaime’s period of passivity takes up what, a few pages in a flashback, while Sansa’s is stretched over multiple chapters across multiple books, so it seems longer even if in actual time it’s shorter.

      There’s also the fact that Jaime is not generally a passive character — if anything, he’s impetuous and brash to a fault, at least before his capture. I suppose you could argue that both ways, though, that given his usual brashness, his passivity in the face of Aerys’ conduct is a worse moral failing.

    • Yeah, that’s a good point.

    • Roger says:

      Jaime was the man who stopped the fire plot. Killing Aerys, Rossart and the other pyromants. He was alone in the Red Keep, almost always with other Kingsguard (as good fighters as him), and surrouned by an army. Also his father was neutral at this moment. Scaping would had mean breaking his oath and throw the Westerlands to the war.

      • Erin says:

        Yes, I know. I don’t intend to blame him for keeping his head down in this case – that’s the best way to survive as a hostage. But my point is this: Sansa and Jaime were the victims of roughly analogous hostage situations. It has been my experience in this fandom that Sansa-haters refuse to acknowledge that she handled her time as a hostage as admirably and courageously as could be expected, and we can see how well she did through a comparison with Jaime’s experience as a teen.

        I cannot help but think that a significant difference between reactions to the two is because Jaime is definitely a masculine character while Sansa is one of the most feminine. I do consider Jaime to be a passive character, one of the least proactive major characters in the series – he outsourced every major life decision he could until the end of ASoS, he makes no long-term plans, his ambitions are both limited and fulfilled at the start of the series, and though he’s violent and impulsive, he tends to be reactive rather than proactive, when he acts at all. His character arcs in ASoS and AFFC both climax with his rejection of people he’s almost always said ‘yes’ to, for goodness’ sake. He’s a deeply passive man pre-character development, and overcoming it is a major part of that character development. But since he’s snarky and violent, a lot of the people I have talked to don’t even seem to consider that Jaime might not be a terribly proactive character. Violence and proactivity aren’t the same thing, though, and Jaime in particular uses violence as a reaction.

        Basically, in the discussions I have participated in, Jaime is talked about as “not doing (x or y)”, which frames his failures to act as one-off failings unlikely to be repeated, while Sansa “is passive”, which frames the issue as something inherent (and inherently wrong) in her. Even shorter version: men act, women are. This is wrong.

        • MightyIsobel says:

          “Jaime is talked about as “not doing (x or y)”, which frames his failures to act as one-off failings unlikely to be repeated, while Sansa “is passive”, which frames the issue as something inherent (and inherently wrong) in her. Even shorter version: men act, women are. ”

          This is a really interesting observation about how these characters are read. I don’t feel like GRRM draws our attention to comparing these two characters as hostages, but reading Jaime as essentially reactive is kind of brilliant, especially in how it runs counter to how the other characters talk about him.

  17. Andrew says:

    Sansa manages to show some smarts in realizing that the Redwyne twins, Horror and Slobber, didn’t go into the tourney out of their own free will but were forced into it. They were hostages used against their father.

    Regarding Tommen, the way he said he would go away inside sometimes when Joffrey did something sounds like systemic abuse by Joffrey. I think in Loras he finds the older brother he always wanted.

    Myrcella almost sounds like a foil to her mother. I would say that genes and appearance is about all they share.

    • Winnie says:

      Tyrion in AGOT noted that Myrcella got all of Cersei’s beauty but none of her ill nature. And yeah, Tommen clearly grafted onto Loras as a big brother/father figure he’d been missing. In fact both Tyrell siblings seemed to be filling in some holes for Tommen regarding sources of mentoring and affection. Yes, they’re using the kid to get ahead, but they genuinely seemed to like him too, and were good for him.

    • MightyIsobel says:

      “Sansa manages to show some smarts in realizing that the Redwyne twins, Horror and Slobber, didn’t go into the tourney out of their own free will but were forced into it. They were hostages used against their father.”

      I thought that too. And wasn’t it reckless of Cersei to allow her hostages to be sent out into a blood sport arena? Especially when the boy king is fond of calling for bouts “to the death”?

    • Sean C. says:

      Actually, speaking of the Redwyne twins, why on Earth did Renly and Loras not take them with them when they left?

      • It’s a good question. I’d have to check whether they were in on the plan.

        • Sean C. says:

          They apparently had time to touch base with the Royces and convince Robar to come with them, so I have a hard time seeing how they wouldn’t have made time for Loras’ first cousins who are the heirs of Mace’s second-most-powerful bannerman (and also has one of the three notable navies on the whole continent; actually, if Renly had had the Redwynes fleet coming up to, Stannis’ whole strategy would probably have had to change, as he’d have had to get past them to transport his men to Storm’s End).

          • It is an odd omission – if I had to guess, it’s something of authorial fiat because GRRM wanted Stannis to have naval superiority but a small army.

          • David Hunt says:

            The Redwynes might have been unable to flee immediately or maybe Renly and Loras simply couldn’t get to them in the amount of time they had before they decided to hightail it out of King’s Landing. As I recall, they didn’t spend much time debating their options after Ned Stark failed to give Renly the answers he wanted.

          • John says:

            I’d always assumed that Robar and Yohn Royce left on their own, and that Robar joined up with Renly later.

  18. juan manuel says:

    I think the comparison of Sansa with traditional domestic abuse victims is flawed in several points. First, as you point out, Sansa doesn’t share the traditional mentality of domestic abuse victims. She will become mentally scarred, as well as physically, over time, but in a different fashion. In a traditional scenario, if the abuser is hitting the victim in a public space and someone intervenes, often the victim will sadly defend her abuser (not saying that this is good, I’m saying it happens). Sansa, instead, would gladly leave anyone kill Joffrey in front of her eyes and wouldn’t lift a finger to defend him. IOW, domestic abuse victims are emotionally (and sickly) attached to their abusers in ways Sansa is not.
    Traditional domestic abuse victims aren’t prisoners either. When people say “leave”, it’s because they can physically leave their household forever. Sansa is a prisoner. She can not leave.

    Regarding Dontos, I don’t think it’s heroism. And I think it’s not because she blurts and her immediate reaction is to reprimand herself and tell Joffrey to kill him on the next day – which, given her situation, is rather reasonable. It would have been heroism if she thought about it before acting. But she didn’t. As it is, her sense of morality overwhelmed her common sense and she immediately tries to backtrack her actions.

    • I really don’t agree.

      1. She clearly has the domestic violence thing going on – she’s hyperaware of his moods, she’s trying to avoid his attention, and she sticks to the company line in public (i.e, “my brother is a traitor” standing in for “I walked into a door.”)

      2. Plenty of domestic abuse victims were and are literally held prisoner.

      3. Plenty of heroes act from moral impulse while smacking themselves mentally for doing something “stupid.”

  19. MightyIsobel says:

    I like your basic approach to the Sansa and Tyrion relationship, acknowledging its difficulties both in the text and in the fandom. Personally, I think it’s one of the most interesting pairings in the series.

    Right away at their meeting in this chapter, we can see them read each other’s needs more accurately than they might ever know. While Joffrey snarks off to Tyrion, Sansa puts on the armor/courtesy of a grown lady for him. She apologizes on behalf of her mother for his abduction, and asks about the injury of his arm. She treats him as she has been trained to treat any man of his status, and keeps her thoughts about his appearance and his disability to herself.

    Meanwhile, Tyrion quickly decodes her situation in a few lines of small talk, and makes a promise: that he is one lion who will not “savage” her.

    She needs physical security; he promises that he will not harm her. He needs approval of his class and gender status; she offers him exactly that.

    Unfortunately, they meet here in a violent place where it could be deadly for either one to trust the other (and they both know it), so one of the most interesting hypothetical political relationships in Westeros is ruined from the start by Cersei’s ruthlessness and Joffrey’s cruelty.

    • It’s one of those things where, in another life, I think they could have been good friends and helpful to each other, but GRRM has set the stage to make impossible for it to happen.

      • Do you think a political alliance/friendly relations of some sort may be possible in the future, when Tyrion returns to Westeros (probably with Dany)? By which, I cannot stress this enough, I *definitely* do not mean a continuation of the ‘marriage’.*

        * I hate the way that the fandom likes to either pit Tyrion and Sansa against each other, or assume that any type of friendly relation between them must mean Sansa deciding to stay in the forced marriage (even though Tyrion doesn’t particularly want that, either), when in fact, it’s the biggest obstacle to friendly relations between them. As Butterbumps! pointed out on, Jon and Stannis have so far worked together just fine without tying the knot. 😉

        • Maybe, but I think if Sansa remarries that will be something of an issue – I certainly think she’s not going to be willing to stay in the marriage to Tyrion.

          On the other hand, they both hate the Lannisters of King’s Landing, so my enemy’s enemy…

          • Winnie says:

            I agree Steve. Frankly I think the best thing for both of them is to get an annulment, wish each other the best of luck, and go their separate ways.

            I do think, that Sansa though, might put in a good word for Tyrion with Jon as being one Lannister he *could* trust.

            Since you think Sansa will re-marry, I’m curious as to who you think the next groom will be.

          • My guess right now would be Harry the Heir, because she’s going to need that Vale army.

          • I don’t think that Sansa will marry anyone. She’s sick and tired of being auctioned off to various guys who want her claim, and currently thinks that she doesn’t want to marry ever again. And she’s right: marrying some guy in Westeros only means that he is given legal rights over her, including raping her whenever he wants. The kind of “power” that comes from being someone’s wife is a very insecure and incomplete kind of power, especially when it denies women sexual agency and the right to control their own bodies. This is a pretty big theme in the series, especially in Sansa’s arc, and I would be incredibly disappointed if her story ends with her saying “oh, whatever… it doesn’t matter in the end” and accepts the fate of a wife in a political marriage.

            And she’s certainly not going to marry a guy who’s introduced in the series as “Harry the Heir”. 😉 He sounds comical from the start, and he’s already been hinted to be a douche.

            Anyway, even if she needs a Vale army, she doesn’t have to marry Harry for a Vale army, if Harry never becomes the Lord of the Vale; which won’t happen until Sweetrobin dies. I have a feeling that SR will surprise everyone and live long, exactly because everyone expects him to die.

            She could pretend that she is open to various marriage proposals in order to manipulate various sides politically, though; queen Elizabeth I did this until late in life.

          • All of that is true, but I don’t see how she gets the Vale army without Harry – even assuming SR sticks around (which I doubt), she’s got no hold on the Vale without some kind of formal link to the Lord Paramount’s house. Elizabeth was a queen regnant when she was playing marriage games; Sansa doesn’t have that to work with.

            And I’d argue that Olenna and Margaery are something of a counter-example.

          • I’m not sure that she needs the Vale army? What war is she going to go to, against whom and why?

          • The War for the North, against the Boltons, possibly Stannis, and definitely the WW, because the Stark kids are coming home.

          • Why would she fight Stannis?

            The Boltons are currently involved in a fight with Stannis and the northern clansmen, and most of the northern lords hate them, with at least some of them waiting to stab them in the back. Most of all Manderly, who knows that Rickon Stark, at least, is alive. I don’t see the Boltons lasting that long for Sansa to become marriageable, and most of the North is already against them. Would those same northern lords really welcome what would look like an invading Vale army lead by an Arryn relative who married Ned’s daughter (after the Lannisters and the Boltons have tried to use Ned’s ‘little girls’ for their nefarious purposes, why should the northerns think it’s any different with that Harry guy), instead of dealing with the Boltons themselves and installing Ned’s son (who is not under the control of any southrons) as Lord of Winterfell?

            As for the WW, surely, if the WW go pass the Wall (especially since the winter has come), the entire realm will be in danger. It’s not just a matter of the North and the Stark kids’ lands. Why would Sansa need to marry some dude to get an army to deal with the WW, when everyone in the realm will need to fight the WW to stay alive?

            If the Vale has something to offer the North, food will probably be much more useful than an army during the winter.

          • If Sansa is leading the army, why wouldn’t they be on board? And the North doesn’t know about Rickon yet, only Manderly does.

            And if Sansa doesn’t marry “some dude” she’s not getting the army in the first place

          • But I don’t see why she needs to get an army, especially against the WW, when the whole of Westeros should be motivated to fight them because they don’t want to die.

            And Sansa is unlikely to actually be *leading* an army in any case.

            As for Rickon, that’s a pretty big plot point, especially with Davos going to find him; and I’d be very surprised if they need more time to find him/confirm his existence than Sansa would need to get married – despite the fact that she first needs to either 1) become a widow (and Tyrion is showing no signs of being about to die) or 2) reveal herself to the whole Westeros and appeal to the High Sparrow so he could annul her marriage.

          • We’ll have to see, but I’d be willing to lay money on this.

          • Andrew says:

            I don’t see Sansa leading in army as I don’t think she is going to get involved in war. LF explicitly revealed his grand plan, meaning it likely isn’t going to work out. With her Mother aspect, she has the aspect of ice, healing and peace. I think she will betaken out of the Vale only to replaced by a different mother, Dany the Mother of Dragons, who will bring war.

          • It’s not going to go as LF planned, because LF won’t be leading it.

            And that Stark as Seven stuff just doesn’t fly. And since when is the Mother associated with ice?

          • Andrew says:

            I wasn’t even referring to the Stark as Seven stuff, it’s on an essay in the forum. She has no military skills to bring to the table, and I don’t think she could do much in the North, as I don’t think Stannis would let her, and all the Stark bannermen are loyal allies.

            I don’t think Sansa is going North or staying in the Vale but brought back to KL for trial. As Quaithe said “to go forward you must go back.” Dany is back to the Dothraki Sea where she lost her husband, son and khalasar and going back to VD where she lost her brother to become the StMtW and unite the khalasars. Theon returned to WF after ACoK where he lost his freedom and guilt to save Jeyne. Jaime returned to the riverlands where he suffered defeat and lost his hand, and took Riverrun where he had failed before, bloodlessly, and subdued Raventree Hall along with gaining a new perspective on Cersei. Tyrion will return to the Vale where he was kidnapped and imprisoned in the sky cells, and got a sham trial and nearly lost his life to lead the Vale in the second Dance. Arya will return to KL where she saw her father lose his head and her father’s men killed to likely whittle down her hit list an serve some other unnamed role, and to return to the riverlands with then horrors she saw and reunite with Nymeria. Characters are returning (willingly or unwillingly) to the places where they had the worst experiences in the series to further their character development, and show the new skills and perspective they acquired as well as the resolve. Sansa may return to KL for those reasons.

          • I entirely disagree – I think we’re rather seeing a process of coalescing around three poles (Winterfell, King’s Landing, and Meereen), and I think Sansa’s storyline will go towards the first one as the Starks begin to return home.

          • Andrew says:

            KL is one of those poles, and it would be better for her character arc to go back to KL. I think she would be brought back unwillingly. Shadrich could mention that he fought for Stannis on the BoBW, and by taking her North he would be helping Stannis. He could also say Stannis would give him a big reward to make it more believable. I think he would trick her onto a ship he says is headed for White Harbor, but it actually goes to KL.

  20. I think it’s little much to say that Myrcella is more strong-willed then Joffrey. Joffrey has shown many points of open defiance of his mother or his uncle or even Tywin, Myrcella has shown little of that. Could even be easily convinced into declaring against Tommen and the rest of her family by Arianne.

    • David Hunt says:

      I wouldn’t call Joffrey strong-willed so much as childish and flighty. The great ease with which he succumbs to boredom and then starts indulging his thirst for bloodshed is a contra-indicator of being strong-willed in my opinion.

      Although, Myrcella has clearly been coached to support the Dornish version of the events of her wounding, I don’t think anyone has gotten her to declare against Tommen. I have doubts that she even knows of the conspiracy to put her on the throne. When she feels she’s in the right, she’s perfectly willing to argue against authority figures, like her easily dispatching Joffrey’s insults in this very chapter. I love her comments on childishness that Steven quoted, btw. They underline Joffrey’s own childishness and his lack of awareness about it.Mycella, displaying she’s aware that Tommen is indulging child-like play, shows her that she’s already aware that there’s more to life than simply indulging your whims.

      I’m reminded of a comment I once saw someone post about some poor example of humanity: “When we’re children, the purpose of the Universe is clearly to provide us with candy. Most of us grow out this point of view.”

    • “The truth was, the princess was braver than her brother, and brighter and more confident as well. Her wits were quicker, her courtesies more polished. Nothing daunted her, not even Joffrey.”

      • Ian says:

        On balance, I think it’s probably true that Myrcella would make a better ruler than Tommen, but I’m not sure that Arys Oakheart, who you’ve rightly described as a sap (and who is never more of a sap than in the chapter you’re quoting), is the clinching authority quoting him blindly would seem to indicate. It’s worth remembering that Myrcella is older than Tommen -only by a year, so it’s still significant that she’s more polished than him, but it’s at least possible that he’ll catch her as they grow up.

        That both of them are sweet kids makes their obvious doom all the more painful to anticipate – in all honesty, it probably cuts me to the quick more than any other narrative cruelty of GRRM’s, silly though that is.

      • Roger says:

        Myrcella isn’t affraid of Psycho Jeoff, and that’s something. But Jeoffrey isn’t shown as coward, also. In Blackwater he didn’t ashamed himself, and he was willing to lead an army against Robb Stark. And even the Hound says Tommen is a brave boy. All three are Jaime’s children, after all.

        • Seriously? I think you’ve missed some of the sarcasm in the books. Joffrey likes to brag, he clearly wasn’t leading any armies, other people fight for him, and he actually retreated from the battle when his mother asked. And Sandor was being sarcastic (but not too obviously, just in the way that Boros Blount could think he was serious), which is why his mouth was twitching.

          And courage is not passed through the Y chromosome.

          • Roger says:

            Jeoffrey was shooting his crossbow, showing the men how to use it, and asking them to be brave. He didn’t want to retreat from battle.
            Courage and nobility comes from blood. Everybody knows!

          • Agreed. Joffrey is just as big a coward in the books as he is in the show.

  21. Roger says:

    When Robert’s Kingsguard is defined as unworthy, I think perhaps Arys Oakheart is sort of an exception. Despite being somewhat weak-willed and innocent, his heart is at the right side. Clearly is not at Barristan the Bold’s level- but nobody is. Probabley he didn’t laught at him when the others did. Of course Arys believed Lannister’s propaganda, but many men do. Eddard Stark was a traitor. Stannis Baratheon is a traitor too. Robb Stark is both a traitor and a secesionist. There is little proof against it.
    Jeoffrey shows again he is more similar to Aerys than to Robert. One thing I really enjoyed in the series was seeing Jeoffrey emotionaly affected (a little) by his “father”‘s death. That was good acting.
    Sansa is in an impossible situation. And she has no reason to like the Imp. He is the queen sister. And comes from fighting his brother’s bannermen. Perhaps they could had a chance with more time, but I found it real difficult.
    I also wonder why many people likes the Hound/Sansa option. Even more impossible than the Imp’s option. Clegane is mad, bitter, alcoholic. Better than his brother but that’s not difficult.
    Poor Sansa doesn’t find an acceptable man anywhere. I hope she is luckier with Harry the Heir. Or perhaps even with Willas Tyrell?

    • “I also wonder why many people likes the Hound/Sansa option.”

      Probably because GRRM wrote it as a dynamic with genuine mutual feelings (whatever one thinks of them and however one sees them) and some strong “Beauty and the Beast” type chemistry, including ambiguously romantic overtones, and because Sansa clearly has an attraction to him and he clearly cares about her a lot.

      Whereas, on the other hand, feelings between Sansa and Tyrion are in the range between somewhat positive but not too interested to and mildly negative but mostly indifferent, Sansa feels zero sexual attraction to Tyrion, Tyrion clearly doesn’t love Sansa, and there’s no romantic chemistry at all.

      • Roger says:

        Here the Beast menaced the Beauty with killing her if she told anyone his secret (and that was the first time they talked). And later regreted haven’t raped her in ther Last Moment Together. Hardly a Disney’s story.
        Tyrion has some hopes he and Sansa could become something.
        Nobody likes Tyrion’s appearance. As his lord father “if you think your whores wished you, you’re more stupid than I thought”. Sad but true. Well, Tysha was an unique case.

        • Err, Beauty and the Beast is NOT a Disney story – Disney just did a version of it (and properly disneyfied it, of course). They also did a version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, that doesn’t make it a Disney story, either. And I believe that the Beast threatens the Beauty and others with death in most other versions of the story, that’s why he’s the Beast. If you’re thinking about George R. R. Martin’s writing and the story of Beauty and the Beast, a lot more obvious points of reference would be Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film “La belle et la bête”, one of Martin’s all-time favorite fantasy films (there are actually also some elements of the B&B story in Tyrion/Sansa, but different elements), and the 1980s TV show “Beauty and the Beast” that Martin worked on. (BTW, Martin said in an interview that the network was asking for the Beast to not be killing people, which he thought was ridiculous: “That’s what he’s supposed to do!”) When asked at some point in the early 2000s, I think, about who he would cast as Sandor Clegane, Martin said Ron Perlman (who played Vincent/the Beast in that show.

          (I definitely don’t agree that he “regretted that he haven’t raped her” and I think that this reading of that line doesn’t make sense; but I’ll leave that for some other time. Suffice to say, why don’t you also say that he regretted that he didn’t murder her by ripping her heart out from her chest? If you’re reading it literally, why stop mid-sentence?)

          Tyrion only ‘hoped that he and Sansa could become something’ when they were already married and, instead of an innocent hostage girl he wasn’t particularly interested in apart from basic decency and the fact that his brother’s life depended on her staying alive, started seeing her as the only wife he’d get for the rest of his life. He was physically attracted to her and liked her claim to Winterfell, but didn’t know or understand her as a person at all. It was all about Tyrion feeling unwanted and humiliated, and then he started hoping that she could become his Tysha 3.0 (Shae was Tysha 2.0) and make him feel good about himself. It was never about her as a person or what would be good for her.

          • Maddy says:

            GRRM pretty clearly has a thing for the whole ‘Beauty and the Beast’ dynamic: Sansa/ Sandor, Jaime/ Brienne are probably the two biggest examples I can think of. I don’t really ‘ship’ Sansa and the Hound (at least not until Sansa’s a bit older) but they definitely have an interesting dynamic. It’s kind of interesting that Sandor acts as a guardian and protector of sorts for both Sansa and Arya. I’m still sad they cut so much of Sansa and the Hound in the show – both those actors did really well with the small bits they did get.

          • Roger says:

            I admit I only knew the Disney version, but you get me interested, I will do a search.
            well, when Sandor is dying, he says to Arya he should have raped her sister. Literaly.
            It was real dificult to intimate with Sansa (in any level) due to her pain for family loss and him being a Lannister. But clearly she didn’t want anything, even in the best possible scenary.

          • What was the “best possible” scenario Tyrion was offering her? He wasn’t offering her anything that didn’t involve remaining a captive of the family who’s been waging a war against and killing her family, and remaining in a marriage to a Lannister that she was forced into. So, the best possible scenario was, what, he makes her captivity a it more pleasant by talking to her? She gets the right to be spared a few years but in the end she has to submit to having sex with someone she doesn’t want and give the Lannisters the heir to the North that they want? She is not forced to have sex at all, but she remains a captive and his wife indefinitely (until Tywin grows impatient and puts more pressure on Tyrion to rape Sansa and get her pregnant, or finds some other Lannister to do it for him – maybe Joffrey, who has been threatening to rape Sansa)? What scenario was there that was remotely good for Sansa? What was in there for her?

            It’s also kind of funny how people say she should have trusted him and confided in him…Why would she? He’s a senior member of the Lannister power structure, the former Hand, current Master of Coin, working in Lannister interests. Book!Sansa was planning to run away with King’s Landing with Dontos’ help at the time, was she going to tell that to Tyrion? And would Tyrion really allow Sansa to get away, especially since Jaime was still (as far as Tyrion knew) a hostage? He never expressed any desire to get Sansa back to her family or at least get her away from the Lannisters and set her free by annulling their marriage. It didn’t even occur to him as an option.

          • “well, when Sandor is dying, he says to Arya he should have raped her sister. Literaly.”

            No, he doesn’t. Read that paragraph again.

  22. Leee says:

    Late to the game, but: Sansa (Arya as well, and to a lesser extent, Bran) is on an odyssey, and is learning how to become wily Odysseus. (If we want to extend the analogies, Robb would be Agamemnon: military leader, meets a bloody/tragic end on his “home” turf (the Twins being part of his alliance) that’s unbeknownst to him thrown over to his enemies.)

  23. […] momentous event, but one that in this re-reading has some interesting comparisons to Sansa’s meeting Ser Dontos that I hadn’t noticed before. In both cases, a Stark sister is encountering a potential […]

  24. Your photos are no longer working, for both this post and the previous one.

  25. […] Sansa I established some of the main themes, Sansa II sets out the key plot elements of Sansa […]

  26. […] in the past I have alluded to Sansa’s plotline in ACOK of abuse and survival, here is where that theme really forces itself to the forefront. Just as the strategic decisions of […]

  27. […] more beautiful queen, and it explains why she continually declares over and over again that Sansa is dumb, because an unintelligent woman wouldn’t be a threat to Cersei. Cersei doesn’t give a […]

  28. […] there’s also a running theme of the deconstruction of chivalry. It starts with the brutal reality of these warrior-caste elites being pulled down and beaten to […]

  29. […] section, we see that Jaime clearly ran up against the problem that so many knights and Kingsguard have faced and couldn’t reconcile his oath to protect the weak and innocent with his oath to obey the […]

  30. […] of King Robert, for example), and somewhat fits Joffrey’s style (using the Kingsguard to beat Sansa). By contrast, Littlefinger’s kills tend not to be stooges – he uses Lysa to kill Jon […]

  31. […] the reader can’t help but get carried away by the moment. Hell, if even Ser Dontos, who has every reason to reject the whole knightly superstructure in favor of the reality of cold-blooded espionage he […]

  32. […] there is a marked difference between this pageantry and how things were carried on when Cersei or Joffrey, because now Tywin’s running the show. And if there is a grand political statement that all […]

  33. […] source of much of the audience’s frustration with her chapters. But as with Sansa, I think this is being done for effect. Look at GRRM’s interview above – the whole […]

  34. […] chapters frustrating, in a way that’s quite similar to why they find certain Sansa chapters frustrating. We’re so used to genre fiction giving us a regular fix of power fantasy that we start to buy […]

  35. […] strength (who suffered abuse for over a decade before putting paid to her husband) and Sansa as the weak one – hence “in your place, I would likely rip my hair […]

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