Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa II, ACOK

“I have a role to learn, and you must do the same….you will need to be brave, and strong…and patient, patient above all..”

Synopsis: Sansa receives a secret message, and then meets two knights in the night.

SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.

Political Analysis:

Sansa the Spy

 If Sansa I established some of the main themes, Sansa II sets out the key plot elements of Sansa Stark’s story arc for the next book and a half. As I will argue, this story arc takes the form of a change in genre – namely, a shift from fantasy to espionage, as Sansa’s central objective is to engineer an escape from the clutches of the Lannisters, and almost as important, her struggle to decide which rescuer she can trust. There are some rather dense linkages here between theme and plot – the cross-cutting of loyalties, trust vs. suspicion, and ultimately the nature of truth (a huge part of the resolution and revelation of plot threads in ASOIAF, whether it’s the Purple Wedding, the death of Jon Arryn, or the Littlefinger Conspiracy all take place through Sansa’s eyes) – so it’s kind of shocking that so much of the groundwork was left on the cutting room floor or moved around between seasons on the show. More on that later.

I also wonder how much some people’s frsutrations with Sansa’s arc – her indecision and seeming passivity, the way she backslides on the whole reality vs. fantasy thing, the interiority and lack of traditional action – is due to this change in genre. After all, espionage stories (and for that matter, escape stories) are all about building tension through enforced passivity (whether you’re talking about an undercover agent having to suppress their reactions or a prisoner stuck in their cell), constant uncertainty about whether one can trust potential allies (who could be counter-espionage agents or informants for the guards), and wild swings of euphoria and despair as one gets closer to the truth, being discovered, or one’s freedom. But if you’re not expecting this kind of a story, your interpretation of the rhythm of the various beats might be thrown off.

That Sansa’s story is a spy story becomes very clear when we look at the offer that comes Sansa’s way this chapter, and which she will be dealing with for the rest of the books to date:

Come to the godswood tonight, if you want to go home.

The words were the same on the hundredth reading as they’d been as they’d been on the first, when Sansa had first discovered the folded sheet of parchment beneath her pillow. The note was unsigned, unsealed, and the hand unfamiliar…what could it mean? Should she take it to the queen to prove she was being good?…What if it was some cruel jape of Joffrey’s…or perhaps it was some subtle snare to prove she was not loyal.

…Sansa watched the girl suspiciously. Had she seen the note? Had she put it under the pillow?…the queen had her servants changed every fortnight, to make certain none of them befriended her…all her maids spied on her, she was certain. Once she was alone, she thrust the note in the flames, watching the parchment curl and blacken.

A terse offer of rescue, delivered via dead drop, composed by a cutout, a prisoner under constant surveillance, the gnawing fear that any information could be a clever bit of counter-intelligence leading you to your doom – any of these elements could have come straight out of a le Carré novel. And for all that she’s knocked for being naive or not thinking things through, look at how carefully Sansa approaches this offer: she questions its provenance, she examines both the form and content for clues, she’s very conscious that it might be a trap, and she rather pragmatically considers trying to use it to better her circumstances. When she decides to act on the letter, Sansa goes about it with impressive dispatch for a thirteen-year-old: “Sansa threw a plain grey cloak over her shoulders and picked up the knife she used to cut her meat. If it is some trap, better that I die than let them hurt me more, she told herself. She hid the blade under her cloak. A column of red-cloaked swordsmen ran past as she slipped out into the night. She waited until they were well past before she darted across the undefended drawbridge.” Indeed, her one mistake, and it’s the same mistake her father made, is that she assumes that the only enemy she’s dealing with is the Lannisters.

Which brings us to the question of Sansa’s loyalties and the extent to which Sansa is or is not a Stark. This isn’t exactly the place to bring up Sansa’s wolf and the question of her warging abilities, but it’s very clear that Sansa remains a Stark loyalist:

She must learn to hide her feelings better,so as not to anger Joffrey. When she heard that the Imp had sent Lord Slynt to the Wall, she had forgotten herself and said, “I hope the Others get him.”

She missed Septa Mordane, and even more Jeyne Poole, her truest friend. The septa had lost her head with the rest, for the crime of serving House Stark…Sansa even missed her sister. By now Arya was safe in Winterfell…playing with Bran and baby Rickon. 

Let us see how brave he is when he faces my brother, Sansa thought.

I’ve always been a bit puzzled at the existence of this debate – it seems clear from even a casual observation that Sansa remains loyal to her family and her home throughout ACOK. To the extent that she ever loses that identity, it happens extremely gradually in AFFC while Sansa is isolated and under extreme mental pressure from Littlefinger, who is trying to remodel her psyche – which has an interesting parallel with Arya and her own struggle over identity vis-a-vis the Faceless Men. My hypothesis is that both of these storylines at the moment are essentially rising action building to a point where the two Stark sisters snap back and reclaim their identities, rather than a downward spiral where they are forever lost.

The Meeting With Ser Dontos:

When Sansa arrives at the godswood,  she undergoes one of those bait-and-switch moments of euphoria and despair – skewing from a renewed romanticism (her desire for a “true knight,” her belief in the Florian and Jonquil legend) to disappointment, to measured skepticism, to hope. And while this might be seen as a case of backsliding, I think there’s more going on:

Help me, she prayed, send me a friend, a true knight to champion me…

“Ser Dontos,” she breathed, heartbroken. “Was it you?…what do you want with me?”

“Only to help you…as you helped me.”

…”Tell me who sent you.”

“No one, sweet lady. I swear it on my honor as a knight…the singers say there was another fool once who was the greatest knight of all…sweet lady, I would be your Florian…”

This is madness, to trust myself to this drunkard, but if I turn away will the chance ever come again?

Home, she thought, home, he is going to take me home, he’ll keep me safe.

To begin with, I think the fact that Sansa’s desire for a true knight is immediately undercut by the Rabelaisian reality that is Ser Dontos, the drunkest knight in Westeros, along with Sansa’s later discussion with Sandor, shows that GRRM is still in the process of deconstruction and subversion. The Florian and Jonquil myth, the idea of a homely fool who turns out to be a great knight out of the transformative power of love, has certain resonances to the fairy tale of the Beauty and the Beast, a subject GRRM is quite familiar wit (and also with the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I haven’t been able to find any comments by Martin about that text). Here, it’s being contrasted against a more conventional narrative with a more conventionally handsome protagonist, but it’s also a deception.

I say a deception, because I think the whole narrative of Florian and Jonquil was thought up by Petyr Baelish as part of his ongoing conspiracy. After all, Petyr Baelish spent more time interacting with Sansa than almost any other adult character (outside of her family) in AGOT, and especially discussed with her the nature of heroes and stories. Baelish knows that Sansa’s preferred heroic figure is something like the Knight of Flowers, but that she’s someone susceptible to the allure of stories and romanticism (perhaps in the same way that Baelish was as a young man?). So here he takes advantage of both the compassion she showed for Ser Dontos and her love of stories, to create the perfect go-between, someone she would trust because he’s both harmless and helpful, just like Florian. But critically, Ser Dontos is not a potential competition for Littlefinger in grooming Sansa – Dontos will certainly creep on her (in part because I think there’s something creepy about the Florian role to begin with), and he will help her escape, but there’s no risk that Sansa might become interested in him as she might have done had Littlefinger used a go-between who fit that conventional heroic rescuer framework better, like Ser Shadrich or one of the Kettleblacks.

After all, if this was just about spiriting Sansa away, why go to the trouble of keeping the theme of Florian and Jonquil going, and why arrange Ser Dontos’ death in front of Sansa in such a way to disillusion her about the character of her rescuer? Because I think in Littlefinger’s mind the rescue process is part of a larger project to groom Sansa Stark into being his perfect mate – and that requires “enlightening” her about the real nature of life so that she shares Littlefinger’s beliefs as well as his bed. More on this theme later.

Literary Deconstruction With Sandor Clegane

It’s hardly an accident that Sansa goes straight from meeting Ser Dontos to literally running into Sandor Clegane. After all, Sansa is going to spend the rest of A Clash of Kings choosing between these two unlikely champions, who are more similar than what one would think. Both men are not-knights – Sandor by choice, Ser Dontos by royal decree. Both men don’t fit the classic heroic model (and Sandor himself is a very good fit for the Beast figure in Beauty and the Beast), although Sandor is a bit closer to the fantasy anti-hero, given his physical prowess. Both men are alcoholics with inappropriate feelings towards young women, although one will act on that and the other won’t. In this chapter especially, both men are essentially debating the Florian and Jonquil myth:

“What’s Joff’s little bird doing flying down the serpentine in the black of night?” When she did not answer, he shook her. “Where were you?”

“The g-g-godswood, my lord,” she said, not daring to lie. “Praying…praying for my father, and…for the king, praying he’d not be hurt.”

“Think I’m so drunk that I’d believe that?” He let go his grip on her arm, swaying slightly as he stood, stripes of light and darkness falling across his terrible drunk face. “You look almost a woman…face, teats, and you’re taller too, almost…ah, you’re still a stupid little bird, aren’t you? Singing all the songs they taught you…sing me a song, why don’t you?…some song about knights and fair maids.”

He was scaring her. “T-true knights, my lord.”

“True knights,” he mocked. “And I’m no lord, no more than I’m a knight. Do I need to beat that into you?” Clegane reeled and almost fell. “Gods…too much wine. Do you like wine, little bird? True wine? A flagon of sour red, dark as blood, all a man needs. Or a woman…drunk as a dog, damn me. You come now. Back to your cage, little bird. I’ll take you there. Keep you safe for the king.”

“Why do you let people call you a dog? You won’t let anyone call you a knight.”

“I like dogs better than knights…one autumn year, Lord Tytos came between a lioness and her prey…my grandfather came up with the hounds. Three of his dogs died running her off. My grandfather lost a leg, so Lannister paid him for it with lands and a towerhouse, and took his son to squire. The three dogs on our banner are the three that died, in the yellow of autumn grass. A hound will die for you, but never lie to you. And he’ll look you straight in the face…and that’s more than little birds can do, isn’t it? I never got my song.”

“I…I know a song about Florian and Jonquil.”

“Florian and Jonquil? A fool and his cunt. Spare me.”

If Dontos is essentially arguing that he is capable of performing the role of Florian despite being physically not up to the job, because the nature of heroism flows from inner moral commitment (think of it as the Dumbo model of heroism), Sandor is advancing a critique on very different lines. To Sandor, songs like Florian and Jonquil are propaganda, lies meant to keep song birds in their cage, and to deny the monstrous reality behind the illusions of medieval romanticism. This builds on top of his earlier arguments about the ideals of knighthood as they apply to his brother Gregor, but what’s new here is the way he contrasts the fiction of Florian and Jonquil with the reality of his own grandfather. Here, violence is an omnipresent and random threat, the victim not an idealized picture of innocence but a man we’ll come to know later as an incompetent, and the price of a knighthood, the price of heroism, is a lifelong disability (an echo of Sandor’s own wounding) and the death of loyal and honest friends.

I’m not well-read enough in gender theory to parse exactly what’s going on with Sandor’s very gendered dismissal of Florian and Jonquil – but I’m hopeful that one of my readers will chime in with a suggestion. My first guess is that Sandor is constrasting the earthy reality of sexual desire vs. the ideal of courtly love, but I’m not feeling very confident in that.

Joffrey Makes Things Worse

In the last Tyrion chapter, I mentioned the way in which the siege of King’s Landing is putting the social contract under tension, by bringing into question the king’s protection of his people. In that instance, Tyrion was able to at least keep things from getting worse by interposing the Handship between the King and his people; now that he’s not the POV, he’s not on hand when Joffrey decides to compound inaction and apathy with outright sociopathy:

“What was the trouble?”

“Fools at the gate…some loose tongues spread tales of the preparations for Tyrek’s wedding feast, and these wretches got int their heads they should be feasted too. His Grace lead a sortie and sent them scurrying.”

If A Clash of Kings is a meditation on the nature of monarchy – what makes a good king, what makes a bad one, whether one can ever become the other – and part of GRRM’s answer is that “a king protects his people or he is no king at all,” than Joffrey stands as the worst king possible. There can be no better example of the breakdown of the political order than a king who, when confronted by starving people asking for the scraps from his feast table, makes war on his own subjects. And this is only the beginning of King Joffrey’s campaign against the smallfolk of King’s Landing, driven as he is by a hatred for those below him and his absolute certainty in his own infallibility.

Historical Analysis:

The history of royal escapes – is really fascinating, and provides a lot of material to work with, but I’m going to be a bit parsimonious with the topic, and not dole out every historical parallel and anecdote right away. After all, we’ve got six more Sansa chapters to go just in ACOK, and it remains a relevant topic for Sansa up until at least Sansa V of ASOS, so I don’t want to run out.

So instead, I’ll just introduce the topic by saying that there’s something a bit historically inaccurate about the degree of security at the Red Keep – it’s way too good. Historically, in Medieval England, royals escaped all the damn time when they weren’t supposed to, especially royal women, because as women they could more easily call upon the ideals of both Church and chivalry for their protection in time of need, and thus win over unlikely rescuers. The Wars of the Roses are littered with royal escapes – Margaret d’Anjou was especially good at them, but the Duchess of York and her sons were no mean escapologists, and the Neville ladies were especially adept. However, I’ll leave these cases for another time and instead talk about my favorite escape – the escape of the Empress Matilda from Oxford Castle.

During the Anarchy, the historical analogue to the Dance of the Dragons, the Empress Matilda (King Henry I’s chosen heir) experienced an extremely tumultuous year in 1141 CE. After a crushing victory at Lincoln in February, where her usurping cousin King Stephen I was captured, she failed to be acclaimed Queen of England, and then suffered an equally crushing defeat at Winchester in September, which forced her to release Stephen. This lead to a stalemate throughout 1142, in which the two parties each held half of the country, but were unable to bring the other to battle. In December, Stephen unexpectedly marched from Bristol to lay siege to her headquarters at Oxford Castle, intent on starving her into submission.

Outnumbered and surrounded, the Empress took advantage of the wintry weather and escaped during a snowstorm, according to legend by dressing herself all in white as camouflage, being lowered over the walls, and crossing the frozen River Isis on foot and alone. While King Stephen received the surrender of the castle garrison, Matilda made her way to friendly forces and re-established a new headquarters at Devizes Castle, where she continued the war in England until 1147.

What If?

Given that Sansa II revolves entirely around the letter from Ser Dontos, I’m going to focus my comments therein:

  • Sansa doesn’t take up Ser Dontos’ offer? This is an incredibly significant decision. Consider the following: without Ser Dontos, it’s quite possible that the Lannisters don’t get wind of the Tyrell wedding, so that her marriage to Tyrion might never happen. In turn, this might mean that Sansa is safe in Highgarden when the Purple Wedding happens, and said wedding might happen in a very different way (without the ongoing public conflict between Tyrion and Joffrey over Sansa, it’s quite possible Tyrion’s not a good enough fall guy). Certainly, the Purple Wedding probably doesn’t happen with Sansa wearing the purple hairnet in question.
  • Now, this brings up the question of what exactly the Tyrells’ motives were for making the marriage: did they just want her claim, as Dontos will suggest, or were they mixing practicality with morality as they will do in other cases? Did they want a link to the Starks in order to replace the Starks post-Red Wedding? Or were they looking to broker a peace? (After all, the offer is made months before the Red Wedding…more on that later) And how would their politics have changed if Robb had outlived Tywin?
  • In turn, this also means that Littlefinger’s plan gets a major hiccup – without a Sansa Stark to marry to Harry the Heir, Littlefinger lacks a viable way to link the North to the Vale and the Riverlands. Now, Littlefinger being a persistent fellow, it’s likely that he’d make a second approach. He certainly has assets in the capitol – the Kettleblacks, Lothor Brune, his allies in the bureaucracy, his debtors and creditors among the merchant class, etc. – so he could probably manage to abduct her. The difference would likely be in Sansa’s perception of the event – unlike OTL, where Sansa feels quite ambivalent toward Littlefinger, I think in this scenario she would see herself much more as a prisoner and Littlefinger much more of an enemy.
  • Sansa informs the Queen? This is a very interesting possibility. On the one hand, it’s quite likely that Sansa’s actions would lead to a much closer captivity for the Stark daughter, at least in the short-term. Certainly, Cersei and Tyrion would have Ser Dontos arrested and tortured – which means it’s quite possible Littlefinger’s head goes up on a spike, or he goes on the run to the Vale, at which point things get really destabilized. The Purple Wedding probably gets butterflied away, and it’s quite possible the Vale turns anti-Lannister, which may or may not happen in time to aid the Starks.
  • However, I think it’s equally likely that Ser Dontos is killed “attempting to escape” or “hangs himself in his cell, and Littlefinger has to go back to square one. The difficulty is that, once the Lannisters know that someone is trying to steal Sansa, the level of security is going to increase dramatically. Which leads to the possibility that Sansa remains in King’s Landing following the Purple Wedding. How she’d be dealt with is an interesting question: certainly, Cersei would want her put on trial for murder along with Tyrion. On the other hand, Tywin is not going to let the heir to Winterfell be put to death, and her claim needs to be maintained. So it’s possible Sansa is around to appear as a character witness for Tyrion – and it’s interesting whether as the loyal wife abused by a monster king, she’d be able to sway the public narrative, if not the totally rigged trial.

Book vs. Show:

And so begins the botch. The HBO show goes weirdly off the rails in Season 2 with Sansa, and I say weirdly, because this story-line in the show is not entirely awful but disjointed and missing key components. Ser Dontos is saved on schedule, and indeed shows up as a jester in Blackwater, and then disappears for an entire season, popping up right before the Purple Wedding. While I love how the show shot the Purple Wedding, I do think they lost some of the impact of what happened by losing the foreshadowing of Ser Dontos.

Likewise, I think we lose a good deal of Sansa’s thematic arc in Season 2 by losing the tension and contrast between Ser Dontos and Sandor Clegane. But that brings up what happens with the Sandor story, and that’s a whole ‘nother mess…


103 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa II, ACOK

  1. Grant says:

    I think the complaints about Sansa are about her passiveness, though that’s hardly fair considering the circumstances, combined with her previous liking of fan-despised characters like Joffrey and quarreling with favorites like Arya. It only gets worse from the show, which just brings her up to show how bad her life is in Kingslanding for a lot of the series and leaves out the points that you mentioned*.

    And here:

    “in his own fallibility.”

    I think you mean infallibility.

    *Whatever you can say about the show, good or bad, it just does have a tendency to apparently not realize that something is important and needs to be gone into more before it becomes relevant in a later season, very strange considering that they have the books and access to Martin.

    • Yeah, that’s a typo.

      I’m not sure whether it’s not realizing or whether it’s they wanted to do it, ran out of time, and then narrative economy beat them up and took their lunch money. For example – Ser Dontos. They clearly wanted to do this, but everything I’ve read said they shot some stuff in S2, it didn’t work, and then they shifted to the LF direct thing in S3 as a result, then doubled back around.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        While it is a typo, it’s the one of the best because it raises an interesting question – could Joffrey Baratheon’s habitual cruelty have been exacerbated by his own suspicions that he isn’t the King his predecessor would have expected him to be clashing with his Mother’s more flattering version of reality? (and losing BADLY).

        An incipient inferiority complex would explain quite a few of Prince Joffrey’s nasty habits, although I suspect that even this would rather fail to explain KING Joffrey’s cruelties.

        • Maybe…but I doubt it.

        • Grant says:

          I’m not sure of an inferiority complex of any kind, but I think that Joffrey really has a lot of unjustified pride and can’t stand any kind of comparison to another person where he can’t measure up. Robb Stark, Arya, Tyrion, even Robert’s bastards that get murdered, all of them show in some way that he isn’t the great warrior king descended from Robert Baratheon.

          Of course that isn’t conscious, probably the closest he ever comes to it is in the show where he tells his mother how he was humiliated in front of Sansa Stark, but the hatred of others doing better seems to be a strong part of him.

          And of course then we get to questions about how much of Joffrey is nature and how much is nurture. Is Joffrey a case where even just one generation of incest results in a person that enjoys dominating others by hurting them and is obsessed with his image, or was he a case of two awful parents doing nothing to impress on him the need for good rule and he was given far too much leeway as a child and never learned about consequences?

          • I think there is an element of inferiority re: his father, who despised him as a weakling and a sadist. Hence the emphasis on being a strong King.

            And I lean more to nurture than nature – Tommen and Myrcella are just fine.

          • Crystal says:

            Oh, definitely two awful parents giving him the Worst Upbringing In The World for a future king! But also I wonder if the inbreeding gave Joffrey a badly shuffled set of genes that Tommen and Myrcella were lucky enough not to inherit? I surmise that his upbringing interacted with his basic character to produce a monster.

            And don’t forget that not only are Joffrey’s parents siblings, his grandparents are first cousins (Tywin and Joanna).

            I think that Tommen and Myrcella benefited from not being heir to the throne, therefore, Cersei and Robert most likely shuffled off their upbringing to others in order to concentrate on Joffrey. Myrcella and Tommen love Tyrion, and seem to have been allowed to associate with him, which says to me that Cersei couldn’t influence them to hate their uncle like she could with Joffrey. Myrcella had her septa, and Tommen no doubt had a maester, who probably had the main influence in their upbringing.

          • Well, the more you interbreed, the worse the odds get. So it’s possible Joffrey got the bad genes and the bad upbringing, whereas Tommen and Myrcella just rolled well.

  2. Priddy says:

    @Grant:*Whatever you can say about the show, good or bad, it just does have a tendency to apparently not realize that something is important and needs to be gone into more before it becomes relevant in a later season, very strange considering that they have the books and access to Martin.”

    I have to agree with this statement. Personally, I was especially surprised how different the ending of Tyrion’s story arc in season 4 of “Game of Thrones” was from the ending in ASOS. After all, the writers did mention the Tysha-Story in Season 1, but then they dropped it completely.

    • Karl says:

      I don’t agree here. Tysha is a nice plot point, but television doesn’t lend itself well to audiences keeping track of characters that are only ever mentioned, never seen. When I talk with unsullied they have a difficult time remembering who Rhaegar and Elia are. I don’t think the show loses anything by cutting the Tysha search. Plus I consider it a bonus to actually having read the books.

      • It’s not the search as much as the revelation that breaks Tyrion’s self control, deeply shapes his relationship with Jaime, and motivates him to go find his father rather than escape.

        • Karl says:

          I agree with the Boiled Leather podcast here- I don’t think any viewer is wondering why Tyrion killed Tywin, there’s plenty of motive already. The biggest problem is that now he has no reason to hate Jaime, but that might be a little foreshadowing that he and Jaime will never meet again.

          • Petyr Patter says:

            They may not wonder why, but if they “know,” they’ll know the wrong answer. Tyrion didn’t go back to kill his father (and risk his freedom) because his father condemned him to die. He went back to kill the man who had his wife gang raped and then emotionally severed their ties with a hateful lie.

            Honestly, the exclusion of the “Tysha reveal” upset me more than the possibility of not having Lady Stoneheart.

            I guess this might be one of those “butterfly effects” Martin mentioned when the show started deviating from the book. Yet, Shae is a very poor replacement when it comes to emotional trauma and revealing the extent of Tywin’s cruelty.

      • Grant says:

        It’s true that television is a different medium and ultimately an adaptation must adapt, but unlike Ser Hyle for Brienne, Tysha was a major part of Tyrion’s character. A lot of his scenes in A Dance With Dragons, particularly the early chapters, focuses around his total despair over her. The show’s Tyrion is different in some ways, but from what we know of the book’s Tyrion it seems pretty clear that if he hadn’t heard the story, he would have kept going and never would have confronted Tywin.

        If learning the truth about her wasn’t the impetus to confront and kill two people, then what was the point of mentioning her? To show that he truly wants love? It’s made repeatedly clear that Tyrion’s a dwarf and suffers discrimination because of it. I think we can see his want for genuine human affection easily enough.

        • I think they wanted to have her story be important when they brought her up in Season 1, but then swung way away from that when they decided to have Shae actually love Tyrion. At that point, Shae kind of absorbed that part of Tyrion’s story.

  3. jpmarchives says:

    Sansa’s status as a hostage makes for some of the tensest moments of the entire series, and shows just how indescribably horrible Joffrey is. I can understand why people are annoyed with Sansa in AGOT but I’ve always been sympathetic to her from ACOK onward and I can’t believe that other readers aren’t. A child in danger showing bravery and inner resilience is figure to be lauded, not hated.

    Sansa’s arc as a spy thriller is a very good comparison Stephen, especially with the ever building tension. Typically I avoid gender politics, but discussing them in Sansa’s case is almost unavoidable. Unlike Arya who spends most of her arc bucking the trend of a medieval lady (and therefore more closely resembling a typical female fantasy protagonist) Sansa is perpetually told her limitations as a woman and where her only value lies; her claim and her ability to birth children. As a reader (and a male reader to boot) the perpetual threat of sexual violence which is presented by the Hound, Littlefinger, and to a lesser extent Tyrion hangs over her chapters to an unbearable degree. There is no better way of debunking the myth of Romantic Chivalry than putting a character we care about into the middle of it’s grotesque realities.

    Although he’s a fan favorite, I’ve never had much appreciation for the Hound. He works as a foil to Dontos and is the one who debunks much of Sansa’s naivete, but he never really makes any attempt to better himself or improve his situation. He understands the hypocrisy of Knighthood and resents it, but offers no alternative answers and runs away in his darkest moment. Sansa’s internal strength and compassion even in the grip of her enemies, makes her a far braver character in the end.

    On the subject of the TV show; yes certain things are mucked up, but at least Game of Thrones has the services of Jack Gleeson, who sells the danger angle of Sansa’s captivity with ease. He’s also proof that even modern tv networks struggle to cast handsome actors in unlikable roles. In the books, Joffrey is conventionally handsome, with only a pair of pouty lips to show that he’s not a conventional chivalrous Prince. Whereas on the show, Gleeson has a profoundly punchable face from the outset which we all love to hate… no offence Jack.

    • Much credit to Jack Gleeson, he sold the hell out of his role and emotionally connected.

    • Grant says:

      Very true, even when they have a handsome villain you find that it’s usually a ‘dark’ kind of handsome. For an odd example, in the first episode of Hogan’s Heroes the spy isn’t bad looking, but you can tell just by looking at him that he’ll be the villain of the episode. Now having someone like Hogan be the villain? That would have been a twist.

      • rw970 says:

        I loved that, in lieu of having the actor speak German, they just had him speak English in EVIL MODE when he was alone with Klink.

        • Grant says:

          They did provide a good excuse why, he had to mentally be American at all times. In most of the series they didn’t bother.

    • To be fair, I crossed paths with Jack Gleeson once in Dublin (and I use the term crossed paths quite literally), and in real life he’s a perfectly pleasant looking smiley young man – it’s hard to describe, but it’s like he holds his face completely differently when differently when playing Joffrey. (If that’s possible – I’ve seen actors chance their stance or body language in a part, but rarely their face to that degree…though Cate Blanchett springs to mind as someone who can do it).

  4. John says:

    What’s interesting to me is that all of Sansa’s discussion of family makes a point to exclude Jon – even when Slynt is sent to the wall, Sansa doesn’t think of him (IIRC). Does Sansa ever thinks of Jon at all until AFFC? I can’t think of a time they interacted, though I haven’t read everything in over a year now.

    • There was the whole thing that she unfailingly called him their half-brother, and never used the word bastard, that she taught him how to talk to girls, etc.

      Sansa was always mommy’s favorite, but she was also too much of a proper lady to be mean to Jon.

    • Crystal says:

      I don’t recall them ever interacting on the page from either POV. But Sansa did teach Jon how to talk to girls, so they have interacted in the past (but we don’t get to see it).

      Steven is right, Sansa never calls Jon a bastard, because she IS that courteous and kind. I think there are two reasons why she feels so distanced from Jon: one is that they have such different interests – Sansa is not interested in fighting, nor is Jon interested in needlework, music and dancing. Second and more importantly, Sansa is very close to her mother, who has always and obviously resented Jon’s presence at Winterfell. I think that Sansa didn’t dare be too close to Jon because she did not want to offend or hurt Catelyn.

      Ironically, Sansa and Jon are in character very much alike, and more like Ned than any of the other siblings (as I see it). Both of them can put on that poker face that Ned could, both had romanticized notions of the court (Sansa) and the wall (Jon), both stick up for underdogs, and both are being trained to rule in their respective spheres – Jon as war commander and Sansa as a court-and-politics-aware consort (or maybe something more, who knows?).

      By contrast, Arya’s and Bran’s arcs are *all* about the supernatural and not about worldly power. (Jon has elements of the supernatural but a good deal of his training is in the mundane realms of rulership.)

      • Lindsey says:

        Arya and Bran’s arcs are not all about the supernatural. Bran spends much of his earlier chapters dealing in Northern politics and learning to rule. Arya spends most of her chapters experiencing the repercussions of choices made by those in power. The suffering of the smallfolk, who are always the ones to suffer when those of “worldly power” play their games, isn’t something to disregard.

        Yes, there is a lot of magic in both of their arcs that firmly connects them to the main plot of the series, but other important parts of their arcs shouldn’t be ignored either. Bran’s training as Lord of Winterfell/King in the North will most likely play a major part in his endgame, as will Arya’s ability to empathize with the smallfolk when it comes to the effects of big political decisions.

      • John says:

        Good points both. I think it’s more in terms of feel – Sansa is very proper, but there’s something about each (this is certainly not a one way phenomenon) where they seem to rarely think of each other in a way that doesn’t seem true for any of the other Stark siblings we spend time with.

        The comparisons with Ned seem apt, and it’s one reason I’m increasingly drawn to their storylines, but I can’t shake the feeling of distance between the two.

    • She does actually, first when she sees Joren and the men that are with him and feels sorry for Jon, later she does include him in her prayers. And of course, in FFC. And Jon also has memories of Sansa (good ones, actually): she taught him how to talk to girls, remembers her brushing Lady’s hair while singing and Alys Karstark tells us about a dance in Winterfell where Jon was sullen until Sansa danced with him. And he later defends Sansa’s birthright.

  5. Sean C. says:

    Regarding the paragraph you quote here concerning Sansa thinking about the people she misses, one minor point of interest here: what does Sansa think happened to Jeyne Poole? This is one of three times she thinks about her post-AGOT (one of the later chapters in ACOK and her third in AFFC being the other two), and given what actually happened to Jeyne and in whose custody Sansa ends up, it’s worth considering. The actual text supplies very little in the way of indicators, and periodically people wonder why she never asks Baelish about this later on. Both mentions in ACOK just refer to her as someone who isn’t around anymore; in AFFC “poor Jeyne Poole” is noted.

    Now, based on the paragraph, Sansa tries hard not to think too much about everybody she’s lost to begin with as a survival mechanism (a point that a lot of people who hate the character seemingly fail to read, since she’s regularly accused of not thinking of her family enough as an indicator that she’s a bitch), but I think the answer to the question is really that Sansa assumes Jeyne is dead. Returning to the AGOT chapter where Jeyne was taken away, it was as part of the conversation where she’s talked into writing the letters to Robb, Lord Hoster, etc., and more generally being manipulated a lot. Obviously, based on later events, Sansa now understands that Cersei and co. were playing her for a dupe there and lying about everything. There’s no reason to think they were being any more truthful about Littlefinger finding Jeyne a place (though he actually did do that, in a loose sense of the term). If she were to revisit that conversation, the most likely inference is that Jeyne was dragged out back and executed alongside everyone else, belatedly. Once you peel away the seeming deceptions aimed at manipulating Sansa, from Sansa’s POV, there’s no real reason to keep Jeyne around, as far as she could guess.

    • I think she doesn’t want to think about it because the answer is dead at best, and the reality was much, much worse.

    • Who says she didn’t ask Littlefinger about Jeyne? For all we know, she may have. It’s not like he would have told her the truth: “oh, I sent her to one of my brothels”, instead of coming up with some BS story that she’s become someone’s ward or maid or something.

      It’s not like we see every conversation between Sansa and LF they ever had. They may or may not have talked about Jeyne – in any case, it would present no new information and is not relevant to the current story, so GRRM did not include it in any of the rare Sansa in the Vale chapters. If/when it becomes relevant, GRRM may either show Sansa talking to LF about Jeyne, or have her remember that she asked him about her and he told her this or that.

      • Sean C. says:

        I agree that it’s possible she did, but since we have no information either way, and Sansa’s one mention of Jeyne post-KL doesn’t shed any light on it, I just proceed from the assumption that she didn’t.

        Also, not that Littlefinger doesn’t take risks, but telling Sansa Jeyne is still out there would at least raise the possibility of seeing her again at some point in the future when she’s not in hiding, which would be problematic.

      • David Hunt says:

        Regarding the “Oh shes’s a maid/ward to Lord X” line, all I’ll say is that I doubt LF is ever going to lie to Sansa about Jeyne is such a way that she could check on it. She is eventually going to have to be publicly declared and at that point she can do inconvenient things like write letters to where she thinks Jeyne is. It might be better for him to simply feign ignorance as to her fate. That pretty much has to be a lie. LF was gone from King’s Landing before “Arya” was sent North to marry Ramsey Bolton, but he pretty much had to be involved in retrieving her as Cercei told LF to keep his consigning her into sexual slavery outside of the city.

        Sansa’s knowledge of Jeyne is going to be very interesting if we ever get a point where Littlefinger is actually trying to press her claim to Winterfell. Part of LF’s plot has to involve revealing the Fake Arya as a fake. Did he just think that he’d have groomed her enough that she wouldn’t care about Jeyne or think that she’d be so dependent on him by that point that she’d just go along with anything from him. Of course, with “Arya’s” rescue by Mance and Theon, that portion of the plan is starting to go pear shaped. I wonder what Sansa has heard about the marriage however, She could have been in the dark in the undermanned Eryie, but now she’s down in the Vale and interacting with Lords and they’re gong to talk politics. I find it hard to believe that she hasn’t heard that “Arya Stark” is being married off to a Bolton. Has LF told her that the girl is a fake but simply neglected to mention who it is? He might be planning that Jeyne will be properly dead and buried in a shallow grave to make sure that Sansa never has a chance to meet her. I like the idea that Jeyne is so inconsequential to LF that he’s forgotten how close she was to Sansa, setting a massive bear trap that he’ll eventually step in, but I don’t think her relationship to Sansa is something LF would forget.

  6. Arthur Brown says:

    Steve, Another wonderful analysis. By the old gods and the new, I live for these. Many many thanks. Arthur

    Sent from my iPad


  7. Arthur Brown says:

    Sansa’s book evolution is slow but well placed. Just when you believe she is becoming a “woman grown”, she falls back into girlish fantasies. As a father of 2 adult women, this is quite realistic.

    The real interest is Sandor Cleagane’s arc with both Stark girls. The Hound is brutal: physically & in his honestly. He views the world through burnt eyes that sear away the pretensions of chivalry & goodness. Yet, he longs for a better world and knows the Starks, for all the horrors that befell their honor and their house, have the right of it. His wants Sansa but but never crosses the line – he saves and protects her. He offers her escape but she refuses to her sorrow. With Arya, he sees her at first as a means of redemption by returning her to her family and after the RW, takes her all over the Riverlands trying find her safe haven. He remains brutally honest but becomes very protective of her as well. Unlike Sansa, Arya never realizes the Hound was the best option she had as a protector.

    To me, Brienne & the Hound are the truest knights in Westeros.

    • I’ll get into this more when it comes up, but I agree. GRRM likes his whole theme of true knights vs. real knights. Dunk, Brienne, the Hound, etc.

    • Sean C. says:

      Calling the Hound “a true knight” at this point is pretty dubious. He wanted to be one, but after his injury he’s spent the rest of his time convincing himself that the world is just a horrible place and therefore he should just go with the flow and be a ruthless mercenary. He murders Mycah without a second thought, for instance. His arc is his gradual reckoning with the moral consequences of the things that he’s done, and becoming discontented with it.

      • Yes and no. He’s also the only Kingsguard who actually tries to protect women and children. Well, female children.

        • Sean C. says:

          See, I don’t think he’s trying to protect “women and children”; there’s never any evidence that he cares about civilians at this point (certainly not in the show, where he considers it a moral imperative to steal from the weak and leave their children to starve, but then, that’s the show’s ideas, which don’t have much to do with the book character). He’s helping out Sansa, as an individual, on whom he’s fixated for a variety of reasons (ideological, sexual, possibly because she reminds him of his late sister, etc.). I don’t know that you can extrapolate anything else from that.

          • And Arya. He also helps Arya.

          • Sean C. says:

            Yes, but he only encounters Arya after his interactions with Sansa have started to change his view on things.

          • Sean C. says:

            And Arya, for that matter, is “the little sister”, as he describes her when they first meet (or, in the show, “that Stark bitch”).

          • alkonost says:

            Steven, Sandor did help Arya, but only after kidnapping her.

            To be fair, I think that he did come to care about Arya on a personal level. After all, he didn’t sell her out to the Lannisters, and he kept taking care of her after the Red Wedding. But they were only travelling together because he stole her from the Brotherhood (who were taking pretty good care of her, all things considered) in order to get a ransom, and he really didn’t seem to take the best care of her physically or emotionally.

            He definitely wasn’t the worst person Arya could have fallen in with, but she did spend quite a bit of her time with him trying to escape.

          • Yes that’s true. I don’t think Sandor starts as a true knight, but I think he comes closer over time. The ordeal was a rather significant moment, I think.

        • alkonost says:

          I agree with Sean C that Sandor only seems interested in protecting Sansa and Arya, and I’m a little leery of using his interactions with them to draw larger conclusions about his attitude towards people in general. He doesn’t seem to derive pleasure from causing pain the way his brother does, but he also doesn’t seem to care about the survival or well being of most of the people he interacts with.

          For example, during the riot in King’s Landing Sandor risks his own life to bring Sansa to safety, even though he was one of the first people to be attacked. But once he’s returned to the Red Keep he shows absolutely no interest in Lollys Stokeworth’s safety, and rudely brushes off Lady Tanda’s questions. Later, when he tells Arya about the riot, he brags about saving Sansa from suffering the same fate as Lollys. He doesn’t feel guilty for not saving Lollys, he doesn’t seem to feel any pity for her, he doesn’t express any regret that he couldn’t have saved more innocent people that day. He’s just happy that the one person he’s emotionally invested in came out relatively unscathed.

          By the time the series starts, Sandor had already survived a childhood that could inspire an Eli Roth movie, he’d served as a child soldier and probably witnessed the brutal sack of King’s Landing, he’d fought in the Greyjoy Rebellion as an adolescent, and he’d spent years working as muscle for an extremely ruthless family. By AGOT he’d probably learned to become numb to other’s people’s suffering. I think that’s why Sansa’s ordeal in King’s Landing unbalanced him so much. Suddenly he did care about a victim of violence and he couldn’t remain emotionally detached.

          I think that Sandor spent years learning to turn off his ability to feel empathy, and his actions towards Arya and Sansa are evidence only of his attitude towards Arya and Sansa.

          • I think that’s pretty accurate. Especially: “I think that Sandor spent years learning to turn off his ability to feel empathy”. I think it’s very telling that he not only couldn’t remember Mycah’s name, but didn’t want to remember it, and one of his angriest moments in conversations with Arya was when he yelled at her to never mention Mycah’s name again.

          • If it’s just his attitude towards Arya and Sansa, that kind of closes off the theme of redemption, though.

          • alkonost says:

            With regards to Sandor’s redemption, I think that it’s still in progress (assuming that he really is the gravedigger).

            I get the impression that by the end of the second book he was looking for redemption, but as of his last appearance he still wasn’t quite there yet. He did choose to leave the Lannister’s service, and afterwards he became much less proactively violent. As timetravellingbunny pointed out in another comment, he only kills people in ASOS in self-defense or as an act of mercy.

            But even if Sandor wasn’t terrorizing the countryside, he still hadn’t made the leap to actually wanting to help people. He still kidnapped Arya and was pretty physically rough with for a lot of their time together, he cheated the ferrymen at Lord Harroway’s Town, he mugged a peasant for a disguise to wear to the Twins, and he was pretty careless about Arya’s safety after the Red Wedding. He didn’t exactly defend the weak the way Brienne tried to in AFFC.

            That said, Sandor’s final conversation with Arya suggests that he did feel remorse for a lot of his past actions, and he was finally willing to admit to it. His time on the Quiet Isle (again, assuming that he’s the gravedigger), may help him build on that development constructively.

            As I said in my previous comment, Sandor spent a long time learning to not feel empathy. In order to change he has to let go of all of the mental and emotional defenses he’d relied on for most of his life. He is capable of redemption, and his character arc is certainly pointing in that direction, but I still think it’s premature to talk about him being a true knight who defends women and children.

      • Arthur Brown says:

        Hmmm, need to clarify: Sandor had disdain for the hypocracy of “True Knights” but he really exemplified the important virtures of midieval chivalry expected of knights.

    • I wouldn’t say that Sandor is a “true knight” at this point, or anywhere comparable to Brienne in that aspect. I think that he would love to be one, deep inside, and that he has those same ideals Brienne lives by, buried somewhere – but he’s spent years and years denying them and upholding a nihilistic world view. On the sliding scale of idealism vs cynicism, he’s close to the other extreme compared to Brienne – at least before Sansa challenges his worldview. His trajectory up to that point is closer to Jaime’s “that boy wanted to be Arthur Dayne, but at some point he turned into the Smiling Knight instead”. Except Sandor’s disillusionment happened much earlier, and he accepted a life as basically a paid killer/bully for the Lannisters, and started playing the role of the intimidating “beast” that everyone saw him as, and that he saw as the only role he could play (other than his fighting ability AND his ability to scare people, what does he have? Killing and intimidating people is the only job he had ever done, before that chapter late in ASOS when he takes up the job as a farm hand in a Vale village, and seems to feel quite content in it).

      He only starts to change for the better once he leaves the Lannister service, at which point his statements about how much he loves killing start looking pretty doubtful, since it turns out that, when not ordered by the Lannisters, he doesn’t actually kill or physically harm anyone he doesn’t have to (his kills in ASOS consists of fighting for his life – literally – in a duel, fighting to protect himself and Arya at the RW, mercy killing, self-defense in the fight against Polliver and co.).

      • BarbreysDustyDesire says:

        When one considers Sandors life and everything he has been through is it any wonder that he’s bitter and misanthropic? Abused as a child he then grows into the role of obedient ‘dog’ and killer for the Lannisters. All the hardened armour around his starts to soften a little when he begins to feel sympathy for Sansa – the caged little bird who could be squashed at any moment – and her plight. So something, some form of humanity is re-awakened in Sandor to the point he can care about two little girls. He’s still rough and cynical and aggressive. He hasn’t of course all of a sudden become a ‘knight in shining armour’ to all and sundry. That would not be realistic in GRRMs universe. But he’s definitely on an arc towards a certain kind of honour, though that’s maybe not quite the right word.

  8. Sean C. says:

    As far as the loss of “a good deal of Sansa’s thematic arc” goes, that’s really not surprising when the writers’ stated view is that “themes are for eighth-grade book reports”. They don’t view the show in those terms, and so it’s hardly surprising that they make a complete hash of an arc that depends heavily on thematic elements. Their approach to the show is concerned primarily with plot mechanics; Dontos shows up to get his “shock” death scene and row the boat, which is all that matters, as far as they’re concerned.

    The contrast between the book and the TV versions of the first Sansa/Dontos meeting are really a perfect summation of the differences between the two arcs in microcosm: In the book, Sansa receives a mysterious message summoning her to a meeting, she contemplates what she should do, she arms herself with the only weapon she can find, and makes her way through the castle at night to what may well be a trap; in the show, she’s sitting around doing nothing when a guy stumbles up and hands her a plot token to set up her being dragged out of the castle with no idea what’s happening. That’s Sansa’s TV King’s Landing arc, right there.

    From the sound of it you’re going to talk about the Hound more in later chapters, but concerning this one, this is the second of two major conversations between Sansa and the Hound that are omitted from the show (where the only real dialogue they have prior to “Blackwater” is when she attempts to thank him for the mob rescue), the cumulative effect of which is to render their onscreen relationship basically nonexistent, which completely undercuts the climax of her Season 2 arc (the show’s version of their Blackwater scene makes no sense). Without any of the Hound’s backstory or his discussions with Sansa about the nature of heroism, etc., their interactions basically consist of: the Hound is some largely non-speaking guy who helps Sansa out on occasion because, er, I guess he likes her? And what she thinks of him is totally inscrutable, though given their lack of interaction, it’s perhaps not surprising (in a later scene she’ll ask “why are you always so hateful?”, which is a book line that makes no sense in context, since that’s the first time they’ve ever spoken more than two words to each other).

    The other point of their interactions that the writers of the show apparently didn’t notice is that Sansa’s interactions with the Hound are meant to challenge his worldview and ultimately spur is discontent with his current situation, something that is completely absent from the TV version, where the Hound is framed as a guy who tells Sansa hard truths. The idea that she has anything to teach him really doesn’t fit with how they see Sansa, as she’s a “stupid little girl with stupid dreams who never learns”.

    • Yeah…the problem with removing the Hound interactions is that they kept in his offer to take her in Blackwater. Without a close connection, refusing that offer isn’t as significant.

    • Jack says:

      I don’t think they really believe their “themes are for eighth-grade book reports” crack or if they do its clearly not reflected in their writing. One of the main themes they’ve tried to push throughout each season is how love is the death of duty. Aemon says this in the same episode in which Ned Stark throws away his duty and disgraces himself out of love for his daughter. In the next two seasons his son Robb Stark ignores his commitment to Walder Frey and marries Talisa for love (a change from the book that better illustrates this theme), eventually paying for it with his life.

      It’s only Jon, the bastard, who chooses duty over love when he leaves Ygritte in order to fulfill his duties to the Night’s Watch. Aemon also repeats the whole love and duty line during the Battle for Castle Black.

      Thats just one example but there are other thematic threads that run throughout certain episodes or seasons. I think the writers simply didn’t find Sansa’s story all that interesting or at least thought the audience wouldn’t.

      • I do think that that particular answer about themes was flippant but does not reflect serious opinions.

        However, the show gets some themes right, such as duty vs love, but completely ignore others, which D&D don’t seem to be interested in; such as idealism and the ideals of chivalry (“true knight”) specifically. Which is especially hurtful for characters whose storylines revolve around these themes. Maybe that’s also why the show seems to be unsure what to do with Jaime now, why Brienne’s characterization turned into a mess in season 4, and why they had such trouble with Sandor’s character until they decided to turn him into a comical anti-hero. But all those characters had action scenes and road trips, so you could give them lots of screentime. What do you do with Sansa, however? You just ignore it, until she gets out of KL and Littlefinger gets his hands on her, at which point it’s possible to start turning her into another one of D&D’s favorite stock characters, “a player”. It remains to be seen whether it’s possible for “players” in the show to retain any complexity and idealism, or if they think that turning Sansa into Show Margaery 2.0 is the best one can do with her character.

        BTW, I don’t agree that Robb marrying for love was a change in the show. Though the show did change Robb and his motivations and reactions in other, infuriating ways.

    • That’s an excellent summary of the show’s treatment of Sansa’s arc, sadly.

  9. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, I hope that you continue to enjoy your work and salute you for this continuing, excellent analysis of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE.

    I would also like to recommend a novel to you, just in case you get a little bored with repeated re-read of the series but don’t want to risk losing your taste for Medieval Mayhem; the book in question is a novel by Mr Christian Cameron called THE ILL-MADE KNIGHT and takes place during the period of time surrounding The Battle of Poitiers, taking a long look at what made a Knight during the Hundred Years War.

    It’s a far from romanticised depiction of the period, but it offers some interesting food for thought and what I would describe as some interesting counter-points to ideas expressed by The Hound and others in A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE.

    It’s also a cracking good read and I heartily recommend it to you, along with the authors other writings (especially his TOM SWAN novellas, which are available as a series of short stories on Kindle and represent as good a gateway into Mr Cameron’s work as any I can think of).

    I hope you pick up the book and I trust you will enjoy it (not least because Mr Cameron’s works tend to be substantial, but not doorstoppers fit to wear out the most ‘roid-riddled bodybuilders!).

  10. ad says:

    “My first guess is that Sandor is constrasting the earthy reality of sexual desire vs. the ideal of courtly love”

    Sandor strikes me as someone who loses no opportunity to call a spade a f**king shovel, just to prove to himself how romantic he’s not. It’s hard to believe there is anyone in Westeros who cares more about chivalry than the man who keeps denying its existance.

    On a slightly similar note, either Ser Dontos genuinely cared about Sansa, or he was a very good actor. And I don’t believe he was a very good actor. The fact that he wanted to be paid for rescuing her does not prove that he did not care about her. After all, in this world doctors want to be paid, and no one concludes that means they cannot care about their patients lives.

    • Grant says:

      Who knows? Maybe it was always an act, maybe he was genuinely wanting to help her from the start, maybe he fell into the role and started to see himself as a fairy tale knight. All we’ve got is what Sansa saw and heard.

    • I don’t think he’s so genuine. But I’ll point that out when it comes up.

      • Crystal says:

        I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say about Dontos. Poor guy is a mess, in any case – his entire House except for him exterminated in the aftermath of the Defiance of Duskendale. He was only spared thanks to Ser Barristan Selmy interceding for him. No wonder he drank. I doubt his life at court was happy. I go back and forth as to whether his desire to help Sansa was genuine – I think it was in some part but he was also a tool of Baelish. On the whole, Dontos was so psychologically damage for so long that I don’t know that he could have helped Sansa on his own. (I’m assuming that LF was telling him what to say and do, and on his own, poor Dontos probably couldn’t do much more than slobber and bawl.)

        • alkonost says:

          That’s a good point that his childhood must have been awful. Especially because a lot of his formative years were probably spent during Aerys’s reign after he’d begun to really lose his grip on reality.

          Personally, I think that he was definitely interested in Baelish’s money, that he wouldn’t have tried to help Sansa on his own, and that he had inappropriate sexual feelings for her. But on some level, he did seem to feel grateful to her and genuinely want to help (dressing like a knight when he led her out of King’s Landing seems to hint at that).

        • I feel for Ser Dontos, as so much of his life was wrecked by things he had no control over.

          I think there was a genuine element there, but there was also a desire for money, and a desire for Sansa.

      • MightyIsobel says:

        I was surprised on this read by how strongly I read Ser Dontos as sincere, at least in his desire to help. I could almost believe that Dontos was talking aloud about wanting to help Sansa, and on that basis LF quietly approached him to nurture the idea into a full-blown plot. But I am inclined to agree that the Florian/Jonquil narrative frame feels like it comes from LF, and the energy and bravery to approach Sansa and take active steps is all LF and his cash payments.

        I’ll be interested to see Dontos’s agenda deconstructed.

        • Crystal says:

          I think your scenario is very plausible. As I see it: Sansa was one of the few people who was kind to Dontos, and so he wanted to help her once she became a hostage, and he said something in front of LF. LF approached Dontos with a promise that if he did exactly as LF told him, he could help Sansa *and* get rich. And so Dontos became LF’s catspaw. I doubt that Dontos had any evil *intent* – LF probably told him how he, LF, was a great good friend of Sansa’s mother and only wanted the best for Sansa yadda yadda – but Dontos wound up working for LF who played him like a fiddle.

  11. Brett says:

    Now, this brings up the question of what exactly the Tyrells’ motives were for making the marriage: did they just want her claim, as Dontos will suggest, or were they mixing practicality with morality as they will do in other cases?

    Probably the latter. From their perspective, it’s win-win for them both – Sansa gets away from the Lannisters and gets married to Willas Tyrell (who sounds like a pretty decent guy), thus giving them a claim to the North, a means to reel in Stark rebels, and some resources that Sansa might need to assert that claim after Robb’s dead.

    I can’t imagine Sansa actually telling Cersei anything secret after what happened with Ned. Getting burned twice by her was enough.

    • Carolyn says:

      Don’t forget, that they also get a highborn and beautiful wife for their heir, who thanks to his infirmity has more trouble finding a suitable bride than otherwise.
      Ned Stark wanted to find a husband for Sansa, who was “honorable and gentle and strong”, so Willas Tyrell would not have been his first choice due to his infirmity. Both Cersei and Sansa initially chafe at marrying a cripple (although Sansa later comes to like the idea, since she is desperate to get away from the Lannisters). I do not think, that it would be as difficult to get a suitable bride for him as for Tyrion (since Tyrion’s disability is genetic and therefore can be transmitted to his children, while Willas’s disability is due to an accident and Tyrion’s inheritance is all but sure in contrast to Willas’s), but even Margaery admits, that he is “a little old to marry” meaning that the Tyrells probably had difficulties marrying him to someone they thought of equal station to him.

      • Crystal says:

        Those are good points. I’ll add that the Tyrells still have to contend with whispers of “upjumped stewards” whereas the Starks are descendants of the Kings of Winter and one of the oldest Great Houses, if not THE oldest. So even without her claim, Sansa brings the Stark bloodline and pedigree. And she is beautiful, well-mannered, accomplished, and no doubt would fit right into the culture of the Reach.

        I’ve always thought that Sansa was being brought up with an eye to her being a potential Queen even before Robert and his family came north. If Joffrey were to marry a daughter of a Great House, it was either Sansa or Margaery Tyrell, and Sansa had the edge because her father was King Robert’s best friend. I think that Ned just wasn’t expecting Sansa to be betrothed so soon, nor did he know what a little shit (and literally a little bastard) Joff was until much later. But, if Willas hadn’t been crippled, he could have been a candidate for Sansa’s hand even before Sansa went to King’s Landing – I’m sure Ned and Cat wanted an heir to a Great House for her.

        • Grant says:

          That one’s hard to say. Eddard and Catelyn strangely don’t seem to have put so much effort into their marriage politics as you’d expect from a leading noble family with two children close to marrying age and several more on their heels. But it is a bit strange for the great houses to intermarry and seems to usually be a matter of either royal favor or dynastic alliances such as the Stark/Tully and proposed Martell/Lannister marriages in the backstory.

          It really is odd though, you’d think we’d see a chapter about Catelyn thinking about Robb marrying a Karstark or something. Maybe it’s because so much of the series is around the Starks being dragged into southern politics, so by the time of the books northern marriages to keep good ties with retainers are no longer viable in favor of new dynastic alliances.

          • That is true. My guess is that Eddard reacted badly to his father’s ambitions, and wanted to keep his kids closer. I’d imagine for a man who lost his entire family at a young age, he’d want them around as much as possible.

        • That’s true, the Tyrells are hungry for royal blood.

          Cat definitely wanted Sansa to marry well and prepped her accordingly. Ned, I’m not so sure; certainly he was unusually hesitant with Robb.

          • David Hunt says:

            Here’s a thought. Although Eddard came to love Catelyn Tully, I wonder if he wanted to marry her at the time. There are strong hints that he was in love with Ashara Dayne, perhaps even sleeping with her, before his brother died and he had to make a political marriage to form a military alliance. If that’s true, he may have been trying to spare his firstborn son being married off to someone he didn’t know and hoping that he’d grow to love her. IIRC, Ned was still only 35 when the books start. He could have expected to live at least another twenty years so Robb wasn’t expected to over the lordship for some time. At a guess, I’d say Ned was waiting for Robb to take an interest in one of the many eligible young daughters that his bannermen were likely making sure that Robb met. If the girl that Robb showed an interest in didn’t amount to a total political disaster, he could start making arrangements, then.

            Sansa may have been getting the same deference, or it might have been that Ned and Cat anticipated that Robert would propose for her to marry Joffrey. Come to think of it, Robb wasn’t that much older than Myrcella (seven years). The Starks may simply have been holding off on making marriage pacts for their oldest children because both of them had a real chance a marrying into the royal family.

          • Oh, I absolutely believe Ned was in love with Ashara Dayne and wed for politics at the time. And then the woman he loved killed herself because he killed her brother and he had to pretend that his dead sister’s baby was his bastard and that put a pretty big dent in his marriage. No wonder he was so grim.

          • scarlett45 says:

            I could see Ned waiting a while to arrange marriages given his personal history. Assuming there was no need for him to become hand, no war etc, if Robb became smitten with one of the daughters of his bannerman several years down the road I could see him allowing the match. Yes Ned is only 35 when the series starts and Robb only 14- him waiting another 10yrs to marry wouldn’t have been unheard of.

          • zonaria says:

            How long ought the “upjumped stewards” slur be a valid one? Surely the Carolingians and the Stuarts managed this particular transition without too much trouble?

          • WPA says:

            Absent the events of the series- you’d think Ned would go the traditional bannermen route with Robb- I could imagine Wyman Manderly being quite happy to show up at Winterfell with his grand-daughters or to host the Starks with exactly that in mind.

          • Crystal says:

            I recall Alys Karstark telling Jon in ADWD that she had been sent to Winterfell to “charm Robb” when she was a little girl. So we know at least one bannerman had his eye on Robb, at least. And since I doubt that even Rickard Karstark would send a young child on such a long journey all alone, I surmise it might have been Rickard and all the kids, and the idea being that Harrion Karstark might perhaps charm Sansa, too.

            And then there are Wyman Manderly’s granddaughters – Wynafryd, the elder, is in line to rule White Harbor after Wylis. We never hear of Wyman angling to marry a granddaughter to Robb, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had at some point.

            Medger Cerwyn was apparently angling to get his daughter Jonella married off to Robb by bringing her with him when he called his banners and marched to the Riverlands. The Cerwyns live very near the Starks, and Cley Cerwyn was not much older than Sansa, so I wonder if Medger dropped hints to Ned that his son was eligible?

            I think that Ned simply didn’t want to push his children into marriage too young. He probably thought he had plenty of time to seek marriage partners for Robb and Sansa. I note that Wynafryd Manderly is 19 as of ADWD and only recently became betrothed, and Wynafryd has no brothers and therefore will be the ruling Lady Manderly one day – a very rich prize for any younger son in need of lands. (I would love to know if Highgarden wanted to palm Loras off onto the Manderlys, and Wyman’s reaction!) I surmise that, in peacetime, girls might not be married until their later teens in many cases. (And in any case, Wynafryd need trouble herself no more about her Frey fiance, as he was last seen minced and enclosed in a flaky crust…)

      • scarlett45 says:

        I could see this. Willas would no doubt have his pick of daughters from his bannerman- cripple or not he’s the heir to the Reach, but the daughter of the ruling lord of another great house? Especially one as personally accomplished as Sansa (beautiful, well mannered etc).
        Regarding Joffrey, Cersei bwing Cersei would probably want him married to a Lannister cousin…….if Robert hadnt suggested Sansa and the war hadn’t broken out.

    • Sean C. says:

      If Sansa were to tell Cersei, it would be because she decided the Dontos feeler was a secret test of her loyalty, and thus the only way to “pass” would be to reveal Dontos’ ‘treason’.

    • To me, the question is whether they wanted to crush the Starks and replace them or work something else out. Still not sure about that.

  12. On the dislike for Sansa’s ‘passivity’, I think it stems mostly from people who expect women in fantasy to be more like Arya; people see Arya and feel a conection because she feels and reads more modern if you will. And unlike Arya, Sansa very much conforms to the expectations the society she lives with and will continue to do so.
    Don’t you love that Sansa asked Dontos who had sent him? I did. She at 12 (she doesn’t turn 13 until Storm) is learning fast by observing and keeping quiet. She’s a survivor in her own way but some people think it’s passivity.

    I don’t think Little Finger knows Sansa, he knows the basics and basically their interactions are very limited, heck in FFC he still sees her as someone who will fall for the pretty knight, when we know she’s fed up with it. She’s come to see the value of people not because of their pretty faces. IMO, LF is only seeing her as Cat 2.0, but unlike Cat, he wrongly thinks she’s someone who will just obey and eventually fall for him (note that comment about young maids being happier with older men).

    On the Tyrells, I think it was a win-win offer: If Robb dies, Sansa’s a heiress. If he doesn’t, they still would have married into the oldest dynasty and Sansa is a beautiful girl who could still be a great choice for the wife of the future Lord of Highgarden.

    And lastly Sandor, I won’t deny that he’s a nasty piece of work when he wants to be, but he’s not cruel just for giggles. Jaime’s quote about Gregor being the real monster of House Clegane is telling. I think (and perhaps I’m the only one here) that Sandor sees in Sansa the youthful dreams he once had until his own were crushed to dust by Gregor and he’s trying in that awful manner of his to make Sansa see that the world is not how the stories tell it. So for him, nihilism and cynicism are the safer route; a manner to protect himself against the world, after all his own father failed to protect him and he’s seen by most as a dog not even a person.

  13. Roger says:

    Florian and Jonquil is a reference to Gareth BEaumains. A young lad working in king Arthur’s kitchens who volunteers for helping a lady in distress. And she mocks and despises him every minute, until he shows is knighty worth, he wons the mission and they marry.

    Shadrick doesn’t work for Littlefinger, AFAIK and the Kettleback weren’t unsuited for the mission. Nobody cared about Dontos, but seeing a Kettleback around Sansa could have been suspicious. Also Littlefinger needed them around the Queen.

    • Could well be.

      Shadrick does indeed work for LF. And Varys. And probably some other people.

      If the Kettleblacks are around the Queen, what’s suspicious about them being in the Red Keep?

  14. zonaria says:

    Matilda got very lucky with the river, which has only frozen once in living memory.

  15. […] escalation. First, it was street preachers in the streets; then it was mobs begging for bread being shot by the king; now we have a group of militant preachers who are going to be hardened by their stay in prison and […]

  16. […] a little unclear from context whether he’s referring to the previous incident where he murdered his own subject, or whether it’s happened again, but it’s not a  good […]

  17. […] head – on the one hand, you have a lone knight saving a fair maiden, with whom he shares a courtly romance; on the other, the only one who actually lives up to the duties of knighthood is the one who […]

  18. Ser Biffy Clegane says:

    This shows off the one strength Littlefinger has to offer his various weaknesses when you compare him and Varys. His ability to find and push people’s levers borders on a superpower. He’s Iago on steroids. (His crowning achievement might be his mission to the Reach, when, assuming you believe his account, he was able to control a great house by picking the right SONG.)

  19. […] by Sansa’s ACOK storyline is that so much of her story has been leading in the direction of escaping King’s Landing and yet the book will end with her seemingly still stuck in the same position she was at the […]

  20. […] we’ve seen before, the Florian and Jonquil myth is GRRM’s take on the unlikely knight who wins the love of a […]

  21. […] plan to isolate and groom Sansa and how much of it is part of Ser Dontos’ own desires? As I’ve said before, I think that the Florian and Jonquil dialogue was thought up by Littlefinger as a way of appealing […]

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