Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa IV, ACOK


“Wordless, she fled. She was afraid of Sandor Clegane…and yet, some part of her wished that Ser Dontos had a little of the Hound’s ferocity. There are gods, she told herself, and there are true knights too. All the stories can’t be lies.”

Synopsis: Sansa argues with Ser Dontos about travel, has a conversation with Sandor Clegane about the joys of murder, and then has to talk to Cersei about menstruation. The life of a teenage girl is fraught with dangers, am I right?

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 Tyrion XI, it’s interesting that George R.R Martin decides to turn the Battle of Blackwater into a three-hander rather than just portraying both sides. Sansa is the natural choice for the civilian perspective – she’s the only other King’s Landing POV, she has a vantage point on Cersei, the war effort, and the city as a whole, and her identity as a Stark means that she’s simultaneously under threat from a rampaging army if the city falls and potentially liberated if the Lannisters fall.

The Battle of Blackwater: Stannis’ Opening Moves 

Because of her literal vantage points from the battlements of the Red Keep, Sansa can act as a camera trained on the city and its environs, much as her mother does for Riverrun during the Battle of the Fords. Thus, she can see the full sweep of war come to the capitol:

The southern sky was black with smoke. It rose swirling off a hundred distant fires, its sooty fingers smudging out the stars. Across the Blackwater Rush, a line of flame burned nightly from horizon to horizon, while on this side the Imp had fired the whole riverfront: docks and warehouses, homes and brothels, everything outside the city walls…

“Lord Stannis wants to smoke out the Imp’s savages.” Dontos swayed as he spoke, one hand on the trunk of a chestnut tree. A wine stain discolored the red-and-yellow motley of his tunic. “They kill his scouts and raid his baggage train. And the wildlings have been lighting fires too. The Imp told the queen that Stannis had better train his horses to eat ash, since he would find no blade of grass. I heard him say so. I hear all sorts of things as a fool that I never heard when I was a knight. They talk as though I am not there, and”—he leaned close, breathing his winey breath right in her face—”the Spider pays in gold for any little trifle. I think Moon Boy has been his for years.”

As an outsider, Sansa’s perspective shows us the moral equivalence of Stannis and Tyrion as both men resort to scorched earth tactics, Tyrion to deny Stannis a landing, and Stannis to deal with asymmetrical warfare in his characteristic fashion. In addition, we also get the first major hint from Ser Dontos that he’s a spy, and not just for Littlefinger. (Which raises the possibility that Varys knows that Littlefinger has Sansa…) The news that Moon Boy is Varys’ spy might also explain how it is that Varys manages to remain so well informed about the political situation in the royal court over the course of AFFC and ADWD, despite hiding out underground in tunnels that are being opened up by Lannisters.

The Battle of Blackwater: Religious Propaganda

At the same time, the talk of fire leads us directly into our next topic, as fire and religion begin to mix:

“Is it true Lord Stannis burned the godswood at Storm’s End?”

Dontos nodded. “He made a great pyre of the trees as an offering to his new god. The red priestess made him do it. They say she rules him now, body and soul. He’s vowed to burn the Great Sept of Baelor too, if he takes the city.”

“Let him.” When Sansa had first beheld the Great Sept with its marble walls and seven crystal towers, she’d thought it was the most beautiful building in the world, but that had been before Joffrey beheaded her father on its steps. “I want it burned.”

So there’s a bunch of things to unpack here. First, is the question of whether Stannis now is a true believer in R’hllor. Certainly, his attitude in Davos II is markedly different from that in Davos I in terms of his confidence in Melisandre’s visions, but as we’ll see in ASOS and beyond, Stannis hasn’t abandoned his critical faculties. On the other hand, it may well be that Stannis’ atheist leanings means that he doesn’t particularly care about burning statues or trees, but considers burning people to be a different matter entirely. Second, here we can see that Tyrion’s strategy of trying to rev up anti-Rhllorist sentiment in King’s Landing is working, to the extent that the rumor is spreading about the threat to the Great Sept, which also explains why it is that the Sparrow Movement ultimately has to back Tommen (a subject for another time).

Third and finally, this is also another instance where we see Sansa getting to be angry, which is good to see and yet again proof that she remains a Stark. However, it also complicates Sansa’s relationship with the Faith of the Seven. On the one hand, as we’ll see in Sansa V, she participates in and seems to believe in the Faith although not without some questions and misgivings, something else she shares with her mother. On the other hand, as we’ll see in ASOS, Sansa also has a strong connection to the Old Gods, and spends far more time praying in the godswood than she ever does in the sept – even if she doesn’t go to this extent of wanting Westeros’ equivalent of St. Paul’s Cathedral to burn to the ground. Given the association between the Great Sept and her father’s death, it’s not surprising that her feelings are somewhat more complicated than your typical child of a mixed-religion marriage, but it is something to keep an eye on if and when Sansa makes oaths to the Seven given her family’s history.

The Battle of Blackwater: The River and Timing

These opening salvos, both military and political, take on a sudden urgency now that Stannis’ land forces have arrived in the King’s Landing area:

The Blackwater Rush was as empty as Sansa had ever seen it. All the ferries had been withdrawn to the north bank, and the trading galleys had fled or been seized by the Imp to be made over for battle. The only ships to be seen were the king’s war galleys. They rowed endlessly up and down, staying to the deep water in the middle of the river and exchanging flights of arrows with Stannis’s archers on the south shore.

Lord Stannis himself was still on the march, but his vanguard had appeared two nights ago during the black of the moon. King’s Landing had woken to the sight of their tents and banners. They were five thousand, Sansa had heard, near as many as all the gold cloaks in the city. They flew the red or green apples of House Fossoway, the turtle of Estermont, and the fox-and-flowers of Florent, and their commander was Ser Guyard Morrigen, a famous southron knight who men now called Guyard the Green. His standard showed a crow in flight, its black wings spread wide against a storm-green sky. But it was the pale yellow banners that worried the city. Long ragged tails streamed behind them like flickering flames, and in place of a lord’s sigil they bore the device of a god: the burning heart of the Lord of Light.

Here, we see the critical importance of geography in shaping the Battle of Blackwater. To begin with, the godawful state of Westerosi infrastructure – people who have read my economic development series are familiar with my obsession about bridges and canals – means that there is no bridge that Stannis’ vanguard can seize to allow the army to cross, allowing Tyrion to cut off transit by removing the ferries.

There is something unrealistic about this; given the Kingsroads’ status as the major Westerosi highway, I refuse to believe that a Hand with Septon Barth’s abilities wouldn’t have had it intersect the Blackwater Rush at a ford at the very least, but it’s absolutely necessary for the rest of the battle to work because GRRM needs the river to be just the right kind of barrier, admitting just enough of Stannis’ men to give Tyrion a challenge while keeping the bulk south of the river where they can’t pose an immediate threat. As Ser Dontos says, “the size of his host does not matter, sweetling, so long as they are on the wrong side of the river.”

Similarly, I really wonder why Stannis’ vanguard didn’t scout out upstream and look for another crossing (for the love of civil engineering, surely where the Gold Road crosses the Rush twice?), which would likely have led to them accidentally slamming into the Tyrell army’s outriders, and alerting Stannis to their presence in the area, which has happened so often in military history.

Moreover, we see in this chapter that timing is absolutely crucial both to how the Battle of Blackwater and Sansa’s own storyline plays out:

“It’s a long sail from Storm’s End, the fleet will need to come up Massey’s Hook and through the Gullet and across Blackwater Bay. Perhaps the good gods will send a storm to sweep them from the seas.” Dontos gave a hopeful smile. “It is not easy for you, I know. You must be patient, child. When my friend returns to the city, we shall have our ship. Have faith in your Florian, and try not to be afraid.”

I’ll come back to this quote again once we’re done with the Battle of Blackwater material, but as we’ll see in Davos III, this is almost exactly what happened. According to the researched timelines that I’ve consulted (Errant Bard’s and PrivateMajor’s), between four and eight days pass between this chapter and the arrival of Stannis’ fleet, largely due to the delay caused by the storm. While the extent of that delay is something I’ll discuss in Davos III, we can see GRRM’s thumb begin to press down on the scales. Without that storm, Stannis’ fleet would have arrived at least a day earlier, allowing Stannis to eventually get his whole army across the Blackwater and take the city. Ironically had that happened, we might have had the Battle of Blackwater in reverse, with Stannis holding the city against Tywin’s forces north of the River and the Tyrells trying to cross the river with their barges with Stannis’ remaining navy holding the river against them.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, Stannis’ navy is delayed by the storm and the city has a chance to prepare, both the military and the civilian population:

The whole city was afraid. Sansa could see it from the castle walls. The smallfolk were hiding themselves behind closed shutters and barred doors as if that would keep them safe. The last time King’s Landing had fallen, the Lannisters looted and raped as they pleased and put hundreds to the sword, even though the city had opened its gates. This time the Imp meant to fight, and a city that fought could expect no mercy at all…

…Yet from here she could see everything: the Red Keep’s tall towers and great cornerforts, the maze of city streets beyond, to south and west the river running black, the bay to the east, the columns of smoke and cinders, and fires, fires everywhere. Soldiers crawled over the city walls like ants with torches, and crowded the hoardings that had sprouted from the ramparts. Down by the Mud Gate, outlined against the drifting smoke, she could make out the vague shape of the three huge catapults, the biggest anyone had ever seen, overtopping the walls by a good twenty feet. Yet none of it made her feel less fearful.

Sansa’s reference to the Sack of King’s Landing during Robert’s Rebellion is a vitally important point: regardless of which lords are on which side, regardless of the cause of the war, it’s the civilian population that suffers. Indeed, Sansa points out an irony that undermines Tyrion’s argument that his actions are justified by the need to defend the city – the only reason that the city is in danger is that Tyrion has decided against surrendering peacefully, so that the Lannisters end up hurting the city no matter whether they’re attacking or defending.

More on this in the Historical Analysis section!

Sansa’s Stalled Escape and Her Character Arc

Now that we’re done with the Battle of Blackwater material, let’s get into Sansa’s storyline. In Sansa IV, we get another reminder that with Sansa, the political and the personal always intersect, in ways that always hinder her:

Sansa picked at the bark of a tree. She felt light-headed, almost feverish. “They sent you, but what good have you done? You promised you would take me home, but I’m still here.”

Dontos patted her arm. “I’ve spoken to a certain man I know, a good friend to me…and you, my lady. He will hire a swift ship to take us to safety, when the time is right.”

“The time is right now,” Sansa insisted, “before the fighting starts. They’ve forgotten about me. I know we could slip away if we tried.”

“Child, child.” Dontos shook his head. “Out of the castle, yes, we could do that, but the city gates are more heavily guarded than ever, and the Imp has even closed off the river.”

“It is not easy for you, I know. You must be patient, child. When my friend returns to the city, we shall have our ship. Have faith in your Florian, and try not to be afraid.”

One of the reasons why people feel frustrated 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 beginning of the book. On the other hand, I wonder if this impression among the fandom following the publication of ACOK in the late 90s has unduly influenced our thinking on the matter.

Re-reading these chapters in light of the entire series (especially ASOS) should give us pause. Sansa doesn’t escape King’s landing, not because she doesn’t want to (we’ve seen across three chapters that she really, really wants to), but because the only person at the moment who’s willing to help her (someone who owes her his life, no less) is gaslighting her. Littlefinger doesn’t want Sansa to escape yet because he wants her held responsible for the Purple Wedding, thus isolating her from much of Westeros and making her that more dependent on him, and so he orders Dontos to keep her on hold until his plans are ready. And this brings up back to the theme of chivalry – no doubt prompted by Littlefinger, who’s had enough conversations with Sansa to know her way of thinking, Dontos is using the story of Florian and Jonquil to manipulate Sansa ideologically and gain credit with her that he does not deserve. (Indeed, Sansa seems to realize that in her quote at the beginning of the chapter, realizing that Dontos has an underlying weakness of character that the Hound does not. More on this later.)

Moreover, we can see from a plot perspective that GRRM needs her to stick around in King’s Landing for a couple reasons – Sansa’s marriage to Tyrion and her presence at the Purple Wedding are crucial to many arcs, and she’s also a POV that Tyrion can’t replace (most notably with the Tyrells). Moreover, if she fled King’s Landing right now, her narrative would be a fugitive from the Lannisters looking to reunited with her family, a little bit too similar to Arya’s. In ASOS, Sansa doesn’t leave King’s Landing until after Arya has been to the Twins and ended her attempt to reunite with her family, preserving that distinctiveness.

So unfortunately Sansa isn’t going anywhere until GRRM is ready to let her go.

A Dialogue on Violence

As with the escape, the personal and the political, the Battle of Blackwater and Sansa’s own battle intersects with the Hound. Throughout the series the Hound as always been a figure who’s represented violence, both as an aggressor and as a victim. It makes sense, therefore, that as Sansa feels trapped by the coming battle, she and Sandor engage in a dialogue which is all about trying to make sense of violence (or arguably one-half of a dialogue the other half of which we’ll get in Sansa VII):

“The little bird still can’t bear to look at me, can she?” The Hound released her. “You were glad enough to see my face when the mob had you, though. Remember?”

Sansa remembered all too well. She remembered the way they had howled, the feel of the blood running down her cheek from where the stone had struck her, and the garlic stink on the breath of the man who had tried to pull her from her horse. She could still feel the cruel pinch of fingers on her wrist as she lost her balance and began to fall.

She’d thought she was going to die then, but the fingers had twitched, all five at once, and the man had shrieked loud as a horse. When his hand fell away, another hand, stronger, shoved her back into her saddle. The man with the garlicky breath was on the ground, blood pumping out the stump of his arm, but there were others all around, some with clubs in hand. The Hound leapt at them, his sword a blur of steel that trailed a red mist as it swung. When they broke and ran before him he had laughed, his terrible burned face for a moment transformed.

She made herself look at that face now, really look. It was only courteous, and a lady must never forget her courtesies. The scars are not the worst part, nor even the way his mouth twitches. It’s his eyes. She had never seen eyes so full of anger. “I…I should have come to you after,” she said haltingly. “To thank you, for…for saving me…you were so brave.”

“Brave?” His laugh was half a snarl. “A dog doesn’t need courage to chase off rats. They had me thirty to one, and not a man of them dared face me.”

As the closest thing that Sansa has experienced to a battle, it’s natural that Sansa should use the King’s Landing riot as a point of reference, and so finally we see that event through her eyes. At the same time, though, we also get a continuation of the theme of recognition and understanding through looking someone in the face and looking beneath the surface that we saw back in Sansa II of AGOT. Sansa takes the opportunity to really try to see Sandor for who he is, and the result is she (and we) learn about Sandor’s understanding of the world:

She hated the way he talked, always so harsh and angry. “Does it give you joy to scare people?”

“No, it gives me joy to kill people…your father lied. Killing is the sweetest thing there is.” He drew his longsword. “Here’s your truth. Your precious father found that out on Baelor’s steps. Lord of Winterfell, Hand of the King, Warden of the North, the mighty Eddard Stark, of a line eight thousand years old… but Ilyn Payne’s blade went through his neck all the same, didn’t it? Do you remember the dance he did when his head came off his shoulders?”

Sansa hugged herself, suddenly cold. “Why are you always so hateful? I was thanking you…”

“Just as if I was one of those true knights you love so well, yes. What do you think a knight is for, girl? You think it’s all taking favors from ladies and looking fine in gold plate? Knights are for killing.” He laid the edge of his longsword against her neck, just under her ear. Sansa could feel the sharpness of the steel. “I killed my first man at twelve. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve killed since then. High lords with old names, fat rich men dressed in velvet, knights puffed up like bladders with their honors, yes, and women and children too—they’re all meat, and I’m the butcher. Let them have their lands and their gods and their gold. Let them have their sers.” Sandor Clegane spat at her feet to show what he thought of that. “So long as I have this,” he said, lifting the sword from her throat, “there’s no man on earth I need fear.”

There is a huge amount to unpack here, but given that we’re talking about performances, surfaces, and truth, let’s start with the fact that Sandor, for all that he pretends to be a nihilistic anti-hero, what he actually is a former idealist embittered by trauma, just like Sansa. (There’s a reason Sandor got his face burned for playing with a toy knight.) Just like his fellow Kingsguard Jaime, Sandor sees himself as a truth-teller, who sees past the illusion of chivalry meant to put a kindly face on a warrior hierarchy founded on the threat and use of violence against civilians. In death, Sandor argues, knights are no different from commoners, and women and children are no more sacred then men. But in that last line, we see the lie – at his core, Sandor is a scared little boy trying to make himself strong enough and tough enough that he can stand up against his big brother, which makes his actions in Eddard VII a rather significant test for the younger Clegane. We can see that in Sandor’s outlandishly violent behavior as he puts a sword to Sansa’s throat as if intimidating an unarmed thirteen year old is proof that he’s a badass.

At the same time, Sandor is definitely Sansa’s vector into the battle itself, and what kind of thinking is necessary to make someone choose to leave the walls of King’s Landing and enter into the hell outside. But I’m getting ahead of myself; first yet another red-haired Stark woman has to listen to a Lannister swordsman describe his Niezschean philosophy, another way in which Sansa resembles her mother:

…”Tell me, little bird, what kind of god makes a monster like the Imp, or a halfwit like Lady Tanda’s daughter? If there are gods, they made sheep so wolves could eat mutton, and they made the weak for the strong to play with.”

“True knights protect the weak.”

He snorted. “There are no true knights, no more than there are gods. If you can’t protect yourself, die and get out of the way of those who can. Sharp steel and strong arms rule this world, don’t ever believe any different.”

Sansa backed away from him. “You’re awful.”

“I’m honest. It’s the world that’s awful.”

As I’ve already mentioned, Sandor’s posture is largely a defense gesture – if he simply acts cynical and pessimistic enough, he’ll never be disappointed. But there is something more genuine to Sandor’s Knight in Sour Armor arguments about the non-existence of the gods and social Darwinism and true knighthood (and for Sandor those three things are inextricably linked), something that rings a bit more true than in Jaime’s case. It’s the only way that Sandor can really make sense of what’s happened to him, why he was abused and why the world rewarded Gregor instead of punishing him, and it gives Sandor a model of how he can exert control over his environment.

But as I’ll discuss in more detail in Sansa VII and beyond, for all that Sandor protests, it is notable that the moment he breaks, the moment this simplistic model no longer functions for him, he begins to turn back to the tropes of knighthood – rescuing fair maidens locked away in towers, engaging in duels with knights errant, returning lost children to their mother – albeit in his own snarling misanthropic way. And as I’ll discuss in the future, a big part of the reason why Sansa’s movement fizzles out is because just as Dontos is ultimately too weak to be the knight she needs, Sandor is too wild.

The Seal of Womanhood

The most vivid way that Sansa’s personal story intersect with the battle is the arrival of her period, as Cersei will remark in the next chapter. Beyond that rather banal comparison, Sansa makes a more interesting martial analogy:

But as she crouched there, on her hands and knees, understanding came. “No, please,” Sansa whimpered, “please, no.” She didn’t want this happening to her, not now, not here, not now, not now, not now, not now.

Madness took hold of her. Pulling herself up by the bedpost, she went to the basin and washed between her legs, scrubbing away all the stickiness. By the time she was done, the water was pink with blood. When her maidservants saw it they would know. Then she remembered the bedclothes. She rushed back to the bed and stared in horror at the dark red stain and the tale it told. All she could think was that she had to get rid of it, or else they’d see. She couldn’t let them see, or they’d marry her to Joffrey and make her lay with him.

Snatching up her knife, Sansa hacked at the sheet, cutting out the stain. If they ask me about the hole, what will I say? Tears ran down her face. She pulled the torn sheet from the bed, and the stained blanket as well. I’ll have to burn them. She balled up the evidence, stuffed it in the fireplace, drenched it in oil from her bedside lamp, and lit it afire. Then she realized that the blood had soaked through the sheet into the featherbed, so she bundled that up as well, but it was big and cumbersome, hard to move. Sansa could get only half of it into the fire. She was on her knees, struggling to shove the mattress into the flames as thick grey smoke eddied around her and filled the room, when the door burst open and she heard her maid gasp.

In the end it took three of them to pull her away. And it was all for nothing. The bedclothes were burnt, but by the time they carried her off her thighs were bloody again. It was as if her own body had betrayed her to Joffrey, unfurling a banner of Lannister crimson for all the world to see.

That last phrase suggests something of Sansa’s original character arc as described in the Ur-Text. Both there and here, Sansa’s reproductive system threatens to rob her of agency and identity, as it has for so many women in Westeros’ patriarchal society, making her take the side of the Lannisters through marriage or motherhood against her will. And Sansa’s immediate reaction is one of frenzied, desperate rebellion, suggesting both her desire to remain true to herself at all odds (there’s something in the way she continues to feed the mattress into the fire that suggests a sublimated suicidal impulse) and a delayed reaction to the trauma that Joffrey and the King’s Landing mob have already inflicted on her.

Oddly, this moment prompts Cersei into one of her few moments of kindness and one of her only moments of gender-based solidarity, as she takes on the position of Sansa’s absent mother:

…Sansa lowered her head. “The blood frightened me…”

Queen Cersei laughed. “Wait until you birth a child, Sansa. A woman’s life is nine parts mess to one part magic, you’ll learn that soon enough…and the parts that look like magic often turn out to be messiest of all.” She took a sip of milk. “So now you are a woman. Do you have the least idea of what that means?”

“It means that I am now fit to be wedded and bedded,” said Sansa, “and to bear children for the king.”

The queen gave a wry smile. “A prospect that no longer entices you as it once did, I can see. I will not fault you for that. Joffrey has always been difficult…Joffrey will show you no such devotion, I fear. You could thank your sister for that, if she weren’t dead. He’s never been able to forget that day on the Trident…you may never love the king, but you’ll love his children…Robert wanted to be loved. My brother Tyrion has the same disease. Do you want to be loved, Sansa?”

“Everyone wants to be loved.”

“I see flowering hasn’t made you any brighter,” said Cersei. “Sansa, permit me to share a bit of womanly wisdom with you on this very special day. Love is poison. A sweet poison, yes, but it will kill you all the same.”

This is as close as Cersei will ever go to admitting that her son is an abusive misogynist who has replicated and then intensified the worst aspects of her own marriage with King Robert. But because Cersei is Cersei, calling Sansa an idiot and telling her that love is poison is as close as she can get to being a nice person. And for her, the two things are linked – as I’ve said, Cersei’s relationship with Sansa modulates depending on how much she fears Sansa at any given time. Asserting that Sansa is stupid – which Sansa is happy to go along with to avoid saying that she’d rather die than sleep with Joffrey  – is a way to reassure herself that Sansa is no threat.

And as we’ll see in the next Sansa chapter, the prophecy will continue to dominate Cersei’s behavior.

Historical Analysis:

The rule that Sansa talks about in this chapter – that a city or castle that fights to the last will be given no quarter, whereas a city that surrenders would be spared – was a real practice of warfare from ancient times through the Napoleonic era. Due to the high casualty rate that came from assaulting a city or a castle, especially for the “forlorn hope” that was selected to go first through the breach and establish a foothold, it was generally understood that those men who survived would be free to do whatever they wanted to the civilian population. Hence the scene in Henry V where Harry threatens the elders of Harfleur with the dire consequences of resistance:

Indeed, as I’ve talked about on Tumblr, it was generally understood that it was almost impossible for a general to prevent his army from committing massacres in the event of a successful assault, because of a combination of the intense desire for loot (most soldiers weren’t paid very much in regular wages and a common soldier could make themselves rich with a good find), the easy availability of liquor (one of the first targets for looting), and the way in which city streets and the many rooms of castles made it easy to avoid culpability and difficult to impose the chain of command on the army. Even a generals as feared and respected as Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, found it impossible to control his army following the successful assault on Badajoz, leading to the death of thousands of civilians at the hands of a “pack of hell hounds vomited up from infernal regions for the extirpation of mankind.”

So the danger that Tyrion has placed King’s Landing in is very real indeed.

What If?

There’s not really a hypothetical in this chapter, because it’s not really a chapter where decisions get made. However, if I’m really really stretching the boundaries of this section, I do want to explore what happens if Sansa escapes before the Battle of Blackwater. Let’s say that, through some chain of events, Sansa gets access to a ship (because if you give Sansa a horse to get out of the capitol, the devastation and chaos in the Riverlands is between her and safety and chances are she’s going to die horribly like Arya almost did), where does she go?

Geography and the Ironborn mean that the west coast is out, so she could really only go to places accessible on the east coast. Winterfell is out. Riverrun is a possibility but it also means going through the Riverlands and would probably have landed Sansa a seat next to Jeyne Westerling for the second siege of Riverrun, and that’s the best case case (worst case is the Red Wedding). White Harbor is really the only safe…harbor in the North, but that would probably mean that White Harbor becomes target #1 for the Boltons.

Book vs. Show:

As people who made it to the end of Season 5 know, the showrunners of HBO’s Game of Thrones don’t have a good bead on Sansa’s storyline. And one of the first signs that things weren’t quite right was how the show handled the relationship between Sansa and Sandor – starting with Season 1 having Littlefinger tell Sandor’s origin story.

In Season 2, the confusing thing was that it wasn’t that the show missed plot points – Sandor still spoke up for Sansa at Joffrey’s nameday tourney, gave her his cloak when Joffrey had her beaten, saved her at the riot, talked to her before the battle, and showed up in her apartment afterwards. Rather, the problem tended to be one of theme and time – Sandor’s conversation with Sansa in this chapter happens, but it’s cut short in favor of another scene between her and Tyrion, and doesn’t address Sansa’s running theme of knighthood.

In fact, I think Sandor spent more time with Arya than Sansa, which is bizarre when you compare to the books.


108 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa IV, ACOK

  1. Iñigo says:

    A nice what if could be Varys smuggling Sansa to Illyrio before she could fall into Stannis’s hands, allowing Aegon a good position to negotiate with Robb.

    • Maybe. Although I think Varys had concluded that the Lannisters would take out the Starks.

      • Sean C. says:

        If Varys had taken Sansa, it would more likely be as a potential Aegon-supporting Stark to help secure Northern support later (not as a bride, mind you; at least not after he heard about Dany’s dragons).

        Incidentally, that’s another reason I doubt Varys knows where Sansa is, least of all from Dontos. He doesn’t know everything, and he outright tells Illyrio in the first book that he doesn’t really know what Baelish is up to, and that’s the person he’s most likely to be honest with.

        • Lann says:

          Varys pays well for every trifle but nowhere near the 10000 dragons LF promised Dontos (paid in the form of 3 crossbow bolts)

      • Iñigo says:

        Well, with Bran and Rickon “dead”, Sansa was the heir. She could be very useful for Varys, but for some reason he never tried anything with her after Ned died.

        • Winnief says:

          You wonder if Varys just doesn’t pay much attention to the North, in general, (which might also account for his complete ignorance of the UPCOMING ICE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE!!!) but that would be really REALLY strange and OOC for him to ignore half the Realm. There’s another theory out there that Ser Shadrach is actually on Varys’s payroll, but who know?!?

          One thing I did like in the show was that they did have Varys concerning himself with Sansa-and with LF’s designs on her. Plus Olenna/Varys was a hoot.

          • Oh, I’m sure Ser Shadrach is on Varys’ payroll. But that’s an awfully low-key way of dealing with half the realm.

          • Winnief says:

            Yeah, plus if anything…unfortunate happened to Edmure and/or Roslin, then Sansa becomes the rightful heir to the Riverlands as well rather than the much hated Frey’s which again makes her pretty damn important.

      • Steven Xue says:

        Wait a sec, Varys actually predicted the Lannisters would take out the Starks even before the Tyrell alliance and the Battle of Blackwater came to its conclusion? Wow Varys must be quite the fortune teller if he’s able to make such bold predictions. Although I would think that abducting Sansa would have prevented Littlefinger from moving forward with whatever grand schemes he’s cooking up.

  2. Sean C. says:

    Sansa in the show doesn’t have a “running theme of knighthood” at all; that’s an aspect of the story the writers simply aren’t interested in, and to the extent that they address it at all, it’s to agree grew 100% with the Hound. Hence, why to the extent that those characters interact at all, it’s entirely about the Hound telling get How The World Works; Sansa’s impact on him isn’t shown, because the writers think her beliefs are dumb.

    On the subject of the Purple Wedding, I think people really overstate the importance of the regicide thing in terms of it giving Baelish leverage, in practice. Sansa doesn’t want to go back to the Lannisters under any circumstances anyway, and the regicide charge would thus only give him markedly more power if it turned some otherwise impartial authority against her (akin to how you might frame someone to get the cops after them). Most of Westeros would either turn over a fugitive Sansa to the Iron Throne for fear of reprisal or else use her for their own purposes, regicide or not. And when Sansa briefly contemplates begging Royce for help on AFFC, the regicide matter doesn’t enter into her calculations at all when deciding whether or not to do it.

    • Sean C. says:

      Fucking Autocorrect. Ignore “grew”, and get should be “her”.

    • Crystal says:

      The Lords Declarant were PO’d at the Lannisters, who they thought were responsible for Jon Arryn’s death. I don’t think they’d want to side with the Lannisters. I think they’d be more inclined to take Plan B – keep Sansa for their own ends.

      • Sean C. says:

        Yeah, that’s my point. “Regicide” depends on whether you think killing Joffrey was a good idea or not; anybody who supports the regime either through genuine loyalty or fear would turn over fugitive Sansa either way. Enemies of the regime who are ready to defy it would not turn her over either way.

    • I don’t know I think it is a bigger deal – Sansa can’t go anywhere that’s under Lannister authority or anywhere where a bounty might attract people to go after her. So she becomes dependent on Baelish’s protection.

      • Sean C. says:

        But that would be the case whether she was a regicide or not. It’s not like the Lannisters would just let her go if she escaped; she’s too valuable. They’d try to recapture her, and there’s assuredly be a bounty.

        • But to a far less extent. A wife running away from her husband isn’t a capital crime.

          • Sean C. says:

            But it still would lead to her being returned to Lannister control, which it’s hard to imagine her ever wanting to do (it certainly hasn’t happened yet). And, like I said, being accused of regicide never really enters into Sansa’s calculations about sticking with him.

          • Sean C. says:

            To be clear, I’m not saying it has no effect at all, but I think it’s often vastly overstated.

  3. Winnief says:

    Terrific analysis as always Steve. I agree that D&D, (along with far too many readers/viewers) often misunderstand Sansa’s character. The saving grace is that Sophie Turner understands the character perfectly.

    Great thoughts on siege warfare, and how important it is to remember that Tywin sacked KL, even AFTER they opened the gates. Tywin has *never* cared about any of the traditional rules of warfare.

    Agree that getting so much more Arya/Sandor than Sansa/ Sandor is kinda strange but frankly the Arya/Sandor scenes on the show were so great I can’t begrudge them. Also I’ve heard Martin was always dismayed that there were so many San/San shippers so perhaps he told the showrunners to de-emphasize the dynamic a bit to counter act that….just like he retconned away the kiss.

    Finally, I find Cersei/Sansa scenes very VERY interesting, and I have some theories about that but I’ll wait until later to share them.

    • GRRM is not dismayed about sansan shippers, and acknowledges they have a reason for thinking the way they do because he brought in the connections deliberately. 🙂 (I’d provide links as proof but I don’t want to annoy or overwhelm you.) He didn’t tell the showrunners to de-emphasize anything, nor did he retcon away a kiss in his writing of the Blackwater episode, since the kiss never happened in the first place, that’s… the point?

    • Andrew says:

      The kiss is a mismemory on Sansa’s part.

      For the Cersei/Sansa scenes, Cersei is basically the Evil Queen to Sansa’s Snow White.

      • Winnief says:

        Precisely! Which also feeds the theories that Sansa will indeed be the YMBQ. I believe, (or maybe just *hope*) that Cersei’s mocking Sansa’s hopes of love and devotion in marriage will also be proven wrong.

        • Andrew says:

          I think the contrast to the two methods will be clear when the one man whom Sansa loves, Sandor, will come to aid her while the one man whom Cersei loves, Jaime, will kill her.

        • Andrew says:

          Sansa could well be the YaMBQ (likely with Aegon, as there’s foreshadowing that he could become a suitor… and the Varys/LF behind-the-scenes scheming would be EPIC) but Cersei’s doom is (aside from her own stupidity and paranoia) one of Tyrion, Jaime, or Arya. Two of those three already have expressed interest in killing her (and the feeling is certainly mutual) and given the Lyanna/Arya parallels and Cersei’s angst over the Helen of Winterfell in AFFC I think that’s one way it could decant.

          Though if I had to bet I think Jaime strangles her with the Hand’s golden chain after she burns KL to the ground.

          • Winnief says:

            Oh, Jaime’s the one who’ll actually kill Cersei all right…I have no doubt about that.

          • Andrew says:

            I see Jaime killing Cersei that way too. I think while he is doing that, well, Cersei won’t go without him. She always wanted the sword, and I think while he is strangling her with his only hand, she will take his sword from its scabbard and mortally wound him akin to the twins Arryk and Erryk.

    • Chinoiserie says:

      Actually the Hound appears in 9 Sansa AND Arya chapters. The fandom has this tendency to make Sansa/Hound so important and analyze everything Sansa/Hound that people rather hilariously do not realize that the sisters actually have the same amount of interaction with him. I have always found the parallels between the relationships the sisters have with the Hound more interesting than anything else regarding his character.

      I feel that the exploration of the knighthood theme was in the show, it was not just repeated so often it was in the books (in the show there would have been no room and frankly the books overemphasize this aspect a bit by repetition). The show kind of abandoned the theme after season 3, but I am quite certain it will return with Jaime’s plotline in season 6 and the potential return of Sandor.

      • When did the show explore the theme of knighthood?

      • So, I guess doesn’t matter at all that Sandor talks about Sansa in almost every chapter whi!e he is with Arya, including the last one when he gets drunk after hearing of the events in KL including her marriage to Tyrion, and talks about her emotionally while he is “dying”, while Sansa thinks about him in over half of her chapters after ACOK even though he’s not around, including at least 4 occasions when it’s quite intense (wishing he was there, fake memories of the night of BW and the UnKiss, thinking he is there to save her from Marillion, having a dream about him…)?

        Or are character feelings, their inner life and development irrelevant compared to PlottyMcPlot, so it’s “ridiculously exaggerated” to pay attention to them and analyse them?

        Just how exaggerated is the importance of Lyanna, Rhaegar or Aerys then! After all, they technically appear in zero chapters, if we disregard all the times someone thinks, talks or dreams about them or sees them in a vision…

    • GRRM is so “dismayed” by SanSan shippers that he puts SanSan fanart on his website.

      It’s really amusing how people project their own feelings onto GRRM and misquote him, to the point that there’s a fandom myth that GRRM is upset by SanSan shipping.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Or maybe… he’s just appreciating good art and not endorsing this particular crackpot.

        “Sandor talks about Sansa every chapter!” Yes, it’s so romantic and sweet, the way he insults her, wishes he had raped her, and wishes he had brutally murdered her.

        SanSan has gotten to the point where everything is taken as confirmation of it and all evidence to the contrary is just handwaved aside.

        • “…wishes he had raped her, and wishes he had brutally murdered her”? You have a serious problem with reading comprehension.

          And FFY, a “crackpot” is not something that applies to actual canon relationships and things that have happened in text.

          Yes, I bet GRRM decided “Oh, I just hate people who think there’s a meaningful emotional relationship in my books between Sansa Stark and Sandor Clegane, but I like how this artwork looks, so I’ll put them on my website.”

          But I see you’re fully living up to the adjective in your nick.

          If you have a problem with Sansa’s relationship with Sandor Clegane as portrayed in the books, complain to GRRM. Or just Deal. With. It.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            Reading Comprehension, said the raven to the crow.
            “I should have fucked her bloody, and then cut her heart out”- his last conversation with Arya. Sounds so sweet and adorable, doesn’t it?

            And I just love how you have gone down the whole thread, systematically taken shots at every post even somewhat skeptical of your beloved murderous brute- tween girl relationship, and then have the nerve to call me obsessed.

          • Oh, great, misquoting, taking out of the context, and misunderstanding that line again. How original.

            FYI, this is the actual quote:

            “His eyes opened. “You remember where the heart is?” he asked in a hoarse whisper.
            As still as stone she stood. “I… I was only…”
            “Don’t lie,” he growled. “I hate liars. I hate gutless frauds even worse. Go on, do it.” When Arya did not move, he said, “I killed your butcher’s boy. I cut him near in half, and laughed about it after.” He made a queer sound, and it took her a moment to realize he was sobbing. “And the little bird, your pretty sister, I stood there in my white cloak and let them beat her. I took the bloody song, she never gave it. I meant to take her too. I should have. I should have fucked her bloody and ripped her heart out before leaving her for that dwarf.” A spasm of pain twisted his face. “Do you mean to make me beg, bitch? Do it! The gift of mercy… avenge your little Michael…”

            Yes, obviously “before” in that sentence was a temporal preposition and didn’t mean “instead”, and he never actually meant that he had a lot of regrets, including leaving Sansa to be forced into marriage and raped by Tyrion (which he thinks happened); he didn’t mean “any awful thing would have been better than leaving her that fate”. The reason he mentions “heart” is because he likes to pluck people’s hearts out instead of some more likely method of murder, like, I don’t know, by knife or sword, or heck, even strangulation. It wasn’t at all metaphorical and an expression of his pain in the violent language he uses. No, what he meant was that, in addition to regretting not having protected her from physical abuse by Joffrey and his KG, and regretting that he forced her to sing for him instead of her offering him song – and affection – on her own will, he meant to say that he really regretted that he hadn’t raped her and literally opened her chest and murdered her by taking her heart out with his hands, and then left her to be married to Tyrion, so Tyrion could marry her bloody, mutilated corpse. Because that obviously makes sense.

            And that is what we call “Reading comprehension fail”.

            If that’s what you actually think, I really can’t help you. Go on being rabid.

  4. Keith B says:

    This chapter made me think that there was something disturbing about Sansa. Cersei tells her that Arya is dead, and she shows no reaction. Maybe this isn’t the first time she’s heard it, but at the beginning of the book she thinks her sister has gone back to Winterfell, and at some point she learns that she’s presumed dead. She thinks about Arya once or twice, but we never see her asking about her, or about Jeyne Poole either. It’s discomforting that she doesn’t show more interest in people who were close to her. And in ASOS, her thought about Arya was that she was very unsatisfactory as a sister, and that she liked Margaery Tyrell much better. It doesn’t leave a good impression.

    I don’t believe Cersei was being kind to Sansa. She was putting on a facade of graciousness, that’s all. When we get to Cersei’s POV in AFFC, we see she doesn’t have an unmalicious thought in her head.

    • Sean C. says:

      As Sansa says back in Sansa II, she tries not to think about everybody she’s lost (and she’s nothing if not good at repression).

      • Crystal says:

        I agree that she’s repressing – we see in AFFC that she thinks about Jeyne (comparing Myranda to her), and then in her TWOW preview she thinks again about Jeyne, and this time about Arya as well. She hasn’t forgotten them, especially, I think, Jeyne. Which will be interesting when (and I think it’s when, not if) Littlefinger lets slip that Jeyne is impersonating Arya and married to a monster. And that he, Littlefinger, is the clever one who pulled THAT off. LF does love to boast to Sansa.

        • Sean C. says:

          Whether Sansa finds out about that or not, I doubt it will be from him. He does talk too much to her, but there’s no way he’s dumb enough to think that boasting about shipping her best friend off to the Boltons will impress her.

          Jeyne is an interesting variable, in that sense, though, since he’s have to be banking on her identity never becoming widely known.

          • David Hunt says:

            I can see how he wouldn’t be too worried about Jeyne’s ID coming out. Since he provided her for the fArya ploy, I’m guessing he has some info on the natures of Roose and Ramsey and he has likely concluded that after she bears a “Stark” boy to rule as a puppet lord at Winterfell, Ramsey is going to take a dirtnap and Jeyne is either going to get the plot right next to him or she’s going live in seclusion for the rest of her life (understandable after living with Ramsey for so long).

            More importantly, even if Jeyne is found out as an imposter, LF either figures she won’t be identified as Jeyne Poole or that he can simply convince Sansa that that part of the story is just the people putting a familiar name to the nobody the Bolton’s used as their fake Arya.

      • winnief says:

        I’ve heard speculation that Sansa shows the classic symptoms of disassociative disorder

    • Check back in Sansa V. She hasn’t forgotten Arya.

      • Keith B says:

        I don’t say she’s forgotten her, only that she doesn’t ask about her. Or about Jeyne Poole. She mentions them in the Sept in Sansa V, along with the rest of her family and numerous other people. And as late as Sansa II, she’s still blaming Arya for the death of Lady.

        • David Hunt says:

          After she’s captured, Cercei made it plain that she didn’t want Sansa asking questions about other people in the Stark household. And she’d almost have to be suicidal to bring up Arya in Joffrey’s presence. They don’t cover it specifically, but I’m sure that Sansa has learned that such questions are never tolerated and paid for those lessons in bruises and blood. She has become intensely careful about everything she says and asks, examining every statement for how it might lead to her getting beaten.

          Also, I’m not sure that she’d believe Cercei that Arya is dead without proof. She doesn’t trust anything the Lannister’s say anymore. Plus, if they’d caught her, they’d have either kept her on display in Court or mounted her head on the castle wall. And Sansa would be certain that Joffrey would show her the head. I don’t recall specifics but at this point, she probably thinks that Arya has escaped to the Starks and that they’re just lying to her again.

          • Keith B says:

            She had plenty of opportunity to ask Tyrion. And even if she believed that Arya had escaped, she knew Jeyne hadn’t, and doesn’t ask about her either. It doesn’t show that Sansa is a horrible person, it only indicates a certain lack of concern that’s somewhat disturbing.

          • Sean C. says:

            She doesn’t really trust Tyrion either, despite thinking him kind.

          • David Hunt says:


            I actually agree that Sansa probably isn’t spending much mental energy worrying about Arya or Jeyne. At this point in the narrative, she’s totally focused on doing everything she can to avoid death and injury. In many ways, she’s a classic victim of domestic abuse. The earliest point where she might not feel that she’s in immediate danger is at the Eyrie some time after Lysa’s dead. At that point, she’s got over a year’s worth of habits and mental disciplines that’s she developed to protect herself. She plays her part and keeps her head. LF did a great job of channeling that survival mechanism into creating the role of Alayne Stone. She’s not going to break character easily.

    • Sansa has absolutely no reason to react, because that’s no new information, that’s simply Cersei assuming what most people have been assuming for a while, that Arya is dead, since she hasn’t been found.

      Although it’s clearly a good thing for Arya not to be found by the Lannisters.

      • Keith B says:

        As I said above, maybe this isn’t the first time she’s heard this, but she’s a POV character, and we don’t see her asking about Arya, or wondering what happened to her, or reacting to news about her. She doesn’t ask about Jeyne either. She’s still holding Arya responsible for the death of Lady at the beginning of ACOK, and in ASOS she thinks how Arya had been an unsatisfactory sister. Maybe it’s just bad writing, but she’s showing less concern for family and friends than one might expect. Together with Sansa’s habit of revising her memories in order to protect her illusions, it’s a bit disturbing.

        • So, I guess this doesn’t count as Sansa thinking about Arya and Jeyne (Sansa II, ACOK, which has already been covered, but you obviously only remembered Sansa still blaming Arya for Lady’s death and forgot the other mentions of Arya):

          “If only she had someone to tell her what to do. 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 did not know what had happened to Jeyne, who had disappeared from her rooms afterward, never to be mentioned again. She tried not to think of them too often, yet sometimes the memories came unbidden, and then it was hard to hold back the tears. Once in a while, Sansa even missed her sister. By now Arya was safe back in Winterfell, dancing and sewing, playing with Bran and baby Rickon, even riding through the winter town if she liked. Sansa was allowed to go riding too, but only in the bailey, and it got boring going round in a circle all day.”

          And this long prayer that she prays in the sept in Sansa V, ACOK:

          “Sansa knew most of the hymns, and followed along on those she did not know as best she could. She sang along with grizzled old serving men and anxious young wives, with serving girls and soldiers, cooks and falconers, knights and knaves, squires and spit boys and nursing mothers. She sang with those inside the castle walls and those without, sang with all the city. She sang for mercy, for the living and the dead alike, for Bran and Rickon and Robb, for her sister Arya and her bastard brother Jon Snow, away off on the Wall. She sang for her mother and her father, for her grandfather Lord Hoster and her uncle Edmure Tully, for her friend Jeyne Poole, for old drunken King Robert, for Septa Mordane and Ser Dontos and Jory Cassel and Maester Luwin, for all the brave knights and soldiers who would die today, and for the children and the wives who would mourn them, and finally, toward the end, she even sang for Tyrion the Imp and for the Hound. He is no true knight but he saved me all the same, she told the Mother. Save him if you can, and gentle the rage inside him.”

          That “unsatisfactory sister” remark was in the same chapter (Sansa II, ASOS) where a girl (Lady Bulwer) reminds her of Arya, and in which she fantasized about having boys named Eddard, Bran and Rickon, and “sometimes there was even a girl who looked like Arya”.

          And then later during her marriage she’s sleeping and dreaming of her old life in Winterfell and thinking: “I must be brave. Her torments would soon be ended, one way or the other. If Lady was here, I would not be afraid. Lady was dead, though; Robb, Bran, Rickon, Arya, her father, her mother, even Septa Mordane. All of them are dead but me. She was alone in the world now.”

          And of course in the Eyrie, there’s this very long and detailed and poetic scene when she wakes up, thinks for a moment she’s in her old bedchamber in Winterfell that she used to share with Arya, then sees the snow and thinks of Winterfell (“She could feel the snow on her lashes, taste it on her lips. It was the taste of Winterfell. The taste of innocence. The taste of dreams”), of the day she left it (“I thought my song was beginning that day, but it was almost done.”) and remembers in detail how she, Arya and Bran used to play:

          “She scooped up a handful of snow and squeezed it between her fingers. Heavy and wet, the snow packed easily. Sansa began to make snowballs, shaping and smoothing them until they were round and white and perfect. She remembered a summer’s snow in Winterfell when Arya and Bran had ambushed her as she emerged from the keep one morning. They’d each had a dozen snowballs to hand, and she’d had none. Bran had been perched on the roof of the covered bridge, out of reach, but Sansa had chased Arya through the stables and around the kitchen until both of them were breathless. She might even have caught her, but she’d slipped on some ice. Her sister came back to see if she was hurt. When she said she wasn’t, Arya hit her in the face with another snowball, but Sansa grabbed her leg and pulled her down and was rubbing snow in her hair when Jory came along and pulled them apart, laughing.”
          Which makes her start building a snow Winterfell and become completely wrapped up in it… It’s a huge chunk of the text and a beautiful moment, really hard to miss.

          I’m assuming you forgot all those, or maybe ignored them. Or if you think it’s not enough, because Sansa is not thinking about her family ALL THE TIME, then you must also have a problem with Arya, Bran and Jon, since none of them think of their family all the time. Sansa thinks of Arya as much/often as Arya thinks of Sansa. Sansa thinking of Arya as an unsatisfactory sister is “disturbing”, but Arya angrily calling Sansa a liar (when Sandor claims that Sansa backed up Joffrey’s story, which is not true, though Sandor wouldn’t know it anyway, while Arya would, but she apparently forgot what really happened) or thinking how this or that is something stupid that Sansa might like, is not?

          But you’re not the only one who seems determined to apply this kind of selective analysis to the text to try to prove that something’s wrong with Sansa, and Sansa alone. At this point it’s become almost fanon. And it won’t die, no matter how easy it is to refute it with just a few quotes.

          • Keith B says:

            I’m not responsible for the fanon, whatever that is. I’m just me. This is not the first work of fiction I’ve read, nor the first fantasy. But there’s no need to be “determined” to find something wrong with Sansa. Martin makes it totally clear at least as far back as the incident on the Trident that something’s wrong with her. Her insistence on regarding Joffrey as a dream Prince, and Cersei as a gracious friend, despite being hit on the head with proof of the contrary, shows that she does not have a wholesome relation to reality.

            Of course, Ned Stark has a bigger problem than Sansa. His inability to recognize the kind of people he was dealing with after seeing it first-hand makes her issues trivial by comparison. So much for something being wrong with “Sansa alone.”

            In Sansa II, she thinks Arya has gone back to Winterfell. Thus, there’s no need to be especially concerned about her. We know that when Tyrion gets to KL he has Bywater and Varys look for her. At some point they give up the search and deem her dead. (For some reason they never consider the possibility that she’s left the city.) We never find out exactly when they give up. We don’t know if Sansa knows they’re looking for her. For all we know, it could be that the first time she finds out that her sister is presumed dead is when Cersei tells her in Sansa IV. But we don’t get any reaction to news of Arya’s death, whenever Sansa finds out about it, and we don’t see Sansa inquiring about her sister or even wondering what happened.

            The situation is even worse regarding Jeyne, because Sansa knows Jeyne is a captive. If she had asked Tyrion (who may not even know that Jeyne exists) he would have inquired, and it seems likely he would have found her. If he had, Sansa would at least have a friend to offer moral support, and once everyone knows of her presence at the court, it’s doubtful that Littlefinger and Tywin would have been able to use her as a counterfeit Arya, and she would have been spared most of the horrors she endured. So Sansa’s failure to show concern for Jeyne likely had terrible consequences for both girls.

            Martin is giving us an impression of Sansa, both by what he says and what he doesn’t. It’s partly favorable, partly not. Maybe it’s not exactly the impression he wanted to give, but I can’t help that.

            I never said Sansa never thinks about Arya. I’m aware of all the passages you quoted. I don’t see how they refute anything I said.

          • So, you claim that Sansa shows a “disturbing” lack of concern for Arya, the rest of her family, and Jeyne, and then when I quote some of the times she thinks about them, misses them, looks back with nostalgia on her old life in Winterfell, prays for them, or thinks about how upsetting it is to think of them, you say that this doesn’t negate what you said?!

            You seem really focused on the idea that Sansa should have been inquiring about Arya’s whereabouts in a Lannister court. I find that odd. These are the LANNISTERS, her captors, not her or Arya’s friends. She doesn’t trust any of them, with good reason. If they had found Arya, everyone would have known about it. They certainly wouldn’t have been hiding her. She was a very important political bargaining chip. Arya would have been seen around if they were only able to get their hands on her. And if she was alive… Sansa would not have wanted Arya to be captured by the Lannisters, just as Arya wouldn’t have wanted that. So what exactly do you think, that Sansa should have been insisting to Tyrion that they found Arya? As if they hadn’t been looking for her anyway? As if it wouldn’t have been the best for Arya, if she was still alive, to not be found by the Lannisters?

            They had no way of knowing what happened to her if they didn’t capture her, and presuming she was dead was just that, thinking “well, she hasn’t been found, so she must be dead”. Cersei presuming Arya was dead didn’t mean Arya was dead, it just meant Cersei was presuming that. Sansa could have presumed the same or thought differently. In any case, no new information was given in this chapter – Sansa had probably heard people presume Arya was dead or not dead before and after this chapter – so there was no new information that we needed to get any reaction to.

            We didn’t get Bran’s immediate reaction to the news of the Red Wedding, we didn’t get Jon’s immediate reaction to the news of the Red Wedding either. And we actually don’t get any reaction from Jon about Sansa’s obviosly forced marriage to Tyrion even when we know that he already knows about it – he just thinks that Tyrion was a good friend to him, so he wouldn’t do bad things like murder his father. Does Jon think that Tyrion didn’t rape Jon’s 12-year old half-sister, even though consummating the marriage would have been politically important, as opposed to what Robb and Cat immediately assumed? Did Jon think Tyrion had no choice but to marry her, or did he think a forced marriage wasn’t a big deal? Did he even care? We don’t know at all.

            Do you find this disturbing?

            We get Arya’s immediate reaction to the news of Sansa’s marriage – it’s disbelief. She just thought Sansa “would never marry the Imp” – which shows how naive Arya is still in some respects (something that fandom for some reason likes to ignore, treating her as if she’s some super mature adult in the body of a 10-11 year old child). But (SPOILERS for the Winds of Winter sample chapter)
            what does she think while she’s playing a role in the new play about Tyrion, which presumably includes Tyrion’s wife, Sansa Stark? She must be now aware that the news about the marriage was true. Yet we get no reaction from her. We also get no reaction about the fact that the play also must have included at least some mentions of Eddard Stark. Is it because she’s immersed in the role of Mercy? Is she repressing her feelings and thoughts about her family?

            Just out of interest, do you find this disturbing?

            “The situation is even worse regarding Jeyne, because Sansa knows Jeyne is a captive. If she had asked Tyrion (who may not even know that Jeyne exists) he would have inquired, and it seems likely he would have found her. If he had, Sansa would at least have a friend to offer moral support, and once everyone knows of her presence at the court, it’s doubtful that Littlefinger and Tywin would have been able to use her as a counterfeit Arya, and she would have been spared most of the horrors she endured. So Sansa’s failure to show concern for Jeyne likely had terrible consequences for both girls.”


            I really want to avoid sounding condescending, but… did we read different books? Your ideas about Sansa’s power in the Lannister court are in serious contradiction to what is depicted in the books. From your post, it seems like Sansa’s position was really powerful and influentia;, it’s quite a rosy picture of her life as a hostage. She couldn’t even help herself not get beaten and abused, let alone help anyone else, who did not even have her political leverage.

            “Martin makes it totally clear at least as far back as the incident on the Trident that something’s wrong with her. Her insistence on regarding Joffrey as a dream Prince, and Cersei as a gracious friend, despite being hit on the head with proof of the contrary, shows that she does not have a wholesome relation to reality.”

            Gee, and I wonder why that is and what exactly is wrong there?
            Let’s see, she’s been brought up to be a courteous, obedient and rule-observing lady who will one day marry someone her family tells her to marry, and then be an obedient wife (and virtually legal possession) of that man. She wants to be a good girl and do what she’s told, but she’s also an optimist and dreamer and wants to believe that her life will be happy. Septa Mordane has drilled into he that “all men are beautiful”, i.e. you must learn to love and obey your husband even if he’s really ugly – and the unspoken part is, if he’s an asshole. Sansa didn’t just choose a random boy to crush on, she made herself infatuated with her betrothed and wanted to believe in the dream that her marriage and life will be awesome – after all, marrying the future king is the pinnacle of female achievement in Westeros!
            Hm, I wonder why she may have been unwilling to see that the boy her father has assigned her to marry and who she’s definitely going to marry however she feels about it, may be an asshole? And I really, really can’t see why she would have been unwilling to publicly humiliate her future husband in front of his family, when her father put her on the spot and asked her to do just that… while never for a moment considering the possibility of breaking off his daughter’s engagement to Joffrey. Really, what reason she may have had to not want to really piss off the boy who will one day be her lord and master?

            Sansa was brought up to marry and be an obedient wife, but at the same time, we don’t ever see anyone explaining her future political role to her. Ned doesn’t tell her anything about the current political situation and his animosity with the Lannisters – he has some talks with Arya, but none with Sansa – and on the contrary, he thinks she is not supposed to know anything about politics (he gets upset when she is in the throne room and hears his judgment against the Mountain). Septa Mordane is constantly telling Sansa that she just needs to obey, but is upset with the idea of Sansa expressing any thoughts of her own. Mordane doesn’t do anything when a strange adult man, Baelish, creepily touches Sansa’s face, but she’s immediately upset when he says that Sansa may have something smart to say. Meanwhile, Ned lets Sansa be betrothed to Joffrey for months and lets her infatuation with him and her dreams about her future grow, and only decides that he will break the betrothal off when he gets upset with Robert over Dany’s planned assassination. And then he just dumps it on her without explanation other than “I’ll find you someone better”. Septa Mordane immediately insists, as she would, that Sansa needs to obey.
            Meanwhile, neither Sansa nor Arya ever have any guards with them. Sansa only has her septa, who gets drunk and passes out at the tournament, so Sansa needs to be escorted home by Joffrey’s bodyguard, while Arya is allowed to roam around on her own. What the heck is that about?! Ned has guards with him, and he’s an adult who knows how to fight. Why don’t his young daughters have any guards?

            Yes, Ned, much as we love him, has lots of problems and failings. Sansa’s upbringing and treatment by her family is pretty baffling. It’s lacking not just from the modern perspective but from the Westerosi perspective as well. The Tyrells are also using Margaery as a political tool for marriage, but the way they do it is far more realistic in terms of noble families in feudal societies. She’s always surrounded by guards and ladies in waiting. She’s been obviously trained for her role as future queen consort in every way, including being aware of the political situation and knowing how to turn it to her advantage.

            The problem may be that GRRM didn’t really think things through very well and didn’t pay attention to the historical accuracy or consistency of his fictional universe, even though he likes to criticize unrealistic medieval fiction. His Ned Stark, with his behavior in KL, comes off as a country bumpkin rather than a convincing Lord Paramount who’s had almost 15 years of experience in ruling a huge part of the kingdom.

          • blacky says:

            Absolutely concur with Timetravellingbunny on Ned. I found his behavior to be extremely unbelievable and annoyingly cartoonish.

        • It never occurred to you that Sansa unconsciously revises her memories to make her terrible situation bore bearable? That this is not what’s “disturbing”, it’s her life that’s disturbing, and she’s dealing with it emotionally the best that she can?

          • Keith B says:

            What occurs to me is that remembering things that never happened, and suppressing memories of what did happen, is a problem. That it may be a reaction to psychological trauma doesn’t make it a non-problem. And by the way, she was exhibiting some of the same tendencies back in AGOT.

          • ” That it may be a reaction to psychological trauma doesn’t make it a non-problem…”

            There is no reason for the verb “may” to exist in this sentence. It IS a reaction to psychological trauma.

            “And by the way, she was exhibiting some of the same tendencies back in AGOT.”

            Yes, she was, after Lady\s death You don’t think that was a traumatic experience? See my previous post, BTW.

            Sansa seemed to have initially told Ned something at least pretty close to what happened (even though she was rather drunk when it happened), since Ned expected her to tell that story to support Arya’s version. Which is frankly bizarre, because he apparently expected Sansa to go out and publicly humiliate her future husband, the boy who was going to be her lord and master for the rest of her life after they married. (Since Ned never for a moment considers breaking off the betrothal. Not until months later – only because he is angry with Robert.) What the heck was he thinking? So, unsurprisingly, Sansa is uncomfortable at being put on the spot, and claims she doesn’t remember what happened.
            It’s only afterwards, when she’s arguing with Arya, that she claims that Joffrey’s version of the events is true (that Mycah attacked him). At this point, her direwolf has been killed by her father at Cersei’s orders. It’s a very traumatic event, and she’s left to blame either 1) her future husband and mother-in-law the Queen, i.e. the people who are going to own her one day and that she will have to obey, or 2) her father, who owns her now and that she needs to obey, so, surprise, surprise, she picks 3) her sister instead, someone who is not her legal owner and won’t be., and someone who can be a scapegoat since Sansa is allowed to blame her and argue with her (Septa Mordane certainly encouraged that, instead of discouraging her).

            Yes, Sansa sometimes likes to shape reality in her head differently in order to cope with the trauma and the difficult and ugly reality. It’s her way of coping. Is it disturbing? Maybe, everything that happens to these kids is disturbing, they aren’t going to be completely psychologically healthy, that’s obvious. Is it more or less disturbing than becoming focused on a list of people you want to kill (I could also mention the times when Arya is being an unreliable narrator and reshaping her memories, as when she apparently convinces herself that she would have saved her mother if Sandor hadn’t stopped her… and I’ve already mentioned that she misremembers what happened at the trial at the Trident), or getting obsessed with the habit of turning into your direwolf, running around and eating raw meat, while forgetting to wake and eat as yourself?

  5. Andrew says:

    1. “‘Is it true Lord Stannis burned the godswood at Storm’s End?’

    Dontos nodded. “”He made a great pyre of the trees as an offering to his new god. The red priestess made him do it.'”

    Another Tolkien reference if I ever saw one. Stannis is paralleling Ar-Pharazôn, who, at the instigation of Sauron, gave the sacred white tree, Nimloth, to the fires of his new god, Morgoth, the Dark Lord. The new religion believed death was evil, and people were burned in the fires as sacrifices to Morgoth, including members of the Faithful, who stayed loyal to the old faith. The people who took up the worship of Morgoth became known as “King’s Men”.

    GRRM inverts it. At Mel’s instigation, Stannis gave the sacred white heart trees to the fires of the new god, R’hllor, the Lord of Light. The Red Faith, as Mel reveals, sees death as evil. People, including men who stayed loyal to the Seven, are burned as sacrifices. The “King’s Men” are those who are faithful to the old Faith of the Seven while those who worship R’hllor with Stannis as the “Queen’s Men”.

    2. “Blood is the seal of your womanhood”

    Brings to mind Arthur Dayne’s words to Jaime upon his knighting when he knees were bleeding from kneeling all night: “All knights must bleed Jaime. Blood is the seal of our devotion.” Blood is tied to the life that comes with knighthood in this society, namely war and combat, just as blood is tied to a woman’s role in this society, reproduction.

    3. With Cersei describing wanting to be loved, that’s something she got from Tywin as she heard him say: “You cannot eat love, nor buy a horse with it, nor warm your halls on a cold night.” She doesn’t want to be loved, but to be feared.

    • Winnief says:

      1. Great Tolkien catch! Also evidence that while Stannis isn’t exactly the villain of ASOIAF, he’s not destined to be the main hero either.

      2. Also bloody sheets traditionally was the proof of marital consummation and/or the bride’s virginity.

      3. Thing is, Tywin wanted to be feared AND respected…which to some extent he was. Even if people considered him a monster they at least considered him a competent monster. But Cersei tends to equate fear with respect not realizing that its perfectly possible for people to fear you the same way you fear a rabid dog but still holding you in complete contempt which is how everyone felt about Joffrey and increasingly Cersei. Even if Macchiavelli was right about it being better to be feared than loved, he also expressly warned about making yourself hated.

      • Andrew says:

        She didn’t take into account the lessons of Aerys and Maegor. Maegor had the largest, most powerful dragon in Westeros’s history yet while he was feared without a doubt, he soon lost the respect of the realm with his antics. He lost the throne when nearly the entire realm turned against him and he was murdered on his own throne. Aerys was feared as well, and people had every right to fear him, but few had confidence in him, and his antics such as burning alive his Warden of the North and his Hands resulted in him losing everything. People will only put up with so much.

        • Winnief says:

          Nor is Cersei remembering the example of Rhaenyra with whom she shares eerie parallels. And of course Aerys besides *nearly* burning down KL was also pretty much the destruction of his family dynasty as well…

          • Andrew says:

            1. I’m just glad that unlike Rhaenyra, Cersei doesn’t have any dragons under her control. Imagine if she did have one, especially since her first instinct in dealing with human obstacles is violence.

            2. Cersei doesn’t seemed to have learned from Alicent either, who also poisoned her royal husband to seat her son on the IT. It resulted in Alicent losing her father, all three of her children and two of her three grandchildren.

            3. Against those women you have Alysanne who didn’t earn the sobriquet “Good Queen” for nothing. One of the primary reasons she is remembered so well is her love and care for the smallfolk, showing compassion in things such as having Jaehaerys abolish the First Night. She was also charitable, and donated her jewels to help pay for new castles for the flailing Night’s Watch. Alysanne was compassionate, selfless and generous, while Cersei is the exact opposite.

          • Space Oddity says:

            As regards Alicent Hightower–don’t forget probably using dark magic in an effort to kill her gooddaughter, only for things not to go as planned.

            Yeah, Alicent really was pretty nasty when you get down to it, even if it was mostly a behind the scenes and in the margins evil…

          • You mean, all four of her (Alicent’s) children.

          • Andrew says:

            I stand corrected, all four of Alicen’ts children.

          • Space Oddity says:

            Hell–ultimately, it got all her grandchildren too. The last one just took awhile…

  6. David Hunt says:

    The Battle of Blackwater is here! Treachery! Fear! Deaths by the Thousands! Huzzah! Wait, what? I’m cheering a massacre?

    Seriously, I glad to be reading these. They are excellent as always.

    I was struck by your thoughts on Sandor Clegane’s motivations, regarding his shatter idealism and his use of violence to compensate for his feeling like he’s still the little boy who was mutilated by his brother. Then I imagined his response to anyone who might say that to him. There’s lots of blood at the end of that scenario.

  7. Lord Duluth says:

    Without that fleet, Stannis’ fleet would have…

    The first use of ‘fleet’ was probably meant to be ‘storm’.

  8. On the other hand, it may well be that Stannis’ atheist leanings means that he doesn’t particularly care about burning statues or trees, but considers burning people to be a different matter entirely.

    Well, he does allow Alester Florent to be burned for favorable winds on the trip north in ASOS. And Guncer Sunglass and the Rambton sons were burned while Stannis’s fleet was on their way to the Blackwater. (Though Selyse may have commanded that burning on her own, it’s not like Stannis visibly chastises her or Melisandre for it afterwards, and he does take responsibility for it.) Of course, he may consider all those just executions for treason, like the burnings at the crofter’s village were executions for cannibalism… but still, I really don’t think burning people is that much of a different matter for Stannis, unfortunately.

    • I think to Stannis, Alester was condemned as a traitor, so that’s execution not sacrifice. Sunglass and the Rambtons were Selyse, but as with Cresen Stannis tends to present a unified front with his wife.

      And for counter-example, let me say, Edric Storm.

      • Right, Edric was an innocent (despite Selyse wanting to blame his existence for her and Stannis’s fertility problems), and so therefore something Stannis debated on. But “executions” of “guilty” people can go a long way. If Stannis had won at Blackwater, he would not have stopped with Cersei and Joffrey. (Who’s a traitorous usurper despite his young age.) Tyrion for sure (if he weren’t already dead, for organizing the usurper’s army and serving as a traitorous Hand to the usurper king). But I also think Tommen would not have been spared, once he was found at Rosby. In addition to being a living symbol of Cersei’s treason, he’s an “abomination”, not an innocent. And that’s just the start. The burnings in King’s Landing would be… historical.

        • poorquentyn says:

          Agreed. Cathartic as it is at some level to imagine Stannis sweeping KL clean of schemers, it’d be gut-churning in practice; he only stays sympathetic because he loses.

        • Winnief says:

          And perhaps other Lannister supporters as well who Stannis considered guilty. If he’d heard any of the rumors about Lancel’s affair with Cersei or the role he played in Robert’s murder, then Lancel joins the pyre along with Crownlords guilty of treason for supporting King Joffrey. And quite possibly Varys too.

          • David Hunt says:

            I think Stannis would have been more merciful to the Crownlanders. He comments to Davos that there are many good men fighting for Joffrey because the mistakenly believe him to be the true king. Stannis respects that. This was the same conversation with Davos where he mentions that the men who defected to him after Renly died are much worse than those good men in Joffrey’s army. The ex-Renly supporters knew they were usurping the true king, whether it was Joffrey or Stannis. I’m sure that there are some of them at least that he would pardon if they swore fealty to him. They might lose some lands or castles, but they’d live.

          • David Hunt says:

            Addendum to my comment that I hope is still directly above. Even if Stannis shows mercy to the Crownland lords who bend the knee, Varys is dead man if Stannis catches him. He’s publicly stated his disdain and distrust for Varys. Thus, if Stannis had captured King’s Landing, I’m sure that Varys would have made himself very scarce.

          • Winnief says:

            Oh, Varys would be on Stannis’s list all right. Not only would Stannis not trust him, but Mel would quickly catch on to Varys’s feelings about her and would insist he be taken out.

            In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised that if Stannis *had* taken KL, then Mel really would want the Sept of Baelor burned, (and no doubt the Godswood too,) regardless of the inevitable public backlash and rioting that would have followed. It’s just how she rolls.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          Wasn’t it you, Steven, who wrote (I believe in the World of Ice and Fire commentaries) that “For those of you wondering how Stannis would deal with Tommen and Myrcella, take note: the fruit is an abomination, not just the act”?

          • Sure, he’d execute them both.

            But not because R’hllor needs a sacrifice.

          • Winnief says:

            And Stannis ordered Gilly’s baby gone from the Wall when he found out the kid’s father was also his grandfather too.

          • Andrew says:

            I think it could go either way. Joffrey’s a dead man(boy) but if say Davos interceded I think Tommen and/or Myrcella could have a shot at going to the Wall/Silent Sisters.

            Tyrion’s likely dead or taking the Black if he doesn’t escape. I don’t think a post-victory Stannis would be flexible enough to let him bend the knee as the new lord Lannister. Though TBH given Tyrion’s complicity in maintaining the Lannister regime (among other things) I would not feel Stannis unjustified in killing him, as much as we would mourn it.

          • Sean C. says:

            @Andrew: Indeed, Tyrion is well aware that Stannis is, by law, the king. It’s understandable why he’s siding with the family, of course, but it would be difficult to say that Stannis would have been unjustified in finding him guilty of treason.

          • Winnief says:

            Indeed. With Tyrion, we have the eternal tension that for all his good instincts and political skills ultimately he *is* trying to prop up a regime that has no business being in power in the first place. It’s the same moral dilemma that Kevan will later face as well. Ironically, the far more brutal and cruel Tywin probably felt a lot more justified at heart because (refusing to see the Twincest) he believed Joffrey to be the rightful King and the Starks traitors. One of the things that made his reaction to getting to know Joffrey in ASOS, so satisfying.

          • I don’t think anyone would be able to prove that Tyrion knew about the twincest.

  9. Matt says:

    Re: Littlefinger and the Hounds origin –

    I’m positive I read somewhere (my google-fu is failing me or I’d provide a source) that Sandor was supposed to tell the story to Sansa. However, on the day, it was pouring rain and so the shooting had to be rescheduled. Rory McCann was unavailable on the new date so they gave the story to Littlefinger.

    • Sean C. says:

      There have been various stories about that floating around. To my mind, were that true, I don’t think it really excuses anything. The way the writers handle this whole storyline indicates they really don’t understand the important character beats. If it was impossible to film the scene with Sansa and the Hound, then leave that until next year; there’s no reason why it had to be in Season 1, where the Hound in the show has like four lines. The substitution they make suggest they see it mainly as exposition, not as the crucial foundation for there whole interaction.

  10. Steven Xue says:

    Whao wanting to burn down the Sept of Baelor. I almost forgot about that detail but now that my mind has been jogged I’m starting to think this is foreshadowing of Sansa’s transformation into a dark and vengeful force like her mother.

  11. bookworm1398 says:

    So why did Tywin sack KL after it opened the gates? Anger/anxiety over Jamie?

  12. The idea that a city that surrenders will be spared sacking may be true in principle, but how is anyone in the city supposed to be sure that would be the case? The example of Tywin sacking King’s Landing shows otherwise. (Yet another case when Tywin’s breaking of rules may have led to people not trusting in any assurances that customs may have given them before they were broken.) Stannis is not Tywin, but that doesn’t mean that everyone was sure what he would be like – after all, the last time he’s been a commander in war was a decade ago, and he was under the command of his brother.

    I doubt that there aren’t any examples of cities that surrender being sacked in real life. But I can, for instance, think of the example of the sack of Ludlow in 1459 – I don’t know if that falls under surrender since all the male Yorkist leaders had fled to exile, but there was certainly no resistance when the Lancastrian army led, at least nominally, by the “sainted” king Henry VI, “spoiled” the city, as the chroniclers wrote, looting and raping. There’s even one ambiguous reference to Cecily Neville herself being “despoiled”, whether that meant robbed, or something worse.

  13. […] Lannister regime. Rather, it comes across as if a man who’s previously has made much of his love of killing simply has had his fill of murder. At the same time, I think the fact that Sandor has taken a […]

  14. […] the potential consequences. This is the tragic irony of Cersei Lannister, that as much as she scorns others for wanting love and (like Sandor Clegane) thinks of herself as a strong, hardened character who can face down […]

  15. […] once Tyrion has triumphed and not before, that Tyrion finally gets the love and admiration that, according to Cersei, he’s always […]

  16. […] I suggested back in Sansa IV, Sandor’s posture as a violence-loving truth-telling nihilist has completely broken down in […]

  17. […] desire to be a knight and her adherence to the ideals of knighthood to Jaime’s ruined idealism and his past and present status as the Kingslayer. Following his form from previous discussions, […]

  18. […] any of the burning human desires that mark all of Littlefinger’s catspaws from Ser Hugh to Ser Dontos to the Kettleblacks. An arch-tempter like Littlefinger would struggle mightly to find something to […]

  19. […] fired in the very next Sansa chapter. It’s also used as a thematic signifier of Sansa’s ongoing issues with puberty, although there are definitely some slightly ickiness about Sansa recounting people staring at her […]

  20. […] moment at which Sansa first takes pleasure in being a woman, something that’s previously been nothing but a source of fear, to […]

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