Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa VI, ACOK

drunk-cersei

“But if Maegor’s Holdfast should fall before Stannis can come up, why then, most of my guests are in for a bit of rape, I’d say. And you should never rule out mutilation, torture, and murder at times like these.”

Synopsis: Stuck in Maegor’s Holdfast, Cersei loses her damn mind as Sansa tries to keep her own cool.

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:

William Shakespeare never had the budget to have his battles happen on stage, and even if he had, the Globe’s stage was only 43 feet by 27 feet. Instead, Shakespeare had his battles take place off-stage (save for a few important duels) and be described (at length) either by people watching the battle or by messengers arriving with periodic updates. This theatrical technique was largely eclipsed once Hollywood directors realized that you could hire a couple hundred extras to run or ride past the camera and then circle back around to get back in the queue to run past the camera, but here George R.R Martin uses it to great effect as a one-way ratchet of stress and despair.

Telegrams from Your Worst Nightmare

In terms of the main political events of this chapter, it’s Cersei holding court in Maegor’s Keep receiving dispatches from the battlefield. And while I usually try to avoid allusions to WWII out of a healthy respect for Godwin’s Law, it’s hard to read this chapter and not think of the bunker sequence from  Der Untergang, where a tyrant who’s lost touch with reality hears reports of disaster, dismisses them, and hands down insane orders to wrap the world in flames. And here’s how it begins:

“The fleets are locked in battle. Some archers got ashore, but the Hound’s cut them to pieces, Y’Grace. Your brother’s raising his chain, I heard the signal. Some drunkards down to Flea Bottom are smashing doors and climbing through windows. Lord Bywater’s sent the gold cloaks to deal with them. Baelor’s Sept is jammed full, everyone praying.”

“And my son?”

“The king went to Baelor’s to get the High Septon’s blessing. Now he’s walking the walls with the Hand, telling the men to be brave, lifting their spirits as it were.”

Here, Cersei is being told the events of the first half of Davos III, but (because this is a Sansa chapter) from a civilian perspective. We also see Joffrey’s visit to the Great Sept of Baelor that Sansa witnessed in Sansa V, but the focus on prayer and religion as a civilian response to war is paired with a slightly wider perspective, showing us the crime and disorder emerging from the darker side of human nature, barely kept in check. Despite the fact that Maegor’s Holdfast is supposed to be the ultimate in panic rooms, we keep seeing chaos creeping in from the margins, trying to find a weak spot in the defenses.

And yet…Cersei doesn’t care about any of this. Aloof to the point of disassociation, the only thing that Cersei cares about isn’t victory or defeat, isn’t her grasp on King’s Landing or the Iron Throne, and certainly isn’t the women in her care – it’s her son Joffrey. To understand why Cersei does what she does in this chapter (and what she may or may not have done in Tyrion XIV), we have to understand that she is experiencing her worst nightmare in slow motion. Tyrion has just fulfilled every fear she’s ever had about him and Cersei believes his vengeance is going to be carried out through her beloved oldest son. So each dispatch raises the pressure and tension another level:

“The hulks have gone up, Y’Grace. The whole Blackwater’s awash with wildfire. A hundred ships burning, maybe more.”

“And my son?”

“He’s at the Mud Gate with the Hand and the Kingsguard, Y’Grace. He spoke to the archers on the hoarding before, and gave them a few tips on handling a crossbow, he did. All agree, he’s a right brave boy.”

This news (the second half of Davos III) should be a moment of triumph and elation for Cersei, both as a Lannister who’s seen the seemingly implacable Stannis suddenly balked and as a woman who’s got a deep streak of pyromania (although it’s quite possible that GRRM hadn’t yet settled on that aspect of her personality). She doesn’t react at all; she cannot relax or feel anything but this gnawing fear for her son.

United by their love of wine.

What makes it all the more fascinating is that Joffrey is in almost no danger here – he’s sitting out the battle, amusing himself by torturing helpless civilians, and capable of nothing more than presenting the image of a king. And this is as close as Joffrey can get to actually fulfilling the reciprocal social contract expected of monarchs, in no small part because of his mother’s teachings. If you need any proof that Joffrey’s hatred of his own people comes from Cersei, just look at this exchange:

Osfryd Kettleblack returned, crimson cloak swirling. “There’s folks gathering in the square, Y’Grace, asking to take refuge in the castle. Not a mob, rich merchants and the like.”

“Command them to return to their homes,” the queen said. “If they won’t go, have our crossbowmen kill a few. No sorties; I won’t have the gates opened for any reason.”

As with the servants that she orders killed for trying to loot the palace, Cersei cannot conceive of a world where she has any obligation to her subjects, because the world is divided into Lannisters and non-Lannisters and only Lannisters are actual people. (If this is sociopathy, and the fandom throws that word around a lot, it’s clearly one that she’s absorbed from her father while filtering out everything else.) Because of this attitude, Cersei doesn’t really care about whether her own House is winning or losing the Battle of Blackwater – the only thing that matters is her son:

“Stannis has landed men on the tourney grounds, and there’s more coming across. The Mud Gate’s under attack, and they’ve brought a ram to the King’s Gate. The Imp’s gone out to drive them off.”

“That will fill them with fear,” the queen said dryly. “He hasn’t taken Joff, I hope.”

“No, Y’Grace, the king’s with my brother at the Whores, flinging Antler Men into the river.”

“With the Mud Gate under assault? Folly. Tell Ser Osmund I want him out of there at once, it’s too dangerous. Fetch him back to the castle.”

Here we see Cersei getting updated on the events of Tyrion XIII, and overreacting enormously. Joffrey is up on the battlements, relatively safe from the battle, and yet Cersei reacts as if he’s on the front lines, and gives a fateful order without thinking at all about 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 adversity, Cersei takes her love for her children to such an extreme that she cracks under the pressure and almost destroys them along with herself.

Pictured: not Cersei’s actual childhood. By cabepfir.

Cersei and Gender: A Hate-Hate Story

Speaking of how Cersei thinks of herself, one of the main reasons why Cersei is cracking under the pressure (along with the liberal alcohol she’s consuming) is that, despite the fact that she’s the Queen Regent and (on paper) the most powerful person in Westeros, her gender has forced her into Maegor’s Holdfast with the women, and Cersei doesn’t like women:

The queen studied the wives, daughters, and mothers who filled the benches. “Of themselves the hens are nothing, but their cocks are important for one reason or another, and some may survive this battle. So it behooves me to give their women my protection. If my wretched dwarf of a brother should somehow manage to prevail, they will return to their husbands and fathers full of tales about how brave I was, how my courage inspired them and lifted their spirits, how I never doubted our victory even for a moment.”

Once a long time ago, I described Cersei as a woman driven mad by the patriarchy, an inmate who batters her hands bloody against the bars of her cell. And Maegor’s Holdfast is her cell, the place where these women become mirrors for her life that force her to vocalize all of the resentments and frustrations she’s been bottling up. And for Cersei specifically, these are rooted in her relationship with Jaime in such a way that renders their relationship in an even more dysfunctional light than we’d seen before:

“Jaime told me once that he only feels truly alive in battle and in bed.” She lifted her cup and took a long swallow. Her salad was untouched. “I would sooner face any number of swords than sit helpless like this, pretending to enjoy the company of this flock of frightened hens…”

“…when we were little, Jaime and I were so much alike that even our lord father could not tell us apart. Sometimes as a lark we would dress in each other’s clothes and spend a whole day each as the other. Yet even so, when Jaime was given his first sword, there was none for me. ‘What do I get?’ I remember asking. We were so much alike, I could never understand why they treated us so differently. Jaime learned to fight with sword and lance and mace, while I was taught to smile and sing and please. He was heir to Casterly Rock, while I was to be sold to some stranger like a horse, to be ridden whenever my new owner liked, beaten whenever he liked, and cast aside in time for a younger filly. Jaime’s lot was to be glory and power, while mine was birth and moonblood.”

“But you were queen of all the Seven Kingdoms,” Sansa said.

“When it comes to swords, a queen is only a woman after all.”

When he first arrived in King’s Landing, Tyrion said that “I never understood what Jaime saw in you, apart from his own reflection,” but I think it’s more accurate to say it’s the other way around, that Cersei sleeps with Jaime because that’s as close as she can come to being Jaime. And this brings up an interesting point that is frequently debated by the fandom – whether Cersei is trans. If it weren’t for her scene with Taena in AFFC, my answer would be a more conclusive no, because especially in this moment Cersei doesn’t necessarily want to be a man than she wants to be treated like a man, with all of the privileges that come with being a highborn male. Cersei’s conception of masculinity is focused almost entirely on warfare (an interest she shares with Jaime) and inheritance (an interest that she does not share with Jaime, although it is one that Tyrion shares), as opposed to bodies.

What’s simultaneously infuriating and saddening about Cersei is that, as much as she hates how she’s been treated, she not only doesn’t extend her sense of injustice to other women and develop some sense of gender-based solidarity, she positively refuses to. As much as Cersei despises men – hence her comment to Tyrion about thinking with his cock, and thinks of the soldiers on both sides as nothing more than a gang of rapists, murderers, and thieves (not terrible inaccurately, but it’s still reductive) – she equally despises women for not railing against the system as she does:

“Tears,” she said scornfully to Sansa as the woman was led from the hall. “The woman’s weapon, my lady mother used to call them. The man’s weapon is a sword. And that tells us all you need to know, doesn’t it?”

“…Were it anyone else outside the gates, I might hope to beguile him. But this is Stannis Baratheon. I’d have a better chance of seducing his horse.” She noticed the look on Sansa’s face, and laughed. “Have I shocked you, my lady?” She leaned close. “You little fool. Tears are not a woman’s only weapon. You’ve got another one between your legs, and you’d best learn to use it. You’ll find men use their swords freely enough. Both kinds of swords.”

It’s unfortunately common for disdain of the limited role that a patriarchal system imposes on women to turn into disdain of women themselves, and it may well be that Cersei’s twin relationship with Jaime makes it harder for her to see a systemic problem rather than thinking of herself as an exception to the rule – after all, other women don’t have twins they’re just like. But at the same time, Cersei’s reaction is deeply unhealthy, taking one look at the Madonna/whore dichotomy and deciding that the latter is somehow better, rather than realizing that both are traps. And if you look throughout the series, Cersei’s attempt to use her sexuality as a weapon doesn’t work out any better than it did for Jenna Maroney – Lancel’s a broken reed even before she breaks him, the Kettleblacks both betray her to Tyrion and Littlefinger and horribly backfire on her when she tries to use them against Margaery, and Jaime breaks with her completely.

Ilyn Payne by Sir-Heartsalot

Cersei’s Plan(s)

These two themes – Cersei’s paranoia about Joffrey’s prophesied death and her hatred for her own gender – come together when Cersei reveals what her plans are should the Lannisters lose the battle. Initially, Cersei’s plans seem relatively reasonable:

“If I’m not betrayed by my own guards, I may be able to hold here for a time. Then I can go to the walls and offer to yield to Lord Stannis in person. That will spare us the worst…”

“…after the madness of battle, soldiers often seem to want flesh more than coin. Even so, a golden shield is better than none. Out in the streets, the women won’t be treated near as tenderly. Nor will our servants.”

As with her earlier comments that “of themselves the hens are nothing, but their cocks are important,” we can see that Cersei thoroughly approves over structures of oppression and discrimination when they have to do with class. Here, Cersei intends to make use of her class privilege as a Queen and a Lannister to negotiate a surrender and avoid a sack of the Red Keep, while not batting an eye about what happens to the female half of the population of King’s Landing who, lest we forget, she has specifically barred from finding refuge. Thus to the arsenal of tears and sex, we can add the “golden shield” of aristocracy.

Despite all of this, Cersei’s facade barely lasts for a minute before all of the pressures inside her burst through and the crazy starts pouring out:

“…Stannis may take the city and he may take the throne, but I will not suffer him to judge me. I do not mean for him to have us alive.”

“Us?”

“You heard me. So perhaps you had best pray again, Sansa, and for a different outcome. The Starks will have no joy from the fall of House Lannister, I promise you.” She reached out and touched Sansa’s hair, brushing it lightly away from her neck.

There’s no way of getting around it: this is a murder suicide, pitched halfway between the Austrian corporal’s Wagner fantasies and the modern phenomena of a family annihilator.* Cersei’s definitely in the camp of the “self-righteous” family destroyer, as this entire moment is aimed at spiting destiny (and Stannis): even if her downfall is inevitable, she will ensure that the “younger, more beautiful” queen that Maggy the Frog prophesied will not live to “take all you hold dear.” And there might almost be something admirable about her eternal defiance of destiny, if it wasn’t for the fact that she’s planning to enact it through the murder of an innocent who’s never done her any harm.

* Although one thing that I find somewhat strange about Cersei’s plan here is that she doesn’t really put any thought into what’s going to happen to Joffrey, Tommen, or Myrcella once she’s dead. Although it’s possible that’s the point; Cersei wants to defy the prophecy by killing herself before she can see her children die.

And it’s all founded on a mistake – Cersei’s belief that Sansa is the “younger, more beautiful” queen, seemingly only because she’s Joffrey’s betrothed (which has an icky Jocasta complex subtext which we will explore more in ASOS). Now I know there are some fans who think that Sansa being that figure is important to her future development as a character, but I think this is wrong for a few reasons. Firstly, Maggy’s prophecy is important to the plot in every other aspect because of Cersei’s mistakes: she believes that Tyrion is the valonqar makes him hate her, but it’s still Jaime who’s going to choke her to death; she believes first that Sansa, then Margaery is the “younger, more beautiful” queen, and all her attempts to destroy them only end up damaging herself. Secondly, Sansa’s arc seems to be going in the opposite direction geographically from Cersei – in ASOS, she flees King’s Landing and heads north to the Eyrie; in AFFC, Littlefinger pledges as her “gifts from me, my sweet Sansa… Harry, the Eyrie, and Winterfell.” 

Despite all of this, Cersei doesn’t treat Sansa in this moment with sneering hatred or even her usual condescension. Instead, there’s something almost caring about the way that Cersei breaks the news, and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s possible she’s feeling magnanimous with her win-win scenario set up, but then again this is Cersei who is never magnanimous. It’s also possible that, because Cersei doesn’t think a woman’s life is worth living, she feels that she’s potentially doing Sansa a favor.

Historical Analysis:

As I discussed in Sansa IV, in premodern warfare, cities that chose to make a last stand rather than surrender were routinely shown no mercy. But while victory, surrender, or conquest were the most common outcomes, occasionally you would get a more Cersei-like phenomenon where the defenders would not only fight as long as they could, but then kill themselves to deny the enemy the satisfaction.

The most famous of these sieges was the Siege of Masada in 72 CE, the final act of the Great Jewish Revolt, where the Roman Legion X Fretensis laid siege to the fortress city which was held by less than a thousand rebels. The city, located on the top of an enormous tor, was believed to be almost impossible to assault. Undettered by the terrain, the consul Lucius Flavius Silva ordered that the entire city be circumvallated and ordered the construction of a siege ramp up the side of the 300 foot cliff. After three solid months of construction, the ramp was completed and the Romans sent a siege tower with its own battering ram up the ramp…only to find that the entire garrison of 960 rebels had torched every building in the city (except for the granaries, which they left standing to show that they had not been forced into surrender by hunger), and committed mass suicide, believing “a glorious death … preferable to a life of infamy.”

Imagine fighting your way up that on a ladder.

Despite its rightful place in world history, however, Masada was not the only instance of this phenomenon. During the Mughal conquest of India, the fortress-city of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan (a province in the northwest of India on the current border with Pakistan) followed the practice of jauhar – ritual self-immolation of the women and children of the population to prevent them being taken as slaves, while the men donned saffron robes before charging the enemy and fighting to the death – three separate times. During the Teutonic Knights’ crusade into Lithuania in the 14th century, the 4,000 defenders of the fortress committed suicide rather than surrender to the knights, but only after they had burned the fortress and everything of value inside it, leaving literally nothing to their conquerors.

All of these incidents tend to have two things in common. First, they tend to put something of a scare into the enemy, because no soldier wants to fight someone who’s not afraid of dying. Second, they are often romanticized as part of a nationalist narrative of heroic resistance, with the horrific human consequences either downplayed (to make mass suicide more palatable) or made more lurid (to emphasize the evilness of the enemy). Makes you wonder what people would have thought of Cersei’s suicide if it had happened…

What If?

There’s not a lot of room for hypotheticals in this chapter, because there’s only one main decision made in this chapter:

  • Cersei doesn’t send the order? The main change here is that the Goldcloaks don’t break during the Battle of Blackwater. In addition to sparing the kneecaps of several thousand men, this also means that Ser Jacelyn Bywater doesn’t die – and therefore possibly retains command. Yes, Tywin was moving loyalists into positions of power, but he’s also not someone who gets rid of competent talent without a reason and Ser Jacelyn has acquitted himself well in a major battle. This might give Tyrion additional political options when he gets to ASOS, especially since his defense of the city looks a lot more sound, and certainly a less politically isolated Tyrion might be more in control of his anger possibly leading to an escape that doesn’t involve Tywin’s death,
  • Another significant change is that Lancel doesn’t get punched in the war wound. Now the medical side of this is uncertain – unlike in the show, where we see Lancel get shot with an arrow, all we know is that there is “blood seeping out under his arm.” But given the way that Lancel goes from walking wounded to on the verge of death after a punch, my guess is that he took a wound in the armpit that penetrated into the torso and near to the heart (that being a prime target for killing men in plate armor in medieval combat), and that Cersei’s punch could have pushed a broken-off arrow or the like further into the wound. Regardless, if Lancel is not almost killed by his wound, a lot of things change – not only would he be much more likely to embrace his new life (and his new wife!) as the lord of Darry, but it’s more likely that he doesn’t have a religious awkening that leads to his confession to Tyrion’s High Septon. And that means Cersei maybe doesn’t have the High Septon killed, which creates the vacancy for the High Sparrow. For the want of a nail, and all that.

Book vs. Show:

A moment here to talk about Lena Headey. In addition to getting with a particularly gender-inflected version of the fandom’s inability to separate the character from the actor who plays them, I feel that Lena Headey has not been served well by the show. In addition to that scene from Season 4, from the very beginning there seems to have been a decision from the showrunners to have Cersei be calmer and more restrained than in the books – even when she gets angry, it tends to be more of a cold fury than wild rage. And while there might be benefits to that approach, I feel like that decision has cramped Lena Headey’s range somewhat, denying her the opportunity to chew the scenery that, say, Peter Dinklage got during his trial scene.

This scene in Blackwater is the great exception, as Lena Headey pulls off some fantastic drunk acting. Not only does it lend a darkly comedic moment to an otherwise serious episode, but Cersei finally gets a chance to emote in what should be an intense moment, and that makes her a genuinely menacing presence as she seeks to pull Sansa and Shae into her whirlpool of instability.

And it sets up what was a genuinely powerful addition to the Battle of Blackwater – the scene where Cersei prepares to poison herself and Tommen to death on the Iron Throne itself, just before Tywin and Loras come in to announce their victory. It was my memory of this scene more than anything else that made me think of Cersei as a family destroyer.

And when you remember that GRRM wrote this episode, it does make you think this is what Cersei would have done had Tommen been there at the time.

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97 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa VI, ACOK

  1. Sean C. says:

    And it’s all founded on a mistake – Cersei’s belief that Sansa is the “younger, more beautiful” queen, seemingly only because she’s Joffrey’s betrothed

    Cersei’s attitudes are hardly consistent in most things, of course, but I’m not sure she really thinks Sansa is the prophecy figure; if anything, she seems to think Sansa is too dumb for that (though perhaps that’s just her trying to convince herself of it). Regardless, I don’t think Sansa is the YMBQ, though I can see why some people do, since on a literary level many find the probable candidate (Daenerys) unsatisfying due to the lack of interaction between her and Cersei. The candidates for YMBQ and the valonqar are opposite, in that sense; Jaime is by far the most logical candidate on a literary level, in contrast to the array of left field contenders suggested in fandom speculation.

    • Steven Xue says:

      What I don’t get is if she did suspect Sansa as the younger, more beautiful queen then why didn’t she try to kill her beforehand in order to remove her from the equation? Given how paranoid she becomes around Margaery and the lengths she goes to eliminating her, I would have thought that killing Sansa would be the most logical move if she really did suspect she’s the Snow White in her prophecy.

      • Sean C. says:

        Well, at this point, killing Sansa would endanger Jaime (not that that ever motivates Cersei to take any positive action to protect her from Joff, though).

      • Up until Robert’s dead, that doesn’t change anything – he’s just going to replace Sansa with Arya, because he wants that Stark alliance.

        But after Robert’s dead, she can’t afford to kill Sansa because she’s trying to use her to make the Starks back off because Renly got away.

    • winnief says:

      I agree with SeanC that Cersei always considered Sansa too stupid and weak to be the YMBQ…which is one of the reasons that Sansa is actually the one in the prophecy and I think Martin’s deliberately contrasting the two here to set that up. I think we can safely assume Arianne is out by this point but I admit Dany is still quite possible.

      Ita with everything Steve said about Cersei’s internalized misogyny and lack of empathy.

      And wounding Lancel further didn’t just cause further physical damage but I think had serious psychological effects that drove his conversion to the FAith Militant. I also suspect the whole ugly scene played a role in Kevan’s disillusionment with his niece and anger towards her.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Why should we assume Arianne is out? What has happened to rule her out? I think she’s the likeliest candidate- she doesn’t seem confident in her capability to seduce JonCon and is doubtful of her ability to gain influence in Aegon’s camp because of that, but she’ll successfully seduce fAegon himself as part of his arc of breaking out of the control of his handlers.
        Basically, Sansa’s arc is taking her away from KL. Far, far away. Cersei seems to be set up for destruction about halfway to 2/3 through Winds. Dany won’t be there yet, and Sansa will be heading the other way. Arianne, though… her arc is taking her to KL, in a position of power, almost certainly as a queen (being fAegon’s consort), in the very near future.
        If it’s NOT Arianne, then my money is on Dany. She’s at least heading in the right direction, and who, after all, is more beautiful than the most beautiful woman in Westeros, but the most beautiful woman in the world?

        • Sean C. says:

          I imagine she means that Arianne is out because she’s not in the show.

          It’s possible that it’s Arianne in the books but that Dany will take up that role in the show, as a consequence of Aegon’s deletion.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            Is the YMBQ prophecy even in the show? D&D probably got rid of it because it’s too fantasyish or something, remember what they did to Dany’s prophecies in the House of the Undying.

          • Sean C. says:

            Yes, it was included in the Season 5 premiere (sans the valonqar part). It’s the only notable prophecy included to date.

        • Keith B says:

          I’m not so sure that Sansa is staying away from KL. I suspect that she won’t marry Harry, just because it’s Littlefinger’s plan, and plans (almost) never succeed in Westeros. Ser Shadrich is in the Vale, and he must have some part to play in the story. If he kidnaps Sansa he’ll probably try to take her back to KL, possibly for Varys to use as his own political pawn. Besides, she can’t marry anyone until the High Septon annuls her marriage to Tyrion, and he probably won’t do that without seeing her. Tyrion’s escape is a major setback for Littlefinger, something he could not have anticipated. So it may be that Sansa is going back to KL. She may even eventually marry Willas Tyrell after all.

          • Sean C. says:

            I expect Shadrich will try to abduct her, fail, but in so doing complicate the status quo there. Taking Sansa back to KL would (in addition to being pretty damn difficult) just make her a powerless hostage again, and should pretty speedily lead to her head being severed.

            I can’t speculate what Littlefinger expects to do regarding the wedding. I’d have to think he has something up his sleeve, but I couldn’t venture a guess as to what.

          • David Hunt says:

            Sean, I expect that LF is planning on having a high ranked septon in the Vale annul the marriage. If the High Septon had performed the original ceremony, that might nott have been possible, but the Lannisters couldn’t do that with their quick and dirty “Get Sansa Married ASAP So She Can’t Marry Willis” plan. They snagged whoever does services at the Red Keep. He gets the marriage annulled on the grounds that it was never consummated and her husband is an at tainted traitor. Whether that’s technically legal won’t matter when LF if the Hand to King Harry Arryn and Queen Sansa. Plus he probably figures that he can just bully the High Septon in annulling the marriage then. I think all annulments are definitionally retroactive.

          • Keith B says:

            Shadrich has had a pretty big buildup for someone who will merely try and fail. Maybe he’ll fail to get her back to KL, but if he’s working for Varys he may have resources that we don’t know about.

            Sure, she’ll be executed if she falls into Cersei’s hands, but what if Aegon has taken KL? Varys presumably knows nothing about the Dorne plot, and since the Aegon-Daenerys meetup didn’t happen, he may have other plans in mind.

            Is there any indication that a “high ranked Septon” other than the High Septon can annul a marriage? Do we even know anything about the Faith’s hierarchy?

          • Sean C. says:

            Shadrich is a bounty hunter looking for the Lannister regime’s bounty on Sansa, which was put out by Varys in ASOS. If he was actually an agent of Varys in his personal capacity, he wouldn’t go around telling people that, or waste his time playing bodyguard to pay the bills on the road to Duskendale.

            There’s really nothing to suggest that Varys has any interest in Sansa. In fact, these ACOK chapters are a pretty good case otherwise; if he wanted her for Team Aegon, he could easily have grabbed her during this siege (indeed, given that things looked pretty bleak for the city, it would have been wise to do that) and nobody would have been the wiser.

          • Keith B says:

            At the time of the Battle of the Blackwater, Varys believed that Aegon would join up with Daenerys. Now he knows that won’t happen, so his plans may have changed.

          • Andrew says:

            I don’t think she’ll marry Harry either given your argument regarding announced plans’ chances of success, and Harry has shown himself to be pretty shitty to the women in his life.

            I think Shadrich will take Sansa to KL, though not by force, but rather lie to her. The best lies have bits of truth in them as has been mentioned. He could mention he fought for Stannis on the Blackwater, and by bringing her North he would be helping Stannis. He could even say he hopes for esteem and reward from Stannis make it sound more believable. However, he takes her on a ship to KL.

            We have seen Jaime go back to Riverrun where the siege was his greatest defeat that really setback his family as well as where he was imprisoned, and this time, manage to take Riverrun without bloodshed. We are about to see the same with Dany going back to Vaes Dothrak where she originally went with little control over her fate, and go there to become the Stallion that Mounts the World. Tyrion left Westeros an outcast and traitor to come back and show off his newfound political and military skills. Characters are returning to the places where they were imprisoned to show the new skills and abilities they’ve acquired.

            I think Sansa going back to KL would allow her show off her new skills. I think these new skills are certainly what will allow her to escape the Red Keep and certain death a second time.

          • Sean C. says:

            Why would Sansa want to go North to join Stannis? And in any event, she’d have to be totally stupid to decide to go with some random hedge knight and get on a ship without any clue where it’s going.

            Sansa’s ultimate problem in KL the first time was not that she lacked skills; she did, but (past maybe her initial decision to go to Cersei) it really wouldn’t have mattered much. The point of that story is that when you’re a prisoner with no base of support, there’s really not much you can do, and that would be the case whether you’re a naif or the Queen of Thorns. Sansa would be executed pretty much immediately on being brought back to KL; pretty much every faction there has a vested interest in killing her immediately. There’s no sense in sending her there.

          • Andrew says:

            “Why would Sansa want to go North to join Stannis? And in any event, she’d have to be totally stupid to decide to go with some random hedge knight and get on a ship without any clue where it’s going.”

            Because Stannis is supposedly trying to save her sister Arya, so clearly he would support the Starks’ claim to Winterfell. He wouldn’t do anything to piss of his Northern supporters. I think Sansa would do that if she ends up killing LF.

            “Sansa’s ultimate problem in KL the first time was not that she lacked skills; she did, but (past maybe her initial decision to go to Cersei) it really wouldn’t have mattered much. The point of that story is that when you’re a prisoner with no base of support, there’s really not much you can do, and that would be the case whether you’re a naif or the Queen of Thorns. Sansa would be executed pretty much immediately on being brought back to KL; pretty much every faction there has a vested interest in killing her immediately. There’s no sense in sending her there.”

            Sansa didn’t know anyone when she first arrived in King’s Landing, and she would return older and wiser. She developed new skills in her time. Sansa can still make friends in the Red Keep. The Tyrells wouldn’t be interested in executing her. I doubt the Queen of Thorns would.

          • Sean C. says:

            The Tyrells would absolutely want her dead as swiftly as possible (moreso even than Cersei, arguably, who probably wants to torture her a bit first); if she causes a fuss around the assassination of Joffrey, they’re potentially exposed.

            Sansa doesn’t have anything to offer anyone beyond what can be gained by mere physical possession of her. That was her essential problem in King’s Landing.

          • Andrew says:

            Mace likely doesn’t about who killed Joffrey. Also, they have no idea that Sansa knows who killed Joffrey. I also doubt Olenna would let an innocent girl be executed for a crime she committed, Margaery even more so if she knows. One thing Margaery isn’t is heartless.

            Sandor seems to have been won over by her without the offer of gold and such. A lesson Tyrion is learning is that there are other ways of winning allies besides material gain as he is now without the gold of CR. Hell, the Starks had a good way of making friends without relying on bribes.

          • Sean C. says:

            Mace likely doesn’t about who killed Joffrey.

            Which just means that he wants her dead because he thinks she tried to kill Joffrey and Margaery (who was drinking out of the same cup). This is noted by Tyrion at the trial.

            Also, they have no idea that Sansa knows who killed Joffrey.

            We don’t know the exact nature of how Baelish and Olenna’s schemes crossed over in the books; if they were knowingly working together, then yes, the Tyrells would have to assume she knows a lot about it. And regardless, anything she could say to cast doubt on the official story would just invite inquiries the Tyrells don’t want.

            I also doubt Olenna would let an innocent girl be executed for a crime she committed, Margaery even more so if she knows.

            Um, Olenna’s whole plan was to frame Sansa. GRRM explicitly said as much; that’s why she was wearing the necklace, as far as Olenna was concerned.

            Hell, the Starks had a good way of making friends without relying on bribes.

            Relying on the goodness of somebody’s heart is generally not of much use when being held prisoner by you enemies. That’s also one of the points of Sansa’s story in KL, where all of one person sympathizes with her enough to provide some sort of help, and even he can’t really do that much.

          • Andrew says:

            I think Mace would be more likely to give her a reasonable doubt she is still just a young girl. We having nothing to indicate that the Tyrells assume she does know about it.

            “Um, Olenna’s whole plan was to frame Sansa. GRRM explicitly said as much; that’s why she was wearing the necklace, as far as Olenna was concerned.”

            IIRC, the poison wasn’t in a necklace but a hairnet, and that was never mentioned by anyone at the trial. No one would suspect the hairnet containing poison. Also, the plan was obviously to frame Tyrion not Sansa. Olenna made it clear before the reception that she still wanted to whisk Sansa away to Highgarden to marry Willas. A condemned Tyrion would leave Sansa widowed and now with no impediments to marrying Willas. Framing Sansa means she loses her head, and not even in Westeros are the living allowed to marry the dead.

            “Relying on the goodness of somebody’s heart is generally not of much use when being held prisoner by you enemies. That’s also one of the points of Sansa’s story in KL, where all of one person sympathizes with her enough to provide some sort of help, and even he can’t really do that much.”

            Not everyone in the Red Keep is an enemy of Sansa. Just Dontos was enough to get her out of the Red Keep (albiet at the direction of Littlefinger).

          • Sean C. says:

            Why would Mace be inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt? He clearly believed in Tyrion’s guilt, she had motive, and she vanished afterward, clearly incriminating.

            IIRC, the poison wasn’t in a necklace but a hairnet, and that was never mentioned by anyone at the trial. No one would suspect the hairnet containing poison. Also, the plan was obviously to frame Tyrion not Sansa. Olenna made it clear before the reception that she still wanted to whisk Sansa away to Highgarden to marry Willas.

            You’re right about the hairnet (my instant recollection was contaminated by the show), but the reason the hairnet wasn’t mentioned at the trial was because Sansa escaped. Olenna didn’t know Sansa was going to vanish. GRRM talked about this with Entertainment Weekly (I believe) after the Purple Wedding episode of the show, and expounded on the plot in the books — the Tyrells’ plan was that Joffrey would be thought to have choked (which, incidentally, would indicate that Lady Alerie was probably in on it too, based on her immediately declaring aloud that Joff had choked), and, failing that, Sansa would take the blame, because she was wearing the hairnet. That’s what the purpose of the hairnet was, as far as the Tyrells were concerned (another loose end); they didn’t know anything about Littlefinger’s setup for Tyrion.

            Olenna inviting Sansa to visit Highgarden is just her making small talk.

          • Sean C. says:

            Followup: Dontos helped because Littlefinger paid him, an inducement Sansa wouldn’t have. One of the key points in Sansa’s KL storyline is that it’s not in anybody’s interests to help her, either for fear of reprisal or because their interests are opposed to hers, and she doesn’t have anything to sway them; which would be exactly the same for her if she was dragged back there as a prisoner again, except that she’d spend all her time in a cell and probably get her head chopped off post-haste.

          • Andrew says:

            “Why would Mace be inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt? He clearly believed in Tyrion’s guilt, she had motive, and she vanished afterward, clearly incriminating.”

            That begs the question of why Tyrion would involve a 13 year-old girl? Leaving may be suspicious, but it was clear the girl was prisoner and wanted to leave.

            “That’s what the purpose of the hairnet was, as far as the Tyrells were concerned (another loose end); they didn’t know anything about Littlefinger’s setup for Tyrion.”

            Olenna made it explicitly clear to Sansa before the wedding feast that she wanted to take her back to Highgarden. She didn’t want to frame Sansa since it would take away that opportunity of getting Willas Sansa and Winterfell. Olenna knew the plan would need a scapegoat, and Tyrion was the perfect fit. Littlefinger wanted him out of the way, and Tyrion dead left Sansa widowed.

            Also, do you think Margaery want Sansa to be executed for a crime she knows Sansa is innocent of?

            The point I was making was that a single man in the castle like Dontos was able to whisk Sansa out of the Red Keep. People are motivated by more than material gain. Sansa can still make friends among the highborn at court, and possible even Myrcella. She wouldn’t get her head chopped off posthaste given it violates the feudal rules. She is highborn, and therefore, entitled to a trial.

          • Sean C. says:

            That begs the question of why Tyrion would involve a 13 year-old girl? Leaving may be suspicious, but it was clear the girl was prisoner and wanted to leave.

            Opinions on the assassination are canvassed at the end of ASOS. Even the people who think Tyrion is innocent think Sansa is guilty; the fact that she had an escape plan ready for that very moment looks guilty as hell, and unless you knew she wasn’t knowingly involved (which we do, since we’re in her head), there’s no way you’d believe her.

            Olenna made it explicitly clear to Sansa before the wedding feast that she wanted to take her back to Highgarden.

            That was innocuous small talk. Are you just going to ignore that GRRM has outright explained the plot as Olenna wanting Sansa to be the fall-guy? That’s the whole point of the hairnet.

            Also, do you think Margaery want Sansa to be executed for a crime she knows Sansa is innocent of?

            I’m pretty sure she was totally fine with Tyrion being executed for a crime she knows he is innocent of, and even if she likes Sansa, she’s far more interested in her own ass. What leads you to believe that Margaery would want to save her, precisely (setting aside whether she’d even be in a position to do so)?

            People are motivated by more than material gain. Sansa can still make friends among the highborn at court, and possible even Myrcella. She wouldn’t get her head chopped off posthaste given it violates the feudal rules. She is highborn, and therefore, entitled to a trial.

            How many friends did Sansa make at court the first time, when she wasn’t a wanted regicide? And she wouldn’t be making any friends; she would be in jail the whole time, like Tyrion was, with access to her strictly controlled by Cersei. And I don’t think Cersei cares much about the rules at this point; nor would the Tyrells be inclined to give her one. Who’s going to make them give her a trial? Nor could she even mount a credible defence, anyway.

          • Her direction seems all focused on Winterfell.

            To be honest, going back to KL would seem too much like a reset than growth.

          • Andrew says:

            “Opinions on the assassination are canvassed at the end of ASOS. Even the people who think Tyrion is innocent think Sansa is guilty; the fact that she had an escape plan ready for that very moment looks guilty as hell, and unless you knew she wasn’t knowingly involved (which we do, since we’re in her head), there’s no way you’d believe her.”

            She was a prisoner at the Red Keep, that sounds like a reason to escape. Although, I admit whatever, reason disappearing doesn’t look good.

            “That was innocuous small talk. Are you just going to ignore that GRRM has outright explained the plot as Olenna wanting Sansa to be the fall-guy? That’s the whole point of the hairnet.”

            Except LF wouldn’t approve of framing Sansa, and it was his plan after all.

            “I’m pretty sure she was totally fine with Tyrion being executed for a crime she knows he is innocent of, and even if she likes Sansa, she’s far more interested in her own ass. What leads you to believe that Margaery would want to save her, precisely (setting aside whether she’d even be in a position to do so)?”

            Margaery does have a conscience. Also, unlike Tyrion, she befriended Sansa.

            “How many friends did Sansa make at court the first time, when she wasn’t a wanted regicide? And she wouldn’t be making any friends; she would be in jail the whole time, like Tyrion was, with access to her strictly controlled by Cersei. And I don’t think Cersei cares much about the rules at this point; nor would the Tyrells be inclined to give her one. Who’s going to make them give her a trial? Nor could she even mount a credible defence, anyway.”

            She made a friend in Sandor. The Sansa coming back would be a different person from the naive girl. Except all highborn are entitled to a trial, and I think even Jaime would insist. The whole realm would be watching if she sends Sansa to be tortured to death.

          • The thing I am most sure GRRM – unlike D&D -will not do to Sansa, is regress her arc and put her back into the exact same situation, rendering her development and story so far pointless. So, no, Sansa will not be brought back to KL as a hostage, and Sansa will not marry Willas Tyrell.

          • @Andrew:
            “Except LF wouldn’t approve of framing Sansa, and it was his plan after all.”

            On the contrary, LF would very much approve of framing Sansa – since this is what gave him more power over Sansa and rendered her helpless and compelled to rely on his “protection”.

            “Margaery does have a conscience. Also, unlike Tyrion, she befriended Sansa.”

            She befriended Sansa because the Tyrells wanted to use Sansa. When she became impossible to use due to her marriage to Tyrion, they dropped her like hot potato.

            And how do you know that Margaery has a conscience?

            “The Sansa coming back would be a different person from the naive girl.”

            What naive girl? Sansa wasn’t a naive girl when she escaped King’s Landing. She was naive when she first got there, but KL was her learning process. She learned to lie, hide her feelings and thoughts, manipulate and hide her plots very well (completely fooling Tyrion, among others). The problem was not in her supposed lack of “skills” – she was not lacking skills, especially not for someone her age – but the fact that she was a prisoner and had no agency.

            The whole narrative point of escaping KL was to put her in situations where she could at least do something, exercise some agency (if limited, because she’s still under LF’s paw, but in a different way than in KL) and make choices, and where her story can develop. Putting her back as a prisoner in KL would do nothing but reset and completely derail her arc. It doesn’t matter how “skilled” you are in people skills and political skills when you’re a prisoner about to be executed. Ask Margaery. (And Margaery at least has a powerful family and retainers that can protect her.)

            Furthermore, the idea that Sansa would go back to KL willingly, just because she swallowed lies of a hedge knight, makes her not just a “naive girl” that she hasn’t been for a long time, it would make her an insane idiot like the “Sansa” of the show, who, similarly inexplicably, agreed to marry Ramsay Bolton. The idea that a character should throw away their safety and freedom and put themselves in a terrible and precarious situation, like a sheep to the slaughter, in order to demonstrate that they are now “more skilled” or smarter (?!) is a really puzzling one. It is also based on the idea that being a hostage/prisoner is no big deal and the real problem is that hostages/prisoners are too stupid to take advantage of the situation (Sansa was too “naive” to use the opportunities supposedly presented by her situation as a hostage), which is borderline victim-blaming.

          • Andrew says:

            “She befriended Sansa because the Tyrells wanted to use Sansa. When she became impossible to use due to her marriage to Tyrion, they dropped her like hot potato.

            And how do you know that Margaery has a conscience?”

            She isn’t a psychopath or sociopath. She seems to genuinely care for her friends and Tommen. She clearly does have some sense of right and wrong.

            “What naive girl? Sansa wasn’t a naive girl when she escaped King’s Landing. She was naive when she first got there, but KL was her learning process. She learned to lie, hide her feelings and thoughts, manipulate and hide her plots very well (completely fooling Tyrion, among others). The problem was not in her supposed lack of “skills” – she was not lacking skills, especially not for someone her age – but the fact that she was a prisoner and had no agency.”

            That’s what I’m saying. She was naive for much of AGoT. I never said she didn’t get out due to lack of skills, that’s putting words in my mouth. I am saying her skills will be further refined.

            “The whole narrative point of escaping KL was to put her in situations where she could at least do something, exercise some agency (if limited, because she’s still under LF’s paw, but in a different way than in KL) and make choices, and where her story can develop. Putting her back as a prisoner in KL would do nothing but reset and completely derail her arc. It doesn’t matter how “skilled” you are in people skills and political skills when you’re a prisoner about to be executed. Ask Margaery. (And Margaery at least has a powerful family and retainers that can protect her.)”

            Who is to say she couldn’t be able to escape King’s Landing a second time, only this time she is the agent of her own escape? Sansa would require a trial before execution given she is highborn, and I think she would avoid execution.

            “Furthermore, the idea that Sansa would go back to KL willingly, just because she swallowed lies of a hedge knight, makes her not just a “naive girl” that she hasn’t been for a long time, it would make her an insane idiot like the “Sansa” of the show, who, similarly inexplicably, agreed to marry Ramsay Bolton. The idea that a character should throw away their safety and freedom and put themselves in a terrible and precarious situation, like a sheep to the slaughter, in order to demonstrate that they are now “more skilled” or smarter (?!) is a really puzzling one. It is also based on the idea that being a hostage/prisoner is no big deal and the real problem is that hostages/prisoners are too stupid to take advantage of the situation (Sansa was too “naive” to use the opportunities supposedly presented by her situation as a hostage), which is borderline victim-blaming.”

            No, she wouldn’t go to KL willingly, but be deceived when compounded with the lack of options at the moment she makes a decision. She would decide to go North, but the hedge knight she hires ends up double-crossing her, and she chose him because she knows he fought for Stannis and she offered him a reward for his service.

            GRRM puts his characters back in places where they suffered the most to show off their new skills. Jaime went back to Riverrun where he suffered his worst defeat that setback his family, and managed to take it bloodlessly. Dany is going to be taken back to Vaes Dothrak as a prisoner, but she will become the StMtW rather than be a marital possession of some khal like in AGoT. Theon is going back to Winterfell, and manages to save Jeyne.

            I think that is putting words in my mouth. I NEVER once blamed Sansa for her imprisonment or treatment. I am saying she will be able to use new skills to help her situation much like Dany will be using Drogon to help out hers.

            Make like an Other and chill out.

    • The point is not who is the YMBQ — the point is who Cersei believes it is, and through this belief destroys herself. (This is the true literary purpose of telling a prophecy like this in advance.) Cersei initially believed it was Sansa, as Sansa was going to be Joffrey’s queen. Because of this, she made Sansa her enemy (including attempting to weaken her by killing Lady, which was, btw, her first public opposing of House Stark). Cersei also tried to deny that Sansa could possibly be the YMBQ by constantly calling her stupid, etc. (But of course see her description of Sansa as a “little she-wolf” for the truth.)

      But after Sansa was removed from the possibility of being a queen, Cersei’s attention shifted to Margaery. The techniques she tried on Sansa wouldn’t work there (because among other things Marg is older and had a much stronger and more politically-aware education and support system). So in AFFC we see the techniques she actually does to break the prophecy with her, and we see how this begins to destroy her.

      In the future, Cersei may again switch who she believes the YMBQ, probably to Arianne especially if she marries Aegon. (Her attention may also be brought back to Sansa, it’s definitely not impossible, especially if Sansa takes some position of political power.) Again, this will only cause the other parts of the prophecy to happen, probably resulting in the deaths of one or more of her children.

      In the end, the true personage in the prophecy will be someone Cersei never saw coming, just like she’ll never see that Jaime is the true valonqar and not Tyrion. I’m pretty damn sure it’ll be Dany… but that doesn’t really matter. Again, the point is not who the “another, younger and more beautiful” queen actually is, it’s who Cersei thinks it is and the actions she takes because of it.

      (See Macbeth. See Oedipus. Etc., etc.)

    • Andrew says:

      The prophecy only explicitly says someone “Younger and more beautiful” not necessarily a queen.

      For my part I think it’s either Brienne or Arya. The former is the “Beauty” who “stole” Jaime, the latter is Lyanna 2.0 who is Cersei’s arch-nemesis and possible doom, not to mention moonlighting as a “wolf queen”. I doubt Cersei makes it long enough to be undone by Dany and it wouldn’t have the narrative weight that Arya or Brienne would have.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        “Queen you shall be, until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear”.
        The way that is worded makes it very clear that it is talking about another queen. To think otherwise is to indulge in the kind of crackpot theorizing that leads to “Daario = Euron!”
        I love Arya and would personally love for her to finish the series as the ruling Stark in Winterfell. But her arc has zero to do with KL and Cersei. There’s several places she could go once she leaves Braavos, but she isn’t going back to KL.
        Same with Brienne. Not a queen, not physically beautiful by any stretch of the imagination (which is what the prophecy is calling for, sorry), and not going back to King’s Landing.

      • I think it has to be a queen. Take out the adjectives, and what you have is “Queen you shall be, until there comes another.” Another can only refer to Queen in that situation.

    • I think she does up until Sansa’s no longer in the running to be queen.

  2. devakikhanna says:

    Chittorgarh, not Cittogarh. Yes, the jauhar incidents were and are treated as nationalist narratives of heroic resistance, although, if the Rajput record in the field of battle is examined logically, they seldom won wars against invaders.

  3. thatrabidpotato says:

    I agree with you, Steven, that Sansa is likely not the YMBQ, for all the reasons you stated. It’s more likely either Arianne or Dany. Neither candidate is liked by the fandom, because they wouldn’t have the poetry and catharsis of Sansa getting back at Cersei for all she’s done…
    But while I don’t hold with some people who think the saga is going to end in fire, blood, and depressing horror for everyone, I do think that GRRM has proved by this point that he doesn’t like poetic payback. His bad guys die, but it’s not usually in the classic mode of the hero smiting the villain.

    I can’t help but wonder if Cersei was really serious about Payne killing Sansa. If so, among other things it means every What If? you ever wrote with Sansa surviving Stannis taking the city needs to be thrown out- she was never going to be allowed to survive.
    Which, ironically, would help the Starks in the long run more than it hurt them. Stannis would have no hostage, and Tywin would be immediately forced to the negotiating table.

    And I don’t think there was ever any way Tyrion would not kill, or at least try to kill, Tywin once he found out the truth about Tysha. He could have learned it sitting at the table happily eating breakfast and he would immediately have tried to put the bread knife through Dad’s eye.

    • Keith B says:

      GRRM doesn’t like poetic payback: but he’s not consistent about that. Zombie Catelyn kills Freys, as does Wyman Manderly; Brienne kills several of the Bloody Mummers, including Rorge; Arya kills Raff and the Tickler (and both are real Inigo Montoya moments), and Tyrion kills Tywin.

      Tyrion killing Tywin, at least as it happened, is something I find hard to believe. Varys clearly considered Tyrion an asset that he wanted to preserve, yet he not only allows but even seems to manipulate Tyrion into confronting his father, which is a plan that had no reasonable expectation of success. If Varys wanted Tywin dead, he could have done it himself with much less risk.

      • Sean C. says:

        I think Sansa’s fitting payback will be with respect to Baelish, not Cersei. Like I said in the comments section for the Sansa V analysis, I think these chapters are pretty much the final examination of the Sansa/Cersei dynamic.

        • Agreed – hence the prophecy of the giant in a castle of snow.

        • winnief says:

          Fair enough. We know Sansa will be the one who takes down Baelish. And the Mother of Dragons could be Cersei’s eventual doom. Though for Dany to be the YMBQ she better actually get to Westeros at some point.

          • Keith B says:

            We know that, do we? Maybe it’s true, but it seems a little too obvious.

            Personally I’m hoping Littlefinger survives the series. Sure he’s evil, but once he gets what he wants he should be reasonable enough. Somebody has to pick up the pieces, and he’s the only competent one left.

          • David Hunt says:

            As to “knowing” that Sansa will take down Littlefinger, I think winnief is referring to the dream of the Ghost of High Heart where she saw a girl with purple serpents in her hair (Sansa and her hairnet at the Purple Wedding) and then saying that she saw the same woman taking down a giant (the Titan of Braavos is on LF’s house sigil).

            As to LF being not so bad if he got what he wanted…LF will NEVER be satisfied no matter what he achieves and acquires, so we’ll never know (but no, he’d still be horrible).

          • Keith B says:

            “And later I deamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.” The castle built of snow is the model of Winterfell that Sansa built in the Eyrie, and the giant is Robert’s doll. The prophecy has been fulfilled. What kind of “castle full of snow” will Littlefinger be in?

            And if Littlefinger rules the seven kingdoms and has Sansa as well, I think he’ll be satisfied.

          • @Keith B: You actually believe that? You believe that Ghost of the High Heart prophecized… Sansa tearing apart Sweetrobin’s doll? That she saw visions and/or made prophecies of: king Renly Baratheon’s murder, king Balon Greyjoy’s murder, Vargo Hoat’s death at the hands of Gregor Clegane, Hoster Tully’s death, Red Wedding/the death of king in the North and thousands of other people, Catelyn’s death and resurrection as Lady Stoneheart, poisoning of king Joffrey, and… a teenage girl ripping apart a little boy’s doll?!

            One of these is not like the other, one of these does not belong.

            Why didn’t she prophecize Arya ripping apart the doll of the girl in the Vale? Maybe she should have said, when she looked into Arya’s eyes and said all those sinister things about her, “and I see you killing a knight that belonged to a villager’s daughter in the Vale” because girls ripping apart dolls are very important events in Westeros!

            The doll was clearly a red herring.

    • Sean C. says:

      That would depend on Payne actually succeeding. As we later see, Sansa flees the bunker later, and it’s far from certain that Payne would have gotten to her in the chaos had the city actually fallen, had he even tried.

    • Well, I wouldn’t agree that GRRM doesn’t like poetic payback.

      BUT…Cersei was never Sansa’s main villain. Joffrey was, but he’s dead.

      Next to Joffrey, LF is Sansa’s main villain.

  4. Ethan says:

    Ha, love your choice of picture Steven. Given Stannis’ control of his men’s behavior towards hated wildlings beyond the Wall (castrating rapists etc) do you think Cersei is wrong about her expectations of rape and looting, particularly towards the nobility?

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Honestly, I don’t think she is. It’s one thing to control 2000 men in the empty land around the wall. It’s another thing to control 20,000 men in an extremely dense urban area at night. Regardless of Stannis’s own personal views, many of his lords and knights will be inclined to the view that a little rapine and plundering is the men’s due- and there’s simply too many men to enforce his individual will over all of them at this point.

      He might well punish all them later, but at the moment, I don’t think he can stop them.

      • Space Oddity says:

        And just to be that guy–“rape and plundering.” “Rapine and plundering” is like saying “theft and theft”.

        And now you know! And knowing is half the battle.

    • Thanks!

      Not entirely wrong. But not entirely right either.

  5. artihcus022 says:

    Would you compare Cersei’s plot of family-suicide with Aerys Wildfire Plot (which would have murdered his grandchildren Rhaenys and Aegon)? That to me is the most deliberate invocation of the Fuhrerbunker in the story.

  6. Benjamin Holm says:

    Great writeup as usual. I disagree about Godwin’s Law though, I don’t see it as a negative. I mean if you are discussing things with another history buff then sure, but I don’t see the downside of alluding to Nazis, whom even the most ignorant slacker knows as the embodiment of evil in history. It’s better than say alluding to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1755 or something, and then having to explain who that is.

    • artihcus022 says:

      I don’t entirely get Godwin’s Law since to me invoking Hitler is appropriate anytime raises fuss about smoking and animal rights deserves a strong comedown from the altar of self-righteousness.

      At the same time, the laziness in overdoing the Nazi references in favor of wider historical context and references is personally offensive to me. It overprivileges Hitler and the Nazis into some platonic end-state of evil that gives that death-cult undue respect.

      • Sean C. says:

        Properly speaking, Godwin’s Law was originally just that any online argument would eventually bring in a Nazi reference. The corollary that the first person to do so lost automatically was added later.

    • Grant says:

      The problems with comparisons to Fascism, Nazism, Hitler and the like is that they’re often being used in discussions where they’re largely or entirely irrelevant (or even counterproductive) to the discussion and they’re not even properly understood by most people who use them. Unless we’re discussing things like the ability of a state to attempt to destroy an entire population, reactions to the new apparent strength of Communism in early 20th century Europe, extremist parties in young democracies and the like I don’t think that it’s generally a good idea to make those comparisons.

    • To me, it’s just something that requires caution. Because generally, the point about Godwin’s Law is that arguments stop when it gets invoked because things become an emotionally-infused slanging match about who’s the true evil.

      • Mary says:

        I actually enjoy that stevenattewell makes reference to the Ottoman sultan and whatnot instead of yet another reference to Godwin s law. At least I learn something new!

  7. Andrew says:

    1. Cersei’s alcoholism in this scene helps to foreshadow this growing problem in AFfC. Something, as suggested by her thinking the washerwomen shrunk her dresses, she is in denial about.

    2. Cersei is definitely the Wicked Witch of the West: from the west(obviously), no qualms about killing dogs or innocents for that matter, awful to her subordinates, associated with fire/pyromaniac tendencies and seems to be fixated on harming young teenage girls, including one she imprisons in her castle.

    3. As for the groom and maidservants trying to sneak out with horses, beheading seemed unjustifiably harsh. While they were stealing horses, they were only trying to escape with their lives.

    4. Also, Cersei seems to tell Sansa the truth about her plan after she is displeased in Sansa not drinking. Cersei basically commands her to drink. What’s up with that? Is she mad Sansa, whom she disregards, manages to keep her cool in a dire situation while Cersei herself is cracking?

    • winnief says:

      1. Yep. This is where we first start to see Cersei turning to booze because she can’t handle the stress of ruling. Ironically this was exactly what she despised about Robert.

      2. Wicked witch of the West is ok but Evil Queen from Snow White works even better.

      3. Exactly what Sansa thought of the matter as she reflects that earning people’s love might be a better way to rule.

      4. Possibly but I also think Cersei is just one of those belligerent drunk types who wants everyone else to drink with them.

      • Andrew says:

        1. She also despised him for sleeping around which she also does. The only difference is that she does it to trade sexual favors and manipulate men into doing her bidding, even Jaime as he realizes in AFfC.

        2. Come to think of it, “Sansa” means “apple” which plays an integral part in Snow White, and some argue, points to the titular character’s budding sexuality. A dwarf does seem to come to Sansa’s aid at some point. Finally, the Evil Queen is supposed to be Snow White’s mother figure by marriage in the form of stepmother while Cersei is originally meant to be Sansa’s goodmother.

        3. She gets that lesson from Ned. Say what you want about Ned, but he made sure as a father to look after his children’s emotional needs, which is something Tywin completely neglected with his family. Sansa as a result is not as stunted as Cersei. Sansa likely thinks more along the lines of Good Queen Alysanne compared to the queen’s uncle Maegor for Cersei.

        • winnief says:

          1. Not to mention Robert at least had skills as a military commander and *tried* to find competant people to sit on the Small Council.

          2. Ha! Awesome. And like Snow White, she goes into hiding having to forsake her ‘princess’ identity to do so.

          3. Yeah. Frankly between Ned and Tywin, I think the former despite being executed as a traitor is likely to have a better legacy thanks to his kids. (Of whom Jon is a honorary member.)

          • Andrew says:

            1. Cersei’s opinion of counselors can summed up in “A weak ruler needs a strong Hand, as Aerys needed Father. A strong ruler requires only a diligent servant to carry out his orders.” She sees herself as a strong ruler, and only looks for “yes men” to do her bidding. She never even seems to listen to objections, suggesting Pycelle outlived his usefulness for plaguing her with cautions and objections. They were basically Pycelle warning about the dangers of reviving the Faith Militant dismissing it as “babbling about old dead history,” opposing having Waters name new captains to the fleet over veteran captains of the BoBW, and deferring payments to the Iron Bank. He proves to be right on all counts: the Faith imprisons her and giving her a trial for treason, regicide, deicide and adultery, Waters absconds with the fleet quickly after she is imprisoned with the new captains following him and the Iron Bank is giving aid to Stannis. It is really saying something when Pycelle is the most qualified counselor on Cersei’s small council.

            3. Ned sheltered and protected Jon throughout his childhood. I think if Jon ever becomes king, he will return the favor, and look after Ned’s children.

    • 1. Yep. Will see whether it gets followed-through on in ASOS.

      2. Yeah, she’s definitely got a belief that civilians are fair game.

      3. Yep. But Cersei hates smallfolk.

      4. Part of that, but I also think Cersei likes other people to drink so that she can pretend she’s a social drinker.

  8. I didn’t notice the similarity before between how Cersei’s behaving during the Battle of The Blackwater and Der Untergang before but I sure do now. It’s quite apt.

    How that movie didn’t run away with the Oscars is a damn travesty. I learn something new almost every time I watch it. Mostly how this is the way humans react to what is tantamount to The End of the World. Also how fundamentally weak all the people in the Nazi hierarchy were. Stopping the Holocaust or the whole war is far beyond the actions of one person. But how was there no one in that entire bunker who had enough guts to save six children? Also it’s too bad no actor that ever lived is ugly enough to be Marshall Chuikov.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      That movie is a contender for GOAT status just for all the Hitler Rant videos it spawned.

    • Grant says:

      Excellent lesson on the (staggering) problems of both personalist regimes and desperation. Humans when in certain situations just do not seem to be the individual, rational, moral creatures that we want them to be. If they were then Robert’s Rebellion might have been largely avoided because one of the Kingsguard would have stopped going on about their vows and put a sword into Aerys’ head* by the time the Starks were being burned and choked.

      *And the expanded materials tell us that it wouldn’t have been entirely without precedent.

      • Keith B says:

        There’s no need for that. If the King starts acting crazy, the Kingsguard can place him under arrest and ask the Small Council to determine if he’s in his right mind and appoint a Regent if he isn’t.

        • Grant says:

          By the point of the executions*, when it should have been blatantly obvious to everyone present that the king had just started a war, probably the only thing that might have avoided war was his own death. Now Aerys II wasn’t a perfect example of an absolute personalist regime, there was a clear successor that apparently some opposition nationally and in the court was rallying around (Rhaegar), but it wasn’t fast enough and Rhaegar had helped light the spark when he went off with Lyana.

          To be honest I might be a bit too generous to Rhaegar, thinking that he could find some way to stop the war if Aerys was killed quickly enough, and that’s with the assumption of an extremely uneasy peace.

          *And remember that very few people in the royal family will ever want to risk having a Kingsguard and Small Council that feel they can just push for a declaration that the king is not of sound mind, so it would need something not only clearly insane but also clearly a threat to the continued existence of the court, something like murdering a major lord and his heir and in doing so starting a war. Really the only chance for peace I could see would be if Aerys died before the Starks did.

          • Keith B says:

            If you kill the King, no matter how good your reasons, you’re a traitor. If you have him declared insane, you’re fulfilling your oath of protecting the King — from himself. The royals might not like the idea that a King may be found incapable, but they’d like killing him even less. What I’m suggesting is that the Kingsguard start to serve as a check on tyranny, which could become a rudimentary form of constitutional monarchy. One of the main problems of Westeros is that there are no real checks and balances. There’s not even a Magna Carta. As a result, there is no recourse against tyranny except civil war.

            Westeros needs a Jamie Madison, but all it gets is a Jaime Lannister.

          • Grant says:

            And, like I said, there’s precedent for a man in the Kingsguard killing his king out of desperation long before Jaime. And there’s no guarantees whatsoever that without Rhaegar leading a united group (which he didn’t do in time) they actually could have him declared insane and removed. There was so far as we can tell no other possible avenue for anti-Aerys politics until the rebellion was sparked, and that rebellion outright required Aerys forced from power and (let’s face it) killed.

            And this isn’t institution-building. The organization that’s supposed to be guarding the executive’s life is really the last one that you want deciding whether or not he’s fit to rule. This is an act of desperation to get the absolute worst tyrant in modern Westeros history off of the throne in the faint hope that his blood will stop half the realm from marching on Kingslanding.

          • Keith B says:

            It’s a horrible precedent. It needs to be extinguished permanently. The time you want the head of state’s bodyguard to act as his judge, jury and executioner is never. It would be like having a precedent in the United States that a Secret Service agent could assassinate the President if he deemed it necessary.

            The Kingsguard is not determining if the King is fit to rule. The Small Council is. The Kingsguard is merely referring the matter to the Small Council while ensuring that the King doesn’t cause irrevocable harm in the meantime. Since the King appoints the Small Council either himself or through a Hand that he also appoints, they aren’t likely to be people who would declare the King incompetent for no good reason.

            As you say yourself, “there was … no other possible avenue for anti-Aerys politics.” That’s the problem. Westeros has no sane institutions. That’s part of the reason why it’s an ongoing disaster interrupted by periods of total catastrophe. Putting at least some accepted process in place to guard against the worst forms of tyranny doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s at least a start.

          • Grant says:

            And establishing the system where a body of armed men supposedly there to guard the king can decide that he can’t rule anymore isn’t a bad precedent? That is just going to lead to constant coups. No, when the Starks were burning and choking there was no way whatsoever for this proposal to work.

            This is not meant to be ‘this is how you get a constitutional monarchy and a parliament’ (which couldn’t be based on the Kingsguard and Small Council anyway, their roles make it a nonstarter). This is ‘how do you deal with the fact that a personalist leader has started a civil war and clearly can’t do any good for anyone’.

        • Lann says:

          You would get a Preatorian Guard situation there though. That didn’t work out too well for Rome.

  9. artihcus022 says:

    I much prefer Moloch by Aleksandr Sokurov as far as Hitler movies go, or for that matter Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

    I also think that movie is a little too generous to Hitler’s underlings and the whole idea underpining it is that Germany was also Hitler’s victim, which is true in a broad sense, but it’s certainly not true of the Germany that followed him to the very end as Ian Kershaw’s recent book The End clarifies. It’s a shame that Bruno Ganz will always be known for this role instead of all the great performances he did in the 70s and 80s.

    • Why? This was also a great performance. Why would be a “shame” if he’s remembered by it?

      • artihcus022 says:

        Well he made a number of awesome movies in the 60s and 70s. The American Friend, The Marquise von O… and especially Wings of Desire. He was actually a comic actor for a long time before playing Hitler. The fact that he’s famous for his Hitler performance is a bit like say, Marlon Brando being known only for his Superman cameo, as opposed to his movies with Kazan, Coppola, Bertolucci.

        • I have never seen Superman and Marlon Brando in it, but Bruno Ganz’ role as Hitler in Der Untergang is definitely not a cameo by any means, it’s the central role with a lot of screentime and a very challenging one and a great performance, so I really don’t see how you comparison works in any shape or form.

          • artihcus022 says:

            Well if you follow European cinema, Untergang is a late period film in Ganz’s career after doing better films and it’s the one that most people see, since Hitler is a popular subject. He’s like Superman in that sense. Most Americans and people of other nations think of Hitler first when they think of Germany rather than Beethoven or Goethe.

  10. John Galvano says:

    I’d love to see a Jenna Maroney/Cersei crossover

  11. Ashley says:

    I always believed that both Dany and Margaery are double red herrings for the YMBQ. We the readers are aware of Dany so that would be the readers assumption and Cersei thinks it’s Margaery since she is unaware of Dany but also because Margaery is within Cersei’s sphere. I think it would be narratively fitting for Sansa to be the one to take all that she holds dear. I find that even within this chapter you can see the contrast in their characters and possible foreshadowing with this exchange “”The only way to keep your people loyal is to make certain they fear you more than they do the enemy.” “I will remember, Your Grace,” said Sansa, though she had always heard that love was a surer route to the people’s loyalty than fear. If I am ever a queen, I’ll make them love me.””

  12. Oceans says:

    I’m a bit surprised by theory of Cersei being trans. WTF? She’s a gender-nonconforming woman. History has always been stuffed to the gills with women refusing to perform as expected. Whether or not she and Taena had sex doesn’t influence that. Cersei is a woman who hates the strictures of gender placed upon *her* with little regard for the damage that “gender” causes other women.

    • It’s something that’s come up a bunch on westeros.org, reddit, and tumblr.

      • Oceans says:

        Yeah, I don’t get it at all.

        I forgot to say how wonderful Lena Headey is in this episode. People may love mic-dropping moments like Tyrion’s trial but anyone can shout. It’s conveying powerful, complex emotions with restraint that is a huge challenge for actors.

        And thanks so much for this site. I love your work. First time commenting, but long-time lurker.

        • Grant says:

          Portions of the internet seems rather obsessive with deciding that characters absolutely must be transgender or attracted to people of their respective gender sometimes, and any opinions to the contrary are biased.

          In Cersei’s case however, I’d say… maybe. I’m far from convinced and I think that much of the evidence used could also point towards other conclusions, but I’m not going to absolutely say she isn’t. Ultimately I’d say that the only person who can definitively say would be Martin himself.

  13. Roger says:

    It must be noted in the series Joffrey fled. But in the book he didn’t ashamed himself. He wanted to be in the middle of the fight. And even tried to inspire the men. It’s a pity Cersei didn’t understand he (and the men) needed that. It’s a pity he didn’t get a bolt in the eye. Or perhaps he could have won some simpathy for his soldiers (like he did with the Hound).
    What if Joffrey had imposed himself? He probably had joined the Imp’s charge and get himself killed. Or winned undeserved credit.

  14. […] to cover the new regime in King’s Landing) And in retrospect, I almost wish that Sansa V, Sansa VI, and this chapter were back-to-back a la Dany’s novellas, because the parallels between the […]

  15. […] be deconstructed a little. The revelation has a catty undertone, a kind of sniggering mockery of “woman’s weapons” as the only card someone like Cersei could play. At the same time, we know from ACOK that this is […]

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