“It was not the song of Florian and Jonquil, but it was a song.”
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.
And so the Battle of Blackwater draws to a close with Sansa VII, which picks up almost exactly where Sansa VI left off and sees the culmination both of the battle and Sansa’s main arc in ACOK. (Yes, Sansa has another chapter after this, but that’s mostly because Tyrion is out of commission and George R.R Martin needs a camera 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 chapters are quite fascination.
We open with the result of Cersei’s orders in Sansa VI, and how it links to the last battlefield update that she gets (as I’ll discuss in Book vs. Show, we don’t get to see either Cersei’s moment of murder-suicidal despair in the throne room or her reaction to her father’s entrance):
When Ser Lancel Lannister told the queen that the battle was lost, she turned her empty wine cup in her hands and said, “Tell my brother, ser.” Her voice was distant, as if the news were of no great interest to her.
“Your brother’s likely dead.” Ser Lancel’s surcoat was soaked with the blood seeping out under his arm. When he had arrived in the hall, the sight of him had made some of the guests scream. “He was on the bridge of boats when it broke apart, we think. Ser Mandon’s likely gone as well, and no one can find the Hound. Gods be damned, Cersei, why did you have them fetch Joffrey back to the castle? The gold cloaks are throwing down their spears and running, hundreds of them. When they saw the king leaving, they lost all heart. The whole Blackwater’s awash with wrecks and fire and corpses, but we could have held if—”
Osney Kettleblack pushed past him. “There’s fighting on both sides of the river now, Y’Grace. It may be that some of Stannis’s lords are fighting each other, no one’s sure, it’s all confused over there. The Hound’s gone, no one knows where, and Ser Balon’s fallen back inside the city. The riverside’s theirs. They’re ramming at the King’s Gate again, and Ser Lancel’s right, your men are deserting the walls and killing their own officers. There’s mobs at the Iron Gate and the Gate of the Gods fighting to get out, and Flea Bottom’s one great drunken riot.”
Gods be good, Sansa thought, it is happening, Joffrey’s lost his head and so have I. She looked for Ser Ilyn, but the King’s Justice was not to be seen. I can feel him, though. He’s close, I’ll not escape him, he’ll have my head.
As in Tyrion XIV, we have a case when the Battle of Blackwater is being won and lost at the same time. Even as the Tyrell vanguard is crushing Stannis’ main host on the southern bank, his forces on the northern bank are dominating, despite having been crushed by Tyrion’s charge. Is this the panicking goldcloaks making up a resurgent enemy that doesn’t exist? Was Tyrion acting as an unreliable narrator who’s charge was less successful than he thought? Or did a second wave of landing crafts get across the river? It’s impossible to say with the fog of war pervading the battlefield, along with the smoke and screaming. However, it does seem clear that Tywin’s thrust on the northern bank lagged behind the Tyrells – possibly as a deliberate strategy to ensure that the northern bank wouldn’t be reinforced, possibly as Tywin wanting to make the Tyrells do as much of the fighting as possible, and possibly he’s just a bit slower.
Regardless of which is the case, for the moment the north bank is a disaster that is entirely Cersei’s doing. It’s a prime example of contingency and individual agency driving the battle rather than purely structural concerns – for the want of the want of an order, a battle was almost lost. And yet, despite the sheer scale of the chaos that she has unleashed, Cersei seems completely disconnected from the outcome of the battle, caring for literally nothing but her son:
“Bring him inside Maegor’s now.”
“No!” Lancel was so angry he forgot to keep his voice down. Heads turned toward them as he shouted, “We’ll have the Mud Gate all over again. Let him stay where he is, he’s the king—”
“He’s my son.” Cersei Lannister rose to her feet. “You claim to be a Lannister as well, cousin, prove it. Osfryd, why are you standing there? Now means today.”
Osfryd Kettleblack hurried from the hall, his brother with him. Many of the guests were rushing out as well. Some of the women were weeping, some praying. Others simply remained at the tables and called for more wine. “Cersei,” Ser Lancel pleaded, “if we lose the castle, Joffrey will be killed in any case, you know that. Let him stay, I’ll keep him by me, I swear—”
“Get out of my way.” Cersei slammed her open palm into his wound. Ser Lancel cried out in pain and almost fainted as the queen swept from the room. She spared Sansa not so much as a glance. She’s forgotten me. Ser Ilyn will kill me and she won’t even think about it.
As I said in Sansa V, there is something incredibly ironic about the fact that Cersei, who sees herself as an iron-willed queen superior to the feminine women around her, is absolutely losing her nerve. As Lancel points out, Cersei’s orders don’t even make much sense if your only objective was Joffrey’s physical safety. And while Cersei tries to justify her actions with an appeal to the Lannister family above all else, her violence against Lancel (which will end up just on the safe side of kinslaying) refutes that argument entirely. Cersei cares neither for House Lannister’s interests nor for its persons, all that matters is Joffrey.
But let us also recognize in this moment the minor tragedy that is the life of Lancel Lannister. Here is a child-man who’s spent his entire life taking orders, whether as a Lannister stooge at court, Cersei’s choice for kingslayer, Cersei’s substitute lover, or Tyrion’s double agent. He never really had a chance to think for himself and grow up a little. And now, for the very first time that Lancel ever stands up and speaks truth to power, he gets slapped right back down and nearly dies because of it. It’s a brutal subversion of the usual bildungsroman arc. Control over one’s self and one’s environment, a sense of self-actualization – these are things that only main characters get, and most of us are mere bit players. Lancel comes face to face with Adventure and is broken by his experiences. Far from the beef-necked, glassy-eyed crusader of Season 5, the Lancel of AFFC is a a walking corpse who cannot muster interest in his own life, thinking only of a glorious death in service of the Seven and a surcease from pain.
Sansa In Charge
With poor Lancel writhing in pain on the floor and Cersei in a state of complete disassociation, it is Sansa who steps into the breach and takes charge of the situation, keeping her head when it is most in danger:
“Oh, gods,” an old woman wailed. “We’re lost, the battle’s lost, she’s running.” Several children were crying. They can smell the fear. Sansa found herself alone on the dais. Should she stay here, or run after the queen and plead for her life?
She never knew why she got to her feet, but she did. “Don’t be afraid,” she told them loudly. “The queen has raised the drawbridge. This is the safest place in the city. There’s thick walls, the moat, the spikes…”
…Sansa raised her hands for quiet. “Joffrey’s come back to the castle. He’s not hurt. They’re still fighting, that’s all I know, they’re fighting bravely. The queen will be back soon.” The last was a lie, but she had to soothe them. She noticed the fools standing under the galley. “Moon Boy, make us laugh.”
Moon Boy did a cartwheel, and vaulted on top of a table. He grabbed up four wine cups and began to juggle them. Every so often one of them would come down and smash him in the head. A few nervous laughs echoed through the hall. Sansa went to Ser Lancel and knelt beside him. His wound was bleeding afresh where the queen had struck him. “Madness,” he gasped. “Gods, the Imp was right, was right…”
“Help him,” Sansa commanded two of the serving men. One just looked at her and ran, flagon and all. Other servants were leaving the hall as well, but she could not help that. Together, Sansa and the serving man got the wounded knight back on his feet. “Take him to Maester Frenken.” Lancel was one of them, yet somehow she still could not bring herself to wish him dead. I am soft and weak and stupid, just as Joffrey says. I should be killing him, not helping him.
It is instructive that in this moment, Sansa shows an astonishing strength of character, but a strength that comes from caring for others rather than seeking to dominate them. Whether its appealing to reason or providing a comforting lie, arranging for distracting entertainment, or getting Lancel medical attention by sheer force of personality, Sansa is every inch the medieval lady conducting a siege defense, a role that Cersei is incapable of playing. But as much as Sansa has internalized the verbal abuse of her captors, believing that “I am soft and weak and stupid, just as Joffrey says,” there is a greater strength that comes in refusing to let ones captors change you for the worse, in refusing to give into the violence. When Shakespeare wrote that —
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
It is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself.
(Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I)
— he didn’t exactly have Sansa in mind (nor is the speech as nice as it might seem on the surface), but I think it still fits. Moreover, the kind of “hard” strength that Sansa thinks she ought to have in this moment wouldn’t do her any good in what’s coming next.
A Conversation About Violence With Sandor Clegane, Part II
After Sansa manages to get away from the Queen’s Ballroom and to her room (which, given that Ilyn Payne doesn’t seem to have cared where Sansa was that night, does make one question how solid Cersei’s murder-suicide plan was), she is suddenly confronted by Sandor Clegane:
Sansa opened her mouth to scream, but another hand clamped down over her face, smothering her. His fingers were rough and callused, and sticky with blood. “Little bird. I knew you’d come.” The voice was a drunken rasp.
Outside, a swirling lance of jade light spit at the stars, filling the room with green glare. She saw him for a moment, all black and green, the blood on his face dark as tar, his eyes glowing like a dog’s in the sudden glare. Then the light faded and he was only a hulking darkness in a stained white cloak.
“If you scream I’ll kill you. Believe that.” He took his hand from her mouth. Her breath was coming ragged. The Hound had a flagon of wine on her bedside table. He took a long pull. “Don’t you want to ask who’s winning the battle, little bird?”
“Who?” she said, too frightened to defy him.
The Hound laughed. “I only know who’s lost. Me.”
He is drunker than I’ve ever seen him. He was sleeping in my bed. What does he want here? “What have you lost?”
“All.” The burnt half of his face was a mask of dried blood.
As I suggested back in Sansa IV, Sandor’s posture as a violence-loving truth-telling nihilist has completely broken down in the face of the wildfire. What becomes clearer here is the extent of the loss, that Sandor perceives his loss of identity as total. All he has left is his face – hence the repeated imagery of blood, as if the wound that has characterized his entire life has been remade fresh, or that Sandor has been transported back to the moment of his mutilation. At the same time, the confusion of what remains once that adult persona has been stripped away is suggested by the emphasis on masks, which usually symbolize secrets and hidden identities, and dualities (black and green, representing the Battle of Blackwater, fading into the stark contrast between black and white). At the moment, therefore, the question is as much “who” as “where”:
“Bloody dwarf. Should have killed him. Years ago…Dead? No. Bugger that. I don’t want him dead.” He cast the empty flagon aside. “I want him burned. If the gods are good, they’ll burn him, but I won’t be here to see. I’m going.”
“Going?” She tried to wriggle free, but his grasp was iron.
“The little bird repeats whatever she hears. Going, yes.”
“Where will you go?”
“Away from here. Away from the fires. Go out the Iron Gate, I suppose. North somewhere, anywhere.”
“You won’t get out,” Sansa said. “The queen’s closed up Maegor’s, and the city gates are shut as well.”
“Not to me. I have the white cloak. And I have this.” He patted the pommel of his sword. “The man who tries to stop me is a dead man. Unless he’s on fire.” He laughed bitterly.
As we’ll see throughout this dialogue (and I apologize for the bouncing around between topics, but it’s a hard choice between discussing this thematically and losing all sense of the actual conversation, or going through it chronologically and covering the same thing repeatedly), Sandor grounds his sense of self-worth and his utility to Sansa on his ability to kill. But as he’s discovered in the wake of the Battle of Blackwater, this is a foundation built on sand – even the greatest swordsman has to keep looking over his shoulder for some young bravo looking to build a reputation on his blood and waiting for the day that his reflexes and his strength fall just short, and not even Arthur Dayne with Dawn could do a damn thing about wildfire.
So Sandor needs a new identity, a new way to live – and this brings us to why Sandor wants to go North:
“Why did you come here?”
“You promised me a song, little bird. Have you forgotten?”
She didn’t know what he meant. She couldn’t sing for him now, here, with the sky a-swirl with fire and men dying in their hundreds and their thousands. “I can’t,” she said. “Let me go, you’re scaring me.”
“Everything scares you. Look at me. Look at me.”
The blood masked the worst of his scars, but his eyes were white and wide and terrifying. The burnt corner of his mouth twitched and twitched again. Sansa could smell him; a stink of sweat and sour wine and stale vomit, and over it all the reek of blood, blood, blood.
“I could keep you safe,” he rasped. “They’re all afraid of me. No one would hurt you again, or I’d kill them.”
As someone not particularly gifted with introspection, Sandor goes with the one part of his life experience that he can still trust, namely being a sworn sword and bodyguard. The major change he offers here is to shift from being Joffrey’s bodyguard to being Sansa’s. With Sansa as his ward, Sandor can go North both geographically and politically, defecting to King Robb’s service much in the same way that he’ll plan to do with Arya in ASOS. At the same time, Sansa’s supposed weakness (“everything scares you“) allows him to rebuild his self-image as someone who inspires fear (rather than feel it, which you can practically smell under the wine and the vomit) in the cause of protecting the fearful.
At the same time though, the fact that he’s contemplating guarding a lady raises some connotations that weren’t around with his previous client (as far as we know). As much as Sandor’s “little bird” motif was originally meant as part putdown and part survival strategy, the flipside of that is a particularly poorly articulated attraction to both Sansa and the whole chivalric romance tradition that comes out in an unusually violent fashion:
He yanked her closer, and for a moment she thought he meant to kiss her. He was too strong to fight. She closed her eyes, wanting it to be over, but nothing happened. “Still can’t bear to look, can you?” she heard him say. He gave her arm a hard wrench, pulling her around and shoving her down onto the bed. “I’ll have that song. Florian and Jonquil, you said.” His dagger was out, poised at her throat. “Sing, little bird. Sing for your little life.”
Her throat was dry and tight with fear, and every song she had ever known had fled from her mind. Please don’t kill me, she wanted to scream, please don’t. She could feel him twisting the point, pushing it into her throat, and she almost closed her eyes again, but then she remembered. It was not the song of Florian and Jonquil, but it was a song. Her voice sounded small and thin and tremulous in her ears.
Gentle Mother, font of mercy, save our sons from war, we pray, stay the swords and stay the
arrows, let them know a better day. Gentle Mother, strength of women, help our daughters
through this fray, soothe the wrath and tame the fury, teach us all a kinder way.
She had forgotten the other verses. When her voice trailed off, she feared he might kill her, but after a moment the Hound took the blade from her throat, never speaking.
Some instinct made her lift her hand and cup his cheek with her fingers. The room was too dark for her to see him, but she could feel the stickiness of the blood, and a wetness that was not blood. “Little bird,” he said once more, his voice raw and harsh as steel on stone. Then he rose from the bed. Sansa heard cloth ripping, followed by the softer sound of retreating footsteps.
When she crawled out of bed, long moments later, she was alone. She found his cloak on the floor, twisted up tight, the white wool stained by blood and fire. The sky outside was darker by then, with only a few pale green ghosts dancing against the stars. A chill wind was blowing, banging the shutters. Sansa was cold. She shook out the torn cloak and huddled beneath it on the floor, shivering.
As we’ve seen before, the Florian and Jonquil myth is GRRM’s take on the unlikely knight who wins the love of a lady by overcoming initial distrust or mockery – think Don Quixote and Dulcinea, or Gawain and the cursed hag/lady, or Gareth Beaumains whose kitchen boy disguise initially wins him the disdain of the lady Lynette. But as with Sansa’s story throughout the series, GRRM is doing a bit of subversion here. Sandor is simultaneously Sansa’s would-be rescuer and would-be attacker – once again putting his Freudian symbolic threat of both violence and rape against her throat. Far from being safely controlled, his trauma-driven violent side is spilling out from inside and will direct itself against Sansa as easily as against anyone else. In other words, GRRM is calling out the whole chivalric romance tradition as a poorly functioning cultural script intended to prevent (or gloss over) abduction and rape; in the real world, there’s very little distinguishing the knightly protector from the bandit.
Because GRRM in spite of all that remains a Romantic, he doesn’t leave it there. Sansa’s salvation in this instance isn’t a hero with a sword, but the same human decency and bravery that she showed back in the Queen’s Ballroom, once again refracted through the lens of maternalist religion. That same instinct, to look inside the violent person and minister to the hurt within, defeats Sandor in a way that even Brienne of Tarth could never have managed, calling him back to his better self – thus why he leaves Sansa with a symbol of purity and protection. And this too is a Romantic trope – the idea that someone’s essential purity and goodness could gentle the wrathful and soothe the savage heart is the central driving idea of Beauty and the Beast, for crying out loud!
The Battle of Blackwater: The Final Act
And just when you think you have your feet under you when it comes to the whole theme of knightly romance and the horrors of war, GRRM throws you another curveball as Sansa’s other Florian arrives to end the Battle of Blackwater:
“It’s done! Done! Done! The city is saved. Lord Stannis is dead, Lord Stannis is fled, no one knows, no one cares, his host is broken, the danger’s done. Slaughtered, scattered, or gone over, they say. Oh, the bright banners! The banners, Jonquil, the banners! Do you have any wine? We ought to drink to this day, yes. It means you’re safe, don’t you see?”
“Tell me what’s happened!” Sansa shook him.
Ser Dontos laughed and hopped from one leg to the other, almost falling. “They came up through the ashes while the river was burning. The river, Stannis was neck deep in the river, and they took him from the rear. Oh, to be a knight again, to have been part of it! His own men hardly fought, they say. Some ran but more bent the knee and went over, shouting for Lord Renly! What must Stannis have thought when he heard that? I had it from Osney Kettleblack who had it from Ser Osmund, but Ser Balon’s back now and his men say the same, and the gold cloaks as well. We’re delivered, sweetling! They came up the roseroad and along the riverbank, through all the fields Stannis had burned, the ashes puffing up around their boots and turning all their armor grey, but oh! the banners must have been bright, the golden rose and golden lion and all the others, the Marbrand tree and the Rowan, Tarly’s huntsman and Redwyne’s grapes and Lady Oakheart’s leaf. All the westermen, all the power of Highgarden and Casterly Rock! Lord Tywin himself had their right wing on the north side of the river, with Randyll Tarly commanding the center and Mace Tyrell the left, but the vanguard won the fight. They plunged through Stannis like a lance through a pumpkin, every man of them howling like some demon in steel. And do you know who led the vanguard? Do you? Do you? Do you?”
“Robb?” It was too much to be hoped, but…
“It was Lord Renly! Lord Renly in his green armor, with the fires shimmering off his golden antlers! Lord Renly with his tall spear in his hand! They say he killed Ser Guyard Morrigen himself in single combat, and a dozen other great knights as well. It was Renly, it was Renly, it was Renly! Oh! the banners, darling Sansa! Oh! to be a knight!”
In place of war as elemental chaos, we get war as romance. Let’s not mince words here; the heroic last-minute charge of the Tyrells led by the ghost of Renly himself is a giant honking Deus Ex Machina. It’s implausible, unrealistic, seemingly out of tune with the rest of ASOIAF, and yet GRRM writes it so beautifully that the reader can’t help but get carried away by the moment. Hell, if even Ser Dontos, who has every reason to reject the whole knightly superstructure in favor of the reality of cold-blooded espionage he lives in, can’t stop himself from wanting to be a knight again, what chance do the rest of us have?
And yet…re-readers know that, behind the surface, this victory is not due to Renly’s ghost as much as the Reach cavalry (who appear after being mysteriously absent at Storm’s End) and a political deal struck at Bitterbridge and Tumbler’s Falls tinged with distrust and conspiracy to murder. Tactically, there’s not much to talk about – the Tyrell cavalry hits Stannis’ flank from an unexpected direction and rolls up the line, their task being made easier by the fact that ~8,000 of Stannis’ forces turn against him the moment the attack lands. At the same time, though, we can see the impact of Renly’s ghost as a kind of weaponized chivalric romance. And this gives a slightly different perspective to the Tyrells from what we saw in Catelyn II; rather than just being the knights of summer, there is an intelligence within House Tyrell that sees the knightly code as a set of symbolic tools that they can use to enhance the glorious image and the very real political power of Highgarden. If you think about it this way, it’s a great introduction to the conspiratorial style of House Tyrell, which will be such a major influence in Sansa’s storyline in A Storm of Swords.
When I left off last time, seemingly both sides had lost during the first assault on Constantinople. But when the smoke from the fires that had consumed a huge chunk of the city had cleared, the Emperor Alexios III had fled the city and the former Emperor Isaac II – who had been blinded and imprisoned for almost a decade, and whose overthrow had been the supposed justification for the Crusaders’ intervention – was returned to the throne, the Crusaders refused to leave. They insisted that Alexios Angelos (the one who had made all of those lovely promises back at Venice and Corfu) be crowned emperor, so that they could get paid.
The Byzantine court agreed, and father and son were crowned as co-emperors. Which is about when the new Alexios IV realized he couldn’t actually afford to pay what he had promised. It took confiscating the wealth of the Orthodox Church to pay off the 85,000 marks that the Crusaders owed to the Venetians, a step that infuriated the faithful of Constantinople, and Alexios IV had also promised to supply the Crusader Army in its drive to retake the Holy Land via an invasion of Egypt, which would cost far more. So instead, Alexios IV and the Crusaders raided Thrace (despite it being Byzantine territory) to find the necessary gold.
In the absence of the new emperor, the Byzantine citizens of Constantinople rioted against the Latins (i.e, Italian merchants) who they blamed for the downfall of their city. The Latins fled across the Golden Horn to the Crusader Camp and returned with support from the remaining Crusader garrison, torching a mosque that had been built in the city. Unfortunately, the blaze spread rapidly and grew to five times the size of the fire that had driven Alexios III out of the city. Now 100,000 people were homeless and proved eager converts to the nationalist arguments of Alexios Doukas, a nobleman who had been thrown in prison for attempting to overthrow Alexios III and who now saw a way into power.
When Alexios IV returned to Constantinople from his Thracian campaign, he found a city that hated him for bringing the Crusaders and where Alexios Doukas was the people’s favorite. Almost against his will, Alexios IV ceased payments to the Crusaders in December of 1203 and began preparing the city for another siege. Under the decidely unofficial command of Alexios Doukas, the Byzantines reinforced the towers on the Golden Horn Walls with wooden extensions, “so that they had no dread of the ladders or ships of the Venetians.” And once again, the Byzantines turned to the fire ships that had won the day during the Persian and Arab sieges, sending their fleet across under cover of knight to try to burn the Venetian navy at anchor. When the tactic failed, Alexios IV was blamed for warned the enemy ahead of time, and riots in the streets forced him out of power (and into prison, where he was eventually strangled) and raised Alexios Doukas, now Alexios V, to the purple.
After a winter of inconclusive besieging, since the Crusaders were not strong enough to prevent food and reinforcements from arriving in the city and the Byzantines weren’t strong enough to drive them out, the Crusaders and the Venetians drew up a formal agreement to conquer the city and divide the Byzantine Empire among them.
In April of 1204, the second major assault on the city began – once again, the Venetian navy took to the water to shield the horse transports packed with knights, and the Crusaders landed on the south bank of the Golden Horn only to find themselves coming under heavy artillery fire from the Byzantines. This time prepared for the Venetian tactic of attacking from the masts, the Byzantines defeated the assault handily: “both the ships carrying the scaling ladders and the dromons transporting the horses were repulsed from the walls they had attacked without success, and many were killed by the stones thrown from the City’s engines.”
The Crusaders regrouped, and this time the Venetians had lashed two ships, named the Pilgrim and the Paradise, together, so that they could support a raised assault ramp. And onto that ramp strode the knight Peter of Amiens – our reverse mirror-image parallel to the Hound. Charging over the ramp, Pierre and his men grabbed control of a single tower and managed to knock a hole in a bricked-up postern gate, which was nonetheless defended by many Byzantines. Momentarily halted by the bottleneck and the fierce resistance of the defenders, the Crusaders wavered. And in that critical moment:
“A knight by the name of Peter entered through the gate situated there. He was deemed most capable of driving in rout all the battalions, for he was nearly nine fathoms tall [a poetic exaggeration taken from the ancient Greek Odyssey] and wore on his head a helmet fashioned in the shape of a towered city [a flat-topped great helm]. The noblemen about the emperor and the rest of the troops were unable to gaze upon the front of the helm of a single knight so terrible in form and spectacular in size and took to their customary flight as the efficacious medicine of salvation.”
The huge knight and the breaching of the Golden Horn walls had broken the will of the defenders, and now the city was open. Boniface of Monferrat rode to seize the Boukelon Palace and Baldwin of Flanders the Blachernae Palace. After a failed attempt to counter-attack led his army to rout, Alexios V fled the city. Three days of murder and pillage followed, and one-sixth of the city was in ashes – indeed, most historians argue that the sack of Constantinople in 1204 did far more damage than the city’s capture by the Ottomans in 1453 (in no small part because the Ottomans were intent on keeping the city as their capitol).
A word on the outcome. As might have been suggested by their wild ride to capture the palaces, Boniface and Baldwin fought over which of them would be crowned the new Latin Emperor – Boniface arguing that he had been the one to make the alliance with Alexios Angelos, and Baldwin on account that he had done the majority of the fighting. With Venetian support, Baldwin was named Emperor and Boniface was bought off with Thessaly. In return, Doge Enrico Dandelo managed to grab all of Byzantium’s island colonies in the Adriatic and the Black Sea, giving Venice dominance over the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea trades.
Howver, in their greed and ambition, the Crusaders had forgotten that the Empire they had carved among themselves had people living in it. When the Crusaders attempted to subdue their new territory, the Bulgars moved against them – the new King of Thessaly Boniface was ambushed in 1207 and his head sent to the Bulgar Tsar; the Emperor Baldwin was captured by the Bulgars outside of Adrianople and eventually executed, with his skull turned into the Tsar’s favorite drinking cup. Innocent III saw his Crusade founder without ever setting foot on Egyptian soil. Only the wily Venetians prospered, secure on their islands behind the wooden walls of their fleet.
But before I leave you, the story of Renly’s ghost leading the charge has too good a historical parallel not to mention. Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar is better known to history as El Cid, the Castillian knight who became a symbol of the Reconquista despite having frequently fought for Muslim rulers and leading both Christians and Muslims in battle and governance. Famously, El Cid was leading the defense of Valencia from the Almoravids when he died. His wife Jimena ordered that his corpse be dressed in his armor and lashed to his horse to lead a final cavalry charge against the besiegers.
Once again, there’s only one hypothetical in this chapter:
- Sansa leaves with Sandor? Even with the totally logical caveat that it wasn’t really a great idea for Sansa to run off with a mentally unstable drunk who keeps putting edged weapons to her throat, it remains to be seen whether leaving at this moment would be that good. Giving the timing of their escape, and that Sandor was planning to head north, it’s quite likely that their path would have taken them straight through Duskendale right as Roose Bolton sends 3,000 Northmen to sack the town, or as Randyll Tarly is sent to ambush the Northern infantry.
- Regardless of whether they managed to survive that battle, it’s most likely that they would have intersected with Roose Bolton before making contact with Rob Stark, which would not be good for Sansa’s long-term health and safety even with Sandor as her bodyguard. And sadly, even if Sandor had managed to get Sansa through to her brother in hope of a reward as in OTL, the odds are most likely that Sansa would have wound up either another victim of the Red Wedding or besieged in Riverrun along with Jeyne Westerling.
To that end, it could be argued that staying in King’s Landing so that she could be extracted to the Vale might well have been Sansa’s best out, at least after the Tyrell plan was scotched. More on that in ASOS.
Book vs. Show:
As I’ve said before, earlier decisions to cut scenes between Sansa and Sandor made this scene in Season 2, Episode 9 have a very different subtext in comparison to the book version. For one thing, Rory McCann plays the scene as a quiet, defeated man, which makes Sansa refusing his offer to take her to Winterfell – something he never says explicitly in the book – less explicable, given that there’s no knife to her throat.
Yes, the moment where Sansa bears up under his argument that “the world is built by killers,” and recognizes that Sandor won’t hurt her is good, but it’s an oddly transposed moment that bears more of a similarity to Sansa IV than it does to this moment. And it’s certainly not the same kind of catharsis that we get here, especially given the decision to have Sandor leave and the camera cut almost immediately.
In what otherwise is a perfect episode, it’s a lost opportunity.