Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa I, ASOS


“The old woman smelled of rosewater. Why, she’s just the littlest bit of a thing. There was nothing the least bit thorny about her.”

Synopsis: Sansa meets ALL THE TYRELLS Margaery and the Queen of Thorns.

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:

I really don’t know how people can read this chapter and still not enjoy Sansa POV chapters. In this chapter alone, we get our first close-up of the inner workings of House Tyrell, we get the setup of Sansa’s marriage plot and the Purple Wedding. Thematically, there’s both a fascinating juxtaposition of espionage and chivalric romance, and a hugely cathartic moment where Sansa finally gets to call out her tormenters and abusers after an entire book of silence.

It’s also the beginning of Sansa’s best arc in all of ASOIAF – one that will take her all the way from King’s Landing to the Eyrie; from imprisonment to matrimony to accomplice to murder after the fact; and to the revelation of the truth of the major political conspiracy.

There’s Something About Margaery

The chapter starts with Sansa observing Margaery from afar. And while Sansa is sometimes described as a mere camerawoman (a charge also lodged against her mother), there’s more going on than giving GRRM a POV to depict the entry of Margaery Tyrell into King’s Landing. Sansa is not merely observing, she’s also analyzing:

The invitation seemed innocent enough, but every time Sansa read it her tummy tightened into a knot. She’s to be queen now, she’s beautiful and rich and everyone loves her, why would she want to sup with a traitor’s daughter? It could be curiosity, she supposed; perhaps Margaery Tyrell wanted to get the measure of the rival she’d displaced. Does she resent me, I wonder? Does she think I bear her ill will…

Sansa had watched from the castle walls as Margaery Tyrell and her escort made their way up Aegon’s High Hill. Joffrey had met his new bride-to-be at the King’s Gate to welcome her to the city, and they rode side by side through cheering crowds, Joff glittering in gilded armor and the Tyrell girl splendid in green with a cloak of autumn flowers blowing from her shoulders. She was sixteen, brown-haired and brown-eyed, slender and beautiful. The people called out her name as she passed, held up their children for her blessing, and scattered flowers under the hooves of her horse. Her mother and grandmother followed close behind, riding in a tall wheelhouse whose sides were carved into the shape of a hundred twining roses, every one gilded and shining. The smallfolk cheered them as well.

The same smallfolk who pulled me from my horse and would have killed me, if not for the Hound. Sansa had done nothing to make the commons hate her, no more than Margaery Tyrell had done to win their love. Does she want me to love her too? She studied the invitation, which looked to be written in Margaery’s own hand. Does she want my blessing?

Needless to say, this is an entirely different Sansa than the one went to the Hand’s Tourney – she’s constantly questioning people’s intentions and motives, she knows that people act from their own interests, she tries to reason from them, and she is no longer taken in by pageantry and surface appearances. In this case, she’s trying to figure out Margaery from afar before meeting her face-to-face, and while some of her hypotheses are incorrect (Margaery’s interest in Sansa has very little do with with either Sansa’s relationship with Joffrey or her own), I think she ends up on the right track. Margaery wants Sansa to trust Margaery enough to part with her secrets and provide Margaery with valuable information, and she wants Sansa to agree to participate in her plans for the future.

Her observations here are also interesting, because Margaery is in so many ways the woman that Sansa wanted to be: not only beautiful and surrounded by beauty, but able to use that beauty to inspire universal love where all of Sansa’s lessons in courtesty could not spare her beatings. But having experienced that awakening, Sansa is now paying attention to the staged nature of Tyrell glamour, the way that wealth and fashion sense and a key eye towards branding all come together to weave a powerful spell over people – a spell that will soon be directed at Sansa herself. She’s also far more cynicals about the pitfalls of this kind of politics; as she correctly notes, Margaery hasn’t really done anything concrete to earn the love of the people (any more than the Tyrells have by restoring cut-off food supplies to the capitol), which can easily turn into hatred the moment that conditions turn for the worse.

All in all, while Sansa is hardly a political mastermind and still has much to learn, we can see the potential that Petyr Baelish will make use of in the future.

A Tour of the Tyrells

Moving on from this recollection, the first half of Sansa I is essentially a guided tour of House Tyrell, starting with its outward appearance and ending in its political inner circle. And just as Loras was Sansa’s entry to chivalric romance, he performs the same function for his family as he escorts her to dinner:

He was beautiful, though. He seemed taller than he’d been when she’d first met him, but still so lithe and graceful, and Sansa had never seen another boy with such wonderful eyes. He’s no boy, though, he’s a man grown, a knight of the Kingsguard. She thought he looked even finer in white than in the greens and golds of House Tyrell. The only spot of color on him now was the brooch that clasped his cloak; the rose of Highgarden wrought in soft yellow gold, nestled in a bed of delicate green jade leaves.

As is only appropriate for this kind of exploration, we start with the surface level. Throughout his appearances to date in ASOIAF, Loras Tyrell has cultivated an appearance as a “chevalier sans peur et sans reproche,” the kind of ideal knight who someone like Robert Baratheon would deem “the kind of son you want to have.” And yet this performance of Westerosi masculinity hides a far more complex reality, and this double layer has major implications for Sansa:

“You ride wonderfully, ser.”

“My lady is gracious to say so. When has she seen me ride?”

“At the Hand’s tourney, don’t you remember? You rode a white courser, and your armor was a hundred different kinds of flowers. You gave me a rose. A red rose. You threw white roses to the other girls that day.” It made her flush to speak of it. “You said no victory was half as beautiful as me.”

Ser Loras gave her a modest smile. “I spoke only a simple truth, that any man with eyes could see.”

He doesn’t remember, Sansa realized, startled. He is only being kind to me, he doesn’t remember me or the rose or any of it. She had been so certain that it meant something, that it meant everything. A red rose, not a white. “It was after you unhorsed Ser Robar Royce,” she said, desperately.

While Sansa has been undergoing a process of awakening from chivalric romance, because it came before the horror she had to witness and the abuse she had to endure Sansa will often reach back to some touchstone of her “age of innocence.” (Which may be somewhat frustrating for some readers, but is profoundly human. No real human being completely severs themselves from their pasts.) At every stage, though, she finds that these things are far more complicated than she had thought – for Sansa, the red rose was her personal entry point into the world of chivalric romance, marking her out as a protagonist, somehow more special than all the girls who got white roses. The revelation that it didn’t have that meaning for Loras shocks Sansa deeply, but it’s an interesting moment of a false revelation, because Sansa still doesn’t understand why. Loras doesn’t remember because for him the rose was simply another moment of performing heterosexuality according to the rules set down by the chivalric code.

Furthering this theme of surface appearances vs. hidden depths, Sansa unintentionally makes things worse when she references recent events during the War of Five Kings:

He took his hand from her arm. “I slew Robar at Storm’s End, my lady.” It was not a boast; he sounded sad.

Him, and another of King Renly’s Rainbow Guard as well, yes. Sansa had heard the women talking of it round the well, but for a moment she’d forgotten. “That was when Lord Renly was killed, wasn’t it? How terrible for your poor sister.”

“For Margaery?” His voice was tight. “To be sure. She was at Bitterbridge, though. She did not see…Renly is dead. Robar as well. What use to speak of them?”

The sharpness in his tone took her aback. “I…my lord, I…I didn’t not mean to give offense, ser.”

“Nor could you, Lady Sansa,” Ser Loras replied, but all the warmth had gone from his voice. Nor did he take her arm again.

This second exchange is essentially a recapitulation of the first, but with more emotional intensity. Not knowing the truth of Loras and Renly’s relationship, or for that matter the truth of Margaery and Renly’s marriage, Sansa dredges up a host of grief and regret, and the the case of Renly’s murder of Robar a huge amount of unacknowledged guilt. Thus, even before the thought of marrying Loras enters the story, the reader already knows that their relationship would never work, because Sansa really doesn’t know Loras underneath the image he presents.

Moving closer to the heart of House Tyrell, Sansa next encounters Garlan Tyrell, who is almost a case of Chekov’s Knight:

On the edge of the yard, a lone knight with a pair of golden roses on his shield was holding off three foes. Even as they watched, he caught one of them alongside the head, knocking him senseless. “Is that your brother?” Sansa asked.

“It is, my lady,” said Ser Loras. “Garlan often trains against three men, or even four. In battle it is seldom one against one, he says, so he likes to be prepared.”

In this instance, what we get is an impossible badass (especially compared to the reality of fighting one against three or four that we’ll see in AFFC with Brienne) that GRRM is introducing in the first act so that he can be fired in the third. The fact that Garlan hasn’t ever fought “on-screen” in ASOIAF and is currently in the Reach facing down Euron’s invasion is also one of the reasons why I’m somewhat skeptical that Euron is going to rout the Reach in TWOW.

Garlan also works as synecdoche for House Tyrell as a whole – the outward display of chivalry concealing something more calculating underneath. Given the degree of skill he displays here, Garlan must be one of the greatest swordsmen in all of Westeros, and yet Garlan fights in no melees to gain the reputation that his brother has attained as a tourney knight. In this way, he remains House Tyrell’s hidden weapon. Likewise, as we will see in forthcoming chapters, Garlan is a far more well-educated and intelligent man that his martial appearance might dictate. It should also be noted that he is one of the few genuinely decent people in ASOIAF, someone who goes out of his way to be kind to people without an ulterior motive, so if for no other reason than to push back on the unfortunate tendency to nihilism in the fandom, I hope he prospers.

Among the Ladies

Having passed through these layers, Sansa finally comes to the core of House Tyrell, its brains if not its heart. But before we get to Olenna Tyrell, we get introduced to the ladies of the House, which is really the first time (outside of Maegor’s Holdfast) that we see Sansa in almost entirely female company:

Sansa recognized only Lord Tyrell’s tall, dignified wife, Lady Alerie, whose long silvery braid was bound with jeweled rings. Margaery performed the other introductions. There were three Tyrell cousins, Megga and Alla and Elinor, all close to Sansa’s age. Buxom Lady Janna was Lord Tyrell’s sister, and wed to one of the green-apple Fossoways; dainty, bright-eyed Lady Leonette was a Fossoway as well, and wed to Ser Garlan. Septa Nysterica had a homely pox-scarred face but seemed jolly. Pale, elegant Lady Graceford was with child, and Lady Bulwer was a child, no more than eight. And “Merry” was what she was to call boisterous plump Meredyth Crane, but most definitely not Lady Merryweather, a sultry black-eyed Myrish beauty.

What a rich variety of personality and temperment (as well as age and physical appearance) there is there – Alerie who shares the opulence and aloofness of House Hightower but seemingly none of the fascination with the occult that her father and sister share, the poor unlucky Tyrell cousins whose dreams of romance will lead them only into the dungeons of the Faith, the mysterious and entirely untrustworthy Lady Merryweather, and of course, Margaery and her grandmother.

So what can we say about these Tyrell ladies? I generally agree that describing the Tyrells as a matriarchy is an over-extension; the fact that Loras and Mace repeatedly use Margaery’s hand in marriage as a bargaining chip without consulting the distaff side of the family is pretty resounding evidence to the contrary. (Although for reasons I’ll explain later, analysis is complicated by the untrustworthiness of our main source on this point…) However, given how much the Reach is meant to evoke medieval Acquitaine at the height of its influence, these women are not without influence, and while much of that influence is in traditionally feminine areas of arts, fashion, manners and customs, there is political influence as well.

Indeed, much of the strength of the Tyrells comes from these women. First, they are all the basis for dynastic alliances – Olenna and Alerie representing the Redwynes and Hightowers (the two most powerful houses of the Reach) respectively; the formerly rebellious (link) Fossoways’ loyalties were clearly important to secure, hence the double marriage of Janna and Leonette; mid-range families like the Meadows, Beesburys, and Serrys are all tied back into the Tyrells through Margaery’s cousins;  important heiresses like Lady Bulwer and potential hostages like Meredyth Crane are kept close to hand. But at the same time, these alliances could not exist without the fertility of these women (mirroring the Reach’s own abundance in both soil and population) to produce the raw materials for these marriages, and so we see young children, eager maidens, happy wives, expectant or experienced mothers, and aged crones, all in the business of keeping the business of family booming.

The Queen of Thorns

And so at long last, we come to Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, who despite being a secondary character so thoroughly steals the chapter that it is incredibly difficult to miss what’s going on under the surface. This is made even more difficult when you consider that almost all of Olenna’s presentation as a hilariously rude old woman is another Tyrell performance, and that you can’t necessarily trust anything she’s saying:

Last of all, Margaery brought her before the wizened white-haired doll of a woman at the head of the table. “I am honored to present my grandmother the Lady Olenna, widow to the late Luthor Tyrell, Lord of Highgarden, whose memory is a comfort to us all.”

The old woman smelled of rosewater. Why, she’s just the littlest bit of a thing. There was nothing the least bit thorny about her. “Kiss me, child,” Lady Olenna said, tugging at Sansa’s wrist with a soft spotted hand. “It is so kind of you to sup with me and my foolish flock of hens.”

Dutifully, Sansa kissed the old woman on the cheek. “It is kind of you to have me, my lady.”

“I knew your grandfather, Lord Rickard, though not well.”

“He died before I was born.”

“I am aware of that, child. It’s said that your Tully grandfather is dying too. Lord Hoster, surely they told you? An old man, though not so old as me. Still, night falls for all of us in the end, and too soon for some. You would know that more than most, poor child. You’ve had your share of grief, I know. We are sorry for your losses.”

As re-readers (and anyone who’s spent much time around her) know, this is an act. Olenne Tyrell didn’t get the nick-name of “Queen of Thorns” for being a sweet (if slightly more direct) senior citizen who’s reaching out to Sansa purely out of empathy for her suffering. Rather, what we’re seeing is Olenna’s outermost layer and her default role when dealing with strangers, which allows her to get away with mild rudeness while she sees whether the person she’s dealing with is smart enough to look past the surface. In this case, she’s laying the groundwork for the later part of the conversation (and her far more morally ambiguous plans for by positioning herself as a sympathetic figure.

And to me, this opening sally raises a whole host of questions: when did Olenna Tyrell get to know Lord Rickard Stark? Was it before or after his trip to King’s Landing in 264 AC, and did it have any connection to the Southron Ambitions conspiracy? Is she bringing up this connection solely to imply familiarity and trustworthiness, or is she probing for something from Sansa? (And why bring up Hoster Tully? Did she know him as well?) How sincere is she about what’s happened to the Starks; is it just to get Sansa on side, or does Olenna have a craftwoman’s disdain for crude and clumsy methods that lead to unnecessary loss of life? Given that she’s in the process of arranging the cold-blooded murder of Joffrey Baratheon, it’s hardly likely to be a blanket moral objection to killing.

Once she’s had some time to assess how Sansa is reacting to her first performance, Olenna takes off the breaks and exposes her to the full Queen of Thorns persona:

…Her grandmother snorted. “Gallant, yes, and charming, and very clean. He knew how to dress and he knew how to smile and he knew how to bathe, and somehow he got the notion that this made him fit to be king. The Baratheons have always had some queer notions, to be sure. It comes from their Targaryen blood, I should think.” She sniffed. “They tried to marry me to a Targaryen once, but I soon put an end to that.”

“Renly was brave and gentle, Grandmother,” said Margaery. “Father liked him as well, and so did Loras.”

“Loras is young,” Lady Olenna said crisply, “and very good at knocking men off horses with a stick. That does not make him wise. As to your father, would that I’d been born a peasant woman with a big wooden spoon, I might have been able to beat some sense into his fat head.”

“Mother,” Lady Alerie scolded.

“Hush, Alerie, don’t take that tone with me. And don’t call me Mother. If I’d given birth to you, I’m sure I’d remember. I’m only to blame for your husband, the lord oaf of Highgarden.”

“Grandmother,” Margaery said, “mind your words, or what will Sansa think of us?”

“She might think we have some wits about us. One of us, at any rate.”

This turn is a sudden and complete subversion of the culture we’ve come to know over the past several books, with Olenna shrugging off the mores of Westerosi society (both the warrior ethos and the patriarchy) and calling everyone out on their bullshit (even her own family; I’m still kind of amazed that she can so easily walk all over a Hightower). However, it’s also clearly meant to be shocking – on a Doylist level, the unexpected is a core element of comedy, and GRRM wants Olenna to be a memorable character; on a Watsonian level, Olenna is looking to see how Sansa reacts to this irreverant challenge, whether she approves or disapproves.

On a side note, I find Olenna’s past (and the way she interprets it here) fascinating. Firstly, her comment about the“queer notions” of the Baratheons would in context probably point to the rebellion of Lyonel Baratheon (although she must have been 12-16 when that happened), and suggests that she sees the whole Baratheon dynasty from Robert to Renly as all part of the same family tendency to claim a crown at the drop of a hat. Secondly, the World of Ice and Fire now creates an entirely different context for her claim that “they tried to marry me to a Targaryen once, but I soon put an end to that” and that Baratheon eccentricity “comes from their Targaryen blood.” Olenna’s position (butressed by the story from the show about her seducing Luthor Tyrell away from her younger sister) is that she was the active party in scotching the engagement, but the maesters claim that Prince Daeron called it off and strongly suggest that he was gay. Is this a case of her trying to save face, or were both betrothed acting to end their engagement, or did she force Daeron’s hand (by sleeping with Luthor)?

While Olenna’s Dowager Countess-like performance is funny, it’s more than just a stand-up routine, as we see when Olenna pivots to make the same kind of acid-tongued commentary about the politics of her family:

The old woman turned back to Sansa. “It’s treason, I warned them, Robert has two sons, and Renly has an older brother, how can he possibly have any claim to that ugly iron chair? Tut-tut, says my son, don’t you want your sweetling to be queen? You Starks were kings once, the Arryns and the Lannisters as well, and even the Baratheons through the female line, but the Tyrells were no more than stewards until Aegon the Dragon came along and cooked the rightful King of the Reach on the Field of Fire. If truth be told, even our claim to Highgarden is a bit dodgy, just as those dreadful Florents are always whining. ‘What does it matter?’ you ask, and of course it doesn’t, except to oafs like my son. The thought that one day he may see his grandson with his arse on the Iron Throne makes Mace puff up like…now, what do you call it? Margaery, you’re clever, be a dear and tell your poor old half-daft grandmother the name of that queer fish from the Summer Isles that puffs up to ten times its own size when you poke it…”

“My son ought to take the puff fish for his sigil, if truth be told. He could put a crown on it, the way the Baratheons do their stag, mayhap that would make him happy. We should have stayed well out of all this bloody foolishness if you ask me, but once the cow’s been milked there’s no squirting the cream back up her udder. After Lord Puff Fish put that crown on Renly’s head, we were into the pudding up to our knees, so here we are to see things through. And what do you say to that, Sansa?”

“…A great oaf,” said the Queen of Thorns. “His father was an oaf as well. My husband, the late Lord Luthor. Oh, I loved him well enough, don’t mistake me. A kind man, and not unskilled in the bedchamber, but an appalling oaf all the same. He managed to ride off a cliff whilst hawking. They say he was looking up at the sky and paying no mind to where his horse was taking him.”

“And now my oaf son is doing the same, only he’s riding a lion instead of a palfrey. It is easy to mount a lion and not so easy to get off, I warned him, but he only chuckles. Should you ever have a son, Sansa, beat him frequently so he learns to mind you. I only had the one boy and I hardly beat him at all, so now he pays more heed to Butterbumps than he does to me. A lion is not a lap cat, I told him, and he gives me a ‘tut-tut-Mother.’ There is entirely too much tut-tutting in this realm, if you ask me. All these kings would do a deal better if they would put down their swords and listen to their mothers.”

This is another moment where I found myself on a re-read looking at Olenna in a completely different light. After two books of pompous arrogant lords and ladies starting wars that lead thousands and thousands of smallfolk to their deaths, that last line especially is such a air-punching moment that it’s very easy to take her speech at surface level. And yet…as will be stated explicitly, Olenna is making this speech when she knows that there are spies everywhere in the Red Keep listening in. Looking at how much of this speech is about disawoving her involvement in treason against the current king, I wonder how honest the Queen of Thorns is being about her objection to Mace’s support for Renly. (Especially since we see in the Purple Wedding that when she puts her foot down about another one of his political alliances, it’s a lot more final than ineffectual chiding.)

This is where I come back to the idea of performance, because Olenna’s Queen of Thornes monologue is also very much directed at Sansa. As with the first volley, she’s probing to learn more about Sansa – is she going to react conventionally or unconventionally? What kind of a political mind or political opinions does she have? (I also think that part of the Queen of Thorns persona is that by being so “honest” about her own family, she prompts others to be more forthcoming about themselves than they might otherwise.) And while it might be frustrating from a long-term character perspective to see Sansa react rather conventionally, that’s kind of what Olenna is looking for; if you’re trying to get someone to agree to a marriage sight unseen and carry the murder weapon to the scene of an assassination, you do not want them to be a political genius.

Two final thoughts on this passage: the first is about how much Olenna’s speech ties together the idea of a Tyrell matriarchy and the intersection between feminism and pacifism. It’s a really well-written argument that arrogance and pride of literal patriarchs is the cause of war and that a matriarchy (or just the enfranchisement of women in Westerosi politics) would promote peace. But the very fact that Mace can simply overrule Olenna on such an important question of war and peace (to say nothing of Margaery’s control over her own hand in marriage) suggests that a Tyrell matriarchy doesn’t exist.

The second thought is about the Tyrells’ political position in light of Olenna’s statement about “our claim to Highgarden is a bit dodgy, just as those dreadful Florents are always whining. ‘What does it matter?’ you ask, and of course it doesn’t, except to oafs like my son.” One of the things I’m going to be looking at in my Politics of the Seven Kingdom essasy is the way in which House Tyrell’s political position seems to fluctuate wildly, with them being unable to control their own bannermen in the Dance of the Dragons or the Blackfyre Rebellions, but at other times bringing the entire Reach to bear. (And especially at the moment, with their dynastic alliances so firmly entrenched, how “dodgy” is their claim?) To an extent, I think the problem is that the Tyrells’ main antagonists, the Florents, are too weak (link) to really serve as an effective opposition. I’m also skeptical, given how much attention the Tyrells pay to the power of political symbolism, that Olenna really thinks that perceptions of legitimacy don’t matter.


After this intense investigation, we get a great break in the mood when we are introduced to the Tyrell’s jester, one of the best tertiary characters in ASOIAF, the one and only Butterbumps:

Butterbumps arrived before the food, dressed in a jester’s suit of green and yellow feathers with a floppy coxcomb. An immense round fat man, as big as three Moon Boys, he came cartwheeling into the hall, vaulted onto the table, and laid a gigantic egg right in front of Sansa. “Break it, my lady,” he commanded. When she did, a dozen yellow chicks escaped and began running in all directions. “Catch them!” Butterbumps exclaimed. Little Lady Bulwer snagged one and handed it to him, whereby he tilted back his head, popped it into his huge rubbery mouth, and seemed to swallow it whole. When he belched, tiny yellow feathers flew out his nose. Lady Bulwer began to wail in distress, but her tears turned into a sudden squeal of delight when the chick came squirming out of the sleeve of her gown and ran down her arm.

One of the interesting little meta-mysteries in not just ASOIAF but also WOIAF is the unseen role that jesters and fools play in Westeros: Mushroom was a historian and chronicler, Moon Boy is a spy, and Patchface is the chosen prophet of the Drowned God. I wonder if the same thing is true for our man Butterbumps; while his skill in prestidigitation is used merely to entertain, it’s a highly useful skill for poisoners and spymasters alike. And as we see later in the chapter, he’s accustomed to being used to shield Olenna’s conversations from being spied on – is Butterbumps perhaps employed in counter-intelligence as well as prop comedy?

“They Also Serve Who Only Stand and Wait”

And so at long last, we come to the heart of the chapter, where after softening up the Stark prisoner with lemon cakes and witty repartee, the Tyrells press Sansa to give up what she knows:

“I want you to tell me the truth about this royal boy,” said Lady Olenna abruptly. “This Joffrey.”

Sansa’s fingers tightened round her spoon. The truth? I can’t. Don’t ask it, please, I can’t. “I…I…I…”

“You, yes. Who would know better? The lad seems kingly enough, I’ll grant you. A bit full of himself, but that would be his Lannister blood. We have heard some troubling tales, however. Is there any truth to them? Has this boy mistreated you?”

…Ser Dontos had warned her to speak freely only in the godswood. “Joff…King Joffrey, he’s…His Grace is very fair and handsome, and…and as brave as a lion.”

“Yes, all the Lannisters are lions, and when a Tyrell breaks wind it smells just like a rose,” the old woman snapped. “But how kind is he? How clever? Has he a good heart, a gentle hand? Is he chivalrous as befits a king? Will he cherish Margaery and treat her tenderly, protect her honor as he would his own?”

For all that we attribute an impossible degree of foresight of future events and percpetion of character to Littlefinger and his ilk, the reality is that all conspiracy has at its heart irreducible contingency and uncertainty. With all of his cutouts and hands-off, long-distance manuevering, Littlefinger’s plans for the Purple Wedding hinge on unforseeable interactions between complex people. In this case, the Queen of Thorns is not about to jeopardize House Tyrell’s alliance and risk being caught as a regicide without some proof of Joffrey’s character – but at the same time, his own agent (link) has been pressuring Sansa to mistrust and lie to everyone other than himself, which jeopardizes the Tyrells’ participation and Sansa’s willingness to carry the murder weapon (link) to the scene fo the crime.

At the same time, I think we also get a sense of Olenna as a conspirator here – she’s far more cautious than Littlefinger, and takes time to corroborate the intelligence she gets from potentially suspect third parties (a good practice in spycraft, which few people in ASOIAF practice). Moreover, I think we can see a hint in her comment that “that would be his Lannister blood” (and later on that Joffrey “calls himself Baratheon but looks so very Lannister“) that Olenna knows full well that Joffrey is the spawn of incest and thus has no more legitimate claim to the Iron Throne than the Tyrells do to Highgarden. Whether she simply believes Stannis’ open letter (link) or she had the same information that Littlefinger, Varys, Stannis, and Jon Arryn did before the events of AGOT, is unclear.

For Sansa, this moment is a huge crux in her character arc – all of the horrors she witnessed in AGOT, all of the violence she endured in ACOK, she has been unable to speak about up until this point. Anywhere that Cersei might hear, she must appear loyal; anywhere Joffrey might hear, she must be silent to avoid beatings. So the character question is – will she speak? Her first answer is telling:

“…Are you frightened, child? No need for that, we’re only women here. Tell me the truth, no harm will come to you.”

“My father always told the truth.” Sansa spoke quietly, but even so, it was hard to get the words out.

“Lord Eddard, yes, he had that reputation, but they named him traitor and took his head off even so.” The old woman’s eyes bore into her, sharp and bright as the points of swords.

Despite all of the Tyrells’ efforts to put Sansa at her ease (and off her guard), Sansa is someone who has learned the value of survival over candor at a high cost. And yet we can see in her rejoinder both realism – that honesty can lead to harm, so Sansa’s recitience is self-preservation despite Olenna’s promises – and continual, if quiet resistance – the implication, which Olenna agrees with, is that Eddard Stark was unjustly executed, and that Sansa remains a loyal daughter of House Stark despite any rote phrases to the contrary. What gets Sansa to move on from this cautious defiance and finally speak is Olenna’s sympathetic affirmation of the injustice done to her House, but also her honesty about the price one can pay for honesty:

“Joffrey,” Sansa said. “Joffrey did that. He promised me he would be merciful, and cut my father’s head off. He said that was mercy, and he took me up on the walls and made me look at it. The head. He wanted me to weep, but…” She stopped abruptly, and covered her mouth. I’ve said too much, oh gods be good, they’ll know, they’ll hear, someone will tell on me.

“Go on.” It was Margaery who urged. Joffrey’s own queen-to-be…”She’s terrfied, Grandmother, just look at her.”

The old woman called to Butterbumps. “Fool, give us a song. A long one, I should think…even when I was a girl younger than you, it was well known that in the Red Keep the very walls have ears. Well, they will be all the better for a song, and meanwhile we girls shall speak freely…at Highgarden we have many spiders amongst the flowers. So long as they keep to themselves we let them spin their little webs, but if they get underfoot we step on them.”

This passage is absolutely fascinating, for several reasons. Firstly, we see Sansa finally getting to tell the truth about Joffrey, despite her fears that Joffrey will find out and punish her. Indeed, throughout the chapter Sansa is completely paranoid that the whole meeting was a setup by Joffrey to catch her out. And yet she speaks out, which is one of those small acts of bravery for which Sansa rarely gets credit; consider by contrast how long it takes Theon to act against Ramsay in ADWD. Secondly, we see Margaery acting as Good Cop, not simply noticing and sympathizing with Sansa’s fears but also urging her to keep talking, working as Olenna’s partner in the interrogation. Consider that as evidence in the debates over how much BookMargaery resembles ShowMargaery. Thirdly, we see that Olenna has some serious chops in counter-intelligence, which she honed when she was at court as a child (probably in the years 237-246 AC when she was the betrothed of Prince Daeron). In addition to more hints about a fascinating past, we also get introduced to the possibility that Varys’ spy network might have some limits, if as important a seat of power as Highgarden has immunized itself from his little birds.

And so we come to the end of the testimony:

She patted Sansa on the back of the hand. “Now, child, the truth. What sort of man is this Joffrey…”

“…A monster,” she whispered, so tremulously she could scarcely hear her own voice. “Joffrey is a monster. He lied about the butcher’s boy and made Father kill my wolf. When I displease him, he has the Kingsguard beat me. He’s evil and cruel, my lady, it’s so. And the queen as well.”

Lady Olenna Tyrell and her granddaughter exchanged a look. “Ah,” said the old woman, “that’s a pity.”

This is the moment where the Purple Wedding goes from being a possibility to an inevitability, and yet the mystery is nicely preserved until you’re doing a re-read. However, thinking about it I’m astonished that it all comes back to Sansa I of AGOT, where Sansa finally tells the truth of what happened along the Kingsroad. Two books later to the chapter, Joffrey finally reaps what he sowed.

D0 You Want to Visit Highgarden?

As a reward for her testimony, Good Cop Margaery offers Sansa a trip to Highgarden, which is an interesting road-not-travelled, both in plot terms but more importantly thematically. Because what Highgarden stands for her is not merely the stronghold of House Tyrell, but also the beating heart of chivalric romance:

“Sansa, would you like to visit Highgarden?” When Margaery Tyrell smiled, she looked very like her brother Loras. “All the autumn flowers are in bloom just now, and there are groves and fountains, shady courtyards, marble colonnades. My lord father always keeps singers at court, sweeter ones than Butters here, and pipers and fiddlers and harpers as well. We have the best horses, and pleasure boats to sail along the Mander. Do you hawk, Sansa?”

“You will love Highgarden as I do, I know it.” Margaery brushed back a loose strand of Sansa’s hair. “Once you see it, you’ll never want to leave. And perhaps you won’t have to…” Higharden sounded like the place she always dreamed of, like the beautiful magical court she had once hoped to find at King’s Landing…

Let’s not prevaricate here – Highgarden is Acquitaine, not so much the historical province but the mythic ideal of a thousand perfume-drunk troubadours, all on the payroll of the Dukes of that land (if not actually the Dukes themselves, since one of the earliest troubadours in Europe was William IX, Duke of Acquitaine). So for Sansa, this offers a deeply threatening temptation to go backwards in search of the dreams of her youth and thus jettison her hard-won realism. And it’s not an accident that in this moment where Margaery is acting as the Tempter, she looks just like Loras who was Sansa’s way in to this romantic fantasy.

And this is where we have to deal with the moral ambiguity of House Tyrell: are they the benevolent and cultured rescuers as they position themselves here, or are they “only Lannisters with flowers“? After all, Olenna and Margaery aren’t promising to take Sansa away from King’s Landing out of the goodness of their hearts, they want Sansa to sign on the dotted line:

“Without Highgarden, the Lannisters have no hope of keeping Joffrey on his throne. If my son the lord oaf asks, she will have no choice but to grant this request…to see you safely wed, child…to my grandson.”

“…would you like that Sansa?” Asked Margaery. “I’ve never had a sister, only brothers. Oh, please say yes, please say that you will consent to marry my brother…Willas has a bad leg but a good heart,” said Margaery. “He used to read to me when I was a little girl, and draw me pictures of the stars. You will love him as much as we do, Sansa.”

In this, as in Margaery’s later performance as a very public philanthropist, I would argue a third position: the Tyrells operate out of enlightened self-interest, “doing well by doing good.” On a personal, individual level, Olenna and Margaery feel for Sansa the same way they would for any abused woman. (I think Olenna particularly would see Joffrey’s behavior as much political malpractice as evil…) But on a political level, they’re only taking this risk because Sansa has a claim to Winterfell, and it’s not like they’re going to give her back to her family. Likewise in the case of Margaery’s good works, I think she genuinely likes helping the unfortunate – but I don’t think it would ever occur to her to give anonymously and sacrifice the good will she could be gaining.

And (this is more my personal speculation), there is an undertone of paternalism (maternalism?) to the Tyrells’ good deeds – the Tyrells seem to believe that their way of doing things is more graceful, subtle, and almost aesthetically superior, and so they go about trying to chivvy people into doing what the Tyrells think they should be doing, whether it’s marrying Sansa to Willas because she “belongs” in Highgarden and couldn’t possibly want to leave – which gives that beautiful castle the forboding air of the Island of the Lotus Eaters – or their efforts to make Tommen a more popular monarch. But what right do the Tyrells have to decide what it best for others?

Historical Analysis:

Way back in AGOT, I argued that Margaery Tyrell’s historical parallel is Anne Boleyn – the beautiful and vivacious second queen to Robert’s aging Henry VIII, her trial for adultery is almost plagiarism it’s so close to the (let’s be honest, show)trial that brought down Anne, and you could see her serial problems with getting a husband to sire a child before he dies as parallel to Anne’s problems with childbirth. If Margaery is Anne, therefore the Tyrells must be the Boleyns, right?

Well, yes and no. While I haven’t backed off my original position, the Tyrells don’t necessarily map onto the Boleyns particularly well. While the Tyrells’ origins as stewards parallel the Boleyns’ descent from a family of wealthy mercers (cloth merchants) who bought their way into the gentry and married into the Howards of Nortfolk, Anne’s father was a brilliant career diplomat and a most adept courtier, who somehow managed to survive the destruction of his children – which couldn’t be more different from Mace’s puffed-up buffoonery. Likewise, George Boleyn was a notorious womanizer, a devout Lutheran, but not much of a warrior – which likewise doesn’t particularly fit Loras.

And this is where GRRM’s penchant for remixing comes in.  If we’re looking to examples for Loras, Edward Woodville (youngest brother of Elizabeth Woodville, who married Edward IV) was known as “the last knight errant,” and served with distinction in Brittany and Scotland on behalf of Edward IV, in Spain against the Moors, and died in a rash charge fighting for the Bretons against the French (similar to Loras’ reckless assault on Dragonstone). Likewise, there are arguments that the Tyrells’ penchant for PR better resembles the Seymours (the family of Henry VIII’s third wife) than the Boleyns.

Luckily, with Olenna Tyrell we have a much clearer parallel although it’s one that owes more to Hollywood than to history. While I have many good things to say about Diana Rigg in a bit, it seems to me that the Queen of Thorns was heavily influenced by Katharine Hepburn’s performance as Eleanor of Acquitaine in the classic 1968 film, The Lion in Winter: the acid wit aimed at her own family, the uncoventional attitudes to gender and sexuality, the political mind so accustomed to conspiracies and coups, the undertone of having done deeply unethical things to hold the estate she adorns. Indeed, I would argue even the costuming bears similarities (although the color palette is obviously shifted to avoid the Lannister connotations).

What If?

I’m going to move the Willas marriage hypotheticals to the next Sansa chapter where she spills the beans to Ser Dontos, so in this chapter I really only see one hypothetical:

  • Sansa didn’t tell them about Joffrey? Here’s where I find myself wondering about the intersections between the marriage plot and the Purple Wedding. Now, I don’t think for  a minute that Olenna Tyrell was not going to have Joffrey bumped off whatever Sansa said – it’s not like Joffrey’s monstrosity is a well-kept secret – but it could have delayed the assassination somewhat. That in turn has certain implications for Sansa – she might have been on her way to Winterfell when it happened and thus not a suspect and/or fugitive. And if Brienne wasn’t distracted by trying to find two Stark daughters instead of one, she might have had more luck (as in the TV show) on her search.

Book vs. Show:

As many people have noted, Game of Thrones’ casting director is one of the great strengths of the show, sometimes more so than the writers and directors. And one of Nina Gold’s best coups was getting Diana Rigg – the great British actress first known as the becatsuited Emma Peel on The Avengers (not those Avengers, the other ones) and as one of the best Bond girls ever – to play the Queen of Thorns.

Rigg so thoroughly stole every scene and chewed every available inch of scenery in Season 3 that she was nominated for an Emmy for three seasons running. And here is where I think the show ran into difficulties is that Rigg was so good that they wanted her in as many scenes as possible, but the writers ran out of stuff for her to do – especially since in the books, she leaves King’s Landing after Margaery’s marriage to Tommen and has yet to reappear. And so in later seasons, there have been too many scenes where she’s just on hand to quip, but doesn’t get to do much. (I’m especially thinking about the dropped plotline from Season 5 where she threatens Littlefinger over Margaery and Loras’ imprisonment, but Olyvar disappears from the story altogether.)



173 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa I, ASOS

  1. They will bend the knee says:

    Great read, as always.

    I’ve always liked Sansa and never understood why the fandom would judge her so harshly, she’s very interesting to watch grow and provides a very interesting point of view for many of the important events, like battle of the Black Water.

    On a side note, There’s a small typo : it’s “Aquitaine” not “Acquitaine” 😉 I’ve checked the English spelling and there’s no ‘c’ either.

    • Keith B says:

      Here’s why people don’t like Sansa. She clearly isn’t really deluded about what happened on the Trident, because she tells Olenna and Margaery about it. But in AGOT, even with only Arya and Septa Mordane present, she repeats the lie that Mycah attacked Joffrey. Then she threatens Arya with her future position as Queen. She had no good reason to lie at that point; there weren’t any Lannisters present she needed to placate. And she certainly had no justification for being a bully. Yet is was Arya who apologized for the incident. Later GRRM has her do some admirable things as well, but they don’t wipe out the rotten way she behaved before.

      • poorquentyn says:

        I know a lot of Sansa-haters who have forgiven other characters for far worse sins.

      • Sean C. says:

        On that specific point, I think Sansa had done her best to convince herself it had played out that way, at the time, before Ned’s death undid the various illusions she had worked so hard to maintain about Joffrey. Not that that scene is a terribly sympathetic moment anyway.

        But when you consider that numerous characters who have done far worse are audience favourites, I doubt that’s the reason.

        • JGolden says:

          I think it is pretty simple why man don’t like Sansa: Sansa started out as very unsympathetic character — which The George no doubt did so intentionally — especially in contrast to characters like Arya and Jon, which The George went out of his way to make sympathetic but who don’t view Sansa favorably at all. Of course most bookworms like us favor rebellious tomboys like Arya and characters like Jon who never fit in to the popular teenage prom queen. This initial angle on Sansa’s character is further confirmed by the events at the Trident. The first part of A Games of Thrones gave her an uphill battle to reclaim the reader’s sympathy. The reader has to be able to reevaluate Sansa in light of later events. I remember my own first reading of A Game of Thrones, and being distressed at the first Sansa viewpoint, thinking why in the world would we want to be in the head of that silly and unsympathetic creature.

          (Side note: Sansa’s loss of Lady must have important significance to her arc, and while it can be argued that this has already happened — Sansa may not have been captured and abused if she had had Lady by her side – I am less sure. I’m curious to see if anything more will come of this.)

          I certainly believe that Sansa has more than paid for whatever sins she committed and has become a sympathetic character. The reader also has to remember that Sansa is just a 13-year-old girl beguiled and misled by the Westeros version of Disney princess movies. But I do believe Sansa’s initial presentation explains why it is hard for so many fans to overcome their initial antipathy and come around to viewing Sansa in a more sympathetic light.

          I believe that the difficulty fans have with Sansa’s character may be amplified by the fact that Sansa does not chew scenery. Unlike someone like The Hound, who makes loud proclamations about the injustice of the world, while doing his part in the first part of the series to further the injustice rather than fight back against it, Sansa quietly tries to survive. Sad though it may be, I do think it is easier for readers to sympathize with — or at least be fascinated by — loud and angry characters rather than quiet, introverted, or depressed ones. (Compare all the complaints about Jon being too “emo.”)

          • JGolden says:

            “many” not “man” in the first sentence. I’m not sure if it is possible to edit posts on here.

          • Winnief says:

            I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here! From Martin’s old outline, it’s obvious that Sansa was originally conceived as being the Judas in the Stark camp and was written as such while Arya was the heroine and Female Romantic Figure. But then as the story evolved, I think Martin started to empathize with her more and more and it became obvious that as compelling as Arya was she was no Romantic figure. In fact I’ve now heard that Martin regrets certain decisions in the first book like having Sansa snitch to Cersei about Ned’s plans to leave which is why they cut it in the show.

            And like you said Fantasy readers in particular like Tomboys more than Homecoming Queens, (which I would argue is actually one think I like about the character-she’s actually a *less* conventional fantasy heroine than Arya or Brienne if you think about it.) Plus she’s such an internalized character which is always harder to translate. Even Emo Jon at least gets to fight.

            Though I must say while the show and I have had our differences I think Sophie was just as much a casting coup as Rigg or Dinklage. Perhaps more so because she was so young and unknown when they chose her but she’s turned out to be perfect for the part. And on a shallow note the fact she’s grown up to be such a stone cold knockout doesn’t hurt. (Especially if she IS the YMBQ. It’s either her or Dany at this point.)

        • Keith B says:

          I’m not sure which characters you mean. I see she’s #20 in the “Most Loathed Characters” list at Tower of the Hand, which is absurdly high. I wouldn’t put her in the top 100. Part of the reason why characters who commit worse offenses are less despised may be that their crimes are so extreme that they’re outside the experience of most people, while everyone can relate to Sansa’s petty meanness.

          • Sean C. says:

            Jaime would be an obvious starting point, seeing as his first significant action in the narrative is hurling Bran out a window, and later in the book he wounds Ned, kills several of his men, and leads a Lannister army rampaging through the Riverlands.

          • poorquentyn says:

            Jaime’s the major example, but Oberyn’s almost always discussed as an unreservedly awesome badass, with some rather unpleasant parts of his backstory frequently glossed over.

          • Crystal says:

            I think misogyny enters the picture here as well – Sansa is very traditionally feminine, and at least in GoT she fits the expectations of her (patriarchal) society much more than Arya does. Oberyn and Jaime being male, and good-looking, and the appeal of Pedro Pascal as show!Oberyn, make it easier for readers to forgive them, I think.

            I like both Jaime and Oberyn, especially the latter (but, hey, if I had to live in Westeros, I’d choose Dorne in a heartbeat) – but it’s hypocritical, IMO, to forgive the their trespasses and not Sansa’s. Especially considering Jaime and Oberyn are grown-ass men and Sansa was 11 in the books and 13 in the show when the story began.

            I really wonder sometimes if all Sansa-haters were perfect teenagers who never disobeyed their parents, ever, nor had an unsuitable crush? Anyone? Bueller?

          • The list of Most Loathed Characters on Tower of the Hand also includes Catelyn, Dany, Brienne, in addition to Cersei and Melisandre. In other words, the majority of female POVs (only Arya, Arianne and Asha are not present). While Cersei’s place on the list is certainly justified, and Melisandre’s is also perfectly understandable, the others are far less easy to justify. On the other hand, none of the major male POVs other than Theon are on the list (I think that the only other male POVs on the list are Victarion, Aeron and… Quentyn). Food for thought…

          • What I find particularly interesting is that, in places such as, 11 year old Sansa’s crush on Joffrey is widely considered something that makes her deeply despicablem and her ‘crimes’ of claiming not to remember the Trident incident/running to Cersei unnforgivable – while 40 year old Jorah’s equally unreasonable infatuation with Lynesse Hightower, resulting in him selling several poor people living under his rule into slavery (something for which he never feels any remorse whatsoever, describing them as “lice ridden poachers” – because they clearly deserve contempt for being poor and in need of food, while he was wasting gold and resources to buy things for his wife in order to please her), is seen as something that makes him deeply sympathetic and worthy of pity.

            (Of course, there are fans who feel completely opposite, like Poor Quentyn on Tumblr.)

          • Andrew says:


            I would ask why Brienne is among the most hated characters as well? She shares the some adherence to chivalry as Barristan, who is on the most liked characters. Her experience with Jaime helped to turn him into one of the most liked characters. She fights well too, and has the distinction of not having been shitty to anyone.

      • “But in AGOT, even with only Arya and Septa Mordane present, she repeats the lie that Mycah attacked Joffrey.”

        Um, no. She never said that. She said that she didn’t remember what happened.

        I wish people would re-read the damn book and stop repeating fanon.

    • Thanks!

      There are a bunch of small typos, unfortunately. I have a rather nasty cold so I’m not at 100%, but I will fix them in time.

    • Seren Davies says:

      I don’t like Sansa but it’s not that I view her as a bad person or anything. Hell, my favourites are Sandor and Jaime. I’m willing to forgive misdeeds. But the reason I dislike her is because she’s so FRUSTRATING. I tried to like her. I really did. But it’s hard to like a character when you just want to scream at them for being so stupid and airheaded. Yes, there are times when she’s smart and intelligent. But there are also times when she is stupid. Even after all this time there is still a part of her that sees looks as more important than substance. I know I’m going to get hate for this but she is shallow. She is still so shallow and I don’t think she’s going to get past this shallowness. Maybe over the next two books The George will prove me wrong and I’ll start to like her. I hope so.
      And not to mention she still drools over Loras even after he’d shown himself not to give a flying fuck about her. Why? Because he’s so pretty and gallant!!!! Like a handsome knight from the songs!

      • “But it’s hard to like a character when you just want to scream at them for being so stupid and airheaded. Yes, there are times when she’s smart and intelligent. But there are also times when she is stupid.”

        Oh really? When was the last time this 13 year old girl has been “stupid” or “airheaded”? Please provide examples!

        “Even after all this time there is still a part of her that sees looks as more important than substance. I know I’m going to get hate for this but she is shallow. She is still so shallow and I don’t think she’s going to get past this shallowness. Maybe over the next two books The George will prove me wrong and I’ll start to like her. I hope so.”

        Um, what?! How is she shallow?? How does she see “looks as more important than substance”? Was it when she thought Lyn Corbray must be an awesome guy because he’s handsome? Oh wait, that never happened. She immediately realized he was a bad guy and untrustworthy. Was it when she totally fell head over heels for Harry the Heir because he’s handsome? Oh wait, that never happened. She thinks he’s a douche. Was it when she totally despised Lothor Brune was being plain and lowborn? Oh wait, no, she thinks Lothor is awesome.

        She must also be so shallow when the main object of desire in her pubescent erotic/romantic fantasies is Sandor, that beauty.

        But no, wait, she is totally shallow because… she actually notices that people are good-looking or ugly!!!! And she thinks about it in her head! How awful of her! This is totally shallow on her part, while not being shallow on the part on any other person in the series.

        Just out of interest, do you hate Tyrion? Because he’s incredibly shallow. He is only ever attracted to good-looking women, even when they have no other good qualities except good looks and being good in bed (Shae). He even says to himself in ADWD that he’s only interested in Lenore’s body and doesn’t care about her. He is disgusted by unattractrive women, like Lollys or Penny. And can also be stupid (everything he did regarding Shae). And he’s an adult.

        What about Jaime? How the hell is it not shallow to be so crazy about Cersei for almost all of his life, and that it took him so long to realize what her personality really is like? Oh, but he has the hots for Brienne. Well, Sansa has the hots for Sandor, and that didn’t make you decide she’s not shallow, so…

        What about Barristan? Why was he in love with Ashara Dayne? We don’t know anything about her from his POV other than that she was beautiful.

        What about Stannis? Clearly appearance is one of the main reasons why he can’t stand to be around Selyse, let alone have sex with her, while he’s much happier to be with Melisandre.

        “And not to mention she still drools over Loras even after he’d shown himself not to give a flying fuck about her. Why? Because he’s so pretty and gallant!!!! Like a handsome knight from the songs!”

        Oh, you mean that time when she tried to fantasize about Loras kissing her, in order to endure Sweetrobin kissing her (and then ended up being unable to fantasize about Loras, exactly because she knows she never had an actual relationship with him and that this wouldn’t be real – and ended up fantasizing about Sandor supposedly ‘kissing’ her instead)? Yeah, how shocking that a person would deliberately try to use someone they don’t know – say, a celebrity – as fantasy fodder. It’s not like people do that all the time! No, anyone who’s ever had a sex fantasy about some celebrity they never met is clearly stupid and doesn’t understand that the celebrity doesn’t give a flying fuck about them!

  2. scarlett45 says:

    This is a fascinating chapter. I think women such as Olenna do the best they can in the patriarchal structure the were born into, and unlike a woman such a Cersei they don’t hate themselves or their womanhood in the process. The Tyrells seem to be like most people (although smarter) in that they will be nice if it doesn’t cost them anything, they will be helpful if they can benefit in some way but they aren’t in the business for making other suffer just for shits and giggles.

    I do wonder what exactly the trade off was with Littlefinger to allow him to spirit Sansa away after the purple wedding. It would’ve been better for the Tyrells had both she and Tyrion stood trial for the crime……there’s a reason Sansa wore the poison in and not Margerey. (ShowMargerey was clueless until after the fact but book Margery was in on the plot).

    • Sean C. says:

      I do wonder what exactly the trade off was with Littlefinger to allow him to spirit Sansa away after the purple wedding.

      There was no such trade off. The Tyrells didn’t know that was going to happen, which is why Sansa is the one wearing the hairnet, since if their plan to pass Joffrey’s death off as choking didn’t work, she would have taken the fall. If the Tyrells knew she was meant to escape, that would have been unnecessary since she would have been incriminated anyway.

      • scarlett45 says:

        Ah I see. I always took it as Sansa was to wear the hair net as a fail safe, but that the Tyrells knew/should’ve known Littlefinfer wanted her for his own plots and they were okay with that. Meaning if Sansa didn’t go down for the hair net and Tyrion did, Littlefinger could control Sansa and her claim rather than leaving her a Lannister widow.

    • I don’t know if there was a quid-pro-quo per se. I also think we have to consider changes over time – at this point, Sansa’s hand in marriage is open, which suggests a different set of interests than after her marriage.

  3. Ultimately the only thing the Tyrells care about are the Tyrells, their actions prove this as they have made decisions that would threaten the livelihood of so many people just so that they can win the game of thrones.

    But seeing how the Tyrells had no problem assassinating Joffrey when it became clear what kind of king he would grow up to be. Why didn’t Mace simply force Renly to bend the knee to his brother Stannis and then have Stannis assassinated when the Baratheons and Tyrells defeated the Lannisters? Mace could have easily pulled the plug on Renly’s scheme to call himself King and this route to power would been more simple and their alliance would have easily crushed the Lannisters and ended the war quickly. Then the Tyrells would be the dominant power behind the Iron Throne. Stannis might have been pissed and grumble a lot about allying himself with the people who were trying to starve him to death but as long he became King he would have probably been satisfied.

    Its also interesting to note that the family operate mostly because of Mace’s insecurity over his family’s status as ruler of the reach and his huge almost obsessive desire to have a half tyrell grandson sitting on the iron throne. Seeing how Winds of Winter comes out it looks like the Tyrells are going to suffer a lot because of Mace’s choices and actions.

    Even though the Tyrells are Lannisters with flowers, its doesn’t mean that they are bad people; Garlan is a pretty cool guy, and Willas is all but stated to a good man with capacity to be a great ruler far better then his father. I would certainly choose the Tyrells over the Lannisters ruling over King’s Landing given how they have govern in the last two books.

    • David Hunt says:

      Supporting Renly gets Mace two things that he doesn’t get by supporting Renly. First, he gets Margarey as queen and a grandson as king. Stannis is already married (and to a Florent) adn he doesn’t have anyone immediately to hand to marry to Shireen even if he can get over the greyscale. Mace’s whole endgame is a King with Tyrell blood. I think this was sufficient for Mace, but…

      Secondly, Renly would be totally beholden to Mace for his throne and he absolutely knew it. Stannis would acknowledge that Mace had done his duty made some of his court appointments according his radical ideas of merit over status. Plus, there’s that Florent wife to poison him against them at every turn.

      Finally, Stannis would might not be as easy to bump off as Joffrey. He’s more careful and more aware of his surroundings. This is in addition to Mellisandre foiling assassination attempts through foresight, although they almost certainly don’t have any idea of her true capabilities.

      • David Hunt says:

        The first sentence about should have read: “Supporting Renly gets Mace two things that he doesn’t get by supporting Stannis.”

      • poorquentyn says:

        Mace also might think Stannis holds a grudge against him RE Storm’s End.

        • Keith B says:

          Does Mace have any good reason for believing that? Stannis may have a reputation for nursing grievances, but he never had any personal complaint about Mace or Paxter Redwyne over the Storm’s End siege (that I recall). Nor should he have, since the siege was a lawful act of war and they don’t seem to have committed any crimes while conducting it.

          • poorquentyn says:

            That reputation is pretty widespread, and even though Mace and Paxter didn’t commit war crimes, an enthroned Stannis would have many opportunities and means to diminish their power. That’s only enhanced by him being married to a Florent–that right there is a warning to the Tyrells.

            Renly, by contrast, offers the Tyrells a patronage deal better than even the one Robert offered the Lannisters.

          • David Hunt says:

            Well, Mace & Paxter did have feasts in open view of Storm’s End while everyone inside was starving. Stannis might not hold an official grudge for that, but I’m sure he’d remember it. Also, keep in mind that Mace would likely have held a grudge for something like that and could easily try to predict Stannis’ actions based on that.

          • Keith B says:

            That he’s married to a Florent is a more plausible reason for Mace to distrust him than fear of a grudge about Storm’s End.

          • Stannis personally resents Mace feasting in sight of the walls of Storm’s End while the men inside were starving. It’s a personal thing more than a lawful/non-lawful thing.

          • Keith B says:

            The books say that Tyrell and Redwyne feasted in front of Storm’s End while Stannis starved, but I can’t find anywhere that Stannis complained or held a grudge. The closest is when Baelish tells Ned that Stannis hasn’t forgotten, and we know how reliable Littlefinger is.

            I’d say that Mace supported Renly’s cause, and then Joffrey’s, because they could be instruments of his ambition, and Stannis could not. I find no evidence that Storm’s End played any significant part in it.

        • artihcus022 says:

          IIRC, Stannis and Paxter Redwyne sailed together and carried out joined operations during the Greyjoy Rebellion, and at the Battle of Fair Isle. And Stannis at least seems to be more neutral towards Paxter Redwyne crediting him with the Siege and blockade dismissing Mace Tyrell for taking credit for Redwyne’s and Tarly’s prowess. So I would say that Stannis personally dislikes Mace Tyrell and is neutral to his bannerman, partly because he identifies with having work not being merited due reward and respect.

          So I don’t think inherently Stannis would have moved against the Tyrells-Redwynes, however as Olenna says, the Tyrells have no royal descent and are upjumped stewards in the eyes of Reachmen, and they backed the losing side during Robert’s Rebellion, so I think that fear is grounded. That fear of a potential rise of a new Royal Backed Reach family to take them down is naturally the Tyrells projecting their own origins (as Targaryen backed Reach family) on new rivals.

          All this is the situation at the onset of the Rebellion however and the minute the Tyrells back Renly, drive him to usurp Stannis, they are crossing the threshold and are active usurping factionalists and as Tyrion II or Tyrion III (the Small Council chapter) will prove, become out and out land-grabbing opportunists.

    • “Why didn’t Mace simply force Renly to bend the knee to his brother Stannis and then have Stannis assassinated when the Baratheons and Tyrells defeated the Lannisters?”

      Because Mace knew that Stannis resented the Tyrells bitterly for besieging him at Storm’s End during the Rebellion, and was married to a Florent to boot, so a Stannis kingdom would be very bad for the Tyrells.

      The thing is, assassinations are not guaranteed wins – look bad through WOIAF, there’s plenty of examples of failed assassination attemprs and coup plots. And Stannis is not a weak or trusting man, which would make assassination attempts more difficult.

  4. Steven Xue says:

    Wow this was a stupendous essay on the Tyrells and I enjoyed every moment of it.

    Do you think its rather odd that Loras didn’t recognize Sansa or at least forgot the time when he handed her that rose at the Hand’s Tourney? Its just given the Tyrell’s knack for political networking, I had always thought Loras’s little chivalric gesture in giving Sansa a red rose was a political move on his part because Sansa being the daughter of the Hand and future queen would have been a very valuable future ally. So it baffles me that he would not remember his interactions with such an important person at a juncture where his life was almost taken. Then again I guess Loras is just not very bright.

    Also do we really know if either Loras and Renly were gay and that they were having an intimate relationship? I know the show made their relationship an open book but in the books themselves, although it has been lampshaded, its still pretty ambiguous whether or not the two of them were more than just heterosexual life partners.

    • David Hunt says:

      Perhaps Renly pointed out Sansa to Loras as a good target for flattery and he then did that. Renly was very aware of that. Heck, with Margarey absent, he might have suggested crown her Queen of Love and Beauty. He could have done that as Sansa was the daughter of the man the tourney was nominally in honer of, plus she was betrothed to the Crown Prince.

      As to Renly and Loras’ relationship. On reread, Loras’ worship of Renly is obvious and there’s a bunch a comments that point that way spread throughout the first four books.

      • Crystal says:

        I agree that the intention was to crown Sansa as QoLaB if Loras won the tourney. With no fiancee or wife of Loras around, the Crown Prince’s betrothed would be the obvious choice. I don’t even know if Renly had to suggest it as “single knight with no love interest crowns highest ranking woman” was probably the protocol.

        It’s strange that Loras didn’t remember Joffrey’s former betrothed and daughter of a Lord Paramount. What is not weird is a sheltered 12/13 year old not getting that Loras was in love with Renly – would Sansa even know that gay men existed, given that this was a medieval and not a modern society?

        • Especially since she’s never even seen Renly and Loras together. And Tyrion is not sheltered, but he didn’t seem to have any idea that Loras was gay or had been Renly’s lover, either. Jaime does know, but that’s because Jaime was living at court, around Renly. Unlike in the show, Renly and Loras being gay isn’t something that everybody and their mother knows about in Westeros.

        • Also, it’s not that Loras doesn’t remember Sansa, it’s that he doesn’t remember giving her the red rose at the Hand’s tourney (as opposed to the white roses to the other women). It didn’t mean much to him, so it’s not that surprising that he forgot about it after everything that happened to him in the meantime.

    • poorquentyn says:

      “When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.” That’s even less ambiguous than “I tried to grasp a star, overreached, and fell.”

    • Tywin of the Hill says:

      Even leaving aside all the subtle (and not so subtle) hints of it, George himself said “Yes, I did intend those characters to be gay.”

    • scarlett45 says:

      We do have to remember than Loras is grieving his love, just went through Blabkwater and is now focused on his family goals for Margery. Renly may have pointed out who Sansa was that day but Loras has other things on his mind right now.

      Yes, Renly and Loras were for certain a couple, it was an “open secret” at court.

    • Laural Hill says:

      He didn’t remember her because he’s not attracted to women.

    • Thanks!

      No I don’t think it’s odd. A lot has changed in Loras’ life since that moment.

      The books make it pretty damn clear – the whole “sun has set no candle can replace it” thing.

  5. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Fantastic essay. Keep’ em coming.

    1. I wonder how Mace Tyrell’s sister ended up married to a landed knight.
    2. “I’m also skeptical, …, that Olenna really thinks that perceptions of legitimacy don’t matter.”
    The funniest thing is Olenna’s claim about the Florents (“‘What does it matter?’ you ask, and of course it doesn’t, except to oafs like my son”) runs contrary to her previous claim about Renly (“It’s treason, I warned them, Robert has two sons, and Renly has an older brother, how can he possibly have any claim to that ugly iron chair?”).

    • Sean C. says:

      The green apple Fossoways seem to be a fairly powerful house, akin to the Templetons in the Vale (which is all the more impressive seeing as their house is less than a century old).

    • Thanks!

      1. As Sean C says, this is a case where the landed knight thing belies the real power of an individual. Jon Fossoway is “the” Knight of New Barrel, which means he’s got all the green-apple Fossoways behind him. I’d also guess that Janna was the youngest sister.

      2. Good point!

    • Crystal says:

      Re #1: I agree with Steven, Janna is probably the younger Tyrell sister, and Jon Fossoway is a powerful landed knight on par with Symond Templeton in the Vale. And it’s also possible that personal attraction entered into the match; it’s been known to happen.

      I do find it interesting how, in some families, one or two sisters marry much better or worse than the rest. Birth order probably has something to do with it – eldest probably gets the best match, barring a younger sister being much more attractive and/or personable.

      • Sean C. says:

        Availability is also an issue. Maybe there’s a better match for baby sis at the time she comes on the market compared to her older sisters, depending on who’s mature, who’s just come into his lordship, who’s newly widowed, etc.

    • Hedrigal says:

      That kind of betrays that she was probably more okay with supporting Renly than she is admitting here.

  6. Sean C. says:

    The introduction of the Tyrell court is also notable because this is the first time KL really starts to feel like an actual medieval court, on the female side, at least. Winterfell and KL in the earlier books are virtual wastelands in that regard, where, e.g., Sansa and Arya’s only companions are two children of the help, Catelyn has no court of her own, and Cersei lacks any sort of meaningful feudal retinue.

    As far as the show goes, the direct adaptation of the meeting is Sansa’s best scene in what is by far her worst season, as far as I’m concerned (Season 5, whatever its issues, didn’t actively try to make her into a joke).

    But I’ve come to see the lead-in scene as emblematic of everything that’s wrong with Sansa’s story in Season 3 (and much of her early KL story in general). As you partially quote, the chapter opens with Sansa analyzing Margaery’s invitation and trying to game out what she might want and whether she has any choice whether to go. The show’s version is literally the exact opposite of this, painting Sansa is a clueless naif who eagerly accepts the invitation without reservation and needs Big Sister Shae to keep an eye out for her against things like Littlefinger. This is part and parcel of how Sansa’s story in the show is repeatedly rewritten to benefit other characters, and to her own disadvantage. Likewise, Season 3 frames the whole story about her potentially leaving King’s Landing as her needing to be protected from Littlefinger by other characters, whereas in the books it’s about the audience hoping Sansa can escape. The book story is, broadly, about Sansa struggling against people who are treating her like an object, whereas in the show it’s the narrative itself that treats her like an object. The writers are far more interested in the people pushing her around than they are in her.

    • Wadege says:

      Why do you think Catelyn, Cersei and Sansa don’t have meaningful collections of Ladies-in-waiting? The first answer that comes to mind is that it suits the plot to avoid including these vast retinues, but do you think it could be due to regional differences? Like the Tyrell’s do the whole court thing better because they are Medieval France?

      • Sean C. says:

        I don’t think there’s any greater in-universe significance. GRRM admitted at one point that Catelyn’s lack of ladies in waiting was an error on his part, if I recall correctly. He did more research, etc. as the series went on, and it shows. If you look at the descriptions of the older courts in supplementary materials (e.g., TWOIAF), you see more of this kind of thing. It’s also why, for instance, the descriptions Prince Doran’s household are a lot more typical of a ruling house than Ned’s in the first book (more officials, etc.).

        • Sean C. says:

          It’s also narratively convenient, of course. If Sansa had had a big support system of noble ladies, it would make a lot of her AGOT story a lot harder to tell.

          • Crystal says:

            I agree with this – especially as a girl of her rank normally would be surrounded by women attendants, with the likes of Wynafryd and Wylla Manderly and Alys Karstark sent to be educated at Winterfell alongside the Stark girls. I think this is one of those “convenient to the plot” things as you said. It makes an interesting What If? to think about Sansa being accompanied by the Manderly and Karstark girls to King’s Landing. The whole fiasco with Joffrey probably wouldn’t have happened.

            And Cersei would have had a large retinue. I recall Catherine of Aragon had a household in the hundreds. Not much chance to sneak away and boink her bro, which might be the point. Cersei herself probably insisted on her solitude – she never liked her female companions as a girl, in fact she drowned one of them!

          • Space Oddity says:

            She liked them, until they insisted on being people with independent dreams and hopes. Then the killing started.

          • That’s a good point – while the coup could solve that at the end, there’s a lot of scenes where she needs to be by heself with Joffrey along the Kingsroad, or with the Hound at the Tourney, or with Littlefinger in the throne room.

          • Crystal says:

            Something else I thought of – the Stark girls having same-aged attendants would change the whole Kingsroad story in more than just Sansa’s POV. If Arya had a companion like Alys Karstark – who probably would get along great with her! – she wouldn’t be sneaking off to play with a butcher’s boy. Arya’s being left to play with commoner children really was *not the norm* for aristocratic girls.

            The whole Kingsroad plot, in fact, much of the tension between Arya and Sansa which fueled their time in KL, happened because the girls were so poorly supervised and alone most of the time.

            And if the men were needed to fight and farm in the summer in the North, noble girls could still be left at Winterfell supervised by Catelyn and Septa Mordane, as they wouldn’t be fighting or farming. It would be training them to take their place as mistresses of households.

    • jpmarchives says:

      I’d actually go one further – Sansa Stark the tv show “character” isn’t one. Her every action is in service to something else that particular episode needs. Hence why she can be cautious and reserved with Tyrion in the Blackwater episode, but is naive and trusting again in season 3 and most of season 4, then changes into a black dress and becomes smart and dangerous, then goes back to being an idiot throughout season 5, then a terrified captive in the first few episodes of season 6, then a vengeance obsessed Valkyrie at the end of season 6, who abandons any care for her family.

      None of these transitions work, because there is nothing to pin her character on, other than being “the girl who suffers”. The writers never got a handle on this character.

      • Mercury says:

        I completely agree with you. Sansa has never been a consistently-written character on the show. One of the reasons why her season 5 plot received so much backlash was because it completely went against the “Darth Sansa” persona the show had been ceaselessly promoting for the ten months leading up until the premiere. There actually are ways they could have written a SansaxRamsay marriage without turning her into a sex slave–she spent two seasons watching Margaery at work; they easily could have had Sansa at least try to manipulate Ramsay the way Marg did Joffrey–but instead they got lazy and decided to revert back to the “abused victim” plot line that pops up every time they can’t figure out what her next move should be. A lot of people who defend the show have tried saying that the outcry was just due to over-sensitivity, but in my honest opinion, the reason why the Winterfell plot was such a failure was because it had faulty logic and was anti-climatic, which simply put, makes for bad storytelling. For instance, if Sansa had been assaulted by Littlefinger (as a lot of book fans theorized she’d be), the audience would have still been upset, but there wouldn’t have been this major outcry, because the ground work for that kind of discretion had already been laid down: “Darth Sansa” was created specifically to play into Littlefinger’s obsessive fixation with Sansa, and we’d already seen him force himself on her to a degree towards the end of season 4. Even though I don’t think it would have been a good decision on the screenwriter’s part, it would have still worked within the frame of the story. Winterfell and Ramsay–at least in the way they decided to write it–just didn’t.

        • jpmarchives says:

          Agreed. I never processed the plotline through a particularly feminist lens, and I am not an overly sensitive person, I simply couldn’t understand why Sansa would ever agree to such a profoundly idiotic plan. In retrospect it was all about tricking the audience; they wanted people to think Sansa would somehow scheme her way out, then be horrified when she didn’t. I knew that nothing of the sort would happen, which just left me examining the nonsense that the winterfell story became.

          Even with season 6 complete I don’t understand the character arc. Why did Sansa ream LF out at mole’s town and start asking questions a season too late? Why is any of this particularly empowered if all she did was follow LF’s plan in the end anyway? The whole thing was a mess.

    • I think part of the reason why GRRM fell down on the world-building on that front is that the Starks’ and Lannisters’ retinue had to be set out in book one, when GRRM was still creating the world and had to get his plot going.

      But yes, Sansa and Catelyn should have ladies-in-waiting beyond the one septa and the steward’s daughter.

      • Bob Dillon says:

        It could be explained by the tradition of “Winter Town”; The kings in the north left most of their courtly behaviour to when the entire kingdom sheltered within its walls, and then you would expect to have all the politicking be done. Summers were left for farming and fighting.

        Bob Dillon

        • Crystal says:

          But that would still leave the noble girls in Winterfell with no problem, as they wouldn’t be expected to fight or farm. Being trained by Catelyn and Septa Mordane, alongside Sansa and Arya, would prepare them for their likely future as mistresses of castles.

          I agree that GRRM fell down on the worldbuilding here, having just begun the story.

        • Sean C. says:

          The nobles didn’t move to Winter Town, though, just commoners from nearby Stark lands.

  7. poorquentyn says:

    Great work! I love this chapter in tandem with Tyrion I–the seeds sown for the deadly weddings.

    Enjoyed the bit about Garlan immensely. GRRM essentially draws floating hearts around the man every scene he’s in, so perfect a specimen is he. (Both Sansa and Tyrion describe themselves as “absurdly grateful” after talking to him.) Given that in combination with how Willas has been built up, yeah, I think they kick Euron’s ass with Sam’s help.

    But if that’s the big thing he says he’s got planned for them, it’s gotta have some stakes first; Maleficent has to turn into the dragon, so to speak. Which Euron’s basically revving up to do in “The Forsaken.” After all, if he goes down to the Redwynes or the Hightowers, then Willas and Garlan can’t prove themselves against him. I think he shatters the fleet and invades the ciy for the same reason I think Aegon takes King’s Landing–because otherwise there really ain’t no drama when Dany comes for him.

    • Andrew says:

      I think Sam will be the one who helps deal with Euron as well. I don’t think the attention paid to his improved archery skills in AFfC is for nothing. Having already killed Puddles the Other with a dagger, by fighting with a bow he will have become the striding huntsman of his sigil portrayed with both dagger and bow and arrow.

    • Keith B says:

      A good rule of thumb is that the Tyrells aren’t as nice as they want you to believe. Garlan says some kind words to Tyrion and Sansa. But they cost him nothing, and gain him a potentially valuable friend. After all, Tyrion is Master of Coin, his father listens to him, he is by right heir to Casterly Rock, and he may have other important positions in the future. Meanwhile, Garlan either knows about the incest or is very careful not to find out, since either his father or Loras could tell him the truth. So he’s aware that his title to Brightwater Keep, which he’s preparing to take by force, is the wages of treason, murder, and usurpation. How, then, is he morally superior to Emmon Frey, who obtains Riverrun as a consequence of perfidy, murder, and violation of guest right? Joffrey had no more legal right to attaint the Florents than Tommen did the Tullys. But the fandom despises Emmon and adores Garlan. The Tyrells are all handsome and charming, while the Freys are described as looking like weasels; but it’s not unjust to say that the Tyrells are basically just Freys with good PR.

      As for Willas, we don’t really know anything about him but what his family says. It’s true that Tywin has “reports” that Willas is “mild and courtly”, but it’s clear that Tywin doesn’t actually know him.

      • Andrew says:

        Where is the murder involved in taking Brightwater Keep? Last I checked no one was murdered over it. The Florents were attainted for siding against Joffrey and their liege lords. Also, nothing in this case compares to the violation of guest right at the Red Wedding. In Garlan’s case, he would be facing armed men at Brightwater Keep at the very least while in the Freys’ case they killed mostly unarmed guests. The heir to Brightwater, Alekyne, fled to his good brother, Lord Hightower.

        • Keith B says:

          I didn’t say there was murder involved in taking Brightwater Keep, anymore than in taking Riverrun (Jaime arranged a surrender). The murder was the the killing of Robert, Ned Stark, Robert’s bastards, and everyone else Cersei killed to put Jaime’s children on the throne. Emmon Frey committed no murders or violation of guest right, but he made himself complicit by taking advantage of the fruits of those crimes. The same with Garlan, who knew or should have that Stannis’s claim was legally correct and the Florents were unlawfully and unjustly attainted.

          • Andrew says:

            Except Stannis doesn’t mention Robert’s murder in his letter at all, and as far as Garlan knows it was just the boar. The same could be said for Robert’s bastards. It also isn’t stated why Ned Stark moved against Joffrey when people mention it except Cersei and Tyrion.

          • Keith B says:

            Garlan doesn’t need to get his information from Stannis’ letter. Loras is his brother. Loras and his boyfriend Renly were in Kings Landing. Whatever Renly’s faults, he was no fool. Robert’s death was at best highly suspicious, especially coming after the attempt to involve him in the melee at the tournament. As soon as Robert died, Ned Stark was arrested and his entire household murdered: his guards, steward, Septa, everyone; then Ned himself was executed for treason. Garlan would have to be exceptionally uncurious not to wonder what was going on. He also had to wonder why his father was marrying Margaery to Renly and proclaiming him King when Joffrey, Tommen and Stannis supposedly preceded him in the line of succession. Garlan could have learned all about it from Loras; if he didn’t ask it was because he didn’t want to know.

            When Mace Tyrell adopted the Lannister cause he made himself an accessory to their crimes. I don’t claim that Garlan himself was guilty, but he was an active participant and shared in the Tyrells’ corruptly acquired rewards. So what makes him better than Emmon Frey, who didn’t participate in the Red Wedding and presumably had no advance knowledge of it? Garlan looked good in armor and he understood the advantage of flattering people. That’s about it.

          • Andrew says:

            Renly and Loras were there, and from the sound of it didn’t suspect that Cersei made the wine more fortified. Robert has a reputation as a drunkard, and loved hunting, so it wouldn’t sound out of place to think he had too much to drink while hunting a boar. Robert insisted on going into the melee with Cersei saying otherwise, and Robert loves participating in melees at tourneys. Also, how would anyone know of a plot to kill him in the melee? The story regarding Ned isn’t given much detail. Renly was married to Margaery before Stannis’s letter was sent out. Mace likely didn’t suspect anything regarding Cersei’s children before then. The same can be said for Loras. He knew his father was ambitious.

            Robert’s murder and Cersei’s incest were committed long before Mace allied with them. We have nothing to go no regarding how much Garlan knew.

          • Keith B says:

            There’s no question here of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Renly wasn’t an idiot. He didn’t secretly leave KL in the dead of night because he thought nothing was amiss.

      • Sean C. says:

        He’s also apparently friends with Oberyn, according to Oberyn himself.

        • Keith B says:

          Oberyn Martell. Now there’s a character reference. Any friend of Oberyn just has to be a sterling fellow.

          • Sean C. says:

            Oberyn was a rogue, and never claimed otherwise. That doesn’t make his word worthless.

            I’ve always found it interesting that Willas gets a lot of positive mentions from such disparate sources.

          • John G says:

            I think someone who can forgive and befriend the man who crippled them is quite admirable, especially when his whole family hates Oberyn for it.

          • Keith B says:

            Oberyn doesn’t actually say anything about Willas except that they share an interest in horse breeding.

            I don’t think it’s especially admirable that Willas doesn’t have any ill will. It’s a dangerous sport and the injury was clearly an accident. It’s Mace who was unreasonable for blaming Oberyn.

        • Interesting. I wonder why Grandma can’t get along if the rest of the family can.

      • poorquentyn says:

        Well, people respond to personal traits in characters as well–and Emmon’s an asshole.

      • John G says:

        You can argue that openly befriending the much-despised Tyrion is actually “costly”. If it was a no-brainer political move than everyone would have done it but no, everyone but Varys and Garlan goes out of their way to shit on him.

        • John G says:

          And Garlan acknowledging Tyrion’s role in the battle is actually politically subversive since it undermines the heroic Tywin-Tyrell narrative. It makes sense, though, why Garlan would do this (other than the fact that he is nice) because he will also never get public credit for the important role he played in the battle.

        • Keith B says:

          It’s not as if Garlan publicly proclaimed that Tyrion was the hero and Tywin and Cersei were full of it. He quietly said a few complimentary words to Tyrion. Now maybe Tyrion would never be in a position to do Garlan a favor, but maybe he would. Tyrion was Hand of the King for a while and was likely to hold other important positions in the future. It’s not morally wrong to cultivate people who might be able to help you later, but it doesn’t make you a saint.

        • Crystal says:

          Garlan didn’t have to be nice to Tyrion, nor did he have to be nice to Sansa after her wedding when the rest of the Tyrells shunned her, but he did. I think this argues for a core of decency in the man. I also think that it means that Garlan has taken the family policy of “Be nice to the little people, it’s good PR” to heart.

          I think it can be both ways: Garlan is a politician like the rest of his family but also a genuinely good guy.

          • Keith B says:

            Of course he didn’t have to be. Lots of other people weren’t. My point is that we don’t need to assume he’s doing it out of any real kindness. He could eventually receive some substantial benefits in return for mere words. It’s not a sin, but it’s an easy form of virtue. You can’t put him in the same class as Brienne or Gendry, who made real efforts and took substantial risks to help others. In fact even Loras, who was genuinely devoted to Renly and who put his life on the line by attacking Dragonstone in order to free the Redwyne fleet to save his country from invaders, has so far shown more admirable qualities than Garlan.

            And that’s not even my main point, which is that Garlan was a willing participant in his family’s skullduggery and had no scruples about profiting from it.

    • Thanks!

      My money that I’ve bet hopes you’re wrong about Euron.

  8. Andrew says:

    Excellent job, Maester Steven.

    1. “They have scarcely finished burying the dead from the last battle, and already they are practicing for the next one.”

    Sansa’s thoughts on men training in the practice yard show a departure from the romanticized view of war she got from songs and stories after seeing it up close.

    2. Highgarden’s description as the kind of castle usually found in fairy tale tells me it is going to get sacked sometime soon, though not by Euron.

    3. Regarding Garlan, GRRM has a special preference for bastards, cripples and broken things. Among the Tyrells, I think the handicapped Willas will survive along with Loras, who was no doubt left permanently scarred by the boiling oil at Dragonstone as well as injured by personal loss. However, the ones who are untouched: Mace, Margaery and Garlan, aren’t going to survive the series I think.

    4. Fringe theory: “At Highgarden we have many spiders amongst the flowers. So long as they keep to themselves we let them spin their little webs, but if they get underfoot we step on them.”

    Last I checked, underfoot is Arya’s nickname. Could she be Varys’s downfall? It would be easy to pose as one of his little birds.

    • 1. Good point.

      2. Eh.

      3. Garlan might go down saving Willas, perhaps.

      4. Bit of a stretch.

      • Andrew says:

        2. Well, when you look at it, Winterfell got sacked, so did Riverrun got taken, and later in TWoW we hear Storm’s End has been taken. I don’t think one regional capital will be untouched by the time the series is over.

        3. Yeah, WIllas did look out for Garlan when he was little, and Garlan could return the favor. The other possibility is Garlan dies with his father in another Field of Fire if Tyrion manages to entice Mace to launch a frontal assault.

      • Andrew says:

        1. Yeah

        2. “For they are the Knights of summer and winter (and angry Dany!) Are coming. Frankly the Tyrells have to lose big narratively speaking, either at Euron’s hand or at Danaerys. I could see the reverse field of fire destroying them and Aegon, for instance.

        3. Garlan is a dead man walking and Imore not confident about Willas making it out either. He’s the most lilely.

        4. What else is she going to do? Arya had the third most chapters and is one of the top five. Also there’s a fair bit of foreshadowing linking her with the Spider and putting her in conflict woth dragons and krakens, straight from her spying on him in AGOT.

        • Andrew says:

          2. I see a reverse Field of Fire too. Tyrion knows that piece of history, and would do the same. Tyrion would likely find some way to entice the Hand, Mace Tyrell, to lead an armored charge against Dany’s forces, like possibly placing all his weakest men at the front lines.

          3. We haven’t seen Willas, and given GRRM’s preference for bastards, cripples and broken things in his own words, I think Willas will survive.

          4. I think in if she does pose as a little bird, it would through her POV we get to see the real Varys when he’s not wearing his mask.

  9. priddy says:

    Thank you, Steven, for another great review.
    I hope you don’t mind, but I have a question that has been bothering me for a while.
    Why did the Tyrells claim that Margarey was still a maiden? First, the Lannisters were desperate in need of the alliance, and secondly, Margarey had been legally married to Renly Baratheon, so the lack of her virginity would not have been shameful.

    • Sean C. says:

      I never really understood that plot point either. She was a widow, so there’d have been no issue with her remarrying; twas nothing unusual for widows to remarry in medieval times.

    • Tywin of the Hill says:

      Because, if she married while admiting that Renly had consummated their marriage, any child born during her second marriage would be rumored to have been fathered by Renly. That’s a risk to big to take. Hence why Jaime insists on Jeyne not marrying for 2 years, instead of 1 year or 9 months.
      Plus, for all we know, the Tyrells might be telling the truth.

    • David Hunt says:

      If Margarey isn’t a virgin, then the Lannisters would be worried that she was already pregnant with Renly’s child. THAT would be a big problem. Plus as other have stated, there would be rumors of Renly being the father of any child born far past the point where it was possible. Plus, Littlefinger seemed to think she was still a virgin. While at the Eryie in ASOS he says to Sansa something like, “She still has her crown and her maidenhead, not that she really desires either.”

    • Wadege says:

      Aside from the guarantee of no Renly baby, I think it just makes a better narrative, Margaery is more ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’, she did less wrong by not consummating with Renly, and the Tyrell’s are not ones to miss out on that good PR, no one at this point would assume that crazy pants Cersei would try to use this fact against her in some bonkers religious trial.

    • As people have said, Renly’s death was close enough that paternity might have been called into question. If it had been a longer period, might not have been an issue.

      But there are other reasons – while a widow’s estate is honorable, a maidenhead still has some cachet when it comes to marriages. Just ask Katherine of Aragon.

      • priddy says:

        Thanks for the answer. It makes sense that the Lannisters would want to be sure that they are not accidentally raising Renly’s child. Still, the irony – not to mention the hipocrisy – is sharper than Valeryian stee.

  10. JGolden says:

    What do you think of the theory that Garlan’s seeming sympathy toward Tyrion was a mask, that Garlan knew about and participated in the Purple Wedding, helped frame Tyrion as the guilty party, and only pretended to act nice to Tyrion to deflect any suspicions that Garlan played a role in the assassination of the King? There’s a lengthy debate on this theory in the Tyrion reread on

    I don’t agree with the the theory myself because Garlan seems genuinely nice, and he is not the only character that acts kindly toward Tyrion (though Tyrion is unfortunately rather oblivious to most of these acts in A Storm of Swords), but what do you think?

    • Keith B says:

      I don’t believe Garlan knew anything about the Purple Wedding. The only people who knew were Littlefinger, Olenna, and possibly Margaery (and only because she had to avoid being inadvertently poisoned). The conspiracy was so dangerous that it had to be kept as small as possible. The slightest chance remark could have destroyed everyone involved.

      • David Hunt says:

        There’s people who say that Mace isn’t as dumb as most people think he is and that, as the actual head of House Tyrell, the assassination would never have been carried out without his approval.

        • Chad says:

          Garlan may have been the one that placed the strangler in the chalice during the pie cutting. Lady Olenna retrieved it from Sansa hairnet but was likely too short to put it in the chalice on the table from the floor and never really had the opportunity to place it in the chalice. It was either Margaery or Garlan that did it.

          • Lucerys says:

            This relies on the fact that Garlan had the opportunity becuase he was seated next to Tyrion. However the Tyrells had no way of anticipating that Joffrey would be taunting Tyrion at the moment he ingests the poison. So the fact that Garlan was in proximity was most likely a coincidence.

        • Keith B says:

          We never get to peer inside the Tyrell family, so it’s impossible to know for sure. However, Mace honestly seems to believe that Tyrion and Sansa were guilty. Maybe they’re all putting on an act, but if so it’s a very good one.

      • Sean C. says:

        With GRRM’s revealing that the Tyrells initially planned for Joffrey’s death to be passed off as choking, I do wonder if that indicates that Lady Alerie wasn’t also in on it, since she immediately and loudly starts declaring that Joffrey choked at the wedding itself. It’s possible that was just a genuine reaction, of course.

        • Captain Splendid says:

          I think Maergary handled the part from Olenna to Joffrey’s cup. Not only was no one else in a better position to do so, in the aftermath, GRRM (through Mace) makes a lot of public noise about how she could have been poisoned too.

          • Adam Feldman says:

            Garlan was actually in a better position to do the poisoning. He is sitting right next to Tyrion. And when Joff leaves to go cut the pie, he leaves his chalice right on the table near Tyrion’s seat… next to Garlan.

        • David Hunt says:

          Or maybe Olenna or Mace were next to her and quietly said, “He’s choking” to encourage her.

        • Where was that from GRRM?

          • Sean C. says:

            He gave two interviews following Joffrey’s death in the show where he discussed the plotline (well, he gave more than that, but these are the important ones). With Entertainment Weekly, he discussed his inspiration for the whole plot:

            I don’t know how it comes across in the show, because I haven’t actually seen it yet, but the poison that is used to kill Joffrey is one that I introduce earlier in the books and its symptoms are similar to choking. So a feast is the perfect time to use this thing. I think the intent of the murderer is not to have this become another Red Wedding—the Red Wedding was very clearly murder and butchery. I think the idea with Joffrey’s death was to make it look like an accident – someone’s out celebrating, they haven’t invented the Heimlich maneuver, so when someone gets food caught in his throat, it’s very serious. I based it a little on the death of Eustace, the son of King Stephen of England…Eustace’s death was accepted [as accidental], and I think that’s what the murderers here were hoping for – the whole realm will see Joffrey choke to death on a piece of pie or something. But what they didn’t count on, was Cersei’s immediate assumption that this was murder.


            He also spoke to Rolling Stone where (with some “maybe there’s more” equivocation, as he sometimes does) he said:

            In the books — and I make no promises, because I have two more books to write, and I may have more surprises to reveal — the conclusion that the careful reader draws is that Joffrey was killed by the Queen of Thorns, using poison from Sansa’s hair net, so that if anyone actually did think it was poison, then Sansa would be blamed for it.


            Read together, you get the whole outline of the initial Tyrell scheme:

            Plan A: Joffrey “chokes”, Sansa is free to be spirited off to Highgarden and marry Willas.
            Plan B: Joffrey is found to have been poisoned, Sansa is blamed because she’s wearing the hairnet.

            This clarifies a lot of things about the Tyrells’ actions in ASOS, e.g., why they don’t ask for Sansa’s hand upfront (because they’re waiting to see if the contingency plan where she gets executed for treason is necessary), what the point of the hairnet was and why Olenna didn’t just take the poison herself (because Sansa was indeed intended to be blamed if need be), whether the Tyrells knew Sansa was escaping that night (no, otherwise the hairnet is unnecessary).

    • Seems like a stretch, but I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  11. Completely agree Olenna is Eleanor of Acquitaine. The Arbor even matches up to that region and is a wine-producing region.

  12. Mercury says:

    Terrific review! I can’t help but feel terrible for Alerie whenever I read that exchange between her and Olenna; I would never want to have the Queen of Thornes for a mother-in-law.

    Interestingly, while I love Natalie Dormer’s portrayal of Margaery, and do find Garlan endearing, this chapter makes me resent the Tyrells quite a bit. Maybe it’s because Sansa is one of my favorite characters, but I found it very telling that the minute Sansa was married off to Tyrion, the Tyrells–sans Garlan–ceased all contact with her (if I remember correctly, Olenna won’t even make eye contact with Sansa at her wedding reception). Add this to the fact that they then proceeded to frame Sansa for regicide, resulting in her essentially becoming Littlefinger’s prisoner, and I find it hard to muster a high opinion of Lady Olenna. I do realize that Olenna may not realize the full extent of Petyr’s nature, but she’s basically taking a child refugee and handing her over to a predator (and I do think that his abuse of Jeyne Poole confirms that Littlefinger is definitely a predator). As for Margaery, I’m not sure how I feel about her. On the one hand, she’s just a young woman working around the decisions that are being made without her consent, but there’s just a general phoniness to the entire Tyrell family that makes it difficult for me to feel much sympathy for them as a whole.

    • I don’t think Olenna knew about LF spiriting Sansa away.

      • Andrew says:

        Yeah, Olenna likely intended for Sansa to be acquitted in the trial, and then after Tyrion was executed, Sansa would be widowed and free to marry Willas.

        • Mercury says:

          Hmm I hadn’t considered that. That’s definitely a possibility, but I don’t think they planned on marrying her to Willas still. Olenna and Margaery pretty much threw away the warm relationship they were developing with Sansa as soon as she married Tyrion; if they wanted to make her part of the family eventually, I think they would have made an effort to keep contact with her. Plus, as his daughter-in-law, I’m sure Tywin would have made sure to keep Sansa under his thumb if she were acquitted. Chances are she would have been married off to one of Kevan’s sons almost immediately after Tyrion’s execution. (Well, first he’d have tried to force Jaime to marry her, but then he’d refuse to leave the Kingsguard and. . . .well, we all know the story).

          You both may be right about Olenna not knowing that LF was going to spirit Sansa away, but as soon as she was told that Sansa would be wearing the murder weapon, I’m sure she figured there was a chance that Sansa would be executed, especially now that Robb was dead.

          • Andrew says:

            Olenna told Sansa that she wished to take her to Highgarden at the Purple Wedding. I don’t think she would have been married off immediately to one of Kevan’s sons. Olenna could ask Mace to ask Tywin after the trial, and Tywin wouldn’t have refused.

            Regarding the last paragraph, Sansa was given the hairnet in ACoK before she was married off to Tyrion, indicating the murder weapon and how it was going to be transported had already been decided on in ACoK. I doubt Sansa would be executed had she stayed given there is no evidence besides the hairnet that she was involved, and no one knew about the poison being in her hairnet except Olenna and Littlefinger. Olenna also had influence over one of the three judges, her son Mace. I also think Tywin would have doubted that Tyrion would involve a 13 year-old girl.

          • @Andrew: “I don’t think she would have been married off immediately to one of Kevan’s sons. Olenna could ask Mace to ask Tywin after the trial, and Tywin wouldn’t have refused. ”

            Of course he would. Sansa is, as far as anyone knows. the heir to Winterfell. Tywin would have never allowed the Tyrells to marry her to one of their own. That’s the exact reason he married her to Tyrion.

          • Andrew says:


            But you forget this quote:

            “‘Leave you must perforce grant, should Lord Tyrell ask,'” their father pointed out. “‘To refuse him would be tantamount to declaring that we did not trust him. He would take offense.'”

            Tywin is keen on keeping the alliance together, and he doesn’t want to risk losing the Tyrells.

        • Sean C. says:

          According to GRRM, as I noted in a post above, Sansa was to be the fall guy if poisoning was suspected. That’s why she was wearing the poison in her hairnet.

    • Andrew says:

      i noticed that too. After Sansa is married to Tyrion, we didn’t hear of any more interactions between her and Margaery as well as the rest of the Tyrells. They only seemed to be good to her as long as she was a bachelorette, but as soon as she was married to Tyrion she was dropped like a piece of luggage.

  13. Winnief says:

    Great analysis as always Steve. I think the Tyrell’s are better than the Lannister’s if for no other reason they’re not as freaking *crazy* as the Lannister’s but they sure ain’t no saints either. Though, they’re incredibly entertaining.

    Also one factor, behind Sansa’s telling the truth about Joffrey that *cannot* be underestimated is almost certainly the fact that Sansa already pities Margaery for her fate-and wouldn’t want another young woman to go into the Lion’s Den without fair warning as she did. Which frankly speaks well of her.

    Agree that Sansa/Loras would NEVER have worked, and the offer of Sansa/Willas was for the Tyrell’s interest not hers…but even so I think Sansa’s reasoning that a marriage to Willas would be an immeasurable improvement in her circumstances was completely accurate and it would also have been better than LF too. Which is another thing about Sansa’s storyline that I think makes people so uncomfortable-namely that Sansa rarely has any *good* choices but is trying to pick the lesser of two evils. Which frankly is pretty realistic for a LOT of women in medieval times-and men as well!

    Completely OT, but I totally called it beforehand that a Cersei/Euron alliance (or even marriage) would happen and now it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening being filmed for Season Seven so BOOYAH!!!

    • Andrew says:

      Comparing the Tyrells to the Lannisters, well if you don’t have any psychopaths, sadists or child killers in the family then it’s easy to meet that low bar.

      I’d add that Joffrey’s abuse of Sansa is ultimately what results in his demise. Regarding Sansa pitying Margaery’s fate, later we even see Sansa plead with Margaery not to marry him.

      Willas would at least have treated Sansa well from what we know of him. Being a prisoner doesn’t bring a lot of choices, but if anyone were in Sansa’s place, they would want to get away from Joffrey and Cersei too.

    • Crystal says:

      I can’t wait for Cersei/Euron! Fire and water! Should be steamy! Nyuk nyuk.

      While I think book!Sansa is just plain too young to be married, period, I think she and Willas would have been a good match. All that Petyr Baelish could say against Willas was that he was “boring.” If the impressions of his character as kind, scholarly, and intelligent are true, I think he and Sansa would have gotten on swimmingly, and Sansa would have loved Highgarden. Such was not to be, but of all the candidates that poor Sansa is betrothed to, married to, or presented with, Willas seems by far the best.

    • It’s a great moment for Sansa because she’s afraid that if she spooks Margaery, she’ll be stuck marrying him again, but she still speaks up abaout it.

      That’s kind of the whole Tyrell thing – doing well by doing good.

      Cersei/Euron – oy vey.

    • What happens on the show has absolutely no meaning for what will happen in the books. That should be clear by now. There’s no way to tell whether something that happens in the show is inspired by GRRM having told them it would happen in the books, or if it will happen on the show simply because it creatively made sense to Benioff and Weiss.

  14. artihcus022 says:

    I think Margaery Tyrell’s trial is more closely an echo of the Tour de Nesle affair, with Cersei as isabella She-Wolf, while the Queen of Thorns is Mahaut (also a killer of children). At least that’s what I got from GRRM’s own confirmed source THE ACCURSED KINGS.

    I honestly don’t think the Tyrells are that interesting…though I admit books Tyrell are more interesting than Show Tyrell. It’s not that the Tyrells are normal functional people (the Martells, of the books, are also normal yet remain interesting). It’s just that I can’t categorically feel anything for them, either to root for or against them.

    But I agree that this is a terrific chapter, I loved when the Fool is singing Bear and the Maiden Fair, which by the way brings me to something no one has discussed…all the ASOIAF songs come from ASOS, and this chapter features the first on-page song. That’s a huge motif in ASOS…Mance comes in singing Dornishman’s Wife, the BWB introduce Kingswood Brotherhood and Rains of Castamere…all the way until Joffrey’s feast with Lord Renly’s Ride.

    • Disagree. Look at who Margaery is accused of sleeping with – Cersei want to implicate Loras similar to George Boleyn, there’s the Blue Bard paralleling Mark Smeaton, allegations of multiple men, etc.

      Whereas with the Tour de Nesle, there’s just two men, they’re both knights, there’s no suggestion of incest, etc.

      • artihcus022 says:

        Well Cersei accuses Margaery of sleeping with the Kettleblacks, who are the Knights in Tour de Nesle…but of course there it was a case of actual adultery as opposed to Anne Boleyn’s case, so yeah I guess you are right.

      • No reason why it can’t be a combination of both, as so many characters and events in ASOAIF are inspired by more than one historical character or event. In this case, the Accursed Kings inspiration is probably the Cersei/Isabella involvement.

  15. I was so touched by this scene, my eyes actually got moist. After all her abuse, my romantic heart couldn’t help but swallow it all and hope that Sansa would go to Highgarden and become a rose and Margæry’s true bff and Olenna’s new gossipy confidant and they’d make the Kingdom bountiful again and give plenty to the people during winter and everything would be knights and flowers. But this isn’t this kind of story, is it?—and there’s more to the Tyrells than the pretty surface…

    Thanks for this essay, it was wonderful as always. I went to eBay and bought a Tyrell brooch.

    • Well, I never thought that an arranged marriage to a man you’ve never met, as a way to escape your terrible circumstances, and going to live with the people who are using you for political purposes, is especially romantic. So I was happy that it didn’t work out, and that instead, Sansa will get to develop further as a character and, hopefully, make her own destiny, a bit more interesting than being married to Willas Tyrell.

  16. David Hunt says:

    Great work as always. I’ve nothing constructive to add that others haven’t said before. Simply wanted to say “Thanks” again for doing this.

  17. Iñigo says:

    Great work!

    Garlan has already proved himself in battle, not only as a pure fighter but also as a trickster (disguising as Renly helped keep him as a hidden weapon and crushed the morale of Stannis’ army) and as a commander (he decides the battle of the Blackwater crushing Stannis’ rear). We only know all of this later, but rereaders know how dangerous he can be. I often wonder if he can make people “absurdly grateful” on purpouse.

    • David Hunt says:

      Plus Garlan is one of the few people to acknowledge Tryion’s role in keeping the City until help arrived. He’s just about the only one to say this, but I suspect that he’s one of the few people who even realized it.

      Most everyone else believes the propaganda that Cerci,Tywin and his associates have woven to snag all the credit. Personally I suspect Tywin would know how much Tyrion did if he wasn’t dead set on seeing everything about Tyrion in the worst possible light, plus he’s scooping up as much of the glory as he can steal. I’m sure that Tywin would sincerely state that every stolen honor was really his five seconds after he snatched it. He’s that kind of man.

  18. My theory on Euron’s attack on Oldtown is that Sam will find The Death of Dragons/Fire & Blood in the Citadel and flee OT with it during Euron’s attack. He will head to Hornhill where he will command a defence of his home, holding the castle until he is relieved by his father and brother. Having proved that Randyll is a wanker he will then give him the finger and head back north. That last bit may be wishful thinking…

    Excellent analysis btw 🙂

  19. MightyIsobel says:

    “all in the business of keeping the business of family booming.”

    …. or blooming. As it were.

    Terrific essay. I like the comparison of Highgarden to Aquitaine, both in the history and in historical fiction of the period.

  20. On your comparison of the Tyrells to the Bolyens, you expressed that you considered Anne’s trial to be a proposterous farce. But I’d recommend you check out Wolf Hall, it has an interesting interpretation that Anne was actually guilty of adultery and incest with her brother. Of course Wolf Hall is an amazing show irrespective of this view, but I thought I’d mention it.

  21. Space Oddity says:

    Regarding Olenna’s casual dismissal of the Tyrells’ claim–let’s not forget that for all she says ‘we’ in the speech, she’s a Redwyne, not only one of the richest, wealthiest houses in the Reach, but also direct male-line Gardener descendants who probably have more Gardener blood than old Redwyne by now. Of course the Tyrells were just ‘stewards’, even if a quick glance at the history suggests ‘Lord Steward’ meant quite a bit more than that.

    And finally, I think people tend to miss the forest for the trees with the Florents–yes, they aren’t a big threat by themselves, just a claim and a castle. The problem is they have connections, especially in the old days–the Florents probably tend to be the stalking horse and figurehead for heavy hitters like the Peakes.

    • Good point.

      I’d need more evidence on the stalking-horse thing. It’s very odd we have no evidence of any Florent rebellions, especially in comparison to the Peake/Manderly feud.

      • Space Oddity says:

        It’s just a theory, but notice how often the Peakes try to be the man behind the man in their plots. It appears to be how they think, and I suspect they’ve had a lot of practice at it.

  22. John G says:

    Great chapter. The Tyrells are really fascinating to look at.

    -I agree with you that Olenna is probably full of crap about not wanting to back Renly and make Marg queen
    -The Tyrells may be devious but Garlan and Willas seem like genuinely good people and I hope they succeed.
    -On reread I really appreciated Sansa a lot more. I think we all like to imagine we would react to adversity like Tyrion and Dany but the reality is we would all act more like Sansa, which is why I think a lot of people resent her.
    -Also on reread it seemed like there wasn’t that much of a gap between book and show Maergaery. She is clearly a very adept political player.
    -Agree with you about Diana Rigg being so good that the show felt they had to force her in a lot. It might pay off next season with her in defacto control of the Reach (which is kind of silly if you know the book genealogies but whatever).
    -I wonder if Paxter Redwyne inherited any of Olenna’s skills. On the surface he seems like one of Mace’s cronies but the small council meeting, where he was the only lord not to grasp for any land, suggests subtlety and more then meets the eye.

    • Well, being devious and being good are not mutually exclusive.

    • I’m sure that book Margaery is an adept political player (in fact, much better than show Margaery, who didn’t even know about the Purple Wedding in advance, and doesn’t seem to have any concrete political ambitions or ideas once she does become “THE queen”, other than using her position to be catty to Cersei). The gap comes from the show portrayal of Margaery as a sexually liberated woman who uses seduction and sex to get what she want. It’s like they swapped Margaery and Cersei. They also like to portray the Reach as sexually liberated, unprejudiced and gender-equal (or even female-dominated), which is definitely not what they are in the books.

  23. Ethan Halliday says:

    So Margaery and Olenna intended for Sansa to take the fall and be executed if the poisoning was discovered? That makes them far more abhorrent than I thought they were.

  24. I always enjoy your essays. Speaking of Sansa specifically, I was pretty aligned with the general fandom until I discovered the ASOIAF blogging community. Your contributions, among others, really made me see both the character and the arc in a different light. It wouldn’t be ASOIAF without Sansa. A great thematic element would be missing.
    I have to say, your blog was a great example for me when I decided to set up mine. I do plan on writing something on ASOIAF too, when The Winds of Winter comes out. If those essays are half as good as yours, or Poor Quentyn’s always excellent literary analysis, I’ll call myself satisfied.
    Keep it up and feel free to visit my political ramblings if you ever find them interesting. 😀

  25. thatrabidpotato says:

    My position on the Tyrells has always been simple: until they do something evil, I will view them as basically the good people they present themselves as, albeit far more sophisticated and complex.
    Like your point on how Sansa is clearly showing massive maturation by this point as opposed to two books ago with her attempted analysis of motives and consequences.

    I honestly hope every single Tyrell makes it out the other end alive. I love this family second only to the Stark-Tully clan.

    • “until they do something evil”

      Like murder?

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Joffrey deserved to die multiple deaths and each one far more painful than that. Just like Ramsey. I genuinely do not get how taking out one of the bottom three most evil characters in the series makes the Tyrells anything other than heroes. Moral equivalency has gone too far in our society.

        • Oh, I was super happy that Olenna murdered Joffrey. But let’s not pretend that it’s not what it is. You know, “cool motive. Still murder.”
          There’s nothing wrong with considering people heroes for doing evil things/crimes such as murder for a good cause. Just be honest about what it is. Acting like murder is not a crime when the victim is a bad and dangerous person is something else that’s gone too far in this society.
          And anyway, being a hero usually implies you’re willing to put yourself on a line, make sacrifices, take full responsibility for your actions. The Tyrells committed a secret murder and prepared innocent scapegoats to take a fall for them. That’s not heroic, even if we may like the fact that they took Joffrey out.

  26. I don’t see a reason to think book Olenna ever slept with Luthor before the marriage. It’s something completely made up for the show. Why would you think this is a part of her book backstory?

    I agree with the author of that linked Tumblr post that the Tyrells seem more Seymours than Boleyns, and that Margaery is Jane Seymour just as much as she is (the historical) Anne Boleyn. There’s little evidence that Anne was actively pursuing the position of queen and Henry’s wife before Henry himself started obsessively pursuing her – and spent about a year doing that, before proposing marriage (and a marriage proposal from a king was something you were not supposed to reject). The myth of seductress Anne luring Henry with her feminine wiles rests on the idea that she was able to predict that he would meet her rejection with continued persistance and offer her marriage, rather than just try to make her his mistress and eventually grow tired and give up if she kept saying no, which was what he did with all other women he had been previously interested in. And while Anne was an opinionated, impulsive woman, Jane Seymour perfectly performed the societally approved feminine role, and is equally opaque as Margaery (was her meek, submissive persona her real personality? Is Margaery’s innocence her real personality?).

    But the author of that post seems to have a better grasp of the Tudor era than of the Wars of the Roses. I facepalmed at some glaring inaccuracies, like saying that the Yorks were “even further down the line of succession” than the Lancasters (um, no. Richard, Duke of York was, through his mother Anne de Mortimer, the descendant of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the 2nd son of Edward III – i.e. from the line SENIOR to the Lancasters), or that the basis for the delegitimization of the children of Edward IV was the allegation that Edward had been “promised” to another woman (nope. It was that he was MARRIED to another woman [who died in 1468], in the exact same kind of secret ceremony that he was to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464 – as per the testimony of Bishop Robert Stillington, who used to hold a high position in Edward’s reign, and who claimed to have conducted the marriage ceremony it in early 1460s).

    Also, the comparison of Dany to Henry Tudor/Henry VII and the idea that putting a dragon on your banner is the same as hatching three actual dragons and using them to topple slaving societies and become a legend on the continent where you’re in exile. makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

    • Suzanne says:

      The allegation was that Edward was pre-contracted to Eleanor Butler. A pre-contract was a promise of marriage that could be used to nullify a subsequent marriage. The wording of Titulus Regius was: “And howe also, that at the tyme of contract of the same pretensed Mariage, and bifore and longe tyme after, the seid King Edward was and stode maryed and trouth plight to oone Dame Elianor Butteler, Doughter of the old Earl of Shrewesbury, with whom the same King Edward had made a precontracte of Matrimonie, longe tyyme bifore he made the said pretensed Mariage with the said Elizabeth Grey, in maner and fourme abovesaid.”

      • No, it’s not. The allegation was that Edward was married to Eleanor, by Bishop Robert Stillington, in secret. An exchange of vows, followed by consummation, constituted marriage, in medieval canon law. And it was that exact same way in which Edward was married to Elizabeth Woodville.

        A “precontract”, which seems to confuse people, does not mean “promise of marriage” or “betrothal”. It simply means “a contract made prior to another contract”, i.e. a marriage made before another marriage.

        Marriages made in secret through an exchange of vows and consummation were considered perfectly legal and binding. This was exactly why there was a period for “banns” for three days before a couple married (when they were doing it publicly): to give an opportunity to those who may have a problem with the marriage, because, say, they were already married to one of the parties, to come forward with it. There are documented cases in Middle Ages when that actually happened; I can’t remember the exact names and places, but I’ve read about a case where, for instance, a couple were supposed to get married (just some common village folk, not nobles or anyone famous) but a man came forward and claimed that he had already been married to the bride – not publicly, but they exchanged vows and slept together, and his complaint was accepted and the couple couldn’t marry.

  27. I don’t believe Euron is gonna “rout the reach”. But he is certainly going to drow a hole lot of its soldiers in that cthullu apocalypse he is got cooking up on the waters near the Citadel

  28. “And yet she speaks out, which is one of those small acts of bravery for which Sansa rarely gets credit; consider by contrast how long it takes Theon to act against Ramsay in ADWD”. Well, that’s not a fair comparison. With all that Sansa has suffered (and she has), what Theon went through with Ramsay was much worse, to the point of complete and utter psychological distruction. But yes, with all the dovy-eyed worldview that Sansa starts out (and perhaps partially because of it), she has a much stronger character and way better morals than cocksure/chauvinistic Theon.

  29. Chinoiserie says:

    I would not say that most first time readers know about loras so this moment escapes notice.
    Garlan is definatelly not a decent guy and I am surprised to see this repeated slo often. Not only he is the one that pretty much certainly murders Joffrey but he frames Tyrion flor this after acting nice to him. And he is playing the game as much as the rest of the Tyrells, his nice demeanor and words should not what he should pay attention but his actions and the way he brads himself Gallant.

  30. […] “It is not necessary for a third son to wed, or breed” is particularly telling) and as Renly’s lover – to a stranger. Further compounding the mutual incomprehension, Tyrion is far too cynical […]

  31. wedekitrys says:

    You mentioned this: “(I also think that part of the Queen of Thorns persona is that by being so “honest” about her own family, she prompts others to be more forthcoming about themselves than they might otherwise.)”

    It’s called self-disclosure in social psychology, and, ideally, leads to social reciprocity. I notice you use a lot of vocab from various fields of study, so thought I’d help you continue that pattern

  32. Brad says:

    I’m surprised “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is virtually absent from the discussion of this chapter. I’m slowly working my way through archived chapters, and I had been looking forward to reading ideas about this. Jorah/Daenerys as bear/maiden fair? He will soon kiss her, but she will reject him. Olenna/Margaery as bear cop/maiden fair cop? Tyrell clan/Sansa? She is initially afraid, but opens up to them. I’m curious how people read the song superimposed on the scene.

  33. […] the Tyrells. Now that she’s given useful intelligence and shown herself amenable to their proposals, Sansa is now encouraged to come ever closer to the center of Tyrell influence, to enter into a […]

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