Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa II, ASOS

sansagown

She would wear her new gown for the ceremony at the Great Sept of Baelor…that must be why Cersei is having it made for me, so I will not look shabby at the wedding.

Synopsis: Sansa gets a new dress, goes hawking with Margaery, and has a conversation with Ser Dontos.

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

Political Analysis:

Sansa II of ASOS is not a beloved part of ASOIAF – over on Tower of the Hand, it’s ranked 80th out of 82 chapters in A Storm of Swords, and 333rd out of 344 chapters in the entire series. And I can’t agree at all, because on re-read I found this to be a fascinating chapter.

Part of the difficulty might be that George R.R Martin seems to be doing a bit of an experiment with this chapter, in which all of the plot is happening in the wings where the reader but not the protagonist is aware of what’s going on. That’s not the same thing as a chapter not having a plot – in this chapter alone, we see the Purple Wedding, the Red Wedding, Sansa’s wedding, and the power struggle between the Tyrells and Lannisters all getting underway – but because GRRM wants to keep these events a secret until he springs the surprise later, and because there isn’t a plausible way for Sansa to be directly observing them, not much appears to be happening on a surface level.

Even with that being the case, this chapter still has a lot going on if you look it as part of a larger escape drama, a genre that isn’t always about moments of pulse-pounding action but about the smaller moments of tension and release as people make impossible choices in incredibly constrained circumstances…

Chekov’s Dress

Then again, I think that no small part of the backlash is that the main event of the chapter (as opposed to events that Sansa recalls) is Sansa getting a new dress, and it’s been a while since ASOIAF’s most feminine character had so feminine a chapter. I’m not claiming to be perfectly enlightened on this issue – growing up, I tended to focus on media and genres and characters and creators that were pretty solidly although not exclusively male, and although I’ve definitely improved on that front as I’ve matured, I know I have progress to make. And fashion particularly is an area where I have not made progress; as people who’ve watched my videos can no doubt tell, I only own multiple copies of the same outfit and it was something of a major step for me when I started wearing red shirts in addition to blue shirts. So when I first read this chapter in 2000, I probably didn’t appreciate why GRRM was spending this much time on Sansa’s dress:

“A new gown?” she said, as wary as she was astonished.

“More lovely than any you have worn, my lady,” the old woman promised. She measured Sansa’s hips with a length of knotted string. “All silk and Myrish lace, with satin linings. You will be very beautiful. The queen herself has commanded it.”

“Which queen?”

“The Queen Regent…Her Grace said to me that you are a woman now, and should not dress like a little girl.”

On a re-read, however, this dress is in fact rich in significance: it’s a major clue to the behind-the-scenes power plays between the Lannisters and the Tyrells, a Chekov’s dress that will be taken off the mantle-place and fired in the very next Sansa chapter. It’s also used as a thematic signifier of Sansa’s ongoing issues with puberty, although there are definitely some slightly ickiness about Sansa recounting people staring at her “bosoms” that make me even more convinced that it would have been better had GRRM simply aged up the Starks five years in the first place.

At the same time, I think the dress is also responsible for a good bit of the fan backlash in another way, that people often take a rather presentist attitude that Sansa should have seen the dress for what it was, and that the fact that she didn’t immediately realize what was happening is proof that she’s stupid. But if we actually look at the text, it’s pretty clear that Sansa is in fact quite “wary” about the dress, who it’s coming from, and what their motives are. And where Sansa goes wrong is not that she reverts back to her old  trusting self, but rather that she’s so suspicious of everyone and everything that she’s making it more difficult to analyze and test her suspicions and come to the right conclusions about what’s going on.

Finally, the dress is also a useful indicator of the complex timing of the various conspiracies going on in King’s Landing. In addition to teaching us a good deal about the political economy of high-end fashion in King’s Landing – that as we might might expect in an economy where guilds predominate, the manufacture of women’s clothing is organized in a mistress/journeywoman/apprentice system (which in turn shows us that smallfolk women working in the city can potentially aspire to property and influence), that dressmakers are independent proprietors with many clients as opposed to in-house servants (which makes sense given the high levels of skill involved versus relatively limited per-person demand), and that individual proprietors have multiple clients (which, given the way in which fashion trends flowed outward from monarchs to courtiers, also makes sense) – it also teaches us a lot about sequencing:

“Will they be ready in time for the king’s wedding?”

“Oh, sooner, much sooner. Her Grace insists. I have six seamstresses and twelve apprentice girls, and we have set all our other work aside for this. Many ladies will be cross with us, but it was the queen’s command.”

First, it is vital that Cersei acts before Margaery becomes Queen. On a personal level, it would give her rank and and precedence over Cersei herself, but for House Lannister it would potentially allow Margaery to make decisions about the composition of the court and the disposition of its ladies (including Sansa) or at least appeal directly to Joffrey – any of which would complicate Tywin’s plan, which after all hinged on the Tyrells having to accept a fait accompli rather than provoking an outright conflict with his new partners. Ironically, this danger exists because Cersei advanced Joffrey to the Iron Throne ahead of his normal majority in order to deal with Ned Stark, and then completely failed to establish her authority as Regent in the aftermath. Second, it’s also vital that Sansa be married off before the Tyrells know about it, because (contrary to what Cersei will say in the next Sansa chapter) there’s a lot of ways the Tyrells could have interfered with Sansa’s marriage to Tyrion/Lancel had they known ahead of time, from preempting it with a betrothal or a quickie marriage in absentia (faits accompli work both ways), to making a public request to the King that would have forced the issue instead of allowing Tywin to side-step it, to spiriting Sansa out of the city in a deniable fashion.

The Tyrells: Lannisters With Flowers?

Nine hundred words later, that’s enough about the dress: let’s talk about 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 world of women that she hasn’t had much opportunity to be a part of:

Margaery’s kindness had been unfailing, and her presence changed everything. Her ladies welcomed Sansa as well. It had been so long since she had enjoyed the company of other women, she had almost forgotten how pleasant it could be. Lady Leonette gave her lessons on the high harp, and Lady Janna shared all the choice gossip. Merry Crane always had an amusing story, and little Lady Bulwer reminded her of Arya, though not so fierce….

As we’ll see later, Margaery’s “kindness” and the ladies’ “welcome” is more than a little performative, intended to keep their new asset sweet. But it’s also a sign of House Tyrell’s subtle use of “soft power” (as opposed to House Lannister’s rigid embrace of “hard power”) that they understand that charm and aesthetic appeal work as both motivating factor for compliance and an illusion that can mask the instrumental nature of their actions from view, so that even much of the fandom often has a hard time keeping style separate from substance.

Speaking of which, one of the Tyrell’s most potent illusions in this chapter and among the fandom is the idea that their “company of other women” makes House Tyrell a matriarchy. Certainly that’s the image that Olenna Tyrell advanced last Sansa chapter, although that image somewhat runs aground on the way that Loras and Mace have directed Tyrell family policy from AGOT through ACOK. And one can see how it would especially appeal to Sansa, who’s been denied female sociability, especially female sociability of her own age group:

Closest to Sansa’s own age were the cousins Elinor, Alla, and Megga, Tyrells from junior branches of the House…

The cousins took Sansa into their company as if they had known her all their lives. They spent long afternoons doing needlework and talking over lemon cakes and honeyed wine, played at tiles of an evening, sang together in the castle sept…and often one or two of them would be chosen to share Margaery’s bed, where they would whisper half the night away.

The “roses from lower on the bush” are an interesting bunch, both because of the ambiguous role they play in Margaery’s story – perhaps they’re there to act as chaperones for Margaery’s virtue (“they are never alone”), perhaps they’re there to act as cut-outs for covert communications (“Margaery never meets with her directly. Her cousins are her ravens, they bring her messages”), perhaps they’re participants in her weird voyeuristic games, or perhaps they’re just innocent highborn girls thrust into the midst of a high-stakes game of thrones.

Here, they work as mirrors for Sansa, showing how different she really is from how we first encountered her in AGOT and how much of the fandom can’t stop seeing her:

Alla had a lovely voice, and when coaxed would play the woodharp and sing songs of chivalry and lost loves. Megga couldn’t sing, but she was mad to be kissed. She and Alla played a kissing game sometimes, she confessed, but it wasn’t the same as kissing a man, much less a king. Sansa wondered what Megga would think about kissing the Hound, as she had. He’d come to her the night of the battle stinking of wine and blood. He kissed me and threatened to kill me, and made me sing him a song.

…King Joffrey made me weep more often than you know…

…they are children, Sansa thought. They are silly little girls, even Elinor. They’ve never seen a battle, they’ve never seen a man die, they know nothing. Their dreams were full of songs and stories, the way hers had been before Joffrey cut her father’s head off. Sansa pitied them. Sansa envied them.

Whatever else they may be, Alla, Megga, and Elinor are romantics, swept up in the romance of the Reach, and true believers in a way that Sansa no longer is. In comparison to Megga’s crush on Mark Mullendore, Elinor’s careful following of the forms of chivalric romance with Alyn Ambrose, and Alla’s poetic inclinations, Sansa is practically a cynic.  After all, she has had the flimsy protections of chivalry stripped from her and knows that beautiful surfaces can hide ugly interiors and vice versa.

At the same time, Sansa can’t fully pull away from the spell of their songs and dreams, because GRRM is not a nihilist. The “UnKiss” with the Hound, the way that Sansa has reshaped her own memories into something that synthesizes an often ugly reality (“stinking of wine and blood“) with a kind of Beauty and the Beast romance has been written up one side and down the other. I’m more interested in what it tells us about Sansa’s ongoing maturity. As much as Sansa wants to be wholly cynical, if only for self-preservation, there’s a part of her that wants to believe in the romance or at least remembers how sweet it had been to believe.  And this is actually a far healthier (and more mature, contrary to how some segments of the fandom seem to think) way to live than to throw on a black dress and reduce all of existence to Machiavellian power politics.

All of these mixed emotions come together with Margaery. In the book fandom, where the depth of Margaery’s involvement with Tyrell machinations remains much more of a mystery than it did on the show, there has always been a question as to whether Margaery is merely a highborn young lady of grace and virtue or whether that appearance is a mere cover for a capable conspirator.  In this chapter, Sansa is trying to puzzle this out alongside the reader, and once again, Sansa is far more suspicious than she’s given credit for.

Indeed, when Sansa first gets told that she’s to have a new dress, she’s instantly put on her guard rather than at her ease, and even Margaery is not outside of her suspicions (“But why? Sansa wondered when she was alone. It made her uneasy. I’ll wager this gown is Margaery’s doing somehow, or her grandmother’s.”) As she spends more and more time with the young queen-to-be, Sansa is constantly balancing her suspicions against her profound admiration for Margaery’s “grace.” Rather than concluding that she is completely innocent, Sansa comes down somewhere in the middle: “Margaery was different, though. Sweet and gentle, yet there was a little of her grandmother in her, too.”

Indeed, in this chapter, we see a good deal of Olenna Tyrell in the young queen-to-be. For the most part, Margaery is essentially acting as a handler of an intelligence asset, making sure that Sansa is kept happy (hence organizing the welcome above), but also making sure that as much as possible Sansa’s mind is firmly focused on the idea of  her marriage to Willas:

The day before last she’d taken Sansa hawking…“Willas has the best birds in the Seven Kingdoms,” Margaery said when the two of them were briefly alone. “He flies an eagle sometimes. You will see, Sansa.” She took her by the hand and gave it a squeeze. “Sister.”

Now it could be argued that Margaery’s actions here don’t necessarily fall within the scope of covert activity; indeed, most highborn ladies would understand the importance of making a dynastic marriage alliance work and would probably be tasked with making friends with the bride-to-be. It’s only in light of later information that I’ll discuss in a moment that this begins to appear more clandestine. Regardless of which it is, Margaery’s efforts to shift Sansa’s loyalties in the direction of House Tyrell were remarkably successful. So much so that Sansa feels compelled to speak out for Margaery’s best interests:

Sister. Sansa had once dreamt of having a sister like Margaery; beautiful and gentle, with all the world’s graces at her command. Arya had been entirely unsatisfactory as sisters went. How can I let my sister marry Joffrey? she thought, and suddenly her eyes were full of tears. “Margaery, please,” she said, “you mustn’t.” It was hard to get the words out. “You mustn’t marry him. He’s not like he seems, he’s not. He’ll hurt you.”

“I shouldn’t think so.” Margaery smiled confidently. “It’s brave of you to warn me, but you need not fear. Joff’s spoiled and vain and I don’t doubt that he’s as cruel as you say, but Father forced him to name Loras to his Kingsguard before he would agree to the match. I shall have the finest knight in the Seven Kingdoms protecting me night and day, as Prince Aemon protected Naerys. So our little lion had best behave, hadn’t he?” She laughed…

She is so brave, Sansa thought…and yet her doubts still gnawed at her…the more she thought about it all, the more she wondered. Joff might restrain himself for a few turns, perhaps as long as a year, but soon or late he will show his claws and when he does…the realm might have a second Kingslayer, and there would be a war inside the city…Sansa was surprised that Margaery did not see it too.

There’s a lot going on in this passage, so it’s worth taking some time to unpack it in detail. First, it needs to be acknowledged that Sansa’s thought about Arya being an unsatisfactory sister is a rather petty one, a sign that despite everything she’s gone through in ACOK, Sansa hasn’t completely matured yet. At the same time, it’s not like Sansa is an unfeeling monster – hence Sansa’s immediate desire to protect Margaery from harm. Second, it should also be acknowledged that Sansa’s political instincts are showing signs of matury, as she makes some rather canny reads on Joffrey’s inability to restrain his sadistic impulses, the likelihood of a violent response from Loras, and the political fallout that would result.

Third, this passage has made me rethink my opinion as to Margaery’s involvement with the Purple Wedding. Because that last line of Sansa’s is quite telling; Margaery is too canny, too good an observer of human nature, and too well-brought-up in the politics of the Reach to not come to the same conclusions about Joffrey and Loras that Sansa has. Her blasé reaction, combined by the way that she immediately pivots to the tale of Naerys and Aemon Dragonknight (and how like a Tyrell to use the history and imagery of chivalric romance as a cover story), suggests to me that the reason why Margaery is so very unconcerned about Joffrey’s cruelty is that she knows that he’s not going to be alive long enough for it to matter.

As to what specific role she’s going to play in the whole affair, we’ll have to wait for more evidence.

Ser Dontos, Gaslighter Extraordinaire

If I haven’t made myself clear on this subject before, allow me to rectify that error: I consider Ser Dontos one of the most needlessly vile people of all the minor characters in ASOIAF. While there are certainly characters more muderous or sadistic, they usually have some sort of internal drive that compels their actions – Ser Dontos just has ordinary weakness and greed. But far worse than the relative lack of motivation is the fact that Ser Dontos is betraying not merely a child, but the child who saved his life (link), who whom he ought to be most beholden.

In this chapter specifically, Ser Dontos most profoundly betrays Sansa’s trust by passing on the news of Sansa’s impending wedding to Willas to Littlefinger, who has in turn passed on that information to the Lannisters, who have in turn initiated their plan to marry Sansa to Tyrion, with Cersei’s part of that plan being the unexpected dress from the beginning of the chapter. (Incidentally, while much of the fandom treats this as a major failing on Sansa’s part, as we’ve seen in this chapter Sansa is actually being hyper-suspicious, to the point where she overlooks Ser Dontos because of his general hapless and pathetic naure in favor of hyper-focusing on the potential threat from the Lannisters and the Tyrells.)

But Ser Dontos doesn’t stop at betraying Sansa’s confidence; instead, like many abusers past, present, and future, Ser Dontos works to isolate his victim by gaslighting Sansa into thinking that everyone around her (except for him) is trying to take advantage of her:

When she told Ser Dontos that she was going to Highgarden to marry Willas Tyrell, she thought he would be relieved and pleased for her. Instead he had grabbed her arm and said, “You cannot!” in a voice as thick with horror as with wine. “I tell you, these Tyrells are only Lannisters with flowers. I beg of you, forget this folly, give your Florian a kiss, and promise you’ll go ahead as we have planned. The night of Joffrey’s wedding, that’s not so long, wear the silver hair net and do as I told you, and afterward we make our escape.” He tried to plant a kiss on her cheek.

“…but he does not know you…and he will not love you. Jonquil, Jonquil, open your sweet eyes, these Tyrells care nothing for you. It’s your claim they mean to wed…you are heir to Winterfell.”

This passage raises a couple questions: first, how much of this gaslighting with regards to the Tyrells is part of Littlefinger’s plan to isolate and groom Sansa and how much of it is part of Ser Dontos’ own desires? As I’ve said before, I think that the Florian and Jonquil dialogue was thought up by Littlefinger as a way of appealing to Sansa’s Romantic side. However, Ser Dontos’ constant attempts at building on that dialogue by tyring to kiss Sansa and getting her to kiss him – which Littlefinger would very much not approve of – might speak to some incredibly creepy goals of his own whether as Sansa’s lover (if Ser Dontos is merely aiming at personal gratification) or perhaps even her husband (if he’s scheming for some long-term advantage).

The second question is what Littlefinger’s schedule for the Purple Wedding was, and what we can learn about the divisions between Littlefinger and the Tyrells from that. As I said in Sansa VIII of ACOK, there seems to have been something of a slippage in the Purple Wedding’s timing from the initial plan for her to escape “the night of Joffrey’s wedding. After the feast” when half the court would be distracted “helping Joffrey bed his bride” to during the feast itself.

Sansa slipped from his grasp and stepped away from him. “I won’t. I can’t. Something would go wrong. When I wanted to escape you wouldn’t take me, and now I don’t need to.”

Dontos stared at her stupidly. “But the arrangements are made, sweetling. The ship to take you home, the boat to take you to the ship, your Florian did it all for his sweet Jonquil.”

Partly, I think this does speak to a difference in intent between Littlefinger and the Tyrells. Littlefinger doesn’t care whether Margaery’s marriage to Joffrey is consummated or not, and in fact it probably helps him somewhat because Joffrey’s death would make Margaery’s position more precarious. By contrast, the Tyrells are very much concerned that Margaery’s hand remain available for the next King on the Iron Throne, so they act earlier – which makes Sansa’s disappearance more noticeable, complicating Littlefinger’s scheme.

Finally, we have to ask whether there’s any truth in the argument that “these Tyrells are only Lannisters with flowers,” because sometimes even liars end up telling the truth, even inadvertently or out of self-interest. Certainly, it cannot be denied that the Tyrells are hungry for lands and honors (we’ll see that side of them especially in the next Tyrion chapter), and given that they’re about to commit regicide, it can hardly be argued that they lack the Lannisters’ ruthlessness. And since their marriage offer to Sansa is largely contingent on their foreknowledge of the Red Wedding, I think it’s basically true to say that they are acting in the interests of House Tyrell and not in the interests of one Sansa Stark.

But at the same time, I think it’s also fair to say that the Tyrells view the Lannisters’ oft-indiscriminate use of violence, their casual violation of cultural mores, and their inattention to soft power as lacking in subtlety and craft. Moreover, I would argue that they have an entirely different political philosophy: where the Lannisters seek to overawe through domination and demand exclusive control, and where Ned Stark practiced benevolent paternalism (link), I would argue that the Tyrells’ style is that of quasi-benevolent manipulation. While completely willing to prune an errant vine, the Tyrells tend to manipulate rather than attack others because they feel they know better how people ought to live their lives, in almost an aesthetic sense.

Sansa’s Dream

So with all of these pressures both towards and away from the Tyrells, do Sansa’s loyalties shift and how? Does she buy into the fantasy that Margaery’s selling and to what extent? The situation is more complicated than one might think.

The heir to Winterfell, she would think as she lay abed at night. It’s your claim they mean to wed. Sansa had grown up with three brothers. She never thought to have a claim, but with Bran and Rickon dead…It doesn’t matter, there’s still Robb, he’s a man grown now, and soon he’ll wed and have a son. Anyway, Willas Tyrell will have Highgarden, what would he want with Winterfell?

Sometimes she would whisper his name into her pillow just to hear the sound of it. “Willas, Willas, Willas.” Willas was as good a name as Loras, she supposed. They even sounded the same, a little. What did it matter about his leg? Willas would be Lord of Highgarden and she would be his lady.

She pictured the two of them sitting together in a garden with puppies in their laps, or listening to a singer strum upon a lute while they floated down the Mander on a pleasure barge. If I give him sons, he may come to love me. She would name them Eddard and Brandon and Rickon, and raise them all to be as valiant as Ser Loras. And to hate Lannisters, too. In Sansa’s dreams, her children looked just like the brothers she had lost. Sometimes there was even a girl who looked like Arya.

She could never hold a picture of Willas long in her head, though; her imaginings kept turning him back into Ser Loras, young and graceful and beautiful. You must not think of him like that, she told herself. Or else he may see the disappointment in your eyes when you meet, and how could he marry you then, knowing it was his brother you loved? Willas Tyrell was twice her age, she reminded herself constantly, and lame as well, and perhaps even plump and red-faced like his father. But comely or no, he might be the only champion she would ever have.

…even if Dontos is right, and it is Winterfell he wants and not me, he still may come to love me for myself.

Rather than embrace the Tyrells unreservedly, Sansa is actually quite ambivalent about the whole proposal. She’s very much aware of the fact that she’s being offered in marriage to a total stranger whom “she could never hold a picture of…long in her head,” she’s quite nervous about how she would go about building a happy marriage (avoiding showing “disappointment in your eyes” with regards to Loras,  proving her fertility, etc.), and she’s quite aware that it might be the case that “it is Winterfell he wants and not me.”

Rather than reject the offer as a result, Sansa tries to lean into it – for completely practical reasons. At the end of the day, “comely or no, he might be the only champion she would ever have;” as a highborn lady, Sansa needs to occupy the “honorable estate of wife” in order to get out of the exremely precarious status of being a hostage. And the same questions of how to find love in an arranged marriage would be present in any marriage pact, so it’s not like those concerns are somehow unique to the Tyrells.

Instead, Sansa seeks to make the best of her stiuation and try to build a happy life for herself. But at no point does she abandon her loyalties to House Stark. While clearly not understanding the relevance of her claim to Winterfell due to her lack of knowledge of the Red Wedding, Sansa intends to make her marriage a quiet act of resistance against those who have abused her. In naming her children after “the brothers she had lost,” we see an attempt to rebuild her shattered family in the next generation, to undo the work of Cersei and Tywin and the Greyjoys.  Even more so, her plans to raise them to “to hate Lannisters, too” is essentially an idea to use a mother’s responsibility for educating her children to turn the Tyrells into a bulwark of anti-Lannister politics in the south.

If only her plans had been allowed to bear fruit…

Historical Analysis:

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot new here in terms of historical parallels that I haven’t addressed in earlier chapters, so I’m going to take a pass in this week’s essay. But don’t fret, Arya III will have plenty of scope for historical discussion.

What If?

There is really only one major hypothetical in this chapter, and it’s a doozy:

  • Sansa didn’t tell Dontos about Willas? I’m not of the opinion that this would have meant that her escape to Highgarden would be automatically successful – the Tyrell plan to get Sansa out of King’s Landing depends on Margaery being queen, which means that there would have been about two months between Sansa II and her escape, and that’s a lot of time for Littlefinger or Varys or the Lannisters to do something to interfere with her plans.
  • On the other hand, if it did work, things would change dramatically. First, she avoids marriage to Tyrion, which means she likely avoids connection to the Purple Wedding and being declared an outlaw. Second, she avoids Littlefinger’s clutches – which might well butterfly away Lysa Arryn’s death (at least for a time, eventually Littlefinger would have his revenge), and definitely short-circuits his plan to seize the North through her and and a marriage alliance to Harry the Heir.  Third, it means that her future character arc would be heading to Highgarden, with proximity to both Euron’s plans and Samwell Tarly, as opposed to heading north to Winterfell and reunion with Jon Snow and other surviving siblings.

Book vs. Show:

As I’ve said before, the decision to cut Dontos’ interactions with Sansa made this plotline much blunter and less intelligent in Season 3 – Baelish acts directly with Sansa despite the supposed danger, there’s no setup for Dontos to get crossbowed as he is in Season 4 Episode 3 so his death doesn’t really regiter, there’s the whole unnecessary and poorly written plot with Ros’ spying and death at Joffrey’s hand, and it goes on and on.

Likewise, the decision to merge Loras and Willas makes the Tyrells’ plotting uncharacteristically clumsy. Not only does Loras make for a comically bad suitor, but his almost immediate decision to talk about his secret betrothal to Olyvar, the only male prostitute in King’s Landing, is a key part of the process by which he was turned into a “gay cartoon” in Seasons 3 and 4, and indeed as it turned out for the rest of Finn Jones’ run on the show.

 

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130 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sansa II, ASOS

  1. milli says:

    In the book v/s the show part , it could also be concluded that the comical and clumsy suitor characterization of Jones makes Turner’s Sansa look even more “stupid” to not visibly show her growing unease with his bumbling attitude and “gay cartoonish” behavior. Although the show turned Jones character to a cliche even the fact that a 12 year old Sansa couldn’t understand that Loras is Gay more understandable than a 14 year old visibly older looking Sansa of the show. Many of the book readers of recent years and even those who read it decades ago look at Sansa Stark from their misguided belief and lens of faux-adaptation of GoT. No wonder they think Sansa from the books is “stupid” despite numerous proof in contrary

    • I could see that, especially since Loras’ sexuality is much more of an open secret on the show.

    • Yes, and in the books, while Sansa does not suspect Loras is gay (because she has no way of knowing that – it’s not something that everyone knows, Loras does not act like a stereotypical gay men – and the world where they live in does not have that stereotype anyway, since it’s a modern one, and she has not heard the gossip from one of the people who are aware of Loras’ relationship with Renly), she immediately realizes, after just a few sentences exchanged with him, that he is not interested in her, and doesn’t even remember her.

  2. rando, says:

    Regarding why Dontos wants a kiss: Remember, his first scene (where he’s not a background detail) is getting utterly shitfaced before a joust. I don’t think there is anything beyond that beside “pretty girl”.
    Aside -, regarding the “Loras will protect me” :
    If Tommen dies early, and Joffrey’s assassination is butterflied (and there won’t be a “get heir first and kill Joffrey later” plan): do you think Loras still gets a white cloak in hope he will bodyguard his sister, or he does not (in fear from kingslayer 2:electric boogaloo) and the plan would be “suck to be you” ?

    • Fair enough.

      Good question, that’s a really tricky scenario for the Tyrells. They might go with the miracle pregnancy in that case.

      • Another Viserys Plumm? Though I can’t help but wonder how Cersei would react. Considering Cersei sees the world as acting like her she would work out there was strong (heh) evidence this child was falseborn. I’m wondering if Moon Tea would be slipped discreetly to Margaery or the child would be the John I of the 7K? Or Cersei might just straight up send someone to make sure Marg has a nasty fall down the stairs. And Varys creeps around, laughing at how much work Cersei is saving him.

        • I’m sure Cersei would hit the roof, but A. Cersei’s not in charge atm, Tywin is, and B. if Tommen is dead and Joffrey is dead, and Myrcella’s been sent off to Dorne, she doesn’t have a lot of options of someone to stick on the Iron Throne.

          • Although Cersei isn’t exactly a pinnacle of thinking out the long-term implications of her plans. It would certainly lead to the potential for conflict… and just as things are getting really bad a certain young man with a dragon banner and ten thousand sellswords may turn up. There is also Myrcella but… Varys would probably have her killed, though he would need someone to blame. Mayhaps just leave a rose in the general area and Cersei would take it as obvious proof it was all a Tyrell plot.

            As for Tywin he could cause trouble for Varys’ plan. There is that theory that Varys made sure Tyrion could kill Tywin, but I am uncertain on this matter.

            Just realized I may have been unclear, I meant John I of France.

  3. Julian says:

    Terrific job as always. Two questions:

    (1) You say “and since their marriage offer to Sansa is largely contingent on their foreknowledge of the Red Wedding, I think it’s basically true to say that they are acting in the interests of House Tyrell and not in the interests of one Sansa Stark.” What makes you think the Tyrells knew about the Red Wedding in advance? I’d never heard that theory.

    (2) You say “which might well butterfly away Lysa Arryn’s death (at least for a time, eventually Littlefinger would have his revenge)” — what revenge did LF need to exact on Lysa? Does he know at some level that she had sex with him when he was passed out after dueling Brandon? Or is there some other thing she did to him?

    • 1. Because as Sansa points out, “there’s still Robb, he’s a man grown now, and soon he’ll wed and have a son.” The only way Sansa has a claim to Winterfell is if Robb is dead without an heir, which strongly suggests to me that the Tyrells knew Robb was about to die without an heir.

      2. I think at some level he knows, both about that incident and the incident when he got drunk that Lysa brings up in Sansa VII.

      • Murc says:

        Because as Sansa points out, “there’s still Robb, he’s a man grown now, and soon he’ll wed and have a son.” The only way Sansa has a claim to Winterfell is if Robb is dead without an heir, which strongly suggests to me that the Tyrells knew Robb was about to die without an heir.

        With respect, Steven, while it is suggestive, I don’t think it is nearly as strongly suggestive as you say it is.

        First of all, “they want your claim, not you” comes from Dontos, hardly a reliable source. Is he correct? Almost certainly. But I would submit it is probably more likely that the Tyrells are interested in the claim and the basic connection; both are useful.

        Sansa Stark is, as far as the Tyrells know, Lord Eddard Stark’s only living child, and even if Arya turns up Sansa is the elder. There is only currently one person between her and Winterfell; her brother, Robb.

        Well, Robb is currently at war against a coalition that grievously outnumbers him, has just alienated one of his key allies, and his kingdom is being ravaged by ironborn. He’s not a good position and the Lannisters are not known as all that merciful. Robb could die from any one of a million ways that don’t involve the Red Wedding in any way, shape, or form. He could die in battle. He is in a risky position.

        But lets say that doesn’t happen. Let’s say that the day after Sansa marries Willas Robb surrenders and sues to be let back into the King’s Peace. Tywin instantly accepts; he extracts hostages, gold, etc. from Robb, of course, but although he’s a cruel and vengeful man Tywin isn’t going to prolong the war pointlessly in the face of someone who is literally offering up their sword. Robb goes back to being the Lord of Winterfell, with his Westerling wife who he fathers heirs on.

        Even in this scenario, Sansa being married to Willas is still a great deal for the Tyrells, is it not? It gives them a potential ally to cultivate. They probably extend an olive branch to Robb, make it clear there’s no personal animosity in their alliance with the Lannisters. They make sure they see how well-treated and beloved his sister is to them. They perhaps intercede with the Lannisters to get a few of the hostages he yielded up released early, and offer support against the ironborn; Reachermen don’t like it when ironborn get too big for their britches either. Perhaps one of Sansa’s children is sent to be fostered with their uncle in the north, and they invite Robb to foster one of his children with their Aunt Sansa.

        Thus Sansa is used to draw the Starks into their orbit via soft power, allowing them leverage against their primary coalition partner, the Lannisters. That’s a big win for them. And of course, Sansa will make Willas a good wife and an excellent Lady of Highgarden; indeed, that would probably make Sansa very happy, it is largely the sort of role she was raised for and aspired to.

        And of course there’s the fact that… the Tyrells are not bad at tradecraft, but the Red Wedding was one of Tywin’s most closely guarded secrets. The Tyrells have no need-to-know. They play no part in the plan, and letting them in on it introduces another point of failure. I don’t think they sussed it out. They didn’t even suss out Sansa being wed to Tyrion, and that was much less of a secret and had more evidence floating around under their noses.

        I’m not saying the Tyrells for-sure knew about the Red Wedding. Maybe they did. But I think the possibility aligns against it.

        • To a large extent, it’s going to come down to individual taste and instinct, so one’s mileage may vary.

          And certainly, I think it’s true that the Tyrells like to hedge their bets.

          However, Tyrell forces do play a part in the plan – their troops are being used at Duskendale, which is a major part of the shaping operation for the war. But I’ll get into this more when we get to the next Tyrion chapter.

          • Tywin didn’t even tell Tyrion – there was a very small circle of people around him who knew about the RW in advance (as far as we know, just Kevan). Why would he let the Tyrells know about it?

          • Lucerys says:

            Well if the Tyrells are mostly extinct by the end of the story like the Boltons, Freys and Lannisters it will be strong evidence in favour of this.

          • David Hunt says:

            @Bunny

            The fact that Tywin didn’t tell Tyrion something proves nothing. We know Tyrion is smart and capable, but Tywin is hates his son and will always see him in the worst light. Plus, he had just given him power and responsibility and once he gets to King’s Landing, everyone tells him what a mess Tyrion made of everything, confirming all his biases, so he’s not about to trust him with anything that important.

            As to why he’d tell the Tyrells…Mace doesn’t commit to definitive action lightly. I’m of the opinion that he’d wouldn’t have backed Renly if his favorite son, Loras, hadn’t talked him into it. He had to give Mace something that would convince him he wasn’t fixing his horse to a broken wagon. My current guess is that it wasn’t a specific Red Wedding playbook. I think he showed Mace the secret messages he got from Roose offering to sell out Robb.

          • @David Hunt: But he’s going to trust the Tyrells with it, of all people? Tywin may hate Tyrion and may not value Cersei much, but he is still full of Lannister pride, and no way is he going to trust or value the Tyrells more than even his hated or undervalued kids. Other than his brother Kevan, he only shares his plans on the need-to-know basis (i.e. with those who were conspiring with him – Roose Bolton and the Freys). And there was no need for the Tyrells to know that.

            “Mace doesn’t commit to definitive action lightly. ”

            Really? It seems to me he commits to definitive action very lightly and easily, as soon as he sees a chance to make his daughter Queen and himself grandfather of future kings. The Tyrells have hitched their wagon to Renly first and then the Lannisters, married Margaery to Joffrey and then Tommen. For all I know, Mace may have considered Stannis as an option if he hadn’t been already married. Maybe Catelyn was right when she wished Robb had gotten himself married to Margaery.

            If anything, I think it’s more likely that the Tyrells were trying to marry Sansa to Willas and maintain friendly relations with her both as a way to keep their foot in another door, if Robb happens to win after all – and have the heirs to Winterfell, if Robb dies: win-win in any case. There’s absolutely no reason to conclude they had any idea about the Red Wedding.

        • Jim B says:

          Yes, the suggestion that the Tyrells knew about the Red Wedding ahead of time raised my eyebrows, too.

          There are lots of possibilities: Robb dies in battle; Robb agrees to take the black as part of a peace settlement; Robb ends up fleeing to Essos or beyond the Wall or is forever on the run in Westeros, and is attainted and his claim voided. Even if Robb ends up ruling in Winterfell after a peace treaty, accidents happen, and so do “accidents.”

          Having control of the next in line is always a good thing. It’s why Littlefinger keeps tabs on Harry the Heir. Hell, how far down the Lannister line is Tyrek, and yet many think Varys is holding him as a potential trump card down the road?

          And, simply on a more mundane level: the Tyrells know they are in an uneasy alliance with the Lannisters, one that could lead to war someday. Cementing some family ties with the Lannisters’ sworn enemies has its uses even if this is the closest Sansa gets to ruling Winterfell, just as Starks’ ties to the Tullys proved valuable to Robb.

        • fjallstrom says:

          I’d like to add that Sanaa is of an ancient royal line, which means the Tyrell main line would have royal blood. Which would matter to the Tyrells, even though I think it is silly. In our world it takes about three generations on a throne to go from upstarts to established royalty. Can’t see why 300 years as a Lord Paramount family hasn’t had that effect.

          • Murc says:

            The Tyrell main line already has royal blood, though? They married into the Gardeners ten times, I believe, and the blood of Garth Greenhand is going to matter to them a lot more than the blood of the Starks.

            The issue the Tyrells have that, say, the Baratheons do not is there are a bunch of families with plausible claims to Highgarden still hanging around, and those families are going to make sure everyone remembers that the Tyrells are upjumped stewards whose claim to Highgarden came from the hand of Aegon the Conqueror and not from of old, just in case the chance for them to make a move comes up.

            This would be far less of an issue if, for example, the Gardeners had left a girl-child behind for Harlan Tyrell to wed. That would have cemented the claim.

          • fjallstrom says:

            Yes, of course. Thanks, Murc.

            Though I still have issue with the world-building. For the first generation and the second, I can see the upjumped stewards meme being a thing, but after that claims shouldn’t be mentioned. Families would still keep track to be ready if the Tyrell line ends, but making a thing of having a better claim than the king is the sort of thing that gets families killed if a king happens to be a bit on the paranoid side. Unless you are living in another realm, then you can keep bragging about it as long as it is politically convenient.

            It’s part of the overall political and social stasis that I find unconvincing.

      • Keith B says:

        Littlefinger didn’t kill Lysa for revenge. He did it because she had become so unstable that she was threatening Sansa and was unable to keep her mouth shut about sensitive information. She had become too dangerous to his plans and to him personally.

        • Brett says:

          I’m pretty sure revenge is involved. That final line – “Only Cat” – was him driving the knife in before kicking her out the Moon Door, meaning that all she’ll know for her last few seconds in the fall will be that he never loved her and betrayed her.

          Everything Littlefinger does is pretty personal and petty in its way.

          • Captain Splendid says:

            It can be two things.

          • Keith B says:

            He’s a malicious person who can’t resist twisting the knife when he decides to hurt someone. He wants his victims to know how much more clever and cunning he is than they were. That’s why his last words to Eddard were that he warned him against trusting him. But unlike the case with Eddard, I don’t believe his motive for killing Lysa was revenge, he just didn’t care about her one way or another.

        • I think it’s both.

      • Brett says:

        1. Murc beat me to it, but having Sansa marry Willas is basically a no-lose scenario for House Tyrell (assuming it doesn’t lead to war with House Lannister). If Robb dies – and there is a very good chance that he might from their perspective, since he’s an active leader in battle in a weakening rebellion – then Sansa’s children stand to inherit the North. If he doesn’t, then they have a very valuable blood tie to King Robb, which would be very useful once Joffrey and Cersei are either dead or marginalized, and the time comes for reconciliation and reunification of the Seven Kingdoms.

      • Bail o' Lies says:

        I don’t think they knew about the Red Wedding, in detail. But I do believe they knew that Tywin would never let someone who has humiliated him so much as Robb has live. So he was as good as dead.

        With no other Stark alive -as far as they knew- Sansa was the sole Heir and Lady of Winterfell, and any children she has will inherit it as well as rightful rule of all the North. So they wanted to nab Sansa while Tywin was still focused on dealing with The Rebel King Robb, the North after Robb’s death, Stannis, and finalizing their newly forge alliance (who really cares about the Ironborn…you know before they invade the Reach). Before Tywin remembers Sansa and marries her to a Lannister.

      • apolotresse says:

        Are you saying that LF wanted revenge on Lysa because he had a rape trauma? I don’t know if this is how the mind of the average guy works let alone the mind of a narcissist. I would say he killed Lysa due to the simple fact that she was a problematic associate in crime prone to spill their secrets with any emotional meltdown. Might be that he foresaw years of “Petyr, if you don’t do as I say, I will tell the whole realm what you have done” and instead of going through that decided to kill her when he had already secured power in the Vale through marriage and saw the chance of blaming someone else.

        • zonaria says:

          Littlefinger is rather in the habit of killing loose cannon accomplices – think Dontos (and, for that matter, Joffrey).

    • David Hunt says:

      II had the exact same questions you did. I hope our host doesn’t mind me placing my own thoughts before he answers. In reverse order:

      Littlefinger doesn’t need to have a specific beef with Lysa to extract revenge on her. He worked for years to bring the entirety of Houses Stark and Tully low for the crime of Catelyn marrying anyone but him. It might be that he may have a specific resentment of her for having to humor her obsession with him for years when he really wanted her sister, but he doesn’t need that.

      As to the Tyrell knowledge of the Red Wedding, I can’t recall the thought ever coming up for me personally. However, I suspect that Mace and Olenna knew that Tywin had something brewing. Some treachery that would allow him to defet the young king had had bested larger Lannister armies in every encounter. I don’t know whether Tywin would have divulged any details, but if he did, it’s because he had to in order to get Tyrell support and likely only to Mace. My impression is that Mace would have told with mother/Mistress of Whisperers. However many of them knew (if any), they sure did an admirable job of keeping the secret.

      • Good point – that’s sort of how I’m leaning, not that the Tyrells knew the details but that they knew some masterstroke was in the offing that would make Sansa’s claim suddenly relevant.

        • Murc says:

          I can get behind this; Tywin hinting that he has some kind of masterstroke that is going to lay the Young Wolf low is far more possible, I think, than him just straight-up telling the Tyrells about the Red Wedding.

          • Keith B says:

            I don’t see any indication that Mace had even an inkling that something was in the works. On the contrary, he assumes that Robb will go North and try to retake Moat Cailin, and that the Lannister/Tyrell forces will then complete the subjugation of the Riverlands while Robb is busy with the Ironborn. Now maybe he’s dissembling and has some reason to believe that Robb will never reach Moat Cailin, but where’s the evidence for that?

        • That leads in with Duskendale. The Tyrels know Tywin has a traitor on the inside just not who and how they will be used. Even if they know it’s Bolton cutting down Rob’s available forces goes a long way to forcing an end to the war even without resorting to something as norm breaking as the RW.

          • Keith B says:

            Why would they conclude that there must be a traitor? Tywin has good intelligence. Varys has spies everywhere. Everyone knows that. Why a traitor and not a spy, intercepted communications, or just highly competent scouts?

    • Keith B says:

      It’s all but certain that the Tyrells did not know about the Red Wedding. Given the enormity of what he was plotting, Tywin had to keep his plans on a strictly need to know basis, and there’s no reason the Tyrells had to know.

      There are plenty of reasons to marry Sansa to Willas without expecting that she would inherit Winterfell. First, Willas was unmarried and needed a wife and children of his own. (It’s hard to believe that the heir to Highgarden, crippled or not, would have trouble getting married, but there we have it.) Sansa was young, presumably fertile (her mother had five healthy children and could have had more), attractive, and cultured.

      Second, even without inheriting Winterfell, a marriage alliance with the North would be highly advantageous to the Tyrells. Given the North’s enmity towards the Lannisters, they would be a ready ally if ever the Reach came into conflict with the Westerlands. It’s for this reason that Tywin was so adamant that the marriage must not happen.

      Finally, they may have been able to use the marriage as an opening to negotiate a peace with the North and Riverlands. Given the depletion of the Lannister army, subduing the Starks would require Mace to commit his own forces, which he’s always been reluctant to do. If there’s one thing the Tyrells are good at, it’s conserving their strength. Since the Stark/Tully and Lannister forces were both greatly weakened, preserving the military power of the Reach would put them in a dominant position in Westeros.

      So there’s really no reason to believe that the Tyrells wanted Sansa because of her claim to Winterfell. Of course, she was next in line, so if anything did happen to Robb, they would be positioned to take advantage of it.

    • Littlefinger always knew about Lysa having sex with him after his duel with Brandon. The issue is just whether he knew – or suspected – that it was also her that he was having sex with earlier, when he was drunk and whispered “Cat”.

      His bragging to the court that he took both Cat’s and Lysa’s virginity, and his story to Sansa that he and Cat were lovers, would suggest that he believed, or wanted to believe, that he had sex with Cat the first time, and knew he had sex with Lysa the other time.

      However, on another occasion, in ASOS when his possible marriage to Lysa is discussed, he claimed that “she’s had me a few times before”. So 1) either he was actually aware that he slept with Lysa both these times, or 2) they had an affair later while she was married, or 3) we shouldn’t really make much of his words.

  4. Excellent essay. Good point on how unpleasant Dontos is. And it is worse as Sansa saved Dontos’ life. Sure, things might have been difficult for Dontos growing up, the rest of his family being killed, but his reaction to this is to cherish no-one. His relationship with Sansa is very creepy, a bit LF-esque, even down to the Gaslighting. (On a side-note I really would recommend the play that named Gaslighting.) Did LF mayhaps work this out and killed him for petty reasons? But I suppose the reason LF gives also works. There does seem poetic justice in LF, another sleazy Gaslighter, killing him. Now Florian and Jonquil is pretty creepy. GRRM does have the Bears, the people who don’t fit society’s standards of true Knights but live up to the ideals (Dunk, his descendant Brienne, Davos, the Hound), but does subvert this sometimes, with people like Dontos.

    And an interesting piece on the Tyrells being Lannisters with Flowers. I’d put it as Villains with Good Publicity, as seen by details like ending the starvation in KL after causing the starvation in KL. Though the fact the Tyrells caused the starvation in the first place still make me see them as villains, who might do things beneficial to the people… though the Tyrells’ advancement is the main priority, unlike Stannis’ mentality that good rule should be the highest priority. As I’ve said before beneath ~~Boris Johnson’s~~ Mace Tyrell’s pleasant exterior lurks a power-hungry and treacherous villain. This isn’t helped by the showrunners trying to portray the Tyrells as the Good Guys, though this isn’t helped by them making Margaery a sexual predator… but that’s an issue for another time.

    If the Tyrells had tried taking Sansa to HG it wouldn’t surprise me if Cersei tried some poorly-planned assassination attempt, thinking it was all some plot against her. Or is that more AFFC Cersei?

    Despite the perception much of the fandom has of Sansa as an idiot, not helped by the show, she does show her awareness. (If anyone is interested there is an excellent essay on this issue which was spawned by one of my asks. http://turtle-paced.tumblr.com/post/155894039887/sansa-smart) Of course she could hardly know what the dress meant at once, she’s not Sherlock and it is annoying when characters make those sorts of Bat-Deductions on little evidence. Also Sansa knows that her claim is wanted, and thinks of how to behave. And while she has become more cynical she still shows that idealism and romantic inclinations, knowing it isn’t always true but trying to come close to it. She doesn’t adopt Cersei’s sneering contempt which the books show is actually massively flawed. In the end some cynicism mixed with some idealism seems the best option, call it a Happy Medium.

    I am interested in seeing Willas, he is being built up as an actual Nice Guy, rather then the amiable but villainous Mace. It’s why he is set to be one of the Rebuilders, someone who moves away from the flaws of the last generation.

    And I agree in how badly Loras was done in the show. I find Book Loras quite unlikable but it really is terrible and hardly good for LGBT-representation how poorly he was done in the show, with it becoming clear the writers really didn’t know how to use him. And if the only son of Mace is not interested in women wouldn’t that rather effect dynastic politics? And remember, those poorly-paced scenes were apparently more important then showing us Whoresbane.

    I can ramble on but I do love engaging in analysis of Ice and Fire, following in the footsteps of the greats. As ever a fine piece of analysis, well-worth the wait, and something which prompts more thoughts and ideas, enabling us to further appreciate one of the finest pieces of literature.

    • Thanks!

      Re: Dontos – agreed that his background doesn’t absolve him; after all, look at how many members of her family Sansa lost and it didn’t stop her from being a compassionate person. As for LF’s role in this…it could be he found out and decided to get revenge, or it could be that he liked the idea of disillusioning Sansa and so let Dontos run his course, or something else.

      Re: the Tyrells. Yes, the food embargo and then giveaway is a great example of how the Tyrells do some pretty awful stuff and get away with it because they are that good at the PR side of politics.

      I could see Cersei trying a poorly-planned assassination attempt; after all, she’s done them before.

      Re: Sansa’s intellgence. I agree that Bat-Deductions/Sherlocking is poor writing in no small part because it relies on presentism.

      • Just realized and annoyed I didn’t see it before, Dontos and Jorah!

        For thousands of the smallfolk it probably would have been better if the Tyrells hadn’t done the starving in the first place so they could place the horrible C̶l̶a̶r̶e̶n̶c̶e̶ Renly on the Iron Throne and plunge the realm into chaos with blatant disregard of succession rules.And let’s not forget they know about the incest before Ned did but support the smallfolk-oppressing Lannisters.

        The Tyrells also engage in the same cronyism as Cersei, Mace trying to stack the Small Council with his men and control all the levers of power, such as the hints we wants Myrcella to marry Willas instead of a Martell. He certainly does have an appetite, as Tyrion thinks, even desiring an image as a great military leader even when he’s not. Though that would make Mace dying from the treachery of a vassal he has wronged suitable. The False Fat Flower is heading for a great fall. After all, the Kingmaker changed sides accordingly to get the most influence and how did things turn out for him?

        I find those Sherlock moves annoying as well. I can accept some suspension of disbelief, and GRRM occasionally does some forced pieces (Theon taking WF), but characters just being able to make deductions on little evidence (such as in the show) is ridiculous. You don’t need to show characters are smart by making them right even on tiny pieces of evidence.

        • Dontos and Jorah – farce and tragedy on the same theme?

          • Yep. Also just to be clear when I said Kingmaker I meant the original Kingmaker, Warwick. I realized that considering Criston Cole that could cause confusion.

        • Murc says:

          For thousands of the smallfolk it probably would have been better if the Tyrells hadn’t done the starving in the first place so they could place the horrible C̶l̶a̶r̶e̶n̶c̶e̶ Renly on the Iron Throne and plunge the realm into chaos with blatant disregard of succession rules.

          This is true, as far it goes, but… hnn.

          Every single great house in Westeros, and that includes the Starks, was founded in whole or in part on war, ruin, and rape, and to a large extent persisted on those lines as well. Just about every single norm, rule, and law in Westeros carries with it the unwritten corollary of “this can be ignored if you spill enough blood, and plenty of people have gotten away with ignoring or violating some closely-held rules and their houses have prospered thereby.”

          The Tyrells are playing the Game of Thrones pretty well. I could wish they were doing so more ethically, but they seem well within the ethical norms of this sort of thing as it is practiced in Westeros, which puts them a step above the Lannisters, who can’t even rise to that level. They seem at about the same ethical level as Tyrion Lannister or Doran Martell, just not at the higher standard established by, say, Eddard Stark.

          (And even Ned Stark’s isn’t all that high if you apply modern conceptions of ethics and morality to it.)

          The Tyrells also engage in the same cronyism as Cersei

          This isn’t true, I don’t think. We’ve yet to see Mace push for disloyal incompetents to occupy high positions within the government.

          Say what you will about the Tyrells, they’re good administrators.

          After all, the Kingmaker changed sides accordingly to get the most influence and how did things turn out for him?

          Pretty well, actually? Criston Cole achieved his purpose: he denied Queen Rhaenyra the chance to rule and in fact caused her to not even be acknowledged as the Queen of Westeros by history.

          I’m sure he’d have preferred to have lived through the war and for Rhaenyra’s line to have died, but he still got a win out of it.

          • Sorry, when I said Kingmaker I meant Warwick.

          • poorquentyn says:

            Mace keeps pushing for Tyrells on the small council, although there’s no way of knowing how competent they’d be.

          • Murc says:

            Mace keeps pushing for Tyrells on the small council, although there’s no way of knowing how competent they’d be.

            Yeah, I could have phrased what I meant better. That’s on me, Quentyn; I write so many words I often get in my own way.

            What I meant was… Cersei’s cronyism seems drive by primarily two purposes. The first is “not perceived as a threat.” The second is “no, fuck YOU.” To the extent she occasionally ends up with competence, it seems to be entirely by accident, and to the extent that she tries to select for loyalty, she seems very bad at that. Gyles Rosby is a clear “no, fuck YOU” pick to both Mace and to a lesser extent her father. Qyburn and Aurane Waters have large “no, fuck YOU” elements to them as well. Cersei likes outsiders because she doesn’t think anyone inside the traditional power structures could possibly be a threat to anyone and that she can control them.

            The Tyrells cronyism does not seems to do that. Like, let’s look at their picks. Paxter Redwyne is widely regarded as an excellent admiral and ruler. Randyll Tarly is thought to be “narrow” by Kevan Lannister but also cunning and perceptive. Garth the Gross has served as his nephews sensechal for years and Tywin Lannister consented to place him as Master of Coin. That might just be politics but it also indicates Tywin, who really wanted to put the thrones finances back into shape without spending on thin groat of Lannister money, found him acceptably competent.

            The Tyrells seem to actually have “can this person do the job?” as a consideration. Even if you regard them uncharitably, from a PR perspective one imagines House Tyrell doesn’t want a reputation as a pack of genteel incompetents. This, to my mind, makes their cronyism much different from Cersei, who thinks “this guy owns fancy, expensive things” qualifies you to be Master of Coin.

            The Tyrells don’t seem to realize you ought to spread the spoils around somewhat, but that’s a common failing. Many of the Kings of Westeros have packed the small council with nothing but their own loyal adherents. Robert certainly did; his small council was his foster father, his siblings, two Targaryen holdovers, a guy promoted by his foster father, and Ser Barristan Selmy. When his foster father died he promoted his best friend. He didn’t even have a Riverlander in there and without Hoster Tully he wouldn’t be sitting the Iron Throne.

    • Murc says:

      Though the fact the Tyrells caused the starvation in the first place still make me see them as villains, who might do things beneficial to the people

      This seems dubious to me. “Starve out your enemies” is a basic tenet of warfare in the sort of context Westeros operates in. If Eddard or Robb Stark had been in the same positions the Tyrell’s were, they also would not have sent food to the city occupied by their enemies. I mean, Edmure Tully, to the extent that he can enforce it, also will not let food from the Riverlands go to King’s Landing. Does this make him a villain as well?

      The Tyrells may be villainous for other reasons, although I don’t think so. If they’re villains, so are House Martell. The Tyrells are just… playing the game. But even if they are villains, this wouldn’t be one of the reasons why.

      • It’s because they don’t really have the welfare of the common people at heart. They don’t try and usurp the throne out of a desire for rightness or good rule, they do it to benefit themselves, different to Northern and RL rejection of Lannister tyranny, or Stannis claiming the throne as he is Robert’s rightful heir as opposed to the Lannisters claiming the throne under false pretenses.

      • Grant says:

        The Tyrells definitely provided the numbers that, if they’re making the argument that starvation is militarily necessary, one can demand an explanation of why they didn’t march on King’s Landing immediately. Let’s remember that Renly had 80,000 or more to use, far more than what the Lannisters could call up. He could have gone straight for their throat by marching on the city.

        Instead we see that Renly spent his time feasting, having tourneys and basically parading around instead of doing a king’s first duty, protecting his people. If Renly’s saying that he’s king of the people of King’s Landing and he has the power to back that up, he should go there and quickly end things rather than continue the starvation.

        His reasons for not doing that are pretty easy to understand. He wanted Stannis dead so there wouldn’t be any more questions about which brother to back and he wanted the Starks and Tullys to weaken the Lannisters (and themselves as well) before he delivered the killing blow. But those are things that are personally best for Renly, not for the realm.

  5. Winnief says:

    Great analysis as always Steve. ITA the show didn’t translate Sansa’s journey well to the screen. Sophie Turner I think has always ‘gotten’ the character much better than the writers.

  6. Andrew says:

    1. Regarding the Tyrells’ quasi-paternal manipulation, this shows with their treatment of Sansa. Margaery is good to her up until the marriage to Tyrion, and she subsequently drops Sansa like a hot potato. Sansa is miserable during that marriage, and she is abandoned by the Tyrell clique when their support is needed most. Add to that, that Margaery likely knew about the hairnet, and Sansa was the fall girl for good measure. On the surface, they seem benevolent just to hide darker motives and actions beneath.

    2. “If I give him sons, he may come to love me.”

    At the end of this chapter, Sansa sees the best path out of her predicament is marriage to a complete stranger. This can be seen as a kind of feminist critique of this society where a woman’s (or rather girl’s) best option is being attached to a man due to the range being severely limited. The hope of love is in her ability to reproduce male heirs.

    3. Given her betrothal experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the series, Sansa takes the route of Elizabeth I or in-universe, Sheira Seastar or Danelle Lothston, and shuns marriage.

    4. The Tyrells also share a trait with the Starks in that they’re a genuine loving family united in their cause compared to the Lannisters’ aim for the title of “Westeros’s #1 Most Dysfunctional Family.”

    • 1. Yeah, that’s a key turn.

      2. Absolutely. It’s the default for a woman of her class.

      3. Could be. We shall have to see.

      4. True. They are much more functional.

    • David Hunt says:

      1. Garland is kind to Sansa at her wedding even though the other Tyrells do nothing for her. It seems like some them can be kind for the sake of being kind…at least when it doesn’t cost them much. I realize how little this says for the family as a whole and your point, in general, stands.

      3. What? Sansa claiming her children were “fathered be wolves?” I’m not seeing that. I think she’d have to go through a good deal of change as a person for that. When you look at her, she’s become more experienced and savvy, but I don’t really think who she is a person has really changed. She wants that respectable,loving marriage, darn it!

      • Sean C. says:

        3. I think he was suggesting she wouldn’t have children either.

      • Andrew Mumford says:

        1. Yeah, Garlan does seem to be the only Tyrell who offers Sansa some consolation on her wedding night. He gets points for that. Add to that his words to Tyrion, and he comes off as the most decent one in the family.

        3. After her hand in marriage being a bargaining chip so many times I think she may shun it. That isn’t to say she doesn’t find love or a long-term relationship, or even shuns having children.

    • 3. I’m not convinced of that. Elizabeth I’s case is really rare, and when we think of her life and what she went through growing up, it wasn’t just that she was sexually harassed and probably abused by Thomas Seymour (very much Littlefinger/Sansa), but she also grew up in the shadow of the fact that her father had executed her mother, as well as annulled their marriage and proclaimed her a bastard. Plus he had 5 other wives and treated most of them horribly as well, executing one and annulling two other marriages as well, and she had a, well, let’s say, ‘strained’ relationship with her elder half-sister as well (to put it mildly). Other marriages she would have been able to observe were the likes of her sister’s to Philip of Spain (later Philip II) and her stepmother Katherine Parr’s to the slimy Thomas Seymour. It’s really not surprising that she would come to have a negative attitude and fear of marriage, in spite of otherwise showing quite a bit of romantic interest in men.

      By contrast, up to her 12th year, Sansa grew up in a happy and close family, with parents who had a good marriage and loved each other.

      • Andrew Mumford says:

        I’m not saying she doesn’t shun love or long-term relationships, but just marriage relating to her parents’ experience, but her personal experience with marriage. She was used as a bargaining chip. and betrothed to different jerks (the fact that Tyrion seems to be nicest one is saying something).

        • Andrew says:

          *I’m not saying she doesn’t shun love or long-term relationships, but just marriage relating to her not parents’ experience, but her personal experience

    • I forgot to mention, speaking of Elizabeth I and Shiera Seastar and their reluctance to marriage… the above mention Shiera Seastar was a daughter of Aegon the Unworthy, obviously inspired by Henry VIII (but even more awful and selfish than Henry was, and about as awful as a husband). In contrast, Sansa was the daughter of Ned and Cat…

      • Crystal says:

        There is that! Sansa grew up with a good example of a happy marriage, and Shiera not only had Aegon the Unworthy as a father, her mother died in childbirth with her; this makes me think that the young Shiera’s childhood was more likely to be lonely and unhappy than otherwise, unless Daeron the Good took over her upbringing which might have been the case.

        And of course, Elizabeth’s childhood was also lonely and unhappy, and her father had her mother *killed* and Elizabeth herself bastardized. Her stepmothers Anne of Cleves and Katherine Parr helped mitigate that and were kind to her, but then later her own sister Mary had her imprisoned…family was not trustworthy in Elizabeth’s world.

        Sansa’s childhood OTOH was secure and happy for the most part. It wouldn’t surprise me if she chose to not marry because of her later experiences, but she does have a more secure foundation than Shiera or Elizabeth.

  7. Steven Xue says:

    You know I’ve always found it a little odd that Mace would petition Tywin to make Loras a Kingsguard instead of using him as the instrument to gain Sansa’s hand. I mean he already knows her pretty well, has for the most part charmed the pants off her, and unlike Willas is in close proximity to and has access to Sansa. If the Tyrells wanted to go the ‘shotgun wedding’ route with Sansa to prevent the Lannisters from interfering with their plans with her, then wouldn’t it have made more sense to put Loras up to the task instead of Willas who is still chilling down in Highgarden by the time of the Purple Wedding?

    • Murc says:

      A variety of reasons.

      First of all, Loras probably asked for the position. Joining a knightly order that commits their entire lives to another person and is celibate and never marries probably has a great deal of appeal to Loras, who is rather dramatically in full grief mode over Renly.

      Now, I don’t mean to denigrate the genuine grief Loras no doubt feels over the passing of his lover. But Loras is seventeen. He’s a high school junior in the real world. Much like Jaime Lannister before him, he’s going to go into full adolescent drama mode. (“When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.”) He’s probably thinking “I shall never know love again, my only solace from now until death is duty and honor, I shall join the Kingsguard and live a noble life of service protecting my sister.”

      Second of all, Margaery probably asked for Loras to get in as well, because she loves Loras and can rely on him and Loras wants it, and having her brother by her side as an ally and protector while she is Queen probably appeals to her.

      Now, all of that might not matter except that the Tyrells had likely already planned to plant a rose in the Kingsguard, for reasons that ought to be obvious. It doesn’t have to be Loras. But Garlan is married already, and walking away from that would cause complications. Willas is obviously unsuitable. Maybe some cousins? Hobber Redwyne is available and Paxter would no doubt love the honor, but Hobber isn’t what you’d call a superb knight and might not suit their purposes.

      But Loras is already well on his way to establishing himself as a second Leo Longthorn, skilled with lance and sword and horse, and he wants the position. So he’s a good choice.

      There’s also the fact that Loras isn’t the heir to Highgarden. Willas is. If the Tyrells hit the jackpot and Robb dies without issue, that means they have a very good chance of uniting the North with the Reach. That would be a big deal. It squeezes the Westerlands, the Iron Islands, and the Riverlands between them and would grant them enormous political power and prestige.

      Loras has some advantages as you note, in that he’s present and available for instant marriage. But I would argue with you that he knows her pretty well, or that he’s at all aware he’s charmed the pants off her. Loras has interacted with Sansa a bare handful of times, some of which he straight-up has forgotten about. He probably was only vaguely aware of her as “Eddard Stark’s daughter; should notice her a bit, she’s the daughter of the Hand.” That’s hardly knowing someone well.

      • Also I’d add that Loras, as a third son, doesn’t have a guaranteed position. Yes, he might end up as a landed knight or an officer under his brother, but nothing as prestigious as being a member of the Kingsguard.

        Moreover, since Willas is the heir, he needs to get married and start producing heirs, so there’s a motive to get him a wife that doesn’t exist with Loras.

        • Murc says:

          Moreover, since Willas is the heir, he needs to get married and start producing heirs,

          Willas seems oddly old to be unattached for an heir. He’s got to be pushing thirty. Him and Edmure not even being betrothed to anyone always struck me as a bit odd; either they or their fathers must be very picky.

          Sidebar: man, Lords Paramount of the Seven Kingdoms have a LOT of eligible, marriageable-age heirs at the start of the books, don’t they? Robb Stark, Theon Greyjoy, Willas Tyrell, Arianne Martell, Tyrion Lannister… I think every single great house except for House Arryn has its heir or its lord (Renly) both of an age to marry, and that heir is completely unattached.

          • zonaria says:

            I’d wondered that about Willas as well. Was he being saved for Daenerys Targaryen?

          • Well, both Hoster Tully and the Tyrells are highly ambitious and aim very high with their children’s marriages. Hoster would not accept anything but a Lord Paramount or an heir to a LP for either of his daughters. Mace is determined for Margaery to be the Queen. That pickiness probably extends to their heirs as well. And there weren’t that many eligible bachelorettes of the marrying age among the highest of the noble houses in Westeros at the beginning of the series. There was Arianne and Asha, but both of them had specific situations (Doran ‘saving’ Arianne for Viserys; Asha not wanting to marry, and Balon letting her be a captain and warrior instead). Margaery was just 14, a bit young for Edmure – and her father was aiming higher than another Lord Paramount. Sansa and Arya were very young (and also not an option for Edmure, obviously). Myrcella – also very young. Shireen – ditto. Maybe the Hightowers with their many daughters could be a good choice.

            As for the other heirs, other than Edmure and Willas (see above), the others are pretty obvious:
            Robb – was just 14, and not likely to become the Lord of Winterfell any time soon as his father was 35 and in good health; no reason for Ned and Cat to hurry with picking his bride.
            Theon – really specific situation, kind of obvious why Balon would not be picking brides for him. Plus, he didn’t even really consider him his heir – he thought of Asha as one.
            However, he wasn’t pressing Asha into marriage either – but Balon does not think the same way as greenlanders, in terms of peace and good marriage alliances.
            Arianne – see above
            Tyrion – also a very specific situation; the most prestigious families (Arryns, Martells, Royces) did not want him, and Tywin was way too proud to consider marrying his son – even one he hated – to a minor lordling’s daughter (and in Tywin’s eyes, anything below the most powerful and renowned of the houses may be minor)

          • Murc says:

            Hoster would not accept anything but a Lord Paramount or an heir to a LP for either of his daughters.

            Hoster was definitely angling to get Arianne Martell for Edmure; he went so far as to invite her to Riverrun in what was clearly an attempt at matchmaking, and she actually ran away from home to try and take him up on that offer.

            As for the other heirs, other than Edmure and Willas (see above), the others are pretty obvious:

            To be clear: with the possible exceptions of Willas and Edmure, I’m not arguing that there’s anything odd about this from an in-universe perspective at all. It just struck me as interesting that there were all these unattached heirs to great houses running around, of an age to marry, at the same time.

            Theon – really specific situation, kind of obvious why Balon would not be picking brides for him.

            My understanding is that Eddard could have picked a bride for Theon if he’d wanted to and this would be regarded as legitimate. If Eddard were more of a power player and cared less about his kids opinions, he’d have betrothed Sansa or Arya to Theon ages ago with the proviso that they wed when the girl half of the equation comes of age.

            and Tywin was way too proud to consider marrying his son – even one he hated – to a minor lordling’s daughter (and in Tywin’s eyes, anything below the most powerful and renowned of the houses may be minor)

            This isn’t actually true. Tywin tried to marry Tyrion off a whole bunch of times, working his way progressively further down the ranks of the nobility; everyone said no. He even tried to marry Tyrion to Delena Florent, Edric Storms mother. Her father refused the match! He decided to wed his despoiled daughter to one of his household knights rather than the heir apparent of Casterly Rock!

          • “Hoster was definitely angling to get Arianne Martell for Edmure; he went so far as to invite her to Riverrun in what was clearly an attempt at matchmaking, and she actually ran away from home to try and take him up on that offer.”

            Exactly! Hoster wanted the future Princess of Dorne as Edmure’s bride. That’s definitely shooting high! (I’m not sure how he imagined their married life would be like, though. Did he think she would give up ruling Dorne?)

            ” If Eddard were more of a power player and cared less about his kids opinions, he’d have betrothed Sansa or Arya to Theon ages ago with the proviso that they wed when the girl half of the equation comes of age.”

            Why would Ned want to marry one of his daughters to Theon? What would he stand to gain by that?

            “This isn’t actually true. Tywin tried to marry Tyrion off a whole bunch of times, working his way progressively further down the ranks of the nobility; everyone said no. He even tried to marry Tyrion to Delena Florent, Edric Storms mother. Her father refused the match! He decided to wed his despoiled daughter to one of his household knights rather than the heir apparent of Casterly Rock!”

            *Everyone* said so? By “everyone”, you mean, Tywin?

            We know that Tywin offered Tyrion to the Martells, as a consolation prize, and to the Tullys, also as a consolation prize; to the Royces, and to the Florents – the latter because he apparently thought a disgraced Florent daughter would marry Tyrion. We don’t know about any other “bunch of times”. They may have been other offers, of course. But the Florents are not minor lordlings, so I don’t see how that is supposed to prove me wrong? There is no evidence that Tywin even offered Tyrion to one of Walder Frey’s hundreds of female offspring, and I’m pretty sure Walder would not have aid no’, if Tywin were ever to do so. And he certainly did not offer Tyrion to any minor houses or landed knights’ daughters or the like (rich merchants etc.). Because, no matter how ableist the majority of Westeros is, they are also very classist, and Tywin most certainly is. He would not go under a certain level of nobility. The only time he suggests it when he is threatening Tyrion with a hypothetical marriage to a hypothetical lordling’s daughter somewhere, or to Lollys Stockworth, to make him accept marriage to Sansa.

          • Crystal says:

            @Murc: re Theon’s marriage, Ned could also have married him to an eligible Northern girl other than his daughters – Alys Karstark, one of the Manderly girls, even Dacey Mormont (THAT would have been funny!).

          • Crystal says:

            Re Edmure: I surmise that if Hoster were not seriously ill by the time the story opens, he’d have found Edmure a bride, if not from a Great House then from one of the powerful lesser houses like Hightower or Royce – a Royce or other Vale bride would be useful in an alliance with the Vale. But Hoster is too ill and Edmure too self-absorbed and hedonistic, so he reaches his mid-twenties (my guess) still unmarried.

          • Sean C. says:

            My understanding is that Eddard could have picked a bride for Theon if he’d wanted to and this would be regarded as legitimate. If Eddard were more of a power player and cared less about his kids opinions, he’d have betrothed Sansa or Arya to Theon ages ago with the proviso that they wed when the girl half of the equation comes of age.

            I think it would have been a violation of the customs around taking hostages to force Theon to marry somebody.

            Beyond which, no way would Ned have ever done that; it doesn’t make any political or strategic sense to give the Ironborn a freebie hostage that they can use against you at any point.

            And Theon would realistically already have problems establishing himself as Lord of the Iron Islands when he returned after so many years on the mainland. Being able to marry a local girl would be important to building support for his rule.

        • Crystal says:

          IIRC Petyr told Sansa that it was hard to find a living for third sons. Marriage was one option (see how quick the Freys were to marry spare sons off to the Manderly heiresses, Mariya Darry, etc.), holding a keep for his older brother was another (Ned’s plans for Bran), being a tourney knight was another, the Citadel or a septry was yet another, the Kingsguard was more prestigious than any of them, and it would be a coup for Loras and his family, with the bonus that he wouldn’t have to sleep with a wife.

      • David Hunt says:

        ITA with this. I’d add that Loras may have been left off because his sexual orientation is known to his entire immediate family (Parents, siblings, Olenna). My impression of Loras is that he doesn’t remotely swing both ways and would find marriage a trial at best. The family might not want to put him through that when Willis is such an obvious choice. Finally, the Tyrells might be worried about the prospect of Loras producing an heir. If Loras couldn’t bring himself to try to produce said heir more than a few time a year (or less), there might be no children and that means no Tyrell sitting in the high seat at Winterfell.

      • Hedrigal says:

        In all likelihood a permanent personal Union between the Reach and North is probably impossible anyway just logistically. In all likelihood it would end up going to a younger son anyway, so why not just have Loras’ line in charge?

        • Murc says:

          You’d be surprised, Hedrigal. The Spanish Habsburgs ruled both Spain and an enormous slice of the Netherlands, with France in-between them, for something like a hundred and twenty years. That may not be “permanent” but it is a good long run. That wasn’t any more logistically difficult than the political union of the Lord Paramount of the North and Lord Paramount of the Reach in a single person would be, I don’t think.

          • fjallstrom says:

            But Westeros doesn’t seem to work that way, or at least I can’t remember any examples of it.

            Rather, I would expect the first son of Willas and Sansa to be the Tyrell and heir to the Reach, while the second is sent to be fostered in the North, probably with the Manderlys, and eventually rule the North as the Stark in Winterfell.

    • Sean C. says:

      That’s just it, the Tyrells don’t want the “shotgun wedding” route.

      They’re waiting to see if Sansa needs to take the fall at the wedding. There’s no point in doing anything publically before that (and, indeed, in a sense you could argue it’s actually pointless to even tell her about their plans to marry her to Willas, since it’s not like she has a say in the matter and could be reasonably expected to want to do anything to get out of the Lannisters’ hands).

      As far as the Tyrells know, there’s no rush for Sansa’s hand. And indeed, this is a bit unusual when you think about it, because from all appearances, Sansa would have been single at the time of the Red Wedding if not for the Tyrells’ connivance being exposed and Tywin needing to beat them to the punch. I’ve thought this was a little strange, because Sansa’s value increases enormously once Robb is dead (she goes from a theoretical heir to the actual inheritor) and thus the risk of one of Tywin’s allies formally asking for her as part of the alliance escalates as well.

      • Murc says:

        The fact that the Tyrells are willing to dangle Willas in front on Sansa at all suggests that they don’t consider the possibility she’ll need to take any sort of fall to be very strong. The only reason anyone at all takes a fall is because Cersei freaks the fuck out, and frankly if Cersei had pointed at literally anyone in the room but Tyrion (and that includes Sansa) she’d not have been taken seriously. Cersei could literally have pointed right at Olenna and instead of arresting her, the guards would have looked at Tywin, and Tywin would have shaken his head and had Cersei escorted to her rooms to “calm herself.”

        And honestly, it only worked in regards to Tyrion, I think, because of pure coincidence. Joffrey had been personally physically abusing Tyrion that evening and Tyrion literally had his hands on Joffrey’s comestibles. And then Joffrey falls over dead. The Tyrells could not have known or planned for that in any way. There was a good chance Joffrey falls over dead on the dais without Tyrion having come within fifty feet of him all night.

        There’s also the fact that we still don’t know just how far the Tyrell assassination reaches. Steven is re-thinking his opinion on what Margaery knew and when she knew it, but… the conspiracy could still be as narrow as “Olenna Tyrell and Littlefinger” and as wide as “Olenna, Mace, Alerie, Margaery, Garlan, and Loras.” If only Olenna is in on it, the other Tyrells have no reason to not tell Sansa anything because they don’t know what’s coming.

        Plus the fact that the Tyrells are maybe still figuring things out. Their arrival in King’s Landing is still rather fresh and they’re figuring out the lay of the land. Until just now they have not had the chance to observe Joffrey firsthand. Like, how bad is he? Is he just young, vain, and sort of mean? Well, lots of fourteen-year-olds are young, vain, and sort of mean. He’ll maybe grow out of it or can learn to control himself.

        Or maybe he really is a particularly virulent kind of monster and steps will need to be taken. And if so, what should those steps be?

        The Tyrells probably did not get to King’s Landing with the Purple Wedding already good to go, is what I’m saying. They’d have wanted to see Joff for themselves.

        And finally… the Tyrells aren’t, you know, completely amoral and calculating. It might just be that they want Sansa to like them and cleave to them, and they’re genuinely sympathetic at her circumstances despite their complete willingness to exploit them, so they decide “let’s be friends with the girl we want to be part of our family and enlist her willing cooperation. It can’t do any harm and will make her happy.”

        • David Hunt says:

          I’ve got a few points there that I disagree with.

          Magaeray pretty much has to be in on the assassination. She and Joffrey are drinking from the same cup and a mistake at the wrong time could kill her. She’s got to know there’s something going in that cup and what to watch for to avoid her dying instead of Joff. I have a hard time working out how be sure she’ll be breathing at the end of the night if she doesn’t know about the poison and who (I presume Olenna) is putting it in, In short, she’s in it up to her eyeballs.

          I also don’t think that Olenna is going to poison the King if Mace hasn’t give her the okay. She’s a mover and shaker in Tyrell family,but Mace still has the authority, or they’d have never backed Renly to begin with.

          I also think that the decision had mostly been made before they arrived. The poisoned hairnet had already been acquired and given to Sansa right after they got there and unless all the stones were poison, Olenna knew exactly where to get the right one. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tyrell’s made the thing and gave it to LF pass on to Sansa via Dontos. Signs point to the basic plan being set up when LF met the family and arranged the alliance. Olenna and Margaery were tasked with bracing Sansa to get first hand confirmation on Joffrey’s personality and if they thought they he was manageable, they might have aborted the attempt and arranged for LF and Dontos conveniently die and take any damning evidence with them to their graves…or they might have killed him anyway on the theory that Tomman was more pliable.

          • Crystal says:

            I wonder what would have happened if Sansa *hadn’t* taken a deep breath and told the truth about Joffrey – “he’s a monster!” – when she, Marg, Olenna et al were having their little lunch meeting. Because she saw pretty quickly what would happen with Loras on the Kingsguard and Joffrey married to Margaery (and Sansa saw the implications where Tyrion The Smart did not!), and I am sure that Olenna, at least, saw the exact same thing, Kingslayer Mark II.

            Would Olenna have taken the same steps to get rid of Joffrey and marry Margaery to compliant Tommen? Or would she have been unable to stop them, and Joffrey married Margaery, eventually abused her in front of Loras, and all hell breaks loose?

          • David Hunt says:

            @ Crystal. What would have happened would probably depend on how good a lie Sansa managed to tell. If she kept praising Joffrey, but they could tell she was lying out of fear, the plot might have gone through pretty much as planned.

          • Nothing would have changed. It’s not like they needed Sansa’s word on whether Joffrey was a monster. Everybody knew about Joffrey’s actions and nature. He did all his awful acts very publicly.

            This is what’s funny about Littlefinger bragging about how he was oh so smart to bring in people talking about Joffrey’s monstruosity. It’s not like he needed to make an effort. It was really easy to find that out as soon as they stepped into King’s Landing, at the very least.

        • The Tyrells were likely expecting Joffrey’s death to be passed as a case of him having choked on a piece of pie (like Eustace of Boulogne, King Stephen’s son, who suddenly choked and died during dinner in suspicious circumstances – there were suspicions he was poisoned – which was apparently one of GRRM’s inspirations). Sansa (or Sansa and Tyrion) potentially taking the fall was just a backup option, at least as far as they were concerned (but it was no doubt the preferred option for Littlefinger).

          • zonaria says:

            It’s a while since I read the relevant chapters, but do we actually have any evidence, other than Littlefinger’s words to Sansa, that the Tyrells had anything to do with Joffrey’s death?

          • fjallstrom says:

            @zonaria,
            if one accepts the hairnet as the murder weapon, then I think we do have a mention of Olenna fussing with it. And I don’t think we have any other mention of anyone touching the hairnet. Plus the setup in how Olenna and Marg question Sansa.

            That is about it, I think. But as GRRM murders go, I think it’s pretty solid.

          • @zonaria: Apart from Olenna fiddling with the murder weapon, we also have logic. Do you really think that the Tyrells were expecting that everything would work out with Joffrey, Margaery and Loras, and were so dim not to realize the disaster in the making, and didn’t do anything to stop it? And that things just happened to align nicely for them, with Joffrey dead and Margaery able to marry the pliant little Tommen instead? I guess they should then be thanking Littlefinger, their guardian angel, if he killed Joffrey on his own, and delivered such a huge gift to the Tyrells, who have had most benefit from Joffrey’s death, without any evidence or obvious way to link them to the murder (since the murder weapon and the now dead person who provided it were never linked to them).

          • zonaria says:

            >> Do you really think that the Tyrells were expecting that everything would work out with Joffrey, Margaery and Loras, and were so dim not to realize the disaster in the making, and didn’t do anything to stop it?

            Well, yes. Tywin Lannister does exactly this, when he gets Cersei married to Robert. Mace is *the* social climber of the books – the royal marriage will matter far more than the happiness of his own daughter in the matter. Historical examples are not too hard to come by…

            Given that, the family doesn’t really have much of a motive. It always struck me as an implausible one anyway – the readers have seen what Joffrey is, but the Tyrells have not.

          • Mace may not care, but Olenna certainly does, and Margaery does. If 12 year old Sansa could see that the situation was heading to a disaster if Margaery becomes Joffrey’s wife while Loras is in the Kingsguard, surely Olenna had figured that out, too.

            How is it unconvincing that they knew how awful Joffrey was? It would be incredibly unconvincing if they did not. It’s not like that’s a secret. You don’t even need spies to find that out. Joffrey did his awful actions in public, in full view of the court and others. Everybody would know that he had Sansa stripped in public and regularly beaten by his Kingsguard, not to mention that he loved doing things like randomly shooting people with his crossbows.

    • Grant says:

      Remember that Baelish made sure to have his people talk a heck of a lot to the Tyrell people about the instability and violence in KL and what kind of a guy Joffrey was while Baelish was loudly talking about how wonderful the marriage would be. And paid bards to sing lots of songs about members of the Kingsguard. Lay enough breadcrumbs and eventually even a bird like Mace will be able to follow the trail.

  8. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Amazing as always, Steven.
    (Faits accompli work both ways): I don’t understand this phrase. At least not in this context.

    • Tywin gets his way b/c he gets Sansa married off before the Tyrells can object. The Tyrells could have done the same.

      • Tywin of the Hill says:

        OK.

      • Jim B says:

        Does Tywin take an unnecessary risk by keeping Sansa in King’s Landing? I assume that the idea was not to marry her off to Tyrion until he’s sure the Red Wedding has come off, but why not ship her off to Casterly Rock where she is safe from Tyrell influence and plots? Although I guess it’s too risky to transport her across the Riverlands, and risky in a different way to move her through the Reach.

        • Grant says:

          All they had to do was get her married to Tyrion and then she’s, so far as the Lannisters know, completely unavailable for Tyrell plans. The Lannisters can be pretty sure that she’s not going to be getting married to Willas until at least well after the wedding, which gives them time.

  9. Thrasherlisk says:

    Something I have to wonder about is the long run implications of the Tyrells’ scheme (ignoring, of course, the events of the series that are going to render much of this politicking pointless).

    Firstly, presumably the other great houses are going to be less than thrilled at the idea that one family will control half the military strength and two-thirds of the territory of the Seven Kingdoms. A second concern is how effectively a notional Brandon Tyrell will be able to assert control over the North if he is raised in the Reach. He’s liable to lack the personal authority that the Starks have traditionally wielded.

  10. Brett says:

    Second, it should also be acknowledged that Sansa’s political instincts are showing signs of matury, as she makes some rather canny reads on Joffrey’s inability to restrain his sadistic impulses, the likelihood of a violent response from Loras, and the political fallout that would result.

    I was really impressed by that on the second read, since she seems to be the only non-Tyrell who picked up on that. Certainly Tyrion doesn’t realize there’s something dangerous about having Loras in the Kingsguard while his sister is married to Joffrey, although in all fairness he spends a lot of A Storm of Swords in self-absorbed work.

    • Brett says:

      Non-Tyrells aside from Littlefinger, I mean.

    • Hedrigal says:

      Jaime figures it out almost immediately.

      • Jim B says:

        True, but then Jaime is particularly attuned to such realities. Not only does he have first-hand experience of what it’s like to be a Kingsguard whose sister is being mistreated by the King he’s sworn to protect, but even before that, he has the experience of having to ignore Aerys abusing his wife.

  11. S. Duff says:

    I will admit, I was always hoping for Sansa to end up with Willas and I was just as crushed as Sansa when the plot was foiled.

  12. Hedrigal says:

    I first “read” ASOS by listening to it on audiobook, the way Roy Dotrice voices him is so gross it honestly made him one of the creepiest characters in the books.

  13. Bail o' Lies says:

    I think it important to remember in the books Olenna is educating Margery, and has been doing so for years. She left after the wedding means she must have considered her work complete because why would someone as intelligent as her have left a student on their own when they were only half done with their lessons?

    Olenna had three goals when she went to king’s landing check to see if what Baelish was saying about Joffery was true, if true plot to kill him and marry her granddaughter to Tommen, and if possible get Sansa so her family can gain the north as well as high prestige for their main line.

    If Sansa didn’t marry Tyrion. Olenna would have wait till an appropriate time after the wedding of Tommen and Margery to announce that she was leaving for highgarden and request her granddaughter and her new husband accompany her; since she is old and may never see her granddaughter again. Margery would have already requested to Tommen that Sansa become one of her Ladies-in-Waiting. Then they would bring ‘er to Highgarden then they announced that Sansa fell in love with Willas at first sight. Request King Tommen to approve the marriage or say their love was so strong they quickly eloped. Then Olenna would spend the rest of her days training Sansa to be a pliant obedient wife to Willas that pops out as many Tyrells -now with the blood of Westeros’ most ancient and respected bloodline- as she desired.

    Margery may not know every detail about their plots but she knew enough to play both Joffery’s betroth while plotting his death, and Tommen’s lovely wife while trying to softly usurper power from Cersei. She liked Sansa and felt pity towards the suffering she went through, but once she married Tyrion she was too much of a liability and had to be sacrificed. Regrettably.

    As for the show. D&D wanted to show how great the Reach was when it was so pro-gay and was ruled by women. That they made Margery originally a competent scheming seductress that was better then Cersei or Sansa in every way, which means she should have been involved if not leading the plot to kill Joffery. But that would mean that she was also involve in the framing of the shows most beloved character Saint Tyrion. Which would make her a bad guy to the audience. So instead it now had to be solely Olenna’s doing with both Loras and Margery completely unaware of their Grandmother’s actions, and suffered immense guilt while watching the trial.

  14. Sean C. says:

    If you want a great example of how presentism informs how many people read Sansa’s story, compare reactions to the whole Dontos escape plan in the books to the old lady/Brienne/candle nonsense in Season 5. These plots are actually really, really similar — Sansa’s a prisoner somewhere, a mysterious person of the servile class appears on behalf of an unknown third party with an escape plan, she tries to go through with it — but critics of the book character routinely deny her any credit for the book escape because it was all Littlefinger’s plan and he was manipulating her, whereas her escape from Winterfell is often held up by the same people as the show improving the character by making her more active. But in fact, as noted, the two plots are pretty much the same on the specifics (indeed, the Season 5 plot requires less of her, really). The biggest difference is that the man behind the man in the book is Littlefinger, whereas in the show it’s Brienne, and one is malevolent while the other is benevolent. But Sansa has no way of knowing this, in either circumstance, so it has no relevance to her own actions.

    Anyway, in this chapter, Sansa’s thoughts on the potential problems of the Joffrey/Margaery marriage and how it seems destined to end in violence are quite telling, in that nobody on the Lannister side ever seems to make this deduction. It’s a very good insight, though one that she can’t really follow to the truth because that’s a huge leap, and also she doesn’t really trust her own judgement at this point (she just assumes that Margaery and co. must know what they’re doing, which it turns out they do, though not in the way she thinks). I will say, while I think most of the problems with Sansa’s reception by portions of the audience are gender-related, I do think GRRM could have given her a bit more in the way of clear moments that show her potential in the early books. This moment is one you’d only fully understand on reread, and by that point many people aren’t paying much attention to these chapters.

    • There is a difference between the two: in ACOK, Sansa took a knife with her and carried it to the godswood to meet Dontos, just in case. In season 5, I believe Sansa had some… thingy that she used to pick up a lock on her room, but then dropped it before she ran into Myranda. Because why would you keep an object that you may use as a weapon if you just happen to run into someone while trying to escape the castle currently ruled and guarded by your enemies?

      • fjallstrom says:

        There’s that, and there is also how impractical the candle in the window plan is in contrast to Littlefinger’s plan. Couldn’t Brienne find anyone in the Wintertown that had legitimate reasons to go between the castle and the town?

        It says something about the writing of the show when they re-use an old plot and still manages to make it full of plot holes.

  15. Regarding Sansa’s relationship with Arya – it’s quite telling that, while Sansa is thinking that Arya was an “unsatisfactory” sister, she is still dreaming of having a daughter who will look like Arya. One of Margaery’s cousins also reminds her of Arya (“though not so fierce”).
    Arya in her POV chapters has similar mixed thoughts where she occasionally thinks something unfavourable but then still clearly misses Sansa. (Like when she thinks she misses her family members, listing them all, and in the end “even Sansa”.)

    It’s also notable that Sansa, in her dream, is giving her sons the names of the dead members of her family – or dead as far as she knows (she thinks that Bran and Rickon are dead, in addition to her father, but doesn’t name anyone after Robb and doesn’t think of having a daughter named Catelyn – because they are still alive at this point), so her thinking of having a daughter like Arya seems to suggest she’s now accepted the idea that Arya is probably dead, unlike in ACOK where she was still telling herself that Arya may have returned to Winterfell (though, since Winterhell has since been overtaken and burnt and Sansa has heard about it, that hope would have evaporated anyway).

    On another note, I remember my reaction when I first read this chapter and got to the part where Sansa thinks about the Hound kissing her – I went “Wait, WHAT?? That never happened!”, put the book down and took my copy of ACOK from the shelf, and re-read the Blackwater scene just to be sure I remembered it right. Then I thought “hm, interesting” and googled something like “Sansa thinking the Hound kiss her”, and saw a bunch of results with the word “UnKiss”.

  16. scarlett45 says:

    Thank you for another awesome analysis. Being a “fashion whore” I picked up on the suspicions regarding the dress during my first read of SOS. For highborn women fashion was the grand display of wealth, patronage and social influence. What you wore MATTERED. Also being a pubescent girl once upon a time, I recalled how uncomfortable it was to grow so fast and have nothing fit you! Given Sansa’s age, I think the lack of a 5year age up presents the story better. During those years between 10-16 young people can look much older or younger than they actually are. It’s a sad fact that if you’re 12 but look 16 you’re treated far differently than a 12yrs old that looks 10. Girls cannot help when they go through puberty but it’s has an effect on your psyche if you’re at the beginning or the end of the curve.

    I think GRRM did a good job conveying all that.

  17. thatrabidpotato says:

    Even before reading the review I want to note how I’ve always loved the details put into the dress- it’s like the South’s interpretation of House Stark. Like what the relationship between the Starks and Lannisters SHOULD have been had the Lannisters not been scumbags.

    Comments on the actual essay to follow.

  18. thatrabidpotato says:

    First off, I love the Tyrells and think many of y’all in here are being way too critical of them. As far as I can see, they are indisputably the #2 Nicest Family In Westeros. Too much focus here is being placed on their motivations for their good deeds- were they just caring about PR when they fed the smallfolk? Were they trying to butter up Sansa and help her ease into her new role to make their lives easier?
    I think the answers are yes, and yes, for the most part. That still doesn’t change the fact that the Tyrells as a general rule seem to default to the nicest way of getting what they want. They could not particularly care about relieving the famine in the city- which seems to be taken for granted that they should’ve kept sending food to a hostile city. They could just maneuver and throw Sansa unceremoniously in Willas’s bed without giving a damn what she thought about it. Steven himself put it best in previous essays where the Tyrells came up- they get ahead by doing good.
    As far as how they treat Sansa after her marriage to Tyrion- I’m not really getting what they were supposed to have done, come up to her and publicly tell her that they really pity her and being married to any Lannister, but particularly this one, sucks donkey balls? I get the feeling that it also would’ve been impolitic to continue to invite her to girl parties- Sansa thinks in the immediate run up to the Purple Wedding “they have made me a Lannister now”. The Lannisters have officially pulled her into their camp and she’s one of them officially, whereas before she’d been something of a third party.
    Also, for what it’s worth, Margaery doesn’t completely ignore Sansa at her wedding to Tyrion, she gives her “the saddest look”. Olenna does ignore her, but then she’s a scheming bitch.

    • Grant says:

      They could have easily put pressure on Renly to stop messing around and march on King’s Landing NOW if they had any concerns about the people of Westeros, their own countrymen, being killed by their embargo. They went along with Renly’s excursions and in fact might have encouraged them, considering how they go along with typical Tyrell imagery.

      And this says that they’re just fine, and then ends by saying that Olenna is a horrible person.

      • Murc says:

        To be fair, if you’re applying modern standards of just war and morality in general to Westeros, then nearly everyone is a monster.

        The Tyrells embargo of King’s Landing seems well within standards of accepted behavior in Westeros rather than some sort of egregious crime. That doesn’t necessarily make it right (Westeros also regards a lot of rape as accepted behavior rather than an egregious crime, for example) but in the context of everyone else in the setting it doesn’t make them stand out.

        • Keith B says:

          Plenty of monsters on modern day planet Earth, many of whom are absolutely convinced they’re the good guys. Don’t mean to cast any aspersions, of course.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        I still like the Tyrells as a whole, even if Olenna is something of a jerk. Even as jerks go, she’s less of one than many of her counterparts in KL.
        They could’ve put pressure on Renly, true. But now you’re arguing that not putting humanitarian measures before everything else in a time of war is bad. Renly’s plan of slow rolling stood to save the lives of the maximum amount of their own men, the people who they were most directly responsible for. KL was an enemy city at the time. One does not supply food to an enemy city, particularly a city one may need to siege and starve out(!). When KL stopped being an enemy city, they lifted the embargo and sent food back in.

        • Grant says:

          Renly and the Tyrells said that Renly was king, that means that Renly’s responsible for protecting anyone he says he is sovereign of. He clearly has the military power to knock the Lannisters out of the war and end the circumstances that are getting people starved by his supporters, but deliberately chooses to not do so.

          Stannis didn’t have the men for most of the early war, Robb brought all the forces he could to bear to protect his new kingdom. Renly might not be as bad as Tywin in his strategy, but he and the Tyrells had the power to minimize the damage they inflicted on the people in KL and made a very deliberate choice not to.

      • Hedrigal says:

        They’re also almost certainly the people pushing him to go slowly given how thoroughly that is Mace Tyrells style.

  19. Keith B says:

    The theory that Sansa’s dress was intended from the beginning for her marriage to Tyrion has a problem with the timeline.

    In the next Tyrion chapter, Kevan reports that “only yesterday” Littlefinger brought word of the plot to marry her to Willas. This was clearly news to Cersei, since she was outraged. Tywin then informs Cersei and Tyrion that he intends to marry them to Willas and Sansa.

    It makes sense that Tywin would act immediately as soon as he heard the news. The Tyrells might have made a formal request at any time or they could have other plots concerning Sansa.

    So Cersei could not have ordered the dress made with the intention that Sansa wear it at her own wedding, because she didn’t know about it at the time. It must have been made for Joffrey’s wedding.

    • Murc says:

      Dang, Keith, that is some excellent sleuthing.

    • Grant says:

      Since Cersei wouldn’t have a reason to do Sansa any favors, I think it’d make more sense if the two chapters were slightly out of chronological order.

      • Hedrigal says:

        That would be really difficult given how one is explicitly named as happening after the events of Sansas chapter.

        • Laural Hill says:

          I don’t think that’s right, most of the events in this Sansa chapter are clearly flashbacks, with only the dressmaking happening in the “present”, so it’s entirely possible that Dontos tells Littlefinger who tells Tywin, then the plans are not, then the dress is made.

          Look at how the seamstress says that clothing and “all else befitting a… A lovely young lady” : pretty sure that she almost said “bride” there.

  20. apolotresse says:

    I have now reread all the ASOIAF chapters along with each of the CBC analyses in both RFTIT Vols. I and II and the ones available on here. I look forward for more CBC analyses so that I can continue with my rereading. Thanks! These analyses are very enjoyable and I wouldn’t mind if they become longer. I really like the historical parallels.

  21. […] III is a bit of an odd chapter, in that not much actually happens plot-wise (another parallel with Sansa!) but there’s some crucial thematic work going on that’s worthy of analysis. The reason […]

  22. […] truly unites everyone in the room (although even here there is hidden division, given the case of Sansa’s hand in marriage), is dividing up the spoils of […]

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