Sansa takes breakfast with Lady and Septa Mordane in an inn then goes off with Lady to look for Arya. She finds Arya brushing Nymeria and tells her to wear something nice, as they are riding with Queen Cersei and Princess Myrcella today. Arya would rather explore the area with Mycah, a butcher’s boy of thirteen. They have been going off every day of the journey to look at various things and explore. The party has recently emerged from the marshes of the Neck, which took twelve days to traverse. Arya runs off, and Sansa returns to the inn.
When Sansa arrives, she sees Barristan Selmy and Renly Baratheon kneeling before the queen. They have been sent from King’s Landing as part of an escort of honor. Off to one side is Ser Ilyn Payne, the King’s executioner. Ser Ilyn frightens her, and she steps back into Sandor, who mocks her. Joffrey goes to her then and makes everything better. Sansa is introduced to Barristan and Renly and tries to apologize to Ser Ilyn, who just walks away. Ser Barristan explains that Aerys II had his tongue ripped out with hot pincers.1 Cersei has to talk to the new arrivals, so she has Joffrey take Sansa riding. Sansa is elated at the thought of a whole day with Joffrey and equates his rescue from Ser Ilyn and Sandor with Serwyn of the Mirror Shield’s rescue of Princess Daeryssa from giants and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight’s championing of Queen Naerys against the slanders of Ser Morgil. Joffrey suggests leaving Sandor and Lady behind. Sansa wonders if that is safe, and Joffrey reassures her by showing her his sword, Lion’s Tooth. They head off on their ride.
Sansa and Joffrey explore caves and track a shadowcat to its lair. When they get hungry, they stop at a nearby holdfast. After lunch, where Joffrey drinks too much wine, they come across Arya and Mycah playing at being knights. Drunk, Joffrey threatens Mycah and prepares to hurt him, so Arya lunges at him and hits him in the back of the head. Joffrey whirls in a rage, speaking obscenities, and attacks Arya. Nymeria attacks Joffrey and tears at his sword arm. Arya calls off Nymeria and then throws Lion’s Tooth into the river and leaves. Sansa tries to comfort Joffrey, who looks at her with loathing and tells her not to touch him. Sansa goes to get help.
This chapter gives us our first glimpse into the head of Sansa Stark. It begins in a mundane enough fashion with Sansa getting ready for a glorified tea party with Cersei but soon several elements introduce tension and conflict into the chapter, ending with everyone’s emotions running high. Most of Sansa’s thoughts are filled with tales of chivalry, of honorable knights and fair maidens and about how the world should be instead of how the world is. As I mentioned previously, in an Arya chapter, this immediately puts Sansa at odds with her sister. It is a fundamental personality clash, of wide-eyed hope against a child-like independence and practicality. The tension that Arya and Sansa’s relationship introduces to the chapter creates only the slightest bit of conflict, but it’s presence allows Martin to slowly build up to Sansa’s confrontation with the Hound and Payne and ultimately to Joffrey’s catastrophic introduction.
It is interesting that Sansa is so easily overwhelmed by the Hound and Payne. Her social training has taught her how to mingle with brave knights and beautiful maidens, but not with the kind of people who live just one rung lower – the gritty foot soldiers and the charmless civil servants (that’s basically all Payne really is, anyway). Arya comes across and much more personable, which is a little ironic given how firmly she rejected the social training her sister so whole-heartedly embraced. Arya’s ability to mix with anyone regardless of status will serve her as well as Sansa’s breeding does later in the series. It perhaps just as well that the sisters spend so little time together; they are seemingly incompatible with each other and had their places in the series been switched, both would have been dead within a few days. Coming back to the scene with Selmy, Renly and Payne, I find it surprising that none of them stood up for Sansa before Cersei sent Joffrey to rescue her. Given Renly’s attitude, I can’t claim to be surprised but I would have thought that Selmy would have stepped up and done something. Regardless, one gets the distinct impression that it would have been entirely in Arya’s personality to just flip the Hound and/or Payne off if they had the audacity to talk to her like that. That girl has spunk, after all. This entire scene with the newly arrived knights is well executed by Martin – one moment, Sansa is being intimidated and bullied by a bunch of really sad though admittedly mean, grown men but the next Joffrey is next to her, like a superhero getting rid of the rabble that would trouble his victim, er, betrothed. The word choice, the tone all become a little more panicked and tense during the intimidation and the reader gets an incredibly strong sense of how scared and unsure of herself Sansa is but the difference when Joffrey saves her is so stark (oh come on) that the reader almost feels a mood whiplash.
Martin offsets the rising tension in the chapter by adding little dashes of levity in between, from Arya’s adorable admonishment of “Bad Wolf!” to Renly and Selmy’s amusing banter. The humor is an important of not just setting the tone and the mood but also in establishing Renly’s, shall we say, less than serious character. The humor is just a small part of why, even in Sansa’s own POV chapter, Arya comes across as more sympathetic and likable. Of course there are much bigger factors that make the reader prefer Arya but it is nevertheless an impressive trick on Martin’s part to be able to create a character like Sansa, who is more annoying than loathsome while still being interesting enough for readers to endure her chapters. This chapter is note-worthy beyond just being Sansa’s first POV chapter though; fittingly, this is the first chapter that allows us to see what special kind of monster Joffrey is. He is clearly not just a harmless, obnoxious tool – he’s an obnoxious tool with extremely worrying sociopathic tendencies and anger management issues. He’s a bully and like most bullies, he’s a coward. He was perfectly willing to kill Mycah over nothing and it is strongly implied that after Arya hit him, he was perfectly willing to kill her too.
There is a great deal of foreshadowing in this chapter too. Lady responds to threats to Sansa, first in the form of Payne, who of course will go on to be Ned’s executioner. Lady also seems danger from the Hound, which might refer to the Hound almost raping Sansa during the battle in King’s Landing or might refer to some future harm he might inflict on her. However, it also worth noting that it is the Hound who supports her when she stumbles backwards and even this early in the plot, it is clear that he feels some connection between his own deceased sister and Sansa. The line between brotherly affection and sexual attraction will gradually become more and more blurred until the end of their time together.
I’ll end off with a question: with alligators and/or crocodiles around, why exactly is everyone cool like the children wandering off as and when they please?