Sansa goes to the Hand’s tournament with Septa Mordane and Jeyne Poole. Participants in the tournament include all seven Kingsguard; Ser Gregor Clegane, called the Mountain That Rides; Lord Yohn Royce, whose armor is thousands of years old and covered in runes that supposedly protect him from harm; his sons Ser Andar and Ser Robar; Lord Jason Mallister, who slew three of Prince Rhaegar’s bannermen on the Trident; his son Patrek; Thoros of Myr, who wields a flaming sword and scaled the walls of Pyke during Greyjoy’s Rebellion; Ser Balon Swann; Lord Bryce Caron; the twins Ser Hobber and Ser Horas Redwyne; six Freys, Ser Jared, Ser Emmon, Ser Hosteen, Ser Danwell, Ser Perwyn, and Ser Theo; Martyn Rivers; Jalabhar Xho, an exiled prince from the Summer Isles; Lord Beric Dondarrion; Sandor Clegane; Lord Renly Baratheon; Jory Cassel; Harwin; Alyn; Lothor Brune; Ser Aron Santagar; and Ser Loras Tyrell.
Sansa thoroughly enjoys the whole affair, and her enthusiasm is not dimmed even when Gregor’s lance spears one of his challengers in the neck, killing him. By the end of the day, only four riders remain; Sandor, Gregor, Jaime, and Loras. Loras has been giving a woman in the crowd a white rose after every victory. After his final victory, he rides up to Sansa and gives her a red rose, leaving her speechless. Afterward, Lord Petyr talks to her and touches her briefly before turning away. That night, there is a feast at which Sansa is seated next to Joffrey, whom she has not spoken to since the incident on the Trident, but he is polite and disarming. She is lost in the magical evening as multiple food courses go by and singers and Moon Boy perform.
During the evening, King Robert gets increasingly more drunk and ever louder until he finally interrupts the whole banquet by telling Cersei that he will fight in the melee whether she likes it or not. Cersei leaves in a huff and Robert shoves Jaime aside when the knight tries to reason with him. Joffrey asks Sansa if she would like an escort back to the castle. When she says yes, he summons Sandor to take her. She tries complimenting him on his riding and addresses him as a knight, but both acts anger him. He is disdainful of knights and their vows. He is drunk and mocks her and says that Gregor killed the knight earlier in the day on purpose. He makes Sansa look at his hideous face and tells her that Gregor burned it in a brazier when they were younger because Sandor had taken a toy knight of his and was playing with it. Four years later, Prince Rhaegar made Gregor a knight. When they get back to Sansa’s rooms, he tells her that if she ever tells anyone what he just told her, he will kill her.
There is a serenity to this chapter, despite the violence in it. The storm that began with Catelyn last chapter has not yet caught up with the people it would affect the most, in King’s Landing, where the tourney continues. It’s not stated directly, but the presence of Lord Jason Mallister serves to highlight that some time has passed since Catelyn passed him on the road back to Winterfell. It’s not perfect, but it’s as close to a timeline that we will get. Apart from that, it’s amazing how many people from this tourney I recognize. A lot of them do not even really have a large role in the rest of the series and indeed some, if not all, of them will be dead very shortly, but it is still good to see that Martin has not filled the tourney with random, one hit wonder kind of character. Bronze Yohn, Thoros of Myr and most of the others are familiar to me though I would say all of them are minor characters at best. There are a few names that I can’t remember though – the first being Theo Frey. I recall a Cleos Frey who regrettably dies en route to King’s Landing with Jaime and Brienne, but I don’t ever think I’ve seen a Theo Frey before. The other name was Bryce Caron – it sounds familiar but I don’t know who he is, what he does and where his seat is. I guess we’ll find out, but the fact that I don’t remember him is a fairly strong sign that he’s not very important.
The on screen death of Ser Hugh of the Vale has always bothered me a little. It is not because I don’t think Gregor killed him intentionally, but it’s because I don’t buy that Gregor was instructed to kill him. Cersei suspected Jon Arryn of knowing her secret but did not ultimately cause his death. I don’t believe she suspects Ser Hugh of anything and she never mentions Arryn’s squire as far as I can tell, so I don’t think she was responsible for Gregor being Gregor. Apart from that, as we see in Dunk and Egg, jousting is a more technical form of battle, one than I would not suspect Gregor of being too good at. The rest of the chapter is pretty much Sansa’s dream come true – she’s surrounded by the lively court and its intrigues, she sees her great knights fight somewhat honourably. A minor note before I move on to Sandor. Littlefinger was behaving oddly in this chapter – a far cry from his usual, smooth self. I like to think, creepy as it may be, that there was a real moment of emotion for him when he saw a vision of a younger Catelyn and was a little overwhelmed by it. It would be so sweet if it weren’t so very creepy.
So we get Sandor’s tragic backstory here and I think the best word to describe my feelings towards the younger Clegane at this point in the story is pitiful. He’s not particularly deserving of that pity, in all honesty, but it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. I would also be terrified of him – the man is clearly not as stable as he could be. It’s strange to think that Rhaegar Targaryen was responsible for making Gregor Clegane an anointed knight, isn’t it? Logically speaking, I don’t even know if it makes sense for the heir to the throne to even knight the heir of a minor house, but I guess it’s not completely implausible. One of Martin’s anti-fantasy tropes that A Song of Ice and Fire became famous for was the inversion of the knight in shining armour trope and both Cleganes are the instruments that illustrate this.