It’s Sansa Stark’s first shark week and she gets the worst motherly figure to walk her through it. The siege of King’s Landing has technically begun, with Stannis’ vanguard taking up their positions but the real battle has yet to begin. This chapter focuses instead on Cersei’s state of mind and some general politics as well as a reminding us that no matter how much the fanbase loves him, Sandor Clegane is still an asshole.
“I’ve spoken to a certain man I know, a good friend to me . . . and you, my lady.
So, I’ve never been sure whether Dontos never cared about Sansa at all or whether he did care but wanted to have his cake and eat it too. From his perspective, his debt to Sansa is very understandable – she saved his life and all, but given that he is disgraced knight and a fool, some extra cash wouldn’t hurt either. Personally, I don’t think he was in Littlefinger’s scheme purely for the money but thought that he was slick enough to do the morally right thing as well as the financially smart thing and get away with it.
Lord Stannis himself was still on the march, but his vanguard had appeared two nights ago during the black of the moon.
This serves as something of a prelude to the battle and despite nothing much happening, it sets the scene for the actual battle. It’s funny because when you try to envision it, this scene seems a lot like your typical fantasy battle prelude – the skies are dark with smoke (from the burning forest and burning homes), the people are cowering in their homes and the evil enemy army is assembling outside the gates. It’s all so very Minas Tirith.
It was unseemly, she knew, but she could not seem to help herself; the tears would come, sometimes over a trifle, and nothing she did could hold them back.
We tend to never pay enough attention to the signs of deep depression and intense psychological trauma that Sansa regularly displays. Instead, we look at her sister and wonder why Sansa can’t be a little more like her but fail to really accept that Arya is the weird one for not being as (demonstrably) traumatised. In case anyone is wondering, people with healthy psyches do not just randomly break down into tears. I’m no expert on the subject, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not wrong on this. Sansa’s fear deeply embedded now, to the point that it feels like nothing can convince to not be afraid any more. In comparison, Arya had an outlet; as the ghost in Harrenhal, she had the opportunity to exact revenge on her captors and in doing was able to take some modicum of control over her circumstances but Sansa doesn’t get that chance. It’s futile to spend too much time debating who had it worse between Arya and Sansa but it is good to bear in mind that Sansa’s timidity and inaction are actually very much justified.
“A dog doesn’t need courage to chase off rats. They had me thirty to one, and not a man of them dared face me.”
You mean not a single unarmed, unarmoured, starving man was willing to face you? Gosh, I wonder why. I couldn’t be because you’re freakishly big, well-fed and properly equipped could it? This short exchange between Sandor and Sansa’s (aka SanSan) illustrates just how nasty a person Clegane really is. He is neither a good man nor a nice one but relatively speaking he is one of the better ‘knights’ in Joffrey’s court, which isn’t saying much, but it does mean that for Sansa’s purposes at least, Clegane ranks above the likes of Balon Swann, Arys Oakheart and the rest of the Kingsguard. This all ties into the lesson Sansa must learn – not all good knights are tall, and handsome and chivalrous, like in the stories. Sometimes they are mean-spirited and scarred, other times they are short, twisted monkey demons.
It was as if her own body had betrayed her to Joffrey, unfurling a banner of Lannister crimson for all the world to see.
That’s a cruel way of putting it, Sansa. It’s not entirely inaccurate, but it’s cruel nonetheless. Puberty is a difficult enough thing to go through without the incredible pressures of captivity, anxiety and Cersei bearing down on you. Sansa’s terror at seeing the blood is actually describing really well and despite the reader knowing its context, it’s quite easy to get sucked into Sansa’s fear and feel the urgency of hiding her womanhood from the court.
“I will not fault you for that. Joffrey has always been difficult.”
The English language has a large array of words for people like Joffrey, and ‘difficult’ isn’t one of them. Are the tints on Cersei’s glasses really that rose-coloured? There is a common idiom – having a face that only a mother can love – and I wonder if that isn’t the case for Cersei with regards to Joffrey’s ‘difficulty’. In the books, he has never really turned his sadistic fury on her, which means that she seemingly still has some measure of control over him. Her own policy has always been to rule through fear, so it’s not hard to think that she wouldn’t particularly mind Jeffrey’s special brand of brutality.
He’s never been able to forget that day on the Trident when you saw her shame him, so he shames you in turn.
This is actually an explanation for Joffrey that I had never considered before. This is also a surprising amount of insight from Cersei – it seems that she can be pretty perceptive when she chooses to be. In any case, I think she is bang on the money here; Joffrey, for reasons discussed elsewhere, wants to be feared and respected more than anything. He wants to be taken seriously, he wants to live up to his father’s legend, but thanks to the Lannister influence in his life, he thinks it’s better to be feared than loved. This makes him oddly similar to Theon and it marks a similar immaturity in both characters’ perception of their world. Of course, in this particular world, it’s debatable whether their sentiment is really all that misplaced in the first place.
Robert wanted smiles and cheers, always, so he went where he found them, to his friends and his whores. Robert wanted to be loved. My brother Tyrion has the same disease.
Damn, Cersei is really on point here. Not only has she successfully identified Robert’s secret weakness (I would have said biggest but then again, it’s Robert) but she has also identified the same weakness in Tyrion. Remember, at this point, she absolutely hates Tyrion’s guts for “kidnapping” Tommen and from her mood, I suspect she has already captured Allaya , mistaking her for Shae. Had Tyrion not had the weakness that Cersei diagnosed in him, he would have cared little enough about Shae and Allaya. In fact, you could make the case that his life would have been a lot better. Cersei talks a big game about not wanting to be loved and I don’t think she’s wrong – not everyone wants to be loved – but everyone wants recognition. People like Joffrey and Cersei don’t want adoration, or at least, they don’t just want adoration; they also want fear, respect and vindication.