After what feels like an incredibly long time, the battle for King’s Landing finally begins in earnest. We will need to wait for the next few chapters to really see what it is like out on the front lines but for all intents and purposes, the battle has now truly begun and I think this would be as good a place as any to talk a little about the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The importance of the Battle of Blackwater Bay cannot be overstated – at this point in the series, Stannis and Robb are very much in the ascendency and even though Tywin Lannister has yet to bring his entire force to bear, as far as the readers know at this point, the Lannisters are very much in trouble. Stannis has the naval superiority, though Tyrion’s trap goes a long way in negating it, and compared to the miniscule force guarding King’s Landing, Stannis has the numerical advantage on the ground as well. It’s clear that if it were not for the timely intervention of the combined Lannister/Tyrell forces, King’s Landing stood no chance despite Tyrion’s best efforts. After this particular battle, Stannis is almost entirely spent and the combined Lannister and Tyrell armies ensure that Robb can no longer consider a direct assault on King’s Landing. Of course, the reasons for Robb’s ultimate defeat are as numerous as they are exasperating but we’ll come to those soon enough. For now, we catch up with Sansa, who is experiencing both her first period and her first siege, a combination that very few people can claim to have experienced. Unfortunately, she is spending this special time with the absolute worst possible company as Cersei has decided that matters are out of her hands and that if she’s going to die, she’s not going to die sober, dammit.
Sansa had liked that once, but now it made her sick.
One of the prominent developments in Sansa throughout the course of this book is the evolution of her relationship with Joffrey. Most of the torment she suffers at his hands is in this book – Joffrey generally seems to behave himself once Tywin is around – but he treats her horrifically enough that her opinion of him had essentially sunk even lower than it had when he killed her father. At the beginning of this book, there was a genuine fear of Joffrey mixed in with her hatred and anger – without any form of either check or balance, Sansa rightly realized that her dignity was entirely dependent on Joffrey’s whims. Yet, by this point in the story, an interesting form of disdain has come into the picture as Sansa has learned not only how to manipulate the boy king – never too overtly; Joffrey isn’t a complete buffoon – but has also noticed the weakness of his spirit, that his cruelty is just a cover-up for his own insecurities and cowardice.
The Mother’s altar and the Warrior’s swam in light, but Smith and Crone and Maid and Father had their worshipers as well, and there were even a few flames dancing below the Stranger’s half-human face … for what was Stannis Baratheon, if not the Stranger come to judge them?
This notion of Stannis Baratheon as the Stranger brings up certain associations with the dark, dead and the unknown. On the simplest level, Stannis’ association here with the Stranger is based most likely on the fact that he is this outside force coming to punish them or perhaps because he is championing a strange, foreign religion. Yet, what does it say when the very people Stannis claims he is rightfully king of, think of him as the Stranger? The way the Westerosi think of the Stranger isn’t particularly flattering – he is almost the incarnation of death, much like the Many-Faced God of the Faceless Men and he is not loved like the other six Gods. When I think of the Stranger, I think of his faceless, nameless shadow and it’s not a big leap from that image to the image of Stannis’ dark magic controlled shadow killing Renly. If you want to take the association further, consider that there is an outside possibility that Stannis could become a new iteration of the Night’s King. Yet, even without all of that, Stannis does seem like the Stranger in that he seems like an outsider in the series, existing on the fringes of the series whether politically or militarily.
Away off, she could hear the sounds of battle.
I bring the above quote up mostly because we will need to note the timeline here. Earlier in this chapter (it can’t have been more than an hour or so), Sansa saw Tyrion & co ride off to battle but the impression I had was that the battle didn’t breakout right away. It’s not clear how long Sansa was singing her songs, but between the chain being raised, Stannis’ men banging on the gates and Tywin coming through to save them, it seems that the entire battle lasted no more than a few hours. I’m no expert on medieval military but it seems that a few hours is rather short for a battle of this magnitude and is usually a sign that a battle is especially violent.
“How apt. The men will bleed out there, and you in here.”
Cersei is just such a perfect companion for times like these. Here we have Sansa who is quite rightly scared and uncertain about how the battle is going to go while Cersei just makes droll comments like the above. Remember when she gave Tyrion shit for his wise cracks? Apparently, it’s just a Lannister thing after all.
“And who will protect us from my guards?”
I can’t quite decide if Cersei is being prudent or paranoid here. Yes, it is definitely not a good idea to rely on mercenaries, especially when the outcome of a battle is most likely going to go against you. Having said that, surely those mercenaries belonged out in the field then? There must have been some loyal Lannister men that Cersei could have used for guards instead of the mercenaries, right? In any case, Ilyn Payne isn’t exactly much of a fighter and it’s extremely unlikely that he would be able to fend even the mercenaries off with a sword that is probably far too heavy for him. The idea of punishing treason among the womenfolk is a strange one given that it seems less than likely that the women would openly show any kind of treasonous inclinations in the front of the famously bloodthirsty queen. Of course, we find out in the next Sansa chapter that Payne isn’t really there to cull the treachery from this particular crowd.