[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Sansa VI


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As the battle outside heads towards bloody climax, Sansa has some rather useful truth bombs dropped on her by Cersei, who has to be one of the series’ absolute worst people to grab a drink with, right next to Vargo Hoat and Ramsay Bolton. In many ways, this chapter is less about the war and even less about Sansa, and more Cersei herself and some of the harsh political realities of life as a noblewoman in the Seven Kingdoms. Bit by bit Cersei’s character is being exposed – and each time, it is when she is placed under immense strain. We saw this first when Ned forced her hand and she revealed just how deep her schemes ran but more recently Tyrion’s ‘hostile’ actions towards her children made an ugly side of the Queen rear its head as well. Cersei’s world view is warped, no doubt, but depressingly understandable.

Eyes of wildfire, Sansa thought.

My first thought on seeing this line was how it foreshadowed both Cersei’s alcoholism and her fire fetish. It only occurred to me later that Cersei has green eyes and that the colour makes the comparison especially apt. Her alcoholism mirrors Robert’s but we will wait till her actual descent into alcoholism and paranoia before we discuss it. For a brief moment, I wondered whether this incident, which as far as we know is Cersei’s first time witnessing the raw destructive nature of fire, was what later inspired her to burn the Tower of the Hand. It doesn’t fit, mostly because we are in her head at the time and she isn’t thinking about the Battle of Blackwater Bay at the time. I also don’t want to place too much emphasis on Cersei’s connection to fire – the Tower of the Hand is the only thing she has burned thus far and we can force an interpretation of anything if we stare at it long enough.

“Jaime told me once that he only feels truly alive in battle and in bed.”

Is this just the best description of Jaime ever, at least at this point in his story? I touched a little on this in the Catelyn chapter, but Jaime’s life until the start of the War of the Five Kings was one of the most hollow, miserable and pathetic existences possible. He is guarding a terrible King (not quite as bad as Aerys, but still), is widely derided for his tarnished honour and the woman he loves is routinely humiliated and beaten by the man he loathes. Cersei and battle are all the man has left – even when he is freed, these are the only things that really motivate him towards freedom.

“But if Maegor’s Holdfast should fall before Stannis can come up, why then, most of my guests are in for a bit of rape, I’d say. And you should never rule out mutilation, torture, and murder at times like these.”

Cersei makes it sound so very cheerful, doesn’t she? I can’t quite tell whether the character here is trying to put on a brave front when talking about this stuff or whether this is something else. I’m reminded here of how Cersei said she and Jaime are very much alike and we know that while Jaime isn’t exactly a violent rapist, he isn’t particularly fazed by seeing such things. Cersei seems to be similar but there is a problem with her nonchalance – where Jaime has actually been on battlefields and seen their horrific aftermaths, Cersei has not really seen such bloodiness firsthand. She comes across here as cynical and world-wise but the truth is that where Sansa’s notion of warfare and battles are filled with the notions her fairy tales and songs put there, Cersei’s own idea of what a battle entails is filled with the worst case scenario versions of everything she probably heard from her father and brother. This being ASOIAF, obvious Cersei’s ideas are closer to the truth than Sansa’s.

You’ve got another one between your legs, and you’d best learn to use it.

Well Cersei used hers and it didn’t get her all that far. To be fair, Cersei didn’t exactly use her sexuality very intelligently. It was a predictable fall-back option and once it began working – first with Jaime, then with Lancel and then with the Kettleblacks, she pretty much used it as her go to option when she wanted something but didn’t know a better way of getting it. Still, it’s almost perverse in how Cersei’s advice takes Sansa further than Catelyn’s ever did. I know I like to joke about how Cersei was the closest thing Sansa had to a mother figure during her so-called ‘coming of age’ but it’s also depressingly true. Cersei’s advice on how to play the game of thrones is somewhat more useful than Catelyn’s methods and it something that Sansa is beginning to learn to use by TWOW, if it ever comes out. Catelyn’s methods are not ineffective – after all, she knows politics herself – and they are also less volatile, but they also seem less likely to carry you to the top. Catelyn follows the system she was born in and tries her best to play within it but people like Cersei, Olenna Tyrell or even Daenerys, all move up the socio-political food chain by playing by slightly different rules. As terrible a person Cersei, she teaches Sansa some important lessons in this chapter even though Sansa hasn’t realized it just yet.

The only way to keep your people loyal is to make certain they fear you more than they do the enemy.”

This is an exceptionally Tywin Lannister thing to say – except, that it isn’t. Tywin for all his faults – and he has a lot of them – isn’t generally cruel for the sake of it. Tywin seems to use fear as a tool but it isn’t his only tool and he also has the benefit of being an excellent ruler and administrator to back him. The end result is that people know that it’s not a good idea to cross him but at the same time, they also know that he is capable and competent. In Cersei’s case, it seems she has learned the lesson about using fear, but nothing about the good governance part. The dangerous thing here is that she passed her poorly learned lessons down to Joffrey who is not only far too young to understand the concept but also now even further removed from the intended point of Tywin’s lessons. To her credit, Sansa does see straight away that this is a flawed philosophy at best and that it was not the way her father ran his ship, so to speak. Yet, maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to write Cersei off – even Tyrion and his stronger moral compass realizes that it is harder to earn the people’s love than their fear. If nothing else, it makes Ned all the more impressive in retrospect.

He was heir to Casterly Rock, while I was to be sold to some stranger like a horse, to be ridden whenever my new owner liked, beaten whenever he liked, and cast aside in time for a younger filly.

Regardless of how feel about Cersei, it’s hard to not feel at least a little bit of sympathy at just how sorry her lot in life is. It’s worse when you consider that that is just about as high as she rise in the social arena of Westerosi life – he is the queen, a noblewoman with the highest birth possible. As far as the hands you are dealt with at birth go, Cersei’s is pretty much as good as it gets. Yet, Robert hit her, raped her and was pretty much the worst kind of husband you can imagine and he was able to do so with impunity. Watching your abuser not only live on, but also prosper while you helplessly stand by and watch helps us explain just why Cersei was so very reluctant to get married again.

She doesn’t know, no one knows, Dontos promised me, my Florian would never fail me.

Leaving aside the fact that Dontos did, in fact, betray Sansa (albeit in a different way and to a different person), I am impressed by how well Sansa was able to keep her calm here. It would have been extremely difficult for me to keep a straight face after finding out that my biggest secret and my best shot for returning home was in dire jeopardy. It’s not the biggest deal in the world, but considering how much strain Sansa is under at this point in time, it’s fairly impressive.

“Drink,” she commanded coldly. “Perhaps it will give you the courage to deal with truth for a change.”

So, there are a few things to comment on here. The first is that maybe all that Cersei wanted throughout this trying time was a good drinking buddy and Sansa turned out to be a disappointment yet again. I mentioned jokingly how Cersei was an awful drinking buddy but honestly, there’s nothing worse than a drinking buddy who won’t drink with you. A point came up a few chapters ago that Cersei’s lack of empathy towards those who are suffering the way she did. When Cersei sees Joffrey treat Sansa terribly, her response to Sansa isn’t to sympathize with her and commiserate but rather to pass judgement on Sansa’s inability to recover from her suffering immediately and deem it a weakness instead. There are times in this book when it seems like Cersei is treating Sansa like an adopted daughter; giving her (unintentionally terrible) life advice, but there are also times when she seems disgusted by just how passive and submissive Sansa is being towards her entire situation. It’s like Cersei can’t imagine just how anyone could survive being a hostage without lashing out and trying to break free. She doesn’t see this from Sansa and assumes that Sansa is too stupid to even try. Consider how Cersei reacts to her imprisonment in AFFC and you will see pretty much what she expected from Sansa.

“The Starks will have no joy from the fall of House Lannister, I promise you.”

As it turned out, the Starks would have no joy from anything, but Cersei’s comment is well taken. It seems she has no real reason to have Sansa killed along with her apart from pure, unadulterated spite. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to us because at the end of the day, Cersei is absolutely nothing but spiteful. I wonder if at some point Cersei ever stopped to realize that she was perfectly willing to have a twelve/thirteen year old girl killed just because she is essentially a sore loser?

 

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