The Battle of Blackwater Bay has ended, though Cersei, drunk as she is, has no idea. It seems that Cersei has gone past the giddy-drunk phase and has entered the more nihilistic drunk phase. Thankfully, for Sansa’s sake, Cersei wasn’t deep enough in her despair to summon Payne and conclude the whole affair right there and then. Sansa’s evening gets even more eventful when she runs into the recently defected Sandor Clegane but turns down his offer of assistance. Her reasons, as we will shortly see, as flawed – she would rather place her faith in her Dontos – but the decision itself, given what she knows at the time, seems very sound. Her encounter with the Hound here will launch more than a handful of ships from fans of their potential relationship, though I think I’m speaking for more stable minds when I say that it’s a good thing that that ship looks to have permanently sunk.
“Gods be damned, Cersei, why did you have them fetch Joffrey back to the castle?”
What we are seeing here, is a rare moment of courage from none other than Lancel Lannister. Lancel either is feeling that drunk-like feeling that Tyrion felt from the adrenaline rush of battle or is so thoroughly on edge that he has forgotten who is talking to. I’m actually leaning towards the former over the latter; having his first real taste of battle seems to have given Lancel the impression that he is actually the second coming of cousin Jaime (sleeping with Cersei can’t have hurt that notion) and is thus speaking to his woman (or at least that’s what he thinks she is) accordingly. There is an element of anger and frustration mixed in as well though, as his later outburst will show; he’s begun to see just how poorly the royal apparatus is handling things and having, very recently, been a soldier on the grounded, he’s pissed. The picture that Lancel and Osney paint is very bleak indeed, and while we know that Tywin and the Tyrell reinforcements have arrived, Cersei does not. Based on their information, the battle isn’t just going badly – it is all but lost.
“Get out of my way.” Cersei slammed her open palm into his wound.
This isn’t Cersei tactically retreating into Maegor’s; calm as the Queen Regent might seem, this is actually a full-blown, panicked retreat on her part. It’s evident from how single-mindedly she is focusing on Joffrey, from how she ignores Sansa and disregards all pretenses, that she no longer believes that the situation is salvageable. The signaling effect this has on the other women and innocents in the Red Keep is powerful, as is the effect on morale. What follows is perhaps the strongest point (thus far) in favour of Sansa being the beautiful young queen in Cersei’s dreaded prophecy; despite her own terror (and her youth and position as hostage), Sansa steps up and calms the others. It’s almost absurd that she doesn’t even think of running now that Cersei has left her behind – perhaps she thinks that Payne will kill her if she tries to run, or perhaps her prolonged captivity has taken its toll and subtly brainwashed her into not disobeying orders so openly but either way, I find her selflessness here very reminiscent of Ned. This is especially reinforced when she asks for Lancel to be given medical assistance despite technically being her enemy. She considers it a weakness herself, but it isn’t, not really, even though Martin’s world is unlikely to reward her for it.
The Hound laughed. “I only know who’s lost. Me.”
I’ve spoken in previous chapters of the hellish scenario that Blackwater Bay represented – I’ve mentioned how carefully Martin evokes the imagery and sensations of a nightmare of the battle. I find myself feeling much the same about this chapter as well – Sansa is running in fear through dark corridors while outside, the fires range and blood is shed. She runs into feral dog, with its wide eyes lit in the light of the raging fires, all the while hoping for the morning so that it will all end. The idea of Sandor Clegane drunk, scared and with nothing to lose, in your room, hidden under the cloak of utter chaos, is absolutely terrifying. We know that there is some, base, goodness in Clegane’s heart but it’s not exactly plain for all to see and given the circumstances, it’s understandable for anyone to think that that inner goodness has either been burned away or has been deeply submerged under his baser desires.
“Little bird,” he said once more, his voice raw and harsh as steel on stone.
The whole encounter is obviously an extremely strange one, with more being implied than said. Why did Sandor wait for Sansa in her rooms? There are only two real options, if you think about it; the less generous of them being that he has had his eye on her for a while and decided that since he is burning all his bridges, he might as well sink as low as he wants. Yet, he doesn’t seem to want to intentionally hurt her and rare as it is in this series, this very well could be one of those rare moments when the more generous interpretation is the probably one. The popular notion here is that Sansa reminds Sandor of his long dead sister; hence his tears, hence his intention to save her. I myself am not so keen on ascribing sentimentality as the key motivator for his actions but there is a middle ground that I quite like; yes, Sandor has emotional reasons for trying to help Sansa, but there are also practical reasons. Sansa would give him a bargaining chip that he could use to get in with the Starks. If this seems like a questionable return on a considerable risk, remember that he tries this angle again with Arya and remember also that he’s pretty drunk.
How long she stayed there she could not have said, but after a time she heard a bell ringing, far off across the city.
Just like that, the nightmare ends. The scary monster morphs into a tame animal and slinks off and the night breaks into dawn; suddenly, the battle is over and everything is happy again. Ok fine, happy is too strong a word – perhaps relieved works better. Not for Dontos though; Dontos, perhaps already drunk, is absolutely ecstatic as he delivers the news. When we initially read this chapter, there could some certain confusion about how Renly has returned but of course, he hasn’t. The tone of the chapter ends drastically different from how it began though; there dark night has turned into bright day and the spectre of Stannis Baratheon has been replaced with the delirious image of an antlered, green Renly Baratheon. In some ways, the contrast reminds me of The Return of the King, where Merry and Gandalf watch the forces of Mordor repulsed by Aragorn and his reinforcements, just as night breaks into day – a powerful comparison and fitting conclusion to the first pivotal battle of the war.