[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Sansa VII


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.



3 thoughts on “[Re-Read] A Clash of Kings – Sansa VII

  1. As a Sansa fan (In my top 5 characters list), this chapter is utterly crucial to show how great a character and person she can be, despite her earlier flaws and missteps. She’s such a necessary counter-point to the (understandable) nihilism and cynicism that’s constantly rampaging through Westeros and a great deconstruction -> reconstruction of a lot of chivalry fantasy trappings.

    As you said, Cersei, the Queen Regent, in panicked mode here. She has little faith in the demon monkey who threatened rape on her younger son and she has no doubts that Stannis would execute her and her children. And, to be totally fair to her, Cersei has no recourse here. Sansa can at least be taken as an enemy hostage by Stannis’ forces (and honestly, with that hypothetical, I’m sort of grinning at the thought of Edric Storm, Shireen Baratheon and Sansa Stark just having their fun at Dragonstone. It’d be better than Sansa’s current situation and Stannis, social iceberg with no easy courtesies he is, is far above abusing Sansa unlike Cersei and Joffrey.)

    “I find her selflessness here very reminiscent of Ned.”

    I’m always reading these metas about Sansa taking more from Ned and Arya taking more from Catelyn in terms of personality and, honestly, it’s times like this that sort of reaffirm it. Not that Arya isn’t selfless, but she’s hardly gentle and comforting in the way that Sansa is here, helping to soothe the morale there with her soft power. Just a matter of different personalities for different tasks.

    “She considers it a weakness herself, but it isn’t, not really, even though Martin’s world is unlikely to reward her for it.”

    I KNOW RIGHT. Man, it really bums me out how people can think of her as weak, stupid or naive for this. How would killing Lancel or letting him die be any better? How would that be any better than being another Cersei, another ruthless lady who doesn’t have any qualms about letting her enemies die just because they’re not on her side? That doesn’t make her “soft and weak and stupid”, just merciful and sometimes mercy and compassion are greater strengths than vengeance and cruelty.

    I’d say that Martin’s world is unlikely to reward her in the immediate sense for this. What did vengeance and cruelty serve Tywin, Balon, Gregor, Joffrey and Aerys in the end? Oh. Wait, they’re all dead and no one will mourn the monsters they were. Not like the Starks, still mourned and remembered… for Ned’s great example of non-fearmongering Northern leadership. Not like Sansa, who’s survived the monsters.

    The north remembers for good reasons.

    Hmmm, I personally think here’s one of those times that one can ascribe full-on sentimentality to Sandor’s motives and it’d ring all the more better. He’s pretty drunk now so I don’t think he’s quite got the mental faculties to fully process his practical benefits to taking Sansa. Plus, the wildfire’s still burning outside so there’s plenty of fear mixing with that alcohol-addled brain. Yes, he’s balanced practical benefits with Arya, but his relationship with the younger Stark isn’t the same as the one he has with the little bird here. I’m sure, AFTER the saving, he’d definitely sober up to the practical reasons, but now? I think he’s got no ulterior motives.

    The Sandor sister theory is something I can totally get behind, but I think there’s something more. Sansa represents a more abstract concept to Sandor given tangible form: the chance for the fairy tales and knightly songs he once believed in to be true. A second chance. Sansa is his fairy tale princess come to life and a believer of the songs he once did. So trying to save her is essentially trying to save his buried idealism. In saving the abused princess in the tower, he thinks to himself that the songs are true, that he can be a knight, a hero. That what he believes in can be real so long as he tries again.

    Martin’s quite the romantic, despite his brutality at times, and I think Sandor showcases why Martin does that: because there’s more meaning of battered and dented idealism/reconstruction than relentless deconstruction. Some goodness can exist underneath the cynicism, it’s just… an uglier shade.

    There’s also the fact from the end of AGoT to ACoK that Sandor’s been slowly growing more discontent with the Lannister regime, most of it having to do with the way Sansa is treated. He’s been accused of cowardice, he’s running away from fire, been ordered by a dwarf he loathes, and he’s got nothing to show for his service here. He’s a self-loathing emasculated mess now. There’s still one thing he can do though.

    He can save Sansa. I think that’s the reason why he waited in Sansa’s room. Expecting her so he can take her away from King’s Landing.

    And, considering Sandor’s character arc (disillusioned non-ser turning into a knight-in-deed) I think it still works with full-on sentimentality. Just because he wants to be a rescuing knight doesn’t mean he’s good at it. In fact, that’s one of the admirable things about Martin’s writing. Intention doesn’t equal competence and Sandor wanting to save Sansa doesn’t mean he instantly turns into a knight in shining armor. That’s just reality.

    (Also, one Clegane rapes a princess in a tower while the younger tries to save a princess in a tower. Deconstruction and reconstruction, eh, Martin? :D)

    In fact, Sansa’s reaction is damn understandable. Big hunking, drunk, scared, half-burnt, more-than-twice-her-age man hanging around her room? Yeah, I’d call bullshit on anyone who’d say Sansa should have taken her chances to escape with him. Sandor’s not good at this yet and, for us, that’s good. He still has room to grow into that knight he wants.

    Also, this chapter features one of my all-time favorite Sansa-Sandor moments. Sansa’s scared, yes, and uncomfortable with Sandor while he demands a song from her. The demand for the song’s rather fascinating, I sort of think Sandor wants to hear her sing that particular song because he sort of thinks himself as a fool now and hearing it helps him to find a courage to go through with this Florian and Jonquil endeavor. He can put himself in those childhood songs and imagine himself a hero.

    Instead? Sansa sings to him the “Gentle Mother, Font of Mercy” hymn. At knifepoint.

    And it breaks him.

    And he cries.

    And that’s what makes this whole chapter heartbreaking. As Sansa cups Sandor’s face and feels his tears, he sees the truth: despite all the bark, despite all the blunt criticism he gives her, despite how much he threatens, Sansa still has it in her heart to care for him, to treat him far better than he feel he deserves.

    And he feels he doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve her company and the plan of rescuing the princess falls through because he can’t think of himself as Sansa’s knight. He doesn’t deserve to see himself as such. Not when Sansa’s prayed for him and he feels he’s done nothing to earn her kindness.

    That’s how I see one of the best Sansa chapters, showcasing two great ASoIaF (heck, I’ll go so far as fantasy in general) characters. 🙂

    (Sorry for the long-ass comment. >_>)


    • Thank you so much for this comment.
      I should preface this by saying that I don’t know much about Philosophy and its various schools of thought. Each character in ASOIAF deals with the grim reality of their world in different ways. Sansa however, is unique in how she doesn’t think ‘Everything sucks, what’s the point, I may as well be evil’ but rather ‘Everything sucks, I might as well do what I can’. I think Sandor sees that inner goodness in her and at first hates it. He sees it as weakness – ‘why won’t you wake up and smell the filthy breeze?!’ but slowly, as the series progresses, he sees the strength in her and the resilience. That goes side by side with how much of a punk Joffrey is – it isn’t just his opinion of Sansa going up, but also is opinion of the ruling party going down.

      This is why I have very mixed feelings about Sansa’s arc taking her on a more Machiavellian path. Yes, she is becoming more ’empowered’ but in the process she is losing on the traits that made her so unique. She is en route to become a more gentle Cersei and I think that sort of detracts from the progress she makes her.


      • Hah, thanks for reading it.

        You’re right, Sansa doesn’t give in the whole ‘Everything sucks, what’s the point, I may as well be evil’ concept. She makes her own stand and a laudable one at that. She does the best she can and she’s slowly rewarded for it in a lopsided way (saving Dontos -> Escape from King’s Landing, calling out Gregor as ‘no true knight’ -> her relationship with Sandor, which saved her from the riot). It would have been so easy for Martin to go full-out ‘honor is stupid’ or ‘being decent is stupid’… but well, look at Cersei. She went the diametrical opposite and her current situation’s certainly not enviable. Sansa’s life isn’t the best now, but it’s certainly no worse than Cersei’s.

        Totally agreed with the Sandor stuff. Sansa and her abuse from the Lannisters is the catalyst to his character growth and he probably did see Sansa’s inner goodness as weakness. If I had to add one thing to that, I’d say a lot of his put-downs and hatred of her ideals are part of the armor he’s built around him after Gregor. He was burned by his brother who was knighted by the epitome of knighthood, Rhaegar Targaryen. The same bastard of a brother that was rewarded for being an armed thug instead of any knightly virtues.

        How did he react? By disparaging everything about knighthood and adopting an equally childish (contrasted to Sansa’s initial hyper-positive outlook) hyper-negative white and black mentality to the institution. I think he hated that inner goodness in Sansa at first because he’s spent a lifetime refusing to believe in the good and if there was some actual goodness in someone… then knighthood might not have been a total lie. Then the way he’s lived his life as a Lannister sword has been reprehensible and always has been.

        Sandor’s a very conflicted dog.

        And… yeah, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried at all for Sansa’s more Machiavellian path. Littlefinger, despite all his flaws, is a rather good teacher and he’s definitely telling Sansa the guidelines of how to screw people over and some of Sansa’s thoughts get a bit troubling then… but I have confidence that Martin’s more grounded romanticism will see Sansa through to the end.

        Plus: “I never asked to play. The game was too dangerous. One slip and I am dead.” I think, to a great extent, Sansa’s playing the game of thrones has been in terms of survival. She’s not trying to screw people over like Cersei did or even ‘win’. And the fact that she has the friendship of Lothor Brune, Myranda Royce and Mya Stone and the taking care of little Robert still makes her uniquely ‘Sansa’.

        I think Martin certainly doesn’t let his characters off easy in terms of suffering for their beliefs. I foresee a lot of suffering for Sansa in the future, a lot of very troublesome thoughts and actions… but I trust that it’s all to make the highs much higher and that she’ll still be herself in the end because her beliefs are worth fighting for, making a stand for, suffering for. Hopefully, our worst fears won’t be realized.


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