[Re-Read] A Storm of Swords – Sansa I


This post has spoilers for George RR Martin’s fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, including fan theories and speculation. If you do not wish for certain information regarding future plot points from this series or other related series to be revealed to you, you might want to consider not reading any further.

As far as Sansa chapters go, this one was one of the lightest and most optimistic yet – there is no physical or emotional abuse and even if there is some manipulation, at least it’s coated by kindness and concern. When we last saw Sansa in Clash, she was getting accustomed to the new court order – Tywin was in charge and Sansa herself was no longer Queen-to-be. Given all the turbulence that she saw and experienced in Clash, there was reason to hope that her fortunes would take an upward turn in Storm, and in some ways, they do but in other ways, things only get worse for the poor girl. This chapter covers her first meeting with the Tyrells – Margaery and Olenna. As such, it is also our first time meeting one of my favourite characters in the entire series – the Queen of Thorns herself, Lady Olenna Tyrell. I’ll expound upon why exactly I love the wrinkled old harridan so much but I very much suspect that I’m far from the only one who is a fan. Of course, this is also our first Sansa chapter in Storm and I’ll also be talking a little about the interesting twilight zone that Sansa’s character is caught in, where she has learned her lessons about trust but is still, at heart, the same naïve young girl she has always been.

As always, your trusty map. You won’t be needing it as much today

Ser Dontos had promised he would help her escape, but not until the night of Joffrey’s wedding

The timeline of how this plan came together is really interesting. We can safely deduce that Dontos has always been in Littlefinger’s employ from the beginning and when Sansa saved him, it provided a way for Littlefinger to pass messages to Sansa without having to rouse suspicion by talking to her himself. The plan to free Sansa from the Lannister’s clutches has been in position since the end of Clash, more or less, and it would be at this time that Littlefinger and Olenna would have hammered everything out. Littlefinger would have told Olenna that although Margaery needs to marry Joffrey to become Queen, Joffrey is an unpredictable monster, but also that monsters can be killed. Olenna, based on her actions in this chapter, would not have committed to the plan one way or another until confirming Littlefinger’s words regarding Joffrey with Sansa. Littlefinger’s original plan could very well have involved murdering Joffrey but it was only after Sansa confirmed Joffrey’s cruelty to Olenna that the Queen of Thorns officially joined the conspiracy. This is a plot point I’ll be keep a close eye on.

if there was one thing that Sansa Stark had learned here, it was mistrust

Aw, would you look at that? Our little girl is learning! There’s an interesting mix of naiveté and cynicism in this chapter – on one hand, she totally freaks when Loras is around yet, she is slowly becoming savvy enough to understand the political and social machinations of the world around her. For all that, you will note that her mistrust is still half-formed – she mistrusts the Lannisters because they treat her poorly, which is fair enough, but she trusts the Tyrells because they are kind and gentle with her. The thing about the kind of mistrust that keeps you alive in King’s Landing is that you need to apply it to both parties – the Tyrells are not talking to Sansa for her own sake and she needs to understand this before accepting their help. Of course, in the end, nothing comes of her friendship with the Tyrells but it shows us the last few lessons that only a man like Littlefinger can teach her.

She had his stained white cloak hidden in a cedar chest beneath her summer silks. She could not say why she’d kept it.

This is such a sweet gesture and it’s made even more so by the fact that even Sansa doesn’t know why she did it. I don’t really ship the Hound and Sansa – I also happen to think that the Hound is dead and that even if Sandor Clegane isn’t, we won’t be seeing either of them in the story again – but I’m glad that his final appearance in King’s Landing made an impact on Sansa. We’ve talked about this before, but the Hound conformed the least to the stereotypes of the Kingsguard – he was no knight, he cursed and swore, and he wasn’t much to look at. Yet, he was the only one to help the literal damsel in distress, in his own Hound way, and the only one who seemed to retain any shred of honour and dignity. Sansa keeping his cloak is a great touch then because of her own struggles with differentiating the stories from songs from reality; the stained cloak is a reminder, even if she doesn’t consciously realize it, that the best knights aren’t like the pure white cloaks she hears about in songs but despite their stains, are no less worthy.

“I slew Robar at Storm’s End, my lady.” It was not a boast; he sounded sad.

We will revisit Loras’ remorse about killing Royce and the others in the aftermath of Renly’s assassination but for now, I’ll just say that I think Loras is trying his hardest not to think about the men he killed at Storm’s End. He himself is unsure about what exactly happened there but he knows that the second he lets himself think about even the possibility that his fellow soldiers were innocent, he will crumble internally. That might sound a little dramatic, but Loras definitely isn’t a bad guy and his response to Brienne’s confession later in the book (or is it in Feast) makes it very clear that he’s still haunted by that night.

Why, she’s just the littlest bit of a thing.

Finally, we meet Olenna Tyrell. Olenna Tyrell, in her prime, could easily have been one of the slickest operators and I would have relished seeing her go toe to toe with the likes of Littlefinger and Varys. Having said that though; a lot of her prickliness and boldness comes from either her age or her family’s status – if she were younger, her authority would be much more limited and if the Tyrell’s were not in the powerful position they are in now, Olenna would have had a much harder time making the power plays that she does. Yet, for a character so slight and diminutive, she is literally a zinger machine and I’ve had to resist the temptation (with mixed success) of quoting all her dialogue for the rest of the chapter.

“Hush, Alerie, don’t take that tone with me. And don’t call me Mother. If I’d given birth to you, I’m sure I’d remember. I’m only to blame for your husband, the lord oaf of Highgarden.”

I’m going with this quote just because of the beauty of that verbal smack but it also raises some questions about the unofficial social hierarchy among Westerosi women. Olenna Tyrell does not officially hold any power, does she? Luthor Tyrell passed away long ago, which means that while Olenna is held in high regard as the current Lord Tyrell’s (Mace’s) mother, she is not the Lady of Highgarden so much as she is a Lady of Highgarden, right? Which would mean that either Margaery, as Queen-to-be, or Alerie, are the primary Ladies of the house, doesn’t it? I’m not sure whether Olenna’s domination of the ladies of her court is the social norm in Westeros or if it is a direct result of the force of Olenna’s personality.

Sansa’s mouth opened and closed. She felt very like a puff fish herself.

What I love about this whole exchange between the Tyrell women and Sansa is that Olenna is everything that Sansa was both taught to be and taught not to be. Olenna speaks her mind without any care for what people think (of course, she can get away with doing this because of my points above regarding her age and the Tyrell status) which goes against all the rules of courtesy that Sansa was taught and yet at the same time, Olenna Tyrell is the epitome of what Sansa could potentially become: the matriarch of a powerful house. Of course, you have to think that at some point, even Olenna Tyrell was as low on the totem pole as Sansa is now, but I think the key difference is that Sansa ends to be more passive and reactive while Olenna, even as a youth, was probably more proactive.

When he belched, tiny yellow feathers flew out his nose. Lady Bulwer began to wail in distress, but her tears turned into a sudden squeal of delight when the chick came squirming out of the sleeve of her gown and ran down her arm.

Ok, no lie, is that not genuinely impressive? The chick went from his throat into Bulwer’s dress. I don’t think we’re supposed to look too hard at this and suspect that there is some magic at play but damn if this isn’t pretty darned impressive.

“My father always told the truth.” Sansa spoke quietly, but even so, it was hard to get the words out.

One of the things that strikes me here is how controlled Sansa is being. The last year or so has clearly been traumatic for Sansa and what we see here is Sansa fighting a battle between her inner goodness and the burgeoning cynicism that she has been forced to develop. On one hand, she wants to help the Tyrells – Margaery is the queen to be, and she and Olenna have treated Sansa well – but helping the Tyrell means telling them the truth about Joffrey, which could realistically go very poorly for Sansa. Yet, she is not taking the easy route of just dodging the question (although, to be fair, that was her first response) but instead fighting her instincts to get the truth out. In its own way, this could be rather therapeutic for Sansa; she finally gets the opportunity to voice (even if it is in a small way) her feelings about what she has been through and the people who put her through it.

“Even when I was a girl younger than you, it was well known that in the Red Keep the very walls have ears. Well, they will be the better for a song, and meanwhile we girls shall speak freely.”

This is interesting to me because this implies that even before Varys and his little birds, the Red Keep has been renowned for its spy networks. For some reason, I had always had the impression that it was only under Varys’ oversight that the whole practice of using tongue-less children for spying became common. After all, Varys gets his birds from Illyrio but I don’t know if prior spymasters would have access to such human resources. Then again, we don’t really know a whole lot about any of previous spymasters apart from Bloodraven – and he had his own kinds of little birds.

 “I see no need to give him a choice. Of course, he has no hint of our true purpose.”

This says a lot about the structure of House Tyrell, doesn’t it? Mace Tyrell is the official head of the House but it is pretty clear in this one chapter alone that he is little more than a figurehead. It’s also very clear that the only two children that Mace really cares about are Loras and Margaery. Sure, he was upset that Oberyn maimed Wilas but honestly, with Garlan happily married, it seems like Mace’s attention is fixed on the two stars of the Tyrell show; the Queen to be and the new member of the Kingsguard.

“That snake of a Dornishman was to blame, that Oberyn Martell. And his maester as well.”

I wonder what the master did. This line sets up the conflict between the Tyrells and the Martells later in the book but also introduces us to the name of Oberyn Martell who will make his stormy appearance soon. I don’t think that Oberyn maimed Wilas on purpose but with a reputation like his, it’s hard for anyone to put much faith in Oberyn’s claim to innocence.

“I thought that dreadful song would never end,” said the Queen of Thorns. “But look, here comes my cheese.”

I don’t have anything to say about this; just thought that it was the perfectly Olenna way of ending the chapter.

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