ACOK – Sansa VII
Directly following from the previous chapter, the fight still rages on the Blackwater, but Ser Lancel has entered the Ballroom and announced to the Queen that they’ve lost the battle. Cersei seems almost disinterested and replies that Lancel should inform her brother. Ser Lancel, who is gravely injured, tells her that Tyrion is probably dead already, and that it was wrong of her to call Joffrey back to the castle since this made the gold cloaks lose faith and begin to desert. Osney Kettleback enters with more news. The fighting is on both sides of the river, no one can be sure who’s fighting whom, and the Hound is no where to be found. Everything is in chaos: Stannis’ men are ramming the King’s gate, Lannister soldiers are killing one another, mobs are at the Iron Gate, and there’s rioting in Flea Bottom. Sansa begins to panic inwardly:
Gods be good, Sansa thought, it is happening, Joffrey’s lost his head and so have I. She looked for Ser Ilyn, but the King’s Justice was not to be seen. I can feel him though. He’s close. I’ll not escape him, he’ll have my head.
Cersei orders Osfryd Kettleback to raise the drawbridge to Maegor’s and bar the doors to prevent anyone from leaving or entering without her leave. Asked about the women who went to pray, she replies that they chose to leave her protection and that the gods might protect them now. Asking for Joffrey, she is informed that is now at the castle gatehouse, commanding the crossbowmen. She insists that he be brought inside but Ser Lancel protests that this will cause the same panic as before. Cersei is adamant, however, and roughly pushes past Lancel, slamming her hand into his wound. As Lancel cries out and nearly faints, Cersei departs in a hurry, and Sansa realises that she has left her all alone at Ser Ilyn’s mercy.
The women in the room begin to despair upon the Queen’s departure, and Sansa wonders if she should try to flee as well and beg Cersei to spare her life. However, despite her fears, she rises to help bring calm to the crisis:
She never knew why she got to her feet but she did. “Don’t be afraid,” she told them loudly. “The queen has raised the drawbridge. This is the safest place in the city. There’s thick walls, the moat, the spikes…”
The women are not appeased by this, and demand to know of the news Cersei received and what is happening on the outside:
Sansa raised her hands for quiet. “Joffrey’s coming back to the castle. He’s not hurt. They’re still fighting, that’s all I know, they’re fighting bravely. The queen will be back soon.” The last was a lie, but she had to soothe them. She noticed the fools standing under the galley. “Moon Boy, make us laugh.”
As nervous laughs follow Moon Boy’s antics, Sansa goes to tend to Ser Lancel. She calls for help for him, noticing that some of the serving men and girls are leaving the hall. Along with two serving men Sansa gets Lancel back on his feet, and orders him to be taken to Maester Frenken for treatment. As she does this she thinks to herself that she should not be helping Lancel, but cannot find it in herself to wish him dead:
I am soft and weak and stupid, just as Joffrey says. I should be killing him, not helping him.
Ser Dontos comes to her on the dais and advises that she return to her room where she’ll be safer. He tells her that he’ll come for her when the battle is over, but Sansa is wary that it may be Ser Ilyn instead. She thinks for one moment of begging Dontos to protect her, but realises it would be futile and she would only be risking his life as well: He has not the courage, or the skill. I would only be killing him as well.
She walks slowly out of the Ballroom even though she feels like running, and gives into the impulse when she reaches the steps to her chamber. On her way up she bumps into a guard fleeing the castle with stolen possessions. When she enters her room it is pitch black. Sansa bars the door and goes to the window to look outside.
When she ripped back the drapes, her breath caught in her throat. The southern sky was aswirl with glowing, shifing colours, the reflections of the great fires that burned below. Baleful green tides moved against the bellies of the clouds, and pools of orange light spread out across the heavens. The reds and yellows of common flame warred against the emeralds and jades of wildfire, each color flaring and then fading, birthing armies of short-lived shadows to die an instant later. Green dawns gave way to orange dusks in half a heartbeat. The air itself smelled burnt, the way a soup kettle sometimes smelled if it was left on the fire too long and all the soup boiled away. Embers drifted through the night air like swarms of fireflies.
Frightened, she backs away from the window and thinks that she’ll go to sleep and tomorrow someone will come to tell her whether she lives or dies. At this point she thinks of Lady and if she’ll meet her again when she is dead. She whimpers the wolf’s name softly, at the moment something stirs behind her and reaches out to grab her wrist. Sansa tries to scream, but another hand closes over her mouth, the fingers “rough and callused, and sticky with blood.” It is the Hound:
“Little bird, I knew you’d come.” The voice was a drunken rasp.
A flare of light illuminates the room and Sansa sees him for a second, blood on his face “black as tar” and his eyes “glowing like a dog’s in the sudden glare”.The Hound tells her that if she screams he’ll kill her, and asks if she doesn’t want to know who’s winning the battle.
“Who?” she said, too frightened to defy him.
The Hound laughed. “I only know who’s lost. Me.”
Sansa thinks that he is drunker than she has ever seen him, and realises that he was sleeping in her bed. Wondering what it is that he could want, she asks him about what he’s lost. Sandor tells her that he’s lost everything and lashes out at Tyrion, regretting that he didn’t kill the dwarf years ago. He states that he wants Tyrion burnt, not simply dead, but he won’t be around to see it happen. Sansa asks him where he is going.
Away from here. Away from the fires. Go out the Iron Gate, I suppose. North somewhere, anywhere.”
Sansa tells him that he won’t get out, but he replies that he has the white cloak and his sword, and that anyone man who tries to stop him will be killed. Sansa asks him why he has come there, and the Hound tells her that she promised him a song.
She didn’t know what he meant. She couldn’t sing for him now, here, with the sky aswirl with fire and men dying in their hundreds and thousands.
She tells him that she cannot sing for him, and pleads to be let go because he is scaring her. The Hound is dismissive, replying that everything scares her, and ordering her to look at him. When she does, she takes in his eyes, “wide, white and terrifying” and the burnt corner of his mouth twitching constantly. The smell of him is also pungent, “a stink of sweat and sour wine and stale vomit, and over it all the reek of blood, blood, blood.”
The Hound tells her that he could keep her safe and that no one would ever hurt her again or he’d kill them. With this declaration, he jerks her closer to him, and Sansa thinks that he is going to kiss her:
He was too strong to fight. She closed her eyes, wanting it to be over, but nothing happened.
Sandor becomes angry because she closed her eyes, and immediately threatens her by putting his knife to her throat, twisting in the point and ordering her to sing for her life. Every song that Sansa knows flees her mind, and she almost gives up trying to think, but at the last moment remembers the song that was sung in the sept, and repeats it to the Hound. After a moment, he takes the blade from her throat, not saying a word.
Some instinct made her lift her hand and cup his cheek with her fingers. The room was too dark for her to see him, but she could feel the stickiness of the blood, and a wetness that was not blood. “Little bird,” he said once more, his voice raw and harsh as steel on stone. Then he rose from the bed. Sansa heard cloth ripping, followed by the softer sound of retreating footsteps.
When she crawled out of bed, long moments later, she was alone. She found his cloak on the floor, twisted up tight, the white wool stained by blood and fire. The sky outside was darker by then, with only a few pale ghosts dancing against the stars. A chill wind was blowing, banging the shutters. Sansa was cold. She shook out the torn cloak and huddled beneath it on the floor shivering.
She stays there for a significant length of time, until she hears bells ringing across the city. She throws off the cloak and goes to the window, noting that these aren’t mourning bells like the last time Robert had died. Ser Dontos is the one to bring her news that Stannis has been defeated. Spinning her around gleefully, he tells Sansa that the powers of Highgarden and Casterly Rock saved the day, and that the vanguard was led by none other than Lord Renly in his green armor.
OK, so this chapter focuses a lot on Sansa’s maturity and compassion for others. IMO, these attributes are divided between the political and the personal. We get insight into what would make Sansa a better, more admirable leader than Cersei could ever be, and we also see how this strength and consideration affect her personal, private relationships, transforming a moment of crisis, to one of deeply felt connection.
What’s remarkable about Sansa’s courage and dignity in these two central scenes is that her life was in credible peril during both of them. In the last chapter, Cersei had issued her threat that if the battle was lost, Sansa would lose her head to Ser Ilyn. This chapter opens with the dire news that the battle is all but over for the Lannisters. No one seems to have any hope, even the Hound, the most ferocious and strongest of them all has gone missing, and rioting is widespread. Even though Sansa doesn’t see Ser Ilyn she still senses that he is nearby. Btw, could this strong ability to sense danger be a facet of Sansa’s “warghood”?
Sansa had every reason to be panicking and crying. But we see that she keeps her fears to herself, while Cersei, the one issuing the orders and threats, collapses under the pressure of the situation and concern for Joffrey, refusing to hear Lancel’s argument that the boy be allowed to stay at the gate house and be visible to his troops. This chapter struck me as presenting an extremely strong case for Sansa as the younger, more beautiful queen in Cersei’s prophecy. She displays a beauty that goes way beyond skin deep, not only in her ability to calm the rest of the women and children present, but also in the way she tends to Ser Lancel, someone that is fighting against her family, and who previously showed no mercy to her when Joff had her beaten and stripped in the court.
Sansa’s decision to get up and speak to the women is something that happens automatically – she doesn’t quite understand her actions here, and we see this same instinctive response later on with the Hound. In this case, she knows she has to calm the women because their alarm has grown now that Cersei has left. Sansa actually then becomes
the younger queen here, fulfilling the role that Cersei has shamelessly (and shamefully) abdicated. She knows exactly what she has to tell the women in order to get them to feel more secure, lying about Cersei’s return and the awful conditions of the battle. Just where has Sansa learnt this skill before? And just how is she is able to prevent her own personal fears from taking over? Reading this chapter, she reminded me a lot of her half-brother, Jon, and how he confronts his challenges at the Wall (seems fitting then that she has to pretend to be a bastard later on).
If Cersei represents the destructive qualities of fire – Sansa compares her eyes to wildfire in an earlier chapter – then Sansa symbolizes the healing, restorative quality of ice. Like fire, Cersei’s anger and passion consumes without thought, striking Lancel cruelly on her way out of the ballroom. Sansa on the other hand, remains cool under fire.
Her tending to Lancel again illustrates her forgiving and generous heart that we’ve seen through her treatment of persons like Dontos and the Hound. Like Joffrey, lots of readers seem to equate this with being weak and silly, but I think GRRM really wants us to see that it’s something that separates Sansa from the majority of people who would hold grudges against Lancel because of his family, and who would harden their hearts when faced with his suffering. It’s not hard to get an idea of the kind of Queen Sansa would be based on her behaviour in this chapter. The courage, benevolence and compassion she displays matches up with her earlier determination to rule through love and not fear.
And now to the Hound. Their interaction in this scene probably occurred in time frame of 5-7 minutes, but there’s such a concentration of emotions and sensations that it feels longer. As I noted before, this scene is profoundly personal, and showcases the effect Sansa can have on a man who is deeply tortured and bitter about the world and his place in it. But, that effect does not run one-way. I think by the end of the scene, Sansa’s actions (and her later mis-memory) indicate that she too was affected by his presence there.
Sansa’s question for the Hound on just why he is there happens to be the same one that the reader shares. We talk a lot about how Sansa conceals her true feelings, but I do think Martin wanted us to be just as surprised as she was in finding Sandor Clegane in her room, sleeping in her bed. The last known interaction these two have shared is when Sansa was on the rooftop and the Hound caught her when she experienced the first stab of her period. At that time, the fires had just begun to burn across the riverside, but now it’s a raging inferno. Can their relationship also be represented by this metaphor: the slow burn that erupts in violent passion, cooled by Sansa’s divine intervention? (speaking of which, we have Dontos coming later to attest that the battle was won by Renly’s ghost)
We also got another interesting hint of Sandor as Lady’s replacement in Sansa’s life. Her fear concerning what will happen when the night is over causes her to think of Lady again, and at the exact moment she whispers the dog’s name, Sandor’s hand reaches out as though he is answering the call. Later, when she glimpses his face in a flash of light, she notes his eyes, which were glowing like a dog’s. However, if Sandor is a replacement for her wolf, he’s capable of scaring her just as much as he would others.
The scene is reminiscent of the one in AGOT when he escorts her back to her room from the tourney feast. They are together, alone in the dark, and the Hound is scaring her by invading her personal space and telling her a frightening story. In that scene, Sansa reached out to him and patted his shoulder; she had forgotten her fear and was worried about him. In this one, she touches him again, but this time the gesture is more intimate, and the Hound is the one crying.
His offer to take her away and protect her is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is that it finally reveals the anger and anxiety that we could see building in the Hound concerning the injustices Sansa was suffering in KL. He wants to look after this girl, to shield her from anything or anyone that would dare to try to hurt her. And secondly, it’s intriguing because it shows that Sandor may have developed feelings of a certain nature
for Sansa. Instead of making a direct promise to take her back to her family, he meanders around the question of where he is going, throwing out “North somewhere” almost as an inducement for her to come with him. When he tells her that she promised him a song, it’s obviously a poor attempt at hiding his true motives for being there, which were to get her to come with him, but the song suddenly becomes a battle of life and death, one that Sansa nearly loses.
There’s always been a lot of controversy surrounding this scene. Was he there to rape her? Would he have raped and killed her had she not remembered the song? Personally, I don’t think he was there to rape her, and I don’t believe he would have, but I do think he posed a genuine risk to her life that night. The scene is certainly suggestive of sexual violence though - the pushing unto the bed, the dagger at the throat, the request for the love song of Florian and Jonquil.
“Still can’t bear to look, can you?” she heard him say. He gave her arm a hard wrench, pulling her around and shoving her down on the bed. “I’ll have that song, Florian and Jonquil, you said.” His dagger was out, poised at her throat. “Sing little bird. Sing for your little life.”
Her throat was dry and tight with fear, and every song she had ever known had fled from her mind. Please don’t kill me, she wanted to scream, please don’t. She could feel him twisting the point, pushing it into her throat, and she almost closed her eyes again, but then she remembered. It was not the song of Florian and Jonquil, but it was a song. Her voice sounded small and thin and tremulous in her ears.
So Sansa sings the song to the Mother, which I think is one example of a song of ice and fire. Sansa is asking for Sandor’s fury, his anger, his fire, to be soothed and alleviated. A song that was taught to her in the North, becomes integral to her life and survival in the South. If we think of Sandor and Sansa and how they are represented by these two elements, Sansa from the North, symbolic of ice, and Sandor having been touched by fire, it’s an evocative suggestion that these two elements don’t have to cancel one another out, or destroy one another, but can instead find a way to connect and resolve the crisis, harmonize in a song that can end conflict and create peace.
Just what makes Sansa touch his face after she sings the song, though? As in the earlier scene with the women in the Queen’s Ballroom, one would have expected that her natural reaction would have been to flee. Just like she cannot explain why she gets up to speak to the women, we see a similar lack of explanation here. Martin characterises it as an instinct, and we have no way of knowing just what drove Sansa to make this gesture. Is it her natural empathy at work, sensing that the Hound is in deep pain and forgetting her fear as she did when he told her what Gregor had done to his face? I think this is certainly a part of it, and her instincts are correct as she feels “a wetness that was not blood.” She’s also touching the burned side of his face here, the part that had been awash in blood when Tyrion had seen him earlier. It’s ironic that before, Sandor had based her acceptance of him on her willingness to look or not look at his face, but in this moment, touch is playing a much more powerful and suggestive role in their relationship.
It is after this moment that a curious lapse in time occurs when we are given no idea of what exactly Sansa was doing. Sandor rises from the bed, rips off his cloak and she hears the sounds of retreating footsteps. She seems to remain in bed for a period of time, but was she awake, sleeping or in a trance? A number of crackpot theories have suggested that the retreating footsteps were not Sandor’s, and that perhaps he remained in the room, and what happens is not narrated by the author.
What is it that causes Sansa to later believe – quite strongly – that the two of them shared a kiss? Does it stem from the overwhelming experiences of that entire day, Cersei’s threats, the fear of her life from Ser Ilyn and then Sandor, making the unkiss a kind of PTSD type memory? Or is it rather a young girl’s subconscious performing an act of wish fulfilment: creating an event that she secretly longs for after all? GRRM has said that this is a genuine mismemory of Sansa’s, so that should rule out the theory that it happened, and he just didn’t write it. Certainly when Sandor jerked her to him and she felt he was going to kiss her, she consciously realises that nothing happened.
Then we have her wrapping herself in his cloak after she rises from bed. It’s another strange act that seems to belie the earlier terror she felt from him. It’s also an action that GRRM has obviously deliberately included here for a reason. So what is he trying to suggest? It adds to the earlier symbolism of him giving her his cloak to cover herself after she is beaten, except now she is actively choosing to pick his cloak up and use it for warmth and comfort. We later learn that she has kept it as well in her cedar chest beneath her summer silks. The cloak represents marriage and protection in Martin’s world, so is it performing the same signification here? Also, it’s a bloody (white) cloak, which has connotations of a young girl’s bloody marital bedding, taken as proof of her virginity on her wedding night.
Sandor’s decision to leave the cloak can be taken as a sign of his disgust with himself and his actions that night. He rips off the cloak, which for him has always been symbolic of the hypocrisy and deceit of knighthood, and in so doing perhaps performs his own little act of atonement to Sansa, in admission of his ultimate failure and regret. Before, he had asserted that having the white cloak would help him escape the castle, but leaving it behind reveals that he’s going forward as his own man and on his own merit.
The meaning behind Sandor’s actions could also provide us with another reason why Martin has her pick up the cloak. We’ve talked before of how Sansa might operate as a purifying force, offering another chance for these men (Barristan/Sandor) to live up to the ideals that were once embodied in the wearing of a white cloak, or to actually give it true meaning for once. By wrapping herself in Sandor’s bloody cloak, it suggests that there is hope for Sandor to redeem himself, and there may be hope for them too.
Edited by brashcandy, 27 February 2012 - 06:59 PM.