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From Pawn to Player: Rethinking Sansa XX

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1. Sansa was born three years after Ned brought bastard

2. Cat didn't see Baelish since he was thrown after his duel with Brandon (her POV in AGOT)

3. Sansa got direwolf, as symbol of House Stark

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1. Agreed. In my original thought, Cat might have cheated out of anger. Now, I am thinking because of the bird connection, LF glamored his unethical self into Cat's bed. The timing would not be as critical if Cat didnt know it was not Ned she was bedding.

2. Agreed. Does not mean that LF did not see Cat :)

3. Yes she did. Remember they found them out in the snow, I cant imagine Ned knows, and says "hey, Sansa does not get one" let's pick up a bird on the way home; Its possible he does not know, or that he just accepts her for his own if he does know.

I have forgotten to mention Shae in this crackpot theory...but I think she has helped quiet a bit.

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Sorry, but no. In order to be true, your theory would have to ignore and discount all of the evidence that Sansa is a thorough Stark.

There is also no evidence in Catelyn's character that she would be an adulteress (I know you already discarded this part), but the possibility of Littlefinger or anyone else operating under a glamour is flimsy at best and at worst does a disservice to Martin's careful writing of the human heart in conflict. If all the lying, guilt, pain that both Ned and Catelyn undergo with regard to Jon Snow is merely the result of a silly piece of magic instead of being part of fundamental conflicts between people that occurs over and over again in everyone's lives, the whole story of them is seriously cheapened.

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I have also spent a lot of time thinking about Sansa's background, why she is different... I wrote a piece, a crackpot theory, a couple months ago on another site about Sansa... I will try to summarize it here and then add what finally just clicked with the addition of the great thinkers here.

First, I will start with my opinion... Sansa is not a Stark.

Sansa was born after Ned returned home with his bastard. My original work guessed that possibly Cat had been so mad about her husband cheating that she might have taken someone to bed in anger. (This opinion has just changed with reading the previous posts, but I include it to show my thought process).

I am now updating my thinking that someone has glamourd himself into Cat's bed, posing as Ned. It may possibly be that Cat and Ned died not knowing that Sansa was not theirs... but the product of a cruel and calculated Littlefinger. Sansa, as we know...is a "pretty little bird" and knows how to "sing" .

I know, but keep reading.

Now this removes her natural needs for a direwolf, because she is not a Stark. Lady is killed because of the abscence of Arya's wolf... when I read that chapter, I remember a couple things that struck me as odd. Ned, sad as it was to kill Lady, didnt really put up too much fuss, he just required he did it himself. Perhaps Ned had a clue that Sansa really didnt need the wolf like his other children. Someone else in that room mentions that she would be just as happy with a dog... I think that was just a bit of foreshadow humor from Martin that she indeed gets one, the Hound! His fondness for her, his protection of her when she is attacked... Sandor took the place of her direwolf.

Sansa often refers to Jon Snow as "the bastard", so it would be kinda bittersweet if she really was one as well. Sandor is the only one that sees her for who she is ... and even though he probably does not know about Littlefinger's role in this, he makes the bird analogy many times.

I know.

So Littlefinger is now manipulating his daughter to bring him the best possible climb on the ladder that he can achieve. Someone had a quote somewhere about a kinda star wars ending to the book. Well there you go." Sansa, I am your father." after protecting her for so long and teaching her to manipulate their way to the top would indeed be bittersweet.

I will stop there, because we are book lovers here. The television show adds a few more things to this theory, and I will post those if anyone wants a bit more to this. Every moment of screen time means something, and I think the writers are pushing us to look at some clues that have to do with this possible crackpot but probable theory.

Remember, this is just my original opinion. Please be kind, agree or disagree...but if you can add to why it might be a strong theory...thank you ;)

I'd say there is really no evidence to support it.

The timing for her birth and Catelyn thinking that she hasn't seen Littlefinger since he was a young teenager, make for clear evidence otherwise.

As for glamours, there is nothing to indicate LF even knows how to do such a thing, even if he wanted to pull such a trick.

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Sorry, but no. In order to be true, your theory would have to ignore and discount all of the evidence that Sansa is a thorough Stark.

There is also no evidence in Catelyn's character that she would be an adulteress (I know you already discarded this part), but the possibility of Littlefinger or anyone else operating under a glamour is flimsy at best and at worst does a disservice to Martin's careful writing of the human heart in conflict. If all the lying, guilt, pain that both Ned and Catelyn undergo with regard to Jon Snow is merely the result of a silly piece of magic instead of being part of fundamental conflicts between people that occurs over and over again in everyone's lives, the whole story of them is seriously cheapened.

Petyr Baelish HAS a human heart. As smarmy as he is, he loved Cat from very early on, he kills Lysa in her name, he cannot have her by his low birth, and loses her to two Stark brothers. He is not the most fair or sensible of men. I am not sure how glamours really work in Martin's work, but we know that Petyr would stop at nothing to get what he wants. I am going to look for clues now on how glamours are made and maintained, and also quotes about what Cat says about Ned in the bedroom :) If anyone can point me to those, I would appreciate help. You don"t even need to agree with my crackpot theory!

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I have also spent a lot of time thinking about Sansa's background, why she is different... I wrote a piece, a crackpot theory, a couple months ago on another site about Sansa... I will try to summarize it here and then add what finally just clicked with the addition of the great thinkers here.

First, I will start with my opinion... Sansa is not a Stark.

Sansa was born after Ned returned home with his bastard. My original work guessed that possibly Cat had been so mad about her husband cheating that she might have taken someone to bed in anger. (This opinion has just changed with reading the previous posts, but I include it to show my thought process).

<snip>

While the irony embodied in Sansa actually being a bastard while musing that Arya must have been one is common in Martin's writing, Cat is a POV character and we're privy to her internal thoughts. We're inside her head when she learns that Joffrey, the one Sansa is betrothed to, is actually a bastard and she has no thoughts about Sansa's similar status or some infidelity on her own behalf to compare herself with Cersei. In order to support such a proposition there would need to be substantial thematic evidence to back up the theory. One of the things that has become clear over the 20 iterations of this thread is that the thematic evidence runs in the other direction.

Initially we're led to compare Sansa to Cat and Arya to Ned based on their looks and their affinity for the South and North respectively. As the series progresses it becomes clearer that these positions are actually reversed. Arya has a series long affinity for cats, wargs a cat, and even takes on the name Cat of the Canals. She is heavily associated with the Riverlands which is the domain of the Tullys and as of the time the series left off she extraordinarily focused on a justice bordering on vengeance very much like Lady Stoneheart. In contrast, Sansa is very much paralleling Ned on a number of levels. Milady of York does an excellent job of illustrating the parallels to Ned earlier in this thread starting here. There is overwhelming thematic evidence connecting Sansa to Ned.

Speaking of Milady's excellent Ned/Sansa essay, I have been meaning to formulate some thoughts on that for some time. The exchanges Littlefinger and Ned have over the dagger strike me as Littlefinger mocking the First Men tradition of justice where Littlefinger looks Ned in the eyes and passes sentence but carries out that sentence with a dagger to his back rather than with a sword to his face. During that exchange is when LF quips that he forgot he's dealing with a Stark which seems foreshadow his eventual downfall by forgetting he is dealing with Sansa the Stark. I think the metaphor embodied in the First Men tradition of justice is key there.

The prologue in GoT sets the stage for the beheading we see in the first chapter where we first meet the Starks and learn of this tradition. It comes up again when Ned insists on killing Lady himself, but before taking on that responsibility he challenges Robert to perform the act himself (something he does with Robert regarding Dany as well.) The meaning of the ritual transcends the act of execution as Ned would have ridden out after Gregor himself had his leg not been injured and even owns the responsibility for Cat taking Tyrion on the road despite not having specifically ordered it. The idea of wielding the sword is tied to owning responsibility which seems to be most explicitly laid out by Aemon to Jon with his raven and dove speech. There Jon has blood on his hands which seems to be interwoven with this concept of justice especially when considering LF's clean hands speech to Sansa, Tywin's clean hands claims to Tyrion regarding the Red Wedding, and Dany's as clean as she'll ever be thought after reopening the fighting pits.

Sansa is present or strongly connected to most of the justice related beheadings. The Nights Watch deserter is where all the Stark children get their wolves, she is clearly tied to Lady's death, she is present when Ned orders Gregor's death, she witnesses Ned's beheading and is even taken to see his head along with the other Northern victims of Lannister justice, Karstark's beheading had its roots in Cat's desire to trade Jaime for Sansa, and she wished for a hero to behead Slynt connecting her to Jon's act at the Wall as well. I can thematically tie the beheadings in with Jon but I'm unsure of exactly what the implications are for Sansa's arc.

All justice flows from the King. Ned beheads the Nights Watch deserter in Robert's name. There is also a level of injustice in all the beheadings except for Slynt. We know the Nights Watch deserter was telling the truth, Lady was innocent, Ned was innocent-- even though Karstark wasn't justified in his killing he was correct in pointing out the inequity of treatment. There seems to be a common element of flawed justice flowing from the King. This probably dates back at least to Aerys and Rickard and Brandon's deaths were from a lack of justice from the King, but in GoT specifically we see a pattern of Ned shouldering the responsibility for injustice flowing from Robert. The lies Ned tells for love, the sacrifices and risks he takes to protect others can all be traced back to justice not flowing from Robert.

Slynt's beheading comes across as untainted justice especially with the clemency and leniency Jon offers him. Alys Karstark comes to Jon, instead of Stannis the actual King, seeking the justice that ought to flow from the king (nice discussion on that here.) At the same time Jon makes some very Ned-like decisions such as sending Mance's baby with Gilly because justice does not flow Stannis even though Stannis-at-the-Wall is a far cry better than Robert. We see a combination of justice flowing from the King and the need to embrace The Ned's philosophy of getting your hands bloody and your honor stained to protect the innocent.

As Sansa escapes her prison at the Eyrie, many of us suspect that she'll gain agency or power. With that power I would expect a somewhat similar circumstance to Jon with regard to justice in that she'll both be required to shoulder certain things like Ned and that we'll start to see justice flow from the Queen regardless of actual title. Sansa is the spiritual successor for Ned's mission to the South and seems on course to bring justice for Jon Arryn. Jon Snow's connection to justice flowing from the King and Ned's mercy is a much more clearly defined picture than it is with Sansa though. Ideas like Lady dying to pay for Bran's life or the giving up a title for love like in the Prince of Dragonflies story potentially point more strongly toward the merciful sacrificing side of Ned's nature. Despite Jon performing the actual beheading, the thematic evidence surrounding all those GoT beheadings is far more centered on Sansa. I suspect there's more to this First Men justice theme in Sansa and that it is a far more subtle and nuanced thread than it is with Jon.

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Remember, this is just my original opinion. Please be kind, agree or disagree...but if you can add to why it might be a strong theory...thank you ;)

Welcome to the forums, Blushingfae, and thanks for commenting in the PtP. Unfortunately, even crackpottery has to have some logical and credible basis, which this hypothesis is simply lacking, and to judge by your words, it's not even fully fleshed out yet either. I am sure you can develop it further with more research, but the Pawn to Player thread isn't the place for this, because we aim to have productive and credible discussions that help us reach a better understanding of Sansa's arc, something that this crackpotting simply doesn't lead to.

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Sansa is present or strongly connected to most of the justice related beheadings. The Nights Watch deserter is where all the Stark children get their wolves, she is clearly tied to Lady's death, she is present when Ned orders Gregor's death, she witnesses Ned's beheading and is even taken to see his head along with the other Northern victims of Lannister justice, Karstark's beheading had its roots in Cat's desire to trade Jaime for Sansa, and she wished for a hero to behead Slynt connecting her to Jon's act at the Wall as well. I can thematically tie the beheadings in with Jon but I'm unsure of exactly what the implications are for Sansa's arc.

When it comes to Slynt, and the Northern idea of justice: "The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword", it seems to me that the positioning of Sansa and Jon is that Sansa is the one who passed the sentence, and Jon swang the sword. It is like Martin united them as one, emphasizing the strength of the wolf pack mentality, and the share of emotions that happens between wolves. Thematically, and Shadowcat Rivers once mentioned it, it can mean that Sansa and Jon will rule North together as siblings, due to the positions they have been given as wolves. Remember, Jon is regarded by Bran as the oldest, most serious of all Ned's children, and Ghost dominated Nymeria, while Sansa, she is clearly alpha female, caretaker and nurturer of the pack...

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When it comes to Slynt, and the Northern idea of justice: "The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword", it seems to me that the positioning of Sansa and Jon is that Sansa is the one who passed the sentence, and Jon swang the sword. It is like Martin united them as one, emphasizing the strength of the wolf pack mentality, and the share of emotions that happens between wolves. Thematically, and Shadowcat Rivers once mentioned it, it can mean that Sansa and Jon will rule North together as siblings, due to the positions they have been given as wolves. Remember, Jon is regarded by Bran as the oldest, most serious of all Ned's children, and Ghost dominated Nymeria, while Sansa, she is clearly alpha female, caretaker and nurturer of the pack...

Sansa specifically wanted Slynt dead for the crime of killing Ned, while Jon goes out of his way to offer Slynt a command because of the Watch's needs as well as the fact that by taking the Black the crime of killing Ned is washed away (the crime of Thorne and Slynt trying to kill Jon was fair game to punish but he even set that aside.) I think you'd need a oneness of purpose and deed like we see in a Jaime/Cersei when Jaime reflects on how he would have killed Arya for Cersei if he found her first. I don't see that with Slynt's beheading with Jon and Sansa.

Sansa is certainly being set up as the North's Southron House expert as she is about the only Stark with any personal relationship with politically powerful people south of the Neck. From the advice Jon gives Stannis, the fact that Alys chose to flee to Jon, and the way he interacts with the Mountain Clan leaders it seems pretty clear that Jon has the Northern politics covered. Assuming there is a peace by the end of this tale and that the Starks have a role in shaping it, both Jon and Sansa seem needed to play a role in making that peace. In that sense they need to "rule" together, but I don't see them sharing rule unless Jon were to abdicate what Robb's will grants him to Sansa and act as her Castellan/Hand/Military Leader-- and that seems unlikely with Bran and Rickon still breathing. Maybe they'd rule together if Rickon inherits until he comes of age but I would expect them to go their separate ways afterwards as siblings typically do.

One of the key drives in Sansa currently is love over politics and technically cousins not withstanding, I don't see Sansa marrying Jon even if she makes the politics over love choice in the end-- especially because politics would be better served by each of them marrying into separate Northern Houses. Jon marrying his sister (even if she's technically his cousin) would be his embracing his Targaryen heritage through incest over the Stark one that he grew up with which runs counter to all the signs we've seen with his contemplating father figures. All the "love" for Jon we've seen from Sansa is family love not romantic love which makes a marriage run counter to the thematic direction of her arc as well.

Justice is a huge theme in the series. Even most of the sympathy ploys Martin uses on us poor readers are based on injustice (or at least a sense if unfairness which I suppose is non-criminal injustice.) He opens the story with the First Men beheading and brings the practice into the center of our injustice outrage. This seemingly harsh dispensation of justice takes on a more humane feel with looking the person in the eyes and that last chance for clemency or mercy. It feels right with its purpose of making it hard to make that choice to sentence someone to die. It seems all the more reasonable a practice compared to Stannis and his cleaver or the political farces we see dominate the rest of Westeros. The opposite side of that coin in Ned is his willingness to break with law for honor, justice and mercy. He swings the sword but he lies to his king when the lie is not without honor. He besmirches his own reputation when the life of a child is at stake because Robert won't look the child in the eyes himself when he has an executioner to do it, to make it easy. Tracing this theme through Jon is straight forward. Maybe it will become much clearer once Sansa starts exercising agency but I suspect there is a more involved commentary on The Ned's justice interwoven in Sansa's arc.

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Sansa specifically wanted Slynt dead for the crime of killing Ned, while Jon goes out of his way to offer Slynt a command because of the Watch's needs as well as the fact that by taking the Black the crime of killing Ned is washed away (the crime of Thorne and Slynt trying to kill Jon was fair game to punish but he even set that aside.) I think you'd need a oneness of purpose and deed like we see in a Jaime/Cersei when Jaime reflects on how he would have killed Arya for Cersei if he found her first.

True, but allow me to use counterargument. When in Westeros someone paid for the actual crime he commited? I mean, Northern justice is of that sort, we know why Rickard Karstark and Will were beheaded, but justice overall in Westeros is not that efficient, and we rarely see punishing the guilties for what they have actually done. Jaime won't respond for what he has done to Bran, but he paid on another level when his hand was cut off. Theon's situation is the same, Lysa's, we even see the weird situation with Cersei's walk of shame. Oneness of purpose perhaps isn't necessary for the oneness of deed... You have good point, but I see Sansa and Jon having connection on both close siblings' level, but also on some metaphysical level... I could be wrong, but there are subtle connections between Stark siblings...

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The opposite side of that coin in Ned is his willingness to break with law for honor, justice and mercy. He swings the sword but he lies to his king when the lie is not without honor. He besmirches his own reputation when the life of a child is at stake because Robert won't look the child in the eyes himself when he has an executioner to do it, to make it easy. Tracing this theme through Jon is straight forward. Maybe it will become much clearer once Sansa starts exercising agency but I suspect there is a more involved commentary on The Ned's justice interwoven in Sansa's arc.

Well said Rag. As it relates to the theme of justice and Sansa, I've always seen her as a reformer type character, which makes for an interesting contrast with LF (and hints at future conflict), since he's built his entire empire on using and discarding people when their purpose is over. In the latest essay comparing Sandor and LF upthread, we see his mocking regard for Barristan Selmy, whilst Sansa not only feels compassion for the knight, but is able to make use of his cloak as she pleads for her father's life. The few times we saw Sansa playing an active role in KL were mostly centred around themes of justice and mercy - saving Dontos from a sure death, and later on administering help to an injured Lancel Lannister.

I also liked your point about the beheadings, and let's not forget Sansa's decapitation of Sweetrobin's doll and the potential foreshadowing of LF meeting his grisly end that way.

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Hi everyone! I have been away from the forum for over a week (on a fun family cruise but with very limited internet connection) and I came back to see there have been some great essays posted. I have a lot of catching up to do and hope to have the time to devote to them all but I just wanted to say a great big thank you to Miodrag for a wonderful essay! I just read it and really enjoyed it. I know another thread has been created for detailed discussion but I did want to highlight this one quote here:

At the beginning of the story, Sandor Clegane could be perceived as the exact opposite of Sansa. As someone who has no business whatsoever in her world, just like she has none in his. But, with some craft wording and master subtlety, Martin succeeds in illustrating the flood of emotions that go both ways in their relationship. Those emotions are never easy, nor appropriate, let alone allowed – even by Sansa and Sandor themselves! – but they're hard to be denied.

This so perfectly sums up the Sandor - Sansa relationship and I love it. It expresses so well the true nature behind their relationship and I agree that it is extremely subtle. The analogy of the sound of the train building up is also a perfect description. Okay, now I'm off to continue reading and hopefully I'll get to the other thread discussing this essay too at some point and post further comments there.

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True, but allow me to use counterargument. When in Westeros someone paid for the actual crime he commited? I mean, Northern justice is of that sort, we know why Rickard Karstark and Will were beheaded, but justice overall in Westeros is not that efficient, and we rarely see punishing the guilties for what they have actually done. Jaime won't respond for what he has done to Bran, but he paid on another level when his hand was cut off. Theon's situation is the same, Lysa's, we even see the weird situation with Cersei's walk of shame. Oneness of purpose perhaps isn't necessary for the oneness of deed... You have good point, but I see Sansa and Jon having connection on both close siblings' level, but also on some metaphysical level... I could be wrong, but there are subtle connections between Stark siblings...

I suspect this is a big part of the overall message embedded in Martin's treatment of justice. There is tremendous injustice in the world whether Westeros or our own. The truly "bad" people get away with it for a very long time and sometimes right up until they die of a very ripe old age. More often than not it is the karmic harvest that brings "justice" in a reap what you sow way rather than the proper channels of justice-- and sometimes those proper channels of justice are an injustice themselves. Take Tywin who had a world of sins who escaped the King's Justice but died poetically at the hands of his own son given his sins in the name of family. Joffrey abused Sansa horribly and was never punished for it but in the end the Tyrell's poisoned his cup because they wouldn't let Margaery suffer like Sansa.

Dorne and the North are both isolated and insulated geographically and politically from the hive of scum and villainy that is Kings Landing and these are the two places where we see the greatest calls for justice. These are also the two places we see the clearest examples of mercy as well as the cost of justice for the lost being weighed against unjust cost to those who might be preserved. Elia and Lyanna were lost but Jon lived (through Ned's justice) while Aegon and Rhaella died. Fifteen years later Ned and Robb die while Ned's other children suffer against a plot backdrop that strongly hints at how the North needs to stay North and take care of its own and where Dorne does take care of its own and suffers no losses until Oberyn.

There seems to be a bit of a "think globally act locally" moral to the story mixed with a bit of the Serenity Prayer and a strong reminder that actions have consequences. Dany is crusading against the very sympathetic injustice of slavery but is doing so in a place she doesn't really understand. She creates her own injustices with the 163 crucified people as well as with the freed slaves who have no opportunities to exercise their new found freedom. It isn't clear that Dany is wrong in her goals, but it is clear that a lack of restraint and an incomplete understanding of the world around you will create other injustices as you try to rectify the existing ones. Is she right or wrong? I suspect it is intentionally posed as a dilemma where we see the costs both to Dany and the consequences to the world around her.

I don't think it is a coincidence that Dany marries devoid of love in a sacrifice for her cause while Sansa is focused on love over her claim. Dany is dreaming of reshaping the world while Sansa is focused on reshaping her private world. Dany is an archetypal mother figure while Sansa desires are to be a literal mother through a family of her own. Robb's refusal to trade Jaime for Sansa is closer in spirit to Dany's quest for justice than Ned's choices to preserve family and let injustices stand. Even the very personal aspect of First Men justice mirrors the focus on the individual over the collective. There is actually a unifying theme of justice and love connecting Sansa, Dany and Arianne (one that will be more interesting since they seem likely to meet) that traces its roots back to the same historical event in the sack of Kings Landing that makes for an interesting comparison. When do you let injustice stand in favor of love or mercy? When do you let go of the injustices to the dead and focus on the justice to be had for the living? Is justice for the dead at the expense of the living really justice at all once the cost of justice is weighed?

Sansa is a primary figure in all these justice themes and with her it seems that the mercy and protection for others is paramount relative to punishment which is something carried over from Ned. I suspect the "justice" we'll see playing out in Sansa will feel bittersweet like our foretold ending. There will always be injustice but with Sansa I expect something akin to Brash's romance signature quote where she makes a peace with her futile progress toward an unobtainable ideal-- which in the end is the best any of us can ever do.

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A Closer Look at Littlefinger and the Hound IV: Family Stories

Ancestry Pride and Contempt

Littlefinger and the Hound both shared personal stories with Sansa on the same day, but there is where the similarities stop, for not only her reaction to the revelations but also the content and focus of their stories set the men apart. When Littlefinger met Sansa, the story he told her is about himself and her mother:

“You must be one of her daughters,” he said to her. He had grey-green eyes that did not smile when his mouth did. “You have the Tully look.”

“I’m Sansa Stark,” she said, ill at ease. The man wore a heavy cloak with a fur collar, fastened with a silver mockingbird, and he had the effortless manner of a high lord, but she did not know him. “I have not had the honor, my lord.”

Septa Mordane quickly took a hand. “Sweet child, this is Lord Petyr Baelish, of the king’s small council.”

“Your mother was my queen of beauty once,” the man said quietly. His breath smelled of mint. “You have her hair.” His fingers brushed against her cheek as he stroked one auburn lock. Quite abruptly he turned and walked away.

Here we observe that he presents his relationship with Catelyn in very romantic terms, and suggesting that the feelings were mutual as intimated by his words, an implicit falseness as such amorous feelings had been one-sided. Later, on the ship taking Sansa to the Fingers, he would complement the tale with further details that also imply the reciprocity of those feelings:

He brushed back a strand of her hair. “You are old enough to know that your mother and I were more than friends. There was a time when Cat was all I wanted in this world. I dared to dream of the life we might make and the children she would give me... but she was a daughter of Riverrun, and Hoster Tully. Family, Duty, Honor, Sansa. Family, Duty, Honor meant I could never have her hand. But she gave me something finer, a gift a woman can give but once.”

With these additions, the story he’d told her before is transformed into a tale of lost love, a tragic romance between the lowborn boy who wanted the hand of the highborn girl that wanted him back but were separated by paternal pride and social conventions. This is a tale that would’ve had the old Sansa he’d met at the Hand’s tourney sigh dreamily and shed a tear over, considering that her favourite stories were the ones of impossible love: Florian and Jonquil, Aemon and Naerys. So, from that perspective it looks like he’d cleverly devised this as a way to ensure a positive image of himself in her eyes, to impress upon her young mind that what he has done, is doing and will do is in the name of the love he felt for her mother. But this is a positive image carved out with a personal story filled with imprecisions and untruths that put a veil over his obsessive and failed pursuit of a woman promised to another man; and a different Sansa doesn’t particularly fuss over this.

Additionally, it’s not something that only Sansa would be privy to, as Littlefinger had been telling the same story all over King’s Landing, if we are to believe Tyrion Lannister’s words to Catelyn in person, therefore many, many people knew it already, which shows how daring and tactless he was in spreading this story and how cocky, taking into account that it could have meant trouble had it reached Lord Eddard’s ears as well once he came to the city as Hand; and the story of how he challenged Brandon Stark to a duel for Catelyn’s hand is also old news at court, as evidenced by Varys’ and Renly’s curiosity when both men met at the Council. And of all the Stark children at least Arya knows this as well, but Sansa doesn’t, which is an odd reversion of truths known and untruths unknown between both Starks: the father knows that Littlefinger fought for his wife’s hand, but ignores that he claims he took her maidenhead; and the daughter ignores that Littlefinger fought for her mother’s hand, but knows his claims to have taken her maidenhead. The Ned had no opportunity to find out, but Sansa still can figure out she was lied to; placing together the bits and pieces of damning information that her aunt sputtered before she died could be one way of achieving that.

The story Sandor Clegane told her was also about his youth, yet far more eloquent and emotion-filled that it’d be expected from someone like him:

“Most of them, they think it was some battle. A siege, a burning tower, an enemy with a torch. One fool asked if it was dragonsbreath.” His laugh was softer this time, but just as bitter. “I’ll tell you what it was, girl,” he said, a voice from the night, a shadow leaning so close now that she could smell the sour stench of wine on his breath. “I was younger than you, six, maybe seven. A woodcarver set up shop in the village under my father’s keep, and to buy favor he sent us gifts. The old man made marvelous toys. I don’t remember what I got, but it was Gregor’s gift I wanted. A wooden knight, all painted up, every joint pegged separate and fixed with strings, so you could make him fight. Gregor is five years older than me, the toy was nothing to him, he was already a squire, near six foot tall and muscled like an ox. So I took his knight, but there was no joy to it, I tell you. I was scared all the while, and true enough, he found me. There was a brazier in the room. Gregor never said a word, just picked me up under his arm and shoved the side of my face down in the burning coals and held me there while I screamed and screamed. You saw how strong he is. Even then, it took three grown men to drag him off me. The septons preach about the seven hells. What do they know? Only a man who’s been burned knows what hell is truly like.

“My father told everyone my bedding had caught fire, and our maester gave me ointments. Ointments! Gregor got his ointments too. Four years later, they anointed him with the seven oils and he recited his knightly vows and Rhaegar Targaryen tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Arise, Ser Gregor.’ ”

This is told in the spur of the moment as a response to Sansa’s talk, not planned or calculated, and with this tale the ill-tempered and ill-reputed Hound bares his soul, revealing that he was a victim of abuse and a murder attempt, which belies the assumptions people make about himself: that he’s such a hard and brutal man whose only wounds are those sustained in battle, and always has been, since that’s what his brother was like since childhood too. By Sandor’s soft yet bitter laughter, we can sense that he is aware that nobody seemed to have entertained the thought that the scars could’ve had a different origin, and that he allowed everybody to speculate to their heart’s content, possibly whilst pretending not to care; but in Sansa’s presence the whole unpleasant and unadorned truth is laid out for her to learn, ponder on and decide what to make of it.

The story wasn’t meant to put the Hound in good light, his intentions weren’t even positive as he sought to scare Sansa out of her idealistic take on knights; he was supposed to reveal a monstrosity of a man but instead ended up revealing a traumatised child, one that according to fan speculation was himself a very idealistic one. And indeed, there’s reasons to believe his preference for a toy knight indicates precisely that, but there’s more to it than just idealism: it can indicate that he was about to start his formal training as a page previous to that of squire, the first and second steps towards knighthood. I base this argument on two facts within the novels that can be corroborated by actual historical data: a. that only children of the nobility, from landed knights up, were given formal martial training from age 7 onwards, and b. that those toy knights were more than just simple toys; they were given to noble boys for didactic reasons as well, because with them they could learn about jousting and the proper handling of lances, maces and hammers; and if they were of the wooden variety with loose extremities attached with strings that allowed movement, they could learn about swordfighting moves and footwork. Taking into account that Clegane was about to turn 7 at the time, and showed interest in a toy knight that he “could make fight,” then it’s probable that he was mentally readying himself for starting his formal training, which he knew or was told that would come soon, and was daydreaming about deeds of glory, the Kingsguard, the Dragonknight, what have you; a possibility that could be supported by the thematic parallel to Bran, who was aged 7, had just begun to train with wooden swords and was dreaming of becoming a great knight when he was crippled.

Yet despite the intentions and the threat that followed, what he got in return was Sansa’s sympathy and understanding, things he wouldn’t expect either. And she does cherish being the only one apart from the two Cleganes who knows this, as when she mentally defends the Hound from the rumours she overhears on his supposed desertion for cowardice, citing his fear of fire originated from his scarring as the reason. Coincidentally, in this case there’s again a parallel between what Eddard and Sansa know: she’s the only one who knows how the Hound got his burns, and her father’s the only character that silently connects the disquiet he feels about Gregor at the Hand’s tourney to the rumours about “the fire that had disfigured his brother,” thus inadvertently hitting the nail on the head.

Since both men are from third-generation lower nobility, the family stories they both tell Sansa are about how their respective Houses came into existence. The Hound was the first one to narrate the story of his ancestor, on Sansa’s inquiry:

As they were winding their way up the steps, she said, “Why do you let people call you a dog? You won’t let anyone call you a knight.”

“I like dogs better than knights. My father’s father was kennelmaster at the Rock. One autumn year, Lord Tytos came between a lioness and her prey. The lioness didn’t give a shit that she was Lannister’s own sigil. Bitch tore into my lord’s horse and would have done for my lord too, but my grandfather came up with the hounds. Three of his dogs died running her off. My grandfather lost a leg, so Lannister paid him for it with lands and a towerhouse, and took his son to squire. The three dogs on our banner are the three that died, in the yellow of autumn grass. A hound will die for you, but never lie to you. And he’ll look you straight in the face.”

And later she’d hear Littlefinger’s story in two separate narrations after he takes her to the Fingers:

Above the hearth hung a broken longsword and a battered oaken shield, its paint cracked and flaking.

The device painted on the shield was one Sansa did not know; a grey stone head with fiery eyes, upon a light green field. “My grandfather’s shield,” Petyr explained when he saw her gazing at it. “His own father was born in Braavos and came to the Vale as a sellsword in the hire of Lord Corbray, so my grandfather took the head of the Titan as his sigil when he was knighted.”

“It’s very fierce,” said Sansa.

“Rather too fierce, for an amiable fellow like me,” said Petyr. “I much prefer my mockingbird.”

. . .

Farther inland a dozen families lived in huts of piled stone beside a peat bog. “Mine own smallfolk,” Petyr said, though only the oldest seemed to know him. There was a hermit’s cave on his land as well, but no hermit. “He’s dead now, but when I was a boy my father took me to see him. The man had not washed in forty years, so you can imagine how he smelled, but supposedly he had the gift of prophecy. He groped me a bit and said I would be a great man, and for that my father gave him a skin of wine.” Petyr snorted. “I would have told him the same thing for half a cup.”

Here we see that there are fewer similarities than differences: both stories reveal that the first noble in the family was their paternal grandfathers, both achieved a roughly similar rank of hedge knight/landed knight and served a high lord. All the rest is different: the grandparents’ origins and professions, the nature of the service that earned them their title, as well as the grandsons’ tone when narrating their elders’ deeds, their attitude towards the lands and smallfolk, and finally their identification with the House sigil chosen by each grandsire.

Starting with Grandfather Clegane, Sandor’s eloquence bordering on minimalist lyricism transmits to the reader the pride he feels about that commoner who earned a living breeding dogs for the high lord he served, and served faithfully, at the cost of an extremity and three of his hounds, which resulted in his elevation in status and the surname Clegane that Sandor now has. I make the latter assertion based on the fact that the Westerosi commoners don’t have one; surnames are a privilege of nobles born or made and of their acknowledged bastards, therefore that hound breeder was the first one to adopt this surname. And the grandson’s pride in his history is in no way diminished because of the infamy brought about by Gregor, the horrible childhood memories, the neglectful attitude of his father after his burning, nor by how his brother treats the smallfolk and what he turned the ancestral house into: “a grim place where servants disappeared unaccountably and even the dogs were afraid to enter the hall,” according to gossip Eddard recalls. On the contrary, he clung to that memory and instead of modifying the sigil to have a slightly distinct one for his personal use, since as a second son he could start a cadet branch with a new coat of arms, he kept it and adopted the Hound as a moniker, which, negative as it is, nonetheless has for him the same implicit positive symbolism that his grandfather had in mind: in heraldic symbology, the colour yellow gold meant generosity, which would be a nod to Lord Tytos’ prodigality, and having a dog in a family crest meant that said family held the virtues of courage, fidelity and sincerity in high regard. Such qualities are implied in Sandor’s explanation for adopting a canine sobriquet: “A hound will die for you (courage and fidelity), but never lie to you (sincerity).”

He is therefore very conscious that he owes his present status to the efforts of an ancestor and to the Lannisters, which would account for his loyalty to them independently of the unflattering opinions he may have about them. It’s three generations of Cleganes serving the Rock and rising steadily: his grandfather saved Lord Tytos, his father squired at the Rock, possibly for Lord Tytos as well, so he knew Tywin since boyhood, his brother squiring was likely at the Rock as well, and Sandor himself knew where to escape to find protection from him and earn a living: in the Rock the service record of the Cleganes was known to the liege lord, and a Lannister always pays his debts, especially when the “debt” turns out to be an efficient tool they can use, so they took him in, and soon he distinguished himself enough to be assigned as Queen Cersei’s sworn shield.

Continuing with Grandfather Baelish, Petyr’s tone when relating his history ranges from dismissive to mocking to arrogant; there are no traces of pride or at least respect in his words. Moreover, he doesn’t tell how his grandfather became a Ser; there are so many ways to earn a knighthood, good and unethical, in war and in peacetime, and had the deed been noteworthy, likely it’d have been narrated. Instead, we only get a description of the sigil his grandsire adopted: the Titan of Braavos, which indicates that the man did feel proud of his origins, unlike his grandson, and it’s quite probable that the surname Baelish he passed on to his descendants is this man’s own father’s lowborn Braavosi surname as well, because we know from the text that Essosi commoners can have surnames: Syrio’s is Forel, Daario’s is Naharis, and so on. And then, Littlefinger doesn’t relate how his own father became a lord either, which stands out because one would assume that for a son of a mere hedge knight with no lands to his name to become a landed lord would be cause for wonderment, yet there’s silence about that. Did the first Lord Baelish get that title and those lands through marriage to an heiress, then? Likely, because so far in the novels we’ve seen that this is one way to obtain such a title, and the other option is to distinguish oneself for services to the Crown, because only a monarch or a regent can grant a title of lord, and high lords themselves generally grant only lesser titles such as that of landed knight, which would explain why the first Clegane didn’t get a higher rank for saving a Lannister. What we know is that by the time the first Lord Baelish befriended Hoster Tully, he was already a lord; so that makes it less likely that he earned the title for services to the Targaryens during the War of the Ninepenny Kings.

In any case, Littlefinger’s disdain toward his forebears is extended to the family’s seat and its smallfolk; he’s constantly referring to his home and the servants and inhabitants in disparaging terms:

“And there it stands, miserable as it is. My ancestral home. It has no name, I fear. A great lord’s seat ought to have a name, wouldn’t you agree? Winterfell, the Eyrie, Riverrun, those are castles. Lord of Harrenhal now, that has a sweet ring to it, but what was I before? Lord of Sheepshit and Master of the Dreadfort? It lacks a certain something.”

. . .

“But not here,” she said, dismayed. “It looks so...”

“... small and bleak and mean? It’s all that, and less. The Fingers are a lovely place, if you happen to be a stone.”

. . .

“Nothing says home like the smell of burning dung.”

. . .

“You did, my lord. You said you’d be getting some more men too, but you never did. Me and the dogs stand all the watches.”

“And very well, I’m sure. No one has made off with any of my rocks or sheep pellets, I see that plainly.” Petyr gestured toward the fat woman. “Kella minds my vast herds. How many sheep do I have at present, Kella?”

She had to think a moment. “Three and twenty, m’lord. There was nine and twenty, but Bryen’s dogs killed one and we butchered some others and salted down the meat.”

“Ah, cold salt mutton. I must be home. When I break my fast on gulls’ eggs and seaweed soup, I’ll be certain of it.”

. . .

Lord Petyr made a face. “Come, let’s see if my hall is as dreary as I recall.”

The place is indeed very modest, just a small windowless towerhouse with only one bedchamber, a hall and a kitchen, where the servants “lived and slept in the kitchen at ground level, sharing the space with a huge brindled mastiff and a half-dozen sheepdogs.” So, from that perspective, it certainly isn’t an attractive place to an ambitious man like Littlefinger. But then, his neglectful attitude is responsible for the “dreary” state of his keep and the precarious living conditions of his peasants, because had he cared a bit he could have improved his home and the inhabitants’ quality of life; he had plenty of time for that and it’d not even required his stay there, since he could appoint someone else for that task whilst he was in King’s Landing. His words suggest that what he doesn’t appreciate is to be reminded of his origins, since he descends from lowly and foreign swords-for-hire with no particularly heroic or noteworthy deeds to talk about, and that he always had ambitions of climbing higher, as that story of the hermit is previous to his being sent to Riverrun, where he got a taste of how it is like to be a highborn and how great lords lived, plus he met Catelyn and set eyes on her, which also suggests that he did entertain the idea of becoming a great lord through marriage to a highborn woman, seeing how he later would use Lysa Tully to advance despite not loving her, and how he presently plans to use Sansa to his advantage as well.

That contempt for his ancestry is also evidenced in the change of sigil for House Baelish. It’s often assumed that it was him who did the modification, and that his fractious relationship with his father could be the cause; but there’s also the alternate possibility that the change could’ve been done by the first Lord Baelish when he rose from hedge knight to lord, as changing or modifying an existing sigil when changing status was commonplace, and the field is still green in both coats of arms, which in case the title was acquired via marriage, would mean an adoption of the animal in the wife’s House sigil whilst keeping the Baelish colours. Littlefinger refers to the sigil of the Titan as his grandfather’s but doesn’t indicate whether his own father used the same sigil as well, which is also a hint; and another is that on receiving a message from him arriving at King’s Landing, Catelyn recognised the silver mockingbird as the Baelish sigil, which is to be noted as a possible indication that Petyr already had that one in Riverrun whilst his father still lived, because she’d not seen him since then nor had had correspondence with him after that letter on Brandon’s death, so she’d have seen that sigil then, and also she recalls that back in Riverrun as a child, he “loved his silver.” In this SSM, the author has said that “There are no "laws" of heraldry per se, no college of heralds for enforcement, no formal regulations about cadency and differencing. So individual knights and lords have a certain amount of freedom to bear what shields they prefer and play around with their house sigil... or not, as the case may be,” and cites examples of modified sigils even in the main branch of a House; so it’s not something that rare to have a personal sigil apart from the “original” family sigil, and it doesn’t carry the implicit suggestion of familial squabbles per se.

Independently of the reasons for the change, the different sigil says more about Littlefinger as an individual rather than about his family. Green is, in heraldic symbology, the colour of hope, of joy, and amorous fidelity, but also the colour of spring, and it was said that the nobles who used that colour were morally obliged to defend the peasantry and those who till the land, which Baelish doesn’t do at all even if his new coat of arms has this same colour. As for the Titan of Braavos, the real-life inspiration for this fictional statue is the statue of a legendary Titan called Helios placed on the Greek island of Rhodes, and this Helios was the sun god, described in the sources as “powerful, fiery, bright and tireless,” positive qualities and quite opposite to the generally questionable traits and behaviour of the rest of the Titans, including some of his own children, so he personally doesn’t share in the negative symbolism associated with the Titans—greed, violence and cruelty—because he was generally good-natured, unlike the one from Braavos, who fed on the flesh of maidens according to internal ASOIAF legends; and that has an interesting parallel to Littlefinger: according to Homer and Apollonius, Helios possessed flocks and pastured his cattle and sheep on the small island of Thrinacia.

Baelish may not identify with the “fiery” and “fierce” nature of each Titan, the Greek and the Braavosi, but he nonetheless has the negative traits associated with them, for he is power-hungry, has a streak of cruelty and can certainly both cause and do violence in person, which, true to his modus operandi, he tries to conceal with an inoffensive exterior, which would explain his love for the mockingbird, a bird that in literature has become the symbol of nice, harmless, helpless innocence, when in reality it’s a consummate impersonator and counterfeiter that passes off his singing and noises as those of other birds and non-feathered animals, for the purpose of impressing the females and driving away potential threats. A Native American legend about the origins of this bird doesn’t bestow upon it a positive symbolism either: it says that it sprung from the head of a cruel and cunning man who hated the Natives and was determined to rule over them, but their warriors were an obstacle, so he decided to kill them all and for that he attracted them to a trap one by one imitating baby cries, female voices, laughter, etc., until one warrior heard it, smelt a trap, and by following the voices caught him on his wigwam doing the impersonations, and killed him by throwing him into the fire, where his head cracked open in two parts, from between which a bird flew forth, who had no call of his own and only imitated other birds’ calls. All this symbolism does fit Littlefinger’s double-dealing, his obsessive pursuit of Catelyn and then Sansa, and his fooling others with his appearance.

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Starting with Grandfather Clegane, Sandor’s eloquence bordering on minimalist lyricism transmits to the reader the pride he feels about that commoner who earned a living breeding dogs for the high lord he served, and served faithfully, at the cost of an extremity and three of his hounds, which resulted in his elevation in status and the surname Clegane that Sandor now has. I make the latter assertion based on the fact that the Westerosi commoners don’t have one; surnames are a privilege of nobles born or made and of their acknowledged bastards, therefore that hound breeder was the first one to adopt this surname. And the grandson’s pride in his history is in no way diminished because of the infamy brought about by Gregor, the horrible childhood memories, the neglectful attitude of his father after his burning, nor by how his brother treats the smallfolk and what he turned the ancestral house into: “a grim place where servants disappeared unaccountably and even the dogs were afraid to enter the hall,” according to gossip Eddard recalls. On the contrary, he clung to that memory and instead of modifying the sigil to have a slightly distinct one for his personal use, since as a second son he could start a cadet branch with a new coat of arms, he kept it and adopted the Hound as a moniker, which, negative as it is, nonetheless has for him the same implicit positive symbolism that his grandfather had in mind: in heraldic symbology, the colour yellow gold meant generosity, which would be a nod to Lord Tytos’ prodigality, and having a dog in a family crest meant that said family held the virtues of courage, fidelity and sincerity in high regard. Such qualities are implied in Sandor’s explanation for adopting a canine sobriquet: “A hound will die for you (courage and fidelity), but never lie to you (sincerity).”

He is therefore very conscious that he owes his present status to the efforts of an ancestor and to the Lannisters, which would account for his loyalty to them independently of the unflattering opinions he may have about them. It’s three generations of Cleganes serving the Rock and rising steadily: his grandfather saved Lord Tytos, his father squired at the Rock, possibly for Lord Tytos as well, so he knew Tywin since boyhood, his brother squiring was likely at the Rock as well, and Sandor himself knew where to escape to find protection from him and earn a living: in the Rock the service record of the Cleganes was known to the liege lord, and a Lannister always pays his debts, especially when the “debt” turns out to be an efficient tool they can use, so they took him in, and soon he distinguished himself enough to be assigned as Queen Cersei’s sworn shield.

It's evident that Sandor's cynicism and distaste for knighthood finds its root in how his personal plight was at odds with the fortunes of his family. Basically it came down to justice versus his family's fortunes. He came of the loser in that contest, which from his own perspective is an unfathomable betrayal. His brother Gregor was a monster, true enough, but it was his father and the rest of society who dealt the worst psychological blow in whitewashing it. (Reminds me of that story The General's Daughter, actually.) "All for House Clegane", they excused what Gregor did, and worse, the mad dog gets knighted soon after, with some farcical ceremony which states his soul is as pure as the driven snow - when everyone knew better. (Call it symbolism or foreshadowing or karma, but the gods do take notice.)

We already know Sandor's personal perspective, but what of his father's ? His father comes off as an utter coward to the reader, but remember his father was only first generation nobility. Grandfather, whose hounds saved Tytos Lannister, was a commoner - a skilled tradesman to be sure, another expendible member of the smallfolk in comparison to any noble. He earned his land and very minor title by his meritorious deeds. The son (Sandor's father) would be someone keenly aware how precarious this is - even a sellsword can rise just as high, and successful sellswords and their families generally have more depth when it comes to skill at arms (which is always useful to a lord). So, Sandor's father has sons to carry on the newly-noble Clegane name, and his firstborn son is the just the sort that he needs - huge and aggressive, he is able to quiet the true aristocracy which still looks down its nose at the upstart Cleganes. Imagine the fear of position too: Tywin Lannister is not the sort of kind fellow like his father Tytos, to hand a knighthood to a kennel worker; he also eliminates those knights and lords who fail or trouble him. With a lord like that, Ser Clegane will not stand out, but his son is the perfect asset for Lord Tywin - a perfect weapon to be placed in the hands of such an unscrupulous lord, the key to not just serving Tywin Lannister, but impressing him. And then Ser Clegane's firstborn does something horrifying, burning the younger son over some petty trivial thing. With Gregor's knighthood imminent, does Ser Clegane let this scandal tarnish his son's reputation and the family's? In the end Ser Clegane sacrificed Sandor's face and psyche on the altar of the family's advancement. He excused a monstrous act, his son's monstrous nature. From his perspective, no doubt he thought he was doing right by his family, and no doubt following his liege lord's example. (After all, his liege Lord "protected" the Lannister name by having an innocent girl gang-raped for daring to love a son which the lord regarded as defective anyway.)

In the end, of course, the father of Sandor and Gregor paid for the mistake - Gregor probably murdered his own father and the rest of the family, except Sandor. Sandor goes on to serve the liege lord's family directly, to gain the training and arms, but scorning the trappings of it. He is a smart lad - he understands that the system whitewashes all the murders, rapes, mutiliations, etc., and never mind justice. Sandor's "pride" at his family's having risen up in social rank is forever marred by how it also betrayed what is right in his case. His grandfather the commoner was courageous and made the righteous sacrifice; his father the knight chose the cowards path, betrayed his youngest son for the sake of position, and was in the end betrayed himself. As well, Prince Rhaegar who knights the mad dog has his own family murdered by him. And even Tywin Lannister, the high-priest of power they served and worshipped, died at the hands of his own younger son, as revenge for another monstrous act of patriarchal injustice. (As I said, the gods take notice - valar morghulis.)

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In the end, of course, the father of Sandor and Gregor paid for the mistake - Gregor probably murdered his own father and the rest of the family, except Sandor. Sandor goes on to serve the liege lord's family directly, to gain the training and arms, but scorning the trappings of it. He is a smart lad - he understands that the system whitewashes all the murders, rapes, mutiliations, etc., and never mind justice. Sandor's "pride" at his family's having risen up in social rank is forever marred by how it also betrayed what is right in his case. His grandfather the commoner was courageous and made the righteous sacrifice; his father the knight chose the cowards path, betrayed his youngest son for the sake of position, and was in the end betrayed himself. As well, Prince Rhaegar who knights the mad dog has his own family murdered by him. And even Tywin Lannister, the high-priest of power they served and worshipped, died at the hands of his own younger son, as revenge for another monstrous act of patriarchal injustice. (As I said, the gods take notice - valar morghulis.)

These are good points Pod, and it reveals how patriarchy often fails to control the monsters it creates. Sandor, as both the victim and "benefactor" of this system knows well its hypocrisy and injustices, and struggles with his own beast within. That he takes pride in his ancestry is a very important point irrespective of the inherent conflict, however, especially as it contrasts with Littlefinger's attitude towards his own history. Whilst Sandor's is marred by a traumatic incident as you note, his pride suggests the hope of recuperation, of there still being something in that original act of bravery that speaks for Sandor, not as a victim of Gregor's or the violent killer, but as a man who is capable of doing right, and embodying the words he tells to Sansa on the Serpentine steps about the qualities of a hound. If Sandor highlights the need for recuperation, both for the system and his own personal demons, then what of LF? Here we see someone set on consummate destabilization, where his attitude towards his family is only the microcosm of an overarching structural antipathy which thrives on exploitation and societal breakdown.

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If Sandor highlights the need for recuperation, both for the system and his own personal demons, then what of LF? Here we see someone set on consummate destabilization, where his attitude towards his family is only the microcosm of an overarching structural antipathy which thrives on exploitation and societal breakdown.

In Littlefinger's case, I think something similarly traumatic happened, namely losing his duel with Brandon Stark, impregnating Lysa, and being cast out. Again, we're talking another family of minor nobles involved - House Baelish.

Petyr fighting Brandon for Cat's hand was actually a brave and somewhat honourable act. He observed what was probably the proper custom - a duel. After all, this would be the only possible remedy available to him; his family certainly couldn't match it's wealth and prestige against the Starks, nor would his own father (despite eagerness for the son's advancement) seek to overreach and insult a great house which could crush it effortlessly. The fact is, Petyr was simply out of his depth - a boy fighting for the hand of the girl he loved, against a full-grown man who was a real warrior by nature.

Yes, Petyr miscalculates, almost fatally. There was nothing he could do - nothing to beat the Starks, im,press the Tully's, nor win Cat's heart. On top of it he ends up in the sack with Lysa (deleriously) and she gets pregnant, and though she wants to be with him, Hoster Tully squashes that out of hand too. (My theory is that a feverish Petyr actually thought it was Cat in his bed at first, hence the persistent idea in his head that he took her virginity.) Even when Cat's betrothed dies, he loses yet another chance to be with her when she is married off to Eddard, as if his being in that duel never even happened.

In any case, Petyr is almost killed, and then exiled back to Sheepshit Shores. It must have seemed all very arbitrary and unjust to him. The system set up against merit and against love itself, in favour of calculations of wealth, ancient bloodlines, and brute force. Petyr learned his lessons too, and became every bit as cynical about it as the Hound. Unlike the Hound, he did not have what it took to live by his blade, but his wits and intellect were as sharp as Valyrian steel - his path was basically one of perfectly embodying the aristocratic system as he saw it (right down to his low and deferential place within it). But by doing so, he is also mocking it and insidiously undermining it. Maybe Littlefinger doesn't spit on the highborn and their trappings as Sandor does, but only because spitting so openly would be foolish for someone like him. He is determined to win the game and also destroy it, by turning it against itself.

Again, perceptions of larger injustice are key themes in both characters, but they take it in very different directions.

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In Littlefinger's case, I think something similarly traumatic happened, namely losing his duel with Brandon Stark, impregnating Lysa, and being cast out. Again, we're talking another family of minor nobles involved - House Baelish.

<snip>

I honestly struggle with seeing Petyr's early time with the Tullys and the Cat/Brandon incident in such romantic terms or the latter as comparable to the trauma Sandor faces when he's burnt by Gregor. It's tempting to view it in such a light of course, and I do believe Martin wants us to appreciate the event at Riverrun as a turning point for LF, but not what changes him from some idealistic love-sick boy into the monster mockingbird we see today. My contention is that LF was simply never that innocent boy, not in the way Sandor arguably might have been, to risk playing with his brother's toy knight. The boy who fights for Cat's hand (despite knowing well that he has no martial skill) is the same one who scoffed at his father's visit to the hermit on the Fingers for a prediction of his son's future.

Taking the subtle hints we have, what emerges is the image of a young boy who was at best always ambitious, and even duplicitous, despite perhaps genuinely being more attracted to Cat than her sister. I agree that Petyr miscalculated; he may not have realised his actions would have resulted in banishment from the Tully home or that Cat would have cut off contact with him so completely. But I don't see this miscalculation as stemming from a naïve viewpoint. Rather, LF seems to have always attempted to use "love" as a means of advancement and gain, and is able to find a lot more success in doing so later on with the younger Tully daughter. We see this "habit" repeated later on through his offer to marry Sansa after Ned is killed. He faces rejection there again, but I think the recurrence of note is not the refusal by a system that values bloodlines and high birth, but rather the very same kind of pathological selfishness and overreaching which blatantly disregards the feelings of the woman in question and attempts to win via dishonest means.

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In Littlefinger's case, I think something similarly traumatic happened, namely losing his duel with Brandon Stark, impregnating Lysa, and being cast out.

Petyr fighting Brandon for Cat's hand was actually a brave and somewhat honourable act. He observed what was probably the proper custom - a duel. After all, this would be the only possible remedy available to him; his family certainly couldn't match it's wealth and prestige against the Starks, nor would his own father (despite eagerness for the son's advancement) seek to overreach and insult a great house which could crush it effortlessly. The fact is, Petyr was simply out of his depth - a boy fighting for the hand of the girl he loved, against a full-grown man who was a real warrior by nature.

Comparing the trauma of a burning and murder attempt when you’re a child to a duel with nearly fatal consequences due to one’s own missteps would be stretching it too far. When you observe the details surrounding the latter event, then it comes out as far from either brave or remotely honourable and more of a foolish miscalculation in which self-delusion is the key to explaining the start and the outcome both.

He had already known for years and years that Catelyn was betrothed to Brandon Stark, so it’s not like he found out when he was five-and-ten and decided that a duel was the right “custom” to follow in order to have a possibility with her. Quite the contrary, Brandon Stark could’ve rightly refused the duel and simply laughed at him, because this was a paternally-sanctioned and official betrothal that had lasted for years and we know from Catelyn’s memories that she did feel some affection towards Brandon, who visited Riverrun to see her, whereas she always rejected Baelish’s advances over the years, to which he chose to turn a blind eye. As it happens, Stark accepted, likely more out of hot-headedness and because Petyr challenged him, and when a knight was challenged, it wasn’t just by graciously telling him “bring your sword at dawn, ser,” but in a manner that according to tradition was considered insulting to one’s personal honour, so regardless of the motivations for the duel, Brandon was compelled to accept. Also, he was the one fighting for Catelyn’s honour, because—and here’s one point that’s rarely addressed—by challenging the man that was going to be her husband, Littlefinger was implying dishonour on her part: infidelity. Or what do you think, then, he argued as reasons for calling for a duel? Common sense dictates that it could’ve been that they were in love and Catelyn belonged with him instead of Stark, therefore implying that she’d been dishonouring her betrothal by having a dalliance with another man. True, Brandon himself was a womaniser, but that’s not the point.

In AGOT Catelyn II, we read this passage:

“Gods, Catelyn, Sansa is only eleven,” Ned said. “And Joffrey . . . Joffrey is . . . ”

She finished for him. “ . . . crown prince, and heir to the Iron Throne. And I was only twelve when my father promised me to your brother Brandon.”

So, Catelyn, as the eldest daughter of a Lord Paramount, was betrothed to the heir of Winterfell at age 12, roughly the same age that Sansa, also the eldest daughter of a Lord Paramount, is betrothed to the heir of the Iron Throne. But this isn’t the interesting part; it is this:

Catelyn is 4 years older than Petyr, so this means he was 7 or 8 when this happened… Considering that the age of fostering is from 7 up as a norm, and though we don’t know exactly how old Petyr was when he arrived to Riverrun to be fostered there, we can assume he could be around that age because Catelyn remembers him as a child. Which means that he “fell in love” with Catelyn when she was already promised to another man, whom she’d eventually develop feelings for over the years of waiting for the wedding. But Littlefinger loves to delude himself with things like this:

I dared to dream of the life we might make and the children she would give me... but she was a daughter of Riverrun, and Hoster Tully. Family, Duty, Honor, Sansa. Family, Duty, Honor meant I could never have her hand. But she gave me something finer, a gift a woman can give but once.

But the problem is that she was already “taken,” probably even from before he met her; but he implies that she was taken from him, that had she not been such a dutiful daughter of Hoster Tully bound by honour to do as Daddy bid, then he’d have had a chance, since she even “proved” it by giving him her maidenhead. When in reality she never belonged to him and he never ever had a chance from the very start, maybe even before he set eyes on her, and he also brushes away that Catelyn had an obvious affection for Brandon, so it wasn’t all duty for her, and she also rejected his own advances repeatedly, but he didn’t accept it and persisted stubbornly. By the time he challenged Brandon to a duel, he’d already known for years and years that Catelyn was promised to him, because by then he was five-and-ten and Catelyn should’ve been nine-and-ten or thereabouts, and betrothed for 7 years to Brandon when the duel took place, and had plenty of time to get to know the man and develop feelings for him, and that Brandon heed her pleas to not finish the mockingbird off also indicates he was fond of her even if he was a womaniser.

There’s a parallel to his meeting Sansa when she’s also already betrothed to Joffrey, but does that stop Littlefinger from obsessing over her? No. He repeats the big ugly mistake he made when pining for the hand of an already betrothed and probably in love Catelyn with Sansa, and asks for her hand when she’s still betrothed to the King, no less. No wonder why Cersei denied him, as it’s not only that he was too lowborn, which he is, but that was never the key reason why he was rejected in both Catelyn and Sansa’s cases like he prefers to tell himself. He was just asking for sheer impossibilities, and not taking into account the women’s desires either: Just as her mother fancied her betrothed, Sansa was still infatuated with Joffrey when he asked for her hand.

Again, when Brandon died and Catelyn was married to Ned, Littlefinger again contacted her, and when witnessing the affection between the spouses, he still didn’t understand why she was fond of Ned, nor does he even entertain the thought that she simply never ever felt anything for him but brotherly affection and that she might genuinely have loved/love another man: everything is to blame on his “low origins,” on their abysmal class differences, on Catelyn’s obedience, and on the Stark men. Nothing is ever his fault.

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As Milady states Littlefinger doesn't consider the feelings of Catelyn or Sansa. Compare that to Sandor who respected Sansa and did not take her away by force on the night of the Blackwater. Littlefinger appears delusional and blames everything and everybody without accepting that Cat did not love him. Sandor is not delusional and faces reality despite it being unpleasant.

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