This essay is a reworking and expansion of some of the earliest bear essays I did at Westeros.org. in July 2015 (as are most essays of this topic) regarding Sansa’s sexual maturation. The knight versus a bear concept for Sansa, and if there even is a ‘versus’ in Sandor will be addressed in a follow-up essay. I want to thank Evolett who originally worked so closely with me on discussing the possible meaning of the song, as well as everybody else who participated in those discussions. Also I recommend the gathered essays project regarding Sansa in relation to fairytale versions of the Beauty and the Beast at the Pawn to Player blog.
Sansa’s erotic awakening
Two chapters before Jorah kisses Dany (see A Bear’s Kiss – Jorah and Dany), GRRM already hints at bears influencing or being tied to the sexual feelings of an unwed woman or maiden, in Sansa’s first chapter of aSoS. When Sansa is invited to have dinner with Lady Olenna and Margaery, Olenna’s fool sings “the bear and the maiden fair” very loudly to avoid the conversaton being overheard by spies.
Though the song has been mentioned before that in aCoK, in Bran’s chapter during the Harvest Fest at Winterfell, it is the first time we get the lyrics of the song (in its entirity) and in capitals. Sure, writing in capitals might be useful to reveal the singer is shouting the song, but it also acts quite distractive to reading eyes. I mentioned how George only has the written word to highlight passages, characters, symbols, events and paragraphs for the reader – as a sublimal message from the author to the reader, “Take notice! Remember this!”. In the Trail of the Red Stallion essays, the use of the color red is George highlighting the stallion and related character with a red magic marker for us. Another trick is to repeat a concept or word in consecutive and related paragraphs, or have two different characters notice the same detail in the same chapter. And finally, he can shout at us. When George premieres the complete lyrics of the song in capital letters he is shouting at us, “THIS SONG IS VERY IMPORTANT! PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE SONG!”.
So, what important event occurs for Sansa while the song is being blared in her ears? It must be a change that still has an ongoing influence on her. So, it’s not the wedding plans for her and Willas Tyrell. They don’t matter anymore. It’s not getting to know Margaery or Olenna either, for they are both out of her life, and Joffrey’s dead. The sole long-lasting change is that Sansa has her very first textual erotic daydream.
“HE SNIFFED AND ROARED AND SMELLED IT THERE! HONEY ON THE SUMMER AIR!”
“To see you safely wed, child,” the old woman said, as Butterbumps bellowed out the old, old song, “to my grandson.”
Wed to Ser Loras, oh . . . Sansa’s breath caught in her throat. She remembered Ser Loras in his sparkling sapphire armor, tossing her a rose. Ser Loras in white silk, so pure, innocent, beautiful. The dimples at the corner of his mouth when he smiled. The sweetness of his laugh, the warmth of his hand. She could only imagine what it would be like to pull up his tunic and caress the smooth skin underneath, to stand on her toes and kiss him, to run her fingers through those thick brown curls and drown in his deep brown eyes. A flush crept up her neck.
“OH, I’M A MAID, AND I’M PURE AND FAIR! I’LL NEVER DANCE WITH A HAIRY BEAR! A BEAR! A BEAR! I’LL NEVER DANCE WITH A HAIRY BEAR!” (aSoS, Sansa I)
Here we thus see that the song of the “bear and the maiden fair” heralds an unwed woman’s sexual transformation into that of conscious erotic desires and fantasies. She transitioned from having romantic ideas lacking an erotic component to sensual romantic ideas; from wedding ceremonies, what her children would look like and holding hands to disrobing, touching naked skin, feeling hair, and kissing a man.
Just compare the above paragraph regarding Loras with those of her prince in aGoT.
Her betrothed. Just thinking it made her feel a strange fluttering inside, even though they were not to marry for years and years. Sansa did not really know Joffrey yet, but she was already in love with him. He was all she ever dreamt her prince should be, tall and handsome and strong, with hair like gold. She treasured every chance to spend time with him, few as they were. (aGoT, Sansa I)
It lacks eroticism.
I do not in any way negate Sansa being attracted to men and boys in aGoT before this erotic fantasy of aSoS. Infatuations, puppy love, a crush, admiration, limerence and love can befall elementary school aged children. Children can experience chemistry and attraction. I do not deny that Sansa is subconsciously sexually drawn to a man, such as Sandor, before this Loras daydream. What I do point out is that there is a marked alteration from the (prepubescent) romantic fantasies of Sansa in aGoT to those of an explicit erotic nature in aSoS. Her menarche at the end of aCoK was the physical evidence of adolescence, while the Loras fantasy is the mental evidence of it. And it is very peculiar that it happens for the first time, right in the middle of that particular song, on which GRRM puts that much emphasis by writing it in capital letters. It suggests a link between Sansa hearing the song to the sexual maturation of Sansa to a new level, literary or effectively.
Definitely most interesting though is that lo and behold, in Sansa II, just one chapter later, we first learn of Sansa’s invented unkiss about Sandor, exactly like we learn a chapter after Dany being kissed by a bear to have re-awakened sexual desires.
Sansa wondered what Megga would think about kissing the Hound, as she had. He’d come to her the night of the battle stinking of wine and blood. He kissed me and threatened to kill me, and made me sing him a song. (aSoS, Sansa II)
Whereas in the first chapter, before her visit with Olenna, she remembers the events more soberly still.
I wish the Hound were here. The night of the battle, Sandor Clegane had come to her chambers to take her from the city, but Sansa had refused. Sometimes she lay awake at night, wondering if she’d been wise. She had his stained white cloak hidden in a cedar chest beneath her summer silks. She could not say why she’d kept it. (aSoS, Sansa I)
Fundamentally, both Loras’ kiss and Sandor’s Unkiss are fantastical in nature here. The maiden Sansa is not exposed to an actual kiss from either a knight or a bear yet (unlike Dany). It is one of song only. The immense difference is that with Loras she is conscious of it being imagined, while Sandor’s kiss is a false memory she believes has actually occurred.
You might argue the Unkiss was invented by Sansa during her last interaction with Sandor, which I find a perfectly reasonable assumption to make. I, personally, consider it to stem from a more literary drawn out sexual maturation process – both physically as well as mentally.
The major argument against Sansa having invented the Unkiss during the confrontation is the following line:
He yanked her closer, and for a moment she thought he meant to kiss her. He was too strong to fight. She closed her eyes, wanting it to be over, but nothing happened.(aCoK, Sansa VII)
It is Sansa’s own POV at the time that tells us that there was no kiss. If she had invented it during the scene, we would have read her invented experience of it within that particular POV itself. George does not have an omniscient narrator tell us the story. He uses point of views. More, though the sentence itself is written in the third person, we know we are inside Sansa’s mind at the time, because of “[her] wanting it to be over” in the same sentence.
False memories are either caused by the person being delusional and/or having impaired senses during events, or are altered through post-event misinformation. The later is a phenomenon heavily researched, control-tested and documented since the ’70s. Police ingestigators questioning witnesses are trained regarding leading questions in order to avoid a witness from giving a false memory account, exactly because of all the evidence that memories can be altered after the event.
Strictly speaking, her own original POV declaring that “nothing happened” while we are in her mind “wanting it to be over” should rule out Sansa having had some type of hallucation. She had drained a cup of sweet, heavy plum wine until her head swam earlier, pressured by Cersei. And yet, she still had all her faculties afterwards to give commands and calm down the women sheltering in Maegor’s Fast after Cersei left. Those abilities would dismiss the idea that her faculties were impaired. It might have given her the courage though to act like a queen as well as lessen any inhibition she might have had towards Sandor.
Hence, logically speaking that only leaves a post-event alteration to her memory. That should not surprise us much. We have witnessed her altering her accounts and memories of the incident at the Trident between Joffrey and Arya in aGoT over time as well, despite the fact that we witnessed exactly what had happened, again, through her own POV and that Sansa at least told Ned that same night a version that corroborated Arya’s story.
As Arya began her story, Ned heard the door open behind him. He glanced back and saw Vayon Poole enter with Sansa. They stood quietly at the back of the hall as Arya spoke. When she got to the part where she threw Joffrey’s sword into the middle of the Trident, Renly Baratheon began to laugh. (aGoT, Eddard III)
Not only does GRRM avoid repeating the story for the reader, Ned diverting his attention and the sentence I highlighted inform us that Ned is not hearing a story he did not already know. Since he was unable to speak with Arya before she was brought before the king himself, Sansa could have been his only source. And when Ned calls Sansa forward, this impression is confirmed. Ned would not have done this with such confidence if Sansa’s story to him the night that Arya disappeared and Arya’s in front of the king would have been severely different.
“They were not the only ones present,” Ned said. “Sansa, come here.” Ned had heard her version of the story the night Arya had vanished. He knew the truth. “Tell us what happened.”
Arya’s story in front of the king corroborated Sansa’s version of the facts to Ned, and vice versa, even if their opinions of guilt might have differred. It is only after Sansa denies remembering, denies seeing … and accuses Nymeria and Arya in order to save Lady and Mycah’s murder that Sansa’s memory of the events appear to alter. Sansa ends up claiming that Mycah attacked the prince, and yet Mycah was the sole person who did not attack Joffrey.
Arya screwed up her face in a scowl. “Jaime Lannister murdered Jory and Heward and Wyl, and the Hound murdered Mycah. Somebody should have beheaded them.”
“It’s not the same,” Sansa said. “The Hound is Joffrey’s sworn shield. Your butcher’s boy attacked the prince.” (aGoT, Sansa III)
Ignoring for a moment that the Hound would not have cared whether Mycah had attacked anyone at that moment in his arc, it is true that this is the lie and misrepresentation given to the Hound by Cersei. But Sansa is not exactly saying, “and ordered to kill the butcher’s boy by the Queen.” Nor is Sansa parotting the Lannister version to someone who was not present. She is saying it to Arya, the only other witness whose story matched that of Sansa’s originally, as if it actually happened that way. What the heck happened to Sansa’s memory over the months?
A similar alteration happens with regards to Ned’s words about whom he will find for a husband for Sansa.
“Sweet one,” her father said gently, “listen to me. When you’re old enough, I will make you a match with a high lord who’s worthy of you, someone brave and gentle and strong. This match with Joffrey was a terrible mistake. That boy is no Prince Aemon, you must believe me.” (aGoT, Sansa III)
“It was for love,” Sansa said in a rush. “Father wouldn’t even give me leave to say farewell.” She was the good girl, the obedient girl, but she had felt as wicked as Arya that morning, sneaking away from Septa Mordane, defying her lord father. She had never done anything so willful before, and she would never have done it then if she hadn’t loved Joffrey as much as she did. “He was going to take me back to Winterfell and marry me to some hedge knight, even though it was Joff I wanted. I told him, but he wouldn’t listen.” (aGoT, Sansa IV)
And she certainly had not drunk any wine that morning. Time and time again, George has Sansa narrate the objective truth in her own point of view during crucial events, and has her memory of it altered later in time, also in her own point of views. She is not so much an unreliable narrator to the reader, as she has an unreliable post-event memory. And that not even under the influence of a misinforming co-witness, but her own wishes and various emotions. It is therefore not unreasonable that her memory regarding Sandor’s unkiss was formed after the meeting, rather than during. In a dream perhaps, while sleeping under his torn cloak, or even later than that, like when she starts to have erotic fantasies.
Typically physical sexual maturation from a child into that of a woman, during puberty, follows these steps.
- Growth spurt
- Breast development (Thelarche)
- Pubic hair development
- Menarche or first menstruation
All of it is driven by the ovary release of estradiol, which is initially mostly used for the growth spurt by the body, but also secondary sexual organs (breasts and pubic hair) and eventually in the readying of the uterus, while the growth spurt tapers off. And of course the menstrual cycle is associated with ovulation, which heightens sexual desire and consequentionally erotic fantasy in a woman1.
George adheres to these steps faithfully. Sansa first visibly has grown more womanly in aCoK according to Sandor right after she first met with Dontos in the godswood: she has developed breasts and has grown visibly taller.
“The g-g-godswood, my lord,” she said, not daring to lie. “Praying . . . praying for my father, and . . . for the king, praying that he’d not be hurt.”
“Think I’m so drunk that I’d believe that?” He let go his grip on her arm, swaying slightly as he stood, stripes of light and darkness falling across his terrible burnt face. “You look almost a woman . . . face, teats, and you’re taller too, almost… (aCoK, Sansa II)
The first sign of oncoming menarche is at the top of the roof when she overlooks the city preparing for Stannis – she feels a stab of pain in her belly. It is so sudden and painful that she risked falling from the roof. Unbeknowest to her, Sandor is there too and he can grab her arm and steady her, preventing her from plumetting to her death.
The smoke blotted out the stars and the thin crescent of moon, so the roof was dark and thick with shadows…[snip]… A stab went through her, so sharp that Sansa sobbed and clutched at her belly. She might have fallen, but a shadow moved suddenly, and strong fingers grabbed her arm and steadied her.(aCoK, Sansa IV)
And when she goes to sleep later that night, she has a nightmare about the mob attack going wrong and how a knife plummets in her belly². When she wakes from it, she discovers her menstruation blood.
That night Sansa dreamed of the riot again…[snip]…Women swarmed over her like weasels, pinching her legs and kicking her in the belly, and someone hit her in the face and she felt her teeth shatter. Then she saw the bright glimmer of steel. The knife plunged into her belly and tore and tore and tore, until there was nothing left of her down there but shiny wet ribbons.
When she woke, the pale light of morning was slanting through her window, yet she felt as sick and achy as if she had not slept at all. There was something sticky on her thighs. When she threw back the blanket and saw the blood, all she could think was that her dream had somehow come true. She remembered the knives inside her, twisting and ripping. She squirmed away in horror, kicking at the sheets and falling to the floor, breathing raggedly, naked, bloodied, and afraid.
Ignoring the fact that in reality girls are not ovulating 80% of their cycles the first year after menarche, in a literary sense Sansa is declared fertile, and therefore we ought to consider Sansa as ovulating.
“So now you are a woman. Do you have the least idea of what that means?”
“It means that I am now fit to be wedded and bedded,” said Sansa, “and to bear children for the king.”
And only afterwards, in aSoS, we have first textual evidence of an erotic daydream; and only after that we learn she believes she was kissed by Sandor.
With men, the first ejaculation experience is tied and intertwined with involuntarily erotic fantasy – the ‘wet dream’. And I propose that George is doing something similar in a literary sense for Sansa – have her experience her first erotic fantasies (about both Loras and Sandor) around the time of her supposed first ovulation a few weeks after her menarche. Those fantasies are her female ‘wet dream’ so to speak, even if in reality a young girl’s fantasies turning erotic is not as interlinked to the body’s ability to ovulate.
In support of this possible female version of a ‘wet dream’ idea, I will also mention that we are informed by George that Sansa is still flowering on the night of the battle of the Blackwater. Still flowering, she clearly cannot be ovulating.
“You look pale, Sansa,” Cersei observed. “Is your red flower still blooming?”
“How apt. The men will bleed out there, and you in here.” (aCoK, Sansa V)
Does that slight difference of timing on the moment when Sansa’s Unkiss is born (during the actual events, or later during her ovulation) have any serious impact on the romantic and erotic connections laid out by George between Sansa and Sandor? For me, not in the slightest, since the Unkiss will always refer to that last confrontation scene in her room and the surrounding events as well as her then latent feelings about it.
It does make a difference in trying to figure out how George as a writer deals with sexual maturation with women as a step-by-step archetypal process. Most importantly, by divorcing the creation of the Unkiss memory from the actual scene it refers to, and by turning it into some type of wet dream, George completely makes Sansa her own agent when it comes to her sexuality. Her sexual desires and fantasies are not the result of what a man wants from her when he wants it, but what she wants from the man, when she is ready for it, mentally and phsyically, in her own time. Sansa’s mind and feelings are hers, not just regarding the man but the timing of it as well. This is important, especially in relation to a scene that has such aggressive elements in it, with a man forcing a girl at dagger point to sing a song from him. Yes, that scene is full of erotic and sexual symbolism, as is her memory of it. But it is nevertheless a violent scene, depicting a man’s desire for a very young girl forcing her to do what he wishes from her. And Sandor is not the sole man desiring her or attempting to force their desire onto her. By having Sansa invent the Unkiss when she is ready to have erotic fantasies unrelated to the actual event, George has Sansa claim her sexuality for herself alone, no matter what men want from her, no matter what the man she desires wants from her. It is the ultimate testament that Sansa is boss over her own body and mind and maturation process.
Loras and Sandor
If it is true as I suggest that the Loras fantasy while hearing the Bear-Maiden song symbolizes her erotic awakening, insofar that she has some sort of a female equivalent of a wet dream, then it has as an implication that the false memory of Sandor kissing her was created after her erotic daydream of Loras. In fact, we are introduced to a pattern of Sansa swooning over Loras, but choosing Sandor since aGot and it occurs again and again until her last chapter of aFfC.
We are introduced to Loras in Sansa’s chapter during the Hand’s Tourney. He is the most beautiful, gallant knight she has seen, and he even gives her a moment of attention. Sansa’s thoughts of him compare to a 7th grader going to a Justin Bieber concert, having his poster in her room, and swooning when he throws her a smile or a flower. Loras is Sansa’s idol – he is perfect and romantic, and anybody who does not see that must be blind.
At sixteen, he was the youngest rider on the field, yet he had unhorsed three knights of the Kingsguard that morning in his first three jousts. Sansa had never seen anyone so beautiful. His plate was intricately fashioned and enameled as a bouquet of a thousand different flowers, and his snow-white stallion was draped in a blanket of red and white roses. After each victory, Ser Loras would remove his helm and ride slowly round the fence, and finally pluck a single white rose from the blanket and toss it to some fair maiden in the crowd.
…[snip]… Robar lay moaning as the victor made his circuit of the field. Finally they called for a litter and carried him off to his tent, dazed and unmoving. Sansa never saw it. Her eyes were only for Ser Loras. When the white horse stopped in front of her, she thought her heart would burst.
To the other maidens he had given white roses, but the one he plucked for her was red. “Sweet lady,” he said, “no victory is half so beautiful as you.” Sansa took the flower timidly, struck dumb by his gallantry. His hair was a mass of lazy brown curls, his eyes like liquid gold. She inhaled the sweet fragrance of the rose and sat clutching it long after Ser Loras had ridden off. (aGoT, Sansa II)
It is like a scene of some courtly love story, of the idolized knight singling out the maiden fair from all the other maidens in front of everyone. And of course, courtly love is a platonic love as well – pining from a distance.
As her courtly love ideal, Loras is not set against Prince Joffrey, her betrothed she believes herself in love with. Seventh graders can be in love with a ‘boyfriend’ and still hang posters of their idol above their bed and moon over their idol. It’s completely normal. Sansa even has a conversation with her betrothed about her idol, and Joffrey is smart enough to turn Loras’ attention into a mutual compliment – from Loras and from Joffrey.
Instead Joffrey smiled and kissed her hand, handsome and gallant as any prince in the songs, and said, “Ser Loras has a keen eye for beauty, sweet lady.”
“He was too kind,” she demurred, trying to remain modest and calm, though her heart was singing. “Ser Loras is a true knight. Do you think he will win tomorrow, my lord?“
Notice Sansa’s question regarding Loras’ chance of winning the tourney the next day. It gives the strong impression that, at the time, she hopes he could. But Joffrey’s answer contrasts Sandor to Loras.
“No,” Joffrey said. “My dog will do for him, or perhaps my uncle Jaime. And in a few years, when I am old enough to enter the lists, I shall do for them all.”
That dog is Sandor Clegane who escorts her back home that night, just her and Sandor alone. Both while escorted and before, Sansa expresses fear for him. He has no issue with slicing a child in half with his longsword and he has a horrific scarred face. And his brooding presence with rage simmering right under the surface cannot but be described as potentially dangerous. But it is frightening for more than those reasons alone – Sandor is uncompromizing when it comes to honest and disallows Sansa to hide behind her armor of courtesy. Meanwhile the touching, looking and the reveal of Sandor’s background story which he never told anyone else makes it also very intimate, adding a different type of fear to their interaction – that of vulnerability, which feels just as dangerous and unsafe.
It could not contrast the scene with Loras any more:
|Loras at the tourney||Sandor as escort|
|day and light||night and darkness|
|the most beautiful||horrifically disfigured|
|young||old (if we go by her statement that Lord Beric is old at 22)|
|only having eyes for Loras||not bearing the sight of Sandor|
|Sansa watching Loras||Sandor watching Sansa|
|a knight||spits on knighthood and the vows|
|red and white||red and black (the color of the dog’s head is not explicitly stated, but we do later learn that the Clegane blazon has black dogs)|
|white stallion||black Stranger|
|sweet smell of roses||the sour stench of wine|
|from afar||intimate (touch, feeling, whispering)|
|lies and fake (Loras is gay after all)||honesty|
|Sansa is dumb struck||forces herself to speak and initiates conversation|
|rides off unseen as Sansa smells the rose||Sandor appearing quickly, taking form out of the night|
I will give some quotes from their interaction, starting with Sandor’s appearance, and I recommend to compare his appearance with the disappearance of Loras. He appears to come out of nowhere and Sansa feels watched. He also touches her. From the moment she becomes aware that Sandor is there, the scene evokes an uninvited intimacy springing her. When she realizes she is about to be alone with him, she is terrified.
Sandor Clegane seemed to take form out of the night, so quickly did he appear. He had exchanged his armor for a red woolen tunic with a leather dog’s head sewn on the front. The light of the torches made his burned face shine a dull red. “Yes, Your Grace?” he said.
Sansa could feel the Hound watching her. “Did you think Joff was going to take you himself?” He laughed. He had a laugh like the snarling of dogs in a pit. “Small chance of that.” He pulled her unresisting to her feet. “Come, you’re not the only one needs sleep. I’ve drunk too much, and I may need to kill my brother tomorrow.” He laughed again.
They walked among the pavilions, each with its banner and its armor hung outside, the silence weighing heavier with every step. Sansa could not bear the sight of him, he frightened her so, yet she had been raised in all the ways of courtesy. A true lady would not notice his face, she told herself. “You rode gallantly today, Ser Sandor,” she made herself say.
Here, we have the typical awkward silence moment. But why would it be awkward to be silent? He is her assigned bodyguard for the walk. Strictly speaking (pun intended), the queen-to-be and daughter of a warden is not required to hold a conversation with her bodyguard. So, there is something going on between them that prevents her from seeing the situation as mere business putting them together. And the longer the silence lasts, the more loaded the situation feels to her.
Sandor Clegane snarled at her. “Spare me your empty little compliments, girl … and your ser’s. I am no knight. I spit on them and their vows. My brother is a knight. Did you see him ride today?”
“Yes,” Sansa whispered, trembling. “He was …”
“Gallant?” the Hound finished.
He was mocking her, she realized. “No one could withstand him,” she managed at last, proud of herself. It was no lie.
Sandor, immediately sees right through her attempt at being cordial. His attitude is uncompromizing – speak bluntly, or not at all. But he also explains himself. Though it is meant to be offensive, it shows that he feels compelled to make her know him. And his question is both a challenge as well as engaging her in more conversation. When someone feels dominated, whispering is a normal response, but it makes the scene also more intimate. One can tremble from fear, but also anxiety, anger and thrill. The fact that she rises to the challenge, suggests she is not whispering or trembling from being cowered, but rather anxiety related to have her attempt exposed and the challenge he poses. Let us not forget that cordiality and politeness is her armor.
Sandor Clegane stopped suddenly in the middle of a dark and empty field. She had no choice but to stop beside him. “Some septa trained you well. You’re like one of those birds from the Summer Isles, aren’t you? A pretty little talking bird, repeating all the pretty little words they taught you to recite.”
“That’s unkind.” Sansa could feel her heart fluttering in her chest. “You’re frightening me. I want to go now.”
Again, Sandor rips her armor of cordiality away, immediately given her feedback – pretty empty words she was taught to say. And while he acknowledges her beauty just as Loras does, it certainly does not sound as a compliment, but instead as an insult. And what happens? For the first time she is honest – she tells him what she truly thinks, how she feels and what she wants. Later, Septa Mordane comments she has grown more like Arya as Sansa speaks her mind openly (wondering where Beric would display Gregor’s head, and wishing Arya were dead).
But notice in the above paragraph the description of a fluttering heart. That sounds actually quite romantic. It is an unfitting expression in relation to actual “fear” or “anger” if you ask me.
“No one could withstand him,” the Hound rasped. “That’s truth enough. No one could ever withstand Gregor. That boy today, his second joust, oh, that was a pretty bit of business…[snip]… Pretty little talking girl, you believe that, you’re empty-headed as a bird for true. Gregor’s lance goes where Gregor wants it to go. Look at me. Look at me!” Sandor Clegane put a huge hand under her chin and forced her face up. He squatted in front of her, and moved the torch close. “There’s a pretty for you. Take a good long stare. You know you want to. I’ve watched you turning away all the way down the kingsroad. Piss on that. Take your look.”
His fingers held her jaw as hard as an iron trap. His eyes watched hers. Drunken eyes, sullen with anger. She had to look.
Again, Sandor initiates touch and then makes her look at him, revealing he has been watching her on the kingsroad to King’s Landing, claiming to know what she wants, holding her stare. It is clear, that Sandor wants her to recognize his existence, to “see” him. Confrontational, dominant, uncompromizing, but, again, also intimate. And she takes a good look at his face, the good and the ruined side. Afterwards, when he lets go of her and ceases the touch, he maintains a level of intimacy by leaning close as he reveals his gruesome backstory.
“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.
The rasping voice trailed off. He squatted silently before her, a hulking black shape shrouded in the night, hidden from her eyes. Sansa could hear his ragged breathing. She was sad for him, she realized. Somehow, the fear had gone away.
The silence went on and on, so long that she began to grow afraid once more, but she was afraid for him now, not for herself. She found his massive shoulder with her hand. “He was no true knight,” she whispered to him.
The Hound threw back his head and roared. Sansa stumbled back, away from him, but he caught her arm. “No,” he growled at her, “no, little bird, he was no true knight.”
Sandor never told the real story to anyone before, and it is highly unlikely he ever intended to tell Sansa when they started on their walk back to the Red Keep and the Tower of the Hand. His threat to kill her if she ever tells it to someone else would confirm that idea, and of course he himself did not even initiate any private conversation between them – Sansa did. His uncompromizing attitude towards courtesy forced Sansa to relate to him in a truthful way, making her feel vulnerable. But after unintentionally disclosing what he never told another living soul before, he is the vulnerable one, squatting silently and hiding himself from her eyes.
The impact of his openness is immense. Her own vulnerability repaid with more of his is what makes her fear go away. And it is the biggest indication that her fear for Sandor probably stems from having felt vulnerable around him since the start, even on the King’s Road already. That her heart does not flutter from anger or fear of agression, but from feeling vulnerable. Again a silence occurs, but where she tried to break the silence before with pretty words, she now initiates genuine contact, reaches out for him in the most basic humane way – by touch and a whisper telling the truth.
Sandor responds to it loudly, breaking the intimacy of the moment and making her falter back. But him catching her arm, and therefore holding on to her, despite his growls and roars, tells us that this man is sometimes clumsily, unintentionally so. He does not want the intimacy broken by his own clumsy loudness. And it is preserved through the silence that follows after, all the way to her room. For once, it is not an awkward one for Sansa. Who of the two feels the most fear, the most vulnerable? In the brooding silence, Sandor must have realized that he revealed his most cherished secret to a pretty bird no older than eleven and that he has no guarantee that she will not betray his trust, which is why he threatens her with her life if she ever tells someone else.
And so, while the dream of the day started by Loras may have ended at the end of the feast when Sandor was ordered to escort her home, and instead of a dream Sansa had her first real, tangible, heartfelt encounter that goes to the most basic interaction from one human to another, no matter how flawed, clumsy, frightening or loud, it is as real as it can get.
Ned’s chapter of the Hand’s Tourney the next day, again enables us to make a comparison between Loras and the Hound for Sansa. While we are not in Sansa’s head for that chapter, we get enough information in relation to the previous day to make some conclusions about Sansa’s mind on both of them. When Ned joins his daugher where she is seated, he notices she is completely engrossed with the tourney, and in the following sentence we learn that Sandor is the first to joust. Sansa is not just engrossed with the tourney in general anymore as she was the previous day at the start of it, but because she wants to see whether Sandor will win the tourney.
[Eddard] shouldered his way to where his daughter was seated and found her as the horns blew for the day’s first joust. Sansa was so engrossed she scarcely seemed to notice his arrival.
Sandor Clegane was the first rider to appear. He wore an olive-green cloak over his soot-grey armor. That, and his hound’s-head helm, were his only concession to ornament.
Ned Stark would have loved nothing so well as to see them both lose, but Sansa was watching it all moist-eyed and eager.
Both lances exploded, and by the time the splinters had settled, a riderless blood bay was trotting off in search of grass while Ser Jaime Lannister rolled in the dirt, golden and dented.
Sansa said, “I knew the Hound would win.” (aGoT, Eddard VII)
Sandor’s joust is against Jaime, and not so incidentally Jaime looks as dreamily gilded up as a knight can be. Jaime also throws a handkiss to some woman in the audience. Jaime is not gay, but he is completely faithful to Cersei. Jaime’s handkiss therefore is as fake and a performance as it was for Loras to give roses to several women, including Sansa. And Sandor’s victory over a dream-idol knight could not be more pronounced than having Jaime stumble about blindly with a skewed helmet.
The next joust is Loras’s turn. Ned hears his daughter comment on his beauty and takes note of Sansa having the rose with her that Loras gave her the day before. So, her father gets the distinct impression that she is supporting Loras, at least to some level. But Loras rides against Gregor, the brother who brutally tortured his brother over a toy by shoving his face in a brazier, the “not-a-true-knight whose lance goes where he wants it to go” and killed Ser Hugh the day before. Sansa simply does not want beautiful Loras to come to harm.
When the Knight of Flowers made his entrance, a murmur ran through the crowd, and he heard Sansa’s fervent whisper, “Oh, he’s so beautiful.” Ser Loras Tyrell was slender as a reed, dressed in a suit of fabulous silver armor polished to a blinding sheen and filigreed with twining black vines and tiny blue forget-me-nots.
Sansa clutched at his arm. “Father, don’t let Ser Gregor hurt him,” she said. Ned saw she was wearing the rose that Ser Loras had given her yesterday.
It is Sandor Clegane who intervenes on Loras’s behalf when Gregor attacks him, before Robert orders the brothers to stand down.
But as Gregor lifted his sword for the killing blow, a rasping voice warned, “Leave him be,” and a steel-clad hand wrenched him away from the boy.
The Mountain pivoted in wordless fury, swinging his longsword in a killing arc with all his massive strength behind it, but the Hound caught the blow and turned it, and for what seemed an eternity the two brothers stood hammering at each other as a dazed Loras Tyrell was helped to safety…[snip]…
The Hound went to one knee. Ser Gregor’s blow cut air, and at last he came to his senses…[snip]…
“Is the Hound the champion now?” Sansa asked Ned.
“No,” he told her. “There will be one final joust, between the Hound and the Knight of Flowers.”
But Sansa had the right of it after all. A few moments later Ser Loras Tyrell walked back onto the field in a simple linen doublet and said to Sandor Clegane, “I owe you my life. The day is yours, ser.”
“I am no ser,” the Hound replied, but he took the victory, and the champion’s purse, and, for perhaps the first time in his life, the love of the commons. They cheered him as he left the lists to return to his pavilion.
In the essays of the Trail of the Red Stallion I argued how tourney scenes are actually foreshadowing events. In the Trail of the Red Stallion I, I proposed Gregor’s and Sandor’s fight can be seen as what came after Ned’s beheading – the Baratheon brothers battling, insofar it fits the story’s arc after Ned’s and Robert’s death. It is after all Ned’s point of view.
But Ned’s chapter features an extension of Sansa’s point of view, because we are told from the start that the jousts is all Sansa has eyes for, and she hardly even seems aware of it when her father joins her at his seat. Therefore the jousts can become a foreshadowing of Sansa’s feelings and interests. It then tells us Sandor will win the comparison to Loras in the end – Sandor wins the prize and love without even having to compete for it. Heck, Loras hands the win to him. Winning without competing is emphasized by the armor that Jaime and Loras wore – gold and silver. Put together, gold and silver amount to the medals of a sport competition. Of course, Sandor does not have to joust against the silver knight anymore, he already had unhorsed the golden one. Most importantly, he wins the tourney by a true knightly act. Meanwhile Jaime at the time certainly is no true knight, and Loras’ trick with his mare are without honor. Loras later slaying innocent men in rage for Renly’s death also is not the action of a true knight.
However, at the time, Sansa still has a crush on Loras and her conscious feelings for Sandor seem no more than empathic friendly support. Hence, both Loras and Sandor occupy Sansa’s mind and interests in tandem the rest of her story as well.
For instance, in Sansa’s third chapter of aGoT we witness her championing both Loras and Sandor against criticism by others, revolving around the same event – Lord Beric having been sent to arrest the monster Gregor Clegane. She argues that the Knight of Flowers would be the true hero and best choice to take the monster down, while she defends Sandor as being classed amongst the monsters by Arya.
Again, when it comes to Loras and Sansa questioning her father’s choice of sending Beric, instead of Loras who begged for the honor of it, we are reminded of a seventh grader who is upset with a movie director chosing another actor over choosing her idol to play the big part. It seems somewhat odd, in light of her fear for Loras’ life during the Hand’s Tourney before, where she begs her father not to allow Gregor to hurt the Knight of Flowers, and Loras most likely would have been slain if not for Sandor’s intervention. But since when are a girl’s fantasies and fears ever rational when it comes to their idol?
“He wouldn’t send Ser Loras,” Sansa told Jeyne Poole that night as they shared a cold supper by lamplight. “I think it was because of his leg.”… [snip]… “Father’s leg, silly. It hurts him ever so much, it makes him cross. Otherwise I’m certain he would have sent Ser Loras.”
Her father’s decision still bewildered her. When the Knight of Flowers had spoken up, she’d been sure she was about to see one of Old Nan’s stories come to life. Ser Gregor was the monster and Ser Loras the true hero who would slay him. He even looked a true hero, so slim and beautiful, with golden roses around his slender waist and his rich brown hair tumbling down into his eyes. And then Father had refused him! It had upset her more than she could tell. She had said as much to Septa Mordane as they descended the stairs from the gallery, but the septa had only told her it was not her place to question her lord father’s decisions.
…[snip]…Lord Baelish stroked his little pointed beard and said, “Nothing? Tell me, child, why would you have sent Ser Loras?”
Sansa had no choice but to explain about heroes and monsters.
…[snip]…”Lord Beric is as much a hero as Ser Loras. He’s ever so brave and gallant.”
“I suppose,” Sansa said doubtfully. Beric Dondarrion was handsome enough, but he was awfully old, almost twenty-two; the Knight of Flowers would have been much better. (aGoT, Sansa III)
The next day, during breakfast, the conversation turns to the mission to arrest Gregor once again, but takes a completely different turn. This time, it is not about who is the truest hero capable of arresting the monster Gregor, but who is the worst monster. Arya feels that Jaime Lannister and Sandor must be beheaded as well. And Sansa defends Sandor as not being one of the monsters.
“Where is everyone?” her sister wanted to know as she ripped the skin from a blood orange. “Did Father send them to hunt down Jaime Lannister?”
Sansa sighed. “They rode with Lord Beric, to behead Ser Gregor Clegane.” She turned to Septa Mordane, who was eating porridge with a wooden spoon.
…[snip]…”What did Gregor do?” Arya asked.
“He burned down a holdfast and murdered a lot of people, women and children too.”
Arya screwed up her face in a scowl. “Jaime Lannister murdered Jory and Heward and Wyl, and the Hound murdered Mycah. Somebody should have beheaded them.”
“It’s not the same,” Sansa said. “The Hound is Joffrey’s sworn shield. Your butcher’s boy attacked the prince.”
Of course, on an aside, Sansa at least agrees with Arya regarding Jaime Lannister, who is wicked in her eyes.
Sansa was certain her prince had no part in in murdering Jory and those poor men; that had been his wicked uncle, the Kingslayer. She knew her father was still angry about that, but it wasn’t fair to blame Joff.
How quickly has the golden knight metaphorically fallen from his blood bay in her eyes, when we compare it to her first thoughts about the knights at the Tourney as heroes of a hundred songs.
They watched the heroes of a hundred songs ride forth, each more fabulous than the last. The seven knights of the Kingsguard took the field, all but Jaime Lannister in scaled armor the color of milk, their cloaks, as white as fresh-fallen snow. Ser Jaime wore the white cloak as well, but beneath it he was shining gold from head to foot, with a lion’s head-helm and golden sword. (aGoT, Sansa II)
While, the Hound is only mentioned almost as an aside in the discussion, and Loras gets her attention in thought and words for more than a page in that chapter, it is clear that Sansa champions both against the opinion of others, sparked by the same event, but on opposite subjects: who is a hero, and who is a monster.
Two chapters later, in the great hall with Joffrey being declared king, Sansa arrives at the hall, noticing a great discrepancy in the number of lords and knights attending. She wonders who is missing. The reader is aware that at least Lord Renly left King’s Landing with his hundred swords, the night Robert died, but having only seen her room and the remainder of the small council, Sansa is completely oblivious so far who is with Joffrey and who is not. Only when Pycelle reads his list of names, commanding them to present themselves and swear fealty to Joffrey, it becomes clear to her and the reader who left court. The start of the list contains multiple names of lords and knights who were either present at court when Ned decreed the arrest of Gregor (like Loras, Thoros, Beric, Robar Royce), or went out hunting with Robert (Lord Royce and Renly). Loras Tyrell is but one of the many names, and no particular attention is given to it. Sandor though remained, still a sworn sword of Joffrey’s, and is promoted to a Kingsguard.
And so many others were missing. Where had the rest of them gone? Sansa wondered.
From a drooping sleeve, heavy with gilded scrollwork, he drew a parchment, unrolled it, and began to read a long list of names, commanding each in the name of king and council to present themselves and swear their fealty to Joffrey. Failing that, they would be adjudged traitors, their lands and titles forfeit to the throne.
The names he read made Sansa hold her breath. Lord Stannis Baratheon, his lady wife, his daughter. Lord Renly Baratheon. Both Lord Royces and their sons. Ser Loras Tyrell. Lord Mace Tyrell, his brothers, uncles, sons…[snip]… So many, she thought as Pycelle read on and on, it will take a whole flock of ravens to send out these commands.
And at the end, near last, came the names Sansa had been dreading. Lady Catelyn Stark. Robb Stark. Brandon Stark, Rickon Stark, Arya Stark.
“The king and council have determined that no man in the Seven Kingdoms is more fit to guard and protect His Grace than his sworn shield, Sandor Clegane.”
“How do you like that, dog?” King Joffrey asked.
The Hound’s scarred face was hard to read. He took a long moment to consider. “Why not? I have no lands nor wife to forsake, and who’d care if I did?” The burned side of his mouth twisted. “But I warn you, I’ll say no knight’s vows.”
“The Sworn Brothers of the Kingsguard have always been knights,” Ser Boros said firmly.
“Until now,” the Hound said in his deep rasp, and Ser Boros fell silent.(aGoT, Sansa V)
We later witness the reverse happening. Sandor has left the Battle of the Blackwater and King’s Landing, shortly before Tywin and the Tyrells arrive, including Loras Tyrell. And when Loras Tyrell becomes Kingsguard he takes Sandor’s place. There is also the reversal how Sandor and Loras become Kingsguard. It was offered to Sandor, without him asking for it, while Loras Tyrells asks for it as a boon.
The king descended the throne once more to greet them, a great honor. He fastened about the throat of each a chain of roses wrought in soft yellow gold, from which hung a golden disc with the lion of Lannister picked out in rubies. “The roses support the lion, as the might of Highgarden supports the realm,” proclaimed Joffrey. “If there is any boon you would ask of me, ask and it shall be yours.”
And now it comes, thought Sansa.
“Your Grace,” said Ser Loras, “I beg the honor of serving in your Kingsguard, to defend you against your enemies.”
Joffrey drew the Knight of Flowers to his feet and kissed him on his cheek. “Done, brother.” (aCoK, Sansa VIII)
Both Sandor and Loras are the kingsguard who attempt to protect the queen-to-be from Joffrey’s worst behavior and orders, in so far they can. Except Loras is to protect another queen-to-be than Sansa. He volunteers for the kingsguard to protect his sister Margaery, and it clearly was part of a pre-meditated plan by the Tyrells to ensure Margaery’s safety. Meanwhile, Sandor was made kingsguard with the intent to protect King Joffrey and be his dog, and yet from the start he attempts to support and protect Sansa, initially in small ways, but his efforts increase throughout aCoK until he offers to steal her out of King’s Landing. And yet, he was never selected for this, not even by Sansa. He does it on a complete voluntarily basis.
While Loras is almost completely missing in Sansa’s thoughts, between him leaving King’s Landing and his reappearance, and her thoughts are often dominated by Sandor’s words and advice as reminders to guide her through her ordeal, there is one instance where she does think of Loras – her menarche dream.
That night Sansa dreamed of the riot again. The mob surged around her, shrieking, a maddened beast with a thousand faces. Everywhere she turned she saw faces twisted into monstrous inhuman masks. She wept and told them she had never done them hurt, yet they dragged her from her horse all the same. “No,” she cried, “no, please, don’t, don’t,” but no one paid her any heed. She shouted for Ser Dontos, for her brothers, for her dead father and her dead wolf, for gallant Ser Loras who had given her a red rose once, but none of them came. She called for the heroes from the songs, for Florian and Ser Ryam Redwyne and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, but no one heard. (aCoK, Sansa IV)
In the dream, the monstrous mob gets to her and no one is there to help her. But she was saved, however! Saved by Sandor Clegane. He was so intent in getting her back safe to the Red Keep that he even left behind his horse Stranger. She thanked him for it the evening before the dream, on the roof, when she had the first sign of the coming of her menarche, remembering what happened right before thanking him.
Sansa remembered all too well. She remembered the way they had howled, the feel of the blood running down her cheek from where the stone had struck her, and the garlic stink on the breath of the man who had tried to pull her from her horse. She could still feel the cruel pinch of fingers on her wrist as she lost her balance and began to fall.
She’d thought she was going to die then, but the fingers had twitched, all five at once, and the man had shrieked loud as a horse. When his hand fell away, another hand, stronger, shoved her back into her saddle. The man with the garlicky breath was on the ground, blood pumping out the stump of his arm, but there were others all around, some with clubs in hand. The Hound leapt at them, his sword a blur of steel that trailed a red mist as it swung. When they broke and ran before him he had laughed, his terrible burned face for a moment transformed.
And in Tyrion’s chapter of the mob attack, Tyrion sees Sandor storming to the Red Keep on Sansa’s chestnut mare, before he goes back out, even braving the fire at Flea Bottom to find his horse Stranger.
Sandor Clegane cantered briskly through the gates astride Sansa’s chestnut courser. The girl was seated behind, both arms tight around the Hound’s chest.
Tyrion called to her. “Are you hurt, Lady Sansa?”
Blood was trickling down Sansa’s brow from a deep gash on her scalp. “They . . . they were throwing things . . . rocks and filth, eggs . . . I tried to tell them, I had no bread to give them. A man tried to pull me from the saddle. The Hound killed him, I think . . . his arm . . .” Her eyes widened and she put a hand over her mouth. “He cut off his arm.”
Clegane lifted her to the ground. His white cloak was torn and stained, and blood seeped through a jagged tear in his left sleeve. “The little bird’s bleeding. Someone take her back to her cage and see to that cut.” Maester Frenken scurried forward to obey…[snip]…The Hound glanced around the yard, scowling. “Where’s my horse? If anything’s happened to that horse, someone’s going to pay.” (aCoK, Tyrion IX)
So, the Hound saved her, and there was blood involved in that scene, and she thanks him for it (eventually), and yet he is curiously absent in her dream. He is not even amongst those she calls out to for help. Heck, she thinks of Dontos, but not Sandor. And right before her the paragraph of her menarche dream where she shouts for Dontos and Ser Loras we have this sentence, right after her heated and dangerous confrontation with Sandor on the top of the roof where she thanked him.
Wordless, she fled. She was afraid of Sandor Clegane . . . and yet, some part of her wished that Ser Dontos had a little of the Hound’s ferocity.
Well, he put his longsword to her neck on the roof, and she mainly seems to remember the spray of blood of the arm he cut off when he saved her. She also notes the anger in his eyes on the roof while he goes on how he likes killing. Perhaps, in her menarche dream, she does not shout for his help, because she put him in the crowd of the maddened beasts with thousand faces. Yes, she defended Sandor as not one of the monstrous men to Arya in aGoT, telling Arya he was only doing as he was commanded to do, but a whole book later she experienced plenty of kingsguard beating her up by the command of the king while she is an innocent. She might have ammended her opinion by then about men not being monstrous for doing as their king tells them to. No, Sandor was never one of the kingsguard who beat her and even at some point attempted to halt it after a certain amount of beating she had receveid. But then Sandor was never directly ordered to beat her himself; so, Sansa does not know whether Sandor would actually refuse to do so. And him holding a longsword to her throat, and telling her that those who cannot protect themselves ought to go out of harm’s way or die, with angry flaring eyes and boasting about how he loves to kill, might not actually help his case. So, at the onset of her menarche she wants Ser Loras, or even Dontos, and not the Hound to save her from the mob. At best she wants a Dontos with a little of Sandor’s ferocity, while she prays for a gentling of Sandor’s anger on the night of the battle of the Blackwater.
She sang for her mother and her father, for her grandfather Lord Hoster and her uncle Edmure Tully, for her friend Jeyne Poole, for old drunken King Robert, for Septa Mordane and Ser Dontos and Jory Cassel and Maester Luwin, for all the brave knights and soldiers who would die today, and for the children and the wives who would mourn them, and finally, toward the end, she even sang for Tyrion the Imp and for the Hound. He is no true knight but he saved me all the same, she told the Mother. Save him if you can, and gentle the rage inside him. (aCoK, Sansa V)
In Maegor’s Holdfast, when she asks Cersei what Ilyn Payne is doing there, Sansa finally wishes for the Hound as a guard over Ilyn Payne.
The queen glanced at the mute headsman. “To deal with treason, and to defend us if need be. He was a knight before he was a headsman.” She pointed her spoon toward the end of the hall, where the tall wooden doors had been closed and barred. “When the axes smash down those doors, you may be glad of him.”
I would be gladder if it were the Hound, Sansa thought. Harsh as he was, she did not believe Sandor Clegane would let any harm come to her.
At least she recognizes he would not allow her to come to real harm. It is of course, not exactly the same as a savior (after all, Ilyn Payne is at the bottom of the list of candidates in her eyes), but close enough to it.
Ilyn Payne is not really there to defend the women, however. His job is to kill them before they are raped by Stannis’ men drunk on blood and fighting-fever. So, her wishing for the Hound in that scenario is, euhm, quite ironic. Shortly after she learns the real reason for Ilyn’s presence, she leaves for her own room, only to discover Sandor sleeping in her bed angry, drunk and broken. Neither Sansa, nor the reader for that matter, know what he will end up doing – rape her like one of Stannis’ men would do, kill her like Ilyn so not to leave Joffrey or Stannis the spoils, or kidnap and save her. Does Sandor know himself even what he will do, aside from wanting a song? Personally, I doubt it. The potential of any of the three things happening is there. It is her choice of song and cupping his cheek that simply makes him leave without doing either one of the other three deeds. (And if I do not actually go deeper into that scene, that is because I will do so later, and it will lead me astray from how George sets Loras up against Sandor).
At least, by the first chapter of aSoS, after Margaery’s arrival at King’s Landing, Sansa starts out by wishing the Hound were there. Instead, Ser Loras, as Kingsguard, awaits her at the door to escort her to the dinner with Margaery and Olenna Tyrell, which is an excellent scene to compare with the first interaction scene Sansa had with Sandor in aGoT.
When the appointed night arrived, another of the Kingsguard came for her, a man as different from Sandor Clegane as . . . well, as a flower from a dog. The sight of Ser Loras Tyrell standing on her threshold made Sansa’s heart beat a little faster. This was the first time she had been so close to him since he had returned to King’s Landing, leading the vanguard of his father’s host. For a moment she did not know what to say. “Ser Loras,” she finally managed, “you . . . you look so lovely.”
He gave her a puzzled smile. “My lady is too kind. And beautiful besides. My sister awaits you eagerly.” (aSoS, Sansa I)
Now, that Sansa wishes for Sandor, she finds Loras at her doorstep. She makes the comparison of a flower to a dog. Here, she is excited and nervous – evident by the faster beating heart – but experiences no fear. We have an akward silence, stuttering and blurting out a truth. She says exactly what is on her mind – that he looks lovely. But based on Loras’ response it is not the customary compliment to make to a young man. Perhaps Loras would have been less puzzled, if she had said “how gallant” he was (wink, wink)?
… He took her arm and led her toward the steps.
“Your grandmother?” Sansa was finding it hard to walk and talk and think all at the same time, with Ser Loras touching her arm. She could feel the warmth of his hand through the silk.
“Lady Olenna. She is to sup with you as well.”
“Oh,” said Sansa. I am talking to him, and he’s touching me, he’s holding my arm and touching me.
That Ser Loras has physical contact with her, sends her head spinning, and it is all her mind is focused on. And as we saw with Sandor, touching helps experiencing intimacy. Of course, Ser Arys Oakheart walked her to Joffrey’s Name Day Tourney in a similar manner, and that did not have the same effect. She never had a crush on Ser Arys. In this case she longs for the intimacy, which is why she speaks more honestly and less as a trained little bird, forgetting her courtesies.
“The Queen of Thorns, she’s called. Isn’t that right?”
“It is.” Ser Loras laughed. He has the warmest laugh, she thought as he went on, “You’d best not use that name in her presence, though, or you’re like to get pricked.”
Sansa reddened. Any fool would have realized that no woman would be happy about being called “the Queen of Thorns.” Maybe I truly am as stupid as Cersei Lannister says. Desperately she tried to think of something clever and charming to say to him, but her wits had deserted her. She almost told him how beautiful he was, until she remembered that she’d already done that.
He was beautiful, though. He seemed taller than he’d been when she’d first met him, but still so lithe and graceful, and Sansa had never seen another boy with such wonderful eyes. He’s no boy, though, he’s a man grown, a knight of the Kingsguard.
As she is kindly chasticed and reminded to be courteous, she suddenly finds herself at a loss. It is as if she lost that ability, all of a sudden. This is most likely the result of her experience that openness and honesty leads to closeness. She seeks this experience with Loras, but is gently rebuffed, and yet remains incapable of turning it to a meaningless conversation from her side. So, instead she is silent again and admires him, until seeing his brother Ser Garlan Tyrell at the yard training provides her a topic to talk about and a way to talk about a mutual memory.
“[Garlan] is a great knight,” Ser Loras replied. “A better sword than me, in truth, though I’m the better lance.”
“I remember,” said Sansa. “You ride wonderfully, ser.”
“My lady is gracious to say so. When has she seen me ride?”
“At the Hand’s tourney, don’t you remember? You rode a white courser, and your armor was a hundred different kinds of flowers. You gave me a rose. A red rose. You threw white roses to the other girls that day.” It made her flush to speak of it. “You said no victory was half as beautiful as me.”
Ser Loras gave her a modest smile. “I spoke only a simple truth, that any man with eyes could see.”
He doesn’t remember, Sansa realized, startled. He is only being kind to me, he doesn’t remember me or the rose or any of it. She had been so certain that it meant something, that it meant everything. A red rose, not a white.
And then she starts to realize that Ser Loras is only being a pretty bird who recites little pretty things to say he was taught in order to be gallant, to be kind, but that it means little to nothing. And nothing feels more lonely than when you desire a form of connection and closeness with someone and realize you never crossed their mind beyond common, propper courtesy. It is of course far better than Meryn Trant beating her bloody, but well-meant politeness does not fill the void of not having companionship.
So, Sansa reaches out by trying to make Loras remember, mentioning Robar Royce (whom Loras killed after Renly was assassinated), Renly and expressing empathy for his sister. We see Sansa attempting to connect even more, but as a result it only alienates Loras.
“It was after you unhorsed Ser Robar Royce,” she said, desperately.
He took his hand from her arm. “I slew Robar at Storm’s End, my lady.” It was not a boast; he sounded sad.
Him, and another of King Renly’s Rainbow Guard as well, yes. Sansa had heard the women talking of it round the well, but for a moment she’d forgotten. “That was when Lord Renly was killed, wasn’t it? How terrible for your poor sister.”
“For Margaery?” His voice was tight. “To be sure. She was at Bitterbridge, though. She did not see.”
“Even so, when she heard …”
Ser Loras brushed the hilt of his sword lightly with his hand. Its grip was white leather, its pommel a rose in alabaster. “Renly is dead. Robar as well. What use to speak of them?
The sharpness in his tone took her aback. “I . . . my lord, I . . . I did not mean to give offense, ser.”
“Nor could you, Lady Sansa,” Ser Loras replied, but all the warmth had gone from his voice. Nor did he take her arm again.
…[snip]…Oh, why did I have to mention Ser Robar? Sansa thought. I’ve ruined everything. He is angry with me now. She tried to think of something she might say to make amends, but all the words that came to her were lame and weak. Be quiet, or you will only make it worse, she told herself.
It is doubtful that Loras is actually angry with her. Yes, he is upset, reminded of the murder of the love of his life and the awful slaying he committed at the time in response to it. Sometimes a stranger can end up saying things to us that remind us of our deepest hurts without meaning to. Our response to them is to retreat from them, not wanting their sympathy, exactly because they are strangers to us. Loras completely disengages from her, because she hit at the heart of his grief, while he has no intention at all to connect with her on any emotional level. And there ends her brief and sole exchange with the actual Knight of Flowers.
The sole personal and private exchange Sansa ever has with Loras when he escorts her to a dinner is not solely interesting as a contrast to her first private exchange with Sandor as her escort home from a festive dinner, it is also highly interesting in relation to what happens next. Halfway through the dinner her mind goes in hyper overdrive at the idea of marrying Loras, and she has her first textual erotic fantasy. By now you should be frowning, thinking “huh?”. Sansa is not dumb. She knows that KIngsguard are celibate and do not marry. And furthermore, she also just realized that she means nothing to Loras, and experienced a rejection of her efforts to make their conversation more intimate. And now she forgot about all that? It seems that Sansa’s desires trumped her knowledge and experience of reality, and just made her take a growth step back, instead of forward.
It should not surprise us though – we saw this already with Sansa first defending Sandor as not being a “monster” like Gregor and Jaime, but in her menarche dream it seems she ranked him with the monster faced mob, by not ranking him with her long list of saviors. It is as if her growth and learning progress goes like this – three steps forward, two steps back to actually progress only one step. It is better known as a Procession of Echternach³ to indicate a slow and non-linear progression. Another example of this is how, one moment she learns through Joffrey and Cersei that appearances and beauty on the outside can mask the real monster inside, but the next she still is bedazzled by Loras, even after he joined the kingsguard and turned cold to her, and having forgotten he killed two innocent knights in a rage. Or there is the moment where she thinks there are no heroes and no true knights after the worst beating she gets in front of court that was effectively stopped by Tyrion. But a chapter later, on the eve of her menarche, she stubbornly thinks to herself there must be true knights and that the stories cannot be all lies. While Sansa does alter her beliefs and her fantasies become more realistic over time in the books, it happens slowly and certainly not linear. Both her true relating with Sandor and her fantasy of Loras show us that Sansa’s learning arch is anything but straightforward.
Fantasy versus realism
Initially, Sansa’s fantasy world is insular and resistant to the real world and experiences. When reality is about to engulf her and is in straight opposition with her dreams for herself toward the end of aGoT, after learning her father is accused of being a traitor and writing the letters Cersei dictated to her, she flees into the world of stories and books in her room, relieved that Jeyne Poole is not there anymore to remind her what the Lannisters did to her father’s household. Furhtermore, her first erotic fantasy of Loras proves to us that neither Joffrey nor the kingsguard can beat her ideals out of her. In fact, her fantasy and her related hopes for it are insular even to her own despair and hopelesness. Nobody but Sansa herself can alter her fantasy world more in concordance with reality, at her own pace and at a subconscious level. More correctly, only Sansa’s fantasy can alter her fantasy world. And I think we can only truly measure her progression in this regard, not so much by her rational thoughts and periodic feelings of hopelesness, but by inspecting her fantasies and how she responds to her hopes becoming real.
Olenna telling her the Tyrells’ intent to get her safe to Highgarden and see her wed to her grandson is one of those moments that make Sansa’s mind surge with hope that her fantasy ideal of Loras can become reality, that she instantly forgets how unrealistic that even is. Olenna after all was not talking of Loras, but of the heir, Willas Tyrell.
“Would you like that, Sansa?” asked Margaery. “I’ve never had a sister, only brothers. Oh, please say yes, please say that you will consent to marry my brother.”
The words came tumbling out of her. “Yes. I will. I would like that more than anything. To wed Ser Loras, to love him . . .”
“Loras?” Lady Olenna sounded annoyed. “Don’t be foolish, child. Kingsguard never wed. Didn’t they teach you anything in Winterfell? We were speaking of my grandson Willas. He is a bit old for you, to be sure, but a dear boy for all that. Not the least bit oafish, and heir to Highgarden besides.”
Sansa felt dizzy; one instant her head was full of dreams of Loras, and the next they had all been snatched away.
But then we learn she made up this false memory of Sandor kissing her, which is a landslide development of her fantasy – the Unkiss is the first sign we have that her fantasy world finally allows a man that disagrees completely with her original ideal into her fantasy realm, a man who has been contrasted from the start against the idolized Loras. The Unkiss is this strange mix of reality and fantasy on its head: what could have happened in reality has become a fantasy, but what did not happen she believes to be true. It is as if even her fantasy world is trying to protect itself against this intrusion by a non-ideal, by classing it as belonging to a reality, instead of acknowledging it as what it is – an erotic fantasy.
Shortly after we learn of Sansa’s belief that Sandor kissed her, she makes this observation about Margaery’s young companions gossiping.
They are children, Sansa thought. They are silly little girls, even Elinor. They’ve never seen a battle, they’ve never seen a man die, they know nothing. Their dreams were full of songs and stories, the way hers had been before Joffrey cut her father’s head off. Sansa pitied them. Sansa envied them. (aSoS, Sansa II)
A part of her then still wishes she could fantasize freely about some great, young, handsome knight calling her name and wearing her favor as he rides out into battle, without darker, rational thoughts countering it.
Not even the Unkiss can ban Loras from her mind as a fantasy object. She tries very hard to reconcile herself with the idea of Willas as a husband, and she does this by trying to fantasise about him. We notice immediately, that her forced fantasy is childlike again, devoid of any eroticism – sitting together in gardens, listening to music, playing with puppies, and her children. Meanwhile her more sexual mature fantasy turns her imaginings back into Loras.
She pictured the two of them sitting together in a garden with puppies in their laps, or listening to a singer strum upon a lute while they floated down the Mander on a pleasure barge. If I give [Willas] sons, he may come to love me. She would name them Eddard and Brandon and Rickon, and raise them all to be as valiant as Ser Loras. And to hate Lannisters, too. In Sansa’s dreams, her children looked just like the brothers she had lost. Sometimes there was even a girl who looked like Arya.
She could never hold a picture of Willas long in her head, though; her imaginings kept turning him back into Ser Loras, young and graceful and beautiful. You must not think of him like that, she told herself. Or else he may see the disappointment in your eyes when you meet, and how could he marry you then, knowing it was his brother you loved?
And in this manner we have a parallel again with Sandor – her mind turns involuntarily and automatically to Sandor whenever she thinks of Tyrion as a husband or lover.
[The Imp] is so ugly, Sansa thought when his face was close to hers. He is even uglier than the Hound.(aSoS, Sansa III)
The memory of her own wedding night with Tyrion was much with her. In the dark, I am the Knight of Flowers, he had said. I could be good to you. But that was only another Lannister lie. A dog can smell a lie, you know, the Hound had told her once. She could almost hear the rough rasp of his voice. Look around you, and take a good whiff. They’re all liars here, and every one better than you. She wondered what had become of Sandor Clegane. Did he know that they’d killed Joffrey? Would he care? He had been the prince’s sworn shield for years. (aSoS, Sansa VI)
“Oh, yes. He died on top of me. In me, if truth be told. You do know what goes on in a marriage bed, I hope?”
She thought of Tyrion, and of the Hound and how he’d kissed her, and gave a nod. (aFfC, Alayne II)
Right after being saved by Lothor from Marillion’s rape attempt, during the wedding night of Lysa and Petyr Baelish, she has an explicit dream where she replaces lustful Tyrion with the Hound in her marriage bed.
And quick as that, Marillion was gone. The other remained, looming over Sansa in the darkness. “Lord Petyr said watch out for you.” It was Lothor Brune’s voice, she realized. Not the Hound’s, no, how could it be? Of course it had to be Lothor . . .
That night Sansa scarcely slept at all, but tossed and turned just as she had aboard the Merling King…[snip]…And she dreamed of her wedding night too, of Tyrion’s eyes devouring her as she undressed. Only then he was bigger than Tyrion had any right to be, and when he climbed into the bed his face was scarred only on one side. “I’ll have a song from you,” he rasped, and Sansa woke and found the old blind dog beside her once again. “I wish that you were Lady,” she said.
The above is the quote that reveals Sandor wanting a song from Sansa is an innuendo of lust and sex, an innuendo that her subconscious now understands. Add the wolf connotation to the blond dog, devouring eyes and a bed, and we end up with Red Riding Hood asking her grandmother why her eyes are so big, or the much more sexual evident version of The Company of Wolves (a favorite movie of mine). It certainly is a dream that Freud would relish. On the one hand whe have Sansa now almost instinctively expecting any protector of hers against rape to be Sandor, but then we also have the memory of Sandor taking a song from her by force, and what he truly wanted from her, and that perhaps she wants him to want her. And finally, she does not wish him to be a Hound, but her wolf. In any case, just as Loras is a force in her conscious fantasies when it came to imagining married life with Willas, Sandor replaces Tyrion in her marriage bed in her dreams.
And eventually, we come to this quote in Sansa’s last chapter of the last book published to date.
Before she could summon the servants, however, Sweetrobin threw his skinny arms around her and kissed her. It was a little boy’s kiss, and clumsy. Everything Robert Arryn did was clumsy. If I close my eyes I can pretend he is the Knight of Flowers. Ser Loras had given Sansa Stark a red rose once, but he had never kissed her . . . and no Tyrell would ever kiss Alayne Stone. Pretty as she was, she had been born on the wrong side of the blanket.
As the boy’s lips touched her own she found herself thinking of another kiss. She could still remember how it felt, when his cruel mouth pressed down on her own. He had come to Sansa in the darkness as green fire filled the sky. He took a song and a kiss, and left me nothing but a bloody cloak. (aFfC, Alayne II)
Sansa’s first thought about Sweetrobin’s clumsy kiss is perhaps pretending it is Loras kissing her, as Tyrion once suggested he was the Knight of Flowers between the sheets in the darkness. But then she is reminded of Sandor’s Unkisss. The fact that Sansa reminds herself that Loras never kissed her and never will, but vividly remembers Sandor’s Unkiss right after is why many essays and Sandor proponents regard this paragraph as Sansa having let go of Loras; that her infatuation with handsome knights is over and done with.
I disagree with that conclusion, however. Firstly, there are still two books to go. The pairing and the split parallels of Sansa’s desire for Loras on the one hand, and her growing recognition that she may desire Sandor on the other hand has been occurring since the first book. In this process Loras almost always has preceded Sandor. Geoge RR Martin might just as well have stopped after Sansa hoped Sandor would win the Hand’s Tourney, or after we learned about the Unkiss if the above reasoning is true. But he did not. Sansa’s dismissive reasoning of her desires, ideals and hopes has never stopped her from wanting them before. So, why would they now?
Even the vivid false memory is not one that evokes a sense of finality. Yes, there is regret and blame that he left her nothing but the bloody cloak, that he left her (of course, she chose not to go with him). But the Unkiss is cruel in her mind. Some argue that in this instance, “cruel” means “dangerous” in the sense that it is exciting. But Sansa uses the word cruel for Joffrey – cruel eyes, cruel jape – or the Gods. It is not a word she ever uses to denote excitement, thrill or adventure. The most positive interpretation imho we can make of a cruel mouth, in concordance with her blaming Sandor for leaving her, is in the sense of a jape. In other words, that she finds it cruel of Sandor to have made her desire him by taking a kiss and song from her and then leave her behind.
Nor can I regard Sansa resigning herself to the fact that Loras never kissed her as an active choice. A finalisation of Sansa’s process in making a choice between her Loras ideal on the one hand and Sandor the man on the other hand requires more than, “He never kissed me and no Tyrell ever will, but Sandor kissed me”. That sounds more like settling and having it depend on the man. An active, more masculine choice would be, “I don’t want Loras. I want Sandor.” And while Sansa may be closer to feeling, “I want Sandor,” she is not yet feeling, “I don’t want Loras”. I do not think Sansa can dismiss her ideal of Loras without having actually tasted a kiss from a man who can stand in for Loras (since after all Loras is gay), and then realize she feels nothing lasting or deep for that man after all; that despite such a kiss, she still desires to be kissed by Sandor. Most of the time, people do not realize that they do not desire who or what they believed they wanted, until they actually have it.
You might argue that she was kissed by Joffrey and she was disgusted by him. But I think it should be evident that her erotic maturation and formation of an active choice never was about Joffrey anyhow. Her eyes being opened to handsome Joffrey being a monster, did not stop her from having erotic fantasies about Loras afterwards.
Of course, Loras will never kiss Sansa, and if he survives his burning wounds, then he most certainly has lost his looks. But already, George has widened Sansa’s view for a stand-in character through Garlan. Initially, she dismisses Garlan as not being as startlingly handsome as Loras in aCoK.
Ser Garlan Tyrell, five years senior to Ser Loras, was a taller bearded version of his more famous younger brother. He was thicker about the chest and broader at the shoulders, and though his face was comely enough, he lacked Ser Loras’s startling beauty. (aCoK, Sansa VIII)
But after Loras distances herself from her during their conversation to the dinner with Margaery and Olenna, she learns to appreciate Garlan the Gallant’s human warmth and comfort during her wedding feast. Note too, that they touch and he reveals a secret from his past to her.
Perhaps she ought to have remained beside her husband, but she wanted to dance so badly . . . and Ser Garlan was brother to Margaery, to Willas, to her Knight of Flowers. “I see why they name you Garlan the Gallant, ser,” she said, as she took his hand.
“My lady is gracious to say so. My brother Willas gave me that name, as it happens. To protect me.”
“To protect you?” She gave him a puzzled look.
Ser Garlan laughed. “I was a plump little boy, I fear, and we do have an uncle called Garth the Gross. So Willas struck first, though not before threatening me with Garlan the Greensick, Garlan the Galling, and Garlan the Gargoyle.”
It was so sweet and silly that Sansa had to laugh, despite everything. Afterward she was absurdly grateful. Somehow the laughter made her hopeful again, if only for a little while. Smiling, she let the music take her, losing herself in the steps, in the sound of flute and pipes and harp, in the rhythm of the drum . . . and from time to time in Ser Garlan’s arms, when the dance brought them together. (aSoS, Sansa III)
Later, in the Vale in aFfC, she remembers Garlan’s support, together with Tyrion defending her against Joffrey and Sandor saving her from the mob.
When Joff had her beaten, the Imp defended her, not Littlefinger. When the mob sought to rape her, the Hound carried her to safety, not Littlefinger. When the Lannisters wed her to Tyrion against her will, Ser Garlan the Gallant gave her comfort, not Littlefinger. (aFfC, Sansa I)
And of course, Littlefinger’s speech about Harry the Heir sounds like exactly such a stand-in, and not so incidentally the Hardyng blazon is chequered red and white, which is reminiscint of Loras’ white horse bedecked with red and white flowers during the Tourney.
“Harry the Heir?” Alayne tried to recall what Myranda had told her about him on the mountain. “He was just knighted. And he has a bastard daughter by some common girl.”
“And another on the way by a different wench. Harry can be a beguiling one, no doubt. Soft sandy hair, deep blue eyes, and dimples when he smiles. And very gallant, I am told.” He teased her with a smile. “Bastard-born or no, sweetling, when this match is announced you will be the envy of every highborn maiden in the Vale, and a few from the riverlands and the Reach as well.” (aFfC, Alayne II)
In The Trail of the Red Stallion III I argue how Team Petyr-Sansa is one of building dreams and hope, and that Harry is presented in Sansa’s arc as one of those dreamy hopes for the future in Sansa’s final chapter of aFfC. Harry as a possible betrothed therefore fits her wish for hope when she observes Margaery’s cousins talking about suitors, favors and knights. She envies the cousins their innocense and dreams, and here Petyr argues Sansa will be the envy of every highborn maiden in the Vale, the riverlands and the Reach, and that would include Margaery’s cousins (poor things are locked away in the dungeons though). Hence, he has been forwarded by George as the most viable candidate in Sansa’s romance arc where she will realize that she prefers Sandor over a handsome young knight.
Many presume he only serves to prove the reader how much Sansa has learned from her experience with Joffrey and that she has become a rational person who has let go of her idol or any possible stand-in for him. Aside from the evidence above I provided that suggests otherwise, it seems a rather elobarote plot to prove that. And what would it actually prove, other than the fact that Harry is a handsome jerk like Marillion or in the worst case a monster like Joffrey? Sansa can either conclude he is is bad news and still secretly hope for a Loras, or she can wrongly conclude that all handsome men are bad men, which is incorrect and still does not make her choice of her Beast a positive one.
One of the aspects that makes readers suspect the worst of him is the fact that he has two bastard children with two different women. And I admit it does not make me think highly of Henry the Heir either. But then I am not a teen Sansa who had an honorable father who raised “his” bastard son in Winterfell, a son Ned Stark supposedly begot after already being married. Her father is the best and most honest to good man she has known to live so far. On top of that, Sansa also recently has learned from Littlefigner that her own mother supposedly gave up her maidenhead to Littlefinger. We readers may know better, but Sansa does not. She may be apprehensive of Henry having fathered two bastards with two different women, but she also believes to have direct life experiences not to be prejudiced about it either towards the father at least.
tWOW SPOILER WARNING!
In the released Sansa chapter of tWoW we learn two tidbits about Harry the Heir when he meets and interacts Sansa, believing her to be Alayne, that put him in a bad daylight: he insults Sansa, and he does not talk in a flattering manner about the mother of his first bastard child. Overall, we have this first impression of him as insensitive and superficial.
I will however play the devil’s advocate here. Littlefinger and Lord Belmore clue us in why Harry insulted Alayne in the yard, in front of everybody upon arrival.
Lord Belmore laughed. “I never thought Royce would let him come. Is he blind, or merely stupid?”
“Yes,” she said, “but why must he be so cruel? He called me your bastard. Right in the yard, in front of everyone.”
“So far as he knows, that’s who you are. This betrothal was never his idea, and Bronze Yohn has no doubt warned him against my wiles. You are my daughter. He does not trust you, and he believes that you’re beneath him.” (tWoW, Alayne I)
Bronze Yohn basically is Harry’s benefactor and supporter, who holds a squire tourney to knight him. Bronze Yohn is also the sole Lord Declarant left who cannot be bought by Littlefinger and remains an enemy who does not wish to see Littlefinger gain even more power, but to be gone after a year. Littlefinger already established in aFfC to Sansa that is exactly why he arranged the conditional betrothal between Alayne and Harry the Heir – to put Bronze Yohn Royce in a check-mate position. After Lysa’s death, Littlefinger acts the regent of Sweetrobin. The Lords Declarant hold a siege to make Littlefinger surrender Sweetrobin to Yohn Royce as a ward. Their plan fails and Petyr Baelish buys every Lord Declarant with a rich bride, by paying off their debts, with boys, etc. And now he tries to wed his bastard daughter to Sweetrobin’s heir, who is Yohn Royce’s last pawn against Petyr Baelish. Of course, Bronze Yohn will poison Harrold Hardyng against this match – against the father of the bride, and against the bride. And since the betrothal depends on Harry’s consent, his public instant rudeness to Alayne cannot but be seen as Harry saying “Don’t get any ideas, I’m not interested, and I want nothing to do with you.” It does not make him any less rude, but his rudeness is not as much a character-trait than it is a planned pre-meditated public rejection of the match.
Later on, we also learn that he might have even a very personal reason to reject Alayne, beyond the poltical motivation. Harry seems to like the girl who is pregnant with his second child. It is different with Saffron he says (in comparison to the first girl who is the mother of his first child). When guys or men say “It is different with her,” they usually tend to imply an attachment difference. Since he speaks disparitively of the first girl, ths would imply he has feelings for Saffron and may be considering her as a good choice for a wife even. If this is true then this conditional match with Alayne comes as an inconvenience to him. And that he speaks highly of her beauty and her father (the richest man in Gulltown who dotes on his daughter) would certainly fit with that assumption.
“Saffron?” Alayne tried not to laugh. “Truly?”
Ser Harrold had the grace to blush. “Her father says she is more precious to him than gold. He’s rich, the richest man in Gulltown. A fortune in spices.”… [snip]…”Saffron is very beautiful, I’ll have you know. Tall and slim, with big brown eyes and hair like honey.”
So, now we not only have a young man being rude to Alayne for political reasons, but because he already believes himself in love with another young woman, and if it weren’t for Petyr Baelish’s political plots, he might have been free to wed Saffron already and make an honest woman out of her and his child with her trueborn. Perhaps, he’s not such an arse after all? But just a common young man who made one mistake and is no more superficial than the average hot-blooded youth and had every intention to do right by the second girl, until Littlefinger – and by extension Alayne – made it more complex for him, so that now his beloved Saffron stands to lose all standing and honor. So, at least in his eyes, his rudeness to Alayne may actually be his mistaken solution to preserve public loyalty to Saffron.
What about his bastards?
Say something, she urged herself. You will never make Ser Harry love you if you don’t have the courage to talk him. Should she tell him what a good dancer he was? No, he’s probably heard that a dozen times tonight. Besides, Petyr said that I should not seem eager. Instead she said, “I have heard that you are about to be a father.” It was not something most girls would say to their almost-betrothed, but she wanted to see if Ser Harrold would lie.
“For the second time. My daughter Alys is two years old.”
Your bastard daughter Alys, Alayne thought, but what she said was, “That one had a different mother, though.”
Sansa took his initial insult as him looking down on bastards, which is an identity she struggles with. This is why she corrects him in her mind when he talks of Alys as his daughter, and not his bastard daughter. His words give the impression that he is not ashamed of Alys and simply regards her as his – trueborn or natural born does not seem to matter for him in order to recognize her. By all likelihood, Harry named his daughter after his grandmother Alys Arryn, the sister of Jon Arryn. Not even Robert’s first daughter Mya was named after a relative of his as far as we know, and he doted on Mya while he still lived in the Vale. So, her name Alys and calling her daughter suggest that Harrold Hardyng might actually be fond of his first born. Nor does Harry seem embarassed or ashamed of becoming a father for a second time.
Perhaps he does not have an issue with bastards as Sansa seems to think? Here is his actual insult.
“If it please you, I will show you to your chambers myself.” This time her eyes met Harry’s. She smiled just for him, and said a silent prayer to the Maiden. Please, he doesn’t need to love me, just make him like me, just a little, that would be enough for now.
Ser Harrold looked down at her coldly. “Why should it please me to be escorted anywhere by Littlefinger’s bastard?”
Could it be he only has an issue with Littlefinger’s bastard alone, and not just every bastard? Could it be that his biggest issue is Littlefinger? As I argued above, that would be the most likely case. In fact, if Littlefinger had made Alayne a trueborn daughter instead of a bastard, chances are very high that Harry would have simply insulted Alayne for being “Littlefinger’s daughter”.
Sansa asked about his bastards to test him on his honesty. And he certainly passes that test, including when he gives his opinion on the mother of Alys quite crass.
Cissy was a pretty thing when I tumbled her, but childbirth left her as fat as a cow, so Lady Anya arranged for her to marry one of her men-at-arms.
The above quote is regarded as his second offense. It sounds insensitive, crass and shallow. It certainly is all these things. But it is also honest. And when he says it, he may even have provocative reasons for speaking so. He has not shown any interest in Sansa beyond doing his duty to ask her for a dance and make amends for his explicit rudeness to her earlier on. In fact, he seems to want to make clear to her how different the situation is with Saffron right after. And if we consider the wording of his insult to Sansa earlier on, he seems dismissive of her attempt at courtesy by throwing the words “If it please you,” back at her. Hmmm, who else is crass and abbhors empty courtesies? Sandor does, immensely.
Finally, Sansa asks him how she compares in beauty to Saffron.
Alayne raised her head. “More beautiful than me?”
Ser Harrold studied her face. “You are comely enough, I grant you. When Lady Anya first told me of this match, I was afraid that you might look like your father.”
“Little pointy beard and all?” Alayne laughed.
“I never meant…”
“I hope you joust better than you talk.”
For a moment he looked shocked. But as the song was ending, he burst into a laugh. “No one told me you were clever.”
He admits she is beautiful, but equally indicates that would not suffice to agree to the match. It is actually her challenging wit and her ability to make him laugh that makes him regard Alayne in a completely different light, enough to consider setting aside Saffron. So, he is attracted to clever women.
So, after some examination we get a different picture altogether:
- honest, including crass
- abbhors courtesies
- dislikes Littlefinger and being used a poltical pawn by him
- named his first child after his grandmother and does not dismiss her, might even love Alys
- seems to have originally intended to marry Saffron, a rich merchant’s daughter, a commoner and pregnant with his second child
- has no intention to play games and signal instant rejection of the conditional betrothal he did not ask for
- he is won over by her cleverness and wit
Harry does not sound that bad a guy after all. All is not what it seems apparently. His true offense is not falling instantly for Alayne, not rejoicing at the idea of marrying her when he heard of the betrothal, and not hiding his displeasure behind courtesy. And for some his biggest flaw is that he is not Sandor. If Elizabeth Bennet could see past Mr. Darcy’s initial offense, then I do not see why Sansa cannot, when she has already learned to appreciate blunt honesty over courtesies and does not have to second guess Harry’s motivations for he cannot want her for her claim, as he believes her to be the natural born daughter of the nouveau-noblesse Petyr Baelish. He actually may be the ideal candidate for Sansa to believe herself in love with and share her first actual lover’s kiss with. Only he will not live long enough afterwards and Sansa realizes she does not grieve him enough as she supposed she would, while she cannot forget Sandor.
Some may argue that this does not fit with the Beauty and the Beast to which Sandor’s and Sansa’s romantic story refers to so often. In Disney’s version, Belle thoroughly dislikes her suitor Gaston’s attentions. In fact, Harry is dismissed as a Gaston at LIttlefinger’s first mentioning of him. But Alayne does hope initially that Harry may fall in love with her, and she works to make him fall in love with her. She also watches and studies him to find what she finds attractive about him. So, Alayne is not Disney’s Belle, hence Harry is not Gaston.
END OF tWOW SPOILER WARNING
GRRM’s preferred depiction of the story is Cocteau’s movie interpretation, and strangely enough this too is used as an argument to negate Harry as a romantic interest on Sansa’s part. I say strangely, because in Cocteau’s adaptation of the fairytale, Belle has a suitor other than the Beast – her brother’s best friend, Avenant. In the finale, unbeknowest to Belle, Avenant transforms into the appearance of the Beast and dies, while the Beast resurrects and transforms into Avenant’s likenness. The Beast asks her whether she loved Avenant. Belle admits she did and that she loves the Beast too, to which he concludes Belle is a strange girl. So, if we go by Cocteau’s version, then Sansa thinking herself to be in love with Harry who has some of the Hound’s traits before choosing Sandor is not even straying from it.
The Dismissal of a Beast
But what about Tyrion? you may ask. Cannot he be her beast? He could have been if George was writing Sansa’s sexual maturation as that of a girl who bends to the desire and will of a man, bends to reality. But that is not how he wrote her maturation at all. He writes a maturation arc where Sansa’s idealism and fantasy is insular to what other people want and she explores that idealistic fantasy world to figure out what and who she ultimately wants. Her marriage to Tyrion is a forced one and contrasts every fantasy Sansa ever had about her wedding. Her later positive thought about him having been kind to her, and that she would rather remain married to Tyrion than wed Sweetrobin are pure cognitive things she tells herself.
Sansa felt sorry for her little cousin sometimes, but she could not imagine ever wanting to be his wife. I would sooner be married to Tyrion again. (aSoS, Sansa VII)
And as cognitive thoughts go, it is not even a positive one. Basically, Sansa is thinking she would rather have cholera than the plague. And when it comes to actually desiring a man in comparison to Tyrion, Sansa desires Sandor, but not Tyrion.
Sometimes it is argued that Sansa rejects Tyrion purely on beauty standards. But the private wedding night scene where they both down Arbor Gold reveals the miss-match goes far deeper than that. Remember that her first private scene with Sandor contained the following ingredients:
- emotional and mental intimacy
All those elements are present in one way or another in the wedding night scene with Tyrion as well. Tyrion tells her the story of his wedding night with Tysha, he admits his flaws and mentions how he could be good to her, and finally he sits completely naked with his erection exposed, and subjugates himself completely to her will. Can there by a more vulnerable moment than one where two people get undressed and prepare to be physically intimate?
The Imp turned away from her. “The first time I wed, there was us and a drunken septon, and some pigs to bear witness. We ate one of our witnesses at our wedding feast. Tysha fed me crackling and I licked the grease off her fingers, and we were laughing when we fell into bed.”…[snip]…
“Who was she, my lord?” Sansa was curious despite herself.
“Lady Tysha.” His mouth twisted. “Of House Silverfist. Their arms have one gold coin and a hundred silver, upon a bloody sheet. Ours was a very short marriage . . . as befits a very short man, I suppose.” (aSoS, Sansa III)
Initially, Tyrion reveals something personal about himself, naturally provoking Sansa’s curiosity and she expresses interest. But Tyrion become sarcastic. And Sansa’s reaction to this is…
Sansa stared down at her hands and said nothing.
It is tempting to conclude that Tyrion’s sarcasm puts her off, but Sandor for example has expressed nihilism and cynicism and that never stopped Sansa from responding to it. From this discrepancy, we can already conclude that something is lacking for Sansa to form even a mental intimacy with Tyrion.
Sansa too becomes vulnerable and fearful as she undresses herself.
Her hands trembled as she began fumbling at her clothes. She had ten thumbs instead of fingers, and all of them were broken. Yet somehow she managed the laces and buttons, and her cloak and gown and girdle and undersilk slid to the floor, until finally she was stepping out of her smallclothes. Gooseprickles covered her arms and legs. She kept her eyes on the floor, too shy to look at him, but when she was done she glanced up and found him staring. There was hunger in his green eye, it seemed to her, and fury in the black. Sansa did not know which scared her more.
So, just as with Sandor here too Sansa experiences fear and vulnerability as she is exposed to a man’s desire. Several times, Tyrion insists with Sansa to drop the courtesies between them, as well as tells her not to lie about his physical appearance. So, there is honesty too, to some extent. When he tells her how he is the Knight of Flowers in the darkness and could be good to her, honestly trying to lay out his negatives as well as his qualities Tyrion exposes himself emotionally to her. She even realizes he is equally frightened.
“Don’t lie, Sansa. I am malformed, scarred, and small, but . . .” she could see him groping “. . . abed, when the candles are blown out, I am made no worse than other men. In the dark, I am the Knight of Flowers.” He took a draught of wine. “I am generous. Loyal to those who are loyal to me. I’ve proven I’m no craven. And I am cleverer than most, surely wits count for something. I can even be kind. Kindness is not a habit with us Lannisters, I fear, but I know I have some somewhere. I could be . . . I could be good to you.”
He is as frightened as I am, Sansa realized. Perhaps that should have made her feel more kindly toward him, but it did not. All she felt was pity, and pity was death to desire. He was looking at her, waiting for her to say something, but all her words had withered. She could only stand there trembling.
But where such exposure made Sansa reach out to touch Sandor and empathize with him, fear for him, here she feels pity instead. And pity is the death to desire.
Finally Sansa witnesses Tyrion at his most vulnerable – naked and with an erection. Even his position, at her feet, basically tells us how he is putting himself out there. And he completely and fully subjugates himself to her will, to her desire. With this, any mental resistance to Tyrion because of her being forced into the marriage is removed, and Sansa is given the right to choose.
He was sitting by her feet, naked. Where his legs joined, his man’s staff poked up stiff and hard from a thicket of coarse yellow hair, but it was the only thing about him that was straight.
“My lady,” Tyrion said, “you are lovely, make no mistake, but . . . I cannot do this. My father be damned. We will wait. The turn of a moon, a year, a season, however long it takes. Until you have come to know me better, and perhaps to trust me a little.” His smile might have been meant to be reassuring, but without a nose it only made him look more grotesque and sinister.
Sansa does try to find the beauty in the man, to find the Knight of Flowers in him, but cannot find it. She is deeply repulsed by him to consider him in any manner as her lover.
Look at him, Sansa told herself, look at your husband, at all of him, Septa Mordane said all men are beautiful, find his beauty, try. She stared at the stunted legs, the swollen brutish brow, the green eye and the black one, the raw stump of his nose and crooked pink scar, the coarse tangle of black and gold hair that passed for his beard. Even his manhood was ugly, thick and veined, with a bulbous purple head. This is not right, this is not fair, how have I sinned that the gods would do this to me, how?
Where Sandor forced her to look at him, Sansa forces herself to look at Tyrion. Isolated from the previous passages, the paragraph seems to indicate that Sansa rejects Tyrion purely on the grounds of his looks. But it is not isolated from the preceding interaction. It is the culmination of it. George shows us that for Sansa there is no chemistry whatsoever. To Tyrion’s mental vulnerability she can only be silent. For his emotional vulnerability she can only feel pity. The above quote is Sansa trying to find at least physical chemistry, in the absence of emotional and mental one. And she cannot find it. And that is why she knows she will never want him to touch her.
“On my honor as a Lannister,” the Imp said, “I will not touch you until you want me to.”
It took all the courage that was in her to look in those mismatched eyes and say, “And if I never want you to, my lord?”
His mouth jerked as if she had slapped him. “Never?”
Her neck was so tight she could scarcely nod.
Not even a lifetime will ever cause the sparks to fly for her.
I would say the main reason she feels no attraction to him, not at any level is highlighted with this later quote.
What does he want me to say? “That is good to know, my lord.” He wanted something from her, but Sansa did not know what it was. He looks like a starving child, but I have no food to give him. Why won’t he leave me be? (aSoS, Sansa IV)
Tyrion considers Sansa to be the child in the marriage, but in many ways Tyrion acts like a needy child to Sansa – as if he constantly desires a reassuring pat on the shoulder and a cookie for good behavior from her. And Tyrion already shows this need for reassurance from Sansa during the wedding night. And it is this show of need from him that makes her look at her hands, feel pity and unable to find aything attractive in him.
The bear-maiden song’s appearance heralds Sansa’s sexual maturation into that of the erotic fantasy, which is set not long after her menarche, most likely around her ovulation time, and therefore is reminiscint of the masculine maturation where the first ejaculation archetypically coincides with an erotic wet dream. In this way, George makes Sansa have agency over her maturation. It cannot be forced onto her by the many men desiring her, nor will it be hampered by the rejection of men she desires, or even reality. She matures on her own pace, in her own time, at her own terms. And most of all, it is not as much an arc where she lets go of fantasy and dreams to accept reality, but where she transforms them by expansion instead, making it a maturation process that progresses slowly where she takes steps forward, but also backwards.
George uses both characters Loras and Sandor to let Sansa explore her romantic and erotic fantasy world, with Loras starting out as an idolized man and Sandor the man she is attracted to, despite herself almost. Both are regularly contrasted and paired to each other: as competers in the Hand’s Tourney, as escorts, as hero versus not a monster like Gregor or Jaime, as erotic fantasy, and as kingsguard. Exactly, because Sansa’s transformation of her fantasy world progresses as outlined it seems very unlikely that the last paired comparison between those two in Sansa’s mind in aFfC is the final one for her whole arc, and it is instead highly likely that we will see it reappear in tWoW, where Loras may be replaced with Harrold Hardyng as stand-in. While most of the symbolism discussed in other superb essays regarding Sansa’s romantic evolution strongly support the speculation that Sandor will win Sansa’s heart, I strongly caution against the expectation that he already has at the last published chapter of her at the time of writing this essay, but instead find it highly likely that we will witness Harrold Hardyng as having his personal impact on it as well. If the Loras-Sandor comparison continues (with Harry as a stand-in) in a sexual maturation arc for Sansa, the next step would be a step from the erotic fantasy of a kiss to the actual sharing of a kiss.
I would also caution readers on judging Harry the Heir too harshly at this moment in time based on Sansa’s opinion of him immediately after the initial meeting, without tWoW being published. Even supporting characters are often developed by George in such a way that they have their own logical motivations for acting as they do, and he often cleverly uses prejudice and misjudgement by a main point of view character to misdirect the reader. Sansa certainly has rational and personal offense reasons to dislike him at first appearance, but closer inspection of Harry’s situation at least indicates he has his rational and personal reasons too. He may turn out to be this mixture of a handsome, young upjumped knight who abbhors false courtesy, prefers honesty and is as crass as Sandor.
Finally, we can also compare Tyrion as one of the men who plays a part in her maturation process – one where she truly tests and searches for a glimmer of chemistry, but realizes there is none. There is no mental, no emotional and no physical chemistry for Sansa during the wedding night, and this mostly comes about because he acts like a needy child to her. Sexual maturation and exploration includes what turns you off completely just as much as figuring out what turns you on.
This topic of Sansa’s development to which the Bear-Maiden song refers is not exhausted yet. This essay focused solely on the erotic maturation of Sansa through the lens of a kiss. But there is also the knight versus the bear, and extending it to the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, the prince as well. This will be explored in a follow-up essay.
- Girls can actually have erotic fantasies before their menarche or during their menstruation. Nor is the eroticism of girls’ fantasies as strongly related to ovulation or orgasm. But literary work is free to make such a connection for symbolic and literacy reasons. And George, as a male author, might wish to adhere to the cautional side while writing about female sexual mental maturation.
- Unfortunately, some persons are truly dangerous to our well being, and we might just as well end up concluding erronously that we are attracted to them. There is a fine line between mistaking fear for attraction and attraction for fear. And it can have devestating results if we mistake the first for the later.
- The actual easter procession in Echternach was performed in this way at some point in its history, but eventually was altered, because it was too chaotic.
3 thoughts on “The Beast’s Kiss – Sansa’s Sexual Maturation”
Yo not even a mention of Littlefinger? I think he’s pretty important in her sexual maturation as well
Littlefinger is one of those characters in her arc who either bribes her or kisses her without invitation, such as Dontos and Marillion. She never considers him in any sexual or romantic sense though. There is a draft on this “negative experience” arc, which may or may not be published in due time. This essay is not about how men force their own sexuality onto Sansa, but her own personal mental development from pre-teen to teenage girl with sexual fantasies. In the books written so far, Littlefinger’s presence in Sansa’s erotic laden dreams is non-existent. She does not dream of him nor desires him. Hence, Littlefinger gets no mention in this essay, no.