Shadrich, Morgarth and Byron

Three Hedge Knights:  Howland Reed, Elder Brother, and Sandor Clegane

Their Gallantry is Yet to be Demonstrated: The Winds of Winter prediction that a glamor spell disguises the Beast as a Beauty

Alayne laughed. “Are you louts?” she said, teasing. “Why, I took the three of you for gallant knights.”
“Knights they are,” said Petyr. “Their gallantry has yet to be demonstrated, but we may hope.Allow me to present Ser Byron, Ser Morgarth, and Ser Shadrich. Sers, the Lady Alayne, my natural and very clever daughter . . . with whom I must needs confer, if you will be so good as to excuse us.”
The three knights bowed and withdrew, though the tall one with the blond hair kissed her hand before taking his leave.(Alayne II, AFFC)

“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.” (Sansa III, AGOT)

“He was going to take me back to Winterfell and marry me to some hedge knight[…]” (Sansa IV, AGOT on her misremembering her father’s words.)

First, the acknowledgements.  This essay is possible because of the original post here by the invaluable contributor on the westeros.org forums, bemused in August of 2016.  Bemused presented the case for the identities of Ser Shadrich and Ser Morgarth being Howland Reed and Elder Brother respectively.  I was inclined to agree and even was able to find evidence to expand upon that idea.  The only point of disagreement was on the identity of Ser Byron “the Beautiful,” who I am proposing is Sandor Clegane under a glamor.  This essay sets out to show how this is even possible, how these three men work together in the plot, that this is what GRRM actually intends to happen, and to lay out the textual evidence and clues as clearly as possible.  Other forum contributors who must be thanked for their astute reading and dogged assistance in building this theory are sweetsunray and Ashes of Westeros.

By Blue-Eyed Wolf

Note:  To avoid bogging down an already long essay, I will provide links to smaller, less important quotes if needed for textual support.

Index

  1. Part I:  The Importance of Reading the Three as One
  2. Part II:  Shadrich’s Intentions
  3. Part III:  The Case for Howland Reed
  4. Part IV:  The Quiet Isle, Elder Brother, and Ser Morgarth
  5. Part V:  Sandor Clegane and Ser Byron:  The Beast Enchanted into a Beauty
  6. Part VI:  Brienne’s Symbolic Journey Down the Acorn and Ivy Path
  7. Part VII:  Tying Everything Together in Sansa’s POV

PART I: The Importance of Reading the Three as One

Before exploring the individual identities of our hedge knights, we should first look at how GRRM intends for us to view them:  as a team.  Even though it is Shadrich who we will be introduced to first in Brienne’s AFFC POV, the next two times we see him will be in the company of Morgarth and Byron in Alayne II, AFFC and in Alayne, TWOW sample chapter.  It’s written as if we’re supposed to both see them and unsee them as Sansa’s attention is drawn elsewhere.  Because the author places the men together in consecutive order we should be considering not just their individual identities, but also considering how they will fit together logically and thematically in the story.  They should harmonize well together with each contributing something important for the task at hand.

This makes the name Shadrich all the more a significant choice if we look to the similarities with the biblical Shadrach and his companions Meshach and Abednego from the Book of Daniel.  Just as a brief paraphrase of the story, those are the Babylonian names they’ve taken as appointed officials in the court of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon.  Their real Hebrew names are Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria.  The king builds a golden statue and commands that all of his officials must bow down before it on pain of execution in a fiery furnace.  Of course the three being Hebrew and godly men refuse to do so.  When they are set to burn in the furnace, they are protected by God for their faithfulness (as depicted by a mysterious fourth man in there with them referred to as appearing like “the son of God”).  They walk about the flames unharmed and eventually escape.  So in this story we have themes of:  three “godly” men under assumed names, a king that appoints them to positions in his court, the king will be defied, a fourth “man” who will join them, and an unexpected escape by supernatural means.  These themes will become much more clearly fitting as we explore the clues in Brienne and Sansa’s AFFC arcs.

There are a few key points we should keep in mind for the hedge knight team even if they are exactly what they appear to be and only out to kidnap Sansa for a ransom:

  • For any plan, rescue or kidnapping, to work Littlefinger must believe they are exactly the hired swords they appear to be for him to be completely at ease and to allow them around “his daughter.”
  • Littlefinger must believe that there’s no way the hedge knights could know who Alayne really is.
  • Logically, there must be at least one member of the team that can positively ID Sansa through a disguise or physical changes brought on by time and puberty.  Even if they are kidnapping her, there’s no reward for bringing the wrong girl back to King’s Landing.

We know by the fact that they were hired, came back with Littlefinger from Gulltown, spent hours in his solar drinking and talking, have been personally introduced to Alayne, and they have by TWOW sample chapter spent months at the Gates of the Moon without any cause for suspicion means all of the above points are true.

If the hedge knights are in fact under false identities, Littlefinger cannot in any way be previously familiar with any one of them or he would be immediately suspicious of their presence and intentions.  He cannot be able to identify them as anyone other than the identities they have presented.

Shadrich succeeded in finding Sansa where all others had failed.  This means he found the right information that lead him to Sansa.  How he got that information is critically important question to answer.

back to the index

PART II:  Shadrich’s Intentions

In this part we’ll be looking at the evidence in favor of Ser Shadrich being an ally and friend to Sansa, no matter if he is Howland Reed, someone else entirely, or simply the Mad Mouse.  These clues will also directly connect him to associations with Sandor Clegane, an obvious ally to both Stark girls.  But first and as equally important, we need to examine the reasons for Brienne being an unreliable narrator when it comes to analyzing Shadrich through her POV.

Brienne kept her face a mask, to hide her dismay. “Who is this Sansa Stark, and why do you seek her?”
For love, why else?”
She furrowed her brow. “Love?”
“Aye, love of gold. Unlike your good Ser Creighton, I did fight upon the Blackwater, but on the losing side. My ransom ruined me. You know who Varys is, I trust? The eunuch has offered a plump bag of gold for this girl you’ve never heard of. I am not a greedy man. If some oversized wench would help me find this naughty child, I would split the Spider’s coin with her.” (Brienne I, AFFC)

This conversation Brienne has upon meeting Ser Shadrich is often cited as damning proof of him being simply a bounty hunter if we take it at face value.  There’s subtle details here that indicate his motivations are not actually greedy, but helpful even to Brienne herself.  Shadrich is telling her, actually warning her, that Ser Creighton and Ser Illifer are liars and frauds.  This is something Shadrich assesses within moments of meeting them, which should be a confirmation of most readers’ first impressions of the two.

As we shall see from the examples presented, Brienne will show a persistent pattern * in AFFC of reading people wrong; therefore, she is an unreliable narrator in assessing Ser Shadrich and we should not fall into the trap of taking a POV character’s word as accurate without supporting evidence.  Here’s a rundown of Brienne’s inability to read others accurately:

  • She fails to be suspicious of the grandiose and dubious claims of Creighton Longbough and his partner, Illifer the Penniless.  After being with them a short time she refers to them as “decent men,” but their knightly status is likely fake as Brienne admits herself she’s never heard of them or the knights they claim to have slain at the Blackwater.  Nor are their sigils recognizable to her.  Yet, it never occurs to her to press them with more pointed questions or to even be particularly wary.  With so many dead soldiers from the war, it isn’t difficult to find bits of armor to pass oneself off as a hedge knight.  They are clearly using her as she pays their way at the inn at the old stone bridge.  This is after the innkeeper makes plain that Creighton is a good-for-nothing freeloader.  While they don’t appear to be as terrible as most outlaws, they do seem to be looking for the next big score.  It would therefore be highly likely they would betray Brienne to get their hands on Sansa.  That much should be obvious to the reader as much as it is to Shadrich.  Even much later on her journey she will still think back that “perhaps she had made a mistake in abandoning Ser Creighton and Ser Illifer. They had seemed like honest men.”  What makes them sohonest to her if she even admits she can’t verify their story?  It’s most likely because she sees them as simply “old,” “vain,” and ridiculous, therefore they are harmless.  So harmless then translates to seemingly decent and honest for her.
  • She tersely notes but immediately forgets the boy on the piebald horse (who turns out to be Podrick Payne) that is mentioned three times across Brienne I & II.  It takes a fourth brush with him before it finally dawns on her she’s seen him before and should take an interest.
  • She constantly thinks of Nimble Dick Crabb as a murderous type, but he actually turns out to be just a starving petty conman who jumped at the opportunity for a little coin; however, unlike Creighton, he is described as “scrawny and ill-fed.” Nimble Dick is telling her the truth as he knew it about “fooling a fool,” who will turn out to be Shagwell of the Brave Companions, not Dontos Hollard.  He only tells her about seeing two girls with the fool because Brienne gave him leading questions with promise of more coin.  But what else does he do that warrants so much mistrust from her?  Nothing.  The worst thing he does is rattle Podrick with colorful stories by the campfire of “squishers” and his ancestor, Ser Clarence Crabb.  Brienne will realize after poor Dick’s gruesome death at the hands of Shagwell that she should have trusted him.
  • Although she has reason to be doubtful of Ser Hyle Hunt at first for a cruel game at Highgarden, his actions thereafter are those of a helper and someone who wants to improve Brienne’s opinion of him.  He carries the stinking, rotting heads of the Bloody Mummers all the way back to Maidenpool, which Brienne believe he plans to claim the credit for himself.  Instead he gives Brienne and Podrick full credit for slaying the outlaws, publicly testifying to her bravery and skill.  He stands up to Randall Tarly and leaves his service to join her, and seems genuinely attracted to her despite the teasing.  The reward for finding Sansa Stark he speaks of is then likely not gold, but earning Brienne’s favor and her accepting him as a suitor.  He also makes the auspicious suggestion to seek out Septon Meribald.  She continues to think the worst of Hyle throughout, but her opinion begins to change after he helps her defend the orphans against Rorge and Biter.  She even defends him before they are about to be hanged by Lady Stoneheart and the BwB.

To sum up, we have good reason to doubt Brienne’s first impressions of Ser Shadrich, because she nearly gets everyone she encounters in AFFC wrong.

* Sweetsunray has noticed Brienne shows a pattern in her internal monologue of being prone to thinking in overly literal terms.  She fails to pick up on sarcasm.  She has no ear for tone of voice, which is key to understanding others.  Unlike most POV characters that do assess the eye movements, facial expressions and body language of others,  Brienne focuses on mechanical movement and misinterprets subtle facial expressions if she notices them at all.  If she does pick up on social cues, they have to be blatantly obvious.  This is not to say she is unintellegent, but there seems to be an impairment there which has an impact on her ability to accurately judge others.  She does have a general mistrust (of men especially) based on her life experience, but that is not the same as having good sense of what makes an individual trustworthy or untrustworthy.  Sweetsunray goes into more details and examples of these patterns here and has proposed Brienne may have a Pragmatic Language Impairment.

Brienne’s AFFC arc is almost a parody of the knight errant story.  The white knight is supposed to be the perfect hero to rescue the maiden.  George would seem to have it otherwise.  As one of the most honest, noble, pure-intentioned characters in the books as well as an excellent warrior, her skillset could not be worse for going up against the likes of Petyr Baelish.  Consider how deftly he outmaneuvered the Lords Declarant who thought to oust him with direct confrontation, noble intentions, and show of military force.  Even when she gives her best attempt at playing the deception game, she is painfully transparent.  She tries to claim that she isn’t looking for Sansa, but an unnamed sister that looks exactly like Sansa.  Shadrich calls her bluff in seconds and this is exactly the reason that he can’t ally himself with her.  She places trust in the wrong people and she can’t lie.  And again, Shadrich warns her that Creighton is not what he seems.  The following quotes are from Brienne I, AFFC.

“I am searching for my sister.” She dared not mention Sansa’s name, with her accused of regicide. “She is a highborn maid and beautiful, with blue eyes and auburn hair.  Perhaps you saw her with a portly knight of forty years, or a drunken fool.”
“The roads are full of drunken fools and despoiled maidens. As to portly knights, it is hard for any honest man to keep his belly round when so many lack for food . . . though your Ser Creighton has not hungered, it would seem.”

Ser Shadrich laughed. “Oh, I doubt that, but it may be that you and I share a quest. A little lost sister, is it? With blue eyes and auburn hair?” He laughed again. “You are not the only hunter in the woods. I seek for Sansa Stark as well.”

Brienne kept her face a mask, to hide her dismay. “Who is this Sansa Stark, and why do you seek her?

Brienne may keep her face straight and doesn’t mention Sansa by name, but she gave herself away easily.  She mentions the description of Dontos:  portly knight or drunken fool.  Also, if she doesn’t know who Sansa Stark is, why does she care what Shadrich’s intentions are toward her?

“I know no Sansa Stark,” she insisted. “I am searching for my sister, a highborn girl . . .”

“. . . with blue eyes and auburn hair, aye. Pray, who is this knight who travels with your sister? Or did you name him fool?” Ser Shadrich did not wait for her answer, which was good, since she had none. “A certain fool vanished from King’s Landing the night King Joffrey died, a stout fellow with a nose full of broken veins, one Ser Dontos the Red, formerly of Duskendale. I pray your sister and her drunken fool are not mistaken for the Stark girl and Ser Dontos. That could be most unfortunate.” He put his heels into his courser and trotted on ahead.

Indeed, she isn’t fooling anyone.  Now that we’ve looked at Brienne’s limitations as an unreliable narrator and complete ineptitude for subterfuge and detective work, we need to look at Shadrich himself for clues to his intentions.  Let’s go back to this quote:

“Aye, love of gold.  Unlike your good Ser Creighton, I did fight upon the Blackwater, but on the losing side. My ransom ruined me. You know who Varys is, I trust? The eunuch has offered a plump bag of gold for this girl you’ve never heard of. I am not a greedy man. If some oversized wench would help me find this naughty child, I would split the Spider’s coin with her.”

Shadrich also claimed that he was on the “losing side” at the Blackwater and that his “ransom ruined [him]” as his reasons for hunting Sansa Stark.  It doesn’t quite make sense that a man as shrewd as Shadrich would be so forthcoming with his personal “ruined” situation and offering to split the reward with Brienne, someone he just met only minutes ago.  Why would he even think at that point that this stranger would a merit a split of the reward?  He also gives no details of who captured him or to whom he paid his ransom to.  It’s a seemingly plausible, but unverifiable backstory.  This exchange seems to be more about Shadrich sussing out Brienne’s intentions rather than the other way around.  Creighton and Illifer he had figured out within seconds.  His curiosity must have been piqued when he meets a lady warrior point-blank asking anyone she meets if they have seen her nameless sister who is obviously Sansa Stark.  Again, he has to warn Brienne she isn’t “the only hunter in the woods.”

Keep in mind it had not even occurred to Brienne at this point that other people would start their search for Sansa and Dontos at Duskendale, where the Hollards had previously served House Darklyn.  Shadrich had to spell this out for her.  This will later be confirmed by the maester in Brienne II when she reaches the castle that several have already been there, including the gold cloaks.  Duskendale was exactly where Creighton and Illifer said they were headed.  Even they had sense enough not to discuss openly their purpose there, yet their destination should have been enough to make someone think they might be going there for the same reason as Brienne.  It’s Shadrich she calls “unsavory,” but what has Shadrich actually done that was so unsavory?  Has he been threatening?  No.  He called her a “wench.”  Jaime’s done that.  He mentions the bounty, but he repeatedly hints to her that her companions are frauds (true) and that the way she is going about her search is hopelessly inept (also true).  It seems like the worst the Shadrich actually does is make her feel foolish.

This initial exchange with Shadrich reveals that plainly.  He then was most likely mentioning the Blackwater, his financial ruin, and the split of the reward to give himself a plausible backstory and motivation.  Also he’s likely trying to bait Brienne with promise of the reward to provoke a response.  Although he can see she is not tempted by gold and would genuinely help Sansa, she would be a liability with her other limitations.  This becomes even more apparent later when we find out Shadrich manages to enter Littlefinger’s service and spend months at the Gates of the Moon without raising any suspicion.  It’s also an early hint that Shadrich is looking for the right allies for a special ops team.  As great a warrior and as good a person as she is, she is unfit for a covert mission to find and retrieve the most wanted girl in Westeros.  This scene is a perfect example of the recurring theme of ravens versus Baelor’s doves that GRRM often gives us.  One seems ideal like a white knight on a noble quest, but it are really the clever and bold that are better equipped for the task… like a Mad Mouse and his crew.

While “love of gold” and “plump bag of gold” may point to avarice, this is also isn’t the first time gold is associated with a Stark girl and it relates directly to the helper, Sandor Clegane.  At the tourney of the Hand, the day after Sandor reveals the secret of his scars to Sansa and she responds compassionately, Sandor saves Ser Loras from being killed by Gregor Clegane.  In turn, he is declared the winner (which Sansa “knew the Hound would win”) and receives the purse of forty-thousand gold dragons.  He also loses that purse when it is taken by the Brotherhood Without Banners.  In return Sandor steals Arya from them with the plan of returning her to her family.  (Greenbeard who also has the same idea but strictly for a ransom also refers to Arya as a “golden squirrel”).  Sandor is firmly established as a character that cares little for gold any more than he does titles, so this bag of dragons is important to him for what it represents and the reasons he won it, not just its monetary value or practical use.

The gold, Stark girls, and Sandor associations continue again in TWOW with this exchange between Shadrich and Alayne Stone.  There’s more to their scene than this, but let’s focus on these connections first.

Alayne turned abruptly from the yard…and bumped into a short, sharp-faced man with a brush of orange hair who had come up behind her. His hand shot out and caught her arm before she could fall. “My lady. My pardons if I took you unawares.”

“A good melee is all a hedge knight can hope for, unless he stumbles on a bag of dragons. And that’s not likely, is it?”

The only other person who catches Sansa by the arm to stop her from falling is Sandor (especially after she bumps into him).  It happens twice in memorable scenes, once on the serpentine steps and once the night before the Blackwater.  In the above scene Shadrich appears suddenly behind her after Sansa engages in an increasingly tense conversation with Lyn Cobray, a violent, quick-tempered man.  Shadrich seeing the danger approaches and  positions himself to “accidently” bump into Sansa, drawing her away from Ser Lyn.  As if that wasn’t a clue enough that we should be thinking in terms of linking Shadrich to Sandor, then we also have Shadrich equating Sansa to a “bag of dragons,” which we’ve already established makes a literal and literary connection between Sandor and both Stark girls.  Also another tiny detail, Ser Shadrich is described as having a very similar scar beneath his ear, the same as Hyle Hunt.

Using wordplay to simultaneously express honestly and to obscure one’s true thoughts is a hallmark of Sandor’s way of speaking, often termed “Sandorspeak” in the fandom.  A few good examples of this are here where he is definitely not referring to Joffrey, but himself.  Also here where he is deliberately obscuring if he’s referring to a man needing a woman or both women and men needing wine.  Shadrich also does this in his quip to Ser Creighton after listening to him boast in the inn.  In this sense, if we look at Shadrich claiming to be searching for Sansa “for love, why else?” it actually can be meant honestly before he pivots to “love of gold” in order to test Brienne’s reaction.  From the pattern and Shadrich referring to Sansa as a “bag of dragons,” “love of gold” can just as easily mean “love of Ned’s daughter” too.

We have one last feature of Ser Shadrich that he has in common with other known helpers and Stark allies in the ASOIAF series:  he rides specifically a chestnut courser.  After saving Sansa from the mob in the bread riot of King’s Landing, Sandor mounts upon Sansa’s chestnut courser to carry her back to safety.  Brynden “the Blackfish” Tully also rides one.  So does Brienne’s helper Hyle Hunt, who rides with her on her quest to find Sansa.  It’s established many times over that GRRM uses horses to reflect traits of the rider, named or unnamed. If we can prove three of these four are helpers and these are the only times a chestnut courser is ridden, it stands to reason that Ser Shadrich will also fit this pattern.

Other possible hints at his solidarity with Sansa Stark are in his “shock of orange hair” and in the sigil upon his shield.

[…]Ser Shadrich was a wiry, fox-faced man with a sharp nose and a shock of orange hair[…]”Ser Shadrich of the Shady Glen. Some call me the Mad Mouse.” He turned his shield to show her his sigil, a large white mouse with fierce red eyes, on bendy brown and blue. “The brown is for the lands I’ve roamed, the blue for the rivers that I’ve crossed. The mouse is me.” (Brienne I, AFFC)

While it is possible that someone could naturally have a very bright shade of copper that would appear orange, this may actually be from hair dye.  Hair dye is something that is well known in the series.  Tyroshi men use it for flamboyant decoration, but in Westeros it is most commonly used by characters for a disguise in numerous examples.  Sansa’s hair is dyed “chestnut” brown (possibly drawing a connection to the chestnut coursers) to hide her true identity.  Sansa will note Shadrich’s face is aged, so it’s very likely his natural hair color may have at least some gray.  When a person with a significant amount of gray tries to dye their hair a pure red or copper shade, the white hairs appear much brighter and less natural.  Reds can appear even pinkish and copper could appear a shocking orange.  While the orange may seem overly conspicuous a choice, it may be sign of solidarity with Sansa’s natural hair that is lighter and more coppery than her mother’s.

The “orange” connection to helpfulness will turn up again repeatedly in Brienne’s arc in the form of Septon Meribald’s “rare and costly” oranges.  Brienne also purchases an orange for Podrick, a rare treat gifted as an act of kindness toward him.  These are not the blood oranges of Littlefinger or Prince Doran.  The septon gives them away out of kindness and charity to the common people of the Riverlands.  Their monetary value means nothing to him.  This is purely a loving act.  This connection to Shadrich’s hair may reinforce the idea he is indeed there “for love” and Sansa’s ransom actually means nothing to him.  So Shadrich as a shocking orange may mean help is coming in the most unlikely and surprising of ways.

Whether naturally or unnaturally orange, Shadrich’s hair color seems symbolically significant when we look at the shield connection. The “white mouse with the fierce red eyes” upon Shadrich’s shield is a blatant weirwood face and color reference. This demands our attention that he has some affiliation with Northern First Men culture, which is very strange if Shadrich is passing himself off a knight, even a hedge knight.  Knighthood is mainly part of Southron and Andal culture and a rarity in the North.  Such an unusual sigil in this context should provoke many questions of Shadrich’s backstory.  Tying that to his hair color, there is also a connection to being “kissed by fire and weirwood leaves have been compared to flames like this example here.  GRRM makes a connection to specifically copper hair and a burning tree here with Addam Marbrand.  Addam is one of the three people in the books described as having specifically “copper” hair along with Sansa (who has a weirwood connection by heritage and all the Stark children being wargs as confirmed by GRRM) and Melisandre (who is definitely connected to burning weirwoods as well as statues of the Seven and human sacrifice).  Fire in real world mythology and in the books appears many times over as divine knowledge of the gods or “fire of the gods.”  Biblical Shadrach, as already mentioned, has a connection to fire by being directly protected by God in the fiery furnace.

There will be closer examination of Shadrich’s sigil when we look at Howland Reed, but for now we can safely say there’s enough evidence here to start considering Shadrich an ally to Sansa, no matter if he has another identity or not.  But this begs a very important question…

If Ser Shadrich is a helper and ally, then why is he a helper and ally? What does Sansa Stark mean to him?   Why would a mere hedge knight nobody do this “for love” if he doesn’t have some pre-existing association with House Stark?  To reveal Shadrich’s identity we need to look for someone deeply emotionally connected to House Stark and who has connections to the Old Gods.

In the next few parts we’ll be focusing on the cases for the individuals, but we will definitely not be leaving it there. Some physical descriptions and some parallels are simply not enough evidence to rely on.  If the three are a team, it is equally important to present evidence for the team as a whole working towards a common objective.

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PART III:  The Case for Howland Reed

There is a temptation to look at the physical descriptions of Meera and Jojen as a basis for Howland’s appearance to disqualify him being Shadich outright.  Meera and Jojen are described as having brown hair and green eyes.  There’s no mention of either of having fox-like features on their faces.  Keep in mind they do also have a mother, who they may favor over their father.  She is listed in the AFFC appendix as being Jyana Reed, Howland’s wife.  It is perfectly reasonable that Howland could actually look completely different than his children.

This is Meera Reed’s telling of the little crannogman story that is obviously her father from Bran II, ASOS and note Howland’s traits:

He was small like all crannogmen, but brave and smart and strong as well. He grew up hunting and fishing and climbing trees, and learned all the magics of my people.
Bran was almost certain he had never heard this story. “Did he have green dreams like Jojen?
“No,” said Meera, “but he could breathe mud and run on leaves, and change earth to water and water to earth with no more than a whispered word. He could talk to trees and weave words and make castles appear and disappear.”

The lad knew the magics of the crannogs,” she continued, “but he wanted more. Our people seldom travel far from home, you know. We’re a small folk, and our ways seem queer to some, so the big people do not always treat us kindly. But this lad was bolder than most, and one day when he had grown to manhood he decided he would leave the crannogs and visit the Isle of Faces.
“No one visits the Isle of Faces,” objected Bran. “That’s where the green men live.”
It was the green men he meant to find…”

All that winter the crannogman stayed on the isle, but when the spring broke he heard the wide world calling and knew the time had come to leave. His skin boat was just where he’d left it, so he said his farewells and paddled off toward shore.

Howland Reed is set apart from the average crannogman.  He knows all the hunting and survival skills of the crannog as well as all their magic.  He does not have Jojen’s greendreams, but he has an impressive magical repertoire and this is prior to his time on the Isle of Faces.  He does not stay close to home like other crannog out of fear of larger people as he is “bolder than most.”  He has ambition to learn even more magic.  Upon manhood, he travels to stay a whole winter season with the greenmen on the Isle of Faces in the center of the lake called the God’s Eye to learn their secrets.  Howland must have been exceptional to have been allowed this privilege, because as Bran says no one visits the Isle of Faces *.  The isle is one of the few last known places in southern Westeros to have a living weirwood grove, not just individual trees.

* As a quick review of some Dawn Age history, it is said that the Isle of Faces is the site of the children calling down “the hammer of the waters” to break the arm of Dorne to stop further invasion of First Men from Essos.  There’s some speculation that this particular form of magic involved blood sacrifice.  While stopping the tide of First Men was too late, the demonstration of power apparently brought about “The Pact” for peace made on the Isle of Faces between the children and the First Men.  This starts the beginning of the Age of Heroes.  This same magic is probably  the cause of the flooding of the Neck, where the crannogmen currently live.  This caused a natural barrier to invasion from south.  There is legend of crannogmen being small stature because of possible past intermarriage with the children of the forest.

We should also note that young Howland was able to travel alone, through hostile Frey territory, unseen.

He passed beneath the Twins by night so the Freys would not attack him, and when he reached the Trident he climbed from the river and put his boat on his head and began to walk. It took him many a day, but finally he reached the Gods Eye, threw his boat in the lake, and paddled out to the Isle of Faces.” (Bran II, ASOS)

Even lugging a boat around over land for several days, this is testimony to the skill level of the crannog in stealthy movement and living off the land.  Meera and Jojen’s skillsets would appear to confirm this.  Her hunting has kept Bran and company living off the land as they move North in search of the three-eyed raven.  They also haven’t been found out by any hostile parties along the way.  Looking at what Jojen says about Meera and what Meera says about the little crannogman, we see many overlaps:

The gods give many gifts, Bran. My sister is a hunter. It is given to her to run swiftly, and stand so still she seems to vanish. She has sharp ears, keen eyes, a steady hand with net and spear. She can breathe mud and fly through trees. I could not do these things, no more than you could. To me the gods gave the green dreams, and to you . . . you could be more than me, Bran. You are the winged wolf, and there is no saying how far and high you might fly. . . if you had someone to teach you. How can I help you master a gift I do not understand? We remember the First Men in the Neck, and the children of the forest who were their friends . . . but so much is forgotten, and so much we never knew. (Bran I, ASOS)

Again the “breathing mud” and “flying through trees” (and what those things may actually mean we will be exploring later) is mentioned again.  Meera has clearly inherited the survival and hunting skills of her father and Jojen has inherited a more mystical gift, even if Howland does not possess the power of prophetic dreams.

We also know of Howland Reed’s involvement of the events of the tourney at Harrenhal where he first met and befriended Brandon, Ned, Lyanna, and Benjen Stark.  He was beaten and bullied by dishonorable squires for being a small-statured crannogman.  It was Lyanna Stark in particular that drove off the offending squires, who insisted that he attend the tourney feast, and gave him a place among the Starks on the dais.  It is also Lyanna that is widely believed to be the Knight of the Laughing Tree that avenged Howland and earned his undying loyalty to House Stark and Lyanna in particular.  Meera explains as a crannog, he would not have the skillset needed to joust to avenge himself. That Howland Reed cannot compete as a tourney knight is a very important fact that the author makes very clear.  Howland’s loyalty to House Stark will be demonstrated in his service to Ned Stark in Robert’s Rebellion and attempting to rescue Lyanna from the Tower of Joy.  They failed to reach Lyanna in time to save her.  I believe Howland would be particularly motivated to save her niece.  Especially at the Vale tourney, where it would be the inverse of Harrenhal:  a crannogman disguised as a knight saves a Stark girl.

Now let us take a pause before continuing to compare this to what we know of Ser Shadrich and compare him to Howland Reed.  They are both small-statured, but proportional.  Sansa says Shadrich is so short he might have been “taken for a squire.” So he could be mistaken for a youth if you didn’t see his aged face.  Even sixteen-year-old Meera is described as being “scarcely taller than [almost nine-year-old] Bran.”  Shadrich is then consistent with typical crannog body type.

The Mad Mouse is so named not because he is literally mentally ill as Brienne asks, but because he is a contradiction.  He’s not a typical mouse.  “Your common mouse will run from blood and battle. The mad mouse seeks them out.” he tells her.  So like the little crannogman, he is “bold” and “brave.”  They both are not typical of their own kind, whether it be mice or the shy crannog people.  They are both unafraid of danger and experienced fighters.  We don’t know exact details, but we do know that Howland Reed played a key role in Ned Stark surviving the Tower of Joy and in the death of Arthur Dayne, noted as one of the greatest warriors of his day.

They are both well-travelled, even through hostile enemy territory.  Howland Reed travelling alone and undetected through Frey lands at about sixteen-years-old.  He’s also travelled over great distances in his service to Eddard Stark during Robert’s Rebellion.  Ser Shadrich references the device on his shield to point to his travels:

“Ser Shadrich of the Shady Glen *. Some call me the Mad Mouse.” He turned his shield to show her his sigil, a large white mouse with fierce red eyes, on bendy brown and blue. “The brown is for the lands I’ve roamed, the blue for the rivers that I’ve crossed. The mouse is me.” (Brienne I, AFFC.)

* The name Shady Glen is an interesting choice to claim to hail from as well.  Shady Glen appears to be a play on Dusken and dale, both roughly meaning a darkened or shaded valley.  Duskendale is also the location of the historic, daring one-man rescue operation of Ser Barristan Selmy the Bold who infiltrated the castle to rescue King Aerys from Lord Darklyn’s dungeons.  Lord Tywin Lannister gave Barristan a day to execute his rescue mission before sacking the city.  Selmy recalls he left at the “hour of the wolf” and returned at the “hour of the wolf’,” successfully saving his king.   He refers to this event as “his finest hour.” 

Ser Shadrich is obviously not alone when Brienne first meets him.  He’s with the merchant, Hibald, and his servants but says he’s only travelling with them as far as Duskendale.  Why not alone?  Because he’s travelling to a large town, not an off-the-grid island.  For practical reasons there is not only some safety in numbers when travelling on main roads, but also there’s news and gossip to be found by fellow travellers passing by or at inns.  By the time we meet Shadrich again at the Gates of the Moon, we know he’s travelled and tracked quite a distance to exactly the right place.  This is very much like how Howland Reed left the Isle of Faces at the most auspicious time to arrive at Harrenhal for the historically significant tourney.  And now in TWOW, we have the tourney of the Winged Knights on the horizon.  Exactly how Shadrich finds his way to Sansa will be explored in the timeline of events.

The “breathing mud” ability attributed to Howland Reed is most likely referring to how well-adapted the crannog are in the harsh environment of the Neck.  Anyone else would easily get hopelessly lost.  Knights have drowned in the bogs and there are poisonous plants and lizard lions.  They are disparaged for seeming to live in a primitive manner in an uncivilized place, but they have made this place home for thousands of years.  This is what Theon describes of the Neck and how dangerous it is:

The swampy ground beyond the causeway was impassable, an endless morass of suckholes, quicksands, and glistening green swards that looked solid to the unwary eye but turned to water the instant you trod upon them, the whole of it infested with venomous serpents and poisonous flowers and monstrous lizard lions with teeth like daggers. Just as dangerous were its people, seldom seen but always lurking, the swamp-dwellers, the frog-eaters, the mud-men. (Reek II, ADWD)

This is precisely the talent one needs for navigating the mud and sinkholes that surround the Quiet Isle at low tide.  In Brienne V, Meribald warns Podrick to stay off the mud as “it will open up and swallow you” if you step in the wrong place.  Meribald is experienced with coming to the isle for many years, so he knows how to get to the isle on foot safely.  It’s a long, winding path guided by “feeling” around the mud with his staff first.  This should be nothing for Howland Reed, who has been navigating through more dangerous mud his entire life.  No ferry to the isle necessary.

We should also be drawing a connection between Shadrich’s weirwood-colored mouse sigil and to The Knight of the Laughing Tree’s weirwood sigil shield. Both the Mad Mouse and the Laughing Tree sigils are contradictions.  Actual weirwoods are not depicted as smiling or laughing.  Their carved out expressions are supposed to look pained or frightening.  The events of the mystery knight avenging Howland also remind us that he cannot avenge himself because he is not a tourney knight.  Now look at Ser Shadrich’s statements about himself:

“…’Tis true, I am no tourney knight. I save my valor for the battlefield, woman.” (Brienne I, AFFC)

In TWOW Alayne sample chapter, Myranda Royce asks him if he will be competing in the joust for a position in Robert Arryn’s Winged Knights:

Will you be seeking wings?” the Royce girl said.
A mouse with wings would be a silly sight.”
Perhaps you will try the melee instead?” Alayne suggested. The melee was an afterthought, a sop for all the brothers, uncles, fathers, and friends who had accompanied the competitors to the Gates of the Moon to see them win their silver wings, but there would be prizes for the champions, and a chance to win ransoms.
A good melee is all a hedge knight can hope for, unless he stumbles on a bag of dragons. And that’s not likely, is it?”

So again, no jousting for Ser Shadrich.  His skillset is for the battlefield or a melee.  We’ll also be exploring the importance and parallels between tourneys later, but this exchange between Shadrich and Sansa has some very interesting word play.  “A mouse with wings” being a “silly sight” seems to be a twist on the connections to bats in Sansa’s arc and her Whent grandmother on Catelyn’s side.  A bat is often humorously albeit inaccurately called a “flying mouse,” especially in the Old German word for bat, fledermaus.  Sansa has compared a fluttering inside her to swallowing a bat and she was rumored to escape the Purple Wedding by turning herself into a wolf with bat wings.  Bats are also on the sigil of House Whent, who hosted the aforementioned tourney at Harrenhal.  Also the bat is the sigil of the much-maligned House Lothston *, previous owners of Harrenhal before the Whents, who once served them.  This has led many to reasonably speculate that Sansa’s future arc may somehow intersect with Harrenhal owing to these connections as well as the fact that Littlefinger is the current Lord of Harrenhal.

* The last Lothston, red-haired “Mad” Danelle was mysteriously brought down by (most likely false or grossly over-exaggerated) accusations of dark sorcery, child kidnapping, murder, and cannibalism.  This is not unlike Sansa being rumored to use sorcery to kill Joffrey and escape the Red Keep.  Danelle  is also connected to Bloodraven, known sorcerer and greenseer, in The Mystery Knight novella.  So there’s a kissed-by-fire, magic, bats, and Harrenhal connection with the “Mad” moniker as well.

The importance of this cannot be overstated:  Ser Shadrich’s shield is a direct reference to the Old Gods, weirwoods, the Harrenhal tourney and the Knight of the Laughing Tree.  It’s the pivotal moment that earns Howland Reed’s fierce loyalty to the Starks.  That generation of Starks stood up for him, befriended him, and treated him as an equal.  Except for a brief mention of being at the Tower of Joy, GRRM has not featured Howland Reed in any other story except the tourney at Harrenhal.  When Howland Reed re-enters the story, it makes literary sense for the author to establish him with Harrenhal and Old Gods references.

The “flying mouse” motif may point to a larger idea connected to weirwoods and magic.  Children of the Forest have been described as squirrels by the giants.  Arya herself has been called a squirrel many times.  Bran draws comparisons to Arya in both Meera Reed and one of the children who he will call Leaf.  Squirrels do fit that motif if we consider the way they can flit among tree branches with ease (as well at there being a species called a flying squirrel).  This comes full circle with Meera and Howland being able to “fly through trees” and “run on leaves.”  Also note that Shadrich’s sigil colors are on a bendy, the same as House Lothston and both with a “mouse” related to magic at it’s center.  It’s well-known that GRRM has drawn upon Yggdrasil from Norse mythology with his weirwood concept.  There is a squirrel related to Yggdrasil named Ratatoskr who acts as a messenger running up and down the tree between an unnamed eagle at the top and the wyrm>, Níðhǫggr, at the roots (very much like the dragon, Bloodraven, seated at the weirwood’s roots).

We can also make magical associations to another animal Ser Shadrich is connected to:  the fox.  Shadrich has a fox-like face and fox orange hair.  He also comes across as being sly and cunning.  Foxes in real world folklore have been connected to magic, illusion, and deception such as in the Japanese kitsune.  There’s also the very popular medieval folk tales of Reynard the Fox, which GRRM is familiar with.  They were so popular, renard came to replace the old French word for fox.  Reynard is an anthropomorphic fox character and trickster figure whose stories usually involve him deceiving or cunningly escaping other anthropomorphic animal characters.  His character was often used in parodies of medieval courtly love and chanson de geste, or songs of heroic deeds (think Shadrich’s meeting Brienne on her hapless quest to rescue Sansa) as well as satire of political and religious institutions.

There are some very interesting parallels between Reynard and Howland Reed.  Reynard’s castle home is called Maleperduis, which is described as having hidden tunnels, entrances and exits, and confusing pathways to elude his enemies from finding him *.  This is strikingly similar to descriptions of Greywater Watch, Howland’s seat, which is built to move elusively (“he can make castles appear and disappear”) and cannot be found by outsiders or ravens.  The name Reynard is theorized to have derived from the old Germanic man’s name, Reginhard.  The word regin meaning “divine powers of the Old Germanic religion” plus hard meaning “made hard by the Gods.”  It could also mean regin + harti or “strong counsel,” denoting someone wise and clever.

* There is solid proof GRRM is familiar with the Reynard stories.  In the story of Tywin Lannister obliterating House Reyne, Tywin drives Ser Reynard Reyne and his people into the mining tunnels of Castamere, very much like Maleperduis, but with a tragic end:

To the ignorant eye, Castamere seemed a modest holding, a fit seat for a landed knight or small lord, but those who knew its secrets knew that nine-tenths of the castle was beneath the ground.
It was to those deep chambers that the Reynes retreated now.  Feverish and weak from loss of blood, the Red Lion was in no fit state to lead. Ser Reynard, his brother, assumed command in his stead. Less headstrong but more cunning than his brother, Reynard knew he did not have the men to defend the castle walls, so he abandoned the surface entirely to the foe and fell back beneath the earth. Once all his folk were safe inside the tunnels, Ser Reynard sent word to Ser Tywin above, offering terms. But Tywin Lannister did not honor Ser Reynard’s offer with a reply. Instead he commanded that the mines be sealed…” (The Westerlands:  House Lannister Under the Dragons, TWOIAF.)

One Reynard story that has parallels with Shadrich’s role in Sansa’s arc and has that familiar feature of clever word play is in one where he tricks Bruin the Bear, a likely Lothor Brune connection.  Brune is made captain of the guards by Petyr, so he is in command over the hedge knights.  In this story, Reynard steals Bruin’s honey (which calls back to the Bear and the Maiden Fair) or butter depending on the telling.  First, Reynard comes to live with Bruin (like entering service at the Gates of the Moon) and pretends to leave to attend a christening.  He’s really going to sneak back into the house to eat some honey.  When Bruin asks him what the baby’s christened name was, he replies “Just Begun.”  A second time he says he needs to attend a christening, he does the same thing and tells Bruin the baby’s name was “Half-Eaten.”  This same scenario happens a third time with the baby’s name being “All Gone,” at which point Bruin realizes his honey (as a symbol of Sansa) that he was supposed to be guarding is now gone.

And even more importantly to note, one of Reynard’s primary adversaries in his stories is a wolf character dressed up in monks robes named Ysengrim, who is not particularly pious and is used as a parody of the Church.  This has some obvious parallels to Sandor as the gravedigger and the strange bedfellow relationship between the two will make even more sense when we explore Brienne’s journey through the Riverlands on a symbolic level in Part VI.

If there’s any doubt about Howland Reed’s continued deeply personal devotion to House Stark, consider this:  Howland Reed sent his only children, his only heirs, alone to aid Bran and Rickon after Ned was executed.  This is more than the loyalty of vassal to liege lord.  This decision was based on a greendream of Jojen’s, which shows not only their commitment to Ned’s children and also their faith in the mystical for guidance.  That the Reeds’ role in the story is not only to protect, but also offer their knowledge of the Old Gods’ magic and mysticism.  Jojen and Meera get Bran to the three-eyed raven, so that he can fully realize his power as a greenseer and a warg.  Robb has his army, his mother, and Greywind.  Jon has Ghost and his own arc in the North.  Bran has Meera, Jojen, Hodor, and Summer.  Rickon has Osha and Shaggydog.  Arya is lost and presumed dead after Ned’s execution.  Sansa is the one Stark child that is alone in enemy hands and who desperately needs allies.

We don’t know the details of Jojen’s greendream that he shared with his father, but it does not make sense that Howland Reed would send his children to Winterfell and he would stay in the Neck.  His wife, Jyana, would still be at Greywater Watch during the War of the Five Kings.  Recall that Shadrich said he was at the Blackwater and was on the “losing side” of the battle.  Does that mean Howland Reed had fought for Stannis?  Perhaps, as Ned believed Stannis was Robert’s rightful heir.  Yet, there is no indication in our comparison of Howland and Shadrich that his motives are remotely political.  Sansa is imprisoned in Maegor’s Holdfast, the castle within a castle, where the royal family and Hand of the King have their chambers.  Even if there was a way for Ser Shadrich to enter the castle, it is highly unlikely he could get so far inside the Red Keep and get Sansa out undetected.  If Stannis had succeeded in sacking King’s Landing, Sansa would likely then be moved from from the Red Keep to Stannis’s camp, potentially presenting the opportunity to rescue her.  This did not happen.  Hence being on the “losing side” for the lost opportunity, forcing him to wait patiently for another to arise.

It won’t be until the Purple Wedding on the first day of the year 300 that Sansa finally escapes and disappears, but she is headed for her next prison, not freedom.  There is a hint to how her prayers will be answered when Sansa is changing clothes in the godswood to escape King’s Landing:

“Sansa felt as though she were in a dream. “Joffrey is dead,” she told the trees, to see if that would wake her.” (Sansa V, ACOK)

Dontos is not the real Florian and this is no true rescue.  The true answer to her prayers and her freedom will be connected to the Old Gods and tree-talker, as Meera says her father is.  The greendream, Ned’s death, the bonds of friendship forged at the Harrenhal tourney, and the failure to save Lyanna in time at the Tower of Joy are more than enough reason for Howland Reed to head to King’s Landing.

Shadrich and Howland’s Timeline of Events

While using the ASOIAF timeline, we should keep in mind this is a fairly accurate but still an approximation as to the order of events in the series.  There is a margin of time that cannot be exactly accounted for.  Certainly GRRM never intended to follow timeframes rigidly for a story with this many moving parts.  This is only to illustrate how in general the timeline would allow for Howland Reed and / or Ser Shadrich to find Sansa Stark. There is nothing that grossly falls outside of possible time and distance limits that we would have to disqualify the theory.  Real world names of months are used simply to help conceptualized the passage of time.

Ned Stark is executed around early January of 299 and Winterfell learns of his death about two weeks later.  Approximately two months after that, Jojen and Meera arrive in Winterfell during the harvest feast in Bran III, ACOK to re-pledge themselves to House Stark.  Note that the Reeds knew to come to Winterfell without use of ravens as none can find Greywater Watch.  There’s no exact distance from Greywater Watch to Winterfell; however, using Moat Cailin as a rough half-way point (about 590 miles to Winterfell) it would take about two months on horseback.  This is using the distance and travel time calculators on said timeline.  So Meera and Jojen (after the greendream) must have left home about the time Winterfell receives word of Ned’s death.

The battle of the Blackwater was between late August and early September in 299.  As a single rider travelling from Greywater Watch to King’s Landing, there’s still approximately six months of leeway for Howland Reed to arrive in King’s Landing in time for the battle even if he left much later than Jojen and Meera.

New Year’s Day of the year 300 is the Purple Wedding.  Ten days later Sansa arrives at the Baelish holdings on the Fingers.  Eight days after that Lysa will arrive and marry Petyr that night.  Around that same time, Jaime sends Brienne to find Sansa Stark.  About early February, we find Brienne’s first chapter in AFFC opens in Rosby (to the southwest of Duskendale).  That day she meets Creighton and Illifer.  The next day they catch up to Ser Shadrich and the merchant Hibald’s party farther up the the road near the old stone bridge inn, also heading to Duskendale.  By their conversation, it is now widely public knowledge at this point that Sansa Stark is a wanted fugitive for regicide and there is a bounty on her.  Brienne will leave the old stone bridge inn in the late hours of the night, abandoning Creighton and Illifer.  One of Hibald’s serving men in the stables sees Brienne leaving.

I propose that Ser Shadrich may have been curious of Brienne leaving so abruptly in the middle of the night considering their conversation over Sansa Stark and may have decided to track her.  He reasonably may have thought she had found a lead that caused her to suddenly abandon her companions and go it alone.  If we are being honest, Brienne would not be that difficult to track.  Podrick did it pretty easily.  She’s as big as the Hound and a lady knight.  Up until she has her shield repainted in Duskendale like Ser Duncan the Tall’s sigil, she’s obliviously carrying the reviled Lothston device on her shield.  She’s extremely memorable everywhere she goes.  

At this point, events take place in closer succession and the following will show when relevant information from the Vale reaches the Riverlands.

  • In Sansa VII, ASOS, Lysa will be murdered by Littlefinger around 2/9/300.
  • In Brienne II, AFFC at around 2/11/300, Brienne will get the lead from the pious dwarf at the Seven Swords in Duskendale to find Nimble Dick Crabb at the Stinking Goose in Maidenpool.
  • At around 2/17 and in Brienne III, she will learn of Lysa Arryn’s death from Randall Tarly at Maidenpool.
    • Although Brienne had considered going to Sansa’s aunt, it’s precisely the news of Lysa’s death that makes her reject the idea of going to the Vale.  This is probably true of other bounty hunters as well except for Ser Shadrich, since his team is the only one that actually arrives in the Vale.
  • Brienne goes on her wild goose chase tour of Crackclaw Point with Nimble Dick in Brienne IV, returning to Maidenpool around 4/9 in Brienne V.
  • Sometime after 3/23 and after the failed Lords Declarant meeting to oust the Lord Protector of Alayne I, AFFC, Littlefinger will leave the Eyrie for Gulltown for the wedding of Lyonel Corbray.
    • As an ancient, noble house of the Vale and with many other prestigious Vale lords as guests, the Corbray wedding would be a widely-known impending event around the region.
    • The marriage to a Gulltown merchant’s daughter was brokered by Littlefinger likely sometime well before Alayne I in anticipation of the Vale lords opposition to him.  By land (~450 miles), that would be approximately a 18 – 21 day journey.
  • This means the wedding probably takes place somewhere in a window between 4/10 and the party leaving Gulltown around 4/26.
  • Brienne will reach the Quiet Isle in Brienne VI, AFFC around 4/20/300 then leave the next morning.  Ser Shadrich could find the isle as early as that day or the next following Brienne without being seen.  We’ll see the clues he did indeed follow her in Part VI.
  • The very next time we see Ser Shadrich will be in Alayne II, when Sansa descends from the Eyrie to the Gates of the Moon.  This will be around 5/14/300.

So, even if Shadrich follows Brienne to the Quiet Isle to meet Elder Brother and Sandor Clegane as early as the next day (4/21/300), they can still board a ship (which I will describe in greater detail in Part IV) and arrive in Gulltown in couple of days.  Brienne confirms the voyage to Gulltown from Maidenpool is very short.  It took Sansa only 10 days to reach the Fingers from King’s Landing by ship and that is a much, much greater distance.  That’s still a safe window of a few days to enter Littlefinger’s service and follow his party back to the Gates of the Moon.  In Part IV, the importance of meeting Littlefinger in Gulltown rather than going directly to the Vale will be discussed in more detail.  Again, the timeframes are approximations.  This is only to show that there’s nothing that is so outside the limits of time and distance that it couldn’t work, disproving any part of this theory on that basis.

Keep in mind, GRRM always intended for Brienne to sync up with people from Arya’s arc:  Gendry, the Brotherhood Without Banners, and unCat.  Her skillset, vow to Catelyn, knowledge of Gendry’s parentage, and her reunion with Jaime are far more valuable and relevant there.  It makes sense then that when Arya eventually returns to Westeros, her path will also intersect with Brienne’s.  So the Quiet Isle visit, meeting Elder Brother and seeing the gravedigger is not truly intended for Brienne’s purpose in the story.  Aside from limited word of Arya’s last known sighting months prior and the Hound being “dead,” she doesn’t come away from the isle with anything truly useful to her.  So none of this extensive set up is meant for Brienne to act upon.  It has to be meant for someone else entirely…

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PART IV:  The Quiet Isle, Elder Brother, and Ser Morgarth

The Elder Brother was not what Brienne had expected. He could hardly be called elder, for a start; whereas the brothers weeding in the garden had had the stooped shoulders and bent backs of old men, he stood straight and tall, and moved with the vigor of a man in the prime of his years. Nor did he have the gentle, kindly face she expected of a healer. His head was large and square, his eyes shrewd, his nose veined and red. Though he wore a tonsure, his scalp was as stubbly as his heavy jaw. He looks more like a man made to break bones than to heal one, thought the Maid of Tarth. […]
[..]He leaned forward, his big hands on his knees. (Brienne VI, AFFC)

“Aye,” said [Ser Morgarth], a burly fellow with a thick salt-and-pepper beard, a red nose bulbous with broken veins, and gnarled hands as large as hams.” (Alayne II, AFFC.)

As far as physical description similarities, both Elder Brother and Ser Morgarth are heavily built.  Both have noticeably large, strong hands.  They both have a highly distinguishing noses that are veined and red.  Elder Brother says he is forty-four years old, which would be consistent with the salt-and-pepper hair in Ser Morgarth’s beard.  With a few minor changes of shaving his head to hide the tonsure and letting the stubble on his face grow in thicker, the Elder Brother could easily become Ser Morgarth.  Notice, the beard mentioned is thick, not long, so not much time is required for the growth.  Of course, we won’t be relying on the physical descriptions to rest our case on, but the features mentioned are quite distinguishing and GRRM makes sure we are supposed to notice them.

If there’s one thing Brienne is detailed about, it’s the markings of a fellow warrior.  She notes almost immediately that Elder Brother looks like “a man made to break bones” rather than a “gentle,” “kindly” faced healer. Like the Mad Mouse, he is a contradiction.  Indeed, he was formerly a knight, a third son from a knightly house.  We will also see from his backstory that GRRM tailor-made the Elder Brother to rehabilitate Sandor Clegane physically and psychologically.  He had a girl he would have liked to marry, but as a third son he had nothing to offer her.  He describes himself as a “sad man” and self-medicated with alcohol abuse (hence the veiny red nose).  He also admits he had raped women to his shame.  His entire sense of self was defined by being a warrior.  He’s a veteran of Robert’s Rebellion and fought on the Targaryen side at the Trident where he was “killed,” stripped of his armor and washed up on the Quiet Isle.  He was healed by the Elder Brother before him, spent the next ten years in silence, before he took up the role of the current Elder Brother.

“Instead I woke here, upon the Quiet Isle. The Elder Brother told me I had washed up on the tide, naked as my name day…  We are all born naked, so I suppose it was only fitting that I come into my second life the same way. I spent the next ten years in silence.” (Brienne VI, AFFC)

This passage describes a very important concept about the Elder Brother, making the name “Morgarth” very significant, and connecting him to the biblical Shadrach’s “godly men.”  Elder Brother is surrounded by real world pagan greenman symbolism which GRRM translated into his in-book mythology of Garth Greenhand *. This is only one of many Garth-type names and greenman themes that appear repeatedly in the series.  This is all about the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, sacrifice to ensure life continues, and the god acting as the gatekeeper between the living and the Underworld. GRRM hammers this association home between literal in-book greenmen on the otherworldly Isle of Faces.

* Garth Greenhand is the legendary High King of the First Men.  Some legends say he didn’t just lead the original First Men from Essos into Westeros, but he actually predated this and was the first and only human in Westeros and that he interacted with the Children of the Forest and the giants.  Other legends make him a green god of fertility and harvest who demanded blood sacrifice or sometimes the green god himself is the sacrifice in autumn needed to ensure the renewal of life in the spring.  He not only brings about fertility in the land, but also increases fertility in women leading to maids flowering, crones regaining their moonblood, and mothers giving birth to twins and triplets.

The Quiet Isle is a perfect metaphor for the Underworld or afterlife.  It’s a place of life, death, and rebirth.  The isle is an idyllic self-sustaining place of food and drink.  They have abundant varieties of fruits and vegetables grown there.  They have sheep, ponds of fish, and shellfish from the bay.  They make their own butter and have a windmill to grind their own grain to make bread.  They even brew quite a few alcoholic beverages:  ale, mead, cider, and wine.  Brewing alcohol is an important theme of green gods like Dionysus making Elder Brother’s red nose from alcohol abuse symbolic of this concept.  The honey bees and beehive shapes of the women’s cottages have mythological associations with goddesses and the underworld.  It is noted women come there too to be healed and to give birth.

The role of a symbolic Garth fits Elder Brother like a glove.  His hands are described as “healing hands” and he is credited with being able to heal people that maesters cannot.  His (green) hands restore life.  He resides in the Hermit’s Hole, a cave over two-thousand years old next to a chestnut tree where the first holy man to live there “worked wonders” and established the monastic order.  It’s also very possible the cave is pre-Andal invasion and was a place of mystical power for the First Men (again, look at the parallels to the Isle of Faces) before it was Andal-ized and adopted by the Faith of the Seven.  So the Elder Brothers of the isle inherit their healing abilities, which are widely regarded as being somewhat miraculous.

The Quiet Isle is also a place to cross over into the afterlife in more than one way.  Sometimes the dead and dying wash up on the shores, as did the Elder Brother.  Sometimes they are brought there like the Hound or the people of the Saltpans after the massacre to die or be healed.  The metaphoric and most common way is for penitents to abandon their old lives to be reborn in a new monastic life.  In a sense, the brothers on the isle are dead to the outside world.  They don’t speak with few exceptions.  Many cover their faces as well, obscuring their past identity.  Their brown robes and cowls are like the dead driftwood that washes up there, but even driftwood gets reborn as beautiful polished furniture and cups.  If you want to come on the Quiet Isle, you need Elder Brother’s or one of his proctor’s permission.  There’s a ferry to the isle which is evocative of Charon.  So that makes Elder Brother, like Garth Greenhand, a psychopomp.  He’s a gatekeeper between life and death, literal and metaphoric, and can also return people to the world of the living.  The imagery is evocative of the Elysian Fields and especially Avalon, where King Arthur was taken to recover from wounds sustained against Mordred at the Battle of Camlann and is destined to return from.  By that alone we should expect to see Sandor restored and renewed to something closer to a “true knight.”  It’s also important to know that Elder Brother also has ravens and is a gatekeeper of news of the outside world, but he largely withholds that information from the other brothers.

If the Elder Brother has abandoned his old life as a knight and has such a clearly defined purpose on the Quiet Isle, why would he then join Shadrich’s hedge knight team to rescue Sansa?  There are actually three major reasons for this that he speaks extensively about:  a debt he owes to Sandor Clegane, the inaction of Ser Quincy Cox during the Saltpans massacre, and the effect that Brienne has upon him.

“I buried him myself. I can tell you where his grave lies, if you wish. I covered him with stones to keep the carrion eaters from digging up his flesh, and set his helm atop the cairn to mark his final resting place. That was a grievous error. Some other wayfarer found my marker and claimed it for himself. The man who raped and killed at Saltpans was not Sandor Clegane” (Brienne VI, AFFC)

Before the massacre, Sandor Clegane only stood accused of turning craven and deserting.  With some time passing and a regime change in King’s Landing, this might have been forgiven and he could have possibly moved forward with his life.  Because of Elder Brother’s mistake with the helm, the Hound is wanted for horrific mass murder, burning and pillaging, and the mutilation and rape of children.  Both Frey and Tarly men are hunting him and well as Brienne and her party.  At this point Sandor cannot show his face outside the isle without risking being killed on the spot.  He is then a novice not by choice and indefinitely trapped.  This is something Elder Brother did attempt to correct by sending a raven out to try to explain the mistaken identity, but that has proven weak and ineffective.  Writing well-meaning letters has done nothing to rectify the injustice of Sandor being falsely accused of heinous crimes and being condemned for it.

It was Elder Brother that directly dealt with the aftermath of the massacre.  He personally witnessed the horrors Rorge and Biter inflicted on the people.  He talks in explicit detail of the burning and screaming, the graphic violence done to women and children, and the last words of the dying.  There is no doubt Elder Brother was deeply affected by this event (as he still feels guilt over raping women).  The last building standing in the Saltpans is the castle of Ser Quincy Cox, who barred his doors while his people sought his protection.

The smile vanished. “They burned everything at Saltpans, save the castle… It fell to me to treat some of the survivors. The fisherfolk brought them across the bay to me after the flames had gone out and they deemed it safe to land. One poor woman had been raped a dozen times, and her breasts…  her breasts had been torn and chewed and eaten, as if by some . . . cruel beast… As she lay dying, her worst curses were not for the men who had raped her, nor the monster who devoured her living flesh, but for Ser Quincy Cox, who barred his gates when the outlaws entered the town and sat safe behind stone walls as his people screamed and died.”
“Ser Quincy is an old man,” said Septon Meribald gently. “His sons and good-sons are far away or dead, his grandsons are still boys, and he has two daughters. What could he have done, one man against so many?”
He could have tried, Brienne thought. He could have died. Old or young, a true knight is sworn to protect those who are weaker than himself, or die in the attempt.
“True words, and wise,” the Elder Brother said to Septon Meribald. “When you cross to Saltpans, no doubt Ser Quincy will ask you for forgiveness. I am glad that you are here to give it. I could not.” (Brienne VI, AFFC)

This is a story about someone who had the power to do something and did nothing.  GRRM didn’t write this story to motivate  Brienne to action, because she already knows what a true knight should do.  It’s what she will do when she defends the orphans from Rorge and Biter, preventing another Saltpans.  Elder Brother knows this too, yet he has his own moment of denial and self-comforting lies to avoid action, that someone else will deal with the ills of the world and all will be well.

“If so, give up this quest of yours. The Hound is dead, and in any case he never had your Sansa Stark. As for this beast who wears his helm, he will be found and hanged. The wars are ending, and these outlaws cannot survive the peace. Randyll Tarly is hunting them from Maidenpool and Walder Frey from the Twins, and there is a new young lord in Darry, a pious man who will surely set his lands to rights. Go home, child.”

This is all utter nonsense.  The wars are not even close to ending.  The murderers are still out there murdering people and have yet to be caught.  It’s Brienne taking action herself who will kill them.  The “new young lord” is Lancel Lannister, who even his father says is not the one to deal with these problems in his physical and psychological condition after the Blackwater.  Brienne responds to his urging for her to give up and go home to her father by tearfully telling him the story of her journey and ending with:

I have to find her,” she finished. “There are others looking, all wanting to capture her and sell her to the queen. I have to find her first. I promised Jaime. Oathkeeper, he named the sword. I have to try to save her . . . or die in the attempt.

So, in a short period of time two people have come to the Quiet Isle who are emotionally connected to Sansa Stark, who have tried or are trying to save her.  He’s also been a warrior himself who fell very short of knightly virtues and was himself a “broken man.” The terrible things he did still haunt him.  By healing and mentoring Sandor he is healing himself; however, by being unable to forgive Quincy Cox indicates he has also been unable to fully forgive himself even years later.  As a person of faith and a believer in what knights should do, he is at a tipping point between action and inaction.  He’s primed for a little nudge in the form of a third person coming to the isle with the same purpose.  Might he then take this as some sort of sign from his gods and that saving Sansa is also part of his own redemption?

What he contributes as Ser Morgarth is very important.  His skillset is not only martial experience, but as gatekeeper of information he can help connect some important dots.  Getting these three men together to compare notes, they could very quickly deduce they should start looking in the Vale.  They don’t have to know Sansa is there for a fact to be suspicious enough to go there first.  First they have the news of Lysa’s marriage to Littlefinger, her death about a month later, and him becoming the new Lord Protector.  This all happening very shortly after the Purple Wedding when Sansa disappeared.  Recall that news of Lysa’s death is what made Brienne decide against the Vale and everyone else too apparently.  Sandor, being so close to the royal family, would have known Littlefinger and Lysa Arryn for many years at court and would have probably thought the exact opposite.  Littlefinger bragging that he deflowered Sansa’s mother (openly disparaging of her honor) was also well-known court gossip.  Then later he is directly involved in the downfall and death of her father, which Sandor witnessed.  They don’t have to know anything for certain, but these dubious and unsavory connections to Tully women should be enough to make anyone suspicious.

The Elder Brother would then also know about the upcoming marriage of Lyonel Corbray to the Gulltown merchant’s daughter.  Sandor would also know that Littlefinger was in charge of customs in Gulltown and his success there was the reason he was brought to court and eventually made master of coin.  It is then likely he will be in attendance at the wedding with ties to both parties and as Lord Protector. The importance of the hedge knights meeting Littlefinger in Gulltown (rather than travelling directly to the Gates of the Moon) cannot be stressed enough. Unlike anyone else who made connections between Sansa and Lysa, this team of men made a connection between Littlefinger and Sansa. You wouldn’t be able to do that if you didn’t have relevant information on Littlefinger’s history at court.  Remember it’s widely accepted Lysa was murdered by Marillion and without Lysa no one else sees a reason to search in the Vale.  Shadrich, Morgarth, and Byron clearly didn’t buy that.

The most important thing that Elder Brother could contribute is access to a ship.  Travelling by ship to is the only way to make it in time to Gulltown while Littlefinger is there.  There would appear to be a problem with this as the nearest port at the Saltpans is completely destroyed and abandoned.  The Elder Brother says it himself:

“Only the castle remains. Even the fisherfolk are gone, the fortunate few who were out on the water when the raiders came. They watched their houses burn and listened to screams and cries float across the harbor, too fearful to land their boats. When at last they came ashore, it was to bury friends and kin. What is there for them at Saltpans now but bones and bitter memories? They have moved to Maidenpool or other towns.”

But the fishermen’s boats are still out there on the Bay of Crabs and Elder Brother has built relationships with the people of the Saltpans for many years.  They’ve traded goods from the island in town.  He’s tended to their sick and pregnant women.  He cared for their wounded and dying after the massacre.  The brothers helped bury their kin.  At least one of those survivors would take them to Gulltown if he asked for their help.  This would be even faster than going to a port and trying to find a ship headed there.  No port is even necessary as they can easily be ferried out to a ship from the island as Sansa was taken by a small boat out to the Merling King during her escape.  Such a ship may even be used later for their own escape.  Most importantly, the captain and crew of that ship would be highly unlikely to betray them.

In fact, this calls back to what Ned did to return home from the Vale to call his banners during Robert’s Rebellion.  Just like her father, Sansa is wanted by crown to be brought to King’s Landing to be beheaded.  Gulltown seemed to remain loyal to the Targaryens, so Ned crossed the Vale from the Eyrie to the Fingers to hire a fishing boat to take him across the Bite.  The reverse happens during Sansa’s escape of King’s Landing:  Sansa thought she would be taken home, but instead the Merling King took her to the Fingers, and then they travelled by land to the Eyrie.  It makes perfect literary sense for a fishing boat to be involved in Sansa’s escape from the Vale, just like her father.

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Part V:  Sandor Clegane and Ser Byron:  The Beast Enchanted Into a Beauty

Off to Gulltown to see the fair maid, heigh-ho, heigh-ho. I’ll steal a sweet kiss with the point of my blade, heigh-ho, heigh-ho. (“Off to Gulltown”)

The most glaring issue readers may have with this idea is the gravedigger having such a pronounced limp when Brienne sees him. She notes he “walked with the awkward lurching gait of one half-crippled.”  When we see Byron in Sansa’s POV, there’s no such limp.  It would then seem doubtful that Sandor is even physically up to the task of a rescue mission and would disqualify him as Ser Byron.  Arya abandoned Sandor by the Trident at around 1/31/300 in Arya XIII, ASOS.  Brienne sees him as the gravedigger at around 4/20/300.  So roughly three months later after being near dead from blood loss and infected wounds, Sandor has a noticeable limp, but he’s also digging graves all day long.  That’s very hard, physically taxing labor.  So this shows a very rapid rate of healing and is testimony to Elder Brother’s exceptional healing hands *.  When Byron is introduced three weeks later, it is plausible that Sandor has recovered even further in that time to make the limp unnoticeable or non-existent.

* Just to drive home the point as to how seriously ill Sandor was, he most likely would be diagnosed in the real world with having sepsis with the symptoms Arya describes.  He would have been at higher risk of developing sepsis due to a depressed immune system from alcohol abuse, lack of sleep and proper nutrition.  Every patient is different, but some people even take a year to fully recover from sepsis with the advantage of modern medicine.  Still, 50% of survivors may have continued health issues post-sepsis like severe fatigue, disabling pain, and decreased mental functioning.  Of course, we’re talking about GRRM’s fantasy world medical care, but it’s interesting that he leaves Elder Brother’s the treatment methods somewhat vague adding to the mystery of it.  It’s the results that are clear from what we can glean from the details.  It is an extraordinary rate of recovery.

Before we explore glamoring, we should look at why the idea of Sandor as Ser Byron actually makes quite a bit of sense in context.  His motivation for jumping at a second chance to save Sansa considering his “dying” regrets should need no further explanation.  Since I’ve shown that the names our other hedge knights have significant meaning to their real identities, Byron is no different.  In character analyses of Sandor Clegane, he often regarded as quite Byronesque with his brooding, arrogant, passionate and self-destructive traits.  The term coming from the dark romantic themes and antiheroes in the works of English poet, Lord George Gordon Byron.  A passage from Byron’s The Corsair (1814) could easily be describing Sandor Clegane and compare that to his own defiant speech to the Brotherhood Without Banners:

He knew himself a villain—but he deem’d
The rest no better than the thing he seem’d;
And scorn’d the best as hypocrites who hid
Those deeds the bolder spirit plainly did.
He knew himself detested, but he knew
The hearts that loath’d him, crouch’d and dreaded too.
Lone, wild, and strange, he stood alike exempt
From all affection and from all contempt. (The Corsair, Lord Byron)

“A knight’s a sword with a horse. The rest, the vows and the sacred oils and the lady’s favors, they’re silk ribbons tied round the sword. Maybe the sword’s prettier with ribbons hanging off it, but it will kill you just as dead. Well, bugger your ribbons, and shove your swords up your arses.  I’m the same as you. The only difference is, I don’t lie about what I am. So kill me, but don’t call me a murderer while you stand there telling each other that your shit don’t stink. You hear me?” (aSoS, Arya VI)

As if that weren’t enough of a perfect connection to the name, sweetsunray found another little gem.  “The poet Byron had a favourite dog who died of rabies.  He treated him personally without any fear of being bitten or attacked, and afterwards wrote a poem for his dog, Boatswain (a Newfoundland dog), called Epitaph to a Dog. The poem is engraved on the dog’s grave and the grave is larger than Byron’s. The first two introductory paragraphs were written by his friend.”  Original post here.

Near this Spot are deposited the Remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human Ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog who was born in Newfoundland May 1803 and died at Newstead Nov. 18th, 1808

When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,

Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.

Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!

By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on – it honours none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one — and here he lies.

“It puts the idea of the Hound declared dead and buried, becoming a gravedigger in quite another light all by itself. And he “died” a mad dog, with biting words wanting to be killed in mercy.  But then a Byron appears near Sansa’s side.” (sweetsunray).  It also fits well with the better nature of Sandor Clegane: the protector, his loyalty to his master, the honest one in a court of liars, and the one whose worth also goes unnoticed and unappreciated.  So as we can see “Byron” could not be a more fitting alias for Sandor.

How does Sandor fit into Shadrich’s “godly” men? There are greenman associations with Sandor just as much as with Howland Reed and Elder Brother.  A variant on greenman depictions is that he has the head of a beast, much like the Hound’s helm.  Despite being a Westerman, Sandor in appearance and values seem much more aligned with being of First Men stock so much that he is mistaken for Arya’s father.  He’s also one of many Odin-archetypal characters by “dying” against a tree (like Odin hanging himself on Yggdrasil to gain wisdom and knowledge).  He’s crossed over to the Underworld (the Quiet Isle) and has been reborn symbolically (the Hound persona having “died”).  His steed is named after the Seven’s god of death.  He is also of the “wickerman” variety of greenman being literally a burned man.  It should be no coincidence either that one of the most mentioned First Men clans of in the Vale are called the Burned Men, led by Timett son of Timett (who also sacrificed an eye like Odin).  The Burned Men prove their worth in a trial of self-mutilation by fire.  Similarly, Sandor faced a trial by combat against Beric Dondarrion (another Odin and greenman figure), burning his arm and “proving” his worth, or at least that he didn’t deserve execution.

There are other Norse mythology parallels * to the Vale arc, but there are a few themes that GRRM seems to be cherry-picking into an amalgamation.  Sansa is very much like Idunn, the Norse goddess who possesses apples that grant immortality and youth (she is Catelyn reborn to Petyr).  She is kidnapped by the giant, Thjazi (disguised as an eagle, mirroring the original titan sigil of House Baelish to the new unassuming mockingbird sigil but also his commandeering of House Arryn, the falcons), with the help of Loki (in this case, the trickster is Dontos).  When the gods begin to grow old, Loki (the trickster now as a hero) is tasked with retrieving Idunn by using Freya’s falcon-feather cloak that turns him into a falcon (shape-shifting for the rescue of Idunn).  Loki (in falcon form) turns Idunn into a nut (the chestnut-haired Alayne) and carries her off in a daring escape from the giant.  Loki playing both roles of the kidnapper’s agent and the rescuer of Idunn is not unlike the two versions of “Florian the Fool” in Sansa’s arc:  Dontos and Sandor.

* There’s another interesting story of Thor’s prized possession, the hammer Mjollnir being stolen by giants which would only be returned if Freya married the giant, Thrym.  Thor using Freya’s falcon-feather cloak disguised himself as the bride Freya and with Loki’s help infiltrated the giant’s home of Jotunheim to retrieve his hammer.  There are themes of a false bride, a thieving giant, a trickster, and using shape-shifting  Full story here.

Just as there are many Odin figures, there are many Loki-trickster figures, especially in the wildling concept of wife-stealing such as Bael the Bard.  As Ygritte explains to Jon, in wife-stealing it’s the quick, cunning, and brave that earn the favor of the prospective wife.  Sandor had once attempted symbolic wife-stealing with Sansa “at the point of his blade” the night of the Blackwater, but he was in no state to win her consent and she refused him.  This brings us back to the aforementioned song of “Off to Gulltown,” from where the bastard Alayne hails and where the hedge knights meet Littlefinger.

The description of Ser Byron would appear to be at odds with Sandor’s values, however.  On the surface, he seems like a “puffed up” noble that Sandor would disdain.

“Dutiful and beautiful,” said an elegant young knight whose thick blond mane cascaded down well past his shoulders.” […] the tall one with the blond hair kissed her hand before taking his leave.” (Alayne II, AFFC)

There are no physical similarities (aside from being tall) between Ser Byron and Sandor Clegane obviously. The two could not seem more different in every possible way.  Sansa calls Byron “elegant.”  How does Sansa define “elegant” when she sees it?  She only uses the word two other times in AFFC to describe Marillion and Symond Templeton.  She uses it to describe mostly clothing that is refined and fashionable with some luxurious embellishments and when someone’s appearance is sleek and sharply styled.  We can then deduce that Ser Byron stands out from the other two (a sign we should pay attention to him) because he is likely more refined and stylishly dressed rather than just being merely handsome.  Add to that his mannerism of kissing her hand like a courtier.

Assuming this is a glamor, why would Sandor choose to look like Ser Byron?  The last time Sandor saw Sansa was the night of the Blackwater in Sansa VII, ACOK.  He left her ashamed of his actions, but also believing she wouldn’t leave with him because she was still afraid of his appearance. Choosing an identity that is more aligned with the gallantry and physical ideal of Loras Tyrell would seem to be a way to gain her trust, especially if they want her to leave with them willingly.  Now is a good time to remind ourselves that no matter who the hedge knights are, friends or villains, there still needs to be one person on the team that can positively ID Sansa Stark. Gaining her trust and identifying Sansa through a disguise would be Sandor’s contribution to the team.  The kiss on the hand then may not be mere gallantry, but a signal to the other two men confirming her real identity.

Sandor as Ser Byron is also quite in line with GRRM’s worst kept secret of being a dark fairytale fan, particularly Beauty and the Beast.  Even more specifically his favorite film version is La Belle et la Bête (1946) written and directed by Jean Cocteau.  Actor Jean Marais portrays the Beast and another of Beauty’s suitors, the handsome and blonde Avenant (meaning “pleasant”).  At the end of this version and as the Beast is transformed back into a Prince Ardent (meaning “passionate”), Avenant is transformed into a Beast.  It then may be that GRRM is playing with the idea of Sandor as Jean Marais in three roles:  the tormented Byronic Hound, Ser Byron, and the reclaimed identity of Sandor Clegane divorced from the overly negative aspects of the Hound.  It’s a very George-like twist to rebuild the fairytale better with the handsome prince as the enchantment and the Beast as the true form.  We will be examining other evidence in favor of a beast disguised as a beauty later in Part VI when we look at the symbols and signposts along the way in Brienne’s arc and in Alayne II leading right up to meeting the hedge knights.

I would also think it’s fair to say there would be a touch of wish-fulfillment * here on Sandor’s part of becoming more ideal in her eyes.  He would not know since then how her opinions have evolved.  She’s more wary that a pretty face can conceal a bad character and is gravitating more towards the good qualities of honest and plain people, like Ser Lothor.  The irony in their introduction is that Sansa is only brusquely acknowledging Ser Byron’s presence.  She isn’t swooning or flattered at all as she might have been in AGOT.  Because of Joffrey and Marillion, she may have internalized the association of superficial charms with abuse and sexual threat.  She pays more attention to details about Shadrich and Morgarth if we look at the full exchange:

“You are never an intrusion, sweetling. I was just now telling these good knights what a dutiful daughter I had.”
“Dutiful and beautiful,” said an elegant young knight whose thick blond mane cascaded down well past his shoulders.
“Aye,” said the second knight, a burly fellow with a thick salt-and-pepper beard, a red nose bulbous with broken veins, and gnarled hands as large as hams. “You left out that part, m’lord.”
“I would do the same if she were my daughter,” said the last knight, a short, wiry man with a wry smile, pointed nose, and bristly orange hair. “Particularly around louts like us.”
Alayne laughed. “Are you louts?” she said, teasing. “Why, I took the three of you for gallant knights.”

“Knights they are,” said Petyr. “Their gallantry has yet to be demonstrated, but we may hope. Allow me to present Ser Byron, Ser Morgarth, and Ser Shadrich. Sers, the Lady Alayne, my natural and very clever daughter . . . with whom I must needs confer, if you will be so good as to excuse us.”
The three knights bowed and withdrew, though the tall one with the blond hair kissed her hand before taking his leave.
“Hedge knights?” said Alayne, when the door had closed.

* Sandor romanticizes what he probably regards as his finest hour of saving Sansa from the mob in the bread riots.  He misrepresents the story to Arya and tells her she sang a song for him after this event, which is completely re-writing history to reflect a more idealistic fantasy.

From the above scene, the hedge knights have been in Littlefinger’s solar for hours, drinking and talking into the predawn since they arrived at “evenfall.”  Littlefinger is clearly at ease around them and apparently has been doing a little bragging about his “daughter.”  They were able to lower his inhibitions with alcohol, broach the subject without suspicion and get him to summon Alayne to the solar (very late at night and immediately following the long ride down) so that her father could do a bit of showing off, exploiting a weakness in his character that would be familiar to Sandor.  It took several re-reads before I caught this due to the POV trap.  Sansa doesn’t necessarily regard certain details as important, so the reader doesn’t either.  The hedge knights need to meet Alayne ASAP to confirm her identity.  If she isn’t Sansa, they need to leave and keep looking elsewhere.  But is Sandor capable of this level of deception around Littlefinger who is also familiar with him especially over a long period of time?

We actually do have quite a bit of evidence for Sandor being a highly effective actor when necessary, being able to exploit other’s expectations, and even do things that seem to be out of character.  Even to the Lannisters who he has served closely for many years, they consider him little more than a loyal dog and a weapon with personal aspirations no greater than wine or killing his brother.  Being seen as such has granted him privileges denied to others and a wide berth of trust from his masters, such as the kingsguard position that is normally only reserved for anointed knights and without requiring him to swear vows.  Unlike Brienne, he’s shown he can lie believably and “sniff out” falsehoods.  He is often described as almost appearing out of nowhere, so even for such a large and easily noticeable person, he’s quite capable of making himself unassuming, almost invisible, in public.

In Arya X, ASOS, we see Sandor’s abilities on full display when they successfully infiltrate the Twins just before the Red Wedding.  With only a hood over his scars, he adjusts his manner of speaking and acting, gives plausible explanations, and effectively fools a knight that is well-acquainted with him because he understands how others think.

“Salt pork for the wedding feast, if it please you, ser.” The Hound mumbled his reply, his eyes down, his face hidden.
“Salt pork never pleases me.” The pitchfork knight gave Clegane only the most cursory glance, and paid no attention at all to Arya, but he looked long and hard at Stranger. The stallion was no plow horse, that was plain at a glance…   “How did you come by this beast?” the pitchfork knight demanded.
M’lady told me to bring him, ser,” Clegane said humbly. “He’s a wedding gift for young Lord Tully.
“What lady? Who is it you serve?”
Old Lady Whent, ser.
“Does she think she can buy Harrenhal back with a horse?” the knight asked. “Gods, is there any fool like an old fool?” Yet he waved them down the road. “Go on with you, then.”
Aye, m’lord.” The Hound snapped his whip again, and the old drays resumed their weary trek… Clegane gave them one last look and snorted. Ser Donnel Haigh,” he said. “I’ve taken more horses off him than I can count. Armor as well. Once I near killed him in a mêlée.”
“How come he didn’t know you, then?” Arya asked.
Because knights are fools, and it would have been beneath him to look twice at some poxy peasant.” He gave the horses a lick with the whip. “Keep your eyes down and your tone respectful and say ser a lot, and most knights will never see you. They pay more mind to horses than to smallfolk. He might have known Stranger if he’d ever seen me ride him.”

Even though he despises knights and normally lashes out when someone calls him “ser,” he doesn’t mind being misidentified as a knight when the need arises.  In Arya IX, ASOS, when Sandor needs a ferry to cross a flooded river with Arya, he becomes a knight to the ferryman and uses “knight’s honor” as credit.  He’s capable of suppressing his usual reactions, seeming to behave out of character, to accomplish a goal.  As Sandor is well aware of how to adjust his speech and behavior to convincingly become a peasant and has allowed himself to be thought of as a knight, becoming Ser Byron is not such a stretch.

As a Lannister man and “sworn” shield, Sandor has been exposed to proper courtly conduct his entire life.  He may not choose to behave with flowery courtesy, but he does not act or speak crudely when he is in his professional role.  He can be courteous to a lady as when he dabbed Sansa’s lip with a handkerchief, the difference being it’s sincere act and not for show.  As his position is close to the royal family, he needs to be trusted to act properly.  He is not Gregor.  Unlike the tv adaptation, Sandor is depicted as having a care with his appearance, usually neat and plain or lightly adorned.

In TWOW sample chapter, the next time we see all three hedge knights again, they will also be dancing with Sansa.  Again, this isn’t that strange a thing for Sandor to do even if we haven’t seen him do that on page.  Like all courtly protocols, dancing was a required part of real medieval knightly training (even done in full armor), Andal chivalric culture, not to mention being a primary form of entertainment found everywhere.  Courtesy is not just a part of a medieval girl’s education.  It was expected of all nobility to know the rules of etiquette and chivalry to advance family interests.  Sandor is not so anti-knight or lives so outside Andal culture that it ever made him refuse to learn how to compete in a tourney joust, which was normally reserved only for anointed knights.  It’s the title and vows he takes issue with, not the skillset.  Sandor is from an Andal knightly house with some formal education from a maester, served in an Andal highlord’s house and then at the royal court.  It would be more shocking if he didn’t know at least one dance.

If the hedge knights are following a pattern of being contradictions, I would expect Ser Byron not to conform to expectations, but to turn out to defy them.  On one final note, it shouldn’t be mere coincidence that GRRM has already placed a Sandor in the Vale in the form of Sandor Frey, squire to Donnel Waynwood, Knight of the Gate after Brynden Tully. Sandor Frey is not seen on page, only mentioned in the ACOK appendix as existing.  The name Sandor is only used twice in the entire series.  His mention then is likely a hint by the author of what is to come.  Now we will look at glamoring and the plausibility of a glamor being used in this context.

Glamoring and the Precedents Set For It In ASOIAF

Melisandre I, ADWD, tells us quite a bit of good information on glamoring:

“The bones help,” said Melisandre. “The bones remember. The strongest glamors are built of such things. A dead man’s boots, a hank of hair, a bag of fingerbones. With whispered words and prayer, a man’s shadow can be drawn forth from such and draped about another like a cloak. The wearer’s essence does not change, only his seeming.”

“The glamor, aye.” In the black iron fetter about his wrist, the ruby seemed to pulse. He tapped it with the edge of his blade. The steel made a faint click against the stone.
The spell is made of shadow and suggestion. Men see what they expect to see. The bones are part of that.”

Glamoring magic is not something restricted to R’hllor and can be something any magician can do of any discipline or religion.  The Faceless Men also teach glamoring, but take it to the final level of donning a dead person’s face.

Mummers change their faces with artifice,” the kindly man was saying, “and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye. These arts you shall learn, but what we do here goes deeper. Wise men can see through artifice, and glamors dissolve before sharp eyes, but the face you are about to don will be as true and solid as that face you were born with.(The Ugly Little Girl, ADWD)

Howland Reed can “change earth to water and water to earth with no more than a whispered word. He [can] talk to trees and weave words and make castles appear and disappear.”  His words can create magic the same as Melisandre.  There is no reason that glamoring would be beyond him, especially when it seems to be a very basic form of illusion.  The raw materials for a good glamor are readily available on the Quiet Isle.  They have countless bones of long dead, anonymous people that have washed up on their shores and GRRM really emphasizes that the Quiet Isle has rubies and Meribald couples them with bones:

“…many strange and wondrous things are pushed toward us, to wash up on our shores. Driftwood is the least of it. We have found silver cups and iron pots, sacks of wool and bolts of silk, rusted helms and shining swords . . . aye, and rubies.”

Better rubies than bones.” Septon Meribald was rubbing his foot, the mud flaking off beneath his finger. “Not all the river’s gifts are pleasant. The good brothers collect the dead as well<. Drowned cows, drowned deer, dead pigs swollen up to half the size of horses. Aye, and corpses.”

Note how the items listed appear to a dichotomy between the beautiful and elegant and the rough and practical with the wording pairing them together.  Each item in the pairing has similar or related functions, but it’s their appearances that are different.  It would not be such a stretch then if there is at least one ruby somewhere on Ser Byron’s “elegant” person even if Sansa hasn’t seen it as she barely pays any note to him.

There are two major precedents for glamoring being used in the series that are highly significant this theory.  In ADWD, glamoring is being used by Melisandre and Mance Rayder as a plot device in a situation that has many parallels and inverses to the Vale.  Mance Rayder is glamored by Mel to look like Rattleshirt, while the real Rattleshirt is glamored to look like Mance.  It is the latter that will face execution freeing the other for his mission.  The glamor is to allow Mance to leave Castle Black while I propose a glamor is used to infiltrate the Gates of the Moon.  Mance takes on the alias of Abel (not insignificantly an anagram of Bael the Bard, wife stealer) to go to Winterfell and rescue a “Stark” girl, Jeyne Poole as (f)Arya.  In the Vale, a Stark girl needs to be rescued from Petyr Bael-ish, the false Bael.

Both arcs in Winterfell and the Vale involve usurpers using scheming, murder, and a puppet to give themselves an air of legitimacy.  For the Boltons, it’s using the marriage of (f)Arya to Ramsay Bolton.  For Littlefinger, it’s using his marriage to Lysa to become Lord Protector over Robert, murdering her, then marrying his “daughter” to the next heir, Harrold Hardyng.  In both situations there is something false about the bride’s identity.  There’s an inversion in that an imposter, Jeyne Poole is playing a legitimate Stark and a real Stark, Sansa, is a fake bastard daughter. Petyr hovers over both Winterfell and Vale arcs, responsible for the false brides’ respective situations and for at least some involvement in the deaths of the heads of those houses:  Ned, Catelyn, Jon Arryn, and Lysa.  There’s another layer of inversion in the brides and grooms.  The legitimate offspring Sansa Stark has become a bastard and the groom, Ramsay Bolton, born the bastard Ramsey Snow, was legitimized.  Harrold Hardyng, the potential groom, is Sweetrobin’s unlikely heir through an accident of fate.  Arya, being the youngest female Stark, would be the least likely to inherit Winterfell, yet here “Arya” is the heir and solidifying the Bolton’s hold on Winterfell.  With so many twists on the same themes in both regions, it is safe then to seriously consider a glamor being used in both.

The other major precedent that parallels with the upcoming tourney in TWOW is from the tournament at Whitewalls in The Mystery Knight which was pointed out by Ashes of Westeros.  Ser Duncan the Tall attends a tourney at Whitewalls, which was built from stone quarried in the Vale.  The host is Lord Ambrose Butterwell, a former master of coin (as was Littlefinger) in celebration of his second marriage, not so unlike the Vale tourney to secure Harry and Alayne’s betrothal, which would be Sansa’s second marriage.  Butterwell has other motives as the event is also a ruse for others who support the Second Blackfyre Rebellion to gather.  The tourney is rigged so Daemon II Blackfyre (under the alias “Ser John the Fiddler”) will win a red dragon egg (as Sansa is associated with a bag of dragons) as a prize.  Dunk meets and befriends three hedge knights, one of whom was Maynard Plumm (possibly a play on the name Reynard), who is Bloodraven under a glamor there to squash the Blackfyre plot.  In this case a moonstone is used instead of a ruby, but it’s also further proof that glamors can be done by a greenseer magician too:

Dunk whirled. Through the rain, all he could make out was a hooded shape and a single pale white eye. It was only when the man came forward that the shadowed face beneath the cowl took on the familiar features of Ser Maynard Plumm, the pale eye no more than the moonstone brooch that pinned his cloak at the shoulder.

It’s an agent of Bloodraven that actually stole the red dragon egg by the privy shaft in Lord Butterwell’s chamber.  The only one small enough (specifically child-sized) to fit is a dwarf.  Ser Shadrich is not a dwarf, but Sansa says he is “wiry” and could be mistaken for a squire.  After the plot is dismantled, Butterwell is attained and Whitewalls is torn down to the ground and the earth salted.  The destruction of Whitewalls speaks to a probable and massive upheaval in the Vale in TWOW (again, see the avalanche theory).

There’s also a strong possibility that the tourney of the Winged Knights will also be rigged by Littlefinger.  By comments made here and here, no one seems to have a high opinion of Harrold Hardyng’s jousting skills and he’s up against far more experienced tourney knights.  He was only just knighted by Yohn Royce in a tourney for squires and according to Myranda Royce it was set up so Harry would win.  With Sweetrobin’s health uncertain, both men are jockeying for influence over the heir.  Littlefinger arranging for Harry to do well in the tourney is another way to woo him away from Bronze Yohn, further isolating and diminishing the Lord of Runestone’s power to oppose him.  It also encourages him to view the betrothal to Alayne more favorably.  At Whitewalls, the master of games was being bribed to fix the listings of matches between competitors for a favorable outcome.  In the TWOW sample, Alayne visits Petyr’s solar and finds a window open and a stack of papers on the floor, one of which was the list of competitors.  We shouldn’t fall into the POV trap again and think these details are unimportant as her attention is drawn elsewhere.  Someone child-sized and good at climbing could have easily been in that room to get a look at the list of competitors in advance.

As we can see there are numerous parallels in the Northern arc and in precedents for glamors being used in the series with the current Vale arc.  So many that we can safely say that the theory can work with the established canon.  Now we need to look for other clues that this is what GRRM actually intends to do.

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Part VI:  Brienne’s Symbolic Journey Down the Acorn and Ivy Paths

By acorn and ivy paths, I’m referring to the two parallel dresses both Sansa and Arya have worn.  Sansa’s is embroidered with ivy and Arya’s is embroidered with acorns, both on the bodices and over their hearts.  This is about their true identities inside despite their outward appearances.  Arya who has struggled with issues of acceptance and seeing herself as beautiful is admired by Gendry and called pretty by Lady Smallwood while wearing her acorn dress.  By her likeness to Lyanna and her association with swans, she will grow into a beauty all her own.  Sansa is dressing modestly for her bastard status, but the vines and leaves are embroidered in gold (again, Sansa equated with gold) thread.  She also chooses to wear as her only adornment an “autumn gold” ribbon with her practical wool dress when she cannot wear Stark or Tully colors.  So she chooses her own colors and styling that are reminiscent of Sandor telling her the story of his house sigil, the only other time “autumn” is used as a descriptive of gold or yellow in the series.  Ivy and acorn symbolism will repeatedly show up in Brienne’s path and it will be important to examine the context we find them in.

Brienne will start her AFFC arc believing herself on Sansa’s trail as Arya is presumed dead, but actually finds herself in the end meeting significant people from Arya’s arc.  GRRM then has always intended the acorn path for Brienne, so the ivy path is meant for another to follow.  Though Brienne’s AFFC arc has been panned by many readers as mostly a long, meaningless road trip, I would say the colorful people she meets and sights she sees are a symbolic journey pointing us to what the author actually intends for the real ivy path to Sansa.  The signposts were never for Brienne to read, they were for the reader.

Food symbolism and animal descriptives will be particularly important.  It starts right from the jump and tells us exactly where Brienne will end.  In Brienne I, when she chances upon the con men, Ser Creighton and Ser Illifer, they offer her to share their meal of grilled trout.  As if grilling trout weren’t enough of a bad sign in the Tully Riverlands, it’s a reference to the “dead trout” Lady Stoneheart that Brienne will meet.  The next morning, Brienne sees Illifer skinning a squirrel and Creighton pissing on a tree.  They break their fast on squirrel, acorn paste, and pickles.  With the tree, those are clearly symbols related to Arya and the pickles likely being a euphemism for her very difficult position with Lady Stoneheart.  The next meal she shares is the “goat on the spit” at the inn at the old stone bridge after she crosses paths with Ser Shadrich and he warns her of the company she is keeping.  Brienne will later be encountering the slobbering Goat’s, aka Vargo Hoat’s men, Shagwell, Timeon and Pyg, but we’ll go into more detail with that later.  It’s leaving the inn and going to Duskendale alone where Brienne will find the first major clue (for the reader) of the ivy and acorn path.

In Brienne II, when she is seeking to have her Lothston shield repainted by the captain’s sister, she has a good look at the mural upon the doors of the Seven Swords inn which has very interesting features:

They showed a castle in an autumn wood, the trees done up in shades of gold and russet.Ivy crawled up the trunks of ancient oaks, and even the acorns had been done with loving care. When Brienne peered more closely, she saw creatures in the foliage: a sly red fox, two sparrows on a branch, and behind those leaves the shadow of a boar.

At the time of TWOW chapter, it is autumn and winter wheat is ripening.  The timing is ripe for harvesting the seeds of winter sown at the Gates of the Moon.  Gold is paired with reddish-brown (as in Sansa’s red hair covered by brown).  We have the ivy and the acorns featured.  By looking closely, Brienne sees the hidden animal figures in a particularly significant order.  The crossing of paths between Team Brienne and Team Shadrich is for mutual benefit, serving to spur each party toward their respective paths.  The “sly red fox” is “fox-faced” Ser Shadrich, who Brienne meets first.  We will see another fox again later.  The two sparrows being a euphemism for the sparrows, the humblest members of the Faith of the Seven.  She meets Septon Meribald and then is led to the Elder Brother, who redirects her from her pursuit of the Hound and reveals she’s actually been chasing Arya, not Sansa.  The boar is not actually seen, only its shadow (as glamors are made of “shadow and suggestion”) and it hidden behind the leaves.  A face covered in leaves is a classic green god depiction (also as hunters in the wood like Herne the Hunter and Cernunnos).  The most significant appearance of a boar in the series is the mortal wounding of Robert Baratheon, the instrument for upheaval and sudden regime change  *.  Recall that while Robert was plied with strong wine while hunting, it was Cersei exploiting his natural tendencies to ensure his death — the very same tactics we saw in Petyr’s solar at the first meeting of the hedge knights.  Regime change is hidden and it’s coming for the Lord Protector.

* Another significance of the boar is Norse mythology is the Hildisvíni or “battle swine” that belongs to Freya, whose name means “Lady.”  The boar is actually her devotee, Óttar.  His name is believed to be a version of Freya’s husband, Óðr, which is also a version of Odin.  

It should also be no coincidence that right after leaving her shield to be painted, Brienne hears the story of Barristan Selmy’s one-man daring rescue of King Aerys at Duskendale, but more important than that is her next meal and meeting with the pious dwarf at the Seven Swords inn.  A meal of hot crab stew is shared between them and Brienne gets her next lead to the Stinking Goose to find the man that “fooled a fool.”  Pay attention to the dwarfs features and his story.

Not until he hopped off the bench did Brienne realize that the speaker was a dwarf. The little man was not quite five feet tall. His nose was veined and bulbous, his teeth red from sourleaf, and he was dressed in the brown roughspun robes of a holy brother, with the iron hammer of the Smith dangling down about his thick neck.

“Do you serve some holy house in Duskendale, brother?”
“‘Twas nearer Maidenpool, m’lady, but the wolves burned us out,” the man replied, gnawing on a heel of bread. “We rebuilt as best we could, until some sellswords come. I could not say whose men they were, but they took our pigs and killed the brothers. I squeezed inside a hollow log and hid, but t’others were too big. It took me a long time to bury them all, but the Smith, he gave me strength. When that was done I dug up a few coins the elder brother had hid by and set off by myself.”

His detailed features are a perfect amalgamation of Shadrich, Elder Brother, Septon Meribald, and the gravedigger.  He’s about Shadrich’s height, he has Elder Brother’s veiny, bulbous nose, he wears the roughspun of a holy brother, he favors the smith like Septon Meribald, he hid in a tree like a crannogman, he dug graves like the gravedigger and has a burly, thick neck.  The outlaws that attacked his septry were looking for coins (like gold dragons) that their elder brother had hidden before he was killed.  With the feature of sourleaf and the “red smile”  this does not bode well for particularly our Elder Brother as Morgarth — a dead Garth.  This particular dwarf is also beheaded and taken to KL to claim the reward for Tyrion, Sansa’s supposed accomplice in regicide.  The most important thing here is that Elder Brother, Septon Meribald, and Sandor are helpers and are twice symbolically grouped together with Ser Shadrich / Howland Reed in the mural and in this dwarf.

The hot crab stew obviously points to her next significant part of the journey with Nimble Dick Crabb from the lead she received from the pious dwarf.  (Note also he doesn’t want any monetary reward for his help, only the bowl of crab stew).  Following Nimble Dick Crabb, she will hear the tale of Ser Clarence Crabb as they travel up Crackclaw Point.  We are supposed to draw parallels between Brienne and the legendary knight in her battle with the Bloody Mummers.  Clarence Crabb is extremely tall, wields a “magic sword”, takes the heads of his foes back to his woodswitch wife to bring them back to life and elicit their “good counsel.”  At the ruins of Crabb’s ancestral castle called the Whispers which is covered in ivy, they will finally meet Shagwell, Timeon, and Pyg.  Nimble Dick will be killed after comparing himself to Clarence Crabb, and Brienne will slay the outlaws with her “magic sword” Oathkeeper.  Before that they will give her “good counsel” of reporting that the Hound has the Stark girl she is seeking at the Saltpans.  Hyle Hunt takes the heads of the outlaws back to Maidenpool to “speak” to Brienne’s bravery and skill.  So Nimble Dick was not the real crab here, it was the maiden Brienne.  And with Nimble Dick’s death at the Whispers the ivy path has literally reached a dead end for Brienne.  She’s now unknowingly on the acorn path to Arya when they meet Septon Meribald back at Maidenpool.

The association of crabs with maidens makes even more sense when we consider they are tidal creatures, which are related to the Moon and goddess symbolism.  Think of the crab as the astrological sign Cancer which is associated with the Moon.  “Moon is god, woman wife of sun.  It is known.”  Other tidal shellfish that have feminine associations are clams for their comparison to female genitalia.  Arya also has her associations with shellfish as Cat of the Canals in her arc, but Sansa is the only maiden at the Gates of the Moon (also a female genitalia metaphor).  As Ygritte explained to Jon, the ideal time for stealing a wife is when the Thief is in the Moonmaiden.  The astrological mythology is important.  The Stallion (like Stranger) is called the Horned Lord by the Freefolk, connecting more greenman symbolism to Sandor.  “The red wanderer” (as an analog to Mars the planet and god of war) is sacred to the Smith (the laborer, such as the gravedigger) and is also called the Thief.  Sansa is the Moonmaiden (as she is also associated with moonstone jewelry) and the crab.  We will soon see who really finds the crab on Brienne’s path.

In Brienne V, Brienne, Podrick, and Hyle Hunt join with Septon Meribald and Dog (who has not revealed his true name, is a huge beast, and like Sandor he is his own dog) to use his knowledge of the region to find the Hound that supposedly has Sansa.  Podrick also tells of his own dog named Hero, who wasn’t actually a hero, but he died a “good dog.”  The terrain they are travelling has descriptive features that we should take note of:

The lands they traveled through were low and wet, a wilderness of sandy dunes and salt marshes beneath a vast blue-grey vault of sky. The road was prone to vanishing amongst the reeds and tidal pools, only to appear again a mile farther on; without Meribald, Brienne knew, they surely would have lost their way. The ground was often soft, so in places the septon would walk ahead, tapping with his quarterstaff to make certain of the footing. There were no trees for leagues around, just sea and sky and sand.
No land could have been more different from Tarth, with its mountains and waterfalls, its high meadows and shadowed vales, yet this place had its own beauty, Brienne thought. They crossed a dozen slow-flowing streams alive with frogs and crickets, watched terns floating high above the bay, heard the sandpipers calling from amongst the dunes. Once a fox crossed their path, and set Meribald’s dog to barking wildly.

They are navigating through the wetlands where they must check their footing, a slightly less dangerous version of the Neck.  They would be lost without an experienced guide.  They are amongst the reeds and the land is “alive with frogs” pointing to Howland Reed and the derogatory association with crannogmen as “frog-eaters” and “mud-men.”  Most telling of all, it is a fox that crosses their path and sets Dog to barking.  In Part III, I mentioned the fox association to the kitsune who can create elaborate illusions.  It’s dogs that are able to see through a kitsune’s illusions and unmask them, because “a dog can smell a lie.”  What’s important here is that we have the fox crossing paths with a dog and holy man.  Yes, Ser Shadrich has definitely followed Brienne to the Quiet Isle.  Now look at the very next passage:

And there were people too. Some lived amongst the reeds in houses built of mud and straw, whilst others fished the bay in leather coracles and built their homes on rickety wooden stilts above the dunes. Most seemed to live alone, out of sight of any human habitation but their own. They seemed a shy folk for the most part, but near midday the dog began to bark again, and three women emerged from the reeds to give Meribald a woven basket full of clams. He gave each of them an orange in return, though clams were as common as mud in this world, and oranges were rare and costly. One of the women was very old, one was heavy with child, and one was a girl as fresh and pretty as a flower in spring. When Meribald took them off to hear their sins, Ser Hyle chuckled, and said, “It would seem the gods walk with us . . . at least the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone.” Podrick looked so astonished that Brienne had to tell him no, they were only three marsh women.

We have the repetition of being among the reeds two more times and now we have even more allusions to crannogmen with their (according to Meera) “little skin boats,” being a “shy folk” living closely among themselves.  They were yet untouched by the war here like in the Neck.  What Dog barks at should be taken as something we need to pay attention to.  Dog’s barking alerts them to the presence of the women.  GRRM is very bluntly making sure the reader sees the three women as three incarnations of the goddess, but he doesn’t want you to read it that way literally by Brienne’s response.  So who are our symbolic goddesses relevant to the people in this story arc?  The Crone is Lady Stoneheart.  The Mother is Lyanna Stark.  The girl is the Maiden, Sansa *.  All of these women in the past needed help and the helper fell short to some degree.  Brienne swore to Catelyn to find her daughters and she will find herself held accountable for her failure by Lady Stoneheart.  Howland Reed was there with Ned when they failed to reach Lyanna in time to save her.  He sent his children to help Bran and Ned’s only other known living child is in danger.  Sandor promised he would help take Sansa home and keep her safe, but his mental state was too volatile to even protect himself.  It’s too late to save Catelyn and Lyanna, but it isn’t too late for Sansa.  This is about renewing old vows and making good on past failures.  We’ve already seen the way oranges are used to express help freely given as a loving act.  They are exchanged for “common as mud” clams pointing to the bastard-born Alayne with her rare copper hair blotted out by common brown dye.

*  As an alternate interpretation that works equally well, The Crone is Lady Stoneheart, The Mother is Sansa (in her surrogate mother role to Sweetrobin), and the Maiden is Arya).  At this time, Arya is in her Cat of the Canals persona and she is heavily connected to clams and mussels.  Brienne, with Septon Meribald’s guidance, is inadvertently sending help in three directions associated with each goddess aspect.  As she is on her way to the Quiet Isle, this represents an intersection of the acorn and ivy path which we will see again on the isle.  She leads Shadrich to his special ops team and motivates the Elder Brother to action.  Brienne is heading toward Lady Stoneheart, the Brotherhood Without Banners, and Gendry — a convergence of people from Arya’s arc.  She still needs to fulfill her oath to Catelyn and she has relevant information on Gendry’s parentage.  When Arya returns to Westeros, we should expect to see her reconnect here.  The mayhem in the Riverlands still needs to be set right and Brienne is gaining a reputation for putting down outlaws.

Along their path to the Quiet Isle, “Dog [leads] the way, sniffing at every clump of reeds and stopping every now and then to piss on one.”  This doesn’t speak well of a liking between Howland and Sandor, more of a strange bedfellow relationship in their common cause.  (Can’t you just hear Sandor saying “Piss on that, Reed!”?)  From these passages it’s Dog’s job to sniff things out along the path, because “a dog can smell a lie” just as it’s Sandor’s task to see through Littlefinger’s lies and the disguise that is Alayne Stone.  Now see what happens when they are navigating the dangerous muddy ground around the isle at low tide.

The soft brown mud squished up between his toes. As he walked he paused from time to time, to probe ahead with his quarterstaff. Dog stayed near his heels, sniffing at every rock, shell, and clump of seaweed. For once he did not bound ahead or stray. Brienne followed, taking care to keep close to the line of prints left by the dog, the donkey, and the holy man. Then came Podrick, and last of all Ser Hyle. A hundred yards out, Meribald turned abruptly toward the south, so his back was almost to the septry. He proceeded in that direction for another hundred yards, leading them between two shallow tidal pools. Dog stuck his nose in one and yelped when a crab pinched it with his claw. A brief but furious struggle ensued before the dog came trotting back, wet and mud-spattered, with the crab between his jaws. (Brienne VI, AFFC)

Dog is forced to trust in the guidance of the holy man while he’s sniffing around.  He does not “bound ahead and or stray” in the fervor of the search.  The plan in the Vale requires months of patience and avoiding detection.  It’s Dog that finds the crab hidden in the low tidal pool (the Gates of the Moon).  The pinched nose and the brief struggle before successfully carrying off the crab is highly evocative of wife-stealing.  If there was still any uncertainty left about Dog’s association with Sandor, the author drives the point home “when Dog went to sniff [the gravedigger] he dropped his spade and scratched his ear.”  Sandor is of course missing an ear and this will come up again when we look at Stranger in the stables.

Ser Hyle gave the big horse an admiring look as he was handing his reins to Brother Gillam. “A handsome beast.”
Brother Narbert sighed. “The Seven send us blessings, and the Seven send us trials. Handsome he may be, but Driftwood was surely whelped in hell. When we sought to harness him to a plow he kicked Brother Rawney and broke his shinbone in two places. We had hoped gelding might improve the beast’s ill temper, but . . . Brother Gillam, will you show them?
Brother Gillam lowered his cowl. Underneath he had a mop of blond hair, a tonsured scalp, and a bloodstained bandage where he should have had an ear. (Brienne VI, AFFC)

Under the cowl of the holy brother is blonde hair.  Under the blonde hair is a missing ear.  This is a perfect description of the masks Sandor hides true identity behind.  Remember Ysengrim who I mentioned in Part III as a character in Reynard the Fox stories?  Here we have the wolf (or beast) in monk’s robes who is not as godly as they would like him to be.  Handsome is repeated twice but he is a beast, refusing to be gelded and tamed into a plow horse.  They tried to rename him Driftwood and insist that he is a plow horse, turning him into something he is not.  What happens to driftwood when it washes up on the Quiet Isle?  It gets transformed into something new and is “polished till [it shines] a deep gold.”  Or, in other words, it is made blonde and elegant.

The meal they share with the Elder Brother and in the presence of the gravedigger marks the last meeting between the acorn and ivy path travellers.  The next day, Brienne will finally head towards her final two chapters, meeting Gendry, Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood Without Banners.  It will be left to the characters on the isle to resume the ivy path.

Their supper in the septry was as strange a meal as Brienne had ever eaten, though not at all unpleasant. The food was plain, but very good; there were loaves of crusty bread still warm from the ovens, crocks of fresh-churned butter, honey from the septry’s hives, and a thick stew of crabs, mussels, and at least three different kinds of fish. (Brienne VI, AFFC)

Just what exactly are we supposed to find “strange “about this meal?  That is a curious word to use and doesn’t appear to make sense at all in context.  There’s nothing particularly strange about bread, butter, honey, and locally-fished seafood stew if we take it literally.  The stew is the last juncture of the acorn and ivy paths before paths diverge again.  We have the crabs and mussels, with mussels featured heavily in Arya’s ADWD arc.  Bread and honey have associations with Catelyn.  “Strange” can also hint to the presence of the Stranger (the god aspect that Sandor most identifies with, more so than Warrior).  The gravedigger is one of those novices tasked with serving and clearing the food.  The Stranger has no single depiction of his face:  it can be a shadow, an animal, shrouded completely as is the gravedigger’s, or as I am proposing the face of a blonde gallant knight.  We’ve already seen how Sandor will play a pivotal role on the hedge knight team as the only one that can ID Sansa.  In a stew, the ingredients all retain their own flavors but are together in a common broth.  There are also three different kinds of fish, like our three very different hedge knights.  I would also expect to see on the acorn team, Arya’s own “different kinds of fish” coming together.  It’s not the literal meal that we are supposed to see as strange, but the people the ingredients represent.  Our hedge knights might be “strange” but in the end the maiden finds them “very good.”

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Part VII:  Tying Everything Together in Sansa’s POV

 Logically if Brienne’s chapters were full of signs of the author’s intent, we should be able to find those seeds also planted in Alayne II AFFC, the chapter leading up to meeting the hedge knights.  While there’s much that could be unpacked from this chapter, we’ll be staying focused on things pertaining to our hedge knight team.

Just a brief aside first before I wrap up my final points.  Most readers should already be aware of the romantic and sexual subtext the author has included in the dynamic between Sansa and Sandor, whether they approve of it or not; however, casual readers may have missed many of those themes on their first reading.  Delving into that analysis here isn’t necessary for proving the original theory, nor does disagreeing with a romantic interpretation disprove the theory in the least.  If you aren’t familiar with this idea already, you may find these links to essays and resources helpful.  It paints a clearer picture of why Sandor re-entering Sansa’s arc as presented in this theory is thematically satisfying and consistent with what GRRM has already established.

More Repetition of Themes and Motifs

As mentioned in Part V, the Norse goddess Idunn is transformed into a nut by Loki as the rescuer to escape the giant’s home.  To get a little more specific into this myth, the story actually starts with three Aesir gods Odin, Loki, and Hoenir on a journey far from Asgard in a desolate land where food is scarce.  They come upon a herd of oxen and slaughter one, but they find sorcery has made the meat unable to be cooked by fire.  The culprit is the giant Thjazi, in disguise as an eagle.  He promises to remove the spell in exchange for letting him have his fill of the meat.  The eagle flies down and eats the choicest portions of the meat.  Loki, finding this unacceptable, challenges the eagle with a tree branch but is snatched up by the eagle and carried high into the air.  The eagle coerces Loki to give him Idunn and her fruits that grant everlasting youth.  There’s no myth that GRRM utilizes that is an exact one-to-one, but look at this scene of Sansa leaving the Eyrie with Sweetrobin in the bucket attached to a winch chain:

Mord took up his whip and cracked it, and the first pair of oxen began to lumber in a circle, turning the winch. The chain uncoiled, rattling as it scraped across the stone, the oaken bucket swaying as it began its long descent to Sky. Poor oxen, thought Alayne. Mord would cut their throats and butcher them before he left, and leave them for the falcons.

The difference is the order of events and the eagle is switched out for falcons.

Consistent with Norse mythology, Loki is often the cause of problems in the story as well as the one who is tasked with setting things right again.  We’ve already shown that this Loki-trickster figure is Dontos, who helps the giant Littlefinger abduct Sansa.  Idunn is tricked by Loki into being led away from Asgard and is snatched up by Thjazi in eagle form.  She is taken to his home called Thrymheim (“Thunder Home”) which has “icy towers” in the high mountain peaks overlooking a green valley below, as is the Eyrie and the Vale of Arryn.  When the gods start to rapidly age, Loki was found out to be the last one seen with Idunn as Dontos disappeared at the same time as Sansa.  Loki (this time as rescuer) is shape-shifted into a falcon using Freya’s feather cloak and turns Idunn into the nut to carry her off.  Lothor Brune, who has acted as a stand-in for Sandor, is in the winch room to see Sansa and Robert into the bucket that will lower them down to Sky.  See how the oaken bucket is like the nut, enclosing them on all sides except the top:

Some of the winch chains were fixed to wicker baskets, others to stout oaken buckets. The largest of those was taller than Alayne, with iron bands girding its dark brown staves. Even so, her heart was in her throat as she took Robert’s hand and helped him in. Once the hatch was closed behind them, the wood surrounded them on all sides. Only the top was open. It is best that way, she told herself, we can’t look down. Below them was only Sky and sky. Six hundred feet of sky…”
“AWAY!” came Ser Lothor’s shout.

The next part of the “escape” from the Giant’s Lance is trusting the mules to carry them safely down.  While I plan on a companion piece covering this area in more detail, we again have animals representing our rescue team.  Mules are hybrids of horses and donkeys signifying the dual identities of our hedge knights and that they are well suited for their task at hand.  One mule in particular is of interest.

She turned to Robert Arryn, her black hair blowing. “Which mule will you ride today, my lord?”
“They’re all stinky. I’ll have the grey one, with the ear chewed off. I want Alayne to ride with me. And Myranda too.”

Yet another repetition of the missing ear we saw in Part VI with Sandor and Brother Gillam.  As if that weren’t enough, two repeated statements Robert makes about mules calls us back to an earlier quote from Sansa:

“I hate those smelly mules. One tried to bite me once! You tell that Mya that I’m staying here.”
“I hate mules,” he insisted. “Mules are nasty. I told you, one tried to bite me when I was little.”

He is a dog, just as he says. A half-wild, mean-tempered dog that bites any hand that tries to pet him, and yet will savage any man who tries to hurt his masters. (Sansa IV, ACOK)

Like Brienne’s arc, Alayne II is not without its food symbolism.  When the party arrives at the waycastle Snow, they share a meal of “stewed goat and onions.”  While Brienne had the “goat on the spit” representing Vargo Hoat (or his men rather), the goat here seems to refer to Littlefinger whose often-mentioned feature is his goatee.  Goats also are symbolic of male lust as in the god Pan, who was known for chasing nymphs.  Depictions of the Devil began to be infused with goat imagery during the medieval period.  “Stewed” is also a slang term for being drunk, which is also how we find Petyr in his solar with the hedge knights.  As for the onions, the most notable onions in the series are Davos Seaworth’s onions.  During Robert’s Rebellion, Davos slips past enemy lines and smuggles onions into Storm’s End to save Stannis from starvation during a siege, an act that earned him a knighthood.  Onions are a fairly common enough ingredient mentioned in the series.  They are pretty unassuming and what you expect to see in a stew, but peel back the layers

In relation to earning a knighthood through heroism, we have the conversation between Sansa and Myranda about a squire:

“Saving yourself for Lord Robert?” Lady Myranda teased. “Or is there some ardent squire dreaming of your favors?”
“No,” said Alayne, even as Robert said, “She’s my friend. Terrance and Gyles can’t have her.”

The mystery “squire” in question is as much a tease by the author as it is by Myranda.  “Ardent” is a rarely used word in the entire series — only three times to be exact.  As discussed in Part V, “Prince Ardent” is the true identity under the Beast in GRRM’s favorite film version of Beauty and the Beast.  I would also argue that “squire” is actually a fitting metaphor for Sandor at this point.  As the gravedigger and a novice on the Quiet Isle, one of his jobs is serving food.  If we compare this to traditional knightly training, food service would be on the page level below squire.  The next level of squire means he must stick close to the knight (as Elder Brother was) training him and do as he is told.  As we’ve seen in Part VI, Dog sticks close to Meribald’s side, not “bounding ahead,” especially when they are moments away from finding the crab.  By using the word “squire” the author implies that Sandor has not yet earned his knighthood.  We should expect to see if everything proves correct, some metaphoric dubbing of Sandor by the Elder Brother as a knight in the near future.  Plus there is the early hint of her favor that will later prove important in the outcome of the tourney in TWOW as it is the last line of the sample chapter.

[Harrold Hardyng]  grinned. “I will hold you to that promise, my lady. Until that day, may I wear your favor in the tourney?”
You may not. It is promised to…another.” She was not sure who as yet, but she knew she would find someone.

A mystery knight to carry her favor, which calls us back to parallels with the tourney of Harrenhal and the tourney of Whitewalls in The Mystery Knight novella.

Plot, Characterization, and Alternate Theories

Before we conclude with Sansa meeting the hedge knights, we should take a step back to examine how this theory is serving the plot and characterization as well as glance over a few alternate ideas for comparison.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate where Sansa is in all this.  She’s at a point in her arc where she’s resigned to the fact that she is indefinitely trapped in the Alayne Stone persona.  The rescuer she prayed for (or rather the one she got) in the godswood has turned out to be unwholesome and false to say the least.  She’s tormented by being implicated in his unsavory schemes on one hand, but cannot reveal her true identity out of fear of being beheaded on the other.  The only option she sees is to bravely move forward and try to make the best out of being Alayne Stone in a day to day existence.  As a result, the reader is lulled into anticipating only more of the same:  Sansa spending another book treading water in her imprisonment or yet another arranged marriage as a plot point.  That would be exceedingly dull writing if it were true and thankfully GRRM is better than that.

Looking through the lens of the original theory, there’s several ironies going on here that solve the above predicament.  Sansa spends a great deal of time reminding herself to be vigilant in maintaining her Alayne Stone character as being unmasked means her certain death.  Being unmasked in the solar by the hedge knights is precisely what happens despite her efforts, but it means her rescue instead.  It means her godswood prayers have actually been answered.  The key to her freedom was already in the works, but readers have been looking in all the wrong places.  She’s completely unwitting that one of the men she is bantering with is a staunch Stark loyalist and the other is the man she’s been literally dreaming of.  Not only are their respective appearances different, but there’s a stunning display of character growth held up side by side between Alayne and Ser Byron.  Sansa has become more self-assured, warm, and outspoken.  Sandor has learned to be more self-controlled, patient, and respectful.  This isn’t entirely a performance, it’s applying what they’ve learned in their parallel humbling stints as a bastard and the gravedigger.

This is not to say that Sansa is a damsel who will be passively rescued.  Many readers expect she will play a pivotal role in the downfall of Petyr Baelish, as do I.  On the contrary, the hedge knights can give her a place of power to act from.  For the first time, she has allies loyal to her and who will fight for her best interests alone.

Finally, the wool is being pulled over the eyes great con artist himself, who at the same time thinks he’s fooling everyone with his “daughter.”  It’s a completely appropriate comeuppance.  Most of all there’s a way out that doesn’t involve yet another marriage proposal, which has never meant anything good in her story before.  The possible betrothal to Harry the Heir makes for great slight-of-hand, because it’s what we’re trained to expect in her arc.  While the reader and Sansa are looking toward the young falcon, our attention is drawn away from the hedge knights.  Too many Vale arc speculations play up the importance of Harry the Heir (only just mentioned in Alayne II) and completely ignore or downplay the role of Ser Shadrich, who has been lurking around since Brienne I.  Not that Harry won’t serve a purpose, but Shadrich is the obvious Chekhov’s gun here.

The original theory solves some very key questions that readers have had.  It addresses:

  • How Sandor will re-enter Sansa’s arc in a logical, canon-supported, and thematically satisfying way that serves both characters.
  • How Howland Reed will help an actual Stark on page in a way that utilizes his established backstory and talents (which is all we are given by the author).
  • How to effectively use a character like the Elder Brother that we only meet briefly, but we’re given a wealth of detail concerning his backstory, talents, and capacity to be of service.  To leave him just treating the gravedigger off page is a waste.
  • How to solve the current Vale arc predicament with plenty of surprise for a majority of readers, that streamlines the good use of existing and important characters, and serves to further the overall plot of the series.  It also thwarts one of the biggest villains in the books in a manner that is fitting for his hubris and deceit.
  • How to make sense of the frustration with the author for seeming to place Sansa on an endless treadmill of imprisonment and marriage proposals when other POV characters seem to have more to do.  For the reader, it ushers us into the third act of the series without having to spend more time watching and waiting for the the conflict to somehow resolve.  The process was already happening over the course of months.  It was cleverly hinted at all along, but we fell for the author’s use of misdirection and unreliable POV narrators hook, line, and sinker.

It also assimilates well with other well-laid out theories and gives them a new twist.  In sweetsunray’s Sansa and the Giants (aka the avalanche theory of the Vale), the presence of Howland Reed and his knowledge of the “hammer of the waters,” provides a magical cause to the cataclysmic avalanche.  The hedge knight team can also protect Sansa from that danger and get her to safety.  In The Beast’s Kiss, it’s theorized that Harry combines aspects of Loras Tyrell and the blunt, offensive honesty of Sandor Clegane.  An older and more experienced Sansa knows how to go toe to toe with him.  She’s clever, confident, and flirtatious and may be open to a kiss from Harry.  Point taken; however, Ser Byron can be read as the physical ideal of Loras and his gallantry, but with the better part of Sandor’s nature:  the loyal protector who is now saving his bite for those who truly deserve it.  Plus, I have presented my own interpretation on the use of the Beast, Avenant, and Prince Ardent as Sandor playing all three like the actor, Jean Marais.  It’s a great twist on the fairytale for GRRM to make the handsome prince the enchantment and the Beast the true form to be revealed.

The problem with alternative theories and speculations on secret identities is that they often fail to address important issues to plot and characterization.

  • That Sandor is still the gravedigger and Sansa will find him?
    • For Sansa to somehow find her way to the Quiet Isle with no way of knowing Sandor is there or not having any other cause to go there makes no sense.  While most expect them to re-unite, this version doesn’t advance the overall plot or address how Sansa will be freed in the first place.
  • Howland Reed as the High Sparrow?
    • That makes no use of his magical talents, his backstory, his affiliation to the Old Gods, and helps no Starks at this point.  The idea rests on Howland Reed being solely motivated by revenge and pits him against Cersei.  That’s not narratively satisfying as she didn’t order either the Red Wedding (Tywin did and he’s dead) or Ned’s beheading (Joffrey did and he’s dead).  Besides the High Sparrow’s punishment of Cersei has nothing to do with the injustice toward the Starks.
  • Howland Reed as the Hooded Man?
    • Most of the same problems as the above, helps no actual Starks, and rests solely on revenge.  With the loss of a POV inside Winterfell until Stannis retakes the castle means anything he does will be off page, which would be a very weak use of a pivotal character.  There are much stronger candidates for the Hooded Man, such as Harwin sent by the BwB and LS and who can positively ID Arya.
  • Ser Shadrich working for Varys?
    • Fails to address the weirwood, Old Gods, Harrenhal, and KotLT connections.  A supposed agent of Varys just inexplicably asks a stranger (Brienne) if she’d like to hunt Sansa Stark for the Spider’s reward when everyone at Duskendale is doing the same thing and she’s clearly a terrible detective, let alone spy.  That makes no sense.
  • Ser Byron as Tyrek Lannister or Harry Rivers?
    • Tyrek Lannister is proposed on account of the blonde hair and that he could ID Sansa.  This can be ruled out immediately by the fact that both Littlefinger and Sansa know exactly who Tyrek is.  There’s no way Littlefinger would let a Lannister know he has Sansa or that Sansa would trust a Lannister.  I’ve also heard Harry Rivers, the Bastard of Bracken, by the blonde hair but he’s pretty much confirmed dead.  Both have zero connection to Sansa’s story.

So we can see, it’s quite easy to not see the forest for the trees when proposing theories.  That’s why it’s so important to thoroughly outline how a theory works on the individual level, the affected POV character’s level, and in the big narrative picture.

Meeting the Hedge Knights

The very last passage before they arrive at the Gates and Sansa is summoned to the solar is loaded with important references and foreshadowing.

By the time they finally reached her father’s castle, Lady Myranda was drowsing too, and Alayne was dreaming of her bed. It will be a featherbed, she told herself, soft and warm and deep, piled high with furs. I will dream a sweet dream, and when I wake there will be dogs barking, women gossiping beside the well, swords ringing in the yard. And later there will be a feast, with music and dancing. After the deathly silence of the Eyrie, she yearned for shouts and laughter.

The sweet dream is a veil over her eyes much like the glamor and the false identities that hide her saviors. It’s also the role she must play to create a feeling of safety.  Then the author reveals what she will find when her eyes finally open.  This part is reality, not the dream.What she imagines are references related to Sandor:  dogs, swords, and a reference to a past incident where Sansa hears the Hound mentioned by gossiping washerwomen. There’s also foreshadowing of the tourney feast where our hedge knight team is spotted dancing with her.  Waking in the morning to these references is fitting since they arrive in the predawn hours and she is summoned to Petyr’s solar.  There the hedge knights, her gallant knights, are revealed to her.

The author isn’t done yet and this ties the beginning and ending of the chapter together:  Byron’s kiss.  In the opening scene of Alayne II, Sansa recalls her final version of the unkiss, the kiss she misremembers Sandor giving her the last time she saw him.  There will be a companion essay that will go into more detail, but essentially she muses on the kiss then she puts the “memory” aside.  From her point of view, “that day is done” and she must get on with the business of being Alayne Stone.  What’s really important here is what she tells Robert Arryn, who sparked the final version with his own “clumsy” kiss.

Alayne pushed her little lord away. “That’s enough. You can kiss me again when we reach the Gates, if you keep your word.”

Another kiss for a promise kept.  Who is it she thinks she has already kissed?  Who was it she was just thinking of?  Who also made a promise that he initially failed to deliver on?  Sandor.

I could keep you safe,” he rasped. “They’re all afraid of me. No one would hurt you again, or I’d kill them.” (Sansa VII, ACOK)

The one who actually kisses Sansa first at the Gates of the Moon is not Robert Arryn.  It’s Ser Bryon and it’s a chaste and respectful kiss on the hand.  As I have said before, the kiss on the hand is likely the signal to the other two he’s positively ID’d Sansa, but it’s definitely more than that.  It’s chivalrous and indicates the character growth of Sandor Clegane toward true knighthood and being of service to another more worthy than his previous masters.  It points to this rescue succeeding where he failed the first time.  It’s the irony of Sansa believing the man she wants to kiss her again is gone forever then receives a kiss from that man without realizing it.  The chaste kiss is stark contrast to any other kiss she’s received, real or not.  It marks a restoration of faith in the existence of true knights for the reader if not Sansa herself (yet).  Time and time again she’s been told how naive and foolish the songs are (and many readers have bought into this cynicism as well), but the author is saying on a few rare occasions they are true.  Deconstruction and reconstruction complete.  Byron’s kiss brings us full circle on themes of knighthood, idealism, and second chances for each of our hedge knights.  It combines chivalry and Arthurian romances with the toppling of corrupt power by the trickster underdog themes of Reynard the Fox and Loki.  Most of all, it is a ravens versus doves story that GRRM so loves.

“I would do the same if she were my daughter,” said the last knight, a short, wiry man with a wry smile, pointed nose, and bristly orange hair. “Particularly around louts like us.”
Alayne laughed. “Are you louts?” she said, teasing. “Why, I took the three of you for gallant knights.”

The three knights bowed and withdrew, though the tall one with the blond hair kissed her hand before taking his leave.

The twist on the word “lout” is that when used in the verb form, it means to bow respectfully, exactly what the hedge knights do when they take their leave of Sansa.  They are a motley crew of tricksters that slipped in under Littlefinger’s nose, effectively fooling the fooler.  One of whom is Sansa’s much prayed for Florian the Fool, the knight in motley armor — or rather the most unexpected and seemingly contradictory disguise for the man beneath it.

GRRM has been quoted that Sansa’s pattern of misremembering things has been purposely built up over time and will eventually “mean something.”  One of those instances I believe is specifically relevant to this theory and shows where the author’s intentions have been since AGOT:

“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.” (Sansa III, AGOT, What her father actually said)

“He was going to take me back to Winterfell and marry me to some hedge knight…”(Sansa IV, AGOT, What she misremembers her father saying)

The Conclusion

  • In Part I, we saw the importance of the name Shadrich and it’s biblical relation to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three “godly” men who will defy a king while under assumed identities.  No matter friends or foes, there must be at least one person on the hedge knight team that can positively ID Sansa for any plan to work.
  • In Part II, Brienne’s limitations on judging Ser Shadrich fairly and accurately were laid out.  No matter who Shadrich is or isn’t, there is a substantial amount of evidence that he is a helper if we look past Brienne’s limitations.  He has parallels to Sandor Clegane as well as other known helpers and he is surrounded by weirwood, Old Gods, KotLT, and Harrenhal references.
  • In Part III, I made the case for Howland Reed based on what we know from Jojen and Meera about their father.  Not resting on physical descriptions alone, Ser Shadrich’s claims and skillset are consistent with details we know of Howland Reed.  Most importantly Howland Reed has thus far only been featured in the story of the Harrenhal tourney with ties to the KotLT (aside from a brief mention of being at the ToJ).  When he re-enters the story it makes sense that he will have those references surrounding him as does Ser Shadrich.  We’ve also looked at the importance of the fox representing Ser Shadrich as medieval folk hero, Reynard the Fox, and his parallels to Howland Reed.  The timeline of events shows that Howland Reed as Ser Shadrich has likely been searching for a way to get to Sansa since word of Ned’s death reached the North.  There’s also plenty of plausible time and the means to find Elder Brother and Sandor Clegane on the Quiet Isle, devise their plan, and meet Littlefinger in Gulltown.  Howland’s role is to provide the glamor to disguise Sandor.
  • In Part IV, we established that Elder Brother and Ser Morgarth share distinctive physical features.  The Quiet Isle represents a metaphoric afterlife or an Avalon where King Arthur (Sandor) will be healed and restored.  The Elder Brother’s role is a green god type linked to Garth Greenhand (hence his alias) and he serves as a psychopomp, ushering people between the worlds.  He’s also a gatekeeper of information from the outside world and has access to a ship that can take them to Gulltown.  He also has a debt to pay to Sandor Clegane for his mistake with the Hound’s helm that led to Sandor’s death warrant.  We also looked at how Elder Brother is still searching for his own redemption and the effect that Brienne and the Saltpans massacre has on him.  No other bounty hunters make a connection between Sansa and Littlefinger, something that can only be done if you know Littlefinger’s history.
  • In Part V, I showed that Sandor could be plausibly healed enough for a rescue mission.  Sandor’s character shares a remarkable amount of parallels to the poet Lord Byron and his works, making the name “Byron” extremely appropriate as an alias.  Sandor fits the “godly men” motif as a literal burned man or wicker man variety of green god.  I made comparisons to Odin as well as Loki in the rescue of Idunn myth.  The choice of Sandor become a blonde, handsome knight makes sense in the context of the author’s favorite film adaptation of La Belle et la Bête and with his knowledge of Sansa.  We looked at the textual evidence for Sandor being able to pull off the role of Ser Byron as well as the precedents for glamors used in the series and their parallels to the Vale arc.  The raw materials for a glamor, bones and rubies, are heavily emphasized as being present on the Quiet Isle.  Most importantly, Sandor’s role on the team is to positively ID Sansa through a disguise, which the others cannot do.
  • In Part VI, we looked at the symbolic journey of Brienne through the Riverlands and Crackclaw point.  The signposts along the way were never meant for Brienne to act upon, because she winds up with people from Arya’s arc (the acorn path).  Through animal and food symbolism and colorful side characters, we see who is actually on the ivy path to Sansa.  The mural at Duskendale and the pious dwarf link Shadrich as Howland Reed to two holy men, Septon Meribald and Elder Brother, as well as Sandor as the gravedigger.  Along the way the fox crosses paths with Dog and we have repeated mention of being “among the reeds.”  Sansa is symbolically linked to the Moon Maiden through crabs and clams and it is Dog that finds the crab and steals it from it’s hiding place.  The Quiet Isle gives us Stranger (renamed Driftwood), who bit the ear off a brother, hidden under his blonde hair and cowl.  Missing ears become an important motif pointing to Sandor.  Then we have the symbolism of the “strange” but “very good” stew representing our hedge knight team.
  • In Part VII, from Sansa’s POV chapter we see a repetition of previous themes and symbols:  the rescue of Idunn, the stewed goat and onions representing the hedge knights with a drunken Petyr, the missing ear of the mule, and the significance of the “ardant squire” and Sansa’s favor that will play a role in the tourney.  The theory presented serves all characters involved as well as the Vale arc and the overall plot of the series.  It also compliments other well-supported theories and shows were alternate theories fall short.  Sansa’s POV ends on references directly related to Sandor and the tourney feast where our hedge knights will most likely make their move if the author is parallelling Whitewalls and Harrenhal.  She then meets her saviors and the scene culminates with Byron’s highly significant, chaste kiss that ties major themes together.

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The Beast’s Kiss – Sansa’s Sexual Maturation

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)

becomes

“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.

  1. Growth spurt
  2. Breast development (Thelarche)
  3. Pubic hair development
  4. 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?”
“Yes.”
“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
public private
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)
courteous crass
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.
…[snip]…
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.
…[snip]…
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.
…[snip]…
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.
…[snip]…
Ned Stark would have loved nothing so well as to see them both lose, but Sansa was watching it all moist-eyed and eager.
…[snip]…
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.
…[snip]…
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.
…[snip]…
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.
…[snip]…
“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?”
…[snip]…
“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
  • honesty
  • fear
  • vulnerability
  • touch

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.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

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.

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Ned Stark’s Wrong Bet

Despoina and Arion

In the Chthonic Cycle – Persephone of Winterfell, I showed how symbolically Lyanna fits Persephone, including the horse riding by the conflation of Despoina with Persephone. The later was Demeter’s daughter by Zeus, but Demeter had other children by different fathers. When Poseidon lusted after Demeter, she ran away from him in a mare’s form. But as the stallion Poseidon Hippios, he caught up with her and fathered twins on her – Arion and Despoina born as foals. Immortal Arion became the fastest stallion, but Despoina grew up eventually in female form. If Demeter and Persephone were the “two queens” of the Classic Eulysian Mysteries, then Demeter and Despoina were the goddesses venerated in the much earlier, pre-Classic Arcadian Mysteries. Persephone’s surname was Kore, which means “maiden” and a stalk of corn (grain in this case) was her main symbol. The two combined made her the “corn maiden”. Despoina is a surname, an epiteth like Kore, meaning “mistress” (as in “mistress of the house”), but unlike Persephone her true name is unknown.

While Despoina ended up being conflated by Persephone in later times, the items found at her sanctuary at Lycosura suggest she might have had a completely different significance. One had to enter a temple of Artemis1 with the bronze image of Hecate2 in order to get Despoina’s temple at the heart of the sanctuary. In front of it stood a statue for Demeter, Despoina and the Great Mother Goddess, Cybele. Beyond the sanctuary was Despoina’s sacred grove. A marble relief depicts the “veil” of Despoina that mimics weaving and depicts female figures performing a ritual dance. So, instead of Persephone’s box with a secret, there is a veil. The dancing figures all have animal faces, either being women wearing animal masks or actual hybrid animal-women figures. Similar processions are depicted at the Mycenian palace of Knossos. Her name is said to recall that of the Minoan-Mycenian “Mistress of the Labyrinth”, and the unicursal labyrinth symbol seems to have meant the “creation” of life.

Even though we don’t know every precise detail regarding the rituals of the Eulisyan Mysteries, at least we know that it revolves around the gift of agriculture, of corn and vine. In contrast, Despoina is an almost complete mystery to us and her meaning was lost in time. But it seems likely that as Poseidon’s daughter, she is related to springs (water sources), while the veil suggest she has significance regarding animals, creation, and weiving. Did life stem from her? Was she the Greek and Minoan bronze-age Grail? And is George ascribing a similar mystery to Lyanna when he not only uses the classic Persephone symbolism for her, but has both Roose Bolton and Lady Barbrey Dustin refer to her as a centaur or half a horse in aDwD, or describes the Knight of Flowers wearing a cape of blue forget-me-nots who makes his grey lithe mare dance?

Lady Barbrey Dustin: “Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I’d later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. He loved to ride. His little sister took after him in that. A pair of centaurs, those two.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)

Roose Bolton: “…Not even Lord Rickard’s daughter could outrace [Domeric], and that one was half a horse herself. Redfort said he showed great promise in the lists. A great jouster must be a great horseman first.” (aDwD, Theon III)

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. The commons realized in the same instant as Ned that the blue of the flowers came from sapphires; a gasp went up from a thousand throats. Across the boy’s shoulders his cloak hung heavy. It was woven of forget-me-nots, real ones, hundreds of fresh blooms sewn to a heavy woolen cape.
His courser was as slim as her rider, a beautiful grey mare, built for speed. Ser Gregor’s huge stallion trumpeted as he caught her scent. The boy from Highgarden did something with his legs, and his horse pranced sideways, nimble as a dancer. (aGoT, Eddard VII)

George has incorporated half-animal, half-horse and dancing elements in the portrayal of Lyanna and her brother Brandon, that seems to stem from the mysterious unnamable Despoina and her brother Arion. Both Lyanna and Brandon were much more tied to the North and Winterfell with it hot “springs”. The way Lady Dustin talks of them, Lyanna and Brandon sound like two peas in a pod in nature, and Ned too considers them as being closer in nature to each other, than to him.

Her father sighed. “Ah, Arya. You have a wildness in you, child. ‘The wolf blood,’ my father used to call it. Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother Brandon more than a touch. It brought them both to an early grave.” Arya heard sadness in his voice; he did not often speak of his father, or of the brother and sister who had died before she was born. (aGoT, Arya II)

Wildness is not something easily associated with Persephone, but more easily reconciled with Mistress’s veil of the dance of females with animal faces. Despoina seems to have a much wilder nature than Persephone. A wolf is a wild animal, but if you were to ask people to pick the first animal that comes to mind in association with the adjective “wild”, how many would say “wild horses” (and sing “could not drive me away from you” to themselves)?

The lantern light in her eyes made them seem as if they were afire. “Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I’d later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. … And my lord father was always pleased to play host to the heir to Winterfell. My father had great ambitions for House Ryswell. He would have served up my maidenhead to any Stark who happened by, but there was no need. Brandon was never shy about taking what he wanted. I am old now, a dried-up thing, too long a widow, but I still remember the look of my maiden’s blood on his cock the night he claimed me. I think Brandon liked the sight as well. A bloody sword is a beautiful thing, yes. It hurt, but it was a sweet pain.
The day I learned that Brandon was to marry Catelyn Tully, though … there was nothing sweet about that pain. He never wanted her, I promise you that. He told me so, on our last night together … but Rickard Stark had great ambitions too. Southron ambitions that would not be served by having his heir marry the daughter of one of his own vassals. Afterward my father nursed some hope of wedding me to Brandon’s brother Eddard, but Catelyn Tully got that one as well. I was left with young Lord Dustin, until Ned Stark took him from me.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)

When a mature woman like Lady Dustin still remembers Brandon taking her maidenhood as if it was yesterday, then he as the love of her life, so much that she still believes the lies of a known womanizer on their last night together regarding him never wanting Catelyn Tully. Meanwhile, she regards Lord Dustin as a “leftover”. If Lady Dustin gifted the man left to her with the pride of her father’s herd, the red stallion, would she have done any less for Brandon?  In this manner, it is almost as if Brandon-Arion was symbolically present, riding alongside of Ned Stark, at the Tower of Joy where their sister Lyanna-Despoina/Persephone died.

Drunken Slaughter in King’s Landing

Jaime rides a blood bay destrier, a red stallion, while confronting Ned in the streets of King’s Landing about Catelyn’s abduction of Tyrion.

Littlefinger walked his horse forward, step by careful step. “What is the meaning of this? This is the Hand of the King.”
“He was the Hand of the King.” The mud muffled the hooves of the blood bay stallion. The line parted before him. On a golden breastplate, the lion of Lannister roared its defiance. “Now, if truth be told, I’m not sure what he is.” (aGoT, Eddard IX)

During this incident, Ned ends up wounded at the leg. In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King is the last of a line of keepers of the Holy Grail. The Fisher King has a leg wound that does not heal and immobilizes him insofar he cannot move on his own anymore. And while the Fisher King is injured, so bleeds and suffers his kingdom, growing as barren and infertile as he is. Most likely a complete essay can be written about Ned Stark and his son Robb Stark as a Wounded King & Fisher King duo, but then I would digress too far. I mention the Arthurian Fisher King, because the nature of the Fisher King’s injury and how it is begotten reveals a sin or a grave mistake the Fisher King made. For example, if the Fisher King is wounded in the thigh or near the groin, he has committed the sin of taking a secret wife – a grail guard is forbidden to have a wife at all.

Ned’s horse slipped under him and came crashing down in the mud. There was a moment of blinding pain and the taste of blood in his mouth.
He saw them cut the legs from Jory’s mount and drag him to the earth, swords rising and falling as they closed in around him. When Ned’s horse lurched back to its feet, he tried to rise, only to fall again, choking on his scream. He could see the splintered bone poking through his calf. It was the last thing he saw for a time. The rain came down and down and down.
When he opened his eyes again, Lord Eddard Stark was alone with his dead. His horse moved closer, caught the rank scent of blood, and galloped away. Ned began to drag himself through the mud, gritting his teeth at the agony in his leg. (aGoT, Eddard IX)

Ned Stark takes a serious leg wound in his fall. As I argue in the Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert, it seems it became gangrenous in the unsanitary circumstances of the dungeons, where he already shows signs of sepsis. By the time Ned is paraded at the steps of Baelor’s Sept his guards need to hold him up, for he cannot stand by himself anymore and his cast is black and rotten. It certainly qualifies as a Fisher King wound, especially considering the trouble the Riverlands are in already and the North soon will be.

Ned’s leg wound is an open bone break at the calf, which is as far removed from the groin as can be. His sin or mistake is not of a sexual nature. This would confirm that Jon is not his bastard son, or that he has ever had an improper sexual relationship even with a woman. It is a very serious wound though, requiring a long time to heal, and it basically leaves him without a “leg to stand on”. The wound is not caused by anyone else’s spear, arrow or sword, but the fall of his horse – that gallops off as riderless as Dustin’s red stallion. George never clarifies the color of Ned’s horse, but he does specify in the chapter when Ned visits Tobho Mott’s forge that it is Ned’s favorite horse. So, while there is an angry confrontation between a Lannister and himself, Ned’s own favorite horse causes his physical “downfall”. This starts to sounds quite metaphorical.

A Day in a Hand’s Life

Let’s, put those metaphor goggles on, and enjoy the ride.3 I’m taking you to the Tourney of the Hand, on the second day of the Tourney when Ned Stark attends it. There are three final jousts to be expected to determine the winner. The first joust of the day is between Jaime Lannister on his red stallion and the Hound

“A hundred golden dragons on the Kingslayer,” Littlefinger announced loudly as Jaime Lannister entered the lists, riding an elegant blood bay destrier. The horse wore a blanket of gilded ringmail, and Jaime glittered from head to heel. Even his lance was fashioned from the golden wood of the Summer Isles. (aGoT, Eddard VII)

Littlefinger bets on Jaime – or shall we say the red stallion – but eventually Jaime loses the joust. So, Littlefinger “bet on the wrong horse”. Who else was Littlefinger betting on in King’s Landing? It is debatable whether Littlefinger was speaking genuinely when he proposed Ned Stark to do the same thing as Renly, and in a few years time set aside Joffrey for Renly. While Petyr Baelish and Renly often makes japes about one another, they also seem to get along rather well. So, perhaps it was genuine. If so, then Littlefinger also bet on the wrong horse called Ned Stark to help make it happen. Since this joust occurs in Ned Stark’s point of view however, and his leg wound was caused by his “favorite horse”, the most relevant question is which political horse was Ned Stark betting on? And who was Ned Stark jousting against in King’s Landing? Just five paragraphs before Littlefinger calls out his bet, Ned Stark thinks the following to himself.

This was the boy he had grown up with, he thought; this was the Robert Baratheon he’d known and loved. If he could prove that the Lannisters were behind the attack on Bran, prove that they had murdered Jon Arryn, this man would listen. Then Cersei would fall, and the Kingslayer with her, and if Lord Tywin dared to rouse the west, Robert would smash him as he had smashed Rhaegar Targaryen on the Trident. He could see it all so clearly.

Ned Stark’s favorite political horse was Robert Baratheon, his best friend, his foster-brother. It was his love for Robert that Catelyn used as an argument to convince Eddard Stark in going to King’s Landing. And Ned’s intention was to politically joust against Cersei and ultimately Tywin Lannister. So, let us for a moment regard Jaime as a stand-in for Ned and Sandor as Joffrey, Cersei or Lannisters. This seems odd, but the reason for this is because the same joust is also a foreshadowing parallel of Jaime’s arc, which I will elaborate on in a later red stallion essay. The Hound works as a stand-in for Joffrey and Lannisters, because he is not only a bannerman of theirs, but initially set up as Joffrey’s partner in crime. At Winterfell both are featured as a team of master and dog who both enjoy hurting and insulting others. In fact, they sound like a budding original Ramsay-Reek team, albeit one where the Hound does not stink and eventually turns on his master. But at the time of the Tourney, the Hound is still very much Joffrey’s dog.

The hastily erected gallery trembled as the horses broke into a gallop. The Hound leaned forward as he rode, his lance rock steady, but Jaime shifted his seat deftly in the instant before impact. Clegane’s point was turned harmlessly against the golden shield with the lion blazon, while his own hit square. Wood shattered, and the Hound reeled, fighting to keep his seat. Sansa gasped. A ragged cheer went up from the commons.

Initially it looks like Ned is the better man in the political joust, just as Jaime looks like it for actual jousting in this scene. In fact, the paragraph I already quoted regarding how this was the Robert he knew and loved like a brother shows us that Ned Stark is feeling pretty confident that he can provide Robert with the necessary evidence to set aside his Lannister queen. Ned preventing Robert to join the melee is a point for Ned against Cersei. And his confidence grows even more, when Robert reinstates him as Hand later in the book and Ned realizes the truth about Cersei’s children. He is so confident, that he cannot foresee that Cersei will outmanouver him, once Robert named him Lord Protector and regent in his will. Littlefinger is already thinking what he will spend his winnings on, after the first round, just like Ned sees “so clearly” and envisions Robert smashing Tywin’s breastplate in with a warhammer. And in fact Cersei does have to fight to keep her seat as queen, and Joffrey’s seat as heir and king.

The Hound just managed to stay in his saddle. He jerked his mount around hard and rode back to the lists for the second pass. Jaime Lannister tossed down his broken lance and snatched up a fresh one, jesting with his squire. The Hound spurred forward at a hard gallop. Lannister rode to meet him. This time, when Jaime shifted his seat, Sandor Clegane shifted with him. 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.

But on the second round, Cersei and Tywin shift tactics, and it comes to a confrontation where Ned will bite the dust, without having it seen coming. Of interest here is that Sandor wears an olive-green cloak over his soot-gray armor, aside from his Hound helmet.

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.

Olive green are not his house colors though. The Clegane sigil colors are black on yellow (Or). Littlefinger’s personal sigil is the mockingbird, but House Baelish’s sigil is that of the dark grey Titan’s head on a light green field. It is actually the sole sigil that combines dark grey with light green. Just like Sandor, Littlefinger is not a man who indulges in ornaments. And of course it is Littlefinger who deals the metaphorical losing blow to Ned Stark in the Throne Room after Robert’s death.

While the description of a teetering Jaime who cannot take his skewed helmet off anymore is of course quite comical, certainly in light of Jaime’s arrogance and Ned enjoying it, it also stands out. It is almost slap-stick. Not that George never writes a slap-stick paragraph in the books. He does, for example in aCoK when Alebelly of Winterfell refuses to bathe in fear of drowning until he stinks so bad his fellow guards dump him in a bath. But George rarely write such a slap-stick scene with a main character such as Jaime, who in his own right is a tragic character. It certainly seems to be written to be memorable and to make the reader pay attention

Jaime Lannister was back on his feet, but his ornate lion helmet had been twisted around and dented in his fall, and now he could not get it off. The commons were hooting and pointing, the lords and ladies were trying to stifle their chuckles, and failing, and over it all Ned could hear King Robert laughing, louder than anyone. Finally they had to lead the Lion of Lannister off to a blacksmith, blind and stumbling.

Ned does end up being blind in the darkness of the dungeons, and he stumbles along literally and politically after his violent encounter with Jaime in the streets of King’s Landing. On top of that, Ned is also guided to a blacksmith, Tobho Mott, shortly after the Tourney to discover the apprentice armorer Gendry, bastard son of Robert Baratheon. Meanwhile Sansa’s comment on the joust is heartbreaking when we consider she informed Cersei of her father’s plans to remove his daughters from King’s Landing

Sansa said, “I knew the Hound would win.”

The next joust is even more eye-opening. The second joust is between The Mountain that rides and the Knight of Flowers, Loras Tyrell. Although Gregor Clegane is bigger than Robert Baratheon, a comparison and thus an association is already made.

By then Ser Gregor Clegane was in position at the head of the lists. He was huge, the biggest man that Eddard Stark had ever seen. Robert Baratheon and his brothers were all big men, as was the Hound, and back at Winterfell there was a simpleminded stableboy named Hodor who dwarfed them all, but the knight they called the Mountain That Rides would have towered over Hodor. He was well over seven feet tall, closer to eight, with massive shoulders and arms thick as the trunks of small trees. His destrier seemed a pony in between his armored legs, and the lance he carried looked as small as a broom handle.

But as the Knight of Flowers rides up, we are suddenly showered with reference after reference to Lyanna Stark. It is almost as if Lyanna joined the tourney to give a shout-out to Ned, “Remember me? Forget me not!”

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. The commons realized in the same instant as Ned that the blue of the flowers came from sapphires; a gasp went up from a thousand throats. Across the boy’s shoulders his cloak hung heavy. It was woven of forget-me-nots, real ones, hundreds of fresh blooms sewn to a heavy woolen cape.
His courser was as slim as her rider, a beautiful grey mare, built for speed. Ser Gregor’s huge stallion trumpeted as he caught her scent. The boy from Highgarden did something with his legs, and his horse pranced sideways, nimble as a dancer. 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.

Loras, the Knight of Flowers wears a cloak made of blue flowers. Lyanna was fond of flowers, especially blue winter roses. Forget-me-nots are not roses of course, but they have the color associated with Lyanna’s favorite flowers. The name forget-me-not itself is metaphorical, a wordplay by George as a hint that this joust metaphor ties back to the past. Instead of a stallion, Loras rides a mare, emphasising a recollection of a female character. Grey is the sigil color of the Starks. And it is in this paragraph that Ned notes the rose that Loras had given to Sansa the day before, which is like a mini-version of the wreath of roses given to Lyanna by Rhaegar during the Tourney of Harrenhal. So, we have a slim, lithe, beautiful, female Stark, combined with blue flowers, and often remembered. It cannot but be a reference to Lyanna (and her tie to Persephone). Finally, as a mare built for speed and it doing a type of dance, we also have the Despoina connection of Lyanna.

Much like Robert was wild with passion for Lyanna, Gregor’s stallion is horny for Loras’ grey mare. Gregor’s stallion is so horny by the scent of the mare in heat that Gregor cannot control him, just as Ned despairs over Robert’s lusting for whores and mistresses.

Ser Gregor was having trouble controlling his horse. The stallion was screaming and pawing the ground, shaking his head. The Mountain kicked at the animal savagely with an armored boot. The horse reared and almost threw him.
The Knight of Flowers saluted the king, rode to the far end of the list, and couched his lance, ready. Ser Gregor brought his animal to the line, fighting with the reins. And suddenly it began. The Mountain’s stallion broke in a hard gallop, plunging forward wildly, while the mare charged as smooth as a flow of silk. Ser Gregor wrenched his shield into position, juggled with his lance, and all the while fought to hold his unruly mount on a straight line, and suddenly Loras Tyrell was on him, placing the point of his lance just there, and in an eye blink the Mountain was falling. He was so huge that he took his horse down with him in a tangle of steel and flesh.

And with the fall of Robert through his death, so falls Ned Stark along with him the day after, and what ultimately be his death.

Gregor Clegane killed the horse with a single blow of such ferocity that it half severed the animal’s neck. Cheers turned to shrieks in a heartbeat. The stallion went to its knees, screaming as it died. By then Gregor was striding down the lists toward Ser Loras Tyrell, his bloody sword clutched in his fist. “Stop him!” Ned shouted, but his words were lost in the roar. Everyone else was yelling as well, and Sansa was crying.

Now compare the scene as Gregor beheads his stallion with that of Ned Stark’s death scene.

He looked straight at Sansa then, and smiled, and for a moment Arya thought that the gods had heard her prayer, until Joffrey turned back to the crowd and said, “But they have the soft hearts of women. So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished. Ser Ilyn, bring me his head!”
The crowd roared, and Arya felt the statue of Baelor rock as they surged against it. The High Septon clutched at the king’s cape, and Varys came rushing over waving his arms, and even the queen was saying something to him, but Joffrey shook his head. Lords and knights moved aside as he stepped through, tall and fleshless, a skeleton in iron mail, the King’s Justice. Dimly, as if from far off, Arya heard her sister scream. Sansa had fallen to her knees, sobbing hysterically. (aGoT, Arya V)

And so, the finale day of the Hand’s Tourney is actually more of a mummer’s play of the Hand’s Life, with the mummers being horses and jousters. Ned Stark betted on his favorite stallion, Robert Baratheon, but both were haunted by the aftermath of their rebellion and Lyanna (as I analyse in The Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert), and Robert was not the king Eddard had hoped him to be, and both men fall and die in a short time one after the other. This is what Littlefinger has to say about favoring certain horses.

“Tyrell had to know the mare was in heat,” Littlefinger was saying. “I swear the boy planned the whole thing. Gregor has always favored huge, ill-tempered stallions with more spirit than sense.” The notion seemed to amuse him.

The aftermath

While Ned’s alive in the dungeons as a captive and Joffrey sits the throne preparations are made by three other men. Stannis is harnassing a fleet to attack King’s Landing, compounding any ship that passes Dragonstone, intent on taking what he believes is his right, since he knows Joffrey is not even Robert’s. Renly flees to Highgarden and weds Margaery Tyrell with the intention to take the throne by might. He belives he would make the best king. And Robb Stark rallies his bannermen, crosses the Twins in return for the promise of a marriage to one of Walder Frey’s daughters and captures Jaime who is besieging Riverrun, in the hope to exchange Jaime for his father.

So, let us return to the scene where Gregor becomes a sore loser.

In the middle of the field, Ser Gregor Clegane disentangled himself and came boiling to his feet. He wrenched off his helm and slammed it down onto the ground. His face was dark with fury and his hair fell down into his eyes. My sword, he shouted to his squire, and the boy ran it out to him.

Gregor is angry, because he fully believes he’s been cheated out of the champion’s title (and money). He’s the biggest, the most savage. In his mind, he should have won the Tourney, and then some “boy” cheats him out of it with some horse trick. We can thus see a parallel between Gregor and Stannis who feels cheated by basically everyone. In the paragraph that introduces Gregor to us during the Tourney from Ned’s point of view, Ned compares Gregor to Robert and his brothers in size, not just Robert Baratheon alone.

Just like nobody would like to see Gregor win the Tourney, most insiders – Renly, Varys, Littlefinger and others – do not want Stanis to win the Iron Throne.

Stannis studied her, unsmiling. “The Iron Throne is mine by rights. All those who deny that are my foes.”
The whole of the realm denies it, brother,” said Renly. “Old men deny it with their death rattle, and unborn children deny it in their mothers’ wombs. They deny it in Dorne and they deny it on the Wall. No one wants you for their king. Sorry.” (aCoK, Catelyn III)

So, Gregor is set up to take on the stand-in role of a Baratheon brother in the tourney metaphors. It is also Stannis Baratheon who claims a sword for himself – Lightbringer, during the burning of the wooden statues of the Seven.

“Azor Ahai, beloved of R’hllor! The Warrior of Light, the Son of Fire! Come forth, your sword awaits you! Come forth and take it into your hand!“…The king plunged into the fire with his teeth clenched, holding the leather cloak before him to keep off the flames. He went straight to the Mother, grasped the sword with his gloved hand, and wrenched it free of the burning wood with a single hard jerk. Then he was retreating, the sword held high, jade-green flames swirling around cherry-red steel. (aCoK, Davos I)

Of course, Stannis’ sword is not the real Lightbringer. Azor Ahai forged Lightbringer by stabbing his wife Nissa Nissa in the heart, and it caught fire as it was covered by her blood, her courage, her love and life force. So, when Gregor is said to clutch a bloody sword in his hand it is just a sword covered in blood, not a fire and blood sword.

By then Gregor was striding down the lists toward Ser Loras Tyrell, his bloody sword clutched in his fist…It all happened so fast. The Knight of Flowers was shouting for his own sword as Ser Gregor knocked his squire aside and made a grab for the reins of his horse. The mare scented blood and reared. Loras Tyrell kept his seat, but barely. Ser Gregor swung his sword, a savage two-handed blow that took the boy in the chest and knocked him from the saddle. The courser dashed away in panic as Ser Loras lay stunned in the dirt. 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.

Loras ends up being referred to as “the boy” several times. There are three boys in Stannis’ mind that either try to cheat his rightful throne away from him, while another is taking half his kingdom for himself – they are Joffrey, Renly and Robb. Of those three, Stannis attacks two – the boy Joffrey wins the game of thrones over Stannis by Cersei’s trickery – a mare in heat who seduced her brother who has more spirit than sense. Young Renly (twenty one) gets the largest army behind him to win a throne for him after he weds Maergary Tyrell, a flowery mare coming into heat and dancing to Loras’ and Mace’s tunes. They all use tricks and deceit to gain kinghood, and each time an alliance with a woman lay at the foundation of the deceit. Hence Loras personifies them both. Stannis attempts to grab the reigns of Joffrey’s seat on the Iron Throne. King’s Landing would have fallen and been sacked during the Battle of the Blackwater if not for the timely rescue by Tywin and the Tyrells. Joffrey barely keeps his seat. On the other hand, Stannis manages to deal a savage blow to Renly, taking him out of his seat and game, making Margaery and the Tyrells flee.

The next Tourney paragraph shows us how the boy-king Joffrey was saved: because of two brothers quarreling and fighting each other, instead of their common enemy. Had Renly not opposed his own brother, there would have been little hope for the Lannisters. If the Hound had not intervened, Loras Tyrell would have been dead. Of course the difference is that Sandor intervenes on Loras’s behalf, whereas Renly intervenes on his own behald.

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. Thrice Ned saw Ser Gregor aim savage blows at the hound’s-head helmet, yet not once did Sandor send a cut at his brother’s unprotected face. (aGoT, Eddard VII)

Eventually, the Tyrells enter the political scene again and join Tywin Lannister and hand the victory to Joffrey. And if before Joffrey was not liked in King’s Landing for all the dumb, cruel stuff he pulled, the commons love and cheer him, if only because they feared Stannis sacking the city more than Joffrey.

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.

As for Stannis. Just like Gregor he does not take the defeat and intervention well, but leaves King’s Landing and eventually Dragonstone all the same. Tywin and the Tyrells do not even bother with a chase or counter-attack on Dragonstone, not until well after Stannis is long gone.

Ser Gregor’s blow cut air, and at last he came to his senses. He dropped his sword and glared at Robert, surrounded by his Kingsguard and a dozen other knights and guardsmen. Wordlessly, he turned and strode off, shoving past Barristan Selmy. “Let him go,” Robert said, and as quickly as that, it was over.

The Melee of the Riverlands and the North

The Tourney does not completely end there. There is still an archery competition and the melee. The commoner Anguy of the Dornish Marches wins. He joins Beric and Thoros of Myr to arrest Gregor Clegane for his atrocities in the Riverland, becoming a member of the Brotherhood Without Banners.

Everybody has eyes for the jousting, where great knights or warriors of great houses fight one another with a lance. The melee though is described as being no more than a common brawl between men of no allegiance. Thoros wins the melee, but the paragraph also appears very much a metaphor.

The melee went on for three hours. Near forty men took part, freeriders and hedge knights and new-made squires in search of a reputation. They fought with blunted weapons in a chaos of mud and blood, small troops fighting together and then turning on each other as alliances formed and fractured, until only one man was left standing. The victor was the red priest, Thoros of Myr, a madman who shaved his head and fought with a flaming sword. He had won melees before; the fire sword frightened the mounts of the other riders, and nothing frightened Thoros. The final tally was three broken limbs, a shattered collarbone, a dozen smashed fingers, two horses that had to be put down, and more cuts, sprains, and bruises than anyone cared to count. Ned was desperately pleased that Robert had not taken part.

The wars are not just fought by Great Houses and great Knights. Most of it is done by levies, freeriders, hedge knights, sellswords, and even commoners who change allegiance often. And even long after the Great Houses have killed each other, wed each other and hand around titles, the lesser and little factions keep brawling amongst each other. This is exactly what we see happen in the Riverlands and the North, including the formation of temporary alliances that break down again, until one is left standing. First the Freys and Boltons fight alongside Robb Stark, but then they turn their coat, slay him at the Red Wedding, each taking on a power role in their respective region. Boltons and Freys claim the Stark seat Winterfell and Tully seat Riverrun respectively. Meanwhile the Bortherhood Without Banners starts out politically neutral, divided in operative cells in the different areas of the Riverlands, but becomes more politically active under Lady Stoneheart.

The current alliances in the Riverlands and North are tenious at best, but most likely nothing but a mummer’s show. The sole alliance we can be sure about is that between Boltons and Freys, and even then Roose Bolton is eager to send the Freys out into a snowstorm to meet Stannis three days’ ride away from Winterfell. Manderly already killed three Freys, worked them into a pie and served it at the wedding feast of Ramsay and fArya. Umbers have grey men inside Winterfell playing the ally of Roose, and green boys outside of Winterfell allying with Stannis. Lady Dustin sounds like a Stark-hater and a staunch supporter of Roose, but she hates Ramsay for killing her nephew Domeric, and why is she so interested in clearing the rubble in front of the crypts and the missing swords? She doth protests too much to many a reader. Roose cannot trust any so-called ally inside Winterfell, and Stannis cannot be sure that his allies will keep supporting him once they gain the upperhand and have a Stark ruling from Winterfell.

As for the Riverlands. Some houses did not even turn up at the siege of Riverrun by the Freys and Lannisters. The Blackfish escaped. Blackwood still had the Stark banner up. Mallister too is still under siege by Black Walder. Those houses who were present at the siege were more interested in eating the food than actually helping the Freys. And if their hostages are freed as they are on their way from the Twins to King’s Landing, Vance, Piper will rally agains the Freys and Lannisters at the first opportunity.

The fearless red priest, Thoros of Myr, symbolizes the Brotherhood Without Banners the most. Without Thoros, Beric would not have been resurrected and the Brotherhood would never have formed or organized themselves, let alone acquire the trust of the common people. Thoros symbolizes the R’hllor religion the Brotherhood follows and he is the highest ranked commoner (actually used to be a slave in Essos) and a fearless warrior hero to boot. Hence, his victory at the melee hints that the Brotherhood will win the Riverlands, that we migth see him breach the walls of either Riverrun or the Twins much as he did at Pyke during Balon’s rebellion, and that possibly Thoros’ type of R’hllor worship (the moderate, tolerant version) will win many followers, at the very least in the Riverlands.

Two horses have to be put down. It is either an allusion to House Stark and Tully, or House Bolton and Frey. The Blackfish has escaped Riverrun and it looks like he may set up a rescue of Edmure and Jeyne Westerling together with the Brotherhood. All the Stark children assumed to be dead are very much alive. So, those houses are not done yet, nor is the melee in the Riverlands and North over and done with, even if the Lannisters, Freys and Boltons think so. It appears to me that it is an allusion to House Frey and House Bolton.

Conclusion

George uses horses and events that feature horses – such as tourneys – as metaphors and (foreshadowing) parallels for the point of view character. I’ve shown here how the last two jousts at the Hand’s Tourney are used as parallels to the past regarding Lyanna as well as foreshadows the later events in Ned’s final chapters of his life, including his own beheading, but also what follows after Ned’s death. This is not only true for Eddard Stark, but is also true for Jaime Lannister, Theon Greyjoy, Sansa Stark and Daenerys. And the next articles will cover the horse parallels for these characters. It also bodes ill for a character when they ride a red stallion. It is the wrong horse to bet on, as they tend to end up riderless.

A Promising List of Red Stallions

What follows is a list of characters that ride or own a red stallion or are connected to a red stallion. If you come across other ‘red stallions/horses’ you are always welcome to notify me, but at least this list gives us something to ponder about.

  • Joffrey: blood bay courser – false prince, dead
  • Jaime: blood bay destrier (aGoT), blood bay palfrey (aFfC, either Honor or Glory) – fell from his horse during tourney, ended up as captive at Riverrun (and thus without a horse), missing in the Riverlands, most likely abducted by the BwB
  • Lord Dustin: red stallion – died at ToJ, red stallion returned to Lady Dustin, riderless
  • Drogo: red stallion, referred to as “my red” – fell from his red sick from gangreen. A khal who falls from his horse loses his khalasar. The riderless stallion was sacrificed for Mirri’s ritual. Suffocated by Dany and the horse burned along on his pyre.
  • Dontos: red stallion – never even manages to mount it, false rescuer of Sansa, killed by Lothor Brune
  • Shadrich (aka Mad Mouse): chestnut courser – appears at the Vale under false pretenses, hunting Sansa supposedly for Varys’ reward
  • Addam Marbrand: red courser – searching for the escaped Blackfish south of the Red Fork, which is BwB territory and giant wolf pack territory
  • Ramsay Snow/Bolton: red stallion called ‘Blood’ – pretends to be Reek in aCoK, pretends to be Lord of Winterfell through marriage with Jeyne Poole pretending that she is Arya Stark
  • House Bracken: red stallion on their blazon
  • House Ryswell: Ryswell brothers have different colored horseheads on their blazon, but one of them has a red stallion’s.
  • Sansa Stark: chestnut mare, during the riot chapter – Tyrion chooses to wed her, which is partly one of the reasons he ends up accused for the murder of Joffrey.
  • Sandor Clegane: chestnut mare – forgets/loses Stranger, rides double on Sansa’s chestnut mare to the Red Keep. Under Sansa’s influence he attempt to join Robb Stark and roams the Riverlands with Arya, ends up heavily injured and a broken man.
  • Tyrion Lannister: red stallion when he leaves to battle Stannis at the Blackwater – loses the horse at some point, and though he saves the city, the battle heralds his fall from his powerful position.
  • Bran: chestnut filly “Dancer” – trained for Bran’s special saddle (designed by Tyrion). He rides Dancer when attacked by the wildlings; and when he enters the hall on horsback as Stark of Winterfell during the Harving Fest, shortly before Theon captures the castle and Bran has to go in hiding in the crypts. Dancer dies during the sack of WF and Bran leaves for BR’s cave.(courtesy Tijgy)
  • Ursula Upcliff: bloodred horse, fought against the army of the Falcon Knight in the Vale, and was an ally of Robar II Royce, king of the First Men in the Vale who hoped to drive out the Andals from the Vale. She fought Torgold Tollet and tried to curse him (she was a sorceress), and Tollet ripped her head off before she could do so. And thus the bloodred horse ended up having a headless rider. (courtesy painkillerjane69)

Credits

Thank you, Lady Barbrey for challenging me to think harder on the red stallion’s importance after I first published my essay on how Lyanna is the Persephone of Winterfell. You pointed out that the red stallion appears in several parallel arcs and mentioned you had looked up the immortal stallion Arion yourself already. I hope this essay (and the other coming red stallion essays) might be of help or an answer to your puzzlement about it. And thank you Crazy Cat Lady in Training for challenging me to look into the Fisher King symbolism, which helped to tie Ned’s leg wound with the horse metaphors and thus eventually made me realize how the Hand’s Tourney is pretty much the Hand’s Life. Thank you too Shadowcat Rivers for sharing your notes on Demeter and Hecate, which included Despoina. Though I had actually already written the first section of this essay regarding Despoina, the difference was but mere days. I was unsure to keep the in-depth part about Despoina in, or leave it just at what I mentioned in the first essay of the Chthonic Cycle. But your comment convinced me to keep it in. And thank you Sly Wren for the sand box and all those who come to play in it, to discuss ideas and pool the different meta-subjects each of us are working on together.

Notes

1. Artemis was called the “mistress of animals”. She was goddess of the hunt, hills, forest and moon. In the Classic era she was regarded as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and twin sister of Apollo. But the Arcadians believed her to be Demeter’s daughter.
2. Hecate was a primordial goddess of crossroads, the three moon phases, sorcery and a psychopomp who remained a maiden. She helped Demeter in her search for Persephone. She ruled over the earth, sea and sky. A psychopomp is a character, spirit, animal or god that can travel to and from the Underworld into other worlds, either as a messenger, or as a carrier of souls.
3. For those who are somewhat unfamiliar with metaphorical reading: try to not take the scene too literal, nor the characters, nor even the wording. The scenes, actions and events are wordplays. The characters and animals are but mere stand-ins to play the parts of characters in Ned’s real life parallel.