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.

Sansa and the Giants

Edited: to contain a reveal/confirmation in Fire & Blood regarding the Burned Men

This essay will not only discuss the foreshadowing of several very important paragraphs of the Hand’s Tourney from Sansa’s point of view, but also the words of the Ghost of High Heart regarding Sansa and more importantly what the chapter in the Eyrie’s godswood foreshadows when Sansa and Littlefinger build Winterfell from snow and Sweetrobin ends up destroying it as well as paralleled scenes in Sansa’s arc. Piecing all the clues together we can actually derive a very concrete and coherent scenario of what will happen in the Vale. I must warn you though that the conclusions and the scenario may disagree a lot with the general beliefs regarding Sansa’s Vale arc, such as Sansa rebuilding Winterfell with the help of the Vale. Not that the scenario I am proposing will ruin all chances of Sansa ever being a Stark renaissance character, but certainly not in the glorious way with an army the size of forty thousand as many seem to believe, or even the Vale as we know it to be today. It will however make a heart-wrenching lot of narrative sense.

The most important paragraph to predict Sansa’s Vale arc is Ser Hugh’s death scene at the Hand’s Tourney. It foreshadows in a rudimentary way what will happen to the Eyrie, the Gates of the Moon and the Bloody Gate. Everything else gives us the details and particulars. But basically, throughout the article it will all come down to this paragraph.

The most terrifying moment of the day came during Ser Gregor’s second joust, when his lance rode up and struck a young knight from the Vale under the gorget with such force that it drove through his throat, killing him instantly. The youth fell not ten feet from where Sansa was seated. The point of Ser Gregor’s lance had snapped off in his neck, and his life’s blood flowed out in slow pulses, each weaker than the one before. His armor was shiny new; a bright streak of fire ran down his outstretched arm, as the steel caught the light. Then the sun went behind a cloud, and it was gone. His cloak was blue, the color of the sky on a clear summer’s day, trimmed with a border of crescent moons, but as his blood seeped into it, the cloth darkened and the moons turned red, one by one. (aGoT, Sansa II)

One of the best known and often discussed prophecies regarding Sansa’s arc is the dream the Ghost of High Heart relays to the Brotherhood Without Banners.

Ghost of High Heart: “I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.” (aSoS, Arya VIII)

The maid is Sansa. The first half of the prophecy alludes to Joffrey’s murder at his own wedding with one of the poisoned amethysts that Olenna pulled from Sansa’s hairnet. The second half refers to Sansa slaying Sweetrobin’s doll and leads to numerous interpretations  about the savage giant.

  • That GoHH only saw the tug of war between Sansa and Sweetrobin at the Eyrie, and it means nothing more than that scene alone.
  • That it is a double foreshadowing of Sansa truly slaying the elusive savage giant, with varying proposals for the identity of the Giant either being Robert Strong, Petyr Baelish whose family sigil is the head of the Titan of Braavos, or Tyrion who is referred to as an intellectual giant despite his size.

I agree that GoHH saw only the childish fight between Sansa and Sweetrobin at the Eyrie. However, the chapter itself from the moment that Sansa wakes until she leaves the godswood is full of foreshadowing parallels. The prophecy is George’s signpost to pay close attention to the chapter itself.

Part 1: The Mountain
Part 2: The Mountain Clans
Part 3: The Titan
Part 4: Sansa
Part 5: A Kiss
Part 6: A Speculative Scenario
Part 7: Conclusion (tl;tr)

The Mountain

Gregor Clegane’s nickname is The Mountain, and he is the biggest man that Eddard Stark has seen – a veritable human giant that even other human giant men look up to.

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. (aGoT, Eddard VI)

The mountain that flanks the Eyrie – that Catelyn Tully ascends in aGoT with Tyrion as her captive, and that Sansa descends together with Sweetrobin in aFfC – is called the Giant’s Lance, a mountain that even other mountains look up to, of 3.5 miles high (5630 km).

Looming over them all was the jagged peak called the Giant’s Lance, a mountain that even mountains looked up to, its head lost in icy mists three and a half miles above the valley floor.(aGoT, Catelyn VI)

So, we have the giant Mountain’s lance killing Ser Hugh, and a mountain called the Giant’s Lance. Twice the same three words, in a different order. The name for the mountain is quite peculiar – a mountain, not even its peak, look like a lance. In other words, the Mountain’s Lance foreshadows some natural disaster involving the Giant’s Lance in the Vale. There are but a few options of natural disasters related to mountains: eruption, rockslides, mudslides and avalanches. It is not mentioned to be a volcano, so we could rule that out. Rockslides are a common event in the area, but rarely a large scale disaster. It is the wrong season for mudslides, but the right one for avalanches. And that is what I was leaning towards, even before I found this…

Ser Gregor Clegane, the Mountain That Rides, thundered past them like an avalanche. (aGoT, Sansa II, courtesy Lady Dianna)

And if that was not enough we get an actual avalanche reference, when Catelyn reaches Sky during her nightly ascent to the Eyrie.

Dawn was breaking in the east as Mya Stone hallooed for the guards, and the gates opened before them. Inside the walls there was only a series of ramps and a great tumble of boulders and stones of all sizes. No doubt it would be the easiest thing in the world to begin an avalanche from here [Sky]. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

The three waygates of the path on the Giant’s Lance are called Sky, Snow and Stone, from top to bottom. In combination with Catelyn’s avalanche thought at Sky, it’s as if GRRM is saying to us “from the sky comes snow and stone” with the names and order of those waygates.

George mentions that Vale mountain and its ominous description five times in Sansa’s chapters, and refers to it over thirty times. The most ominous mentioning of it is the following passage of Alayne’s first chapter in aFfC.

The snow-clad summit of the Giant’s Lance loomed above her, an immensity of stone and ice that dwarfed the castle perched upon its shoulder. Icicles twenty feet long draped the lip of the precipice where Alyssa’s Tears fell in summer. (aFfC, Alayne I)

The Eyrie is dwarfed in comparison to the looming giant of giants.

George also alludes several times to the amount of snow that gathers on the Giant’s Lance. By the time Sansa reaches the lowest waygate Stone during her descent to the Gates of the Moon, Mya estimates the snow might be five feet deep the following morning.

The Eyrie was wrapped in an icy mantle, the Giant’s Lance above buried in waist-deep snows.

The snow began to fall as they were leaving Stone, the largest and lowest of the three waycastles that defended the approaches to the Eyrie. Dusk was settling by then. Lady Myranda suggested that perhaps they might turn back, spend the night at Stone, and resume their descent when the sun came up, but Mya would not hear of it. “The snow might be five feet deep by then, and the steps treacherous even for my mules,” she said. (aFfC, Alayne II)

And that is only at the start of Winter. It is certain that even more snow will gather and it promises to be one of the harshest winters in memory, of the past eight thousand years. In winter, when ambient temperatures are too cold and dry, the crystaline structure of long standing snow and ice becomes unstable, while the more recent layer of seasonal snow did not get enough time to bond and is easily displaced by storms to add weight the unstable standing snow cannot carry anymore. When it breaks those weak crystaline structures can become airborn and gain turbulence resulting into a powder snow avalanche.

Those are the deadliest avalanches. They consist of snow, ice and whatever tree and rock debris they carry along at a massive speed of 300 mph (480 km/h). With gravity as an accomplice they can gain up to a mass of 10 million tonnes, destroying everything in their path. Their flows can carry across a valley floor and uphill again. It has the destructive power of an imaginary level 10 hurricane (the current maximum level is 5 for speeds over 157 mph).

Meanwhile, the Gates of the Moon at the foot of the Giant’s Lance – basically a powder snow canon lying in waiting – are no bigger than a child’s toy, and the people no bigger than ants that are easily stepped on and crushed.

She could see Sky six hundred feet below, and the stone steps carved into the mountain, the winding way that led past Snow and Stone all the way down to the valley floor. She could see the towers and keeps of the Gates of the Moon, as small as a child’s toys. Around the walls the hosts of Lords Declarant were stirring, emerging from their tents like ants from an anthill. If only they were truly ants, she thought, we could step on them and crush them. (aFfC, Alayne I)

The sole Arryn home of importance in tWoW is the keep where Sansa, Littlefinger and Sweetrobin reside for the duration of the winter – the Gates of the Moon.

George gives us an exact visual what the Giant’s Lance will do to the Gates of the Moon when Sweetrobin destroys Sansa’s snow castle.

Then he began to shake. It started with no more than a little shivering, but within a few short heartbeats he had collapsed across the castle, his limbs flailing about violently. White towers and snowy bridges shattered and fell on all sides. Sansa stood horrified, but Petyr Baelish seized her cousin’s wrists and shouted for the maester. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

With all the focus on this scene how Sansa slays a giant doll, we pay less attention on what a giant is actually doing to the snow castle. Sansa’s snow castle is scaled to the size of a child’s toy (the doll). Meanwhile the child, Sweetrobin, is the size of a scaled mountain. Sweetrobin himself reminds us that we should not take the scene as Sweetrobin destroying the castle, but the giant he is a stand-in for.

“A giant,” the boy whispered, weeping. “It wasn’t me, it was a giant hurt the castle… (aSoS, Sansa VII)

While Sansa and Littlefinger regard the snow castle as a model of Winterfell, this does not mean the snow castle only symbolizes Winterfell. The descriptive paragraph of Sweetrobin destroying the snow castle as well as Robert Arryn simply refer to it as “the castle”. No actual giant, such as Wun-Wun, can dwarf a real castle or collapse across it. It requires a giant the size of a mountain, and the only known castle situated in the valley of such a mountain are the Gates of the Moon. There is no mountain in the proximity of Winterfell. And of course, Ser Hugh’s cloak with its crescent moons turning red with blood definitely points to a tie-in to the moon, which does fit the name of the Gates of the Moon.

The paragraph of Ser Hugh’s death gives a timing reference – it happens shortly before the sun is gone, an allusion to the Long Night, which has been connected to the sounding of the Horn of Joramun or Horn of Winter.

…in ancient days Joramun, who blew the Horn of Winter and woke giants from the earth. (aCoK, Jon III)

The poetic phrase “waking giants from the earth” most likely implies earthquakes, and what are giants if not mountains? When people describe the experience of an earthquake, they do so by saying how the ground beneath them shivered, trembled and shook. Sweetrobin’s destruction of the castle does not only show us the amount of destructrion the mountain will cause, but what makes it happen in the first place: an earthquake will bring the avalanche of hell on the Gates of the Moon.

The legend abotu the Horn of Winter is one of those features within the books that several readers link with the Norse mythology of Ragnarok. Ragnarok is the end of a time-cycle where the gods and heroes have to fight the dead, frost giants as well as fire giants (ice and fire). Several prophesied events precede Ragnarok, but the onset of that period is heralded by several horns being blown. The enemy of Odin is Loki who has several monstrous children and grandchildren. Two of his wolf grandchildren cause a long lasting winter: Sköll (‘Treachery’) eats the sun after Hati (‘Enemy’) chases the moon and swallows it whole. Both Catelyn and Sansa associate the winds whipping during their ascent and descent on the flank of the Giant’s Lance with the howling of a wolf.

Above Snow, the wind was a living thing, howling around them like a wolf in the waste, then falling off to nothing as if to lure them into complacency. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

There was ice underfoot, and broken stones just waiting to turn an ankle, and the wind was howling fiercely. It sounds like a wolf, thought Sansa. A ghost wolf, big as mountains. (aFfC, Alayne II)

If the Horn of Winter wakes mountains and an avalanche hurls from the Giant’s Lance, a mountain where the wind howls like a wolf, to swallow the Gates of the Moon whole, then we actually would have a Ragnarok event occurring: a wolf chasing the moon and swallowing it whole with snow. And for those buried underneath an avalanche both the moon and the sun will be snuffed out.

The moon references to the Gates of the Moon are often ominous. When Catelyn arrives with Tyrion as her hostage, there is a crescent moon out – a horned moon – reflected by the castle’s moat. The same crescent is featured during Catelyn’s ascent to the Eyrie. George wants us to visually associate a crescent moon with the Gates of the Moon and the flank of the Giant’s Lance.

Even so, it was full dark before they reached the stout castle that stood at the foot of the Giant’s Lance. Torches flickered atop its ramparts, and the horned moon danced upon the dark waters of its moat

The stars seemed brighter up here, so close that she could almost touch them, and the horned moon was huge in the clear black sky.(aGoT, Catelyn VI)

We witness the crescent moons on Ser Hugh’s cloak turn red from blood. And in Bran’s last chapter in aDwD that covers several moons, the crescent moon is repeatedly compared to a knife.

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. (aDwD, Bran III)

The crescent blade is a sickle, a harvesting or “reaping” blade associated with the popular image of a druid, both for the reaping of mistletoe and human sacrifice. This is why the sickle is a symbol for the grim reaper even to this day. The First Men once practiced human sacrifice in their religion of the Old Gods. Bran has a vision of the distant past of such an event, in Bloodraven’s cave.

Then, as he watched, a bearded man forced a captive down onto his knees before the heart tree. A white-haired woman stepped toward them through a drift of dark red leaves, a bronze sickle in her hand. (aDwD, Bran III)

Catelyn’s Horned Moon also appears at the Twins when Robb crossed the Twins after consenting to the marriage pact with one of Lord Walder Frey’s daughters.

They crossed at evenfall as a horned moon floated upon the river. The double column wound its way through the gate of the eastern twin like a great steel snake, slithering across the courtyard, into the keep and over the bridge, to issue forth once more from the second castle on the west bank. (aGoT, Catelyn IX)

And we know how bloody a human sacrifice that turned out to be, when Robb returned to the Twins. If the avalanche occurs during a big event at the Gates of the Moon, it would be e devestating massacre, possibly outdoing the Red Wedding.

The Mountain Clans

Index

Another disaster is alluded to happen at the hands of the Mountain Clans, and the Burned Men in particular with Ser Hugh’s death scene – the crescents of his cloak turning red with blood one by one, his new armor and the sun lighting up his armored arm, like a streak of fire. Aside from Sweetrobin, the doll is also a giant in the snow castle scene.

The boy knelt before the gatehouse. “Look, here comes a giant to knock it down.” He stood his doll in the snow and moved it jerkily. “Tromp tromp I’m a giant, I’m a giant,” he chanted. “Ho ho ho, open your gates or I’ll mash them and smash them.” Swinging the doll by the legs, he knocked the top off one gatehouse tower and then the other. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

The doll is not the size of a mountain in comparison to the snow castle and its destruction is far more deliberate. Where Sweetrobin enacts a natural disaster, the doll enacts one of human scale and intent.

Lysa’s sense of safety regarding the Eyrie sound like an invitation of exactly the impossible to happen.

Lysa covered her boy’s ear with her hand. “Even if they could bring an army through the mountains and past the Bloody Gate, the Eyrie is impregnable. You saw for yourself. No enemy could ever reach us up here.” (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

“…Our harvest has been plentiful, the mountains protect us, and the Eyrie is impregnable…” (aSoS, Sansa VI)

Never say never, Lysa. Whenever Lysa displayed confidence bordering to hubris, the opposite tends to happen. She was sure Tyrion would break in the sky cells and confess, but the opposite happened. She did not doubt Ser Vardis would win against Bronn, but Ser Vardis died and Tyrion went free. Pride comes before the fall, and in Lysa’s case that fall was literal – like Icarus she plummeted to her death. Lysa declaring they are safe, that the mountains protect them and no army of an enemy could reach them is begging for proof to the contrary. We already know that the mountain will not protect them, but turn on them.

Lysa does not refer to the Gates of the Moon to Catelyn when she argues against an invading army, but the Bloody Gate – a series of battlements that guard the pass to the Gates of the Moon. The mountain’s path and wolfish winds cannot protect the residents at the castle at the foot of the mountain. If an army wishes to attack the Arryns the most opportune time is winter, when the Arryns reside at the Gates of the Moon. To make House Arryn fall, that army would only be required to conquer the Bloody Gate. In all of its history however, the Bloody Gate has never been conquered, though some have tried and failed.

[Catelyn] was about to say as much when she saw the battlements ahead, long parapets built into the very stone of the mountains on either side of them. Where the pass shrank to a narrow defile scarce wide enough for four men to ride abreast, twin watchtowers clung to the rocky slopes, joined by a covered bridge of weathered grey stone that arched above the road. Silent faces watched from arrow slits in tower, battlements, and bridge. When they had climbed almost to the top, a knight rode out to meet them. His horse and his armor were grey, but his cloak was the rippling blue-and-red of Riverrun, and a shiny black fish, wrought in gold and obsidian, pinned its folds against his shoulder. “Who would pass the Bloody Gate?” he called.
… And so she rode behind him, beneath the shadow of the Bloody Gate where a dozen armies had dashed themselves to pieces in the Age of Heroes. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

Though the Vale is guarded by mountains, that has not prevented outside attacks. The high road from the riverlands through the Mountains of the Moon has seen much blood spilled, for steep and stony as it is, it provides the most likely way for an army to enter the Vale. Its eastern end is guarded by the Bloody Gate, once merely a rough-hewn, unmortared wall after the fashion of the ringforts of the First Men. But in the reign of King Osric V Arryn, this fortress was constructed anew. Over the centuries, a dozen invading armies have smashed themselves to pieces attempting to breach the Bloody Gates. (tWoIaF, The Vale)

An army cannot conquer the Bloody Gate in normal circumstances. But earthquakes and powder snow avalanches carrying trees and rocks as debris can damage the Bloody Gate enough to allow an army to conquer it. If the Giant’s Lance crushes the Gates of the Moon under snow and rock, then the pass and the series of battlements of the Bloody Gate clinging to the rocky slopes of the neighboring mountains would not be spared. Tremors and their consequences cannot be isolated within a perimeter of a hundred yards.

Robert Arryn’s doll in particular attacks the “gatehouse” and its twin towers, one after the other, which fits the description and the purpose of the Bloody Gate guarding the pass. It also echoes the bloodied cloak of Ser Hugh and the moon crescents turning red one by one.

The attack will not come from outsiders invading the Vale, but the Vale Mountain Clans.

But Gunthor raised a hand. “No. I would hear his words. The mothers go hungry, and steel fills more mouths than gold. What would you give us for your lives, Tyrion son of Tywin? Swords? Lances? Mail?
All that, and more, Gunthor son of Gurn,” Tyrion Lannister replied, smiling. “I will give you the Vale of Arryn.” (aGoT, Tyrion VI)

Though Tyrion never even gets a chance to propose an invastion of the Vale to his father, when the Stark host meets Tywin’s forces at the Green Fork of the Riverlands, he does make sure that the Mountain Clans are newly armed with better steel and armored with hauberks, just like Ser Hugh has a new armor.

A multitude of people refer to Tyrion as a giant, despite his limited size. Maester Aemon at Castle Black refers to him as a giant. Shae calls him her giant of Lannister. And Varys explains the concept of Tyrion as a giant by saying a small man is able to cast a very large shadow. So, in a way an attack of the Mountain Clans that takes one Bloody gatetower after the other is the giant knocking on the door with the arm of a very long shadow.

“Oh, I think that Lord Tyrion is quite a large man,” Maester Aemon said from the far end of the table. He spoke softly, yet the high officers of the Night’s Watch all fell quiet, the better to hear what the ancient had to say. “I think he is a giant come among us, here at the end of the world.” (aGoT, Tyrion III)

“And what am I, pray?” Tyrion asked her. “A giant?”
“Oh, yes,” she purred, “my giant of Lannister.” (aGoT, Tyrion VIII)

And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.” (aCoK, Tyrion II)

When neither Tyrion nor Varys have heard of Petyr Baelish for a long time, after he was sent to Bitterbridge to negotiate with the Tyrells, they consider the possibility that Littlefinger might be dead. And this is Tyrion’s answer to the suggestion.

The eunuch had suggested that perhaps Littlefinger had met some misfortune on the roads. He might even be slain. Tyrion had snorted in derision. “If Littlefinger is dead, then I’m a giant.” (aCoK, Tyrion IX)

Indeed, if Littlefinger dies at the Gates of the Moon, as his seat of power is destroyed by chaos, then Tyrion would be a giant with a very long arm.

…so long as they did not sit down to talk for a day and a night. That was the trouble with the clans; they had an absurd notion that every man’s voice should be heard in council, so they argued about everything, endlessly. Even their women were allowed to speak. Small wonder that it had been hundreds of years since they last threatened the Vale with anything beyond an occasional raid. Tyrion meant to change that. (aGoT, Tyrion VII)

With the mountain clans every man’s and woman’s voice is heard at a council. Who is chief or leader is based on skill, rather than heridetary, as is common in band cultures. Even women can become leaders, like Chella of the Black Ears. As long as a band has a number of people smaller than a hundred, leadership tends to be a fluid concept. Once there are more than hundred people living and working together a pyramidic type of leadership evolves. Even if a mountain clan has more than a hundred members it is nigh impossible for them to live together in a large settlement in the mountains. They are split up in bands, where each band leader emerges because of skill and an equal to the other. The mountain clans are reaching numbers where top-down pyramid leadership becomes a necessity though. At present they have three thousand fighters. With mothers, children and the elderly not fighting, the total population of the mountain clans may be exceeding ten thousand.

Tyrion influences the mountain clans through their interaction with him and the political structure of Westeros. It starts with him singling out the different representatives of the Clans, pratically excluding the other members from councils, as well as submitting them to top-down instructions: from Tywin to him to the representatives to the rest of the different clans. As these leaders are singled out for preference and experience the efficiency of making top-down decisions without letting everyone speak, the mountain clans have become more amenable to eventually elect a king of the mountain clans.

So, where are those clans now?  After the battle of the Blackwater, most of the Clans returned to the Mountains of the Moon of the Vale, with rich plunder and new steel. If before, they were a menace on the high road through the mountains to the Bloody Gate, they have grown bolder and an outright threat. Arya and Sandor learn of this in the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon. The Burned Men, the Stone Crows, the Milk Snakes and the Sons of the Mist are back in the Vale, with steel, good swords and mail hauberks, experience, bold and fearless.

His dream of selling Arya to Lady Arryn died there in the hills, though. “There’s frost above us and snow in the high passes,” the village elder said. “If you don’t freeze or starve, the shadowcats will get you, or the cave bears. There’s the clans as well. The Burned Men are fearless since Timett One-Eye came back from the war. And half a year ago, Gunthor son of Gurn led the Stone Crows down on a village not eight miles from here. They took every woman and every scrap of grain, and killed half the men. They have steel now, good swords and mail hauberks, and they watch the high road—the Stone Crows, the Milk Snakes, the Sons of the Mist, all of them. Might be you’d take a few with you, but in the end they’d kill you and make off with your daughter.” (aSoS, Arya XII)

I marked two sentences in red, because they apply more on Littlefinger than Sandor. Sandor’s dream is to sell Arya to Lysa Arryn, but Littlefinger’s dream is to have power over the Vale AND the Riverlands AND the North through Sansa. His dream will die there in the hills and mountains of the Vale with the complete foreshadowed scenario.

The last sentence fits the ironic reversal George often deploys between Arya and Sansa. For example, Jaime thinks that if Sansa was smart she’d marry a blacksmith or a fat cook. Sansa does not know any such men though, whereas Arya’s two best friends in the Riverlands are the armorer apprentice Gendyr and the rotund kitchen help Hot Pie. Though Arya is a child still, she shows signs of attraction for Gendry. Sandor is warned that the Vale mountain clans would kill him and his daughter. But Arya is far away in Braavos, and Sandor survives separately as the gravedigger on the Quiet Isle1. It is Littlefinger who pretends Sansa is his bastard daughter, Alayne Stone, and both are in the Vale. It therefore foreshadows at the very least the threat that when the Mountain Clans attack, they would slay Petyr Baelish and steal his daughter Alayne Stone, in truth Sansa Stark.

Lysa displays hubris over the issues and threat of the mountain clans as well, claiming that Petyr Baelish will set it all to right again.

The Blackfish was my Knight of the Gate, and since he left us the mountain clans are growing very bold. Petyr will soon set all that to rights, though. (aSoS, Sansa VI)

But Petyr  has spent his time bribing Lords Declarant, embroiled in political Vale games, and organizing a tourney. It looks far more likely that the Mountain Clans will set Petyr to right.

So far, I failed to mention a thorough motivation for the Mountain Clans to risk death at the Bloody Gate against the Lords of the Vale, especially since Tyrion is not there to rally them into attacking, nor will he be anytime soon. So, let us go into the bit of history about the Mountain Clans. The Andals first invaded the Vale from across the Narrow Sea. Andal steel was far more superior than the bronze of the First Men already living in the Vale. Like Julius Caesar and Hernan Cortez they used the feuds between petty kingdoms of the First Men in the Vale to help them conquer the Vale. Some of the First Men even invited the Andals to come in the hope they would deal with their enemies for them. Of course, the Andals used this to their advantage, finally repaying their hosts with blood instead.

When the Andal lords and kings started to fight amongst each other too, Robar Royce of the First Men united the remaining First Men alongside him and became High King. When the Andal princes and lords realized they risked losing their recently acquired lands, they united behind the Falcon knight Ser Artys Arryn (that’s the one Sweetrobin loves to hear stories about). The final battle was fought on the flanks of the Giant’s Lance, with the First Men holding the high ground. Ser Arryn had been born at the foot of the mountain and knew an old goat track. He used it to attack the First Men from behind while Royce and his army fought the other Andals below them. It was a massive defeat for the First Men. Seven of the fourteen First Men Houses were annihilated, while Artys Arryn became the first Andal king over the united Vale.

What happened afterwards would be dubbed a genocide in our modern world. More Andals arrived from Essos at the Vale and the lands were taken from the remaining smallfolk of the First Men and given to the newcomers. Those who resisted were either killed, enslaved or driven off. Their First Men lords could not protect them. Some assimilated, others fled into the Mountains of the Moon.

As word of the victory spread across the narrow sea, more and more longships set sail from Andalos, and more and more Andals poured into the Vale and the surrounding mountains. All of them required land—land the Andal lords were pleased to give them. Wherever the First Men sought to resist, they were ground underfoot, reduced to thralls, or driven out. Their own lords, beaten, were powerless to protect them.
Some of the First Men surely survived by joining their own blood with that of the Andals, but many more fled westward to the high valleys and stony passes of the Mountains of the Moon. There the descendants of this once-proud people dwell to this very day, leading short, savage, brutal lives amongst the peaks as bandits and outlaws, preying upon any man fool enough to enter their mountains without a strong escort. Little better than the free folk beyond the Wall, these mountain clans, too, are called wildlings by the civilized. (tWoIaF, The Vale)

The Mountain Clans of the Vale are therefore the last of the First Men of the Vale who never bent the knee to an Andal King. The Royces may have learned to live with having Arryns as kings or Lord Paramounts, but the Mountain Clans have not.

At the time of the final battle between King Robar Royce II and the Andals, there was of course no Eyrie yet in existence. Cautious, King Artys Arryn built the Gates of the Moon first as a fortress, on the location where the Andals had camped the night before they defeated King Robar Royce II. The Gates of the Moon therefore are highly symbolical. If the Mountain Clans were to conquer the Bloody Gate and the Gates of the Moon, they would avenge the defeat, the stolen lands and the hounding of their people in the ancient past.

King Artys Arryn’s grandson wished to build a castle rivaling Casterly Rock and Hightower in beauty. He intended to take the Gates of the Moon down and rebuild a more splendid looking castle, worthy of a king. But a harsh winter drove the Mountain Clans down from the mountains in search of  food and they attacked the Gates of the Moon with a thousand clansmen. Hence, he saw good reason to take the high ground himself and built his palace on top of the mountain.

King Roland’s first impulse was to tear down the Gates and build his new seat upon the same site, but that winter thousands of wildlings descended from the mountains in search of food and shelter, for the high valleys had been buried by deep falls of snow. Their depredations brought home to the king how vulnerable his seat was at its present site… In time there came another winter and another attack upon the Vale by the wild clans of the Mountains of the Moon. Taken unawares by a band of Painted Dogs, King Roland I Arryn was pulled from his horse and murdered, his skull smashed in by a stone maul as he tried to free his longsword from its scabbard. He had reigned for six-and-twenty years, just long enough to see the first stones laid for the castle he had decreed. (tWoIaF, The Vale: the Eyrie)

So, the Mountain Clans do tend to attack in winter rather than other seasons. They have nothing to lose by doing that. They can either die from cold and hunger in a world of snow where nothing lives, or come down to conquer food and shelter. Hugo Wull of the Mountain Clans in the North mentions a similar motivation why he and his men join Stannis to fight the Boltons – better to die fighting than starve and freeze doing nothing.

Littlefinger explains how Harrold Hardyng ended up being Robert Arryn’s heir. It is a long monologue, where he mentions the fate of every possible mother to an Arryn heir. Lord Jon Arryn’s sister, Lady Alys Arryn wed Ser Elys Waynwood. With all the other Arryn heirs dying some way or another of sickness, Mad King Aerys or fighting for Robert during the Rebellion, her children and their children were the sole branch left, except for Jon Arryn’s only son, the sickly Robert Arryn and present Lord of the Vale.

“Which brings us back to the five remaining daughters of Elys and Alys. The eldest had been left terribly scarred by the same pox that killed her sisters, so she became a septa. Another was seduced by a sellsword. Ser Elys cast her out, and she joined the silent sisters after her bastard died in infancy. The third wed the Lord of the Paps, but proved barren. The fourth was on her way to the riverlands to marry some Bracken when Burned Men carried her off. That left the youngest, who wed a landed knight sworn to the Waynwoods, gave him a son that she named Harrold, and perished.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

The elder daughters were left childless. But the Burned Men stole the fourth daughter. One of their men would have taken her as his wife. If she bore a son, and stayed around long enough to raise him, she would not have remained silent about her heritage, her home, her family, and his birthright – a rival heir of the Vale and Eyrie over Harrold Hardyng. Like the rest of the  mountain clans, the Burned Men may not care much for feudal inheritance laws, but the fourth Waynwood daughter would not forget the society she grew up in.

We have seen how mothers may influence their sons and birthright with Ramsay, the product of rape. Roose believes Ramsay’s mother told him of his parentage and spurred him on to believe he could be Roose’s heir. Spearwife Rowan at Winterfell is believed by man to have been a woman stolen from the North by the wildlings, since she knows the Stark words and is offended when Theon speaks them.

Even the mud was icing up about the edges, Theon saw. “Winter is coming …”
Rowan gave him a hard look. “You have no right to mouth Lord Eddard’s words. Not you. Not ever. After what you did—” (aDwD, Theon I)

Wildlings don’t tend to call noblemen Lord, and Rowan seems personally offended by Theon, insulting him as turncloak, kinslayer whenever she can, or wiping her hand off after physical contact with Theon. Rowan’s unprecedented deference for the Starks and her great disgust and dislike of Theon makes many readers suspect she may be of highborn birth, but was kidnapped by wildlings. Some suspect, she may be Mors Umber’s stolen daughter, or perhaps his grandchild. Whichever house she is from, in Rowan we see someone who has embraced the wildling way of life, but did not forget her ancestral culture.

And so, while speculative, we should almost expect the fourth Waynwood daughter to have urged her hypothetical son to acquire his birthright, that he has the blood of the First Men but also of the Arryns, that he is better than any other man in the Vale, that he is destined to rule the Vale, and to do whatever is necessary. Do we know of a young man around the same age of Harrold Hardyng (18 or slightly older) amongst the Burned Men who seems to go at great lengths to acquire ruling powers? Yes, and he is called Timett son of Timett.

Amongst the Burned Men, a youth must give some part of his body to the fire to prove his courage before he can be deemed a man. This practice might have originated in the years after the Dance of the Dragons, some maesters believe, when an offshoot clan of the Painted Dogs were said to have worshipped a fire-witch in the mountains, sending their boys to bring her gifts and risk the flames of the dragon she commanded to prove their manhood. (tWoIaF, The Vale)

The Burned Men choose their leaders based on show of courage – what body part they are willing to sacrifice. Their practice makes them the most feared clan, even by other mountain clans, and Timett son of Timett is the most feared man, even by other Burned Men: he burned his own eye out. Timett sounds a pretty determined young man already when he reached the age of manhood – a young man who had a need to prove a point to his fellow clansmen. And that point was taken.

The Stone Crows rode together, and Chella and Ulf stayed close as well, as the Moon Brothers and Black Ears had strong bonds between them. Timett son of Timett rode alone. Every clan in the Mountains of the Moon feared the Burned Men, who mortified their flesh with fire to prove their courage and (the others said) roasted babies at their feasts. And even the other Burned Men feared Timett, who had put out his own left eye with a white-hot knife when he reached the age of manhood. Tyrion gathered that it was more customary for a boy to burn off a nipple, a finger, or (if he was truly brave, or truly mad) an ear. Timett’s fellow Burned Men were so awed by his choice of an eye that they promptly named him a red hand, which seemed to be some sort of a war chief.
I wonder what their king burned off,” Tyrion said to Bronn when he heard the tale. Grinning, the sellsword had tugged at his crotch … but even Bronn kept a respectful tongue around Timett. If a man was mad enough to put out his own eye, he was unlikely to be gentle to his enemies. (aGoT, Tyrion VII)

Tyrion seems to think the Burned Men have a king, but there is no indication that mountain clans have kings. Certainly their way of letting everybody speak at a council, and the manner how Timett gets named red hand suggests they have no kings or earls. Normally, the wildlings North of the Wall have no king either, except if one manages to win fights against every champion of a clan as Mance Rayder has done.  We have yet to hear of a similar term, let alone practice, with the mountain clans of the Vale though.

That said, there are indications that the Burned Men are comparable to the Thenns. The world book claims that the Burned Men originated from Painted Dogs, who killed King Roland I Arryn. The Burned men worshipped a fire-witch claiming to have a dragon. GRRM’s most recent publication seems to verify this, in the last chapter of the book, during the regency of Aegon III. Armies were sent to the Vale to quelch the war for the lordship of the Eyrie. A part of that army stumbled upon a cave inhabited by Sheepstealer and Nettles, who fled deeper into the mountains. .

High in the mountains, the unthinkable happened one night as Lord Robert [Rowan] and his men huddled about their campfires. In the slopes above, a cave mouth was visible from the road, and a dozen men climbed up to see if it might offer them shelter from the wind. The bones scattered about the mouth of the cave might have given them pause, yet they pressed on … and roused a dragon. Sixteen men perished in the fight that followed, and threescore more suffered burns before the angry brown wyrm took wing and fled deeper into the mountains with “a ragged woman clinging to its back.” That was the last known sighting of Sheepstealer and his rider, Nettles, recorded in the annals of Westeros… though the wildlings of the mountains still tell tales of a “fire witch” who once dwelled in a hidden vale far from any road or village. One of the most savage of the mountain clan came to worship her, the storytellers say; youths would prove their courage by bringing gifts to her, and were only accounted men when they returned with burns to show that they had faced the dragon woman in her lair. (Fire & Blood, , The Lysene Spring and the End of the Regency)

And thus the Burned Men are acquainted with admiring a supreme leader figure – a woman in fact – and still preserve the memory of it. Shagga of the Stone Crows may be the most colorful and therefore memorable character in Tyrion’s arc in aCoK, but Timett is actually deployed by Tyrion the most. Shagga voices his opinion on everything, trying to maintain equal status to Tyrion, while Timett keeps his mouth shut and does as asked.

Tyrion found Timett dicing with his Burned Men in the barracks. “Come to my solar at midnight.” Timett gave him a hard one-eyed stare, a curt nod. He was not one for long speeches.

“Go,” Tyrion told her. “It’s not you we want.”
“Shagga wants this woman.”
“Shagga wants every whore in this city of whores,” complained Timett son of Timett.
“Yes,” Shagga said, unabashed. “Shagga would give her a strong child.”
“If she wants a strong child, she’ll know whom to seek,” Tyrion said. “Timett, see her out . . . gently, if you would.”
The Burned Man pulled the girl from the bed and half marched, half dragged her across the chamber. Shagga watched them go, mournful as a puppy. The girl stumbled over the shattered door and out into the hall, helped along by a firm shove from Timett. (aCoK, Tyrion VI)

Tyrion orders Timett or makes decisions without inquiring with Shagga and Timett whether they agree. Timett’s hard stare shows he does not appreciate being ordered around, but his final response reveals he is familiar with the concept of authority, whereas obviously it is an alien concept for Shagga. Notice also how Timett calls the girl a whore, while Shagga thinks of her as a prize. Shagga does not seem to comprehend the concept of prostitution, but Timett does. He even shows disdain for the profession.

Two of the Stone Crows guarded the door of the Tower of the Hand. “Find me Timett son of Timett.”
“Stone Crows do not run squeaking after Burned Men,” one of the wildlings informed him haughtily.
For a moment Tyrion had forgotten who he was dealing with. “Then find me Shagga.”
“Shagga sleeps.”
It was an effort not to scream. “Wake. Him.”
“It is no easy thing to wake Shagga son of Dolf,” the man complained. “His wrath is fearsome.” He went off grumbling.(aCoK, Tyrion IX)

Since Timett is the least likely to start a discussion, the one who understands Tyrion’s society the most, and responds positively to authority, it is of little surprise that Tyrion prefers Timett and his Burned Men for the tasks he needs done. He grows so accustomed to selecting Timett, that he even orders Stone Crows to go fetch him. While Timett responds with a curt nod, the Stone Crow reacts haughtily, talks back and does not hide his unwillingness. That man is not even a leader figure. Shagga and his fellow Stone Crows sound like teenagers who do not recognize authority at all.

Now, let us not make the mistake to regard Timett as a follower and Shagga as a leader. After all, Timett is the man feared by all mountain clans, including Burned Men, while he is not yet even twenty. Does he strike you as a man who is merely a follower? No, it is a young man who is familiar with the concept of authority and sees sense in it and is the most likely to exert authority himself at some point in the future. It is very noteworthy that in the end Timett and the Burned Men are the least loyal to Tyrion. Shagga remains in the kingswood. Chella and the Black Ears return to King’s Landing to offer their service again. But Timett does not bother with that. He returns to the mountains immediately after the fighting, as if he got out of the experience what he wanted.

“The Stone Crows are still in the kingswood. Shagga seems to have taken a fancy to the place. Timett led the Burned Men home, with all the plunder they took from Stannis’s camp after the fighting. Chella turned up with a dozen Black Ears at the River Gate one morning, but your father’s red cloaks chased them off while the Kingslanders threw dung and cheered.” (aSoS, Tyrion I)

In Irish mythology there is the legend of the ‘red hand of Ulster’ (also an Irish Gaelic sigil of the province). At one time, Ulster had no rightful heir. A boat race would decide who would be king – whomever touched the shore of Ireland first. One contestor saw he would lose the race, cut off his hand and threw it ashore, thereby winning the kingship.

So, here we have a red hand as a symbol of self-sacrifice in order to acquire kingship or right to rule. And is not that what Timett does when he sacrifices his left eye with a white-hot blade? The title Red Hand with the Burned Men is most likely as close to declaring Timett king of the Burned Men, like Magnar is a similar title with the Thenns. It is therefore quite ironic that Tyrion wonders what the king of the Burned Men sacrificed, never realizing that the red hand may be the conceptual equivalent of the king. It is very auspicious that George uses this title for a young man like Timett for a clan that turns out to have stolen the fourth Waynwood daughter and are an offshoot branch of the clan that once killed an Arryn king. It only adds to the likelihood that Timett and the Burned Men will rally the mountain clans to attack the Bloody Gate and what is left of the Gates of the Moon to win the rule over the Vale. Nor should we forget Timett being one-eyed, which George repeatedly uses as a reference to Odin of Norse Myth.

A criticism against Timett being an Arryn heir is that he would be the son of a stolen daughter and it is argued that he would be regarded as being a bastard. But if his mother was wedded, no matter which religion, then he is a trueborn son. In the legend of Bael the Bard a son of a stolen Stark daughter becomes the Lord of Winterfell. Meanwhile the proposed avalanche and the attack would wipe out most of the Andal Houses, while Bronze Jon Royce (a descendant of a First Men King) has kept himself and his family away. If Michel Redfort dies at the Gates of the Moon in either disaster, Royce’s widowed daughter might make a suitable bride to a First Man Arryn heir, not that different from Alys Karstark wedding the Magnar of the Thenns.

I repeat the quote of the image of the tourney scene of Ser Hugh. We have a reference to new armor which the Mountain Clans have, a reference to fire of the Burned Men and Tyrion’s outstretched arm.

His armor was shiny new; a bright streak of fire ran down his outstretched arm, as the steel caught the light. (aGoT, Sansa II)

Meanwhile, the manner in which Timett killed the wineseller’s son in King’s Landing might be a trick we could see again.

The sellsword seemed unsurprised. “The fool figured a one-eyed man would be easier to cheat. Timett pinned his wrist to the table with a dagger and ripped out his throat barehanded. He has this trick where he stiffens his fingers—” (aCoK, Tyrion II)

Ser Hugh’s throat is opened by Gregor’s Lance, and it turns out that Timett stiffens his fingers and seems to use them as short lances to rip out a throat. Hmmmm.

There is also the bridging scene between the doll destroying the gatetowers of Sansa’s snow castle and Sweetrobin demolishing the snow castle with his shaking fit.

It was more than Sansa could stand. “Robert, stop that.” Instead he swung the doll again, and a foot of wall exploded. She grabbed for his hand but she caught the doll instead. There was a loud ripping sound as the thin cloth tore. Suddenly she had the doll’s head, Robert had the legs and body, and the rag-and-sawdust stuffing was spilling in the snow. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

We witness a tug-of-war. Sweetrobin is Lord of the Vale, an Arryn, and an Andal. Sansa is a descendant of the First Men. So, on a meta-level we witness a fight over the rule of  the Vale, between the last Andal Arryn and a First Men heir. Is it a coincidence that Sansa grabs for the hand in this scene?

In the snow castle scene this is the order of events, suggesting the following order of disasters

  1. Start: Doll destroys gatetowers = Burned Men and Mountain Clans conquer the Bloody Gate
  2. Bridging scene: Fight over the doll = Fight over the rule of the Vale
  3. Result: Sweetrobin’s shaking fit = Earthquake and avalanche

It is however unlikely that the Mountain Clans could conquer the Bloody Gate without it already being severely damaged, nor will the fight over the rule of the Vale cause an earthquake. George seems to have slyly reversed the logical order of events here as well as the events in the Tourney scene.

  1. Start: Giant’s Lance kills Ser Hugh = Avalanche, destroying the Arryn residences and at least one important Vale character ends up dead.
  2. Followed: Sun highlighting Ser Hugh’s new armor and firy arm and Timett’s throat ripping finger-technique = Newly armed Burned Men attacking
  3. Result: Moon crescents turning bloody one by one = conquering the Bloody Gate one by one and at least one important Vale character ends up dead.

The original order seems to me the most logical and makes the foreshadowed puzzle pieces fit far better.

The Titan

Index

Littlefinger’s personal sigil is the mockingbird, but the sigil of House Baelish is the head of the Titan of Braavos. His great-grandfather was a Braavosi sellsword in the service of Lord Corbray. Littlefinger’s grandfather became a hedge knight and took up the Titan’s head for his sigil. The Titan though is not a threat to the castle. Littlefinger never damages it. On the contrary, he helps building it. Meanwhile there are several hints that the castle will be the death of him.

When Sansa ends up with the giant’s head in her hands that seems to be a reference to the Titan’s head. After Sweetrobin is carried off by maester Coleman, she sticks it onto a twig and on top of the remnants of the snow castle’s walls.

A mad rage seized hold of her. She picked up a broken branch and smashed the torn doll’s head down on top of it, then pushed it down atop the shattered gatehouse of her snow castle. The servants looked aghast, but when Littlefinger saw what she’d done he laughed. “If the tales be true, that’s not the first giant to end up with his head on Winterfell’s walls.”
“Those are only stories,” she said, and left him there. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

At the very least we can ascertain that the avalanche will not pin the  Titan’s head on a stake atop the gatehouse. But who will and why? And is Sansa involved? Well to get a clear picture, we need to start at the beginning of the snow castle chapter. The chapter starts with Sansa waking from a dream of home, of Winterfell.

She awoke all at once, every nerve atingle. For a moment she did not remember where she was. She had dreamt that she was little, still sharing a bedchamber with her sister Arya. But it was her maid she heard tossing in sleep, not her sister, and this was not Winterfell, but the Eyrie. And I am Alayne Stone, a bastard girl.The room was cold and black, though she was warm beneath the blankets. Dawn had not yet come…. Home. It was a dream of home…. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

After discovering it is snowing, Sansa goes down the spiral stairs into the garden, all the while she wonders whether she is still dreaming.

Sansa drifted past frosted shrubs and thin dark trees, and wondered if she were still dreaming. Drifting snowflakes brushed her face as light as lover’s kisses, and melted on her cheeks…She could feel the snow on her lashes, taste it on her lips. It was the taste of Winterfell. The taste of innocence. The taste of dreams. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

George hammers it down for the reader that it is meant to be seen as Sansa’s dream: Sansa dreams to be back in Winterfell, to be back home, to have the whole nightmare go away and wake up in the same room with Arya again. So, when she is building snow Winterfell, Sansa is literally building a dream. As it turns out, Petyr Baelish has been dreaming of Winterfell for years himself.

He walked along outside the walls. “I used to dream of it, in those years after Cat went north with Eddard Stark. In my dreams it was ever a dark place, and cold.”(aSoS, Sansa VII)

With the dream the snow castle becomes a metaphor, while their interaction during the creation of the snow castle reflects how they attempt to make the dream real and how the cataclystic events nip the realization of the dream in the bud. Littlefinger’s greatest pleasure, and dream, is not just getting his hands on the North and Winterfell, but Sansa herself. He admits to this and kisses her in the godswood.

“I told you that nothing could please me more than to help you with your castle. I fear that was a lie as well. Something else would please me more.” He stepped closer. “This.”
Sansa tried to step back, but he pulled her into his arms and suddenly he was kissing her. Feebly, she tried to squirm, but only succeeded in pressing herself more tightly against him. His mouth was on hers, swallowing her words. He tasted of mint. For half a heartbeat she yielded to his kiss . . . before she turned her face away and wrenched free. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

From this we can infer that the Titan’s dream is to have Sansa as his partner and the political power over the Vale and the North. The reason why he helps Sansa build her dream is ultimately to bind her to him. Littlefinger offered to marry her before Joff ruined their plans by asking for Ned’s head.

I would have made Sansa a good marriage. A Lannister marriage. Not Joff, of course, but Lancel might have suited, or one of his younger brothers. Petyr Baelish had offered to wed the girl himself, she recalled, but of course that was impossible; he was much too lowborn. (aDwD, Cersei II)

To accomplish this, Littlefinger has shown to be patient and to take a meandering course. When Sansa informed Dontos of  Olenna’s plan to have Sansa wed to Willas Tyrell, the Titan told Tywin of the marriage plot, resulting in Tywin marrying Tyrion to Sansa. Petyr Baelish could not have been certain that Tyrion would not consummate the marriage. Meanwhile Littlefinger married Lysa and if not for Lysa endangering Sansa’s life, revealing their mutual involvement in the murder of Lord Jon Arryn and feeding lies to the Starks to poke the feud between Starks and Lannisters, it is doubtful Baelish would have shoved her out of the Moon Door that soon. Littlefinger has ambitious dreams, but he is also realistic, patient and adapts to circumstances. He does not mind having another wed and bed Sansa if he can rid himself afterwards of the husband.

At the time of the garden scene, Littlefinger nearly has it all. The Vale Lords might hate his guts, but they could not take a son from his mother or reject who she appointed as Lord Protector, let alone take military action against House Arryn. With Lysa as his wife his position as Lord Protector is secure and it allows him time to bribe the grumbling lords. Meanwhile Sansa is promised to Sweetrobin who could not marry her for years yet. Even if Petyr lusts after Sansa as a Catelyn 2.0., he only fully appreciates her when he witnesses her innocent child game of building a snow castle and hear her speak in defense of Winterfell with such passion. Something happens to Littlefinger in that moment; he falls under her spell, much like Sandor once fell for her naivity and innocense. And just like Sandor turns on his master to whom he had been welded before, hip and bone, Petyr Baelish literally dumps his partner in crime Lysa through the Moon Door.

That decision is a political set back for Littlefinger though. He needs to bribe one lord into believing that Marillion the singer killed Lysa. He must rely on Sansa to play her part as well, making him dependent on her. Finally, the Lords Declarant ride to the Gates of Moon with an army and prevent fresh food from making it up the Eyrie, in order to get Littlefinger to surrender Robert Arryn to them. While he buys himself time, it becomes clear that he cannot maintain his position for long. Sweetrobin is an unrealiable and weak pawn. If he were to die prematurely, before fathering an heir with Sansa, then Petyr Baelish would lose the Vale to Harrold Hardyng and Harry’s benefactor Bronze Yohn Royce. If Sweetrobin lives long enough, the Vale would remain a stirring pot of rebellion, possibly rejecting his wife Alayne (Sansa), as it was arranged by Littlefinger. Betrothing Sansa to Harrold Hardyng kills two birds with one stone – more lords would fold, Yohn Royce would stand alone in the cold, and Sansa becomes a true voluntary partner.

Petyr arched an eyebrow. “When Robert dies. Our poor brave Sweetrobin is such a sickly boy, it is only a matter of time. When Robert dies, Harry the Heir becomes Lord Harrold, Defender of the Vale and Lord of the Eyrie. Jon Arryn’s bannermen will never love me, nor our silly, shaking Robert, but they will love their Young Falcon . . . and when they come together for his wedding, and you come out with your long auburn hair, clad in a maiden’s cloak of white and grey with a direwolf emblazoned on the back . . . why, every knight in the Vale will pledge his sword to win you back your birthright. So those are your gifts from me, my sweet Sansa . . . Harry, the Eyrie, and Winterfell. That’s worth another kiss now, don’t you think?” (aFfC, Alayne II)

The team work in building the snow castle parallels that of the team formation of Sansa and Littlefinger. Unbeknowest to Sansa, Petyr Baelish watches her struggle with building the bridges of her snow castle. When it collapses a third time and she curses over her failure, Littlefinger tells her what to do.

Her bridges kept falling down…The third time one collapsed on her, she cursed aloud and sat back in helpless frustration.
Pack the snow around a stick, Sansa.”
…When she used sticks for the covered bridges, they stood, just as he had said they would. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

We see Sansa and Littlefinger teaming up in building the snow castle. The collapsing bridge and Littlefinger’s help, symbolizes how Sansa and Littlefinger form a bridge between them, when Littlefinger pushes Lysa out of the Moon Door. Sansa is helpless and in peril when the much stronger Lysa holds her above the Moon Door, just as Sansa is helpless in preventing her bridges from collapsing. Petyr Baelish saves Sansa, helps her, but he gives the orders.

The guards were shouting outside the door, pounding with the butts of their heavy spears. Lord Petyr pulled Sansa to her feet. “You’re not hurt?” When she shook her head, he said, “Run let my guards in, then. Quick now, there’s no time to lose. This singer’s killed my lady wife.” (aSoS, Sansa VII)

After Littlefingers tells Sansa how to make the bridge stand, he starts to actively help her, making his hands dirty, picking up twigs, squats down and twines the twigs to make latticework to represent the glass of Winterfell’s glass gardens. He shows her how he does it. He tells her how they have to imagine the glass.

Littlefinger stroked his chin, where his beard had been before Lysa had asked him to shave it off. “The glass was locked in frames, no? Twigs are your answer. Peel them and cross them and use bark to tie them together into frames. I’ll show you.” He moved through the garden, gathering up twigs and sticks and shaking the snow from them. When he had enough, he stepped over both walls with a single long stride and squatted on his heels in the middle of the yard. Sansa came closer to watch what he was doing. His hands were deft and sure, and before long he had a crisscrossing latticework of twigs, very like the one that roofed the glass gardens of Winterfell. “We will need to imagine the glass, to be sure,” he said when he gave it to her.

After Lysa’s death, Petyr Baelish writes hundred of letters, sending ravens everywhere. He still instructs Sansa what to do and say when Lord Nestor Royce, steward of the Gates of the Moon ascends the mountain trail all the way to the Eyrie. But he also teaches her through experience how her fear, her emotionality makes the lie believable. Appearance and the right words make the listener imagine the glass of the metaphorical latticework of lies told by Sansa, Littlefinger and Marillion, especially since cocky Marillion was already hated by those judging his guilt. As a reward the junior Royce branch gets the Gates of the Moon for their house to inherit.

A touch of fear will not be out of place, Alayne. You’ve seen a fearful thing. Nestor will be moved.” Petyr studied her eyes, as if seeing them for the first time. “You have your mother’s eyes. Honest eyes, and innocent. Blue as a sunlit sea. When you are a little older, many a man will drown in those eyes.”

“Yes.” Her throat felt so dry and tight it almost hurt to speak. “I saw . . . I was with the Lady Lysa when . . .” A tear rolled down her cheek. That’s good, a tear is good. “. . . when Marillion . . . pushed her.” And she told the tale again, hardly hearing the words as they spilled out of her. (aFfC, Sansa I)

Littlefinger discusses in depth with Sansa why the lies work, and why he (instead of Robert Arryn) signed the document that hands the Gates of the Moon over from House Arryn to House Royce – if Littlefinger is deposed, then his signature is null and void, and Lord Nestor’s son does not get to inherit the Gates of the Moon. He continues to teach by example with the Lords Declarant, discussing the results with her afterwards. Petyr shamed the Lords Declarant into backing down from their immediate demands through the infiltrant Lyn Corbray – hot headed Lyn breaks guest right by drawing steel against Petyr, but in truth he is bought by Littlefinger. We see Littlefinger teach illusion to Sansa when she attempts to make the gargoyles of her snow castle.

She raised the walls of the glass gardens while Littlefinger roofed them over, and when they were done with that he helped her extend the walls and build the guardshall…The First Keep was simple enough, an old round drum tower, but Sansa was stymied again when it came to putting the gargoyles around the top. Again he had the answer. “It’s been snowing on your castle, my lady,” he pointed out. “What do the gargoyles look like when they’re covered with snow?
Sansa closed her eyes to see them in memory. “They’re just white lumps.”
“Well, then. Gargoyles are hard, but white lumps should be easy.” And they were. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

As an aside I want to give some possible implication of George using gargoyles in this scene. Gargoyles have a protective function, practical and symbolical. In order to protect the mortar and stone of a building from being damaged by water, gargoyles were built in connection to roof gullets so that the water would pour off the roof far away from the wall. Its symbolical function was protecting the visitors or people inside against dragons, demons and monsters. When a church is covered with monstrous gargoyles on the outside, it aims to message people that the faith will protect them from these devils or misfortunes. In that sense, pretend gargoyles can be seen as a reference that Petyr Baelish is a false Lord Protector, and that ultimately he cannot truly protect Sansa, not even if he wishes it. In other words, the Vale only seems safe, but is not safe.

After Sansa figured out the gargoyles, Petyr and Sansa work together, side by side on a tower. Similarly, Petyr requires Sansa to work as a master pupil with him in order to seduce Harrold Hardyng.

The Broken Tower was easier still. They made a tall tower together, kneeling side by side to roll it smooth, … (aSoS, Sansa VII)

This level of cooperation we still have to read about and witness in the upcoming tWoW. But at least for a while we shall see Sansa and Petyr work together successfully, side by side.

Petyr put a finger to her lips to silence her. “The dwarf wed Ned Stark’s daughter, not mine. Be that as it may. This is only a betrothal. The marriage must needs wait until Cersei is done and Sansa’s safely widowed. And you must meet the boy and win his approval. Lady Waynwood will not make him marry against his will, she was quite firm on that.”

” . . . young Harry’s only a cousin, and the dower that I offered her ladyship was even larger than the one that Lyonel Corbray just collected. It had to be, for her to risk Bronze Yohn’s wroth. This will put all his plans awry. You are promised to Harrold Hardyng, sweetling, provided you can win his boyish heart . . . which should not be hard, for you.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

While Littlefinger managed Lady Waynwood to agree to the proposed match of Sansa and Harry, it is a conditional betrothal. And we should not expect it to happen smoothly and without Sansa and Petyr working for it to happen.

  1. It does not seem that Lady Waynwood and her ward Harrold Hardying know Alayne Stone is Sansa Stark. So, in Anya’s and Harrold’s eyes it is a betrothal between Petyr Baelish’s bastard daughter and the heir of the Vale. Sansa must use her wits, her charm and her beauty to make him fall in love with her so fervently that he’d rather marry her than any other. She has to inspire the type of desire that Robert and Rhaegar felt for Lyanna.
  2. There is the problem that Sansa is already married to Tyrion. For her to marry any other man, her marriage either has to be annulled or Sansa must be widowed. For the first to happen both Sansa and Tyrion would have to appear before the High Septon, which neither can do as long as Cersei and her children rule Westeros. So, a marriage will not happen any time soon.
  3. Bronze Yohn Royce has organized a melee for squires, making sure Harrold won, and knighted his favorite. Since, Littlefinger has power over Sweetrobin, Yohn Royce would try anything to get and keep Harrold Hardyng on his side. There can be no doubt that Yohn Royce hardened Harry the Heir against both Petyr Baelish and Alayne Stone. Harry would likely meet Sansa as prejudiced, unwilling and insolent, intent to discourage any hope for a formal betrothal.
  4. Since Harrold seems to be a bit of a womanizer (already having a bastard and a second on the way) he sounds somewhat like a Robert Baratheon who falls for a pretty face and imagines himself in love easily. While Sansa is pretty, Yohn Royce may have promised a wealthy dowry if he were to wed some rich merchant’s daughter (like Petyr did for Lord Lyonel Corbray) he may fancy already.

“Our cousin Bronze Yohn had himself a mêlée at Runestone,” Myranda Royce went on, oblivious, “a small one, just for squires. It was meant for Harry the Heir to win the honors, and so he did.”
“Harry the Heir?”
“Lady Waynwood’s ward. Harrold Hardyng. I suppose we must call him Ser Harry now. Bronze Yohn knighted him.”

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.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

Meanwhile, Sansa has had some very disappointing experiences. Joffrey was handsome and charming when he wished to be, but in truth a sadistic monster. Tyrion was kind enough, but the sight of him gave her the shudders. She is not eager to be wedded again. While Harrold is described as handsome and gallant, he has also already fathered a bastard on a common girl and another is on the way by another girl. So, not only must Harry fall in love with Sansa, she must like him enough herself. She may dream of Winterfell and reclaiming the North, but it remains a question whether she is willing to marry someone she greatly dislikes for that dream.

George would not be the writer he is, if this conditional betrothal does not provide an opportunity for hurdles, issues and reservations between Harry and Sansa to overcome before a betrothal is officially announced. Despite what some may believe,  there is however a strong foreshadowing in aGoT, during the Hand’s Tourney in Sansa’s chapter that at least there will be a positive romantic resolution between the two in the shape of Loras Tyrell as a stand-in for Harrold.

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. (aGoT, Sansa II)

We have the red and white of the Hardyng sigil featured both in the horse’s blanket as well as the roses being plucked and handed to the fair maidens. Loras acts quite the womanizer, plucking flowers left and right. White is the color of purity, and the girls are referred to as maidens. “Plucking a flower” is a metaphor for intercourse, specifically taking a woman’s maidenhood. Since he won thrice, Loras plucked three flowers, and this implies that Harrold has or shall deflower three maidens. We know that at least of two maidens who gotten pregnant with his bastard, both were common girls. Is there a third we still need to learn about from his past, or will he deflower a third maiden in tWoW?

When the white horse stopped in front of her, [Sansa] 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.”(aGoT, Sansa II)

For Sansa though Loras plucks a red rose – the ultimate symbolic gesture from a man to a woman as a sign of love. Yes, Loras is gay, Sansa is betrothed to Joffrey at the time, and Loras later has no memory of the rose at all afterwards, but it is not about Loras. It is a metaphor and foreshadowes Harrold and Alayne in the Vale. As there is no reason for Harrold to pretend to love Alayne, especially in a public setting, except if he actually fancies himself in love, and instead he has many reasons to reject her in order to avoid an official betrothal, this scene foreshadows the betrothal to become official.

His last match of the day was against the younger Royce. Ser Robar’s ancestral runes proved small protection as Ser Loras split his shield and drove him from his saddle to crash with an awful clangor in the dirt. 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. (aGoT, Sansa II)

And who did Loras fight? None other than Yohn Royce’s younger son, Robar Royce. Yohn Royce is the last of the Lord Declarants who cannot be worked at, bought, or manipulated into supporting Littlefinger. But since Yohn Royce married his only daughter to Mychel Redfort, he  only has his ancestral runes to protect Harry the Heir against the charms of a pretty face, highborn manners and the wit of a lady that has survived King’s Landing. Now, imagine Yohn Royce learning that Harrold Hardyng makes a public love declaration to Alayne Stone and thereby making the betrothal official. All resistance from the Vale Lords against Petyr Baelish ends up smashed. It would leave Yohn Royce standing alone, dazed and unable to make any further move. Hence, we see Yohn Royce’s son Robar crash from his saddle with an awful clangor, left moaning, dazed and unmoving on the field, so that he needs to be carried off with a litter. It would be 5-0 for Littlefinger (Nestor Royce, Lyn Corbray, Lyonel Corbray, Anya Waynwood and Harrold Hardyng).

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)

More importantly, Sansa is pretty much blown away by it. She only has eyes for him, is dumbstruck by the declaration of love and clings to the memory of it for a long time. Unfortunately, the same final paragraph already includes ill omens. The reference of the “sweet fragrance of a rose” tends to bode ill in aSoIaF. Both in Dany’s chapters as well as Sansa’s a sweet smell hints of tragedy for them, either in the form of betrayal, deception or in death. In Loras’ case it is a deception, to mask his homosexuality. In Harrold’s case I think he will ride off to his death².

Sansa and Littlefinger are so close to winning the Vale for them that they and us, the readers, can almost taste it. With whatever mess Cersei is in with the Tyrells and Aegon conquering the Stormlands, while the Ironborn attack the Reach, Littlefinger can reveal Alayne’s true identity sooner than they imagined. The Vale Lords have been eager to get into the thick of the wars for the Starks since Robb rode south. Still, a betrothal is far more preferable than an actual marriage. It is of the utmost importance that Robert Arryn does not die just yet. Sweetrobin is eight and a minor, in need of a regent for years, while Harrold is of age and could set Petyr Baelish aside if he were to become Lord of the Vale. Falling in love with the daughter, does not necessarily mean Harry would trust and rely on Littlefinger.

The Titan is not only playing the long game here, but keeping several balls up in the air simultaneaously. And if one ball drops, they all drop. Unfortunately for Littlefinger, Ser Hugh’s death foreshadows the end of House Arryn. Twice in a row, George emphasizes the sky blue coat of Ser Hugh – in the paragraph where we see him dying, as well as the next where Sansa reflects on the event.

… The young knight in the blue cloak was nothing to her, some stranger from the Vale of Arryn whose name she had forgotten as soon as she heard it. (aGoT, Sansa II)

The sole sky blue sigil in the Vale is that of House Arryn. There are several possible candidates in the eyes of many readers:

  • Lysa Arryn born a Tully, widow of the late Jon Arryn, regent of the Vale and who fell to her death through the moon door. The women bear the sigils of their birth House as well as their husband’s. Lysa is, however, a woman, and her death did not evoke such thoughts as the above mentioned paragraph with Sansa.
  • Robert Arryn (Sweetrobin) who is Lord of the Vale, sickly, suffering from the shaking disease, and being poisoned and habituated to sweetsleep on the order of Peter Baelish³. But he is not a knight. He is a boy of eight. George intended to skip five years after aSoS though, which would have made Sweetrobin thirteen in aFfC. It is young to be knighted, but Robb was fourteen when he went to war against Joffrey and proved himself a capable war leader. That George dropped the five year gap in order to write the Mereneese knot of Daenerys does not exclude Sweetrobin from being the young man or boy with a blue coat dying at Sansa’s feet.
  • Harrold Hardyng (Harry the Heir) is Sweetrobin’s heir,  and was recently knighted by Lord John Royce. House Hardyng’s sigil is a field of red and white diamonds. But Harry the Heir has a quartered personal sigil – one quarter of House Hardyng, another quarter of House Waynwood and two quarters the blue and falcon of House Arryn. So, he could indeed match the blue coat reference.

I propose that the blue coat reference is meant to be seen as the end of the official Arryn bloodline. There will be no more House Arryn at the end of tWoW and both Sweetrobin and Harry will die.

Unlike what many may suspect, I do not think that Robert Arryn will die of poisoning. I already mentioned how it is in Littlefinger’s interest to keep Sweetrobin alive for a while yet. But, Sweetrobin is destined to ruin Petyr Baelish’s dream as well as Sansa’s. When Sansa breaks the kiss in the godswood and tries to reason with Petyr how wrong it is for him to kiss her, she is no match when it comes to outwitting an adult male with ill intentions. Petyr knows he’s supposed to only kiss his wife. He knows Sansa might have been his own daughter in age. He just does not care. And when Sansa realizes “you shouldn’t” and “I won’t” does not help, her last resource is to plead with him that he won’t. Littlefinger has her mentally exactly where he wants her. But then Robert appears and interrupts.

“Petyr, please.” Her voice sounded so weak. “Please . . .”
“A castle!”
The voice was loud, shrill, and childish. Littlefinger turned away from her. “Lord Robert.” He sketched a bow. “Should you be out in the snow without your gloves?” (aSoS, Sansa VII)

Hence, Robert Arryn derails Littlefinger’s greatest wish and will do so again. The only way Sweetrobin can ruin Petyr Baelish’s plans and dreams is by dying too early and unexpectedly in tWoW. Then Harrold Hardyng becomes the new Lord of the Vale, taking the name Arryn, way too soon for Littlefinger to maintain his political position as Lord Protector or advizor. Harry would still honor his betrothal, but would probably lend his ear to Lady Waynwood and Lord Yohn Royce.

Worse, with Sansa being secure in her betrothal to Lord Harrold Arryn (or perhaps even rushed into marriage with him and being Lady of the Vale), Littlefinger risks losing his hold over her as well. After they successfully managed to roll the tower for the snow castle together, Sansa experiences a surge of courage and actually confronts Petyr.

… and when they’d raised it Sansa stuck her fingers through the top, grabbed a handful of snow, and flung it full in his face. Petyr yelped, as the snow slid down under his collar. “That was unchivalrously done, my lady.”
“As was bringing me here, when you swore to take me home.” She wondered where this courage had come from, to speak to him so frankly. From Winterfell, she thought. I am stronger within the walls of Winterfell.
His face grew serious. “Yes, I played you false in that . . . and in one other thing as well.”

Sansa does not only fling snow in his face, but his own words and his promises. And in response  to this Petyr admits his lies. In the Chthonic Cycle – The Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert I argued how Ned Stark connects with the source of Stark power (the Underworld) unwittingly and unwillingly in the dungeons beneath the Red Keep, and how he damns a list of people, including Littlefinger. More, I argued how Ned communicates with the damned visiting him through visions, and how each vision not only relates to the guilt Ned feels of the mistakes he made according to these damned, but that they also reveal that person’s downfall.

Cracks ran down his face, fissures opening in the flesh, and [Ned] reached up and ripped the mask away. It was not Robert at all; it was Littlefinger, grinning, mocking him. When he opened his mouth to speak, his lies turned to pale grey moths and took wing. (aGoT, Eddard XV)

In Littlefinger’s case, his lies ought to be his downfall. How curious that we witness Sansa finding the courage, empowered by Winterfell, to unmask him and confront him with his lies and false promises, and a little later she holds the doll’s head in her hands and in a mad rage she pins it on a stake on top of the ruined gatehouse, before leaving him.

Sansa

Index

Perhaps a look into the most personal paragraphs of the tourney and the snow castle will give us accurate insights for how these events may affect Sansa. Apart from the repeated mention of the word dream regarding the snow castle, George also focuses on the change of light. Sansa wakes before dawn, in the cold and darkness.When she enters the godswood it is still night – a world without color, only whites, blacks and greys. By the time dawn breaks through, she finds herself on her knees in the garden, and eventually starts to build the snow castle, as the light grows lighter and color returns to the world. The combination of Sansa building Winterfell from memory out of snow after the multiple references to the dawn is the major reason why many readers believe Sansa will be a renaissance character of House Stark when the Long Night ends. While this interpretation may not be wrong, after the Long Night, I would caution against the belief it will be done with the help of the Vale, because of the multiple dream references and how in the end we witness the giants destroying Sansa’s dream, a dream she walks away from.

The room was cold and black, though she was warm beneath the blankets. Dawn had not yet come…The snow drifted down and down, all in ghostly silence, and lay thick and unbroken on the ground. All color had fled the world outside. It was a place of whites and blacks and greys. White towers and white snow and white statues, black shadows and black trees, the dark grey sky above. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

Sansa calls this a “pure world” – black, white, grey. It is a world where good and evil are easily distinguishable, and only the sky is grey. She steps out and lets herself be swept away into a mental state of innocense and dreams, of Winterfell. And the more she does this, the lighter the scene becomes.

When Sansa opened her eyes again, she was on her knees. She did not remember falling. It seemed to her that the sky was a lighter shade of grey. Dawn, she thought. Another day. Another new day. It was the old days she hungered for. Prayed for. But who could she pray to? The garden had been meant for a godswood once, she knew, but the soil was too thin and stony for a weirwood to take root. A godswood without gods, as empty as me. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

This paragraph does not predict a bright outcome for Sansa’s dreams through the Vale at all. By the time Dawn arrives, she will have been brought to her knees. And the plans of Vale characters for Sansa will all come to nothing: plans and dreams cannot even take root there and prayers will be unheard and unanswered. This paragraph seems to suggest strongly that it will not be through the help of the Vale that her prayers will be answered – not by Littlefinger, not Sweetrobin, not Harrold, not a Vale army. Note also, how instead of projecting to the future beyond Dawn, the paragraph points to the past – with the sentence of Sansa hungering for the old days – to events that precede Dawn, to the events that bring Sansa on her knees. It is as if this chapter is giving us a short glimpse of the future with the coming of dawn and then as a type of flashback (compared to that moment in the future) tells us what will happen between the present and the start of the Long Night.

When Sansa first steps outside to feel the snow fall in the godswood, the statue of the weeping woman is mentioned.

At the center of the garden, beside the statue of the weeping woman that lay broken and half-buried on the ground, she turned her face up to the sky and closed her eyes. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

The statue was damaged and fell during Tyrion’s trial by combat between Bronn and Ser Vardis Egen. It is the image of Alyssa Arryn, a woman who never shed a tear for all the men she had lost in her life, and would know no rest in death until her tears touched the earth where her loves ones were buried. The waterfall of the Giant’s Lance is called Alyssa’s tears, because the water turns to mist before it can touch the ground of the valley.

Pale white mists rose off Alyssa’s Tears, where the ghost waters plunged over the shoulder of the mountain to begin their long tumble down the face of the Giant’s Lance. Catelyn could feel the faint touch of spray on her face.
Alyssa Arryn had seen her husband, her brothers, and all her children slain, and yet in life she had never shed a tear. So in death, the gods had decreed that she would know no rest until her weeping watered the black earth of the Vale, where the men she had loved were buried. Alyssa had been dead six thousand years now, and still no drop of the torrent had ever reached the valley floor far below. Catelyn wondered how large a waterfall her own tears would make when she died. (aGoT, Catelyn VII)

The weeping woman features in both Catelyn’s arc and Sansa’s. Catelyn wishes for space and time to weep, but keeps telling herself she must remain strong. She does weep, but often wipes her tears away and moments before her death even rakes her face open to stop them. Like Alyssa, Catelyn loses her husband and in her mind all her children. And like Alyssa she gets no rest or reprieve in death, for she was resurrected by Lord Beric Dondarrion. It is curious though that Sansa gets to stand beside the statue, that was broken and damaged when her mother was there last and how the broken and half-buried might be a reference to a broken woman who is basically half-dead.

The story of Alyssa not weeping though also ties back to the paragraph that follows immediately after the description of Ser Hugh’s death in Sansa’s tourney chapter. It is perhaps one of the most chilling paragraphs in Sansa’s chapters.

Jeyne Poole wept so hysterically that Septa Mordane finally took her off to regain her composure, but Sansa sat with her hands folded in her lap, watching with a strange fascination. She had never seen a man die before. She ought to be crying too, she thought, but the tears would not come. Perhaps she had used up all her tears for Lady and Bran. It would be different if it had been Jory or Ser Rodrik or Father, she told herself. The young knight in the blue cloak was nothing to her, some stranger from the Vale of Arryn whose name she had forgotten as soon as she heard it. And now the world would forget his name too, Sansa realized; there would be no songs sung for him. That was sad. (aGoT, Sansa II)

We know Sansa weeps for Lady, for Bran, later for her father, and in private, behind a closed door for her brother Robb and her mother. But she cannot weep for the knights and strangers of the Vale. The paragraph makes one wonder whether she will weep for Robert Arryn, or Harrold her betrothed. Most likely the answer is that she will not shed one tear for them, not even if she experiences a positive little romance with Harrold. It is not her home, ultimately; nor will she regard them as her family. Keeping in mind what she went through in King’s Landing, then getting her hopes raised and be so close to the point where she can reveal who she is to raise an army for the North and then witness it falling apart with such senseless massacres from avalanches and mountain clans, a numb emotionless response is almost to be expected – forget it, detach, move on, carry on, just a bunch of strangers, they are nothing to me.

The short paragraph after in Sansa’s chapter of the Hand’s Tourney especially reflects that “carry on” attitude.

After they carried off the body, a boy with a spade ran onto the field and shoveled dirt over the spot where he had fallen, to cover up the blood. Then the jousts resumed. (aGoT, Sansa II)

While previously I remarked on the blue cloak (it’s a repeat mention), this time I wish to emphasize the stranger. Because Sansa does meet a deadly stranger from the Vale during the tourney. Littlefinger talks overly familiar to her without ever even introducing himself. Septa Mordane must point out to her who he is, and even then he does not engage into any introduction. Instead he brushes her cheek and strokes her hair.

When Sansa finally looked up, a man was standing over her, staring. He was short, with a pointed beard and a silver streak in his hair, almost as old as her father. “You must be one of her daughters,” he said to her. He had grey-green eyes that did not smile when his mouth did. “You have the Tully look.”
“I’m Sansa Stark,” she said, ill at ease. The man wore a heavy cloak with a fur collar, fastened with a silver mockingbird, and he had the effortless manner of a high lord, but she did not know him. “I have not had the honor, my lord.”
Septa Mordane quickly took a hand. “Sweet child, this is Lord Petyr Baelish, of the king’s small council.”
“Your mother was my queen of beauty once,” the man said quietly. His breath smelled of mint. “You have her hair.” His fingers brushed against her cheek as he stroked one auburn lock. Quite abruptly he turned and walked away. (aGoT, Sansa II)

Aside from being a total creep to Sansa, it identifies him as a third death – we have blue cloaked House Arryn and the stranger from the Vale, Petyr Baelish. And of course if she confronts Littlefinger with his lies, especially in anger over the dream collapsing, and is in a position to see him dead, then chances are high she would not bat a tear for him.

A kiss

Index

Since the time she was exposed to “the Bear and the Maiden Fair” song at the start of aSoS, when Olenna hears her out about Joffrey and proposes her marriage to Willas Tyrell, Sansa’s sexuality has awoken. Certainly the second half of the song would be regarded as hokum, since it implies the performance of cunnilungus with the bear licking the honey of her hair and the maiden sighing, squaling and kicking air. Even as the fool blares the song in their ears she has her fist erotic fantasy of a kiss. Since then, almost every chapter of Sansa’s involves an imagined or being kissed by men and boys she does not desire, or kisses are talked about, begged for or fought over.

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 [Loras], to run her fingers through those thick brown curls and drown in his deep brown eyes. A flush crept up her neck. (aSoS, Sansa I)

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 . . .  (aFfC, Alayne II)

Sansa’s been kissed by a fool (Dontos), a dwarf and husband (Tyrion), a king (Joffrey), a father figure (Littlefinger), a little boy (Sweetrobin), groped by a singer (Marillion) and licked by a dog. But not one was a knight. Even if one argues that Sandor has become a true knight in his arc with Arya, he never actually kissed Sansa, despite her false memory of it, nor has she any idea what part he played in Arya’s story. She experienced sloppy kisses, moist kisses, mint kisses, clumsy kisses and an imaginary cruel kiss. Not one of those kisses was a lover’s kiss (in Sandor’s case, because it did not happen). At this moment that is still her fantasy and dream – to be kissed by a handsome knight who pledges his love and devotion to her. The Hound may have given her a reality check on the knights at court, but she still hopes for a true knight. Loras’ red rose, his joust against Robar Royce, and the kissing theme in Sansa’s arc strongly hint that Harrold will agree to the betrothal to the bastard Alayne Stone, who has no claim at all as far as people and Harrold know, and that they will share a lover’s kiss.

Some of those kisses tend to get her into trouble too, especially by those who are jealous. Lysa is green with envy over Petyr kissing the snow maiden, and nearly throws Sansa out of the Moon Door. Instead, Petyr Baelish shows Lysa the door. Currently, we have at least two candidates to make trouble out of jealousy – Myranda Royce and Sweetrobin.

“M’lady,” Ser Lothor said, “you’d best know. Mya didn’t come up alone. Lady Myranda’s with her.”
“Oh.” Why would she ride all the way up the mountain, just to ride back down again? Myranda Royce was the Lord Nestor’s daughter…Her mother was long dead, so Lady Myranda kept her father’s castle for him; it was a much livelier court when she was home than when she was away, according to rumor. “Soon or late you must meet Myranda Royce,” Petyr had warned her. “When you do, be careful. She likes to play the merry fool, but underneath she’s shrewder than her father. Guard your tongue around her.”

There is plenty of speculation about Myranda and her potential to harm Sansa in some way, often in the direction of Myranda discovering Alayne’s true identity and complicity in Lysa’s murder through Sansa’s missing shoe. Her remarks about Sansa’s bosom in relation to her age and flowering, testing Sansa’s modesty, impertinent questions about Littlefinger the moment the two meet do support the impression that Myranda suspects Alayne is not Petyr Baelish’s daughter and that there was some struggle between Lysa and Alayne over Littlefinger. But it is doubtful that Nestor Royce or his daughter would use that suspicion or information openly, exactly for the reasons Littlefinger outlined – if Petyr Baelish or his own are accused of the murder of Lysa, then Nestor Royce can kiss his son inheriting the Gates of the Moon goodbye. It is far more likely Myranda tries to find out as much as she can, just in case, for her own ends. Illyrio explains to Tyrion how learning secrets but letting them remain might earn you the biggest pay-off. Even knowledge that one does not or cannot use is valuable.

Also, if Myranda was solely snooping around and sniffing out Sansa in relation to the murder, then why wait so long to meet and befriend Sansa? Littlefinger was gone for a long enough time and Myranda is liked by Sweetrobin. She could have made the ascent a week or two before and stay over to help them pack or some other excuse. Some recent tidings, some recent news that pertains Myranda’s interests motivated her to climb and meet Sansa before she arrives at the Gates of the Moon – the unofficial betrothal of Alayne and Harrold. Where before everybody assumed Littlefinger would marry Alayne to the sickly and unpopular Robert Arryn, it turns out that Lady Anya Waynwood agreed to a match with Harrold Hardyng, the young knight every lord in the Vale expects to outlive Robert, sooner than later. Both Lord Nestor Royce and Myranda had hoped to land that falcon. Myranda has this to say about Harry the Heir and the melee Yohn Royce organized.

Lady Myranda snorted. “I pray he gets the pox. He has a bastard daughter by some common girl, you know. My lord father had hoped to marry me to Harry, but Lady Waynwood would not hear of it. I do not know whether it was me she found unsuitable, or just my dowry.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

The situation is a minor parallel to the one in King’s Landing with Margaery. Where in King’s Landing, Margaery took Sansa’s intended, this time Alayne is the reputed beauty and maiden who has come to “town” to marry the most eligible bachelor of the region. Of course, one manner to monitor competition is to pretend at being friends and gain the rival’s confidence, and talk bad of the object of affection.

Initially, Sweetrobin and Sansa do not get along much. He has no particular interest in Alayne, and she thinks of him as an annoying, spoiled baby. After Lysa’s death though, she needs to tell Lothor Brune to lock Robert’s door, or otherwise he climbs in her bed at night to nuzzle at her breasts. She becomes his foster mother. But by the time they make the descent for the Gates of the Moon, he kisses her on the mouth and shows a great degree of possessiveness.

“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.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

Sure, Robert’s kiss may be clumsy and he is but a little boy of eight, but Bran was struck by puppy love for Meera since he was eight. So, where Robert originally treats Sansa as the replacement of his mother, he seems to have developed a puppy crush. They might be a child’s feelings, but are not less genuine and not less possessive. In Sweetrobin’s case, his possessiveness could get serious and dramatic proportions. Nor will it be something that goes unnoticed for Myranda’s shrew mind.

A speculative scenario

Index

In what follows I will clearly speculate, by piecing the above hints, clues and events together. While Sweetrobin may be healthily terrified of Littlefinger and Sansa could explain her betrothal in a rational manner that he ought to accept, it would be something entirely different if he were to discover that she feels a passion for Harry. The best and most direct manner for Sweetrobin to learn of it is by witnessing a kiss between Alayne and Harry as lovers, which would be an echo of what Bran witnesses between Cersei and Jaime in the old keep at Winterfell. Except here, Sweetrobin does not run into them by accident, but Myranda makes it happen, hoping that Robert Arryn’s posessiveness and jealousy will throw a serious wrench into Littlefinger’s plans – such as Robert sending Harry away and refuse to allow the betrothal becoming official.

Why Harry and not Littlefinger? Sansa would never kiss Littlefinger passionately. For Sweetrobin to be angry with Sansa, he needs to feel betrayed. Robert Arryn has grown up with rather peculiar ways between a parent and child. With his background he would hardly find it odd to witness a father kiss his daughter. He fears Petyr Baelish, but does not regard him as a rival. But a young, healthy, knight who is his heir and promised to be married to his Alayne is a rival4.

Speculating even further, there will be drama in an angry exchange between Sweetrobin and Sansa such as we witness in the godswood, resulting in Sweetrobin’s death as the Giant’s Lance avalanche comes down, breaking his neck. Again this echoes Bran’s fall and breaking his spine. Except, there are no old gods at either the Eyrie or the Gates of the Moon, and therefore no three-eyed-crow to intervene on Sweetrobin’s behalf. Sweetrobin has many parallels with Bran.

  • Robert Arryn is of similar age as when Bran fell
  • They are enormously fond of knighthood
  • Their mothers doted on them and were very protective of them
  • They like heights: Robert prefers to remain at the Eyrie, Bran loves to climb walls
  • They have a thing with flying: Robert’s sigil is a falcon, he likes to make people fly, when they start to descend his cloak flaps like wings, he loves the Falcon Knight; Bran is promised he’ll learn to fly, skinchanges ravens, and wishes he could be an eagle flying high.
  • Both are physically weak: Robert has his shaking disease, Bran is crippled
  • Both are seated on a weirwood throne: Robert’s throne chair is carved out of weirwood, Bran sits on a live one made from weirwood roots in Bloodraven’s cave

With Maddy’s help, she got Robert seated on his weirwood throne with a stack of pillows underneath him and sent word that his lordship would receive his guests.(aFfC, Sansa I)

In aDwD a giant and an avalanche are featured in Bran’s chapter, right before the wight attack at Bloodraven’s cave.

“Hodor, stop,” said Bran. “Hodor. Wait.” Something was wrong. Summer smelled it, and so did he. Something bad. Something close. “Hodor, no, go back.”
Coldhands was still climbing, and Hodor wanted to keep up. “Hodor, hodor, hodor,” he grumbled loudly, to drown out Bran’s complaints. His breathing had grown labored. Pale mist filled the air. He took a step, then another. The snow was almost waist deep and the slope was very steep. Hodor was leaning forward, grasping at rocks and trees with his hands as he climbed. Another step. Another. The snow Hodor disturbed slid downhill, starting a small avalanche behind them.
Sixty yards. Bran craned himself sideways to better see the cave. Then he saw something else. A fire!” In the little cleft between the weirwood trees was a flickering glow, a ruddy light calling through the gathering gloom. “Look, someone—”
Hodor screamed. He twisted, stumbled, fell.
Bran felt the world slide sideways as the big stableboy spun violently around. A jarring impact drove the breath from him. His mouth was full of blood and Hodor was thrashing and rolling, crushing the crippled boy beneath him. (aDwD, Bran II)

After, Gregor Clegane, Hodor is the biggest human being Ned knows, a veritable giant. Hodor is also single-minded. In the first half of the above scene in aDwD, Hodor is more like a stubborn Sweetrobin, plowing on to climb back to the Eyrie? Robert Arryn featured as a giant in the snow castle scene, trashing, rolling and crushing. Meanwhile Bran attempts to stop him, telling him to wait and to come back. Is that what Sansa will be doing? Running after Sweetrobin and calling him back? And then Hodor disturbs the unstable snow, starting an avalanche. It starts small, but before long Hodor as the Giant comes crashing down, taking Bran (who takes Sweetrobin’s place) down with him. The survivors find Robert’s broken body, wrapped in his sky blue cloak, not ten feet from Sansa, and a  possible echo of Sweetrobin’s words at the snow castle will ring in her ears.

Lord Robert’s mouth trembled. “You killlllllllled him,” he wailed. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

With Robert Arryn dead, Harrold Hardyng becomes Lord Harrold Arryn of the Vale. This would be too soon for Littlefinger’s liking. He has two option here – attempt to flee with Sansa, or force the marriage to happen. The first would lead immediately to a confrontation between Sansa and Petyr Baelish. However, it could still be attempted later. The second option seems a valid option too. Sansa pricks the giant’s head on a stake and her confidence when she throws snow in Littlefinger’s face hints at Sansa having or believing herself to possess a role of authority. As Lady Arryn she would have exactly that. I would also like to refer back to the flower plucking. As usual things tend to come in trees (Loras number of victories). Unless we learn of yet a third maiden carrying Harry’s bastard, as far as we currently know Harrold Hardyng has plucked two maidenheads. With the red rose that could be a wedding night. But in the long run that may cause trouble for Sansa – having lost her maidenhood it would be difficult to be granted an annullment from her marriage to Tyrion. At any rate, alarming news reaches the ruined Gates of the Moon that mountain clans, led by the Burned Men threaten the Bloody Gate which has been damaged, with Harry valiantly riding out into the pass to defend the Vale, never to return.

What happens beyond that remains as speculative, other than Littlefinger’s death. This may be another moment where Littlefinger attempts to convince Sansa to abandon everything and throws herself at her, confessing to his lies. But all it does is prompt her to order him killed. Sansa may end up being kidnapped by Shadrich on his chestnut courser (see previous essays of the Trail of the Red Stallion) and his companions, might manage to flee for Runestone and Yohn Royce, or in the hands of the Burned Men. Sansa’s implied detachment of the Vale in the paragraph right after Ser Hugh’s death strongly hints she will end up in Shadrich’s hands to be taken away from the Vale.

When tWoW comes out and we see another tourney through Sansa’s eyes, then read it carefully and watch Shadrich’s chestnut courser.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

Index

The two paragraphs relating to Ser Hugh’s death as well as Loras’ joust where he ends up giving a red rose to Sansa during the Hand’s Tourney in Sansa’s chapter, and the snow castle chapter in relation to Sansa’s arc in the Vale foreshadows disaster and doom as follows:

  • A massacre at the Gates of the Moon by an avalanche storming off the Giant’s Lance, caused by an earthquake (giants woken by the Horn of Winter). It appears that Robert Arryn will be killed in that disaster.
  • The Burned Men leading three thousand men of the mountain clans to conquer the damaged Bloody Gate. Timett son of Timett is probably the grandson of Alys Arryn, whose fourth daughter was kidnapped by Burned Men. This seems to most logical location and setting in which the new Lord of the Vale, Harrold Arryn will meet his deadly fate. House Arryn ends with him.
  • Sansa will experience some angsty times when it comes to Harry the Heir, but ultimately will succeed in securing Harry’s affections. The betrothal will become official. Chances are high she will have her first lover’s kiss from a knight. However, the kiss most likely will provoke Sweetrobin and him running away, right at the onset of the earthquake.
  • Because of Sweetrobin’s untimely death, Littlefinger may wish to secure Harry’s loyalty by having Sansa wed to him. This would make her Lady Alayne of the Vale, but also a widow and without her maidenhood, which would pose later issues in securing her annullment of her marriage to Tyrion.
  • Sansa will confront Littlefinger at some point during these disasters and be in the position to see him beheaded. His head will land on a stake of the castle.
  • Sansa either falls in the hands of the Burned Men, manages to flee to Yohn Royce or is taken by Shadrich. For several reasons, it seems most likely that she opts to flee with Shadrich. (see an upcoming essay for more on him)

So, while Littlefinger and Lysa saved and spared the Vale army forces by keeping out of any war, most likely an amassed number of heirs, knights and lords will simply die for nothing with the avalanche, and afterwards fighting the Mountain Clans. The Vale as we know it will implode and be split between Yohn Royce and mountain clans, or these two factions may find a marital compromize.

Notes

  1. So far it is unconfirmed whether the gravedigger at the Quiet Isle is actually Sandor Clegane, but it is a well founded and popular theory.
  2. tWoW sample chapter spoiler: I personally dislike Harry based on the first impression of the sample chapter. I find he is rude, a womanizer, and while honest, the way he talks of the mother of his first bastard makes me think he’s a superficial jerk. But then I do believe George set him up to come off as a pampered jock who is used to getting what he wants and fancies, and to be disliked by Sansa for it. When I consider the narrative impact on Sansa though, I must conclude that the sweet red rose and him riding off never to be seen again would be the most tragic if Harry’s feelings are genuine; that Sansa’s dream of a young handsome, brave knight in love with her was within her grasp, only to be wrestled away from her by cruel fate.
  3. Recommended reading on Robert Arryn’s addiction to sweetsleep: Cantuse’s essay, The Mockingbird’s Sweet Poison
  4. tWoW sample chapter spoiler: In the excerpt of Alayne I of tWoW that George released, Sweetrobin shows great dislike for Harry the Heir when he learns of his coming. He suspects Harry would rather see him dead so that Harry can be Lord of the Vale instead. He also tries to forbid Sansa from marrying him, saying he wants to marry her instead, and if that is not possible to take her as his mistress. Littlefinger even arranges for Harrold’s room to be as far away from Robert as possible. And Sansa is apprehensive of Robert having a shaking fit when she accepts Harrold’s invitation for a dance.

Sansa’s Tourneys

If the two jousts witnessed through Ned’s point of view are a foreshadowing parallel to what will befall him several chapters later, then naturally it leads to the question whether George did something similar in Sansa’s chapter during the Hand’s Tourney and Joffrey’s nameday tourney. In that case, it would be a parallel that reflects her arc. Indeed, we can find numerous parallels and foreshadowing, some that still need to come to pass. There is so much of it, that I have split it in two articles. This article is about Westerosi news and events Sansa learns about. The foreshadowing of Sansa’s arc in the Vale is handled in part 2.

The Observer

Initially, the paralellism starts with scenes relating to the more general political story. This actually does fit many of Sansa’s point of views in King’s Landing, where she seems more an observing reporter of military and political news in Westeros. The first jousts we are told about are how well the men-at-arms of House Stark fared.

Jory, Alyn, and Harwin rode for Winterfell and the north. “Jory looks a beggar among these others,” Septa Mordane sniffed when he appeared. Sansa could only agree. Jory’s armor was blue-grey plate without device or ornament, and a thin grey cloak hung from his shoulders like a soiled rag. Yet he acquitted himself well, unhorsing Horas Redwyne in his first joust and one of the Freys in his second. In his third match, he rode three passes at a freerider named Lothor Brune whose armor was as drab as his own. Neither man lost his seat, but Brune’s lance was steadier and his blows better placed, and the king gave him the victory. Alyn and Harwin fared less well; Harwin was unhorsed in his first tilt by Ser Meryn of the Kingsguard, while Alyn fell to Ser Balon Swann. (aGoT, Sansa II)

Though Jory will be one of the first Stark men-at-arms killed and Harwin still lives as far as we know by the end of aDwD, the overall message is that the Stark men-at-arms in general will not last long. Of those that remained in King’s Landing, none survived beyond aGoT. Others die in the Riverlands, like Alyn. The men-at-arms who remained at Winterfell almost all die in aCoK, and the remainder that went with Robb died at the Red Wedding in aSoS. Only Harwin and most likely Hallis Mollen remain.

Notice Jory’s colors and description of his clothing. Like Loras’ grey mare and blue forget-me-nots cape in Ned’s Tourney chapter, we have the Stark grey and the blue of the Winterfell glass garden roses. An outright reference to Lyanna makes little sense in Sansa’s point of view. Most likely, Jory symbolizes House Stark in general. The cloak appears soiled,  the rag of a beggar. House Stark gets beggared when their seat is taken, sacked and burned. Its name gets dragged through the mud with Eddard Stark declared a traitor, Sansa an accomplice in the murder of Joffrey, Robb a sorcerer who could change into a wolf, and  Jon Snow a traitor to the Night’s Watch.

Jory could also be a stand-in for Jon Snow, as Lyanna’s son – George uses the metaphor of the blue rose in a chink of the Wall in the visions of the House of the Undying in Daenerys arc. As a bastard he is no more than a beggar, and it is extremely doubtful Eddard Stark has an empty tomb appointed for Jon Snow in the crypts like he has for the other Stark children. Jon dreams of the crypts and thinks it is not his place. The crypts are the place of the Starks of Winterfell, not the Snows of Winterfell. While Jon was never homeless, he could not claim Winterfell as his home. Bastards are also regarded as a product of sin and treacherous. His birth status alone soils him. His reputation is further soiled by having to pretend to be a deserter and finally a traitor to the Night’s Watch when he pushes to go South to confront Ramsay after the Pink Letter. One meaning does not necessarily exclude the other, so Jory can symbolize both House Stark and Jon Snow simultaneously if George wants to.

Jory jousts three knights of three different regions, and the third joust includes three rides – this is the “everything comes in threes” motif. At the very least George used it as a symbol-marker to highlight the paragraph as significant. With number three we are also reminded of the saying, “third time is the lucky charm”. But here it is reversed – Jory wins twice, but he loses the third joust though Jory is never unhorsed. Lothor gets awarded the win for style-reasons. This reversal suggests that we should look at the adversaries trying to win something from House Stark and/or Jon Snow. What does Sansa learn that other houses hope to win from House Stark? The wardenship of the North and the Stark seat of Winterfell. And what is a recurring theme in Sansa’s arc? Betrothals and marriages.

  • The Tyrells intend to betroth their heir Willas Tyrell to Sansa Stark, but fail at it. Sansa herself sabotages the betrothal unwittingly when she informs her Dontos-Florian about it. Dontos passes the knowledge on to Littlefinger so it gets back to Tywin who then thwarts the Tyrells by marrying Sansa to Tyrion.
  • House Frey attempts to get a Queen of the North out of it through a marriage with Robb Stark. But Robb ends up marrying Jeyne Westerling instead.

In a way, House Stark itself sabotaged the Tyrells and Freys from gaining their seat. We see this possibly reflected in Jory Cassel unhorsing a Redwyne and a Frey. House Frey is a direct obvious link, but what about Redwyne? Well, the mastermind behind the plan to betroth Sansa to Willas was Olenna Redwyne, the Queen of Thorns. In fact, Horas and Hobber Redwyne are Olenna’s twin grandsons – their mother Mina Tyrell, Olenna’s eldest daughter, married Olenna’s nephew Lord Paxter Redwyne.

With that out of the way, we now have to figure out Jory’s joust against Lothor Brune. Jory and Lothor have a go at it thrice, never harming each other, though in the end the king awards the win to Lothor. There are other attempts to acquire the North.

  • The crown and the Lannisters wed Sansa to Tyrion. But Tyrion never beds her – grounds for an annullment. On top of that, Tyrion is condemned for the murder of Joffrey and Sansa his accomplice. Both are on the run, with Sansa pretending to be Littlefinger’s bastard Alayne Stone. The crown’s failed attempt to gain Winterfell in this manner sounds like a pass.
  • The Boltons do get awarded the wardenship, but set-up a sham marriage to a fake Arya (Jeyne Poole) to convince the rest of the North of their claim on Winterfell. Theon helps Jeyne Poole escape, and is there anyone who believes the Boltons will remain warden for long? This claim-through-marriage attemp sounds like another pass.
  • When Sansa arrives at the Vale, Lysa wishes to wed Sweetrobin to Sansa. But when she wants to murder Sansa, Littlefinger pushes Lysa out of the Moon Door. Lysa’s marriage plans for Sansa are stored away indifenitely. This is another pass.
  • Littlefinger informs Sansa he arranged a betrothal for her as Alayne Stone with Harrold Hardyng, heir after Sweetrobin. She would reveal herself on her wedding day and rally the Vale to gain back the North. This is foreshadowed to fail (see part 2).

None of these four plans fail through the direct actions of that involved Stark, but by the actions of others. Only three of the four listes passes relate to Sansa (Tyrion, Lysa and Littlefinger). The same three can be tied to Lothor Brune – distant cousin of the knightly House Brune of Brownhollow in the Crownlands, in the loyal service of Petyr Baelish, and Captain of the Guards at the Eyrie after Littlefinger’s marriage to Lysa. So, Lothor symbolizes the plans by the Crown, Lysa of the Eyrie and Littlefinger.

When the king gives the win to Lothor and not Jory, does this mean that ultimately some king will grant the wardenship of the North and Winterfell to someone we do not associate with an obvious Stark? Which king? And is it meant to be seen as a permanent outcome?

King Tommen awards the wardenship and Winterfell to House Bolton, and House Bolton seems especially wary of Jon Snow as a possible rival. It is doubtful they will remain the Great Lords ruling the North. This could be the answer to “Who gets awarded Winterfell by a king?”, if the foreshadowed win is not to be regarded as permanent and Lothor fits the symbolic profile for Bolton. Lothor fights against Stannis’s forces at the Blackwater, earning himself the nickname of “Apple eater” and awarded knighthood for it by King Joffrey. So, not only does Lothor get awarded the win against Jory in the tourney, but knighthood for battle services for the king, like the Boltons are awarded Winterfell for battle services for the crown. And then there is this little jousting paragprah in Sansa’s chapter.

Ser Aron Santagar and Lothor Brune tilted thrice without result; Ser Aron fell afterward to Lord Jason Mallister, and Brune to Yohn Royce’s younger son, Robar.

Lothor loses against Yohn Royce’s younger son. Of course, Robar will not win anything anymore. Loras killed him when he lost it over Renly’s murder. But it might suggest that Yohn Royce (or his heir) will lead his bannermen and Vale allies in defense of Robb’s heir, whomever it may be. After all the Starks’ great-great-great-grandmother was a Royce.

Alternatively there is King Robb’s will. He wanted to bar Sansa from inheriting since  she was married to Tyrion, as well as legitimize Jon Snow and make him heir. Catelyn argued in favor of the distant Royce cousin of the Vale (the Jocelyn Stark descendant). Catelyn’s thoughts during the signing of the will by Robb’s trusted lords do not confirm whether Robb did in fact legitimize Jon, but they were far from positive, suggesting that Robb did got through with it. I think at least we can be certain that Robb disinherited Sansa.

Personally, I can’t imagine why Robb would choose the distant Royce cousin over Jon, but I must admit that the king choosing Lothor – who is a distant cousin of House Brune and has ties to the Vale – over Jory carrying the grey-blue colors – which ties to Jon or House Stark – might be a hint that King Robb made the distant Royce cousin his heir. And Lothor losing from Royce’s younger son might be regarded as an allusion to the distant Royce cousin. There are two Houses Royce: those of Runestone and the junior branch (of a younger Royce son) of the Gates of the Moon. Benedict Royce was a son of the Lord Royce of the junior branch, and he married Jocelyn Stark (the aunt of Lord Rickard, grandfather of the current surviving Stark generation). One could say that the “younger son” is an allusion to the “younger Royce branch”, and therefore the distant Royce cousin ends up being made the Stark heir1.

The wars

In the paragraph following the jousts of the Stark men-at-arms, we get a clear reference to the years of war between the Great Houses that will continue until the Long Night and that will pound Westeros into a wasteland and tear it assunder. And while it frightens Jeyne Poole, Sansa will keep her composure and behave as a great lady, because she is made of sterner stuff. And indeed during the Battle of the Blackwater, Sansa acts like a rock to all those women hiding in the Red Keep, like a great lady, like a queen. Septa Mordane would have approved.

The jousting went all day and into the dusk, the hooves of the great warhorses pounding down the lists until the field was a ragged wasteland of torn earth. A dozen times Jeyne and Sansa cried out in unison as riders crashed together, lances exploding into splinters while the commons screamed for their favorites. Jeyne covered her eyes whenever a man fell, like a frightened little girl, but Sansa was made of sterner stuff. A great lady knew how to behave at tournaments. Even Septa Mordane noted her composure and nodded in approval.

I already mentioned Lothor falling to Yohn Royce’s younger son. But Lothor’s prior opponent, Santagar, falls against Jason Mallister. Santagar is the master-at-arms of the Red Keep. Jason Mallister is a loyal bannerman of the Stark-Tully alliance in the Riverlands. He fought in the rebellion against Aerys. He squashed part of Balon’s rebellion at Seagard and he rides with Robb against Jaime’s siege at Riverrun. In other words, the crown’s forces falls to devout bannermen of House Stark in the Riverlands. Jason Mallister and his heir join Robb in the Battle of the Whispering Wood as well as breaking the Lannister siege on Riverrun, where Jaime Lannister is caught.

The chapter also foreshadows what will befall Renly and the Baratheon bloodline in general, when the Hound unseats Renly in a joust.

Ser Balon Swann also fell to Gregor, and Lord Renly to the Hound. Renly was unhorsed so violently that he seemed to fly backward off his charger, legs in the air. His head hit the ground with an audible crack that made the crowd gasp, but it was just the golden antler on his helm. One of the tines had snapped off beneath him. When Lord Renly climbed to his feet, the commons cheered wildly, for King Robert’s handsome young brother was a great favorite. He handed the broken tine to his conqueror with a gracious bow. The Hound snorted and tossed the broken antler into the crowd, where the commons began to punch and claw over the little bit of gold, until Lord Renly walked out among them and restored the peace.

In aCoK, Renly Baratheon makes his own bid for the throne, but Melisandre’s shadowbaby takes him violently out of the game for Stannis. Of particular interest in this paragraph is the broken tine of his golden antler on the helm. A tine of an antler is comparable to a branch of a tree. The antlers are a symbol of House Baratheon, and a “branch” and “tree” are concepts we use in association with a bloodline. So, the snapping of an antler tine is a visual symbol of the end of a branch of the Baratheon bloodline, and not just Robert’s and Renly’s death, but also Stannis and Shireen, while Cersei’s children have been prophesied to also die, one after the other.

The tine gets tossed into the crowd, into the commons. This seems to allude to the survival of the Baratheon bloodline through Robert’s surviving bastards – most likely Edric Storm who fled to Lys after Davos helped to smuggle him out of Storm’s End to prevent Melisandre from sacrificing him, or Gendry who guards the make-shift orphanage at the Crossroads Inn in the Riverlands for the Brotherhood Without Banners. Edric is said to be the image of his father and is the sole acknowledged bastard (his mother was highborn). Since Renly looks so much like young Robert, Edric would thus also look like Renly when he comes of age, except for his Florent ears. If a bastard was to be legitimized, then Edric Storm seems the likeliest candidate for it. As for Gendry – when Brienne arrives at the Crossroads Inn and first meets Gendry, she thinks she sees Renly’s ghost. As a guardian at the make-shift orphanage, his connection to the Brotherhood Without Banners, his knighthood by Beric and his cooperation with Lady Stoneheart, he may emerge from the Riverlands as a restoration figure, of peace, of law and order. Personally, I doubt he will ever acquire the Baratheon name, Storm’s End, let alone kingship, but after the wars and the devestation of the Others, he might earn himself a legitimization to start his own House for some heroic feat.

Later a hedge knight in a checkered cloak disgraced himself by killing Beric Dondarrion’s horse, and was declared forfeit. Lord Beric shifted his saddle to a new mount, only to be knocked right off it by Thoros of Myr.

This scene certainly alludes to the Brotherhood Without Banners – the disgraceful trap set-up by Gregor Clegane at the Ruby Ford to capture and/or kill Ned Stark. Since Ned was unable to ride with a broken leg, he sent Beric instead to arrest Gregor Clegane. Sansa is a witness to this decision in the Throne Room and later discusses it with Jeyne Poole. The outcome of Ned’s decision is that Ser Beric gets mortally wounded, then resurrected, but finally Thoros’ refusal to resurrect Catelyn Tully ends Beric’s life. Many men, including Beric ask Thoros to do the same to Catelyn as he has done for Beric seven times. Thoros thinks it madness to resurrect a woman who has been floating dead for three days in a river (many readers agree with Thoros) and refuses. But Beric wants her to live, and passes his breath of fire life onto her. Beric dies and Lady Stoneheart becomes the new leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners.

I would like to bring up the paragraph of the joust between Aron Santagar and Lothor again.

Ser Aron Santagar and Lothor Brune tilted thrice without result; Ser Aron fell afterward to Lord Jason Mallister, and Brune to Yohn Royce’s younger son, Robar.

We get a repeat of “things come in threes” between Aron Santagar and Lothor. This time, however, the king declares no winner. This is odd. With the joust between Jory and Lothor there are three passes and no winner. The king decides on it. But when the same thing happens between Santagar and Lothor both of them can continue to joust and the king decides nothing. Could this possibly be because symbolically the king is unaware of the plans against the crown? Aron Santagar is master at arms of the Red Keep, but most importantly here, he is Dornish. The first chapter introducing Prince Doran to us shows us three blood oranges splashing from the trees into pulp on the floor, which suggests that his plans are overripe, that they will come to nothing and a rather bloody end. Doran has several secret plans to have his revenge on the Lannisters. Littlefinger has secret plans for himself. And Cersei too makes plans to take out Dorne from the game. But what if these plans all fail without the opponent or crown even learning of them?  It then becomes impossible to decide on a winner, and both factions remain in the game.

Tommen’s Time

The Hand’s Tourney is not the sole tourney we witness through Sansa’s eyes. There is also Joffrey’s Nameday Tourney early on in aCoK. It is but a meagre tourney. The gallery is not as splendid. The spectators are but a few. And the jousters are nothing but ‘gnats’. It thus projects a Westeros of lean and meagre times, depopulated and lesser lords and freeriders fighting over the pickings. This is a beggared realm going hungry and many dead.

The carpenters had erected a gallery and lists in the outer bailey. It was a poor thing indeed, and the meager throng that had gathered to watch filled but half the seats. Most of the spectators were guardsmen in the gold cloaks of the City Watch or the crimson of House Lannister; of lords and ladies there were but a paltry few, the handful that remained at court. (aCoK, Sansa I)

Another significant point made regarding this Tourney is that Joffrey will not ride in it, nor will the Hound. In other words, the metaphors and parallels we witness in the jousts belong to a post-Joffrey period. Neither the Hound, nor Joffrey are part of the Westeros scene anymore. We thus get a foreshadowing for the books during King Tommen’s reign, and many of Joffrey’s hoots and expressions could be seen as if he is commenting on what goes on in Westeros as a ghost of the afterlife.

“Will you enter the lists today?” she asked quickly.
The king frowned. “My lady mother said it was not fitting, since the tourney is in my honor. Otherwise I would have been champion. Isn’t that so, dog?”
The Hound’s mouth twitched. “Against this lot? Why not?”
He had been the champion in her father’s tourney, Sansa remembered. “Will you joust today, my lord?” she asked him.
Clegane’s voice was thick with contempt. “Wouldn’t be worth the bother of arming myself. This is a tournament of gnats.”

King Tommen’s reign is a time where Cersei engages in a power struggle with the Tyrells. Earlier on I already established that kingsguards in the jousts can be stand-ins for the Crown, while the Redwyne twins are in fact Olenna’s grandchildren as much as Loras and Margaery are. The Redwyne twins therefore can be stand-ins for Olenna or her Tyrell grandchildren. And, the first joust on Joffrey’s nameday is between Meryn Trant and Hobber Redwyne.

Ser Meryn entered from the west side of the yard, clad in gleaming white plate chased with gold and mounted on a milk-white charger with a flowing grey mane. His cloak streamed behind him like a field of snow. He carried a twelve-foot lance.
“Ser Hobber of House Redwyne, of the Arbor,” the herald sang. Ser Hobber trotted in from the east, riding a black stallion caparisoned in burgundy and blue. His lance was striped in the same colors, and his shield bore the grape cluster sigil of his House. The Redwyne twins were the queen’s unwilling guests, even as Sansa was. She wondered whose notion it had been for them to ride in Joffrey’s tourney. Not their own, she thought.

Meryn is the merciless kingsguard, the one whose eyes are dead. He portrays Cersei’s cruelty. Whereas Hobber Redwyne is an unwilling guest, a hostage, a captive. Margaery and her cousins as well as Hobber end up being accused of a sexual scandal by Cersei via the High Sparrow of the Faith. Margaery, her cousins and friends (children and young men) all end up in the dungeons. By using the High Sparrow, Cersei pretends to be innocent of framing them. Meanwhile the reputation of Tommen’s queen and her cousins is tarnished, blackened. Yes, the Tyrells look out for themselves, lobbying for posts on the small council. But that is not an abnormal tugging at the power blanket. It is not meant to be a coup. Cersei’s scheme to alienate the Tyrells is something she pushes on the Tyrells. She forces the Tyrells into political opposition, which was not a notion that originated from them.

At a signal from the master of revels, the combatants couched their lances and put their spurs to their mounts. There were shouts from the watching guardsmen and the lords and ladies in the gallery. The knights came together in the center of the yard with a great shock of wood and steel. The white lance and the striped one exploded in splinters within a second of each other. Hobber Redwyne reeled at the impact, yet somehow managed to keep his seat. Wheeling their horses about at the far end of the lists, the knights tossed down their broken lances and accepted replacements from the squires. Ser Horas Redwyne, Ser Hobber’s twin, shouted encouragement to his brother.

So, within the Red Keep’s walls the Lannister-Tyrell alliance explodes, is splintered. Cersei’s scheme, the arrest of both queens by the High Sparrow, and the scandal are shocking. Queen Margaery’s hold on her position is reeling, but she will manage to keep her seat the first round at least. Queen Cersei herself gets into difficulty and is forced to do a Walk of Shame. All sorts of people are replaced on the council. Kevan becomes regent. Mace Tyrell becomes the Hand.

But on their second pass Ser Meryn swung the point of his lance to strike Ser Hobber in the chest, driving him from the saddle to crash resoundingly to the earth. Ser Horas cursed and ran out to help his battered brother from the field.

Cersei however will manage to strike a second blow to the Tyrells, right in the heart of the family, their power and unseat them. Margaery is much loved by Olenna. Cersei will win her trial and be proclaimed milky-white innocent of the charges against her, while Margaery will lose her trial. The Tyrells lose their grip on the throne. They will gain military support though to get as many brothers and sisters out of King’s Landing.

The next joust is between Balon Swann and Morros Slynt. During the joust, Balon Swann is not yet Kingsguard but merely a knight of the Stormlands who remained in King’s Landing after the Hand’s Tourney. House Swann fights on both sides of the war  – Balon Swann becomes kingsguard, but his brother Donnel Swann fights for Stannis at the Battle of the Blackwater. Meanwhile Ravella Swann aids the Brotherhood without Banners in the Riverlands, for she is Lady Smallwood of Acorn Hall. Lord Gulian Swann himself takes no part in the wars, though he is one of the few lords who receives Davos Seaworth (speaking for Stannis) and extends him guest right. Stonehelm is a castle in the Stormlands that lies in the outskirts of the Dornish Marches, called the Red Watch.

“Ser Balon Swann, of Stonehelm in the Red Watch,” came the herald’s cry. Wide white wings ornamented Ser Balon’s greathelm, and black and white swans fought on his shield.

With the members of House Swann covering and backing several military factions all at once, but the Lord himself refusing to take part and choose a side, as well as a Watch reference, clearly Ser Balon Swann must be a stand-in for the Night’s Watch and Jon Snow in particular. Even the sigil of House Swann expresses neutrality in its own way – a black and white swan opposing each other, over a white and black field respectively. Jon writes a paper-shield letter to Cersei to affirm the neutrality of the Night’s Watch, even though he guested Stannis at Castle Black.

Balon is also one of the few knights of the Kingsguard portrayed who may have his personal opinions (such as joking that four glasses are needed when asked to raise a glass “to the health of the King”), but remains honorable. He is one of the few honest witnesses during Tyrion’s trial – he recounts seeing Tyrion slapping Joffrey after the riot they barely escaped, but praises Tyrion for his courage and says he does not believe Tyrion killed Joffrey. Balon is an honorable man who keeps to his vows, without compromising his ideals or personal opinions. He is somewhat the Jon Snow of the Kingsguard.

“Morros of House Slynt, heir to Lord Janos of Harrenhal.”
“Look at that upjumped oaf,” Joff hooted, loud enough for half the yard to hear. Morros, a mere squire and a new-made squire at that, was having difficulty managing lance and shield. The lance was a knight’s weapon, Sansa knew, the Slynts lowborn. Lord Janos had been no more than commander of the City Watch before Joffrey had raised him to Harrenhal and the council.
I hope he falls and shames himself, she thought bitterly. I hope Ser Balon kills him. When Joffrey proclaimed her father’s death, it had been Janos Slynt who seized Lord Eddard’s severed head by the hair and raised it on high for king and crowd to behold, while Sansa wept and screamed.
Morros wore a checkered black-and-gold cloak over black armor inlaid with golden scrollwork. On his shield was the bloody spear his father had chosen as the sigil of their new-made house.

Clearly Morros Slynt is the stand-in for Janos Slynt – an upjumped commoner, new-made Lord over the biggest castle of Westeros, Harrenhal, with the manners of an oaf. Initially Slynt is a gold-cloak, but ends up being ordered to take the black by Tyrion, after he commits the shameful act of killing baby Barra. Though Janos Slynt takes the black, he remains a gold-cloak at heart, ever loyal to the golden faction in the realm – the Lannisters, Cersei in particular. Hence, we see a black-and-gold checkered cloak over the black armor of a man of the Night’s Watch. The golden scrollwork of the armor refers to writing. And Slynt writes a treacherous letter to Cersei informing her about what happens at the Wall under Jon Snow’s command. This is significant, because in order to send a message by raven without the Lord Commander knowing it, Slynt requires other traitors within the Watch to help him.

But he did not seem to know what to do with the shield as he urged his horse forward, and Ser Balon’s point struck the blazon square. Morros dropped his lance, fought for balance, and lost. One foot caught in a stirrup as he fell, and the runaway charger dragged the youth to the end of the lists, head bouncing against the ground. Joff hooted derision. Sansa was appalled, wondering if the gods had heard her vengeful prayer. But when they disentangled Morros Slynt from his horse, they found him bloodied but alive. 

Indeed the gods have heard Sansa’s vengeful prayer. Janos has to “drop his lance” (his sigil of a bloody spear), take the black, fights to become Lord Commander, but is toppled by Sam’s efforts and loses the elections of Lord Commander to Jon Snow. His direct refusal to do as the new Lord Commander tells him is the reason why Jon Snow lops off his head, which we can imagine to have bounced against the ground.

Tommen, we picked the wrong foe for you,” the king told his brother. “The straw knight jousts better than that one.”

Joffrey speaks prophetic words here – we picked the wrong foe. It is hardly Tommen who rules as king, but his mother Cersei, and she seeks to make pretty much every lord her enemy, while the real foe is the threat that the Others pose to the realm. The straw knight is a reference to Stannis, since he carries antlers and during Tommen’s reign Renly is already long dead. It is Stannis who is the sole self-proclaimed king who comes to the aid of the Wall against the wildlings and recognizes the threat of the Others.

“Next came Ser Horas Redwyne’s turn. He fared better than his twin, vanquishing an elderly knight whose mount was bedecked with silver griffins against a striped blue-and-white field. Splendid as he looked, the old man made a poor contest of it. Joffrey curled his lip. “This is a feeble show.”
“I warned you,” said the Hound. “Gnats.”

And then we get a foreshadowing of the Tyrells versus none other than Jon Connington, and older knight who looks splendid and his sigil sports griffins of House Connington of Griffin’s roost. He used to be red-haired, but is now greying, so he may be regarded as a “silver griffin”. When he pretended to be Aegon’s father at the Rhoyne he went by the name “griff” and had his hair dyed blue. The silver griffin is also a reference to Jon Connington’s loyalty to Aegon Targaryen – his hair is silver, a Valyrian trait. So, either this foreshadows a direct military confrontation between the Tyrells and Jon Connington, or it is more a political disagreement.

It is noteworthy that George uses the word ‘turn’ in relation to the Redwynes. It might suggest that the Tyrells and Redwynes make a political ‘turn’. That would not be much of a surprise, if Margaery is set aside and Cersei drives off the Tyrells from power. The Tyrells may very well propose Aegon they will back him if he takes Margaery as his queen. For the moment Aegon has favored Jon Connington’s advice, but also shows being influenced by the younger generation. After landing in the Stormlands, Aegon has become less biddable. With all the references to Jon Connington being an elderly knight, the greying and so on, it might refer to a choice by Aegon in favor of a Tyrell proposal that Jon Connington heartily disagrees with. For example, he wishes to keep Aegon unbetrothed and unmarried, in case Daenerys decides to come to Westeros, as well as keep positions open in Aegon’s kingsguard. Jon Connington may have learned a thing or two of Tywin’s ruthlesness in battle, but does he have Olenna’s cunning?

The joust that follows is that of Lothor versus Dontos, a joust that never takes place. In fact the tourney ends with it. Still I will discuss the paragraphs concerning it.

“Lothor Brune, freerider in the service of Lord Baelish,” cried the herald. “Ser Dontos the Red, of House Hollard.”
The freerider, a small man in dented plate without device, duly appeared at the west end of the yard, but of his opponent there was no sign. Finally a chestnut stallion trotted into view in a swirl of crimson and scarlet silks, but Ser Dontos was not on it. The knight appeared a moment later, cursing and staggering, clad in breastplate and plumed helm and nothing else. His legs were pale and skinny, and his manhood flopped about obscenely as he chased after his horse. The watchers roared and shouted insults. Catching his horse by the bridle, Ser Dontos tried to mount, but the animal would not stand still and the knight was so drunk that his bare foot kept missing the stirrup.

Could that stallion be any more red? Chestnut, crimson and scarlet silks. Dontos himself is called ‘the red’. Red stallions end up riderless, but usually we see the character mounted on the red stallion for at least some time, before they get knocked off. Dontos never even manages to mount it. Dontos’ red stallion was riderless from the start. It is as if George is signaling in huge neon letters – Sansa don’t bet on this one. And to us readers, George is basically shouting, “he’s deader than dead”.

Here, Lothor is definitely tied to Petyr Baelish, certainly of course in combination with Dontos. And with the mention that there is no sign of an opponent, George is telling us that for a long while, Littlefinger is the master at the game of thrones.

While the tourney has ended, Tommen demands his chance to ride against the “straw man”. The straw man is George’s most direct hint that when he describes riders and horses, especially in a joust, that they are stand-ins to tell the reader to consider the symbolical meaning of that rider or horse onto the greater narrative.

They set up the quintain at the far end of the lists while the prince’s pony was being saddled. Tommen’s opponent was a child-sized leather warrior stuffed with straw and mounted on a pivot, with a shield in one hand and a padded mace in the other. Someone had fastened a pair of antlers to the knight’s head. Joffrey’s father King Robert had worn antlers on his helm, Sansa remembered . . . but so did his uncle Lord Renly, Robert’s brother, who had turned traitor and crowned himself king.

George uses a misdirection here, however, for the stand-in. He has Sansa think of Robert, who is dead, and Renly, who is also dead when Tommen is king. Stannis Baratheon may not wear antlers on his helm, but his sigil still preserves the stag with antlers. Alternatively the straw man may represent one of Robert’s bastards who looks like Robert and Renly and is not yet a man, such as Edric Storm or Gendry. Meanwhile Tommen is himself, the child-king.

A pair of squires buckled the prince into his ornate silver-and-crimson armor. A tall plume of red feathers sprouted from the crest of his helm, and the lion of Lannister and crowned stag of Baratheon frolicked together on his shield. The squires helped him mount, and Ser Aron Santagar, the Red Keep’s master-at-arms, stepped forward and handed Tommen a blunted silver longsword with a leaf-shaped blade, crafted to fit an eight-year-old hand.
Tommen raised the blade high. “Casterly Rock!” he shouted in a high boyish voice as he put his heels into his pony and started across the hard-packed dirt at the quintain. Lady Tanda and Lord Gyles started a ragged cheer, and Sansa added her voice to theirs. The king brooded in silence.
Tommen got his pony up to a brisk trot, waved his sword vigorously, and struck the knight’s shield a solid blow as he went by. The quintain spun, the padded mace flying around to give the prince a mighty whack in the back of his head. Tommen spilled from the saddle, his new armor rattling like a bag of old pots as he hit the ground. His sword went flying, his pony cantered away across the bailey, and a great gale of derision went up. King Joffrey laughed longest and loudest of all.
“Oh,” Princess Myrcella cried. She scrambled out of the box and ran to her little brother.

Poor King Tommen is as harmless as they come. Brave, sweet and vigorous, but a ‘gnat’ who can do no more than strike a shield without doing anyone damage. What else is the crown’s victory over Dragonstone, but symbolical. Stannis has long abandoned it to go North. By taking it, the crown took a heavy loss for little to no gain at all.

Meanwhile his opponent is agile and basically irremovable. The Pink Letter carries the news that King Stannis is dead. The news of Stannis being dead will certainly spread to King’s Landing, regardless who authored it. How can you strike a man you believe to be dead? You can’t. And without the crown noticing it, the supposed dead man can whack Tommen in the back of his head, by taking out the Boltons for example. The same idea applies for Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood without Banners who harbor Robert’s bastard Gendry, by taking out the Frey and Lannister forces in the Riverlands. What happens if Gendry’s identity is passed on to the High Sparrow? What happens if Tommen loses the North to Stannis, the Riverlands to the Stark-Tully faction, the Stormlands and the Reach or Dorne to Aegon? Tommen would stand all alone, an island surrounded by enemies, with only Casterly Rock as a safe haven. No, Tommen’s enemies do not all carry antlers, but at heart, the straw man can be anybody. Fundamentally, he is anonymous, an unknown – “dead” Stannis, “dead” Catelyn, missing Blackfish, dismissed Daenerys.

“Look,” the Hound interrupted. “The boy has courage. He’s going to try again.”
They were helping Prince Tommen mount his pony. If only Tommen were the elder instead of Joffrey, Sansa thought. I wouldn’t mind marrying Tommen.
The sounds from the gatehouse took them by surprise. Chains rattled as the portcullis was drawn upward, and the great gates opened to the creak of iron hinges. “Who told them to open the gate?” Joff demanded. With the troubles in the city, the gates of the Red Keep had been closed for days.

Tommen loses the throne with a clangor, his sword flying. Myrcella attempts to join him. But Cersei’s children will not give up that easily. Tommen’s cry for Casterly Rock suggest that Cersei and her children flee King’s Landing and decamp for Casterly Rock. With the last support of the Westerlands, there will be an attempt in getting either Tommen or Myrcella on the throne. But before long, another player arrives in Westeros and the closed gates of Casterly Rock.

A column of riders emerged from beneath the portcullis with a clink of steel and a clatter of hooves. Clegane stepped close to the king, one hand on the hilt of his longsword. The visitors were dinted and haggard and dusty, yet the standard they carried was the lion of Lannister, golden on its crimson field. A few wore the red cloaks and mail of Lannister men-at-arms, but more were freeriders and sellswords, armored in oddments and bristling with sharp steel . . . and there were others, monstrous savages out of one of Old Nan’s tales, the scary ones Bran used to love. They were clad in shabby skins and boiled leather, with long hair and fierce beards. Some wore bloodstained bandages over their brows or wrapped around their hands, and others were missing eyes, ears, and fingers.
In their midst, riding on a tall red horse in a strange high saddle that cradled him back and front, was the queen’s dwarf brother Tyrion Lannister, the one they called the Imp.

Tyrion will appear at Casterly Rock with an army, carrying the Lannister standard. But are they truly Lannister men, or is it just a false standard to gain admittance into Casterly Rock with an army. The red horse would be the tip-off that Tyrion is the wrong horse to bet on to save the city and the throne for the Lannisters. His army contains freeriders and sellswords from Essos, and savages in leather with long hair and beards. In aCoK at the time of Joffrey’s reign those savages are the mountain clans. But the description would just as well fit the Dothraki. If Tyrion remains with Daenerys, it looks like Tyrion tries to acquire Casterly Rock in a similar manner as Tywin once gained entrance into King’s Landing. Tywin won King’s Landing for Robert because Aerys believed that Tywin came to his aid and opened the gates to him. And oh, the irony of Casterly Rock being sacked by Tyrion using Tywin’s tactics.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

Sansa’s tourney chapters tell us a great deal about upcoming events after aGoT and aCoK. From the Hand’s Tourney we learn the following:

  • House Stark: most of the men-at-arms will die; the Starks will be beggared, without a home and their reputation soiled. Several Houses try to acquire the seat of the North and Winterfell with betrothals to a Stark: the Tyrells, the Freys and Boltons, the Lannisters, Lysa, Littlefinger. It appears that someone in the Vale will be awarded Winterfell by the ruler on the Iron Throne or through Robb’s will – either the mysterious distant Royce cousin or it may be Sansa. Alternatively it alludes to the Boltons being awarded Winterfell by the crown, to lose it, and either the distant cousin of the junior Royce branch or Yohn Royce rallying military support for the Starks. (Status: partially fulfilled)
  • Wars will rage across Westeros between Great Houses well into dusk, before the Long Night brings the Others, turning Westeros into a wasteland. Sansa will survive them all, composed, as a great lady made of stern stuff. (Status: partially fulfilled)
  • Baratheons: a family branch will snap off and will have to bow out, however the Baratheon bloodline survives through the common bastards, and one of those bastards looking like Renly will restore peace amongst the common people. (Status: partially fulfilled)
  • Brotherhood without Banners: Beric is killed, resurrected again, but Thoros’ refusal to resurrect Lady Stoneheart means the end for Beric. (Status: fulfilled)

From Joffrey’s nameday tourney we learn the following about political development during King Tommen’s reign:

  • Meager and poor times for the people and the crown (Status: fulfilled)
  • Wars and power struggles between gnats (lesser houses) (Status: fulfilled)
  • Cersei‘s attempt to unseat Margaery as queen, imprison her and alienate the Tyrells. Cersei will be able to strike the Tyrells in the heart of power. The Tyrells will lose the power struggle with Cersei. (Status: partially fulfilled)
  • Sansa’s vengeful wish for Janos Slynt will be granted. Janos will be forced to take the black, but remains faithful to Cersei. He will try to gain power with the Watch, but fails and his head will bounce against the ground. He will stay in communication with Cersei while alive. (Status: fulfilled)
  • Stannis will fight the real foe – wildlings and Others (Status: partially fulfilled)
  • The Tyrells will win against Jon Connington. Either Jon Connington (and Aegon) loses against the Tyrells in battle, or Aegon accepts a deal with the Tyrells that Jon Connington argues against. (Status: unfulfilled)
  • Dontos is the wrong horse Sansa bets on and will die. He never even gets to mount his red stallion. (Status: fulfilled)
  • Littlefinger will stand unopposed. (Status: nearly fulfilled)
  • King Tommen will strike a symbolical blow against Stannis (taking Dragonstone), but will be hit surprisingly from behind and unaware. He will lose the throne and has to decamp for Casterly Rock. Myrcella joins him. An attempt with help will be made to get one of Cersei’s children back on the throne. (Status: except for the first part, unfulfilled)
  • Tyrion will arrive appearing as a saviour for the Lannisters (on a red stallion), with an army of sellswords, freeriders and barbarian Dothraki in order to have the gates opened. He will use the same trick Tywin used with Aerys and win Casterly Rock in this manner. (Status: unfulfilled)

I left out major scenes out of the Hand’s Tourney from Sansa’s chapter as they all pertain to her Vale arc. The analysis and interpretation of what they foreshadow will be covered in the Trail of the Red Stallion III. I also left out the paragraph regarding Jaime Lanniser. He will get his own Red Stallion essay.

Notes

  1. Benedict Royce had three daughters with Jocelyn Stark, so the distant Royce cousin of the junior branch would likely not be called a Royce. One daughter married a Waynwood, another a Corbray,  and the third possibly a Templeton. Benedict Royce’s father, Raymar Royce, was Lord of the junior branch in the middle of the third century AC. Jocelyn Stark was Rickard Stark’s aunt. Basedon rough estimates when male Starks seem to marry (between 18-22) and Brandon Stark’s birth in 262 AC, Lord Rickard Stark was born somewhere between 233-242 AC, while his aunt Jocelyn then would have been born between 212-228 AC. Stark women seem to marry around the age of 16-18.  So, Jocelyne would have married Benedict Royce between 228-246 AC. Their eldest daughter  married an unknown Waynwood. If she still lived that eldest daughter would be no older than roughly 71 at present, and Benedict’s eldest Waynwood grandchild would be no older than mid fifties. This fits the description of Lady Anya Waynwood who is old enough to have a grown grandchild already.