She’s new, she’s the re-re-reader. She’s the newbie, she’s the spoilery vet. Together they’re rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting their POV on. Next up they react to Chapter 29: Sansa.
Minor housekeeping thing first: this was the last chapter that I read before the HBO series caught up with me. I mention this because I believe it would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge it, but I also want to say up front that I’m planning not to spend my reaction time here comparing what I’ve read to the show or harping on what I know is going to come. Compartmentalization, baby. Also, the show is two-thirds down now, and I am still poking at the ass-end of the first third of the book. I intend to do as much forgetting of the show once it’s over as I have the chapters I was reading last fall, that you all are so kind as to remind me “no that detail WAS mentioned down in the crypt” about. So that’s all.
Now let’s talk about Sansa.
I am still on the fence about Sansa in terms of my emotional engagement with her. I still don’t dislike her, but my sense of not being able to relate to her has increased tenfold.
This chapter doesn’t start so bad with me and Sansa. I loved her “gold-colored glasses,” so to speak, riding to the tourney behind her silk curtains and seeing only the parts of the world that fit into her narrative—the parts that are the stories come to life, that are “better than the stories.” I mean, I may not do that, but it was at least pretty to see the world that way for a bit.
The opening scenes of the tourney were so innocent…Sansa and Jeyne being pre-teen girls, paying attention to “the knights themselves, the knights most of all,” giggling over the hot men in the tournament and laughing at the ones who seem weird or pretentious. This reminded me very much of myself and my besties when we were 12, 13 years old—about the age we got interested in boys and started checking out of Chateau du Tomboi.
I find it a little sad how much these girls only see the glamour of the tournament and the famous knights—“younger men, most had done no great deeds as yet but Sansa and Jeyne agreed that one day the Seven Kingdoms would resound to the sound of their names” without realizing that heroes are only forged during war. It underscores how young and innocent they are, how much they do see the world through that hazy silk.
There is also a very strong sense here of how much Sansa values beautiful things, how she describes them and what she remembers being said to her. This point is actually kind of hammered home ad nauseum:
- “Sansa was dressed beautifully that day, in a green gown that brought out the auburn in her hair”
- “the king’s brother, handsome Lord Renly of Storm’s End” / “the commons cheered wildly, for King Robert’s handsome brother was a great favorite”
- “Jory looks like a beggar among these others”
- RE Ser Loras “Sansa had never seen anyone so beautiful” (Side note: isn’t this what she thinks about Renly the first time she sees him?)
- “Your mother was my queen of beauty once”
- “She could not hate Joffrey tonight. He was too beautiful to hate.”
- “She was…giddy with glamour, swept away by beauties she had dreamt of all her life and never dared hope to know”
- “Ser Loras has a keen eye for beauty, sweet lady”
- “Pretty little talking bird”
Almost everything she describes is filtered through her “it is beautiful and therefore good or it is ugly and therefore bad” view on the world. Pretty little talking bird, indeed—don’t you know the world’s not like that?
But of course she doesn’t. Sansa has been raised to acknowledge only the beautiful, and she is such a good daughter to parents who didn’t want her to see more that she has no idea. I find it interesting that Ned felt it necessary to show his 8-year-old son, who would likely never be Lord Stark, an execution, but not his daughter who would presumably be to some lord, somewhere, what Catelyn is to him—and he leaves Catelyn in charge as his regent when he leaves. Even if he wouldn’t expect her to perform the King’s Justice, surely he’d expect her to watch it done, so why was that side of the world and life in the North not forced before Sansa’s eyes?
Not that it necessarily would have helped, and here we come to my real problem in relating to Sansa: she is so busy rewriting the world according to her script that she literally does not allow herself to feel her emotions when they threaten her story. Personally? I’m with Jeyne Poole on this one. When that young knight gets speared through the throat, Sansa sits there refusing to feel horror or disgust or sadness, while Jeyne is all, “holy shit some dude I was just ogling just got speared through the throat and died in a gurgling pool of his own blood, this is NOT like the songs I always heard, fuck this, y’all, I’m out.” I can totally sympathize with that. Sansa, on the other hand, is all “in the story the lady can watch this with no emotion, and I am a lady, therefore I will have no emotion.” It’s an intentional sterilization of the world…it makes it all less than real to her.
And that bothers me. I don’t relate to that point of view, at all. For a couple reasons. First, because I don’t like trying to look at reality as something besides what it is, and second because I have never wanted to shut off my emotions. Maybe they’re messy and unladylike, but they’re real. Maybe this is at the heart of why one of my life mottos is “I’m no lady.” The very word has connotations, some of which I might embody but most of which I reject. Sansa? She’s all in. And it’s why I can’t relate to her. I dig her forcing herself to watch it—after all, what else are horror movies or war movies or, hell, even a series like this one?—but she is so dispassionate about it. “Oh, a man just died in front of me. Oh, there’s that creepy guy who used to be in love with my mother. Oh, look, a butterfly.”
I do want to commend her for not being a hypocrite here and crying when she doesn’t care—at least she acknowledges that if it were Jory or her father, she’d cry. She thinks. But the fact that she doesn’t even feel horror or sadness until she realizes no one will remember his name in a year is…well. It’s either what I’m assuming, and a very deep suppression of what she actually felt, or she is fucking frigid. I know, I know, she just lost her pet and her fiancé hates her and she feels so alone and put-upon so why should she care about some guy she didn’t even know dying in front of her…but the fact that she didn’t just seemed weird to me. CAUSE SOME GUY JUST DIED RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER.
Going back to the “I must be a lady at all costs” thing, two pieces. First, just wanted to note that it’s why she finds Robert’s behavior shocking—being drunk and enraged is so improper, so lese majesete. Second, is Sansa misunderstanding what her mother and her septa were trying to teach her? It seems to me that Catelyn’s redeeming quality is that she loves her family—however poorly I consider her actions, she does care. Did she really want to raise a daughter who does not care? Or was that how she saw her daughter surviving in the North, by teaching her not to feel things? I know I’m harping on this…it just really bothered me. I think because what I see as strength is feeling it, but standing there anyway, and what Sansa’s doing is running away, in a sense. Away from the feelings since she can’t run from the situation.
Okay, let’s move on to Joffrey. First, how telling is it that Sansa will only refer to what happened in the woods in vague terms, “the awful thing,” and that she uses passive tense to avoid ascribing blame where it is due, “since the awful thing had happened” not, you know, since Prince Joffrey did that awful thing, or since Prince Joffrey told that awful lie, or since Sansa told that awful lie. In her mind she separates it, blames the queen because she cannot figure out a way not to blame Cersei, and her sister, because either Joffrey or Arya had to be at fault and Sansa clearly won’t blame Joffrey. Will this continued family disloyalty earn her another punishment?
Also, what happened to change Joffrey’s mind about Sansa? What was said to him, or what did he realize about the future, that made him start treating her with the respect due to a lady and his fiancée? Without Tyrion around, who actually gave him a kick in the ass—his mother, who he is obviously close to since he immediately followed her upon her exit? Not sure he’d have listened to anyone else, not sure he’s smart enough himself to realize the smallest effort on his part would yield exponential returns later.
A few random wonderings on other characters.
- The bastard Martyn Rivers – I guess that’s the (or a) southern bastard name the way Snow is up north? It’s cute, it’s catchy.
- Had Sansa met Lord Yohn Royce when he guested at Winterfell two years before because he was on his way to take Waymar to the Wall, perhaps?
- Barristan Selmy = straight badass for taking down men thirty and forty years his junior.
- How young was Ser Loras last tourney if he’s only 16 now? You know, the one where he beat Kingslayer? Even more impressive.
- Petyr’s words to her came off half-creepy and half-sad. He’s like staring at her with the crazy Gollum eyes, “yes, my precious,” stroking her hair and shit. But the elegant simplicity of his compliment is kind of charmingly sad, “your mother was my queen of beauty once. You have her hair.”
- Robert’s bullying of Jaime Lannister—“The great knight. I can still knock you in the dirt. Remember that, Kingslayer.” What an asshole.
Okay, now back to Sansa for the second part of this chapter.
First, how much does she calculate what she does? When she angles for Joffrey to take her home, certainly…but what about when she starts to cry before the Hound? Was that to make him stop, or was it genuine? I honestly could not tell.
Martin’s line about “the feast was over, and the beautiful dream had ended with it” is a perfect summation of my feelings every Sansa chapter. There is just this sense of lurking dread hanging over her chapters for me, that sooner or later she’s gonna have to wake up from her daydreams cause you know shit is about to come down on her head. Every fucking time we go in her head I feel that. Can’t she just hit rock bottom and have to rebuild her worldview already?
Another iteration of this, she is proud of herself for her words to the Hound about his brother, because “it was no lie”—no, I think she only lies to herself. No doubt she believes she didn’t really see what happened down by the river at this point.
I love the Hound’s description of her. “Some septa trained you well. You’re like one of those birds from the Summer Isles…a pretty little talking bird repeating all the pretty little words they taught you to recite.” Yes.
The Hound’s story was pretty horrible. Yet another demonstration of how being a knight sometimes has very little to do with being honorable. This makes his words about Gregor’s lance not slipping up by accident ring true.
With Sansa we feel sad for the Hound–especially since in her mind it’s so easy to forget or simply not care that he killed Micah for fun–and it is a small triumph that she can make us a little proud of her by trying to comfort him there at the end. “He was no true knight.” No. But neither is the Hound. I do believe he means what he says.
Poor little talking bird. No one ever told her how to deal with ugly secrets.
–Readers, if leaving a comment for Elena please direct (@Elena) them at her – and lead your comments with your messages for her. Please do not direct spoilers at her. Thanks!
–Don’t forget to check out the imperial Boomtron Podcast Elena and Rachel, the Ladies of Ice and Fire, host every week, dissecting each episode of Game of Thrones on HBO!
–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–
For a long time I really thought that maybe Sansa was … simple. Pretty much up until the comment she makes about Moon Boy at the tourney feast being far too clever in his insults. It was then that I realized that Sansa has no excuse for her willful ignorance. ESPECIALLY because she clings to naiveté like armor through her storyline. She’s the Gweneth Paltrow of Westeros. She’s the type of character that so determinedly tries to make the world fit her desires that as a reader you can’t help but cackle whenever you think about what’s to come for her.
“That’s right Sansa, you deserve what you get! You dumb bitch.”
Perhaps I’m too harsh. Certainly Sansa was raised with a different purpose and style than any of the Stark boys but LOOK AT ARYA. Yes, Arya is younger and a tomboy and pretty much the exact opposite of her sister (Arya tends to see straight through pretentions to the truth, while Sansa alerts the reader to truths by her ridiculous acceptance of whatever is presented to her) but she was raised in exactly the same place with exactly the same expectations and so I’m sorry but I can’t help but hold Sansa up to the same standards as I do any other character.
She doesn’t get a free pass because she’s a girl, or a lady, or a dumb bitch.
I have this theory that Sansa will be the last surviving Stark (this is not MY theory, many hold this theory). It would only make sense. Jon Snow isn’t really a Stark and neither is Sansa and for completely different reasons.
Whenever Sansa tries to be stoic, to be a lady, she’s attempting to be a Stark. Starks do not weep when a stranger dies or at the sight of blood. So at the tourney she channels a backbone because as she tells Littlefinger, “I am Sansa Stark.” When he says she has the Tully look. But you’re not a Stark Sansa and it’s sad. She wants to be a lady but she’s destined to marry a man and change her name. She wants more than anything to be queen because of the IDEA of it. She is willing to overlook all the things her family seems to value that Joffrey lacks, like honor, kindness, responsibility. For what? For some stories? Are you kidding me? Sansa isn’t a 3 year old. She’s almost old enough to wed and do what her mother did, go far from home and assimilate into another family. Maybe she’d be really good at it? But for now all that makes Sansa is a tool. Like all women in medieval times she’s a commodity and what is perverse to my modern mind is that she embraces it. Her worth depends upon everyone else’s opinion. If Ned had told her she was to be wed to Renly or Thoros of Myr than she would idolize them and not Joffrey.
I’m still waiting for Sansa to truly change. She’s a survivor sure, and being so dumb has kept her alive when her enemies would have preferred to kill a clever Stark (ha..). She’s useful because of her inheritance but Theon Greyjoy proves you don’t need the bare semblance of legitimacy to claim something you want. You can just take it. So Sansa was really just too stupid and pathetic to kill. Even Tyrion pitied her. The Dog pitied her.
When fuck-ups and dwarves pity you in this story… there’s a problem.
I also love the subtle foreshadowing of this tourney in which the names of those Knights DO mean something to me. Those are names to shudder at. From where I’m standing it’s Sandor who seems the most Knightly because he tells the truth! He struggles to not be like his brother. That doesn’t mean he struggles to be good or just. Let’s not give him too much credit. He does say to Arya later on that he should have raped Sansa instead of helping her. But it’s hard to not LOVE this fucked up little back and forth between the pretty little bird and the Hound. He saves her from the mob, she cries at his sad sad story… they’re practically Bella and Edward.
But I’d like to directly address Elena’s assertion that Sansa doesn’t feel. I disagree. I think Sansa feels a lot. She’s just very wrapped up in meeting expectations of who she SHOULD be that she doesn’t really know who she IS. So she has to be like the ladies in the stories because the only other role model she’s got is her mother, who isn’t around. I’ll bet you 6 million dragons that Sansa wouldn’t be such a bitch to everyone if Catelyn was around. She’s one of those people who masks insecurity with arrogance.
If Catelyn stood around disapproving of Joffrey’s behavior or even commenting on it, I’ll bet Sansa would change her tune. But Catelyn isn’t there and Ned barely talks to her so she has to go by the book and the book says she’s supposed to marry Joffrey and be his Queen and Joffrey won’t love her unless she’s perfect, so go be perfect.
That’s why I love the Hound. He breaks that shit UP! His Harvey Dent costume breaks Sansa’s pretend backbone and gets her to actually CRY! I believe that is real. She’s not crying for herself. She’s crying for him. She pities him. He pities her back because she’s so naive but the fact that such a perfect little doll pities HIM just really worms into his brain doesn’t it? He hates himself all the more for that. Poor Sandor… he really needs some acceptance doesn’t he?
Because this is a book and perfect things can happen we get to see Sandor and Arya (Sansa’s opposite) interact. She never pities him in the same way that Sansa does. Arya hates him because she sees him for what he is but Sansa sees what he could have been and cries for that loss. Maybe Sandor could have been one of those beautiful shining knights instead of a dog. He beats his brother, so he probably would have made a damn fine knight. There’s grudging camaraderie there, maybe the inklings of respect but Sansa is teetering on the edge of that clichéd perfect/rich/prettygirl that helps the damaged/ugly/poor brawler guy remember how to be a person again.
But of course that’s a STORY and not what happens at all. Sansa marries a dwarf who doesn’t rape her, which is nice, and then ends up having to endure insane relatives and would-be raper musicians and almost pedophilic but most definitely projecting creepster “Uncles”. Ahh right because this is Westeros and what’s a story without creepy sexual scheming?
Let’s talk about Littlefinger.
I don’t believe for a second that Petyr is trying to win back Catelyn or recreate what he had with her. Not for a second. He never HAD anything with Catelyn. He had to settle for gross ol’ Lysa and only when he couldn’t stop himself. This is a revenge game. Petyr wants to do the rejecting; HE wants to be the one that says you aren’t good enough. Yea.. he might have the hots for Sansa because isn’t she just his type? But that whole plan is to take and then throw away. Just you wait! I hope Sansa is smart enough to see through Petyr’s lies.. if she can that means she is growing as a character. If she can’t, than Sansa is another Lysa in the making. Or at least another Catelyn. Either are unacceptable. Can you unsee a murder Sansa? You’ve done it before but you must resist! I fear for her because it took a LONG time for her to finally give in and hate Joffrey like a normal human being. Sansa is a perpetual battered woman. Some day you have to realize that the only person you can depend upon is yourself and then you pack your shit and get the hell out of Dodge.
Sansa… in the wilds.
That will so not happen. I hope it does though, and I hope Nymeria eats her.
- originally published 6/1/2011
Elena Nola is the imperial editrix for the BSC empire. She likes genre books, weird movies, and obscure references. She lives in New Orleans, where almost every day is good enough for good times. Contrary to dogma, Rachel Parker is the mind-killer. She is a nerd, writer, and art historian living in Brooklyn, NY. You can read more of her posts at scienceofdiscontent.blogspot.com, or follow @DarthRachel on twitter.