Playin’ with Ice and Fire – A Game of Thoughts | Sansa Stark Chapter 15

game of thrones

She’s new, I’m the re-reader. Together we are rereading George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting our POV on. First Sansa Stark chapter!

A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React

Elena –

This was a chapter that didn’t really give me a whole lot to speculate about, because whatever salient points in the larger plot came in with the three-knight escort are still obscured for me. So I spent my reflecting time on this chapter on a more personal level trying to decide how I feel about Sansa, and her way of looking at the world, and some of the other characters now that I’ve seen them a bit more up close and personal.

Up front, I do not dislike Sansa the way I dislike her mother. (At least, not yet.) I didn’t even go into this chapter particularly predisposed to dislike her based on her interactions with my girl Arya, because siblings picking on one another and feeling put-upon and victimized by their sister’s/brother’s behavior is just part of being a sibling when you’re growing up. So I was willing to take Sansa on her own terms. As far as that went, well, I didn’t dislike her. In fact I felt sorry for her by the end of the chapter, but it’s that pitying kind of sympathy, the one that I’m bestowing on her in a condescending sort of way. I don’t relate to her. At all. Seeing the world as she sees it made me roll my eyes at her; I found her insipid, and annoying as a cultural construct (the sort of delicate, women are to be protected and to obey the orders given to them by those they’re answerable to, and to follow the societal strictures to the letter for fear of being “different” type). So I didn’t like her, either, but she seemed harmless, if a little pathetic, and I felt sorry for her at the end of the chapter when she has her illusions shattered. She hadn’t really done anything to deserve that.

On the other hand, it’s an unkind world to people who live inside of illusions, so perhaps it’s best she learn that now. I hope she’s got enough of her father in her to survive it and become strong enough to deal with the world–that would make her infinitely more interesting as a character and as a woman–but she might be too fragile to do anything except become embittered and a permanent victim of a cruel world. (I have known women of this type who ended up that way, so I see it as a distinct possibility.) If that happens, any current sympathy I have will wither faster than her hopes and dreams. I am way too practical, pragmatic, and realistic to waste time caring about someone who isn’t strong enough to roll with the punches.

Speaking of people who can, though, let’s talk about Arya. I was already inclining to like her, and I like her even more after this chapter. I like that she isn’t afraid to make friends outside of her station, and I like that she doesn’t waste time on idle daydreams but sets about to make something happen. I love that she won’t take any shit from a bully.

I found Sansa’s resentment of Arya’s ability to flout the rules to be interesting. It smacks of which parent has the controlling interest in each of them. Sansa is their mother’s favorite, so she is encouraged to be a lady and actively discouraged from being anything else; she has also probably from a young age been taught to self-identify as Catelyn’s daughter (rather than Ned’s), so she has absorbed her mother’s values and perspectives as her own. And 11 is not really old enough to have started questioning them yet as part of the transition to adulthood. Arya, on the other hand, is Ned’s favorite girl, and has learned to self-identify as her father’s daughter. Was this a conscious thing on either his part or Arya’s, or something that happened because of Catelyn’s focus on Sansa, possibly to the exclusion of Arya? Sansa’s comment about Arya having the Stark coloring, of being small and brown, is laced with derision–who the hell could she have learned that attitude from except her mother? Which implies that either consciously or sub-consciously, Catelyn mocked Arya to Sansa; the only question is, did she do it because Arya was drawn to her father, or was Arya drawn to her father because her mother rejected her?

As a former DLG (daddy’s little girl), myself, the concept of seeking approval from Father and using that as a shield against Mother’s displeasure resonates with me. Because she has Ned’s approval, Arya either isn’t punished for her behavior or doesn’t really feel chastened even if she has to jump through the hoops of a punishment doled out by someone with Catelyn’s value system. Thus she is allowed, either explicitly or implicitly in that a punishment not accompanied by Ned’s disapproval means little to her, to go off and grub with the butcher’s boy, get dirty roaming the countryside, and ignore summons to ladylike engagements. Ned either thinks it’s funny or harmless in a girl that young, or it shows him that she is a girl after his own heart and he takes pride in that. Either way, it’s all the permission Arya needs to keep pursuing her own interests rather than the ones her social status dictates she should have.

Honesty does compel me to admit that while I was like Arya as a child and still identify with her on an emotional level, the truth is most of my choices now are Sansa style. Which is not to say that I won’t ever get dirty or that I can’t rough it without complaint–or really even thinking twice about it–just that, 9 Saturdays out of 10, I’m not doing anything that will break a nail or require me to wash my hair again. If you met me, unless I’m wearing a dress that shows my knees (covered with scars from various bike wrecks and other accidents), I don’t think you would guess how wild and dirty my childhood was. I think I was more a tomboy because I wasn’t really given girly things to do than because it was truly my natural inclination. Or maybe it was my natural inclination as a kid, but one that I grew out of later as I grew into my sexuality and adult sense of self. So, as I think I said in the last Arya chapter, I’m quite curious to see what Arya is like when she’s older–if she will become a lady at least on the surface but be more interesting than her sister because she has a depth of world experience Sansa doesn’t, or if she will forever be something of an outsider.

One last thing on Arya–she has revealed to Sansa that she is practicing swordplay. I was very happy she didn’t have Needle with her, but I worry that in the aftermath of this incident one of the adults might search her things and take it away from her. Or would Ned be a liberal enough father that he would actually give his daughter an instructor?

Finally, to the last person I want to talk about, which is Joffrey. To repeat Tyrion’s oh-so apt phrase: what a little shit. He had moments where he seemed all right, though it was hard, given the filter of Sansa’s projections, for me to decide if he was really sincere or just behaving as he had been taught. But he was quite charming to stand up for her to the knights who had ridden in, and it seemed like he was maybe enjoying taking her out for a ramble. The point where things went bad was when he decided to act the bully, either to show off for Sansa or because it is simply who he is, and instead found himself mauled by Arya’s wolf and divested of his prized sword. I think that was good for him; but how he responds to it will depend on whether he’s just a spoiled boy or truly a nasty one. I honestly couldn’t tell. There’s a part of me that wants to hope for the best for him, that thinks his last look of “pure hatred” is really not hatred of Sansa but hatred of his own humiliation in front of her. That part thinks that getting knocked down a time or two will be nothing but good for a prince who will be king. Perhaps no one has ever stood up to him, and if that’s the case I can’t really blame him for his attitude; he is what he has been taught to be, and in that case all I can judge him on is whether he learns from this incident. But there is also a part of me that thinks he might be inherently cruel and bullying, and that getting knocked down will only make him hate the person who did it, and learn nothing except to be even more cruel in retaliation.

The one moment that made me wonder, is this a seed for future plot complications?, was Sansa’s reaction to the king’s brother, thinking him the handsomest knight she’d ever seen.  She gonna toss over sociopath Joffrey at some point?  One can only hope….

All in all, I’m curious to see what the results of this little altercation are for each of the people involved. And as a general note, I find it a subtle piece of storytelling that most of the chapters that make me think politically are from the adults, not the kids.

– 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!

–Do not read on if you have not read the series through A Feast for Crows and want to avoid spoilers–

Jay –

I’m prepping this for final posting and I’m watching the NBA Dunk Contest (which I thought was pretty wack) and I just heard Charles Barkley say,”if a pretty girl dumb it don’t matter”. That’s a great intro for a Sansa chapter, one that’s seemed very short to me. I like Sansa. I always have. Or rather, I was probably initially indifferent but when confronted with pervading opinion of her, it  made me view her more closely on later rereads. I think that by A Feast for Crows some may have turned around on her  (I think she’s on the verge of gangster). I want to stress “initially” because it’s key to the fluff (majority) portion of  my breakdown of this chapter. It’s important because I was what I’d call an epic virgin when I first read A Game of Thrones. No, not in that way, but what I mean is that I picked up Thrones totally on my own, having never heard of it or any praise of it before—it was pre-net for me. This means a couple of things. One, I entered this series blind of hype, never having heard of it before the day I saw it at a public library. Two, because of this I was not forewarned that I had to pay special attention to Fantasy, that I didn’t have to take my epic at face value, even if a pretty one. Epic Fantasy was no longer just post-Tolkien, it now had another notch defined on the timeline: pre-Martin. Indeed, Martinesque would become a word long searched for since. I no longer had to be Sansa.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sansa is the kid all parents are proud of. She’s exactly and exceeds all mothers and fathers of position would want from their first born (or any) daughter. We knew people like this in high school, the rich girl in school who made good grades, was the local in-crowd and an obvious hottie, both presently and in-waiting (mother’s hot). We know Sansa is not just a pretty face and that she excels in all things she’s supposed to excel at (except numbers). She’s done everything asked of her and doesn’t seem a bitch about it—she’s taken on responsibility and it payed off in the biggest way possible: she’d wedding into the royal line. I think this is very important when considering future occurrences because Sansa has to feel justified in what she had “accomplished” so far in her life. We all know people like this in high school and often these people share this similar trait of lacking what we call street smarts. Sansa has no reason to not believe that she has conquered life. She did what she was told was important, graded high, and got the best job. I know some may argue it, but given where she was in the beginning, I kind of like and even admire how she’s taken her lumps.

That’s the extent I want to get into Sansa outside of this chapter (so we don’t get repetitive) but would just add that unlike her mother, she has the excuse of being a child and having no reason not to trust the guidance of her parents and Septa. It is the extremely dramatic situation she’s placed into that exposes her, but I see no reason why she wouldn’t have been an ideal lady of some holding that wasn’t on a collision course with being in the middle of a war. Thus far we’ve been given a couple of “reasons” to possibly not like Sansa beyond simple vanity (a trait I have no issue with if it’s properly backed), namely, the way she treats Jon and Arya. I guess what should be noted is that she feels and has probably been told that she is right/correct. Her own mother, a high born lady like she herself is, doesn’t appreciate Jon’s presence.  She doesn’t dislike Arya, she just wants her to be more like her (I.E. “right”) and their interaction doesn’t exceed rather base sibling interaction..  If we accept Cateyln’s treatment of Jon it’s not a stretch to do the same for Sansa, though I think the former’s is more personal and the latter’s reasoning is more about form, though one  she has had little reason to question.  So, sure, Sansa is limited but not because of her own doing. Arya rebels because she’s not “Ideal”, is a tomboy, who should be a lady and a potential Princess. Sansa is in some sense potential realized, to the extent that is asked of her (or if you want to drag it out to woman in general in this setting). What I find very interesting is that Cersei , while certainly less good natured to begin with, shares this ascension and a part of me wonders if there was purpose to her treatment of Sansa because of what happened to her own fairy tale (be it with the failed Rhaegar proposal or how her marriage with Robert turned out). They were both promised Kings that they didn’t get.

Speaking of, Joffrey leaves little doubt of his bitchiness. We get that early and it doesn’t stop. Yet, it is through Sansa viewing him:

He took her by the arm and ledher away from the wheelhouse, and Sansa’s spirits took flight. A whole day with her prince! She gazed at Joffrey worshipfully. He was so gallant, she thought. The way he had rescued her from Ser Ilyn and the Hound, why, it was almost like the songs, like the time Serwyn of the Mirror Shield saved the Princess Daeryssa from the giants, or Prince Aemon the Dragonknight championing Queen Naerys’s honor against evil Ser Morgil’s slanders. The touch of Joffrey’s hand on her sleeve made her heart beat faster.

And

It was a glorious day, a magical day. The air was warm and heavy with the scent of flowers, and the woods here had a gentle beauty that Sansa had never seen in the north. Prince Joffrey’s mount was a blood bay courser, swift as the wind, and he rode it with reckless abandon, so fast that Sansa was hard-pressed to keep up on her mare. It was a day for adventures. They explored the caves by the riverbank, and tracked a shadowcat to its lair, and when they grew hungry, Joffrey found a holdfast by its smoke and told them to fetch food and wine for their prince and his lady. They dined on trout fresh from the river, and Sansa drank more wine than she had ever drunk before. “

…that we are reminded that this non-fantasy (but really) fantasy has a romantic perspective and history. We got the Old Nan references earlier and now we get another part of history told in almost a fairy tale manner. Not everything is “stark”. Giants? Dragonknight? Champions? Mirror Shield? It sounds awesome, much like Sansa would on description, but we do not yet know they’re depth, and though we are with Sansa in some manner almost throughout the series, we don’t truly start testing the surface of the water, I feel, until A Feast for Crows. Sansa strikes me as someone who felt that her life would be storybook, she worked hard to give herself the chance, so I just have this feeling we are going to get something big from here because while on the surface (and perhaps beyond) she may seem the most nonessential of the Stark brood, or the one we least want to see grand things from (Jon and Arya I think have proven themselves to be fan favorites, and Bran kind of has this built in odd, cripple destiny thing going on) but I find myself wanting Sansa to get her mention in some other young girl’s dreams or stories later and I don’t much care that it will no doubt leave a false impression, mostly because I know those stories at some point had value.

“The battleground is right up ahead, where the river bends. That was where my father killed Rhaegar Targaryen, you know. He smashed in his chest, crunch, right through the armor.”

The setting here is kind of important. We now know what kind of shit Joffrey is but it must have stung even worse for the boy who has daddy issues to have got his ass kicked by a girl near the same spot where he just told Sansa that his dad gained the crown by killing the continent super pimp, Rhaegar Targaryen. If we believe Joff sent the killer too kill Bran for reasons involving his father, this entire episode had to be even a bigger embarrassment, one that we couldn’t at first possibly know the gravity of and it better explains  his maltreatment of Sansa even beyond the normal level of cruelty he for sure had in him anyway. Bully is a right word. He picks on dwarfs, girls, and Mycah (thoughI”d bet only when he had steel, as I’m taking a butcher’s son knuckle to knuckle against Joff–though that is a total guess, Joff was/is described as tall and graceful, so he could be a natural athlete.)   It’s also striking as a reread item in terms of giving us an early example of how un-Robertly he is. For sure, we know that many true sons are not their father’s reflection (a classic example with Sam in this very series) but since we know this is part of a significant plot intrigue it does now ring to me as a blatant sign that I’ve made up in my mind. Not only is he inadequate in his own mind, but he’s also measuring himself against a man who isn’t even his father. If he wasn’t such a prick it might resemble being sad.

“No,” he said, “don’t hurt me. I’ll tell my mother.”

Okay…it is sad.

From and since my first read, I’ve always enjoyed the introduction of Renly, Barristan and Ser Ilyn and admired the game of it that allows Sansa to show her strengths while also  allowing for a very conversational introduction that let us know everything what we need to know about all three. It’s extremely effective because we get strong initial impressions of all three, though Elena seems not to agree.  It has no real bearing, but two we meet represent one who offered his sword to help Ned (Ned’s choice is the single dumbest decision in the entire book, and I cannot wait to see how Elena –a Ned lover at this point – views it) , and the other, who while respected Ned, stood beside Joffrey later.  The other guy? Cut Ned’s head off. We – or at least I – kind of forget that while Payne rides with Jaime in A Feast for Crows. While his speaks to the strength of the Jaime narrative for me, it also showcases how Martin passes on the blame of the murder to the event itself and not a person. Even on a reread I don’t approach Payne as the killer of Ned.

A couple of Elena’s comments:

Sansa’s comment about Arya having the Stark coloring, of being small and brown, is laced with derision–who the hell could she have learned that attitude from except her mother? Which implies that either consciously or sub-consciously, Catelyn mocked Arya to Sansa; the only question is, did she do it because Arya was drawn to her father, or was Arya drawn to her father because her mother rejected her?

I never considered this angle at all but I kind of love it. Kind of because  I don’t think it was because it didn’t strike me, but more because I must have thought that in the smaller world of powerful families, certain traits and truths of them were well known. I’ve been in small towns even in our world where people know certain stock are prone to have good looking kids. You know what I’m talking about, those families in small southern towns that keep spitting out Junior Miss winners two or three time a generation or whose son’s are prone to go play Triple A ball somewhere.

The one moment that made me wonder, is this a seed for future plot complications?, was Sansa’s reaction to the king’s brother, thinking him the handsomest knight she’d ever seen.  She gonna toss over sociopath Joffrey at some point?  One can only hope….

For obvious reasons to veteran readers this is amusing, though I’m not sure if it’s been clarified whether or not Renly is gay or bi-sexual. For me, Renly – as Ned will experience himself – is a reminder of part pre-coronation Robert. I like Renly, and though we can’t know his true motives I loved him when he offered himself and his swords to Ned, because it came off as not just backing Ned, but his brother…his family. Oddly, he’d go to war with his other brother. I do wonder…did you think Renly was playing it straight with Ned when he made the offer (remember spoiler tags!). What I do dig about Elena’s observation here is that if I take it a step further, there is that possibility where you might conclude some warped mirror of history to occur – A Baratheon running off with a Stark girl, promised to a would-be King. Hell, in this scene, he even seems chummy with his own THE knight of his day here with Barristan, ala Rhaegar and Ser Arthur Dayne.

One last thing on Arya–she has revealed to Sansa that she is practicing swordplay. I was very happy she didn’t have Needle with her, but I worry that in the aftermath of this incident one of the adults might search her things and take it away from her. Or would Ned be a liberal enough father that he would actually give his daughter an instructor?

Ned certainly does have his moments that make us love him. I’m trying to think if Catelyn has such moments. I’m not talking about episodes of competence, but moments that endear her to us outside of an appreciation for her grief. None come to mind at the moment, but I must be forgetting something.

Ser Ilyn Payne shouldered two men aside, and stood before her, unsmiling. He did not say a word. Lady bared her teeth and began to growl, a low rumble full of menace, but this time Sansa silenced the wolf with a gentle hand to the head. “I am sorry if I offended you, Ser Ilyn,” she said. She waited for an answer, but none came. As the headsman looked at her, his pale colorless eyes seemed to strip the clothes away from her, and then the skin, leaving her soul naked before him. Still silent, he turned and walked away.

It’s so wonderful because it shows the power of the POV chapters, as Sansa’s perspective adds so much to a Payne who probably  is merely looking at her (he can’t help the silent part) and presenting himself. Sansa’s world is so poetic, as can be compared from this passage and the above Joffrey depiction. Indeed, this entire chapter seems a story and has a harmony to it, stocked even with “storybook” “villains” in it with  Payne and the Hound. A story thus far has been in tune, skips and stops with a dose of reality when Sansa’s soundtrack seems to “snap” off at the end:

His eyes snapped open and looked at her, and there was nothing but loathing there, nothing but the vilest contempt. “Then go ,” he spit at her. “And don’t touch me .”

In the next chapter, Sasha  lies to make keep her own story true. Fin.

While we’ve agreed quite a bit thus far, this chapter feels like it took both Elena and I – the reader and rereader –  in the same way, so much so I want to label it as purposely and uniquely  functional in a way, thought that’s my own mind needlessly reaching at and for  more meaning. Damn it though, that’s what we do. That’s how we have fun reading, it make these shared experiences our own. This chapter was Sansa’s song, but not on her album. A pre-Martin epic fantasy soliloquy, a song that we all know knew before Martin kills it. Drowns it. Makes it harder, stronger. A large mound of rebound.

– og 2/23/2011

Elena Nola is the imperial editrix for the Boomtron 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. You can follow her reviews and commentaries at Boomtron.

Jay is a silent partner in Extensive Enterprises, a bastard child of Amber, an Eleint Soletaken, a probable Targaryen, and was the second-to-last Starfighter.