George R.R. Martin dropped another excerpt/sample chapter from The Winds of Winter today and I just wanted to jot down some thoughts on the Alayne/Sansa POV, as we go back to the Eyrie and see what Petyr has brewing, as the Vale has for the most part been lounging during The War of the Five Kings. Reaction to this sample chapter seems to be a bit divisive among fandom so I wanted to dive in and see where I ended up on the spectrum.
I think what I’ve always really liked about Sansa is that I think there’s a clear sense and record of progression. Not only is Sansa now aware of the game, not only is she playing it and not just being played (because I think everyone gets played beyond their control to some extent), but she has suffered real loss that she actually had a personal and direct hand in causing to occur. She is both a victim and complicit I think it’s safe to assume that anyone even interested in a The Winds of Winter excerpt has already up to this point, but I do want to start off saying that I’ve always liked Sansa, and she was never a polarizing character in my thoughts in the way that members of her own family were, like a Ned or Catelyn. I know for the reader, and to some extent even as we’ve seen it unfold on television, her younger sister is more of the classic story character to fall far immediately. Sansa was establishment. Sansa is not only privileged but she thinks she’s earned it. Sansa makes fun of her less refined sister and calls one of her brothers a bastard, and in general seems to have a rigid outlook on social and gender roles. She would thrive in such a world. In could be argued if Joff wasn’t a compete asshole and monster, Sansa would be a perfectly functional and ideal queen.
The reason why I’ve always found myself with the character is that she really was the ideal girl given her environment (or I could be making this stuff up, I forgot what I said about her in our chapter-by-chapter combo re-read a few years ago). While it’s easy to say to prepare for the worst case scenario to occur, it’s hard to be able train someone to prepare for what Sansa was about to take on. 99 out of 100 times, Jon Arryn doesn’t die, Robert doesn’t come North to offer the Hand to Ned, and when he does he doesn’t propose a marriage, Ned doesn’t accept, Ned doesn’t royally mess up, etc etc. In those cases Sansa is the unjaded ideal first daughter of a powerful, probably friendly, Lord who would probably make someone very happy, all proper-like. Her own father couldn’t handle what was going on. So with that in mind let’s keep it moving to the chapter. If there was a test on how to be an ideal eldest daughter to Ned Stark, I think she was passing with flying colors if you asked her parents and Septa. She was doing what she was told, and she was rewarded for it. She was the daughter who was doing it right. We spend the early chapters being told this in contrast to Arya. She literally goes from this to a nightmare that no Septa could prepare her for.
I immediately start thinking about Sansa’s teachers and influences. From her mother and Septa Mordane, to Cersei, Margaery, The Queen of Thorns, and Littlefinger. The moments that really came back to me was back in King’s Landing, Cersei’s interactions with her were, yes, harsh but also very pragmatic of a woman who lived the life Sansa was about to live at court. Like Sansa, Cersei once also thought she would be a future queen to a hot dude (Rhaegar Targaryen), and would later be skipped. Like Sansa, she was told by her father this would happen. What and who Rhaegar was is still a topic of debate, especially concerning the details of the Lyanna episode but what we do clearly have are thoughts of him. Even now Cersei, by all accounts a stunning woman who probably has had top shelf dick thrown at her all of her life, invoked Rhaeger as a standard in her thoughts when contemplating how attractive another man was (Aurane Waters). We know that he had some pretty rad friends and that he could sing and played string instruments. As a guy, he’s the kind of guy we all hate. He either was or has become thought of as a full blown dreamboat; a fairy tale prince. The same kind of prince that Sansa read stories of and thought and hoped she would marry. There is a core here though. Both Ned and Catelyn had truly baffling faults but neither were craven and I’ve always thought there was real steel to Sansa and I think this shows in all of the Stark kids.
This Rhaegar thought is strong to me because no matter what we think of the legitimacy of Aegon, we view him through a Rhaegar lense. The introduction of Harry the Heir (which is the most hip hop name in Westeros — waiting for the mix tape to drop) in this chapter makes me reflect on Aegon, even when it is, as it should be with Sansa, Joffrey who is mentioned or looms as an example. Aegon seems, relatively, like kind of a hot catch. When we think of all of the possible matches that could occur as war looms, one could just imagine Aegon crashing into a place and stealing all eyes. He’s a bit like Willas Tyrell except he can be viewed by society as a war leader, and doesn’t have hotter brothers.
Even with this comparison I don’t think I was put off with Harry as some would. He’s a male in a society where, at least on the surface, that matters and he’s the heir of the land he’s treading on. He’s a good looking kid that’s already smashing comely ladies, and he said something to Sansa that seemed to me something similar to what young kids used to do in school, they made fun of the person they liked or thought was cute. Further, he’s not trying to establish his position, it really is his position, he knows he’s ostensibly the biggest chip. Yeah, on it’s own, he’s still a bit of a douche here but I think he resets later. He observes, he appreciates, he also is aware of the game. So much so I don’t put it past him, and especially Myranda as knowing that she (Sansa) is something more than she seems. It could be a pretty clever ploy by Harry to see her reaction to being called a bastard.
I think Petyr’s statement about it being her night really hit home. She’s not just Sansa the piece or tool bearing the right name and born to the right family. She’s the predator in a room with other predators. A world with other predators. So many instances of Sansa have been of watching, a spectator, and I think there is intentional symmetry here with a tourney. If you will recall, earlier in Sansa’s life she watched while knights arrived from throughout the kingdom to King’s Landing for a tourney, at the time these were men out of stories, monsters, and magical armor. Life was still a story. We now see Alayne, still a piece, but a mini-queen in the hands of Littlefinger. The tourney is a board she herself set.
Speaking of Littlefinger, hearing him talk to Alayne after her meeting with Harry, and all of the sudden the fact that he’s one of the overall slickest players in the game of thrones, a financial wizard and — at least in name — Lord of Harrenhal wasn’t what came to me. Instead, what I recall, something extenuated in the HBO adaptation, is that Petyr is a pimp. This is guy who throughout the series maneuvers people, especially women, with ease. It made me think of Tywin, who despite his shortcomings, is an ideal liege lord, and how his end occurred in the hands of a whore, while this whoremaster has risen with no personal cost, still alive, still playing the game. I hesitate to take this comparison any further though because while I do think Littlefinger is an example of a self made man, I don’t want to dismiss Tywin as someone who wasn’t. Even with someone born with his advantages, it was Tywin who returned his family to form, and true lords paramount, not just an empty title. He was arguably the most powerful person of an era and he had a lot to do with placing himself in that position.
I think I might be a terrible person. I’m one of those people waiting for Lord Robert to die already. I know, he’s a kid, he clearly has issues, none of it is his fault and both of his parents have been killed, but he’s somewhat of a physical representation of the worst thing about Westeros society as we view it. He’s unfit for his position in every way, merely born to it. He has the right for sure, but even with just people we are familiar with who share his name, we had a man who won a kingdom with a hammer, and another who never lost a battle in the field. He’s Little Robert not just because of his age or size. The certainty of his demise really bothers me though because this is where Martin tends to thrive, when we are sure. A thought from Sansa reveals however that she is not knowingly part of a plot to remove him, as she considered Robin’s future wife. That said, Robin is much more lucid and aware than I would have given him credit for, but it’s still all relative. I do wonder if he’s Petyr’s kid though, and I wonder if there will be any similar track of once thought of as a weak, small boy making something of himself. Cateyln was there with Petyr, Sansa there with his son?
He’s kind of helluva creepy too.
Another thing that struck me was the nature of Sansa’s thoughts. “He’s such a little fool”. This is that pragmatism that I like, and while we know Sansa could have a mean streak in her, this seems like a very specific thought about a child.
There was also a passage about tapestries. Thrones fans are fascinated anytime tapestries are mentioned. The Lyn Corbray hype is sure to continue, as his marital prowess are shown again, and we can say the same of Mychel Redfort. Level up for both.
I think that Martin is careful in showing us that it’s not all natural for Alayne yet. Some of Sansa is there. When she meets Harry she has to internally remind herself not to crumble. I do wonder if Littlefinger couldn’t be found so it would be Sansa to face Harry when he arrived and to see how she reacted. He might think, as I do, that this is a bit of a pop quiz, to see if what would be the the last vestige of Sansa’s natural inclination, the Sansa of her old story, is confronting her new man,a new prince, etc. Martin spends some time on Sansa looking around for Littlefinger so I believe it is intentional. I do think however that she may be more adept than even Littlefinger realizes. It feels much more like Sansa can turn it off and on.
When we finally see Petyr he is stockpiling food in the Vale. Because, you know, that’s the smart thing to do when winter and war is coming. I bet Littlefinger has good credit.
Harry is not someone viewed as a martial prodigy, from the conversation Petyr was having with Lord Grafton and Belmore about the upcoming tourney. I wonder if we are going to see some mirrored history here where clearly Harry and Sansa are to be matched but drama begins when someone who flourishes in the tourney — maybe someone Sansa gives her favor too?
I love the Sansa we see here, and even though it’s a charade we get a glimpse of her having fun again. While Harry is the heir it seems vital that Littlefinger prop up Sansa as someone or something the other lords and knights want to support, and I think we see some of that from Harry’s entourage. It was her night, her moment to shine, not for herself, but for the Vale. Sansa is beautiful again. She’s done hiding. She’s shining. On the sexualization of Sansa… I don’t know I’m not sure what the big deal is supposed, this is what happens to people when they reach a certain age. Sexualization, growth, is part of self awareness and fun times. Party on, Sansa Fierce. The chapter even opens with sexual connotation with Mya entering the room coming from a good time. I’m good with sexy and sassy Sansa. Zero hangups there, it’s what young people think about.
I think… stylistically this chapter feels like a bit of a change-up. It doesn’t feel as dense, almost as if this was shōujo aSoIaF. It feels right with the content within but I’m not sure it feels so right next to another chapter. I’m willing to call it intentional because I like coming of age Sansa. I felt like I could hear the sounds of the castle that Sansa was noting, almost as if it was soundtrack to a personal happiness that seems impossible for a woman who has experienced what she has in this short of a time — it wasn’t that long ago she was giggling with Jeyne Pool. Sophie is going to KILL it as this Sansa.
Oh. And because lemon cake.