Tuesday, September 17, 2013

[Re-read] Sansa III: Simply Purgatory

Finally the British death metal band Carcass have released a new album, the first in seventeen years! You bet I am enjoying the heck out of Surgical Steel while writing this post. Groove, melody, raw energy all packed onto a shiny little disc. I love. 

I also love A Storm of Swords, so there is that. Here we go, without further ado, straight into the 29th chapter of the third book, which is still more than ten chapters away from the first half of the book! A Storm of Swords truly is the definition of a door-stopper. While I praised HBO for their decisions regarding the Daenerys story-line, I am equally dismayed at all the good stuff that's missing from Sansa's arc in the show. One vital scene occurring right at the beginning of this very chapter is an example of something I'd wish they didn't change or omit. I highlighted Sansa's marriage to Tyrion as a plot twist in an earlier post; it's not so much a plot twist as it is an unexpected or surprising turn of events, it's not really a twist per se; but it is oh so enjoyable whatever you call this plot development, feeling both sad for Sansa, kind-of-happy for Tyrion, but also happy for Sansa (she can be free from Joffrey) and sad for Tyrion (he's marrying someone who thinks of little of him, pun not intended); this is what makes Martin's work so amazing here! How he screws with our perception of characters, and how he invites various emotions in the reader depending on points of view. Brilliant stuff. Let's read.

The Dungeon-y part.
So I wrote that opening paragraph above and then promptly learned that the game 'Card Hunter', an online browser game mixing up Magic: The Gathering with old school Dungeons & Dragons had gone live. I've been following it half an eye through Facebook out of curiosity (and because game designer Richard Garfield probably is a little bit of a game design genius) and now all of a sudden I could just log on and get cracking. Needless to say, it's addictive. Dangerously so. Especially since it is browser-based and thus can be played from anywhere at any time (although it disconnects quite frequently over the last twenty four hours or so I've been spinning it). "Why are you playing a game from the eighties?" the Lady Slynt commented when she saw what I was secretly doing instead of paying bills (which was my excuse for slipping away). Yeah, it doesn't look like much, really, but the combination of RPG nerd humor and playing cards and continual progression is insidious and must have been designed specifically to keep me even more away from everything. And with that, I'm going to try and give the damn game a rest so I can actually finish this post. Seriously though, this is one of those games where you just take one.more.turn. Fortunately it is also of the kind that I hopefully grow tired of real soon, but it does scratch that itch for now. And now, Sansa III! For real.

The Magic-y part.
Edit: One hour later and I am still holding off writing this post because you know. DAMMIT! ... but now, yes now I shall be a responsible adult and not let myself be distracted by such...distractions. Let's put on a good underground metal album, let's say Sarc√≥fago's 'I.N.R.I.', a real classic to some and disturbing noisy filth to others, and get cracking on that (bitter)sweet Sansa-chapter. Edit 2: Half an hour later. I just had to do the next map. How can I let myself be fooled like this? Argh! But the kobolds, they needed punishing. All right, here we go. I hope Mr. Martin shies away from stuff like this. Edit 3: And again (sigh). But now I x-ed out the screen. This is not good. I am an adult. I'm better than this. Or so I tell myself.

SOOOOO, Sansa Stark. Whenever I think of this character I begin to wonder about her future in the books. There are several possibilities, and all of them could theoretically be her arc. There's the notion that Sansa will become a good ruler, having learned from those who can't really rule (Cersei Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon); there's the possibility that she will up-scheme Littlefinger himself and become a master player of the game of thrones in her own right (though I can't see how Martin can pull it off in only two more books); then there's the idea that (and this one I don't see as often) Sansa Stark will die before it's all over, because the death of her direwolf Lady kind of suggests it. In this case, I can foresee Sansa sacrificing herself for a greater good (maybe?) or die at the hands of her sister Arya, come to assassinate the manipulator that Sansa has become (so kind of mixing in idea 2 as well). In addition, the books suggest the possibility that there is an arc involving the Hound, Sandor Clegane, and her, but maybe Martin just wanted us to see Sandor liking the little bird and there is nothing more to it - a thought that has me wondering if the entire finished saga will stand up just as well as the first three books did, three books full of possibilities for future plot lines that may never come to fruition. And there are possibly more suggestions as to what Sansa's future holds, beyond the fact that she loses her naivety and learns politics. It is almost infuriating - for thirteen years I've been wondering about this plotline and how it can be resolved in a satisfying way but never getting anywhere (well, yes, we saw Sansa in A Dance with Dragons and those chapters kind of supported the idea that she's going to be a player but there is still much unresolved). Maybe I care too much. I probably do. Her story so far has been pretty interesting and I love the character growth she's been through, witnessing so many of the major events of Westeros. Secretly I wish she was still in King's Landing, where her story was the most interesting, but that's a matter of taste. I hope the recently announced paperback of A Dance with Dragons with a new preview chapter actually delivers a Sansa chapter (as opposed to what I expect we'll get, a chapter we've read before or heard about before from some con). By the way I believe Mr. Martin is forgetting half his fan base with his announcement for surely I have seen ADWD paperbacks in the stores here for the longest time? Different publisher, I suppose, in the UK, but still - a bit sloppy there. I realize I'm still not actually writing about Sansa III. Palm meet face. Here we go. For really reals.


Right from the get go, we're inside Sansa's head; Martin is oh so good at writing from his characters' points of view, and giving them different voices. It's the morning her new gown is to be ready - immediately we know we are reading Sansa because of her focus on the gown, she is still somewhat of a materialist isn't she - and the entire first paragraph describes how Sansa is being treated like a princess; for once, she is getting what she dreamed of (and of course, an excellent opportunity for the author to mention nipples). However, there is no mention of Sansa enjoying this luxurious treatment; it is described in a somewhat detached state, as if she's just going through the motions - which she of course is.

Cersei arrives with a seamstress, and the Queen Regent watches as Sansa is dressed up; again, Martin takes the time to "be" Sansa in that she observes the details of the gown. Very in character, but possibly a bit longish; at the same time, the full description of the gown with all its ivory and cloth-of-silver and satin and dagged sleeves and slashed bodice and tight waist gives us a great impression of medieval gowns, which Martin has some knowledge of (based on this description, anyway). The seamstress at last tells her she is very beautiful, and Sansa, in a moment that comes as a little bit of a surprise when she suddenly has an emotional burst, giggles and agrees that, yes, she is beautiful. She thinks of Willas Tyrell and it seems then that from this passage, she has begun to come to terms with the fate chosen for her. Cersei is more critical, wanting more moonstones. Once the stones are hanging from her ears and about her neck, Cersei too admits that Sansa Stark is indeed beautiful - "it seems almost obscene to squander such sweet innocence on that gargoyle." Well, thank you, sister-in-law-to-be. Sansa doesn't understand, wonders if Cersei knows about the Tyrell plot, and if I were her, I would like, say, "Stop and a half, what are you talking about?" but Cersei ignores her and brings forth a cloak with a direwolf embroidered upon it. "Your father's colors," Cersei says, taking on the role of Captain Obvious there for a moment, and in that very same moment of obviousness it all becomes obvious to Sansa: she is not marrying Willas Tyrell. Cersei tells her the wedding guests and the septon are already waiting, so there is barely time to absorb the shock. And as a reader, wow! I just love this turnaround. So how could a cloak make her realize what is going on, and not the fact that Cersei tells her she's marrying a "gargoyle"? Well, as I read it, the cloak symbolizes her father's colors, and the Lannisters want dominion over the North, and this is what Sansa realizes. I may be dim and I may not be a native English-speaker but I find this bit confusing (probably not as much as Sansa though). And I wish all these small scenes building up to her marriage were intact in the TV series. But wishing it doesn't make it come true, as we all know, so I'll let that one lie. And then Cersei's cold attempt at sympathy, such a brilliant bit of dialogue totally showcasing her personality: "I understand your reluctance. Cry if you must. In your place, I would likely rip my hair out. He's a loathsome little imp, no doubt of it, but marry him you shall."

Outside the chamber, Ser Meryn Trant and Ser Osmund Kettleblack are waiting to escort her to the sept;"I'm your father today." Sometimes when you read this stuff you just feel the need to go online and find that animated gif where Joffrey is repeatedly slapped. Not that I actually believe slapping him stupid(er) would be the most effective method for changing his outlook on life. No sirree, I am not of the old guard.
Sansa tries to run, but is caught immediately. Martin slips in a little characterization of Osmund, showing him to be gentler and more sympathetic than Meryn (by a long shot). She remembers when another kingsguard, Ser Boros, had torn her clothes off - quite humiliating; she listens to Osmund telling her that "wolves are supposed to be brave", and decides to be just that. She decides that Osmund isn't as bad as the rest of them; in hindsight, an obvious first impression of a character to become more important later in the story. Her steps toward the sept become a blur; but everything is thrown back into sharp focus when Joffrey awaits her on the steps of the sept, greeting her with a, I assume, triumphant-sounding

Sansa spits back that he isn't and will never be; Joffrey becomes angry and tells her he can choose anyone for her, suggesting Ser Ilyn Payne. Before the situation can escalate, Tyrion Lannister appears. Those moments when POV characters are "visiting" other POV characters' chapters - they are precious to me. They are few and far between. They allow you to see certain main characters from a completely different perspective, thus "building" them differently if you know what I mean. I wouldn't mind more of these dare I call them "cross-over chapters", if only because the story's become to spread out and people that are great fun to read about when they are together...kind of aren't together that much anymore.

Once again, through Sansa's point of view, Martin chooses to focus on clothing; it feels almost as if Sansa is bending down to properly study Tyrion's attire; "Tyrion wore a doublet of black velvet covered with golden scrollwork, thigh-high boots that added three inches to his height (kind of funny), a chain of rubies and lions' heads. Rubies? A very subtle link to Rhaegar Targaryen? Who knows? He tells her what we know she already knows - that she's beautiful - and she tells him that was nicely said, lowering her gaze and holding her tongue so as to not say anything insulting. Tyrion immediately begins to apologize for the manner of her being sent here in haste and secrecy, blaming his father who wants it this way, for "reasons of state" (I believe it). Then, he begins to blunder as he offers her to marry Lancel instead which I suppose any girl would have gladly accepted instead, but she just wants to say that she doesn't want a Lannister; in her mind, she has already begun to romanticize the possible relationship to Willas, much like she used to dream about knights way back in A Game of Thrones. Seems to me she needs a few more setbacks before she finally learns to stop with these wishful dreams, eh? Marrying Tyrion should be a good first setback in her development in that regard. She does realize that she is a pawn in the political game, and an important one at that, what with her having a claim on the entire North. Sansa also admits that she remembers that Tyrion has been kind to her, which may be an admission that she realizes the Imp isn't as bad as certain other members of House Lannister.

This is not an action figure, Google Search!
So she put her hand in his, and he led her to the marriage altar, and they lived happily ever after. We're given a list of witnesses, which could come in handy at a later time; Dontos is there, Ser Balon Swann and brute Ser Boros Blount; she notes that there are no Tyrells around (surprise!); Varys is present (with the exception of his genitals obviously - ooh that was low), Ser Addam Marbrand, Lord Philip Foote, Ser Bronn, Jalabhar Xho (who is always present it seems - is there something more to him? IS there? Who knows? Is he the entire saga's narrator?); Lord Gyles is coughing (as he always does, I believe in fact there's something called Lord Gyles' Coughing™ that you can buy along with a book collecting Tyrion's dialogue, Kickstarter-funded dragon coins and Game of Thrones ale - where are my action figures dammit). Anyway, I do not begrudge Mr. Martin his franchise branching out into various licenses, just to make that clear - I am more worried about the kind of companies buying the licenses (see: awful computer games) and the kind of products being released (for some people, obviously, the dragon coins are great - I mean, look at all those backers). If I could produce something related to Ice & Fire with Mr. Martin's blessing, I'd go for a computer adaptation of Fantasy Flight Games' A Game of Thrones Board Game, allowing fans from across the world to play the game online. Possibly with a discount for losers like myself who own the game but have no friends. Battles of Westeros and A Game of Thrones: The Card Game are likewise already existing brilliant games that could work just as well in digital formats. These things are actually good. And, of course, I would like action figures to liven up the shelves. So there is good stuff out there (the first art book was a treat, as well), but there is also so much useless stuff (again, depending on your point of view). Speaking of points of view, let's get back to Sansa about to be speed-married into House Lannister.

Where was I? Ah, in the sept. We were going through the witness list. I kind of stopped when Lord Gyles coughed, such a distracting mannerism for a character to have. Lady Ermesande is present and correct at a breast, and Lady Tanda's pregnant daughter is sobbing "for no apparent reason". No apparent reason for you, Sansa. Nobody sobs for no apparent reason (which you should know a little something about). The ceremony then, passes as in a dream, and Sansa just follows along as if drifting on a current (though nightmare could be a more suitable word?). She cries. Time flies too fast for her. Time tends to do that when you either are having fun or are really not looking forward to something. Time is cruel. Time, in fact, could very well be the root of all evil that we're always looking for. Anyway, there she is, and it is time for the ceremonial changing of the cloaks, the moment that in importance can be compared to slipping the wedding ring on your future partner's finger. A moment where everybody in the hall holds their breath and watches, witnesses.

Joffrey is Lord Eddard Stark's stand-in and you could of course not ask for a worse replacement for herfeel what Sansa feels without ever stating straight out what is going on inside her head. It's fantastic. And just to pile a little bit more nasty on the nasty, Martin has Joffrey brush one of Sansa's breasts and lingers there to squeeze it when he takes off her cloak. [Chandler] Can you be a bigger dick? [/Chandler]
father. Sansa is rigid, and Martin is great at freezing this moment and let us
Nobody seems to notice this little insolent harassment, though. It's worse for Tyrion Lannister (from a PR point of view). He's holding the bride's cloak and it is huge and heavy, and there is no stool for him to stand on, and he has to tug Sansa's skirt to get her to notice she has to kneel down. She blushes, is mortified folks - that is, if I understand correctly, a particularly heavy bout of embarrassment - and it all comes down to her hopes being crushed again: It was not supposed to be this way. She had dreamed of her wedding a thousand times, and always she had pictured how her betrothed would stand behind her tall and strong, sweep the cloak of protection over her shoulders, and tenderly kiss her cheek as he leaned forward to fasten the clasp.
Yes, Sansa, you live in a world and society where you as a woman have no say over, well, most matters. In fact, it has been this way for the longest time in the real world, far beyond the Dark Ages. In fact, many women live under this oppression still. Did no one know tell her how things work in Westeros? Or did her dreams overshadow reality? She must always have known that she would not be able to decide whom to marry. So her dreams, then. Utterly annihilated here, in the sept, while Lord Gyles is coughing and Joffrey is squeezing one of her titties. Yet I can't get over the feeling that Sansa seems so woefully unprepared for this; surely she must have been told all her life that she would marry for politics, not for love? Still, I'm not let such a great chapter as this be ruined by my ruminations. ¨
Tyrion is insistent, tugging her skirt twice more, and she just really doesn't want to kneel down, pride and all that, and this is like the last straw for her, her last chance at defiance. People begin to laugh because they've noticed. Joffrey commands Ser Dontos to get down on his hands and knees so Tyrion can climb up to reach Sansa's shoulders.
And so it was that her lord husband cloaked her in the colors of House Lannister whilst standing on the back of a fool.
This is just insanely epic in all its humiliating aspects. A wedding people will talk about for the longest time. A sequence ripe to be adapted for puppet plays at fairs all over Westeros. By the way, I love the concept of "the changing of the cloaks", how real it feels and how it suits a wedding so well symbolically. A bonus point there for Mr. Martin. While she struggles to hold back her tears, the septon proclaim them husband and wife forever. One of the most poignant scenes in the series for me, has come to an end. To have followed Sansa through all her travails only to arrive at this forced wedding...it's breath-taking, and certainly something else than ye standard old fantasy fare. HBO made a huge mistake when they had Sansa kneel, by the way. It is such a vital part of her arc that she is defiant here. Well, I think so, anyway.

The feast that follows is held in the Small Hall with fifty guests, mostly Lannister allies and retainers; but here, Sansa also finds the Tyrells. Margaery  gives her a sad look (thanks sister that makes me feel better) and the Queen of Thorns doesn't look at her at all. Same goes for Elinor, Alla and Megga (why did he have to call her "Megga"? Means "that bitch" in Norwegian and therefore distracteth me).

Tyrion drinks heavily and eats little (this part HBO captured pretty well though); time is cruel once more, this time stretching and stretching into infinity (almost), and Sansa is really not looking forward to the bedding to come and Martin spends a full paragraph on Sansa dreading this particular part of the wedding, thereby preparing his readers either for a surprise or a confirmation of her fears. She asks Tyrion for a dance, but he fears that will only lead to more humilation; instead she watches Joffrey and Margaery dance. Again she thinks of her dreams, and wonders how such a monster can dance like that. Well Sansa I don't know but could it be about time you learned not to judge people by their appearance? Just a suggestion, little lady. Watching Cersei charming the guests, Sansa thinks that she hates her. Let's hope that's a subtle foreshadowing. I would very much like for Sansa to be the one to give Cersei her comeuppance, though the story so far suggests we won't get that particular satisfaction.

Sansa ends up dancing, after all - with Ser Garlan Tyrell, brother of Willas and Loras. Dancing with him makes her smile and, for a moment she forgets the terrible situation she's in. It is satisfying to hear Garlan tell Sansa that the Imp might just be a great man after all, on behalf of Tyrion I am having the feels right here. Is he trying to give her hope? Just being, you know, Garlan the Gallant? Or is he trying to tell her that there's no need to go after Loras because Loras likes men? A little confusing, the Tyrells always seem to be. Their motives, always unclear. Why like Yoda do I write now?

Tommen gets a quick but fun cameo, telling Sansa as they dance that he wants to be married too, after all he is already taller than his uncle. The dance brings her face to face with Joffrey which kind of dampens her spirit a little bit. About time, she was being happy for at least a full page there. He tells her that even though he is marrying Margaery Tyrell, he is going to have whores - and Sansa. It is, after all, good to be king. When the dance is over, Joffrey shouts for bedding time (of course in a most rude and heartless manner). Tyrion refuses, slams a dagger down in the table, and threatens Joffrey. Not a smart move, politically, of course, but again, it's always satisfying when someone stands up to the boy king. Fortunately Lord Tywin is at hand to make sure it doesn't devolve into kin-slaying. But this is an important part of the chapter as it sets up Tyrion's inevitable fall. But can you imagine the humilation Tyrion feels when he has to apologize to Joffrey and, perhaps unnecessary, tells him that "(...)I envied your royal manhood. Mine own is so small and stunted." At this, Osmund laughs - showing us a different side of the man who Sansa first regarded as nice - but Tywin isn't laughing, nor is Joffrey: it's a tense, awkward moment (this is Ice and Fire after all), broken when Tyrion decides to play along. He takes Sansa by the hand and tells her its time to play 'come-into-the-castle'. I see what you did there, George.

Together they leave the Small Hall, Sansa red-faced. Fortunately no one follows. They have an airy bedchamber high in the Tower of the Hand. Once there, Tyrion asks for wine. He tells her that he is not truly drunk but now he intends to become drunk. Sansa fills their goblets, thinking that it will be easier for her as well if she drinks (thinking that he's going to drink himself courageous for the bedding act I suppose). Nervously, she asks if she should take off her clothes. Tyrion tells her to call him Tyrion, and then goes on to talk about his first wedding to Tysha. It gives us a little more description of that particular backstory (pigs as witnesses) before Tyrion asks Sansa how old she is. "Thirteen," she replies and I cringe - man, that TV series sure makes it hard to remember how fricking young these characters are in the books. Actually, she is twelve yet. "Well, talk won't make you any older," Tyrion quips casually and after a little bickering he tells her to indeed get out of her clothes. Hands trembling, she begins to undress. In painstaking description, to augment the effect on the reader - how Sansa dreads this moment, and each and every little moment stretches out. Martin is so good at this.

Once done, Tyrion simply states, "You're a child." Kind of surprising, isn't it when she just told you she's twelve. I suppose he means "You do not have a woman's body." He admits that he wants her, and oh boy is Mr. Martin treading on dangerous, dare I say taboo, ground here.. Seems Tyrion has some hope of getting laid here, telling her that in the dark she doesn't see how ugly and malformed he is, that he can be a Ser Loras in the dark, and he tries to convince her that he has good qualities as well, and Sansa realizes through all this that Tyrion too is...afraid. All she felt was pity, and pity was death to desire. Thought very few twelve year old girls, I believe. She stands there trembling, unable to comply with his desires. He orders her to come into bed, she does as he tells her. He puts a hand on her breast, and she shudders. She wonders what will happen next. But nothing happens; he has moved away from her, though she makes note of a "man's staff poking up stiff and hard from a thicket of coarse yellow hair" (and the only thing about him that was straight). So Tyrion is definitely feeling sexual desire for Sansa Stark (12), but he doesn't want to do it; his body betrays him, but his mind wins this battle. For now! He does say that he can wait, implying that there will come a time when she does have to spread her legs for him. It seems, at least from Sansa's view, that Tyrion is confident, or delusional if you will, that they will have sex and lots of it when she's just been given time enough. Until...

"On my honor as a Lannister," the Imp said, "I will not touch you until you want me to."
"And if I never want you to, my lord?"

And he reacts like he's been slapped, in other ways, it surprises him that she says this. He's always throwing coin at the ladies so no wonder it comes as a bit of a shock that somebody doesn't want him. Tyrion does in fact show here how delusional he actually is about himself. The chapter ends with him concluding that, well, then he'll just continue whoring. Quite the view on life, if I may say so! Are we men nothing but sex-starved? One can wonder after debating this very topic with various men of Westeros. Tyrion, at least, likes to sex it up, the Seven bless him for all his flaws. What a character. He does kind of blot out Sansa here toward the last paragraphs of the chapter, doesn't he? I like how strong Sansa remains before him, though; I like how the chapter flits between her being anxious, defiant, uncertain, then certain. One of those atypical chapters (considering it's billed as fantasy) that could have been part of a historical novel, where the medieval aspect of the series is dominant - by the way, now that I think about it, and I am going to keep this brief because my fingers hurt from all the writing and I am facing an up-mountain bike ride in rain right now, but one could argue that the whole thing with women being oppressed/suppressed/having no say is based on a variety of religions which support the notion - I mean, from the get-go you have Eve being subservient to Adam and made for him - and, well, maybe we just know to little of Westerosi religions so far, but I am wondering where Westeros' anti-feminism is coming from if you catch my drift? How could Westeros become such a medieval setting reminiscent of medieval England? Maybe I am just overthinking things again. Note to self. This is just someone's story. This is just someone's story. This is just someone's pretty awesome story.

Next time: Sister Arya!

Bonus points if you catch the meaning of today's post title.


  1. stumbled here, sorry a little "" mind that's why I write otherwise I know its not my place. reading your description review? of these interactions starting off it made me feel you were as many are seeing the interaction with a heavy bias towards sansa s viewpoint and that viewpoint dosnt spare tyrion the giant even a ounce of empathy but then a couple of sentences kept me engrossed when tyrions side seemed to be presented as well but in the end all i got was poor sansa and evil tyrion how dare he? I ask you to put yourself in this deformed creatures hide, this unloved ever hated gargoyle malformed shoes you will see that this chapter is much more tragic for the giant )not taking anything away from Sanson of course) for the 12 year taboo you have to put yourself in the mindset in "those" times, if not there are other experiments to really see I could tell but again not really my place, sorry, n sorry for messing up ur page.

  2. Funny how Sansa thinks Dontos knowing her secret about Tyrell wedding doesn't count. Considering what we learn about him later.