Friday, September 12, 2014

[Re-read] Sansa VI: Load New Game

Rough week with a virus infection leaving me unable to even squeeze some geek-time out of staying indoors. Well, I've been able to get halfway through Ian C. Esslemont's Assail, and Shadows, the dark elf of all trades wandering the cold lands of Skyrim, has gained another level and a severe bout of vampirism (art imitating life kind of) and I've been binge-watching Firefly and I've spent way too much time following and debating the latest Star Wars: Episode VII rumors (okay maybe I did squeeze out some geek-time after all). The folks over at Star Wars Episode 7 News have kindly opened their cantina for this kind of behavior, and that's where I've been hanging a little. And I suspect I won't become any less obsessed with this upcoming movie over the next year or so. It just pulls me in, even though I know I shouldn't worry so much about a two-hour piece of cinema crammed with silliness. Yet here I am, and that's because of the power of the story of the original trilogy.
The only thing that can make me forget about a new Star Wars movie right now would be....The Winds of Winter. Bring it on, George!
Without further ado, let's read another A Storm of Swords chapter. And maybe for a little while my stupid geekhead can get some rest from that galaxy far, far away...

...that's what he said. I just lost twenty minutes looking over all those leaked set pictures of the Milllenium Falcon and the X-Wings at those hangars in England. Man, that black-and-orange X-Wing looks pretty awesome (and means, of course, that they can sell variant X-Wing toys - $$$). And now, without further further ado, A Storm of Swords, chapter 69, Sansa VI: Return of the 

She looks like my students when I give them an unexpected assignment.

Martin opens with a description of a ladder, the item in question being "steep and splintery", which is a nice metaphor I suppose for the direction of Sansa Stark's story arc here. And it's even literal, since she's going to the steepest place in Westeros, the Eyrie. She is helped up the ladder by Ser Lothor Brune, whom Sansa considers not to be a "proper" knight - one of the lessons that take the longest time to get into pretty Sansa's head is that you should not judge a knight by his looks and equipment, but she's still not really learning, is she? Ser Lothor wears patched brown breeches (ew) and scuffed boots, and a cracked leather jerkin; he's square-faced and stocky, with a squashed nose and nappy grey hair. Just the kind of guy you would overlook if you were Sansa, of course; no pomp or splendor here, folks. However, Sansa admits that he is stronger than he looks, thus we see her being able to see things beyond the obvious. She's growing.

After a long journey by sea, in which they have faced severe storms, Sansa and the crew of the Merling King (you suppose we'll ever see merlings?) have finally reached land: A bare and stony strand, windswept and treeless, yet a welcome sight. Sansa reflects on how horrible the journey has been, with her being sick most of the time, and having trouble sleeping as she constantly reminded herself of Joffrey tearing at his collar, dying. She has also told Littlefinger that Tyrion had nothing to do with the young king's death, which could lead readers to believe that it was indeed Sansa who murdered him. I like how Martin keeps it all a touch ambiguous; keep in mind that for a first time reader, it is not very clear who poisoned Joffrey, and Martin writes in a way that makes your suspicion go from one character to another. It's quite well written, in fact, like in this chapter when you could argue that Sansa's dreams of Joffrey are because of her guilt, and when she sounds so convinced Tyrion is innocent you could think it is because Sansa knows he didn't have anything to do with it. In a sense, I feel the story might have actually been better - more dramatic - if it was indeed Sansa who had done it all along. It's not like she didn't have plenty of motive (cue forced to look at father's head before getting a beating, thanks Joff). Did I make sense now?

The wind running through her hair, she feels the need for a bath and a change of clothes. Lord Petyr comes up beside her, "cheerful as ever". He points to an old flint tower, then tells her they will put ashore in a boat. This surprises her - she didn't expect to actually land in this desolate land. Petyr explains that the Merling King will turn east for Braavos, and that they will leave here. The old flint tower, "as miserable as it is", is Petyr's ancestral home. He asks if she's distraught - did she expect to go to Winterfell (well, I wouldn't be surprised if Sansa associated the word 'home' with Winterfell)? He tells her that there is nothing left in the north, and that she needs to make herself a new home. Dismayed, she says she doesn't want to make a new home here. I love Petyr's wit as he replies,
"...small and bleak and mean? It's all that, and less. The Fingers are a lovely place, if you happen to be a stone."
He then assures her that they will not stay long (two weeks, to be precise), because they will be picked up by Sansa's aunt, Lady Lysa Arryn of the Eyrie. He then stuns her when he tells her he is going to marry the woman.
Petyr is quite happy with his status update: "It is a rare thing for a boy born heir to stones and sheep pellets to wed the daughter of Hoster Tully and the widow of Jon Arryn." It shows how much his desire for power lies anchored in his need to climb the social ladders, and how much his climbing of social ladders has fed his desire for power. And, reading between the lines, it feels as if Petyr is pleased to get what little he can of his original dream - he might no longer be able to marry Catelyn Stark, whom I believe he truly loved, but at least he will get to marry her sister, and conveniently come into power the way he would have if he had married Catelyn - only it's not the North that comes as dowry, but the Vale. At any rate, Sansa becomes a little optimistic, though she hasn't seen her aunt in years - this could go her way. Oh, sweet summer child!

Lothor and old Oswell row the two ashore. Servants emerge from the tower to meet them - a thin old woman and a fat middle-aged one, two ancient white-haired me, and a girl of two or three (that's quite young to be called a servant). They kneel on the rocks before their lord. The geezers wade out to lift Sansa from the boat. There's a little exchange between Petyr and the fat woman, Kella, which feels a little out of place, but it's typical Martin material I suppose.  One of the old men, Bryen, tells Petyr it's good to have the lord home, but Petyr tells him it will be a short visit. What we get to see through these servant characters and the dialogue with Petyr, is just how low the Fingers rank socially. His property is twenty-three sheep and that tower, and these few servants. It is a huge contrast to the power Littlefinger has amassed outside of the Fingers, and one can wonder if these servants know anything at all. I find it strange that the Fingers haven't profited at least a little from their lord being the actual master of coin of the kingdom. The only reasonable argument, I suppose, is that Littlefinger never cared for the Fingers and thus, never shaved a coin or two for its benefit.  But to see such a powerful man now lead the group up to the tower, wandering among grazing sheep and stepping carefully around pellets, sure changes perspective a little bit on who Littlefinger is, how he became the man he is in A Game of Thrones, and since Martin takes care to show us the place (I mean, he could've had the chapter open with Petyr and Sansa arriving in the Vale), I have a feeling we will revisit this location - and maybe we'll even see Petyr back here, within the original boundaries of his allotted  power, stripped off all he has so cunningly gained. Maybe, maybe not. I like the Fingers, to be honest. Bleak shores and grazing sheep and all.

Next, they come to the tower and we get a look at it, and it is as forsaken as the surrounding landscape. Sansa notices a battered oaken shield above the hearth, a grey stone head with fiery eyes, which belonged to Petyr's grandfather. "His own father was born in Braavos and came to the Vale as a sellsword in the hire of Lord Corbray, so my grandfather took the head of the Titan as his sigil when he was knighted." It's nice to get some of this backstory, as we really know very little about Littlefinger. Petyr offers Sansa a cup of wine, and she thinks that he is being very kind to her. He watches her with what Sansa believes can be amusement - which I believe is correct. One can only guess what goes on in Littlefinger's head, of course. Then, he goes straight to business - telling Sansa that they have to be clear on who she is, before Lysa arrives. She doesn't understand, so Petyr explains that she better take on a new identity so no one can come take her away. It's not safe to be a Stark. So Petyr's earlier amusement, I guess, is that he was amused by how easily Sansa is fooled by him. He decides that she will be the hitherto unknown bastard daughter of his; they agree that she will go by the name of Alayne, which is Petyr's mother's name. So now we know he had a mother!

In typical Sansa fashion she tries to make her new identity more impressive ("But couldn't I be a trueborn daughter of some knight in your service?") but Littlefinger wants to keep it real, and since he's the lord of pellets exclusively, she can't do that - and so she is to be Alayne Stone, a bastard of the Vale. Littlefinger clearly had this all plotted out a long time beforehand, which becomes evident when he gives her a long lecture on who her supposed mother was.
"It will be like playing a game, won't it?"
"Are you fond of games, Alayne?"
Here it is, black on white: Sansa is learning the game of thrones. One small step at a time.
One of the serving women, Grisel, appears with a large platter of food, and as usual, we are treated to a detailed look at the menu. One should wonder if Martin is trying to tell us something here, with "apples and pears and pomegranates, some sad-looking grapes, a huge blood orange" (the huge blood orange meaning House Martell is coming to play the game for real?) and Petyr cutting a pomegranate in two (separating Sansa's identity?); juice running down Sansa's chin (the ripeness of the pear indicating she is ripe for the game of thrones?), and Lord Petyr loosening a seed with the point of his dagger (he will remove Sweetrobin from power?).

Petyr tells her that her father, Lord Eddard, was a poor player, and that in King's Landing there are two kinds of people: players and pieces, and Sansa immediately recognizes that she was a piece. He tells her not to be troubled by it because she's still half a child; everyone starts as a piece, and some who think they are players, are actually pieces (which is totally how Littlefinger would see the world, lovely bit of semi-hidden characterization). He gives an example - Cersei is a piece who considers herself a player. "Everyone wants something, Alayne. And when you know what a man wants you know who he is, and how to move him." Eloquent advice, and one that Sansa for sure will learn. This leads into a few important revelations from Littlefinger, namely that he controls many pieces in King's Landing; Ser Dontos was only one piece, and by having many pieces it becomes difficult to discern who truly is behind something. In other words, Martin is telling us, revealing to us properly, that Littlefinger is a puppet master. And it rawks!

During this exchange in which Littlefinger begins to mould Sansa into a player, she realizes that the old Oswell is in fact a young Oswell - Oswell Kettleblack, one of the three mysterious brother knights who Jaime knows nothing about (see previous chapter) - ah, so they are Littlefinger's creatures! I had forgotten that; nice to know. So now, everytime we have a scene feat. Cersei Lannister and Ser Osmund Kettleblack, I have to remember that whatever Osmund learns, Littlefinger learns (assuming Osmund is loyal, of course). Some of the dialogue between Petyr and Sansa is a bit blunt, to be honest, like when Petyr asks what's more dangerous: "Tell me, Alayne - which is more dangerous, the dagger brandished by an enemy, or the hidden one pressed to your back by someone you never even see?" He doesn't really make it a hard question to answer, does he now. Still, he finds her clever for choosing the hidden dagger, but maybe he's a good teacher and occasionally sneaks in something easy, you know, to improve the learner's self-esteem. When he smiles, his lips are bright red (from the pomegranate seeds), another visual clue from Mr. Martin I suppose - not a clue perhaps, but just a nice little way of showing how Littlefinger has the blood of many on his hands (er, lips) but because he uses hidden daggers. And so he confirms that the three Kettleblacks are three of his hidden daggers. However, Littlefinger admits the Kettleblacks are too treacherous to give certain tasks, so for all I know Osmund might now be more loyal to Cersei. Another allegory is when Littlefinger tells Sansa to always clean her hands (which equates to "always make sure you leave no trace of your involvement", so here the lessons come fast and hard).

Sansa doesn't find it easy to guess who actually murder Joffrey, so Petyr has to help her by telling her that that someone straightened her hair net the evening of Joff's murder. So, we get the confirmation at last - Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, is the culprit. And we even learn that Littlefinger planted the notion of Ser Loras taking the Kingsguard, and there is a lot coming from Petyr now (reading between the lines: is Sansa his weakness, as he spills too many beans in her presence - or he is cunning enough to twist his information and we can of course not be sure everything he says is true). He does promise that Margaery will soon enough wed Tommen, which is for the better for all involved. Sansa is speechless, as she has liked the old woman, and this means she'll never get to marry Willas Tyrell (I've heard say that Willas will make an appearance in The Winds of Winter, I wonder what part he can/will play).

Eight days later, Lysa Arryn arrives. In the meantime, Littlefinger has given Sansa a tour of his domains, and she confirms it is mostly rocks. The Lady of the Vale brings a modest escort, including a handsome singer. "Seeing" her again here is a contrast to the thin Lysa of the TV show: "Her body sagged and bulged. Her face was pink and painted, her breasts heavy, her limbs thick. She was taller than Littlefinger, and heavier; nor did she show any grace in the clumsy way she climbed down off her horse."

Lysa does not seem pleased with the sudden arrival of Littlefinger's bastard, Alayne Stone. She asks who the mother was, but Petyr says the "wench is dead" and that he hopes to bring Alayne to the Vale. With some glib sexual innuendo, Petyr quickly takes Lysa's mind off Alayne. She complains about all the suitors circling her, and how only Littlefinger loves her. She says she has brought a septon and a singer so they can get married right away. Petyr doesn't really feel like marrying here among the pellets when a whole court could be witnessing his ascent at the Eyrie, but she won't hear it. "I want you now, this very night." 
And she promises to scream loud enough so the Eyrie will hear, which is kind of funny and awkward and if I were Petyr I'd certainly blush at this. Gotta love Littlefinger's reply, though: "Perhaps I could bed you now, and wed you later?"
The line is funny, but it also seals the deal for the reader - there is no love for Lysa in Petyr's heart, she is but a piece in the game and he will use her to gain power. He does consent, however, to marry her right away. I suppose he can afford to lose the witnesses.
During the wedding ceremony and the dances afterward, Sansa notices that Lysa seems much happier and that her eyes glow whenever she looks at Petyr: So she is truly and madly in love with Petyr. Gotta love this complicated relationship, especially when you remember that Petyr always loved her sister.

Sansa and three other maidens undress Littlefinger, and though the text is vague it seems Littlefinger has a great time fondling at least the three other girls ("(...)the other women were flushed, with laces unlaced, kirtles crooked, and skirts in disarray) - this detail also helps serve us the notion that Littlefinger does not love Lysa (or he would have kept his hands away).

That night, Sansa and the other wedding guests listen to her aunt scream. Kind of funny. "Oh, Petyr, Petyr, oh oh oh. There, Petyr, there. That's where you belong. Make me a baby!"

Sansa leaves the awkward fun inside, to fresh and clean air. Reading between the lines, Sansa feels soiled by the whole debacle (and perhaps also by having assumed a false identity, and perhaps not trusting Littlefinger). She thinks of Sandor Clegane, wondering what has become of him. When she goes inside to find her bed at last, she encounters her aunt's singer, Marillion (oh man how that name takes me out of the story, every time). He offers to warm her from the chill and wet night, but she tells him she's tired and not in the mood. He pretends to not hear, goes on to tell her how beautiful she is. He puts a hand on her leg, and she realizes he is drunk.  When Marillion presses the matter ("There's no wench half so lusty as one bastard born. Are you wet for me?), Sansa becomes afraid but they are interrupted by Lothor Brune who tells Marillion to leave. When Marillion tries to protest, Brune cuts him. And Sansa, at first, thinks this is the Hound come to help her out (like he used to do), and this is interesting because a) We realize she has feelings for the Hound, though we are unsure just what she feels and how strong she feels it and b) The chapter opened with Sansa not thinking much of Brune, and here he is, saving her from a possible rape (again, a knight who doesn't look much like a knight being actually chivalrous) - will Sansa learn this time?

The following night she hardly sleeps, and when she dreams, Sandor appears a third time in this chapter (in Sansa's thoughts, that is), rasping "I'll have a song from you". When she wakes up, she tells the old blind dog at her side (which she has befriended during her stay on the Fingers) that she wishes he was Lady. That's aw kind ow saaad...

In the morning, Sansa meets Lysa. Petyr has told Lysa the truth - that she is Sansa Stark. Sansa is glad for this, not having to put up the charade. Lysa could work on her social skills, as we can see:
"I see it now. You look so much like Catelyn."
"It's kind of you to say so."
"It was not meant as flattery."
Lysa decides they need to darken Sansa's hair, and Sansa realizes that even though Lysa knows, the rest of the Eyrie must not know who she really is. We learn that Lysa wasn't very happy to get married to Jon Arryn back in the day, comparing it to Sansa's forced marriage to Tyrion. She also reveals a little more about Littlefinger's rise in power. Interestingly, she complains about Jon's seed being "old and weak" (compared to Jon's last words, the seed is strong).

Lysa goes from amiable to threatening and back again a few times during their conversation, which I think is brilliantly written; you just don't know exactly where you have the Lady of the Vale, and neither does Sansa. She admits that she is still a virgin (and comes to realize Tyrion was kind to her - at last, someone sees kindness in him!) and Lysa is pleased with that. Lysa makes her hatred for the Imp clear however. She tells Sansa to trust Littlefinger and do as he says, which Sansa tells her she will. This feels a little bit forced, as if to prop up the believability (that's not a real word is it) of Sansa following Petyr's commands.

Oh man, they do talk a lot in this chapter. She tells him that Tyrion is soon dead so Sansa can marry anew, and she suggests her son, the Lord Robert Arryn. And I'm like, eeeew but I usually am eeew during any chapter feat. Lysa Arryn. But I'm sure that any plans involving Sansa marrying is going to be hindered by the continued existence of Tyrion, which could lead to a lot of different interesting ways for this part of the story to go. Lysa drones on and on about her son, which tells us she truly loves this boy unconditionally, and then she ends with such a zinger:

"Always let him (Robert Arryn) win. That's only proper, don't you think? He is the Lord of the Eyrie after all, you must never forget that. You are well born, and the Starks of Winterfell were always proud, but Winterfell has fallen and you are really just a beggar now, so put that pride aside."

Ka-slap. In the face. Verbally. And so ends the chapter, with the ominous suggestion that Sansa will have to marry her sickly cousin. Now that we know how the story continues, the zing in this ending has lost a little of its power, but it still suggests that there are still darker days head for our little bird.


  1. I hope we'll see merlings! Aquatic humanoids make everything better. (I'm rather fond of the Merling Theories, crackpot as they are)

    I kinda like the Fingers as well, as they somewhat resemble the Maine coast where I've lived, complete with wave-thundery sea caves.

  2. All right, I guess I have to check out those Merling Theories. Yeah, the Fingers do remind me of home as well ;-) Well, one of my childhood homes at any rate. Thanks for reading!

  3. Too bad Fingers weren't shown in TV adaptation for only-watchers to see his origins.