Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 42 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 68 (“Sansa”).
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
Chapter 68: Sansa
Sansa has been sick for most of the storm-wracked voyage. She dreams constantly of Joffrey’s death. She tells Littlefinger that Tyrion had had nothing to do with Joffrey’s death, but Littlefinger replies that Tyrion’s hands are “far from clean.” He tells her that when Tyrion got bored of his first wife, he gave her to his guardsmen, and tells her to be glad he didn’t do the same to her. On the morning they sight land off the Fingers, Sansa learns that they are not heading to Winterfell as she’d assumed. Petyr tells her proudly that he is to wed Sansa’s aunt Lysa. Sansa is dismayed, but hopes that perhaps her aunt will welcome her in the Vale.
They are met ashore by Petyr’s house staff. Petyr speaks disparagingly of his meager ancestral home, but greets his servants warmly. At the tower, Petyr gives her wine, and tells her she cannot be known as Sansa Stark in the Vale, lest Varys hear about it. He says he will present her as his bastard daughter, Alayne Stone. Sansa hopes she can remember the name as well as the backstory Petyr gives her. As they eat, Petyr tells her that her father was a good man but “quite a hopeless player.”
“In King’s Landing, there are two sorts of people. The players and the pieces.”
“And I was a piece?” She dreaded the answer.
“Yes, but don’t let that trouble you. You’re still half a child. Every man’s a piece to start with, and every maid as well. Even some who think they are players.”
He cites Cersei as an example, who he says thinks herself sly but is “utterly predictable,” and who doesn’t know what to do with the power she craves. He says when you know what a man wants, you know how to move him. She asks if he “moved” Dontos to poison Joffrey, but Petyr scoffs at the notion of trusting Dontos with that; she asks if he moved others then, and Petyr introduces her to Oswell, whom Sansa realizes is the father of the three Kettleblacks. Petyr tells her they were his hidden daggers, perfectly placed, but also says they were too untrustworthy to involve in the poisoning scheme either. Then he asks her to remember who straightened her hair net at some point in the evening, and Sansa is shocked to realize it was Lady Olenna.
Petyr explains how he subtly spread rumors of the unfitness of Joffrey for marriage while ostensibly presenting his suit for Margaery Tyrell, as well as planted the suggestion that having Loras take the white be part of the marriage contract. Petyr says Olenna realized that putting Joffrey, Margaery, and Loras together would lead to Loras killing Joffrey—unless it was prevented. Petyr wagers that soon enough Margaery will end up wed to Tommen instead. Sansa is stunned by this revelation, but thinks to herself that it is all behind her now.
Lysa arrives eight days later with a small entourage, and Sansa is surprised to see she looks much older (and uglier) than her mother had, even though Lysa is the younger sister. Petyr (re)proposes to her when she dismounts, and she simpers and demands gifts. Petyr presents his “daughter” Alayne to Lysa, and says he hoped to take her to the Eyrie with them. Lysa is displeased, but is soon distracted by her demand that they should marry immediately. Petyr is dismayed, and says he’d hoped to marry her at the Eyrie, but Lysa says she doesn’t want to wait. Petyr tries to protest, but she is insistent, and he acquiesces.
The impromptu wedding and feast commence that evening, and Sansa helps with the chivaree for Lord Petyr; he teases and messes with the other ladies, but never touches Sansa. Lysa is very… loud afterward, and Sansa goes outside, thinking of her own wedding night. Later she returns, and Lysa’s singer Marillion propositions her drunkenly. Sansa protests that she is a maiden, but Marillion is undeterred, and begins manhandling her, until Lothor Brune appears and drives him off. Sansa has nightmares again that night.
The next morning she is summoned to Petyr and Lysa’s chamber, where Petyr informs her that Lysa knows who she really is, and leaves to make preparations for their departure. Lysa comments on Sansa’s resemblance to Catelyn, and says they will have to darken Sansa’s hair to prevent it being remarked upon. She says she has kept out of this war and intends to keep it that way. Lysa speaks of her revulsion for Jon Arryn and how she’d always wanted Petyr instead, and says that they have both suffered.
Under Lysa’s questioning, Sansa admits she is “a woman flowered” but still a maiden, and says Tyrion preferred whores. Lysa spits that she should have killed the vile dwarf, but that he tricked her. She complains that Catelyn brought Tyrion to the Vale and then stole her uncle from her. She asks what Sansa thinks of marrying her eight-year-old son Lord Robert, as she is sure Sansa will soon be a widow. Sansa is unenthusiastic, but knows better than to say so. Lysa assures her that Robert will be a great man one day, and they will wed in secret the moment they hear that the Imp is dead. She says Sansa can read to him and play games with him, though she warns Sansa to always let him 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. Gratitude will better become you, in your present circumstances. Yes, and obedience. My son will have a grateful and obedient wife.”
Well, I think I remarked a while back that I didn’t particularly care to find out what Lysa’s been up to, and it turns out I was really, really right not to want to know. My God, but she’s icky.
Which would have been okay, I guess, if it weren’t for the fact that the second she shows up she manages to get her icky all over everything. Including Sansa, and can we PLEASE, PLEASE stop marrying or almost marrying Sansa Stark to people she hates? Seriously, this can stop being a theme any time now.
(The recurring theme of her almost getting raped can also stop any time now. Really. Really.)
And yes, I know that technically she hasn’t actually met Little Robert yet to hate him, but based on what I remember of him from when Catelyn and Tyrion met him, I feel really safe in predicting that he and Sansa are most emphatically not going to be BFFs. Because thanks to Smother Mother over there, Little Robert is a nightmare of a child, and that it’s not entirely or even mostly his fault doesn’t change that fact.
She’s totally still breastfeeding him, isn’t she. And she wants to get him married. And, I guarantee you, continue to breastfeed him! That is so messed up, you guys. The most avid breastfeeding advocate in the world cannot tell me that is not messed up. Holy crap.
And then there’s Petyr, who I stand in kind of horrified awe of right now, because there is a man who really will do anything to get what he wants. And, I assume, has a large mental stack of pornographic fantasies to get him through it, because wow.
Understand, though, that when I call Lysa “icky” and undesirable I’m really not referring to her looks, though Martin certainly does seem to go out of his way to make her sound as unattractive as possible. People can absolutely be less than beautiful by whatever standards you’re going by, and still be wonderful attractive people in spirit. No, Lysa’s attractiveness fail is (in my opinion) at least 95% due to her icky, icky, terrible personality. Every time she talks she makes me cringe. Eesh.
But getting back to Petyr, well. I have a lot of thoughts about Petyr, and OH WAIT HANG ON, we have to talk about Olenna now, because OMG, she’s Joffrey’s killer?!?
I think—I think that’s sort of awesome. Unnerving, but awesome.
I mean, look, okay, I am not saying poisoning a minor to death is generally an awesome thing, because obviously it is not. Duh. But—yeah, you know, if I knew my granddaughter was getting irrevocably hitched to an abusive psychopath, and I knew my grandson would end up killing said psychopath once he showed his true colors and therefore end up executed for regicide… well.
Which brings us to this not-at-all-sneakily-relevant remark of Lysa’s in this chapter:
“A man will tell you poison is dishonorable, but a woman’s honor is different. The Mother shaped us to protect our children, and our only dishonor is in failure.”
I could seriously write a whole essay unpacking everything in this statement and the cultural implications thereof, but for now I will just say that I both agree and disagree with it, for reasons I find vaguely disturbing, like the small voice which points out that poison gives power to the powerless. But down that road lies more ethical quagmires than I can deal with right now, so I’m just going to leave it.
But regardless of how I feel about it, I’m pretty darn sure that this is the exact rationale Olenna used to justify Joffrey’s murder. From her point of view, I bet, it came down to a choice between Joffrey’s life and the lives of her progeny, and put that way, I guess it really wasn’t much of a contest.
So, yeah. Wow.
And now we can go back to Petyr (I am calling him that now because it is about twenty times easier to type than “Littlefinger”), who (at least according to him) orchestrated the whole damn thing.
Which… yeah. The “horrified awe” sentiment still stands.
If he’s not lying (and I don’t tend to think that he is) then Petyr has now taken top position in ASOIAF for The Chessmaster. (Don’t click that.) Which is apropos, considering the conversation he has with Sansa here about people being either players or pieces—pawns, in other words. It’s especially relevant when you look at who is in the conversation—the ultimate player talking to the ultimate (and perpetual) pawn. It’s All So Thematic!
Sigh. I really, really hope I get to see a point at which Sansa stops being a pawn and starts being a player. I have some doubts that it will ever happen, but I will be thrilled if it does.
I also suppose that I sort of owe Petyr an apology for assuming he was going to molest Sansa, which obviously he has not… but I’m kind of withholding that apology, pending further events. Because while on the surface he has treated her with every courtesy, there’s still something about the way he interacts with her that skeeves me out. Possibly I’m being overly paranoid, but if there’s one thing this series has taught me, it’s to err on the side of Bad Shit Happening. So we shall wait and see.
My admiration of his manipulation skills aside, of course, there’s still plenty of reason to dislike Petyr—first and foremost, in this chapter, for his lie to Sansa about Tyrion and his first wife. Although I suppose it’s possible that Petyr actually does believe that’s the way it went down, I find it difficult to buy that he wouldn’t have known the truth of the matter, simply because, as he himself said here in a roundabout way, knowledge is power. And, as he so ably demonstrated in this chapter as well, controlling how knowledge is or is not distributed is also power. Which leads me to conclude that he’s got more reason behind his lie to disaffect Sansa from Tyrion than just being a vindictive jackass about it.
Though I’m sure he didn’t mind that part of it, either. *snort*
And of course, the biggest reason to dislike him is that it’s screamingly obvious, in retrospect, that he was the one who gave Lysa the idea to marry her son to Sansa. Can’t play chess without sacrificing a few pawns, eh. Ugh.
There’s also the point that, for all his generous explanation of his moves to Sansa in this chapter, I still have no idea what Petyr’s endgame is. I mean, he set up this almost insanely elaborate scheme to get Joffrey murdered, but what is his actual goal? Because I don’t think killing Joffrey was anything more than a step in the plan.
(Please note for the record that me asking “what is his actual goal?” in the post does not mean I want you to give me the answer. All questions are rhetorical questions until further notice, n’est-ce pas?)
And upon that ominous note, we out! Have a Happy Labor Day if you are American, and a pleasant random weekend if you aren’t, and I’ll see you next week!