Sansa, the Starks and Westerosi parenting

A long time ago, nearly three years now, I wrote about Sansa Stark.

sansaFor some reason, I was attempting to ‘defend’ her, this child of the north who seemed (at that time) so out of her element, so unprepared for the evils that regularly plague the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. Sansa, more than her other siblings, seemed spectacularly defenceless at the start of the series, even more than Bran, who was early on showing signs of superpowers. Sansa had arguably what would become the greatest political clout—marriage to Robert’s heir—but she had few skills that would enable her to survive in such a court, or so it seemed.

Someone, in a comment on my post, pointed out that this was unforgivable. Sure, Sansa is only 12 years old when the books start, but that’s no excuse for her utter childishness. When I think of it, her willingness to run and rat to Cersei Lannister when this very same woman had proven, earlier on, that she was more than capable of cruelty (it was Cersei who suggested that her direwolf, Lady, be killed) is quite strange. How come Arya’s instincts about people are so much more on-point than hers, given they’ve grown up in the same environment? From the get-go, Arya dislikes the Lannisters, and hates most of the people she meets in court. She is much more small folk friendly than her sister, or her brothers, for that matter, and unlike them, doesn’t seem afraid of slumming it, fitting right into the environment fate has forced upon her.

But Arya’s always been a rebel, unlike her older sister. And she found tacit support for her rebellion in both her father and her older brothers, notably Jon. Ned even hires a ‘dancing master’ for her, encouraging her quite openly in her ‘needlepoint’ lessons. 

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I’m not sure Sansa enjoys that same sort of solicitous attention. She’s shown to be ‘approved of’ and counselled by her mother, in one short scene where Catelyn is doing her hair, and speaking to her of her betrothal to Joffrey. She basks in the praise of Septa Mordane, who commends her needlework and disparages Arya’s much less neat attempts. Cersei’s bits of praise for her beauty and her ability to make her son happy are what drive Sansa into her arms, a huge contrast to her alienation from her father (brutally illustrated when Eddard gives her a doll in HBO’s A Game of Thrones and Sansa retorts that she hasn’t played with dolls since she was eight). Honestly, Sansa seems a cipher to her parents; Catelyn can’t quite comprehend how easily she can be swayed to go to the south, and Eddard appears to have lost any connection with her at all.

True, Westerosi nobles do not seem paragons of parenting in general. Balon Greyjoy, Roose
Bolton, Walder Frey, Randyll Tarly, Robert Baratheon, Stannis…the list goes on and on and on. Mothers too, when not over-indulgent, like Lysa, seem distant and forbidding, like Selyse Baratheon, if they’re not dead or simply silenced by the excessively patriarchal
household. But this being said, Eddard and Catelyn are (usually) regarded as good parents, because they seem affectionate, do not abuse their children verbally or physically and take care to provide them good homes and advice, where possible. Winterfell, at the start of the series, is almost paradisiacal in comparison to what we see of other keeps later—everyone seems happy, content, and the lord and lady are quite obviously compatible with one another, if not crazily in love. The siblings support each other, usually, and are not conspiring to kill and outdo one another. Even the ward, Theon, and the bastard, Jon, lead decent lives—though angst does them in later on.

It’s only later that we see how out of place Winterfell is in the scheme of things, how very different from every other keep and family we come across. Highgarden sounds lovely when Margaery sells it to Sansa, and true, the Tyrells do seem to stick together and be a decent enough clan, but she has most likely been trained in arts that Sansa does not possess. This is even more obvious in the TV series, but it’s hinted in the books too that Margaery is smarter and more cunning than she seems, unlike the relatively less sophisticated Sansa.

Did Catelyn and Ned just not do their job, instead suffusing their children with an idealism that leaves them open to attack? And, to tie back to what I was saying earlier, besides not giving her the weapons to survive in court, did her parents just not really connect with ned and caatSansa, instead leaving her to the devices of books and embroidery and other preteen girls? Cat and Ned seem curiously ‘modern’ parents in some ways, letting their children do more or less what they want (Arya being a case in point), and it’s true that they probably never thought they would be sent so far from Winterfell, let alone out of the north altogether. But still, given their political importance, and the fact that they command the north, it seems a bit..,odd they weren’t taught more savvy. I mean, there are politics at work in the Night’s Watch, for the old gods’ sake! No place, not even the paradisiacal Stark-ruled north, could be so awfully clean—and we see that when the Boltons come into power.

Of course, this could just be Martin’s way of building a huge contrast between the Starks and everyone else, making sure our moral allegiance, such as it is, lies with them. I don’t know about other readers, but I can’t make myself warm to the Lannisters or the Targaryens as a clan, no matter how much I might like individual characters from those houses (Jaime for the win). The Starks seem ‘normal’ in our scheme of things, but that only sets them apart, leaves them open to manipulation and power plays in Westeros.

So for that reason, Littlefinger is both a good and bad mentor for Sansa (and here I’m going purely on the books, where no selling off to Ramsay happens). He develops her latent potential for power games, thus honing her from ‘survivor’ to agent. At the same time, he accelerates her move from naive idealist to world wary young woman. I suppose this is only to the good, in Westeros. Idealism, when it’s not backed by power, doesn’t take you far. Just ask Dany, the only character who can really afford to be idealistic. But then again, she’s got them dragons and that fire-proof skin. Not all mortals, certainly not Westerosi ones, are so blessed.

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Welcome back to Westeros: ‘Valar Dohaeris’

So I finally managed to watch Episode 1 of Season 3 of GOT yesterday. I trekked across the city to a friend’s house, where we dimmed the lights, pulled out the peppermint (yes, for some absurd reason, I wanted to watch Game of Thrones with PEPPERMINT by my side) and hurled a beautiful print onto a big TV screen. Such a change from watching it on a laptop, which, though bigger than many laptop screens I’ve seen, still does not give the kind of awe-inspiring experience that a TV screen can generate.
Now that I’ve built the atmosphere, allow me to share my thoughts on the episode:
I liked it. I wouldn’t say I LOVED it, mostly because nothing much really HAPPENED and the music was definitely not at its peak (I am partial to Theon’s theme), and the end seemed a little ‘eh’, okay. But it was good to see some of my favourite characters back on screen after what feels like ages.
‘Valar Dohaeris’ starts with a puffing Samwell Tarly running through a light blizzard, no doubt trying to get as far as he can from (what we presume) to be the aftermath of the battle we saw about to take place at the end of the season finale (White Walkers vs The Night’s Watch). Speaking of this battle, I was a little disappointed that they took the practical way out and left it to our imaginations. Sam rather fortuitously finds Mormont and the rest of the band, only to confess to them that he failed at his ‘one job’- the send out ravens to the lords of Westeros, telling them that peril draws nearer as the winds turn colder. Mormont caps off this conversation (and bit of the episode) with the melodramatic but nonetheless true statement that unless the Night’s Watch warns the world of what is coming, ‘everyone you know will be dead!’
Lovely beginning, wouldn’t you say?

Peter Dinklage plays up Tyrion's vulernable, lonely side.

Peter Dinklage plays up Tyrion’s vulernable, lonely side.

We then move on to Tyrion, who is still in his lonely, dark chamber (he has been ousted from his Hand position), checking himself out in a mirror. Cersei pays him a none-too-friendly visit, where the brother and sister barely manage to conceal their mutual antipathy and distrust. Cersei is nervous about Tyrion talking to their father and demands to know why on earth he would want to. Is he planning to tell Tywin any ‘lies’ that might damage her? Tyrion helpfully points out that it ‘isn’t slander if it’s true’ and is then left in peace. Parallel to and companion to this interaction is a scene with Bronn the sellsword, ‘the upjumped cut throat’ who has developed a taste for the ‘finer things in life’ and gives us a chance for some frontal female nudity. It wouldn’t be GOT without a whorehouse scene after all, would it?
Then there are Davos and Robb Stark scenes–the former being rescued and deposited (against his friend Salladhor Saan’s will) on Dragonstone, where a beaten Stannis huddles and ‘licks his wounds’ in the company of Melisandre. Davos speaks up against her when she delivers one barb too many (‘death by fire is the purest death’, she croons to him–this after Davos has seen his son burn before his eyes on the Blackwater) and is thrown into prison for his pains. Not the best welcome home.
Robb and his minions, for whom Roose Bolton has unaccountably become spokesperson, turn up at a deserted Harrenhal, where scores of Northmen have been slaughtered for no apparent reason. To remind us that Catelyn is still in his bad graces, he demands that guards escort her to a ‘room that may serve as a cell’. Talisa the Volantene finds a living man among the heaps of dead and revives him with her ever-handy water pouch. He gasps out that his name is Qybrun.
Not what I was expecting, but it should be interesting to see how they spin this.</p>
<p> Now come two of the best scenes in the episode–Sansa and Shae play an ‘imagining game’ on the pier, guessing where various ships are going and why. When Shae attempts to insert some truth into the game, Sansa stops her, saying that the ‘truth is either terrible or boring’. That’s a great line, and a view of Sansa’s face shows us how she’s changed- she’s sullen looking and there’s a growing light of cynicism in her eyes. As she tells Lord Baelish later, when he offers her help, ‘I’m a terrible liar’. Is she though, really? Somehow with the new face I can’t believe it. She’s all grown up.
Shae and Ros have a bit of a chat while Baelish is crooning to Sansa about her mother (this reminded me so much of School of Thrones. The actor got Baelish spot on.). Ros remarks that ‘it’s not easy for girls like us’, pointing out how well they’ve done for themselves. Ros then asks Shae to look out for Sansa, which was quite touching. These women who have nothing, or have started with nothing, seem to care more genuinely for the girl than anyone in her social station does. Ros has always been portrayed as the wholesome, good-hearted woman, the ‘prostitute with a heart of gold’, so I guess it doesn’t come as a surprise that she’s probably one of the few in the entire series with her heart in the right place. Shae however…I’m not so sure.
While on the subject of Sansa, I should mention Margaery Tyrell, a woman who knows just how to play the masses. Lady Tyrell visits an orphanage in the filthy lanes of Fleabottom, the very area where the royal entourage was attacked and Sansa nearly raped last season. Here, Margaery plays the politician to the hilt, winning the hearts and smiles of young children via GOT merchandise (you can bet those soldier dolls are going to be hitting the shelves soon) and stories about the importance of their fathers in the defence of the city (these are the kids whose dads fell defending King Joffrey’s claim). It is very sweet, but one can’t help but think that Margaery is just being a smart politician. Coming after Ros’s simple request to Shae, this appears fake and contrived. The point, I suppose.
There is one person at least who is leery of Margaery’s ‘niceness’, and that’s Cersei. She warns the pretty young thing that she may need to start putting some ‘metalwork’ on her dresses once she gets more familiar with King’s Landing. Margaery acts sweet and optimistic and generally a little nauseating, but Cersei is ‘put in her place’ by her son who, it’s obvious, is spiraling far out of her lioness’ claws. Not too long before the mysterious prophecy comes into play for the Queen, then.

No, Margaery wasn’t the other ‘best’ scene that I mentioned. That honour goes to Tyrion’s conversation with Tywin, where the latter hurls his request for his ‘rights’ to Casterly Rock in his slashed face and tells him that ‘every day’ he sees him ‘waddling about’ is a punishment from the gods. Tyrion’s face loses the customary cockiness and brazenness he usually wears, in fact, the whole episode sees him scrounging for some semblance of the whip-smart attitude he normally displays. Tyrion is a man still reeling from the shock of battle, ingratitude from his family and his close shave with death. He suddenly seems to realize how very, very alone he is.

 

For the first time, I saw what others find so compelling in him. There is no DOUBT that Dinklage does a great job playing this multi-layered character. The changes that flit across his face in this one scene alone are sure to touch you. We see a man scrambling to reassemble his dignity, his bravado and seeming, for the first time, utterly utterly vulnerable.

 

The last scenes go to the Dragon Queen. Daenerys is stocking up on an army in Astapor and considering the ethical implications of buying eight thousand slaves to fight for her cause. On the up-side, the dragons are growing. On the down-side, they’re growing far too slowly for her liking. Hence the stopover in Slaver’s Bay and an interlude with the Unsullied, whose ability to bear pain is graphically demonstrated in a cringe-worthy scene.

 

Trouble never leaves the Dragon Queen alone for long, and she is soon prey to an assassination attempt while strolling in the marketplace (you’d think she would have learned to avoid these things by now). Luckily, the attempt is foiled by one Ser Barristan, who has finally emerged after a full season, this time with a beard. Jorah looks distinctly uncomfortable with this addition to the ‘Queen’s Guard’, but has the wisdom not to say anything. How long will ‘the Bold’ stay mum about his treachery? I’m guessing until the end of the season, at least.

 

All in all, a decent episode, if not the best. A good return to the land of Westeros. I’m looking forward to seeing  Arya, Jaime (oooh), Bran and Brienne next week (or is it this one?). And there’s always room for new faces at the feast–people do move aside so obligingly after all.