As much as I’ve been writing about the GoT crew like the Lannisters are my own family, I must now confess to you all that my true favorite is Brienne. When I watched the first season, I was most enamored of Jon Snow and Daenerys, but ever since I saw seasons 2 and 3, it’s been all about the Big Swordswench of the Sapphire Isle. So for this entry, I’m going to show my big stubborn Sapphire Islander some love, and focus on the encounter between her and Sansa in Season 5, Episode 2. This essay will focus on the similarities between books and show, rather than the differences. In this case, I think the common elements are more illuminating than the contrasts.
Before I get to Brienne, I’m going to spend a bit of time on what’s been happening with Sansa. When we first met Sansa in the first book and first season, she was a perfect little lady, courteous, trusting, and vaguely ridiculous, but her greatest weakness was her being too invested in the status quo. This is how Catelyn describes her to Brienne in A Clash of Kings:
“Sansa was a lady at three, always so courteous and eager to please. She loved nothing so well as tales of knightly valor. Men would say she had my look, but she will grow into a woman far more beautiful than I ever was, you can see that.”
She was a conventional girly-girl who did everything that was expected of her. She was good at sewing and music and she was ecstatic at the prospect of marrying the prince. Not so ecstatic after her father was executed, of course.
Sansa watched him walk off, his body swaying heavily from side to side with every step, like something from a grotesquerie. He speaks more gently than Joffrey, she thought, but the queen spoke to me gently too. He’s still a Lannister, her brother and Joff’s uncle, and no friend. Once she had loved Prince Joffrey with all her heart, and admired and trusted his mother, the queen. They had repaid that love and trust with her father’s head. Sansa would never make that mistake again.
She’s still a courteous young lady who loves girly things, but her time spent with Cersei and Joffrey has left her with serious trust issues. The effects of their violence on her family, and their direct abuse of Sansa, made it impossible for her to get comfortable with Tyrion, and her escape with Littlefinger is just a transition to a more insidious type of abuse. Does Sansa feel safe with Littlefinger? No, she does not feel safe with him, but he made it so that she really is more unsafe without him. He conspired in Joffrey’s murder to ensure that Tyrion would be blamed, which destroyed the safety and stability that Tyrion was, however briefly, able to give Sansa, thus giving her no choice but to flee with Littlefinger.
Now she’s dependent on him for security and shelter, he’s acting out his obsession with her mother by molesting Sansa, and she’s a pawn in whatever nefarious plot he’s brewing now. However, she does know that Petyr tossed her Aunt Lysa through the Moon Door, and that’s something she can hang over his head. She seems to have achieved something with Littlefinger that she never had with the Lannisters: a sense of agency and adulthood.
Observing Sansa’s rapport with Littlefinger, two impressions come to mind simultaneously. One, no way does he have her best interests at heart, and two, it’s understandable that she wants to stay with him for the foreseeable future.
The show has brought both Sansa & Littlefinger’s and Brienne & Podrick’s storylines well ahead of schedule from the books, so really, the show has diverged from the books in such an important way that exploring the differences wouldn’t get us very far. The last we saw of Sansa and Littlefinger in A Feast for Crows, they had just left the Eyrie and were staying with the Royces for the winter. Last we saw of Brienne, she had just reconverged with Jaime while going through a world of shit in her quest to find Sansa, but far as we know (barring new information disclosed in The Winds of Winter) still has no idea where Sansa is. The show has skipped over that world of shit (an omission that makes sense) and has shortened the time that Sansa, Littlefinger and Robin spend in the Vale. So at this point in Game of Thrones, I have no way of knowing what’ll happen any more than someone who’s never touched any of the books!
I can tell you two of my predictions from the text that have just come true in the show, however: 1) Podrick has proven his value to Brienne by recognizing Sansa in her disguise. 2) Sansa’s trust issues have presented a new obstacle to Brienne’s quest.
Up to the point where Podrick tells her Sansa’s in the room, Brienne’s not feeling too good about what she’s doing. She spent all that time thinking Arya was dead, only to find Arya very much alive, and then no sooner did Brienne introduce herself (another major divergence from the books, but that’s a red dot I will not chase today) but Arya told her to fuck off. That conversation went as badly as it did largely because Brienne is entirely too honest. Admitting that Jaime gave her the sword was a very bad idea. She should’ve made up some tale about killing a Lannister knight and taking that fancy-pants sword off his corpse. Ultimately, Arya refused her protection and got the heck out of Dodge, and that left Brienne feeling kind of depressed.
When she introduces herself to Sansa, she’s beginning to figure out how to lie, but she still needs to learn some better social skills. Brienne has the disadvantages of being hyper-visible as a Lannister associate (once you’ve seen her, it’s impossible to mistake her for anyone else, and the hilt on that sword speaks for itself) and largely unknown as a Stark associate. It would have made no sense for her to try to pass herself off as someone else, but she probably should have figured out a more graceful way to make Sansa’s acquaintance. She could have tried a better answer to the question of why she was at the wedding, too. To her credit, she did not blurt out that she was at the wedding (presumably) because Jaime asked her to attend, but it was disingenuous to say she didn’t have a choice in the matter. She could’ve said she was at the wedding because of Margaery rather than Joffrey, and that she was bowing to the king so she could say hello to his new queen! I think Sansa would have respected that, and it wouldn’t have even been untrue.
This piece is long enough without me combing through the scene, but these two factors stand out:
1. Throughout the entire conversation Brienne has with Littlefinger and Sansa, Podrick is out of sight. Might Sansa have been more receptive if Tyrion’s squire had been at Brienne’s side? Perhaps, but he wasn’t there. Or perhaps she would have concluded that the Lannisters appropriated Podrick into their plans for world domination. Littlefinger probably would have found a way to convince her of that.
2. Before Sansa says anything in response to Brienne, Littlefinger takes control of the conversation. Makes sure Sansa knows not to trust the tall armored lady. It’s especially shitty of him to frame Renly’s and Catelyn’s deaths as failures on Brienne’s part, because she already blames herself for them. His lines at that moment are lifted almost verbatim from Brienne’s narrative voice in A Feast for Crows:
Kneeling between the bed and wall, she held the blade and said a silent prayer to the Crone, whose golden lamp showed men the way through life. Lead me, she prayed, light the way before me, show me the path that leads to Sansa. She had failed Renly, had failed Lady Catelyn. She must not fail Jaime. He trusted me with his sword. He trusted me with his honor.
One might reasonably ask: how exactly are these failures on her part? I could go on and on about the factors that led to Renly’s and Catelyn’s deaths, but I can summarize with this much: nowhere in a knight’s vows of service is the promise to be in two places at once, to protect a king from his own poor judgment, to fight off an unlimited number of armed men at a given time, or to anticipate threats to the king’s life that nobody else anticipates, either. Brienne failed to do what nobody expects a sworn sword to do.
That’s immaterial, though, because Littlefinger’s goal is not to decide who’s competent to guard Sansa, his goal is to surround Sansa with people who are answerable only to Littlefinger. He needs to keep his little bird isolated and dependent, and that means her support system needs to be under his control. His problem with Brienne is not that she isn’t good at what she does, or that someone else has already bought her loyalty; it’s that he can’t match their offer. In fact, she is possibly the only person in the Seven Kingdoms who is interested in Sansa for purely altruistic purposes, which makes her an extremely confusing and threatening figure to Littlefinger. If he thought Brienne was someone he could control, I’m sure he would have gladly offered her a post in his household guard.
Instead, he tells her she’s no good as a sworn sword, but then pretends to be concerned for her safety, and attempts to control her movements in a way that’s disguised as kindness. Because we are talking about Littlefinger, that control of her movements would certainly end with her body in a ditch and her armor on the back of some burly freerider. She plows through his knights and fucks their shit up, thus confirming that she is not someone he can control.
When Arya left Brienne in the dust, she was discouraged into inertia. When Sansa tells her to go away, she’s stung into action. She says she made a promise to Lady Catelyn to protect both the girls, but it’s really Sansa she’s determined to protect.
What is the difference between protecting Arya and protecting Sansa? Why has Brienne lost interest in trying to find Arya, while she’s so gung-ho to be there for Sansa, even after Sansa’s rejected her offer? Part of it may be a difference in the way Catelyn described each of her daughters; Sansa sounds like she needs a sworn sword on her side, whereas Arya can fend for herself. Then there’s the difference between Arya traveling independently and Sansa being in Littlefinger’s custody; in that regard, Arya is in a better position. But I think the factor that really makes the difference for Brienne is Jaime. He assumes Arya is dead, but he’s counting on Brienne to be there for Sansa. She knows he’s counting on her, and she won’t let him down.
Brienne, on horseback, asks, “Do you think she’s safe with Littlefinger?” The implication being: you’re a fool if you think she is.
What is the difference, furthermore, between Brienne’s past jobs and this one? She tried to guard Renly and he was killed out from under her. She swore her service to Catelyn, and we all saw how that turned out. What makes her think she’ll be able to keep this situation under control? How can she think she’ll succeed in getting Sansa away from Littlefinger, of all people, without getting herself killed in the process?
The difference, again, is Jaime. The mission to protect Sansa is about Brienne’s promises to Catelyn, but it’s also about Jaime’s honor. Catelyn is no longer in any position to expect anything of Brienne, but Jaime is still around, still thinking of Sansa as his last chance to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do. His honor is beyond repair? Not quite yet. He and Brienne both think that if Sansa is protected, it’ll be Jaime’s accomplishment as well as Brienne’s, and at the time they agreed on the mission, Brienne setting off without Jaime seemed like the right thing to do. She doesn’t have a job that requires her presence near the king, whereas she does have all her limbs still attached. Still, in order for Jaime to gain some honor from protecting Sansa, he needs to be there to protect her. Even if Brienne and Podrick end up doing 90% of the work, he needs to be present. And I think he will be! I don’t know at what stage he’ll cross Brienne’s path, but they’ve re-converged in the books, so I’m sure they’ll meet up again on the show before Big Bitch gets the Little Bird in hand.
With that in mind, I’ll go ahead and make some more predictions. 1. Brienne will be making no more noises about sending Podrick on his lonely way. She needs him and she knows it. 2. Jaime will be the one who convinces Sansa that she’s finally in good hands. It seems counter-intuitive, because if she couldn’t trust Tyrion (although she’s thinking of him more warmly since they were separated), she certainly won’t trust Jaime, and yet he fills that role of So Horrible He Must Be Speaking Truly. It’s one thing if a sincere-acting young woman shows up with a Lannister-branded sword and expensive-looking armor, but if the queen’s twin brother shows up and tells her, “No, really, Sansa, I’ve become totally estranged from Cersei, and the big wench is my new best friend, so come with us and we’ll keep you away from my sister!”, you know shit’s gotten real. He also has much better social skills than Brienne. He’ll be an asset.