“Sing, Little Bird.”

On the topic of “where Sandor Clegane may go later in the series,” assuming he’s alive (and I think he is), I’ve done a little research, and that’s taken me back to the scene in A Clash of Kings where Sansa finds Sandor in her bedchamber during the siege of King’s Landing. Now I see it; up to now, I didn’t take SanSan seriously, but now, I get it. I don’t like the pairing, but GRRMartin does appear to be writing them as a viable relationship. If Sansa is still alive by the end (I think she will be), and if she has a romantic partner, I think it’ll be Sandor Clegane.

I will focus on this scene because of how much it says, in so little time, about who Sandor Clegane is.

After he abandons the battle, Sandor gets super-drunk and hides out in Sansa’s bedchamber. He apparently sleeps in her bed for a while before she shows up. When she finds him in there, he’s both threatening and vulnerable. It’s an uncomfortable combination. He needs her to comfort him, but he doesn’t know how to communicate his needs without threats of violence.

“If you scream I’ll kill you. Believe that.” He took his hand from her mouth. Her breath was coming ragged. The Hound had a flagon of wine on her bedside table. He took a long pull. “Don’t you want to ask who’s winning the battle, little bird?”

“Who?” she said, too frightened to defy him.

The Hound laughed. “I only know who’s lost. Me.”

He is drunker than I’ve ever seen him. He was sleeping in my bed. What does he want here? “What have you lost?”

“All.” The burnt half of his face was a mask of dried blood. “Bloody dwarf. Should have killed him. Years ago.”

“He’s dead, they say.”

“Dead? No. Bugger that. I don’t want him dead.” He cast the empty flagon aside. “I want him burned. If the gods are good, they’ll burn him, but I won’t be here to see. I’m going.”

“Going?” She tried to wriggle free, but his grasp was iron.

“The little bird repeats whatever she hears. Going, yes.”

Yeah, see this is part of why I don’t like the pairing. I don’t like that he’s a grown man and she’s a little girl (she’s only 12 at this point in the books, though 14 on the show isn’t much better). I don’t like that he belittles her when she tries to be courteous, or that he threatens her when she’s already terrified. Clearly these issues say more about Sandor’s personal demons than about how he feels about Sansa, but still: she deserves better than this.

“Where will you go?”

“Away from here. Away from the fires. Go out the Iron Gate, I suppose. North somewhere, anywhere.”

“You won’t get out,” Sansa said. “The queen’s closed up Maegor’s, and the city gates are shut as well.”

“Not to me. I have the white cloak. And I have this.” He patted the pommel of his sword. “The man who tries to stop me is a dead man. Unless he’s on fire.” He laughed bitterly.

“Why did you come here?”

“You promised me a song, little bird. Have you forgotten?”

She didn’t know what he meant. She couldn’t sing for him now, here, with the sky aswirl with fire and men dying in their hundreds and their thousands. “I can’t,” she said. “Let me go, you’re scaring me.”

“Everything scares you. Look at me. Look at me.”

He isn’t really trying to scare her or hurt her, but she is scared and he could hurt her, and surely he knows it. He’s acting this way because he needs something from her; he needs her to comfort him, which means he needs her to be not-scared of him, and yet the only way he knows how to handle the emotional upheaval he’s experiencing due to the stresses of battle, is to be scary. Dude has serious issues, is what I’m saying, but I don’t deny that his feelings for Sansa are genuine.

The blood masked the worst of his scars, but his eyes were white and wide and terrifying. The burnt corner of his mouth twitched and twitched again. Sansa could smell him; a stink of sweat and sour wine and stale vomit, and over it all the reek of blood, blood, blood.

“I could keep you safe,” he rasped. “They’re all afraid of me. No one would hurt you again, or I’d kill them.” He yanked her closer, and for a moment she thought he meant to kiss her. He was too strong to fight. She closed her eyes, wanting it to be over, but nothing happened. “Still can’t bear to look, can you?” she heard him say. He gave her arm a hard wrench, pulling her around and shoving her down onto the bed. “I’ll have that song. Florian and Jonquil, you said.” His dagger was out, poised at her throat. “Sing, little bird. Sing for your little life.”

See what I mean? He wants her to comfort him, so he threatens her. He handles her roughly, and puts the end of his goddamn dagger on her throat. This is no way to treat the girl you love.

Her throat was dry and tight with fear, and every song she had ever known had fled from her mind. Please don’t kill me, she wanted to scream, please don’t. She could feel him twisting the point, pushing it into her throat, and she almost closed her eyes again, but then she remembered. It was not the song of Florian and Jonquil, but it was a song. Her voice sounded small and thin and tremulous in her ears.

Gentle Mother, font of mercy, save our sons from war, we pray, stay the swords and stay the arrows, let them know a better day.

Gentle Mother, strength of women, help our daughters through this fray, soothe the wrath and tame the fury, teach us all a kinder way.

She had forgotten the other verses. When her voice trailed off, she feared he might kill her, but after a moment the Hound took the blade from her throat, never speaking.

I guess he liked the song.

Some instinct made her lift her hand and cup his cheek with her fingers. The room was too dark for her to see him, but she could feel the stickiness of the blood, and a wetness that was not blood. “Little bird,” he said once more, his voice raw and harsh as steel on stone. Then he rose from the bed. Sansa heard cloth ripping, followed by the softer sound of retreating footsteps.

I think he’s crying. He realizes that he can ask Sansa to comfort him, or he can threaten and belittle her, but he can’t do both. He wants to keep her near him, to protect her, but he can’t be her protector as long as she’s so frightened of him, and she won’t stop being frightened of him as long as he acts this way with her. He needs to do whatever it is that’ll get his life in order, and he needs to give Sansa some distance while he does whatever that is.

When she crawled out of bed, long moments later, she was alone. She found his cloak on the floor, twisted up tight, the white wool stained by blood and fire. The sky outside was darker by then, with only a few pale green ghosts dancing against the stars. A chill wind was blowing, banging the shutters. Sansa was cold. She shook out the torn cloak and huddled beneath it on the floor, shivering.

I think it’s sweet that he sought her room as a safe and comforting place when he was at the end of his rope, and it’s sweet that she wraps herself up in his cloak. Yeah, I think this is happening. He loves her, and she will eventually love him. The age difference still squicks me out, but I appreciate that he’s dealing with his trauma far away from her; it should not be Sansa’s responsibility to teach Sandor to stop acting like his own worst enemy. Sansa has quite enough shit to deal with. It’s good that Sandor seems to have found a bunch of grown men, such as the Elder Brother, who can look after him and give him a safe place (the Quiet Isle) to work through his trauma. He needs to develop a better relationship with his vulnerabilities before he can be part of Sansa’s life. At this point I don’t think he expects ever to see her again, but with or without her, he doesn’t want to be the Hound anymore. Maybe he really did enjoy killing as much as he said he did, but that’s not the man he wants to be from now on.

So, with that in mind: SanSan is another argument against Cleganebowl. This is a connection that demands less violence, less vengefulness on Sandor’s part. With or without her, he’s seeking a quiet and peaceful life, but if they build a life together, then he really needs to mellow down. He needs to mellow way, way down. That means he needs NOT to be the guy who’s determined to kill his evil big brother. If he does show up where the fighting is (it’s possible), then he needs to be the guy who kills people only to stop them from killing innocents. The realm is better off without Gregor Clegane, and it’ll probably be better off still without Ser Robert Strong, but Sandor doesn’t need to be the one who gets rid of him. Sandor has had more than enough of that shit already.

What does all this mean about Sandor’s likely reappearance in S6? I’m not sure. I previously nominated Jaime as the best candidate for finding Sandor alive and living quietly, and I still like that idea. If he interacts with Jaime, perhaps he’ll ask, very quietly and secretively, if there’s any news of his Little Bird. It would be something they have unexpectedly in common: they both want to make sure Sansa’s okay. For Jaime, it’s about honor, but for Sandor, it’s about love. For both of them, it’s about the type of men they are when their loyalties and positions are stripped away.