Sansa, Brienne, and the consequences of decisions

Some time ago, Daniel Portman (Podrick) did an interview with IGN in which he said some things about Pod & Brienne’s biz in Season 6, and it made me a little uncomfortable:

IGN: A lot of Season 5 was Pod and Brienne waiting for Sansa, waiting for the sign, and there’s sort of the twist at the end where they go off and find Stannis. So what can you say of where they find themselves at the beginning of Season 6 and what the payoff for that waiting last season might be?

Portman: Now, I have to be diplomatic. [laughs] So, what I will say is, you’re right, Season 5 was a series of near misses. Brienne is a very strong-minded character, and she has goals and a real drive to do the right thing, and while Podrick is with Brienne, they’re going to continue down that path, trying to fulfill the oath that she made. So I would say that’s where we start in Season 6, essentially in the same place — not geographically, but in the same place as we started in Season 5, where they’re still trying to do what she said she was going to do.

IGN: I feel like this show doesn’t often repeat itself, so does that mean, even though they’re starting in the same place, the journey might be significantly different than last year?

Portman: Absolutely, absolutely. They’re both different character, different people, after everything that happened in Season 5. Their situation changed them, and their relationship has grown. So they are different people, and they are geographically in a different place, but they are sort of back to square one in terms of their quest.

Having spent much of the past year arguing in favor of Season 6 being the time when Brienne finally makes the connection with Sansa she’s been trying to achieve all this time…this interview made me nervous. Just a bit.

BUT HERE’S THE THING. Portman sort of sounds like he’s telling us our nightmares have come true and Bri has to spend yet another season not having already connected with her lady’s daughter, but if that’s really what happens, then he just gave a lot of information away. Which makes it very odd that he began his answer with: “Now, I have to be diplomatic. So, what I will say is…”

(SPOILERS below the jump)

Furthermore, the idea of them being “sort of back to square one” is…problematic. Since they took off from King’s Landing with no idea of where to find either of the girls, they have met and interacted with both of the girls. Arya ran off, but they managed to follow Sansa all the way up to Winterfell, and they did engage with her just a bit. Nothing can take away their having done that much. Therefore, that bit about “back to square one” needs to be open to interpretation and I suspect Daniel is hiding a great deal under that “I have to be diplomatic.” By “diplomatic,” let’s say he means “deliberately deceptive without exactly lying.”

I’ll tell you want I did gather from the interview: they don’t give up on the mission, and they’re not under the impression that Sansa died.

But yeah, okay, his answers did make me squirm just a wee bit.

HOWEVER.

Today, Alfie Allen (Theon!) talked to some press in LA and basically gave me the news I’ve been waiting for, all this time.

Allen sets the opening scene for Theon.

“At the beginning of (season) six, you find him running through snowy, freezing forests leading the way with Sansa. They’ve just jumped off the wall of Winterfell and now they’re on the run from Ramsay,” Allen said in a statement.

Describing the day of the shoot, Allen said it was an “incredible” experience.

“We got there on the first day at Banbridge Studios and they’d blanketed this whole area with fake snow,” he said.

Allen revealed about a scene where he and Turner had to shoot on a river.

“Everywhere, all the trees, it’s all done with this amazing snow. And we’re running through and we come to a river and Sansa is just too scared basically to get into the river. So I get in. Don’t believe the press shots!

“It looks like she’s trying to get me out of the river, when I’m actually trying to be the strong one and get her in the river. Makes me look weak. Haha,” he said.

Asked if he is prepared to sacrifice himself for Turner’s character Sansa, Allen said: “He sacrifices himself, because I guess he hasn’t really got much worth or meaning for himself in the world anymore. And so he leads them away – or rather that’s what he’s trying to do.”

Talking about the role of actress Gwendoline Christie’s character Brienne of Tarth, he said: “In fact he doesn’t lead them away, because they see Sansa anyway and then Gwendoline Christie turns up as Brienne of Tarth and smashes everyone to shit.

“Dan Portman’s there — Pod — and then Pod ends up having a fight with this guy and then Theon stabs the guy in the back with the sword. He kills someone for the first time in ages, which must be a gratifying experience.”

I guess it’s still just remotely possible that Sansa runs off somewhere else before Brienne sees her? So the connection still doesn’t happen? But then we’re still left to wonder how Sansa stays alive long enough to find a new place to live.

But, seriously, I made the case for the Brienne-Sansa connection happening in S6 based on circumstantial evidence last summer, but we had to wait a long time to get any forensic evidence. Now Alfie is giving us the strongest forensic evidence yet. He’s just brought her pretty much 99% of the way to becoming Sansa’s new protector. .

And I see some of my J/B enthusiasts are unhappy about this? Peeps think it’s bad storytelling if Brienne still shows up for the job even after she went after Stannis? So they don’t want her to make the connection with Sansa?

I can see where they’re coming from: turning her back on the tower in favor of Stannis-fucking-Baratheon was a mistake, and there need to be consequences to that mistake. Yes, consequences need to happen. And if Brienne were to ride into the forest, smash the shit out of those Boltons, haul Lady Sansa up onto her horse, and spend the next 7 episodes badassing her way around the North with Sansa being the little sister she always wanted, and never having to spare a thought for why it was so important to go and kill a king, that would be shitty storytelling. And I’m fairly sure that’s not what’ll happen. With the way her decision was framed in the Season 5 finale, you know there’ll be consequences. You know Brienne’s going to feel like shit when she finds out she missed the candle and left her lady to depart the castle in a suicide attempt.

Maybe “feeling like shit” isn’t enough of a consequence? But you’d be surprised at how powerful a motivator guilt can be. The point is that there’s a middle ground between “suffering no consequences” and “making a complete hash out of her last two seasons’ worth of effort.”

With that in mind, I’m going to go over some likely—not entirely conclusive—scenarios for what Brienne will be up to in Season 6, that square with what we know from filming leaks, with the unresolved matters from earlier seasons, and that would not be entirely shitty storytelling. Ready?

First, I’m gonna make a wild guess and say we do get a little scene of Brienne and Podrick before they go plowing into the Boltons. What did Daniel say?

So I would say that’s where we start in Season 6, essentially in the same place — not geographically, but in the same place as we started in Season 5, where they’re still trying to do what she said she was going to do.

Let’s take this super-literally, and think back to Bri & Pod’s opening scene in S5. She’s sitting there, she’s all depressed because she just went through a big fight and Arya still ran off, and she’s thinking about whether she even wants to keep on with the mission, and Pod’s telling her there’s still a girl out there who needs her. Let’s picture a sort of repeat with that in Season 6! Bri’s just marched out of the forest, she meets up with Podrick (whatever the fuck he was doing; I’m not clear on the details), and somehow, between the two of them, they get the news of Sansa’s departure from the castle. Maybe someone at the inn heard she was abducted, or maybe Podrick just happened to witness the jump! So now Brienne hates herself, the mission’s a bust, everything sucks, she’s going to find Pod a new mentor and then kill herself, and so on, and Pod’s the one who tells her: No, we’ve come this far, you better NOT tell me we spent all that time standing around in the snow for no reason, now get on your horse and let’s go find her.

Okay? That’s a big guess, and probably wrong, but it would explain that part of Daniel Portman’s answer.

So then the next thing we see of them is in the woods, in which they come across the Bolton troops and their dogs, just as they’re rounding up Theon and Sansa!

“This is gonna suck.”


Big Wench and Loyal Squire to the rescue!

Brienne rules, Boltons drool.


Brienne makes short work of some Bolton goons, Pod gets into a fight with one of them—which shows us a bit of what he learned from Brienne off-screen in S5!—and then Theon grabs a sword (maybe he takes it from the corpse of one of the Bolton goons Brienne just killed?) and kills the guy. Yeah!

Then what?

So then they round up the kids, take them to the nearest indoor space, and Brienne has a fresh wound on her arm (dog bite!) and has to deal with a seriously pissed off young Stark.

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You’d think the girl would appreciate a rescue.

So that’s the part where Sansa screams at Brienne for not having shown up earlier, just in case Brienne didn’t already hate herself for missing the candle. But anyway, the kids need to get the fuck away from the Boltons, and Brienne and Pod can help them do that, so they stay at the inn just long enough for Bri to get her wound sewn up, the kids to get something to eat, and off they go to…somewhere.

Has Littlefinger shown up at the same time? Does Brienne leave Sansa with Littlefinger while she escorts Theon to the Iron Islands?

I’m gonna say about Littlefinger: no, he does not show up in the woods outside Winterfell. At least not during Sansa and Theon’s escape. There’s too much he doesn’t know about the situation, and it would be incongruous for Sansa to choose to put herself under his protection again. It would also be nonsensical for Brienne to agree to leave Sansa with him! Now, maybe, Sansa’s not going to let Brienne boss her around, because that’s the consequence of her missing the candle? So she goes off with Littlefinger and orders Brienne to get Theon back home to his fam. But at the same time, with all Sophie Turner has told us about Sansa’s incredibly fierce storyline in S6, I think her putting herself in LF’s custody again would not track.

And besides, how would LF even know enough to be at Winterfell that early in the season? He was assuming a much closer battle between the Boltons and Stannis, and his first errand should be going to the Vale, not straight up to the North. He had no idea of what Sansa was going through in her marriage to Ramsay. There’s a great deal about this situation that LF doesn’t know, so what would bring him back to the North before he deals with the Vale? No, I don’t think LF shows up in the North that early. We’ll see him later, and in the meantime, Sansa will take Brienne as her primary protector for the first half of the season. Sansa needs help, and there’s no one else available.

I’m thinking this guy shows up later.


As to how Theon gets back to the Iron Islands? I’m not sure, but there are a lot of moving parts available for that. For now I’ll assume Yara’s the one who finds him in the North. (We got some filming leaks of the Iron Islands scenes, but no sign of Gwen in that area. I feel like, someone should have noticed Gwen among that crowd?)

In the short term, the consequence of Brienne’s fuck-up in the S5 finale is that she feels like shit, and just in case she ever forgets about her mistake, Sansa’s not about to let her relax. She spends the first half of the season joined at the hip to a girl who clearly needs her but doesn’t like her very much. It’s exhausting. Eventually, they get to a place where Sansa is safe with someone else. Let’s say Castle Black for now, and they meet up with Davos and Melisandre. They need to serve someone else now they’ve lost Stannis, and let’s face it: if Brienne encounters Davos, that’ll be the most amazing thing ever. Just, think about it for a minute. It’ll be epic.

Once they’ve gotten acquainted with Davos and Mel and probably some other Northern allies have gotten involved by then, Sansa comes up with a new assignment for Brienne. Time to go to the Riverlands.

Does she send her sworn sword to carry a message to Uncle Brynden about finding her little brothers and retaking Winterfell? I agree that would be silly. Does Sansa even know Uncle Brynden is present at Riverrun? I don’t see how she would. But we know Brienne goes to Riverrun with Podrick, and she has a scene with the Blackfish, and that needs an explanation.

How about: in their travels together, Brienne and Podrick told Sansa about meeting Arya with the Hound. There’s basically no one else in the North who could tell her she still has a living sister, which is part of the reason why it makes sense to let Brienne become Sansa’s protector.

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Just gonna leave this here.

So, with the knowledge of her sister being alive, and with a new place to stay and new allies to help her, Sansa tells Brienne: go back to the Riverlands and find my sister. If she’s dead, bring me her bones, if her bones are unavailable, come back up here and tell me where she’s buried, and if she’s alive but won’t come willingly, pick her up by the scruff of her neck and bodily drag her back up here, but I don’t want to see your face again unless you have Arya with you.

And THAT, my dearest Throners, explains why Brienne ends up taking Podrick back to the Riverlands, and that explains what Daniel Portman means about them being back to square one: they have no idea of where they’ll find Arya. They have no idea of how long it’ll take, if she’s even still alive, or anything. It really feels like they’re back to their position from mid-S4, when they had few ideas and no useful leads.

When she meets with the Blackfish, it’s to ask him: Have you seen your grand-niece Arya? If you have her in that castle, now would be a good time to let me talk to her. Look, I have a scroll from her sister!

When she goes into Jaime’s tent, of course they’re happy to see each other, and Brienne gets to tell Jaime all the good news of finding BOTH the girls alive, and now she’s in service to Sansa! And her two younger brothers are still alive! So then, to explain why she storms out of the tent, I will suggest that she basically asks Jaime to give up this “retake Riverrun for the Freys” business and join up with her in the quest to protect the Stark girls. She thinks it’s unfair that she’s been busting her ass all this time for the sake of his honor, so now that he’s away from King’s Landing, how about he gives up this attack on the Tullys and helps her with the mission he assigned to her back in S4? But that’s unrealistic, and Jaime tells her: Nope, sorry, wench, not gonna happen. She’s not happy with his answer. Hence the storming out of the tent.

(I’m probably way off about the cause of Brienne’s anger in that scene, but I don’t see him scolding her for having fucked up the mission.)

Meanwhile, Sansa is still up North with her new allies, and it is during that time frame that she reconnects with Littlefinger, only now, she knows a lot more than he does, and she’s in control of her situation, so he can’t screw her over again.

Whether Brienne manages to find Arya within the season, I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility. The point is that an assignment to get hold of Arya, this time under Sansa’s instruction rather than Jaime’s, answers a lot of questions and is not shitty storytelling.

Speaking of shitty storytelling, I would also like to ask: what is Brienne’s role in the overall series? Why has her quest to protect the Stark girls been allowed to take up so much space, in both books and show, if it doesn’t eventually succeed? Did we need to spend two seasons watching her and Podrick try to find Sansa, only to have all their efforts go to waste? Do we need to spend yet another season watching them bust their asses and lose their minds without having already made a connection with their Stark? Did the show writers really need something to fill up that much time before they moved Brienne and Podrick on to their true story in S6?

I would like to suggest that Brienne is becoming Sansa’s protector on the show because something similar will soon happen in the books, and that connection allows important storylines to develop. I suggest that Brienne was the one to kill Stannis on the show for plot-utility reasons, and the protection assignment is more important to the plot than Stannis’s cause of death. Those plot-utility reasons include: the writers wanted to give Stannis a quick, poetic death, they wanted to show the part where Theon leads a girl to jump off the wall, and the general theme of the finale was that everyone’s having a miserable day. They had to make Sansa and Theon risk death, and they had to make Brienne fuck up, because the finale is all about cliffhangers and shit going wrong. That doesn’t mean the last two seasons of Brienne’s quest have to go to waste. It certainly doesn’t mean Sansa doesn’t get to find out her sister’s still alive, that she has to stay in the dark about who her “friends in the North” really were, or that she doesn’t find out her first husband’s loyal squire Podrick is serving the tall lady who kneeled to her at the inn. It certainly doesn’t mean she has to go another season without a protector she can trust. To what extent does Sansa need to be punished for Brienne’s fuck-up? Another function of Brienne’s turning her back on the tower is that her mistake puts her relationship with Sansa on more equal footing. If Brienne had spent all season doing everything perfectly, then she would have had all the power with Sansa. Since she fucked up, she has something to apologize for and Sansa is in a position to give her orders, such as, go back to the Riverlands again and don’t come back without my sister. With that in mind, we could argue that Brienne’s going after Stannis was sub-par storytelling, and her protecting the Stark girls is the part that’s faithful to the books.

All that said, I don’t think Brienne’s big role in the story is only to be Sansa’s protector, or even to look after both the Stark girls. I don’t think she’s there primarily as a love interest to Jaime, either. She’s there to do both. (I think she’ll also fight in the big battle with the Others, and she’ll kill a bunch of White Walkers with Oathkeeper, but there’ll be lots of major characters involved in that battle, and Brienne will be among the survivors, because she has other things to do.) I think the Starks and Lannisters, whatever is left of them, will be friends at the end of the series, and Brienne will be the one who brings them together. In that role, her mission to protect the Stark girls is not in competition with her romance with Jaime. They are part of the same thing. Her place in the series is to be what the Starks and Lannisters have in common.