Analysis

After a build-up of hundreds of pages, battle finally erupts in King’s Landing. In this series of six rapidly moving chapters, the battle is shown from a variety of viewpoints in a way that emphasizes the ambiguity and uncertainty of warfare. In battle, chaos reigns and no one, not even Tyrion perched high on the walls of the castle overlooking the battle, can completely understand what is happening. So confused are matters that it even appears as though Stannis's men are suddenly fighting each other (though of course it is clear later that another Lannister-allied force arrived and began fighting Stannis's forces on their flank). Moreover, people do things and see sides of themselves that they never would have imagined, as Tyrion experiences when he leads the men out into battle. The battle episode also shows that, while strategy is extremely important, evident in the vicious effectiveness of Tyrion’s plan to trap Stannis’s ships, it also has its limits because of how chaotic events become. Despite Tyrion's brilliant plan, the tide of the battle still appears to turn against him at one point, at least until the other Lannister-allied forces arrive. The war itself is analogous to use of the magical wildfire. It can be rigorously planned, but once it is loose it becomes nearly impossible to control.

The battle and the events leading up to it underscore the importance of chance events. Throughout the book, Tyrion has been worried that Stannis will sail to King’s Landing before the Lannisters have time to develop their defenses. And in fact, characters such as Davos and Catelyn have urged Stannis to do just that. Stannis, however, has dallied, refusing to go to war until he has Edric Storm under his control and has taken Storm’s End. In terms of military strategy, this decision is a foolish one. Storm’s End is of no consequence to the war, and Stannis actually had to sail past King’s Landing to get there. Even with this delay, however, Stannis could still make it to King’s Landing before Tyrion has the defenses up, but a storm delayed the fleet, leaving Stannis’s land forces stuck on the other side of the river from King’s Landing with no way to cross. This delay winds up costing Stannis terribly, not only because the city is better defended, but because now the reinforcements of Tywin Lannister and Mace Tyrell can intercept Stannis. Thus a string of seemingly minor events wind up changing the course of the battle.

In addition to showing the physical chaos of war, the book illustrates war’s moral and psychological disarray in Sansa’s chapters. Despite all that she has learned about not viewing the world romantically, Sansa is totally unprepared for the depths of cruelty and depravity that Cersei tells her is in store for them if the Lannisters lose. Sansa believes that knights value loyalty and chivalry and thus will not turn on the women or harm them in any way. It is little wonder that she is so shocked by Cersei’s claim that the knights will abandon them and that Stannis’s men will rape and murder them. Like the other young people in the book, Sansa is a child of the “long summer,” someone who has never known the hardship of winter and thus how cruel and desperate life can be. She, unlike Cersei, doesn't understand what sort of brutality people, even knights, are capable of.

Though Sansa is confronted with humanity's ugliness in this section, she maintains her own sense of right and wrong and demonstrates the essential goodness of her character. The figurative ugliness she confronts is, of course, the horror of the war and what she and the others may suffer is Stannis's forces win. While Cersei abandons her people at the moment of greatest crisis, Sansa unhesitatingly steps into Cersei’s place and calms the crowd. Her action shows that although she may be losing her romantic view of the world, Sansa is not so cynical and self-interested as Cersei. Rather than use the world's ugliness as an excuse to act selfishly, as Cersei does, Sansa instead tries to help those around her through the crisis. She thus embodies herself the chivalry she has so often sought in others.

Sansa’s confrontation with ugliness becomes literal in the moving scene between her and the Hound, as he seems to want to persuade her of his nihilistic worldview. His own actions, however, suggest that there is tenderness in even the most cruel of people. Sansa always has difficulty looking at the Hound because of the scars on his face and because he is unremittingly brutal toward all around him. As his actions have demonstrated, the Hound seems to despise Sansa and her romantic delusions, but he also wants to protect her, and by extension, those romantic delusions. When the Hound forces Sansa to look upon his scarred face, it is clear that is not just so that she will be shocked, but so that she will see the world more clearly. He, like Cersei, believes the world to be cruel, and though he is harsh toward Sansa as he tries to make her take his point of view, he seems to do so in order that she will not be fooled by it and may protect herself. Then, when he violently demands a song from Sansa and she strokes his face as she sings, he is genuinely moved. Sansa evidently touches part of his humanity beneath his scars and fearsome demeanor. That the most unrepentant and vicious character in the novel tears up at such tenderness suggests that the worldview of people like Cersei and the Hound, rather than being truthful, is itself a pretense, and that the empathy and compassion of characters like Sansa do have a rightful place in the world.