Sundays episode of Game of Thrones, “The Last of the Starks,” was disappointing on several fronts: poor plotting, frustrating character development, a coffee cup. But what stopped me in my tracks was an early conversation between Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Sandor Clegane, a.k.a. the Hound (Rory McCann), the first between these two characters since they parted at the end of Season 2 in Kings Landing.
Back then, the Hound was Joffrey Baratheons (Jack Gleeson) right-hand man. Sansa was just a little girl when they first met, and had watched him do plenty of awful things. When they were in Kings Landing together, their relationship interrogated the deepest prejudices each one had, which made it both fraught and one of the shows most intriguing. (It has spawned quite a bit of fanfiction as well.) Much has changed for each character since then.
But, frustratingly, in “The Last of the Starks,” every piece of their interaction is confusing and limited. Worse, it obfuscates each characters growth.
The scene is barely a minute long, set during the drunken carousing in Winterfells great hall after the victory against the Night King. Oddly, and perhaps significantly, it begins with sex: a few nameless women proposition Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and the Hound, with the curious phrase “Im not afraid of Wildlings.” This dubious pick-up line works on Tormund (“maybe you should be,” he jeers), who disappears to drown his sorrows about Brienne. Sandor refuses the bait, going so far as to growl and menace at the other woman who expresses interest. Sansa observes this from a distance (very Littlefinger of her), and then makes her approach.
“She could have made you happy, for a little while,” she says, sitting down.
Sandor dodges her overture—and the topic of sex—switching to his ever-present anger against his brother instead. “Theres only one thing that would make me happy,” he responds, glowering.
“Thats my fucking business.”
This whole time, the Hound hasnt so much as smiled at her. Hes barely even looked at her. But then he glances up and sees that Sansa is steadily gazing at him. “Used to be you couldnt look at me,” he grumbles.
“That was a long time ago,” she answers, coolly. “Ive seen much worse than you since then.”
Yes, the Hounds awful scars carry with them a visible indication of how cruel the world can be, and its true that in Seasons 1 and 2, Sansa literally couldnt face the sight of him. But theres an edge to her statement here, too. Shes asserting how much stronger she is now, and how much less afraid. Shes doing this partly because she has pride in who she has become, but also because the Hound isnt being very nice to her.
“Yes, Ive heard,” he responds, leaning in a little. “I heard you were broken in. Broken in rough.”