Listen, says the Hound, to Bronn, when the bells begin to toll. Listen, we’re the same.
You can be charming and you can be funny, and you can seduce some servant girl and make the men around you smile, while I sit in the corner and drink alone. You can be as undamaged as I am maimed, you can have the Hand’s favor while I have the King’s contempt, but listen to the bells. Before the night is over we’ll have blood on our swords, and men and women will be dead because of us.
We’re the same now. Bound for the same hell, punished for the same sins. The bells are ringing. Listen.
When the battle of the Blackwater begins, it’s a rout. Stannis has ships and men and momentum on his side, even the Lord of Light if you believe annoying little Matthos Seaworth. Stannis actually has right on his side as well, as if that ever mattered, and he knows King’s Landing. Cersei makes preparations; she would rather die at her own hand or at Ilyn Payne’s, and as horrifying as she is generally, how far down you have to go to be ready to kill your own son on the Iron Throne is pretty goddamned deep, even with the threat of rape hanging over you.
Tyrion’s got two things going against him: Nobody’s used wildfire in years and who knows if the stuff even still works, and here’s Joffrey along for the ride bitching and taking up space and yelling incoherent commands that nobody follows. That Lancel, who was looking especially like a Barbie makeup practice head tonight, got shot was a bonus, but he still had a major job to do.
And then the river explodes. The wildfire becomes more important later, but keep this in mind: What blew up wasn’t a fraction of what was on hand, and it tore a hole in the world. Suddenly the Lannisters had to go from losing, which is hard, to winning, which is much harder.
Stannis Baratheon would have fought until someone killed him, had his own men not pulled him out of battle. This is the problem with being a fanatic, more so with being a control freak: You can’t admit that failure is even an option, and so you have to be dragged, screaming, from the battlements.
Sandor Clegane is afraid of fire. He’ll cut a man in half on the diagonal but when the world starts burning all he can see is his brother, pushing him into the fire. Sandor Clegane has never believed in causes, but now even killing has lost its sweetness. He looks at the men he’s killed, the men trying to kill him, the men burning all around him and sees: We’re the same. It all starts to look like one thing, in the dark, with the river aflame. Everyone is covered in blood.
So he staggers into the only place he can think of that offers any sanctuary at all. He goes to the only person who might understand.
He promises he won’t hurt her, but he knows he will. He’ll hurt her before she hurts him first: Sansa Stark weighs 90 pounds soaking wet, but she could dismantle Sandor Clegane, and he hates her for it, about two-thirds of the time. This monster she’s feared since the Kingsroad stands before her, drunk, stinking of blood and smoke, and offers himself to her.
The Lannisters are killers, he says to her. Snarls it, in fact, into her face, half-hoping she’ll quail in fear. Stannis is a killer. Your father and brother were killers.
I am a killer, he says. Listen.
And Sansa Stark, who has been beaten and lied to and betrayed, who watched her father beheaded and her brother called traitor and her teacher murdered and her friends banished, who wakes every day knowing a slip of the tongue could kill her, who knows her only protection lies in silence and still sometimes speaks, whose only advantage is in getting back up one more time than they can knock her down, Sansa Stark stands her ground, and looks at him, and says, “You won’t hurt me.”
Listen, she says. We’re the same.