The un-kiss is one of those great fan-fueled mysteries in “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Like everything in our story so far, there is more than meets the eye, layers of analysis, and powerful implications. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of error-laden thought on it as well. I am going to present here my insight into the un-kiss. It owes a great deal to the fans who have spotted the un-kiss, focused in on it, and done a good part of the work on it and related matters. I also need to credit Radio Westeros’ special broadcast on Varamyr Sixskins and Sandor Clegane as well as Preston Jacobs You Tube videos for critical information.
During the Battle of Blackwater after Sansa has retreated to her room and Sandor has abandoned the fight, Sandor assaults Sansa with a knife when she refuses to escape with him. Their relationship up to this point has been anything but smooth. After the events at Duskendale where Eddard kills Sansa’s direwolf, Lady, at Cersei’s insistence in retaliation for Nymeria biting her beloved Joffrey, Sandor and Sansa grow closer.
While many readers have noted that King Robert suggests Eddard get Sansa a “dog” to replace the direwolf he has sentenced to death, this is not the reason why Sandor “the Hound” Clegane, whose house sigil is three hounds, is growing closer to Sansa. There is something deeper. Often referring to her as “little bird”, Sandor advises her, protects her to a degree against Joffrey, and confides in her. It is all done in an extraordinarily creepy, assaultive, and abusive manner, but that appears to be the only way the damaged Sandor can relate to people. When one remembers that Sansa is all of thirteen and not much to look at in an adult sexual way, it borders on molestation. Nevertheless, Sansa appears to be a comfort to him. This immediate, intense intimacy is odd. And, it is not the only one. Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish also takes an unnatural interest in this girl, who is only on the verge of womanhood.
One could argue that this is typical Martin. He is making fantasy “adult”, turning the realism “up to eleven” in the form of violence, sex, and frequently combining the two against women. It appears to be his go to tool for making his story “dirty” and not “Disneyland”. However, it is more than that. Sansa is exercising an influence far beyond what we would expect even of a pretty damsel in distress trope figure.
When Sandor confronts Sansa at the tail end of the Blackwater conflagration, he is bloody, covered in dirt, vomit, and the remains of those he has slashed. The fire in the bay has tormented him. It is too reminiscent of the traumatic burns, disfigurement, and psychic torment he received at the hands of his monstrous older brother, Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane. That incident not only left him a physical ruin, but destroyed his youthful belief in chivalry. As he tells Sansa, his father covered it up. None other than the last dragon, the emblem of chivalry himself, Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen knighted Gregor, whose character was the exact opposite of a true knight. Sansa’s adherence to chivalry, “true” knighthood, and tales like Florian and Jonquil provoke him, but they also awaken his own desire to be such a hero. He comes to her that night offering his services, his protection, and safety. She rejects him and for good reason: he is a physical, emotional wreck of a man with some serious psychological issues.
In the face of that rejection, the supposed unrequited affection, Sandor puts a knife to her throat and threatens to kill her if she does not sing him the song she promised him earlier about Florian and Jonquil and give him a kiss. She sings the following instead, “The Mother’s Hymn”:
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.
He tears up, silently gets up, removes the knife from her throat, and leaves his bloody, white King’s Guard cloak behind. Besides demonstrating once again the power of song in “A Song of Ice and Fire”, it was a brilliant message that came to Sansa’s mind instead of Florian and Jonquil. It is both a song and a prayer for both sons and daughters to the Mother. We do not know much about Sandor’s mother. But, it is a rare son who does not love his mother. However, there was no kiss. And yet, on two occasions afterwards, Sansa remembers a kiss. What is going on?
The Meaning of the Unkiss
Martin has given us an answer, but it is unsatisfying: “Well, not every inconsistency is a mistake, actually. Some are quite intentional. File this one under “unreliable narrator” and feel free to ponder its meaning.” (http://www.westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Entry/Sansas_Memory/) It is certainly true that narrators are unreliable in “A Song of Ice and Fire” and in the wider planetos histories as well. Archmaester Gyldane’s history of the Dance of the Dragons has glaring omissions, holes, and suspicious assertions. Elio Garcia has written that Maester Yandel wants to keep his head and that has affected the contents of the World Book. We learn from Nan’s tale of the Night’s King that Bran the Breaker erased all records of the Night’s King and his reign in a gigantic cover-up for some reason. However, this is not some fudging of the historical record. This is a false memory. It is not a misinterpretation or an illusion created by perspective, but a vision in Sansa’s head that is false. Its cause lies in two areas: greendreams and skin changing.
We learn from Jojen and Bloodraven that greendreams are special visions from the old gods and that the old gods are the Children of the Forest who have entered into the heartwood trees. The greenseers are the one in a thousand skin changers who are themselves one in a thousand. The greenseers of the Children are marked with red or green eyes instead of gold and are shorter lived than the regular Children. This means that all greenseers are skin changers. That is, they can enter animals’ minds including humans’. The greenseers are purportedly able to foresee the future through dreams, but we have only Jojen’s word for this. What is much more likely is that the greenseers are not only able to enter minds but plant dreams “Inception” style. That is why the Stark kings killed the Warg King’s greenseers of Sea Dragon Point. They were a danger to his forces.
However, we also learn from Varamyr Sixskins’ Prologue to A Dance with Dragons of a teacher named Haggon, who attempted to teach Varamyr some rules about skin changing. One of those rules was that one needed to skin change good animals whose traits were useful due to the fact that skin changing is a two way connection. The skin changer becomes a part of his or her animal and the animal becomes a part of the skin changer. A skin changer bound to a wolf, a warg, will become more wolf-like. A skin changer bound to a bird will become flighty. A skin changer bound to a deer will become like prey. (This probably also means that dragon riders will also become more like their dragons. It would also explain why the Dance of the Dragons unfolded as it did, why Aegon and Maegor acted like they did, and Daenerys is going to act more like Drogon.)
After the loss of Lady, who had taken on Sansa’s qualities as the other direwolves took on the qualities of their wargs, Sansa’s latent skin changing abilities searched out a new companion. They found Sandor the Hound. I propose that Sansa bonded with Sandor in a similar fashion to how Bran is linked with Hodor. As it does with all skin changing, the connection is going both ways. In their confrontation during the Battle of the Blackwater, Sansa received a powerful, emotional message from Sandor of kissing her and it became a memory.
The significance is not just that Sansa has a link with Sandor, but that she too is a powerful skin changer, only her targets are men. While many analysts prefer to describe this influence as Sansa’s exercise of soft power (an international relations term relating to how countries can use their cultural and social influences over other countries instead of mere force), I believe it is Sansa’s magical inheritance helping her the way it helped Bran, Rickon, Arya, Robb, and Jon Snow. As for whether Sansa will use her power well and responsibly, only time will tell.