Sandor Clegane is a broken man, a mad warrior dog. When Gregor put his face in the fire, his father told everyone that it was Sandor’s Bedding that had caught fire:
“My father told everyone my bedding had caught fire, and our maester gave me ointments. Ointments! Gregor got his ointments too. Four years later, they anointed him with the seven oils and he recited his knightly vows and Rhaegar Targaryen tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Arise, Ser Gregor.’”
This paragraph from Sansa II in AGOT alone gives us so much insight about Sandor’s life. Sandor spent his childhood and adult life repressing the whole entire event.
Lying to people, watching his brother get to escalate through the ranks of knighthood, all the while being a bitter shell that is furious at the world for all of its injustice. He wanted nothing more than to be a knight as a child, to play with his brother’s knight toy, and the first injustice he learned was his face to the fire.
Fast forward to AGOT: Sandor could protect the smallfolk, but he gets spit at. He’s nothing but the King’s dog, and feels like he’ll never do better. And why should he want to do better? Every time he tries, he gets his snout pushed in shit.
Pulling apart Sansa’s plot, we have to recognize that one of Sansa’s main characteristics, besides the naivety, is that she is inherently good. She is a courteous little lady, brought up to always respect others, even the big, scary mean beast.
In ACOK Sansa III, Lancel delivers the information that left her beat, bloodied, and almost naked in front of the court.
Sansa had always thought Lancel Lannister comely and well spoken, but there was neither pity nor kindness in the look he gave her. “Using some vile sorcery, your brother fell upon Ser Stafford Lannister with an army of wargs, not three days ride from Lannisport. Thousands of good men were butchered as they slept, without the chance to lift sword. After the slaughter, the northmen feasted on the flesh of the slain.” Horror coiled cold hands around Sansa’s throat.
And then, in Sansa VII, several chapters later, we see Sansa during the Blackwater, exercising kindness towards Lancel:
Sansa went to Ser Lancel and knelt beside him. His wound was bleeding afresh where the queen had struck him. “Madness,” he gasped. “Gods, the Imp was right, was right …”“Help him,” Sansa commanded two of the serving men. One just looked at her and ran, flagon and all. Other servants were leaving the hall as well, but she could not help that. Together, Sansa and the serving man got the wounded knight back on his feet. “Take him to Maester Frenken.” Lancel was one of them, yet somehow she still could not bring herself to wish him dead. I am soft and weak and stupid, just as Joffrey says. I should be killing him, not helping him.
Sansa’s empathy and inherent kindness for other people is something Sandor Clegane has not exactly often experienced in his life. He has never had anyone to tell him that his asshole knight brother is bad, he grew up being told that what happened to him, that his brother shoving his face into the fire, was not something he should be mad about.
The rasping voice trailed off. He squatted silently before her, a hulking black shape shrouded in the night, hidden from her eyes. Sansa could hear his ragged breathing. She was sad for him, she realized. Somehow, the fear had gone away.The silence went on and on, so long that she began to grow afraid once more, but she was afraid for him now, not for herself. She found his massive shoulder with her hand. “He was no true knight,” she whispered to him.The Hound threw back his head and roared. Sansa stumbled back, away from him, but he caught her arm. “No,” he growled at her, “no, little bird, he was no true knight.“
In Sansa’s chapters, we see Sandor surveying her shrewdly, speaking harshly, telling her how everyone is a liar. Many readers construe this as the Hound being a straight up dick to Sansa- but there is a difference between “The Hound” and “Sandor Clegane” (something GRRM makes us aware of in Feast, with The Houndbeing dead and Sandor Clegane being at rest). Sandor’s harsh words and guidance is only the beginning of Sandor Clegane being a temporary substitute fraternal figure to not just Sansa Stark but also to Arya when he comes across her RE: the BWB. Sandor’s political guidance for Sansa in King’s Landing came just in time to teach her to not be so trusting, and to teach her to keep her head down to avoid abuse.
Sandor once more comes to Sansa before leaving King’s Landing, with the intent to take her, the only kind person he’s met there, away with him. He respects her wishes to stay in King’s Landing, harshly gives her some “Hound” action before leaving
“I could keep you safe,” he rasped. “They’re all afraid of me. No one would hurt you again, or I’d kill them.” He yanked her closer, and for a moment she thought he meant to kiss her. He was too strong to fight. She closed her eyes, wanting it to be over, but nothing happened. “Still can’t bear to look, can you?” she heard him say. He gave her arm a hard wrench, pulling her around and shoving her down onto the bed. “I’ll have that song. Florian and Jonquil, you said.”His dagger was out, poised at her throat.“Sing, little bird. Sing for your little life.”
And what does 12 year old Sansa Stark do, in the face of a big, mean, angry, burnt man who she knows is suffering so much pain, more than he’s let on to anyone but her?
Sansa Stark fucking sings. She sings a song of mercy to Sandor (something his arc is crying for), she sings to him to tell him that he can rest, she prays for him throughout the narrative over the next books, she thinks and wonders what has become of him.
The Hound angrily tells her that she’s a bad liar, she’s stupid, people will play her, but the Sandor sees an innocent, easily hurt little girl, who people mistreat and who has had to tell her own lies to survive, just like he did, and that’s the connection.
Sandor Clegane sees a girl who had to grow up and learn, just like he did.
And Sansa is on the path for growing up, the path for learning. Will they be reunited in the future, when they’re older, healed, and wiser? I hope so. Because as Septon Meribald said, “There are many sorts of outlaws, just as there are many types of birds.”