This post will be discussing plot points from the first three seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones. I won’t be dropping any spoilers from the books, and I ask any commenters to respect that as well. Now, lets talk about Sansa Stark.
Most people who watch HBO’s Game of Thrones like and sympathize with the Starks (unlike one of my colleagues who is all-in with House Lannister.)
But usually that affection is withheld from the eldest Stark daughter, Sansa. People don’t necessarily want her to die (like they do with Theon) but they find her so annoying. Although in some ways this feeling is justified, but in general I don’t like the amount of hate that Sansa generates and I’d like to respectfully state my case in her defense.
So what is the nature of this hate? Usually it boils down to these three points:
- Sansa Makes Bad Decisions
- Sansa is Too Passive and/or Too Flighty
- Sansa’s Storyline is Boring
I’d like to talk about this. The above points all kind of flow into one another (her bad decisions are because of her romantic notions and her lack of action makes the storyline boring to some, etc) so my defense will be kind of rambly.
Sansa, who is still a child, does make some bad decisions. That’s true. When faced with telling the hard truth about her fiancee the prince, she opts to misremember and act confused.
When Ned explains that he is sending Sansa and Arya away from Kings Landing for their safety, she alerts Queen Cersei which gives the Lannister a timeline to thwart.
Sansa becomes a pawn of Cersei in legitimizing Joffrey’s succession to the Iron Throne.
Bad decisions, you young child. Bad.
Sansa, Flighty and Passive
Unlike her younger sister Arya, Sansa is full of romantic notions of knights and ladies, heroic chivalry, and the elegance of the court.
And unlike Arya, Sansa adopts a more passive behavior. She does not try to escape. She does not fight. She is meek and obedient.
Oh, the Boredom
Okay, I can’t necessarily bring in concrete examples, since a reaction to a storyline is so subjective (and I don’t find Sansa chapters boring.) I’m just saying that I’ve heard or read enough “OMG if I have to (read another Sansa chapter|watch another Sansa scene) I’ll…” types of statements to believe that people aren’t invested in her storyline.
People who can’t stand Sansa, you are free to share your experiences with me.
Sansa is the eldest daughter of Catelyn Stark and probably received special attention from her mother in matters relating to the customs of the gentry from the south. Just as Robb was groomed by Ned to be Lord of Winterfell, Catelyn was raising Sansa to be a proper lady. (Arya was just hopeless.)
Catelyn probably felt that Sansa had a good future ahead of her. Should she be married off to a Northern lord, they would certainly be respectful towards her rather than risk Ned’s wrath.
Sansa would probably enjoy similar respectful protections should a match be found in two of the other major dominions (the Riverlands were governed by Sansa’s Uncle Hoster Tully and the Vale of Arryn by her Uncle Jon Arryn.) Catelyn could have indoctrinated Sansa in the darker aspects of courtly power, assassinations, betrayals, the joy of accusing people of crimes without proof and having them killed as a fait accompli.
Instead, Sansa heard a lot of poetic stories of beautiful maidens and pure hearted knight paragons.
It’s quite possible that Catelyn encouraged this overly romanticized view of southern chivalry as a reaction to her own marriage to “North as North Can Get” Ned (the Wildlings would dispute Ned being a northerner, but no one cares what they think. Sorry Craster, no one cares!) The North, while beautiful, is kind of a harshly practical and unromantic place. Cat probably wanted to have a living reminder of her youth in Sansa.
Once Bran fell, Cat became a huge mess and there was no chance for mother-daughter strategy sessions on how to survive the capital.
During the time at Winterfell following Bran’s fall and for the trip south, Sansa had only Queen Cersei, her future mother-in-law, to guide her.
At the capital, Ned had a lot of things on his mind, but at least he tried to mend the fence between Sansa and Arya. Unfortunately, the only daughter he was qualified to talk to was Arya.
Ned had a wonderful, almost poetic discussion with Arya, stating that petty quarrels were for the summertime, but in winter the wolves banded together. They must do this to survive.
Arya came to realize what a dangerous place they had come to. Sansa was not given this guidance.
I don’t blame Ned, he had an affinity with Arya that he didn’t share with Sansa, and my being the father of someone close to Sansa’s age (more or less) has let me experience the problems in trying to communicate about things to the unreceptive tween/teen.
So when the shit hit the fan, Arya was prepared. Sansa was not.
Alright, how does this relate to the three charges I stated in the beginning?
Sansa was raised to be a fanciful, obedient, lady-in-training. It’s hard watching her make wrong decisions, but they are the kind of decisions she’s likely to make.
The idea of marrying a prince when she’d been expecting one day to marry some hairy northern nobleman (or if she was really lucky, a heroic knight from the Vale, maybe a Royce) must have blown her mind. Even seeing him cruelly treating Micah the butcher’s boy is going to be filtered by the sense of “oh no, if I tell what happened, I’LL NEVER BE HIS QUEEN!”
I don’t like that she didn’t back up Arya’s story, but I understand.
Her total focus on Joffrey at the capital when he resumed showing her affection is completely understandable. She’d been cut off from her mother by the trip, the events at the Trident had cost her her direwolf and built a wall not only between her and Joffrey, but her and the queen. (You might think that’s a good thing, Cersei being Cersei, but I’m sure Sansa was quite delighted to have been in her company. Cersei can be quite charming.)
But when Joffrey, acting under Queen’s orders, smoothly apologised and turned on the charm, it’s no wonder Sansa’s thoughts were up on cloud nine (or the Westeros equivalent.)
This made her quite vulnerable to inadvertently betraying her father, when she told Queen Cersei about the plans to send the girls away.
Ned, this stuff doesn’t work.
Ned: Girls, I’m sending you all home.
Sansa: What? But WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?
Ned: Shut it! Let us never speak of this again.
Ned, I’ll say it again, that stuff doesn’t work.
Anyway, Sansa’s head was all filled with romantic notions and naivete because she hadn’t experienced anything seriously real, ever, to replace it. And when reality intruded, she didn’t have a good external compass to guide her. She really tried her best under the circumstances.
Would things have turned out differently had she been more like Arya? Indeed. She would have been killed.
Or possibly would have had worse things befall her.
But … THE BOREDOM!
Okay, okay. Look, I’ve already said that I don’t find her storyline tedious or boring Sansa represents tremendous potential. Not in the same way that Arya does (that little murder-angel is full of potential violence. Preach it, Melisandre!)
Sansa represents potential for all kinds of political maneuverings and shenanigans, being pretty much the only Stark (and therefore inheritor of the North) anyone believes to be alive.
Catelyn Stark: dead.
Bran and Rickon: presumed dead.
Arya: missing, assumed dead.
Jon Snow: What? He’s still a Stark in my book, yo! Stuck at the Wall, with no *legitimate* claim to Winterfell.
So Sansa is the Great Northern Hope. Sort of. Look, her position as Lady Stark makes her super important. And now that she’s married to Tyrion, The Most Interesting Man in Westeros… her storyline is even more significant.
So be bored if you wish. I’m just saying Game of Thrones is a show that builds on all kinds of things, and it’s best to pay attention. To everything. It is known.
Mustering My Banners
This post was largely inspired by another blog entry I’d read, defending Sansa. I really liked it:
I don’t agree 100% with her uncompromising defense of Sansa, but that is mostly over the blogger’s irritation of Sansa being called a victim. I’d still call Sansa a victim, but I’d also call her a survivor. I think that word can be used without blaming the victim.
But I agree that calling Sansa nothing more than a victim is incorrect. She doesn’t embrace her victimization and let that be all she is. She’s still a Stark. She’s sister to Arya, and they represent two sides of the same coin. And we all love Arya, n’est-ce-pas?
Anyway, the blogger’s article was very honest and passionate and I enjoyed it a great deal. I’ve rarely found anyone standing up for Sansa, and it made me want to do the same.
Courtesy is a Lady’s Armor
I guess I grudgingly respect Sansa because despite her childlike aspect, she somehow survives. She’s been through serious trauma, but she hasn’t broken. And she’s held on to her innocence (or at least some of it) which I think is admirable. People sometimes bash on Game of Thrones for being so bleak, and how everyone has such a horrible time. But I’m hoping that Sansa will weather her situation and not become evil or crazy.
Hey, Sansa Actually Got Pretty Sassy in Season Two
I almost forgot to mention that Sansa gets her digs in with Joffrey whenever she can. She knows just how to prick his honor without forcing a reprisal.
The Blackwater pre-battle was the best when she asked Joffrey if he would be heading into the thickest fighting, like her traitorous usurper brother, and if he planned on engaging directly in combat with Stannis so she could (as Joffrey promised) taste the blood.
Of course Joffrey is a coward and wouldn’t be caught dead doing that. Actually, if he did that he would be dead. What a weird phrasing.
Anyway, I really enjoyed Sansa calling Joffrey a coward, twice.
It’s okay with me if you don’t like Sansa. I won’t think ill of you.
It’s okay if she’s your absolutely favorite character. I won’t think you are odd.
She’s not my favorite, but I certainly wish her well and look forward to seeing what (potential) adventures she’ll be a part of.
I guess I’m saying that everyone needs to decide where they fall on the Lannister scale. Are you a Sansa-hater like this guy:
Or more like this guy:
Your choice. I know which Lannister I associate with.
Hey, here’s a great point for another poll:
Images from HBO\\™s Game of Thrones, obviously.
I make no claim to the artwork, but some claims to the text here, so there.
(For more stuff like this, as well as articles on things not related to Game of Thrones, feel free to check out my blog over at patricksponaugle.com)
(Originally published January 8th, 2014 at patricksponaugle.com)
© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved