Just a note: This piece contains details about Sansa Stark through this week’s episode, “First of His Name.”
If there’s one complaint viewers can’t make about HBO’s Game of Thrones, it’s that there aren’t strong female characters. In fact, Cersei, Arya, Brienne, Margaery, Olenna, Dany, Ygritte and Catelyn are a huge part of the television (and book) series’ draw. But not all little girls are made of the same stuff, and while there seems to be admiration — even for the despicable Cersei — for all these women, Sansa Stark draws the most ire. I don’t know if it’s motherly instincts alone pulling me, but having two completely different daughters myself (one is stoic and tough, the other girly and lighthearted), I don’t really understand the Sansa hate.
Two sisters raised in the same noble home, and in the same manner; one is a tomboy who yearns to learn sword-fighting, the other dreams of her wedding and dancing and sweets. Now granted, Sansa has made her mistakes, but naiveté doesn’t deserve hatred. Beyond that, Sansa paid dearly for her childish foolishness; misspoken words cost her father’s life, and that was a horrible lesson no one should have to learn. While there was a time the anger toward her (our Ned grief — so strong) was somewhat understandable, that it carries on through the books and that people continually deride Sansa for her foolish dreams or her “stupidity” seems inordinate punishment.
At the ripe age of 11, Sansa thought she’d found the prince she’d always dreamed of, but instead he was a horrible monster who delighted in Sansa’s tears. After an ego-fueled challenge caused his own injury, it is Sansa’s innocent dire wolf, Lady, who pays the price. Not long after, Sansa trustingly confided in Cersei, inadvertently setting off the row of dominos that leads to her father’s execution. Should we abhor a child for not recognizing the Lannister hornet nest? Heck, even Cersei didn’t understand the depths of her own son’s monstrous nature until it was far too late. And from that moment on, the elder Stark girl was subjected to Joffrey’s cruel and terrible taunting, not the least of which included forcing her to view her father’s head on a spike and near-daily beatings. Cersei still pushed their Lannister/Stark marriage forward until a profitable alliance reared its head.
By the time we’ve caught up with the current series, Sansa’s been used and abused by nearly everyone in her contact. Anyone she desperately looks to for friendship or love either turns on her or uses her confidences to their own ends or against her. The only seemingly genuine nice act, a promise by the Tyrells to spirit Sansa away to a kind man and safety, is quickly intercepted; Sansa is forced to marry Tyrion and stay in her Lannister hell. It is also around this time that Sansa hears her mother and brother were horribly killed, and not long after, she’s implicated (and may have unwittingly had a role) in Joffrey’s murder and forced to go on the run to save her own life. Thirteen! The girl is roundabout 13 years old. Now compare her to her sister, as many people feel they must. Arya’s faced her own horrors aplenty, and her way of dealing with them are truly more survivalist; her manner more aggressive (though not always smarter). Two sisters of different nature can’t be compared by circumstance alone. Arya has often been on the brink of disaster as well and has been aided or protected by men (Syrio, Yoren, the Hound). Where Sansa daydreams of her fantasy princess life and lemoncakes, Arya also dreams — of vengeance and death — and repeats the names on her list to console herself.
Without crossing into book spoiler country, even people who only watch the series should be able to see Sansa is still a young girl learning those cruel world ropes. With another creepy boy set up to be her intended, a wicked aunt (Cersei the Second) jealous and suspiciously taunting, and a masterful manipulator as her only ally … I think Sansa is holding up pretty damned well. Arya would never desire to be the Lady of Winterfell, and I’ve no predictions for where or how her journey might end; she’s always been a survivor. But Sansa, I think she’s truly gaining perspective and gathering intelligence about how politic and power work, and someday she may just end up ruling her own roost, back home.