Monday, August 6, 2012

Sansa Stark Is the Coolest Chick in Westeros (No, Really)

You’ve probably read the title of this article by now (if not, I’m not sure how you’re reading this—you should talk to someone about that), and a fair number of you are currently going, “Lol, no!” as loud as you can.

To which I say, “Shut up, fools! She totes is!”

Okay, what I’m getting at is that when you look at Game of Thrones (the TV show, no spoilers for the books) it’s pretty easy to think of who the badass women are. You’ve got Daenerys and her dragons, Cersei and her ruthless politics, Catelyn and her diplomacy, and Arya and her nascent fighting skills. And that’s just to name a few. You’ve still got Margaery and her rampant ambition, Ygritte and her egalitarianism, and Shae and her insubordination. Still barely scratching the surface.

But here’s the thing: Sansa Stark is more badass than all of them.

And here’s the part where I make you agree with me.

Sansa starts Season 1 as a whiny but reasonably normal teenager. She wants to be a princess, she wants to live in the city, and she thinks her father’s mean and horrible because he doesn’t necessarily agree. It’s annoying, but so normal it’s not even interesting.

So for Season 1, Sansa was largely a non-entity. She wanted to be Queen, and to be Queen she had to marry Joffrey, who was a prick but she was enough in puppy love to ignore it. Then the end of Season 1 happened.

For the record, SPOILERS, even though I feel like it’s been long enough I shouldn’t have to say anything. Wusses.

When her father was accused of treason and put in the dungeon, Sansa had a very tough decision in front of her. She could either proclaim her father’s innocence and die with him, or she could label him a traitor and beg for his life. Sansa made the human choice and decided to beg for her father’s life and apologize for his “crimes”.

It doesn’t matter what we think we might have done in this situation, or even what we think she should do. When it comes down to it, this is the choice that makes sense. Sansa’s father is about to die. She can save him, if she destroys his honor. But Sansa understands that his honor will be destroyed either way. There is no winning here. In a way, standing up for him would be the safer bet, because then at least she would be out and done. Instead, she chooses to stick around for a while and ensures a future where even if her father lives, he’ll hate her. But he’ll be alive.

That’s a pretty rough choice for a thirteen year old to make.

As you probably know, in the end, it didn’t make any difference about her father. Joffrey had him killed anyway. This sparked the war, and her brother declared himself King of the North. Sansa was kept as a hostage of the court, ostensibly so that she could still marry Joffrey and in so doing end the war.

This is where Sansa gets pretty awesome.

It would have been not safe, exactly, for her to whine and complain about her place in the kingdom, but certainly expected. She could have made a fuss and then been put in a dungeon where at least she doesn’t have to talk to her father’s murderer all day. She knows they wouldn’t kill her because they need her alive. She’s ransom for Jaime Lannister, the Queen’s brother. So she could have been a lot more unpleasant about the whole thing.

Instead, Sansa chooses to take the abuse by being very calm about it. She tells everyone that Joffrey is her Lord and Husband, and that she loves him and wants to give him little Princes one day. Obviously, to us the viewer, she doesn’t, and it’s not all that hidden from everyone else too. But the point is that she says it. She affirms it. And in so doing, she makes herself indispensible.

The easy thing would have been to rot in a cage and blame the whole thing on Joffrey. What Sansa does is make it so that she cannot be got rid of without a fight. Not only can they not kill her because of Jaime, they can’t kill her because now it would look bad.

Drunk!Cersei is my favorite.
And while she’s in captivity, Sansa learns things. She learns about politics and maneuvering from watching the Queen. She learns how to lie, how to hide her face, and how to keep alive. The hardest thing is surviving, and she makes it look easy.

More than that, though, she makes herself beloved. While Joffrey’s abusive treatment of her makes people sympathetic, her father was still a traitor. Her undying “devotion” to him, however, makes people love her, because how can they hate the Little Dove? Form Sandor Clegane to Cersei herself, everyone wants to inform or protect her, other than her “husband”.

Sansa does have some very specific moments of awesome, too. When she encourages Joffrey to go out on the battlefield himself and lead his troops (presumably so that he will be killed), she does it with a smile and a wink. He’s pretty taken in. And when she’s stripped in front of the court and debased, afterwards she just smiles and says that she loves Joffrey and would never wish him ill.

As Tyrion says, “She may well outlive us all.”

All of this brings me to the end of Season 2 and why I think Sansa is the coolest. At the very end, Sansa is locked in the keep with the women and children. The Queen goes a bit nuts and starts drunkenly telling Sansa about how they’re all going to die, and what does Sansa do? She gets the women praying, then singing hymns. She tells them that it’s all fine and they’re winning. Then, on Shae’s suggestion, she goes to her room so that if the city is taken she will be known. She refuses to run, and just waits.

The city isn’t taken, and Sansa is still stuck. A reprieve comes when Margaery asks for Joffrey’s hand and she is ousted from the place of Queen-to-be, but it soon becomes clear that she’s not out of the woods. Petyr Balish, whose hardon for her mother is pretty well known, has just been given land and told that he needs some kids, comes up to her and tells her she can cut the act. She doesn’t. But we’re left with the implication that he might be the next in line to marry or almost-marry her, and it’s a good feeling.

So why do I call her strong when all she does is wait and lie and hide?

Because they’re the hard choices. Sansa knows she doesn’t have physical strength. She’s not Arya, and she has no desire to be. She also knows that now is not the time to build strength of character, given that she’s a traitor’s daughter in the stronghold of her enemies. So she chooses strength of will. She doesn’t deny her femininity, and instead manages to use her “frailty” to her advantage. She calls herself stupid and manipulates Joffrey into doing things he otherwise wouldn’t. She talks about dresses and fashion and watches and waits for her opportunity to strike.

Sansa knows exactly who she is and what role she has to play in this. It’s her strength in her own identity that keeps her badass, through all the lies and the abuse and the waiting. She has to stay in that castle, so while she’s at it, she might as well get some power. She might be little and frail and soft, but she’s made of iron underneath.

Also she's being played by a fifteen year old. The performance of a lifetime and she can't even drive yet.


  1. I've never watched Game of Thrones, so I only have a vague idea who these people are, but your case seems convincing.

  2. While I was never a major fan of Sansa Stark, what she acheived in her situation and with the forces arrayed against her was impressive and powerful

  3. Don't forget how she manipulated Joffrey into sparing a man's life. If she had only begged for his life, Joffrey wouldn't have listened. Instead, she used Joffrey's pride to her advantage. And for what? To save a man she didn't even know. So she's compassionate too. She has an enduring, quiet strength, and while it's not as obvious as Arya's or Daenerys's, it's no less important. Sansa wouldn't have made it in Flea Bottom, but Arya would never have survived as a captive in King's Landing. The Stark girls are both very adept survivors in their own ways.

  4. sansa is a grade A idiot who gets her father captured and then killed, as well as her own dire wolf by not backing her sister when and where appropriate. she treats her sister poorly numerous times, and repeatedly fails to see the gravity and reality of nearly any situation. i can only hope she learns something good from littlefinger in the last two books (that have yet to be finished). if you haven't read the books, i suggest you do. it will be clear to see she's not a 'winner' of a character. sorry for the negativity about this character, but i'm rereading the books right now and towards the end of book 1 where she is failing humanity 101 with flying colors.

    1. Honestly, Ned doomed himself, and I don't blame any fourteen year old girl for making bad life choices. Can you honestly say you were a paragon of good sense in early adolescence? I respect Sansa because despite the crappiness of her life, she survived. She kept going, and she never let it cow her. She has much more political sense than the more easily sympathetic Arya, who is nice and all, but would totally have the same problems as her father and brother (inflated sense of honor leading to messy death) were it not for the interference of Jaqen H'ghar. So, yes. I have compassion for her. And I have read the books. I fail to see how being pissed at the character of a teenage girl would make me a better person.

  5. Sansa is just plain boring, and she doesn't even seem like a Stark (and doesn't look like them either... hmmm).

  6. Can I just totally disagree? (Sorry =/ I really like the blog)

    I watched the TV series and read the books (I'll not put any spoilers in the comment, series-watchers), and I still think Sansa sucks. And the problem is not her femininity or the fact that she is not a kick-ass, tomboy sort of girl that makes her suck. There are other characters in the series that are not your typical action-movie superhero girl, such as Margaery Tyrell, that do not have so many haters.

    What really makes Sansa suck, in my opinion, is that's she stupid, selfish, and immature. Actually, most of the things you described as "bad-assery" in her defence were just a way of seeking comfort and survival.

    In the books, Sansa ultimately leads to her father’s death and to her own imprisonment by warning Cersei that Ned was trying to send his daughters back to Winterfell (this wasn't made as clear on the show) – all because she “dreamed” of marrying Joffrey, which had already proved to her that he wasn’t the nicest guy in the world during the travel on the Kingsroad. Oh, and she screwed over her sister for a guy (this really pisses me off).

    Despite all the suffering she’s gone through, and supposedly having a lot of lessons about how people are not always what they seem, and that not all pretty people are nice (such as Joff and Cersei), Sansa still mistreats anyone she believes “ugly” (such as Dontos and Tyrion, that she clearly hates for being ugly more than she hates for being a Lannister, a point that is made pretty clear in the books), showing that she has not matured in this point and is still superficial.

    Also, she keeps her stupid princess fantasies even after being kept as a hostage and going through all that. When she is presented with the opportunity to marry Willas Tyrell, a chance of being free her from the Lannisters and make being future lady of Highgarden! -- her first reaction is to be sad and complain like a little girl because she wouldn't marry the handsomer Loras instead (I'm serious). As a matter of fact, in her POV chapters she is shown to be much more worried about who she will marry or when her dashing knight will come then about the well-being of Arya or any of her siblings/relatives.

    Sometimes I try to go easier on Sansa because she is 13, but I guess what gets me frustrated is that she doesn’t seem to mature according to everything that happens to her. And most of all, it really bothers me that she never thinks of other people. I know she is a teenager, but so is Robb (he is only 16 when he dies) and Arya, and Bran is only a child, and they do not act like Sansa.

    Besides, although I know Sansa’s situation is not an easy one, she is one of the Stark kids that has less immediate worries at hand – while Robb has a war to win, and Arya, Bran and Rickon (after those two leave Winterfell) are always hungry and trying to survive, Sansa even has lemon cakes, and there is little she can do to change her situation as a hostage. In other words, she should be the one with more “spare” time to worry, but in her POV chapters I don’t find her ever bothering about her siblings or mother (or at least much less than she fantasizes about Loras, for instance).

    So, sorry, I just can't see Sansa as a bad-ass character. I've read like three or four articles trying to make her case, and they never quite convince me. I was reading another article here and this one caught my eye, and I was curious, but I still can't see her as a bad-ass... And NO WAY is she the most bad-ass in the whole series. :)