In Defense of Sansa Stark

Sansa Stark, stronger than you
Sansa Stark, stronger than you

While Sansa isn’t my all time favorite character (all hail Daenerys), she’s definitely at least in my top five.  I don’t expect everyone to have the same taste in characters that I do, but I must admit that I’m sort of mystified by the extreme level of hatred towards her. From my point of view, Sansa’s actions have been perfectly understandable even if I don’t always agree with them. I find her not only a sympathetic character, but a strong character who is managing to survive an extraordinarily difficult situation.  Instead of being respected for having made it this far, she’s the subject of awful name calling and illogical criticism.  It’s driving me nuts, man.

Argument #1: She’s immature.
Response: Duh.  She’s a child!

A lot of the criticism I see about Sansa roots from how wide eyed and star struck she was towards Joffrey in the beginning.  She was begging and pleading to marry the Prince and it all seems rather childish, but put yourself in Sansa’s shoes for just a moment and consider it from her perspective. In the books she’s eleven years old, but she was aged up to fourteen on the show. Either way, she’s still prepubescent and a ‘handsome’* young prince shows up at her door and your dad and his dad start talking marriage. She’s excited, okay? And she has a right to be. She’s gonna be Queen someday. It’s the jackpot for a girl from a noble background in this society.  Though there are a lot of progressive women in the books and show, their society resembles our own medieval society in regards to how noble women are treated.  They’re married off to Lord’s as a sort of political trade and Sansa is going to be promised to not just a Lord, but a Prince.  You guys.  Is that really so hard to understand?

Sansa Stark.  I would not want to be on the receiving end of this glare.
Sansa Stark. I would not want to be on the receiving end of this glare.

The first time Joffrey shows his true colors is on the King’s Road with the whole butcher’s boy incident, but at that point it’s already too late to turn back. Going forward she’s just a kid trying to keep herself and her family afloat in an extremely difficult situation.  She matures very quickly after that and just seven episodes later she’s bargaining for her fathers life in the political arena.  She goes toe to toe with Cersei several time and though the fear is plain on her face, Sansa doesn’t buckle under the pressure.  King’s Landing brought an early end to her childhood and forced her to mature very very quickly, but she’s still very very young.  Let’s cut her some slack here.

*I can’t think of him as handsome with how terrible he’s been and due to his age, but Sansa wasn’t aware of how awful he was and she’s in his age range so my opinion on that kinda doesn’t count.

Argument #2: Sansa helped the Lannisters slander her father/put him to death.
Response: She was trying to play diplomatically and save her father’s life. She was fourteen (eleven!!) and Joffrey is erratic.

Look at my last response. She’s very young and she was bargaining for her father’s life. She thought her father spending his days serving on the wall was better than him dying so she played the Lannister’s game and begged her father to confess to treason. Cersei is a master of politics and Sansa is scared and alone.  She has nobody she trusts to tell her what to do or say and she’s navigating some very treacherous territory the best she can.  Her plan would have worked, too, if Joffrey hadn’t said ‘screw you’ to diplomacy and chopped his head off anyway. Yes, he would have been shamed, but having her dad alive was more important to her than any sort of family shame.  And can you really blame a fourteen (ELEVEN!!!) year old girl for wanting to keep her father alive?

Sansa and Arya, I love them both and THAT'S OK
Sansa and Arya, I love them both and THAT’S OKAY

Argument #3: Sansa is too girly!  Arya is better.
Response: … NO.

Not gonna lie, I’m a much bigger fan of Arya. I love that kid. She’s a stark to her core and she’s tough and independent and totally not meant to be a proper Lady of the court.  Rock on, Arya.  But just because Arya’s gender bending ways are a huge plus to me doesn’t mean that Sansa’s feminine qualities are a negative for me in any way. This seems to be a common argument, though. Arya is less of a traditional girl so she’s awesome and Sansa fits more into their societies defined gender roles so she’s less awesome. What? No.  No no no no.

Arya (and Brienne, who I wish could meet Arya someday) is an outliers in this society. Almost every other female character you meet is pretty damn feminine because that’s how things are in this setting.  But even while being feminine, a lot of the women on the show wield enormous power. Just look at Cersei, Daenerys, Catelyn, Maegery, Yara (Asha for you book readers) and hell, even Lysa (as loony as she is, she runs the Vale after Jon Arryn’s death).  There are even more powerful women to come that you show watcher haven’t been introduced to.  Being feminine does not mean being weak.  Sansa and Arya are set up to be opposites and, indeed, they have many quibbles as children, but using their gender differences to put one above the other just doesn’t make any sense to me.  They both have strengths, just not the same strengths.  And that’s okay.

Argument #4: She’s weak!
Response: She’s probably stronger than you.

Okay, if we’re talking physical strength, she’s not very strong (she is called “Little Bird” after all). But when it comes to strength of character, she’s proven herself to be one of the strongest people in the entire narrative.  Oh yes, I did just make a rather bold declaration. There are dozens of main characters in the show and books and I rank her near the top in terms of strength and I stand by that.  She arrived in King’s Landing as an idealistic child in love with a handsome prince. Then she watched her fathers men get slaughtered and is used as a political bargaining chip. Oh and then she watches her dad get beheaded and finds herself in the custody of the very people who put him to death. If she was weak, she would not have survived any of this.  She would have buckled under the pressure and maybe even have done something to get herself killed (or even killed herself because she just couldn’t take it).  Instead she’s fought for her life and the life of others while battling wits with almost all the major players in King’s Landing.

Sansa, gets beat up by a Knight and keeps on ticking
Sansa, gets beat up by a Knight and keeps on ticking

There’s a quote from the book that her time in King’s Landing turned her skin from ‘porcelain to ivory to steel.’ It’s incredibly accurate. Her ability to survive the Lannisters is so impressive that Tyrion even commented on it. She’s a survivor and she uses her strong diplomatic skills to keep herself afloat in King’s Landing when everything else is crashing down around her. What she’s gone through amounts to psychological torture (oh yeah, and she’s had physical abuse too, in case you forgot) and she hasn’t broken. Now that, my friends, is strength.

Argument #5: She didn’t trust Sandor/she’s trusting Little Finger/etc.
Response: King’s Landing is filled with some of the most underhanded cutthroat people in Westeros. Trust issues are a good thing.

Yeah, I think leaving with Sandor would have been a good move, but she was scared. It was only in the final moments before the Hound fled that she realized he wouldn’t harm her. He’s always been there for her, sure, but he’s also got a reputation for being extremely brutal and his appearance certainly doesn’t help soften that impression. Their escape wasn’t premeditated at all, either. Everything was falling apart and he just showed up in her room and sprang it on her. Again, put yourself in her shoes (this seems to be a skill lacking with Sansa haters). There’s a siege happening all around and she just wants to be safe.  Going outside in the middle of a battle with one man who you only barely trust to protect you.  I’d have probably stayed in my room with the door locked too.  I do weep for the untold tale of Sansa and Sandor on the King’s Road, though.  I will very much miss their dynamic.

Littlefinger is coming at this from a different direction. He’s known Sansa’s mother since they were children and Sansa knows this. He’s basically a family friend. Sure, we know him as a manipulative bastard (er, not, like Jon Snow bastard, but you know what I mean), but Sansa doesn’t have access to the same information we have. To be honest, I’m not sure how much Sansa knows about what’s really happened around her. As an audience we get to see (or read) several characters points of view and we are much better informed than any one character on the show.  We can’t really fault her for not knowing something. And they’re planning it in advance, which is very different from what Sandor offered. It’s not a quick last minute run for freedom, but a well thought out escape plan. From her view, it’s a much safer bet to get home and see her family and she actually has time to think about it first.

So there we go. That’s my defense of Sansa. She’s made some decisions that in hindsight weren’t the best, but given her age and position they made sense to her at the time. She has my sympathies for the unfortunate situation she’s found herself in and she has all of my support to not only get out alive, but to return to the North. You go, Sansa.  I’m rooting for you.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.


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About the author

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She's contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She's written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.

Comments

  1. The great thing about her is that she wants nothing but to survive. Her naive dreams of being a Queen have long since died, and now all she wants is to return home. She’s not trying to make any kind of power grab or pull any kind of plot together. And that frugality of sorts gives her the best chance to survive. They say in Game of Thrones that you win or you die, but Sansa isn’t even playing.

  2. I dislike Sansa because she’s selfish, and she’s not clever enough to get away with it. Most of the other characters, whatever their gender, have desires and ambitions and actually do something about them. You can’t say she’s not playing the game; you only stop playing when you die. She’s a pawn in the game who gets played by others and we can argue that she’s just doing what she can to survive, but that doesn’t make her an interesting or appealing character. Sure, she’s doing the best she can with what she’s got, but that doesn’t make me like her or root for her or feel anything when she gets hurt. It makes her seem superfluous.

    And as the third season begins, she doesn’t seem to learn from her mistakes. If she’s going to do anything but survive, she needs friends. And yet she only bothers to talk to other people and make alliances when those other people are the ones who come to her (see: her father, Joffrey, the Hound, Littlefinger). She sits there and observes that everything is “either terrible or boring” and, while I realize that her brattiness is kind of a coping mechanism, it’s mostly just annoying.

    1. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I completely disagree. The vast majority of your argument can be disputed with the “scared child” thing I’ve outlined above. Why isn’t she proactive in escaping? She’s scared. Who does he trust, exactly? Well we know the answer because as viewers we know more about all the characters than she does. But if she makes the wrong move ad trusts the wrong person she will be killed. Given her knowledge, not OUR knowledge, who should she trust? Ignore ALL the extra information that we have as viewers and answer that. I come up with a great big NOBODY.

      Selfish? Fighting for your dads life is the opposite of selfish. Saving Ser Dontos’s life is the opposite of selfish. Comforting all the girls in the tower during the Battle of Blackwater when the queen is nearby… Also not selfish. What’s selfish? Her wanting to be queen? As states, she was an idealistic young girl at the time. She’s grown up since then and now she just wants to go home. I’m not seeing the selfishness.

      Bratty? Ok she was quite bratty at the beginning of season 1, but after Ned got decapitate I have not seen a single thing I’d classify as bratty. She’s grown up a lot. You might see the “terrible or boring” line as bratty, but it made me laugh cuz I get it. That’s her life. It’s terrible or boring. There is very little fun and joy in her life.

  3. I’ll concede that she is generous and kind in the way any lady should be, and the traits are probably more genuine in her than they are in most other female characters. Still, she kind of has to be demure and polite most of the time, but whenever she’s given the opportunity to be sincere (around her father, the Septa, Shae) she’s a brat. She acted selfish when she let her wolf die/Arya be punished because she wanted to be on Joffrey’s side. Almost every conversation she had with Eddard involved her insulting him and she is all but cruel to her Septa because the woman is essentially the only person she has power over. You’re right that season two gives her a little more humility, but only because you’re right that there is no one she can be honest with. Probably the only reason she treats Shae any better is because she knows she has to be careful.

    But that wasn’t really my main point. Your argument seems to be that Sansa is a believable character, one whose reactions and motivations are reasonable. I do not disagree with that, and I don’t think most other people who dislike her would. What we don’t like isn’t that she’s not believable; it’s that she’s not interesting. I read the books a while ago and I don’t remember hating her as much as I do now. In my opinion the series does a terrible job at making her sympathetic, basically using her as a way to characterize other characters. Even when she has more dialogue in a scene, she’s never who I’m thinking about and that makes her presence seem unnecessary and boring.

    1. Yeah, the way the treated the Septa annoyed me. I have no defense for that. But when it came to the incident with Joffrey, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m definitely on Arya’s side on the matter, but Eddard said it himself, she plans on marrying Joffrey and siding against him that early in their betrothal wasn’t a good idea. She ended up screwing herself, though, and I point to that as the very first time reality began to set in for her. Then she got smacked with it even harder when her father died. The Sansa at the end of season 1 and the beginning of season 1 are very different. I’d say anything done before Lady died or before her father died need to be looked at in a different context. Those are two huge turning points for her.

      My argument is not just that she’s believable, but that I am able to empathize with her. I might not agree with everything she does, but I can put myself in her shoes and understand it. For me that’s a huge reason to like a character. I can understand her motives. You state that she’s simply not interesting and boring, but that’d definitely not the case for me. A huge part of why I like her is because she’s so complex. In the first couple of episodes she’s just a child with a crush on a prince, but the more things go on the more complex she becomes and the more I can get into her head and think about her motives and reasons and feel what she’s going through. THAT makes her pretty damn interesting to me. Her chapters were some of my favorites in A Storm of Swords and Feast for Crows. Especially the latter. Most of my favorite characers were not in FfC so when I got to her chapters I got excited because yay! Character I can empathize with!

  4. The whole point of her character is that innocence is no defense in her world either. Sansa (at least up to this point) is waiting to be rescued. She still believes that someone will make it right for her and her only option right now is to survive long enough for rescue to arrive. When you deal with madness (Joffrey) and pure hate (Cersie) what else would she do. She just made the decison to make a friend out of Tyrian and now his family has slaughtered her last hope. Undoubtably, she will misplace her trust another time or two until she realizes that no one is coming to her rescue, no one has her best interests at heart and she must act for herself. For all she knows, all her family is dead – except for her Aunt, Even if some member of her family may be alive, how would she find them? I am going to be facinated when she finds her own strength. Remember, Daenerys just married who she was told and allowed that man do as he pleased with her….at first. She grew into her power and undoubtably, so will Sansa.

    1. when was she ever in need of rescuing with her family? also, what is wrong with that?

  5. Ha! I wrote a blog entry very similar to this back in February…to this day I think it’s close to a tie between that one and my “season 2 of Game of Thrones sucked” one that I wrote last summer for my most popular blog entries ever.

  6. Agreed so much! People keep asking, “Why didn’t she escape?!”

    Uh…to where? Her dad is dead. She has no idea about the fate of her brothers and sisters or her mother. What, a noble girl like her who’s never lived on the road just run away and…what, become a prostitute? Think about it in her eyes. She’s trapped but she’s going to do damn well whatever it takes to STAY alive and eventually beat Cersei at her own game. I think Sansa DOES have hope and goals. I think she still has it in her that if she keeps surviving, she could be Queen or at least in some position of power. She just has to play her cards right, which she is VERY good at doing. I myself could never be as composed as she was during her ordeal so I applaud Sansa Stark, the 14-year-old girl who survived being held captive in the home of the family that murdered/tried to murder her family and abuses her.

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