In Defense of Sansa Stark
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?
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?
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.
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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