In any given discussion of Game of Thrones and the badassery of its characters, you’ll hear about Arya Stark, the mischievous daughter of Ned Stark of Winterfell who must find her way alone after his execution. Charged with learning to “stick them with the pointy end” and hiding amongst her enemies, the wily and troubled Arya is a fan favorite and often lauded as the strongest and most feminist character in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. But, here’s the thing, over the course of five books and four seasons, I think it’s clear that her older sister Sansa Stark is a badass, too. She may not handle a sword or seek out the Braavosi trick of shifting faces, but she handles equally sharp things and wears her own mask.
Now before you nay-say, I’d like to let it be known that I spent two books and two seasons hating Sansa. The spoiled, silly girl who wanted nothing more in life than to be Joffrey’s princess and who mercilessly tormented tomboy Arya pretty much earned all the eye-rolls, fast-forwards and quickly flipped pages. Early on, I thought she was vapid, useless and pretty much cannon fodder in the viper’s pit of King’s Landing. (I can get very passionate about my dislike for certain fictional characters. Don’t get me started on General Hospital‘s Sonny Corinthos or Arrow‘s Laurel Lance.) But slowly, thanks to George R.R. Martin’s pen and HBO’s masterful casting of Sophie Turner, I began to fall in love with this young woman trapped in untenable circumstances. Unlike Arya, Sansa can’t escape and have dangerous cross-country adventures or trade barbs with bad guys. She is at the mercy of people with more power — first Joffrey and Cersei and then Littlefinger — and one wrong word could lead to her death. Even the Tyrells, whom she thinks will save her from life in Joffrey’s cruel court, just see her as a pawn in a larger game. So, she learns not to speak and not to be seen, to tolerate physical abuse and to put up with Littlefinger’s oily attentions. In the process of that learning, Sansa becomes as lean and as strong as the steel of Arya’s sword. She’s forged in a completely different fire but no less formidable.
Perhaps the most tragic aspect of Sansa’s outward fragility and interior strength is her relationship with Tyrion Lannister, to whom she was unceremoniously married off in season three. Here are two people who are inherently decent and who can’t trust anyone, especially each other, because they’re always getting screwed over. It’s so sad. Sansa is so used to losing, so used to being hurt, that even though she and Tyrion get along pretty well, she has no problem getting the hell out of Dodge and not giving him a backward glance after Joffrey’s murder. Of course, she walks right into Littlefinger’s trap.
Sansa’s time in the Eyrie with Littlefinger is where my certainty of her utter awesomeness crystallized, and it’s also where the character really comes into her own. Not only does Sophie Turner just look hauntingly beautiful amidst the cold and the stone of the Eyrie, but Sansa is just this gorgeous mix of cynicism and hatred and power. Her aunt Lysa, whom she thought might be an ally, turns out to be deranged. Her little cousin is a complete weirdo but also vulnerable. And Petyr Baelish, Littlefinger, kicks his creeping on her into high gear. What can she do besides harden, like the ice that coats the North? By the time season four is done, so is she. Gone is the girl who just wanted to be married, and obliterated is the girl who just wanted to be rescued. In their place is an impenetrable fortress of a woman who’s learned how to play the Game of Thrones.
Will she survive it? I hope season five answers a resounding “yes.”
In the meantime…?
Game of Thrones returns to HBO on Sunday, April 12.
(Originally posted on HeroesandHeartbreakers.Com)