In defence of Sansa Stark

One of Game of Thrones least popular characters is also one of its most interesting

[Spoilers incoming]

Den of Geek recently ran an article on “Sticking up for the unpopular kids in geek TV’s playground.” Now I don’t think this was a wholly successful effort – it will take an awful lot to convince me Riley isn’t the dullest character in the Buffyverse – but the only reason I wasn’t won over by Juliette Harrisson’s defence of Sansa Stark was that I already agreed with her:

There are two main reasons Sansa Stark is not the most popular character on Game Of Thrones. One is that she plays a traditional female role, and unlike many of the show’s other female characters, she neither uses sexuality to further her own goals, nor does she reject femininity entirely and take on a masculine role. Sansa’s earnest attempt to survive as a relatively innocent young girl who just wants to get married and have babies is not of interest to everyone. But before we all cry sexism, it’s important to mention the other reason many fans hate her; the first thing she does in the series is betray fan-favourite Arya for the sake of universally loathed monster Joffrey, condemning an innocent boy and her own direwolf to death in the process. So why should we give her the time of day?

Well, she’s learned a lot since then – now she imitates her husband and responds to irritating lordlings with a slap. And Sansa has hidden depths. She may not want to pick up a sword, but the look of murder in her eyes as she contemplates shoving Joffrey off the battlements is a thing to behold. Her rebirth in season four may indicate that she will start to use her sexuality more, but honestly, we rather hope not. A woman’s story is not only of interest if she fights or seduces or has dragons; we’re interested in seeing how Sansa negotiates the dangerous world of Game Of Thrones on her own terms.

The only thing that I’d add is my personal theory that we shouldn’t view Sansa as a character in isolation. Rather I think we need to see her as paired with Cersei. Sansa’s arc is I would argue essentially the story of how a naive girl like the Sansa we meet in series 1 becomes a cynical and ruthless woman like Cersei.
This is perhaps most visible during their exchanges during the Battle of Blackwater. Clearly there is a sadistic element in Cersei’s behaviour: she is trying to shock and upset Sansa with her explanations of a woman’s grizzly options during the fall of a city. But she does also seem to be trying to give her a twisted education in how someone denied the ability to be a soldier can nonetheless fight for her survival.
And in the most recent series we see plenty of signs of this evolving Sansa: a young woman who will now collaborate with and cover up for a murderer to protect herself. This dynamic is not as obvious as say Arya’s transformation into an avenging angel but it’s all the more interesting for it.
P.S. Since I wrote this, I’ve now seen this interview with Sophie Turner, the actor who plays Sansa, in which she says that in the most recent series her character has emerged as “a really great manipulator” and picks out observing Cersei as one of the main influences on her transformation.
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