Rin: For all of you who have seen “Mockingbird” in this season of Game of Thrones, allow me to say one thing: welcome. Welcome to the Sansa Stark appreciation team (affiliated with the Sansa Stark protection squad). It took you a little while to get here, but the important thing is that you’re here now. Yes, it’s amazing that after donning the black dress of badassery, Sansa Stark suddenly gained about a fifty percent increase in her fanbase. Now that Sansa has, I guess, proven herself, everyone is much more receptive to her and excited to see her in upcoming episodes. And I’m not going to make this post about how we liked her before you, but although her outfit certainly changed, Sansa herself did not. This is no metamorphosis brought on by Littlefinger. And this one scene in this one episode did not define Sansa as a true player of the oft talked about “game”. Sansa has been capable from the beginning and, to be completely honest, she hasn’t been getting the respect she deserves.
Ace: And that’s a real shame, because if anyone deserves respect, it’s her. Unfortunately, her passive disposition and naivety in the first season left a rancid, yet baffling, taste in the mouths of many fans. Unlike Arya, Brienne, or Daenerys, Sansa never wanted to play with swords, she never wanted to be a warrior, and she’s certainly not leading an army to conquer the Seven Kingdoms. Never at any point do we see her pick up a weapon or stab someone to death. Never do we see her running around in the woods, scraping her knees, or wearing trousers. Never do we see her give rousing speeches to oppressed minorities in need of a white savior. Sansa is, first and foremost, a young woman, who is not only interested in, but also likes, traditional feminine things. And thank God for that.
Too often the idea of a “strong” female character is a character who could literally kick everyone’s ass with awesome fighting skills. But Sansa can’t do that. In the books, she’s only eleven years old, fourteen in the show, and her strength of character is by far more subtle. These past four seasons, we have seen Sansa go from a naïve little girl who was sheltered from the horrors of the world to a young woman who knows exactly what cards she needs to play in order to stay alive. Someone like Arya wouldn’t be able to last a day in Sansa’s shoes, because Sansa is resilient in a way that Arya is not. She learns very quickly how to navigate the game of thrones without losing her passivity or letting the other players know that she’s not as naïve, innocent, or stupid as they think.
Rin: One of the things that really sets Sansa apart from the other female characters, or the other characters in general, is how genuinely kind she is. Additionally, how her kindness is not a weakness, but something that grants her a special type of strength, especially during her stay in King’s Landing after the execution of her father. It would have been simple to allow the cruelty and bitterness so prevalent in the Lannisters’ rule to infect her. I know that if I was in her shoes, I probably would have just said “fuck it” and started playing the game just like everyone else. However, Sansa holds the strength in herself to know that she doesn’t have to change, and that she doesn’t want to change. She may change husbands, locations, and however many other things, but she knows that she will always be the daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark: that is where she draws her power from. That holds meaning to her: a meaning that exemplifies justice, but more importantly kindness. It is because Sansa holds onto this fact so strongly that other people can see her virtues shine through. More than that, it draws them to her.
Going back to the events that lead Littlefinger to smuggle Sansa out of King’s Landing, I doubt that Ser Dontos would have been quite so eager to involve himself in such a dangerous plot had Sansa not saved him from death in a previous season. Likewise, if Sansa allowed herself to become brutal toward the people of King’s Landing, she would not have had gained the protection of more cunning players such as Tyrion and Margaery. Sansa, of course, wasn’t aware of this at first—that her kindness could serve as better protection than a sword or a knight, but she learned. She learned this from watching Cersei and how the queen-regent’s actions only brought pain and more troubles. She learned this from watching Margaery gain followers from her seemingly abnormal kindness. And slowly she is learning how she can use her kindness in more cunning ways. But even if she does end up becoming more cunning, the fact remains that Sansa is devoted to helping where she can and offering empathy to the suffering. Her power, in the end, is not from trickery, but from genuine feeling.
Ace: Indeed, and that’s a strength that very few other people in King’s Landing can claim. Sansa has a gentle heart, and that was cultivated by her upbringing at Winterfell. It’s hard to blame her for her gullibility in the earlier seasons when you look at her childhood. Like all good parents, Ned and Catelyn Stark tried to protect her from the cruelty of others, and growing up in the isolated environment of Winterfell and never being exposed to the political intrigue of the capitol unfortunately left her remarkably unprepared for life in King’s Landing. Sansa grew up in a world that didn’t teach her how to recognize threats, which is why the cruelty and harshness Cersei and Joffrey eventually exposed her to was something she couldn’t see coming until her father’s execution. And as Rin said, Sansa didn’t let that change who she was. Instead, she grew from that, and that’s one of the reasons her character is so amazing.
Playing the game of thrones is something that her father, a much more experienced person, couldn’t handle. But Sansa could. Her kindness only goes to highlight her ability to adapt to this change in her life. Because she’s kind, she doesn’t play the game like everyone else does. She hasn’t shown herself to be a threat, and she doesn’t play by trampling over other people. And that’s a strength we should definitely praise. She could have just as easily outwardly responded in anger when Joffrey murdered her father—something that would have most definitely gotten her killed. Moreover, the execution and Joffrey’s actions also single handedly ruined her perception of reality and taught her just how awful human beings can be.
She grew up with songs and stories of heroic knights saving fair maidens. The idea that real knights, real kings, and real queens do not have the same “honor” as the people from her stories has to be a hard truth to bear. That “honor” is in fact false. This is something the Hound tries to teach her during their time together, and despite her learning how little honor actually means to the people who claim to have it, she still retained her ability to empathize with others. Furthermore, once she realized what the world was actually like, she also found enough courage to attempt to murder Joffrey by shoving him off a bridge. She also would have succeeded in this if not for the Hound, who also saved her life in the process. The Hound has murdered people for doing less to Joffrey, but he felt the need to spare Sansa because Sansa shows him kindness at every opportunity. This part of her personality is so genuine, that during Season 4, Tryion claims that she wouldn’t have it in her to hurt anyone, not even Joffrey. No one but the Hound ever found out about this attempted murder. Even Joffrey, who was standing right there when it happened, didn’t realize how close he came to death, because he viewed Sansa as an innocent, naïve fool he could abuse.
Sansa is not a person who would go out of her ways to hurt others, unless it’s to keep people safe. It’s not something she would take pleasure in. It’s something that has to be done. Because at the end of the day, she still holds onto her stories about heroic knights and fair maidens. Maybe that’s not the life she’s living, but it’s certainly a life she can strive for.
Rin: Even if the Game of Thrones series isn’t exactly qualified to be a feminist text, what we can appreciate and take from it is how George R.R. Martin shows a wide variety of traits as being powerful and worthwhile. While it’s important to have female characters that don’t necessarily fit the stereotypical feminine role, it’s also important to note that not everyone can identify with that kind of character. Likewise, showing that being a feminine person does not make you any less strong, less intelligent, or less capable of learning and adapting to a situation is just as vital. Sansa more than fills that role. It’s easy to see how people don’t like her—if only because the hate for her is, or used to be, so prolific—but those people tend to overlook the more subtle power that Sansa holds in favor of more flamboyant displays like sword fights and sassy dialogue.
If you weren’t a fan of the young Stark before reading this, we hope you reconsider your feelings, or at least examine the reasons why you truly don’t like her. Even if you don’t like her, you should definitely appreciate her. If not for the type of character she is, then at least for staying alive this long with barely any friendly faces around her.