This is something I posted on /r/asoiaf way back when… now that I’ve made a blog to consolidate all my ASOIAF theories, I’ve copied, pasted and updated it.
A while back I had one of those lightning bolt moments where you realise something really obvious.
Fans have all commented endlessly about Ned and Sansa’s individual naivety and romanticism in how they view the world.
I guess I had always done what Westeros did – lumped Sansa in with her mother, because she looked and acted like the perfect Southron lady, with her Faith in the Seven and perfect manners for court, her Southron hair styles and enthusiasm for King’s Landing.
Sansa really is Ned’s daughter. She might not have the same hair, same look, follow the same gods but she has the same stupidly naive world view.
Now don’t get me wrong: I love the Starks, and of all the parents shown in ASOIAF, I think that Ned and Cat did the best job of raising children in an environment of love (sorry Jon) and encouragement. But the way that the Stark kids were raised only worked so long as they didn’t leave Winterfell…
Ned and Sansa both believe in a romantic world where honour, chivalry and nobility are actual things, not ideals.
They both get hurt badly when they have to deal with the world as it is, not as they want it to be. And often they are hurt by the same people: Ned underestimates Littlefinger and trusts him when he shouldn’t have. Ned gave Cersei the chance to be honourable, and paid for it with his life. Sansa trusts Littlefinger until she’s stuck in his power and being sexually groomed. Sansa trusted in the Queen to keep her south when Ned “unfairly” decided to GTFO out of King’s Landing, and paid for it by watching her father be decapitated, be beaten repeatedly and ultimately married off to Tyrion.
Yes, Ned was an experienced soldier: but he went to war in Robert’s Rebellion as a young man, barely an adult. After finding Lyanna, he retreated back to Winterfell and apparently only left for the Iron Islands rebellion. Then it was back to Winterfell, where it was safe and people acted honourably to him (at least to his face) and he could pretend the world was as he wanted it to be: fair, equal and safe. For better or worse, this is also what he taught his children. All the Stark kids suffer when they leave Winterfell in ways that are directly connected to their lack of realism, their inability to detect and react to lies and political machinations. Robb fails to realise how badly he has stuffed up by quickly marrying some girl he shagged (also fails to realise that in his efforts to be as honourable as Lord Eddard Stark, he did exactly what Ned didn’t do: married the girl he loved, not the girl he promised to marry for a political alliance.) Arya gets angry when Joffrey complains about her wolf biting him – instead of realising that her pet biting the CROWN PRINCE was probably a Very Bad Thing For Her. Jon gets a harsh lesson in “your life wasn’t as shit as you thought it was, now grow up mate” at the Wall.
Realising the Sansa-Ned parallels helps make sense of some of Ned’s more stupid decisions. I mean, we all write off Sansa’s bad decisions as “she was sheltered, she’s a bit stupid”. So was Ned, really. He had his own romanticism about the world, his own naivety, his own wilful blindness to the horrors he saw during the rebellion. He retreated away and kept his family safe within this bubble of honourable Winterfell – to their great cost, as it turned out. It meant that his sons and daughters weren’t prepared to deal with life shitting on them when it all went wrong.
It’s quite sad. Maybe Sansa will have the chance that Ned never had to shake of the naivety and grow up – start dealing with the world as it is, not as they want it to be.
We can’t blame Catelyn Tully Stark and her Southron faith for Sansa’s naivety, no matter how tempting it is for some fans (because everything must be a woman’s fault, non?)
Cat isn’t a perfect character. She is stubborn, ferociously vindictive (see her treatment of Jon, or how she seizes Tyrion when it’s clearly a BAD IDEA) and loyal to a fault (like backing up Littlefinger when he’s clearly shady AF)
But she’s not naive. She figures a lot of things out: Renly’s interest in his “squire” Loras, the political machinations of the Riverlands during Robb’s campaign, the way too late realisation that Lysa was forced to have an abortion via tansy/moon tea after getting pregnant to Littlefinger etc etc.
Cat doesn’t expect people to be honourable. She would like them to be honourable, but she doesn’t expect it. Unlike her children – think about Robb’s reaction when he breaks the Frey marriage pact. “Oh don’t worry, surely we can find another person to marry this Frey girl, it’ll be fine!”
But Cat immediately sees the political fall out, immediately sees the risk for Frey to turn on them. She isn’t naive. Her children’s naivety is sadly down to Ned, and the bubble of Winterfell.
From what we see of Winterfell in AGOT, Ned and Cat seem to have staffed the immediate castle, and all the bits and bobs that the kids would deal with, with loyal, honourable smallfolk. People that might make a crude joke from time to time, but wouldn’t take advantage of Sansa, or cheat Robb, y’know? They might call Jon a bastard to his face, but they’ll also teach him how to fight like a nobleman. Theon is the least honourable person in the Stark household, and even then the worst he does is go whoring. Which, on balance in a Westeros where birth control is down to herbal remedies and sexual experiences are things that the nobility believe are reserved for the marriage bed, is not such a bad thing. He’s paying sex workers for the sex and intimacy he craves, rather than going off and “seducing”/raping random village girls. Good work Theon!
Seeing Sansa in this light helps explore her role as the traditional fantasy princess stereotype. GRRM loves to throw the fantasy stereotypes on their heads, so we have Ned, the wonderfully kind, loyal and honourable Lord… unjustly executed for his naivety and lack of acumen in dealing with realpolitik. It also helps explain why so many people feel so sorry for Sansa’s arc throughout AFFC and beyond.
She’s the princess in the tower, who has been shoved into a dirty, nasty world.
The worst thing is that her father raised her to believe that roses were red, knights were noble, Queens were lovely etc etc etc. We blame it all on Septa Mordane and Catelyn, but Sansa shares her father’s naive view of the world as she/he want it to be rather than how it is. Until they have reality shoved in their face like a custard, or Frey pie…