This article popped up on my Twitter feed today: Strong As Sansa
I LOVE THIS. So glad that Sansa is getting some love. I have talked about Sansa before, and how her naivety is as much a result of Ned’s parenting choices as it is about her personality.
But what I love the most about Sansa is what she represents: the feminine, the girl who is pushed around by society, trying to do what she is expected to do rather than pushing back against those expectations like Arya. I love the dynamics of the two Stark girls – both are challenging the shitty expectations of a misogynistic society, but are doing it in very different ways.
Fans love to shit on Sansa because she dobbed on Ned to Cersei and apparently “caused” the whole War of the Five Kings…. yo, people, that shit was happening anyway.
Sansa cops a lot of unwarranted criticism, and I am totally riding the Queen Sansa (INDANORF) train. Let me tell you why…
Growing up Sansa
When we first meet Sansa, she’s this adorable little 11 year old girl (NB: 11 in the books. 14 ish in the show??)
This is a girl who is good at sewing, and singing songs of the Faith in the sept, and dreaming of princes and knights and ladies and balls.
Basically, she’s Lydia Bennett. And that’s totally appropriate for her social class and age.
Appropriate for her personality, social class and age, she’s STOKED when her mother tells her that Robert Baratheon has asked Ned for Sansa to marry Prince Joffrey. ZOMG a real live Prince! And he’s sooooo handsome (debatable… sorry Jack.) They’ll live in a castle and have balls and eat lemon cakes, it will be just like a song.
And then almost instantly… it’s not.
She’s mortified when Cersei asks her if she’s started menstruating. Cat also looks a bit askance at this being asked so directly in their first meeting, but doesn’t say anything to the Queen. We have no idea why Cersei is so rude, but we later find out it’s because Cersei is a narcissistic bitch who also has delusions about a younger, more beautiful queen coming to take everything (i.e. the Prince through which Cersei plans to rule the Seven Kingdoms) away from her.
And then she cops a faceful of mashed spud from Arya. All in all, not a great night for Sansa.
Losing her wolf
This is important.
Lady is not just Sansa’s pet and companion, who could have protected her in King’s Landing. She is also Sansa’s connection to her warging abilities.
GRRM has said that all the Stark kids have warging skills, and this backs up what is on paper:
- Robb is described as sitting at his table with maps, staring blankly and refusing food, not talking or listening to anyone, like he’s in a trance by Jeyne Westerling. What happened next? Oh yeah, Grey Wind just happened to have found a trail which would lead them to ambush Jaime Lannister’s forces. No one in the Northern armies really questioned how their young King knew what his wolf had found.
- Jon has wolf dreams, where he feels he’s part of Ghost, and he howls at the moon when he feels the loss of his siblings (Grey Wind and Lady.) Plus the wildlings recognise Jon as a warg and label him as such, even if he’s reluctant to use that power. It’s definitely there.
- Arya constantly dreams of Nymeria: discovering Catelyn’s body in the river, hunting with her pack of wolves, etc. This is both when Arya is in the Riverlands but also when Arya is in Braavos – demonstrating the strength of even an untrained Stark warg.
- Bran of course is the most advanced, not just taking over Summer’s mind, but also ravens, weirwoods and, concerningly, Hodor’s.
- Rickon and Shaggydog are described as having a freakishly close bond by Cat and Bran and other Winterfell based POVs. I think it’s also clear that Rickon is showing signs of warging, even as a little kid.
So logically, Sansa would also have developed these skills, and perhaps was doing so – Lady is described as the mildest and best behaved of all the direwolves.
But the loss of Lady isn’t just about Sansa losing her chance to warg with her direwolf: she’s losing her innocence.
What does she learn from this time onwards, until it all goes to shit? Let’s list it:
- Joffrey is quite unpleasant, and she doesn’t know what to do with this information – like, how do you tell the King that his son, a prince of the realm, actually attacked a butcher’s boy and your little sister? When you are betrothed to him? Not remembering is the safest option for Sansa, which leads to terrible, unfair consequences. So she learns that the world they are entering is not fair, and Cersei holds all the power.
- She attends her first tourney, and witnesses her first death (Ser Hugh of the Vale at the hands of the Mountain.)
- She also experiences her first crush, not of a guy she is told she must love because she’s betrothed to him and he’s a prince (therefore he must be good, and handsome, and kind…. even when he is demonstrably not these things?) – Ser Loras Tyrell. Sansa has zero gaydar, even with Littlefinger sitting next to her cracking jokes at Renly’s expense.
- She also can’t deal with the fact that Ser Loras cheats in his joust against the Mountain – the show does this really well. Sophie Turner’s pouty little “But Ser Loras wouldn’t do that – he’s a knight!” is just perfect. It really rams home how idealistic and sheltered Sansa’s worldview is: princes are lovely and knights are always chivalrous and never cheat, everything is moonlight and roses….
And then we see Sansa trying to grow up a bit, act the part of the fiancé of the Crown Prince. She starts doing her hair in the Southron fashion, starts acting rude and dismissive like the Queen does, telling her father she doesn’t play with dolls anymore because she’s not a child, and dreaming of the day when she’ll be able to give her beautiful darling Joffrey dozens of blonde children…. at which point Ned has his lightbulb moment:
Oh Ned… why did it take you so long to work out????
Sansa might know that something’s not quite right, not really meshing with her fantasy world, but it’s OK, she can pretend it’s all fine.
She can go to the Queen when her father comes up with this terrible, no good, horrible, very bad idea of leaving the capital and returning to the boring, cold North where she won’t marry a prince and become a queen, but marry some horrible hairy Northerner and have definitely not blonde beautiful princely babies….
Paying the price
Now, everyone who bleats on and on about how Sansa got what she deserved for betrayed The Ned…. STFU and think about this.
An 11 year old girl, full of idealistic fairytales about princes and knights, finds out she won’t be marrying the handsome prince and she won’t become Queen – the ultimate social aspiration for any girl of her social standing (a Lord Paramount’s daughter.)
She was living the dream, and OK it wasn’t totally working out as planned, but still…. living the dream!
… she is captured and held in polite, but undoubted custody by Cersei’s guards.
Her sister goes missing. Her father is arrested. Her best friend, Jeyne Poole, goes missing. Her family’s household staff are massacred. Her septa is beheaded.
That’s OK. Joffrey is now a king, and he’s still her betrothed… it can still be like a song. She’ll go and beg for mercy.
This is Sansa at Ned’s confession, confident that she’s won over her true love. He’ll be merciful, he’ll be just. He’ll be kind.
Then Joff announces that his lady mother and his would-be bride have the “soft hearts of women” and he demands Ned’s head. Don’t just look at Sansa here – also look at Cersei. This is Definitely Absolutely NOT The Plan.
Also… look at the rest of the Small Council. Varys is also freaking out, because this is NOT The Plan. Pycelle doesn’t look too happy. Littlefinger…. smirking.
(Do you think there’s a still of this? Of course not, so let’s grab a video… which I can only link to…. the execution scene from the point where Joff flips the table over. Here is the specific moment with Varys and Pycelle. Littlefinger, down there in the left hand bottom corner? Totally unconcerned. Hmmm…. who gave Joff the idea that executing Ned would be the best idea?)
Arya is grabbed by Yoren, who in the books makes eye contact and nods at Ned to confirm that he’ll look after her. Sansa isn’t. She’s held back by a Kingsguard, but she has to watch as her father is beheaded.
Then… Joffrey takes great pleasure in showing her the rotting remains of Lord Eddard Stark’s head, and her septa’s, and every other member of her household staff. Again, she’s held by a Kingsguard so she can’t escape, can’t look away.
She’s beaten, every day, stripped naked in front of the court while being beaten because it makes the sadistic prick she once adored laugh.
Tyrion helps her, stops this once he gets to King’s Landing…. but he’s still a Lannister. He’s still one of THEM, the House that killed her father, her friends, is battling her brother…
And on and on it goes….
Alone and terrified when she has her first period. Realises that this means she can now bear children, and thus will soon be married – to the bastard who took her father’s life.
She’s saved from that eventuality by the Tyrells turning cloak after Renly’s death, and Margaery being a better option – older, just as pretty, a bit more switched on, and most importantly, not from a family that is currently rebelling against
Baratheon Lannister rule.
Woohoo! Marge is her new bestest good friend, and she’s going to be saved from King’s Landing AND marry the very lovely Willas Tyrell, heir to Highgarden (even if he does have a bum leg…) (In the show, the equally unsuitable – because he’s gay – Loras is used as a replacement for the Willas plot.)
And she has her dear Ser Dontos, her Florian, who promises so faithfully that he’ll get her out of King’s Landing, he’ll save her…
Remember: even Lydia Bennett was too taken up in the fairytale story or song of being a newly wed to notice that a) she had shamed her family and b) her husband detested her and only kidnapped her for sex. I often wonder about Lydia – what happened after the end of Pride and Prejudice? When did the penny drop, that her life wasn’t as crash hot as she pretended it was? Or did she manage to sail on through life, being as silly as her mother, inventing a song where it was all OK?
Because Sansa is basically doing that with Dontos. Huge warning lights should go off for her that this guy is not what he seems: how exactly can an inept, drunken shambles of a knight rescue her?
Which he does, but not as she expects. Once again, the fairytales that Sansa clings to for hope are revealed to be bullshit. There’s no Florian rescuing her, there’s no happy Highgarden wedding. Instead, there’s just Littlefinger – a creepy predator who lurches from her faithful protector Petyr, to the lecherous Littlefinger who demands a ‘better’ kiss from Alayne…. but before that happens, Sansa is forced into a marriage with Tyrion against her will, and is only saved from rape because Tyrion has half a conscience.
Also: while we all give Tyrion mad claps for not raping Sansa, can we all just pause on the woo Tyrion train and remember that he does indecently assault her? He tells her to strip naked, as he does, he has an erection, and he thinks about raping her, he starts to touch her (which, given the context of their nudity, on a marriage bed, and the social expectations of consummation, is DEFINITELY indecent assault!) before finally saying “look, I won’t…” We’re literally giving Tyrion props for not raping Sansa after almost doing it and leading this terrified young girl through all the steps leading up to being raped…. Um, no. No claps for Tyrion.
The Tyrells turn out to be faithless friends, and even set her up as a patsy for their murder of Joffrey (because how is the Strangler smuggled into the wedding? In Sansa’s hairnet, procured by Littlefinger, given to her by Dontos, who INSISTED she absolutely must wear it to the wedding, and then Olenna Tyrell comes over and fiddles with it.) Some argue that the Tyrells hoped Joffrey’s death would be seen as a tragic accident (hence Olenna yelling out OH MY GOD HE’S CHOKING ON THE PIE like it’s a damn pantomime…)
But I’m not so sure. I think it was Plan A: people think it’s an accident. Plan B: Cersei assumes it was Tyrion and Sansa, both of whom have ample reason to hate Joffrey. The Tyrells were in King’s Landing long enough to see how Joffrey treated his uncle, and how much Tyrion obviously hated it. They also go to see the dynamics of Tywin/Tyrion, and knew that it would not trouble Lord Tywin too greatly if his much hated son went down for regicide. They wouldn’t directly point the finger at Tyrion, but sure… they didn’t stop Cersei from screaming it either.
Growing up properly: the Vale
A Feast for Crows divides the ASOIAF fandom. People either think that Sansa is dimwitted stupid little girl, because she doesn’t put together all the pieces of information she has about Littlefinger’s complicity in her family’s downfall, or they think she’s simply biding her time and processing.
Me? I’m in the latter, but with a large dose of JESUS H CHRIST SHE’S ONLY FOURTEEN. If that. A couple of years has passed since the 11 year old Sansa was betrothed to Joffrey in Winterfell…. but not a decade, or even the five year gap that GRRM originally planned.
Sansa still acts like an immature teenager because she bloody well IS an immature teenager. Think about how you thought and acted when you were 14. Were you able to piece together complex conspiracy theories?
And if you could, good on you – but do you reckon you could do it while recovering from massive trauma and being terrified, on the run, in hiding, knowing that if anyone discovers your true identity, you’ll be shipped back to King’s Landing to be executed for regicide and treason?
No. So STFU.
What does Sansa represent?
People like Arya, because she’s a tomboy and does what she wants. Yo, it’s cool. Empowered women, feminism – WOO!
But Sansa also represents a different kind of feminism: the kind that is a slow burn, the kind that involves going through hell before you work out that the patriarchal myths you were sold as a kid are actually total bullshit.
This is not a girl you want to fuck with, in the long term… she has seen, she has heard, and she will remember what you did…
Sansa is a survivor of sexual assault (from multiple people – nearly raped during the King’s Landing riot after Myrcella’s sending off, repeatedly stripped and beaten by the Kingsguard for Joffrey’s amusement, then there’s Tyrion’s indecent assault on her wedding night, and now she’s being groomed by Littlefinger to be his perfect Cat v2.0… the compliant and willing version. Ugh.) She’s also survived hideous trauma from watching her father’s execution.
She’s been exposed to Cersei’s internalised misogyny. The moments between Cersei and Sansa in ACOK, when Cersei gets progressively drunk and bitter as the Battle of the Blackwater rages outside, and hits up Sansa with Cersei’s version of womanly wisdom:
“And if the castle should fall?”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Cersei did not wait for a denial. “If I’m not betrayed by my own guards, I may be able to hold here for a time. Then I can go to the walls and offer to yield to Lord Stannis in person. That will spare us the worst. But if Maegor’s Holdfast should fall before Stannis can come up, why then, most of my guests are in for a bit of rape, I’d say. And you should never rule out mutilation, torture, and murder at times like these.”
Sansa was horrified. “These are women, unarmed, and gently born.”
“Their birth protects them,” Cersei admitted, “though not as much as you’d think. Each one’s worth a good ransom, but after the madness of battle, soldiers often seem to want flesh more than coin. Even so, a golden shield is better than none. Out in the streets, the women won’t be treated near as tenderly. Nor will our servants. Pretty things like that serving wench of Lady Tanda’s could be in for a lively night, but don’t imagine the old and the infirm and the ugly will be spared. Enough drink will make blind washerwomen and reeking pig girls seem as comely as you, sweetling.”
So first Cersei freaks out Sansa with more talk of rape, then she starts mocking the women for crying…
For those who remained, a singer was brought forth to fill the hall with the sweet music of the high harp. He sang of Jonquil and Florian, of Prince Aemon the Dragonknight and his love for his brother’s queen, of Nymeria’s ten thousand ships. They were beautiful songs, but terribly sad. Several of the women began to weep, and Sansa felt her own eyes growing moist.“Very good, dear.” The queen leaned close. “You want to practice those tears. You’ll need them for King Stannis.”
All in all, not a great night for the little dove. (And a reminder that the great songs, the fairytales that Sansa loves so much… they aren’t always happy….)
“Try not to sound so like a mouse, Sansa. You’re a woman now, remember? And betrothed to my firstborn.” The queen sipped at her wine. “Were it anyone else outside the gates, I might hope to beguile him. But this is Stannis Baratheon. I’d have a better chance of seducing his horse.” She noticed the look on Sansa’s face, and laughed. “Have I shocked you, my lady?” She leaned close. “You little fool. Tears are not a woman’s only weapon. You’ve got another one between your legs, and you’d best learn to use it. You’ll find men use their swords freely enough. Both kinds of swords.”
And yet, despite all of this, Sansa remains optimistic.
She doesn’t really want to learn from Littlefinger, but at the same time, she has to – she has no other choice, and we start to see Sansa being willing to be more than the Little Dove. To be a player. Still a pawn for now, pushed around by Littlefinger, but she’s becoming more active – she runs the Vale’s household, she’s listening to the Lords Declarant, she’s paying attention to Littlefinger’s scheming, and in TWOW sample chapters, she’s taking an active role in the Harry the Heir plot (albeit under Littlefinger’s instruction.)
A player is emerging from the naive girl.
Sansa represents many things: a survivor, a potential player, a girl who delights in the feminine things (stitching, music, dance, pretty dresses, flowers, songs.) A girl who romanticises a pointless crush on a gay knight, and a kiss that might never have been from a scarred, scary warrior.
She represents that it’s OK to be feminine. You can be a feminist and still be a girly-girl. There’s no requirement to be butch in the Feminist Handbook – the whole point is that you can choose what you want to do!
Right now, Sansa is choosing to just survive, and that’s totally OK.
In the future, she might choose to be a player in the game of thrones. Or an Arianne Martell-esque seductress, applying Cersei’s bitter lessons about the weaknesses of men to her political future, like Margaery Tyrell does. (Did?) Or she might simply be content in making sure the North has its shit together, running the kingdom for her younger brother Rickon (who is far too young in the books to be an effective king in the North and no, Jon won’t be crowned by proclamation or Robb’s will while Rickon still lives.)
Those are all valid choices, which we should celebrate as feminists.
We should be celebrating Sansa, not tearing her down, because she’s not as feisty and modern as Arya. Think about the context of their world: Sansa is the perfect girl in Westeros, just like Margaery Tyrell is for the Southron regions. She is choosing how she’s going to live her life, and not accepting being pushed around any more.
Sansa is showing us how to break free of the chains of patriarchy – and yes, it’s a slow and painful process!
But in the end…. bow down bitches. The Queen is in the house:
Also, I’ll be honest: after all the pair of them have been through, I can’t wait until we get this moment (or one like it) in the books:
Sansa might not have been close to Jon when they were children in Winterfell, but she’s been thinking a lot about him while hiding in the Vale. She draws on her memories of Jon to give her strength – to be “bastard strong” just like he and Mya Stone are, while she’s pretending to be a bastard.