Why Sansa Stark Doesn’t Owe You Anything

I’m hesitant to trust people who call Game of Thrones’ Sansa Stark whiney, basic, boring and weak. How someone feels about Sansa Stark tells me a lot about how they think about women.

Sansa Stark is the eldest daughter of the once powerful House Stark. She’s watched her own father be beheaded, had her fiancee point a loaded crossbow at her while knights ripped off her clothes -- all in the first season. Since then she has been forced to marry into the family who had her mother and brother killed. And many fans of the show hate her.

Sure, she is not the most sassy or kickass woman in Westeros, where Game of Thrones takes place. Daenerys is badass, beautiful, taking what is hers with fire and blood. Arya Stark is scrappy, a tomboy who is good with a sword, far more interesting than her sister Sansa. Margaery is startlingly beautiful and cunning. Ygritte is tough through her heartbreak, and funny to boot. I love them all, I feel protective of them all. But it’s Sansa who I most want to protect, not just from the Lannisters, a powerful family in the show who threaten her, but from the viewers of the show.

Many viewers seem to forget that Sansa Stark doesn’t owe them shit. She doesn’t owe any of us badassery, dragons or killer speeches.

Her particular brand of strength was perfectly illustrated on this season’s episode “First of His Name.” It seemed that Sansa Stark had finally reached a safe place, the Eyrie, with her aunt Lysa. She was swept away from King’s Landing by Petyr Baelish, a political mastermind who was in love with her mother Catlyn. Though Baelish is engaged to Lysa she hasn’t forgotten that she is his second choice.

Sansa is enjoying a rare moment of comfort, telling stories with Lysa when her aunt grabs her hands, accusing her of sleeping with Petyr. Lysa thinks (correctly) that he has transferred his love for Catlyn onto Sansa. She calls Sansa a whore, and accuses her of being pregnant with Petyr’s child. Lysa tightens her grip on Sansa with each question and Sansa realizes once again, that she is not safe, even with her own aunt.

Lysa pushes her and pushes her, so Sansa lies with ease, breaking down in tears, telling Lysa that Petyr berated her, calling her a “stupid little girl with stupid dreams who never learns.” She says, “I’m a terrible liar so I should always tell the truth...he’s never touched me, not once not ever.”

Sansa is a great liar, and she knows it. The moment is more heartbreaking than triumphant because chances are she actually thinks she is a “stupid little girl” but damn, is she smart- to quote Arabelle Sicardi’s Survival Zine, she weaponizes her vulnerability. Sansa Stark doesn’t have to be spunky, violent or fierce: She is surviving among people who regard her as nothing more than a political pawn and it’s ridiculous to ask more of her than survival.

It’s been said before that viewers hate Sansa because she’s stereotypically feminine, but I think it’s more than that. We can’t project our feminist superhero fantasies onto her because she’s too close to the real pain of teen girlhood. She spends much of her time in pain, betrayed, unsafe, but surviving. That combination is so much of what it is to be a teenage girl. So why are we not rallying behind her? Have you not been her?

Haven’t you walked through middle school knowing that rumors were being spread about you? Unsure if your own friends even liked you? Thought that you were stupid and immature?

Have you not been Sansa Stark in high school, walking into school each day, into the classroom of a sexist and/or racist teacher? Most of us have had one, and had to hold back anger and smile so we could pass the class. That’s not weakness, that’s survival.

We prefer obviously “strong” characters like Khaleesi to Sansa because we’d all rather be storming gates, taking what is ours with fire and blood, but the reality is that many of us have been more Stark than Targaryen, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Don’t discount Sansa Stark because she is a master of survival. She survives with quiet ferocity and is quickly learning how to play the game of thrones. All hail the queen.

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Alice W
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