Stark Raving Mad? Some thoughts on Sansa Stark.

An article where I point out that Sansa Stark might just be the hero we don’t want, but the hero we need. Or something. Spoilers if you haven’t read the books/caught up with the show.

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A while ago, I posted this silly article on Junkee. In it, I refer to Sansa Stark dying from a never ending menstrual cycle, because my referential comedy is of the highest standard. There was one comment which I haven’t been able to stop thinking about as I (finally) got enough time to watch the new season. It was this:

“Funny but i gotta say, the hatred and dismissal of sansa stark is really grating. Out of all the awful humans in GOT people hate sansa, because shes a teenage girl with *ew* periods and stuff.”

To begin with, at no point did I mean for that to be an attack on Sansa – if I had to look for some kind of source for my lame jokes, I’d say I was particularly tickled by Cersei’s constant need to remind Sansa she was bleeding from the crotch, particularly in that battle scene. I mean, c’mon, it’s the girls first period, do you really need the Queen bringing it up in public situations constantly? And personally I find Sansa one of the more fascinating characters – in the books there is this very much the tension of discovering if she really has renounced her Stark background. She’s lost her wolf – has she lost her honour too?

In the show however, things are a bit more cut and dry. Yes, she was a brat at the beginning of the show, but you know, also preteen. Did people on the internet really still carry the hate for her? Turns out that yes, Sansa is widely hated, and another comment on the article pointed out, it’s because she’s ‘so insipid’. What got me is that a lot of the people keeping the Sansa hatred flame alive aren’t your run of the mill sexist wankmaesters, but actually some intelligent, well informed types. I mean, there’s a bunch of that too. You don’t see nearly as much venom towards Samwell Tarly, who is actually a character who does insipid things. He is cowardly. But he’ll find his courage and save the day, blah blah blah, classic trope. People expect that, and wait for it to happen. Why don’t they let Sansa have that chance too?

Where does this supposed insipidity in Sansa Stark come from? Because from my point of view, it simply doesn’t exist. Let’s have a look at some of the POV characters which Sansa has to measure up against: Arya Stark, Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth and Daenerys Stormborn. One of the things I love about this show is that there are these kickass female characters. That scene where Brienne roundly thumps Jamie Lannister? Actually had me pumping the air. Daenerys begins the show sold as a sweetener for her brothers imperial ambitions – but is so kickass she ends up leading an army and melting said brothers face off. But we have to remember that in this world, this is not the norm. Women do not hold the same power as men.  Cersei is perhaps the most stunning treatise on this – she constantly questions the fact that her power must be authenticated by her attachment to powerful men. She may not be a particularly likable person, but in reality she deserves the throne just as much as those other rich psychopaths, who had the luck of being born as penis wielders. Instead she can only hold the throne  for her husband or her son.

Sansa is barely more than a child, held hostage in the camp of the people who murdered her father. Ostensibly, in this show she has the least power of all. Even Jamie Lannister, in manacles, is in less constant danger than her. Every day that she manages to stay alive and not raped and murdered by the tiny evil king on the throne or any of the hundreds of powerful men around her is a victory for her. So is she insipid?

In my opinion, I think we hate seeing her in this position. I think it is seat-squirmingly uncomfortable to see an intelligent woman being as powerless as she is, not even having the liberty to speak her mind, let alone go where she wants to. I hope we find it abhorrent the amount she is beaten up by Joffrey and his knights. I think on some level we don’t want to have a powerless woman character. Do we wish she could draw a sword like Arya or Brienne? Yes. But she’s not a warrior. Or plot her way out? Perhaps. Or give birth to some dragons. But that  isn’t her. She has no skills or bargaining tools. She’s powerless, but not insipid. She’s naive. She may not even be particularly brave yet – but maybe that’s what’s in store for her. I know some of the things that lie in wait for her from the books, but even those aren’t finished. Sansa is a character nowhere near finished.

So while ethically I’d love for Sansa to stand up to Joffrey, maybe in a knife fight on a bridge, I also respect the internal realism of the show. She doesn’t have that opportunity. She didn’t get the chance to escape like Arya. She has to stay in the castle of sociopaths and be brave in different ways. So hate her situation, but don’t hate her.

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7 thoughts on “Stark Raving Mad? Some thoughts on Sansa Stark.

  1. A few things I want to mention about this:
    1. Good heavens, let’s not approve of Sansa acting like who she is, a brave yet terrified girl held hostage by the Lannisters, one of the craziest and most dysfunctional families around.
    2. Additionally, there’s an argument to make that GRR Martin doesn’t really like girls. All the women you mentioned have serious flaws with the exception of Arya, who chops off her hair, picks up a sword, and pretends to be a boy. There are few women to be admired in Song of Fire and Ice
    3. As someone who is watching the show and only has limited knowledge of the books, if something happens to Rob, who is in the middle of fighting a war with a high mortality rate, and her younger brothers assumed dead, then whoever marries Sansa becomes Lord of Winterfell. She’s more important than people sometimes think. Just sayin’. 😉

    • Hi Tracy, thanks so much for commenting.

      1. Yes, I agree. Accurate summation.

      2. There are few people to be admired in Game of Thrones. There are no characters without flaw. I think an interesting argument can be made about ‘positive’ traits in women characters being seen as ‘masculine’, but in many of those cases it’s appropriated power, because it’s the only power they can get. I won’t go any further into this, without provoking some major book spoilers however 😉

      3. Yes – precisely! She is a political tool. She is very important, but she’s just a function, a means to an end, because of what she legitimises access to. Isn’t that an even worse kind of powerlessness though?

  2. I think one of the most overlooked things about Sansa in the books is that she actually is incredibly brave. Like as a character with no power in THE most vulnerable position of anyone in the books she still repeatedly stands up to psycho Joffrey but NEVER for herself. And maybe that’s what people hate. She won’t harness her own power or try to defend herself. But she will stop him from being cruel and killing others even when she risks making him angry and punishing her. With Dontos, when he is mocking Tommen, which the woman in the crowd with the dead baby right before the riot starts. She gets him to give her a coin instead of trampling her. But people hate her because she isn’t power and wants people and things to be nice. If she was angry and lusted for revenge they’d LOVE her!

    • Precisely, Samira, which I think comes back to my comment about hating her powerlessness. Could it also be an empathy thing? Could we hate to imagine ourselves powerless, so therefore hate her?

  3. She’s boring, That’s the problem, yes she’s brave in her own way. But all of her bravery lays in sitting and do what she is told by her captors, so that’s not really far away from what she’s been taught all of her life. Women were taught to obey and that’s all of she does during the first 3 books, She obeys Joffrey and Cercei, then she obeys Margaery and the Queen of Thorns, she obeys Ser Dontos, and finally she obeys Littlefinger, for me that’s no interesting. It’s a boring character.

  4. I think there’s a reason behind that boringness, Cinchu… for the last few weeks, I’ve been chewing over how to write down this idea that Sansa is more important than the books OR the series let on. I’m fairly certain that Sansa Stark is the only character we have who is anywhere near to being the audience’s cypher into this world.

    Look at it this way: Sansa is considered annoying (I know I found her that way at first) because she’s written/portrayed as a pre-teen girl with Disneyesque fantasies about growing up and marrying a sweet handsome prince and having a sweet handsome king and being a beautiful queeeeeeen and naawwwww. WE come into this world wide-eyed and giggly having only experienced fantasy stories in which the only protagonist at risk of dying is the elderly mentor and the hero always prevails. From the moment that Sansa’s wolf is put to the sword – a horrifying betrayal of her/our expectations – her preconceptions, idealisms and dreams of the bright, beautiful world are systematically extinguished. Her family are slain one by one, she is stripped and beaten and on several occasions nearly raped; and in each and every circumstance, she is essentially powerless.

    As we are. Because we can’t change what’s happening to her or any other character. We can’t prevent the Red Wedding. We are powerless to stop Joffrey humiliating her. Our hands are tied as she is bound in wedlock to Tyrion. It’s only now in the series that we’re witnessing a reclamation of agency on Sansa’s part – I’m not sure she was quite so composed in the books.

    Rant over.

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