Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones: A Symbol of Resilience

DISCLAIMER: SPOILER ALERT!

Raped every night by her second husband, molested on the orders of her first fiancé, treated as nothing more than a political object, had her father executed in front of her, has lost contact with almost her entire family…and all this started when she was merely 13 years old.

Welcome to the tragic life of the beautiful Lady Sansa of House Stark.

Sansa Stark is the eldest daughter and second child of Lady Catelyn and Lord Ned Stark, two of the only good, loving parents in Game of Thrones. House Stark is the house of nobles that rules over Winterfell, a cold and snowy place in the North.

Everything changed for the Starks when King Robert (the ruler of all Seven Kingdoms, of which Winterfell is just one part) came to ask Ned to become the next Hand of the King (sort of like a prime minister).

Ned Stark was an exceptionally honorable man and not the least bit interested in power and politics, but he accepted his friend’s request. So, the Stark family had to leave Winterfell and go to King’s Landing – the capital of the Seven Kingdoms.

It is in King’s Landing that Sansa becomes betrothed to Joffrey, the Prince and heir to the throne.

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However, this being Game of Thrones, nothing ever stays happy.

Prince Joffrey is revealed to be a sadist in every sense of the word. He enjoyed sexually abusing women, torturing little animals, and killing people, but he initially pretended to be a gentleman in front of Sansa.

Sansa was one of the most hated characters at the start of the show due to her spoiled attitude and naiveté. But one should remember that in the beginning, she was just a little girl who had grown up listening to songs about heroic princes and fair maidens; she had been raised to be a “proper lady” with perfect etiquette. Therefore, Sansa was beyond excited to marry Prince Joffrey and bear his children, much to the annoyance of her feisty little sister, Arya.

Oh, Sansa, if only you knew what you’d been signed up for. Not before long, everything went wrong.

Queen Cersei and her twin brother, Jaime Lannister, were having an affair. Everyone thought Cersei’s three children, including Joffrey, were from the King, but they were actually Jaime’s.

While they were visiting Winterfell, Cersei and Jaime were spotted in a tower by Sansa’s younger brother, Bran Stark. In order to hide their incestuous relationship and save their bastard children, Jaime pushed tiny Bran off the tower, permanently paralyzing his legs.

(Note: a bastard is a child born outside of marriage.)

Eventually, Ned Stark discovered that Joffrey was a bastard born of incest and not the true son of the King. Cersei consequently arranged for Ned to be arrested and her husband King Robert to be killed while hunting. On his death bed, the King told Ned to be the king regent until Joffrey came of age. This royal decree was unacceptable for Cersei, who wanted her family alone to hold the power, so she tore up the paper with the command.

Joffrey promised Sansa that if her father confessed to treason (even though Ned obviously never tried to steal the throne), Joffrey would spare his life.

However, once Ned made his confession, Joffrey instead had him executed, right in front of Sansa’s eyes. The horror did not stop there: Joffrey then had Ned Stark’s head put on a spike and forced Sansa to stare at it.

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When Robb Stark, Sansa’s elder brother and Ned’s eldest son, heard of his father’s arrest and subsequent execution, he gathered their army and declared war against the Lannisters and the throne. Now, it is important to establish that Sansa and Arya were Stark children living in King’s Landing, where most of the Lannisters were.

When Robb and his army decided to fight and avenge his father’s death, Sansa became the hostage of Cersei/House Lannister/the throne.

(Arya would’ve been a hostage too, but she was disguised as a little boy and escaped –  to be discussed in a separate post).

All of that was just some background information to better understand the story. From here on out, let us focus on Sansa specifically, and her blossoming into a strong, intelligent woman.

As a hostage, Sansa became a mere toy for Joffrey, who was now the official King of the Westeros, to torture. When King Joffrey found out that Robb Stark had turned against the throne, he punished Sansa for her brother’s “treason”.

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Joffrey ordered his knight guard to disrobe and beat up Sansa in court

Luckily, before things could get even worse, everyone’s favorite dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, entered the court and saved the day. Who doesn’t love Tyrion?

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Afterwards, Tyrion asked Sansa to truthfully tell him whether or not she wanted to get out of her future marriage with Joffrey. Knowing that disloyalty to the crown would get her killed, Sansa lied spectacularly, announcing that she was still loyal to King Joffrey, her one true love. Even witty Tyrion was impressed and noted that her intelligence may be the one thing that would keep her alive.

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This absolutely didn’t mean that Sansa actually supported Joffrey. It just meant she had to oppose him in more subtle ways so that she would not have her head chopped off. In fact, by feigning submissive stupidity, she once tricked him into going where the fighting would be the thickest in battle, knowing that he had the highest chance of dying there.

We also see her presence of mind during Joffrey’s naming day tournament, where knights have to duel. One of the knights, Ser Dontos, showed up late and drunk. This infuriated Joffrey, who ordered Ser Dontos to have wine shoved down his throat until he died. Sansa’s compassion and intelligence came to the rescue when she cleverly suggested that Ser Dontos didn’t deserve the mercy of death and should instead be made a jester in Joffrey’s court. In this way, she saved Ser Dontos’s life, for which he is grateful.

Sansa’s days in King’s Landing continued to be filled with loneliness and sorrow. She was even molested and nearly gang raped in the streets. 

Some hope appeared for Sansa, when Joffrey put her aside to marry another Lady. But Game of Thrones is not known for happiness. Sansa’s freedom was short-lived, as Tywin Lannister, Tyrion’s father, instead decided to make her marry Tyrion, who is much older than her.

In a male-dominated universe, Sansa had no choice in the matter; her and Tyrion become engaged shortly thereafter. Tywin tells Tyrion that they need Sansa to birth his child. He orders his son to impregnate her “one way or another”, implying that if needed, Tyrion should rape Sansa. But being a decent human being, Tyrion refused to commit such a sin.

In fact, the night that they are supposed to consummate their marriage, Tyrion felt so bad for Sansa that he promised he wouldn’t even touch her until the day she asked him to.

Though Sansa has some happy moments with Tyrion, her world once again flips upside down when her brother Robb and her mother Catelyn are viciously slaughtered at a wedding dinner on Tywin Lannister’s orders.

To all the vocal people who view Sansa as weak, put yourself in her shoes. She was married to a man whose family chopped off her father’s head, stabbed her brother in the chest and sewed his wolf’s head on his body, and cut her mother’s throat to the bone. She had no friends or family in King’s Landing, and she was still essentially a hostage.

On the celebration day of Joffrey’s marriage with Lady Margaery, he drank poisoned wine and died within minutes. While this seems like good news, everyone thought Sansa and Tyrion were the ones responsible (though they were actually innocent).

Tyrion was arrested, but Sansa escaped with the help of Lord Petyr Baelish, the most cunning mastermind in Westeros.

He was in love with Sansa’s mother, and it appears that he is now in love with Sansa (weird, I know).

After spending some time disguised as Petyr’s niece “Alayne”, Sansa was once again sold off to a man. Petyr had brokered a marriage alliance between Sansa and Ramsay Bolton, a bastard who had recently been legitimized. Ramsay’s father, Roose Bolton, was the one who put a dagger through Robb Stark’s heart. After his death, the Boltons took over Winterfell.

If most of us were in Sansa’s place, we probably could not even stand to look at the man who stabbed our brother. But with all her tenacious drive and graceful dignity, Sansa faked a smile and curtsied.

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The one good thing about this situation was that at least she got to return to Winterfell, her one true home.

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Naturally, Sansa was not a fan of the fact that her home had been invaded by outsiders, particularly the people who murdered her family.

If you thought Joffrey was bad, wait till you get to know Ramsay Bolton. He put up a facade of being a nice guy up until him and Sansa proclaimed their marriage vows.

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On their wedding night, Ramsay raped Sansa, while forcing her childhood friend, Theon Greyjoy, to watch her lose her virginity. Ramsay then kept Sansa in a room all day and raped her every night. When her and Theon escaped, Ramsay set his man-eating hound dogs after them.

There are some who argue that what happened to Sansa on her wedding night was not rape, as she never explicitly said no. Because sexual violence against women is still prominent in modern society, it is crucial to establish that if a girl is clearly anguished and hesitant to have sex, you should not force yourself on her. Sansa was in undoubtable distress, and to diminish the severity of the violation of her virginity is an injustice to her character and rape victims.

Sansa, who had not seen any of her family members for years at this point, was eventually reunited with her elder bastard brother, Jon Snow.

Because Jon was raised as Ned Stark’s bastard son, Sansa was always mean to him when they were younger. But now, after everything that both of them have been through (Jon is one of the main characters of Game of Thrones), they have nobody but each other.

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Finally, a moment of happiness!

Regaining some of her spirit after Jon’s arrival, Sansa told him that they should take back Winterfell. It belongs to the Starks, after all, not the treacherous Boltons. But Jon had spent the past few years fighting devastating battles as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and he had lost many people close to him. He didn’t know if he had the strength to fight a war to regain Winterfell.

In a testament to her willpower and independence, Sansa said that while she wanted Jon’s help to take back their home, she’d do it herself if she had to.

Once Jon got on board, they started rallying other, smaller houses to their cause.

Sansa became frustrated when her brother did not ask for her opinion on what to do, considering she had a keen political mind after learning from strategists like Petyr Baelish. More importantly, she knew Ramsay Bolton better than all of the men there.

They later found out that Ramsay had taken their youngest brother, Rickon Stark, hostage.

Though Sansa’s advice on how Jon should not do anything Ramsay wants him to do seems obvious to both Jon and the audience, she ended up being right. During the climactic battle at Winterfell, Jon fell right into Ramsay’s mind trap (he used Rickon to lure Jon out, knowing Jon could never resist trying to save his little brother).  Just when it seemed like the Bolton army was going to win, Petyr Baelish showed up with his knights to help – only because of Sansa.

Thanks to her, Winterfell once again became the home of the Starks.

And what became of her tormentor, Ramsay Bolton, after he lost the battle? Well, throughout his life, he had always enjoyed watching his hound dogs eat people alive…

In an ironic form of poetic revenge, Sansa unleashed Ramsay’s own hounds on him.

Sansa Stark teaches us the value of perseverance, that we are not just strong despite our struggles; we are also strong because of them. Though she started off a spoiled brat with delusions of chivalrous knights and princes, her struggles hardened her into a clever individual who no longer believed in fairy tales – all while retaining the graceful honor she always had. Sansa shows that even in a world as patriarchal as that of Westeros, just because a girl is ladylike does not mean she has no resolve. Even now, femininity is usually seen as a form of weakness. Many people believe that fortitude only lies in physically powerful men or assume that “masculine women” are the only tough females in the world, but these are inaccurate conclusions. Dismissing a more understated type of resilience because it is different than what society projects as “toughness” would be sheer ignorance.

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