So we have a premiere date — April 14 — and our first season eight footage, but do we actually remember what’s going on with our characters? We’re counting down the next 12 weeks with deep dives into the core cast of GAME OF THRONES. What have they been up to since 2011? What do we want from them in 2019? And what crazy things might happen along the way? This week, one of my favorites: Sansa Stark.

Who is Sansa Stark?

At its core, Sansa Stark’s story is a story of empowerment, in all of its various forms. She suffers perhaps more than any character on the show but always claws her way out to survive and do right by herself and the people she cares about.

Unlike most other characters, Sansa starts the series essentially as the worst version of herself (too harsh?). She’s a privileged teenage girl — it’s to be expected. Her head is filled with dreams of leaving her hometown for the big city and marrying into royalty. She has every reason to believe that her life will be smooth sailing. Her father is Hand of the King and she is engaged to Prince Joffrey. Her dedication to this dream is her greatest weakness. She turns on Arya when Joffrey asks her to and shuns Ned when he does what is necessary for his job. All the while, Cersei pulls on various strings to keep Sansa and the North in check, clearly threatened by Sansa’s potential influence.

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Sometimes I forget that the actors have aged in the last eight years, too. Courtesy of HBO.

Life After Ned

Upon their father’s execution, Sansa and Arya come to represent two divergent paths in times of political upheaval: rebellion and diplomacy. Sansa Stark is less a diplomat than a hostage, but she operates from within the system to stay alive and with a sliver of power. She suffers pain and humiliation at the hands of Joffrey, who even Cersei can’t control, but she listens and learns from them as she sheds — or is robbed of — her innocence. She grapples with some big issues. Is it better to choose the security of oppression or take the risk for long-term safety and freedom? That is a question she’ll ruminate on over the seasons.

On the whole, she has to decide what kind of person she wants to be. Cersei tries to convince her to use her sexuality as a weapon and that loving people is a weakness. Sansa’s story will prove the opposite of these things. Sex will only be used as a weapon against her, and her love for her family and her people are what makes her powerful. This shows right after Cersei espouses these beliefs. Sansa leads the women in comfort during the Battle of Blackwater, while Cersei abandons them.

By season three, Sansa is free from Joffrey’s marriage (for which she finally is happy) but she’s still a pawn in the machinations of King’s Landing. Even the Tyrells, who we root for as an opposing force to the Lannisters, use her to leverage power away from Cersei. Sansa is first promised to Loras Tyrell, then to Tyrion Lannister, as both houses want her ties to the North. But she also starts to show her ability to see people for what they really are and to sense their real intentions.

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Wedding of the century? Courtesy of HBO.

Leaders Aren’t Born, They’re Made

With the loss of her mother and brother at the Red Wedding, Sansa could understandably give up hope forever. And for a moment she does. But with age comes a new sense of inner strength, it seems, as she internalizes the offenses against her. Through her grief, we can see her internal calculations, both for her own safety and, one day, for potential revenge. She is nevertheless kind to those who deserve it.

Finally, upon Joffrey’s murder (though, really, who could call it anything but justified), Sansa escapes with Littlefinger to the Eyrie. Sansa Stark’s greatest power forms in this journey: she can play Littlefinger’s game. She always seems to know what his real intention is and how to take care of herself when he tries to use her. When Littlefinger kills her aunt Lysa, Sansa’s testimony to the court proves that her style of politics is an effective one. She doesn’t outright lie or try to manipulate the lords as Littlefinger would. Her methods are cleaner. She simply tells her story, with a few details spun in her favor, and wins them over to her side. She says that she helped Littlefinger out because she doesn’t know what the lords would’ve wanted from her if Littlefinger was executed, but she damn well knows what Littlefinger wants. Better the devil you know, right?

The Storyline That Made Viewers Jump Ship

Season five is the one we all wish never happened for Sansa. She has finally become a player in the game of thrones rather than a pawn, only for Littlefinger to marry her off to Ramsay Bolton. Sansa doesn’t want anything to do with the family that betrayed hers and now controls Winterfell. Littlefinger convinces her that it will be an opportunity for revenge. Even when Littlefinger returns to King’s Landing, he assures Sansa that she can run House Bolton from within, should Stannis fail to take the North (spoiler alert: he fails).

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Sansa’s second wedding, somehow worse than her first. Courtesy of HBO.

Sansa and Ramsey are married, we don’t have to talk about all the rape and abuse that happens, and Sansa has to break through Theon’s own abuse to get him to help her. While she uses the fact that Theon betrayed her family and (thinks he) murdered her brothers to guilt him into helping her, she still treats him as a person through her anger. She could easily let him rot in Ramsay’s abuse, but in her view not even he deserves that treatment. And it works for her in the end. She breaks through his conditioning to get him to admit that it wasn’t Bran and Rickon he killed and to help her escape Winterfell.

Sansa Reborn

Season six sometimes feels like the start of a new show. Finally free of captors and with Brienne by her side, Sansa is ready to start living, not just surviving. And by “living” I mean “getting revenge on all who have wronged her family and finding justice for herself and her people,” as it often does on GAME OF THRONES. In one of the most poignant moments of the show, Starks finally reunite when Jon and Sansa embrace at Castle Black. Sansa tries to convince him to help her take back Winterfell, but he instead mansplains fighting and survival to her as a form of declining to help. But Ramsey makes the decision for him by kidnapping Rickon and threatening Sansa again.

The Battle of the Bastards… and Sansa Stark

Essential to their success is the support of the Northern houses. As a Stark, Sansa is key to maintaining their loyalty. As a diplomat, to continue that metaphor, her alliances extend to the Vale and House Tully, via Littlefinger. She recognizes Jon’s miscalculation in moving ahead with their small army. She knows that this is quite literally do-or-die for the both of them and sends for Littlefinger’s reinforcements.

The Knights of the Vale take Winterfell and Jon defeats Ramsey in combat. Nearly killing him, he leaves the honor to Sansa. Ramsey tries to get to her one last time, but he can’t hurt her now. And she knows how to hurt him. She tells him that his house will be extinct and his memory will be erased from the world forever. Also, she sics his own ravenous dogs on him. She smiles as she leaves him for dead.

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She’s dark now. Did you get that subtle detail? Courtesy of HBO.

Sansa Stark is put into the new position of having power as Lady of Winterfell. Littlefinger continues to be a grade-A creep and tries to sow discord in Sansa’s life. He reminds her of Jon’s illegitimacy, but that fact does not stop the Northern lords from declaring him King in the North over Sansa, to her disappointment.

Sansa Stark, Regent of the North

When we last saw Sansa Stark, her power struggles with Jon were starting to come to a head. The siblings disagree over who should get the lands of the houses that betrayed the Starks. Sansa thinks they should go to houses who fought on their side, while Jon thinks that the children should not be held accountable for the mistakes of their fathers. They quarrel publicly, for which Jon chastises Sansa. She implores him not to make the proud, overly trusting mistakes of their father and brother. She also knows better than anyone how formidable Cersei is, nor is anyone more familiar with how she operates. Her fear is that Jon will underestimate her in his one-front war against the White Walkers.

When Tyrion and Daenerys invite Jon to Dragonstone, Sansa worries that it is a trap. After all, their grandfather was killed when he was invited to meet a Targaryen king. He accepts the invitation anyway and leaves Sansa in charge of the North. In doing so, we finally get to see some of the mundanities of ruling a province. With winter arriving, Sansa must ensure that the North has enough food and clothing to survive. Some of the Northern lords also think she should effectively depose Jon since the King in the North should stay in the North. Sansa supports Jon’s rule, but we know that on the inside she would be more than willing to control Winterfell should Jon not return.

A Season of Reunions

She also reunites with Bran, who is very much not the boy she remembers. Then Arya returns, who definitely is the girl she remembers, but their sisterly love-hate relationship leaves them in a weird place. It is only through Sansa’s eyes that we really see how bonkers Arya and Bran’s journeys have been, even in comparison to Sansa’s own suffering. Arya even says that Sansa should assassinate the lords who wanted Jon out of office.

Official Stark Family Portrait. Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

Arya causes more political problems for Sansa when she unearths the letter that Sansa had written to Robb trying to convince him to bend the knee to Joffrey. Sansa, of course, tells her that she had no choice with Cersei holding her hostage. Arya maintains that she betrayed their family by letting it all happen, though Sansa could say the same to Arya since she fled the country early on. She even threatens to take Sansa’s face, aka kill her. Their sisterly rivalry has returned, but it has teeth this time.

Sansa brings her troubles to Littlefinger. She worries that the letter will turn the lords against her and that her army will only answer to Jon. Littlefinger again pushes her towards taking over the North, bringing Arya into the mix as another potential deposer. If it seems like Sansa should know better than to trust his opinion, she is. She confirms from Bran that Littlefinger is responsible for basically all of their troubles and has him convicted. Sansa thanks him for the lessons he’s taught her before Arya slits his throat. Sisterly bonding at its finest.

What Does Season 8 Have in Store?

To be frank, in recalling Sansa’s storylines, it was difficult to pull together salient details of her character. The show, in my opinion, has neglected her as a fascinating player in this world in favor of just pummeling her with suffering. It’s a common trope for female characters to suffer or die for the benefit of male characters’ stories. With Sansa, it’s the whole show that hinges on her suffering. So we missed out on about five seasons worth of character-building for her, making it more difficult to conceive of what a satisfying ending will be for her.

Here’s what we do know: Sansa Stark will meet Daenerys Targaryen, probably early on in the season. Sansa is distrustful of her as a Targaryen, but she trusts Tyrion. The fact that Jon made it out of their meeting alive will probably earn her trust, too. But Sansa is definitely not happy that Jon has bent the knee and given Winterfell over to Dany after all they’ve fought for. Is her anger over losing her homeland or is it over losing her newfound power?

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We could get used to this. Courtesy of HBO.

As with any discussion of season eight, the question of Jon’s ancestry arises. How will Sansa react to the news? For one, Jon now has no blood claim to Winterfell at all, so her ambition in that regard will likely strengthen. But their familial bond and her trust in him as a leader may make her push him to take his rightful place on the throne. King Jon would almost certainly make her the permanent ruler in the North and raise the North’s standing in all of the Seven Kingdoms. Dany is a wildcard but Jon can offer what she wants more than anything: safety and security.

What We Want For Sansa Stark Before Series’ End

Many viewers seem to want to see Sansa Stark take the Iron Throne. I can’t say she isn’t qualified for the job: she has observed kings and queens for years, she is a compassionate leader, and she can read people as if she were the three-eyed raven herself. But is this what Sansa would want?

All of Sansa’s years of suffering started in King’s Landing and she has expressed her desire to never return. The viciousness of national politics also seems like something Sansa is tired of. In this world, the Iron Throne is one of the least stable places you can find yourself. Taking care of people and ensuring stability is more up her alley. If Westeros were to invent democracy and Sansa were to win an election, then perhaps she could institute an agenda that aligns with her values. But until then, governing the North seems like the career for her.

Above all else, I want eternal happiness for Sansa. It’s not exactly a revolutionary analysis, but there is certainly something subversive about a woman in a fantasy world having a happy ending. Sansa deserves to have her power secure, her family safe, and a thriving community under her wing. Not everything has to be the game of thrones — you don’t have to either win or die. Sansa has always been about surviving and thriving. One down (almost), one to go.

Time for Fan Theories

So what crazy ideas have the fans come up with for Sansa? One theory posits that Cersei will kidnap Sansa in season eight. After Joffrey’s death, Cersei swore she would catch and punish Sansa for her alleged involvement. She also said she’d hire the Golden Company to “reclaim the things that belong to her,” and her relationship with Sansa has always been more of an object than a person. Cersei projects her own insecurities and jealousies onto Sansa, so putting the nail in that coffin, so to speak, could certainly be on Cersei’s mind.

Because this is season eight, there are theories that Sansa Stark will die, as there are for every character. There are a few modes of thought for this. One is the aforementioned Cersei revenge plot. Another is based on the Stark family direwolves. Some think that the fates of the wolves correspond with the fate of their owners. Rickon and Robb’s wolves were killed when they were. Arya’s Nymeria ran into the wild and thrived, like Arya herself did. And Jon’s Ghost has white hair and red eyes like a Targaryen (really, how did we not know?). For Sansa, this theory is grim. Lady was killed early on — by Cersei, no less — in place of Nymeria, who attacked Joffrey. Following the theory, Sansa would not survive season eight, whether because of Cersei or not.

Looking to the other front of this war, Winterfell is the first major fortress against the White Walkers. A battle will inevitably occur, and depending on who or what is there to defend the city, Sansa may not make it out alive (though she may be undead — another intriguing theory).

Her Hair is Full of Secrets

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This one isn’t so much a theory as just an artistic choice that fans have picked up on. Throughout the seasons, Sansa Stark’s enviable locks have reflected her growth as a character and the influential women in her life. Her casual Northern braids transformed into the elaborate updos of King’s Landing during season one. When Margaery Tyrell arrives, Sansa adopts her soft waves. When she returns to the North, she again dons the long braid of her mother. At the beginning of season seven, fans sweated nervously as Sansa wore Cersei’s signature style again, perhaps signaling a Cerseian turn in Sansa’s tactics. Finally, in the season eight teaser, Sansa mimicks Dany’s intricate braiding. Is this merely a sign of respect or is there more to be derived from the detail?

The Only Thing She Can’t Get Back Is Time

Sansa was relegated to so many subjugated positions over the years that season eight will have a long way to go to make up for it. Seasons six and seven have laid the foundation, but it’s up to the last season to give her the respect she’s been due all along. Sansa Stark is a unique character in that there are a hundred different routes for her to take, each more intriguing than the last. But whether or not the show will have the courage to pick the right ones remains to be seen.

What do you want to see from Sansa Stark in season eight? Do any fan theories stick out for you? Let us know in the comments and on Twitter!

2 Comments

  1. Patty

    January 22, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    “Sansa mimicks Dany’s intricate braiding.” – uh, no. That is a northern hairstyle in a rose pattern – like Lyanna and Arya from season 1. Why would she have a “Daenerys” hairstyle anyway? The two women haven’t met yet and they are very different people. “I can’t say she isn’t qualified for the job” – she’s better than Robert, Aerys and Cersei all put together. She knows the court, the people, she has the backing of the North, The Vale and the Riverlands due to her connections and diplomacy. She also knows more about courts than Jon, more about Westeros than Daenerys, and she is beloved by many. Also when the Northerners find out that Jon, a Targaryen, bent the knee to another Targaryen, all hell will break loose and he will need Sansa to help him get them to calm down and comply. They were ready to depose Jon for Sansa when he left for Dragonstone. What will they want to do with him now?! She’s not been called “the key to the north” for nothing. I have more faith in her ruling than anyone left.

    Reply

    • Flora

      January 23, 2019 at 3:37 am

      Agree with Patty!

      Reply

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