The Ultimate Pawn of Westeros: Sansa Stark

By Rhiannon Kavity on May 16, 2013 to Game of Thrones

Sansa&Joffrey_for rhiannonOut of all the character on Game of Thrones, it seems as if the eldest Stark daughter receives the most hate. When first introduced to viewers, Sansa appeared to be the epitome of a proper young girl in this type of society. Having her framed by rebellious and independent siblings, Sansa easily became classified as the weakest link in the Stark dynast

For the entirety of the first season, Sansa had one objective. She was completely focused on her love for her darling Prince and grooming herself to become the perfect wife for him. Her greatest problem was whether or not she would be able to produce a male heir, or if she would be doomed to bear only female children. Even after the tragic execution of her beloved direwolf, Lady, it was impossible for the copper haired beauty to see any fault in the young prince.

Sansa perfectly represents the element of “courtly love” that we don’t see very often in the show. In fact, almost all of the marriages deal with arranged marriages, political alliances, and feelings that either grow or whither throughout the marriage. Sansa believes herself madly in love, the way most girls her age do when they find their first boyfriend. Her entire life revolved around Joffrey and all of the things that could happen in their future. She was tragically in love with the idea of “being in love”. Sansa’s younger sister, Arya, calls her out of this fantastical belief numerous times throughout the first season but the older girl is too wrapped up in her own illusions to heed her warnings.

The betrothal between Sansa and Prince Joffrey is the first example of exactly how the adults in her life use her. Despite her father’s obvious love for his children and initial dismay of promising her to such a vile boy, he agrees that a union between the Starks and the Baratheons is long over-due. In a resurrection of the initial betrothal between King Robert and Ned’s late sister, the two families hoped this would solidify their power.

Sansa soon learns that all of her bright dreams are merely fantasy when the world begins to turn upside down around her. She’s seized by the guards and told that her father is a traitor. She begs with her future husband, sure that he will extend kindness and mercy. In a perfect example of a tragedy forcing a young woman into adulthood, Sansa has to watch her father beheaded. Any little girl facing the death of a father is sure to take its toll and the added dismay behind Joffrey’s betrayal very nearly puts the Stark child over the edge.

However, Sansa exceeds expectations (though she receives little credit for it). She attempts to accept the transition from the fiancé of the Prince, a girl that each person in the castle treated with respect and kindness, to the hostage daughter of a traitor. She is forced to keep her head held high and to remain a perfect lady even after the decapitated heads of her father and nursemaid are paraded in front of her.

Let’s focus for a moment on the dynamic scene in season two where Joffrey calls Sansa to the throne room to “question” her about her brother’s, war efforts. This is the first moment when the dehumanization of Sansa is brutally clear. No longer is she treated like the coveted future bride of the King. She is treated as a prisoner of war, as a slave, as something of no worth- as a pawn for a means to an end.

The amount of foreshadowing in this one scene is staggering. Those who have read the books probably would have been able to pick out the irony of the scene, but those of us only watching the show wouldn’t have seen it until this point in Season three. All three of Sansa’s future betrothals play some kind of pivotal role in this one scene.

It is Loras who states all of the crimes committed by the Stark armies; information that leads to the drastic action the new King takes. Joeffry then announces that a message must be sent to Robb Stark and orders his guards to beat her. In a horrifically sick display, he tells them to “Leave her face. I like her pretty”. The King urges them on, claiming that Robb Stark couldn’t possibly hear her unless she screamed louder, and tells them to strip her.

The only thing that ends the chaos is Tyrion Lannister stepping in and putting a stop to it. He extends kindness to her, ordering someone to give her a cloak to cover herself, and helping her from the room. After apologizing to Sansa for his nephews actions, he asks whether or not she wants to continue the engagement. When she replies, in a cold and detached voice, that she is loyal to her King, Tyrion smiles and tells her, “Lady Stark, you may survive us yet.” The truth behind this one statement is almost unnerving.

Sansa is the only Stark to have survived at King’s Landing without being put to death or being forced to flee. She is the only one who is literally living in the lion’s den. Many fans choose to focus on her “weak nature” and the fact that her other siblings are out there actually fighting the war, they choose to ignore the fact that this is how she is surviving. Sansa is playing the Game of Thrones in the only way she possibly can.

As the seasons progress, we begin to see Sansa in a different light. She is no longer the pawn of the Queen, used at a whim for various tasks. Enlisting the help of Shae, Sansa attempts to hide the evidence of her flowering so that she wouldn’t be forced to marry Joffrey after finally realizing the cruelty inside of him.

One of the main reasons why Sansa continues to survive is because of her ultimate worth to the Realm. People quickly begin to realize the power the young girl holds, deeming her the “Key to the North”. With Robb Stark struggling to win his battle, Arya on the run, and both the younger brothers presumed dead: Sansa is the only Stark who has maintained some sort of respect in their society.

The Tyrells wish to align with her and solidify their new power in the kingdom by claiming the North for Lordes as his sister, Margery, moves into the position of future Queen. Baelish is conspiring to whisk her away to the Vale and keep her for himself. Meanwhile, The Lannisters show just how deep their territorial instincts go when Tywin devises a plan to marry Sansa to his own son, Tyrion.

The three most pivotal players in King’s Landing have finally seen the hidden power Sansa Stark holds and there’s no telling what they’ll do to have it for themselves.

When compared to the other characters, women such as Daenerys Targaryen who excel at breaking against the traditions laid out for them, it’s easy to forget all of the admirable qualities Sansa portrays. Despite the subtlety to her approaches, one must keep in mind, that it is because of these courtly manners and perfect etiquette that Cersei Lannister, a fan favorite, is as powerful and virtually unstoppable as she is. She bought into the “tradition” and because of that, was afforded opportunities that eventually landed her in the Queen’s chair.

Sansa Stark has shown time and time again that she has what it takes to survive, and even excel, in a Game that has led to the death of so many people before her.


  • MyrcellasEar

    I love this article! Sansa Stark is an amazing character, and I am confident that she’ll continue growing into herself and learning how to play the game. I definitely think she’ll be important in bringing Winterfell back to the Starks.

  • tungsten

    In the books I couldn`t forgive Sansa that she looses her direwolf Lady in the beginning almost without a tear. And maybe the loss of the direwolf seemed to be the reason, that she turns away from her familiy (beause the direwolf is also a symbol for her House). But to those, who doesn´t read the books: like many characters her character will develop – and later on you might like her more.

    Besides I don`t think, that Sophie Turner represents the Sansa I had in mind, when I was reading the books. It is kind of a minor miscast like Asha Greyjoy and Mance Rayder.

    I understand why some ASOI&F fans find Sofie’s portrayal of Sansa is annoying and weak. Has anyone else noticed her character looking more and more frumpy and unkempt over the last few episodes? They are giving her a sloppy appearance to show her spirit is broken and afraid of the Lannisters—which she will bounce back from after she flees to the Eerie after Joffery’s wedding.

  • Hannah

    I can’t bring myself to like her even though I know why she did/does most of the things I don’t like about her.

    First (and I know people who only watch the show can’t hold that against her because she doesn’t do it in the serie), she’s the reason Ned and all Stark servants died and Arya had to flee in the first season. Ned told the girls not to tell anybody anything but oh, instead of trusting her loving dad, she choses this time of all times to rebel and goes on to tell Cersei everything. Sure she’s naive and in love but seeing how much Ned insisted on family being the most important thing with the winter to come she has no excuse. She acted like a willful petulant child, put her own interest above those of everybody else and decided to ignore her father’s command. She is the only real traitor in the Stark family.

    She had to watch her father die and that’s hard for a 12 years old ? Sure. But neither in the books nor in the show do you see her feeling guilty in any way for causing her dad’s death and her sister disappearance.

    She stays when she could have gone away with the Hound, not in my opinion because he is sketchy but because she’s scared 1) of what’s out there 2) the Hound because he has nothing in common with a prince charming what with his burnt face and all (this is almost a quote from the book). Even though he has always tried to help her.
    So she doesn’t go not because she has learnt not to trust anybody (proof: she later trusts Ser Dontos the drunk) but because she is still shallow and still judges everybody by the way they look. Sansa didn’t learn anything.

    And so it goes on, Margeary and Loras are pretty so let’s trust them and not think about what their interests are. Tyrion is an ugly dwarf so let’s not trust him or like him or be nice to him even though he has always been kind.

    For all these reasons (and many other) Sansa is still a big no no to me. Too naive, too shallow, still too trusting and of the wrong people (Dontos ? Shae ? Baelish ? the Tyrells ? Though I’ll admit there are not many “right” people to trust in King’s Landing, in any at all), still oblivious of all the courts plays, and not feeling guilty enough. Plus she lacks Cersei’s cunning when it comes to using court etiquette at her advantage.

    But I still have big hopes for Sansa, who might be just very slow to mature. I am not going to spoil anything for the people who watch the show but in my opinion she becomes a much more interesting character in book 4. And I reaaally look forward to seeing what she becomes in book 6 :)

    • shirley_twizzletits

      Here! Here! Exactly how I feel about Sansa. She’s superficial, weak, and immature. Sure she “survives” but I don’t see it as a symbolic asset. I see it as a character that just needs to be part of the story. She’s idealistic, superficial, and well…fucking annoying. Her sister has many more qualities that are desired than this blockhead.

      • Common Sense

        Yes, the little Mary Sue who can’t do anything wrong (despite being a selfish rotten brat who sometimes treated her sister like crap) and is magically infallible is much better than an intelligent, kindhearted girl with human flaws.

        How do you people survive irl without common sense?

  • Name

    Thanks for the post-season-three spoilers…

    • ValeviL


  • Kuroro

    I disagree. Sansa is one of the characters I hate the most for following reasons:

    1. ***She is the main reason why Ned Stark has been executed***
    For those who read the books, they know that when Ned wanted to flee, it was Sansa who went to the queen, Cersei, to ask her to do something to stop this.

    2. ***She is stupid***
    She had the chance to flee, when Sandor Clegane (“the hound”) offered her to bring her with him. In spite of this, she stays, hoping Stannis wins the battle

    3. ***She is shallow***
    She just focuses on the appearances. Despite Tyrion was the only one nice to her, she continues to despise him and to, and treats him like an animal, just because of his looks and of the family he his from.

    She deserves to have the same faith as Theon Greyjoy.

    • Emma

      Wow. Harsh. You’re totally justified in hating her, but you’re arguments aren’t completely accurate. #1 is – she made a huge mistake, but in the books she’s also 12 years old and “in love.” She’s a child. Regarding #2, she choses not to flee with Sandor because A) she’s not sure she can trust him (the fans may like the two of them together, but remember, in the books, he was still awfully creepy around her, especially when he later informs Arya that he had intended to rape her when he went in there) and B) she was plotting her own escape with Dontos at the time (a storyline I’m really disappointed wasn’t included in the show.) For #3, Sansa acknowledges that Tyrion was kind to her, but he’s also still a Lannister – part of the family that killed her father, took her away from the rest of her family and held her captive. She still married him against her will (and she doesn’t have access to the inside of his head like we do) and, again, she’s only a child (now 13) at this point whose entire world has been tossed upside down. I’m not criticizing you for not liking her (there are characters I’m supposed to like that I don’t like either) but there are explanations for two of your main reasons for disliking her.

      • Common Sense

        Nobody is justified in hating her or anyone.

  • Never cared for Sansa in the books so disliking her on the show is not that big of a leap. Yes, the little father killer probably will outlive them all.

    • Common Sense

      Nope, Joffrey dies, he doesn’t outlive anyone =)

  • I hate Sansa. Not for what she has done yet. I continually say that her redeeming moment is when she cleverly saves Ser Dontos. But her inability to see her friends from her enemies. Even Margaery points out that Tyrion has been kind to her and is certainly better than Joffery. But she still whines about having to marry a dwarf, which shows her pettiness. Tywin Lannister just saved her from a loveless, probably sexless marriage and gave her to a kind, loving, sexy, smart, rich man. Poor Sansa.

    • Hannah

      I love the way you put it ! Even though I can understand how Sansa doesn’t see the sexiness potential in Tyrion, he has been kind to her, and far more interested in her well being than Loras..

    • Common Sense

      That’s an honestly stupid reason to ‘hate’ anyone.

      why the heck should she be happy to marry Tyrion? a family member of the people who MURDERED HER FAMILY? He’s also creepy as heck during their wedding night, though he ended up doing the honorable thing.

      not sure where you got “cant see friends from enemies”. She trusts people who go out of their way to gain her trust. She distrusts people she has little to no reason to trust. To imply either of these are stupid to do is not only dishonest and… illogical.

  • Manfruss

    It was Lancel Lannister, not Loras Tyrell who was listing her brother’s treason. FYI.

  • OnionKnight

    “It is Loras who states all of the crimes committed by the Stark armies:” That guy was Lancel Lannister…

  • Let me state first that Sansa is my favorite character in the books and has been since I first read AGOT about 17 years ago. I agree with your article 110% as relates to her status as the “key to the North, she is the ultimate pawn. Her character arc in the books is incredible. Aside from Jamie Lannister, no one else shows as much growth as Sansa. Sadly, HBO’s Sansa has shown no growth at all, though. Even now, in the third Season she’s still portrayed as a whiny, petulant brat, and that is a GIGANTIC disappointment. Much of this is due to Sophie Turner’s marble mouthed mumbling, wooden delivery and lack of facial expressions. However, once again, the writers/producers have what seems like zero understanding of the character. (This seems to be a theme with them, ie: Catelyn, Ramsay, Sandor, Baelish, etc.) As I watch the show, I find myself so put off by HBO’s Sansa that I’m cringing every time she comes on screen. It’s so sad that one of the most fascinating characters from the books is so badly ruined on the show.

    • OnionKnight

      Agreed, TV Sansa is a disappointment

    • Great arguments – and a nice article about Sansa – but i must say that i hate her since i first started reading the books. The most hateful thing about Sansa is that she easily dismisses her family and Winterfell for those silly dreams of being queen.

      • To be fair, I’m sure the TV audience would react a lot more negatively if she had actually told Cersei all of Ned’s plans like she did in A Game of Thrones.

        • Anthony Farshaw

          …or worse, if they had included Sansa’s line about Arya should have been killed instead of Lady. Unforgivable!

          • Common Sense

            because heaven forbid she say anything mean to arya :(((( poor bb

          • Anthony Stargaryen

            There’s a big difference between saying something mean and a deathwish.

      • Common Sense

        Never once does she do any of that. try reading the books.

        • Simão Souza

          Maybe it’s you who should re-read? Dind’t she tell Cersei about Eddard’s plans of escaping because she loved the idea of being a lady in kingslanding, being the Queen of Joffrey? Didn’t she LIE about Arya and Joffrey issue?

    • Hannah

      Sophie Turner does seem to have no facial expressions..

  • Great article, Rhiannon, I love when people single out and focus in on little aspects of shows like this. I’ve never appreciated Sansa as much as I probably should, but I definitely recognize her strong will and her value to others and the entire realm in general. This piece, however, and the way it is laid out, definitely helped in my growing appreciation for her character.

    You hit all of the key points here and are obviously very perceptive of the little things, which is actually quite necessary in order to properly enjoy the show. Too many people don’t understand that and just want to see dragons and “Caleesy”.

    Back on point though, the way you outlined everything clearly makes it a lot easier to understand and appreciate Sansa, as it is very easy to dismiss her as annoying and unimportant. She’s definitely one to watch for the future!

  • Perhaps this match with Tyrion is a blessing in disguise.

    • shirley_twizzletits

      She needs some good ol anal sex from Ser Gregory.

  • Tamara Winfrey

    I guess this then begs the question– everyone in Westeros realizes how valuable Sansa is. When will *Sansa* realize how valuable she is? And what will happen when she does?

    • Patriciaenola

      Tamara – you have just said much better – the line I was contemplating writing – I remarked to a friend whilst watching – she is a valuable asset – does she even GUESS how valuable – but s you say – when she realises that she is a treasure – I’ll run with that

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