HBO has been criticized in the past for relying on sex and violence to sell their shows. Given the subject matter of A Song of Ice and Fire, a gritty power struggle in a medieval realm with dragons and multiple ongoing wars, “Game of Thrones” was never going to break this mold.
As the show has progressed, though, showrunners/writers Benioff and Weiss have chosen to inject additional violence, especially sexual violence, into a series already rife with brutality. While the widely-condemned rape scene in “Breaker of Chains” has brought a lot of recent attention to this issue, it’s hardly the first example of added violence in the show, and not even the first instance of added violence for the character of Jaime Lannister.
Disclaimer: I’ve been wanting to write this for a while, and you can take from it what you will. This is just my opinion, offering a different perspective to a commonly held belief about Sansa.
This post contains spoilers for A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows
On one hand, yes we shouldn’t retrofit Sansa as manipulative and cruel (although she is manipulative, she has to be, and manipulative doesn’t necessarily mean cruel or amoral), but on the other hand we shouldn’t conflate Sansa being in a position of power or gaining political agency and acting on it as Sansa becoming cruel or manipulative, or people seeking that power and agency as a means of shaping Sansa into something cruel or power-hungry.
We’ve seen in the text that Sansa wants Winterfell and home, and is at least passively supportive of becoming Lady of Winterfell, because she thinks that she is the only Stark left to take it. That is in the text. Sansa wanting political agency as Lady of Winterfell is textual. Thinking that Sansa is going to gain agency as Lady or QitN, however briefly, is not a “Sansa is only a good character if she gains power” sort of thing. It’s a legitimate interpretation of her narrative arc.
I find myself really bothered by the treatment of the Stark children (Bran, Arya, and Sansa) in the show. D&D don’t seem to appreciate their value as characters. They give the focus to their abusers/kidnappers, they emphasize the “players” in the system and not these children who are affected by the war, and they just don’t care enough.
At this point in the show, it’s very clear that there just isn’t enough appreciation for them. By that I mean:
- Arya has become completely unrecognizable from her book self and is played for comic relief/isn’t allowed to have any emotions/grieve
- Sansa isn’t even allowed to do anything at all, D&D have done the impossible and somehow given her less agency than she has in the books
- And we can hardly make judgements about Bran’s characterization considering he’s never even given any screentime
The kids are so important in the books though. They illustrate the complexities of southern politics and the treacherous world of the “game of thrones” (Sansa.) They teach us the affects of war, the life of the smallfolk, and the ravaging of the countryside (Arya.) They show the depths of magic and history as well as the tragedy of ruling and losing one’s home (Bran.) They serve as three of the main POVs and are integral to the feelings ASoIaF gives the reader.
Their arcs are long, emotional and essentially read as a bildungsroman for each Stark kid.
They are important. They shouldn’t be ignored. And yet they are? In the season so far (and previous seasons as well,) they are constantly being sidelined for other characters. Is there any reason that Tywin Lannister had more screentime last episode than House Stark has all season? Or how about how Margaery and Olenna, Cersei and Varys, and so on (all the “players”, the people in power) are given the focus over the kids? Some episodes Ygritte and the wildlings have more screentime than all the Starks combined. And when Robb was still alive (who had no POV in the books,) he upstaged all three as well.
I’ve spoken before about the importance of the Stark kids, how they are the true focus of the house and its future revitalization, it makes me so sad that D&D have missed this. Watching the show, it feels like D&D don’t even deem Bran worth showing at all- because there are no game players around to instead focus on maybe, who knows- and that Arya and Sansa are forced into playing supporting roles in their own arcs.
Please stop discounting female characters who aren’t manipulative or cruel as inherently weak, and stop defining female characters who are manipulative or cruel as inherently strong.
I’ve seen too many posts on my dash where people idolize Cersei as the “cruel manipulator” they aspire to be (also way to reduce the complexity of her character in order to idolize her for a terrible trait, but whatever).
This happens to an even greater extent with Margaery and Sansa.
I love watching Margaery; we don’t truly know where her motivations lie, or where her boundaries are, and it’s likely that a mixture of ruthless ambition and actual generosity spurs her behavior… So why would you want to reduce her to an echo of herself by calling her nothing but a political schemer? And what does it say that the only way you can respect this female character is if she doesn’t have integrity?
Sansa is compassionate, brave, kind, and emotionally strong in a world that has done everything possible to rob her of those traits, but half the people who claim to love Sansa on this website feel they need to paint her as only a cunning political mind and future destroyer/vengeful assassin type in order to like her. Like, is there a reason we can’t accept her compassion as actual compassion, but a constant political play? This attitude reeks of internalized misogyny: a woman can’t be perceived as simultaneously honorable and strong the way a man can. In order to be powerful she must be cruel or amoral. (Side note: same problem in the way the media portrays Black Widow. In the MCU quite a few of the other Avengers have that same confused morality but they get to be called heroes, while she can only be an antihero. Because we can’t have women as heroes, can we?)
One character I haven’t seen this done with is Dany (it better stay that way), but the cynical side of me says this is just because she fits the “badass” archetype and is therefore exempt from the same gross treatment.
I get that the moral code of Game of Thrones is screwed up, and I love quite a few characters I wouldn’t consider moral. I love Cersei, Margaery, Sansa, and Daenerys in all their complexity. But there’s a problem when we equate kindness and decency with weakness and blandness (see: people’s attitudes on Captain America), and it’s no coincidence that this happens most often with female characters, who we can apparently only respect if they hurt, manipulate, or intimidate other people.
Yeah, it scares me too. :(
Though I should note that I do not think Bran will be a villain. Not the “big bad”, not “used by the true enemy”, or any theory of that type, and I reject them completely. But I do think his path on the way to the end may get very dark and dangerous. GRRM’s favorite theme is “the human heart in conflict with itself”, and especially for the Stark kids I think that’s expressed in temptations of the soul, so to speak, losing oneself to something or the other. Sansa, it’s everything that Littlefinger is, manipulations and lies and justifications of a twisted morality. Arya, it’s being a child soldier, the emptiness and dangers of her methods for coping with her trauma. And for Bran, it’s his power… losing himself to the trees or to the temptations of using another person to escape his broken body.
But in the end, I think that they will come out of this all right… for certain values of “all right”, that is… having learned and grown, broken and re-formed… but it’s not going to be safe, it’s not going to be easy, and it will probably be very painful for us to watch. :/
No, absolutely not. I can’t think of a relationship as unproblematic and unconditionally loving in the whole series that compares to Jon/Arya. Part of it is that Arya and Jon are two of the three most POV chapters characters, we have a lot of time to see into their heads and they are always thinking of each other.
So much so that we get this from an interview:
Granny: Are you trying to say something to the reader by drilling into us how much Arya and Jon love each other?
George_RR_Martin: "Say something to the reader?" No, I’m just reporting how the characters feel. <g> Of course, everything in the book says something to the reader. [source]
There’s a reason Jon calls Arya being with him home and his central conflict, the one that leads to his “death”, in the most recent book is about saving here. There’s a reason that Arya finds the thought of Jon not recognizing her to be sad in ADWD, that thinking of his smile brings tears to her eyes in AFFC, and that she knows he’d never judge her for her killings or unladylike appearance.
I can’t think of any stronger, unconditionally loving bond illustrated in the series (or at least as emphasized.)
That being said, my dismissal of Robb and Sansa has less to do with how great Arya/Jon is and more to do with my own issues with Robb/Sansa. I think the fandom idealizes their relationship, I don’t like some of what Robb does in regards to Sansa.
Part of the reason I think the fandom builds it up is Sansa’s thoughts of Robb. Arya focuses more on Catelyn in her thoughts while Sansa does the same with Robb. However, we know Catelyn had a better relationship with Sansa than Arya, and that Arya/Cat’s relationship is a little strained. A lot of that I believe has to do what each Stark sister needed at the time.
Sansa: hostage in KL, Robb would be the one to save her- him and his army.
Arya: lost child enslaved/witnessing carnage and death at every turn/starving/roamer- she’s want the stability and nurturing nature of her mother I’d expect.
Anyway, Robb says some things about/does some stuff about Sansa that rubbed me in the wrong way.
Bran would never forget the look on Robb’s face as he stared at their sister’s words. “She says Father conspired at treason with the king’s brothers,” he read. “King Robert is dead, and Mother and I are summoned to the Red Keep to swear fealty to Joffrey. She says we must be loyal, and when she marries Joffrey she will plead with him to spare our lord father’s life.” His fingers closed into a fist, crushing Sansa’s letter between them. “And she says nothing of Arya, nothing, not so much as a word. Damn her! What’s wrong with the girl?” Bran, AGoT
His immediate conclusion is to blame Sansa and to question why she would leave out information about Arya and whatnot.
Then there’s this:
“I should have traded the Kingslayer for Sansa when you first urged it,” Robb said as they walked the gallery. “If I’d offered to wed her to the Knight of Flowers, the Tyrells might be ours instead of Joffrey’s. I should have thought of that.” Catelyn, ASoS
I just felt like he had completely detached from Sansa and only saw her value as a tool rather than his sister here. While I understand some of that in theory, considering he was trying to act as a king, I can’t imagine say Ned doing the same thing- in fact, he chose Sansa over much earlier. It just always bothered me. And this is before she’s married to Tyrion.
And even just disinheriting her, if Robb had gone through with anything- had he not died so soon afterward- taken Jon and groomed his as his heir, there’s a huge chance (considering that they no longer had Jaime) that Sansa could have been seen as expendable by the Lannisters.
So no, I don’t think Robb/Sansa even remotely compares to Jon/Arya at all. Just look at how Jon reacts to juggling his ruler’s duties and Arya’s (supposed) captivity in ADWD vs. how Robb does the same with Sansa’s.
Regardless, I’m not much of a fan. At least I’m not a fan in overstating it. I think they were loving, adorable siblings but not as strong as some other sibling relationships.
That being said, I have my own preferences. The fact is that Sansa/Arya is by far one of my favorite ASoIaF relationships. But if you’re looking for a more Sansa/brother feel, I would like to direct you towards my favorite:
(hearing Robb’s words about Sansa’s letter) Bran felt all cold inside. “She lost her wolf,” he said, weakly, remembering the day when four of his father’s guardsmen had returned from the south with Lady’s bones. Bran, AGoT
(on hearing Bran will live) The night the bird had come from Winterfell, Eddard Stark had taken the girls to the castle godswood, an acre of elm and alder and black cottonwood overlooking the river. The heart tree there was a great oak, its ancient limbs overgrown with smokeberry vines; they knelt before it to offer their thanksgiving, as if it had been a weirwood. Sansa drifted to sleep as the moon rose, Arya several hours later, curling up in the grass under Ned’s cloak. All through the dark hours he kept his vigil alone. When dawn broke over the city, the dark red blooms of dragon’s breath surrounded the girls where they lay. “I dreamed of Bran,” Sansa had whispered to him. “I saw him smiling.”Ned, AGoT
Back in Winterfell, Sansa had told him that the demons of the dark couldn’t touch him if he hid beneath his blanket. He almost did that now, before he remembered that he was a prince, and almost a man grown. Bran, ASoS
Bran and Sansa are such cuties. Full stop. Bran’s instinct is to defend Sansa and even though he says so “weakly” implying he doesn’t completely buy it, he wants to defend her. He doesn’t stand for anyone talking her down. And can you just picture when Sansa would have told that to Bran?
Ugh they’re adorable. I don’t know why people focus on Sansa/Robb when Sansa/Bran is clearly where it’s at in my opinion. Of course, Sansa/Arya is better than pretty much every relationship in my mind so….
So there’s my thoughts.
or, why does everyone always go straight to Sansa/Jon or Sansa/Robb when Sansa/Bran is in existence???
This post was inspired by a recent ask that donewithwoodenteeth received. Someone asked if Robb and Sansa had as strong of a relationship as Jon and Arya (her answer was no.) Jon and Arya have the strongest bond out of any of the Stark kids, though admittedly Sansa/Arya is my personal favorite and also very popular around tumblr. I’ve seen Bran/Sansa get some love around here, but definitely not as much as Jon/Sansa or Robb/Sansa, and that confuses me. Let me explain why.
So we all know that Sansa can get some unwarranted hate for her early idealism and ‘southron ambitions’. Yes, she was very idealistic and naive. Yes, she wanted to go south because that’s where she thought her destiny lay waiting. Yes, she put too much faith in the stories that she loved.
Except that those three things applied to Bran, too.
Sansa grated for several other reasons as well in the first novel — I just wanted to point out the parallels because really, Sansa and Bran had a lot in common. Gentle-hearted, idealistic young Starks with a fondness for stories (albeit different types of stories) who harbored dreams of a faraway south:
Bran was going to be knight himself someday, one of the Kingsguard. AGOT
She was a Stark of Winterfell, a noble lady, and someday she would be a queen. AGOT
Just as Sansa didn’t really want to be a queen for the power and only vaguely grasped what such a position truly meant, Bran knew nothing of the harsh realities of knighthood in Westeros. In this they suffered similarly; neither were able to accomplish their initial dream, and Sansa now knows perfectly well that the queens and knights of her world are often nothing like the ones in the stories.
Though Sansa and Bran share mentor parallels, their stories also seem to sharply diverge: Sansa’s becomes even more rooted in the politics of Westeros, the Game, whereas Bran’s ends up firmly entrenched in the Song.
Yet they remain the two Stark kids who are closest to the sky, symbolically if not always literally. Wings, and the lack of them, are incredibly important in both of their story lines, and they both express a desire to fly — perhaps because they’re both being held captive. Sansa is a pretty little songbird stuck in a cage; Bran is a “winged wolf bound to earth with grey stone chains”.
There’s bird imagery everywhere in Sansa’s storyline, from her time spent at the Eyrie to her mentor’s sigil (the mockingbird) to her little cousin Sweetrobin, whose life may currently hang in the balance. And weirdly, while Sansa is called a “little bird” numerous times, Varys of all people is currently looking for her — the man famous for his network of spy children. His “little birds”.
Meanwhile, Bran’s name even means “crow”, and he is learning from Bloodraven: more wings. Feeling trapped in his crippled body, he desires more than anything to fly.
And finally, one last reason that Bran/Sansa is wonderful is the fact that they always seemed to have a caring, loving relationship. Jon hardly thinks of Sansa, nor she of him; and wrt Robb, I don’t think he always prioritized Sansa as highly as he should have. But Bran and Sansa didn’t suffer from these problems; Bran even defends Sansa when Robb speaks harshly of her.
And I’m ending this with a few quotes that I find particularly sweet (and sad):
Sansa drifted to sleep as the moon rose, Arya several hours later, curling up in the grass under Ned’s cloak. All through the dark hours he kept his vigil alone. When dawn broke over the city, the dark red blooms of dragon’s breath surrounded the girls where they lay. "I dreamed of Bran," Sansa had whispered to him. "I saw him smiling."
Tommen was all of eight. He reminded her of her own little brother, Bran. They were of an age. Bran was back at Winterfell, a cripple, yet safe. Sansa would have given anything to be with him.
Back in Winterfell Sansa had told him that the demons of the dark couldn’t touch him if he hid beneath his blanket. He almost did that now, before he remembered that he was a prince, and almost a man grown.
If I give him sons, he may come to love me.She would name them Eddard and Brandon and Rickon…. In Sansa’s dreams, her children looked just like the brothers she had lost.
I recently read a post about Arya girls VS Sansa girls and how girls who identify with Arya (aka Arya girls), or likes Arya are self loathing and jealous of Sansa girls, so they demonize femininity as a response and I just… no.
And I want to state that this isn’t just about that one post. It’s about the asoiaf/GoT’s tumblr fandom in general and their attitudes toward the whole Arya/ Sansa thing. I guess it kind of means more to me because most tumblr users are women/girls and it’s pretty discouraging that even in a pro-women site there is so much vitriol, division, and desire to pit girls against one another. Male influence doesn’t even need to exist.
But regarding the actual post, Arya doesn’t hate Sansa or think she’s the enemy. At all. Where do people get these ideas from? Cause it’s certainly not the books.
The reason Arya has a strained relationship with her sister is because Sansa and her friends used to bully her. They called her Horseface, they neighed whenever she was around. One of the last conversations they had with each other was Sansa telling Arya that she was “stupid, hairy, and ugly” and that she should have been killed. Even then, Arya never thinks of Sansa as “the enemy”. That is just kids being jerks and has nothing to do with femininity.
Not only that, but Arya doesn’t think of people as less than or unworthy because of their femininity. In fact, she gets along quite well with them.
Sansa knew all about the sorts of people Arya liked to talk to: squires and grooms and serving girls, old men and naked children, rough-spoken freeriders of uncertain birth. Arya would make friends with anybody. Sansa, AGoT
Cat had made friends along the wharves; porters and mummers, ropemakers and sailmenders, taverners, brewers and bakers and beggars and whores. Cat of the Canals, AFFC
Now, why would Arya, who supposedly “hates/resents femininity” befriend serving girls and whores? They’re not exactly wearing chain mail and swinging swords. The answer is quite simple: Arya doesn’t care about that.
How to get Arya Stark to like you: Be nice to her and others.
How to get Arya Stark to not like you: Be mean to her and others.
On a more personal note:
Arya is my favorite character in ASOIAF. Hell, she’s one of my favorite characters in literature. But I am definitely a “Sansa girl”. I am very feminine. Up until my mid to late teen, almost everything I bought with my own money came in a shade of pink. I also love dolls, red and white roses, ballet, weddings, dresses, romance, etc. This series was recommended to me by a Sansa fan who kept telling me about how much hate she was receiving in comparison to her “universally adored” (haha) sister and I went into the books thinking that I will love Sansa the best. And while I do love Sansa a lot, as I kept on reading, Arya became my absolute fave. Not even a competition.
So the fact that Arya was a fan favorite made me really happy. Then I saw the Sansa haters. Despite her excellent character development, she was still getting shit on about how ‘whiny’ and ‘weak’ she was. So after reading all those, I was pretty livid. But when Sansa fans came to her rescue, they had this unfortunate habit of defending her by (either passive aggressively or regular aggressively) degrading Arya. And that, my friends, is not right.
Posts, articles, and metas about how Sansa had “real”,”true” strength that was way stronger than Arya’s. Posts, articles, and metas about how “harder” it is for feminine women than it is for masculine women (fun fact: male privilege doesn’t extend to women no matter how many pants they own or how short their hair is. Those who identify as women do not cease to be women because they don’t fit into gender stereotypes/binaries). How no matter what hardships Arya is going through (homelessness, starvation, working in, essentially, a concentration camp, being beaten, etc) Sansa “had it worse” and is doing it “backwards while wearing high heels.” That is bullshit. And I had to read all this tripe in the name of, get this: FEMINISM.
That just pisses me off.
Sansa is absolutely a strong character. I want her strength to be not only be acknowledged but also celebrated. But not at the expense of belittling Arya’s. Whether it’s packaged in armour or baby blue, floral printed chiffon, strength is strength. No one’s strength is above or below others. Saying that being a feminine girl is easier or harder, weaker or stronger, better or worse, than being a masculine girl is wrong. That is not feminism, that is self-congratulation.
The OP of the Arya girls vs Sansa girls post told “Arya girls” that “Sansa girls” are not co-conspiring with the patriarchal society to make those who don’t fit into binaries hate themselves.
In response, I want my fellow “Sansa girls” to know that “Arya girls” do not exist to make you feel inferior. They do not exist to make your feminine personality and interests seem weak or stupid. They do not exist to let all the boys know who the “cool” girls are. Believe it or not, “Arya girls” exists to be their own person. To have their own passion and interests that may not be compatible with yours. They exist to live their own lives and choose their own paths.
We should be lauding the fact that a character like Arya is so beloved by a general audience. An emotionally complex girl who doesn’t fit into a rigid gender mold and isn’t being told to “know her place” or how she’s “good, but not as good as the boys”, “ Strong, but not as strong as the boys”.
As “Sansa girls”, our goal should NOT be to take Arya and “Arya girls” down a peg (a goal that many seem to have as some reactionary hate towards well-liked characters) but to show others that Sansa and our feminine, Sansa-like strength is just as valid and important. The spotlight is big enough for the both of them.