According to my research, there are approximately one zillion Game of Thrones characters. It's actually cool because I've started to kind of understand people through the lens of which character they most like. (Sorry, did I say I was cool? I actually meant that I should probably get a new hobby.) For example, if you like Tyrion Lannister, you must be into sass. If Jon Snow is your favorite, there's a good chance you've seen Kit Harington shirtless. If you're really into Joffrey, then you're probably a sociopath.
I don't know what it says about me that my favorite character is Sansa Stark.
How do I begin to explain Sansa?
I respect her, I want to see her happy and when I look at photos of Sophie Turner sitting on the Iron Throne I feel an embarrassing amount of pride and joy, considering she's a fictional character. But when my friends list their least favorite characters, Sansa is always one of the first names mentioned.
A common argument is that Sansa’s character gets more bearable as time goes on. “She grows on you later,” is something I’ve heard so many times. You know what? Not really. Although I didn’t latch onto Sansa at her very first mention, that all fell away fairly quickly. It doesn’t have to take a few thousand pages or even an entire season to begin liking Sansa.
What’s up with that? Why all the Sansa-hate?
Sansa really likes the idea of traditional romance, and some people criticize her for her idealism. But it's clear that Sansa was basically raised on fairytales. Her entire life, she's romanticized being a wife because she's been told that it's her purpose as the eldest Stark daughter. And when she meets Joffrey, that’s how Sansa sees it. Perhaps it's still hard to justify those ideas in the same way that Sansa does. But let’s not forget that being a woman in this fantasy realm is not easy. The Dothraki women are viewed as property, but this doesn’t differ much from the other parts of this world. When Eddard Stark thinks of what futures his children will have, he names his daughters and says that they will be married off to other powerful families. His sons, on the other hand, will get to gain power.
I’ve found that a lot of people compare Sansa to her younger sister, Arya. Comparisons of characters are important, but this is where a lot of people cut Sansa off.
Arya is a more compelling character for some. But maybe people reject Sansa because our society has a huge, sad problem with teenage girls. Things teenage girls do, and things teenage girls like, are constantly ridiculed in a way that other things aren’t. Music, books and shows that teenage girls like are often made fun of in a way that young boys don’t have to deal with. For example, not many celebrities are ridiculed in the way that Taylor Swift is. Not liking Taylor Swift because of the quality of her music or the quality of her talent is valid, and not liking her because of the way she shames girls who wear high heels and short skirts is, too. But if the reason you don’t like her is because she likes to sing about love and relationships, that’s a double standard.
Now, there is no House Swift (there is a House Swyft, though) in Game of Thrones, but I think a lot of the Sansa-hate is rooted in misogyny. Comparing the two Stark sisters to show how Sansa is feminine and Arya is masculine is a legitimate evaluation. Arya literally disguises herself as a boy, after all. But if the reason you dislike Sansa is for her femininity, then that is a problem.
Things that are traditionally feminine are not automatically bad. Sansa’s femininity doesn’t make her vapid or stupid. It doesn’t make anyone vapid or stupid. If a woman spends a lot of time on how she looks, or if a woman really enjoys traditionally feminine things, that is not a reason to look down upon her. The sick thing is, if a woman doesn’t look or act in a way that’s expected, she still gets criticized. It’s hard to win — in fact, it’s almost impossible.
Sansa is the victim of this kind of thinking. The truth is, Sansa is fiercely smart and cunning, like that time when she basically snapped her fingers in a Z-formation to Tyrion, of all people. And honestly, we get to see her shine right from the beginning. Sansa constantly uses tools that are overlooked because they are traditionally feminine. She tells Cersei she couldn’t remember what happened when Joffrey gets bitten by Arya’s direwolf. And no, it wasn’t because she’s a raging bitch. It’s because she’s been taught her entire life that it is her job to be loyal to her husband. It’s because she’s trying to find a halfway point between her family and her future.
Sansa has one of the most compelling and transformative arcs in the show so far, but the spark in her character is there from the start. She is playing a game, but she does it differently. On the chessboard that is Westeros (and Essos and Sothoros), Sansa plays a dangerously quiet, manipulative and slow-burning game of thrones.