little bird: the hidden strength of sansa stark
Warning: There will be spoilers.
On 7 April, Game of Thrones returned to Australian screens with the eagerly awaited season four – and it was undeniably stunning. Chock full of drama, humour, grief, death, and the dangerously beautiful CGI dragons, the first episode provided everything that GOT fans were promised – and more. Sure, we’re all still reeling over the terrible deaths of Robb and Catelyn Stark at the Red Wedding, but being surrounded by the world of Westeros again and allowing us to grieve alongside the remaining Starks helps to soften the pain a little.
Jon Snow remembered his jealousy but love of Robb, Arya’s grief fuelled her fury and her sword-hand and Sansa expressed her plaguing nightmares about how her family died. As an audience, we sympathized with Jon and cheered for Arya, but how did we feel for Sansa? The broken bird of King’s Landing, the disgraced daughter and sister of traitors and wife to the Imp of Casterly Rock.
It’s no small secret that Sansa Stark is despised by the public, ranked alongside Joffrey Lannister/Baratheon, Cersei Lannister and Theon Greyjoy as the most hated characters in the series. There can be no doubt why the other three are there, but I have to seriously disagree with the choice of Sansa. Arya’s the one I root for, but it’s clear that the hate for Sansa is based on prejudiced and biased opinions that I need to discuss why I feel Sansa Stark truly does have a hidden strength – and might, quite possibly, be one of the strongest characters on Game of Thrones.
There are three main points for why people seem to hate Sansa so much:
- She’s naïve and she cries all the time.
- She doesn’t know how to play the game of thrones.
- She’s too feminine.
This last point is what really shocks me the most. Too feminine. What is that even supposed to mean?
It means that society has formed a specific opinion of the way a true woman should act. Sansa is shot down, again and again because she cries, and she loves, and she was naïve and she dreamt of songs, romance, knights and pretty dresses. She is a girl who displays emotions that come across as ‘weak’ and this offends and affronts people. We adore fictional characters like Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen because they’re not afraid to take charge, to be brave, to speak their mind and to take up swords if they want to. They personify the rebellion against conformity and bias and cowardice and they have that physical strength that arguably every woman wants. If you were given the chance, wouldn’t you choose to be one of them in a heartbeat too?
However, what so many people misunderstand is that there are so many different kinds of bravery. Sword-fighting and slave-freeing aren’t the only types, and in Sansa’s case we see steel hidden beneath porcelain, a mental and emotional strength that is completely essential in surviving the political environment that Sansa is trapped in.
This young girl, who only first ‘flowered’ in season two, is trapped in a sea of monsters, sharks and drowning fish. Behind the beautiful silks and garments and grandeur of the Red Keep and its inhabitants, danger is present at every step and Sansa has been forced to survive trials that most mature adults couldn’t possibly hope to endure from. She’s been forced to renounce her pride and honour, watch her father be beheaded then forced to look at it on a spike, be physically and verbally abused by her betrothed, be held a hostage and forced to turn against her family, almost raped and beaten in the streets of Flea Bottom, married to the dwarf of the enemy house and be powerless as her entire family were murdered or lost.
The little bird has survived through all of these horrors, never once giving up hope that things can turn out better for her and she has never tried to kill herself. Her captors believe her a pawn in the game of thrones, the key to the north or the last surviving Stark, but in actuality, Sansa is a player. She tried to manipulate Joffrey during the Battle of the Blackwater that he should be where the fighting is thickest, she has continually managed to express her devotion to the King even after being abused which has kept her from being executed for treason, and has plotted her escape every single day.
It takes undeniable determination and strength to continue to survive through these events. Sure, she’s cried but this is no face of shame. Crying gives us a way to release our emotions instead of bottling them up and then murdering and hitting people when it becomes too much to handle. When a loved one dies, we cry to show that we cared about them and their passing. It’s perfectly fine to cry when we’re being hurt and when we feel we’re all alone in the world.
Sansa Stark is no physical fighter but she has a different kind of strength, one that all of her ‘haters’ seem to either be pointedly dismissing or misunderstanding. Femineity has evolved and minimalized at the same time into something singular and specific. To show any kind of weakness is offensive, even for women. But that’s not right. As women, we should be proud of who we are and what we love and what we dream of as long as we survive through the face of adversity whether it is physical, mental or emotional. Due to Sansa’s continuing endurance, I believe that she is one of the strongest characters on Game of Thrones and I’m not the only one who believes that.
‘Lady Stark, you may survive us yet.’ (Tyrion Lannister)
Enjoy the rest of the season, Lipsters! Valar Morghulis!