The following post contains spoilers for season 6, episode 10, of Game of Thrones, “The Winds of Winter.”
Last time, I wrote about the aspects of Margaery’s story that I found disappointing in “The Winds of Winter,” and I tried to come up with an analysis to explain why her plot line was resolved in such a way. This time, I’m going to discuss Sansa’s story arc, which produced some mixed feelings for me.
Women in Power
Let me begin with the part that did not turn out as I had hoped. Before this episode, I was looking forward to seeing Sansa claim her position as Lady of Winterfell. She has been in the background for so long and has continually been victimized and held back in so many ways that I thought it was finally time for Sansa to enter a position of authority and power. She would be the one to restore the Stark name to Winterfell–or so I thought.
This idea didn’t just come out of nowhere. For one, I knew that Jon Snow did not want the seat of Winterfell. He was only fighting against the Boltons on his sister’s behalf and also to try to save Rickon. Winterfell, naturally, would be claimed by the legitimate heir of the Stark family–Sansa.
More importantly, having Sansa claim Winterfell fits into several major themes of Game of Thrones. The first theme has to do with female characters ascending into positions of power, and the finale highlighted this concept very well.
As Game of Thrones shifts into its end game, female leaders are dominant in the political landscape. Daenerys leads a coalition of factions led by women. The deal between Dany and Yara is made by two women–fellow queens–who are equals and are seeking to break tradition by becoming the first women to rule Westeros or the Iron Islands respectively. And, with Varys’ help, she’s earned the support of Lady Olenna and the women of Dorne. In the final scene of the episode, there is a sense of optimism and inspiration as Daenerys sets out for Westeros, with so many people behind her.
Meanwhile, Cersei is now the most powerful person in King’s Landing. She sits upon the Iron Throne, having destroyed her enemies in a massive explosion of wildfire, but at the terrible cost of losing her son. Daenerys, in fact, killed the Khals earlier this season in a similar way–trapping them in a building that is destroyed by fire–but far from being inspired by Dany’s overturning of the Dothraki patriarchy, we are in this case struck by Cersei’s villainous descent into darkness, ruthlessness, and cruelty.
Women are the figures of authority now, ranging across the entire spectrum from inspirational leader to ruthless villain. If nearly all the major political figures are female, it would be plausible to continue with this theme and have Sansa become the Lady of Winterfell.
The second (but related) theme has to do with people in marginalized positions rising to greatness. Davos, a smuggler and commoner, becomes the chief advisor to first Stannis and now Jon Snow, while Tyrion, who has been an outsider and outcast for his whole life, finds his calling as an advisor for Daenerys. As I mentioned, Sansa has been a sidelined character for a long time. Not only that, but women in general are marginalized in a medieval society like this one, and I thought it would make sense to work against that idea by having Sansa become ruler of the North.
Given all these thought processes, I really hoped that Sansa would rule in the North, and I was a bit disappointed when Jon Snow becomes the King in the North instead.
King in the North
I don’t have any major problem with Jon, however. I completely understand why he was the one chosen to lead the North.
It makes sense that the Northerners would support the man who actually led them into battle against the Boltons. He fought with them and risked his life alongside them–something Sansa can’t claim to do. Since winter is now here and White Walkers will be attacking soon, the North no doubt needs someone with military experience who knows how to handle logistics. Jon fits that description extremely well.
There are also thematic reasons that support Jon becoming the king. What I said about sidelined characters rising to greatness applies to Jon. He begins the series as the bastard son of Lord Stark, without a chance to ever really be accepted, but over the course of the series, he overcomes serious challenges and ultimately proves himself to be a legitimate Stark and the true ruler of the North.
His plot line in season six mirrors that larger arc: he begins this season literally dead, only to rise again and become king. With his resurrection, Jon takes on the role of a heroic Christ-like savior figure, which is thematically the exact sort of inspirational figure who would become king. Perhaps he is, as Melisandre believes, the Prince who was Promised, who is supposed to lead the fight against the coming darkness.
After the revelation of his parentage in this episode, we realize that Jon represents a balance of the two major elements in Game of Thrones: fire and ice (as referenced in the name of the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire). He is a Stark (or more appropriately, a Snow) of the cold North, but also a Targaryen, represented by the fire of the dragon. He has entered the cold of death, only to be revived by the power of fire, which Melisandre’s Lord of Light stands for. He represents a balance of the two warring forces central to the series, and perhaps it is up to him to restore that balance.
It makes sense for Jon to become the heroic, inspirational king and leader that the North needs to survive the winter. The problem is that Jon a bit of an obvious choice, and Game of Thrones thrives on subverting our expectations. Game of Thrones is often at its best when destroying traditional notions of heroism, and it seemed too straightforward for Jon to be placed into that role. I thought that Sansa would be a less obvious choice to lead the North.
I wanted to see Sansa receive some pay-off for her story arc, and that was why I was disappointed when she did not become the ruler of the North. But I do have to appreciate that she achieved a proper resolution to her plot line and character development this season, in a variety of more subtle ways.
Of course, we have to start with the scene from “Battle of the Bastards,” when she allows Ramsay’s dogs to brutally maul him. As she walks away with a hint of a smile on her face, we get the sense that she’s finally absorbed some of the ruthlessness and toughness necessary to make it in Game of Thrones.
We also see that she’s become a more skilled, hardened political operator, especially in her resistance to Littlefinger. She smartly says that “only a fool would trust Littlefinger,” in contrast to her father, who trusted Littlefinger in season one and was betrayed, imprisoned, and executed as a result. She rightfully questions his loyalty by saying that he’s declared for other houses before, yet always serves himself.
When Littlefinger says that he wants to claim the Iron Throne alongside Sansa, he seems to be at his most open and honest, but Sansa does not give in to his (sincere?) expression of love and loyalty. She rebuffs his advances and gives herself more power over him, since he now must work that much more to earn her “approval,” instead of being able to use her as a tool to take power for himself.
Finally, she walks away without a word of acknowledgement when he suggests that she has a better claim to Winterfell than Jon Snow, and this connects with her urging Jon to take the lord’s chamber because she considers him a Stark. I very much appreciate her lack of selfishness as she reveals her strong, renewed loyalty to family and, possibly, the understanding that Jon might make a better leader than herself.
This brings me to Jon becoming king instead of Sansa ruling the North, which I think actually fits in with the resolution of her story arc. Her insistence that Jon claim the lord’s chamber as a true Stark, her dismissal of Littlefinger’s divisive words, and her smile of pride as Jon becomes king–all that leads me to think that she purposely stands aside for Jon to rise to power (or even had something to do with the Northerners making him king–we don’t know how planned all that was.)
When she gives Littlefinger a look at the end of the scene, what she’s saying to him is that she has resisted him in allowing Jon to be king. Rather than claiming the seat of Winterfell for herself, allowing Littlefinger a path toward manipulating her position for himself, or standing against Jon as Littlefinger intends, Sansa demonstrates her family loyalty and her willingness to put aside any selfish, personal ambitions for the greater good, since Jon is the leader the North needs now.
If I’m right, Sansa is telling Littlefinger that she knows exactly what he’s trying to do and that he’s failing miserably to divide the Starks against each other. Sansa is keeping an eye on him. There’s been the suggestion that Littlefinger and Sansa will conspire to turn on Jon, but I think Sansa is too smart to listen to Littlefinger and doesn’t have the personal ambition to betray her family anyway.
As it turns out, the fact Sansa did not become ruler of the North is a significant part of her story-arc resolution this season. If it is true that she purposely stands aside for Jon to be king in order to resist Littlefinger’s manipulations. then she demonstrates a level of awareness, political acumen, loyalty to family, and lack of selfish desires that are all signs of positive character growth. Maybe I should not be too disappointed with Sansa’s plot line this season–her story arc has reached a proper conclusion after all.