Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Writer's Block Wednesday: Why I Love Sansa Stark


If you haven't read all five of the published ASOIAF novels, don't read any further. Unless you want to/don't mind being spoiled, that is ::shrug:: 

I feel the need to start this entry by mentioning that I've read some absolutely amazing meta about Sansa Stark, and I've come across some awesome people (on the internet, at least) who love her as much or more than I do. I know that no matter what I say - no matter of what any of us Sansa lovers say - people are still going to not understand her, dislike her, or outright hate her. But there's a huge difference between finding her chapters boring and thinking she's a complete idiot who caused every bad thing that happened ever in the series ;)

In fact, I didn't like Sansa at all when I first started reading Game of Thrones. I've come so far, of course, that I can't even really remember or place why I felt that way...but I have to admit it. I did. My first and best guess is that I didn't care for Sansa thanks to Arya's harsh view(s) of her - because when I was Arya's and Sansa's ages, I was the tomboy who didn't seem to fit in.

The weird (?) thing, though, is that the more Sansa hate that I saw circulating on and tumblr, the more curious I became about her. So then I re-read most of the scenes in which she was involved. And again and again I stumbled across all of that aforementioned amazing meta. I doubt it took me more than a couple of weeks to go from disliking her to being completely enamored with her.

And this is why:

The first arguments that usually come up about Sansa are how badly she treats Arya, how she lies about what happened with Joffrey on the Kingsroad, and/or how she's "weak and girly" whereas Arya is "strong and resourceful".

Now, if you've ever had a sibling - and most especially, if you're a girl who has a sister or sisters - you likely know how awful siblings and sisters can be to each other. To be completely honest, the interactions that we see between Sansa and Arya throughout the first novel are friendly and polite compared to the way my sisters and I often treated each other. Seriously - I locked my middle sister out of our garage one time because she was pestering me, and she banged on the window so hard, screaming for me to let her in, that said window shattered and a piece of glass almost sliced open my jugular. Another time, she was saying awful things about me while riding in the back seat of my car while we were in high school, so I turned around and punched her in the face, breaking her glasses. This same sister and I used to tell our youngest sister that she was adopted and no one loved her. And years later we were on vacation and the two of them got in a verbal fight that turned physical. We still don't know which one of them drew first blood.

Yet I loved my sisters then, and I still love them now. We laugh about these awful things that happened - though it probably helps that, admittedly, they were few and far between. Still, they happened, and so did many other arguments in which we called each other various versions of fat, lazy, untalented, stupid, etc. etc. etc.

Now, does it really really suck that Sansa lied to Robert about what happened between Joffrey and Arya? Absolutely. Does it make her look bad? Of course it does. But put yourself in her shoes (as best you can, considering). Sansa was eleven years old. Can you look back to that age - or even that age and the several years surrounding it - and swear that you never chose the side of your friends or significant other over that of a sibling, if indeed you were ever put in a situation like that? I doubt it.

And if you really try to see this from Sansa's point of view - Joffrey isn't just her friend, he's her betrothed. She is supposed to spend the rest of her life with him. And Robert isn't just her future good father - he's the freaking king of the seven kingdoms, and he's sitting there asking her who is telling the truth - his son, the crown prince, her future husband - or her little sister, who, while in her rights to defend Mycah against Joffrey, still should have thought twice before doing so. If you can honestly say that you would have told the truth in this situation, had you literally or even figuratively been in Sansa's shoes, more power to you, because I'm one of the most honest and up front people I know and I'm not even certain *I* would or could have taken Arya's side in this case.

As to Sansa being "weak" and Arya being "strong" - I'll keep this short and simple. If Arya had remained in King's Landing after Ned's death, would she have survived like Sansa did? NO. Of course, if Sansa had been in Arya's situation, she wouldn't have survived either. They both have their own, very different, strengths, and they have both utilized those strengths to the best of their abilities - well enough so that they are alive when half of the rest of their family is not.

Of course, no matter how much I say about Sansa and Arya and how they are simply two different people and that they actually didn't treat each other all that badly as sisters go, I understand that everyone is entitled to prefer one over the other. The thing is, while I prefer Sansa, I don't hate Arya - because you don't have to hate one of them in order to be a fan of the other. Just sayin'.

Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there in regards to Sansa's "sibling" rivalries - "sibling" in quotes because next up on the list of reasons Sansa sucks is often Jon Snow. This, I really really don't understand.

Picture it: Sansa was raised in a family with four siblings who were all her full brothers and sisters. On the sidelines is a half-brother who, so far as she knew/knows, is proof of that one time her honorable father really fucked up (pun intended). She adored her mother - no, scratch that, she practically worshiped her. Catelyn was, in Sansa's eyes, everything a Lady and a mother should be. And Catelyn clearly, clearly, despises her husband's bastard son. (And not for no good reason, either, but that's an entirely different story and argument.)

Yet Sansa was also raised to be kind, graceful, dutiful, and above all courteous. She and Jon have basically no interaction in the books (or the show, for that matter). Which is why I just don't get how people use this as an excuse to dislike her. At one point or another the reader sees several of the Starks refer to Jon as a bastard, yet when Sansa thinks of him like this it somehow proves that she must have been awful to him? When coupled with her thoughts of Jon - musing, for example, over how sweet it would be to see him once again - and Jon's thoughts of her - are always either neutral or, more often, positive - to think that they had a terrible relationship makes even less sense. Though he makes it clear that she was perhaps a bit cooler to him than the other Stark children were, he never seems to feel any sort of hatred or even dislike for her. When offered Winterfell after Robb's death, he plainly says that it rightfully belongs to Sansa, and it didn't seem to me as if he said that with animosity.

Essentially what we have here is a "brother" and "sister" who, upon first impression, have no reason to care for each other - but they do, in their own ways. Maybe not as Arya and Jon care for each other, but again, there is simply no evidence that Sansa mistreated Jon or that Jon even felt that she mistreated him. And if Jon doesn't have a problem with her, well...hopefully by now you're picking up what I'm putting down.

But then I know that there's always a next argument in the case of ASOIAF fans vs. Sansa Stark, and I know that the next step is usually, "Well, Sansa is an idiot for falling for Joffrey."

Oh really, is she now? Let me see a show of hands - how many of you have fallen for someone who presented him or herself as being basically perfect (attractive, whatever the modern version of chivalrous is, rich, powerful, etc. etc. etc.)...and then turned out to be a total jerk and/or nutcase? Because I haven't even dated that many people, and I've still ended up with a few doozies.

Yet again I must reiterate that when Sansa met Joffrey, she was eleven. There are very, very few (if any) eleven-year-olds out there who would have been able to see through/beyond Joffrey's pretty, shiny varnish to the monster within. And keep in mind how Sansa was raised, which was to believe that the best thing that could happen to her was to marry the son of a lord - specifically the eldest son of a lord - and be Lady of his keep and mother of his children. And then she is told that she will have all of that...and more. She will be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and not only that - the crown prince is at first glance attractive, at first meeting polite and doting. I know people two and three times Sansa's age who've fallen for total assholes, and obviously these modern day assholes couldn't offer their significant others a frakking kingdom, for God's sake.

And isn't it interesting that just like in real life relationships, once Joffrey shows Sansa his true colors by breaking his promise to her and having her father killed, she quickly realizes how mistaken she's been, she immediately stops thinking that he is physically attractive, and she even considers killing him at the expense of her own life!

Unfortunately, it seems easy for readers to ignore all that in favor of the misplaced accusation that Sansa - either mostly or all on her own - caused Ned's death, anyway.

Now, this makes about as much sense as saying that Catelyn's capture of Tyrion was the only cause of, well, any and everything people say it's the cause of - Ned's death being one of them, but the biggest one being the entire War of the Five Kings.

So I hate to break it to you, but it seems to be a pretty major theme in GRRM's writings that no one character or action caused any major event.

Did Sansa make a mistake, going to Cersei and telling her that Ned was planning on whisking her and Arya back to Winterfell? Well, duh. But since when are eleven-year-olds not allowed to make mistakes? When I was eleven I wore elastic waist band pants and glasses half as large as my face, and when my dad mentioned that we may have to move from Connecticut to Chicago so he could take a better job, I bawled my eyes out to every single one of my close friends. And that is all that Sansa was doing - she was enjoying herself in King's Landing, Ned told her they had to leave but didn't really give her any sort of reason to make her understand or believe that this was likely a life or death situation, and she saw Cersei as a beautiful and composed queen who could possibly convince Ned to stay.

And then when they finally told Sansa that her father had been plotting treason, she stood up for him. She insisted that he would never do such a thing - especially not knowingly - and at eleven years old she knelt in front of the entire court and begged for her father's life. Despite the fact that doing so could have caused her to be labeled a traitor, imprisoned, tortured, and/or killed. And not only does she do it, but she does it with a meekness and courtesy that is beyond admirable. (A meekness and courtesy that Arya never could have captured, by the way, and Arya being the one to do this would have caused entirely different problems.)

We all know what happens next - Sansa is promised that they will spare Ned's life, but they - or, more specifically, Joffrey - don't.

From that time on, Sansa is nothing more or less than a prisoner. She is verbally and emotionally abused, beaten, and sexually assaulted - and yet she remains sane. Not only does she remain sane, but she is perceptive and she learns from what she has experienced and does experience...yet at the same time she doesn't change or devolve from the true lady that she is.

She saves Ser Dontos. She is sisterly to Tommen and Myrcella. She puts up with Sandor - more than puts up with him, she shows him courtesy and kindness and compassion time and time again. She even prays for him. When Cersei abandons the women she invited to Maegor's during the Battle of the Blackwater, Sansa reassures them.

Even later, when the Battle is over and the Lannisters have won and Sansa is replaced by Margaery as Joffrey's betrothed - at the risk of her own skin, Sansa warns the Tyrells (well, Lady Olenna and Margaery, at least) about Joffrey's nastiness. And when they offer to wed her to Willas - a crippled man who is something like twice her age and who she's never met - she sees the positives in and the good that can come from the match. Even when Dontos tells her that the Tyrells only want her for her claim, she thinks that she can still be happy, that Willas can - will - still grow to love her. This isn't Sansa idealizing a bad situation - this is Sansa believing in the inherent good in people, though not to the disastrous extent that her father did because unlike him, she learns from her mistakes.

Sadly - yes, I mean that, I'm going there, sadly - the Lannisters catch wind of the Tyrell plan to whisk Sansa away and marry her to Willas.

And so they force her to marry Tyrion.

And I'm really, really tired of hearing people say that Sansa is shallow for finding Tyrion physically repulsive. I'm tired of hearing people say things like "hopefully she'll experience character growth and someday see how awesome he is", "her revulsion to Tyrion is based solely on his physical traits", "Sansa supposedly covets honor and chivalry and it's ironic that she's blind to the fact that Tyrion possesses these traits in spades"...and on and on and on and on it goes.

I'm sorry, but it is not shallow to not want to marry a man whose family is responsible for killing half of hers. Sure, Tyrion seems nice enough to [some of] us ASOIAF readers (myself not included, but again, another story for another time)...but Sansa doesn't get to see into his head as we do, and again, she's experienced some tough lessons and actually learned from them. She has absolutely no reason to trust him.

Yet Sansa consistently notes that Tyrion is kind to her. She is courteous to him almost all of the time, yet she refuses to be dishonest, to outright lie to him and act as if she will ever be attracted to him. Let me reiterate - of course she's put off by his physical appearance...she's twelve when she is forced to marry him. If I was forced into a marriage with someone who I found physically repulsive, I wouldn't be too happy about it either, no matter my age - and I doubt anyone else would claim the opposite.

Add to that the fact that Tyrion is above all else a Lannister - and it's the Lannisters who are at war with her family, the Lannisters who killed her father, the Lannisters who have allowed or even ordered her to be beaten, the Lannisters who have verbally and mentally abused her.

Still, Sansa doesn't have much of a choice, and she also completely realizes that Tyrion is the better option - over Lancel, that is, who is the only other option they give her. Lancel who may be "more comely" than Tyrion, Lancel who is much closer to her age, but Lancel who was also cruel to her during Clash of Kings. Therefore, forced with such a "choice", Sansa picks the lesser of two evils. Several times throughout the wedding chapter she reminds herself that Tyrion "isn't as bad as the rest of them" - that he saved her the day Ser Boros stripped her naked at court, for instance.

And when she refuses to kneel so that Tyrion can place the Lannister cloak over her shoulders? This is often labeled a "poor Tyrion" moment, when really we should be fist-pumping over Sansa's courage and strength. She may have to play this game and allow herself to be married off to Tyrion Lannister, but she doesn't have to consent to it. And even though she has every right to commit this one small act of defiance that is allowed her, Sansa still feels terrible when she realizes how embarrassing it was for Tyrion - because she's just that good of a person.

Of course, once she's officially married...she has to have sex with him. Or at least that is what Sansa knows is supposed to happen - and the fact that it doesn't does not make Tyrion some sort of hero. It simply makes him not a rapist. Which I guess is better than nothing by Westerosi standards, but I'm beyond tired of people acting like TWELVE/LITERALLY JUST TURNED OR TURNING THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD SANSA *owes* Tyrion TEH SEX. Um...why? If someone can give me a logical, well-researched answer that doesn't involve comments like "Tyrion was nice to her", "she's his wife now so it's her duty", "well in medieval times girls got married and had sex that young" (no they didn't by the way - not that young)...well, I'll consider said answer that doesn't use any of these excuses.

Yes, I know this is Westeros, not 21st century planet Earth, blah blah blah. But some basic tenants of humanity are just universal - i.e. you shouldn't go around forcing people who don't want to have sex with you to have sex with you. Especially if they're essentially children. Readers hate Ramsay Bolton for raping. They hate Gregor Clegane for raping. They hate to read about any person or people from any army in Westeros raping. They hate when the Dothraki conquer cities and rape the women from those cities. Well, guess what? Sansa doesn't want to have sex with Tyrion any more than any of those women wanted to have sex with Ramsay or Gregor or some random Westerosi knight or some random Dothraki man. Maybe the full-on violence of it isn't quite there in regards to Sansa and Tyrion, but mark my words: it's still the same principal.

Before I step off my soap box, one quick note: I don't dislike/hate Tyrion any more than I dislike/hate, for instance, Arya or Ned. I'm just tired of any of them (along with all others mentioned in this post) being used as good reasons for hating Sansa. Capisce?

I can't believe I'm finally nearing the end of this, but before I go, one last quick argument against Sansa that I'm hoping to debunk. That being "Sansa is stupid because she trusts Littlefinger"/"Sansa trusts Littlefinger and is therefore stupid."

Um...have we read the same books? Case and point:

*** “He saved Alayne, his daughter, a voice within her whispered. But she was Sansa too … and sometimes it seemed to her that the Lord Protector was two people as well. He was Petyr, her protector, warm and funny and gentle … but he was also Littlefinger, the lord she’d known at King’s Landing, smiling slyly and stroking his beard as he whispered in Queen Cersei’s ear. And Littlefinger was no friend of hers. When Joff had her beaten, the Imp defended her, not Littlefinger. When the mob sought to rape her, the Hound carried her to safety, not Littlefinger. When the Lannisters wed her to Tyrion against her will, Ser Garlan the Gallant gave her comfort, not Littlefinger. Littlefinger never lifted so much as his little finger for her.” (Sansa, A Feast for Crows) ***

During her time with Littlefinger, Sansa cares for her cousin, who, let's not lie, is nothing more than another weight for her to bare. And yet she barely even complains about it.

She learns to run an entire household all by herself - at thirteen/fourteen.

She is humbled by the fact that she is now just Littlefinger's bastard daughter - another lesson learned, and one that will make her an even better person.

As the above quote proves, she does not trust Littlefinger. She knows better than that. She is continuing to do what she must to survive, as she dreams of one day returning home. To the North. To Winterfell. Because Sansa is a true Stark. If nothing else I've said convinces you of that, this passage surely should:

*** "The snow fell and the castle rose. Two walls ankle-high, the inner taller than the outer. Towers and turrets, keeps and stairs, a round kitchen, a square armory, the stables along the inside of the west wall. It was only a castle when she began, but before very long Sansa knew it was Winterfell. She found twigs and fallen branches beneath the snow and broke off the ends to make the trees for the godswood. For the gravestones in the lichyard she used bits of bark. Soon her gloves and her boots were crusty white, her hands were tingling, and her feet were soaked and cold, but she did not care. The castle was all that mattered." (Sansa, A Storm of Swords)

She misses her home. She remembers every little detail of it. She wants to recreate it, and I don't mean that just figuratively. It's another lesson that she has learned - that she belongs in the North, she belongs in Winterfell. Nowhere else.

I know that I could have written ten times more than I just did, and I still may not convince a single person to love Sansa as I do - or to even like her, for that matter. What I really want, above all else, is for people to give her a chance. Or a second chance. However you want to refer to it. After all, how often are first impressions casually adopted and, inevitably, prejudiced?

Besides, I'm pretty sure that true ladies and true knights would give Sansa a chance.

She did, after all, almost push Joffrey to his death.

(Silly Hound, for keeping her from doing so...)
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  1. I'll give you this; you make some excellent points that have almost swayed me to stop hating Sansa. Not that I hated her, I did see her growth in the books, but you're right when you point out her resilience and ability to learn from her mistakes. I just hope all the idealism she's had is gone now.

  2. Um, this is awesome. I could bother to give actual feedback or participate in some kind of discussion but it's 2:00 AM okay and I agree at least 99% with this. This is like...the definitive Sansa superpost. She's my favorite, by the way - I think she's such an awesome character, and such a great person, and I can't stand the Sansa hate.
    Basically you rock and so does this post. ;)

  3. Great meta! There can never be too many Sansa fans.

    I wouldn't say Sansa is idealistic. Maybe she was at the beginning of books, in the way that children usually are (all the Stark kids were VERY idealistic initially - remember Robb's conversation with Catelyn before executing Karstark?). I think readers often mistake Sansa's tendency to always see the good in people with "idealism." That's not even close to the same thing. Also, Sansa's optimism is not naive. It's what defines her as a character, and the fact that she's been through so much and continues to make the best of everything she has means it's unlikely she's going to change. And why should she?

  4. Fantastic post. The fact you have to spell out her character in such detail really makes me question what kind of people "hate" her??? I think that hate is based on misogyny or "blame the victim" or some such thing. Sansa is my absolute favorite character - so precious in how she deals with all people. Absolutely no guile in this young woman whatsoever. Yet she remains self-possessed. Incredibly refreshing in among all the vile characters. She's a drink of cool water.

  5. I LOVE YOU FOR WRITING THIS. Sansa has made mistakes, surely, as all the characters have, as ALL OF US have. I relate to her so much, especially when I was young, and it disappoints me when fellow fans forgive other characters for their failings but not Sansa.

    1. Thank you so much, anon! Reading your comment made my day so much better :D

  6. Ugh, preach! Sansa is my absolute fav for all these reasons and more. You're right about the misogyny/blame it the victim thing. Every single fucking one of the Stark children grew up with an idealized version of life, and Sansa's the only one who gets shit for it. If a female character isn't swinging swords, riding dragons, or giving up the goods, the fandom has no use for her.

    1. HEAR HEAR! :) Thanks so much for your comment!

  7. The people that say she caused Ned's death anger me the most.
    Ned had so many chances to avoid his death but didnt take any of them.
    Ned CHOSE to inform Cersei that he had discovered the true parentage of her children, he could have gone directly to Robert but confronted Cersei first.
    Ned CHOSE to ignore Littlefingers advice about keeping what he knew under his sleeve until a more oppurtune moment arose to play his hand.
    Ned CHOSE not take up Renly's offer of an alliance and insisted on shunning him in favor of Stannis, who was miles away and in no position to assist him regardless of Stannis having the better claim, allying himself with Renly would have made both their positions stronger in the short term and could have possibly stopped his death......Ned's naivety caused his death, it was no one elses fault

  8. lol well she might not be to blame for ned's death but the act of snitching on him itself is a trait she's always showed. every other character in the book is making things happen- good or bad except sansa. Sansa is just a plank drifting in the river, being pushed away by any current. Lol the only worth she holds is being the key to the north. theres no comparison between her and arya.

    1. ...'snitching' on him? a 'trait she's always showed'? I'm thinking you're not reading the same books.

      Sansa is making her own survival happen, the only way she can. Did you even read what I wrote? My guess is no, you didn't.

      There's no real comparison between Sansa and Arya because they are two completely different people, each with her own flaws and strong points.

      Next time you're going to leave a comment on a meta, anon, you may want to actually READ said meta :)

  9. 1. The fact they are quite polite to each other (in comparison) doesn't change the fact Sansa really doesn't care about Arya. I remember back all the shit in King's Landing (forgive my bad bad english), and Sansa just wasn't giving much fuck about those people... and she only thought of Arya much later. Even poor and young Jeyne Poole was smarter.

    2. You doubt, but I would never lie the way she did and I know people that would never lie as well (maybe we're too Starks, you know, it never ends up well). How can you keep it when some bitches gonna kill your pet? Unforgiveable.

    3. Sansa survived in KL because she's pretty. Just like in real world, people helped her because they wanted to fuck her or look to her breasts or take Winterfell or... Lucky girl.

    4. Ned was dumb (sorry i love you ned), but he could have runned away. There would be war anyway, but those northerners could have survived.

    5. She only thinks about Jon for real when she becomes Alayne. That's mean and selfish. I can't picture her just being "not too close" to Jon. All the other Stark children where close, except her. Robb was an "lord project" as well, but what a difference...

    Well, I truuuuuuuuuully dislike her (but I LOVE her chapters in the Vale). I see some great future for her, but I don't care if she dies.

  10. I love you for writing this. Preach on.