Sansa Stark is the one true hero of Game of Thrones. If I would have made that statement a few seasons ago, it would have been met with bitter vitriol from anonymous trolls and weak "you know nothing" memes flooding my mentions. On Game of Thrones, there are plenty of characters to hate, but one in particular seems to be a target for nothing but contempt and dismissal: Sansa.
Ned Stark and Catelyn Tully's eldest daughter was introduced to the series as a young girl in love with fanciful things. Sansa represented everything to which a highborn young woman of Westeros should aspire to be based on her interests in sewing, embroidering, poetry, singing, dancing, and literature. During the first couple of seasons, she often lived in the shadows of her more proactive siblings -- her brave older brother Robb, her dutiful bastard half-brother Jon, and her plucky younger sister Arya. Even the youngest Starks, Bran and Rickon, got more love than Sansa. She was just a naive little girl who dreamed of becoming a queen like Cersei Lannister. How trite.
But what's so wrong with that? I've always been fiercely protective over Sansa. To me, Sansa is the most relatable character in George R.R. Martin's canon. She's often despised for having no agency, but the way I see it, Sansa is hated for being a woman. Unlike Brienne, Arya, Cersei, and Margaery -- models of the "strong female character" archetype -- Sansa's passivity denotes weakness. She doesn't have cool swordplay skills like her sister Arya; she isn’t a smart seductress like Margaery Tyrell or a fierce queen like Cersei. She is the epitome of femininity on Game of Thrones, and therefore, she is dismissed.
However, Sansa's greatest strength as a character has been her unwavering resilience. She was tortured and humiliated for seasons by the unhinged man-boys around her. She's been the subject of everyday sexism and misogyny since day one. And yet, she survives, even as armor-clad heroes fall before her. She is the show's survivor. She continuously endures the pain and humiliation of being a woman in Westeros. Just because Sansa doesn't wield a sword as fiercely as Arya and Brienne, or command a horde of dragons like Daenerys Targaryen, doesn't make her any less of a hero.
It's easy to forget how far Sansa has come since her days as a sheltered teenager who believed in the system she’d always been assured would work for her. Because of where she started, her character arc has been one of the most interesting, and not to mention brutal, of the entire series, as her good-natured naiveté was used to manipulate and imprison her. But try as they might, Sansa Stark could not be broken.
Last season marked a turning point for the embattled Winterfell heir, as she came face to face with the ugly reality of human depravity. For many fans, Sansa's brutal rape at the hands of madman Ramsay Bolton was just too much -- too nihilistic, too irresponsible, too upsetting -- even for Game of Thrones. Here was a young woman who had finally started to exercise her agency against her oppressors (Joffrey, Littlefinger, the Boltons, Myranda, etc.), and as a result, she was savagely raped.
And yet, that scene, and the thousands of headlines it sparked, endeared her to viewers. They empathized with her. More so, they wanted to see her rise from the ashes and overcome her continual hardships. But what they didn't realize is that Sansa has always been a hero; she's always been the survivor. She's unbreakable.
"I've had more people saying, 'You're my favorite character' than ever before, which is amazing, because I used to get 'You’re my least favorite character,'" Sophie Turner recently told EW on the set of Game of Thrones.
"She's definitely got a fan base now, and they’re rallying behind her," she added. "Finally people see Sansa how I see her."
As happy as I am to see that Sansa is finally getting the respect she deserves, it's upsetting that it took such a heinous act for public opinion to shift in her favor. Perhaps it's naive of me to think that women who are often dismissed as weak and compliant can be championed for surviving within a system that is stacked against them. Or maybe it's time for people to stop looking at Sansa as a victim and start applauding her for being a damn hero.