Critically renowned for its storytelling, worldbuilding, and characters, Game of Thrones depicts the multiple stories of anywhere from royalty to smallfolk. Now, after completing this series in just a month and immersing myself in the fandom, I couldn’t help but notice the immense dislike for the character of Sansa Stark. She was one of my top characters so naturally, I was surprised that so many could despise her to go as far as to say she is one of the worst characters in the series. You know, the series full of criminals who have committed the most vile and heinous crimes.
Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around the Sansa hate train. What did she do to make people hate her so much? Then, I came across this video, which goes into depth on the characterisation of Sansa and her role in the series and overarching story. It all clicked. Was I incredibly disappointed in the Game of Thrones fans who bash her character? For sure. Was I surprised? Absolutely not. The video points out three main reasons for Sansa’s hate: 1) she’s a traditionally feminine girl, 2) she’s not an innately fantastical character, and 3) she exposes fan-favourite characters. While I will mainly be relaying the points from the video I mentioned earlier, I encourage you to watch it as they further explain why the fandom hates Sansa and breaks it down with more background knowledge of the books by George R.R. Martin (which Game of Thrones is based on).
One thing that authors, directors, and general audiences can’t seem to let go of is the idea that women characters can’t be strong unless they’re constantly denouncing femininity. We’ve seen it time and time again, ”I’m such a strong warrior! Oh, and I hate all that girly stuff that other girls do because I’m such a strong warrior!” It’s such a tired, overplayed trope that I hope fades out of existence forever. In most of Sansa’s scenes, she is wearing dresses and has her hair done in a fancy, trending style, which is typical of the noble-born in Westeros–which she happens to be. She also happens to be a young child at the beginning of the series–which is when many came to dislike her. Sansa was characterised as being quite proficient at traditionally feminine tasks, such as sewing, doing her hair, etc and as having a fascination with stories and prospects of destiny and romance. This, of course, is one of her most deplorable traits. Just this aspect of her personality is enough cause for her to be deemed one of the worst characters, especially when you look over and see that her younger sister Arya, who rejects those traditionally feminine traits, is a fan-favourite and praised for such initiative; because, according to the misogyny that pervades storytelling, and our own world, femininity is underlined with inability, depravity, and futility. In the video it’s said that “Sansa is an outlier because she embraces her femininity, seems to have a deep appreciation for other women, and she doesn’t change her behaviour or outlook” and that “shamelessly feminine [characters] tend to be more widely rejected and discounted by audiences regardless of their more nuanced characterization.” With Sansa, it’s clear that feminine characters are not awarded the same praise for simply “being” that traditionally masculine characters are given.
Within fantasy stories, it’s common to see master dragonriders, great kings or commanders, and century-old magic wielders. Many of those archetypes exist in the Game of Thrones world and many of those characters are well-loved, as seen with “Mother of Dragons” Daenerys Targaryen, “the White Wolf” Jon Snow, or “the Red Woman” Melisandre. As the video says better than I could, “Although nearly everyone who enjoys fantasy likes to envision themselves as [those archetypes], Sansa is a dose of realism that both feels out of place in the story but is a necessary component of it.” Considering the atrocities that occur throughout Game of Thrones and Sansa’s victimhood to these atrocities, her “presence within the narrative is an uncomfortable reflection of reality that most readers [and viewers] don’t want to acknowledge.” Viewers and readers may resent the fact that they are more like Sansa, or would even be in a less involved position, were they to exist in the world of Game of Thrones. This reflection, which is often necessary for fantasy stories to include, is then demeaned and belittled.
The last crucial element to acknowledge is that Sansa’s presence very often exposes the unappealing sides of fan-favourite characters like Tyrion or Daenerys. Viewers and readers typically either overlook or justify the questionable actions or stances that their favourites make, instead of considering the fact that the characters in the Game of Thrones world are not one-dimensional and actually have nuance. This is reminiscent of Alicent’s role in House of the Dragon, but that’s a conversation for another time. The video explains this point in regard to Sansa’s interaction with Tyrion, but I’m going to consider another character. The all-time favourite, Daenerys Targaryen, who is an incredible character and one of my own favourites, but one that many tend to blindly praise. The discourse surrounding Sansa’s relationship with Daenerys is that Sansa was ungrateful and should’ve bent the knee to Daenerys the second they met. While I do think their relationship could’ve been written better, I also understand why the show relationship makes sense. If you were following literally anything that happened in the series up until their meeting, you’ll understand that the North was in a vulnerable position for the latter half of the series and was finally on route to their independence. Sansa, being a Stark and Northener, sought to protect the North’s independence by any means necessary, considering all that she and her family suffered. But, Daenerys wanted all seven kingdoms, not six. Hence, the conflict that arose between Sansa and Daenerys, despite Sansa asking necessary questions, because yes, “What about the North?”
Now that we’ve unpacked the frequent misinterpretation of Sansa’s character, it’s clear that she’s not some insignificant, worthy of hating on character. Her role in the broader narrative is largely intriguing and complex, adding necessary subtext for the Game of Thrones story. Granted, I’m not saying you have to love her, as everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I’ve hopefully added a new perspective to view not just Game of Thrones and Sansa, but any series and character.