Just like how Sansa Stark referred to herself as the “stupid little girl” back in King’s Landing, I’m going to refer to the vast majority of the internet as being the “stupid little people” for their overreactions towards Sansa’s storyline, most notably in Episode 6 of Season 5. While I can understand how book readers might be angry over the major change in direction with her character, the vast public consider what happened to her as merely “shock theater” because Game of Thrones, the TV series, does things in a gratuitous manner.
My argument is that the scene was handled quite well overall and achieved the main purpose, which was to generate both controversy and dialogue in forums. What a lot of people are missing though are the subtle elements and the general direction that her story arc is taking her.
First, let’s talk about the overall public perception of Sansa Stark and Sophie Turner. Up until that episode, quite a few people hated her and the character. She admitted in numerous interviews how she received heavy criticism for the way she portrayed Sansa. In truth though, Sansa prior to all these events happening was a bubble headed, hopeless romantic who dreamed of princes, courts, flowers, unicorns and all these elements that you stereotypical Disney fairy tale encompasses. When she was imprisoned in King’s Landing as a hostage of the Lannisters, she had few real allies and could not reveal her true personality as she easily would endanger herself and her family. At the same time, as Littlefinger had pointed out in Season 3, Sansa (among others) refused to participate in the game because “they clung to the realm.”
Fast forward to season 4 episode 10. We do finally get a glimpse of Sansa using part of what she had learned in King’s Landing to save Littlefinger as well as transform into a darker version of herself. Many people rose their pitchforks once again, exclaiming that the change was too sudden. If anything, people should not take things at face value but look at that scene with her new costume and color as a mere hint of what is to come.
Now, let’s move forward further. Thus far in this season, we have seen Sansa do very little in terms of playing the game. Her only real move of any significance is pushing Brienne away from her, which arguably is a stupid move on her part, since Brienne can protect her life. Beyond that, Sansa has put her entire eggs into the Littlefinger basket, entrusting her life to his presence.
In the previous two episodes, Sansa shows distrust and natural disdain for the Boltons. They bring her a great discomfort despite the fact that they, up until Episode 6, do nothing against her beyond accepting the marriage pact that Littlefinger provides. While Sansa’s instincts are good, she still does nothing and continues to be lead around like a sheep. The other thing to remember from all of this is that Sansa does not exactly the concrete details on what the Boltons are capable of, which is a privilege that the audience can enjoy. Instead, she must slowly discover the horrors and weaknesses of the Bolton family, who, more than likely, she only knew up until this point in passing as the people who betrayed her family and the father who murdered her brother.
Now, let’s enter into Episode 6. The washing scene with Miranda and Sansa is very important to Sansa’s character development. Although people most likely will focus on the dialogue of how Sansa shows some of her inner strength against Miranda’s threats, the real key for the scene that isn’t emphasized enough in most people’s reviews is how Miranda washes Sansa’s hair back into its auburn color. Once Miranda leaves, Sansa exhibits a sense of mourning from her expression. She is also naked in the tub and totally vulnerable, not just physically but emotionally as well.
The next scene we cut to Sansa in a beautiful white gown. Not ironically, many people on the internet gave high praise to her wedding dress. But most completely missed the point again. Remember the gown is white, hence the color of purity. Her reversion to her auburn color and the beauty of her wedding dress demonstrates at that moment who Sansa still is: she’s still at that point, the stupid little girl with dreams of kingdoms, princes, flowers, etc. Similarly, the fact that she was given the ability to call for aid by lighting a candle in the highest tower and still not doing anything is a huge issue that people shouted at her. But again the important thing is that throughout all of this Sansa does nothing.
Then of course, we have Ramsay Snow finally remove her virginity, tearing her beautiful gown away and using her like a common whore. From that most people rallied for Sansa and against Ramsay, which is exactly what Dan, David and Shopie wanted as a reaction from their audience. They clearly wanted to turn Sansa into a far more sympathetic character because she obviously is such a critical character in the storylines. We now have that moment where the audience can completely embrace Sansa because she has been destroyed.
But let’s think about what this means. Sansa represents symbolically the aforementioned Disney princess archetype. Because this is a fantasy genre, part of our expectations is that the world will get better. Dan, David and George RR Martin want to shatter that realm and introduce far more darker elements of reality in what occurred throughout medieval history. Ramsay, while having a charming personality, is a horrific monster. He can be considered handsome (in the TV show at least) but he does state to Theon at one point, “If you think this has a happy ending, then you haven’t been paying attention.” This is not a coincidence in using a character like this in destroying the Disney-esque realm of Sansa and viewers and their expectations of life.
Yet there’s a bigger reason why this scene must occur. The problem is that Sansa still has been clinging to the realm, expecting someone like Littlefinger to rescue her or perform some line of justice. Yet Littlefinger has fed her the reality, which she has not put into practice much thus far in telling her, “There is no justice in the world, except what we make of it.” Sansa is slowly starting to accept her position as a Stark but hasn’t come to terms with it and embrace the full power of what it means to be a Northerner.
The act of rape eliminates her purity and her past character, as symbolized through her white wedding gown and red hair (the Sansa we all knew). It was the one element that kept her being the old Sansa, the little dove as Sandor Clegane had named her. Now, all the known things that she has cared about in her life are vanquished internally so she must be reborn. Do not forget the prior episode’s title “kill the boy” where Maester Aemon wants Jon Snow to become the man through eliminating the immature, hot headed, brooding child who “knows nothing” (as Ygritte affectionately repeats to him). But this idea of eliminating the innocent person we know and becoming the true person is partly what defines adulthood and taking destiny into one’s own hands.
In Sansa’s case, she has lost all important things for herself and now must fight or die. This will be the ultimate turning point in her character to truly empower her and make her into a vengeful force capable of retaking North through all the tools she had gained at King’s Landing. Or at least that’s the way the series seems to be taking her character arc.
Either way, I really hope I’m not one of the few that can clearly see all the little elements from these scenes take shape. I feel that most people only react to what happens rather than attempt to understand what’s going on overall. I haven’t read any truly analytical reviews that provided any sense of deep analysis into the scenes themselves. And truthfully, I don’t think it’s that unclear.