*This post discusses the first season of the TV series and references the first book in passing. There may be some spoilerish content in the comments, so if you are wary of things like that you may want to skip reading the comments.
This is going to be a just a quick post in response to a few things I’ve read in passing about Game of Thrones. I hope to discuss GoT in depth at some point, but for the moment, I’m just going talk a little about Sansa. Pretty, poor, naive Sansa.
In his article over at Ars Technica, Ben Kuchera made a statement in passing about Sansa:
Sansa has never been a sympathetic character, and again the views fall into the neatly laid trap of getting what we wanted. Which is maddening, as we may have hoped something bad would happen to her during the early episodes, but now that Sansa’s in a truly wretched situation it’s hard to watch.
And Charlie Jane Anders remarks in her review of the final episode over at i09:
Take Sansa Stark, who might have been the character people most wanted to see beheaded — well apart from her fiance Joffrey, that is.
In both of these articles, the writers go on discuss the growth Sansa goes through in “Fire and Blood,” and I want to be sure not to mischaraterize their posts as Sansa-bashing, but I am interested in the apparently common response to Sansa and her characterization in the TV series (and in the books really, but I’m going to stick with the tv show here) that these two statements represent.
In line with what I wrote before about Betty on Mad Men, many people find Sansa to be an unlikeable character, and therefore an unsympathetic character. Viewers apparently dislike her so much, they were hoping she’d get her comeuppance – I searched through Twitter for “Sansa die” – that was a fun 5 minutes. I’ve never wished something bad would happen to Sansa, I always knew something bad would happen to her. It felt obvious to me that Sansa, like Ned, believed in honor, chivalry, duty, and that if she just smiled sweetly and did what she was told, everything would work out well. Why would she believe anything different when this is all she has ever learned? She’s a naive teenager, obsessed with living a magical life like the princesses in the songs she loves so much. Sure, this makes her annoying and insufferable, but no more than any moony teenage girl can be annoying and insufferable.
So, I don’t understand how this leads to explicitly rooting for her demise or hoping she gets her head chopped off. She, from the perspective of someone who more readily identifies with Arya, is obviously in the wrong when she relates the details of Nymeria’s protecting Arya, but she’s been put in an impossible position. In Westeros, women are chattel, bought and sold to cement alliances or mollify potential enemies. Her allegiance to her house would be important to her, but her new allegiance would be first to her husband’s house. It would reflect poorly on her to support her sister against her future husband and the future king. Her mother is a perfect example, Catelyn may have been born a Tully, but her marriage made her a Stark.
For me there’s an element of gender and audience identification at play here that it doesn’t seem to have been talked about much. On one hand, Sansa seems to be so easy to hate because, well, she’s such a girl. Not just a girl, but a weak, narcissistic, vapid, and willfully so girlie girl. But really, this is who she was raised to be; her lot in life is be a beautiful, complacent, baby-maker. Sansa is coded as a victim and apparently people hate her for it rather than trying to gain any understanding what her reality is. The last episode doesn’t create a new situation for Sansa, it just throws light on what her life was always already going to be. On the other hand, there’s a consensus about Arya’s awesomeness. She’s a stereotypical tomboy, trying desperately not to be a girl; her clothes, the “dancing lessons,” and liking to kill fat boys all point to her unwillingness to conform to traditional femininity.
Even though I didn’t like Sansa as a person (as in I wouldn’t want to have a conversation with her over some tea and a lemoncake), I empathized with her by trying to understand the world from her perspective, which makes what Joffrey does to her all that more heartbreaking – poor girl never had any idea what was in store for her. So, I find the vehement and violent dislike of her character a little disconcerting.
As a side note, apart from maybe Bran, of all the POV characters in the book her storyline and perspective feel less developed than the others in their transition from book to screen, which could be due to the source material since even in the first book (I’m only 1/2 way through the second) she feels more like a deconstruction of the fantasy princeess rather than a fully realized character. If they spent as much time on Theon as they did, surely Sansa could have gotten more screen time at some point.
Edited to add: Please try to keep references about anything beyond the aired episodes to a bare minimum. Thanks!