Throughout the history of Game of Thrones, critics have had a Sansa Stark problem.
She is often portrayed as traditional, feminine, and therefore weak. Unlikeable, even. But that view is reductive and, in fact, I'd argue, just plum wrong. Sansa's power, which coexists with her femininity (unlike Arya, who has always existed outside of the bounds of Westerosi femininity and therefore gets a pass), is a threat to patriarchal standards.
Sansa is revolutionary. Despite the years of conforming to Westerosi norms, and unspeakable atrocities she was both victim of and witness to, Sansa breaks out of these expectations on her own.
I'm here to say that I love Sansa, even if other writers don't feel the same way.
TV Guide's Kaitlin Thomas wrote, "An Open Letter to Game of Thrones' Sansa Stark: You're Better Than This" in response to Sansa's actions in the season premiere, "Dragonstone." In it, Thomas argues that Sansa's actions in the premiere are hard to defend and even make it hard to love her.
A recap: during the council, Jon Snow, recently proclaimed King in the North, announces that the Karstarks should be forgiven for their recent betrayal (they fought against Jon for Ramsay Bolton last season). Sansa, on the other hand, believes the smaller houses who showed up should be rewarded and the Karstarks punished. She and Jon argue before Sansa ultimately defers to his judgment.
Some people, clearly, did not like that. But I say that Sansa Stark deserves our admiration for her actions in "Dragonstone." In fact, her actions make her even more likable than she was when she finally gave Ramsay Bolton his just desserts last season. Here's why.
Consider where she came from.
When I first started watching Game of Thrones, it was hard to love -- or even like -- Sansa Stark. She seemed consumed by the prospect of marrying into a good family. But Sansa, when the show started, was a 13-year-old girl in a feudal world which taught her that her worth was directly related to how well she could marry and what children she could bear. Since then, she's been through trauma after trauma — and survived.
The fact that, at the outset of season 7, Sansa is so outspoken and strong is nothing short of a miracle.
It is clear from Sansa's place at Jon's table during the "Dragonstone" council that she is meant to be his equal, or at the least, a high-value adviser.
Thomas writes of the scene,
By [arguing with him] in front of everyone, you undermine Jon's strengths as a leader. He cannot be an effective and respected ruler if it appears that his family doesn't even support him. That is Politics 101!
While the argument is awkward to watch, Sansa is right. Jon's actions say to the Karstarks (and others) that you can betray the Starks and still be welcomed back while simultaneously de-incentivizing smaller houses from helping in the future. That's bad policy if the King in the North wants new bannermen to join him.
It's frustrating to read something like this, which puts undue emotional responsibility on Sansa.
Thomas's open letter demands that Sansa bites her tongue -- that she publicly defer to her brother, despite her position as adviser -- lest his followers lose respect for him. It's a strange accusation: that she undermines him by speaking up. When should she speak up, if not at the King's council?
If you look to other councils held in the GoT universe, the purpose is to discuss and dissent when necessary. While the king has final say, a good king listens to his council -- especially council members who have proven strategically savvy. She has done that and then some.
She was the one to bring the Knights of the Vale to the Battle of the Bastards.
She saved Jon's life last season by delivering him the men he desperately needed to win the Battle of the Bastards -- even after he refused to listen to her. She also clearly cares for him, as we see in their argument after the council. She doesn't want him to end up like their father, Ned, or their brother, Robb -- both of whom died, in part, because their inability to listen to advice from others isolated them.
Men, in Sansa's experience, are not to be trusted -- especially men who promise to listen, and then fail her.
Put yourself in her shoes.
Sansa watched her father kill her direwolf, Lady, at the direction of Cersei Lannister, despite begging him not to.
She watched her then-betrothed, Joffrey, sentence her father to death after he had promised mercy and a life at the Wall.
Theon Greyjoy betrayed her family and exiled the Starks from Winterfell.
Littlefinger rescued her from King's Landing and, little by little, built her trust, only to sell her to the Boltons.
Ultimately, however, it comes down to the way other women are portrayed on GoT.
What really shows me that her behavior isn't inherently bad, that her "unlikability" isn't due to her actions is Lyanna Mormont. Critics are giving kudos to the young Mormont for saying she won't be left at home knitting by the fire.
And yet, Thomas's particular piece punishes Sansa for the same quality -- outspokenness -- for which Mormont is rewarded. It's part of a long tradition of deriding Sansa.
To me, Sansa has blossomed. She is utterly likable. After everything, here she is: able to voice her opinion, able to make hard decisions -- even at the risk of seeming like she has betrayed her brother. She is a leader. She is the Stark we have all been waiting for.
And I love her for it.