CHALK Shansha

Welcome to Chalk’s first entry in our ridiculously myopic coverage of Game of Thrones’ final season: the Sansa Stark Variety Hour.  A conversation between Chalk editor Rebekah Lodos and Kansan associate arts and culture editor Courtney Bierman. Up every Monday.

Rebekah Lodos: Game of Thrones is a cultural phenomenon, whether you like it or not. Every episode generates approximately one thousand billion reviews, think pieces, criticisms and deep dives. I’d argue it might be the one thing keeping the journalism industry afloat over the next few weeks. (Joking… But maybe.)

And surprising as it may sound, we think one of the most significant battles in this grand epic fantasy is the savage fight over Sansa Stark’s character. Since her introduction in season one, Sansa has morphed from spoiled brat to abused pre-teen, then straight to mercilessly duped, raped and tortured young woman — only to come out on the other side as the one Stark who refused to give up her home and birthright.

Now she’s a boss. A proper boss. She’s smart, political, savvy and distrustful, yet unwaveringly loyal to her family home and name. And she’s not taking any shit anymore — not from her messianic brother Jon Snow, her (loveably) murderous sister, or the uppity new Targaryen dragon queen, Daenerys. So why do so many people hate her?

Courtney Bierman: I think it’s simple, my sweet, sweet Rebekah. People hate women. Sansa was a spoiled brat in season one, but she was also a child. She’s paid for her early unlikability a thousand times over. Theon betrayed his adoptive family and destroyed their home, but we’ve forgiven him. Jaime tried to murder Bran and stayed loyal to Cersei long past the point where it was justified, but we’ve forgiven him, too.

Also, Sansa was never that bad. Her greatest sin was her idealism, which, yes, led to Mycah’s unjust death in season one. Can you blame her for being susceptible to dreams of marrying a handsome young prince?

Her past has made her a strong ruler with good instincts. I resent the tension between her and Dany, but I also understand their tendency toward self-preservation. I think the diva-ness of the situation can be chalked up to the fact that it’s a predominantly male writers' room with a history of treating its female characters like shit.

Rebekah: I couldn’t agree with you more. The flaws people attribute to Sansa wouldn’t ever be mentioned if she were a male character. She’s cold? Try Tywin Lannister. She’s proud? Take a little look at Tyrion. And neither of them have been continuously raped by a sadistic monster.

But like you said, she’s a female character written by a predominantly male writers’ room, so reasonable responses sometimes come off as over-the-top, or slightly catty.

Let’s talk about her tension with Dany in the first two episodes. As much as I hate manufactured strife between female characters (see last season’s Arya vs. Sansa nonsense), I think it’s reasonable for her to question Jon’s alliance with a Targaryen. Ignoring the very real history of Targaryens killing Starks, Sansa grew out of her “falling in love with a handsome prince” fantasy —  just like you said.

She makes choices now based on what will preserve her family and protect her people. She simply can’t afford to do otherwise. And now her brother has given up her home and lands to the daughter of the king her father fought to destroy, and he largely did it for love.

Courtney: Exactly. And that’s exactly what the Starks — and most of the leaders of Westeros — are known and frequently praised for. We’re on the eighth season. Time to grow up and root for Sansa. 

Tune in next Monday for more tea on the controversial Lady of Winterfell.