3:15 pm EST, April 4, 2019

Sansa Stark should win the Game of Thrones

Sansa Stark has grown from a pawn to an ace player of the Game of Thrones. She may not be looking to lead Westeros, but she deserves to sit on the Iron Throne.

Sansa, Lady Stark, the Little Bird and slayer of Ramsay, may just want to stay home in Winterfell. I, however, have bigger dreams for her. I believe that Sansa should win the Game of Thrones.

Can you imagine a more fitting arc for the daughter of Winterfell? Sansa started her story young and naive, desperate to leave the North and make her place as Lannister royalty in King’s Landing. Along the way, she learned that her dreams were false, her beloved her most awful enemy, trust usually a lie, and life anything but one of the beautiful songs she loved.

So what better way than for her story to end in that same place she once coveted, but in wildly changed circumstances? Seated on the Iron Throne, Sansa would rule in her own right and as a Stark. She could draw loyalty from those she has touched and inspired — Sandor Clegane and Brienne of Tarth for strength, Tyrion for wisdom, Arya for stealth. Sansa could rule in realism, not an idealized song, but she could make Westeros a better place all the same.

Move over, Cersei: Here’s why I think Sansa should win the Game of Thrones.

Sansa has learned from the best

Love Sansa or (inexplicably) hate Sansa Stark, one thing is not debatable: Lady Stark knows how to play the game as well as — if not better than — anyone in Westeros. Her time in King’s Landing was spent in fear and pain, but also intense observation; so long a pawn, Sansa has learned by looking up at the people trying to move her across the board in the great game of thrones.

Olenna Tyrell’s cold calculations taught Sansa caution. Margaery’s loaded acts of friendship showed her the power behind sweetness and smiles. As Tyrion’s wife, Sansa was close to the heart of Westeros’ political drama, observing her husband’s approach to the seething plots and unstable leadership of King’s Landing.

And of course, there was Petyr Baelish, Westeros’ most unctuous and adept manipulator. Equal parts protege, pawn, and object of lust to Littlefinger, Sansa was schooled in the ways of plotting and manipulation — even making her own moves by revealing her identity at the Vale of Arryn. She suffers from his endless scheming as well (see: the Ramsay Bolton affair) but after years of Littlefinger’s influence, Sansa eventually breaks free of his control over her life. By the end of Game of Thrones season 7, the student has become the master; Littlefinger bleeds to death in Winterfell, while Sansa remains standing.

Sansa has learned from the worst

The other half of Sansa’s education throughout Game of Thrones is her near-constant exposure to the worst leaders (and the worst people) in the entire epic. If any one of these players knows how NOT to rule, it’s Sansa Stark.

Take King Joffrey, Sansa’s beloved-turned-tormenter, who ruled with almost as much caprice as cruelty. Joffrey didn’t know the first thing about justice, empathy, or moderation, nor did he care to learn. Joffrey took the Iron Throne as his birthright (ironic, given the true nature of his birth) and never once attempted to earn kingship through hard work or care.

His reign was devoted to selfish, ugly expressions of power — of which Sansa was often the victim. From being forced to look at her father’s severed head, to being stripped and beaten for Robb’s victories, to frequent verbal abuse and threats of rape, Joffrey always made sure that his power as the king was used to hurt, frighten, and kill anyone who didn’t suit his whim.

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And when Joffrey’s attention was distracted, Sansa still had Queen Cersei to contend with. In between bouts of blatant manipulation and frosty cruelty, Sansa’s would-be mother-in-law was always willing to share her “womanly wisdom.” Cersei tried to teach Sansa how to love the children she would be forced to bear, how to use her barely-existent sexuality to manipulate men, and to accept that her life would be a miserable litany of pain.

But though Cersei’s influence on Sansa has been indelible, the lessons she learned were not exactly what Cersei meant to teach. What Sansa took away was the art of controlling a court, and controlling yourself. How to convey allegiances and strength through clothing and hair. And of course, how to retain power in a world dominated by men.

Yes, against all of her intentions, it might be Cersei who has prepared Sansa best to sit the Iron Throne.

Sansa understands what it’s like to be powerless

Another part of what makes Sansa so well suited to the Iron Throne is her first-hand experience with the suffering inflicted on the powerless. Few of the other candidates for the Iron Throne have experienced powerlessness as consistently and thoroughly as Sansa has.

Throughout Game of Thrones, Sansa has been victimized, beaten, raped, disregarded, and used. She has trusted in people who were supposed to protect her — Eddard Stark, Cersei Lannister, Petyr Baelish, the brutal knights of the Kingsguard — only to find herself alone, betrayed, and absolutely helpless. Her suffering has also made her a brilliant observer of the people and politics around her, noticing details as small as the composition of her soldiers’ armor, and as profound as the power dynamics that Jon Snow brushes aside.

sansa stark

What’s more, understanding the condition of helplessness (and what it creates) is a crucial quality in a ruler, especially of a feudal system like Westeros. Sansa’s experiences have made her keenly aware of the way powerless people like the smallfolk feel and react. She instinctively values and respects self-determination, which she struggled for for so long.

Sansa is unlikely to be mistaken for a warm and fuzzy Queen of Westeros; she is guarded and wary, no longer quick to trust. But she remains capable of the kind of empathy that almost no one else in the great game possesses, and as such is exactly the kind of ruler that Westeros needs.

Sansa learns from her mistakes

It would be a misreading of Sansa’s character to say that she hasn’t made mistakes. She has made mistakes, and quite devastating ones.

Sansa gave information to Cersei, not dreaming that she would act against the Starks. She trusted in Joffery’s mercy, believing that he would execute justice instead of her father. She put her faith in Littlefinger, losing her innocence and nearly Arya in the bargain.

But as Sansa says in the finale of Game of Thrones season 7, “I’m a slow learner, it’s true. But I learn.”

Sansa carries every mistake in her conscience, bearing the lessons along with her scars. She has learned to be wary. She has learned to be patient. She has learned to use the loyalty other feel for her, to wait for her enemies to underestimate her and strike only once. Sansa has learned to look beyond appearances, to value wisdom, to suffer losses and honor pain.

She has, in other words, learned the price of success through agonizing personal failure. And for all of Sansa’s teachers, it is this understanding that makes her both suited to and deserving of the Iron Throne of Westeros.

Queen Sansa would really stick it to Funko

This one is personal: I have a bone to pick with Funko.

Those kings of the nerdy collectors scene have criminally and chronically neglected Sansa Stark. The company produced one (ONE!) Pop! of this long-suffering contender for the Iron Throne, which was released in 2014. It’s now out of production. And to make matters even worse, the Pop! isn’t even accurate; it depicts Sansa in her “Alayne” disguise, with dark brown hair.

You know which characters have more Pop! editions than Sansa? Tormund has two. Melisandre has three. There’s even two versions of Ned Stark, and he’s definitely not sitting the Iron Throne!

Needless to say, Funko did not include Sansa in their recent collection of characters who appear seated on that coveted chair. So if for no other reason than to stick it to these obtuse toy makers, I posit that Sansa Stark can and should win the Iron Throne at the end of Game of Thrones season 8! Funko would have to recognize her then, and both in Westeros and our own world, justice would finally be delivered.

Game of Thrones season 8 premieres on Sunday, April 14 at 9:00 pm on HBO.

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