Saturday, November 30, 2013

When Women Play the Game: Sansa Stark

In the series of A Song of Ice and Fire, the men may rule with iron fists, but the women exhibit far greater challenges in the “game of thrones.”  At the beginning of the series, all the women are shown to adhere to gender roles, even Arya is feigning proper lady etiquette.  Sansa is the epitome of what a lady should act like in medieval times.  Whether they attempt to protect their families, gain the throne, or fight for vengeance, the women are the most complex characters.  In the coming weeks, I will be posting about individual women or families in the books/TV series and correlations to historical figures in medieval history.


Sansa Stark was raised by her mother to be a proper lady, as she was.  It was her dream to become a princess and a queen, to be courted by a knight or a prince.  She very much mirrored the life of a young Elizabeth of York, who also wanted to be queen since childhood.  Sansa sees the romance in jousting tournaments and courtly duties and dresses.  She is not respectful of those she sees below her.  In an attempt to save her father’s life and keep her pending marriage to Joffrey Baratheon, Sansa tells Cersei her father’s plans of overthrowing Joffrey, exposing him as an illegitimate child.  In the end, her pleas held no mercy for her father, who admitted his crimes against the throne to save his own life and his daughters’, to see his family grow old, and to not rouse war.
Victimized and seen as an object to gain the North, Sansa remains at King’s Landing as a toy for Joffrey, but she quickly realizes that being a lady of the court is no game, nor is it romantic.  It is hell.  Every day, she prays to the gods to bring death to Joffrey, the boy-king who ruined her life.  To quell Joffrey’s childish, yet blood-fueled temper,  Sansa uses her brains to trick him into thinking he is a smart and fair ruler.  Eleanor of Castile used the same methods on the terrible-tempered King Edward I of England.  It is her wisdom to saves men from death, if she can. 

To gain her freedom, she must play the part she has been given, which eventually leads to her marriage to Tyrion Lannister.  In Tyrion’s hands, she may be disgusted, but he shows her the most kindness and warmth that she’s received in King’s Landing, apart from the Tyrells, who have ulterior motives concerning Sansa.  The offer of safety within the walls of Highgarden is moot when she is hastily married to Tyrion, marrying the Starks to the Lannisters and combining their allegiances.  Sansa was a good deal important in this matter.  The Lannisters had to win the North, and Sansa was the means to do that before the Tyrells could whisk her away and gain that power.  Sansa is largely na├»ve of the politics around her.  They all are playing the “game of thrones,” and she has no control in where she ends up.  This is why she attempts to escape, despite having been treated kindly by Tyrion.  She trusts anyone who offers her passage to freedom.  This trust was even betrayed by the drunken knight she first saved from drowning in wine.  Littlefinger set the betrayal up to make Sansa think that he is saving her.  

Feeling safe with Littlefinger, her mother’s oldest friend, Sansa pretends to be Littlefinger’s daughter Alayne Stone.  In Littlefinger’s own rise to power, he marries Lysa Tully Arryn, who has loved him since they were children, though he loved Catelyn all these years.  With this marriage, he gains the power of the Vale.  When she attempts to kill Sansa, Littlefinger kills her and rules the Vale alone.  Sansa is now the only one who can calm her cousin Robert.  In his game, he teaches Sansa how to rule and to foresee the actions of others, so she can make wise choices.  Yet again, betrayed by Littlefinger, she is to marry Harrold Hardyng, the heir to the Vale after John Arryn.  She will be the true Lady of the Vale, then, and Lord Baelish can rule behind the scenes.   Like Elizabeth of York, Sansa was groomed from birth to be an alliance through marriage.

Whether Sansa can take hold of her own destiny remains to be seen, but she is slowly learning how to manipulate people to her advantage, something that was always there.  Like Queen Eleanor of Castile, Sansa will contribute her wisdom with grace and kindness to any lord or king.  In A Storm of Swords, Chapter 61, Sansa declared, “My skin has gone from porcelain, to ivory, to steel.”  She truly has been hardened through the years.  Like the exact replica of Winterfell she built in the snow, she may be able to rebuild Winterfell to its former glory of how she recalls it.  Just as her mother learned to love Ned Stark, she, too, could learn to love Harrold Hardyng and marry the Vale and Winterfell, honoring the House Tully and House Stark as the future of both houses.  Sansa represents hope in that every time she is let down, she sees hope for a happier end.

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