This post contains spoilers about the seventh season finale of Game of Thrones.
For much of this season of Game of Thrones, I have seen an overwhelming amount of criticism that Sansa is the weak link of her siblings. The last to “level up.” The whiny and annoying one. Certainly, she is not a trained assassin, an all-knowing prophet, or the King in the North, but the conclusion that she is weak is rooted in misogyny. Her story is fraught with abuse, rape, and torture. But, despite this, she has won battles, regained her family’s home, ruled the North and successfully manipulated a master manipulator to his rightful death. So why then is she regarded as weak?
Because she’s a Lady.
Arya is lauded as a feminist hero of the series, and rightfully so - dresses and pretty things do not make a woman. Arya earns this title for rejecting that which is typically female. She goes against what is expected of her as a woman, which is admirable. But to reject Sansa as a hero in her own right because she desires to be a Lady, represents the dangerous view that that which is typically female is lesser. Arya rejecting Ladyhood is powerful because it is representative of her womanhood. Arya had to make herself more masculine in order to become the knight she aspires to be. While Sansa’s womanhood looks different than Arya’s, this womanhood does not make her any less of a feminist hero. If you are a woman who likes dresses and pretty things, your power is no less significant. It is unclear whether the writers consciously used the Stark sisters to illustrate this dichotomy of womanhood, but whether intentional or not, it’s there. Arya has to reject traditional femininity to be seen as strong and badass by the audience. Meanwhile, Sansa, who did everything she was supposed to as a woman, is deemed weak. It's almost as if women are trapped in a lose-lose situation.
Sansa is as strong as any of her siblings. She is the best politician and leader; and she plays the "game" better than Ned, Robb, or Jon ever have or did. But because her strengths are wrapped up in a dress and pretty braids, we assume she will be the one to fall. Sansa’s power rests in her brain and her political ambitions rather than on the battlefield, so we dismiss it. Huh, a smart woman with political ambition beyond what is expected of her as a woman is rejected in place of masculinity? Sounds familiar.
We were expected to believe Sansa is weaker than Arya, that she’s not as smart as Bran or as good of a leader as Jon. Less is expected from her, despite the fact that she’s suffered far more than her siblings. Arya herself declares she would not have survived what Sansa did. Arya was the assassin, but Sansa the brains. We are expected to believe that Sansa will fall to Littlefinger’s tricks. Why? Because she is feminine. But the kings all lost, died or bent to their queens, and women are ruling all.
At no point during this season did I believe that Sansa and Arya would turn against each other. Not because I am an all-knowing prophet, but simply because Game of Thrones is a story about the greater horrors women are put through and withstand. The story started with a war of five kings, those kings are now dead and matriarchs are battling for power. This is purposeful. Women suffer more than men and are awarded less. The men declared themselves kings. The women had to battle for their thrones. This world was created to tell the story of women rising to power in spite of every card stacked against them. Anything other than the ending to the Stark sister feud that we were given on Sunday would have been a complete betrayal of these characters and their stories thus far.
If you’ve been watching this show and still expected Sansa to bend to the wills of lesser men, or to be manipulated against her sister at the hands of a man, you have not been paying attention. Femininity is not a weakness. Women are not a weakness. The faster this lesson translates from TV to the world, the better off we’ll all be.