Wednesday, April 29, 2015

'Game of Thrones': Why Sansa Stark's New Storyline Is a Good Thing

Warning: This article contains character and storyline spoilers for the Game of Thrones episode “High Sparrow” and the George R.R. Martin novels.

Just like Winter, change is coming to Game of Thrones… at least for those folks who know George R.R. Martin’s books chapter and verse. Sunday night’s episode, “High Sparrow,” marked perhaps the biggest swerve from Martin’s timeline yet, as Sansa Stark less-than-triumphantly returned to her family’s homestead, Winterfell, to explore marriage possibilities with its current occupant: Ramsay Bolton, bastard son of Roose Bolton — the architect behind Robb Stark’s infamous Red Wedding. It’s a diversion that didn’t sit well with many viewers, who took to Twitter to air their concerns.

These grievances are legitimate; Ramsay is an awful human being and the latest in a long line of men (and women) who seem ready and willing to wrap Sansa around their… um, little fingers. Also, Sansa is technically still married to Tyrion, although the latter’s fugitive status seems like a convenient out for that particular union. And it’s always a little scary when writers — even accomplished, proven writers like D.B. Weiss and David Benioff — depart from such rich source material.

But crawl back from the ledge a moment and consider all the possibilities this opens up for Sansa. Over in Book World, a recently released sample chapter of Martin’s next tome, The Winds of War, reveals that the eldest surviving Stark child is still ensconced in the Eyre, living with Littlefinger under an assumed name and being set up for a marriage that could also restore her to power in Winterfell, albeit via a plan that requires many more steps. Viewed alongside that chapter, it’s clear that both the books and the show are nudging Sansa in the same direction — but Weiss and Benioff are taking a more direct route.

One could also make the argument that, unlike Martin, the show’s writers are taking fan complaints about the character’s ineffectiveness more seriously. Starting with her decision towards the end of Season 4 to reveal her true identity to the lords of the Vale — saving Littlefinger’s life in the process — Sansa has been taking baby steps to ensure that she’s not simply a victim anymore, a new attitude that’s reflected in her severe change in attire as well as her abrupt dismissal of Brienne’s protection in Episode two this season. Littlefinger directly appealed to that emerging side of her personality in “High Sparrow,” telling her, “You’ve been a bystander to tragedy from the day they executed your father. Stop being a bystander, do you hear me? Stop running.”

Littlefinger’s pep talk to Sansa, combined with the steely gaze she adopts as she rides towards the gates of her once and future home, suggests that her fledgling relationship with Ramsay will go down very differently than his marriage to Jeyne Poole, who he’s married to in the books. In Martin’s version of events, in order to solidify the Bolton’s hold on Winterfell, Roose weds Ramsay to “Arya Stark” — who, of course isn’t Arya Stark at all, but rather Sansa’s childhood friend Jeyne Poole. Perhaps because she’s an impostor, the torture-happy Ramsay has no issue with heaping additional miseries upon Jeyne. Ramsay’s onscreen incarnation has shown himself to be a pain enthusiast (just ask poor Reek aka Theon if he had the courage to utter a word anymore), but he seemed genuinely taken with the regal Sansa, vowing to Littlefinger that he wouldn’t hurt her.

Empty promises? Possibly, but one of the character arcs that Weiss and Benioff appeared to be setting up in this episode was the younger Bolton’s evolution from bastard to heir. His rise towards legitimacy could very well cause him to lower his guard, giving Sansa just the window she needs to — as Littlefinger encourages her — avenge her fallen family. So don’t look at this as yet another setback for the woebegone Sansa. This change in direction could very well be setting her up to become one of the show’s biggest heroes, one who could directly answer Roose’s Red Wedding with her own blood-drenched nuptials.

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.


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