Sansa Stark in The Mountain and the Viper


A lot went down in Game of Thrones this week. Dany finally learned about Jorah's betrayal. Tyrion monologued for what felt like a million hours about his cousin and beetles. Oberyn fought Gregor Clegane in a scene that was brutally faithful to the books. And Sansa officially became a player in the game of thrones.

I'm still traumatized by Oberyn's death, and as it was pretty word-for-word from the books, there's not a lot to say there, so let's just talk Sansa, shall we? In particular, let's talk about how she seemingly threw caution to the wind and revealed her true identity to a bunch of near strangers, completely changing her story from the one in the books.

My gut reaction was to scream "not book canon! Not book canon!" and dismiss these changes as another example of female characters being honest to the point of stupidity in the show (see also, Brienne of Tarth). Sansa doesn't know these nobles. She doesn't if they're trustworthy, or if they'd sell her out to the Lannisters, and since she's currently wanted for treason, honesty seems like something of a fool's move. But the more I think about it, the more I like Sansa's declaration.

As Sansa's Maleficent-esque stair descent suggests, the show isn't really going for subtlety here. They want Sansa to be marked out as a serious player, someone ready to almost be a mini-Cersei, who smiles, and manipulates, and reads people, and pursues her own goals above all others. And this angle is completely at odds with the Sansa we see in the Vale in the books, pretending to be Alayne Stone so thoroughly that her previous identity starts to slip away. It's a narrative of emotional growth for Sansa, one where she learns through observing Littlefinger and benefits from the newfound freedom of not being Sansa Stark, but it's also a very quiet narrative, and I can understand the show wanting to speed up Sansa's character growth. Yes, we lose a lot of interesting elements of Sansa's story from A Feast for Crows this way, but the fact that Sansa changes her clothes and dyes her hair at the end of the episode suggests her disguise won't be entirely lost. Meanwhile, Sansa's surprising honesty is actually a moment of great character strength and self assertion.

Littlefinger gave Sansa the name "Alayne." He told her what lies to tell, how to conceal herself, when to actually tell the truth. And his lies were all about meekness. Hiding her hair and face beneath a hood, pretending that she's "simple," keeping quiet, keeping out of sight. And in the moment where Sansa declares her true identity, she asserts that she's going to protect herself in her own way, hiding her schemes in plain sight. After years of blandly reciting the required lies (and convincing nobody), Sansa has learned how to be great liar, and realized that the best lies are almost true. She is Sansa Stark. She was married to Tyrion. Littlefinger did help her to escape, and Lysa did become insanely jealous after seeing him kiss Sansa. It's all true enough, and distressing enough, to conceal the huge lies slipped in too. Littlefinger was her only friend. He's like a father to her. She kissed him on the cheek. Lysa killed herself. Sansa goes completely against Littlefinger's instructions, and in the process she saves herself (and him) and wins herself additional protection and allies in Lysa's advisors. She appeals to old alliances, to memories of her father, to the idea that she's just a sweet innocent girl who's been through too much horror. And it is precisely the right thing to do.

The change in attitude continues in her next scene with Littlefinger, when he asks her why she lied for him. She continues to sew as he questions her, marking herself as aloof, detached from the moment, totally in control of herself. And when she finally looks at him, it's a look of such fierce self-confidence. "I do know what you want," she seems to say. "And I'm not afraid to use it."

Yes, the book plot has been thrown aside, and the show basically skipped through all the remaining material for Sansa in a single episode, but the changes made sense within the show. And to be honest, I'm not too concerned about the show destroying book canon at this point. Unless George RR Martin releases Winds of Winter in the next ten months or so, the show will overtake the books very, very soon. Several plotlines are in A Dance with Dragons territory already. And considering the problems with the TV adaptation, I'd rather the show run off and do its own thing, unrelated to the events in the unreleased books, than for it to spoil book plotlines with all the lack of nuance it's shown so far. I'm sure I'll regret saying this once I see what the show actually intends for Sansa, but for now, I'm excited to see the plotlines diverge and get a different perspective on Sansa's development into a serious political player.

Plus that stairwalk was badass.