WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for the series finale of Game of Thrones.
Expecting the deaths of several beloved characters, many Game of Thrones fans came into the final season worried for Sansa Stark. However, as she has persevered over the past eight seasons, Sansa not only survived, she won the game of thrones.
Although it’s her younger brother, Brandon the Broken, who assumes the title as King of the Six Kingdoms, Sansa's heart has always belonged to the North, her home. She never wanted the Iron Throne. All she wanted, for most of the series, was to be back at Winterfell and do right by her people.
The Little Dove
Sansa Stark has been routinely underestimated, by both viewers and other characters. Her journey on Game of Thrones began as a foolish girl obsessed with being beautiful and making beautiful, golden-haired babies with Joffrey Baratheon. Some people never moved past that version of her, which is drastically unfair.
Sansa suffered from the cruelty of evil people like Joffrey and Cersei Lannister. She was held captive by the Lannisters in the first three seasons, during which she witnessed the beheading of her father after Joffrey promised he would be merciful. Joffrey publicly beat and humiliated her for the actions of her rebellious brother Robb. Cersei was a less-than-calming presence during the Battle of the Blackwater, and told Sansa how men love to rape women after storming a castle.
Through the Lannister’s cruelty, Sansa made small but significant adjustments to how she behaved in front of others. No longer would she be anyone’s “little dove.” She used sweet words to get the reactions she wanted, such as convincing Joffrey to spare Ser Dontos’ life. That's what allowed her to escape King’s Landing, where she learned even more about manipulation from Petyr Baelish.
Littlefinger killed the man who helped her to escape, because a dead man is guaranteed to be quiet. Sansa was already a careful girl, but she then learned she had to fear for her life, which meant dealing out death in order to keep herself safe. So when Baelish shoved her Aunt Lysa out the Moon Door in the Eyrie, Sansa went along with it. She knew her Aunt Lysa, though family, was dangerous in her fragile mental state. Sansa then put on a masterful performance as she corroborated Baelish’s story for the Vale lords. The best lies are founded in half-truths, and Sansa confessed her true identity before doubling down on Baelish’s claim that Lysa committed suicide.
The best ending most women in Westeros could hope for is to marry a rich lord and have noble babies. That's all Sansa wanted in the first season. After being a victim to Joffrey’s cruelty, Sansa found hope through the Tyrells' kindness, that perhaps she could marry Ser Loras Tyrell. The Lannisters weren’t about to give up a claim to the North’s power, so instead, the Lannisters forced Sansa to marry Tyrion.
That marriage was loveless and remained unconsummated. Tyrion didn't wish for Sansa to have sex unless she wanted to, and made that plain on their wedding night. Yet, Sansa remained unhappy — how could she be happy in what was essentially wedded imprisonment? Another wedding, the Purple Wedding, gave her a chance at freedom, and she took it.
Unfortunately, Sansa was a pawn in Baelish’s plans, which included her getting married again, this time to Ramsay Bolton. Sansa was initially upset about getting married again, especially to a family complicit in the murders of her brother and mother. Baelish told her to stop being a bystander in her life, and there is no justice unless you make it, implying she could gain justice through marrying someone powerful. Baelish was a master of manipulation, and Sansa eventually saw through his schemes. She punished him in Season 7 by taking his life, making her own justice in the process. She also made her own justice when she, not Jon, killed Ramsay, who raped and tortured her in their marriage.
“This Is My Home, and You Can’t Frighten Me”
Now, at the end of the series, Sansa Stark does not require marriage to have power. All she needs is her name as a Stark. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, and there is: With Bran taking the title of King of the Six Kingdoms, Arya sailing west of Westeros, and Jon atoning at the Wall, she is the only one left.
Yet, Sansa is the most qualified to lead the independent North, which witnessed her leadership when Jon went to Dragonstone, and as she prepared for the battle against the Night King's army. She was the one with the practical questions, like how they would feed two more armies as well as dragons. Her priorities were in order and what she prioritized above all else was the North’s independence.
Becoming the Queen in the North is the sweetest victory for Sansa Stark. She saw what rulers in King’s Landing could be like, and there is nothing to suggest that she wanted the Iron Throne. Along with her own agency, what Sansa wanted was the North’s independence. She took valuable lessons from King’s Landing, sure, but she also learned how to be just from her father, Eddard Stark. She learned from the worst and from the best.
Bran didn’t want to be king — in his words, he doesn’t really want anything anymore. Jon didn’t want to be king, and the hero is banished to the Wall. Sansa got what she wanted, and her own kingdom. She some day may give birth to little princes and princesses, but it’s no longer all she desires. Sansa has matured and thrived despite her abuse, making her the true winner of the game of thrones.
Game of Thrones stars Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister, Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark, Maisie Williams as Arya Stark and Kit Harington as Jon Snow.